Monthly Archives: November 2013

Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Eleventh Doctor

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.

It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who recently celebrated its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, it’s 800th episode or so was simulcast to a record-breaking 94 countries and hundreds of cinemas worldwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

For those of you who had never seen an episode, or only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, we’ve been working our way through each Doctor’s era, as well as the spin-off shows, to give you a quick over-view of each Doctor, companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. Now as the Time of the Eleventh begins its funeral march, we round off the series with a look back at Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor.

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© BBC

THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR: MATT SMITH – 2010 – 2013

As the dust settles around the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, it’s easy to forget that we haven’t quite seen the last of Doctor Who for this year. The sheer liquid overkill of recent weeks is at an end, with all surviving Doctors (bar Christopher Eccleston) making appearances across mini-episodes, spoofs, and the gurt big special itself, and BBC Three even went to the trouble of putting around twenty companions in one room only to spend their time talking to One Direction instead. There was even a magnificent dramatization of the early years of the series, featuring David Bradley moving grown men and women to tears as an increasingly frail William Hartnell.

Yet there’s still one more episode to come. And it’s a biggie, not just because discounting prequels and minisodes, it’s the official 800th episode of Doctor Who since 1963. The reason for this is simple – on Christmas Day, Matt Smith’s tenure as The Eleventh Doctor will come to an end, and Peter Capaldi will rise to take the TARDIS on bold new adventures from next year onwards.

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© BBC

 

Capaldi’s casting – a massive coup for the series which has even made it into a Ron Burgundy viral video – and the announcement that incredible film director Ben Wheatley is on hand for his initial episodes to be filmed in January, has also helped overshadow Smith’s departure from the role. Whilst there’s no doubting that Capaldi is a big name, he nevertheless has some very big shoes to fill.

Put simply, Matt Smith is magnificent. The out-cry that followed his casting was quietly marked by anyone who had already seen him act on stage or screen, because they knew his potential. Inside that youthful frame was an actor capable of somehow making the Doctor seem older than ever before, yet also far more energetic than even David Tennant managed. Springing around the set like Bambi after a can of Red Bull, he always knew exactly when to tone it down, and bring on the pathos, and immediately impressed his critics in his debut episode, The Eleventh Hour.

That episode also established a fresh beginning for the show, in its first true revamp since it was revived. There was a new Doctor, a new companion, a new TARDIS and sonic screwdriver, the credits were very different and the music jumped up a notch… as did the cinematography. The first full series to be filmed in HD was a beautiful piece of work, which perhaps still remains Doctor Who’s finest visual aesthetic.

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© BBC

As for that companion, she was feisty, strong-willed, and just a little kooky, which is only to be expected when, aged seven, a recently regenerated Time Lord crash lands in your back garden, eats Fish Custard, then vanishes for twelve years by mistake. Amy Pond had a confused childhood, trying to convince everyone around her that The Doctor – in his raggedy, regeneration torn clothes – was real. When we meet her again, she’s working as a kissogram and is engaged to childhood friend Rory Williams, who thankfully soon joins the TARDIS team as a regular. For a bit. Before he dies. A few times. Then comes back to life, marries Amy, moves into the TARDIS with her and keeps dying occasionally. It’s complex.

As Amy and Rory, both Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill excel – their natural chemistry with each other, and with Matt Smith, shines through every scene, and despite Rory’s fractured existence, they form one of the longest running TARDIS teams in the show’s history, occasionally augmented by Alex Kingston as time-hopping flirt Dr River Song. Even when they leave the TARDIS at the end of their second series, they can’t quite stay away, returning for more adventures on and off for ten years from their perspective, and hundreds for The Doctor.

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© BBC

The stop-start nature of their time in the TARDIS demonstrates a bold new method of storytelling in Doctor Who. No longer do companions stick around for a year or so, then leave, never to be seen again. And no longer will Big Finish need to find ever more elaborate ways to squeeze new audio adventures in the televised series gaps when Smith, Gillan and Darvill inevitably return to their roles in ten or twenty years.

There is, however, a danger that the long gaps between stories at times can combine with show-runner Steven Moffatt’s willingness to go a little X-Files on the audience, and not quite explain everything. It can also lead to stories which feel as if they move at a leisurely pace until the last ten minutes, when all hell breaks loose and the resolution is garbled as a result.

But for that one glorious series, when Matt Smith took over, the show’s story arc made perfect sense, and the new team handled every eventually with huge confidence, building on the foundations that Russell T. Davies and his team had laid down, finally making a show that American audiences sat up and paid attention to almost as much as UK ones did. Sure, there were a few wobbly standalone tales, but when it worked, the show had never been better.

The decision to split seasons, and start narrative leaps in Smiths’ second series took its toll, with the somewhat convoluted season arc never quite being explained away as well as some fans felt it could have been, and as a result, Smith’s third and final season all but ditched major arcs in favour of standalone adventures with a vague back story to play with in the two finales. However, the show was now attracted celebrated actors, with Michael Sheen, Sir Ian McKellen, Hugh Bonneville, Olivia Colman, Celia Imrie, Michael Gambon, Jemma Redgrave, Toby Jones, Meera Syal, Liam Cunningham, Surrane Jones, Dougray Scott, Mark Williams and Dame Diana Rigg amongst those guesting during Smith’s tenure.

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© BBC

All good things must sadly come to an end, and both Gillan and Darvill elected to move on after two and a half seasons. They were replaced by Jenna Coleman as the mysterious Clara Oswald – a woman who died twice before The Doctor met the real one. This mystery lay underneath most of Series Seven, reaching its zenith in the grand finale as a lead-in to the 50th anniversary and Matt’s farewell. A farewell which feels as if it has come way too soon – as wonderful as Coleman is, Clara is still a relatively unknown quantity compared to the “Ponds” and it would have been nice to have gotten another series out of Smith, whose split-season tenure has left fans feeling he has gone before anyone had really seen what he could do.

Yet his era has left us with so many memorable moments, from the joys of Fish Custard to challenging the Atraxi. From pretending a Jammy Dodger is a detonator to giving Vincent Van Gogh a glimpse of his legacy. From threatening the assembled hoards of hundreds of enemies to come and have a go if they think they’re hard enough, to being trapped in a prison designed by those enemies for him, then whizzing backwards through time to say goodbye to a sleeping, seven-year-old Amy.

His was the Doctor who sat in the Oval Office and gave Nixon a lift in his TARDIS. He was The Doctor who made The Silence fear him, yet found the time to cheer up a scared little boy by making all the toys in his room come to life.  He was also the Doctor who realised his travels were endangering those he loved the most, and gave them a real life to lead back on Earth, only to lose them so tragically to The Weeping Angels. He was The Doctor who became so fascinated by the Impossible Girl, he travelled across time and space to find her again, and made allies of a Sontaran, a Silurian and a Victorian martial-arts-packing lesbian. Yes, you read that last part right.

Matt Smith’s tenure has been eclectic, high budget Doctor Who filled with big name character actors and written by award winning writers (including Richard Curtis and Neil Gaiman, no less), which has seen the show reach new found levels of success. That 94-country simulcast last week was in no small part down to the success of the Eleventh Doctor’s era in finding an audience across the world, and despite having to overcome tremendous opposition surrounding his casting, and the need to follow one of the show’s most popular leading men, Matt Smith rose to the challenge, and has been never less than magnificent. I’m sure I speak for fans around the world when I say we will miss him terribly, but sadly, the fields of Trenzalore are calling…

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© BBC

STORIES TO START WITH:

The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone: The Weeping Angels were a huge hit in Blink, and whilst they’ve been somewhat overused since then, here in their second appearance they still packed a creepy wallop. Sure, this is a glorified remake of Aliens, but when it’s a glorified remake of Aliens featuring Weeping Angels, that’s no bad thing.

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang: This is how you wrap up a season arc – helped by featuring possibly the greatest cliffhanger in the show’s history. The first part is mysterious and ominous, the second a more lighthearted romp which answers an awful lot of questions, and manages to feature possibly the most moving scene in the show’s entire history.

The Doctor’s Wife: What happens when you give Neil Gaiman free reign to write a budget-saving episode in which the TARDIS is personified as Surrane Jones. An inventive concept, which acts as a love-letter to the show’s past, present and future.

The Girl Who Waited: A tour-de-force for Karen Gillan, who plays both the Amy Pond we know and love, and an older version of herself left behind on a nightmarish world for decades by mistake. With the Doctor relegated to a minor role, it’s up to Gillan and Arthur Darvil to lead the way, and they’re able to break your heart.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship: The best title ever, plus David Bradley, Mark Williams, and Sherlock star Rupert Graves having a bloody ball. Not even Mitchell and Webb’s ridiculous grumpy robots can spoil this one.

STORIES TO AVOID:

There’s surprisingly nothing out-and-out awful in the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure, so he’s about to bow-out with the most consistent run of stories of any Doctor. That said, there’s a few minor disappointments in each season, which could have done with another rewrite or an extra five minutes to wrap the plot up better. The Beast Below and The Vampires of Venice in Series Five fall apart a little at the end, but nowhere near as much as the otherwise brilliant The Power of Three in Series Seven does! And the less said about the way The Impossible Astronaut’s promise is squandered by jumpy follow up Day of the Moon the better.

There’s also a couple of slightly duller stories – The Rebel Flesh and Hide spring to mind, there. Cold War mistakenly revamps the Ice Warriors in a disappointing light, but is saved by its cast, whilst a few episodes are just plain silly – The Crimson Horror, we’re looking at you in particular here…

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Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Spin-Offs

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.

It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…

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© BBC

THE SPIN-OFFS: 1981, 2006-2011

During David Tennant’s reign as the Tenth Doctor, it seemed Russell T. Davies could do no wrong. The show was a smash hit, and not even a string of duff episodes could negate the all-round fan admiration for him and his team at BBC Wales. Fourteen episodes of Doctor Who per year was an enormous challenge to produce, but that didn’t stop the Who crew from branching out with two key spin-off series which, for a time there, felt like they would last forever.

Doctor Who spin-offs were far from a new invention in 2006, with the first full-blooded televisual side-step being the Christmas special K-9 And Company in 1981. Starring Elisabeth Sladen as former companion Sarah Jane Smith, and John Leeson voicing the popular robot dog, the one off show saw The Doctor gifting a new model of K-9 to Sarah, who then set off solving mysteries.

The intent had been to launch a series, but despite the best efforts of Sladen and Leeson, everything else about the show was a disaster. Nevertheless, it paved the way for their return in The Five Doctors in 1983, and later School Reunion in 2006, so it’s as ‘canon’ as you can get… much to the chagrin of many!

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© BBC

However, the story really begins with 21st century Doctor Who, and the incredibly popular character of Captain Jack Harkness. The bisexual 51st century conman was played with typically camp gusto by John Barrowman in the latter half of Christopher Eccleston’s sole series as the Ninth Doctor, only for the character to be massacred by the Daleks during the episode’s climatic battle. When a TARDIS-powered Rose revives Jack, he is accidentally blessed with the gift of immortality, and left behind by a fearful Doctor to help Earth recover from the Dalek assault.

Jack manages to transport himself back in time to try to find The Doctor again, but ends up in 1869, where he is recruited by sinister secret agency Torchwood, set up by Queen Victoria after the events of Doctor Who episode Tooth and Claw. And there he stays, out of harm’s way, avoiding other versions of himself already on Earth in the 1940s until he can meet the Doctor once again.

With the destruction of Torchwood One during the Battle of Canary Wharf, depicted in Doomsday (another Who episode), Jack’s Cardiff-based team become the only real surviving version of Torchwood in operation. This includes tech-wizard Toshiko Sato (Naoko Mori), lothario Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) and admin-expert Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd). Jack soon recruits an inquiring mind in the form of policewoman Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), who is forced to lead a double life – keeping her top secret job hidden from her boyfriend, Rhys (an always note perfect Kai Owen).

Along the way, Jack, Gwen and the team investigate mysterious goings-on in Cardiff, which has become a temporal hub of strangeness following the events of Ninth Doctor story Boom Town. These range from fantastical beings like ghosts and fairies, to nefarious alien presences – most of whom seemed to have a penchant for sex.

You see, Torchwood was pitched as Doctor Who for adults… a sort of X-Files meets This Life, and early on at least, this shows. Characters fight, f**k and swear for no real reason other than they can, and quite often, this teenage maturity feels oddly forced and uncomfortable.

Thankfully, by series two, the tone was fixed, and humour replaced much of the previous crudity. This may be thanks to the temporary recruitment of Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) post TARDIS travels, and Jack’s brief return to Doctor Who in between seasons, but nevertheless, for a time there, Torchwood was rattling along very smoothly indeed.

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© BBC / Starz

Yet Torchwood was a show in which nobody was safe – and the second series saw a shake-up to the system as both Tosh and Owen were given painful, heartbreaking demises. The third series – Children of Earth – saw a format change, as the standard Who-esque 13 part seasons were replaced with one five part narrative featuring future Doctor, Peter Capaldi, and letting Ianto Jones join Tosh & Owen in the great Torchwood graveyard in the sky.

By the time it’s forth series trundled around in 2011, Torchwood had become an American co-production. Only Barrowman, Myles and Owen remained series regulars, and they were joined by 8 Mile star Mekhi Phifer, soap star Alexa Havins and acting legend Bill Pullman, for a very different show indeed. Miracle Day, as it became known, put Jack, Gwen and Rhys into a tale of 24 inspired paranoia, given an added alien invasion twist, in which one day, no-one on earth can die. It failed to find its footing in the same way as past adventures, and since then, Torchwood’s adventures have been in limbo…

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© BBC

The same cannot be said, sadly, for The Sarah Jane Adventures, which began a few weeks after Torchwood on New Years Day, 2007. Following the character’s return to Doctor Who, she and K-9 stumbled upon a genetically engineered boy genius, and a small gang of inquisitive local school kids who would assist Sarah Jane as she defended the Earth, the way The Doctor had taught her all those years ago.

Aimed primarily at a younger audience, the show nevertheless quite often managed to outstrip its low budget and CBBC branding to make some truly wonderful pieces of television, some of which could teach Torchwood a thing or two about making emotionally moving pieces of drama. Stories like “Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane Smith” and “The Curse of Clyde Langer” tackle serious issues with great aplomb, in a way that children’s television so rarely bothers to do anymore.

As a more mature Sarah Jane, Elisabeth Sladen excelled, acting as mother hen to her adopted son Luke (Tommy Knight), his insecure but wisecracking friend Clyde (Daniel Anthony), and her successive neighbours from across the road – sensitive Maria (Yasmin Paige) and her replacement, the intuitive Rani (Anjli Mohindra). As the show progressed, Clyde and Rani became almost an equal focus, with Luke relegated to recurring status as the series only teenage character to be portrayed by an actual teenage actor with real life exams to worry about.

Together, they gave the show another layer – a will-they-won’t-they hint that was never explored in depth, but made them feel all the more real. And Lis… oh, magical Lis… she owned every scene she was given, as a consummate professional. It also helped that, unlike Torchwood’s references to the parent show, The Sarah Jane Adventures got to be more directly linked with its lineage. Both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors would turn up along the way, as did Pertwee-era stalwarts Nicholas Courtney and Katy Manning as The Brigadier and Jo Jones (nee Grant) respectively.

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© BBC

Sadly, it couldn’t last. After filming the fourth series, the first three stories of the fifth were also put in the can, before production ceased as a budget saving measure. The idea was to come back and film the second half of Series Five, and then the entirety of Series Six, but it was not to be. Elisabeth Sladen – like Nicholas Courtney at the same time, had developed cancer, and just a few months after her old friend succumbed to his battle, so too did the world lose Lis Sladen. Her death made news headlines around the world, and her final stories were transmitted to great acclaim later that year.

The untimely end of The Sarah Jane Adventures coincided with the final (to date) run of Torchwood episodes, and the climax of Series Six of Doctor Who’s 21st century incarnation. The parent show would be off air for almost a year afterwards, and as both shows came to an end, it couldn’t help but feel like the climax of a golden era for fans. In 2008, for example, there were 14 episodes of Doctor Who, 13 episodes of Torchwood, and 12 of The Sarah Jane Adventures, plus regular documentary series chronicling the making of the first two. By 2011, all but the parent show were gone, as the production office began to gear up to the epic plans for the 50th anniversary.

Nevertheless, the legacy left behind by Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures looms large, and greatly expanded the world of Doctor Who. Many dismissed them for various reasons – the former for being too ‘adult’, too dark and sleazy; the latter for being made for children. Yet both made their mark, and when they got it right, just like the Doctor himself, they could make the universe feel like a better place.

Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Tenth Doctor

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.

It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…

© BBC

© BBC

THE TENTH DOCTOR: DAVID TENNANT – 2005 – 2010

Just as Doctor Who in the 1970s became synonymous with Tom Baker, so Doctor Who in the ‘noughties’ became The David Tennant Show. A lifelong fan of the series, Tennant was the only real consideration for the Tenth Doctor, and for just over four years, he gave the show his all.

A rising star when he took the part thanks to roles in Blackpool, He Knew He Was Right and Russell T Davies’ rumpy-pumpy romp Casanova. Infused with decades of fan-admiration for the series, he had also appeared in several Big Finish audio productions, and took a cameo appearance in the 2003 animated webcast story, Scream of the Shalka.

This, coupled with his boyish, geek-chic looks and the usual wit of Davies pen made him an instant hit with both died-in-the-wool Whovians and a younger generation of new fans, male and female, but especially the latter. His Doctor started off as quirky but cool, menacing but lovable – flipping on a knife’s edge from a manic public persona to a battle-scarred, weary warrior with ease.

For all his duality, however, what tied his Doctor together was his romantic side. When Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor kissed his one-off companion Grace in the American pilot, it created an uproar, and Eccleston’s Ninth incarnation only kissed Rose Tyler to save her life. The Tenth Doctor, by and large, became known as the ‘Snogging Doctor’ – managing to kiss almost every companion he had, and for the first time In the show’s history, he appeared to genuinely fall in love.

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© BBC

Across his first series, he continued to be accompanied by Rose, who found her best friend had turned into the love of her life. This left her sort-of-boyfriend, Mickey, with somewhat on a dilemma, and while he was briefly welcomed aboard the TARDIS for adventures in time and space, he soon left of his own free will, realising Rose had moved on. By the time he returned, from a parallel dimension, no less, Mickey had become a gun-toting destroyer of Cybermen, ready to save Earth from the metal men… and the Daleks too.

Sadly for Rose, her time with The Doctor was coming to an end, and she found herself, Mickey, her mum Jackie and an alternate version of her long dead father, Pete, stuck in that parallel universe. Her story would echo throughout the rest of the Tenth Doctor’s era, with her successor Martha (Freema Agyeman), being overshadowed by definition of not being Rose.

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© BBC

A medical doctor herself, Martha is clever and sassy, but The Doctor is, for most of her travels, rather out-of-character.  He’s actually pining for Rose, in a surprisingly pathetic way – the new fangirls loved it, but diehards rolled their eyelids, and wished that Agyeman would be given a stronger characterisation to develop. Eventually, after a brief return of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman, then heading up his own spin-off show, Torchwood), Martha moved on – refusing to live in the shadow of Rose Tyler any longer, though she would return the following season for a number of additional adventures, and later ended up meeting and marrying Mickey!

This soap-opera dimension divided long-term fans, but brought in huge critical and commercial acclaim, mostly because, on the whole, it was done well. When Russell T. Davies decided to bring back Elisabeth Sladen as popular 70s companion Sarah Jane Smith, he retconned her departure from the show to become a heartbreaking moment that shattered her world.  In the old days, the idea of potential love affairs in the TARDIS was never on the minds of producers or writers, yet now Sarah Jane had been in utter love with the Time Lord who left her behind.

Yet somehow, it worked, and the results were so popular that she ended up fronting her own spin-off show, which we’ll cover in a later instalment alongside Torchwood. Similarly successful, against all odds, was the rise of ‘stunt-casting’, with big name actors lining up to appear in the series, and celebrity names desperate to cameo as themselves. This was the era in which McFly, Paul O’Grady, Reggie Yates and Trisha Goddard were just some of the names added to the cast lists with dubious merits, but thankfully they were also joined by such stellar names as David Morrissey, Timothy Dalton, Lindsay Duncan, Kylie Minogue, Anthony Head, Jessica Hynes, Lesley Sharp and a certain Peter Capaldi, but more on him another time…

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© BBC

Other big name stars turned up in the Tennant era and made a lasting impression. The biggest and brightest of these was Catherine Tate, who was, at the time, just about the biggest comic name in Britain. Her shock appearance at the climax of Season Two led into Christmas special The Runaway Bride, and she proved so popular that her character, Donna Noble, became a series regular in Series Four.

Donna was loud, opinionated, lost in the wilderness, and a little bit thick, but over the course of the series, the wonders of the universe saw her grow into a mature, independent woman who saved the world on several occasions. Whereas Rose wanted to be the love of The Doctor’s life, Donna became his best mate, and Tate managed to silence most of her critics by being magnificent in the role. But all good things must come to an end, and as Tennant’s reign began to reach its conclusion, Donna met a tragic end – her mind wiped of all memories of her adventures in order to save her Time Lord infused brain from burning up.

Coming as it did just minutes after all of Tennant’s companions came together to defeat Davros in a joyous moment of celebration, and Rose finally getting a happy ending, it was a complete sucker punch to the system. The results became one of the most beautifully realised sequences in the entire pantheon of Doctor Who, made all the more effective by the performances of Tennant, Tate and the incredible Bernard Cribbins as Donna’s grandfather, Wilf.

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© BBC

Yet it was at this point, that The Tenth Doctor’s reign, which had so far been a mostly enjoyable experience, began to wobble. A series of specials dragged out Tennant’s tenure for another 18 months, but the cracks of a production regime winding down began to show. Russell T. Davies, and his co-executive producer Julie Gardner both decided to step down alongside Tennant, and with Steven Moffatt about to take the reins, there was suddenly a surprising element of “Taking Our Ball Home Syndrome”.

It began by making The Doctor a rather unlikable man. In The Next Doctor, he was foolish to the extreme. By Planet of the Dead, he was an irritant – a cartoon caricature of the layered portrayal Tennant had previously brought to the role. The Waters of Mars was much better, but its final act turned The Doctor into a vengeful demi-god, willing to bend the laws of time any which way suited him, culminating in a final showdown against Time Lord leader Rassilon and the now super-powered, back from the dead once again version of The Master.

Ah yes… The Master. Temporarily played by Sir Derek Jacobi for all of five minutes, most of his 21st century incarnation was brought to life by John Simm, who had so brilliantly led Life On Mars to cult status a few years previously. Now, The Master had always been a ridiculous villain, and at times the likes of Antony Ainley and Eric Roberts had devoured the scenery in the name of camp nonsense. Yet by the time Simm came along, the character as written was so far removed from the Roger Delgado original, that he may well as not have been The Master at all… and his two stories got lost in ridiculous, quasi-religious imagery that, quite frankly, felt baffling from a self-confessed atheist like Davies.

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© BBC

Simm did his best with what he had, but his version of The Master, and those final two episodes summed up all that let the side down during the RTD era. It was acted magnificently, with Cribbins again rising to the occasion and moving many a grown fan to tears… but tonally the scripts were all over the place, defied logic and were just a little bit… well… overtly comedic.

Doctor Who always works best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but when it stops taking itself remotely seriously, it ends up being a bloated mess, like an Absorbaloff after a LINDA meeting. Great ideas, and beautiful setpieces would be cast aside later because it felt like an excuse to get people back for a shin-dig… Rose’s haunting farewell spoiled by continued reappearances right up the Tennant’s penultimate scene… Martha’s defiant goodbye ruined by her reappearing several times, then randomly marrying Rose’s ex… and Donna. Poor, magnificent Donna, was brought back for two episodes to mostly stand in the background, act stupid, pass out a bit, then get married to a random bloke, when surely the best way to bring back such a character would be to fix that memory wipe and give her a truly happy ending.

If this sounds like a condemnation of RTD, rest assured that’s far from my intention. When his Doctor Who worked, it was magnificent… truly, mind-blowing material. And let’s not forget, he brought it back in the first place, and Tennant’s Doctor built on Eccleston’s groundwork to cement the show a place in our nation’s hearts.  It’s just that, in recent years, certain fan elements are regarding it as some magnificent, golden age that could do no wrong.

A recent Radio Times poll voted Tennant & Piper to be best Doctor and companion by a considerable margin, thanks to a string of diehard fangirls (and sorry to say it, but it is a section of vocal female fandom, swooning like Benedict Cumberbatch just asked to borrow their toothbrushes), and neglects to remember that for every Blink or Human Nature, there was a Fear Her or Love & Monsters. Both the Cybermen and the Daleks had woeful two-parters in this era, which also gave us wonderful two-parters like The Impossible Planet, or The Stolen Earth, the latter of which was so popular it topped the UK ratings charts for the only time in the show’s history, and got the whole nation talking.

If anything, what RTD and Tennant provided was a Greatest Hits version of Doctor Who. All the big guns were there, doing what they do best, but the real nuances of what makes the show special – those b-sides and album tracks – were featured more sporadically. There’s an argument that, in recent years, the show has gone the opposite way around, which could very well be the case, and all of this is down to personal preference anyway.  Perhaps it’s just the way The Tenth Doctor ended his life being a stoppy, whining ball of pathetic loathing, insisting he was going to die instead of regenerate, and ending his life with the god-awful last words of: “I don’t want to go”, that have left a sour taste behind. Maybe his appearance in the 50th anniversary special will let me fall in love with the Tenth Doctor again… but for now, he remains a wonderful, if ultimately flawed version of my favourite time and space adventurer…

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© BBC

STORIES TO START WITH:

Blink: It had to be Blink, really.  Often cited as the finest episode of Doctor Who ever made, this episode barely even features The Doctor or Martha at all, concentrating on the adventures of Sally Sparrow (Oscar nominated actress Carey Mulligan), and her encounter with the mysterious Weeping Angels. If you only ever watch one episode… make it this one.

Human Nature/The Family of Blood: It’s odd how Tennant’s finest episodes are the ones with the least amount of screen-time for his Doctor, but this is a tour-de-force for his acting abilities regardless. Disguised as a human teacher in a pre-WW1 public school, The Doctor is now John Smith, his memories suppressed until bad guys with a death-wish come a calling.

Turn Left: Another Doctor-lite story, this one focuses on Catherine Tate’s wondrous performance as Donna Noble, whose timeline is altered so that she never meets The Doctor. As a result, the Time Lord dies, and so do all of his friends, one-by-one, as the Earth falls to alien attacks he would have prevented. The only way to fix the timelines is for Donna to trust a strange woman who calls herself Rose Tyler…

The Girl in the Fireplace: A true whirlwind romance for The Doctor, which manages to be far more believable and heart-breaking in 45 minutes than the Rose love-story was over three seasons. On an abandoned spaceship in space, The Doctor, Rose and Mickey discover a series of passageways into the life of 17th century aristocrat Madame de Pompadour…

The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End: An epic two-parter in which a revived Davros leads a Dalek attack on all of reality itself, and The Doctor and Donna must call on Martha, Jack, Rose, Mickey, Jackie, Sarah Jane and even shamed former Prime Minister Harriet Jones to save the universe.

STORIES TO AVOID:

Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel: This story falls down for pointlessly revamping the Cybermen – aliens from the planet Mondas who replaced their body parts with cybernetic limbs and organs in a bid for immortality – with a factory-produced overtly-stomping product made by Trigger from Only Fools And Horses. Ol’ Trig decides it’s a great idea to deliver every line as if he’s narrating the Rocky Horror Show, and one devious sequence featuring The Lion Sleeps Tonight aside, it’s an absolute turkey, in which humanity is saved by the villains having a random slot on their MEGAPLAN computer that just happens to be the exact docking station for Rose’s antiquated, virus-enabled mobile phone. No, really.

Planet of the Dead: Former Eastenders actress Michelle Ryan channels balsa wood as an aristocratic antiques thief, who ends up stuck on a London bus transported to another world alongside The Doctor. Also along for the ride are fly people, ineffectual UNIT soldiers, terrible CGI baddies and Lee Evans. Pretend you left your Oyster at home, and wait for the next bus.

Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks: In which Spider-Man himself, Andrew Garfield, gets to practise his ropey New York accent alongside lots of other British actors with equally poor diction in a park in Wales, whilst a Dalek merges with a human and ends up like a cross between a squid, and a bag of flaccid penises in a pin-stripe suit. Ridiculous.

Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Ninth Doctor

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.

It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…

© BBC

© BBC

THE NINTH DOCTOR: CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON – 2005

During the years that followed the comparative failure of the Paul McGann led American pilot, it seemed that Doctor Who was consigned to the past, forever – a relic of a bygone age kept alive via audio productions, novels, comic strips and cheap-n-cheerful fan productions. There was a sudden rallying call when a new Ninth Doctor was announced for a web-based animation, but he was doomed to fall at the first hurdle, because something altogether more exciting was coming…

Somehow, all the elements were in the right place at last. The production of Scream of the Shalka – that animated webcast starring Richard E. Grant – had necessitated inquiries into exactly who owned what regarding Doctor Who following the baffling contracts tied up between the BBC, Universal Television and Fox Television in order to bring the Eighth Doctor to life in 1996. These issued had been used as an excuse to fend off any inquiries about the future of Doctor Who for some time, but Shalka’s team found out they were nowhere near as difficult to untangle as expected, and as a result, the BBC started looking to actively bring back a property that continued to make them an awful lot of cash.

In the years since Doctor Who was last in regular production, British telefantasy had continued to collapse inwards on itself whilst American programming flourished. Whilst US dramas like The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer brought in huge viewing figures (The X-Files, at its peak, was hitting 10 million each week on BBC1), UK productions struggled to find their footing. Costly failures like Invasion: Earth and Randall & Hopkirk (deceased) failed to connect with audiences, so scepticism on the success of any return for Doctor Who was high.

© BBC

© BBC

Enter Russell T. Davis – the award winning writer, who started off in children’s television before jumping ship to adult drama, culminating in the seminal series such as Queer As Folk, Bob and Rose and The Second Coming. Enter also, the star of the latter show – Christopher Eccleston, a charismatic and enigmatic actor who had defied categorisation thanks to a string of critically acclaimed performances in productions as varied as Cracker, Our Friends In The North, Hillsborough, Elizabeth, The Others, 24 Hour Party People and 28 Days Later.

The combination of Davis and Eccleston lent enormous gravitas to the proposed new series, which was certainly called upon when it was announced that former pop singer Billie Piper would be playing the new companion. Fan derision turned ugly, forcing the BBC to close down its then popular cult message boards, and the team at BBC Wales, who would be producing the new show, closed all the doors and just got on with making 13 episodes of television.

The results were plain to see when the show returned in March 2005. Here was a bright, bold, witty and energetic new take on Doctor Who. Stories whizzed by in the standard American format of 45 minute episodes, and as The Doctor and Rose Tyler, both Eccleston and Piper were a revelation.

© BBC

© BBC

Sadly, as soon as it began, the Ninth Doctor’s era was over. A problematic shoot, as the production team struggled to hit the ground running, has since been blamed for Eccleston’s departure, though the true reason for his resignation remains unknown. Leaked to the press after only one episode, the remaining twelve aired under the shadow of a Doctor viewers knew was going to be gone way too soon.

Thankfully, with only a few wobbles along the way, this short run holds up just as well today as it did in 2005. The central, platonic love between the Doctor and Rose ties the series together, as a battle-scarred Time Lord, reeling from the then unknown effects of the Time War, began to find his humanity once more, and Rose realised there was far more to life than jobs, chips and telly.

And there were other delights in store, too. Noel Clarke’s character of Mickey Smith began as comic foil, but as the season progressed, he became more than just a reflection of the life Rose leaves behind, and began to set up his promotion to TARDIS crew-member proper the following year. As Jackie Tyler (Rose’s mother), Camille Coduri manages to steal just about every scene she’s in, and it’s no surprise she was asked back repeatedly.

Less successful is the brief introduction of a failed companion, Adam Mitchell, played by former Coronation Street actor Bruno Langley. The character isn’t exactly designed to be anything more than a two-dimensional failure, but being brought to life by a balsa wood performance doesn’t help make him any more convincing. Thank the heavens then, for Captain Jack Harkness, who turns up in the second half of the season and sticks around until it’s climax.  Played with camp delight (of course) by John Barrowman, he’s the first openly pansexual character in the show’s history, gets far too many good lines, and offers The Doctor a much needed brash figure to bounce off.

New aliens are hit and miss, with many of them seemingly designed just to give the toy makers another figure to sell to kids, but those that work do so magnificently. The two leading villains are both brought to life by fine actresses. Zoë Wanamaker lends her voice to the last surviving human, Cassandra O’Brien – now reduced to a wafer thin piece of stretched out skin with a face in the middle, but no less bitchy than the cattiest queens on Canal Street. Elsewhere, Annete Badlaand overcomes a poor monster design and a weak opening story, to act her bloody socks off as failed world-destroyer Margaret Blaine Slitheen, giving what would normally be a cheap, budget saving episode some much needed oomph via a well thought out morality play between Maggie and the Doc.

In the end, though, this season belongs to the Daleks. Almost failing to appear (thanks to those darn legal issues), one lone specimen is enough to make audiences jaws drop in mid-season epic Dalek, and by the time they return with a truly ridiculous plot in Bad Wolf, they’re beloved national treasures once again. Their meddling forces The Doctor to send Rose home to avoid a nasty death, but when she manages to integrate herself with the TARDIS in order to get back to him, he’s forced to absorb the energy of the Time Vortex to save her, and this truly fantastic incarnation says his goodbyes… we still miss him.

© BBC

© BBC

STORIES TO START WITH:

The End of the World: The first real glimpse of what the new show could do, this is a witty delight which manages to fuse tree people, spitting, plastic surgery and Britney Spears into a bonkers delight. And you’ll want chips by the end of that gorgeous final scene.

Dalek: One survivor of the Time War meets another, and the result is an acting tour-de-force. Made the Daleks look genuinely scary for the first time since the early 60s, and finally convinced the naysayers that Billie Piper could hold her own against Christopher Eccleston, even when he’s acting his socks off.

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances: Still one of the finest pieces of television ever written, this is Steven Moffatt’s official debut writing for the show, and features a gas mask wearing child who makes you like him just by touch.  Creepy in one breath, downright hilarious in another, and with a clever-clever ending that fills you with joy.

Boom Town: A fairly unloved episode, this budget saver nevertheless allows a rare four-way TARDIS team of The Doctor, Rose, Mickey and Captain Jack to lark around in Cardiff, with the Doctor taking the monster out for dinner. It’s all about the writing with this one…

Bad Wolf/The Parting Of The Ways: So many surprises on first viewing… so many punch the air moments… and it ended with tears. Doctor Who was back, and it was bigger than ever before.

STORIES TO AVOID:

Aliens Of London/World War Three is a slightly rubbish two-parter, which suffered from being the first to enter production. It has its moments, mostly from good old Penelope Wilton, but it definitely needed another polish.

The Long Game is really the only let-down of the season, purely because on paper, the notion of a Doctor Who episode featuring Simon Pegg, Tamsin Grieg, and an alien called The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe is so utterly delightful, and this… well, isn’t. I still blame Bruno Langley, to be honest…

Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Eighth Doctor

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.

© BBC

It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…

© BBC / Universal

© BBC / Universal

THE EIGHTH DOCTOR: PAUL McGANN 1996 & THE WILDERNESS YEARS 1990-2004

When Doctor Who went into limbo in December 1989, few could have predicted it would ever return. The BBC had pushed for its demise for some time, and with ratings at an all-time low, love for the show was at its lowest ebb.

Sci-fi lovers were now being satiated by big budget US imports, spearheaded by Star Trek: The Next Generation. Shot on single-camera film with a huge ensemble cast, the show really did go bodly where Doctor Who had never gone before, tied as it was to a theatrical tradition of television production on low-budget video.

Throughout the early 1990s, a number of attempts to get hold of the rights to the series were made by external production companies, pushed on by the Conservative government’s budget squeeze against the BBC. Forced to outsource an increasingly large number of productions, there was a glimmer of hope that, through BBC Worldwide, a deal could be brokered to bring the show back with a bang.

Behind the scenes, a mooted film production stalled countless times, and attempts to prolong the option by hastily shooting some test material with Leonard Nimoy, no less, risked putting Doctor Who on ice forever via a hefty rights battle.

The catastrophe was halted by lifelong fan and television executive Philip Segal – an ex-pat working in America first at Columbia Pictures Television, then at Amblin, where he began working on his own proposals for the show.

© Daily Mirror

© Daily Mirror

Elsewhere, as the thirtieth anniversary loomed, BBC Worldwide had realised how much money the video releases were raking in, and elected to produce a spin-off film entitled Lost in the Dark Dimension. Planned to focus on the most popular Doctor of all, Tom Baker’s fourth incarnation, the special would also feature Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy in smaller roles, alongside a number of old companions and a villain played by Rik Mayall.

With legendary Who director Graeme Harper signed on to direct, the special got tantalisingly close to being made, and BBC One controller Alan Yentob – who had recently began a series of successful repeats of classic Doctor Who serials – even pumped cash into the project to get the rights to air it on BBC One.

Once again, Philip Segal stepped in, declaring the script terrible, and convincing the BBC that his bold new vision for the show, under the thumb of Steven Spielberg himself, was the right way to go. In the end, fans had to make do with a 15 minute mini-episode turned charity sketch featuring the various stars of the show interacting with the cast of Eastenders in a 3D romp set in Albert Square for Children In Need. At least there were a few documentaries and more repeats to savour, but for now, proper new Doctor Who was still a pipe dream.

Where the show really lived on at this time was in spin-off material. Doctor Who Magazine continued to develop its comic strip pages, getting writers from the show itself involved. Virgin Books began publishing The New Adventures series: a string of stories featuring the Seventh Doctor in darker, more mature stories – some of which were written by those who would go on to mould 21st Century Doctor Who, such as Gareth Roberts, Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss and Russell T. Davis, but more on those another time…

Fans were also taking the show into their own hands, forming production companies such as Reeltime and BBV to produce interview video-tapes and straight-to-vhs dramas starring former Who actors in different roles.

What made these lo-fi productions more enticing was that wherever a character or an alien design wasn’t owned by the BBC, they became free reign to appear in these productions, with BBV putting Liz Shaw (Caroline John) in charge of Mark Gatiss series P.R.O.B.E., and John Levine returning as Sgt. Benton in Reeltime’s production, Wartime. They weren’t quite Who, but they were the closest fans thought they would ever get again.

Except Segal hadn’t given in, even though interest from Speilberg and Amblin waned. Attempts at developing a brand new series bible resulted in a dire suggestion that The Doctor and The Master would be the children of Ulysses, on a quest to find their father, and the BBC became more actively involved in getting it right. Enter Jo Wright, who insisted the character be British, and the show stay true to its roots, even if she was adamant she didn’t want Sylvester McCoy to return.

© BBC / Universal

© BBC / Universal

After shaky beginnings, the project found funding from Universal and a greenlight for a backdoor pilot from Fox Television. Liam Cunningham, Tony Head and John Sessions were all considered for the role of the Eighth Doctor, but the responsibility fell onto respected character actor Paul McGann.

He was perhaps best known to film fans as the “I” in Withnail and I, though American audiences knew him from films such as Empire of the Sun, The Three Musketeers and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him-because-they-cut-all-his-best-bits role in Alien 3.

In May 1996, for one glorious night, McGann’s charming, sincere Doctor blazed across the screen – or rather, for just under an hour, at least.

To placate the show’s diehard fanbase, the team elected to allow Sylvester McCoy to return for the opening act of the pilot, barely speaking, until the meddlings of The Master forced him to land in the middle of a gangland gun-battle in San Francisco. Fatally wounded, he is killed during a botched operation by surgeon Doctor Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) as The Master steals yet another body (Eric Roberts) and attempts to bring about the end of the world.

When he finally arrives, McGann is magnificent. His Doctor is a timid soul, prone to sudden bursts of excitement, and teasing premonitions about everyone he meets. He’s charming, persuasive, and passionate about life, and for the first time kisses his new friend Grace passionately, several times, causing fan uproar that’s laughable in retrospect.

© BBC / Universal

© BBC / Universal

Yet the pilot was doomed before it aired, when its American broadcast was scheduled against the season finale of Rosanne, then the biggest show on television. Ratings were lacklustre, and not even a strong showing in the UK could save it. Doctor Who was dead again, and with both Fox and Universal having a natural option as part of the agreement to make the pilot in the first place, it would have to be some time before the show could return once more.

In the meantime, the spin-off materials kept on coming. Virgin were phased out by BBC Books, who took over printing past Doctor novels and new adventures for the Eighth Doctor, who also took over the comic pages of Doctor Who Magazine.

A few years later, diehard fan Gary Russell formed Big Finish, initially producing audio spin-offs before being granted the license to make genuine, official Doctor Who starring the original cast members. Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy were quick to sign on, as were most of their companions, with Paul McGann joining the party not long afterwards to develop the Eighth Doctor that never quite got to be.

© Big Finish

© Big Finish

By 2013, Big Finish is still going strong, with Tom Baker now involved, and a series of spin-off projects keeping the passion alive, even with the new series wowing audiences on television. A huge part of this is down to the way they kept the dream alive, at a time when Doctor Who seemed otherwise gone for good.

A few other projects turned up post 1996, with a Rowan Atkinson led Comic Relief spoof written by Steven Moffatt turning up in 1999, and a series of web-cast animations in the early 21st century culminating in a brand new, official Ninth Doctor for the show’s fortieth anniversary in 2003.

© BBC

© BBC

Richard E. Grant was cast as The Doctor in Paul Cornell’s story, Scream of the Shalka – a 90 minute animation told across six flash-animated episodes on the BBC website. To all intents and purposes, this was the only way the show was ever going to continue forging ahead outside of Big Finish.

Yet just before Shalka was released, news leaked out that Queer as Folk creator Russell T. Davies had been tasked with bringing the show back to television over at BBC Wales, and the almost immediate casting of Christopher Eccleston gave the show a much needed boost of interest. By 2004, at long last, Doctor Who was back in regular production…

Onion Talking: Gus The Fox

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR THE VELVET ONION.

© Gus the Fox

Today sees the release of the Gus The Fox Scrap Book – the first publication from the salacious vulpine.

A friend of the stars and a Twitter legend, Gus has persuaded Noel Fielding to write the forward for his book, which offers a miscellany of snippets and scribblings from his own personal collection.

As such, we caught up with Gus behind the bins of a nightclub haunt somewhere in North London & cajoled him into chat about the book, his foxy rivals, and Chris Packham’s misdemeanours…

Hi, Gus, thanks for talking to us.  Now, you’ve sort of taken on the mantle of Most Wicked Vulpine in North East London following the demise of The Crack Fox. What qualities do you bring to this role?

I wouldn’t really describe myself as the most wicked vulpine in North East London. Most of my mates are just as bad as me if not worse. My mate William Plunge is particularly naughty. I remember once we went for a walk up the canal and I said it might be funny to untie all the canal boats so that they floated away. William agreed but thought it would be funnier to murder all the swans using his penis. When he finished he strung them all up on an elaborate system of winches and pulleys and used them as puppets to perform a reenactment of Schindler’s List with added racism. He received a Laurence Olivier Award for an ‘Outstanding Contribution to British Theatre’ but had it rescinded when everybody found out that he spends his weekends sneaking into people’s houses and tattooing the faces of famous serial killers onto the chests of new born babies. He’s a cheeky so and so.

© Dave Brown

© Dave Brown

I used to know Jermome (the crack fox). He came over to my disgusting pit a couple of times. One time we got into a heated argument about which company produced the best hinges for industrial wheelie bins. Jerome got so angry that he shaved all my fur off and embroidered it into a tapestry inspired by the poster for ‘Jurassic Park 2:The Lost World’.

Your predecessor had plans for world domination. Is this something you can get behind?

Not really. I think if you smoke that much crack then at some point you’ll start travelling inside your own mind and acting like an arsehole. I’m not really that ambitious really, I only care about a few things. As long as I’m not being bummed up against a skip by a gang of bin men and I can find something better to eat other than my own testicles then I’m usually pretty content (unfortunately both those things happen on an unbelievably regular basis). I’ve got a book coming out so I’ve already achieved more than most foxes. Trying to catch a break when you’re a fox isn’t easy because everyone thinks you’re a cunt. My dad murdered my mum in an argument over a parsnip and then my dad was shot and turned into a really posh hat. Life’s just really difficult when you’re a fox. I think the day that a fox rules the world is still pretty far away. I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime. Read the rest of this entry

Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The Seventh Doctor

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR MEDIA BLASPHEMY.

© BBC

It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.

So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…

© BBC

© BBC

THE SEVENTH DOCTOR: SYLVESTER McCOY 1987-1989

Long term fans of Doctor Who love The Brigadier almost as much as they love the late, great actor who played him, Nicholas Courtney. The character was so well loved his off-screen death became a deciding moment in the finale of Matt Smith’s second season. More recently, the revelation that the new head of UNIT, Kate Stewart, is his daughter, brought tears to the eyes of many full grown men and women in 2012’s The Power of Three.

Yet for some reason, all this love comes to some fans at the expense of ignoring one of the character’s finest pearls of wisdom. When asked to explain The Doctor, he replied: “Wonderful chap. All of them.” Never has this ignorance been more apparent than with The Seventh Doctor, who suffers the unfortunate fate of being The One Who Got Cancelled.

He arrived at a crossroads for a national institution which an increasingly hard-to-please nation was being convinced no longer needed his services. He arrived at a time when a production department, reeling from the enforced sacking of his predecessor, was in a frenzied state of desperation, clinging onto life by a thread, uncertain of where it was going, or indeed, if it would be travelling for much longer. Later, his very life-force would be forcibly snuffed out, plans unfinished. And yet, despite awkward beginnings and an unplanned conclusion, the Seventh Doctor has – in retrospect – gained the love he deserves.

With Colin Baker forcibly removed from the TARDIS following his second season, producer John Nathan Turner elected to cast someone as far removed from his bombastic, arrogant Doctor as possible. He found his Time Lord in the form of Percy James Patrick Kent-Smith, better known by his stage name Sylvester McCoy.

© BBC

© BBC

McCoy had rose to prominence not as an actor, but as a member of comedy troupe The Ken Campbell Roadshow.  In those early days, his shtick, as it was, included putting forks up his nose and stuffing ferrets down his trousers, and he later went on to appear on children’s television shows like Tiswas. This background got him the part, but has also cast a shadow over his time in the role – his detractors neglecting to remember he’s also a highly respected stage actor, who worked with the likes of Laurence Olivier and Sir Ian McKellen  long before Sylvester he turned up in The Hobbit thanks to his biggest fan, Peter Jackson.

For his first run of stories – at least partially planned for the Sixth Doctor – he was expected to ham it up.  The edict from on high about the show’s excessive violence under Eric Saward’s script editing put his replacement, Andrew Cartmel, in the unfortunate position of making a show that looked and felt a lot more cartoony than ever before, with showbiz cameos and one-dimensional plots.

© BBC

© BBC

Yet neither Cartmell nor McCoy wanted to make the kind of stories that made up those initial episodes which certain elements of fandom continue to use as a noose around their necks. When the lovely, if miscast Bonnie Langford elected to leave the show, her replacement was a young woman named Sophie Aldred. Sophie ended up playing below her age as a streetwise teenager with a penchant for explosives, and for the first time since Sarah Jane Smith, a proper back story of sorts.

Dorothy Gale McShane may have preferred her nickname Ace (how 80s is that?), but just like the literary character she was named after, she soon realised she wasn’t in Kansas – or rather, Perivale – anymore. Ace began her adventures accidentally whisking up a time-storm in her bedroom whilst making her own explosives, finding herself stranded on the rubbish-looking Iceworld complex on the planet Svartos.

With a space in the TARDIS, she willingly joined the Doctor on his travels, and Andrew Cartmel managed to do what critics later tried to suggest was a Russell T. Davis innovation: letting the companion’s role develop over time. Ace became The Doctor’s student and he, her willing Professor – indeed, she even called him that as a sign of affection, only using his proper name when she was scared.

© BBC

© BBC

Over the course of two mostly brilliant seasons, he showed her the seven galaxies, and as promised, got her home to Perivale in time for tea, and plans were afoot that she would eventually leave his side to become a Time Lady herself. Sadly that was never to come to pass.

The series had been on shaky ground since Colin Baker stepped into the role, and things had gotten progressively worse for the good Doctor as time went by. Surviving cancellation due to national outcry, the edict from on high, muttered only in hushed tones, was that the show must die, but in order to do so effectively, it would require a spot of self-sacrifice.

As Russell T. Davies later revealed, the reason he was told by a BBC scheduler some years later for the show’s cancellation was ‘suicide’, and it was in the scheduling that Jonathan Powell and Michael Grade – the sworn enemies of the programme – found their deadly bullet.

At the time, the biggest show on television was Coronation Street, airing every Wednesday night at 7:30pm to an audience of up to 25 million people. Doctor Who was therefore shunted to Wednesday evenings at 7:35pm, by which time only a fraction of the possible audience would be interested when the salacious goings on in Weatherfield were already catching their attention.

What makes this even more ignoble was that the show under Cartmell had finally found its groove again. Whilst McCoy’s tenure had started with badly, it soon morphed into a show quite unlike anything it had ever been before, yet somehow re-enthused with the very spirit of Doctor Who.

© BBC

© BBC

The Doctor and Ace formed a natural bond, helped by the real life friendship of Sylv & Sophie, and their stories were more intelligent than the show had ever been. Sure, there were misfires – the Cybermen limped through Silver Nemesis and despite bringing back Nick Courtney and Jean Marsh, Battlefield was mostly fluff – but when it worked, it was magnificent. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy really was overcoming the budget constraints which restricted it to low-quality video recording and badly-realised CGI, by telling uncompromising stories in which characters were key.

The BBC, however, had had enough, and no amount of stunt casting big name celebrities in guest roles could pull in the punters. As the fate of the show was being decided, a certain Steven Spielberg just happened to express an interest in the property, via his production company Amblin. Perhaps the cash-strapped Beeb could out-source production to an external company, making a ton of money worldwide?

It’s hard to say what impact outside interest really had in killing off the show, but the results were plain to see. As The Doctor and Ace walked off into the sunset of what transpired to be their final adventure on screen, a hastily written monologue recorded on the show’s 26th anniversary by Sylvester McCoy was overdubbed on that lingering shot, and long-term production of Doctor Who ceased.

In the years that would follow, Sylvester, Sophie, Andrew Cartmell and John Nathan Turner bore the brunt of fan anger, and even now, their detractors remain vocal. Yet what they managed to make under intense pressure was a show which continued to capture the imagination of millions. Theirs was a bold attempt at making big ideas happen on a tiny budget, but it made fans out of many, and long may it continue to do so.

STORIES TO START WITH:

Remembrance of the Daleks: The Doctor and Ace land in 1963 a few days after the First Doctor left on his debut adventure, to find his worst enemy searching for something he left behind. This story finally tackled the myth about Daleks and stairs, features an early role for Joseph “Geoffrey The Butler” Marcell, and is pretty much a bona fide classic.

The Happiness Patrol: A political satire which crept under the radar only to feature on Newsnight 25 years later, in which Sheila Hancock excels as a dictator who insists everyone in her colony must be eternally happy.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy: Creepy, if highly eccentric stuff as robot clowns staff a psychic circus, where the human performers are under threat: bring in fresh acts to keep the Gods of Ragnarok entertained, or die…

The Curse of Fenric: Despite being shot on low-quality video, this is a gorgeous looking and surprisingly grown up tale set in 1940s England under threat of Nazi invasion. Something evil is lurking in the sea, and the coastal village of Maiden’s Point is soon under threat from the vampiric Haemovores.

Ghost Light: Mad as a box of frogs, to the point that not even the cast really understood it when they shot it. What turned out to be the final ‘classic’ story produced is a period treat, in which a powerful alien being cataloguing the universe plays God with the lives of a Victorian household.

STORIES TO AVOID:

Pretty much all of Sylvester’s first season is made on a shoestring budget, with bad acting, bad scripts, bad effects, bad music, bad lighting, bad sets… just avoid anything from Season 24, in general. Elsewhere, Silver Nemesis isn’t much cop, but it’s still a golden nugget next to THAT season.