Doctor Who is Back! Season 8 Starts TODAY!

Later this evening, in slightly over two hours to be exact, the big event that every Doctor Who fan on the planet has been waiting for happens, when the first episode of Season 8 debuts on BBC1 at 7.50pm.

This first episode, Deep Breath, is a 75-minute feature-length debut to the new season, and is the first of the twelve episodes comprising Season 8 (or Season 34, if you prefer to include the Classic Series along with the New Series, as I do). I know absolutely nothing about this episode or any of the others, as I’ve been taking extreme measures to avoid ANY spoilers on the new season. I know nothing other than the titles of the episodes, and that the last two episodes of the season comprise the two-part Season Finale.

I’ve become totally pissed off in recent years, having each new season ruined by spoilers all over the internet, on TV and in the magazines, so this year it’s been me dodging any kind of spoilers as nimbly as I can. Fingers crossed I can make through today, and indeed all twelve episodes, without having anyone ruin things for me by spilling the beans about upcoming stories before I get to watch them first. God help anyone who does. 🙂

The Season 8 Episode Listing is as follows:

  1. Deep Breath
  2. Into the Dalek
  3. Robot of Sherwood
  4. Listen
  5. Time Heist
  6. The Caretaker
  7. Kill the Moon
  8. Mummy on the Orient Express
  9. Flatline
  10. In the Forest of the Night
  11. Dark Water
  12. Death in Heaven

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the first full appearance of the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, as he steps into the role he has inherited from the absolutely amazing Matt Smith. I’ve always been a huge fan of Matt Smith as the Doctor. He’s been a huge success, and gave us an hilariously funny, zany, eccentric, manic, and sometimes truly alien Doctor persona that reminded me most of Tom Baker (on speed), mixed with a lot of Patrick Troughton, and with some of the best elements of the other Doctors thrown in for good measure.

When you combine all of that with Smith’s own natural hi-energy fun and crazy personality (apparently he’s like that in real life, honest), he created a brilliant new Doctor, one who really convinced me that “he was born for the role”. I absolutely loved him, despite being very apprehensive back when he first took over from David Tennant (whom I also loved). Matt Smith made even the lamest episodes (and there have been a few) FUN to watch, keeping me as a viewer even at times when I thought the series was going a bit stale.

So Peter Capaldi has a lot to live up to, some pretty big shoes to fill there, but I reckon he’ll make a darned good Doctor once he settles in. He’s a very experienced actor, who has been around the acting business for many, many years, and the BBC have never failed yet to pick a good one to fill the new Doctor’s role.

Another thing that I consider a major plus is that Capaldi was also a big fan of the classic series when he was a kid. This love and respect for the classic series might serve him well as he slips into the role of the new Doctor. He was a big fan of the first four Doctors, and watched the show avidly right from the William Hartnell era, right on through to the the middle of Tom Baker’s run on the show. Eerily enough, this mirrors almost exactly my own childhood history with Doctor Who.

Anyway, back to the new season opener tonight. I’m actually really looking forward to this new, older, grumpier, darker Doctor, and to seeing how Peter Capaldi works with the current companion, Clara (played by Jenna Coleman). Roll on this evening, 7.50pm!

Doctor Who: Galaxy 4

Older Doctor Who fans will instantly recognize Galaxy 4 as the title of a really ancient, dusty old Doctor Who story, which originally aired on the UK television channel BBC1, over a four-week period during the months of September-October 1965. The story itself no longer exists in the BBC archives, as it was wiped during the shamefully short-sighted BBC “space-saving” purge of old TV shows back in the early 1970’s, although a few bits and pieces did survive here and there.

The previously existing audio-visual material, including six minutes of footage from the first episode, “Four Hundred Dawns”, was initially included on a 1998 VHS video as part of the documentary The Missing Years, and subsequently re-released on the 2004 DVD release of Lost in Time. Episode Three, “Air Lock”, which was recovered back in early 2011, was released on the March 2013 DVD release of The Aztecs: Special Edition as an extra, along with reconstructions of the other 3 episodes, plus the other surviving clips and photographs, all of which had originally been intended for the DVD release of The Time Meddler.

The only way to enjoy the original story in its entirety is in book form, and the complete soundtrack also exists, released in 2002. Actually, there were TWO books, and I have really enjoyed both the Target Books novelization of Galaxy Four, by original writer William Emms, and the Doctor Who: The Scripts edition (Titan Books) of the William Emms Galaxy 4 script. The titles Galaxy Four and Galaxy 4 seem to be interchangeable, and vary from book to book, although Galaxy 4 seems to be considered the correct title. Either of these books will give you the full story, if you manage to get your hands on them. I’m uncertain if either book is still in print (if not, try Ebay or Amazon).

In this story, the TARDIS lands on an unnamed planet in the aforementioned Galaxy 4, a world which is only days away from exploding. The Doctor (the first Doctor – William Hartnell) and his companions Vicki and Steven encounter the Drahvins, a race of female clone warriors, who have crash-landed on the planet and are unable to take off again. Also on the planet is another crashed spaceship belonging to the frightening, alien Rills and their robot servants, the Chumblies (this rather silly name being given to them by Vicki). The Drahvins tell the Doctor that they were attacked by the Rills and both ships were damaged and had to crash-land.

The Drahvin ship is irreparable, but the Rill ship is almost fully repaired and will escape the death of this world. The Drahvins need to capture it, to get away. They are trying to enlist the Doctor’s help, but the Doctor realizes that it’s the Drahvins who are the aggressors and the Rills are peace-loving and civilized. The Doctor helps the Rills finish repairing their ship and escape, and one of the Chumblies stays behind and helps the Doctor, Vicki and Steven escape in the TARDIS, while it and the Drahvins perish when the planet explodes.

By all accounts, the televised story was a fair-to-middling mid-1960’s Doctor Who adventure, pretty decent, although nothing special, certainly not one of the greatest classics of the series. However Galaxy 4, like a few other old Doctor Who stories, seems to go a little bit further than other sci-fi television shows of that era, with a few more twists and a less predictable plot. Back in those days most TV sci-fi was very simplistic – you always knew who the bad guys were, because they were almost always the ugly, scary ones.

Most of the time, Doctor Who was as guilty as any other show in that respect – the series was, after all, dependent on the monsters and aliens for its kiddie “scare factor”. But in Galaxy 4, the writer, William Emms, turned all that completely on its head, making the repulsive, reptilian, warthog-like, ammonia-breathing Rills the intelligent, civilized “good guys”, and the beautiful, blonde amazonian Drahvins the villains of the story.

I’ve also always admired the bravery of the production crew on Doctor Who, for at least making the attempt to create “alien-looking” aliens on the show’s miniscule shoe-string budget, whilst US sci-fi series with much larger budgets (Star Trek, for example) have traditionally served up “aliens” who are, ninety-five percent of the time, obviously only humans wearing latex masks or with bumps glued onto their heads and markings painted on them. The effects and make-up on Doctor Who often looked tacky and cheap, but at least they had the guts to try and make the “aliens” look a bit “alien”.

To the younger viewers of the modern Chris Eccleston/David Tennant/Matt Smith incarnations of the Doctor, most of these old 1960’s Doctor Who stories must be virtually unwatchable. Compared to the modern, frenetically-paced, slick CGI series, these ancient shows creak along at an unbearably slow pace, with too much jibber-jabbering, not enough action, have rather simplistic stories (they were supposedly aimed at kids, after all, and seen from this perspective, they are pretty good), and terrible or non-existent special effects. But having said that, I wonder just how much of the current version will still look good in fifty years time. Modern sci-fi shows tend to depend far too much on SFX, which date very quickly, and less on strong storytelling, which endures pretty much forever.

Old farts like myself still love those ancient 1960’s television shows, and we remember them fondly from our childhood (although I have no memories of Galaxy 4, as I was only four years old at the time). Nostalgia is an incredibly addictive drug. It’s probably also stating the obvious to point out that we must take into account that, FOR ITS TIME, and compared to the rest of the 1960’s BBC output, Doctor Who was an innovative, exciting, frightening and controversial television show. There was nothing else like it on UK television at the time, and the series has influenced countless other sci-fi shows over the decades since then.

I’m hoping that it’ll still be around in another fifty years, long after I’m gone, entertaining yet another new generation of fans.

Doctor Who: 50 Years in Space & Time (Part 6)

November was, overall, an eventful 50th Anniversary for Doctor Who. Lots and lots of great things were happening, on television, on DVD and in the magazines. I can now look back upon the entire 50th Anniversary and list my favourite items. Here, starting with the best, and working my way back, is what I consider to be the Best of the Bunch, in order of preference:

  • An Adventure in Space and Time
  • The Day of the Doctor

1. An Adventure in Space and Time

In first place, and deservedly so, is the sublime An Adventure in Space and Time, which aired on BBC2 from 9-10.30pm on the night of Thursday 21st November. This was simply the best Doctor Who production that I’ve seen in many years. The performances of all of the actors were exemplary, particularly David Bradley in the role of William Hartnell.

Indeed, I must say that the ONLY real criticism that I could express is that An Adventure in Space and Time, at under ninety minutes, was much too short. Because of this, there was the unfortunate need to skip over a number of extremely important figures and details in early Doctor Who history (for example, the vital roles played by Ray Cusick, Terry Nation, David Whitaker and a number of others) because of time and space constraints, if you’ll pardon the obvious and corny pun. This excellent drama would have benefited greatly if it had been at least half an hour longer, or preferably even forty-five minutes.

Many, many thanks to the irrepressible Mark Gatiss for having the dedication and perseverance to stick with this project over so many years, until the time was right and The Powers That Be at the BBC finally gave the go ahead to put it into production.

2. The Day of the Doctor

In second place, and, in my opinion, not very far behind An Adventure in Space and Time, was the 50th Anniversary Special itself, The Day of the Doctor, which aired on BBC1 on the evening of Saturday 23rd November, from 7.50pm-8.05pm.

As I’ve often said, I usually find most modern Doctor Who specials to be a bit hit and miss compared to the series proper. Often they’re a bit of lighter fare to entertain the family after they’ve gorged on the Christmas dinner and chocolate treats (and possibly a few drinkies for the mums and dads, yes siree!). And sometimes they seem to be just a bit of lightweight fluff filler thrown out to keep us hanging on in between seasons, or during the internal breaks within the seasons themselves.

But, that said, The Day of the Doctor was excellent. Not perfect mind you, but definitely excellent, and I consider it to be, despite a few minor niggles, without a doubt my favourite Doctor Who special of the modern era.

To Be Continued…

Doctor Who: 50 Years in Space & Time (Part 5)

In my previous posts, I discussed the various 50th Anniversary activities in Doctor Who Magazine, the Radio Times and the TV Times, as well as the various television celebrations, in particular the 50th Anniversary Special itself, The Day of the Doctor, and the remarkable historical drama An Adventure in Space and Time.

The final big November 50th Anniversary landmark (as far as I’m concerned) was the much-anticipated DVD release of The Tenth Planet. The recent rediscovery of classic Patrick Troughton stories The Web of Fear and Enemy of the World had already caused a huge buzz in the world of Doctor Who, and the release of The Tenth Planet certainly added to that. One of the most important Doctor Who DVD releases of the year, it features the final adventure of the William Hartnell Doctor, as he and his companions Ben and Polly have their first-ever encounter with the Cybermen. The story is also a landmark as it features the very first regeneration of a Doctor into a new incarnation.

The DVD release of The Tenth Planet was something that I had been looking forward to for many years, never having seen the original VHS video release, although I have seen various surviving clips which feature on the Lost in Time DVD box-set. I do have a few very dim memories of some parts of this story from its original 1966 airing on BBC1, although these are only extremely brief, vague flashes of individual scenes. Quite understandable, as I was only five-going-six years old at the time. My first really strong memories of Doctor Who didn’t come from until shortly afterwards, during the Troughton era.

But it was my first encounter with the Target Books novelization of The Tenth Planet during my teens that was the real revelation, confirming it as one of my favourite Doctor Who stories. This was the first time I had actually come across the story in full, as opposed to the much shorter synopsis I had read in the 1973 Doctor Who 10th Anniversary Radio Times Special. And did I enjoy it? Damn right I did! It has always been one of my favourites from the Target Books range.

Now, with the 50th Anniversary DVD release of The Tenth Planet, we get to see the story in full, although the original final episode is still missing. Instead, we have an animated reconstruction, produced by the talented team who did the animated episodes for The Invasion, The Ice Warriors and The Reign of Terror. The original VHS Telesnaps reconstruction of the final episode is also available in the bonus featurettes, as is the original short regeneration sequence that was featured on Blue Peter.

There are lots of other extras as well, but I’ll leave elaborating on those for a proper review of The Tenth Planet, which will be coming up in a later posting.

To Be Continued…

Doctor Who: 50 Years in Space & Time (Part 3)

With the Radio Times celebrating Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary, with no less than TWELVE variant covers, the TV Times also got in on the act with their own 50 Years of Doctor Who Anniversary edition for the week of 23rd-29th November, with four variant Doctor Who covers. I have the 1963-1969 Cover #1, featuring Hartnell and Troughton, plus companions Jamie, Zoe, Steven and Dodo, and a selection of the favourite b&w era monsters. A very nice cover, although it’s strange that all the background companions and monsters are Troughton-era. There’s nothing from the Hartnell era, except the First Doctor himself, and maybe the Daleks, as they were from both eras.

Inside the magazine, we have:

  • A mini-review of The Day of the Doctor
  • A five-page 50 Years of Doctor Who Special celebration, A Very Special Birthday. This is a nice one, and includes an interview with David Tennant and Matt Smith, and interviews with Tom Baker (the 1970s) and Peter Davison (the 1980s)
  • There’s also a Classic Companions piece, featuring interviews with Peter Purves (Steven) and Frazer Hines (Jamie)
  • And to crown it all, there’s A Brief History of Time (Lords), a very nice timeline running along the bottom of the entire five-page feature, starting with An Unearthly Child in 1963, and taking us right up to the 2012 Christmas TV Special, in which the Matt Smith Doctor faces off against the Great Intelligence, in the shape of Richard E. Grant

Overall, a pretty good Doctor Who 50th Anniversary edition. It’s well worth grabbing at least one copy of this one.

To Be Continued…

Doctor Who: 50 Years in Space & Time (Part 2)

Last time out, I talked about what TV has been dishing up for us to celebrate our favourite Time Lord’s 50th birthday. This time, I’m having a look at what’s been happening on the magazine front. In this first part, I’ll be looking at the Radio Times.

The November 23rd-29th edition of the Radio Times is a Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special, with no less than twelve variant covers, each one featuring a different Doctor (including the “War Doctor” John Hurt, which is why there are twelve covers, not eleven). So far, I’ve got the Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee and Tom Baker covers, and to be honest, that’s enough.

I honestly think it’s going a bit overboard trying to collect all twelve covers, unless you’re a reseller wanting to make a big profit, or a hardcore, dedicated fan or collector, who simply has to have every cover. I’ve always been a huge fan of the first four Doctors, so I’ve decided just to collect only the magazines with the covers of those four Doctors.

Inside the magazine itself, we’ve got:

  • A golden celebration of Radio Times Doctor Who covers, with fifty covers for all fifty years
  • A Steven Moffat article You Can’t Destroy the Doctor
  • On set with the Three Doctors (Smith, Tennant and Hurt)
  • A detailed overview of all eleven Doctors
  • And, finally, a competition to win the Doctor’s bow tie

Oh, yeah, and don’t forget that this issue is also interactive, if you happen to have an Apple or Android smartphone. Which I don’t. Life is so unfair! 🙁

This one is worth grabbing at least one copy of.

To Be Continued…

Doctor Who: 50 Years in Space & Time (Part 1)

As this month marks the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, my all-time favourite telefantasy series, I reckon that now is the perfect time to relaunch this blog as a dedicated Doctor Who thingie, rather than the more general telefantasy blog of its previous regeneration.

I now do all of the more general stuff over on my main Tales of Time & Space blog on wordpress.com, so I’ve cleared out all previous posts from this one (they can be reposted in some form on Tales of Time & Space at some point in the future), and I’m starting from scratch here with Doctor Who-only posts.

This coming Saturday (and I get a real thrill out of the fact that the 23rd November actually does fall on a Saturday this year) marks the 50th Anniversary of the very first episode of An Unearthly Child (aka The Tribe of Gum – I still refuse to refer to the overall story by that name), which first aired on BBC1 at 5.15pm on Saturday 23rd November, 1963. I’ll make sure to be sitting in front of the telly at 5.15pm on Saturday with my DVD box-set of The Beginning, plus a little drinkie or two, ready to mark the anniversary of the exact moment when the very first ever episode of Doctor Who exploded upon an unsuspecting world. Actually, it’s more like “sneaked by unnoticed”, due to the widespread furore surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy the day before, but “exploded upon” sounds much more dramatic, doesn’t it?

There has obviously been quite a bit of activity on television to celebrate the lead-up to the anniversary. Aside from the almost compulsory annual Children in Need silliness, we’ve had, most notably: the fun The Science of Doctor Who special on BBC2 (Thursday 14th November, at 9.00pm), hosted by the seemingly ever-present and absolutely brilliant Professor Brian Cox (with a guest appearance by the Doctor himself, Matt Smith); Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited (Watch, Saturday 16th November at 2pm); a three-part Doctor Who: Monsters and Villains Weekend documentary (BBC3, Friday/Saturday 15th/16th November at 8pm, and Sunday 17th November at 7.30pm); and the bumper two-hour The Ultimate Guide to Doctor Who (BBC3, Monday 18th November, 8pm-10pm).

That leaves the two biggies still to come. Every Doctor Who fan on Planet Earth is chomping at the bit, waiting for the 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor (BBC1, Saturday 23rd November, 7.50pm). Obviously I’m as eager as anyone else to see The Day of the Doctor, but, as far as I’m concerned, the true highlight of the entire anniversary celebrations is An Adventure in Space and Time, which airs tonight on BBC2, from 9pm-10.30pm.

I’ve been waiting for months for this one, and I consider An Adventure in Space and Time to be potentially the most important Doctor Who production of recent years. It promises to be something truly special and unique, and I haven’t been this excited about any Doctor Who-related programme since the unsurpassed Philip Hinchcliffe era of Tom Baker’s run on the classic series.

And just for good measure, after An Adventure in Space and Time ends, you can hop channels over to BBC4 at 10.30pm, where they’re airing all four episodes of An Unearthly Child. This is gonna be the best Thursday night’s television viewing in years!

To Be Continued…