Doctor Who: Heaven Sent

Now THAT was a cracker! In my opinion, Heaven Sent, written by Steven Moffat, is a great follow-up to Face the Raven, the best Doctor Who episode in a long, long time, and definitely the best episode of Series 9 so far.

It was dark, scary, moody, mindbending, intelligent – it’s just how I love Doctor Who, and is the kind of episode that we’ve seen far too little of in recent years. With the exception of Chris Eccleston’s excellent single season, Series 9 is the nearest that Doctor Who has come in tone (if not quite in quality) to the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe era, by far my favourite era in either Classic or New Doctor Who. I was glued to the screen for the entire forty-five minutes, although I’m not too sure if I like the whole “I am the hybrid” idea, at the episode’s climax. If it pans out like that, it would be just a little too silly for my liking.

Peter Capaldi has taken the role of the Doctor by the scruff of its neck and made it his own, and Clara/Jenna Coleman has grown into an excellent companion. I’ll be sorry to see her go at the end of this series. Despite the multitude of rabid Clara haters I’ve seen online (fandom makes me sick at times – there are far too many total assholes out there claiming to be fans), I’m pretty sure that future critics and fans will look back on Clara Oswald as being one of the better companions in the history of either Doctor Who series.

There’s been a certain amount of moaning and groaning on Facebook and elsewhere that, if we see many more episodes like Heaven Sent, “we’ll lose the general audience”. I disagree. Fans who have grown up with NuWho, TRUE fans, and not the “flyby brigade”, who only watch it if there’s nothing better on the other channels, will still stick to the show like glue. I do agree that there has to be a certain amount of balance between the lightness and humour vs the grimness and serious stories, to vary the pace in between the individual episodes, and give us an entire range of the spectrum between extreme the dark, scary stuff and the lightweight fluffy episodes. But this kind of story is so much more my idea of what Doctor Who should REALLY be like. Others may have their own ideas of what Doctor Who should be like, but Heaven Sent is mine.

However, I do concede that there has to be a balance. But the moaners who can’t tolerate ANY heavy, serious episodes at all really get my goat up. They should just clear off and watch airhead sitcoms or soap operas, if all they want is non-stop, upbeat nonsense. We really do need these “deep” stories occasionally, to balance out the lighter, more dumbed down, all flash and no substance single episodes, that supposedly are aimed at the “general” audience and kids (who, these days, aren’t as stupid as the marketers seem to think). Thankfully, with all the two-parters, Series 9 has seen only a couple of these single episodes, and even they were linked. A big improvement on previous years, in my opinion, and I hope that this trend in favour of two-parters continues.

The David Tennant and Matt Smith eras had FAR too many of those dumb single episodes, far too much old silliness, with the totally ridiculous romance nonsense between the Doctor and human female companions, other completely irrelevant, soap-opera-ish, non-Who-ish distractions, and simply too much bad writing. The Matt Smith era, in particular, was virtually unwatchable at times, despite the fact that he himself was an absolutely AMAZING Doctor. He carried the show most of the time, to be honest, and I continued watching it just for him. In my opinion, Capaldi’s arrival, and the complete change in tone of the series, has revitalised Doctor Who, although there are still too many dodgy stories. But hell, that’s always been true of Doctor Who. Lest the rose-tinted glasses crowd forget, the Classic series also had more than its fair share of total clunkers.

It’s not 1966 any more, fer cryin’ out loud. It’s almost 2016, and modern audiences (including kids) are far more sophisticated than they were back in the 1960s and 1970s. And the show is no longer aired at 5.15pm in the evening, but a full three hours later, sometimes not ending until after the 9pm watershed. I can no longer understand the endless obsession with forcing the show into a shoebox where it has to appeal to five year-olds as well as fifty-five year olds. That approach just doesn’t seem relevant any more.

In most cases, instead of more challenging stories, in recent years we’ve ended up with far too many middle-of-the-road, lightweight “fluff” single episodes aimed at keeping kids and general viewers who are not hardcore Doctor Who fans happy, what I refer to as the “Popcorn Who” audience. Personally, given Doctor Who’s current late timeslot, and the fact that the typical modern audience is much more varied and sophisticated than it was forty or fifty years ago, I really think the series should be written accordingly today, and aimed at a similar audience to Steven Moffat’s other excellent show, Sherlock.

I know those “popcorn” episodes are for keeping up the general audience figures, but too many of them and you lose the hardcore fans (like myself). They are just too bland and lightweight, and while I can take the odd one in between the more intelligent, serious episodes, string more than two or three of them together and I’ll give up on that season as a lost cause. Thankfully Heaven Sent was way over at the other extreme, where I prefer my Doctor Who to be. I like my Doctor Who dark, scary and serious.

I’m hoping Hell Bent lives up to the quality of Heaven Sent (and that Moffat will be able to do it two episodes in a row, as this has been a weakness of his with two-parters). If it’s even half as good, it’ll be a decent series finale. And if it’s on the same level of quality, we’re in for one of the greatest series endings in modern Doctor Who.

Another Doctor Who Night In (Part Four)

Last time out, I mentioned having a nice evening in watching a couple of classic Doctor Who DVDs, namely the first and third stories from Season 16’s Key to Time sequence, The Ribos Operation and The Stones of Blood. I’ve already given my views on The Ribos Operation, So, on now to The Stones of Blood.

The Stones of Blood has always been, by far, my favourite story from the Key to Time sequence, and is one of my Top 3 from the Graham Williams era. It features an excellent script by David Fisher, and a great cast, with particularly strong performances not only by the regular cast, but by fantastic supporting characters Professor Emilia Rumford (played by Beatrix Lehmann) and Vivien Fay/Cessair of Diplos (played by Susan Engel).

I found the aliens in this story to be pretty interesting. I loved the idea that the Ogri (the Stones in the title of the story) were a silicon-based lifeform that fed on blood. A pretty good variation on the vampire theme. I really wish the Ogri had made a reappearance in the series, rather than being “one-hit wonders”. Likewise the alien justice machines, the Megara. And the Cailleach, the Celtic goddess who is actually 3,000 year-old alien escaped prisoner Cessair of Diplos, who carries the Great Seal of Diplos, which is actually the next section of the Key to Time, and who also controls the Ogri. And the alien prison ship itself, which is in hyperspace, but which also happens to occupy the exact same space in our world as that between the stones. Entertaining and fascinating sci-fi concepts – this story is positively overflowing with them.

There’s even the almost-compulsory cult, led by their crazy High Priest (de Vries), who worship and serve the Cailleach. Doctor Who seems to have an obsession with taking pokes at cults and religions, which is all fine by me, as I tend to share those views. As a matter of fact, there are TWO stories featuring cults in the Key to Time sequence, the other one being the hilarious Swampies in The Power of Kroll. The scene where the cult are about to sacrifice the Doctor also gives us one of the best lines in the series, as Tom Baker looks up at de Vries, who has a knife raised in the air, and says “I hope that knife has been properly sterilised”. Cracking line! 🙂

Overall, The Stones of Blood is a fantastic story, full of inventive ideas, good acting, and which moves along at a cracking pace. It’s one of the very few Doctor Who stories from the Graham Williams era that I’d argue holds its own against the classic Hinchcliffe era of the series. Great stuff!

Another Doctor Who Night In
(Part Four)

Last time out, I mentioned having a nice evening in watching a couple of classic Doctor Who DVDs, namely the first and third stories from Season 16’s Key to Time sequence, The Ribos Operation and The Stones of Blood. I’ve already given my views on The Ribos Operation, So, on now to The Stones of Blood.

The Stones of Blood has always been, by far, my favourite story from the Key to Time sequence, and is one of my Top 3 from the Graham Williams era. It features an excellent script by David Fisher, and a great cast, with particularly strong performances not only by the regular cast, but by fantastic supporting characters Professor Emilia Rumford (played by Beatrix Lehmann) and Vivien Fay/Cessair of Diplos (played by Susan Engel).

I found the aliens in this story to be pretty interesting. I loved the idea that the Ogri (the Stones in the title of the story) were a silicon-based lifeform that fed on blood. A pretty good variation on the vampire theme. I really wish the Ogri had made a reappearance in the series, rather than being “one-hit wonders”. Likewise the alien justice machines, the Megara. And the Cailleach, the Celtic goddess who is actually 3,000 year-old alien escaped prisoner Cessair of Diplos, who carries the Great Seal of Diplos, which is actually the next section of the Key to Time, and who also controls the Ogri. And the alien prison ship itself, which is in hyperspace, but which also happens to occupy the exact same space in our world as that between the stones. Entertaining and fascinating sci-fi concepts – this story is positively overflowing with them.

There’s even the almost-compulsory cult, led by their crazy High Priest (de Vries), who worship and serve the Cailleach. Doctor Who seems to have an obsession with taking pokes at cults and religions, which is all fine by me, as I tend to share those views. As a matter of fact, there are TWO stories featuring cults in the Key to Time sequence, the other one being the hilarious Swampies in The Power of Kroll. The scene where the cult are about to sacrifice the Doctor also gives us one of the best lines in the series, as Tom Baker looks up at de Vries, who has a knife raised in the air, and says “I hope that knife has been properly sterilised”. Cracking line! 🙂

Overall, The Stones of Blood is a fantastic story, full of inventive ideas, good acting, and which moves along at a cracking pace. It’s one of the very few Doctor Who stories from the Graham Williams era that I’d argue holds its own against the classic Hinchcliffe era of the series. Great stuff!

Another Doctor Who Night In (Part Three)

Last night I had another Doctor Who DVD-watching session, swinging back to the Tom Baker Doctor again. I watched a couple of Graham Williams-produced stories from his second season, this time concentrating on two of the tales from the Season 16 Key to Time sequence, the first and third stories respectively, The Ribos Operation and The Stones of Blood. I’ll give my views on The Ribos Operation this time out, and leave The Stones of Blood for the next post.

The Ribos Operation is a pretty decent story, if a little slow and lacking in excitement. The main plus points are the strong script and excellent cast. There is a new main supporting character and companion joining the Doctor and K-9 Mark II (voiced by John Leeson), in the form of the elegant and gorgeous Mary Tamm as Time Lady Romana. We also have the first appearance of an occasional recurring character, the White Guardian (played by Cyril Luckham). The rest of the supporting cast was also very capable, with particularly strong performances from the two lovable rogues Garron and Unstoffe (played by Iain Cuthbertson and Nigel Plaskitt), the main bad guy’s right-hand man Sholakh (played by Robert Keegan), and the old hermit Binro (played by Timothy Bateson). I really liked the exchanges between Unstoffe and Binro.

The negative cast performances stem mostly from the almost compulsory late-Tom Baker/Williams era failing of overly-melodramatic and ham acting from some actors. The Spam Awards for this story go, in particular, to The Seeker (played by Anne Tirard) and the annoyingly exaggerated cartoon villain/insane galactic ex-tyrant ruler the Graff Vynda-K (played by Paul Seed). This type of pantomime acting has always been one of the things that I find really irritating in Doctor Who, and I really do consider it the bane of the classic series.

And then there’s Prentis Hancock, playing the Shrieve Captain. Prentis is a lovely bloke, but every time I’ve seen him in any television role (and I’ve seen him in quite a few), he seems to play the same brooding, angry, unsociable stereotype. I dunno whether he’s just been typecast in that role, or it’s simply because he’s lazy and is comfortable playing the same part over and over again, but I don’t recall ever seeing him do any other character than the same stereotype that he’s played so many times in Doctor Who and elsewhere. Even as a regular cast member on Space: 1999, most of the time he seemed to be playing a barely slightly more mellow version of the same grumpy, permanently angry character.

Last but not least, let’s not forget this story’s scary monster, the Shrievenzale, which was about as scary as Kermit the Frog, if you ask me. In other words, complete crap. The Shrievenzale is one of those Doctor Who monsters which is very dodgy-looking and barely any better than the infamous Myrka from Warriors of the Deep.

Still, aside from those few small quibbles, I quite enjoyed The Ribos Operation. Next time out, I’ll be giving my views on The Stones of Blood.

Another Doctor Who Night In
(Part Three)

Last night I had another Doctor Who DVD-watching session, swinging back to the Tom Baker Doctor again. I watched a couple of Graham Williams-produced stories from his second season, this time concentrating on two of the tales from the Season 16 Key to Time sequence, the first and third stories respectively, The Ribos Operation and The Stones of Blood. I’ll give my views on The Ribos Operation this time out, and leave The Stones of Blood for the next post.

The Ribos Operation is a pretty decent story, if a little slow and lacking in excitement. The main plus points are the strong script and excellent cast. There is a new main supporting character and companion joining the Doctor and K-9 Mark II (voiced by John Leeson), in the form of the elegant and gorgeous Mary Tamm as Time Lady Romana. We also have the first appearance of an occasional recurring character, the White Guardian (played by Cyril Luckham). The rest of the supporting cast was also very capable, with particularly strong performances from the two lovable rogues Garron and Unstoffe (played by Iain Cuthbertson and Nigel Plaskitt), the main bad guy’s right-hand man Sholakh (played by Robert Keegan), and the old hermit Binro (played by Timothy Bateson). I really liked the exchanges between Unstoffe and Binro.

The negative cast performances stem mostly from the almost compulsory late-Tom Baker/Williams era failing of overly-melodramatic and ham acting from some actors. The Spam Awards for this story go, in particular, to The Seeker (played by Anne Tirard) and the annoyingly exaggerated cartoon villain/insane galactic ex-tyrant ruler the Graff Vynda-K (played by Paul Seed). This type of pantomime acting has always been one of the things that I find really irritating in Doctor Who, and I really do consider it the bane of the classic series.

And then there’s Prentis Hancock, playing the Shrieve Captain. Prentis is a lovely bloke, but every time I’ve seen him in any television role (and I’ve seen him in quite a few), he seems to play the same brooding, angry, unsociable stereotype. I dunno whether he’s just been typecast in that role, or it’s simply because he’s lazy and is comfortable playing the same part over and over again, but I don’t recall ever seeing him do any other character than the same stereotype that he’s played so many times in Doctor Who and elsewhere. Even as a regular cast member on Space: 1999, most of the time he seemed to be playing a barely slightly more mellow version of the same grumpy, permanently angry character.

Last but not least, let’s not forget this story’s scary monster, the Shrievenzale, which was about as scary as Kermit the Frog, if you ask me. In other words, complete crap. The Shrievenzale is one of those Doctor Who monsters which is very dodgy-looking and barely any better than the infamous Myrka from Warriors of the Deep.

Still, aside from those few small quibbles, I quite enjoyed The Ribos Operation. Next time out, I’ll be giving my views on The Stones of Blood.

Another Doctor Who Night In

We had another nice Doctor Who night last night at our place, watching several classic Who DVDs. Again, like last time out, they’re all Tom Baker stories, two from the Philip Hinchcliffe era and the third from the Graham Williams era.

We started off with The Seeds of Doom, one of my favourite stories from the Philip Hinchcliffe “Gothic Horror” era of the classic series, a four-year period that remains, to this day, my favourite-ever era in the history of Doctor Who, either Classic or New series. This is quite a scary one, with the Krynoid very reminiscent of the plant creature in the first 1953 Quatermass serial. Doctor Who, especially the classic series, was very heavily influenced by Quatermass. Always copy the best, that’s what I say! 🙂

This was followed by The Deadly Assassin, the rather controversial story which showcased the “reinvention” of the Time Lords. This one got some of the more purist fans of the original, near-omnipotent Time Lords in a bit of a tizzy, and I have to admit that I found myself sometimes wondering how this bunch of incompetent bureaucrats could ever have been the lords of time and space. The story also featured the first reappearance of The Master since the Pertwee era, a welcome return. The Deadly Assassin is an excellent tale, always rated among one of the greatest of the classic series, although I wouldn’t rate it as one of my own personal biggest favourites (I do like it, however).

To wrap up the evening, we finished off with another highly-rated classic, City of Death, which I also quite like, although, again, I wouldn’t rate it in my own personal Top Ten Classic Who stories. I was never as fond of the Graham Williams era as I was of the Hinchcliffe era. Tom Baker was allowed to do his own thing far too much, and often hammed it up a lot, with the humour getting a bit silly and slapstick at times. I much preferred the more scary and serious feel of the Hinchcliffe era, when Baker’s humour was much more subdued and subtle, and he played the role totally straight. That said, City of Death was definitely one of the best stories of the Williams era. Scaroth was one of the better villains that the fourth Doctor faced, and I’ve always found the concept of the Jagaroth, a ruthless alien race which terrorized the galaxy half a billion years ago, to be something that I’d love to see revisited again. Maybe in the new series. The TARDIS can go anywhere, after all.

Anyway, that was another really enjoyable evening. Here’s looking forward to watching some more Doctor Who soon.

Doctor Who DVD Marathon Session

I‘m having a bit of a quiet night in tonight, watching a few Doctor Who DVDs with a couple of mates. We have four DVDs on the menu tonight, and they’re all Tom Baker stories, among them three of my all-time favourite DW classics from the Hinchcliffe era.

We’re starting of with Image of the Fendahl (just finishing now), followed by Terror of the Zygons, Genesis of the Daleks, and finally Destiny of the Daleks. The first three stories are all in my Top Ten classic Doctor Who Stories list. Destiny is pretty decent too, if not quite up to the standard of the first three.

Tom Baker has always been my favourite Doctor, and the Hinchcliffe era by far my favourite era ever of Doctor Who. The underlying horror, more subdued Baker humour, excellent acting and extremely high quality of the scripts in Baker’s first three seasons have never been equalled, let alone surpassed, either in the classic or the new series.

I haven’t seen any of these in quite a long time now, so it’ll be really nice to revisit these old classics again. We’re in for a very enjoyable evening. 🙂

Doctor Who Back on UK Television!

Like every other Doctor Who fan on the planet, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the start of the new season, and most of all the first full appearance of the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Now at last, Doctor Who returns to UK television tomorrow, Saturday, 23rd August, at 7.50pm, in a 75-minute feature-length episode.

The first episode of twelve in the new Season 8 (or Season 34, if you prefer to include the classic series, as I do), is Deep Breath. Here’s a list of the twelve episodes of the new season:

  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

The last two episodes are the two-part Season Finale. I’ve deliberately avoided giving any spoilers. Indeed, I’ve actively avoided encountering any spoilers myself, and I know absolutely nothing about the episodes other than their titles. I’ve become royally fed up, every single year, 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 it to Saturday, and woe betide anyone who ruins things for me. 🙂

I’ve always been a huge fan of Matt Smith and his portrayal of the Doctor. Starting off as a relative unknown, he took to the role like a duck to water, and he has been, without a doubt, a huge success as the 11th Doctor. He brought us a zany, eccentric, manic, and often truly alien version of the Doctor that reminded me most of Tom Baker (on speed), which can never be a bad thing as far as I’m concerned, as TomDoc has always been my favourite Doctor of all.

By adopting some of the best elements of not only Tom Baker, but also other previous Doctors (there’s a lot of Patrick Troughton in there as well), combined with his own natural hi-energy craziness, Smith created a new persona which really appealed to me in a “he was born for the role” kind of way. I absolutely loved him, which came as a big surprise to me as I was really apprehensive back when he first took over from David Tennant. Even in the less notable episodes, he lights up the screen and he makes even the worst stories watchable, even if only to enjoy Smith doing his thing.

So Peter Capaldi has a lot to live up to, although I’m sure he’ll be more than up to the job. He’s an accomplished actor, and has been around for a long, long time. He’s also a lifetime Doctor Who fan, and has been since he was a young child. Or at least he was an obsessive fan of the classic series (I’ve no idea what he thinks of the new series), from the beginning with William Hartnell, right on through to the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker. So this bodes well for the show, in my opinion.

I’m actually looking forward to this older, darker Doctor, and to seeing how he works with the current companion, Clara (Jenna Coleman). Roll on Saturday evening, 7.50pm!