The Doctors - The ArchiveBookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 November 2013 - Reviewed by John Bowman

The Doctors - The Archive
Published by Trinity Mirror in November 2013
Written by Kenny Smith
This year has, understandably, seen a plethora of publications marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Somewhat surprisingly, Radio Times didn't rise to the occasion as it has done so admirably in the past, but another national publication with an equally enviable photo archive has produced a magazine that will surely delight many a fan.

The Doctors - The Archive draws on pictures taken by the Daily Mirror at numerous press calls over the decades, and its 84 glossy pages are filled with numerous black-and-white and colour images, including many mouth-watering ones that are unlikely to have been seen before, such as Jean Marsh as Sara Kingdom on set for the Christmas Day 1965 episode The Feast of Steven.

Other goodies include the Cyber chorus line, staged during the location filming for Silver Nemesis - the 1988 story marking the show's 25th anniversary and in which, as the magazine proudly points out, the Mirror was turned to by Ace to find out the Charlton Athletic football result! (The researcher appears not to know, however, that the newspaper also appeared in the programme ten years earlier, with the edition reporting the sinking of Titanic seen being read by Chancellor Borusa in The Invasion of Time.) The newspaper's links with the show are nicely brought pretty much bang up to the present with a look at a visit to its Canary Wharf headquarters by Matt Smith and Karen Gillan in March 2010.

With so many spectacular images presented in this lavish offering, we are spoiled for highlights and everybody will undoubtedly have their own favourites, but mention must be made of the fabulous behind-the-scenes shots from the Web of Fear location filming, as well as the photocall for the announcement of Jon Pertwee as the Doctor.

Examples of the terrific pictorial content are given here, along with others in our report of its publication. The magazine also includes insightful interviews with many of the people associated with the show, including Raymond Cusick, Donald Tosh, Peter Purves, Wendy Padbury, Alexandra Tynan (formerly Sandra Reid), Louise Jameson, and former Daily Mirror reporter Robert Banks Stewart. In addition, it seizes the opportunity where possible to impart some delightful nuggets of knowledge - for instance, how many of you knew that William Mervyn, who portrayed Sir Charles Summer in The War Machines, was the father of current production designer Michael Pickwoad?!

The cover price of £4.99 (plus postage, where applicable, if ordered online via Amazon or the Mirror) is a refreshingly low sum to fork out in this merchandise-filled day and age in order to be able to drool over such fine professional pictures. As well as being available worldwide online, UK residents should be able to find it in WH Smith, selected supermarkets, and independent newsagents. And having had your appetite well and truly whetted, if you fancy copies of the rare images featured and you've got a bigger budget, they - and many more - are available from £9 per print at Mirror-Photos.co.uk.

There are some factual errors and regrettable literals, it has to be said, but don't let those very few, minor, nit-picking mistakes put you off. This magazine is most definitely all about the glorious pictures - and that's why it's an undeniable treat of an anniversary publication that deserves a place in Doctor Who collections: a truly impressive Time-Space Visualiser!




Doctor Who Official 50th Celebration (ExCeL London, 22-24 November)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 25 November 2013 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
The lead-up to this event wasn’t always the smoothest experience for many people, particularly when an incorrect pre-sale code went out to fans intent on booking TARDIS tickets and Matt Smith photos. But all that is in the past; how did these three days measure up to fan expectations? And what of fears that the Celebration would be overly corporate, lacking in the intimate, sociable atmosphere of smaller fan-run events?

Doctor Who Celebration: Guinness World Record announced (Credit: Matt Hills)For something originally billed as three iterations of essentially the same thing, it wasn’t only the line-up of guest talks, screening commentaries and features that shifted every day. Each day also had a distinct feel to it: different moments, same venue. Day 1 was largely about organisers finding their feet, and realizing what didn’t work and what needed tweaking, leaving guests almost treated as guinea pigs ahead of the actual anniversary date. Saturday hosted the Graham Norton Show, and had fans commemorating the anniversary instant at 5:16pm. By this time things were running more smoothly. However, on Sunday there was a sense of some merchandise stock running out and last-minute scheduling taking hold (“check at the Event Information/Meeting Point”), but most people were in a post-Special haze and were ecstatic to be there for the Guinness world record announcement at the end of the Eleventh Hour panel.

Friday was, in my opinion, fairly chaotic on an organizational front. Far from being slick, polished and corporate, it was sometimes eccentric and amateurish. Visitors wanting to pick up their pre-booked T-shirts were herded into a long queue whilst other merchandise tills were staffed by blue-shirted Crew left twiddling their thumbs. Only after this arrangement became manifestly ludicrous did somebody think to open up T-shirt collection at multiple till points. Similarly peculiar was the first Friday autograph session I attended. Guests had no photos available to sign (unlike most commercial events I’ve attended over the past few years, which almost always give this option), and those autographing had only black pens with which to sign. Utterly useless on the rather nice Show Planner – printed on black – if this was all you had, and not a great deal of use on the Radio Times anniversary cover I’d brought for Kate O’Mara to sign. Again, there was some rethinking later in the event: still no glossy prints for guests to sign, but some metallic Sharpies were acquired. From the approach on Day 1, though, you’d think that the folk running this had never arranged a signing before.

Queuing was a constant problem for certain things. In a self-defeating and strangely anti-commercial move, organisers somehow managed to contrive a situation whereby the official BBC Shop had continually lengthy queues, lacking the necessary floor space and needing to control crowd numbers. This particular shopping destination should have been much bigger on the inside, and I continually overheard complaints from fans trying to get in. Picking up an Enemy of the World DVD became something of a trial, and I’ve no doubt that much time was lost by the poor people queuing to look at show offers and exclusives (there were lots of 5-inch ‘holographic tenth Doctor’ figures left on the shelves at the end of the last day). By contrast, a rather fine 50th anniversary tote bag over at the Plastichead stand sold out by the end of Day 2, leaving Sunday attendees without any chance of picking one up (stupidly I hadn’t bought one earlier).

Official event merchandise offered a range of things: standard gubbins like a keyring (a smart metallic effort), postcard, bookmark, poster, brochure (thankfully it had a pale cover, so this was very useful to collect guest autographs) and a gorgeous anniversary enamel pin set which staff told me was exclusive to the event and limited to 500 sets. Despite this probably being the best of the bunch, it was a little over-priced at £65, and was discounted to £40 towards the end of the final day in an evident effort to boost sales. Such a nakedly commercial move – like a market trader looking to unload his wares – struck me as a curious one, and all the more so since I’d paid full price on Friday (stupidly, I had bought one earlier).

There were some other brilliant show exclusives (or premieres) on the merchandise front: along with the Plastichead tote, Big Chief Studios were offering 25-a-day of their ‘Day of the Doctor’ Tennant exclusive: I arrived first thing on Friday only to find 001 of 100 had just been paid for, and that there were several other dedicated collectors ahead of me in the queue. Sunday also boasted a few ‘Day of the Doctor’ items that could only go on sale after the anniversary special had screened: Underground Toys were selling ‘The Other Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver’, and Dark Bunny Tees – responsible for a great range of T-shirts across this year – unveiled two new designs on the Sunday, including a particularly impressive ‘Space-Time Telegraph’ one.

Doctor Who Celebration: Cold War model on displayBut what of things beyond the collector’s view? Well, there was enough to keep 13 incarnations busy, so you had to plot a time-space path through all the offerings and stick to your preferences. Even spending three days there, you couldn’t exhaust all possible options. As well as Classic Lounge talks and Screening Room live commentaries that could be pre-booked, there were also Stage 1 and 2 features, and these included talks by Phil Collinson, Bernard Cribbins and John Leeson as well as a fantastic Big Finish performance involving members of the audience and a magical demo from special sound maestro Dick Mills. Millennium FX also hosted some highly entertaining demos, whilst the Real SFX stand and a fabulous range of costumes also gave visitors a chance to chat with people who’ve worked on the show. Another personal highlight for me was the section manned by Mat Irvine and Mike Tucker: this featured Mike’s model submarine work from Cold War and an utterly superb set-up of the gateway, Privateer and model TARDIS from one of my all-time favourites, Warriors’ Gate, which I couldn’t recall seeing in this arrangement at an event before, and which Mat said they’d set up as something new for the Celebration. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

With so much happening in this one hall, it was perhaps unsurprising that people didn’t always think to head upstairs to the Screening Room or the Classic Lounge talks. These were often sparsely attended, but I was privileged enough to witness Philip Hinchcliffe and David Collings chatting over episode one of Robots of Death, the energetic Graeme Harper discussing part one of Caves of Androzani, and Andrews Cartmel and Morgan talking over episode three of Remembrance of the Daleks. The legend that is Terrance Dicks also held an audience spellbound whilst discussing The Three Doctors (and I was especially pleased to see the anniversary special acknowledging his input: Terrance talked about his “wheezing, groaning” description of the TARDIS). And Anthony Read’s forthright analysis of The Invasion of Time marked a fascinating end to Sunday’s proceedings, though I suspect many people were already heading home by that point.

The Classic Lounge also delivered some great chats. I only made it to a few of these. Lalla Ward, Bonnie Langford and Mark Strickson were all great: and Lalla, in particular, adopted an idiosyncratic approach to answering questions: she was the only guest I heard across the event informing a fan that their question was unanswerable and so she simply couldn’t respond to it. She also drew gasps from the crowd (and this was a well-attended session) by admitting that she hadn’t seen The Day of the Doctor, and probably never would. Another session with Deborah Watling and Frazer Hines was also hugely entertaining, with Frazer's impersonation of Patrick Troughton earning an impromptu round of applause.

By the last day, the Screening Room and Classic Lounge were being promoted in the main stage Regenerations event, and there seemed to be more signage pointing out their existence. But I was moved to ponder why they had been so poorly attended in many cases. The pre-booking system implied that events were full (or nearly full, with only a few tickets left on the day), but since this was pretty much never true, what went awry between online booking and the event itself? Perhaps people were stuck in queues and couldn’t get to sessions; perhaps some had double-booked and then chosen what to go to (since the online system allowed this); perhaps many visitors with children decided to pursue more kid-friendly events. Whatever the explanation, I was left with the odd sensation that I was in a tiny minority in terms of being interested in Harper, Hinchcliffe and Dicks’ live commentaries: an unexpected outcome for a 50th Celebration. These events also circumvented the commercialization of photos and autographs happening elsewhere, with a good selection of guests being more than happy to pose for pictures and sign autograph books, brochures or Day Planners. Terrance Dicks, Graeme Harper and Andrew Cartmel were all absolute stars, while Fiona Cumming was also lovely after her Castrovalva episode 4 screening, and very happy to chat to fans.

Doctor Who Celebration: Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman and Steven Moffat on stage (Credit: Matt Hills)Time to focus on the main events. These also varied from day to day, despite occasional repetitions (which actors largely kept fresh-sounding) and a sense that Crew were picking children with very similar questions. Sunday was the real revelation, as this Eleventh Hour panel featured Nick Hurran – director of The Day of the Doctor – and was finally free to discuss the Special, along with showing a number of clips and repeatedly projecting that shot of Capaldi’s eyes onto the big screen. (Is there a fanzine or a blog called Capaldi’s Eyebrows yet? There ought to be: they had become a meme by Sunday). This session also became unexpectedly melancholic, as Steven Moffat revealed this would quite likely be his final panel with Matt, and Matt asked the crowd to “keep the fezzes going after I’m gone”. The Curator’s appearance was also discussed, though part of me wished that Tom Baker and Steven Moffat had been on the same panel on November 23rd, so that fans could ask about the fact that this legendary star had gone up against showrunner control by issuing spoilers about his own involvement. But a question as off-message as this would never have been selected; instead we were mostly treated to stock inquiries (favourite monster/episode).

Doctor Who Celebration: Tom Baker on stage (Credit: Matt Hills)Another variation was the involvement of Tom Baker in Saturday’s Regenerations panel, where he tended to dominate. Peter Davison, sat next to Tom, wore a studiously amused and indulgent expression throughout, with the very slight implication of ‘I knew this would happen’. Perhaps Tom should have been given his own session, but it was truly magical to see him on stage celebrating his time as the Doctor: for those of my generation (I was ten in 1981), this proved to be the day of Tom Baker.

Amongst the cornucopia of Who things, there were also photo opportunities. I was lucky enough to have photos taken with Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman, and these were quickfire but good-natured events. I found both lead actors to be warm and personable, despite the “move along now” setting. Collecting photos on Day 1 involved more standing in a queue, but this had been revised twenty-four hours later, and it was then quick and easy to pop back and get one's picture.

I’d imagine that there are many lessons to be learnt from this event. One of my favourite admissions of organizational error was the fact that by Day 2 a Box Office sign had gone up informing visitors that – contradicting every ticketing email and print-out sent to every attendee as far as I know – "Collection of autographs is not at this desk... Collection of TARDIS photographs is not at this desk... Collection of cast photographs is not at this desk”. Staff admitted that email instructions had caused them many headaches. So, did Crowdsurge modify their processes halfway through planning? Did they even know how the ExCeL would operate? Crowdsurge did, on the other hand, have a habit of sending out emails and new confirmations correcting their multiple errors about event times. Rather like the oddly planned autograph sessions involving one colour of pen (on the Henry Ford principle), you’d almost imagine that the folks organizing this had simply never done it before. Fandom probably cherishes one thing perhaps above all else: attention to detail. And on this basis, organisers sometimes resembled anti-fans, for whom attention to detail was remarkably low on the apparent list of priorities.

And yet, and yet... this all came together as an event from which I’ll cherish many wonderful memories. The entrance to the hall was beautifully done – utilizing I.M Foreman gates, and a replica of the original TARDIS in its junkyard setting, as well as emulating aspects of Lime Grove studios. You really felt like you were emotionally time-travelling as you stepped through the gates, and an expanse of Doctor Who areas and arenas beckoned.

Was it an excessively corporate event? In some ways, perhaps: closing merch discounts certainly struck an off note, and TARDIS VIP tickets promised “exclusive” items in a goodie bag which turned out to contain the exact same Celebration merchandise available to everyone else present. Arguably, TARDIS tickets were really only worth the extra money in order to sit in the first few rows of the auditorium, though the TARDIS lounge did offer a break from all the standing, plus as much tea or coffee as could be humanly imbibed. Meanwhile, standard tickets tended to mean that unless you were very lucky you could only see the guests on-stage on the big screen – inevitable given the size of the audience. But in other ways this was far from corporate: the accessibility of guests outside the contractual circle of current stars was lovely, and attendees were also wonderful: fans happily snapped pictures for their fellow devotees, and I saw almost continual acts of small kindness, as well as those in costume being appreciated by others (there was a magnificent tin-foil Cyberman ahead of me in Friday’s entry queue). The atmosphere was generally supportive, communal and joyous, other than slight bits of queuing grumpiness erupting round the BBC Shop (a sensible response to circumstances, truth be told). Some stars were happy to pose for photos – Bernard Cribbins was a true superstar in this respect – and to sign things that you weren’t immediately buying, e.g. David Warner’s attendance at the Big Finish stand was another great bonus.

In the end, this more than lived up to its title. But Day 1 simply should have been run better – it seems unforgivable to be working out reasonable processes as you go along, whilst also (as I understand it) largely relying on unpaid voluntary Crew labour. And the Celebration should never have been billed as three ‘repeats’ of the same content, as the substance of each day was more than sufficiently varied to merit three days of celebrating, pre and post the 50th. “Three of them!”…but this wasn’t a nightmare, more a dream come true, albeit with occasional darker moments. Happy birthday, Doctor: you did it in style, and those who’ve carried the flame across the past fifty years – and so were perhaps less bound by current brand management – made it especially worthwhile for me, whether that meant chatting to Mat Irvine or getting a photo with Terrance Dicks. Lanyards proclaimed “I was there”, and in years to come this will probably take on the mythic status that Longleat 1983 has already attained for generations of fans.




Me, You and Doctor Who: A Culture Show SpecialBookmark and Share

Friday, 22 November 2013 - Reviewed by Matt Hills

Me, You and Doctor Who: A Culture Show Special
Presented by Matthew Sweet
Directed by Jude Ho
Broadcast: BBC2, 22 November 2013
Nestling in the schedules between yesterday’s glorious Adventure in Space and Time and tomorrow’s big Day of the Doctor, this will probably receive less attention than it ought to. Presented by broadcaster Matthew Sweet – he of the DVD extras and Big Finish audios – this is a whistle-stop tour through Who’s cultural history. It re-tells many stories that are already highly familiar to fandom – Mary Whitehouse didn’t like The Deadly Assassin; 'Doctor in Distress' wasn’t a brilliantly successful pop record – while also showing Mr. Sweet in search of genuine Doctor Who relics. The mastertapes of Delia Derbyshire’s theme tune are reverently handled at one point, and the show’s prehistory is also explored via Cecil (“Bunny”) Webber’s play ‘Out of the Frying Pan’, which includes dialogue sounding uncannily like a mission statement for Doctor Who. Lesser-known names and contributors, e.g. Tristram Fry (Dudley Simpson’s percussionist) are cherished just as much as actors who have played the Doctor, and the sequence where one of Simpson’s soundtracks is recreated offers a truly magical moment. Meanwhile, filming carried out at Project Motormouth back in snowy January 2013 shows David Tennant auctioning off Who memorabilia, along with queues of fans waiting for autographs, giving a glimpse of fandom’s devotion. And a sequence referring to Rob Shearman's early fanzine writing and Gary Russell's work on the Audio Visuals series is highly diverting; there's surely a separate documentary to be made on fan creativity.

However, this is a modishly modular doc, rushing into new topics every few minutes, and breathlessly whizzing from Warriors’ Gate to Survival to the wilderness years, or the “theme park years” as Paul Cornell brilliantly dubs them. If you don’t like a particular era of Doctor Who, well, don’t worry because another one will be along in a minute. You’d almost think someone had shouted “when I say run, run!” at the writing and editing team, such is their commitment to racing down fifty years of pop-cultural corridors.

Another slight weakness is the occasional reliance on ‘name’ contributors and broadcasters. The show jumps from Hartnell to Hartnoll, taking soundings from psychotherapist Philippa Perry and columnist Caitlin Moran along the way. Moran proffers something about the impact of Russell T Davies's writing which sounds great, but is actually fairly simplistic and probably unverifiable. But never mind; it’s a punchy, attention-grabbing quote. Even Sweet’s unveiling of ‘Out of the Frying Pan’, backed up by Richard Martin’s agreement that the extract sounds like the glimmerings of what would become Doctor Who, can’t be solidly corroborated as more than the coincidental appearance of a pretty generic idea. But again, this makes for an attention-grabbing ‘reveal’. Fewer celebrity contributors, and a more measured pace, could have made this a more substantial contribution to documenting Doctor Who.

At one point, Sweet emulates Patrick Troughton’s disembodied, multiplied, and swirling appearance at the end of The War Games. It’s a visual trick that these sorts of documentaries seem to love, as if their fan-presenters can seemingly get inside the film or TV series they’re talking about, re-staging and recreating well-known images. Despite such playful brio, one serious gap is the absence of Russell T Davies. Julie Gardner sings his praises – and quite right too – but there’s no sign of RTD himself, just as he was absent from BFI events commemorating the ninth and tenth Doctors earlier this year. Davies has done enough Doctor Who-related interviews for thirteen lifetimes, let alone one, but it's still a shame that his distinctive voice doesn’t ring out with new insights and provocations. Faithful viewer, you'll just have to make do with other guests.

Matthew Sweet reviewed Richard Marson’s JN-T: The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner for The Guardian back in March, and he can’t resist airing its “scandalous” content here, already sensationally picked over by assorted tabloids, and by now widely familiar to devoted fan readers and forum dwellers. I felt slightly ambivalent about the decision to include this material: yes, it makes a point about how the historical record can shift radically over time, but it seems very much at odds, tonally, with the rest of this broadcast. Perhaps Sweet didn’t want to be accused of whitewashing production history, but the issue is dealt with (characteristically) briefly before the show hurtles onwards through space and time.

Convincingly and creatively tackling all of Who in such a compressed format is certainly a tall order. Matthew Sweet is never less than an engaging presenter/writer, but this mostly feels like a compendium of well-loved tales. It’s almost the TV equivalent of reading Peter Haining’s Doctor Who – A Celebration (and footage from Longleat will stir up memories of anniversaries-past for viewers of a certain age). Perhaps, in future years, a whole generation of fans will nostalgically recount watching Me, You and Doctor Who the day after seeing David Bradley as William Hartnell and the day before witnessing mind-blowing 3D Who at the cinema. As part of the BBC’s parcel of anniversary week gifts, this is a sweetly timed present: some documentary calm on the eve of November 23rd's oncoming storm.




Ghost in the Machine (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 19 November 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Ghost in the Machine
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Jonathan Morris
Directed by Louise Jameson
Released: October 2013
More than any Big Finish release before it, Ghost in the Machine is a grand showcase of Katy Manning’s ability to give a spectacular isolated (in more ways than one) performance. Sharing the stage only with one other actor, as is the norm for the Companion Chronicles range, Manning slips back into the role of Jo Grant with ease, while simultaneously bringing the listener some sterling renditions of secondary characters such as the Doctor and the piece’s central antagonist. If her recent appearance in The Sarah Jane Adventures wasn’t strong enough as evidence, then Ghost brilliantly reinforces our confidence in Jo and the voice behind her.

To make one matter abundantly clear, however, this is not Big Finish’s pièce de résistance of horror storytelling. Claims from some reviewers that Ghost in the Machine is the studio’s 2013 equivalent to Blink and Midnight are wildly off the mark. While there is effective atmospheric drama on display here, the script never reaches the benchmark of its predecessors for sheer fear factor. Indeed, the majority of the two-part drama’s tension dissipates in its second half; when the inevitable eventual presence of the show’s eponymous Time Lord ensures that the overall threat of Jo’s adversary seems minimal at best. Ghost’s antagonist certainly pales in comparison to the Weeping Angels and Russell T. Davies’ haunting, nameless Shadow, it has to be said.

Doubly infuriating is the recurrent sense that we’ve seen this all before. Although the classic series didn’t dabble quite so frequently with the potential meta-infused nature of televisual drama, at least not until its later days in instances such as Vengeance of Varos, this flirtation is practically the chalk and cheese of ‘new Who’. As such, a narrative involving voices manifested by and trapped on cassette records must ultimately be reminiscent of recent TV adventures, The Idiot’s Lantern, Silence in the Library and The Bells of Saint John all echoed in one way or another during this subtle adventure. Even the resolution feels as if ripped from the latter, the Third Doctor’s daring gambit hitting many of the same beats as the Eleventh Doctor’s turning the tables on Miss Kizlet earlier this year.

Thank the heavens, then, for Manning, whose work here should doubtless spark the immediate and prolonged engagement of any listener. It would be an impressive feat alone for the 1970s star to simply recapture the essence of her own character forty years on from her departure, yet she doesn’t stop there by any stretch, her portrayals of Pertwee’s Theta Sigma and the original foe of the drama equally as noteworthy, if not moreso. Few listeners would blame the Companion Chronicles contributors for becoming complacent as to their talents six years on from the range’s inception, so for Manning to move as far from resting on her laurels as humanly possible produces enriching results for any fan lucky enough to have experienced Jo Grant as she first appeared in 1971-1973.

If only Damian Lynch weren’t short-changed by the inherently unoriginal dialogue offered to his disembodied secondary narrator, then perhaps Ghost’s dynamic duo would have created a more well-rounded set of portrayals overall. Ultimately, Jonathan Morris’ script recalls this year’s Season Seven Part Two opener too visibly in its depiction of Lynch’s Benjamin Chikoto, a detrimental issue which in tandem with the gradually reduced tension restricts the release’s potential. Lynch’s failure to impress would be less surprising if newcomers to the Whoniverse showed a general trend of underwhelming performances at Big Finish, but fans only need to check out Jo Woodcock’s brilliant work in Starlight Robbery to discover that’s far from the case, another benchmark in which this potent drama falls oh-so-slightly short.

What does seem to reside as a trend of late in Big Finish’s Doctor Who releases is the sense that were some of their recent audio dramas to not have featured their accomplished central or supporting star(s), the lack of inspiration found in their narratives would leave plenty more to be desired. In the 50th Anniversary year, there’s little surprise in the studio’s election to revive revered adversaries like the Daleks, the Sontarans and the Master in Daleks Among Us, Starlight and The Light at the End respectively, but that accepted strategy simply cannot compensate for the disconcerting recognition that those stories lacking an iconic ‘classic’ element have been sorely lacking in the innovation department.

I refer once more to Steven Moffat’s election to have The Day of the Doctor focus primarily on setting up another fifty years of Doctor Who rather than simply nodding and winking towards the highlights of the last half century. In spite of the daunting audacity required to take such an approach, this reviewer would have applauded a greater confidence from Big Finish to take creative risks in what is a groundbreaking year of change for the show on screen. Ghost in the Machine is supported in great measure by Katy Manning’s superb contribution, yet for a studio which managed the impossible in aiding the strive to keep Who alive in the midst of its cancellation era, this is uncomfortably safe territory, an occasionally chilling but regularly familiar listen that holds scarce surprises for any initiated fan.




The Dark PlanetBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 19 November 2013 - Reviewed by Lani Smith

4.01. The Dark Planet
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Brian Hayles
Adapted by Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley
Released: September 2013
In bringing the Lost Stories to life, it is always interesting to see the ideas that get cut out for one reason or another. At times, the avid Whovian can be positively baffled at the decisions made by the producers (Farewell, Great Macedon) and at others, awestruck at the lack of quality or offensive content that almost got put on our screen (Mission to Magnus). It's always interesting to hear these stories and guess as to why they were cut (and if there are bonus extras explaining it, then that's all the better).

Listening to this one, it's abundantly clear the reason it was cut was due to the budget. There are no extras to confirm it, but this is such a visual extravaganza that I cannot help to think that producing it would be near impossible on anything but a monumental budget. The interplay between light and darkness, the immense crystal city, and the numerous special effects (flight being the biggest one) could not be reasonably portrayed on a 1960's BBC teatime-slot TV budget. Plain and simple.

The strength of this story lies in what is known as mise-en-scene. It's a French concept important for film or televised reviews, but it refers in a general sense to everything that is put in front of a camera. It refers to the acting, the set design, the costume design, the framing, and the lighting. Now, this may seem a little counter-intuitive as this is an audio medium and an audience will not not see these portrayed physically in front of them as one would in a typical film or television show. However, I would refer you to my review of The Creed of the Kromon (found here), where I talk about the cinematography present in the imagination of the audience and aver that audio is indeed a visual medium. Thus, I would argue, talking about aspects of visual framing is equally valid in a well-portrayed audio play as in a film. Though, I will admit, there are some variables in this framing based on the individual audience member's own imagination, a properly produced story can control those variables through effective sound design and writing.

The mise-en-scene of The Dark Planet is found, unsurprisingly, in the use of light and shadow. It is a story of two races of a planet, one of light and one of dark respectively, engaged in an epic struggle so its use of light and shadow is unsurprising. The caverns below are properly dark, damp, and evoke a feeling of claustraphobia with its seemingly contradictory immense physical spaciousness and the all-enveloping darkness. This is reflected in the descriptions and the deep, dark sounds that seem to echo in every direction. This creates an effective feeling of fear by contrasting that very large, forboding physical darkness with the smaller Barbara. Barbara is framed in the centre of your mental image throughout her interactions down below due to the fact that large chunks of that story are distinctly from her perspective. Since I feel many people imagine these 60's era Lost Stories in black and white (I certainly do), as Barbara often dresses in lighter clothing, the contrast between Barbara and the darkness is highlighted further. The mise-en-scene of Barbara, in her light clothing and in the centre of the frame, confronting the darkness is one of great contrast The tableaux of her standing against a seemingly neverending, physical and potentially malevolent darkness is a powerful one.

Meanwhile, the city of light is similarly realised. The mise-en-scene of certain moments needs to be pointed out here as well. For example, the numerous descriptions of the environments as being so white as to be confusing and the beautiful crystal as being so transparent as to not be able to truly figure out the paths it takes, creates a set that is rife with confusion, but also beauty. The moments where The Doctor and his friends fly, in particular, create a beautiful landscape of the confusing, jagged, but orderly crystals in the background and our heroes in centre frame. They're entering a world they don't truly understand, but it's a world that operates under certain rules and its one they aim to be heroes in. The set-design creates a sense of this contrast of chaos and order and, likewise, the framing of putting our heroes front-and-centre in our mind as they rise both visually realises their attempted rise to hero-dom and puts the un-relatable city in the background at odds with the heroes in the foreground.

Now, as I said, realising any of these moments would be near impossible on the budget of the time. However, this is not entirely true. One could obtain the same results with a skilled director and cinematographer. Though I know many Whovians will hate me for saying it, no such directors or cinematographers existed during this time and, I would argue, none exist to the present day. Directors that talented would have to realise the story with existing light fixtures. With brilliant cinematography and a creative use of blocking and zooming to allow for different lighting to show on different scales (for example, showing darkness in a close-up, rather than a full-shot, to create an illusion of darkness all around). This sort of directing is the sort that masters such as Teshigahara or Ozu were known for. Put simply, and it is unfortunate, these sorts of directors only typically direct film – not television. The 60's directors were incredibly skilled and, indeed, many of the shots (particularly of the first episode of the series) were brilliantly done, especially considering how much of the show was done as-live. In fact, to be honest, I think some of the directing of the 60's is the strongest in the show's history. But none of it was up to the task of realising this story properly.

This may be a bit misleading, however. It is a master-class in formalist/expressionist Doctor Who, but it isn't really anything to write home about in terms of plot. The main issue it has is that it is entirely too predictable. From the beginning, we as an audience know almost exactly what is going to happen. Once The Doctor declares that maybe the Darkness isn't all that bad, we know that it will be a plot of trying to get The Darkness and The Light to communicate with each other. The issue is, this obvious path for the plot to go down is made obvious in Part Two. There are four parts left. We, as humans, love to guess at the next path the plot will take. What will happen next. In this serial, the path is entirely clear. The team will get split up and, one representing Darkness and one representing Light, they will come together and either form peace or create tragedy. The only real area where the audience is left guessing is which ending it will take. So, episodes three through five end up suffering as a result. They're gorgeous and, indeed, the story should be listened to if only for the visuals, but they're not engaging in the slightest. The story picks up at episode six, however, and ends on an interesting, visually beautiful note.

There's also a number of good character moments, ranging from Vicki's friendship with the light child, The Doctor's antagonism with the Light King (though he calls himself by another title, he's clearly the King), and Barbara's heroism in dealing with the Darkness. Still, to call this a character piece would be misrepresenting it. It's a formalist piece. It means to impress you with visuals and create a universe that you want to look at and feel things from. Almost all of the feelings created in this serial are visual – and there's nothing wrong with that (in fact, it's the essence of formalism). As I am a huge fan of formalism, I found it engaging and enjoyable (if not particularly life-changing as-in Masadon). If you are more a fan of classicism or realism, I would very strongly suggest avoiding this serial.

(You can check out more of Lani's Big Finish and Doctor Who reviews at http://who-reviews.com/dwnews)




The Night of the DoctorBookmark and Share

Monday, 18 November 2013 - Reviewed by Lani Smith

The Night of the Doctor
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by John Hayes
Released: 13 November 2013
It should be said, Steven Moffat has had a lot of cleaning to do. Whether you think it was justified or not, Russell T Davies had an intensely cavalier approach to Doctor Who canon. The most common valid complaint against him was that he simply mis-characterised existing characters. In reality, what Davies did was simplified the characters to their base elements, then boiled away all but one, which he turned up to eleven. He made them into caricatures of their former selves. With The Master and Davros, it was their insanity. Everything else was lost and he was reduced to that element of his personality. With The Doctor, he removed almost everything else, took the danger, darkness, and snark, and turned it up to 12.

To many, myself included, this characterisation felt dishonest to the original. In fact, the most common complaint against David Tennant's Doctor, from those who have seen significant quantities of Classic Who, was that he simply didn't “feel like” The Doctor for explicitly these reasons.

Now, I'm sure at this point you're wondering what this has to do with The Night of The Doctor. The connection is simple. Steven Moffat attempted to explain this drastic, and jarring, change in his personality. Simply chanting “Time War,” referring to an off-screen plot device rather than showing actual character growth is lazy and unsatisfying, so Moffat actually came up with an on-screen reason for it. The elixir that Eight drinks, much like the crack in time that erased the ill-conceived (and appallingly designed) Cyberking from history, spackling over these cracks in the canon. It explained the personality change – The Doctor had to become this darker, more aggressive man to fight this Time War. He had to literally become a different person. It stands to reason that in the next regenerations, this would gradually wear-off and he'd become more like he was. While I can hardly explain why Ten was infinitely less Doctor-like than Nine, it fits perfectly that Eleven, possibly after seeing how far his “War” persona took him as Ten, forced himself to regenerate in such a way that brought him more in-line with how he used to be. The fact that Eleven feels many times more like The Doctors of the Classic series actually makes a good degree of sense with this in mind. It will be interesting to see how Capaldi takes on the character, keeping this theory in consideration.

So Moffat had this goal in his script already. But he also aimed to seek a gap in the show's existing canon – to provide a regeneration for Eight. While it's hardly the best regeneration in the show's history, it is definitely better than some of the worse ones (Six, Seven, Ten). One couldn't provide a satisfying regeneration for Eight without a lot of build-up and, for what it's worth, Moffat does try to provide that by referencing, and making canonical, his many years of Big Finish audios. This isn't as effective as it could possibly be, but Moffat made Big Finish canonical and I am quite pleased at that fact (as, I imagine, he is as well. Being an immense fan of their work himself).

The question now is where Eight goes from here. There are petitions online to get him his own spin-off series. If this happens, it will be curious to see where they approach it and who is put in charge. I, for one, and firmly in the camp supporting a spin-off, as I believe Paul McGann's physicality can lend a lot to the series, but only on the condition that they do not attempt to recast existing Big Finish companions. Just as Karen Gillan was almost rejected for not being “pretty enough,” I fear India Fisher may get recast for not being a stick. What's more likely, however, is that Eight will get an all-new companion developed by the head-writer of the show. I would be thrilled to see this, provided they don't go and attempt to inject another canonical romance into the series. It's weird and we already have enough wars being fought in the fandom over Rose/River/no-one as-is. We don't need any more.

(You can check out more of Lani's Big Finish and Doctor Who reviews at http://who-reviews.com/dwnews)







DOCTOR WHO NEWS - REVIEW IS COPYRIGHT © 2017 NEWS IN TIME AND SPACE LTD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
DOCTOR WHO IS COPYRIGHT © BRITISH BROADCASTING CORPORATION (BBC) 1963, 2017.
NO INFRINGEMENT OF THIS COPYRIGHT IS EITHER IMPLIED OR INTENDED.