For the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who we revisit the story of Doctor Who, the occasional series written for the 50th Anniversary, explaining the origins of the programme.

Episode 31 - An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV Legend: First published 23 Nov 2013

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Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by A.D. Morrison

Before pressing on with my thoughts on this week's offering, I'd like to just backtrack briefly to Family of Blood and, for those few out there who could really give a fig, slightly readjust my verdict: I think I was maybe a touch overly critical of said episode on the hindsight of a second viewing, but this was partly due to the almost overwhelming promise of Human Nature. That certainly was a very hard act to follow, and in many ways Family of Blood didn't do that badly - excepting my numerous criticisms of it last week, which I still stand by. I now think that on the strength of just one scene alone, the beautifully choreographed scenes of the scarecrows being mown down by lachrymose schoolboys (right up there, and even beyond, the opening scenes of Genesis of the Daleks for instance), which is also a kind of rejoinder to The Lazarus Experiment's allusions to Eliot's 'The Hollow Men' ('Not with a bang but a whimper - Eliot' - The Doctor; bear in mind also the poet's words: We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw...'), I would upgrade my rather churlish rating of 6.8 to a far more deserving 8/10. Yes, quite a leap, but bearing in mind Family of Blood holds up well to a second viewing - in spite of a few little irritating/pretentious aspects - and also begs a third or fourth, along with Human Nature, means it is truly worthy of the better stories of the old cannon. It will be, I'm sure, the hit of this season critically, and of the entire new series so far.

Anyway, back into present time, and Blink (or you'll miss it). To be honest, not having the Doctor and Martha in an episode isn't such a terrible thing, especially when one considers that this in turn means a) far less doe-eyed drooling from companion and b) far less pratting around from Timelord. Unfortunately the Doctor does interrupt from time to time, and often to the detriment of the chilling atmos of this episode: ie, when he burbles on about 'timey wimey' and so on in an attempt obviously to explain time travel to the Telly Tubby generation. I hate to say it but at moments such as these, I can't help seeing Frank Spencer in place of the Doctor, and sometimes think a nice little beret might suit David Tenant with the odd little 'Ooooo, Martha' thrown in for good measure. The trouble is, whilst Tennant is undoubtedly a good actor (as opposed to a brilliant one such as Patrick Troughton or Tom Baker), he still lacks the necessary gravitas to pull off 'eccentricity' well enough to convince. I find Tenant strains in this regard and often trips over himself in his enthusiasm to please an undefined audience; the problem is, his enthusiasm jars in the same way that Colin Baker's did back in the Eighties. Subtlety, Mr Tennant, subtlety! That's the key here. His eccentricity just doesn't come across as naturally and unforced as say Troughton's, Baker's or McCoy's. But I think this is ultimately down to the scripting for the Tenth Doctor, which has been highly erratic since his inception. On the whole, this series has tended to highlight Tenant's stronger points over his weaker ones moreso than the reverse of the previous season, however, there have been unwelcome lapses, and the 'timey wimey' speech really is rather annoying. Martha is better in small doses, as served here, with an actually quite funny shot of her accusing the Doctor of sponging off her while they're stranded in 1969: 'now I'm having to support him'. One in the eye for the dole-scapegoating generation then: even the Doctor has to draw benefits from time to time; why should he go for a job as a shelf-stacker when he's a fully qualified time traveller? Better to sit it out and cash in on his National Insurance contributions.

Blink itself? Basically - give or take token lapses into mundanity and vapid Noughties' trendy elements - a very good and solid episode, and yet another nice surprise in what is rapidly developing into the best season of new Who so far. The idea of an alien species who have evolved the perfect defence mechanism of only functioning/moving when not being observed ('quantum locked' - The Doc), is fascinating and inspired, and deeply disturbing. The 'lonely assassins' then are basically a race of interplanetary stone Gorgons who not only turn other beings metaphorically to stone with sheer fright, but also literally each other; hence they're being disguised as weeping angels, covering their own eyes so as not to catch one another's gazes. Of course this could be seen as a slightly silly idea in a way, especially considering their evident teamwork ethic, but nevertheless, it doses the episode with a genuinely chilling concept. The designs of the angels are exceptional, and the shot of them statically stood around the TARDIS is iconic. The flashes of their faces emerging and freezing in ghastly expressions as the two humans try to unlock the TARDIS, is brilliantly done, and the most frightening series of images in new Who since the screaming woman in The Unquiet Dead (well, apart from the drooling lycanthrope in Tooth and Claw, and the tattooed, red-eyed Toby in Impossible Planet). The trick of the Doctor in baiting the angels around the TARDIS, only to dematerialise it so they turn each other to stone by facing one another, is ingenious, and one of the most convincing and satisfying conclusions of a new Who episode (and nicely reminiscent of the Mara's death by its own reflections in the classic Kinda - my favourite ever story by the way). Inspired.

The premise of Blink in general is excellent and one of the most disturbing in the series' entire history. Homage is paid here to The Blair Witch Project (among other films, such as Hammer's The Gorgon), though only very subtly; the idea of not blinking in order to somehow stay in control of the situation (re the girl in TBWP being too frightened to shut her eyes in the tent) is a psychologically powerful play on the instinct to stay wide-eyed and awake when afraid. One could also say there's a shade of Ring here too, but in this case we have nothing more frightening than a bespectacled Jarvis Cocker oggling out from the TV screen (well, actually...)

The acting of the main girl is strong, and this young actress carries her character well and is fairly likeable - albeit typically self-assured for a Noughties' girl - and her comment about her friend's sister passing on that she loved him being 'quite nice' got me smiling. As for the 'friend', well, being a poor man's Rhys Ifans from Notting Hill isn't the best of accolades, but he does the job ok.

The time victims' stories were a nice detail, though one wonders why the Doctor couldn't have taken them back to their futures as it were. Still, the letter and old photos from the girl friend near the beginning of the episode, only just after she vanishes into 1920, is a lovely touch, and rather reminiscent of the fourth adventure in Sapphire and Steel. In this sense then, Blink plays a similar role to Fear Her of last year, in its deft juxtaposition of modern day settings with eerie subversions of trans-generational motifs (ie, children's drawings and moving statues), betraying a thread of inspiration from the brilliantly imaginative science fantasies of the 70s, in particular The Tomorrow People (for Fear Her see The Blue and the Green) and S&S. These are very welcome ingredients to new Who and I hope there are more to come. The ultimate chills after all are those that play on our childhood fears.

Blink is a striking episode, absorbing, nicely written, well directed, subtle, frightening and genuinely unique. It is also an episode that can be watched in isolation from the rest of the series, which is no bad thing, and taken on its own merits. It is, further, a far superior tale to its same-placed and similarly Doctor-less cousin of last season, the deplorably self-indulgent Love and Monsters. Blink is much more the kind of oddity we should get for the season's token 'Doctor-on-Call' episode.

Imaginative and memorable. A minor classic.

FILTER: - Series 3/29 - Tenth Doctor - Television

Human Nature / The Family of BloodBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by Tony Whitehead

Come back John Smith we miss you already! One of the strongest images from this outstanding two-parter is of the Doctor slouching by the door asking Joan nonchalantly if she might like to go travelling with him - this in contrast to his former alter-ego John Smith's kaleidoscopic imagined life in which as he faces his maker on his deathbed he remembers to enquire solicitously about his children/grand children. Is Paul Cornell having a sly dig at the cyber punk generation? Despite the moral dilemma of the First World War and the racial and class hypocrisies we see displayed before us - the undeniable values and courage of 1913 England are played pretty straight. John Smith's straightforwardness and selflessness make a nice counterpoint to the Doctor's damaging wilfulness.

Family of Blood managed to do what the concluding finale of few Who two-parters have succeeded in doing -- in ferociously cranking up the volume without exploding the plot. Whilst a poignant theme of Human Condition was intimacy -- an intimacy torn asunder through the greed of the Family -- part two Family of Blood brings to life the contrasts and moral ambiguities of a long-lost England juxtaposed with a rather scruffy and superficial here-today. Sure: we know that the Doctor is (at least maybe) the last of the Time Lords -- and Martha (as she points out to Joan) is actually a Doctor -- but the two of them also reflect the values and lifestyle of their noughties audience -- a contrast nicely undercut by Cornell when the two of them saunter along poppies in lapels to Latymer's Remembrance Day celebration.

Not only do we miss John Smith -- we even more desperately miss Joan. What would we have given to have had her grace the Tardis and accept the Doctor's causal offer and up sticks and travel through space and time with him -- knowing in our heart of hearts -- that this could never happen. What was remarkable about these episodes was not just the way that the characters got seriously under our skin -- but the way the gulf between quite different value systems was being represented for our entertainment -- through a love story -- in the main characters. Joan movingly acknowledges this gulf when she rejects the Doctor's invitation.

Whist the Doctor can be seen as wilful -- his casual actions result as Joan candidly points out in the avoidable deaths caused as a direct result of his presence in 1913 -- he is also portrayed as a stern revengeful judge. Cornell's Doctor is moving perilously close to a godlike figure -- at one point he is taken to a great height and shown the delights of being human -- the human condition -- at another he becomes a 'Christus Pantocrator' figure replete with those intense angry dark eyes. The justice he meters out to the unfortunate Family members -- part Biblical Judgement Day -- part Lord of the Rings fantasy -- is so wonderfully unexpected. Most viewers like me I am sure expected the exploding spaceship to be followed by a safe plot-fix recovery of the original owners of the bodies taken over by the Family. What refreshing courage and skill to serve a much darker dish -- the original owners of the bodies are dead and gone -- we've already been told that -- and now in addition the Doctor delights us by serving up the harshest of just punishments.

Human Condition and Family of Blood is exactly what excellent Who is all about -- dark -- entertaining -- moving -- and not short changing an expectant audience. At its core is writing that works on many levels -- with villains that are scary and evil -- and also like the best of Who villains frequently and perceptively close to the moral truth -- as with Baines as he questions the Headmaster who is shortly going to send his boys to war. Great writing and direction -- bolstered by fine acting -- and a believable 'human' love story that managed to kick even the excellent Girl in the Fireplace into touch. With this two-part episode we've been spoilt good and rotten. The Human Condition and Family of Blood easily establish a new dramatic high for a wonderful series.

FILTER: - Television - Series 3/29 - Tenth Doctor

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Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by Angus Gulliver

I made no secret of it, I hated Love & Monsters. I don't use the word "hate" lightly, I genuinely hate the episode even twelve months on.

So it was with some trepidation that I watched Blink, even with the reassuring knowledge that it was written by Steven Moffat. This was to be another "Doctor light" story, and my revulsion for Love & Monsters is so strong that I was worried.

I needn't have been, Moffat has yet again pulled it out of the bag. Taking the constraint that he could only have one day's worth of work from David and Freema, he wove them into the story cleverly. But what made Blink great (and it is great), was that the other characters who had to carry the story were interesting and believable. I cared about Sally Sparrow and her friends. I almost cried when 'old' Billy died.

And the monsters, the weeping angels...creepy, scary and yet so simple. Moffat is a master of an old Doctor Who idea, scaring us with something familiar.

What made Blink work so well was a combination of all these things, woven together with a skillfully written script and great acting from the guest stars - who had far more to do than usual. This time around I didn't miss the Doctor and Martha because they were there just enough to keep this on track as a Doctor Who story. Direction and lighting were superb, I am 34 years old and glad I watched it in the light!

Superb, absolutely superb. Best yet in 2006, Moffat has done it again. But also serious congratulations to the cast, crew and visual effects people.


FILTER: - Series 3/29 - Tenth Doctor - Television

Human Nature / The Family of BloodBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by Neil Clarke

At this point in its history, Human Nature is pretty much as perfect a story as I think Doctor Who is capable of producing on TV. Even the arguable classics of the new series (themselves all too few and far between) haven't come anywhere close to this -- even Dalek, The Girl in the Fireplace, et al.

It just seems such a shame that, to my mind, the only real, true brilliance of what are destined to become 'the RTD years' is taken wholesale from the NAs. I love the New Adventures, but I don't see that that should be any barrier to appreciating the series in the way I do the 'classic' TV stories; but, quite simply, the new series simply hasn't even aimed at creating anything comparable to the complexity, originality and emotion of the best of those novels. Everything's straightforward and easy to grasp on one viewing; it's all very dumbed down and very Saturday night?

So, on the one hand I feel vindicated that the best story of the new run derives from those books, but it's a depressing proposition that no brand new story has been anywhere near as fully-formed or multilayered as this adaptation.

Even the way in which the narrative strayed outside of the given 'here and now': to Tim's glimpses of the future - the war, the memorial; to the flashbacks of past stories, which were effectively and economically used; down to the voiceover handling of the ending. Even the three-month time span -- a welcome exception to the adventures more usual seeming to take place over only a day or so. Sadly, I doubt any of these techniques would have been employed had the script not derived from a story from a 'broader' medium than television -- born out by the fact that no other story of the new series have been quite this audacious or wide-ranging. In this way, the story felt like a 'novel on film,' rather than a simply televisual creation.

Can anyone else even believe that this and Gridlock are the products of a common series? Perhaps if Russell T Davies weren't so monumentally arrogant about his own ability as a writer (or having his ego so fully and inexplicably stroked by seemingly everyone who works with him), he'd be cringing with mortified jealousy round about now.

It really seems as if the stakes were ramped up for this production, as if, because of its origins as a novel, people realised there was more behind it than the majority of stories. I've never even been that much of an admirer of Cornell -- it's always seemed to me he has the ideas, but they're let down by slightly pedestrian prose. Here, freed from those constraints, it was wonderful to see the plot refined, and imbued with a loving attention to detail.

The continuity references, for example were rather joyous, but not overplayed -- the music accompanying the sinister schoolgirl from Remembrance of the Daleks momentarily echoed for the Family's youngest sibling; the reference to the village's dust being 'fused into glass,' alluding to the sequence cut from the novel in which the school itself is turned to glass; and, most charmingly of all, the sketch of the Eighth Doctor in John Smith's journal. That warmed the old cockles -- wonderful how such a tiny thing (that'd be overlooked by the vast majority of the audience) could be so heartening; it's wonderful to see McGann's portrayal vindicated by the new series, even only so briefly.

The ending though came close to ruining things for me -- the Doctor devising elaborate punishments for the Family? Given that this sequence was narrated by one of their number, I immediately assumed that it was intended to appear unreliable -- it's just so jarringly? wrong. The Doctor doesn't do this sort of thing? it's just so off. Which, given Cornell's obvious understanding of Doctor Who and what it stands for, seems all the more bizarre.

I'm telling myself that perhaps that along with the Doctor's Runaway Bride callousness, this is leading somewhere. But, I'm not convinced -- like the Sixth Doctor's worst excessive which everyone gets so het up about, the problem for me was there wasn't even anyone to question his actions. Are we meant to suddenly accept the Doctor -- someone the episodes tried so hard to persuade us was worth fighting for -- is the kind of man to truss up his enemies and kick them into the centre of suns?? The whole sequence had a kind of unreal or storybook feel, so here's hoping there's something clever going on there. Even the NA Seventh Doctor at his most pitiless would never actively punish an adversary -- perhaps the worst would be to not save them from someone else, but even he (arguably the most godlike and terrible Doctor - until now, perhaps?!) -- never stooped to undeniable, deliberate sadism.

So it's sad to say that really struck me as a jarring moment in an otherwise note perfect story.

Although, it is kind of amusing -- or a bit depressing, depending -- that, in a wonderful but essentially Doctorless story, when he does reappears, he's being such an annoying tit.

Not that I dislike Tennant. But still, imagine that story with Sylvester? And Bernice come to that. I say that and I like Martha! It does just show though -- despite the strong script, complemented by great character moments, the backdrop of the oncoming war, and some very nice, non-'mainstream' directorial touches (the children's singing over the slow-mo shooting of the scarecrows, etc)? I still just crave the NAs. Because it makes me sad that, despite the highs the new series can evidently reach, a story this strong is definitely in the minority. (And the NAs might seem a defunct reference now, but, it a way, a story like this defies direct comparison to the classic series because then the idea of making fully emotional 'dramas' wasn't the concern; the NAs et al are much more the precursor to what seems, to a general audience, to be this 'brave new approach' to the series?)

However, this story really shows how much difference it makes when a story is written by someone with an abiding love and understanding of not just the series, but Doctor Who in a broader sense - as opposed to the kind of jobbing writer approach of School Reunion (compare and contrast these two stories set around a school, in which the Doctor takes the role of a teacher?), or 42 (a less developed Satan Pit rip-off).

I desperately want to love the new series, but it never quite delivers. Yes, I'm probably being harsh - but having a high-point like this almost makes it worse. Even if you're trying to be charitable about the 'average' episodes, you suddenly can't kid yourself about how vapid and hollow and unoriginal the majority of them really are?

FILTER: - Series 3/29 - Tenth Doctor - Television

Human Nature / The Family of BloodBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by Robert F.W. Smith

A lot of people over the years have said it's the best Doctor Who novel ever. Personally I think it's far from perfect: naturalism is often a problem, and so is melodrama, for the novel inhabits the Cornell-verse, a peculiar take on reality in which all soldiers are cowards and any problem can be solved simply by complete emotional honesty. It has a whacking great info-dump half way through that takes you right out of the story, and the wisecracking, self-aware dialogue is such that companion Benny's speech patterns are indistinguishable from those of the villains (an alien race called the Aubertides who want to conquer Gallifrey and become Time Lords using the Doctor's DNA). Nevertheless, the strength of the fundamental conceit, the Doctor's desire to escape from his cold, inhuman Time Lord existence and become a human being, and the consequences it has for the people around him, makes it a big winner in spite of everything. And it benefits greatly from a hilarious cameo by Steven Moffat, writer of two new series stories!

That was why, before this latest two-parter, I was concerned by all the potential changes that Cornell and Davies would have to make, and a bit miffed at the implicit suggestion that this was somehow going to be 'Human Nature done right': it was bad enough that the new series has already comprehensively demolished any chance of reconciling the novels with the TV show (for those who care about that sort of thing, which I must confess I do!), and this was the final confirmation: 'Human Nature' (1995) and 'Human Nature/The Family of Blood' presumably can't take place in the same continuity any more than 'The Gallifrey Chronicles' and 'Aliens of London' can. Bad enough, as I say; but for the new series to just carelessly invalidate the book lines, which are responsible for many of Doctor Who's finest moments, symbolically painting over them like an artist revising an imperfect work, was a presumption too far.

It isn't quite clear, though, that that is in fact what they've done, which is a blessing anyway, and the pictures in Smith's journal during part one of previous Doctors was balm for the possible sting. In fact, part one is really excellent; mostly, I think, because it's so very different to anything in the series revival so far. All that greenery: because when you think about it, every single episode so far has either been set in a huge city or a claustrophobic, metallic 'space base' (with the possible exception of the one set in Scotland, which was mostly in doors and at night anyway). The relaxed pace and unusual plot (for the series post-2005 anyway, which is ironically all monsters, corridors and sarcasm) contribute to the feeling of novelty.

Jessica Hynes, as Joan Redfern (now a nurse not a teacher, in a change which actually does enhance the original novel), is superbly clipped and loveable, and Martha's jealousy puts her in just as unflattering a light as did Benny's, though she at least has the excuse of being madly in love with the (now sexy and young-looking) Doctor, and Harry Lloyd makes a fabulously alien and unhinged Baines. The villains, in fact, without 255 pages in which to do post-modern things, are in a sense a rather better bunch than the Aubertides in the novel, though they lack the back-story and grisly personalities.

The problems, then, do not surface until part two, but when they come they are familiar from the original novel, but given added impetus by what we have seen in the new series so far. This basic conception of the Doctor as a lonely, tormented figure was fine in the New Adventures, but as time has gone on it's become clear just how far removed it was from the spirit of the original series: watch any of those old stories from before 1988 and see what I mean. Now that the revival has enshrined it (with all this 'Lonely God' nonsense) it's like the whole history of the show has been retconned in a way I can't say I'm totally happy with. Far, far worse though, is the way 'The Family of Blood' dredges up a horror from Series One that I dared to hope we'd seen the back of. "Coward!" shouts Hutchinson. "Oh yes, every time", replies Tim with satisfaction. Yep, it's 'The Parting of the Ways' again.

It is, and was, utterly, self-evidently, indescribably wrong to describe the Doctor as "coward rather than killer". It's become Russell Davies' answer to the famous lines coined by Terrance Dicks to describe the essence of the man, which remain to this day immeasurably superior and a far better template for our hero? and in which, I seem to recall, the words "never cruel or cowardly" feature prominently. Go figure. It's such a small thing here as well, but it ruined the episode for me.

As for the rest, Cornell resuscitates the concept of gratuitous racism on Joan's behalf, just to make sure we don't get to like her a bit too much; and his own particular hobby-horse comes out again with the scarecrows' attack on the school, although admittedly in not such an overbearing way as in the book: the notion that Smith is taking the easy way out by choosing to fight, while the morally superior Tim runs away to do something else, and that his mustering of a defence by the militarily-trained and heavily-armed pupils is somehow the wrong thing to do.

It's completely counter-intuitive, part of the "coward rather than killer" idea, but something which I can't blame RTD for because Cornell was already using it 12 years ago: it doesn't seem to factor in that sometimes it can take enormous bravery to fight (what else does the Doctor spend his life doing?), and that Smith, backed into a corner with no other options, is really taking the obvious course of action. So why is Martha's immediate reaction, like Benny's, that the Doctor wouldn't want this? And as for the ending! The cruel ways in which the Doctor ultimately disposes of his enemies is far worse, morally, than simply leaving them on the spaceship to be blown up would have been, something that Doctors have been doing all through time and space since 1963: another inconsistency.

One last complaint: although Smith's romance with Joan is wonderfully touching, and a salutary example to 'The Girl in the Fireplace' and the whole Rose story-arc of how to do a romance for the Doctor right, it ends on a duff note when the returning Doctor offers to take her along for the ride at the end, claiming that he is capable of doing everything Smith could have done. Well, maybe, these days, but in contrast to the Seventh Doctor's sorrowful incomprehension and alien asexuality, this definitely undermines the central story, although having the Doctor only become human as a throwaway solution to a temporary problem rather than because of genuine, psychologically complex needs, had rather done it already by that point. In spite of this, watching part one I was fervently wishing that this was the first time the new series had given the Doc a lady friend -- yet another reason why romanticising the character in the first place was a terrible mistake.

So in conclusion, a two-parter redolent with frustrated promise that was let down by things that most people, I'm uncomfortably aware, would see as trivial; but still, given that it's taken nine episodes for Series Three to offer an episode that left me as disappointed and deflated as all those Series One and Two stories.

FILTER: - Series 3/29 - Tenth Doctor - Television

Human Nature / The Family of BloodBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by Gary Caldwell

Oh dear...

Actually, that opening phrase doesn't refer to 'Human nature/ Family of blood', but the fact that a production like this, sits alongside the various levels of dross that have comprised series 3 to date.

Right from the opening scene with its palpable sense of urgency (nicely edited reverse angles of the Doctor working the controls) this effort seemed to be operating on a higher level and for the last two weeks it's been like a different show... the kind it should be more often then not!

Everything seemed better pitched, the characters more defined, the historical setting more believable (all it takes is a good location scout), the direction tighter, the casting better (the supporting cast having the appropriate air and look for the period), the FX work better (no overstretching) and most importantly... it had a story.

Yeah... that's right. A story!

A story with it's own internal logic (a rarity in new Who), a story not dressed up in clich?, wonkoid science, or borrowed from a better source. A story allowed to unfold without the usual hurry, unburdened by the desire to pack in as much as possible in as little time as possible. A story with genuine emotion as opposed to manipulative sentimentality. A story with no silly 'broad' humour, and finally, a story which, despite it's fantasy leanings, never felt less than confident to bear the weight it's time period carried, the first World war hanging like a dark pall over the tale from beginning to end.

There were of course faults (nothings perfect). Plot wise, Martha should have been given possession of the watch, not the Doctor (which made no real sense considering the circumstances). Then again, something had to motor the plot along, so as a story device, this was a more forgivable anomaly then the show usually offers. In the acting stakes, Tennant and Agyeman seemed a little inadequate alongside the unusually good supporting cast ( Hynes, Sangster, Lloyd, and in lesser roles, pretty much everyone else). To be fair, Tennant had a lot to do, and he did pretty much run the acting gamut. His eyes still bulged a little too much, and his facial expressions were a little too overstated when acting alongside the more naturalistic Jessica Hynes, to fully convince, however. That said, I much preferred the vulnerable John Smith persona to his smatarse portrayal of the Doctor, and Charles Palmer rightfully reigned him in for the final scenes when Smith was gone. Actually, if Tennant played the part entirely as he did during the last ten minutes I'd like him a damnsite better then I do.

Agyeman, it has to be said, was noticeably struggling. She's just not that great an actress, likeable... yes, but without the skill to convey the weight of character and delivery (which, sometimes, just seemed off) this story demanded. Joan, would never have become a companion, (cos' the kid's would have had difficulty relating to her, though a character like this wouldn't have been out of place in the original series) but she would have been far more interesting then Martha, and this story only really served to throw up just how lightweight Agyeman / Martha is.

The scarecrows were a bit naff (though not a bad idea, by any means) with their 'Wizard of Oz' gait, however, I'm viewing them with adult eyes and I'm pretty sure you're average ten year old and under would have thought differently. The courtyard 'shoot em up' was well handled with it's well judged slo-mo inserts and I liked it's allegorical leanings (the youths themselves would be mown down, like so many scarecrows, in the coming years... see what I mean about operating on a higher level). Compare this sequence with the similar set piece in Hooverville in 'Evolution' and you'll see what Palmer brought to this particular gig.

All in, then, it was a strong production in virtually ever department. It was, however Paul Cornell who shone the brightest, delivering, to my mind, the best written episodes of New Who to date. His understanding of the Doctor seems way beyond RTD, and indeed Moffats (I still cringe at the thought of that drunk scene in 'Girl in the fireplace'). While the various punishments dished out to the family seemed a little like a cop out storywise, they also gave the Doctor a mythic quality and this hitherto unexplored aspect seems entirely appropriate considering his somewhat God like abilities. This is a facet that should be run with (but probably won't).

Elsewhere, Gold did his customary fine bit, with an appropriately soaring eulogy at the end. He'll bugger off when RTD steps down, I would imagine (he may well go sooner if the movie world beckons) and the show will be the lesser for it. Good editing, and sound design (I'm a sucker for the 'thrunch' of bullets ripping through straw) rounded the package off. There's plenty more nice thing's to mention, but I'm sure they'll be covered by other reviewers (unless this story is considered crappy by everyone except me, in which case'I'll just crawl into a corner, to ponder how out of touch I am with the world, and probably never recover!!!)

In closing, this was a glimpse at the kind of show 'Who' can so clearly be when the right people are at the helm, both episodes embracing the solid tradition of superior British storytelling as opposed to American (we just can't beat them at they're own game, so why bother... we shouldn't even be wanting to). In fact, I can't imagine a single American show (Sci-Fi or not) that would even attempt to put something like this together (they do 'slick', they do 'sentimental' but they don't often do gravitas!).

This two parter was well written (it might even spark some interest in the first world war with some kids who otherwise have shown none), well paced, well acted and well directed!

I just wish (placed in the latter half of a poor season) it didn't feel so much like a glitch!

FILTER: - Series 3/29 - Tenth Doctor - Television