Deep BreathBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 August 2014 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: Ray Burmiston, BBC/BBC Worldwide 2014)Series openers have always got a lot to contend with; they have to balance between welcoming back older viewers who are expecting more of what they watched the show previously for, and also welcoming new viewers to the fold who may not know what the show is about. With Doctor Who that can be even harder, with nigh on ten years of new adventures continuing a show now literally in its golden years, under unabated media scrutiny and audience expectation. Then, throw a new Doctor into the mix ...

Unlike the arrival of Christopher Eccleston's version, which the production team took great care to identify as a continuation of the 20th Century series in naming him the - ahem - ninth incarnation, at Christmas The Time of the Doctor actually pulled the reset switch in 'killing' off the Doctor as he reached the end of his final regeneration ... and then like a phoenix rising from the ashes brought forth a renewed Doctor as he is granted a whole new life cycle by the Time Lords. In doing so, it also gave the production team carte-blanche to radically change the Doctor's personality, unburdened by his previous forms, and take the show in a new direction. But would they take that chance to potentially alienate an audience?

Well, of course not. After the disaster that was the sixth Doctor's introduction back in 1984, such a radical alteration was never going to be on the cards. However, as demonstrated in last night's Deep Breath, the character can certainly be massaged into a much more ambigious personality who the audience themselves are unsure of, let alone those on screen. We have the moment where the Doctor apparently abandons Clara to the "Half Face Man" ("no point in catching us both"), and then later his look from the restaurant-turned-balloon after the aforementioned robot falls to its (his?) impalation on the top of St Stephens Tower (this is a Victorian story, pedants (grin)) leaves us in total doubt as to whether he pushed or not. However, considering the way the (original) first Doctor behaved over his first adventures we aren't exactly in virgin territory, and he is essentially still the same being that we've known over the last 2000+ years - as hammered home rather unsubtly during the course of the story by Vastra and the Doctor himself.

Pulling it off is a skill, both in performance and direction, and as the new Doctor Peter Capaldi easily succeeds, ably introduced by Ben Wheatley, whose horror credentials certainly are in play in a number of scenes in the latter half of the story. However, it is the latter half where things properly kick off, with the earlier scenes are perhaps being a little too lengthy and slowing the story down somewhat. This is of course one of the problems with exposition, and as I mentioned when starting this review, there's a fair bit to expose! Writer Steven Moffat allowing some 80 minutes for the plot threads to 'breathe' (sorry!) was a good move, but perhaps it could have been shaved down a little just to make it a little pacier.

Anyway, to the story itself!

Prehistoric creatures have come a long way with Walking with Dinosaurs, and our inadvertent visitor to Victorian London was a remarkable creation (please give Invasion of the Dinosaurs a special edition...). Of course real science might not be in play here (see the New Scientist review) but it is catered for in the story universe (thanks, Vastra). It's a shame that it was a macguffin rather than anything more important in the story, but strangely you do feel empathy for it, courtesy of the Doctor (amazing how the TARDIS selectively translates language for its prefered inhabitants) and its sad demise does contribute to moving the story along - though the indication that the robots have been around since the creature's own era in time is an area of plot that, like the ship's location underground, shouldn't be dug into too deeply! Come to think of it, why bring back clockwork droids at all, their inclusion felt a bit like the Autons back in Rose, feeling more of a "historical" enemy's return for its own sake rather than serving the narrative. Mind you, Wheatley skillfully creates some genuinely disturbing moments that eclipse their previous appearance in The Girl in the Fireplace, so I'm not going to worry about that so much!

Jenna Coleman, Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart and Dan Starkey continue to perform strongly, with the latter's portrayal one of the highlights of the episode. The fan in me frowns a bit at how Moffat has seemingly turned the Sontarans into the Ferengi of Doctor Who, but he does get some of the best lines and Starkey never quites takes his performance into farce, so I end up looking forward to his scenes. ("The Doctor is still missing, but he will always come looking for his box. By bringing it here, he will be lured from the dangers of London into this place of safety and we will melt him with acid ... We will not melt him with acid.", followed by his 'special' delivery of the Times to Clara win the prize!). Peter Ferdinando was especially chilling with his portrayal of the "Half Face Man", and again the effects did not let down in animating his clockwork half. Whether we've actually seen the last of him remains to be seen after that ending, and like with Rose in Partners in Crime, the appearance of Michelle Gomez's Missy was delightfully unexpected - I really hope the Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere isn't going to turn out to be the Rani or a female Master as quite a few have speculated and that she is a new original character for us to enjoy in the same way as Madame Kovarian in the 2011 series.

As for that other cameo, I did know it was coming from filming reports but fortunately had forgotten about it until the phone rang. Watching it live evoked the same kind of nostalgic emotion that the final scenes of The End of Time did, though in hindsight I'm not so sure it really served the story so well - it might have been nicer as one of those online/red button extras to enjoy separately rather than in the story proper. Still, its purpose was to remind us (again) that we are watching a continuation of a fifty year tradition!

I can't finish without mentioning the new titles of course. The graphics looked great, and the reflection of the 'clock' theme within the opening bars of the theme was a nice touch (presumably weekly and not just for this clockwork-themed episode), but the main theme sounded very tinny, at least in a non-5.1 environment - I almost had a "Delaware" moment listening to it again! It doesn't seem to quite provide the majesty that I've come to expect from the series theme tune, but I suppose it'll grow on me in time!

All-in-all, Capaldi's debut story was enjoyable, if perhaps a little longer than it needed to be (though it certainly wasn't a clock-watching episode). There was nothing that made me tut at the screen either, so that is always a good sign. It will be interesting to see if this Doctor continues to be 'alien' or becomes more 'human' as with the first Doctor over the next eleven weeks.

Finally, Capaldi himself delivered all my expectations of him as the Doctor, so I'm looking forward to the next 7+ years of him in the role (grin).

FILTER: - Screening - Series 8/34 - Twelfth Doctor

Deep Breath world première - CardiffBookmark and Share

Sunday, 10 August 2014 - Reviewed by Nick Joy

Deep Breath red carpet world première
7th August 2014
Pictures by Nick Joy and Andy Smith

Cardiff has been the production base for Doctor Who since 2004 and perhaps in recognition of this its residents were treated to the red carpet treatment for Series 8's world première 16 days before its TV screening.

As part of the wider world tour to promote the new season and Peter Capaldi's arrival as the new Doctor, the Cardiff première was held at St David's Hall, a concert venue in the heart of the city's shopping precinct and ideally located for a West End-style première event.

Tickets for the screening and Q&A sold out pretty much instantly amongst scenes of the website crashing and demand far exceeding supply. To help manage the disappointment, a free fan meet was arranged for the morning of the première, with Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Steven Moffat and new guy Samuel Anderson traversing the 1/4 mile from Cardiff Central Library to the front of St David's Hall.

Having such a long "catwalk" was a double-edged sword. It meant that more people had the chance to see the stars up close and personal (at no point was it more than two or three deep), but it also meant they had further to walk in a short period of time. And while free publicity cards of Capaldi, Coleman and Anderson were given out to all, the chances of getting an autograph or two were really down to pot luck. Capaldi was particularly attentive - chatting, personalising autographs, posing for "selfies" and generally soaking up the rock star attention he was receiving.

All the while, Daleks patrolled the runway, stopping to terrorise the occasional delighted child, and Cybermen stomped up and down. BBC execs with clipboards scurried the barrier's length, prepping Capaldi for his next interview or soundbite, while presenters Lizo Mzimba and Jason Mohammad earnestly interviewed another group of delirious cosplayers. Even the TARDIS was in attendance, sitting outside the department stores.

After the screening, the cast set off for the London leg of the tour, hosted at the BFI. But back in Cardiff, as the carpet was rolled up, the railings stacked back on to the trucks and the visitors trooped off to the Doctor Who Experience in the Bay, the magic still hung in the air.

This was the same street that featured in the very same season opener being promoted that day (though it pretends to be elsewhere) and it's the same street that doubles as St Paul's district in the season finale. Two roads over and it's where Rose witnessed Autons smashing out of a shop window, and isn't that where Kylie and Doctor Tennant wandered around one Christmas?

And that's why Doctor Who premières happen here - they're a fixed point in time and space.

FILTER: - Series 8/34 - Screening - Twelfth Doctor

An Adventure in Space and Time at the BFIBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 - Reviewed by Paul Hayes
There are many things in life, in art and in drama that can provoke emotion. It’s probably safe to say that a car’s tax disc is not usually one of them.

However, I feel almost certain that I can guarantee no Doctor Who fan of long-standing will be able to avoid at least a little twitch, a certain emotional pang in the opening moments of An Adventure in Space and Time at the date on a disc which comes into shot, and what it signifies. It’s a brief moment, one among many that will mean nothing to the general audience, but adds an extra layer for anybody who has a familiarity with the show we all hold so dear.

I am a grown man, not often given to tears, but I must confess that sitting in the back row at the BFI yesterday evening, just that brief shot made me well up a little. It’s probably no surprise, therefore – as pathetic as it sounds, and I do realise how odd it must seem to some – that I found myself crying real tears come the end. I was taken aback myself. I’d been looking forward to this drama a great deal, and for a long time. But perhaps foolishly, I hadn’t expected to find it as affecting as I did.

I have been utterly fascinated by the creation of Doctor Who, and the many and varied interlinked stories behind it, almost ever since I can remember. Part of the appeal of the fiction of the series when I was a very small child was always how much of a mystery it was, how there was so much mythology and so much backstory that I could only ever seem to have tantalising little glimpses of from BBC repeats or the occasional video borrowed or purchased.

But gradually, the real-life history began to interest me too. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it was – perhaps when I was seven years old and BBC Two showed an edit of the pilot recording as part of The Lime Grove Story. Perhaps when my parents bought me Doctor Who – The Sixties for Christmas at the age of nine, the year of the programme’s thirtieth anniversary – a frightening 20 years ago now!

I read that book again and again, despite having at the time seen hardly any of the episodes the making of which it chronicled. But I think the book that really made me realise what a great narrative there is to the creation of Doctor Who back in 1963 was The Handbook: The First Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker. I bought a copy in 1997, and was riveted by the “Production Diary” section, which tells the story of how Doctor Who came to be created using the memos, letters, format documents and various other pieces of paper preserved in the BBC Written Archives Centre at Caversham.

There’s something captivating about the story for so many reasons. A big part of it is because we now know what the legend was that they were about to launch. Partly also it’s because of the huge challenges the first production team faced, and how so many times it seemed as if the series wouldn’t even make it to the screen, or past its first few episodes. It’s also to do with the varied personalities involved, changing times at the BBC as it moved into the sixties and the drama department changed and evolved… And also, no doubt, a nostalgic interest in the way television was made long ago, if you can be nostalgic for a time long before you were even born!

I knew that it was a great story, and one you could tell as a drama, and of course I was very far from being the first to have that idea. Back in the thirtieth anniversary year, 1993, Kevin Davies (who was in the audience for this screening) had come up with a notion called The Legend Begins, which would have mixed interviews with those responsible for Doctor Who’s creation with a dramatised strand, showing how it all happened with actors in the roles of those well-known names.

This project never came to pass, and Davies eventually made Thirty Years in the TARDIS for BBC One instead, as a (relatively!) straightforward documentary. But with the fortieth anniversary coming up in 2003, Mark Gatiss had a similar idea – to tell the story of the beginnings of Doctor Who as a drama. It never got anywhere, and I remember reading Gatiss’s Doctor Who Magazine feature interview that year, where he spoke about the idea, and I felt sad that it hadn’t come to pass.

Possibly inspired by reading that, I even had a go at writing the story myself, as a novel called 1963. It was rejected by various agents and publishers (probably for the best!), but I was thrilled in 2012 when it was announced that the story was at last to be told in fictionalised form. The BBC had commissioned Gatiss to dust off his old idea for the fiftieth anniversary, and An Adventure in Space and Time was born.

I eagerly, perhaps even obsessively, hoovered up every detail of the production as and when they became available, pored over every on-set photo and read and re-read every interview. It’s long been one the highlights of the anniversary season that I have been looking forward to the most, so I was deliriously happy when I got the chance to attend the premiere screening at the British Film Institute in London, as a reviewer for this website.

After all that waiting, all of that build-up, and having a reasonably good grounding in the real history behind it all… how does An Adventure measure up?

It’s a hop-skip-and-jump through the early history of Doctor Who, but of course it had to be, and I went in knowing that full-well. Those endless reams of documentation and memos of which I spoke are endlessly fascinating to people like me, and perhaps you, and I’m sure to Gatiss as well, but would make for pretty interminable viewing for the average viewer to which BBC Two really have to be reaching out.

Nobody wants to see 90 minutes of people reading detailed BBC documentation to one another. Nonetheless, I was pleased to see that we do get flashes of dialogue between characters that some will recognise from some of those memos that were flying about during the creation of the show – I was particularly pleased that Donald Wilson’s (sadly absent here as a character) note to the editor of the Radio Times about the show being a “knock-out” survives in a line given to Verity Lambert, for example.

Wilson is not the only character to be absent, and like fans perhaps mourning the absence of classic series Doctors from the forthcoming Day of the Doctor, many of us will have favourites who we feel were perhaps worthy of greater recognition, or who have been overlooked. Gatiss himself, in the panel session which followed the screening, mourned the absence of David Whitaker, as he had also done in other interviews prior to the screening.

But part of the problem of the story of the birth of Doctor Who is that it involves so many people, and has so many great stories and sub-plots within it. You could have a whole drama about the work of the Radiophonic Workshop, or about the roles of Raymond Cusick and Terry Nation in creating the Daleks.

What we have here is a condensed, simplified version of Doctor Who’s beginnings painted in broad strokes, with the order of events streamlined and in some cases moved around a little. In fact, there’s even an argument for saying that this isn’t about the creation of Doctor Who at all – it already exists within the first few minutes of the drama, and most of what follows is about the process of actually getting the idea made.

In a lot of the promotion and build-up to An Adventure in Space and Time, it has been promoted as the story of four extraordinary people and how they combined to create a television legend – Sydney Newman, Lambert, Waris Hussein and William Hartnell. I would suggest that this is not quite the case. Newman’s role is really a supporting one, and while there is some focus early in the piece on the relationship between Lambert and Hussein, really it’s Hartnell’s piece, and David Bradley delivers a suitably towering performance in the part. All of the cast are good, but he is especially so, utterly convincing both as the Doctor and, as we now have a little more insight into from the Points West interview, as Hartnell outside of the role. Indeed, a line from that interview even makes it into his dialogue early on, which I thought was a nice touch.

But it’s a piece full of nice touches, none more so than at the end. Before the screening started, we were kindly and rightly asked by the BFI’s Television Programmer Marcus Prince not to share any spoiler details of the drama, and I do not intend to do so here. Indeed, I really, truly hope you don’t see any details about the ending before you see the programme, and are able to come to it fresh – you’ll find it so much more rewarding if you do. I shall simply say that it did not end in the way I had expected, and the way in which it did finish hit me so hard that the tears did indeed begin to flow.

It’s ridiculous. Ludicrous. It’s just a children’s programme that we all enjoy watching. But it was a perfect moment, one that thoroughly deserves to go unspoiled.

I suspect many of the rest of the audience shared my appreciation for it, given the reaction as the end credits rolled. This is the fourth of these 50th anniversary screenings at the BFI which I have attended, but it was the first at which there was a standing ovation as the programme finished.

During the panel, both Bradley and director Terry McDonough said how flattered and moved they had been by the reaction, and McDonough told the audience he’d never been at a screening before where he felt those watching were so engaged with what they were viewing. McDonough deserves praise for his work here, in return – there is a particularly impressive sequence set on the 22nd of November, where what you think you’re watching turns out to be something quite different. You get the feeling from one or two comments that were made during the discussion following the screening that they would have liked to have had a bigger budget, but no lack of effort was visible on screen. Gatiss described one moment he would have liked to have included, during which he mentioned that the final episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan was missing “at the moment,” which prompted laughter from an audience clearly well-versed in the constant merry-go-round of missing episode speculation and rumour!

The panel itself was also a joy, conducted by journalist, broadcaster and well-known Doctor Who fan Matthew Sweet. Joining Bradley and McDonough were Gatiss himself, Sacha Dhawan (who played Waris Hussein) and William Hartnell’s granddaughter, Jessica Carney. Carney had needed to leave the auditorium for a short while after the drama had finished in order to compose herself, which isn’t surprising. If it made some of us feel emotional, how must it feel for her, who had such a close and personal connection to what we being shown? She even appears in the drama as a character herself, which must have been a slightly bizarre experience.

It’s clear that Gatiss wanted this to be a love letter to Doctor Who and a tribute to all of those who were involved in its creation, whether they made it onto the screen or not. It’s not a documentary representation of what happened in 1963, it was clearly never meant to be. It’s a celebration, and in that respect it hits and mark spot-on. And if it inspires a new generation to become fascinated by the history of the show, to learn to explore the real story of what happened, then so much the better.
Compiled by:
Paul Hayes

FILTER: - Screening

The TV Movie at the BFIBookmark and Share

Sunday, 6 October 2013 - Reviewed by Anthony Weight
For the previous screenings in the British Film Institute’s monthly Doctor Who 50th anniversary events, there has been some degree of choice for the organisation in which story it selects to celebrate the era of each particular Doctor. While it’s true that every era of the show has a small gaggle of stories held up as classics by a large portion of fandom, there have still always been options. Not so, however, for Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. The man who once described himself as “the George Lazenby of the Time Lords” is represented by only a single entry in the televised history of Doctor Who – the 1996 TV Movie, which brought the programme back from the dead after seven years, but failed to lead to the new US network series that the team behind it had been hoping for.

That said, McGann’s sole outing on-screen wasn’t the initial focus of this event, which – unlike the others in the series that I have attended – began with a discussion panel before the showing, which kicked off at 10am, with much apology from host Justin Johnson that we’d all had to get up to early on a Saturday to be there! The first panel was a discussion and celebration of something the sheer level of which may be unique to Doctor Who – the plethora of fan-originated professional spin-off media that carried the flame of the series during the long years the TV show was off-air, both before and after McGann’s sole outing.

Dick Fiddy, Johnson’s co-host at all of these BFI events, expertly and deftly guided a panel consisting of Seventh Doctor script editor Andrew Cartmel, Big Finish’s Nick Briggs, Jason Haigh-Ellery and Gary Russell, BBC Books novel editor Justin Richards and non-fiction author and former Doctor Who Magazine co-editor Marcus Hearn. Cartmel more seemed to be there because he wasn’t able to attend the Seventh Doctor event back in August, and unlike the others on the panel didn’t come up through fandom and the fanzine world, but he did write for both the novel ranges of the 1990s and for Big Finish, and had interesting things to say about what were being somewhat jokingly referred to as “the wilderness years.”

While you might perhaps think that such a panel could be a little dry, the conversation was free-flowing and, for me, fascinating, and it was interesting to hear the opinions on display about the years when Doctor Who was very much a non-mainstream, cult property, being made by fans, for fans in terms of books and audio dramas. Some of the panel even admitted that they never really thought Doctor Who would ever return to television, although of course all were delighted when it did.

The panel was enjoyable and informative, perhaps the most so among all those I’ve seen at the BFI, and I was surprised to find it had gone on for as long as 45 minutes. If anything was missing it was perhaps any real discussion of Virgin Books’ output during the 1990s, although Russell did acknowledge what an important contribution they had made in originating the careers of writers who went on through BBC Books, Big Finish and in some cases onto the TV series itself. But it was an organic discussion, you can’t plan to include each and every thing, and there was only so much time available.

It was a small surprise that the TV Movie wasn’t then formally introduced – after the panel had finished and the chairs were removed from the stage, the lights went down… Then briefly up again, then down again, then the movie started – hopefully not catching anybody out who’d taken the opportunity to nip to the toilet!

I hadn’t watched the film for eight years – the last time I did so being just before the series returned back in 2005. But it was still very familiar, as I’d watched it repeatedly when it originally came out in the 1990s, when I was 12 years old and the return of Doctor Who, even sadly briefly, was one of the most exciting things I could ever remember having happened. I think fandom in general is a lot more relaxed about the TV movie these days. Before it was made there was anxiety and paranoia that it would be a heavily “Americanised” version of the show, and after it had come and gone much wailing and gnashing of teeth about its failings and the fact it didn’t lead to a full series. Now, with Doctor Who having been back on television for several years as a great success, we don’t have to be quite to worried about what it did or didn’t do, and we can just enjoy it for what it is. Flawed, indeed, but still with some great moments of humour and charm.

Indeed, for a production that was being pulled in so many different directions – by the BBC, by the Fox Network who were broadcasting it in the US, by Universal who were producing it, by Philip Segal as the Doctor Who-loving producer behind it – perhaps the most surprising thing about it is just how good it is. If it had been as big a mess as the process of getting it made was, then goodness only knows what we’d have seen on-screen.

Talking of being on-screen, while still strictly in standard definition format (no high definition version exists, nor is one ever likely to unless someone tracks down the original film elements and rebuilds it all from scratch) the fact it was made on 35 mm film means it scrubs up very nicely, possibly the best of the any of the three BFI showings I have attended. It was also the full original US edit, not the slightly cut BBC One version, meaning we got to see just exactly what happened to Chang Lee’s mates (they didn’t make it, in case you didn't know!) and also hear the Seventh Doctor’s rather undignified final scream.

Following a very brief break (during which I did manage, with many others, to make a lightning dash to the toilet, before causing a minor inconvenience to Andrew Cartmel and the others sitting in my row as I made my way back to my seat!), we were onto the panel discussing the actual film itself. Philip Segal wasn’t in attendance, and there was no note read out from him as there had been from other high-profile figures who’ve been unable to attend previous screenings – I’m sure the BFI asked him along, of course, but doubtless living in the US made it difficult. However, someone who also lives across the Atlantic, and got a huge round of applause when it was announced she’d made the trip specially, is Daphne Ashbrook. Indeed, the actress seemed rather overwhelmed by the huge round of applause she received, perhaps even bigger than that given to her co-star in the film – the Eighth Doctor himself, Paul McGann.

Ashbrook and McGann were joined by the film’s director, Geoffrey Sax, for another enjoyable and convivial session, answering questions from Justin Johnson and, later, the audience – including me! I was brave enough to finally pluck up the courage to put a question at one of these events, and I’m glad I did as asking Sax whether he’d ever been invited to come back to Doctor Who by Julie Gardner (with whom he worked on the ITV Othello in 2001) or any other of the post-2005 production team prompted the revelation that he’d actually been invited by Gardner to direct the very first block of filming for Christopher Eccleston’s series back in 2005. He also said that after working with Matt Smith on the BBC drama Christopher and his Kind a couple of years ago, Smith had secured him an invitation to direct one of the Christmas specials. However, he was busy on both occasions, so has still to return to Doctor Who. As, of course, has Paul McGann, and I was surprised that nobody asked him the big question about whether he has even a cameo role in the forthcoming 50th anniversary special. The special was mentioned – with McGann suggesting that speculation about who is going to be in it even beats “Who’s going to be the next Doctor?” speculation these days – and someone asked him about a Tweet he’d recently made talking about Matt Smith and voiceover work, but nobody put the question itself outright – which I thought showed remarkable restraint!

Much of the discussion during the panel would have been familiar to anyone who has read the making-of book by Segal and Gary Russell, or seen the documentary on the DVD re-release of the movie, which Ashbrook herself spoke of recently having seen and been astonished by just how much effort it took to get the thing made. Ashbrook indeed seems to have been on something of a mission to discover Doctor Who in her years since appearing in it, when she had no knowledge of the show at all – she was even able to name-check Patrick Troughton when discussing favourite Doctors, and said how she still misses Amy and Rory from the current series! Her best story, however, was of returning in 2010 to the house in Vancouver which was used as the location of Grace’s apartment in the film. The same couple who’d owned it back in 1996 still lived there, and gave her a copy of a photo taken with her and McGann back when the film was being made.

McGann himself was most fascinating when revealing some of the tentative discussions he’d had with Segal about how the Doctor and the series might have developed had the movie been more successful Stateside. He was very clear that the appearance of the Eighth Doctor was not what he’d wanted, and he’d wanted a look and a costume much more akin to what Eccleston eventually got – a look McGann jokingly referred to as “the bin man!” He also confirmed that, had Russell T Davies offered him the chance to star in the 2005 series instead of Eccleston, he’d certainly have come back as the Doctor for that run.

Overall, it was nice to see a group still so pleased and proud of their association with Doctor Who, despite its brevity and its not leading to a full series. McGann remains a Doctor cheated out of exploring his full potential as the character, on screen at least, but I’m pleased he was here for his day in the sun at the BFI. These monthly celebrations continue to be hugely enjoyable, and I’m very glad I’ve been able to attend some of them – it seems such a shame they’re coming to an end soon, as the 50th anniversary reaches its climax. Can’t we just carry on and keep having one every month ad infinitum…? Please, BFI…?
Paul Hayes

FILTER: - Eighth Doctor - Screening

Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways at the BFIBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 August 2013 - Reviewed by Anthony Weight
When the British Film Institute announced their series of monthly screenings throughout 2013 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, I thought that they sounded like a nice idea, but I wasn’t particularly fussed about attending any of them myself. I hadn’t been to any Doctor Who events for a very long time, and thought that they weren’t necessarily my sort of thing.

However, last month I had the opportunity to attend the Remembrance of the Daleks event, and I absolutely loved it. The chance to watch a great Doctor Who story on the big screen, with a large and enthusiastic audience who love the series just as much as you do, and to hear more from some of the people who made it happen with the interview panel afterwards… I was hooked, and despite having come to these BFI events rather late in the series, was determined to try and get to more of them before the end of the year.

I was very fortunate, then, to be able to pick up a couple of returns on the BFI website in the week leading up to the Ninth Doctor event, and went along with a good friend of mine on Saturday to enjoy that Doctor's grand finale, the two-parter Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways. The observant among you will have spotted that this is the Ninth Doctor, but in the eighth month. Presumably due to the availability of guests for the screenings, they’ve got a little out of order now, with the David Tennant event following next month, and Paul McGann finally getting his moment at the beginning of October. At the beginning of this month’s event, compère Justin Johnson announced that both Tennant and McGann will be attending their respective screenings.

Probably to nobody’s great surprise, there was no appearance from Christopher Eccleston at this month’s showing, although he did send along a note for Johnson to read out before Bad Wolf. It was short, but definitely sweet, and although Eccleston doesn’t often make any statements or appearances related to his period with Doctor Who, you do sense that he remains proud of his time on the series and the work that he did to help establish its successful return. In his note, Eccleston joked that if Joe Ahearne – who directed the two episodes being screened – were to return for the 100th anniversary special in 2063, he’d take part and bring his stair-lift, providing the Daleks do not bring theirs!

You do sense that there was a great bond formed between Ahearne and Eccleston during the five episodes of Doctor Who which they made together. Ahearne, remember, wrote to The Guardian to rebuke those who’d criticised Eccleston for his departure from the show after only one year, and he and Eccleston collaborated on the ITV drama Perfect Parents soon after their work on Doctor Who. Ahearne has rightly won many plaudits from fans down the years for his work on the 2005 series, but has oddly never returned to the show. It does make you wonder whether the fact that Eccleston left has anything to do with his not wanting to come back and do more, but sadly during the question-and-answer session which followed the interview panel, nobody put that one to him – and I wasn’t brave enough to ask him myself!

Nonetheless, Ahearne did give many interesting insights, such as his observation that Doctor Who was a pleasure to work on because it was one of the few British television dramas of the time where the camera could help to tell the story, rather than just being pointed at people having conversations in kitchens. And he did dispel the long-standing fan myth about his having been born on November 23rd 1963 – not true, evidently!

Representing the actors of the Ninth Doctor’s era was Bruno Langley, who played short-term companion Adam Mitchell in Dalek and The Long Game. I felt a little sorry for Langley, as there wasn’t a great deal for him to say, given the fact that he wasn’t actually in the two episodes being screened. Nonetheless, he came across as likeable enough, and another person proud to have been associated with Doctor Who.

Also present as a guest was visual effects supremo Dave Houghton, who was interviewed between the two episodes, and it’s odd to hear someone from that side of things talk about how much more can be done these days – we’re used to hearing those who worked on the classic series day that, but these 2005 episodes themselves are now starting to seem old!

There is no question, however, that both the interview panel and the question-and-answer session were dominated by day’s other guest – Phil Collinson, who was the producer of Doctor Who when it returned in 2005. Collinson is, of course, an old-school, dyed-in-the-wool Doctor Who fan, but he was also the sure head and steady hand who made sure that the whole thing didn’t fall to pieces in those early days when nobody had made a series like this in the UK for so very long, schedules were falling behind and elements both inside and outside of the BBC were predicting an embarrassment. It was anything but, of course, as Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways go to show.

Collinson was a witty, informative and hugely enthusiastic guest, proud not just of these two episodes, not even just of his era, but of all of Doctor Who. Even after everything that’s been said and written about the show and how it is made, he still had some fascinating new insights, too – such as the fact that the first cut of Rose, the first episode of the new series, came in at a mere 28 minutes, necessitating some frantic additions and reworking!

On a technical level, while it was very impressive to see the episodes on a film-sized screen, oddly I thought that they didn’t stand up to it quite as well as Remembrance of the Daleks last month. I don’t know if it’s because I was sitting nearer the front this time, or whether it’s an artefact of the field-pairing process used to ‘filmise’ the video, or simply my imagination, but I thought that the jagged edges you’d expect when 625-line video is blown-up to cinema-screen size were more apparent.

Perhaps it was simply the contrast with some of the high definition Matt Smith-era material we’d seen only a few moments before, when we were treated to a sneak preview of a montage from BBC One’s Doctor Who Prom broadcast. On the basis of that, I’d expect An Adventure in Space and Time and whatever 11th Doctor story is chosen to look fabulously lush on their showings here at the BFI.

Such quibbles aside, I can only thank the BFI once again for putting on this series of celebrations for Doctor Who’s anniversary, and repeat my recommendation from my Remembrance of the Daleks review that if you have the chance to attend one of these events, you should grab it with both hands.
Paul Hayes

FILTER: - Series 1/27 - Ninth Doctor - Screening

Remembrance of the Daleks at the BFIBookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 July 2013 - Reviewed by Anthony Weight
I love Remembrance of the Daleks. It is a story that runs through my own personal fandom like the name of a town through a stick of seaside rock. It's one of the first stories I have very clear memories of watching on television, at the age of four. A couple of years later, the Target novelisation was, as far as I can recall, the first "proper" book I ever read.

It may well be the Doctor Who story that I have seen more and know better than any other, but that didn't stop me taking the opportunity to see it again when good fortune gave me the chance to attend yesterday's screening at the British Film Institute, the latest in its Doctor Who 50th-anniversary season. And I'm certainly very glad that I did go along.

It's an excellent choice of story to represent the era of the Seventh Doctor, for many reasons. There are the high production values and excellent script, of course, along with the very strong cast. But it's also a story that combines a celebration and exploration of the history and mythology of Doctor Who with an open and accessible plot - you gain something if you have a good knowledge of the series, but you aren't excluded if you don't. And if you're anything like me, then the sense of it being a part of something larger, a teaser of so much more mythology to explore, only makes it all the more appealing.

It had actually been a very long time since I'd last been to any kind of Doctor Who-related event. I was quite heavily involved in the local fan group in the Brighton area when I was a teenager, and attended two one-day mini conventions run by the group. Since I moved away to university just over a decade ago, however, my fandom has tended to be pretty much online-only, becoming involved in debates and discussions on forums, but not actually going along to any kind of events or gatherings.

It was an interesting experience to see fans together en masse for the first time in such a long time. As Ben Aaronovitch noted from the stage in the panel session that followed the screening, "You've changed a lot in the past twenty-five years!" If you were a fan back in the 1990s, as I was, you could certainly see what he meant - many more female and younger fans than would have been the case in decades past, although I suspect that this would probably be no surprise to anybody who, unlike me, has attended an event since the series returned in 2005.

My only experience of any vaguely similar kind of screening to this was when the local arthouse cinema in the city where I live screened the film version of Quatermass and the Pit last year. That had been a slightly disappointing experience, because rather oddly the majority of the audience were clearly not on the side of the film - there had been much mocking laughter at some of the more archaic elements of the production and screenplay.

Pleasingly, there were no such problems here. The large audience - which included ever-present BFI Who attendee comedian Frank Skinner, ex-Adric actor Matthew Waterhouse, and Remembrance OB lighting man Ian Dow - were entirely behind the story, eager and excited to see it, whether for the first or the hundredth occasion. There was even an oddly charming moment when the Special Weapons Dalek earned a little ripple of applause after its first appearance blowing two Renegade Daleks into dust in episode four. Perhaps it was because the Abomination had made the effort to come along in person (in replica form, at least!), and was sitting in the BFI foyer, happily posing for photos . . .

I'd never actually seen an episode of Doctor Who shown on a big screen before, and wasn't sure how well 4:3-framed 625-line video material would hold up under such scrutiny. In fact, it looked very good indeed, perfectly sharp and at such size I found myself noticing little details I hadn't spotted before, such as the graffiti figure on the school gate next to The Girl, as she watches the Doctor and Ace in episode one.

It was curious how, even having seen the story so many times, I found myself getting quite excited as the lights went down and that gloriously menacing and enigmatic pre-titles sequence came up on the big screen, followed - of course - by the famous theme tune, which can still take me back to being a small child in an instant. I know others have their views on the McCoy era theme tune arrangement... and I don't care, frankly. For a generation of children my age, this was our Doctor Who, and the sound of it evokes an excitement and an air of mystery even all these years later.

There was one technical element of the screening that I did find slightly curious, in that it wasn't the broadcast version of the story that was used. This was only really detectable in the first scene in the cafe, where Mike sees Ace for the first time. Usually, this is accompanied on the soundtrack by a clearly very carefully-selected part of the song Do You Want to Know a Secret?, which fits in with the enigma of who Ace is as Mike watches her. Even on the original DVD release, when the rights to The Beatles' version were unavailable, the Billy J Kramer version of the same song was used. Here it was a completely different song, which is a shame - it may seem such a small thing, but that little scene loses something with its absence.

As well as not having been to any kind of Doctor Who event for such a long time, this was also my first visit to the BFI - and I doubt it will be my last. To sound boringly pedestrian, I was pleased (and relieved!) at how well-signposted and easy-to-find the place was, and the whole organisation of the event seemed to be very smooth. The tone of the day was right as well - there was a respect for the series, but not a po-faced reverence of some serious film seminar. It was supposed to be a fun and entertaining event - a celebration, of course - and it certainly managed that.

Epitomising the sense of fun was the introduction of a mystery guest for a short pre-screening interview via a showing of the K-9 and Company titles, which received much laughter and, touchingly, applause for the late Elisabeth Sladen. John Leeson had been unable to attend the Fourth Doctor screening earlier in the year, but he was here as an extra guest on the basis that he provided the voice of the Battle Computer in this story, and it was certainly nice to see him.

There were also interesting little chats with effects designer Mike Tucker and special sound wizard Dick Mills between episodes, but the main focus of discussion was the panel afterwards, with Aaronovitch, Sophie Aldred, and Sylvester McCoy, which was well-handled by the BFI season's co-curator Justin Johnson. All three Who alumni gave the impression of being very proud of their work on the series, but there was also the slightly bittersweet feeling that they had been cut down in their prime - they could have done so much more had they been given the time and the opportunity. Time at least has justified the faith they had in the power of the show, and Remembrance does feel like a pointer to what would come in the future. With its fast pace, strong characterisation, and high-quality effects, it does feel almost like a new-series story before there was ever a new series.

Perhaps my personal highlight of the day, however, came after the main event itself was over. Aaronovitch was in the foyer signing books, and I was able to get him to sign for me the very Target book I read as a six-year-old, some 23 years ago. It's battered and creased and dog-eared, but it's one of the few books I've kept with me wherever I've lived all these years later, and it can't be very often you get to meet and thank the person who wrote such an important book in your life.

After I'd had the book signed and was walking away from the queue, I was stopped by an elderly Indian couple, who were curious as to who everyone was queueing up to see, and what event had just been taking place. I explained that it had been an anniversary screening for a long-running series called Doctor Who, and that the man at the table signing books was one of the writers of the series.

"Ah, Doctor Who!" the gentleman of the couple replied eagerly, recognition flashing across his face. "Yes, that has been going for a very long time... I remember it when I visited this country in 1967..."

Doctor Who means so many different things to so many different people, whether it's a fleeting experience of it on a visit to a foreign country, or something you have loved all your life, which has become a part of who you are. I am not in the least surprised that the BFI screenings have proved to be so popular this year, as on the basis of the Remembrance screening they recognise and celebrate the fact that Doctor Who is, as Andrew Cartmel once noted, "for everyone." Fan cliques or eager children, all were represented, and I think all came away having very much enjoyed their afternoon.

If you get the chance to attend any of the remaining screenings, I urge you to take it. It's a fine way to join in with the anniversary celebrations, and especially enjoyable if they happen to be showing one of your very favourite stories.
Paul Hayes

FILTER: - Screening - Seventh Doctor