Peter Davison InterviewBookmark and Share

Friday, 31 January 2014 - Interview by Tim Hunter
Even though Tom Baker was in the lead role when I became a teenage Doctor Who fan in 1980, Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor was MY Doctor. There was something about his portrayal that I identified with: his youth made him a more accessible ‘hero’ figure than Baker did; his preppy cricketing look influenced my own fashion sense; and his vulnerability was something I could relate to.

Davison visited Melbourne, Australia in 1983 to attend the Logies, Australia’s TV awards. As a giddy 16-year-old, I took the day off school and went into the city where he was doing a promotional book signing appearance in the department store Myer. In front of quite a crowd of excited fans, he tried hard to look enthusiastic as the matronly Myer book department manager, while chatting with him, gushed about the special effects in ‘Time-flight’, which was having a repeat screening on the ABC at the time, and everyone knew she was talking through her hat – even then, ‘Time-flight’ was considered naff. I did feel a little embarrassed that the book he signed for me was the ‘Time-flight’ paperback, just released, but I was too excited. I was there, on the platform, with THE DOCTOR!

Fast-forward 31 years, and I receive a media release email from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra publicity department announcing interview opportunities with Davison to promote his role as host of the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular's Australian and New Zealand tour. Over the years as a freelance writer, I have interviewed many other Doctor Who stars, including Katy Manning, Elisabeth Sladen, Russell T Davies, David Tennant, Matt Smith and Steven Moffat, but this was different. You can imagine my excitement at the prospect of a one-on-one interview with my teenage hero. So I emailed the publicist, explained my position, and was kindly granted an interview with Peter Davison. And here it is.

Tim Hunter: It has been 30 years since your time as the Doctor on TV, but you’ve never really left the role, what with conventions, anniversary specials, audio plays, and now hosting this Symphonic Spectacular. Did you think, back in 1981, that’d you’d still be involved today?

Peter Davison: No. Well, because I really didn’t think that far into the future; you’d realise how old you’d be. I realised when I left it and Colin (Baker) and Sylvester (McCoy) took over that I was still carrying making appearances as the Doctor, so it was obvious it was going to carry on at least as long as the show did. And I suppose when the show went off the air, I thought it would fade discreetly away, but it didn’t do that, and it’s kept me quite busy. So here we are, the longest-running job in show business.

TH: Do you enjoy it?

PD: I don’t mind it at all now. The good thing about when I left, I managed to move on very quickly to other things, like A Very Peculiar Practice, which meant I was then free to continue my association with Doctor Who; it wasn’t affecting my career, so I felt very happy about doing various things.

TH: Now with the show’s very successful return to TV, and the 50th anniversary last years, there’s obviously been a lot of exposure to the classic series and the new series, including your Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, which was a lot of fun – there are some people say it was more fun than the actual 50th anniversary special –

PD: Yeah!

TH: The thing I liked about it was that everyone was so keen on having fun with it and taking the mickey out of themselves, from yourself and Colin and Sylvester right up to Russell (T Davies), David (Tennant) and Steven (Moffat), which was great. Have you enjoyed that resurgence of interest? Has there been more phone calls and knocks at the door?

PD: Well, I realised that last year was going to be a year of Doctor Who, what with various conventions – we came here with The Four Doctors thing, and I was also filming The Five(ish) Doctors, if not writing and planning it, then getting everything together. Once everyone had agreed to do it, just the nightmare of trying to find a day when we were all in the same country proved to be quite difficult. But everyone was quite keen on doing it and sorting it out, and it all worked out very well. So last year was everything Doctor Who, although I did do two other series last year as well, which quite annoyed Janet Fielding (who played Tegan opposite Davison). But I did spend a lot of time on Doctor Who – which is fine and which I love doing.

TH: Apart from the difference in special effects and budget, do you think the new version of Doctor Who is essentially the same show as it was when you were in the role?

PD: I do think it is the same show. Obviously things have changed; not only the budget, but the fact that there’s so much more you can do with that budget, such as digital effects. The role of the companion has changed somewhat too; we were struggling to come up with a good companion character during my time. The difference is really is that where we had the occasional Doctor Who or science-fiction fan writing for the series, now you have exclusively Doctor Who fans and science fiction writers. The producer now writes an awful lot of the series; Russell wrote a lot and now Steven writes a lot; Mark Gatiss writes a lot, and they are all people who grew up watching the classic series. They haven’t come to it wanting to change it completely; obviously they have to update it, but they want to keep it the same – you couldn’t have a bigger fan of the classic series than Steven Moffat. He is the world’s biggest geek. So while he’s changed the way things are done and added various things, essentially, as far as he’s concerned, he’s making the same series.

TH: So what is it for you that indefinable quality of Doctor Who that remains the same?

PD: It started during my time; I tried bringing an area of uncertainty in the Doctor’s mind about whether what he was doing was the right thing to do. He certainly did everything with the best of intentions, but sometimes those intentions didn’t work out quite as they should have. I think that’s something that’s been built on in the new series; that area of doubt the Doctor has. Things go wrong, and it’s not all the Doctor coming in and going ‘Right, I’m doing this and this’. He’s operating on the skin of his teeth a lot of the time, and I like that. He has to pull himself out of the soup.

TH: And now you’re hosting this Symphonic Spectacular. How did you become involved in it?

PD: I was asked to take part in the Doctor Who BBC Proms in the summer, I introduced one segment. It was a great occasion, I loved it, because you go out there, and there’s such a vibrant atmosphere, and hopefully we’ll have the same here. And I was asked then if I would be interested in doing it, and I said yes, certainly. I’m very fond of the idea of what we call classical music, which encompasses a whole lot of orchestral music; it’s not strictly classical, but that’s a finer point. When I was growing up, I did music, and went to a lot of concerts, and early on I was aware of the power of a live symphonic orchestra. It’s something we take for granted; we often hear orchestral music as ‘muzak’, and for young people who don’t go to an orchestral concert, it’s a very good way of letting them hear what it’s like to experience it as a wall of sound.

TH: I attended the Symphonic Spectacular here two years ago, and it is a very vibrant atmosphere. We attended the afternoon session, so there were lots of family and kids, and not only were they thrilled with the live Daleks and Cybermen, but to see them enjoying the music, and the euphoria and emotion the music elicits from you. I was there with my partner and two other friends, and during one of the themes, we were all moved to tears.

PH: Yes, it’s powerful stuff!

TH: And now the orchestrated score is an integral part of the show now; it can be haunting, it can be stirring, it can be frightening, and it can be very moving. How do you respond to it?

PD: Music, in one form or another, has always been very important in Doctor Who. Early on it was the Radiophonic Workshop, which was similarly iconic, although you are limited with what you can do with that. So it’s wonderful that Murray Gold is writing amazing music for the show. Still I think sometimes the irony of music like this is the fact that when you’re watching the programme, it adds to thing, but you don’t notice it particularly. What I noticed during rehearsals yesterday that you’re watching the clip, and you have the orchestra just below the screen playing the music, it really brings home to you what it does add to the scene.

TH: Actually last time when I saw it, there was a software glitch, and they were going to play the music live during the clip, and for some reason the clip started but the orchestra weren’t able to join in, so it was interesting watching the clip without any music at all – and the funny thing was that everyone in the audience pulled out their sonic screwdrivers and pointed them at the screen – but when the music finally did start with the clip, it was a really inadvertent but good demonstration of what the music adds to a scene and how the music tells the story, and you don’t realise how important it is. So, you’re hosting, Tom Baker’s doing a clip – is Matt Smith doing one too?

PD: I don’t think he is. He’s obviously on the screen, but he’s not doing something to camera, as far as I know.

TH: Well, he’s done with now anyway.

PD: Exactly. He’s old news. Matt who?

TH: So, any thoughts of what to expect from Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor?

PD: He’s a brilliant actor, and I think he’ll bring a lot, and I’m looking forward to it.

TH: In some ways, he’s in the same boat as you were.

PD: In that he’s different.

TH: Yes, but with All Creatures Great and Small, you were already an established actor, and Capaldi is as well. So like they did with you, and called you Doctor Vet, ha haha, they’re doing that with Capaldi and his role in The Thick of It, and saying he’ll be a loud shouty swearing Doctor.

PD: Hahaha, that’d be interesting. Yes, you’re right, and he’s also a complete contrast to the previous Doctor, as I was. But I don’t think there’ll be a problem. My son was very worried because he’s enjoyed dressing up as Matt Smith, but I’m sure it’ll take but a moment and he’ll be won over.
After the interview, Davison agreed to sign a DVD sleeve (‘Castrovalva’ this time, and he marvelled at the ‘Mild Violence’ classification) and have a photo taken with me. I showed him a photo on my phone of my signed copy of ‘Time-flight’ (he remembered the book signing and the crusty matron), we chatted briefly about Melbourne’s crazy hot summer (he’d arrived on a 40 degree day), how Katy Manning was as mad as a cut snake, and how gracious Elisabeth Sladen had been, and then it was over. Even though it was only 20 minutes, Peter was warm, attentive, articulate and candid – just as I expected him to be. I’m just glad I didn’t gush too much, or melt into a fan-geek mess. So thank you, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, not only for the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular, but for allowing me to meet MY Doctor.
The Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular runs in Melbourne from 31st January to 1st February before moving to Brisbane on 8th February and Wellington from 21st February to 22nd February.

FILTER: - Interview - Fifth Doctor

The Time of The DoctorBookmark and Share

Thursday, 2 January 2014 - Reviewed by Damian Christie

Doctor Who - The Time of The Doctor
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Jamie Payne
Broadcast on BBC One - 25 December 2013
“Raggedy man ... good night.”
Amy Pond, The Time of the Doctor

Considering the feral response to The Time of the Doctor on social media in the last week, Doctor Who fans seem more divided than ever. All the goodwill and euphoria that followed the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor evaporated within 24 hours, with The Time of the Doctor either lauded or despised. The doomsday brigade of fans are already calling for a new showrunner, arguing that Steven Moffat has “gone too far” (whatever that means!) and warning that if the program is allowed to continue “on a downward spiral” (whatever that also means!), Doctor Who will be cancelled (never mind that the ratings are solid!).

Well, I’m here to assure the rest of us the rumours of Doctor Who’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. If the TV program fades away in the next few years, it won’t be because of The Time of the Doctor specifically or Steven Moffat’s apparent “megalomania”. Going into the ninth year since its revival, Doctor Who has already exceeded the average life span of other TV programs. The Time of the Doctor gives the Time Lord – and the program – a kick-start. What more could fans have asked for?

Granted, the episode isn’t perfect – but even the best episodes of Doctor Who across the ages have their flaws. The premise is sound – a horde of alien races besiege the planet Trenzalore to ensure that an age-old prophecy does not eventuate and the Doctor is forced to defend the planet’s hapless inhabitants in the crossfire and accept his own mortality. It is in the execution that the episode has its ups and downs. So what works and what doesn’t?

Much as part two of The End of Time was a valedictory tour for David Tennant’s Doctor, so this episode is a valediction for Matt Smith’s Time Lord. The Silents, Weeping Angels, Sontarans, Cybermen and Daleks are present to give Smith’s Doctor a spectacular send-off – but with the exception of the Daleks and the Church of the Papal Mainframe (including the Silents), most of this menagerie of aliens and monsters are superfluous to the story. They did not all need to be explicitly shown, need only have been inferred in dialogue and some of the sequences that feature them could have been left on the cutting room floor in favour of more expository material and more interaction between the Doctor and Clara.

For example, the arrival of the Silents while Clara is waiting outside Tasha Lem’s chapel is effective in generating menace but it is ultimately unnecessary when we later learn they are the good guys! The random appearance of the Weeping Angels in the snow is also pointless (if ever there was a story in which the Angels should not have appeared, this was it!). The incursions by the Sontaran duo – basically an excuse for Dan Starkey to reprise Strax twice over! – and the wooden Cyberman are also played up for comedy but otherwise add little to the story. The wooden Cyberman would have been ingenious in The Next Doctor a few years ago but here it is about as useful as the puppet Monoid that we glimpse in the puppet show about the Doctor’s adventures!

What also doesn’t work (and which I believe is at the heart of many of the complaints about this episode) is the comedy in the first 20 minutes of the story. While the pre-titles sequence is amusing, I suspect the comedy would not be so predominant if this were a regular episode. It’s as if Moffat feels obligated to inject a lot of humour into the opening minutes of the story because it is a de facto Christmas special rather than just letting events unfold and adding lighter moments along the way. The Doctor appearing naked before Clara and her relatives is symptomatic of his madcap nature and you cannot help but laugh (even on repeated viewings) but otherwise this whole sequence could have been sacrificed (no religious pun intended!) for more mystery and drama. Nevertheless, kudos to artistes James Buller, Elizabeth Rider and Sheila Reid who really look as if they are seeing a naked man when Matt Smith is fully dressed!

However, once the comedy settles down and we learn what the source of the mysterious distress signal reverberating throughout the cosmos is, The Time of the Doctor is as exciting, dramatic and ambitious as expected. It is ironic that while the Time Lords and Gallifrey are not physically in the episode, the threat and opportunity their return signifies is more omnipresent than the menagerie of aliens and monsters that physically threaten the Doctor and Clara. Some things are better heard and felt but not seen – a brilliant tactic which Doctor Who down the years has perfected. It is why the opening visuals to the episode are magnificent – the swarm of Dalek, Judoon, Sontaran, Cyberman, Silurian and Sontaran ships (amongst others) ranged against the Saturn-like planet of Trenzalore are undeniably impressive and say a lot more than showing a handful of monsters. It is why the visual of Tasha Lem’s proclamation of the siege of Trenzalore and vow that “silence will fall” (witnessed by Church devotees on floating platforms) is also virtually identical to the cliffhanger to part one of The End of Time (when the Time Lords were revealed for the first time in the modern series) – it emphasises how much the stakes have been raised in the quest for universal peace. It is why Tasha Lem’s description of how the distress signal generates “something overpowering ... pure, unadulterated fear” also hints at a threat possibly greater than the races besieging Trenzalore itself (despite the Doctor’s insistence, can we be sure the Time Lords’ intended return is benevolent and not vengeful?).

While some fans may also not buy into the story of an ages old conflict and the Doctor’s protection of a pre-industrialised society that does not seem to develop (or want to expand and grow), the story through Tasha Lem’s narration is convincing enough. Orla Brady is impressive as the Mother Superious Tasha Lem, proving ambiguous enough (is she hero or villain – or a bit of both?) to keep you guessing about her motives right to the end of the episode. I suspect we haven’t seen the last of her.

As Steven Moffat said at the 50th anniversary celebrations in November, Matt Smith really acts his heart out, portraying an ageing Doctor in a stalemate with his greatest enemies. What still stands out about Smith’s Doctor even as he ages is his affinity with children. This has been constant since the Eleventh Doctor’s initial meeting with young Amelia Pond – and his interaction with Barnable in the episode is touching. It reinforces that deep down Smith’s Doctor is at heart(s) a big kid with an unending childlike thirst for life and adventure.

Smith’s transformation in the climactic minutes of the episode into an almost Hartnell-esque figure (at least in look) is extraordinary. It’s a performance tinged with regret and sadness but also full of humour and warmth. The transformation is symbolic of the program coming full circle. We’re back to the cranky, cantankerous yet sharply intelligent and brilliant old man that we first met 50 years ago in a junkyard. Who could argue that is not poetic?

For the second time in as many episodes it is the companion who is again the game breaker. Clara’s monologue to the Time Lords is beautifully written by Moffat and delivered with great feeling and passion by Jenna Coleman: “You’ve been asking the question but you lot have been getting it wrong! His name is the Doctor – all the name he needs, everything you know about him! And if you love him – and you should – help him! Help him!” It’s a fantastic performance from Coleman who again rises above the limitations of her character to deliver a solid performance. It shows what a great asset she is to Doctor Who even when she doesn’t have much to do. Just imagine how good Coleman may be in the next season if Clara is given more to do!

This could have been a great episode for Clara. It’s a pity that one of the scenes deleted from the final broadcast features Clara telling the Doctor how much she misses him. It shows how affectionate their relationship is – well beyond the Doctor’s description of her as an “associate”. What is mentioned and goes unexplored are Clara’s feelings for the Doctor as well, particularly when the truth field indicates that she fancies him. “Oh no, not again!” you may be thinking. Nevertheless, this attempt at romance offers an interesting angle for the next series when Peter Capaldi takes on the reins – how Clara copes with loving a much older incarnation of a man who will be less potential boyfriend material and more father figure.

Some fans have been livid about the divine intervention of the Time Lords in the climax – but what we get is a “MacGuffin” no different than the divine intervention of “Bad Wolf” Rose in The Parting of the Ways (when the Doctor is also in a stand-off with the Dalek Emperor). The intervention is a truly magical moment (perhaps more magical because you know what’s coming!) and magic and wonder are things that are all too often missing from so-called SF and fantasy television nowadays. How can you not cheer at Smith’s performance when the Doctor, true to form, defies the rules once again?

Yet apparently the resolution goes too far for the fans condemning this episode. In 1977, when The Deadly Assassin was broadcast, some fans whinged that Robert Holmes’ portrayal of the Time Lords negated the earlier impressions of them as a seemingly benevolent, omnipotent, enigmatic and divine race of beings (as hinted in The War Games and The Three Doctors). Flash forward 36 years and now we’re complaining that the Time Lords are apparently benevolent, omnipotent, enigmatic and divine all over again and not the corrupt, incompetent bureaucrats Holmes made them out to be! It just shows there is no pleasing some and the program can never win!

I also don’t believe fans can complain too much about the way the Time Lords gifted the Doctor a whole new regeneration cycle. In my mind, just as I always thought it was inevitable the Time Lords would be revived in the series so it was destined that the Doctor one day would be granted a whole new lease of life. I was never sure how this would be achieved and I certainly did not expect it to be resolved so quickly (after all, for most of 2013 we thought the Doctor still had two regenerations in reserve!) but having now seen it happen in The Time of the Doctor I could not envisage it happening any other way. OK, maybe the science of it doesn’t make sense but Doctor Who has never made sense scientifically. What has mattered is the sentiment behind it – and we see that in Smith’s brilliant final moments.

Smith delivers a confident, philosophical, fitting and touching monologue for his Doctor and the character of the Time Lord overall: “We all change when you think about it. We’re all different people – all through our lives. And that’s OK, that’s good, you’ve got to keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”

Smith’s discarding of the bow tie is a poignant touch. There is none of the petulant, self-indulgent and indecorous ranting of the Tenth Doctor’s departure in Smith’s final moments (as powerful as David Tennant’s performance was in The End of Time, the Tenth Doctor’s departure seems disingenuous in hindsight now we know he was too vain to fully regenerate in Journey’s End!). Smith’s departure is dignified, accommodating and affectionate – coming from a Time Lord whose incarnation has survived for over a millennium and has accepted his time is up.

My only major disappointment with the episode is the entrance of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor which is underwhelming, visually and in the dialogue. Even allowing for the fact that the regeneration began 10 minutes earlier, the transformation from Smith to Capaldi isn’t as visually exciting as the Eccleston/Tennant and Tennant/Smith transitions. It is almost a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment. As for Capaldi’s first line as the Doctor: “Kidneys!” Seriously? It’s on a par with Colin Baker’s parting words of “Carrot juice! Carrot juice!” Maybe Moffat thought it would be funny but it falls flat after such a magnificent farewell for Smith. Fortunately this will not impact on Capaldi’s Doctor – I expect he will be brilliant in the role and an actor of his calibre will rise above the quality of the material that he is given - good or bad!

The Time of the Doctor is not perfect but is a dramatic and in parts stirring conclusion to Matt Smith’s era. Moffat in a passage of exposition between the Doctor and Tasha Lem manages to tie up many of the loose ends from Smith’s first few seasons in his fashionably “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey” way: the Pandorica/crack in time, the Order of the Silence, Trenzalore and Gallifrey Falls No More. It is difficult to know whether Moffat had a masterplan from the beginning or if he has made it all up as he goes along! Nevertheless, most of the jigsaw pieces fall into place, even if the execution in parts of this episode seem clumsy and there are still some “timey wimey” questions and potential paradoxes in play (eg is Clara still the “Impossible Girl”?).

Significantly, The Time of the Doctor is a watershed episode. Just as the return of Gallifrey established exciting possibilities at the end of The Day of the Doctor, the Doctor’s new lease of life in The Time of the Doctor gives not just the title character but the show itself a fantastic opportunity to renew and rejuvenate itself. The Capaldi Doctor is not just the 12th Doctor – he is now the first Doctor in a whole new regeneration cycle.

What better gift could fans have asked for in the program’s 50th anniversary year? Yet judging by the feral reaction of some to this episode in blogs and social media, you’d be forgiven for thinking they want to see the demise of the show! Oh well, winners (the Doctor) are grinners and losers (disaffected fans) can please themselves. There’s always Moffat’s The Curse of Fatal Death as an alternative of how the Doctor cheats death - etheric beam locators and all!

FILTER: - Television - Eleventh Doctor - Series 7/33

The Three DoctorsBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 1 January 2014 - Reviewed by Remy Hagedorn

Last November, Doctor Who aired with its 50th of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, starring alongside his successor Matt Smith, and a previously unheard version of the doctor, played by John Hurt. However, this anniversary special was not the first time multiple versions of the doctor were seen together. 

The year was 1973, and to celebrate the 10th William Hartnell (The First Doctor) and Patrick Troughton (The Second Doctor) joined forces with the Third Doctor, and helped defeat a foe known only as “Omega” (Insert picture of the 3 Doctor’s around this point in the review)The special was a smashing success, and considering the budget that the show had to work with back in the day, nobody could have made a better way to celebrate 10 fabulous years of Doctor Who!

When you watch the special, the way the Second Doctor and the Third Doctor clash is incredible! The two characters have very different personalities, and the way they argue with each other is amazing! In one instance, instead of teaming up to save the universe, the second and third doctor keep on arguing with each other inside the  TARDIS about the importance of finding the Second Doctor’s recorder. The Third  Doctor wants to save the universe, but the Second Doctor refuses to co-operate  until his recorder has been found. The two characters are complete opposites, and  Terrance Dicks couldn’t have made a better script to depict the hatred they feel  towards each other! 

On the other hand though, The Three Doctor’s could have been a lot better if it actually HAD three doctors in it. William Hartnell was very ill at the time, and his  role was reduced considerably down to just a few short cameo appearances. His  absence is definitely noticeable during the duration of the special, and it is a shame we did not get to see more of him. 

On another note, Omega, the main antagonist, was a great villain. Stephen Thorn's performance  was remarkable! So remarkable, that the writers of Doctor Who brought back the  character in the 1980’s story “Ark of Infinity”. The character has a terrible temper,  and wants revenge on the Timelords. His anger is what motivates him, and is what  causes him his near death at the end of the special. 

However, there were definitely some dull moments in the story, and the special  effects were terrible. For example, the anti-matter organism that Omega uses as a  bridge between the two universes, just looks like a giant blob made up of different  colours. It looks like they made this effect by taking the storyboard frames one by  one, and spilling some tropical juice over them.

But despite the minor flaws this story may have, it is definitely worth seeing. For  those fans that have never watched the original series, but want to try, this is for  sure a story you want to start with. Unlike “The Trial of a Timelord” which has 14  parts to it, this is a nice small serial that is made up of only 4. Not too long, not too  short, and is something that the whole family can enjoy, no matter what your age may be!  

FILTER: - THIRD DOCTOR - Series 10 - Television