Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: The Doctor Dances

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Just this once Rose, everybody lives!

Another week, another episode. We’re back again in 1941 Britain, height of the Blitz, middle of the war, with all hell about to break loose. Time travel really opens up a lot of possibilities, it’s fantastic. So many different stories and settings and opportunities. I wonder, perhaps, if the show had just been about space travellers (Relative Dimensions in Space) back in 1963, would it have made it 50 years? (Maybe. Star Trek and all.)

Digressing somewhat though.

Right from the bat, this episode hits the ground running (unlike this review. Oh, it’s almost like I planned it). The resolution to the cliffhanger is really very clever – “Go to your room!” – and segues right into a brilliant joke. There’s a precedent set for the rest of the episode – smart moments, and fantastic jokes. As it goes, that’s a pretty good standard for a Doctor Who episode – smart and funny is a great baseline.

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One thing that stands out is just how smart it is. It’s really intricately plotted, and it fits together brilliantly. Every part of the episode which is important later on is foreshadowed and set up ahead of time – nothing feels like it’s come out of nowhere, as it were. It means that the episode plays out really well, and just… works. Perhaps not the most articulate praise I’ve ever given an episode, but it’s definitely the most meant. If that even makes any sense at all. What stands out to me is the Chula ambulance reveal – it’s the nanogenes. We’ve known about the nanogenes ever since the start of the story, but we haven’t noticed them. This isn’t an “I’ll explain later moment”, it’s a “Look, in the corner of your eye…” moment, and the story benefits for it.

Something which benefits from all of this forethought are the character arcs; Jack and Nancy in particular get some pretty great material. With Nancy, you can see her progression from harbouring the guilt and denial about what happened to Jamie, to eventually becoming a lot more hopeful about the future – something which comes, I think, from Rose’s conversation with her about the end of the war. That was a really nice moment – amidst all the destruction, in the middle of that bleak airfield, Rose gives Nancy hope for the future. I loved that.

What was great about Jack, and this carries on over the next few weeks, is that he does start out as being a lot more selfish, and a lot more self serving, before changing – he starts out making jokes about Volcano day, and finishes willing to sacrifice himself to stop ‘Volcano day’. It’s a fantastic character arc, and it’s really well acted by John Barrowman. It shows, again, the ways in which the Doctor can influence and inspire people.

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Finally then. It’s Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor, not Nine Years of Captain Jack and Nancy. Once again, Christopher Eccleston gives a fantastic performance – some of the best moments are where he gets angry at Jack for his reckless behaviour. Maybe he sees shades of the old disaster tourist he used to be in Jack…?

Of course it’s not just the angry moments he pulls off well – all the interplay about the bananas and the squareness gun are brilliant. For an episode which is renowned for being scary, it’s one of the funniest scripts that we’ve had across nine years. There’s a joke every few minutes – my own favourite is the “Dr Constantine, when I came to you, I only had one leg!”//“Well, there is a war on, is it possible you may have miscounted?” joke.

So… another really great episode. I’m going to give it another 9/10 – it’s a really, really great episode. Taking the two parts of the story together I think I would have given it 10/10 as a 90-minute movie episode.


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Days of Future Past

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I rather liked it, as movies go.

Lots of funny moments, like with Wolverine and the metal detector, or “My mum used to know a guy who could control metal”. And the bit where Star Trek was playing in the background, I liked that. Not sure which episode it was though… I think it was the one with Gary Seven in it. That would sort of make sense, with the time travel and alternate timelines and whatnot. Digressing somewhat now. Anyway.

It looked amazing. Very high production values, which really helped to sell it. The future dystopia stuff was great. Also really tense actually, because you sort of knew they were going to kill everyone. And kill them all really violently. It was almost distressing.

Actors, all great. As expected. And some nice arcs for the 60s characters, that was pretty great. Charles breaking out of his depression to become Professor X was nice. Especially because it placed an emphasis on hope for the future. Hope is important in superhero movies I think. Crucial, even.

9/10, methinks. (But, like, 9.7/10. It was a good movie. I had very few qualms.)

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: The Empty Child

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You’re amazing. The lot of you. Don’t know what you do to Hitler, but you frighten the hell out of me. Off you go, then. Do what you got to do. Save the world.

You know, this episode has something of a reputation, doesn’t it?

Widely held up as one of Steven Moffat’s best episodes, considered by many to be one of the best episodes of Series One, and it was voted as the 5th Best Doctor Who Episode Ever in DWM’s Mighty 200 poll in 2009. And, it’s won a Hugo Award.

So it’s a little bit of a big deal actually, isn’t it?

The real question though… well, the real question is whether or not it stands up to my requirements…

One of the things which stands out, almost immediately, is that this is actually really, really, funny. There’s a couple of jokes that are quoted a lot, like “I don’t know if it’s Marxism in action or a West End musical”, or “I’m looking for a blonde in a Union Jack T Shirt. A specific one, I didn’t just wake up with a craving” but my own favourite is nearer to the beginning, when the Doctor’s in the nightclub. The whole exchange where he asks about something falling from the sky and making a large bang, then realising he’s in the middle of the Blitz… priceless. It’s a joke that only really works once though probably – I already know it’s set in 1941, so the effect is lessened… but it’s still hilarious. So’s Christopher Eccleston’s expression, it’s fantastic.

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Another thing I liked about this episode was that, in being a two-parter, it was allowed to take the pace a lot more slowly. It got to a point, about 35 minutes in, when I realised that all of the preceding scenes would have had to be condensed down to 10 minutes if this were a normal episode. It was nice, actually, being able to take things more slowly, and show the quieter character moments. I must admit, it’s something I sometimes miss in the show now (which is not to say they don’t exist, obviously, just that there’s fewer of them).

The fact that we had the time spent with the kids, or with Dr Constantine, meant that the threatening moments had a far greater impact than if we hadn’t already had those crucial scenes with them. Dr Constantine’s transformation is one of the best moments of the episode; it’s wonderfully structured, foreshadowed and hinted at well, and when it actually happens, it’s actually rather frightening. And in establishing what happens to him, it makes the cliffhanger even more potent later on.

The Empty Child himself, or itself, is actually really creepy, isn’t it? It’s got a very, very eerie voice. A sort of… quality to it. I suppose that’s why, bar “Exterminate!” and maybe “Delete”, the most quoted monster phrase from recent years is “Are you my mummy?”. That’s always a spooky, spooky thing.

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Something I like about the cliffhanger, though it’s probably just coincidental, is that the scene with Nancy underneath the table echoes the scene in Matilda, where Matilda is under the table in Trunchball’s house. It’s a really tense scene in that movie, and some of it translates into this scene as well. I imagine the point was to have connotations with hide and seek, that sort of thing. Juxtaposition of the mundane and the threatening. Very good, very Doctor Who.

On the topic of children, it was pretty interesting to see the Ninth Doctor’s only lengthy interaction with children. It was particularly interesting to think about it in terms of the 50th Anniversary, and the 2 billion children on Gallifrey. There’s a few Time War references in there anyway, like “Before this war, I was both a father and a grandfather. Now I am neither, but I am still a Doctor”, and “You lose someone. That’s why you’re doing this, helping people”. The way he reacted to someone calling through the TARDIS phone was interesting as well.

The Doctor was pretty at ease with the kids at any rate, which was nice to see. Happier than he seems around adults at times even.

So… a very, very good episode. I’m unwilling to give it a ten out of ten though, because it doesn’t quite feel like an episode, more like… the first half of a ninety-minute film. Which it is, really. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. So… hmm. I did give Aliens of London its own grade, didn’t I?

Alright. I’ll give it a provisional and ever so slightly arbitrary 9/10


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Hail who?

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So, Agents of SHIELD. I’ve been watching it since the start, and… well it took quite a while to get going, and I almost gave up a few times, but over the past few weeks it’s really, really gotten rather good.

However, I do have something of a complaint. Or an improvement, perhaps. Be wary, spoilers, for the past… month’s episodes or so. Since Turn, Turn, Turn.

Anyways, a few episodes ago, they had an episode which was running concurrently with the events of The Winter Soldier (which was an excellent film that I’d really recommend) where SHIELD is more or less destroyed from the inside by Hydra. One of the revelations during this episode was that Grant Ward, who was one of the main characters, was in fact working with Hydra.

Okay, fine, sure. Wasn’t entirely convinced, but it seemed going to be going in an interesting direction, so I went with it.

But the problem I have is that he – and the other Hydra characters – seem to be being portrayed as standard miscellaneous bad guys. The plot from The Winter Soldier doesn’t really have any effect on things, and I’m not wholly sure what the aim of Garrett and Ward really is.

What I’d prefer is if they were made not to be bad guys per se, but rather simply antagonists. It was kinda summed up in this weeks episode, where Skye calls Ward a Nazi, because of course that’s who Hydra originally were, and he responds incredulously “What? No, of course not, things have changed since then. I’m just a spy, doing my job”. Or words to that effect anyway.

The “I’m just a spy, doing my job” bit was particularly interesting to me, because I’m not actually convinced that Ward is acting any different now that we know he’s Hydra than he was before. He’s certainly killed people before as part of his job, when he appeared to be working for SHIELD, and no one really cared. The only difference really is who he’s killing. And there seemed to be a few scenes after the reveal where we’re meant to believe he does still care about his old team mates.

So… I guess what I’d like is more of a legitimate ideology for Hydra, and more of a reason why they’re doing what they’re doing, how some Agents became to be part of Hydra. Ideally, if there’s a way for them to convince some of the audience to be more sympathetic to Hydra than SHIELD, that could actually be quite interesting. (And you’ve got one of those social media tie-ins everyone loves these days. #HydravsShield maybe?)

SHIELD as an agency was always depicted in shades of grey… and they’re similar shades to Hydra, I think. I can actually think of a couple of interesting parallels between Pierce in The Winter Soldier and Fury in The Avengers, so… why not explore them?

It’d be far, far more interesting than the generic bad guys with no motivation that we ended up with.

Note in 2018: I suspect this would have aged poorly anyway, but obviously four years on the question of Nazis in fiction is a very different one. Aspects of the above I would probably still stand by, or at least think it’s a defensible position in 2014. But, still, it is a bit hmm, isn’t it?

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: The Monsters Inside

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The sky was a shimmering green. Three suns shone through the haze, their heat prickling her skin. The muddy ground was the colour of olives and sloped up sharply, while beyond it a range of pale mountains, perfect pyramids, stood like pitched tents on the far horizon.
It wasn’t Earth. She was, officially, somewhere else.

It’s taken me quite a long time to review this one, hence the relative lateness of it. It took me a fair while to read it as well – things got in the way, and, I suppose, I wasn’t all that into it.

And I’m not entirely sure why. It was a good book, it was well written  – great characters, great premise, great plot – but it just… wasn’t particularly gripping? With the other books that were released alongside it (The Clockwise Manand Winner Takes All), they really did, to use a cliche, have me ‘glued to the page’.

I’m not really sure why this is exactly – maybe it was the way certain things were handled? I’m not sure. A complaint I did have, I suppose, is that the Slitheen weren’t handled fantastically – they were given a bit more background, but nothing was really added to them or developed about them. I mean, obviously you can’t give them laser eyes or something, but you could, say, address certain themes about them in different lights, perhaps. Not sure.

There is a lot to like in this book. The setting – a futuristic prison – leads to some great characters, and some great ideas being presented. The Doctor ends up in a prison think tank, working on new forms of space travel – at one point, the book sort of seems to be saying something about the function of prisoners in society… but it probably wasn’t, and I was maybe reading too far into it. Which could be alright really – that’s hardly the function of the book, it’s meant to be a diverting way to spend a few hours.

And provide that it does. One thing I remember is a particularly funny sequence where the Doctor is trying to give Rose a coded message, and does so via Coronation Street references! It was a nice moment, which I can really imagine showing up on TV.

So… good book, not the best. Probably comes into third place of this set of three. It’s nice though. Recommended, but not… not strongly recommended.


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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: Father’s Day

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Rose, there’s a man alive in the world who wasn’t alive before. An ordinary man: that’s the most important thing in creation. The whole world’s different because he’s alive!

I have a book. In fact, I have several. (Did you guess?)

The particular book in question, though, is called Doctor Who: The Shooting Scripts (2005). It’s a fantastic book, and it’s definitely worth picking up a copy. It’s a big, hardback book containing the shooting scripts for Christopher Eccleston’s series as the Doctor.

And as part of each script, there’s a little introduction by each of the writers. In his introduction, Paul Cornell writes that, for him, Doctor Who has always been about “big emotions”.

Well, he certainly managed that here.

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This episode revolves around Rose and her family; she asks the Doctor to take her back to 1987, so she can be with her father when he dies. Already that’s a brilliant idea, and you can see all the different possibilities – it’s just begging to go wrong.

And, of course, go wrong it does.

Rather than just be with her father Pete as he dies, Rose averts his death. She changes her personal timeline in a big way. Her father lives – and she gets to know him. There’s no Back to the Future style fading away here – Rose stays, and deals with the immediate consequences, rather than ramifications further down the line.

Brilliantly, but perhaps also obviously, Pete isn’t anything like Rose expected. He’s not the idealised man in the idealised marriage that Jackie always told her about; Pete is fallible. More than that, he’s already failing. His marriage is strained, his business non-existent. Rose gets to know her father as he is, not as he was remembered. And that’s absolutely brilliant – it makes the whole thing feel a lot more real.

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Shaun Dingwall, who plays Pete, gives an absolutely brilliant performance. He probably rivals Simon Pegg as best guest actor of the series; the relationship between him and Billie Piper is absolutely pitch perfect. Everything about it is absolutely right. The best scenes of the entire episode – and I’m sure this has been said again, but I’ll say it again – are those where Rose and Pete properly talk. Talk about the picnics and the bedtime stories, or about being bald… they’re very poignant moments, which are brilliantly written and performed.

The Doctor and the Reapers have a pretty interesting part of the story, though they’re not really the point of it all. Still, what’s Doctor Who without monsters? Christopher Eccleston gives another great performance here – I really liked his scenes with the soon-to-be-married couple. Very Doctor-y. His anger at Rose was also very well done.

So, in all, another great episode. The season is shaping up pretty well, isn’t it?



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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: The Long Game

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Create a climate of fear and it’s easy to keep the borders closed. It’s just a matter of emphasis. The right word in the right broadcast repeated often enough can destabilize an economy, invent an enemy, change a vote.

The Long Game is an interesting one. We’ve got a new companion in the form of Adam, and another trip into the future. Russell T Davies is back, writing his fifth script of the series – and, interestingly, it’s an idea he’s had for quite a long time. The basis of the script, with Satellite 5 manipulating the media to control society, was originally pitched by RTD to Andrew Cartmel back in the 80s. It was refused, as you can tell, but I still find that rather interesting.

How different would it have been? Adam, I imagine, wouldn’t have featured, and it’d have been restructured to 4 parts… would I have been better that way? There’d likely have been more of a focus on the role of media, which was definitely the more interesting part of the plot, and it would have fit the manipulative 7th Doctor quite well, methinks…

Ah, the road not taken. This is Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor, not… 25ish Years Since the Seventh Doctor.

So, how did The Long Game as we got it manage?

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There’s a lot of different ideas at work here. By far the best one is that of the manipulation of the media. It’s just a really fascinating concept, and I kinda wish it had been explored in a little bit more depth. A lot of it was only really touched upon, where it had the potential to be built into a really intriguing plot. For example, you’ve got this quote –

‘That thing’, as you put it, is in charge of the human race. For almost a hundred years, mankind has been shaped and guided, his knowledge and ambitions strictly controlled by its broadcast news, edited by my superior, your master and humanity’s guiding light, The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe.

– and there’s also the one I used at the top of the page –

Create a climate of fear and it’s easy to keep the borders closed. It’s just a matter of emphasis. The right word in the right broadcast repeated often enough can destabilize an economy, invent an enemy, change a vote.

They just… they’re both indicative of something bigger, and something more interesting than the episode ever really managed to explore. Maybe I’m asking too much, but I don’t really think so; a little bit more depth to this and the whole episode could have really gone up a few points. Still, we did get some good stuff, and it’s definitely food for thought. (And, hey, there’s always fanfiction, right? Maybe Seven and Ace could turn up on Satellite 5 themselves…?)

The other thing I really liked about this one was, in fact, Adam. We’ve never really seen a crappy companion before, a ‘companion who couldn’t’, as he’s been described. (No jokes about Mel, thank you very much!) I really liked seeing the way he treats his time in the TARDIS. I know he’s often criticised for selfishness, but honestly? I’m not so sure. Yes, travelling in the TARDIS is a privilege and a wonderful thing, but not everyone is going to look at things like that.

One of the most common responses to the “If you can travel anywhere in time…” question, at least in real life, is something to do with personal gain. Something to improve your own life – some little change, so that things turned out a bit better. So… I think it’s realistic, and it’s nice to see it, if only for the one episode. It also rather nicely foreshadows Father’s Day with Rose

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We’ve also got Simon Pegg in one of the best guest roles of the series. Simon Pegg is a really, really fantastic actor – the character he’s created here is way different from, say, his version of Scotty in Star Trek. The Editor is quite scary at times actually, and he’s got a very commanding presence. He’s one of the most memorable things about the episode – far more than the Jagrafess itself, which is… cool, but weird. It’s an interesting monster, in that it’s sort of different, but it doesn’t really do much, does it?

As ever, Christopher Eccleston did a good job. I liked his scenes with the Editor (“Is a slave a slave if he doesn’t know he’s enslaved?” “Yes”), as well as his inspiration of Cathica. It’s one of the first instances I can think of where the ‘little people’, if you like, are really important to the episode and it’s resolution. It’s nice, and quite Doctor-y too.

Nothing about the direction particularly stands out to be honest – it’s good, but not really outstanding. One thing that does stick out, though not for good reason, is the backing music. It’s incessant, isn’t it? Really, really over the top. Brings you right out of it at times.

So, in all… it’s a good, solid episode, with a lot interesting ideas and some great performances all round, though as a whole it’s somewhat less than the sum of it’s parts. 7/10


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