Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The End of Time Part Two

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I wonder what I’d be, without you.

This was perfect.

It isn’t perfect, of course, but it was: the best episode of Doctor Who is always the last episode I watched. It was the best episode of Doctor Who a decade ago, and, for a little while, it was the best episode of Doctor Who again today.

At about ten past eight on New Year’s Day 2010, David Tennant became an actor again. He went to Hollywood, and didn’t find much success there; he came back to television, and did. David Tennant elevated an above-average coastal crime drama into must see television; David Tennant was one of the best parts of a nominal comic book adaptation already much better than its peers; David Tennant is going to be in a Channel 4 crime drama we’ll all have forgotten about by the time he’s in the ITV true crime drama we’ll all have forgotten about by the end of the year. But before all that, he wasn’t an actor. It’s not that David Tennant didn’t exist – he did, in magazine articles and Doctor Who Confidential and on the news and little trivia details about stage names and Pet Shop Boys – but rather that David Tennant was a distant afterthought, far less immediately material by dint of being genuinely real.

David Tennant is not a perfect actor. He is a very good actor, but he’s not a perfect actor; there is actually perhaps an argument to be made that he’s the weakest actor of the five who have played the part he’s most famous for since 2005, although at a certain point that’s just splitting hairs. He is very good at being charming; he is extremely good at making meaningless exposition entertaining (a skill not very many actors have, but any would need to be the Doctor). But David Tennant is not especially good at playing angry. Well, no, he is – it’s just that’s he’s very good at a very particular type of anger, of overt, immediate flashes of temper. For the most part, David Tennant doesn’t do subtle gradations: it’s a raised voice, a contorted expression, wild eyes. He does it very well, and he stays in that niche. (Admittedly, having said that, The End of Time Part Two is perhaps actually one of few places where he is very good at a subtler, rising anger.) That’s obvious watching, say, The Idiot’s Lantern in 2016; less so in 2006.

Except, he wasn’t an actor in 2009, nor had he been for a few years at that point. David Tennant was the Doctor – just the Doctor. For all that Christopher Eccleston existed, or Paul McGann existed, or Peter Cushing existed, or Tom Baker in The Hand of Fear existed, David Tennant was the Doctor. It’s not a question of acting or of craft or of performance – it simply was.

He was perfect. And he was perfect again, today, for about an hour and fifteen minutes. The best episode of Doctor Who is always the last episode I watched.

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Russell T Davies is not a perfect writer either.

He is a very good writer, though. In the years since he left Doctor Who, he’s written some of my favourite television, full stop. I loved Cucumber, with all its idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, probably the most personal piece of drama I’d ever seen when I watched it. A Very English Scandal was brilliant, one of my favourite television programmes of 2018. Years and Years, too, found its way onto my end-of-year best of list. It felt vital and current and so entirely in tune with the zeitgeist, a perfect expression of a very 2019 set of anxieties. Some of it was amongst Davies’ best work – the fourth episode is perhaps one of the most impactful things he’s ever written. But it also wasn’t perfect, its ending, perhaps, a little overly simplistic. It’s difficult to write a story about a world falling into fascism, and then write a solution to that, because, well, we don’t have a solution to that at the moment – and it certainly isn’t going to be “if only people knew the full extent of what was happening”, because, well, we more or less do.

But that’s an adult criticism of an adult drama. If the moment-to-moment plot mechanics of Doctor Who don’t entirely make sense, well, to be honest I’m not entirely sure how much I would’ve noticed that a decade ago… but even then, I’m not sure how much I would’ve cared. Davies’ emphasis was a writer was never about those plot-based details, but instead on stories that made emotional sense. (You can see the same style in Years of Years, although there perhaps that strength of Davies’ becomes something of a flaw.) Because Doctor Who was the first television drama I really engaged with outside of cartoons, I’m similarly minded; I’m generally a lot less inclined to worry about plot mechanics as I am character and theme.

Which is to say, I suppose: the final montage is perfect. It’s not, obviously – even outside of the unfortunate racial implications of Martha and Mickey’s marriage, that whole scene is just a bit rubbish – but it is, actually, too. I’m not sure there’s really any way that this iteration of Doctor Who could end, and it genuinely doesn’t feel, to me at least, smug or egregious or self-satisfied. It’s exactly the goodbye the series warranted. Watching it, it’s perfect.

In 2009, this was perfect. And The End of Time Part Two was perfect again, today, for about an hour and fifteen minutes. The best episode of Doctor Who is always the last episode I watched.

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That, I suppose, is always where this was headed. If Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor was about the gap between Alex, the ten-ish-year-old watching Doctor Who, and Alex a decade later, now demonstrably a weighty intellectual and accomplished television critic (hahaha), then that’s the point in the end – there isn’t a gap at all. Sure, we all change, all through our lives, and that’s okay, so long as we remember the people we used to be.

But more to the point, the conclusion isn’t “this was perfect a decade ago”, although it was. The point is that it can still be perfect today. Not above critique, no, because if nothing else, that takes the fun out of it. The two approaches can and do exist alongside one another: I love it, and that’s why it’s worth criticising it, worth engaging with it. Doctor Who is perfect because of its flaws, despite its flaws, inseparably from its flaws. Sometimes it’s genuinely awful, and worthy of real, targeted critique – again, I’m reminded of The Idiot’s Lantern – but it is, I think, quite easy to reconcile that with a love of it, and an enjoyment of it. And, in fact, a very current enjoyment of it: even if it isn’t always very good, the best episode of Doctor Who is still the last episode I watched.

It feels, admittedly, like an almost entirely unnecessary point to make. It should be, really – the idea that you can love something wholeheartedly, yet still criticise it in turn, feels immediately quite intuitive. But it’s worth restating anyway, I suppose, particularly considering what the more mainstream view of these things is, or is becoming: that you’re not a real fan if you ever criticise something. But, well, that’s just silly. And that’s what this has always been about. Doctor Who is perfect because I loved it when I was ten, it’s perfect because I love it now, and it’s perfect because it’s imperfect, because I can review it and criticise it and find it wanting, and love it all the same.

Thus it ends, as it must. Doctor, I let you go. Sontarans perverting the course of human history. We’re all stories in the end, so make it a good one. You were fantastic, and so was I.

I don’t want you to go. But, well, you never really did.

10/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The End of Time Part One

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Even if I change it still feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away… and I’m dead.

What I’ve been trying to work out is if I would’ve known the Time Lords were coming back or not. It leaked ahead of time, I know that – a screenshot from the wrap video leaked to the tabloids – and I remember seeing that screenshot online somewhere… but I’m also fairly sure, watching it at my grandparents’ house, that I was quite surprised by the actual return of the Time Lords.

Here, in any case, we’ve almost squared the circle. It was around this time I would’ve first started getting into something resembling a wider Doctor Who fandom – reading forum posts, if not writing them; someone definitely tried to get me to sign a petition to recast Matt Smith, although that was in real life. It wasn’t until Asylum of the Daleks, or thereabouts, that I started to actually try and write Doctor Who reviews (before the blog even existed!), and it was a little while later that I started the Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor series… which is now, more or less, coming to an end with the conclusion of the Tenth Doctor era. I’ve little doubt I’ll have more to say about that next week – this is more or less it for these reviews, because I’m not gonna pick it up again until Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor – but, the point, anyway, is that this is all reaching its endpoint.

Much like the series itself! Huge, big ending point here – which is easy to forget, in hindsight. Yes, the revived series had already gone through one regeneration, but that was just the last of several flourishes from a show still establishing itself; the departure of David Tennant, after four years in the role, was something else entirely. Obviously it’s hard to know for sure, but I do sometimes wonder if the show would’ve continued as long as it has if Christopher Eccleston had stayed on another few years. Not because it wouldn’t have been popular – almost the opposite really. If the idea of a changing lead hadn’t been re-established, would it have been too late to introduce it in, say, 2008, after three full series and a few specials featuring Christopher Eccleston? Maybe.

It was something I had in mind, at least, while I was watching this: just how much of a big, cultural event it was. A decade on, the Davies/Moffat handover was probably more meaningful than the Tennant/Smith one, sure – but in 2009, without the lens of history to contextualise it, this might as well have been the end of the show. (Sometimes I do think of it that way, actually – it’s not so much that I like Doctor Who, per se, but that there’s a handful of related shows, all of which are called Doctor Who, each of which I like, some more than others.)

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Like a lot of these episodes, there was a lot I didn’t quite recall – basically anything after the end of series 3 I’ve not really rewatched particularly since it was first on. I’d guess this was maybe only the third or fourth time I would’ve seen The End of Time Part One? Something like that. Really, this exists more in my head from what I’ve read about it in The Writer’s Tale: I was a little thrown by the opening scene because I was expecting something else… which I realised a while later was actually a cut section from an earlier draft that RTD mentioned ditching in the book.

I’m also not entirely sure what the general perception of this one is, actually. Do people like it particularly? The only thing I really remember is a lot of old tumblr nonsense about how the Doctor here being worried about regenerating is an unforgivable departure from the way it was treated in the classic series. Admittedly a departure, yeah, but it’s hard for me to feel like it was anything other than the right choice – given, as we’ve established, quite how big an event it was. More to the point, though, the show shouldn’t ever really be beholden to anything that came before it if they’ve come up with a sufficiently good idea for something. Which, more or less, I reckon this was. Of course regeneration is going to be a big deal! It’d be a mistake to treat it otherwise.

Although admittedly the execution was a bit off in a few places, wasn’t it? There’s a lot of it that’s kinda naff. The Master with his electric glowing hands? More than a little bit silly – especially when he used those glowing hands to fly. The cactus that looks like Rory Stewart? Actually, I found it quite entertaining that he looked like Rory Stewart, but probably wouldn’t have done a decade ago. Murray Gold’s music? It’s a great score, as ever, but the arrangement itself is bordering on oppressive – the sound mix is way, way overdone. Even the scene with the Doctor and Wilf in the café, in effect the dramatic heart of the episode, doesn’t actually play anywhere near as well as I remember it doing.

So, this is one of the biggest Doctor Who episodes ever – and I think you can reasonably argue that it is – but it doesn’t sound like any of it is actually any good. Then what? Well, that kinda brings us back around to the question that’s been underlying this ongoing series of reviews since the start, doesn’t it? I like this thing so much, this Doctor Who thing, but how much of that have I been staking on personal nostalgia? Is this show actually any good?

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But, actually, silly question, because I don’t care. I know, I know, we’ve gone over this once or twice before – but, hey, this is one of the last times I’ll ever actually do this, so why not, right?

Historically, anyway, I’d turn around and point out all the fun little details that I do actually quite like. David Tennant, usually a big one. Little aspects of the design or directing. A joke. (I actually quite like the car fob bit with the TARDIS, but hey.) Maybe a guest star – it’s kinda fun that the High Priest Ood is played by Logan Roy, isn’t it? Imagine an Ood doing Logan Roy dialogue. Fun image. (“Everybody wants a kiss from that Ood”. No?) Or, perhaps, there’s something slightly deeper going on: in this one, for example, there’s some neat background stuff going on with the references to the recession etc, the Master’s victims are homeless people, all that. It’s not a lot, but you know, it’s something.

But, this time, since it’s the last time I’m mounting this admittedly probably unnecessary defence, different track. Because I’m starting to think that’s just conceding the premise a little bit. I’m reminded of something Steven Moffat said in an interview once – that his love of Doctor Who never really translated into it being a particularly good programme. Which is often true! And that’s something I have been conscious of a lot recently, and will no doubt be conscious of again in… a week exactly, actually. (Well, we’ll see. I still live in hope.)

Thing is, though, I still love it anyway. Because rubbish though bits of it were, it’s fun! And that’s enough! Especially at Christmas, but really just generally too. I think if, a decade on, I’m still finding it fun, that’s a pretty good thing.

You know, I’m pretty sure that cliffhanger was a surprise, actually. And I’m pretty sure it gave me chills a decade ago… just like it did this time.

8/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Journey’s End

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It’s been good, though, hasn’t it? All of us. All of it. Everything we did. You were brilliant.

Again, I want to start with a fairly simple, straightforward declaration: I love this one. I love every part of it, even the silly parts, even the bits I don’t like that much. It’s the apex of a particular version of Doctor Who, and when I watched it the first time, it was everything to me. So, there’s a degree to which I’m not really going to budge on that, now or ever.

Admittedly, that perhaps sounds like a preamble to an “admittedly…”, but no, I really do like this one a lot. It’s an episode that is, I think, easier to talk about for its questionable moments, and I obviously will talk about them, but that’s only really because of the nature of its strengths. It’s an episode that’s so bombastic and sprawling, so confident and sure of itself, that for a lot of it you’re left with little to do but point and gesture in wordless appreciation.

The review that follows – a particularly lengthy review, actually, because I wanted to try and do something hefty for what is a pretty significant episode, but also because I happened to have a lot of thoughts on it all – comes across, I worry, as being more negative about the episode than I actually feel. Like I said, it’s the sort of episode where the good things about it felt, to me, a bit harder to write about.

That said, though, I do just want to take a moment now to talk about my favourite moment of the episode: towing the Earth back home. It’s such a brilliantly sentimental scene, with one of Murray Gold’s best pieces of music from the Davies era, and I love what it represents. I love the way Freema Agyeman makes eye contact with the camera, too – it’s a strange, Blue Peter moment, and in a way it kinda threatens the integrity of the whole thing, as though it’s about to make it a joke. But, actually, it’s different from that, because it’s letting us in on the joke, including us, as though we’re piloting the TARDIS with them. I love the strange, crazy confidence to the way the scene just stops for an obscure Gwen Cooper continuity reference.

It’s really such a brilliant, brilliant moment. It’s actually the bit that makes it all worth it, to my mind; you could probably make some reasonable arguments that bringing all the companions together like this isn’t a brilliant idea – or at least you could try, because this scene shows how absolutely wonderful that is. I really, really loved it.

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Ethically, there are bits of it that are a little sketchy. Well, that’s perhaps the wrong way of putting it (if nothing else, it creates the impression I’m talking about something else) – rather, I suspect the moral quandary supposedly at the heart of the story is somewhat ill thought out.

One of the things that Journey’s End purports to grapple with – it doesn’t really; the idea is abandoned reasonably quickly – is this idea of the Doctor as a very dark figure, the Destroyer of Worlds. Not someone who emboldens and elevates those around him, shaping their lives, inspiring and empowering them to be better people, but instead moulding them into soldiers, weapons first and foremost rather than travellers or people or Doctors themselves. In and of itself, that’s debateable; certainly, I wonder how much, outside of this episode itself, that interpretation is actually supported by the Davies era anyway. Undeniably, there’s elements of it, and it’s more obvious with characters like Martha, but… well, is it true? I’m inclined to compare it to the Capaldi era, as I so often am, where the companions were left to become Doctor figures in their own right; I wonder if perhaps that’s the same as what’s happening here, but it’s a fundamentally different vision of the Doctor here than in the Capaldi era. That’s an interesting idea to grapple with – immediately the counter argument that they’re becoming, in effect, failed versions of the Doctor, missing the point, not the full version of such, which has an interesting resonance of its own – but I think befitting its own essay rather than a few stray paragraphs here.

More to the point, though, I think it’s worth considering what the companions are turned into soldiers against: the Daleks, the ultimate robot fascists. It is… difficult to argue, to be honest, in any meaningful sense that killing Daleks is wrong particularly. Certainly, in prior contexts – the Time War, or The Parting of the Ways – the point was not about the morality of killing Daleks per se, but killing Daleks while leaving massive collateral damage. That’s definitely the case with Martha’s final solution, but that’s not really emphasised in the text, and it doesn’t seem to be a factor with the warp star or… whatever it is TenToo did with the Crucible at the end. Instead, it does seem to be a fairly basic “killing Daleks is wrong”, which strikes me as questionable. It feels mainly like a broader version of the whole punching Nazis thing – yes, that is ethically fine. Just as it is, you know, ethically fine to blow up a Dalek.

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And that… not complaint, exactly, but certainly that little curio feeds into some wider points about the episode’s spine. Well, no, I’m reluctant to call it a spine exactly, because I don’t think it is – as I’ve said above, it’s dispensed with fairly quickly. It’s more that it’s just the subject of Davros’ rant, because if the villain is going to have a rant at all, it needs to be something with a lofty ethical point to be made.

I think I’d have preferred it if, on some level, there was an effort to refute that. I think it might have held the episode together a little better thematically if… well, if at any point the Doctor had been able to turn around and say “actually, we are so different, you and I”. Or, not like that exactly, but I think taking the broader point, about the impact the Doctor has on people, and showing it actually hasbeen a positive, that he actually is different, so on. I think it’s interesting to look at Sarah Jane’s line about how the Doctor has the biggest family of anyone on Earth, because actually, it’s debateable how much the episode itself actually seems to believe that; after all, the note that’s emphasised at the end is him, alone, crying in the rain.

More on that later, though, because what I want to talk about instead is TenToo. A lot is made of the suggestion that he’s this very dark figure – born in battle, full of bloodlust, all that jazz – but I’m not wholly convinced that rings true across the episode. Certainly, he seems broadly more cheerful and adjusted throughout than the brown-suited version of the Doctor does; you can chalk bits of that up to knowing Donna isn’t dead and the TARDIS wasn’t destroyed, so TenToo certainly has reason to not be as angsty, but even then. I think a big part of this, though, is that I’m still not especially convinced that killing the Dalek empire like that is an especially difficult decision; TenToo did the right thing, and Sarah Jane’s suggestion wasn’t wrong either. Martha is a bit more questionable, but at least that’s got an element of the trolley problem to it. (My hot take: Journey’s End would’ve worked better with the Slitheen, in that regard at least.)

What I do think works, though, is TenToo leaving with Rose at the end. Certainly, it’s a difficult scene to get right, and you can understand why Russell T Davies deliberated over it so much in The Writer’s Tale; very easily, it could have been a weaker rehash of the version from Doomsday. What’s impressive, though, is the way it’s doing something much more complex; where the last version was about Rose, this is about the Doctor – he’s manipulating her and pushing her away, essentially, making a choice because he thinks he knows what’s best for her. Actually, thinking about it, there’s an interesting connection to what he does to Donna later.

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Of course, there’s also the question of Donna. I’ve been deliberating over exactly how to handle this for some time now. To be honest, I was tempted to not bring it up at all; certainly, that would have been truer to my experience of the episode the first go around, because it was years and years before I realised there was anything to discourse about at all. For the longest time my thoughts on the subject began and ended with “that’s a tragic ending, I wish there had been some way for Donna to remember” – which, to be honest, I suspect was also the beginning and end of Russell T Davies’ thoughts while writing it.

But, equally, it’d feel too much like an unspoken elephant in the room if I didn’tmention it, and that doesn’t feel like something I can go without talking about. Particularly, actually, given that my beloved Capaldi era addressed this ending directly – more than once, actually, but most obviously with Clara, my favourite companion. So, it’d be a bit dishonest not to.

For anyone who’s not aware, the discussion centres around the Doctor mindwiping Donna; the – critique feels too mild a word, and perhaps misrepresents the strength of feeling of some of those who object to it – objection (not much better) regards how he ignores her wishes, disregards her autonomy and takes something from her without her consent. Part of the contention, too, is that it’s not really problematised within the narrative enough; the focus is largely on the tragedy, and how sad it is for the Doctor, as opposed to depicting it as a horrific violation of consent. That’s… I was going to say “That’s not an unreasonable interpretation, even though it’s not what the episode intended”, which manages to be both true and missing the point; whether it’s what the episode intended or not, that is essentially what’s on screen. I’m inclined to disagree heavily with certain sections of the debate, largely those that compare it to rape; I understand where they’re coming from, in terms of it being a violation of consent, but… it doesn’t sit well with me, for myriad reasons too extensive to really delve into here.

I think it’s probably best understood as a medical procedure; even then, there’s questions to be asked, but I think that’s a better model from which to approach it. (I also think it’s worth noting, in terms of comparisons to the Capaldi era, in Hell Bent and The Pilot, where the selfish, patrician nature of the act is emphasised, it’s not to save a life, which is manifestly different to what’s going on with Donna. Just to complicate things further!) It’s not a companion exit that sits with me entirely well admittedly; it’s cruel in a lot of ways, bleakly cynical in a way that sets it apart from the tragedy of, say, Doomsday. But… it also doesn’t, in a significant way at least, diminish the episode. At least not for me. I don’t know.

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One thing that did strike me as interesting is how easily this episode could have functioned as a series finale to New Who as a whole, if the specials hadn’t been commissioned.

Granted, you’d want a few changes made throughout; the version of this episode that was an actual ending would, I think, leave Donna as the DoctorDonna – the Doctor would finally have a companion and friend who really could travel with him forever (at the same time he gave Rose a Doctor who really could live with her forever, which would’ve been neat). Also, you’d kinda want there to be more of an effort to address Davros’ accusations, as I mentioned above; Journey’s End is interesting because it feels like it comes quite close to, or could have come quite close to, addressing the whole survivor’s guilt thing, and ultimately saying “actually, no”, but then ultimately eliding that in favour of a sad ending.

(Actually, personally, I think much more telling than the actual consent violation/mindwipe aspect is the fact that Donna isn’t allowed to keep her memories once she becomes a Doctor figure – a successful Doctor figure, in marked contrast to the others, beating the Daleks by tricking them into their own trap and hoisting them by their own petard rather than an aggressively militaristic figure. But where the others are failed Doctor figures who live, Donna is… not punished, exactly, but regresses. That, I think, is the difference between Donna and Clara; where “being the Doctor” is something anyone can do in the Moffat era, “being the Doctor” is a much more singular burden to bear in the Davies era. Again, that’s another idea worth returning to, particularly because I think Moffat’s conception of what it means to be the Doctor is one of the most interesting ideas of his tenure, and it’s actually probably one of the best ways to get to the heart of the whole lonely god idea in the Davies era.)

Anyway! Gosh. When this is finished it’s going to be over 2000 words, possibly approaching 2500; certainly, the longest of any of the X Years of the X Doctor posts I’ve done over the years. Actually, no, it could well be the longest single piece I’ve written full stop. It’s probably too critical in a lot of places, and doesn’t flow the way I’d like it to; equally, though, to repeat the usual refrain, these are often just the thoughts off the top of my head after watching an episode. A lot of the thoughts above are ones I’d like to elaborate on in future, though.

So. Journey’s End. I enjoyed it massively; I think that impression might not come across from this review, much as I would’ve liked it to, because so much of it dwells on the problem areas of the episode. That’s what got me thinking, I suppose.

I did have a slightly more elegiac conclusion in mind, but I’ve just remembered that next week I’ll be doing a general Series 4 overview. So I’ll save that for then!

10/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Stolen Earth

I came here when I was just a kid.

I love this one.

I also love the next one (arguably more, though I don’t tend to think of these two in discrete parts), but we’ll get to that in time.

I used to have all these Doctor Who action figures – no, collectibles – nah, action figures. A couple of David Tennants, quite a few of them missing hands; Rose from New Earth and Rose from Rose, a strange thing that looked like it was about to start a fight most of the time; Daleks, invariably missing their manipulator arms (alright, plungers) or guns or eyestalks, each one totally broken by the siblings and never by me. (That’s not, like, an attempt to talk around it or laughingly suggest it was me and I pretended it was them; it was them and they know it.) Judoon, Slitheen, Captain Jack from The Empty Child and Sarah Jane from her Adventures, complete with a little Graske, Martha from Smith and Jones and Mickey from Army of Ghosts, complete with half a Cyberman.

But, anyway, I collected them over the years, and played with them, obviously.  Always ridiculous, over the top narratives, with exterminations and resurrections and epic, galaxy-spanning stakes, and, of course, every companion ever. (Well, no, not every companion ever, because I never had a Donna figure.)

You can, I imagine, see where this is going. The Stolen Earth is Doctor Who as it always existed in my imagination, writ large across the screen. It’s sprawling and excessive and fun, Doctor Who taking joy in simply being Doctor Who. There was no way I wasn’t going to love it. Watching it at nine years old (probably) it was, genuinely, event television in a way I’d never really experienced before. Watching it ten years later, there’s still such a rush of giddy joy to it all. Across these reviews I’ve written about how I sometimes worry my opinions are based too firmly on how I first watched it, but with this one, I’m not worried about that. I know it, and I don’t care – this was the most amazing episode of Doctor Whoever then, and in more ways than one it still is now.

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There’s still, I think, a kind of… conversations about Doctor Who are still basically lead by the same types of people, and arguably in some cases the same people full stop. It’s people who grew up in the 70s, talking about Weetabix and Target novels and Tom Baker pants, and then being terribly ashamed of it all in the 80s and 90s (and in some cases still, bizarrely, carry the imagined weight of that around with them).

Less common – and to me, more interesting – is accounts of people talking about growing up under the revived series. Probably the obvious reason for that, I suppose, is that they’re mostly just not old enough yet; we’re still kinda at the point where it’s people who were teenagers when Rose aired are talking about it, as opposed to the 7 and 8-year olds. Maybe in a few years’ time we’ll start to see the stories of Cyber-strawberry frubes and Totally Doctor Who and David Tennant pants, which I would just like the record to state that I always found kinda weird and never had. Anyway, though, we’re definitely getting there. It’s something I’d like to have a go at myself one day, I suppose.

If, and when, people start getting around to it, I suspect The Stolen Earth will loom large in those accounts. It feels difficult, now, to quantify quite how big it was at the time. I remember that it was one of the last episode titles to be revealed; at that point I was following production news and stuff, albeit mainly through the Doctor Who Adventures magazine, and listing the title of episode 12 as CONFIDENTIAL (or TOP SECRET or what have you) – alongside, I think, what became The Sontaran Stratagem – really set me off. The anticipation! (Mind you, I was always pretty confused by the theory that Harriet Jones was the Supreme Dalek, though I’m pretty sure I found out about that after the fact.)

And, I mean, I’ve already said how much I loved this episode at the time. That picture of all the companions assembled together, ‘The Children of Time’, that was my computer background for years. It was then, and in many ways still is, such a wonderfully intense episode of Doctor Who, and one that’s really quite deeply bound up with the ways I watched Doctor Who at the time, the way I experienced Doctor Who, and, sure, the way I lived it.

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It still stands up today, I reckon.

The oft-repeated refrain when I write about the first part of any two-parter is, you know, that that’s quite difficult for all these reasons, which I recount mainly to fill up my own arbitrarily set wordcount, and as a bit of a caveat for the fact that I’ve not really said anything. Admittedly, a lot of this review is me talking around the fact, discussing what The Stolen Earth is and represents as opposed to anything that actually happened in it. On the flip side, though, it is mostly set-up and OMG moments and the cliffhanger of modern-Who, still yet to be topped, so maybe that’s not so bad.

Still, though. There’s a lot of great moments. The obvious bits, like any moment where Bernard Cribbins is on screen, have been rightfully discussed, but what stood out to me about this episode most of all was Elisabeth Sladen. It feels odd to say it, but she’s a much, much better actress than I ever realised –  not that I ever thought she wasn’t, or anything, but it really struck me that every emotional beat of the Dalek invasion works because of her. It’s her fear of the Daleks, at Davros, and for Luke, that makes it work – it’s genuinely the most impactful performance of the episode.

It’s quite the episode, The Stolen Earth. Quite the episode.

These days those action figures are all neatly displayed on my shelves – lovingly displayed, in fact. (I’d have to concede they’re actually maybe not that neat, and they pick up dust like mad.) I feel like maybe I should try and construct some metaphor out of that, that the things you love as a child start to hold a different place in your life as you grow up or whatever, but nah, that’s nonsense. Or it’s nonsense here, anyway.

I just wanted to tell you about them. I really love those things

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Turn Left

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What are you? What will you be?

[THE FOLLOWING IS A TRANSCRIPT FROM A VIDEO UPLOADED TO YOUTUBE ON 21ST JUNE 2018, ENTITLED “Turn Left???”]

So anyway, there I am, channel-hopping, and there’s this show on I’ve never seen before. Looks vaguely interesting – it has Catherine Tate in it, and she’s quite funny, so sure, why not. Let’s give it a watch. I’m not really doing anything else, after all, and I’m dimly aware of this show – I think some of my friends used to quite like it about a decade ago or so?

Something called doctor who.

And then I figured, hey, here’s an idea: why don’t I make a video about it? I know my videos aren’t normally about television, since I don’t watch a lot of it, but this was on my mind I guess, so I figured why not? Plus this show is kinda popular, or it used to be – my friends all stopped watching it when they cast that Benedict guy, but I know everyone was pretty excited last year when they cast Johnson from Peep Show, so maybe it’ll be popular again next year  – and I figure maybe a few enwhothiasts might wanna like this video or share it around or something.

Admittedly I didn’t entirely understand the beginning of it – I suppose they must have been on some alien planet, or something? Or was it, like, China in the future? I don’t really know what that was about, because I’ve never really seen the show, but I thought it was kinda neat that they included that instead of just having another sci-fi kinda thing. I suppose it must have meant that this show had a lot of scenes with sort of representation of other cultures, and particularly Asian cultures, so this was just another in a long line? It’d probably be a bit dodgy if it was the only one I guess, I don’t know.

… What was I saying? Oh, yeah, yeah. So one of the things I did know about this show was that they time travel a lot, which is pretty neat – if you click on this thingy here you can see a video I did about a year ago, which was all about the top five different places I’d love to time travel to if it were possible – but I was kind of a little bit confused when it happened with the beetle thingy? I always thought it was in one of those phone box things from the 1960s, like a great big blue one that’s bigger on the inside.

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But, anyway, yeah. I got the impression this was all, like, referring back to past episodes of the show, which is probably pretty exciting if you’re an enwhothiast. The idea of changing your past, or someone else changing your past which I guess is actually what happens here, is pretty interesting to me. Like, I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I didn’t do my vlogs, you know? I’ve been doing my little videos for nearly five years now – actually five years exactly tomorrow! – but what if, like, I’d done a blog, with writing and words and stuff instead? I remember my friend Rose suggested I make one ages ago, but I never did. Or I guess on a bigger level, there’s questions of, like, what if Hillary Clinton hadn’t beaten Jeb Bush in the election last year, or Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister?

Sorry I just got distracted! What was I saying?

Oh, yeah, I know. Anyway. Catherine Tate is properly amazing in this episode – it’s genuinely such a great performance, the way she moves from being a more sort of comic character at the beginning, a bit like her character in her own show, but then gradually becoming a much more tragic figure. A lot of that is because of that kind of rise of fascism and stuff, that sweeping force that’s going on in the background and affecting all their lives.

I think – though obviously, not really being involved in any enwhothiast communities or anything, I don’t know for sure – that probably one of the most talked about scenes of this episode is that one where it’s Mr Colasanto being taken away by the army, and Donna gradually realises that he’s being taken to a concentration camp. Like, it’s definitely a really powerful scene – Bernard Cribbins sells it so well, it’s a great performance – but perhaps what’s more notable is the way that, in the next scene, Donna is still going to the army to try and find a job.

It’s a moment of quiet defeat, that, and it feels like it’s perhaps the episode’s most incisive observation about the nature of fascism. You can argue, perhaps fairly, that one of the big flaws of the episode is that the thing that finally motivates Donna to step up isn’t one of the small human moments, but the existential mythic threat of the stars going out, but I’d argue it actually ties back to that moment where Donna goes to the military for jobs, a comment on the same sort of apathy.

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Soo, yeah. I hope you liked this video! Please don’t forget to like and subscribe and leave a comment below – I could do some more Doctor Who videos if you enjoyed this one! Maybe a series? Like, I could start them next year for the anniversaries, eleven years since the episode was done or something like that.

Wait, what’s that noise…?

[TRANSCRIPT ENDS.]

So, Turn Left.

It’s an episode that’s all about an alternate reality – a world where a significant event didn’t happen, and the repercussions that has, the tornado caused by the beating of a butterfly’s wing. A reality without the Doctor, or a reality without watching Doctor Who; a reality where fascism is on the rise and internment camps are built, and a reality where fascism is still on the rise and internment camps are still being built, except also I have a blog instead of being a vlogger.

I don’t know, mostly I thought this was a funny little gimmick. It’s perhaps not as insightful as it might have been – hey, when are they ever? – but it struck me as a broadly funny idea. Probably one that would have been better if some actual time and thought had gone into it – if I’d had the idea early enough, I totally would have done an actual vlog, or at least made sure the “character” of vlogger Alex in the above transcript was a little more consistent throughout.

Still! Turn Left. A pretty brilliant episode. Possibly, admittedly, a little too dark in places – the death of Sarah Jane, Luke, Clyde and Maria was quite upsetting – but it works throughout. A fantastic script from Russell T Davies (it’ll be interesting to see him return to some of these ideas with Years and Years in 2019) and, as the other Alex mentioned, a wonderful performance from Catherine Tate. Arguably her finest hour, in fact.

Can’t wait for next week!

9/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Poison Sky

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Don’t tell anyone what I did! It wasn’t my fault! The Sontarans lied to me!

I go back and forth a bit with these reviews. Especially, really, the episodes like this – the ones that, as established last week, can be a bit difficult to write about.

I don’t think it is a wildly inaccurate claim to say that billions of words have been written about Doctor Who – right? Between magazines and books and every little blog on the internet, it’s got to be something approaching that number, no? Perhaps in excess; I’m not brilliant with numbers, as we’ve probably learned previously. But, sure, let’s stick with that number, much as we could just as easily have made up a new number entirely, in proper Russell T Davies fashion; I’ve just googled “doctor who the poison sky review” and got 2,350,000 results, so it’s not wholly unreasonable to say that there’s twelve-point-five-slash-apple words on the subject.

Which begs the question, you know, what am I adding with these? Sure, there’s a certain level of personal anecdote from time to time – my resounding memory from this one is the Confidential afterwards, actually, and Danny Hargreaves talking about how there’s a shot where you can see his arms just before ‘Sylvia’ swings the axe into the car – and I think there’s a value to that, the perspective of someone who’s coming to this critically after having grown up loving it unreservedly, but then there’s just as often very little in the way of personal history to these. Or, frankly, criticism. If there’s room for the first piece of writing and the best piece of writing, these reviews have been neither; it’s a slightly rambling, unsure thousand words that I dash together mainly because I’ve been doing it for the past few years anyway and I don’t really want to stop. (Which is an odd one to hold onto, I suppose. I stopped writing about the Capaldi episodes when those became too difficult to keep up with. Though I’d still like to go back to them again.)

I don’t know. Someone said to me the other day, about writing, the question is “why are you writing this? Why are you writing this? Why are you writing this?” – so, more accurately “the questions are”, but whatever. The point sort of stands. I don’t know that I can answer those questions of these pieces. Likely enough I’m overthinking it, because the main thing is that I like watching Doctor Who and I like writing down what I think about it, and these are consciously not articles in the same sense I might write them for Yahoo or wherever.

Still, though. Let’s try for something a little better next week, maybe.

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It strikes me, again, that the most interesting part of this story is Luke Rattigan – probably largely by accident, given the reason why I find him so interesting is because of how he feels so relevant even now. But then, I suppose the sad fact is that he was likely just as relevant back then, because some things don’t really change.

Basically, he’s an incel. Or, not an incel exactly – mind you, that line about the breeding programmes? – but certainly Luke Rattigan is in that mould of insecure young men, swept up by a hyper-masculine ideology and damaged as a result. (That sounds a little overly sympathetic, actually. It’s not meant to.) It’s the most interesting thing that the story does with the Sontarans, I’d argue; there’s lots to be said about how they represent a particular strain of militaristic jingoism and aggression, but you get that from a lot of different Doctor Who monsters. Certainly, the broad strokes of the invasion/ATMOS plot could’ve been played out with other aliens – the Zygons are an obvious candidate, I think, though you could probably modify it such that it works with the Slitheen too. Some rogue Judoon, maybe, or the Sycorax. What makes the Sontarans interesting in this story, at least to my mind, is the fact they’re defined by their influence on Luke – it’s taking all those ideas of conformity, and exaggerated, performative aggression, and essentially positing a microcosm that shows how damaging and toxic that can be.

The end of the episode is interesting in light of that. It’s another violent act, basically in line with the Sontaran ideology – they’re beaten back at the end by a bigger explosion, basically, as opposed to any intellectual efforts. You’d think, perhaps, that given we’re meant to read Luke as being inspired by the Doctor, he’d come up with a response to the Sontarans that falls outside that paradigm. So, how do we read that? Another comment, perhaps, on how destructive that ideology is – because Luke is, essentially, reflecting their own plan back at them. Or, alternatively – given we’ve seen how easily the Doctor fits into UNIT, and the way they were paralleled with the Sontarans – it’s indicative of how the Doctor, and his means, aren’t quite free of certain aspects of that ideology – otherwise, wouldn’t they have found a better way? I don’t know, really, but I think there’s an interesting tension there that’d be worth exploring someday.

There’s still bits that don’t quite work. Quite apart from anything else – and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about a story resolved with a character’s suicide, but – the fact that none of the Doctor, Donna or Martha actually remark on Luke’s sacrifice is a pretty glaring omission – I know it’s difficult to do it without seeming trite, especially since they generally either didn’t know him or like him, but…?

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Nonetheless, though… I mean, the thing about these stories is that there is actually pretty consistently lots of little things that are really genuinely great. If you wanted to, and often for the most part I do, there’s enough little things you can pick out and celebrate and in turn stretch an article to meet whatever wordcount you want.

There’s a moment where Martha’s talking to her clone, and she calls her Martha. It’s a lovely little detail from Martha, respecting her clone as a living being with an identity – when the Doctor doesn’t, notably – and Freema Agyeman plays it wonderfully. But, outside of that? I know the line on these Series 4 episodes is that Martha does much better when she’s freed from being “the one who fancies the Doctor”, but actually, I’m not convinced – after all, it’s not like this episode really gives her anything to do, is it?

Bernard Cribbins is, of course, brilliant. He’s got great scenes with Catherine Tate here, and it goes a long way towards fleshing out Donna’s home life and making her family feel distinct from what we’ve seen before. Jacqueline King, I think, either doesn’t quite get enough weighty material, or plays it with a little too much levity; I don’t think the oft talked about sense of Donna’s difficult home life quite comes across here the way it should.

I know the “are you my mummy?” thing is well loved, but I’m actually not a fan.

Anyway. That’s quite a bitty, strung out close to the review, isn’t it? And not a lot of the content is even about the episode! Ah well. I enjoyed it, generally speaking; for the most part, I suspect, I enjoyed it out of nostalgia moreso than anything else. If this were an episode, line for line and shot for shot, in Jodie Whittaker’s upcoming season, I’d be disappointed; much as there are interesting ideas you can pick out in this episode, I’d much rather they got more focus and exploration than this episode gave them.

6/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Sontaran Stratagem

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You’re carrying a gun. I don’t like people with guns.

It is always a little difficult to write about these episodes. In part, the problem is derived from being the first part of a two-part story; there’s a certain degree of incompletion there, since it’s not the full story, which in turn makes it harder to write about the episode as a discrete piece.

Also, though, it’s the matter of the format and structure. The first two-parter of each of the Russell T Davies series, and the second two-parter from Moffat’s first series – written, perhaps notably, by Chris Chibnall, which is probably basis enough to speculate we might see them return in some form or another – tended to be what you can charitably call “broader episodes”. Less about big ideas than big set pieces, they’re rendered in sweeping brush strokes and aimed, generally speaking, at the younger audience members. It’s very much not a bad thing, or so I’d maintain; the monster two-parter has always got a bit of a lambasting. Not just from fans, who are going to be myopic and overly critical about most things; a quick google search for a review from 2008 described this episode, and previous years’ equivalents, as a “breakneck nosedive into abject embarrassment”. So, while I’ll generally always defend them for what they are, what they are is relatively simplistic television that can be difficult to write much about.

Still, though, that’s what you might call the received wisdom (and, actually, glancing through that review it strikes me as a fairly trashy piece, so we might not want to call it wisdom). It’s certainly something Russell T Davies always disagreed with – granted, he would, but when he contested the description that these were “just for kids” he might well have had a point. Looking back, you can see some clear satirical elements to Aliens of London/World War Three, I actually think that Daleks in Manhattan throws out some interesting ideas, and hopefully I’ll figure out something for Rise of the Cybermen before I publish this.

So, with this admittedly slightly tenuous premise now established in more words than are strictly needed, let’s consider: what’s going on in The Sontaran Stratagem, other than the bright colours and the returning monsters that look a little like potatoes?

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What stood out to me as being – at the very least – interesting was the… I don’t want to call it a central conflict, because that suggests it has a bit more prominence than it actually did, so let’s say the tension between the Doctor and UNIT.

It makes a degree of sense, for the series in its post Time War state, that the Tenth Doctor is going to bristle when confronted with soldiers. In a wider sense, too, there’s an obvious tension lurking there – really, one that’s lurking in any UNIT story – because the Doctor so often finds himself working against armies in some respect or another. There’s a lot of ideas of authority and aggression tied up in there, which are often the traits you see the Doctor rebelling against; hence, then, the juxtaposition of UNIT with the Sontarans, who are the most exaggerated version of jingoism and brutality that you can get. Look at the two UNIT soldiers who come across Skor; look at the way the taller one, Private Harris, mocks and taunts Skor. It’s a vision of a very particular idea of the army – bullish and brash and filled with bravado, and ultimately also quite toxic. There’s something interesting about that, I think, given how you’d normally expect the alien fodder supporting cast to be written in such a way that they’re immediately sympathetic – it feels like an almost conscious attempt to get us to dislike him, and dislike the way he throws his weight around.

But look also at Martha and Luke Rattigan. Martha is now pretty much explicitly a soldier, and for all she talks about reforming the system from within, there’s a certain ugliness attached to it. (How else are you meant to read the line about “searching for illegal aliens”, before she starts questioning an Eastern European worker?) Similarly, there’s that great moment where Luke starts to join in with the Sontaran chant, imitating them and aspiring to be like them; it’s there that, suddenly, it makes sense why you emphasise the Sontarans as a clone race – because they’re all about conformity. That’s the big issue with the army, and in a sense you can see this almost as foreshadowing the problems we later see the Twelfth Doctor have with soldiers too.

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Having said that, though, that opens up another angle of consideration. One of the big points of conflict between the Twelfth Doctor and Danny Pink was that, for all the Doctor’s disdain of soldiers, he treats them like he’s an officer. And you can see that here, because as soon as the Tenth Doctor is on site, he’s giving orders too – he fits right into the command structure, much as he insists he doesn’t. They draw attention to it, albeit as a joke, but it’s interesting to see how a lot of the ideas that are on display here crop up again during the show. I doubt that Steven Moffat was referring back to The Sontaran Stratagem consciously during the planning of Series 8, but it’s neat to see how the same character traits are preserved across the length of the series. Or, maybe not preserved exactly, but recur.

What’s also still interestingly relevant is Luke Rattigan (with two Ts), who feels very much the picture of some of the worst of society today – the entitled teenager, driven to violence because he feels isolated and lashes out. Even where the episode has dated, being built around satnav as it is, it’s still deeply topical in some ways. In a way, it’s kinda making me regret the way I approach these reviews; they’re all quite stream of consciousness, probably more accurately described as just a collation of thoughts than a proper review, written immediately following a single watch. I think if I were to approach this more studiously, there’s actually a lot to say about The Sontaran Stratagem – certainly, far more than I expected going in.

But, equally, yes. It’s weak in a lot of ways. For one thing, the incidental music really stood out quite poorly here; it’s often way too oversignified, hindering the episode rather than augmenting it. One particular moment that stands out is when the Doctor remarks that no one has told Luke Rattigan no in a very long time – David Tennant plays that line brilliantly, but the music blunts it entirely.

In the end, though, I liked it a lot – a lot more than I thought I would – and I’m looking forward to next week quite a bit.

7/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Partners in Crime

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The fat just walks away…

Alright, so. Those of you who’ve been following this series since the start – even if it is, you know, only the one of you – might be wondering where the Series 3 roundup post is. The answer is more than a little bit underwhelming: I had a near-catastrophic computer failure not long after I was supposed to upload that piece (though it was more than a little late anyway) and I’ve just kept delaying it ever since. The plan was to publish it a little bit before this review, but I got my dates mixed up – I thought Partners in Crime had aired on April 12th ish – so that ended up being difficult. I’ll probably post it in a week or so, maybe.

(Note: I never did that, but I restored it to its proper place when I moved to WordPress.)

As to the rest of you, you might perhaps be wondering what this is. They’re reviews, but also, they’re not. Really, it’s a series that’s just as much about my experience of watching the episodes the first time around as it is the episodes themselves – I’d call it a personal history via Doctor Who, but that is probably overstating it more than a little bit in terms of exactly how personal it is. But it’s very much contextualising the review in terms of my memories of the episode, my own experiences in terms of being a fan since then – there’s opinions and hopefully a degree of insight, maybe, but it’s not exactly academic. Often, it’s about that gulf between a decade old memory, and the more measured approach of someone who’s ostensibly a television critic, but generally speaking I’m pretty positive about it all anyway (series 4 contains The First Episode of Doctor Who I Actually Disliked – which you won’t guess – so that should potentially be an interesting review).

What’s notable though, I suppose, is that Series 4 is probably the stretch of modern Who I’m least familiar with – with the exception of maybe Series 6 – which is a result of both the length of time since broadcast, and the fact that I didn’t have them on DVD, so never really re-watched them. In a sense, then, while I’m not coming to the episodes fresh, they’re pieces of television that I know much better in terms of the paratext that’s sprung up around them – most notably The Writer’s Tale, which I re-read every few months anyway. It was definitely something I was quite conscious of while rewatching episode; I’m really, really unfamiliar with a lot of the basic visual grammar of the episode, how the different set pieces are structured, and so on. There’s a version of it that I’d built in my head, but often that was quite different from what was actually on screen.

So, all of that said, let’s talk about Partners in Crime.

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The obvious part of this episode that bears discussing is Donna – who’s still one of the most popular companions Doctor Who has ever had, even ten years later, which is a real testament to Catherine Tate and Russell T Davies. (I believe it was TARDIS Eruditorum that posited that you could more readily divide Davies’ tenure into the Rose and Donna eras than by Doctors, which is very true.)

As a reintroduction to Donna after The Runaway Bride, it’s very effective. I know there was a degree of trepidation – to put it lightly – about the character returning full time (for my part, I was very positive, but then I was positive about essentially everything about Doctor Who at the time) but it’s actually a really good concept for a Doctor Who companion. It’s a little bit like those astronauts who came back to Earth, but couldn’t readjust to life once again – the ones who failed to walk in the dust and so on. It’s also, of course, very in tune with the ideas at the heart of the Davies era: that the Doctor changes people, emboldening them and enriching their lives. In a sense it comes back to the conversation Rose has with Mickey and Jackie in The Parting of the Ways; what we see with Donna here is almost a version of what could have happened if Rose didn’t find her way back to the Doctor. Doing that with a character we know and already recognise is a great way to approach it – we’ve seen the starting point, we’ve seen the refusal, so we know that backstory. It also – not to get ahead of myself – ties in quite well with Donna’s departure, in the end, given how it plays upon those ideas of the Doctor’s influence.

And, of course, the parallels drawn between the Doctor and Donna in the episode (the Doctordonna, if you want to read it as foreshadowing) drive this home further. It’s not that the character is defined in terms of him, exactly – certainly, in Donna’s first appearance, she was defined as an opposite figure – but that on her post-Doctor life, and the attempts to find him again, Donna’s become something of a Doctor-analogue herself. She operates in the same way as him, their outfits mirror one another, she’s even got the blue car; in that sense, it’s quite similar to how Moffat presented his companions towards the end of his run. I suspect when the time comes to talk about Journey’s End I’ll find myself writing about Clara, but it’s interesting to pick up on how, even at this point, you’ve got Donna being positioned as akin to the Doctor – and how her story followed that path, and where it ended up.

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Another aspect of this episode I quite liked was the Adipose – they’re very manifestly not the typical series opener monsters, and it’s good to subvert the standards we’re used to. There’s something quite refreshing about how they’re not the straightforward antagonists of the Judoon or the Autons. Davies’ series opener episodes generally tended to be quite broad, and in a way the Adipose/Miss Foster combination feel like that approach taken to the furthest point: the creature is secondary to the Doctor and Donna’s plotline, and there’s very little focus on the eventual resolution of such. Indeed, there’s a couple of moments where the actual narrative plot is quite… not slapdash, that’s unfair, but it’s very obvious that Davies simply isn’t that interested in the mechanics of it.

Aside from that, they Adipose are quite a neat concept on their own – they tap into a lot of ideas about body image and so on, and they’re kinda cute in a way. I’d be quite interested in seeing them return at some point, actually; it feels like there’s a certain versatility to them that means you could still do a lot of different stories with them. Definitely, there would have been some potential for them in Class, with a story about anorexia and drug addiction. What’s also interesting about that, though, is how it highlights that a lot of Partners in Crime could still fit in Doctor Who (or associated) today; indeed, interesting to consider the episode in light of later ones, particularly the criticisms Moffat’s pacing – something like Partners in Crime really rollicks along, in a way that wouldn’t feel massively out of place even during series 7.

Ultimately, then, I quite enjoyed this episode. It’s an entertaining piece, and an effective re-introduction to Donna. Hopefully, subsequent episodes shouldn’t creep up on me the same way this one did, so I’ll try and write some stuff that’s at least a little more insightful!

8/10

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Voyage of the Damned

Voyage of Damned doctor who review russell t davies james strong title sequence titanic david tennant kylie minogue

I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous. I am 903 years old and I’m the man who’s gonna save your lives, and all six billion people on the planet below.

Yes, it’s a Christmas special review – but probably not the one you were expecting.

Long-ish term readers, of which I’m sure I have at least three, will probably remember this on and off series of retrospectives where I look back on and review whatever David Tennant was up to a decade ago. It is largely but not exclusively filtered through the lens of my own personal recollections – i.e. that of a small child who was only vaguely aware of who Kylie actually was and really wished that everyone would just stop talking during Doctor Who, though I suppose that’s really not all that different to me today.

The three of you who have been following this for a while probably have also noticed that I never quite got around to posting my full season retrospective on Series 3; a combination of procrastination, nominally important exams, and near-catastrophic computer failure meant that those kept getting postponed to the point that it never quite materialised. Currently, the plan is to write that up – or finish writing it up, half the document still exists somewhere I believe – between now and April, which I believe is when I’ll start reviewing series 4 (I’m not entirely clear on the dates off the top of my head).

And, of course, for those of you who are more interested in the more pressing and current issue of the day – Twice Upon a Time, ahh! – I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get something written about that in the next few days. More likely than not it’ll be something of a commentary on the Twelfth Doctor’s era as a whole, rather than a straightforward review as such; I’m still hoping to do a series of reviews on all of Capaldi’s episodes between now and Jodie Whittaker’s first episode, so we’ll see how that all shakes out.

In any case, though, I suspect I’ve probably waffled on enough to fill up the wordcount. Let’s get onto Voyage of the Damned.

Voyage of Damned doctor who review astrid doctor meet david tennant kylie minogue russell t davies james strong

A big part of these Tenth Doctor reviews has been a re-examination of the wider perception of an episode, and how that contrasts with my own memories of such. It’s not exactly a perfect process; a decade on, my memory of it all is usually fairly shake-y, and I didn’t exactly have massively sophisticated opinions beyond “It’s Doctor Who, of course I love it!” (some would contend that my opinions have not yet developed beyond this). There’s also the fact that, generally speaking, I tend to be comparing said opinions to standard fan myopia – the accepted rules that incorrectly state, for example, that Love & Monsters is rubbish.

Interestingly, though, this time there’s the opportunity to take a slightly different tack. Famously, this is the Doctor Who episode with the highest domestic viewing figures of all time; seen by 13.9 million viewers, you can make the case that this is probably the resounding impression of Tennant’s Doctor left across the country. It received pretty positive reviews overall (even if it did offend certain Christians and a survivor of the Titanic) and, per Wikipedia, received an “Appreciation Index rating of 86 (“excellent”), above the average score of 77 for drama programmes, and was the highest Index rating for any programme shown on terrestrial television on Christmas Day”. Just to contextualise that in terms of the rest of the show, that’s better than Father’s Day, equal to The Eleventh Hour, and just shy of Journey’s End. Now, the numbers shouldn’t necessarily be taken at face value on their own, but it’s worth remembering that on release the episode got largely rave reviews from most mainstream outlets.

In short, then, this episode is largely beloved. Or, if not beloved, certainly it’s one which is generally held in quite high regard by quite a lot of people. And that certainly runs counter to the traditional fan belief that it’s a duff episode, doesn’t it?

All of which is to say that it’s worth finding something to love in this episode; after all, in amongst every episode you’re not so sure about there’s something that someone’s going to enjoy. Watching it back again today, I couldn’t help but think the opening was really nice, and very Doctor Who; a simple moment of enjoyment, where the Doctor just throws himself into it all with gleeful abandon, poking around and making friends and having fun. It felt like a nice reminder of what it’s (sort of) all about, in contrast to recent years where the focus has been a little more on the ‘Doctor of War’ (or even a contrast to distant years of the Time Lord Victorious!) than on this sort of thing.

Voyage of Damned doctor who review tenth doctor david tennant kylie minogue hosts walkway strut fight halo disaster movie

Granted, though… well, it’s not without flaws. Much as I enjoyed it back in the day – and, don’t get me wrong, it was perfectly entertaining now – and as much as I still think it’s worth highlighting what was good about it and what worked about it, there’s still a few noteworthy issues.

Part of the benefit of rewatching these episodes with a decade’s worth of hindsight is the new perspective – more specifically, though, the perspective of someone who pretends to be a professional television critic, and wants to pretend to be a professional television writer. Plus, it’s also that of someone who’s read a lot of books about Doctor Who, and the production of it – in this specific case, it’s having read The Writer’s Tale, and knowing about the difficulties Russell T Davies had writing this episode.

Davies was right, I think, to be concerned about the disaster movie format fighting with the Doctor Who format. The easiest flaw to point out is structural; where disaster movies tend to pick off the cast one by one, Voyage of the Damned more or less just disposes with a large chunk of them all in one lengthy set-piece. It doesn’t exactly work, dividing the episode into two slightly disjointed halves. On top of that, though, there’s the feeling that maybe none of it quite lands – that tonally, as it swings from tragedy to broad humour, the impact doesn’t always register. (And I don’t think that’s a rule, as such, rather that it just doesn’t quite work here.) Arguably, in a way, that makes it feel darker – as the loses aren’t quite acknowledged, the moments of levity feel out of place, leaving it all just a little bit grim. Part of the issue feels difficult to articulate exactly, because it’s not really one thing that’s wrong – rather, there’s lots of nice moments and fun details that don’t exactly add up to the potential sum of their parts. In the end, it doesn’t quite work as well as perhaps it could have.

But, I suppose, it returns to another little fact from The Writer’s Tale – an anecdote where a journalist describes Voyage of the Damned as being fun. They meant it dismissively, but you know what? It is fun. And there’s a place for that – especially at Christmas.

7/10

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