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

doctor who the end of time part two review david tennant russell t davies

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.

doctor who the end of time part two russell t davies david tennant review

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.

doctor who the end of time part two david tennant tenth doctor regeneration euros lyn review

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.



Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

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

doctor who the end of time review russell t davies david tennant tenth doctor regeneration

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.)

doctor who the end of time review david tennant tenth doctor regeneration wilf mott bernard cribbins cafe

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?

doctor who the end of time review david tennant the master john simm regeneration time lords

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.



Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Forest of the Dead

doctor who forest of the dead review euros lyn steven moffat david tennant alex kingston catherine tate russell t davies

Everybody knows that everybody dies, and nobody knows it like the Doctor – but I do think that all the skies in all the worlds might just turn dark if he ever accepts it.

The attentive amongst you will probably have realised that I didn’t post this last week, since I am in fact posting it today. That’s because I uploaded Silence in the Library a week too early, it turns out; there was a week delay after The Unicorn and the Wasp that I wasn’t aware of, I assume for Eurovision or a sport or something. I’m a little annoyed, because it’s the first time I’ve got a date wrong across the whole project, but not massively so, because it was ahead of time rather than too late, and if any story works as an echo of the future it’s that one.

[In another instance of the future infringing on the past, kinda, I fixed the dates on the wordpress site.]

Anyway, though. Forest of the Dead. Let’s start at the end, as this story has been inclined to do.

River’s death is, of course, a deeply affecting moment. A lot of that comes down to the fact that David Tennant and Alex Kingston give great performances; this, much moreso than The Doctor’s Daughter, is the episode of series 4 that gives Tennant the opportunity to push the character in new directions and find more of a limit point for his performance. Certainly, there’s no character quite like River in terms of how they interact with Tennant’s Doctor, and if you think that The Doctor’s Daughter should have been more along these lines, it’s not a comparison the earlier episodes come off well in. Obviously!

Equally, though, it’s not just about Tennant; I spoke last week about just how good Alex Kingston is, but it’s worth pausing again to focus on just how good she is here. Here especially, actually, because this is arguably the most important scene the character has, given it pretty much defines our understanding of River as a character full stop. If her death in this episode hadn’t had weight – both as a poignant moment on its own terms, but also the weight to sell a shared history we’re not yet aware of – then it likely wouldn’t have worked anywhere near as well as it did. But, as we know, it did work, and acted as the emotional cornerstone of the next five years.

doctor who review forest of the dead tenth doctor david tennant handcuffed river song dies alex kingston spoilers you watch us run steven moffat

Parts of the ending of the episode could come into a little bit of criticism, admittedly; there’s a sense that setting River up with a life within the Library, while very nice for a while, probably isn’t something she’d actually be especially interested in for long. (How close was she with the rest of the crew? I got the impression she’d only started working with them recently on a freelance basis, so they’re probably not friends she’d want to spend forever with. And that’s a very specific sort of domesticity that you don’t really imagine River wanting – flip the script and imagine the Doctor was saved in the computer, leading that life, and it’d have fairly different connotations.) That said, I’m less than inclined to make much of it, particularly since we return to it in The Name of the Doctor and find out that River has plenty of stuff going on to keep her occupied.

In terms of the broader resolution of the episode, too, there’s something of an argument to be made that it’s a little… not incoherent, but certainly less coherent than Moffat’s usually fairly tightly-plotted episodes have been historically. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense, or anything quite so significant, but rather that there’s this little sense that, as the plot shifts and picks up momentum very quickly, it was motivated by a desire to start wrapping things up first and foremost; it’s the bit where Cal starts to reject her surroundings, and the planet goes into self-destruct mode. Indeed, it’s the self-destruct mode part especially that feels like it’s a little out of nowhere – shouldn’t the increased peril at the end come from the Vashta Nerada? They end up a little forgotten anyway.

To be honest though, it’s not actually all that important. Mostly because the episode is still entertaining enough to pull it off; while watching it, that sense that there’s only fifteen or so minutes left and it’s time to pick up the pace is very much secondary to what’s happening on screen, and that’s the more important thing.

Also, though, there’s the fact that the Vashta Nerada and the Library aren’t reallythe heart of it, they’re just the set dressing – it’s the final scene, where the Doctor runs to save River, that matters most. (Indeed, that was going to be the title at one stage, The Doctor Runs.) It’s the most triumphant scene of the episode, as you’d expect, and it’s really the apotheosis of Moffat’s understanding of the Doctor; never giving in, never giving up, and always saving people.

doctor who review forest of the dead river song dead library children data ghost alex kingston steven moffat euros lyn

One of the other interesting things that struck me about this episode – just in the sense of an idle thought I’d like to pick at more in future if ever I do a proper analysis of this episode (unlikely but not impossible; there’s only one episodic project left I’d like to do with Doctor Who at this point, but, you know, spoilers) or something I’d like to read an essay on if someone’s already written it – and that’s the fact that, for all the significance of the library, large swathes of Forest of the Dead play out by television logic more than anything else.

What I’ve got in mind specifically is Donna’s life in the dream world – the place functions by taking the television style literally, making the narrative leaps of jump cuts into something discomforting and offputting. It’s a really neat trick, and quite effective here; Euros Lyn does a great job making this technique work. In the broader framework of the two-part story, it feels like it calls back to the opening of Silence in the Library, where Cal was essentially watching Doctor Who; this is a literalisation of that, putting Donna within a television world. Arguably – given there’s some interesting ideas about escapism going on in the background in terms of Cal’s character – you can look at this as a union of the two ways Steven Moffat would’ve experienced Doctor Who: books, and television.

I don’t know. I mean, like I said, it’s an uninterrogated observation, just something that occurred to me while I was watching it. In terms of the broader analysis, there’s probably much more interesting stuff that can be said of it – how it fits with Russell T Davies’ engagement with television as a medium, how it fits with Moffat’s interest in glitchy technology, how it fits with Moffat’s engagement with the idea of storytelling (which is the more overt and obvious idea running through the episode).

Ultimately, anyway, it’s a really good episode. Very entertaining and engaging to watch, lots of memorable scenes and imaginative concepts, and an episode that stands on its own terms even outside of the significance it gained in later years.


Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Silence in the Library

doctor who review silence in the library steven moffat euros lyn russell t davies vashat nerada river song alex kingston tenth doctor david tennant


In a very real sense, the Steven Moffat era begins here.

That, admittedly, is not the most unique or original observation that you could make (on a related but probably less obvious note, I’m inclined to argue that the Capaldi era actually begins with The Name of the Doctor, or even really actually Asylum of the Daleks) but it also, of course, isn’t any less true as a result.

Admittedly, up to a point you can say that of any of his episodes. There are just certain themes and ideas that Moffat is always interested in in Doctor Who, and styles and patterns that recur as little echoes of the future. Aspects of The Girl in the Fireplace feel almost like a first draft of Amy in The Eleventh Hour, while Blink is time-y wime-y in a way that presages various puzzle box plotlines, and The Empty Child is of course the first time that “everybody lives” (and actually, in light of that, probably hasn’t been given enough credit in terms of how indicative it is of Moffat’s later approach). Everyone has seen the old forum post from the nineties where he put forward an idea that turns up in A Good Man Goes to War, there’s the whole theory of time travel from Continuity Errors, and, of course, literally everything about The Curse of Fatal Death, which has been weirdly and unintentionally prescient in more ways than one.

But Silence in the Library feels rather different to those, in a way. Again, there’s the debut of ideas Moffat returns to in future – the library feels like it foreshadows some of that focus on stories, for one thing – as well as the obvious. Up to a point, it might just be because the announcement that Moffat would be taking over after Davies left was first announced on the 20th May 2008 – it would’ve been part of the paratext of this episode. Here offers us another opportunity to delve into memory lane, because I do broadly speaking remember the reaction to it – in my own circles, limited to real life interactions alone. Reaction was generally pretty positive (I was still a year away from being presented with my first ridiculous fan petition, an anti-Matt Smith piece I was wise enough not to sign) given Moffat was largely well-liked. Everyone thought Doctor Who would be much scarier; for my part, I thought it’d be funnier, which isn’t a bad insight from a nine-year-old.

(There were actually two such opportunities to check out memory lane with this one; around a year, maybe two, after the broadcast of this, I was in a queue behind some people talking about how their friend was in this episode and played CAL. I immediately decided I should befriend this person too, because then I’d have a friend who was in Doctor Who, and then promptly did not make any effort to do so because talking to people was, and remains, terrifying.)

doctor who review silence in the library river song alex kingston tenth doctor david tennant meeting blue tardis diary euros lyn steven moffat

With ten years of hindsight, though, there’s one aspect of Silence in the Library that stands out especially: River Song.

This is, I’d guess, probably the first time I’ve rewatched Silence in the Library in years – I’d be surprised if I’d watched it between now and The Time of the Doctor, and I don’t think I’d seen it for a few years before then anyway. In short, today was the first time (probably) that I’ve gone back to watch River’s introduction after having seen her episodes with Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi.

What’s most impressive, I think, is how fully formed a character River already feels. Not just in terms of the storytelling, and the in-universe backwards character development that was going on, but from a more practical production standpoint – imagine for a moment that Kate Winslet, who was initially offered the part, accepted the role. Would she have come back? Probably not, and if she did, almost certainly not with the frequency and enthusiasm of Alex Kingston. The seven years River appeared and developed as a character, while there was undoubtedly a lot of plate spinning and improvisation going on behind the scenes, are in fact a pretty remarkable achievement – I think that’s something we forget, being so used to the final product, which does seem mostly seamless.

On the basis of this episode alone, there’s an obvious potential to River as a character – there’s a real frisson to Alex Kingston’s performance, and River Song offers a genuinely fascinating limit point for the character of the Doctor. It’s a dynamic we’ve not seen before – not just in terms of the obvious time travel aspect, but also just the way she speaks to him. One of my favourite lines, actually, is when the Doctor is berating Lux, going on about how he won’t let one man’s arrogance endanger people’s lives – and River responds with “why don’t you sign his contract then?” It’s a fantastic line, because it’s one of those rare moments where a character gets to critique the Doctor, and the critique lands. (Of course, there’s something notable about how he then doesn’t sign the contract, essentially letting his arrogance endanger everyone’s lives – in discussions of the arrogance of the Tenth Doctor, this one doesn’t tend to crop up as much, but it’s probably one of the most direct examples of such.)

In a broader sense, though – considering the episode in hindsight, in light of the rest of River’s story – it’s a deeply emotional piece. There’s a real poignancy to River’s realisation here that this is the first time the Doctor has met her, calling forward to her discussion with Rory in Day of the Moon about the moment she fears most. It’s genuinely quite affecting; I’ve already mentioned how good Alex Kingston is in the role, but honestly, it bears repeating. It really is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role; I often talk about how actors elevate material, and yes, that is what she does here, but also it’s perhaps more accurate to say Kingston accentuates and embodies a script that’s already strong, and together the result just sings.

doctor who review silence in the library count the shadows vashta nerada river song alex kingston euros lyn steven moffat

When it comes to the rest of the episode, it’s perhaps more difficult to talk about; as ever with two-parters, it feels like seeing the conclusion is necessary to offering a fuller commentary. (Not just in terms of the basic plot stuff, for what its worth; one of the things I wanted to highlight was just how well Steven Moffat writes Donna, before deciding to hold that for next week, where she’ll be a bit more of a focal character.)

The Vashta Nerada are a fairly neat concept – an escalation of the ending of Blink, pervasive and ever-present, and easily translatable into a playground game to boot. (I’ve got no memory of actually avoiding Vashta Nerada, but equally, I went out of my way to eat fish custard, so I probably did this too.) It’s well directed, too, by Euros Lyn; there’s some effective lighting going on to sell the Vashta Nerada as a concept, and just generally a pretty nice control of tone throughout, creating some genuinely pretty tense moments.

Same goes for the Library, actually – an entire planet, turned into a library. (Although 4022 people really isn’t very many, is it? Perhaps it’s a very small planet.) Someone once remarked upon the number of concepts Steven Moffat will throw into any given episode – the majority of his stuff is just bursting with ideas really, and that’s particularly apparent here as he throws together several different high concepts that could justify episodes on their own. As, indeed, some of them later did!

Ultimately, in any case, I really liked Silence in the Library. I suspect I’d have enjoyed it more, actually, if I let myself watch Forest of the Dead immediately afterwards – I’ve been trying to preserve a degree of fealty to transmission, so it’ll be a week before I watch the next one. But, yeah, this was a great episode – the first properly great one in a while, to be honest. As evidenced, I suspect, by the fact I’ve had a lot more to engage with here!



Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Kiri was an engaging drama that raised a lot of questions, but offered few answers

Thematically, however, the series was weak; it gestured at larger ideas, broaching the topics of race and the role of the media, but was constrained in its interrogation of these ideas. Such concepts are a recurring thread across Kiri, but they’re generally left unexamined – a background presence, rather than the focus of any particularly sharp or incisive commentary. Writer Jack Thorne spoke about how he wanted the drama to “pose questions” rather than answer them necessarily, noting that he “always likes things where [he doesn’t] know the answer”. There’s a value to this, of course – and, indeed, a sense to it. Many of the ideas Kiri touches on are complex, lacking easy answers, yet there’s a feeling as well that the series just doesn’t entirely try to get to grips with them. Much of the complexity and nuance surrounding these concepts is acknowledged, but unexplored; there’s a lack of any real scrutiny to Kiri.

I liked Kiri, but also I kinda didn’t. Nuance! I’m not sure I got this article quite right, admittedly, but also I kinda did. More nuance!

Tell you what is odd, though – this was on Hulu in America, and went out under the National Treasure title, which was the title of one of Jack Thorne’s shows the year before. The two were pretty much unrelated, as far as I know, so that was an odd matchup.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | General TV Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Runaway Bride

doctor who the runaway bride review donna noble wedding christmas special russell t davies euros lyn tardis title sequence

I’m getting married today!

And so today we have the customary Doctor Who review, albeit not The Return of Doctor Mysterio – that’ll be up at some point tomorrow, or perhaps the day after. (Hopefully alongside The Husbands of River Song, which I unfortunately missed last year.)

No, we’ve here got The Runaway Bride, continuing with the ongoing retrospective of David Tennant’s era as the Doctor. I was quite determined to get this one posted today, simply because I’ve never missed an anniversary yet for these reviews, though I suspect I may end up cutting it rather fine with these ones into the next year. But we’ll see for now.

It’s hardly a new observation to note that, in this particular special, that Catherine Tate as Donna is representing the casual audience – most immediately, she’s the audience identification figure to whom everything is explained, but of course there’s also the fact that she’s missed all the other episodes of Doctor Who. Hungover during the last Christmas special, in Spain during the season finale, so on, so forth. Of course, that’s also interesting though is that Catherine Tate was cast in this role; while she’s arguably now known more for Doctor Who and Shakespeare (I recognise this is heavily debatable), at the time of The Runaway Bride, she’d recently finished starring in the third season of The Catherine Tate Show. This is Doctor Who colliding with another icon of popular culture…

… and, actually, being weirdly unrelenting in how firmly it makes the case for Doctor Who. Of course, going into it, I was well aware that Donna was representative of the general audience here – so I was expecting the episode to be far more in that vein. It’s not though, is it? A lot of it is reliant upon knowledge of previous episodes – or, at least, if not reliant upon it, The Runaway Bride certainly assumes a certain knowledge. The Santa robots, for example, have very little explanation or set up; the Christmas trees are a direct callback to The Christmas Invasion; Torchwood plays a heavy role in the plot of the episode. There’s even the new series’ first reference to Gallifrey, for the older generation of anoraks.

And in general, that was just quite an interesting facet of the episode, to my mind. The Christmas special, intended for a mass audience and designed to have broad appeal, and yet it assumes the people watching are, by and large, Doctor Who fans. More than that: if they’re not, they should be! Understandable, given that the intention for this is perhaps also to attract more of an audience next year, but it’s really nice to see this episode making that statement of validity, and really reaffirming it across the entirety of its runtime.

doctor who the runaway bride review david tennant catherine tate donna noble wedding russell t davies euros lyn ten years of the tenth doctor

Notable also is the characterisation of the Doctor; this is the episode in which Russell T Davies most overtly established that idea that he needs someone to travel with, which remained a prominent theme for the rest of his era, and arguably still until today. Consider, after all, the scene in Heaven Sent where the Twelfth Doctor declares he always needs an audience, and that recurring idea throughout Moffat’s tenure that ‘the Doctor’ is an ideal to live up to for the madman in the box. It’s a clever touchstone, and one that makes the character more interesting than if he were simply a paragon of virtue at all times.

Also worthy of comment, though, is Donna. I don’t think Catherine Tate gets enough credit for this episode, actually; received wisdom is always that she plays a very broadly comedic character here, essentially out of one of her sketch shows, and it was only during series four that Donna received any real depth.

Unarguably, the character was expanded during her later appearances – of course she would be, that’s only natural when one compares thirteen forty-five minute episodes with one hour long special. But it’s actually worth looking at the arc Donna undergoes in this episode, and remarking upon the quieter moments. Certainly, Tate does a good job of selling Donna’s grief after Lance’s betrayal, and it’s actually quite moving – I’d argue that it’s impactful because of the tonal shift, because it’s the first time we’re forced to engage with Donna as a character, rather than merely a caricature. It’s quite effective, and I think justifies a lot of the tonal shifts within the episodes; often that’s pointed to as a weakness, and while that’s fair, I think it’s paid off by these quiet moments.

In general, that’s one of the strengths of Russell T Davies’ writing; the ability to encapsulate broad, sweeping spectacle, with quieter and more human moments. It’s particularly well suited to a Christmas episode, where you need to encompass that breadth more than ever.

doctor who the runaway bride review sarah parish gallifrey racnoss drown torchwood euros lyn russell t davies red spider

Beyond that? What stood out to me most was the Empress of the Racnoss. More than anything, I realise that she actually had a personality; there was a certain sardonic wit to her that I didn’t particularly remember. It’s a great performance from Sarah Parish which goes a long way towards creating a really fascinating monster; of course, the spectacular design work must be commended as well. Really, it’s an amazing piece of work. (Though the gift of hindsight is now making me wonder if RTD had a ticklist of animals that he worked his way through across his time on the show…!)

Admittedly, the episode isn’t perfect. Some of the direction does, I think, leave a little to be desired – there’s a lot of shaky camera movements combined with closeups, particularly during the scenes with the Racnoss, which obscures what’s happening onscreen. It’s a little bit irritating, and doesn’t seem to serve any particular purpose.

More notable – and your mileage may vary to what extent this is a problem, though – the episode isn’t exactly very Christmassy, is it? In contrast to prior and successive years, much of the Christmas elements of The Runaway Bride feel somewhat tacked on. This is an episode coincidentally set at Christmas, rather than a Christmas episode. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a bit of a bother for an episode which is meant to be the Christmas special. (Of course, I’d argue the same problem plagued The Return of Doctor Mysterio, so it’s clearly not always an easy one to overcome.)

Regardless: The Runaway Bride is a fun and entertaining episode of Doctor Who, which manages to not only further the Doctor’s character arc, but create a new character in Donna who already has enough potential to be one of the best companions of the revived series. It’s difficult to term any episode that manages that a failure.


And a very Merry Christmas, to all of you at home!


Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Fear Her

doctor who fear her review matthew graham euros lyn olympics brexit russell t davies chloe webber isolus scribble monster

There’s a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive… wormhole refractors… You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold.

It’s odd, because I find myself in the position where I’m writing a review of another critically maligned episode of Doctor Who, just a week after the last one. The general consensus from a lot of people is that Fear Her is a pretty awful episode; it came in at 240/241 in the recent-ish DWM First 50 Years poll, with an average score of about 4/10, and a whole twenty places lower than Love & Monsters. In the 2009 Mighty 200 poll, it was in 192nd place, while Love & Monsters was at 153. During the actual 2006 season poll, it also came last, falling just a few hundredths of a percentage short of Love & Monsters.

That’s actually quite interesting, you know. I knew it had a poor reputation, but I didn’t realise that it was – by every popular metric – actually considered a fair bit worse than Love & Monsters; the way fandom talks about them, I’d sort of expected it to be the reverse. I’m actually feeling a little validated in my appreciation of Love & Monsters, as it goes. Nonetheless, I’m always inclined to be positive towards and defend Doctor Who – so what’s the real situation with Fear Her?

Actually – and indeed quite weirdly – I realised that this episode might well be one of the ones I remember best from Series 2. Which is not to say it made any particular impression on me, or that it was very good; one of those memories was the Cybermen in the next time trailer, after all. And even then, they’re pretty weird and idiosyncratic moments that I picked up on – I remember the girl who played Chloe Webber giving an interview on either Doctor Who Confidential or Totally Doctor Who, and playing a game on the Doctor Who website where a scribble monster chased you through a maze while that kookaburra song played. So, in terms of Alex’s Personal History of Doctor Who, I guess that makes Fear Her one of those important but utterly bizarre little details that you include to point out that the past really was another country.

Which isn’t to say that the episode doesn’t have some good stuff in it either, mind you; I think the interactions between the Doctor and Rose are quite well written in this episode, for example. (Even if, you know, Matthew Graham is riffing quite heavily on The Christmas Invasion in a way rather unlike essentially all of the other writers.) There’s undeniably a lot of fun stuff here, and I think if you’re the sort of person who derives a lot of enjoyment from seeing the Doctor and Rose together, you’re likely to enjoy this episode; they’re very clearly positioned as close friends, really enjoying their time together. Just mucking around through time, as pals. On the flip side of course, I am starting to understand why Rose does grate on some people – the sort of irreverence and playfulness in these scenes does straddle a thin line between fun and obnoxious, and if it’s not to your personal tastes, it’s the sort of thing that could very easily dissolve any and all enjoyment you’re getting from those scenes.

doctor who fear her review rose tyler billie piper scribble dad closet monster drawing abusive dad chloe webber matthew graham euros lyn o

Another interesting thing that this episode tries for is a sort of… I want to call it “social realism”, but I’m not sure that’s the right term for what I’m trying to convey. I imagine it’ll become more apparent shortly, in any case.

Immediately speaking, it is difficult for something like Doctor Who to do those “near future” stories – while in 2006 they may not have known that the show would still be running in 2012 (even if it turned out to not actually be on the TV very much that year) and beyond, it was, so we can look at this episode and point out all the little errors. “Shayne Ward’s Greatest Hits” is laughable in hindsight; he’s become my go to reference for an obscure musician. David Beckham carried the Torch, not David Tennant, and it didn’t even look like that anyway.

Mind you, they got one thing right – there was absolutely some panic about empty seats!

Still, though, those are just surface details, and we can forgive those in the same way we forgive historical inaccuracies – it’s the same thing, just from the other perspective. When it gets down to it, there’s a much deeper tension to this episode in terms of its attempts to tackle what are, essentially, real world issues. It’s epitomised at the beginning of the episode, really; upon seeing the missing children posters, Rose asks “What sort of person would do this sort of thing?”, and she’s sad in the same way many of us are sad, confronted with the horrors of the real world. That sort of self-defeating horror and sadness where we’re all resigned to the facts of it anyway.

And then the Doctor says “What makes you think it’s a person?”, before dashing off. The implication being, then, that it’s aliens.

In and of itself, I’m not really sure how well something like that works. It feels very crass to bring up something that is, in fact, a genuine real world horror, and then just explain it away with that kind of fictional logic – oh, it’s just aliens. But, then again – murder is a genuine real world horror, and we have aliens murdering people all the time. So, you know, why not? What makes this tasteless but that okay? I do find it hard to say, and I’d be interested in other people’s opinions if you want to drop me an ask.

It does get worse though, and I’m much more inclined to be emphatic in describing this next bit as a mistake. Because this is the episode featuring a child who’s been a victim of domestic abuse, and the embodiment of her abusive father (who was killed while drink driving, let’s not forget) coming back to haunt her… all while children are being captured in drawings. Tonally, it’s a little mismatched; you’re dealing with some astonishingly dark stuff in this episode, to the point that I’d argue Fear Her may well be the darkest episode of the entire new series at this stage, and then you’ve also got the bloody scribble monster running around. While I don’t doubt that you could bind these things together into something really impressive, the fact is that Fear Her just sort of… doesn’t. There’s nothing going on beneath the surface here; it feels as though the abusive parents was just thrown in for the sake of it. And that is something that can only really be described as dropping the ball.

I am quite hard on Doctor Who when I feel like an episode has tried to tackle an overtly political theme, and then dropped the ball; Kill the Moon being an example in recent memory, though interestingly I was a lot less critical at the time than I remember. I suppose in my youth (!!) I was a bit more worried about openly stating political opinions on the blog like that. Fear Her feels like it fits into that same tradition; the story of abuse told here is done in such an awful, tone deaf way as to make the episode deeply, deeply uncomfortable.

Weirdly, that’s actually the second time this season we’ve got a particularly tone deaf story about parental abuse – The Idiot’s Lantern made a similar hash of the whole thing, but at least also had the courtesy to be sort of interesting to watch most of the time. Fear Her really does just sort of feel a lot like filler, with not a huge amount going on other than the crappy stuff.

doctor who fear her review david tennant olympic torch flame opening ceremony london 2012 tenth doctor matthew graham

There’s another thing in there that I think is perhaps worth talking about though, particularly today. I’m not sure to what extent what I’m saying will be particularly coherent, or indeed insightful; it may simply be that I ruin some perfectly entertaining Doctor Who commentary with a load of old nonsense. We shall see, however.

Much is made of the Olympics in this episode. Particularly it’s the Oympics as a symbol of hopes and dreams and aspirations; the Olympics as a symbol of unity, and of love.

I’ve never really made up my mind on what I think about the Olympics, to be perfectly honest. I’ve never really been interested in sport, and at the time of the actual Olympics in 2012 I don’t think I actually watched very many of the events. In fact, I do actually recall ignoring one of the races to read a Doctor Who book, which probably tells you a lot about me – or perhaps tells you very little, given much of that could be surmised from the blog itself.

There is, of course, the fact that any sufficiently large organisation is going to experience issues with corruption – the Olympics is no exception. Just look at Rio, really; that could well be a disaster. While as far as I’m aware the London ones went reasonably well (and I stress that awareness is a limited one) it’s to be acknowledged that the Olympics in practice aren’t always what the Olympics symbolise in theory.

But it is very nice symbolism, isn’t it? The world, drawing together, to celebrate skills and abilities and, above all, to have a bit of fun together.

And that is, in a roundabout way, what this episode was trying to say. That we’re all better off together. That strength is found in communities; that isolationism ultimately only hurts us.

That what we need is a hand to hold.

In a strange cosmic coincidence, then, the anniversary of Fear Her – the episode dedicated to a moment which, in many ways, defined us as a nation – has fallen on a day which will also come to define Britain for a very long time.

Now, I don’t know about you, but… I think I’d rather reach for the optimism of the Olympics than the alternative posed to us today.


(I mean, for all the nice Olympic symbolism, the episode was still a bit naff – I’m only being kind because of the extenuating circumstances!)


Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Idiot’s Lantern

doctor who review the idiot's lantern mark gatiss florizel street the wire maureen lipman eddie connolly euros lyn russell t davies

Are you sitting comfortably?

I wasn’t exactly very involved in fan circles when this episode came out – excluding the playground, of course – so I’m not exactly hugely in tune with the received wisdom of this one, or indeed a lot of the early Davies/Gardner era stuff. I have mostly just tended to take the view that it’s all brilliant; usually it is.

Gatiss in particular has something of a reputation for writing some clunky episodes. I always sort of resist that reputation, because I’ve typically enjoyed (or remembered enjoying) his episodes at time of broadcast. (I think I was one of the very few people who actually really liked Sleep No More.)

But then, there is the fact that a lot of these episodes aren’t stories I’ve ever really watched critically. The Idiot’s Lantern was never really one I opted to rewatch frequently, so the only impression I had of it was the initial enjoyment – but, to be perfectly honest, at the age of eight I loved every single episode, with very little else to say. It was Doctor Who, and it was the best thing on television, and thus that was that.

When I’m watching them now, though, ten years later, they’re all getting something of a reappraisal. And admittedly, it does have to be said, The Idiot’s Lantern isn’t actually all that great. (There is a part of me that is genuinely worried I’ll get to my favourite episode of the series, and it won’t live up to my expectations.)

Don’t get me wrong, of course – I think it’s probably clear that preamble is leading to a criticism of this episode. It is, because there are problems with the episode. But there’s a lot of good stuff here too, and I think that’s worth commending and commenting on.

Evil TV is a wonderfully, uniquely Doctor Who idea. Of course this show, of them all, is going to put forward the dangers of watching too much TV – it’s not just twisting the mundane into something frightening, like the plastic sunflowers or vinyl chairs, but it’s something that is part of Doctor Who. That is a fantastic concept; not entirely dissimilar from the Weeping Angels, in a way, where the whole point is that you can’t hide behind the sofa. (Though, on the subject of the Weeping Angels, I wonder if perhaps this episode would have been improved with a Blink-esque final sequence to suggest that all TVs, even in the present day, remain dangerous?)

The episode is also very funny – to be expected, perhaps, given Gatiss’ comedy background. (I mean, I’ve never actually seen League of Gentlemen, but they were funny when they were on Horrible Histories together.) Lots of very good jokes in there; the one typically picked up on is where Crabbe tries to wrap his fingers around his elbow after the Doctor’s flippant rebuke of the Detective Inspector. (I just tried myself. It is, I can confirm, impossible.)

So, you know, all of that is good…

doctor who review the idiot's lantern mark gatiss david tennant billie piper motorbike scooter elvis hair mary poppins

… but the episode is sorely lacking in other places.

I think the main problem arises when the episode sidelines Rose from the narrative. (You can, of course, read a level of positivity from this, because Gatiss had done quite a good job of writing Rose up until the point when she was removed. Generally good lines all round, Billie Piper did a great job with the performance, it was all going quite well. Up until it wasn’t, really.)

On one level, it’s a shame because it means Tennant doesn’t have Piper to work with here. In the early part of the episode, their chemistry and interplay with one another really helped to enliven the episode – Tennant with DI Bishop and Tommy Connelly (more on whom later) just doesn’t have anywhere near the same spark. It is, ultimately, just a little less interesting with Rose gone.


See, I just went and looked up some of the production history for this episode, on the Shannon Sullivan website. (It’s a great resource if you’re at all interested in how Doctor Who is made, and how the stories evolved from their original conception.) What I found out, then, was that this episode was in the fourth production block, and so was one of the later episodes in the production run.

That was a surprise, because from David Tennant’s performance, I could have sworn it was one of the earlier episodes to be recorded.

Saying that I feel a little guilty, because it just seems sort of… it doesn’t feel right to critique David Tennant’s acting. I mean, quite apart from the fact that he extremely well renowned and has received many an accolade, whereas I would have trouble as a non-speaking extra, there’s also the fact that he’s, you know, the Doctor.

But the fact remains that his performance just doesn’t quite work after Rose’s disappearance, because Tennant doesn’t seem to have figured out how to do an angry Doctor properly. Which is weird, I guess, because I seem to remember it working well enough in New Earth, but perhaps the difference is that here all he’s being given to do is essentially just be angry.

It is jarring, to say the least. Something which stands out to me is a point at which he yells in Tommy’s face, for no apparent reason – I think it’s supposed to be read as the Doctor feeling galvanised, because he’s just had a realisation, but it just comes across as deeply uncomfortable, on account of how harshly the line is delivered.

So, yeah. There’s not really any way of getting around this. Once Rose is gone, Gatiss just sort of writes an angry Doctor, and David Tennant can’t get that to work. It’s a shame, really, because it constricts the episode a lot.

doctor who review the idiot's lantern mark gatiss eddie tommy conolly rory jennings jamie foreman father florizel street

The other big problem and point of contention is the issue of Tommy and his father Eddie. It’s worth unpacking this one a little, I think.

Eddie as a character seems complex, but I suppose in reality it’s more applicable to describe him as messy, or even bungled. There are certainly a lot of scenes, at least initially, which seem to be aiming at depicting him as being something of a weak man, who does the things he does out of fear, but despite this is still a largely good person. You can see this from the fact that he is quite blatantly terrified by what’s going on around him; it’s particularly evident early on, regarding Gran who has her face stolen. And there are moments where he is nice to Tommy, and appears to be caring towards his wife. So, maybe he’s not completely irredeemable?

Arguably, this is something of a theme within the episode: weak men who are limited because of their fears. You’ve got Eddie Connolly, who’s clearly insecure and frightened, hiding behind this veneer of strength and all the associated bluster. There’s Magpie too, who does what he does because he’s scared of the Wire. Even Detective Inspector Bishop could be considered to fall into this mould, given that he simply rounds up the faceless people rather than dealing with them, instead of going out and doing his job properly.

That’s why Tommy is such a sympathetic character, then; he’s scared, yes, but he rises above it and goes further and does more. It was the third Doctor who once said that courage is being scared, but doing what you have to do anyway – and Tommy exemplifies that really well. (Hence, perhaps, his being dressed in similar colours to the Doctor.) It even fits in with the general idea raised by the Doctor at the end, that this is a brand new nation, shrugging off the shadows of war, with no place for men like Eddie Connolly.

Because that’s the other thing. For all that you can make a redemptive reading of Eddie, there are some things you can’t get around – he is also a horrible person. We feel so triumphant when the Doctor and Rose take him down a peg, because he’s a bully. He’s just not a very nice guy. He’s shout-y and angry and aggressive (making the Doctor seem unfortunately similar to him at times) and it is certainly quite heavily implied that he’s abusive towards his wife and child.

It is worth noting, too, that Tommy is gay. That’s the subtext, here, but it’s not exactly subtle – references to “mummy’s boys” and Tommy saying he wants to be able to love anyone he chooses makes it clear enough what the intention is. He was at one point going to admit a crush on the Doctor, but RTD cut that as he decided it was too far.

So, you know, Eddie Connolly isn’t just a horrible person, he’s also abusive, as well as being sexist and homophobic.

The message is absolutely that he should be left behind, and that the episode should unequivocally end with him being cast off and left behind.

But then we have Rose convincing Tommy he needs his father in his life. Which is spectacularly wrongheaded, really.

I mean, how is that meant to be taken? Is it a clever indictment of the 1950s, with Gatiss actually levelling a criticism at this era, and pointing out that even despite the air of optimism and the fact they cast off the shadows of war, some archaic attitudes remained? Or is it suggesting that we should still treat horrible people with a level of decency, even if they don’t extend the same kindness to us?

Of the two interpretations, I prefer the former. That would go some length towards salvaging the episode, certainly.

At the minute, though, it just feels like there were a lot of clever ideas, which all fell apart over the course of the script. And that’s a shame, really.



Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Girl in the Fireplace

doctor who the girl in the fireplace review steven moffat euros lyn david tennant sophia myles billie piper noel clarke ar

One may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel.

With a degree of hindsight, this episode is in fact rather fascinating – the lens of history gives it a whole new meaning, in a manner not entirely dissimilar from the time windows of The Girl in the Fireplace.

Steven Moffat, who wrote this episode, is something of a big deal. You may have heard of him? He’s been the head writer of Doctor Who since 2010, and is now preparing to embark on what will no doubt be his final victory lap, with the 2017 series being his last in the role of showrunner. Moffat has been an undeniably controversial figure, and while I’ve not enjoyed every aspect of his tenure, I’d be one of the first to attest that he is an undeniably talented writer as well.

Looking back, a lot of the key themes that he was interested in are on display here – you can almost consider this as something of a trial run. The first episode of the Moffat era, right here in 2006! True, some of it is pretty surface level (for example, the three person TARDIS team is an idea he returned to), however I would argue that there’s a lot more to it than this.

Take Moffat’s attitude towards the Doctor. I’ve often seen it stated that where Davies was interested primarily in the Doctor’s impact on other people, Moffat was fascinated by the Doctor himself, in terms of his character and his reputation. It’s certainly an oversimplification, which disregards a lot of the nuance in their respective approaches, but you can certainly see the echoes of Moffat’s developing vision of the Doctor.

To Moffat, the Doctor has always been the coolest person in the room – you can see that in the way Tennant effortlessly commands the ballroom in Versailles, with everyone focused on him. He’s charming and charismatic and the centre of everything that goes on around him. The Doctor is also the fairytale hero and imaginary friend – but he’s not left behind with childhood, not at all. The Doctor can and will remain a part of your life, always there when you need him. (One wonders if there’s a personal level to that!)

It remains more nuanced, though. Because the Doctor is wonderful – after all, one may tolerate a world of demons for the sake of an angel. And that’s what’s at the heart of Moffat’s vision of the Doctor, I think; the idea that he is a wonderful, wonderful man.

There’s a lot of other trademark Moffatisms, to coin a phrase, across the course of this script. It is, obviously, extremely funny; any instance involving Arthur the Horse is more or less guaranteed to be gold, and Mickey gets some pretty great lines too. The dialogue throughout is inspired, of course, it’s not just limited to the jokes. Something that stood out to me was the Doctor saying to the Clockwork Man “I’m not winding you up”’; it’s the sort of thing that’d be overlooked, given that it’s not the funniest or the most quotable lines, but I thought it was a really clever piece of writing in terms of how the language was structured, and the general implications of it. (This is the English student in me talking.)

You’ve also got an effective villain with a suitably creepy motif (how clever was that scene with the broken clock?) and a subtle puzzle box structure threaded throughout, with a wonderfully clever reveal about Madame De Pompadour. It’s classic, classic Moffat.

And speaking of Madame De Pompadour…

doctor who the girl in the fireplace review sophia myles madame de pompadour renette poisson mindmeld lonely little boy

The backbone of this script is the relationship between Reinette and the Doctor – and this, of course, is what The Girl in the Fireplace is best remembered for. Russell T Davies always liked to talk about this one as having really pushed the boundaries of the Doctor’s character, and providing David Tennant with the opportunity to really demonstrate his range as an actor.

It is, generally, quite well handled. Obviously, 45 minutes is in fact not a lot of time, which can make it quite difficult to effectively write a convincing love plot – particularly when you’ve got to include subplots and spaceships and horses and monsters – but I think that The Girl in the Fireplace does a very good job of it. The time windows aspect helps; in exploring Reinette’s character across different stages of her life, there was a greater level of depth to her character.

Admittedly, it’s not perfect; for all that the Doctor talks of her being a wonderful actress or artist and suchlike, we don’t get the opportunity to actually see her talents in play. Unlike Dickens or Queen Victoria, you can’t really rely on the knowledge the audience already has of this figure, given that Madame de Pompadour is in fact a relatively obscure figure. More focus is placed on her position as mistress to the King than her own skills and attributes, to the extent that at times it feels like she’s being framed as important in terms of her relationship with him, rather than herself. (Even then, there’s limited explanation of the social context, and why this is important. There’s a funny joke about French people though, so we’ll call it a wash.)

Sophia Myles does a fantastic job of drawing it all together, though, and her performance is what really makes this work. There are a lot of fantastic scenes, all intended to endear us to her character; one of Myles’ best, I think, is during the ‘mind meld’ scene, as she gives a brief insight into the Doctor as a “lonely little boy, lonely then and lonelier now”. It’s rare that anyone gains such an insight into the Doctor, and you can understand why their relationship develops from this. That, and the fact that Reinette is a very elegant, and at times commanding figure; Myles gives a very mannered and complex performance, which suits the story very well!

In the end, though, the story is marked by tragedy. And it is a tragedy that the slow path robbed Reinette of another final meeting with the Doctor – but more than that, it’s simply a tragedy that this woman died so young. Everything has it’s time, and everything ends, but this should not have been her time. Her final letter to the Doctor is a poignant scene; it’s certainly one of Moffat’s most moving moments, with a real and genuine sense of pathos to it.

doctor who the girl in the fireplace review clockword droids france deep breath steven moffat euros lyn russell t davies s

It’s not just Moffat’s writing and Myles’ acting that makes this episode work, though; a concerted effort from all parties involved really makes it work.

Pre-revolutionary France is genuinely beautiful here – Ed Thomas did a stunning job on the design, and Euros Lyn did a similarly wonderful job with the direction. (The washed out, dull colours during the Doctor’s final trip to France are a particularly nice touch, in contrast to the warm yellows and oranges of his previous jaunts.) It’s a really well made piece of television, with an effective juxtaposition of the 51st Century spaceship and the 18th Century French palace. Really reminds you of the scope of Doctor Who; I think this is probably a wonderful episode to show someone if you want them to start to get involved with the programme.

Murray Gold has written some of his best music for this particular episode as well; certainly, it’s amongst his best scores during the RTD era. The Madame de Pompadour motif is a very moving melody, which really heightens the emotions of the scenes. Don’t take my word for it, though; the piece is here on YouTube. Excellent stuff – I’ve been playing it on a loop ever since I finished watching the episode a couple of hours ago.

There’s further advancement of Mickey and Rose; both Noel Clarke and Billie Piper do a fantastic job here. I’ve sort of neglected to mention them in previous weeks, largely because the focus has been on the new Doctor. That’s unfair, of course – both of them are very good at what they do, and they’re a huge part of the reason why Rose and Mickey are such compelling characters.

Ultimately, then, this is a particularly strong episode; it’s one of the highlights of the second series so far, and I think it’s one of Moffat’s strongest episodes to date. (I include the later aspects of his oeuvre in that statement – this is up there with other masterpieces like Heaven Sent!)

There is one word I keep coming back to, though, in describing this episode. Exquisite. Every aspect, every tiny detail – it’s exquisite.



Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: Tooth and Claw

doctor who tooth and claw russell t davies euros lyn werewolf host queen victoria torchwood review article ten years of the tenth doctor

And so begins the empire of the wolf.

An interesting thing, which I am starting to notice about these episodes, is that I’m actually quite familiar with them; part of the reason why I did my Ninth Doctor reviews was to refamiliarise myself with a character that had always been something of an enigma for me. I didn’t exactly know all of those series one episodes quite so well, and thus I often found myself quite surprised by them.

But that’s not quite the case with series two – there’s something almost reflexive about these, because I know them quite well. I think series two is probably the run of Doctor Who that I’ve watched the most, so it’s almost like it’s burned into my mind, in a way.

It’s difficult to approach it critically as a result of this; there’s something about it that just feels like trying to review the story of Robin Hood or some such similar. It feels like it just is, rather than being a piece of television that I can properly engage with.

Much the same applied to the Star Wars movies when I reviewed them in preparation for The Force Awakens, actually; because of how well I knew them, there was initially something difficult about finding anything particularly new or interesting to say about them.

Nonetheless! I do think there’s still a lot of nuance to pick up on in these episodes; there’s a reason why I came to know them so well, after all, and it’s because they are bloody good.

doctor who tooth and claw review russell t davies euros lyn torchwood queen victoria werewolf david tennant rose tyler billie piper tenth doc

One of the things which is most immediately noticeable about Tooth and Claw is, I think, quite how fast paced it is. Russell T Davies, in his wonderful book The Writer’s Tale, spoke about how this episode ran over by 10 minutes when it was first edited together; rather than cutting out any individual scenes, however, they chose to pare it back until it “moved like lightning”.

It’s a very effective choice; the pacing of Tooth and Claw does wonders for the tension of the episode, and helps to create an episode which is both exciting, and at times quite scary. Despite this, though, there’s also time to breath – the episode never feels overstuffed, and none of the different concepts ever feel like they’re struggling for room.

That helps a lot, I think; the tenser, scarier aspects of the episode only work as well as they do because we’re allowed the time to process them. The characters are beaten back – but when they are, we watch them regroup, we watch them think, and we watch them recover. This in turn is useful in establishing the Wolf (or, you know, the lupine wavelength haemovariform) as something to be afraid of across this episode.

Of course, the episode trades on a lot of iconography we already recognise; werewolves are the sort of horror monster that much of the audience are familiar with, and thus the imagery of the full moon and suchlike is already very evocative in this context. It’s great to see the new Doctor taking on this sort of monster – it fits into a great Doctor Who tradition of colliding with other genres, flitting around the format, and putting a unique spin on timeless stories.

Tooth and Claw does an impressive job of making the Wolf scary independently of what we already know, however, which is an achievement in and of itself. Like I’ve already said, the pacing of the episode brings a lot of tension to it; however, the way Euros Lyn, the director, manages to present the wolf is similar effective, with a very memorable sequence of the Wolf eating someone. Obviously, it’s not a visceral depiction of blood and claws, but rather lots of quick close ups intercut with one another – in some ways, it really makes the scene feel quite frenzied and manic, which I think is a really great way of working within the confines and limitations that are presented when trying to show a werewolf eat someone during tea time television.

Also rather creepy is the Host, despite his limited screentime; there’s something about his sickly pallor and jet black eyes which is deeply unsettling. (There’s a nice reversal of this at the end, with a touch of pathos as the Host is ‘drowned’.) The only thing that doesn’t quite work is the Shaolin Monks; while the concept of a clerical order devoted to worshipping the Wolf is fascinating, this is something that remains a pretty surface detail. As such, you end up with the impression that they were written for the visual, and the visual alone.

doctor who tooth and claw review dame rose tyler powell estate sir doctor tardis david tennant billie piper we are not amused werewolf

Another important aspect of this episode is to set the tone and direction for the character development of our TARDIS team across the series.

Here, we’re introduced to the Doctor and Rose as time travelling tourists; they’re having a hell of a lot of fun with what they’re doing. Mucking around in history, taking in the sights, really revelling in every experience. But, by the same measure, it’s made very clear that they’re in danger of losing perspective – while they sit around laughing, people have died. This is still real.

As a device, it’s a pretty clever one; we the audience are already predisposed to take the side of Rose and the Doctor, particularly when they’re so joyous. The “we are not amused” bet is a wonderful conceit, actually – not only is it indicative of how the two are treating their travels, as well as developing their relationship some more, it gets the audience involved. Of course we’re expecting Queen Victoria to say “we are not amused”, because if she didn’t, it’d be like a Charles Dickens story without ghosts, or a Shakespeare story without witches.

But it means that we’re guilty of the same mistakes – we get so caught up in the fun and the adventure and the laughter, we aren’t aware of the costs. Not the way we should be.

Speaking with ten years of hindsight, it’s clear that this is a rather influential episode; again, we’re seeing the foundations of the Tenth Doctor’s arrogance, which will come to plague him in subsequent years. On top of that, though, it’s similar to the arc we saw Clara taking last year, explored in Face the Raven, and resulting in her eventual demise (of a sort).

I’m looking forward to seeing the consequences of this, and the manner in which it develops over the course of the series – there’s something rather mysterious about that Torchwood Institute that Queen Victoria was talking about, don’t you think?

All in all, then, we’ve got another very strong episode here. Interestingly, it was written as a late replacement script, when another writer’s attempt at making something of the premise fell flat. Frankly, you’d never be able to tell – this is a very polished effort, and it’s a fine hour of Doctor Who.



Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index