The time is right

The last time I talked about Doctor Who, I was pondering the news that Peter Capaldi would be stepping down from the show. I talked about the rumours that there might be a female Doctor and how I wasn’t sure that’s where I wanted the show to go. Well, that’s where the show is going and I have completely changed my mind. I’m on board. I can’t wait to see what Jodie Whittaker does with the role and I think it’s a fab breath of fresh air into the show.

However, as I said in that last post:

I worry that I will be captivated by whoever takes over and then have to sit through all the previous episodes to catch up with the show.

Ding, ding, ding! That’s exactly what happened. And not only did I decide to catch up on the episodes featuring Mr Capaldi but I went right back to the beginning. I journeyed through the now less-intriguing first series, through the wonderful Tennant years, through the rollercoaster of emotions that was the Pond era, and then to Clara.

Oof.

What I have discovered with this recent rewatch, which I finished just a few days ago, is that although Capaldi is not my favourite incarnation of the Doctor, I don’t think it was him that turned me off the show.

His series with Bill and Nardole was so much better than the one that went before it, and by the time Clara exited the show, I was more than ready to get her off my screens. It’s not even that Jenna Coleman was doing a bad job, and I think there was a very interesting nugget of something in her increasing recklessness towards the end that finally caught up with her. But that character just grated on me in all the wrong ways.

So freed of Soufflé Girl’s influence, things took an interesting turn. I could have done without the constant appearances of the guitar, and I’m really not sure what I make of sonic sunglasses, but generally, Capaldi did a better job than I initially thought.

Skipping his series’ meant I had also previously missed out on Missy, and my god, I love that rogue Time Lord. Michelle Gomez has been a firm favourite since Green Wing and her in turns manic, crazy, fun-loving, eventually perhaps just maybe doing the right thing, version of the Master was brilliant. Those last few episodes where Missy managed to catch up with herself were brilliant.

And I must say that final episode, Twice Upon a Time, well I did cry at that. It led us nicely on to the Thirteenth Doctor, who is sure to be lucky for some (and probably unlucky for others). The Doctor Who Twitter account keeps on asking: “The Doctor is ready. Are you?” And finally I can say, I am.

Who next for Doctor Who?

doctor-who-logoIt was announced a couple of weeks ago that Peter Capaldi will be stepping down from the BBC role everyone’s talking about – no, not the lead of whatever baking show will replace GBBO, but in fact, the titular role of Doctor Who. It’s no secret that Capaldi hasn’t been my favourite Doctor, and I’ll admit that I have watched only two episodes of his since his tenure began. So unlike many, I’m glad that the show is adapting and changing once again, and I can only hope the replacement is more to my tastes.

The trouble is, I don’t know if those tastes align with the show anymore at all. The latest batch of Doctor Who has turned me off the show as a whole – I haven’t felt a need to revisit some of the greater times of Tennant and Smith. I rewatch TV shows quite often, using them as a good background distraction when working on a variety of projects. Have I  grown out of the show? For a while, I did think perhaps I was too old for it now, until I realised that one of my favourite movies of last year was Zootropolis, I laugh endlessly at Minions no matter what they’re doing, and I have a subscription to the Disney Channel app. Probably not that then.

It can only be that the current lineup hasn’t fostered my interest – and that’s not just actors. People tell me that the showrunner takes a lot of the blame, that Capaldi is wonderful but he has dire scripts to work with. I couldn’t argue either way, but if that’s true, it’s a shame and thus a good job that dear Moffat is standing down too.

I worry that I will be captivated by whoever takes over and then have to sit through all the previous episodes to catch up with the show. It’s a monster of the week structure at heart, DW, but there are often things you need to have seen in previous episodes to fully appreciate in current storylines.

So who is it going to be? I’m not foolish enough to guess. There’s a wishlist, of course. Ben Whishaw, Richard Ayoade, Adrian Lestor, anyone with the ability to find the quirky nature that really brings out the best in the role. There’s talk that Tilda Swinton is the current favourite but I’m not sure I want a female Doctor. I’d rather the females had their own awesome storylines, with Sarah Jane’s spin-off adventures a fine example.

For now, we’re just left waiting to see who will take over the much-coveted role, and I’m left wondering whether it will be someone so brilliant I’ll have to sit through Capaldi’s back catalogue, or simply let the show stay with its younger audiences.

Hating on eight – Capaldi’s Doctor leaves me cold

I gave it four episodes, and in the end I’m going to have to admit that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor – so far – is not for me. The first episode I had to give the benefit of the doubt because it was a regeneration episode, one in which the characters were finding their feet and getting to know each other all over again.

The second episode was instantly forgettable – something about a Dalek? The third was more entertaining, but for the Robin Hood aspect rather than the Doctor being the star of the show. When he was shooting the arrows, I just thought… this doesn’t feel right. I just finished watching the fourth episode in the series, one which a few have claimed as one of the best, and it was fine, a bit tense, but ultimately not gripping.

I want to like this Doctor, Capaldi appears to be doing a fine job and plenty of people have lauded his commitment to the role. I’m just not feeling it at all. I can’t see any connection to the previous iterations, and there’s nothing captivating me about him. As I mentioned in that first episode review, he doesn’t appear to have a personality trait to latch on to. Except perhaps being mean to Clara.

I’m sad about that, I wanted this new partnership to work. I’m relieved that the relationship between Clara and this older version of the Doctor isn’t awkward like I worried it might be. They seem to get on fine. But for me, Clara has never had the same presence as some of the companions that have gone before, and if you combine that with a Doctor that is also lacking, then there isn’t much to cling on to.

So maybe I’ll give the rest of the series a miss. Maybe I’ll check back in if there’s another cast change or something mega to watch for. Maybe not. It’s okay, there are plenty of other things out there for me to watch. And from the tweets I’ve seen that say “thank god, Doctor Who is finally watchable again”, there’ll be more than enough viewers ready to take my place.

Doctor Who, Series 8 – Deep Breath

Doctor Who finally returns to our screens after a lengthy wait since the Christmas regeneration special. And was it worth it? Erm, no. Sadly, I didn’t like this episode at all, and I will expand on that further below. It’s nice to have the show back though, and even nicer to see the addition of Doctor Who Extra – a bonus ten minutes of content, online, in a replacement for the much-missed DW Confidential.

My feelings about this first episode of the eighth series of New Doctor Who can, and should, be split into two distinct factions – thoughts on the Doctor himself, and then on his introductory story.

New Doctor Who

I was right there with some of the first people suggesting it was time for Matt Smith to move on. He’d done an awful lot during his time in the TARDIS, and it felt like it was the right time for a change. I was a bit skeptical when Peter Capaldi was first confirmed as the Doctor, way back in the midst of 2013, but willing to give it a shot.

He’s a bit older, heaped with gravitas, and clearly a huge fan of the show.

Sadly, this first episode didn’t give him the chance to deliver anything, at all. It was a regeneration episode, where he’s not himself, that much we have to understand. David Tennant’s first episode had him asleep in pyjamas for much of the screen time.

But with DT, there was a big lovely moment of redemption. The Doctor took control, had an epic sword fight and generally won the day. This time, our new Doctor sort of won the day (did he fall or was he pushed?) but it was done sitting down having a cup of tea. After spending a lot of time being dazed, confused and oh-so-ridiculously needy. Maybe this is the new style of Doctor, less sword-fighting, more negotiating. We’ll have to wait and see.

I was also a bit disappointed at the lack of real character on display. Ecclestone had that wide-eyed naivety, Tennant that good-looking intensity and Smith that quirky energy. What I got from Capaldi was that he’s… Scottish. Hopefully there’ll be more to come from this because it wasn’t a great start.

Take a deep breath

Many of these problems can be attributed to the episode rather than Capaldi himself, though. I just didn’t find this one at all interesting, and even muted it halfway through to record a sixty second podcast instead. The story felt recycled (even though the Doctor spent much of his time admitting that and wracking his brains to figure out why), the characters jumpy and the snippy one-liners felt tired.

Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax were there, but not really integral to the plot – aside from that rather excellent descent into the fight towards the end. The restaurant scene was well-written and acted, a tough one to have such a long dialogue between actors getting to know each other – but it still didn’t really move us forward at all.

The Doctor’s need to have Clara like him was so prevalent and whinging at the start, when he was still under the effects of the regeneration, but then when we were supposed to get emotional with him at the end – I didn’t buy it. I also thought it was a mistake to have Matt Smith’s appearance there. A great cameo and a well-kept secret, but it made me miss what we had and want that back.

I’m disappointed with this opening episode of the new series, and the new era, but not despondent. It wouldn’t be fair to judge Capaldi on this episode alone but if things don’t pick up in the next one (Daleks!), I might give this series a miss.

Doctor Who, Christmas special – The Time of the Doctor

This Christmas special found itself with a really difficult task to accomplish. Following the almost-perfect anniversary special was always going to be difficult, but it also had to steer clear of the normal festive schmultz to head rapidly towards a regeneration.

It was still a heartwarming piece in places, the children of the town called Christmas, the Doctor’s dedication to staying in spite of himself, and Clara’s constant despair at being left behind.

There was a lot about this episode that I didn’t really understand. All the different enemies coming back together, how and why and what and who. The Doctor’s aging process. The whole 13th regeneration thing. He said it wasn’t possible and then did it anyway.

The high priest nun lady was half a Dalek but able to control that enough to not be a Dalek at all. Were we supposed to be emotional about that part? It’s hard to tell. Where did the Cyberman head come from?

Some of the unexplained story of the Silence was determined, but other things were left hanging in the air. More questions were raised than answered, but that’s the way of Doctor Who these days.

Previously, when I haven’t necessarily followed the intricacies of an episode, I have gone back and rewatched it, but to be honest, I have no desire to do that with this one.

Whilst the job it faced was hard, it did the main things that it needed to – give Matt Smith the chance to say goodbye, and welcome Peter Capaldi into the chaotic world of the TARDIS.

The brief sight of Amy Pond bidding farewell to her Raggedy Man was pretty much all I needed to see. The rest was just noise.

It’s going to be something new with Capaldi, I’ve not really seen much of the older-style Doctor in action. Already, the reaction of Clara to him mirrors my own – shock, horror, but enough of a tinge of intrigue to make it a worthwhile journey.

Doctor Who: 50th anniversary special – The Day of the Doctor

I managed to miss a lot of the hype surrounding the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who. Obviously in the run up to the episode airing, it was almost impossible to take an online step without finding something related to the sci-fi show, but before that, I’d side-stepped most of it. I knew of the Billie Piper/David Tennant return, and was obviously expecting an appearance from this new rogue Doctor we were introduced to at the end of the previous episode, but that was it.

The mini episode preview, with Paul McGann was brilliant. I don’t have a lot of knowledge about anything before “New Who” but I know that Paul’s TV movie and his countless hours of work doing the radio programmes created plenty of debate over whether they were officially canon or not. His appearance was fantastic, not only because it was a fascinating scene, and not only because I’m partial to a McGann here and there, but because it rewarded him for his tireless efforts. I reckon it’s about time I checked out those radio plays of his!

With little knowledge of the episode, then, I sat down to watch on Saturday night, already in a celebratory mood due to finishing exams and F1 in the same week. Once the extended hour and a bit long episode had finished, my immediate reaction was this:

And here’s why.

They’re screwdrivers! What are you going to do, assemble a cabinet at them?

The beauty of this episode was the little things. The small nods to inside jokes and rewards for those who have been watching long enough to get them. The little snippets of dialogue that can only work when you get two or three of the same eccentric characters in the same place at the same time.

Highlights include the reference to screwdrivers, the kissing, the reaction to the old and new TARDIS layouts, timey-wimey, the return of Allons-y! There’s so much to love. My only disappointment on that front was my own fault, it took me a long time to be able to take John Hurt seriously… “In a time of myth and a land of magic, etc, etc.”

doctor-who-50a-2

Of course, as a fan of David Tennant’s Doctor, his return was particularly special. It was painful to watch The Doctor and something shaped like Rose be in the same room without interacting, but I can understand why that had to happen. We had the joy of Billie’s return without what would have had to be a pretty dismissive reunion if the rest of the story was to be fitted in. Doctor 10’s reaction to the Bad Wolf reference showed that we’d need more than a few minutes to get the pair back together.

What’s our cover story for this? Um, Derren Brown.

It’s fair to say that the story of the Zygons was really just there for the rest to hang on. It allowed us to see more of the lovely Kate Stewart and the quite fun Osgood (great scarf), but it wasn’t a strong narrative. The big epic conclusion ended with two of Kate negotiating at the same table, never to be heard from again.

The paintings were great, 3D designs that blew the mind just a little bit. I also particularly enjoyed the bit where the guy took a phone call and we didn’t know what it was all about, but later on it was all revealed. That’s the time travel stuff that makes me tingle.

I didn’t think an awful lot of Joanna Page as the Queen. She’s great, but the Welsh accent was barely disguised at all! And there’s nothing wrong with a Welsh accent, except I don’t think that Queen Elizabeth had one. Still, when has Doctor Who ever been historically accurate? Maybe, along with having a husband all of a sudden, this is another thing that can be rewritten.

doctor-who-50a

Calling the War Council of Gallifrey, this is the Doctor.

The bit that really mattered, aside from the side-plot of Zygons and the light relief of many-Doctors, was the saving of Gallifrey. The home planet of the Doctor doesn’t mean all that much to me, only that it clearly means an awful lot to him. The guilt of being the only survivor was also the guilt of being the one that caused the destruction – sacrificing some to save many.

It reminded me of the episode about Pompeii, (oddly also starring Peter Capaldi), where the Doctor has to push the trigger for the volcano, knowing exactly what it will do. And there’s Donna to help him out with it. Here, it was not about the companion, though, it was about the Doctor helping himself and freeing himself.

I was worried for a little while that they were going to suddenly save Gallifrey, and then all of the many episodes we’ve witnessed with our new Doctors would be rewritten, and he would wake up in the shower and it would all have been a dream. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. The result was a nice halfway point, where, as the Doctor so eloquently put it, there is hope which is more than what they had with the other option.

The appearance of all the other Doctors as the planet was frozen in time was brilliant, but quickly overshadowed by the curator. Even if Tom Baker isn’t known to me as a Doctor, I knew it was a special moment and it still felt special. Matt Smith’s sort of bumbling excitement looked all too genuine.

It really was a great hour of TV, and one I will happily rewatch over and over again. Which is more than can be said for a lot of the recent episodes! And now there is just a short time to wait until the Christmas special, where we will see how Matt Smith makes his grand exit, and the circumstances surrounding Peter Capaldi’s entrance. Anyone know what number Doctor Peter is actually going to be!?

The 12 step programme – Another new Doctor

peter-capaldiLast weekend, the BBC confirmed just who would be playing the brand new Doctor, the twelfth incarnation. You’ve no doubt heard by now that it is Peter Capaldi who is going to be on the other end of Matt Smith’s regeneration, and the reaction I’ve seen so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

It’s a stark contrast to when Smith was presented as the Eleventh Doctor. A startlingly young, unknown actor, which immediately created something of a backlash amongst certain Who fans. This time, the casting is older, established and a very interesting choice.

I have mixed feelings about Capaldi stepping into the TARDIS. I think he’ll be really good, I loved his performance in The Hour and also remember him fondly as Sid’s dad from Skins. I don’t know of Malcolm Tucker because any clips I’ve ever seen from The Thick of It terrify me.

That is part of my concern. The serious roles I’ve seen Capaldi do are more schoolteacher-ish than anything, and the comedy roles are about as adult as it gets. Are either of those going to be enticing and/or suitable for kids? I know the early Doctors were older and more serious, but this new generation has been either too-cool-for-school in black leather jackets, or becoming increasingly wacky. Some of the newer fans might not be ready for the culture shock of your headmaster suddenly playing your favourite alien.

It’s a slight concern that kids or… well, anyone might find clips of Tucker’s outbursts online, in the hopes of seeing Peter Capaldi in action. That’s not to say actors who sign up to Doctor Who can’t have done anything beforehand – even David Tennant played the rather risqué Casanova before he started waltzing around the time vortex. The peril of selecting an established and older name is that they’re going to have a rich history of work, not all of it appropriate for your new audience.

I also have a distinctly uncomfortable feeling about Clara’s continued role as companion, travelling with a man at least twice her age. It’s all innocent and it’s all fine, but it just feels like it’s treading a fine line and making an unnecessary complication for the writers. I did see someone hoping and praying that this would mean less of the twenty-something companions and more variety. At first I was annoyed reading that, as it totally missed out Donna. But Donna is the exception to the rule, and as the Doctor-Donna has been my favourite partnership so far, any return to that dynamic is good in my book.

Ultimately, I have just a smidgeon of foreboding about the casting. The kind of small knot in your stomach where you can see why everyone else is excited and you don’t want to bring them down, but you’re just not quite there yet.

I am pretty much ALWAYS proved wrong in these things, which is the dream, because it means Doctor Who post-Smith will be just as good or even better.