Doctor Who – Rosa – Series 11 Episode 3 Review

Now firmly established in its Sunday night slot, Doctor Who delivered yet another fantastic episode that had fans old and new stunned. Although the show has always been inherently political, as most science fiction is, rarely does it tackle politically charged historical moments head-on like it has done in this episode. With high stakes and nail-biting tension running throughout, this episode proves that Doctor Who can tackle these sorts of issues while still providing a great story and quality Sunday night entertainment. It has to be said, however, that this episode is not for the faint-hearted. It does not pull its punches. In fact, it might well be the most heavy-hitting episodes of Doctor Who in terms of real-life social issues in recent memory.

Before getting into the main story, Although it goes without saying at this point, Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor is absolutely fantastic, as always. She can perfectly balance the wit, wisdom and empathy that the Doctor embodies with her own high energy and enthusiasm. This episode gives us our first look at this particular Doctor’s darker side, however – the scenes between her and the main villain, Krasko, are perhaps some of the best character moments for her Doctor so far. We are treated to some more lighthearted moments with Thirteen, which are always welcome – and there are some great little tidbits that veteran fans will appreciate. Likewise, Graham brings a lot of heart to this episode and although Bradley Walsh often brings some lighthearted comic relief to the series, here he demonstrates his ability to play the companion role straight, and he is well on his way to becoming a fan favourite.

The rest of the TARDIS team are also on point in this story, and for the first time we see some real character development for the younger two of the group as they grapple with the intense and heavy-hitting racism that infests 1955 Alabama. Ryan, in particular, is targeted several times throughout the story and there are some scenes – and dialogue – that would not seem out of place in a production of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird as we see the uncomfortable but entirely necessary depiction of just how awfully black people were treated on a daily basis in this time period. Some of the more poignant moments in the story come when Ryan and Yaz talk about the situation as two 21st century youths experiencing segregation first-hand.

Speaking of which, the main bulk of the episode – dubbed ‘Operation: Rosa Parks’ by the Doctor – is to ensure that history plays out despite the intervention of a time-travelling racist from the future. Although it sounds ludicrous, the writers handle this situation with all due respect and dignity, and co-writers Chris Chibnall and Malorie Blackman have definitely made a fantastic contribution to Doctor Who’s already formidable array of excellent historical stories. The acting in this episode is also great – Vinette Robinson steals the show as Rosa Parks with a compelling performance, and her final scenes left many fans in tears.

Doctor Who is, and will hopefully forever remain, a show that will tackle important political and social issues head-on. Only last series, Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor punched an industrialist after he told black companion Bill to “stand in the presence of her betters”, and the Doctor’s attitude towards the sickening racism that pollutes human history has definitely been reemphasised in this new incarnation. Both the Doctor and the show itself should always be at the forefront of tackling injustices throughout time and space, and Rosa shows just how emotive and moving this kind of storytelling can be.

Read More

 

Doctor Who – The Ghost Monument – Series 11 Episode 2 Review

Jodie Whittaker’s second episode as the Thirteenth Doctor, The Ghost Monument, proves that now is an exciting time to be a Doctor Who fan. In many ways this episode put back all the leftover pieces that were not included in the debut episode, not least being the new title sequence. As the first thing you see in this episode, the fantastic fluidic effects coupled with the haunting new theme that harks back to the show’s earliest days makes the new series’ opening titles look unique and fresh. With some great characters, an interesting and fast-paced story, some great character moments and a special surprise at the end, the new title sequence isn’t the only exciting thing about Series 11’s second episode.

The most eye-catching thing about this episode is the setting – an inhospitable world filled with deserts, toxic lakes and crumbling ruins, the kind of setting that Doctor Who was made for. Fans might draw some similarities between this planet and Skaro, the first alien planet that was visited in Classic Who way back in 1963, and that may have been intentional – this series represents a whole new journey for the Doctor and so it is fitting that The Ghost Monument presents a return to form for Doctor Who – the characters are stranded on an alien planet, with no TARDIS and no idea how to get home, and the mystery kicks off from there. The plot of this episode is based around the heroes trying to reach the eponymous ‘Ghost Monument’, and although the premise itself seems simplistic, the episode is carried by interesting new characters and the building of the team dynamic between the Doctor and her three companions.

The Doctor herself is once again fantastic, and Jodie Whittaker gets to firmly establish her role as both the leader and backbone of the team, as she quickly asserts her authority over the new characters that the team encounter. The new Doctor also reiterates the view of many of her previous incarnations in her dislike of guns and violence, and shows her softer side when providing emotional support for Ryan. Speaking of Ryan, a few interesting scenes with him show that part of his character development may revolve around growing to trust the Doctor and Graham as surrogate parental figures, as he and Graham find more common ground between them and the Doctor demonstrates her ability to help Ryan in situations where his dyspraxia limits his confidence to act – like when climbing a ladder in a tense situation. Early signs of good character development early on are a great sign, and hopefully Yaz will get similar moments in later episodes.

In what is quite a character-focused episode, it is good that guest stars Shaun Dooley, Susan Lynch and Art Malik do such a great job in their respective roles. Dooley and Lynch in particular play a pair of highly driven intergalactic relay racers who are also trying to reach the ‘Ghost Monument’, and their stories and how they learn to work together with the Doctor is one of the episode’s most compelling aspects. The episode also features some well-designed monsters – from robot sentinels to spooky living fabrics that throttle people in their sleep – and although they are not as visually impressive as Tim Shaw was in the previous episode, the monsters in this story play more of a minor role as the primary focus is the journey.

And finally, arguably the episode’s most exciting moment comes with the return of the TARDIS. After dumping the newly regenerated Doctor in the skies above Sheffield before inexplicably vanishing, the TARDIS has been absent from Series 11 so far – until now. Following the Twelfth Doctor’s explosive regeneration, the interior of the TARDIS was almost completed destroyed, and as such we now have a completely remodelled interior and exterior of the TARDIS for the first time since 2013. Whilst fans will have to made up their own minds over where this TARDIS interior ranks relative to its predecessors, needless to say it stays true to the basics of the design and is definitely more suited to the character of the Thirteenth Doctor than Capaldi’s TARDIS would have been, as good as it was.  Overall, The Ghost Monument is another successful outing for the new Doctor and, with over seven million people tuning in to watch, it proves that Doctor Who is back and is as popular as ever.

Read More

 

 

Doctor Who – Ranking the Multi-Doctor Stories

On rare occasions in Doctor Who, two or more incarnations of the Doctor can actually meet on-screen and interact with each other, regardless of how many paradoxes such an event should cause. Episode to feature this phenomenon are known as multi-Doctor stories, and they are usually used to commemorate a milestone in the show’s history (though not always). As many of the Doctors incarnations differ drastically in terms of personality, often when two or more different Doctors meet they do not get along – and certain Doctors are actually known to have particular distaste for specific incarnations – which often makes multi-Doctor stories an interesting means of exploring the Doctor’s psyche. This ranking of multi-Doctor stories will feature televised stories only, although there are enough multi-Doctor audio stories to fill a separate list. So, without further ado:

the-two-doctors.jpg

6 – The Two Doctors

Doctors featured: Second and Sixth

This episode is certainly the ‘odd-one-out’ of the Classic Who multi-Doctor stories in that it was not intended to be a ‘special’, and it did not commemorate a milestone or event as such – in reality, The Two Doctors was a desperate attempt by the production team to inject some excitement into the Doctor Who fanbase after lukewarm reactions to prior episodes. The return of fan-favourite Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor could have been brilliant – but The Two Doctors falls flat for several reasons. For a start, it is far too long, and the episodes spends too long building up to the meeting of the Sixth and Second Doctors to the point that the payoff is less than satisfactory. The Second Doctor actually has very little presence in this story, and the Sontarans had long since lost their credibility as villains by this point in Classic Who’s run. The one saving grace of this episode is that, despite everything, it is fun having the Second Doctor and Jamie back and their interactions with the Sixth Doctor are good fun.

twice-upon-a-time-e1539530357218.jpg

5 – Twice Upon a Time

Doctors featured: First and Twelfth

Steven Moffat’s era ended with an episode that was intended to be a dedication to Classic Who and its fans – but Twice Upon a Time actually ended up rubbing a lot of fans the wrong way with its distinctly odd characterisation of the First Doctor that made him out to be a sexist bigot. Despite the fact that Doctor Who began in the 1960s, and the First Doctor did occasionally portray 1960s values, his representation in Twice Upon a Time is radically overblown and comes across as a caricature at times. Still, overlooking this issue, Twice Upon a Time is an enjoyable episode and serves as a great sendoff for both Moffat and the Twelfth Doctor. Arguably the most interesting thing about this multi-Doctor story in particular is it features two versions of the Doctor in mid-regeneration, with both debating whether or not to go through with the change and having a distinct impact on each other’s decisions, a concept that had not been explored until this point.

time-crash.jpg

4 – Time Crash

Doctors featured: Fifth and Tenth

Though this Children In Need special is short, it features all the best ingredients for a good multi-Doctor story – there’s banter between the Doctors, comedy of misunderstanding, and the inevitable development of a working friendship between two very different (yet also distinctly similar) incarnations. As the first Classic Who-New Who crossover, Time Crash features quite a few continuity references for its short run-time (hearing the Tenth Doctor say ‘Tegan’ will always be a bit strange) but also celebrates the differences between New and Old Who with both Doctors aiming jibes at the other. With a whimsical plot with a surprisingly emotional ending, Time Crash is always a joy.

the-three-doctors.jpg

3 – The Three Doctors

Doctors featured: First, Second and Third

The first multi-Doctor story laid much of the groundwork for others to come, and since the idea had never featured before on the show, The Three Doctors spends more time exploring the actual situation at hand rather than simply using it as a vehicle for the plot or for fanservice. Aside from the main plot, which features the debut of Omega, The Three Doctors has a lot of screentime dedicated to the Second and Third Doctors simply interacting – at first they dislike each other, but eventually they learn to accept their differences and work together. Ultimately the only real drawback to this episode is the unfortunate circumstances surrounding William Hartnell’s final appearance as the First Doctor – due to his ailing health, Hartnell was unable to feature as prominently in the episode as either Troughton or Pertwee, and his role is limited to popping up from time to time on a television screen and reading his lines from an auto-que. Regardless, The Three Doctors pioneered the concept of the multi-Doctor story and, despite its limitations, it did the job quite well.

Doctor Who

2 – The Day of the Doctor

Doctors featured: The War Incarnation, Tenth and Eleventh

The 50th Anniversary Special The Day of the Doctor is the first (and until this point, the only) televised multi-Doctor story to feature only NuWho Doctors, and is unique in that one of the incarnations that it features makes his only substantial on-screen appearance in this story – The War Doctor. This previously unknown incarnation, played by John Hurt, makes a great impression in this episode and actually fills the role of ‘Classic Doctor’ to bounce off the more energetic personalities of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. This episode makes good use of the multi-Doctor format to present the conflict taking place within the Doctor’s psyche – his built up guilt and anger about the Time War is reflected in the modern incarnations’ dislike for the War Doctor, and the Doctor’s decision to end the Time War in a less destructive way redeems the War incarnation in the eyes of his successors and allows the Doctor to finally put the Time War behind him and move on. Overall, The Day of the Doctor is a fantastic multi-Doctor story with some great scenes between the three Doctors, but it doesn’t quite beat…

five-doctors.jpg

1 – The Five Doctors

Doctors featured: First, Second, Third, Fourth (sort of) and Fifth

The 25th Anniversary special, The Five Doctors. This episode is a hardcore Doctor Who fan’s dream come true, as it features the Fifth Doctor alongside his four predecessors, plus many returning companions including Sarah Jane Smith, K-9, the Brigadier and even Susan. Also featured are the Cybermen, a Dalek, and the Time Lords including the Master and Rassilon, and if that were not enough, the episode also divulges a generous helping of Time Lord lore. One of the genius things about this episode is that it doesn’t seem like there is too much crammed in – the episode dedicates roughly equal time to each character’s plot thread in a manner similar to Avengers: Infinity War, ensuring that fans of each specific Doctor will not be disappointed. All, that is, except for Fourth Doctor fans, who will be disappointed to discover that his role in this episode is minimal – this is due to the fact that Tom Baker refused to reprise his role for this episode, and all the footage of the Fourth Doctor that is used actually came from the unfinished episode Shada. The Five Doctors makes excellent use of its run-time to tell a compelling story and feature many classic multi-Doctor interactions, most notably the finale in which all the Doctors finally meet to fight Rassilon.

With several prior Doctor actors expressing their wish to return to the show, hopefully it will not be long before fans get another multi-Doctor story featuring the Thirteenth Doctor, particularly if recent favorites like Tennant, Smith or Capaldi decide to return. Not only that, but the 60th Anniversary is not far away, and who knows – with the recent announcement of Big Finish’s The Legacy of Time, set to feature not only the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors but also may characters crossing over from NuWho, there is a possibility for more Classic Who/New Who multi-Doctor crossovers in the future.

Read More

Doctor Who – The Problem with the Present Day

For a show like Doctor Who, there is no such thing as the ‘present day’. Since the Doctor can travel anywhere in time and space, episodes can be set far back in time before the human race even evolved or as far into the future as the end of the universe. But throughout its 55-year history, Doctor Who has often grounded itself to the then-present day of the time – 60s Who considered the 60s to be its ‘present day’, 70s Who portrayed a strange alternate 1970s (or 1980s, depending on who you ask) as its ‘present day’, and modern Who has usually stuck to whatever year the series happens to be airing in, with a few exceptions. Generally, when the TARDIS lands in the ‘present day’, one can assume that this means whatever year the episode happened to be broadcast in. But for a show like Doctor Who with its complex continuity, this can lead to some problems.

For a start, when the Doctor battles aliens on present-day Earth, generally Classic Who tended to keep these incursions low-key, so as to not break the immersion that Doctor Who could be happening in ‘our universe’, i.e. the real world. But with NuWho came Russell T. Davies, and with Russell T. Davies came some particularly bombastic episodes  involving very public alien invasions. Episodes like Rose, Aliens of London, The Christmas Invasion, Doomsday, The Runaway Bride, The Sontaran Stratagem and The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End all involve the existence of aliens being continually and unequivocally revealed to the people of Earth. This was all well and good for Russell’s era, which actually made somewhat of a recurring joke out of the fact that everyone knows that aliens are real – to the extent that London is evacuated on Christmas Day to avoid the inevitable alien invasion – but the problem took shape after Steven Moffat took over and realised that the ‘present day’ continuity of Doctor Who had been irreversibly ruined.

A good analogy for this situation can actually be found in the world of British Politics, of all things. Part of the rule of Parliamentary Sovereignty is that ‘no Parliament can bind its successors’, essentially the idea that it is unlawful for a current government to create a law or an institution that any subsequent governments are unable to remove. This is done so that every new government that comes into power has complete free reign over how it wants to rule the country – essentially, it allows for change when change is necessary. The same logic should apply to Doctor Who – because the show can essentially keep creating original stories forever, there should be as few restrictions as possible on what can be done. Unfortunately, the ‘Present Day Problem’ has created some continuity errors in the new series that extent as far into the show’s run as the most recent episode, The Woman Who Fell To Earth – Graham and his friends insist that aliens can’t be real, because that is what a normal person in the real world would say. But Russell T. Davies’ era of the show proved that Doctor Who doesn’t take place in the real world, because in the real world there certainly wasn’t a Dalek invasion in 2009 or a Cyberman invasion in 2006. But, if Graham and his friends exist in the Doctor Who universe, why can’t they remember the highly publicised incursions that took place just a decade prior?

doctor who big ben
“I’ll be sure to forget this by next year!”

And Graham isn’t the only one. Moffat initially flirted with the idea of making it so that the cracks in time that appeared throughout the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure had actually erased all of Russell’s alien invasions from history, but later backpedaled to claim that Amy forgot about them but the general public didn’t, as seen in Death in Heaven when a news reporter compares the Cybermen seen in that episode with the ones previously seen during the Russell years. It would seem, then, that there is no right or wrong answer, and the ‘timey-wimey’ nature of the show’s continuity means that maybe some people remember the invasions and some people don’t. In fact, it would actually be quite an interesting idea for an episode if there are still droves of people in the UK who insist that Daleks and Cybermen invaded, and others – perhaps even people who had lost family or friends to those invasions – have subsequently forgotten all about them. This creates a sort of in-universe ‘Mandela effect’, in that history is different for some than it is for others.

All that aside, however, the ‘Present Day Problem’ remains – how can any future showrunners maintain the air of mystery and shock for other characters discovering alien life if things like the Daleks and the Cybermen are common knowledge? There are a few potential answers to this problem:

1 – Ignore the problem

The first, and most boring, solution – and apparently the one that Steven Moffat went with – is simply to have new companions and characters be ignorant of aliens despite almost everyone else on the planet being aware of them. This has been done before by narrative means – as previously mentioned, Amy Pond forgot about the Daleks because the cracks in time erased her memory, and Russell himself actually used this for Donna as well, claiming she had ‘slept through’ all the previous invasions. Needless to say, simply ignoring the problem is boring and any excuses that can be dreamed up to wave it away are flimsy at best.

2 – Write the episodes around the problem

Doctor Who, particularly the modern era, has historically set many episodes in the present day as a means of making the show more accessible. On paper, this seems to make sense – particularly when it comes to series openers. However, give it some thought and it quickly becomes apparent that there is little logic to this. The only possible explanation for wanting to have most of the episodes in a series set in the present day is if the writer wanted to rely heavily on pop culture references and memes, something that both Russell and Moffat were continuously guilty of, and as a result this dates their eras immensely. Part of the reason why episodes like The Ark in Space and The Caves of Androzani are described as ‘timeless classics’ is because the draw absolutely no material from the then-present day and use the show’s potential of far-reaching settings to its advantage. This would be particularly good for writing large-scale alien invasion stories – episodes like The Dalek Invasion of Earth in 1964 and The Parting of the Ways in 2005 can portray invasions on an epic scale set far into the future and be just as effective as an episode set in the present day.

3 – Have a wider range of companions

Drawing from the previous point, having a wider range of companions would definitely create a workaround for the problem, as having less companions from the present day would not only make the show more diverse and interesting but would also reduce the need for having episodes set in the present day. Why bother trying to write a workaround for why a character in 2025 can’t remember the Slitheen invasion of 2006 when you could just have a companion from the past, or from a human colony in the future, or have one who is not even human at all. In terms of accessibility, shows like Downtown Abbey, Star Trek, Friends and Game of Thrones are all set in different times and sometimes different universes, with no ‘present day’ characters needed to ground the audience – if a character is written well and is relatable, that is all the grounding that is needed for the audience. You don’t see anyone in Star Trek dabbing, because you don’t need to throw pop culture or social media references into a script to make it accessible, you just need to write a good script.

Read More

Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell To Earth – Series 11 Episode 1 Review

After a wait that has lasted since Christmas 2017, the new Doctor Who is finally here, and Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor does not disappoint. As the most viewed launch episode for a new Doctor since 2005, The Woman Who Fell To Earth is a great start for the show’s latest regeneration. After the departure of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor and Steven Moffat as showrunner this new series is essentially a soft-reboot, and features new writers, a new composer and new filming equipment that makes the debut episode feel like a fresh new take on the show, and if the rest of the series is as good as its debut, the future seems bright for the Thirteenth Doctor.

Speaking of the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker certainly makes the role her own with great energy and enthusiasm. Her take on the Doctor is definitely in keeping with the character, and from her first scene when she comes crashing through the roof of a train you know that this is the same Doctor, just a different face. In terms of individual personality, the Thirteenth Doctor seems as capable as the Third and Seventh incarnations when it comes to taking control of a situation, and she has a constant buzz of energy that is honed into keeping cool under pressure and working a specific problem, rather like the Tenth Doctor. Jodie Whittaker’s use of her Yorkshire accent also helps her Doctor leave a distinct impression,

But where would the Doctor be without her companions? True to his word, Chris Chibnall broadened the focus of the episode to include not just the Doctor but her new new friends, particularly Ryan, with whom the episode begins. Whilst we have only had one episode with Ryan and other newcomers Yasmin and Graham, they already feel like a fun and interesting TARDIS team – and they haven’t even set foot in the TARDIS yet. This is really a testament to how quickly the Doctor and the new companions meld as a team, and the companions work well with Thirteen’s style of delegation in her plans, a trait of their group that will hopefully continue in later episodes.

This episode brings in vital ingredient needed for a great Doctor Who episode with its great villain, Tzim-Sha – and the special effects on this creature as well as on its entirely CGI companion are fantastic. This episode does involve several grisly deaths, something that is inevitable with good Doctor Who stories, but the Doctor doesn’t take those deaths lying down – she wastes no time in tracking down Tzim-Sha and working out his plan, making for a plot that takes time to get going but accelerates quickly in pace as the plot unfolds. The creature is not likely to have children diving behind the sofa in fear, but it is an impressive design that presents a serious threat. The ending also has some heavy-hitting emotional moments, a testament to how well Chris Chibnall makes the audience care about the new characters right from the get-go.

Arguably one of the best aspects of this episode is how effectively it introduces a new Doctor – crashing into an alien incursion and forced to think on her feet, Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor only briefly questions her new gender before getting stuck in to her new role, and this will hopefully improve this episode’s longevity. Fans in the future will look back on this episode not as ‘that time they tried a woman as the Doctor’ but simply as one of the better ‘New Doctor’ premieres – and this already seems to be what is happening. With 40.1% of the audience share on its air date, The Woman Who Fell To Earth has already become one of the most successful series openers of Doctor Who since the revival, and many who were skeptical over the new Doctor have been won over by her impressive debut.

Overall, the first outing for the Thirteenth Doctor is a promising start and the fact that it has been so well received is fantastic news for Doctor Who fans. If this episode is any indication of what is to come, Doctor Who Series 11 may well be one of the best received seasons in Doctor Who’s history.

Read More