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A Decade of ‘New Who’

Eccs

Well, I didn’t see this coming ten years back.

When Doctor Who first returned, my greatest fear was that it would immediately fail. I didn’t have any worries about the content, that I would dislike it, that it would be a big pile of TV-Poop, I just didn’t want to see it linger unloved for a season or so and then be  shuffled off-screen once again. Unloved. Unwatched. An embarrassment.  If that had happened, I don’t think we would have seen it come back for a long, long time. Perhaps not at all in my lifetime.

Of course, quite early on the announcement came that it was being commissioned for two further seasons, so I could rest easy. Whatever happened, I was getting three full seasons of new Who. Since that point, I’ve never felt the need to worry or obsess over the shows safety. There’s been no point where it’s failed to pull in a substantial audience and left itself open to questions about its future (whatever some dumb-dumbs might try to make you believe).

TEN YEARS. Which TV Shows last ten years? Especially on UK telly? Especially-especially UK sci-fi/fantasy?! It’s outlived three shows created to sit in its place during the off months, and still shows no signs of slowing down.

I was recently on top-dog Who podcast Reality Bomb discussing (badly) ten years of new Who, and I commented that the moment where the new series really bedded in for me, really made me feel like I was going to be all in on this newy-new version of my beloved show, was ‘Dalek’. There’d been tone issues for me once or twice before this point, ol’Burpry Bin, Cartoon-Plastic Mickey and farting Slitheen, but with ‘Dalek’ came an episode I wanted to hold tight.  It seemed perfect, and did what many thought impossible; it made the Daleks a credible threat to new viewers. It didn’t even try to radically overhaul them, it trusted the original design and instead just wrote a damn fine episode. (Also, the swiveling mid section, THAT WAS COOL AS HECK, why did they forget that so quickly?!) I enjoyed much of what came prior, but this was the first one to truly blow me away. And, of course, then we were treated to the likes of ‘The Empty Child’, ‘Fathers Day’ and ‘The Parting of The Ways’.

(Speaking of ‘The Empty Child’, if you’ve read any of this blog, or my tweets, then you may have been able to read between the lines and guess I’m something of a Moffat fan, but when he was first announced prior to season 1? NOPE. Oh, I enjoyed his comedy work, but I just could not understand how that guy was now writing for Doctor Who. The ‘Coupling’ guy? Mr ‘Chalk’?! Welp… what a dummy I am. From his first story, he knocked it out of the park, and is now way up there with my favourite Who writers. From ‘The Empty Child’ to ‘Blink’ to ‘The Eleventh Hour’ to ‘Listen’, he’s written some of the finest Who we’ve ever had.)

TEN YEARS..!..!

Sorry, still rolling that number around me bonce.

(Yes, this post is something of a ramble)

RTD, Eccs

So why has it managed to survive for so long? What were the early decisions that allowed a wide general audience to grab hold of our show again and hold it tight to their hearts?

Firstly, RTD really nailed what Who needed to become in order to thrive in the modern TV landscape. All of time and space, monsters, adventure, laughs and scares were all well and good, but you needed more than that. You needed characters that LIVED. Cutouts wouldn’t do, a lack of a real interior life, we needed characters we believed in, that had an emotional life and relationships that made viewers care. That made them invested in these crazy adventures.  RTD knew this and so we got a war damaged Doctor, and a companion in Rose that people could relate too, that had wants, needs, a disappointing life and, quite importantly, a family.

Many classic Who fans often derisively dismissed this fleshing out, the focus on the companions none-TARDIS life and family, as ‘soap’. These people should be avoided at all costs. 

Next, RTD made sure this was still a show for all the family. It would have been very easy to have made the show for adults, it’s probably what many classic Who fans would have done. It’s what I would have done. We’re all idiots. That would have been a HUGE MISTAKE. RTD knew this, part of the shows magic was that it was a show for everyone. Not just kids, not just adults, but all of us.

Well done RTD, you clever man.

My last high-five is to the man who sometimes feels like the half-forgotten man of Modern Who, Christopher Eccleston. When he was announced as the Doctor I was knocked for six. For so long the part had been seen as a bit lightweight, whenever names for new Doctor’s were raised in the press, they’d mention the likes of magician Paul Daniels and hairy lifeguard David Hasselhoff. They were mocking the role, basically. And then Eccs was announced, a serious, respected, ‘real’ ACTOR. This was a statement of intent. This show was not a joke, it was here to be taken seriously. I’ve no doubt that his involvement turned many peoples heads and allowed them to give the show a chance. He gave it some extra legitimacy.

Many bemoan the fact he left so swiftly, and seems reluctant to return, or even really talk about the show, but PHOOEY to them. He did what was needed, did it brilliantly, and we owe him a lot.

On that same podcast I mentioned earlier, I chose a defining moment in modern Who. No, it’s not from a Moffat story, I like other episodes and writers too, ya jerk. It’s from that first season. It’s the cliffhanger to ‘Bad Wolf’, the penultimate episode of the season. That exchange between the Doctor and a Dalek, that stirring, heart in mouth back and forth encapsulates so much of the show and of the Doctor. It’s a chaotic, brave man, willing to throw himself headfirst into the jaws of almost certain death without weapons or a plan in order to help out another. I’m not ashamed (okay, I’m slightly ashamed) to admit that I literally punched the air during it. I have not done so before or since. Because that reaction’s kinda weird. But yeah. This moment pulled it out of me.

TEN YEARS……….

Happy birthday Doctor Who. Still the best story world ever, ever.

Here’s to many more.

@DoctorWhoThing

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Season 24 Report

doc mel

Den Of Geek recently published an article showing the BBC Audience Report for Doctor Who from 1988.

It does not make pleasant reading. In fact, it basically squats over our favourite show, relaxes, and unleashes a steady torrent of bum solids.

Some who don’t care for the McCoy era have pointed to this report as validation; just today I was listening to (a great) Who podcast and one of the hosts was understandably revelling in the piece slightly. But this report isn’t slating the McCoy era, it’s slating season 24. There’s a difference. There’s a difference between slating one season and the whole of the McCoy era, and there’s a HUGE difference between season 24 and the two seasons that followed. For me, it’s almost two different eras. How can you sit ‘Time & The Rani’ next to ‘Ghost Light’???

Look, I’m not here to make any great claims for season 24, I don’t despise it as some do, but I’m not an idiot, I can see the season for what it is. And, of course, there’s a few good reasons why it came out the way it did. Season 24 was made in a mad scramble. When Cartmel came aboard there was no Doctor, one script (which he disliked but had no choice but to go with due to time issues) and production running at full pace towards him, screaming. There was no time for fine craft, only to get something, anything, in front of camera. You know what did happen once they had a little more time and more of the pieces already in place? ‘Remembrance of The mother-cocking Daleks’.

Well… okay sure, there were still stumbles in seasons 25 & 26, but they were vastly outnumbered by the great. By ‘Survival’. By ‘Fenric’. By ‘Greatest Show’. And, yes, even by this sexy beast:

Kandy

So yeah, this titchy article is basically me being irked by hearing some of the reaction to that report and feeling the need to bat down a few of the crowing hordes with a rolled up newspaper (that I’ve dipped the end of into a bucket a rat pee). People pointing out season 24s deficiencies does not make you ‘right’ about the McCoy era. (In fact, there is no ‘right’, they’re stories, like em if you like em, don’t if you don’t.) Season 24 isn’t the McCoy era, it’s part of the McCoy era. The shaky first steps.

The best was yet to come.

@DoctorWhoThing

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The Almost Companions

Companions

The Doc has picked up a lot of guys and gals over the years (let’s be honest, mostly lady types)(Women)(The ones without winkies). They’ve gone on to have adventures and so on and so forth and all was mostly lovely, but what about the almost companions? The ones who would’ve made great companions but were never asked, or actually decided against joining up?

Let’s take a look at some of the most notable ‘Almost Companions’ and weep (or thank our lucky stars) that they didn’t become ‘Actual Companions’.

Let’s do that very thing.

HERE:

Duggan! (!)(!!!)

duggan

‘City of Death’ is one of the finest stories in all of Who, and Duggan is one of Who’s finest characters. I can’t be the only one who wishes he’d leapt aboard the TARDIS at the end of the story, ready to run through many more brick walls. Just imagine him between the smug, imperious pairing of Baker’s Doctor and Romana 2, it could have been glorious. Sad face.

Ray (Super Welsh)

ray

Literally almost a companion, this one. With Mel (thankfully) about to jump ship, the prod team decided to road test a few potential companions before deciding who to give the job to, and super Welsh Ray was one of the options.  I’m kinda glad she never made it into the TARDIS; for one thing Ace ended up being my very most favouritest in the whole of Who companion. So that would have sucked. Also, that accent, she played it a little over-ripe for me.

Grace (Snogger) 

grace-holloway-daphne-ashbrook-1

Okay, so she was sort of semi-responsible for bringing about the end of Seven, but I was still sad she turned down the invitation to go travelling in the TARDIS. I guess she’s just the type to snog & leave. Probably to go and cry at some opera in a  fancy-pants dress. It’s funny with Grace, as I (and I’m sure most others) think of her as a companion, but technically she’s not. She had this one adventure then turned down the chance to join the box-fresh Eight on his adventures. For some reason. It’s a great pity we’ll never see more of her.

Adam (Booo! HISSS!)

Adam

Adam was there to show us that not everyone can make the grade, even after being invited on board. Adam was awful. Bye bye, Adam.

Cas (Went and died of death)

Cass Night 2

Not exactly the Doctor’s biggest fan. The first minute of this short made it seem as though we were seeing the start of a new companion for the Doctor, only for it to take that sharp, shocking left turn as she realises what he is. And then she’s all dead and stuff.

Rusty the Dalek (King of Side-Eye)

rusty

Just imagine it! Twelve and Rusty hopping through all of time and space! Or don’t. No. This would have been a terrible idea. OR WOULD IT?!?!?! (Yes)

Journey Blue (Nope, You Can’t Come In)

journey

This one fooled me. I felt FOR SURE that we’d be seeing more of soldier Journey Blue. That end, with the Doctor turning her down, felt tailor-made to revisit at the season’s end. The Doctor would grow, develop, soften, realise his error and jump back to just after the point he turned her down and say ‘Well, what are you waiting for?’ She’d smile, run in, end of season. BUT NOPE. Perhaps if Clara (as originally intended) had left at the season’s end we might have seen this? It’s a very Moffat thing to do.

Shona (Dance! Dance! Dance!)

Shona_McCullough

As with Journey Blue, I watched ‘Last Christmas’ and was SURE we were seeing the introduction of a new companion. She just had too much fizz, colour and mouth to be a minor one-off. And she calls the Doc a magician, and we already knew the next ep was called ‘The Magicians Apprentice’! I mean COME ON! Moffat also gave her such a sadness, such an apparently disappointing and lonely life, surely the Doctor was going to pull her out of that..? Again, at one point Clara was leaving at the end of this one, perhaps if she had…? Perhaps, perhaps and three times perhaps.

So which of the above would YOU like to have seen become a full-time companion? And who have I missed?

TELL ME!

@DoctorWhoThing

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Strangling Peri

six

“Hi… uh, my name is Matthew and… I sort of like ‘The Twin Dilemma’…”

Stop throwing that hot garbage at me!

Look, I KNOW it places bottom in most polls, and I KNOW it’s not actually ‘good’ in the most conventional (or, well,  ‘correct’) sense of the word, but every time I watch it I enjoy the heck out of the thing. More so than, say, the deadly dull ‘Frontios’, or the even duller ‘Planet of The Spiders’, for example. Mostly, this is down to Colin Baker BLOODY WELL GOING FOR IT. He does not shuffle onto the stage uncertainly, he ROARS in like a bloody maniac. Good on you, son!

ANYWAY.

I’m not here to try and defend Twin and my wrong-headed enjoyment of it, just one infamous scene. A scene that is constantly pinpointed by fans as a massive ‘mistake': the newly regenerated Doctor giving Peri’s neck meat a bit of a squeeze.

I LOVE this.

Talk about a way to slap your viewers right across their pampered, preconception-reddened cheeks. Peter Davison, that lovely young man, just gave up his ‘life’ for this woman, and now this usurper is trying to strangle her?!

It knocks you off-centre, and it’s darn well supposed to. It’s purpose is to jolt you and make you question this new maniac who seems to have replaced the friendly, decent chap we’ve grown cosy-comfortable with. Colin Baker here was resolutely NOT comfortable.

GOOD.

New Doctor, throw the switch the other way and shake things up. It has to be different otherwise why bother changing the Doctor at all?

It’s an exciting, surprising moment; a modern equivalent (-ish) moment would be in Capaldi’s first episode, apparently leaving Clara to her doom in the robot’s lair. The last chap would never have done that! What the heck is going on here?! Of course not long after he returns heroically, turns out he never went far, but still, for a few minutes there you’ve been gut-punched.

And by giving that example, we get to the real issue with the Doctor strangling Peri. The mistake was not the moment itself, that moment is new and thrilling and completely unexpected. No, the mistake is that the story failed to turn us round on the Doctor sufficiently by the stories end. To show he was still the same man we knew him to be. Capaldi got to come back and be a hero, Baker doesn’t really get that quick turnaround in the story, certainly not with Peri. He continues to be untrustworthy, cowardly, un-heroic, and we’re left at the end of the story (and the end of the season!) without a real sense of closure on that attempted strangulation. The audience is left unsure.

That is the real ‘fault’ here, not the strangulation scene itself, or the desire to show a larger, more volatile Doctor. The modern show got it right with Capaldi’s Doc and made sure we had some moments to grab on to, to tell us it was going to be alright. Allowed him to be vulnerable. And that’s all that was needed here. Just a glimpse or two more of the hero, and, most importantly, a clear sense of the unbroken friendship between Sixie & Peri. 

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New Toys on the Block – the rise of Doctor Who merch

 

dapol 7Guest Post by Peter Bell , you can find more of his writing at http://pgbell.wordpress.com/

In my day, Doctor Who merchandise was a blissfully simple affair. We had the odd T-shirt (to be worn under the officially licenced 7th Doctor replica tanktop), the disappointing Dalek Attack computer game for the Amiga, and, most prominently of all, we had the Dapol figures.

Ah, Dapol! The name still evokes flutters of excitement in the hearts of a whole generation of fans. Not because the toys were especially good, of course. In fact they were often downright shoddy; the Daleks had paintwork you could rub off with your fingers, K9 was grey, the TARDIS console had the wrong number of sides and the whole lot was forged from plastic that possessed all the durability of bone china. But for nearly two decades, theirs was the only game in town. (And oh, how I still cherish my 25th Anniversary playset! I still don’t question what K9’s doing in there.)

dapolplayset

Looking back on it now, it made sense that Dapol, a firm who were not really toy manufacturers, should get the toy licence. Sound backwards? Let me explain. Dapol made model railway sets for middle age hobbyists and, by the late 1980s, that’s pretty much what Doctor Who was perceived to be – a hobby, enjoyed by middle-aged men harbouring fond memories of their youth.

How far we’ve come.

The show’s a global brand now and the BBC has been quick to exploit it as such, farming out merchandising rights to all comers. Like any popular franchise, this has resulted in the good (the Character Options classic series range of action figures spring to mind), the bad (the inflatable Toclafane beachball) and the downright bizarre (the Dalek Sec talking toothbrush, anyone?)

It’s a little ironic that such a devoutly leftist show should owe so much of its newfound success to the capitalist tendencies of BBC Worldwide, but the shameless truth is that most of us are rubbing our hands at the prospect of all the merchandise we could only ever dream of as kids.

But there was one dream that remained unrealised. One goal that seemed forever distant. Until this week…

Lego Doctor Who!

lego-doctor-who-cclose

Like validation from on high, the announcement that Andrew Clark’s submission to the Lego Ideas website has been successful, means our little show is finally rubbing shoulders with the likes of Star Wars and Harry Potter in the pantheon of viable global franchises. And that’s great! It’s exactly where it belongs. We always knew it was a world-beater, it’s just taken the world a little while to get the hint and lie down quietly.

So what can we expect from the new Lego licence? Details are scarce at the moment, although the promotional teaser released this week suggests we can expect plenty of Doc 12 action. Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess but the potential is clearly vast. How about an original Hartnell TARDIS interior playset? Fancy building the Tomb of the Cybermen, one icy brick at a time? Lego Kandyman? (C’mon Lego, make it happen! MAKE IT HAPPEN!)

And Lego isn’t limited to the kits any more. Can we expect a Lego Doctor Who video game? And the Legoland theme parks recently added Star Wars to their Miniland sections, so why not Doctor Who as well? Maybe even a full-blown ride? The Beeb is getting into the theme park industry in a big way right now, so anything’s possible. (But that’s a topic for another post).

 LEGO-Doctor-Who-Sample-Set

Of course, all this is likely to cost a pretty penny. The new Lego Avengers helicarrier clocks in at an eye-watering £250, and I doubt a large-scale TARDIS interior kit would be much less. These aren’t just toys for kids any more. Ironically, they’re aimed at the sort of affluent, middle aged geek who might have found himself opening that Dapol playset back in the day. (Which reminds me, where was our 50th anniversary equivalent, Moffat?)

This all remains to be seen, of course. If Lego are smart, they’ll release a slew of smaller, more budget friendly kits to compliment the big tentpole sets. A chorus of Weeping Angels, perhaps, or a UNIT jeep and troops. Whatever happens, one thing is certain – we’ll never have to put up with that Megabloks crap again.

@DoctorWhoThing

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Why ‘Neverwhere’ Could be The Next Dr Who

never

Hey Who nerds!

Those fine peeps over at Digital Spy have tossed up an article of mine, looking at what else could fill the ‘Dr Who slot’ now ‘Atlantis’ has bitten the dust.

Here’s a sneak peek:

Why Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere Could Be the Next Dr Who

After the news that another hopeful heir apparent to the Saturday Night ‘Doctor Who’ slot, Howard Overman’s ‘Atlantis’, has bitten the dust, I thought I’d take a look at what the BBC should try next .

The Return of Saturday Night Family Adventure

Not so very long ago, the idea of an early evening adventure show on BBC 1, on Saturday night no less, that the whole family would happily sit down to enjoy was seen as impossible.  That time had passed, the audience was now too fragmented, there’s just no way you could get people from eight to eighty to all sit together and watch the same narrative show.

Then the BBC took a risk. With big swingers like writer Russell T Davies and BBC Drama Commissioner Jane Tranter fighting its corner, that old, dead TV legend ‘Doctor Who’ lurched back into life… and it worked. People of all ages tuned in, the viewing figures stacked up, and ten years later it’s still there.

Go here to read the rest; GO NOW:

Neverwhere

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BOOKS!!1!

book 11

Yes!

Doctor Who Thing shall be entering the world of non-fiction books about…….

……………………………

                …………………………….. DOCTOR WHO.

I know!

“WHEN?!” I hear you cry. Well. Soon. Ish. I’ve just begun to knock a few together. They will be short, fun, joyful, positive things that won’t demand too much of your hard-earned cash. The current plans is that the individual titles will be available only as low-priced eBooks, with three of each collected into volumes that will then be available as both eBooks and old-fashioned papery book things. Again, without asking for too hefty a price.

This is a little premature, as I’m not even a few pages into any of them yet, but I’m excited about it, about the possibilities of an ongoing range of short fun reads, and wanted to share NOW.

Posts on this site will keep you up to date on each books progress, and even offer you the chance to have your own thoughts and opinions included. Ooooohhh…!

Wish me luck!

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