...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Day 2020: DOCTOR WHO: The Complete 2006 Series: "We Have All the Time in the World"


My Daddies invited a lot of friends over so that they could spend all day watching all of Dr Who's latest adventures. So I went and hid in the bedroom with Mr Stripy and all the doughnuts!

We are proud to present, in all its glory: The Doctor Who 2006 Drinking Game!

Take a drink for every "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," from the Doctor and every "Oh my GOD!" from Rose.

Take two drinks for every "that's IMPOSSIBLE!"

Take a BIG chug for every mention of "TORCHWOOD" (obviously).

And empty your glasses for… "FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE!"

Actually, the key to Doctor Who 2006 is that every episode has its "FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE" moment.

In a sadly deleted scene, Cassandra is fair game for the Sisters of Plenitude because she has been declared dead; Queen Victoria is waiting for a message from her lost Albert; the Doctor himself appears like a ghost in Sarah-Jane's life, before later receiving Reinette's posthumous letter. For some reason I cannot find an instance in "Rise of the Cybermen" though…

Of course, this is nothing new for "Doctor Who". Cut into almost any Philip Hinchcliffe era story and you'll find the dead coming back to life, whether it is the humans on Nerva or the androids on Oseidon or the Krynoids in the ice (never mind Davros, or Sutekh, or Morbius, or Greel or the Master).

But 2006 has concentrated more on the emotion of loss than on the horror: Cassandra's story becomes a tragedy because she has outlived her time, something she comes to terms with in the end. For the first time the emotional effect on the Doctor of his long life is examined and called a "curse". The one moment where the Cybermen really bite is when one of them reveals itself to be Jackie Tyler: it's horrible, but what we dwell on is Pete's grief and the sense of failure – and it's not very often that we get a mission that fails in "Doctor Who".

Watched all as one, the series does feel much stronger.

The thing that we noticed most quickly was how well "New Earth" worked as an episode two – we had of course started with "The Christmas Invasion" (or, in fact, we started with the Children in Need scene for completism) and that was as strong and epic as it had been last Christmas. Light and frothy makes much more sense after that strong opening, or arguably, expectations were lower this time and the episode could be enjoyed more for what it is than what we wanted it to be.

On the flipside, one episode suffered much more in comparison by being shown in sequence and that was "Fear Her". Alex suggests, and I agree, that the minute long trailer for "Army of Ghosts" at the end was a huge factor in leaving us with a positive glow when we watched it as broadcast, and this time out that high was transferred to the last two episodes where it actually belonged. The proper conclusion of the episode is a bit too much of a mush of sentiment, and the Doctor's run up the steps with the Olympic Flame produced the only groan of the day. It does show the need for a back up plan in case something falls through – as was the case with the Stephen Fry episode.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The structure of the season was a little less tight than last year. While the second half turns about Rose leaving (although much foreshadowing for that in the first half too), the first half – from "The Christmas Invasion" to "The Age of Steel" – probably ought to be about Mickey leaving, and that ball it drops a bit.

Stephen Moffat's "The Girl in the Fireplace" is beautifully written and played, but doesn't gel with the episodes around it. Tension between Mickey and Rose is set up at the end of "School Reunion" that disappears. The Doctor, far from being solicitous of Rose after her meeting Sarah-Jane, takes it into his head to go off with some new French piece. And Rose, quite out of character, utterly fails to be jealous. That's a shame, because clearly Mr Moffat is so good that they trusted him to get it right by mental telepathy rather than ensuring that he was on the same page as the rest of the season.

Would it be heretical to suggest that this episode might have been better next year? It could have been played as a "Doctor on the rebound" story, and have implications for his new relationship with Martha.

With Rose and Mickey so backgrounded for a week, Mickey's story stutters a little and makes the surprise of his leaving to defend an alternative Earth from Cybermen rather more out of left field that it ought to be.

Ah yes, "Rise of the Cybermen".

Back to back it is a terrific "big dumb action flick", and the resolution of the cliff-hanger is much improved by (a) knowing what it is and (b) not having just waited a week for it.

As a movie, it's full of arresting visual images – literally arresting as by this point we were merrily chatting and eating party food, but attention would keep being grabbed by a new image on the screen: the Cybus zeppelin coming in over the Thames; The Lion Sleeps Tonight; Jackie in full sail making her entrance at her birthday party; those party crashers; and so on. And it wins the prize for the best musical moment of the season as well, with the swelling theme for the Cybermen's attack on the Tyler mansion.

It leaves a lot of questions unanswered – why is alternative England a republic and what is it with the curfews and troops on the streets? Did Lumic invent the Cybermen or has he just spent the last twenty-five years working out how to adapt the leftover remains from "The Invasion"? What happened to Mickey's gran? Was there any significance to Mrs Moore's real identity? The answers probably aren't important to the story, but the story treated them as though they were going to be important, so it's a little dislocating to be left without a real answer. And with the walls between universes now closed, we don't seem likely to get any answers.

Bridging the two halves of the season, "The Idiot's Lantern" was generally greeted warmly, probably because it presaged the handing round of the Coronation Chicken buns. It's a story that's taken quite a lot of flak for heavy-handed moralising and lack of anything terribly new to say, but it certainly didn't feel like a dip in quality. If anything, the characters of the Doctor and Rose feel like they are back on form, and the warm and loving attention paid on the period detail just oozes "this is BBC"-ness.

Admittedly, not everyone gets full marks for performance, and it is now hard to watch one actor without thinking of Professor Bernice Summerfield's "my old man's a dustman" routine. You know who I'm talking about.

The largest complaint that it raised, though, was that of "TV invisibility": the way that objects in plain sight remain unseen until pointed out in the script. Jessica Fletcher's ability to potter around without noticing the corpse in the room until it is dramatically necessary to do so is legendary. Here it was a case of "Good lord, the Alexandra Palace! I was ho-blivious to its bleedin' great presence until you mentioned we was in Muswell 'Ill!"

In fact it kicks off a string of stories with strong visuals and consistently great performances from the leads with most of the highly strung emotionalism, the "lovey-dovey-ness" of the Doctor and Rose's relationship, feeling less intrusive than earlier in the year.

Lots more deaths, too, but both "The Satan Pit" and "Love & Monsters" sketch in little backgrounds for the characters that they are about to slaughter. To be fair, there are a couple of "Red Shirt" moments in "The Satan Pit", when Mr Jefferson's deputies get Ooded to death – leading to cries of "who the hell's that!" Necessary to up the threat, perhaps, but maybe one of them ought to have been introduced to us.

No one, it appears, dies in "Fear Her", incidentally. Unless it's the poor athlete carrying the Olympic torch who collapses – has the pod drained all his life energy in recharging? No one seems to care either, which is a bit of a bum note.

Finally, the glorious crescendo that is War on Earth (the antipode of War in Heaven, anybody?): Rose's story ends and the Doctor is left, not alone but with a new beginning. Everyone still here to watch is left on a huge high.

Looking to the future, I'm still excited – which is so much the important thing. There are new stories to tell: I think Billie leaving is not a tragedy, it gives the series room to breathe and she goes out on a tremendous high, still at the top of the game.

I'm sure that we will see the resolution of the mystery of the Face of Boe: it's not hard to guess that it will involve the Time Lords in some way.

If there's to be a linking theme next year then maybe have a recurring figure appearing in the background: spotting a person would be a different game from spotting a phrase, and then there is the question of how this person appears to be in all the time zones that the Doctor is in, and who are they and what are their intentions.

We've seen a lot of "they come here" stories, with the Doctor thwarting invasions and plots at their inception; I'd like to see a bit of the Doctor arriving in a situation where the bad guys have the upper hand.

The Doctor hasn't really had an opportunity to confront the full enormity of evil yet. Satan remained chained; the Daleks invaded but never occupied the Earth.

It's another reason to venture off the Earth as well: to see a world ground down under oppression (without being too horrific for a tea-time audience), occupied by the Daleks.

We need to see again what the evil of the Daleks really means: they are (after all) the Nazis and they occupy and enslave and oppress. It would make the Daleks much more of a threat for us to be reminded of how they behave when they win – to see that there is good reason for standing up against tyranny.

And the victory for the Doctor is greater if the odds are greater. We haven't seen the Doctor as liberator yet in the 21st Century. (Possibly in "The Long Game" but that was a velvet oppression, and the consequences of the Doctor's intervention turned out rather badly.)

Of course, I want all the fannish things as well: I want David Tennant to stay on for five years; I want to see a dozen new worlds; I want to see new times and places on our Earth: America (properly, this time), India, China, Africa, dinosaurs (properly, this time); I want a return of old monsters; I want Alpha Centauri back!; and I want something marvellous and new.

And in the last respect, I have no doubt I will be satisfied. This series is lauded as the most inventive thing on television at the moment. Of course, it always was.

For another viewpoint: alakazam!

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