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Doctor Who - The Angels Take Manhattan wallpaper

As the Last Days of the Ponds arrive and The Angels Take Manhattan time can’t be rewritten to save Amy and Rory as they bid farewell to their daughter and their Raggedy Man.

Chapter 1 The Dying Detective

Quite often Doctor Who works best when evoking the spirit of other genres and giving it a special twist to make it something extra special. For example,The Crusades from the William Hartnell era was David Whitaker’s spin on Shakespeare (with lines quoted as belonging to Love’s Labour Won used in The Shakespeare Code decades later); the entire 7th season (Jon Pertwee’s first) called upon the classic Quatermass serials of the 1950s; and the central plot element of Soylent Green in which corpses are recycled as food for humanity was at the heart of Eric Saward’s Revelation of the Daleks.

With the air of a 1930s pulp novel with a dash of film noir thrown in The Angels Take Manhattan commenced with detective Sam Garner (Rod David) investigating the building “where the statues live” at the behest of wealthy collector Julius Grayle (Mike McShane) and ended with a great tragedy for the Doctor as he is separated from Amy and Rory forever.

Chapter 2 The Angels Take Manhattan

Originally Steven Moffat intended to feature the Daleks in the Ponds’ grand finale but whilst visiting New York in 2011 the idea of using the Weeping Angels against the backdrop of the Big Apple came to him. Since the transmission of the highly-acclaimed Blink in 2007 fans had regularly postulated that the Statue of Liberty itself was a giant Weeping Angel. No Ghostbusters II-style romp across for New York preceded the statue’s looming appearance at Winter Quay as this time the city’s most famous icon was there to scare. The concept of the temporal battery farm recalled the scene in Blade Trinity where Blade and Abigail discovered a warehouse containing hundreds of humans in chemically-induced comas waiting to act as a food source for the vampires.

With each appearance the tactics of the Weeping Angels evolve. From barely-surviving scavengers on Earth to manipulative hoards on Alfava Metraxis, the continually changing facets of the Weeping Angels are akin to the progression from the atmospheric Alien to the action-orientated Aliens. Thankfully The Angels Take Manhattan doesn’t parallel Alien 3 or Alien Resurrection for controversial missed opportunities or sheer direness respectively.

Chapter 3 Missing in New York

Virtually from the moment of their conception the departure of Amy Pond and Rory Williams had been planned for. Their connection to the mysterious River Song and their undying love that conspired to survive the birth and death of time and space itself proved to be the most emotional and complex character arc ever granted to companions. Take a moment out and appreciate the genius of the Grand Moff, who created Amelia Pond with the explicit intention of linking her to River Song. Thanks to the impact of the intended one-off character from Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead (bought so magnificently to life and death by Alex Kingston) Moffat created two friends for the Eleventh Doctor who will continue to resonate when the series reaches its 50th, 60th, and 70th anniversaries…and beyond…

The presence of the Ponds in the TARDIS (pre- and post-marriage) categorically debunked the long-held view in numerous quarters about the programme’s format working best when the Doctor has a single companion. Some of the best TARDIS crews have featured a male and female duo alongside the Doctor. Jamie McCrimmon and Victoria Waterfield/Zoe Herriot in the Patrick Troughton era; Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan during Tom Baker’s first season; and Tegan Jovanka and Vislor Turlough in the 20th and 21st seasons alongside Peter Davison. The advocacy for the single companion is often made by lazy and unimaginative scriptwriters who can’t create an interesting narrative for more than two regulars.

Chapter 4 Taking the Case

Alongside the return of the Weeping Angels came Moffat’s other popular Doctor Who creation: River Song. The presence of River in the final outing for her parents was pretty inevitable and she’s now been freed from the convoluted timey-wimey continuity that had been established throughout her previous appearances. Now a professor of archaeology River doesn’t have to spend any more days in the Stormcage Containment Facility. After all, how can she be imprisoned for the murder of a man who never existed? As always the chemistry and interaction between Matt Smith and Alex Kingston was a delight to watch. Only in Doctor Who is it possible to become a recurring guest actor after a debut story in which your character dies. It’s a fair bet that River Song will continue to appear as long as Steven Moffat is the show runner and a part in the 50th anniversary series seems to be a given.

Chapter 5 Night in Statue Park

In the 1980s overseas filming came across as more of a perk for the production team rather than as an integral aspect of the unfolding story. Locations in and around Seville added nothing to The Two Doctors that couldn’t have been achieved with filming in the Home Counties, whereas the original proposed setting of New Orleans had been woven into Robert Holmes’ script almost as a character in its own right. Nowadays a Doctor Who story goes abroad for concrete reasons. The Fires of Pompeii, The Vampires of Venice and A Town Called Mercy could not have worked as effectively without the inclusion of appropriate foreign backdrops. The excursion to Dubai for Planet of the Dead was a complete waste of time though as it all looked like an infamous BBC sandpit with a touch of CGI.

Locations in Cardiff and Bristol were superbly used to render locations such as Winter Quay, the lair of the Weeping Angels, whilst three days of intensive filming for Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill in and around Central Park gave the episode a sense of scale, romance and atmosphere it would otherwise have lacked. Rory’s eerie encounter on the lower terrace of Bethesda Terrace and the journey of the Doctor and Amy through Times Square (the latter done in a single take) are highlights of the near guerrilla filmmaking that the BBC undertook. It’s impossible to spot which are the British locations and which are the American ones unless you already know. The meeting of Rory and River was achieved with Arthur Darvill in New York with Central Park as an establishing background and Alex Kingston in Cardiff. The BBC Wales Doctor Who team are certainly at the top of their game seven years in.

Chapter 6 The Gargoyle

As with The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone River’s entry into the narrative came as a result of her investigation into rumours about a mysterious statue in the possession of a wealthy collector. Thankfully this one was chained and damaged and so was unable to run riot. There remains a wealth of backstory to be told about the Lonely Assassins and their presence through time and space. Perhaps a visit to Notre Dame de Paris or the Peace Tower in Ottawa and their respective gargoyles could happen in a future season…

Technically the Weeping Angels seen so far are in fact grotesques, a carved stone figure. A gargoyle contains a water spout through the mouth whereas grotesques don’t. In the Middles Ages, the term babewyn (derived from the Italian word babbuino, meaning babboon) was used to refer to both gargoyles and grotesques. In the November 2001 BBC Books 8th Doctor novel The Adventuress of Henrietta Street by Lawrence Miles (for whom controversial is perhaps the best and politest term) the villain of the piece Sabbath is assisted by savage, demonic apes called babewyns.

Doctor Who can be so damn timey-wimey…

Chapter 7 The Skinny Guy

Rory’s had a rather rough time since meeting the Doctor. Killed and wiped from existence, reborn as an Auton, discovering his daughter was a time-travelling archaeology professor bred to assassinate the Doctor. On any given morning he’s probably trying to remember if he’s human, plastic, or the Last Centurion. No wonder he looks bemused so often…Yet throughout life, death, and rebirth his primary focus remained Amy and her happiness. Time after time he was prepared to give her up as he thought that was the best thing to do – but love always won through. Arthur Darvill will be a much-missed element of Doctor Who and it’s likely to be a while before anyone tries putting another regular male companion aboard the TARDIS.

Chapter 8 Julius Grayle

The characters of detective Sam Garner and the dangerous collector Mr Grayle were just two of many elements that cried out for elaboration but constrained by the single 45 minute episode format. The entire undertaking could easily have become a two parter building upon Rory and River’s investigation of Winter Quay in 1938 running in parallel with the attempts of Amy and the Doctor to land the TARDIS there. Especially noticeable by their absence are new great villains. Where is a new Mavic Chen, Tobias Vaughn, Sutekh, Magnus Greel, Sharaz Jek, Sil or the Master? Mr Finch from School Reunion and Lillith of The Shakespeare Code are the closest the Doctor come to a new worthy humanoid adversary. Far too often 21st century Doctor Who is told at a breakneck speed that barely allows the viewer to take in the happenings in once scene before plunging into another frenetic round of action. At several points in the past 6 1/2 series poorly developed single episodes should have been abandoned early on in favour of expanding a tale crying out for more time. The Wedding of River Song cried out for an additional 45 minutes, and surely no one would have lamented the absence of The God Complex or Closing Time?

Chapter 9 Calling the Doctor

Whilst River’s personal timeline might now be simplified Moffat didn’t completely abandon his trademark approach to the interconnectivity of time in which past events can immediately impact upon the present by becoming a fixed point in time. The Doctor’s reading of Melody Malone: Private Detective in Old New York Town instilled an ominous sense of foreboding as the Time Lord began to realised he was destined to loose his little Amelia Pond and there was nothing he could do to prevent it.

Chapter 10 The Roman in the Cellar

…And now poor old Rory finds himself trapped in a cellar with killer cherubs several decades before popping off to get coffee…

Chapter 11 Death at Winter Quay

Unfortunately after all the planning and hype the conclusion to the saga of the Ponds stumbled at the very last. Amy and Rory’s final scene should have been their Reichenbach Falls-style fall from the roof of Winter Quay as they deliberately sacrificed themselves to destroy the Weeping Angels through the creation of a time paradox. The love and nobility channelled by Gillan and Darvill as they effectively chose suicide, together with the horrified reactions of Smith and Kingston, were as heartbreaking stunning as anything ever seen in Doctor Who. Their disappearance from the Doctor’s timeline during the creation of the paradox and their fate left ambiguous could have been one of the greatest moments in the history of the series. Viewers could have decided their fate in their own minds. And perhaps…just perhaps…the Doctor could have met them again in the labyrinths of time…

Chapter 12 Amelia’s Last Farewell

In terms of companion departures and its emotional resonance Russell T Davies liked to have his cake and eat it. At the time the savage separation of Rose from the Tenth Doctor in Doomsday was without doubt one of the most heartbreaking moments ever in the history of the series (the destruction of K-9 Mark III in School Reunion scores top). David Tennant and Billie Piper had the viewers crying their eyes and hearts out. The two of them forever apart due to the barrier of wall and an impenetrable universe. Yet all that was rendered moot just one series later when Rose got to live happily ever after with the Doctor’s human clone. Being ripped from the presence of a friend or loved one for what is likely to be a very long time, or possibly forever, is one of the most traumatic events that can occur. Rarely in life does there come a moment of permanent separation where all parties have agreed upon the timing and been able to somehow prepare for the subsequent emotional shocks. In Doctor Who the best companion departures have been the emotionally wrenching ones. Amongst the most affecting from the classic series were Jamie and Zoe’s enforced removal by the Time Lords and subsequent memory wipe; Sarah’s eviction from the TARDIS due to the Doctor’s summons to Gallifrey; and Tegan’s sudden decision that she’s had enough due to all the killing that followed in the Doctor’s wake.

Steven Moffat, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill have made it abundantly clear in numerous interviews that The Angels Take Manhattan saw the FINAL appearance of the Ponds in the series, bar flashbacks. All three believed that the emotional impact and suddenness of their finale would be undermined if they simply popped up a few stories later with a cheerful wave to the Doctor. If that was a sly swipe at the Russell T Davies era then good on them.

Whilst the slightly wrong ending may have occurred in the graveyard courtesy of the leftover cherub, there’s no denying the impact of Amy Williams’ farewell to her Raggedy Man via the last page of the Melody Malone book. When watching the scene it’s worth bearing in mind that during that just out of shot is Karen Gillan reading Steven Moffat’s lines to Matt Smith. By the end both actors had tears in their eyes…

Afterword by Amelia Williams: Hello, old friend. And here we are. You and me, on the last page. By the time you read these words, Rory and I will be long gone. So know that we lived well and were very happy. And above all else, know that we will love you always. Sometimes I do worry about you though. I think once we’re gone you won’t be coming back here for awhile. And you might be alone. Which you should never be. Don’t be alone, Doctor. And do one more thing for me. There’s a little girl waiting in a garden. She’s going to wait a long while, so she’s going to need a lot of hope. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that if she’s patient, the days are coming that she’ll never forget. Tell her she’ll go to see and fight pirates. She’ll fall in love with a man who’ll wait two thousand years to keep her safe. Tell her she’ll give hope to the greatest painter who ever lived. And save a whale in outer space. Tell her, this is the story of Amelia Pond. And this is how it ends.

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Doctor Who - The Power of Three wallpaperWith a storyline of an invasion of contemporary Earth centred on London, a relative of a lead character, celebrity cameos from Brian Cox and Lord Sugar, and the return of UNIT (together with the organisation’s secret base under the Tower of London), The Power of Three feels like a homage to the Russell T Davies era. There is even a slew of underdeveloped ideas and a rushed nonsensical denouncement that cries out for the story to have been developed into a two parter.

Every time we flew away with the Doctor we just become part of his life. But he never stood still long enough to become part of ours. Except once. The Year of the Slow Invasion. The time the Doctor came to stay.

This Steven Moffat era episode eclipses the similar ones of his predecessor by injecting far more believable character moments and emotion into the human characters as the Ponds experience a crossover in their Earthbound and Doctor-orientated lives.

Set in 2020 and encompassing Amy and Rory’s 10th wedding anniversary on 26 June of that year, The Power of Three saw the Doctor coming to live with the Ponds whilst trying to solve the mystery of the “invasion of the very small cubes”. Although the Doctor attempting to pass as human had already been done in The Lodger, there was huge potential for Human and Gallifreyan culture clashes as the Last of the Time Lords attempted to adjust to everyday domestic existence with the Ponds as they tried (and likely failed) to explain his alien behaviour to their “normal” friends. Unfortunately the potential for humour and confusion was not seized upon and weak comedy scenes of the Doctor attempting to eschew his boredom occurred instead.

The idea of the cube mystery being played out across a year is an interesting conceit and one that could have easily been played out across several episodes. It even had potential as a series arc with the Doctor nipping back and forth through time and space attempting to solve the conundrum – popping back to Earth in 2020 every so often to check in. Previously established in the series has been the fact that the Doctor can’t just pop ahead in time so as to see the outcome of a problem and then travel back to prevent it happening. Once he arrives somewhere or somewhen he becomes a part of events. In Day of the Daleks the Third Doctor begins to explain the Blinovitch Limitation Effect in relation to being unable to change events, but he is cut off before the writer has to go too far down the path of exposition…

Because you were the first. The first face this face saw. And you were sealed onto my hearts. Amelia Pond. You always will be. I’m running to you and Rory before you fade from me.

After his tenth regeneration the first person that the Doctor saw was little Amelia Pond and she has been entwined in his existence ever since. Even though three centuries have passed in the Time Lord’s personal timeline he keeps returning to Amy and Rory time and time again before they sever their connections to him and move on. The Ponds are unable to give up the Doctor either. As Brian sagely observes it is not so much the adventures across time and space that his daughter-in-law and son cannot relinquish it is their best friend that they do not want to be parted from.

Some left me. Some got left behind. And some…not many, but…some died. Not them, not them, Brian. Never them.

Mark Williams’ appearances as Brian Williams has been one of the highlights of Series 7a. In The Power of Three he exuberantly throws himself into the mystery of the cubes, bringing up excellent theories as to the purpose of the objects, and diligently recording 361 days of Brian’s Log (even though Rory tells him not to call his visual diary by that name). Let’s hope that Brian returns in 2013 and beyond, even though the Ponds will have departed forever. His discussion with the Doctor about the fate of previous travelling companions leaves an ominous air hanging over proceedings with the approach of The Angels Take Manhattan. The ultimate fate of Amy and Rory may leave ramifications that the Doctor has to explain to Brian and others…

I’ve got officers trained in beheading…Also, ravens of death!

The undoubted highlight of The Power of Three and a moment that sent a frisson of delight through the spines of fandom was the revelation that the new commander and Head of Scientific Research of UNIT’s British branch was the daughter of the legendary Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (as played by the much-missed Nicholas Courtney). Armed with an absolute faith in the Doctor and a determination to protect and serve humanity, Kate Stewart (the Lethbridge having been dropped so as to avoid accusations of favouritism) is every inch her father’s daughter. In his blood and thunder days of his active service with the Second, Third and Fourth Doctors the Brigadier favoured a militaristic approach to resolving problems but towards the end of his life he developed a disdain for the way the new UNIT operated. Learning from an old friend he embraced a philosophy of “science leads” and imparted that viewpoint to Kate.

Kate Lethbridge-Stewart first appeared in fan spin-off films Downtime (1995) and Daemos Rising (2004) played by Beverly Cressman, who bears a strong resemblance to Jemma Redgrave who interpreted the role in The Power of Three. The appearance of Kate marks the first time a fan-created character has crossed over into the series proper rather than vice-versa and it is to be hoped that she returns soon. Jemma Redgrave is absolutely perfect as Kate, forming a strong connection with Matt Smith and clearly channeling the humanity and resilience that the late Nicholas Courtney invested into the Brigadier. Kate returning for the 50th anniversary would be a perfect way to honour Courtney and the unequalled contribution he made to the series.

The Shakri exist through all of time and none.

Operating from an unknown location on behalf of an unidentified force known as the Tally and once considered a legend from the Dark Times of Gallifrey, the Shakri possessed the potential to evolve into a fascinating new enemy for the Doctor with their determination to expunge all races they considered a dangerous contagion. Unfortunately their entry in the universe of Doctor Who was fumbled. Whilst the notion of using the cubes to scan and identify weaknesses in humanity after lulling them into complacency was a sterling idea by writer Chris Chibnall the application was badly handled. Especially with the presence of the child android and the two scary nurses at the hospital not being explained and the criminal under usage of Steven Berkoff, one of the most powerful and unpredictable actors in the land. Berkoff is normally able to register on earthquake monitors with the power of his performances yet here he almost blends into the background. Hiring an actor of such calibre requires a much more epic character to inhabit. Berkoff would make an incredible older Master for Matt Smith to confront.

Ultimately The Power of Three was one of the less successful stories of the Matt Smith era and only memorable for character moments for the regulars, the introduction of Kate Stewart and setting up the Ponds up for a happiness that is bound to be shattered in their final battle against the Weeping Angels.

So that was the Year of the Slow Invasion when the Earth got cubed and the Doctor came to stay. It was also when we realised something the Shakri never understood. What cubed actually means. The power of three.

Doctor Who - A Town Called Mercy wallpaperIn a mash-up of The Terminator and Spaghetti Westerns Doctor Who uses its unique format to examine the thin boundary between justice and vengeance as the inhabitants of A Town Called Mercy find themselves caught in the crossfire of a conflict born on another world.

Anachronistic electricity. Keep out signs. Aggressive stares. Has someone been peeking at my Christmas list?

1966’s The Gunfighters was the only previous foray of televised Doctor Who into the Wild West. Filmed solely within the confines of the BBC studios William Hartnell’s Doctor found himself involved in the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral. 2012’s A Town Called Mercy saw Matt Smith’s Doctor return to the genre on a far grander scale with location filming in Almeria, Spain utilising locations featured in classic Westerns such as Clint Eastwood’s A Fistful of Dollars. As with the preceding adventures in this series Asylum of the Daleks and Dinosaurs On a Spaceship viewers constantly needed to remind themselves that they are watching a production rendered on a television budget and not one with the backing rendered to a feature film. There is no cheating and cutting to a dressed-up quarry or back street in Wales as the vast Spanish desert landscape gives the episode a sense of scale barely seen in any other Doctor Who story.

America’s the land of second chances. We call this town Mercy for a reason. Though there’s some round here who don’t feel that way.

One of the greatest controversies in the wake of World War II was the spiriting away of Nazi war criminals in various manners. Many scientists who aided Hitler’s war effort ended up in America via Operation Paperclip, forgiven in order to gain their support in fighting Communism. The worst of the bunch, including Josef Mengle and Adolf Eichmann, fled to South America where they lived with the taciturn of support of governments such as those of Paraguay and Argentina. The hunting down of such individuals to face justice is a fundamental right of those that have been oppressed. But at what point does the quest for the impartial enactment of the law become an prejudicial attempt at vengeance? And is it possible to forgive the perpetrators for their heinous past acts in light of present philanthropic acts?

On the side of forgiveness in A Town Called Mercy is Isaac, the town marshal who viewed America as the land of second chances – a place to shed the past and begin anew free of any taint from an old life. To him Kahler-Jex was a friend who had saved Mercy from the ravages of cholera and despite his origins on another world it was Isaac’s duty as the marshal to protect him – even from those who wanted to judge him for past actions. For Isaac only the here and now mattered in order to gauge the character of Jex. What had happened before Jex’s arrival in Mercy was irrelevant and to his last breath he defended his friend from retribution.

On the side of vengeance was Kahler-Tek a victim of Jex’s loathsome medical experiments to convert duped volunteers into cybernetic soldiers to end a war that had cost vast numbers of lives. At the end of the conflict when the victorious cyborgs were deactivated Tek managed to escape to wage a campaign of vengeance upon the monsters who had created and betrayed him and his comrades. Too often vengeance is a mindless act causing collateral damage to innocents but in his quest Tek went out of his way to avoid the harming of innocents as that would render him no better than those he was hunting.

The Doctor found himself imbued with both the desire for vengeance against Kahler-Jex and the need to place him before a court for a fair trial. Once again shadows of the darkness that created the Time Lord Victorious in The Waters of Mars and the possibility of the Valeyard in The Trial of a Time Lord were on display as the Doctor forced Jex across the town boundary toward his self-created nemesis. Only the death of Issac and a moral lesson from Amy shocked him away from his blinkered path of rage. It is a rare event indeed when the Doctor points a weapon and is a fraction away from pulling the trigger. Not for the first time the Time Lord was reminded that without regular companionship he drifts towards a place where his morality and self-control are shaky at best.

Looking at you Doctor is like looking into a mirror, almost. There’s rage there, like me. Guilt, like me. Solitude. Everything but the nerve to do what needs to be done. Thank the gods my people weren’t relying on you to save them.

In Kahler-Jex existed shadows of the Master and Davros. Brilliant scientists who turned their abilities to evil whilst maintaining that their desire for conquest and perfection was simply a way to render the universe more orderly and peaceful. Unlike the Doctor’s great archenemies Jex came to recognise that despite all his best intentions and self-justification what he had done to Kahler-Tek had been an act beyond redemption in this life and had to be faced in the next.

Jex’s suicide in the explosion of his ship freed his creation from the obligation he felt to his fallen comrades and enabled the cyborg to find a new purpose in life as the guardian of A Town Called Mercy.

Doctor Who - Dinosaurs on a Spaceship wallpaperThe versatility of the series format is demonstrated in an ensemble romp mixing top notch special effects with comedy, horror, morality, and nobility featuring Dinosaurs On a Spaceship.

Inspired by Snakes On a Plane Steven Moffat’s pitch to writer Chris Chibnall involved the blockbuster-of-the-week title and the idea of a spaceship plunging towards a collision with Earth. From that thin basis Chibnall constructed a tale that connected with his so-so 2010 outing The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood; introduced three new allies for the Doctor; and took place in Egypt 1334 BC, the African plains 1902 AD, India and outer space 2367 AD, and the Ponds’ living room in contemporary London.

Show runner Steven Moffat had shied away from his predecessor’s trick of featuring companions’ relatives in recurring roles. No equivalent of Jackie Tyler or Wilf Mott for the Eleventh Doctor. The presence of Amy’s parents in The Big Bang led to a not unreasonable expectation of further appearances in the following series and beyond – yet they have not even been mentioned, let alone seen. Rory’s parentage had remained a complete mystery for over two years but now in the glorious form of Harry Potter star Mark Williams came Brian Pond Williams. Armed with his folding trowel and fear of travelling further than the local golf course, the actor/character gelled perfectly with the three regulars and it was easy to believe that he and Arthur Darvill could be father and son.

One of the highlights of the story came at the end with Brian sitting on the threshold of the TARDIS with his flask and sandwich box gazing down at the wonder that is the Earth viewed from orbit. Imagine him and Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbens) exchanging tales of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors whilst sharing tea at the latter’s allotment. The return of Brian Williams in the fourth episode is an event to anticipate and one cannot but hope that the character will make appearances beyond the departure of his son and daughter-in-law.

One of the funniest and surreal moments ever in Doctor Who came with the friendly Triceratops sniffing Brian’s grass covered balls and then fetching them in the manner of a dog with a ball. The callous elimination of the harmless creature by the vicious Solomon was an event rendered heart-wrenching by the compassionate acting of Matt Smith comforting a dying animal and the extraordinary work of the special effects team in creating a creature that had been so instantly believable and lovable.

Since Nu-Who began The Mill (post-production and visual effects) and Millennium FX (prosthetics, animatronics and special make-up FX) have provided some of the most extraordinary work ever seen on television. In Dinosaurs On a Spaceship the two companies combined to produce incredible dinosaur effects and prosthetics, as well as visuals such as the Silurian space ark, Solomon’s spaceship, and the Minority Report-style computer displays. The Doctor’s previous encounters with dinosaurs came in the era of the Third Doctor around 40 years earlier in The Silurians and Invasion of the Dinosaurs and the results were less than spectacular. Nowadays Jurassic Park visuals have replaced Ray Harryhausen stop motion visuals and it was no stretch of the imagination to believe that dinosaurs had been resurrected and allowed to wander around the corridors of BBC Wales.

In The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood Chris Chibnall had invoked another element from the Pertwee years – the Silurians, aka Homo Reptilia, the reptilian race that had dominated the Earth before the rise of Homo Sapiens. Chibnall’s use of the Silurians as the saviours of the dinosaurs was a masterstroke that demonstrated the nobility of the race that has set them apart from so many other Doctor Who “monsters”. The Eleventh Doctor works especially well in association with Homo Reptilia, as seen with Madame Vastra in A Good Man Goes To War, and it has to be hoped that the race makes further appearances.

The naked greed of Solomon stands in stark contrast to this selfless nobility of the Silurians. His killing of the creatures in pursuit of profit leads to a rare act of ruthlessness from the Doctor. In allowing Solomon to die the Time Lord applies a maxim utilised by Batman/Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins in that whilst he will not kill an enemy there is nothing to say that he has to save the person. After manipulating a Dalek into self-destruction in Asylum of the Daleks this is the second story in a row where the Doctor has displayed violent impulses. Donna Noble once pointed out to the Doctor that he needs companions around to keep his darker nature under control.

Since the departure of Amy and Rory as full-time travelling companions in The God Complex the notion has been developed of the Doctor making many additional acquaintances on his solo travels throughout time and space, including the Allan Quatermain-inspired big game hunter John Riddell and Queen Nefertiti (in an adventure that gave birth to the Biblical myth of a plague of locusts). The presence of Riddell and Nefertiti enabled Amy to effectively become the Doctor in a scene with her own companions as she deduced that they were on a Silurian space ark. When Rose tried to evoke the Doctor in The Christmas Invasion and bluff the Sycorax she fell flat on her face. Here Amy triumphed spectacularly. She and Rory have acquired skills and confidence in their years of travel with the last of the Time Lords. Is the day coming when they need to function and live in an environment far distant from the one they grew up in?

In the archives of BBC Wales please let there be an outtake of Matt Smith shouting:

Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherfucking dinosaurs on this motherfucking spaceship! Everybody strap in. I’m about to open some fucking windows.

Asylum of the Daleks poster

Undoubtably one of the darkest series premieres Asylum of the Daleks saw the mutated denizens of Skaro in a visceral tale of horror that featured them at their most malevolent since the classic era’s Revelation of the Daleks.

It is offensive to us to extinguish such divine hatred.

Steven Moffat’s first script for his third series as show runner heralded a change in direction from the complex temporal intricacies that characterised the two parter The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon that opened the previous run. For the five stories comprising the first half of the 2012/2013 series Moffat promised a blockbuster-movie-of-the-week. And in Asylum of the Daleks he most certainly delivered. From the original cyborgs of The Daleks to the Special Weapons Dalek of Remembrance of the Daleks all the varieties were represented. In the chilling Intensive Care scene the Doctor encountered insane Daleks chained in the darkness. From Spiridon (Planet of the Daleks) to Kembel (The Daleks’ Master Plan), Vulcan (The Power of the Daleks) to Exxilon (Death to the Daleks) the battle-scarred survivors of confrontations with The Oncoming Storm.

The Russell T Davies era re-established the Daleks to their glory days as one of the great monsters of science fiction and as British national icons, but the stories tended toward spectacle rather than horror. Aliens rather than Alien. The aforementioned Revelation of the Daleks and 1975‘s Genesis of the Daleks (the greatest Dalek story ever) examined the pure heart of darkness of the cyborgs with creeping tension and gathering dread. By entering the Dalek Asylum the Doctor found himself at close quarters with the Daleks in a way not seen on screen since his visit to Necros many incarnations before. More importantly the story portrayed the Time Lord as being genuinely afeard of the Daleks. When the Doctor is frightened of an enemy then the stakes are increased many fold.

Whilst Asylum of the Daleks plundered and resonated the near 50 year history of Dalek stories Moffat also expanded the mythos of the children of Skaro with the introduction of the Parliament of the Daleks and the Dalek Prime Minister. The concept of a parliament implies a democratic hierarchy whereas previously the structure for the Daleks was one of dictatorial empire. Perhaps the events of The Big Bang changed aspects of Dalek history and they now have elections and corruption scandals…

For the first time since Journey’s End the acclaimed bronze Daleks took centre stage, supplanting the much derided redesign introduced in 2010’s Victory of the Daleks. By the production team’s own admission the New Dalek Paradigm is the biggest misstep of the Matt Smith era to date and Moffat subsequently decided to retain the bronze Daleks as the standard soldiers and positioned the Paradigm Daleks as an officer class in command of them. The scariest concept introduced by Moffat (and one required in order to justify the non-destruction of the Asylum) was that of the Daleks allowing the continued existence of their insane brethren as they found “divine hatred” beautiful.

Don’t be fair to the Daleks when they’re firing me at a planet!

The unheralded appearance of Jenna Louise-Coleman immediately after the title sequence likely caused millions of brains to explode as Moffat played one of his timey-wimey tricks.The actress is not due to appear as the new companion until the currently unnamed 2012 Christmas Special yet there she was in the guise of Oswin Oswald (highly unlikely to be the name of the future companion) baking soufflés, flirting with the Nose and the Chin, and keeping the Daleks at bay with the assistance of hammer and nails. Naturally there was a trademark Moffat twist that meant she could not be the character everyone thought she was. Presented in horrific flashback came the revelation that she had been an innocent working on a pleasure cruiser that had the misfortune to crash into the Asylum. Her identification as a genius lead her conversation into a full Dalek with her human manifestation a way of her mind blocking out the horror that had been enacted upon her. But why the appearance of someone that will be significant in the Doctor’s future? Does Oswin Oswald encounter the Doctor and his new companion at some point in the future and her appearance is retained for some reason? Interestingly the Doctor never became aware of her appearance – only the audience. So what is the Moff up to? Doctor Who is at its best when a grand mystery is afoot, spoilers under wraps, and the audience left to theorise wildly.

Whatever they did to me at Demon’s Run, I can’t ever give you children. I didn’t kick you out…I gave you up.

As proclaimed by the writing on Amy’s knuckles in the pre-credit sequence Asylum of the Daleks was a tale of Hate and Love.

Amy’s decision to free Rory from his obligation to her after the events that culminated in A Good Man Goes To War left her barren was a threat that transcended all their previous shared terrors. Death and the end of all existence is as nothing compared to the pain and loss involved in the divorce of two wedded souls predestined to be together forever. The Daleks may be capable of communication via their telepathically-shared knowledge but never will they be capable of the love inherent in the species they exterminate across time and space. As long as true love is present in one party then it can never be extinguished and no matter the actions of one half of the equation the togetherness can always be rekindled and burn even brighter.

Hate was played out via the animosity that the Doctor and the Daleks possessed toward each other through the accumulated rage of the centuries following their first encounter on Skaro. Neither party seemingly capable of existing anymore without animosity for the other. The Doctor is ruthless with the Daleks in a manner beyond anything he feels for any other foe. Yet now the hatred evaporated thanks to the twist ending of Asylum of the Daleks where all knowledge of the Doctor was expunged from the Daleks’ hive mind. Steven Moffat is a mission to return the series to its 1960s roots when to all he encountered throughout time and space the Doctor was “Doctor who?”

Following last month’s triple purchase of Doctor Who Magazine the buggers are at it again…special editions of issue 452 on 20 September for The Power of Three and The Angels Take Manhattan. Hope they don’t do this for the 8 stories due in early 2013.

DWM 452 The Power of Three DWM 452 The Angels Take Manhattan

Those clever swines at Doctor Who Magazine have ensured that I will have to purchase three copies of issue 451, due out 30 August. There is a cover for each of the three stories that they are previewing: Asylum of the Daleks, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, and A Town Called Mercy.

DWM 451 Asylum of the DaleksDWM 451 Dinosaurs on a SpaceshipDWM 451 A Town Called Mercy

Asylum of the Daleks poster

All the Daleks!!! EVER!!!

Dinosaurs!!! ON A SPACESHIP!!!

Cyborg gunfighters!!! IN THE WILD WEST!!!

River Song!!! Baby Weeping Angel!!! IN NEW YORK!!!

Listen Cyril, tell him that I’ve borrowed Mr Goldsmith’s car. That I’ve found a spaceman in a field – possibly an angel – but he’s injured and I can’t get his helmet off, so I’m having to take him into town to find a police telephone box. Alright?

Doctor Who - The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

After a series replete with flashbacks, foreshadowing and much “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” (©The Grand Moff) jumping around of the narrative, it came as something of a surprise to have the production show runner pen such a linear tale as The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. Often it felt more like a Russell T Davies script than a Steven Moffat one and that is in no way praising the writing. The sequence with Reg’s Lancaster following the light from the “lifeboat”, and the children refusing to escape because their mummy always comes to find them, came close to being as nauseatingly saccharine and sickening as any OTT emotional moment in an RTD script.

Moffat and RTD have both often stated the importance of putting the festive setting of a Christmas Special front and centre. To quote Slade “It’s Christmas Time!!!”. Yet the stories premiered on Christmas Day have never been the best that the series has produced in the 21st century. Elements such as killer Christmas trees, robot assassins disguised as Santa Claus, and oodles of falling snow remain in the memory long after the tales themselves have been forgotten. Possibly the best Doctor Who Christmas Special is the one story that was never developed, produced, or labelled as such. Charles Dickens, themes of sacrifice and redemption, and ghosts in a snow-covered city on Christmas Eve, The Unquiet Dead is by far the premier tale for the festive season. In 2010 The Grand Moff drew upon Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for the narrative (and title) of his first Christmas Special and for his follow-up in 2011 he appropriated elements from another literary classic for inspiration: CS LewisThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the second part of the highly popular The Chronicles of Narnia.

Aspects of Narnia saga have been cited as inspiration for Doctor Who, none more so than the gateway to Narnia: “the wardrobe” – an incongruous everyday object that concealed the entrance to an infinite world of thrills, mystery and strange beings. If the TARDIS were not a police box then surely it would be a wardrobe of some sort. As Lewis died on 22 November 1963, the day before Doctor Who was first transmitted, he never saw the TARDIS, but if he had lived to see the mysterious nature of the Doctor’s timeship, how likely would he have been to recognise his ideas in flickering black and white?

Usually called the Doctor. Or the Caretaker. Or “Get off this planet”. Though strictly speaking that probably isn’t a name.

In 2010 Sir Terry Pratchett was taken to task by numerous fans for daring to suggest that the science in Doctor Who is “pixel thin”. An alien with two hearts travels through time and space in a wooden Metropolitan Police telephone box. Well of course the science is nonsensical. Producing a book about the science in Doctor Who would be idiotic. Science fantasy has always been a better way to label the series, especially since Steven Moffat took the reins. Is there anyone out there that can apply a scientific explanation to how the Doctor is summoned from across time and space by the Arwell family by the snapping of a wish bone next to a telescope?

Quite often the Doctor’s curiosity and intentions for the best land him in trouble on numerous occasions, and his desire to repay the kindness of Madge Arwell was the catalyst of the majority of events in The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. When set against characters who have never encountered him before Matt Smith’s Doctor comes across as a manic child with no adults to contain him. In this narrative that approach to the Time Lord was grating at times.

The stars are going inside her. She’s taking the whole forest.

Doctor Who - The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe 2With “nu-Who” (as it’s been dubbed in unimaginative quarters) one aspect that can never be faulted is the production design. Granted the budget is far more than was available in the days of old but it clearly helps to have designers in tune with the visions of the writer and the director. In the 80s a designer could work on light entertainment one week and Doctor Who the next. Particularly impressive this time around were the “lighthouse” and the Wooden King and Queen, which were strongly reminiscent of the illustrations John Howe has produced over the years in association with the Middle Earth tales of JRR Tolkien. Curiously enough in the 1930s and 1940s CS Lewis was a member of the literary discussion group Inkings that was associated with the University of Oxford. One of the other regular members was Tolkien.

The ineffectiveness of the sonic screwdriver against wood has been a running joke from the pen of Steven Moffat. Doubtless this gave rise to this story, though the concept of wooden aliens first appeared in the second Christopher Eccleston story The End of the World and that adventure is explicitly referenced. Once again the wood-based aliens are the goodies not the baddies with the “monsters” being humanity with their urge to sacrifice nature for the sake of commerce.

Please say we can tell the difference between wool and sidearms.

Guest star Arabella Weir seemed destined to appear in Doctor Who given that David Tennant is one of her closest friends, was her lodger for several years and is godfather to her children. It’s a shame that the role she took on wasn’t more memorable. The intention by teaming her up with Bill Bailey appeared to have been the creation of a Robert Holmes-style comedy act. However, it failed. Whilst Bailey in particular was note perfect dead pan with the delivery of his lines, the three Harvest Rangers were simply not given even screen time to make a proper impact. In some ways they were a comedy version of the mercenaries seen in The Caves of Androzani – apt given that they came from Androzani Major, one of the planets seen in Peter Davison’s memorable finale. This methodology works the best with references to the classic series in that it provides a lovely moment for the longtime fans and detracts nothing from the narrative for those who have only watched the 21st century version of the series.

River told us.

The Doctor’s own family were likely lost during the events of the Last Great Time War, possibly sacrificed when the Time Lords and Daleks were destroyed. Only one genuine member of the Doctor’s family has ever been seen on screen, his granddaughter Susan and in The Tomb of the Cybermen Patrick Troughton’s 2nd Doctor implied that his own family was long dead or lost in some manner.

Through his companions the Doctor created himself pseudo-families, probably without the realisation that he had even done so. Though the Time Lord has constantly professed to being happiest in his own company it’s always been clear that he needs company on his travels through time and space – often to tell him how brilliant he is, occasionally to keep him in check, but mostly to experience the wonders that he can only now experience as simply science. As good as he is at lying solo, Matt Smith’s Doctor goes to new levels when he’s in the company of Amy and Rory.

The coda of The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe demonstrated how much these three characters have come to mean to each other when the Doctor learnt that a place is always set for him at the Christmas dinner table. However, all that will end later in 2012…