Friday, 1 January 2010


Later today David Tennant will make his 75th appearance on tv during the Xmas period in which he'll shout Allons-y for the last time, run down his last corridor, then drop his sonic screwdriver and turn into Matt Smith. I have mixed feelings about this regeneration.
I'm a Dr Who fan without ever becoming a fully fledged Whovian. I'm old enough to remember watching the first ever episode in 1963 and since then I've watched every regeneration and I've enjoyed most of them. Like many, Tom Baker is my favourite Doctor and Colin Baker is the worst. For me the rebirth five years ago after a long break was welcome, but it has also been variable in quality.

The first of the new seasons featured probably the best actor to take on the lead role in Christopher Eccleston and his intensity and passion made that run of episodes the most solid and enjoyable I can remember. There wasn't a duff episode that year, the arc Bad Wolf storyline was well-developed, and there was a near perfect balance between being a kids' show while delighting the grumpy old gits like me who take it too seriously. Then David Tennant took over the lead role and it all went downhill.

It wasn't his fault. Tennant brought energy and charisma to the role, but he was hindered by poor scripts. The lead producer and writer Russell Davies is in equal measures maligned and lauded by fans and I firmly started in the applaud camp then gradually shifted to the cheesed off group. Season 2 was lacklustre and it attempted with diminishing returns to reproduce the Bad Wolf formula of plot development. Tennant and his companion Rose had no chemistry and worse the scripts kept telling us they had plenty of it. When Rose finally stomped off to the alternate beachy dimension from which she could never return, I hoped it'd improve, but Season 3 disappeared down a hole in the ground. I didn't like Rose, but her replacement of Martha was the worst companion I could remember, being drippy, wooden and annoying. I gave up a few episodes into the year and decided that sadly I was now too old to watch this any more. I might never have been tempted back if it hadn't have been for John Simm appearing as the Master. Sadly John couldn't save yet another weak episode that followed the Bad Wolf plot style, but it featured the good news that the show was getting rid of Martha. Her replacement was Donna.

I had never watched the actress who played Donna in her comedy series so without preconceptions I watched the first episode of season 4 and I was instantly re-hooked. After three seasons of petulant kids being the Doctor's companions he had a real woman to spark off. Donna was a revelation, being someone who could tell the Doctor he was wrong, usually very loudly. She could also cry better than any actress I've ever seen. None of that single tear rolling down a cheek without smudging the make-up nonsense, with Donna it was the full waterworks, snot and red eyes. Best of all she brought the best out of Tennant as they had genuine chemistry. Season 4 restored my faith in the show, well, for a while as it all went wrong again when for the fourth time Davies pulled the Bad Wolf trick to end the season on a low. The mobile pepperpots were once the most terrifying creatures in the universe, but seeing a Dalek kingdom defeated yet again with a magic word was too much. The Season 5 specials have all been awful too and not just because they lacked Donna.

We had some tosh in the snow, some tosh in the desert, some tosh on Mars. And the first part of the final bit of tosh on Xmas day was poor even by the low standards the specials have set themselves. It featured John Simm being resurrected with a magic spell and then after watching the Matrix he went whizzing around in the air and turned everyone into himself. The Doctor did precisely nothing. The plot, as usual, didn't develop, and only Bernard Cribbins becoming the new companion kept me awake. It all built up to the epic moment when an old regeneration of James Bond produced staggering amounts of spit that sprayed in all directions like that Roy Hattersley Spitting Image doll while he announced that the Time Lords were back. This should have been a supreme moment for Who fans, except for the fact Davies killed them off in the first place and we all know how his Bad Wolf reset button works.

So I'm expecting tonight's episode to feature the usual nonsense. Tennant will run around to hide the fact that there isn't a plot again, John Simm will enjoy himself playing everyone on the planet, and James Bond will slobber down his chin. Somehow Rose, who is in an alternate universe from which she can never, ever, ever, ever, most definitely not ever even if the universe were to implode, return will return yet again. Then someone will press a reset button to let the human race live leaving the Doctor to regenerate for a reason that'll make not even a single ounce of sense, no matter how much you try to justify it.

In the end I expect to breathe a sigh of relief. I have no idea who the actor Matt Smith is, but the great news is Steven Moffat takes over as producer and main writer from Davies and that promises a long-needed change of direction. Every Moffat script has been light-years better than the Davies ones. Unusually for a tv science fiction show Moffat understands science fiction, unlike Davies who hates it (collecting planets and then hiding them one second in the past, my arse). Better still Moffat creates clever stories that hang together and develop rather than Davies' style of reset and dismissing tricky plotting issues as down to convergence or coincidence. And in Riversong and Sally Sparrow Moffat created 'companions' who had more impact in a few minutes than real companions Rose and Martha managed in whole seasons. Davies does have huge strengths in creating grounded characters, introducing real life situations, and having wacky ideas, but I've seen his Who plot, numerous times. I enjoyed it the first time, but I'd like to move on now, please.

So, I'm looking forward to the new era of Moffat and Matt for season 6. But for now there's just the little matter of tonight's episode and getting past the current Doctor, James Bond, a gallon of spit, Rose, Rose's lips, John Barrowman! (shakes fist), Sigma Ood, Omega Ood, Alpha Ood, Obi Wan Ood, Donna, the Master, 6,435,823,766 versions of the Master, the Master's turkey butty, sundry Time Lords, sundry Time Ladies, the Time War, the loud background music that drowns out the dialogue, the Immortality Gate, some aliens with green skin and spiky bits that make them look like a dog's chew toy, June Whitfield, that bloke from the Wombles, that terrible actor with big ears who spoilt an episode of New Tricks as I kept wondering if he could play a Vulcan without makeup, Hannibal Lecter, that woman who I can't believe played the love interest in King Ralph and who won the Who Weakest Link special, Sarah Jane, the end of space, the end of time, the end of everything, the end of the Tardis, four knocks by someone we never expected, several kitchen sinks, a hundred trillion self-destructing pepperpots, a two hour special with Davies explaining why everyone he's ever met is a genius, a three hour special on Tennant's time as the Doctor, the commentary version explaining why the story made sense, honestly it did, and Tennant appearing on the few remaining tv shows he hasn't been on yet.

And then... The Doctor is dead, long live the Doctor!


Jack said...

Never mind - there is the final final series of 'Life On Mars' to look forward to.

Evan Lewis said...

There's more Life on Mars coming? I saw the US series, and am waiting for the library to get the UK set.

I started watching Dr Who in the 70s, when Tom Baker was king, and was able to catch reruns of most of the episodes with the earlier Doctors. I agree that Eccleston was the best. He was insane to precisely the right degree. Be interesting to see what happens with the new guy, and the new producer.

I.J. Parnham said...

There's more LOMUK, in a way. There's a sequel series to LOM called Ashes to Ashes featuring most of the cast and set in the 1980s. They're filming the third and final series of that at the moment. A2A isn't as good as LOM but it has its moments and is worth catching after seeing LOM.