Monday, December 30, 2013

Blu Ray Review: The Day of the Doctor

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor
3D Blu Ray/2D Blu Ray/DVD Combo  (Main Feature: 75 min)
Released by BBC Home Entertainment on December 10, 2013. SRP $29.98 (Blu Ray)
Subtitles: English SDH 4:3/16:9 DTS-HD 5.1  HD: 1080p

It is actually really difficult to find the words to start this review. For us to get to this point seems impossible. The fact that I am writing a review for the 50th anniversary special to Doctor Who still seems to be a surreal experience. I am a life-long fan of the series. I have been watching it continuously since 1984. It was never mainstream. It went away for many years. When the series came back in 2005, it was a sizeable success in the UK and took a while to catch on again in the US. Over the past 3 years, I have been watching the stunning rise in popularity in this series. The amount of people who are fans is mind-numbing to me. If there was ever a time to see proof as to how far this series has come in popularity, it would be the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who with this episode, The Day of the Doctor, as the anchor.
The story itself is a feast for the eyes and memories of the series. Almost more than anything else this was the bridge between the classic series and the new series but done in a very unorthodox way. The biggest revelation was given to us at the end of Series 7 with The Name of the Doctor when we found out that there was another Doctor that no one knew about before now. This was an incarnation that the Doctor had tried really hard to forget even as going as far as saying that this person does not deserve the name of the Doctor. It was clear almost immediately this version (played by John Hurt) had something to do with the Time War.

Ah yes, the Time War. This concept was introduced to us when Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005. This changed much of the series for us long-time fans. The biggest change was this Time War pitted the Time Lords against the Daleks and both races were obliterated leaving just the Doctor left to bear the weight of his actions. The mystery of Doctor Who soon became about what happened in the Time War to turn the Doctor into someone who mourned his actions in the Time War and was the man who ended it all “in the name of peace and sanity”. How this was achieved has been a mystery.
By the time we get to the start of the Matt Smith era, the Time War takes less precedence in the series. It is still mentioned but not as a prevalent as it had been. The idea that it would take the center stage for the 50th anniversary seemed right. The concept had been around long enough that it was now a cornerstone of the mythology of the series that it seemed right to be included.

The special melted my heart immediately when this episode opened with the original title sequence from 1963. It sets the perfect tone for the special reminding us how this series started. It even goes a step further with an updated recreation of the first episode with a police officer walking past a sign for the I.M. Foreman Junkyard and in black & white no less. I am impressed that a junkyard can stay in business for over 50 years. I wonder if Steptoe’s rag & bone yard is still around?
The story starts off so happy. Clara gets a message from the Doctor at the school she teaches at. It’s called Coal Hill School. Not everyone is going to get it which is fine. I get it and that is all that matters, to me. Clara takes her motorcycle and rides out to where the TARDIS is located. It is such a happy moment. The music and visuals paint a fun atmosphere fitting of a celebration. It is clear that the Doctor and Clara have become really close. Soon something happens. The TARDIS gets picked up via a helicopter and is transported to the National Museum. UNIT is responsible for this. UNIT was featured in the 10th anniversary story, it is seen in the 20th anniversary story, and is even a part of the 30th anniversary Children in Need special Dimensions in Time. It is so appropriate that it is a major part of this story.

The Doctor has been brought there for a specific reason but is sidetracked by a painting. The painting is called either “No More” or “Gallifrey Falls”. The 3D painting reminds the Doctor of the worse time of his life; the time where he killed the Time Lords and the Daleks to finish the Time War. We, as the viewer, are transported to the Time War, which we saw a little of in The End of Time. This is where we get a proper introduction to the Doctor also known as the War Doctor. We find out that he is done with the years and years of trying to get the war to end. He is tired.
We get a glimpse of the Time War being fought on Gallifrey. We are seeing horrible carnage. Daleks invade Arcadia. This is a lush scene with lots of action, explosions and Daleks. We get cities built in CG and are treated to a lot of visually stimulating imagery including watching the TARDIS used as a weapon against invading Daleks.

The War Doctor steals The Moment. The Moment is a powerful weapon of Time Lord technology where the operating system became sentient. From there, this tired version of the Doctor takes the weapon and decides to use it to end the war. It will destroy Gallifrey, the Daleks and himself. He brings the weapon to an unknown planet and we see The Moment up close. It is a box that has an intricate clockwork style innards. What the Doctor doesn’t realize is that the interface takes a familiar form. Perhaps not familiar to the Doctor (yet) but familiar to us. It looks like Rose Tyler but it is in fact meant to be Bad Wolf.
She is aware that the Doctor wants to end the war in a horrible fashion but she devises a way for him to see the lasting effect on himself if he does this. The Doctor does not want to live through this but this is what The Moment will make sure happen if he uses the device. She will make sure he lives as punishment for destroying everything.

She devises a way for this version of the Doctor to see the future by opening up a time portal. Once opened something immediately falls through. It is…….a fez.
To me this is one of the most fascinating aspects of this story. The storyline gets very complicated very quickly but Moffat and director Nick Hurran do an incredible job of making this whole segment work seamlessly. In a matter of minutes, the War Doctor gets a Fez through a portal, we catch up with the Tenth Doctor, we find out there is a Zygon plot, Tenth and Eleventh Doctor meet and the War Doctor catches up with both of them. It is handled brilliantly through clever editing and great storytelling. I am seriously impressed by this segment. The overriding plot becomes the War Doctor seeing what has happened to him since he destroyed Gallifrey which will ultimately help him to decide if he should still go ahead with this plan.

The interesting thing about this story is that the Doctor (really any of them) are not put into any danger. It’s more of a long decision the War Doctor needs to make. I have been critical in writing and in podcasts about the Steven Moffat era of the show. I think Matt Smith is brilliant but I have found the writing of the series from Series 6 onwards to be disappointing but I feel this episode captures the right amount of celebratory goodness that I really needed from this story.
I think anyone going into this needs to have seen the new series more so than anything else. As I mentioned, this story features heavily on the back story of the Time War. Something introduced to us when the series came back. There are things in this that I feel like I would normally be pulling my hair out over in dislike but I really enjoyed in The Day of the Doctor. Simple things as the use of the phrase timey-wimey which is a huge annoyance to me these days. The use of the sonic screwdriver as a weapon is also hugly disappointing but these are OK down to one man. John Hurt.

Perhaps it’s not down to John Hurt solely as the War Doctor but more to do with how Steven Moffat wisely chooses to make a distinct split in how the Doctor sees himself and his place in everything and it mirrors the shift in how the Doctor has been portrayed as a character between classic series and new series. It’s not an us versus them scenario but a comedic reflection on how the series have changed. It’s bound to in 50 years, right? Examples of this are the War Doctor confusing the 10th and 11th Doctor for companions of the Doctor, the lack of the 10th and 11th Doctor speaking properly (such as phrases like time-wimey), not using the sonic screwdriver a scientific instrument, and making note of the kissing between the 10th Doctor and Elizabeth. These are all examples of how the War Doctor makes comments to how the Doctor has changed. It’s nice to see the series make fun of itself but also serves a dramatic purpose of the Doctor trying to forget and move on from the horrible conclusion of the Time War.
I think everyone gave a real stellar performance in this episode. Matt Smith was very gracious to allow these other actors and characters so many great lines and situations while the whole time nobody questioned this was still his show. One small example as to why he is going to be missed so much! Jenna Coleman is his current companion Clara. I have not warmed to her up until now. This is mainly because Moffat set her up as one of the most important companions in the Doctor’s own history even before we had a chance to know her. I think she is perfect in this. She is lovely and makes a huge impact on this story. She is a big part of the climax to the episode without getting in the way. Welcome to Doctor Who Clara!

Returning to the series is Billie Piper as The Moment. It is such a bold and wonderful decision to bring her back but have her only seen by the War Doctor. I know there are a couple of fans who were disappointed by the lack of interaction between Tennant and Piper in this episode but I loved it. Every time Piper had returned to the series after Doomsday, I felt she wasn’t as good. It didn’t work for me. Here she is beyond excellent. She is funny, sexy and so pivotal to the Doctor’s future. The first scene between her and the War Doctor is probably my favorite as she keeps saying “No More!” It is also edited really well too.
David Tennant returns as the 10th Doctor. As you can read here, I am not a big fan of his version of the Doctor. Yet, I loved him here and I was so happy he was back. There was a kind of self-effacing, self-deprecating quality to his Doctor that I felt wasn’t there during his era. If this is what we would have got if he stayed an extra year under Moffat’s watch, I would have been very interested in that. Just as I would be completely interested in a series of adventures between Smith and Tennant both as the Doctor. They play so well together. Even I got a bit fan-girlish when Tennant put on the fez. Next thing you know, I’ll start to use the word squee!

John Hurt is the War Doctor. I had no idea what to expect from him. I literally thought he would be evil. It turned out, he was the Doctor. It just goes to show us, the Doctor is always the Doctor. If you wonder why after 50 years, this series is still important, it is because of this statement. The Doctor is always the Doctor.
This isn’t a detailed synopsis of the story but it is a Blu Ray review so I will not give away the ending. At some point I will write a full on article but this isn’t it. I am saying this because I want to talk about the ending. Not to give it away but if you look at Doctor Who as a whole, not separating new series from classic series, then for me, the ending was a defining moment in the history of the series. There is a moment where a decision will need to be made and it is a wonderful chilling and emotional moment that makes me so proud to be a fan of this series.

I will say there are some great moments that I must share. I love the opening of the episode from use of the Hartnell title sequence to Clara leaving Coal Hill School and riding out to see the Doctor. He is wearing Amy Pond’s glasses which is such a nice touch. The opening is fun, inspirational and fresh. Something that shows this 50 year old program is showing no signs of slowing down. I love the use of familiar music cues from Clara’s theme to the Dalek theme to Martha’s theme which is also a way to re-introduce us to the 10th Doctor. I heard that there was no budget for a new score for the music but if that is the case, it turned out well for us. I love the use of familiar dialogue said by other actors such as “You’ve redecorated! I don’t like it!” and others.
I love Doctor Who and I really enjoy the new series but I will be honest, I don’t watch it as much as the classic series. I have probably, in a very short amount of time, have watch this episode more than any other new series episodes possibly bar Rose. I truly love this episode to bits. I hope you enjoy it too.

Extras:
I feel for this being a one-off Blu Ray release, there is actually quite a lot of value for money here:

There are two mini-episodes that were released online prior to the broadcast of The Day of the Doctor. One wasn’t as good but the other was a fan’s dream come true.
The Night of the Doctor: This is something many of us fans have wanted to see since the series returned in 2005. In a surprise to us all, this mini-episode featured the return of Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. The story, as short as it is, gives us some great background as to what has happened with this incarnation of the Doctor as well as a bridge between the classic and new series plus serves as a way to set up the anniversary special. I love how Paul McGann has so little time in this but he comes across magnificently. It almost makes me sad to know that there wasn’t a whole TV series made for his Doctor. Of course for those of you who want to see that can find whole seasons of his Doctor done in audio form from Big Finish productions.

The Last Day: This is a slightly odd mini-episode that focuses around the defense of Arcadia, the second city on Gallifrey. There is some strange re-use of people (Time Lords?) going on who are reconstituted as new guards that is not really explained. Their responsibility it to watch the skies to make sure no Daleks are invading even though the thought of such a thing is impossible. Then, the impossible happens.
It is clear that both mini-episodes don’t really have a huge budget. The Night of the Doctor strength lies in Paul McGann and other guest cast members. Any of the special effects in the episode are minimal. The Last Day is a little different. It is a little more effects heavy and stuff like the appearance of Daleks look to me at least a little rough. I highly recommend The Night of the Doctor which to me holds an essential place in Doctor Who history.

Doctor Who Explained: This is a documentary by the people who made the individual Doctor documentaries for BBC America, The Doctor Revisited. Its 50 minutes in length and I feel does a really good job of spreading the wealth between classic series guests and new series guests. I don’t feel it is to heavy one direction over the other. It has interviews with the following Doctors: Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant, and Matt Smith. It has loads of companions such as William Russell, Carole Ann Ford, Frazer Hines, Nicola Bryant, Sophie Aldred, Arthur Darville, Karen Gillan, and Jenna Coleman. Just when you think you see all the people who are being interviewed, suddenly people like Matthew Waterhouse shows up. Once again, I gave praise to David Tennant above for his portrayal of the Doctor and here he comes across with intelligent thoughtful answers. I felt he has been this way through all of The Doctor Revisited specials.
Behind-The –Scenes Feature: This is a short look at the making of The Day of the Doctor narrated by Colin Baker. It is a fun feature keeping in the same fun vein as the anniversary special. Some nice moments on here and it is short enough to not outstay its welcome.

Comic Con Trailer: This is the trailer for The Day of the Doctor shown at Comic Con that was a big secret. No one uploaded it to YouTube which was frustrating as it was the very first look at this much anticipated special. Now seeing it, I have to admit that I am glad this was not the first promo I saw for the anniversary special. The ones shown on BBC1 in November were much better in my opinion and the one on here is only alright. It does beg the question, why are the BBC1 trailers/promos not on this disc? That is a miss.
Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Tribute Teaser Trailer: This is one of the coolest trailers ever done. When I first heard there was going to be a trailer for the 50th, I just assumed clips and the theme music. This is a wonderfully creative look at our favorite series. I have read complaints online about how people didn’t think it was technically interesting or that it doesn’t look like Jon Pertwee for the Third Doctor, blah, blah, blah. I am sorry but I love it and I love the fact I now own this in 1080p. I still tear up a bit when I watch it and it gets to the part with Sarah Jane. Wonderful stuff!

Packaging:
First off, this release is a 2D/3D Blu Ray & DVD combo. I find the 3D element of the story to be interesting but not great. It almost feels like the 3D was an afterthought. There are moments that I feel opportunities were missed to enhance something in 3D such as when the 11th Doctor throws his fez into the time fissure. This could have a huge 3D impact but didn’t. Other things had a 3D effect that felt uninteresting such as the Doctor pointing to something off-center but it was oddly profoundly 3D. I will admit, I think 3D is a fad and is uninteresting to me. I do not need to be immersed in the action to be immersed into the story. So I may not be the best person to pass judgment on this aspect of the release.

What I am impressed with is that with this release is the DVD that comes with it. Normally on some of the releases by other studios that include a copy on DVD, we may only get the main feature and nothing else. With this Blu Ray set, the DVD is a complete DVD including all of the extras that were mention above on the Blu Ray. I think that is a pretty cool move and I applaud it.
The packaging itself is a standard double Blu Ray case with a cool lenticular slip case which is kind of neat. Finally, the set comes with some trading cards I don’t know what I will do with them other than keep them in the case but it’s kind of fun. The art on the cards is kind of nice and when you lay them out the images actually connect to form one image of all the Doctors. Cool! There are also some facts about the Doctor on the back of the cards.

This was a special episode and I am suitably impressed with this release. These new series releases don’t tend to have the volume of content that the classic series releases have but I feel that this release does a good job of giving us value for money and an excellent episode to boot!
This is a very non-spoilery look at The Day of the Doctor. If you are interested in a full commentary/conversational style look at this episode, please check out the podcast I am on called The Others where we look at The Day of the Doctor. Please check it out here. Direct link to MP3 here.

Next week: I look at an episode of a series that is a real treasure of British television. I look at an episode of Dixon of Dock Green. Though I look at an episode from later in the series where it is not quite the same show people think of from the 1950s. As a loose tribute to Producer/Director Joe Waters, I look at Wasteland.

Have a great week!
Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at FTA13867@gmail.com

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Three Wise Men of Darrowby

How does a special show celebrate a special episode? It may seem like an odd question but as it is well established that I dearly love All Creatures Great & Small, there is something very special indeed about this series. It is usual custom for TV series to set apart their Christmas episodes from the regular run in a series. Arguably, 1970s churned out some great Christmas episodes of my favourite series. This 1978 installment would be one of my absolute favourites of all time.

There was a period of time that I was not watching All Creatures Great & Small. This was not for any reason of dislike towards the series. Actually far from it. It was on my mind constantly. As I mentioned in other articles, I started to watch this wonderful series on KTCA on Sunday evenings in the mid-1980s. The series itself went a long way to cementing my love for all things British. KTCA stopped running the series not long after I started to watch it. I would hazard a guess that would be because they went through the three series and decided not to keep running it. I did catch the later episodes on A&E sometime in the early 1990s but although I enjoyed them, they were nothing like what I had remembered. I really wanted to see the episodes that I was most familiar with and wasn’t finding them anywhere.
I remember in 1993, I was visiting a friend in Sheboygan WI and we turned on the TV only to find an episode of the classic run of All Creatures Great & Small playing. I was ecstatic! I hadn’t seen them in years! I asked my friend if his parents wouldn’t mind taping them for me and he, quite rightly, said they would not tape it for me. There was no hesitation in his answer.  So the search went on. By chance, in 1994, I went to a garage sale and found a bunch of VHS tapes. Maybe 5 of them. They had on them, taped at LP speed, episodes from Series 1 & 2 of All Creatures Great & Small recorded off KTCA. Because these early episodes had not been seen around here in such a long time, I might as well have just found 4 episodes of The Web of Fear. It was that exciting to me. So, I obviously bought those. I was in for a treat.

For some reason, many of my memories of episodes this series came from 1 episode, Merry Gentlemen. I don’t know why since I really don’t remember originally watching it. When I watched the A&E episodes, I thought maybe my memory cheated with how good this series was but when I got a hold of this few episodes, I realized that I was not mis-remembering at all. This was truly an amazing series and I have watched one of the best installments to right about here.
Merry Gentlemen 24/12/78

The episode starts with Gypsies arriving at a farm. They come through twice a year and spend time there before they move along to another place. It’s the holiday season getting close to Christmas. The idea of war is imminent and it is the thought of enjoying their time together now as there is an uncertain future. Tristan believes, pretty much right up until the war that war will not break out. Everyone else is not so certain.
As usual with an episode of All Creatures Great & Small, this episode is made up of a lot of smaller stories which brings everything together at the end to come up with a happy ending. There are a lot of great moments in this episode. What I love about Merry Gentlemen is that although it is a Christmas episode, it doesn’t get bogged down in the holiday. It is not a saccharine induced set of moments where I am forced to feel happy. At the end of the episode, I feel happy because these characters are not only well-written but beautifully realized by the actors.

When I said a lot of my memories come from this episode, I guess in reality only one memory really is strongly associated with it. James and Siegfried need to go to the Hewison farm to look at a horse. This is a fairly easy call but Siegfried knows the real reason why he was called out. It is a tradition in the Hewison family that Siegfried passes judgment on the holiday cake Mrs. Hewison makes. They feel that Siegfried has an impeccable palette. Mrs. Hewison shares a secret with James. She is not serving Siegfried her cake but one made by her sister. She wants to see if he will notice the difference and if he will be truthful with his response.
Courtesy of John Archbold
This is an absurd situation but directly in a very serious way. She cuts into the cake, it looks like she is cutting into dense piece of cardboard. The plate that will have the amazing piece of cake is passed ceremonious from person to person before it gets to Siegfried. It becomes tense as he takes the cake and examines it carefully. He thoughtfully feels the texture of the cake between his fingers. Taking in the sight and smell of it. The camera virtually does a 360 degree turn around as we see the entire family and James anxiously look on to see Siegfried’s verdict. The director, Christopher Barry, really allows this scene to take it’s time and play out. No music. It just takes it’s time which makes the whole scene brilliant. Finally Siegfried takes a bite.  He looked onto Mrs. Hewison and says solemnly after he takes another sip of whiskey “This is a good cake. It’s a very good cake indeed but if you may permit me to say that this is not up to your normal standards.” Suddenly the room erupts with happiness. Siegfried is a hero! I have paraphrased what Siegfried had said but one thing is certain. I have watched this episode many times and nearly every time I see this scene, I ask myself if I would have the guts to be as truthful as Siegfried and if I did, would I be able to deliver the news in such a perfect way.

Another interesting this about the Hewisons is that Mr. Hewison was played by Robert Brown. To many of us, he is also known as M in the James Bond film series replacing Bernard Lee. It is interesting as I have seen both of them play British country farmers. Brown in this and Lee in the “pilot” for the Nigel Kneale series Beasts in an installment of Against The Crowd called Murrain. It wasn’t really a pilot but it certainly got people at ATV interested in putting Beasts into production.
Of course there is something wrong with the Gypsies, or more accurately one of their donkeys. One has tetanus and may die. The Gypsy father doesn’t want to pay for the donkey to be mended, although that donkey is a favourite of his daughter’s Margie. Finally, Siegfried is able to persuade the father to allow them to treat the donkey as a gift to Margie but only Siegfreid and the Gypsy father know of this arrangement. The father is too proud to accept gifts like that but in this case has been persuaded to do so for the love of his daughter.

Of course what we really need in a festive episode like this is Mrs. Pumphrey and something going wrong with Tricki woo. In fact, Siegfried was wondering if they needed to check in on her and the animal since it was getting near Christmas and he wanted to make sure they would be remembered so they would receive a hamper from Fortnum and Mason’s with all sorts of decadent goodies. That is one of my favourite aspects of the series is when we see food. I am certainly a foodie and love watching how food is portrayed in a TV series. All the meals Mrs. Hall prepares in the series look hearty and wonderful, always being served in nice dinnerware. There is a very procedural way they eat and it always fascinates me.
Sadly, Tricki Woo is dying. He is so sick that even the vets are not completely sure he will recover. Siegfried comes up with an inspired idea. They take Tricki Woo with them and treat him at Skeldale House. While being treated at Skeldale House, Mrs. Pumphrey visits daily (at 10am exactly). There is a funny moment when she comes into the surgery with a defeated face and says, “He’s dead. Isn’t he.” She had a dream that Tricki Woo had died and James was holding back from telling her until after the Christmas holiday. Of course nothing could be further from the truth since it is a Christmas episode of All Creatures Great & Small and death is simply not on. With the miraculous saving of Tricki Woo which is really down to the care of Helen, what does Mrs. Pumphrey do? Sends a gigantic hamper of all sorts of wonderful goodies. I wish I could sample some of that!

The relationship between Tristan and his brother Siegfried is truly one of the highlights of the series and this episode is no exception. It is clear that Siegfried gets exasperated by Tristan but there are moments that he is truly a caring brother. Such as when Tristan cuts himself earlier in the episode while trying to clean the hoof of the donkey that is being treated. It is revealed, over one of Mrs. Hall amazing dinners, that Tristan never had a tetanus shot. Siegfried calmly stops dinner and quietly asks his brother to come with him. He takes him to the local doctor to get a shot. The whole time just being calm which is the exact opposite we all would expect from Siegfried.
Just as he can be caring, he is also mischievous. He plays a joke on his brother once he realizes that Tristan wants to see inside a secret room that has been locked for years. Listening in on a conversation between Tristan and James about how Tristan is going to get the key to the room, Siegfried gets in the room first and plants a skeleton sitting at the dining room table with his head separated from the body resting on a plate in front of it. It scares the hell out of Tristan who becomes hysterical. A high light of the episode is watching Siegfried catching Tristan pouring himself a drink to calm his nerves. At the end of the episode, while everyone is getting ready for midnight mass, Siegfried has a gift for his brother, “a gift of pure friendship”. Tristan opens it up to find skeleton keys and then realizes that he was set up by his brother.

Why was this room locked in the first place? Simply because the house is so big that Siegfried didn’t want to have an extra room for Mrs. Hall to clean that wouldn’t be used. Plus, there is also a fine selection of vintage wines in there too. I had wondered if this is the episode that had a story I heard Peter Davison retell a couple of times at conventions. He talk about an episode that had vintage wine that were brought in as props for the episode. For authenticity sake, they were real bottles of vintage wine. The cast were not allow to touch them but they ended up opening a bottle and drinking it without knowing how old the wine was. I’ve often wondered if it was this episode or a different one. Does anyone know?
Finally, I mention how many of my memories seem surrounded by this episode but the memory also cheats for me. I swore that this was the episode Patrick Troughton was in. Even up to the point of watching it this time to write this article, I expected him to be the father of the gypsies and when he wasn’t that I figured he would be a different character later in the episode. He is not in this episode at all. He was in the Series 3 episode Hair of the Dog. I am not even in the right season!

If you have this on disc, Merry Gentlemen should be essential holiday viewing every year. It is the right balance of being a Christmas episode without going overboard. Christmas episodes of series sometimes border on pantomime of themselves. I think a prime example of this is the Public Eye episode Horse and Carriage. I am sure there is a lot of room for those type of episodes but this is perfect. What a wonderful treat to watch every year. Special thank to John Archbold for providing the scans for the 1978 edition of The Radio Times.
Next week: The Blu Ray review to the 50th anniversary special to Doctor Who, The Day of the Doctor!

Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at FTA13867@gmail.com

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.
Courtesy of John Archbold


Saturday, November 23, 2013

50WHO: In The Name of The Doctor

This is the eleventh part of a series of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Over the years there are certain stories that mean a lot to me either from personal memories or involvement I had in fandom through the years. These articles are not meant to be close examinations of the plot or production but more about what these stories mean to me on a personal level. Enjoy.

When does a TV series transcends itself into something more? A program that lives well beyond the simple confines of the television set and jumps into the hearts and imagination of millions. A TV series that influences its fans on how they live their lives and how they interact with others right down to their belief systems. A TV series that could manage that would have to been around for a long time. Try 50 years.

For my eleventh 50WHO article, I originally thought about looking back at the stories that have multiple doctors. You know, the stories like The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, and The Two Doctors. These are pretty amazing stories where we see old friends again with current friends. It seemed to make sense since The Day of the Doctor is a multi-Doctor story. Then I thought the scope of the article was too small. It was too narrow in focus. This wasn’t about multi-Doctors, it wasn’t about reunions, in so many ways it’s no longer about the series itself. It is about us the fans.

I don’t think I could have ever imagined in my wildest dreams where Doctor Who would take my life. Yes, I said where Doctor Who, that TV series that has run on BBC1 from 1963-2013, would take my life. It’s like I’m saying my life had been led by a TV series. When it is at its most basic, that sounds pretty sad. It’s not sad and I would like to tell you why and by the time I am done you may actually agree with me about the same thing for your life.

This isn’t about Doctors, TARDISes, Cybermen or Daleks. It’s about the people I met on my journey of growing up and living my life. It’s about the people who helped shape my life. So many of them I met because we all watched Doctor Who. Being a fan of a TV show, to me, means watching it on TV and then being done with it. What we do with Doctor Who is enjoy it, discuss it, debate it, love it and seek out new friends through it. The majority of friends I still have from when I was young are the same people I met through Doctor Who fandom. These are the people who I consider close friends. It would be easy to dismiss it meaning all that I talk about with them is Doctor Who but that is so wrong and untrue. These are the people I met and loved through life. For example, one was the best man at my wedding, I stood up for a couple at another wedding. I have gone on vacation with these friends and have spent many hours and dollars on the phone with them conversing about all manner of things.

This article is for those of us who have never let go of the series. Never needed a rest from it. Still find stories even like The Twin Dilemma to have merit. This is for those of us who are not afraid to dress up like characters from the series, who knew bow ties were cool before he even wore one. This is for those who say squee even though I hate that word. The fact we have the word means we have Doctor Who.

A life without Doctor Who in it is impossible to think about. It’s not just putting DVDs on the shelf, it is interacting with everyone. Ask yourself, where would you be without the influence of Doctor Who in your life? I did and I didn’t like that answer.

I feel like without Doctor Who, I would lose what was unique about me. I wouldn’t have my sense of humour, I wouldn’t have my friends that I met through the years and all around the world. Some of these people I have lost track of but eventually we always reconnect.

My job(s) have allowed me to get involved with the series in small ways. I have been around the world going to conventions and meeting people who worked in the series. Without Doctor Who I would have never gone to Minnehaha park in the fall of 1988 which changed my life forever, never been to conventions to listen to Jon Pertwee tell someone off, never listen to Sylvester McCoy tell someone to leave him alone. I would have never been able to tell Terry Walsh to fuck off in Chicago or stay in Richard Franklin’s house let alone have John Levene stay in my house. I would have never been able to drape myself in a flag that was half US and half UK, never been able to surprise Deborah Waitling in a bar in LA that I knew who she was. I would have never found myself in a PBS board room with other people trying to bring Doctor Who back to their station. I would have never been able to start up the Minnesota Doctor Who Viewing Society but refuse to watch anything I was showing. I could go on for pages….. but so could you.

I know people who have made it their lives to become experts on the series, people who went into writing or production not only because of Doctor Who but the sole purpose was to bring it back and work on it. People who make thousands of other people happy by putting on conventions. Other people who name their pets or children after Doctor Who companions or characters. Men who grow sideburns because they want to look like David Tennant and women who die their hair red to look more like Karen Gillan.

Back in 1984, I never would have thought how insanely popular the series would have become. How often does Entertainment Weekly cover it or CNN have a news article on a link on their web site. BBC America has virtually turned themselves into the Doctor Who channel. I see people walking on the streets in downtown Minneapolis wearing Doctor Who t-shrts. I see cars drive down freeways that have the Doctor Who emblem on the back window. I will be at an IHOP and see a woman carry around a homemade TARDIS purse. Many people where I work watch the show whenever they can. They talk to me about it a lot too. I will walk past people’s cubes and see a sonic screwdriver on their desk. I have seen co-workers have their kids dress as the Doctor for Halloween while their wives are dressed as a Dalek. When missing episodes were found, I got quite a few emails from people in my industry (film production) genuinely excited about the news.

Finally there is this site. I am excited that on November 23rd 2013, I can post an article about why this glorious series is so important to me. Even though I am having a hard time really articulating it in the way I want, I am still happy I can do so. I am so very proud of this web site and what it has become; it all came about because of Doctor Who.

I am grateful that I am quoted in a BBC America article for the 50th anniversary of the series. It doesn’t get any better than that; my 10 year old self would have never believed it. Of course first he would have asked what is a web site?  Here is the article I am quoted in and here is my bio on the BBC America site.

Doctor Who has helped shape what I would become and what I became.

And why do I do it?

Why do we do it?

All in the name of the Doctor.

Happy 50th anniversary to a show I absolutely cherish and would be completely lost without it.

Next and final 50WHO article: There is one fourth Doctor story that always intrigued and fascinated me. It was never finished and a wonderfully ingenious idea almost got a worldwide release of it. I end this series of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary with my story of Shada and how I worked on the impossible idea.

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at FTA13867@gmail.com


I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

50WHO: Matt Smith Story Winner

The Winner is:

The Eleventh Hour
I feel like a lot of people feel the way I do about this story. It is one of the best Doctor first-story stories ever. It’s fun and Matt Smith defines his role right from the start.

Here is how voting broke down:
The Eleventh Hour: 13 votes (10 of these votes from the tie round)

Vincent and the Doctor: 7 votes (4 of these votes from the tie round)
The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang: 2 votes

The Snowmen: 2 votes
Cold War: 2 votes

The Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone: 1 vote
Amy’s Choice: 1 vote

Why I am happy The Eleventh Hour was chosen: The Eleventh Hour means a lot to me beyond the story. To my why, please check out this article I wrote here.
It’s done! I literally couldn’t do it with you! You picked all the stories I am watching. Thank you! I am commenting on what I am watching on twitter and Facebook. Please check it out!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at FTA13867@gmail.com

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.


50WHO: Nominate a Matt Smith Story for 50th Anniversary Marathon

Round 11 (The Final Round):

Voting open to nominate a Matt Smith story
Voting is open for you to pick the Matt Smith story I watch for my 50th Anniversary Marathon I am viewing on 11/21 and 11/22. The story with the most votes will be added to the marathon.

Parameters: Do not pick The Name of the Doctor as I will be watching that right before the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor. Simply can’t wait!
Voting for the Matt Smith era closes on 11/20 at 8pm CST.

You may nominate a story in the comments section below, on my twitter feed @FromtheArchive or via e-mail fta13867@gmail.com

50WHO: David Tennant Story Winner

The Winner is:

Human Nature /The Family of Blood

Once again overwhelmingly we have a winner. I assumed it would be Blink but it was this amazing 2-parter from my favourite David Tennant series. The end with the school kids gunning down the scarecrows foreshadowing World War I always makes me weep to be very honest. It’s emotionally incredible and David Tennant (who is not a favourite of mine) is excellent in this.
Here is how voting broke down:

Human Nature/The Family of Blood: 6 votes
Blink: 2 votes

Midnight: 2 votes
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End: 2 votes

School Reunion: 1 vote
The Girl in the Fireplace: 1 vote

The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit: 1 vote
The Shakespeare Code: 1 vote

42: 1 vote
Utopia/The Sounds of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords: 1 vote

The Waters of Mars: 1 vote
Why I am happy Human Nature/The Family of Blood was chosen: I have said for the longest time that this 2-part story is in fact the perfect 50th anniversary special. It was a way to get all of the Doctors in it plus paid homage to the people who created it and still provided us with an original, fresh concept. This is perfect viewing for this marathon.

Voting for the final round, Matt Smith commences at 8pm tonight CST. I am having a blast with this and I hope you continue to take part in choosing the stories for me to watch.

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at FTA13867@gmail.com

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

50WHO: The Time Lord Victorious

This is the tenth part of a series of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Over the years there are certain stories that mean a lot to me either from personal memories or involvement I had in fandom through the years. These articles are not meant to be close examinations of the plot or production but more about what these stories mean to me on a personal level. Enjoy.

I will be honest from the outset, I am not a big fan of David Tennant’s portrayal of Doctor Who. I am not someone who rates his favourite Doctors in order. I would never go up to tell Colin Baker he is my 7th favourite Doctor and mean it as a compliment.  I don’t have time. I generally love all of them. Unfortunately, I have a least favourite. That is David Tennant. I am sure I am breaking some rule of being a fan of the series in the 21st century. All fans have to love him. Well, I know that he is a fan favourite for the younger generation. He embodies a lot of what I don’t think the Doctor should be. I know that some of this goes down to how the character of the Doctor was re-imagined by RTD. Suddenly, he is an angry dark figure with a scary past. The warrior; the oncoming storm. I know this characterization started even as far back as Season 25 but that was different. Then it was mystery where now it is a character who walks in a room and shouts a lot about how badass he is and people believe him. Someone said to me about the Tennant era that they liked him so much because he was so tragic. Shut up! It’s an angle of the Doctor I can personally do without!
Honestly, I don’t believe Tennant had the chops to pull the character of the Doctor off.  At least the character that RTD created.  I am assumingthis is where someone points out to me that Doctor Who had some of the highest ratings of all time during the Tennant era therefore my opinion is invalid. I get it. It doesn’t change my opinion. When Eccleston does angry, he is angry. When Smith does angry, he is angry. When Tennant does angry, he is shouty. His Doctor makes a lot of empty threats. The most laughable to me was in The Idiot’s Lantern. We find Rose without a face, as one does, and the Doctor is pissed. He makes an over the top shouty threat that he will get Rose and make whoever did this pay!!!!!!!! Sorry. It’s ridiculous. I feel I should end the article here but I have more.

As soon as I saw Tennant’s costume, it looked like a fan costume. Tennant had a hand in how the costume looked and he was a fan. Sure the colours matched and there was no sprig of celery but I have been to enough conventions to see a fan costume. This was it. I know this costume was at the front of the cosplay movement but it does nothing for me. And the one thing that Tennant had going for him that was really cool he was not allowed to use by RTD. His accent. Speaking in his native Scottish accent, he sounds great. Look at Tooth and Claw. I think if he spoke like that throughout his era, my opinion would have been greatly changed. Is that a little too ridiculous? He sounds great in Tooth and Claw. Sylvester McCoy was allowed to keep his accent. I believe Peter Capaldi will be allowed to keep his.
I had a big problem with Tennant when he joined. He replaced Christopher Eccleston. I can hardly blame Tennant for that. Still, I was pretty gutted when Eccleston left. Series 1 is super magical to me. There was an edge to it which kept the viewer on their toes. To me, the whole tone of the series changed in Series 2. Tennant was still trying to find his way as the new Doctor. I felt the scripts were not that great, at least not as great as the scripts used for Series 1. Of course, that is all personal taste. The thing I never really came to terms with was how the relationship between Rose and the Doctor changed between Series 1 & 2. The Doctor always found Rose to be a very special person. That is why he asked her to join him in travelling. The relationship between the two seemed to be very friendly with fun amounts of flirtation. When we get to Series 2, there is clearly more happening between the two of them. Apparently, there is an inside joke that only the two of them are privy too. I wouldn’t have minded if those two were having a relationship together but they were so smug. The two characters became unlikeable to me. I think the worse was in Tooth and Claw where Rose was trying to get Queen Victoria to say she was not amused. This seemed like a complete lack of respect for the ability to time travel. I sound like an old man! I have heard that the point of them acting this way was for them to get the big comeuppance of Rose being trapped in the parallel universe at the end of the season. Maybe so but it doesn’t change the fact we had to put up with them for the run of Series 2. But did we have to put up with them?

That’s the thing I do not understand. Myself and a couple other people I know feel the same way about the tenth Doctor and Rose’s relationship but it appears many look at it as the greatest and most tragic love story in Doctor Who. This is what made a lot of teenagers fans of the series. I just didn’t go for it. When the series returned in 2005, Rose was a breath of fresh air. When she left the following series, I couldn’t wait to see her go.
Of course the Doctor was emotionally wounded by the loss of Rose. We get Martha on the scene. She appears to instantly fall in love with the Doctor even though he never notices. What he also doesn’t know is that she does a lot to help him move on from Rose. She never gets credits for that. Did RTD not like Martha? As much as I didn’t like Series 2, I felt Series 3 was inspired. There are some great stories that are in this year. I love Human Nature and The Family of Blood. I love Blink. Unfortunately, Blink may have been the worse thing to ever happen to Doctor Who. The phrase wibbley-wobbly timey-wimey was fine in Blink. It is horrible in anything else especially when fans use it to explain away something on fan forums. I really feel like that Moffat felt like he needed to incorporate the flexing of time in the narrative to everything he did. He comes across like he is being overly clever when he does this but he falls far short. The ideas rarely ever hold up to plot scrutiny. There is usually something that I can point to as to why there are plot holes but never fear! We have any explanation now for literally any kind of plot hole. It is wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey. More like punchy-punchy in facey-facey.

I know it sounds like I don’t like anything and that is not true. Once Tennant’s Doctor was away from Rose, I found him much more enjoyable of a character. I thought the return of Donna Noble in the series was great. I thought she was kind of odd in The Runaway Bride but she had an amazing character development in the series. Unfortuantely that all came to an unnecessary end in Journeys End. I am not sure why RTD writes himself in a corner by erasing all of Donna’s memories of her time with the Doctor yet brings her back for Tennant’s finale where the two can’t even share a scene together. To me, it felt a lot like of writing in circles because of the limitations put onto the character now her memory was erased. The end of The End of Time with the Doctor giving Donna’s mother the lottery ticket with the money he borrowed from her deceased husband was really touching. The three series that starred David Tennant as the Doctor showed us that he was surrounded by friends that would ultimately reflect how he treated other people. Perhaps in some way the companions of that era were buffers for him. What would happen if he were by himself?
The final set of adventures featuring the tenth Doctor were a set of specials that formed the gap year. 3 of the four stories featured Tennant by himself. He would team up with someone in each adventure but effectively he was on his own. This would lead to one of my favourite stories of his era. The Waters of Mars. Were you wondering if I was ever going to get to this?

The Waters of Mars is one of the scariest Doctor Who stories of all time. Basically from the moment he arrives, the Doctor is trying to get away. This was a fixed point in time where all of the personal of Bowie Base One are killed. No one ever knows why. The death of everyone on this base, especially its commander Adelaide Brooke, is the launching pad for allowing Earth to reach further than it ever had before as Adelaide’s granddaughter becomes a great space explorer ushering in a new dawn. One of the greatest continuity errors in the series happens here. Adelaide was a young child when the events of the Dalek invasion in The Stolen Earth happen. She remembers being in her room as a Dalek flies by her window going to kill her bit doesn’t as if it knows her. The Doctor explains that is because the Dalek knows her death is a fixed point in time. The point of the Dalek invasion was to get the Earth to align the planets to create the Reality Bomb that obliviates everything except the Daleks. Nothing else would exist except for the Daleks. Therefore, the plan would never work if Adelaide was a fixed point in time to the point that the Dalek wouldn’t kill her to uphold that rule.
Anyway, what I love about this story is that the Doctor is alone and is out of his element. He really only wants to get away once he knows where he is. Adelaide calls him out on everything even calling him a coward at one point. There are some very tense moments in the story. Let alone when crew members are taken over by the water is frightening enough, moments between the Doctor and Adelaide are chilling. After she tells the Doctor he can leave to go back to the TARDIS, she traps him into the air lock to get more information about what is going to happen to her and her crew. She is very much an equal to the Doctor and we find she actually surpasses him. In one of the most emotionally charged segments of Doctor Who, he walks back to the TARDIS outside on the surface of Mars. Through the communications radio in his helmet he can hear the chaos and fear as the crew is trying to escape and he is unable to help them. Suddenly, after Ed becomes affected and blows up their escape ship, the Doctor snaps. We hear this wonderful collection of clips to remind us that he is the last of the Time Lords but he still needs to follow their rules. Suddenly, this all changes as he decided as last of the Time Lords to start doing things his way.

He returns to the base with a new attitude. He is the last survivor of the Time war; he is the Time Lord Victorious. He saves the remaining crew by transporting them back to Earth. The Doctor has changed. He plays it cocky and is looking down on the people he saves. Tennant play this exceedingly well. Adelaide proves she is smarter than the Doctor. She understands why she needed to die. She understands the implication of the events that happen because she dies. She now despises the Doctor. She knows what she has to do and she commits suicide. This episode takes a truly horrific turn. It is devastating. The Doctor knows immediately he has gone too far. Ood Sigma appears and the Doctor immediately asks, “Am I going to die?” Everything about this is chilling, dark, and wonderful. But not wonderful for everyone.
Immediately after this aired, I brought a copy in to work for a friend of mine and I could watch over lunch. Another friend who was not familiar with Doctor Who watched with us. Afterwards, she looked at us wide eyed, “has the Doctor ever done that before?” My other friend who was a fan also in shock over what she saw just said “no.” very quietly.

Of course this episode has created an ongoing debate between a close friend and me dating back to when the episode first aired. He doesn’t buy into the Time Lord Victorious stuff. He doesn’t think the Doctor would ever do this. It is very contrary to his character. I think my point is that is why it is so interesting is that he did do it and now we see the consequences of it. Well, at least I thought we would. I don’t think we ever really did and that is too bad. If anything, I would have liked to see him be “punished” for what he did. It should have played into his final adventure more prominently. As for my friend and I, we recently got into an argument about this again after we watched Hide for the first time. Just for the record, I was the one who was unreasonable while my friend was just laying out his reasons for why he didn’t like that concept in the episode.
Not only is The Waters of Mars is one of my favourite episodes of the Tennant era because of the change in his character but I think it is one of the best looking productions ever including some of the most frightening monster make up ever seen not only on the series but ever. Truly amazing! Finally, it was directed by one of the greatest creative minds on the series, Graeme Harper.

I know a lot of people love David Tennant. I have grown to appreciate him more but he is still not one that I care for like the other actors. I have seen him in other things and I think he is brilliant; his performance of the Doctor just leaves me cold. How is that for a cheery article?
Next 50WHO article: this week November 23rd we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. I will publish my eleventh article that day with a manifesto of sorts as to how my life has been influenced by this series. How so much of what I do has been done from what I have seen in the series. How so much I have done in my life has been done In The Name of the Doctor.

Have a great week and don’t forget to vote for what I watch for the 50th anniversary marathon!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at FTA13867@gmail.com

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.