Monday, 30 November 2009


NOTE: "Utopia" is, of course the first episode in a 3-parter, but as it has so much that is unique to it, I will be dealing with it separately.

"Utopia" is about the last humans, clinging onto existence on the planet Malcassairo, 100 trillion years in the future when the Universe is dying. They hold onto one hope Utopia, where it is hoped that they can survive the end of the Universe. Professor Yana, an itinerant scientist, has built a ship to take them there, but life on Malcassairo is hard- only one of the original inhabitants has survived, the Professor’s assistant Chantho, and marauding bands of devolved humans hunt for human flesh. This is the situation that the Doctor, Martha and Captain Jack Harkness have stumbled on. It is rather straightforward and not particularly original, but it works as a story about the last humans. Only it isn’t. This is the story of how the Doctor finds out that he is not the last Time Lord- and if there is one other Time Lord who could have survived the Time War, we know who it would be. For me, this was a truly thrilling about-turn in the story that led to the final third being the most exhilarating 15 minutes of the programme’s history. The Doctor and Jack have succeeded in helping Yana to send the humans to Utopia- but Yana is dead and the Master has returned…

Russell T Davies’s dialogue has its usual spark and there is great thought to the world- building- the ‘rocket’ is actually a ship totally unlike anything even the Doctor has encountered before. The character scenes are first rate helped by the cast. It is somewhat redundant of me to say that Sir Sir Derek Jacobi (count the knighthoods!) is utterly superb- he is, after all, one of the finest actors of all time. He makes Yana a thoroughly lovable old man without making him overly dotty- there is an unmistakable touch of William Hartnell about him. His rebirth as the Master is utterly chilling- when he turns to look at the camera, it is as if the soul has been sucked out of him. In less than ten-minutes, Jacobi makes his incarnation of the Master as distinctive as Ainley or Delgado- sadistic and psychopathic, radiating hatred to all. Chipo Chung is wonderful as Chantho, who is literally the cutest, sweetest five-foot tall insect ever! Then, of course there is John Simm as the regenerated Master, bursting with the joy of rebirth, but still consumed with hatred for the Doctor. The regulars are on fine form- the newly formed Doctor/Martha/Jack dynamic is instantly effective and all three actors have great scenes.

The key to the story’s success is Graeme Harper’s direction- the twist in the tale would make the first two thirds of the episode skippable in lesser hands- yet even on rewatching it, it is still compelling. There are memorable scenes aplenty- Jack clinging onto the TARDIS, the brilliantly written and directed scene where the Doctor’s hand is revealed. Then there is the revelation of Yana’s true nature, which is flawlessly brought to screen in a breathtaking ten minutes. The production design and music are flawless, resulting in a hugely enjoyable episode that tells a story that has only just begun…

NEXT: "The Sound of Drums"/ "Last of the Time Lords"

Saturday, 28 November 2009


It’s time for the Doctor-lite episode and we see the highly anticipated return of Steven Moffat to Doctor Who. At its heart, "Blink" has one of the most frightening race of monsters that Doctor Who has ever presented- the Weeping Angels, who can only move when you are not looking at them. The frightening concept at the heart of "Fear Her" that was carelessly unexplored is allowed to reach its full potential here- something that shouldn’t move that does. The idea is striking because it appeals as both a fear that children can relate to and a conceptually fascinating one for adults. The Doctor and Martha have been touched by the Angels and are stuck in 1969- but the Doctor leaves a message in the form of a film that is distributed as a DVD Easter egg- a brilliant idea. However, this is only a part of the story’s effect. The Weeping Angels do not actually cause their victims physical harm, but transport them to another time. Moffatt’s script has a lot to say about the way people observe time. Cathy lives a full life, yet she is dead to Sally the moment the letter arrives, for it is a letter from a dead woman. Billy’s death is slightly different, because he actually gets to see Sally again. ‘Look at my hands; they’re old man’s hands’. Billy too, has lived a long and productive life- yet I’m sure many old people look at themselves and think ‘I was young, yesterday’. The Angels drive home the fact that death will get us in the end, no matter what we do. Moffat’s dialogue is as witty as we have come to expect, yet the emotional moments ring true- such as Sally noting that the rain that is outside Billy’s death bed is the same rain as when they met, when he was young. It is here, of course that we have the Doctor utter the best bit of technobabble ever- time is ‘a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff’. This is strangely reminiscent of a bit of technobabble from The Time Monster- but infinitely more effective.

Moffat’s talent for characterisation is as pronounced as ever. Sally Sparrow is wonderfully written and wonderfully played by Carey Mulligan, a typical Moffat heroine- smart, sexy and witty, but easy to relate to. She is given great support from Finlay Robertson as Larry (Laurence Nightingale? Parents can be cruel) a geeky character who does not conform to usual geeky stereotypes. Moffat makes this central relationship funny and believable. There is not one weak link in the cast. A special mention must be given to the Billys- Michael Obiora makes young Billy a supremely confident, yet still likeable young man and Louis Mahoney (making his third and best appearance in Doctor Who) makes him believable as an older version of the character, more subdued, yet still with the same spark.

Hettie MacDonald’s direction is sublime, making every appearance of the Angels chilling, helped by Murray Gold’s screeching score- the movement of the Angels with the flickering light is a real heart-stopper. Crucially, MacDonald is just as skilful at directing the more subdued scenes and is masterful at creating mood. The production values are also superb- it is hard to believe that the Angels are actually people in costume and you genuinely think that they made different statues for each pose. As with "Love & Monsters", the Doctor-lite story has a director who only made one contribution and I hope she returns.

"Blink" had to follow the unqualified triumph of "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood". At the time, it felt that Paul Cornell’s story would be impossible to match- yet "Blink" certainly does that, equally effective in a totally different way. A triumph for all concerned.

NEXT: "Utopia"

Thursday, 26 November 2009

"Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood"

The scene is set with the Doctor and Martha running into the TARDIS, on the run from an unseen foe and it looks like it’s business as usual. Then, the Doctor’s eyes open- only it isn’t the Doctor, but a schoolmaster. Martha enters wearing a maid’s uniform and we find out that it is 1913 and the Doctor is apparently a dream of this man. Roll titles.

The ideas behind "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" are pretty sound- The Doctor hides from the Family by becoming human and burying his memories and intelligence behind the personality of John Smith, a history master at Farringham School for boys. However, this is merely a canvas, on which Paul Cornell (using his excellent novel as a basis) has painted an absolute masterpiece. With the Doctor absent, our attention is focussed on Smith and he comes across as a sympathetic and endearing character that is definitely not the Doctor. However, the Doctor finds a way of breaking through when Smith is asleep, making Smith dream of things that seem like sheer phantasy, which he records in his Journal of Impossible Things. The way that the story is structured cleverly mirrors this- after the pre-titles sequence, the story looks like a period drama, but slivers of Doctor Who start breaking through until we have a cliffhanger where a village dance has been invaded by a cross section of pre-war society, armed with disintegrator guns. World War One strongly affects the tone of the story- Cornell accurately depicts the worldview that the Great War destroyed forever- man was capable of anything, an Englishman doubly so. The boys, trained in use of weapons to fight the Enemy in a just and chivalric war will stand in filthy trenches, get mown down by machine guns and choke on from mustard gas. They fight men of straw, just as their fellows will train for combat the next year.

However, this is not just a story of alien invasion, but one driven, primarily by characters. At the centre is John Smith, a timid, yet kindly man who finds love with the school Matron, Joan Redfern. This romance is tenderly done and we come to appreciate both characters to such an extent that, while we want the Doctor back, we are truly sorry to see Smith go. Cornell does not make it entirely clear whether Smith is an invented persona or a kenotic reduction of the Doctor, but this works in the story’s behaviour- is Smith’s heroic act with the cricket ball a piece of the Doctor poking through or is it entirely Smith? Particularly well written is Joan’s dawning realisation of the fact that her love is for a man who doesn’t really exist- her asking Smith about his childhood and receiving encyclopaedia entries as an answer is heartbreaking and written with a Borges-like elegance. Joan comes off as a splendid character, a strong, intelligent and decent woman that one can easily understand Smith falling for, but with the strictness that a School Matron should show, that is a mask of propriety for her true kindness. The rest of the staff and the schoolboys are equally well drawn. One very refreshing aspect is the refusal to make the characters hold anachronistic values- Martha’s colour is an issue with even sympathetic characters such as Smith and Nurse Redfern and Martha’s dignity and resolve throughout is wonderful.

There is one character who permeates the story, yet hardly appears- the Doctor himself. We see people’s yearnings for him both selfish (the Family) and otherwise (Martha). Tangential, yet vital is the character of Tim Latimer, a boy with an unusual gift who understands the Doctor better than any other, giving the most wonderful description of the Doctor ever written:

'He's like fire and ice and rage. He's like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun... He's ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and can see the turn of the universe.'

Critically, when the Doctor reappears, he is impersonating John Smith to lessen the blow before he utterly defeats the Family. The shift of narration to Baines/Son-of-Mine is inspired- we see the Doctor as his enemies see him, an implacable destroyer. In fact, until the time, the Doctor and Martha depart in the TARDIS, we are always seeing the Doctor from another character’s perception of him.

Charles Palmer directs a very impressive production with virtually no weak points. There is no time to list all the memorable scenes, so I’ll just pick a few- the flashback to the Doctor’s transformation, the boys machine-gunning the scarecrows, the heartbreaking ‘dream of a normal life’ and, of course, the wonderful coda, where the Doctor and Martha attend a Remembrance Day service where an aged Tim Latimer is guest of honour. The performances are splendid. Jessica Hynes is compelling as Joan and Thomas Sangster excellent as Tim. Harry Lloyd manages to convey the alien without going over the top, in a hugely skilful performance as Baines/Son-of-Mine. However, the best performances are by the regulars. Freema Agyeman gives one of the best ‘companion’ performances of all time in a thoroughly wonderful performance- her medical ‘talk to the hand’ scene is sublime. David Tennant’s performance is astonishing, possibly the best performance by any actor playing the lead role, although he mainly plays another role. Tennant makes Smith endearing, fearful, yet very brave and we truly mourn his passing.

"Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" is not one of those tediously trite sci-fi stories that tell the reader ‘what it means to be human’- it points out why the Doctor can never truly be like us, while celebrating the best of humanity- Joan is awed by the Doctor, but not so much that she fails to reprimand him for the havoc he has caused, dismissing him from her presence- while she finally mourns for the man she loved. It seems weird that, a few weeks before, I was thinking that Doctor Who had lost it, for this is truly one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time.

NEXT: "Blink"

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


When I heard that Chris Chibnall would be writing for Doctor Who, I had mixed feelings. I am only really familiar with Chibnall’s writing from Torchwood and Life on Mars. On Life on Mars, he wrote some excellent and moving stories. However, his Torchwood efforts had a tendency to be derivative and uninvolving and it cannot be a coincidence that Torchwood skyrocketed in quality when he left as showrunner. Which leaves us with "42". The influences are easy to spot- the real time narrative is inspired by the wildly popular 24 (thankfully, "42" does not have a simplistically reactionary political agenda) and the final act reveal is very similar to Planet of Evil (sentient planet in one, sentient sun on another). The problem is, of course, that while 24 is a thrilling ride, I find that it has little rewatch value, at least after the first season. There is a clear similarity to Danny Boyle’s 2007 film Sunshine but this is probably an unfortunate coincidence, however. There are a few choice bits of dialogue (the best, by far, being ‘Here Comes the Sun’), but beyond that, it is a standard monster on the rampage story that contains some incredibly silly pseudo-science (magnetism is obviously stronger than the gravitational pull of a sun!) and some scattershot plotting- one of which was hilariously pointed out by comedian Toby Hadoke- the sun should have made its catchphrase ‘Can I have my bits back, please?’ rather that ‘Burn with me!’ Characterisation is thin, but this is remedied by some good performances from William Ash and Anthony Flanagan. However, in the key role of Captain McDonnell, Michelle Collins only just avoids being awful. She is woefully out of her depth, something which becomes very obvious when she shares scenes with any two other actors. The regulars are excellent as ever, with David Tennant effectively portraying the Doctor’s possession and fear and Freema Agyeman again injecting life and vigour into every scene.

However, there is one considerable asset that "42" possesses- the direction. Never before has a mundane script been elevated to something else entirely by its realisation. Every scene, indeed, every shot and editing choice looks sublime. The Doctor going outside the ship to save Martha is unbearably tense on screen, belying the fact that it is very lazy and contrived plotting on Chibnall’s behalf. There are scenes of sheer wonder- the awesome death scene of Korwin and McDonnell, the beautiful shot of the Doctor and Martha staring at each other as Martha and Riley’s pod floats towards the sun. Ernest Vincze’s cinematography is just as stunning- look at the lighting on Martha in the pod, where she is lit with red on one side and blue on another. The special effects and design work is up to the task, with some nice little touches, such as the name on the unlocking device.

Despite the lacklustre script, "42" is a triumph for Graeme Harper, a real visual feast. However, it seemed at the time that Doctor Who was losing its mojo somewhat- was it going to be stuck in a rut of mediocrity?

NEXT: "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood"

Sunday, 22 November 2009

"The Lazarus Experiment"

"The Lazarus Experiment" starts off looking like the origin story for a comic-book supervillain, with the unlikely performance of a pioneering scientific experiment in front of an audience in black tie and the less than subtle naming of the villain in question. There are subtler allusions to T S Eliot (as there were in Spider-Man II). However, the rest of the story is strongly reminiscent of The Quatermass Experiment- the man who becomes a monster that meets its end in a London cathedral. Stephen Greenhorn’s script tells its tale well and, unlike Helen Raynor’s Dalek story, the pseudo-science follows its own rules and the lashings of real science are well integrated. The story does seem to lack some depth, with characters being a bit more stereotypical than usual. The morality of what Lazarus has done is also insufficiently explored. However there are flashes of something deeper- Lazarus’s quest for immortality being rooted in his childhood experiences of the Blitz, Southwark Cathedral being an instinctive place of safety. The writing for the regulars also shines- it is clear that the Doctor has become genuinely fond of Martha, but Martha is mature enough to insist on a definition of their ‘relationship’ before they continue on their travels.

Richard Clark directs well enough, considering the straightforwardness of the story. The climax in the cathedral is very atmospheric, helped, of course, by the excellent cinematography. The Lazarus mutant is an impressive beast, but it doesn’t quite make the premier league of Doctor Who monsters. Clark manages to get some great performances from the cast. This is the second outing for Martha’s family and, although she not as well written for as Jackie, Adjoa Andoh is skilful enough to fill in the gaps. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is delightful as Tish and I’m sure that many were hoping for her to join the Doctor and Martha at the end. However, the key guest role is Mark Gatiss as Lazarus. It is due to his performance that Lazarus is as compelling as it is, with Gatiss giving an unsilly, yet entertaining performance that has no sign of seeming like a League of Gentlemen character. The regulars are awesome as usual. Scriptwise, David Tennant is not as well catered for as usual, but Tennant is not to be deterred by this. Freema effectively shows Martha’s maturity and sense of fun. Interestingly, one thing Greenhorn does effectively is make their interaction a tad more flirtatious- I love the bit where the Doctor picks up Martha’s knickers (and not for the reason you’re thinking!)

"The Lazarus Experiment" is a perfectly respectable story, if a bit unremarkable. However, there are definite consequences for the future- it seems the oft-mentioned ‘Mr Saxon’ knows of the Doctor and does not think too kindly of him…

NEXT: "42"

Friday, 20 November 2009

"Daleks in Manhattan" / "Evolution of the Daleks"

"Daleks in Manhattan" / "Evolution of the Daleks" brings the deranged dustbins into play rather earlier in the season than is expected. However, we get a sumptuous looking story set in 1930s New York; an odd idea on paper but a look at this story confirms that, stylistically, the Daleks actually fit in quite well, especially with that grandest example of Art Deco, the Empire State Building. The production is outstanding with excellent design work that makes the viewer feel the atmosphere of New York in the depression, despite the fact that only a few background plates were shot outside of Wales. The special effects are of an excellent standard and the cast is very impressive, ranging from experienced performers such as Hugh Quarshie to very talented newcomers such as Andrew Garfield. I say this at the start, because this story goes horrendously wrong in a way that the programme has not done since it returned and there is one reason- the script.

The set-up is sound enough, which is why "Daleks in Manhattan" is actually a very enjoyable episode. The juxtaposition between the brand-new splendour of the Empire State Building and the misery of Hooverville is used well and forms a strong basis for the initial mystery. However, characterisation is unusually basic- Solomon is the strong leader, Frank the smart youngster. Even the star-cross’d lovers Tallulah and Laszlo are not sufficiently well-written to form a ‘heart’ for the story. The dialogue is OK, but shows a degree of clunkiness that was not evident before. This is all forgiveable in "Daleks in Manhattan", but "Evolution of the Daleks" provides explanations and solutions; both of which are woefully inadequate. The Daleks are dying out, with only the Cult of Skaro remaining. Dalek Sec merges with Mr Diagoras to form a Dalek/human hybrid, but there are other humans kept in hibernation. The plan is to use a solar flare (or is it lightning?) to change their DNA to make them ‘human Daleks’. The DNA is transferred by use of a blue liquid (or is it the Dalekanium on the roof?) Never mind, the Doctor adds a big dose of free-will (that pesky free-will gene!) by getting in the way of the lightning and replacing one of the Dalekanium panels (Er…) which means that the human Daleks start to question and are destroyed.

This is all utter rubbish scientifically, but pseudo-science can be forgiven dramatically- if it is consistent. Helen Raynor’s own pseudo-definition of DNA changes from scene to scene, as does the application of the genetic engineering, which makes the plot hard to follow not because it is too clever, but because it is anything but. This leaves us with situations that are solved by barrages of technobabble, which hints at the atrocity that was the Arc of Infinity plot, and has a clumsiness of construction more reminiscent of the awful Pedler/Davis Cybermen stories than classic Dalek stories. However, plot isn’t everything is it? Unfortunately, as we have seen, the characterisation and dialogue is not at its best. This means that Solomon dies after giving a bizarre speech that is a) is in no way a realistic reaction that a character would make given the events and (b) full of clichés. Solomon conveniently ignores the Doctor’s warnings and the evidence of his own eyes to die in a totally unnecessary manner. The Dalek Sec hybrid is a thoroughly wasted character- any success that it has is due to the performer and special effects.

James Strong puts in a valiant show as director and makes it all look wonderful- the scene where Mr Diagoras is consumed by Dalek Sec is profoundly disturbing, looking both like a devourment and a mating. The revelation of the hybrid at the end of the episode is also masterful (despite being ruined by the Radio Times!) The stage-show scenes are also brilliantly shot and form a very welcome diversion in "Daleks in Manhattan". However, Strong is hamstrung by the limitations of the script- although the end, where the Doctor saves Laszlo’s life is wrecked due to silly decisions in realisation that may not be Raynor’s fault. As said before, the cast is very impressive and largely give good performances. Hugh Quarshie is fantastic as Solomon, in spite of the atrocious writing for the character. Miranda Raison is very memorable as Tallulah and Ryan Carnes effective as Laszlo. I cannot judge the effectiveness of the American accents, but they seem fine, if a little mannered to me. The regulars both emerge with their dignity intact- Martha is especially memorable in this. However, David Tennant has to work with some very generic writing for the Doctor- fortunately he is so good, he gets away with it.

"Daleks in Manhattan" / "Evolution of the Daleks" is a considerable disappointment- an entertaining first episode whose potential is squandered by "Evolution of the Daleks"- the worst episode Doctor Who has had since its revival and the only one I have no desire to revisit.

NEXT: "The Lazarus Experiment"

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


The city of New New York contains a subterranean 'undercity' that is dominated by a vast orbital motorway, where people seemingly spend their entire lives advancing a few miles in a colossal traffic jam and resort to all sorts of nefarious measures to join the carpool lane (which reminded me of a particularly fine episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm). One of these measures is kidnapping and Martha is abducted by a young couple who are desperate to start a new life in the city. The Doctor has to find her in the smog-choked traffic. It turns out that the undercity is actually the only part of New New York that was saved from an airborne virus by the action of the Face of Boe, who gave of his own inexplicable life force to enable the people to survive.

There are a fair few things that don't make much sense in this story- the functionality of the motorway's systems are not consistent, the Doctor's rewiring is a bit of a rushed fix for the problem etc- but they mainly concern the peripheral areas of the story. The plot is a very simple one, when you get down to it- the Doctor rescues Martha and frees the trapped commuters along the way and this is something that the story sticks to. The Doctor is resolute in his aims in the story, which wonderfully portrays him as a swashbuckler who leaps from car to car, a scientist and, critically, a man who positively affects everyone he meets. In short, the Doctor is everything the viewer expects him to be and we are cheering him every step of the way. The portrayal of the hapless commuters is another high point- they live in an ignorance about that is sometimes wilful, but they refuse to give up hope. In a very moving scene, every driver and passenger sing "The Old Rugged Cross" together, united in what could almost be a faith. Russell T Davies works his usual magic with consistently excellent dialogue and some great characters- the Cassini sisters are a wonderful creation; there should be more elderly lesbian carspotters in all types of fiction.

Richard Clark directs a very impressive looking production. The special effects are awesome, if not quite perfect, but it is Clark's eye for a good shot that saves the day. There are some stunningly beautiful scenes- the opening of the skylight, the cars flying in the New New York sky and the aforementioned swashbuckling from the Doctor, where we see the huge variety of people on the motorway, from albinos to nudists. There are allusions are made to Grant Wood's American Gothic and 2000AD. However, Clark makes the slower, more intimate scenes work equally well and he is helped by an awesome cast. Ardal O'Hanlon is brilliant as Brannigan, making him seem a fresh character- although the bit where he tells the tall tale of the woman who breathed in the fumes for too long had me expecting him to say that she had four arses instead of a mouth (apologies to those who are not familiar with Father Ted. But if you're not, you have my sympathy). However, this is a great story for the regulars. David Tennant is astounding throughout and Freema Agyeman is not far behind. Despite the fact that the Doctor and Martha are separated for most of the story, find out a great deal about their relationship. The last scene actually has Martha making the Doctor talk about his trauma in a wonderfully moving scene that is beautifully written and performed.

This is also the final appearance (so far) of the Face of Boe. The creature's self-sacrifice is incredibly moving is another absolute highlight and it is a testament to the skills of all involved that I was moved to tears by the passing of a five-foot animatronic head. Before he goes, he passes on his final secret that may have repercussions for the future.

"Gridlock" is a wonderful story that stands up to repeated viewings. It has a few problems, but none of them detract from the overall effect of the episode- you actually have to turn your brain on for the problems not to matter. Oh yes, I almost forgot- MACRA!!!

NEXT: "Daleks in Manhattan"/ "Evolution of the Daleks"

Monday, 16 November 2009

"The Shakespeare Code"

After dropping his name left, right and centre, the Doctor finally meets Shakespeare face to face. I must say that I was not enthused with the title, which alludes to Dan Brown's best-selling vowel movement, but I need not have worried. Gareth Roberts spins an exciting and very literate yarn. There are allusions aplenty to Shakespeare's works, Shakespearian academia, a quotation from Dylan Thomas and even an airing for that most groansome of Shakespeare jokes. It even starts with a balcony scene which, of course, turns into something else entirely. However, the plot itself is very easy to follow- the Carrionites, an ancient race whose science resembles arcane forms of magic, have been trying to escape their 'banishment'. Their power is based on the manipulation of words, so who better to release them than the Bard himself? Roberts's script is full of intriguing ideas and great dialogue. The grandfather paradoxes and butterfly stamping that litters time-travel fiction is deftly dealt with in the first five minutes. Impressively, Roberts makes the characters act in a manner appropriate to their time, such as the less than sensitive view of mental illness that the Elizabethans had. It is clear that Roberts has a real love and understanding of Shakespeare and his world that is evident in every word. If I have one criticism of Roberts (and it is barely a criticism at all) it is that he is the first writer who writes like a fanboy- the Back to the Future reference, especially ‘No, the novelisation of the film!’ is the most obvious example.

Shakespeare himself is wonderfully brought to life on the page, nicking quotations left-right and centre, trying to charm Martha at every turn and remaining, at all times, the master wordsmith. This interpretation is excellently realised by Dean Lennox Kelly in a hugely charismatic performance. Christina Cole is appropriately vixenish as Lillith and the rest of the cast are excellent in some very lively turns. I was surprised to see that Peter Streete was played by Matt King, despite my being a massive Peep Show fan, which shows how good his performance was. Freema Agyeman is utterly wonderful in her first trip in the TARDIS, with her infectious enthusiasm and her genuine annoyance at the Doctor's slight stand-offishness. David Tennant is wonderful as ever, but worthy of special praise is the difference in the playing of the relationship between him and his companion that the arrival of Martha brings.

The production is absolutely stunning, helped in no small way by the location filming at the restored Globe Theatre. Charles Palmer makes this a sumptuous and exciting ride deciding to make everything look bold- cinematographer Ernest Vincze makes this a very colourful looking story, working in tandem with excellent costuming and sets. There are memorable scenes aplenty- the drowning on dry land, the Carrionite spectre that appears in rehearsal and the full on swarm, Lillith’s flight on her broomstick etc. Murray Gold’s score is his best yet, a wonderfully lush and vibrant series of compositions.

William Shakespeare probably did more to make the English language respectable than any other- no other writer has contributed more words. It is fitting that the climax of this story should be the Bard closing a dimensional rift and banishing a swarm of witches using only words- as understanding a tribute as Doctor Who could have for the man and a great end to a great story.

NEXT: "Gridlock"

Saturday, 14 November 2009

"Smith and Jones"

We open on Martha Jones walking down the street towards the hospital where she is training to be a doctor. She is on the phone to every single member of her immediate family who seem to turn to her every time they have a problem. Then, a strange man comes up to her and does something random and inexplicable, and her day gets odder from that point onwards.

"Smith and Jones" doesn’t have as much riding on it as other previous season openers, but it has to introduce the new companion while telling an entertaining story. The story is certainly a blast- upward rain, a hospital being transported to the moon, a detachment of space rhinos looking for a criminal, a little old lady who sucks your blood out with a straw- God I love this programme! The plot is simple, yet thoroughly engaging and zips along, laced with the trademark Russell T Davies wit. Throughout all this, we never lose sight of Martha as a character and it is a truly joyous moment when the TARDIS zooms off into the vortex. If there’s one flaw, it’s that the idea of frying the earth with one MRI machine does strain my credulity somewhat. Production values are of the fantastic standard we have come to expect, with stunning scenes such as the rain, the hospital on the moon, the landing of the Judoon, the Doctor’s method of expelling X-radiation, the awesome use of time travel as a cheap trick etc. Charles Palmer makes this a very energetic ride without losing sight of the people in the story.

Billie Piper was a tough act to follow. It helps, of course, that Freema Agyeman is absolutely stunning, but she also makes Martha clever and likable, but without alienating the casual viewer. Martha is written as being older and wiser than Rose, with a career and responsibilities, but her flirtation with the Doctor is more overt. Agyeman is probably not quite as good an actress as Piper, but she is more than up to the job- just look at the expression on her face when her flirtation is brushed off. Martha’s family are brought to life by Trevor Laird as her father and the always excellent Adjoa Andoh as her mother. Playing a smaller role is Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Martha’s sister- the Jones family are clearly unfairly advantaged in the gorgeous daughter stakes! There are further excellent performances from Roy Marsden as Mr Stoker and Anne Reid as the Plasmavore.

As said before, this story has less to establish than either "Rose" or "New Earth", which is probably why it is the most thoroughly enjoyable season opener yet.

NEXT: "The Shakespeare Code"

Thursday, 12 November 2009

"The Runaway Bride"

By the broadcast of this Christmas 2006 episode, Doctor Who had lost both of the leading actors that it had relaunched itself with. Yet, by this time, David Tennant had long since ceased to be the ‘new boy’ and was Doctor Who in the hearts and minds of millions, which meant that his first episode without Billie Piper had little to prove in terms of his ability to go it alone. The plot is frenetic and full of technobabble, but it works well enough dramatically. However, Russell T Davies is clearly aiming to have a bit more fun this time, presumably because of the presence of Catherine Tate in the ‘companion’ role. There are a lot of gags, most of which are very funny- the varying reactions to Donna in her wedding dress, Donna’s story of how she became engaged to Lance, her less than dashing escape from the web. However, this is not a simple ‘comedy’ episode, with Davies keenly observing the Doctor’s need for a companion- without them, his ruthlessness can be horrifying.

Euros Lyn is, as always, perfectly in tune with Davies’s writing, realising the story perfectly from the aforementioned comedy, to scenes of sheer wonder, such as the journey to the time of the Earth’s creation. Then there’s the show-stopping and utterly jaw-dropping chase sequence- makers of the 1996 TV Movie take note, this is how you do a car chase in Doctor Who! The production is excellent across the board, with a truly excellent monster in the shape of the Empress of the Racnoss and a wonderfully explosive finale.

The performances are all very strong, with Don Gilet making Lance believable as both concerned fiancé and scheming liar and Jacqueline King being very effective as Donna’s Mother. The lovely Sarah Parish is almost unrecognisable, but is great fun as the Empress- it is nice to see an adversary with a sense of humour (albeit a very poor one!) However, there is one performance which had everyone looking forward to with a mixture of apprehension and dread. I am sure I am not alone in failing to see what is funny about The Catherine Tate Show and her appearance at the end of "Doomsday" made me momentarily wonder if I was dreaming. Happily, Tate is very good here. Earlier in the story, she does make Donna a bit gobby, but Tate is excellent in making her seem real and sympathetic- Donna’s betrayal by Lance is effectively played as is her genuine wonder at what the Doctor shows her. However, if you watch the end where Donna refuses to accompany the Doctor and still think Tate does not have what it takes then… best to say no more. Then, of course, there is our leading man, who portrays the playfulness, ruthlessness and sadness of the Doctor as flawlessly as he has ever done.

Again, Cardiff give us a Christmas present to treasure in a very entertaining Christmas romp.

NEXT: "Smith and Jones"

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

"Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday"

"Army of Ghosts" immediately kicks off with a wonderful prologue, narrated by Rose that somehow manages to be both joyful and a lament- ‘the story of how I died’. Our interest has been piqued and is sustained by the intriguing scenario- ‘ghosts’ are appearing all over the world and they have thoroughly captured humanity’s attention. Of course, the Doctor realises that something more material and more sinister is behind the ‘ghosts’. The cause is, in fact, the covert organisation known as Torchwood, who have discovered a breach in space-time, through which has come a mysterious sphere which cannot touched, scanned or perceived in any way apart from sight. Torchwood have been waiting for the Doctor to come back for years but, as always, his arrival brings disaster. The ‘ghosts’ are the impressions of beings who have been trying to break through- the Cybermen from the parallel Earth. Millions of the creatures materialise worldwide- but worse is yet to come. The Sphere, which heralded their coming is not theirs. It cracks open- to reveal Daleks!

The ‘event finale’ is a very welcome development that the relaunched Doctor Who brought along with it. The previous series had the outstanding "Bad Wolf"/ "The Parting of the Ways" so expectations were high; to say they were met is something of an understatement. "Army of Ghosts"/ "Doomsday" is, first of all, tremendous, glorious fun from start to finish, so much so that it doesn’t strike one just how brilliantly written it is. The plot is full of intriguing concepts and ideas from the start, with the ‘ghosts’ and the idea of ‘The Void’ (which has a great deal in common with ‘brane theory’ in astro-physics). Torchwood is finally revealed in all its glory- a mysterious secret organisation that ruthlessly protects its airspace from the alien, yet maintain a ‘people-friendly’ working environment. However, there is one thing about this story that has occurred in the dreams of all Doctor Who fans for decades- Daleks v Cybermen. This is a basic ‘fan-fiction’ idea that has been elevated to something else entirely by a great writer. There is no fan-fulfilling contest to see which is best, as that is certain within a few minutes- the Daleks are a race with hugely advanced technology, capable of time travel, the destruction of entire planetary systems etc. The Cybermen are just bionic humans- they don’t stand a chance. The face-off between Dalek Sec and the Cyberleader shows that you can have memorable dialogue between ‘Stephen Hawking and the speaking clock’ in a scene that is funny, without belittling either of the two races. However, this is not merely an all-action shoot-out, but a story featuring real characters and a great understanding of human nature. The effect of the ‘ghosts’ on humanity is brilliantly observed- they have an instant effect on popular culture, but also appeal to a very basic yearning that all people have. Jackie imagines the shadowy figure that appears in her front room has the smell of her deceased father, but it is obvious that she is deluding herself. In the middle of a pitched battle, Jackie meets the alternative Pete in a scene that is funny, touching and, most importantly, does not make us want to fast-forward to the next bit of action. Davies plays with our preconceptions and confounds them with something simpler- and better. We see something called the ‘Genesis Ark’ which must, of course contain Davros. It is, instead, a dimensionally transcendental prison ship- with an army of Daleks inside.

Graeme Harper truly makes this an epic visual feast- the scene where a legion of Cybermen shoot up at a flotilla of dive-bombing Daleks is a sight which, were it to be taken back in time and shown to a 1980s Doctor Who fan, would probably kill them from pure ecstasy. The script has changes of mood and pace that require direction that is equally as sophisticated- and this is precisely what we get. From the nightmarish appearance of a Cyberman in a child’s bedroom to the beauty of the opening scene, Harper shows he is still, very much, at the top of his field. The cast is superb, with Tracy-Ann Oberman being phenomenal as Yvonne- ruthless and driven, but keen to know all of her underlings, and by no means evil. Raji James is also quietly effective as Dr Singh. One of the highlights is the reappearance of Mickey, brilliantly played, as always, by Noel Clarke.

It ends, of course, with the Doctor and Rose separated in different dimensions. These final scenes are beautiful and heartbreaking, a triumph for both Davies and Harper, but also a final showcase for the skills of Billie Piper. Rose was our identification figure for the relaunch of the most bonkers and brilliant idea in television history and Piper never put in a bad performance and this, her last one as a regular, is simply phenomenal. It is odd to remember how apprehensive some were about David Tennant- by the time this was broadcast, he was Doctor Who and he gives his best performance yet.

So it ends with a beautifully heartbreaking scene, very reminiscent of His Dark Materials (a comparison that Philip Pullman welcomes with his typical generosity) that caps a fantastic story and a great season.

NEXT: "The Runaway Bride"

Sunday, 8 November 2009

"Fear Her"

"Fear Her" boasts an original alien race in the Isolus and an intriguing premise- people can be turned into drawings- that recalls such things as Catherine Storr's book Marianne Dreams (filmed as Paperhouse and Escape Into Night) and M.R. James’s short story "The Mezzotint". Set in London at the start of the 2012 Olympics, the story involves the disappearance of children and a sinister child who may be responsible. The writer, Matthew Graham, was the co-creator of the beloved Life on Mars. It has all the ingredients for a great story, yet it doesn’t quite come off- in fact it is probably the most hated Doctor Who story to have been broadcast since 2005. While I do not believe that it deserves the bile directed at it, there are some large-ish problems with the story. Graham’s script, as said, plays with some interesting ideas, but doesn’t spin them into a wholly cohesive story. The two key issues- Chloe Webber’s possession by the Isolus child and Chloe creating a nightmare vision of her dead father are not fully integrated with each other, meaning that what could have been a deft exploration of the loneliness of children and the breakdown of the nuclear family seems to be rushed. This is a pity, as the concepts show a degree of depth. Graham realises something about children that can be terrifying- they exhibit less empathy than adults and behaviour considered normal for a child would be seen as psychopathic in an adult. This is brought into light in the characterisation of the Isolus, but Graham fails to make Chloe/Isolus truly frightening, which is unfortunate, considering the name of the story. a child with great power is something to be feared. There is also the much maligned climax, where the Doctor lights the Olympic Torch. It is important to remember that this does make sense within the context of the story, but it does have to work very hard to not be cheesy- whether it fails is up to the viewer.

Euros Lyn makes this a very polished production, as we have come to expect, with all the scenes shot in a very competent manner. However, there is the problem that this should be a very scary story and it fails. The teaser is perfect, with the boy disappearing and becoming a drawing- which then runs screaming towards us. However, this sense of horror never returns after that, which is a mistake- even the monstrous drawing of her father does not come off well. This is not to say that there are no memorable scenes- Rose being attacked by a scribble, ‘fingers on lips!’ and the hilarious materialisation of the TARDIS, but Lyn is certainly capable of better. There are some nice performances from Abdul Salis, Edna Dore and the lovely Nina Sosanya. Abisola Agbaje is sound enough as Chloe, but she isn’t as scary as she could be although, as said earlier, the script doesn’t help. Tennant and Piper have a last chance to play Rose and the Doctor as happy-go-lucky and succeed admirably.

Despite what many others have said, this is not a bad story, but it could have been so much better. Things that shouldn’t move, but do, are terrifying. It’s a good thing that someone else would realise that a year later…

NEXT: "Army of Ghosts"/"Doomsday"

Friday, 6 November 2009

"Love & Monsters"

The frenetic nature of the production process for Doctor Who meant a very interesting creative decision for the production team- mounting a story that would be shot at the same time as another episode with minimal appearances for the Doctor- the so-called ‘Doctor-lite’ episode. "Love & Monsters" tells the story of one Elton Pope, an ordinary Londoner who is obsessed with finding the Doctor and what happened when he found like-minded individuals along the way. By telling the tale of people who have noticed the Doctor, it becomes a love-letter to fandom. There are those who have followed the Doctor all their lives, those who have turned to the Doctor to mask other tragedies and Elton, who remembers the Doctor from his childhood and wants to know more. The members of LI’n’DA (as they eventually dub themselves) are not the usual ‘anoraks’ that are used to denote fans- they are a diverse group of people who have other interests and find something more in LI’n’DA - shared interests lead to genuine friendships developing, and perhaps something more. Of course, there are some who take it a bit too seriously and the character of Victor Kennedy takes control of LI’n’DA , whose ’ec-zee-ma’ is more than it appears to be. RTD calls this story "Love & Monsters" and there is certainly both- Elton’s shadowing/ stalking of Jackie turning into feelings of friendship that awake what he has been feeling for Ursula all along. And there’s the Absorbaloff, a fun monster created by a young fan, that is used in an inspired fashion. Davies makes this a story of real human beings confronted with the unearthly, yet still wanting to live their lives.

Elton is not only the central character, he is the narrator for this story, which means that director Dan Zeff had an interesting set of options for visualising the story. The use of Elton’s video camera must have tempted Zeff to tell the story as a faux-video diary, à la The Blair Witch Project or Diary of the Dead. However, Zeff realised that this would not suit the mood of the story- this is not just about experiences of the Doctor, but about fantasy and memory, as, indeed, is our perception of the show itself. In addition, the comedy would be far less nuanced if the entire story was shot in that way. It is clear that a fair few of the scenes merely represent Elton’s internal perception- the comedic chase of the Hoix in the opening sequence, the literal internet meltdown. The mood changes subtly as the story progresses and Zeff is up to the challenge.

The cast is great. Marc Warren makes Elton very likeable and the adorable Shirley Henderson is wonderful as Ursula. All the members of LI’n’DA come across as likeable people thanks to the wonderful performances. Camille Coduri is given her meatiest role yet and her lovably slatternly pursuit of Elton is both funny and touching. Then there is Peter Kay as Victor/ The Absorbaloff. The idea of a posh-sounding gentleman with a cane being unmasked as an absorbing green blob with a Lancashire accent makes me giggle and Kay, though funny, never overplays the role. It goes without saying that David Tennant and Billie Piper are as excellent as ever in their limited roles,.

"Love & Monsters" is a wonderful and wholly successful experiment- don’t miss it!

NEXT: "Fear Her"

Thursday, 5 November 2009

"The Impossible Planet"/ "The Satan Pit"

After the triumphant return of 2005, there were some who were a bit disappointed that the Doctor never journeyed beyond Earth orbit and yearned to see the Doctor walking on the surface of an alien planet. This happened in "New Earth", but it was this story that fulfilled that wish in a truly spectacular manner. The script by Matt Jones is excellent; the fact that, from the start, it is clear that we are beyond the Doctor’s and even the Time Lords’ knowledge takes some of the cosiness away immediately and the removal of the TARDIS soon afterwards makes the Doctor and Rose in a situation every bit as grave as the humans that they have encountered- a situation that is reminiscent of early Hartnell stories. And what a situation it is- an expedition that has ended up on a planet that is tidally locked inside the event horizon of a black hole (see below)- a planet that shouldn’t exist. ‘Welcome to Hell’ a graffito sanguinely states- and the feeling that they are in a region that operates beyond the laws of physics, where the only remaining explanation might be the most terrible legend of all. The themes are not original and have parallels with stories from throughout the programme’s history, most notably The Curse of Fenric- an evil from (before) the dawn of time, the Doctor’s faith in a companion etc. The presentation of the Beast’s character is probably influenced by C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, but obviously written from a far less devout viewpoint. Such is the skill of the storytelling that you don’t notice these influences until afterwards. Even the usual clichés in this type of story are overturned, such as a new take on an escape up a ventilation shaft.

Newcomer James Strong puts in a phenomenal job behind the camera. It’s not just that he constructs memorable scenes, his direction is vital to the storytelling process itself. The possession of Toby is visualised by red contact lenses, marker pen and basic editing, yet the results are phenomenal. This is as a journey into the unknown for the Doctor as well, so Strong takes the simple, yet ingenious step of making his descend into the pit look like him abseiling into infinite darkness. He is aided by one of Murray Gold’s best scores- especially the terrifying scene where Scooti meets her end. The look of the story is wonderful, with the sets and costuming being perfect. The special effects range from beautiful to exciting to terrifying, but all are excellent- the visualisation of the black hole, the wonderful shot of Scooti floating in space and the subterranean city. The Ood are wonderfully realised and are both terrifying and sympathetic. Then there is the Beast. Demon or alien, it is a hugely impressive monster. The overall effect is a story that contains some of the most terrifying scenes the programme has ever had, scenes that will stay with younger viewers for a long time.

The script is not merely action and shocks- it is very talky, particularly "The Satan Pit", but such is the atmosphere that is created by Strong, that it all manages to hang together as a whole- I was actually reminded of Tarantino’s Kill Bill in the way that this was done. He is helped by a very strong cast. Shaun Parkes (who memorably starred with Tennant in Casanova) is excellent as Captain Zack and, with Rose and the Doctor separated for most of "The Satan Pit", Claire Rushbrook fills the companion slot with aplomb. As the voice of the beast, we have the very welcome return of Gabriel Woolf. Age has made his voice even more terrifying, a sonorous whisper that speaks of infinite evil- I have an mp3 of ‘Don’t turn around’ that I BlueTooth to people to frighten them.

The Doctor’s characterisation is very skilful- in a story about faith, his faith is unique- a faith in the fact that there are things he has not seen- but that faith finally bumps into his own prejudices. It is a reading of the Doctor that David Tennant puts his best work yet into. This does not mean that Rose is sidelined- with the Doctor facing the Beast, it is she who marshals the opposition to the Ood and it is she who finally defeats the Beast, justifying the Doctor’s faith in her.

There are a few niggles I have, mainly with the science. It is perfectly possible for a planet to orbit a black hole, for example. However, the story is so good that I can cut it a lot of slack- just imagine the words ‘inside the event horizon of...’ in front of ‘a black hole’ and the story works again. This is a wondrous story that does what it does with beauty, horror, intelligence and a dash of humour. Priceless.

NEXT: "Love & Monsters"

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

"The Idiot's Lantern"

"The Idiot's Lantern" takes us back to 1953 where the broadcast of the coronation of Elizabeth II means that millions would buy their first TV set in a state patriotic fervour. What better environment for a disembodied alien intelligence that feeds off neuro-electrical activity? Mark Gatiss conhures a breezy little tale with an original villain- The Wire (no relation to the superlative HBO TV series) that manifests itself in a time that is often misunderstood by the average person, who believe that nothing happened in Britain between VE day and The Beatles. Gatiss evokes the time very well and it is full of the sharp dialogue that we have come to expect of him. The story is also a celebration of television itself, with references to contemporary programming, video tape and colour television. Gatiss is of the generation that was warned that too much telly 'rots the brain', just as I was of the generation that was told that it gave you 'square eyes'. Here, television can bring together communities and, indeed, nations, but it can also, quite literally, suck your face off! However, there is a problem with this story that cannot be ignored- it's conceptually ingenious, but the realisation of these concepts, both in terms of plot and plausibility is very inconsistent. Why the Wire's feeding leaves the victim literally faceless is not satisfactorily explained, especially when the defeat of the Wire suddenly restores the victims. However, the way in which the Doctor defeats the Wire is both true to the stories ingenuity and well realised- The Wire is trapped on a Betamax tape!

Euros Lyn has a field day with Gatiss's concepts, filling the story with memorable images- the faceless victims are genuinely scary, as is the sight of dozens of stolen faces screaming for help on black and white screens. Lyn uses Dutch angles (or, to be less showy-offy, he tilts the camera) a lot, giving parts of the episode a Third Man-esque look in places. The production values are excellent throughout, as we have come to expect from the team.

Of the supporting players, only the Connollys are proper characters. Gatiss attempts to tell the story of the breakdown of a family as well, but the problems here are more severe than the plot problems. We may not be seeing the family at its worst, but Eddie Connolly does not seem that much worse than the average lower middle/ working class father of the early 50s- there is nothing to suggest that he is even mildly physically abusive, and he just comes across as a pompous blowhard. Jamie Forman, who I have been impressed with in other productions, plays Eddie a shade too broadly, although Debra Gillett is very effective as his wife Rita. The actual dialogue is well written, but we never really believe in the situation- however, the scene where Tommy goes to carry his father's case is very effective.

Ron Cook is brilliant as Magpie (a rather underwritten role) but it is Maureen Lipman who makes the biggest impression. She is obviously hugely successful in portraying the Wire as a 50s BBC announcer, but her natural likeability makes the feral snarl she projects as the monster beneath all the more frightening. Tennant is a ball of energy throughout and Rose becomes wholly likeable again in a very impish performance by Piper.

Despite some fairly serious problems, "The Idiot's Lantern" is good fun and well worth a watch:

NEXT: "The Impossible Planet"/ "The Satan Pit"

Sunday, 1 November 2009

"Rise of the Cybermen"/"The Age of Steel

When the Daleks came back, the obvious question that cropped up was when the second most-popular Doctor Who monsters would return, and this question was answered in the run up to the 2006 series. This is,to be frank, something that I was more excited about at the time than I would have been now, because I hadn’t watched/ listened to all the Cyber-stories in order. The Cybermen, let’s face it, have rarely had the opportunity to shine in the way that the Daleks did- of their nine previous appearances, I would only wholeheartedly recommend The Invasion and would recommend Earthshock with reservations. All the other stories have grievous flaws that cannot be overlooked. There was also the case of the other very successful long-running sci-fi TV franchise- it has been claimed that Star Trek’s Borg are a ‘rip-off’ of the Cybermen. This could well be true but (and I speak as someone who considers Who to be greatly superior to Trek in all its forms) I believe the Borg are everything that the Cybermen should have been and are a far better conceived and far more frightening race of monsters that the Cybermen ever were- a great Doctor Who villain that never appeared in the programme. < /controversy >

It is refreshing, therefore, that the Cardiff production team decided to reinvent the Cybermen for a new era. The origins of the original Cybermen are based in a future that never came to pass and contains much that the modern viewer would be unwilling to suspend their disbelief for. So we are now given a race of Cybermen from an alternative universe, who originated on Earth- a whole new origin story that is far more resonant, without contradicting the programme’s mythology. The reason for their creation is one that can easily be understood- John Lumic, an electronics and industrial magnate is dying. He is mostly confined to a wheelchair which also contains other life-support systems (shades of a certain other creator of a race of monsters!) and has created a cybernetic body that will allow him to live on, free of the agony that has tormented him for years. He is obsessed with taking away pain- in all its forms- from humanity, so he makes it his mission to ‘upgrade’ humanity- the results of which, we all know. This rings true and is tied in well with the current obsessions with software upgrades and built-in obsolescence. The parallel world is reasonably well constructed- Zeppelins are an obvious, yet undeniably impressive shorthand for ‘this is an alternate reality’- presumably the Hindenburg never crashed here. Tom MacRae paints a Britain that is a bit more oppressive than our own, but not so much that it feels alien . The character work is excellent with the yearning that Rose has for her father with the regret that Mickey has about his grandmother working very well. The Preachers are excellently characterised as a group and individually- it is very refreshing that an older female character like Mrs Moore can be included. The plot is very straightforward- some would say a bit too straightforward and there is a bit of clumsiness, such as the scene where Crane attacks Lumic and the resolution to the cliffhanger might have some slapping their heads. However, it does work dramatically, which is the main thing.

A very welcome step by the production team was the return of Graeme Harper as director and he doesn’t disappoint. Every shot and sequence is constructed with love and understanding and Harper brings a truly epic sensibility to the story- the loss of Joe Ahearne from the show’s roster has clearly been compensated for. The production is flawless, with excellent location filming being combined with brilliant effects work- the Zeppelins are awe inspiring, as is the moment the TARDIS drops out of the time vortex. The new Cybermen look fantastic and benefit tremendously from Harper’s direction- his gradual revelation of their appearance being expertly done.

The performances are generally very good. Don Warrington is fantastic as the President and Helen Griffin very believable as Mrs Moore. Mona Hammond always seems to play a West Indian matriarch, nowadays, but it is a part she plays very well indeed. Shaun Dingwall makes a very welcome return as Pete Tyler (who, as he feared, is now bald!) I am not entirely sure about Roger Lloyd Pack as Lumic, who seems to go a bit OTT in some scenes, but he doesn’t actually ruin them. The regulars are excellent, with Tennant all improvisation, righteousness and sympathy and Piper doing brilliant work, mixing Rose’s heroism with her streak of selfishness- I love the scene where she discovers who her counterpart in this world is! However, the best performance is that of Noel Clarke. He effortlessly makes Ricky and Mickey different versions of the same character and the emotion he puts into the scenes with his grandmother and the farewell scene is totally convincing.

"Rise of the Cybermen"/"The Age of Steel" is not the best story that Doctor Who has had since its revival, but it is still very good. It is in a league above most of the Cyberman stories of the 20th Century, not just because it is better written and realised, but because McRae and Davies understand the Cybermen better than their creators Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler ever did. Here, they are genuinely emotionless and a reason is given for them being so- because an unaltered brain would not be able to cope with waking up in a metal body, free, not only of pain, but of all tactile and gustatory senses. The dehumanisation of the creatures is cannily revealed in the fact that the two Cybermen who mention their previous identities were women. These are creatures of nightmare that we thank our lucky stars that we will never become- something they rarely were originally.

NEXT: "The Idiot’s Lantern"