20 October 2013

Aliens, Smith and Jones ('Doctor Who' Season 29/Series 3, 2006-7)

Well, we've found some more missing episodes... nine of them in fact. I've updated the article on Season 5 to reflect this amazing find. What's even more amazing is that these two stories topped the UK iTunes for Film and Television the week when they came out - and also are doing very well on Amazon.

2007 saw a major change in British television with the launch of the BBC's on demand service, iPlayer. This service, which other UK networks soon copied, allowed online viewing of most BBC programming for a week after transmission - and would seriously alter British viewing habits. The BBC regularly releases reports on how many views its most popular programmes get on iPlayer - and Doctor Who regularly gets well over a million, if not two million.
ITV, seeing the success of the show, attempted to get in on the act with their own time-travel/fantasy show, Primeval, involving a variety of scientists dealing with prehistoric creatures (frequently dinosaurs) coming through anomalies into the present day - the first season aired in the early part of 2007. While getting good reviews (although its lack of ethnic minority cast was criticised by RTD) and fairly good ratings, it was cancelled after three seasons in the context of a major financial loss for the third channel - they simply didn't have the money for it. A co-production deal with digital channel Watch and German broadcaster ProSieben led to two more seasons in 2011, but a Canadian spinoff last year was axed after one season. It is probably fair to say that the show is extinct - it never endangered Doctor Who (the only time they were scheduled against each other, Doctor Who won comfortably with the 2009 Easter Special "Planet of the Dead").
The third season of the revival saw Tennant now fully settled into his award winning tenure as the Doctor. The show's international success was assured - it had even been sold to The Sci-fi Channel in the US and its domestic success would continue, as a new companion stepped into the TARDIS.
Martha Jones - is there an actual doctor in the house?[1]
Medical student Martha Jones (later Dr Martha Smith-Jones) gets a good deal of stick for fans for not being Rose and for falling in love with the Doctor, then clearing off when she found it he didn't love her back. While she's not my favourite companion, I've got to call myself a Martha fan.
(Martha's family make a number of appearances, but are not as prominent as the Tylers)
Frema Agyeman (1979-), the first non-white woman to play a companion - she's of mixed Ghanian and Iranian heritage., added a second e to her first name to become Freema Agyeman when she started acting so people said her name correctly, started off in TV in Carlton's 2001-3 revival of the long-running and notoriously cheap ATV/Central soap opera Crossroads as Lola Wise.
Once that was canned, she did a small number of guest parts, including two different ones in The Bill before getting the part of Adeola Oshodi in "Army of Ghosts", her role there (where she was killed off) getting her part of Martha Jones, later stated to be the former's cousin. She was written out at the end of the season by RTD, who decided that the unrequited love arc wouldn't work into a second season - with the aim of bringing Martha back into the part for Season 30 a little older and wiser.

While she did make a number of further appearances (six more in Tennant's era) and even did a stint in Torchwood, further appearances were precluded by her next big role. Before that, she appeared as Tattycoram in a BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens' Little Dorrit (alongside two other Torchwood alumni) and was prominently featured in the publicity for the BBC remake of Terry Nation's Survivors... where she got killed off by the global pandemic in the first episode.
Agyeman in fact switched channels at this point, appearing in 39 episodes of Law & Order: UK, playing junior prosecutor Alesha Philips, later alongside former Doctor Peter Davison. Her role in that came to an end when she headed stateside to appear on the CW's 1980s prequel to Sex and the City, The Carrie Diaries, which is due to start it second run on 25 October in the US.

This was another 14 episode run with a concert for Children in Need and a animated episode for CBBC thrown into the mix. The third lot of episodes doesn't have an outright stinker like the previous two, although many were distinctly unimpressed by the Dalek two parter. The Doctor gained a second regular costume - a blue suit to provide some variation from his brown pinstripe (for one thing, it was easier to animate).

The logo was slightly altered, changing the font and making the design a bit cleaner.

The 'arc words' for this one were 'Mister Saxon', a mysterious British politician who would soon be causing Team TARDIS a lot of problems...
The Runaway Bride (60-minute Christmas special)
When a rather annoyed bride turns up in his TARDIS, the Doctor is in for a very turbulent Christmas.
The first appearance of Donna Noble, this Christmas special contains some pretty enjoyable moments, including the sight of the TARDIS flying down a highway, something that RTD had wanted to see since childhood. Donna is pretty annoying - she improved considerably on her later appearances, but the characterisation of the character made her announcement as a regular cause some considerable consternation among fans.

This story was intended for Season 28, but put back when the third Christmas special was ordered.
Smith and Jones
A group of alien police officers steal a hospital[2] and take it to the Moon... with the Doctor, plus one Martha Jones inside.
The first appearance of the popular 'space rhino' Judoon (if there's a major Doctor Who event involving monsters in costume, expect one to turn up) and featuring a villain who sucks blood through a drinking straw [Must be a sharp straw - Ed.], this one has a good number of moments but drags a bit towards the end.
The Shakespeare Code
The Doctor takes Martha to London in 1599, where strange things are going down.
Written by Gareth Roberts, a big Shakespeare fan who included him as a character when he'd previously written a Ninth Doctor comic strip for Doctor Who Magazine, this enjoyable tale contains lots of jokes about Shakespeare, including over claims he was bisexual and the soon-to-be-published final Harry Potter novel[3].
The costumes and sets (not to mention the trip to London to film in the reconstructed Globe Theatre) cost a fair bit of money, but BBC Wales were able to re-dress these sets for other things, including for The Sarah Jane Adventures.
The time travellers return to New Earth, where they discover an epic traffic jam and the Doctor learns a big secret...
The final part of a loose trilogy of stories (starting with "The End of the World") focussing on the human race in the far future and featuring the ancient Face of Boe, this pretty good story written by an atheist ironically got nominated for an award for the positive depiction of faith.
This is also the 727th episode of the series, the point at which the show beat the entire Star Trek television franchise for most episodes aired[4].
Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks
In New York in 1930, the Cult of Skaro (the four surviving Daleks from "Doomsday") continues to try to become supreme and further develop their race.
With Helen Raynor becoming the first woman to write for post-2005 Doctor Who, this frankly mediocre tale saw a key plot twist spoiled by RTD for the sake of a Radio Times cover (something the show now has no problems getting) and the first overseas location filming for the BBC Wales era - with second unit establishing shots filmed in New York, as Doctor Who Confidential were going there anyway.

Significant guest stars including Miranda Raison, then of Spooks and since then a number of other things - she's one of those actors who pop up quite frequently on the box in Britain.
The Lazarus Experiment
The Doctor prepares to drop Martha off back home, but then learns of Professor Richard Lazarus and his plan to change what it means to be human...
Featuring Mark Gatiss in front of the camera for a change (as Professor Lazarus), this rather good tale features some nice jokes, including on 'reversing the polarity' and also extensive Mr. Saxon references.

A crazed crewmember sabotages a cargo vessel and sends it, along with the time travellers heading towards a star. They have 42 minutes before impact...
A story that runs in more-or-less real time (a homage to 24 in concept and title), this contains a good number of dramatic moments but is probably one of the weaker stories of this run - it's certainly less remembered.
Aired after a week's break for the Eurovision Song Contest[5], this story saw a bunch of actors (including Michelle Collins, best known for EastEnders) pretending to be in an increasingly hot spaceship while in reality in a disused Welsh warehouse in February... something that required ice cubes and baby oil to a) avoid their breath from misting and b) make them look suitably grimy.
Human Nature/The Family of Blood
In a English private school in 1912, teacher John Smith has a secret... but even he doesn't know that he is the Doctor.
Adapted by Paul Cornell from his novel of the same name as the first part, this story excels at almost every level - brilliant acting (especially from Tennant), a strong story and demonstrating just what happens when you truly get on the wrong side of the Tenth Doctor. It was nominated for the same Hugo that the next episode would win and came sixth in the Doctor Who Magazine Mighty 200 poll, one of two Tennant stories in the Top Ten.
Game of Thrones fans may spot not one, but two actors from the show in this two-parter, which also includes a wonderful reference to Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert.

An abandoned house holds the deadly Weeping Angels and only Sally Sparrow can stop them. All she has to do is not blink...
After last season's dog's dinner of a Doctor-lite tale, this is much better... to the point of winning a third Hugo for Steven Moffat and coming second in the Mighty 200 poll - beaten only by "The Caves of Androzani". Introducing the very popular Weeping Angels, who became an A-List race straight off the bat, this is a superb tale loosely based on a short story by Moffat from the 2006 Doctor Who annual and also features an early role for Carey Mulligan, who would later be nominated for Best Actress for An Education, losing out to Sandra Bullock's role in The Blind Side[6].
Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords (final part 51 minutes long)[7]
When the TARDIS arrives at the Cardiff rift to refuel, Captain Jack jumps onto the ship (literally) and the crew are flung forward to the very far future, where another Time Lord is lying dormant... It's only the start of a very bad year for the three of them.
A suitably epic season finale that features the return of that old favourite the Master, who doesn't have a beard, but does have a wife. While there are some very strong scenes in this, the final episode in which the Tenth Doctor progressively ends up looking like Dobby the House Elf and then Jesus arguably marks the point where RTD began to wear out his welcome.

Did someone order a lunatic? Master No Six[8]
The Master has always been a bit mad; someone who on their first appearance tried to remotely strangle someone with a telephone cord isn't quite right in the head. Over the run of the show he's gotten progressively crazier... and this one is the least sane of the lot. Consider his scheme in this episode, which involves creating a giant paradox.

John Simm (1970-present) born in Leeds, started off supporting his father in performances at working men's clubs[9]. At 16, he started going into musical theatre, but decided it wasn't for him and went for more serious acting, training at the Drama Centre London. He was also in a rock band.
His professional acting debut came in 1992, when he appeared in Rumpole of the Bailey for Thames Television (an earlier BBC role ended up on the cutting room floor) and after a variety of bit parts, including, you guessed it, The Bill, he broke through with a role as a troubled teen in Cracker in 1995. Further film and television roles followed to more acclaim, including Human Traffic and by the time he played a reporter in the BBC political thriller State of Play in 2002 (a highly acclaimed mini-series that got a US film remake), he was clearly a name to watch.
Then came Life on Mars, where he starred as Sam Tyler, a modern day detective who found himself back in 1973 after being hit by a car. While upstaged by Philip Glenister's DCI Gene Hunt[10] (who would also appear in sequel Ashes to Ashes, not featuring Simm), he achieved huge success in a series that won two International Emmys, got him a BAFTA nomination and is considered a masterpiece of 2000s UK TV, probably because it was deliberately ended after two seasons to avoid it going stale.
The Doctor Who role followed shortly after (he took it so his son could have something to watch him in as most of his work is post-watershed) and was well received. Since then, he has appeared in the first season of the BBC historical drama The Village (which aims to cover the life of a Derbyshire village over the 20th century and is planned to last seven seasons) and also in all three seasons of the rather trippy Sky 1 series Mad Dogs, also with Philip Glenister.

The Infinite Quest (animated, 12 3'30" episodes aired as part of Totally Doctor Who and final chapter included in an omnibus broadcast - not officially part of Series 3)
The Doctor and Martha must find a legendary lost spaceship before Baltazar, the scourge of the galaxy.
A full-length episode with Tennant and Agyeman voicing their roles and featuring an animated version of the regular title sequence in its full broadcast, this is a de facto 14th episode and actually pretty good. It's clear why another of these was commissioned for the following run.

Average ratings (not counting iPlayer) were a little down 7.5 million, but no episode went below 6.5 and three from the main run exceeded 8.4 million, with "The Runaway Bride" hitting a final figure of 9.4 million, although the audience does tend to be a little more 'captive' on Christmas Day.
The BBC, fresh off the success of this and Robin Hood, now had another fantasy series in development, which we will discuss next time, as we look at the first part of Season 30, which would last over two years. The Doctor was about to meet another lady, one who was surprisingly bothered...
[1]Whether the Doctor has an actual doctorate in medicine (or anything else for that matter) isn't confirmed; he certainly demonstrates a strong knowledge of the subject and has stated that he studied with Lister (no, not that one) in Victorian Scotland.
[2]The fictitious Royal Hope would later appear in the first episode of Law & Order: UK... albeit as somewhere where a dead baby is found.
[3]The ending of that book is one thing that the film improves on. Since then Rowling has written two adult novels - The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo's Calling (under the name Robert Galbraith). The latter (which was not revealed to be penned by her for four months... then shot up in sales once it did so), which I'm currently listening to on audiobook, contains a lead character by the unlikely name of Cormoran Strike. Even Richard Castle from the ABC series Castle (him of Nikki Heat) would reject that as excessively silly.
[4]Though Star Trek beats Doctor Who when it comes to overall screen-time.
[5]Serbia won the contest held in Helsinki, Finland - the UK came joint 22nd (with France) out of 24, gaining 19 points with Scooch.
[6]The previous year she won a Razzie for All About Steve - and collected it!
[7]There is a debate as to whether this is a three-parter or a one-parter and a two-parter. The BBC goes for the latter, but Russell T Davies counted it as a three-parter when he designated "Planet of the Dead" as story 200 and TARDIS Data Core goes with the former too.

[8] Russell T Davies insisted that the anagram of "Master No. Six" (this was the sixth incarnation of the Master as seen on TV) was a coincidence. Pull the other one...
[9]Social clubs for working men, typically found in Wales and the North of England.
[10] The boorishly un-PC Hunt became a rather unlikely sex symbol and cult figure through his (largely unprintable in a family blog) bon mots [Speak English, you soft Southerner! - Gene], combined with considerable swagger. It's no accident I based (and use an image of him for) Pierce Langer on Gene Hunt.

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