02 October 2013

Starter for Ten ('Doctor Who' Season 28/2, 2005-6)

It's fair to say there has never been a poor Doctor... even Colin Baker has vastly improved his reputation over the years from his Big Finish work.
With one of its leads departing 13 episodes into the run, things could have gone very wrong very quickly for the show. Interestingly enough, it was at this time that Kate Todd departed NCIS in truly dramatic style[1] and was replaced by Ziva David, who was initially played as untrustworthy for an audience who arguably missed the haughty agent... the show went from strength to strength; it ended Season 10 as the most watched scripted show in the US and the 2nd most popular overall[2].
Anyway, enough discussions about women from crime shows and onto a guy who has been in a couple himself...
Fire and Ice and Rage - The Tenth Doctor
The British media site Digital Spy recently held a Best Doctor poll... and the Tenth Doctor won with just over 50% of the vote. It is completely true to say that David Tennant's portrayal has dethroned the previously most popular Doctor, Tom Baker, to be considered the best of the lot.
The Tenth Doctor was certainly a very well-developed character. From his initial "Cockney wideboy in space" persona, a much deeper man emerged. He could be highly enthusiastic, prone to go off on a tangent mid sentence and always attempted to give an enemy a chance to leave without violence. However, he was firmly of the "no second chances"... you angered this guy, you paid hard - very hard.
The human who would play this alien was David McDonald (1971-), far better known by the stage name he had to take for Equity reasons, David Tennant - a surname taken from Neil Tennant of The Petshop Boys. Growing up in Renfrewshire, where his father was a priest and later held the post of Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland - a year long position but a hugely important one for religious Scots ("Sandy" McDonald would later cameo in "The Unicorn and the Wasp"). His love of Doctor Who in his youth led to him in going in to acting - and he went totally starstruck when he actually got to act alongside Lis Sladen.
 After a spot of roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company, he got his TV break with (appropriately enough) Takin' Over The Asylum for BBC Scotland[3], where he played a bipolar contributor to a hospital radio station. Moving to London in the 1990s, lodging with Arabella Weir (who would later appear in "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" alongside Tennant's successor), a batch of further television work followed, along with stage work and audio - including Doctor Who stuff for Big Finish, as well as "Scream of the Shalka". He attempted 14 times to get an appearance in STV's Taggart, but did do an episode of The Bill in 1995. There were a couple of series appearance, the biggest of these being the musical series Blackpool in 2004, where he was increasingly considered one to watch. His role as Casanova then followed, working with Russell T Davies for the first time.
Shortly before his debut proper as the Doctor on 25 December 2005, he appeared in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as Death Eater Barty Crouch Jr, although his character spends most of that movie being played by Brendan Gleeson. What screentime Tennant does get allows him to exercise a good deal of evil ham.
His time as the Doctor, where he chose to use an Estuary English accent instead of his native Scottish brogue (a line about Rose's accent 'imprinting' on him got cut from the script), saw him gain considerable critical acclaim and thirteen awards. However, he still wanted to take to the stage and did a highly regarded turn as Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company alongside Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius - which was subsequently filmed for BBC2, being aired in December 2009 as he was preparing to depart the role of the Doctor. I've seen this and his take on "To be or not to be", which involves Hamlet pointing a gun at his head (it's a modern dress production) is one highlight of an excellent performance.
After Doctor Who, he made an attempt to break into the US with an unbroadcast pilot for a show called Rex Is Not Your Lawyer, where he played a panic attack prone lawyer who helped clients represent themselves, but the show was not ordered to series.[4] A return to the UK followed in due course, where he took leading roles in Single Father and most notably, ITV's highly acclaimed Broadchurch (renewed for a second season and with a US remake planned for next year), as DI Alec Hardy.
Tennant also does a great deal of voice work - he has done a good number of adverts and Party Political Broadcasts[5] for the Labour Party (although he declined to do these while he was playing the Doctor as he didn't want the character to be seen to be politically partial). He also is planning to appear as Richard II, another well known Shakespeare role... I'm going to say that if any Doctor were to get a CBE or even a knighthood, it would be him.
The expansion of the run to 14 full length episodes meant that it became necessary for the creation of a "Doctor-lite" episode to allow for filming these in the same time to do thirteen otherwise; a trend that would continue[6] with the later addition of "companion-lite" episodes. Each episode after "New Earth" saw minute-long "TARDISode" prologues, downloadable from the BBC website and also intended for smartphones. For the second year in a row, the show started on Easter Saturday, something now pretty standard for the show.
Russell T Davies took a slightly reduced role in the writing of the season; it would allow some other writers to shine. Again, these are 45 minutes unless specified and two-parters are grouped in the obvious way. The run is a strong one, although it lacks some of the heights of the previous run (most of the writers didn't have the knowledge of Ten that RTD had to this point).
As for grouping, the Christmas specials are generally filmed and production code numbered in-house with the following season (as 2.X in this case), so will go with those.
"Born Again" (7-minute Children in Need special[7])
A canon special that follows the Doctor and Rose in the minutes after the regeneration, this is the shortest televised Doctor Who episode of them all ("Time Crash" is a minute longer). With the fundraising scroller removed at RTD's request, you can focus on a short and quite good scene, albeit one somewhat forgotten - you'd be forgiven for jumping straight to the next story...
The Christmas Invasion (Christmas special, 60 minutes)
The first Doctor Who Christmas special since the questionable in every aspect one that was "The Feast of Steven" (part of the "The Daleks' Master Plan) back in 1965, the show has not skipped a year since and is considered a key part of the BBC1 Christmas Day lineup. It's not hard to see why based on this. While the Tenth Doctor spends much of this episode unconscious, but when he awakes and has fully arrived as the Doctor (albeit in his pyjamas[8]), he rocks from the first line. There's also some political comment in a story that sees the first mention of the Torchwood Institute, most notably a bit on Margaret Thatcher and the sinking of ARA General Belgrano in May 1982 (see my article in The Burning Question #10 for more on that).
This episode also sees a new orchestral arrangement of the closing theme and the change of the lead character's credit back to "The Doctor" at Tennant's request - it has remained so ever since.
New Earth
The Doctor and Rose head to New Earth in 5,000,000,023, where they meet an old friend, an old enemy and a load of cat nuns with a questionable attitude to medical ethics.
A sequel to "The End of the World" that RTD intended to use to show that things would not change with a new Doctor (it also contains the first extrasolar trip since 1989), this had significant production problems - bad weather, damaged props and CGI issues, as well as major rewrites when RTD was advised by Steven Moffat that he had a habit of creating interesting characters and then killing them. While this has some good moments, it ultimately isn't the best of the run.
Tooth & Claw
Team TARDIS arrive in Victorian Scotland, where they have to save a monarch from a werewolf.
An enjoyable episode with a lot of action, including wire work, plus some great lines (including a reference to Jamie). The events of this result in the creation of Torchwood - which will soon employ one Jack Harkness.
School Reunion
The Doctor, Rose and Mickey Smith (her former boyfriend) investigate a haunted school. Also on the case is K9 and Sarah Jane Smith.
Featuring Lis Sladen's first appearance in the show since the non-canon "Dimensions in Time" in 1993 - she took some persuading and with a villain played by Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy), this one is a great story, with some superb moments and one-liners. Indeed, I named a TV Tropes entry after a line from this (The Missus And The Ex) in fact.
This also features the final work done by the BBC Model Unit (responsible for many great models, most notably on Red Dwarf) before it was closed down - it's members, most notably Mike Tucker, went freelance and have contributed to the show since.
At the end of this episode, the Ninth Doctor acquires another companion...
The Tin Human - Mickey Smith
When Rose first appeared, she had a well-meaning but not exactly smart boyfriend named Mickey Smith, a car mechanic - a man obsessed with football, sex and conspiracy theories. Mickey got captured by the Autons and his reaction to alien life did not impress the Doctor, who did not invite him into the TARDIS when he left with Rose - resulting in Smith getting suspected of her murder when she failed to come home for a year. He then proceeded to get considerably better all-round, showing strong computer and physical "hacking" skills in his other Season 27 and 28 appearance, so became a companion as of "School Reunion".

His arc saw him staying in a parallel universe to fight Cybermen and then eventually returning home, seemingly working with Torchwood (a planned appearance in Children of Earth was dropped due to Noel Clarke getting another part). The Rose-Mickey relationship broke down, but he later married her replacement, Dr Martha Jones.

Noel Clarke (1975-present) is the first non-white actor to play a companion in the television series. Hailing from London, his first TV role was in 1999 and after a few guest roles, he appeared in 14 episodes of the BBC revival of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (a comedy drama about a group of British migrant construction workers) from 2002 to 2004, when the run concluded. He then went on to Doctor Who, where he admits he pitched his performance too comedic initially as he thought he was doing a children's show - it gets dialled in for his later appearances.

He also wrote an episode of Torchwood ("Combat") - the first companion to also pen a script for the franchise and also did some BF audio.

Since Doctor Who, he has become a rising actor and especially director, with Kidulthood and sequel Adulthood gaining plaudits for his turn behind the camera, but also acting in films like Storage 24, Fast Girls (a film about an athletics championship that was not the London Olympics as the IOC wouldn't let them use their trademarks) and most recently Star Trek: Into Darkness.

The Girl in the Fireplace
The three TARDIS crew arrive on a deserted spaceship in the future, containing clockwork robots and portals to 18th century France...

Another Hugo-winning story from Steven Moffat, which sees Sophia Myles (who would later have a relationship with Tennant) as Madame de Pompadour, this one contains many a funny line and a thrilling moment, as well as a scene that possibly implies the Doctor discussed Uganda, if you know what I mean, with Louis XIV's mistress. Sad ending too.

Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel
The TARDIS ends up on a parallel Earth, where a new and terrifying race is about to be born...

Partly inspired by a Big Finish audio ("Spare Parts", reviewed on this blog), this two-parter has some great moments and a strong new interpretation of the Cybermen - they even acquire a catchphrase, but ultimately not the best Cyberman story. Noel Clarke gets to play two parts (Mickey and alternate universe version RIcky), with his character chosing to stay here at the end of the story. The lead villain is played by Roger Lloyd Pack, best known for his role as Trigger ("because he looks like a horse") in Only Fools & Horses.

This story also sees the directing return of Graeme Harper in his first of nine contributions to modern Doctor Who.

The Idiot's Lantern
The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II is looming and many people are buying their first television sets... but something is lurking in the airwaves.

An enjoyable episode (although not perhaps best for young Rose fans) with some good jokes - although a "Logopolis" reference got cut from the script before filming; this is a demonstration of why Mark Gatiss keeps getting asked back. It's also a strong early example of what happens when you annoy the Tenth Doctor.

The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
A base orbiting a black hole is home to an awaking entity that wants to feed on its crew.

A horror two-parter that has fun with the marker pen and killing guest casts as well as references to HP Lovecraft (especially the Ood, who make their debut here) and Alien - indeed one of its actors appeared in the third film. Might need to rewatch this one; I don't remember being massively keen on it, but it has its moments - as well as an ominous prediction for Rose.
Love & Monsters
A London man by the name of Elton Pope becomes obsessed with the Doctor and Rose, discovering other dangers when he joins a fan club.
The "Doctor and companion-lite" episode (the two regulars only appear in a few scenes), this story focuses on a character played by Marc Warren, a well known British actor who has turned in shows on both sides of the pond. It also features a monster designed through a competition on Blue Peter, the woman who played Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films and one of the dirtiest jokes yet to feature in any Doctor Who[9].
It's also an extremely poor episode - the worst of this run and quite possibly the worst post-2005.
Fear Her
The 2012 London Olympics are about to begin... but a creature in a girl's closet could ruin that.
One I found OK, but which gets a very bad rep from fans in general for being a bit boring, ranking 192nd in the Mighty 200, the lowest of the post-2005 stories in that poll. This tale is interesting in its setting and depiction of the then recently-won London Games; the logo used is the bid one (the proper one wasn't revealed at this point) and interestingly enough, David Tennant didn't get to carry the torch in RL but Matt Smith did[10].
This is the first explicit discussion of child abuse in Doctor Who, but there have been implications before this - an allusion to paedophilia in "The Empty Child" and going right back to the very first episode, the reason that Ian and Barbara pushed their way into the TARDIS was because they feared Susan was being abused by the Doctor.

Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
A mysterious army of ghosts have appeared... and Torchwood are involved. Little do they know what they are about to unleash...
The first and so far only Daleks vs. Cybermen fight (the former arguably win as they get away), this also sees the debut of the Doctor's "Allons-y!" catchphrase, Graeme Harper directing, Freema Agyeman appearing in a role different to the one she would take the following season, the setting up of the Torchwood spinoff... and the departure of Rose in a heartbreaking manner. She may not have died, but to the Doctor it was basically the same thing.
This is a strong season finale capped by a strong climax, some great deaths and that final moment...
The average ratings, not bolstered by the big debut of "Rose", were a tick down at 7.8 million, with "The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit" averaging about 6.2. This was still however very good all round.
The continuing success of Doctor Who was such that the BBC decided that Saturday evening family drama was worth doing more of - so they launched Robin Hood, a new take on the legend of the redistributive robber that sometimes shot up historical accuracy with a sheaf of arrows. It lasted three seasons (and gave David Harewood a notable role pre-Homeland) before declining ratings and several characters leaving, including Robin himself, led the BBC to pull the plug there.
Russell T Davies was one for subterfuge when it came to concealing plot spoilers... the final scene of "Doomsday" was filmed during the wrap party with the script limited to only those involved (IIRC, it was left off the preview tapes). The previous year had actually seen a fake ending for "The Parting of the Ways" filmed with the intention to drop the regeneration on everyone before Eccleston's departure leaked.

The surprise was kept this time and so after the harrowing departure of Rose Tyler, the Doctor had to come with Catherine Tate turning up in his TARDIS.

It would be a very interesting year for the Time Lord...
[1]The statute of limitations on spoilers isn't quite up for that one. Sasha Alexander now plays a doctor herself... Dr Maura Isles in TNT's Rizzoli & Isles, arguably the funniest of the 'forensic scientist in 4-inch heels' brigade.
[2]And I've just compared the Tenth Doctor to Ziva David... oddly enough, Cote de Pablo was one of the 'played by' possibles for Romana VI.
[3]The BBC regional stations do produce a number of local only shows, such as River City for BBC Scotland, although these can be found in iPlayer and in the upper reaches of the Sky EPG, which has all the BBC versions available.
[4]The fate of most pilots in fact. Every year, hundreds of Anglophone actors try to get cast in pilots that may never make it to air as a full series - sometimes they end up marrying drug dealers and accidentally ODing on heroin (as Uma Thurman's character did in Pulp Fiction)
[5]With political advertising banned on TV, parties are instead allowed to broadcast short films at certain times e.g. during the week of the Budget or during elections to persuade people to vote for them. Most people, myself included, just reach for the remote.
[6]While a good number of US shows happily clear 15 episodes a season or more, Suits (to give one example) is an ensemble show that does not require Gabriel Macht or Gina Torres to, say, engage in night shoots in on the freezing battlements of a Welsh castle, stand in front of a greenscreen and look terrified at a tennis ball, or engage in a running gun battle. Unless Louis Litt were to eat a particularly dodgy steak and start hallucinating.
[7]The story was explicitly left untitled on screen, but the official guides seem to have settled on this one for a title.
[8]This Christmas special was filmed in the midst of a warm June, so David Tennant appreciated being able to run around in his pyjamas while everyone else was wearing thick coats... he also mooned the paparazzi that flock around this show in droves now.
[9]Kids' writers, remembering that adults usually end up watching these things too, frequently chuck in references and jokes that will go over the heads of the younger audience, but be appreciated by the adults. The joke in question just beat another one by Steven Moffat on a similar theme.
[10]The cauldron itself was also not lit by a Time Lord... after much speculation, it was brought into the stadium by Sir Stephen Redgrave, put into seven smaller torches and given to teenage athletes for the actual lighting - which was a nice way of doing it.

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