09 December 2013

I Am Bovvered ('Doctor Who' Season 30/Series 4, Part One, 2007-8)

2008 saw the launch of another Saturday night fantasy series produced by Shine Television for the BBC, Merlin, which focussed on the early career of a certain warlock and combined with it with strong homoerotic "hints" of the sort that are increasingly popular in buddy cop/adventure shows. While aimed at a family audience its rating demographic was actually over half 55+ and the show was successful enough to run for five seasons (as well as become the first British series to air on US network television for over 30 years when NBC aired the first season, but it went to Syfy after that) before the producers decided to wrap the show up. A show that definitely got better as it went along and realised that viewers weren't liking it staying in one place plotwise, its regulars included Richard Wilson and Anthony Head, both with notable Doctor Who guest appearances to their name. As well as the voice of one John Hurt.

The fourth season of the hugely successful revival saw the arrival of a new companion in the TARDIS, one whose casting was not exactly welcomed by fans who had seen her in a previous episode.

Supertemp - Donna Noble
Donna, who only appeared in the 4th season, was a markedly different character to Rose and Martha - especially in terms of the relationship with the Doctor, where her description of him as a "long thin streak of nothing" made it clear there wasn't going to be a romance in the TARDIS (although we did get one kiss... in an emergency situation). With a sharp tongue and short temper, it was going to be difficult to keep up with the long-temp temp from Chiswick (West London seems to be popular with companions).

Like Billie Piper before her, Catherine Tate (1968-) was already a 'known' in Britain, with her comedic background not exactly giving the devoted much to hope for. After her schooling in a convent school in West London (she does indeed hail from Chiswick), she spent four years attempting to get into the Central School of Speech and Drama, getting in on the fourth attempt. After the usual bit parts in serials (yes, including that one...), she started in stand-up comedy in 1996 and appeared in various sketch shows on TV, where her comedic talent was pretty obvious; she soon began to develop some notable characters of her own. Not only that, she did some work with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Approached by the then controller of Comedy at the BBC at the Edinburgh Festival, she was encouraged to go further with her best known character, chavvy schoolgirl Lauren Cooper, with her most notable catchphrase "Am I bovvered?". She got her own TV show, The Catherine Tate Show, which ran for three seasons and two Christmas specials, with Tate playing a variety of comedic caricatures - including one that caused an Ofcom investigation for perceived stereotyping of people from Northern Ireland as terrorists (it was deemed not in breach). Notable among this were two Comic Relief skits in March 2007, one featuring David Tennant as a teacher and another featuring Tony Blair. Tate did another special in 2009 and in 2013 brought out "Nan" for Children in Need.

Since Doctor Who, she has had a regular role in the US version of The Office, appeared with Tennant at the RSC and most recently played a French teacher in a BBC1 comedy called Big School.

In terms of production codes, Series 4 continues all the way up to Tennant's departure in "The End of Time, Part Two" (4.18), but for discussion purposes, the series is frequently split into two - this run and the December 2008-January 2010 specials. Nearly all of the shooting scripts for these stories are available to download freely on the website for Russell T Davies' book covering the making of this, The Writer's Tale.

This would be Phil Collinson's final season as producer - he departed to become Head of Drama at BBC Manchester, then took his dream job as Coronation Street series producer for ITV Studios in 2010, stepping down in 2013 after a tenure that saw declining ratings and criticism of excessive numbers of LGBT characters.

A pretty strong season, with no clunkers, but also no stand out greats bar the Moffat one, the arc featured references to disappearing planets - why they were disappearing would soon be revealed...

Time Crash (8 minute mini-episode for Children in Need)
The Doctor says goodbye to Martha... and then crashes into the TARDIS of his fifth incarnation!

The first multi-Doctor episode of the new era, with David Tennant getting to act alongside his personal favourite Doctor (and later father-in-law!) Peter Davison[1]... with the former being a fanboy in character. A superb episode with lots of great jokes (a common rule is that the Doctor does not get on well with himself); this is available on DVD.

Voyage of the Damned (72 minute Christmas special)

Then something else crashes into the TARDIS - the space liner Titanic... the Doctor and waitress Astrid must stop the crippled ship from crashing into Earth. It's another spectacular Christmas...

Featuring a big name guest star, namely pop princess Kylie Minogue (who of course was an actor in Ten Network's long-running soap Neighbours down under), this Christmas special contains some great jokes, a particularly fiery Doctor who finally gets to say 'Allons-y, Alonso!' and a poignant ending.

This special, originally titled "Starship Titanic" until it was pointed out Douglas Adams had done a novel and video game of the same name, is the first appearance of popular recurrer Wilfred Mott, played by Bernard Cribbins[2]. Intended as a one-shot news vendor called Stan, the illness and subsequent death of Howard Attfield (who played Donna's father in "The Runway Bride", doing some filming for "Partners" before his health failed him), his role was renamed and expanded.

Partners in Crime (50 minutes)
Donna Noble's hunt for the Doctor proves successful, but she also finds an alien conspiracy involving diet pills...

Featuring some great scenes with Tennant and Tate, a great villain and some of the cutest aliens ever featured in the show (they later got a stress ball version of them sold), this is an enjoyable season opener that also featured the surprise appearance of a returning character; it was known they would be making another appearance, but not in this episode as the press copies edited it out that scene[3].

The Fires of Pompeii (50 minutes)

Aiming for ancient Rome, the two time travellers end up in Pompeii... and it's Volcano Day.

A strong tale with some good jokes (including the names of a family actually deriving from a Latin textbook) and the partial debut of the concept of "fixed points in time", events that the Doctor cannot change without putting all of spacetime at risk; the ending is particularly emotional for Donna.

By far the most notable aspect of this episode is the guest cast... namely two of them who would go on to bigger roles in the show. Karen Gillan's role as a soothsayer would be notable enough, but topping that (and he would also play another role in Torchwood) was a certain Scottish actor by the name of Peter Capaldi...

Planet of the Ood
The Doctor takes Donna to her first alien world, where they discover just what humanity is capable of...

Guest starring Tim Mclnnerny (best known for appearing in a regular role in three of the four Blackadder series), this tale featuring one of the most popular aliens in the modern era is good, has some strong scenes for Donna, but is otherwise fairly unremarkable... it was in fact intended to go second in the run. A "moderately gory" scene where a character is turned into an Ood (he deserves it) got this episode and its DVD release rated a 12 in the UK, as opposed to the usual PG.

The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky
52 people die at the same time. The one link, their sat navs... the galaxy's greatest warriors are planning to attack Earth.

The first appearance of the Sontarans in the modern run (with a slight redesign, but for a race of clones they have been surprisingly variable in their appearances) and with Martha Jones getting to play a villain as well as her regular role, Helen Raynor's two-parter is good, but arguably less than the sum of its parts. It features Christopher Ryan[4] and Dan Starkey among those in the Sontaran masks, the latter who would be better known for one particular Sontaran, Strax.

The Doctor's Daughter
Arriving in the midst of a war on the planet Messaline, the Doctor, Donna and Martha encounter the Doctor's... daughter?
The one in which Peter Davison's daughter Georgia Moffett (whose first line "Hello, Dad" is even more ironic in hindsight) turns up, there's a lot of fun to be had here - she's great, Donna gets some of the best lines in the show[5] and the Doctor's not so bad either.

The Unicorn and the Wasp
Just what did happen during the ten-day disappearance of Agatha Christie in October 1926? Did it involve a giant wasp?

Another strong Graeme Harper-helmed episode best known for referencing (by dialogue or other things[6]) at least 23 Christie works - there was a competition to spot them all - this originally had a different opening and conclusion, the deleted scenes turning up on DVD.

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
The Library, an entire planet dedicated to the written word... but when the Doctor and Donna arrive it is deserted, except for a group of archeologists, one of whom seems to know the Doctor very well. As well as something deadly in the shadows.

Steven Moffat's final episode not as showrunner (he did not write for the 2009 specials), I rewatched this recently and found it remains very strong indeed; although not his best work. It was nominated for a Hugo, but lost out to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog by a bored-during-the-writer's-strike Joss Whedon. However, this will live longer in the memory for who it introduced.

Trouble and Strife - River Song

One thing you can definitely say about Steven Moffat is that he doesn't half do complex plots; the one with River Song aka Melody Pond aka Cleoptara... the Doctor's first encounter with her is her last with him for one thing. A frisky, strong-willed woman with a deep love for the Doctor (who she frequently called 'sweetie'), she also was an archeologist of the Indiana Jones variety. In light of later revelations about her parentage, any scene with the Doctor and Amy looks rather different.

Alex Kingston (1963-) hails from London and started her TV acting career in 1978 on Grange Hill, appearing in three episodes. After a number of bit parts, she appeared in thirteen episodes of the Customs and Excise-based drama The Knock on ITV in 1996. This was followed by her breakout role as the titular character in The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders, a literary adaptation of a rather saucy novel that got her a BAFTA nomination. At this time, her brief marriage to Ralph Fiennes broke up after he left her for another woman - she has since remarried.

Hollywood, or rather Burbank, soon beckoned with seven seasons as Elizabeth Corday in the long-running medical series ER; she left in Season 11, but returned for two episodes in the final run. Turned down for Desperate Housewives for being too curvy [Some people are shallow - Ed.], she has since done a number of guest and recurring roles in network US dramas, including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (as a character called Miranda Pond) and Arrow - she is based in the country. However, she has also appeared in British shows, including miniseries Marchlands for ITV and also looked at her family tree in the BBC's geneological show Who Do You Think You Are?

The Doctor, while holidaying on the planet Midnight, leaves Donna behind to go on a bus trip to see the Sapphire Waterfall. Said bus then gets infiltrated by a mysterious entity and no-one can be trusted... not even him.

Not one of my personal faves; even if it does feature strong acting from Tennant, Lesley Sharp and Patrick Troughton's son David (not his first appearance in the show either) and a chance to see the Doctor as others frequently see him, it just didn't sit right with me for some reason.

Intended as the 50th episode since the revival (a change in transmission order meant it went out 52nd, but the name of the bus shows the original plan), this story was a replacement for a planned story called "Century House" focussing on a haunted house, but dropped because RTD wasn't happy with the premise[7]. This is a Donna-lite tale; she's only in a couple of scenes.

Turn Left (50 minutes)
What if Donna never met the Doctor? Courtesy of a big spider, she's about to find out...

The Doctor-lite story in this run (it was double-banked with "Midnight" so both could be shot together) with Ten only appearing at the beginning and the end - his other appearance is from "The Runaway Bride" with this story, inspired by the 1998 film Sliding Doors, having Donna see a vision of a world where she'd not taken a job and a result the Doctor had died in that story.  This is a very strong episode with some pretty moving scenes (in this alternative universe, most of the other regulars in then three shows die off-screen[8]), a chance to see what Donna would be like without the Doctor and great direction from Graeme Harper - the slot was specially extended by five minutes so the cuts would not be excessive.

The Stolen Earth/Journey's End (second episode 65 minutes long)

27 planets, including Earth, disappear... the man responsible is the creator of the Doctor's deadliest foe with a plan to destroy the universe. It will take more than just the Doctor and Donna to stop this one...

Featuring characters from all three series in the main Whoniverse, as well as killing a recurrer who had frankly completed this arc, this one is RTD's vision for the show at its maximum volume... and the point where he probably began to outstay his welcome. It's not bad and certainly has some great moments ("MY VISION IS NOT IMPAIRED!" and Wilf's actions before that), but it's not his best finale.

Perhaps best known for the surprise cliffhanger to the first episode[9], this also features the very sad departure of Donna, the conclusion of Rose's arc and is also the final regular story of this era... the rest would be specials.

When the final ratings came in "Voyage of the Damned", they were planet-shattering. 13.31 million. The highest rating since "Dimensions in Time", one of the highest in the entire run and the second most watched programme of the entire year (there were no big football tournaments in 2007) - beaten only by the episode of EastEnders airing immediately before it. Even then, this was the first #2 for the week for the show... "The Ark in Space" had only managed #5.

The rating success continued - the average of this run was 8.6 million, although that was skewed towards a highly successful final four episodes that, with heavy media promotion helped by that cliffhanger, came in #5, #4, #2... and #1, "Journey's End" topping the ratings with 10.6 million viewers, not counting iPlayer.

The public acclaim for the show was even clearer on 29 October 2008  when it won the publicly voted for Most Popular Drama award in the 2008 National Television Awards (its fourth win in a row), broadcast on ITV. David Tennant accepted the award by video link and dropped a bombshell... while there had been speculation about this, it was still a shock - the plan kept secret under the codename Cobra[10].

He would be filming four more specials as the Doctor in 2009, fitting them in with his committment to Hamlet, which was actually not the main reason for not doing a full run (it had been planned since 2007) - then he would be handing over the TARDIS key to another man. While the public waited to find out who would replace him, the Tenth Doctor faced the wait for four knocks...


[1]A line about "shortening out the time differential" (a concept nicked from "Mawdryn Undead") is used to explain the fact that Davison looks, well, nearly 25 years older than he ever was in his tenure. Davison's costume is partly original, partly a recreation and one part Colin Baker's trousers from his first scenes, as Davison's natural increase in girth precluded him from wearing his original pair.
[2]Who many years earlier had played PC Tom Campbell in the second Peter Cushing film Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.
[3]Russell T Davies omitted scenes from preview tapes, shot extra stuff in secret and sometimes outright lied to hide plot spoilers... Steven Moffat just asked the press of four countries nicely to not reveal a key point of "Asylum of the Daleks".
[4]Whose role in rubber as Lord Kiv in "Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp" makes him one of the few actors to have appeared in classic and new Who, but is best known for The Young Ones.
[5]The one about the Child Support Agency is particularly brilliant.
[6]RTD when rewriting this considered a more explicit reference to the original, non-PC title of the novel now called And Then There Were None, but decided it was too risky.
[7]Other dropped stories from the RTD era include a planned take on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight written by Stephen Fry, originally planned for Series 2 and replaced with "Fear Her" due to a lack of time on his part to do the rewrites - this appears to be permanently shelved.
[8]And shortly after this, one of them would die in the regular continuity - and we're not talking Captain Jack here.
[9]Which was omitted from the preview tapes of "Stolen Earth"; "Journey's End" did not have any sent out at all. Steven Moffat has said that the Doctor did use one up there, which will be interesting come Christmas 2013.
[10]Later codenames for things would include "Panic Moon" (the casting of Amy Pond, an anagram of "companion"), "Men on Waves" (Clara, an anagram of "Woman Seven") and "Houdini" (for the Twelfth Doctor).

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