04 January 2014

A long farewell ('Doctor Who' Season 30 Specials, 2008-10)

With David Tennant's announcement coming as early as it did, we had a considerable period that might be termed 'lame duck'... if we were being uncomplimentary. There was a period of over a year in that we knew Tennant was on his way out... and just shy of that we knew that Matt Smith was going to replace him. His departure was certainly hyped and well covered - he made 75 appearances in three weeks over Christmas/New Year 2010 when you count all the repeats; not to mentioning featuring in the BBC1 Christmas idents in character.

Doctor Who in 2009 consisted of precisely three special episodes (five if you count, which most people do, the ones broadcast on 25 December 2008 and 1 January 2010). While initially thought by the media to be due to Tennant's RSC commitment, the decision to do the specials was in fact made before that in 2007 (as per correspondence in Russell T Davies' A Writer's Tale) - Phil Collinson had already left with RTD and Julie Gardner both deciding to go in 2009. A break would give the new production team, to be headed by Steven Moffat, much more time to prepare for the 2010 run.

So, the Tenth Doctor would appear, without regular companions (but 'guest' ones) in stand alone stories that were heading towards his prophesied end, when someone male would knock four times.

These specials naturally benefited from having a lot more attention focussed on them by a team who was not having to plan a full season; there is not really a poor one among them, although some are weaker than others. From "The Waters of Mars", my Gallifrey Base reviews are available for me to draw on.

The Next Doctor (Christmas 2008, 60 minutes)
The Doctor arrives in London in Christmas 1851... where he bumps into another Doctor!

Starring well known British actor David Morrissey as an apparent future incarnation of the Doctor (Smith's casting not yet being announced), this episode has a lot of very good moments, but frankly the giant Cyberman stomping through London is going a bit far. Also has a great villain in the form of Dervla Kirwan, at the time known for her Marks & Spencers adverts[1].

Planet of the Dead (Easter 2009, 60 minutes)
A bus ride takes the Doctor and a glamorous jewel thief to an alien world.

The 200th Doctor Who story and the first to be made in high-definition, this also saw filming in Dubai, a cause of minor controversy due to the emirate's LGBT rights record. A good story, although not the best of the specials.

The damage to the bus featured in this wasn't actually intentional - it got hit by a crane in Turkey en route to Dubai for filming and after discussion, this was incorporated into the script.

The Waters of Mars (15 November 2009, 60 minutes)
Mars 2059. The first human base on the planet goes up in a mysterious explosion... and the Doctor is about to find out what caused it.

The 2010 Hugo winner, this is one of the best stories in the show's history - I rated it 10/10 at the time; it was a crowning moment of what had been a very good day for me[2]. Showing just what the Doctor can be like without a human restraint on him, this sees Tennant at the height of his powers - and contains a superb monster in the form of the flood.

This was in fact intended as a Christmas special initially, with some references remaining in the finished product - a planned transmission on the following weekend on 21 November, the negative 50th anniversary of the story's setting i.e. the anniversary one wasn't possible (possibly because of Strictly Come Dancing?), so it was moved to the previous Sunday - as such it is the only episode of the show that is not a Christmas special aired on a Sunday.

Dreamland (November 2009, animated for CBBC, initally Red Button service with 1x12 minute and 5x7 minutes, subsequently broadcast in an edited together 45-minute version)
In 1958 America, the Doctor stumbles on an alien artefact and has to rescue an extraterrestrial couple from threats both domestic and alien.

Featuring the voices of Georgia Moffett and David Warner (the latter in his first TV appearance in the show - he would later appear in live-action in "Cold War"), this CG-animated tale is one that I enjoyed, but I can't really remember much of. One to watch again perhaps; it does have some good jokes in it including a reference to Alien[3].

The End of Time (Two parts, first 60 minutes Christmas 2009, second 70 minutes New Year's Day 2009[4])
The Master has been resurrected, the Doctor is nearing the end of his life... as both try to stay alive, someone else is approaching and someone will knock four times.

An epic season finale, although it does take a little while to get going. Tennant is superb, John Simm is even crazier than usual and anything featuring Timothy Dalton (a really underrated Bond) is generally going to be enjoyable. The final twenty minute farewell tour is a bit of an indulgence, although one the production team were entitled to have and the final regeneration scene is excellent[5].

This is a particularly good episode for saliva - spray can be seen coming from Timothy Dalton's mouth in his speech at the end of Part One when watched in HD and the final scene sees Matt Smith spitting over the console[6].

The usual large number of names were linked with the role (my personal belief is that it would be Patterson Joseph) and a number of people auditioned. Moffat stated his desire for a Doctor in his 30s or 40s... but the third man to audition was so good that he promptly went against his initial plan.

Matt Smith's announcement came on 3 January 2009 in a special Sunday afternoon edition of Doctor Who Confidential on BBC1; the actual reveal done in a really clever way... near the end of the programme, he appeared talking among the interviewees - then the caption "Matt Smith - The Eleventh Doctor" appeared. People had to promptly look him up - more than one paper did a "Doctor Who?" headline.

The Eleventh Doctor - Fezzy Logic

Bow ties, fezzes, fish fingers... this Doctor is nothing if not eccentric and definitely not entirely aware of human social conventions. While physically young, he acts very much like an old man... as indeed this Time Lord now is. Again, not a good idea to get him cross.

Matthew Robert Smith (1982-) better known as Matt Smith, grew up in Northampton and was a promising young footballer with hopes of turning professional when a back injury put paid to that - he supports Blackburn Rovers[7]. At the suggestion of his drama teacher, he went into acting - and it was clear that he was one to watch from a young age. He got his first professional role before he finished his degree in drama and creative writing at the University of East Anglia - they allowed him to do his final year by post without attending lectures. His early theatre roles were very well received - in 2008 he was awarded "best newcomer" by the Evening Standard for his role in The Face.

His first TV role was as Jim Taylor in two adaptations of Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart novels (the other two have not been adapted), where he had sex with Billie Piper's titular character, but he came to prominence as a Labour researcher in Party Animals. Further roles followed in Secret Diary of a Call Girl (where he had sex with Billie Piper), cop drama Moses Jones for BBC2[8] and Womb, alongside Bond girl Eva Green[9], although his scene in In Bruges ended up getting cut from the final film. He auditioned for the part of John Watson in Sherlock, but was deemed more like the titular character... as that was taken by Benedict Cumberbatch, it was suggested that he go for something more like that.

While playing the Time Lord, Smith appeared in two TV movies for the BBC, Christopher and His Kind (where the BBC vetoed a nude scene) and drama about the 1948 Olympics Bert and Dickie, the latter produced as a tie-in for another Olympics in London.

His first appearance post-filming was in a production of the musical American Psycho that received mixed reviews, while the Ryan Gosling-directed How to Catch A Monster (filmed before "The Time of the Doctor" and for which he had to shave his hair, hence the wig in the Christmas special) is due for release this year.

Ironically enough, he was and still is listed as "Matt Smith (XI)" on IMDB.

The 2009 specials together averaged 10.8 million viewers; "The Next Doctor" reached 13.1 million and the final rating for "The End of Time, Part Two" at 12.57 million actually topped the week (with the total combining BBC1 and BBC HD). It was clear that the show was still very popular, but it now faced the difficult task of a complete change in the people at the top, in front of and behind the camera.

It was time for some fish fingers... and custard?!

[1]"This is not just a Christmas pudding..." Kirwan's sultry voiceovers apparently involved thinking dirty thoughts about her husband. Her husband is Rupert Penry-Jones, a man of many TV appearances (Spooks, Whitechapel etc.) that frequently involve him removing his shirt
[2]Among other things, I had managed to triumph in The Triple Zero Crisis at AJJE Games and gotten my first air-to-air kill in Battlefield 2.
[3]Of course, the show would later feature Mr. Chestburster himself, John Hurt...
[4]This aired as "The End of Time Part One" and "The End of Time Part Two", although in fact the first episode was initially going to be titled "The Final Days of Planet Earth", until RTD came to dislike it.
[5]The Tenth Doctor's final line "I don't want to go" was filmed four times, with each take upping the emotion in Tennant's voice. The third take was the one used.
[6]This latter part raised some eyebrows at the time - Smith later stated it was a natural reaction to the dust in the air from the regeneration scene; Davies cast the deciding vote to keep it in.
[7]A team perhaps best remembered for winning the 1994-95 Premier League title on the last day when West Ham held Manchester United to a 1-1 draw. The final season with 22 clubs in the top flight, it also saw United player Eric Cantona (who later became an actor himself) get an eight month ban and 120 hours of community service for karate-kicking a Crystal Palace supporter. Cantona's career (and United's fortunes) recovered quickly.
[8]This aired after his casting as the Doctor was announced and certainly got a bigger audience because of it - I explicitly watched it for Smith.
[9]Who is appearing with Piper in Penny Dreadful. Small world, isn't it?

No comments: