Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Doctor Who Experience No.3

And my third tour of the TARDIS studio set in as many years as well. Have just got back from Cardiff, and a very enjoyable time spent back at the Doctor Who Experience. The trip included a visit to the nearby BBC studios to see the latest incarnation of the TARDIS control room.
The studio trip was organised first. It was quite a large party - 25 of us - and they only let half a dozen onto the actual set at a time, so there is a little waiting about - but the crew manage to get a discussion going and encourage folk to chat. The group today was predominantly from within the UK, but there was also someone from Virginia, and a family from Florida.
I saw the latter Matt Smith TARDIS on my previous visit, and the Capaldi version is the same one only lit in warmer hues and with additional blackboards and book cases - giving it a homelier feel. I always felt that it looked too cold and clinical before.

I bought a little video camera for my recent trip to Rome, so here's the TARDIS - in glorious Shak-i-Cam (TM)... There isn't a commentary as I was trying to listen to the guide as I filmed...


After looking around, we headed back to the Experience. Spotted this on the way out. Daleks, Cybermen, Master et al, please take note. A very quick way to defeat the Doctor...

A big red button. How can anyone resist...?
My main reason for wanting to go now was to see what they had accomplished during the recent refurb - bringing the attraction up to date with the arrival of the 12th Doctor. Quite a bit actually. First thing to note is that the main entry area has been given lots more items to look at. "Bessie" has been moved into the main exhibition space, and it has been replaced with a trio of Daleks.

One of the Hartnell / Troughton ones, a newer bronze one, and a grey Pertwee / Baker one. There are also a couple of Smilers in booths, an Information Node from Silence in the Library, a Classic Series Ice Warrior next to a TARDIS, a Weeping Angel, the Triceratops from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, plus a large number of Time Lord costumes - from both the new and Classic Series. These latter costumes hint at the change they have made to the main interactive "adventure". You now enter the "Museum of Gallifrey". (All this means that if you ever find yourself in Cardiff Bay, and don't have price of admission, there is a very nice little free tableau to be seen).
I shan't - again - go into too much detail about the interactive bit as I would not want to spoil things for anyone planning to go any time soon. Suffice to say that the opening video piece dwells on all the previous incarnations of the Doctor (whilst the previous version only covered Matt Smith's first series). Narration is by Lalla Ward - as President of the High Council prior to the Time War. There's Daleks, Weeping Angels, Totter's Lane, and a lot of stuff about crystals... The video pieces by Capaldi, as you proceed, are hilarious. He appears in the various TARDIS control rooms through the years -  each to be seen shortly in the exhibition areas. It's all to do with Time Squids...
One thing which they haven't done is update the TARDIS control room section of the "adventure". It's still the original Matt Smith one.
Talking of TARDISes, on emerging from the "adventure" into the exhibition space you are greeted by the sight of the original control console, as recreated for An Adventure In Space And Time.

And yes, that is a Menoptra lurking in the background. There are a number of items relating to AAISAT. There is one of the Daleks in its little bit of city corridor, plus this;

There are a number of TARDISes on show on the ground floor area. "Bessie" now sits next to the console room seen from The Five Doctors onwards. There is a little Leisure Hive tableau featuring K9, TARDIS and a deck-chair. The Ninth / Tenth control room is still present - last seen in Day of the Doctor. This latter story also inspires another tableau (my mot du jour it seems) - the three Doctors' TARDISes lined up, with the Moment prop and Billie Piper's costume from the show. The new version of the Zygon is upstairs.
Time, then, to go upstairs to the main costume / prop collection and see it.

On my very first visit to the Experience, I was a little critical at the sparseness of this upper space. Each subsequent visit, though, they are cramming more and more in. Not quite up to the density that the old Blackpool Exhibition managed back in the 1970's, but slowly getting there.
Let's start with the most recent series. From Deep Breath we get Clara's Victorian costume, the Doctor's stolen tramp outfit, the Paternoster Gang's combat outfits, plus the seated Half-Face Man and the model of the flesh balloon escape capsule.

Then there is the damaged Dalek from the second story. From Robot of Sherwood we get a range of costumes including Clara's, Robin's, the Sheriff''s and a Knight (though without the face showing - shame). Listen is represented by the "Bedspread Monster".

It looked spookier before the flash went off... There's also little Rupert Pink's jim-jams. (Very scary). Time Heist lends us Psi and Saibra's outfits. Then for The Caretaker we get, beside a tableau of Coal Hill school uniforms and other costumes including Danny's suit and School Cadet outfit, the mightily impressive Skovox Blitzer.

Nothing on view from the latter part of the series, though the most recent version of the Cyberman has already been on show before and can now be seen alongside some RTD era ones, plus the wooden version from Time of the Doctor. One thing I would like to see are full recreations of the older Cybermen. There is only an Earthshock style one on view, plus the disembodied heads of its ancestors - now in a glass case instead of being tucked into wall alcoves.

Daleks, on the other hand - or should that be the other plunger - are well represented from all eras. They used to be stuck in a corner, but now they form a large circle alongside Davros, and their numbers have increased.

As well as this group, there was the Into The Dalek one, the chained Oswin Dalek, the Emperor Dalek model plus a couple of cobwebbed 60's ones from the Asylum.

Including the trio in the main reception, more Daleks than you could shake a perigosto stick at, in other words.
Lots more items to see from the 2005 series onwards. All the companion outfits present - and nice to see Sarah Jane Smith's Five Doctors fuchsia number as well. Capaldi's costume has joined the ranks of the Doctor outfits. (As well as his 1996 costume, you can see McGann's more recent suit of clothes - next to Maren of the Sisterhood's. It's not Ohila, as it has got the hat). The War Doctor is also now represented in the line-up of Doctor outfits.
My favourite items probably still remain those costumes from the Classic Series. The K1 Giant Robot is always to be marvelled at, and right next door to him is a Web of Fear Yeti.

Truly a thing of wonder for an old fan like me. Last thing I'll mention is the soundscape they have created. Throughout the exhibition, they played music and sound effects from across the entire half century of the programme. I played back some of the other videos I took just before compiling this post (oh, there are many. So many...), and the footage of the Melkur, Varga the Ice Warrior, that Yeti and the K1 robot is accompanied by the Mind Parasite music from Mind of Evil - building and building to a crescendo.
Oh, and at the end of it all there is a little shop...
If you haven't been to the Experience, I would heartily recommend making it a priority as part of a weekend break - if you reside in the UK. If you dwell further afield, we've got Royals and Shakespeare and Stonehenge and everything, so pay Britain a visit - and make sure that you add Cardiff to your itinerary while you are at it.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Veni, Vidi...

After all the excitement of Series 8, I need a little holiday, so I'm off to the location hinted at above for the next few days (and no, it isn't a studio in Hammersmith. That would be a rubbish holiday).
When I get back I will be resuming my look at the stories that made up the Classic Series, beginning where I left off with the one that didn't quite make it - Shada.
I will also finally get round to posting on this month's Figurine Collection items.
A couple of days after I get back from the Eternal City, I am off again - this time back to Cardiff and a visit to the 12th Doctor version of the Doctor Who Experience. which reopened on the 24th of October. After a brief suspension, the TARDIS studio tours are back on and so I will be setting foot aboard the ship for the third time - full report to follow.
Meanwhile, I assume you have all seen the Children In Need clip by now (hope you donated as well). Bit of a shame that Clara is back so soon after that wonderful farewell at the end of Death In Heaven. Rather spoils it for me. Nice to see that Dan Starkey finally gets his face shown after being buried in latex for the last few years.
See you next week. Ciao.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Death In Heaven - Review

An excellent way to round off what has been a very good series - though an episode with some flaws. I was reminded at times of the RTD era watching last night - it had more of the feel of his finales than Moffat's. RTD tended to have to resort to some big reset button, and Moffat resorted to some unlikely coincidences to bring about his resolution. Two Cybermen were immune to the conditioning of all the others - and they just happened to be Danny Pink and the Brigadier.
Ah, Danny. We hoped to see him saved in some way, but as it was he was doomed all along. His death last week, whilst not exactly final, was not rewritten. However, he managed to lead the Cyber forces to destroy themselves and so save the planet, and - in one of those rare genuinely touching moments for a Moffat series - sacrificed himself further to let the boy he had killed have a second chance of life rather than escape back to this world himself. I am really sorry to see Samuel Anderson leave the series - but he had a good send off.
Turned out the story arc for Series 8 wasn't really Missy and the Nethersphere at all. It was Danny Pink.
As for Clara, a most bittersweet departure (as far as we know it was her departure). Dissembling has been a recurring theme throughout this series, and the Doctor and Clara parted company each lying to the other thinking it was the right thing to do. She gave the pretence that Danny was back, and he that he had found Gallifrey and was going home. Jenna Coleman has been superb all series, but it was obvious from the earliest episodes that her time with this Doctor was coming to an end.
The Twelfth will always be her Doctor, even though she started with the Eleventh - but she never felt quite right with him. Too much under Amy's shadow.
Some elements from the recurring story arc we expected to see resolved were absent. The robotic races' desire to seek the Promised Land didn't go anywhere.
The Cybermen were the best we had seen them for a long time, though it should be noted that they only seem to exist to follow someone else's orders - as opposed to being a threat in their own right. RTD had earlier effectively featured Cybermen in a graveyard (The Next Doctor) but in this story the imagery of them crawling from graves and tombs was creepily done. Shame they just lounged about afterwards though.
As for the Cyber-Brigadier, that is going to take time for me to get used to.
Turned out that Missy - the Master - intended to give the Doctor her Cyber-army as a birthday present. The Master has previously tried to get the Doctor to join him in ruling the Universe - but here it just felt that the story had entered a cul-de-sac. Nice to see that the Master is also Scottish these days. Loved the demented Mary Poppins bit, though I understand not everyone did.
It appeared that she was killed by the Cyber-Brigadier, but equally could have teleported away.
Interesting that the Tenth kept trying to save his old friend, but Twelve was quite prepared to press that trigger and destroy her.
Alas poor Osgood. As with Danny, I hoped for some reset that would mean she had not perished, but it was only Kate Stewart who was saved.
Wasn't at all keen on the tacked on throw forward to the Christmas Special - especially when it was as ludicrous as Santa Claus barging into the TARDIS. For me it spoiled what had been a perfect, deeply moving ending.
Did you spot:

  • Jenna Coleman's name first in the opening credits before Capaldi's, after she had just announced that she was the Doctor - and her eyes in the titles. This fooled me for nearly as long as it did the Cybermen.
  • The name of the mortuary where Danny's body was held. Did Dodo become a funeral director when she left the TARDIS?

So, that was Series 8. Moffat promised us something different, something rawer, and he certainly delivered. Most stories have been very good, a couple brilliant. I think only the Robin Hood one really did not work in any way. Throughout, Peter Capaldi has been exceptional. I am looking forward to more adventures with the Twelfth Doctor - though not necessarily any featuring Santa Claus...
PS: I hope those green things in the trailer which followed the episode were some form of Ice Warrior. Then they could use the title "Santa Claus Conquers The Martians"... I'll get me coat...
PPS: Don't forget there's a Doctor Who item in this Friday's Children In Need - between 19:30 - 20:00 according to the Radio Times.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Dark Water - Review

Dark Water - or The One Where The Master Snogged The Doctor...
Yes, Missy turned out to be the latest incarnation of the Master - rather than that Classic Series Time Lady who was often called "Mistress" by her servants. If Moffat was going to bring back an existing Time Lady, why not the ready made Rani? Whilst I have loved Michelle Gomez's performances throughout the series so far, when it comes to her being a female Master I am yet to be persuaded.
Last year I firmly nailed my colours to the mast when I argued against a female Doctor - so I feel compelled to take the same stance when it comes to a female Master. For me, Lords are Lords, and Ladies are Ladies...
I shan't dwell too much on this episode, as it is, of course, just the first half of a bigger story.
Suffice to say that shock was piled upon shock. Danny Pink dies before the opening credits have ended. We then see Clara apparently betray and blackmail the Doctor - tossing TARDIS keys into a volcano.
This latter sequence proves to be a dream state - Clara acting out what she would have done in order to get the Doctor to save the man she loves.
We finally get to see the dreadful secret that Danny has been harbouring (taking us back to that earlier episode where he cast a tear when asked by a pupil if he had ever killed someone). The scene where he was confronted by the boy whom he had killed made for uncomfortable viewing. Rather than dwell on the big reveal of Missy's true identity, and the image of Cybermen once more thronging around St Paul's Cathedral, the episode actually ended with Danny poised to delete his emotions - one assumes condemning him to also become a Cyberman.
The Cybermen, I suspect, will turn out to be merely window dressing. This was the story of Danny & Clara, and I expect next week's final episode to concentrate in this area.
Jenna Coleman was brilliant. Samuel Anderson also. I think we are also finally getting to see the real Twelfth Doctor. Capaldi had some of his wonderful put-down lines, and was wonderful throughout.
A couple of things still to be explained - such as what the Nethersphere has to do with non-human lifeforms like the Half-Face Man and the Sherwood Knights.
The Dark Water of the title seemed to serve no purpose other than to provide some gruesome imagery, and provide the big Cyberman reveal. Have to admit, despite knowing Cybermen were to feature, I didn't spot the single Cyber-eye motifs - only the double ones on the doors when their signature theme kicked in.
Did you spot that one of the spare TARDIS keys was hidden in a copy of "The Time-Traveller's Wife".
And, whilst Danny got run over outside the National Museum of Wales, the TARDIS materialised inside it - the usual give-away statue of Perseus on the stairs being cunningly hidden behind a plinth.
Looking forward to next week, let us hope that the second half of the story builds on the success of the first. That's something which is never guaranteed when it comes to recent two-parters...

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

In The Forest Of The Night - Review

Well that was an odd one. Very dreamlike. Very fairy tale. Something which Torchwood has done very successfully - thanks to writer P J Hammond. In fact, I was somewhat reminded of his story Small Worlds - from TW Series 1 - at one point. In that, it turned out that Faeries were real - actually ancient yet timeless creatures (related possibly to the Mara). They dwelt in the forests also. It transpired that the little invisible midichlorian things in this have been around since before Mankind, and periodically save the planet whenever the Sun throws a tantrum - which they can detect even if our solar observatories can't. (A recent issue of DWM had a thing called the Bidmead-o-Meter in it, where the more ludicrous the science, the more his head blew up. Lord only knows what he thought of this one...).
The fairy tale elements were quite obvious at times - specific references to Hansel & Gretel, as well as the fact that young Maebh, in her red hooded coat, was menaced by big bad wolves. Those wolves, and a lone tiger - tying in with the William Blake poem from which the title springs - were the only real menace. At no time, unfortunately, did I ever feel that the planet would get frazzled - in the same way I never thought that the Moon hatching a few weeks ago would destroy Earth.
Other dislikes: last week was supposed to be the Doctor-lite story, but I felt he hardly needed to be there this week. There was the one establishing shot at the beginning - just before the credits - of London swamped by foliage, but apart from some "street furniture" dotted about a Welsh forest, we could have done with a reminder that this was truly the heart of London. Where were the thousands of citizens (and tourists) with their camera phones - sticking it all on You-Tube and Instagram? Apart from Maebh's mum and a couple of blokes with flame-throwers - just to set up the idea that the forest was flame retardant and so signal the happy conclusion - we saw no-one. And, how did Maebh's mum just happen to find her daughter near Trafalgar Square, when - for all she knew - she was somewhere in Kensington, where the Natural History Museum actually is?
Regular readers will know I always worry about kids in the programme. As with Listen earlier this series, my fears were unfounded. The kids were actually all right. Quite funny actually, and the performances were fine.
The relationship between the Doctor / Clara / Danny was further defined. Danny thinks there is enough on Earth, now, to wonder at. When push came to shove, she elected to stay behind and face possible death rather than be saved. Stating she did not want ever to be the last of her kind must have been like a slap in the face to the Last of the Time Lords - "I don't want to end up like you" in other words.
Certainly not the sort of story you could get away with on a regular basis. It will divide opinion. I suspect that it will not fare well when it comes to votes and polls -  which is a bit of a shame as, in half a century of storytelling, Doctor Who should be able to indulge in more fantastical elements once in a while. Just a shame they had to stick that preposterous ending on - with the missing sister popping out of a rhododendron bush (or whatever) That was just cringe-worthy. Did you notice that she was wearing a khaki combat jacket? That's lazy BBC shorthand for "homeless kid". Apparently, when you run away from home you get given one of these coats. You don't necessarily get to be reunited with your family by being magically vomited out of any shrubbery, however...
Next week - the start of the grand finale. Cybermen on the steps of St Paul's. Again... Oh. it could happen every week as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Flatline - Review

We had seen the photos from the location shoot - of the little TARDIS at Barry Island and the Doctor climbing out of it. Despite this, I still laughed out loud when we saw the scene on screen.
The ship has been shrunk in size before - and usually the occupants are shrunk with it (Planet of Giants being the obvious example). It's an idea that goes right back to a potential first story back in 1963. Here, the imagery of the tiny TARDIS and a full size Doctor is one of the great things about Flatline. The face peeking out - like someone looking through their letter box - and the hand popping out, giving items to Clara, were all wonderful images. Best of all was the Thing-like way the Doctor moved the ship out of the path of the on-coming train. That's Addams Family Thing.
For a Doctor-lite story, Capaldi had some great material to work with. Despite being stuck in the tiny ship, he communicates with Clara throughout, so you don't feel he's sidelined at all. Then there was that little dance he gave. And "The Man Who Stops The Monsters" scene once the TARDIS has been restored to its proper size is this Doctor's first proper rousing moment.
This is a much less abrasive performance from Capaldi. Less heartless. Furious only when he finally confronts the aliens and expels them - having given them every chance.
The way that the Doctor is sidelined in this works far better than the way in which Clara was sidelined last week, despite both stories being written by the same author - Jamie Mathieson. He's proving to be quite a find for the programme.
Clara gets to be the Doctor this week - even wielding the sonic screwdriver and the psychic paper (which apparently does not work on people with no imagination - probably why the Doctor never tries it on the monsters). Jenna Coleman is great again this week. She - and her character - have been so much better this series. Once again, Danny only appears during the course of a phone-call. The Doctor has now discovered that Clara has lied to Danny - so she can't take the moral high ground any more - the way she has done recently.
The two-dimensional aliens were very well realised - first as snake-like tendrils then as warped versions of their human victims. The Doctor names them the Boneless.
The deaths are quite disturbing. Compare with Series 2's Fear Her, where people are going missing from another housing estate. That had zero atmosphere, and was cloyingly sentimental. This was never going to be like that.
Joivan Wade's Rigsy is the surrogate companion. Christopher Fairbank (old meanie Fenton) was one of those characters you expect to see meet a dreadful fate, but - like Rikston Slade in Voyage of the Damned - somehow manages to survive.
The rest of the Community Service gang were obviously there merely as Boneless-fodder. A shame as Matt Bardock certainly deserved a better role.
Overall, a great little episode, with some wonderful imagery, creepy monsters, and a much less abrasive Doctor / Clara relationship - mainly because the plot separated them so quickly.
The series story arc moved on just a little - Missy seems to have selected Clara for her, as yet unknown, scheme.
Next week - tigers and wolves, and trees. Lots and lots of trees.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Episodes 10 - 12 screen shots

The Blogtorwho site (see link to the right) has some screengrabs from the video of Foxes' cover of Don't Stop Me Now - the Queen number which featured in Mummy On The Orient Express. These images come from the last three episodes of Series 8 - mostly from In The Forest Of The Night but some are clearly from Dark Water / Death In Heaven - like the Cybermen at St Paul's above. Here's a selection:

The Earth surrounded by flames...

... as observed by the Doctor and Clara.

Trafalgar Square covered in foliage...

"Tyger, tyger burning bright..." (So that's where the title came from)...

The obligatory trailer explosion image.