Tuesday, 31 December 2013
That Was The Year (and the Smith Era) That Was 31.12.13
So that was the 50th Anniversary year. Some highlights. Some disappointments and frustrations. Lovely to see 9 lost episodes return - especially Troughton ones. Lots of things were advertised at the beginning of the year, then we had a long wait for them to actually take place. The series returned in the spring - and proved to be very patchy. It was also the second half of the series that started the year before, rather than a full new season.
In the summer there was the Prom - which sold out very quickly. The bulk of the celebrations were reserved for just one week in November. The convention also sold out very quickly, despite being held in a large venue over three days. Doctor Who then took over BBC TV and radio for a few days. An Adventure In Space And Time was certainly a highlight. The Day of the Doctor could easily have proved an anti-climactic disappointment, but managed to succeed. That Five Doctors (Rebooted) piece really ought to get a DVD release somewhere. My biggest disappointment was The Time of the Doctor, which was just too rushed and tried to do too much.
And what of the Smith era as a whole? Here's my view.
The Eleventh Hour: Off to a great start - very good. Loved little Amelia, but Amy as a kissogram says more about the writer than anything else.
The Beast Below: First evidence that Moffat could write rubbish. Smilers visually great but totally underused.
Victory of the Daleks: One of the worst Dalek stories ever, in my opinion. Falls apart as soon as the Ironsides get blasted. The plasticky, gaudily coloured wheelie-bin New Paradigm represent the trashing of a design icon. At least they have the good grace to clear off 10 minutes before the ending.
The Time of Angels: Things start to get better. Welcome back River Song.
Flesh and Stone: Ruined for me by that ending. Amy is eager to have sex with a relative stranger on the eve of her wedding. And I'm supposed to like this person?
Vampires of Venice: Okay, so long as you don't examine it too closely. Whithouse does like his alien-infiltrated schools. Nice to see Rory join the team.
Amy's Choice: I liked it. Toby Jones' Dream Lord should come back.
The Hungry Earth: A Pertwee greatest hits package. Not content with trashing the Daleks, Moffat ruins the Silurians. Turns them into bog-standard lizard people. Uses the fact that people might confuse them with Davros to excuse the absence of the third eye. Ridiculous.
Cold Blood: Nope. Still don't like the new Silurians. Rory's death undermined by his previous demises. Proof sit-com writers aren't necessarily good drama writers.
Vincent and the Doctor: Thank goodness for Richard Curtis. Emotion returns to Doctor Who. Brilliant performance by Tony Curran.
The Lodger: Funny in places but ultimately inconsequential. Gareth Roberts simply reuses an old DWM comic strip idea - where Ten stayed with Mickey Smith. For a programme with a huge children's following, the headbutting nonsense was positively irresponsible. Certainly not deserving of a sequel I would have thought...
The Pandorica Opens: Very good. Brilliant cliffhanger. The Doctor's challenge to the assembled aliens hovering above Stonehenge is one of the era's defining moments. Shame the Alliance, when they reveal themselves, prove to be a wee bit bargain basement.
The Big Bang: Excuse me, but is this really the second part of Pandorica? It's as if we're watching an entirely different story. Timey-wimey gone much too far. There's clever-intelligent, and clever-smartarse. This falls into the latter camp for me.
Death of the Doctor: Smith's Sarah Jane Adventures appearance. The return of Jo Grant. Loads of classic series references and a strong RTD emotional core. Brilliant.
A Christmas Carol: Despite the near absence of the companions, I really liked this. What flying sharks have to do with Christmas I know not, though.
The Impossible Astronaut: Dreadful title, but an intriguing story. Love Canton. Great new monsters. The "the Doctor really does get killed, honest..." bit doesn't convince for a second.
Day of the Moon: Just about pulls it off as second parts go. Great cliffhangers - little girl regenerating and the "is she / is she not" pregnant bit.
Curse of the Black Spot: How can you get Pirates and Doctor Who so wrong? By making the "monster" a misguided medical hologram. That's how. Rory's death (again) totally undermined by the fact that this chief writer has destroyed Death as a threat for the sake of some cheap gags.
The Doctor's Wife: It will, deservedly, be remembered as a highlight of this particular era. Lots of lovely references to the story of the Doctor's ongoing relationship with the TARDIS.
The Rebel Flesh: Strong start to a two-parter.
The Almost People: Story flags a bit. Ultimately wasn't quite strong enough to sustain two full episodes. Good cliffhanger ending, mind you.
A Good Man Goes To War: Very good, though I do wonder why Captain Jack, Martha, Mickey weren't called upon when the Doctor needed help. Flags up Moffat's aversion towards reusing elements from his predecessor's era - which I put down to a certain insecurity complex. Moffat is also determined to make this the story of River Song this season. At least the new "old friends" are quite entertaining.
Let's Kill Hitler: River's story fully explained (almost). Shame we see so little of Mels. Hitler appears only long enough to justify that attention-grabbing title. According to the most recent SFX Magazine specials, Hitler features in quite a lot of time travel stories of the last half century.
Night Terrors: Gatiss maintains his losing streak. The Peg Dolls are a wonderful design / concept, but the story boils down to some sentimental rubbish.
The Girl Who Waited: Another gem. Other writers seem to manage the emotional depth that Moffat's efforts lack.
The God Complex: I rather liked this.The idea that the labyrinth of the hotel should ultimately have a full-blown Minotaur in it is a bit unimaginative. You've got to applaud any story that references the Nimon at the end of the day.
Closing Time: God, this is awful. Worst Cyberman story of all time. Yes, even worse than Nightmare in Silver which is saying something. Worse even than The Wheel In Space or Revenge of the Cybermen. And Silver Nemesis. Seems Cybermen can now be killed by the power of "love". A pale shadow of the series 5 episode, which I only just tolerated. Sentimental clap-trap. So far Moffat has trashed the Daleks, the Silurians, and now the Cybermen on his watch.
The Wedding of River Song: Visually quite stunning, with lots of little references to previous stories, but where does it actually get us? The "Doctor" that was killed was really a robot copy. Lots of things happen, except they occur in an alternate time-line. What really happens to Kovarian? Are River and the Doctor really married? How can things that happen in this timeline be taken as having happened in the "original" timeline in the subsequent series? As a series finale it is really a triumph of style over content.
The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe: Worst Christmas Special to date. Doesn't even feel like a Doctor Who story. No real threat or menace whatsoever. Companions side-lined again. Totally underused (and poorly written) guest artists in the Androzani tree-harvesters.
Asylum of the Daleks: A bit of a disappointment this was for me. I read all this stuff beforehand about old Dalek props being used - and then we never really saw any of them. Biggest annoyance was when the Doctor went into the "intensive care section" - i.e. Daleks who had encountered him on Kendal - sorry, Kembel, Spiridon, Exxilon etc. And they're all RTD era bronze Daleks! And to think they had real props from some of those eras in the studio at the time... "Clara" makes her surprise first appearance.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship: A pretty enjoyable romp. Rory's dad joins the series in what will be the eleventh hour of the Ponds' tenure. David Bradley makes for a great villain. A cold-blooded Doctor.
A Town Called Mercy: That cold side to the Doctor continues. Not a bad story.
The Power of Three: The last days of the Ponds. The overarching plot is a bit rubbish, good only in that it introduces us to Kate Stewart of UNIT. It's the incidental stuff between the Doctor and the Ponds, whilst they're waiting through the "slow invasion", that the story is really all about.
The Angels Take Manhattan: A good atmospheric story for the Ponds to bow out on.
The Snowmen: A Christmas Special that manages to get the balance right - between fan pleasing and accessibility to the general audience. The return of the Great Intelligence - but no Yeti! Yet again emotion is a weapon of sorts - tears destroying the titular monsters. Another false start "Clara".
The Bells of Saint John: Not the strongest opener to a series (or half series) ever. A contemporary version of The Idiot's Lantern really. We finally get to see the real Clara.
The Rings of Akhaten: Generally derided for its lack of any real threat. It does have its moments. Some striking visuals. A grandstanding performance from Smith.
Cold War: Lots of people liked this but I found it entirely derivative. A mix of the original Ice Warrior story with Dalek, and lots of submarine movie / Alien cliches. Don't like what they did with the Ice Warriors at all. That's four classic monsters trashed so far.
Hide: Much better effort. Scary in places. Let down by the resolution(s).
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS: The least said the better. A huge disappointment.
The Crimson Horror: At last Gatiss gets some of his mojo back. Doctor Who's answer to Carry on Screaming.
Nightmare in Silver: Terrible. Annoying kids. Cliched soldiers. Great new Cybermen introduced just to be underused. The emotional "Mr Clever" Cyberplanner is dreadful in concept and delivery. Proof Neil Gaiman can also churn out rubbish.
The Name of the Doctor: The series finally comes good in the end. Excellent. Almost an anniversary story in its own right.
The Day of the Doctor: Builds well on the previous story. Only real failing is that the Elizabethan Zygon sub-plot is a bit of a waste of time.
The Time of the Doctor: Some good elements, but a disappointment overall for me.
I have said before that I have always found Matt Smith to be a good Doctor. I don't think, however, that he will necessarily be counted a great one in the grand scheme of things. I believe he has too often been let down by the material he has had to work with.
Anyway - time to look forward. New Year, New Doctor. Maybe more lost episodes recovered?
Happy Hogmanay to you all.