So, that was the 50th anniversary season. Well, half of it anyway, or was it? Does season 7a count as the same season, really? And, if so, does this count as the 50th anniversary season?
I'm dancing around the fact that, for me, the split season thing is an absolute mess. The BBC seems less keen to invest in the show, in terms of in-channel advertising, scheduling and external promotion; less people seem keen on watching it, at least in my personal experience. And for all the time that Moffat buys the production team with the split seasons, you certainly couldn't say that the quality has improved.
So where does this leave us? Doctor Who still seems reasonably healthy when timeshifts and the like are taken into account, but anecdotally the Beeb and my friends and acquaintances seem a lot less enamoured of Doctor Who than in recent years. Is Doctor Who still any good? And what exactly is going on with the production team?
In answer the latter, I seem reasonably confident that you can tease out the likely situation through cross-referencing a few different sources, applying a hefty dose of cynicism and adding a dash of common sense. For what it's worth it's my view that Moffat simply has too much on his plate to turn out episodes of the quality of his earlier stuff, but Sherlock brings certain personal financial imperatives that Doctor Who doesn't, given that his mother and wife run Hartswood Films, which makes the updated Conan-Doyle drama. It's a scenario straight out of one of Moffat's own battle-of-the-sexes sitcoms and, in many ways, hardly an ideal one.
Furthermore, the fact that Doctor Who's showrunner seems to shed producers like he does plot macguffins doesn't add to an image of a programme in rude health. There are some rather more lurid suggestions, alluded to in Private Eye, as to why Caro Skinner left the show a few days after the most recent Doctor Who Magazine (soon to be brought back under BBC auspices if rumours are to be believed) published a glowing 'best ever!' column by the erstwhile exec.
If the rumours, commonly repeated from seemingly multiples sources, are to be believed the BBC wants more Doctor Who than Moffat is willing or able to produce, lessening the coporation's faith in its flagship (?) show. But the Beeb is in a bind – Moff is in charge and doesn't seem ready to give the keys; there are no obvious successors in the wings should there be a coup (surely Gatiss, Chibnall or Whithouse would decry such a situation and I suspect the Beeb would not trust a not-we with DW). The David Yates film rumour was, supposedly, an attempt to bounce Moffat into some sort of action, but the Scot simply brushed it off with an apparently-light 'get your kids off my lawn' statement that actually seemed very strident.
Hence split seasons that theoretically allow the misfiring production team more time and space to craft quality Doctor Who. If only. While I prefer to watch Who while it's cold and dark outside, I can't think of any other positives of the split series. It saps impetus, it means that story arcs are unbearably drawn-out affairs and, despite what Moffat says, the ongoing storylines are impossible to follow without repeat viewings. I don't don't have the slightest idea what Series Six was all about and I couldn't really care less either.
So while the break in production should allow for more finely-honed tales, that really doesn't seem to be the case. This season we've had perhaps the worst all-time duffer in The Rings of Akhaten, slated by such well-known haters as Radio Times and Doctor Who Magazine, and a pile of underwhelming episodes that include Nightmare in Silver, Cold War, The Power of Three, Dinosaurs on a Sodding Spaceship and A Town Called Mercy. Even the 'big' episodes - Asylum of the Daleks and The Angels Take Manhattan - were overplotted and unengaging, relatively speaking.
Secondly, is Doctor Who currently any good? It's hard to say, objectively. The last two years of Moffat's reign have seen a move to elaborate, tricksy and fairly incoherent storytelling that takes some of the excesses of Russell T Davies' era and turns them up to 11. Stories are resetted continuously, notional rules are abandoned or ignored, stories or storylines appear to contradict one another and there's very little that appears to make a huge amount of sense.
I personally find this mode of storytelling incredibly unsatisfying – and I suspect it's born not of any intent, but necessity. It was frequently apparent that RTD wrote himself into corners and would end up simply making something up or pressing a big, fat reset switch. Moffat initially seemed to eschew these habits but he's been far worse of late. Again and again in this series we've seen people die and come back to life; it's as lazy as some of Moffat's plotting and it becomes hard to care about characters who are not really subject to any threat.
Moffat has described his style on Who as compressed storytelling and suggested that all of season seven's episodes are akin to a Hollywood blockbuster. I suspect this is an exercise in branding more than anything; suggesting that your breakneck, whizz-bang storytelling is some sort of new paradigm in television fiction does, after all, sound better than the more prosaic likelihood; block, lack of time and apathy. That last bit is perhaps a reach on my part, but I can attest to how the jobs you should love the most can quickly become just another job when the inexorable weight of deadlines and daily grind impinge on your life.
The unconvincing earnestness, the appeals to emotion, the complex plotting that doesn't actually seem to stand up when observed, the seemingly-abandoned storylines (Silence Will Fall?), a Doctor veering closer to self-parody all the time, the apparent struggles with the anniversary appearances - they all suggest to me a man running of ideas, patience and love for the show, and a job he has surely coveted for most of his professional life. I honestly don't understand how anyone could have commissioned The Rings of Akhaten, some of the worst television I've ever seen, unless something is going very wrong along the line.
And yet there are positive signs. Neil Cross' other script, Hide, was excellent. Gatiss finally found his Doctor Who form with the wonderful, creepy, mischievous The Crimson Horror. And Moffat's own scripts were much stronger than the underwhelming Silence arc of the previous season.
The Name of the Doctor was actually wonderful stuff, I thought, barring any of the bits that involved the execrable River Song, the worst Mary Sue in fiction and a character than never fails to make Doctor Who unbearable (barring, perhaps, The Time of Angels/Flesh and Blood). The vignettes of old Doctors, while shonky, were lovely to see and I fell in love with Jenna Louise Coleman over the course of the episode; I actually enjoyed the resolution to the story arc in the end. Strax is superb fun and there was more fanwanking than at a Doctor Who convention with John Barrowman. But I think that's OK now and then – if a 50-year-old show can't get a bit self-indulgent now and then, what can? Plus that epic reveal, which I'd annoyingly spoiled for myself, was still epic.
So, Moffat still has it in him - the film-poster moments of the Daleks and Angels episodes and the wit and vim of the Christmas episode and finale - prove it. But for how much longer? And how much is there in the tank? Moff himself has admitted that when something is over you know it instinctively. The questionable quality of Series 7 might suggest that Moff's own Trenzalore is approaching. But he's enough of a canny old campaigner that he knows to give viewers a hook to get them coming back. And what a hook this last episode gave us.
I've said this before, but I'll be tuning in next time around with hopes high. With any luck they won't be totally misplaced, but this is Moffat's last chance to show that he's genuinely up to the job - Season 7 strikes me as the being the first time the new series of DW has taken a significant wobble, following from an underwhelming Season Six. In the production break the team producing our series need to take a look at what works and what doesn't, jettison some baggage and be honest about what isn't working. If the quality doesn't improve I genuinely believe that Who will move to an Only Fools And Horses-style format, with mini-series and specials taking the place of full series. Or, even worse, a Doctor Who movie.
For now I'm looking forward to an anniversary special and I'm personally glad Moffat is in charge. He's a Doctor WHo fan first and foremost and I still have enough faith in him to pull it out of the fire - this is the man, after all, who wrote The Empty Child, Blink, The Girl In The Fireplace, The Eleventh Hour and The Time of Angels. For now we'll just ignore The Beast Below, Let's Kill Hitler, The Wedding of River Song, The Bells of Saint John...
Asylum of the Daleks
The Angels Take Manhattan
The Name of the Doctor
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
A Town Called Mercy
The Power of Three
The Bells of Saint John
The Rings of Akhaten
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
Nightmare in Silver
I liked Hide. Like last week's Cold War, it wore its influences on its sleeve but, unlike Gatiss' effort, I thought it added to them and was more satisfying.
Another similarity to last week was an elevated level of fear and threat. Only on very rare occasions – usually in Moffat's early episodes – has Doctor Who been scary in its new iteration. Off the top of my head I'd nominate The Empty Child, The Girl In The Fireplace, Blink, Midnight and The Time Of Angels as really trying to be unsettling.
There have been many CGI monsters in the new series, shot unimaginatively and looking never less than convincing while, of late, Doctor Who hasn't really seemed to try very hard to be scary – or has seemed to deliberately undercut any drama or uncanny with Matt Smith waltzing around being a dork.
I'm not sure if this has actually been deliberate or not, but the outcome has been much the same. Doctor Who has never less seemed less in touch with that old behind-the-sofa chestnut since Season 24, when it was barely in touch with its senses, nevermind anything else.
In Hide there was a definite attempt to shit the kids up, if you'll pardon the split infinitive, in a couple of different ways. First off the ghost – a clear red herring and quite obviously a riff on The Stone Tape. I say 'riff', what I mean is 'direct lift'. But all that haunted-house mise en scene was pleasant enough and played with conviction by Jessica Raine and Dougray Scott.
But there was something else lurking in the house, shot in a jerky stop-motion kind of style that reminded me of the SIlent Hill and Resident Evil series of video games, with their twitching horrors. The pocket universe side-step was interesting, creepy and extremely good-looking – the sense of threat ramped up and a creeping horror emerging.
It was a bit disappointing that the TARDIS came to the Doctor's rescue, despite the cuteness of the TARDIS sniping at Clara. But really that resolution was as weak as the TARDIS switching off the plot in The Parting Of The Ways – and the time-travelling side-steps felt exactly like what it actually was; padding.
The coda to it all was, inevitably, that love saved the day – with the two women's blood ties enabling the link and the two creatures merely wanting to entwine their twisted forms around one another. I'm quite ambivalent about this, as the series seems to be doing this to death. On the other hand I liked the fact that the two monsters were genuinely hideous, voiceless and – largely – not CGI. It harked back to an old trope of the series, that horrible creatures weren't necessarily horrible.
However, it was another run-out for another Moffat stand-by, namely an apparently-straightforward story performing a 90-degree turn at the end, subverting the initial narrative. The Curse of the Black Spot – a tiresome pirate runaround – became an incoherent mess when it detoured into Michael Crichton territory at the end and became about a malfunctioning robot nurse, or something. Similarly the promising God Complex went from a surreal nightmare-in-every-room pysch-out to a dreary comment on the nature of Gods.
In the first case it at least turned the most predictable television in some decades into something marginally more interesting; in the latter case it almost ruined an enjoyable story. In Hide the pocket universe swerve injected some life into a familiar tale; in the case of the latter revelation it felt like much of Moffat's proselytizing – the sort that only be written by a sentimental middle-aged man with a young family, dribbling at the wonder of it all.
No doubt I'm saying this because I'm a ming-mong, but I can't empathise with this 'love is a many-splendoured thing' mode of storytelling; not because I can't appreciate what a wonderful emotion it is, but because I don't buy it. It's corny, phony and smacks more of trying to paper over the cracks in the plot than anything earnest.
I'll give Hide a pass on that score, because it was a superior pastiche and because the plot-swerve added something to the overall story. WIth Clara's identity just-about retaining the interest, JLC's strong performance and two excellent guest stars – particularly Raine – Hide represents the most successful of Season 7's episodes thus far. The characterisation of the Eleventh Doctor continues its slide into Tennant-style self-parody however; let's hope someone notices soon and sets Matt Smith back on the right track.
Not much to say about this. It was OK. But is stuff like Cold War really significantly better than an episode virtually anyone with a modicum of talent could manage? Gatiss is very talented, but you wouldn't really know it from the majority of his Doctor Who work, either on television or novels.
The fact that Cold War has been heralded with comments acclaiming Gatiss' best ever work for Who say it all. For me, The Unquiet Dead is far and away his best effort. It's eerie, funny, frightening and probably the best example of the 'celebrity historicals' if you don't count Vincent And The Doctor.
Cold War was a decent-enough runabout with sufficient cribs from superior material to see it through. It also managed to inject some threat into the show, which has been sorely lacking of late. A few directorial flourishes and some deaths that are played for scares, rather than mawk, mean that Cold War actually came close to remembering that Doctor Who is frequently at its best - and certainly working best for kids - when it's frightening.
That Moffat has clearly forgotten this, in his mission to resolve everything bloody thing in Doctor Who with the power of love, has been the biggest problem in his run of as showrunner.
Ultimately Cold War merely has the seeds of a good story, before abandoning it in favour of another talky ending that doesn't convince and, inevitably, we have to have a load of bumph about how the Ice Warriors are 'noble and ancient' and all that jazz.
While seeing David Warner in action was nice too, it was a shame he was saddled with a ridiculous gimmick that was an attempted shortcut to 'characterisation'. In a wholly unbelievably spot of crass affectation, Warner's character loved New Romatic music and managed to crowbar in some shite references to his love of Ultravox and Duran Duran into moments that would have led to his sectioning and removal to a northern gulag. And quite right too.
The moment Warner's character appears to go mad and insist on knowing what happens in the future, only to reveal that he simply wants to know when Ultravox split up, is one of the most ineptly judged moments I've ever seen on television.
Elsewhere the episode sees some of the worst CGI seen in the rejuvenated Doctor Who and some plot clunkers - why wear armour if you're more of a threat out of it, can exist easily outside of it and break free at will? What's more, it's become apparent over Season 7 that Matt Smith has simply lost his character.
Whereas Smith seemed to ride a fine line between NuWho-patented wackiness that seems to pass for Doctorish eccentricity these days and some more considered moments, he's slipped almost totally into parody now, his Eleventh Doctor now pitched somewhere between fictional character, the odd public persona that's rolled out when he's talking to kids or appearing on Children In Need and, basically, Matt Smith. Smith is constantly braking kitschy cathphrases in the same way that Tennant did - all Come On Big Boys! and Hello Yous! What's more he's started to do it in a phony cockernee accent, just like Tennant did.
It robs the series of any dramatic tension as it's almost functioning on some sort of meta level these days. The Doctor, when he's not waving his Sonic
Cock Screwdriver around, always seems to know that the camera is on him – why else would he keep burbling on about the show's title? – and there's always an air of silliness whenever the Doctor's on-screen that sucks all dramatic tension out of the action.
This season has seen the show appear to be extremely pleased with itself – winks to the camera, storytelling that seems to be veering towards meta-fiction and an inclination to nonsensical conclusions that appear somewhere between laziness and smugness. People might burble on about hyper-compressed storytelling, but really I suspect the reality is that deadlines and block are the reason behind such hypercompressing rather than anything more elaborate.
In Cold War, Warner's characterisation in Cold War was straight out of that playbook, but at least some behind-the-sofa moments put the show back in touch with one of its defining traits.
The fact that Gatiss' latest - the Gatisst? - was welcomed with such relief does not, to me, indicate that it was particularly good. It shows up the paucity of quality, imagination and coherent storytelling that has defined Doctor Who since the end of Season 5. Cold War? Cold comfort.
I'm glad they kept the Ice Warrior design largely intact, following the disasters of the redesigned Daleks, Cybermen and Silurians.
Some moments that attempted to be eerie and dramatic were welcome. The tentacles-around-the-head was particularly effective.
Cold War has some of the worst CGI I've seen on television in recent years, up to the standard of those Sci-Fy channel Mega-Piranha Versus Giant Beaver-style films.
David Warner had some nice moments but his character was a total fiction; utterly unbelievable even within the confines of the Doctor Who universe. When suspension of disbelief is impossible it's hard to invest anything in the series.
Matt Smith has been on a downward curve for a while. I think he's a good actor but, like Tennant, his Doctor has become a parody of itself.
Clara doesn't always convince here - her final speech just doesn't ring true. So far she's a combination of classic Moffat tropes. Sassy, wise-cracking, flirtatious, fast-talking. Thus far there's not much flesh on the bones, despite what we're constantly told by the narrative.
Caves and Twins? What are you dribbling on about? GO HERE
I used to write games reviews for a magazine that had a disc of 101 games and playable demos on a disc mounted on the front. Because the appeal of the mag was the opportunity to play the games you were reading about, you weren't allowed to criticise any of the games.
I had to find all sort of ways to intimate that, perhaps, this wasn't the best game you would ever play; perhaps the graphics were a little basic, game play might be straightforward and none too taxing and maybe it's "one for the kids" - but it's still really good, yeah?
I was reminded of these reviews I used to write when DWM started printing reviews by Rebecca Levine a few years ago, where it was frequently painful to see her trying not to give the early duffer episodes a slagging. DWM seems to have given up offering any meaningful critiques of new episodes these days, plumping for an 'everything is great' position on the new series, though Graham Kibble-White's stuff is generally worth reading regardless. EDIT: GKB has absolutely slated Akhaten since I wrote this, and was fairly sanguine about Cold War and Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS too
However, if the Radio Times gives your new episode of Doctor Who a less-than-resounding write-up you know you're in trouble. The RT - essentially the Beeb's print mouthpiece when it comes to programming - criticised Matt Smith's acting as unconvincing and Murray Gold's lullabies as 'thin'. Coming from one of Doctor Who's oldest friends - and one hardly known for its stinging criticism - that amounts to a demolition; the equivalent of me putting the boot into one of those awful PC games years ago.
The lullabies were indeed 'thin' - if you take thin to mean 'mawkish, empty, soulless rot that couldn't sustain a quivering lip, nevermind resolve a baffling plot point', though I have no doubt that some idiot is trying to organise Doctor Who fans to buy the bloody tunes en masse in an effort to propel it to number 33 in the charts.
And Matt Smith did have a shocker. This is only partly his fault, though, as the dreadful script would have given any actor a hard time. That this was pointed out in what is still essentially a BBC organ tells its own story - as does the fact that the '10 our of 10! Brilliant! brigade on Outpost Gallifrey have given it a pretty terrible review by their low standards.
It's eight years since Doctor Who was back on our screens and, curiously, this season - 7B or whatever it's called due to Moffat's inability to produce episodes on time - has aped the brought structure that RTD adopted or his first few years. If The Bells of St John was Matt Smith's Rose and next week's Cold War the quasi-historical (also written by Gatiss) The Unquiet Dead, then Rings Of Akhaten was 2013's The End of the World.
That comparison does not flatter Neil Cross's first effort as End of the World is one of the best new series stories - an effort that introduces the audience to the thrilling possibilities of space and time travel, with the first of what would turn out to a depressingly familiar climax, namely one that made little logical sense whatsoever and tried to make you cry. Still, at the time it was all very new and thrilling.
Rings of Akhaten was neither new nor thrilling. It was tired, uninspired and boring. As a check on the series' general health it was not reassuring. That Moffat could have commissioned a story where The Doctor and his companion talk a monster to death with some vague hand-waving at love and memories is depressing, though perhaps not surprising given Moff's habit of having ersatz, unearned emotion switching off plots.
What, exactly, is the motivation here? Without the context of this familiar trope (by my reckoning love has saved the day in every Christmas special under Moffat thus far, The Big Bang and Let's Kill Hitler at the very least) it would at least look sloppy. But this meme seems to be the default position for how stories end now - and we've head three years of it. Apart from my mates who are fans, no-one I know watches Doctor Who any more - the series has shed casual viewers like maple leaves these last couple of years.
The fairytale aspect to Moffat's series initially seemed charming, but the lack of threat, suspense, danger, terror or agency that such an approach entails - when no-one dies and the slate can be wiped clean and the goodies win simply because they believe they will - means that we can't invest anything in it. Who cares if the Doctor dies - he'll come back to life. Who cares how they're going to get out of this one - the monster will be defeated because the Doctor loves his companion, or vice versa - heck, someone will love someone and that's what counts. Who cares if the Doctor and Clara are being menaced by monsters or facing an unopenable door when you can wave a sonic about like it's a magic gun?
There are no consequences any more in Who. Explanations don't matter. Logic is for losers. We're all Captain Emo now. In online discussion fora it's popular for fans who like an episode to question why those who don't keep watching. It's a truly witless question, but tonight I found myself asking it - of myself.
Not since 2010 have I regularly enjoyed Doctor Who and the thing that really worries me is that I don't viscerally dislike it, like with some of RTD's efforts or anything by Helen Raynor or Chri Chibnall, I just don't care. That's down to bad writing, bad script editing and Moffat's lack of vision.
Considering that tonight's episode was about telling tales, the current series' inability to craft coherent stories should strike me as ironic. Alas tonight I didn't dwell on that irony. I simply turned over to You've Been Framed 15 minutes before the end.
Caves and Twins? What are you dribbling on about? GO HERE
It was called something like that, wasn't it? I can't be bothered to look it up I'm afraid. Was the world really crying out for a pastiche of an RTD season opener? A modern-day invasion-y thing, some London landmarks, a shouty Doctor who can't be heard over the terrible music during action scenes, a smart-arse "sassy" female companion and some technology references. It was only a surprise that Trinity Fucking Wells wasn't in it.
- I liked seeing The Great Intelligence as the baddie. Was this a modern-day Web of Fear? A London Invasion, the Intelligence, the, er, web? Only not very good, obviously.
- I still, just about, like Clara. But if she's going to turn into another wisecracking, eyebrows-raised, lip-licking, down-boy Moffat Female Character that won't last much longer.
- I quite enjoy Matt Smith. But I wish his Doctor could be turned down a bit.
Hard to divorce any elements from the whole, really. But it was so lacking in ambition, so workmanlike that you could imagine boxes being ticked - a crashing plane, a flying motorbike racing through London, the Shard, the internet. Whispers of Moffatt's writer's block, lack of energy, his divided time, his dodgy priorities and diminishing interest in the series seem validated by such lacklustre stuff as Bells of St Wotsits.
Clara. We're clearly supposed to be on the edge of our seats about who Clara is. I'm not. I'm not really bothered. I think this Companion Arc template is past its sell-by-date, frankly. Jenna-Louise Coleman is playing the part well, but I'm not convinced she's very interesting - and this fractured identity macguffin isn't working for me.
Murray Gold's music. It seemed to me that Gold was a lot better of late. But the guy cannot score action scenes. He simply can't do it. All of his music when there's fighting, running, driving or battle is laughably bad. The score during the scene tonight when the Doctor and Clara were biking to the Shard was so terrible I almost turned off the television.
• Overall, forgettable. Though not actually as bad as any of RTD's season openers, this one had all of the ingredients. It was like seeing Horns of Nimon during Season 26. We keep hearing about how Doctor Who needs to move on from the past but watching the Bells of St Thingy - and knowing that Tennant and Piper are coming back - it seemed like someone had turned back the clock. I suppose that having a time machine makes such things academic.
Colin Baker might have had quite a rude awakening this morning. With his face splashed on the front page of the Daily Mirror, next to John Nathan-Turner in front of the TARDIS and the 100-point full-caps header DOCTOR WHO SEX SCANDAL, the Sixth Doc might have had reason to pick up the phone to his solicitors immediately (I suspect on balance that he would not win an action, but I wouldn't be totally sure - the obvious and reasonable conclusion to draw from it is that Baker has been implicated in a Savile-style scandal, even if the context clearly absolves him of guilt). A tiny caption points out that Baker is not connected with the sex rumours that have broken into the mainstream since Richard Marson's book on JN-T hit the desks of bloggers and Doctor Who fan journos over the last fortnight.
To recap, Marson's book alleges a number of sexual misdemeanors on the part of JN-T and his partner Gary Downie while they essentially ran Doctor Who in the 1980s. I've not read the book, but from interviews and reviews Marson seems to take a rather blase attitude to Nathan-Turner and even Downie to some extent; he apparently describes a visit to the Doctor Who production office where he ended up hiding under a desk in order to avoid a buggery from Downie, but seems to hand-wave it away as One Of Those Things. Nathan_Turner also makes a pass at the 17-year-old Marson and, when rebuffed, chides him for his provincial mindset. What larks.
Of particular interest to the tabloids, of course, is the suggestion that Downie and Nathan-Turner would scour the conventions for young men to have sex with and, while Marson doesn't seem to be of the impression that anything like the abuse that's come to light with the Savile probes was committed, the implication is that men who were under the then age of homosexual consent - identified with the gruesome term 'Doable Barkers' by Downie and Nathan-Turner - may have had a close encounter with the production duo's fluid links. At a time of Savile and BBC hysteria – and in the 50th anniversary year – it's all meat and drink to newspapers.
None of the revelations have come as much surprise to seasoned Who fans – and many will be aware of various additional rumours that have done the rounds for years about what went on at conventions, casting room couches, dressing rooms and more besides back in the day. There's a lot of nasty stuff floating around fandom from the 80s – and I'm not just talking about Time And The Rani or that picture of Ian Levine in his gym sweats.
Many fellow fans have been dreading the publication of the Nathan-Turner book as the threat to Doctor Who in the anniversary year is obvious. Marson seems to have reacted to the interest of the papers in the more prurient stories culled from the book – by all accounts the more grimy stuff does not account for a vast majority of the book – with a mixture of bemusement and irritation, but this is surely naivety on a grand scale or simple disingenuousness. The idea that this was not seen coming is too far-fetched to really believe; a charitable view is that Marson's book has unfortunately dovetailed with an elevated media interest in the BBC and its employees of yore - and the higher profile the anniversary year has afforded the programme.
But to me this is the inevitable result of a lot of scab-picking that fandom has indulged in over the last dozen or so years. In his rather good Guardian review of the book, Mathew Sweet asserts that the Who is the most documented TV programme of all time. I don't doubt it – I write a blog on the programme and my brother has contributed a chapter on religion in Big Finish plays to an academic tract, just two minor examples among dozens.
However, barring the discovery of another batch of missing episodes – or another long-lost interview like the Pertwee articles in recent DWMs – we're nearing saturation point on what else there is to say about Doctor Who, the classic series at any rate. This year we'll see Mark Gatiss' An Adventure In Time And Space (and very welcome too), a programme on the origins of the series, and scarcely a week seems to go by without someone flagging up another cod-academic blog or Mad Norwegian on Who. Lawrence Miles, Tat Wood and Lance Parkin – among others – are contributing interesting, weighty tracts on the show; the documenters such as Andrew Pixley, Richard Bignell, David J Howe, Ed Stradling and Mark Ayres are carefully cataloguing everything there is to know about the facts and figures of Doctor Who. It's been clear for some years that everyone has run of stock photos to use on the covers and the very close end of the initial run of DVDs means there's some sort of original documentary material on virtually every complete story.
Simply put, where the original series is concerned, there's nothing left to know. And so Doctor Who has started to eat itself. It's not enough to know about where The Hand Of Fear was filmed, that Sylv saved Sophie's life during the recording of Battlefield, the real identity of Robin Bland or that the noise of a Yeti's roar is a slowed-down toilet flush. Having devoured these factoids for decades we've turned our hungry gaze to the show's cast and crew. The internet has drip-fed us whispered anecdotes for years but – in the way that mainstream media often adopts the more populist tactics of new media and blogs – we've started to see more and more of this prurient material finding its way into recognised organs or mainstream books.
To read Doctor Who Magazine in the last few years has allowed us to glean hints about Patrick Troughton's extra-marital activities, how Tom thought Pertwee was tight, Nick Courtney's last hours and how Sylvester spent most of his time as part of Ken Campbell''s troupe shagging his way around London. Even the (otherwise excellent) recent Pertwee interview described a broken-hearted septuagenarian Pertwee uncontrollably sobbing because he'd recently lost a treasured stuffed toy. It was depressing as Hell, though the introductions did suggest that the material had, rightly, been edited to remove some of the more unsavoury stuff.
Elsewhere we now know about Hartnell's supposed racism (still a matter of some significant dispute, despite Sweet's assertion in the Guardian), Nick Courtney's crippling depression, Tom's womanising and boozing, Mathew Waterhouse's sexual awakenings while at the Beeb, the alcoholism of certain guest stars and which companion has supposedly slept with three Doctors – the latter, rightly, earning Gary Gillatt a stern rebuke from Colin Baker. Some of these have been rather nuanced and suited the idiom in which they were revealed. Tom's autobiography, for example, is a riotous joy and comes as little surprise, while Waterhouse's rather lovely Blue Box Boy is shot through with whimsy, irony and affection.
But most of this gossip is simply rather dismaying. I don't want to know about the sexual incontinence of my television heroes; I don't want to know that some Doctors dislike others, nor that JN-T was fellated by a willing Barker while on the phone to Biddy Baxter. I don't want to know that Troughton allegedly had a habit of whipping out his knob while I'm watching his "some corners of the universe" speech in Tomb Of The Cybermen, nor that Pertwee and Ainley hated one another while I'm watching them face off in The Five Doctors.
Our appetite for these forbidden nuggets is understandable - in a similar fashion, the internet "dirt sheets" about who htaes who backstage in the world of professional wrestling has opened up a whole new industry as people who grew up cheering Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold and The Rock now search for stories about steroid abuse, sexual liaisons and professional jealousy. Yet it only serves to cheapen the thing we love. To paraphrase Ecclestone's Doctor in Dalek, we haul something down from the stars and bury it in morbid, sad, everyday human frailties.
I don't dispute that the material of JN-T and Downie – some of it anyway – is fair game, nor am I suggesting that we should hush up tales of impropriety simply because it sullies our memories of a TV show. Doctor Who isn't just our progamme, it's one of the most famous series in television history. But we're continuing to unearth what often amounts to hearsay and conjecture about people who may have been dead for decades because of our hunger to know more and more about Doctor Who. Barry Letts might have had a thing or two to say about where our selfish pursuit for knowledge may lead us.
In today's front page it reached its apotheosis. In our 50th anniversary year, where we might have looked forward to the sort of treats one would associate with a childhood birthday, we're dreading Doctor Who being dissected in a media gaze that doesn't care about ruining the reputations of our show and its family. We only have ourselves to blame.
"He's done it again," said my brother, when The Power Of Love provided a neat conclusion to another Christmas Doctor Who episode. And, indeed, he had. How many times has an enemy been defeated in new Doctor Who because someone loves someone else?
I must say, the latest appearance of this hogwash irritated me somewhat but, thankfully, the rest of this episode was mercifully free of the seasonal artifice of the last few years, which have almost created a new genre in fiction: Xmas Doctor Who has been in serious danger of disappearing up its own backside - the equivalent of Matt Smith eating turkey and pulling crackers for an hour.
But there was a lot to enjoy in this latest episode. After 18 months when Doctor Who seemed dangerously close to falling in love with its own timey-wimey reflection, this was - largely - refreshingly straightforward and, yes, fun.
The appearance of Strax particularly, and the fearless lesbian detectives, was rather lovely. I think there's some consternation if fandom that this sort of 'broad universe' thing in Doctor Who is veering dangerously close to New Adventures-style gimmickry.
It reminds me of the colourful world of the DWM comic strips - around the Abslom Daak era. I don't mind either way, I think Doctor Who is a lot more interesting when races aren't simply one-note goodies or baddies. If that means a sociopathic potato head or a muff-diving Silurian then I'm all for it, frankly.
Something else I suspect will irritate some sections of fandom is the little fannish nod towards the show's past. The inclusion of The Great Intelligence was fairly casual-viewer-proofed in that it didn't really make any difference whether you'd heard of Padmasambhava or Sergeant Patterson, but if functioned as a lovely little reference for long-term fans - and there's a suggestion doing the rounds in fandom that there might be another reason why the Great Intelligence was included here.
Clara Oswin Oswald is another curious element. I'm keeping my counsel thus far - because if the next year turns into another protrated, interminable and bewildering companion arc I'll be dismayed - but I like the sparky repartee with the Doctor and find Jenna Louise-Coleman a winning performer. And she's very fanciable, obviously. I hope Moffatt can keep on a lid on Clara's more precocious outbursts, however, as that shtick could get annoying fairly quickly.
As with previous years, there's was lots of Christmassy stuff here, but it wasn't the overriding thing here, like it has been in previous years. Just some nice visuals and a seasonal central concept. Pity about tears saving the day, but nevermind.
It all combined to create something rather nice. Already there are numerous questions forming as to what we can expect over 2012. So far I'm not feeling weary about it, like I did with the Ponds and River Song sagas, I'm feeling excited. And I haven't felt excited about Doctor Who for a good couple of years.
The title sequence - That Moffatt cares enough to throw fans little bones - like a title sequence that references the past - to fandom is something I'm grateful for. This is easily the best of the new series.
The Doctor and his gang - I enjoyed the dynamic; even though the Doctor was in a huff it was all playful and enjoyable.
Clara - For now I really like Clara and think she's played really well by Jenna Louise Coleman. I do hope we don't get another amazing companion that's at the centre of everything that goes on, however.
The plot - Slight enough to hang a story that had a lot of elements upon - but with enough about it. No convoluted timey-wimey-ness or nonsensical Christmas macguffins.
REG - I generally think that E Grant is simply E Grant in most things he's in, but he really looked and acted the part here.
The Sherlock bit - The Doctor was quite amusing in this one - and without any of the patented New Series wackiness or stupidity.
The ending was wrapped up neatly with a classic bit of Moffat Christmas nonsense. I really hope we can dispense with the death cheats, the power of love and fake endings this year.
New TARDIS interior - Nice to have a clear nod to the past but not sure about the new console room.
This kiss - Rather tiresome, but stuff like this - where it's basically a necessity for some snogging and the DOctor looking weepy - are entirely the fault of the productions teams who have, rather cynically, woven them into the fabric of the show.
5.15 - Is this another nod to the past? Either way it seemed very early.
All told, The Snowmen did what it had to very efficiently, was charming and fun and set up a lot of intriguing stuff for the anniversary year. Why doesn't the Doctor remember the Great Intelligence? Why does Clara die every week? Are we going to see a year of Old Monsters?
I personally hope for some old Doctors and companions, classic monsters, an adaptation of Mark Gatiss's Nightshade and NO FUCKING RIVER SONG.
Sam Wollsaton reviewing Smith And Jones:
There's no Rose. Billie Piper's gone.So here's her so-called replacement, Martha, played by Freema Agyeman. Oh! Well, maybe it's not so bad after all. Bet she can't act though, bet she can't reproduce that chemistry with David Tennant.
Bloody hell, I'm so over Rose too. Billie who, frankly.
Sam Wollaston reviewing The Snowmen:
The Doctor is in a huff after the demise of Amy Pond (you and me both, mate).
Well, until saucy Clara – Jenna-Louise Coleman officially starting as sidekick – wins him over (you and me both mate; Amy who?).
There are still some classic Star Trek episodes I've not seen, so I've been recording them. I'm into the third series, which is very weak, but I've been more entertained by the CBS Action write-ups for the episodes, which appear to have been written by an overenthusiastic middle-aged woman (I'm picturing someone's Mum) who takes the view that the programme is a bit silly.
That's the only explanation I can think of for these bizarre - and fairly patronising - episode precis I've been subjected to the last few weeks...
The crew pick up the last two survivors of a bitterly divided race, and even now these two will not give it a rest!
The crew come across a mysterious energy storm heading for Memory Alpha, the database of all Federation knowledge!
Not the perfect date for Kirk and company as the touch from a beautiful woman means instant death!
Kirk thinks he's been abducted, but ends up on a deserted Enterprise. Very odd!
Kirk gets to meet one of his boyhood heroes... who is now an insane megalomaniac!
Kirk is bodyguard to a spoiled princess on the way to a peace conference. Oh yes, and that's when the Klingons attack!
Kirk, Spock and McCoy end up as human lab rats for powerful alien experimenters!
The one famous for the first TV interracial kiss, as the crew become playthings for a bunch of aliens.
A mysterious entity sees the Enterprise crew and the Klingons at each other's throats...again!
Kirk has had many crazy girlfriends, but this one swaps bodies with him!
The Enterprise is invaded by a crazy hippy and his followers who are searching for Eden. Sounds heavy man!
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy become lost in the past of a doomed world. Spooky!
So, for the 433rd time in the new series of Doctor Who, someone was definitely going to die. They didn't, of course, just as they never have; just as we never believed they would.
I've complained before that the habit of Moffatt and RTD of teasing deaths, then backing out of it with a big emotional pay-off in the hope that no-one would notice, was drawing diminishing returns and weakening the satisfaction that these stories deliver.
That's perhaps why the departure of the Ponds – two companions I'll genuinely miss, played by two actors who really seemed to get their roles – didn't have the emotional impact that it should have.
Because we've been cheated, misdirected, swerved and conned so often over the last few years that there's no faith in the production team – Moffatt is most guilty of this as a writer – not to simply defy the internal logic of the show.
People will argue that complaining about a show like Doctor Who not making sense is willfully obtuse. "It's a show about a time traveller in a police box – of course it doesn't make sense!," they cry.
Needless to say, this is either a disingenuous or a genuinely stupid line of reasoning. Of course Doctor Who is a show that has departed quite significantly from reality; we shouldn't hold its observation of reality to the same standards as those for Holby City, but when programmes stop making sense according to their own established rules they lose their impact, their agency, their reason to exist.
The new series of Doctor Who has been predicated on emotion, by both Davies and Moffatt. I've no real complaint about that either, though I think it's been rather over-egged. My chief problem is that the narratives that spawn the emotion are overthrown, ignored or cancelled out again and again.
The result is the boy who cried bad wolf. You simply don't believe what you're told; what you're shown. Even when apparently final something happens – a companion dies, leaves or is lost to a dimensional macguffin – we don't really believe it.
When Doctors and companions die again and again and again we simply don't buy it, so there's no meaningful emotional pay-off when it happens. We're inured to it and have been taught to disbelieve what we're told by the successive show-runners.
I guess that's why I didn't really feel especially sad when the Ponds departed, even though I think they were easily the best-drawn characters of the new series. I'm conditioned to expect a swerve, to suspect a cheat, to feel like I'm being fooled.
The fact that the Ponds' consignment to history and a life without the Doctor didn't really stand up to scrutiny either didn't make help. Couldn't the Doctor just go back to Boston and get a train? Why does seeing a grave or reading a book mean that time can't be changed? Within the confines of The Angels Take Manhattan it may be established that time can't be changed, but narrative rules have been chucked in the bin so often over the last seven years that these arbitrary rules don't seem to mean much anyway.
Time can be rewritten. Death has no sting. The irrevocable becomes... revocable. It's possible to overlook this from time to time, but when it comes to default setting for a series it's hard to invest much emotion in it.
So, while I enjoyed The Angels Take Manhattan, with its spooky cherubs and dashes of timey-wimey-ness (although thoroughly nonsensical, as it seemed to me), the Moff's sparkling dialogue and the performances of all concerned - it simply didn't amount to that much by me.
Doctor Who has become something that's gratifying in a fairly shallow, instantaneous way. Not because of the dearth of strong characterisation, performances or (occasionally) some clever scripts.
Because the rules of Doctor Who, the rules of honest narrative and internal logic, have been stripped away to the point where it becomes impossible to invest anything more than the most scant care over what is happening and to whom.
As a result, what should have been a devastating climax to the episode felt like the latest in a long line of false endings. That, for me, is the inevitable result of the deliberately tricky, breakneck, crash-bang, watch-the-birdie style of storytelling that RTD and Moffatt adopted by relentlessly upping the ante and relying on ersatz emotion to paper over the cracks.
Doctor Who works when viewers can suspend their disbelief; where River's confusing timeline, the apparently arbitrary nature of what can and can't be done within the laws of time and causality and the difficulty in believing that the Ponds have actually gone for good can be ignored in favour of the whole. I think the series is now reaping the whirlwind; as a result I'm finding it hard to believe in Doctor Who, or care about it.
The Angels Take Manhattan fails, not because of the story itself, but because of the previous seven years.
The setting - Manhattan looked great and Moffatt made better use of it than previous foreign excursions had.
The tone - The noirish/gothic atmosphere and devices were a nice tic that worked well in relation to the story.
Performances and characterisation - Even River was less smug in this one. As ever, Arthur Darvill imbues Rory with genuine character, believable emotion and makes him perhaps the best companion of the new series.
Fear factor - The Angels are clearly far and away the best monsters to come from the new series; they're novel, imaginative and very frightening. The addition of the giggling, cherubic Angels was another sinister aspect to these monsters.
Big screen moments - I'm fairly non-plussed by the 'film poster' idea as it's turned out mostly underwhelming episodes in this odd series. But moments like the Statue Of Liberty as an Angel, even though it doesn't hold up the slightest scrutiny, and the baby Angel blowing out Rory's match worked well as iconic moments.
Angel food - I liked the conceit of the Angels farming humans, with Battery Park as a kind of rest home for zapped victims.
Timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly - Previoulsy I thought Moffatt's time-travel tricksiness was well worked out, but this time there was too much that didn't seem to make any sense to me. Moff's stories always seemed to have more care lavished on them when RTD was show-runner; nowadays he seems to be employing some of RTD's less desirable tricks to bring confusing stories to a conclusion; here the timey-wimey stuff just seemed to serve to create a dramatic conclusion – and it didn't really stand up for me.
River - River's timeline doesn't seem to make the slightest sense to me any more. Beyond that I don't really like the character. She was written as much less smug this time around, but I'm not sure this character has ever been likable, sympathetic or especially interesting.
Won't Get Fooled Again - As mentioned above at length, the cumulative impact of several years of dishonest writing and media chuntering robbed the Ponds of their deserved exit.
The Ponds' exit - In many ways this was a nice conclusion to their story but, aside from all the dubious logic of it I thought there was a stronger ending that had been teased in previous weeks, with its origins in The Time Of Angels. The suggestion was that Amy would turn into an Angel in this episode and, while that was perhaps never a realistic alternative, I think it a much stronger one.
Direction - Some great moments here, but somehow the way Rory and Amy eventually departed didn't seem quite right; like an amusing punch-line delivered with timing that's slightly off.
• Caves and Twins? What are you dribbling on about?
Go here: Caves and Twins