Not so long ago, and with some the Geek Clique in tow, I ventured to West London to see the Doctor Who Experience. It's at the Kensington Olympia - a right pain in the arse to get to - for the next month or so. Is it worth catching? Well, that depends.
I've been to quite a few Doctor Who events over the last year or two. The frankly appalling stage show first. Then the excellent Crash of the Elysium. Since we were down in London anyway we decided we'd give the Experience a go. It was either that or go and see the warehouses at Shad Thames where Rodney Bewes was running away from Lytton.
The Experience is rather like Crash of the Elysium in that it's slick, has a certain amount of audience interaction and feels ever-so-slightly overpriced.
Also like Crash of the Elysium there's a sort of narrative that involves Matt Smith saying he needs some help into a camera while whirling around inside the TARDIS.
I can't actually remember a lout about the actual experience, barring a bravura piece of 3D cinema that finally makes the medium feel worth bothering with.
There's also an excellent bit at the end with monster suits and costumes and props. And, following that, an expansive gift shop that's a monument to just what a money-spinner Doctor Who is for the BBC. Tacky shit.
But what made the Doctor Who Experience such a, well, experience was something that had never happened there before and never will again.
Shuffling past us as we entered and looking for all the world like Terrance Dicks was... Terrance Dicks. It took us a few minutes to work out whether it was indeed The Man Of A Hundred Targets, but the unmistakable voice confirmed it: we were traversing the universe with Terrance Dicks.
One of the sections involves piloting the TARDIS – pushing buttons on an instrument panel about a yard in front of what I assume is a replica of the TARDIS console prop. The Geek Clique were piloting the TARDIS with Terrance Bloody Dicks.
It was, genuinely, a wonderful moment. Later on a couple of the guys spoke to him and confirmed that he was very pleasant but not especially keen to speak to a number of star-struck Doctor Who fans in their mid-30s. Keen though I was to say hello to Terrance and how much I liked his work (including his New and Missing Adventures - and even his non-Who work, including Cry, Vampire) I thought he'd appreciate being allowed to look at an old TARDIS console (the one that debuted in the Five Doctors, looking weirdly small) unmolested.
All in all it was an experience that made the twenty quid entry fee a lot less galling. I'll never forget it.
Well, what a year 2005 was. What a rollercoaster ride. A new series of Doctor Who taken immediately to the nation's bosom, a great new Doctor in Chris Eccleston, a revelation in Billie, some nice nods to the past and some old foes. Then the shock departure of the Ninth Doctor and Tennant and the decent Christmas Invasion.
I still remember the trailer for the second series that showed immediately after the Christmas Day special - and being very excited by it. Was that excitement warranted? Well, that's what we're here to find out.
Like last time, when we looked at Season One of the new Doctor Who series, I'll be asking the Geek Clique (a bunch of (largely) demographically-similar fans, you can probably guess which demographics) for their views and ratings of Tennant's first series.
If you missed it last time I asked them - in an investigation of whether my 33-33-33 good-bad-indifferent rule was about right - which episodes they liked. Just that. No marks out of ten or caveats. I also asked them for their comments on what they thought worked and why.
The Tenth Doctor, Rose, Mickey, Sarah-Jane, K9, Cybermen, the Absorbaloff. Alons-y!
For me this is probably the weakest of the series of NuWho, though Series Six is running it very close. I never really warmed to the Tenth Doctor, though I could appreciate Tennant's acting abilities. I found him rather self-satisfied, shouty and saddled with an awful accent. As one of the Geel Clique says, he's a twat. His relationship with Rose brought out the worst in them - they were hard to warm to and I was glad to see the back of the whingy, clingy, often cruel Rose by the end of the series.
I don't rate many of the stories either. It has one out-and-out classic in The Girl In The Fireplace, an episode that's funny, touching, clever, scary and weird by turn and an episode that really built up its emotional pay-off, rather than just having someone cry while Murray Gold wanks away in the background. Oh, it's 'drunk Doctor' scene is possibly the worst in the entire series, but we'll ignore that.
I also voted for School Reunion, an episode that I'd describe, favourably, as 'nice'. It's oh-so-slight and Anthony Head would have Graham Crowden frowning and thinking 'that's a bit much' but it has Sarah-Jane and K9 and some funny lines.
I really liked a lot of elements in The Impossible Planet and Satan Pit but it didn't feel like the sum of its parts. It came across as a bit jumbled, like it had been clumsily rewritten but I thought it genuinely chilling in parts - "Don't turn around" a classic moment - and boasted a strong cast. Best of all, Gabriel Woolf was in it.
NB. I forgot to vote for Girl In the Fireplace so bumped it up by one
And that was it for me. Tooth and Claw was a decent runaround, but that was it. The Idiot's Lantern seemed like a nice idea and looked a treat but was the first in a series of forgettable Gatiss scripts that just don't really come off.
I thought New Earth possibly the worst in the new series run and the Cybermen two-parter an absolute bodge of the brilliant Spare Parts audio play, with perhaps the worst single performance of the new series from Trigger off of Only Fools and Horses.
Fear Her is a complete waste of time and a bizarre fluff of the 'suburban horror' meme and the final two-parter a bemusing car crash of elements, characters, monsters and plot lines. I'm informed that half of the Geek Clique literally shit themselves with sadness when Rose went through the wall, though, so what do I know?
What else? Ah, yes. Love and Monsters. This is an intriguing little creation but it seems like it's wandered in from a different series. It's an episode about Doctor Who fans. Weird. But pretty good, on the whole.
The Geek Clique awarded this series just 35 votes. Assuming the same amount of people vote on each series that places Series 2 as last in the Clique's affections - with a series an average of just 3.5 to Series One's 58.
Anyway, as for my 33-33-33 (good, indifferent, bad) split, here goes:
-School Reunion, Girl in the Fireplace, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
-Tooth and Claw, Love and Monsters
-New Earth, Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel, The Idiot's Lantern, Fear Her, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
That's seven duffers out of 13, which is not a great hit rate and blows my mathematical wibbling out of the water.
Read what the Geek Clique made of the individual episodes, the Doctor-Rose-Mickey dynamic and the series as a whole below. And do let us know what you think about Series 2, both with comments and the poll at the bottom.
New Earth continues the nuWho tradition of dreadful opening nights. Like many of RTD's stories it has a grab bag of elements that sound exciting but have narrative reason to be together (nuns - who are cats, zombies, the Return of Cassandra, the Face of Boe again, etcetera). This one sounds like it was hindered by Davies rewriting the story in response to something Moffat said (Davies “invents interesting characters, then melts them”) and decided to give the story a happy ending. Instead of creating a scenario where Doctor has to kill the experimental subjects and the Face of Boe actually dies, tying in thematically with Cassandra's death, he grafted on a happy ending, which is bollocks. Cassandra's acceptance of her own mortality is completely out of keeping with everything the audience knows of the character, and the scenes in which the experimental subjects are cured by the application of the Sisters of Plenitude's medicines raising the question of why the Sisters were using the subjects for experimentation, if their diseases were so easily curable.
New Earth was an unforgiveably poor start to the season, squandering the goodwill engendered by the Christmas Invasion: after tCI, I was really excited to see the new Doctor and instead what I get is a whiny, arrogant manchild and his simpering girlfriend parading their dysfunctional codependency in front of a load of cats. And then you get Tooth and Claw...
Tooth and Claw
I'm not sure what the point of 'Tooth and Claw' was. Rose and the Doctor start to become smug and obnoxious with their cliquey jokes. The monks that Bic razors forgot are just bizarre (wouldn't pretending to be y'know normal monks be less conspicuous). And the idea of the telescope as a werewolf trap is just stupid - it's possibly the least useful weapon forever as it only works in one narrow scenario.
School Reunion is a funny one too. because Lis Sladen + K9 are in it it's quite enjoyable - but I feel that's skewing the balance in favour of this story, which is wholly forgettable shorn of its USP.
I quite like the Anthonystewartheadites. I'm not sure they'd be worth much without Anthony Stewart Head being smarmy and evil but their shtick of being obsessive self improvers has the basics for a classic Who baddy. And bat wings are cool. Also Mickey is good in this.
Looking back on all this, there are lots of episodes which have great elements which don't add up to a great episode. School reunion being the best case - I've not idea how a show could be shit with Anthony Head, Sarah Jane (this was the first time she came back and it was brilliant) K9 and scary aliens posing as teachers, but somehow it was.
Other than the bits with Sarah and K-9, 'School Reunion' is just a bit boring. It also cements how nasty the Doctor and Rose are when Mickey realises that he's relegated to the role of the tin dog. I'm also not entirely happy with the attempt to retrofit the type of relationship the Doctor has with Rose onto Sarah. And Rose is obnoxious to poor old Sarah Jane. It's a shame the monsters didn't eat her. Oh, and Anthony Head is in it! Yay! But he overacts terribly. Boo.
The Girl in the Fireplace
The Girl in the Fireplace is a story I enjoy, but which loses something whenever it's rewatched. The creepy ship and the clockwork men turn out to have the most banal rationale behing their actions imaginable, and we're supposed to think that's clever!
I've never quite understood the love for Girl in the Time Traveller's Wife, being more struck by the fact that Noel Clarke was going to get screwed over by bad planning again.
Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel
The Rise of the Cybermen two-parter was weak plot-wise, and suffered from the inclusion of an unnecessary and boring alt-earth runaround, but there were some great set-pieces in it and the art deco look of the cybermen along with with their FX-assisted stomping brought to the fore their mechanical, soulless, and cold-hearted nature. Combine this with the conversion scenes at Battersea Power Station and there was a real sense that humanity was at risk there.
The Idiot's Lantern
I've never understood the antipathy to Idiot's Lantern - a smashing episode with a fun baddie, an entertaining plot and a drunken cameraman.
The Idiot's Lantern would be ok were it not for the nonsense about the gay son calling out his evil fifties reactionary father. Gattiss can't do emotional stuff at all and in this instance it drowned the plot. Oh and the Tenth Doctor was at his shouty-twat worst.
The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
I really liked the Impossible planet, dunno why there's the hate for that one. But I suspect it was mainly the supporting actors who were really damn good.
Love and Monsters
I really like Love and Monsters: it was brave and interesting, and about time to try something different. The biggest weakness, ironically, is the Doctor and Rose: they're absolute bastards: it's impossible to believe that people are so likely to worship the Doctor when he's simply not the Doctor we all grew up worshipping. He's a twat.
Love & Monsters is easily my favourite episode of the new series. It's not doing what Doctor Who should do at all, but it stands as the one place when RTD really let rip and brought the keen vision of Queer as Folk to bear on geek culture. It's dark, misanthropic and near the knuckle, but it's also honest.
Fear Her was a fine little story, completely inconsequential and daft, but well suited to 45 minutes and a welcome change from the universe being under threat again.
So many Nu Who stories have so utterly forgettable and lacking in effort you wonder if they wonder have been better off just going with 8 episodes a year.
Fear Her should have been a nice creepy little story about something horrible living on a quiet suburban street, and I thought that the tenth Doctor was more sympathetic than usual in that one, but the abusive parent stuff felt tacked on, the guff about the Olympics seemed fairly typical of RTD's inability to let stories with contemporary settings speak for themselves, and Huw Edwards is unbearable at the best of times and made an even bigger tit of himself than usual here.
Army of Goasts/Doomsday
The finale was magnificent, second only among New DW in the heartstring-tugging stakes to Eccleston's last story. It was a comic book story brought to life, completely believable and utterly enthralling. And the dramatic tone shift in the final 15 seconds give an impression of a show runner at the very top of his game - amazingly confident, wonderfully subversive and pitch perfect in judging cliffhangers.
The final two parter was great at the time, and the end of was fantastic, and I certainly got a lump in my throat. But the elegance of the end was spoiled by the fact that the relationship was soured for me earlier on in the year.
Bad Wolf Bay is the moment that cemented the show in the affections of the nation, if not ours. It sealed the deal for the gurls and wimmin, who were absolutely crucial to what RTD was trying to do with show. That moment with the wall is and will be the moment that gets replayed on The Greatest TV Moments Ever clip shows from now till doomsday.
Rose and the Doctor
As strange as it is to apply the concept to fictional characters the Tenth Doctor and Rose really brought out the worst in each other. Co-dependent, mutually admiring and callous about all the characters around them except for when called upon to demonstrate their "compassion" for our admiration.
I really didn't like the Ten n' Rose dynamic, which spoiled a lot of stories in S2. I never liked that while I felt there was a co-dependency between Nine and Rose that made it a-OK, there was just something deeply unpleasant about the dynamic between the two of them in Season Two.
It's a shame that I can hardly watch Tennant now. Watching him through the filter of the last few specials means that it's difficult not to shout "emo twat" at the screen whenever he's on and being moody.
[Rose} went from being a sweet, normal person to a clingy cypher. Watching them again, the shift in characterisation from seasons 1 to 2 is actually quite jarring. It spoils what could have been fun episodes and turns bad episodes into something awful. The fact the season has more of the latter than the former any way doesn't exactly help.
Aside from the werewolf one, the sarah jane one and the madam de pompadour one this is probably the second weakest series so far.
Season 2, for me, is a lot less coherent than Season 1. I know there's a lot of reasons for that - Rose's change in leaving dates, the replacement of Ecclestone - but, for me, the heart and soul of the issue seems to be the writing. I think RTD was caught out by the success of the s1 (as were we all) and rapidly fell into a trap of just writing for his life. The treadmill of actually getting the thing produced overtook the writing; this would become more and more noticeable throughout the rest of the new series and really underlines the importance of having either a seperate head writer and showrunner/producer or a larger writing staff.
Looking back it's really hard to miss how lazy a lot of the plot and characterisation choices were and the faint air of desperation that hung about it as RTD realised he had a hit on his hand but hadn't really thought about what to do next. After the Tooth and Claw through Girl in the Fireplace run which had some of the best action and best jokes in the new series it was all thrown away by a lot of badly plotted runabouts with cod emotion thrown in. Also I'm struggling to think of a genuine real scare in this series - I liked some of the stuff from the Ood two parter at the time but it was all rather thrown away by the creature in the pit turning out to be a heavy metal cover circa 1982. Still all that said it was phenomenally successful and Tennant has become "The Doctor" to a generation in a way that Eccleston and Smith (both of whom I vastly prefer) haven't so it must have been doing something right. Either that or the majority of Britain is thick and deluded.
There are some phenomenally weak stories in this season, looking at them again. I never watched New Earth, the Cyberman two-parter or Fear Her again they were so awful. But I've very little desire to see any of them again, bar the brilliant Girl in the Fireplace.
Doctor Who has never been better than it was in 2005-2006. And, sadly, I doubt it will be as good for years to come.
Vote for your favourite stories of Doctor Who - season two
I have a theory with Doctor Who. You can break down Doctor Who series fairly evenly into a 30:30:30 split by my reckoning: 30 per cent great; 30 per cent mediocre; 30 per cent utterly awful.
This is something I've come to believe particularly since the advent of the new series, which can send me in raptures, fury or a doze over three consecutive weeks.
Distance and nostalgia lends the classic series a different aura. It's more difficult to critically assess because it's more familiar, but you also need to bear in mind that some of it was intended to be broadcast exactly once.
There are periods of the series where lack of cash or instability among the production team clearly show and there are certain peculiarities of the era that you need to bear in mind.
With the new series, by which I mean since 2005, there are a whole new set of considerations, but budget isn't really one of them. Nor can it be argued that these new episodes have not been made in a DVD, Youtube and Sky+ era.
Certain rumours suggest that, once again (as of 2011), Doctor Who is again beset by production difficulties. But let's forget about that. For now this is all about season one.
I bring my own prejudices and preferences to the new series, so I thought I'd ask a gang of friends to bring their own set of prejudices to the news series. There's a good mix of people. People who dislike much of the news series. People ambivalent to much of it. People who love it pretty much unreservedly. People who enjoyed Russell T Davies' take on the series, but not Moffatt's and vice versa.
Some watch with their other half; some with the kids. Some love the old series and will always be loyal to it; some are unimpressed by it/ambivalent to it or believe the new iteration vastly superior to the new.
There is one common strand: We were all Doctor Who fans prior to the new series starting.
I asked them which new episodes they actually liked. No ratings, no reviews, no caveats. Just which ones they liked.
We're starting with season one (or season 27 if you prefer); something that seems like a long time ago now. Eccleston, Billie, RTD, Slitheen, Daleks, Autons, Reapers, Keith Boak.
Are you my mummy? Run for your life! Do you wanna come with me?
Oh yes, we were willin'.
Season one - results
NB. The ones in bold are my selections
An unsurprising winner is The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, by far the stand-out story of the first year for me - and the start of fandom's erstwhile love affair with the Moff. Be careful what you wish for, eh?
Second is Dalek, an oddity in the new series for me. Rob Shearman really does inject something back into the Daleks though, with a number of iconic scenes and a lovely prologue where the DOctor comes face-to-face with an Invasion-era Cyberman head. Why Shearman has not written again for the series is a mystery to me.
Third is The Unquiet Dead, Mark Gatiss' only decent story by my reckoning. It was a clear nod to the glory days of Holmes and Hinchcliffe, the kind of story that has disappeared from the new series for some reason, and a good effort at that. Who's first effort of the new series of doing frightening - surely the very raison d'etre of Who - does a very good job indeed.
Fourth was the end of season two-parter, Bad Wolf and Parting of the Ways. Watching Bad Wolf recently I thought it very good, but the second part has so many elements that became emblematic of everything I disliked about the new series. It's 'chips and work' mise-en-scene, its 'love saves the day' conclusion and its deification of Rose, a character I never really cared for, even though Billie Piper was great.
Rose, The End of the World and Father's Day got six votes each. The first two are interesting for me, as they're both very clearly RTD scripts. I hated the former - and I don't believe it would have received many votes at all if not the first of the new series - but I thought End of the World witty, touching and exciting.
Father's Day is another first series oddity - one not without its problems but one that brought a bit of a New Adventures tone to the new series, something I was bound to enjoy.
Boom Town is next, an episode that is fun and then fascinating and then utterly fucking awful in its three acts, for me. Aliens of London/World War Three - a spiritual cousin to Rose - and The Long Game, a story I'd charitably refer to as filler get one vote each.
As for my 30-30-30 (good; forgettable; shit) notion, I can split them as follows:
Here's what the Geek Clique had to say about some of the episodes and the reboot on the whole:
[Rose] changed everything about the show while keeping it all just the same, reached parts of the world, and myself, that it never had before, thus making this discussion even possible, had numerous excellent set pieces and passages of dialogue, introduced numerous inspired ideas and likeable characters, all of which hit the ground running, not least of which were the Ninth Doctor and Rose themselves, who were absolutely fucking great. IMO. And it had an utterly brilliant scene with a wheely bin.
[Rose] may not be best suited to repeat viewing or the kind of close reading fans like ourselves bring to it but by the end of Rose anyone who had tuned in would know what the show was and wasn't about and most of them would be coming back next week and be asking for a Christopher Eccleston action figure for Christmas. I'll forgive a ropey CGI wheely bin and Noel Clarke thinking he's in the Chuckle Brothers for that.
[Rose is] a bit panto but that's partly down to Keith Boak and partly because - at least according to Shearman - there was a genuine fear at the time that the BBC would not allow onscreen deaths in that timeslot, so they had to do a massacre scene in which nobody was seen to die. Nevertheless it does a far better job of setting out the show's stall than the TVM did, and for all its flaws I remain very fond of it because it managed the impossible task of bringing back a series which most people had come to despise in such a way as to make it credible again and yet still feel like "Doctor Who". That's one heck of an achievement.
The problem I have with Rose is that it goes so all out to be loved it's waaaay out there. It's really, really stupid. It's like the aggressively pink fizzy pop we all used to drink full of e-numbers that sent us loopy. It laid down a marker for how Doctor Who was made for the next five years and it's visible in most of the worst bits of the next five years. It didn't have to be anywhere near as dumb as it was.
[Aliens of London/World War Three is] so damn leaden! I really struggled to get through the first episode.
The last third of Aliens of London was the cliffhanger, wasn't it? Dear God, that was the most drawn-out cliffhanger in the show's history.
First third involves Jackie being upset that her daughter has been away for a year - only she hasn't, from her perspective and from the viewers' perspective. SO the emotion is all pretty meaningless. Second third involved the spaceship crashing, and the Doctor watching it on telly. The Doctor gets upset that they killed a pig. Last third involves large farty people about to do something a bit wicked. World war three involves them still being about to do something a bit bad, whilst the Doctor is fretting that Rose might get hurt.
I actually think AoL/WW3 might be quite good if Keith Boak wasn't directing it. I really like Aliens of London.
Eccleston doing funny was dire. (On Aliens/World)
Good writers edit for brevity, and brevity was painfully unapparent in either Aliens of London or the much worse Boom Town. Doctor Who isn't a place for experiments into character. It's a place where narrative drive dictates and personalities have to be cleverly and concisely fitted in between the plot.
Badland's great throughout, and her and Eccleston's restaurant scene is a step above. [I] share the ennui with the Mickey / Rose situation, the time rift stuff looks tacked on for the sake of some supposed excitement and the way the TARDIS sorts everything out fails to convince. (on Boomtown)
[Boom Town] was shit. False moral dilemma. Rubbish Slitheen. Unbelievable premise. And Captain Jack has an unflattering outfit.
...if I'm being totally honest I will enjoy a Doctor Who episode with a good Doctor far more than a Doctor Who episode with a shite Doctor regardless of the relative merits of the stories - and Eccleston was a great Doctor.
The thing this whole 'which do you actually like?' thing has really brought home to me is just much 'mission creep' there was in the RTD years. I think his great strength was realising that continuity was bad. Then he became part of continuity and he didn't realise that was problematic.
I would suggest that RTD requires the larger apologia for what happened after Season 1. He had no idea how to react to the hit he had on his hands and no long term plan. He panicked and started writing by the seat of his pants, leading to a very shallow series of episodes and seasons that relied too heavily on set-pieces strung together with no internal consistency, merely gooey clumps of pathos. What's worse is that, as a writer, RTD was so much better than that: look at Midnight. He'd have been much better off if he hadn't been showrunner. He needed someone standing over him (possibly with a two by four) and acting as a moderating influence on him.
RTD's target audience was 13 year-old girls rather than 8 year-old boys.
Brilliant showrunner, great dialogue, excellent characters, but tended to push the limits until they broke. Without checking, I suspect if you look at how we have all voted, RTDs episodes will get a lower average than the majority.
As a side note, the Geek Clique tends to hold the first season in high regard. 58 votes were cast, giving the series an average score of 5.8. That figure reflects the number of votes cast, so without knowing how many people participated it's hardly a scientific rating, nor one that makes much sense in isolation.
On the assumption that ten people voted on each season, however, season one received the second-most votes of all six NuWho seasons.
Tune in at a later date to see which one has the current highest score - and vote for your favourites below.