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The ruling class act: Peter O’Toole (1932-2013)

December 17, 2013

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The leading man: his looks and Hollywood heavyweight status may have faded in contrast to his alcoholic indulgences, but Peter O’Toole’s talent remained gloriously undimmed to the end

He was an instant icon for all-time, a hellraiser-and-a-half and an enigma who often displayed thesping talent admired as genius but who was also accused of  throwing away said talent at the bottom of too many bottles of booze. Overall, though, he was surely one of the greatest – if not the greatest – living British actor. He was Peter O’Toole. And he’s gone, having died two days ago at the age of 81 after an illness of several months.

In reality (in wonderful not-all-is-as-it-seems O’Toole style), he was Anglo-Irish rather than English, for apparently he owned two birth certificates each of which suggested he was born in either country. What’s undeniable, however, is he grew up in a suburb of the Yorkshire city of Leeds to an Irish bookie father and a Scottish nurse mother, ensuring whatever his official homeland the Celtic genes – and thus emotional connection – would always be extremely strong.

Indeed, he’ll rightly be forever associated with those fellow Celtic acting tigers, the Richards Burton and Harris; all three of them giant contemporaries of stage and screen, rugby lovers and drinking buddies. And all three of them were in one way or another victims of the dreaded drink.

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O’Toole’s health crisis came in his ’40s, when in 1976 he underwent surgery to remove his pancreas and part of his stomach – although the stomach cancer that precipitated it wasn’t actually a result of his boozing. Although this surgery led to diabetes and just two years later a blood disorder left him close to death, the great roles or – maybe more specifically – great performances far from dried up. For, in spite of his singularly unique, often theatrically-flourished, sometimes manic and always beautifully enunicated brand of thesping, he’ll always be recalled for extraordinarily being nominated eight times for the Best Actor Oscar across four decades and never winning.

The first nom came for his superstardom-launching turn as maverick British army officer TE Lawrence in David Lean’s epic masterpiece Lawrence Of Arabia (1962) – see above video clip. The next two came – again, rather extraordinarily – for the same character but in two different movies, England’s legendary King Henry II in Becket (1964) – opposite Burton – and The Lion In Winter (1968) – opposite Katharine Hepburn, apparently his favourite co-star, and in this humble blogger’s opinion the role for which he was most robbed by Oscar (see video clip below).

The nominations continued apace in the ’70s and ’80s. There was a sentimental take on the eternally appealing, eponymous WWI-era teacher of Goodbye, Mr Chips (1969), a hilariously mentally unhinged aristo in The Ruling Class (1972), the hugely egocentric nay insane film director of The Stuntman (1980) – see third-from-bottom video clip – and an Errol Flynn-esque (ahem) acting hellraiser in My Favourite Year (1982).

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More than 20 years later, the Academy seemingly realised their folly and offered him a ‘lifetime achievement’ award in 2003. At first he declined it, saying if he were 80 he’d probably accept it, but as he was 70 he reckoned he still had a chance of landing the ‘lovely bugger’ (he reversed his decision and did accept it). However, with marvellous irony he was somewhat proved right, as just three years later he was nominated again for his pseudo-autobiographical, randy and alcoholic autumnal thesp in Venus (2006).

Yet, O’Toole’s film career wasn’t just about nominations and awards (he won a string of them too – four Golden Globes, a BAFTA and an Emmy among them), as he was an undoubted movie star, playing a plethora of diverse roles. Over the years, he appeared opposite Peter Sellers and Woody Allen in What’s New Pussycat? (1965), Audrey Hepburn in How To Steal A Million (1966), Richard Rountree in Man Friday (1975), Burt Lancaster and John Mills in Zulu Dawn (1979), Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren and John Gielgud in Caligula (1979) and Helen Slater and Faye Dunaway in Supergirl (1984), as well as in the multi-Oscar-winning The Last Emperor (1987) and Pixar’s brilliant Ratatouille, to which he unmistakably lent his voice (2007).

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Away from cinema, he was just as big and significant a star of the stage. In fact, that’s where it all began for him – and that unquestionably being the reason why he was so accomplished. Winning a scholarship, he trained between 1952 and ’54 at the world renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), where he found himself in the same class as Albert Finney and Alan Bates – after rather oddly being turned down by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre drama school because he couldn’t speak Irish. Then he went on to make a name for himself in multiple classical roles at the Bristol Old Vic and the English Stage Company, before reaching the zenith of his stage career by playing Hamlet (1963) in the Laurence Olivier-directed first ever production of the latter’s National Theatre.

He fulfilled his ambition of eventually treading the boards at the Abbey Theatre in Waiting For Godot (1970) and, despite reputedly receiving the worst ever reviews in West End history for his performance as Macbeth (1980), later appeared as the Soho-bar-propper-upper in Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell (1989) to universal acclaim, going on to win an Olivier award for his efforts (see video clip below). The play was written by the noted Keith Waterhouse, with whom O’Toole had actually originally crossed paths in his first job as a trainee journo at the Yorkshire Evening Post, before he’d spent time in the Royal Navy for his National Service.

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Despite his predilection for a drink dismantling neither his health or career, it certainly played havoc with his private life. In 1959 he married sterling Welsh thesp Siân Phillips (scene-stealer of 1976’s classic BBC series I, Claudius) and, although the union lasted 20 years and produced two daughters (one of whom, Kate, became an accomplished actress herself), it proved stormy and came to an end owing to O’Toole’s (near-)alcoholism. Four years later he sired a son, Lorcan, with then model girlfriend Karen Brown, but this relationship too ended acrimoniously, the child being the subject of a protracted legal battle. Moreover, he reputedly turned down a knighthood in 1987, perhaps not surprising given his Irish identification and, as the Thatcher government was very much in power at the time, his generally Left-leaning politics.

In the end, though, it’s perhaps as the impossibly blue-eyed, brushstroke-like blond-fringed and utterly beautiful but brilliantly complex Lawrence that so many will immediately – and most like – to remember him. A young, terribly handsome, and terrifically electric actor in a tour de force performance whose iconoclasm has ultimately put everything else he did in the shade. But, as hopefully pointed out here, that’s far from the whole O’Toole story, which is far more complicated, contradictory and interesting.

Apparently, he tended to see himself as something of a romantic; a lover of the nobility and grandeur of acting, the purity of rugby and cricket (for which he successfully gained training badges) and a chap whose daily reading of Shakespeare ensured he was able to recite every one of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. So to quote the most notorious of those very sonnets (number 18, no less), sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines – and never more so than now, for as of two days ago this is where the late, great Peter O’Toole resides.

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Retro Crimbo: Julie Andrews/ Phoebe Cates ~ Festive Fancies

December 13, 2013

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Talent…

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… These are the lovely ladies and gorgeous girls of eras gone by whose beauty, ability, electricity and all-round x-appeal deserve celebration and – ahem – salivation here at George’s Journal

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Yes, like it or not, we’re all sliding into the inescapable seasonal snowdrift that’s Christmastime (is it me or has everyone willingly started earlier this year?), in which case here’s a real bobby dazzler of a prezzie from me to all you good, good people… a double pictorial tribute to the stars of a trio of (more or less) timeless yuletide big screen faves, namely the delightful Julie Andrews and the delicious Phoebe Cates. Welcome please then, peeps, the latest, yup, practically perfect pair to enter this blog’s Talent corner
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Profiles

Names: Dame Julie Elizabeth Andrews (real surname: Wells)/ Phoebe Cates Cline (née Phoebe Belle Cates)

Nationalities: English/ American

Professions: Actress, singer, theatre director, dancer and author/ Actress, entrepreneur and model

Born: October 1 1935, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey / July 16 1963, New York City

Known for: Julie  – playing the leads in the perennially-popular-at-this-time-of-year family musical classics The Sound Of Music (1965) and Mary Poppins (1964), the latter for which she won a Best Actress Oscar. Starting out as a West End child-star performing with her parents, she eventually moved Stateside to fill out the female leads in the Broadway productions of My Fair Lady (1956) and Camelot (1961), the latter opposite Richard Burton. Later, she consolidated her Hollywood success in flicks such as Torn Curtain (1966) and Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), before – following a career decline, during which she married ace comedy director Blake Edwards – she appeared in her spouse’s movies 10 (1979), as a transvestite stage performer in Victor Victoria (1982) and, seemingly in an effort to defy her cuddly persona, bared her breasts in S.O.B. (1981). In recent years, she’s played supporting roles in The Princess Diaries (2001) and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004), lent her voice to the three Shrek sequels (2004, ’07 and ’10) and Despicable Me (2010), and directed an off-Broadway production of musical The Boy Friend (2003). She was made a Dame in the Queen’s 2000 New Year’s Honours List/

Phoebe – starring as hero Zach Galligan’s lovely love interest in the ‘anti-‘ Christmas flick Gremlins (1984) and its sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1981), after gaining exposure (in more ways than one) in nudity-fest Paradise (1982), sex comedy Private School (1983) and teencom classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982). Initially starting out as a model, she appeared on the covers of magazines Seventeen and Teen Beat and later headlined the movies Drop Dead Fred (1991) and Princess Caraboo (1994), the latter opposite husband Kevin Kline, whom she married in 1989. After retiring to raise her children, she returned to the screen in The Anniversary Party (2001) as a favour to its actor-director and Fast Times co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh. Nowadays she runs a boutique she opened on New York’s Madison Avenue.

Strange but true: Despite her successes on Broadway, what really introduced Julie to America was her eponymous role in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical version of Cinderella, broadcast by CBS in 1957 – it bagged more than 100 million viewers; Phoebe’s father co-created the game show The $64,000 Question (1955-58) and her uncle produced several Academy Award ceremonies.

Peak of fitness: Julie – flirting with Dick Van Dyke‘s Bert as they enjoy their jolly animated holiday in Mary Poppins/ Phoebe – equally as cute as Gizmo in Gremlins she may be, but it has to be emerging from the swimming pool in that red bikini as the fantasy object of Judge Reinhold’s desire in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.

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Retro Crimbo 2013/ Playlist: Listen, my yule dudes!

December 7, 2013

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In the words of Moby Grape… listen, my friends! Yes, it’s the (hopefully) monthly playlist presented by George’s Journal just for you good people.

There may be one or two classics to be found here dotted in among different tunes you’re unfamiliar with or never heard before – or, of course, you may’ve heard them all before. All the same, why not sit back, sip a glass of mulled wine, munch on a mince pie and listen away; for in the words of Noddy Holder, ittttttt’s… well, I’m sure you know what comes next…

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CLICK on the track titles to hear them

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Elmer Bernstein ~ Main Title from The Great Escape (1960)

Morecambe and Wise ~ A-Wassailing/ The Happiest Christmas Of All (1964)

The Supremes ~ My Favorite Things (1964)

Andy Williams ~ Medley: Sleigh Ride/ The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (1965)1

The Beatles ~ The Beatles’ 1968 Christmas Record (1968)2

The Who ~ Christmas (1969)3

Elvis Presley ~ Merry Christmas Baby (1971)

Greg Lake ~ Humbug (1975)4

Paul Williams and the Cast of Bugsy Malone ~ You Give A Little Love (1976)5

The Universal Robot Band ~ Disco Christmas (1977)

John Denver and The Muppets ~ The Twelve Days Of Christmas (1979)

Rita Coolidge ~ Lake Freeze (1980)6

The Two Ronnies ~ Two Santas (1984)7

The Cast and Crew of Moonlighting (1985-89) ~ The First Nowell (1985)8

Slade ~ Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1985)

Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan ~ Especially For You (1988)9

Bing Crosby ~ White Christmas (as performed on his US TV Christmas specials 1962-77)

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1 From the 1965 edition of Andy Williams’ series of timeless and unforgettable Christmas TV specials

This particularly psychedelic and Goon-esque festive offering from The Fabs to their fan club members was cut together by then Radio 1 DJ Kenny Everett

From the rock opera Tommy (1969), featuring corresponding visuals from Ken Russell’s cinematic adaptation (1975) of the concept album

4 The b-side to Lake’s terrific festive hit I Believe In Father Christmas (1975); clearly really an Emerson, Lake And Palmer composition, it’s credited only to Lake as its a-side was too

5 The theme from this tune can currently be heard in BBC1’s Christmas season trails; writer of all classic kids’ musical Bugsy Malone’s (1976) songs, Paul Williams delivers this one’s lead lyric – as he did with most of the movie’s others

6 The charming and memorable tune that appeared on the soundtrack to the yuletide TV animated special The Christmas Raccoons (1980), in which the cartoon favourites debuted

7 A word-play-tastic North Pole-set song-and-dance sequence from the redoubtable double-act’s 1984 BBC Christmas special

8 An unsurprisingly – given it featured in Moonlighting – fourth-wall-shattering but delightful end coda from the show’s Season Two seasonal-set T’was The Episode Before Christmas (1985)

9 The ionic Stock, Aitken and Waterman ballad performed by the late ’80s Antipodean sweethearts that was unexpectedly – and inexplicably – beaten by Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe And Wine (1988) to that year’s coveted UK Christmas #1

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Tardis Party/ Half-century heroics: The Day Of The Doctor (Nov 23)/ An Adventure In Space And Time (Nov 21, BBC2) ~ Reviews

December 1, 2013

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(The Day Of The Doctor) Directed by: Nick Hurran; Starring: Matt Smith, David Tennant, John Hurt, Jenna Coleman, Billie Piper, Jemma Redgrave, Joanna Page and Ingrid Oliver; Written by: Steven Moffat; UK; 76 minutes; Colour

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In the highly unlikely event you’re still yet to see this near-unprecedentedly hyped slice of TV, don’t worry your little fez-topped head, for this review is spoiler-free. Pretty much…

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Regular visitors to this nook of the Internet will recall that last year it dedicated a wee, little slice of its time to celebrating the golden anniversary of the cinematic James Bond (not least the release of latest film Skyfall), but how on Gallifrey does that relate to Doctor Who (1963-present)? Well, it seems this blog wasn’t the only entity paying attention to 007 in 2012, for so too was Who showrunner Steven Moffat, because he apparently looked to Skyfall for his show’s own half-century-honouring, big- (and small-screen) special The Day Of The Doctor.

Specifically, Moffat has said what he took from the latest Bond flick was the fact it didn’t just celebrate the Bond films of lore with nods to them throughout, but also fundamentally focused on the character of the protagonist, shook him up and, by the end, took him in an entirely new direction. Indeed, one may say this approach – and its excellent realisation – is why The Day Of The Doctor is such a triumph as a golden anniversary celebration of Who.

Not that it doesn’t have those inevitable nods to the best-loved aspects of the ‘Classic’ series and ‘NuWho’, though. Chief among them, of course, is the fan-gasm-friendly fact it’s a ‘multi-Doctor’ story. Following on the heels of previous anniversary specials The Three Doctors (1973) and The Five Doctors (1983), this effort – shown in cinemas in 3D as well as on goggleboxes in apparently 90-odd different countries – properly gives us two further Docs in addition to soon-to-leave-the-TARDIS Eleventh incarnation Matt Smith, one of which we’ve never met before. And it works bloody well; as well, in fact, as Leonardo da Vinci works at knocking out half-a-dozen Mona Lisas.

So we’re offered here not just the return of David Tennant‘s über-popular Tenth Doctor, but also off the back of directly preceding episode The Name Of The Doctor‘s and ‘minisode’ foretaster The Night Of The Doctor‘s (see video clip below) introduction of a brand new, ‘retconned’ Doc, namely John Hurt’s War Doctor, an episode whose plot revolves around this shadowy character and his decision to end the Time War between his own peeps the Time Lords and those dastardly Daleks. And, lest we forget, that Time War has until now been a(n unseen) narrative addition that’s played a pivotal role in the make-up of the ‘NuWho’ Docs.

Smartly and artfully, though, Moffat’s fine scripting meanders about for much of its running time before it inevitably reaches this defining moment in the Hurt Doc’s incarnation at the story’s climax, taking in a couple of sub-plots that nicely weave Smith and Tennant’s Docs into the mix – the result of which, in true Moffat-style at its best, has the viewer twisting and turning through his familiar wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey storytelling (although, in a slightly more audience-friendly manner than in some of his efforts perhaps; the bends are less hairpin than in, say, 2010’s The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang or 2011’s Day Of The Moon).

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Of these two sub-plots, Tennant’s is the simpler and more playful, seeing him defend England’s Queen Elizabeth I (Gavin And Stacey‘s Joanna Page) from beastly Zygons (a top Who monster not seen in 40 years). Smith’s asks the viewer to work harder, his Doc and current companion (Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald; growing into a stronger co-star with each episode and here, fittingly, employed as a teacher at Coal Hill School) aiding/ locking horns with the modern-day UNIT – run by The Brig‘s daughter Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) – following an unprecedented action-carrying-on-during-the-opening-titles sequence in which Smith spectacularly hangs off the bottom of the TARDIS as it arrives in Trafalgar Square. Indeed, both sub-plots merge when the Docs discover their foe is mutual and their shared solution is, don’t doubt it, rather marvellously smart.

Smith, as he has been throughout his four-year tenure, is outstanding here, by turns wise and knowingly wistful in the face of his earlier versions and eccentrically youthful (in very timey-wimey contrast to, again, his earlier versions). If anything, Tennant seems to tone down the energy and ebullience of his incarnation on this occasion, yet the humility, vulnerability and even regret of his version (his was always the most ‘human’ of all the Docs) is there with bells on. There’s also arguably an in-joke at his expense, given his snogging – and more – of Good Queen Bess (his was always the most ‘ladies’ man’ of all the Docs). However, as any multi-Doctor story worth its salt should, the The Day Of The Doctor really catches fire in the character and dramatic stakes when all three Docs share the screen.

Their, as mentioned, crossover into The War Doctor’s time-stream (in the depths of the Time War, but antithetically caged inside an idyllic, rickety old barn, sun streaming in through its slats) is powerful and satisfying stuff, indeed – as always, like Doctor Who at its best, it gives British TV drama a very good name. Plus, it almost goes without saying that Hurt is outstanding. Simply, seemingly effortlessly outstanding. Moreover, the much heralded return to Who of Billie Piper as Tennant-era companion Rose Tyler turns out not to be what you might expect, but actually – given how well she plays it – something much better than it may have been. Rest assured, her inclusion here is far from stunt-casting.

And as for that reappearance of yet another Doctor of old come the end? Well, technically (as Moffat has smugly boasted since broadcast) all the Docs appear in this episode, including even the next one, but there’s undoubtedly a very special cameo to savour. Admittedly, it does lift one out of the drama a little (it’s as broad a nudge and a wink to fans as they come in this story, certainly more so than any other on offer), but if any ‘Whovian’ struggles to savour it then surely they should hand in their replica sonic screwdriver.

All told then, The Day Of The Doctor delivers just what it should – and very much more. A fitting 50th-anniversary special that lovingly gives us a trio of Time Lords; a fascinating, finely CGI-ed glimpse of the hell that’s the heart of the Time War; the return of a fine monster and a fine companion; delightful asides to advanced Who fans (Tenth Doc: ‘Oh, you’ve redecorated… I don’t like it’) and more than one emotional wallop amidst the celebration. Plus, the end coda that, yes, does send the Doc off in an entirely new direction brings a heartwarming glow that should last until the (promised) heartbreak of Smith’s departure in Christmas’s The Time Of The Doctor when Peter Capaldi takes over the controls of the time console. In a nutshell, this special is the televisual equivalent of being offered a jellybaby by Tom Baker‘s Fourth Doctor – do take it; it’s sweet but heady, frothy but filling and boasts an irresistible aftertaste.

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(An Adventure In Space And Time) Directed by: Terry McDonough; Starring: David Bradley, Jessica Raine, Brian Cox, Sacha Dhawan and Lesley Manville; Written by: Mark Gatiss; UK, 83 minutes, Colour/ Black-and-white

Always destined to be a starter to the Beeb’s golden anniversary Who celebrations that would culminate in the sumptuous prime-time Saturday night dinner that is The Day Of The Doctor, Mark Gatiss’ trip back through the time-tunnel to look behind the scenes at how it all began in An Adventure In Space And Time has turned out to be a delightful, delicious offering itself.

Telling the tale of the power-games, head-knocking and elbow-twisting that went into creating and then realising Doctor Who, this drama isn’t a truth-all exposé, though. Fittingly (if unsurprisingly given its writer’s a huge Who fan and ‘NuWho’ insider-and-a-half), it’s a love-letter to the show, conjuring up an atmosphere of on-set wonder and awe (not least in its halcyon-like lighting and filming of the eerily but brilliantly spot-on original TARDIS set), instead of a bird’s-eye view of backstage tantrums and smoke-filled office arguments.

No doubt the latter played an important – and necessary – role in the genesis of Who, but Adventure is not the drama in which you’ll find them. No, here you’ll discover a triumph-against-the-odds story that then slips into a tale of a tragic fall. Collaborative effort, magic, nostalgia and melancholia are the order of the day here – and rightly so; after all, this ain’t All The President’s Men (1975), it’s Bill and Verity’s excellent adventure.

Indeed, if there is such a thing as a narrative curve-ball in Adventure then it’s the fact that very first Who producer Verity Lambert is its protagonist not just as much as, but arguably more so than very first Doc thesp William Hartnell. For it makes clear right from the off that, given the job – in something of a groundbreaking move as a young woman working in TV – by eccentric BBC Drama boss Sydney Newman (a nicely charismatic Brian Cox), Lambert was thrown in at the deep end. Green yet full of confidence, nay, even arrogance, she was tasked with putting together a Saturday early-evening kids’ show with alternating space and historical plots in order to maintain the Beebs’ audience between Grandstand (1958-2007) and Juke Box Jury (1959-67). Mission impossible? Given a lack of support from practically everyone around her (owing both to male prejudice and the general dismissal of a children’s fantasy show, as well as Newman’s insistence he couldn’t hold his protegé’s hand through it), Lambert’s fate was inexplicably linked with Doctor Who‘s; it would either sink or swim – and so would she.

Jessica Raine (the lovely lead of that other modern BBC drama jewel Call The Midwife and co-star in this year’s ‘NuWhoer’ Hide) is perfect casting as Lambert. Less delicate certainly than in her Sunday-night-friendly Midwife persona (or actually likewise in Hide), her Lambert is full of smarts, spunk and ambition; an evenly spoken proto-feminist only too willing to take on the BBC old guard by making her ‘silly little sci-fi show’ a success and carving out a career just as big as Newman’s. She finds an ally in the shape of the nearly equally as inexperienced director of Who‘s first serial Warris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan) and, before combining to unwittingly cock up the original recording of An Unearthly Child‘s (1963) first episode, they pull together to cast its main actor, one William Hartnell.

If Raine’s Lambert has the most screen-time, then no question David Bradley’s Hartnell is Adventure‘s heartbeat. Written and played as an ageing, irascible seen-it-all of stage and small-screen (who dreams of quality work over ‘variety’), Hartnell is hardly painted as a saint by Gatiss’s script and Bradley’s performance; his sharpness, vanity and temperamental ‘luvvie’-esque nature on-set aren’t glossed over. Yet, he’s most definitely presented as a human being. He has less likable qualities for sure, but realistically they’re not overstated, while his delight in finally becoming a household name and a hero for kids the nation over (something Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee clearly also loved) is given space to shine – in particular, in a wonderful park scene where he, in front of his wife (Lesley Manville), leads a class of schoolchildren in an impromptu game of ‘Hunt then hide from the Dalek’.

Where Gatiss, director Terry McDonough and Bradley really earn their corn, though, is in presenting his slide into ill health (arteriosclerosis), which caused him to forget lines and lose his way mid-scene. Adventure makes it particularly difficult not to feel for a seasoned actor denying and finally facing the fact he has to walk away from the role that’s made him in the show he owns (especially after Lambert has left for the sake of her career, breaking up early Who‘s tight, highly successful clubby team, for whom at first it may have felt like it’d go on forever). Adding to the tragedy is the irony that it was the show’s exhausting schedule that no doubt brought on and exacerbated its star’s illness.

Hartnell must move on from the show that’s moving on around him them – nobody but him seems to know how to switch on the TARDIS’s moving console; how will they cope? But cope they will and this, therefore, isn’t the end but a rebirth; this show that’s far exceeded anyone’s expectations will go on and on… and on and on because the adoration of its audience demands it (an unexpected if arty, but moving cameo from someone very familiar makes the point beautifully). But it is the end for Hartnell, of course. He must leave the stage for another, younger, healthier actor to take his place (Patrick Troughton). Nothing lasts forever on the show that may last forever. Sad as that is, An Adventure In Space And Time ultimately then is a story of regeneration and continuation. Put simply, it’s the story of Doctor Who.

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The Day Of The Doctor will be available to buy on DVD in Australia from December 4 and in North America from December 10 and, along with An Adventure In Space And Time, in the UK and Northern Ireland from tomorrow

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Tardis Party: Happy Doctor Who Day! The 10 greatest ever moments of the greatest ever sci-fi TV show

November 23, 2013

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Bow-ties are cool? No, not really… but Matt Smith’s dapper Eleventh Doctor looks good for a man who’s been around more than a millennium – that’s exactly half-a-century in Earth-years

Here we are then… it’s finally here. That point in time and space the greatest sci-fi TV show in the history of the universe officially celebrates its golden anniversary. Yes, 50 years ago this very day the first ever episode of the first ever serial of Doctor Who (1963-present) was broadcast at 5.15pm on BBC1 in the United Kingdom. And tonight a half-century-marking 75-minute very special special The Day Of The Doctor will be broadcast at 7.50pm (GMT) across the entire world – and who knows (because who really knows what’s out there?), maybe further afield too.

And, by way of celebrating the day itself, off the back of its dedicated 50-year-recognising season of posts, today George’s Journal presents you, dear readers, with its rundown of the 10 best bits from Who‘s entire quinquaginta. So, yes, adopt that venusian aikido pose, Three; toss the end of that scarf over your shoulder, Four; and make sure that bow-tie’s straight, Eleven… because Doctors, ladies, gentlemen, boys, girls and K-9, here we verily go…

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10. By land, sea and air!

Planet Of The Spiders (Season 11/ 1974)

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The greatest ever chase to grace Who? Certainly the most diverse Earth-bound one – and probably the daftest, to be fair. But it’s also epic and utterly awesome. In his swansong story, vehicle-mad (and highly successful Doctor) Jon Pertwee was indulged by producer Barry Letts and got to pursue a baddie first in his vintage-esque roadster Bessie, then in a ‘Little Nellie’-like autogyro, next in a crazy balloon-like buggie having taken off into the air (WTF?) and, finally, in a hovercraft  before leaping Action Man-like on to the foe’s vessel. Seriously, what’s not to love?

Plus, the following clip is soundtracked by John Barry and George Martin‘s respective scores from the Bond films On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and Live And Let Die (1973), which just makes it even better frankly…

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9. Death by plastic chair

Terror Of The Autons (Season 8/ 1971)

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Doctor Who at its utter campy, perverse, surreal best here. Technically, this poor chap’s funereal furniture-derived doom is down to Nestene Consciousness-produced plastic (the same sort from which the latter creates those nasty mannequin-like Autons) and is slyly manipulated by the magnificently dastardly Master (and the best ever, Roger Delgado‘s, at that), but of course what really happens here is a man is eaten by an inflatable plastic chair. Plain and simple. Enjoy…

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8. Did he just break the fourth wall? (10:57 and 11:42)

The Caves Of Androzani (Season 21/ 1984)

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A real blink and you’ll-miss-it one-two (at the two points in the clip referred to above), which occurred because John Normington, in his role as the quietly menacing and despicably scheming corporate big cheese villain Trau Morgus, misunderstood helmer Graeme Harper’s direction for the scene. Basically, he literally turns to the camera and delivers a Shakespearean aside, as if he’s sharing his innermost thoughts with the audience. Despite clearly being a boo-boo (which wasn’t corrected owing to Who‘s oh-so tight shooting schedules), it somehow totally works and adds extra oomph to the actor’s performance and the scene. A fine example of ‘Classic’ Who‘s unique, cheap and cheerful charm and charisma then – not least in its otherwise rather crappy ’80s era…

Read more about this moment’s episode here

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7. The Daleks make their debut (21:00)

The Daleks (Season 1/ 1963)

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Surely the first truly scary – and still pretty unsettling today – moment in Who, this comes from the show’s second ever story, in which not only the overgrown peril-inducing pepperpots made their bow, but also their appearance arguably saved the show from an early bath – after the lukewarm reception met by the opening serial An Unearthly Child, the last two episodes of The Daleks pulled in over 10 million viewers and hooked an entire generation of kids on Who forever more. Here, of course, we see a Dalek for the first time, as (from its POV) we approach trapped teacher companion Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) and she understandably screams in terror. A fine ending-of-an-episode cliffhanger, it as often with quality horror doesn’t actually show the monster, but we’re left in no doubt as to its unquestionable menace – of course, it’s just a camera moving forwards with a plunger attached but, blimey, is it effective and iconic…

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6. Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…

Blink (New Season 3/ 2007) 

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Yes, it’s the soon-to-go-intergalactic Carey Mulligan and, er, a fellow actor holding a conflab with the Doc across 30 years of recorded videotape during which the latter tries to explain just how it’s, well, happening. Those Weeping Angels have so much to answer for…

Read more about this moment and its episode here

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5. The Doctor murders The President? (00:42)

The Deadly Assassin (Season 14/ 1976)

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The greatest ever cliffhanger in all Who-dom. Tom Baker‘s irrepressible Fourth Doctor returns to his home planet Gallifrey (giving us our first ever glimpse of the place), having had a vision that somebody will bump off its Lord President – not just anyone though, him. And, just as the moment seems to be approaching, he investigates a dodgy figure he spies; could this be the real potential assailant? Investigating, though, he finds a laser rifle, confirms its sights are aimed directly on the President and… wait, he fires…?

Read more about this moment and its episode here

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4. Exquisite… absolutely exquisite…

City Of Death (Season 17/ 1979)

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Quite possibly the funniest ever moment in Doctor Who – from the funniest and (a contender for) the most breathtakingly clever story ever. Cameoers John Cleese and Eleanor Bron discuss the ‘artistic merits’ of the blue police box-like TARDIS just as… well, why don’t you watch the clip and find out for yourself. It’s exquisite… yes, absolutely exquisite…

Read more about this moment and its episode here

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3. John Hurt is The Doctor!

The Name Of The Doctor (New Season 7/ 2013)

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Actually, scrap what I said above, this is the greatest ever cliffhanger in all Who-dom. Yes, it may only be a few months old, but it’s as (if not more) mind-blowing a moment as any from all the previous 50 years of the show. The man whom the latest owner of the sonic screwdriver claims is his secret claims he did ‘what had to be done’, but our man contends ‘not in the name of the Doctor’. Wait, does that mean this new chap is… another Doctor? Then he turns round. It’s only bloody John Hurt! And he is another bloody Doctor! But how? From when? And just how many Doctors does that mean there’s actually been? This changes everything! Or does it? Bring on The Day Of The Doctor, indeed – in, like, just a few hours now…

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2. Goodbye, Sarah Jane

The Hand Of Fear (Season 14/ 1975)

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Simple as a Dalek’s raison d’être this one – it’s Doctor Who‘s greatest ever companion (her ’70s gonk under her arm) bidding farewell to the show’s greatest ever Doctor. I defy your heart not to be broken by the following clip…

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1. The TARDIS takes its very first journey

An Unearthly Child (Season 1/ 1963)

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Whurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmm…! Whurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmm…! Whurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmm…!

Really could this list’s Number 1 be anything else? The answer to that question is no. The answer to whether today is one of TV’s greatest ever days is most definitely yes. Happy Doctor Who Day, my fellow TARDIS disciples…!

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November 22 1963 ~ 50 years on from the day the Kennedy dream died

November 22, 2013

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Commuter blues: New Yorkers devour the news their President has been assassinated on the train home on November 22 1963 – a day none of them (nor anyone else) would ever forget

Few momentous events in history have been more talked about, relived, analysed and obsessed over than the assassination of John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, in Dallas, Texas, on November 22 1963 – 50 years ago today. Who killed him and why? Was it Communist-sympathiser-with-a-grudge Lee Harvey Oswald from a window of the Texas School Book Depository (whom himself was oh-so dramatically shot dead just two days later in a ‘retaliatory’ attack by nightclub owner Jack Ruby)? Or was Oswald a ‘patsy’ and the real murder the result of an elaborate conspiracy involving any one and more of the CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, the KGB or even Vice-President Lyndon B Johnson? Quite frankly, who knows? The odds, surely, are we never will.

Yet this post, as respectfully as it might, isn’t about any of that. Its aim is to mark – both pictorially and with TV clips from the day (the legendary footage of CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite confirming the news to America and ordinary New Yorkers’ surprisingly considered reactions just an hour or two after hearing the news) – the event itself, trying to capture the tone, atmosphere and stark reality of the tragedy that occurred that day and, for a few days longer via Oswald’s murder and the state funeral, blanketed the US and the wider world in shock and grief, the haunting shadow of which has never really diminished.

There’s an undoubted sadness and darkness that fills one’s heart when they properly re-enter the world of November 22-25 1963, and this blog doesn’t often make it its business to evoke the likes of that in its posts. Yet the assassination of the bright, shining ‘prodigal son’ of the highly ambitious, utterly glamorous, near-royal but tragically cursed Kennedy clan that was John Fitzgerald Kennedy (or JFK, as he’s more often, somehow sharply referred to since his death) is an unquestionable momentous game-changer of 20th Century history.

For it (maybe unwittingly) ushered in the anxious, unsettled, confusing era of the United States’ real 1960s (Vietnam, social liberation, counterculture, generational disconnect and, eventually for the better, Johnson’s wide-sweeping civil rights legislation) and – for its times – was the equivalent of what 9/11 was for its people today: the moment their nation ‘lost’ its innocence. A lightning bolt through the heart of a young, optimistic, dynamic yet divided nation and the rubbing out of its brightest star – it was the day the Kennedy dream died…

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John F. Kennedy's funeral in Washington D.C. November, 25 1963

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Tardis Party: Doctor Who episode close-up ~ The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang (New Season 5/ 2010)

November 21, 2013

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‘Hello, Stonehenge!’ Fans weren’t sure about Spinal Tap’s booked-at-the-last-minute support act

Phew! It’s been long, it’s been winding, it’s been wibbly-wobbly (and, yes, timey-wimey) and, maybe most of all, it’s been damned colourful (almost as much as Colin Baker‘s Sixth Doc ‘Technicolor Dreamcoat’), but finally it’s here – yes, peeps, we’ve reached the end (just in time for the big 50 itself) of George’s Journal‘s looks-back at/ close-ups/ reviews of essential Doctor Who episodes past, with this very post.

Ooh, but what a fitting focus for the final of the faster-than-time hurtle through the time vortex this journey’s been! For, yes, it surely gets no better in ‘NuWho’ than The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, the simply stupendous finale to Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith‘s and present show-runner Steven Moffat’s first season at the collective helm of the time console.

Sit back and relax then, folks (not least because all this Who celebratory stuff‘s nearly over round these parts, ho ho), but – at the same time – don’t forget to beware a Sontaran strong-arming you into the Pandorica. Unless you fancy an eternal nap, that is…

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Doctor: Matt Smith (The Eleventh Doctor)

Companions: Karen Gillan (Amy Pond); Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams); Alex Kingston (Professor River Song)

Villains: Christopher Ryan (Sontaran Commander Stark); Ruari Mears (Cyber Leader); Paul Kasey (Judoon); Barnaby Edwards (Dalek – voice: Nicholas Briggs)

Allies: Caitlin Blackwood (Young Amelia); Tony Curran (Vincent van Gogh); Ian McNeice (Winston Churchill); Bill Paterson (Bracewell); Sophie Okonedo (Liz Ten)

Writer: Steven Moffat

Producer: Peter Bennett

Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger and Beth Willis

Director: Toby Haynes

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Season: 5 (12th and 13th of 13 serials – 50- and 55-minute-long episodes)

Original broadcast dates: June 19/ June 26 2010

Total average viewers: 7.1 million

Previous episode: The Lodger

Next episode: A Christmas Carol (Special)

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When left temporal co-ordinates by would-be love interest-cum-enigmatic-time-traveler Professor River Song (the result of a trail of messages left through time by recent allies Vincent van Gogh, Winston Churchill and future queen of ‘Great Britain’ Liz Ten), the Eleventh incarnation of The Doctor (all floppy hair, tweed jacket, bow-tie, braces and youthful eccentricity) and his present companion Amy Pond (a fiery yet fiercely adventurous, sexy Scottish redhead) meet up with River at the site of the co-ordinates – just outside Stonehenge in 102 AD. In fact, they meet her in a tent where – via her handy hallucinogenic lipstick – she’s slyly tricked the Roman soldiers around her into believing she’s Egyptian queen Cleopatra, as is her wont.

She shows the Doc and Amy a painting (thanks to the aforementioned trail) by van Gogh – it’s clearly a vision of the TARDIS exploding, contains the co-ordinates of where and when they are and is named ‘The Pandorica Opens’. Amy asks what the Pandorica is, only for the Doc to scoff at River’s explanation that it’s supposed to contain the most fearsome thing in the entire universe. He says it’s merely a fairy-tale. Still, Vincent’s vision suggests it might be more than this and – figuring if someone wanted the ideal marker for where they’d hid or buried the Pandorica, where better than Stonehenge? – the trio ride off to the great stone monument.

Eventually, they find their way beneath Stonehenge and there, indeed, discover the Pandorica – a great cuboid box. According to legend, the Doc explains, locked inside it was ‘the most feared being in all creation, a trickster soaked in the blood of a billion galaxies, who could not be reasoned with’. Amy likens it to her favourite story, the Greek myth of ‘Pandora’s box'; she’s already mentioned Roman history was her favourite school subject. The Doc points out that one should never ignore such a coincicence – ‘unless you’re busy, then you should always ignore a coincidence’.

On further investigation, he and River quickly conclude not only is the Pandorica slowly unlocking itself and opening, but also Stonehenge’s pillars are operating as giant transmitters beaming this message out to everything and everyone in time and space (hence how poor Vincent was assailed by the ‘vision’ in his dreams). Worried by this, River reverses the signal being transmitted and discovers that every one of The Doctor’s direst enemies are amassing over the Earth in ten thousand spaceships, ready and waiting for the Pandorica to open. River and Amy wonder what they can possibly do, but The Doctor’s firm they can do nothing but stand and fight; besides, they possess at their disposal ‘the greatest fighting machine in the history of the universe – Romans!’.

River moves off to get help from the Romans, leaving Amy, alone with The Doctor now, the opportunity to ask him about something on her mind. Why did she, earlier in the TARDIS, find an engagement ring in his jacket pocket? Trying to get her to remember something momentous she’s forgotten, he tells her it belonged to a friend of his who’s fallen out of the universe, but the ring is a trace of him that might just be able to bring him back. Amy, though, cannot remember this person as Rory, her fiancé and lifelong friend, whom was killed and erased from all existence in a recent adventure, thus the ring isn’t going to aid in his return. The Doctor persists, however; he tells her there was a deep reason why he chose her as a companion – doesn’t she ever wonder why she lived in such a large house with so many rooms? Doesn’t she ever think she herself doesn’t make sense?

Suddenly, the pair are attacked by the remnants of a Cyberman (a one-time guard of the Pandorica?), which knocks out the Doc and attempts to assimilate Amy. She, though, is saved by a Roman soldier – more than that, it’s Rory! Still not remembering who he is she wanders off (having been knocked-out too but with a dart) to rest in the nearby Roman camp. Rory can’t explain how he died and suddenly awoke to become a 2nd Century Roman; the Doc suggests that he’s never before seen ‘a miracle’, but why shouldn’t this be one? Plus, Rory has to be patient, as Amy simply can’t remember him yet. Returning to Stonehenge above, the Doc then addresses all the spaceships overhead. He advises them not to try and get past him to claim the Pandorica because they should all remember how he’s beaten them so many times in the past… and then let someone else try (see video clip above). This should buy them some time, he confides in Rory.

Now in the TARDIS, River tries to fly the machine (having previously known The Doctor, at least in her time-line, if not his, she knows how to), but for some reason of its own volition it takes her to a house elsewhere in England. This, she concludes from looking inside, is Amy’s home – for it contains a photo of her with Rory (the latter in fancy-dress as a Roman centurion) and books about Pandora’s box and Roman historical facts. All of these details refer not just to Amy, of course, but also their current adventure back in time with the Romans and Rory (as a Roman) in ancient Britain. Immediately she contacts The Doctor and he agrees with her (especially after verifying the day River has arrived at herself is exactly the day when he first met Amy and removed ‘a crack in time’ from her bedroom wall) that it’s very bad news; indeed, all the coincidences point to their present adventure being a trap. Someone must have engineered the whole set-up and lured the Doc to the Pandorica at this very point in time by using Amy’s memories as building-blocks for their plan. In which case, the Romans are unlikely even to be human, even though they themselves believe they are.

The Doctor: People fall out of the world sometimes but they always leave traces, little things you can’t quite account for… faces in photographs, luggage, half-eaten meals…  rings. Nothing is ever forgotten, not completely, and if something can be remembered it can come back

River attempts to return the TARDIS to a safe time and place, but the machine’s compromised and as she tries to exit a stone wall appears in the doorway blocking her way out. Meanwhile, back at Stonehenge, just as Rory has managed to make Amy remember who he is, the Pandorica has finally opened and his fellow Romans robotically ‘awaken’ to reveal themselves as Autons (plastic humanoids controlled by the Nestene Consciousness). Amy asserts she will never leave him again, yet it’s too much for Rory who’s fighting against his now Auton-state and, his body betraying him, shoots Amy dead with the Auton gun hiding behind his hand.

Beneath Stonehenge now, a collection of The Doctor’s greatest foes, including Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans, materialise before the Pandorica and inform him they have all banded together to place him in the Pandorica (therefore it’s actually him who’s supposed to be the great dangerous being of legend) for it’s foretold his TARDIS will destroy the universe. The Doc pleads with them it can’t be so, not least as he’s not the one who’s piloting it at this critical moment, but they don’t listen and force him into the Pandorica and close it – seemingly for all eternity. And in the future, River not being able to control nor escape it, the TARDIS explodes and creates a chain-reaction – one-by-one the universe’s stars and planets around the Earth explode and cease to exist.

The story now shifts to the year 1996, specifically from the viewpoint of Amy (then known as Amelia) as a child. One day she mysteriously receives a leaflet through her door inviting her to visit the National Museum, thanks to someone having circled on it the Pandorica exhibit and writing ‘Come along, Pond’. The man whom hastily delivered it appeared to have been wearing a fez. Dragging to the museum her Aunt Sharon (whom owing to Amelia’s lack of parents has brought her up), Amelia makes straight for the Pandorica box and, owing to another message (‘Stick around, Pond’), hides until closing time and after her aunt’s given up looking for her. Now, she approaches the Pandorica and, touching it, is stunned to watch it open… yet inside is not The Doctor as we’d expect, but the grown-up Amy from Stonehenge in 102 AD, whom announces to her younger self ‘OK, kid, this is where it gets complicated…’.

Back at Stonehenge in 102 AD, following the TARDIS’s explosion, all the stars (and planets) in the sky have vanished, yet Earth oddly remains; indeed, this is exactly the same state as in Amelia’s 1996. And, despite nothing stirring around him, Rory is still alive cradling the dead Amy in his arms. Just then, from out of nowhere The Doctor appears, wearing a fez and manipulating a device on his wrist. He informs Rory all is far from lost and the Auton-human must free him from the Pandorica using his sonic screwdriver, which he instructs Rory must then be placed in Amy’s top pocket. Then he disappears again by punching the controls of the wrist device.

Bemused, Rory does as he’s told, helping a dazed Doc (the one from 102 AD) out of the Pandorica, whom quickly deduces he must now set in motion the chain of events the ‘other Doctor’ and Rory are enacting. When asked by Rory why the alliance of his enemies around them are now frozen as stone, he explains they’re merely after-images because none of them existed in this reality owing to the universe’s destruction. And when probed about saving Amy, the Doc says he could do something for her if he had the time. To this, Rory punches him across the face, delighting the Time Lord – ‘Welcome back, Rory! Had to be sure [he was still the real Rory beneath the Auton plastic]!’). The two now place Amy in the Pandorica, the Doc assuring it’s ultimate-prison-construction means it boasts an immensely powerful ‘restoration field’ that will bring her back to life and keep her alive until it’s opened in the future (in 1996 by Amelia) from whence the fez-wearing Doctor came. The Doc must now use River’s wrist-watch-like vortex manipulator to travel to the future and become that future Doctor – however, ever the lovelorn loyal fool and to the Doc’s disbelief, Rory claims he’ll stay behind to protect Amy locked in the Pandorica for the hundreds of years until it’s opened, for as an Auton he won’t die, so long as he ‘keeps out of trouble’.

Back at the museum in 1996, Amy and Amelia watch a video accompanying the Pandorica’s display detailing a myth that a Roman centurion has stood guard over the mysterious monument throughout history (during which it moved about Europe), right up until the last time he was ‘sighted’, dragging the box away from its Blitz-torn WWII London location hit by a German bomb. Their viewing is interrupted, however, by a Dalek approaching them seemingly from out of the blue and, just then, the Doc from 102 AD appears thanks to the vortex manipulator. The trio take cover from the Dalek and are saved when a museum guard strides from the shadows and disables the Dalek with a shot from the gun behind his hand – it’s the ‘Auton Rory’, who’s finally reunited with Amy after over two thousand years looking after her in the Pandorica. The Doctor suggests the Dalek must have been restored by the ‘light’ (or the restoration field) from the now open Pandorica, which also contains billions of atoms from the universe destroyed by the TARDIS exploding. From a nearby exhibit he offers Amelia a fez, but she declines it so he wears it instead.

He then completes the tasks of fixing his, Rory and Amy’s ‘timeline’ (on Rory recognising him as the ‘future Doctor’ whom appeared at Stonehenge due to his fez) by traveling backwards and forwards in time and relaying the instructions we’ve already witnessed him give Rory back then and deliver the messages to Amelia. Following this, the trio head to the roof for safety, for the Dalek is coming back to life, but on their way there come across another Doctor (seemingly from the near future) dying before them. Before he snuffs it, this Doc whispers in our’s ear – whom declares he now only has 12 minutes to live. Additionally, they notice that Amelia has disappeared; The Doctor eerily explains that she must have vanished because all time is collapsing simultaneously as the TARDIS is still exploding throughout all history. The three of them are anomalies in this time-line (not least not properly belonging in this universe) so they likely have longer than Amelia did before they each disappear.

The Doctor: We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh? ‘Cause it was, you know. It was the best. The daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away. Did I ever tell you that I stole it? Well I borrowed it. I was always going to take it back. Oh that box. Amy, you’ll dream about that box. It’ll never leave you. Big and little at the same time. Brand new and ancient and the bluest blue ever…

On reaching the roof, the Doc goes on to point out that what appears to be the sun burning full and bright in the sky isn’t it at all, for it’s died along with all the other stars and planets; it’s in fact the TARDIS still in the process of exploding – and as it’s doing so constantly throughout time it’s keeping the Earth ‘alive’ and warm. He amplifies the familiar TARDIS-sound it’s generating through a satellite dish and, with the help of Rory’s Auton-enhanced hearing, notes a voice in the sound – River’s voice. Of course! She hasn’t died in the explosion, because inside the TARDIS’s console room, the machine has put her in a time-loop to save her life. The Doc uses the vortex manipulator then to collect her from the TARDIS; her first action being to snatch the fez from his head, throw it in the air and blast it with her laser gun, despite his protestation ‘I wear a fez now; fezzes are cool’ (see bottom video clip).

Thinking at high speed (as usual), The Doctor has come up with a plan to save the day. As the TARDIS is still exploding (simultaneously throughout time), he should be able to pilot the Pandorica into the heart of the explosion and, due to the Pandorica’s ‘restoration field’ and its billions of atoms from the previously-destroyed-universe, recreate that universe in a gigantic second big bang that will also seal the cracks in time for good. River, however, points out the plan’s downside. In order to achieve this, the Doc will have to be inside the Pandorica, therefore he’ll be sealed on the other side of the cracks in time and, in bringing everything else back, he’ll cease to exist himself. Just as he’s rushing back to the Pandorica to enact his plan, though, he’s shot with a bolt from the fully restored Dalek and uses his vortex manipulator to disappear. Knowing he now must be where they encountered the dying near-future-Doctor minutes before, Amy and Rory race off to this spot while River remains behind to shoot the Dalek dead.

Arriving at the spot where the Time Lord should be, Amy and Rory are confounded to discover he’s nowhere to be seen. Joined now by River, she reminds them The Doctor often lies and they realise he must have followed the advice of the near-dead Doctor’s whispered words in his ear – deceive them to buy himself time so he can strap himself into the Pandorica without them trying to stop him sacrificing himself. Arriving at the box then, Amy bids him a tearful farewell and, finally, he explains to her why he took her with him as a companion – her life in such a big house. Why didn’t she share it with her parents? What happened to them? Amy panics when she can’t remember and the Doc reassures her that it’s not her fault; her parents were consumed by the crack in time in her bedroom he healed on first meeting her. If he’s successful at ‘rebooting’ the universe they’ll return so long as she tries hard to remember them, just as she did in remembering Rory back at Stonehenge. With that, he flies the Pandorica into the exploding TARDIS and…

… sits up on the floor of the the machine’s console room, delighted he’s survived. However, he realises that not only is Amy also there, but him too – neither can hear him and they’re versions from his near past. He must be rewinding through time – and so he does, back through all his adventures with Amy (‘Hello, universe; goodbye, Doctor’). Eventually, he ends up in Amelia’s bedroom back in 1996 (the night she’d waited for him to return after he first met her, him having crash-landed the TARDIS in her garden). She’s asleep and he regales her with a bedtime-story-like tale of him and the TARDIS (‘brand new and ancient and the bluest blue ever’ – see above pull-out quote). And then he steps through the last remaining crack in time, which can’t seal until he’s behind it. Seemingly having half-heard him, Amelia wakes up and finds nobody in the room, so settles back down to sleep.

Fourteen years later, Amy wakes on her wedding day and – to her somewhat bemused surprise – is overjoyed to come across her mum and dad in her house (she’s clearly remembered them successfully so they’ve returned in the re-set universe, even if she doesn’t remember doing so – or, by extension, doesn’t remember The Doctor or any of her adventures with him). Later, during her and Rory’s wedding reception, the latter hands her a gift an unknown woman gave him for her – it’s a blue diary with a TARDIS-like-embossed blue cover, but all the pages are blank; in fact, it’s River Song’s diary and Amy sees her (but doesn’t recognise her) enigmatically walk past a window. When she questions why someone would give her this, Rory suggests the old wedding saying ‘something old; something new; something borrowed; something blue’. And then as a sad tear falls from her face to the diary and she notices male wedding guests wearing familiar garb – a bow-tie here; braces there – a thunderbolt suddenly strikes her.

She interrupts her father’s speech and declares that ‘the raggedy man’ whom she’d always claimed had visited her when she was a child wasn’t a figment of her imagination – he was real, is real; he’s The Doctor! She states that he was so clever, ecnouraging her to try her damndest to remember and leaving her the hint of something ‘borrowed’ and ‘brand new and ancient and the bluest blue ever’ on her wedding day – that is, the TARDIS, of course. And then, right in the middle of the room materialises the TARDIS, out of which steps a tuxedo-sporting Doctor, whom admits he’s certainly impressed by Amy this time, while Rory exclaims ‘it’s The Doctor; how could we forget The Doctor?’.

After sharing in the wedding celebrations and showing off some truly horrendous dance moves, the Doc sidles away and back to the TARDIS, now parked in Amy’s garden. There he comes across River once more, to whom he returns her diary from Amy – the content on all the pages (now the latter’s restored him to the universe) having returned. These details, however, while from her past with him are from his future with her, so he hasn’t peeked at them. They flirt perhaps more so than before and she returns to her own time via her vortex manipulator, leaving him to enter the TARDIS quietly. But he’s prevented from making a sudden getaway – and happily so too – because Amy and Rory approach him and ask him to stay. Suddenly, though, the TARDIS’s phone rings and the Doc’s regaled with how an Egyptian goddess is on the loose on the space Orient Express. Another adventure beckons, so he tells his companions it’s time to say goodbye… the newlyweds lean out the doorway and cry ‘goodbye’ to their 21st Century Earth-bound world and the Doc sets the TARDIS zooming off through time and space once more.

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Why is Pandorica/ Big Bang the final essential offering from this blog of all Doctor Who episodes/ serials? Because, quite simply, it’s my favourite story from Matt Smith’s Tenth Doctor era; in fact, from all ‘NuWho’. Yes, I’ll happily admit (being a big fan of Charles Dickens and practically all things Scrooge), the story that directly follows it – 2010’s festive special A Christmas Carol – runs it close, but unlike that otherwise terrifically atmospheric, highly frolicsome and utterly heart-warming story, Pandorica/ Big Bang simply has absolutely everything you could want from a Doctor Who adventure – and, yes, more.

First of all, it’s an epic, dramatic, romantic, witty and thrilling two-parter finale to its season (more: its plotting, in true Moffat-scripting style, twists and turns more than a slinky snake covered in butter – you really don’t see coming the twist that it’s the Doc who belongs in the Pandorica nor all the ‘wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey‘ frolics in Big Bang).

Additionally, it acts – like previous ‘NuWho’ season finales – as a more than fitting closer to a series-long story arc, specifically addressing the ‘cracks in time’ gambit, Rory’s having died, Amy’s forgetting this and his and Amy’s pending wedding, which appeared/ were alluded to in earlier episodes (more: the Doc going back through his timeline sees him go back through previous episodes; bringing Rory back and having him ‘kill’ Amy brings genuine emotional resonance to their romance previously played for laughs and deepening the mystery of the ‘silence will fall’ message feeds into next season’s arc).

Plus, it features, as should every excellent episode of Who, a smorgasbord of unforgettable moments: Amy bringing the Doc back into existence and the TARDIS materialising at her wedding; the Doc in a fez and River then destroying said fez; him, Amy and River investigating a tomb carrying burning torches; an alliance of Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and more forcing him into an interstellar prison-cell; Amy emerging from the Pandorica instead of the Doc at the start of Big Bang; and (more! more! more!) both the Doc’s awesome Stonehenge speech to all his enemies’ spaceships and his quieter, even more powerful, clever-clever speech to the sleeping Amelia.

With its thrills, spills, surprises, laughs, largesse, epic canvas, intimate characterisation and fantastic fairy-tale atmos amid all the time-travel twists and turns and pseudo-science and tecnho-gimmickry, Pandorica/ Big Bang succeeds and delights on every level. Few episodes of television drama satisfy without a caveat to mention and genuinely warm the cockles and the heart (especially modern TV drama) but, for me, this slice of Who magic and majesty does it absolutely every single time.

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Obviously written to conclude not just the first season of ‘NuWho’ he’d overseen, but also to conclude its story arc, Steven Moffat‘s Pandorica Opens/ Big Bang was always intended to have as big, epic and dramatic a feel as possible. Less well known, however, is the fact the title of the story’s second half was chosen as much because it was a personal joke of its scribe as for its narrative relevance.

Apparently, The Big Bang wasn’t just intended as a reference to the ‘second big bang’ The Doctor causes by flying the Pandorica into the exploding TARDIS, but also as a reference to what newlyweds Amy and Rory got up to in their bunk-beds aboard the TARDIS immediately the episode finished (as could have been worked out after watching the next episode – 2010’s A Christmas Carol – and as was subtely referenced in the following year’s mid-season finale, 2011’s A Good Man Goes To War, when the Doc reluctantly works out when Melody Pond/ River Song was most likely conceived aboard his space- and time-machine. Doctor Who episode title as double entendre then? Sounds good to me.

Perhaps the most eye-catching element of Pandorica‘s production is the fact filming was allowed at the real Stonehenge monument on Wiltshire’s Salisbury Plain. There were strict conditions the cast and crew had to abide by, though – per the usual regulations at Stonehenge, nobody was allowed to touch the stones, nor bring heavy equipment into the space, nor light it from anywhere but the ground. In which case, only minimal filming could actually be done there, thus, a replica of the world famous site was erected at Margam Country Park in Wales’ Port Talbot. ‘Foamhenge’, as it became known, was a lightweight replica that accommodated four days’ worth of shooting, including the Doc’s speech to the spaceships overhead (described by the episodes’ director Toby Haynes as the character’s ‘big pop star moment’).

Haynes was particularly keen for the chamber under Stonehenge to have an eerie, ghostly, adventure film-like atmosphere, citing the tone and style of Indiana Jones as a touchstone for its scenes (flaming torches included), so much so he had music from the Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) soundtrack played to inspire Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Alex Kingston as they entered the set (the biggest ever constructed for ‘NuWho’ up to that point) in character.

Moreover, River Song’s outfit for this double episode was inspired by the togs of that other of Harrison Ford‘s back-catalogue, namely Star Wars‘ (1977) Han Solo. She, the Doc and Amy, of course, ride horses across the Plain to reach Stonehenge; except they didn’t really – only their stunt doubles actually rode any equines. For close-ups, the thesps actually ‘rode’ bouncing saddles mounted on the back of a moving truck. Haynes has remarked that, surprisingly, the budget for Pandorica/ Big Bang (which, as they were filmed together, means they can be taken together too when it comes to the pennies) was actually lower than for other episodes of its season, despite the double-parter’s epic, grandstanding ambitions and entirely successful realisation.

Pretty much immediately heralded by critics as among the elite of ‘NuWho’ episodes, this story was almost universally acclaimed on broadcast – and by the punters too: The Pandorica Opens‘ ‘audience index’ was 88/100, the highest for its season; only to be broken a week later by The Big Bang‘s ‘audience index’ of 89/100. Just as significantly (if more prestigiously), Pandorica/ Big Bang also won the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), the fifth time a Who episode had won the award – and of those five, the fourth Moffat-penned effort to do so (the others being 2005’s The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances, 2006’s The Girl In The Fireplace and 2007’s Blink).

When you let the dust settle then, Amy’s tear drop on River’s diary and after the TARDIS has finally materialised at the wedding, Pandorica/ Big Bang can only be seen as one hell of a Doctor Who story (in truth, it’s not just my fave ‘NuWho’ effort, but also in my wee little opinion, probably by a hair from Matt Smith’s perfectly coiffed fringe, still the best). And, given where it belongs in the Doc’s chronology, most importantly of all you might say, it ensured the outstanding Season 5 went out with a big bang. In the words of Basil Brush then… Boom! Boom!

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Previous close-ups/ reviews:

Blink (New Season 3/ 2007/ Doctor: David Tennant)

Rose (New Season 1/ 2005/ Doctor: Christopher Eccleston)

Doctor Who: The Movie (1996/ Main Doctor: Paul McGann)

The Caves Of Androzani (Season 21/ 1984/ Doctor: Peter Davison)

The Five Doctors (Special/ 1983/ Main Doctor: Peter Davison)

City Of Death (Season 17/ 1979/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Talons Of Weng-Chiang (Season 15/ 1977/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Deadly Assassin (Season 14/ 1976/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

Pyramids Of Mars (Season 13/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

Genesis Of The Daleks (Season 12/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Ark In Space (Season 12/ 1975/ Doctor: Tom Baker)

The Dæmons (Season 8/ 1971/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)

Inferno (Season 7/ 1970/ Doctor: Jon Pertwee)

The War Games (Season 6/ 1969/ Doctor: Patrick Troughton)

An Unearthly Child (Season 1/ 1963/ Doctor: William Hartnell)

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