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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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Annette O’Toole/ Sarah Douglas: Supergirls

November 15, 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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Thirty years ago this year the cinematic excrement that’s Superman III appeared in flickatoriums, but its saving grace must be it established a place in the Superman firmament for the ravishing redhead thesp Annette O’Toole. Two years earlier, the little-less-dafter-than-a-brush but much more entertaining Superman II made big moolah at the box-office and confused pre-pubescent boys everywhere – why were they attracted to Sarah Douglas’s bosomy, nubile baddie Ursa while simultaneously wanting to run away from her? Nowadays, those grown-up boys don’t have to worry about such things (well, probably not); instead what they have to worry about is why they haven’t yet checked out this pictorial tribute to these two beautiful, talented actresses – for yes, peeps, the Kryptonian crackers Annette O’Toole and Sarah Douglas verily make up the latest double-entry in this blog’s Talent corner

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Profiles

Names: Annette O’Toole/ Sarah Douglas

Nationalities: American/ English

Professions: Actress, singer, songwriter and dancer/ Actress

Born: April 1 1952, Houston, Texas/ December 12 1952, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

Known for: Annette – playing Clark Kent’s first crush Lana Lang in Superman III (1983), appearing opposite Nastassja Kinski in Cat People and as Nick Nolte’s girlfriend in 48 Hrs. (both 1982). Mind you, Annette’s actually had a long and fruitful career as a performer, beginning as a Hollywood child actress and dancer in the ’60s and ’70s, before hitting the big time in the ’80s, a decade during which she also starred with Barry Manilow in a CBS TV adaptation of the musical based on his hit tune Copacabana (1985). She then focused on the small-screen, appearing in the mini-series version of Stephen King’s It and being Emmy-nominated for The Kennedys Of Massachusetts (both 1990), while later guest-starring in Nash Bridges (1996-2001) and taking the lead role in her own series The Huntress (2000-01). She returned to the Superman universe to play the hero’s ‘mother’ Martha Kent in Smallville (2001-11), in which her second husband Michael McKean – of This Is Spinal Tap (1984) fame – played Daily Planet editor Perry White. Together, the couple have appeared in cabaret, at Spinal Tap concerts (Annette as a backing singer), as Topanga Lawrence’s parents in Boy Meets World (1993-2000) and co-wrote an Oscar-nominated song (A Kiss At the End Of The Rainbow) for the McKean-starring mockumentary movie A Mighty Wind (2003).

Sarah – appearing as Ursa, Kryptonian cohort and squeeze of Terence Stamp’s General Zod, in first Superman (1978) and then much more memorably Superman II (1980), as well as in several other fantasy film and TV roles, such as  Queen Taramis in Conan The Destroyer (1984), Pamela in mini-series V: The Final Battle (1984), sorceress Lyranna in Beastmaster 2: Through The Portal Of Time (1991) and as the heroine in The People That Time Forgot (1977). Between 1983 and ’85 she had a recurring role on California-set soap Falcon Crest (1981-90) and guested in the likes of Space: 1999 (1975-77), The Professionals (1977-81), Return Of The Saint (1978-79), Bergerac (1981-91), Remington Steele (1982-87), Sledgehammer! (1986-88), Babylon 5 (1993-98) and Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007). In recent years she’s acted on the UK stage and lent her voice to animated TV series and many audio dramas.

Strange but true: Annette won her first major film role as a beauty pageant contestant in Smile (1975) after doing an impression of a ‘dead cockroach’ during an audition/ between 1981 and ’84 Sarah was married to fellow thesp Richard LeParmentier, whom played Admiral Motti in Star Wars (1977), the Imperial officer Darth Vader strangles to death via The Force after finding his ‘lack of faith disturbing’.

Peak of fitness: Annette – easy, the swimming pool sequence in Cat People; yes, you know the one/ Sarah – it has to be wearing those outrageous, fantastic and utterly revealing outfits in Conan The Destroyer.

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Tardis Party: Doctor Who episode close-up ~ Blink (New Season 3/ 2007)

November 13, 2013

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Freeze frame: “If the wind changes – or you press pause – my face’ll stay like this… oh pants”

Yes, peeps, we’re less than two weeks away from the big day itself now, ‘The Day Of The Doctor’, the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who (1963-present). Actually, to be precise, we’re 10 days away from it, so what better post to, er, post today than a tribute to the Tenth Doctor’s era of NuWho – combining with this blog‘s latest in its countdown to the half-century date by way of close-ups/ reviews of great Who stories of lore?

And, dare I say it, you’ve got to be fast with this one – real fast. For Blink and you’ll miss it. Geddit? Geddit? All right, I’ll get my full-length, suede Tenth Doctor coat…

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Doctor: David Tennant (The Tenth Doctor)

Companion: Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones)

Villains: The Weeping Angels (Aga Blonska and Elen Thomas)

Allies: Carey Mulligan (Sally Sparrow); Finlay Robertson (Larry Nightingale); Lucy Gaskell (Kathy Nightingale); Michael Obiora (DI Billy Shipton); Louis Mahoney (Old Billy)

Writer: Steven Moffat

Producer: Phil Collinson

Executive Producers: Russel T Davies and Julie Gardner

Director: Hettie McDonald

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Season: New Season 3 (10th of 13 episodes – 45-minutes-long)

Original broadcast date: June 9 2007

Total viewers: 6.6 million

Previous episode: The Family Of Blood

Next episode: Utopia

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Sally Sparrow, a young woman with lashings of curiosity and a love of ‘old things’, can’t help investigating an old house (named Wester Drumlins) in the area of London in which she lives. In one of the rooms she discovers writing on a wall, the edge of which is just viewable from behind peeling wallpaper. She peels off the old wallpaper in random strips to find, each time, complete messages, which taken all together, warn her (addressing her by name) to beware the ‘Weeping Angels’ – she looks out the window to see a stone statue of an angel that seems to be crying into its hands – and the messages are signed of with ‘love from The Doctor’.

Shaken but more curious than ever, Sally goes round to her friend Kathy Nightingale’s flat – at 1.00am in the morning. And, while there, discovers Kathy shares the flat with her brother Larry, as the latter walks out of the bathroom not wearing any clothes, much to Sally’s amusement. Having persuaded Kathy to do so, Sally and her friend visit Wester Drumlins the following day (Kathy joking they could be professional investigators named ‘Sparrow and Nightingale – it so works’, to which Sally replies ‘Yeah, for ITV’). While snooping around the house, they hear a knock on the front door; scared, Kathy hides in the back of the house, while Sally opens it on a man whom admits he has a strange assignment to carry out. He must hand over to her at exactly this location and at exactly this time on exactly this day an envelope addressed to her from his grandmother, whose maiden name was Kathy Costello Nightingale.

Sally is angry at this, assuming it’s a joke and Kathy’s responsible, but just as a door slams shut in the house (the door Kathy had been hiding and listening behind), she takes the envelope from the man and, opening it, discovers photographs of Kathy on her own and others seemingly with family members dressed in old-fashioned garb, as well as a letter that explains at exactly this point Kathy inexplicably had been transported to Hull back in the year 1920 and, no doubt, would be dead by the time Sally read the letter. True to the letter’s explanation, Kathy seems to have vanished without a trace, yet there’s several angel statues standing in a room and clasped in the hand of one of them is a Yale lock on a string; Sally pulls the key free and pockets it. Visiting Kathy’s grave nearby, Sally learns she happily lived out the rest of her life in the past, dying in the year 1987.

Fulfilling a request in Kathy’s letter, she then visits the DVD store where Larry works to somehow explain to him his sister’s gone away and won’t be coming back. This she manages to do and observes Larry is watching on a TV screen a bespectacled, intelligent-looking if eccentric-sounding chap conversing with someone who isn’t there. Larry explains this is an ‘easter egg’ (a hidden bonus offering on a DVD), which while being a strange thing itself is even stranger as it’s only to be found on 17 random DVDs. Entire topics of discussions on Internet forums have sprouted up around this phenomenon, he explains to – again – an amused Sally; he’s even transcribed the man’s ‘conversation’. Then, just as he disappears to fetch her the list of 17 DVDs, Sally finds herself bizarrely interacting with the man on the screen, as if in conversation with him. Becoming more than a little concerned by what’s going on now, she decides enough is enough and visits the local police station.

Larry Nightingale: Me and the guys are trying to work out the other half
Sally Sparrow: When you say ‘you and the guys’, you mean the Internet, don’t you?
Larry Nightingale: How’d you know?
Sally Sparrow: Spooky, isn’t it?

Struggling to convince the desk sergeant that all she’s experienced isn’t fanciful cobblers, Sally eventually is passed on to young and handsome Detective Inspector Billy Shipton, whom leads her down to a garage. The cars that fill the space, Billy explains, have all relatively recently been found outside Wester Drumlins, their owners having seemingly disappeared into thin air. It’s a mystery that’s totally unsolvable. The prize of the collection, however, is an old-fashioned blue police telephone box, but this one is a ‘fake'; the windows in its door are too large and there’s no telephone to be found in the space where it should be in the door. Plus, although the door’s keyhole looks like it should take an ordinary Yale key, no such key can open it. Billy, clearly enamoured with Sally, asks her out on a date, but Sally merely gives him her phone number.

After she leaves, Billy notices from out of nowhere a group of stone angels have suddenly been positioned in front of the telephone box. A surreal and impossible thing, he goes up to the scene to investigate and, while looking into the face of one statue, blinks… and finds himself instantly transported to an entirely different location. He’s soon joined by a spiky-haired, fast-talking chap dressed in a pin-stripe suit and sneakers, along with an attractive young woman.

This man we recognise as The Doctor and the girl introduces herself as his traveling companion Martha Jones. The Doctor explains that, like has happened to Billy (and we assume Kathy), they’ve been sent back into the past by ‘The Weeping Angels’, whom by waiting for a victim to close their eyes in front of them (or merely blink) are able to move towards them, touch them and transport them back in time. The Angels, according to the Doc, are ‘the only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely'; they are time-locked when anybody or anything is looking at them (ensuring they can’t look at each other), so move and incredibly quickly when not looked at. Creatures of the abstract, they feed off potential energy – the days a person would have lived having been sent back in time by an Angel. Billy then, like the Doc and Martha, has been sent back to 1969. And for Billy unfortunately there’s no way back; for the Doc and Martha though (who’ve been sent back without the TARDIS, which in the present the Angels want to get their hands on for all the time energy they sense it contains) there may be a way back to the TARDIS, so long as Billy can pass on a message, but he’s going to have to wait a long time to deliver it…

Back in the present, Sally gets a phone call asking her to visit the local hospital at once. In a bed at the end of a ward, she discovers lying in it a very old Billy, whom has been waiting until this point on this day to pass on to her his message from The Doctor (having known he had to ever since meeting the latter in 1969, he couldn’t do so before though, because he had to wait until he’d met Sally in the present). The Doc’s message is for Sally to look at the list of 17 DVDs. Billy, dying within moments (The Doctor had told him he would die immediately after meeting Sally again), explains too that it was him, as a DVD engineer, whom put the ‘easter eggs’ on the DVDs. Sally looks at the list and immediately knows what she must do… she phones Larry and tells him to bring one of the ‘easter egg’-featuring DVDs and a portable DVD player – what connects all 17 DVDs on the list is that they’re the 17 she owns herself.

The Doctor: People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff

Rendezvousing at Wester Drumlins then (which Larry refers to as ‘Scooby-Doo’s house’), the two sit down and watch the entire ‘easter egg’. As Larry looks on, Sally suddenly properly interacts with the Doc, perfectly filling in the gaps in his half-conversation; all along then the half-conversation the Doc was having on the ‘easter egg’ is actually a conversation he’s ‘having with her’ right now (see video clip above). Sally asks him how this could be possible, to which he tells her to look to her left – Larry is writing in her bits of the conversation in his transcript. The conversation comes to an end, though, before the Doc’s told Sally and Larry how to escape from the Angels – him having told them they can’t take their eyes off them – because Larry’s doing just that, staring at an Angel in the garden and has stopped transcribing (ergo the conversation can’t carry on). It’s up to Sally and Larry now.

As Larry struggles to remain staring at the Angel, Sally finds a door leading into a cellar, which may lead to a way out of the house. She descends into the cellar, Larry behind her, and there they find the group of Angels around the TARDIS (which they’ve brought here). Sally goes up to the TARDIS – Larry still maintaining all the Angels’ stares – and is about to put in the door’s lock the Yale key she earlier pulled from an Angel’s grasp, but the Angels somehow switch off the cellar’s lights.

Fumbling in the dark to find the lock and turn the key, Sally – followed by Larry – finally tumbles into the amazingly bigger-on-the-inside TARDIS and, immediately, a hologram of the Doc appears, telling them to insert into a slot in the time console an ‘easter egg’-featuring DVD that the TARDIS recognises one of them has. This Larry does, the result of which is that the TARDIS begins frighteningly to dematerialise around them – it’s returning to The Doctor and Martha in ’69 and leaving them behind. Sally and Larry cower to the floor surrounded by the Angels. However, swiftly they realise the Doc has tricked their foe because right before the TARDIS dematerialised all the Angels were staring at the blue box, therefore when it disappeared they ended up staring at each other; now they can neither look away or move ever again. The pair get up and leave.

One year later, Sally and Larry are running a rare DVDs and book shop together (named ‘Sparrow and Nightingale’), but Sally’s still hung up on the fantastic and unbelievable adventure that brought them together; all the documents and notes of which she keeps in a file. Larry admonishes her, asking whether it’s ‘getting in the way of other things’ between them. As he goes out to buy some milk, Sally rushes out of the shop; she’s just seen the Doc and Martha getting out of a taxi in the street. She goes up to him and introduces herself (see bottom video clip). The Doctor apologises, saying he has no idea who she is and that things for him sometimes don’t happen in the right order. And then it hits her – the reason why the Doc was able to warn her of the Angels and record the half-conversation with Billy as an ‘easter egg’ for her was because she is going to give him the file (containing Larry’s transcript) right now. The mystery solved and this chapter of her life closed, she bids the Doc and Martha goodbye just as Larry returns, whose hand she takes in hers and holds.

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There’s no doubt Blink is one of the greatest episodes of ‘NuWho’ – actually, it’s so good it has to be one of the very best of Who‘s entire 50-year canon. And, like pretty much all the show’s outstanding stories, its greatness starts with one thing – its writing. Blink wasn’t the first episode of Who that Steven Moffat had written (he’d also scripted the very good and very well received double-header The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances from 2005’s New Season 1 and 2006’s Madame de Pompadour-toting The Girl In The Fireplace from the following season), but owing to its unadulteratedly marvelous time-twisty-fixated and head-scratchy script, it was arguably the first that made casual – as well as utter die-hard – Who fans really sit up and take notice of his abilities. The intelligent complexity of its writing – it bears similarity with time-paradox-like efforts of the big-screen such as Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2001) and Back To The Future Part II (1989) – was really unlike anything consumed before by a Saturday tea-time audience watching a BBC family drama, even Doctor Who.

Blink then broke new ground; the following year Moffat would deliver his similarly complicated but excellently plotted double-header Silence In The Library/ Forest Of The Dead (2008), then when he became show-runner himself we got the likes of The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang (2010) to conclude New Season 5 and The Impossible Astronaut/ Day Of The Moon (2011) to kick-off the next one. Yet, unlike these often epic two-part stories, Blink has something else – a terrific tightness of plotting and smaller scale/ running time that makes it arguably even more of a polished diamond than they are. It may be a 45-minute-long adventure that’s so clever-clever it asks much of its audience, but never too much to turn it off – it’s perhaps the perfect combination of smarty-pants plotting and dramatic duration.

The other significant area where Blink excels is in its characters. And perhaps what makes this so emphatic is that both David Tennant‘s hugely Tenth Doctor and Freema Agyeman’s companion Martha Jones feature in it so little (more on that below). Specifically, this episode offers us a couple of doozies in terms of protagonist and villain/ monster – Carey Mulligan’s Sally Sparrow and the never-seen-before Weeping Angels. No question, in addition to Moffat’s writing, Sally Sparrow is such a fine heroine because of Mulligan’s terrific thesping; once viewed, it’s utterly unthinkable anyone else could have played her. She imbues Sally with not just intelligence, resourcefulness and gutsiness (per any of today’s adventure heroines), but also a lovely blend of melancholia (sad is ‘happy for deep people’) and an appealing charm and humour (a perfect example being her in the DVD shop waiting for Larry to remember where he recognises her from: ‘There it is…’).

Sally Sparrow is often cited as the greatest companion-that-never-was in NuWho (if not of all Who) – a sentiment with which this blogger isn’t about to disagree. Frankly, if she’d have appeared opposite Tennant’s Doc throughout this season instead of the lovely yet underwritten Martha Jones – and been realised somewhere near as well as she was here – well, it could have transformed the season into an utter stonker. Still, in the words of Doris Day, que sera sera; she remains an exquisite, wonderful one-off addition to the ‘Whoniverse’.

As for the Angels, they’re surely the finest villain/ monster devised for NuWho. Truly, they’re up there with the very best (the Daleks, the Cybermen and The Master). Properly scary owing to a brilliant conceit – if you merely blink in their presence, you’re done for – they’re the stuff of psychological horror at its finest, while also being aesthetically perfect in their gothic appearance; all hard yet beautifully dignified like characters frozen in stone from The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (1950), but baring fangs as soon as they suddenly move. I was in my late 20s when Blink was originally broadcast and, I’m not afraid to admit, they were the first monsters of NuWho that unnerved me in the manner others did in the Classic series. Lord knows how scary I’d have found them if I were younger or they’d debuted in the show 20 years earlier.

In many ways, Blink is rather a slight episode of Who. It doesn’t feature many characters (as mentioned, there’s little of the Doc himself), doesn’t take place across a broad or fantastic canvas of a setting and features a simple but utterly brilliant foe. Its pay-load then, is undoubtedly its smarts-heavy writing. Yet, Carey Mulligan’s heroine, the perfect realisation of the Angels and (let’s not overlook it) the pitch-perfect direction from the first woman to helm NuWho, Hettie McDonald, are all crucial contributors too. Small but perfectly formed then – and Who at pretty much its perfect best.

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Very few episodes of Doctor Who can claim to have originated as stories from other Who media, but Blink certainly can. Effectively it began as the short story What I Did On My Christmas Holidays By Sally Sparrow, written by Steven Moffat for the 2006 Doctor Who Annual. Moffat took the basic premise of his story (the Doc – Christopher Eccleston’s in this instance – communicating to Sally Sparrow – here a child – via a video message from another time and place) and altered it (Sally became an adult because, maybe oddly, Moffat decreed that children don’t like watching other children acting, and the Weeping Angels were introduced as major foes) and adapted it into the episode’s script. In fact, two further NuWho episodes have also been adapted from other media: New Season 1’s Dalek (2005) by Robert Shearsmith from his audio drama Jubilee (2003) and New Season 3’s Human Nature/ The Family Of Blood (2007) by Paul Cornell from his novel Human Nature (1995).

The notion for the Weeping Angels as Who monsters came to Moffat when he observed such an angel statue while on a family holiday, while also thinking back to the playground game ‘statues’ (participants can only move towards a chosen person when theat person’s back’s turned and must freeze when they turn round), which apparently he’d always found scary. Portrayed rather marvelously by only two actresses (Aga Blonska and Elen Thomas), the Angels’ costumes featured masks and outfits of a fabric soaked in fibreglass resin so they looked firm and like stone. CGI was used in post-production to ensure they remained genuinely frozen when standing still.

Moffat had first intended the Angels to debut in his double-header Silence In The Library/ The Forest Of The Dead (in which later favourite River Song actually did debut), but these stories had originally been planned for New Season 3 and eventually Moffat was unable to commit to writing them at that point, so instead agreed to take on that season’s ‘Doctor-lite’ episode which would become Blink, introduced the Angels then and substituted the invisible Vashta Nerada as monsters for the next season’s double-header. The Angels have, of course, highly successfully appeared twice more in the show – New Season 5’s The Time Of Angels/Flesh And Stone (2010) and as the cause of companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams’ swansong in last season’s The Angels Take Manhattan (2012).

The fact Blink‘s a ‘Doctor-lite’ episode (an episode that features little of The Doctor so the main actor could film another episode at the same time) may be a little ironic as it’s generally seen as the greatest episode from the tenure of David Tennant, the most popular Doctor incarnation since (if not including) Tom Baker‘s. What isn’t ironic, though – and in hindsight certainly not surprising – is how good Carey Mulligan is as protagonist Sally Sparrow.

Mulligan was just 21 when the episode was filmed, but afterwards swiftly went on to become a film star. She was rightly nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for An Education (2009) and added the likes of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), Drive (2011) and The Great Gatsby (2013) to her CV, as well as an acclaimed performance in the Royal Court and then transferred-to-Broadway production of Chekov’s The Seagull. In his present role as show-runner, Moffat has said it would be wonderful to get Mulligan back as Sally Sparrow but that she’s now ‘gone on to bigger and better things’. I’m not sure I’d necessarily say she’s gone to ‘better’ things myself, but she’s certainly gone deservedly stratospheric following her brush with Who.

Mind you, her award wins actually began with Blink, as her efforts here saw her receive 2007’s Constellation Award for Best Female Performance in a Sci-Fi TV Episode. The story too won that year’s Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) – the winning of which NuWho has made a speciality over the years – and two years after its initial broadcast it was voted by readers of the beloved Doctor Who Magazine the second greatest Who episode of all-time – behind the equally awesome The Caves Of Androzani (1984). To sum up then, any which way you close your eyes and think about it, Blink‘s a blinkin’ stone-cold, immovable Who classic.

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Next time: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang (New Season 5/ 2010)

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Previous close-ups/ reviews:

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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Tardis Party: Doctor Who episode close-up ~ Rose (New Season 1/ 2005)

November 8, 2013

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Run! With his crew-cut, leather jacket, trendy v-neck and gritty pace, Christopher Eccleston’s incarnation of Gallifrey’s favourite son was undoubtedly a Doctor Who for the new millenium

Once in a while – actually, very rarely, if we’re being honest with ourselves – something really rather wonderful happens that’s so wonderful it disguises itself as unassuming and we don’t realise it’s exactly that at the time. One evening over the Easter weekend back in 2005, one such occurrence took place when BBC1 screened a three-quarters-of-an-hour of fantasy adventure drama named Rose.

For this, yes, was the opening episode of the revamped Doctor Who (1963-present). Little did we know then, of course, that this more than pleasantly satisfying if not utterly earth-shattering slice of television would lead to the monolithic-like darling of modern Beeb drama that’s the ‘NuWho’ phenomenon. But it did. Yes, everything has to have a beginning – and like An Unearthly Child (1963) was for the ‘Classic’ series – Rose verily was that for ‘Nuwho’.

So here it is then, peeps, the latest in George’s Journal‘s celebratory series of posts marking the Who Doctor’s half-century anniversary, the close-up/ review of the fittingly rose-tinted Rose

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Doctor: Christopher Eccleston (The Ninth Doctor)

Companion: Billie Piper (Rose Tyler)

Villains: Nicholas Briggs (The Nestene – voice); Alan Ruscoe, Paul Kasey, David Sant, Elizabeth Fost and Helen Otway (Autons)

Allies: Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler); Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith)

Writer: Russell T Davies

Producer: Phil Collinson

Executive Producers: Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Mal Young

Director: Keith Boak

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Season: New Season 1 (first episode – 45-minutes-long)

Original broadcast date: March 26 2005

Total viewers: 10.8 million

Previous episode: Doctor Who: The Movie (1996)

Next episode: The End Of The World

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Londoner Rose Tyler wakes up on a normal weekday, leaves her council estate flat she shares with her mum Jackie and goes to work at Regent Street department store Henrik’s. During the day she meets up with her boyfriend Mickey Smith for lunch in Piccadilly Circus and at the end of the day she descends to the store’s basement to deliver cash to a colleague for that week’s lottery tickets. Only she can’t find the colleague and is spooked when she’s sure she’s seen a mannequin moving of its own accord. Suddenly the mannequin – and more of its plastic humanoid-like ilk – definitely do move, so much so they menacingly begin to chase her, only for the hand of a leather-jacketed, crew-cut-haired man to grab hers and demand she ‘run!‘.

The man orders her to escape from the building, the top of which he claims he’ll have to destroy to kill the ‘mannequins’. Are they aliens? Is he an alien? What the hell’s going on? Rose does as she’s told, carrying away with her one of the would-be-mannequin’s arms that came away in a struggle. The top of Henrik’s explodes; the threat seemingly extinguished and the man nowhere to be seen. One thing’s for sure, with Henrik’s gone up in smoke she’s now out of a job.

Returning home, she throws away the ‘mannequin arm’ in a bin outside her flat and is mollycoddled by Mickey and irritated by her mum’s fussing, news of the explosion all over the TV news. Next morning, she’s stunned to find the head of the man who saved her appear through her flat’s cat-flap; apparently he’s traced a signal of more of last night’s ‘aliens’ to her address. He comes in, briefly meeting her enamoured mum, as Rose makes him tea. As she does so, though, he’s attacked by the ‘mannequin arm’ that’s leapt from the bin, entered through her cat-flap and is trying to throttle him. Helping free it from his throat, she watches as the stranger deactivates it with a screwdriver that makes an electronic noise, claiming he used his device’s ‘plastic function’.

Following him out of her flat, her curiosity is piqued as to who he is, even though she’s naturally apprehensive – whoever he is, he’s clearly very dangerous. The man confirms he’s an alien and named ‘The Doctor… just The Doctor’. Before he walks away, he advises her to go back to her Earthling life and forget him, but it’s obvious there’s no way Rose will be able to do that.

Surfing the Internet on Mickey’s computer, she discovers there’s online speculation over whom this weird chap is – clearly he’s been spotted and caused great curiosity before. Convincing her boyfriend to drive her to the address of a man behind a website about her stranger, she’s informed by this conspiracy theorist-type that there’s traces of ‘The Doctor’ throughout history, and ‘her one’ (for he appears to have had different faces at different times or his name’s been passed on through generations) has been recorded witnessing both JFK’s assassination and preventing a family from boarding the Titanic, thus saving their lives. Could he be a time-traveller? One thing’s for sure, there’s one, single, constant companion of this mystery man… death.

Somewhat dismissing her new acquaintance as a nut, she returns to Mickey’s car, unaware while she’s been away her boyfriend has been dragged into a wheely-bin and replaced with a robotic-like plastic duplicate the bin seems to have created. In fact, she’s still none the wiser she’s not with the real Mickey until his replacement begins behaving very oddly (including demanding of her information about The Doctor) while on a restaurant date with her that night. Just in time, however, the Doc appears and saves Rose again by pulling the Mickey-duplicate’s head off as they and other diners scarper from the restaurant.

Rose: If you’re an alien, how come you sound like you’re from The North?
The Doctor: Lots of planets have a North!

Realising she’s in danger – and London’s other inhabitants too – this time she’s not going to leave The Doctor’s side. Indeed, she flees after him down an alley and into a most unlikely hiding place – a narrow blue police telephone box from the 1950s (so inexplicably out of place in her ’00s world she doesn’t even recognise what it’s supposed to be). Its interior certainly isn’t what she expects: a highly technological yet organic looking room with a central console, whose expanse is far bigger than should be physically possible.

Stepping out of the box with the Doc, she discovers they’ve moved through space to the city’s North Bank, just across from Westminster. The latter explains the box is his mode of transport and called the TARDIS. Urgently, though, he stresses that, like him, the mannequin-like creatures are aliens (actually Autons, although he doesn’t name them – not seen in Who since 1970’s Spearhead From Space and 1971’s Terror Of The Autons). Unlike him, though, more of them in space above the Earth are about to launch a full-blown invasion.

Obviously, he attests, those already in London have a base somewhere in the city, from which they’ll be about to signal their spaceship the invasion can commence. But where are they? It must be somewhere nearby with a giant, circular structure that could act as a satellite dish to transmit the signal. Rose points out that just across Westminster Bridge is the London Eye and, grinning, the Doc rushes off – she’s located their hideout. Rose dashes off after him, swiftly calling her mum (who’s out shopping) to go home as she’s in danger.

Finding a way into the hideout beneath the Eye, the Doc and Rose climb down into a cavernous space, the bottom of which is filled with a great oozing, malevolent fluid – this, The Doctor explains, is what controls the ‘mannequins’, the Nestene Consciousness. Instantly, he’s grabbed by two of the Nestene’s mannequin guards, while Rose discovers the real Mickey cowering in a corner. Understanding the Nestene’s language, the Doc anxiously explains that the explosive device the guards have found on him was something he wasn’t planning on using; he’s come here to negotiate with the fellow alien – Earth mustn’t be invaded; the human race deserves to be left alone to develop. The Nestene isn’t convinced and determined to invade the planet, oh, and kill The Doctor.

Meanwhile, the invasion is starting. In the shopping centre where Jackie is located, Nestene-manipulated mannequins break through shop windows and begin firing on people via guns disguised behind their ‘hands’ (like in Spearhead From Space). Back in the hideout, Rose realises this is her moment – she may have ‘no job, no qualifications and no future’, but she does have junior gymnastic skills she learnt as a child. She grabs hold of a dangling chain and swings across to The Doctor, knocking away his guards and freeing him to drop his device into the Nestene Consciousness. The Doc, Rose and Mickey escape from the hideout, exploding behind them, while the invasion halts; without the Nestene’s control, the ‘mannequins’ resort to inert, harmless plastic.

The danger now passed and the adventure over, the Doc returns Rose and Mickey to their estate. Standing in the TARDIS doorway, he invites her to come travelling with him; confirming his blue box is a spaceship. Rose, reluctantly it seems, turns down the offer, explaining she has to stay to look after her loved ones. The TARDIS dematerialises… and then instantly rematerialises, the Doc opening the door to add that it’s also a time machine. This is too much for Rose; she doesn’t need a third invitation and rushes through the door and back into the extraordinary machine.

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Rose‘s credentials as an essential episode of Doctor Who surely can’t be doubted – in fact, given it was tasked with kicking-off the new-millennium relaunch of Who, it’s easy to argue it’s the most important story in the show’s entire history save the one that kicked-off the whole thing in the first place, An Unearthly Child. Everything and the kitchen sink was riding on Rose proving a success but, broad-shouldered as it is, it’s an episode that delivered exactly what was asked of it – and more.

Of course, ‘NuWho’ has a hell of a lot in common with the ‘Classic’ series (not least the protagonist, his transport, his eye for a pretty female companion and his uncanny knack of getting into all sorts of scrapes here, there and everywhere/ when). Yet, don’t doubt it, ‘Nu Who’ also has a good deal that willfully distances itself from ‘Classic’ Who – and, in many ways, it’s the thoroughly satisfying execution of these tenets that makes Rose work so well.

Taking its title, as it does of course, from the Doc’s would-be companion, it actually doesn’t follow The Doctor as he discovers her but Billie Piper’s Rose as she discovers him; from her waking up on the day his actions will make her jobless, via her saving the day with her only claim to fame – up to this point, of course – her gymnastic skills, right up to his invitation to join her on his travels at the end. Rose is Rose’s story then; the Doc merely an enigmatic, incredible, dangerous, charismatic stranger from the stars. We discover him through her eyes; the snippets we learn about him come thanks to her curiosity (not least her checking up on his ‘recent’ past thanks to X-Files-y amateur sleuth Mark Benton of Strictly fame).

Now, sure, we’d discovered new Docs via companions before (the Sixth via Peri, for instance, and especially way back at the very beginning the First via Barbara and Ian’s snooping around in Totter’s Lane), but never had the show placed the companion quite so front and centre; the Doc seen quite so sideways on. It’s different, refreshing, rather breezy, very effective (nicely reintroducing the show and the Doc character to a new, post-millennial audience) and, thus, very ‘NuWho’.

Let’s also consider Rose as a character. In an era of supposedly Blair-Britain classless capitalism, endless soaps and fly-on-the-wall documentaries, Rose is instantly recognisable. She’s less an EastEnders (1985-present) or Shameless (2004-13) chav; more the blonde down the chip-shop who swears she’s just seen Elvis – or rather The Doctor. We all know her (we all know her chatty, good-time-loving mum and useless boyfriend too). Therefore, having the Doc meet her in this urban, multicultural, fast-moving, petty, ironic, mouthy, snarky, Internet- and mobile phone-switched on, BBC News 24-viewing Blighty grounds this new Doctor Who instantly. We recognise her world – it’s a mostly light, heightened version of the Britain in which (on a good day) many of us like to think we live. And, maybe most important of all, it helps to stress just how different – how alien – The Doctor is when he lands in it.

And, don’t doubt it, this Ninth Doctor is certainly alien and very Doctor-ish – but like everything else going on around him, he’s quite the breath of fresh air too. His prickly and argumentative but, by turns, cheery and conversational personality is reminiscent of the Fourth and the Sixth Docs, for sure; yet unlike them, there’s no fey theatricality. With his dynamically no-nonsense appearance (a Doc in a leather jacket and with such short hair felt very new back in 2005) and sharp Lancastrian accent, he’s a hero as much cut from the cloth of harder, modern crime dramas as he is a Time Lord from Gallifrey. As so often with the casting of new Docs, Christopher Eccleston‘s was boldly out of left-field then, but for the launch of ‘NuWho’ sort of a statement of intent and so pretty much spot on (following the huge success of David Tennant and Matt Smith, it’s easy to overlook that).

I’ll never forget when Rose was first broadcast and thinking right from the off just how much more urgent, à la mode and polished (importantly with much improved production values and effects) it was contrasted with the ‘old Doctor Who’. And, most significant of all for a pilot, just how much it promised for the future – for, yes, delightfully there was a whole series to come.

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Given how long it had taken Doctor Who after its 1989 cancellation to return to screens with ’96’s The Movie, it came as no surprise to anyone it took even longer to return again in the shape of Russell T Davies‘ ‘NuWho’. However, during this (second) long lay-off, the show was far from the victim of TV power brokers sitting on their hands.

Following The Movie‘s successful UK broadcast (more than nine million viewers) but less than stellar one in the US (just over five million), the hoped-for US-made regular series for which it had been planned as a pilot didn’t materialise and the rights for Who returned from part-owned US hands to the Beeb entirely in 1997. And, owing to The Movie‘s popularity in Blighty suggesting there was a chance Who could be en vogue once more, BBC big-wigs began discussing a relaunch of the show proper.

An early stumbling block, though, was the fact the corporation’s commercial arm BBC Worldwide had for some time been planning a big-screen Doctor Who film (an idea that US backers had been keen on in the early ’90s before The Movie made it to the small-screen), but by 2003 the controller of BBC1, Lorraine Heggessy, had persuaded Worldwide to ditch their idea as she and her colleagues had approached and had their offer to re-launch the show accepted by a die-hard fan. This, of course, was creator/ writer of Channel 4 hit Queer As Folk (1999-2000) Russell T Davies, whose new Who series, it was announced on September 26 2003, would be made by BBC Wales in 2004 and hit screens in 2005.

Doctor Who was back then at last – but actually its triumphant return for the BBC had almost been trumped just weeks before this announcement. For the Beeb’s new online wing BBCi was confusingly about to screen an animated Who adventure for the show’s 40th anniversary. Entitled The Scream Of The Shalka (and featuring Richard E Grant voicing the Doc – later to appear as The Great Intelligence in Season 7 of ‘NuWho’, of course – and Derek Jacobi voicing The Master, whom would sort of play the latter in 2007’s Utopia), the  episode went live in November 2003, but was instantly doomed not only as a one-off – albeit interesting – enterprise, but also as a non-canonical pariah. Why? Because BBCi’s promotional boast that Grant’s animated Time Lord was the official Ninth Doctor was obviously made redundant when Davies confirmed that in his new – and official – series the companion would be played by former teen popster Billie Piper and the Ninth Doctor by Christopher Eccleston.

The first ever Who episode shot in widescreen, Rose went before cameras in July and August 2004, with filming mostly taking place in and around Cardiff (as would be and still is the case for much of ‘NuWho’), while interiors were shot in BBC Wales’ studios. The primary set was the new TARDIS console room; a coral-meets-steampunk interior for the space- and time-machine that seemed to fit the angsty and edgy Time War-time-locking ‘last of the Time Lords’ that Eccleston’s (and to less of an extent Tennant’s) Doc of the ’00s was.

Doctor Who‘s ‘New’ Season 1 went on to win the 2005 BAFTA Award for Best TV Drama Series

In addition to Eccleston, Piper and the aforementioned guest appearance from Mark Benton, Rose introduced the Davies-era allies Camille Coduri as Rose’s mum Jackie and Noel Clarke as Rose’s boyfriend and comic foil Mickey Smith – Clarke would later achieve acclaim for starring in the self-written movies Kidulthood (2006) and Adulthood (2008), the latter of which he also directed. Meanwhile, Rose also fittingly marked the first appearance in ‘NuWho’ of its voice-actor-in-residence Nicholas Briggs, whose tones have since been relied on for many a Dalek and Cyberman, yet, being an über-fan, had been for years before (and remains still) a driving force behind a plethora of Who spin-off media.

Obviously, none of the production staff on Rose – including Davies and fellow executive producer/ Head of BBC Wales Drama Julie Gardner – had worked on Doctor Who before; although, like his fellow future writers on the show such as Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, Davies had previously written unofficial Who novels during the show’s hiatus. Actually, though, that first fact isn’t true – there was one, single chap who worked on both Rose and the original ‘Classic’ series, model unit supervisor Mike Tucker, a contributor then to the show’s all-important, impressive visual effects.

The episode, of course, proved a huge hit when broadcast (helped not least by a publicity blitz; a particular memory of which for me being a gigantic print ad at the far end of Waterloo Station’s concourse). Screened on Easter Saturday at 7pm (and followed on BBC Three by the first edition of the so sadly now departed behind-the-scenes revealer Doctor Who Confidential), it pulled in a whopping 10.8 million viewers, ensuring it’s one of the most watched episodes of ‘NuWho’ and making the Beeb’s statement just days later a second series had been commissioned an utterly predictable step.

Yet controversy arose when weeks before the broadcast canny Net-heads discovered it had been leaked online and, much worse, almost instantly after the episode’s screening the BBC announced Christopher Eccleston would be stepping down from the show following the end of the series. Initially, fans were dismayed, but it later emerged it had always been the thesp’s intention only to do a single series; most of all out of fear of typecasting, no doubt, but (it emerged much later) maybe also because owing to practically none of the series’ crew having worked on a fast-moving, stunt-laden adventure drama before, Eccleston hadn’t been too impressed by, well, its health and safety practices. In the end, who knows why he walked. It’s a bit of a shame in my eyes, for a second season of his Doc would have been interesting, but few Who fans have shed many tears as it resulted in four whole years of Tennant’s hugely popular incarnation.

In any case, Rose was a roaring success, ‘NuWho’ was out of the traps, BBC1 had a stalwart on which to build its Saturday prime-time schedule again and BBC Worldwide had an enormous cash-cow in the offing – Doctor Who was Auton-matic for (all) the people once more.

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Next time: Blink (New Season 3/ 2007)

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Previous close-ups/ reviews:

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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