Doctor Who reviews round-up

PUBLISHED: 12:22 22 October 2010

Doctor Who Series 5

Doctor Who Series 5

Archant

We cast a discerning eye over some of the recent DVDs and audios featuring the Time Lord and his friends

DVD: The Sarah Jane Adventures: Complete Third Series

(2entertain)

YEARS after concluding her travels in the TARDIS, investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen) has not lost any of the curiosity or adventurous spirit which made her one of the Doctor’s greatest companions. Only now she is channelling those talents through an Earth-based alien defence network, fighting the good fight against extraterrestrial invasion on those occasions when the Doctor isn’t around.

Allied with her team of young assistants – her adopted son Luke, streetwise Clyde Langer, and would-be reporter Rani – Xylok supercomputer Mr Smith and robot dog K9, Sarah Jane tackles threats from beyond our imagination, including the militaristic Judoon and the re-animated Mona Lisa.

But her biggest challenge comes when Sarah Jane finds love, and none other than the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) is needed to save her from the machinations of an old foe. It’s just par for the course for the plucky reporter and her resourceful team…

Harking back to the children’s television programmes of the 1970s and 1980s, The Sarah Jane Adventures never patronises its audience, and maintains a level of sophistication and intelligence rarely found in young people’s broadcasting these days. There’s an inherent sense of wonder about the world in which she lives, and that is conveyed throughout the series, inspiring its viewers to imagine their own adventures beyond the confines of everyday society.

DVD: Doctor Who: Complete Series Five

(2entertain)

IF you had your own TARDIS and travelled back in time to the end of last year, when David Tennant’s 10th Doctor regenerated into Matt Smith’s 11th incarnation, the sense of anticipation for the new incumbent was probably outweighed by the burden of responsibility being placed on the 27-year-old’s bony shoulders.

As the youngest ever Time Lord, and a virtual unknown to boot, both fans and casual watchers of the show found it hard to believe he could possibly live up to Tennant’s celebrated performance, and the tabloids were swift to get their knives sharpened in preparation for a savaging of Smith’s Doctor.

They couldn’t have got it any more wrong…

Matt Smith was firmly established as the latest Doctor well before the end of his first episode, appropriately titled The Eleventh Hour, and by the time he reached the end of his first series he was being applauded as a contender for one of the all time best.

His portrayal drew on the idea that the Doctor was a nine hundred year old man in a young body, was often at odds with what passes for “normal” life in any society, yet possessed the same wild and erratic genius, flair for adventure and eccentricities found in each of his previous incarnations.

Picking up the reins from series rejuvenator Russell T Davies, new showrunner Stephen Moffat has crafted an elaborate journey of discovery for latest companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), as she explores time and space alongside a man she thought was her childhood imaginary friend, and learns what role she has in saving the universe itself from utter destruction…

The first few episodes find cast and crew establishing the new direction of the series, and although the quality is always high, there is nothing truly outstanding here, even with the return of the Daleks in a World War Two setting. It’s the return of the Weeping Angels where this series of Doctor Who unquestionably steps up a gear. Boasting production levels on a par with a big budget movie, it’s a remarkable story which succeeds in redefining the Angels’ menace whilst also propelling both plot and characters for the rest of the series.

By the time we reach the two-part finale The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, the stakes have never been higher, and we finally see the sheer genius of Moffat’s masterplan, which has been seeded throughout the previous episodes. Smith and Gillan are simply incredible, and by the time that famous music crashes into the dying seconds of the final episode there is no denying that the 11th Doctor and Amy Pond, (together with her new husband Rory) are truly here to stay…

This complete series box set features a wealth of extras including specially-filmed scenes set between episodes, Matt Smith’s video diary, Doctor Who Confidentials for each episode, commentaries, outtakes and Monster Files.

DVD: Doctor Who: The Dominators

(2entertain)

ONE of the few surviving stories starring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor, this 1968 adventure finds the Time Lord and his friends Jamie and Zoe (Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury) helping to defend the peace-loving planet of Dulkis from the tyrannical Dominators and their robot servants the Quarks…

With so many wonderful episodes missing from the BBC Archives, it’s a pity that those which survive are some of the weakest from Troughton’s run. That said, any opportunity to enjoy his marvellous portrayal of the Time Lord should be savoured, as there are still some moments of brilliance to be found amidst the average antics of The Dominators.

The introduction of the squeaky-voiced, diminutive Quarks was just the latest in a long line of attempts to duplicate the popularity of the Daleks, as evidenced by their recurring appearances in the comic strip adventures of the Doctor at the time, but they fail to make any real mark in this story and this marked their only major appearance in the show.

DVD: Doctor Who: Kamelion Tales

(2entertain)

TWO adventures from the era of Fifth Doctor Peter Davison linked only by the appearance of shape-changing android Kamelion, originally intended as a new TARDIS traveller until the untimely death of his operator left the production team struggling to make him work. He was swiftly mothballed after his debut in The King’s Demons until he was eventually written out in Planet of Fire, both of which stories are included here.

We start off in 13th century England with an impromptu visit by King John to the castle stronghold of Sir Ranulph Fitzwilliam. The arrival of the TARDIS in the middle of a jousting duel sees the Doctor’s party proclaimed as friendly demons by His Majesty, and they swiftly become embroiled in court politics.

But the arrival of Ranulf’s cousin, Sir Geoffrey de Lacey, throws events into confusion with his claim that he left the King back in London, making preparations for the signing of the Magna Carta, the document which will shape the future of western democracy.

The Doctor’s suspicions raised, he soon realises that neither the King, nor the mysterious noble Sir Gilles Estram are exactly who they claim, and uncovers a plot to wreck the future development of the planet Earth using an alien force from light years away…

This two-part story features the return of Anthony Ainley as the Master, the latest incarnation of the Doctor’s Time Lord adversary, and makes the most of the location work at Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. However, at its heart is a very pedestrian and low-key scheme for the Master to be involved in, especially considering his previous plans for universal domination, and if you strip away the period detail (something the Beeb always excels in) there’s very little here of any real substance.

The second story contained in this box set wraps up Kamelion’s story with another appearance from the Master, and finds the TARDIS drawn to Lanzarote to track down a mysterious alien symbol. When his companion Turlough (Mark Strickson), an alien exile with an unexplained past, rescues young botanist Peri (Nicola Bryant) from drowning, he discovers her containing a strange artefact bearing the same symbol that Turlough himself has branded into his flesh.

Accompanied by Peri, the time travellers head to the volcanic planet Sarn, home of an elixir of eternal life, and uncover not only the truth about Turlough’s heritage, but also a plot by the Master to use Kamelion to bring about his own salvation.

With the cast and crew enjoying what at the time was an annual jolly abroad, the volcanic soils of Lanzarote make an exotic change to the usual English quarries which tended to represent alien worlds. It’s just a shame that they bothered with the establishing sequence on the island itself, as it’s blatantly obvious the whole story is filmed at the same place, even those sequences which are purported to be on Sarn.

There are a lot of disparate plot threads juggling for screen time in this story, and perhaps a less complicated effort would have worked better. That said, this is one of the stronger Davison stories, setting the benchmark for the adventure to come (Caves of Androzani), which recently won a Doctor Who Magazine poll for best story of all time.

An interesting selection of stories, with neither really making the most of Kamelion either as a threat or a potential companion. It would have been interesting to see how the character would have developed further had creator Mike Power not been killed in a boating accident, and ultimately what we’re left with is a mere taste of Kamelion’s real potential. A TARDIS companion who could change his appearance at will may have proved too much of a plot contrivance in the same way that K-9 often took away much of the threat factor in his stories, but unfortunately this is not something we will ever know.

Audio: Diary of a Doctor Who Addict

(AudioGo)

Written and read by Paul Magrs

DOCTOR Who has always been about metaphors and underlying messages, whether it’s the parallels between The Happiness Patrol and Thatcher’s Britain or the similarities between the Daleks and the Nazis. Away from the show itself, the life of the teenage Doctor Who fan, isolated from the mainstream and focused on continuity and collecting, reflects a microcosm of the feelings many young people experience during adolescence, and their subsequent regeneration into an adult.

This semi-autobiographical work is set in the early 1980s, when Tom Baker’s Time Lord changed into Peter Davison, and finds its protagonist David starting secondary school but still hanging onto his childhood rituals, particularly his addiction to Doctor Who. But as time moves on, his best friend and neighbour Robert rejects the Doctor in favour of girls, free weights and new music, leaving David to ponder his continued love of the sci-fi series, but also to come to terms with his own changing identity.

For any child of the ‘seventies growing up at this time, the attention to detail is nothing short of beautiful, with particular resonance to any Doctor Who fan of the era, as it changed from a Saturday night family show into something to be sniggered at in school corridors and eventually ignored by the world at large.

This is by no means a nostalgic look at the 1980s, as you might find in any number of talking heads TV retrospectives, but a much more grounded look at growing up during the period and never quite fitting in with one’s peers or social conventions.

A coming of age story which is at times deeply moving, but also often hilarious, with a leisurely pace of narrative which allows for reflection and contemplation of David’s experiences. A deeply effective piece of writing, supported by Magrs’ own interpretation of his work, and one which is sure to impact on anyone who has even been a fan.

Audio: Doctor Who: The Runaway Train

(AudioGo)

Written by Oli Smith, read by Matt Smith

ORIGINALLY released as a giveaway with The Daily Telegraph, this exclusive story is the first audio adventure for the 11th Doctor read by the man himself, actor Matt Smith, and as such is an interesting bridge between his first series as the Time Lord and the forthcoming Christmas special.

Allowing for stories which budgetary restrictions would prevent on the small screen, audio is a great way of expanding upon the Doctor’s TV adventures and landing the TARDIS in a wide range of new locations. Here, the Doctor and Amy arrive in the Wild West in the midst of the American Civil War, form a posse to retrieve an alien artefact and make their getaway on the newly-constructed transcontinental railway…

The TV show has actually only visited the American West for the 1966 story The Gunfighters, whereas the period actually offers all sorts of opportunities for exciting, dangerous escapades which exploit the clichés of the genre while also giving it a decent dose of Whoness, so this new tale is very much welcome.

Matt Smith does a pretty decent job with the variety of voices required for the narrative, although his American accents are somewhat samey, and there is a surprising depth to the featured characters, which means this is more than just a simple rollercoaster romp and acts as a promising addendum to the 11th Doctor’s initial TV adventures.

Audio: Doctor Who: Demon Quest: The Relics of Time

(AudioGo)

Written by Paul Magrs, starring Tom Baker

LAST year, legendary Time Lord Tom Baker returned to the role that made him famous, reprising his eccentric interpretation of the Doctor for a series of five interlinked audio adventures.

The success of these stories has prompted a further collection of stories, again from the pen of Paul Magrs, and once again reuniting the fourth Doctor with his former UNIT comrade Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) and recently-acquired housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey (Susan Jameson).

In this first escapade, the Doctor returns to his former cottage in the Sussex countryside to question Mrs W about the disappearance of five vital segments of the TARDIS, only to discover they have been sold at a bring-and-buy sale.

But clues to their whereabouts are unearthed in a mysterious box of ancient documents, each revealing images of the Doctor in places he has yet to travel, including an image of a mosaic from Celtic Britain.

With the game afoot, the companions set off in search of answers to each of these riddles, the beginning of a quest through time in search of the missing components.

The concept behind the series thereby established, we can plunge headfirst into the first adventure, which features warring tribes, a wizard and an elephant in the midst of the second Roman invasion of Britain…

Baker once again takes to the role of the Doctor with gusto, clearly relishing Magrs’ thoroughly entertaining lines of dialogue, and succeeding in capturing the spirit, if not the exact interpretation, of his particular incarnation of the Time Lord.

An inspiring start to the new series, albeit lacking in the sort of resolution you would have expected from a single television episode, but hopefully building towards an epic climax over subsequent volumes.

Audio: Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles

By Michael Moorcock

(AudioGo)

LETTING the rich, evocative, otherworldly prose of Moorcock seep into your consciousness creates images of exotic worlds the likes of which can usually only be found in dreams, as his words shape visions in your mind’s eye which truly immerse you in the work of fiction that is unfolding. This is no ordinary Doctor Who novel, this is a new book by one of the greatest post-war British writers of all time which just so happens to feature the time-travelling Eleventh Doctor and his companion Amy Pond, yet at the same time respects and builds upon the continuity and concepts laid down by the original TV show.

The story sounds simple, the TARDIS crew join a competition to win the fabled Arrow of the Law, but find themselves caught up in an adventure which involves disappearing space ships, the pirate Captain Cornelius and his crew, and the collapse of reality itself… In actuality, this belies the depth and character found within this novel, with Moorcock layering every chapter with rich detail and emotional resonance, carefully crafting his fantastical world in such a way that it seems breathtakingly real.

Acclaimed Brit actor Clive Mantle (Robin of Sherwood, Casualty) lends his dulcet tones to the audio reading, admirably bringing Moorcock’s story to life through his narration, and giving each of the characters their own identity through different voices, even doing his bit to capture Matt Smith and Karen Gillan’s performances as the Doctor and Amy.

Clocking in at almost 11 hours of playing time, this is a big book to get through, but worth every minute, leaving the listener thoroughly spoiled and ensuring any future Who authors are going to have to reach very high standards to come close to Moorcock’s achievement. An instant classic.

Audio: Doctor Who: Hornet’s Nest Box Set

(AudioGo)

HE’S back! After more than 25 years, the Fourth Doctor returns… Persuading Tom Baker to once again take on the role which made him famous was a massive coup, and the only question was whether he could successfully pull it off.

Thankfully any concerns of this nature were unjustified, as Baker steps effortlessly back into the persona of the Time Lord, and it’s as if the years have rolled back to the 1970s. The audio format allows the audience to imagine him in his prime, all teeth, curly hair and scarf, and writer Paul Magrs captures the character’s eccentricities admirably in a series of thoroughly entertaining tales. Originally mooted as guest-starring Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier, availability conflicts resulted in Richard Franklin stepping in as Captain Mike Yates (Retired), working alongside the Fourth Doctor for the first time.

Set-up story The Stuff of Nightmares is suitably madcap, involving stuffed animals being brought back to life and infused with murderous intent, and although much of the action is reported as part of a narrative by the Doctor, it still succeeds in drawing in the listener thanks to Baker’s velvety tones and Magrs’ engaging script. As you might expect, Baker gets away with a great deal of improvisation which although never sways from his portrayal of the Doctor, draws on influences from his recent performances in the likes of Little Britain, but then that’s undoubtedly part of the great man’s charm.

The second instalment of the series, The Dead Shoes, is more of a trip down memory lane, with the Doctor reminiscing to Mike about a visit to Cromer in 1932, and what happened when he investigated the Palace of Curios… Despite being a standalone story in its own right, it also continues the ongoing plot, and offers a lively mix of humour and horror as you might expect to find in any Fourth Doctor story.

By the time we reach The Circus of Doom, things are really beginning to take shape for the overall arc, as the Doctor arrives in 1832 Blandford to find twisted ringmaster Antonio exerting a strange influence over the townsfolk, forcing the Time Lord to step into the ring and take on Antonio face to face, a confrontation he may not survive…

Penultimate story Sting In The Tale fills in some more of the back story behind the ongoing narrative, but Magrs doesn’t fail to include the rich and quirky use of the English language which has characterised the rest of the run, and keeps the pace building towards the inevitable conclusion. It finds the Doctor arriving in 11th century Northumbria, a bleak midwinter where ferocious wild dogs besiege the local abbey nightly. Given shelter by the sisters of the abbey, the Time Lord eventually gains access to the Mother Superior, only to discover she’s far from what he expected. With the feral hounds gaining access to the abbey, and the extraterrestrial hornets behind his recent adventures inside the TARDIS itself, the Doctor finds himself caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse…

Out of all the stories, the final volume, Hive of Horrors, highlights the fact that Mike Yates is a necessary yet clumsy replacement for original series guest star the Brigadier, as the reasoning behind his involvement in the Doctor’s latest exploits doesn’t really make much sense. However, slight continuity details aside, this is a rip-roaring conclusion to the overall arc, with a gripping confrontation between the Doctor and his nemesis the Hornet Queen (Rula Lenska) that more than satisfactorily wraps up the storyline.

Reduced to miniature size, the Doctor, Mike and housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey (Susan Jameson) invade the hornets’ nest, located inside the head of a stuffed zebra in the study of the Doctor’s Sussex Cottage, and wage a final, desperate battle for survival.

Retaining the flavour of classic Who, albeit with Magrs’ fantastic flair for British eccentricity, the entire run has proved a worthy success for writer and star alike, and has already resulted in a new series of adventures for the Fourth Doctor in the form of Demon’s Quest.


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