If you had told me all the things that would happen to me in 2013 on December 31st last year, I don’t think any would have surprised me as much as the idea that I would become a Dr Who fanboy.
I mean, admittedly, I have a penchant for nerdy book series. I’m the kind of guy who correctly answers Sporcle quizzes about Robert Jordan novels. It would make sense in some ways.
But I’m not really a TV nerd. I prefer dramas or comedies. I’ve never bothered with your Star Treks, your Battlestar Galacticas, your 2 Broke Girls. That last one is because it’s a nightmarish hell of a show, but still.
Yet this year, out of nowhere, Dr Who swept me off my feet. I burned through all 7 of the ‘new’ seasons’ in a few months, perfectly in time to catch the brilliant Day of the Doctor as it came out to celebrate the 50th anniversary.
As a new fan, blogger and general nerd, what better excuse than to describe what I love and hate about this weird, wacky and wonderful British sci-funkedy.
Best Episode: The Empty Child
Obviously, there are dozens of great episodes. Some of my personal favourites include the brilliant Blink, which introduced the Weeping Angels (more to come on them!) and The Satan Pit, which to me features the best writing in any of the 7 seasons and the single best scene – David Tennant staring into the pit, musing about the little voice in our head that cries, ‘jump’. Rise of the Cybermen, The Sound of Drums, Silence in the Library, The Wedding of River Song, The Impossible Astronaut, Asylum of the Daleks, The God Complex, Flesh & Stone…the list goes on.
But my personal favourite is Season 1’s The Empty Child.
There are a number of reasons. The introduction of Captain Jack Harkness, the beautiful and devastating shots of World War 1 London, the zeppelins…and the terrifying creepiness of a child with a face mask, asking “Are you my mummy?” and reaching out to touch and destroy any human in its path. The sequel, The Doctor Dances, is a great episode too, but I prefer part 1.
Worst Episode: Love & Monsters
In any sci-fi show, you’ve got to expect a few bad ones, and there are some doozies.
Basically, any episode that doesn’t progress the season-long arc – whatever that is – is a bad one. The Christmas specials are usually pretty average. But nothing is worse than Love & Monsters, a ridiculous episode that hardly features the Doctor at all and has a monster that was literally designed by a nine-year-old fan, the Abzorbaloff. It absorbs people, get it?
Best Doctor: Not Christopher Eccleston
How on earth are you meant to choose the best doctor?
There have only been three so far in the new series – Peter Capaldi being mere days away from debuting.
It’s certainly fair to say that Christopher Eccleston is the ‘worst’ of the three doctors so far. He also had the hardest job, kick-starting the series from scratch. But there’s something about him that doesn’t quite connect…he’s distant, but kind, goofy, but a hardass and the way he screams death at the singular Dalek in the episode, ‘Dalek’ is just a little too crazily fierce for Dr Who.
So it’s not Eccleston, though I have a soft spot for him as my first doctor.
So Tennant, or Smith?
It’s a near-impossible argument. On one hand, David Tennant, the tenth doctor. The one who will likely replace Tom Baker as the doctor who is most easily drawn to mind by casual fans in the 21st century. He’s quirky, handsome and brilliant in a towering fury. He’s also the doctor who champions humanity the most – constantly reminding us of our own capacity. And I dare say he’s the best actor too – his work in The Satan Pit and The Waters of Mars is the finest acting you’ll see on Dr Who.
On the other hand, Matt Smith, the eleventh doctor. The bizarre, bowtied, hand-wringing genius with a love of fish fingers and custard. Smith seems to represent what the doctor should be. He’s handsome and charismatic, like Tennant, but even more than Tennant he’s totally weird and self-absorbed. And the relationships between the Doctor and River and the Doctor and Amy are electric when played by Smith.
So what’s the answer?
I don’t have one.
They are both phenomenal and I won’t choose between them.
The correct answer is, “Not Christopher Eccleston”. Sorry Chris.
Best Companion: Amy Pond
For the purposes of this, I choose ‘Companion’, to mean the ladies who travel 1-on-1 with the Doctor. There’ a certain sexual tension there that adds a weight to the series, combined with a sense of support that ranges from ‘nurturing’ to ‘bullying’ depending on who the companion is.
So the choice comes from between Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, Amy Pond and Clara Oswald.
And really, that means it comes from between Rose and Amy. None of the others even come close.
For me, the answer is Amy Pond.
Aside from the fact that Karen Gillan is exceptionally good-looking, there is just something about the fiery Scot that sets her apart. She’s got that sexual tension with Matt Smith, but with the caveat that she’s got Rory and continually proves her loyalty to him. Amy got rid of the sexual tension with one ill-advised pass, then became the dominant leader of the TARDIS. And not in that brutally obnoxious Donna Noble way. She’s just got more swag than anyone else in her immediate vicinity. Not an easy thing to do when the Doctor is around.
She’s the best.
Worst Companion: Martha Jones
This was another hotly-fought contest. Because, quite frankly, Clara and Donna suck as well.
But Clara is quirky. And Donna is funny. Martha…Martha just pines away for the Doctor every episode. It’s depressing and weak. In the ‘Women of the Doctor’ special, someone refers to her as ‘the Rebound Companion’. That’s too perfect.
Side note: why does this supposedly brilliant doctor talk like such a scrubber? And, does anyone else think it’s weird how often she went for Rose’s seconds? The Doctor (kind of), then Mickey?
Man that girl had a complex. I’m surprised she didn’t have a crack at Rose’s dad.
Best Villain: The Master
This is a tough one, really. Dr Who carried over (as I understand it) effectively its three main ongoing villains from the original series: the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Master.
I’m only judging villains that appear in multiple episodes, villains that come back to haunt the doctor.
None do it with the flair, genius and panache of the Master. The antithesis of the Doctor in almost every way, the Master has a madness to him that is part brilliance and part insanity and shows us very clearly what the Doctor could be.
The Master is the blurred mirror held up for the Doctor to look into. And the doctor treats him with a mixture of fear, awe and compassion that is far more magnificent and complex than his relationship with any of the other villains.
Most Terrifying Villain: Weeping Angels
By far the most terrifying villain is the one that rarely kills – the Weeping Angel. Its terror is in the unknown, in the sense that everything happens while you’re not looking. It’s an element that showrunners Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffatt have used brilliantly in not only the Weeping Angels but the Silence as well, the psychology of what happens when you’re not looking.
In the case of the Weeping Angels, their terror mostly comes from one very, very simple thing. They move in the instant you’re not looking at them – and even blinking is enough. They move closer and closer…until they send you back in time to live out your existence in a different era.
And nobody can stare without blinking forever.
Worst Villains: The Cybermen
Hear me out. I’m not about to choose something dumb like the Abzorbaloff here, or even the Slitheen, who were a bit silly. I want to talk about the classic villains here. The Cybermen are just not frightenining.
This is a problem. The Daleks are ridiculous, but history and the Doctor’s own reactions make them seem more intimidating. The Cybermen just seem like boring robots that the Doctor can basically defeat at will. Their ‘upgrade’ in Season 7’s A Nightmare In Silver does provide a new paradigm, but for the most part they fall short of the lofty standards set by Dr Who’s cast of villains.
Best Series: Series 5
Series 2, 4 and 5 are absolutely magnificent – very hard to choose between them. But any series that has Donna loses points for being irritating. Beyond irritating. Series 2 is phenomenal – any series with episodes as good as The Satan Pit and Doomsday has to get a look-in. But for me it’s Series 5. The introduction of Amy and Rory is a series that’s filled top to bottom with brilliant episodes. We get the return of the Weeping Angels, the reintroduction of the Silurians, the brilliant Vincent and the Doctor and Vampires of Venice and a great ending with The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang. I’m particularly fond of Matt Smith’s incredible and impassioned rant at all his mortal enemies in Pandorica, from the centre of Stonehenge and using nothing but a microphone and self-confidence for defence.
Worst Series: Series 7
Sadly, the most recent series has been the worst.
Happily, the special The Day of the Doctor was brilliant. Utterly brilliant. So there’s still hope.
But a few notes on series 7. Clara gets more annoying every day. The Name of the Doctor was a poor finale. The Angels Take Manhattan is VASTLY over-rated and really the entire series was just poorly written. They changed a couple of executive producers and the premise of how they write, apparently – intending to make each episode more like a mini-movie.
Aka, dumb it down. Sigh.
I almost forgot – let’s not overlook the INCREDIBLY boring The Power of Three, where nothing happens for 40 minutes, then the doctor saves the world in about 45 seconds.
Best Cameo: Bill Nighy, Vincent and the Doctor
There have been some great cameos. Loved Simon Pegg as a nerdy overseer in Series 1’s The Long Game, certainly enjoyed the silliness of David Walliams in God Complex and how do I go past Kylie Minogue in The Christmas Invasion? The other thing I love is watching up-and-comers like Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan in early roles.
But I LOVED Bill Nighy in Vincent and the Doctor. Nighy is much more versatile than he sometimes gets credit for and he showed it in this episode. The final scene features Nighy as an expert on Vincent Van Gogh, who had believed himself to be a useless madman until the Doctor and Amy gave him some validation. Nighy raves, to Van Gogh, about Van Gogh’s importance, sending the great man to tears.
And sending me to tears too. One of the most moving moments I’ve ever witnessed on television. As always, Doctor Who is at its best when it champions humanity.
Let’s take it series by series – 2 each.
Aliens of London
The Doctor: 900 years of time and space, and I’ve never been slapped by someone’s mother.
The Doctor Dances
Mask Creatures: [with increasing intensity] Mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy, mummy.
The Doctor: Go to your room.
[mask creatures stop]
The Doctor: Go to your room! I mean it. I am very, very angry with you. I’m very, very cross. Go… To… Your… Room!
[mask creatures turn and go back to their beds]
The Doctor: [sighing] I’m really glad that worked. Those would have been terrible last words.
The Satan Pit
The Doctor: …Maybe we opened the prison, but not the cell.
Ida Scott: We should go down. I’d go. What about you?
The Doctor: Oh, oh in a second! But then again… That’s so human. Where angels fear to tread… Even now, standing on the edge, it’s that feeling you get, yea? Right at the back of your head. That impulse… That strange little impulse… That mad little voice saying, “Go on! Go on! Go on!… Go over! Go on!…” Maybe it’s relying on that… For once in my life, Officer Scott, I’m going to say… retreat. Ugh, now I know I’m getting old.
Army of Ghosts
The Doctor: Here she is, Rose Tyler. She’s not the best I’ve ever had. Bit too blonde. Not too steady on her pins. A lot of that
[the Doctor makes a movement with his hand to indicate she talks too much]
The Doctor: . And just last week she stared into the heart of the time vortex and aged 57 years. But she’ll do.
Jackie Tyler: I’m 40!
The Doctor: Deluded. Bless. I’ll have to trade her in. Do you need anyone? She’s very good at tea. Well, when I say “very good” I mean not bad. Well, I say “not bad” – anyway, lead on. Allons-y – but not too fast. Her ankle’s going.
Jackie Tyler: I’ll show you where my ankle’s going!
The Shakespeare Code
Martha Jones: Am I alright? I’m not going to get carted off as a slave or anything?
The Doctor: Why ever would you think that?
Martha Jones: Well, not exactly white, in case you hadn’t noticed.
The Doctor: Well, I’m not exactly human. Just walk round like you own the place, always works for me.
The Unicorn and the Wasp
The Doctor: Lady Eddison!
Lady Clemency Eddison: Forgive me, but, who exactly might you be? And, what are you doing here?
The Doctor: I’m the Doctor. And this is Miss Donna Noble, of the, Chiswick Nobles.
Donna Noble: Good afternoon, my lady. Topping day, what. Spiffing. Top-hole.
The Doctor: No no no no no no no. Don’t do that. Don’t.
Silence in the Library
Miss Evangelista: No, they’re right, though. I’m a moron, me. My dad said I had the IQ of plankton, and, I was pleased.
Donna Noble: [laughs] See, that’s funny!
Miss Evangelista: No. No, I really was pleased. Is that funny?
Donna Noble: No, no.
The Doctor: This is bad, I don’t like this. [kicks console and yells in pain] Never use force, you just embarrass yourself. Unless you’re cross, in which case… always use force!
Amy: Shall I run and get the manual?
The Doctor: I threw it in a supernova.
Amy: You threw the manual in a supernova? Why?
The Doctor: Because I disagreed with it! Now stop talking to me when I’m cross!”
The Pandorica Opens
The Doctor: Never ignore coincidence. Unless, of course, you’re busy. In which case, always ignore coincidence.
A Christmas Carol
The Doctor: In 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important
The Impossible Astronaut
The Doctor: Doctor Song, you’ve got that face on again.
River: What face?
The Doctor: The “He’s hot when he’s clever” face.
River: This is my normal face.
The Doctor: Yes it is.
River: Oh, shut up.
The Doctor: Not a chance.
Best *extra* Companion:
So, I qualified above what I meant by companion. The *extras* are people who have traveled with the Doctor, but are not the unique +1 that rounds out the Doctor. The Doctor could survive without the extra companions, but he needs his singular Companion to balance him out.
A strong field. We’re talking about some fun characters like Wilfred, Captain Jack, Brian and those obnoxious kids that Clara is the nanny for. These are not the main characters, but they’re often the ones that bring the most joy to the show through the extra relationships and increased complexities that they add.
So a 3-2-1:
3rd: Mickey Smith
Mickey the idiot. How do you go past that guy? A continued failure who slowly starts to believe in himself. One of the few characters who the Doctor doesn’t automatically encourage and support, but by the end of the eleventh doctor’s incarnation, is a self-confident freedom fighter who ends up with Martha Jones. There’s a certain poetry to that. Mickey’s constant battles with Eccleston in particular made him a fun companion.
Mickey: I bet you don’t even remember my name!
The Doctor: Ricky.
Mickey: It’s Mickey!
The Doctor: No, it’s Ricky.
Mickey: I think I know my own name!
The Doctor: You think you know your own name? How stupid are you?”
2nd: Jackie Tyler
Rose Tyler’s mother can be the most irritating woman on earth, but I just thoroughly enjoy the way she inadvertently gets under the Doctor’s skin. She’s thoroughly working-class Brit and is an incredible character from day 1, annoying Rose, gabbing on the phone with her friends constantly, talking about compensation and enjoying this fantastic back-and-forth with Eccleston:
Jackie Tyler: I’m in my dressing gown.
The Doctor: Yes, you are.
Jackie Tyler: There’s a strange man in my bedroom.
The Doctor: Yes, there is.
Jackie Tyler: Well, anything could happen.
The Doctor: [shakes his head and smiles] No.
The reuniting of the ‘best’ Jackie with the ‘best’ Pete from different dimensions is wonderful and moving and a credit to both actors. Also a credit to how such an annoying character can also be so lovable.
But there was only going to be one winner of this category for me.
1st: River Song
This charismatic, sexy, bouncy-haired character is layered in so many ways that it’s impossible to start unpacking them without giving too much away. But I guess I have to mention that she’s the daughter of-
-…right. Sorry River.
Anyway. Her relationship with the Doctor is certainly shown from day 1 to be complex and brilliant. Watching her quietly undermine the Doctor’s ‘mastery’ of the TARDIS is fantastic, as is her relationship with all of the Doctor’s companions – beautifully shown when she enters Amy’s childhood room and finds the toys of the TARDIS, Amy and the Doctor.
But my favourite, favourite part about River is that she’s not young. Alex Kingston is 50 years old and River is clearly meant to be at least in her 40’s. Meanwhile, the Doctor keeps taking on 19-year old companions that somehow manage to be borderline geniuses, yet none of them come close to touching River. She is the true companion. The Companion that the Doctor was always meant to have, if only he wasn’t so transient. But yet somehow she understands that and lives with it and through it.
River Song is just the best.
Peter Capaldi and 2014
So somehow I’ve become a die-hard Dr Who junkie in the second half of 2013. I’ve started watching the original black and white episodes. I’ve repeat watched a few new episodes. I’ve seen all the Christmas specials and a few webisodes and…just way too much.
I’m still not sure exactly what it is about this show that makes it so compelling. I mean, David Tennant and Matt Smith are both brilliant, charismatic, captivating actors. So are many of the support cast. But the storylines are mostly stupid, as are a lot of the villains – though Moffat gets better and better at writing those.
The truth is, I think it’s mostly in the dialogue. Somehow, these writers who seem fairly inept at writing scripts and storylines, manage to be incredibly good at writing dialogue that brings characters to life and is perfect for delivery by those characters in particular. When you’ve got vehicles like Smith and Tennant it helps, but the dialogue needs to be written well too.
So 48 hours away from the birth of a new Doctor in Peter Capaldi, I’m still somehow bemused that I’ve become a Whovian. I hate that term.
But I know that whether I expected it or not I’ve become enraptured by this brilliant, bizarre, bewildering and larger than life show about a man, a box and a refusal to let anything – even time – get between him and the people he loves.