Tagged: Russell T Davies

Mindy Newell: It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed the whole world, and an entire sprawling industry, that writing monsters and demons and end-of-the world is not hack-work, it can challenge the best. Joss Whedon raised the bar for every writer – not just genre/niche writers, but every single one of us.” – Russell T. Davies, producer, writer, showrunner, Doctor Who

…Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.

Oops. Sorry. Got carried away there for a moment and started grooving to one of the most groundbreaking albums ever – and anyway, that album came out way more than twenty years (and 23 days) ago today. But it was twenty years (and 23 days) ago today, on March 10, 1997, that another groundbreaking event in pop culture occurred: the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the fledgling WB network.

Although it wasn’t exactly a premiere. More like a reboot, as in Ronald D. Moore’s reboot of Battlestar Galactica from an incredibly corny “let’s cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon” series that deservedly failed into an incredibly intelligent series that deservedly succeeded. Then again, the televised BTVS wasn’t exactly a reboot, either. It was… more of a rebirth.

As most of you already know, Whedon’s original 1992 Buffy screenplay was hijacked by a dumb studio and a dumber director and totally bombed. And then something that only happens in storybooks and Disney movies happened. A fairy godmother by the name of Gail Berman, whose company, Sandollar Television, owned the rights to the movie, waved her magic wand, said bippidi-boppidi-boo, and granted the one thing that most of us wish for and never get – she gave Joss Whedon a “do-over,” a chance to start over with his original concept of “the ditzy blonde who walks into an alley and beats the crap out of the monster that attacks her” and do it right.

Did Joss do it right?

Did he ever!

Of course it wasn’t that easy. Life isn’t like that. It never is, or if sometimes it seems to be, there are always pitfalls and potholes to maneuver. But here’s the thing – all the crap that life throws at us was thrown at every single character who lived in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sometimes it was metaphoric crap, as in monsters and demons and werewolves and vampires, and sometimes it was just truly plain crap, as in dead mothers.

Twenty years (and 23 days) later, BTVS is still watched, still talked about, still written about, still studied, still reviewed. YouTube features hundreds of channels dedicated to the Slayer; I am an aficionado of one channel in particular, Ian Martin’s Passion of the Nerd and his “Buffy Episode Guide.Ian is a video producer for LinkedIn, and his very first video, “Why You Should Watch Buffy” kicked off his series.

Ian and I were both at Denver ComicCon last June, though we didn’t get a chance to meet – his panel and mine coincided, unfortunately. But here’s a bit of his presentation:

Now Joss Whedon created in Buffy a densely, densely layered series that all filters down from the primary metaphor in the show, the Slayer role being the symbol of adulthood or becoming an adult.

“From there, each season has a unique overarching theme, informed by that primary metaphor. And each episode in the season was informed by that season’s theme.

“And the entire structure was built on this very robust existential philosophy.”

Here’s a quote from “Becoming,” the Season Two finale:

“Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.”

It still resonates, doesn’t it?

Even twenty years (and 23 days) later.

 

John Ostrander: Happy Christmas, Doctor Who

There are all kinds of traditions connected to Christmas. One tradition in our house is the Doctor Who Christmas Special playing here on BBC America. If you don’t know, Doctor Who is the looooong running BBC series about an alien time traveler and his (usually) human companion(s) who all travel through time and space having adventures. The Doctor regenerates into a new body – and a new actor – when his current body is at its end. If you don’t know the series and/or don’t care, you can probably skip this column.

There was a sort of Christmas Special as far back as the first incarnation over a half-century ago, but mostly it’s only been over the last ten years. The latest one will be tonight (if you’re reading this on Sunday). The first in this series began after the show returned from a sixteen-year hiatus and featured the Doctor’s tenth incarnation, played by David Tennant, and his companion, Rose Tyler, played by Billie Piper, and Rose’s mother and her ex-boyfriend. The episode was also our introduction to this incarnation, the Doctor having just regenerated in the previous episode.

It’s a good, solid, interesting episode, establishing the new Doctor’s persona. The plot is about an alien invasion (the episode is called “The Christmas Invasion”) and written by showrunner Russell T. Davies; it’s sturdy enough and there are some nice Christmas touches like a Christmas tree that becomes a spinning instrument of death. The Doctor is recovering from his transformation and is in a coma for most of the show but when he finally snaps into action, it’s a treat.

By the following year, the Doctor has just parted with Rose Tyler and is feeling mopey when a woman in a wedding dress just materializes in his TARDIS. The woman is Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) and she is “The Runaway Bride.” She’s outraged, abrasive, and very rude to the Doctor who she holds responsible for her abduction. Russell T. Davies again did the scripting and this one is a hoot. I’m a big fan of Donna and was very pleased when she eventually returned as a full-time companion.

The next year brought us “Voyage of the Damned,” again written by Davies. The Doctor, temporarily without a companion, finds himself on an alien, space faring replica of the Titanic during a Christmas party. Why would aliens have a Christmas party and a replica of the Titanic? Just go with it.

There is, of course, a disaster and the Doctor must lead a group of passengers in a “Poseidon Adventure” like attempt to get to safety. One of them is a waitress, Astrid (played by pop singer Kylie Minogue) who looks as if she will be the next companion. Alas, no. Too bad; I thought she had promise. It’s fairly somber for the season and really could have been set at any other time. It’s okay but only okay.

Christmas Special #5, again scripted by Davies, is “The Next Doctor.” Our Doctor travels to Dickensian London and encounters someone who could be his own next incarnation. Interesting concept. He also encounters an old foe, the Cybermen, including a gigantic robo version. That part is sort of weird but there’s some very nice touches in the episode including David Morrisey as the “Next Doctor” who showed he could have played that part very well. The ending is kind of goofy though and I found it far fetched… which is saying something for this show.

Onward. The following year presents up with “The End of Time” and it is both David Tennant’s and Russell Davies’ respective swan songs. It’s a two-parter with the first half shown on Christmas and the second half on New Year’s Day. Put simply – this one is a mess. I won’t pretend to explain it because I’m not sure I fully understand it. David Tennant’s Doctor gets a “farewell tour” at the end when he should simply be dead. It is interesting to note that Tennant’s tenure began in one Christmas Special and ended in this one.

Stephen Moffat became showrunner the following season and Matt Smith replaced David Tennant as the Doctor. I run hot and cold on Moffat; sometimes he is simply brilliant and other times he’s too clever by half. He got into taking other Christmas stories as the inspiration for what he’s writing in his Specials. This year it was A Christmas Carol and the episode was also titled “A Christmas Carol.” It takes place on an alien planet and, among other things, features sharks that swim in the atmosphere. Over all, more than a little odd and, for me, it doesn’t really work.

On the other hand, the following year brought us the “good” Stephen Moffat. This episode. “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” takes its cue from C. S. Lewis’s classic Narnia story “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” This one is really good; simple straight ahead plot, touches of comedy, and deeply felt emotion with a nice bit at the end that makes me tear up.

The following year’s offering, “The Snowmen,” introduces the young woman Clara (played by Jenna Coleman) who, in slightly different form, will be the Doctor’s next companion. The Doctor has suffered a devastating personal loss and has retreated to Victorian London and is in seclusion. He wants no part of the world. That, however, wouldn’t make for very interesting TV and Clara, through her spunk, draws him out. I’m not as crazy about Clara as Moffat seems to be but this episode works all right. The setting is fun ans the supporting characters are great, especially the alien butler, Strax. I love me some Strax.

Which bring us to the ninth Christmas Special, “The Time of the Doctor.” This is Matt Smith’s swan song as the Doctor and it’s too bad because the episode is wretched. There is a planet called Trenzalore that has a town called Christmas filled with humans. Why? Who knows? Moffat tries to reconcile every offhand prophecy and prediction he made along the way about how this Doctor would end and its labored and beyond incredulity.

Next Christmas is better… but not by much. It’s called “Last Christmas” and it starts with Clara, on the outs with this Doctor (now played by Peter Capaldi), encountering Santa Claus on her roof on Christmas Eve. The Doctor shows up and he and Clara go off to the North Pole, not to Santa’s workshop but a research station that’s having the crabs. Well, crab like aliens. Things happen within dreams and there are dreams within dreams. Somebody else sort it out; my brain hurts.

Last year we had “The Husbands of River Song” and this may be my favorite of the Christmas Specials. It features the inestimable River Song, played by the inestimable Alex Kingston. River is the time-tossed daughter of the Doctor’s former companions Amy and Rory and, by the way, she’s also the Doctor’s wife. She has a way of traveling through time and she and the Doctor keep meeting in a non time linear fashion so they always have to check where they are in their own time lines in the diaries they keep for this purpose. (“Spoilers!”) At this point, she has not yet met this incarnation of the Doctor and therefore doesn’t recognize him. The adventure is fun and outrageous (with River, things often get outrageous) and ends perfectly – romantic and sadly sweet.

This year is titled “The Return of Captain Mysterio” and, from the previews, it appears to have a masked and caped superhero (supervillain?) which definitely is not usual for Doctor Who.

Over all, I’d have to say that while some of the Specials were indeed Specials, some tried too hard to be “special” and as a result were not. The good ones, however, were really good. We’ll see what Santa Moffat has left under the tree for us this year. Naughty or nice?

So – while I’m here – let it be said before I fade out of sight,

a Merry Christmas to all…

… and to all a good night!

Mindy Newell: The Essential Doctor

the_waters_of_mars_by_mitashade

Don’t blink. Blink and you’re dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t blink. Good Luck. • The Doctor • “Blink,” written by Steven Moffat

Adelaide: But you said we die. For the future. For the human race!

The Doctor: Yes, because there are laws. There are laws of time. Once upon a time there were people in charge of those laws but they died. They all died. Do you know who that leaves? Me! It’s taken me all these years to realize that the laws of time are mine and they will obey me! • The Waters of Mars, written by Russell T. Davies

Like you, John, I’ve been in the midst of the summer doldrums eagerly awaiting the return of new episodes of Marvel’s Agents Of Shield, Downtown Abbey, The Flash and, of course, a certain alien from Gallifrey.

Saturday night I tuned into BBC America to watch the first two episodes of The Doctor’s Finest, the network’s lead-up to the premiere of Peter Capaldi’s second year as the Time Lord, otherwise known as Series 9 of the modern era Doctor Who, or the 52nd year of wibbly wobbly timey wimey…stuff. (A bit more on those five little words a few paragraphs down.)

Hosted by Hannah Hart of My Drunk Kitchen on YouTube, and with “special guests” and “behind-the-scenes” interviews, the next four Saturday nights will feature two “essential” episodes of the Doctor’s story – “essential” in this case meaning that in some very important “essential” way these stories have contributed to the still-evolving mythos of the Whovian universe.

First up was Blink. Here’s a brief synopsis:

2007. In an abandoned house on the outskirts of London, photographer Sally Sparrow – the absolutely terrific Carey Mulligan – finds statures of weeping angels, and an even creepier message hidden under the wallpaper: ‘Sally Sparrow. Beware the Weeping Angel. Love from The Doctor (1969).’ The next day, Sally returns with her friend Kathy Nightingale – who suddenly vanishes. As Sally looks for her in the house, a man delivers a letter addressed to Sally from his grandmother, who has recently died. The grandmother’s name? Kathy Nightingale. And she has a message for Sally.

Meanwhile Kathy’s brother, Larry, who owns a DVD shop, has been tracking down “easter eggs” found in 17 unrelated DVDs, featuring a man with glasses who seems to be having a conversation with the viewer. The man is the Doctor – David Tennant – trapped in 1969 without his TARDIS. And the “easter eggs” are for Sally.

Blink, written by Steven Moffat and based on his short story “‘What I Did on My Christmas Holidays’ By Sally Sparrow” in the 2006 Doctor Who Annual, is essential because it introduces the Weeping Angels, im-not-so-ho the creepiest and scariest of all of the foes and “monsters” ever seen on Doctor Who. They also appeared during Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor in the two-part “The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone” and, most notably, as the adversaries responsible for the “deaths” of Amelia Pond and Rory Williams in “The Angels Take Manhattan.”

The episode is also the first time we hear five essential words as the Doctor attempts to explain the concept of time to Sally: “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…time-y wimey…stuff.”

Blink won the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. Steven Moffat won two BAFTA awards for Best Writer. Carey Mulligan won the Constellation Award for Beset Female Performance in a 2007 Science Fiction Television Award. In 2009, readers of Doctor Who Magazine voted it the second best Doctor Who story ever.

My Saturday night Whovian feast continued with the 2010 special The Waters of Mars, which won the 2010 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, and was Russell T. Davies’s last episode as writer/showrunner.

November 21, 2059. The first human colony on Mars, Bowie Base One. The Doctor – David Tennant – is there on this pivotal day in history, when the colony is destroyed in a nuclear blast. But it is precisely this disaster that inspires the granddaughter of the mission’s leader, Captain Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan), as well as the rest of humanity, to continue their journey into deep space exploration and colonization.

The fixed point in time is an “essential” concept in the Whovian universe – and it is in The Waters of Mars that the Doctor is brutally taught that not even he, the “Victorious Time Lord,” as he refers to himself towards the climatic moment, is capable of changing it.

For it is not precisely the destruction of the colony that is the crucial event, but (SPOILER ALERT) Captain Adelaide Brooke’s death that is the necessary, critical, fundamental and central point – a fixed point in time – on which the future of humanity rests. If she does not die, her granddaughter, Susie Fontana Brooke, will not pilot the first faster-than-light spaceship to Proxima Centauri, nor will her other descendants, nor humanity, follow her into space. And so Adelaide accepts her fate, and confronting the self-congratulatory Doctor who has saved her – “I don’t care who you are…the Time Lord Victorious is ‘wrong’.” – walks into her home and kills herself with her laser gun.

“Your song is ending…he will knock four times.” The Doctor has been running from a prophecy of his death (“Planet of the Dead,”Planet of the Ood”) as a fixed point in time. This episode (though not “officially” part of the final arc – “The End of Time” – leading up to the regeneration of Tennant into the 11th – I mean the 12th – Doctor, Matt Smith) is essential in its portrayal of Tennant’s Doctor’s dark side.

He is the last of the Time Lords, and in his arrogance he no longer believes that he has to obey the rules. Two rules especially – the first being that he cannot change a fixed point in history, and more important, and more personal, that he must die and regenerate. Just as he refuses to accept the death of Adelaide Brooke and her mission mates, he refuses the prophecy, even going so far as to deliberately electrocute one of the mutated members of the Mars mission to stop him from “knock[ing] four times” on a bulkhead door.

“I don’t want to go.”

But he must.

Time is not just a wibbly wobbley time-y whimey ball of stuff.

Not even for a Time Lord.

And that is the essential lesson.

 

The Point Radio: Russell Davies Breaking New TV Ground Again

After breaking new television ground with projects like TORCHWOOD, QUEER AS FOLK and of course DOCTOR WHO. Russell T. Davies is back with a pair of new shows for Logo TV. It’s a unique concept he details in our exclusive talk, plus is there a future for TORCHWOOD and what got him to DOCTOR WHO in the first place? Plus TBS revives the domestic sitcom with YOUR FAMILY OR MINE boasting an amazing cast of TV veterans. Kat Foster and JoeBeth Williams talk about how the show is a new twist on the familiar concept.

We are back in just a few days with an exclusive look at the new season of SYFY’s werewolf drama, BITTEN (this time we mean it!). Be sure to follow us on Twitter @ThePointRadio.

A Doctor A Day – “Love and Monsters”

Using the new Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set, your noble author will make his way through as much of the modern series as he can before the Christmas episode,The Snowmen.

If Lars von Trier had thought of it, it would have been one of the Five Obstructions.  Make a Doctor Who episode, but don’t use The Doctor. It rather limits the drama, doesn’t it?  far from it, it gives you a chance to do a story about friends and mystery, and…

LOVE AND MONSTERS
by Russell T Davies
Directed by Dan Zeff

Elton Pope (Not that Elton, and not that Pope) is relating his adventures on his video blog.  He’s just met The Doctor, who was fighting an alien in a disused industrial building…as he does.  Elton begins to relate his history a bit – he remembers seeing The Doctor in his kitchen back with he was a toddler, as well.  He grew up rather normal and has a pleasant life, until a couple years ago when London started getting regularly attacked by aliens.  The Autons, the Slitheen, the Sycorax, all seen through his eyes.  He begins to search about the Internet, and finds a blog by a young woman named Ursula Blake, with recent photos of The Doctor, who looks no different than when he appears in Elton’s kitchen decades ago.

Ursula introduces Elton to a group of her friends, fellow Doctor-sighters and searchers, who meet regularly in the local library.  They all share the tidbits they’ve discovered about him throughout history.  After meeting for some time, Ursula suggests the club needs a name. Elton suggests “LInDA” – The London Investigation ‘n’ Detective Agency.  LInDA slowly become more of a social club than a tin-hat society, and the all become proper friends.  That is…until Mr. Victor Kennedy appeared. A strange man suffering from a skin complaint (Exceezma…like Eczema, but far worse).  He claims to have information about The Doctor, and shows them that they’ve lost their way in their investigations.  Kennedy has access to a staggering amount of information about the Doctor, including data from Torchwood. He hands out pictures of Rose Tyler, and sets LInDA off on the task to find her. And  in amongst the investigations…the members of LInDA are slowly going missing.

Friends are made, loves are lost, and a monsters stands revealed. Oh, and The Doctor shows up, eventually.

There’s been bits of humor in every episode, but this is the first episode that’s elbow-deep hilarious.  The episode was created by necessity – the BBC asked for a Christmas episode with this season, but didn’t add any time or much money to the budget.  So the producers were forced to find a way to force a fourteenth episode into the schedule, one that would have very little of The Doctor and Rose, as the actors simply wouldn’t have time to shoot another full episode.  So with a short sequence at the beginning, an appearance at the end, and photos and mentions all in between, you get a great bit of sleight of hand that feels like a full Doctor appearance.  The acting in the episode is wonderful as well, featuring British comedy star Peter Kay as the baddie, and Camille Coduri making a return as Jackie Tyler.

LInDA is a name Russell T Davies had made up for a earlier children’s show he’d written years back called “Why Don’t You?”,  The Absorbaloff was created by a child as part of a Blue Peter competition. Russell begged for one more alien for the alien, with the opening sequence, and they gave him one.  He even gave it a name – the Hoix.

A Doctor A Day – “Tooth and Claw”

Using the new Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set, your noble author will make his way through as much of the modern series as he can before the Christmas episode, The Snowmen.

Kung-Fu Monks, a werewolf, and Queen Victoria.  Rest assured that when someone threatens his friends, The Doctor will fight them…

TOOTH AND CLAW
by Russell T Davies
Directed by Euros Lyn

“Am I being rude again?”

Aiming for 1979 and an Ian Dury concert, The Doctor lands in 1879, and in Scotland.  The TARDIS lands in the course of Queen Victoria, who is on the way to have the Koh-I-Noor, the prize diamond of the crown jewels, recut.  Quickly presenting his psychic paper, he and Rose join the party as it stops off at Torchwood House, home of Sir Robert MacLeish and his family.  What the royal coterie don’t know is that the house has been taken over by a band of monks who are in possession of a honest to Harry werewolf.  They plan to have the beast bite the Queen, infect her, and through her, take over the nation, and the Empire.  Sir Robert is forced to cooperate as the monks have taken his wife and most of the female house staff hostage, and if he disobeys they will be slaughtered,

It’s revealed that Prince Albert and Sir Robert’s father were friends for years, and shared an affinity for both science and folktales.  Sir Robert’s father had designed what appears to be a massive telescope, but The Doctor quickly notices it’s oddly designed – too many mirrors and prisms.  As the evening proceeds, Sir Robert desperately tries to clue the party to the danger, and over dinner, as he tells the tale of the werewolf that’s been haunting the moors for almost 300 years does the Doctor make the connection.  As the full moon rises overhead, the werewolf begins his transformation, and the monks, posing as the staff, overpower the soldiers.

It turns out that the house has been prepared for this assault.  The library has been warded with the oil of the mistletoe plant, which the werewolf cannot bear to touch.  And the telescope is just the opposite – it’s a light cannon, powered by moonlight, and the Koh-I-Noor is the focusing device.  So with the help of the planning of Prince Albert and Sir Robert’s father, the monster is defeated.  Queen Victoria is happy to have been saved, but is horrified at The Doctor and the life he leads. She banishes The Doctor from England, and founds the Torchwood Institute to study the stars and defend the Empire from its threats… including The Doctor.

As opposed to last season where the arc plot was barely mentioned, just nearly subliminal mentions of the “Bad Wolf” phrase, this season the concept is in plain sight. Torchwood was mentioned as a plot point in The Christmas Invasion, and now we see its inception.  Not a bad start for a word that was nothing more than an anagram to disguise the tapes going back to the BBC.

Of COURSE when The Doctor has to pick a Scottish name, he’s going to pick Jamie McCrimmon. Jamie was a Companion during the Troughton years, and came back for both the twentieth anniversary adventure, and the Colin Baker adventure The Two Doctors.  The other half of the joke is not as obvious to American viewers – “Balamory” is a BBC children’s show set in the titular town, on an island off the coast of Scotland.  And of course, David Tennant is Scots, so we actually hear his proper accent in this episode when The Doctor is “affecting” one.

This is the second time that a diamond was used as the focus of a light weapon, as opposed to a more scientifically accurate ruby.  The Horror of Fang Rock featured a cruse laser cannon made from a lighthouse and a diamond by the fourth Doctor.

That mad crazy Crouching Tiger stunt near the beginning of the episode took a full day to film.  Quite an extravagance for a TV show, but well worth it for the moment.

A Doctor A Day – “New Earth”

Using the new Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set, your noble author will make his way through as much of the modern series as he can before the Christmas episode, The Snowmen.

A trip to the future, a return of a foe presumed dead (get used to THAT one) and a moral conundrum.  And it all happens on…

NEW EARTH
by Russell T Davies
Directed by James Hawes

“It’s like living inside a bouncy castle!”

The Doctor and Rose travel back to the five billions, to the time after The End of The World, to New Earth, the city of New15 York. The Doctor got a message from someone via his psychic paper, asking him to come to his aid at a nearby hospital.  But someone is watching, and as soon as the pair try to enter the elevators, they are separated.  Rose is sent to the basement, and is confronted by Lady Cassandra O’Brien, the last pureblood human, and the baddie behind the events on Platform One.  Saved from her apparently grisly death by cloning a new “body” from leftover parts (parts from the …back), she barely survives in the basement of the hospital, and has made plans to move on.  And for Rose to come along, another pureblood human, specifically one responsible for nearly killing her…well, when the fates hand you an opportunity like that…  Cassandra uses a device to transplant her mind into Rose’s body, and begins to take stock of new assets.

The Doctor, meanwhile, was summoned by The Face of Boe, who he met on Platform One as well.  The Face is dying, and his nurse, Novice Hame, explains that legend says that as he dies, he will impart great knowledge to someone like him, “A traveler, a lonely god”.

Amazingly, Cassandra’s not the real threat.  The Sisters of Plenitude, a feline race who run the hospital, have been breeding clones expressly to infect with every disease known to man, for the purpose of finding cures for them.  They maintain the clones are not sentient, but as soon as they’re awakened, that’s immediately proven untrue.  The Doctor starts to investigate, and also starts to notice that Rose knows a bit more about technology of the year five billion than she should.

So The Doctor has to find out the secrets of the hospital, get Rose back in charge of her own body, shut down a sect of cat-nuns, and stop a horde of disease-ridden clones from overrunning the place.  Not a bad first day out…

The Christmas episode was a bit different from later ones would be – it was the first appearance of the new Doctor, and was more “in continuity” with the rest of the season, as opposed to being a stand-alone adventure. It also features other recurring characters, as opposed to later specials that would only feature The Doctor and all-new characters. Functionally, it’s the first episode of this season.  So this episodes starts shortly after the special, with The Doctor and Rose off on new adventures, already with a much lighter tone.

Both Billie Piper and David Tennant get to camp it up a bit as Rose and The Doctor get inhabited by Cassandra, with the requisite fun and silly accents.  Davies excels at keeping a balance between drama and humor in his stories, and this one’s a good example.

One could argue that this plot is an argument against various forms of experimentation.  I prefer to stand by Dr. Mordin Solus’ philosophy from mass Effect – “Use of sentient beings in scientific tests disgusting. Have personal standard – Never experiment on species with members capable of calculus. Simple rule, never broke it.”

We see a new emotional side to The Doctor here.  Not only is this the first time he’s “Sorry…so sorry” at the site of the clones, it’s also the first time he gives a foe who truly deserves it a merciful end.  One of the things we see him do many times is offer threatening aliens a chance to leave in peace.  Sometimes they refuse, and his judgment is swift and hard, sometimes others pull the trigger (like Harriet Jones did last episode) and he’s just as merciless on them, but sometimes, if they deserve it, he helps them.  Cassandra really did try to help at the end, and once she came to peace with her fate, The Doctor gave her a chance to at least die happy.

The payoff to the promise from the Face of Boe wouldn’t come till next season, tying into the Big Bad for that season.  So even though Moffat is doing it with more deliberation, Davies was also setting up multi-year plotlines, teasing events quite a ways off.  Looking back like this, it’s amazing how many things we ascribe to Moffat were already being done from the beginning.  More fodder for the “who’s a better showrunner” argument, certainly.

A Doctor A Day – “The Christmas Invasion”

Using the new Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set, your noble author will make his way through as much of the modern series as he can before the Christmas episode, The Snowmen.

A new tradition, a new series, a new Doctor, a new threat, a new Prime Minister, and all happening just in time for…

THE CHRISTMAS INVASION
by Russell T Davies
Directed by James Hawes

“What about Torchwood?”

After being forced to regenerate, The Doctor returns Rose home to Britain.  Jackie and Mickey both here the TARDIS’ wheezing engines, and race outside to meet it as it comes crashing down in the center of the plaza.  The Doctor comes barreling out, raving and dazed, collapsing in a heap at Jackie and Mickey’s feet.  Rose has to explain what little she knows about the regeneration process, and they bring The Doctor back to their flat, changing him into pajamas (lucky girls…) and making him as comfortable as possible.

While Rose has been away, people have moved on. Harriet Jones, former MP of Flydale North was voted Prime Minister after her stirring speeches after the events of the Slitheen “hoax”.  She spearheaded Britain’s first solo space probe, Guinevere One, which will soon be broadcasting pictures of Mars.  Or it would do, if it wasn’t for the Sycorax spaceship that grabs it, analyzes its contents, and uses it as a Michelin Guide to the Earth.  They hie hither to our blue marble, and by using a biological sample included on the ship, take control of everyone on Earth with Type A-positive blood and effectively hold them hostage.

While that’s happening, the aliens are also trying to make sure The Doctor can’t stop them, and attack him and his friends with yuletide-themed weapons – robot Father Christmases with 44 caliber trombones, rotating killer Christmas trees…you know, as aliens do.

More than a few changes going on here. First off, this is the first of the series’ Christmas specials.  Save for a moment where William Hartnell broke the fourth wall and wished the readers Merry Christmas, the show’s never done a Christmas special, something quite common on British television.  But the new show proved so popular, the BBC asked they write one.  Russell T Davies was in the process of writing this script while they were recording the commentary tracks for the First Season DVD, so he talked quite a bit about what he had planned for everyone.  Also part of a new tradition was the prequel scene they recorded for the annual Children In Need appeal.  It was the first opportunity viewers had to see the chemistry between Tennant and Piper, and didn’t it just sparkle.  The scene, readily available on YouTube, is of course included with the DVD set.

It’s always a risk when you change actors in a role. The folks who do the Bond films can tell you all sorts of stories.  Just recently, a TV station in India elected to cancel an outrageously popular soap opera when the male lead elected to leave – they decided any new actor would generate outrage from the fans.  So to have to bring in a new Doctor after only one season back on the air was a risk indeed.  Luckily, David Tennant took the part and ran with it.  The whole tone of the series got lighter with him at the helm. Eccleston’s Doctor was dark and brooding, often angry, while David is much more positive and happy. Judging from the way the popularity of the show skyrocketed, it was clearly successful.  And the fun part is, he’s barely in the episode.  It’s much more an opportunity for the backup cast to step forward and shine.  Tennant gets a delightful scene in the early part of the episode, and shows up at the end, in rather a nice parallel to Rose’s last-minute save in The Parting of the Ways.  In a dressing gown, yet.

We get to see U.N.I.T. back in full strength this episode, a position they’ll keep more than a few times in the next few seasons.  Originally the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, it was quietly updated to “Unified Intelligence Taskforce” after a request not to connect it to the proper U.N.  One must assume requests to update the name of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. went unanswered.

Penelope Wilton is a treasure.  The flibbertigibbet back-bencher she played in Aliens of London / World War Three is now a sure of herself Prime Minister, and the performance she gives changes just a shade, while still keeping that seam of daftness that made Harriet Jones such a glorious creation the first time around.  And at the end of the episode, when she takes the step The Doctor forbade, she actually takes a heel turn in his eyes.  Don’t worry, she gets a chance to redeem herself in a season or two, and quite right, too.

And speaking of the events of the earlier episode, there’s a very nice bit of continuity in this adventure – as they cut to a shot of London, Big Ben it surrounded by scaffolding, still under repair from the crashing spaceship from that past event.

While most people think this is the first mention of Torchwood, it’s the second.  The Torchwood Institute was the answer to one of the questions from Anne Droid in last episode’s Weakest Link game.  Nobody was listening for it, so it went right over everyone’s heads.

A Doctor a Day – “Boom Town”

Using the new Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set, your noble author will make his way through as much of the modern series as he can before the Christmas episode, The Snowmen.

A recent enemy returns, as does a recent friend, and Cardiff’s new Mayor is determined to turn it into a…

BOOM TOWN
by Russell T Davies
Directed by Joe Ahearne

“They were French – It’s not my fault that ‘Danger – Explosives” was only written in Welsh.”
Six months after the events of Aliens of London / World War Three, the TARDIS lands in Cardiff, last seen in the past on Christmas Eve.  The rift under the Sneed Mortuary is still there, sealed, but still leaking energy, perfect for refueling the TARDIS.  Of course, the chance of a do-nothing holiday on Cardiff Bay is out of the question. Margaret Blaine, former MI5 higher-up, liaison to the Prime Minister, and one of the few survivors of the destruction of Number 10 Downing Street, has become lord Mayor of Cardiff, and has pushed through plans for a massive nuclear power station to be built in the center of town.  Margaret is also Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen, last survivor of the alien family who had planned to destroy the earth and sell it for scrap in the aforementioned adventure.  Cardiff is Plan B.  A nuclear meltdown right over the Rift would work like hitting the flaw of a diamond with a chisel – it will, in short, end badly.  Her plan was to use the resulting energy to power a stolen teleporter, to get off the planet, and not care much about the danger in her wake.

The plan now is to take her back to Raxacoricofallapatorius, but when they learn that the family Slitheen were all sentenced in absentia to the death penalty, their resolve is shaken.  Over a long evening of re-charging the TARDIS, Margaret talks The Doctor into taking her to a local restaurant for a last meal.  She pleads her case that she’s changed…in between attempts to kill him, of course.  Just as she begins to weaken his resolve, her trap is sprung – the teleporter starts to feed off the power in the TARDIS, resulting in the same getaway and end of the world scenario.  Only one thing can stop her, the TARDIS itself.

(Witty tmblr-pics via expelliarmus.tumblr.com)

Davies does a good job of showing the softer side of a Slitheen (obvious physical attributes aside, of course) – the scene where she chose to spare the young reporter who’s learned about the danger of the project once she learns she’s with child is rather touching.  And it’s that hesitation that affords her a second chance at the end, as opposed to the fate of her brothers.

The rift in Cardiff makes a number of reappearances in the series, including being a recurring plot device in Torchwood.  Timeline-wise,  Captain Jack Harkness is likely right under the current one’s feet – Torchwood Three is hidden directly under the Millennium Center, and Jack has (will be…has been…) been the head of it since 2000.  At this point in history, the events we’ve seen in the spin-off series have yet to occur, but Jack’s down there, making trouble. and secretly saving lives. It’s fair to assume they stayed out of the way of these events, Jack already knowing it’ll get sorted by his earlier self.

It’s become somewhat common for the episode before the season finale to be more light-hearted, sort of as a sorbet before the last course.  Even with the threat of massive death, this episode is packed with laughs, from the witty dialogue to the wonderful slapstick of Noel Clarke as Mickey.  It’s also the opportunity to bring the “Bad Wolf” theme out into the open.  “Blaidd Drwg”, the name of the project, is Welsh for “Bad Wolf”, and while The Doctor waves it off, it’s clearly mentioned to bring it into the light for the audience’s sake. It’s also our first exposure (not directly, thankfully) to the heart/soul of the TARDIS, who we’ll meet in a much more personal form in a few seasons.  So even thought it’s not obvious, this episode does a good job of setting up the info needed for the finale.  It’s also the last time we won’t know what the pattern is.  With the next season, the search began for clues to the Big Bad theme before it even began.  Details are now pored over as to what they could mean, and the Internet’s desire to know everything right now becomes harder and harder to fight.  the latest season has tried to buck the tradition by not featuring a carry-through theme, but rumors are already circulating that the Christmas episode will feature an enemy that will carry through the rest of the season.  We’ll know in a couple week’s time, but till then, it’s fun to just enjoy the episodes one by one, not worrying about how the story will be carried through weeks away, just enjoying this one.