Tagged: Russell T Davies

A Doctor a Day – “The Long Game”

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.

Making the same move for new Companion Adam he did for Rose, The Doctor takes the trio to the year 200,000 – the middle of the fourth great empire, mankind at its height.  So when everyone seems to be not a lot further up the social advancement scale than the 20th century, he suspects something’s wrong.  Someone is trying to change things, very slowly, playing…

THE LONG GAME
by Russell T Davies
Directed by Brian Grant

“Time travel’s like visiting Paris; you can’t just read the guidebook, you gotta throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs! Get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers! Or is that just me?”

The Doctor and co arrive on Satellite Five, news center for the empire, streaming information from everywhere, to everywhere. Journalists and techs are all angling for promotion to Floor 500, where it’s said the walls are made of gold. They’re off by one letter – it’s deathly cold, to ensure the health of the mysterious “Editor-in Chief”, the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe. The Jagrafess has been stunting the advancement of the human race, keeping them from achieving its potential.  His assistant, played with style by Simon Pegg, works for a consortium of banks who are manipulating the news, and as a result, the people, to make things better for their investments.

(Eerily prophetic, isn’t it?)

And meanwhile, new companion Adam has decided to take advantage of the opportunities that access to 198,000 years of future history can provide, and attempt to download enough info to make his former employer look like the owner of a lemonade stand.

A simple done-in-one episode with a strong message and a solid monster, It’s a great example of how much Russell could get into his stories.  The set is both well designed and very efficient, budget wise – a bit of redressing and it takes the role of several separate floors.  And it’ll return later in the season as the plot threads of the season start to get tied up.

Russell T Davies made a running gag of the alien and planet names getting progressively more complex, all culminating in next season’s “cheap episode”, Love and Monsters, where the baddie is from the planet Clom.

Simon Pegg is the first big name to appear in the series, the first of a still-growing list who are all too happy to become a part of the show’s history.  Simon also narrated the first season of Doctor Who Confidential.  While she’s not as well known in the US, Tamsin Greig is a popular comedic actress in the UK. She recently played Sacharissa Cripslock in the two part mini-series Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal.

Interestingly enough, in an earlier draft, Adam has quite a different reason for doing the old Back to the Future Sports Almanac trick.  Originally, it was written that Adam’s father has a disease of some type, and he tries to access medical information in the hopes of saving him. It’s an interesting idea, but for The Doctor to take the information away and chuck him out of the TARDIS in punishment would make him the jerk.  It’d be warranted for breaking the laws of time and space and all, but it would still come off as a dick move.  The idea that he simply wants to profit works much better, and it shows that once again, this new Doctor is not infallible.

A Doctor a Day – “Aliens of London / World War Three”

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. And thank you all for wearing your ID cards…

Rose has let time get away from her a bit, but once that’s sorted, she and The Doctor have come back just in time for the…

ALIENS OF LONDON / WORLD WAR THREE
by Russell T Davies
Directed by Keith Boak

“Harriet Jones, MP, Flydale North

Rose returns home after a brief time away…no, sorry check that; she’s come back a year after she left, relative to the current timeline. So after a great deal of explanation to friends and family as to where she’s been, she ruminates about the things she’s seen on her roof, how nobody else knows about what she knows…until the giant alien spaceship comes careening through the skies over London and into the Thames.  Unable to make it past the police blockades in central, they watch the events on the TV.

Inside Number Ten, the Prime Minister is missing, and a minor back-bencher, in a staggering coincidence, is the highest-ranking politician in the city, and is named acting PM.  A little TOO coincidental – as soon as he and a couple of civil servants are alone in the PM’s conference room, they begin to laugh with the confidence that a plan has come together. The spaceship, and the alien within, are all a dodge to place these three people in power.  They are members of a race called the Slitheen, who are packed into the skins of the now deceased politicos like Wonder Wart-Hog into his Philbert Desanex suit.  They plan to panic the planet into releasing nuclear hell, wiping everyone out, and sell off radioactive chunks like a galactic Odd-Lot.  The Doctor needs the help of Jackie and Mickey to do the only thing that can be done to eliminate the threat – blow up Number Ten.

This is the first two-parter  of the new series, and the end of the first episode is a perfect old-school cliffhanger, with every member of the cast in peril in separate locations.  This also gives the impression there’s more than a couple Slitheen suits, as well.  Even now, the subtle art of sleight of hand can stretch a dollar.

As he did with the Nestene, The Doctor offers the Slitheen a chance to walk away.  We see that happen quite a bit in the new series; like Sun-Tzu said, do everything you can to prevent going to war, but when you have to, go in hard and fast, with intent to win. Odds are The Doctor helped co-write that book.

Once again, the collection of recurring characters grows.  Penelope Wilton brings us the spectacular Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North, who will move on to great things in a very short period of time.  And another member of the Torchwood crew makes an appearance; Toshiko Sato, seen here as the coroner examining (and running from) the little alien.  The Slitheen themselves became recurring characters – they’ll return later this season, as well as more than a couple times on The Sarah Jane Adventures.  One recurring actor, Lachele Carl, is almost unnoticed, but she’s the only one to appear as a named character on all three Who series. The American newsreader she plays doesn’t even get a name in this adventure, but does eventually – Trinity Wells.  She appears every time news about aliens is reported from the US in future episodes throughout the Davies run of the show.

There’s an extra on the DVD that talks about the miniature work used to get the shot of the ship crashing through Big Ben.  After the shot was completed with the LEFT wing of the ship tearing through the clock, the CGI team realized it looked better with the RIGHT wing going through.  So the miniature shot was flipped, but not corrected – if you look quickly, you’ll see the number on the clock faces are reversed.

Re-watching the Eccletson season, I’m struck as how much more realistic the world feels.  The look on everyone’s faces as an alien ship crashed in their midst is that of not horror, but mild inconvenience.  Jackie’s reaction to Rose’s prodigal return is honest and angry. The series of shots as a progressively larger number of people fill up Rose and Jackie’s flat, more there to scold Rose than to see the events on the telly are hilarious. And at the same time, he shoehorns in the fact that uncontrollable flatulence is a tell for a Slitheen.  The balance of the serious and the silly is expertly done. Moffat’s interpretation of the world is much broader, more tongue in cheek,  Not better or worse, just different.  Similarly, each of The Doctor’s companions had family, as I’ve mentioned before.  Amy didn’t – no parents, just a mysterious aunt who never even appeared on screen.  This allowed the trips they took to be less tied to home.  When they brought Rory into the narrative in a larger way, he joined the crew, resulting in no substantive reason to pop back to Earth for a while.  Only in the first half of the season did we meet Rory’s Dad, and we learned that their visiting times on Earth were few and far between.

If anything, I think the more serious (relatively speaking) take Davies took in his years gave Steven the freedom go go bigger in his run of the show.  If they’d started that big, it might not have caught on.  It certainly looks like the back half of the new series will take a more serious turn, as the last couple of episode certainly did, but we’ll see how much of a balance Moffat can keep.

A Doctor A Day – “The End of the World”

Cassandra (Doctor Who)

Cassandra (Doctor Who) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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. Travelers are advised against the use of weapons, teleportation, and religion.

In this episode, it looks like it’ll be a fabulous evening’s apocalypse, but The Doctor and Rose find out that there’s a chance they may be in danger during…

The End of the World
by Russell T Davies
directed by Euros Lyn

“Moisturize me, moisturize me!”

Rose wants to visit the future – The Doctor takes her to the year 5.5/apple/26, five billion years on, the day the Earth will be destroyed by the sudden expansion of the sun as it dies.  Humanity has long since moved on throughout the galaxy, and the death of their homeworld is seen as more of a celebratory experience.  Platform One, a massive force-shielded spacestation is the floating ballroom for a huge party to watch the planet get the finger, and that’s where Rose and The Doctor have landed.  Enjoying the opportunity to hobnob with extraterrestrials, Rose begins to notice that some…THING is wrong on Platform One.  The force fields are brought down, and Lady Cassandra stands revealed as behind a plot to put everyone in danger solely to collect on a massive compensation suit.  As The Doctor says, five billion years later, it all comes down to money.

We’ve seen in the first episode how well the new Who crew can do a story set on Earth, so they chose to impress us quickly and go big with a quick trip into the future.  A wide assortment of wonderful makeup, mechanical effects and CGI provide a solid and believable experience, with no “wobbly sets” as they playfully reference in the commentary and on confidential the occasional cheesiness of the original series.  Davies keeps a good balance of the dramatic and the silly here.  Billie Piper gets some great scenes as she comes to grips with the fact that she hopped into the proverbial car with a total stranger, and stands a severe chance of getting burned over it. Literally.

There’s quite a few first appearances in this episode.  In addition to recurring characters like the Face of Boe and Cassandra O’Brien, it’s the first appearance of the Psychic Paper. Another brilliant little idea to explain how easily the Doctor can get into any situation so smoothly, it’s a tool that’s rapidly become as commonplace and popular as the Sonic Screwdriver.  It’s also the first time a running concept was used clearly – when the TARDIS travels into the future, the Time Vortex is red, when they travel into the past, it’s blue.  When Tennant and Smith take over the role, that color theme carries through to their costumes – check the colors of Ten’s outfits, and Eleven’s bowtie.  And assuming you already know how the season ends, you might notice this is the first mention of “Bad Wolf” – two aliens are chatting, and one mentions that this is “The bad wolf scenario”.

Davies starts another tradition going here as well – spectacular characters who appear once alone yet appear fully formed.  Jabe of the Forest of Cheem is the first person to sacrifice herself to help The Doctor,  She’s also the first to reveal a bit more about the Great Time War. It was mentioned in the previous episode; the war was the reason the Nestene food planets were lost, and The Doctor admits he couldn’t stop it.  But here we learn that the rest of the Time Lords are gone, and his world is destroyed.  The details are yet to come, but it’s a major departure from the previous series.  The Time Lords were always seen as unassailable, undefeatable.  For them to fall shows that no one in the universe is infallible.  And that carries through to The Doctor.  In the new series, he makes mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes put people in danger.  It gives the Companions a chance to save the day, and generally increases the sense of drama: The Doctor will not always have the answer.

A Doctor A Day: “Rose”

Rose TylerUsing 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. Come along.

Shop girl Rose Tyler was not expecting much to change in her life.  In a very brief time, she faces down animated plastic shop dummies, teams up with a 900 year old time traveler, and helps save the world.  There’s no doubt why the episode was named after her…

ROSE
By Russell T. Davies
Directed by Keith Boak

“Nice to meet you, Rose; run for your life!”

After a long dark silence, peppered only with books, audio adventures, comics, magazines and…well, ok, but no new TV adventures, Doctor Who returned to the air with a lot to prove, and not a lot of time to do it in.  Russell T. Davies had to grab the new audience, and at the same time, assure the old fans that the show was in good hands.  He achieved it all brilliantly.

Billie Piper as Rose Tyler is very much a new style of Companion for The Doctor – sure of herself, independent, and much more likely to fight than to scream.  We also see another change to the companions; we meet her family and friends.  The glorious Camille Coduri as her Mom, Jackie, and her boyfriend Mickey as played by Noel Clarke are different from other Companion’s family in they’re not dead, usually killed by the monster of the week, if we see them at all.  They give Rose more of a grounding; she’s happy to go off and explore the world, but there’s people waiting for her at home, and that naturally brings them back to Earth often, something that doesn’t hurt the budget.

And at the center, Christopher Eccleston as a very different and modern Doctor.  His clothing is nondescript, his manner gruff, his opinion of Humanity seemingly dismissive, but when he speaks in their defense, it’s clear he loves them.  His tongue is sharp; his first few lines to Rose are delightful, telling her to go off and eat her beans on toast, but congratulating her for coming up with a logical explanation for what she’s seeing. But shortly later, he gives a peek at the emotion he’s feeling every day, about he can actually feel the planet spinning under his feet.

Davies and co chose well for the series first villain; the Nestene Consciousness and its plastic commandos the Autons.  Only seen twice in the original series, they were obscure enough that it’d please the fans, but easy enough to explain to the newcomers.  From the dramatic scenes of gun-handed mannequins taking people out left and right in a mall to the ridiculous scene of Mickey getting kidnapped by a garbage bin, the show did what it always did well – take commonplace things and make them scary.

In this episode’s commentary, we hear about how they chose to keep the first appearance of The Doctor very underplayed, as opposed to giving him a big dramatic entrance. Also, the episode ran sort of short, and the scene with The Doctor talking about how he can feel the rotation of the Earth was added later, and then re-shot, as Chris decided he could do it better. One of the few times they had time to re-shoot something for quality.

The episodes of Confidential on this first series are the edited versions that appeared later on the website and other locations, not the full half-hour version that were run after the original broadcast.  They’re still quite interesting to get a look at how the show was put together.  It’s interesting to see the interviews with Chris Eccleston, both here and in additional extras on the disc.  Remember by this point he’d already decided to leave, they’d already filmed the whole series, and they already had his regeneration in the can.  But he’s happily giving these interviews, talking about what a joy it was, and gamefully smiling and nodding when asked how long he plans to stay with the series.

In one episode they do a perfect job of reintroducing the character to a new audience.  It was kept simple, but let everyone know the show was very much to be taker seriously. The special effects were very much up to modern standards, and the writing of Davies did not talk down to the show’s traditional primary audience of children.  Like it had been before, there was no guarantee the show would fly, but it got a damn fine running start.