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The night before Doctor Who

April 2, 2010

This weekend is a big one in the TV calendar.

It’s the weekend Doctor Who returns to our screens. Not only is there a new incumbent in the lead role (one a friend is reported as describing him as ‘the missing link’ *) but it also marks a relative return to normality. Gone is that ridiculous notion of a series of one-off specials. Instead the relatively quaint notion of a series. 13 parts, if I’m not mistaken.

There’s a new head writer too – Steven Moffat. A new companion. An apparently revamped TARDIS interior too. Although judging by the cover of the Radio Times it’s no more than a lick of paint. Mind you, take a look at Cumbrian Sky’s blog (where he’s ridiculously over-excited about the series’ return) and I’m seeing an echo of old-school Doctor Who. Phew. What a relief. Things will be OK. Won’t they?

Before the series even began Moffat appeared to be insuring against anyone criticising the new series by using the “BBC’s undergoing cuts” defence on the BBC News website. Some might see that as deliberately lowering expectations ahead of the main event. A cynical ploy on the part of a struggling PR department. Personally, I’m banking on it being a signal of one overriding goal: a return to plot, thought-provoking storylines, suspense, fear and less dependence on overbearing incidental music.

Moffat has a pedigree. He feels like a reliable sort. I remember people getting very excited when Blink aired for the first time. It held up brilliantly when I watched it again recently. It was a simple idea, executed creatively. It was good old fashioned Doctor Who with some brilliant acting. There was a twist. The Doctor almost seemed like a B-story to the main event. His involvement didn’t – at first – seem central.

The truth is that I have only watched it twice. There are plenty of other fans who would be able to offer a far more considered analysis of the episode and speculate about how this episode (and others by him during the series) showed the head writer-in-waiting at work. I can’t do that. I haven’t analysed it. I don’t need to. I know from memory it’s good enough to revisit whenever I want to.

I knew the same about ‘The Waters of Mars’. One of a series of three swansong episodes for David Tennant and Russell T Davies, ‘The Waters of Mars’ was the episode BBC HD viewers voted to have broadcast again over Easter weekend. I don’t know how many people actually voted and to be honest I don’t really care. If the BBC only asked a handful of people on Shepherds Bush Green what they thought then I’d be satisfied the vote carried out met standards and guidelines.

We watched the transmission this evening for the simple reason I recalled it was a good story. Inevitably, I made some notes. I wanted to find out what it was I liked about the story and what elements I didn’t like (if any).

To my mind, ‘The Waters of Mars’ is the only thing which Russell T Davies wrote (a writing credit he shared with Phil Ford incidentally) which has left me feeling satisfied. Sure, there are moments when the music is a little overbearing – running sequences especially. So too the scene where Adelaide Brooke’s backstory is revealed. The seeming dependence on underlining the narrative arc of the previous series does, I’m sorry to say feel to me, like it’s a bit ham-fisted.

Still, it holds up well. It’s Proper Who just like I remember watching Who when I was a kid. And Russell T Davies’ tenure hasn’t always Proper Who the way I wanted it. Sometimes that made me feel really shortchanged. Sometimes it made me feel quite angry. There have been plenty of cigarette breaks had with foolish colleagues where I’ve outlined my displeasure. You won’t be surprised to learn I don’t see them that often any more.

So it’s the ‘Waters of Mars’ and ‘Blink‘ I have in the back of mind as we career towards Matt Smith‘s first proper appearance as the Doctor. The UK 1 minute teaser doesn’t fill me with a huge amount of hope, although the clip from the Jonathan Ross show is better. Still, at least I’m not in the US – the music bed to the American trailer is even worse there. I’m getting tired of seeing stuff based in the UK. I’m tired of seeing Cardiff and London. I want distant worlds. I want imagination. And I’m sick of humour. Stop trying to be funny. I don’t want my Doctor to be funny all the time.

Having said that, the Vampires of Venice sequence broadcast on Jonathan Ross’ show last week (Vampires of Venice) does look quite good. And I can’t stop thinking of ‘Blink‘. I have hope I’ll be a happy Easter bunny come the end of the first episode tomorrow night. I really do.

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3 Comments
  1. It’s excellent – fear not. I caught the preview in Belfast on Monday and perhaps the most telling comment afterwards was when someone said “David … Who?”. Matt’s great. Karen worked well with him. Not the world’s most innovative story, but it’s a good enough vehicle to ease him onto our screens. The TARDIS is quite different – I guess we’ll grow to love it as we see more of it.

    But I predict you’ll like the episode and the doctor. I couldn’t find anyone after Monday’s screening who wasn’t impressed.

  2. cyberguycalif permalink

    I’ve not gotten into Doctor Who which does play here on BBC America. Until you have talked about it and from what I’ve seen of it mentioned on the Graham Norton show I never knew anything about it before.

    Sounds like it has been on for a long time, and you mentioned watching it as a child. Has it really been on that long or did they just made a ‘new’ version and bring it back. I wonder what long time viewers have thought about the series over the years, must be a lot different today with 21st century computers graphics.

    You seem so excited about it Jon, it’s nice when we can still get excited about something that has been around for so long.

    If it’s been on so many years I would think it would be hard to start watching it now, it would be like walking into the middle of a movie and not know what is going on. Or with a new lead actor are they starting a new fresh story that could be followed?

    How funny I just looked and Saturday BBC American has six episodes in a row on and one is the Waters of Mars you mentioned. Must be leading up to the new shows starting, I know we get Graham Norton about two weeks after a new episodes airs in the UK so maybe the new Doctor Who will start here in a couple of week.s

    Have a good weekend and enjoy watching your shows.

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