With time weighing heavy on thy narrow shoulders until the BBC finally get round to showing off Silence in the Library, I find myself looking through my download library for something else for my parents to watch. Doctor Who Confidential, mayhaps? Well, what have I got...
BLINK - Do You Remember the First Time?
With Blink hardly featuring him, David Tennant takes over the whole program for one week only and he shows off his prodigious video cam skills, as he demonstrated throughout 2006. This guy has a job for life on television, even if he does quit in 2009. Thus, our hero is strolling around the BBC Television Centre that the Goodies tried to destroy at least twice a week with his awestruck companion, Steven Moffat, their quest to simply find out why Doctor Who is so powerful that it makes its fans want to make it. Some answers are offered, but as ever it quickly becomes a clipshow as the fans Tennant meets reminisce about how it scared the shit out of them, and what they've been doing since. So, with vox pops from RTD, Gareth Roberts, Mark Gatiss, Nicholas Briggs, Barnaby Edwards, and of course, Steven Moffat "the man who made his name in television by writing about dysfunctional relationships in the 21st Century but really wanted to write about malfunctioning spaceships in the 51st". Blink hardly gets a look in, bar an interview with the actors behind Sally and Larry, and the Moff himself explaining, with visuals, that he ripped off his annual story. Soon, though, the whole thing becomes one glorious youtube clipshow, with lots of nice juxtapositions (the Dalek production line of 1966 becoming the Cult of Skaro 40 years later, similarly the Cyber Controller making an entrance in both) and showing off how utterly unfunny and rubbish Dead Ringers is when it comes to its favorite program. Nev Fountain proves completely useless beyond saying he's a fan, while Jon Culshaw shows he's quite good at impersonating ANYONE except David Tennant (his Colin Baker's rather impressive), and let us be honest - out of the pair of them, it's always Nev who screws up. The Sideshow's casual references of the show were a love letter compared to Dead Ringers' "it's too loud, too spoiled, crap, camp and only wankers watch it" approach. Mind you, they gave Torchwood the right bollocking it deserved... For the first time since Season One, Confidential is willing to acknowledge something existed before Rose, so this clipshow is really quite good.
Best Musical Number: the final montage with Thanks For The Memories screaming around monster shots, Doctor shots, gratuitous babe shots, shots that went horribly wrong, shots that went amazingly right, shots the public will never forget, shots we hope the public will never remember, and even Paul McGann!
UTOPIA - Ello Ello Ello
This episode starts a new tradition with the title sequences being solely reflective of the episode in question, thus meaning you can't spot any future episodes in the generic montage - and also meaning that, for example, they can show John Simm regenerating in the console room without spoiling it (since it's shown after the question). The title refers to the Holy Trinity of Jack, Yana and the Master - or John Barrowman, Derek Jacobi and John Simms - and this week we get a decent balance between background and recording, with Graeme Harper doing his usual enthusiastic work. John Barrowman gets a lion's share of the ep, while skirting around actually anything to do with Torchwood (continuing RTD's anti-spin-off agenda), and it's generally good viewing, as we get to linger around sets and finally see all the details that simply aren't obvious in New Who cause it moves so damn quickly. Yana's armchair and grammophone, Chantho's model rocket ships, the noticeboard for loved ones at the start of the silo, the Futurekind Initiation Rites which gave the Chieftan that rather distinctive facial tattoo, the total and complete Mad Maxx freaks they hired to be Futurekind (serious, no makeup required). There is, of course, a whacking great lack of discussion over the Master, but this IS a three parter, and there's even a nice nod from Harper that if Tennant ever does regenerate, it won't automatically be the 'standing up firework' business - he was intending something different for the Master until logistics intruded. So that's good.
Best Musical Number: Smells Like Team Spirit montage about Jack, Yana and the Master. Clue's in the title.
THE SOUND OF THE DRUMS - The Saxon Mystery
With the opening scene showing the cliffhanger, it's clear you've meant to watch this ep, which is focussed on the Master of old, the Master of new, the Saxon story arc and Freema Agyeman's stunt driving skills. Between David Tennant's "I guessed who it was in The Keeper of Traken!" and RTD cheerfully noting he was full of shit about him not liking the character, there's a veiled apology for the Torchwood arc in Season 2. Because it wasn't an arc, it was an advertisment for a new show, and RTD wishes that he could have been subtler (more TW-bashing) like Saxon, an arc so subtle few notice that a) it first gets referenced in Aliens of London and b) you need a freeze frame to get half the references. The fact there aren't references in every episode, but rather different references (the Face of Boe, the Chameleon Arch, for example) also make it cleverer than shouting a buzzword at the viewers every week. There's also a fair bit of discussion about the New Master and why he is like the Joker, rather than Moriarty - mind you, the fact Moriarty was an unseen manipulator means that the Master is more like him in these episodes than ever before... It also goes to show the entire world that Freema Agyeman was not "farmed out" by anyone, since cast, crew and production team are utterly in awe not only of her acting talent, but ability to become a supreme stunt driver in half an hour. It's so amazing, Barrowman took his reading glasses off (and boy does he look odd in them...)
Best Musical Number: The cover of Mad World playing as we see a reshoot of the cliffhanger in slow mo.
THE LAST OF THE TIME LORDS - The Valiant Quest
A story mainly focussing on special effects, from the CGI Old Doctor (trust me, it could have been a lot worse, as one of the 'Yoda' rip off designs shows) and the awkward-looking David Tennant covered in marbles, shoved in front of a green screen and told to emote to someone who isn't there. The design of the Toclafane is gone into (but curiously enough, their nature is never discussed, or even why RTD makes them the most pessimistic foe ever), as is the Doctor's ascension to godhood (DT was well pissed off that it involved him dangling on wires all afternoon), and the aftermath of the departures of Jack, Martha and the Master (the later nicely undercut, with RTD, Tennant and Agyemen marvelling at the emotions of the scene, ending with Simms awkwardly noting he had Tennant's manly stubbly chin jammed into his eye throughout). Despite the length of the special and of the episode, I was surprised at the lack of mention of Lucy Saxon, or Leo Jones or Torchwood or the Face of Boe or the fucking Titanic. It just dissolves into a "See Ya Later... Maybe... Martha"
Best Musical Number: Lift Me Up as the Doctor flies around the room and the Master has a complete nervous breakdown.
TIME CRASH - Confidential
With the sequence last only as long as the episode itself, there's not a lot to go into here - bar David Tennant's continuing culture shock at playing his childhood hero meeting his childhood Doctor, Peter Davison musing on the fact his Doctor is generally overlooked because even when he was PLAYING the Doctor, there were half a dozen other shows on air with his pleasant open face being shown simultaneously. RTD notes this is the first time he came to recording rather than sleeping in (it was a Sunday) and Steven Moffat continually marvelling at what the hell he can get away with.
Best Musical Number: Young Folk over the DT/PD photoshoot.
VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED - Confidential At Christmas
With sleigh bells and snowflakes added to this episode, I have to say I came away from this liking VOD less than before. The episode is focussed a lot more on in front of the camera than behind it, and RTD doesn't give a single damn word allowing an insight into why he wrote such a downer or what the hell he was trying to do with the Titanic. Killing off Astrid is glossed over in everything other than Tennant having to snog her, then snog thin air and edit it together. Oh, and them noting that the Doctor HAS to be a completely miserable and lonely wanderer, because in RTD's words "it looks good". Yeah, thanks for that. Despite the wealth of material, Kylie doesn't say much (managing to look even older than Astrid, who is ancient compared to how she normally looks anyway), and her uber-fan manager tears his hair out trying to find all the links betwixt Minogue and Doctor Who, coming across less as a fanboy and more as a pathetic tryhard. There's a lot of work on The Stowaway and its various incarnations, including trying to make up for the lack of Confidential episodes for the last two Christmas Specials. All in all, this is a dispiriting episode. Not only is VOD a depressing tale, but no one involved has anything to say about it beyond "Oooh! Kylie and Titanic!"
Best Muscial Number: The closest there is to be had is The Stowaway. Kylie's soundbites don't impress.
PARTNERS IN CRIME - A Noble Return
And noble it is! Donna and Catherine Tate return to give the show a kick up the arse, with RTD clearly delighting at NOT having to do Rose again, allowing him freedom to do his rightly-lauded window mime scene. The plot of PIC is, to be honest, pretty slim, so the show focusses more on behind the scenes. The 'window cleaner thing plummeting to its doom' is given a good deal of cover, especially when you realize most of it was CGI and stunt doubles and that bit where the Doctor and Donna try to break the window was done entirely by computer. There's also the problem that the bloke who played Donna's dad died between rehearsals and filming - fair enough that everyone thought it would be rude to simply recast, but the fact is Wilf's dialogue is exactly the same! The only change was "dad" to "gramps", but Bernard Cribbens still steals the show with his deadpan "This is the most amazing day of my life" as he stands around the kitchen set doing absolutely nothing - it may not sound as hilarious as it is, but it works, as does Phil Collinson noting how much he loves the character of Wilf, and his relationship with Donna. YANA. Meanwhile, Sarah Lancashire shows she CAN act, and the stuffed toy Adipose used for the scenes are a definite merchandise tie in, while that fat lady (forget her name) reveals she's actually skinnier than she appears, and was wearing a vest that inflates to show Adipose moving under her skin. On a final note, RTD draws everyone's attention to Rose's cameo. Then laughs in our faces at the thought he might spill the beans... odd that he doesn't do the same gag elsewhere...
Best Musical Number: The intro with Ray of Light fights with the original opening sequence to the episode, where the Doctor and Donna are accompanied by Austin Power's theme tune.
THE FIRES OF POMPEII - The Italian Job
It was filmed in Italy! I had no idea! But this ep proves it beyond a doubt as everyone heads there to use the sets but, alas, they've trusted the van with all the props and outfits to the a Baldrick wannabe that gets lost trying to do shortcuts, thus meaning when they finally arrive there is hardly any time to set up for the episode and thus all the wonderful shots of the city are missed. With recording more or less unavailable - and absolutely no discussion on writing the story, Catherine Tate or the Pyrovilles let alone The Fires of Vulcan - David Tennant takes charge and buggers off to the REAL Pompeii to take a tour of the place. As Tennant notes, Pompeii would be the coolest place in the world... as long as you're not a slave, and the lines between him and the Tenth Doctor do blur, especially as he expressionlessly studies the display of the corpses unearthed. Including a newborn baby. Powerful shit and no mistake, like the fact that Vesuvius's eruptions get worse and worse the longer the gaps between eruptions. The less it rumbles, the worse it will be when it finally blows. And the exploding shot of Vesuvius in the ep is the REAL Vesuvious, can you believe. I thought it was stock footage... a great ep, ruined only by Phil Cornwall acting "oh so funny" and demanding his own spin off from RTD to replace Torchwood. A clue, Phil? No.
Best Musical Number: the barndance fiddle as the incompetent lorry driver goes on his world tour and visits ANYWHERE except Italy...
PLANET OF THE OOD - Oods and Ends
Well, let's hope that a certain A Stephens shuts the hell up as this episode can't even begin to apologize for the Doctor's Ood-intolerant behavior in The Satan Pit, though for some reason they don't agree with his belief the Doctor mudered every last motherfucking one of them. All of which interspersed with breakdancing Ood extras; the fact the ice planet was just a quarry; DT's disturbing disire to "chew an Ood"; Graeme Harper sitting on the console, acting like he owns the place; a good-old-fashioned clipshow about telepathy/possesion/magic/actually-what-the-hell-is-the-theme-again? as we see the sentient sun, the Master, the Gelth, the Sycorax, the Family of Blood, Cassandra, Carrionites, Bad Wolf, the daily download...; another montage about bumpining into aliens and other culture shock stuff; everyone noting how bloody great it is for Donna not to worship the Doctor like the other companions; the giant brain was actually a huge pile of cardboard boxes; DT noting that the denoument is right out of Ellan Adgar Poe with Halpen becoming an Ood; RTD (and Harper) being revolted at the transformation; and the reveal that the BBC did step in - originally Halpen vomited tendrils directly into camera, but that was too much... Awesome. Still dunno why the writers aren't being allowed to discuss their own material though. And no mention of "your song must end". Yet.
Best Musical Number: I Fought The Law as the Doctor runs from the giant claw. But the telepathy montage comes a very close second. And Nobody Knows over Tim McInnery and Ood Operations. Actually, this whole ep was just musical numbers... that title really IS appropriate.
THE SONTARAN STRATAGEM - Send in the Clones
Unsurprisingly, there is little to say about the episode, so much more focus is put on "evil SatNav" (the aspect that is discarded by the plot first chance it gets) and how "adult" the opening is (adult = nothing to do with the story anyone is expecting). With Helen Raynor's brain power used up (and no writers bar RTD being allowed to talk), the episode focusses on sinking cars and pumping out gas and that business where some kinky extra sits in a bath of goo (said bath is from Fires of Pompeii, believe it or not, and the goo WAS EDIBLE!!). There's the shocking revelation that Evil Martha's expression as she emerges from the goo was down to the fact she'd swallowed the muck and needed to throw up, while we discover the secrets of the paint-on bra (last spotted in Gridlock). Freema's as enthusiastic as ever (oh how fans hate that), and we actually get clips from Torchwood (in the exact same way John Barrowman DIDN'T use last year - more proof that season 1 ain't canon!) interspersed with everyone discussing at length the opening scene with Donna and Martha and the complete lack of cat-fights. DT also notes that the Doctor's dislike of UNIT is specific to his incarnation, which is a retcon only a true fan like him could come up with. The Sontarans merit barely a clipshow compared to Sylvia and Wilf, the latter of which RTD is so pleased to use after being unable to add him to Martha or Donna's family. And why does the Director look so much like Paul McCartney?!
Best Musical Number: Dispiritingly, it's the trailer for next week...
THE POISON SKY - Sontar-Ha!
Christopher Ryan finally gets some screentime and I'm shocked to discover he's a little old man! Well, his voice sounds like a little old man, and the change to Stahl's voice is quite a surprise. However, Ryan gets no mention of being in the show before, or in The Young Ones, and there's a really nasty suggestion that he was only cast cause he's the only decent actor they know that is so short (and, really, he seemed so normally proportioned at Scumbag College - are they ALL ruddy midgets?!). Sontaran makeup fills up a whacking great chunk of this episode, as they finally get the clipshow they deserve, and even Elisabeth Sladen and Colin Baker turn up to big them up. Odd how In A Fix With The Sontarans and Invasion of Time are never discussed when they are the stories most featured in the clipshow, but I do like how the clip of Stike choking is presented as an outtake rather than part of the story itself. There's also lots of tedious focussing on two-second shots like "Sontarans fall over from offscreen explosion" and "Sylvia shatters windscreen" which had to be done by a bloke in drag. This is kept only bearable by Commander Storr speedily narrating things in a most un-Sontaran fashion while in full costume, and RTD laughing how "utterly ridiculous" Rattigans' plans are, and Donna worship,.
Best Musical Number: Without You showing Donna's greatest moments - five stories and already so many!
THE DOCTOR'S DAUGHTER - Sins of the Fathers
Helen Raynor was allowed to make a few utterly unnecessary grunts over her story, and this week is Stephen Greenhorn who is disturbingly similar to James Nesbitt as Hyde with the huge dark staring eyes and the accent. This is a pity as I'm under no delusions that Greenhorn is not someone to turn to for a deep and meaningful plot. The Lazarus Experiment worked because it was a simple plot with arc heavy running through it, and trying to marvel at anything beyond the idea of Jenny (COUGH!COUGH!Trenchcoat did it!COUGHCOUGH) is a waste of time, except maybe they were scared of Greenhorn following them home and killing them. I know I was. The episode is padded out by a remix of Time Crash Confidential, and interviews with Miss Moffet herself (ironic how she spends the whole episode looking like Buffy but behind the scenes is a dead ringer for Willow), and how bloody difficult the gymnastic scene was, and how shockingly unconvincing the stunt double was in real life. I mean... eww! This is also nicely counterbalanced by absolutely everyone admitting "yeah, this is a complete rip off of The Last of the Time Lords, just with a more heterosexual bent", but RTD never once justifying why this is needed. Caus, unless Jenny returns, this is a waste of time, people. And originally the Hath had dialogue! I know! Bugger me!
Best Musical Number: I'm Not A Soldier, commemorating all the outright hypocrisy from the Doctor as he goes hardcore military on the ass of anyone who gets in his way.
THE UNICORN AND THE THE WASP - Nemesis
Gareth Roberts is here in all his egg-shaped, slightly-too-similar-to-Tom-Baker-to-be-comfortable glory as they strip down the murder mystery, revealing all the things I never noticed (like WHY the murderer chooses those specific victims), and the way titles are scattered through the dialogue, and also that David Tennant's dad plays one of the suspects! There are some fun outtakes and DT brags about how he got the actress to play Christie and how people should listen to him more. Pity, but Christopher Benjamin and Felicity Kendall get sweet FA what with Graeme Harper bemoaning how damn difficult it is to film a murder mystery and a clipshow of historical celebrities on show (including The Crusades - happy yet, Larry? No? Good), and a guest appearance by Christie's real-life grandson whose opinion of the fact his grandmother was attacked by giant wasps and kidnapped by Doctor Who is sadly never revealed. The difficulties of the giant wasp in a lake are revealed, as is the poisoning scene with the Doctor which stresses out Harper and everyone a lot more than you'd think - seriously, is it THAT difficult to get DT another pinstripe suit?! The vintage car chase is even funnier without the drammatic music and editing as the Doctor and Donna shout dialogue urgently at each other then fall silent for minutes on end as the cars inch painfully forward, and the competition between Tennant and Woolgar to master these strange engines is great fun.
Best Musical Number: the chase scene ending with DT's stoic "at least I didn't break it..."
The trailer for Silence in the Library is even worse than the one in the episode proper, can you believe. Space suited people jogging around a set as everyone says "Oooh! Darkness! SCARY!" doesn't even hold interest, even AFTER trying to read The Book of the World...