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Sixty Things I Like About Who: #58 – 60

January 4th, 2010 No comments

And so we say goodbye to David Tennant as Doctor Who

#58:  “The End of Time”

This song is ending, but the story will never end.

I watched the second half of “The End of Time” with a mixture of sadness and relief: sadness over the impending death of the 10th Doctor, relief that the story ended so well. Russell T. Davies’ season finales tend toward an everything-plus-a-neon-encrusted-kitchen-sink approach. For all the spectacle and joy, there are usually at least a couple of eye-rolling, Earth-towing moments.

Part one threatened to take a hard turn in that direction. John Simm’s incarnation of the Master was already brimming with lunacy, and “The End of Time” added to that a botched resurrection that left him bursting with energy, jumping fifty feet in the air and gobbling down whole chickens. And that was before he used the Immortality Gate to transform nearly every person on Earth into a maniacally laughing duplicate of himself. So it wasn’t without reason that I feared that the conclusion would journey into the gone-too-far territory of “Last of the Time Lords.”

Speaking of Time Lords, part one ended with the biggest reveal since the Dalek army in the concluding moments of “Bad Wolf”: Timothy Dalton as the (saliva-intensive) Lord President of Gallifrey presiding over a massive assembly of the Doctor’s own people. There had been hints of the Time Lords’ return–notably a publicity photo of Dalton wearing their telltale robes–but I honestly didn’t anticipate that all of them would be coming back, or that they’d be bringing their planet with them.

In hindsight, it had to happen. After five years of references to the Last Great Time War and the Doctor’s status as the last remaining Time Lord (more or less), it was fitting that Tennant’s tenure ended with the possibility of overturning that status quo, then demonstrating why that would be a bad, bad thing for everyone.

I admit that I’ve missed the Time Lords, but I can understand why Davies did away with them. If they were truly as powerful as often had been suggested,* then why wouldn’t they step in and sort out universe-threatening problems before they started?

As it turned out, the Lords of Gallifrey were themselves out to destroy the universe and thus to win the Time War. I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised; the Time Lords had always been assholes. They’d birthed more than their share of mad power-mongers, and in their prosecution of the war against the Daleks, they’d shown their willingness to transgress their own legal and moral boundaries in reincarnating the Master** to fight for them.

*Never mind that in most of the Gallifrey-centered episodes of the original series, the Time Lords were seen as doddering bureaucrats incapable of turning back a handful of aliens made of cellophane, much less the amped-up Daleks of the modern era.

**Interestingly, Dalton’s character was apparently Rassilon, the long-deceased founder of Time Lord society. I wonder, did they resurrect Omega, Borusa and other renegade Gallifreyans as well?

The visuals were spectacular, but what really made this story sing were the quiet scenes between the Doctor and the Master, as well as the Doctor and Donna’s grandfather, Wilf. We learned what the Doctor felt about his endless cycle of death and rebirth. And we found that after all of the death the Master had caused, the Doctor still saw in him the friend he lost.

The Master was even allowed a redemptive moment that, surprisingly, didn’t seemed forced. Perhaps that was because it seemed less about saving the Doctor’s life than it did about the Master venting his rage against Rassilon for visiting madness on him in the first place.

With both Master and Time Lords dispatched, the Doctor appeared to have cheated the prophecy of his death. But in the most heartbreaking moment, we heard those four quiet knocks and realized that sweet, old Wilf would be the one to bring his end.

The next fifteen minutes may have been similar to the multiple epilogues of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but like that film trilogy, I felt that the last five years of Doctor Who had earned its long goodbye. It was nice to see everyone one last time, my favorite reunion being the Star Wars cantina riff featuring Captain Jack and a multitude of returning aliens.

At last, it was time to say farewell to the 10th Doctor.

That brings us to:

#59:  David Tennant

I don’t want to go.

And I didn’t want you to go.

My first Doctor was Jon Pertwee, and I count Tom Baker, Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy among my favorites, yet I think that David Tennant was my favoritest of all. His Doctor was enthusiastic, joyful, quirky, manic, angry, compassionate and loving. In other words, all of the previous Doctors in one gangly package.

Plus, he had an awesome coat.

It didn’t hurt knowing that Tennant himself was an uber-fan. On the other hand, that’s why I thought that he might stay longer than his three-years-and-change. The previous four Doctors (C. Baker, McCoy, McGann and Eccleston) had such short lifespans that I’d hoped David would aspire to the Tom Baker end of the scale.

Ah well, it was not to be. British actors are notoriously fickle about tying themselves to a long-running TV role.

So long, Doctor Ten.

And so long to:

#60:  Russell T. Davies

Now, I’ll admit that I’m ready for Davies to move on. I’m hoping that the show will get past his vision of a vengeful, dangerous Doctor. And, as I’ve mentioned, Davies doesn’t always quite know where to draw the line between a good idea and a what-the-fuck one.

But I absolutely must give Davies his due. Without him, Doctor Who might never have come back, and it almost certainly wouldn’t have regained its prominence not just as a mass-market phenomenon, but as a by-the-grace-of-Rassilon international franchise.

He made so many right decisions, from his impeccable, risky casting choices to his decision to respect the past without wallowing in it. Lesser producers can (and have) taken the show in less-fruitful directions.

While his writing is at times prone to excess and deus ex machina, his character scenes are excellent. And he’s been responsible for some of my favorite episodes, including “Tooth and Claw,” “Smith and Jones,” “Gridlock,” “Partners in Crime,” “Midnight” and “Turn Left.”

So, props to Russell T. Davies, David Tennant, and the many, many cast and crew members who made the last five years in time and space one hell of a ride!

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #50 – 57

January 1st, 2010 No comments

With the end of David Tennant’s run as the 10th Doctor Who only a day away (in the U.S.), here’s the penultimate entry in my look back at the last five years.

#50:  “Turn Left”

“What if?” stories are opportunities for writers to have their kronkburgers and eat them too. They offer the chance to knock out one of the central pillars of an ongoing narrative and examine the ramifications without lasting damage.

In “Turn Left,” Donna was tossed into a world in which her absence at a crucial moment had caused the Doctor’s death. The results were not pretty.

In a fun-house mirror version of seasons three and four, the Doctor’s friends attempted to fill his sneakers. Martha Jones, Sarah Jane Smith and the Torchwood team were all killed or otherwise lost in dealings with the Judoon and the Sontarans. London was obliterated by the crash of the spaceship Titanic, and sixty million chubby Americans were converted into Adipose. England, as usual, was shown to be one disaster away from fascism.

Of course, they all got better. That’s the advantage of the “What if?” story.

#51:  Memes

“The End of the World” introduced a group of baddies called The Adherents of the Repeated Meme. While they turned out to be merely a cover for the true villain of the story (see item #53), their name hinted at what would become a regular feature of Russell T. Davies’ vision for Doctor Who. Each of the first four seasons included one or more repeated words or phrases: Bad Wolf, Torchwood, Mr. Saxon and the Medusa Cascade.

During the first season, “Bad Wolf” was subtly (well, most of the time) worked into nearly every episode, providing a mystery for attentive viewers and a means for Davies to tie together the Doctor and Rose’s adventures throughout time and space. It ultimately turned out to be a meaningless phrase spread throughout the universe by Rose–after temporarily gaining omnipotence during “The Parting of the Ways”–as a message/warning to herself.

“Torchwood” was more intrusive and less mysterious, given that we already knew that it was a tease about the upcoming spin-off series. Whereas “Bad Wolf” had an in-story reason for its frequent appearance, constant name-checks of “Torchwood” (even in the far future of “The Impossible Planet”) seemed arbitrary. Thankfully, by the time the Saxon/Master story arc rolled out, Davies had figured out how to organically work his memes into otherwise unrelated episodes.

“Bad Wolf” continues to pop up in the parent series, its spin-offs and its merchandising. (It even intruded on the 2nd Doctor’s era in one of the reconstructed episodes found of the DVD of “The Invasion!”) It returned in a big way during the final moments of “Turn Left,” where it appeared everywhere–including the TARDIS itself–to warn of a crisis that threatened all reality.

#52:  Billie Piper

While the character of Rose ultimately wore out her welcome (how can we miss you if you won’t go away?), I feel that I really should say something about the actress who played her, Billie Piper. When the bubble-gum pop singer was first announced as the co-star of the reinvented Doctor Who, I expect that the reaction in British fan circles was much as it would have been here if, say, Britney Spears was added to the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Happily, Piper proved to be a real actress, giving Rose (and the show itself) a grounding in reality. She’s since gone on to several Masterpiece Theatre productions and the TV series Secret Diary of a Call Girl.

One thing that I found refreshing about Piper, especially after seven seasons of stick-thin girls on the aforementioned Buffy, was that she was proportioned like a real person. Rose proved that sci-fi/fantasy starlets didn’t need anorexia to be sexy.

#53:  Cassandra

The first true villain of modern Who was Lady Cassandra O’Brien.Δ17 (no, not a typo), who claimed to be the last pure human in the year Five Billion. “Pure” in this case was entirely relative, given that hundreds of plastic surgeries had left her as nothing more than a fashionably thin, stretched piece of skin attached to a brain tank.

"Moisturize me!"

This “bitchy trampoline,” as Rose dubbed her, set the stage for the quirky adversaries to come.

#54:  Doing “Domestic”

One of the biggest changes in new Who was that the Doctor’s companions were no longer people without attachments. When Rose went away with the Doctor, he promised to bring her back in twelve hours; instead, Rose returned twelve months later to find her mother conducting a frantic missing persons search and her boyfriend Mickey accused of her murder.

Rose, Martha and Donna left behind not only their mundane lives, but various family members, some of whom became recurring cast members and even traveled in the TARDIS. They helped bring the fantastic down to earth.

#55:  Martha Jones

Martha Jones was arguably the longest-serving of the Doctor’s many companions. She spent two months watching over him while he pretended to be a human (“Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood”), an unknown but lengthy period trapped with him in 1969 (“Blink”), and an entire year circling the Earth on foot telling his story to the people living under the Master’s rule (“Last of the Time Lords”).

However, she never got the respect she deserved, suffering as she did from the severe disadvantage of Not Being Rose.

#56:  Davros

While the Master is seen by many as the Doctor’s chief nemesis, for my money that title belongs to Davros, creator of the Daleks. He’s got a richer backstory, a more consistent characterization and a believable motivation. Crippled and impotent, he exceeded his mandate to create a “travel machine” for the mutated remains of his people and instead birthed a race of monsters bent on imposing his will upon the universe.

During his initial appearance in the classic episode “Genesis of the Daleks,” the Doctor asked Davros a hypothetical question: if he’d created a virus that would destroy all other forms of life, would he release it?

Yes… yes. To hold in my hand a capsule that contained such power… to know that life and death on such a scale was my choice. To know that the tiny pressure on my thumb, enough to break the glass, would end everything. Yes – I would do it. That power would set me up above the gods! And through the Daleks, I shall have that power!

When Davros returned in “The Stolen Earth” (with a fine, creepy performance by actor Julian Bleach), it seemed that the Doctor’s suggestion was still on his mind. Instead of a virus, his mad plan to set the Daleks above all involved the “reality bomb,” a device that would not only destroy the universe, but all possible universes.

People and planets and stars will become dust. And the dust will become atoms and the atoms will become… nothing. And the wavelength will continue, breaking through the rift at the heart of the Medusa Cascade into every dimension, every parallel, every single corner of creation. This is my ultimate victory, Doctor! The destruction of reality itself!

And that is why Davros has it all over the Master, my friends.

#57:  The Return of the Time Lords

The final moments of “The End of Time, Part One!” For Gallifrey! For victory!

After I’ve had a chance to watch part two of “The End of Time,” I’ll be back with the last three items and some final thoughts.

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #44 – 49

December 28th, 2009 No comments

Last weekend saw the premiere of “The End of Time, Part One” (more on that later), but while we wait for the conclusion here are more of my favorite things about Doctor Who.

#44:  “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”

And once again, here’s Steven Moffat. Can you tell why I’m feeling pretty confident about him taking over the series?

Oddly, World War II rarely figures into Doctor Who. “The Curse of Fenric” was set during the period yet remained at a comfortable distance from Germany. (The enemy soldiers were Russians!) Aside from some leftover South American Nazis in “Silver Nemesis” and a number of metaphorical fascists, it seemed that references to the Second World War were verboten to the Doctor.

So it was a bit of a surprise when “The Empty Child” dropped the 9th Doctor and Rose into the middle of the London Blitz, quite literally in the young woman’s case. Rose found herself dangling from a barrage balloon during a Luftwaffe incursion.

There were other notable elements here, including the introduction to the series of sexuality as a theme. (See item #3.) Captain Jack Harkness (see next item) was said to come from a future time when humanity’s flexibility regarding sex even extended to alien species. Meanwhile, the crux of the plot–the titular child’s search for his “mummy,” who had passed herself as his sister–had much to do with the stricter mores of 1940s England.

“The Doctor Dances” was also famous for being the one in which the Doctor joyfully declared, “Everybody lives!” It wasn’t the first Doctor Who story in which no one was killed (exceptions from the old series included “The Edge of Destruction” and “Fury from the Deep”), but it was the first one that called attention to it.

#45:  Captain Jack Harkness

“The Empty Child” also introduced us to Captain Jack. He was initially presented as a confidence trickster and a charming rogue. To Rose, Jack served as a counterpoint to the Doctor. A time traveler himself, he was sexually available, had a sweet spaceship, and favored aggressive weaponry over the Time Lord’s passive sonic screwdriver.

More to the point, while the 9th Doctor tended to brood, Jack was fun! He approached each moment with joy and (literally) loved everyone.

Absolutely no symbolism here.

Unfortunately, Jack’s joie de vivre was squashed by the time he arrived at the spin-off series Torchwood. I can’t help but think that if Rose had to choose between the Doctor and the sulky, tortured creature that has replaced happy Jack as the leader of Torchwood Three, it’d be no rivalry.

#46:  The Deadliest Fruit of All

While the Doctor’s love of bananas and respect for them as a good source of potassium was established in “The Doctor Dances,” it wasn’t until “The Christmas Invasion” that a fruit saved the day. Freshly regenerated and dressed in Jackie Tyler’s boyfriend’s dressing gown, the Doctor engaged the leader of the Sycorax in a sword duel on the ledge of the aliens’ hovering mothership. Defeated, the invader was forced to swear that his people would leave Earth and never return.

That promise lasted only as long as it took for the Doctor to turn his back. As the Sycorax leader rushed forward, sword in hand, the Doctor plucked a satsuma (a type of citrus fruit) from the pocket of his dressing gown and tossed it at a convenient wall switch. A portion of the hull fell away and the Sycorax warrior dropped to his death.

Apparently, satsumas are commonly used as stocking stuffers in England. I’d bet that on the Christmas Day that this episode aired, they became children’s weapon of choice.

#47:  The 9th Doctor

When Christopher Eccleston barreled onto the screen, it was something of a cold slap in the face to old-school Whovians. This Doctor didn’t resemble the eccentric Brits who traditionally inhabited the role. He wore clothes, not a costume. He was dour, damaged and dangerous.

"Run for your life!"

What was perhaps most shocking was how quickly he became the Doctor, and how much we missed him after his all-too-brief tenure.

#48:  Missing Adventure

In the midst of the comic murder mystery “The Unicorn and the Wasp” came this exchange between the Doctor and budding author Agatha Christie:

Christie: No alibis for any of them. The secret adversary remains hidden. We must look for a motive. Use the little grey cells.

The Doctor: Oh yes, little grey cells. Good old Poirot. Y’know, I’ve been to Belgium. Yeah, I remember… I was deep in the Ardennes trying to find Charlemagne… he’d been kidnapped by an insane computer.

In a quick cutaway, we saw the Doctor trudging through a Belgian forest, a bow and quiver of arrows slung over his shoulder. We never found out what a crazed computer wanted with the king of the Franks or how archery would solve anything, and that’s how it should have been.*

*The official BBC web site published a short story that explained exactly what an insane computer wanted with Charlemagne. But I refuse to read it.

#49:  “Time Crash”

Pretty soon people are gonna ask why I don’t just go ahead and marry Steven Moffat.

Here’s the 2007 Children in Need mini-episode, the first and only “multiple Doctor” story of the new series. In it, David Tennant–himself a lifelong, diehard Doctor Who fan–got to appear alongside his favorite Doctor, Peter Davison.* And he delivered the following heartfelt speech:

You know, I loved being you. Back when I first started, at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important—like you do, when you’re young. And then I was you, and it was all dashing about and playing cricket and my voice going all squeaky when I shouted. I still do that, the voice thing, I got that from you. Oh, and the trainers. And… (putting on glasses) snap! ‘Cos you know what, Doctor? You were my Doctor.

*In the following season, Davison’s daughter Georgia Moffett** played the title role in the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter.” Soon after, she began to date David Tennant. Way to live the dream, David.

**Georgia’s mother is Sandra Dickinson, who played Trillian in the TV version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. If only I could work a Blake’s 7 cast member into this story, the resultant geek storm would rip the heavens asunder.

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #38 – 43

December 24th, 2009 No comments

Continuing my marathon retrospective of the past five years of Doctor Who

#38:  “Bad Wolf”/”The Parting of the Ways”

There are times that I wish I could resist the temptation of spoilers. Case in point: the two-part finale of the first season, which at first glance appeared to be a silly spoof of reality TV before taking a sharp turn into one of the all-time great cliffhangers.

Kidnapped from the TARDIS in mid-flight, the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack found themselves aboard the Earth-orbiting Gamestation, forced to play deadly analogues of Big Brother, The Weakest Link and What Not to Wear. The centerpiece of the episode was surely the “Anne Droid,” a robotic version of host/dominatrix Anne Robinson that dismissed losing contestants with a disintegrating ray blast.

You are the weakest link! Goodbye!

One might find it a bit unbelievable that they’re still playing a recognizable version of Big Brother in the year 200,100. On the other hand, how many times have we brought back Family Feud and Let’s Make a Deal?

The Doctor was devastated when it appeared that Rose had fallen victim to the Anne Droid, but soon learned that those “killed” aboard the Gamestation were instead secretly transmatted to a nearby point in open space…where a massive Dalek saucer fleet hung invisibly.

Now, if you’ve been following this series of posts, you’ve already seen the cliffhanger (item #11) in which the Doctor defied the might of a quarter million Daleks. Part two picked up with a daring rescue mission as the Doctor materialized the TARDIS around Rose, then stepped outside to confront the massive Emperor Dalek. The next half hour was thrilling and devastating, with the Doctor’s allies delaying the Daleks’ advance on the upper floors of the Gamestation while the Time Lord sought a means of defeating them.

The final solution involved a literal deus ex machina, with Rose granted temporary omnipotence after the TARDIS charged her with the energy of the Time Vortex. I usually find it a cop-out when a hopeless situation is resolved by someone unexpectedly glowing with cosmic power.* However, on this occasion I felt that there’d at least been sufficient signposting throughout the season that the sudden turn of events didn’t come completely out of nowhere.

And besides, there was a price to pay: the loss of the 9th Doctor. Christopher Eccleston, we barely knew ye.

*It happens more often than you might think.

#39:  “Look! I’ve Even Brought a Straw!”

In “Smith and Jones,” the Doctor raced to uncover a disguised Plasmavore before a squad of brutish Judoon police tore apart Royal Hope Hospital. The fugitive bloodsucker took the form of a sweet, old lady named Florence Finnegan. As if that wasn’t whimsical enough, her death-dealing implement of choice was…a bendy straw.

I might actually see Twilight if Edward armed himself with a bendy straw.

Ah, who am I kidding? Give me an old British woman over a shirtless, sparkly vampire any day.

#40:  Harriet Jones, M.P., Flydale North

Portrayed by Penelope Wilton (Shaun’s mom in Shaun of the Dead), Harriet Jones was a local politician caught up in the crisis when the Slitheen infiltrated Downing Street. Her two most notable traits were level-headedness and an obsessive need to identify herself. (“Harriet Jones, M.P., Flydale North.”)

The Doctor–having knowledge of future events–noted that Jones would soon be elected Prime Minster and oversee a new “Golden Age” for Britain. Indeed, when we next saw Harriet, she was serving in that post. She continued to identify herself (“Harriet Jones, Prime Minister”) even though everyone–including the Sycorax and the Daleks–already knew who she was.

Unfortunately, she did not finish out her term. Destroying the retreating Sycorax spaceship during “The Christmas Invasion,” she was (unfairly, in my book) deposed by an angry Doctor who brought her down by suggesting to her aide that she “look(ed) tired.”*

Harriet Jones, Former Prime Minister continued to fight the good fight, commissioning the creation of a “subwave network” to contact the Doctor in an emergency. When the Daleks transmatted the Earth to become a cog in their celestial engine, she helped the Doctor locate the missing planet and was exterminated for her trouble.

*Given that her successor was the Master, this was a poor move on the Doctor’s part.

#41:  Jimmy Vee

Every sci-fi franchise needs a dependable little person to play aliens of shorter stature. For new Who (and spin-0ff The Sarah Jane Adventures), that actor is Jimmy Vee. He’s been the Moxx of Balhoon, the Space Pig and Nathan Slitheen. He’s also made several appearances as the mercenary Graske.

But his most significant role was the red, spiky Bannakaffalatta from “Voyage of the Damned.” One of the passengers aboard a space-going–and similarly doomed–replica of the Titanic, the charming alien successfully hit on a waitress played by Kylie Minogue. That’s pretty fly for a red guy.

Bannakaffalatta met a tragic end aboard the Titanic. The craft was sabotaged and its robotic servants reprogrammed to hunt down the survivors. Revealing himself to be a cyborg–something frowned upon in his society–Bannakaffalatta sacrificed himself by detonating his power core to cripple the angelic, android Hosts.

But as long as there’s a need for aliens with a height of less than four feet, I’m sure that Jimmy Vee will be there.

#42:  Immediate Gratification

This is perhaps more of a Thing I Like About the Internet, but being an American fan of Doctor Who is now sooooooo much more satisfying than it was in the old days.

Back then, it could take years for new episodes to make their way into U.S. broadcast syndication. If you didn’t care to wait, you needed to find someone in England willing to record the series for you, then figure out how to transfer the video from Britain’s PAL format to our own NTSC. As for the rare “missing” episodes, your only recourse was to watch one of the fuzzy, fifteenth-generation VHS tapes circulated by fan clubs.

Fast forward to 2005 when an early version of the premiere episode “Rose” was leaked online before it had even aired in England. Peer-to-peer file transfer meant that U.S. fans had to wait hours instead of years for the latest episode. PAL to NTSC? Fergetabowdit!

“The End of Time” will be on U.S. television only a day after its BBC debut. While that’s not quite a record–1983’s 2oth anniversary special “The Five Doctors” aired on American public TV two days prior to its British premiere–it suggests that for stateside Who fans delayed gratification is history.

#43:  Daleks Über Alles

At least as far back as the 1975 origin story “Genesis of the Daleks” there’s been a metaphorical link between the nasty pepperpots and Nazi Germany. Born in a Hitleresque bunker, the Daleks are proponents of racial purity, even exterminating their own kind for the crime of being not quite Daleky enough.

In the 2008 episode “Journey’s End” the metaphor was driven home in this brief scene set “60 miles outside Nuremberg.”

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #31 – 37

December 23rd, 2009 No comments

Part one of “The End of Time” premieres this Friday in England (and Saturday in the U.S.), but first here are seven more things I found notable about Doctor Who.

#31:  “The Girl in the Fireplace”

I’m not at all afraid about Steven Moffat taking over from Russell Davies as Who‘s executive producer. Not only did he create one of my favorite Britcoms (Coupling) and establish his bona fides as a Whovian with his affectionate spoof “The Curse of Fatal Death,” but out of the four stories he’s written for the new series, three of them have been out-of-the-park homers. (Or whatever it is they’d call the equivalent thing in a cricket match.) And while I don’t regard the fourth (“Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead”) as highly as do other fans, it’s still one of the better stories.

But we’re discussing “The Girl in the Fireplace,” which was hands-down the best episode of season two. In it, the Doctor landed aboard a seemingly abandoned spaceship only to find its clockwork robot crew taking an unhealthy interest in an 18th century girl named Reinette. For reasons which only became clear to the viewer in the story’s final moments, they sought out her brain to serve as a replacement computer for the damaged vessel.

The robots opened several “time windows” to various points in Reinette’s life, and the Doctor soon discovered that the clock moved much more quickly on his side than on hers. First encountering her as a very young girl, his subsequent visits saw her mature into a beautiful woman…the historical figure Madame de Pompadour. The two shared an intimate bond, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Of course, when the Doctor invited Reinette to travel in the TARDIS with him, one knew that it couldn’t end well. (It never does, unless you’re Billie Piper.) Betrayed by time itself, the Doctor’s heart was broken, and mine with it.

#32:  The London Eye

In the episode “Rose,” the Nestene Consciousness used the massive Ferris wheel known as the London Eye to transmit a control signal to its army of Autons. Retroactively, that made it the first Doctor Who location I’ve ridden in!

#33:  The Cult of Skaro

Introduced in the episode “Doomsday,” the Cult of Skaro added a bit of personality to the Dalek menace. Unanswerable to the Dalek hierarchy and given license to further their race by any means, they adopted such unorthodox alien concepts as assigning themselves names.

For their next appearance they holed up in the basement of the Empire State Building, experimenting with Human/Dalek hybrids. The Cult’s leader, Dalek Sec, made the heretical argument that they were not superior to all other races as always had been their presumption. After all, he reasoned, for all their conquests the Daleks had been reduced in number to only four survivors. This did not make him popular around the water cooler.

"Walkies!"

In the ensuing firefight between the Daleks and their demi-human offspring, Sec and two of his followers were killed. The remaining Cult member, Dalek Caan, made repeated attempts to break through the “time lock” that cut off the battles of the Time War from the rest of history. This had the effect of rendering him both insane and precognitive. In the end, he too recognized the deficiencies of his own species and secretly aided the Doctor to defeat the Dalek Empire.

#34:  Extra-Special Effects

In the old days it was said that part of the charm of Doctor Who was the cheapness of its creaking, wooden sets and monsters made of cellophane. Something would be lost by making it look good.

Bullshit.

From snarling CGI werewolves to massive space fleets, the new series has been big on visual spectacle. And while I would never discount the importance of writing and acting to a good slice of British sci-fi, dazzling special effects are a welcome addition.

#35:  The Toclafane

Deadly pawns of the Master during his year-long reign over the Earth, the Toclafane were small, metal spheres outfitted with spikes and laser emitters. Giggling with glee, they killed “because it’s fun.”

As the Master placed as much priority on humiliating and hurting the Doctor as he did taking over the universe, the Toclafane were chosen and named for maximum psychological effect. “Toclafane” was itself the name of a Time Lord myth akin to the Boogeyman. Even more chilling to the Doctor was his realization of the creatures’ true nature: they were the last remnants of the human race itself from the year 100 Trillion. Unable to escape the encroaching darkness of the end of everything, the despairing men and women regressed to childhood and built themselves into cyborg shells. Each Toclafane sphere housed a desiccated human head, fearful, mad and taking pleasure only in death. Creepy stuff.

#36:  Irrational Fears

Doctor Who has long had a mandate to make children deathly afraid of unlikely things: store dummies, puppet dinosaurs, bubble wrap and Colin Baker.

The new series demonstrated its intention to uphold tradition by having a character eaten by a plastic trash bin in its very first episode. Since then, it has caused otherwise well-adjusted children to pee themselves over the following:

  • Shadows
  • Scarecrows
  • Statues
  • Santa
  • Satellite navigation systems
  • Skeletons wearing spacesuits
  • Angels
  • Beetles
  • Water
  • Crayon drawings
  • Gas masks
  • Television sets
  • French fries
  • British comedians
  • Fat people
  • Old ladies
  • People who repeat what you say
  • Billie Piper’s new teeth

#37:  U.N.I.T. Schools the Sontarans

In the two-part story “The Sontaran Stratagem”/”The Poison Sky,” the warriors of Sontar used their technology to jam conventional U.N.I.T. weaponry. But with a change of ammunition–and an assist from the aircraft carrier Valiant–U.N.I.T. severely kicked some Sontaran ass.

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #24 – 30

December 20th, 2009 No comments

Still another in a series of posts celebrating the past five years of Doctor Who

#24:  “Midnight”

I’ve previously written about this one at length, so you can go back and read that entry if you like. But as far as I’m concerned, this is Russell Davies’ best Who script and it would be wrong to leave it out just because I’ve covered it before.

It’s a cliché about Doctor Who that kids watch it from behind the sofa. I watched this one alone at home in the middle of the night, and I wish there’d been a sofa to hide behind.

#25: The Master

Okay, I could’ve done without the bit where the Doctor’s deadliest enemy turned him into Dobby the House Elf. But in most other ways, the return of the Master was a welcome one.

The Master, as originally portrayed by Roger Delgado, was designed to be the antithesis of the 3rd Doctor. His sharp sartorial style–black Nehru jacket and Goatee of Evil–meshed nicely with Jon Pertwee’s ruffled wardrobe.

After Delgado’s death, the villainous Time Lord went largely unseen for seven years, appearing in but a single story as an emaciated, dying creature. Later reincarnated as actor Anthony Ainley, the Master regained much of his original look. And while the Doctor took on several new and wildly dissimilar personas in the ensuing eight seasons of the classic series, his rival stuck with the Nehru-and-goatee thing to the very last episode.

I believe that Russell Davies hit on something clever in casting John Simm as the regenerated Master, reinventing the character as the antithesis of David Tennant. Like the 10th Doctor, this villain was quirky, quippy and prone to pop-culture references. And with Tennant’s Doctor established as a sexual being, Simm’s Master went a step further and actually took a wife!

We even got a bit of an explanation for his madness (and his nonsensical masterplans). A childhood exposure to the Time Vortex left him with the constant sound of drumming in his head. Amusingly, the four-note sequence sounded suspiciously like the underbeat of the Doctor Who title theme. (Da-da-da-duh, da-da-da-duh…)

Simm (and perhaps the source of that drumming) will return in the upcoming “End of Time.” I wonder whether he’ll go on to bedevil the 11th Doctor, or be reborn into a foe tailored to incoming actor Matt Smith.

#26: Non-Chronological Order

For a show about time-travelers, old-school Doctor Who was surprisingly linear. No matter when in history the Doctor and the Master crossed paths, their meetings invariably occurred in the same order for both. One could safely refer to their previous televised encounter (“So, you escaped from Castrovalva”) without confusing the other (“Castro-whatwhat, now?”).

I have long thought it would be nifty if the Doctor landed on a planet for the first time only to learn that everyone already knew him because of another visit that was later in his own timeline but earlier in theirs. While that hasn’t happened yet, the new series has been much more willing to play games with chronology.

I don’t know if it was intentional, but non-linearity almost seemed to be a theme of new Who‘s third season. The first time Martha met the Doctor was not the first time the Doctor met Martha; he had come back in time from a point later in the same episode. Then there were the events of “Blink,” in which the messages Sally Sparrow received from the Doctor were the ones she later transcribed and presented to him before he ever wrote them.

Even the Doctor and the Master were finally allowed to muddle up their timelines. In the guise of “Mr. Saxon,” the Master had been operating on Earth under our noses as far back as “The Runaway Bride,” even though the events that caused him to regain his memories and travel back in time to assume the role of England’s prime minister would not occur until eleven episodes later.

Confused? Good. That’s part of the fun of time travel.

#27:  The Slitheen

Yeah, I realize that a lot of fans think the Slitheen are rubbish. And I’ll grant that their signature flatulence was perhaps pandering too much to the younger members of the audience. Still, I’ve got a lot of affection for them, and here’s why.

The Slitheen were the first major addition to the Who rogues’ gallery. The various denizens of “The End of the World” were clearly one-of-a-kind characters, and the Gelth (from “The Unquiet Dead”) were sentient gas and therefore seemed rather limited in their future usefulness. By contrast, the Slitheen seemed to have what it took to be recurring foes.

Their design was striking: bulky, green humanoids with immense claws, topped with creepy, fanged baby heads.

They had a fun gimmick that also served as a meta-joke on the series itself. As aliens wearing human suits with a visible zipper, they were the inverse of traditional man-in-rubber-suit monsters. (I think that the farting was in its own way a meta-joke, as disguised aliens tend to have one trait that gives them away; for example, in the ’60s TV show The Invaders, they had oddly-angled pinky fingers.)

In a break with sci-fi series tradition, they were a villainous subset of an alien species, rather than an entire race of baddies. The Slitheen were merely a criminal family from the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius, and we were given no reason to believe that other Raxacoricofallapatorians shared their ambitions. Contrast to the Daleks: no Dalek ever grew up wanting to be a dentist.

And the Slitheen had a wicked sense of humor. As part of their scheme to gin up a false alien invasion, they re-engineered a common farmyard pig to walk upright and wear a custom spacesuit, for no reason outside of playing a twisted prank.

The Slitheen have only made a couple of appearances in the parent series, but they’ve shown up a few times in the more kid-friendly Sarah Jane Adventures. There they can fart with abandon.

#28:  J.K. Rowling Saves the World

While “The Shakespeare Code” lavished obligatory praise on the famous playwright, it spared a bit of love for the author of a certain boy wizard. We learned that one of the perks of time travel was not having to wait for Book Seven; the Doctor had nipped forward and read it several months early. And when a coven of witches attempted to weave a spell using the power of Shakespeare’s verse, it was Martha’s use of the familiar Hogwarts’ spell word “Expelliarmus” to complete a couplet that sent the Carrionites packing back to the Deep Darkness.

#29:  The Valiant

Because flying aircraft carriers are never less than awesome.

#30: The Killer Christmas Tree

The robot Santas first seen in “The Christmas Invasion” remain mostly unexplored. The Doctor described them using a metaphor about “pilot fish,” scavengers travelling alongside a predator such as a shark. These “roboforms,” as they were later dubbed during their reappearance in “The Runaway Bride,” preceded the arrival of the Sycorax mothership. Inexplicably, they disguised themselves as Kris Kringle in an attempt to abduct the newly regenerated Doctor and use him as a power source. Exactly why writer Russell Davies felt it necessary to add android Santas to a story about aliens who already vaguely resembled Father Christmas also remains unknown.

However, I’m not complaining, because it meant we got a deadly, robotic Christmas tree accompanied by sinister jingle bells…

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #17 – 23

December 16th, 2009 No comments

And here are still more ways in which Doctor Who has made me happy these past five years.

#17:  “The Fires of Pompeii”

There was just so much to enjoy about James Moran’s first script for Doctor Who. It firmly established Donna’s inquisitive, caring nature and posed a moral question that’s been at the series’ heart since the beginning. It also had the Doctor and Donna mistaken for “Mr. and Mrs. Spartacus.”

Visiting what they believed to be first-century Rome–but was actually Pompeii on the day before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius–Donna took a moment to ask something that a lot of fans had probably wondered. If the TARDIS had the ability to instantly translate their speech into the local language–in this case, Latin–what would happen if she started speaking in Latin? Answer: it’s translated into Welsh. (A Pompeii shopkeeper replied: “Me no a-speak Celtic. No can do, missy.”)

The central mystery of the episode was that although the town’s soothsayers had an unerring ability to predict the future, none of them saw the impending volcano. That’s because there was to have been no eruption. The alien Pyroviles had set up shop within the mountain and tapped its power as part of their scheme to convert all of humanity into their own kind. Suddenly, the Doctor and Donna found themselves with a horrible choice to make: allow the Pyroviles to conquer Earth or detonate the volcano themselves and be personally responsible for thousands of deaths?

“The Fires of Pompeii” also explained (sort of) why it is that the Doctor so often interferes with events except when he doesn’t. According to him, certain points in history are “fixed.” As a Time Lord, he can sense which must be allowed to play out. Granted that there’s an “if you say so” lurking here, but at least the point was finally addressed.

While the fate of Pompeii may have been fixed, Donna made the case that it didn’t necessarily apply to its individual residents. She convinced the Doctor into going back to rescue a family they’d befriended, claiming a small victory from the tremendous tragedy.

#18:  Murray Gold’s Music

Old-school Doctor Who relied heavily on electronic music. Some of it was eerie, some of it lacked any sort of recognizable melody, and some of it was nigh-unlistenable. (Try getting through the soundtrack of “The Sea Devils.” I dare you.)

New series composer Murray Gold was given license to change all that. His work has a grand, orchestral sound that makes Who feel like a big-budget space epic.

For me, it’s the inverse of classic Star Trek and its ’80s/’90s follow-ups:  old Trek‘s bold, memorable compositions were replaced by atonal noise meant to blend into the wainscoting. If Gold’s music calls attention to itself, so what? He’s as much of the ensemble as Billie Piper or David Tennant.

#19:  The Gay Agenda

Over the past few years, a noxious element within Doctor Who fandom has accused producer Russell Davies–an open homosexual who created the gay-themed drama Queer as Folk–of pushing a “gay agenda.”

And I agree with them: Davies does have an agenda. I would sum it up as this: wouldn’t it be nice if we acknowledged that there are gay people in the universe, and treated that as if it was no big thing?* So, when doomed tourist Sky Silvestry–who wound up possessed by an unknown entity in the chilling episode “Midnight”–made an off-hand reference to her recent divorce, we learned that she had been married to another woman. It had no bearing on the plot, it just told you a little bit about the character in her last hour of life.

*With the obvious exception of Captain Jack Harkness, who has made a tremendous impression on Doctor Who and its spin-off Torchwood. But pigeon-holing** Capt. Jack as gay is like describing the dictionary as a guide to the letter Q. Jack sees everyone and every thing with an orifice as a potential sex partner.

**Seriously, if the pigeon had a suitable hole…

#20:  The Macra

The episode “Gridlock” already had a fun idea at its core: imagine that you’re stuck in a traffic jam that feels like it’ll last forever, then imagine if it really did. The unlucky motorists of New New New New New New New New New New New New New New New York (that’s not a typo; it was the 15th city to bear the name “New York”) had been trapped in their hovercars for more than 23 years by the time the Doctor and Martha showed up. It may not have been a completely believable premise, but it worked as a bit of dystopian satire in the vein of British sci-fi comics such as Judge Dredd and 2,000 A.D.

Then writer Russell Davies pushed it even further by infesting the “fast lane” of the underground motorway with monsters. And not just any critters, but a thoroughly obscure race of Doctor Who baddies, the crab-like Macra.  Prior to “Gridlock,” these crustaceans had appeared in only a single story, 1967’s “The Macra Terror.” Of that serial, only a few brief clips survived the ’70s purge of the BBC’s tape library.

Truth is that the big crabs were only incidental to the plot. Davies wanted something to be eating the motorists, so why not the Macra?

It was a fun piece of continuity-porn. It was also somewhat ironic, given that only a handful of classic Who monsters have been resurrected to date. We’re still awaiting the return of the Ice Warriors and the Silurians, but the freakin’ Macra got there first.

#21:  Psychic Paper

With single-episode stories of new Who clocking in at around 42 minutes instead of the 90-120 minutes of a traditional four-part serial from the old days, it’s important to keep the story moving. Hence the return of the Sonic Screwdriver, the Doctor’s all-purpose, “get out of jail free” device.

But not even Sonic will get the Doctor out of his usual problem of being immediately mistaken for a stowaway/spy/murderer by the authorities. That’s where the Psychic Paper comes in; it’s a blank notepad that shows the viewer whatever its holder wants them to see. Instant credentials allow the storyline to bypass the part where the Doctor spends 20 minutes in a jail cell because no one accepts that he just happened to be standing next to the dead body.

#22:  The Return of U.N.I.T.

U.N.I.T. (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) is another holdover from the previous era of Doctor Who: a quasi-military organization dedicated to investigating and combating alien forces. Introduced during the 2nd Doctor’s tenure, it became a fixture during the 3rd Doctor’s exile to Earth.

The reintroduction of U.N.I.T. to the new series nearly didn’t happen. The real-life United Nations decided that it no longer wanted to be associated with the fictional group. (Heaven forfend that the U.N. be confused with a highly-competent team that regularly saves the world.) Thanks to a slight name change (Unified Intelligence Taskforce), U.N.I.T. is back and kicking Sontaran ass.

#23:  Rose’s Scottish Accent

In “Tooth and Claw” the Doctor and Rose landed in 1879 Scotland, where they encountered Queen Victoria, kung-fu monks and a werewolf. And as fun as all that sounds, my favorite bit was Rose’s embarrassing attempt to fit in with the locals.

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #12 – 16

December 14th, 2009 No comments

Here are some more things I’ve found noteworthy about the regenerated Doctor Who series. As before, they are in no particular order.

#12: “Blink”

Perhaps the most extraordinary Doctor Who episode to date barely featured the Doctor at all. During each season of the new series, there has been one so-called “Doctor-lite” episode designed to give the regular cast a bit of a break. Season three’s entry was adapted by writer Steven Moffat (see, there’s that name again) from his own short story “‘What I Did On My Christmas Holidays’ By Sally Sparrow.” The result was a paradoxical, terrifying mystery about a young woman who received cryptic messages from the Doctor.

For the televised version, Moffat invented the Weeping Angels, bizarre assassins that could move only when no one was looking at them. While being observed they appeared to be harmless stone statues, yet they transformed into fanged horrors in the literal blink of an eye.

The Angels had a unique method of “killing” their chosen prey. A mere touch catapulted the victim into the past, there to live out the rest of a natural lifespan before they were born. In this manner the Angels feasted on the “potential energy” of the life their prey would have originally had.

The Doctor and Martha Jones became stranded in 1969 after an encounter with the Angels. Through a variety of unusual communications methods–including DVD “easter eggs”–they were able to guide Sally to recover the TARDIS. As events looped back on themselves with no clear beginning or end, the Doctor explained it thus:

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, timey-wimey… stuff.

#13: Donna Noble

When Catherine Tate was announced as the Doctor’s regular travelling companion, British fandom was aghast. She was a comedienne, for Rassilon’s sake. (Never mind her time with the Royal Shakespeare Company.) And in her first appearance as Donna Noble–the one-off Christmas special “The Runaway Bride”–she was loud and abrasive. (Never mind that her character had already grown and mellowed considerably by the end of that story.)

This was one time when being an American fan was an advantage. Unfamiliar with her comedy work, I could take her at face value. And I quickly fell in love.

Donna was an office temp unexpectedly thrown into an adventure with the Doctor. She regretted refusing his invitation to join him in the TARDIS, and spent the next year tracking him down.

I found Donna to be a relief after the past couple of companions. Rose spent two years mooning after the Doctor.  (At the time, that romantic angle was unusual for Doctor Who, which had once had the mantra “No hanky-panky in the TARDIS.”) Then Martha joined up, and she had a crush on the Doctor. (It went unrequited because she made the fatal mistake of Not Being Rose.) After three years of hormonus interruptus, it was welcome when Donna made it clear right up front that she didn’t fancy the Time Lord.

Perhaps some of my affection for Donna was because she was closer to my own age. It’s one thing to be all brave and amazing when one is young and gorgeous, another for someone with a couple of decades of disappointment behind her.

By the end of her single full season, Donna had demonstrated compassion, imagination and a zest for adventure. She saved all of reality, only to have the moment cruelly taken away when the Doctor was forced to erase her memories. (He had a good reason, but still.) A year and a half later, it still bugs me that she was reduced to the wittering, useless office drone we’d seen at the beginning of “The Runaway Bride.”

Thankfully, Donna will be appearing in the upcoming “End of Time” two-parter. I’m hopeful that her memories will be restored and that she’ll rediscover just how amazing she was.

#14: The Adipose

Not every alien wants to take over the Earth. Some just want to make babies.

The Adipose–creatures composed almost entirely of fat–had a unique method of reproduction. Their representative on Earth, Matron Cofelia, marketed a phony diet drug which accumulated fat cells within a human body into a young (and utterly adorable) Adipose that would detach itself and toddle away while its host slept.

If this sounds like a pretty good arrangement for all involved, it was. But when the Doctor and Donna independently uncovered the secret, the Matron accelerated the process. The result transformed every cell in a dieter’s body into baby Adipose. Fortunately, the Doctor was able to stop Cofelia before she could murder thousands of chubby Brits.

#15:  Proper Nouns

Inventing decent-sounding sci-fi names is trickier than it might seem. Rookies go with such standbys as umlauts, decorative glottal stops and triple consonants.

Old-school Who tended toward the traditional, adding -os, -on or -ana to the end of a random assortment of syllables. (e.g., Ogros, Florana, Trion)

But Russell Davies took a new approach, devising names that were poetic, evocative, absurdly long, deliberately silly and/or designed to trip up the actors. (The Judoon got their name because David Tennant has trouble with the “oo” sound.)

Among my favorites were:

  • Raxacoricofallapatorius
  • The Fire Trap
  • The Lost Moon of Poosh
  • The Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire
  • Midnight
  • Rago Rago Five Six Rago
  • The Moxx of Balhoon
  • The Adherents of the Repeated Meme
  • Barcelona (the planet, not the city)
  • Blon Fel-Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen
  • Woman Wept
  • The Medusa Cascade
  • The Silver Devastation
  • Matron Cofelia of the Five-Straighten Classabindi Nursery Fleet
  • The Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe
  • Clom

#16:  Daleks and Cybermen Talking Smack

Then there was the time Doctor Who‘s two greatest races of universe-conquering monsters finally met…and immediately began insulting each other.

As Mickey Smith retorted, “It’s like Stephen Hawking meets the Speaking Clock.”

Bonus: brief appearance by Tess Booberson!

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #6 – 11

December 10th, 2009 No comments

This is part two of a series celebrating, in no particular order, things I’ve enjoyed about the first five years of the Doctor Who revival.

#6:  “Dalek”

I have the feeling that the writer’s brief for this episode was, “Take everything about the Daleks that people mock, then knock ’em down.” From the Daleks’ alleged inability to navigate stairs to the uselessness of their sink plunger arms, Robert Shearman’s script ably deflated the myths. The lone Dalek, last survivor of the war between his race and the Time Lords, was depicted as cunning, brutal and capable of psychological insight about his greatest enemy, the Doctor.

In returning the Daleks to their preeminent position of galactic menace–and making them a credible threat to the Time Lords–the production team perhaps went too far. New series Daleks are virtually indestructible. As this episode convincingly claimed, a single one could conceivably kill every last person on Earth.

“Dalek” also reestablished that the conquerers weren’t emotionless drones. Rose Tyler found herself sharing an empathic bond with the slimy creature inside the metal shell. She–and we–learned of its self-loathing and constant pain. When the Dalek mutant felt the sun on its body for the first time, one could hardly help being touched.

The episode was absolutely necessary to understanding the true nature of the Daleks, and it set the stage for their full-on return in the final moments of “Bad Wolf.”

#7:  The Bicycle Pump

There had been suggestions in the original series that the TARDIS was a living machine, but the new series took it further. The redesigned central console was formed from a mass of coral that had grown around various found objects serving as in-flight instruments. Some were decidedly low-tech, such as a bell of the type you’d find on a store counter. The most inexplicable, however, was the bicycle pump. Its function remains unexplained–it’s apparently been identified as the “vortex loop control”–but what it does best is make the Doctor look like an utter madman.

#8:  Sarah Jane Smith

Ah, Sarah Jane. Arguably the most beloved of the original series’ many “companions,” Sarah was by turns feisty, vulnerable, capable, flippant, brave and a bit of a screamer. Dumped on a suburban street by the Doctor after he was summoned to his home planet of Gallifrey, Sarah never quite left us, or we her. She reappeared in the sole spin-off of the old show, K-9 & Company, and again in the 20th anniversary episode “The Five Doctors.”

The episode “School Reunion” was not only a huge love letter to the character (and the middle-aged boys who’d been smitten with her), but an object lesson to then-current companion Rose. Rose was by then already becoming far too attached to the Doctor, fantasizing about settling down with him in some galactic backwater and raising Time Tots. Meeting Sarah Jane drove home that she was only the latest of many people to travel in the TARDIS, and that one day she’d be left behind as well.

Elisabeth Sladen still looked great (even if there’s a “for her age” hiding in that sentence) and caused us to fall in love all over again. So popular was her guest appearance that she was at last awarded a successful spin-off series. The Sarah Jane Adventures airs on the BBC’s kids channel, and has recently completed its third season.

#9:  Mercy Hartigan

Old-school Doctor Who didn’t have many female villains. Sure, there was the Rani, as well as Queen Xanxia, Lady Adrasta and Cessair of Diplos. But one of the most prominent was Eldrad, and she turned out to be a dude.

New Who, however, has demonstrated again and again that, like Barbie, girls can do conquer and destroy anything. In just the first four seasons, their wicked ranks have included Lady Cassandra, Blon Fel-Fotch, the Wire, Tess Booberson, the Empress of Racnoss, Florence Finnegan, the Carrionites and Matron Cofelia.

The most recent femme fatale was Mercy Hartigan from the 2008 Christmas special “The Next Doctor.” Mercy’s backstory was deliberately left unclear, though it was subtly implied she’d been a former prostitute. Whatever her actual profession, she was deeply angry at the patriarchal nature of the Victorian Age into which she was born.

She made a stunning appearance at a snowy graveside, disrupting the somber atmosphere with her flaming red dress. The objections of the pallbearers were soon stilled when she loosed her accomplices, the Cybermen, upon them.

In my dreams, she and Tess Booberson team up.

Hartigan aided the invaders in constructing and powering up their massive Cyberking, but was betrayed when they forced her to become its controlling intelligence. In the end, her mind proved too strong and she dominated the Cybermen in turn.

There will be a new race of Cybermen! My Cybermen! Logic and strength combined with fury and passion!

I think it’s too bad she didn’t succeed. The Cybermen have always been second-class Who villains; they’re the ones you call up when the Daleks aren’t available.  I would’ve welcomed a revamped Cyber-race with Hartigan as its “king.”

Which brings us to the next item on this list:

#10:  Giant Steampunk Cyberman!

Giant Steampunk Cyberman!

Because, Giant Steampunk Cyberman!

GIANT STEAMPUNK CYBERMAN!

It’s a Cyberman! Powered by steam! And it’s giant!

GIANT! STEAMPUNK! CYBERMAN!

And if a giant, steampunk Cyberman controlled by an angry ex-whore wasn’t enough, its arms turned into guns!

YOU-MUST-BE-LOOKING-AT-ME! THERE-IS-NO-ONE-ELSE-HERE!

Say it loud! (Because that’s the only way you’ll be heard above the sound of steam-driven pistons!) GIANT STEAMPUNK CYBERMAN!

ASK-FOR-ME-BY-NAME!

#11:  The Doctor Says “No”

I get chills every time I watch this scene, and I’ve watched it a great many times. In the concluding minutes of “Bad Wolf,” the 9th Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston) realized that Rose had been spirited away to a hidden Dalek fleet. The Daleks got all up in his grill with their “we will exterminate your companion” smack. Then the Doctor told them what he was going to do. And we learned that there’s nothing the Daleks fear more than a Doctor with “no weapons, no defenses, (and) no plan.”

Sixty Things I Like About Who: #1 – 5

December 9th, 2009 No comments

David Tennant’s career as Doctor Who will be ending in a few weeks with a two-part holiday special, “The End of Time.” In many ways, I’ll be sorry to see him go. A childhood fan of the show himself, his affection and enthusiasm for the role shone through. He took the Doctor in new and often exciting directions, aided in great part by the character-focused scripts of modern Who.

On the other hand, I’m hoping that we’ve seen the end of the “dark Doctor” for awhile. Executive Producer Russell Davies views the Doctor as a potentially vengeful and occasionally all-powerful figure, traits that came into play during the recent “Waters of Mars” episode and reached their nadir in the two-part storyline “Human Nature”/”The Family of Blood.” Lots of fans love that latter story for the precise reason I dislike it: the Doctor is shown devising cruel and highly unusual, eternal punishments against his enemies because they shattered his fantasy of living a human life with his racist girlfriend. That’s not my Doctor.

Part two of “The End of Time” will be the 60th episode of the triumphant revival of Doctor Who, and in celebration I’d like to offer sixty things that made me smile, that thrilled me, that made me so very glad that the show is back and better than ever.

Here are the first five, in no particular order:

#1:  “Rose”

No, not Rose the character. (There was a time when she would’ve been on the list, but she eventually wore out her welcome.) I’m talking about “Rose,” the premiere episode. It was a pitch-perfect reintroduction to the series. Unlike the failed ’90s revival, it didn’t overextend itself by recapping Gallifrey, the Time Lords, the Master and the concept of regeneration. It simply dropped its viewpoint character Rose into the middle of one of the Doctor’s adventures, introducing both her and a new generation of viewers to the mystery a step at a time.

The script threw a sop to old-school fans by including the Autons–plastic robots who menaced the Doctor back in the ’70s–even as it added a new level of domestic reality that would’ve never flown in the dear old days of Tom Baker.

In one of its cleverest conceits, it posited that the Doctor’s many interventions throughout history had not gone unnoticed, but instead inspired conspiracy-minded bloggers to concoct their own explanations for his mysterious appearances and ever-changing guise.

#2:  The Judoon

My favorite recurring monsters of the new series are the Judoon, jackbooted rhinoceroses that serve as galactic police-for-hire. They’re not malign, rather dead-set on justice. They’ll get their man/woman/alien, but they don’t care one whit about the damage they cause in their single-minded pursuit. They comprise an intriguing change of pace for Who: creatures that simultaneously serve as both aid and opposition to the Doctor.

Space Rhinos on the Mooooooon!

#3:  Sex

In the very first episode of the original series, viewers were introduced to the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan. Even though this familial relationship was never once refuted or even questioned within the context of the show, fans and production personnel alike have twisted themselves into knots over the years trying to explain how it could not possibly be so. The implication that the Doctor had bumped uglies even once was too much for them to bear.

Thankfully, the new series overthrew that notion in its first season. The two-parter “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances,” written by Steven Moffat (whose name will come up several times in this list), was all about sex. The Doctor’s not-entirely-platonic relationship with Rose was threatened by the dashing Captain Jack Harkness, a younger, dishier, fun-loving time traveler with a more potent gun. Given that “dancing” was used as a metaphor for sex throughout the storyline, the title of the second part seemed a direct challenge to tender fans. And, if the Doctor’s admission that at some point in his life he had “danced” wasn’t enough, Moffat’s next script “The Girl in the Fireplace” strongly implied that the Doctor did it with Madame du Pompadour during the episode.

The new Doctor Who has treated sex in a much more mature manner than its supposedly “adult” spin-off, Torchwood.

#4:  Tess Booberson

Okay, that wasn’t really her name. Yvonne Hartman, played by Tracy-Ann Oberman, ran the London branch of Torchwood, the super-secret organization tasked by Queen Victoria to salvage otherwordly technology and protect England from aliens–including the Doctor. With cheeky arrogance she claimed, “If it’s alien, it’s ours.” My friend Dave Lartigue dubbed her “Tess Booberson” for obvious reasons.

Tess seemed to be asking for a spanking. Or maybe that was just me.

Unfortunately, the saucy Tess was snuffed too soon. Converted into a Cyberman, she rebelled against her programming and was last seen attempting to defend Torchwood Tower from the Cyber-horde.

#5:  The Freeway Chase

Russell Davies has both strengths and weaknesses as a writer. He’s great with character, and has a keen sense of balancing the needs of fanboys against those of a mass audience. He’s shit with endings, relying on deus ex machinas (at times, literal ones) to get himself out of a jam. Too many of his episodes involve someone glowing with omnipotence. And he’s fond of truly groan-inducing moments. Sometimes they work (Queen Elizabeth II waving her thanks to the Doctor) and sometimes not so much (the TARDIS towing the Earth across the galaxy).

Then there’s this: the truly mad TARDIS/car chase from “The Runaway Bride.” My favorite part is the pair of adorable children (stand-ins for the audience) watching the whole thing play out, shouting “Jump!” and punching the air when the Doctor and Donna make their getaway.