TV This past couple of days, my rewatch of the whole of Doctor Who's reached the third season, I think it might be my favourite of the Russell T Davies years. Bits of season two are insufferably smug, season four has a serious wobble in the middle, but there's something rather brilliant about the Tenth Doctor & Martha mixture and the collection of quality scripts which makes the whole watchable and rewatchable. Plus, you know Blink. I mean Blink too for goodness sake.
The strange thing is, back in the day, back when I was posting my reviews to Behind The Sofa, I had a serious wobble in the middle. Glancing back at what I churned out each Saturday night, although I loved Smith & Jones, I had my own serious wobble in the middle. I'll get around to reposting these properly on here next year some time, but just for now, here's a brief survey of what happened.
Smith & Jones I loved and loved so much that in the middle I compared it favourably to what was the last bit of Doctor Who to be broadcast:
"Of course the big question was always going to be what the new companion would be like - how would she measure up to the last companion introduced to the Doctor's story? Well, Martha is less cause than Lucie and although she's perhaps as questioning it's in a far more curious way - Lucie was all about trying to inform her own predicament in order to get home whereas Martha's simply trying to increase her knowledge of the universe. Martha has that innate sense of wonder which you'd find in the likes of Charley Pollard - see the moment when she's standing on the moon and absolutely understands the magnitude of that and how amazingly privileged she is despite her potential impending mortality. Unlike Rose she seems more likely to try and think a situation through rather than just go straight in and hope that it'll work itself out in the end."
But then the wobble began. I was unaccountably disappointed with The Shakespeare Code. Possibly. It's not clear.
"I'm willing to entertain the idea that my expectations were so high that nothing less than Shakespeare In Love meets The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy with the combined wit of Tom Stoppard and Douglas Adams would satiate me, something which impossible really, even from a great Who writer like Gareth Roberts. I mean the idea of placing Love's Labour's Won at the crux of the matter was really clever (even if the resulting play had a slight wrongness to it)."
Then I adored Gridlock which put me in nostalgic mood:
"When I was in my mid-teens our school choir joined a range of other schools at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral to create a chorus of a thousand voices and this was one of the hymns we sang and even though, as I've mentioned before, my religious beliefs are undecided, hearing all of those voices intone those words was really powerful and that's exactly what was replicated on screen tonight. Seeing Martha's reaction here, so wonderfully played by the increasingly indispensable Freema took me right back because that was my reaction too."
Daleks in Manhattan was the tipping point. Not quite. I can see some nice things but I could also see a ruddy great goal post.
"Was that a football goal? I suppose it must be if this was filmed in a park in Cardiff. I wonder how they didn't notice that. Did they notice it and decide it would have been too expensive to paint out? Or did they just not notice right through filming to editing to colour timing to composing to well all of the other processes before it hit the screen. But what if it wasn't a football goal. I'll have to check it again when I've finished recording. Just enjoy the episode. But it could have been a soccer goal. Perhaps it was supposed to be there. Is this going to be the meme of the year - subliminal anachronisms across time? What if soccer was quite popular in depression era New York - it's easier to play than American Football - you just need a large round ball. Surely they would have played baseball. Unless it was just something they didn't notice …"
The deep end. The Evolution of the Daleks review. Which is conducted as an internal dialogue with the fictional entity Martha Jones.
"Where am I?"
"Thanks. Thank you for coming."
"Who are you? Where am I?"
"You're inside the gimmick I'm using to plough through this week's episode review of Evolution of the Daleks. I needed someone to talk to and you're what occurred to me. I'm Stuart and you're…"
"Or my poorly written version of her. Since you've not really had much of a chance to define who you are, I'm going to be winging it. So sorry if you find yourself saying something and it simply doesn't sound like something you'd usually say."
"Since I'm apparently a device to enable you to put into dialogue what you're too tired to put into paragraphs, it's not like I have much of a choice is it?"
"Nothing wrong in being polite though."
Mercy. My disappointment continued into The Lazarus Experiment, the review for which is pretty negligable stuff as the show's formula really starts to chafe, so much so I end up repeating myself with a classic Magrs reference.
"If, once again, I completely failed to be thrilled by it all, it's perhaps for the same reasons I've outlined before. It's another base under siege, another CG beastie chasing the Doctor around, another evil genius played by someone who's narrated Doctor Who Confidential, another experiment gone awry and some more scenic murder. To unfortunately repeat myself, it really is getting to the stage were you imagine that my favourite scene in Paul Magrs novel The Scarlet Empress is playing out."
So bored was I with the process of reviewing by 42, I decided to basically post what I'd managed to write in 42 or so minutes. Yes, there really was an egg timer:
"But I think a measure of the confidence of much of this new series is that in the midst of this race against time it still managed to progress the Mr Saxon story. Again, this was another repeat of one of the elements of the first series, the call home from the far future, but twisted. Frankly, I miss Jackie; but then we haven't seen enough of Francine yet to make a judgement, just lots of moaning. Watching the agents of Saxon tracking the call, of course brought to mind the mind control of a certain man who must be obeyed and I can't ..."
Everything snaps back into place for Human Nature. The glee returns. Probably for the reason you're expecting.
"A glimpse, then it's gone but at least it's there. And like the re-emergence of Gallifrey at an opportune moment once again you wonder whether it's planting something for the future for the forty-fifth anniversary next year. The appearance of McGann here once again suggests that if the apparent adversary for the end of the series is he who must be obeyed that his fate in San Francisco might even be referred to. I know all of this is an over analysis of a single page in a prop artist's fantasy but it just demonstrates the integrity of the episode that such details can send this fan imagination into a spin."
By the time of the The Family of Blood, I'm back and usuing the "r" word.
"The magical connection between the boy and the watch was wonderfully redolent of the adaptations of the past of C S Lewis and John Masefield, of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and particularly The Box of Delights, finding through an onject fantastical doorway into another world and adventures. Of course, today's kids might see Harry Potter parallels and that's fine but part of me wondered if there was the potential for another spin-off, of the watch's powers not being completely depleted as Tim drifts through history writing wrongs as he goes, a kind of Quantum Leap going the slow way. The story also harked back to the kinds of fantasy stories the BBC has always done so well but has lately abandoned for being too out of step with contemporary society. The fates of the family where laced with the kind of fairytale imagination you'd expect from The Brothers Grimm and Lemony Snicket, the little girl trapped in all mirrors everywhere perhaps appearing out of the corner of a child's eye whenever they wash their face in the morning. "
Blink. Oh Blink and one of my favourite reviews I've written myself because I studiously went about not reviewing the episode and talked about other things instead. Time of the Angels is still four years in the future and yet ...
"But somewhere in the middle of the past fortnight's triumphant story, somewhere in the middle of the flashforward to John Smith's potential life I remembered. It is a fairy tale. It is all a fairy tale. A wonderful, magnificent fairytale. It's also, myths and legends and half remembered anecdotes. It doesn't need to be consistent. There doesn't need to be some great continuity because there isn't supposed to be. And it knows. Time and again, in the new series and the old series and the spin-offs between all of this has been referred to. And if you you keep this in mind, the subject of whether two versions of Human Nature can exist in the same canon and this week how two different Sally Sparrows can help the Doctor disappear. It's just the same story being told in range different of ways."
Which was the moment I really fell in love with Doctor Who again. Writing that review. Remembering what it was that made me enjoy Doctor Who in the first place. I was well primed for Utopia at this point:
"But was this the most amazing piece of television ever? What better than The Ascent of Man, Civilisation, Elizabeth R, Pride and Prejudice, Cathy Come Home, the whole of BBC Shakespeare, Network 7, The Sopranos, Shooting The Past (and anything else by Poliakoff), Hill Street Blues, some of Dennis Potter's work, My So-Called Life (I’m bias), Spaced, Monty Python’s Flying Circus before John Cleese couldn’t be arsed with it any more, new Battlestar Galactica, the last five minutes of Blackadder Goes Fourth, the seasons of Buffy not produced by Marti Noxon, Screenwipe, Popworld when it was properly ironic and Trumpton? Probably not. What this most amazing piece of Doctor Who ever? Oh yes."
And The Sound of Drums for that matter.
"But you know what? I loved every minute of it. Despite all of these things, even though it might have been self indulgent, I laughed all of the way through, sometimes with sometimes against what it was trying to do and indeed rather like Torchwood’s episode Cyberwoman never failing to be entertained, which was sort of the point, and the very antithesis of boring. Yes, Simms’ portrayal was noisy but in its own way was a refreshing change from all of the aliens with a heart which have thus far populated the series and yes, genuinely funny in places. The flying aircraft carrier was a startling addition, a Captain Scarlett reference apparently, but also a callback to the kind of space age technology that’s supposed to be knocking around on the planet if the dating of the original series is anything to go by -- we’re supposed to have a fricking space programme by now for goodness sake."
Which meant that by the time The Last of the Timelords wandered on, not even Doctor the house elf could dissuade me even if the review itself is again pretty brief:
"It’s actually been quite surprising to see this Judeo-Christian thread through the season, from ’To Be A Pilgrim’ in The Family of Blood to interestingly named Lazarus ultimately being vanquished in a church to The Old Rugged Cross in Gridlock it’s crept in throughout and even an anti-monotheist like me has found it heart-warming. It bespeaks of a spiritualism and in each case of humanity winning out. It’s nothing new of course but it’s interesting that Russell’s writing has gone from what could be seen as an anti-religious stance in The Parting of the Ways’s version of the Daleks to the whole of the surviving humanity stopping and shouting one name in order to cause his resurrection."
If nothing else, at the bottom of all this, despite his noodling on Torchwood, I do wish RTD was still writing Doctor Who. Not necessarily as showrunner, though the show was certainly more confident in itself back then even if it wasn't well liked by everyone, but the scripts are robust and have heart and well, The Face of Boe, the great big Boe face.
Updated 19/09/2013 I'd forgotten about this. At the end of the season I also posted a retrospective overview of the whole season which tried to make sense of the time travel and attempted to ape the tone of some of the original reviews. Martha returns and the Blink overview is an overview of the original review instead. Apart from ...
"My favourite moment of the episode now is when Sally making beverages in a kitchen you think is hers until she speaks to Kathy. It plays a trick on the audience and the narrative expectations they’ve developed because of the way programmes are edited together now. Plus everyone has an easy likeability – you love all of the characters here, even if they’re only on screen for a few minutes. I love that Carey Mulligan was voted best support actress too; she’s got a natural charisma but there’s a decency and integrity to her performance as Sally, and also an authority. I think, like the rest of the episode, she offers a tone which can’t be seen anywhere else in this series, where everything else seems very big and pantomime."