An Update from the December Forest

Being still on a high from the Doctor Who 50th anniversary, I have blanketed my Tumblr in Whovian imagery to share as much timey wimey goodness as I can, and here at the Dreamline have collected a few of my favourite links from the celebrations. Tansy Rayner Roberts has been blogging once a week all year, kindly collating her posts here, and has also joined forces with Tehani Wessely and David McDonald for ‘New Who in Conversation’, discussing episodes of New Who in detail (they are currently up to ‘The Lodger‘). There’s some gorgeous and slightly spoilery art here, a detailed review of ‘The Day of the Doctor‘ at the Mary Sue and if you somehow haven’t heard about ‘The Night of the Doctor’ minisode, for pity’s sake, dash straight over here to watch it at once.

The Doctor and Amy Pond

The Doctor and Amy Pond

There are also Dalek wedding cakes. And I may have reunited Doctor Who-themed felt projects in a glittery Christmas forest for a 50th anniversary photoshoot. Posting photos is still a Herculean effort for me, so if the result looks dreadful it stays that way.

 

Elsewhere on the internet, people have said interesting, insightful things about Thor: The Dark World, Kathleen Jennings wrote a little, lovely steampunk adventure, and FableCroft is running a special offer on all works to Australian customers, but only until Sunday!

 

Sea Devil

Sea Devil

Now, a bit of housekeeping. We’re less than two weeks away from Christmas now (stay calm, everybody, just breathe) and that means I’m winding up a few things while going maniacally overboard on others. Next week’s will be my last Fairy Tale Tuesday for 2013 but beware, you will probably be flooded with reviews as I work through my backlog before the end of the year. And because it’s December, a time for nice surprises, I have a present for you all. You can open it before Christmas.

 

 

Dalek

Dalek

The following story was written for my friend Laura and without her it would likely still be languishing in my oubliette of unfinished projects. Now that it is polished and shiny, I would like to share it with the wonderful and very much appreciated readers of this blog.

So, come inside. The Door’s open. Welcome to Candlebridge.

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“You Watch Us Run” – 50 Years of Doctor Who

The universe is big. It’s vast and complicated and ridiculous. And sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles.

– Doctor Who, ‘The Pandorica Opens’

Not many television programmes have the stamina to still be going strong fifty years after they first screened, but then not many have the spectrum allowed by Doctor Who. This is a show that spans all of time and space, equally at home on alien planets as it is on a London housing estate; a show that can change its lead actor eleven times and he’s still the same character. Change is the key to Doctor Who’s success, and change it most certainly has.

When the first episode screened on the 23rd of November, 1963, it introduced us to an enigma: a cantankerous old man, clearly not of this world but unable to return to his true home, intellectually brilliant, morally ambiguous, wrapped up within layers of distrust and cynicism. He had no especial fondness for Earth. At times, he seemed to actively dislike it. The only reason he came there in the first place was as a favour to his granddaughter. He took a long time to warm to his companions, frequently insulting them, and while he did miss them when they left, he was in no hurry to invite anyone else aboard. This was an era of stowaways, orphans and accidental intruders. Once a part of the TARDIS crew, your odds of getting home again were almost non-existent. For all the Doctor’s bluff, it was obvious he didn’t really know how to manage the TARDIS. He wouldn’t even admit it was more than a machine.

A lot can happen in fifty years.

In 2013, the Doctor has never been more alien and yet never more human. We know now that he is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, that he has two hearts and is more than a thousand years old, that when he dies he regenerates into a brand new body. His TARDIS is so, so much more than a machine – and more often than not she’s the one managing him.

These days, companions are welcomed aboard with open arms. Joining the TARDIS doesn’t just mean exploring other times and planets, you get a key of your own and a complementary mobile phone upgrade. Whereas companions of the classic era had to leave their old lives behind, or struggle constantly to reclaim them – think Barbara and Ian’s dogged quest to return to 1960s Earth, and Tegan’s roundabout arrival at Heathrow Airport – New Who companions deal with a much messier juxtaposition. They have families and jobs and relationships outside the TARDIS, and those responsibilities don’t go away just because the world needs saving every other day.

That’s a balance only made possible because the Doctor has learned to compromise with the TARDIS. In the past it was a case of hope for the best and bluff like mad (“we’ll go that way and we’ll call it north!”) – now, the Doctor has a lot more control over where and when he goes, though if he wants a beach it’s almost inevitable he’ll end up somewhere else. The TARDIS doesn’t do beaches.

The companions aren’t the only ones feeling the consequences of this newfound flexibility. The past three Doctors have all been guardian figures to their friends, held accountable for all failures, traumas and deaths. Amy summed up this attitude when, thinking she’d lost Rory, she turned on the Doctor demanding “what’s the point of you?” Because it’s not enough he be a friend, helping out here and there as he can. He has to fix EVERYTHING.

That’s an exceptionally unhealthy set up for any friendship. Also, it’s not sustainable. The Doctor has seen the rise and fall of countless civilisations – he has outlived almost everyone he’s ever known, and to expect that not to affect the way he relates to people is absurd. Why is he expected to keep up with all of his companions after they leave the TARDIS? Why is he condemned for moving on, when that’s probably the only thing that’s kept him sane? His perspective must inherently be different from your average human being, and this is not a bad thing. It’s all right he’s not human! It’s all right he isn’t always 100%, unequivocally on our side! When Harriet Jones, in ‘The Christmas Invasion’, commits an act of genocide in order to safeguard Earth, she doesn’t feel she has a choice. And she’s right. The Doctor may not always be there when he’s needed. But it raises the question, for him: what’s the point of his helping if that’s the result? It’s a moment when nobody can be right. I’d love to see New Who acknowledge more of those moments.

I would also like to see a change in the narrative treatment of the Doctor’s friends. Classic era companions had a right to resentment; they rarely got the option of stepping off the TARDIS rollercoaster, and sometimes didn’t even choose to come along in the first place. In New Who, however, every second episode seems to take place on 21st century Earth. If a companion wants to leave, all they have to do is say so. They are all legal adults. They all have responsibility over their own decisions. To pretend otherwise, as many recent storylines have done, is not only undermining the Doctor’s character, it’s a denial of his companions’ personal agency. That does no one any favours.

So what is it exactly that I want? I’d like the Doctor to start calling people on their unrealistic expectations. I’d like to see him being unashamedly alien again. Over the decades, his companions have been overwhelmingly straight white British girls in their late teens and early twenties, and while this definitely does not make them all alike – each is an individual to be taken on her own merits – there’s a homogeneity there that needs challenging. I want to see some more diversity. I want more companions of colour, of alternate sexualities; companions from the past and the future. I want children growing up in the TARDIS and middle-aged adventurers running off to explore space and time. What about companions with disabilities? How would that work? I’d love to find out.

I want ALIENS. Not aliens being at the root of all things, which is what we’ve got right now and a pattern I’m getting rather tired of – humans are quite capable of creating killer robots and blowing up the planet on their own! – but aliens as official companions. It wouldn’t even be that hard; we have the glorious handwavery of perception filters and Shimmers, now, so why not?

Because that, to me, is the question that has always been at the heart of this show. Not who, but why. Why not? Why shouldn’t a sun burn cold? Why shouldn’t a spaceship look like a police telephone box? Why not run away with a Time Lord?

I have been watching Doctor Who for most of my life, so to celebrate the 50th anniversary, I  spent eleven months watching and reviewing an episode from each Doctor’s era, and if there’s anything it’s made me realise, it’s how much I love this show. It’s an integral part of my cultural DNA, as it is for so many people of so many different ages. It revels in the strange, the eccentric, the absurd and the fantastical. It challenges and charms. It is a show that can be about really anything at all. Next stop, everywhere.

We need a show that can do that. I think we always will.

You watch us run.

Reviewing Who – The Eleventh Hour

Doctor: Matt Smith

Companion: Karen Gillan

Script writer: Steven Moffat

Producer: Tracie Simpson and Nikki Wibbs

Executive producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger and Beth Willis

Director: Adam Smith

Originally aired: 3rd April 2010

This is how you do not fly a TARDIS: during mid-regeneration, while it is on fire, while you are hanging onto the door frame for dear life, or all of the above. While the eleventh Doctor hurtles through the sky above London, narrowly avoiding Big Ben (thank you, show. Breaking it once was dramatic; breaking it twice would just be careless), a little girl called Amelia Pond is praying to Santa Claus. She needs a policeman to come fix the crack in her bedroom wall.

Right on cue, a police public call box crash lands in her garden.

Hurrying outside with a torch to investigate, she is almost impaled when a grappling hook comes flying out of the box. The Doctor hauls himself from the depths of the TARDIS, dripping wet and wild-eyed. “Can I have an apple?” is the first thing he says to her. “All I can think about. Apples!” Then he falls off the box and coughs gold light.

This is maybe not the sort of policeman Amelia had in mind, but he’ll do. She brings him inside and politely offers him an apple. He takes one bite but spits it out, demanding yoghurt instead, only to spit that out as well. He’s staggering about looking decidedly unwell so Amelia humours him with more offers of food, despite his proving to possess the worst table manners ever. Eventually he dives into the fridge for himself, emerging with a packet of fish fingers and a bowl of custard.

The food helps to stabilise him. It strikes him that what with crashing into the garden shed and throwing plates of unwanted food, they should have woken up Amelia’s parents by now. She explains shortly that she has no parents, only an aunt, who is out. The Doctor studies his new friend thoughtfully. “You’re not scared of anything! A box falls out of the sky, man falls out of the box, man eats fish custard – and look at you! Just sitting there. You know what I think?…Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.”

Oh, it is. If you knocked the wall down, the crack would remain, because it isn’t the wall that is cracked; it’s reality. When the Doctor leans close to listen, he hears a voice repeating the same words over and over. “Prisoner Zero has escaped.” On the other side of the crack, there is a prison, and they’ve lost a prisoner.

Grabbing Amelia’s hand to pull her behind him, the Doctor sonicks the crack wide open, hoping the forces will invert and it will seal itself. Through the gap, they see a vast eyeball descend to stare through. It zaps a message into the Doctor’s psychic paper just before the crack collapses: Prisoner Zero has escaped.

The Doctor has a very bad feeling about this. Something is wrong – something at the corner of his eye…

At that moment, however, the TARDIS cloister bell begins to peal. That’s not a good sign – the engines are destabilised and he needs to make a quick hop through time to stabilise them. Amelia wants to come, but the TARDIS is a disaster zone right now so the Doctor, who has his own version of the word ‘responsible’, promises to return. “Give me five minutes,” he assures her, and vanishes in a rush of air and wheezing engines. Stars in her eyes, Amelia runs to pack.

Inside the house, something is watching her.

When the Doctor rematerialises, his first warning is the sunlight: it’s morning. He has obviously been a bit longer than five minutes. He sonicks his way inside, calling Amelia’s name, and is met with a cricket bat to the back of the head.

Meanwhile, in the coma ward of the local hospital, nurse Rory Williams is trying to explain to his unnerved superior how a whole room full of patients can speak – let alone all speak at the same time. When they call out, “Doctor”, he thinks they mean her, but there’s someone else who uses that title in town…

And he’s waking up about now with a very sore head. His sonic screwdriver is missing, his wrist is handcuffed to a heater, and a young woman in a slightly unprofessional police uniform is standing over him. She is the one who whacked him with the bat and from the look on her face, she’d rather like to do it again. None of these things are a priority for the Doctor; he wants to see Amelia, a name that visibly disconcerts his captor. She tells him that Amelia Pond has not lived here for six months, that she lives here now.

And she’s not the only one. Something came through the crack that night, something that has hidden itself in plain sight, behind the protective shield of a perception filter. You have to know you’re looking for it to see it at all. At the corner of your eye…

The girl looks. There is a door behind her, a door she has never seen before. The Doctor tells her not to open it, which of course she does, and then to get out straight away, which of course she doesn’t. She finds his sonic screwdriver on a table in there and picks it up, but still she lingers, sure she’s being watched. The Doctor warns her not to look, too late. She turns fast and sees her secretive tenant for the first time – a silvery, serpentine creature with way too many teeth.

This is the point when she runs, taking the Doctor’s stolen sonic with her. “Will that door hold it?” she asks, backing up against the wall beside the heater. “Yeah, of course,” the Doctor retorts, trying and failing to sonic open his handcuffs. His screwdriver is on the blink. “It’s an interdimensional multiform from outer space, they’re all terrified of wood!”

Just to top off the situation, the girl confesses she’s not a policewoman at all – she is in fact a kissogram, and this was the best costume she had for tackling intruders.

The door smashes open. A man and a dog emerge. One is barking, but not the one you might expect; this particular multiform is not good at managing its mouths. Probably all those teeth don’t help. The Doctor is on full manic babble, trying to come up with a reason why it shouldn’t kill them on the spot, when a voice booms down from the heavens. “Prisoner Zero will vacate the human residence or the human residence will be incinerated.”

On the plus side: good distraction! On the negative: INCINERATION. The Doctor finally manages to get his sonic working, freeing himself from the heater, and races outside, only to be distracted himself by the garden shed. He accidentally demolished the last one, so how can there be another that’s had time to get so old? He turns on the policewoman/ kissogram/ wielder of cricket bats in indignant astonishment.

DOCTOR: Why did you say six months?

AMELIA: Why did you say five minutes?

Yep, this is Amelia, twelve years and four psychiatrists later. She has a few issues. The Doctor gapes at her, appalled; as far as he’s concerned, he was only five minutes and somehow Amelia the unflappable little girl has turned into Amy, an angry, leggy redhead with a penchant for short skirts.

But they have bigger problems. Every device within earshot, from a jogger’s iPod to an ice-cream man’s speakers, is blasting the same message: Prisoner Zero will vacate the human residence or the human residence will be incinerated. It hits the Doctor that this message may not mean what it first appears. To confirm his theory, he bounds into a nearby house and grabs the resident old lady’s TV remote, flipping from channel to channel. Every one shows a vast eyeball, and plays the same message.

It’s not Amy’s house they’re threatening to blow up, it’s her PLANET.

The Doctor makes the sort of calculations you only know if you’ve actually seen a planet get incinerated before and announces to his audience – Amy, the old lady and her baffled grandson – that they have about twenty minutes before Prisoner Zero’s erstwhile gaolers destroy Earth. Racing back out into the street, he assesses the village of Leadworth. No airport. No nuclear power station. There is a post office; it’s shut. This is not an ideal location from which to save the world.

Above his head, the first stage of destruction is already taking place. A force field spreads across the sky, sealing off the atmosphere and leaving the sun an unnatural orange. The good people of Leadworth respond by meandering into the park with their camera phones. One of them, however, is not aiming his phone at the sky. It’s Rory, and he’s more interested photographing the man with a dog who is watching events unravel from the street. The Doctor is about to leap into action, the beginnings of a plan taking shape, but Amy has had enough. She grabs his tie and slams it into the door of the nearest car, ordering its nervous owner to go have coffee while she sorts out whether she wants to help her captive Time Lord or deny all evidence of his existence.

He puts an apple in her hand. She gave it to him that night, five minutes ago to him, twelve years to her, the night he crashed into her garden babbling about apples. “Just believe me for twenty minutes,” he pleads. She glares at the apple, then at him, searching his eyes.

She lets him go.

Step one of the plan: accost Rory, snatch his phone. Amy introduces him to the Doctor as ‘a friend’; “boyfriend,” Rory tries to add, but the Doctor isn’t listening. The phone is full of photographic proof that coma patients are walking the streets of Leadworth, a situation hospital management have refused to investigate. The thing is, these people are all disguises for the same person. They are not even in comas. Prisoner Zero has established a psychic link with each one, allowing itself to use their forms. If it took its real form, its gaolers would detect it immediately. For that matter, their scans would detect any sign of extraterrestrial life. That was how they tracked the Doctor here, after all; they are only late because he is.

And what says extraterrestrial louder than a sonic screwdriver?

It’s a plan that really should work. Unfortunately, the screwdriver doesn’t. It explodes into sparks, Prisoner Zero melts down the drain and the Doctor to come up with a new idea. He sends Amy and Rory off to check out the hospital and returns to the old lady’s house to co-opt her grandson Jeff’s laptop, crash an emergency internet conference of experts and prove his cleverness credentials with outrageous genius and also by not letting anyone else get a word in edgewise. Within a matter of minutes he’s whipped up a computer virus and whizzed off, leaving the actual explaining to Jeff.

Amy and Rory, meanwhile, have arrived to find the hospital in chaos. Impersonating a policewoman, Amy manages to get herself and Rory into the restricted area where whatever happened, happened and in a wreckage-strewn corridor they meet a woman with twin daughters who babbles anxiously…in a little girl’s voice.

Wrong mouths again.

Amy and Rory run. They barricade themselves inside the coma ward, but that doesn’t hold Prisoner Zero for long. The Doctor proves he is capable of the odd incidence of excellent timing by arriving in a borrowed fire engine, smashing the ladder through the ward window and scrambling up to join the party. Well, take it over, actually. He tells Prisoner Zero to either take its true form or open another crack and escape that way. But Zero did not open the crack, only found it, and knows full well its gaolers, the Atraxi, will not risk another jailbreak. This time the sentence will be execution. “If I am to die, let there be fire.”

The clock above the door quietly clicks over. The Doctor’s virus has been sent out, and its effect is very simple: all numbers turn to zeroes. It takes the Atraxi no time at all to track that message back to Rory’s phone, which just happens to be full of photos of all Zero’s forms…The Doctor is all set to celebrate the first success of a brand new regeneration when behind him, Amy collapses. Zero has one last card left to play. The Doctor is facing himself, though it takes Rory to point that out; this new face hasn’t been near any mirrors yet.

DOCTOR: Why me, though? You’re linked with her. Why are you copying me?

ZERO: I’m not. (From behind the duplicate, little Amy emerges, seven years old and full of accusation). Poor Amy Pond. Still such a child inside, dreaming of the magic Doctor she knows will return to save her. What a disappointment you’ve been.

DOCTOR: (pause) No, she’s dreaming about me because she can hear me.

And if she can dream about him, she can dream about something else – something she saw in the hidden room of her house. Prisoner Zero is forced into its own snakelike shape and the Atraxi, incompetent in many other ways, are fast enough to notice that. A beam of light descends to secure and remove the prisoner. The force field dissolves, Amy wakes up, birds begin to sing. The world is officially saved!

But the Doctor’s not done yet. He rings up the Atraxi spacecraft and orders them to come straight back. “Did you think no one was watching?” Heading for a rendezvous on the roof, he detours into a changing room to pick out some new clothes. To Rory’s excruciating embarrassment, he then proceeds to strip.

Amy doesn’t mind so much.

Emerging onto the roof several minutes later, they are confronted by a vast eyeball set within a hovering spacecraft. “You are not of this world,” the Atraxi gaoler points out. “No,” the Doctor concedes, trying on ties, “but I’ve put a lot of work into it.” This world has been invaded many times. Who held back the tide? Who stands between the Earth and all those who would take it away? The Atraxi’s scanner swims with images of ten men who are all the same man, and the Doctor steps through it with a smile on his face and a bow tie around his neck.

“Basically,” he says quietly, “run.”

The Atraxi can’t run; no legs. It flies instead with all possible speed. Amy and Rory are still staring after it when the TARDIS key materialises in the Doctor’s hand. He’s already gone by the time Amy turns around, and she arrives in her garden just in time to see the TARDIS disappearing.

Two years later, she sits bolt upright in bed to a very familiar sound. She runs downstairs in her dressing gown and sees the Doctor waiting in the dark, leaning against his blue box, looking quite pleased with himself. He couldn’t resist giving his remodelled old girl a quick trip, he explains, but she’s all ready for the big stuff now. Is Amy? “I grew up,” she retorts. The Doctor beams. “Don’t worry. I can fix that.”

He snaps his fingers. The TARDIS doors fly open, revealing a glowing new interior spangled with every kind of shiny thingamabob. It even has a hatstand! And a new screwdriver! This is Amy’s childhood dream, and it’s terrifying to finally touch it.

AMY: There’s a whole world in here, just like you said. It’s all true. I thought – well, I started to think maybe you were just, like, a mad man with a box.

DOCTOR: Amy Pond, there’s something you’d better understand about me because it’s important, and one day your life may depend upon it. I am definitely a mad man with a box. Goodbye, Leadworth! Hello everything!

The Verdict: I had become a little disenchanted with Doctor Who towards the end of David Tennant’s run. Nothing drastically dreadful, and nothing to do with Tennant himself – it had simply gone too far for my taste. The Master had become a maniac, the Doctor a lonely god. The Time Lords had been tossed out of the universe, AGAIN. What with one thing and another, I was not at my most fannish.

Then came ‘The Eleventh Hour’.

This episode is pure magic from start to finish, and if you think I quoted too many lines, that is what restraint looks like because I wanted to quote them all. Matt Smith’s Doctor is immediately different from Tennant’s; he is younger and older at the same time, argumentative and diffident and ridiculous. He falls over things a lot. He’s adorable.

And AMY. Some people say bad things about Amy; they don’t like her short skirts or her job or the way she hits on the Doctor (spoilers!). Ignore these people. Amy wears short skirts because with legs like that, why the hell wouldn’t you; her job may not be a dream career, but it allows her to be as erratic as she wants; and she hits on the Doctor because he’s amazing and he’s there. He’s her hero, her imaginary magician, her crush, her best friend. She loves him, and over time that love takes different forms, but it never goes away, and it doesn’t mean she loves Rory any the less – in fact, in the end, it means she loves him more. Amy is proof that growing up doesn’t have to mean letting go of the things you love most. It’s also wonderful to see how as this season goes on Rory’s relationship with the Doctor goes from ‘tolerated associate of the real companion’ to a beloved friend in his own right.

I think what happened with them and River was a disastrous mess. I hated the whole pregnancy and abduction plot in season 6. Steven Moffat gets it really wrong sometimes, but when he’s at his best he’s remarkable and it’s thanks to him we got to know two of the best companions ever.

So that’s…it, I suppose. Only of course it’s not. Matt Smith might be on his way out, and I will miss him so very much, but there’s a new Doctor waiting in the wings and so many stories left to tell. Today, in about half an hour’s time, the next chapter will arrive on my TV screen.

I can’t wait.

Reviewing Who – Forest of the Dead

 

Doctor: David Tennant

Companion: Catherine Tate

Script writer: Steven Moffat

Producer: Phil Collinson

Executive producers: Russel T. Davies and Julie Gardner

Director: Euros Lyn

Originally aired: 7th June 2008

Trapped between the enclosing dark and a swarm in a suit, River shoots another hole through a bookcase (no, River, not the BOOKS!), gets her team through and drags the Doctor out of his shock. In a meta turn of events, the little girl is watching the chase from her sofa. When it gets too scary, she switches channels and a stately country house appears on the screen with an ambulance drawing up outside.

Donna is carried out on a stretcher. She comes to in a rather lovely bedroom that she’s never seen before in her life, and a strange man is walking expecting her to know who he is. “And then,” he tells her brightly, “you remembered.” Of course she remembers! He’s Doctor Moon. And this is her new home.

He suggests they go for a walk. In dazzlingly rapid succession, Donna meets an adorable fellow patient with a crippling stutter, goes fishing with him, and a blink of the eye later, is a married mum of two having tea with Doctor Moon on her own sofa. She couldn’t be happier, but something isn’t right, however much she wants to pretend it is. Doctor Moon stands up, flickers, and then it’s her Doctor standing there instead, looking astonished and thrilled to see her. Doctor Moon quickly reappears. He tells Donna to forget what she just saw, and obediently, she does.

In the Library, dusk is falling. The archaeology team, plus bonus Time Lord, have outrun the swarm for now and set about establishing a safe perimeter of lights. They are exhausted, and suspicious, and at last have a moment to ask the obvious question: who is this Doctor anyway? “I trust that man to the end of the universe,” River snaps, “and actually, we’ve been.”

She goes over to join the Doctor, who’s having increasing difficulty with his sonic. Something is interfering with it. Her help consists of suggesting he use functions it doesn’t even have yet and they end up bickering, angry and bewildered with each other, until River finally realises he’s not going to trust her and she has to give him proof, even if it hurts him to hear it. She whispers one word in his ear that leaves him looking shellshocked. But he believes her now.

After a minute or two, he pulls himself together with a visible effort. “Know what’s interesting about my screwdriver, it’s very hard to interfere with. Practically nothing strong enough. Well – some hairdryers, but I’m working on that. So, there is a very strong signal coming from somewhere and it wasn’t there before. What’s new, what’s changed?” He kind of shouts that last bit, prowling around the room. Looking up, he sees the moon rising, and turns on Lux, who impatiently explains it is a doctor moon – a virus checker that supports and maintains the computer core. Someone in the Library is alive and communicating with the moon. Or, conceivably, alive and drying their hair.

As the Doctor fiddles with his sonic, an image of Donna flickers into existence in front of him, but he has no time to say more than her name before she’s gone again. He’s trying to figure out how get her back when his attention is called to another member of River’s team. Her name is Anita, and she has two shadows.

This time the Doctor tries tinting her visor black, hoping this may fool the Vashta Nerada into thinking she’s one of them. It may be too late for that. There were six people in the room when they arrived, and now there’s seven. The swarm in a suit has caught them up.

The scared little girl on the sofa switches channels again to a happier scene. Donna and her family are getting ready for bed when the thunk of the letterbox announces the unexpected arrival of a note. It is addressed to Donna, and reads “The world is wrong.” She dismisses it as random crazy at the time, but next thing she knows she’s at the play park where the sender told her to meet. A woman veiled in black waits on a bench. Donna goes to her, spiky and suspicious, pretending she isn’t afraid, even as the veiled woman sets about deconstructing her world. She did not receive the note the night before; she received it seconds ago, and having decided to come, she found herself arriving. “That is how time progresses here,” the woman explains, “in the manner of a dream.” The voice is familiar and Donna places it to a face that has no place in her world: the face of Miss Evangelista.

This world, she continues, is a pretense. The two of them are only energy signatures in the data core of the Library. It’s here in the play park that it’s easiest to see the lie: all the children running around are really the same two children repeated over and over again. Donna never married. She never had children. Furious and afraid, seizing at any possibility of a mistake, Donna pulls away Miss Evangelista’s veil and is horrified at the impossibly disorted face underneath. She was only a neural ghost caught in the Library’s network, incorrectly stored. She is proof that Donna can’t deny.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and what’s left of the archaeological team are racing down a closed walkway high above the silent city. The Doctor stops to try once again to reason with their pursuer, another of River’s team staying with him to drag him away if need be. When the swarm catches up, crying out its endless refrain of “Hey, who turned out the lights?” the Doctor holds his ground.

“That’s a man’s soul,” he tells it fiercely, “trapped inside a neural relay, going around and around forever. Now, if you don’t have the decency to let him go, how about this: use him. Talk to me.” He wants to know why they are here, so far from their native forests. A roar like the wind through trees is followed by a hesitant, hollow whisper. They come from here, the swarm tells him – these are their forests. They come from the books.

“We should leave,” the other archaeologist calls out. “Doctor!” It is the third time he has said the exact same words. The Doctor spins around, and realises he’s trapped between two dead men. As they close in on him, he sonics open the floor and falls, snatching at the struts beneath the walkway and heaves himself along with the screwdriver clamped in his teeth. The little girl on the sofa is very impressed.

River, less so. Waiting with the others for him to catch up, she tries to explain to Anita how she can miss someone who’s there. “He came when I called, just as he always does. But not my Doctor. Now, my Doctor – “ She smiles wickedly. “I’ve seen whole armies turn and run away, and he’d just swagger off back to his TARDIS, and open the doors with a snap of his fingers. The Doctor, in the TARDIS. Next stop everywhere – “

“Spoilers.” The Doctor has returned, giving River a wary look. And just for the record, nobody can open a TARDIS with a snap of their fingers. “The Doctor can,” River retorts, and if she wanted him to like her that was not the way to go about it.

She isn’t his priority just now, anyway – that’s Anita, still pursued by an infected second shadow, trying not to fall apart under the weight of imminent death. When the Doctor asks her, a little helplessly, if there’s anything he can do, she asks what word it was River whispered in his ear, the word that made him believe her. “Give a dead girl a break,” she jokes weakly. “Your secrets are safe with me.” The Doctor looks at her, but he’s not listening any more. He suddenly realises what the Library was trying to tell the outside world all along – those people weren’t safe, they were saved, into the computer core, the only place safe from the shadows.

For him, realising this is wonderful news. For Donna, it’s the destruction of her world. She returns home with her children, trying to ignore the apocalyptic red light seeping through the curtains, trying to pretend she can hold it all together. But she can’t. The little girl has gone into a wild panic, switching off the image of her father, switching off the moderating presence of Doctor Moon, curled up sobbing on the floor with her hands over her ears.

Donna’s children disappear before her eyes. Her husband is ripped from her arms. The world dissolves into white light.

Taking a gravity platform down to the data core, the Doctor, River, Anita and Lux hear a little girl’s voice calling out for help and see a node wearing the face of a child. Lux knew she was here all along; she’s the reason the Library was built in the first place. Her name is Charlotte Abigail Lux and she was his grandfather’s youngest daughter, who died young and has been kept in this dreaming half-life ever since. But now there are more than four thousand people inside her mind. She’s confused and scared and lashing out, sending the computer on a countdown to self-destruct. The only way to stop the destruction is by rematerialising the people in her head, and the only way to do that is by procuring more memory space. The Doctor intends to use his brain to make up the shortfall. There is one tiny flaw with this plan – it will kill him. River is furious, but she takes Lux back up into the Library to help prep the systems, which leaves the Doctor alone with Anita.

Or rather, the suit that once held Anita. All that’s left in the suit is bones and shadows. The swarm has grasped the knack of talking now, but it would so much rather hunt, consume, reclaim its forest. Shadows stretch towards the Doctor like hungry hands.

“Don’t play games with me,” he says coldly. “You just killed someone I like, that is not a safe place to stand. I’m the Doctor and you’re in the biggest library in the universe. Look me up.

Slowly, the shadows retreat. They know the power of a story as old as the Doctor. He is granted one day’s reprieve, and River returns in time to see her friend’s empty suit collapse on the floor. She has no time to grieve; someone else is about to die, and she’s made the executive decision that it will not be the Doctor. She brings him down with one hell of a right hook and when he wakes up, he’s handcuffed to a wall while she links herself up to the system. She is very calm; when the Doctor pleads with her to let him take her place, she comforts him. “It’s okay. It’s not over for you, you’ll see me again. You’ve got all that to come. You and me, time and space. You watch us run.”

He has one last question he needs answered. The word she whispered in his ear was his name; his real name. How could she possibly know that? But she only smiles. “Spoilers.” And then she’s gone.

The teleports kick in across the Library, depositing 4023 people back into the real world. Which, all things considered, may not be where they want to be. It’s been a hundred years, after all. Donna searches in vain for the man she met and married there. It’s only as she turns away that he steps from the crowd onto the teleport and catches sight of her. He tries to call her back, but disappears before he can get the word out. Mean, Moffat, that is just MEAN.

So the Doctor is shattered. Donna is shattered. They stand side by side looking down at River’s blue book, brimming over with the Doctor’s secrets. Should they peek?

“Spoilers,” Donna sighs, and the Doctor puts the book down with all the other biographies, River’s screwdriver on top of it. They walk slowly away. Then he’s racing back down like his life depends on it, because someone’s does. His future self, the one River knew, had all those years to think about how to save her and what did he do? He gave her his screwdriver.

And there is a computer around here that’s pretty good at saving people.

River wakes up outside the stately house with Charlotte Abigail Lux and Doctor Moon waiting for her, and her team running across the lawns to join her. Outside the TARDIS, the Doctor pauses, and snaps his fingers.

The TARDIS doors swing open.

“When you run with the Doctor, it feels like it will never end. But however hard you try, you can’t run forever. Everybody knows that everybody dies, and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark if he ever, for one moment, accepts it.

Everybody knows that everybody dies. But not every day. Not today.

Every now and then, every one in a very long while, every day in a million days when the wind stands fair, and the Doctor comes to call, everybody lives.”

The Verdict: LIBRARY. You had me at LIBRARY. Also, shadows as monsters beat green lions hollow, and I bet you there were fans all over the world who slept with the light on the night after this screened.

David Tennant’s Doctor has a manic energy to rival Tom Baker’s. He dashes about all over the screen like time and space might end any second, which to be fair is usually the case in his life. As far as I’m concerned, he was at his best with Donna – all his other friends ended up trying to change him, make him more human, more manageable, but Donna never did. She didn’t try to build him up as a god or tear him down as a monster, though she saw both of those sides in her very first adventure with him. She was his voice of common sense and occasionally conscience, and what happened to her at the end of the season was criminal. No wonder River looked at her like that. Death would have been a more honest ending.

Talking of which, oh, River! My heart breaks for her every time I watch this story and see what is probably the worst day of her life unfold to its inevitable end. Even then, as the foundations of her world crack and crumble, she is an unstoppable force, living and dying on her own terms. No wonder the Doctor couldn’t bear to let her go. But everybody knows that everybody dies…

Join me next month for a grand finale as I wrap up a year of reviews with the episode that introduced us to the brilliant, the bemused, the football-playing, custard-eating, endearingly absurd Doctor No.11.

Reviewing Who – Silence in the Library

Doctor: David Tennant

Companion: Catherine Tate

Script writer: Steven Moffat

Producer: Phil Collinson

Executive producers: Russel T. Davies and Julie Gardner

Director: Euros Lyn

Originally aired: 31st May 2008

A little girl sits with her worried father and her psychologist Dr Moon. She has a most unusual condition. When her eyes are open, she is in her perfectly ordinary living room. When they are shut, she is in the Library – a fantastical world of books, where she can fly, and explore, and is always, always alone. But today something is wrong. As she floats through one of the Library’s endless rooms, its doors begin to rattle violently. “The Library is in your mind,” Dr Moon says soothingly. “I know it’s in my mind,” she wails, “but something’s got inside.”

The doors fly open. The Doctor and Donna charge through.

This incarnation of the Doctor is tall and thin in a rather fetching way. He wears a long brown ‘hero coat’ that flaps impressively when he walks. His current best friend is Donna Noble, a loud-mouthed London temp who may be the only companion Doc 10 has ever had who doesn’t fancy him. Apparently on a whim, he has brought them to the 51st century and a bibliophile’s paradise: the Library, a planet that is quite literally a whole world of books. They have landed in biographies. Donna picks up a book at random, only to have it snatched from her hands by the Doctor. “Spoilers!” he scolds. “These books are from your future. You read ahead, it’ll spoil all the surprises. Like peeking at the end.” Which does rather raise the question: why did he bring her here in the first place?

The Doctor has a question of his own. Where is everybody? A library is intended to be quiet, certainly, but this place is lifeless. When the Doctor runs a scan for humanoid life on the nearest computer, the result that comes up is two. When he scans for any form of life, however, the computer can’t cope with the numbers. It crashes at a billion billion. The Doctor and Donna look at each other in the deathly silence and jump like they’ve been electrocuted when a voice rings out behind them.

It belongs to a courtesy node, that being a tall white sculpture with a startlingly authentic human face. This, as it turns out, is because that face was donated by a dead person. That’s the 51st century for you. The node welcomes the Doctor and Donna to the Library, then recites a message left behind for all patrons by the head librarian. “Count the shadows. For God’s sake, remember, if you want to live, count the shadows.”

The Doctor looks slowly around. “Donna,” he says, unconvincingly casual, “stay out of the shadows.”

He finally admits that it wasn’t a whim that brought them here; a note appeared on his psychic paper telling him to come here, and he couldn’t resist finding out why. He thinks it could be a cry for help. Donna doubts it. In her experience, cries for help are not usually signed with a kiss.

Behind them, the lights start going out. This is never a good sign.

The Doctor and Donna race down the corridor and Donna kicks open the first door, which the Doctor then jams shut with a book. They find themselves facing a security camera that drops in very un-cameralike shock at the sight of them. When the Doctor tries sonicking it, the little girl falls to the floor with her arms clamped over her ears, and type flashes across the camera’s screen begging him to stop. He backs off at once, surprised and apologetic, but there is something stranger in this room. A shadow has fallen across the floor, with nothing to cast it. A moment later, it’s gone. In her living room, the little girl sits up, blank faced. “Others are coming,” she says aloud. “The Library is breached. Others are coming.”

Another door explodes inward, and a procession of anonymous figures in white spacesuits stride through. One stops directly in front of the Doctor. “Hello sweetie!” she beams. She seems delighted see him; the Doctor, less so. He does his best to convince the new arrivals to leave and never, ever come back. Instead they take off their helmets and get settled in for an argument.

DOCTOR: Oh, you’re not, are you? Tell me you’re not archaeologists.

RIVER: Got a problem with archaeologists?

DOCTOR: I’m a time traveller. I point and laugh at archaeologists.

RIVER: Professor River Song, archaeologist.

The Doctor has another go at scaring everybody away by dragging another of the team over to the way they came and pointing out the obvious: there is no way any more, only blackness that wasn’t there a matter of minutes ago. Confusion has set in for the rest of the team, but Strackman Lux, financier of the expedition, is confident of his priorities. Inexplicable shadows? Pff. He sends over his personal assistant Miss Evangelista with confidentiality contracts for the Doctor and Donna to sign, and in beautiful unison, they rip them up. Mr Lux then stands, glaring and ignored, while all his employers put together a perimeter of lights under the Doctor’s instructions. Well, almost all of his employees. River Song has commandeered the Library shop as her office – calling in the Doctor with one-sided familiarity, she sets about trying to pin him down to meetings he’s never had from her a battered blue diary. His total bemusement shakes her. “Look at you,” she breathes, reaching out instinctively to touch his face. “You’re young…You’re younger than I’ve ever seen you. Doctor, please tell me you know who I am.”

The Doctor looks sideways at the hand on his cheek. “Who are you?”

She has no time to think of an answer, if she even can answer right then. One of her team had tried to call up the Library database, and the only result they have achieved is a repetitive ringing. The Doctor comes over to apply his magic Time Lord touch and somehow appears on the little girl’s TV screen. They stare at each other uncertainly. “You’re in my Library!” she observes. “The Library’s never bee on television before, what have you done?” Good question, little girl, good question. The screen goes blank before he can answer. While he tries to bring her back, the Doctor’s attention is drawn to River’s mysterious blue book. Unable to resist, he reaches for it, but she gets there first. “Spoilers!”

Trying to relocate the Doctor, the little girl uncovers a secret compartment in her television remote. When she starts pressing buttons, books fly off their shelves in the Library and Miss Evangelista freaks out. The only one who has attention to spare is Donna, who goes over to check she’s okay. She’s not, not really. Miss Evangelista is not as clever as the rest of the team and she feels they don’t like her, which isn’t exactly true, but they certainly don’t listen to her. When a side door opens, everyone is too busy talking to notice it and ignore her painfully polite efforts to get their attention, so she goes off to investigate on her own.

The next thing they hear from Miss Evangelista is a scream. By the time they reach her, a matter of minutes later, all that is left is a skeleton picked clean of flesh and a fading impression of her living consciousness trapped in the neural relay of her shredded suit.

In her living room, the little girl sits alone with Doctor Moon. “There is the real world,” he tells her,”and the world of nightmares. That’s right, isn’t it, you know that…What I want you to remember is this, and I know it’s hard. The real world is a lie, and your nightmares are real. The Library is real. There are people trapped in there, people who need to be saved. The shadows are growing again. Those people are depending on you. You can save them. Only you.”

Congratulations, Doctor Moon! You win the Scariest Thing Said to a Child Award for Season 4!

The rest of the team are led back to the central room by the Doctor, who – wielding a torch in one hand and a chicken leg in the other – reveals the monsters of the Library. They are the Vaschta Nerada, swarms of organisms that can sometimes be seen as the motes of dust in sunbeams. “Piranhas of the air,” the Doctor calls them. They come from the dark of forests, but here they have grown powerful and vicious. There’s only one way to survive them: RUN.

While the Doctor sonicks shadows, River and Donna stand to one side watching. River tries to explain how her message was misdirected, arriving too early, in the days before the Doctor knew her. “And he looks at me,” she whispers, “and he looks right through me, and it shouldn’t kill me but it does.” Donna is not sympathetic, especially after she gives her name and River looks at her like she’s a dead woman walking. Time travellers are hell to live with.

Dave, one of River’s team, has worse problems; he has two shadows. The Vashta Nerada have latched onto him. The Doctor launches into action, pulling Donna over to the Library teleports, where he dematerialises her in mid-protest. She appears in the TARDIS, then flickers out of existence with a terrified scream.

The Doctor doesn’t know that. Right now, he’s trying to save Dave. Dialling up the mesh density of his suit and replacing his helmet on his head, the hope is to make him a harder meal to digest, not worth the effort. Then the second shadow disappears, and the visor of Dave’s helmet turns black. “Hey!” he cries. “Who turned out the lights?” His whole body shudders as he is devoured, leaving a skull staring out at them, but the loop of his last words is repeated over and over, an echo in the neural relay. The Doctor, who has an incurable addiction to bad ideas, edges closer, like there’s anything he can do.

The thing in the suit comes to sudden life, seizing his throat. River uses a sonic screwdriver of her own to electrocute the suit, forcing whatever animating force is controlling the hands to let the Doctor go. But the Vashta Nerada don’t die. Shadows stretch from where the suit stands, each one infected with instant death, and the only thing to do is run. When it seems they’ll be cut off by the darkness, River shoots her way through a WALL. Basically, she is being impressive all over the place, and the Doctor still looks right through her, because he’s just realised that Donna never reached the TARDIS; he should have received a message when she did. He accosts the nearest courtesy node for an explanation, and it turns around wearing Donna’s face. “Donna Noble has left the Library,” it intones. “Donna Noble has been saved.”

Reviewing Who – Rose

Doctor: Christopher Eccleston

Companion: Billie Piper

Script writer: Russel T. Davies

Producer: Phil Collinson

Executive producers: Russel T. Davies, Julie Gardner and Mal Young

Director: Keith Boak

Originally aired: 26th March 2005

Meet Rose Tyler. She’s a nineteen year old Londoner who lives with her mum on a housing estate and does not have the qualifications to do anything even remotely exciting. Existing in a repeat cycle of chips and tea and entrenched boredom, the most remarkable thing about her life is that she is allowed to wear a hoodie and jeans to work in an inner city department store.

Then one night she stays late, venturing into the cavernous basement to deliver an envelope of lottery money. Rose is a little annoyed, but not scared. Not until the doors slam inexplicably shut and a roomful of abandoned shop dummies come to life. At first Rose is angry, assuming this is someone’s idea of a prank, but the dummies don’t stop. They don’t laugh. They advance inexorably, backing Rose up against a wall, a plastic arm raised to strike –

And someone seizes her hand. Someone with a black leather jacket, a sonic screwdriver and a bundle of explosives. GUESS WHO. “Run,” he tells her, and they run like hell.

They head for the lift. When one of the dummies reaches for them through the closing doors, Rose’s rescuer wrestles wildly with it and to her shock, its arm breaks off entirely. The doors shut. With determined bravado, Rose demands to know what’s going on. Is this a student thing?

DOCTOR: Why students?

ROSE: To get that many people dressed up and being silly, they got to be students.

DOCTOR: That makes sense. Well done.

DOCTOR: They’re not students.

They are, in fact, creatures of living plastic, controlled by a relay on the roof, and the Doctor is here to blow it up. “And I might well die in the process,” he informs Rose casually as he bundles her out the door, “but don’t worry about me, no. You go on. Go on, go have your lovely beans on toast.”

Mr Charm, Doctor No.9 is not.

Rose is left alone on the street with snide advice and a broken plastic arm, but not for long. The door is yanked open again just as she turns to walk away. “I’m the Doctor, by the way, what’s your name?” “Rose.” The Doctor beams. “Nice to meet you, Rose. Run for your life!”

And Rose runs, back into the real world of buses and shoppers, nearly getting herself run down by a passing cab. On the other side of the street she stops to look over her shoulder and before her eyes the top of the department store explodes, glass shattering, flame billowing outward. The Doctor has made good on his word.

In an alley behind Rose, a blue box stands waiting in the shadows.

She returns home in a state of shock, to be alternately coddled and scolded by her mother Jackie, who is more interested in fielding melodramatic phone calls about the explosion than asking questions about what caused it. Her boyfriend Mickey is equally preoccupied. His cure for shock is a few drinks down at the pub and maybe the end of a match…Rose, relaxing despite herself, doesn’t want to go anywhere, but she does want that plastic arm gone. Mickey claps it to his throat, miming strangulation, then tosses it carelessly into a bin on the street. What could be scary about a broken hand?

As Sarah Jane Smith could tell you: A LOT.

The next morning Rose wakes up unemployed. She wanders into the kitchen, where she hears a rattle at the door. Something is trying to open the catflap. Which used to be hammered down, only all the nails seem to have spontaneously fallen out. Rose kneels down and defiantly pushes it up, to find the Doctor kneeling on the other side with his sonic. “What’re you doing here?” he asks, indignantly. “I live here,” Rose retorts. She drags him inside. It’s time to get some answers.

As he passes her mother’s door, the Doctor is propositioned by Jackie. It’s a cringey moment, its sole purpose being to redefine the Doctor’s romantic potential, i.e. that he has any. We’re not on Gallifrey any more, K-9.

Rose, meanwhile, is making coffee and plans in the kitchen. She wants to go to the police, but they need to get their stories straight, especially as she hasn’t got the faintest idea what’s going on. The Doctor roams around her cramped, cluttered living room, not really listening, poking at things and tossing them around like the first word in bad news. A rustle behind the sofa suddenly catches his attention. He goes over to investigate, and the disembodied arm comes flying straight for his throat.

This is the point when Rose comes in with the coffee cups. She sees the Doctor struggling with the plastic hand but just rolls her eyes, assuming this is more arm humour. Abruptly, it lets go of him and flings itself at her face instead. Rose stumbles back, suffocating beneath its hold. The Doctor quickly sonicks it and the hand falls off, abruptly inanimate.

Next minute, the Doctor is out of the flat and down the stairs, Rose once again running to catch up. After nearly dying twice, she feels she is owed some sort of explanation. He feels otherwise. The arm wasn’t even after her, he explains disdainfully, she simply blundered into the wrong place at the wrong time and was mistaken for a bigger player. The plastic is being controlled by the Nestene consciousness; they want to overthrow and destroy the human race. The Doctor is trying to stop them. The best thing Rose can do, as far as he’s concerned, is go back to her ordinary life and pretend this hasn’t happened at all.

Rose is having none of that. She follows him down the street, grabbing whatever bizarre scraps of explanation she can. They end up on one side of a parking lot, where a blue box stands incongruous and alone. The Doctor starts off towards it. “Who are you?” Rose calls, a little desperately, not really expecting an answer. But he stops, and turns around.

“Do you know like we were saying about the Earth revolving?” he asks, walking slowly back to her. “It’s like when you’re a kid. The first time they tell you that the world is turning and you just can’t quite believe it, because everything looks like it’s standing still. I can feel it.” His fingers wrap around hers, as if at that moment she can feel it too. “The turning of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour, and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. We’re falling through space, you and me. Clinging to the skin of this tiny little world and if we let go – “

He releases her hand. “That’s who I am. Now forget me, Rose Tyler. Go home.” This time he walks away without looking back, and Rose is doing the same when a wind rises from nowhere and a strange wheezing makes her run back – but the Doctor is gone, and so is the blue box.

Rose is a 21st century girl. She knows how to deal with weirdness. Heading straight over to Mickey’s place, she ransacks the internet for clues, and though her first searches come up empty the words ‘Doctor Blue Box’ bring a website up on her screen. Its homepage is a picture of the man who saved her life twice, the man who says he can feel the Earth turning underneath his feet.

It is run by someone called Clive. The next day Rose goes to see him, Mickey very reluctantly providing a lift. He waits in the car (which is a delightful Bessie-esque yellow) as a rear guard while Rose goes into the house. Clive turns out to be a passionate conspiracy theorist with a shed full of research into the impossible phenomenon that is the Doctor. He shows Rose pictures of the same man dating back more than a hundred years. “The Doctor is a legend woven throughout history,” he explains. “When disaster comes, he’s there. He brings the storm in his wake, and he has one constant companion: death.”

Which is exactly what you want to hear when you’ve just met the man and he’s smashed your coffee table while prising a murderous disembodied hand off your face!

In the car, Mickey is getting bored with playing sentinel. When a rubbish bin comes rolling down the street towards him, he gets out and goes to throw it open, thinking it’s a joke. To his surprise, it’s empty. Then he tries to pull away, and finds that the plastic doesn’t intend to let him go.

Rose is still trying to unriddle the Doctor. She has accepted there is something strange about him, but Clive’s theory – that it is the same man, that he is immortal, that he isn’t even human – is too much for her. She retreats to the car, dismissing the encounter as internet crazy. Her boyfriend is still waiting for her…or something that looks like her boyfriend, anyway. Blank-eyed and alarmingly shiny, he drives her to a pizza restaurant and pumps her for information on the Doctor with an excess of endearments that finally makes her realise something weird is going on.

A bottle of champagne appears at her elbow. They have not ordered champagne, but the waiter is terribly persistent, and also wears black leather. She looks up to see the Doctor firing a cork into her boyfriend’s forehead. The plastic swallows it whole. A second later, the fake Mickey spits the cork onto the table, throwing away all pretense at humanity. It and the Doctor  lunge at each other, and to Rose’s horror the Doctor triumphantly tears off its head. Not that that stops an Auton. Its hands transforming into axes, it proceeds to destroy the restaurant. Rose hits the fire alarm, evacuating her horrified fellow patrons, and races with the Doctor into the courtyard outside. The blue box stands there, as unlikely as ever. While Rose shouts for him to get the chained gate open, the Doctor strolls casually inside.

As far as she can see, he’s just taken refuge inside a wooden box while the Auton smashes down a metal door. On the other hand, any hiding place, even a stupid one, is better than being cornered in the open, so she follows, and finds herself in a vast console room that throbs and glows with an almost organic life. Utterly freaked out, she backs away, only to dash back inside away from the pounding of the Auton.

The Doctor is hooking the plastic head up to various wires, intending to follow it back to the source of its signal. That done, he turns his attention on Rose, who’s gone in one side of shock and out the other. She’s in a box that makes a mockery of the laws of physics? Okay. With an alien in a leather jacket? Sure. It’s the sight of Mickey’s head melting on the console that breaks her down, and the Doctor’s none too happy either – not because he gives a damn about her boyfriend, but because that means they’re losing the signal. The TARDIS hastily dematerialises, reappearing on a bridge across from the London Eye. From there, they are on their own. 

Wrapped up in his own problems, the Doctor largely ignores Rose’s amazement, her grief and her anger, though he brightens up when called upon to explain the appearance of his TARDIS. “It’s a disguise,” he beams, patting a door fondly. He assumes the Nestene consciousness is similarly hidden. How else could a huge round metal transmitter be concealed in central London?

Rose looks over his shoulder pointedly. You thought infiltrating Madame Tussaud’s was bad? Hah! The aliens have taken over the London Eye.

The Doctor whirls on her, grinning infectiously. Together they run down the street, hand in hand, a temporary team. Rose finds a manhole for the Doctor to sonic open and they jump down into a hellish underground lair, the light coloured red from a vast roiling vat – quite a downgrade from the nice purpose-built tank of the 70s. The Doctor has a plan, this time rather better than a bundle of wires cobbled together overnight; he has brought a vial of anti-plastic that is like poison to the creature in the vat, but first he has to give it a chance at surrender.

“I seek audience with the Nestene consciousness under peaceful contract,” he calls, “according to convention 15 of the Shadow Proclamation.” When did the Doctor learn diplomacy?

Rose, at least, isn’t listening: she’s found Mickey, alive and well, if terrified out of his mind. She is with him when a pair of Autons emerge to seize hold of the Doctor. Searching him, they discover the vial and the Nestene consciousness flares with outrage, making the Doctor recoil at an accusation only he can hear. “I fought in the war, it wasn’t my fault!” he cries out, almost pleadingly. “I couldn’t save your world, I couldn’t save any of them!”

The Nestene consciousness is scared. Technologically, it is outclassed, but it has captured the TARDIS and the Doctor and now it sends out the signal for a full scale invasion. The Doctor shouts to Rose, telling her to run. She doesn’t. She grabs her mobile and calls her mother instead, who is naturally out for a spot of late night shopping and doesn’t catch a word of Rose’s warning. She’s not the only one; Clive and his family are in the same centre when the dummies jerk into life, smashing through shop windows and stepping down to face the shocked crowd. In that moment Clive finally has confirmation – he was right, he was right all along – and the next he is dead, the first victim of an Auton’s gun. His family run screaming. Jackie, arriving to a scene of terrifying chaos, does the same.

The streets of London are overrun with living plastic and the Doctor is pinioned between Auton guards, unable to do anything about it. For a moment, his frantic eyes meet Rose’s. She is the girl who fell across him by accident, who wasn’t even meant to be here – but she is here, and she’s not going down without a fight. Seizing an axe, she hacks a chain from the wall and uses it to swing feet-first into one of the Autons that are holding the Doctor. He uses the distraction to hurl the other into the vat, and the anti-plastic with it, then catches Rose as she swings back. “Now we’re in trouble!” he tells her gleefully, and they dash for the TARDIS, dematerialising just as explosions rip the place apart. On the street, the Autons collapse, falling apart with the failure of the signal. All plastic, only plastic.

When the TARDIS materialises in a quiet street, Mickey hurtles out and throws himself on the ground as far away from it as he can get. Rose, already an old hand, follows with her mobile to her ear, ringing her mum again. Confirming that Jackie is alive (actual conversation can wait) she turns to the Doctor, who is smiling smugly at their success. “You were useless in there,” she points out. “You’d be dead if it wasn’t for me.”

The Doctor acknowledges this, with something of an effort. “Right then,” he adds, awkwardly. “I’ll be off! Unless, I don’t know…you could come with me.” Mickey is definitely not included in the invitation, nor does he want to be. He throws his arms around Rose’s waist, practically catatonic, and her answer is a reluctant no, Mickey being the evidence of her real world and its commitments. Visibly disappointed, the Doctor disappears into the TARDIS, the wind of its departure whipping back Rose’s hair and leaving behind a hole, an unexpected emptiness where adventure could have been. Quietly, she gets Mickey up. They are halfway down the street when the sound of the TARDIS reappearing makes her whirl around.

“By the way,” the Doctor calls, “did I mention, it also travels in time?”

Rose just looks at him for a second. Then she kisses Mickey lightly on the cheek and runs, leaping aboard the TARDIS, leaving her old life far, far behind.

The Verdict: The return of Doctor Who in 2005 was heralded, by me and my friends at least, with a sort of hopeful trepidation. Would they get it right? Would they get it spectacularly, appallingly, just-like-the-promos wrong? If they were looking for the perfect monster to get me on board from the word go, though, someone was psychic, because there are few antagonists in this show that I love more than the Autons. Also, how many TV programmes kick off with a  teenage girl saving the world?

Look, I had my issues with New Who and still do; I can never quite forgive Russel T. Davies for killing off the Time Lords, which in a single blow transformed the Doctor from a rabble-rousing Gallifreyan rebel into the Lonely God, Oncoming Storm and all sorts of other ominous sounding legends. But he brought back the show. He gave it a bright, beating, manically energetic heart and I will always be grateful to him for that, as I will always be grateful to Eccleston for being the first Doctor of a new age. He will never be my Doctor, but I like him better with every rewatch. He’s a bookend to William Hartnell: arrogant, insulting and unhelpful, impatient with the stupidity of humans but delighted with them at the same time, broken from too many tragedies but still chasing marvels in a great big universe of crazy that’s just waiting to be explored.

Join me in November for the penultimate post of my 50th anniversary rewatch, when Eccleston’s successor David Tennant lands in the greatest library ever made, meets a time-travelling archaeologist, and discovers that running won’t save you when what you’re trying to escape from is darkness itself…

Reviewing Who – Doctor Who: The Movie

Doctor: Paul McGann

Companion: Daphne Ashbrook

Script writer: Matthew Jacobs

Producer: Peter V. Ware

Executive producers: Philip David Segal, Alex Beaton and Jo Wright

Director: Geoffrey Sax

Originally aired: 27th May 1996

Take a deep breath, everybody, this is a LONG one.

On the planet Skaro the Master is finally brought to trial for his many lifetimes of destruction and is sentenced to a permanent death. That it is the Daleks, of all people, who are judging anybody for war crimes, is an audacious irony that immediately smacks down a few preconceptions. They are even willing to grant him a last request; that the Doctor should bring his remains home to Gallifrey.

The Doctor is, sensibly, deeply suspicious about the whole thing. He takes what precautions he can by locking up the futuristic urn that contains whatever is left of the Master’s body in a secure casket. Then he sets the co-ordinates for Gallifrey and settles down for a nice evening in. A cup of tea, a good book. A bit of jazz. Candles. Jellybabies. The TARDIS console room has undergone an extreme makeover since we last saw it, becoming an eclectically cluttered cavern from which cosy niches have been carved. Ensconced in his corner, the Doctor does not notice when the casket begins to rattle. Suddenly, it breaks. A silvery something slides into the central console and by the time the Doctor realises what’s wrong the damage has already been done, an emergency landing instigated. Guess where they end up. No, go on, guess.

What is it about Earth that the Doctor just can’t get away from here?

While disaster unfolds in the TARDIS, a different sort of danger is at large on the streets of San Fransisco, where three young thugs are on the run from an ominous black car. They climb over a wire fence into an abandoned yard where it can’t follow and scare off its driver with handguns, and are clapping each other on the back in self-congratulation at how tough they are when a group of armed men in black emerge around the yard. This wasn’t an escape; this was an ambush. One of the boys is cornered by a whole impromptu firing squad, but before any triggers can be pulled a light beams down like an answered prayer and a blue box materialises between victim and gunmen. The Doctor steps out. He barely gets the chance to turn around before the freaked out gangsters gun him down and flee, leaving him to die alone.

But he’s not alone, not quite. The boy, Chang Lee, emerges from behind the TARDIS, looking first for his friends – both of whom are dead – then returning to his bizarre saviour and calling an ambulance. The Doctor is the only one to see the strange silvery gel oozing through the lock on the TARDIS door…

Lee, who for all his hoodlum attitude is not a bad-hearted kid, travels with the unconscious Doctor in the ambulance. When asked for the patient’s name, he unknowingly gives the attending paramedic the Doctor’s favourite pseudonym, ‘John Smith’. Unknown to any of them, the Master has hitched a lift, shifting from gel to a phantasmic snake thing that conceals itself in the paramedic’s jacket.

At the hospital the doctors go to work on the Doctor. The initial X-ray that reveals his two hearts is dismissed as a double exposure, but his heartrate is alarmingly fast and so the hospital’s cardiology expert is called in – a surgeon nicknamed by her colleagues as ‘Amazing Grace’. She’s at the opera with her boyfriend at the time, gorgeously dressed in a blue ballgown, having a nice evening out.

Spoiler: all the nice evenings in this movie, they get wrecked.

But Grace is a professional. When her pager goes off she doesn’t hesitate or even get changed, just races straight to the hospital, scrubs up and heads into surgery. Her boyfriend doesn’t get it; he delays her with a brief, resentful phone call and hangs up on her when she tries to explain. She loves her opera, though. She has Puccini put on while she starts work on the Doctor, who recognises the music and opens his eyes. He realises what’s going on, and desperately tries to make her stop. ‘I’m not human,’ he keeps telling her, but no one pays any attention to that. They dose him heavily with anaesthetic and insert a camera into his body to begin surgery. Only he’s right, he’s not human, and trying negotiate her way through his unusually placed internal organs leaves Grace baffled. He suddenly goes into seizure. Both hearts stop, and he cannot be revived.

Grace is shattered by her failure. She goes back to the X-rays and is the first to realise they aren’t double exposures at all. Determined to get some answers, she calls in Chang Lee, who has waited all this time, and breaks the news of the Doctor’s death. Instead of answering her questions, he snatches up the bag of the Doctor’s possessions and takes off out of the hospital.

Remember that jacket the Master appropriated? It has gone home with Bruce the ill-fated paramedic. While he and his wife sleep, the snake thing emerges from a sleeve, slides across the floor and slides up the bed, diving straight into his mouth. Bruce as he was is gone. On the plus side, he stops snoring!

The Doctor’s body is taken to the morgue, where a couple of irreverent orderlies chat about their New Year’s Eve plans over his corpse. It’s December 30th 1999, and they’re planning a costume party to see in the millenium. One stays on duty in the silent morgue, settling down with a bowl of popcorn and the movie Frankenstein. It looks like he’s having a nice evening. Oh dear.

As lightning surges through a corpse and a mad scientist dances in black and white triumph on the TV screen, a different electricity plays across the Doctor’s body. The regenerative process has finally begun. His face goes through a series of horrible contortions and he changes, melting from the shape of a short elderly man to that of a tall young one, all long brown curls and wide worried eyes, like a Romantic poet transplanted into the unfriendly modern world.

In front of his movie, the orderly’s peace is interrupted by a loud bang coming from the morgue. He gets up to investigate and discovers the metal door of one cubicle buckling as if someone’s punching it from the inside. That’s because that’s exactly what they’re doing, and hell, the Doctor is strong right now. The door falls right off its hinges. In the bluish light of the morgue the Doctor steps forward, wrapped only in the sheet that covered his dead body. He shivers. The orderly faints. Shellshocked and half-frozen, the Doctor stumbles away from him, wandering through empty corridors until he comes to a part of the hospital that is seemingly under construction or else has been pretty heavily vandalised – it’s all bare concrete, puddles and debris. He sees his face in a row of broken mirrors and realises he has no idea who that face even belongs to.

It’s a confronting morning for everybody. Grace wakes up on the sofa of her office and heads out to solve her mystery, only to be told his body has gone missing, while Bruce’s wife wakes up to a deranged alien possessing her husband’s body, who promptly murders her. Meanwhile, the Doctor – who is not exactly the Doctor just now – is still exploring the hospital. He comes across the staff lockers, fully stocked up for the costume party, and through a process of trial and error that involves stripy scarves and cowboy hats, cobbles together an outfit that suits him. Then he finds his way next to the waiting room to, well, wait for something to happen.

What happens is Grace, trying to call the police about bodysnatching. He recognises her, but before he can reach her she’s dragged aside by her boss. He doesn’t see this whole incident as a challenge to medical science; he sees it as potential bad publicity for the hospital and when Grace shows him the X-rays as proof, he sets fire to them. Furious, she quits on the spot. When she storms into the lift not long afterward, loaded up with her stuff in a box, she is joined by a barefoot stranger in a frock coat just before the door shuts. He stands just a little too close and keeps looking at her intently.

“Puccini!” he exclaims at last. He’s sure they’ve met before. “You’re tired of life,” he tells her, “but afraid of dying.” She gets out of that lift as soon as she can, hurrying towards her car while he bounds along beside her like an anxious puppy. He even follows her into her car, which would be creepy if it wasn’t for the fact he immediately doubles over in pain and starts pulling a length of wire from his chest. It’s Grace’s lost camera.

What is this?” he wails. “Please, I have two hearts. You have to get me out of here before they kill me again. Please, you have to help me. Drive!” Overwhelmed by the weirdness, Grace drives.

‘Bruce’ arrives at work in black leather and shades. He wants to get hold of the Doctor’s body – wow, that came out wrong – and isn’t much pleased to hear it’s gone missing. His next goal is to pick up the contents of the Doctor’s pockets. Unfortunately for Chang Lee, they know exactly who stole those.

Arriving home, Grace finds all her furniture missing. This is apparently her boyfriend’s way of telling her they’ve broken up, because he is a jerk. Pushing this problem aside in favour of the more pressing one standing beside her, she gets the Doctor to open his shirt so she can check out his hearbeat. It might be a romantic moment if he’d stay still long enough to notice and she wasn’t so freaked out that he really does have two hearts. The Doctor’s absent minded name-dropping, from Puccini to Leonardo da Vinci, doesn’t help, nor does his own theory about his physical condition. “I was dead too long this time. The anaesthetic almost destroyed the regenerative process.”

Meanwhile, Lee returns to the abandoned yard where he was almost killed to try out the key from the Doctor’s things. He takes one look inside and backs straight out to do the traditional double-take. When he goes back in, the Master is waiting for him. His explanation for all the crazy that Lee’s seen is that this is really his spaceship and the Doctor is a body-stealing maniac who must be stopped. It’s lucky Grace isn’t there to hear him, because she’s currently studying the Doctor’s blood samples through her own personal microscope and struggling to come up with any answers of her own. The Doctor himself is busy trying on her boyfriend’s boots. (The mystery of Brian; he takes the sofa but leaves a box of his shoes.) When he finds a pair that suits him they go for a walk to brainstorm in the park. Grace’s best theory is that he’s the result of some weird genetic experiment. He doesn’t think that’s right. Memories return of his father, watching a meteor storm in the Gallifreyan sky…mid memory he stops and jumps up and down. “These shoes fit perfectly!” He’s sweet, this Doctor, but a little scatterbrained.

The Master is the opposite – really horrible, but good at getting things done. He’s been mouthing off against the Doctor and bribing Lee with gold dust from the TARDIS stores, building an advantageous alliance. The TARDIS seems to like Lee, so the Master takes a gamble and brings him into the Cloister Room, which is basically a massive Gothic chapel complete with flaming torches and bats. Bats. The TARDIS has an ecosystem! Not that the Master cares about that, all he cares about is the Eye of Harmony, the sunken wellspring of power lidded in stone. He tells Lee to remove one of its four mooring staffs and the Eye begins to open…

In the park, the Doctor staggers, memory hitting him all at once. Blazing with excitement, he seizes Grace and kisses her exuberantly. “I am the Doctor!” he shouts. She’s like, okay, whatever, let’s get back to the kissing! He’s happy to oblige, unaware of the plotting taking place in his TARDIS. Above the open Eye an image of his previous incarnation melts into his new self. The Master tells Lee that the Doctor’s retinal structure proves he’s half human. We don’t believe him, because, the Master.

But the opening of the Eye has finally affected the Doctor – he pulls away from Grace and starts shouting incoherently about the Master, the Eye of Harmony, danger, death and time travel, and something about the urgent need for an atomic clock. It’s no wonder when she freaks out completely and runs back across the park to lock herself in her house, where she calls an ambulance to get this lunatic the hell out of her life.

It’s not that easy to get rid of him, though. He tells her that the opening of the Eye has already compromised the molecular integrity of the Earth by stepping through the glass of her window. Which makes absolutely no sense, but who cares, it looks cool! They end up sitting awkwardly side by side on her window seat, the Doctor watching TV broadcasts of the freak weather conditions already troubling the planet and Grace checking compulsively for the arrival of the ambulance. Then one piece of news really grabs his attention. An atomic clock is being opened in the city in honour of the new millenium.

The doorbell rings. It’s the ambulance, and guess which possessed paramedic is standing on the doorstep? Grace sees salvation; the Doctor sees transport. They both climb inside unquestioningly. En route, however, they get stuck in traffic and the Master’s shades fall off, revealing his snake eyes. He spits venom at Grace, catching her wrist, and the Doctor reacts by spraying him with a fire extinguisher then grabbing Grace and making a break for it. They race through the lines of the traffic jam until they come to a policeman on a motorbike. The Doctor offers him a jellybaby, using the distraction to steal his gun, with which he threatens to shoot himself if he doesn’t get the bike. Before they go anywhere, though, he wants to be sure Grace is on his side. The thing is, she’s not all that sure herself.

“Grace,” he tells her, “I came back to life before your eyes, I held back death. Look, I can’t make your dream come true forever, but I can make it come true today.” And he gets through. She takes the gun and shoots the policeman’s radio, threatening the poor man until he hands over the keys. By the time the Master and Lee start their pursuit, the Doctor and Grace are gone. The Doctor, it turns out, is not a great driver.

GRACE: Doctor, I only have one life! Can you remember that?

DOCTOR: I’ll try!

But Lee knows shortcuts. When the bike draws up outside their destination, the ambulance is already there, and it’s empty. Inside, Grace introduces the Doctor as Doctor Bowman from London, a crazy British guy who might do anything, like lean very close and whisper in your ear, “I’m half human, on my mother’s side,” whilst stealing your name-tag. We still don’t believe it, because really?!

Using the pilfered tag, they climb up to the very impressive clock, so that the Doctor can open it up and take the one tiny component he needs. On the way down, they are stopped by a highly suspicious aide. The Doctor bamboozles him with vital details about his future and another jellybaby. Unfortunately the smooth ride stops there, because the Master’s in the crowd below with Lee and spots them. The Doctor sets off a fire alarm, grabs Grace and lowers them both off the roof onto a handy police car. They return to their bike and set off for the TARDIS. It occurs to Grace on the way to ask for pointers on her future, but the Doctor’s all, ‘Spoilers!’

When they reach the TARDIS the Doctor retrieves his spare key from a secret compartment and opens the door to the sound of the cloister bell ringing. That’s never a good sign. What’s worse, the TARDIS is out of power. Grace refuses to let the Doctor give up, though – this is, after all, her planet that will be pulled into the Eye of Harmony if something isn’t done fast – and the two of them cobble together a plan to jumpstart the TARDIS. Aaand then Grace knocks the Doctor unconscious. Remember when the Master spit that venom at her? Turns out it’s multi-purpose.

The Doctor wakes up in the cloister room, in chains, with a suddenly black-eyed Grace strapping him into a very ominous looking device and the Master sashaying down the stairs in full Gallifreyan regalia. Grace being beyond reach at the moment, the Doctor focuses on Lee, trying to convince him that a guy who goes around possessing people is a dreadful father figure. As the Master retorts, he slips up, revealing his story about stolen lives is all a lie. Lee refuses to reopen the Eye. The Master, proving why he should never ever be allowed companions, casually snaps Lee’s neck and goes with the back up plan, this being to de-possess Grace and force her to open the Eye instead. The point of all this is to have the power he needs to absorb all the Doctor’s life force, restoring himself. It’s a good plan. Only thing is, he’s frozen while the transfer is in place.

As the clocks of Earth tick down to midnight and a new millenium, storms radiate out from the TARDIS, a precursor to the end of the world. Grace takes her only advantage and runs back to the console room to finish the Doctor’s work, re-routing the power. The central console starts to move. Time warps backward, reversing the Eye’s damage, returning the Doctor’s lives. There’s no time to celebrate; Grace dashes back to the cloister room to free the Doctor, but while she’s undoing the manacles the livid Master grabs her and throws her over the side of the stairs. She’s killed instantly.

He then lays into the Doctor. I’m sure it comes as a shock to no one that when it comes to kicking the crap out of people, he’s your man. The Eye is still open, though, and the Master gets too close. He falls. The Doctor, being the Doctor, offers a hand to help him out, but the Master won’t take it and is dissolved by the Eye’s light.

Time continues reversing a few crucial minutes. Lee and Grace wake up on the floor, imbued with golden regenerative energy, and the Eye shuts itself. Frankly I have no idea what’s going on any more, but let’s assume it’s good news.

The TARDIS drops all three of them off in a quiet San Fransisco park festooned with fairy lights. Lee, told he can keep the gold dust, takes off before the Doctor can change his mind, waylaid only by another of those cryptic ‘I know everything about all time’ remarks that will presumably save his life at some point. The Doctor then turns to Grace to finally give her that pointer she wanted, but she stops him – she’d rather shape her own future. He asks her to come with him. She asks him to come with her. They look at each other and they know that the adventure is over, it’s time to say goodbye. They kiss one last time and walk in opposite directions – him towards the TARDIS, her towards the city. “Thank you, Doctor,” she calls, just before he disappears. “Thank you, doctor,” he smiles, and he’s gone.

Inside the TARDIS, he makes a few last repairs, then settles back in his armchair with his abandoned book, tea and jazz for a nice evening in. You just know that’s not going to last…

The Verdict: If you thought Colin Baker had it hard, spare a thought for poor Paul McGann. He’s the official Eighth Doctor, yet he only gets one televised story, most of which he spends in a state of shellshocked amnesia. Fortunately his legacy is greater than that, thanks to a long-running series of Big Finish audio adventures that firmly establish his place in the show’s history. He’s the vulnerable Doctor, sweet and impulsive and sincere.

He’s probably best known, though, for THAT KISS.

For seven regenerations the Doctor was pretty much sexless, an avuncular loner no more interested in his companions that way than they were interested in him. Then suddenly he’s all handsome and people are noticing that, and it’s just a bit awkward really. Even McGann was uncomfortable with it at the time. How things have changed! I used to be firmly against the Doctor having any kind of romantic relationship, but River Song wore me down, so I look at this story on the rewatch rather differently than I used to. Grace was good for the Doctor. Actually, Grace is good full stop. She’s highly intelligent, extremely sensible, and you know that though the Doctor’s gone from her life, she’ll be just fine. Which is as it should be.

Join me in September for the first episode of New Who, when a hard-headed, battle-scarred new Doctor in black leather crash lands in the life of Rose Tyler, blows up her workplace, and shows her what it means to really run. Doctor Who will never be the same again.