Review – Doctor Who: The Complete Seventh Series

Review – Doctor Who: The Complete Seventh Series

Doctor Who: The Complete Seventh Series

(BBC, PG)

Matt Smith’s final season as the Doctor arrived on DVD in late 2013.

It seems hard to believe that we were first introduced to the 11th and 12th Doctor’s companion Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) in the first episode of the series which aired in 2012.

We wondered, back then, what the heck show runner Steven Moffat was playing at when he introduced the Doctor’s new companion within a Dalek travel machine and then killed her at the episode’s conclusion.

The episode was called Asylum of the Daleks and aired on the BBC on September 1, 2012.

It was as epic as the movie style poster created to advertise it, showing the Doctor carrying an unconscious Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) through the flames of a Dalek mad house.

Not everyone liked Amy, for her over impulsiveness, but I loved her relationship with the Doctor and husband Rory (Arthur Darvill) and was genuinely upset when they departed the show half way through the season.

The Angels Take Manhattan was a fitting swan song for the Ponds and, once again, Moffat showed what an excellent writer he was as he tugged on the heart strings again and again throughout this episode.

There’s so many great moments in it. The idea that the Statue of Liberty was a massive Weeping Angel was genius and obvious at the same time. The closing scenes are throat lump inducing.

In the middle of that first half of the season we finally met Rory’s dad, Brian, who has a wonderful workman moment in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. He is glimpsed with his feet hanging out of the front door of the TARDIS, packed lunch and flask of tea in hand, admiring the wonders of the universe as she flies through space. Modern Doctor Who is made of great, crazy, moments as these. I dearly wished we had seen more of his character, who shines brightly in The Power of Three.

Clara, of course, returned in 2012’s Christmas special The Snowmen and died in that before returning in The Bells of Saint John which aired on March 30. It was a long time to wait for new Who so thank the Time Lords for the BBC’s release of classic Who on DVD and Big Finish Productions’ new audio plays in the meantime.

The second half of Season 7 was more of a mixed bag than the first with some true classics like Wellington writer Neil Cross’s musical extravaganza Rings of Akhaten (Murray Gold’s brilliant score is now available on CD) and ghost (or is that love?) story Hide. There’s also a few clunkers, which is a shame, but you can’t win them all.

Because of its premise, about the adventures of an alien adventurer who travels through time and space in a police box which is bigger on the inside, Doctor Who can be set anywhere and tell any genre of story. So some are bound to work better than others and some will not appeal if they are made in genres you are not a fan of.

I found some of my favourites were loathed by others, and vice versa, but we were all agreed that the best episode of the season was the finale The Name of the Doctor which came packed with surprises. It explained how Clara could appear in so many past stories, including with all 10 of Smith’s predecessors, and was a real love letter to fans. And boy, what a cliff hanger, introducing John Hurt as the Doctor. But where, oh where, does he fit in. Spoilers.

But there’s more reasons to buy this boxed set than just having the whole season in one five disc set and that’s the extras.

There’s more than three hours, some of which are little prequel webisodes which feed into key episodes. Yes, some of them are already online, but here they are in one place in this set, and they do help set up some of the stories.

There are also three good documentaries on the Doctor’s companions, the science of the show and how the series is viewed in the US.

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DVD Review – The Doctors: The Pat Troughton Years (Koch Media)

DVD Review – The Doctors: The Pat Troughton Years (Koch Media)

The recent death of Deborah Watling, who played companion Victoria Waterfield alongside the late Pat Troughton’s Second Doctor, gives this DVD release an extra poignancy.

Watling died on July 21, aged 69, as I worked my way through the six documentaries in this excellent two disk set comprising a new introduction and six previously released Myth Makers documentaries. Sadly, Watling’s death means half of the actors featuring in this set are no longer with us.

Troughton died in 1987 and Michael Craze, who played companion Ben Jackson, in 1998. This DVD set features them in their own documentaries on Disc 1 alongside Anneke Wills, who played companion Polly. Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, who played companions Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe Heriot, feature in their own documentaries on Disc 2 alongside Watling.

The set is rounded off with a new introduction from interviewer Nicholas Briggs and Producer Keith Barnfather.


Briggs and Barnfather, which sounds like an august legal firm, are absolutely delightful as they introduce this set filmed in the 1980s and 1990s. Some of these features were filmed before Doctor Who sadly left British screens in 1989, or before it returned bigger and better in 2005. It’s obvious from watching and listening to what they have to say that these are two very good friends united in their love for Doctor Who many moons ago.

“Patrick, unfortunately, we never interviewed for Myth Makers,” Barnfather reveals.

Briggs, probably better known for his work with Big Finish Productions and as the voice of the Daleks and other nasties in new era Doctor Who, fesses up to loving Troughton’s Doctor the most.

“He was the one who established, sort of, the character of the Doctor we know today,” Briggs opines. “Patrick Troughton was the prototype for every other Doctor that’s come since him.”

As well as being the name of the missing second story in the third series of original Doctor Who, Myth Makers was a series of documentaries celebrating the first seven Doctors and their companions. Each documentary featured Briggs interviewing one of the cast about their time on the show, and their career before and after it.

The Troughton documentary in this set, then, is the original Myth Makers documentary grabbed from footage of an interview conducted in Brighton in 1985 at a Doctor Who Appreciation Society convention. But this documentary is far more sophisticated than pointing the camera at the stage for 50 minutes focussed on the actor. The piece is balanced with interviews from other Doctor Who cast and crew, starting with former head of BBC TV Drama Shaun Sutton who had known Troughton before World War II.

“Even in those days Patrick had those same deep lines on his face, he had the look of a thousand-year-old leprechaun,” Sutton offers.

“He was just a great fun person,” informs Hines. “Everything could be turned into a joke.”

Anneke Wills’ Myth Makers opens to a Mark Knopfleresque guitar solo set against an idyllic Norfolk countryside, where Wills admits to being her happiest. It’s 1993 and Wills has returned to England after years overseas, including time in a spiritual community in India. She tells Briggs her story from the comfort of a living room, the ruins of a church left behind after its parish was devastated by the Black Death, from the sand dunes on the beach at Cromer, and from the flower garden.
It’s an intimate interview, and Wills is warm and wistful.

Craze is interviewed in 1985, at the Otter Bar in the Norfolk hotel he managed, and again in the Myth Makers studio surrounded by a Dalek, Cyberman and war machine, in 1996.

“We didn’t really quite know how they were going to do it,” Crave reveals of the first regeneration from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton. “All I remember is it took a long time and in those old-fashioned days they literally superimposed the two heads on black backgrounds . . . It took a long time.”

Briggs does a Through The Keyhole intro to the Hines documentary, filmed at Hines’ home/horse stud in Yorkshire in 1994. This is probably the most relaxed of the Myth Makers interviews in this set, so it’s no surprise to learn in the introduction that Hines and Briggs are now great friends, and it’s nice to see a little of Hines’ horse stud in operation.

But the highlight is some behind the scenes footage of The Abominable Snowmen shot on location, in colour, at Snowdonia National Park.

Briggs turns to This Is Your Life for the inspiration for the opening of Watling’s Myth Makers interviews. They were conducted at Monster Con in Liverpool in 1986 on concrete pavers, with additional material shot in 1995.

“I didn’t want her to be soppy and silly and wimpy,” Watling says as she reveals she played against the script.” Of course, the girls in those days, they did tend to be like that . . . Purely because Jamie and the Doctor had to come and rescue them.”

Padbury is treading the boards with the Third Doctor Jon Pertwee at the New Theatre, Cardiff, in Superted And The Comet Of The Spoons in 1986, when Briggs catches up with her for Myth Makers. The interview is augmented with a more recent studio chat in which Padbury confirms her favourite story is The Mind Robber.

“I don’t think there was anything superficial about Pat and Frazer and I,” she says of the dream TARDIS team. “The friendship grew and working together became easier.”

The Doctors: The Pat Troughton Years is, in the best possible way, like two DVDs full of top quality extras. Except there’s so many of them that there’s no room for the main feature. It’s the first time that I had seen any of this material, and it made me feel nostalgic for an era of Doctor Who that aired before I was born in 1972.

Preview: Rising star conducts NZ Symphony Orchestra

New Zealand Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular’s New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is to tour next month.

James Feddeck, described as one of the fastest rising American conductors of the decade, will lead the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in its five-city Schumann & Barber concert tour from June 15.

American conductor James Feddeck

Feddeck is in demand as one of the most versatile American conductors aged under 40, including concerts with the Chicago Symphony, Manchester’s The Halle, the Toronto Symphony, and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. He’s also worked with singer-songwriter Randy Newman.

“We’re honoured to have James Feddeck conduct the NZSO for the first time and New Zealanders will understand why he’s in demand all over the world,”  said NZSO chief executive Christopher Blake in a press release.

The tour also features acclaimed German cellist Daniel Muller-Schott in a programme that includes Samuel Barber’s popular Adagio for Strings.

Muller-Schott returns to New Zealand to play Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto.

Winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians when he was 15, Muller-Schott has gone from strength to strength since his celebrated concerts with the NZSO in 2013. Among the highlights have been his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic and performances in Japan of a cello concerto written for Müller-Schott by music legend Sir Andre Previn.

“I feel the cello is somehow my instrument, my voice. It should be a part of you,” Muller-Schott said when he last played with the NZSO.

Adagio for Strings, a 20th century classical work, was played at the funerals of US President John F Kennedy and Diana, Princess of Wales, and after the September 11 attacks, it is instantly recognisable from its use in film and television.

The programme also features Barber’s ambitious Symphony No. 1, which fuses the four traditional movements of a symphony into a single movement. It was a hit when it premiered in Rome in the same year he wrote Adagio for Strings.

The concerts will open with Johannes Brahms’ intoxicating Tragic Overture. Brahms, a close friend of Schumann, wrote the overture while he was being lauded throughout Europe for his first two symphonies.

Ben Foster conducted the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra playing composer Murray Gold’s Doctor Who music in Wellington in 2014 and Auckland in 2015. Fifth Doctor Peter Davison emceed as Daleks, Cybermen and other Doctor Who monsters roamed the crowd.

 

Schumann & Barber

JAMES FEDDECK Conductor

DANIEL MÃœLLER-SCHOTT Cello

BRAHMS Tragic Overture

SCHUMANN Cello Concerto in A minor

BARBER Adagio for Strings

BARBER Symphony No. 1

 

Dates and Venues

HAMILTON | Claudelands Arena| Thursday 15 June| 7.30pm

AUCKLAND | Town Hall| Friday 16 June| 7.30pm

WELLINGTON | Michael Fowler Centre| Saturday 17 June| 7.30pm

BLENHEIM | ASB Theatre| Tuesday 20 June| 7pm

CHRISTCHURCH | Isaac Theatre Royal| Wednesday 21 June| 7pm

 

 

 

Review – Doctor Who – Oxygen

Review – Doctor Who – Oxygen

Tonight’s episode of Doctor Who was breath taking, in more ways than one.

The opening sequence, complete with a “Space, the final frontier . . . “ voice over from the Doctor, brought a smile to my face. Instead of continuing with the words Gene Roddenberry wrote for Star Trek, in 1966, the Doctor frightens his audience with a warning on how deadly the vacuum can be.  “. . . Final because it wants to kill us.”

Before the opening credits we see the death of one space station bound astronaut, her cybernetic space suit has taken control, and things don’t look too good for a second.

At this point, having deliberately avoided anything about Series 10, I was convinced that Oxygen would mark the return of the original Mondasian Cybermen from the First Doctor story The Tenth Planet. Who, else, would be behind such a dastardly plot? But I was wrong.

Post credits we see the Doctor being all doctorish as he continues his lecture on space in what should have been a talk about crop rotation, a mesmerized Bill listens from the audience.

Oxygen 2Back in the TARDIS the Doctor is getting a lecture from Nardole about staying on Earth and facing up to his responsibilities to guard whoever it is in the cabinet, while he receives a distress call. The Doctor’s description, at this point, of the signal as his theme tune is inspired writing from Jamie Mathieson, who also scripted Series 9 episode The Girl Who Died. I can safely say I preferred this script. I particularly liked Nadole’s reference, in this scene, to his having removed the TARDIS fluid link to prevent take-off. The Doctor lost a TARDIS fluid link in the original Dalek story with the First Doctor.

Upon arrival at the space station 36 of the 40 crew are dead, killed by their berserker space suits, but where are they other four and how can the Doctor, Bill and Nardole help?

This might be my favourite episode of the series, so far, thanks to the Mathieson’s deft script and the chemistry between the new TARDIS trio. It feels like they have arrived. The Doctor, once again devoted to saving others, his fussy sidekick Nardole, and Bill, who is learning what it is to gallivant around the galaxy.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve arrived at the fifth episode of the series.

Next time, things will spice up further with the return of Missy/The Master. But what about those Cybermen?

 

Review: Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks

dwpotd

The Power of the Daleks, the third story of Season Four of Doctor Who, had a lot to live up to both in its original airing between November 5 and December 10, 1966, and its animated recreation now showing in cinemas.

The six-parter, back in 1966, had to seamlessly replace one beloved Doctor with a new one for the first time if the show was to go on. What nobody knew then was whether Patrick Troughton could become as beloved to generation of British children as William Hartnell who he replaced.

That fear was even reflected in a wonderful conversation between companions Polly (Anneke Wills) and Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) in the first part of the story: an is it the Doctor or isn’t it conversation which by no means ends definitely. If Troughton couldn’t win the viewers’ hearts Doctor Who would have quickly vanished from television screens and I probably wouldn’t be here now writing about it, nor you reading about it.

Cleverly, however, the powers that be at the BBC chose to make the second Doctor’s first story a Dalek one. Setting the new Doctor against a familiar foe helped the viewer quickly get a measure of the new TARDIS traveller.

The TARDIS lands on the planet Vulcan, home to a human colony where a mysterious capsule had landed. As the Doctor recovers from his regeneration the capsule is discovered to have contained three Daleks, but one is missing. Soon the Daleks are serving humans, but can the Doctor warn them before it’s too late?

At one point in the story Dalek asks a human why humans kill each other. It’s a lovely moment that serves to remind the viewer that humans can be as evil as Daleks.

From the surviving clips of this otherwise lost story, and the audio recordings made during its transmission, it’s clear that Troughton was top of his game from day one and knocked it out of the park with his stovepipe hat and bow tie wearing, and recorder playing Second Doctor. He’s an absolute enigma in the moments following his first regeneration, setting the trend for many more to come.

What wasn’t clear was how a full animation of the story would go down. Previous recreations of lost episodes have been fine given the short amount of time and money allocated for the job, but this one is a step up from those. The Power of the Daleks is a very simple animation providing a decent visual cue to what was on the screen the first time around. Although the director admits it is not a scene by scene clone – about half can be attributed to the original director Christopher Barry.

The animators have done a great job of capturing the likeness of the TARDIS crew, although the animated Daleks are the more familiar squat versions. For some reason The Power of the Daleks used a taller model of the killer Dalek travel machine.

At Hoyts Metro in Hamilton, New Zealand, where I saw it with my 10-year-old son the six parts had been edited into one long movie, extras and all, coming in at 180 minutes. Pacing was a little slow in the first 30 to 45 minutes, but the story really picked up from there and just whizzed along. My son, used to the whiz bang of films like Star Wars: The Force Awaken, was glued to the screen and less critical than me. “It’s not often you get to see something your Dad hasn’t seen,” he said with glee.

Elements of Power of the Daleks show up in other Doctor Who, most notably in the Season Five episode of the new series Victory of the Daleks. Both stories feature subservient Daleks who serve humans while plotting to rebuild the race and dominate the universe.

This will be a must for DVD when it gets its release very soon.

Review: Doctor Who – Into The Dalek

Peter Capaldi has well and truly arrived as the Doctor.

If there was any question of whether the 12th actor to play the Doctor on television could pull it off after the first episode of Series 8 last week, Capaldi completely quells it this week.

In last week’s episode, Deep Breath, the Doctor was all over the place as he recovered from a particularly traumatic regeneration. But in the second episode of the series, Into the Dalek, he wears his twin alien hearts on his sleeve as he is forced to ask: “Clara, be a pal and tell me ‘am I a good man?'”

It’s a deep, dark, foreboding moment and you really don’t know how Clara is going to answer.

Coleman, preparing to travel to New Zealand for Armageddon, is superb in her response and it’s the highlight of the episode. Capaldi and Coleman are a much more interesting dynamic than Matt Smith and Coleman and I am on record as saying Smith is my favourite Doctor of all time.

But Capaldi is deeper, darker, and more unpredictable than Smith – at least in this episode. And he lacks empathy far more.

Into The Dalek

Doctor Who meets 1987 flick Inner Space as the Doctor, Clara and a handful of grunts are miniaturized to perform micro surgery on an injured Dalek. There’s little Doctor Who hasn’t done in its half a century, celebrated last November, and even this idea in Phil Ford and Steven Moffat’s script isn’t completely new. First Doctor companion Ian Chesterton once went roll about inside a Dalek Travel Machine in the first Dalek story The Mutants and First Doctor William Hartnell followed suit in The Space Museum. What is new is the way the Doctor and Clara are miniaturised.

So far this new series seems to have more in common with the 26 series of the original run, which ended in 1989 with seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy. It seems to have less in common with the seven series which re-launched the BBC franchise in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith.

Clara, we learn, is now working as a teacher at Coal Hill School in London, the same school where the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan courted suspicion in An Unearthly Child – the very first episode of Doctor Who in 1963. The same school where Chesterton and fellow companion Barbara Wright taught.

The only link to last week’s episode, Deep Breath, apart from the appearance of the Doctor and Clara aboard the TARDIS was the predictable appearance of the mysterious Missy in her own version of paradise. Who is she? Maybe the Time Lady Romana, not see on screen since fourth Doctor Tom Baker’s days. If it’s not her I’ll be kicking myself for missing the bleedingly obvious clues left by Moffat throughout the season. Still, it’s only episode two.

The only other link to the last seven series is the use of Murray Gold’s beautiful theme for Clara, The Impossible Girl.

So is the Doctor a good man, the conclusion to Into the Dalek leaves you wondering?

Next week Robin Hood, no doubt with a twist.