Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)


This is the first series of Doctor Who that I've watched as it's actually been broadcast since 1989, as opposed to catching-up later off of VHS or DVD, and the immediacy of each episode's first transmission is something that you just can't record.

The picture quality is as good as it gets. Without umpteen copies of the rest of the story out there in the world, the characters' futures seem much more open with possibilities. The narrative is impossible to control, lacking as I now do the luxury of a pause or rewind button, giving the storyline a real sense of taking place now.

Heck, some weeks it doesn't even start on time.

Before the show begins I'm often buzzing around in the kitchen getting some food or drink together to have during it, an activity which actually has a deadline now, or it would if only the BBC still had its lost reputation of actually sticking to its schedules. I keep an eye on developments unfolding on the muted TV showing the close of the programme before it, which Radio Times says should have just another five minutes to go, but in practice might have 60. Heck, for all I know Doctor Who might have already been moved to an hour earlier, in which case I'd have already missed the whole thing.

Anyhow, this week at 18:15 the game show All New Total Wipeout was silently in progress, and as usual seemed to be taking a long time finishing. Occasionally it even features an on-screen time counter, which I find quite helpful. Sometimes they flash-up a caption telling you that the final round is about to begin, which would also be very useful for viewers like me, except that this week no such wording was allowed to be displayed clearly:

Oh, I hate those things. It seems like the BBC is apologising for how bad the current show is, and trying to compensate for it by promising viewers something better if we just give them another five minutes to fix it. Really - what other opinion can the BBC have of Total Wipeout if they're prepared to gamble away its current shots for the hope of a few viewers forgiving them enough to wait and try again?

Poor Total Wipeout viewers. And you thought, quite reasonably, that the BBC liked watching your show as much as you do.

I guess I should point out here that, despite the graphic above, the following episode of Doctor Who did not actually feature any Daleks. That was last week. Please pay attention.

Presently the other visual clues flashed up - Richard Hammond summing up the show, a few more clips, Richard Hammond smiling as he closes the show, and of course the giveaway end credits.

Oh, fer goodness sake, just LEAVE. THE. PROGRAMME. ALONE. Sorry Michael Klokkos, Liam Nugent, Mariano Quijada Vacas, Chiara Rabbito and all those others who worked so hard trusting that their contributions would be equally acknowledged along with everyone else's at the end. Apparently Matt Smith, Graham Norton and Andrew Lloyd Webber each contributed much more to your show than you did.

Please don't blame us Doctor Who viewers, we don't think our show should be intruding on yours either. Neither I suspect do Norton or Lloyd Webber, whose programme isn't even on until after the next one has finished!

(Well, that's what I assumed anyway…)

Next we had a trailer for the following morning's London Marathon, followed by another trailer for… huh?

What's that Graham? You're trailing your show again? But… didn't you just do this a mere 41 seconds ago? Well… okay, I guess, after all, you can't possibly squeeze in yet another trailer between now and the start of Doctor Who, can you?

No, wait, now there's a cartoon showing Richard Hammond on a flume, with Graham Norton getting chased into BBC Television Centre by a Dalek and meeting the eleventh Doctor. Is that Amy screaming? I hope so - I like this. Despite Norton getting in a whopping three adverts for his show now between programmes, getting all the Saturday night line-up stars together into one promo like this is great. It's like they're all friends working together over there in Shepherd's Bush. More of that 'immediacy' that I was talking about earlier.

However, could we please watch Doctor Who now, or, heh heh, would Graham Norton's show like to, ha ha, fit in yet another plug first? (sure - like that's even possible!) Time to turn up the sound I guess.

"So - eight Dorothies one step closer to those ruby slippers! Over The Rainbow's on the way, so don't move a muscle!"

(sob) Please! No more! Just show us the programme. Ah-huh, a-huh, a-huh… (cries)

Part One: The Time Of Angels

Once it had finally started, The Time Of Angels / Flesh And Stone was easily the best story in a long time. Well, it's the best story since its sequel Silence In The Library / Forest Of The Dead two years ago, which was also written by this author.

Yes, the original story was the sequel. I'm well-impressed that they actually brought back the character of River Song from a point in her life before that earlier story, as they promised they would. I don't much like River - who wants to see the good guy having his feelings hurt - but the unspoken juxtaposition of the two characters' advantages over each other is fascinating.

River repeatedly lords her knowledge of the Doctor's future over him. He guards his knowledge of her future tightly. If the character does return on an irregular basis, then this could get very interesting.

Heck, it's interesting already. We're still finding out who the eleventh Doctor is, and to see him playing up to what he believes River's impressions of him are, while also hiding his secret resentment of her, reveals a streak of passive resistance.

Whatever their differences, the two characters both put them aside as soon as Amy's life is in danger. For as well as being a prequel to an earlier story, this tale is also a sequel to the even earlier Blink, again by the same guy.

One of the challenges in bringing back the Angels from that horror-story was always going to be to match the same level of terror that they incited, and in this I felt they got as close to succeeding as any sequel could. Today the Angels possess a disadvantage that they didn't in their first outing - familiarity.

The best Angel 'moment' would have to be when Amy finds herself locked alone in a room with a four-second staticy video-loop of the motionless statue, complete with burnt-in timecode. Every so often she gets distracted, only to perceive that the statue on the recording seems to have moved.

Amy: (to herself)"But you're just a recording. You can’t move."

This whole sequence, as she realises that the image has lifted off of the TV and is now floating menacingly half-way across the room in her direction, defines Doctor Who's reputation for ideas, cleverness and terror. The book that contains no pictures, Amy's attempts to stave-off blinking by closing just the one eye at a time, her eventual solution of pausing the tape on a flash of static… this is classic enthralling material.

It is disappointing that these Angels don't steal their prey's futures like the originals, choosing to merely kill them instead like any old baddies, but the rest of part one's build-up is likewise excellent.

I say that in spite of the episode's direction, which still doesn't quite focus. For example, when the Doctor flashes his torch off to test whether the statues surrounding our heroes have moved in the moment of darkness, the shots cut from the statues, to the Doctor turning the torch off, and back to the statues as the torch comes on again. As a result I couldn't spot the subtlety of the Angels' slight movements. This event really should have been one locked-off POV shot of the aliens as the torch was turned off and on, so that we could compare their positions easily.

This sort of remoteness from the characters makes the episode harder to follow - some of the dialogue is distant too - but this shortcoming is overcome by the successes of the whole.

I am disappointed that with this two-parter, the show has returned to naming its episodes separately, despite recent years having proved how awkward this makes it to refer to each story afterwards. On the plus side, as the time had sped by, I genuinely didn't know that this was a two-parter until the cliffhanger ending. Well, actually just before the cliffhanger ending to episode one, as the Doctor, Amy, River and the others were becoming surrounded by more and more frozen Angels in the flickering darkness.

Doctor: (urgently)"Do you trust me?"

Amy: "Yeah."

Doctor: "Trust me?"

River: "Always."

Doctor: "You lot - trust me?"


Soldier: "Sir! Two more incoming!"

Bishop: "We have faith, Sir."

Doctor: "Then give me your gun."


Doctor: "I'm about to do something incredibly stupid and dangerous. When I do… jump!"

Bishop:"Jump where?

Doctor: "Just jump, high as you can, come ONNN, leap of faith, Bishop! 'Pon my signal!"

Bishop: "What signal?!"

Doctor: (pointing the gun)"You won't miss it!"


Oh.. just… GO AWAY. YES, we KNOW that Over The Rainbow is starting next! You've made this ABUNDANTLY CLEAR SEVERAL TIMES now! May we PLEASE just watch THIS programme FIRST???



Well, I wasn't very happy about that. Talk about breaking the fourth wall, snapping the suspension of disbelief and shattering the illusion. Like Norton's cartoon self, I just didn't know where to look.

I mean while I deeply disapprove of the practice of subtracting from TV programmes in order to publicise other, similarly incomplete, shows, I can at least understand why the BBC and other broadcasters do it.

But in a drama? Not only that, but a programme that is supposed to be escapism, and as such depends upon the viewer losing themselves in the narrative? The only worse genre to do this to that I can think of is comedy, where the practice can't help but kill whatever punchline is being delivered at the time.

It's obviously the idea of someone who doesn't enjoy watching BBC-1, or they would realise how much less watchable it makes the station.

Anyway, I didn't watch Over The Rainbow. Frankly, there was no way I was going to watch Over The Rainbow after that. I preferred to spend the time writing in to complain.

However I never got around to it. This was entirely because, over the weekend, some 5,500 other viewers beat me to it.

The BBC backed down, they called it a 'mistake', and they actually promised not to do it again.

Part Two: Flesh And Stone

This new series - it does seem to suffer from missing scene syndrome.

After the Atraxi ship's unseen departure in The Eleventh Hour, an explanation of Amy's ability to record a video message to herself in The Beast Below, the refitting of the army's planes with gravity bubbles and Dalek guns in Victory Of The Daleks and the spaceship's crash-landing in The Time Of Angels, this episode literally skips the shot of our heroes surviving last week's cliffhanger, and the Doctor's removal of his coat to escape the Angels' clutches. Sure, we can work all of these points out afterwards, but it does create a sense of the episodes not having quite been finished yet.

But that's fairly minor. To be frank, it's impossible for me to fit-in all the many great observations that I have to make about this outstanding story.

One of the things that I've always loved about Doctor Who is its ideas. There is admittedly some irony to this, because the show is often recycling other shows' ideas, or more often its own.

However it's quite evident that the author of this story has sat down and down some serious brainstorming. It seems like there's a new abstract concept almost every few minutes, too many to list here, and just about every possible permutation of the Angels' potential gets explored.

Not only that, but the ideas have all been arranged into order of threat. For example, the mantra 'don't blink' is taken to its opposite extreme as Amy finds she must instead keep her eyes closed to stay alive. Effectively, she's blind. If that wasn't scary enough, in this state, she's left sitting with strangers in an alien jungle, surrounded by Angels. One by one the soldiers silently disappear until she's alone, still keeping her eyes closed, despite the threat closing in all around. Then she has to walk for a quarter of a mile. Then she has to walk as though she can still see.

By the way, Amy's predicament looks like very bad news for Sally Sparrow and Larry.

Still, I can't knock the show for that because the rest of the story was so good. Matt Smith has at last 'found' the character and has stuff going on under the surface. (he can get a bit snappy under pressure too) Yes, I now reckon that Matt Smith is a great Doctor. Whew!

"Ohh, that's bad. Ah! That's extremely very not good."

"Yes you're right! If we lie to her, she'll get all better!"

"I'm sorry, I really am, but the Angels can only kill you."

Is it just me, or does Amy look a bit like the girl on the famous BBC testcard?

Very well acted by everyone (particularly Iain Glen as the Bishop), terrific unobtrusive music, and as usual with this author, so many great lines saturating the whole script.

The sonic screwdriver has become an over-used magic wand in recent years, with the Doctor too often just pressing a button on it to solve any problem. Here though the author is inventive enough to actually exploit its sonic properties. The disruption that its sonic waves cause Amy's radio effectively turn it into a homing beacon, in much the same way that my radio loses the signal depending on which direction I point the aerial. Alas, although this would also turn it into a rough proximity detector, the Doctor then downloads some software for this latter purpose. Nothing wrong with that, just very, and needlessly, convenient.

Finally though, the icing on the cake, we actually get to see an Angel move! It's nothing spectacular, and these Angels are nowhere near as fast as the ones in Blink, but fascinating to witness nonetheless.

Top marks must also go to the second episode's willingness to push this season's broader story-arc to the fore, with the crack in the universe playing a crucial part in the tale's resolution. (not sure how the Doctor was tipped off that an explosion is causing it) This is not just some nonsensical phrase getting impossibly mentioned in the background, it's an actual building storyline, something that, assuming it pans out properly by the end of the season, I would argue is a first time for Doctor Who. Well, I hope so anyway. They forgot about Amy's forgetfulness at the end of Victory Of The Daleks disappointingly quickly.

Speaking of the end of the season, assuming that the show doesn't get bumped one week for the Eurovision Song Contest or something, the last episode should go out on 26 06 2010, which funnily enough this edition revealed to be the base code of the universe…

At long last Doctor Who is leThe Avengers #264 is next!ving me with stuff to ponder after the show has finished. I have missed this so much.

I feel duty-bound to point out therefore the flaw in having the crack erasing the soldiers from ever having existed. If I've understood the plot correctly, then this would mean that The Doctor, Amy and River would have been captured by the Angels much earlier on in the episode, ie. in the corridor into the ship. Those soldiers' firepower was the only reason they made it out. When the soldiers' lives were removed from history, Amy's location should have changed at least.

That last scene in which Amy tries to get the Doctor to go to bed with her though: dreadful. Awful. Abysmal. This is a family show that, among others, is targeted at kids. You can't have either role model behaving like that. It's not a sex-comedy. I think the author should be aiming more to write something more like Press Gang than Coupling.

On the plus side, despite messing up the closing credits again, the BBC did keep their word and keep the Graham Norton animatic off of this final scene. In retrospect, I actually might have welcomed the distraction.

Then again, given its subject matter, the addition of cheeky Graham Norton could have been disastrous. Consider how that last scene nearly looked…

Labels: ,

0 comment(s):

Post a Comment

<< Back to Steve's home page

** Click here for preceding post(s) **

** Click here for following post(s) **