Happy 50th Anniversary Doctor Who!

This weekend is very special to me, as a beloved television show from my youth has hit a milestone that very few shows have or will ever reach – Doctor Who has been on for fifty years. I’m by no means a “new fan”, but there was a time when I lost touch with the show. When I found it again, it helped me get through a rough time and also helped me connect with my wife. For this, Doctor Who isn’t just some dumb TV show that I watch – it’s something that has always been there when I need it. Even if it’s just a form of escapist fun, it’s my favorite form of escapist fun.

One of my earliest childhood memories is that of my mother and I staying up late (at least from my viewpoint) and watching Tom Baker episodes on PBS back in the mid-1980’s. I clearly remember the shocks and scares of one episode in particular, The Hand of Fear. For years I had images of an disembodied mummified hand crawling around a space station murdering people permanently etched into the deepest recesses of my mind. Even into my teens, when I assumed I would never watch the show again, I would have nostalgic thoughts about how much I loved that episode.

Cover of "Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear...
Cover of Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear

But then Doctor Who did something that many of my other forgotten childhood gems did not do, it came back into my life.

My wife (then girlfriend) reminded me of the show when we started dating in the early-mid 2000’s. She entered one of the episodes into a “bad movie” marathon that some college friends would do, andI thought”I remember that show!” For some reason, it never occurred to me that they had old episodes on VHS and DVD since at the time only big popular shows would get that treatment. I had just signed up for Netflix to keep my Father’s death off my mind, and found a treasure trove of classic Doctor Who on there.

This was 2004, and I ended up “Googling” the show only to find out that the BBC was producing “new episodes of Doctor Who” in an animated form. I thought “well that’s cool” and watched Richard E. Grant‘s (now) non-canon adventure Scream of the Shalka with excitement. I was hooked. I bought some Target books, BBC books, and other stuff on E-bay, and started ploughing through the DVDs. I signed up for a popular message-board and saw news that blew me away: The BBC was bringing it back….like for real….not a cartoon either….legit.

Scream of the Shalka
Scream of the Shalka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flash forward to 2005, and I find myself downloading a “leaked” copy of Rose on Bittorrent. As I recall, I excitedly woke my wife up at some alarming time like 8:00 am on a Saturday (I’m a night owl) and basically forced her to watch it with me. I had secretly found out about it the night before, and wanted to surprise her. It was like Christmas morning for a small child, I simply could not wait any longer to dig into my presents. The leak of Rose, The very first Christopher Eccleston episode of the show, was one of those things that I suspect everyone on that forum did secretly, then pretended they did not online. I have no regrets for doing it as I ended up getting even more excited for the show’s return, and downloaded all the rest of the episodes.

This was back when BBC America was essentially a home and gardening channel and had no interest in the show, The Sci-fi channel blatantly said they “would never air it” and a simulcast was practically hysterical to think about. The American Doctor Who fan of 2005 was an internet pirate by necessity. Little by little, the show got more popular. “word of mouth” spread it like wildfire, and I sometimes felt like a drug dealer with it. Word got out that I had the episodes, and ended up burning terrible VCD and CD ROM copies for people. I turned a handful of my own friends into fans, something that I never expected to do. People that had never even heard of the show were getting into it, eventually The Sci-fi channel did pick it up for one season.

Seven years have passed, and the show is one of the more popular genre shows on TV here in America. There is a new generation of fans latching onto it, and although some may not know much about the classic show, new fans are a great thing. Fifty years is a long time. Granted, there was a hiatus in there, but even then the property still consists of over 33 seasons, TV and theatrical movies, multiple spin-offs, hundreds of audio dramas, hundreds of books, and much more.

Doctor Who
Doctor Who (Photo credit: Doctor Who Spoilers)

My wife and I will be attending a theatrical showing of the anniversary special The Day of The Doctor in wondrous 3D on Monday, meaning that I will try to avoid the fansites and such for a few days. To tide us over, we will be watching multiple other Doctor Who related programming all weekend, most notably An Adventure in Space and Time, the awesome looking docu-drama produced by the BBC starring David Bradley. Expect me to bombard this blog with 50th anniversary posts all week!

Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (2013)

Doctor Who season finales have been generally decent throughout the current run, although most of them were getting a bit too epic until Moffat took over as show runner. When you’ve had things escalate from the earth being in peril, to a Cyberman / Dalek war, to The Master decimating everything on up, it seemed that Russell T. Davies was always trying to outdo himself each year. One thing I’ve enjoyed a lot since season five is that this tendency to “popcorn movie” finales has been toned down in favor of slightly more subdued ones. Granted, the universe is usually blinking from existence or something, but at least the Doctor is no longer part of an immense war or similar things. Tonight was at long last the finale for season seven, a season I generally enjoyed despite a feeling of disjointedness all year. Even though The Name of the Doctor seemed low key, there were far more moments where I was literally yelling “holy (expletive)!” at the screen.

First and foremost, I was amazed at the opening scene, one which shows a crew of puzzled technicians called to the scene of a theft. What we soon realize is that this was “the theft”, the one that started it all; this was when the Doctor borrowed the Tardis on Gallifrey! Clara is seen falling through time itself, and says that she has been running throughout his history in order to save him. It was at this point that I was grinning from ear to ear, as the next few minutes are filled with scenes of Clara interacting with all of the “classic” Doctors in various old episodes. This was obviously done with a computer, but there were some real cool things like a colorized William Hartnell in the mix. I know the fiftieth anniversary isn’t until November 23rd, but I think this was the moment that this fact really sank in for me.

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The plot for the episode is as follows: An evil scheme is revealed by the Great Intelligence/Doctor Simeon (one again played by Richard E. Grant) to force the Doctor to his final resting place – Trenzalore. The nature of Trenzalore has been a lingering mystery since it was revealed last season, but we find out that it is the place where time travelers are laid to rest. Since Simeon has kidnapped The Doctor’s friends (The Paternoster Gang) The Doctor has to jump into action to save them, and stop Simeon at whatever plan he is concocting. It seems Simeon, flanked by the creepy “whispermen”, wants to open the “Doctor’s Tomb” and destroy the Doctor from existence in a petty act of revenge. He does this by jumping directly into the Doctor’s time stream, and reversing every success he ever had as the protector of the universe. Pretty soon entire planets begin to disappear, as does the people most important to The Doctor. Clara then realizes that the only way to stop him is to also jump into the time stream, at the cost of her own life.

“I don’t know where I am, I just know I’m running.  Sometimes it’s like I’ve lived a thousand lives in a thousand places.  I’m born, I live, I die.  And always there’s the Doctor.  Always I’m running to save the Doctor.  Again and again and again.  And he hardly ever hears me, but I’ve always been there right from the very beginning, right from the day he started running.”

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This selfless act answers the question of how Clara could have shown up multiple times and died trying to help The Doctor. When entering the portal, she has shattered her existence into millions of fragments all destined to save The Doctor from Dr. Simeon. Moved by her kindness and a little chat with his “timey wimey” wife, River Song, The Doctor decides that he will save Clara for once and leaps into his own timeline. What followed was the most spectacular and yet also infuriating cliffhanger in the history of the show. When he is re-united with Clara, The Doctor tries to divert her attention from a dark figure standing in the bowels of his time stream. This figure is his greatest secret, something the Doctor is both trying to hide and feels ashamed of. The figure turns and it is revealed to be none other than John Hurt (1984, V for Vendetta) as a mysterious forgotten regeneration of himself…..credits roll. The wait until November is going to be excruciating!

My brain is buzzing with speculation that this is an aborted regeneration of The Doctor, perhaps the one that turned rogue during the time war. Fans have often wondered which incarnation that did all the bad things that he feels terrible about all the time, looks like it may be this guy. I love this revelation because we all know what happens when The Doctor loses his grip on “humanity” just a bit. We’ve seen the Dram Lord, Mr. Clever, The Valeyard, and even what happened to the Master, we could finally be getting close to the mystery of the Last Great Time War. I know some fans will get mad that there could be a tangential incarnation of the Doctor out there, but this is not a new thing. I mentioned the Valeyard from Trial of a Time Lord. But don’t forget that there could have been pre-Hartnell era regenerations as seen in The Brain of Morbius!

Dr-Who-The-Name-of-the-Doctor-whispermen

I also loved how the “name of The Doctor” was not revealed in this episode, as anyone with half a brain cell could figure out. Steven Moffat isn’t as dumb as the folks that decided to reveal the Marvel character Wolverine’s backstory; as it would ruin all the mystery, plus no one would be happy with it. The name was the “password” to his crypt, and he was nearly forced to utter it until River Song whispered it to open the door. The episodes title is actually a play on the fact that he took the name “The Doctor” as an oath to be good and help people, but one of his lives didn’t for some reason. And I’m sure we will find out why in November. While the episode did reveal just about all the mysteries related to Clara, there is a bit of muddled continuity in previous seasons. One has to wonder why The Silence were so keen to stop The Doctor from going to Trenzalore, unless they were actually not bad guys at all and knew he would cause something really bad to happen by showing up. I hope this gets addressed and doesn’t get added to other plot holes related to The Silence from way back in season five.

I absolutely loved this episode, and felt it was easily one of the better season finales. Granted I hated the finale for season three, and a few others felt a bit bloated, but that is saying a lot for me to have liked it so much. The acting was superb, the cameos from “classic” Doctors was really cool, and the finale was amazing. The long wait until November is going to be excruciating; I mean this is almost as bad as the infamous Star Trek cliffhanger from The Best of Both Worlds!

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I’ve been Catching up on Doctor Who On Amazon, maybe you should as well:

Doctor Who: Series Seven – Part Two [Blu-ray]

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Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John (2013)

It’s that time of year again! With the turkey-filled memories of a Christmas long gone fading from my mind, and the pitter patter of Easter bunny footsteps upon the grass outside my apartment, there can only be one explanation – New episodes of Doctor Who to watch! I have been pretty excited for this half-season as the previous two episodes starring Jenna-Louise Coleman have been spot on. Asylum of the Daleks was easily my favorite episode in the first half of this season, and the last Christmas special, The Snowmen, was easily my favorite Christmas special of the lot.  I’m not sure if it can be chalked up to Steven Moffat’s writing or the fact that something just “clicks” with Jenna as Clara.

The Bells of St. John is an episode that really breaks no new ground. At its heart, one could honestly chalk it up as being a retread of an earlier Russell T. Davies penned episode Partners in Crime. Both featured the Doctor meeting a companion that he had met once before, both had a somewhat ineffectual villain, and both were set in contemporary London. The difference is that, unlike “Bells”, Partners in Time suffered from being seen as a “romp” episode, a sometimes pejorative term applied to fluffy one-off episodes that have no real substance. I think the main difference here is that this episode is more of a character piece, a slow burn if you will. There isn’t just a ton of running around and shouting, but the foundation to the unraveling mystery of Clara. Who is she? Why has she shown up in different time periods? Why doesn’t she remember the Doctor if her timeline is linear?

doctor-who-the-bells-of-st-john-jenna-louise-coleman

When we last saw the Doctor in The Snowmen, he was a broken man. He had just lost the two most important people in his life and he wanted be alone and unbothered. With his heart hardening in a similar manner to how he appeared in the very first episode nearly 50 years ago, it took Clara’s appearance to give him new purpose. The task of unraveling her mystery and protecting her. This episode opens with the Doctor in quiet contemplation in a Cumbrian monastery. It seems that he has spent a Loooong time (Long enough that legends have built up around him, wait I thought he didn’t want that!) pondering those very same aforementioned questions. We are alerted to the fact that the “Bells of Saint John” are ringing, a clever way to describe the phone on his Tardis ringing, you know the same Tardis that has a “St. John’s ambulance” sticker on it. On the other end is coincidentally Clara asking for tech support to log onto the internet.  It seems that “some lady” gave Clara his number if she ever needed help. Curiouser, and Curiouser….

Long story short: The Doctor finds Clara and they fight off a threat by a group housed in a newer London landmark called “The Shard”. This villain is only heard in voice for the majority of the episode, and is known simply as “The Client” by the group of renegade IT professionals it employs.  They send out their robotic “Spoonheads” as walking Wi-Fi waypoints and wreak havoc. Their plan has a very Idiot Lantern vibe to it, but instead of feeding on TV viewers, the client wants to digitize human souls and use them as slaves and presumably food. In a shocking twist we find out that the villain is actually none other than The Great Intelligence, a classic villain that we last saw at Christmas time as played by Richard E. Grant.

While I know I will be crucified by all the David Tennant fans out there, but I think Matt Smith is slowly becoming my favorite Doctor. To me, he is on the verge of almost “perfecting” the role of the Doctor; just the right amount of darkness, wit, curiosity and even intelligence. He honestly reminds me of a weird conglomeration of the traits found in the Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton Doctors – both favorites of mine.

Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John was a solid, if not somewhat low-key episode. Both Smith and Coleman have done a great job with their respective characters carrying an episode that was not hinged on spectacle like most season openers. If this episode, and the trailer for the other upcoming episodes, is any indication of the season’s quality; I feel that this season will be great.

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Comic: “The Little Guy”

No, I haven’t turned my blog into a webcomic, I just haven’t had too much to write about lately and felt these comics would be fun! with luck I should review something soon 😛