The Age of The Doctor

Peter Capaldi

It seems an age since the BBC announced that Matt Smith was taking over from David Tennant as the Doctor, but the debate that raged back then is still fresh in my mind. He’s too young, some said. He’s an unknown, others argued. I had similar reservations. I wanted a Doctor who looked like he’d been there, done that; a Doctor who had hundreds of years of knowledge, loss and pain in his eyes. I wasn’t aware of Smith’s earlier work but I will admit I feared the worst.

Smith’s Doctor turned out to be one of the most beautifully crafted, exciting and watchable incarnations of the character since the show began. I don’t think anyone can deny that Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor helped to sell the show across the world, and take it from cult sci-fi status to the stratospheric hit it is today. He leaves having given Doctor Who a truly worldwide audience.

Peter Capaldi has now been handed the keys to the TARDIS and, although his appointment has been met with almost universal approval, there are murmurs this time that he’s too old to play the part, that he’s not attractive enough for the role. I was delighted at Capaldi’s appointment, and not just because of his undoubted pedigree as an actor. I think we needed an older Doctor.

We seem to live in a time where an individual’s appearance is often considered their most important feature. A time where the youth of today aspire to be like Joey Essex or some other dimwit whose only observable redeeming feature is that they scrub up nice. Clearly this is not an accusation anyone could level at Matt Smith, who carried the majority of the last two series on his own with some excellent performances, but one does wonder whether quite as many official Doctor Who lunchboxes, chocolate bars and bath sets would have been sold with a less aesthetically pleasing face emblazoned on the packaging.

In a time where the majority of our ‘mature’ actors seem to be poked with a walking stick toward the retirement home that is Downton Abbey and the like, it’s a breath of fresh air to see Capaldi being cast in one of the most important roles this country has ever produced. A whole generation of young viewers will have an older hero for the foreseeable future, which can only be a good thing.

I think age can be deceptive. Although Capaldi is pretty much as old as Hartnell was when he took the role, he’s not portraying Twelve as an aged, white-haired man with a walking stick. Although he’s evidently not a sprightly young man like Smith, I don’t think it’ll be too much to ask for the new Doctor to engage in his fair share of action sequences.

It is important for the show and its progress that each Doctor is absolutely different to his predecessor. Indeed, we are already hearing on the grapevine that the Twelfth Doctor will be more ‘dangerous’ than his previous incarnations. Although I tend to take rumours with a pinch of salt, I don’t doubt that Twelve will be portrayed as a little darker, and in this respect I think Peter Capaldi is perfectly cast. Capaldi is a fine actor, who has a proven track record in comedy and drama and has already shown through his work on The Thick of It that he is more than capable of leading man status.

Perhaps he may not sell quite as many lunchboxes, but you can be sure that Peter Capaldi will give us a brilliant Doctor.

Latersville.

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The long, long Day of the Doctor….

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So I was lucky enough to grab myself a ticket to the Official Doctor Who Celebration at the ExCel Centre, and even more so that it was on the actual Day of the Doctor itself – 23rd November. 50 years ago to the day at 5.16pm, the first ever episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on the BBC. Sadly, no bugger watched it because JFK had just been shot.

Luckily, quite a few more people watched Who the following week. If they hadn’t, this weekend’s celebrations might never have happened at all. Having spent the big day surrounded by Doctor Who fans, young and old, familiar and unfamiliar, I really wouldn’t have wanted to commemorate the occasion any other way.

It almost didn’t happen though…..

The night before the Celebration I packed a bag and prepared all the bumf that I’d need to ensure my day was as easy as possible. Having picked out an outfit and readied all my toiletries I jumped into bed early and set an alarm for 3:30am. And 3:40am. And 3:45am. And 4:00am. And 4:15am. Now, either none of these went off at all, or I simply didn’t hear them. The first time I woke up that morning was at 4:30am when the taxi driver I’d booked to take me to Manchester Piccadilly called my phone to tell me he was outside.

I suddenly woke up, a lot.

Panicked, I explained to the driver that I’d overslept and that I still needed to shower before I left. He very kindly offered to come back in 20 minutes, which he duly did after I spent that time running around the flat (and shower) screaming obscenities to myself a la Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. My train was due to depart the station at 5:25am. Amazingly I got dressed in time, having made myself look beautiful, and leapt into the cab, poster tubes under my arms.

I spent the majority of the 15 minute taxi ride excitedly telling the driver where I was going at such an ungodly hour. “I’m going to London!” I said. “I’m going to the big Doctor Who Celebration at the Excel Centre!” I said. He didn’t know (or care) what Doctor Who was. He just concentrated on getting me to the station on time, which to his credit he damned well did.

We pulled up at Piccadilly just after 5:00am – which is miraculous, given the circumstances – and I handed the driver a tenner plus a well-earned 50% tip for his troubles. I grabbed my bags and headed into the station, found my train and got on. Soon, we departed, and I got myself comfortable ahead of the journey. This was the moment I was expecting to look through my bags and found I’d forgotten something important, but amazingly everything I needed was still there. I relaxed, and shoved a pair of earphones in.

Although I was meeting Jenny, Laura and Andrew at the Excel Centre, I’d arranged to meet Richard, a mutual friend of theirs, on the train. I’m not so great at making conversation on trains though. I get terribly self-conscious of my voice in quiet public places, so we agreed that we would meet up on the platform at Euston. This we duly did. After introducing ourselves we made our way out of the station and, after a thoroughly enjoyable cigarette we went to find a cab. Typically the Northern Line on the tube was down that weekend, and we had no other way of getting to Bank to join the DLR to the Excel. Eventually we flagged down a a cab and headed straight for London Docklands.

It was on arrival that my excitement started to materialise. Huge banners greeted us, as did a phenomenally massive queue once we’d entered the ‘waiting hall’ just near the main convention rooms. Richard and I picked up our lanyards and joined the back of the queue, where we were surrounded almost instantly by hundreds of Daleks, Weeping Angels and Doctors, the majority waving sonic screwdrivers in the air, excitedly waiting to be ushered forward. We got chatting to a lad in the queue, and our conversation (about whether the BBC could have devoted each month of the year to the corresponding Doctor) appeared to be a popular opinion all round.

We were led past a table with day planners and maps, and through an enormous 1960s television set into what transpired to be a beautifully realised version of the Totters Lane junkyard – home of the First Doctor in the first ever episode, of course – resplendent with classic TARDIS and a few of the old BBC studio signs. It was a lovely touch, and showed me that this wasn’t just going to be a drag-them-in-and-take-their-money kind of convention. Well, not all of it, anyway.

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I’d already made a day planner for myself, as I had a lot to do and I had no idea how easy it was going to be to get through it all. First on the list was both a photo on the Eleventh Doctor’s TARDIS, and an autograph opportunity with Sophie Aldred. Richard headed off to join the autograph queue and I made my way to the far end of the hall to get my TARDIS picture. Thankfully the queue wasn’t too long, maybe around 10 minutes or so, and soon I stepped through the doors of the TARDIS and got my first real-life glimpse of the console. Sadly I didn’t get too long to stare longingly at it before I had to pose for my picture, but in what little time I had I was able to take in all the little details. As a special bonus, the organisers had even constructed the glass floor underneath. Again, just a little touch – which probably wasn’t necessary – but it was that attention to detail which impressed me. I left the area and picked up my photo straight away, and while I’m never keen on how I look in pictures, the console itself looks good. It’s just a lovely souvenir of the day.

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So, after collecting my image and storing it away safely in my geeky little see-through folder, I wandered over to the autograph queue. I was very pleased to see that despite the Celebration tickets selling out within a few days, the overcrowding I’d worried about simply wasn’t there. The teams on the ground were organised and efficient, and made sure any queues were carefully placed so as to not cause too much disruption for other attendees walking by. It didn’t take long before I’d made my way to the front of the queue, where I was invited to join the smaller queue of fans waiting to meet Sophie. She was happily chatting to the fans about anything and everything, and there was no fear of just being hurried through.

Eventually I reached the front and said hi to Sophie. I should point out at this stage that Sophie Aldred was the first girl I ever fell in love with. She was Ace, and I was 7, and I was going to marry her. Although that never happened (still time, Sophie….!) I have met her once previously, at London Film and Comic Con, and all I remember about that was turning bright red, stumbling over my words and looking like a bit of a pillock. Sophie is so friendly, approachable and warm that she would put anyone at ease. We chatted about my earlier ‘fun’ racing to the station that morning and it transpired that she knew Manchester well, having attended university there. In fact, she lived not too far away from where I live now. I handed her a lovely print of the TARDIS I’d had made some time ago and after she’d signed it I said my goodbyes. Before I left the area however I decided that I now really wanted to meet Carole Ann Ford and William Russell. Thankfully there were still tickets left to meet them so I handed over the cash and joined Carole Ann’s queue.

Carole Ann was very pleasant indeed, greeting me with a big smile as I walked to her station. It was a relatively brief encounter, as there was only five minutes to go until their autograph sessions were over, but she signed my TARDIS image, including the date, which I thought was a lovely touch, and after a few words I went over to William Russell who was sat next to her. Again, this was a brief meeting but William was very welcoming and again signed and dated my TARDIS image.

I carefully rolled up the image, taking care that the ink was dry on all the signatures. As I did so, the tannoy blared out an announcement that I (and all the other attendees in the Weeping Angel group) were to make their way over to stage one, where the Regenerations panel was about to start. I decided to give that a miss. Although the panel featured Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and therefore was a whole world of awesome, I’d noticed that the main hall was relatively quiet at this stage, and I wanted to take in the sights for a while.

The first stop on my magical mystery tour was the props and costumes area. I hadn’t known what to expect from this, as I’ve already been to the Doctor Who Experience at least three times, so surely I’d seen everything, hadn’t I? No, not really. Aside from the various costumes I had indeed seen before there were a number of fantastic exhibits I was seeing for the first time. The organisers had done a great job of procuring a mixture of Doctor Who, Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood displays, some of which came from private collections. I was impressed with Mr Smith, the computer from SJA, which also made an appearance in Doctor Who in series four, and next to that was Sarah Jane’s famous car, with her outfit displayed next to it. Quite poignant, following the death of Elisabeth Sladen.

The collection included the costumes from the cast of Torchwood, the speeder bike thingamajig (from the cheesy scene in Rings of Akhaten), Jon Pertwee’s old Bessie car, and of course all the Doctor’s costumes dating back to William Hartnell’s days. You could get a little closer to the exhibits than you could at the Experience, so I spent quite a while checking out the little details in each of the outfits. Matt Smith’s series five shirt is incredibly detailed close up. Also made me realise that buying one (as I tried to do) and wearing it would make me look a bit of a twat at work.

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I didn’t spend too long hanging around any of the other stands at this point. I hadn’t met up with the others yet and I wanted to explore the rest of the show with them. At this point they were in the Regenerations talk, and I was intending to head into the hall once the next talk started. The tannoy soon rang out again telling us to head over to stage one for the major talk of the day, The Eleventh Hour. I wasn’t meeting Matt Smith on the day (I’ve already met him) so I pootled over to the hall to see what was what. I sat on the back row. It wasn’t full, but there were a good 3000 or so people comfortably seated, while the impressive big screen flung special Doctor Who trailers at them for their delectation.

Jo Whiley was introduced onto the stage, followed soon after by producer Marcus Wilson, writer and showrunner Steven Moffat, Jenna Coleman and Matt Smith, for some reason wearing a Victor Meldrew-esque raincoat, unbuttoned except from the top button. I’m no fashionista, and this isn’t an article for Vogue, but – really? If I’m blathering on about fashion though I may as well give Jenna Coleman’s outfit a mention. She was sporting a fetching blue dress, which bore more than a passing resemblance to the TARDIS itself. Anyway, enough about clothes.

I didn’t make notes during the talk, and I was too busy listening to it to actually pay attention, so I can’t remember much of what was discussed. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of videos on YouTube though, such as this one:-

I do recall that we didn’t learn too much that we didn’t already know. They couldn’t talk about the Day of the Doctor obviously, given that it wasn’t on until later that evening, so the conversation was kept to general chat about Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor, and that his departure is quite sad for his colleagues. The Q+A session didn’t exactly blow us away either, with such incisive questions as “what was your favourite episode?”, “why did you want to play the Doctor?” (he didn’t actually seek it out – he was invited to audition) and “what’s your favourite colour I like the colour red it is nice do you like red too please say you like red I love you”.

Following the talk I made my way back over into the main hall. I joined the queue for Daphne Ashbrook and waited my turn. As seems to be the case whenever I meet anyone for an autograph, I get stuck behind the guy who wants to spend the next three hours talking to Daphne about ‘stuff’, while I wait. And wait. And wait a little more. It turns out he’d met Daphne before, at a convention in America somewhere, and wanted her to guess which one. Instead of telling her the correct answer after she failed to remember the first time, he let her carry on guessing. Good work. Eventually she worked it out and the guy left, happy enough. So then it was my turn. It transpired that Daphne had only arrived in the country at 11pm the night before, and as such was a little bit ‘frazzled’ (her word). She proved this by forgetting her name halfway through signing it. She got there in the end though, bless her.

I remember feeling a little sorry for Yee Jee Tso, Daphne’s co-star from the 1996 movie (he played Chang Lee) who was sitting in the next booth. He had nobody waiting for him in his queue, and I think I only saw him sign for one or two attendees. Still, he looked like he was having a good enough time, and he clearly got on well with Daphne, so I didn’t concern myself too much. Plus he was probably being paid a fair amount just to be there. Not bad work if you can get it.

After leaving the autograph area I found myself joining the queue again, as it was almost time for my final ‘guest encounter’ of the day, Jenna Coleman. I’ve met Jenna before, and I’m not normally one for collecting loads of autographs from the same people, but I wanted her to sign the TARDIS piece along with the others. That way, the piece would be a truly 50th anniversary memory – having being signed by the first two companions, my favourite companion (Sophie Aldred….), the companion from the 1996 movie, and the current companion. A nice range.

So I queued for Jenna, surrounded by excited fans. The organisers wanted to make sure that as many attendees as possible would be able to meet with Jenna so there was very little time for any real conversation. I managed to say hello, and ask how she was before handing her the piece and showing her where I’d like her to sign it. This she duly did and as I turned to leave she added that she thought it was a really nice picture. I knew this, of course, but it was lovely to hear it from her……

The finished piece looks like this. I won’t be adding any more names on it, as I like having something started and finished on the 50th anniversary.

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The hall was starting to get a little busier now. The earlier talks had finished and the attendees who had left the halls to get lunch were all starting to make their way back in, slightly fatter. I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to head for the market stalls (possibly the busiest area in the hall) where it was possible to buy absolutely anything you could ever think of with a Doctor Who logo on it. Seriously, if money was no object, I wouldn’t have been able to get it all in the cab home. As it turns out I didn’t go as crazy as I’d anticipated. I bought an Ace action figure, before I happened upon the Big Finish stand. Big Finish, for the uninitiated, are a cracking little production company given licence from the BBC to make audio dramas based upon the classic series. These dramas are extra special as they use the actors from the classic series to perform their respective roles.

I was (and remain) a huge fan of Paul McGann’s Doctor. I loved the way he played the part in the movie and I feel it was a tragedy that we were never given a full series with him. This is where Big Finish come in. They’ve made a full series of adventures starring Paul McGann, giving us the next best thing to an actual series. I heard one of these some time ago, but after being delighted by the amazing Night of the Doctor last week I wanted to know more about the 8th Doctor’s story. So, I spoke to the guys at the stand who cleverly sold me four stories on CD (including a Peter Davison story I didn’t even want) and I went away happy.

Finally I met up with the others. Jenny and Laura were at one of the market stalls filling their bags with badges, and Andrew was close behind. Pretty much immediately Andrew was due to join the autograph queue as there were three Doctors he wanted to meet – Peter Davison, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy – who were all signing at the same time. By this point I noticed my phone was dangerously low on juice (it’s an iPhone, of course it was) so I disappeared again to go and recharge. The lovely folk near the classic screening rooms upstairs happily allowed me to use the plug sockets, so I sat up there for half an hour with a cookie (£2.20!) and waited for the others to get in touch after they’d done their business with the Doctors. The time came soon enough when Jenny and Richard came upstairs to join me. Jenny needed a bit of a recharge, and was coming to pick up her photo with Matt Smith taken earlier in the day.

Once we found the desk with the many photos on, it was clear that a great many of them had come out pretty badly. I’ve found with Showmasters events (the signing events I attend) that all the photographs are well lit, well set up and essentially uniform. These ones though, a little bit crap, truth be told. It seemed to be a little bit of a lottery as to whether you got one without too much flash/too little flash/a yellow hue etc, although it has to be said, Jenny and Laura’s photo with Matt is fantastic. I won’t put it on here as it’s not mine, obviously, but the pose is brilliant. Think a classic ‘Doctor in the middle, brandishing the sonic screwdriver, with the companions reaching out towards the camera on either side’ kinda thing.

We buggered off back downstairs, passing Sophie Aldred on the way, at which point Jenny decided to exclaim “Hey, there’s your girlfriend” right behind me. She was right, of course, but Sophie and I are clearly on a break. Temporarily.

Downstairs we came across Laura and Andrew. After a bit of a chat interspersed with excited fangirling over their picture with Matt, we headed into the queue ahead of the SFX theatre show. We worked our way through a packet of caramel chocolate Digestives and then found our seats in the auditorium. We found a decent seat in the middle of the hall, and waited for the host to arrive. Dallas Campbell (formerly of Bang Goes The Theory) was introduced onto the stage. He then in turn introduced us to Danny Hargreaves.

Danny Hargreaves is the lead special effects guy on Doctor Who, and has been for almost ten years. He’s responsible for all the physical, non-CGI effects. The show started with a highlights package of the SFX team’s finer moments shown on the big screen above the stage. After about ten minutes of this I was starting to wonder whether they were intending to show EVERY EXPLOSION EVER in Doctor Who….! Following this, we were shown an exploding Dalek, and attacked by a Cyberman, before a young lad dressed as Eleven was invited onto the stage and handed a prop gun bigger than him in order to save the day – which he then duly did.

The SFX team then sprayed the front row with the same ‘snow’ they use on the show, before turning on a massive fan and blasting air at them for a while. After this the floor was opened for questions to Danny. Sadly the questions again weren’t exactly mind-blowing. We were treated to such brilliance as “what’s your favourite effect?” followed by “what was the best effect you did?” followed by “what effect do you think you enjoyed the most?”. For those interested, it was the effect in Closing Time when the Doctor jumps through the glass in the patio doors. We also learned that Danny once set fire to David Tennant’s hair, and that the fireball in the Christmas Carol episode when Matt Smith comes down the chimney wasn’t exactly……planned.

One relatively entertaining show later we left and headed back again into the main hall. I had met all the people I’d wanted to meet, and bought all the things I’d wanted to buy, so we could spend the next hour or two just exploring. We went back over to the costume display and did a bit of posing with the gear – Jenny and Laura posed on the space-moped-thing from Rings of Akhaten – and I spent the whole time trying to decide whether I wanted to splash out on the full size Tom Baker scarf from one of the stalls. This one particular stall was selling that with an 8×10 signed by Tom Baker, all for £50. Sounds a lot, but the scarf alone is £50 in most shops, so I was really, really tempted.

As it happens, by the time we got back there they’d sold out of either scarves or 8x10s (or both) so that was my decision made. I will eventually get myself a Tom Baker scarf. I’m not sure whether I’d ever wear it if I wasn’t at a convention, although it’s a cracking Who fan locating device. You can spot them a mile away.

We arrived at the tail-end of the day, feeling the burn on the soles of our feet and ready to watch the BIG ONE. We got ourselves a cab back to the hotel, stopping for provisions (Hula Hoops, Pepsi Max, chicken butty) on the way. On arrival at the hotel, we checked into our respective rooms nice and easy. The others all headed up to Laura and Jenny’s room to prepare for the episode, and I headed back to my room to store my new ‘stuff’, shower and change.

Given the length of this post already I have no intention of including a review of the Day of the Doctor in here as well. That would be ridiculous. I can’t imagine for a second that anyone would have made it THIS far, in all honesty. What I will say is that regardless of the episode itself (which I loved very much for many, many reasons) I couldn’t have chosen a better bunch of geeks to share the viewing experience with.

Right, that was 4000 words. That’s more than enough. Thanks very much for reading this far, you did well.

Latersville.

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary, and all that.

Greetings reader, and thank you for coming back to my blog after all this time. I’ve been away from blogging for a couple of months due to having far too much time to do it. If I’m in a rush I can churn out an entry (oo-err) no problem at all. If I have too much time on my hands I think too much, change my mind, change it back, and then think ‘sod it’ before flicking on the PS3 and shooting people in the face.

We’re now two weeks away from the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary, and it’s all starting to take off a little. The last few weeks have been awash with rumours of trailers and sex scenes and all sorts, but we’re now officially due a trailer on Saturday night (9 November, for those counting) and although I am looking forward to it, the fact that this has dragged on so long has less whetted my appetite than it has just got on my tits.

Although ‘trailergate’ at the SDCC did annoy me at the time, I do appreciate that what was shown there was a pre post-production snippet of footage from the episode. I’m sure this looked nothing like the finished product, and to be honest, I’m a relatively patient man. What’s bothered me more is the lack of screen time afforded to the show in general on the BBC. I’m a huge fan of the Beeb – most of my favourite TV programmes over the last 30-odd years have been made by them – but I’m disappointed that they haven’t set aside a few hours a month to show a few of the older episodes for the fans who might never have seen them. Maybe one story for each Doctor perhaps.

I generally despair at the amount of reality (and sub-reality) shows made nowadays. I do understand that the Beeb has a duty to the licence fee payer to produce a wide ranging programming schedule to cater for all audiences, and that reality TV is part of that. One man’s gold is another man’s garbage, I get it. But even though it seems that Joe Public generally tends to be a little bit dim, and spends half his life watching other people watching other people watching other people piss about trying to sing on stage, I don’t appreciate the gulf in the amount of screen time afforded to all that guff.

Doctor Who is presently given around 13 episodes a year, give or take, with a Christmas special. That’s OK – I’d like a little more, but as long as the standard remains high and the budget is respectable then leave it as it is. Fine. What I don’t understand is why something like Doctor Who Confidential (a low-budget companion BBC Three show) is axed when the Beeb insist on giving us alternative low budget companion shows like Strictly Confidential, or whatever it’s called. They’re dancing. What is there to talk about? Why not use that budget for something else? I’m not saying it has to be DWC but at least that’s a show about something creative. Again, though, each to their own. If I’d spent my life working toward becoming the BBC Director General then I could have had a say.

Anyway, I am of course looking forward to the episode itself, mainly because it’s a new episode of my favourite show, but in all honesty I’m looking forward to the 50th Celebration convention even more. I bought my ticket for the event months ago, and I’ve been waiting…….and waiting…….and waiting for some events, goings-on and guests to be announced for the weekend itself. Now they’ve started releasing a bit of info about it all I think I can safely say I’m going to have a good time. Sophie Aldred will be there for a start. She was the first girl I ever had a crush on (I was 7) and she was lovely last time I met her.

I hope that the Celebration itself really pulls out all the stops in a couple of weeks. What I don’t want is a huge room of desks to get autographs at, and some half-arsed talks. There needs to be something spectacular for the fans to really get stuck into, especially at £50 a ticket. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, I will most certainly #SaveTheDay.

Annus Who-rribilis (sorry)

Non-Whovians read on at your peril. You’ve had enough of the holiday for a while. I’ve decided to have a bit of a quick break from blogging about my honeymoon in a kind of “What I Did This Summer” style to return to writing about the subject this blog was created for: Doctor Bloody Who.

Some people may have noticed that this is the 50th Anniversary year of Doctor Who. For the pedants, these ’50 years’ do include a pretty large 16-year hiatus, but in reality I couldn’t give a toss. The show first aired in 1963, so 2013 for the anniversary it is. As a result of this milestone we Whovians are getting a shedload of little (and big) treats to enjoy as the year passes, and I’m trying to enjoy as many of them as I can, money allowing.

We’ve had the daft little collectors’ things thus far, such as the stamps – which are lovely – and everything from gold-plated TARDISes to playsets and mugs and such like. These are nice little reminders that the show is getting a little bit of publicity, albeit at times it’s a little grating to see the Doctor’s face on a packet of biscuits for no reason whatsoever. I’m not going to complain about all that too much though; at least it’s not absolutely everywhere (yet), and even if it was, it’s something that I kinda have a bit of an interest in, so sod it.

Obviously we’ve already had the seventh series of the ‘new’ Doctor Who, and, while I felt parts of it were a little weak in places, it was equally strong in others – and while I could probably say for sure there are maybe one or two episodes this year I won’t be rushing to watch again, there are at least eight or nine I could happily watch over and over. Later in the year we’ll be treated to the multi-Doctor Anniversary special, and then the Matt Smith era comes to a conclusion with the Christmas special, in which we’ll be treated to a regeneration. Also to come is Mark Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time, a feature length drama about the making of the original series, which looks really intriguing.

While I’m waiting for my television to explode with Doctor Who-related goodness, I’m having to find other Who things to do to pass the time. And find these things I have. As previous readers of my blog will already know, I’ve met Billie Piper and Jenna-Louise Coleman (who I understand has now changed her name to just Jenna Coleman – probably to save time when signing hundreds of autographs at a time). That was a fun weekend, but the year needs something else. Something a bit more substantial.

First up, something that only transpired in the last few days, and something for which I absolutely cannot wait. I’d noticed over the last few days that my Twitter (@djdarrenjones) timeline had gradually been filling up with photographs and tweets about people I’m following visiting the set of the TARDIS at Roath Lock Studios – a revelation which both shocked and appalled me, in equal measure. How were people getting onto the TARDIS? How, if I’d signed up for every single Who-related mailing list in the ruddy universe over the last few years, was I not hearing about this? A quick call to the Doctor Who Experience later, and I was advised that this was a special deal being offered by the Experience over summer – to visit the current set (located next door to the Experience in Cardiff) for the princely sum of ten pounds (on top of the usual £13 entrance fee to the Experience itself). Naturally I begged, stole and borrowed (from myself) and due to some superb help from a certain gentleman at the DWE – who I won’t name, just in case he went far above and beyond the call of duty – I’m now heading to the bloody TARDIS set in a couple of weeks. The current TARDIS. So current, that it’s possible it may even be closed on the day we turn up due to filming. Flaming well hope not though.

And then on to November 23rd, the day of the Anniversary itself. I’m heading down to London to attend the Doctor Who Official 50th Celebration – a huge official BBC convention being held at the enormous ExCel Centre. All we know so far is that there will be guests (Matt Smith, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Tom Baker have been announced at the time of writing), panels, an SFX Show and “other” stuff, details of which are yet to be released. It’s been suggested that there will be some sort of event in the evening directly related to the transmission that night of the Anniversary Special, which could be anything from a large cinema showing with a ‘Q and A’ with the stars, to a small TV placed in the corner of the room which only Steven Moffat and his SDCC chums are allowed to watch. Ahem.

Either way, this convention is being billed as something a little bit special, and I do hope it lives up to the hype. The tickets sold out in a matter of an hour or so, and every single attendee will be hoping for something memorable. I’m sure as the event draws near and more guests are announced, this will be a knockout weekend for those of us lucky enough to have tickets.

So, that’s it thus far. I think a trip to the TARDIS and a chance to meet virtually every companion and Doctor in one day could really make my year this year.

The Fall of the Eleventh

The easiest part of writing this entry was the title. Let’s face it, there are already probably hundreds of blog entries, YouTube videos, articles and such with the same name. It’s a line written for us by Steven Moffat back in Series 6, and I’m sure it’ll be repeated again before the year is out.

Matt Smith has made his decision to leave the role of the Doctor, and the BBC have confirmed this in an official announcement which was dropped on us last night (June 1st). It’s sad news, of course. Smith’s tenure as the 11th incarnation of the Doctor has been a pleasure to watch since his first episode, and through a combination of excellent performances and clever marketing, the programme itself has massively grown in stature across the world with Smith as the incumbent.

The beauty of Doctor Who is that it is possibly the only television show in the world where the lead actor can decide to leave, and another actor can take his place, and this can be explained away with only one word – ‘regeneration‘. To some, a regeneration can be an exciting event, a chance for the show to get a breath of fresh air, a lick of paint and a few new ideas to take the whole thing forward. To others it can be heartbreaking, as they come to the realisation that ‘their’ Doctor, the incarnation they have always loved, will soon be gone and replaced by something totally new. The idea of regeneration is something utterly brilliant – it is the reason why Doctor Who continued for so long since 1963, and it is the reason why we are still able to enjoy brand new episodes of the series almost forty years after the death of the first actor to play the Doctor, William Hartnell. It is fitting, therefore, that we get to enjoy the excitement/heartbreak/tedium* of a regeneration in the 50th Anniversary year of the show.

(*delete as appropriate)

I am not devastated by Smith’s decision. I believe three series is long enough to leave a lasting legacy, and while I would have been delighted for the Eleventh Doctor to carry on for a few more years I will never be averse to a regeneration and a new take on the eponymous hero. What bugs me slightly is the way that we’re told the news more than 6 months prior to the actual event itself. I appreciate that Doctor Who is now one of the biggest and most popular non-soaps on television at the moment and as such keeping things like this secret would take an effort of such enormous magnitude that it would be laughable, but I just don’t feel like anyone actually tried. This happened with Eccleston’s Doctor and then subsequently Tennant’s, where we knew months in advance that the regeneration was coming and who was going to take over the role. I would, just for once, love to be taken totally by surprise by a regeneration in the show. During David Tennant’s era, he was shot by a Dalek at the end of The Stolen Earth and his subsequent ‘regeneration’ was left as a cliffhanger. We then had a crazy seven days where the press went mental with speculation as to who was taking over. The second part of that episode, Journey’s End, was hugely anticipated. Obviously in the end it all turned out to be a bit of a red herring, but the point was that the surprise element of a possible regeneration out of nowhere was amazing to be part of.

But, we know now, so let’s get on with it. Sadly, the official announcement means we are now going to be subjected to months and months of speculation as to who will be taking over the role, and then the inevitable mass disappointment when we find out the truth. In the last 24 hours I have already seen some frankly ridiculous suggestions, not least that David Tennant should return. No, he really shouldn’t.

We have also, again, returned to the old argument that the Doctor should be played by a woman, and I’ve even heard some mutterings that it’s unfair that the role has thus far been monopolised by male actors. The Doctor is a male character. Sherlock Holmes has also been played exclusively by male actors. If Benedict Cumberbatch decided to quit his role as Sherlock, would it be realistic to expect female actors to be given the chance to take over? Of course not – so why should we expect the same with the Doctor? Granted, we have already heard in The Doctor’s Wife that the Corsair, a fellow Time Lord, used to regenerate into a female form – but the Corsair doesn’t have his/her own show.

I will admit to being one of the show’s fans who wasn’t happy with the casting of Matt Smith as the Doctor initially. I felt he was too young, that he had only been chosen in an effort to win over the female fans and younger audiences, and that the show might suffer for it. I was terribly wrong. Matt Smith proved himself time and again with some phenomenal performances, some of which saved otherwise lacklustre episodes of the show. As such, no matter who gets announced this time around, I am sure I will be initially critical before being blown away when they take over. The BBC have an excellent track record of picking the right actor for the role, and I have no doubt they will do it again.

Latersville.

The Difficult Third Blog Entry.

Today has been a day of racking my brain and wringing hands, as not only have I been afflicted with a lager-induced hangover, but I’ve watched The Rings of Akhaten twice now, and I keep changing my mind about it.

I’ll start by saying it’s very clear why Series 7 Part 1 was released on DVD separately. There is a tangible difference in tone between the first half of the series and the second, and not only due to the change in cast. Jenna-Louise Coleman has been a delight so far, and this incarnation of Clara has presented us with a lovely dynamic with the Doctor which I don’t feel we’ve seen before, certainly not since 2005 (my knowledge of classic Who, as I’ve stated in an earlier blog entry, is limited, but growing).

In recent history the Doctor’s companions have generally come from a background where they’ve lost their father. Rose lost her father as a child; Martha’s parents divorced and she was brought up by her mother; Donna’s father died after she first encountered the Doctor, Amy grew up with no parents at all, and even River’s father turned out to be one of her friends from school, weirdly enough. It wouldn’t be unfair to say then that they all see the Doctor as that father figure so lacking in their lives. Clara on the other hand lost her mother in 2005, and appears to still have her father around. I can only assume we will discover more about her parents as the series develops, but from what we know thus far, it would seem that she isn’t quite in need of that father figure of the Doctor than her previous incumbents. Certainly, although we are only two episodes in, it is curious to note that the Doctor has been dropping her off at home at the end of each one, before picking her up later.

The Rings of Akhaten then is an odd episode. The posters and trailer suggested to me something slightly different to what we actually got. I was happy to note, for example, that the line “We don’t walk away” said to Clara by the Doctor turned out to be not as a result of Clara suggesting that they leave (as it seemed from the trailer), but from Clara not understanding that the Doctor WASN’T walking away.

The set of the marketplace at Akhaten actually reminded me of the Roman marketplace where the Doctor took Donna in The Fires of Pompeii (albeit with slightly more aliens than Romans), and indeed, the whole episode for me had that air of a Tennant-era setting. Certainly more so than the majority of Smith’s tenure so far. I hadn’t been able to imagine Tennant’s Doctor in any of the episodes since he left, with the possible exception of Asylum of the Daleks, such is the change in tone since Moffat took over stewardship of the show.

In all honesty, on first viewing of The Rings of Akhaten I was initially a little underwhelmed. There were certain moments I wasn’t massively keen on, such as the epically cheesy moped across the stars, which was done twice for added cheese. Other little needless things bugged me slightly too, such as the total overuse, again, of the sonic screwdriver. Writers of Who generally find a clever little way to separate the Doctor from his TARDIS, to make the plot more interesting. If only they made the same effort to have the Doctor misplace his sonic more often I’d be a little happier. Moffat showed that this can be done to great effect in The Eleventh Hour.

Dor’een, the barking alien with the moped on offer, confused me slightly. Yes, let’s face it, the barking was pretty amusing, but given that the TARDIS was translating everything else, and has done for years (see: Fires of Pompeii again) why couldn’t Clara understand what Dor’een was saying? The other aliens were speaking English……

The main issue for me though was the selfishness of the Doctor when it came to the stage where one of the two protagonists had to hand over something of value to Dor’een to secure use of the moped. Eventually Clara handed over her mother’s ring, a lovely gesture which showed how much Clara felt responsible for Merry’s predicament. However, throughout the episode we had seen the Doctor wearing Amy’s glasses – suggesting that he hasn’t quite been able to let the Ponds go – and this would have been the perfect opportunity for the Doctor to hand over the glasses, which clearly mean a great deal to him. As I’ve discussed online with a fellow Who blogger/vlogger, this could have been a beautiful symbolic moment where the Doctor could have let go of the Ponds and moved on. Opportunity missed, methinks.

There’s no way I can talk about this episode and not discuss Matt Smith’s wonderful speech towards the end. Smith has made epic speeches before (the obvious one springing to mind is from The Pandorica Opens) but this was so beautifully delivered, so heart-rendingly honest, that you felt Smith’s tears were absolutely genuine, and although a great many recent Who moments have left me with a dry throat and a welling up of tears, this, and specifically the line “I have lost things you will never understand” moved me greatly. I was less enamoured with his use of the word “baby” in that speech, but hey, you can’t have it all.

My final issue with Akhaten is something I reckon may have actually been in the script at one point, but would not have worked, for reasons which will become obvious. When the Doctor and Clara offered up their memories for Grandfather to devour, I almost felt that this was intended as a sacrifice – that they would actually LOSE these memories forever. Certainly, given that the underlying theme of the series relates to memories, and “remembering”, this would have been fitting, and altogether incredibly tragic, for both to lose their important memories to this beast. Of course, a Doctor who’d forgotten everything he’d seen and experienced wouldn’t make for a great show, so I guess there’s no real way to have put that in. I do believe however that it would have made Grandfather a much more imposing and fearful foe.

Little niggles aside though, while Akhaten was not the episode I was expecting, it was certainly much improved second time around.