It’s Not Who, It’s You.

We’re just over halfway through Peter Capaldi’s first series as the incumbent Doctor, and the online community has, as always, shared a wide range of opinions on the episodes presented so far. Doctor Who wouldn’t be Doctor Who if it didn’t split opinion, and attract a wide range of praise and criticism . I have agreed with some, and disagreed with others. I would happily exclaim my delight at an episode I loved, and would be equally vociferous about an episode I didn’t. I have however found myself of late stepping back into the shadows (to paraphrase the Eleventh Doctor), not because I became too big or noisy, but because I found I had been spending more time finding things to criticise than I did actually just sitting down with a drink watching the bloody thing. I’m not a critic. There are plenty of other people paid to do that. I’m a fan.

Some criticisms I’m seeing this time round though have started to infuriate me. I have no problem whatsoever if you don’t like the storylines. I have no problem if the Twelfth Doctor isn’t for you. I don’t even have a problem if you’re not happy with the writing or the acting. These are always going to be debated, and everyone’s opinion is always valid. What I would suggest is that if you don’t like ANY of the storylines, the Doctor, the writing, acting or directing (and some commenters are even criticising the theme tune and the opening credits), then perhaps this show isn’t for you.

I was 14 years old when I first heard Radiohead’s music. It was March 1995 – their second album ‘The Bends’ had just been released, and I was at a friend’s house listening to it in silent rapture after he’d bought it from the local Our Price. I remember being taken aback by it; I had been brought up on Roxette, Phil Collins and Simply Red at home, and even when I discovered music of my own it tended to be relatively easy listening, melodic pop gubbins. My CD collection was full of Oasis, Blur, Pulp, the usual Britpop stuff. That was my ‘jam’. So to hear an album like The Bends, with Thom Yorke’s astonishing falsetto over Jonny Greenwood’s furious lead guitar, chord changes that utterly take you by surprise and a rhythm section so tight you’d swear the players were mentally connected, was more than just a breath of fresh air. It changed entirely the way I heard music.

After a few weeks of barely doing anything else but listening to The Bends, I sought out Radiohead’s earlier album, ‘Pablo Honey’. I recall being surprised at the feel of the songs immediately. They were much lighter in tone, more predictable perhaps, certainly more accessible than The Bends. It wasn’t one of the best albums I ever heard, nor did I dislike it (some of the tracks on there are among my favourite Radiohead songs), but it was instantly clear how the band had changed the direction of their music for the second album.

Two years later I, like a great many of my peers, rushed out and bought OK Computer on the day of release. I remember at the time there was much talk of people hoping for The Bends 2, as was I if I’m honest. I rushed home clutching a copy of the CD, locked myself in my room and stuck it on. It was…different. On first listen, I thoroughly enjoyed parts of it. Other parts just sounded cold, and sparse. It sounded nothing like The Bends, and I was ultimately a little disappointed. I listened again. And again. The more I listened, the more I enjoyed, with the result that to this day, OK Computer remains my all-time favourite album. I found it difficult even to write this paragraph, simply because I can’t believe there was ever a time I wasn’t utterly in love with that record.

Radiohead’s music changed again with the release of Kid A. I bought it on the same day I was going to see them play live in Warrington (in a big top, no less). I listened for the first time at the same friend’s house where I’d heard The Bends that first time. I hated it. I wasn’t just disappointed by it on first listen. I just couldn’t stand it, from the first track to the last. It had nothing of the Radiohead I’d grown to love, and if I’d thought OK Computer had been sparse in places, this just seemed to be an electronic mess. Programmed drum beats, very little in the way of thrashing, gnarled guitars, and I was searching in vain for a melody. That’s it, I thought. Radiohead’s sound had changed so much that I no longer liked them. I was gutted. I went to the gig that night thoroughly despondent, expecting to be holding my hands over my ears most of the time. It turned out to be one of the most fantastic concerts I have ever been lucky enough to attend. I don’t remember a whole lot of it, but I recall having a dance and a sing-along, moshing one minute and wiping a tear from my eye the next. These were the same songs I’d been listening to with such despair earlier that same day.

On waking the next day I listened to Kid A again. I won’t say I had instantly warmed to it, but my god did I get it. Over the next few weeks I found more and more to enjoy in the album, and similar to my experience with OK Computer, it’s now one of my favourite albums. It’s actually an astonishing record, one I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t heard it.

I should start heading to some semblance of a point.

Following Kid A, Radiohead released Amnesiac the following year, then Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows. With each release came with a new style, a new direction; they were experimental, trying to push the accepted norms when it came to rock music. Each album resulted in them gaining fans and losing fans, as the rock guitars and heavy choruses gave way to dense, trippy electronica. Although from past experiences I knew that every new album would be a challenge, I found myself after a while feeling less connected to the band and their music, and despite occasional returns to the style I had grown to love, they inevitably headed in a direction I no longer found entertaining. This came to a head with King of Limbs, an album I have tried to enjoy so many times, but to no avail. It’s very much Radiohead, it got favourable reviews, it’s a popular album with many of my fellow Radiohead fans, but it’s simply not for me. It’s not a bad album. The band haven’t lost their ability – it simply caters for an audience other than my own. This is no issue to Radiohead. They will make many, many more fans from King of Limbs than they will lose. I certainly won’t be calling for Thom Yorke’s head.

Which brings me to Doctor Who. Since the show’s first regeneration from William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton, each Doctor’s era has ushered in a new style, a new feel. There’s the young, friendly one; the old, grumpy one; the action one; the egomaniacal one, and so on. There’s the Pertwee era with a huge proportion of it based entirely on Earth. There’s the whole Colin Baker series based around the ‘Trial’. There are certain mainstays, such as the TARDIS, the companion and the Daleks et al which makes this programme what it is, but we have a different kind of Doctor and a different kind of show every time, possibly never more so than with series eight.

At the time of writing the BBC have transmitted 7 episodes of series eight. That’s 6 different writers, with their stories directed by 3 different directors. We’ve had settings in space, Victorian London, a present day school, 15th/16t Century Sherwood Forest, and inside a Dalek. We’ve seen Gallifrey (or have we?) and we’ve had pre-existing and brand new enemies for the Doctor to face. The writers have even addressed the issue I had with the last series, and they’ve made Clara a much more layered personality. If you can’t find anything you like in any of that, then there’s only a certain amount of times you can blame Steven Moffat. I’m afraid you have to consider the possibility that the common denominator here is you. Perhaps you just don’t like Doctor Who anymore. You used to, of course you did. But it changes, it evolves. It’ll change again when Capaldi eventually regenerates, or the production team is replaced. I don’t get that benefit with Radiohead. The band are the band, they’re not going to change.

I’ve recently learned a phrase which accurately describes the nature of the Twitter commenters I’ve referred to in this post. It’s known as ‘confirmation bias’. I think it’s very well summarised by this cartoon:

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I would also throw in those folk who scour Twitter for posts they think matches their own in order to retweet them, and in doing so, try to prove a point. Confirmation bias is the act of ignoring anything which contradicts their own first impressions. It seems to me that there are some who have not enjoyed Doctor Who since Matt Smith left, or since David Tennant left (or, in one case I heard about, since Patrick Troughton left…) or indeed since Steven Moffat succeeded Russell T Davies as showrunner.

I’m not going to say that series eight has been perfect. Of course it hasn’t. One particular episode (Robot of Sherwood) irritated me no end. But then again I don’t recall the last series of Doctor Who that didn’t have one or two duff episodes as part of the run, and yes, I’m including series five in that. The problem is that some people are heading into the show already knowing that they want to hate it. Not everyone, obviously, but some. In doing that they’ll be looking out for anything negative, any line that doesn’t quite make sense, any plot hole which to anyone else would be barely recognisable. I saw one commenter this morning complaining that Kill The Moon didn’t accurately follow science, and therefore the episode lost credibility. This is a time-travel show, about an alien in a Police Box which is bigger on the inside who travels through time and space. There’s not a lot that follows actual science here. We can allow them a bit of creative licence.

I hate to say it, folks, but with this nihilistic outlook (regardless of who the showrunner is), you’ll never enjoy another episode again. But then, to quote that band I really used to like, ‘you do it to yourself, you do…and that’s what really hurts’.

Latersville.

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Taking in a Deep Breath (SPOILER FREE)

Thursday 7th August was a massive day for me and my ‘companions’, as we travelled to Cardiff to join the 1600 or so lucky souls who’d acquired a ticket for Peter Capaldi’s hugely anticipated debut as The Doctor. I’m writing this a mere two days prior to the BBC transmission of the first episode of Deep Breath, so why not share my experience now, eh.

After another very early start (why do I keep doing this to myself?) we were on our way to Cardiff on schedule. We arrived just before 10am and scampered through the streets of the city toward St David’s Hall. Thanks to a number of contacts keeping in touch through Twitter we heard that there was still plenty of barrier space for the red carpet event, and this proved correct when we got there. We found a nice open spot pretty close to the TARDIS as we had a feeling that the stars would be hanging around this area the most, for interviews and photo opportunities.

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So we took our spot against the barrier, and waited. We knew that the event wasn’t due to start for another hour or so, and thankfully we had the lovely Cardiff sunshine to enjoy. As the crowds started to grow ever larger, we were entertained by Daleks and Cybermen wandering around, interacting with the young – and not so young – fans. I remember one little lad letting out the most terrified scream when one Cyberman came a teensy bit too close, proving that even today Doctor Who has the power to frighten children at lunchtime in the middle of a busy city centre. Not long after that a Metro photographer snapped a picture of the back of my head (I’m in blue – screaming boy on Dad’s shoulders on my right).

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We were told that the red carpet event was due to start at 11am, with the actual premiere at 12:15pm. From what we could see there didn’t seem to enough time for the stars to meet everyone on their way up to St David’s Hall, so we didn’t hold out too much hope to get all the autographs we would have liked, but knew we’d get a bloody good view of everything where we were. As time moved on though, and the clocks moved on to quarter past 11, and half past 11, we were getting a little concerned as to how much time we would have before we had to vamoose into the theatre. The instructions we’d been sent told us we had to be in the auditorium by 12:15 or we wouldn’t be allowed in, so my anxious worried mode kicked in as we neared our deadline.

Steven Moffat reached us first. I had a feeling he would head straight past us, but brilliantly he wandered over from the opposite barrier and headed straight to me. I had a large print of the movie-style poster of The Day of The Doctor which he duly signed before posing for an ultimate selfie with everyone else. I tried to get into the shot myself, but couldn’t quite fit my huge head in. Here’s us as he signed:

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And here’s the ultimate selfie, stolen from Jenny. From L-R: Andrew, Laura, Jenny, Adam, Moff.

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After SteeMo went on his way, I rolled my print back up and returned it to my trusty tube, before eagerly waiting the arrival of Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. From our vantage point we could just make out our new heroes slowly making their way along the crowds, signing autographs and posing for photos with the fans. As we expected, given where we were standing, they were dragged away by interviewers and photographers as they neared us, so we didn’t get to meet them. Jenna I’ve met before, and I’m sure I’ll get a chance to meet Capaldi sooner or later, so I wasn’t particularly concerned. I was more interested in watching the premiere of the episode. We managed to briefly speak to Samuel Anderson, who will be playing Danny Pink in the new series, so that topped off our red carpet experience, before working our way through the massed crowds to St David’s Hall.

We knew already that we had great tickets. I always struggle to fight for tickets for these things but somehow I managed to get us seats in Row F in the stalls, so GO ME. Our view was thus:

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After a brief introduction from Jason Mohammed to the cast and some crew, the lights finally went down and we were treated to the feature-length majesty that was Deep Breath. As you’ll have spotted from the title of this post, you’ll be getting no spoilers from me. All I will say is that Capaldi nailed it, Jenna was as good as I’ve seen her in the role, and I love the new opening titles. There are moments in this episode that fans will remember for a long time. That’s all you’re getting. Wait until Saturday.

The episode came to a conclusion to a huge round of applause. I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must be for Steven Moffat, sitting in the front row, with all those fans’ expectations on his shoulders. I think the reaction at the time will have helped him to relax a little.

Jason Mohammed returned to the stage and introduced Peter, Jenna and Moff to the audience again ahead of the Q&A. I’ve been to a number of Q&As in the last few years, and in all honesty, they range from boring to cringeworthy and back again at lightning speed. The actual interview, chaired by Jason, was very interesting. Capaldi came across as being extremely genial and gave some great answers to some decent questions. I found, as usually seems to be the case, that Jenna Coleman was overlooked somewhat. The majority of questions were directed at Capaldi and Moffat, and I got the impression that Jason tended to include Jenna just to make her feel like she wasn’t a spare part. I can partly understand this – she’s been in the show some time, and Capaldi is new to the world of Who (and obviously plays the lead role) so people want to hear from the new guy.

As usual far too many of the audience questions smacked a little of ‘wanting to speak to the actors without having a cogent and interesting question to mind’. One chap even asked half the previous person’s question before giving up and handing the microphone back. One particular highlight was the moment Capaldi was asked to wish a questioner’s friend a happy birthday, which he and Jenna did, before leading the whole audience in a rendition of the song (Happy Birthday, Sarah!), This I think endeared him to the fans even more. Anybody worried about Capaldi not being appealing to the younger fans clearly don’t know anything about younger fans. They don’t give a monkeys how old he is. And anyway, to a little kid, even Tennant and Smith were ‘old’.

With the exception of A) the family behind us inexplicably talking through the whole episode (one member of said family, mum perhaps, texting the whole time!) and B) a terrible sound system in the Hall, rendering a good half of the dialogue extremely hard to follow, I had a fantastic day out in Cardiff. I can’t wait for the evening of Saturday 23rd so I can start discussing the episode with everyone else. I think our new Doctor is going to be very popular indeed. There’s a new direction for this show. It’s still Doctor Who, just with a different face.

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Photo courtesy of Laura Robinson

Sherlock – Caitlin Moran: BFI Q+A (SPOILER FREE)

I was one of the very lucky few to attend the BFI screening of the Sherlock series three opener ‘The Empty Hearse’ this weekend. This blog is not about the episode, and will contain absolutely no information, clues, spoilers or anything else relating to it.

It started for me on the train home to Manchester from London. I checked my phone, refreshed Twitter, and searched for posts relating to ‘bfi sherlock’. I wanted to get an idea of other attendees’ views on the episode and their experience of the day. What I found was surprising. Or maybe it wasn’t.

If I had not attended the screening that afternoon I might have come to the conclusion that two very highly regarded Hollywood actors had been coerced – nay, forced – into ridiculing a shocked and distraught audience with a reading of hardcore pornography. These terrible events had been orchestrated by the host, who had set out to humiliate the actors and belittle the author of said work, before picking off random members of the outraged audience with a handgun, in a final, bloody, coup de grace.

As it happens, I did attend the screening, and I did attend the Q+A – and I would like to share with you what actually happened, in front of my eyes.

Following the screening, the cast and crew of Sherlock were introduced onto the BFI stage alongside our host for the afternoon, journalist Caitlin Moran. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were there, with co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, producer Sue Vertue and director Jeremy Lovering. Caitlin began proceedings with an invitation to the gathered masses to get one enormous admiring scream out of the way right off the bat, and the audience duly obliged.

The questioning began with a long conversation about the episode we had just watched. Again, no spoilers here. Everyone on stage was having a good time, with plenty of good natured banter between them. All involved had a chance to speak for a while, and plenty of topics were covered, none of which I can describe, simply because it was entirely spoilerific for a good half an hour.

Eventually, the conversation (note: conversation, not simply questions and answers) turned to the subject of Sherlock fan-fiction. To great amusement from the audience, specifically the throngs of fangirls, Caitlin briefly suggested future plot ideas to the crew taken from three ‘fanfics’ she had found online. As the title of each fanfic was read out, the fangirls around me gasped excitedly and leaned forward in their seats, suggesting to me that the majority of them knew these stories very well, and very clearly wanted their heroes to know about them too.

Finally, Caitlin revealed the title of the story that has caused so much fuss in SherlockFandomLand over the last 24 hours. It was entitled “Tea”, which was, as it turns out, a sequel to “Coffee”. Yes, this got a laugh. Not just from Caitlin, as many would have you believe, but from the entire audience (including all the fangirls sat in my line of sight), cast, and crew. It got a laugh, because it’s a fact that Tea (a sequel to Coffee) is a cute, funny title in any universe. Not mockingly funny, just funny. Caitlin did state that the story “doesn’t contain anything bad”. I have read the story. It does contain a lot of bad. But not the section we were about to hear. Unless you think a gay kiss is ‘bad’, and I certainly don’t.

Then the moment of truth. Did Caitlin Moran really FORCE Benedict and Martin to read an extract from this fanfic? Were Benedict and Martin MADE to perform like monkeys in front of a baying crowd?

No. No she didn’t, and no they weren’t.

Printouts of the fanfic were passed to the pair. That’s ‘passed’. Handed over. Let’s just make it perfectly clear that nothing was thrust into either actor’s face. At this point I would recommend you watch the three-minute video which has circulated online. It’s happily spoiler-free, so everyone can see what transpires. Obviously I was there, so I saw it all happen in context with the rest of the show, but this is the next best thing. My own observations are highlighted in bold.

It begins with Caitlin asking the actors to play their roles in the fanfic while also reading their respective narratives. She then light-heartedly (watch the video) jokes that Jeremy Lovering is directing, to which Martin responds, with great comedy timing, “Get them in”, gesturing to the audience. This is a reference to something joked about earlier in the session, wherein it was acknowledged how difficult it was to film an episode without onlookers getting into shot. Again, the audience are all laughing. It was a funny moment.

Martin begins to read his part. As he reads, I am watching the audience. Being sat towards the rear of the not-very-large theatre, I can see everything. What you cannot see on the leaked video is all the fans/fangirls leaning forward, huge smiles on their face, giggling away. They are not laughing at the fanfic. They are laughing excitedly at their heroes reading an actual fanfic in front of their eyes.

Benedict then responds with his first line, which is “Sherlock licked his bottom lip”, to which Steven Moffat responds with “Whose bottom lip?” This of course gets a laugh from the audience. This is not mocking laughter, aimed at the piece or the author. This is laughter at a quick-witted response from Moffat. All on stage know what’s coming, clearly, because they are all very aware of Sherlock fan-fiction. The subsequent laughter comes from anticipation. “How far are they going to go?”

As a result of Moffat’s interruption, Benedict points out a slight narrative error in the script, nothing serious at all, which is swiftly brushed over as it is unimportant. Again, at this stage the audience are hooked to this. It is fascinating. Is Benedict Cumberbatch really going to read aloud from a fan’s work? It certainly seems so. Even better, Benedict’s next line is read in his Sherlock voice. For me personally, being in the same room as the actor who plays Sherlock actually playing Sherlock is phenomenal.

Martin responds with what I actually consider a very well written line of narrative – “John turned to the left, his body at attention” – before tilting his head in a knowing way towards the audience. The double entendre here causes plenty of merriment. Soon after this, another line read by Martin, “John swallowed” gives us the biggest laugh, and curiously, a round of applause. A ROUND OF APPLAUSE.

This is not awkward. This is not an unpleasant atmosphere. This is joyful – these two A-list actors are on stage sharing in something fanmade, to an adoring audience, who are loving every second. And I feel I should reiterate, the majority of the attendees are most certainly fangirls (and fanboys, if you include me).

After Martin read a further line, Benedict paused briefly. This was the main incident, which needs to be clarified. Benedict did pause. Martin turned to him, expecting him to continue with the story, but Benedict had turned to Caitlin to suggest ‘let’s stop it here’. Caitlin immediately obliged and announced “yes, shall we stop it here – this sounded a lot better in my head”. NOTE – VERY IMPORTANT– both Benedict and Martin laughed at that statement, asking “did you write it?”. They did not feel put upon, they were not forced into a corner, they were obviously having a good time. So much so, that Benedict actually asked Caitlin whether they were ruining anything by stopping early.

Caitlin, as can be seen on the video, was almost over-apologetic, thinking that the previous minute or two hadn’t been entertaining, but it had. There was nothing unpleasant, nothing derisive towards the author, except for one statement – that the last line was “clumsily written” – but we’re not exactly talking about a damning critique on the author’s work. It’s all there to see on the video.

Benedict then made a statement. And it is this statement which I feel has caused all the uproar against Caitlin Moran. If Benedict hadn’t said this, the backlash towards Caitlin would not have happened, I am sure.

Benedict’s statement was this: “It’s just a point, I mean the fans can do what they like, but there’s a point, we do what we do with it, and that’s the fun we have with our fiction of it, is to point out that that [a kiss between John and Sherlock] is ludicrous in our universe of this storytelling. So, sorry to be all ‘mmmmm’ about it…*adopts cockney accent* His nibs ain’t doing that”.

Caitlin at this point apologised, explained that she was very sorry, and throws it open to the audience. All is rosy again. This was lighthearted.

Benedict’s statement caused the problem. The issue we have is that Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of the show and the hero to the fangirls, has just stated openly and publicly that he doesn’t like fan-fiction. This causes a problem, because the fans are not going to turn on him, are they? No chance. They’re not going to turn on the rest of the cast and crew either. No, they’re going to turn on the one easy target – Caitlin Moran.

And so, this is what happened. Even though everyone in that room thoroughly enjoyed the whole event, through countless generations of Chinese whispers and misheard/misunderstood comments, the whole Sherlock fandom formed an army against Caitlin Moran, bombarding her Twitter with all sorts of unpleasantness. She’s been accused of going into that Q+A with an agenda from the outset, to use Benedict and Martin as pawns in her carefully planned attack on the fandom. And then there’s the other angle, that the whole thing was a direct attack on fanfics and through that, a direct attack on feminism. To paraphrase Benedict, THAT’S ludicrous. It’s nonsense. Utter, utter nonsense.

I will state at this point that I am aware of the other issues people have raised in relation to the event, such as ‘was it morally/legally right for this author’s work to be performed without permission?’ or ‘what about the breaking of the fourth wall (mixing up fan-fiction with the actual original canon actors)?’ but these are questions for other people to discuss and debate. I just want to put the actual unbiased facts out there, as it’s obvious that a great deal of misinformation has been fed to people through blogs and Twitter.

At worst, the introduction of the fanfic to proceedings was an error of judgement on Caitlin’s part. Simply that, a mistake. And I do have sympathy for the writer of said fanfic, who has stated that she never wanted the cast to read her work. But it certainly wasn’t torn apart like it’s being suggested it was.

For those who launched their tirades against Caitlin for ‘breaking the fourth wall’ and sharing fan-created material with the stars of the show, I’m reminded of a talk some time ago, where Martin Freeman was asked by a young fangirl whether he would wear ‘red pants’ for the show, to which the whole room full of fangirls shrieked with excitement, while Martin called them ‘dirty minded f**kers’. This was a direct reference to fan-made material involving artwork featuring John Watson in red underwear, and a direct request for the actor to wear said underwear in the show. Interesting then how this fourth wall opinion has now changed, simply because Caitlin Moran is someone in the public eye.

I am not defending Caitlin Moran because of any political, or feministic, or any other reason. I don’t read The Times and I have not yet read her books. I’m defending her because I’m sick of seeing the pack mentality on Twitter, especially when it comes to fandoms, ganging up on someone for reasons they have only heard second, third or fourth-hand. Or from watching a three-minute video of an event which lasted three hours.

Thank you for reading this, if you did. If you share my opinion, great. If not, then equally great, it’s up to you. I’m just stating the facts.

Latersville.

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.

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.