10 Years of New Who – My top 10 episodes of modern Doctor Who!

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There seem to be a lot of television anniversaries recently and today marks another milestone – it is 10 years since Doctor Who returned to our screens with Rose in 2005. As someone who grew up in the wilderness years of Doctor Who my only real contact with the series had been watching the occasional rerun of Sylvester McCoy’s era on UK Gold, which didn’t grab me at all and then the 1996 TV movie with Doctor number 8. I’d enjoyed Paul McGann’s only outing as the Doctor and so on hearing the series was being revived I was curious to see what it would be like in the 21st century. I was also a huge admirer of Christopher Eccleston’s work (particularly the stunning and hard-hitting Hillsborough).

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The new TARDIS team in 2005 – Christopher Eccleston & Billie Piper

So, on Saturday 26th March 2005, I joined 9.9 million other viewers to see the TARDIS land back on Earth (and hear that crazy cross over with Graham Norton!), which rose to a final total of 10.81 million. The verdict at the time – enjoyable, although I thought the episode was incredibly cheesy. I did however love Chris and Billie and that was enough to draw me back the following week. It’s been a mixed 10 years. I loved Chris’s series (with barely a dud episode), adored David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, which cemented my appreciation and loyalty to keep watching the show and thought Matt was great but had far too many dreadful stories. Now, ten years later, we are awaiting the second series of stories for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor (I thoroughly enjoyed his first series, which I discussed last year) and it’s great to still have the Doctor going strong on the BBC. To celebrate this 10th anniversary, below are my favourite ten episodes of “New Who.” I’d be interested to hear what episodes make your list.

1. Human Nature / Family of Blood (David Tennant, series 3, 2007) b007m0r9_640_360

This two-parter remains my favourite story of modern Doctor Who, which is ironic seeing as it was originally a novel for the Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor! Paul Cornell’s story is so brilliant on so many different levels – it is beautifully written, has a chilling villain (particularly Harry Lloyd as Baines), highlights the country before the war, while commemorating those who fought in its ending and is also superbly acted. Freema Agyeman really has space to develop the character of Martha, who has to do the Doctor’s work for him when he can’t, Jessica Hynes is wonderful as Joan, the woman who captures John’s heart and there’s some lovely acting from young Thomas Brodie-Sangster (now popping up in Game of Thrones and Wolf Hall). Above all of that though is David Tennant’s incredible performance as two very different people. His portrayal of John Smith as he struggles to cope with his real identity is heartbreaking and his darker Doctor at the end is also chilling. It’ll take a lot to beat this one for me.

2. Vincent and the Doctor (Matt Smith, series 5, 2010) Vincent-and-the-Doctor

Coming second is Richard Curtis’s story from Matt’s first year in the role. Many people were horrified at the thought of him writing an episode, but his story was in fact the most emotionally strong and moving episode of Matt’s whole time on the show. By travelling back to meet Amy’s favourite painter, it enabled the story to tackle the delicate subject of mental health and depression, as most of those watching know the reason for Van Gogh’s death. The scene in which he is crying in his room is incredibly powerful and superbly acted, while the episode also still maintains some beautiful visual moments too – Amy among the sunflowers and the three of them looking up at the Starry Night. Above all though, for me, it’s the ending which truly makes this episode one of the best of New Who – watching Tony Curran as Van Gogh see his work and how much it is loved always brings a tear to my eye, as does the sad truth that Amy didn’t get her wish of there being more paintings when they return. It’s delicate, emotional, powerful and beautiful.

3. The Waters of Mars (David Tennant, Specials, 2009) s0_07_wal_20

As David Tennant’s time as the Doctor neared its end, there had been talk that we’d see a darker Doctor and that certainly happened in The Waters of Mars. Faced with the crew of Bowie Base 1 and knowing their ultimate fates yet again placed the Doctor in a difficult moral situation. The difference this time being that we got to see what he’d be like if he decided to try and change the future and intervene when he shouldn’t. Tennant’s scenes with Lindsay Duncan were wonderful, from the one telling her the future of her family, right through to their final conversation on a snowy London street. Seeing this angry, arrogant, Master-like version of the Tenth Doctor was very exciting and it’s almost a shame he didn’t have a bit longer to delve in to it.

4. The Day of the Doctor (50th Anniversary, 2013)

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The highly anticipated 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who must have been a huge pressure for Steven Moffat. There was so much to try and include in order to honour the past, while moving the story forward for the next 50 years and I admit I was worried it would turn out like one of the worst Christmas specials. I’m so pleased I was wrong and that instead we had a fun, entertaining, exciting episode. I’ll always be sad that Christopher Eccleston didn’t agree to return, not even for a few moments, but we at least had the wonderful partnership of Matt and David, which was only strengthened by the dynamic they had together with John Hurt. His War Doctor was a brilliant addition and one that allowed us to revisit the Time War in a new way. Not to mention the unexpected inclusion of both Peter Capaldi and Tom Baker, whose scene with Matt is so moving, whether you’ve watched the Fourth Doctor’s episodes or not.

5. The Girl In The Fireplace (David Tennant, series 2, 2006) reinette

Steven Moffat’s first story for the Tenth Doctor became an instant fan favourite and I think will always be a classic. Ten years on, we are used to Moffat’s trick of jumping between time periods, or having the resolution be one that you only see how clever it is at the end of the episode, requiring you to rewatch it immediately. This was the first time we saw how multi-layered and clever his writing could be and in my view, some of his more recent stories have lost this, thinking they are cleverer than they actually are. The story of Madame Du Pompadour and her love for the Doctor across her life is a lovely one and Sophia Myles was able to convey her fear and also strength, something the Doctor clearly admired in her. His realisation that she has died and the letter she has left for him is such a tragic ending, but one which is necessary to make the episode as wonderful as it is. More like this please Mr Moffat!

6. Doomsday (David Tennant, series 2, 2006)

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I will always remember watching Doomsday for the first time, aware that Billie was leaving but unsure how it would happen and being totally unprepared for the emotionally charged final few scenes. Doomsday was such a great finale, as it had a perfect mix of adventure and action, as the Daleks and Cybermen do battle, while balancing this with a very real emotional heart, through both the resolution of Jackie and Pete back together and the Doctor and Rose torn apart. Russell T Davies’s era on the show may be seen as too driven by emotions for some, but I loved this aspect of the series and question whether I would have become such a loyal, regular viewer without it. I cared about the characters and the heartbreaking events always felt real (something I’ve felt to be lacking, certainly in Matt’s era) and none more so that seeing the Doctor and Rose say goodbye. It has gorgeous music from Murray Gold and is beautifully acted by David and Billie, whose chemistry was very special and I’d challenge anyone not to shed a tear.

7. Bad Wolf / The Parting of the Ways (Christopher Eccleston, series 1, 2005) parting-ways-1

As a huge admirer of Christopher Eccleston as an actor I was very sad to discover he was leaving the series so soon. I still strongly believe that the series may not have taken off had it not had such a respected actor of his calibre in it from the start, forcing people to take the sci-fi show seriously. He was a wonderful Doctor, funny, kind and yet serious and detached when necessary. This finale is still one of the best of New Who. It was the first time we got to see the huge army of Daleks and the threat they posed, it had light hearted humour courtesy of John Barrowman’s brilliant Captain Jack (bring him back Steven!) and then there were the lovely scenes between the Doctor and Rose. His hologram telling her to have a fantastic life is still one of my favourite scenes and Billie really showed what a strong actress she was, as she fought to get back to his side. Although sad, Chris’s final scene did justice to his time on the show, before welcoming David Tennant aboard.

8. The Runaway Bride (David Tennant, Christmas 2006) THERUNAWAYBRIDE_(19)

The Runaway Bride has always been my favourite Christmas special and is one I return to often. It has  the perfect balance of light hearted silliness and comedy, sadness and excitement and wasn’t confusing for those who weren’t regular viewers of the series. I’d never been a fan of Catherine Tate’s comedy shows and so was relieved to see what a brilliant actress she was. Donna was so different from Rose, which was exactly right for the first episode without the partnership of David and Billie and yet there were enough references to Rose to acknowledge how important she’d been to the Doctor. I remember being sad at the end of the story that we’d never see Donna again and it’s wonderful she came back for series four, to have such a superb partnership with David’s Doctor. Plus David’s final line in this story is still one the best scenes of his on the entire show – “Her name was Rose.”

9. Blink (David Tennant, series 3, 2007)

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Blink is almost certain to make any Doctor Who fan’s list of favourite episodes and not just of modern Who either. Series two’s “Doctor-lite” story had been fairly weak and yet Steven Moffat managed to make this one a series highlight! It also introduced us to one of the most chilling monsters on television as we watched the Weeping Angels creep up on people. I remain frustrated that such a frightening monster was then ruined by later stories (breaking necks just wasn’t as frightening as sucking the future years out of someone!) but at least Blink stands as a reminder as to how scary they can be in the right story. It was also a brilliant role for Carey Mulligan (now so famous I sadly think we’ll never see the return of Sally Sparrow) and has forever made statues just that little bit more disturbing! Remember – don’t blink!

10. Mummy on the Orient Express (Peter Capaldi, series 8, 2014) / The Stolen Earth & Journey’s End (David Tennant, series 4, 2008)

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Okay, so I’m cheating a little here as I’ve agonised over which of these two stories to include and couldn’t decide! It felt wrong not to include a story from the Twelfth Doctor and Mummy on the Orient Express was by far my favourite of his first series. It had everything right – scary story and monster, which felt fresh and original, fun location, excellent supporting performances (particularly Frank Skinner) and a lovely Doctor/Clara dynamic, as she struggles to leave, while feeling it’s the only choice. Above all though Peter Capaldi is fantastic – he really is the Doctor here, with witty dialogue, break neck speed cleverness, authority and a convincing relationship with Clara. I’ve no doubt this will remain a highlight of his years on the show.

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I couldn’t have a top ten list without The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, as there is so much I love about it. Bringing all of the Tenth Doctor’s companions together in one story was a brave and ambitious move and yet it really did work and it made the ending all the more tragic, when the Doctor is once again alone. It was lovely to have John Barrowman and Billie Piper back, although I still don’t like the final beach scene. It still grates with me that the Doctor was fine with the idea of The Master travelling with him, but not 10.5 and Rose seemed to put up far too little a fight about not staying with the person she’d waited years to be with again. That aside though, their reunion at the end of Stolen Earth is another favourite scene of New Who for me – it’s the look on his face as he sees her and runs towards her, before that pesky Dalek ruins it! Then there is Catherine Tate, who is utterly spectacular here as we say goodbye to Donna. Her final TARDIS scene is heartbreaking to watch. If that scene wasn’t beautiful enough, it’s then capped off by Bernard Cribbins’s emotional doorstep vow to look up at the sky each night and think of the Doctor. Incredible acting all round.

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So those are my choices, some of which I’ll watch to celebrate this anniversary. Narrowly missing out were The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (“Are You my mummy?” will stay with me forever!), The Eleventh Hour (such a brilliant entrance for Matt), Flatline (it was just so original, scary and also funny), the entire end of series four, with its superb run of The Silence In The Library/Forest of the Dead/ Midnight and Turn Left, The Angels Take Manhattan (Amy and Rory’s exit was very well handled) and Boom Town (bonkers, but Chris proving just how comedic he could be in that restaurant scene).

I may not like all the stories, but Doctor Who remains a highlight of British television today and something the BBC can truly be proud of. It’s one of those rare shows that can be enjoyed by all the family together and that is something that should be cherished. I certainly hope we’re all here in another ten years time to celebrate another decade of stories!

In the meantime, here’s a brilliant fan made video, celebrating a decade of New Who! Watching me has made me want to get my box sets out and start all over again!

The Truth Is Still Out There! 10 Things that should appear in The X-Files revival!

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So today brought the news X-Philes the world over have been waiting for – The X-Files is returning to our screens! After so much speculation and a growing anticipation, it has been confirmed that Fox has commissioned six new episodes of the series, reuniting creator Chris Carter with stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.

In the hope that the revival would indeed become a reality I started to think about what I most hope to see included in this new run, more so now we have a set of episodes rather than just a film. Below is my top 10 wish list. Do let me know what you are hoping to see!

1. The truth about what happened in 2012

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The mythology became a huge driving force of the series and dedicated fans continued on Mulder’s quest for the truth through nine seasons waiting for answers. The finale hinted at a hugely significant global event on 22nd December 2012. That has come and gone now, so the question has to be – what happened?! I find it ridiculous to think this won’t be addressed somehow! It’s one of the biggest plot points left unresolved and one which was not touched on during the last film.

2. AD Walter Skinner 

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I always loved Skinner. He started out as so by the book and became one of Mulder and Scully’s biggest allies. It was lovely to see him in the last movie, after the uncertain future that awaited him in his last appearance in the finale, but it really wasn’t enough for me. Skinner better be a big part of this revival. Plus, I was lucky enough to get Mitch Pileggi’s autograph and he was a genuinely lovely guy, who I’m sure would love to go back to the show.

3. Some brand new stand alone mysteries

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I certainly hope the initial indications are true that as well as some form of mythology conclusion, we’ll also see some stand alone episodes as part of the six episode run. The X-Files may have started out as a show slanted towards aliens, but with episode 3, Squeeze, a now iconic liver-eating mutant made us all realise that the possibilities of the show were endless. After Mulder’s absence from so much of the last few years and cases of the show, it would be nice to see the duo tackle a brand new, creepy monster on their return to scare a whole new generation!

4. William 

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I wasn’t a huge fan of the William story arc if I’m honest, but it would seem nuts to me if there is no acknowledgement or reference to him during this series. He’d be 13 or so now and so it would perhaps be interesting to see where he is and whether he is displaying any otherworldly characteristics. I also imagine Gillian would be brilliant in some scenes with him, even if it’s just them watching him from a distance.

5. Mrs Scully (just no William Jr!)

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Sheila Larken’s portrayal of Mrs Scully was another highlight of the show for me. She was such a lovely character and so supportive of her daughter and clearly saw the special bond between her and Mulder. After going through so much during the course of the series, it would be lovely to see where she is now and hopefully that she is happy. Heck maybe her and Skinner could be a couple!!

6. The Cigarette Smoking Man is never really dead! 

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No one really absolutely believes the Cigarette Smoking Man is dead do they?! He has “died” at least twice on the show already, so I find it hard to accept that he won’t find a way to return to cause trouble for Mulder & Scully. Plus William B Davis was so brilliant in the role, that it would seem a waste to not see him sparring with Mulder or Skinner once again.

7. A return for some classic writers and directors

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The X-Files always seemed to be like a family for those who worked on the show and those of us who watched it from start to finish came to recognise the names and work of the writers and directors as much as the actors. If we are to have six new stories, I certainly hope Chris Carter has lined up some of the show’s old faithful family to be part of it. I imagine such a short run would rule out a quirky Darin Morgan script, but I’d love to see the return of Glen Morgan and James Wong, whose writing partnership brought us some of the best stories and characters, together with Vince Gilligan, now more famous for creating his own successful series Breaking Bad. As for directors, it would be nice to see Rob Bowman back, as well as R.W Goodwin (aka Sheila “Mrs Scully” Larken’s husband) who directed so many of my favourite stories.

8. A special dedication to Kim Manners

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Since the show ended, director Kim Manners passed away. He directed some great episodes, such as Quagmire and the controversial Home and it would be lovely to see a dedication to him at the end of one of the new episodes.

9. Filming returns to Vancouver, the spiritual home of The X-Files!

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So the series left Vancouver after five seasons but, for me, the tone and mood of the show was always at its best during its years filming in Canada, in a city I’ve visited since and loved. Now the series is coming back, it feels appropriate that it goes back to the place where it all began 20 years ago and that’s Vancouver!

10. Details of filming please! 

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Okay, so number ten is a bit of a cheat and a fantasy request, but why not?! I’d love a comprehensive, detailed schedule for filming, issued in advance, so that geeky fans like me can seriously consider planning a holiday around coming to watch some filming! Even if it’s just a couple of days to accommodate all the loyal fans out there. If you are listening Chris Carter, make it happen!

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So that’s my top ten wish list, although I admit just having my favourite series returning is exciting enough! I look forward to all the debate, speculation and buzz that will occur over the next few months! Don’t forget, the truth is out there!

Broadchurch Finale Celebrations – Olafur Arnalds in Bridport!

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A few weeks ago in February, Broadchurch fans were getting ready to find out the answers to so many questions – Would justice be done and Joe Miller be found guilty? and What did happen in Sandbrook? to name just two. My friend and I had discovered the perfect way to enjoy the finale night – by spending it in Broadchurch itself, Bridport to be specific, enjoying a concert by series composer Olafur Arnalds, followed by a screening of the finale! It’s taken me a while to post this review, but as the Broadchurch DVD is now out to buy I thought why not post it now.

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It was my first trip to Dorset and I wasn’t disappointed as the scenery was beautiful, despite the blustery weather on the Monday! First things first was to visit all the locations in West Bay, which was a short walk (or bus ride) from Bridport. My friend had been to some of the filming of series two, so she was able (and more than willing) to show me all the sights – the newsagents exterior and the sea brigade HQ from series one, the police station, Jocelyn Knight’s house, DI Hardy’s waterside home and the iconic cliffside, which is now so intrinsically linked to this brilliant ITV drama series. It was lovely to be in the very place that would be on ITV that evening and I’ll certainly be back in sunnier weather.

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The iconic Broadchurch cliff!

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Who lives in a hut like this?…Alec Hardy!

It was soon time to make our way to the Electric Palace in Bridport for the evening’s celebrations. It was a lovely old-fashioned venue, which was packed with crew and locals, clearly very proud of the show that has brought worldwide attention to their little town. Creator and writer Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker (Beth Latimer) were also in the audience. The night before, Olafur Arnalds had sold out the Barbican Hall in London and yet he’d specifically requested the addition of Bridport to his current tour, as he wanted to finally visit the place that he’d spent so much time composing for. He jokingly said it would have been so much easier trying to know the tone for the music if he’d come sooner!

It was soon time to make our way to the Electric Palace in Bridport for the evening’s celebrations. It was a lovely old-fashioned venue, which was packed with crew and locals, clearly very proud of the show that has brought worldwide attention to their little town. Creator and writer Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker (Beth Latimer) were also in the audience. The night before, Olafur Arnalds had sold out the Barbican Hall in London and yet he’d specifically requested the addition of Bridport to his current tour, as he wanted to finally visit the place that he’d spent so much time composing for. He jokingly said it would have been so much easier trying to know the tone for the music if he’d come sooner!

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Olafur Arnalds (far left) & musicians on stage

We were then treated to 80 minutes of Olafur’s unique music, which uses synth alongside string instruments amongst others to create incredibly haunting and powerful music. His music is perfect for Broadchurch once you hear it, as it’s so atmospheric and the concert had been conceived in such a way as to maximise the effect of his music on an audience, through the added use of light and smoke effects. It was certainly unlike any musical concert I’d experienced before.

During the set, we heard musical pieces that have become so iconic to the series, including Beth’s Theme (renamed Jodie’s theme for the evening), and the hauntingly beautiful opening theme, which sounds so much like waves crashing against the sand and hearing it not far from that location was brilliant. In addition, Olafur was also joined by Arnor Dan, who is the voice behind Broadchurch’s two theme songs So Close and So Far, who it was joked really doesn’t like the ITV lady who talks over his 30 seconds of fame at the end of each episode!

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Olafur Arnalds & Jodie Whittaker on stage before the screening of the finale

As well as music from the series, Olafur and the musicians also played music from his previous album For Now I Am Winter, of which I particularly enjoyed the haunting Old Skin. He ended the concert with a song from an earlier album (Living Room Songs) called Lag fyrir ömmu, which in English means “Song for Grandma”, as he explained his grandmother had been his biggest supporter and he wanted to write a song in her memory. As someone who has recently lost my grandma, I found this a particularly moving piece and the staging choice for it was perfect – the other musicians left the stage, leaving him alone to play the piano, even when the string section of the music begins, lending a beautiful atmosphere of being able to hear them somewhere in the distance accompanying him, before they fade away leaving him to end the piece and for the lights to dim. It brought a tear to my eye and is something I won’t forget.

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Broadchurch on the big screen!

It was then time for the episode to begin after a short break. I always think it adds something extra to watch something for the first time with a group of people who are fans of it too and the room was certainly excited to see how the mysteries would be resolved. We were quite a behaved audience, as I thought there may be a few more vocal reactions to the episode, but other than some shocked gasps at the verdict everyone was fairly quiet. The episode ended to a round of applause and cheers to the news that Broadchurch would indeed return for a third series. This can only be good news for the residents of Bridport and West Bay, who no doubt are benefitting from people like us coming to visit their little seaside town.

Olafur was more than happy to sign CDs afterwards and pose for photographs. He seemed to be a genuinely friendly, funny, lovely guy. I’m so pleased I was there to enjoy this one off evening, as well as to finally see that now iconic cliffside. It’s definitely somewhere every Broadchurch fan should try and visit!

Broadchurch series 2 is now available to buy on DVD and Bluray. Olafur Arnalds music, including the Broadchurch soundtrack, can be purchased via all the usual music retailers.

Theatre Review – The Ruling Class starring James McAvoy at the Trafalgar Studios

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There are productions that arrive and immediately all you hear is glowing praise from all who see it, making your expectations even higher in the run up to seeing it yourself. The new play in the second Trafalgar Transformed season, The Ruling Class, was certainly such a production. Was it really as brilliant as everyone was saying? Was it really as bonkers? In short, yes it was on both counts and so much more too.

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James McAvoy as Jack & Kathryn Drysdale as Grace Shelley. Photo by: Johan Persson

Peter Barnes’ play, written in 1968 (and not seen in London since its premiere in 1969), begins with the unfortunate and admittedly rather darkly amusing death of the Earl of Gurney. As the family fear for the future of the estate, his title and wealth passes to his son Jack (James McAvoy), whose questionably stable personality drives the family to desperately try and work out how to remove him from his inheritance, no matter what levels of plotting they have to stoop to. The source of their concern – Jack, a paranoid schizophrenic, has been voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric facility for the last seven years and seems to genuinely believe he is the son of God (but you can call him “JC”). He cannot possibly inherit the name and wealth of the Gurneys – or can he?

I genuinely did not know what to expect before I saw the play and I don’t think I could have even imagined what I was about to experience even if I had known more about it. Through the course of the play there are moments of brilliantly timed comedy and utter farce, as well as a growing darker turn of events as Barnes’s play pokes fun at the upper classes, as we see Jack journey from paranoid schizophrenic to attempting to be “normal”, which in this aristocratic world, may seem equally insane and frankly disturbing to the rest of us!

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Anthony O’Donnell is hilarious as the ever-suffering butler. Photo by: Johan Persson

There are some wonderful supporting performances on display, including Ron Cook as Jack’s scheming uncle, Joshua McGuire as his moronic cousin Dinsdale and Kathryn Drysdale as his uncle’s mistress Grace Shelley, roped in to marry Jack (who technically thinks they are already married – yes it’s that bonkers!). I also loved the double act of Forbes Masson and Paul Leonard, who in parts play two local busy bodies, thrown in to the crazy life of the Gurneys. However, the most hilarious has to be Anthony O’Donnell, who plays long-serving butler Daniel Tucker, who cannot contain his utter disgust at the family he has dedicated his life to serving and his reaction and subsequent behaviour after inheriting some money from the late Earl is absolutely hilarious!

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James McAvoy is spectacular as Jack Gurney. Photo by: Johan Persson

This is however James McAvoy’s show and his performance is simply spectacular. As Jack he is required to give so much, emotionally and physically. Through the production he is doing everything from leaping on and off a giant cross, riding around on a unicycle in very little clothing, writhing around, breaking in to a song and dance routine, in many cases literally screaming out his dialogue at the same time, conveying Jack’s roller coaster of a personality, which grows ever darker, the more “normal” he is deemed to become. As an audience you simply cannot take your eyes and attention off him for a second, for fear of missing another moment of brilliance. This really is a masterclass in acting as McAvoy displays incredible versatility in the role. I felt absolutely exhausted by the end, so goodness knows how he must feel!

You may well leave The Ruling Class slightly disorientated and unsure whether the last two hours really did happen – the play is that bonkers. However, it’s certainly a brilliantly directed and acted production, which is unlike anything else on the London stage and it is a must-see for McAvoy’s performance alone, which will certainly be hard to beat during the rest of 2015. Do everything you possibly can to acquire a ticket for this before it finishes (yes, calling the box office or queuing for a return really is worth it).

The Ruling Class runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 11th April. Although the run is sold out, it is certainly worth checking for returns online or on the day at the box office, by phone or better still in person. Also, tickets for Monday 6th April’s performance will go on sale on 2nd April at 10 a.m. for just £15 each. More information can be found on the production’s website here.

Theatre Review – Oppenheimer by Tom Morton-Smith starring John Heffernan

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It’s been over four years since I first saw a wonderful young actor on stage in the National Theatre’s After The Dance – that actor was John Heffernan, whose vulnerable and moving performance made him an actor I knew I had to keep an eye on. John has continued to build up an impressive stage career, from Emperor & Galilean, The Hothouse, the wonderful lead in Edward II and now the lead in the RSC’s new play by Tom Morton-Smith about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the race to build the first nuclear bomb in the 1940s.

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Joel MacCormack, Ross Armstrong, Josh O’Connor & Tom McCall. Photo by: Tristram Kenton

Although World War II was covered extensively in school, I still felt I knew very little about this aspect of the war and was incredibly interested to learn more about it through the production. Oppenheimer tells the story of a group of scientists, led by Oppenheimer, who work together as part of the American military on a secret project to build an atomic weapon. The Manhattan Project, as it was known, was seen as a race against the Germans, who it was believed were also trying to create such a weapon.

The play wonderfully lays out what is at stake and who these important scientists were, as well as giving an insight in to the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A three hour play about history and science may sound like a dry prospect to some, but don’t be put off by any preconceptions. Yes, there is science in this play (how could there not be?!), but Tom Morton-Smith’s play delivers this in an engaging, interesting and entertaining way and the pace of the play keeps the story moving to ensure you are always paying attention.

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John Heffernan and Catherine Steadman. Photo by: Keith Pattison

The staging is also brilliantly executed. I saw the production at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon and all of the fairly small stage was utilised for full effect. I loved moments where scenes zipped from one to the next, the change marked simply by actors dropping to the floor to start frantically scribbling equations in chalk on the stage as others moved to the next scene around them. Certain, more complicated aspects of the science are also delivered as if as part of a lecture, which again works well in connecting with the audience. The scene in which the first desert test of such a weapon takes place is also incredibly effective and I am certain the production will transition on to the proscenium stage of the Vaudeville without a problem.

The ensemble cast here is excellent, something I have grown to expect from an RSC production and I certainly wasn’t disappointed here. The group of scientists feel well rounded, interesting and have a great chemistry together. I particularly liked Ben Allen, who plays Edward Teller, a Hungarian physicist, who has some lovely side moments to the audience. It isn’t only the men here playing interesting characters, as we also get to see Oppenheimer with the two women of his life, his wife Kitty Puening Harrison (Thomasin Rand) and his former mistress, the wild Jean Tatlock (Catherine Steadman), whose Communist leanings prove less than ideal during his time working with the U.S. government. Indeed we see how Oppenheimer moves from Communist leanings to distancing himself from such ideals and from those who he knows hold them, including his own brother.

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John Heffernan & Ben Allen. Photo by: Tristram Kenton

Despite such a wonderful group of actors bringing this play to life so effectively, this production belongs to John Heffernan. He is perfect as “Oppie”, conveying his intelligence, and arrogance, as well as his growing sadness as the play moves on. He isn’t a hugely likeable character, cheating on his wife for example, but you can’t help but admire him and his commitment to the work and I did find myself liking him despite his flaws. Towards the end of the play, once the war is over, bombs having been dropped on Japan with such horrifying results, as he talks about leaving a loaded gun in a playground, you genuinely feel his conflicted emotions. He clearly continues to believe strongly in the work, why it was necessary and its long term contribution to the world, while also feeling deep sadness too and his emotional scenes as the play draws to its close are truly brilliant. This is a superb actor at the top of his game in a role that allows him to truly shine.

I would never have thought this would have been a play that would have appealed to me but it’s brought to life in a way that is engaging and draws you in, which is only made more enjoyable by the truly superb performance by Mr Heffernan. I am sure this will bring him to the attention of many more people and I’m sure he’ll continue to impress in many more productions to come. It’s wonderful that Oppenheimer is transferring to the West End, enabling a wider audience to see it. If you can nab a ticket, I’d definitely recommend it.

Oppenheimer transfers to the Vaudeville Theatre in London from 27th March – 23rd May 2015. More information about the play and ticket availability can be found on the RSC’s Oppenheimer webpage here.

Television Nostalgia – Happy 30th Birthday to Neighbours!

12_Neighbours_old_timers_to_return_to_Ramsay_Street

One of the lasting memories of childhood for me will always be watching Neighbours on BBC One. It’s the only soap I can say I ever watched regularly. Everyone I knew came home from school to watch Neighbours at 5:35 p.m. and enjoy getting to know the residents of the sunny cul-de-sac Ramsay Street, which over the years has seen so many births, marriages, deaths and memorable moments occur in the lives of the people of Erinsborough. Everyone had their favourite characters and it was lovely to tune in each day to see these fantastic families and friends going about life in the lovely sunshine of Australia.

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Pin Oak Court has become iconic as Ramsay Street

Now Neighbours is celebrating its 30th Anniversary (technically it’s 30th anniversary in the UK will be in October 2016, as it started to air here almost 18 months later). How time flies! I admit that as I got older and started work I drifted away from Neighbours, meaning that if I happen to watch it now I’m left clueless as to who everyone is, with the exception of the characters who’ve been around forever – Karl, Susan (the new Helen Daniels it seems), Toadie and Lou. It’s nice to see it’s still going though, thanks to Channel 5 after it left the BBC in 2008 and I’m sure those who are growing up watching it now will have their own favourite characters and moments just like those of us who were watching in those early years.

With today’s anniversary episode screening on Channel 5 and tonight’s behind the scenes celebration, it had me thinking about the moments I most remember from the series and in the spirit of television nostalgia, I’ve chosen my most memorable storylines / moments below. All clips are thanks to those who have made them available online and all rights of course belong to Grundy Television Pty Limited and Fremantle Media Operations B.V.

1. Scott and Charlene’s wedding (UK airdate: 1988)

This is probably no surprise, as the wedding of Scott Robinson (Jason Donovan) and Charlene Ramsay (Kylie Minogue) was an iconic moment of television in the 1980s and was watched by a huge 19.6 million viewers in the UK when it aired in 1988! It was such a beautiful episode for two characters that you really had grown so fond of and rooted for. I still love everything about it, her dress, the choice of playing Angry Anderson’s Suddenly over the scene rather than having the dialogue and all those old Neighbours faces in the congregation. Plus, they are still together in the fictional world of the show too which is nice! I do think it’s a pity though that neither of the stars is coming back for the anniversary.

2. Kerry Mangel is killed by duck hunters (UK airdate: 1991)

The next most vivid moment from watching Neighbours growing up has to be the tragic death of Harold’s daughter Kerry. Out on a protest against duck hunters with her friend and her husband Joe Mangel (sounds daft right?!), Kerry is unexpectedly shot. I remember being stunned by this event and Kerry being pregnant at the time made it even more sad. At least we had her daughter Sky return years later, played by Stephanie McIntosh, who looked spookily like Linda Hartley-Clark, who played Kerry.

3. Lucy Robinson’s sight returns (UK airdate: 1988)

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I don’t think this was a hugely memorable plot line for the series, but it’s one of the earliest television memories I have. Lucy Robinson was suffering from blindness and in a vivid memory, I remember her being given a bowl of ice-cream (chocolate I think) and as she eats it her sight came back! I’m not sure whether it was the fact she was very young like me and was blind or the fact I just wanted ice-cream, but it’s an image that’s stayed with me ever since!

4. Libby and Drew get married (UK airdate: 2001)

Libby Kennedy became one of my favourite characters in Neighbours and she went through a great deal. I especially loved it when she finally realised she loved her best friend Drew, as the pair were so clearly suited for each other and it was nice to see them happy. Their wedding was a lovely episode, as Drew serenaded her at the reception, although I’m still not sure the kilt worked! He always seemed like the perfect guy, so loving, loyal and decent. It’s sad their happiness didn’t last but, for a while at least, they were my favourite couple.

5. The Flick, Steph and Mark love triangle (UK airdate: 2002)

This was a story that you were waiting to explode, as Flick Scully (Holly Valance) fell for her sister’s fiancé Mark Lambert. Watching him stand Steph up at the altar and for her to realise this was because of her sister was fantastic television and the showdown scene between Steph and Flick was brilliantly acted by the two actresses.

6. Anne and Billy’s happy ending (UK airdate: 2000)

Another one of my favourite couples was Billy Kennedy and Anne Wilkinson. Anne was the good girl, who worked hard and was a decent friend to Lance, Amy and co and Billy always seemed to be a genuinely decent young man. Theirs was a Neighbours relationship you wanted to work and last and it was lovely to see them leave to make a life together, with Anne heading off to join Billy. As far as we’re aware they are still together. I’d love these two to return one day.

7. Clive Gibbons in his gorilla outfit (UK airdate: 1987)

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Another early memory for me is that of Dr Clive Gibbons (Geoff Paine) in a gorilla costume! It turns out this was in fact his first episode in the series and he became an early favourite character of mine, although that possibly may have all stemmed from this memorable entrance!

8. Toadie and Dee’s wedding day ends in tragedy (UK air date: 2003)

It’s nice to see that Toadie is still in Neighbours and is a link to the past for people like me who stopped watching. He certainly grew up on the show, from troubled teenager taken in by Karl and Susan to a respectable lawyer (although he never seemed to do much actual work!). Never having that much luck in love, it was lovely when Dee finally fell for Toadie and their wedding was another lovely day. She looked beautiful and everyone was so happy. However, the episode stays in the mind due to the tragic end, as they drove off a cliff, resulting in Dee’s body never being found. You really didn’t want such an end for this couple. I wonder if one day she’ll ever return?!

9. Henry Ramsey locked out in a towel! (UK airdate: 1990)

Henry_Bio3

Ahh Craig McLachlan. I think a lot of young viewers at the time loved Henry Ramsay. He was fun, cute, a great friend and a hugely entertaining character in the days of Scott, Charlene, Mike and Jane. This moment is probably the one most remembered by viewers, as he is forced to run naked after being thrown out of Bronwyn’s house to avoid being caught by her aunt. Unfortunately his towel is caught in the door and he has to make a run for it, ending up hiding in the shrubbery in the greenhouse! The accompanying music is always brilliant for adding to the comedy of the scene.

10. The plane crash (UK air date: 2006)

Ten years ago, to celebrate its 20th Anniversary, the series saw a huge disaster storyline, which led to the deaths of a whole family, as the staff of Lassiter’s were treated to a night out and travel on Paul Robinson’s private plane. Unfortunately there was a bomb on board (planted by Paul’s son Robert) and the explosion left everyone in the sea fighting for survival. Harold’s son David, his wife Liljana and their daughter Serena all perished, which was quite shocking. I especially remember poor Connor desperately trying to keep Serena afloat. Yes, it may have been cheesy at times, but Neighbours could always pull off the dramatic stories.

11. Daphne dies after telling Des she loves him (UK air date: 1989)

Poor Des Barnes. He was always such a decent guy in the early days of Neighbours and when he ended up getting the woman of his dreams, Daphne, (who started way back in the very first episode as a stripper!), it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. That made her death all the more upsetting after a car crash. I think this death stays with you because not only was Daphne the first regular character to die, but it was the first one I’d seen where you thought the person was on the road to recovery, as she finally seems to regain consciousness to tell Des she loves him, only to die seconds later. Watching this clip back now, it still makes me sad. At least we get to see Des again in the next couple of weeks as he makes an appearance to celebrate this special anniversary.

12. The mystery of Julie Martin’s death at the murder mystery weekend (UK airdate: 1995)

Julie Martin, daughter of Jim Robinson, was always such an annoying character, always judging everyone and being fairly horrible. However, even I remember feeling sorry for her when she met her end at the murder mystery weekend some of the residents went on in 1995. It made a change to have the setting away from Ramsay Street and it was an unexpected end to the episode when Julie was found dead. I remember all the debate as to whether she’d fallen or was pushed. It was months later that Debbie revealed she’d witnessed her mother fall.

13. Farewell to Helen Daniels (UK airdate: 1998)

Helen Daniels was the mother to everyone on Neighbours, there as a shoulder to cry on for almost every character and Anne Haddy played her wonderfully throughout her time on the show. Although Helen’s (or Gran’s) death was sad to see, she had perhaps an end we would all be happy with – simply falling asleep at home, surrounded by family and friends during and happy get together for her birthday. I always thought Rebecca Ritters (who played Hannah Martin) was brilliant here, as she realised her grandmother had died. Her death certainly marked the end of an era.

14. Karl keeps a trapped Joel alive in rising water (UK airdate: 1999)

This dramatic episode saw Joel trapped beneath a truck, after he and Karl stop to help an upset Anne. As Anne rushes off through the bush for help, Karl desperately tries to keep Joel alive, as the water rises around them, through using water bottles and tubing to act as a way of helping him breath under the water. It was brilliantly tense to watch and showed Doctor Karl yet again to the rescue!

15. Shy Nina Tucker’s amazing voice (UK airdate: 2002)

Many pop stars have come out of Neighbours over the years, but Delta Goodrem went in to Neighbours with a recording deal and through her time on the show as shy Nina Tucker acquired an immediate fan base for her music. Nina was a great character, who like Delta, went off to conquer the music world. Plus you can’t deny that she can sing and it was lovely to see this career begin on the show and unlike Kylie, Delta is returning to the series that helped make her career for the 30th Anniversary celebrations this month.

So those are my most memorable moments over the years that I was a regular viewer. It’s been nice to revisit the series in the last few days in the run up to the anniversary and I’d be curious to hear about your favourite moments.

The 30th Anniversary episode screens today (18th March) at 1:45 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Channel 5. There is also an evening of celebration starting from 10 p.m. with The Stars Reunite, featuring interviews with famous residents from the past, followed by Scott and Charlene’s wedding and the first ever episode of the series. It’s a shame these are on so late, so don’t forget to set your recorders!

Theatre Review – Miss Saigon at the Prince Edward Theatre

1312231024Miss Zygon

When I was younger, my family would come to London and see  show, meaning that I’d seen most of the big musicals before I moved here. However, one that I’d missed and was curious to tick off my musicals list was Cameron Mackintosh’s Miss Saigon. It’s also one from which I knew no songs beforehand and so I arrived at the theatre very curious as to whether this would become as loved by me as Cameron Mackintosh’s longest-running production – Les Miserables (for me, still the most powerful musical on the stage). The short answer is that it didn’t. Although it was an enjoyable afternoon, I think it unlikely I’d choose to see this show again.

Miss saigon

Jon Jon Briones as The Engineer. Photo by: Tristram Kenton

Miss Saigon is set in Vietnam, both during and after the Vietnam War of the 1970s. In to this war zone we enter Dreamland, a club run by the less than savoury character The Engineer, whose success depends on keeping the American GIs who frequent the club happy. New to this existence is the young and impressionable Kim, who has fled her home to try and make a better life. She is not like the other girls there and catches the attention of the Americans. Here she is thrown together with Chris (Alistair Brammer), an American soldier clearly damaged by the war he is a part of and in need of a light of hope – for him that’s Kim.

I can’t say I found their relationship romantic – she is after all initially bought for him for the night by a fellow soldier, so hardly a romantic start. I was also less than convinced at the overnight falling in love either, in contrast to Marius’s love at first sight reaction to Cosette in Les Miserables, which always seems to be played in such a way as to make it believable, with the added youth of the characters in that scenario helping as well. Here I just didn’t buy it. Ultimately the war ends and Kim and Chris are separated, leading to tragic consequences.

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Kim (Eva Noblezada) & Chris (Alistair Brammer). Photo by: Michael Le Poer Trench

As you can probably tell, I wasn’t overly keen on the story! I also found Chris to be a very irritating character, effectively using Kim as his emotional crutch before moving on with his life so easily, leaving it then to the women in his life to be the grown ups and make the difficult and in some cases tragic choices. I did however think that the role of Kim is a fantastic role for a woman on stage, as she drives the production and she is currently superbly played by Eva Noblezada, who makes you feel genuine sympathy and empathy for Kim. She also has a fantastic voice, always essential in a production like this.

As for the supporting characters, I loved Jon Jon Briones who as The Engineer is there to provide the light relief, as we see him desperately trying to reach America for a new life, where he wants to live The American Dream (a musical number which was a highlight of the show for me and brilliantly pulled off by Jon Jon Briones). As I wasn’t particularly keen on the main plot, I enjoyed these lighter interludes even more.

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The show does have some impressive staging, including the iconic helicopter. Photo by: Michael Le Poer Trench

The songs as a whole, although enjoyable at the time, didn’t cause me to leave the theatre remembering them, which for me is a crucial element of any musical. The set is impressive, from the Vietnam village sets, to the iconic moment a helicopter arrives to evacuate the U.S. military base, which is done in a very realistic way, through the use of visuals, light and sound, as well as the prop itself.

So, despite being very all acted and including some strong voices, I didn’t fall for Miss Saigon. I was lucky enough to see the Donmar’s recent revival of City of Angels which, by comparison, had me leaving the theatre wishing I could see it again immediately and buy the cast soundtrack. So, this was an enjoyable afternoon yes, but certainly for me, not a musical that will stay with me enough to motivate me to go again.

Miss Saigon continues its run at the Prince Edward Theatre and is currently booking through until 19th December 2015. More information can be found of the production’s website.

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