Happy 11th Birthday to “New Who” – My 11 farourite moments of modern Doctor Who

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So, tonight marked 11 years since Doctor Who returned to our television screens in the UK with a new Doctor at the helm and a whole new look. I wasn’t a fan back then. Sure I’d enjoyed the Paul McGann special, but that was all really. Yet, the iconic status of Doctor Who in this country meant that on 26th March 2005 I was sitting down with my family to watch its relaunch on BBC One.

Rose may not have been the best episode (it still feels incredibly cheesy to me whenever I watch it), but it was perfect for re-launching the series. The plot was bonkers, but what lifted it to a different level was the performance of its central character – Christopher Eccleston was a superb Doctor from the start. He carried a weight to him that made it plausible that he was hundreds of years old and had suffered a painful past, one which had left him scarred and angry. He held my attention from the beginning. Throw in to the mix a surprisingly (back then anyway) good performance by Billie Piper as Rose, some jokes and some glorious shots of London (I still love the Westminster Bridge moment) and the series was well and truly back.

I admit that I never expected it to do as well as it did and the fact it’s still going strong is wonderful, as it continues to excite and inspire young children. Personally, I’m still not a classic Who fan, but I enjoy “New Who” and have it to thank for introducing me to some of the closest friends I now have and that’s priceless.

So, to mark this 11th birthday (bizarre for a show that has already celebrated its 50th!), here are my favourite 11 moments from New Who. I have to say it’s taken a lot of discipline to keep to just 11! Let me know yours in the comments.

1. The Doctor sees Rose again (The Stolen Earth, series 4)

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This moment has been my favourite of New Who ever since I first saw it and nothing has quite matched it since. It’s just so perfectly executed by the cast and crew. There is no dialogue – it doesn’t need it. It just needs Murray’s music and three great performances from Catherine, David and Billie. You don’t need to have seen any of the series before to understand just what seeing Rose again means to the Doctor. It’s all right there on David’s face. Gorgeous.

2. Vincent Van Gogh sees how loved his work is (Vincent & The Doctor, series 5)

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Oh I do love Vincent and the Doctor. People may criticise Richard Curtis but he did a superb job with this episode, tackling the subject of depression with such sensitivity, while still bringing a story full of fun and humour, as well as poignancy to the screen. The moment Vincent (played to perfection by Tony Curran) sees his exhibition in Paris and hears how cherished his work is, makes me well up every time. For anyone who thinks Doctor Who doesn’t carry real weight and emotion, you need to see this episode.

3. The Doctor has dinner with Margaret Slitheen (Boom Town, series 1)

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Boom Town is a lovely, silly story from the first series and enabled Eccleston to show his ability to play comedy more than perhaps any other episode. The scene in which he and Margaret Slitheen go out to dinner and exchange threats is wonderful, as she tries in vain to kill him, foiled each time by The Doctor being three steps ahead of her! Plus the fact I’ve been able to go to Cardiff Bay and eat in that very restaurant makes it quite fun too!

4. The wall / the beach farewell (Doomsday, series 2)

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I think this moment was when Doctor Wo gained so many more loyal fans (and perhaps David Tennant too!). The story of the Doctor and Rose had been a lovely one and their deep affection for each other was always obvious and with the arrival of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor became something more of a love story. These two people who could never really be together, who were then separated by a dimension, prevented even from finally saying how they truly feel for each other. Doctor Who’s female fanbase is very strong now and I think in part it’s due to David and Billie opening out the universe of the series with this very human relationship. Admit it, you cried at this moment too right?

5. When The Doctor finally has enough of the laws of time (Waters of Mars, series 4 specials)

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Waters of Mars was such a superb episode; so much darker in tone and allowing David Tennant to show another side of the Tenth Doctor. I could have chosen so many moments of this show, but I particularly loved the powerful moments as the Doctor walks away from the base, with the sounds of fear and dying of the crew in his ears, to then turn back. He has had enough of the laws of time and is going to finally say enough is enough. Although it’s a path we know he shouldn’t be on, you cannot help but admire the Doctor is this moment as he chooses to go back to help.

6. Fear Is A Superpower (Listen, series 8)

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As someone who always liked Jenna Coleman and Clara, the end of Listen remains a highlight of New Who for me. Hearing her gently talking to the young Doctor, to give him strength and comfort, which in turn he will give to the young Danny years later is lovely. It’s also added to by the beautiful score from Murray Gold and is a truly moving and powerful scene from the series.

7. Reunited with Donna Noble (Partners In Crime, series 4)

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Ahh Donna Noble, how we all loved her! Seeing her return in series 4 was a true treat and nothing could have been more perfect for her reunion with the Doctor than this wonderfully funny mime scene from Partners In Crime. Both David and Catherine are superb comic actors and this scene kicked off the start of the wonderful thread of comedy and fun that ran throughout this series and is something I still miss.

8. Never trust a hug (Death In Heaven, series 8)

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Peter Capaldi’s first series as the Doctor was a very strong one indeed (better than series 9 in my view). After such a brilliant series, this scene towards the end of Death In Heaven was played so perfectly by Peter and Jenna. Each character is so much like the other by this time and so good at hiding their pain from the other, pretending everything is fine. In this one moment the audience was able to see how sad and lonely each one was and how their love for the other meant that they were determined to hide it from them  so that they could be happy. “Never trust a hug. It’s just a way of hiding your face.”

9. Rory’s impossible choice (The Girl Who Waited, series 6)

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Oh how I loved Rory. He was a character who came such a long way over his time in Doctor Who and at times brought a level of emotion to the episodes that would otherwise have been lacking. The moment he is faced with the choice of which Amy to save in The Girl Who Waited was one of Arthur Darvill’s best moments. Whether to save his young Amy, or the Amy she would have become had she had the time to be lost there for decades as this old Amy had, is an impossible decision. Seeing him cry with confusion and desperation as older Amy begs to be let in to the TARDIS was heartbreaking to watch.

10. Four knocks (The End of Time, series 4 specials)

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The End of Time may have been a bit bonkers in places, but the Four Knock scene was a highlight of New Who. The sheer joy and relief on the Doctor’s face as he thinks it’s over, to be replaced so suddenly by utter horror and sadness when Wilf knocks on that door is beautifully played, accompanied by some subtle, but equally powerful music from Murray Gold. It had me in tears the first time I watched it and even now is an emotional piece of drama that the series and the actors should be proud of.

11. A hologram farewell (The Parting of The Ways, series 1)

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My final moment to mark this 11th birthday goes to the Doctor who started it all – the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston. He has been through so much with Rose and in order to save her he does what he thinks is the right thing for her – to send her home, with this final message sent via his hologram. It’s a lovely gesture and shows a real depth to his character. It’s still a shame we didn’t get him in this role for a little longer.

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So those are my favourite 11 moments over the last 11 years of this iconic British series, one which has brought so much joy and fun to so many for over 50 years now. Thanks very much Doctor Who – long may you continue to let us travel through time and space with you!

 

 

Theatre review – Treasure Island at the National Theatre

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Opening in December as the theatre’s seasonal family production, it’s taken me a while to get around to seeing Treasure Island. It’s a classic story that most people in Britain seem to be familiar with, even if you haven’t read it and a story of pirates and hidden treasure on a mysterious island seemed like a winner. I was therefore surprised to see quite a number of seats empty at last night’s performance in the Olivier. On watching the production, there’s certainly aspects to enjoy, but perhaps the show lacks an added sparkle.

First and foremost, the set and staging by Lizzie Clachan is utterly fantastic. The Olivier’s drum revolve stage is used to its maximum effect, as we see Jim Hawkins’s journey by ship to the island. In one scene, the drum revolve rises to reveal multiple levels of the ship’s interior, like a cross section of life at sea – the captain’s room, kitchen and lots of others humming with activity. It was an impressive moment that only the Olivier stage could capture and I almost applauded such an achievement. The island is also effectively created, both above ground and below, as the hunt for treasure continues.

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Lizzie Clachan’s sets are the star of the show.

There are also some lovely moments and performances. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Silver shows Jim the constellations above them, which appear within the bulb lighting in the ceiling, giving a magical atmosphere. The stand out performances for me were Joshua James’s Ben Gunn, who after three years alone on the island has resorted to having conversations with himself, in Gollum-esque fashion and Tim Samuels, who is also particularly funny as shipman Grey, so dull that no one seems to remember he is even there and his deadpan references to this certainly achieve the most laughter.

In this adaptation by Bryony Lavery, the role of Jim Hawkins is played by Patsy Ferran. This is only her third professional role after making her debut in Blithe Spirit last year as the put upon maid (who, for me, was the highlight of some scenes in that show) and she is certainly a talent to watch over the next few years. She is very good as Hawkins, able to carry scenes and connect well with the audience as Hawkins tells the story of Treasure Island. Although I’m all for gender switching when done well, I did find the constant references to her as Jim, but then calling her a girl distracting. Every time it was said, it took me out of the play as my brain couldn’t help getting confused. It may have been designed as a joke to keep it until the end to call her her full name Jemima (shortened to Jim), but I’d have found it far less distracting if that had been moved up front.

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Arthur Darvill as Silver & Patsy Ferran as Jim search for treasure with the crew.

Playing the iconic Long John Silver in the production is Arthur Darvill, last seen on stage in Once (a role I wish he’d stayed in longer as he was so good). I had been surprised by the casting, expecting an older, more frightening figure to play the infamous pirate. Darvill’s Silver is a more modern Jack Sparrow-esque figure and he is great at playing the more manipulative aspects of Silver, as he tricks the Squire in to hiring his crew and builds a friendship with Jim, only to try and locate the map. You can see why Jim would be drawn to him. However, as much as I enjoyed his performance, I did find myself feeling that Silver should be slightly more creepy and be more of a figure earning the description Jim gives him, as being the person of his and Ben Gunn’s nightmares. I didn’t really feel that from Darvill, but perhaps a younger audience would.

Overall, this was an enjoyable production, which is worth seeing and there are some good performances. However, perhaps the fact that the sets are the star of the show is part of the production’s problem and I did leave feeling that there had been some magic or sparkle missing that I can’t quite define – it was enjoyable, but lacking the magic of other family shows, such as Matilda.

Treasure Island continues its run at the National Theatre (Olivier Theatre) until 8th April. More information and ticket availability can be found on the website

My 2014 Theatre Review

As 2014 is almost over, it’s time for my look back at my theatregoing year. I’ll start by saying it’s been far shorter than I’d have liked, as due to breaking my ankle, I’ve not been able to get to a theatre since August. As I try not to think about the productions I had to miss, I can at least look back at a nine months filled with some truly superb shows. In 2014, I managed to make it to 38 live productions, of which I returned to see 7 productions more than once, giving a total of 58 theatre trips. I also managed to tick another two productions off my archive list, by visiting the V&A archive to see the RSC’s 2011 production of Cardenio and the Royal Court’s 2007 production of Rhinoceros.

After much thought and in no particular order (apart from my number one, as ranking them further would be too big a challenge!), my top ten is below.

Top 10 Favourites

1. King Charles III (Almeida Theatre)

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Top of my list this year is the superb King Charles III, which I saw during its original run at the Almeida. I’m a big fan of both Mike Bartlett’s work (his recent play Bull made it on to last year’s list!) and Rupert Goold and found this to be a refreshingly new and exciting play (see my full review here). A bit of a slow burner, but as the story progressed I became absorbed by it, wondering what direction Bartlett had chosen to take in this alternate United Kingdom. The brilliance here is also structuring it in the style of a Shakespearian History play! Filled with fantastic performances, particularly Tim Pigott-Smith, Oliver Chris, Adam James and Lydia Wilson, I loved that it dared to do something different and the ending was incredibly powerful. I must try and see the current cast at the Wyndams Theatre before it ends in January if I can.

2. The Pass (Royal Court Theatre)

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I headed to the Royal Court Upstairs in February for The Pass. However, it didn’t take long for me to know that this was something very special indeed. The Pass centres on two friends at the early start of their professional football careers and follows their different paths, while also superbly raising the issue of what it would be like to be in such a world and perhaps by unsure as to what you really wanted in life and what really will make you happy, sexually or otherwise. Russell Tovey was truly incredible as Jason and commanded the stage throughout.

3. Birdland (Royal Court Theatre)

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More from the Royal Court, this time downstairs for Simon Stephens’s (whose Seawall topped last year’s list) new play Birdland. We are drawn in to the world of Paul, an international rock star whose 15 month world tour is reaching its conclusion. He can have anything or anyone he desires, but is that really enough anymore? Andrew Scott is always mesmerising on stage and he gave an absolutely phenomenal performance as Paul, tackling every imaginable emotion over the course of the play. He effortlessly moved from lighter moments to those which suggest a dangerous, darker side to Paul lurks just below the surface. It takes great skill to be able to be both emotional and emotionless in so short a time and Andrew Scott was more than up to the task. The set was also very clever and I left the theatre feeling very excited at seeing something new and powerful (feel free to read my full review here).

4. Once (Phoenix Theatre)

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I’d always quite liked the sweet indie film Once and had been meaning to go and see the stage version. Unbelievably it took me over a year but I’m so pleased I made it this year, especially during the time of Zrinka Vitesic and Arthur Darvill. They were both utterly superb. Zrinka had been in Once in London since it opened and this year justifiably won the Olivier award for her portrayal of this heart-warming character. She brought a perfect blend of playful humour, bossiness and tender emotion to the role and you instantly connect with her as soon as she steps foot on the stage. Arthur was also excellent as the Guy, who is at first bewildered by this whirlwind of a woman who has entered his life. After playing the same role on Broadway for a number of months he clearly understood the soul of the character and his chemistry with Zrinka was beautifully tender and romantic. Its warmth and magical spirit will make you laugh, smile and cry and will leave you feeling deeply moved. Try and see it if you can (my full review is here).

5. A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic)

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It’s been a fantastic year at the Young Vic and the two standout productions for me both make my top ten. First is Tennessee Williams’s classic production starring Gillian Anderson and Vanessa Kirby. I’d never seen Streetcar before and this was certainly a superb production to start with. I loved the staging. As an audience member you can’t help but feel as if you are intruding on the innermost lives of the characters and there is a wonderfully effective, voyeuristic quality too, due to the rotating stage. I’ve admired Gillian Anderson for years and she was absolutely incredible. She drew the audience in so much to Blanche’s disintegration that by the end of the production I certainly felt exhausted and incredibly moved after having watched such a powerful and emotional performance (my full review is here).

6. A View From A Bridge (Young Vic)

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Another incredibly powerful night at the Young Vic this year was for the stunning production of Arthur Miller’s A View From A Bridge. Everything about this production was superb – the claustrophobic box set, the lighting, but above all the performances of the cast. Nicola Walker does a fantastic job as Eddie’s wife, who is growing ever more concerned about his attachment to their niece (also wonderfully played by Phoebe Fox). However, the standout performance is by Mark Strong, who is breathtakingly intense as Eddie. It is such a nuanced performance, through which we really see the depths of his character and he is certainly one of the finest actors I have seen on stage. This production is transferring in to the West End next year, so make sure to grab a ticket fast.

7. The Crucible (Old Vic)

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From the Young Vic, to the Old Vic up the road for another Arthur Miller classic (and another first for me – my full review is here). This superb production also stands out for me as it was the last production I was able to see before breaking my ankle! South African Director Yael Farber’s powerful production particularly benefited from the current configuration of the Old Vic stage. Playing such an intense story on a smaller stage, surrounded by the audience was an inspired decision. Its deeply atmospheric, sparse staging by Soutra Gilmour, the effective use of light and shadow by Tim Lutkin, mist-covered entrances and terrifyingly eerie music score by Richard Hammarton, are all enhanced greatly by the almost claustrophobic atmosphere created by having faces gathered all around the stage. Richard Armitage has an incredibly powerful presence on stage and you could not fail to be moved by his portrayal of Proctor, as he moves from moments of sorrow, to weakness, intense anger, rage and delicate emotional vulnerability.

8. Rapture, Blister, Burn (Hampstead Theatre)

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I thoroughly enjoyed Gina Giofriddo’s latest play, focusing on the choices available to women today – career or family? marry or remain single? – and whether any of these possible choices will make you feel fulfilled or whether the grass is always greener. I found the scenes in which the history of feminism, the role of women and their relationships with men are debated incredibly absorbing and thought provoking and the performances of all five actors were excellent. However it was Shannon Tarbet as Avery who stole the show with some truly sharp and witty one-liners and who you couldn’t fail to like. A highlight I wasn’t expecting too much from before I went (my review is here).

9. Wolf Hall (RSC, Swan Theatre)

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I have owned Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels for a few years now and have never had time to read them. However I was thrilled to hear that Mantel herself was to adapt them, together with Mike Poulton for the RSC and what a brilliant production it was. I preferred Wolf Hall out of the two, but both this and Bring Up The Bodies were excellently acted, directed and conceived for the stage. On the smaller stage of the Swan, the plays seemed even grander, almost too big for the space, while keeping a wonderfully intimate feel. Ben Miles was utterly superb as Cromwell, who for each 3 hour production barely leaves the stage. I hope this finds just as much success on Broadway next year.

10. Analog.ue (National Theatre, Lyttelton) 

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Choosing a final production has proved quite difficult, with so much I’d enjoyed this year. In the end the top ten had to include Daniel Kitson’s latest part theatrical, part art installation show at the National Theatre as it was certainly a highlight for me and one which has stayed with me ever since. It was a unique story, which weaved together memories from the past with the present. It was incredibly moving and beautifully reminded me of the power of memory and how important memories of our past will be to us as we grow older or to those who come after us, offering them a glimpse in to a time long past. I even dug out an old recording of my grandparents, which I hadn’t listened to for years after seeing this. My full review is here.

Narrowly missing out on the Top 10

These are the productions that almost made it in to the top ten.

  • The Knight of the Burning Pestle (The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) – A quirky, comic and fun production from the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Having the grocer and his wife within the audience throughout is such a brilliant device, especially in such an intimate setting and truly engages the audience in a whole new way. You can read my full review here.
  • Richard III (Trafalgar Studios) – Martin Freeman’s intelligent Richard simmered with menace in another great Shakespeare adaptation from Jamie Lloyd.
  • Clarence Darrow (Old Vic) – Kevin Spacey was superb yet again as human rights lawyer Darrow in this impressive one-man show (see my review here)
  • 1984 (Almeida Theatre) – Another brilliant production for Rupert Goold’s theatre, as Headlong perfectly brought such an atmospheric and iconic book to the stage.
  • Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse) – Another of the Bard’s plays ticked off my list in an engaging production with a strong cast led confidently by Tom Hiddleston.
  • Red Velvet (Tricycle Theatre) – After missing it the first time around, I loved Adrian Lester’s passionate performance as Ira Aldridge (see my review here).

Wonderful repeats from previous years

There are always productions I can’t help but see again another year, although this year there were only two, both of which were on last year’s top ten:

  • American Psycho (Almeida Theatre) – Rupert Goold’s first production in charge of the Almeida was a gloriously refreshing and exciting production, brilliantly led by Matt Smith. I still wish there had been a cast recording!
  • Richard II (RSC at Barbican Theatre) – This was certainly a production that grew over its run and by the time it reached London the cast were on fine form. David Tennant may not have been as strong as he was in Hamlet, but his Richard II was still wonderful to watch. Although for me, the stand out performance remains that of Oliver Rix as Aumerle.

Disappointments of the Year

  • A Small Family Business (Olivier, National Theatre) – Although there were some good performances, this play was too dated and dull for me and far too long.
  • Mr Burns (Almeida Theatre) – Although I enjoy seeing something that dares to be different, the third Act of Mr Burns was just too weird for me, making me wish I’d left after Act 2.
  • Slava’s Snowshow (Royal Festival Hall) – I was simply bored by this. Perhaps it’s more for kids.
  • The Mistress Contract (Royal Court Theatre) – Another production that was just a bit dull for me, despite two good performances.

Memorable moments in Theatre

There have been some wonderful moments that I’ve witnessed or experienced at the theatre during 2014, which included:

 A West End return – Seeing Angela Lansbury’s return to the West End stage at the age of 88 in Blithe Spirit and from the front row for only a tenner too!

 Martin Freeman commits brutal murder – Just when Martin Freeman’s Richard III didn’t seem that frightening, he kills his wife by strangling her over a desk with a telephone cord! After watching him cruelly stalk her around the room, watching him finally kill her was very chilling (especially from my stage seat).

 Kevin Spacey captivating an audience – Watching how at home Kevin Spacey looked, sitting in an armchair, at the centre of the Old Vic, surrounded by a rapt audience.

– The thrill of a first preview – Attending the first performance of Birdland and being reminded yet again how incredible Andrew Scott is on stage.

 Discovering a new young talent – Discovering Shannon Tarbet in Rapture, Blister, Burn, who I’m excited to watch in lots more to come.

 Site specific theatre in gorgeous surroundings – Experiencing voyeuristic theatre at the Langham Hotel for The Hotel Plays.

 The thrill of knowing you’ve seen something new and utterly brilliant – By the end of my first trip to King Charles III (on the second preview), it was thrilling to feel the excitement of seeing a superb new play, especially by the time it reached the glorious last scene.

 Visiting a new, fantastic theatre – My first trip to the Park Theatre, a theatre I’m sure I’ll be visiting a great deal in the years to come.

 Saying an emotional farewell – Joining in the emotional applause at the final performance of Once for Arthur Darvill and Zrinka Vitesic from the front row.

 Enjoying phones being used in a theatre – Enjoying the quirk of actually using your mobile phone during a production at the Donmar for Privacy. I doubt I’ll ever think that again!

All in all it’s been a fantastic, if somewhat curtailed year of theatre for me, in which I’ve seen some wonderful moments on stage by some of the finest actors working today. I am thoroughly looking forward to what surprises 2015 will bring (and I’ll post my top choices for 2015 soon)!

My dream run of new Doctor Who episodes (so far anyway)!

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I recently found on the website Doctor Who TV its recent vote (and subsequent poll results) of all the new episodes of Doctor Who (aka New Who since 2005), in which fans voted for their favourite episode 1 and so on, to create a dream series. This caused me to start thinking about what my list would look like (and as you know by now, I like lists!), so I thought I’d choose my own dream 13 episode series of new Doctor Who (plus a Special for each showrunner). In the same format as Doctor Who TV, I’ve also chosen my “nightmare series” too, but that’ll be a separate post.

I found the results rather interesting (for a start I only have six out of 15 in common with Doctor Who TV’s poll). I’ll start with the disclaimer that I loved the 10th Doctor played by David Tennant. I watched the series on its return because I’d enjoyed Paul McGann’s movie and really admired Chris Eccleston, but I kept watching because I loved David’s portrayal of this bonkers mad man in a box. Therefore, where it’s been a tough call between two episodes, it’s inevitable that if one is a number 10 and the other isn’t, most of the time 10 will prevail (although, not always). It’s therefore interesting to see the spread of episodes. I found making my choice quite tough for certain slots and fairly easy for others, for example, I imagine most people would choose the same episode for episode three. The toughest for me was by far episode 10 – Vincent and the Doctor vs. Blink vs. Midnight vs. The Doctor Dances. That’s tough as all four would likely make my list of favourite episodes.

So, without further delay, here are my choices for my personal dream series of new Doctor Who. All photos are courtesy of the BBC. Please feel free to comment in the comments below!

Episode 1 – Partners In Crime (series 4, 10th Doctor)

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This was quite a tough choice and was between three episodes for me. In the end it had to be the series 4 opener. Yes the story is on the bonkers side, but it saw the return of Catherine Tate as Donna Noble and I love the silliness of it. Doctor Who is so much fun in this episode and both David and Catherine are wonderful in it. The mime scene in particular is just priceless! Notable mentions must go to Matt’s debut The Eleventh Hour (my second choice), which is a great story and showcased how wonderful Matt would be in the role (and remains one of his best) and also Asylum of the Daleks, in which we unexpectedly met Clara (secret well kept!) and her tragic story was quite powerful.

Episode 2 – Tooth & Claw (series 2, 10th Doctor)

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I’ve always enjoyed this episode and tend to come back to it every so often. David and Billie have such a great, fun relationship and that really shows through their chemistry in this werewolf story. We see the beginnings of Torchwood and watch with amusement as Rose desperately tries to get Queen Victoria to say she is not amused! David Tennant often says this was the episode during filming when he felt he had got to grips with his Doctor and I think it shows (plus, yes he does look very hot throughout!). Notable mention for series one’s The End of the World, which almost nabbed the spot for the last few moments between the Doctor and Rose.

Episode 3 – School Reunion (series 2, 10th Doctor)

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Compiling this list highlighted to me how weak episode three tends to be, but I think School Reunion would always be tough to beat. Anthony Head is a great villain and the scene between him and the 10th Doctor by the pool showed the darker side of this new Doctor. More importantly it brought back Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Her first meeting with David’s Doctor is so beautifully done and David and Lis are fantastic throughout. It seems even more poignant now that Elisabeth Sladen is no longer with us.

Episode 4 – The Girl In The Fireplace (series 2, 10th Doctor)

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Completing a strong trio of episodes for me from series two is The Girl in the Fireplace. This remains for me one of Steven Moffat’s finest writing achievements (and it amazes me to think of some of the weaker material he has come up with since, but that’s another debate!). With its intricate plot, moving between the past, present and future, we see the poignant story of Madame De Pompadour and her connection to the Doctor is lovely. David and Sophia Myles have fantastic chemistry throughout and the end always brings a tear to me eye. Murray Gold’s music is also a highlight of the episode. Notable mention to The Doctor’s Wife from series six, in which Matt’s Doctor gets to have an adventure with the TARDIS!

Episode 5 – The Angels Take Manhattan (series 7, 11th Doctor)

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Another relatively weak selection for this episode but this farewell to Amy and Rory is fantastic. The Weeping Angels return and are back to being menacing again after their appearance in series 5, where the breaking necks plotline seemed disappointing to me after how scary they were in Blink. There are also some beautiful moments here – the Doctor reading to Amy on the rock in Central Park, Amy and Rory jumping together (for which Murray Gold writes one of my favourite pieces of music), the creepy introduction of the Cherubs and then the tragic moment Amy leaves the Doctor. I wasn’t a huge fan of Amy (and always thought Rory was a far more interesting character), but for me, what made this end so emotional was that it had nothing to do with the Doctor – Amy chose to be with her soulmate Rory and that was beautiful.

Episode 6 – Dalek (series 1, 9th Doctor)

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One of my favourites from Chris’s only series is the reintroduction of the Daleks. Since the show returned it was what everyone was waiting for and Dalek is brilliant in that it brings them back – but only one. Through this one creature we see how ruthless they can be but also, at the same time, we are made to feel sorry for it too! The moment the Doctor realises what is in the cell with him is superbly acted by Chris and the moment the Dalek elevates up the stairs is a lovely nod to its past limitations. Billie Piper is also fantastic here, demonstrating just how important Rose already is to the Doctor and the series.

Episode 7 – The Unicorn & The Wasp (series 4, 10th Doctor)

This is another favourite of mine. It’s just so funny and Catherine and David are superb, particularly in the hilarious poisoning kitchen scene! All the Agatha Christie titles are fun to spot and Fenella Woolgar is great as the famous author.

Episode 8 & 9 – Human Nature / The Family of Blood (series 3, 10th Doctor)

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It makes sense to combine these episodes as they make up one of the best (and my personal favourite) story of new Doctor Who. The Doctor is gone and Martha takes control as John Smith falls in love with Joan and the Family of Blood search for the Doctor. Harry Lloyd is brilliant as the creepy “Son of Mine” and Thomas Sangster is wonderful as Timothy Latimer, the boy with slightly other worldly talents. However it is the relationship between John and Joan that sets this apart for me. It’s such a different style of episode, but works beautifully and Jessica Hynes and David Tennant are superb. The poignant end is incredibly moving to watch as they see the life they’ll never have, followed by Joan’s rejection of the Doctor and the fact Joan is referenced so significantly in The End of Time shows just how special this character was. Notable mentions for Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, which is another superb story. It’s an exciting, creepy story and introduces River Song (who, for me, was never better or more interesting than she was here), Father’s Day (Billie is heartbreaking in this episode) and The Empty Child (no one will ever forget – “Are You My Mummy?”)!

Episode 10 – Vincent and the Doctor (series 5, 11th Doctor)

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Admit it, you thought I’d pick a Tennant one didn’t you?! This was by far the hardest decision of the entire list! In the end I had to choose Richard Curtis’s story about Vincent Van Gogh from Matt’s first year. It handles the subject of depression so delicately and Tony Curran’s performance as Vincent is superb. The episode also enabled Karen Gillen to add some much needed depth to Amy Pond and the moment when Vincent visits the museum and is moved to tears is incredibly powerful (I’m not ashamed to admit I cried!). The last few minutes between the Doctor and Amy are also lovely as well, bringing them closer together. I never tire of this episode. Notable mentions have to go to Blink (still the best Weeping Angels episode), Midnight (such a dark, disturbing episode, in which David Tennant is excellent) and The Doctor Dances!

Episode 11 – Turn Left (series 4, 10th Doctor)

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This story perfectly sets up the epic finale of series four, but it is a powerful episode in its own right. We see what the world would have been like if Donna had made different choices and as a result had never met the Doctor. It was lovely to have Billie Piper back, but this episode belongs to Catherine Tate, who is stunning throughout and truly proved what a superb choice she had been for Donna Noble. Notable mentions for Boom Town, as I love the 9th Doctor having dinner with Margaret Slitheen and Utopia (Sir Derek Jacobi is fantastic)!

Episode 12 – The Stolen Earth (series 4, 10th Doctor)

I thoroughly enjoyed The Stolen Earth (and the moment the Doctor first sees Rose again is one of my favourite moments in new Doctor Who). It has epic scale, all your favourite characters and a brilliant cliffhanger ending! Notable mention to Bad Wolf (I loved the 9th Doctor’s “I’m coming to get you” to Rose)

Episode 13 – Doomsday (series 2, 10th Doctor)

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The finale has to be Doomsday for me. The face-off between the Cybemen and the Daleks is wonderful (especially the bitchy conversation they have!) and the Tyler family is reunited. However, let’s face it, this episode earns it place here because of two scenes – the Wall and the Beach! The Doctor and Rose standing on either side of the wall, separated forever and then saying a heartbreaking goodbye at Bad Wolf Bay are iconic moments of new Doctor Who. Emotional, superbly acted by David and Billie and with gorgeous music from Murray Gold, this episode always moves me and was a beautiful end to Billie’s time on the series. Notable mention for series four’s Journey’s End (in which we sadly say goodbye to Donna and Bernard Cribbins chokes me up) and Chris’s swansong The Parting of the Ways.

Specials

As there have been a number of specials since Doctor Who returned in 2005, it seemed only fair to pick one for each showrunner, as Doctor Who TV did.

Russell T Davies Special – The Waters of Mars

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This is one of the best episodes of new Doctor Who. The story is tense and unnerving, the acting is excellent, especially Lindsay Duncan and David Tennant is stunning as the darker Doctor. Watching him switch from walking away from fate to suddenly becoming so angry that he’ll stop at nothing to change it was fantastic to watch. Notable mentions to The Runaway Bride (I loved the Doctor and Donna from the start) and David Tennant’s first outing, The Christmas Invasion.

Steven Moffat Special – The Day of the Doctor 

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I haven’t enjoyed most of Matt Smith’s festive outings (with the exception of The Snowmen, which is very good). Therefore there is a clear winner for Steven Moffat’s Special and that’s the 50th Anniversary episode! It had a lot to live up to in order to satisfy everyone and Steven managed to bring us an episode that was fun, action-packed, comedic and also emotional. John Hurt was a wonderful counterpoint to the 10th and 11th Doctor and the scenes between the three of them are incredibly entertaining. The final few moments, when after meeting Tom Baker, the 11th Doctor talks about dreaming of going home, as we see all 12 Doctors on a cloud below Gallifrey was a perfect image to celebrate the history of the show and begin the future!

So that’s my list. I’ll post the flip side (the nightmare list) soon. Feel free to let me know your choices! For those interested, the link to Doctor Who TV’s poll results is here: http://www.doctorwhotv.co.uk/series-1-7-face-off-results-everything-else-episodes-1-8-62654.htm

Once at the Phoenix Theatre – a timeless story of the beauty of love & music

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A few years ago my mum bought a film from Sainsbury’s for us to watch. None of us had heard of it but we fell for this tender, moving, indie film and it’s beautiful soundtrack. That film was Once. I’ve been meaning to go and see the stage production ever since it opened and couldn’t believe it had already been over a year. So earlier this month I took a trip to the Phoenix Theatre to finally see Once on stage for myself. I’ve now already seen it twice, which gives you an idea of how much I loved it and I hope it has a long life here in London.

Once tells the story of a young Irish man, known only as Guy, who also happens to be a talented musician. One day he meets a young, outgoing, warm-hearted Czech girl. She sees he is “stopped” after his girlfriend has left him and no longer cares about his music. Through their mutual love of music and song we see their beautiful relationship grow as they bring happiness to each other’s lives. To call it a musical seems wrong to me. I was unsure whether the small, intimate feel of the film would be able to be translated to the stage, but this production is superbly crafted. A musical makes you think of big glossy musical numbers. That is not Once, which instead happens to be a love story, which is told through music and song. Yes there are songs throughout but they move the story forward, just as they do in the film.

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Set in a Dublin pub, with additional furniture and props added to suggest a change of location (and which before the show starts is a pub in which the audience is encouraged to enter and enjoy the atmosphere and in the interval also a drink!), the production perfectly conveys the intimate nature of the film and the delicate love story at its heart. The music too is superb, as every actor plays an instrument, whether as accompaniment for the leads in certain scenes or the leads themselves (the Guy and Girl). This means the music really drives the piece along, rather than simply being shoe-horned in every so often for another musical number.

There are so many wonderful characters here – the Girl’s mother and flatmates, the music shop owner Billy and the banker are all fleshed out for the production, but this adds to their characters in a very real way. They bring with them warmth and humour throughout.

The focus though is on the two leads, as it is their growing love story that is the heart of the story and on both my visits to see it they were played by Zrinka Vitesic and Arthur Darvill (better known by some for playing Rory in Doctor Who). They were both utterly superb. Zrinka has been in Once in London since it opened last year and this year justifiably won the Olivier award for her portrayal of this heart-warming character. She brought a perfect blend of playful humour, bossiness and tender emotion to the role and you instantly connect with her as soon as she steps foot on the stage. Arthur was also excellent as the Guy, who is at first bewildered by this whirlwind of a woman who has entered his life. After playing the same role on Broadway for a number of months he clearly understood the soul of the character and his chemistry with Zrinka was beautifully tender and romantic.

It’s inevitable that by the end, most of the audience (myself included) were in tears. I can’t imagine anyone not being moved by such a beautiful, old-fashioned story of the joy of love and music.

I had loved the production so much that on hearing that not only Arthur (who was only doing 8 weeks) but also Zrinka were leaving I had to see them again and found myself queuing for day seats last Satuyrday to see their final performance. My friend and me were lucky to be close enough to the front of the queue to secure front row seats. Seeing it for a second time proved to be just as emotional as the first and the emotions of all the actors were understandably heightened on this special night. The performance was just as stunning as the first time, but by the time Falling Slowly begins during the final moments, not only were most of the audience tearing-up, but most of the cast too, as they effectively said farewell to Arthur and Zrinka.

A standing ovation followed and both Arthur and Zrinka gave speeches, thanking the cast, director John Tiffany (who was in the audience), crew and theatre staff for their support. Zrinka also acknowledged the loyal fans who had been there from the start and seen it 50+ times (some of whom were on the front row with us) and Arthur quipped they’d probably seen it more times than he had been in it! The cast then treated us to an encore of one of the numbers from the pre-show, during which all the understudies and new Girl and Guy joined them on stage. It truly was an incredible atmosphere and I felt privileged to be part of it.

I genuinely cannot recommend Once enough. For those who say they don’t like musicals, this isn’t your traditional, show-number musical so you shouldn’t discount it. Its warmth and magical spirit will make you laugh, smile and cry and will leave you feeling deeply moved. I think it could become my favourite musical (which as a long-standing Les Miserables and Matilda fan, says a lot!) and I know I’ll be revisiting it from time to time for as long as it remains in London (which I hope will be for a long long time to come).

Once is at the Phoenix Theatre and is currently booking until May 2015. For more information see the show’s website here: http://www.oncemusical.co.uk

For those who’ve seen and fallen in love with it or for those curious to know more, here is a video of Zrinka and Arthur performing the main song, the beautifully moving Falling Slowly.

http://youtu.be/lqB_ozuCjRw