I’ve recently been rewatching a few old television favourites and it’s become clear to me that the shows I tend to invest in usually have a strong couple at their heart. Some of these are friendships, some are more than that and others morph over time from one to the other. I’m still considering my list of ultimate TV friendships (watch this space), but in the spirit of it being Valentine’s Day, I’m starting with my favourite television couples.
Of course, everyone’s list will be personal, so I’m sure there will be couples I’ve missed who you would choose, so feel free to let me know your choices in the comments! It also goes without saying that this post will contain spoilers for the shows referenced.
Fox Mulder & Dana Scully (The X-Files)
To me, Mulder and Scully will always be the ultimate television couple. It was a relationship that grew from their strong friendship and over the years of the series I loved seeing how much respect and love these two amazing characters had for each other. It bubbled under the surface, but never detracted from the series itself and even 20 years later, the incredible chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson remains as powerful as ever. The magic the two of them share does not come around very often and as yet, has not been beaten. You can read more of my thoughts on these two here.
Harvey Specter & Donna Paulsen (Suits)
I know some people may argue against the inclusion of Harvey and Donna in a couples list, but their relationship has developed so much recently, that I find it impossible not to see them as meant to be, even if they are not quite there yet! Over the last six seasons we have seen their deeply-rooted friendship grow. Yes, they’ve already been lovers once, but they share so much more than that. Sarah Rafferty and Gabriel Macht have a chemistry that is rare on television and I’m sure their long-standing friendship has added to the fabric of Harvey and Donna’s relationship. These characters wouldn’t be so wonderful on screen were they portrayed by anyone else. As with Mulder and Scully, this is certainly a slow burn, but surely these two have to end up together?!
Josh Lyman & Donna Moss (The West Wing)
I clearly enjoy the slow burn relationships don’t I, as here is yet another one! From the start of Aaron Sorkin’s political drama I always loved the banter between the Deputy Chief of Staff and his assistant and as the series progressed, their wonderful bond became more apparent. Thanks to Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney’s on screen connection, any other relationships each character had just never seemed quite as special as the one they shared together. Josh may have been the political player, but it became clear how much he relied on Donna and when she left to pursue her own ambitions, it gave him the push to pursue his new path and when they did finally get together it didn’t overshadow the series, as by then it was the logical and natural next step.
Alicia Florrick & Will Gardner (The Good Wife)
I still feel incredibly sad when I think about this ill-fated pair, but there was no way they wouldn’t feature on my list, as they are probably the hottest and most moving couple on TV. The attraction between Will and Alicia was clear from the very beginning (in no large part down to the chemistry between Josh Charles and Julianna Margulies) and along with many fans of the series, I had my fingers crossed for their future. They clearly loved one another and Alicia should probably have picked Will before she ever married her dreadful husband. The time they were together treated us to some of the steamiest scenes on television (here’s one for the uninitiated) as well as some of the most emotional, but sadly it wasn’t to be, with Will being tragically killed in series five (something I still wish the internet hadn’t ruined for me in advance). It was an event I never expected, which still makes me reach for the tissues. The fact their love was cut short in such an cruel way makes their whole story all the more powerful and is probably the couple that has moved me the most on television.
Temperance Brennan & Seeley Booth (Bones)
Bones is a series I’ve missed over the last few years and I’m slowly playing catch up, but what was clear from day one was the chemistry between David Boreanaz’s Booth and Emily Deschanel’s Brennan. I have only reached series eight (the final season 12 is airing now), but what I enjoy most about this series is how the writers were able to transition the characters from friends, to lovers, to marriage and children. It has enabled fans to see their relationship grow in a more mature and realistic way, which is something other shows could learn from.
The Doctor & Rose Tyler (Doctor Who)
Since it’s return in 2005 Doctor Who has seen some wonderful partnerships on board the TARDIS. However, there is one that touched the hearts of many fans of the series and that was the love between David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler. Yes, nothing ever happened between them, but their bond was never in doubt and their heartbreaking farewell on Bad Wolf Bay was a classic moment that certainly made me shed some tears.
Kevin Walker & Scotty Wandell (Brothers & Sisters)
There were many relationships within Brothers & Sisters, but for me the most heartfelt and believable one was that between Kevin and Scotty (played brilliantly by Matthew Rhys and Luke MacFarlane). Through all the Walker family turmoil, they were a breath of fresh air with their loving relationship. They weren’t free from problems (most notably Scotty’s affair), but loved each other enough not to throw their relationship away.
Buffy Summers & Spike (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
Some may be surprised that the relationship on my list from Buffy is not the one between Buffy and Angel! Yes, theirs was one of the core elements of the series in the early years, but Buffy and Spike’s short-lived relationship was the one that has always interested me the most. When you think about it (and leave aside the undead aspect!), they were a far better match for each other. Perhaps it was the fact Buffy was older than the teenager who fell for Angel, but her connection with Spike came across as a more mature one. They knew each other’s faults and accepted them anyway and some of the scenes between James Marsters and Sarah Michelle Geller in those later episodes remain some of my favourites.
Doug Ross & Carol Hathaway (E.R)
E.R remains my favourite medical series (more on that here) and although it had some lovely relationships during its 15 years, one always stood above the rest and that was the love affair between Doug and Carol. The fact it became so iconic in the 90s (and was the first big break for each of George Clooney and Julianna Margulies) is more impressive when you think that Carol wasn’t even meant to survive the pilot episode. They went through ups and downs, split up and got back together more than once, but you couldn’t help but root for them and the icing on the cake was Clooney’s surprise return for the last few moments of the episode which saw Carol leave Chicago behind for the love of her life.
Chuck Bass & Blaire Waldorf (Gossip Girl)
Chuck and Blaire were the best schemers in Gossip Girl, manipulating situations and characters to their advantage and there were many times when I really couldn’t stand them! However, the writers created something very clever in their relationship. Despite their underhanded behaviour, they seemed to bring out the best in each other, which in turn changed my perception of them and thanks to the acting talents of Ed Westwick and Leighton Meester they became my favourite characters in the show. Had they not ended up together I’d have been thoroughly disappointed.
Carrie Bradshaw & Mr. Big (Sex And The City)
The Mr.Big debate was a big one during Sex And The City’s run, with fans divided as to whether Carrie should end up with him or not. He may have been an idiot for the majority of the show, but I was always of the view that deep down they were soul mates. Despite all the pain and hurt, they always seemed to come back to one another and he would do anything for her. I also loved the fun they seemed to have and Chris Noth and Sarah Jessica Parker sparkled in their scenes together.
Sydney Bristow & Michael Vaughn (Alias)
J.J Abrams’s spy drama was a highlight of American television at the time of its original run and the will they won’t they dynamic of Sydney and Vaughn captured the hearts of its fans (including me). Yes, there were some utterly bonkers plot developments along the way, including Vaughn’s faked death, but Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan always ensured the relationship between Sydney and Vaughn was genuinely lovely to watch right until the end.
Ross Poldark & Demelza (Poldark)
Yes, Aidan Turner’s torso has generated a great deal of attention since Poldark was brought back to our screens in 2015, but the best character in my view is the fiery Demelza, superbly played by Eleanor Tomlinson and their romance is what keeps me tuning in each week. They may be from different backgrounds, but they are undoubtably stronger together and do truly belong together. I’m looking forward to seeing what lies ahead in series three after the ups and downs of the last series.
Lizzie Bennet & Mr Darcy (BBC, Pride & Prejudice)
Colin Firth may be a successful Oscar-winning actor, but he’ll always be best known for his iconic portrayal of Mr Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. The British public fell under his spell and that of his counterpart Jennifer Ehle. In my opinion, they created the definitive Lizzie and Darcy and every scene they had together sparkled, making them one of the TV couples of the 90s in Britain.
Ianto Jones and Captain Jack Harkness (Torchwood)
The relationship between Captain Jack (John Barrowman) and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) in Torchwood was hugely important for British television and remains one of my favourites of recent years. What was lovely about the pairing was that they may have been very different personalities, but were in fact perfectly suited. They were playful, affectionate and stood by each other through all the crazy happenings in their lives and Ianto’s emotional death in Children Of Earth was heartbreaking for fans of the show. We felt his loss as much as Captain Jack. Heck, does any other fictional character have a shrine like Ianto’s in Cardiff?!
So, those are my top fifteen television couples. I look forward to hearing about who you would choose!
In previous years I’ve only written one theatre review post. However, after it was suggested to me by a friend, I’ve decided to split my review of the theatre year this time. I’ve already posted my top 10 productions of 2016 (here for those interested) and so this post will focus on my favourite performances from the last twelve months. You can also read about my most memorable moments of the year in theatre here.
Please do let me know your highlights in the comments below.
2016 – A Year of Strong Female Performances
As my top ten post highlighted, it’s been a strong year for women on stage, with so many stand-out female performances. Below is just the tip of the iceberg!
Lia Williams (Mary Stuart)
After her incredible performance in Oresteia last year, Lia Williams is yet again one of the highlights of the year, in not one, but two roles. After being lucky enough to watch both versions of Mary Stuart back to back, what stood out the most for me was that no matter which version I was watching, the character Williams was portraying seemed to be the larger role. She was a vibrant Mary, unnerving Juliet Stevenson’s Elizabeth and yet she was also a strong, confident and sexy Elizabeth. I cannot wait to see what roles she will take on in the future, but I’ll be there for every one of them!
Ruth Wilson (Hedda Gabler)
It’s always a joy to see Ruth Wilson on stage and she is currently delivering a superb Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre. She isn’t very likeable, but I couldn’t help admiring her character’s ability to be say whatever she wanted, regardless of the consequences! She is someone desperate for control and yet by the end we see her utterly at the mercy of Brack. In another powerful production by Ivo Van Hove, this is a must-see event.
Denise Gough (People, Places & Things)
I’ve already gushed about how much I loved Denise Gough in this show and how she absolutely blew me away with such an emotionally, heartbreaking performance. It’ll stay in my mind for many years to come.
Glenn Close (Sunset Boulevard)
The iconic Glenn Close finally brought her portrayal of Norma Desmond over 20 years after she performed it on Broadway. I had high hopes, but was nervous that perhaps she’d struggle to impress the way she did back then. It turned out she was spectacular and was still able to deliver the vocals. Yes, her voice may not have been as powerful, but it added a layer of reality to the character.
Billie Piper (Yerma)
Billie’s performance in Yerma was one of the most emotionally draining trips to the theatre I had in 2016, so goodness knows how she performed it day after day! Modernising Lorca’s tale of a woman desperate to have a child worked perfectly for today’s world and as the play unfolded Piper her character from a young, vibrant woman to a lost, broken soul. Powerful and unforgettable.
Janet McTeer (Les Liaisons Dangereuses)
It was hard to leave this production off my top ten and that was in large part due to McTeer’s portrayal of La Marquise de Merteuil. She was so devious and sexy and her chemistry with Dominic West really worked. I’m sorry I couldn’t get to New York to see the Broadway transfer, but if you have a chance to go before it finishes towards the end of January, it’s certainly worth the effort.
The cast of Eclipsed (NYC)!
With Eclipsed it wasn’t just one strong performance, but five, with each of the five actresses in Danai Gurira’s play creating a memorable character and together the result was one of my theatre highlights. Lupita Nyong’o seemed years younger, depicting the young wife who yearns for a different life; Pascale Armand was a scene-stealer as Bessie, whose comic lines made me laugh out loud; Saycon Sengbloh brought a strength and motherly figure to the stage as Helena; Zainab Jah’s portrayal of the wife-turned soldier, who refuses to be a victim of any man was a moving one and Akosua Busia added an outside perspective as Rita, the woman determined to help the women of the camp leave this life. A remarkable play, that I hope to see in the UK soon.
Helen McCrory (The Deep Blue Sea)
If I hear Helen McCrory is doing a play, I’ll book it without caring what it is. She is just so good. Her turn as Medea is still clear in my mind two years on and she was equally impressive as Hester Collyer, a woman trapped in life, who feels suicide is her only way out. A moving and powerful production for 2016.
Glenda Jackson (King Lear)
25 years since she was last on stage, Glenda Jackson took on one of the most well known roles in Shakespeare – King Lear. I was rather surprised by how much power she brought to the stage. She may be older, but she still commanded the stage and although, I didn’t have the emotional reaction to the play’s ending that I sometimes do, I still left the Old Vic sure of the fact I’d seen one of the performances of the year.
Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple, NYC)
I was sorry to miss The Color Purple during its run at the Menier Chocolate Factory and so it was high on my list for my trip to NYC this year. I’d heard so much about Cynthia Erivo’s performance as Celie, the young girl, who overcomes so much to achieve happiness and independence in her life. There were two famous US actresses on stage, but the star was Erivo and hearing her sing “I’m Here” live was phenomenal. I’m so thrilled she won the TONY this year.
The men weren’t half bad either in 2016!
It may be a year when the female-led shows grabbed my attention, but there were certainly some excellent performances by the men too!
Andy Karl (Groundhog Day)
Ahh Andy Karl. I loved Andy Karl in Groundhog Day. As he’s better known in the US, I wasn’t familiar with his work, but I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on his future projects from now on. As someone who wasn’t a fan of the original film, his portrayal of Phil Connors was a major factor in how much I loved this production. He was able to convey both his rude, arrogant attitude and his later kinder self with equal weight and by the end I was rather choked each time I saw it. If I needed just one reason to go back to NYC next year, this is it!
Anthony Boyle (Harry Potter & The Cursed Child)
Undoubtably the most anticipated production of the year (and possibly the decade), the next story in the world of Harry Potter had a lot to live up to. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and all five of us in my group agreed that the show-stealer was Anthony Boyle as Scorpius Malfoy, the unlikely son of Draco, who forms a friendship with Harry’s son Albus. He was brilliant in the role; he is funny, brave, emotional and an utter joy to watch.
James Norton (BUG)
James Norton is surely one of the most versatile actors we have at the moment. Able to be both the charming, gentleman and terrifying killer on screen, I was thrilled to see him perform this year in the intimate space of FOUND111. Tracy Letts’s play is one of growing claustrophobia, where Norton’s character, Peter, starts as a shy young man, who acts as a source of comfort to Kate Fleetwood’s Agnes, before slowly unravelling before our eyes. A hugely physical and emotional role, Norton demonstrated yet again why he is on my must-see list.
Jonjo O’Neil (Unreachable)
I’ve been a fan of Jonjo O’Neil’s since I first saw him in the RSC company in Stratford-Upon-Avon (his Mercutio is yet to be beaten from those I’ve seen) and it was brilliant to see him take on such a quirky role as that of Ivan The Brute in Anthony Neilson’s new play. With the play taking shape during the rehearsal process, he was clearly able to bring so much personality to the character and I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in a theatre in a long long time (if indeed ever). It was an utterly bonkers performance that stole the show.
Simon McBurney (The Encounter)
The Encounter was unlike anything else I’ve seen on stage. A one-man show, written and performed by Simon McBurney, it told the story of a National Geographic photographer who in 1969 travelled to, and became lost in, the Amazon rainforest. Through the use of innovative technology and the audience all wearing headphones, we were transported in to a sensory experience like no other. McBurney could not have put any more in to his performance, physically and mentally and if I could go again I wouldn’t hesitate.
Jamie Parker (Guys & Dolls / Harry Potter & The Cursed Child)
Jamie Parker had to be on this list as I loved both roles he had on stage in 2016. I started the year watching him bring Sky Masterson to life in Guys & Dolls. He was superb and, in my view, one of the show’s biggest strengths, able to carry off the suave character and deliver the required vocals. Then it was on to Harry Potter. Harry isn’t the young man he was in the books/films and Parker convincingly portrays how his early life and experiences have impacted on him and indeed on his relationships as a husband and a father. Some of the most heartfelt moments in the play for me were those in which Harry is dealing with emotions and I can’t think of anyone better to play him.
James McArdle (Young Chekhov – Platonov & Ivanov)
Having a chance to see the Young Chekhov trilogy at the National Theatre after missing its original run in Chichester was an added theatre bonus this year and my favourite of the three was undoubtably Platonov. This was largely down to James McArdle’s performance in the title role. Seeing the plays back to back also provided an even stronger contrast between his role in Platonov and that of the serious doctor in Ivanov.
Ian McKellen (No Man’s Land)
I’ve been lucky enough to see Ian McKellen on stage a couple of times before (in No Man’s Land and The Syndicate) and what stands out most of me about McKellen’s stage work is that he simply becomes a new person. Despite being hugely famous for some iconic roles, you always see the character on the stage and not the actor and that was the case again in No Man’s Land.
Rafe Spall (Hedda Gabler)
Rafe Spall’s performance as Brack in the National Theatre’s current production of Hedda Gabler really stood out for me. He is a man that starts the play as a rather playful, flirty friend to Hedda and yet by the end he had chilled me to the bone. Not every actor could do that, but through his previous work, Spall has demonstrated his ability to tackle characters on both sides of the moral spectrum. I certainly hope to revisit this production before the end of its run.
Jasper Britton (RSC Richard II / Henry IV)
Anyone who knows me (or indeed has read this blog before) will know I’m a David Tennant fan and therefore a return trip to the RSC’s Richard II at the Barbican in January was never in doubt. The biggest thrill for me of the combined King and Country cycle was Jasper Britton. He brought a new dynamic to the Richard/Bolingbroke relationship and having the same actor as both characters enhanced the overall cycle. I particularly enjoyed seeing Bolingbroke’s relationship with Hotspur, which perfectly set up the events of the Henry IV Part One.
What a year it’s been! Feel free to let me know which performances impressed you this year in the comments section.
Although there are a few days of 2016 left, I’ve very likely been to the theatre for the last time this year and so it’s time for one of my favourite posts – my theatre review. It’s always lovely to reflect on another year of theatregoing and all the wonderful productions I’ve been lucky enough to see over the previous 12 months.
Due to a few weeks with a bad cough during which I didn’t go to the theatre (I refuse to be that person coughing through a show!), 2016’s final tally was just 70 different productions; 12 of which were musicals (a record I think for me), with the rest being plays. As with any year there are always some repeat visits and in 2016 I saw 11 shows more than once. Although this year saw me take a long overdue trips to New York for 11 days of theatre (that seems to be the magic number for me this year doesn’t it?), I’ve actually been to very little regional theatre in 2016 and I’m determined to improve this over the next twelve months.
2016 has been a very strong year of theatre for me, with those containing a strong female performance particularly standing out. I’ve seen very little that has truly disappointed and nothing that will be added to my all-time worst production list. So, below is my top ten productions of the year. Before the year is out, I’ll also be posting my list of 17 shows to see in 2017 so please do pop back to have a look and let me know what your theatre highlights have been this year!
Productions of the Year – My Top 10!
1. Groundhog Day (Old Vic)
There could only be one show at the top of my 2016 list and that’s Groundhog Day, the new musical based on the film, which premiered this year in London, before departing after only its ten week run to prepare for Broadway (previews start in March). I had been sceptical about a musical of this 1993 film (one that I’d not been a huge fan of to begin with). On seeing it for the first time however, I knew this was something very special indeed and I loved it every time I went (well if any show warrants repeat trips it’s this one). The colourful sets helped bring the community of Punxsutawney to life, and the book by Danny Rubin with Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics were a joy. It managed to be both very very funny and deeply moving over the course of the show, as Phil Connors gradually becomes a better man. Of course, the show needed a strong lead to anchor it and Andy Karl was utterly superb as Connors. He was able to portray a man who was both irritating, but still likeable and someone you were rooting for by the end. Yes, I intend to go to NYC to see it, but in the meantime, Mr. Minchin, please release a cast recording! You can read my full reviews here and here.
2. People, Places & Things (Wyndham’s)
I missed this play during its original run at the National Theatre, but was able to see it when it reached the West End earlier this year. It certainly lived up to the hype, with Denise Gough giving one of the finest stage performances I’ve ever witnessed. As Emma, the young woman dealing with a drug and alcohol addiction, Gough pulled you in to her world and didn’t let go until the end. Very few theatre performances have as strong an emotional impact as this one and her Olivier win in April was truly deserved. I know this will be a performance I talk about for years to come. Full review here.
3. Sunset Boulevard (London Coliseum)
This time last year, one of the most anticipated events of the 2016 theatre calendar was Glenn Close’s return to the role of Norma Desmond, one she performed on Broadway over 20 years ago (and one she will take back to NYC in 2017). I’d never been to the Coliseum, but it was the ideal venue for this unique staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. “Semi-staged”, there was very little set; instead the focus was on the performances and the full ENO orchestra on stage. Fred Johanson was excellent as Norma’s loyal butler, as was Michael Xavier as Joe Gillis. However, this was always going to be Close’s show and she was superb. In fact I loved it so much I had to go again and being on the front row that second time is an experience I will never forget. Full review here.
4. Eclipsed (John Golden, NYC)
My trip to NYC this year was designed to be a theatre-fuelled holiday and it certainly was! I saw some excellent productions during my time there, but the one that stands out and makes this top ten is Danai Gurira’s play Eclipsed, which centres on the lives on five women during the Second Liberian Civil War. The play was able to capture the perfect balance of serious hard-hitting material and humour. For a play that has some moments that are quite difficult to watch, it was also remarkably funny too. On top of that, all five women in this play were superb (made clear by the raft of nominations it received). Lupita Nyong’a seemed so much younger in her role, which commanded your attention until the final moments, while Pascale Armand made me laugh with her witty remarks. I’m so pleased I was able to see this. Full review here.
5. Mary Stuart (Almeida)
Last weekend I was at the Almeida for a double day of Mary Stuart. Seeing this new show twice in one day was the only way to guarantee I’d see both actresses in each of the lead roles of Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart. I’m still writing up my review (watch this space), but needless to say that it’s inclusion on this list tells you exactly what I thought of it! The Almeida has such a unique atmosphere and you can feel the energy in the room as the coin spin takes place to determine who will play each part. On seeing both versions, I was thoroughly impressed by both actresses, although Lia Williams brought something extra to the stage whether as Mary or Elizabeth. It’s an exciting, powerful and absorbing production that you should see if you can.
6. Unreachable (Royal Court)
After having to return a ticket for earlier in the run, I’m so pleased I managed to see the final performance of this brilliant new play by writer and director Anthony Neilson, although due to the unique structure of the creative process, it would have been great to have seen it more than once, as Neilson uses the rehearsal process to mould the story and relies on improv from the cast. Story-wise, it’s about a group of creative people coming together to make a film, with the director intent on capturing the right light (played by Matt Smith) and one of the actors, Ivan the Brute, an unpredictable lunatic (Jonjo O’Neil)! All the actors were excellent, but special credit must go to these two, who had me in stitches throughout, particularly Jonjo. It’s a character and performance I won’t forget in a hurry!
7. Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (Palace)
2016 also saw the arrival of the juggernaut that is the new Harry Potter play and I feel very lucky to have already been able to see it, knowing that some people have tickets for 2018! Set 18 years after the end of the seventh book in the series, we get to see Harry, Hermione and Ron as adults with children of their own off to Hogwart’s and the story focuses on the friendship of Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. It’s a superb show, with magical trickery, lovely sets, a story with a positive message for us all and some brilliant actors. Special mention to Jamie Parker (one of my favourites on stage who really does bring something new to Harry) and Anthony Boyle who deserves as much recognition as possible for stealing the show as Scorpius. Review here.
8. Yerma (Young Vic)
Billie Piper has established herself in recent years as a fine stage actress and her lead role in the Young Vic’s modern interpretation of Lorca’s Yerma is the best I’ve ever seen her. In a one act play, she simply left me speechless and a bit of a wreck through her portrayal of a young woman driven to despair by her inability to conceive a child. In this modern world where people like to think we can have it all and where woman are putting off having children until later, this play has an added emotional resonance. Brendan Cowell was also fantastic as her husband, struggling to keep their marriage together as his wife slowly breaks down. It was an emotionally draining experience, but a theatrical tour de force that I wouldn’t have missed for anything. Full review here.
9. Richard II (RSC, Barbican, London & BAM, NYC)
Okay, okay, anyone who reads this blog may notice that this production has been on this list before, but technically the 2016 version did have a largely different cast and therefore I think I cab get away with it! David Tennant remains one of my favourite actors and a brilliant Shakespearean actor. Returning to Richard after a break of almost two years meant he was able to bring much more weight to it than he did originally. This was a stronger, more confident performance. Add to that the inspired addition of Jasper Britton as Bolingbroke, a role he made his own and a performance I preferred to Nigel Lindsay. Top marks also need to go to Sam Marks, who stepped in to Oliver Rix’s shoes as Aumerle and brought even more emotional depth than I could have hoped for. I was also lucky enough to travel to NYC to see the final two performances of Richard, meaning that I was able to see not only the first preview, but the very last show. Full review here and reflection on the full King and Country cycle here.
10. The Dazzle (FOUND111)
Picking a tenth production for this list has been quite difficult and has left me torn, but in the end I had to choose a production I first saw last December and returned to in January of this year and that’s The Dazzle. With only a cast of three and staged in the intimate setting of FOUND111 (one of the venues of the year in my view), this was a show that was both humorous and deeply moving, as we see the bond between the Collyer brothers. Andrew Scott is mesmerising as Langley, whose strange ways are an increasing strain on his brother. However, it was David Dawson’s performance as Homer that floored me and by the final scene I was a wreck. Full review here.
So, that’s my top 10 from another year of theatre. That was quite tough! Had I had more space, other productions I loved this year included Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Donmar), The Encounter (Barbican) and the returns of the RSC’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much About About Nothing (at Chichester, but which are now currently finally in London) and This House (also now in London).
It always frustrates me that there are things I miss, but ultimately you can’t see everything. That being said, I’m determined to go to more regional theatre, but also more new venues next year. It’s a little exciting to wonder what memories I’ll be looking back on this time next year! After a suggestion from a friend, my picks for top performances of the theatre year are in a separate post here, as are my most memorable moments of the year in theatre here.
Thanks for reading!
Simon Stone’s modern adaptation of Yerma, Frederico Garcia Lorca’s 1934 play, is one of those nights at the theatre I’ll never forget. Productions such as this latest offering from the Young Vic (a venue that continues to excite with its programming), are exactly why I love the live theatre experience. Simply put, you don’t just watch this production, you feel its intensity and it stays with you long after you’ve left.
The story revolves around its central character, played by Billie Piper, in what is undoubtedly her finest stage performance to date. Set in today’s London (complete with references to Sadiq Khan, Brexit and Boris), her life is falling in to place perfectly. Together with her boyfriend John, she has just bought a house and they both have successful careers, and so she turns to the next, logical path in their life together – having a child. It’s apparently not something he thought she wanted, but at 33, in a world where women are constantly reminded about their ticking biological clocks, she is starting to think differently about the future. Over the course of the play, we witness how what begins as a seemingly casual idea becomes the all-consuming focus of her life and how that affects not just her, but everyone around her.
It’s a timeless story, which will no doubt resonate with its audience and in this 21st century interpretation, Piper could so easily be any young, professional, modern woman in her early 30s, which is highlighted by her lack of a name (the programme simply referring to the role of “Her”). With so much opportunity and choice on offer to us today, it’s incredibly harrowing to watch as something out of her (and indeed all of our) control, can so devastate someone’s world.
With no interval, time passes quickly, sometimes by hours, sometimes by years, signposted by the two small screens above the stage, on to which chapters, complete with short descriptions, appear. Initially, this style felt a little jarring, but you soon adjust to its rhythm and as time moves forward and each scene faded to black, I found I was bracing myself for what I might see next before me. As is the case when watching some of the Greek classics, you sense tragedy is inevitable.
I admit that I hadn’t heard of the play before and having now seen it, I understand why it is described as one of the greatest female roles in drama. Indeed, I’m surprised it hasn’t been performed more and following in the footsteps of recent strong female roles including Medea at the National Theatre and Electra at the Old Vic, it’s a role that results in an astonishing performance from Ms. Piper, which together with recent stage successes in The Effect and Great Britain, mark her out as a truly talented actress. Her character is so very human and painfully believable that you could forget this isn’t real life unfolding before you, as she experiences the gauntlet of human emotion from love and happiness, to anxiety, fear, despair, jealousy, anger and indeed deep sadness and grief. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that doesn’t pause to catch its breath.
Lizzie Clachan’s set also adds to this intensity, as the audience sits on either side of a long, rectangular, perspex box. We observe the lives of the characters, seemingly trapped within its confines. It’s as if they are under the microscope and as Piper begins to unravel, the closed off nature of the stage setting enhances our sense of her isolation.
Although, Piper is the focus of Yerma, she is not the only one giving a strong performance in this production. Maureen Beattie is very good as her emotionally distant mother, who although she clearly loves her two daughters, is not very good at demonstrating it openly. John MacMillan brings a gentleness to her former boyfriend Victor, whose reappearance in her life a decade later brings with him the painful reminder of the child she chose not to keep when she didn’t think it was the right time.
However it’s Brendan Cowell’s moving portrayal of her partner John that stands out. He may seem rather unsupportive early on, focusing on his job more than his relationship, but as the play progresses you find yourself growing more and more sorry for him, as he watches the person he loves changing while he can do nothing to stop it. His chemistry with Piper is intense throughout, whether in the lighter, passionate early days, or in the darker, painful years that follow and their raw emotion is incredible, if not difficult to watch.
Simon Stone has done a fantastic job of updating the source material from its rural, farmland setting in Spain, to 2016’s London, in which although women’s place in society is very different, the struggles many face to conceive remain unchanged. He has made some changes to the underlying story. One in particular is very interesting and, although I won’t spoil it for those familiar with the play was, in my view, a logical change that made perfect sense given Piper’s character’s emotional state. I also loved that some of the dialogue felt as though it was improvised by the actors in the moment, which again added to the realism of the piece.
In short, Yerma is a superb production and will without a doubt be one of my theatre highlights of the year. It is immensely powerful and manages to capture moments of wit, humour and love, as well as anger, sadness and despair and within which Billie Piper commands the stage in a performance worthy of all the accolades it will surely receive. It may be a difficult subject, which is sometimes painful and indeed heartbreaking to watch, but theatre of this standard should not be missed. Book your tickets now while you still can.
Yerma continues its run at the Young Vic until 24th September 2016. Running time is approximately 1 hour 50 minutes with no interval. Prices range from £10 – £35. For more information and availability visit the website here.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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!
UPDATED: 25th December 2016
Christmas is here and in 2005 a new festive British tradition was born, which is now a staple part of Christmas Day – the Doctor Who Christmas Special! I honestly cannot imagine the day without it now, as the Doctor always brings an added magic and fun on a day all about families being together. I have to say though, some years I have been left feeling rather disappointed by the seasonal trip in the TARDIS.
Seeing people returning to this blog post again this year, I thought it was time to update it to include last year’s Christmas offering and tonight’s newest episode. So as we await series 10, I’m looking back on the Christmas stories of New Who and rank the thirteen episodes we’ve now seen so far.
1. The Runaway Bride (2006)
For anyone who has read my choice of festive television episodes, you’ll be unsurprised to see that my top choice for the Doctor Who Christmas episode is The Runaway Bride, in which we first meet Donna Noble. At the time we couldn’t have predicted that Catherine Tate would return, but what made an impression on me when I first watched this was how fantastic the chemistry was between David and Catherine. They bounced off each other effortlessly. It’s also filled with magical moments – the TARDIS on the motorway (complete with superb score from Murray Gold) is a particular highlight of mine. It was also always going to be difficult to handle the Doctor’s first adventure after losing Rose and having this follow immediately when he is still grieving was a lovely choice, as we see how wounded he is and the end moment as he says “Her name was Rose” gets me every time. I’ll definitely be watching this again this month.
2. The Christmas Invasion (2005)
A very close second is the first Christmas Day special of New Who, in which we were properly introduced to David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. It’s one of Russell T Davies’s best episodes for me as it has the perfect balance of comedy, emotion, action and scary moments (well for children not me). It’s fun to have Jackie and Mickey involved (especially being attacked by a Christmas tree!) and quite bold to have the focus of the episode be on Rose, while the Doctor sleeps. Only once there is no hope left does the Doctor appear to save the day – and in his pyjamas too! In a short space of time we see this new Doctor is full of exuberance, is flirty, funny, but capable of taking a more serious stand if required. It left me very excited for a new era.
3. The Snowmen (2012)
The Snowmen is by far my favourite of the Christmas specials under Steven Moffat and quite honestly was a relief after a few years of disappointment. The Doctor is yet again struggling to deal with the loss of close companions after we said farewell to Amy and Rory, but through this story his sense of who he is is reawakened by the bold, feisty Clara Oswald. Victorian era Clara is such fun and more than a match for the Doctor and their rapport is wonderful. We also see some gorgeous images – the TARDIS on a cloud and the Doctor and Clara climbing the stairs to reach it is lovely. It’s also a great story, with a brilliantly scary monster in the form of the Snowmen (an inspired choice for winter time!) and Richard E. Grant is suitably creepy. Plus we even get Ian McKellen’s voice too! I sincerely hope Last Christmas is at this end of the scale of Moffat Christmas episodes.
4. The Voyage of the Damned (2007)
It may get a fair amount of criticism but I quite enjoy the 2007 festive offering, which pulled in the highest ratings for New Who (with an impressive 12.2 million viewers tuning in on the day alone). I was certainly intrigued to hear Kylie Minogue was to guest star and I thought she was a fun addition to the story. Astrid’s cheeky personality and bravery were ideal for a companion and you could have imagined her and the Doctor having great adventures together, but it wasn’t to be. Yes, it’s a bit too similar to The Poseidon Adventure (more so than Titanic despite the ship’s name), as the survivors make their way through the crippled vessel, but the ensemble are fun to watch and David Tennant is on fine form (at a time which personally must have been very difficult for him after the loss of his mother). Plus we get our introduction to one of my favourite characters of New Who – Bernard Cribbins’s Wilfred Mott. It’s funny to think that not even the cast and crew at the time realised what that character would go on to do!
5. The Unquiet Dead (2005)
Not a Christmas Day special, but technically the first Christmas episode of New Who is this trip by the Ninth Doctor and Rose to Victorian Cardiff! We also get our first historical TARDIS trip of this new era and Charles Dickens was a wonderful place to start. Simon Callow is perfect in the role and I loved seeing the Doctor be genuinely excited about meeting one of his idols (similar to when he first arrives at the Globe in series three). There are some lovely moments between the Doctor and Rose, as their bond grows ever stronger and Eve Myles makes her first appearance in the Doctor Who universe (it’s great this is referenced later in series four’s finale). This is still Mark Gatiss’s best Doctor Who story in my opinion.
6. Last Christmas (2014)
Peter Capaldi’s first Christmas episode proved much better than most of Steven Moffat’s previous efforts for the Eleventh Doctor and was very enjoyable. The creepy base did remind me a bit of The Waters of Mars, but the mix of the scary brain-sucking monster and Santa (brilliantly played by Nick Frost) was fun to watch. I’ve always liked Clara and it was appropriate to see that her recent tragic loss was not forgotten so quickly and addressed her, with her desire to stay in her dream with Danny very believable. I’m glad Jenna Coleman decided to carry on, but I admit that had her story ended with her as the old lady, pulling a cracker with the Doctor, an echo of her doing it with the elderly Matt Smith Doctor the year before, it would have been very poetic indeed. Having said that, it was still a lovely episode, which didn’t feel dumbed down for mass Christmas audiences. I hope this year’s is more in this style than some of the ones further down this list!
7. The End of Time (2009)
In 2009’s festive season we said farewell to the Tenth Doctor in this two part, bonkers story. It’s by no means the best story of New Who and I did find the duplication of The Master a bit ridiculous and the Naismiths rather wooden and dull. However, despite its weaknesses, there’s still so much I love about The End of Time. First and foremost the acting by David Tennant and Bernard Cribbins is first class, raising the story to a higher level. All their scenes together are incredibly moving and beautifully written. John Simm also does a great job as the resurrected, totally insane Master and his stand off against the Doctor in Part One is a great scene. I think Part Two is better than Part One for me, as the stakes are raised before the Doctor sacrifices himself for Wilf and although I know some people are frustrated at the multiple endings, I think it’s a great way to say goodbye to the team of Tennant/Davies and Gardner. Plus, as someone lucky enough to get to watch the filming of the Doctor’s final trip to Rose’s estate one cold night in May 2009, it will also always conjure up happy memories for me!8. The Next Doctor (2008).
8. The Husbands of River Song (2015)
Last year’s Christmas special saw Peter Capaldi’s Doctor meet River Song and what a wonderful pairing Capaldi and Alex Kingston were. Yes, the main plot was rather bonkers, as we see River married to a man in order to acquire the diamond in his head! I’m not a huge fan of robots in Doctor Who (see the next entry for more on that topic!), but I did enjoy seeing the resolution of River Song’s story arc, as we finally saw the Doctor turn up with a new haircut and suit to take her to The Singing Towers. I do think her character’s development did become rather ridiculous the more Steven Moffat brought her back, but this was a lovely, heartwarming conclusion, which did make me sad we didn’t get a chance to see her more with Capaldi.
9. The Next Doctor (2008)
My least favourite of the Russell T Davies Christmas era had to be The Next Doctor. There is much to enjoy here I know. David Morrissey is excellent as Jackson Lake, the would be Doctor, as we see his sense of fun and adventure as well as his vulnerability as he remembers his own past. It’s also lovely to have him and David Tennant acting together again (I’m a big Blackpool fan) and they clearly loved making this episode. Their final scene at the end of the story is truly lovely and one of my highlights of New Who. However, despite the positives, I’m just not a fan of Dervla Kirwan’s performance as Miss Hartigan, which I find rather weak, which only gets worse once she becomes the Cyber Controller. Throw in the ridiculous giant robot and I always feel that I have swapped channels to a Power Rangers episode! Not the worst but definitely not the best.
11. The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016)
So, we come to this year’s special, which aired a few hours ago. I’m still mulling it over. I did enjoy it, but it wasn’t one of my favourites and overall I preferred the other Capaldi festive episodes to this one. The story here was sweet, but I’m not sure having a superhero in Doctor Who is needed. The Doctor is the fantastical character in the series; having him upstaged seemed a bit strange for me! I did however enjoy seeing the bewilderment on the Doctor’s face as he watched Grant dart from emergency to nanny in the blink of an eye! I also really enjoyed Matt Lucas in this episode, much more than his role in last year’s story. For me, some of the acting in this special was a bit wooden and so for that reason it’s lower down my list.
10. A Christmas Carol (2010)
A new era of Christmas specials began in 2010 with the first offering from Steven Moffat and Matt Smith. On original transmission I was incredibly disappointed by this story, although it has grown on me after a few repeat viewings over the last four years (and possibly due to other festive offerings annoying me much more!). Matt Smith is fantastic here, coming down the chimney covered in soot, having fun with the young Kazran, marrying Marilyn Monroe and facing off to Michael Gambon (who is also a brilliant Scrooge-like character). For me though, Katherine Jenkins is a bit of a weak link in terms of acting ability and I also couldn’t really take the singing to a shark conclusion seriously (it had the same effect on me as the giant robot did two years before).
12. The Time of the Doctor (2013)
I will always be angry about The Time of the Doctor, as for me it’s one of the worst episodes of New Who and Matt Smith deserved much better for his final story. I preferred the Tenth Doctor, but I still loved Matt and thought his Doctor was a wonderfully quirky interpretation, who suffered from too many weak stories during his time in the TARDIS. Why do I dislike this so passionately? It just seems to be a jumble of scenes that don’t really fit together and too many plot strands hanging in the air for years were “tied up” in a couple of sentences by Tasha Lem!! It felt very rushed and lacking in thought. Also did we really need another strong, older woman, with whom the Doctor had a flirtation so soon after River Song? There are some lovely moments between Matt and Jenna, including the initial phone call and her return to Christmas at the end (although why on earth their lovely cracker scene had to have Murray Gold’s Four Knocks playing over it I do not know, something else that annoyed me!) and the last ten minutes are fantastic as we see a Doctor thrilled at regenerating, before the beautifully poignant goodbye by number eleven to Clara, Amy and the audience and our introduction to Peter Capaldi. However an episode where I could skip the middle 30 minutes should not have been Matt’s finale.
13. The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe (2011)
Although I am probably more angry about entry nine above, 2011’s special had to take the bottom spot, as it is in my opinion the weakest of all the Christmas episodes. I liked the idea of climbing through an object in to a snowy woodland (although I guess I have C.S Lewis to thank for this rather than Steven Moffat), the little boy Cyril is wonderfully played by Maurice Cole and never fails to make me smile and Matt is on fine form as the Doctor. However the story is very weak and wooden (and that’s not just the boring trees), with inclusions that seem unnecessary, for example, the rather pointless cameo by Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir’s team preparing to spray the forest and by the end I just didn’t really care. I certainly hope Peter Capaldi’s first Christmas outing is a lot better than this!
So that’s my order of Christmas New Who. I’m curious to know how similar / different it is from yours!