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 – The Vote at the Donmar Warehouse

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So, I failed in the ballot for tickets for James Graham’s new play, but thanks to a generous friend who queued this morning, I managed to get a standing ticket for tonight’s performance and I’m so pleased I was able to enjoy the experience of seeing this production live in advance of tomorrow night’s broadcast on More 4.

Created by James Graham and the Donmar’s Josie Rourke and written by Graham, whose previous work has highlighted an interest in politics (the brilliant This House at the National in 2012 and the recent Coalition for television) and also his flair for bringing something a little different and quirky to the stage (such as last year’s Privacy, also at the Donmar), The Vote is a wonderfully funny farce, set in the last hectic 90 minutes of polling on election day. Staged in real time (as will be the case tomorrow night), he brings the audience through the doors of a typical polling station in a South London marginal seat, managing to bring an incredibly funny and entertaining show to the stage while also highlighting the importance of each of us playing our part in deciding how our country is run, by casting our vote tomorrow. In fact, I can even say I’ll have voted twice this year, as before taking our places in the circle tonight, I lined up with the rest of the audience to hand in my polling card, be issued my ballot paper and vote within the Donmar’s very own polling station! This was a wonderful way to start the evening and draw the audience in to the atmosphere of the show.

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My very own Donmar polling card!

Much has been said about the huge cast of actors in The Vote. Most of these are small roles, of those simply coming in to vote, but who bring with them a quirky story or glimpse in to their lives outside the world of this school hall. The play however centres around the polling station staff, presiding officer Steven Crosswell (Mark Gatiss) and poll-clerks Kirsty (Catherine Tate) and Laura (Nina Sosanya) and how the last 90 minutes of voting become far more stressful and farcical than they could ever have imagined. Everything is going smoothly, the day is almost over and the station is determined to beat one of its rivals in completing its count in this marginal seat. That is until an old man (played by the wonderful Timothy West) arrives and votes….for the second time…..! You can imagine the hilarity of events that follow and I won’t spoil them before tomorrow night’s live broadcast. Suffice to say, the eccentricities of the British public and the voting system are used to full comedic effect.

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Finty Williams & mother Judi Dench are among the wonderful ensemble cast

Mark Gatiss is perfect for the part of Steven, the man in charge of running a tight ship and a stickler for the rules and order, who slowly starts to crumble as he loses control of events around him. We watch with sympathy, as his morals are tested to the limit by circumstances and the actions of others, particularly Catherine Tate’s Kirsty. She clearly loves the status of being a polling agent, but soon her desperate attempts to rectify one mistake snowball in to some of the funniest scenes I’ve seen on stage for a while and it’s lovely to have Catherine and Mark on stage together again after 2010’s Seasons Greetings. Catherine is always superb at comedy and that is still the case here. Kirsty feels incredibly believable, as she stumbles chaotically through events, desperate to make things right again, but managing to only make everything worse and her relationship with Nina Sosanya’s Laura works very well indeed.

Josie Rourke has done a brilliant job in directing such a big cast and ensuring that almost every bit part adds another dimension to the world of the play, adding to its depth of realism. Personal favourites of mine were the young cycling couple – he is so oblivious to her lack of joy at cycling, Hadley Fraser’s drunken voter, the first time teenage schoolgirls, whose grasp of what they are actually doing made me feel quite ancient (I loved the line about using a pencil feeling like they were in the 90s!) and Paul Chahidi’s Independent candidate, whose passionate outrage about punctuation is very funny indeed. Then of course there is the duo of Dame Judi Dench and her daughter Finty Williams, playing mother and daughter here as well. Judi is always on top form and although this isn’t a huge role, along with Gatiss, she certainly receives some of the biggest laughs of the evening.

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Catherine Tate & Timothy West

James Graham clearly understands the intricacies of British politics incredibly well and is therefore able to present something that is not dry or dull, but that instead highlights the common flaws of the system (such as people who don’t understand how to vote or who they are actually voting for), as well as the quirks of our democratic process, that when you think about it are hilariously old fashioned and eccentric in this modern age – as we all head to school and church halls, to place a  cross in a box using a pencil, in a room where phones and conversation are against the rules. After seeing it, I’m surprised no one has thought to set a farce in a polling station before. However, I loved that despite the calamities that befall Gatiss and his team, you cannot deny that everything they do is to try and preserve the integrity of the system, no matter how strange it may seem (as highlighted by the bemused attitude of a Swedish reporter).

The Vote is certainly an interesting and fun theatrical experiment, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It has a sense of humour and a sparkle to it, while also managing to bring a sense of importance to our democratic system (something most of the politicians seem unable to achieve). As the play was devised to work both on stage and screen, it will be interesting to watch it from my sofa tomorrow night and see it again from this different perspective. I encourage everyone to sit down at 8:25 p.m. and turn on More 4 to see it. I guarantee it’ll most likely be the most fun part of this entire election campaign!

The Vote will be broadcast tomorrow night (7th May) on More 4, starting at 8:25 p.m and will be available on All 4 from 8th May. View the trailer here. A digital copy of the theatre programme can also be downloaded via the Green Room app available on iTunes here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Doctor Who Christmas – Looking back at all the Christmas episodes of New Who (2005-2016)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

thenextdoctordrwhoMy 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)

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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)

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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!

 

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

450 Years & Still Going Strong! My special Shakespearean moments.

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(Image edit by Vineeta via the Shakespeare In Action blog)

Wednesday 23rd April 2014 marks the 450th birthday of England’s most famous playwright William Shakespeare. It is incredible to see how important his work remains today and I wanted to mark his birthday by looking back at my own Shakespearean theatre highlights. I admit up front that I have yet to see them all (I have nine left on my list) and I have only the last few years to draw from, but the wonder of Shakespeare is that there is something in his work for everyone and you are never to old or too young to start. So many themes in his work are relevant today and it is crucial that we continue to encourage children to experience Shakespeare (through for example the RSC’s Stand Up For Shakespeare campaign) and learn by doing rather than simply reading. Far too many adults feel Shakespeare is off limits as they view it as too difficult or dry. For those of us who are already passionate about his work, we need to encourage those people to give it a try – a well directed and performed production can change your whole attitude to the Bard if you are open to the possibilities.

I am also a firm believer that anything theatre companies can do to draw new audiences to Shakespeare can only be a positive step. I am always disappointed when, on the announcement of a famous TV/film actor, it is criticised by some as stunt casting. This frustrates me for many reasons but principally – most such actors have long theatrical backgrounds and the fact they are now known more widely for film or TV does not and should not belittle their casting or subsequent performance. Plus if such casting brings a fan base to Shakespeare not usually there then surely that is something we should applaud?! It’s incredibly insulting to suggest that all such people will never see anything else. I say this as one of them! Although I enjoyed the theatre and saw a few shows a year, it was David Tennant as Hamlet that prompted me to return to Stratford-Upon-Avon for the first time since school and reacquaint myself with Shakespeare’s work. Six years later and I am a passionate theatregoer and proud supporter of various theatres. I also know so many people whose love of Shakespeare grew from such a start and I think that’s fantastic!

So, as his birthday slips away (being out for World Book Night means this post is a little delayed!), here are my special Shakespearean moments so far. I have no doubt that there will be plenty more to come!

My first live Shakespeare – Romeo & Juliet (RSC, 2000)

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It’s only right I start with my first live Shakespeare, which was Michael Boyd’s 2000 production starring David Tennant and Alexandra Gilbreath (isn’t that a coincidence?!). As an A-Level English trip, it was fantastic to visit his birthplace and see his work live for the first time.

The closet scene – Hamlet (RSC, 2008)

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It took me eight years before the next Shakespeare play, which brought me back to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see a familiar face as Hamlet. This will always be a special production to me. It reignited my love of theatre and led me to meet so many wonderful friends. Directed by Greg Doran, it was a wonderful ensemble of actors, each perfect in their roles. Every Hamlet I’ve seen since there has always been something I’ve not liked, whether a performance or setting and that’s why this remains the benchmark for me. It was also clear and accessible and funny (something I never realised about Hamlet). I could have picked many moments but I’ve gone with the scene that I always looked forward to on each visit to the show and that’s the closet scene. I found it thrilling each time and the power, pace and emotion invested by David Tennant and Penny Downie was superb.

The female Bastard – King John (RSC, 2012)

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I wasn’t familiar with King John before my visit to the Swan and had no idea what to expect. This production was simply fantastic and was like no other History play I have ever seen (and with a soundtrack like no other either!). Set in a world I wouldn’t have expected, it was fun and exciting to watch. Alex Waldmann was excellent as John but it was Pippa Nixon as the Bastard who impressed me the most. Her performance in a traditionally male role was incredible and planted her firmly on my “must see” list.

Pizza and shots anyone? – Twelfth Night (Filter Theatre Company, Tricycle Theatre, 2010)

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The Filter theatre company has a unique way of presenting its work, whether for example, Shakespeare or the use of sound or water, to introduce its audience to ideas they may not have explored before. My first Filter production was their unique interpretation of Twelfth Night. It was modern, quirky, dared to be different and made its audience sit up and pay attention and opened Shakespeare up to a whole new audience. Plus the inclusion of pizza for the audience seemed to go down very well indeed!

Mercutio dazzles – Romeo & Juliet (RSC, 2010)

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After studying this play at school and then seeing it performed often, as well as screen outings, I’d started to become a little bored of it. Then along came Rupert Goold’s production to remind me how a production can make all the difference as to how we view a play! From the opening scene in which Benvolio is doused in petrol and almost set alight, this was clearly going to be something special. Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale’s relationship as the tragic lovers was a wonderful and modern interpretation. For me however, the shining star was Jonjo O’Neil’s bleach blonde Mercutio. He was magnetic on stage and burned so brightly I couldn’t take my focus from him.

Mark Rylance returns to the Globe – Twelfth Night (The Globe, 2013)

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After missing it the first time around it was fantastic to see Mark Rylance’s revival of his all male Twelfth Night at the Globe last year. Although I enjoy trips to the Globe, I always find myself getting distracted by other audience members and my own fidgeting on the bench seating. This is still the only production during which I have been totally absorbed. Ryalnce’s Olivia, gliding around the stage was a joy, as was all the cast, but especially Johnny Flynn as Viola and Stephen Fry as Malvolio. It had a genuine magic in the Globe’s setting that I won’t forget in a hurry.

Loyalty and loss for Aumerle – Richard II (RSC, 2013)

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As the production marking his tenure as Artistic Director of the RSC, Greg Doran should be proud of this production. I don’t think it was David Tennant’s finest work on stage (it’s still Hamlet for me), but this version of Richard II was brilliantly conceived and performed by everyone involved. As I find with most of Greg’s productions it was clear to understand and all the friends I took to see it had no problem following the story. As well as bringing another opportunity for me to see one of my favourites on stage, this production also included the Shakespeare master Oliver Ford Davies, a superb Michael Pennington and lots of new faces. The standout performance for me though was that of Oliver Rix, whose Aumerle was beautifully realised, and developed in depth and character over the course of the run. Oliver’s own understudy performance as King Richard was also a privilege to see and highlighted to me once again the importance of the role of understudy (see my previous post for more on this).

The power of evil Spacey – Richard III (Old Vic, 2011)

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From one Richard to another, I was very excited at the time to see Kevin Spacey’s interpretation of evil Richard and although some aspects of this production disappointed me, his performance was not to be missed. He was a convincing Richard (although I admit to thinking about The Usual Suspects every so often when watching him!). It was a dramatic production with some interesting artistic choices. I loved the use of the projection screen for a scene and also the simple turning off of a bare lightbulb when someone was killed.

The partnership of Rory Kinnear & Adrian Lester – Othello (NT, 2013)

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This was my first Othello and I think I’ve been spoilt! The relationship built between Kinnear’s Iago and Lester’s Othello was thrilling to watch and the whole production had an energy about it that drew me in from the start. I was very pleased Rory Kinnear was recognised for this performance at this year’s Olivier Awards.

Never has paint been used better! – Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndams, 2011)

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Yes it’s another Tennant one (so what?!) and yes this was all a bit silly, but it was a production filled with fun and memorable moments. I thought the Gibraltar setting during the 80s was perfect for the style and tone chosen for this version and due to their already strong friendship, David Tennant and Catherine Tate were able to create a sparkling dynamic between as Benedict and Beatrice. I also loved the addition of Adam James to the cast as Don Pedro. He was younger an more playful than others I’d seen, but still carried an air of loneliness that, although subtle, was I thought clear to all. The moment has to be the paint scene. It still makes me laugh every time. David Tennant has excellent comic timing, which is on full display here and Adam, Tom Bateman (soon to be the Bard himself in Shakespeare In Love) and Jonathan Coy did fantastic jobs enhancing the utter farce of the moment.

A beautiful friendship – Henry IV (The Globe, 2010)

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I will always be sad that I missed this production live, but thanks to The Globe’s DVD releases I was at least able to catch up and soon understood why everyone I knew who had seen them talked about them so much. There isn’t enough praise for Roger Allam’s Falstaff – funny and tragic, the loyal friend who is left behind for the greater good and every emotion felt genuine. The relationship with Jamie Parker’s Prince Hal was lovely and made the end so much more powerful. Although I enjoyed the current RSC Henry IV, this version is still the best for me so far.

Derek Jacobi as Lear – King Lear (Donmar, 2010)

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The title says it all really! I’m not a huge fan of this play (I know I know that’s bad right?) as it’s always such an emotional slog for me, but I couldn’t miss Derek Jacobi in the role and this will no doubt be my favourite production of this play for some time. It was clear he was giving everything he had to the role and in such a small place like the Donmar, the power and emotion of the story seemed all the more vivid.

Corporate greed and excess as written 400 years ago! – Timon of Athens (NT, 2012)

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Simon Russell Beale is a master of Shakespeare and is currently doing a brilliant job as Lear at the NT. The performance that makes my list though is this 2012 production. Set in a very modern world of corporate excess and greed, the play felt as if it could have been written in the modern day. This highlighted again how Shakespeare is not meant for a world of the past but will continue to be relevant for any age.

Berowne and a tree! – Love’s Labour’s Lost (RSC, 2008)

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It may have been Hamlet that drew me to the RSC in 2008, but Love’s Labour’s Lost was perhaps the bigger surprise for me. Another unfamiliar play at the time, the ensemble created a vivid, colourful world on stage and the scene in which David Tennant’s Berowne eavesdrops on the other men whilst sitting above in a tree was a definite highlight. I’ll always remember Sam Alexander’s huge book from within which he produced his musical instrument and began to sing! Priceless!

Flying books – The Winter’s Tale (RSC, 2009)

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My highlight of the RSC’s 2009 season was this production of The Winter’s Tale. I loved the staging with its polished wood floor and towering bookshelves and Greg Hick’s performance as Leontes was excellent (my favourite of all the ones he did at the RSC that season). The moments before the interval as the books fly from the shelves and the bookshelves themselves start to crash down was something I’ll always remember.

Glastonbury-style fun – As You Like It (RSC, 2013)

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I always think this is a strange play as there really isn’t much plot in the second half (Greg Doran made this point at a talk last year too!). Therefore for me to enjoy it, it has to be a strong production and my favourite so far is last year’s RSC one starring Alex Waldmann as Orlando and Pippa Nixon as Rosalind. It was engaging and entertaining and the strength of the two leads was clear, whose chemistry shone. The Glastonbury-style woodland setting was quite beautiful, adding to the fun and magic of the dancing at the end.

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So those are my Shakespearean highlights. Not bad for only a few years of theatre trips! I’d be interested to hear about the productions you’ve loved over the years and I sincerely hope that people are still enjoying Shakespeare’s wonderful work in another 450 years time!

Doctor Who At 50 – 10th Doctor Screening & Panel Event – 29 September 2013

Photo by vickster51

Photo by vickster51

As any Doctor Who fan will know, the BFI has over the course of 2013 held monthly screenings celebrating each Doctor. Due to actor availability, September’s event centred around the 10th Doctor’s era on the show, with a screening of the climactic end to series 4 The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, which sees the Doctor reunited with all his companions to save the universe as well as the Earth and say farewell to the wonderful Donna Noble, played superbly by Catherine Tate. It had been quite a while since I have watched this two-parter and I had forgotten just how impressive they are, in terms of ambition and scope. The visuals of the Dalek invasion are fantastic and the whole episode looked wonderful on the cinema screen, accompanied by Murray Gold’s stirring score. Yes, some of the plot is a bit silly and I still feel unsatisfied at Rose’s end on the beach, but these episodes have an emotional centre that I personally think has been somewhat lacking in more recent series and it was wonderful to share Sunday’s viewing experience with a group of fans, laughing and enjoying the event together.

During a brief break between the two episodes, casting director Andy Pryor was asked about working on Doctor Who. He mentioned how many actors and agents contact him to say they would love to be involved with the show and that it’s unique in that you often can’t give too much information to someone as to who / what they’ll be playing. He also spoke of the importance of the leading actor on set and that everyone had always wanted to work with David and how welcoming the set was.

Once Journey’s End was over and the monthly competition DVDs were awarded through a quick quiz, the panel arrived on stage. This month’s panel was the 10th Doctor himself David Tennant, Catherine Tate (the star of the Q&A for her hilarious answers!), producer from 2005-2008 Phil Collinson and director Graeme Harper. The Q&A was hosted by the BFI’s Justin Johnson. Also in the audience were Mark Gatiss, Sophie Aldred, Anneke Wills, director Alan Parker and Frank Skinner.

Sadly Russell T Davies was unable to attend as he was presenting Julie Gardner with her award at the Welsh BAFTAs that evening but a message was read out from him which began in true Russell style with “Dear faithful viewer!”

On taking their seats the audience was asked after a few minutes to stop taking photos with flash. David said he intended not to move for the entire panel and so the photos would all be the same. He did do this for a few minutes which was very funny!

On to the questions asked. 

I would add that the BFI are brilliant at adding these panels to their You Tube channel and that anyone wanting to see the panel for themselves should keep an eye on You Tube, as it is well worth it. I have done my best to include as much as I can remember from the panel to give a flavour and insight for those unable to be there.

1. Your hair David?! It had to be dealt with first! David, who was sporting a long ponytail, jokingly said he was playing Limahl in an upcoming Kajagoogoo biopic! (Of course the extensions are in actual fact for his role as Richard II in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production, which starts previews from 10th October in Stratford-Upon-Avon, before transferring to London in December).

2. The return of so many actors – The panel discussed the logistics for the episodes, needing to schedule all the actors to be able to come back but Phil Collinson remarked how much everyone wanted to be a part of it. Graeme Harper also remarked on how ill RTD was during writing the episode and how he couldn’t write for a while, which made everything slightly late.

3. David’s memories of being offered the role – David was asked to recall being asked to play the part, which he did, referring to going to RTD’s house to watch rough cuts of Rose and Dalek, for which he assumed they wanted to gauge reaction from a fan due to the scrutiny under which they watched him as he watched the footage! He also remarked how he had mentioned during the filming of Casanova (in which both Julie Gardner and RTD were involved) that he would love a part in Doctor Who, but that any part would have been enough for him.

He spoke of it being out of the blue being asked by Russell and Julie whether he would consider the role as they would be looking for a new Doctor if the series was a success and was renewed for a second series. He remembered how crazy it seemed as he had no idea Chris wouldn’t be staying. To the amusement of the audience he also said he wondered what would happen if it wasn’t renewed and he was the Doctor that appeared for 30 seconds at the end of the finale! He pondered whether if that had happened he would have had his own Big Finish audio series by now!

4. Public recognition – Both David and Catherine talked about what the recognition for Doctor Who is like and David agreed that nothing can prepare you for it and that it is very surreal to be unknown one day and known the next. Catherine said, on joining for the Christmas special, she was already known for her own show but that it was very different for Doctor Who, in that people come up to you to be positive about it, whereas people tend to tell her which bits of her comedy shows / characters they don’t like! They both agreed that the fans are protective of the characters in Doctor Who.

5. Catherine’s memories of being offered the role (twice!) – Catherine recalled being asked to do the Christmas special by phone and thinking it would be great fun. The conversation to return took place in person when she went to lunch with Julie Gardner and thought the discussion was to be about another project. She never expected to be asked back! David spoke of how all the crew didn’t think for a moment that she would say yes as she seemed already so busy with her own projects. “Clearly not now though love” (or something like that) was the jokey follow up comment from David!

6. The impact of media on the filming experience – The panel also talked about how filming Doctor Who now in a world of media and internet must be very different to previous eras. Catherine recalled a journalist approaching her at the start of filming for series four to ask her what she thought of the reaction on the internet, to which she’d said she didn’t read it. The individual went on to tell her how there was uproar about how she was going to ruin the show! She said it hit home how people were already talking about a role she had yet to even start filming, let alone be something anyone had seen on air! She said previous companions in other eras didn’t have to deal with that!

7. Best kisser?! A young boy cheekily asked David who was the best kisser on Doctor Who, to which he answered after much amusement…..Phil Collinson! (see link below for my short video of this response)

8. Photo please?! Another young boy, dressed as the 10th Doctor asked if he could have a photo with David. David said of course and the boy came to the front and was lifted on to the stage by David for the photo. He then said that the boy was the only one getting a photo!

9. Peter Capaldi’s accent! Another hilarious question was asked to David, which was how did he feel about Peter Capaldi potentially playing the Doctor with a Scottish accent?! David playfully said in a deadpan voice that he thought it was “just lazy!” (see link below for my short video of this response)

10. What’s this Big Finish you’re talking about?! David and Catherine were also asked if they would consider doing a Big Finish audio book together in the future. Catherine had no idea what Big Finish was and said it sounded like something from musical theatre with jazz hands! She then seriously asked what everyone was talking about and said it also sounded like something you’d see on a card in a phone box card and that that would cost extra! This made the audience and panel crack up into hysterics, even more so when she then said she’d still do it before she even knew what it was! David and Phil explained what it was with the help of the audience, comparing it to a radio play and she said she’d do it. David said he would if Catherine would! Come on Big Finish make this happen for the fans! (see link below for my short video of this response)

11. Reaction to Capaldi announcement! Catherine told a brilliant story about being in America at a BBC building after the announcement of Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor and that there had been a bomb threat in the area, requiring an evacuation of the building. She said how she, in all seriousness, thought the bomb had been left at the BBC by enraged fans unhappy with Capaldi’s casting! She said she even considered suggesting she go out to try and speak to them, as she thought she was quite popular with the fans! David thought this was hilarious and asked if she had intended to do an Eva Peron and go out on to the balcony to speak to the people?! In reality, the suspect package was a few blocks away and the area needed to be secured because the President was in town! 

12. Catherine’s “Sultana” confusion! At the insistence of Phil C, Catherine spoke of how she thought the “sultanas” (David attempted to explain it was Sontarans!) were powered by electricity! David and Phil thought this was hilarious and recalled her spending a whole day filming with them without realising a human being was playing the part. Catherine jokingly said she was probably leaning on them all day and David said in jest that he was sure she tried to plug her phone in to them too! 

13. Returning for the 50th David spoke about returning for the 50th and that of course he had been dimly aware of the anniversary coming up so it wasn’t a total surprise to be asked to return. He said of course there are worries, such as whether it’ll be the same now you have moved on and whether you’ll enjoy it or get on with Matt, but that Matt had been very up for it and they had got on well.

14. Would Catherine have stayed? Catherine confirmed she would have stayed for another series if David had been staying, to which he jokingly said “she didn’t want to work with you Matt” whilst pulling a face at the giant picture of Matt behind them! In response Catherine made a comment about how had she known it was to be Matt she would of course have done it (the comment was far funnier than this, which you’ll see when it’s uploaded by the BFI).

15. Secret Doomsday filming – Catherine told a hilarious story about the filming of the Doomsday ending, which was done under great secrecy. She recalled that she had a room at the Travelodge in Newport which had been booked for her under a different name to maintain secrecy and that on arrival at the hotel she couldn’t remember the name! She told the audience how she had said to the receptionist that she had a room booked but couldn’t remember the name it was booked under. The receptionist’s reply had been “Would it be Catherine Tate?” to which she replied “Definitely Not!” The room was in actual fact booked under Tracie Simpson’s name!

16. Favourite scenes? On being asked about their favourite scenes filmed together David said he’d forgotten how funny the Donna / 10.5 TARDIS scene was to do and also how sad the final scene in the TARDIS was. I can’t remember what other scenes were mentioned.

17. Green screen acting – They were asked about whether it was hard acting to green screen for some of the monsters and David said he didn’t think that that was as hard as some of the more emotional scenes.

18. Favourite episodes – On being asked their favourite episodes CT said hers was her first episode The Runaway Bride. Graeme Harper chose Blink and Phil C chose The Caves of Androzani, which DT agreed with, whilst also mentioning The Deadly Assassin.

19. Favourite Doctors? Catherine said hers was of course David and David said his was his father-in-law Peter Davison!

That’s about all I can remember but it was a fantastic day and I would definitely recommend watching the full panel when it is uploaded by the BFI. A link to their You Tube page is:

https://www.youtube.com/user/BFIEvents?feature=hovercard

My three very brief videos from the Q&A (to the three questions that on being asked I thought may receive a funny response) can be found at my You Tube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/vickster5001/videos

The BFI do many wonderful events throughout the year so do check their website for information at: https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/Online/default.asp

Events for November include the preview of An Adventure In Time & Space by Mark Gatiss!