2016 Theatre Review – My Favourite Productions of the Year!

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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

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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!

 

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!

 

 

My Top Television Choices for 2016!

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After looking back at my television highlights of 2015, it’s time to look at what television treats we can expect in 2016. There are exciting dramas returning to the screen, as well as some new offerings which I’m curious to try. So, here are my top choices of programmes to tune in to this year. As I’m in the UK, this list refers to dates and channels on which the shows will be aired here (if known).

The X-Files (Channel 5 – early February)

Anyone who knows me will have expected nothing else to be top of my teleevision choices list for 2016! The X-Files was my first addiction and would probably still be my category if I were ever to go on Mastermind. Therefore, it’s fantastic that it is returning to our screens, albeit for only six episodes. With David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back in such iconic roles, Chris Carter back at the helm and stories also from Glen Morgan, James Wong and Darin Morgan, this is already very promising. I sincrely hope this delivers for all the fans, but also pulls some new viewers in too. Remember, The Truth is Still Out There!

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (BBC Two)

untitledIn the hope this would air in 2015, this was also on last year’s list, but we can expect the second series of the BBC’s Hollow Crown some time in the next few months. Entitled The Wars of the Roses, this captures Henry VI and Richard III, with some of Britain’s brightest acting talent involved. Alongside Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard, there’s Dame Judi Dench, Sophie Okenedo, Andrew Scott, Tom Sturridge and Michael Gambon to name but a few. If the quality is as high as the first series (recommended if you missed it), then we are in for a treat.

Happy Valley (BBC One)

timthumbI came late to Happy Valley in 2014, but it impressed me almost immediately, with Sarah Lancashire playing such a strong and complicated character as Catherine Cawood. After the traumatic events of the first series, it will be interesting to see what writer Sally Wainwright has in mind for her next. I’m sure it will prove to be just as exciting and engaging as before and especially when the teaser trailer just released includes James Norton as the awful Tommy Lee Royce!

Line of Duty (BBC One)

Broadchurch__Ripper_Street_and_The_Missing_stars_to_play__pivotal_roles__in_Line_of_Duty_series_3Line of Duty quickly became a success (with help from social media fuelling interest) and with two strong series, both with separate stories, the possibilities are endless of Jed Mercurio’s drama. After focussing on Lennie James’s Tony Gates in series one and Keeley Hawes’s superb multi-faceted performance as Lindsay Denton in series two, the bar has been set very high for the next instalment. With Vicky McClure and Martin Compton being joined by Daniel Mays and Will Mellor, I’m already very excited to see this and will be going to a BAFTA preview screening of episode one on 8th February, so we can expect this some time in the near future.

Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic, 25th April)

Game_of_Thrones_Season_6Although the last series was a bit of a mixed bag (but made up for with Hardhome!), I’ll always look forward to my return to Westeros. Now that we are in uncharted territory, with the majority of characters past book positions, anything could happen in series six and in a show where no one is safe, that is very exciting indeed. Filming photos suggest there will be some wonderful sequences in the new series and I’m looking forward to finally moving forward with the story (seeing as who knows when we’ll get book six from Mr Martin)!

Grantchester (ITV)

Grantchester-1920X1080James Norton will be back on our screens again for the second series of Grantchester, in which he plays the lovely vicar, turned detective Sydney Chambers, in stories based on the novels by James Runcie (the opposite end of the spectrum to his character in Happy Valley thank goodness). This was a lovely drama when it aired in 2014, with some interesting charcater relationships and a great partnership in James Norton and Robson Green. Anyone mourning the end of Lewis can take comfort in this series as a worthy replacement.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix, 15th April)

12137941I admit to being a person who prefers dramas to comedies, on both film and television, but after two friends raved about this Netflix series last year, curiosity got the better of me and I’m so pleased that it did. You cannot fail to warm to the ever optimistic, innocently naive Kimmy Schmidt, as she adjust to life in the real world after 15 years spent in an underground bunker. The scripts are witty and sharp, the characters are fun (who doesn’t love Tituss Burgess’s loveable Titus Andromedon!) and the acting is very good indeed. If you haven’t been tempted yet, give it a go – I guarantee you’ll be humming the theme tune all day.

The Crown (Netflix)

“Two houses, two courts, one Crown.” The first trailer for this upcoming, ambitious new Netflix series has just been released (see above) and it looks very promising. The Crown will chart the two key istitutions of Britain – the monarchy and the government, from the 1950s onwards. Written by Stephen Daldry (writer of the acclaimed play The Audience), with a huge £100 million budget and starring some excellent actors, particularly Claire Foy as the young Elizabeth II (last seen playing Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall), Matt Smith as Prince Philip, Alex Jennings as Prince Edward, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and John Lithgow as Churchill, this could be a historical drama to rival the BBC if the quality is there.

Queen Victoria (ITV)

victoria_itvStaying on the historical theme, ITV will later this year be casting a light on the young Queen Victoria in their new eight part drama series. Fresh from her time on Doctor Who, Jenna Coleman is the young Victoria, as the series charts her life from accession at 18, through to her marriage to Prince Albert. It has a fantastic cast including Tom Hughes (as Prince Albert), Rufus Sewell, Peter Firth, Eve Myles and Nigel Lindsay. I still really only know about Queen Victoria’s later life and reign and therefore I’m looking forward to seeing a new aspect of her story.

House of Cards (Netflix, 4th March)

House-Of-Cards-Season-4Everyone loves Frank Underwood right? Or is too scared not to?! In the series which undoubtedly helped Netflix become the success it is now, Kevin Spacey has become so iconic in this role and his partnership with Robyn Wright is always glorious to watch. Now occupying the Oval Office, it will be interesting exactly what lies in store for them in the next series.

Death in Paradise (BBC One –  started Thursday 7th January)

Death_in_Paradise_s_sun_soaked_crime_solving_is_the_perfect_cure_for_a_case_of_the_January_bluesAnother heart-warming and fun series that blows away the winter blues is Death In Paradise, which returned this week. I didn’t see the first two series, but as a fan of the lovely Kris Marshall, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Humphrey settle in to island life. How can anyone not love him?! It’s fun, entertaining and is Sherlock Holmes on a tropical island, as Humphrey seemingly solves murders using clues that no one else can see. Yes, your parents may watch it, but so what? This is a brilliant winter tonic!

The Night Manager (BBC One)

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Coming soon in 2016 is this six-part adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel, in which a former British soldier (Tom Hiddleston) is recruited by intelligence agent Burr (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate the arms trade being run by Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie).  I haven’t read the book, but I love a good spy thriller and with such a strong British cast I have high hopes for this series.

Undercover (BBC One)

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As a fan of the BBC’s legal drama Silk, it’s wonderful that its creator Peter Moffat has a new series coming this year. Sophie Okenedo leads the show as the first black Director of Public Prosecutions, who discovers her husband (Adrian Lester) has been lying to her for years. I’m intrigued enough to tune in!

In the Pipeline / Awaiting a UK network…..

Prison Break

3d5de4f061d24b32cb8feecb460374a5I always enjoyed Prison Break, although admittedly the first series was certainly the best. News that it is the next show to be revived is a bit of a surprise, but I’ll tune in to see what direction the story takes next. I believe it will be set as though the finale (in which we said farewell to one character for good) didn’t occur. After watching them act together in The Flash it’ll be great to see Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell back in the roles they are most famous for.

Of Kings & Prophets (starts in the US on 8th March on ABC)

I imagine the makers of this new biblical series are hoping it’ll attract the same audience as Game of Thrones. Its success will depend on whether it’s decent and can attract an audience fast enough. The pilot has already been partly recast and reshot, but the trailer looks promising. With established actors including Ray Winstone (as Saul, King of Israel) and Nathaniel Parker, hopefully the acting quality will be strong. For me though the biggest attraction is its young, male lead, playing David (as in David vs. Goliath, future King of Israel) Oliver Rix. He was Aumerle to David Tennant’s Richard II in 2013 for the RSC and proved what a fantatstic actor he is. I hope this does well (but doesn’t keep Oli away from the stage for too long)!

Billions 

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Damian Lewis is back on television is this new US series, playing hedge fund king Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, who is trying to be brought down by US Attorney Chuck Rhoades (played by Paul Giamatti). Having just started in the US on Showtime, I’ll be keeping an eye how this series is received. Given the pull of the two stars, if it is successful hopefully it’ll soon appear here in the UK.

His Dark Materials (BBC One)

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I’m quite excited by the prospect of the BBC adapting Philip Pullman’s popular trilogy of books in to a series, especially after the success of last year’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Admittedly, this may not make it on to our screens until next year, but just in case, I wanted to include it here, as I’m sure it will prove to be a wonderful series for all the family, whether a fan of the books or not.

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So those are the shows I’m most excited about watching in 2016 from the ones we know about this early on in the year. Who knows what else could be coming to our screens over the next 12 months! Feel free to let me know what you will be watching. I’m always looking for recommendations!

 

Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular in Cardiff – the home of modern Doctor Who!

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Ever since Doctor Who returned to the BBC a decade ago, one constant presence has been the series’s distinctive musical soundtrack. While we’ve had four Doctors over eight series, composer Murray Gold has remained and personally his score is always one of the highlights of Doctor Who. I recently struggled to choose my favourite tracks of Murray’s music from the series for this blog, which you can read here.

Since Christmas 2005, we’ve also been lucky enough to have Murray’s music recorded by a full orchestra and chorus – the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales. This has given the music a wonderful level of depth and quality and has resulted in the regular soundtrack releases becoming a must-have addition to my collection.

A decade in to New Who and after the success of recent Proms (always selling out within hours), Murray’s music has this year been on a world tour, in the form of this concert – the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular and last Bank Holiday Monday it arrived in Cardiff. There seemed no better place to see this concert than in the city that has become home to modern Doctor Who and I can certainly say that Monday’s concert was a brilliant experience for fans of all ages.

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Peter Davison standing up to the Daleks

I confess to being a little worried that this would be similar to the Doctor Who Live tour of 2010, rather than the wonderful Proms. Thankfully my worries were unfounded and the show gave fans of the series two glorious hours showcasing some of Murray’s most iconic pieces from the series, as well as providing the first live event for the music from Peter Capaldi’s first series as the Twelfth Doctor. By the nature of the show constantly moving forward, some pieces have not been played at recent Proms and it was lovely to hear tracks from all ten years again.

The show opened appropriately with the latest Doctor Theme – “Am I A Good Man?” I admit, on watching the first few episodes, I was unsure if Peter’s Doctor’s theme was very distinctive, but this track truly shines when heard in all its glory. Its suitably grand horn section and fast pace compliments wonderfully its more quiet and calm beginning, which reminds me a lot of Vangelis (I can hear aspects of it belonging in Blade Runner). Accompanied by footage from the show, it was a brilliant summary of Peter’s first year (one which I for one thought was very good indeed – more of that here).

From there host Peter Davison (the Fifth Doctor and now father-in-law to the Tenth Doctor) took us through the rest of the show, with fun and yes some cheesy jokes. Continuing with the most recent music, we were treated to a suite from series eight, “Wherever, Whenever,” including score from Robot of Sherwood, Listen (including the beautiful track “Fear”), The Caretaker, Time Heist and In The Forest of the Night. I was impressed with how many great pieces of music had been condensed and combined to highlight how crucial the music is to the series. It brings lightness and fun in episodes such as Robot of Sherwood, but also moments of darkness, fear and emotion (such as Listen).

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Ben Foster conducting the end of the show in the Fifth Doctor’s coat!

Other highlights for me were The Companions Suite, which brought back the beautiful themes created for each of Rose, Martha, Donna and Amy and it’s interesting to be reminded how each one was unique to each character. I also love the series three piece “This Is Gallifrey”, which was given a new life by being accompanied by footage from the 50th Anniversary, in which Gallifrey was so important. This did however mean that the music from that special itself wasn’t included, which I did think was a shame. To close the first half of the show, we heard a selection of music from our last trip in the TARDIS, Last Christmas. As well as the music, as with the Proms, the show welcomed some of the frightening foes of the Doctor, as Cyberman, Whispermen, Silurians, a Muumy and many other creatures appeared on stage and roamed through the audience. It’s always wonderful to see the reactions of children when they get to be so close to the monsters! Of course there was also the compulsory entrance of the Daleks, who faced off to Peter Davison and conductor Ben Foster on stage. It was cheesy, but all in good fun.

The second half of the show also had some classic as well as recent themes and opened with yet more monsters with the superb All The Strange Strange Creatures, first heard in series three. The Death In Heaven Suite was particularly good, including within it lovely pieces such as the Theme for Clara and Danny, which strikes me as being quite a mature piece of music and very moving. Although not a favourite episode of mine, Abigail’s Song from A Christmas Carol was brought to life wonderfully by Elin Manahan Thomas. This half also included music from one of the stand out episodes of series eight, “66 Seconds” from Mummy on the Orient Express, as well as the wonderfully triumphant and uplifting The Pandorica Suite (although I was sad this didn’t include the music played at the end of The Pandorica Opens – The Life and Death of Amy Pond).

The show was always going to end with some classics and it was lovely to hear Vale Decem again. Although always associated with the end of the Tenth Doctor, it has now become the concert anthem for paying tribute to all the previous Doctors and is clearly a fan favourite at such events. Of course such an event could only end with one anthem – the latest imagining of the iconic Doctor Who theme! Peter Davison even gave Ben Foster a Fifth Doctor coat to wear for the occasion!

This was a wonderful celebration of the music of Doctor Who. Without it the show would shine a little less brightly in the universe and I will always be grateful for the extra effort that the BBC has invested in the music for the series. Its quality and popularity among fans was very clear in Cardiff at this concert and I’m sure similar events will continue to be a huge success. Fingers crossed for another Prom in 2016!

Murray Gold’s Out of this World Music – My top 20 tracks from a decade of Doctor Who!

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Montage source: israbox.org

This weekend saw the arrival through the post of the latest Doctor Who soundtrack, containing Murray Gold’s music from series 8 and the most recent Christmas special Last Christmas. Across 3 CDs! I’m a huge admirer of film and television composers, whose music I strongly believe is integral to the shows they accompany. None more so than Doctor Who. So many moments of the series over the last decade have been made stronger by Murray’s contribution, whether emphasising a sense of fun and joy or deep sadness and heartbreak. These scenes and the world of New Who wouldn’t be the same without him.

So, as I listened to the latest soundtrack this weekend, reliving Peter Capaldi’s fantastic first series as the Time Lord, while looking forward to next weekend’s Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular concert, it made me think about all the other musical moments from the eras of Chris Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith and which ones would make my track list if compiling the ultimate soundtrack to modern Doctor Who.

So, here are my top 20 choices (10 was too hard!). Let me know which ones you’d include in your list.

1. “I Am The Doctor” – 11th Doctor’s theme (series 5-7)

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From the moment I heard this piece of music, I knew it was going to be a firm favourite and it came to encapsulate Matt Smith’s time on the series. It is grand and sweeping in scope and exploded this new Doctor on to the screen with fun, fanfare and excitement. Surely no soundtrack or Prom could ever be without it and it’s a shining example of the powerful contribution music can have, to not only a mood of a series, but also to a character. I now cannot imagine the Eleventh Doctor without thinking of this track and it’s certainly my favourite theme of all the Doctors so far.

2. “Doomsday” – Farewell to Rose (series 2)

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The Doctor and Rose’s parting on the beach at Bad Wolf Bay is an iconic moment in modern Doctor Who, which certainly caused quite a lot of tears from some fans. David and Billie are exceptional in this upsetting final scene together (well at the time anyway) and Murray’s haunting theme, accompanied by Melanie Pappenheim’s vocals added a deep sense of heart and emotion to an already intense moment. It’s also quite an interesting track by itself, as the vocals and piano, carrying such sadness mix with the guitar, giving the music a heartbeat of sorts and an edgier tone too.

3. Together of Not At All – The Song of Amy & Rory / Goodbye Pond (series 7)

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This piece of music from series seven’s The Angels Take Manhattan immediately stood out for me on first viewing the episode. Although it begins very creepy in the first few bars, it becomes something altogether different, capturing through the music and the vocals of Halia Meguid the love between the Ponds and how ultimately being together was the most important thing in their universe. As long as they were together they could face anything, even death. The graveyard is perhaps the sad moment for the Doctor (and indeed “Goodbye Pond” is a gorgeous track to go with it), but it was this moment that moved me the most, watching this couple take that leap of faith together. It was a highlight of the last Prom for me and I’m still sad it was one of the sections cut from the televised version. This is one of Murray’s finest tracks so far in ten years and it was always going to make this list.

4. Fear – Clara’s message of strength to a young Time Lord (series 8)

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Listen was one of my favourites of Peter Capaldi’s first year (see my review of series 8 here) and the more I watch it, the more it edges to the top of the list. Despite being such a spooky and scary story, it also had a wonderful message for children (and indeed adults) about how fear is a superpower that we shouldn’t be frightened of, but instead should use to give us strength to achieve things we may not be able to do otherwise. This piece (thankfully on the new soundtrack) accompanies Clara’s speech to the young, scared Doctor. It is some of Jenna’s best work and is a genuinely beautiful piece of music from Murray and highlights how he helps enhance some of the most passionate and crucial scenes and messages in the series through his music.

5. Vale Decem – Goodbye to Ten and Tennant (The End of Time, series 4 Specials)

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Oh how this piece of music will always take me back to New Year’s Day 2010, as we said farewell to the Tenth Doctor and Russell T Davies in The End of Time. Some may think it was a drawn out end, but I loved it and Vale Decem (Farewell Ten in Latin) was the perfect choice to end David Tennant’s incredible time on the series. It was grand and emotional and still provided a sense of hope for the future with the arrival of Matt Smith. Hearing the combination of the music and choir live in the Royal Albert Hall, bringing this moment back to life at the Prom was a wonderful experience.

6. All the Strange, Strange Creatures (series 3 and 4)

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This piece of sweeping music has become a staple of the Doctor Who Prom and although associated with the Tenth Doctor’s time, it can easily be used as the theme for the variety of monsters all the Doctors have faced. It was one of the first pieces of Doctor Who music, within which you could truly appreciate the scope and power of the National Orchestra of Wales that bring each episode to life. Hearing it live is always a joy.

7. The Doctor’s Theme – Welcome Christopher Eccleston! (series 1)

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The first of New Who’s Time Lords, Christopher Eccleston was superb on the series. His Doctor’s theme was a perfectly otherworldly piece of music, which seemed to speak to the vast time and journey of this 900 year-old alien. It’s haunting and emotive and tinged with sadness, highlighting the great losses he has suffered in recent years. It was an early indicator that the music of the series was not simply going to be background noise, but a crucial thread of the production and this track will forever make me think fondly about Doctor number nine and his arrival in 2005.

8. This Is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home (series 3-4)

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Another classic piece from Ten’s era of the show is this one, first heard in all its glory during The Sound of Drums as the Doctor described his home to Martha and Captain Jack. The wistfulness is perfectly played by David Tennant and the graphics bringing our first real glimpse of his home were wonderful. However it’s this music that has come to be the biggest association with Gallifrey and is a lovely creation by Murray.

9. Rose’s Theme (series 1 and 2)

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She was the first companion of New Who and integral to the show’s initial success and Rose’s theme was one of the first pieces of Murray’s music to resonate through the episodes. It was such a great decision to have themes for key characters and this is definitely one of my favourites. I love how light the notes of the piano sound, giving it an air of romance and beauty, which matched the heart of Rose perfectly.

10. Four Knocks (series 4 Specials)

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Another tearjerker here in the form of Four Knocks, the heartbreaking music written to accompany the Tenth Doctor’s realisation that he still had to die in order to save Wilf. It’s some of David Tennant’s finest acting and this subtle, gentle, emotionally raw music is absolutely perfect. Well done to Julie Gardner, who I believe fought with Russell T Davies to have music over the scene. My one gripe with Four Knocks now however is the choice to have it play again over the top of Clara’s lovely scene with the old 11th Doctor just before he goes off to meet his fate in the clock tower in Matt Smith’s swansong. I can’t have been the only fan of the music of the series to be taken out of the emotion of the scene by the distraction and surprise on hearing what should always have remained a piece capturing the Tenth Doctor’s sacrifice.

11. A Good Man? (Twelve’s Theme) (series 8)

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I admit, on first watching Deep Breath I was listening for the Twelfth Doctor’s theme and by the end I wasn’t exactly sure what it was. Matt’s Doctor’s theme had been so iconic and stood out immediately. Peter’s theme however, despite being just as strong, somehow seems less obvious. As Murray points out in his sleeve notes to the latest album, the horns that signal the heart of the Twelfth Doctor’s theme do pop up within every episode of series eight, weaving each story to the next. On listening to the theme by itself as part of this soundtrack, it’s power, excitement and beauty shines through the music and it’s a worthy successor to I Am The Doctor.

12. The Life and Death of Amy Pond/Amy’s Theme (series 5-7)

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Yet another theme for a memorable companion. I admit I wasn’t a huge Amy Pond fan, but her theme is lovely piece of music, which captures her special bond with her raggedy Doctor. It carries with it a sense of childlike magic, perfect for the girl who has known the Doctor most of her life and whose story is always a little unknown to the audience. This was expanded on in The Life and Death of Amy Pond track, which plays over the tragic scenes at the end of The Pandorica Opens, as River is trapped in the exploding TARDIS, the Doctor is locked in the Pandorica and Rory unexpectedly kills Amy in his arms and represents some of the most heartfelt music of the series.

13. “This Time There’s Three of Us (The Majestic Tale)” (The Day of the Doctor 50th Anniversary)

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The 50th anniversary of Doctor Who was certainly a proud moment for the BBC’s flagship show and Murray’s music was right at home on the big cinema screen. Capturing the celebration and grand scope of the episode and everything it represented, I loved this track from it, which is equally exciting to hear in its own right without watching the episode. It picks up the emotion of the scene with the Moment, before whisking us up in to the sweeping grandeur of the hero-like fanfare that accompanied the Doctors joining together to save their home. There were three Doctors (and then 13) and what a wonderful team they made!

14. The Long Song / Infinite Potential (series 7)

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Okay so The Rings of Akhaten was not a great story in my view, but I did love the stirring choral singing in this track. It ensures that the end of the episode at least pulls off something lovely, together with the following track, Infinite Potential, which accompanies Clara saving the day with the power of infinite memories in her leaf. It’s an example for me of where the music of an episode is something I enjoy much more than the story itself! Also, it was a magical number to hear live at the Prom.

15. Song of Captivity & Freedom (series 4)

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Most of the attention goes on the Song of Freedom played in Journey’s End as the Earth is towed to safety. However I’ve always liked the other half of this theme, The Song of Captivity from The Planet of the Ood and this track from the series 4 soundtrack wonderfully combines both in to one piece of music. It is tinged with sadness through the incredible voice of Mark Chambers, but it’s a lovely part of the score of the show and was something a bit different in tone.

16. (The Majestic Tale of) An Idiot With a Box (series 8)

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I love what Murray has achieved with this piece from the series 8 finale and reading his sleeve notes makes it all make sense. Apparently Mr Moffat missed I Am The Doctor, associating it with his time as showrunner, whereas Murray associates it with Matt Smith’s era (I agree with Murray). So, as a compromise, this piece incorporates both! You can hear I Am The Doctor, albeit slightly tweaked in style, alongside Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor theme, with its bold, powerful horn section. What you get is an epic, bold, exciting and glorious number, which had better be played at the next Prom!

17. Up The Shard (series 7)

bellsofstjohnFarewell to the Ponds and hello to Clara in series 7. Her first adventure as an official companion, The Bells on St. John, was bonkers, but lots of fun and I particularly loved Murray’s grand musical choice to accompany the Doctor’s mad motorcycle ride up the side of the Shard, which uses I Am The Doctor as a base and expands it.

18. With Love, Vincent (series 5)

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This is one of my favourites stories of New Who and after the tears are shed after watching Vincent in the museum of his own art, it’s this lovely track which accompanies Amy as, through her tears at knowing she didn’t save Vincent, she sees her sunflowers, now bearing an affectionate message for her. It gives the episode a happier ending, in which the Doctor and Amy can look fondly on the life of an extraordinary man.

19. Altering Lives (The Waters of Mars, series 4 Specials)

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Waters of Mars is a much darker story than most of the Tenth Doctor’s time, deliberately building up to his exit in the following episodes. However, its story is one that on the whole is praised by fans and for me is the strongest of the Specials that year. It’s a story about loss, accepting destiny and sacrifice and this quiet, spiritual track enhances all of those important themes and is most associated with the scene in which the Doctor finally tells Adelaide her fate, as he stands in the airlock, preparing to walk away yet again from a fixed point in time, no matter how painful it is for him.

20. The Cybermen theme (throughout)

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Ever since its return in 2005, there have been two constant enemies, popping up over and over again for the Doctor to defeat. I love Murray’s themes for both the Daleks and the Cybermen, the first with its almost Darth Vadar style evil. However, it’s the Cybermen music, with its eerie strings and bold horns that has always grabbed me, especially once the frantic violins and choir join in and the piece builds to a crescendo. The theme always crops up in some form when the Cybermen appear, most recently of course in the series 8 finale, but I admit this track always makes me think of Rose desperately clinging the the lever in Doomsday!

So that’s my selection. It was a lot harder than I imagined, hence it becoming a top 20 and there were so many other possible candidates (The Impossible Planet suite, The Carrionites Swarm, Boe, Final Days from The End of Time to name just a few)! Now all I need is a re-release of series one and two, which only ever had one CD for both years. That is criminal! Surely others out there would agree that this is a much needed addition to the Doctor Who soundtrack collection? Come on Murray Gold and Silva Screen. You know you want to!

The Doctor Who soundtracks are released by Silva Screen (see their Doctor Who music website here) and are available through all the usual stockists.

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!

My 2014 Theatre Review

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

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

Top 10 Favourites

1. King Charles III (Almeida Theatre)

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Photo: Johan Persson

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

2. The Pass (Royal Court Theatre)

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

3. Birdland (Royal Court Theatre)

A scene from Birdland
Photo: Tristram Kenton

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

4. Once (Phoenix Theatre)

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

5. A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic)

Gillian Anderson is superb as Blanche
Photo: Johan Persson

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

6. A View From A Bridge (Young Vic)

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Photo: Jan Versweyveld

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

7. The Crucible (Old Vic)

Richard Armitage's Proctor confronted by the sinister children of Salem.
Photo: Tristram Kenton

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

8. Rapture, Blister, Burn (Hampstead Theatre)

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Photo: Alastair Muir

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

9. Wolf Hall (RSC, Swan Theatre)

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Photo: Alastair Muir

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

10. Analog.ue (National Theatre, Lyttelton) 

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

Narrowly missing out on the Top 10

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

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

Wonderful repeats from previous years

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

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

Disappointments of the Year

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

Memorable moments in Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOCTOR WHO Christmas Invasion

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

Following on from my earlier post on my dream run of new Doctor Who episodes were I to select my top episode from each of 1 – 13 across all the seasons since 2005   (https://vickster51corner.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/my-dream-run-of-new-doctor-who-episodes-so-far-anyway/), it seemed only fair to consider what my nightmare series would look like! I always say series 6 was the worst for me and this selection proves that is indeed the case, with a large number of choices coming from series 6. I really liked Matt Smith’s Doctor, but his run of stories has contained quite a few that I just didn’t enjoy. It’s also interesting to see that, as with the Doctor Who TV poll, none of my nightmare episodes come from series one. It’s generally agreed amongst most fans that I know, that series one was overall a strong series and this certainly seems to back up that viewpoint. I still strongly believe that were it not for Christopher Eccleston and the strength of stories in his year, the show would probably not still be running. I’ll always be sad that he didn’t want to be part of the 50th Anniversary, as he had every right to be there and it would have been lovely for the fans.

So, here are my choices for my personal nightmare run of new Doctor Who (plus a Special for each of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat).

Episode 1 – The Impossible Astronaut (series 6, 11th Doctor)

This was the obvious choice for me, as I quite enjoyed all the other series openers and so this had to come bottom. I wasn’t a fan of the whole arc set up at the start of series 6 (the who is the astronaut and why / how do they kill the Doctor?) and I remained sceptical that it could be resolved in a satisfactory way (more on that later). However there are some nice elements within this episode – I loved Matt’s cowboy Doctor, the TARDIS in the Oval Office and the concept of the Silence.

Episode 2 – The Beast Below (series 5, 11th Doctor)

After the strong start of The Eleventh Hour, I found this story incredibly disappointing. There are some nice Doctor/Amy moments and Liz 10 is a great addition, but my main gripe is that this had all effectively been done before, in the far superior Planet of the Ood – humans enslave a different species, here the whale and keep it subservient and compliant through torture. The end with the revelation of how the whale is harmed, is so similar to the giant hive mind brain of the Ood it’s ridiculous. Add to that the Smilers, who actually weren’t that scary and it was a poor episode so early in Matt’s run.

Episode 3 – The Curse of the Black Spot (series 6, 11th Doctor)

This is certainly no Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and is another weak point of Matt’s time for me. As usual, Matt is great as the Doctor but the material the cast had to work with was lacking. The mermaid-style villain was not very exciting and by this point putting Rory in jeopardy yet again was insulting to Arthur Darvill’s talent as an actor (who I still think is so much stronger in the show than Karen Gillen). Notable mention for series seven’s A Town Called Mercy, which despite being set in the Wild West is just dull.

Episode 4 – Daleks In Manhattan (series 3, 10th Doctor)

Not even DT and Spiderman can save this story!

This season three two-part story is one that most fans tend to add to their least favourite episode lists and it was the clear choice here. It could have been great – look at the title for a start! Sadly we have pig men running around the sewers and the revelation of the half human/half Dalek at the end of this episode is just ridiculous. Not even David Tenannt with the help of a pre-Spiderman fame Andrew Garfield can save this one!

Episode 5 – The Rebel Flesh (series 6, 11the Doctor)

I seem to have a dislike for the two-part 11th Doctor stories (in contrast to the 10th Doctor’s ones, if you ignore the Manhattan one above!) and this entry is quite near the top of my least favourite story list, meaning it beat the concluding part of series 3’s Dalek farce to take this spot! I found this whole story of doppelgängers dull, especially in part one, which for me just feels like filler until the inevitable reveal at the end that there are two Doctors. I just couldn’t bring myself to care. Notable mention to the already mentioned Evolution of the Daleks from series three.

Episode 6 – The Almost People (series 6, 11th Doctor)

And here is part two of the above story. The two Doctors was fun to watch and the revelation about Amy at the end was very clever, but I still left this episode feeling disappointed and it had to be included as, although other options are, I admit, weak (The Lazarus Experiment for instance), I would still always choose to watch those episodes over this two parter any day.

Episode 7 – A Good Man Goes To War (series 6, 11th Doctor)

I know this story was filled with grand battles and had some nice characters but I just didn’t like it at all. My biggest problem with it is that too much of it either didn’t make sense to me or was a let down. Why were enemies of the Doctor coming to his aid? Why were the Cybermen intimidated by Rory? These are just two of my gripes. Plus I found the revelation as to who River Song was to be just too disappointing for words. It seemed such an obvious choice that it was too much of a wasted opportunity for me and I’d been hoping for so much better. Throw in the Doctor’s complete lack of sensitivity towards Amy and Rory’s loss at the end (yes I know he’s an alien and knew their daughter was alive by then, but it still jarred for me) and I came away frustrated and rather cheated. Notable mention for series seven’s The Rings of Akhaten, which remains one of the most dull stories, saved only by Matt’s monologue at the end and Murray’s music.

Episodes 8 & 9 – The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood (series 5, 11th Doctor)

As with my favourites list, it makes sense to look at this two-part story together, as both parts made my cut. I rarely vote on Gallifrey Base’s episode poll, but even I had to add my 1/10 vote for part one after it aired. I genuinely would have rather listened to a leaf blower (the description for 1/10 on the poll) than this awful story. Bringing back the Silurians should have been a high point for Matt’s first year, but instead we were given this clunky, poorly written story instead. The plot is dull and some of the dialogue is truly awful and most of the supporting characters are terrible – the mother and her father are weak and even Meera Syal’s character feels two-dimensional. As usual, Matt has some nice moments and it was tragic to see Rory “die” (as we didn’t think it would be a regular plot device back then), but this remains probably my least favourite story of New Who.

Episode 10 – Love & Monsters (series 2, 10th Doctor)

I feel a bit sorry for Love & Monsters, as it isn’t a terrible episode and has a fine performance from Marc Warren, but compared to the other episodes positioned tenth, it was inevitable it would take this slot. It was a brave choice back then to do a Doctor-lite story, but it’s just a bit too silly to be able to support a whole hour without him and Rose. Blink works so well because the strength of the threat and the story as a whole as well as the acting means you don’t miss the Doctor too much. Plus having a character survive as a paving slab is just absurd!

Episode 11 – The Crimson Horror (series 7, 11th Doctor)

I know a lot of people will be annoyed that I haven’t chosen Fear Her but this is my personal preference. Yes, Fear Her is a weaker story, but I liked the idea of the drawings and there are some lovely moments between The Doctor and Rose. In comparison, although Matt is great (I loved the Yorkshire accents) and it has some incredible guest stars in Rachel Stirling and Dame Diana Rigg, I felt they were wasted (sorry Mark Gatiss). The concluding reveal that Mrs Gillyflower was being controlled by a blood-sucking worm attached to her breast is quite frankly awful and makes the whole episode seem a bit of a disappointment to me.

Episode 12 – The Pandorica Opens (series 5, 11th Doctor)

I know many will disagree with this choice, but I didn’t like this episode at all on first viewing and it hasn’t improved much since. I did like parts of it – Matt’s Stonehenge speech was fantastic for one. However, for me it just didn’t make enough sense – the Daleks teaming up with anyone seems farfetched, but all those enemies banding together to trap the Doctor?! Plus don’t even get me started on how he gets out of the box in part two. In fact can anything annoy me more than that cheat of a plot point in the series five finale?

Episode 13 – The Wedding of River Song (series 6, 11th Doctor)

The simple answer to the above question is YES – something was more annoying and that was the series six finale! Where to start?! The “previously on Doctor Who” at the beginning may as well have screamed in big letters – the Doctor’s a robot. The rest of the episode was a forgone conclusion after that. Then there is the “wedding” itself – what was the point?! I understand that River didn’t want to touch him as it would restart time, but why on earth was a wedding ceremony the only way around this? It made no sense at all and together with the robot putting on a regeneration light show solution to the beach scene, Amy yet again forgetting Rory and the reveal of the question, the whole storyline felt pointless and I felt very very disappointed.

Specials

As for the Specials, I have to mention these too and it seems only fair to include one per showrunner.

Worst Russell T Davies Special – The Next Doctor

Loved David Morrisey, but hated that robot!

I know most people will disagree with this choice but I have my reasons for this selection. I enjoyed all of the 10th Doctor’s other Christmas episodes, whether his partnership with Donna in The Runaway Bride or David Tennant’s debut, or even the Titanic / Poseidon Adventure in space! I also enjoyed the season of final specials for Russell’s time on the show, but for me The Next Doctor comes at the bottom. Why not Planet of the Dead I hear some cry?! Well – it’s fun and light, before everything becomes darker for the 10th Doctor, the desert looks gorgeous and it has not only David Tennant but also Adam James too (as DI Macmillan). That’s all I need to enjoy it more than The Next Doctor! I just don’t really enjoy the story and ultimately you always know that David Morrisey isn’t the next Doctor. Also, I really did not like the giant robot stomping around London like a Power Rangers episode (albeit here controlled by Dervla Kirwan) and that moment in the episode always annoys me. David Morrisey is fantastic and he has some lovely moments with David Tennant, but it remains the RTD Special I’m least excited by and least likely to watch.

Worst Steven Moffat Special – The Doctor, the Widow & the Wardrobe AND The Time of the Doctor 

I admit this was a hard decision and in the end it had to be jointly awarded to two episodes. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe is the weaker of the two story-wise. The fact it’s such a rip off of certain aspects of C.S Lewis makes me irritated anyway (right down to the title for goodness sake!), but other than that we have dull tree people and pointless acid-spraying characters that add very little to the story. Yes the little boy is very cute and a happy ending is nice at Christmas, but Doctor Who can do so much better than this.

Matt Smith deserved much better for his final story

As for its joint holder, I had to include Matt’s swan song The Time of the Doctor. To start, I’ll be clear that I love the last ten minutes – the Doctor bidding farewell to Clara, her begging for help, the help coming from above and the final moments in the TARDIS are all wonderful and very well acted (plus having the 11th Doctor say a final farewell to Amelia and Amy was a lovely touch). My problem is that the rest of it is dreadful. The plot is all over the place, bouncing from Clara’s family lunch, to the space Church (where back story from countless episodes was glossed over in a few lines), to the town of Christmas itself. I also didn’t like the voiceover. It should have been Clara or the Doctor to connect more with you, rather than a character we barely knew or cared about. It felt rushed, cobbled together (and having the same music cue “4 Knocks” from David Tennant’s scene of sacrifice in The End of Time playing over the old 11th Doctor’s scene with Clara and the cracker was also very jarring for me) and in my opinion and the words of the 10th Doctor, Matt Smith deserved so much more. He was a superb Doctor, bringing fun, eccentricity and life to the part in a totally different way from David and Chris and I think his last story should have been a million times better and for that reason this Special had to be included. Coming so close after the 50th Special only highlighted how weak this one was for me.

So there you have it. That’s my nightmare list of New Who. Feel free to agree / disagree in the comments section!

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