Is it just me, or does it feel like it’s been a long time since Doctor Who was on our television screens?! Yes, there was the mediocre Christmas special, but after a year without a weekly dose, I tuned in last night with all my fingers crossed and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. We all know that series 10 will be the last for Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi and I was so pleased that The Pilot saw a return to form, proving to be one of the most enjoyable episodes in a long time.
This series opener acted as the perfect springboard for anyone new to the show, or hoping to introduce others to it, as we see the Doctor meeting Bill Potts (played by Pearl Mackie), the latest companion to be introduced to the fantastical life of the Doctor and his blue box. He is currently undercover as a university professor and Bill has been attending his lectures, despite not being a student. It becomes clear very quickly that she is someone with the curiousness and bravery that appeals to the Doctor and is the ideal candidate to travel through time and space with him and Nardole (continuing to be played with fun & wit by Matt Lucas).
It’s not easy taking on the role as new companion, but Pearl Mackie does a great job in this episode. So much so, that I already felt she’d been around for ages by the time the credits rolled. Bill is strong, independent, clever and able to think on her feet. She’s also kind, caring and not intimidated by the Doctor and takes the revelation of who he is in her stride. She reminded me a lot of Rose from series one, with her simply keen for adventure in her life. She also likes chips too! The Doctor has clearly taken an interest in her, investing time in her education and already displaying a protectiveness towards her. With the photo of his granddaughter Susan on his desk, I’m looking forward to seeing a similar style relationship unfold over the course of this series. Much has been said in the media about Bill’s sexuality, being the first LGBT companion. I think it’s great that a show such as Doctor Who is including such a character without making a fuss about this aspect of her life. It’s simply who she is. It’s early days, but I’m already thinking Bill could be one of my favourite companions yet.
Story-wise, this was a solid start from Steven Moffat. I admit I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with Moffat’s style of storytelling in recent years, with less than satisfactory resolutions to convoluted arcs, so it was great to see him back to writing an entertaining, creepy story without all that baggage. As is his style, this was a scare for children coming via something they see every day. He’s done shadows, statues and snowmen and now it’s the innocent looking puddle outside your front door that could be coming to get you and the episode had just enough creepiness, enhanced by its direction and Murray Gold’s music. The scenes with Bill in her bathroom were even tense enough for the adults watching!
Admittedly, there were ideas here that we’ve seen before in Doctor Who that fans will pick up on. We’ve already had water monsters coming to get you in The Waters of Mars and the eerie repeating of what you say in Midnight, so this wasn’t an original story in every sense, but I don’t mind that too much when the story is engaging (and admittedly only hardcore fans who watch the show a lot will notice these points anyway). I wasn’t sure about the inclusion of the Daleks though. Yes, they are a cornerstone of Doctor Who and in the right story they are brilliant, but this did feel a little unnecessary to The Pilot’s plot, being more a “look it’s Doctor Who with Daleks” stunt. It’s a minor gripe though and overall this was a fun, entertaining and engaging return to this iconic series, which also laid some questions that I assume will unfold over the next few episodes, in particular what is in The Vault and to whom the Doctor promised not to get involved with another companion. I just hope that there is a clear arc this year, culminating in a satisfying farewell to Peter Capaldi.
Welcome back Doctor! I’ve missed you!
Doctor Who continues in the UK on BBC One on Saturday nights and in the USA on BBC America, also on Saturday nights.
There seem to be a lot of television anniversaries recently and today marks another milestone – it is 10 years since Doctor Who returned to our screens with Rose in 2005. As someone who grew up in the wilderness years of Doctor Who my only real contact with the series had been watching the occasional rerun of Sylvester McCoy’s era on UK Gold, which didn’t grab me at all and then the 1996 TV movie with Doctor number 8. I’d enjoyed Paul McGann’s only outing as the Doctor and so on hearing the series was being revived I was curious to see what it would be like in the 21st century. I was also a huge admirer of Christopher Eccleston’s work (particularly the stunning and hard-hitting Hillsborough).
So, on Saturday 26th March 2005, I joined 9.9 million other viewers to see the TARDIS land back on Earth (and hear that crazy cross over with Graham Norton!), which rose to a final total of 10.81 million. The verdict at the time – enjoyable, although I thought the episode was incredibly cheesy. I did however love Chris and Billie and that was enough to draw me back the following week. It’s been a mixed 10 years. I loved Chris’s series (with barely a dud episode), adored David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, which cemented my appreciation and loyalty to keep watching the show and thought Matt was great but had far too many dreadful stories. Now, ten years later, we are awaiting the second series of stories for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor (I thoroughly enjoyed his first series, which I discussed last year) and it’s great to still have the Doctor going strong on the BBC. To celebrate this 10th anniversary, below are my favourite ten episodes of “New Who.” I’d be interested to hear what episodes make your list.
This two-parter remains my favourite story of modern Doctor Who, which is ironic seeing as it was originally a novel for the Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor! Paul Cornell’s story is so brilliant on so many different levels – it is beautifully written, has a chilling villain (particularly Harry Lloyd as Baines), highlights the country before the war, while commemorating those who fought in its ending and is also superbly acted. Freema Agyeman really has space to develop the character of Martha, who has to do the Doctor’s work for him when he can’t, Jessica Hynes is wonderful as Joan, the woman who captures John’s heart and there’s some lovely acting from young Thomas Brodie-Sangster (now popping up in Game of Thrones and Wolf Hall). Above all of that though is David Tennant’s incredible performance as two very different people. His portrayal of John Smith as he struggles to cope with his real identity is heartbreaking and his darker Doctor at the end is also chilling. It’ll take a lot to beat this one for me.
Coming second is Richard Curtis’s story from Matt’s first year in the role. Many people were horrified at the thought of him writing an episode, but his story was in fact the most emotionally strong and moving episode of Matt’s whole time on the show. By travelling back to meet Amy’s favourite painter, it enabled the story to tackle the delicate subject of mental health and depression, as most of those watching know the reason for Van Gogh’s death. The scene in which he is crying in his room is incredibly powerful and superbly acted, while the episode also still maintains some beautiful visual moments too – Amy among the sunflowers and the three of them looking up at the Starry Night. Above all though, for me, it’s the ending which truly makes this episode one of the best of New Who – watching Tony Curran as Van Gogh see his work and how much it is loved always brings a tear to my eye, as does the sad truth that Amy didn’t get her wish of there being more paintings when they return. It’s delicate, emotional, powerful and beautiful.
As David Tennant’s time as the Doctor neared its end, there had been talk that we’d see a darker Doctor and that certainly happened in The Waters of Mars. Faced with the crew of Bowie Base 1 and knowing their ultimate fates yet again placed the Doctor in a difficult moral situation. The difference this time being that we got to see what he’d be like if he decided to try and change the future and intervene when he shouldn’t. Tennant’s scenes with Lindsay Duncan were wonderful, from the one telling her the future of her family, right through to their final conversation on a snowy London street. Seeing this angry, arrogant, Master-like version of the Tenth Doctor was very exciting and it’s almost a shame he didn’t have a bit longer to delve in to it.
4. The Day of the Doctor (50th Anniversary, 2013)
The highly anticipated 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who must have been a huge pressure for Steven Moffat. There was so much to try and include in order to honour the past, while moving the story forward for the next 50 years and I admit I was worried it would turn out like one of the worst Christmas specials. I’m so pleased I was wrong and that instead we had a fun, entertaining, exciting episode. I’ll always be sad that Christopher Eccleston didn’t agree to return, not even for a few moments, but we at least had the wonderful partnership of Matt and David, which was only strengthened by the dynamic they had together with John Hurt. His War Doctor was a brilliant addition and one that allowed us to revisit the Time War in a new way. Not to mention the unexpected inclusion of both Peter Capaldi and Tom Baker, whose scene with Matt is so moving, whether you’ve watched the Fourth Doctor’s episodes or not.
Steven Moffat’s first story for the Tenth Doctor became an instant fan favourite and I think will always be a classic. Ten years on, we are used to Moffat’s trick of jumping between time periods, or having the resolution be one that you only see how clever it is at the end of the episode, requiring you to rewatch it immediately. This was the first time we saw how multi-layered and clever his writing could be and in my view, some of his more recent stories have lost this, thinking they are cleverer than they actually are. The story of Madame Du Pompadour and her love for the Doctor across her life is a lovely one and Sophia Myles was able to convey her fear and also strength, something the Doctor clearly admired in her. His realisation that she has died and the letter she has left for him is such a tragic ending, but one which is necessary to make the episode as wonderful as it is. More like this please Mr Moffat!
6. Doomsday (David Tennant, series 2, 2006)
I will always remember watching Doomsday for the first time, aware that Billie was leaving but unsure how it would happen and being totally unprepared for the emotionally charged final few scenes. Doomsday was such a great finale, as it had a perfect mix of adventure and action, as the Daleks and Cybermen do battle, while balancing this with a very real emotional heart, through both the resolution of Jackie and Pete back together and the Doctor and Rose torn apart. Russell T Davies’s era on the show may be seen as too driven by emotions for some, but I loved this aspect of the series and question whether I would have become such a loyal, regular viewer without it. I cared about the characters and the heartbreaking events always felt real (something I’ve felt to be lacking, certainly in Matt’s era) and none more so that seeing the Doctor and Rose say goodbye. It has gorgeous music from Murray Gold and is beautifully acted by David and Billie, whose chemistry was very special and I’d challenge anyone not to shed a tear.
As a huge admirer of Christopher Eccleston as an actor I was very sad to discover he was leaving the series so soon. I still strongly believe that the series may not have taken off had it not had such a respected actor of his calibre in it from the start, forcing people to take the sci-fi show seriously. He was a wonderful Doctor, funny, kind and yet serious and detached when necessary. This finale is still one of the best of New Who. It was the first time we got to see the huge army of Daleks and the threat they posed, it had light hearted humour courtesy of John Barrowman’s brilliant Captain Jack (bring him back Steven!) and then there were the lovely scenes between the Doctor and Rose. His hologram telling her to have a fantastic life is still one of my favourite scenes and Billie really showed what a strong actress she was, as she fought to get back to his side. Although sad, Chris’s final scene did justice to his time on the show, before welcoming David Tennant aboard.
The Runaway Bride has always been my favourite Christmas special and is one I return to often. It has the perfect balance of light hearted silliness and comedy, sadness and excitement and wasn’t confusing for those who weren’t regular viewers of the series. I’d never been a fan of Catherine Tate’s comedy shows and so was relieved to see what a brilliant actress she was. Donna was so different from Rose, which was exactly right for the first episode without the partnership of David and Billie and yet there were enough references to Rose to acknowledge how important she’d been to the Doctor. I remember being sad at the end of the story that we’d never see Donna again and it’s wonderful she came back for series four, to have such a superb partnership with David’s Doctor. Plus David’s final line in this story is still one the best scenes of his on the entire show – “Her name was Rose.”
9. Blink (David Tennant, series 3, 2007)
Blink is almost certain to make any Doctor Who fan’s list of favourite episodes and not just of modern Who either. Series two’s “Doctor-lite” story had been fairly weak and yet Steven Moffat managed to make this one a series highlight! It also introduced us to one of the most chilling monsters on television as we watched the Weeping Angels creep up on people. I remain frustrated that such a frightening monster was then ruined by later stories (breaking necks just wasn’t as frightening as sucking the future years out of someone!) but at least Blink stands as a reminder as to how scary they can be in the right story. It was also a brilliant role for Carey Mulligan (now so famous I sadly think we’ll never see the return of Sally Sparrow) and has forever made statues just that little bit more disturbing! Remember – don’t blink!
10. Mummy on the Orient Express (Peter Capaldi, series 8, 2014) / The Stolen Earth & Journey’s End (David Tennant, series 4, 2008)
Okay, so I’m cheating a little here as I’ve agonised over which of these two stories to include and couldn’t decide! It felt wrong not to include a story from the Twelfth Doctor and Mummy on the Orient Express was by far my favourite of his first series. It had everything right – scary story and monster, which felt fresh and original, fun location, excellent supporting performances (particularly Frank Skinner) and a lovely Doctor/Clara dynamic, as she struggles to leave, while feeling it’s the only choice. Above all though Peter Capaldi is fantastic – he really is the Doctor here, with witty dialogue, break neck speed cleverness, authority and a convincing relationship with Clara. I’ve no doubt this will remain a highlight of his years on the show.
I couldn’t have a top ten list without The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End, as there is so much I love about it. Bringing all of the Tenth Doctor’s companions together in one story was a brave and ambitious move and yet it really did work and it made the ending all the more tragic, when the Doctor is once again alone. It was lovely to have John Barrowman and Billie Piper back, although I still don’t like the final beach scene. It still grates with me that the Doctor was fine with the idea of The Master travelling with him, but not 10.5 and Rose seemed to put up far too little a fight about not staying with the person she’d waited years to be with again. That aside though, their reunion at the end of Stolen Earth is another favourite scene of New Who for me – it’s the look on his face as he sees her and runs towards her, before that pesky Dalek ruins it! Then there is Catherine Tate, who is utterly spectacular here as we say goodbye to Donna. Her final TARDIS scene is heartbreaking to watch. If that scene wasn’t beautiful enough, it’s then capped off by Bernard Cribbins’s emotional doorstep vow to look up at the sky each night and think of the Doctor. Incredible acting all round.
So those are my choices, some of which I’ll watch to celebrate this anniversary. Narrowly missing out were The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (“Are You my mummy?” will stay with me forever!), The Eleventh Hour (such a brilliant entrance for Matt), Flatline (it was just so original, scary and also funny), the entire end of series four, with its superb run of The Silence In The Library/Forest of the Dead/ Midnight and Turn Left, The Angels Take Manhattan (Amy and Rory’s exit was very well handled) and Boom Town (bonkers, but Chris proving just how comedic he could be in that restaurant scene).
I may not like all the stories, but Doctor Who remains a highlight of British television today and something the BBC can truly be proud of. It’s one of those rare shows that can be enjoyed by all the family together and that is something that should be cherished. I certainly hope we’re all here in another ten years time to celebrate another decade of stories!
In the meantime, here’s a brilliant fan made video, celebrating a decade of New Who! Watching me has made me want to get my box sets out and start all over again!
UPDATED: 25th December 2016
Christmas is here and in 2005 a new festive British tradition was born, which is now a staple part of Christmas Day – the Doctor Who Christmas Special! I honestly cannot imagine the day without it now, as the Doctor always brings an added magic and fun on a day all about families being together. I have to say though, some years I have been left feeling rather disappointed by the seasonal trip in the TARDIS.
Seeing people returning to this blog post again this year, I thought it was time to update it to include last year’s Christmas offering and tonight’s newest episode. So as we await series 10, I’m looking back on the Christmas stories of New Who and rank the thirteen episodes we’ve now seen so far.
1. The Runaway Bride (2006)
For anyone who has read my choice of festive television episodes, you’ll be unsurprised to see that my top choice for the Doctor Who Christmas episode is The Runaway Bride, in which we first meet Donna Noble. At the time we couldn’t have predicted that Catherine Tate would return, but what made an impression on me when I first watched this was how fantastic the chemistry was between David and Catherine. They bounced off each other effortlessly. It’s also filled with magical moments – the TARDIS on the motorway (complete with superb score from Murray Gold) is a particular highlight of mine. It was also always going to be difficult to handle the Doctor’s first adventure after losing Rose and having this follow immediately when he is still grieving was a lovely choice, as we see how wounded he is and the end moment as he says “Her name was Rose” gets me every time. I’ll definitely be watching this again this month.
2. The Christmas Invasion (2005)
A very close second is the first Christmas Day special of New Who, in which we were properly introduced to David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. It’s one of Russell T Davies’s best episodes for me as it has the perfect balance of comedy, emotion, action and scary moments (well for children not me). It’s fun to have Jackie and Mickey involved (especially being attacked by a Christmas tree!) and quite bold to have the focus of the episode be on Rose, while the Doctor sleeps. Only once there is no hope left does the Doctor appear to save the day – and in his pyjamas too! In a short space of time we see this new Doctor is full of exuberance, is flirty, funny, but capable of taking a more serious stand if required. It left me very excited for a new era.
3. The Snowmen (2012)
The Snowmen is by far my favourite of the Christmas specials under Steven Moffat and quite honestly was a relief after a few years of disappointment. The Doctor is yet again struggling to deal with the loss of close companions after we said farewell to Amy and Rory, but through this story his sense of who he is is reawakened by the bold, feisty Clara Oswald. Victorian era Clara is such fun and more than a match for the Doctor and their rapport is wonderful. We also see some gorgeous images – the TARDIS on a cloud and the Doctor and Clara climbing the stairs to reach it is lovely. It’s also a great story, with a brilliantly scary monster in the form of the Snowmen (an inspired choice for winter time!) and Richard E. Grant is suitably creepy. Plus we even get Ian McKellen’s voice too! I sincerely hope Last Christmas is at this end of the scale of Moffat Christmas episodes.
4. The Voyage of the Damned (2007)
It may get a fair amount of criticism but I quite enjoy the 2007 festive offering, which pulled in the highest ratings for New Who (with an impressive 12.2 million viewers tuning in on the day alone). I was certainly intrigued to hear Kylie Minogue was to guest star and I thought she was a fun addition to the story. Astrid’s cheeky personality and bravery were ideal for a companion and you could have imagined her and the Doctor having great adventures together, but it wasn’t to be. Yes, it’s a bit too similar to The Poseidon Adventure (more so than Titanic despite the ship’s name), as the survivors make their way through the crippled vessel, but the ensemble are fun to watch and David Tennant is on fine form (at a time which personally must have been very difficult for him after the loss of his mother). Plus we get our introduction to one of my favourite characters of New Who – Bernard Cribbins’s Wilfred Mott. It’s funny to think that not even the cast and crew at the time realised what that character would go on to do!
5. The Unquiet Dead (2005)
Not a Christmas Day special, but technically the first Christmas episode of New Who is this trip by the Ninth Doctor and Rose to Victorian Cardiff! We also get our first historical TARDIS trip of this new era and Charles Dickens was a wonderful place to start. Simon Callow is perfect in the role and I loved seeing the Doctor be genuinely excited about meeting one of his idols (similar to when he first arrives at the Globe in series three). There are some lovely moments between the Doctor and Rose, as their bond grows ever stronger and Eve Myles makes her first appearance in the Doctor Who universe (it’s great this is referenced later in series four’s finale). This is still Mark Gatiss’s best Doctor Who story in my opinion.
6. Last Christmas (2014)
Peter Capaldi’s first Christmas episode proved much better than most of Steven Moffat’s previous efforts for the Eleventh Doctor and was very enjoyable. The creepy base did remind me a bit of The Waters of Mars, but the mix of the scary brain-sucking monster and Santa (brilliantly played by Nick Frost) was fun to watch. I’ve always liked Clara and it was appropriate to see that her recent tragic loss was not forgotten so quickly and addressed her, with her desire to stay in her dream with Danny very believable. I’m glad Jenna Coleman decided to carry on, but I admit that had her story ended with her as the old lady, pulling a cracker with the Doctor, an echo of her doing it with the elderly Matt Smith Doctor the year before, it would have been very poetic indeed. Having said that, it was still a lovely episode, which didn’t feel dumbed down for mass Christmas audiences. I hope this year’s is more in this style than some of the ones further down this list!
7. The End of Time (2009)
In 2009’s festive season we said farewell to the Tenth Doctor in this two part, bonkers story. It’s by no means the best story of New Who and I did find the duplication of The Master a bit ridiculous and the Naismiths rather wooden and dull. However, despite its weaknesses, there’s still so much I love about The End of Time. First and foremost the acting by David Tennant and Bernard Cribbins is first class, raising the story to a higher level. All their scenes together are incredibly moving and beautifully written. John Simm also does a great job as the resurrected, totally insane Master and his stand off against the Doctor in Part One is a great scene. I think Part Two is better than Part One for me, as the stakes are raised before the Doctor sacrifices himself for Wilf and although I know some people are frustrated at the multiple endings, I think it’s a great way to say goodbye to the team of Tennant/Davies and Gardner. Plus, as someone lucky enough to get to watch the filming of the Doctor’s final trip to Rose’s estate one cold night in May 2009, it will also always conjure up happy memories for me!8. The Next Doctor (2008).
8. The Husbands of River Song (2015)
Last year’s Christmas special saw Peter Capaldi’s Doctor meet River Song and what a wonderful pairing Capaldi and Alex Kingston were. Yes, the main plot was rather bonkers, as we see River married to a man in order to acquire the diamond in his head! I’m not a huge fan of robots in Doctor Who (see the next entry for more on that topic!), but I did enjoy seeing the resolution of River Song’s story arc, as we finally saw the Doctor turn up with a new haircut and suit to take her to The Singing Towers. I do think her character’s development did become rather ridiculous the more Steven Moffat brought her back, but this was a lovely, heartwarming conclusion, which did make me sad we didn’t get a chance to see her more with Capaldi.
9. The Next Doctor (2008)
My least favourite of the Russell T Davies Christmas era had to be The Next Doctor. There is much to enjoy here I know. David Morrissey is excellent as Jackson Lake, the would be Doctor, as we see his sense of fun and adventure as well as his vulnerability as he remembers his own past. It’s also lovely to have him and David Tennant acting together again (I’m a big Blackpool fan) and they clearly loved making this episode. Their final scene at the end of the story is truly lovely and one of my highlights of New Who. However, despite the positives, I’m just not a fan of Dervla Kirwan’s performance as Miss Hartigan, which I find rather weak, which only gets worse once she becomes the Cyber Controller. Throw in the ridiculous giant robot and I always feel that I have swapped channels to a Power Rangers episode! Not the worst but definitely not the best.
11. The Return of Doctor Mysterio (2016)
So, we come to this year’s special, which aired a few hours ago. I’m still mulling it over. I did enjoy it, but it wasn’t one of my favourites and overall I preferred the other Capaldi festive episodes to this one. The story here was sweet, but I’m not sure having a superhero in Doctor Who is needed. The Doctor is the fantastical character in the series; having him upstaged seemed a bit strange for me! I did however enjoy seeing the bewilderment on the Doctor’s face as he watched Grant dart from emergency to nanny in the blink of an eye! I also really enjoyed Matt Lucas in this episode, much more than his role in last year’s story. For me, some of the acting in this special was a bit wooden and so for that reason it’s lower down my list.
10. A Christmas Carol (2010)
A new era of Christmas specials began in 2010 with the first offering from Steven Moffat and Matt Smith. On original transmission I was incredibly disappointed by this story, although it has grown on me after a few repeat viewings over the last four years (and possibly due to other festive offerings annoying me much more!). Matt Smith is fantastic here, coming down the chimney covered in soot, having fun with the young Kazran, marrying Marilyn Monroe and facing off to Michael Gambon (who is also a brilliant Scrooge-like character). For me though, Katherine Jenkins is a bit of a weak link in terms of acting ability and I also couldn’t really take the singing to a shark conclusion seriously (it had the same effect on me as the giant robot did two years before).
12. The Time of the Doctor (2013)
I will always be angry about The Time of the Doctor, as for me it’s one of the worst episodes of New Who and Matt Smith deserved much better for his final story. I preferred the Tenth Doctor, but I still loved Matt and thought his Doctor was a wonderfully quirky interpretation, who suffered from too many weak stories during his time in the TARDIS. Why do I dislike this so passionately? It just seems to be a jumble of scenes that don’t really fit together and too many plot strands hanging in the air for years were “tied up” in a couple of sentences by Tasha Lem!! It felt very rushed and lacking in thought. Also did we really need another strong, older woman, with whom the Doctor had a flirtation so soon after River Song? There are some lovely moments between Matt and Jenna, including the initial phone call and her return to Christmas at the end (although why on earth their lovely cracker scene had to have Murray Gold’s Four Knocks playing over it I do not know, something else that annoyed me!) and the last ten minutes are fantastic as we see a Doctor thrilled at regenerating, before the beautifully poignant goodbye by number eleven to Clara, Amy and the audience and our introduction to Peter Capaldi. However an episode where I could skip the middle 30 minutes should not have been Matt’s finale.
13. The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe (2011)
Although I am probably more angry about entry nine above, 2011’s special had to take the bottom spot, as it is in my opinion the weakest of all the Christmas episodes. I liked the idea of climbing through an object in to a snowy woodland (although I guess I have C.S Lewis to thank for this rather than Steven Moffat), the little boy Cyril is wonderfully played by Maurice Cole and never fails to make me smile and Matt is on fine form as the Doctor. However the story is very weak and wooden (and that’s not just the boring trees), with inclusions that seem unnecessary, for example, the rather pointless cameo by Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir’s team preparing to spray the forest and by the end I just didn’t really care. I certainly hope Peter Capaldi’s first Christmas outing is a lot better than this!
So that’s my order of Christmas New Who. I’m curious to know how similar / different it is from yours!
If we used the Doctor’s TARDIS and travelled back in time four years to 25 July 2010, we would find ourselves in a world in which the recognisable image of Sherlock Holmes was one of an older gentleman in Victorian London, driving through London in a Hackney cab through foggy streets. We would also be in a world in which only theatre enthusiasts and watchers of the odd BBC drama would have heard of a young actor with an unusual name.
What a difference a night makes! After 90 minutes of BBC1 drama on a summer’s evening (never an ideal time for a new series to start), the UK had a new obsession and the BBC had an instant hit on its hands. It has been referenced in numerous interviews how that night changed the lives and careers of those involved – none more so than its lead actors Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch and Benedict in particular.
In the four years since it began Sherlock has gone on to success few could have imagined. After 7.5 million watched A Study in Pink in 2010, its UK audience has grown impressively, with the series 3 opener drawing 12.7 million viewers and the third series overall becoming the UK’s most watched drama series since 2001 and the most requested drama on BBC iPlayer to date. This would all be incredible on its own, but Sherlock has also achieved international success (being sold to 224 countries in the last year) and critical respect, with a raft of award nominations and wins from BAFTAs to Emmys. It has one of the strongest and most loyal group of fans of any show, who have taken the series, its cast and crew to their hearts (mine included). It’s almost unbelievable to think all it has achieved in so short a time, raising the profiles of not just Martin and Benedict, but others from Andrew Scott and Louise Brealey to the team at Hartswood Films.
If any television series deserved to reach such heady heights its this one. The writing is superb, with each script zipping along with pace, intelligence, humour, heartfelt emotion, fun and action. The direction is inventive and exciting to watch. There are fews shows where the choices made by a director seem to jump off the screen. It’s beautifully lit by the director of photography, not to mention the costume departments success in creating one of the most iconic outfits on television (why on earth Balstaff discontinued that coat is beyond me!). Then of course there is the acting. It’s not just the leads that make Sherlock what it is, it’s everyone. The core supporting cast are wonderful, from Rupert Graves’s Lestrade, the lovely Louise Brealey as Molly and Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson, to Amanda Abbington’s Mary Morstan, Andrew Scott and Mark Gatiss, not to mention all the guest stars that have added to the quality of each episode.
All these components work together seamlessly to make Sherlock a programme of the upmost quality in every respect. If only all dramas could be this good. Then again, if they were, it would lessen the joy and excitement at finding a new gem.
I now just need to decide on my order of these nine super episodes. That will be tough and deserves a separate post of its own! So as I watch A Study In Pink tonight, four years on from the first time, this post is a thank you to all those who have worked so hard to bring Sherlock to our screens. Long may it continue to shine!
I started to write about my fantastic experiences watching filming of series 3 of Sherlock earlier in the year, more so I didn’t forget it and now I have a blog and now the episodes have aired I thought why not post it, so forgive me if this rambles on a bit! SPOILER WARNING – If you have yet to see the episodes this does contain spoilers.
I find the production of film and TV incredibly interesting and tend to watch filming if I come across it, which living in London does happen occasionally, especially since I learnt from the wisdom of others what those neon arrows I often see on lampposts mean! Therefore I was hopeful of catching filming of the new series of Sherlock when it ventured to London, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to Cardiff due to work.
I had already caught the bug after being lucky enough to be one of a small crowd who watched filming for the series 2 finale The Reichenbach Fall outside St Barts on 17 July 2011. There really weren’t many people there and at one point myself and my two friends found ourselves being moved to stand behind the monitor tent (so that we were not in shot), only to have Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman stand practically next to us! They were watching their stunt doubles film the aftermath of Sherlock’s fall (Sherlock on the floor and John being knocked to the floor by the bike). It was quite surreal to have them so near, with Benedict covered in blood, with a towel round his shoulders – Sherlock and John watching Sherlock and John! Bonkers. Although we didn’t approach them as they were clearly working and that felt wholly inappropriate, it certainly made me hope I’d see more filming of this brilliant series!
10th April 2013 – Day 1 at 221b!
I didn’t realise it would take quite so long however but at long last series 3 filming began in Wales and then the first trip to London. What a difference a two year hiatus makes – I still can’t quite believe the crowd at Baker Street for filming of episode one The Empty Hearse on 10th April 2013. As it was a working day I only managed to get there after work, but hadn’t actually missed too much. The weather started out fine and we watched the filming of what would turn out to be Sherlock & Watson’s last shot in the episode, standing outside Baker Street speaking to the reporters, complete with deerstalker. It was lovely to see them actually filming outside that iconic location and even my flatmate came along to watch!
That evening turned out to be a great one to go to, with quite a few scenes shot, including John being attacked outside 221b. Mark Gatiss entertained the crowd during rehearsal of this scene, as on seeing what happens the crowd gasped, prompting him to turn around to us all, put his hand to his mouth and make a shock gasp style gesture!
As the evening went on however the weather took a turn for the worse. In short it poured it down for hours, but the crowd at Sherlock filming have a great spirit and once we had an umbrella (purchased from the wonderful corner shop on North Gower Street) it was fine. As the rain started to fall heavily, filming was to continue with Benedict Cumberbatch and Amanda Abbington, who were to film their speedy exit from 221b on to the road and Sherlock commandeering a motorbike. It was during the set up for these scenes that Benedict, Martin and Amanda all came across to the huge crowd to say hello. Only Benedict made it along the line opposite 221b to reach the opposite corner where we were standing but it was nice of him to do so. He thanked everyone for being there and supporting the show and said to “Stay sane and dry” which in that weather was really a lost hope! I said I hoped he’d be able to fit in some more theatre sometime soon, to which he said he hoped so too as he’d love to if he could find the time. With the exciting Hamlet rumours now circulating I certainly hope this happens soon!
The scene with the bike was still being filmed when I left just after 10 p.m. (by which point myself and my flatmate were sufficiently drenched).
13th April 2013 – St Barts Day 1!
It wasn’t long before the all-important filming outside St Bart’s arrived. As I don’t work far from there, I suspected the rumours were true when the parking restriction signs for a full weekend due to filming went up all along the side of Smithfield Market and so I joined a few friends there the next day. The weather was pretty miserable yet again and I felt genuinely sorry for the cast and crew having to work on it the rain. Poor Benedict also seemed to have a cold, which couldn’t have been much fun in that weather.
When I arrived the crowd was fairly small and the large blue crash mat was in position by St Bart’s (little did we know that it would actually be in the episode!). Most of the day was spent filming Sherlock’s fall, requiring Benedict to first jump/fall from the cradle raised above the crash mat.
This was followed up by him leaping on to the mat from the side, which meant he had to climb a ladder and then launch himself on to the mat, which looked like a lot of fun!
In true fashion, the rain started once the wirework began. Benedict’s stunt double was used to measure out the different heights they wanted to capture and once that was done it was time for Benedict to film. After a few takes and as the rain started to pour, someone had clearly had a great idea, and as Benedict was raised up on the wire in preparation for another take, he took the umbrella up with him, continuing to hold it over himself whilst suspended in mid-air, which was quite funny to see. Only when they were ready to film, did he drop the umbrella to the crew below and do a take. The crew also started laying towels on the crash mat, as a few takes resulted in Benedict being lowered fully on to the mat face down, which by this point must have been soaking wet.
Once Benedict and Martin were no longer needed, Benedict’s stunt double was filmed on the wire, dropping from the top of St Bart’s to almost the pavement, before being hoisted back up at some speed! It was very impressive to watch.
Everyone hoped that the weather would improve for the next day!
14th April 2013 – St Bart’s Day 2!
As if by magic the weather for the second day at St Bart’s couldn’t have been more different! The sun was out and it was already quite warm by 11 a.m. when I arrived. A couple of friends I knew were already there and barriers were up, behind which the crowd were watching. The first scene I saw was Martin filming John on the phone to Sherlock and calling out to him. In between takes the cast and crew seemed far more relaxed (maybe it was the glorious weather) and Benedict and Martin, both sporting sunglasses chatted with Mark Gatiss, Sue Vertue and the crew.
It was then time to film scenes in front of the hospital and joined by my flatmate, we managed to get a fantastic spot on top of a stone seat near the archway of the hospital. Being relatively short it was great to have something to stand! The next few hours were incredibly good fun. We watched the scene where Benedict ran up and swapped places with his stunt double who was dragged off through the side archway (cue lots of oohs from the crowd) and Steven Moffat appeared just before lunch to much excitement.
After lunch it really did get ridiculous. First Mark Gatiss returned to set, but in full Mycroft outfit, which started the speculation as to how Mycroft fitted in to the puzzle! Then, all of a sudden Andrew Scott, in full costume, casually sauntered up the road towards the hospital. The reaction as he was spotted by more people was crazy and he drew claps and cheers from the crowd. He chatted happily on set, every so often waving to those watching. Then they “filmed” that scene and I’m so pleased I was there to watch, as along with everyone else I puzzled over why Mycroft and Moriarty were together and shaking hands – was this flashback? And why on earth was Moriarty wearing Sherlock’s coat?! Or was this a hoax to wind us all up?! It was also nice to watch as Benedict wandered up to watch them film, sitting down on the floor against the ambulance station, next to Steven Moffat. Good for them for trying to plot red herrings and keep us guessing!
Then just when it couldn’t get any stranger, Martin began filming and my friend went “That guy looks a bit like Derren Brown” before we realised that that was indeed Derren Brown! We could clearly hear him saying “and sleep” which made us want to laugh. John hypnotised by Derren Brown? Really?!
All in all it was a fantastic weekend and I felt privileged to watch the hard working crew as well as the actors at work. The set up and effort that goes in to making TV of this quality is very impressive indeed. We also did well by not putting any spoilers on the internet.
21st May 2013 – Day 2 at 221b!
My next trip to “221b” was for more filming of The Empty Hearse and the taxi scene from The Sign of Three, in which Sherlock hails a cab and he and John head off to investigate The Bloody Guardsman. The crowd was again quite large and it was a much shorter day in terms of scenes filmed. Benedict and Martin filmed the hailing of the taxi for about 45 minutes and then Benedict left and Martin filmed John’s arrival, this time with moustache (much to everyone’s amusement!) at 221b and the children asking him to give a Penny For The Guy. For trivia fans – the face on the Guy was drawn by Mark Gatiss! Filming was finished in a few hours, as the crew had already been filming in the morning at St James’ Park for the scenes on the bench and with the guards, which sadly I didn’t go to. The crew did however let people queue up to have photos at 221b before they removed the numbers and also with the Baker Street sign after it had been removed from the wall!
21st August 2013 – Day 3 at 221b!
My final day of filming was for the finale and again, mainly involved Benedict hailing a taxi, although instead of taking John with him, Sherlock leaves him standing alone of the street after what looked to be a few serious words. It was fun last night to see what they were actually saying and my friend who was there with me that day was thrilled to see it live on TV.
For the first time I was able to witness the welcome Martin and Benedict get when they arrive on set and it is quite something. There were hundreds of people there that day and the cheers they received when they arrived were like something from a rock concert! My friend had come with me out of curiosity and he couldn’t believe it. There came a point early on when the main crowd opposite 221b (we chose to stand in our usual spot on the corner a bit further along) screamed and cheered whenever they appeared from out of the door of 221b to rehearse the scene and after a couple of times, Benedict wandered across good naturedly and gestured for them to not do it when they were rehearsing/filming.
From then on, there was relative silence until Cut was shouted, at which point a large cheer and applause would be given. I felt as if I was at the theatre in some ways. It must be very strange for them filming TV in those surroundings.
Amanda Abbington also arrived on set and happily signed autographs for the crowd. This was also the day Benedict held up his political questions on civil liberties and I was hilariously referenced in a Guardian article, as possibly one of the first people to put on twitter what he’d said. That’s certainly one way to get your thoughts out to the world!
The other scenes filmed were the arrival of the henchmen of Charles Augustus Magnusson in a black car with the number plate “I CAM” and their entry in to Baker Street and also Sherlock’s arrival with John at Baker Street, dressed in very un-Sherlock tracksuit bottoms and T-shirt. We were all amused by his annoyance with the door knocker and again it was lovely to see the context of that on last night’s episode.
Once filming ended I was amazed when both Benedict and Martin signed for the huge crowd, with Benedict going along the whole line, as if it was a film premiere. Typically I hadn’t brought anything with me that day, seeing as they hadn’t signed previously so I happily stood back and watched the spectacle. People who just happened to be walking past wondered what was going on and on hearing who was signing, they joined the crowd! Now we just had to wait for the episodes to air!
15th December 2013 – The Empty Hearse Preview at the BFI!
To top off the fun I’d had at filming, by some miracle I managed to buy two tickets for the preview screening at the BFI of episode one. I have been a BFI member for a few years now and I usually fail at getting tickets for the “popular sell out in seconds events”, so this was a huge surprise! As my earlier spoiler free post about that day says, the atmosphere was wonderful both in the building beforehand and during the screening. It was also lovely to see so many people involved with the show there. Andrew Scott seemed to go relatively unnoticed as people took their seats and Louise Brealey was sitting next to him with Una Stubbs also there. As you would expect the arrival of Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch caused lots of excitement and they seemed genuinely thrilled to be there.
It was certainly an incredible atmosphere in which to watch that episode and now it’s aired you can imagine the reactions to some of the moments right from the first few minutes. There were everything from gasps, to groans, to laughter and clapping. The majority of people in the room also recognised who was playing Sherlock’s parents and this drew claps. Benedict in the Q&A later said how emotional he’d felt watching that scene and it getting that response and how wonderful it had been to have his parents involved. I’d recommend reading the transcript of the Q&A as there were some great questions (putting aside the awkward fan fiction moment).
And now it’s all over. I really hope it’s not another two year hiatus, but quality takes time and they are all so busy now that I won’t be surprised if it is. All my fingers are crossed that I’ll be able to see some filming of series 4, although the thought that that could not be until 2015 is quite a scary thought!
I’ll attempt in the next few days to put all my photos on Flickr (as I think I have an account for that). All my filming videos are on You Tube under vickster5001.
I’ll start by saying this contains no spoilers. I am not planning to ruin the thrill and surprise for any fans of Sherlock but had to record my thoughts of such a fantastic day at the BFI Southbank. I’ve been to a few events at the BFI but this atmosphere was something else entirely. From the moment you arrived you could sense the excitement. The box office area was packed with people waiting for returns/standby seats and people hoping for a glimpse of the stars. In NFT1 itself, as everyone took their seats, the anticipation and excitement was contagious. I couldn’t quite believe I’d managed to get a ticket all those weeks ago and here we were. I have been lucky enough to see a lot of filming in London for series 3 and was also excited to see those bits on film too.
My spolier-free review of the actual episode The Empty Hearse is quite straightforward – the episode is fantastic and one of the best pieces of TV ever made. It’s rocketed straight to the top of my favourite Sherlock episodes too (taking the crown from A Scandal in Belgravia). The episode feels very expensive in terms of production values as the quality is superb. Jeremy Lovering’s direction is excellent and he takes the stylish baton from Paul McGuigan and adds to it. Seeing this on a big screen was a privilege. The story itself is fantastic. There is just about everything in this 90 minutes – light-hearted fun, bonkers humour (some bits had me cracking up along with everyone else), action, tense thrilling scenes and wonderful emotional depths. This is all possible due to the strength of the ensemble of Sherlock. Everyone adds to the episode to strengthen it, particularly Louise Brealey, Una Stubbs and Rupert Graves. Amanda Abbington has a great start as Mary and will no doubt be a super addition to the team at 221b. They are of course all led by the supremely talented Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman, whose talents know no bounds as Sherlock and John. The have so much to do in this episode and do it brilliantly. Martin handles John’s range of emotions at seeing his friend again wonderfully and gives a very real, human performance. Benedict is, as usual, excellent in a role that no one could do better and together they are a joy to watch. It almost doesn’t feel as if it’s been 2 years (well…almost)! It will be interesting to watch again without the crowd there, as this group viewing experience certainly heightened the responses – so much cheering, clapping and laughing throughout.
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have created an incredibly special series with Sherlock but I have to give so much praise to Mark Gatiss for this episode. His writing is wonderful in The Empty Hearse – totally barmy one minute and deeply touching the next. The nods to not only Conan Doyle but to the show’s own incredible success is very well done and never feels too much. Plus he has written Mycroft some of his best bits here too, which is lovely.
The Q&A was a disappointment and rather uncomfortable. Caitlin Moran’s choice of questions and approach were odd, especially from someone who is a fan and has done some great interviews in the past (her Benedict one is very good indeed). She brought people’s attention to fans in the back of a shot (which I didn’t notice but my friend did) which made me feel very sorry for the director and although it was made light of by the panel, it felt quite uncomfortable to watch. I will also never understand why she thought getting Martin & Benedict to read some slasher fanfiction was a good idea! Very awkward indeed. Not all awful though – Benedict & Martin were able to acknowledge how respectful fans are at filming. Mark Gatiss remembered screams from the crowd at one point and on being asked what had happened, responding Martin had just opened a packet of crisps! Some better audience questions (favourite scenes to film, how some of the story was thought of, how Mark finds writing and acting his own scripts (jokingly he said he finds it easier to remember the lines when it’s his scripts)).
It was also lovely to see so many of the cast past and present in attendance, highlighting how much of a family the programme is for those who create it – as well as the panel (Benedict, Martin, Mark, Steven, Sue and Jeremy) in the audience was Louise Brealey, Una Stubbs and Andrew Scott as well as the composer and some of the production team.
I hope no one spoils the twists and turns for others. I knew certain things from watching filming but still would never have imagined some of the magical moments and it really will be better as a surprise. I look forward to chatting on twitter once it airs on New Year’s Day! Rest assured though Sherlock is back a bigger and better than ever!
Welcome back Sherlock – it really has been far too long but that episode was so good it was worth the wait!