John Hurt

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers

The problem with creating a 50th anniversary special for Doctor Who is finding a story that not only has space for all 13 incarnations of the titular character, but one that actually warrants multi-Doctor involvement. It’s not like the Doctor should be going around and dropping in on himself every other week for tea and scones.

In current Who lore, there’s pretty much only one thing big enough to justify the Doctor calling up his own selves as reinforcements. The Time War was a rather brilliant concept introduced by showrunner Russell T Davies in 2005 so that he could sweep away the clutter of too much complex backstory continuity and free the show up for its reboot for a brand new audience complete with a new, dark and angst-ridden central protagonist unlike any Doctor previously seen in the classic era. It did its job superbly – but also became such a huge part of the show’s mythos that it was impossible not to prod and poke it further over the years. Even though RTD’s successor Steven Moffat has been less inclined to utilise it since he took over, the spectre of the Time War has continued to loom over the show and the character with an ever-increasing weight. And that’s because there was an unforeseen problem.

Put simply: the Time War ended when the Doctor annihilated two whole civilisations. That’s bad enough, even if one of them is the Daleks; but when the Doctor is responsible for the genocide of his own people it leaves a stain on our supposedly heroic character that becomes increasingly untenable. The pivotal moment is when you frame the emotionally loaded but entirely warranted question, “How many children did you kill?” as indeed the 50th anniversary special does. Once asked it cannot be taken back, and you soon realise that this act cannot be allowed to stand. No matter how much you try and rationalise it or quarantine off the guilt of the heinous atrocity onto one disowned incarnation of the Doctor, no matter how much the Doctor suffers with the burden of his actions, it will never be enough: a Doctor who did this can no longer be our or anybody’s hero. And that is a big problem for the show. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: The Night of the Doctor (Online)

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With the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who just two days away, here’s a few words about a new online/red button minisode that’s been doing the rounds for the last week or so.

It’s a wonderful high-quality eight-and-a-half minute self-contained story that is nonetheless essential viewing before Saturday’s feature-length birthday special. As with so many Steven Moffat-penned stories it starts in mid-action with a spaceship in the process of catastrophically crashing onto the barren planet below. A mysterious stranger in an incongruous blue police box arrives to save the sole remaining crew member, but it doesn’t go as well as he’d been hoping. And come to that, it’s not the person you were expecting to show up even knowing that Saturday’s story features not one but three Doctors (Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt.)

Unfortunately a week into the release, the official BBC page for viewing the minisode makes it impossible to view the clip without getting a massive spoiler image before you even start, which is a shame because one of the genuine highlights of my viewing year has been the sense of utter shock I got at the totally unexpected reveal as it cut to the new arrival as he said “… but maybe not the Doctor you were expecting” – which indeed I hadn’t, and the wonderful surprise nearly sent me tumbling from my chair. If you haven’t seen it yet, go to the page with your eyes closed and have someone click the ‘Play’ button for you if you can. And do it now, without delay. Read the rest of this entry »

Whistle and I’ll Come To You (BBC/BFI DVD)

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Contains spoilers as to the original short story and the two adaptations reviewed.

I’d intended to do a little Halloween-themed run of reviews this week but sadly time and other commitments got the better of me. However, one did manage to sneak under the wire – a look at the two screen adaptations of MR James’ Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad made by the BBC 42 years apart and released again this month by the British Film Institute as part of its Gothic season.

MR James was an early 20th century medieval scholar and in his time provost of both King’s College, Cambridge and Eton College. Today he’s best recalled for his sideline of writing ghostly short stories, adaptations of which were for a time a staple of the BBC’s Christmas television schedule in the 1970s. They possess a rich nostalgic appeal to those who saw and loved them at a time, so that every now and then a revival of the spirit of retelling the ghost stories of Christmas past is attempted.

I should confess that I wasn’t one of those who avidly watched the dramas at the time. Some came along far too early for me, while even on reruns the late ones generally proved too slow and subtle for my young self. These are ghost stories for adults, and moreover for intellectuals, and not the Paranormal Activity, Insidious or The Conjuring sort of over-manic fare today that gets taken as horror. In fact there’s nothing really ‘horrific’ in these works at all, they are more accurately tales of the unsettling that may or may not send a chill down your spine, or perhaps leave you anxiously glancing behind you next time you’re out walking alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (BBC1)

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Spoilers, sweetie.

I’m confused.

nameNot, I should immediately make clear, by the story and events of “The Name of the Doctor”, the series finale of the extended staccato season 7 of Doctor Who. As has so often been the case with Steven Moffat’s work down the years, what appeared at the outset to be brain-scrambling head-twister of a puzzle is by the end almost charmingly simple and straight-forward by the time it’s explained – and I mean that as a sincere compliment, an example of the craft of writing at its highest level.

Most of us had already figured out that the secret to Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) was that she had somehow been ‘split up’ and scattered (“like confetti”, as the show itself described it) across all of time and space in a manner akin to the fate of the last of the Jagaroth from the classic serial “City of Death”; all that this new episode did was provide the mechanism for how this did indeed come to happen, and why it was that the Doctor kept running across her. It was not coincidence, it turned out, but an essential part of the design – no accident but rather completely unavoidable. Read the rest of this entry »