Paul McGann

Doctor Who: The Regeneration Game

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After a busy week packed with reviews, I’m taking a short break from all that and offer instead this feature story about a vital aspect of the Doctor Who television series – specifically, the single inspired concept that has allowed the show to continue for 50 years and could easily see it extend for another 50 years, or indeed more…

line-upThe Doctor Who TV series has just celebrated its 50th birthday and 800th episode, something that the production team that launched it back in 1963 could never have believed for one minute was possible as they struggled to survive beyond the original 13-week run that the BBC had commissioned.What’s amazing is how much of the show’s essential DNA is in place even in those early days: the concept of the mysterious alien stranger and the time machine with its iconic police box exterior with its ‘bigger on the inside than on the outside’ properties are familiar to us now but were then genius inspirations of the highest order. And then at Christmas the Daleks arrived which propelled the show to extraordinary early heights of popularity.

The only remaining crucial item missing from the show’s bible by the end of 1963 was the concept of regeneration. That would come later. But when, exactly, did the process of regeneration actually become a core part – perhaps the most crucial part – of the show’s format in terms of its longevity? 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 »

Doctor Who: Regeneration (DVD)

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No, not a discussion of the upcoming departure of Matt Smith from the title role of Doctor Who and who may or may not replace him. Instead, this is the latest offering from the BBC marking the 50th anniversary of the show, and is a deluxe gift boxset containing a handsome coffee table tome about the series and its stars together with six DVDs comprising episodes featuring every one of the 11 actors to have played the role to date.

It does so by collecting together all the stories in which a Doctor regenerates, which is a nice thematic way of showcasing the series’ continuity and well as its longevity, as the concept of the Doctor’s ability to change into a new form is key to the show’s ongoing success. It also connects Matt Smith directly all the way back through Tom Baker to the very first Doctor, William Hartnell, who initially created the iconic role in November 1963.

It’s a beautifully designed product, using symbology from the language of Gallifrey (the Doctor’s home world) as a motif which is carried through to the discs themselves and on to the gorgeous on-screen menus as well. The book has some wonderful photography, treated to an epic black-and-white digital finish with some effective use of stylistic spot colour accents. It’s beautifully typeset and the text itself is well-written and interesting – although it contains nothing itself that will surprise hard core fans, of course. Read the rest of this entry »

A brief personal history of time travel

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radiotimesMy apologies, it’s been a bit quiet on the review front – for the simple reason that I haven’t been watching, reading or otherwise partaking of anything that warrants a review. It’s just been that sort of start to the year. Hopefully things will pick up as we approach Easter.

In the meantime, to keep the blog ticking over, a little diversion in content. Regular readers will know that I’m rather partial to the series Doctor Who (it’s also pretty obvious from one glance at the site tag cloud!) so I thought I’d do a short-ish piece on my personal history watching the show. Anyone not interested in Doctor Who should probably look away … now. Read the rest of this entry »

A Mother’s Son (ITV)

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Contains some mild implied spoilers

Usually the problem with psychological thrillers is that they start well by building up intrigue and tension, but then implode in the second half under their own implausibilities – such as happened with the recent Thirteen Steps Down. The odd thing about the latest ITV entry into the genre is that A Mother’s Son is almost exactly the reverse.

That’s possibly because the first hour of this two-part drama is told very much from the point of view of Rosie (Hermione Norris), mother of teenager Jamie (Skins’ Alexander Arnold). By the time we meet her, Rosie has long-since divorced first husband David (Paul McGann) and is now married for a second time to widower Ben (Martin Clunes); Rosie and her son Jamie and her younger daughter live with Ben and his children, while David is embittered and scowling about custody while he goes about building boats on the beautifully photographed Suffolk coast.

The drama seemed determined to go out of its way to establish Rosie as borderline neurotic from the very first scenes, by having her on the phone to the police the minute one of the children is an hour late home from school after hanging out with friends. That does make her later sudden leap to assuming that her own son Jamie might be involved in the overnight murder of a schoolgirl in the area credible in the same overwrought way. Certainly her conclusion based solely on the discovery of some dirty trainers and a fresh load of washing would otherwise seem like an outrageous leap to the worst conclusions in the circumstances: even off the top of my head while watching, I could think of at least half a dozen alternative scenarios explaining the apparent situation, which would have made for better red herrings and shadows of doubt to be developed than what actually ends up being a rather sparse story at the end of the day.

That initial unerring leap to fear the worst is needed by the script, but is just the first time that Rosie is yanked first one way and then another by the plot’s requirements, to the point where it wrecks the character’s credibility. Having sparked all the doubts and suspicions in everyone around her, next she’s in total denial about Jamie’s possible involvement and outraged anyone else could even think it, even though she herself did ten minutes ago. Eventually, she finally realises that she has to do ‘the right thing’ – and does that just in time for the end credits. Such wild swings of behaviour may be actually quite psychologically true-to-life in reality, but in drama it’s wildly implausible and makes it seem that we’re watching an inciting incident made flesh rather than a believable character, despite the ever-watchable Norris doing her best with it.

There’s also a problem in the first half in that so much of it comes down to a succession of moments that leave you hoarse because of shouting “Well, why don’t you just talk to the people involved and ask them about it?!” at the annoying people on screen. It’s no coincidence that the series picks up tremendously when people actually do start talking to one another, sharing their thoughts and fears, including a succession of compelling confrontations with the under-suspicion Jamie (a great performance by Arnold, who really nails ‘typical moody teenager at a problem age’ to a tee.)

Strangely, the best part of the second hour and the bit that gripped me most was the plight of poor Ben in all this, who goes from not having a clue what’s going on, to stoutly supporting Rosie despite clearly thinking she’s losing it, to slowly coming round to believing her suspicions – which forces him to take his own steps in order to protect his children who are living in the same house. But can he, if it means betraying the woman he loves? Is he simply unduly influenced by Jamie not being his own son – is there an unacknowledged resentment there making suspicions easier for him to leap to? Clunes’ scenes are the best in the whole two hours and genuinely make you start wondering “What would I do in the circumstances?” It would have been far better if the entire story had been told from his perspective – or rather, if Norris’ character had been switched into this role rather than having to be remorselessly behind the instigation of the entire thing.

Alas, the other characters in the two-hour drama are woefully underdeveloped. The other children in Rosie and Ben’s family are little more than background extras at the breakfast table there to cast suspicious sideways looks at one another and generally to up the stakes involved for the adults. David (McGann) is oddly colourless, there purely as a sounding board for Rosie in the first hour and to do some private detection work to advance the plot in the second. One scene where he lies to the police in order to provide his son with an alibi feels like it should be a pivotal moment, but instead comes to absolutely nothing afterwards – just one of many red herrings that make you think that there’s more to the tale about to break through, only to tease and then come to nothing. It leaves a general sense of deflating disappointment when there proves to be so much less than originally met the eye.

For me, the production makes a major mistake by including a police investigation strand but then not having enough time for it to be anything more than a pallid by-the-numbers highlights package of every other cop show you’ve seen. Mortuary scene? Check. Murder board? Yes. DNA test results? Present. Evidence room? Yawn. This can’t be enlivened even by the presence of the ever-delightful Nicola Walker (like Norris, a Spooks graduate which inadvertently gives an odd ‘reunion’ feel to this production.) In fact, knowing what the police are up to and what they do and don’t know at any given stage undercuts the tension on the domestic front: it would have been far better if all we’d known about the investigation was the bland announcements from the radio bulletins, offing first hope that all is well and the suspicions unfounded when an arrest is announced, and then approaching terror as the net closes in from another direction.

A Mother’s Son has its moments, then; and for anyone who stuck with it through the first hour, the second half delivers far better than you expect and actually goes a long way toward making it all worthwhile. But really, this should have been much better with the talent involved. It just needed some more thought to construction of key parts of the plot, and a little more life on its characters rather than just having them dance to the stuttering beats of the undernourished plot.

A Mother’s Son is released on DVD in the UK on September 17 2012.