The Blue Box Blog

Emma Lou's adventures in Doctor Who fandom

Archive for October, 2011

Review: The Sarah Jane Adventures Series 5

Posted by emmahyam on October 22, 2011

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS

 


Its an odd feeling of joy and sadness as I write this series of mini-reviews for The Sarah Jane Adventures as the show comes to an enforced end due to the untimely death of Elisabeth Sladen. The Sarah Jane Adventures was, for me at least, by far the most consistent and best of the Doctor Who spin offs and to say goodbye to such a fun, interesting and at times emotionally affecting show, and indeed its star is just cruel.

For those who maybe unaware of events leading up to this point, Elisabeth Sladen passed away on the 19th of April 2011 after a battle with cancer, due to her illness production on The Sarah Jane Adventures was split and three episodes (making up the first 3 installments of series 5) were filmed. Filming for the remaining three episodes was scheduled to begin in early 2011 but this was first postponed, then canceled as the BBC announced that with Lis Sladen’s death, The Sarah Jane Adventuress would be brought to an end.

So, lets have a look at the three episodes that make up the truncated series 5, firstly:

“Sky”: Something The Sarah Jane Adventures always excelled at was putting in scripts that entertained kids with bags of action and adventure while providing lots of little nods and plotting that will keep the adults in the room engaged too, “Sky” was a great example of that at work. To the kids this episode was another hour of Sarah Jane sorting out the baddies and gaining a new daughter, for the grown ups this was a Terminator pastiche with some lovely subtle comedic moments from Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane struggles to cope with first  a tiny baby who then turns into a 12 year old. Thats not to diminish the work of the rest of the cast,  Daniel Anthony (Clyde) and Anjli Mohindr (Rani) putting in their usual excellent turns. The episode itself is solid if not spectacular, the plot was pretty basic with the war between the Metalkind and the Fleshkind getting rather pushed into “B” story territory as the focus turned to Sky and her integration into the full time cast. If anything this episode almost had too much going on with Rani’s parents popping up for not much of a reason and the surprise reappearance of The Shopkeeper and The Captain hinting at a plot arc which would sadly go unfulfilled. I feel this episode was intended as a back door reboot of the series, introducing Sky and reestablishing Clyde and Rani’s roles within the show as they become surrogate aunt and uncle to her, a canny move on the part of the production team faced with a cast who in story terms are about to follow Luke out of Ealing and off to university.

“The Curse of Clyde Langer”: Its always a bit of worry when a kids show devotes an episode to ISSUES! In this case homelessness as Clyde, cursed via Portentous Sci-Fi Injury by a scary looking totem pole and is rejected by everyone who cares for him is forced to roam the streets of London. It came as a relief when the episode was a really strong one, Daniel Anthony was at his excellent best as Clyde and this episode acted as a wonderful showcase for the character. When we first meet him in “Revenge of the Slitheen” Clyde is very much a stereotypical secondary school clown and slacker, wisecracking and coasting his way through, trying to disguise a vulnerable kid inside. Clyde’s rejection by his family and downfall is really painful to watch and I think thats a tribute to the brilliance of the writers and a reminder of how central Clyde is to the show as whole. Clyde is the beating heart of the team, a lovely counterpoint to Luke (a Geordi to his Data is you will) and a great comedic foil to Rani. The big issue of the episode, homelessness, is actually beautifully handled and the script doesn’t shy away from the issue or try to sugar coat it. For instance, the fate of Ellie, who befriends Clyde on the streets remains unknown as Clyde is forced to leave her behind. I thought the show would go down the easy road of Clyde somehow rescuing her from her situation but that was passed by in favour of a more “realistic” ending where she simply disappears and Clyde is left with the realisation that he probably didn’t even know her real name. I wonder if Ellie would have made another appearance had the show continued?

“The Man Who Never Was”: Its fitting that the last episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures is very much Sarah Jane’s story as she, with the help of her gang of young apprentices helps to take down a unscrupulous business man and rescue some aliens from slavery. As with “Sky” this is on the face of it a pretty simplistic tale but it does the job extremely well as it mixes genuine laughs (check out the absolutely filthy joke Clyde makes in part 2!) with some great action and a interesting morality angle. Apparently this episode was intended to be the finale of series 5 had the season been made in full, this is somewhat borne out by the episode as to me it felt a little disjointed, as if plot points and character development that was planned but we never got to see were taken out. In spite of this episode was excellent with particular praise going again to the central SJA team. Lis Sladen was a hugely underrated comedic actress and her skills were beautifully showcased here, especially during her confrontation with the holographic Mr Serf. I think it very fitting that Sarah Jane gets involved in the story because shes one of the top journalists in the country, a lovely way for the writers to remind  us of how awesome Sarah Jane is in ‘real’ life, not just in world saving. Daniel Anthony and Anjli Mohindr were on their usual great form, again working wonderfully with the comedic aspects of the script. Tommy Knight (Luke) and Sinead Michael (Sky) have never come across as the most accomplished actors however this actually worked in their favour as they awkwardly tried to bond as brother and sister.

Overall looking over this truncated series the episodes were up to the excellent standard set by previous series, however its very much tinged with sadness as I’m left with an almost overwhelming sense of lost opportunities. The unexpected reappearance of The Shopkeeper and The Captain hints at an arc for the series that they were unable to expand on. The alien slavery story line is ripe for more exploration and it would have been awesome to see Sarah Jane putting a permanent end to it. There is a distinct possibility that Ellie would have reappeared and that could have been a brilliant way to explore the bubbling romance angle between Clyde and Rani (or ‘Clani’ as Luke had dubbed them) or even as a way to get the brilliant Trickster back to the series. I’m also sad that we’re not going to see any more of Sky’s story, presumably in series 6 when Clyde and Rani would be moving on to university we’d have a story with Sky’s friends discovering the attic and Sarah Jane embarking on a whole new set of adventures with some new youngsters.

Despite my sadness that there will be no more Sarah Jane Adventures the coda at the end of the episode gives us hope that somewhere, Sarah Jane is in an attic being brilliant and saving the world, and in that way, she’ll live forever. What a wonderful tribute to a phenomenal character and an amazing actress.

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Top Ten: My Favourite Doctor Who Stories (Part 1)

Posted by emmahyam on October 13, 2011

Welcome to my first top ten list of the post-season, and of course straight off the bat, I’m cheating (a bit) by doing a two part list, this is a list of my favourite  stories from the classic series, the second part will be a run down of the same for the post 2005 run. Be warned however, I’m not going to shy away from SPOILERS here, so if you’ve yet to see these stories and want to remain unspoiled, proceed with extreme caution.

So without further ado, lets begin..

10) Carnival of Monsters

My second favourite Third Doctor adventure, in this serial the Doctor and Jo, aiming for Metebelis Three and missing it end up on a mysterious cruise ship the SS Bernice and needless to say shenanigans ensue as they eventually realise that they’re trapped inside the Miniscope. This is a machine that keeps miniaturised groups of creatures in miniaturised versions of their natural environments as an entertainment, not least of all the notorious Drashig (see the pic above). This story is wonderful, the relationship between The Doctor and Jo is never better, Jon Pertwee plays his interpretation of The Doctor at his putting-the-world-to-rights best as he shuts down the Miniscope. I also love travelling showman Vorg and his assistant Shirna in some top notch support work, but I think I thing I love the most is the quality of the FX work, the scene where Vorg tries to extract the TARDIS from the Miniscope, and look at the Drashig! Its the skull of a fox inside a handpuppet but on screen its awesome and scary!

9) Tomb of the Cybermen

Without doubt my most loved of the Second Doctors serials, The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria tag along with an archaeological expedition on Telos who are trying to find the remains of the legendary Cybermen who apparently died out 500 years previously, this being Doctor Who, of course it turns out the Cybermen aren’t quite as extinct as everyone thought. This adventure is simply great, a rip-roaring boys own tale. Matt Smith cites this story as direct inspiration for his Doctors look and general demeanor and he couldn’t have picked a better model as Patrick Troughton is on fire in this one. The script is amazing and has two of my favourite bits of dialogue in all of Classic Who, firstly theres The Doctor’s withering put down of Klieg:

Eric Klieg: Doctor, you seem to be very familiar with this place.
The Doctor: Oh no, not really, um, it’s all based on symbolic logic, the same as you use in computers. The opening mechanism to this door, an or-gate you call it.
Eric Klieg: Yes yes, I can see that, but how did you know in the first place?
The Doctor: Oh, I used my own special technique.
Eric Klieg: Oh really Doctor, and may we know what that is?
The Doctor: Keeping my eyes open and my mouth shut.

Then theres The Doctor comforting a in mourning Victoria in a wonderful early glimpse into The Doctor’s loneliness:

The Doctor: Are you happy with us, Victoria?
Victoria: Yes, I am. At least, I would be if my father were here.
The Doctor: Yes, I know, I know.
Victoria: I wonder what he would have thought if he could see me now.
The Doctor: You miss him very much, don’t you?
Victoria: It’s only when I close my eyes. I can still see him standing there, before those horrible Dalek creatures came to the house. He was a very kind man, I shall never forget him. Never.
The Doctor: No, of course you won’t. But, you know, the memory of him won’t always be a sad one.
Victoria: I think it will. You can’t understand, being so ancient.
The Doctor: Eh?
Victoria: I mean old.
The Doctor: Oh.
Victoria: You probably can’t remember your family.
The Doctor: Oh yes, I can when I want to. And that’s the point, really. I have to really want to, to bring them back in front of my eyes. The rest of the time they… they sleep in my mind and I forget. And so will you. Oh yes, you will. You’ll find there’s so much else to think about. To remember. Our lives are different to anybody else’s. That’s the exciting thing, that nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing.

Simply wonderful.

8 ) The Caves of Androzani

Recently voted the number one classic Doctor Who story by readers of Doctor Who Magazine to say this story is seminal doesn’t quite  do it justice. The Fifth Doctor and Peri get caught up in the politics of mining spectrox, the most valuable substance in the universe, things are further complicated when Peri contracts spectrox toxaemia and The Doctor makes the ultimate sacrifice to save his friend. Its such a crying shame that the Fifth Doctor’s adventures came to an end here but on the other hand what an incredible way for Peter Davison to bow out. His rescue of Peri at the cost of his own life is heartbreaking and Davison is magnificent, the story is also gifted with truly memorable baddies in the shape of Sharaz Jek and fourth wall breaking Morgus. I defy any fan not to join in with The Doctor as he yells “I’m not going to let you stop me now!” during the episode three cliffhanger.

7) Ghost Light

The Seventh Doctor and Ace’s finest hour, Ghost Light is a dark, gothic fariy tale where in 1883 the mansion house of Gabriel Chase in Perivale near London is under the control of the mysterious Josiah Samuel Smith the TARDIS arrives and there is a deadly test in store for Ace. This is a serial I’ve seen many times but I’m still not quite sure what actually happens! Its an unforgiving, complex tale that forms what fans call “The Ace Trilogy” a three-story arc that explores the turbulent personal history of the Doctor’s companion, Ace. Such detailed exploration of a companion’s earlier life was unusual in the original series and that dear reader is the origin of modern Doctor Who as we know it, emphasizing the Doctor and the companion equally.

6) The Time Meddler

Choosing a first doctor tale for this list was really hard, because so many of them deserve multiple spots here, although I love stories like “The Romans” and “The Aztecs” “The Time Meddler” presses all the buttons that for me make a great Who serial. The TARDIS lands in 1066 on the coast of Northumbria, and their arrival has been witnessed by a Monk who oddly does not seem fazed by the materialisation. It has great humour, a delicious baddie in the shape of The Meddling Monk (some fan theories hold that he is in fact an early incarnation of The Master), a wonderfully complex plot and a really cool “alternative history” setting. Its by no means perfect but I defy you not to shout “YES! IN YOUR FACE!” when The Doctor totally flim-flams The Meddling Monk to strand him in 1066.

5) State of Decay

This story marks the beginning of the “E-Space” trilogy of stories that came towards the end of Tom Baker’s reign as the Doctor, conventional fan wisdom holds that the quality of Tom Baker stories drops off sharply post series 17 but there is some real excellence to be had, and this story is by far my favourite of the bunch. Canny readers will probably be concluding that I tend towards the “goth” in my stories and there is no story more goth than this, the Doctor, Adric and Romana arrive on a planet experiencing what appears to be a feudal period. The villagers live under the thrall of three lords—Zargo, Camilla, and Aukon (AKA The Three Who Rule) who dwell in a shadowy Tower, for me the serial is like if Castlevania and Hammer Horror had a child and stuck Tom Baker in and its absolutely magnificent for it. The design alone makes this episode stand out, just look at the richness of the Tower, the relationship between The Doctor and Romana is never better (as in real life Tom Baker and Lalla Ward’s love affair was at its hight) and the story adds greatly to the mythology of Gallifrey and its ancient past.

4) The Mind of Evil

Number 10 on this list was my second favourite Jon Pertwee tale, and heres my absolute  favourite, this is another story that has several contenders for its spot (oh how it pains me to leave “Inferno” out!) but this story completely made me fall in love with Pertwee’s  interpretation of the good Doctor. In the serial The Doctor and Jo visit Stangmoor Prison to examine a new method of “curing” criminality, whereby the negative impulses are removed from the brain using the Keller Machine to enact the Keller Process, of course it turns out to be a nefarious plot by The Master to disrupt the first World Peace Conference, seemingly just to annoy The Doctor. The story features great work from “The UNIT family”, Jo at her resourceful and compassionate best, some brilliant Third Doctor zingers (“do you think for once you could arrive before the nick of time?!) and most intriguingly of all some real insight into The Master as portrayed by Roger Delgado, a performance never bettered in my opinion.

3) The Pyramids of Mars

If you want a Doctor Who story to show someone who wants to get into Classic Who, you can’t go far wrong with this absolute gem of a story, the TARDIS materialises inside a Victorian gothic mansion which formerly stood on the site where U.N.I.T.’s headquarters exists during the time of the Fourth Doctor. The Doctor and Sarah become aware that something is very wrong: the owner is missing and the estate has come under the control of a mysterious Egyptian. A dangerous alien power is at work, and the Doctor recognizes the mastermind of all this as Sutekh the Destroyer, the last of the Osirians. Mixing everything you’d come to expect from Doctor Who at its best, one of the best villans of all time, alternative histories, many horrifying deaths, genuine chills and an irresistible companion and Doctor combo. Its also one of the most quotable stories of all time; “I’m a Time Lord! I walk in eternity!”, “Kneel before the might of Sutekh!”, “Evil? Your evil is my good!” and “I am the servant of Sutekh, he needs no other!” to name but a few. Its this Doctor Who fans equivalent of comfort food and lovely cup of tea.

2) Genesis of the Daleks

Let me take you back to the heady days of 1994, when I was 11, I’d been brought up in a ‘Star Trek house’ and all I knew of Doctor Who was the kind of British pop culture stuff like, he has a TARDIS, he travels around with a load of screaming girls and there are these things called Daleks. I just so happened to catch a repeat of Genesis… on UK Gold, when they used to show Blakes 7 before it and you had to get up at about 5.30 am to watch it all. I did just that and lo, an fan was born. Its just an incredible achievement from beginning to end , that shocking beginning, the cliffhangers to episodes 2 and 5, the torture af Harry and Sarah Jane, Davros’ ‘tiny pressure of my thumb’ speech and most of all, the moment in episode 6 where the Doctor holds the future of the Daleks in his hands. Granted the serial is by no means perfect, there are plot holes you can drive a ford fiesta through, that never ending scene in episode 1 with the landmine and most of all, that god forsaken giant clam but it does contain all the elements of truly classic Who. It has all everything that you most associate with the classic series,Tom Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith as resourceful girl adventurer and the dashing, wise cracking Harry Sullivan.The rest of the supporting cast are superb, especially Michael Wisher’s Davros, who dominates almost every scene he is in.

1) The Brain of Morbius

So here we are, my favourite Classic serial of all time, years ago, the Time Lord known as Morbius tried to lead a revolution but was executed for his ambition on the planet Karn. When the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane arrive on the planet, they discover that, thanks to Dr Solon, the dead may rise. This short synopsis hardly does justice to the most demented, wonderful, funny and down right amazing story. Incredible performances, amazing creature design and more quotable dialogue gems than you can shake a stick at (“you chicken-brained biological disaster!”) this story is for me the full package. Sure its cheesy, the Morbius creature visibly bumps into the camera at one point, The Sisterhood of Karn all seem to be auditioning for a Kate Bush video, Phillip Madoc appears to trying to eat the scenery and the set is audibly and visually made of plywood and cardboard but that doesn’t matter in the slightest, everything comes together to make “The Brain of Morbius” far more than the sum of its parts and for me, you cant get much more “Doctor Who” than that.

So there you have it, there are so many stories I wish I could included, it was so hard to narrow it down to just 10! I’d love to hear what your top classic stories are, leave your run down in the comments!

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Coming Up Soon On The Blue Box Blog…

Posted by emmahyam on October 7, 2011

Hi everyone! This is just a quick post to let you all know my plans for the blog during the off-season of Doctor Who.

As readers will be aware Doctor Who is now off our screens until (we presume) Christmas time, Torchwood probably not coming back until 2013 at the earliest and The Sarah Jane Adventures now winding to an enforced end. I want to make sure that I keep writing for this blog  and keep bringing you all interesting and entertaining (I hope!) missives.

So my plans for the blog are:

  • Before Christmas I’ll be writing another fairly lengthy “Reflecting On…” for Doctor Who series 6
  • I’ll be doing roughly weekly “Top Ten” pieces, I feel thats a category I’ve rather under utilized around these parts and I’ve got a some cool ideas for lists.
  • I’ve also been toying with ideas for a new series, tentatively titled “Who 101”, this would be a series of articles aimed at people who have either never seen the series at all, or who have only watched Doctor Who since the 2005 return that took a look at dissecting some of the old Who tropes, stories and companions.

Most of all I’d love to hear your feedback! Is there anything you want me to write about? What do you think of the “Who 101” idea? Any suggestions for Top Ten lists? I’d love to hear them! Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for my upcoming review of the last three episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures and the first of my Top Tens…

 

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Doctor Who: “The Wedding of River Song” Review

Posted by emmahyam on October 1, 2011

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE 

Well I never…

This episode was always going to have quite the challenge to resolve all the issues that were raised in this series and to do it in a way that was satisfactory even more so. So lets take the first issue, did it answer all the questions raised?

Well, sort of, no doubts there will be plenty of viewers crying “cop out” at the posing of yet another mystery to be solved but the episode was successful in answering the questions that series 6 threw our way and sorted some stuff from previous years. Eye patches? Check. River Song’s marital status? Check. The Doctor’s fate? Check. The nature of The Silence? Check.

And here lies the issue, the episode was so geared towards tying off loose ends that the episode whizzed by at such a thunderous pace as to leave me feeling somewhat bamboozled and underwhelmed, there were some fun little moments, the appearance of Charles Dickens, the carnivorous skulls left by the Headless Monks, The Doctor’s attempt to get Captain Williams to ask out Amy and River and The Doctor’s shotgun wedding. It was well acted, I loved Karen Gillan’s work in this episode, her coldness in allowing the death of Madame Kervorian was awesome and more than a little terrifying. The visual effects were overall excellent and the fate of The Brigadier brought a tear to my eye.

Despite these bits I found my eyes flicking towards to clock, wondering how on earth they were going to get this to a conclusion and trying to keep everything straight in my mind. More than a few times I found myself thinking of this episode as functional rather than entertaining. You could sometimes see the plot points being hit rather than a fluid move from cause to effect. Problem is how could the show do anything else? By setting this series up to move towards an event that could never really take place without ending the whole show, whether this was a wise decision on Steven Moffat’s part is going to be a debate that keeps fandom going for the rest of time I think.

I think people really weren’t expecting things to be this straight forward, that there would be an immense universe imploding shock to the system that we go with “The Pandorica Opens”/”The Big Bang” but we should know better than that by now, with Steven Moffat things are never really that complicated when you scratch at the surface and I think when push comes to shove that will disappoint more than a few viewers. I wasn’t disappointed by what I saw, it was the logical conclusion of  the last two series, in fact I’m looking forward to going back to series 5 and 6 and seeing how it works in retrospect, armed with the knowledge we have now. As I said earlier in this post the episode itself suffered under the weight of the purpose it had to fulfill but it was still a good piece of television. As series finales go it certainly wasn’t the worst we’ve been given, it wasn’t the best either but with me I’ll tolerate stuff from The Doctor that I’d never countenance from anyone else.

I’m sure as I type this the internet is ablaze with “MOFFAT MUST GO” and I think that was going to be the reaction whatever happened in this episode, it was always going to be seen as a cop out and thats a shame because whatever this episodes faults it doesn’t deserve that harsh a verdict. In 20 years time when people are writing clever books about series 6 and youngsters are discovering it for themselves I believe this episode will be held in much higher regard, much like series one’s “Boom Town”, hated by nearly everyone on transmission has now been subject to a great deal of revisionist praise.

So in conclusion I thought it was good albeit flawed, a lot of you who read this will think it sucked and Moffat should be hung from the nearest yardarm… as it always was and as it will always be, and when you think about it isn’t that just a tiny bit marvelous….?

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