So, the time is almost upon us again. A new series of Doctor Who begins tomorrow, and the BBC are already trailing it heavily with a minute and a half clipshow on their red button interactive service.
And it looks good. A shorter trail than last year’s, we get to see some provocative glimpses of exciting alien worlds, weird villains, and trips into history. David Tennant, whose performance seemed rather uncertain and uneven last year, seemed to have finally nailed the role in the Runaway Bride, and this year promises to stretch him a little further. It’s already common knowledge that Paul Cornell’s written a two-parter based on his celebrated New Adventure Human Nature, which features an amnesiac Doctor living a life as a human schoolteacher in pre WW1 England, and quite unaware of his true nature. The trail shows some tantalising glimpses of this, as a tweed-clad Tennant angrily proclaims “I am not the Doctor!” Meanwhile, a scarily intense looking Harry Lloyd (Will Scarlett from Robin Hood) appears to be the leader of the “Family of Blood” that gives the second part its title.
We’re also promised a return to New Earth, setting for last year’s decidedly lacklustre season opener. As the look of the planet itself was the best thing about that episode, one can only hope that Russell T Davies has come up with a more solid script to set there this time.
The Beeb are not keeping any secret this year about the return of the Daleks, in the bizarre setting of 1930s New York. There’s some cool shots of them flying about, firing on a woodland camp (though that could be the product of some clever editing for the trail). The brief shot of some dancing girls complete with red feathers in a Busby Berkeley style musical number also makes me wonder if there’s a bit of a nod to the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!
I’ve been fairly vocal about my dislike of the show’s constant falling back onto trashy pop-culture references, as if making a laboured attempt to match Joss Whedon’s effortlessly cool dialogue from Buffy. Apart from anything else, the constant references to things like the Weakest Link, Big Brother and Eastenders date the show almost instantly. As I’ve said to friends (ad nauseam), while the original series inspired me to read Shakespeare, the new one is unlikely to inspire any reading more complex than Heat magazine. As if to redress the balance, this year we get an episode set in and around the Globe theatre in 1599, and I think it’s safe to say there may be some influence of Shakespeare there. What’s more, it’s written by the splendid Gareth Roberts, who writes brilliantly funny and authentic dialogue for this period, as seen in his Virgin Missing Adventure the Plotters. Plus, it’s got the Dan Brown-baiting title of the Shakespeare Code!
Elsewhere, we see that Mark Gatiss, not having written an episode this year, appears in one instead, and some pretty high profile guest stars include one Derek Jacobi. Captain Jack’s back too, and John Barrowman will have to do some explaining to justify Torchwood! But the new star that dominates the trail is Freema Agyeman as new companion Martha Jones. Beyond being obviously older and initially a little smarter than Rose Tyler, the trail gives little away about what she’ll be like. It’s fair to say that her relationship with the Doctor will have to be very different from the intense and overtly romantic one between him and Rose, and despite my enjoyment of Camille Coduri, Shaun Dingwall and Noel Clarke, I do hope the show comes to rely a little less on having the soap opera aspect of a supporting cast from the companion’s family and friends.
For both the previous seasons, Russell introduced the loose story arc concept that tied the episodes together. The “Bad Wolf” motif in the first year was intriguing, and did eventually make perfect sense within the deus ex machina used to end the series. As Rose had come to transcend space and time, it made perfect sense that she should be able to scatter notes to herself throughout history (though why be so cryptic?). Year two, however, gave us a laboured, crammed in reference to Torchwood in almost every episode that was just gratuitous and didn’t make any sense beyond simple coincidence. Torchwood, after all, cannot travel through time and space, so any reference beyond its founding and the 21st century setting was implausible at best, and hardly constituted a storyline. Some fans have suggested an idea whereby the Doctor’s encounter with Queen Victoria led to an alternate history in which Torchwood exists; an intriguing idea unfortunately never really explored.
The other basic story premise for each season so far has been the return of a crowd-pleasing villain from the show’s past around the middle of the run, their apparent defeat and then reappearance in force for the final two-parter (viz, the Daleks and then the Cybermen – and the Daleks!). If they do that again this year, though, it will be way too predictable. So let’s hope Russell has come up with an overarching storyline that makes sense to be set all through time and space, and follows a different structure to the previous two years. If the rumours circling around are true (and I try to stay clear of spoilers but some always get through), the shot of the always excellent John Simm as the mysterious Mr Saxon, the House of Commons looming large behind him, may give us something of a clue. The title of the final episode, Last of the Time Lords, is also tantalisingly suggestive…
Last year, I tried to give a capsule review of each episode on Outpost Gallifrey, often while still rather blinkered by the enjoyment of the episode and unnecessarily apologetic for its flaws. This year, hopefully, I’ll do a rather more in-depth review of each episode here, and link to it from OG. That’s the plan, anyway. Watch this space…