Doctor Who - He's A Coming

Doctor Who

Steve Hendry loves Doctor Who. Here he remembers the excitement before series 8 began...

Amidst all the 50th anniversary brouhaha, Peter Capaldi’s now imminent seizure of the TARDIS controls seemed so far away. The live TV announcement of his casting was met with no little excitement and virtually universal approval from around the Whoniverse. I hate that word and won’t be using it again. Bear with me, I haven’t written an article for a while and I’m hoping Steve will forgive that one. Unlike our Steve, I loved the 50th anniversary special and absolutely everything that came with it. I loved the mini episodes, the trailers and all the promotional guff that accompanies such events. Hell, I even watched The One Show, although the sight and sound of Gyles Brandreth in the TARDIS control room was maybe where we reached ‘peak 50th’. A Tory in the TARDIS, whatever would Malcolm Hulke say? But even Gyles firing up the Helmic Regulator left me undeterred and couldn’t burst my bubble of excitement. And so the day came, my boys and I headed for the Lincoln Odeon to watch DOCTOR WHO AT THE CINEMA IN 3D.

I can still barely believe that actually happened, having dreamed of it since being fresh off the loom. I will write about the whole 50th thing another time, of about how I couldn’t contain myself for weeks leading up to the main event and how it delivered everything I wanted and more. Of course, a huge element of that ‘more’ was the surprise cameo by Capaldi, whose three-dimensional hand and eyes sent Screen 3’s audience into near-apoplexy. After David Morrissey’s Christmas tease, this was the real thing- a future Doctor, here! On screen, now, saving Gallifrey! I don’t know if it’s just me, but I haven’t stopped being excited since his first appearance last November 23rd. I am reaching levels of excitement for Capaldi’s debut season to match those I had leading up to the 50th. Here are a few reasons why.

Clara

Clara

My favourite companion since Sarah-Jane Smith is about to embark on her first full season playing her character absolutely straight, with no mystery about who she is or isn’t. Jenna Coleman spent over two hours doing just that at the back end of last year and she impressed me no end. All the companions post 2005 have had a big part to play in the season finale, with a trail of clues for the viewer along the way. It will be good, especially in Capaldi’s first year, to have the main focus on The Doctor himself and his developing character, with Clara at his side as his friend, rather than an enigma. If Coleman and Capaldi can develop anything close to the chemistry Lis Sladen and Tom Baker established in his debut season most fans will surely be keen for Clara to extend her TARDIS tenancy into 2015. Let’s just hope she knows how to fly it.

The writers

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss

I’ve met three of them, you know. Mark Gatiss and Gareth Roberts at a New Adventures convention in Peterborough mid-hiatus in 1993 (hard-core, me) and Phil Ford when I blagged my way into the Adventure Games launch in Sheffield (I could tell you about this but Edward Russell would doubtless have me shot). I find it hard to believe it’s almost five years since Phil Ford’s Waters of Mars aired, and harder still that it’s taken that long for Ford to be invited back to write television Who. Waters would have sat perfectly well in Season 13 or 14, laced with its liberal servings of tension and body horror, with a cricket-score death count thrown in for good measure. A companion-less Doctor is difficult to write well for, before this only Robert Holmes managed it with The Deadly Assassin, and Ford, along with co-writer Russell T Davies, did it superbly, and they did it all without the able assistance of Spandrell and Engin. There have been remarks made by Steven Moffat recently that suggest a return to a Philip Hinchcliffe era style is in the offing for the show this year, making Ford a great fit on previous form ( I wrote all that without saying the word “dark”, applause due I think, the rustiness is leaving me Steve).

Mark Gatiss is a terrific exponent of horror, his enthusiasm for the genre (evident here) shines through in his writing, in Night Terrors and The Unquiet Dead especially. In fact, Victory of the Daleks apart, all of his contributions to Who since 2005 have had memorably creepy moments. I am a big fan of Gatiss as a writer and actor and make no secret of it, and although I’m not the first to suggest it, would be delighted if he ascends to show runner when the Moff eventually abdicates.

Steve Thompson’s episodes thus far have attracted some criticism, but it is important to remember that, other than perhaps Gatiss, Doctor Who writers don’t rock up Chez Moff, waving a plot synopsis under Sue Vertue’s nose asking if her old fella can have a read of it after he’s eaten his tea. Moffat gives writers their brief, and if he wants a spacecraft/pirate ship and a rogue alien/mermaid then that is what the writer will have to deliver. It’s paid work. If I was asked to write about Geordie Shore I would write the article first before sending our Editor-In-Chief for psychological analysis. The point is, Thompson just about succeeded in making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear with The Pirates of Casting Lily Cole but in a Non-Speaking Role, and if Moffat has got over his Dinosaurs on a Spaceship Etcetera phase as seems likely, Thommo deserves another crack of the whip. Peter Harness and Jamie Mathieson are this year’s new writers, and ought to be afforded the same leeway, for the same reason.

So where does that leave Gareth Roberts? I feel sorry for him in that he’s always associated with lighter episodes, and hopefully the expected shift in tone this series will afford him, like Thompson, the chance he deserves to write a meatier one. No more James Corden though, ta very much.

All of which, at the time of writing (no other writers are yet confirmed), leaves The Don himself. After the initial promise of Asylum of the Daleks, the remaining pre-Snowmen episodes of last season left me hankering for a Russell T-style arc. I know why it couldn’t have worked out that way and the Clara storyline more than made up for it in the end, but Moffat himself seems to have rightly insisted on a complete series run in order to avoid a repeat of what felt like a disjointed few weeks in late 2012. I can’t let my editor take all the heat for his 50th-hate, and at this point I must declare my distaste for the majority of The Angels Take Manhattan. It was, in the main, mawkish guff and the pair of them ought to have been killed off properly. You still don’t hate me enough, hang on….oh yes, the best bit was the Statue of Liberty being revealed in its true form. These few weeks were a brief aberration in Moffat’s glorious reign however, and as I mentioned earlier, his of The Doctor quadrilogy is a collective masterpiece that even he will surely struggle to top. He’d need a really big story arc to head for at season’s end in order to do so, now if only he’d set something up last year….

Gallifrey and its other migrants

Gallifrey

Maybe this will be at the heart of this season’s final two episodes, and maybe not. Some quality insight and analysis, right there. It will most likely feature at the end of the coming season, but can you imagine the glorious, painful tension if The Doctor came agonisingly close instead, and his voyage home extended into 2015, or even a movie? In terms of other Time Lords, I have everything crossed that Keeley Hawes, long overdue her first appearance in Who, may be The Rani. The only disappointment attached to that for me would be that she couldn’t then play The Doctor in the future. There is speculation, yet to be confirmed or denied by anyone at the BBC, that the magnificent Charles Dance is to play Gallifrey’s second most famous export- The Master. Conveniently for Dance, his previous Game of Thrones commitments won’t be an issue now were The Master to become a recurring character a’ la Roger Delgado and there’s been no recent indication from John Simm that he wants to return to the role. Unless the story was picked up right after the end of The End of Time (2) it’d surely be stretching audience imagination to bring Simm back now anyway, given The Master’s deteriorating physical condition at that time. The ‘skeleton’ effect was a nice easter egg for fans that enjoyed Peter Pratt and Geoffrey Beevers’ Masters, and the shock revelation of what a Time Lord can resemble at the end of his twelfth incarnation, which of course differed massively from Matt Smith’s kindly old guy at the end of The Time of The Doctor. There’s some powerful good/evil juxtaposed symbolism there, if you like that sort of thing. I have a theory on this that The Master assumed control of a newly-formed High Council after vapourising Rassilon, removed his drum beat curse and set about contacting The Doctor via the Cracks In The Skin Of The Universe in order to seek his help in restoring Gallifrey to its usual universe, but you don’t want to read about that….

Peter Capaldi

Peter Capaldi

You want to read about him, you want to know what colour his kidneys are and why he’s not keen on their new hue, you want to hear his first words when he opens the TARDIS doors and, more than anything, you want to see him lacing up those Doc Martens, facing down Daleks and kicking ass. As tempting as the prospect of Shane Richie or Justin Bieber taking the lead role at the start of The Doctor’s new regeneration cycle may have been, Capaldi looks like The Doctor already. He’s the right choice for right now, just as Matt Smith was a perfect antidote for the intensity and darkness of the latter days of David Tennant. And, like Tennant, he is one of us, a fan who has loved and obsessed over the world’s greatest ever television series since he was a wee bairn. He is the type of fan who is au fait with UNIT dating, one who’d be utterly un-perplexed if presented with a script containing a battle over crystals between Sabalom Glitz and Sil on Metebelis Three. He will play The Doctor like The Doctor should be, like he’s imagined he would all his life and now he’s just two months away from seeing himself on screen. He can’t wait, you can’t wait and nor can I. Viva Capaldi!

Images - BBC.