Sunday, 27 October 2013

In Defence of Dan Didio's stance on heroic sacrifice & marriage in DC Comics

DC Comics' Co-Publisher Dan Didio has come under fire from fans in the past few months for his views on heroism and personal sacrifice. As Didio himself put it in Necessary Evil, the recent documentary on DC Villains, he believes that;
(Heroes) have to have something sacrificed… every time they win. They should be a little more broken because of what they’ve done.
This view has been reflected in DC's line of super-hero comics, The New 52, and was brought to everybody's attention most recently when the creative team on Batwoman quit the book after being told that they couldn't marry their lead character to her partner, Maggie Sawyer. Didio has defended his stance on superhero marriage on several occasions. At the DC Nation panel at this year's Baltimore Comic-Con he stated.
 Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests.That’s very important and something we reinforced. People in the Bat family their personal lives basically suck...Bruce Wayne, Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon and Kathy Kane. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand.
While at this year's New York Comic Con he argued,
These are about superhero comics...I don’t want to read a book about a marriage. This is personal, but what I want to read a book about is how they are balancing all elements in their lives...It doesn’t mean DC won’t have married characters, that's ridiculous...We’re two years into the new continuity, why rush things? It’s not set in stone...we want to develop relationships before we start marrying people...there have to be sacrifices when you become a hero… So it has to come from the personal life… That doesn’t mean DC won’t have married characters, but why do you want to rush to the end?
While I believe it was daft to sacrifice a great creative team on Batwoman in order to adhere to this way of thinking, generally speaking I completely agree with Didio on this issue. Fictional heroes, particularly superheroes, should not be too happy. Tragedy and sacrifice should be a part of their life and in most circumstances they should not be married.

Let's make one thing clear, when Didio talks about heroes it's obvious (at least to me) that he isn't talking about real life heroes. Of course fire-fighters or soldiers or police officers don't need tragedy in their life to motivate their heroism, and obviously a great deal of them are happily married. I'm quite sure that Didio realises this. But the lives of these heroes aren't unfolding in the ongoing, never ending, action-orientated, fictional, soap opera world of super-hero comics. I'm sure there's an audience out there for The Adventures of Alan the Happy Fireman but such a comic would not fulfill the promise that I would argue is inherent in a superhero comic, a promise of hyperbolic action and conflict.

Conflict is essential to any story, and conflict means that your protagonists are never going to be completely happy. In order to tell an exciting story (particularly within the over the top world of a superhero) the conflict needs to be larger than the ones most of us face in our day to day lives. Since the story is about a person who has chosen to help other people then surely it makes sense that the conflict would arise from that choice. Sure, the decision to be a hero doesn't need to come at a cost, but doesn't it make for a more interesting story if it does?

Of course, a lot of the sacrifices faced by DC's heroes occurred before they decided to be heroes. Many heroes, such as Hal "Green Lantern" Jordan have had existing childhood tragedies emphasised within recent stories, whereas other heroes, such as Barry "The Flash" Allen, have had tragedies retroactively inserted into their childhood. It's possible to argue that all this childhood tragedy has made DC's heroes seem far too similar to each other and that they've all become clones of DC's most successful character, Batman. I would argue that if the tragedy in every hero's life was what motivated them to become a hero (as with Batman) then yes, they would indeed be far too similar to each other. But each hero is shaped by the tragedy, and overcomes the tragedy in different ways. For example, The Flash resolves to keep moving forward and not look back, whereas Green Lantern is able to overcome great fear, having already experienced the thing he fears the most. It could be argued that the death of Ma and Pa Kent actually serves to make Superman a less effective hero, since their deaths further alienate him from those he wishes to protect. Each hero reacts to their personal tragedy in different ways, some become heroes because of it, others become heroes in spite of it. Either way their story is made more compelling by the tragedy.

But what about marriage? Is it really necessary for superheroes to be unwed? You could argue that there can still be conflict and sacrifice within the lives of a married couple, and you'd be right. But we're not talking about just any couple. We're talking about couples like Superman & Lois Lane. Sure, they were married from 1996 to 2011 (before their marriage was wiped from continuity) and we got some great stories, but from as early as 2000 writers were arguing that "the marriage and the emphasis on soap opera no longer seems to be working as well in the current market as it once did."  I believe that this is because Superman & Lois are the perfect couple. They were made for each other, how could they marry each other and not be happy? Any sacrifice Superman makes, any conflict he faces, has the edge taken off it significantly by the notion that at he has built a life for himself with his soul mate. At the end of it all he gets to come home to Lois (and vice versa). The conflict could come from some threat to Lois, but that gets repetitive after a while and to constantly repeat that type of story does a disservice to Lois. The conflict could come from tensions within the marriage but could we really believe that there was any conflict between characters like Superman and Lois that couldn't be resolved? The couple could be shown facing a conflict together, but isn't it more heroic (and a more interesting story) if the hero has to face a threat or a tough decision without the comfort of his or her life partner to rely on? Superman is simply not built to forever be a married hero in an ongoing narrative, and I would argue that the same applies to a great deal of his fellow DC heroes.

The fact is, a hero who has found the happiness he deserves is a great ending to a story, but when it comes to the heroes who inhabit the DC Universe, their story can never end. That's the nature of mainstream superhero comics. The heroes are trapped forever in their late 20s, fighting their battles over and over again. That's the nature of the beast. Any happiness they gain must be fleeting, because next issue they must be immersed in conflict all over again. And a story needs conflict, even a story without an ending. Otherwise you've just got issue after issue of happy, well adjusted folks with superpowers easily overcoming lightweight obstacles, and I can't find it in my heart to criticise Dan Didio for not wanting that to be the future of DC Comics.

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Best, The Worst, and The Most Underrated of Doctor Who

This year the greatest TV show ever made, Doctor Who, is fifty years old. For any newcomers to Who fandom, fifty years worth of TV might seem a little daunting. With this in mind I thought I'd compile a list of what I feel are the best, worst, and most underrated episodes that each of the eleven Doctors have starred in.

The First Doctor - William Hartnell

The Best: The Romans

The Hartnell era is often quite serious in tone, it was after all originally intended to be an educational show. Hartnell himself is often remembered for his grumpy, impatient portrayal of The Doctor. The Romans however is the series' first attempt at comedy. The Doctor rarely stops chuckling as he bullshits his way into the good graces of Emperor Nero. In one memorable scene The Doctor fends off an assassin by nimbly dodging his attacks, causing the assassin to fall victim to his own pratfalls (an early example of the Third Doctor's Venusian Akido perhaps?). Nero is played as a randy old buffoon and there's lots of mistaken identity, switching of poisoned goblets and main protagonists narrowly missing each other. It's all very silly, and loads of fun, and it really stands out from the rest of the era.

Most Underrated: The Time Meddler

I've seen this described by many as boring but I think it moves along at a nice pace, especially compared to many other stories from this era. Peter Butterworth plays the Meddling Monk, a member of the Doctor's race, who has his own TARDIS and is using it to interfere with history for his own personal gain. Both Butterworth and Hartnell get some great lines, and the scenes where they're together are a delight. A role playing game from the '80s describes the Monk as an earlier incarnation of the Master. This idea is not considered canon, but I find it fascinating, and watching The Time Meddler with this in mind certainly adds to the experience.

The Worst: The Daleks

I'm sure that watching the first appearance of something as brilliant as the Daleks was amazing in 1964, but watching this story today, I can't escape the fact that it's boring. Really, really, boring. This opinion isn't going to win me any friends in Doctor Who fandom, but surely I can't be the only one who thinks this? For a more exciting Hartnell era Dalek epic check out The Dalek Invasion of Earth.

The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton

The Best: The War Games

The War Games
is a ten parter, so you'd be forgiven for thinking that it might make for challenging (in other words, dull) viewing. This couldn't be further from the truth. Sure, our heroes get captured and then re-captured a couple of times, but the central idea's so unique, the supporting characters are so likable, and the villains are so entertainingly evil that any repetitiveness is easily forgiven. It also helps that this is the first story to introduce the Time Lords and explore the Doctor's origins, as well as being Patrick Troughton's last story before he regenerates. But even without these selling points this story would still be a classic. It blends a vivid depiction of historical events with an exploration of clever sci-fi ideas, in other words it's quintessential Doctor Who. The main bad guy in this story, The War Chief, is also named (along with The Monk) as a previous incarnation of The Master in the aforementioned '80s role playing game.

Most Underrated: The Invasion

Mark Campbell's Pocket Essential Doctor Who dismisses this story as "deeply boring" but I think it's ace. Kevin Stoney as Tobias Vaughn is a fantastic bad guy, and the Cybermen in the sewers are really creepy, especially the one who goes off his nut and starts staggering through the shadows, screaming in agony, attacking anything it comes across. This story is the second appearance of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the first appearance of UNIT, and it's intriguing seeing the Second Doctor working with them, a situation more commonly associated with the Third Doctor.

The Worst: The Seeds of Death

This story really is deeply boring, but what marks it out as the worst is that on paper it sounds awesome; Ice Warriors take over a space station on the Moon. What we get instead is lots of dull people in dull overalls being dull, with The Doctor getting menaced by some bath foam at one point. To be fair though, The Second Doctor does get one of his best lines ever - "You can't kill me, I'm a genius!"

The Third Doctor - Jon Pertwee

The Best: The Sea Devils

I found it particularly difficult choosing between this and The Green Death as my favourite Pertwee adventure. The Green Death has one of the most heart wrenching companion departures (The Doctor seems properly gutted when Jo Grant leaves) and it's set in my beloved homeland, Wales. But The Sea Devils has Roger Delgado as The Master, and so I have to give it the top spot. Delgado's Master features in many of the Pertwee stories, but this is probably his best. He's banged up in jail after being caught at the end of The Daemons, and The Doctor's been going to visit him regularly. The warmth between the Doctor and the Master is beautiful. Even when they're sword fighting with each other you feel that they're both loving it. You get the impression that despite being arch enemies they really do enjoy each other's company, and that The Doctor considers The Master to be the only person who really understands him, and vice versa. This aspect of The Master was lost after Delgado's death, and only really returned with John Simm's recent portrayal of the character. Another aspect of this story that makes it stand out is the brilliant incidental music. It's all screeching, eerie, synthesizers, and it really helps to make this story feel unique.

Most Underrated: The Time Monster

Everyone seems to hate this story, but I love it. It's pretty daft, and the monster is literally a person wearing a bed sheet, but it's lots of fun. Pertwee and Delgado bounce off each other beautifully as usual, Ingrid Pitt stars as an Atlantean Queen, and at one point The Master says to Jo "I'm sorry about your coccyx too Miss Grant." What's not to love?

The Worst: The Ambassadors of Death

Apparently this was a leftover script from the Troughton era that was hastily adapted to fit the Third Doctor's status quo, and it shows. Overlong, dull, po-faced and forgettable. There is a character, Ralph Cornish, with the same surname as me, so it's got that going for it I guess.

The Fourth Doctor - Tom Baker

The Best:
The Deadly Assassin

This was a tough one as there are so many great Fourth Doctor stories. Ask me on a different day and I might say Terror of the Zygons, Genesis of the Daleks, Talons of Weng Chiang, Seeds of Doom, The Robots of Death, or City of Death. But if I'm really pushed I have to go for The Deadly Assassin. In this story The Doctor returns to his home planet of Gallifrey and gets embroiled in a murder mystery involving The Master. The Doctor, particularly The Fourth Doctor, is always at his best when cocking his snoot at authority figures, and the Time Lords are the ultimate authority figures. In this story the Time Lords are depicted as elderly, male dominated, pompous, corrupt and complacent, so The Doctor's rebelliousness is particularly relatable and satisfying. As well as pricking the Time Lord's pomposity, The Doctor also gets to play the action hero, as he fights for survival against the titular assassin in a nightmare-ish, virtual reality, jungle. There's no companion in this story, so the full force of Tom Baker's charisma is felt.

Most Underrated: The Face of Evil

This story's most famous for a scene featuring some inspired improvisation from Tom Baker, who didn't want the Doctor to threaten a foe with a knife; "Now drop your weapons, or I'll kill him with this deadly jelly baby". Even without this brilliant scene though The Face of Evil would still have a clever sci-fi concept, the introduction of  Leela (one of the most unique companions), a great jungle set, witty dialogue and a fantastic performance from Baker.

The Worst: The Leisure Hive

For me Doctor Who is at it's worst when it's brightly lit and po-faced, and The Leisure Hive is both of these things. It's the story of an alien holiday complex facing bankruptcy due to a falling tourist trade and............. Oh, I'm sorry I just drifted off there. To be fair though, the design of the alien Argolin race looks great.

The Fifth Doctor - Peter Davison

The Best: The Caves of Androzani

A really predictable choice I'm afraid, but tough, Caves is brilliant. Not only is it the best Fifth Doctor story, it's a contender for best Doctor Who story ever! Although the story involves gun runners and corrupt businessmen it never gets too serious and gritty. The corrupt businessman, Morgus's habit of addressing the camera directly, and the wonderful Phantom of the Opera-like villain, Sharaz Jek stop the whole thing from going all Blake's Seven. What's great and unique about this story is that The Doctor isn't interested in righting any wrongs, he just wants to cure himself and his companion, Peri of the fatal poisoning they're suffering from and then get the fuck out of Dodge. This story is typical of The Fifth Doctor's era, in that The Doctor is swept along as a victim of circumstances beyond his control. And yet, ironically, in this story The Fifth Doctor is probably the most aggressive and Doctor-like he's ever been, standing up to Sharaz Jek with sarcasm and humour, and deliberately crashing a rocket in order to get back to Peri. Of course, at the end he sacrifices himself to save Peri and we get one of the best regeneration scenes ever, with The Fifth Doctor dying as memories of his companions and the mocking laughter of The Master spin around and around through his brain.

Most Underrated: Castrovalva

Okay, I need to warn you that a great deal of this story is taken up by The Doctor's companions, Tegan and Nyssa carrying a cupboard through a forest, but if you can endure that then Castrovalva is very entertaining. This is Peter Davison's first story, and despite the fact that The Doctor's suffering from post-regeneration trauma you really get a feeling for who The Fifth Doctor is, thanks in no small part to Peter Davison's excellent performance.

The Worst: Time-Flight

A story about Concorde getting sucked back to prehistoric times shouldn't be this boring. This story's also notable for The Master wearing a racist, oriental disguise for no apparent reason. He's trapped in dinosaur times, who the fuck is he hiding from?!

The Sixth Doctor - Colin Baker

The Best: Revelation of The Daleks

The Doctor and Peri aren't in this one much, but there's not much need for them as this story features possibly the most rich, unique, and compelling bunch of supporting characters ever featured in Doctor Who. During the course of this story (set in an intergalactic funeral home) we meet Jobel - a vain and lecherous Embalmer, Tasambeker - Jobel's mousy student and unwanted admirer, Arthur Stengos - an old friend of the Doctor, reduced to a deformed head in a glass Dalek, Madame Kara - a scheming and glamorous company head, Vogel - her obsequious and devoted secretary, Orcini - a noble but aging mercenary knight, Bostok - his malodorous but loyal squire, and Alexei Sayle as a cheesy DJ who plays records for the dead. On top this we have two warring factions of Daleks, and Davros (creator of the Daleks) with a scheme to sell a famine plagued galaxy their own dead relatives as food, all combining to make one of the strangest, and most entertaining Doctor Who stories of all time.

Most Underrated: Trial of a Time Lord

This story is far from perfect, (for example, there's a lot of corridor running, even by Doctor Who standards, and Peri's ultimate fate is ridiculous) but it's nowhere near the disaster some fans would have you believe. Trial of a Time Lord's plus points include Brian Blessed as a warrior king, the return of Sil - one of the Sixth Doctor's best villains, some wonderful model based special effects, a return to the nightmare world of the Matrix (last seen in The Deadly Assassin), and Bonnie Langford as a companion. Yes, that's right, Bonnie Langford! Peri was a good companion but Nicola Bryant always played her as uncomfortable with, and even fearful of The Doctor. It made the aggressive and loud Sixth Doctor seem like a bully. Bonnie Langford's Mel on the other hand was cheerful, and able to stand up to The Doctor's blustering, and as a result she complimented The Sixth Doctor well. The main highlight of this story however is Colin Baker's brilliant performance as The Doctor, as he indignantly rebukes the corrupt Time Lords and verbally spars with his own evil alter ego from the future, The Valeyard.

The Worst: The Twin Dilemma

Wrong footing the audience by introducing a darker, more unstable incarnation of The Doctor is a great idea, but this script is just too immature to deal with that notion properly. As a result we get poor old Colin Baker having to play an arsehole Doctor who tries to throttle Peri, but isn't allowed to experience any moments that redeem him in the eyes of the audience.

The Seventh Doctor - Sylvester McCoy

The Best: The Curse of Fenric

Sylvester McCoy's final season as The Doctor is pretty much flawless, so it's hard to pick a best story. But, if I had a gun to my head I'd go with The Curse of Fenric. The Doctor and Ace are caught between British and Russian soldiers in World War II England, and have to fend off a horde of vampires, an alien vampire boss from Earth's future, and Fenric, an evil force from the dawn of the Universe. This story was ahead of it's time in so many ways. The characters all feel like real people with rich, fleshed out back stories and believable motivations. The Doctor's history with Fenric feels mythic and Ace experiences genuine character development. On top of all this, the vampires are some of the creepiest monsters ever to feature in Doctor Who. Plot threads from previous seasons pay off in the story's finale, and we see a ruthless, manipulative and darker side to The Doctor. The only negative aspect to this story is the scene where Ace seduces a soldier to provide a distraction. The supposedly sexy dialogue poor old Sophie Aldred has to spout is complete bibble.

Most Underrated: Battlefield

I've seen this story described as the weakest story in McCoy's final season, but I absolutely love it. Arthurian knights from another dimension spill their war out on to our world and The Doctor's old friend, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart comes out of retirement to fight them! The Brigadier is the star of this story. His advancing years add some poignancy, but he's still a complete double-hard bastard! As in the rest of this season, The Doctor's manipulative side is emphasised, and we discover that a future incarnation of The Doctor will become the Merlin of Arthurian legend! Apparently The Brig was meant to be killed off in the original script for this story. The story does indeed feel like it's building up to a noble sacrifice that never actually comes, but The Brig's such a brilliant character, played so well by Nicholas Courtney, that I find it easy to forgive the slightly twee ending.

The Worst: Time and The Rani

Colin Baker quite rightly refused to come back for a regeneration scene after being fired by the BBC, and so this story begins with the sight of Sylvester McCoy in a curly blond wig and goes rapidly downhill from there.

The Eighth Doctor - Paul McGann

The Best, The Worst, and the Most Underrated: The TV Movie

Since I'm only covering TV stories and not novels or audio adventures, The Eighth Doctor only has one TV Movie for me to write about. Thankfully it simultaneously manages to be the best, the worst and the most underrated!

The Best: Paul McGann is brilliant, a dashing, gentle, impulsive Doctor with an almost childlike enthusiasm. Eric Roberts is wonderful as The Master. I'm not sure if it's deliberate but he genuinely seems like he has the previous Master, Anthony Ainley, inhabiting his body. The TARDIS set looks amazing, and while including Sylvester McCoy's regeneration was a poor choice for a TV Movie designed to introduce new audiences to the character, it's hard not to get a fanboy thrill from seeing The Seventh Doctor transform into The Eighth.

Most Underrated: Back when it was first broadcast the most controversial aspect of this story seemed to be The Doctor sharing a kiss and a high speed motorcycle chase with his companion, Grace. These days, with the new series depicting The Doctor driving motorbikes up the side of buildings and snogging everything that enters his TARDIS, the TV Movie seems ahead of its time.

The Worst: Grace is really, really annoying, and is given some of the crappiest lines in the script. For example during the motorcycle chase she announces to nobody "I finally meet the right guy, and he's from another planet!" Also, The Doctor is half human for some reason.

The Ninth Doctor - Christopher Eccleston

The Best: The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances

In 2005, Russell T. Davies brought The Doctor back to our screens, and in the first new series for 16 years we got a brilliant two parter from Steven Moffat. It's set during World War II and features genuinely hilarious dialogue ("Bananas are good!"), the first appearance of randy action hero and future Torchwood star, Captain Jack, and one of the most uplifting endings of any Doctor Who story. But the story's best remembered for its alien menace. A child in a gas mask asking for his mother. So simple and yet so pants-soilingly scary. Moffat realised that all the best Who monsters, The Daleks, The Cybermen, The Kandyman (ok, not him), manage to be scary while also being easy to imitate in the school playground. This was also the first story to address the delicate question of whether The Doctor has it off or not. Moffat was able to discuss such adult themes by rather cleverly using the word 'dancing' when he actually meant 'knobbing'.

Most Underrated: Boom Town

Eccleston's only series has quite a few underrated gems. I would argue that Aliens of London/World War Three, The Long Game and even the episode that brought it all back, Rose. have all been unfairly maligned. But the episode from this season that I generally see getting the most stick is Boom Town. It's by no means the best of the season, but it's nowhere near as bad as some would have you believe. The Doctor lands in Cardiff and finds a loose end left over from a previous adventure in the form of Margaret, a Slitheen disguised as the mayor of Cardiff. Christopher Eccleston really proves his acting chops here as he and Margaret (played by Annette Badland) sit down for a meal and discuss what Margaret's fate should be, and whether The Doctor is entitled to decide it. If the episode has a flaw it's that the dilemma is wrapped up way too easily, but it still has a lot going for it. Two of the most interesting questions Russell T. Davies tackled during his five years in charge of Doctor Who were; i) what happens to the people The Doctor gets involved with after he moves on to his next adventure? and ii) With the Time Lords dead, should that make The Doctor the ultimate authority in the Universe? This episode was one of the first times these questions were discussed and I found it intriguing. Also, it's set in the greatest city on Earth, my hometown, Cardiff.

The Worst: The End of the World

Some great looking aliens can't save this episode. It's daft, but not in a good way. The ending to Galaxy Quest is recreated without a hint of self awareness (the button that saves everyone is inexplicably situated behind deadly rotating blades) and poor old Eccleston has to deliver the daftest line ever with a straight face - "Jabe! You're made of wood!"

The Tenth Doctor - David Tennant

The Best: The Waters of Mars

The Tenth Doctor is smug. That's not a complaint, it's one of the character traits that makes Tennant's Doctor so unique. Despite the fact that I think The Tenth Doctor is brilliant, I can't deny that throughout his time on our screens there was a part of me that really wanted the self satisfied git to get his comeuppance. The Waters of Mars is The Tenth Doctor's comeuppance! The Doctor encounters a doomed group of astronauts on Mars. Unfortunately their deaths are one of those "fixed points in time" that crop up in Doctor Who occasionally. The Doctor's decision on whether to save them or not has potentially terrifying repercussions. Does The Doctor have the right to set himself up as the ultimate authority in the Universe? This was a question that Russell T. Davies had been batting around for years. In The Waters of Mars The Doctor answers that question with a snarl; "For a long time now, I thought I was just a survivor, but I'm not. I'm the winner. That's who I am. A Time Lord victorious!" This wasn't just the culmination of a character arc that RTD had been crafting ever since he revealed that The Doctor was the last of the Time Lords in The End of the World. It was also the culmination of an arc that began in 1964 with The Aztecs, when The First Doctor tells Barbara "You can't rewrite history! Not one line!" In The Waters of Mars The Doctor finally goes too far, and it takes the sacrifice of an ordinary human being, who snatches her destiny back from the Time Lord victorious, to bring him back to his senses.

Most Underrated: Voyage of the Damned

Voyage of the Damned was the 2007 Christmas special. I didn't enjoy it at the time, mostly due to its guest star, Kylie Minogue. Kylie was enjoying a surge in popularity at the time and everyone seemed surprised after the episode aired to find that she couldn't act! Somehow a few recent Top Ten hits had erased the memory of Street Fighter from everyone's minds. Another problem I had with this episode was the absurd way the bad guy is dispatched at the end. It's a daft scene that unfortunately unfolds in slow motion, giving the audience far too much time to dwell on its silliness! Despite these flaws however I found my second viewing of the episode much more rewarding. Kylie aside, it's a pretty decent homage to '70s disaster movies, and the concept of a space ship made to look like the Titanic crashing through the atmosphere towards Buckingham Palace on Christmas Day is a great example of the barmy ambitiousness that made RTD Who so great. But the most intriguing thing about this episode for me is the subtle way RTD touches on themes that would later be dealt with in the aforementioned Waters of Mars. Towards the end of the episode the horror of an all powerful Time Lord who answers to nobody is summed up rather neatly in a seemingly throwaway remark by a minor character. Mr Copper has just been rescued by The Doctor, but so has a complete bastard called Rickston. This prompts Copper to muse "Of all the people to survive, he's not the one you would have chosen, is it? But if you could choose, Doctor, if you could decide who lives and who dies... that would make you a monster."

The Worst: Love and Monsters

A good friend of mine remarked recently on Twitter that "RTD's ludicrous misjudgements are worth it, because he's insanely dedicated to throwing everything at the wall." The most ludicrous of RTD's misjudgements can be found in Love and Monsters. Once again the aftermath of an encounter with The Doctor is explored. By the end of the episode Ursula, the girlfriend of the episode's main protagonist Elton, has been left as nothing more than a disembodied face in a concrete slab after being "rescued" by The Doctor. This disturbing exploration of the serious ramifications of The Doctor's "fight some aliens and fuck straight off afterwards" approach to saving people is completely undermined by a cheap crack made by Elton about his "sex life" with Ursula. The tragedy of this episode is, it's pretty decent right up until that crack. One of the main characters has been turned into a talking glory hole and it's dealt with so flippantly that it renders the episode unwatchable for me.

The Eleventh Doctor - Matt Smith

The Best: The Eleventh Hour

This must be, without a doubt, the best first episode any Doctor has ever had. Traditionally The Doctor's on his arse just after regenerating, but new head writer Steven Moffat decided to fly in the face of convention and plunge The Eleventh Doctor straight into an adventure. This was definitely a smart move, as leaving an actor with Matt Smith's energy and charisma on his back for most of his introductory episode would have been a criminal waste. Moffat helps us to instantly warm to this new Doctor by giving him some hilarious lines, and Smith delivers them beautifully. For example, when this episode's monster transforms itself into a duplicate of our hero, The Doctor (who hasn't yet had the chance to look at his new face in the mirror) remarks dismissively, "Well that's rubbish. Who's that supposed to be?" Moffat has played around with the possibilities of time travel more than any other Doctor Who writer, and it could be argued that his complicated "wibbly wobbly timey wimey" plots are sometimes to the series' detriment. But here Moffat's time travel shenanigans add to the episode's fun and freshness. For The Doctor this episode takes place in one day in which he doesn't even have time look in the mirror. For his new companion Amy Pond however, it takes place over the course of ten years, during which time she grows up from a little girl to a young woman. The Doctor has already been an integral part of Amy's life, and he's only a few hours old! Basically, this episode is a masterclass in inventive ways to get your audience invested in your new leading man as quickly as possible.

Most Underrated: The Rebel Flesh/ The Almost People

Waking up and discovering that you're not actually who you think you are, and being replaced by an inhuman duplicate of yourself are two of the scariest concepts ever explored by sci-fi and horror. It always touches a nerve with me, even when it's explored in a comedy like The World's End, or a crappy action film like The Sixth Day. This is probably one of the reasons I enjoy this two parter so much. I like how the episode uses its human cast, and their duplicates (or 'gangers) to show us the best and the worst of humanity. I also love how the prejudices of the humans towards the 'gangers are shared by Amy, making this story a little more interesting than the usual "The Doctor lectures some silly humans" stuff we got a lot of during The Tenth Doctor's reign, and even in a few Eleventh Doctor stories, like The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. The 'gangers themselves look brilliantly scary, like adult foetuses, and the sight of a 'ganger Doctor is genuinely unnerving. The twist involving Amy at the end of this story is fantastic.

The Worst: Nightmare in Silver

This episode was written by Neil Gaiman, and since Gaiman's previous episode, The Doctor's Wife, was so goodmy hopes were high for this one. Unfortunately I was massively disappointed. In this episode The Doctor and Clara are accompanied in the TARDIS by two children. I'm not against children in the TARDIS, I just wish it hadn't been these particular children! Gaiman makes the bizarre decision to have the two kids greet their first journey to an alien planet in a time machine with grumpiness and boredom! Every child in the world who's watching this show would gladly give their parents' kidneys away for a chance to travel in the TARDIS, and Gaiman's decided that these two children aren't that bothered! If The Eleventh Hour is a masterclass in inventive ways to get your audience invested in your new leading man as quickly as possible, then Nightmare in Silver is a masterclass in how to instantly alienate your audience. From most writers the way these kids are written would be strange. From a writer of Gaiman's skill and experience it's absolutely baffling!


There we go, the best, the worst and the most underrated in Doctor Who according to me. What have I left out? Where have I gone wrong? What do you agree with? Leave a comment and let me know.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

What If Different Actors Had Played Doctor Who?

In 1963 William Hartnell became the first actor to play the lead role in the greatest television programme of all time, Doctor Who. He was followed over the next 50 years by Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, and next year, Peter Capaldi. But these actors were not the only people in line for this most coveted of roles. Many actors have auditioned for the role, many have been offered the role only to turn it down, and many have featured in casting rumours spread by tabloid newspapers and internet message boards.

Journey with me now to the parallel world of Earth 2! A world much like our own but with subtle differences. On this Earth, different actors were cast in the role of Doctor Who! Were they better or worse at the role than the Doctors of our Earth? Judge for yourself....

1. Hugh David (1963-1966)

Before Verity Lambert came on board as producer for the BBC's brand new sci-fi series, Doctor Who, Rex Tucker was in charge. Tucker's choice for the role of the Doctor was his friend, Hugh David. When Lambert came aboard she had reservations about David. At the age of 38, Lambert felt that David was too young for the part. Luckily Tucker was able to convince Lambert that David was the right man for the job, and a legend was born! David played the Doctor as youthful yet wise beyond his years. His smile was charming and dashing, and yet there was a sinister, unpredictable side to his Doctor. He was initially joined in his TARDIS by his mysterious niece Susan (Carol Anne Ford) and two teachers, Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill). The subtly played hint of a love triangle between the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara was considered quite daring for the time, but it kept viewers coming back, week after week. After three years David began to tire of the high public profile that came with the job and decided to retire from acting in order to direct. The search was on for a new Doctor.....

On our Earth... Lambert rejected the youthful David and William Hartnell was cast as the Doctor.

2. Rupert Davies (1966-69)

After the success of Hugh David's Doctor the BBC needed someone they knew the British public enjoyed seeing on their screens. As a result they cast former Maigret star Rupert Davies as the Second Doctor! But Davies proved to be much more than "the safe choice". He deliberately played the Doctor as the exact opposite of the laconic, pipe smoking Maigret. His Doctor was verbose, cheerful and active. His portrayal also provided a nice contrast to Hugh David's earnest heart-breaker. The Second Doctor was a huge success and Davies set the tone for the actors that followed him into the role.

On our Earth... Rupert Davies was offered the role, along with Valentine Dyall and Michael Hordern, but none of them wanted to commit to a long running series. The part ultimately went to Patrick Troughton.

3. Ron Moody (1970-74)

Fresh from his successful turn as Fagin in Oliver! Moody jumped at the chance to play the Doctor. Like Davies, he played against type, portraying the Doctor as a serious man of action. Moody left the role in 1979, stating "I'm having so much fun that if I don't go now I'll never leave!" He has since become one of the show's greatest ambassadors, appearing at conventions, reunions, and of course, in the long running Doctor Who musical, The Ultimate Adventure. Since 1999, Moody has been playing the Doctor once more in a series of audio adventures for Big Finish.

On our Earth... Moody turned the role down and has since admitted it's a decision he regrets. The role went to Jon Pertwee. 

4. Graham Crowden (1974-1981)

With an acting CV full of mad scientists and eccentrics, Graham Crowden was the obvious choice for the part of the Fourth Doctor. While many accused Crowden of being over the top, there was a wide eyed madness to his portrayal that viewers found irresistible. While he was initially reluctant to commit himself to a long running series, Crowden ended up staying for seven years, a decision he later regretted. "I enjoyed my time on Doctor Who of course, but staying so long was a mistake" he told Doctor Who Magazine in 1993, "I should have listened to my instincts and only stayed for one series, and then got back to my first love, the theatre." Although Crowden distanced himself from the role over the years, towards the end of his life he began to talk more often, and more fondly about the role he made his own.

On our Earth... Crowden turned down the role, only wishing to commit himself for one season. The part eventually went to Tom Baker.

5. Richard Griffiths (1981-84)

Richard Griffiths' Doctor saw a return to the more thoughtful characterisation made famous by Hugh David. Like David, Griffiths was a less active Doctor, preferring to let his companions do the dirty work. Although his Doctor was a philosophical sort of man, he wasn't always serious. Griffiths brought with him an avuncular charm and a twinkle in his eye that balanced out his Doctor's thoughtful nature beautifully.

On our Earth... Griffiths was unavailable and the part went to Peter Davison. He was considered again for the part of the Eighth Doctor in 1989, but the series was cancelled.

6. Brian Blessed (1984-1986)

Brian Blessed's Sixth Doctor could not have been more different from the Fifth Doctor. Where Griffiths' Doctor was gentle and earnest, Blessed's Doctor was brash, aggressive, and above all, loud! Famously, when Blessed bellowed out his first line as the Doctor after regenerating, "CHANGE MY DEAR, AND ABOUT BLOODY TIME!", the walls of the TARDIS set visibly shook. Viewing figures were down during this period, and the knives were out for the show at the BBC. After an 18 month hiatus (during which time Blessed climbed Mount Everest in his Doctor Who costume for charity), the show was given one more series to win back its viewers. It failed to do so and producer John Nathan Turner was told to replace Blessed. While Blessed was enthusiastic about the role, his passion led to arguments behind the scenes, and as a result Blessed believes that JNT was only too happy to get rid of him. Despite this, Blessed remains popular with fans of the show today and has joined Moody in recording audio adventures of the Sixth Doctor for Big Finish.

On our Earth... Colin Baker was JNT's only choice for the part, but following the announcement of Davison's departure rumours appeared in the tabloids that Blessed had been given the role.

7. Ken Campbell (1987-1989)

Ken Campbell's time as the Doctor got off to a rocky start. When asked to return to film a regeneration scene, Brian Blessed famously told JNT to "SHOVE YOUR REGENERATION UP YOUR BLOODY ARSE!" As a result, Campbell was made to film the regeneration scene in an enormous false beard. Campbell's sinister and macabre Doctor initially jarred with the lighter tone of Season 24, but with the darker undercurrents of Seasons 25 and 26, Campbell really came into his own. Unfortunately, in 1989, the series was cancelled.

On our Earth... Campbell auditioned for the role but his Doctor was deemed "too dark". The part went to his protege, Sylvester McCoy.

8. Michael Jackson (1996)

Having once been considered for the part of The Doctor in an unmade Hollywood movie in the '80s, Michael Jackson was still keen to play the part when 20th Century Fox and the BBC announced they were making a new series of Doctor Who. The Beeb weren't as keen but Fox insisted, and so Jackson became the Eighth Doctor. A TV Movie was made, but it was never picked up for a series, and it's not hard to see why. Jackson insisted that the Doctor have the ability to actually transform into his own TARDIS. The final scene, where Jackson's Doctor rescues hundreds of children from the clutches of The Master with the power of song, did not go down well with hardcore fans or casual viewers. The Doctor's habit of emitting a heavenly glow while adopting a Christ-like pose attracted a large number of complaints. On the plus side, the scene where Ken Campbell regenerates into Michael Jackson recently came Number One in a Channel 4 countdown of the "Most Surreal Moments in 20th Century Pop Culture".

On our Earth... Jacko was considered for the part in the aforementioned unmade, '80s, Hollywood movie version of Doctor Who, but was never considered for the 1996 TV Movie. The part went to Paul McGann.

9. Hugh Grant (2005)

When Russell T. Davies was tasked with bringing Doctor Who back to our screens, he asked Hollywood movie star Hugh Grant to play the Doctor just on the off-chance. To his surprise Grant said yes. Grant's casting was met with a chorus of disapproval from hardcore fans, a chorus that grew louder and angrier when pop star Billie Piper was cast alongside him. Grant and Piper however, amazed everybody with their performance. Grant's youthful earnestness harkened back to the days of Hugh David and yet he also brought a raw anger to his portrayal that won over the most skeptical naysayers. Despite his fine work on the show Grant moved on after one series. He maintained that it was not the heftier Hollywood pay-cheques that had tempted him back, but rather the larger variety of roles that were now being offered to him following his innovative performance as The Doctor.

On our Earth... RTD offered the role to Grant, but Grant turned it down, thinking the show would flop. Christopher Eccleston played the Doctor.

10. Eddie Izzard (2005-2010)

Comedian Eddie Izzard was the top choice for many fans when he was first announced, but today fandom is divided on the issue of the Tenth Doctor. Many praise his eccentric characterisation and energy, and draw comparisons with earlier Doctors, such as Rupert Davies and Graham Crowden. Others however have argued that Izzard didn't posses the acting chops to handle the romantic scenes with his co-star Billie Piper, or the Doctor's grief over his role in the Time War. Izzard also received praise for his decision to portray the Doctor as, in Izzard's words, an "action transvestite", with the Doctor's costume's growing more flamboyant as Izzard's run went on.

On our Earth... David Tennant was Russell T. Davies' choice for the Tenth Doctor, but in 2003 Tom Baker claimed erroneously that Izzard had been cast as the Ninth.

11. Paterson Joseph (2010-2013)

While Paterson Joseph initially caused headlines for being the second black actor to play the Doctor, he soon drew attention for no other reason than his stunning portrayal of the Doctor, considered by many to be the best. One TV critic went as far as to say (rather unfairly perhaps) "This is the first real actor to play the part since Richard Griffiths!" Joseph's Doctor was arguably the most alien the character has ever been, but he was equally adept when called on display a more vulnerable side to the Doctor, particularly during the episodes involving Alex Kingston's River Song. He also displayed the same gift for humour that he brought to his role as Alan Johnson in Peep Show. On November the 23rd Joseph will be teaming up with Eddie Izzard for a special episode celebrating the show's 50th Anniversary. Izzard will be reprising his role as the Tenth Doctor. Then on Christmas Day the Eleventh Doctor will regenerate and Joseph will be making way for the recently cast Twelfth Doctor, Daniel Rigby.

On our Earth... Paterson Joseph was announced as the Eleventh Doctor by gossip columnist Rich Johnston on Comic Book Resources, but the part eventually went to Matt Smith. Smith will be making way for the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi this Christmas. Daniel Rigby was one of the actors rumoured to have won the part before Capaldi was announced.