Through Time & Space: The Doctor Who Thread

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Garrett Gilchrist
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Re: Through Time & Space: The Doctor Who Thread

Post: # 12182Post Garrett Gilchrist »

DOCTOR WHO: The Star Beast (2023): It's great to have David Tennant and Catherine Tate back on Doctor Who. That's enough to give this a good review; little else matters. It's a return to form (or format) for the series, and should delight fans of the 2008 incarnation of Doctor Who. The things that are bad about it were also bad in 2008, and might seem nostalgic by now. Tate and Tennant have funny and touching moments, and are still a great team. It's like they never left. It's also about as subtle as a croquet hammer to the face. This is not necessarily a complaint. This is Doctor Who, after all.

It's the 60th anniversary of the venerable British sci-fi series, which follows a sort of Sherlock Holmes from space, a hyper-intelligent Time Lord from Gallifrey, travelling in his blue police box, the TARDIS, on adventures through time and space, battling monsters and saving the day. Originally running from 1963 to 1989, the series was revived by Russell T Davies in 2005. Series star Christopher Eccleston left after one series. He is a man of strong principles, who had a terrible first shoot as the producers and directors were still figuring the show out (and putting the cast in mortal danger quite by accident). Perhaps he disliked the producers, and their phony praise and positivity. Perhaps he disliked the sex criminals in the supporting cast, John Barrowman and Noel Clarke. Or maybe he couldn't see himself as part of a franchise selling action figures.

Eccleston said later: "I could not get along with the senior people. I left because of politics. I did not see eye-to-eye with them. I didn’t agree with the way things were being run. I didn’t like the culture that had grown up around the series ... I thought to remain, which would have made me a lot of money and given me huge visibility, the price I would have had to pay was to eat a lot of shit ... My face didn’t fit and I’m sure they were glad to see the back of me. The important thing is that I succeeded. It was a great part. I loved playing him. I loved connecting with that audience. Because I’ve always acted for adults and then suddenly you’re acting for children, who are far more tasteful; they will not be bullshitted. It’s either good, or it’s bad. They don’t schmooze at after-show parties, with cocktails."

The revived series was a hit, which became a culture-shifting phenomenon in the UK during the tenure of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. There were endless toys and spinoff series (including The Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, and Doctor Who Confidential). Steven Moffat took over as showrunner in 2010, for series with Matt Smith (and later Peter Capaldi). Matt Smith's series got a big promotional push in America, but in the UK, viewership peaked during David Tennant's later series and specials (including his guest appearance with Matt Smith for the 50th Anniversary special). By viewership figures, David Tennant was the Doctor for a generation. Russell T Davies had also cultivated a female fanbase who enjoyed this more romantic take on the Doctor, and who didn't connect quite as much with Peter Capaldi's Doctor later on.

The series has its issues, its weak points you can criticize it for. Almost all of these involve the writers. None of these problems involve the lead actors. Doctor Who is a meaty role for any actor to play, and every actor has given an interesting and unique take on it. David Tennant, however, cast a longer shadow than most. He felt like the actor that Russell T Davies had been writing for the whole time. Arguably, Christopher Eccleston and Peter Capaldi based their portrayals on Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor. But Matt Smith and Jodie Whittaker were interpreting what David Tennant had done.

Russell T Davies' tenure was criticized for its lack of subtlety, with loud music by Murray Gold and over the top emotional content. Plus whatever was going on in Torchwood, the sex pest spinoff of Doctor Who. There was a hint of sex pestery in Steven Moffat's Doctor Who as well, along with misogyny, and it wasn't nearly as clever as it pretended to be, a problem which affected later seasons of Sherlock (with Benedict Cumberbatch), and that 2007 Jekyll show. These shows presented complex puzzle-box mysteries that the writer had no actual answers for, and then openly called the audience stupid for asking for those answers.

In spite of these issues, Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat produced a lot of excellent television during this time and are some of the best and most consequential writers the show ever had. It has been said that every Doctor Who writer has one Doctor Who story within them, that they are going to rewrite over and over again, and that the show needs to switch writers and lead actors every few years in order to avoid repeating itself. The Davies and Moffat years eventually did repeat themselves, and needed to move on to something new.

The series has suffered declining viewership since its heyday around 2008-2010, even taking the years of 2016 and 2019 off for budgetary reasons. There were long stretches between new episodes, and social media was not as interested in the series as it had once been. Chris Chibnall's tenure as showrunner, beginning in late 2018, and starring Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor, was not as much of a cultural force as the show had been a decade earlier. There wasn't much press coverage, and very little merchandise. In Tennant's day, every minor character seemed to get an action figure, even a "Faceless Grandma" and the metal frame that previously displayed minor villain "Cassandra." This time round, only the Doctor and a few of her friends got toys. There was even an incarnation of The Doctor that didn't get a figure- Jo Martin's Fugitive Doctor. It also caused a civil war within the older Doctor Who fandom that the lead character was now played by a white woman, and a black woman. Most of the older fans on social media came out as openly racist, sexist and transphobic, declaring that the show had lost its soul and had been ruined by "wokeness."

Meanwhile, other Doctor Who fans, who are not raving bigots, struggled with this incarnation of the show for other reasons. Personally, I found it rather dull. While Jodie Whittaker herself is a delight, writer Chris Chibnall was less so. He introduced more women and people of color into the cast, and gay themes, but the result was hardly explosive. As a white Doctor Who fan, he wrote these characters as if he was afraid to break them. Canonically, Doctor Who becomes a woman and has a lesbian romance with a woman of color, and that should be more interesting than it is. In practice, the love interest is a police officer with no character traits, and the two barely hold hands, or show any affection toward one another. At one point, Doctor Who, herself, has more sexual tension with a frog on a chair. Many scenes consist of one of Doctor Who's friends telling another friend how wonderful they think the other friend is. This was the introvert's Doctor Who.

Chibnall wrote with subtlety during his first year, not wanting to bring back classic villains, and preferring to let this incarnation of the show have its own vibe. For the second year he attempted to be Russell T Davies and bring all the villains back. Then he did whatever Flux was. There's a big, overarching story where they retcon the Doctor's lineage, basically to fit the backstory hinted at in novels in the 90s, and in some of the last stories before the show was cancelled in the 80s, where The Doctor is a more ancient figure than suspected. It's nerdy, and a bit "woke," as Doctor Who often is. This was a little controversial and they leave that plot thread hanging. It's unresolved by the end of Chibnall's tenure, making me wonder what the point was. Oh, and Chibnall has clearly watched the Russell T Davies episodes but not the Steven Moffat ones, so for anyone still paying attention, the Doctor's home planet of Gallifrey gets destroyed and restored and destroyed and restored and destroyed and etc, because the writer has lost track of the series lore. I guess 90s lore from novels when the show was cancelled was more important than the last few years of actual episodes, which normal people would have watched.

This incarnation of the show wasn't bad, exactly, but it wasn't enough either, at least not for me. Doctor Who has always been a silly show, and it's allowed to be good or ridiculously bad, as long as it's interesting. There's not much room for bland subtlety, and Chibnall didn't do "over the top" all that well. The Sacha Dhawan version of The Master, for example, could be a bit much at times.

"Come back, Russell T Davies, all is forgiven?" There is no such subtlety in Russell T Davies' interpretation, for better or for worse, and I'm thankful for that. Russell has invited Steven Moffat to return, and I wouldn't be surprised if he brings Chris Chibnall back as well, to get the three flavors of current Doctor Who. For all the bigoted fan complaints about Doctor Who becoming a black woman, and the show becoming "woke," Russell T Davies' writing here is about as "woke" as the show can manage. Yes, the Doctor is a familiar white man again, with a familiar white woman as his supporting player. But the supporting characters are basically just talking into the camera and giving speeches that boil down to "Trans rights," "Queer rights," "Nonbinary rights" and/or "rights for the disabled." There's a good-guy UNIT soldier in a turban, and women have a particular superpower. It is as subtle as a croquet hammer to the head.

Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? Well, politically it's a good thing. Transphobia has taken over every newspaper in the UK like a disease, and the average British journalist has a position on trans rights indistinguishable from that of Ad*lf H*tler. So it is important to say these things without equivocating or "listening to both sides," since in the UK this is the great civil rights battle of our time. (The US is having a similar battle, but not one where the bigots control the newspapers entirely, and pretend to be left-wing feminists. In the US, wanting to exterminate the queers Dalek-style is generally considered to be a right-wing position, rather than a feminist one.) At one point, back in the day, Russell T Davies wanted to do a David Tennant Doctor Who story guest-starring Joanne Rowling. Guess that's not happening now. That would be scarier than the Daleks.

In practice it's a bit clunky, and the characters of Rose Noble (Yasmin Finney) and Ruth Madeley (the wheelchair-using Shirley Anne Bingham of UNIT) end up feeling underdeveloped, like day players saying political slogans, as if they're in a commercial. At least they're pleasant enough, and in a Doctor Who context one welcomes the lack of subtlety. But I'd have also welcomed a few rewrites.

Compared to the 2008 storyline which ended Donna's tenure on the show, Rose Noble never seems to be in the same amount of trouble, and the show pisses away any possible tension or drama for the sake of a feminist statement, or a joke. I know Russell T Davies can write a tense scene like this, because he did it last time, but in The Star Beast it almost plays out as Tweeting rather than screenwriting, and it stinks a little. Who is Rose talking to, when she's saying this? Doesn't firing a gun cause kickback that would send someone on wheels flying backward? Is no one asking these questions? As has often been said about Doctor Who, a Doctor Who writer needs someone to stop him, someone to say "no."

Oh, but these are not questions for a Saturday Doctor Who. This is nit-picking a family adventure show which was never designed to hold up to such scrutiny. The onscreen representation is saying "Trans and non-binary and disabled people are good," and there are just enough little human moments here and there to make that feel lived-in and relevant. (Shirley crosses her legs to show she has some mobility, despite using a wheelchair.) These characters were designed to be cosplayed. Rose faces bullying from her schoolmates, and Donna gets most of the good lines about it. Maybe the problem is that these characters aren't Doctor Who or Donna Noble. We don't know as much about them, and they're not allowed to be as funny.

Because, hey, have we mentioned, David Tennant is Doctor Who again, with Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, fifteen years later? Tate was a television comedian and they're still a funny team together, returning to these roles as if they never left. Tennant's glee at being back in the role is infectious, and seems to multiply tenfold in his scenes with Tate.

Tennant had returned for audio plays by Big Finish, with both Billie Piper and Catherine Tate, and the Tate ones are better. Billie Piper, as Rose Tyler, was really the star of Doctor Who for its first two "new" series. She's good, but it pushes Tennant into a romantic role, almost as a supporting character, which is tougher to play. Tennant was more secure in the part by 2008, and he and Catherine Tate have great chemistry as a comedy team, something they also did onstage in "Much Ado About Nothing."

The character of Donna Noble was originally a one-episode celebrity guest star, having a terrible wedding. Donna proved too memorable not to bring back for a full series. There's something honest and real about Donna, and Tate's performance. Russell T Davies seems to delight in writing bitchy middle-aged women. Incidentally Jacqueline King is back as her mother Sylvia.

Donna Noble also has unfinished business here, and Russell T Davies is all too happy to finally undo her bittersweet ending. (Whether Martha Jones will even get a mention is still up in the air. The poor girl ended up with Noel Clarke's Mickey Smith, and Torchwood, a nasty fate indeed.)

Rachel Talalay is also back in the director's chair, after doing several excellent episodes with Peter Capaldi's Doctor. Murray Gold is also back, doing his usual loud job on the music. Bombastic and overpowering, but memorable. They've done something different with the theme tune! It's kind of weird! But it's fine! It has breathing noises! They're distracting!

The Star Beast is also the first onscreen appearance of Beep the Meep, a creature who first appeared in Doctor Who comics (starring the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker) in 1980 (and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, who is credited here). A practical character enhanced with some CGI, Beep the Meep looks very impressive onscreen, and instantly becomes an iconic Doctor Who creature. Miriam Margolyes is the celebrity guest voice. (Stuntwoman Cecily Fay also performs the character.)

Yes, it's a return to form for the series, as it was intended to be. It feels like a 2008 episode, apart from the murky, dark, contrast-free, cinematography which has infected most television these days. (See: any Disney+ event show.) The show has struggled with budget and cultural relevance lately, and bringing back a popular Doctor for three specials feels like exactly the right move for its 60th anniversary. They've partnered with Disney+ for this run of episodes, a move that I hope they don't regret. And you see it in the budget, including an astoundingly large TARDIS set, which Tennant's Doctor visibly loves running around.

Davies and Tennant already did a five-minute comedy scene for the Children In Need charity this year, where we see Davros, creator of the Doctor's evil arch-enemies The Daleks, without his famous mutation and disabilities. Oh yes, it's the "woke" agenda again - Davies felt it was in bad taste to show an evil disabled character alongside an appeal for disabled children, and will apparently present the character this way going forward (at the cost of his familiar design). Since The Doctor is always meddling in time, any continuity errors between stories in the show's long history can technically be explained away by the timeline changing. And for example, the James Bond series has a long history of associating disability with villainy. There were complaints about the change, of course. The short is funny and cheeky, playing off of older Doctor Who lore while demolishing it at the same time. "I am allowed to do this," Davies and Tennant seem to be saying to the viewers, "and I am having fun doing it." Well, as long as you're having fun.

Jodie Whittaker's Doctor Who didn't get as much press coverage and merchandise, nor did Capaldi's, and maybe this is the shot in the arm the show needs to be a cultural force again. This is not a knock against these actors, who did good work in the role despite my nitpicks.

The original anniversary specials for Doctor Who involved bringing back the second Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton, whose layered and mischievous performance inspired every Doctor that followed. Bringing back David Tennant, the second Doctor Who of the New Series, feels very similar. It worked ten years ago, for a special in 2013, and it certainly works now.

This is an attempt to get the general public to say, "Wow, Doctor Who is back." It's big and silly in a very specific way that you'll remember from 15 years ago.

And yes, Doctor Who is back. Oh, and this isn't David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. It is, somehow, David Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor. Older and unshaven, The Doctor remembers being female very recently, and it has changed the character's perspective on things.

Some of the ending sucks, and some of the middle involves Tennant doing schtick apparently written for Tom Baker, who is a different actor than David Tennant is. (The 1980 comic was adapted for audio in 2019.)

I believe that two more specials will follow, followed by a series starring Ncuti Gatwa as Doctor Who. This promises to be extremely "woke" and "queer," if we're lucky.

Neil Patrick Harris will also be playing The Toymaker, an incarnation of Michael Gough's famous villain from a now-mostly lost 1966 serial, who was always teased to return, but never quite did. An 80s version, "The Nightmare Fair," has been recorded for audio. The original serial is so old that the character has slightly racist Asian undertones, and the N-word is said by a supporting player. It's not a great serial, but Gough is good in it, as a seemingly all-powerful puppetmaster, playing deadly games. The show considered writing (an ailing and cranky) William Hartnell out of the program here, using the Toymaker's powers. The Doctor would "rejuvenate" instead in "The Tenth Planet," later established as the "regeneration" powers of a Time Lord, which cause one actor to become another. Convenient. It's also the crucial reason why the show has lasted as long as it has. The show's format is fairly repetitive, but it can switch out lead actors and headwriters at will, and interpret the character in a different way, every few years.

Oh, but we miss them when they're gone. Most of the actors who have played Doctor Who and his friends have come back for audio dramas presented by Big Finish (and, occasionally, the BBC). There has also been the occasional anniversary special. But David Tennant coming back as the current Doctor is something a bit different, something unprecedented. They should do this with the other actors as well. They won't, but they should. Especially since Paul McGann and Jo Martin never actually got to do series as the character.

In the same week, we saw two special presentations. One was 2013's "An Adventure in Space and Time," made for the 50th Anniversary and starring David Bradley as the first actor to play Doctor Who, William Hartnell. For this rerun, dialogue from the first story "An Unearthly Child" has been cut, as the son of credited writer Anthony Coburn is currently having a months-long racist shit fit on Twitter, claiming that the BBC killed his father and is "woke" and gay, and withdrawing rights to that classic first adventure. All of classic Doctor Who is now streaming as part of the online "Whoniverse", but not that story, due to Coburn's meddling. A lot of the series is also streaming on Pluto TV. Ah well, you can still get the old DVD, which also includes the unaired pilot for the 1963 series. (About 100 early episodes are missing and only exist as audio. Many have been animated.)

The 2013 film has also been cheekily updated for this airing. A scene in which William Hartnell imagines seeing 2013's current Doctor Who, Matt Smith, has been reshot to involve Ncuti Gatwa. This fixes a small continuity error, as the background for Matt Smith's greenscreened closeup was identical to his medium shot. Maybe they should shoot one of these with Tennant, Capaldi, Whittaker, and Martin as well.

Meanwhile David Tennant, and presumably Ncuti Gatwa, become the latest actors to remind viewers to subscribe to the official Doctor Who Youtube channel, in what is becoming a tradition, or at least a meme.

(The 2013 film spends a lot of time on the production of the first episodes of the series, but gets sketchy toward the end, having very little time for the later episodes of the series, and the "replacement" actors that William Hartnell was less keen on. A cameo by Reece Shearsmith as Patrick Troughton is unconvincing, and Mark Gatiss was also onset as Jon Pertwee, as a joke. This was elaborated on later, with Bradley reprising the role for Big Finish audio dramas, and the Peter Capaldi episode "Twice Upon a Time." Scenes from Hartnell's final story "The Tenth Planet" were reshot for this episode with Bradley, as a flashback, but largely cut from the final product.)

The week's other special presentation is "The Daleks," the second ever Doctor Who story, which has here been colorized and reedited to be much shorter, in a "feature film" edit with new music and voice work. It's a bit of a hack job but gets the point across. Back in 1965, this was also adapted into the first of two color feature films starring Peter Cushing, and intended for a younger audience. Bernard Cribbins turned up in the second, decades before appearing as loveable grandpa "Wilf" in the 2008 Doctor Who. Cribbins is expected to appear in these specials somewhere, having taped an appearance before his death, and this special has Tennant's Doctor giving a heartfelt tribute to him.

There's also the matter of "Tales of the Tardis," in which some of the past stars of Doctor Who return for brief segments inside a "memory TARDIS," introducing and reminiscing about their past adventures. It's a nice excuse to involve actors who would be hard to shoehorn into these specials otherwise. They've returned for many audio plays from Big Finish, and in-character trailers for the Doctor Who Collection series of Blu-Rays, and even the final Jodie Whittaker special "Power of the Doctor." But this goes a step further, and is designed to feel like catching up with old friends. The new segments are very brief and very sentimental, and there's no time to tell an actual story, or to recapture the more laid-back tone of the original series. But at least it gets these actors in front of the camera again for a bit, for about as much screen time as they'd have gotten in a proper episode. That would have worked better though. These emotional scenes need an actual story happening to really work. It's a snack rather than a meal.

It also accomplishes what the first series of "Doctor Who Confidential" did. That was a series about the making of Doctor Who, whose first series also spent time talking to the stars of the classic series, and attempting to sell the classic series to young viewers who might not be familiar with it. You could get something similar by watching the classic Doctor Who DVDs, but presenting them alongside the making of the new series really gave a sense of perspective, and made Doctor Who feel like the long-running cultural icon it is, rather than some cruddy low budget relic. "Doctor Who Confidential" (and its kids counterpart "Totally Doctor Who") did a lot to sell Doctor Who as a cultural phenomenon, past, present and future, to audiences in 2005, and that sort of hype has been conspicuously missing as the series has gone on. Oh, they've got a "Making of Doctor Who" show again? Yeah, I'm thinking they're back.

It looks like Doctor Who fans have a lot to be happy about this year. And Doctor Who fans have a lot to write about, and worry about. And complain about. Doctor Who fans are very good at complaining. The Star Beast isn't perfect, but what Doctor Who story is? It is good fun, and a return to form for the series. And a lot of so-called fans will hate it. And that's a very good thing.
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Garrett Gilchrist
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Re: Through Time & Space: The Doctor Who Thread

Post: # 12191Post Garrett Gilchrist »

DOCTOR WHO: Wild Blue Yonder (2023): The second of three specials for Doctor Who's 60th anniversary, featuring David Tennant and Catherine Tate returning to the roles they played in 2008 (and thereabouts). It's already clear that this is a return to form (and/or format) for the long-running sci-fi series, and that three specials with these returning actors isn't really enough. We're going to be left wanting more. But I'm glad we're getting these; it's a proper celebration of when the revived series was at the height of its popularity. It feels like a regular episode, and it feels like Doctor Who at its regular best. Lightning in a bottle episode.

Before this one aired, very little was known about it, apart from photos of Tennant and Tate aboard a spaceship. The plot to other specials had leaked, but the plot here was unknown and the cast had been redacted, leading to two lines of speculation. One was that there's nothing to know, and this would be a simplified "bottle episode" focusing on Tennant and Tate only. That's an unusual choice when you only have three specials with Tennant, and are flush with Disney money. A "bottle episode" is usually only done to save money. The other theory was that this is a proper 60th Anniversary Special with other returning actors who needed to be kept a secret. (Russell T Davies says in the "making of" that he was tempted to bring back the First Doctor, William Hartnell.)

Ten years ago, the fiftieth anniversary special "Day of the Doctor" was criticized for only bringing back David Tennant and focusing on the past eight years of the series only. This is a little unfair in retrospect, since Billie Piper, Tom Baker and Paul McGann also returned, and the other Doctors are at least represented by archive footage and special effects. (There were also a few cameos in the "Adventure In Space In Time" docudrama.) But the lack of actual new material with Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy was parodied at the time in a comedy minisode, The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.

More recently, the final Jodie Whittaker episode, "Power of the Doctor," managed a lot more cameos by returning actors. There was also, this year, the "Tales of the Tardis" miniseries, featuring brief segments with returning actors. Too brief, without time for an actual story, offering only brief emotional reunions under emotional music.

As it turns out, "Wild Blue Yonder" is indeed a "bottle episode," although not a cheap-looking one. All that Disney money is used on lots of greenscreen and CGI environments, plus lots of practical spaceship corridor sets and a practical robot puppet. The cinematography's still a bit murky but the spaceship locations look great. This is perhaps not the right decision when you're making a 60th Anniversary Special, but it's exactly the right decision when you have three episodes with these actors and want them to feel like proper Doctor Who. This one feels a lot like the acclaimed 2008 episode "Midnight," where Donna was absent and The Doctor was aboard a train, contending with a malevolent force who was mimicking him. (The heavy use of green screen, and the three-eyed robot, and some of the story beats, also feel like one of the worse Fourth Doctor stories, Underworld.)

This sort of story brings out something nasty in Russell T Davies, and in David Tennant. This is a creepy episode, with a foreboding soundscape and unnerving performances. And that's great for Doctor Who. The show is remembering that it's a horror show, and serves up some unusual CGI and practical effects as well.

During the more sentimental scenes in a Russell T Davies Doctor Who, or during something like Tales of the Tardis, you could be forgiven for wondering whether Doctor Who has forgotten how to be scary, or to let a story breathe like in the "classic" episodes. This episode should allay those fears. It's mostly about letting David Tennant and Catherine Tate do their thing as actors, plus some showy effects and production design to use up that Disney money.

Somehow, Davies also finds time to piss off the quote unquote "fans" who complain that Doctor Who has gone "woke." For a start, there's a jokey opener with Sir Isaac Newton, who is not white here. (It plays out a bit like the Destination Skaro sketch a few weeks ago.) Russell, if you want to include more diversity in a historical storyline, you know there were lots of people of color in the past who you could highlight, right? Rather than doing something silly like this? Anyway, it results in a running gag (which has already caught on among fans), and in the Doctor and Donna starting to discuss how gay the Doctor might be (and has been), before the plot intervenes. (There's a running theme here about how the events of the Chibnall and Moffat eras have affected The Doctor, and about how this Doctor might be different from the Tenth that we knew.)

One must wonder if Davies is doing this purposely to generate some publicity and headlines in the alt-right press, pissing off a few of the worst people in the world to get people talking about the show. Especially since, with a black Doctor coming in, played by Ncuti Gatwa, the Youtube N*zis would be mad about the series anyway. Then again, Davies was always like this and it's not a break from his usual writing style to get him writing jokes like this.

But there's something else too. Davies takes a few moments to point out that the events of Chris Chibnall's Doctor Who did happen - The Flux and the Timeless Child - and that The Doctor has PTSD about them. This is really throwing a bone to the previous showrunner in a way that Chibnall did not do. I am convinced that Chibnall did not watch the last few series of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who, resulting in sloppy continuity. Davies makes it clear that he has watched Chibnall's Who, and that the major storylines (which went unresolved at the time) are still a going concern and a part of who The Doctor is now. (The Doctor being a woman recently has already been referenced several times, and is part of how the character is now interpreted.)

When the series was revived in 2005, Davies wrote The Doctor as someone haunted by the Time War between Gallifrey and the Daleks, which resulted in Gallifrey being wiped out from the universe (something undone in the 50th Anniversary special, perhaps unbeknownst to Chibnall). The Doctor was haunted by what he did, and it brought a sense of mystery back to the character, and hinted at a dark side which had been lost over the years. Davies is now using the Chibnall episodes for this purpose, which is really clever, considering that for many viewers these episodes were a lot of sound and fury signifying very little. The events of Flux, and the Cyber-Gallifrey situation, didn't really "register." Using them as backstory which haunts The Doctor is a nice touch.

The late Bernard Cribbins also turns up, in what is presumably his final Doctor Who appearance. If there's no further footage of dear Bernard, this will be a minor continuity problem, as it seems to lead directly into next week's special. But it's nice that the appearance isn't just a sentimental reunion, and that Bernard's last scene is a Doctor Who cliffhanger.

I am a little concerned that these specials haven't left much empty space to suggest that this Doctor and Donna were travelling together in stories we didn't see, to be filled in by the likes of Big Finish. But oh well.

Next week: The Giggle, involving Neil Patrick Harris as The Toymaker, originally played in 1966 by Michael Gough. While that story is mostly lost now (the final episode remains), the character's return was teased at the time, and even planned during Colin Baker's truncated tenure in the 80s. This villain is a real match for the Doctor and expectations are high.

UNIT is involved, including Kate Stewart, Shirley Anne Bingham (from the Star Beast) and returning 80s companion Bonnie Langford - a welcome sight. It's been the status quo for awhile that our returning UNIT characters are all women. I know it's hard to replace Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and that attempts to do so have fallen flat, even back in the 70s. It's tough to get that balance of an old-fashioned military man, whom the Doctor can befriend and rely on, but also be at odds with. And we presumably won't be seeing John Barrowman and Noel Clarke again. But I feel like they ought to make an attempt. (I'm reminded that Mark Gatiss had a go at this in Capaldi's last episode.)

What's interesting, at least so far, is that this 60th Anniversary hasn't been a Five Doctors type situation, with cameos from returning actors and lots of references to old material, except in the sense of bringing back Tennant and Tate, and some lesser-known enemies from the 60s and 80s. The third special may buck that trend, but I get the sense that these specials are celebrating Doctor Who's past by simply being good Doctor Who stories, in someting like the 2008 format. I've appreciated that, so far, they've been worth of Tennant and Tate's talents. If it's just three episodes they're making use of that time. It almost feels like a full year's series.

Oh, and the promo for next week teases the next Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa.
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Re: Through Time & Space: The Doctor Who Thread

Post: # 12211Post Garrett Gilchrist »

DOCTOR WHO: The Giggle (2023) : It's hard to shake the feeling that I've seen this before, and not in a bad way. It feels instead like the series is playing the old hits. The triumphant return to Doctor Who of its original 2005 showrunner (Russell T Davies) and lead actor (David Tennant) sticks the landing, in all three of these specials, by doing the same sort of stuff it would have done in the late 2000s. It's bigger, bolder, gayer, and feels like there's more money onscreen (after a partnership with Disney+ that hopefully won't doom the show later on). The CGI effects and production design are genuinely impressive throughout. The show has worked hard to shake its reputation as a cheap-looking and cheesy science fiction adventure, by throwing money at the problem, and it pays off here.

The Toymaker was introduced in 1966 as a way to replace the lead actor of the show, before the producers came up with a different idea. Doctor Who is a show that has always benefited from a change in actor and producers, in order to embrace change and find a new twist on what can otherwise be a repetitive format. But so far, the new Russell T Davies specials have been a glorious return to the same old rubbish. It has been said that every Doctor Who writer has one story in them, that they will write over and over again until forced to leave the show. We see elements of previous stories in The Giggle, repeated with the full confidence that we'll enjoy seeing this sort of thing again. The cast, also, seem fully convinced that they're doing the sort of thing Doctor Who fans like. We haven't seen that in awhile. Viewing figures have dropped off a cliff in the age of streaming (a problem for all television across the board), and the Capaldi and Whittaker eras of Doctor Who didn't get the same promotion and merchandise that David Tennant and Matt Smith got. The show took two years off (2016, 2019), and stopped making new toys, games, and spinoffs. Bringing back Russell T Davies and David Tennant comes with the hope that the show can be a cultural juggernaut again.

This is, presumably, the last we're going to see of David Tennant as the current Doctor Who, and inevitably it leaves the viewer wanting more. Tennant was probably the most popular Doctor Who of the 2005 revival, and he slips back into the role easily, because he's still very good at doing this. It makes me feel old to hear the incoming Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa, talk about how he "grew up watching" David Tennant, and how Tennant's 2009 Hamlet inspired him to become an actor. Gatwa is 31 years old.

This special is over an hour long - it's an hour and one minute - as Russell T Davies said excitedly in a social media video. And isn't it nice to be excited about Doctor Who again, something that Davies has always tried to bring to the table, even if his enthusiasm can be grating. But an hour is really not enough. There are a ton of ideas in this special that are explored only briefly, and could have used another 30 minutes to an hour of screentime. We notice the cheats, and the shorthand. We notice how the episode is about arguing politics on social media, until it's not. (The villain of the week even tosses off that Gender Critical catchphrase, "handmaidens.") The special is about the Doctor and the Toymaker facing off to play a game again, following up on a now-mostly-lost story from 1966. But we notice that the Doctor always chooses "the most simple game of all," removing any need to spend screentime explaining game mechanics. I could have happily watched these "games" for another episode, in some form or another.

The result, as with so many of Russell T Davies' stories, is that a big worldwide threat is established, which will inevitably be deflated in a way that's smaller than its setup. "Classic" Doctor Who would sit in these threats for a few episodes, but post-2005 Doctor Who tends to lack that sort of padding. More running time would likely have been filled with something else entirely. In true RTD fashion, the evil plan that's affecting the world is a completely nonsensical story beat. Calling the idea half-baked is an overstatement. It's not baked at all, but RTD assumes the actors can make it work in the performance. And yes, they can, but they would do equally well with better material. As with the Toymaker himself, the writing is a showy stage set with nothing in the back. RTD deduced correctly, long ago, that the vibes of Doctor Who are of more importance than whether these events are explained enough to make sense. RTD's Doctor Who is dramatic, flashy, silly, anything but boring. That's its greatest strength, and occasionally its weakness.

The special is stolen almost entirely by Neil Patrick Harris, as the Toymaker in question. The role as written calls for a big, showy, over the top performance, and Harris nails it with equal parts comedic camp and genuine menace. Harris does a lot with a bad German accent, solidifying the Toymaker as someone who is always joking and playing around, but who can also unravel your life in an instant if he so desires. The gay coding is text rather than subtext, as both a wink and a threat. This viewer suspects that one reason the show never brought this villain back until now, is that he is overpowered and does not fit in with the show's universe as we understand it. His flaws are as overpowered and unexplained as his powers. He is a fairy tale character, who can only be defeated in trivial ways, and it makes an already silly show even sillier. This is not a complaint. At times the performances are wonderful. At other times the tertiary supporting cast seem unsure how to react to whatever is occurring.

It's hard not to notice that this is basically a retread of how the Master was presented (played by John Simm) in 2007's "The Sound of Drums." Many of the story beats are identical, to the point where the script even points this out in an attempt to say it's different this time, in some unexplained way. But this version landed better with me, since The Toymaker has less history with the Doctor and was due for a reinvention. (It's harder not to compare the new series Master with the old series Master, and by comparison he/she is fan-ficcy and lacks a certain mavitas.) It helps that The Toymaker, like the Master, is witty, indulging in little performances and disguises for no one's amusement but his own. A good actor can make a meal out of this sort of thing.

The Toymaker, or Celestial Toymaker, was played memorably by the late Michael Gough in a 1966 story. It's not one of the show's best, and only the final episode of four is known to exist today, apart from audio. (A CGI animated version has been announced.) Writer Brian Hayles (credited here) pitched "The Eyes of Nemesis" in 1975, but was rejected. He would have returned in 1986 for "The Nightmare Fair" (with Colin Baker), but the show was facing cancellation at the time and scripts for "season 23" were cancelled in favor of what became "The Trial of a Time Lord" (which introduced Bonnie Langford, who recurs here). Michael Gough declined to return for the silly 1993 special "Dimensions In Time." The late David Bailie played the role on audio in The Nightmare Fair and Solitaire (with Paul McGann's Doctor but without Paul McGann). These stories are no longer canon on television.

"Celestial" has an unfortunate dual meaning here. It can refer to something from the sky, of the stars, and of outer space. It's also a 19th-century slur for Chinese people, and the character wore Chinese-inspired dress throughout, as if appearing in a children's pantomime. (A different character also says the N-word during a nursery rhyme in the story, something edited out of later audio releases.) To his credit, Michael Gough doesn't play the role in any detectably racist way, and "The Giggle" only references "Celestial" to mean "of the stars." It also shows the Toymaker trying on German, French, American and British personas as a running pattern. Yes, it's canonical now, in 2023, that the Toymaker is just a bit racist.

I say all of this only to note that we're getting into the deepest and dankest weeds here, in terms of referencing Doctor Who episodes that new fans of the show could not reasonably be expected to have seen. Mavic Chen is also referenced, from The Daleks' Master Plan, and as with the Toymaker, if you weren't already watching Doctor Who in 1965 and 1966, you haven't seen that (quite wonderful) story in full, because nine out of twelve episodes no longer exist today, except as audio.

Some time here is also spent explaining what Melanie Bush (Bonnie Langford) got up to after she left the show in 1987. (Tony Selby's character of Sabalom Glitz is referenced. The actor passed away in 2021.) The Youtube documentary specifically name-checks "Time and the Rani," possibly the silliest and campest Doctor Who story ever made. These are not moments intended for casual viewers. I doubt they'll actually be confused by the name-dropping, but you are a long way down the Doctor Who iceberg of camp if you're getting these reference. Would the average Doctor Who fan even get these references? Yes, of course, because they're sickos.

A few Photoshopped flashes of Michael Gough and William Hartnell are even thrown in as a flashback, as if Doctor Who has now, himself, visited the Doctor Who website and subscribed to the official Doctor Who Youtube channel.

Back in 1983 we got "The Five Doctors," with a cast of as many Doctor Who actors as could be bothered to show up for it. (Tom Baker said no.) For the Fiftieth Anniversary, "The Day of the Doctor" brought back David Tennant, Billie Piper, Tom Baker, and (checks notes) Peter Capaldi, who wasn't even Doctor Who yet. And John Hurt, who never was. (Chris Eccleston said no.)

The David Tennant specials are a different star beast entirely, without a lot of cameos, unless we're counting Trinity Wells, Mel Bush and Wilf Mott. (Bernard Cribbins passed away during filming, and Wilf is seen only briefly, played by a stand=in. He is otherwise referenced as being just offscreen.) Instead, the vibe is, "what if we brought back David Tennant and Catherine Tate to do roughly the same sort of thing we used to do back around 2008?" So this is how Russell T Davies has spent the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who, and I think he had the right instincts about it. There are a lot of nods to the past, but it mostly amounts to namedropping. The Meep and The Toymaker are pulled from such distant, old canon that they might as well be new. Fans might say, it's good to finally see The Meep and The Toymaker onscreen, but they're very deep cuts. The point of this exercise, really, is having Tennant and Tate back, as if they're the current Doctor Who team, for awhile. Appearances by other actors would have distracted from what we're seeing here. (This does, however, explain the need for little minisode projects featuring old series cast, like Tales of the TARDIS and the trailers for The Collection Blu-Rays.)

Tennant's Fourteenth Doctor is also subtly different. His previous Doctor would have burnt up a sun to say goodbye, but could not say the words "I love you." This Doctor says "I love you" casually, and it surprises the hell out of him. If this is part of some grander character arc, we don't see it spelled out here. What we get instead is an ending unlike anything we've seen before, which is also very, very much like the endings RTD has written before. It's something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

Viewers have theorized that previous special "Wild Blue Yonder" was partly based around fears of AI replacing human input on the internet, ruining all our information and never quite getting the hands right. The political messaging is less subtle here. The Giggle feeds into humanity's worst impulses, which play out like someone who is wrong on social media, but convinced that they're right. There are overt references to anti-vaxxers and the Cult of Gender Critical. One returning character seems to have become Alex Jones. This doesn't last long though, as the story has other things to do. It's a background detail rather than an overall political statement. "Doctor Who gets political?" Well, maybe a little bit, when it remembers to. The references to feminism and transgender identity in The Star Beast were more of a running theme.

Both episodes featured Ruth Madeley as Shirley Anne Bingham, a UNIT scientific advisor who uses a wheelchair due to spina bifida. This actually comes up more in this episode, with overt references to the discrimination she faces, and an effort to make the TARDIS wheelchair-accessible (and add a jukebox). What we haven't seen in awhile is a male UNIT soldier whose name we'd remember. Personally, I wouldn't want Jack Harkness or Mickey Smith (they know what they did) but would settle for Clyde Langer, or similar. Or if this is still a girl's club, Rani Chandra. (Also this is somehow the second UNIT episode in a row where they've forgotten about Liz Shaw. First scientific advisor AND first redhead?)

There are some typically Russell T Davies touches here, like a warning that the bigger overall villain(s) are still coming for the Doctor, so stay tuned folks. And an unexplained Nick Briggs-voiced creature called the Vlinx. Are they going to start making action figures of this sort of thing again?

In the Youtube documentaries, incoming Doctor Who Ncuti Gatwa (pronounced "Shuti") is seen doing a one-handed cartwheel, something impressive but not seen in the actual episode. There is a scene of some athletic play where the actors show what they can do. The answer is not "catch a ball" or "give Jemma Redgrave and Bonnie Langford anything coherent to react to." I look forward to more of Ncuti's physicality in the role. You can feel the show testing how gay it's allowed to be, in specific ways we haven't seen since RTD was last writing it. Ncuti's Doctor never puts on trousers in all of his/their screentime. They are also seen in a skirt or kilt, raving, in the trailer for the Christmas special. RTD seems a bit interested in Ncuti's legs, as Moffat was interested in Amy Pond's. (Pond is also referenced here, because it's the 60th.) Now, I'm not going to say "they wouldn't have done that in the sixties," because they did. Gatwa is youthful and fashionable, all teeth and pectoral muscles, and seems comfortable enough in the role. How that actually translates to the screen, we find out on Christmas day. It involves singing CGI goblins.

So far this has been a triumphant return of the same old rubbish. My hope is that Ncuti Gatwa's Doctor Who can also be more of the same.
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Through Time & Space: The Doctor Who Thread

Post: # 12218Post sonicbeta3 »

Hey Garret, you remember these models that you made public a long time ago? Do you still have them? The links are private now.
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Garrett Gilchrist
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Re: Through Time & Space: The Doctor Who Thread

Post: # 12219Post Garrett Gilchrist »

That was a long time ago and it would be odd to revisit now ... They were based on Adam Bullock's work, at least partly. I recall that I was able to find some but not all of the files. ... ... odels.html
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Re: Through Time & Space: The Doctor Who Thread

Post: # 12229Post Garrett Gilchrist »

DOCTOR WHO: THE CHURCH ON RUBY ROAD (2023): A Christmas special and the first full story for Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor and Millie Gibson as their friend Ruby Sunday. Unusually, Gatwa got a lot of screen time in the previous special, "The Giggle," presumably so that viewers could get used to the new actor, but this is Gatwa's first proper outing. While the three specials with David Tennant were a much-appreciated throwback to what the show was in 2007, this one shows what the show will be going forward. It immediately feels more modern than the previous specials, despite having the same showrunner (a returning Russell T Davies) and production team. In most respects it's standard Doctor Who fare, but the differences appear in subtler choices about tone and presentation, which show that a lot has changed since 2007.

The good news, and biggest question to be answered, is that Ncuti Gatwa has the charisma to carry the series. There is a lot going on in this performance, some of it unexplained. What is clear is that Gatwa is extremely charming, to the point where the Doctor's first interactions with other characters tend to raise the question, is this flirting? The performance then goes on to clarify that the answer is no, but we see how people quickly fall under the Doctor's spell, charmed by that smile. This is also the most explicitly queer Doctor Who. While other Doctors had variations on one basic outfit, Gatwa's Doctor changes outfits frequently and cares about being fashionable - fashion which initially mirrors Ruby's. Gatwa is athletic and muscular, and prefers low necklines that show that off. We've seen this Doctor with bare legs and bare arms, and lots of interesting costumes. The actor's reactions to situations often feel gay-coded, or at least unbothered about being perceived that way. Doctor Who has often been very clearly gendered in the past, with the Doctor standing strong against the monsters while the female companion cowers in fear. Gatwa seems happy to play both sides of that role as needed, projecting either unshakeable charisma and confidence, or occasionally the sort of submissive fear response we'd expect from a Jo Grant. What this means for Millie Gibson's Ruby Sunday, we'll have to see.

Their time onboard the goblin ship also involves a full-on musical number, with singing and dancing, although David Bowie (Labyrinth) is not involved, having passed in 2016. Russell T Davies included newly-written musical numbers in his Christmas specials when running the show previously, but it's never been quite this overt.

Earlier, they go out dancing at an LGBT-friendly club, with the Scottish Gatwa in a kilt and yellow tank top, fully raving. Trans actress Mary Malone (The Prince) sings onstage accompanied by Ruby on keyboards. Mary is a minor character but it's enough that she's there. Trans actor Pete McHale has also been cast for the series, and Yasmin Finney (Heartstopper) of course appeared in "The Star Beast." Jinkx Monsoon (RuPaul's Drag Race) has been cast as a villain. Star names include Neil Patrick Harris in The Giggle and Jonathan Groff (Hamilton).

The casual subtext here is that people of color exist, and LGBT people exist, and are important to these stories. People who are not cishet white men exist. This has been the case, behind the scenes, on Doctor Who, since the very beginning, with the first episodes directed by Waris Hussein and produced by Verity Lambert, with a theme produced by Delia Derbyshire. However, this wasn't always reflected onscreen. Classic Doctor Who always had a gay fanbase, and had leaned into that by the 1980s. And Russell T Davies' 2005 Doctor Who worked harder to appeal to women, foregrounding the character of Rose Tyler and playing up the romantic aspect of The Doctor himself. However, there was a strong negative reaction, within the older fandom, to the casting of Jodie Whittaker and Jo Martin as The Doctor. A large chunk of the existing fanbase outed themselves as overtly bigoted.

For his part, Russell T Davies has been including elements in these specials which seem intended to drive these viewers away, such as Donna discussing (in Wild Blue Yonder) how gay the Doctor is really, or the Doctor asking The Meep The Meep's pronouns. Hopefully the bigots have stopped watching by now, so we won't have to hear much more of their whining. I have heard a lot of complaints about the unusual new Sonic Screwdriver, enough that I suspect they're really complaining about the unusual new Doctor Who. There is not, otherwise, much to complain about yet.

The monster of the week plot is a bit weak, and there's a lot about these goblins which isn't explained, and which is handwaved away quickly. The Doctor, at least, gets to waffle on about deciphering a language made up of ropes, knots, accidents, cracks and coincidences. That part sounds interesting, and suggests something evocative which isn't quite explained in full. The goblins also look good - mostly practical suits, and using every penny of the money Disney is adding to the coffers of these specials. An overarching mystery, or two, is also set up, involving Ruby Sunday's parentage ... and neighbors. Davies had already hinted that an overarching villain (or villains) was coming, and this is a similar but more subtle way to keep viewers watching, until all is revealed. Running time is a bit of a problem here. The first twenty minutes pass slowly, while the last fifteen minutes cut a lot of corners. We don't have time for that, the show says, or we don't have time for that this week anyway.

Ncuti (pronounced Shuti) also excels at the real-world drama here, especially in a strangely-written scene with Ruby's adoptive mother, in which both are aware that something is missing, or has gone terribly wrong, but they're talking around their feelings about it. Here, Michelle Greenidge dampens the warmth and charm we've seen in other scenes with her, and won't look the Doctor in the eye. We must assume we'll be returning to this situation later, as there is unresolved story and it's populated with character actors -- Angela Wynter as the grandmother, Anita Dobson as the neighbor Mrs Flood, writer Gemma Arrowsmith as a social worker.

As for Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday, the writing is a bit of a problem here, because it takes the character awhile to warm up. She is written strangely during the first twenty minutes of the special, and has very little reaction to the strange events around her. She is introduced doing an interview with TV presenter Davina McCall, which is not quite as relatable as, say, Rose Tyler eating some chips. But I respect that, for a character who initially appears to be Rose Tyler Again, the writing and performance resists the urge to make her literally that, at least in this episode. In practice this means that the character takes some very strange and disturbing events in stride as if they're normal, or as if they're nothing ... then has a delayed reaction to it all at the very end of the special, both emotionally and in terms of figuring out what's just happened. I liked her a lot more in these moments, since we can now actually tell what she's thinking. It is made explicit in the script that she is having a delayed reaction and couldn't stop to think about all of this until now. Which is ... strange.

Of course Ruby trusts The Doctor immediately and that explains most of her performance here, but there's something lacking in the writing, in terms of presenting Ruby as an actual normal human woman. (Clara Oswald had a similar problem.) Perhaps it's just that Russell T Davies lacks recent life experience of this kind. It feels like a later Marvel movie, where so many cataclysmic and magical things have occurred that people don't react to them like a normal person would anymore. This extends to the plot as well. Something happens to Ruby's family home which is absolutely a major problem, and which does not get solved during this special. I am reminded of how Rose Tyler, Donna Noble, and Amy Pond had to be relatable, while others like Clara Oswald simply had to be there. Is Ruby, like Clara, simply a mystery to be solved? She certainly has chemistry with Ncuti and fits well enough into (what we used to call) the traditional companion role.

Despite a typical Doctor Who plotline, and the presence of Russell T Davies as showrunner, this doesn't quite feel like 2000s Doctor Who. It's clearly a piece of streaming television in 2023, and that has changed the show in ways which are hard for me to define. I am curious how this will play out in the full series, once I have a better idea of what Russell T Davies and company are up to here.

As far as technical concerns go, it is typical for current television series to be a bit dark and murky. There shows were often shot as low contrast video, which would look very grey as raw footage, and then graded for HDR monitors that do not exist yet for the average viewer. In this respect, this special is a lot better than you'd expect, and actually better than the previous specials. It doesn't have the super-bright, overlit look of Doctor Who of old, but you can see everything, and there's usually a bright, contrasty rim light making Ncuti Gatwa's features stand out, as well as Millie Gibson's. The tradeoff with this is that the photography and editing rely too much on closeups, which are often a bit too close. It's not especially moody, but it's not an especially moody story. It's also fairly colorful. A club scene uses what Youtubers call "bisexual lighting," and most exterior scenes are surprisingly diffuse and subtle, with flatteringly soft visuals. This could pass for a current feature film, on the lower budget side, and the key locations of Ruby's family home and a pirate ship are convincingly portrayed. The audio is where I had the biggest issue, although it may be my setup. It sounded like this was mixed for 5.1 rather than the stereo speakers I was using, although everything was audible and it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

The Church at Ruby Road is a good showcase for Ncuti Gatwa's intensely charismatic and charming Doctor, which is all it really needs to be. Despite the presence of Russell T Davies, and familiar Doctor Who tropes, it feels different from 2000s Doctor Who in ways which aren't easy to define. Stylistic traits from the Chibnall and Moffat eras of the show seem to have survived into this one, more than I would have expected. Millie Gibson's Ruby Sunday is pleasant enough, but frustratingly hard to get a handle on as a character. (Think Clara Oswald rather than Rose Tyler.) The language of television and film has changed in the past two decades, and I think that's affected how these characters are written and portrayed, in ways that feel a bit distancing, at this point. I'll have more of an opinion about this as the series goes. But it's a good start and we'll see where things go from here. It's also a fresh start, with The Doctor alone again, rather than hanging out with Bonnie Langford. It's bold and confident about what it's doing, and overtly queerer than the show has been before, with or without the aid of Bonnie Langford. I am not, at this point, entirely sure what the show is actually doing, but I'm interested in finding out.
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