by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Doctor Who”

Live-Blogging Doctor Who: The Voyage of the Damned

Posted 29 June 2008 in by Catriona

Well, I’m not live-blogging it yet; I’m sitting on the back verandah, having a quick cigarette while ABC News runs through endless updates on tennis (seriously: most boring sport ever? Assuming golf doesn’t qualify as a sport?).

But I intend to live-blog all the episodes in this fourth season, barring catastrophe.

Live-blogging is now my favourite pastime; it puts inordinate stresses on the writing process, which I find refreshing.

But I’m not doing it with a bottle of vodka at my side any more.

Right, now I’m back in the living room—of course, I wonder whether there’s much point live-blogging if I can’t be sure that people will be reading at the same time. But, really, if I wrote the blog under those circumstances, I’d never get anything written.

They’re really pushing the Kylie Minogue angle—but I can’t really blame them.

Ooh, my spell checker doesn’t recognise either “Kylie” or “Minogue”—but it did take her a while to break into the U. S. market.

What? The Peter Serofinovich (near enough) Show? I’ve never heard of that. But I love him—thanks to Star Wars (embarrassingly) and Black Books and Shaun of the Dead, so I’ll probably watch that.

Low-level violence? I don’t remember that. But here we go—the Titanic improbably crashes through the TARDIS.

I wish they’d played the Children in Need special first, though—that was delightful.

NICK: New Zealand!
ME: What?
NICK: New Zealand Shipping Co. Ltd.

Right you are, then.

Ooh, the creepy robots; I like them. They remind me of the gorgeous deco robots in “Robots of Death”—they were stunning.

Ah, the revelation that it’s the space Titanic—and then the theme music. It’s new theme music, I think—hang on.

No, Nick says it was re-recorded after this. But then he tells me it is in fact a new mix for this, so I think he’s lying to me to make me look silly.

Geoffrey Palmer! Hey, Geoffrey! I love you! Don’t be evil!

Oh, you silly midshipman—leave the bridge, regardless of regulations. He’s sent everyone off for a reason, and you’ll regret this.

Oh, Palmer’s definitely evil. (Of course, I’ve seen this before—but that’s not the point. I can still tell he’s evil.)

Have we ever seen the Doctor in a tuxedo before?

Nick hates soft-rock carols—and I’m absolutely with him. I love real Christmas carols, but these things . . . no.

I’d never noticed before that the Doctor is imitating the robot’s head movements as it breaks down. Apparently it’s worse when the robots break down in first class—that’s a bit disturbing, given the conditions of the real Titanic’s sinking.

Ooh, Kylie! Hello, Kylie! Gee, she’s tiny.

She’s kind of adorable, though—especially when she grins. “Astrid” is an anagram for “TARDIS”, but I don’t know if that’s intentional. Kylie’s not lost her accent, though, at least not on the vowels. I do like hearing a genuine Australian accent on telly; it doesn’t happen enough, and it seems to be an extraordinarily difficult accent to counterfeit, for some reason.

Ah, the working-class passengers who are being mocked by the people in first class. But the Doctor gets revenge—petty, but amusing.

Uh oh, back to Geoffrey Palmer.

NICK: And in Davies’s scripts, there’s always someone saying “Doctor” as in medical doctor. Interesting. I don’t know what to make of it.

Make of that what you will—I’d be interested to hear opinions.

Ooh, Clive Swift. Apparently, there’s an excruciating interview with him in Doctor Who Magazine—according to Nick, from whom I got this information, Clive Swift made the whole thing very difficult for the interviewer. That’s a shame, because I’ve always found him amusing.

DOCTOR: The pyramids are beautiful. And New Zealand.
NICK: Yay!

Hey! It’s (spoiler!) Donna’s grandfather! I love you, you adorable old man.

Ah, the Queen’s staying in London. A lesson learned from her mother: “The King won’t leave the people, and I won’t leave the King.”

(Should those nouns be capitalised? I can’t tell at this stage, and I can’t be bothered looking it up. But I’m talking about specific monarchs, so I’ll leave them as is.)

Uh oh, Geoffrey Palmer again. This can’t be good. And do those meteors have engines? How are they turning on that sharp angle, otherwise?

Ha! The Doctor’s put his glasses on. That’s usually the sign for me to get whacked by an excitable friend when we watch these in groups, but Nick’s not susceptible to David Tennant’s charms. That I know of.

Oh, you poor midshipman. Geoffrey shows his true colours. He was a villain in the last Doctor Who story he was in, wasn’t he? Or at least a stooge? I’ll ask Nick in a moment.

Uh oh! Tiny asteroid.

NICK: Ha! It’s a gigantic Ferrero Rocher!

Oh, Geoffrey! I know you’re dying, but this is evil. You know that, don’t you? Although I’ll admit that that lugubrious face works well with this kind of character. I love you, Geoffrey! I’m sorry you’re dead. Or almost. No, actually dead now.

The screaming and the death gives me a good opportunity to ask Nick my question: apparently, Geoffrey wasn’t evil or a stooge in the last story, just a misguided beaurocrat. Also, Geoffrey—I’m sorry I’m calling you by your first name when we haven’t been formally introduced—I blame the exigencies of live-blogging. Oddly, “Geoffrey” is easier to type then “Mr Palmer.”

Man, this episode has a high body count—we’re up the steward being sucked out of the ship, if I haven’t been making the narrative absolutely clear, which I suspect I haven’t. But I don’t think I’ve seen this bloody an episode since “Horror of Fang Rock”—and that had a fairly small cast of characters from which to work. But this reminds me of classic episodes such as “Warriors of the Deep” and “Robots of Death,” naturally.

Slight pause while I figure out why the page just went really strange and then realise that I hit the “html” button accidentally. But that’s fine—we’re all here again.

The Heavenly Host have gone evil, by the way. Ah, evil robots. Have any Doctor Who episodes involving robots ever been bad?

The Doctor’s claiming to be 903 years old—is he lying about his age, again?

No! Don’t bring that robot back to life! You’re really going to regret that.

NICK: Hang on, Rich Chappy knew the Host said “You’re all going to die.” So he should know mending it is a bad idea. Bit of a plot hole, there. Mind, it’s the first time I’ve noticed it, in four times of watching.

Ah, “allons-y”—or something along those lines. (I think I can confidently say ‘Excuse my French’—it really is non-existent.) The Doctor’s habit of saying that is going to pay off in a really disturbing fashion in a devastating episode later in the season. (Spoiler!) Kind of.

The anti-cyborg attitude behind this episode is one of the more interesting aspects of the world-building: it’s a shame there isn’t more room to develop it further.

Ah, the disappearing life signs—that reminds me of something. Is it another Doctor Who episode? I can’t remember now.

Killer robots! Why oh why do people trust robots? It’s never a good idea. At least not in Doctor Who.

NICK: You’re supposed to be a helper robot! Why aren’t you helping?

Never mind, he’s been squished under a giant block.

NICK: In death, they’re extraordinarily unrealistic.

Nick thinks the last instance of the disappearing life signs was “Earthshock,” when the Cybermen’s android was slaughtering troopers. He could be right—I’ve blocked a lot of “Earthshock” out of my head, because it was a bit silly.

This whole episode is so The Poseidon Adventure—although now we appear to be crossing the bridge of Kazak Dhum (don’t check my spelling).

Nick was very unimpressed that the Afro-Caribbean man was the first to die. He’s just said so again—about the fifteenth time he’s said that. But he feels it is pandering too much to the conventions of the disaster movie.

(I agree, but I still laughed and laughed when Samuel L. Jackson was eaten by that giant shark in Deep Blue Sea—a movie so cliched that my father, who’s seen about fifteen movies since the late 1960s, was able to spot the plot developments before they happened, including the bit where the shark turned an oven on with its nose.)

Nick’s right—this scene is is beautifully lit. See, killer robots who can also fly is just cheating. What are you supposed to do about that? And it’s all very well to hit their haloes away with lead pipes, but what if you’re like me? I’m far more likely to whack myself on the back of the head and just make the whole thing easier for them.

Oops, second man down—little, spiky, red dude. I have no chance on Earth of spelling his name correctly, so we’ll just leave it at that.

Ah, about to be third man down.

But first, a Douglas Adams joke. I wish Douglas Adams were still writing for the programme. Of course, I wish Douglas Adams were still alive, and writing anything.

Now that’s the third man down. That’s a shame; I rather warmed to her.

Now the Doctor’s angry—this Doctor spends most of his time angry, it seems. Who was the last genuinely angry Doctor? The sixth regeneration was pretty cranky most of the time, but it wasn’t this kind of white-hot anger. Ah, but Sylvester McCoy was capable of this—remember “The Happiness Patrol”? That is the one I’m thinking of, right?

Ah, the point where the Doctor kisses the latest girl. Call me old fashioned, but I do think there’s too much kissing in this new incarnation. I preferred the original series in that respect. (And other respects, although I do love this new version.)

I think there’s a logical flaw in the “survivors must equal passengers or staff” argument that the Doctor sets up. Surely, survivors simply equal anyone who survives the crash, by definition. But, he might be talking about an assumption that the Host have been specifically programmed with a list of people who have survived and need to be hunted down. But surely that’s nonsensical—wouldn’t they just kill anyone human, regardless of their standing?

Oh, never mind.

In the interim, the Doctor is working up to a confrontation with the big boss, and Astrid is following him.

I’m not sure I want to be a disembodied head on some kind of hydraulic cart—that really doesn’t seem as though it would be a satisfactory life. Still, at least they seeded the necessary backstory for this with little, red, spiky man—I would like to know more about why Stow (is that right? We’ll leave it as is) despises cyborgs.

The head/cart thing is really creepy, though. And I do like a good revenge plan. I don’t care how fond the “ladies” are “of metal”—what can they do when you’re just a head on a cart?

Actually, seriously, don’t answer that. I have a feeling I could work out the answer with a bit of quick Googling—but I don’t think I want to.

Let’s just forget that bit ever happened, shall we?

Oh, dear, Astrid is making her move. Nick’s not sure why the robots don’t just kill the Doctor, anyway, but let’s be glad they don’t.

Whoops, slow motion—never a good sign.

Oh, that’s a shame. She would have driven me mad as a companion—but what about this nice young midshipman? We haven’t had a proper male companion in ages?—but I rather liked her.

Ah, a hero-shot of the Doctor, framed against fire. And about to play with all those Messianic overtones that this new series has been overtly seeding into the show. (I spelt that “dhow,” which would have been an entirely different point.)

This hero-shot reminds me of the scene at the end of “The Runaway Bride”—I assume it’s deliberate—where he’s killing the Rachnos (seriously, it’s close enough, spelling-wise) babies.

(By the way, the Titanic is falling on Buckingham Palace, and we’re about to have queen-related hi-jinks.)

With the scene in “The Runaway Bride,” I felt that this Doctor was cruising for a bruising, so to speak. He was so implacable, and in a way that was entirely foreign to an old-school fan of the series.

(Ah, queen-related hi-jinks. Is there any surer form of humour?)

Anyway, back to the main point—I could deal with implacable Doctor—but I felt he needed to get his comeuppance at some point. He needed to be brought to a sense of how extreme his behaviour was. And I’m not sure that’s ever happened to him, yet. I sort of hope it does.

Poor Astrid. I’m not sure I want to spend my life floating around the galaxy as atoms. And “the ghost of consciousness”? Does that mean she’s still sentient? What if the atoms are scattered at some point?

Man, she’s tiny.

There’s a fine line between falling and flying—at least as long as the ground is a reasonable distance away.

Nick thinks there are shades of this in the Steven Moffat two-parter—still to come in our Doctor Who season 4 live-blogging extravaganza—but we’ll come to that when we come to those episodes.

Why does the jerk always survive in these episodes? Why?

I wonder if it would have been possible for me to make fewer references to the actual narrative? I’ll see how I do next week.

This really does have an enormously high body count. How many people were on that ship? And only four survived? Well, technically two, since Mr Copper went AWOL and the Doctor was a stowaway.

Oh, the Doctor is so English. I wonder if I could make something out of that about nationalism and consciousness of the foreign on the part of immigrants—but I can’t really be bothered.

(Spoiler coming up. Seriously, a spoiler. A minor spoiler, but still a spoiler. Is that enough warning? Have you skipped down to the next paragraph? Good. This Mr Copper character is going to pay off in an interesting if minor way later in the season. Keep an eye out.)

And there goes that TARDIS.

Oh, Verity Lambert. Vale, Verity Lambert.

And that’s “The Voyage of the Damned.” Next week: creepy little aliens and Catherine Tate. I wasn’t sure about her, but I’ve warmed to her.

And a preview for the first half of the season. Some good episodes coming up. Any season that includes Agatha Christie is a good season.

Why I Don't Mention Real People Here Very Often

Posted 2 June 2008 in by Catriona

Recently, Nick—the Grand Master of extracting all available details about Doctor Who from the Internet or, in fact, any other available media—brought this to my attention: a blog post from James Moran, writer for Doctor Who and Torchwood.

Now, I was already predisposed to like James Moran, since he wrote “The Fires of Pompeii” for Doctor Who—which was the episode where I really warmed to Catherine Tate as Donna; I’d liked her before, but I really liked her here—and “Sleeper” for Torchwood, which was a gut-wrencher in a series that ended with me weeping uncontrollably in front of my television.

(Seriously, if you are a reader who doesn’t happen to know me, that really isn’t like me.)

(An aside:

NICK: He also wrote a movie called Severance, which is apparently really good if you like your horror bloody and British.
ME: Which I don’t.

I haven’t recovered yet from 28 Days Later, and still have a tendency to shout “They’re running from the infected!” at moments of high tension.


Anyway, this particular blog post is about Moran’s contact with Harlan Ellison, whom he’d named as the living writer he’d most like to share a pint with in a magazine interview.

The article itself is a lovely invocation of the pleasures and pains of fandom. I’m not familiar with Ellison’s work myself—except in the Pierre Bayard sense that I know where it fits in the cultural library—but I did once, back in the M/C Reviews days, publish a fan’s response to Ellison that reminds me of Moran’s piece.

But then you read down to the comments thread, where one commentator has simply written “Ellison’s always struck me as a bit of an asshole, but this seemed very cool of him.”

If I were the blogger in this case, I think my response would be, “Oh no, no, no no no no no no.”

Except with more words that should probably be spelled out with asterisks in this time slot.

And then Harlan Ellison responds.

Actually, his response is rather marvellous, and the blogger deals with the situation with panache, but the whole situation does illustrate a point that I made before, in my piece on Steven Moffat.

You don’t know who might be reading on the Internet, so why insult them?

Steven Moffat is a God

Posted 1 June 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again and again until people start parroting it in the streets. If they aren’t already.

I’ve always been a little cautious about what I say about real people on here—especially real people that I don’t actually know—because even though this little corner of the Internet is largely unexplored, I don’t want it to contain anything potentially offensive or derogatory (except where it concerns the movie adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).

But I don’t think there’s anything too offensive in this, so I’ll say it again: Steven Moffat is a god.

I’ve just seen “Silence in the Library”—and I’ll say no more.

Except I’m still shaking and exhilarated.

There’s nothing quite like seeing beautifully directed, cleverly written, absolutely terrifying real science fiction on your television.

But I’ll say no more.

Apparently, some parts of the fandom—if I can conceive of fandom as being, in this case, a corporeal state, like a kingdom—claim that Steven Moffat sacrifices emotional depth and development to a desire for clever narrative structures.

I don’t see that.

And, anyway, I’m a fan of clever narrative structures.

But I’ll say no more about it.

I mean it this time.

Most of you can wait for the next Doctor Who night, or perhaps the one after.

It’ll be worth the wait, I can promise that.



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