It’s been a strange couple of years in fantasy telly land! Mostly, I was disappointed with “Doctor Who”. Last year, it was just great to see it back and seemed like the usual mix of good and bad. I didn’t like the first two stories but enjoyed the Simon Callow episode and so on. As the initial season progressed, the blandness of style just seemed too all pervading but the anticipation had been so strong it took a while before realising that Russell T Davies is no Philip Hinchcliffe. I thought they reintroduced the Daleks in the wrong way, with only a single one, but with the benefit of hindsight “Dalek” is the strongest of the new Dalek episodes. En masse would’ve been better to claim new fans. And I was struck immediately by the quality of the direction in the opening of the Blitz two-parter. I still think “The Empty Child” is the best story from 2005 but I don’t think it’s as good as I initially thought whereas I like “Dalek” more than I did originally.
This year the only stand out story, for me, was “The Impossible Planet” which I wasn’t as struck with at first as after repeated viewing. It was the tiresome opening scene between the Doctor and Rose that threw me on first viewing. I had been optimistic. I thought Tennant would be good. Graeme Harper would be masterminding all the Cybermen episodes and yet I remember mentioning in a post my worry that his style would be homogenised. There are bits here and there. I would add the Queen Victoria episode to the list if it wasn’t for the feeble attempt at humour. I would add “School Reunion” had equal attention been paid to the alien part of the story. The real slump came after “The Satan Pit”. I think Marc Warren is a terrific actor, he’d even possibly make a better Doctor than Tennant (who, in turn, would make a good Adam Adamant) but “L&M” just wasn’t for me and neither was “Fear Her”. The kindest thing I can say about the Olympic fiasco was that the yellowy-orange t-shirt colour suited Billie! And, like the previous year’s two-part finale, I felt the first half was padding, leading the viewer up to the cliff-hanger, and the second carried by spectacle, the very thing the writer of these episodes claimed was less important than the quality of writing.
While “Doctor Who” morphed into an action adventure series, I held out hopes for spin-off “Torchwood”. Same team, same mess. It’s had its good episodes. I enjoyed “Greeks Bearing Gifts”, possibly for the wrong reasons, and “Out of Time” was terrific, definitely for the right reasons! I’ve posted a few rehearsal shots below, showing Burn looking flushed with success, to celebrate its singular quality. But “Countrycide” was appalling and “Combat” even worse. I hope the author of the latter is writing better scripts on alternate Earth! “TW” has been so uneven, it hasn’t helped the viewer delineate who the main characters are meant to be.
“Spooks” was also disappointing this year. Every episode of season five was essentially the same. It was still exciting, better executed than “DW”, but the main guest actor in each story, usually playing the top politician, was always in league with the terrorists! They brought in a new female lead instead of moving Miranda Raison centre stage. Her sense of wonderment in season four, especially when entering Thames House for the first time, was what Billie’s should’ve been on first seeing the inside of the TARDIS. Better guest actors last year too, Martine McCutcheon, Andrew Tiernan, Jeff Rawle - Plantagenet in “Frontios” and who I would cast as the Doctor, Nigel Terry, Douglas Hodge, George Baker, David Burke, Lindsay Duncan. All terrific.
I enjoyed “A for Andromeda” despite its critical mauling. The return of “Cracker” was ok but paled against repeats of the first two seasons on ITV3. Certain repeats have been good. Great to see “The Green Death”, “Spearhead from Space” and “The Ark in Space” on BBC4, even if they weren’t in their original format. “Space: 1999” and “UFO” were on ITV4 and I got to see “Strange Report” for the first time - a little gem. BBC4 ran a series of half-hour documentaries on cult telly including “Adam Adamant Lives!”, “Doomwatch”, “Star Cops”, “Survivors”, “Blake’s 7” and “The Tripods” but only featured whole episodes of the first two! And Christmas telly… well “Dracula” was good but not a patch on the earlier BBC version starring Louis Jourdan. In fact, the best thing about this Christmas was the trailers for “Dracula” which featured David Bowie’s “Warszawa”, from the album “Low”, accompanying the sequence of excerpts. Now that was spooky!
Well, let’s hope for better things in the New Year, which is only hours away. I’m ever optimistic. Sarah Jane kicks things off. Let’s hope they don’t manage to kill her off “properly” and I am looking forward to seeing Miranda Raison in “Doctor Who” though I would’ve chosen MyAnna Buring (Scooti), as the new companion, over Freema Agyeman. Hope you all have a good one and see you on the other side of “The Midnight Hour”…