About this blog

This is the official blog of Phoenix Roleplaying, a multi-genre simming site, created in August 2010.

Run by the players, we hope to achieve great things.

Where our journey takes us, who knows.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Too sexy for this show? ('Doctor Who' Season 31/Series 5, 2010)

Gentlemen, your public interest figures just went up

Doctor Who Magazine has now announced another all-story poll to mark the first fifty years of the show; it remains to be seen what will change, but I expect significant moves up for "Enemy of the World" and "The Web of Fear" - the reviews for the rediscovered episodes have been highly positive.


I was in Aldi in Romford when I saw the picture on the front page of the Daily Express, a British tabloid newspaper with an obsession with house prices, immigrants and the death of Princess Diana. I saw the location photo of Karen Gillan in that policewoman outfit and thought "Yep, Gallifrey Base is going to go wild over this one".

The kissogram get-up and Amy's generally short skirts/shorts all round this season (there were a couple of exceptions) led to complaints/coverage that the character was too sexualised for the show... typically linked with a photo, just so the readers could get an idea and I'm sure not for the purpose of cheap titillation. Ah, sorry, my sarcasm mode is engaged.

So, who was this redhead?

Amy Pond - Crazy, Sexy, Scottish

Amelia "Amy" Williams (nee Pond), born in Scotland but spending much of her life in Leadworth, Gloucestershire as an orphan after her parents got accidentally erased from existence, was an adventurous girl from a young age - when she was 8, the Doctor crash landed in her front garden and she was fully ready to leave with him, but he didn't turn up after de-materialising. Twelve years (and four psychiatrists - she kept biting them when they insisted the Doctor wasn't real) later, he turned up again and two years after that, the night before her wedding to Rory Williams, she went off with him on adventures. Witty, stubborn and at times reckless, she was certainly a forceful personality. Comparisons to Daphne Blake from Scooby Doo, mainly because of the hair colour, are perhaps inevitable, but Amy never got called Danger-Prone.

Karen Gillan (1987-) was born in Inverness, Scotland and decided to become a professional actor at 16, attending the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London. Before she'd graduated, she got her first television role in Rebus, a series of adaptations of Ian Rankin's novels for STV/ITV and had also been recruited by a modelling agency; her 5'10 height undoubtedly helped in the latter department, although she no longer models. Her first really noticeable role was appearing in several skits on Channel 4's The Kevin Bishop Show from 2008-2009, where she dressed like Lara Croft, Katy Perry and other celebs, among other things in an at times controversial show, while her role in BBC interactive thriller The Well, despite airing after her announcement as Amy Pond, slipped under most people's radar. During the 2008 season of Doctor Who, she had a small role as a Soothsayer in "The Fires of Pompeii"... alongside a certain fellow Scot who recently found he didn't like the colour of his kidneys.

During her tenure as Amy, she also appeared in a production of Inadmissible Evidence and a drama called We'll Take Manhattan about supermodel Jean Shrimpton.

One of her next and arguably her biggest role to date will be in Guardians of the Galaxy as super villain Nebula, a role that required her to be painted purple and shave her hair off. She got a wig made from said hair and when she took it off at Comic Con last year to reveal the hairless head underneath, it caused a fair bit of a stir. Few women have been willing to lose all that for a role - Natalie Portman (who had hers shaved off on camera in V for Vendetta) is a famous example. She is also appearing as Kerry Newblood in the third instalment of spoof cop drama (think a NC-17 version of The Naked Gun; they go very far with some jokes) A Touch of Cloth; this is in the can, but no TX date has been announced.

The younger Amelia, seen in a number of episodes in this run, was played by Caitlin Blackwood, a real-life (and previous never actually met) cousin of Karen Gillan.


This was also the first year that there was no Torchwood in production at Upper Boat studios; combined with the economic situation, this resulted in a number of crew members either leaving the show or having to take demotions to stay on it as budgets got squeezed.

The positive benefit of that spin-off not being here however was the freeing up of the stage used for the Torchwood Hub (destroyed in "Children of Earth") - this allowed BBC Wales to build a new TARDIS interior in the location; with a retro theme to the console and incorporating multiple levels for the first time. This was matched with a new TARDIS exterior prop, inspired by the one used in the two Peter Cushing movies, with a lighter shade of blue and the return of the St. John's Ambulance logo not seen since the Hartnell days. The Doctor got a new sonic screwdriver; this one with a green light - and Matt Smith managed to break one of the props before Steven Moffat could set up a book on how long it would take him.

Yet more changes followed to the in other areas: A new title sequence, a new (and controversial) arrangement of the theme by Murray Gold and a new logo with a TARDIS-shaped DW in the centre[1]:


The stories themselves also changed in tone; the Moffat era is one more of a "dark fairly tale" as opposed to the epic space adventure of RTD. The family connection while still there is largely eliminated - indeed we only see Amy's parents once in this and that's pretty much all for that. There were also far more references to the past - indeed Smith's first episode sees a montage of Doctors as he symbolically takes his place among the eleven known to exist at that point.

This first run is a very good one; it suffers from the problem that first seasons of any new Doctor suffer from i.e. the lead writer knows more of the Doctor's character than those doing other stories.

(Please note that we will not be covering non-transmitted-on-television episodes unless they are of particular significance to the show... the DVD extra ones aren't)

The Eleventh Hour (65 minutes)

The newly regenerated Doctor crash lands on Earth, where he has to deal with a mysterious crack, a young Scottish girl and an escaped alien prisoner... with the Earth's time running out.

A very strong opener for the new Doctor - who nails it pretty much from the get-go, what with the fish fingers and custard[2]. It's not perfect... it's possibly a bit over-long in fact, but this is a highly recommended starting point for a new fan. Notable guest cast include the late TV astronomer Sir Patrick Moore (who hosted the monthly The Sky at Night until his death in 2012, one of the few still-active shows on British TV older than Doctor Who) and Olivia Colman, whose ubiquity in British TV these days, especially post-Broadchurch, was referenced in her appearance in the later 50th anniversary comedy extended skit The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.

The Beast Below

The Doctor takes Amy (who hasn't even had time to change out of her nightie) to Starship UK in 3295, home of the remaining British population as look for a new home among the stars, where they discover something is seriously amiss.

Guest starring well known actor Sophie Okonedo (who had been Oscar-nominated for Hotel Rwanda and played Alison in "Scream of the Shalka"), this is a very enjoyable episode with a lot of humorous moments and an interesting story. One particular funny bit involves the Doctor and Amy's reaction to an approaching tidal wave.

Victory of the Daleks

The Doctor is summoned to London in 1941 by his old friend Winston Churchill, who has a new secret weapon in the fight against the Nazis... which looks an awful lot like a Dalek.

The one that introduced the very controversial New Dalek Paradigm aka the Teletubby Daleks, a bulked up redesign with versions in multiple colours cynically felt to be a merchandising ploy, although partly due to the "old" Daleks being built for Billie Piper's eyeline and not for the taller Gillan. They are a bad part of a generally poor episode - a rare misfire by Mark Gatiss - and have not lasted. Ian McNeice does a good job as Churchill (he'd played him on stage previously) within the limitations of the time to explore a very complex individual[].

The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

River Song returns to the life of the Doctor as do the Weeping Angels... and Amy is in danger of turning to stone.

The first story filmed for the season, this has a superb opening episode, but things suffer a little in the second half; this is still a  This one was particularly notable for a rather unwelcome appearance of Graham Norton during the dramatic cliffhanger to episode one[4] and for Game of Thrones fans, Iain Glen is in it.

The Vampires of Venice

After Amy tries to make out with the Doctor, he decides to take her and her fiancé to Venice in 1580 to resolve the issue. Things don't go to plan as they have to deal with some alien vampires that look like attractive young women.

Filmed in Croatia (the real Venice is of course a very busy city), this is an above average episode with a number of good bits - including the Doctor's gate crashing of a stag do for his own father in law and whipping out a photo ID featuring the first Doctor.

Shaggy to her Daphne - Rory Williams

Joining the TARDIS crew proper at this point is Amy's fiancé and later husband, Rory Williams. The fact that the Doctor can merrily call him "Pond" made it rather clear of his views as to who (metaphorically) dominated that relationship - Rory was initially timid, less assertive but as a nurse, highly compassionate and caring. He is also known for having so many death or near-death experiences that people started to compare him to Dr Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG-1.

Arthur Darvill (1982-) was a relative newcomer at this point, making his TV debut in He Kills Coppers and seven episodes of an adaptation of Little Dorrit that also featured Freema Agyeman, also writing a soul/funk musical called Been So Long for the 2009 Edinburgh Festival. Since his casting as Rory, he has appeared in a production of Doctor Faustus and in 2013 was a vicar in hit drama Broadchurch.

Amy's Choice

It's five years since Amy travelled with the Doctor and she is expecting her first child with Rory. When the Doctor shows up, however, she starts to question what is real.

A well-crafted and highly thoughtful episode guest starring Toby Jones as the sinister Dream Lord, this firmly establishes the Amy/Rory relationship and includes one of my favourite lines of this era (the one about the ponchos). This is also one clearly made with an eye on the budget (as is common in any sci-fi show - you have a few cheap ones to save money for the bigger stuff); it has a guest cast of precisely four and makes extensive use of the standing TARDIS set.
The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood (2nd episode 50 minutes)

They aimed for Rio (even if Amy is a bit overdressed even for that)... but ended up in Wales in 2020. In the small village of Cwmtaff, a drilling project is causing people to disappear - and has awoken some ancient Terran residents.

Not one of my personal favourites, the return of the Silurians (heavily redesigned) after a 25 year absence from the show was written by Chris Chibnall, who had gained a degree of unpopularity among fans for some of his work on Torchwood as head writer, but this isn't that bad, even if it retreads some familiar ground. The final bit, where something particularly unpleasant happens to Rory, was a major surprise and is the best bit of this two-parter.

This story had to under go major changes in development due to lack of money to realise all its ideas (and in one case, being deemed too adult) - and in editing due to badly overrunning; it still needed to have a 50-minute slot for "Cold Blood".

Vincent and the Doctor (50 minutes)

When the Doctor sees a creepy face in a Vincent van Gogh painting he sees in a Paris museum, there's only one thing to do... go to 1890 to find out what is and meet the troubled artist himself.

A brilliant episode, funny and deeply moving in turn - it does not attempt to soften the mental health problems the artist suffered; indeed they are a big part of the plot (a helpline number was listed at the end on the UK transmission, as is common with BBC dramas that explore these sorts of issues). While Richard Curtis is best known for his comedy writing, this character based tale is much more than that - indeed, it was nominated for the Hugo. One also has to credit Bill Nighy who declined a credit for his appearance as Dr Black.

The Lodger

When the TARDIS is prevented from landing, the Doctor must face his most difficult test to date - passing himself off as an ordinary human lodger.

A loose adaptation of a story from Doctor Who Magazine's long-running comic strip (although that one featured Ten and the established character Mickey) guest starring well known comic actor James Corden[5], this Amy-lite tale has some pretty good moments in and some good comedy on Matt Smith's part, but there are better stories in this run. It also contains the possible first appearance of the Silents.

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang (50 minute first episode, 55 minute second episode)

A message transmitted through history brings the Doctor and Amy to Stonehenge in 102 AD, where River Song and a big trap are waiting... the very universe's existence is in peril.

A tale so timey-wimey that actually needs a diagram (Warning, spoilers) to fully understand, this epic season finale has a lot of very good moments, including the Doctor's speech at Stonehenge as well as the short-lived début of the famous fez.

Steven Moffat collected his fourth and so far last Hugo award for this - the following year it went to Neil Gaiman for "The Doctor's Wife" and 2013 saw all three Moffat nominees lose out to the Game of Thrones episode "Blackwater" - I would not be surprised if Doctor Who won in 2014 for something from the anniversary year, but Game of Thrones will have a shot for "The Rains of Castermere"[6].

The average ratings for this run (which did not of course include a Christmas special) fell to 7.2 million; only "The Eleventh Hour" cleared 10 million. However, these figures did not include iPlayer views, which generally cleared a million and a half for each episode[7]. In addition, this season, which was extensively promoted in the US - resulting in Moffat, Smith and Gillan getting an unplanned extension to their holiday when Eyjafjallajökull erupted and shut down European airspace for a week - got record ratings on BBC America and with references later turning up in various other US shows, such as Criminal Minds and Castle, it was clear that the good Doctor had finally broken into the US.

During the course of this run, a British general election took place. The Labour government of Gordon Brown was roundly defeated after the worst global recession since the 1930s... but the Conservatives under David Cameron failed to gain an overall majority after a strong performance in the first televised election debates in the UK by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg[8]. After a few days, a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition formed, which remains in power at present albeit with a good few tensions. The key result of this for the BBC was a freeze in the licence fee... which meant a real term cut in its budget over the next few years.

The corporation would have to cut services and programming budgets... and Doctor Who would not be immune.

[1]This would later be slightly modified to incorporate the BBC logo at the bottom; the BBC requires this to appear somewhere in the beginning of the programme and this allows to do so without being distracting.
[2]The 'fish fingers' were actually coconut cakes... but this didn't stop fans from trying out the recipe themselves.
[3]A long-time sufferer of depression, an accomplished artist, an opponent of Indian Home Rule (the reason he ended up in the political wilderness in the 1930s) in the first place and someone who could be thunderously rude... he reads like someone with Asperger's syndrome, but I'm no mental health professional. Whatever your view of him, he was certainly of huge influence.
[4]By no means his first appearance; an audio bleed from Strictly Dance Fever popped up in the first couple of minutes of the transmission of "Rose".
[5]Best known for Gavin & Stacey (which featured Sheridan Smith aka audio companion Lucie Miller), but also the comedy-thriller The Wrong Mans and more notoriously, the comedy horror Lesbian Vampire Killers.
[6]That is, the one with "The Red Wedding" in.
[7]Getting accurate iPlayer stats is difficult; unlike the official BARB ratings, it is difficult to identify re-watches and viewings by multiple people from the same screen. In addition, as the episodes appear on iPlayer every time they get repeated on BBC3, the opportunity for further growth is considerable.
[8]Not for want of trying... various challenges had been made previously, but one or other leader had sufficient political reason to say no i.e. they were too far ahead.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...