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

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Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Longest Season ('Doctor Who' Season 33, 2011-13)


After over two years, a huge amount of research and a considerable amount of stat entry, the end is in sight. This post and a final conclusion post will conclude the longest series I have ever run on this blog... I'm not planning to do anything this big for a long time. I won't be posting anything in this on the Capaldi series as I'm posting plenty on that already.

****
The biggest impact of the budget cuts was possibly the fact the next season of the show would not start properly until September 2012; at least that's what Private Eye thought. Certainly there was a desire to move the show to the autumn, where shorter days and poorer weather would boost viewing figures; the split Season 33 would cover five episodes in the autumn and eight in the spring of 2013. Combined with no less than three Christmas specials and an anniversary special, there's a lot to cover here.

2012 also saw a huge scandal rock the BBC and British television in general. On 3 October, ITV's aired Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, alleging the late DJ and BBC presenter had been engaged in paedophilia with several children. The subsequent investigations determined Savile (who had as mentioned arranged a mini episode of Doctor Who as one wish on his show Jim'll Fix It) had as many as 589 possible victims. The subsequent police investigation, Operation Yewtree, resulted in 11 arrests and has recently obtained its first convictions, of publicist Max Clifford, who was jailed for eight years after being found guilty of eight counts of indecent assault, some of which would constitute rape under today's laws and then of Rolf Harris. The whole scandal briefly touched Doctor Who, with allegations that former producer John-Nathan Turner propositioned the then 17 year old author of a book about him and that JNT's partner Gary Downie actually sexually assaulted him; with both men dead and the former's actions only illegal due to the then unequal age of consent between heterosexual and homosexual couples, the story did not stay in the headlines for long.

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With the 50th anniversary looming strongly in everyone's vision, many fans would take the opportunity to revisit the show's long history... including yours truly. The BBC and various other channels would show documentaries looking back at the first 50 years, with the former also commissioning (as I predicted in the very first article in this series) a drama about the show's creation, An Adventure in Space and Time, which was really rather good and featured a surprise cameo. A large official anniversary convention would also be held at the ExCeL Centre in London's Docklands, which I attended and mostly enjoyed.
There would be production changes in the top; both Beth Willis and Piers Wenger left the show, the former not having any participation in Season 33 and the latter only doing the 2011 Christmas special. Caroline Skinner would be exec producer number two for the rest of this run, but she departed after "The Name of the Doctor". Moffat. who wrote eight episodes of this run, remains the showrunner.
Indeed, the name of the Doctor was something that would loom very large in the anniversary year. Please note that this is a somewhat more spoilery article than the previous ones.
(Mini episodes will not be included here unless they are of real note)

The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe (60 minute Christmas special)
In 1941, a widow takes her two children to a country house with a very unusual caretaker...
Inspired by CS Lewis' Narnia series (although with less religion)[1], this special contains a few sprouts, but the rest of the meal is very good; Moffat's wit sparkles and Matt Smith is truly superb. Claire Skinner, known at this time for her role in Outnumbered, is also great.

Good as Gold (3 minute mini-episode aired on Blue Peter)
The Doctor and Amy land in London as the Olympics open.

This scene, which was another school script competition winner, takes place entirely in the TARDIS. Ironically enough, the fourth-wall-breaking competition announcement video asked for entries not to be set at London 2012 as the Doctor had already been there.

*****
The move to an autumn airing meant that the first episode proper of Season 33 did not air until 1 September 2012; at the end of the summer holidays; indeed, the next season didn't air until 23 August 2014. When it arrived, there would be a huge surprise for audiences, who knew that there would be a new companion, knew who was playing her... but wasn't expecting for her to appear quite so soon.

The title sequence would be modified for this first half slightly; different font, slightly out of focus and some colour adjustments. The official website also debuted 'movie-style' posters for each episode, something that will hopefully continue into the future as some of them were really rather good.

Pond Life (Five online mini episodes)
A 'prequel' to the first story, this sees the Doctor popping in on Amy and Rory as the latter two's marriage begins to break down. Some enjoyable moments and a great unusual moment involving an Ood.

Can be found here.

Asylum of the Daleks (50 minutes)
The Doctor, Rory and Amy are kidnapped by the Daleks, who force them to breach the Dalek Asylum, where they send the insane Daleks. The Doctor has to save the day and his companions' marriage; in the process he will have this first encounter with a very important woman.
A highly enjoyable opener with a lot of memorable scenes; this story is however far more notable for the surprise appearance of Jenna Coleman, something kept secret by the media press of three different countries who had seen the preview screenings.

The Impossible Girl - Clara Oswald
A 21st century woman... or a future soufflé chef... or a governess in Victorian England moonlighting as a barmaid? Just whom, apparently a sassy confident woman is Clara Oswald?[2]

Jenna Coleman (1986-present), credited until "The Name of the Doctor" as Jenna-Louise Coleman, started her acting career at school in a theatre company called In Yer Space. While auditioning for drama schools, she was cast in the ITV rural soap opera Emmerdale as Jasmine Thomas in 2005 and spent four years in the show. While there, she was nominated for a number of awards, including at the 2009 British Soap Awards getting nods for Best Actress, Best Dramatic Performance and... er.... Sexiest Female.
After this she joined BBC school drama Waterloo Road; she appeared in nine episodes of the show's fifth season as pupil Lindsay James[3]. She had a small role in the first Captain America movie in 2011 and filmed an adaptation of John Braine's novel Room at the Top that wasn't aired until September 2012 due to a rights dispute.
Since becoming Clara, she also appeared in a three part adaptation of PD James' sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
In 2357, the Doctor is asked by the Indian Space Agency to investigate an unidentified spaceship heading for Earth. He assembles a motley team, including Queen Nefertiti, the Ponds... and Rory's dad, Brian.

While the title is certainly interesting and the episode starts off with great promise, I was rather bored by the end... this narrowly avoids being a clunker. Arthur Williams is one of the better parts of this episode.

A Town Called Mercy
Team TARDIS arrive in Mercy, Nevada in 1870, where the town is under siege from a mysterious alien gunslinger...

When filming a spaghetti western, there is only one place to go... Spain[4]. This is a good and thought-provoking episode, featuring Ben Browder (Stargate SG-1) in a role where he chooses not to ham it up, but this isn't a classic, featuring a cop-out ending.

The Power of Three
A huge number of small black cubes suddenly appear all over Earth. Why are they here? The Doctor and UNIT try to find out.
While it's good to see UNIT back in the show (especially Jemma Redgrave as the Brig's daughter), this Chibnall episode is distinctly average.

The Angels Take Manhattan
A simple trip to New York goes horribly wrong when Team TARDIS meet the Weeping Angels.
A sad, but emotionally complete departure episode for Rory and Amy; this contains many a great moment and location filming in New York City.

This was followed by the webcast P.S, a storyboard animation of a dropped scene where Rory's father reads a letter from him.

****

At this point, the show moved production from Upper Boat to Roath Lock, where it shares the studios with Casualty and Welsh-language soap opera Pobol y Cwm ("People of the Valley"), among others. Unable to take the TARDIS set with them as it was too integrated into the studio, a new interior was created at the latter.

There was also a new title sequence, bringing back the Doctor's face, accompanied by yet another Murray Gold arrangement of the theme.

The Snowmen (Christmas special)
Mourning the departure of Amy and Rory, the Doctor retires to Victorian England. However, the Paternoster Gang and a young barmaid bring him into a fight against an old foe that uses killer snowmen...

A highly enjoyable festive episode that acts as a sequel-prequel to two Troughton stories and has great turns from Richard E Grant, along with Ian McKellen in the voice department.

One Born Every Minute (Comic Relief skit)
Far more a spoof of the Channel 4 documentary series about people giving birth with characters from Call The Midwife and the Doctor turning up near the end

Didn't actually see this at the time (I didn't bother with that year's telethon at all) and the YouTube version is incomplete; you'll have to go to iTunes.

The Bells of Saint John
When nanny Clara Oswald has internet problems, she's given a phone number... and the Doctor answers, pulling her into an adventure featuring some very dodgy wifi.
After a slow start, this becomes a highly enjoyable episode, with a number of great lines and some actual location filming in London, as opposed to Cardiff playing London.

The Rings of Akhaten

Clara leaves Earth with the Doctor and goes to a festival on an alien world, where an old god is waking up…
A lot of money is thrown at the many aliens in this... but not at the script. It's a snooze-fest of an episode. Clara is great, but some of Matt Smith's Time Lord grandstanding fails to fully convince.

Cold War
The Doctor and Clara arrive on a sunken Soviet nuclear missile submarine... and there's also an Ice Warrior on board.

One of my personal faves from this run - it helps that I'm a Cold War 'enthusiast' (nice to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there... I was born just at the end and don't remember it) and this ep also contains two actors who have been in Game of Thrones, most notably Liam Cunningham, who plays Ser Davos Seaworth, one of my personal favourite characters - as well as a stuntman and of course a writer. This shoot saw the cast spend most of their time dripping wet.

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Arriving at a haunted house in 1974, the Doctor and Clara team up with two ghost hunters to find the "Witch in the Well", who has appeared across human history.

While there were a lot of enjoyable moments and some great guest actors (including one from Call the Midwife), this kind of loses something towards the end. The writer, Neil Cross, has explicitly said that BBC ghost dramas of the 1970s such as The Stone Tape were big influences in this tale.

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
The Doctor and Clara encounter a group of salvage merchants who want the TARDIS... and it could lead to the ship's destruction.

Notable for having one of the smallest casts in the show's history (and all three of the guests from an ethnic minority to boot), this is an enjoyable tale, but lags and has a frankly cop-out ending.
The Crimson Horror
The Doctor, Clara and some of their pals try to stop an insane factory owner in 1893 Yorkshire.
Another very good Mark Gattiss-penned adventure, this episode guest-stars Dame Diana Rigg (and her real-life daughter), features another welcome appearance from the Paternoster Gang - including a great Sat-Nav joke and also allows Matt Smith to rock a bowler derby in a deliberate homage to Steed from The Avengers.

Nightmare in Silver
The Doctor, Clara and two children she is looking after travel to the biggest theme park in the universe... only to discover that is not only closed, but filled with Cybermen.
Enjoyable (especially where Matt Smith plays against himself), but not exactly great; a good amount of the fandom didn't like this one.

The Name of the Doctor
Trenzalore, the site of the Doctor's final battle... and where his greatest secret will be revealed.
The opening, featuring Clara inserted into some old footage is great, the final scene spectacular... and the rest frankly drags a little.  The cast isn't big, the money is clearly going on the effects and we finally get an explanation for Clara's presence. As mentioned, it's the ending that's the best bit... I knew Hurt would be in the anniversary special, but I didn't know who he was playing...

John Hurt - The War Doctor
The incarnation of the Doctor between Eight and Nine; the one who thought the Time War and who disowned the name "Doctor". His three successive incarnations hated him for the actions they believed he had committed at the end of the Time War i.e. destroy Gallifrey. When we actually meet him fully, he's definitely stern and determined, but there is a clear warmth and humour in him.

It was never likely that Christopher Eccleston would agree to return for the anniversary; he was politely asked and politely declined. Thus Steven Moffat chose to make a major alteration to the character and as a result, John Hurt would become the oldest ever actor to play the Doctor.

John Hurt (1940-) has had a very long and distinguished career; his passion for acting began while at school. After going to RADA in 1960, his first film was two years later and reached prominence in 1966 after his role in A Man for All Seasons. Five years later, his portrayal of Timothy Evans[5] (opposite the late Richard Attenborough) in 10 Rillington Place got him a BAFTA nomination and in 1975, his role in The Naked Civil Servant (an adaptation of the biography of gay icon Quentin Crisp) got him the first of his four gongs from the British Academy.
The notable roles continued to come in; he got Oscar-nominated for Midnight Express and in 1980, he got another nomination (as well as his third BAFTA) for his role as "John" Merrick in David Lynch's The Elephant Man, a loose and at times inaccurate adaptation of the real life story of Joseph Merrick[6]. The film got eight Academy Award nominations, but won no statues; the controversy over a lack of a special award for the make-up led to the following year getting a new category for it.

The year before that, however, was his most iconic science fiction role; Kane in Alien, him of the infamous "chest burster" scene[7]... which he would later parody in Spaceballs.
I think, that you've now very much gotten the point - Hurt's been consistently high-profile for almost 50 years; he's never reached the heights of the A-list, but in a way, that might be a good thing.

****
In the gap between "Name" and "Day", Matt Smith announced that he would leave the role after the 2013 Christmas special; cue major speculation as to who would take on the role. In the end, the clear and obvious favourite (so clear that bookies started paying out), Peter Capaldi, got the role - he was the only person even considered. After an audition at Steven Moffat's house, he learned he got the role while in Prague filming The Musketeers. A live reveal show on BBC1 got six million viewers... and I got the TV Tropes article up pretty shortly afterwards.

The Night of the Doctor (7 minute red button minisode, also in YouTube and iPlayer)
On board a crashing spaceship, a woman calls for a doctor... but she doesn't get the one she's expecting. When she does, it marks the end of both of their lives and a huge change for the Doctor.
Dropped onto the Internet earlier than planned because of an imminent leak - it appeared on 14 November, the birthday of its star, this episode sees the surprise return of the Eighth Doctor (McGann had earlier denied his involvement in the anniversary!)... and his regeneration into the War Doctor. It was a huge and very welcome surprise; the web went crazy over it. Watch it here.

The Day of the Doctor (75 minute 50th anniversary special)
Three Doctors get involved in what will become the biggest and most important day of all the Time Lord's lives.

Shot in 3D for a special cinema broadcast that went out with a global simulcast (although New Zealand would get it ten minutes later; this appears to be due to not being allowed to broadcast a PGR program before 9am), this anniversary special takes a little while to get going, but once it does, it's a great celebration. The ending revises the entire lore without changing anything in the previous seasons and works very well; a suitably triumphant note.

The Time of the Doctor (60 minute Christmas special)
Thousands of alien ships are drawn to a small planet, where a message is being broadcast that will have huge implications for the Doctor.

The shortest regeneration story to date not counting "The Night of the Doctor", this one is also a bit disappointing. Don't get me wrong, the regeneration scene is very good, but much of the story is simply waiting for that moment (the five-minute breakdown of the episode ratings showed a spike near the end). That said, Handles was lovely.

****
"The Day of the Doctor" got 12.8 million viewers just in the UK; the highest rated show of the week, the highest rated drama anything in Britain of 2013 and the third highest rated programme of the year - the highest by a technicality (BARB's days end at 2am) were the 2014 New Year's fireworks). The global simulcast was record breaking, although totting up overall viewers for that is difficult and the cinema airings made over ten million US dollars. When Doctor Who Magazine held its poll on the first fifty years of the show's history in 2014, it went straight in at Number 1. Counting the 2011 and 2012 Christmas Specials, but not the ones after "Name", this run averaged 7.8m viewers.

The Hugo Awards saw the show gain four of the six[8] nominations for Dramatic Presentation Short Form, with "Name and "Day" getting nods, as well as BBC2's creation drama An Adventure in Time and Space and on-line comedy The Five(Ish) Doctors Rebooted (where Davison, Colin Baker and McCoy try to get in on the action to hilarious effect)... however, the award went to the Game of Thrones episode "The Rains of Castermere", not a huge surprise considering the impact of that episode.

What was undeniiable is that this Time Lord, now with a new set of regenerations, was still going strong.

****

[1]Lewis died on 22 November 1963, a day before the TV show started... and the same day as the Kennedy assassination. His death was only initially reported in the Oxford Mail (a local daily running since 1928) and was of course completely overshadowed by events in Dallas.
[2]This has been revealed, but we are now getting pretty spoilery for stuff broadcast just over a year ago now.
[3]This was after I had stopped watching the show, so I didn't see her in that.
[4]Many of the best known western films were done there, such as Sergio Leone's ones - the set is instantly recognisable. Doctor Who was also able to do some snow filming while there for part of "Asylum of the Daleks".
[5]A man falsely convicted and hanged in 1950 for the murder of his daughter actually committed by John Christie, his serial killer landlord, who killed at least eight women. Christie was caught in 1953 and was too sent the gallows, but only for the murder of his wife - the doubts raised about Evans' conviction later led to Evans getting a posthumous royal pardon. In 2003, the Court of Appeal refused to overturn his conviction, but did state they did not think he was responsible. 10 Rillington Place, where he committed his crimes, no longer exists. The street was renamed after Christie's conviction and later entirely demolished.
[6]Joseph Merrick (1862-1890) was a man with severe bodily deformities (that got progressively bigger) that to this day defy full medical classification. Unable to get regular work, he signed up to exhibit himself as a freak, almost making enough money to retire when he was robbed by his manager in Belgium of his life savings. Fortunately, he'd come to to the attention of renowned surgeon Frederick Treves (later Sir Frederick) - when Merrick was found at Liverpool Street station with his card on him, he was taken to the London Hospital. Treves eventually got the board to allow him to live there permanently; Merrick would later be visited by Princess Alexandra of Wales. He died in 1890 of asphyxia, believed to be as a result of the weight of his head when trying to sleep like 'normal' people instead of sitting up. The now Royal London has his skeleton in their private museum and a replica of it in their public one.
[7]The cast knew it would be bursting out of the fake chest, but not fake blood was going to go all over the place, including right in the face of Veronica Cartwright. She passed out, Yaphet Kotto went to his room and refused to talk to anyone, while an artist on seeing the dailies was so shocked he tried to go home in someone else's car. Seeing that the crew were wearing raincoats, perhaps they should have been more suspicious.
[8]It's usually five, but a tie in the nomination ballots between "The Name of the Doctor" and Orphan Black's "Variations Under Domestication" meant that both went through to the final ballot.

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