Glug, Glug, Glug (Voyage of the Damned)

(93 comments)

What's this "I wear a bow tie now" crap?

It’s December 25th, 2007. Leon Jackson is at number one with “When You Believe.” Leona Lewis, Take That, Girls Aloud, Timbaland, and, inevitably, the Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl also chart. Since The Sarah Jane Adventures wrapped its first season, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link opened, and Nick Clegg won the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

On television, it’s Voyage of the Damned. Here is the most important thing to realize about Voyage of the Damned: It has Kylie Minogue in it.

There’s a level on which there’s not much more to say. By design. If ever there’s been an episode of Doctor Who built around its guest star, it’s this one. Which is interesting on several levels; for one thing, the episode’s concept predates casting Minogue by some margin. Davies was planning on a big disaster movie for the Christmas special, got word that Kylie Minogue was interested, pitched her the episode, and ended up having her on board, at which point he actually started writing the script.

It’s impossible to overstate how big a get Minogue was. Voyage of the Damned was part of her post-cancer comeback - her proper comeback album, X, dropped a month before, and its lead single, “2 Hearts,” charted the same week that The Lost Boy wrapped. On top of that, you know, she’s Kylie Minogue. She’s one of the biggest stars in the UK. This is not, to be clear, a measurement of popularity - indeed, X has sold, in total, roughly 4% as many copies as people who watched Voyage of the Damned, and even “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” only sold a bit north of a million copies. But trying to understand Kylie Minogue entirely as a commercial force is fundamentally misunderstanding her. Kylie Minogue is famous, which is a different and entirely more interesting moment. Kylie Minogue isn’t a singer, or an actress; rather, she’s someone who lives in the tabloids. She’s not famous for being famous, but nevertheless, her fame is at this point her defining characteristic.

Nevertheless, she’s almost inevitable. Will Baker, her visual stylist, was a known fan who snuck Cybermen imagery into one of her tours, and staged an entertainingly cheeky photo of her asleep with a copy of Lloyd Rose’s Camera Obscura sitting beside her. These links, tenuous as they may be, combined with the fact that the gay fandom of the wilderness years was now running the show meant that Minogue was always the extremely famous person most likely to do a big Doctor Who appearance. Plus she, apparently, was a casual fan from her childhood in Australia (that would probably make her a Letts/Hinchcliffe era gal), and was, in any case, game.

She is not, of course, the first famous person to be cast in the new series. That honor goes to Billie Piper, who similarly came to Doctor Who from the tabloids. Indeed, it’s difficult to look at Billie Piper’s music career as anything other than serving some time as a lesser version of Kylie Minogue. And so Minogue becomes a doppelgänger for Rose. Tellingly, their characters are even comparable - both are working class women who find, in the Doctor, a way out of a humdrum existence and into a more magical one.

The difference is that Astrid is doomed from the start. So doomed that she never really exists. The character is not really designed to be seen at all. Kylie Minogue cannot disappear into a character, nor would you really want her to, as it would rather defeat the purpose of having Kylie Minogue in Doctor Who, which is self-evidently to stare at Kylie Minogue for an hour and change going, “blimey, Kylie Minogue’s in Doctor Who.” But, of course, Kylie Minogue cannot be in Doctor Who for more than the Christmas special. Even if we don’t know Catherine Tate’s going to be in the next season - and we do - there’s just no way that Kylie Minogue is anything more than a one-episode cameo. So once she gets tagged in the narrative as the next companion, she’s toast.

In this regard, she’s the perfect companion for the story Davies already had in mind, since a disaster movie involves casually butchering the lion’s share of the cast. More than that, a proper disaster movie involves casually butchering a cast of terribly famous guest stars. This happens to also be a structure Doctor Who is good at; the ensemble cast that gets steadily picked off is a staple of the series, particularly in the Hinchcliffe years with things like The Pyramids of Mars and, of course, the definitive example, The Horror of Fang Rock, the rare Doctor Who story that manages to properly slaughter every single guest star, and in fact wheels on an extra lot of them in the second episode so it doesn’t run out of people to kill.

And yet it’s here that things start to go a bit wrong for Voyage of the Damned. It’s not that mass slaughter doesn’t work on Christmas - in fact, the over the top spectacle of disaster movies is perfectly in keeping with Christmas frivolity. And on British television, at least, overwrought tragedy is as much an expected part of Christmas as turkey. Indeed, a nice bit of gothic horror cast slaughtering is an obvious choice for Christmas specials yet to come.

No, the problem is that the way you do this is to steadily whittle down the guest cast. But disaster movies require big visual set pieces to kill people off, and with only 70 minutes and a limited budget, Doctor Who can only really have one of those. And so instead of a story where the guest cast gets picked off we have a story where they enter a terribly unpleasant room, shed half the cast, and then get on with it. This is not quite the right structure, and more to the point means that none of the deaths have the impact they should. Morvin’s death is almost completely swallowed by its abruptness, Bannakaffalatta’s only works because of the sheer mania of “Bannakaffalatta CYBORG!”, and by the time of Foon’s death it’s just become impossible to have any meaningful feelings about the bloodbath.

Still, the relative safe space of a Christmas special allows for this sort of experimentation. Following the series’ open teasing about killing Rose off, Doctor Who lost the ability to kill companions. This is largely for the best, as killing off departing cast members is both lazy and a bit pessimistic for Doctor Who. (Frankly, killing companions has been a mistake every time they’ve done it.) Yes this, combined with the largely steerable TARDIS, the fact that traveling with the Doctor is officially and canonically the Bestest Thing Ever, and a televisual logic that says that any departed character can eventually return has left Doctor Who with a rather irksome problem of having to come up with increasingly elaborate ways to ensure that the Doctor can never ever visit a departed companion again. But it’s still vastly preferable to killing the companion off.

But the existence of a Christmas special with a one-off companion changes things and lets us have a story in which the Doctor fails substantially. (The structure is, of course, cleverly inverted by The Snowmen, which purports to introduce the new regular companion… and then kills her like a Christmas one-off) It allows for a different look at the Doctor. The problem is that this sort of brutal darkness contrasts sharply with the froth of a Christmas special. And that’s at the heart of where Voyage of the Damned goes a bit wonky. It wants to simultaneously be a big frothy spectacle for Christmas and to be a kind of bleak story in which the Doctor can’t save everybody and his promises that he will turn out to be empty bluster.

The one thing that manages to suture all of this back together is, of course, Kylie Minogue. Because she’s famous. And fame is at once a source of frivolity and homicidal tension. Voyage of the Damned is the one time in the new series where Doctor Who has just blatantly grabbed onto something more famous than it is. And this sets up an interesting tension, because at the end of the day, the usual response to the famous is to wish for its destruction. There are countless obvious examples of this - once something succeeds, everyone is gunning for it. This, more than any actual downturn in quality or popularity, is why the standard media narrative of Doctor Who is its decline. Because once a show is as consistently popular as it is, the only thing it can do is tumble. But you’re spoiled for choice with other examples. This is what celebrity and tabloid culture is for: the desire for properly Aristotelean tragedies in which great and successful people are undone by their own weaknesses.

For the most part Doctor Who in the late Davies era is playing towards that. This is what the hubris of Tennant’s Doctor is for. The Doctor becomes arrogant because his show has become popular enough that people are gunning for it. And so by making hubris a part of the narrative it can respond to that. But Voyage of the Damned marks a particularly weird moment, because for once there’s something more famous than Doctor Who. And so for seventy minutes everyone’s bloodlust is redirected to Kylie Minogue.

What this means is that the shift towards a Doctor capable of failure is allowed to happen invisibly. We know Kylie’s doomed. More to the point, the audience is expected to take tacit pleasure in her inevitable demise. And lots of them did - Voyage of the Damned pulled ridiculously high ratings, and more to the point, held the line on AIs, meaning that the huge influx of people who just wanted to see Kylie mostly enjoyed it. But with the episode’s ending already set up by something bigger than Doctor Who, the Doctor can quietly ghost into a role where his confidence is a hollow charade.

Notably, the story stops carefully short of criticizing the Doctor. This is no Family of Blood sort of situation in which things would have been fine if only the Doctor hadn’t arrived. The Doctor showing up is the only thing that saves anybody on board or on Earth. He’s unequivocally the good guy. It’s just that he’s not as good at being the good guy as we might expect; he doesn’t save everyone. Or even most people. Indeed, he can only rescue one of the properly sympathetic characters in the group of survivors. He can’t even rescue the Rose surrogate. (And, tellingly, he couldn’t rescue Rose either; Pete had to.)

But by doing this the Doctor acquires his upper bound. It becomes clear that his hubris is unjustified. Conceptually, this creates the space where Midnight and The Waters of Mars can happen. Until you’ve seen Tennant’s Doctor meaningfully fail, those stories wouldn’t quite work. It’s not that we’ve never seen the Doctor meaningfully fail - that’s the entire point of Parting of the Ways. But Eccleston’s Doctor was established early on as having failed in the past; he comes in battered and broken from his failure in the Time War. This makes Parting of the Ways easy to buy. But that’s not the way Tennant’s Doctor works. Tennant’s Doctor storms out of the gate so imperiously that it’s difficult to imagine him failing.

And that’s the odd shift that Voyage of the Damned allows. By putting the Doctor’s hubris up against something even bigger than Doctor Who, Davies sneaks in the fact that this Doctor might fall short. And suddenly all the overblown arrogance of Last of the Time Lords is able to dissipate. The fact that the Doctor is fabulous isn’t a complete get out of jail free card anymore. And this is the only story in the Tennant era that could do that. It’s telling that only once the Doctor fails is he able to pull his odd stunt linking arms with the Host and flying off. His angelic ascension - shades of the resolution of Last of the Time Lords - is somehow enabled by his humbling. And yet this too is perfectly consistent with how the remainder of his tenure will play out.

And yet we know, emphatically, that this wasn’t the plan. Davies had committed to what he was still calling Starship Titanic ages before he got Kylie Minogue. Which provides an interesting sort of insight into how Davies’s writing works. He starts from big images, and then finds ways of wrapping the narrative around them. But these processes are wholly independent. Voyage of the Damned wasn’t designed as a story that reflects on the fallible nature of the Doctor. It was designed as lush 1920s iconography and loads of explosions on a space boat. Then it was designed as “we got Kylie Minogue.”

Which is mainly to suggest just how good Davies is at this sort of thing. It’s clearly not that he leaves character arcs and thematic development until the end because he doesn’t care about them. It’s that they’re things he can pull together at the last second, out of instinct. Which also goes some way towards explaining why the spin-off shows, which he devotes far less time to, often don’t quite get this balance right in the same way that his Doctor Who material does.

Which brings us back outside the government for a few weeks.

Comments

Matt Walker 3 years, 5 months ago

Greetings!

I'd like to say the old "long-time reader, first-time commenter" line, but - having stumbled across this most wonderful of websites by first buying the Kindle version of the Troughton and Perwee books - I must admit to being a "recenter devourer of blog, and first-time commenter".

Thank you so much for your incredible articles - always interesting, always thought-provoking, and always enjoyable (although I must 'fess up to skipping the Albion posts). I used to think I was a fairly intelligent individual. And then I read this blog. And the comments.

I've been waiting for an opportunity to be the first commenter on a post, and the good fortune of being in New Zealand means I was able to this time - yay for me!

So - thank you once again for your time, your insights, and to all the regular commenters - and my, aren't there a lot of you - whose debates keep me hooked. It is fantastic.

I must say, having never listened to any of the Big Finish audios (really, where does one start?), and having read some of the Virgin books many more moons ago than I would like to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed your breakdown of the appropriately-named wilderness years.

As a disclaimer....Baker #2 and McCoy were *my* doctors, I quite liked the TV Movie, and the aforementioned Baker's Doctor is one of my favourites.

Oh, I suppose I should try and stay at least a little on topic....great post - makes perfect sense when you stop to think about it. BUT....no "Time Crash"?!

Cheers,
Matt....all the way in NZ

PS - my wife would like to fire an expletive at you for taking me away from her so often!

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elvwood 3 years, 5 months ago

Hi Matt, welcome! Just being wowed by Philip's insight doesn't say anything about your intelligence - I am very smart, but can't keep up with a lot of folks here. So try not to put yourself down too hard..

Oh, and here ya go!

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Alan 3 years, 5 months ago

Is it really part of the British TV-viewing tradition to watch disaster movies on Christmas? How bizarre. I wonder what Mary Whitehouse would say about it. For me, I was completely baffled by the decision to build a Christmas episode around a thinly-veiled remake of the Poseidon Adventure. And surely I was not the only one perplexed by the aliens, most of whom look human and are from some species bizarrely obsessed with contemporary Earth culture to the point of wearing period clothing but who don't know that the Titanic sank.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 5 months ago

Not part of the tradition, no. But they fit the aesthetic of Christmas specials: glamorous, fun, and with just a bit of controlled mayhem and depressing bits.

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Scurra 3 years, 5 months ago

Well I was watching this one for an entirely different guest star - no, not Russell Tovey, it was Clive Rowe, who I know casually. I actually met him accidentally at the station when he was about to get the train to go for the filming which is how I found out that he was in it...
It does work brilliantly as a Christmas Special though - Davies really knows how to nail the combination of big family mindless spectacle that will be watched by people who don't normally watch Who, with something that sets up future character development for the Doctor. Of course, he throws that out of the window with The End of Time, but that's a slightly different situation so I'll cut him some slack there. Moffat hasn't quite got the same sense of that - I have liked both of his attempts, but they don't have quite the same accessibility that Davies seems to manage so easily.

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Philip Sandifer 3 years, 5 months ago

I actually on the whole prefer Moffat's Christmas specials. I feel like Davies can fall into the trap of making Christmas specials for people who don't like Doctor Who, whereas Moffat usually goes for ones that are for people who don't know or who have forgotten that they like Doctor Who. Davies's Christmas specials often feel to me like they're shows for some other audience that have a teaser for Doctor Who tacked onto the last five minutes. Though to be fair, Runaway Bride and Voyage of the Damned, were both far better than I remembered. (Actually, that's true of almost all of the new series. Only Fear Her was worse than I'd remembered - I'd just remembered it as a bit of duff filler.)

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 5 months ago

Not to mention the annual misery depressathon of Eastenders.

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Frezno 3 years, 5 months ago

I think my favorite part of Voyage Of The Damned is the bit where they go down to London and it's all but deserted, because the past two Christmases have been ruined by scary alien ships in the sky and most of the Londoners have fled the city in fear of ANOTHER timely alien invasion on Christmas Day.

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Anton B 3 years, 5 months ago

Xmas day TV in the UK = Celebrities doing something Xmassy usually recorded in July, Some kind of guilt inducing charity appeal, a Disney clip show, special Xmas editions of your favourite soaps and sitcoms (also recorded in July), something music based for 'The Kids' (previously Top of the Pops but more likely an X-Factor based boy band special now), a classic blockbuster movie to fall asleep to after dinner and of course more recently the Doctor Who Xmas special.

So RTD managed an impressive trawl of the festive meta-narrative with Voyage of the Damned - Kylie, the former soap actress turned teeny bop pop star who metamorphosed into the cancer beating gay icon uber celeb starring in a Disnyfied action adventure movie pastiche Doctor Who special. With additional top of the xmas-tree angel robots.

Oh, and I read the Earth- history loving reconstruction cosplay holiday aliens to be akin to Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time ie. dilletantes with a faddish love of a culture they barely understand.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 5 months ago

This is a brilliant exploration of the main narrative of Voyage of the Damned. I would say it's probably the Davies Xmas special about which I feel most 'meh.' My least favourite special is actually the Christmas Invasion, mainly because I can't stand how all the other characters, who had just been so confident in Parting of the Ways, turn into such cowardly moaning crybabies just because the Doctor has regenerated and he's sick from it. I could have understood them being scared and uncertain, but for the first 45 minutes, Rose and Mickey just lose all hope, which I thought was too much. Voyage of the Damned, meanwhile, was a lightly entertaining Poseidon Adventure in space with Kylie Minogue in it. Oddly enough, while you concentrate on the collision of famous bodies to make your point about Doctor Who's meta-narrative, for me Kylie made this Xmas special entertaining simply by being incredibly charming.

But my absolute favourite parts of the episode were what commenter Alan derides and commenter Frezno rather enjoys: the humour from the sidelines. Bernard Cribbins' character gets his unintentional introduction here (the start of what became Davies' great thematic improvisation, but we'll get there) as the voice of a London that's become so aware of Doctor Who that they flee from its giant epic events every Xmas in fear. It's a solid joke in the premise that laughs at what would literally happen if the events of a sci-fi adventure show kept happening to your city on a regular basis.

The ignorance of the Stovians about Earth history, even as they take up a package tour based on it, is such a wonderful send-up of the attitudes that inform the phenomenon Phil calls "heritage theme park Britain" that I'm quite surprised he didn't discuss it at least briefly in the main entry. To me, it isn't implausible that a heritage attraction for tourists would stupidly twist the history into ridiculous shapes, but inevitable according to the nature of heritage tourist attractions. Copper's weird accounts of Earth culture and history are only just slightly exaggerated versions of the accounts of cultures and histories tourists are introduced to in happy heritage parks. The only difference is that Sto has no relationship with Earth other than their package tours. Free from the dynamic of papering over colonialism and other nasty history, which is the most heritage parks do to make history palatable to tourists looking to relax and eat shitty food, Copper adopts a kind of free-form ignorance whose results are hilarious.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 5 months ago

That's also my favourite bit - and there's Wilf! (Or should I say Stan, as he was originally called.)

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 5 months ago

I feel quite 'meh' about the whole thing - it's overlong, bloated, and is a mix of themes and ideas. It starts out pretty well, but then descends into a mish mash.

I only wish they'd had the budget to crash into Buckingham Palace. Whilst I like the notion that everybody's fled and, oh, this time there is no massive invasion or crashing spaceship, I would've liked to see one final kabooom to end the special! A mirroring of the Big Ben crash.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 5 months ago

One weird thing about this story is that everything about the Titanic - the nature of the people onboard and the relationship they have with human culture - screams "humans from the future", not "aliens". (Especially the cyborg prejudice bit, which, especially with the "they can even get married" line, is obviously a bit of cyclic history.)

I have to wonder if the whole "crash into Buckingham" set piece was a late addition that they felt they had to justify by making it something that would fit "naturally" into the present.

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Ross 3 years, 5 months ago

Actually, more than anything, the aliens reminded me rather a lot of Delta and the Bannermen

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Ununnilium 3 years, 5 months ago

One thing about Time Crash that actually applies here is that it felt just a little bit weird at the time to have the last episode end with a ship crashing into the TARDIS, then move on to something literally called "Time Crash" but have it have nothing to do with that cliffhanger.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 5 months ago

That is absolutely the best thing. Along with Tennant's perfect expression of delight when he finds out Alonso's name.

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The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 3 years, 5 months ago

I love Moffat's first Christmas special, which didn't care about accessibility and mindless spectacle and decided that actually telling a decent story with real emotions was a much better use of everyone's time. His second however... well, I'm sure there is someone out there somewhere who thought "let's have a motherhood-is-great wankfest that pays lip-service to C.S. Lewis and then does nothing with the concept and oh let's get some forgettable child actors too" was the best idea for an episode ever, but I am not one of them. To me, it was the first sign that the next season was going to suck, and suck hard.

Moffat said it was going to be the most Christmassy special ever. That was a blatant lie, since everything Christmas-like was throw into the opening five minute manic panic attack of LOOK I"M BEING WHIMSICAL AND PRESENTS and then totally forgotten.

Yes, I'm kind of bitter, okay? I'm a bitter person who doesn't like fun or think motherhood automatically makes you a saint. As for Voyage of the Damned, it's amazing how forgettable it is. It's Classic Davies in that respect: sound, fury, and spectacle that's fun to look at but hard to retain after the lightshow has faded.

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jane 3 years, 5 months ago

Does that Dancers logic inform Delta and the Bannermen, too?

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Stuart Ian Burns 3 years, 5 months ago

Of course the other important thing to know about Voyage of the Damned is that it doesn't have Dennis Hopper in it, because although he was cast, they couldn't get it to work so we got Clive Swift and Clive Swift's interview with Ben Cook in Doctor Who Magazine in which he acts like a Dennis Hopper character.

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jane 3 years, 5 months ago

You have to wait until Turn Left for that.

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jane 3 years, 5 months ago

There should have been Macra in the engine room.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 5 months ago

Eruditorum Confessions Time: I didn't know who Kylie Minogue was when I saw this episode. The spectacle of having a famous person in Doctor who for a disaster movie went completely over my head. I experienced it "virgin" so to speak. I don't know if it affected my opinion of it but love this Christmas special. The only one I like more is “Christmas Carol”. The Doctor's fallibility here harkens back to Davison. As over blown as Tennant plays this, he's never more than a small man trying to keep some innocent people alive in an uncaring universe. I love that as he loses more of his charges all he has to draw on is bluster. I love that in the end, he saves Mr Copper. Truly saves him. Gives him a new life, makes his dreams come true, the whole nine yards. It’s such a nice human moment for a Doctor that is so often full of himself and the epic sweep of his adventures. When Astrid dies…I cry. Every time. Bitter, angry tears. I have no problems admitting it. Of all the "Non-Companions" in the new series, Astrid Perth is the only one who gives Reinette a run for her money as "missed opportunity" in my book. I know that both of them were impossible…but a world where Astrid and Donna follow the Doctor through time and space would be kind of magical.

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Assad K 3 years, 5 months ago

I was thinking I would have to bring up how kinda non-Christmassy it is to devote a Christmas Special to mass mayhem (some of which is nasty.. the steward blown out into space, the crewers who think that they have been saved only to get massacred by the Androids Of Death).. but then Dr Sandifer did it for me. Bugger. Other than that, VOTD didn't leave me with particularly strong feelings about anything. I had forgotten about the abandonment of London bit, that was amusing mainly because it was pretty logical. And I thought it was interesting how many people got so annoyed at the scene of the Queen waving her thanks at the Doctor (I just found it amusing, but I usually enjoy the bits here and there where we see how the worlds Great And Good know of the Doctor - as in the Gary Russell book where Doc6 addresses Boutrous-Boutros Ghali and the Security Council. And yeah, Phil hated that book. :) )

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Ross 3 years, 5 months ago

It's intensely weird for me as an American to contemplate this notion of Kylie Minogue as some kind of ultra-famous person, since, afaik, over here, she's known exclusively as a minor one-hit-wonder from the 1980s who was never seen nor heard of before or since.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 5 months ago

Well at least you admit that you're bitter and don't like fun. "Widow" is a fairly weak episode overall, but it's not a crime against nature or anything.

One little Quibble: Season 7 is the greatest season of Doctor Who ever. Period. Not one sour note in the whole bunch. When the low note of the season is Neil Gaiman redoing the Cybermen, you've got something.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 3 years, 5 months ago

well, if the queen can jump out of a plane with Bond, then certainly she can wave at the Doctor.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 5 months ago

Is there a story that isn't improved by the addition of Macra?

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Matthew Celestis 3 years, 5 months ago

I've always associated Doctor Who with Kylie. During a caravan holiday when I read my first ever Target novel, Revenge of the Cybermen, my sister kept on playing a Kylie Minogue casette. I visited the Doctor Who exhibition at Longleat safari during that very holiday in 1990. When I hear those old Kylie songs, I think of of my first Doctor Who memories.

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inkdestroyedmybrush 3 years, 5 months ago

Phil nails the RTD version of Doctor Who perfectly: the high concept and the fun set pieces where things go boom... and it explains perfectly why, in general, i don't like the solely written RTD scripts. I come away from them empty in general. the best stories in his era were ones where he collaborated with a good author in his capacity as showrunner.

I recall this story, liked the androids as a reference to Androids of Death, thought that it was OK, in general, but there was nothing long term to take away from the viewing of this as just a story.

It is, lets face it, a story, full of sound and fury, signifying fun.

But thats it. And the upcoming season has at least two stories that are so, so, so much more than that.

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encyclops 3 years, 5 months ago

Yes! I'm having the same reaction to my Tennant rewatch (which I'd better get back to after Web of Fear -- just three specials to go). Even though I like his Doctor less, I'm liking his stories more, and Runaway Bride and Voyage are no exceptions. It helps that I watched the latter with my girlfriend, who enjoyed it so much she asked for more, so yes, very good for non-fans. I even have to agree about Fear Her, unfortunately.

Theonlyspiral: I dunno about ever, but it's quite good. For me "A Town Called Mercy" drags the average down drastically, but everything else is at worst gorgeously flawed.

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encyclops 3 years, 5 months ago

Well, two: "I Should Be So Lucky" and her cover of "The Locomotion." Or "Loco-motion"? "locoMotion"? I'll stop.

Seems like "Can't Get You Out of My Head" was ubiquitous for a little while, too, though I doubt most people connected it with the earlier hits.

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encyclops 3 years, 5 months ago

I've been a fan of Gremlins since I was a kid, so to me morbid Christmas stories seem par for the course.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 5 months ago

I will save my incredible gushing for Season 7 when we get there in the blog. I will say (again) that "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" is the greatest episode of Doctor Who of all time.

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Anton B 3 years, 5 months ago

Possibly. I'd have to re-watch it.

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elvwood 3 years, 5 months ago

I reckon it definitely applies to the Delta tourists. I first saw Delta after VotD, and spotted the similarlty in them straight away.

Regarding Christmas TV, what springs to mind from my childhood are the Queen's Speech (my parents were royalists), the Morecambe & Wise Show, The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music (or both), a James Bond Film, and at least one War movie (which we didn't watch but always complained about). Later it seemed the schedules got taken over by thoroughly miserable episodes of soaps.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 5 months ago

My two favourite quotes about British Christmas telly:

"Next Christmas, when once again the TV reminds you that a saviour was born on Earth, and his name is James Bond..." -Terry Pratchett

"'No turning back'? That's almost as bad as 'nothing could possibly go wrong' or 'this is going to be the best Christmas Walford's ever had'." -The Doctor

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Assad K 3 years, 5 months ago

I will save my arguments re: Dinosaurs for that time point then. :)

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Darren K. 3 years, 5 months ago

Adam, did you first watch Parting of the Ways/The Christmas Invasion as originally broadcast, months apart, or on DVD/rerun, one the night after the other. Because on initial broadcast, I never even thought about the radical 180 these characters were doing from the last episode, months and months ago. It wasn't until I did a rewatch back to back that I realised how remarkable these shifts were. But still, the original viewing, and the glory of it and the wine and the full belly are all still part of the episode, so I can easily overlook that. Because: wine, Christmas dinner, house full of friends, and Doctor Who.

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Alan 3 years, 5 months ago

Honestly, the whole thing just left me tired and bored. I figured it was a Poseidon Adventure pastiche within the first ten minutes and immediately I knew the entire plot. Oh look, there's a picture of the guy who owns the ship line. I bet he's hiding on the boat and is the evil mastermind for some reason. Oh look, there's two comically fat people who are picked on by the mean kids at the next table. I bet they outlive the mean kids just long enough to die heroically later on. Oh look, there's a complete asshole who nevertheless has joined the group. I bet he's one of the few survivors unless he is stupid enough to have a heel-face turn at some point in which case he's a goner. So, so boring.

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Adam Riggio 3 years, 5 months ago

I did watch the original broadcast and on DVD, and found the transition weird both times. However, I'm in Canada, so for me the original broadcast was on 26 December on CBC. So there was no wine, Xmas dinner, or house full of friends and family. Instead, it was me at my mother's house watching Doctor Who in the evening with ill-timed commercial breaks. I still remembered Parting of the Ways, and even then found Rose's actions especially extremely strange.

That's just my own critique, though. I totally understand how your own perspective would be different (as well, I was a little too harsh on how Rose was written in my original post earlier today). I'm sure we'll get to the problems caused by international rollouts done piecemeal and haphazardly once we see the start of the Moffat era when Doctor Who becomes a highly coordinated international hit.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 5 months ago

The archetypal Christmas movie is The Great Escape. Nothing says peace on Earth and goodwill to all men like unarmed prisoners being machinegunned by Nazis.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 5 months ago

I think Davies wrote his Christmas specials, not for people who don't like Who, but for people who are stuffed with turkey, a bit squiffy, and not paying a lot of attention.

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Iain Coleman 3 years, 5 months ago

I love Astrid's delight at being in the exotic alien landscape of a dreary London street.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 5 months ago

You Brits have strange taste in Christmas telly.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 5 months ago

People are fans of Kylie Minogue outside of "The Locomotion"? :-/

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Anton B 3 years, 5 months ago

I suppose we do. So what's a typical Christmas day TV schedule in the USA? And maybe, just for fun, what would a Doctor Who Xmas Special aimed at an American audience (not such a strange idea) contain?

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 5 months ago

That's Rusty's writin' fer ya.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 5 months ago

I think there was a Doctor Who TV Movie round about 1996 that was pretty near the mark.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 5 months ago

Remember the thrill when we realised that "Astrid" was an anagram of "Tardis" and we all thought we'd found out RTD's little plot-twist? I'm not sure if I was disappointed or relieved when it turned out to be a red herring.

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Anton B 3 years, 5 months ago

Mathew, assuming you're not being ironic the answer is yes and two of the reasons can be seen here -

http://youtu.be/c18441Eh_WE

http://youtu.be/t1DWBKk5xHQ

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Spacewarp 3 years, 5 months ago

I found Rose's inability to function without the Doctor quite believable. After the past year's roller-coaster ride with the most incredible man she'd ever met, to have that man completely taken away and replaced with a stranger seemed perfectly in keeping with her character. As the audience we knows exactly what a regeneration is, and how it's exactly the same guy, and we tend to forget that Rose and Mickey don't have that knowledge, and their attitude is much the same as Ben & Polly in "Power of the Daleks", only with more hystrionics on Rose's part.

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Lewis Christian 3 years, 5 months ago

And that still doesn't do it - we cut to a white screen and the telly cuts off.

I want to see the Palace explode properly, dammit.

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Ununnilium 3 years, 5 months ago

The Doctor's Holiday Fling

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The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 3 years, 5 months ago

"Season 7 is the greatest season of Doctor Who ever" is like someone saying some equally hyperbolic and negative like "I'm at my happiest when strangling puppies" or "the best part of Newsradio is when Phil Hartmann was murdered." I've never been so consistently bored than I was by Season Seven. I've never found a character less interesting than Clara. I've never found a character treated so badly as River Song, thrown over for younger new girl who is Super Special Forever And She Brought The Doctor And The TARDIS Together- no. Hell no. The crowning moment of Doctor Who Series Six was the glorious moment where the TARDIS tells the Doctor that she chose him, and that their meeting was one of choice and love and ha ha ha nope, turns out the Doctor chose the TARDIS because some random chick said "pick that one."

No. No.

No.

No.


No.

I realize that this is an intelligent blog and that comments should be held to a higher standard but... No! Season seven is awful, and that Cyberman episode is was wretchedly bad. Bad plot, bad characters, bad child actors... ugh. Ugh. Ugh I say. Ugh.

I expect you all to come tell me why I'm wrong. I want to be wrong. Make me like Season Seven. Please. I'm desperate, because I hate it so much!

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encyclops 3 years, 5 months ago

I hate to stick something after such a perfect rant, but if a TARDIS is actually capable of "choosing" anyone, it's probably also capable of planting a shard of a girl who looks like Jenna Coleman next to it as the instrument of that choice.

As for the rest of it, I hope we never all agree that one single season out of 33ish is the best, because it would be dead boring. Please go on hating Season 7! Plenty of room for you.

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Ross 3 years, 5 months ago

Sigh. Everyone goes on and on about this.

Clara was fixing what Simeon set wrong. Simeon fiddled with things such that the Doctor was about to step into a TARDIS other than the one which had "chosen him", she pointed him back to the "right" one.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 5 months ago

No... because it didn't have enough holiday trappings to fit in. "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe" was probably the most overtly Christmas-y Christmas special Doctor Who's ever done, so (RAF-WWII storyline notwithstanding) it fits perfectly in with the American Christmas zeitgeist.

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Ozyman Jones 3 years, 5 months ago

Kylie being in Doctor Who had a more significant impact, at least upon myself and the older fans I know, in Australia.

Kylie (Minogue) and Jason Donovan dominated TV in Australia, and I believe in the UK, for a good few months until the Biggest-Wedding-On-TV-Ever happened in the soap Neighbours, between their characters Scott & Charlene. This was in 1987, and the wedding episode of Neighbours had a UK audience over 20 million viewers. And maybe half of Australia. My wife and her family (at the time) were caught up in the whole event, as was much of the media in Australia and the UK.

It occurred to me at the time that to get Scott & Charlene in Doctor Who as companions, even as a guest star crossover, would be the biggest coup in the history of Doctor Who until that time. Of course it could never, ever, happen...

...until in 2007 it sort of did.

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Robert Lloyd 3 years, 5 months ago

@Anton B - Typically "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story". The other standards - the Grinch, Rudolph, and Charlie Brown - will have aired days or even weeks before.

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Robert Lloyd 3 years, 5 months ago

I myself only knew her for "The Locomotion" and having been in "Moulin Rouge", and was mildly surprised that the Brits were making such a big deal about her appearing on "Who".

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The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 3 years, 5 months ago

But it's just that - a fix. A patch job. It is ultimately not the original. Yes, the Doctor and the TARDIS end up together but they do so in a way that negates the emotional resonance of the original event. Time is re-written twice, fixed by a character who (in my opinion) is elevated by a writer obsessed with her into being The Perfect Companion. Look how important she is, she is present for every major Doctor Who event ever. See? Doesn't that make her great?

Snore.

To me it just... craps all over that. "I chose you... using the power of Jenna Coleman being spunky." The First Doctor was a crochety old grumpy. He didn't like spunky. (God forbidden she meet the Third Doctor, he would have had one look at her Lanky accent and hit for speaking like that to her betters.) I mean it - spunky Clara appeals to Eleven, and would have been liked by ten. Nine would have found her exasperating, eight would have done... whatever is was he does, Seven would have used her and so on. One, though... One's an ass. I can't see One enjoying anyone like Clara.

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ferret 3 years, 5 months ago

I was quite surprised to find the guy who owns the ship onboard (Max Capricorn), and was very disappointed when I did - it's possibly the "most pointless" and at the same time the "highest risk" part of his entire plan, and is so obviously there simply to give the plot a good-guy-bad-guy finale, which in a Disaster Movie you can usually manage without.

Pity it was such a lame set of scenes too: Kylie revving up a forklift to push a wheelchair-bound man to his death? The execution of it was all too silly and contrived for me, and made it hard to emote along with the fallout of Astrids death afterwards. It felt as if Monty Python's Colonel was going t come on and shout "Right. Stop that. It's silly. Very silly indeed. It started out as a nice little idea about spaceships falling to pieces but now it's got silly...Clear off, the lot of you!"

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Jesse 3 years, 5 months ago

Confession: When I saw this episode, I had no idea who Kylie Minogue was.

I'd like to recount how this affected my experience of the episode. Alas, six years have gone by & I've almost entirely forgotten it. But I do remember Googling Kylie Minogue afterward to see what else she'd been in, and discovering in that way that she was famous.

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Bennett 3 years, 5 months ago

"I can't see One enjoying anyone like Clara."

Vicki.

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David Anderson 3 years, 5 months ago

The time's when I can see One as being the Doctor are when he's doing something slightly disgraceful, as in the Romans, or holding up the Monk with a branch to his back in the Time Meddler. The crotchety old grumpy man is all very well but I just can't see that version of the first Doctor stealing a time machine and running off to see the universe.

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Assad K 3 years, 5 months ago

While I don't agree with The Lord Of Abrocen Landmearca, I do agree with him re: the tendency, since the reboot, of companions always being presented as the greatest thing since sliced bread.. until the next companion comes along. Martha, of course, being the distinct exception.

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Anton B 3 years, 5 months ago

It's only a matter of time (pun intended) before Doctor Who does It's a Wonderful Life though I suppose Turn Left already came close. The Doctor in The Snowmen was pretty Grinchy in his TARDIS in the clouds, I can see a robot reindeer with a glowing nose turning up quite easily and there must surely be a tumblr account that's recast the TARDIS crew as Charlie Brown's gang. The Doctor as Snoopy on top of his TARDIS kennel writing stories that all begin 'It was a wild and stormy night', River as Peppermint Patty forever taking that ball away while shouting 'Spoilers!' come on guys, I don't know enough Charlie Brown to continue...it's up to you.

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Anton B 3 years, 5 months ago

Max Capricorn was intended as a very 2000AD type of character. It's as well to note that for whatever reason, and possibly Phil will get to the bottom of it in , British Sci-Fi - particularly in comics and TV - often comes drawn with veins of broad satirical (and yes Pythonesque) humour. Look at Red Dwarf, HGTTG and indeed Douglas Adams' own work on Doctor Who.

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Anton B 3 years, 5 months ago

Whoops excuse the typo. That should have read '...possibly Phil will get to the bottom of it in Last War in Albion '

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Daibhid C 3 years, 5 months ago

It was Lucy who kept pulling the ball away not Peppermint Patty.

The Doctor Who comic strip once did a story set in multiple alternate universes, one of which was the Eighth Doctor as Charlie Brown and the Rani as Lucy (with a psychiatric booth saying "The Rani is in"). Which inspired someone with far to much time on his hands (cough) to write this:
https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en#!msg/alt.drwho.creative/71RQ9KrpvN8/CIMyK7qHQQUJ

Anyway, it looks to me like the main difference between UK and US Christmas telly is the curious insistence the Americans have that it needs to have anything to do with Christmas. Whereas here it's considered nice, but hardly necessary. I mean. we're surrounded by things having to do with Christmas, on account of it being Christmas.

(Remember the mid-90s when sitcom Christmas specials were mostly about the cast going abroad at an unspecified time of year? One Foot in the Algarve and all that?)

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Alan 3 years, 5 months ago

My entire awareness of Kylie Minogue was that she was an Australian celebrity of some kind. I knew that much only because I had remembered an episode of "Changing Rooms" in which Lawrence Lewellyn Bowen had, for some deranged reason, decorated some poor woman's living room to look like Ayers Rock (complete with faux Aboriginal artwork depicting kangaroos and koalas) because apparently she'd been to Australia once and kind of enjoyed it. Her rant about how awful the room looked included words to the effect of "It looks like Kylie Minogue threw up all over the place."

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 5 months ago

I agree. She's still coming down from the high of being Time Goddess, her adrenaline still flowing, and then BOOM! She goes straight into the next crises. No chance to recover mentally or physically. She's is pushed to the edge here. That's a reading I like a lot actually.

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Nyq Only 3 years, 5 months ago

The missing piece of the Kylie jigsaw puzzle for American readers is that she was famous prior to her initial pop career as a star of Australian soap "Neighbours". Although she long ago transcended that part of her career, she still came to fame when that soap was enjoying a degree of almost manic popularity in the UK.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 5 months ago

Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca: I authentically believe there has not been a superior season of Doctor Who since it started in 1963. I honestly do not think there is any broadcast period that has been as solid in terms of writing, production and acting. It's not hyperbole. It's an honest opinion formed from my consumption of Doctor Who.

I won't go through your post item by item as that's best saved for the story posts themselves. I will however do my best to make you come around to my way of thinking later.

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Henry R. Kujawa 3 years, 5 months ago

David Anderson:
"The time's when I can see One as being the Doctor are when he's doing something slightly disgraceful, as in the Romans, or holding up the Monk with a branch to his back in the Time Meddler. The crotchety old grumpy man is all very well but I just can't see that version of the first Doctor stealing a time machine and running off to see the universe."

I agree. To me, The Doctor had been travelling a long time before we met him. And something happened... perhaps it involved Susan. (Perhaps it involved The Hand Of Omega? heehee). And he got crotchety and suspicious of everybody and anti-social. All of which starts to go by the wayside at the end of the 13th week, when he finally apologizes to Barbara and they start to become friends.

It really is a lot like Christopher Eccletson, he was "burnt out" when we met him, because something bad happened, but over the course of stories, he "comes back to life". It would have been interesting to see how things might have gone with him if the actor hadn't had some stupid major falling-out with the producer.

In many ways, this is why I often think of Patrick Troughton as more like "The Doctor" than Hartnell. True, Hartnell is the original and therefore "the real thing", but he IS old and I often think he forgot nearly as much as he learned over the centuries. When I think of the "real" Doctor showing thru, apart from certain moments with Hartnell, and Troughton, there's Pertwee's LAST season ("The Time Warrior" especially), about the middle of Tom Baker's run (especially with Mary Tamm, it's funny, he almost reminds me of Hartnell in a few of those), the odd blip with Davison (the most UN-Doctor-like "Doctor" ever), odd moments with Colin, and... well, just about the ENTIRE Sylvester McCoy run.

I got such a laugh when I read JNT specifically went looking for a "Troughton" type. Boy, did he find one! (And only on his 3rd go round... the other two always seemed like nepotism.)

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Anton B 3 years, 5 months ago

'It was Lucy who kept pulling the ball away not Peppermint Patty. '

Of course it was. I told you I didn't know enough about Charlie Brown! I'll check that link. Something tells me I may regret it.

I think Brit TV's attitude is just to put something special on at Christmas as a kind of present for the viewers. American society takes religion far more seriously and its Christmas TV seems to take a more evangelical attitude; though it does I note, along with comic books, refer to an inclusive and non-culturally specific 'Holiday period' rather than Christmas. I would have loved that when I was a kid having to explain to my school friends how it was that I was allowed to have a tree and presents even though my family were Jewish.

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Triturus 3 years, 5 months ago

I'm also of the opinion that Season 7 is one of the best seasons. (not sure about THE best, but that's partly because I'm a terrible fence-sitter when it comes to absolute declarations). For me, it's only really Nightmare in Silver that lets the side down.

I do get the sense that Season 7 seems to divide opinion among fans quite markedly. I'm looking forward to the blog when it gets that far; should be interesting.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 5 months ago

Are you me from an alternate reality? If so, did you turn left when I went right?

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Triturus 3 years, 5 months ago

You've got something on your back...

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Clay Hickman 3 years, 5 months ago

It's interesting reading about Kylie's fame (or lack of it) around the world. I was at school when Neighbours hit big in the UK and for a long while she was about the most famous person imaginable - which seems strange these days for an imported soap shown at 5:35pm. But her 'era' of Neighbours was a proper cultural phenomenon and I think, even in the times when her music career has gone quiet, that's kept Kylie tagged in the UK's public memory - and that of the tabloids - as A Huge Star. Plus the fact that she always came across as being rather nice and funny, which endeared her to a lot of people. So yeah, Voyage of the Damned was built around that stardom, so I can see it might seem a bit weird in other countries where she's less well regarded.

I've long been interested in the way that US TV doesn't really 'do' Christmas Day like we do in the UK. It's always been the pinnacle of the year's broadcasting here, with the big guns wheeled out for special shows and, historically, the single day that the biggest ratings would be garnered. So Doctor Who getting a Christmas Day slot back in 2005 was about the biggest compliment the BBC could pay it. And it's lovely that it's now settled in as a proper 'tradition' in the way 'Morecambe & Wise' and 'Only Fools & Horses' were for so many years.

I guess Christmas Day in the US isn't so much based around families slumped in front of the TV, full of turkey and sherry, like it has been here for decades. Is there anything big on TV done for, say, Thanksgiving in the States? Or are we Brits alone in being shamefully glued to our screens on any given occasion where we should actually be talking to our families? ;-)

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The Lord of Ábrocen Landmearca 3 years, 5 months ago

Perhaps I should clara-fy (ha ha! ha ha ha... ha... uh... heh. Cough) that my problems with season 7 are really everything from The Snowman n - the first half of the season is flawed-but-harmless. My problems are with Clara, spunky, bright, flawless Clara whom everyone is clearly meant to adore.

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Galadriel 3 years, 5 months ago

I knew nothing about Kylie either, but I have definitely noticed the tendency of DW Christmas specials (at least Davis's) to be rather depressing. And the Big Finish audio "Death in Blackpool" (though I don't know when it was originally released, it's set at Christmas) is so bleak it makes Davis's Christmas stories look chipper. That's one reason I prefer Moffat's, though I'll leave my defense of Doctor, Widow, Wardrobe for when we actually discuss it.

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Matthew Blanchette 3 years, 5 months ago

I don't think she was meant to be flawless; Moffat just ended up underwriting her. When a guest writer (in this case, Neil Cross) is writing your companion better than you are, you know you should be thinking what you did wrong.

In this case, Clara was meant to be Victorian Clara, until Moffat decided the Doctor needed another spur to find THE Clara and created a new, modern Clara; Neil Gaiman has said as much. Gaiman also said his original script for "Nightmare in Silver" featured the Victorian Clara's wards... before he lost it on an airplane and had to rewrite it from scratch.

Personally, though, despite Matt Smith doing an inordinate amount of scenery chewing, I don't think "Nightmare in Silver" was the weak link of Series 7b; that would have to be "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS", where brothers can prank one into believing he's an android, both the Doctor and the TARDIS go apeshit for no discernible reason in what should have been a romp, and every line of dialogue that comes out of Clara's mouth sounds like it could be spoken by Amy (which isn't bad, but Clara isn't supposed to be Amy).

In short, just another reason why Moffat really should keep away from Stephen Thompson.

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Spacewarp 3 years, 5 months ago

I still find it weird and incomprehensible that a country where State and Religion are fully integrated (the UK) is far less religious than the US where (correct me if I'm wrong) Religion and State are explicitly separated by the First Amendment.

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Theonlyspiral 3 years, 5 months ago

Clara has had 7 real episodes to herself. Oswin and Victorian Clara are their own cups of tea. She is slightly underdeveloped at this point, but by this far into her time on the show very few companions have had significant development. Rose still hadn't seen her father die and we knew more about her family then we did about Martha. Amy had already had the spectacular "Amy's Choice", and Donna had been sketched out pretty well. So let's give her a couple more episodes before we call it curtains on her.

And saying Neil Cross writes your character better than you do isn't a black mark. I think he'd likely write most people's characters better than they do.

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Kit 3 years, 5 months ago

having never listened to any of the Big Finish audios (really, where does one start?)

If Colin is one of your favourites, you could start with The One Doctor and Jubilee and Doctor Who And The Pirates and Peri And The Piscon Paradox and (if you love the Ridgway Sixth Doctor too) The Holy Terror.

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Daibhid C 3 years, 5 months ago

"The God of the English doesn't demand much of his followers as long as they keep the noise down." - Terry Pratchett

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liminal fruitbat 3 years, 5 months ago

I think the "humans from the future aspect" is mainly down to RTD's bizarre belief that audiences don't care about characters who aren't like them. By this point I was just thankful that the Doctor was helping aliens for a change.

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Spoilers Below 3 years, 5 months ago

For those of us of a certain age and a certain set of interests in our childhoods, Kylie will always be Cammy in the wonderfully over the top Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Street Fighter. It was only slightly weird to have two of your celebrity crushes in the same film.

That said, Can't Get Your Out of My Head and Love at First Sight were in heavy rotation throughout my high school and college years. Fever is about as perfect a dance-pop album as you could want.

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John 3 years, 2 months ago

Thanksgiving you watch (American) Football - there's always a Detroit Lions home game in the early afternoon and a Dallas Cowboys home game in the late afternoon, and in recent years a third game in the evening.

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Alex 2 years, 3 months ago

I imagine no one will see this now, but what the hell. I just rewatched "Voyage..." last night as part of my desperate attempt to get into the Christmas spirit, and it occurred to me:

Astrid is Halo Jones.

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Jarl 2 years ago

American Holiday Television has its own sub-traditions. Thanksgiving has a parade and football, Christmas has A Christmas Story, more parades, and other movies, but most shows only do their "holiday episode" sometime in early december then take a break over the holiday week.

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Howard David Ingham 1 year, 7 months ago

Terribly late to the party, but your point about Astrid Peth barely existing hits an interesting chord in that 1) Russell T Davies speaks Welsh; 2) "Peth" is Welsh for "thing". As in "item of indeterminate definition".

I wouldn't put it past RTD to be completely unable to think of a name and call her the Welsh for "whatchamacallit". But it seems to underline your point.

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