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On a more random note: I was watching the Almost People two-parter from series 6 last night again when a question popped into my mind.

"Why the hell does everyone look like Odo from Deep Space 9?".

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The Invisible Enemy

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It's the 50th century and mankind has ventured out into the solar system, but when a routine shipping vessel is attacked by a strange lightning cloud in space, the crew undergoes some bizarre changes.

[Picture: The shuttle experiences a space anamoly. Somehow, electricity carries a biological virus, because... erm.]

I must say, for a story that deals with people becoming possessed by a virus that threatens to spread throughout the solar system, this is surprisingly breezy. The humour that has developed over the past few seasons is still here, but there is no real sense of threat or urgency to go with it. It's all a bit lighthearted, while the plot is brisk and somewhat flakey. One moment they're fighting for their lives against the infected crew, the next they're whisked off to a hospital, the next they're making shrunken clones of themselves and running around inside the Doctor's brain. Weird.

[Picture: For a lot of this story, the Doctor is either possessed or unconscious. It makes a change.]

This lightheartedness is also apparent in the show's newest companion, the robo-dog K-9, who may as well be called Scrappy-do. K-9 is one of the few classic Doctor Who things that I'm aware of, so it's nice to see where he came from. With his handy built-in stun-gun, I suspect he will be used as a convenient get-out clause whenever the pot calls for it... but that remains to be seen.

[Picture: The paper print-out looks like a little tongue, aww!]

For the most part, the production in this story is actually really good. Some of the model work is excellent and the sets have a good futuristic style to them. The odd spelling on some of the signs caught my eye ("shutle" and "egsit") - I'm assuming it was intentional, perhaps showing an evolution of language. Can anyone shed any light on this?

[Picture: The villains are not very memorable, aside from the fact that the infected people grow hairy hands (wha-?!) and mutter catchphrases like "we serve the purpose".

Elsewhere, however, things take a turn for the corny. The laser and electricity effects throughout all look a bit rubbish, the nucleus parasite costume is hilariously wobbly, and then there's the frankly bizarre trip though the Doctor's brain cells, in which the carbon clones are apparently able to walk around unhindered in the microscopic world. Sure, that was funny when Futurama did the same thing, but in a more serious sci-fi, it comes across very corny.

[Picture: The laughably bad parasitic nucleus is made larger in the embiggening booth.]

While I do appreciate a change in tone now and again, this was a bit weak. Full of "big" ideas but it rushes through them without consequence or drama.

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I think you went a bit easy on that story Sprite! I thought you'd rip it to shreds. :D

It's a weird one, in that this was a favourite of mine in novelisation form as a kid. On the page it comes across as largely serious in tone, and with your imagination left to fill in the effects it comes across very well, despite the Inner Space stuff. When I finally saw the TV version I couldn't believe my eyes. It's just awful!

And you're correct in your predictions about K9, except for when they sensibly write him out of whole stories. His introduction was not a good move in my book.

Fortunately you do get one final fantastic return to the Hinchcliffe/Holmes style of story next, but after that you'd better prepare for a gradual ramping up of the silliness...

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Image of the Fendahl

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The third story from writer Chris Boucher again features an extended cast of likeable characters, and delivers another spooky mystery. However, this time, I feel the plot gets too tangled up in itself. I must admit, I was drifting off a little around part 2 or 3, and it never fully grabbed me.

[Picture: The gestalt entity of the Fendahl, inhabiting Thea's body.]

I'm not sure I could adequately summarise the plot. It mixes alien mythology with exogenesis and an energy lifeform preserved inside a glowing skull. Somehow, energy from an erased planet has passed through generations of space to find Earth, possibly guided our evolutionary path in order to make us viable hosts. Meanwhile, a cult has, for some reason, taken to this lifeform, the Fendahl, as a goddess, sacrificed a woman to host the creature, and then been betrayed when the Fendahl hypnotises them and turns other people into giant slugs? Which are also psychic but killed by salt. M'kay!

[Picture: Leela saves the Doctor from the glowing skull by knocking him away and he falls on top of her. Though this could have easily led to some cliched sexual tension, there is none. The Doctor is all business. Well, business and jellybabies.]

When the Doctor is basically pushing the plot forward by spouting technobabble, while the others look on in confusion, something has gone a bit wrong. Tom Baker manages to bring this nonsense to life, but it's the human factor that makes the best moments of this serial. Whether it's healing a shocked old woman by talking about fruitcake, or more solemn moments like handing a gun to doomed Max and saying "I'm sorry", it's these moments of humanity that make the Doctor such a compelling character. No theatrics, he quietly deals with it and moves on. Sometimes, people just can't be saved.

[Picture: Earlier, Max shoots Fendelman in the head. Off-screen, admittedly, but that's pretty dark for a family show in the 70s.]

Image of the Fendahl is not averse to some dark themes, nor does it shy away from death, but it's also quite funny in places too. It's this mix of darkness and humour that I think plays so well, even today, and makes for some of the most entertaining episodes. The plot may have bored me a little, it may have been overly hokey and mystical for its own good, but at its heart remains a formula that works.

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Domhnall Gleeson is a decent actor, although I'd rather have Brendan. I really don't want another bright young sexy thing. Kaluya is probably my preference from those three. Dominic Cooper is good but I can't see him bringing anything to the Doctor.

Kaluuya is definitely the biggest talent of those three. I can't see Cooper wanting the role, he's a bloody film star.

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The Sun Makers

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Science fiction can be a powerful tool to convey ideas and opinions, by taking real world issues and abstracting them into a fantastical context. This can be done with subtlety and grace, or, in this case, as bluntly as a sledgehammer.

[Picture: The Doctor and Leela stop Cordo from throwing himself off a building.]

It's an Orwellian nightmare, a farcical depiction of capitalism and religion gone mad, and I bloody loved it. An all-powerful company that works its people to the bone and charges them for the privilege of breathing, and even of dying! Its characters are obviously written as archetypes: a cackling ruler who revels in suffering, a snivelling servant with delusions of grandeur, and the downtrodden workforce wallowing in self-pity. Perhaps it's too ridiculous to be believable, but that makes it all the more compelling. However silly, its themes are as relevant now as they ever were.

[Picture: Gatherer Hade and The Collector.]

The writing is sharp, witty, intelligent, and the Doctor and Leela are on absolutely top form here. I have decided that Leela is my favourite Doctor Who companion of all so far, cemented finally by her scene with the underground rebels, in which she shows bravery, loyalty and honour in the face of cowardice. Meanwhile, K-9's stun gun is used as a convenient get-out device, much like I predicted. However, I cannot be angry at that lovable little dog - his droopy tail when he's told off is just adorable.

[Picture: Leela leads a rescue attempt for the Doctor.]

Despite the fact that the story is set on Pluto, the setting is decidedly Earth-like (although this is explained away in the plot). That said, I found the on-location filming to have a realism to it that worked really well here, even when it was just some corridors or the roof of a building. But, ultimately, it's all about the plot, the ideas and the characters within it. This, really, is what science fiction is all about.

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I'd be amazed if it was true.

Sprite, I'm rather surprised you liked The Sunmakers. I re-watched it recently and thought it had some good jokes but it's a boring subject matter and looks dull as well. I don't like it when they're so obviously in some factory in real life.

It was Louise Jameson's favourite story though.

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There are some interesting ideas in Underworld. The Time Lords being gods to an ancient species who destroyed themselves and now seek a new home to repopulate their race is an intriguing concept. Set at the fringes of the known universe, the story also deals with stellar phenomena like planets forming within nebulae, and a second ship of colonists who have survived beneath the surface, only to serve as a slave race for a computer called the Oracle.

[Picture: The Minyan ship is trapped beneath the rocky debris, almost becoming the heart of a new planet.]

Sadly, it is at this point that the story takes a turn for the dull. Part 1 is quite exciting, I like the industrial design and the production values are good. But once beneath the surface, it's a tedious sequence of chases through caves while the two groups fight it out. They don't even use real caves, the vast majority of the episodes take place on a chroma key backdrop with some caves pasted in afterwards. It doesn't look good.

[Picture: Trapped after a cave-in. Don't worry, K-9 to the rescue - puppy power!]

It's not really explained how the Oracle came to be, nor from where the two robot guards originated. I like the idea of mission directives becoming ancient prophecies over thousands of years, but it isn't well explored, nor is the idea of the Time Lords as gods, or the Doctor attempting to correct the mistakes of his people. Tricking the Oracle by swapping out the canisters with the explosives is also a pretty cheap way to end the story. There's an attempt to tie the events into mythology, but it falls flat.

[Picture: The Doctor mocks the Oracle. "You are NOTHING!"]

It's not that there's nothing to like, it's just that the good ideas are not expanded upon satisfyingly, and the story somehow manages to drag even with just four parts. Some of it is good, but I was pretty bored in the middle.

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What a Doctor Who-ha!

So Farewell then Matt Smith, who will be stepping down as Doctor Who to make way for… well, who knows.

The manner of the 11th Doctor’s leaving was entirely characteristic of the way the show is currently being managed by the BBC. The news leaked courtesy of a cock-up in which an internal BBC Worldwide email giving details of the scheduling for the next series – and mentioning in passing that “Editorially this will give the new doctor a chance to really develop with the audience (apologies for this spoiler if you didn’t know but please treat this as confidential)” – was accidentally sent to hundreds of staff at the corporation’s commercial arm and a number of external licensees.

It then spread to fans and the internet, and the corporation was forced to cobble together a press release which it embargoed until midnight the following day, a Saturday – only for so many people to blab its contents on Twitter that it had to break its own deadline and run a report on that evening’s news.

This particular Snafu came just three weeks after the top-secret finale of the last series of the programme also leaked, despite assurances that “extra special measures” were being taken to keep it secret until transmission. Senior BBC figures were even denied copies with the white lie that post-production would continue right up to the last minute – only for fully-formatted copies to be home-delivered to fans in the US whose pre-orders for series box sets were accidentally shipped more than a week early.

This exposed the cliffhanger reveal that John Hurt will be playing a hitherto unknown version of the Doctor in this November’s anniversary special – although by then that news was already out, Hurt having blown the gaff a week earlier to his local paper, the Eastern Daily Press, while publicising, er, the revamp of Sheringham Little Theatre’s Film Club.

The news of Smith’s departure overshadowed another bit of news in the leaked email, which is that the next full series of Doctor Who will not be broadcast until August-October 2014, partly to give “Steven [Moffat, show runner and executive producer] and the team more time to work on the scripts to ensure it's as good as ever and really secure the future of the title for many years to come.”

This will mean that between January 2012 and June 2014, when under Doctor Who’s previously-accustomed schedule 41 episodes would have been broadcast, the BBC will actually put out a grand total of 16. That period includes the show’s 50th anniversary year, during which Moffat had announced: “I promise you, we’re going to take over television, trust me.”

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A lot of people seem to have it in for Moffat right now. He has done a lot of good as well as a fair amount of bad. However, he might have been the wrong choice as he's clearly too busy and the way they have messed around with Who and the scheduling is really frustrating.

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I think you kind of have to separate his two roles. There's Moffat the writer and Moffat the producer. Private Eye are more interested in the latter role and backstage goings on. As a writer I was pretty happy with Moffat until approximately the end of A Good Man Goes to War and then it's been something of a downward spiral, as producer though I think he's doing a pretty terrible job. With RTD, I hated the majority of his work as a writer, but as a producer he and his team did a very good job of bringing back a show everyone thought was dead, making it a success, putting out episodes consistently and keeping it in the public eye throughout his tenure.

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That is kind of the problem with having a show runner isn't it? It's three jobs rolled into one and if you're bad at just one of them the show is going to suffer. I can appreciate the value in consistency of having an individual to keep creative control of the project but I kind of feel like it might be time for a change back to the good old fashioned British values that made old Who wildly erratic but never consistently grating.

Open it up. Dr Who is an institution with a great reputation. Brilliant people are lining up to participate. Dole out weighty two parters to the top creative talents in the country and reserve a handful of one-offs for up and coming talent. Keep someone like Moffat (a writer proven at this level) on as script editor and get in a good producer.

I don't want it to see the show be bent to the agenda of an individual any more. They never turn out half as smart as they think they are.

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