My favorites from the expanded universe – Dec 2014

Fish Doctors

Fish Doctors

Last year, around November, I wrote a post listing my fifteen favorite episodes of Doctor Who. I then repeated the exercise in May, and it was very interesting seeing the changes in attitude and perception over the course of six months, considering that at least some of my initial enthusiasm for the show had worn off and I had seen more of the classic episodes. So I decided I would try to do the same post every six months.

This is not that post.

That’s mostly because it takes a huge amount of time to compile that post, and so I plan to do that tomorrow. In the meantime, I’d like to start another tradition here at Maius Intra Qua Extra, and that’s to list my favorites bits of the expanded universe, that is to say, from the audios, books, comic books, etc.; basically, anything that’s not the TV show. Now, I’m going to qualify this by noting that I have not seen even 5% of what’s out there, so this is a selection of favorite items from very small list of works. Hopefully, in six months, the list will have grown substantially.

These are not listed in any particular order.

 

Audio Plays

The Light at the End, by Nicholas Briggs: The Big Finish contribution to the 50th Anniversary celebration, this audio is simply brilliant. With five Doctors (and their companions!) getting trapped by a fiendish plan to destroy them, they band together and each do what they do best to unravel the plot and turn it around. The story is solid, riveting, and fun, the performances are perfect, and the entire feel is just so classic Doctor Who. I would honestly consider this the real 50th Anniversary story, not “The Day of the Doctor”, except, well, keep reading and you’ll find out why, if you don’t already know.

Of Chaos Time The (from Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories), by Mark Ravenhill: In one of four short plays featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri, the Doctor finds himself running down a corridor with someone he doesn’t know, who apparently does know him and has been following his orders for some time. The Doctor is figuring out the puzzle right along with you, and it’s a spectacular adventure in temporal trickery.

The Chimes of Midnight, by Robert Shearman: In this chilling tale, the Eighth Doctor and Charley find themselves trapped in the servant’s area of a manor house in the 1920s on Christmas Eve, reliving the same hour over and over again. It’s surreal and creepy Doctor Who at its best. And remember, Christmas isn’t Christmas without Mrs. Baddeley’s plum pudding.

Revenge of the Swarm, by Jonathan Morris: This sequel (or is it prequel?) to “The Invisible Enemy” (a Fourth Doctor TV episode) finds the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Hector encountering the Swarm again, this time going back in time to influence its own genesis. In addition to expertly wrangling the timelines to make the two episodes fit together, it has a lot of action and suspense, and pays homage to the original episode in multiple ways.

The Kingmaker, by Nev Fountain: The Fifth Doctor, with Peri and Erimem, travel to the past to find out what happened to the two princes that were imprisoned in the Tower of London by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, but they get separated, with the companions in one time zone and the Doctor in another, three years later. The Doctor must unravel what has happened to his companions and try to find and rescue them, while they are forced to live through the intervening years. The puzzle, plot, and characterizations in this audio are top-notch. (This is the first audio I’ve heard so far that’s managed to make a nod to the modern show.)

 

Audio Books

Dead Air, by James Goss: This audiobook takes advantage of its medium, weaving a story about a sound-based enemy that revels in silence and darkness. Read by David Tennant and written in first-person for the Doctor, this story is intensely personal and dark, and Mr. Tennant does a fantastic job doing the voices of all four characters, of different accents, ages, and genders. If there’s any Doctor Who audiobook to get, this is it.

Shockwave (from The Destiny of the Doctor), by James Swallow: The Destiny of the Doctor is an 11-book set, one story for each Doctor. The final story, for the Eleventh Doctor, is based on all the previous stories, so if you want to read that one, you must read all the rest. However, the rest are all standalone stories. Most of the stories in the series are good, but this one stood out for me. Read by Sophie Aldred, the Seventh Doctor and Ace are trapped on a planet that’s about to be destroyed by a solar wave and must flee with the other humans. This book took great care to describe the surroundings and the action, heightening the tension and adding so much to the already riveting story.

 

Books

The Krillitane Storm, by Christopher Cooper: I didn’t expect this book to be anything but a nice adventure, and I was pleasantly surprised. The action is fast-paced and the alien incursion that the Tenth Doctor is investigating turns out to be anything but simple. In addition, this story explores the culture of the Krillitane, showing them to be a complex society and shedding light on the motivations of the Krillitane we saw in “School Reunion”.

11 Doctors, 11 Stories: This is a compilation of novella adventures by various authors, one for each Doctor. It’s now available as 12 Doctors, 12 Stories with the inclusion of the Twelfth Doctor story, but I haven’t read it, so it gets its former title here. Some of the stories are better than others, but in general, this is one great collection. My favorite of the bunch is the Eleventh Doctor’s “Nothing O’Clock” by Neil Gaiman.

 

Comic Books

The Forgotten, by Tony Lee: The Tenth Doctor finds himself trapped with Martha in a museum that contains only items relating to his long history. A mysterious figure steals his memories, which starts to kill him (“A man is the sum of his memories; a Time Lord even more so.”), and he remembers stories from his previous incarnations to get them back. This comic not only presents new short stories for each incarnation, but also has a great overall arc and a wonderful resolution.

 

Other

The Five(-ish) Doctors Reboot, by Peter Davison: This is what I think deserves the label of the best 50th Anniversary work. The story of Mr. Davison, Mr. Baker, Mr. McCoy, and Mr. McGann (at least for a little bit) trying to get into “The Day of the Doctor”, it’s superbly written and acted, and pokes fun at every trope and every person associated with Doctor Who. It shines with love for the show, its history, and its fans, and it’s simply delightful.

 

My 2014 with the Doctor

“Lance was right. We’re just tiny.”
“No, but that’s what you do. The human race makes sense out of chaos. Marking it out with weddings and Christmas and calendars. This whole process is beautiful, but only if it’s being observed.”

– Donna and the Doctor, “The Runaway Bride”

 

newyear1It’s that arbitrary time again when we say that this year is last year and the next year is now this year. But that’s how we make sense of it all, by marking a particular day as the first day of the year and looking back at the 365 days before it to see where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. So, here I am, thinking about my past year with the Doctor and his wonderful, crazy universe.

At this time last year, I was rather disappointed with the Christmas special/regeneration episode “The Time of the Doctor”. While the Eleventh Doctor was never my favorite, it was sad to see him go (and I did miss him), and even sadder to see that his farewell episode was such a mess. But, we got to see a glimpse of the new Doctor, and anticipation was high for a new, older, different Doctor.

Of course, in order to see him, we had to survive eight months of no new Doctor Who. What does a fan do when the content faucet is turned off? Find others! For a newcomer to the show like me, there’s 27 years of classic episodes to watch, as well as the hundreds of Big Finish audios, plus novels, audiobooks, and comic books. I’ve been building up my collections of these things and watching and listening to them when I can, though it’s slow going. There’s just so much! However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how good the classic show and the alternate media have been. Yes, the classic show has a very different feel and horrendous special effects, but the stories are solid, and in many instances, they’re better than the modern show. Same for the audios. Great stories, and in many instances, because they don’t have visual effects to worry about, they can be far more ambitious than the TV show. What are you waiting for? Go check them out!

Then, in August, Series 8 debuted, with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. I’m not going to rehash old discussions; if you read this blog regularly, you already know that while I love the new Doctor, I didn’t like the season or the companions Clara and Danny. I spent some time immersing myself in the audios, but eventually, my disappointment in Series 8 cooled my enthusiasm for the show, and it showed: I haven’t listened to a new audio in a while, and I barely posted here in October and November (and September, too, but that was for a different reason, mentioned below). I’ve recovered the enthusiasm quite a bit now, mostly by concentrating on Series 1-5, and my love for the show has remained steady.

There have been, however, two other major ways in which the show has impacted my life. The first is traveling. Before this year, I had never traveled anywhere that wasn’t either to go to school, to visit family or friends, or because of work, and I had never been out of the U.S. I’ve always wanted to travel, but either never had the money or the time or the resolve. Of course, Doctor Who made me want to visit Britain, but it was much more than that. The Doctor is an explorer and traveler, and he inspires wanderlust in me. I can’t travel the universe, but I can explore this world, and he inspired me to finally get off my butt and go. My first trip was to Victoria, B.C., to try to find the filming of Gracepoint and be a David Tennant fangirl; it was just a silly idea in my head, but my husband told me, “You love Doctor Who, you love David Tennant, and you want to travel, so go. Do it.” And I was on a train headed there three days later. That’s the Doctor to me: he teaches you to jump in head-first and experience and explore everything.

“The thing is, Adam, time travel’s like visiting Paris. You can’t just read the guide book, you’ve got to throw yourself in. Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers. Or is that just me? Stop asking questions. Go and do it.”

– The Doctor, “The Long Game”

My second trip was to England and Scotland, with my best friend, who I’ve been referring to as Sandy in this blog: we left our husbands behind and wandered for nearly three weeks from Bath, to York, to Edinburgh (and the Highlands), to Cambridge, to London. This was in September, which is why this blog was silent then. The journey was incredible! We ate all kinds of new food (except I didn’t get the chance to try haggis, so next time!), tried not to get killed in the traffic horrors of Bath, took a balloon ride, toured on riverboats and lake boats, chatted with people, toured all the cathedrals we could find (Southwark Cathedral was my favorite; well, maybe after St. Paul’s), deliberately got lost wandering in London, heard the LSO in concert at the Barbican, watched a Shakespeare play at the Globe, got hit on by a drunk guy coming out of a pub in London (who, after noticing we were American, proudly proclaimed, “I’m from England!”), found the resting place of Isaac Newton… Oh, and we got to watch new Doctor Who episodes on BBC1. I want to go back, and I desperately want to travel more.

The second thing that has changed in my life is that for the first time ever, I’ve gotten invested in a real creative endeavor: I write. Last October, after watching “The Girl in the Fireplace” for the first time, I was lying in bed and thinking about the episode, and an idea for a story came to me. I thought about it so much that I couldn’t sleep, and finally, around two in the morning, I sat up, pulled out my iPad, and started typing. Two hours later, I had the first draft of the first piece of fiction I had ever written. Now, I’m not saying that I write well or anything like that, but the act of thinking of the idea and actually putting it down on paper was cathartic. I created something new. It was a fanfiction exploring Reinette’s thoughts when the Doctor returned to her when she had grown up. I showed the story to a couple of friends, and thought nothing more of it: it was just a one-off thing for me.

“It seems to me there’s so much more to the world than the average eye is allowed to see. I believe, if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe than you could ever have dreamt of.”

– Vincent Van Gogh, “Vincent and the Doctor”

Then, a month later, we saw the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor” in the theater, and again, the episode sparked an idea, and I wrote that story, too. And that was the real beginning of it. In the year since, I’ve written two novellas and forty short stories, all but one of which are Doctor Who fanfictions (the other is a Harry Potter fanfiction). I’ve thought about why I write – especially why I write fanfiction, rather than creating my own worlds and characters – and it comes down to this: I love exploring the Doctor Who universe, its settings and characters. Yes, there’s tons of episodes, audios, books, etc., but I can also explore it myself by creating these stories set within the universe. And I love it! Doctor Who encourages me to explore and create by inviting me in, and its main character directly advocates reaching into yourself to see what brilliance lies inside. Other people do it in their own ways: drawing fan art, making fan videos, composing/performing music, discussing episodes and themes with friends, cosplaying, or even watching the show and simply just enjoying it for what it is. My way is to write.

newyear2And that’s my year with the Doctor. I think a lot of my friends look at me and think that I’ve become pretty obsessed by this silly sci-fi show, and probably because I’m a David Tennant fangirl, but it’s really so much more than that. It’s not just a TV show, and it doesn’t matter that the characters are fictional. I embrace the ideals that the Doctor embodies, and I believe I’ve grown quite a bit personally because of this silly sci-fi show. Here’s to 2015, to further adventures with the Doctor and explorations of my world and self!

It’s so volcanic!

It amazes me sometimes how much I miss things that I really should have noticed. Sure, I’ve seen a lot of Doctor Who episodes multiple times, and I love them, and then one day, it just hits me what it is about a particular episode that I love so much. Today’s revelation talking point is “The Fires of Pompeii”. I know that when I first viewed it, I enjoyed it, but it didn’t stand out to me in any particular way. I enjoyed all of Series 4 (there wasn’t a single bad episode in the entire bunch), but certainly “The Fires of Pompeii” didn’t hold a candle to the incredible episodes “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead”, “Midnight”, and “Turn Left”. It had a fun adventure, with the Doctor battling lava monsters that had lost their planet and were trying to make Earth their home by taking over the indigenous sentient species, while he was also trying to figure out why Pompeii wasn’t going to explode like it should.

fop_donna_doctor-angry

Don’t think she’s just going to back down, Doctor!

Then, months later, I rewatched it, along with all of the other Series 4 episodes. They were all better on second viewing, but “The Fires of Pompeii” was surprisingly very good. This time, with the advantage of hindsight, I saw how this episode established Donna’s character as the Doctor’s conscience and the only one who can and will push back against him. “Donna, human, NO!” is the iconic scene which shows that she’s willing to stand against him when she feels she’s right, something few companions ever have the nerve to do. Then, in the end, in the stone capsule, she sees that yes, he has good reasons for what he does and that he makes those difficult decisions no matter how much suffers for them, and she continues to support him. This episode contributed a huge amount to the overarching story of Series 4, in which the Doctor is bound by coincidences (or destiny) to the one companion that travels with him as an equal rather than a subordinate.

It’s only been recently that I realized that “The Fires of Pompeii” is even deeper than that. There’s a third story hidden behind all of this: that of Caecilius’ family. The characters are drawn beautifully from the start, as we meet them when Caecilius has bought the TARDIS as a “modern art” piece, in order to demonstrate that he’s cultured and savvy. From the first moments of their appearance, we know that he and his wife Metella are social climbers, doting on their daughter Evelina and pushing her into the Sybilline Sisterhood because that will increase their prestige in the city, while dismissing the damage it’s causing her.  They also ignore their son Quintus, who they think is a wastrel, trying to hide him whenever anyone of importance appears. It’s very telling that when the first earthquake hits, they run to save the vases and statuary rather than make sure their children are safe. Quintus is the only one in the family who actually cares about Evelina and is appalled as he watches his sister degrade.

4x02-The-Fires-of-Pompeii-doctor-who-1885014-960-528

Misplaced concern: Metella’s only worried that Evelina’s going to insult someone of status.

As events unfold, the parents watch as Quintus steps up to defend his sister and the family, and when Pompeii finally erupts, they learn that the material aspects of life are transient and that the things they’ve been blind to, their children, are the real treasures they should have been protecting. The Doctor saves them, and when they rebuild their lives in Rome, while they’re still trying to climb the social ladder, they do so while also caring for their family.

This whole storyline is carried out behind the bigger sweeping story of the Pyroviles and the Doctor and Donna’s developing relationship and is nearly invisible, and yet it glues together the episode. It adds a layer of complexity to an otherwise straightforward story, providing a cast of secondary characters that you immediately understand and relate to, and grow during the course of the events, getting you invested in their lives without detracting from the main conflict. It’s even more amazing to consider that this was done with very little focus on the family, as most of the scenes and dialogue were focused on the Doctor (of course) and the Pyroviles’ scheme.

It’s this complex plotting and attention to the secondary characters, building them into a story of their own, that really appeals to me about Doctor Who. Yes, I love the Doctor and his companions, but it’s the rest of the universe that’s so interesting, even down to one single family and how their encounter with the Doctor changes their lives.

“The Krillitane Storm”

The_Krillitane_StormI have to admit that I haven’t been consuming new Doctor Who content very much lately. I need to get back to the Big Finish main range audios and “Gallifrey”. And I’ve had Christopher Cooper’s novel “The Krillitane Storm” sitting on my nightstand for about three months, waiting for me. So, I figured, with some holiday time off, I’d finally tackle that book, and I’m glad I did.

Spoilers, of course.

You remember the Krillitanes, right? From “School Reunion”, they were the demonic-looking, bat-winged aliens that were harnessing the imaginative powers of souped-up schoolchildren at Deffry Vale School to crack the Skasas Paradigm, the equation that’s the building blocks of the universe. They intended to become gods with the Paradigm, and tempted the Doctor to join them. They were a complex and interesting species: vicious hunters who killed and ate sentients, but welcomed the wisdom and guidance that they felt the Doctor could provide. This novel is enticing simply because it deals with this fascinating race, and it doesn’t disappoint.

It starts out very simply: the city of Worcester in the twelfth century is in the grip of terror, as people are murdered viciously in the middle of the night. As usual, the Doctor lands here randomly, and noticing that the city is not acting normally, snoops around and determines that the Krillitane are behind it.

That’s where it stops being simple. Without going through the whole story, let me just say that it turns out that someone else is manipulating the Krillitane (and in fact, the Krillitane would never have come to Earth in the first place without his schemes), and then while the Doctor is trying to sort that all out, another player arrives to throw everything into even more chaos. The Doctor thus finds himself trying to 1) save the Krillitanes’ lives and get them off planet, 2) keep the “someone” from being killed by quite a number of people (including the one-off companion that the Doctor picks up), 3) bring the “someone” to justice, and 4) keep the third party from massacring the human city.

As it is, this novel has something for everyone. The story is engaging and complex, and the action is fast-paced. There’s a villain that is very easy to hate, so there’s someone to root against. The one-off companion is a good character, and she’s got her own motivations for what she does. The Doctor also acquires a second companion, the captain of the city guard, who is great as the guy who is just bewildered by all the things that the Doctor shows him but is smart enough to know that the safest place to stand is next to the Doctor. And the Doctor is written brilliantly in-character.

I particularly enjoyed the elaboration on Krillitane culture. The Doctor explains that because the Krillitanes evolve quickly, by killing other species and taking their physical traits rather than evolving and developing them normally, the Krillitanes’ power grew faster than their culture, and thus they are still rather barbaric and animalistic. Theirs is a religious culture, with a priest-king, which is why the headmaster in “School Reunion” is named “Brother Lassar”. During the course of the novel, you find out that a splinter group decided that the Krillitanes were culturally and psychologically stagnant and needed to evolve in that way, not just physically, and they broke off from the main Krillitane society. It’s the descendants of this splinter group that the Doctor encounters at Deffry Vale, seeking the Skasas Paradigm in order to evolve beyond their current limitations.

Bottom line is that I really enjoyed this novel. It was a good adventure, with plenty of action and twists and turns and impossible situations for the Doctor to worm his way out of, and it elaborated on an alien species that I really enjoyed from the show. It also had this little scene: The Doctor is hanging by his knees from the loading arm of a hovercraft, his enemy, piloting the craft, oblivious to the fact he’s there. The Doctor sonics the loading arm, and he cries, “Hello, stranger!” as it swings him over the craft towards the enemy.  The enemy turns around and his “eyes widened in shock, noticing too late as the loading arm swept towards him, carrying its insanely grinning payload.” Absolutely perfect. This is the kind of scene Doctor Who needs more of!

Merry Christmas!

Doctor-Who-Last-ChristmasI hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and whole holiday season, with family, friends, and lots of love and cheer! I’m having a perfectly fine day: we don’t live anywhere near our respective families, so Christmas is just a day of staying at home and enjoying each other’s company. In a few, I’m going to go cook up some steaks for a nice dinner.

We just finished watching the Doctor Who Christmas special, “Last Christmas”, and, well, opinion is divided in our house.

Spoilers, by the way.

My husband was really hoping for Clara to depart at the end of the episode, and since that didn’t happen, he’s running around the house in a really bad mood. I was hoping the same, but I’m not as disappointed as he is. To me, the episode could have been really good, but it fell flat in so many places.

The general concept, of dreams within dreams within dreams, was fun and deftly handled, and made me forget that each new reality could be a dream as people woke up. It was very nice to be surprised over and over again as new dreams were discovered. Having Santa and his elves as real characters very much challenged my suspension of disbelief, but as they also turned out to be dreams (maybe), it all worked out fine. Those characters were terrific, though – very fun to watch, with some of the best lines in the entire show.

However, I felt that they were trying too hard again to have sweeping emotional scenes, especially centered around Clara. Clara’s initial dream, of a happy life with Danny, was beautifully done, making me feel very sad for her that she’s trapped in this dream that she really wants, and the blackboards appearing and trapping her were terrifying, one of the few successful terrifying moments this series has had all year. Then the Doctor appears to tell her that it’s all a dream, and Danny transforms from a dream construct that’s meant to keep her happy in her dream to a real Danny, telling her to get out of the dream and go have a happy life. He can’t be both, and the tender moment is ruined by this. And then the ending. The Doctor comes to Clara to remove the facehugger and finds he’s come 60 years in her future and she’s had a good life without him, though she has missed him. It was an absolutely beautiful bittersweet story, showing that Clara does have the emotional fortitude to move on and live her own life… and they threw it down the drain, revealing it’s another dream, and instead, the Doctor saves Clara and they reunite happily and run off into the sunset. Another “everyone lives, everyone’s happy” Moffat ending. I always knew the Christmas special was going to end all happy-happy – Moffat can’t allow his characters to not be happy, ever – but I don’t have to like it. I am actually surprised he didn’t resurrect Danny. He must have been sick when he wrote this episode.

Beyond that, though, the show was decent enough, so much so that I could rate it at least average in Series 8. There were pacing problems that broke me out of story. (How many times do the humans, after being convinced their in a dream, need to keep asking how this or that happened? Maybe it’s time to start trying to break out before you’re dead?) And there are continuity errors that probably can be attributed to how hard it is to keep an Inception-like story consistent. (For example, if the facehuggers were supposed to be injecting dreams to keep their prey happy and dormant, why were the three women all dreaming they were trapped in an arctic base cowering from facehuggers? Not exactly the happiest of dreams.) I would definitely have liked the other human characters to have had some actual personality.

So, another Doctor Who year has come and gone, for good or bad, depending on your tastes. Hope your year has been wonderful, and looking forward to brilliant new year!

The Christmas Specials

Well, it’s Christmas time, and one of the traditions of Doctor Who, ever since the end of series 1, is to have a special episode that is aired on Christmas day. Even when the show is more or less on hiatus (2010), they still made a Christmas special. All of these episodes have at least some Christmas theme, and trend toward a family-friendly, feel-good atmosphere, and so how much you enjoy them sometimes depends directly on your ability to tolerate schmaltz. Here is my list of favorite Christmas Specials, listed from least favorite to most favorite.

“The Time of the Doctor”

DoctorWho4The list of Christmas specials includes two regeneration episodes and one Doctor-introduction episode, and in a way, I’m not sure it’s fair to compare them to the other Christmas specials because they have different emphases. However, they are what they are, so “The Time of the Doctor” must appear on this list. It was meant to depict the heroic sacrifice of the Doctor at the end of his thirteenth incarnation, but ended up a mess of completely linear and yet inconsistent plotting, forgettable guest characters, every major enemy he’d faced shoehorned in, and cheap emotional shots. The regeneration scene – meaning everything after the main conflict was resolved – was beautiful, but the rest was disappointing at best.

Favorite scene: The Doctor’s goodbye to Amy, despite the terrible wigs they were both wearing.

“The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe”

doctor and lilyAnother victim of a completely linear plot (literally: boy wanders off in a straight line, Doctor follows him, mother arrives and saves the day), it’s weighed down by its theme of “women are innately better nurturers than men”. The first part, where the kids are first introduced to the Doctor as the Caretaker, captures the whimsical feel of the Eleventh Doctor quite well, but the rest of the episode pretty much falls flat.

Favorite scene:  The Doctor showing the children around the house.

“Voyage of the Damned”

VOYAGE2_(9)This is the point in the list in which the episodes are good enough. “Voyage of the Damned” isn’t a great episode, but it’s fun enough to watch. It was meant to be a TV version of a disaster movie, and that part’s just fine. Having Astrid fall in love with the Doctor was its big mistake (we’re just coming off series 3, and we’re tired of Rose and Martha’s doey-eyed looks), so her send-off can be irritating. Some people dislike the religious imagery in this episode; I guess I’m rather oblivious, because I didn’t notice it at all.

Favorite scene: The Doctor saving the ship, only because of the look on his face when he sees where it’s about to crash.

“The Christmas Invasion”

201-the-Christmas-Invasion-the-tenth-doctor-13709074-1024-576I really should rank this higher, but every special from here on up is great. This is the introduction of the Tenth Doctor, and it’s done so well. The first 2/3 of the episode sets up the alien conflict, and it demonstrates how difficult it is for humanity, at its stage in its history, to cope with alien threats. Then the Doctor wakes up and launches into what amounts to a twenty-minute soliloquy that reveals exactly who he is, from his gob to his fascination with exploration to hints about his eventual downfall. This episode is fun and enlightening.

Favorite scene: Can I count the string from “Did you miss me?” to “I’m that sort of a man” as a single scene?

“The Snowmen”

uktv-doctor-who-xmas-2012-10Coming off the loss of the Ponds, the Doctor is lost in his grief and has retreated from the universe. A single woman is able to bring him out of his shell and convince him to save the world once again. The conflict with the Great Intelligence was again simple and linear, but well-handled and interesting against the bigger backdrop of the Doctor starting to heal from his loss. And then he finds out who this woman is, at the moment he loses her, and this spurs him into his next season-long story.

Favorite scene: The Doctor putting on his bowtie again. I love power-up sequences, and this was beautifully understated.

“The End of Time”

s0_09_wal_64A regeneration episode, it’s rocky in many ways, but I love it anyway.  Both the Last Great Time War and the Doctor/Master dynamic are explored here, as well as the Doctor’s inner conflict between what he would like for himself vs. what he knows everyone else needs. It’s the same conflict he faced in “The Waters of Mars”, but he chooses differently this time.

Favorite scene: Wilf knocks four times. People say that the Doctor was uncharacteristically emo here, but I disagree. For once, he voices his doubts and fears out loud, and the fact that he has them makes him more of a hero than ever.

“The Next Doctor”

4x14-The-Next-Doctor-Promo-Pic-s-doctor-who-2923082-1600-1266A controversial choice, I know, but I simply love this episode. Both Jackson Lake’s story and Miss Hartigan’s stories are beautifully tragic, but in different ways. The blending of them, plus the Doctor’s tragedy of being alone again, into one episode was not seamless, but I still love it.

Favorite scene: The reveal of Jackson Lake’s history. David Morrissey is spectacular.

“A Christmas Carol”

doctor-who-christmas-carol-04Objectively, this is probably the best of the Christmas specials. It took the base story of the Dickens tale, added a clever temporal twist to it, and then built up a love story. But the Doctor doesn’t succeed in his purpose: his meddling only angers his target, and the outcome is still the same, and he must resort to even more temporal tampering (and basically breaking the First Law of Time) to effect the change he wanted. Sardick still must make his final sacrifice to save the doomed spaceship, though, providing the story with its perfect, bittersweet ending.

Favorite scene: The Doctor’s initial jump into Kazran Sardick’s childhood, and then his later attempt to return again and Sardick’s refusal to acknowledge him.

“The Runaway Bride”

doctor-who-the-runaway-brideI did say this was a list of “favorites”, not a list of “bests”. I think that if Donna hadn’t become the Doctor’s companion a series later, this special would be down around “Voyage of the Damned”, ranked as a fun adventure but nothing particularly special. However, the further character development of Donna makes this episode brilliant. Donna starts as shallow, demanding, and unlikable, but even the brief contact she has with the Doctor here matures her, and that’s developed more when she joins him as a true companion. This beautiful core story is presented in a wrapper of a zany adventure, very befitting the two personalities at its heart.

Favorite scene: The scene in downtown Chiswick, where Donna is trying to get to the wedding but still trying to make sense of this alien who’s brought her back to Earth.

The case for Daleks

This image always makes me smile.

This image always makes me smile.

Daleks are almost as iconic to Doctor Who as the TARDIS itself – even if you don’t watch the show, it’s likely you still recognize the bumpy pepper pots with the plunger and egg beater for arms. They appeared in the second story of the show as the main protagonist, and they captured the imagination of the viewing audience, as a powerful, inexorable enemy. Every Doctor has battled them (the Eighth Doctor did not meet them on television), some more often than others. And even when they’re defeated and wiped from the universe, they always find a way to return.

Daleks are the monster of all of the Doctor Who monsters. Others, notably the Cybermen, return and menace the Doctor, but nothing is as horrible as a Dalek, and nothing else brings out the Doctor’s hatred and anger quite as well. And yet, they’re starting to get passé, simply because they appear so often. Every series of the modern show except Series 6 has at least one story in which the Daleks – the race that was supposedly completely destroyed – are the main antagonists. Some viewers have suggested that it’s time to leave the Daleks behind, that they’re overused and no longer interesting. Is that true?

I posit that honestly, the Daleks themselves were never interesting. They are a completely lawful species, with a strict hierarchy and very well-defined thought pattern: Daleks are perfect, and kill everything that is not Dalek. There’s only so far a writer can go with that.

So what is it that makes some of the Dalek episodes so good? It’s not the Daleks themselves. It’s the reaction of the other characters to them that makes the story. “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” is all about how a small group of resistance fighters works to throw off the Dalek masters, and how David and Susan’s romance blossoms in the midst of this. The brilliance of “Genesis of the Daleks” is due to the moral dilemma facing the Doctor: can he commit genocide knowing the horrors that the Daleks will perpetrate if he doesn’t? “Destiny of the Daleks” explored the limitations of logic, as two purely logical races faced off against each other. “Remembrance of the Daleks” showed off the manipulative nature of the Seventh Doctor as he subtly maneuvered two factions of Daleks into destroying their own homeworld.

This trend continues into the modern show. The genius of “Dalek” is in the contrast between the Doctor’s and Rose’s reactions to the Dalek’s existence, the experienced warrior and the innocent. It also explored the concept of Dalek corruption, becoming less Dalek and more human, something explored further in “Daleks in Manhattan”/”Evolution of the Daleks” (a story which, if you can ignore the pig slaves and the rather ridiculous design of Dalek Sec, is actually rather fantastic, and showcases the only modern Doctor who doesn’t actually hate the Daleks). “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” deals with what the Doctor has become after battling against the Daleks and the other evils of the universe for so long. And “Asylum of the Daleks” has the Doctor for once dealing with Daleks who are not his enemy, and in fact are asking for his help.

That’s where the Daleks shine: when the story uses the ultimate evil that they represent to tell a story about themes in reaction to them. As a counterexample, look at “Army of Ghosts”/”Doomsday”. This is a fine episode, but really is only well-regarded because of the concept of Daleks and Cyberman trash-talking and battling each other and the final scene at Darlig ulv Stranden. Otherwise, the story simply has the Cybermen and Daleks appearing and the Doctor being powerless to stop them from tearing the planet apart until he comes up with the idea of sucking them into the Void. He, as well the audience, learns nothing new from this experience.

The appearance of Daleks in the show usually promises an action-packed episode with lots of robotic screaming, laser shots, and deaths, but their real strength as enemies is that against them, the Doctor explores deeper themes and learns more about himself and his companions. There’s always the danger of too much of anything, but as long as the Daleks can continue to bring out these complex storylines and intriguing questions and conflicts, then they’re still perfect for Doctor Who.