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December 29, 2008

"Hello, faithful viewer..."

If you’ve not heard the commentary for Battlefield, this month’s dvd release yet, you’re in for a treat.  For much of its duration writer of the story Ben Aaronovitch sounds like he’s about to jump from the roof of 2Entertain Towers because of the horror which is unfolding before him and then story editor Andrew Cartmel is talking him down from the ledge largely through the negotiation tactic of agreeing with him a lot.  All that actors Sophie Aldred and Angela Bruce can do is sit and watch and perhaps munch some popcorn as the more exciting drama happens in the recording booth.

Rtdjg_2 What’s even scarier is that this year’s Christmas trip into the psyche of Russell T Davies or as the BBC like to call it the Doctor Who podcast is in places almost exactly the same.  It’s quite refreshing if slightly odd to hear the creatives clearly unhappy with portions of an episode which hasn’t yet been broadcast and though Davies never quite contracts Aaronovitchs-by-proxy, you can tell that Gardner wishes that he wasn’t being quite so critical, even though she largely agrees with him during that scene were the one and a half Doctors in the drawing room of the ‘dead’ man trying to work out who he could be.

Andrew Cartmel is talking him down from the ledge

What disappoints me about these opinions is that it was my second favourite scene.  They aren’t happy because it breaks all of the rules that have been set up in relation to how Doctor Who should be shot these days – no shakey-cams, no neutral lighting, and no succession of close-ups – too prime time midweek rather than teatime Saturday.  Which is all the reasons I loved it – an intimate scene played and lensed in a claustrophobic manner in the middle of the usually brash and loud Christmas special.  Congratulations to Andy Torchwood Goddard for trying something new.

Which is rather the problem with the rest of the podcast; throughout I found myself grimacing as I realised that everything I liked about the episode seemed to be an accident or not an original Davies idea.  For example my actual favourite scene:  Ten Doctors.  Ten fucking Doctors.  Ten.  All of them.  Projected on a wall.  Even Sylvester McCoy.  On Christmas Day.  Squee.  You’d think that Davies would be the one pleading with Gardener to have that put in, but it turns out it was the other way around.  It turns out the reason that the past four years haven’t been drowning in a sea of continuity/fanwank is because Russell has been holding himself back.

Even Sylvester McCoy.  On Christmas Day.  Squee.

If the Journal of Impossible Things from Human Nature didn’t convince the McGann heretics that he wasn’t canon, then seeing his eyes squinting into the middle distance here, in a shot which must have cost thousands of pounds to license from Fox TV (possibly), has to be the clincher.  I love the idea that there is a youngster who’s only really been watching the new series, suddenly being greeted with these new incarnations and finding a whole new universe of adventures to enjoy; it’s The Brain of Morbeus effect without some other members of the production team muddying the timestream.

Equally, the stuff which Russell is clearly very pleased with, such as the Cybermen in the snow, I was a bit vanilla about.  As I say in my proper review of the episode (which is published here, and much better than this one so you should probably have read it instead), these Cybus Industries models lack personality and the Doctor can’t have a conversation with them.  If you have returning monster which needs a human face, something has gone wrong.  I can’t help feeling that the enemy would have had more potency if it had been some new danger or even a different revived monster.  The Ice Warriors haven’t been busy lately and I would have loved to have seen a giant one of those striding about.

The Ice Warriors haven’t been busy lately

I also wasn't that happy when he was talking about why he'd resolved the mystery of the other Doctor quite so early.  I can understand why he did it -- there's only so much you can do to sustain something like that when there's a clever timelord in the story who'll work things out super quickly.  Couldn't there have been an in story reason for the Doctor not to reveal his suspicions in quite such a bald manner.  It wouldn't have been entirely out of character but perhaps I'm just browned off that none of my predictions turned out to be exactly true (I thought he might be human, but that he'd sucked up some of the regenerative energy somehow from the tail end of The Stolen Earth).

Still this was a decent hour of entertainment for Christmas night and though, like most of these things its unlikely to turn up in any ten best lists, it was just the right stop gap between the steak (we’re not a turkey household) and mince pies and The Other Boleyn Girl which is what I watched later on and had far more issues with (such as why you’d call a film that and then simply retell the story from Anne’s point of view again anyway).  I’ll miss Julie and Russell when they leave the booth for the final time, but at least we’ve another four specials to potentially hear them talking over first.

Next: Happy New Year!

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