FROM: Stephen Moffat, Executive Producer, Doctor Who
TO: Head of Scheduling, BBC Television
As I’m sure you were fully aware when you decided to pull today’s shitty little stunt, I’m stuck at LAX waiting for the first flight back to London that doesn’t pass through the middle of an exploding vol-fucking-cano, so I’ll keep this brief:
Basically, there's one thing you never put in a trail, if you're clever, if you're smart, if you value your continuing existence at the BBC, if you want to live to work another shift, there is one thing you never, ever put in a trail: Norton.
I trust I’ve made myself clear. SM.
Doctor Who: The Time of Angels
Review by Paul Kirkley
As Doctor Who is now shown in the middle of the afternoon in British Summer Time, I’m one of the millions who can’t watch the BBC’s flagship family drama because, being a family man, I’m busy doing stuff. With the family. (Honestly, they might as well put it on at midnight for all the sense it makes. Unless the BBC’s idea of “family viewing” these days involves mum, dad and the kids all crowding round an iPhone at Chessington World of Adventures).
Anyway, this week I went one better by totally bollixing up my attempt to record it (I think it’s a law that, as soon as you become a parent, you lose the ability to work the video). But that’s okay, I thought, I’ll watch it on the iPlayer, and I can record it on BBC3 tomorrow night. Except, being the ming-mong that I am, I couldn’t help but feel a fannish twinge of regret about the fact my copy would now be despoiled by that hideous BBC Three logo in the corner. Little did I know the shitstorm that was already kicking off among viewers who’d watched it on BBC One...
The BBC – never happier than when apologising for some trivial misdemeanor – spent the next few days dressed in sackcloth and ashes, rending its hair-shirt and generally mea culpa-ing to anyone who’d listen. Which some people – Iain Hepburn, formerly of this parish, among them – found a bit embarrassing. But you can’t really blame people for being annoyed by the year’s second most irritating Avatar: Aside from the fact this sort of DOGing makes the nation’s premier channel look like a cheap digital backwater – they’ll be re-branding it BeebOne next – the timing couldn’t have been worse, coming as it did at the climactic moment of – yes, let’s say it out loud – one of the greatest episodes of Doctor Who ever broadcast.
If they’d smeared Norton all over Victory of the Daleks, no-one would have cared – in fact it would have been a welcome distraction. (“Dear BBC, there I was enjoying a perfectly good Over The Rainbow trail when someone went and stuck a ridiculous scene with a Scottish robot underneath it. It totally took me out of the moment.) But here? Pah.
It was also, lest we forget, plastered over the first cliffhanger of the Moffat/Smith era - and a doozy to boot. It’s odd how, despite clocking up 46 years as the most quotable man on television, the Doctor has actually had relatively few big, grandstanding speeches to get his space teeth into. This one had obvious echoes of the Ninth Doctor’s defiant declamation at the end of Bad Wolf, but was much better because it didn’t contain the line “I’m gonna wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!” (which always sounds like it should be said in an Brooklyn - as opposed to Salford - accent, preferably preceded by “Why I oughta…”) and because it didn’t finish by quoting Davina McCall.
Personally, I couldn’t really see the logic of showing us what the Doctor was firing the gun at in that final shot - all it achieved was to hint at how the cliffhanger will be resolved – but, that aside, it was the perfect end to the perfect 45 minutes of television.
Just look at how much Moffat packs into the Bond-riffing pre-credits sequence: From a curiously well-cast Mike Skinner dreaming in a field (and did you spot the irony of River’s hallucinogenic lippy conjuring up exactly the sort of VR world she’s destined to live out her days in?) to some delicious timey-wimey instant messaging (and it bears repeating how under-used the concept of time travel has been for a show about a time traveler) and that hilarious jump-cut to the Doctor and Amy legging it out of the museum with their stolen booty, it was ridiculously entertaining stuff.
According to Moffat, the sparkling Hepburn/Tracy routine after the titles was a last-minute rewrite job, thus joining the noble ranks of classic Doctor Who scenes – and some entire stories – hastily scribbled on fag packets and napkins in canteens and the backs of cars. And if it was impossible to see the join there, who would ever believe that those scenes on the beach were the first Matt and Karen ever filmed, even as the tide moved in on one side and the paparazzi closed in on the other? Have any other Doctor-companion combo ever nailed it so instinctively from – quite literally - day one?
In trademark Moff fashion, the playful, sitcom-tooled exchanges about River’s identity – “Are you all Mr Grumpy face today?” – segued via an effortless key change into full-on horror territory in the Ring-inspired sequence of Amy trapped with the video Angel. Our man is clearly having great fun moving through his checklist of primal fears: Having terrified children with monsters under the bed, creeping shadows and cracks in the wall, here he pulls out the ultimate Doctor Who scare: the monster that comes out of your TV. It’s such a simple, obvious thing to do – and yet no-one else in half a century has thought to do it (and no, Maureen Lipman camping it up on a Bakelite set doesn’t count).
The Time of Angels is one of those moments in Doctor Who when everyone – Matt Smith, Adam Smith, wordsmith – pulls together to remind us why, though our patience may frequently be tested by burping bins, farting Slitheens, Pinocchio androids and, yes, Graham sodding Norton, when this show is firing on all cylinders, it really is TV heaven, with wings on.