Yes indeed. Another Doctor Who series brings with it, as it always should, another pun-titled Doctor Who article. But it’s an accurate title; Doctor Who is well and truly back! I doubt there were many disappointed faces angled toward BBC One’s output on the evening of April 23rd. It smashed back onto our screens in an opening two-parter unlike any other; The Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy (Karen Gillan) and her husband Rory (Arthur Darvill) returned, along with new enemies The Silence and old friend River Song (Alex Kingston). And wow, it was special! Some called it confusing. But confusing or not, there’s no arguing with the vast majority who have rated this opening two parter as some of the best episodes we’ve had – in all aspects – since the show returned in 2005. We got lots of “creepy”, a fair bit of “timey wimey” and a massive serving of “River Song being awesome as usual and then some”.
Ah, River Song... Last year we all watched as River’s identity became even more of a mystery than when we first met her! So, now she’s a murderer, imprisoned for killing “the best man ever knew” and had sordid links to big, blue, black-market time-travel salesmen! When we watched her ‘die’ in Forest Of The Dead she was a respectable scientist on a morally sound rescue mission! Or will be... Because the thing about River Song is that she’s not meant to make any sense at all – not yet at least. Her life plays out of order. Her appearances have, to date, preceded each other as the Doctor’s story progresses. She’s a complete mystery. For now. This year, we get to know her – we get to know who she is and, more importantly, what she is! (There’s a few massive spoilers out there regarding River’s identity – I promise not to mention them here). And we’ve been given a hell of a start! That kiss – surely that hints strongly at, at the very least, a romantic involvement! Should we make a connection between River and the title of tonight’s (14th May) episode – The Doctor’s Wife?
We have all been made to wait so long for this sixth (yes, SIXTH! Can you believe it’s been back so long?) series; to see the footage taken during ‘that week’ spent in Utah. It has been torture! If you’re a Whovian then it’s unlikely that you missed the photos that were flying about at the time the American Block began shooting, though, if you did manage to stay completely unspoiled then I envy you. Seeing the sweeping landscapes on-screen was breathtaking. Budget cuts? What budget cuts? I couldn’t tell. The show has never looked so rich and vast. The scenes shot in Monument Valley looked not only vast and epic, but frighteningly cinematic. And with creepy hotels filled with clowns and ventriloquist’s dummies, a doll’s house that isn’t as lovely as it looks and PIRATES (this excites me, in particular) all cropping up, we’re in for a whole new few weeks of “amazing” (eyes open, too, for a few familiar faces and places). Also, there are some truly magical names cropping up on the guest-star list. Daniel Mays, Lily Cole, Suranne Jones, Marshal Lancaster, Sarah Smart, Mark Sheppard, Hugh Bonneville, Frances Barber, David Walliams and Michael Sheen to name but a handful! What a list! Although, Doctor Who has always had a great track record where guest-stars are concerned.
But this year there is a difference to the series that has, ironically, split fandom. The powers-that-be at Upper Boat, South Wales (where the show has been made for much of the “new era”) have decided that, this year, we should get our fix of Who in two sizeable chunks. Some like the idea of a split-series (as I do. The way I look at it, it’s just that the finale-quota has been doubled) but some do not. ‘The Man Himself’ seems to put forward a pretty good argument for the decision, though!
Speaking at the Edinburgh Television Festival Doctor Who Masterclass, showrunner Steven Moffat said, “What this show needs is a big event in the middle. We do 13 episodes, which is two series worth, so this year we’re going to make it two series. It will come back for seven episodes at Easter, build to an Earth-shattering climax… honestly, a gamechanging event for Amy, The Doctor and Rory.” Now what that Earth-shattering climax is to be is anyone’s guess! What is clear is that it’s going to be one hell of a bumpy ride. And the publicity machine for this new run has never worked harder, by the looks of things. Finally, now it’s here! But can we live with just 7 episodes to start with? Will any of us survive the wait until AUTUMN for the concluding six episodes? How hard will we all cry when “that mid-series cliff-hanger” lands on us in June? This wait is going to be a killer...
Don’t worry too much, though, because there’s a little show called Torchwood popping its shiny head out of the darkness to make an appearance this summer. That should at least help to plug the gap. Once again, we’re promised it will be bigger and better than ever before. When Children Of Earth, Torchwood’s tweaked-format third series, aired over one week in the summer of 2009 it took critics, fans and non-fans alike by complete surprise. The story was still silly and OTT – it wouldn’t be Torchwood without the odd feeling of “Uh?! What?!” – but had a maturity that was missing, or at least misinterpreted, in its previous run. Difficult decisions about the survival of loved ones replaced those about what flavour pizza to have, or who to shag where. A whole host of excellent supporting characters were ushered in to help the lead actors out. It was simply wonderful television. A proper “event”. And Russell T Davies’ new offering, Torchwood: Miracle Day – a BBC Wales/BBC Worldwide/Starz co-production – promises to match the awe we felt before, if not surpass it!
The story goes thus: One day, nobody dies. And they keep on not dying without any explanation as to why. Before long, the world’s population is growing to unmanageable numbers and something needs to be done. CIA agent Rex Matheson (8 Mile star Mekhi Phifer) realises that the only people who could possibly help are a secretive and now-defunct British agency called Torchwood. So the surviving Torchwood team are called back into action (don't think about Ianto, eh? *sob*) and a brand new adventure begins. An adventure that spans continents. Miracle Day has a shockingly good cast, including old favourites John Barrowman (Capt Jack), Eve Myles (Gwen), Kai Owen (Rhys) and Tom Price (hapless but wonderful PC Andy) as well as new faces that should be recognisable to anyone with eyes, Bill Pullman (as Danes), Lauren Ambrose (as Kitzinger) and Wayne Knight!
But just how will Torchwood translate now it’s been relocated to “across the pond”? In my eyes Torchwood has always been a very American-feeling show, despite its very Welsh roots and setting. People always complained that “all these aliens seem to turn up in Cardiff all the time! It’s not very believable, is it?” Well, no. It’s not. It’s a show about a secret Government Agency, led by a two hundred year old immortal space conman, who fight monsters in the sewers of . But the Cardiff bit is believable enough! Nobody complains that Washington or New York or LA are “not very believable locations” when they’re invaded on screen, ad nauseum, do they? Maybe the part-US setting will inject a little realism into your alien invasion drama. Torchwood is silly, true, but it can also be powerful, moving drama. And Miracle Day looks to be as thoughtful and wondrous as Children Of Earth was two years ago.
I personally cannot wait to see what the world thinks. Both Torchwood and Doctor Who are huge sellers overseas, they make the beeb a lot of money and that money makes these shows what they are – utterly spellbinding! It’s only right that, this year, both shows will be rewarding the loyalty of their respective North American audiences by paying them an onscreen visit.
So the Spring/Summer 2011 season seems ready to deliver a Whoniverse of great science fiction fun, with new faces and old (and, in the case of Doctor Who, very old) keeping us all glued to the television. It feels like forever since we last saw any of these characters that we know and love – even though, in the case of the TARDIS crew, it’s only been a month, maybe less – but now we have them back. The wait is over; the blue box is flying once more. When it stops again, just for a while, we’ll have an all-new cast of Torchwood heroes to carry us as far as it can through the gaping, empty summer. But then, you know what that means don’t you? That’s right, another long wait... The second half of the Sixth Series of Doctor Who lands in “autumn” and unless they show Torchwood biweekly there will be another hungry hole to fill in our geek-bellies. And, I don’t want to frighten you, but bear this in mind: The wait we had to stomach between A Christmas Carol (6.X) and The Impossible Astronaut (6.01) was “empty-space” where anything could happen. This time, we have “that game-changing mid-series cliff-hanger” to ponder about. We will need to overcome “the urge to spoil ourselves” – because the internet will be teeming with leaked information. Indeed, the torrent has already begun!
The way I see it, there’s no better time to whip out the old Series Five DVDs and look for clues again than during this gap. Not only is it always fun to re-watch Doctor Who, but I have a very funny feeling that we’ve already been given the bare bones of where the long and complex tale of The Doctor, Amy Pond and Rory Williams is heading; where it will end. And, for our poor companions at least, I fear it will not end well. Who is the mysterious Madame Korvarian? Will we see the Silence again? Who killed the Doctor and why?
There have never been so many unanswered questions... What a journey we have ahead of us.
Doctor Who Series Six began on April 23th, and will run for seven episodes, then returns for six more exciting stories in autumn 2011 on BBC One.
Torchwood: Miracle Day airs on BBC One (exact date TBC) and US Network Starz on July 8th.