My ten favourite Doctor Who directors

An often undersung aspect of Doctor Who is the work put in behind the scenes by directors. Sure, the script is important but the director, as with all media, has an instrumental part in realising a project. Whilst a bad director (especially in the classic era) can botch a perfectly decent script and make it poorer, conversely a good director can turn even the worst scripts into something at least visually interesting. Whilst many directors of Doctor Who have been forced into an “in-house” style of directing accommodating the showrunner, many have defined stories and eras with their excellent directing. So we’re here to celebrate the best, on Doctor Who Day Eve, whilst tomorrow we’ll talk about five different, new types of episode the show could explore. I won’t rank them but go in order of their episodes, and will try and focus on discussing their directing and not review the episodes as a whole, as sometimes the directing is the best part of the story.

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Don’t despair over the episode count of Doctor Who Series 13! This is an opportunity for change

Today the news as to how Doctor Who will be produced in a post Covid landscape was announced – next season, due sometime next year, will have eight episodes to reduce costs and production in order to keep the cast and crew safe, which of course should take priority.

Now, the fact that we’re getting a series at all is a miracle, and I’m cautiously excited for how Chibnall will pull it off. With such a limited episode count I don’t think a conventional season will cut it. We can’t have a big two part opener and closer with a bunch of filler in the middle, every episode needs to punch hard. Not all of them have to be 10/10 masterpieces, but all should be good and fit a purpose. In fact, I think this new eight episode season could be beneficial as a whole.

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The art of a good DVD commentary

In the age of streaming, video on demand and rentals, it’s easy to forget that DVDs were, and to an extent still are, a valuable form of media consumption. A DVD shouldn’t just contain the film, it should be a package that’s worth your money – on top of the film (which you would have already seen, given how I highly doubt people would pay ten pounds for a film they don’t know if they like), you should be getting extras like interviews, deleted scenes, bloopers and documentaries. But for me, the cherry on the top of a DVD is the audio commentary. A good audio commentary can improve a viewing experience completely. So in defence of this often neglected aspect of a DVD/Blu Ray, I’m going to look at some great ones.

An audio commentary is essentially when creatives involved with the production – usually the director, writers or cast members – watch the film and talk over it, giving the audience insights into their perspectives and viewpoints. They’re not for everyone, but I love them, especially when I already love the work in question.

For me, the greatest DVD commentaries are the fantastic ones that come with classic series Doctor Who DVDs. All 150+ stories have commentaries with the actors and crew members remembering the good, bad and ugly. I’ve only watched a fraction, mostly the ones with Peter Davison because he is. HILARIOUS. Davison is utterly on point with the problems in his run and 80’s Who as a whole and does not hold back on criticism when he feels like the story is flawed. 

Doctor Who - Black Orchid DVD | Deff.com

The best example of this is Black Orchid, an… OK story, but the commentary is wonderfully sarcastic. Some find him and Janet Fielding too negative, but when the story is good they will complement and discuss it fairly, whilst also making fun of it. Kinda and Snakedance are two such examples, but as much as I love hearing anecdotes from great stories it’s the way less than stellar stuff like Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity (which sees Colin Baker also join in the fun) is torn to pieces that brings me back to Davison’s commentaries. Warriors of the Deep is a fascinating commentary, with the cast and crew perfectly aware of the awful nature of it but also pointing out how it went wrong, such as the director’s complete inexperience with a story of that scale. But my favourite Davison commentary is him, Nicola Bryant and Graeme Harper on The Caves of Androzani, where Harper’s discussions on how he directed it and the state of television directing then and now being a major insight into why he’s considered one of the best Doctor Who directors ever.

Other great commentaries I’ve listened to are Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen looking back on their first story Robot and The Leisure Hive, where script editor Christopher Bidmead criticises director Lovett Bickford’s direction, with Bickford also in the commentary! It’s still interesting though as I find the story very well directed and hearing the behind the scenes was great. Colin Baker is, in contrast to his Doctor, quite mellow and calm with his criticisms even with legendary failure The Twin Dilemma, where he is both honest and fair in what went both right and wrong.

I hardly listened to any new series commentaries, but that’s because there aren’t that many! RTD’s seasons have commentaries for all episodes (I have listened to the Midnight commentary, a very insightful and great discussion on a great episode) but Moffat and Chibnall’s seasons only have select commentary for episodes. Also, unlike the Classic Who DVD’s where the participants can be honest, I have a feeling the commentaries are moderated to stop cast members from being too negative on certain episodes as the show is in production and it’ll be a bit awkward to have cast members mock the show – I doubt we’ll get a Black Orchid style riffing on Fear Her, Kill the Moon or Orphan 55. Maybe in the future we’ll hear the cast’s TRUE thoughts on certain episodes.

The other TV show with a load of commentaries is Futurama, which has an audio track for every single episode and Matt Groening is on basically all of them. I personally find these a bit more mixed, as sometimes there are about six or seven people on the commentary and with only 20 minutes to cover sometimes the episode itself isn’t discussed too much. But all I’ve heard have merit, especially when the writers are discussing the writer’s room, an American writing concept I don’t really understand (how many producers do you need?) or how the insane ideas were conceived or animated.

I first got into commentary tracks during my time at college, where I would frequently borrow DVDs from the library and watch films for the first time with the director’s commentary as subtitles with the film playing at the same time. As many commentators point out, having commentary on a first watch is a bad idea, which I soon learnt. For example, I watched Get Out for the first time on DVD with Jordan Peele’s commentary as text on the bottom. All well and good apart from the fact that he (understandably) discusses the twist before it happens so… whoops. 

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner commentary is great – we were studying the film as part of the course but due to timing we couldn’t watch the film in class so we were expected to watch the film at home. I’d already seen it so decided to watch with commentary and, say what you will about his films, but Scott is a master director when he puts his mind to it and has something to say about everything, particularly the meticulous set design and stylistic choices. 

Rewatching a film you love with commentary is just as rewarding as rewatching it for the first time. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell are so much fun on the Big Trouble in Little China track – they only discuss the film about half the time but the rest of the time they’re discussing each other’s work, the state of films, random action films and it’s an absolute blast. Commentaries are always better when the participants clearly want to be there, and Carpenter and Russell definitely want to be there. But no one puts more work into their commentary tracks than Edgar Wright. My Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy box set is one of my prized possessions, not just because of the films but also the commentaries. Let’s break them down –

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Shaun of the Dead has four commentaries – one with Wright and Simon Pegg as the writers/director commentary, then one with the main cast, then one with Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton, and finally one with some of the zombie extras. I’ve only listened to the first one with Wright and Pegg (and it’s GLORIOUS), but the fact that there are so many is proof that this is a guy who cares about giving someone their money’s worth on a DVD.

Hot Fuzz has FIVE tracks – the Wright/Pegg one, one with the Sanford police actors, one with the Neighbourhood Watch actors, one with two Wells police officers who served as consultants and one with Wright and Quentin Tarantino. I haven’t heard any of these yet but look forward to doing so.

The World’s End was, naturally, the first commentary I listened to when I got the set. There are three – the Wright/Pegg double act, which was, of course, fantastic. These two are a script writing team made in heaven and have such a clear understanding and passion of their own work and manage to be intelligent and discuss many different aspects of the film without losing the carefree vibe of a casual commentary track. The other two are a cast commentary and one with Wright and cinematographer Bill Pope that I really should listen to as I love Pope’s work with Wright, Sam Raimi and the Wachowskis. Edgar Wright also has multiple commentary tracks on Scott Pilgrim (which I have on DVD so should probably watch) and Baby Driver (which I do not, yet) but I greatly admire his dedication to the commentary track as they really are a valuable insight into a film’s background.

Sadly, many DVDs now do not have commentary tracks. But the Blu Rays do. My Marvel Blu Rays have commentaries (including Endgame, which I look forward to rewatching with commentary immensely) and now we have a Blu Ray player we can now get more obscure releases with more commentaries and extras. If you’re paying more, surely you should get a good set of extras? Many distributors seem to think extras don’t matter, certainly not commentaries – “what’s the point? Surely people just want to watch the film?”. But no. Many people value the special features and if I just wanted to just watch the film I would simply rent it. I wish streaming services would offer the commentary track as a language option as I really love listening to them if the participants are interesting, which they usually are. 

No real conclusion here, just appreciating commentary tracks and the people and companies that put extra effort into them.

Five Doctor Who companion ideas for Chibnall to tackle

We still don’t quite know when Doctor Who Series 13 will be out due to coronavirus affecting filming all around the country, but one thing is clear – a change in the guard is coming. Yaz, Ryan and Graham are on their way out – possibly, maybe, it’s so vague with Chibnall in charge as we never get any information! Regardless, I highly highly doubt all three will survive Revolution of the Daleks. So I’m going to spend today exploring five types of companions I think would make character dynamics in the show far more interesting –

  • A companion who is older than the Doctor travelling on their own

Part of the reason Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor is so beloved on Big Finish is because the company gave him Evelyn Smythe. A middle aged history professor, Evelyn meets the Doctor when he’s investigating a time portal linked with Mary I. Following this encounter, Evelyn becomes the Doctor’s companion, acting as a maternal figure to Six’s boisterous attitude and softening him (the audios take place after Trial of a Time Lord). This is a dynamic that has barely been explored on television- a companion who is, physically, older than the Doctor. The Doctor is thousands of years old so naturally a 50-60 year old would be far younger but as The End of Time portrayed beautifully, the Doctor acts young if they’re in a young body. Continue reading “Five Doctor Who companion ideas for Chibnall to tackle”

No, Doctor Who being political is not a bad thing

Recently, even though there has been no Doctor Who for over five months and far more pressing concerns going on globally, there has been a rise in discourse about whether Doctor Who is “woke” or “too political”. This argument is rubbish now and has always been rubbish. Since the very beginning, Doctor Who has been politically charged and has always represented what science fiction should be – a reflection on current times and using fantastical stories to address contemporary issues.

HMM GEEE I WONDER WHAT THIS IS A METAPHOR FOR? VERY SUBTLE TERRY NATION

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Doctor Who: The Faceless Ones review

The latest animated Doctor Who serial is yet another lost Troughton classic, significant for a number of reasons. Although The Faceless Ones is seemingly just a typical monster of the week narrative, this little known Season 4 story is notable for being the first script by Who legend Malcolm Hulke, who would go on to co-create the Time Lord mythos, the Silurians, Sea Devils and be responsible for many of Pertwee’s finest stories. The story was one of many lost casualties of the BBC purges, but in keeping with Power of the Daleks and Macra Terror we’ve had a full animated recreation to savour in all its glory.

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Doctor Who (Or, How I Learnt to Stop Hating and Not Love Hell Bent)

Ever heard of second chances? Well, a couple of months ago that’s what I gave the Doctor Who Series 9 finale, Hell Bent. One of the most divisive episodes of perhaps the entire show, I was firmly in the “dislike” camp. More than dislike- in fact I remember during the 2016 hiatus my enthusiasm for televised Who dropping primarily due to how poor Hell Bent was. But, in the lead up to the Series 12 finale, I decided to give it another shot. And…

OK, I still don’t like it. At all. In fact, it’s worse than I remember. I still don’t find it a satisfying or good episode at all, with the production values and acting being the only things of merit. BUT, here’s the thing- I don’t HATE it, at least on an emotional level. I hate it as a finale and a Doctor Who story, but I’m not angry it exists. I don’t have the energy to hate pieces media anymore, to be honest.

I do however, have the energy to hate everything about this stupid promotional image and the dumb guitar and shades ruining what would’ve been an awesome Capaldi/Gallifrey shot and man that series was dumb and I’m missing my own point…

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Doctor Who Series 5 and what it means to me

The best thing to come out of this lockdown in the UK has been the assembled efforts of Doctor Who fans to get together online and live tweet episodes. And it’s gone viral, with Steven Moffat, Russell T Davies, Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and lots more joining in. So far we’ve had Day of the Doctor, Rose and Vincent and the Doctor. And today sees a fan re-watch of The Eleventh Hour, which is a decade old and marked the beginning of my proper obsession with Doctor Who.

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The Haunting of Villa Diodati review- Doctor Who Series 12

Mary Shelley needs no introduction. She’s essentially the mother of modern science fiction, and without Frankenstein science fiction may as well never exist. So a Doctor Who episode exploring her and the creation of Frankenstein is of course one Chibnall would love to tackle and… wait a minute, I know this premise! Big Finish did it first!

I’m kidding. The television show has contradicted expanded media before and I don’t expect it to now. Besides “Mary Shelley meeting the Cybermen” is such a good premise I don’t blame Chibnall for wanting to explore this plotline even if it’s technically blowing a massive hole in canon (and yes, Big Finish IS canon). Although in this episode the Doctor states time is in flux, so in one timeline the Eighth Doctor was in Villa Diodati but the Cybermen’s interference caused a split in the timeline. Oh whatever.

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Doctor Who Series 12 review- Can You Hear Me?

So… this was an… interesting episode. Yeah. We’re gonna need to talk about this one.

Why do I love Doctor Who? A lot of reasons, but I love it because it can do anything. Go anywhere, explore any ideas and tell any story. And some of the best of Doctor Who over the past 56 years has been when the show goes beyond the monster of the week, world at stake plot line that so many past episodes have used. Can You Hear Me (?) is one of those episodes. Yes, Nikola Tesla fighting scorpions and space rhinos in Gloucester are all fun and all, but Can You Hear Me (no I will not use the punctuation every time) is perhaps the most daring and interesting episode since the masterful It Takes You Away last series. Whilst I have some more mixed thoughts on this one compared to that one, I appreciate it so much. This is what I was saying last week- I can enjoy a sci fi romp like Praxeus or Kerblam, but the episodes that go above and beyond are the ones that stick in the memory.

I’d think of a cringy pun here but I have no good finger puns. Absolutely thumb. None at all.

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