The Weekly Checkup: Doctor Who/Torchwood News and Views – July 30, 2011

Welcome to my first real Weekly Checkup column. The timing could not have been better as two giant pieces of Doctor Who news came up.  Plus we have the inside story on why Chris Eccleston left Doctor Who, The Fourth Doctor showed up someplace very unexpected, and a review of last week’s Torchwood episode.

Doctor Who Returns on Saturday, August 27

According to Doctor Who News, BBC America has confirmed that Doctor Who will return to the channel on Saturday, August 27th at 9/8c when the series continues with Let’s Kill Hitler, written by Steven Moffat and directed by Richard Senior.

The BBC has not given a UK return date, but I think it’s very likely it will be the same night.

Here’s the teaser they showed at San Diego Comic Con:

BBC has posted some information about the rest of the episodes, including episode names for most of them.  All of these sounds like really cool episodes, and I can’t wait to hear more about them. As they get closer, I will give a little more commentary about them.

Episode 8: Let’s Kill Hitler
Written by Steven Moffat
The gang’s all back! The Doctor, Amy, River and Rory return in what promises to be an action-packed belter of an adventure. So far the following details have emerged:

‘In the desperate search for Melody Pond, the TARDIS crash lands in 1930s Berlin, bringing the Doctor face to face with the greatest war criminal in the Universe. And Hitler. The Doctor must teach his adversaries that time travel has responsibilities – and in so doing, learns a harsh lesson in the cruellest warfare of all.’

We also know it features Albert Welling as Hitler and is directed by Richard Senior, previously at the helm for Time and Space plus the Doctor Who pre-title sequence for this year’s NTA awards.

Episode 9: Night Terrors
Written by Mark Gatiss

Mark Gatiss has previously written spooky episodes including The Unquiet Dead and The Idiot’s Lantern, but he promises that Night Terrors features some of the scariest moments he’s ever dreamt up! The adventure has a modern day setting and features a little boy who has a fear of something… Can the Doctor help him?

Episode 10: The Girl Who Waited
Written by Tom MacRae

Tom MacRae’s previous credits include The Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel plus the critically acclaimed The Crash of the Elysium. This is his first television adventure for the Eleventh Doctor and it’s directed by Nick Hurran who was recently at the helm for the updated version of the cult classic, The Prisoner.

Episode 11: The God Complex
Written by Toby Whithouse

We know the adventure is set in a hotel and features an alien called Gibbis played by David Walliams. Again, the episode is directed by Nick Hurran and as writer Toby Whithouse was behind School Reunion and The Vampires of Venice, we know we’ve got something special to look forward to!

Episode 12
Written by Gareth Roberts

Craig Owens is back! The popular character from last year’s The Lodger returns and judging from the trailer for eps 8-13 he’s getting closer than ever to the Doctor! The adventure is written by Gareth Roberts whose credits include Attack of the Graske, The Unicorn and the Wasp and, of course, The Lodger.

Episode 13
Written by Steven Moffat

The big finale! This one remains shrouded in mystery but Karen Gillan has promised us that the series will contain ‘possibly the biggest twist so far’… Is it possible that this is the adventure that delivers it? Steven Moffat penned last year’s incredible finale but it’s probable that this adventure will conclude the series with a bigger bang than ever!

Karen Gillan confirms she will be returning for Doctor Who Season 7!

At SDCC, Karen Gillan told Zap2it that she will definitely be returning to play Amy Pond for the next season of Doctor Who. This is great news, as she will now be the longest running companion since Doctor Who returned to TV.

Skitch Commentary: In addition to being drop dead gorgeous, Karen has given real life and depth to Amy Pond. As much as I love Matt Smith, Karen really steals every scene she is in, and Doctor Who will definitely lose something when she’s gone.  So far we have very little information about season 7.  It seems like it will start filming soon, and be shown sometime over 2012-2013, but that is about all we know.  As soon as more information is released, you guys will be the first to know.

Just for your trivia buffs:

The companion who appeared in the most episodes was Jamie McCrimmon, played by Frazier Hines. He appeared in 116 episodes of Doctor Who, most of them from 1966-1969 with the second doctor, Patrick Troughton. I actually plan on doing a profile of Jamie McCrimmon in an upcoming column.

Chris Eccleston Examplains Why He Left Doctor Who

One of of biggest mysteries in Doctor Who is how come Chris Eccleston left after only one season of Doctor Who. According to Bad Wilf, while teaching a acting master class at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, Christopher Eccleston was asked why he left a such a high paid job as Doctor Who. He responded:

“I left Doctor Who because I could not get along with the senior people. I left because of politics. I did not see eye-to-eye with them. I didn’t agree with the way things were being run. I didn’t like the culture that had grown up, around the series. So I left, I felt, over a principle.

“I thought to remain, which would have made me a lot of money and given me huge visibility, the price I would have had to pay was to eat a lot of shit. I’m not being funny about that. I didn’t want to do that and it comes to the art of it, in a way. I feel that if you run your career and– we are vulnerable as actors and we are constantly humiliating ourselves auditioning. But if you allow that to go on, on a grand scale you will lose whatever it is about you and it will be present in your work.

“If you allow your desire to be successful and visible and financially secure – if you allow that to make you throw shades on your parents, on your upbringing, then you’re knackered. You’ve got to keep something back, for yourself, because it’ll be present in your work. A purity or an idealism is essential or you’ll become– you’ve got to have standards, no matter how hard work that is. So it makes it a hard road, really.

“You know, it’s easy to find a job when you’ve got no morals, you’ve got nothing to be compromised, you can go, ‘Yeah, yeah. That doesn’t matter. That director can bully that prop man and I won’t say anything about it’. But then when that director comes to you and says ‘I think you should play it like this’ you’ve surely got to go ‘How can I respect you, when you behave like that?’

“So, that’s why I left. My face didn’t fit and I’m sure they were glad to see the back of me. The important thing is that I succeeded. It was a great part. I loved playing him. I loved connecting with that audience. Because I’ve always acted for adults and then suddenly you’re acting for children, who are far more tasteful; they will not be bullshitted. It’s either good, or it’s bad. They don’t schmooze at after-show parties, with cocktails.”

Skitch Commentary: Chris Eccleston is far from the first person I have heard talk about how difficult a time they had working with the BBC. It seems to be an incredibly stressful situation, especially working on a show so effects heavy as Doctor Who. Remember, because of the way licensing works with BBC even though Doctor Who brings in so much money, the show only has the same budget as other BBC shows.  In fact, Steven Moffat has said that the budget for Doctor Who, a romping sci-fi adventure with an absurd amount of effects work got the same budget he used to get on Coupling per minute (Coupling was a half hour show, and Doctor Who is an hour).  Back in the old days of Doctor Who, they would stretch out serials an extra episode or two just to be able to pad the budget.

Granted, Eccleston’s complaints don’t seem to be monetary, and he is the first person I have heard that seemed to have a bad experience working on Doctor Who.  It definitely is a shame, I thought he brought something unique to the character and he’s my favorite of the “new Doctors.” I wonder what this means about the chances of him coming back for the 50th anniversary in 2013.

Guess Who Showed Up In Futurama?

I was watching this week’s Futurama episode “All The President’s Heads” and was surprised to see a quick cameo appearance by the Fourth Doctor leaping out of a flying double decker bus to get into the TARDIS. During the episode, history is changed so America lost the Revolutionary War, so everything is turned British…including the references apparently. Futurama always slips subtle references where ever they can, but this is the first time I can remember seeing something Doctor Who pop up.

It’s always fun to see Doctor Who references in odd places, especially in American TV shows. It’s even more amusing that it always seems to be Tom Baker. The guy hasn’t been The Doctor in almost 30 years, but his distinctive hat and scarf still are cultural shorthand for The Doctor. Tom Baker also showed up in The Simpsons and Robot Chicken over the years:

Torchwood: Miracle Day – Episode 3: Dead of Night Review

Summary: After the CIA tried to kill Rex and Esther last episode, the Torchwood team goes after CIA Director Friedkin (played by Wayne Knight). Friedkin tells them that he has been taking orders from someone else, and they contact him using a cell phone. Torchwood takes the phone and makes their escape to a rundown apartment in Washington DC. Meanwhile, masked people calling themselves the Soulless are wandering the streets, unsure of what their lives mean now that no one is dying.

Further investigation leads them to a warehouse where they discover a pharmaceutical company called PhiCorp has been stockpiling painkillers and antibiotics as if preparing for Miracle Day. Typical drug company profiting off a world-ending crisis. Not exactly the most subtle of political messages here.

Rex tries to get back-up from his mentor at the CIA, only to almost get arrested by the cops. He realizes that he can’t trust anyone, so he heads off looking for some drugs and booty from his surgeon, Vera Juarez. Jack also finds solace in the loving arms of a bartender. Afterwards, Jack drunk dials Gwen and talks about how if the Miracle Day had happened sooner, Ianto would still be alive.

Meanwhile, Oswald Danes is struggling to find his place in the world. Half the world seems to hate him, half of it wants to worship him. Danes is assaulted by police officers and decides to accept Jilly Kitzinger of PhiCorp’s offer to represent him.

Juarez is invited by PhiCorp to an important meeting, so Rex recruits her to help Torchwood infiltrate PhiCorp. Gwen enters PhiCorp using special camera contact lens and steals information from Kitzinger’s computer. Down on the meeting floor, Juarez finds out that PhiCorp has a Congressman in their pocket who is pushing to make all drugs legal without prescription.

Back at Torchwood, Friedkin’s cell phone rings. Rex and Esther answer it, but no one on the other end answers. They just see an odd spinning triangle on the screen. They realize that the base might be compromised now, but Rex is happy, as he thinks the bad guys recognize Torchwood as a major threat to their agenda.

During the PhiCorp meeting, Jack sneaks in and confronts Oswald. Jack gets Oswald to admit that he feels no regrets for his crimes. Jack realizes that Oswald has a deathwish. He records Oswald’s confession, but PhiCorp security takes the recording and beats the crap out of Jack.

Review All in all, I think Miracle Day gets better and better with each episode. This episode had a little more humor in it, and I loved watching Jack and Rex butt heads. And it was fun seeing the culture shock of Gwen in America. The subtle nods to the old Torchwood team was great, especially Jack’s drunken rantings about Ianto.

The show also did a great job of amping up the suspense. The Soulless and Gwen being stuck in Jilly Kitzinger’s office both had me leaning towards the screen anxious to find out what happened next. And Bill Pullman is brilliant as Oswald Danes. I am used to Pullman playing decent guys, but he is just perfect in this role. It is definitely inspired casting.

I did have two complaints about the episode. Why is it American cable shows need to throw in random sex scenes? Yeah, Jack is Jack, that was no surprise, but the Rex and Vera scene didn’t make much sense other than giving a semi-reason for Vera to help Rex and Torchwood into the PhiCorp presentation later in the episode.  Nothing in either of these characters so far made that scene make much sense.

The other complaint is that I really preferred the episodic nature of the first two seasons of Torchwood to these lengthy serials we’ve seen in Children of Earth and Miracle Day. Don’t get me wrong, the stories and writing of these serials has been top notch, but I really do prefer a good one and done episode to season long stories.

Those complaints aside, Miracle Day is shaping up to be the best season of Torchwood yet, and I am really looking forward to where the show goes from here. At the Torchwood panel at San Diego Comic Con, they said there were a lot more twists and turns ahead, and I can’t wait to see them!

That about wraps it up for this week. Thanks for checking the column out. Please wipe the time particles from your shoes before exiting the column and I’ll see you all again next time.  I think next week will feature my first “Companion Piece” and I’ll be going all the way back to 1963 to talk about the Doctor’s first companion. Bring a friend!

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