DOCTOR WHO: Series 7 - The Angels Take Manhattan / Review (SPOILERS)

The Angels Take Manhattan
BBC HD
29 September 2012, 7.20pm

The review contains plot spoilers.

'New York. The city of a million stories. Half of them are true, the other half haven't happened yet,' drawls the cod private eye narration at the beginning of The Angels Take Manhattan, dialogue that comes complete with the cinematic tropes of that picturesque skyline dissolving to a clattering typewriter. Sam Garner (Rob David), the private eye hired by Grayle (Mike McShane), is one of several narrators, indeed one of several investigators, that are typical of the Moffat signature in Doctor Who. And true to form, they are all telling us the story from different perspectives. It may be told as a hard boiled thriller in the style of Chandler and Hammett in the opening sequence and is modified later when River and finally Amy take on the narrator/writer duties, but it is also a self-reflexive return to the way Sally Sparrow and Kathy Nightingale in Blink were the equivalents of ITV's Rosemary and Thyme and likewise how their encounter with the Weeping Angels was told via amassing clues and messages.

COMPETITION: Hell is a City / DVD Giveaway

Hammer's celebrated film noir Hell is a City (1960) is heading to DVD on 8 October and Cathode Ray Tube has two copies, courtesy of StudioCanal to giveaway in its latest competition.

It was filmed, mainly on location in Manchester and in part at Elstree Studios, between September and November of 1959. Writer-director Val Guest used his spare, economic documentary style, clearly one of the most successful elements of his work on Hammer's The Quatermass Xperiment in 1955, to capture the city and its suburbs as a backdrop to his adaptation of Maurice Procter's detective noir novel of the same name.

Born in Nelson, Maurice Procter became a police constable and served in the Halifax area for nearly 20 years. His writing career began in 1947, with the publication of his first novel No Proud Chivalry, and soon after he left the police force.

Most of his novels were the police procedurals of their day and his experience as a former policeman provided insight into the methodologies of both the criminal and police force fraternities. One of his major characters, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Martineau, made his debut in Hell is a City, published in 1954, and he would reappear in a further 14 novels from Procter between 1957 and 1969. His 1952 novel, Rich is the Treasure, had already been made into a film by United Artists in 1954 and was released as The Diamond. (1)

CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO: The Ambassadors of Death / DVD Review

On the strength of his script for The Enemy of the World, former series story-editor David Whitaker was commissioned by Derrick Sherwin, the incumbent script-editor of Doctor Who in 1968, to develop a storyline about Earth's first contact with aliens, initially titled Invaders from Mars.

As Whitaker developed the idea, the Doctor Who production office endured a script development crisis and some changes of the personnel running the series. The round of office musical chairs left Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin overseeing the series' transformation, in the aftermath of the departure of Patrick Troughton and his fellow actors Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, and Terrance Dicks, Sherwin's assistant, promoted to script-editor. 

With the dust still settling on this arrangement and with many decisions now being made about the future of Doctor Who as it moved into colour and into the 1970s with a new Doctor, Dicks commissioned Whitaker in May 1969 for a seven-episode storyline breakdown. Now titled The Carriers of Death, this needed to encompass the format's changes such as the Doctor's exile, his new companion and the inclusion of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT.

DOCTOR WHO: Series 7 - The Power of Three / Review (SPOILERS)

The Power of Three
BBC One HD
22nd September 2012, 7.30pm 

The review contains plot spoilers.

The female narrator has taken pride of place in the opening of many Doctor Who episodes since 2005, significantly with Rose Tyler's 'this is the story of how I died' introduction to Doomsday, but it has become something of a precedent in this year's five episode run. We've already had Darla's paean to the death and resurrection of the Doctor in Asylum of the Daleks and the young girl's recollections about both the Doctor and the Gunslinger that bookended A Town Called Mercy. These metadiagetic commentators can often stand outside the grand narrative of the episode, both commentating on and taking part within it simultaneously and acting as the internal subjective view of the characters. This is a device that underlines the way The Power of Three and its writer Chris Chibnall seeks to explore the emotional realism of travelling and living with the Doctor.

Here, the opening narration from Amy Pond/Williams also offers an immediate pre-titles comparison between 'life with the Doctor' - a montage of moments from the past three years of the series since The Eleventh Hour, rendered as Amy's memories by post-production blur and colour grading - and 'real life' - the soap drama aesthetic of phone messages from opticians, out of date milk and running out of washing tablets. For Amy and Rory the choice between their adventures and the mundanity of staying at home is, it seems, constantly postponed.

GHOST STORIES: The Signalman, Stigma & The Ice House / DVD Review

Lawrence Gordon Clark and Rosemary Hill had planned another adaptation for the BBC, of M.R. James' Number 13, in 1976 but found it difficult to translate the story and its Scandinavian setting to the screen. 'I just had a feeling we weren't going to get it right', he notes, 'so we went back to the drawing board and chose 'The Signalman'. (1) This was published in Dickens' 1866 Christmas edition of All the Year Round, his weekly literary magazine founded in 1859, and as one of his Mugby Junction collection of short stories.

There are perhaps two inspirations for the story. Dickens' own involvement in the 9 June 1865 Staplehurst rail crash, where he attended to injured and dying passengers. This had a profound psychological effect on the rest of his life, causing flashbacks, nightmares and nervous anxiety. Secondly, he may have been inspired by the Clayton Tunnel crash of August 1861 which highlighted the dangers of trains travelling too closely together, leaving signalmen to judge the safety of such situations, and the faults of communications and signals within the system itself.

Andrew Davies undertook the screenwriting duties on this adaptation of the Charles Dickens story, marking it as one of the first of many literary dramatisations he would eventually gain a reputation for. Since 1967, he had been writing for television with contributions to The Wednesday Play (BBC, 1964-70), Thirty Minute Theatre (BBC, 1965-73), Centre Play (BBC, 1973-77), Play of the Week (BBC, 1977-79) and drama such as The Legend of King Arthur (BBC 1979). He would be responsible for creating and writing his own series in the 1980s and 1990s - the contemporary education satire of A Very Peculiar Practice (BBC, 1986-88), sit-com Game On! (BBC, 1995-98) and a children's series derived from his own books featuring Marmalade Atkins (ITV, 1981-84).

DOCTOR WHO: Series 7 - A Town Called Mercy / Review (SPOILERS)

A Town Called Mercy
BBC One HD
15th September 2012, 7.35pm 

The review contains plot spoilers.

Doctor Who and the western genre are not the easiest of companions. Donald Cotton's sorely underrated pastiche The Gunfighters, transmitted in April 1966 and featuring William Hartnell's first Doctor, was the last time that the series decided to take a swig of bourbon at the Last Chance Saloon. Then, the series was trading on the retelling of the O.K. Corral legend in the Hollywood westerns of John Ford (1946's My Darling Clementine and 1964's Cheyenne Autumn) and John Sturges (1957's The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral) and was certainly made with the historical significance of this Old West shootout in mind given the programme's then faltering remit to engage its young audience with history and science fiction. By virtue of Cotton's allegorical satire and musical parable, it also sat slightly at odds with the bold and colourful television westerns being produced in America such as The Big Valley (ABC, 1965-69), Bonanza (NBC, 1959-73), Gunsmoke (CBS, 1955-75) and The Virginian (NBC, 1962-71).

Lawrence Gordon Clark's next venture into adapting M.R. James, Lost Hearts (tx: 25/12/73), saw a number of changes in production. The BBC's drama department, noting the success of the 'Ghost Stories for Christmas' when A Warning to the Curious attracted nine million viewers in 1972, suggested to BBC1 controller, Paul Fox, that their department should be responsible for production of these films rather than them originating from within General Features. To this end, 'basically, what happened was the films were taken over by them and Rosemary Hill was assigned to produce them,' notes Clark. (1)

Hill had accrued a substantial track record at the BBC as a producer, her most recent production being an adaptation of Alice Through the Looking Glass, also transmitted on Christmas Day 1973, and she would continue to have a significant influence on the development of the annual ghost stories and work as a producer at the BBC and ITV well into the late 1980s. Clark recalls 'I walked across Shepherds Bush from my office at Kensington House to the Television Centre and met my new colleagues' and where he found Hill to be 'a very intelligent, funny and altogether lovely person.' (2)

It was agreed that he would continue to direct the adaptations but that a screenwriter and a script editor would now be brought on board to handle the adapting process. Clark retained the services of his cinematographer John McGlashan and sound recordist Dick Manton, both of whom had made significant contributions to the look and feel of the previous two films he had written and directed. Although the resources of the drama department were now at his disposal and he was blessed with a slight increase in budget, he only had 12 days to shoot Lost Hearts compared to the 18 he had for A Warning to the Curious. He also notes in the introduction on this DVD that any additional money was allocated to the paying of writers and script editors that the films now employed.

DOCTOR WHO: Series 7 - Dinosaurs on a Spaceship / Review (SPOILERS)

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
BBC One HD
8th September 2012, 7.35pm 

The review contains plot spoilers.

The Doctor and the dinosaurs. It seems you can't have one without the other. If they're not jumping up and down, unconvincingly, in some Derbyshire caves during Doctor Who and the Silurians (1970), then they're popping up in London, even less convincingly realised, as part of some fiendish plot to roll back time in 1974's Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Eric Saward even dropped Adric and a spaceship on them. Dinosaurs under a spaceship, then, in Earthshock (1982). Back then, it was all very well and good for the series to tap into what has been, and continues to be, a popular and successful sub-genre - dinosaurs have been a source of cinematic fascination from the 1925 silent The Lost World (with Willis O'Brien pioneering the special effects techniques that would make King Kong and a whole raft of classic Ray Harryhausen films possible) through to the digital shenanigans of Jurassic Park (1993) and its sequels - but Doctor Who never could make men in rubber suits and rod puppets a match for sophisticated stop motion animation, animatronics, go-motion and the latest computer generated beasts. However, Letts and his fellow Doctor Who producers all had one thing in common: ambition.

DOCTOR WHO: Series 7 - Asylum of the Daleks / Review (SPOILERS)

Asylum of the Daleks
BBC One HD
1st September 2012, 7.20pm 

The review contains plot spoilers.

33 years to the day that Terry Nation's Destiny of the Daleks trundled its way onto our screens to open Season Seventeen and, taking a leaf out of the Barry Letts and John Nathan-Turner book of grabbing the audience from the off with 1972's Day of the Daleks and 1988's Remembrance of the Daleks, writer Steven Moffat decided to open Doctor Who's latest series with a Dalek story, Asylum of the Daleks. All three stories from the Classic series were something of a valedictory return for the tin pot pepper pots so inextricably connected to the success of Doctor Who. Letts dusted them down after nearly five years since their last screen appearance, Graham Williams dragged them back after four years in exile, and Nathan-Turner didn't strike a deal with their agent for three and a half years. Launching a series with the Daleks can add to your viewing figures, after all, and the marketing and PR buzz associated with them often pays dividends. It was no surprise that after Doctor Who's eight-month absence from BBC One, the hype was on overload for Asylum of the Daleks.

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