Wacko Jacko, Doctor Who & Barbara Windsor’s Bra



Let-down Central

Two of my childhood heroes let me down on Christmas Day. The first was Michael Jackson… There I was, cosied up on the sofa, a paper crown perched skew-whiff on my head, with a belly full of turkey and the telly on in the background. As I was flicking through the channels, I happened to catch the end of the This Is It tour rehearsals – MJ’s sell-out show that never did make it on the road owing to Jacko, well, moonwalking off this mortal coil.

The King of Pop

Back in the Eighties, when I was about seven or eight, Michael was nigh on a god in my eyes. Together with Madonna and Prince, he made up that mighty superstar triumvirate of pop which pretty much defined the tracklistings of Walkman mixtapes the world over – mine included.

He’s Still Got It

As you can imagine, I was pretty excited to see the King of Pop in action once again. I entered the proceedings just at the moment he was performing Billy Jean – one of my favourite Michael Jackson songs. He was pitch perfect. He was busting out those iconic staccato dance moves while sidewinding across the stage. God damn it, the guy was even grabbing his crotch. Not bad for a bloke in his early 50s.

Same Old, Same Old

But for some reason, I couldn’t help feeling slightly underwhelmed by it all. It was a case of, I’ve seen this all before. There was nothing different, nothing innovative about his performance. I think I would have preferred to have just watched a compilation of his old videos, truth be told. And that also goes for my other Christmas Day let-down which came courtesy of… the Doctor.

The Tardis

The Tardis

Disappointing Doc

I should have known better than to expect great things. After all, when it comes to traditional Christmas disappointments, the Doctor Who Chrimbo special is on a par with brussel sprouts and the plastic toys you get in crackers. And if that 50th anniversary debacle was anything to go by… well let’s just say the writing was on the wall.

Good Omen

To be fair though, it started off well – really well in fact. The story began with a pan-out to reveal an alien planet which, we were told, was beaming out a signal that was luring beings from around the universe to its Saturn-esque rings. An armada of CGI saucers, ships and spacecraft then swooped into view – the quality of which I’d never seen before on Who. With effects like those, I think it’s fair to say the show has firmly shaken off its bubble wrap image of yesteryear.



Cyber C-3PO Wilson

And it didn’t stop there. In the following minutes, we were treated to shrieking Daleks, Cybermen threatening to upgrade the Doctor and even a new sidekick – a kind of C-3PO/Wilson from Cast Away character that came in the form of a severed Cyberman head which apparently the Doctor had picked up at some junk market, reprogrammed and affectionately called Handles. And that’s all before the title sequence had kicked in. Flippin’ heck.



Benidorm Boost

Post dumpa-de-dums and we were seated around the dining table chez Clara. This was the first time we’ve had a glimpse into this companion’s family life. Granted, it wasn’t a patch on what we used to get from Jackie Tyler and co back in the Ecclestone-Tennant halcyon days but we did get some amusing one-liners from the rather wonderful Sheila Reid – AKA mobility scooter Madge from Benidorm – who played Clara’s gran. When the Doctor rocked up apparently naked, she looked at Clara and said with a wink ‘are we playing Twister now?’.

Too Good To Be True

But there endeth the fun and games. Much like the 50th anniversary special aired in November, what followed was about 45 minutes of dull storytelling tacked together with a desperate need to try and tie up all the loose ends that have ever existed in the Whoniverse. The result was a plot so convoluted and bound up in previous adventures that even the Big Bang Theory boys would have struggled to explain what the hell was going on. The edited lowlights run something like this…

The Church (think the intergalactic equivalent of UN peacekeepers) makes a reappearnce. I kind of remembered this group from a confusing story arc a few seasons ago that left me feeling a bit lost.

The Silence (think monsters that look like the Scream painting) make a reappearance. I kind of remembered these guys from a confusing story arc a few season ago that left me feeling a bit lost.  

The Crack (think a nasty Polyfiller job by a cowboy plasterer)  makes a reappearance. I kind of remembered this fissure from a confusing story arc a few season ago that left me feeling a bit lost.

You get the picture – this episode is so full of self-referential elements that you’ll need a masters degree in Who Studies to piece them all together. God forbid if you’ve missed an episode or two inside the past 3 years. And woe betide you if you’re a casual viewer tuning in for a festive Doctor Who romp on Christmas Day.

Regeneration Game

I guess, though, when all’s said and done, this episode is Matt’s Smith’s swansong as the 11th Doctor. Only he’s not the 11th Doctor. He’s the 13th incarnation. Lost? It’s another one of those confusing story arcs. Last one, I promise. As we discovered in the 50th anniversary special, John Hurt is actually Doctor No.9. That makes Christopher Ecclestone No.10 and shunts David Tennant to No.11. Oh, and he’s No.12, too. There’s some waffle about Tennant using up two regenerations, which I really didn’t understand or indeed remember. Anyhow, the upshot of all this is that, because a Time Lord can only regenerate 12 times, Matt Smith is actually the final embodiment of the Doctor. Got it? That’s why he looked like the bizarre lovechild of Benjamin Button and the grandpa from the Werther’s Original adverts towards the end.

Wip Off Your Wig Mark II

Talking of which, the BBC costume and make-up department clearly learnt the hard way that HD is a very unforgiving medium in their bid to add some years to Matt Smith. Honestly, the last time I saw ageing make-up that bad was in the French and Saunders ‘Lucky Bitches’ sketch. And don’t get me started on that scene towards the end featuring ex-companion Amy. I’ve not seen that many ill-fitting weaves in the TARDIS since that now infamous ‘wip-off-your-wig’ regeneration back in 1987 when Slyvester McCoy doubled up for Colin Baker.

Dull Death

As for this regeneration, it was really lacklustre. There was no shock factor as there was with the William Hartnell baton change. There was no heroic last  stand a la Peter Davison. There was no Tennant-style tear-jerking final moment. Instead, there was too much dialogue, not enough tension and a blink-and-you-missed-it changeover. I felt really sorry for Matt Smith. It was a really vanilla departure and frankly he deserved better. In fact, he deserved better since he first took to the helm of the TARDIS back in 2011. The root cause? Stephen Moffat.   

Complex Meh

Ever since Stephen Moffat took over the reins of Doctor Who, I’ve felt a bit let-down. Each season I keep telling myself, don’t worry, it’ll get better. Trouble is, it just keeps on being a bit ‘meh’. Worse than that, the writing is becoming ‘complex meh’. But’s it’s not always been like that. Before Moffat ascended to the lofty heights of head writer, he was responsible for some of my all-time favourite episodes of Doctor Who such as The Empty Child, The Girl In The Fireplace, Blink and Silence In The Library. They guy is undoubtedly a consummate scriptwriter but perhaps more so when it comes to penning more compact one-off tales. I get the feeling he’s not as adept at churning out scripts en masse. And when he does, it would seem he gets all knotted up in his own storytelling. This is where the previous incumbent, Russell T Davis, came into his own. He knew how to keep things simple, accessible and fun.

Kenneth Williams

Kenneth Williams

Oh Matron!

True, RTD’s writing style was a little bit panto and maybe even a little bit Carry On in places. However, he was able to inject real tension and emotion into his stories, pulling on his previous experience as a soap opera writer. We really cared about the characters he created. I can still remember crying like a girl when Rose and the Doctor were separated in parallel universes and couldn’t get back to each other. What RTD lacked in sci-fi writing skill, he more than made up for in emotion and drama. And that’s what’s lacking currently on Moffat’s watch. He’s creating a drama devoid of drama.

Too Clever For His Own Good?

I get the feeling Moffat’s a very clever man. Perhaps too clever. What RTD did so well was to reinvent and repackage Who for mainstream audiences. That doesn’t mean he dumbed things down. He understood the value in keeping stories simple, filled with emotion and compelling instead of nerdish, cold and complex. His story arcs had a subtlety and lightness of touch to them that Moffat is yet to grasp. Basically, RTD democratised the show. Mums could dip in and out quite happily without having to be able to recite what happened in episode three of season five. What I fear now is that Doctor Who is veering back down the geeky-niche path. If we’re not careful, I’m worried Who will lose its hard-fought status as one of the Beeb’s most popular shows.

Ratings Success. Comprehension Failure?

Thankfully, the overnight ratings look good for Who. In fact, it was one of the most-watched shows on Christmas Day. But I’d be very interested to see whether all those people who watched it actually understood what the hell was going on. My hunch is probably not. Judging from the fan forums, it left a lot of people scratching their heads. Anyhow, looking to the future and on the plus side, we have a new Doctor – which is wonderful. Even more so given that Capaldi is a fantastic actor. Fingers crossed, with a new Doctor to write for, Mr Moffat gets things back on track again.

Daleks, Time Lords & Limp Lettuce

Underwhelmed Face

Underwhelmed Face

“Totally underwhelming”.

There, I’ve said it. Don’t hate me. But that’s what I think about the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special. Let’s be honest, The Day of the Doctor was a bit like eating a salad with no vinaigrette – it was a bit lacklustre. And it’s a shame because it all started off so well…

Dumpa-de-dum, Dumpa-de-dum, Dumpa-de-dum, Diddley-dum…

First of all, we were treated to the original opening titles – the very same ones that introduced Doctor Who to world back in 1963. It was wonderful to see those iconic swirling patterns in all their black-and-white beauty flickering across the screen.

Likewise, hearing Ron Grainer’s eerie masterpiece made me do a little bit of a geek wee – that pulsing electronic baseline and swooping organ-like melody still stands the test of time 50 years on. It’s my all-time favourite TV theme tune, piping Juliet Bravo and Treasure Hunt to the post.

More nods to the past then followed with a knowing wink given to die-hard fans by way of references to the junkyard at Totter’s Lane and the Coal Hill School (both of which featured in the show’s first-ever episode, An Unearthly Child).

Gripping Stuff

We were then catapulted across the stars to the Doctor’s home-world. Here we got to see the oft-quoted Time War between the daleks and the Time Lords. And credit where credit’s due – the invasion of Gallifrey was spectacular. The shots of the dalek fleet pounding Arcadia and the Capitol were a veritable feast of pyrotechnics and CGI wizardry.

Let’s not forget the superb dialogue in the Time Lord high command which injected a real sense of foreboding, desperation and urgency – the likes of which I haven’t felt since I visited the Churchill Cabinet War Rooms in London.

The trailer really did showcase all the best bits…

Not So Hot

However, from there on in it all went a bit pear-shaped. What followed was about 30 minutes of padding which went something like this…

  •   Supposed light relief courtesy of an asthmatic boffin in comedy glasses and, for some strange reason, Tom Baker’s scarf
  • Lots of running around the bowels of a rather studio-looking art gallery 
  • Redundant appearances from old foes the Zygons who, let’s be honest, were far more menacing back in 1975
  • A distinctly wooden and Welsh-sounding portrayal of Elizabeth I which frankly should be consigned to the far reaches of Barry Island, never to be seen again

Perks Up Again

Fast-forward through all this fluff and you get to some good stuff towards the end of the episode. We discover that John Hurt (who out-acted Tennant and Smith with just a raise of an eyebrow) is actually the 9th Doctor, which I’m guessing means we need to shunt Messieurs Ecclestone, Tennant, Smith and Capaldi back a digit each. Plus we get to see all the incarnations of the Doctor come together to save Gallifrey via some rather cool computer trickery.

Would You Like A Jelly Baby?

One thing I’m sure most fans will be waxing lyrical about is the appearance of Tom Baker. While I appreciate this nod to the classic series, the cameo kind of left me cold. After all, my Doctor was Peter Davison and so I didn’t really feel the connection.

Feel the Peter Davison love...

Feel the Peter Davison love…

On A Level With American Life

In short, The Day of the Doctor is no Caves of Androzani, no Talons Weng Chiang, no Blink. It had its moments but in general felt a little bit flat. It reminded me how I felt when Madonna released her American Life album – I was desperate to like it but just couldn’t, try as I might. Testament to this is the fact I’m really not that bothered about watching The Day of the Doctor again on catch-up. Normally I would have seen it about five times by now.

Happy Birthday To Ya!

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The fact that Doctor Who is still going strong at 50 is one hell of an achievement. So, despite the rather limp lettuce outing ce soir, let’s raise a glass to everyone’s favourite time-travelling hero.

Happy birthday Doctor Who – here’s to the next 50!

(And hopefully some better scriptwriting)

PS: Did anyone see the embarrassment that was the Afterparty on BBC Three this evening? Stephan Moffat‘s face on the live link with One Direction in LA kind of said it all.

Capaldi, Copycats & (Tenuous) Exasperdating

My geeky Dr Who T-shirts

My geeky Dr Who T-shirts

Well thank Gallifrey for that! After weeks of speculation (which even included Dame Helen Mirren being thrown into the mix) the identity of the new Doctor Who has finally been revealed.


Sunday night saw the BBC spill the beans as to who will play Doctor No.12 in a slightly spangly – and dare I say it, naff – one-off show. To be honest, Doctor Who Live seemed to have more in common with a brand launch than a casting announcement. And to top it off, it was hosted by that most dedicated and famous of Whovians, erm, Zoe Ball.  But I digress…

Star Appeal

The good news is that Peter Capaldi will be taking the helm of the Tardis when the present incumbent, Matt Smith, bows out on Christmas Day. I’m over the moon with this choice of actor. Anyone who’s seen Capaldi in The Thick Of It as the potty-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm will agree that he’s super-talented. His CV includes a BAFTA and an Oscar scoop.

Copycat Docs

Impressive credentials aside, I like the fact that Capaldi’s an older guy. Since Who’s return to telly in the noughties, there’s been a propensity to plump for younger actors in the lead role. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against younger actors playing the Time Lord – after all, my childhood Doctor was a then fresh-faced Peter Davison – but recent casting choices have, in my opinion, resulted in a blur of twenty-something, overly-similar Doctors. When Matt Smith took over from David Tennant I felt there wasn’t enough ‘difference’ between them. It’s as though the Beeb had found a winning formula by way of Tennant and so ran with it again…

Young and slightly gawky-looking foppish geek.
Must wear Shoreditchy outfits and have quiffy hair.
Love of running around quarries a distinct advantage.
Apply to BBC Drama.

Total Antithesis

I believe you need to have a break with the past to be truly memorable. Peter Davison’s Doc is a case in point. The main reason his incarnation worked so well was because it was so fundamentally different to what had come before. Davison’s portrayal as a preppy older brother stood in complete contrast to Tom Baker’s more bohemian-broody figure. The production team of the day knew that replacing Tom Baker with Tom Baker Mark II just wouldn’t work – instead there needed to be a real rupture. So fingers crossed the powers-that-be have got it right this time around and we’ll get a real shift when Smith regenerates into Capaldi later in the year.

Who’s Who?

Here’s the roll call of actors who’ve played the TV Time Lord over the years – it comes in handy at pub quizzes, let me tell you!

1) William Hartnell (1963-1966)

2) Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)

3) Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)

4) Tom Baker (1974-1981)

5) Peter Davison (1981-1984)

6) Colin Baker (1984-1986)

7) Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989, 1996)

8) Paul McGann (1996)

9) Christopher Ecclestone (2005)

10) David Tennant (2005-2010)

11) Matt Smith (2010-2013)

12) Peter Capaldi (2013 – ?)

Date With The Doctor

In (slightly tenuous) honour of Peter Capaldi’s unveiling as the Doctor, here’s an Exasperdating tale about a rendezvous I had with a real-life doctor…

Exasperdating Logo

Exasperdating | Posh Doc

Age: 27
Height: 5’9
Build: Slim
Hair: Black
Eyes: Blue

Job: Doctor

Doctor! Doctor!

Doctor! Doctor!

I’m munching on a Granny Smith as I pen this installment because, as the old saying goes, ’an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. And trust me, after this encounter, I’m steering well clear of men in white coats.

The Posh Doc wasn’t a one-off date. We’d kind of seen each other for about a month and a half earlier in the year but it had fizzled out. He wasn’t my usual type at all. While looks-wise he ticked all the right boxes – blue eyes, dark hair, a bit of stubble and geek-chic glasses – on the personality front, he was a bit too ‘rah’ for me.

Case in point: he had a nasty habit of saying ‘maaarvellous’ in a terribly high-pitched, horsey-teethed way that only people who’ve gone to private schools seem able to do. Plus he lived in a super-posh flat in an extremely exclusive part of London which I swear mummy and daddy had set him up in. Talking of which, and given that he was a doctor, you would think he’d have kept the gaff a bit cleaner. Frankly, some Cillit Bang wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Anyhow, fast forward six months and, out of the blue, he invites me over for dinner. One fish supper and two bottles of rioja later and we were, well, getting ‘reacquainted’. A couple of days later I dropped him a text to say I’d had fun and would he like to go out for drinks. To which he replied, “I’m a horny drunk. Sorry.” Now, while I may not be a doctor, I think this guy’s self-diagnosis was off the mark. Horny drunk? No, I think he was actually suffering from a nasty affliction called Complete Wankeritis, for which I’m pretty sure there’s no cure.