Doctor Who in 2012: A year in review
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A mixed year for our favourite Time Lord - but also a momentous one.
2012. It's as if you came and went in the blink of an eye. But very few years have been quite as quintessentially British as 2012 – it'll probably be mentioned in years to come in the same way that ageing, craggy-faced football pundits look back on 1966 with a tear in the eye and a sigh of nostalgia. Whether Mrs Maj pretended to look interested at the Take That man's aggregation of pop stars and comedians; whether countless medals were achieved at the Olympics; or whether the country had maybe one week of glorious sunshine, 2012 would probably boom “Britain. Britain. Britain.” Big Tom-style.
And one typically British aspect still made its presence felt this year. 2012 has been a bit of a mixed bag for Who aficionados – new episodes, new companions, but then goodbyes to past companions, both in the series and in the real world. Add in an ex Doctor attempting gangsta rapping and the chance for any everyday schmoe to experience the thrill of an adventure in time and space, and you definitely have a memorable year.
On TV, we have six brand new episodes – that includes the brand new offering at Christmas, an enigmatic proposition simply called The Snowmen. It promises a haunted looking baddie, our first regular glimpse of Clara, and of course, evil-looking snowmen. If you're looking to catch it at the usual time in Britain though, a word of warning. A quick flick through my bumper Christmas TV guide has led me to wonder why it's going out at the earlier time of 5.15pm – the much vaunted 7pm slot has now been occupied by genteel drama Call The Midwife. Ah well, maybe the folks need something less scary to bridge the sights of Bruce Forsyth and Derek Branning while recovering from turkey OD.
As for the rest of the episodes, well, they were generally of a very high standard. Even the lesser episodes, Dinosaurs On A Spaceship and The Power Of Three managed to entertain in their own different ways. Thumbs down for lack of scary death, wimpy Daleks, the rubbish Shakri plan and of course, Solomon's unfunny heaps of walking junk. But thumbs up for the high quality scripts, high production values and of course, the performances from the regulars. You may have had a tear in your eye when Amy and Rory finally faded out of the Whoniverse. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill did a great job this year, helping to make Amy and Rory into well-rounded, likeable companions. Jenna-Louise Coleman showed great promise in the Dalek adventure – quite how this entangles with her Clara companion still seems a murky mystery at the mo.
Tying the series together was Matt Smith, who still continues to impress with his take on The Doctor. The Christmas episode promises that he will be in a dark place following the loss of his friends, so it will be interesting to see how this all pans out.
Diehard Whovians may have been a bit cheesed off with only six episodes this year. The usual run of 13 has now been switched to bridge the links with the Christmas ep. So in the spring of this year, we had a Doctor-shaped hole on the box, clumsily filled up by the swivel chair karaoke of The Voice (who was the winner again?). Some of the Who fans may be disgruntled further still that they'll have to wait until April rather than the rumoured February premiere of new episodes. The Beeb tend to fill out February and March evenings with wall to wall coverage of grunting apemen throwing an oval pig's bladder around, you see.
"In the March of this year, the sound and picture quality of The Daemons were improved to the point where you could be forgiven for thinking that the original prints had been rediscovered."
Still, to make up for the lack of spring Who, fans could always have consoled themselves with some good old classics lovingly restored to their former glory. The DVD range has seen a number of tricky releases, particularly from the era of the Third Doctor. The results, however, were astounding. For years, fans could only watch The Daemons, for example, as a faded, crackly set of washed up episodes. In the March of this year, the sound and picture quality were improved to the point where you could be forgiven for thinking that the original prints had been rediscovered. Also welcome was a full colour release of one of my personal favourites, The Ambassadors Of Death, previously a video mix of black and white footage and best attempts colour. The DVD release restored this underrated gem to full colour and the results were again outstanding. Even the first part of Invasion Of The Dinosaurs is still passable enough.
In addition, bookworms could also enjoy those good old reprints of the classic novelisations. Stories such as The Loch Ness Monster and The Cybermen have been repackaged and reprinted for a new audience of youngsters today. Better still was the news that Shada was finally getting its own novelisation, with Gareth Roberts doing the writing honours. In a way, I kind of wish that there were novel adaptations of the 2005-onwards stories. Today's Who fan kids would have a field day in libraries, bookshops and even online – get Chris Achilleos to provide cover art, and the scenario's complete.
Regrettably, no new episodes turned up after the promise in 2011, when orphan episodes of The Underwater Menace and Galaxy 4 magically appeared. There were whisperings of rumours of The Power Of The Daleks resurfacing, but in the end, sadly it was not to be. Mind you, we did get a clip of old behind the scenes footage of the second Dalek movie, featuring Peter Cushing and director Gordon Flemyng. The folks at the Radio Times, in the meantime, have continued the crusade to find more missing episodes with a new campaign for next year's anniversary. Surely someone must have that much needed set of Web Of Fear episodes?
"Never did this sort of thing happen in 1982 – all hail the marvels of modern technology"
In the real world, all sorts of things were happening. Kids could now actually go from pretending to be The Doctor in the playground to pretending to be The Doctor in a swanky interactive exhibition called The Doctor Who Experience – Board the TARDIS! Cower from the Daleks on their spaceship! Hide your eyes from the Weeping Angels! Never did this sort of thing happen in 1982 – all hail the marvels of modern technology.
Life kind of imitated art this year in the real world. David Tennant never got to carry the Olympic Torch – neither did massed hordes of people vanish into thin air (although maybe some may have wished for that fate instead of listening to a strangely Auton-like Macca croak Hey Jude). Instead, the current incumbent Matt Smith got his chance to carry the torch in Cardiff in late May.
Another Doctor actor also made his presence felt, although Colin Baker never got the chance to do Bushtucker trials of quaffing Marsh Minnows or saving Ashley Roberts from being turned into a luminous budgie. Sadly, Colin didn't get the chance to win the much vaunted Celebrity crown (thanks to the fearless Eric Bristow emerging the victor in a terrifying head-to-head Take Your Pick-style trial), although he certainly did himself proud by being a popular, likeable member of this year's Celebrity crew. And surely his Gangsta rap should be made available as a music download?
Sadly, the real world also brought bad news. A number of various Who alumni passed away this year, from behind-the-scenes crew (Peter Wragg, Colin Lavers) through to guest actors (Philip Madoc, Dinah Sheridan) through to leading companions. Two pioneering companions at that – Caroline John helped to inject a new lease of life into 1970s Who, adding a mature new dimension to the traditional companion. Mary Tamm played the first Time Lady companion, and even though some of the scripts didn't allow her much leeway, she managed to form an enduring double act with Tom Baker's Doctor. And her various DVD contributions showcased her warm, inimitable sense of humour – the DVD commentaries are particular highlights. What made Tamm's passing so sad was the fact that her husband passed away too, days later, from what the news reports called a “broken heart”. RIP.
Looking ahead to next year, it's the dreaded '13. But maybe it's not such an unlucky one as people might think. The Mind Of Evil, one of my personal favourites, looks set to get the colour treatment. The rare Ice Warriors and Tenth Planet will hopefully surface on shiny disc. And of course, Who fans will know that the good Doctor celebrates the Big 50 in November. A special episode is rumoured to be on the cards – hopefully one or two famous faces may turn up to join in the celebrations. There is also a smattering of new episodes due to be shown in April and May, with Clara boarding the TARDIS and an impressive guest list including David Warner, Celia Imrie and Diana Rigg.
So ring out the old, ring in the new. Merry Christmas, happy new year etc. Try not to OD on all that Albert Square festive cheer.
John Bensalhia is a freelance journalist who has extensively written for more than 10 years on subjects such as franchising, ports, Italy, DIY, tractors, sports and arboriculture. Not to mention reviews for Blake's 7 and Doctor Who, which he's been a fan of ever since he was a little kid.
When not writing, John likes drumming, guitar strumming, cycling, cartoon drawing, pre-1990s music and animals. He lives with his lovely wife Alison and many guinea pigs. Catch some of John's work or get in contact through his website at www.johnbensalhia.co.uk.
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