Doctor Who-“The Woman Who Fell to Earth” (Spoiler-Free Review)

You know that old saying — if you have an ax and you replace the handle, and later on you replace the blade, is it still the same ax? Welcome to Doctor Who — a show whose handle and blade have been changed so many times it might not even be an ax anymore. The venerable not-so-cult-anymore sci-fi show began its newest season (the 11th of the modern incarnation of the show, the 37th in all) on Sunday, 8 October, after nearly a year-long wait. This isn’t just any new season, either: It’s one of those rare times when everything changes — lead actor, supporting cast, showrunner, producer, the majority of the production team, and even the composer (something that hasn’t changed since Murray Gold took up the baton and synthesizer in 2005). Even the way the show is filmed is new. And new showrunner and head writer Chris Chibnall revealed last week that this season would include no elements from the show’s storied past, other than the Doctor and his (sorry, her) time machine, the TARDIS. So is it still Doctor Who?

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The short answer is “yes.” Led by new star Jodie Whittaker — the first woman to take on the iconic role of the Doctor — the series, at its core, still adheres to the formula that makes Doctor Who the unique show that it is. It’s still about a mysterious time traveler knocking about the universe righting wrongs and challenging bullies of all sorts (“When people need help, I never refuse”). The Doctor still picks up companions along the way — those ‘average joe’ types that are there for the audience to identify with and connect to, who get to have all the amazing experiences that we don’t get to have. The show is still about weird aliens and strange monsters and how encountering them affects the Doctor, the companions, and the people around them. It’s still about hope.

But this season — and this first episode in particular — is, for the most part, a clean slate. Yes, the show has 55 years of history behind, but just like when it returned to screens in 2005 after the original series having been canceled in 1989, you don’t have to have any prior knowledge to understand what’s going on. So what is going on? Well, luckily for viewers, not a whole lot. The basic alien-threat-on-earth premise isn’t exactly thin-on-the-ground, but it did have to leave a lot of room for the Doctor and new Companions to be firmly established. The new 60-minute episode length helped with that, giving time for both aspects of the episode to be developed (with the side-effect of the pacing seeming a good bit slower than modern Doctor Who is usually known for). 

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And the characters are a pretty strong bunch — Graham (played by Bradley Walsh), Grace (Sharon D. Clarke), Yasmin (Mandip Gill) and Ryan (Tosin Cole). Each is connected in a different way, with different backgrounds, different skill sets, different perspectives, different challenges. There’s nothing overtly or obviously special about any of them, which is what makes them special — they rise to the occasion in spite of the shocking strangeness of the situation they find themselves suddenly in. But part of that is due to the Doctor — she inspires this in others. You want to rise to the occasion because the Doctor thinks you can — or makes you believe that you can. This Doctor immediately embraces these stray people, gathers them around her, makes them part of her posse, gives them the opportunity to contribute their skills to solve the situation at hand. Every part of the team is valuable. There is definitely a camaraderie in its infancy between these characters that I’m looking forward to seeing develop over the course of the season. 

Jodie Whittaker, at the core of the show, is brilliant. She immediately channels the essence of who the Doctor is. She’s quirky, funny, serious, caring, compassionate, stern, and decisive, sometimes all at once. She’s mercurial, but with a sense of purpose and a drive to assist and protect. 

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While the episode is an easy jumping on point for new viewers, it doesn’t leave more established viewers behind. While everything is presented in a way to make inexperienced viewers feel welcome, there are still moments that longtime viewers will identify with. Subtle moments. Not necessarily nods, not really callbacks, and definitely not overt homages — we’ll call them familiarities that remind us “legacy fans” that this is the same show that William Hartnell, Tom Baker, David Tennant, and Peter Capaldi once helmed.

No matter how good a new Doctor’s first episode is, it never ends up being a fan favorite (with the possible exception of Matt Smith‘s “The Eleventh Hour). It takes time for the new production team to gel, it takes the actors time to settle in, it takes the writers a minute to get the rhythm of the actor’s deliveries and personalities, and the chemistry between them. And through that process, each Doctor’s era improves immensely. This episode was a good one, definitely, but no matter how long Whittaker stays on the show, whether it be one season or ten, this won’t go down as one of her best. The pacing is undeniably slow. The alien threat is on the throwaway end of the spectrum (a common complaint with adversaries in debut stories, whether it be the Sycorax in “The Christmas Invasion,” the Atraxi and Prisoner Zero in “The Eleventh Hour,” or even the long-established Autons in “Rose”) and has drawn comparisons to The Terminator as well as two Star Trek aliens. Some of the exposition is a bit clunky. But on balance, there were also great things about it. We get to see the Doctor as tinkerer, inventor and maker once again. We get a fresh take on the character that we’ve known for decades that’s both new and familiar at the same time. The photography is stunning. The new composer (Segun Akinola) is a radical change from Murray Gold, and he brings a more abstract, amorphous style to the show. 

Image result for the woman who fell to earthThis season seems to be heading in a confident new direction. If you’ve ever been curious about Doctor Who but have never watched it before, give this season a try. If you missed the 7 October debut, you can catch repeats on BBC America or you can attend a Fathom Events screening at cinemas across the country on Wednesday and Thursday, 10 and 11 October. If you’re in the Atlanta area, look for the Wednesday night screening at the Regal Cinemas Hollywood 24 hosted by local Doctor Who convention WHOlanta (view details on Facebook here). Climb aboard the TARDIS and enjoy the adventure!

Doctor Who: The Master – the Five Essentials

Sherlock has Moriarty.  Superman has Lex Luthor. The Road Runner has Wile E. Coyote.  And the Doctor has the Master.

Every great hero has his arch rival who serves as his equal and opposite. The one with whom he or she is evenly matched—dark to light, good to evil.  It’s the person who drives the hero to greater heights, the one who ensures that the hero never slacks, never lets down his or her guard. In 1971, the Doctor Who bosses realized that while the Doctor had Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors, Yeti and other recurring threats, what he needed was a single figure to challenge him at every turn, someone who could match the Doctor scientifically and intellectually. In other words, he needed a nemesis. And thus was the Master born.

Image result for doctor who doctor fallsThe Master is a Time Lord. In fact, he and the Doctor grew up together, attended the Academy together, and used to be friends. But their paths diverged, the Master craving power and control, and the Doctor pledging to stop him from causing harm to others as well as to established history. Being a Time Lord, he can regenerate like the Doctor can, and thus has been played by numerous actors over the past few decades. Unlike the Doctor, he has had both male and female personas. The most recent incarnation of the Master, played with panache and sass by Michelle Gomez, refers to herself as the Mistress, or “Missy” for short. She has been a regular thorn in the Twelfth Doctor’s side since his first season. She has had a recurrent presence in the story arc that has run through the 2017 season, in which Missy has been condemned to death and the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) has pledged to guard her body, locked away in a vault, for 1,000 years. Missy isn’t dead, though. As she told the Doctor’s previous companion Clara, “Death is for other people, dear.” Not only is Missy not dead, but it seems that she’s undergoing a change of hearts (Time Lords have two of them, you know)—she seems to be renouncing her evil ways and adopting the good. But is it genuine? Or is she luring the Doctor into a trap?

The answers will come this weekend as Series Ten airs its finale, “The Doctor Falls.” But it’s not just Missy that the Doctor has to worry about, or even an army of Cybermen (check out part one of this article), but for the first time in Doctor Who’s history, we have a teaming up of two incarnations of the Master: Michelle Gomez’s Missy and the previous iteration played by John Simm from 2007-2010 (but here with a decidedly classic look about him, with his mustache, goatee and high-collared black jacket). There have been occasions on which multiple Doctors have worked together—usually coinciding with some notable anniversary for the show—but this is the first time that multiple Masters have met on screen.

To get you prepared for this week’s finale, here are the five essential Master stories that will introduce you to (most of) his/her past incarnations and give you a sense of who the Master really is.


“The Dæmons” (1971)
Related imageThe Master made his debut in “Terror of the Autons,” the first story from Season Eight, also the introduction of the Doctor’s new companion, Jo Grant. He remained a prominent figure throughout that season, appearing in all five stories across 25 episodes. Played by Roger Delgado, this Master was a dark, swarthy character with a penchant for elaborate disguises and a love of good cigars. The quintessential villain, the “evil mustache and goatee” look suited him impeccably. Though a thoroughly despicable character, Delgado’s Master was not without humor, élan and occasionally warmth. Subsequent stories clearly show a mutual respect and even a long-buried affection between the Doctor and his wayward chum, especially in the following season’s “The Sea Devils.” In “The Dæmons,” the Master, disguised as a village vicar, attempts to awaken the demonic forces of Azal, a cloven-hoofed beast that resembles images of the Devil. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and UNIT battle gargoyles, a heat forcefield, and inexplicable happenings to thwart the Master’s plans (and be on the lookout for a UNIT sergeant named Osgood!). The story offers good discussions of the “magic vs science” variety in a script that relies heavily on witchcraft, incantations and iconography. In the end, it’s Jo’s self-sacrifice to save the Doctor that destroys Azal. “The Dæmons” shows the Master at his devious, conniving best. Delgado and Pertwee, over the course of three seasons, add a great deal of dimension to the relationship between their characters. Over the decades, the Master has remained one of the key figures in the series’ mythology, and while there’ve been some great actors playing him/her, the on-screen dynamic between Pertwee and Delgado has rarely been bettered and the depiction of the “my enemy was once my friend” scenario was largely forgotten about until the Master’s rebirth in the modern series.


“The Deadly Assassin” (1976)
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Roger Delgado played the Master for three seasons and had asked to written out the following year, as he’d lost other opportunities of acting jobs because of his work on Doctor Who. However, in the summer of 1973 during the break between seasons, Delgado was killed in a car accident in Turkey. The Master lay dormant for the next few years until Season Fourteen in 1976 when Peter Pratt took over as a very different kind of Master. “The Deadly Assassin” is an extremely important story in the history of Doctor Who for a number of reasons. Mainly, it introduced many of the aspects of Time Lord society that we now take as writ, including the Matrix—the repository of all Time Lord knowledge and experience. Additionally, it establishes that Time Lords can only regenerate twelve times for a total of thirteen lives. Pratt plays a Master that we learn has gone beyond his natural life span and is basically refusing to die. He has, by the sheer force of his will, continued to exist without regenerating as a rotting, decrepit walking corpse. He’s desperate to escape death and regain his ability to regenerate and will destroy Gallifrey if necessary to do so. To achieve this, he lures the Doctor (Tom Baker) into a trap—he stages the assassination of the Lord President of Gallifrey and frames the Doctor for it. The Doctor is caught, swiftly put on trial and is about to be executed . . . until he escapes his fate by declaring his candidacy for President! “The Deadly Assassin” is a political thriller of the first order. The mental battle waged between the Doctor and the Master inside the surreal landscape of the Matrix is gripping and unlike anything the series had ever done before. The Doctor defeats the Master (spoiler!) but doesn’t destroy him, and the decaying Master makes one further appearance in Tom Baker’s final season.


“The Five Doctors” (1983)
Image result for the five doctors masterIn 1981’s fairytale-like “The Keeper of Traken” the corpse-like Master steals the body of Tremas, freeing him temporarily his decaying state. Played by Anthony Ainley, Tremas (get it? It’s an anagram of ‘Master’) is a fair and gentle man and a loving father to Nyssa, until he is violated by the Master. From that point on, Tremas is gone and the Master once again roams the universe. “Logopolis,” the first proper story of the Ainley Master, shows the Master at his ambitious and nasty best, literally issuing an ultimatum to the entire universe from a radio telescope on Earth. As the Doctor attempts to thwart the Master’s plan, he falls from the radio telescope to his death, but regenerates into a new body. In “The Five Doctors,” the show’s 20th Anniversary episode, the Doctor (Peter Davison) and his previous incarnations (all except for the Fourth, as Tom Baker chose not to participate) are taken out of time. The Time Lords have tracked him to the Death Zone, a dangerous area of Gallifrey. They recruit the Master and send him into the Death Zone to find the Doctor, and in exchange for his services grant him a new regeneration cycle. Once in the Death Zone, of course the first Doctor that he encounters is the Third, played by Jon Pertwee, and while it’s cool to see these two characters spar a bit, the chemistry isn’t quite there the way it was between Pertwee and Delgado (granted, it isn’t a terribly long scene so there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity to establish a rapport). Unable to convince any of the Doctors that he actually is there to help them, the Master forms a quick-thinking alliance with a squadron of Cybermen (a bit of foreshadowing to the Series 10 finale, perhaps?). In “The Five Doctors,” Lord President Borusa says of the Master, “You are one of the most evil and corrupt beings this Time Lord race has ever produced. Your crimes are without number and your villainy without end,” a description the Master seems rather pleased about. There were times that the Ainley Master became a bit cartoonish, but that’s not the case in “The Five Doctors.”


“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords” (2007)
Related imageDoctor Who was canceled in 1989; the Master appeared in the final story, ironically entitled “Survival” (check it out, it’s one of Ainley’s best peformances). When an attempt at a revival was made in 1996, with a made-for-television movie co-produced by American network Fox starring Paul McGann as the Doctor, the Master was right there by his side (played at turns sinister and flamboyant by Eric Roberts). So when Doctor Who finally did return to television as a proper BBC series in 2005, an obvious fan question was “What about the Master?” The premise of the new series was that the Doctor was the last of his kind, the result of the Great Time War. No more Gallifrey, no more Time Lords. So obviously that meant, by default, no more Master, right? Hardly! The Master made his reappearance at the end of Series Three. “Utopia” is one of the really great episodes of modern Doctor Who, highlighted by the appearance of Sir Derek Jacobi playing Professor Yana, a pleasant, caring and well-meaning scientist who of course turns out to be the Master. Only he doesn’t know it—he has no memory of being anything other than Yana. But when his memories start to reawaken, and realization of who he truly is reemerges, Yana’s personality begins to change. Jacobi gives a stunning performance as a man tormented by these new thoughts of evil, but eventually surrendering to and embracing his true nature. The five or so minutes that Jacobi plays the fully awakened Master is incredibly powerful and a bit terrifying. When Jacobi first declares, in this repellent, sinister whisper, “I … am … the MASTER”, it’s one of the most riveting moments in Doctor Who history. But at the end of the episode he regenerates into his next incarnation (the first time we’ve seen a Master regeneration), played by John Simm. Simm’s approach is very different, playing an over-the-top, manic, whirling dervish of a Master. It’s like the Master on speed, but just as deadly and menacing as before. And the back story is changed, too. We learn from the Doctor Tenth (David Tennant) that as children, Gallifreyans are taken to the Untempered Schism (a rift in the fabric of time) and made to face the time vortex in its raw state. That moment is one of the defining moments of each child’s life. Most come away unharmed, but one little boy was driven mad by it. From that point on, the Master has heard a drumbeat in his head, driving him and tormenting him. While definitely a more frenzied take on the character, the Master was once again well-matched to the Doctor, now played by the rather hyper David Tennant. At the end of the story, the Master is gravely injured, and the Doctor urges him to regenerate, reminding him of all the things they’d done together. The Master refuses, though, and dies. The Doctor mourns the loss of his seemingly irredeemable ex-friend and the death of the last living member of his own race. But surely the Master couldn’t die that easily. . .


“The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar” (2015)
Related imageIn 2014, Oscar winner Peter Capaldi assumed the mantle of the Twelfth Doctor. After having not appeared during the Eleventh Doctor’s era, it was time to reintroduce the Master once again, but this time with a twist. Now played by Michelle Gomez, the Mistress was teased throughout Series Eight with enigmatic little cameos until her full reveal in the final two episodes of the season, in which she has struck up an alliance with Cybermen (hmm, another foreshadowing of the Series Ten finale, perhaps?). The story ends with Missy admitting that the whole reason for the crazy scheme was so that she could be reunited with the Doctor—“I need you to know we’re not so different. I need my friend back.”—and we’re suddenly brought full circle back to the Pertwee/Delgado relationship. The following season kicked off with a fast-paced two-parter involving the Daleks and their creator, Davros. The Doctor has gone missing and seems to be preparing himself for death: his last will and testament has been delivered to his closest friend—Missy. She explains to the Doctor’s companion, Clara, that theirs is “a friendship older than your civilization, and infinitely more complex,” which very definitely sounds like a summation of the Pertwee/Delgado relationship just as much as it does the Capaldi/Gomez one. Gomez’s take on the Master/Mistress is a very interesting one. At the WHOlanta convention in Atlanta, GA in 2015, she revealed that she grew up watching Delgado’s Master on screen. At the same convention, Katy Manning, who played Jo Grant, said that she could see Delgado in Gomez’s performance. And yet she also has the element of dangerous insanity from Simm’s Master as well as the pompousness of Ainley’s and even a bit of the flair of Roberts’. Like Delgado, she is well paired with her Doctor. In “The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar,” she exudes a confidence about who she is and what she wants, and she takes any actions necessary to achieve them, whether it be pushing Clara down a pit, enslaving her within a Dalek casing, offering to help the Daleks steal the Doctor’s TARDIS, or killing a UNIT operative just to illustrate to Clara that she’s not “turning good.” But in the current season, she seems to be adopting a new morality. Has she genuinely changed her ways? And if she has, will re-meeting her former self (John Simm) sway her? Or is she laying a fiendish trap for the Doctor, playing on his hopeful nature?


The finale of Series Ten of Doctor Who airs on BBC America Saturday, July 1 at 9:00 p.m.  It stars Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts and Matt Lucas as Nardole. It features Michelle Gomez as the Mistress, John Simm as the Master, as well as the 1966, 2006 and 2013 iterations of the Cybermen.


Doctor Who: Cybermen – the Five Essentials

Cybermen—the second oldest major adversary in the Doctor Who universe. They were the brainchild of scientist Kit Peddler and screenwriter Gerry Davis; fascinated by the emerging science of organ and limb replacement, the pair wondered how far such procedures could go before the patients could no longer be considered human. Cybermen are an answer to that question: they’re people that have replaced so many of their organic components with mechanical substitutions that they are now both a product of and slave to technology. They’re driven by a strong sense of survival and perpetuation, and they assimilate other beings and “upgrade” them (rather like Star Trek’s Borg, except the Cybermen came 20 years earlier). They’ve been a mainstay on Doctor Who for 51 years, and this past Saturday night (June 24) they made a powerful reemergence on the show in “World Enough and Time,” the first episode of the series’ two-part tenth season finale. An extraordinarily dark and atmospheric episode, “World Enough and Time” makes the surprise move of bringing back the Cybermen as they looked in their first appearance in 1966, with cloth-wrapped faces, human-looking hands and a massive piece of machinery strapped to their chests. While decidedly low-tech (the show had a very meager budget in ’66), the original Cybermen had an almost cadaverous quality about them, making them a far more macabre threat than most any of their later iterations.

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The strength of “World Enough and Time” is that the majority of it takes place in a dark, creepy hospital in which injured or sick people are “repaired.” One of those injured persons is the Doctor’s young companion, Bill. With the episode focusing mostly on her, she discovers the horrible truth of what’s going on—and becomes a victim of it herself. Director Rachel Talalay (known for her work on the CW superhero shows and the cult classic Tank Girl) captures an incredibly ghastly atmosphere in the hospital scenes and returns a palpable sense of menace and fear to the Doctor’s longtime nemeses.

While the Daleks—who debuted on the show three years earlier—are the more iconic threat to the Doctor and his companions, the Cybermen are arguably the more interesting. They’re a perversion of us. They represent the ultimate loss of individuality, the ultimate violation. They’re cold, logical, unfeeling, deadly … and they’re a great deal of fun in a scary episode like “World Enough and Time.”

For anyone who may be less familiar with Cybermen and want to delve a little deeper into their history before watching next week’s finale, here are the five essential Doctor Who adventures that feature the silver nightmares.


“The Tenth Planet” (1966)

Image result for tenth planetThe story that ushered in the Cybermen but also ushered out the First Doctor (William Hartnell). The Doctor and his companions Polly and Ben land on Snowcap Base on the South Pole in the far future year 1986 as it is invaded by strange beings from another world. That world turns out to be Mondas, the long-missing twin planet of Earth and the birthplace of the original Cybermen. Mondas is dying and the Cybermen plan to syphon off energy from Earth to save it. In the process, they will relocate all of the Earth humans to Mondas and convert them into Cybermen. What’s interesting is that they see this as “saving” humanity—ridding them of pain, disease, aging, emotion, etc. and they can’t understand why we don’t want to go along with it. Polly, usually not the most assertive of characters, becomes the voice of passion and defiance against the cold, unfeeling logic of the Cybermen. In the end, Mondas absorbs too much energy and is destroyed in an energy buildup. But the stress of this adventure has taken its toll on the Doctor. He says that his body is “wearing a bit thin,” stumbles into the TARDIS and collapses to the floor. As Ben and Polly watch in shock, the Doctor undergoes his first regeneration . . .   The parallels between “Tenth Planet” and “World Enough and Time” are numerous; “World Enough” takes place on a Mondasian colony ship and provides something of an origin story for the Cybermen. The most intriguing part of this past week’s episode is that we get teased with the Twelfth Doctor’s upcoming regeneration, which will occur in Peter Capaldi’s final episode on Christmas Day, and it seems to takes place in a very South Pole-looking snowy setting. To complete the parallel, the First Doctor is rumored to be appearing (played by David Bradley).


“The Tomb of the Cybermen” (1967)

Related imageIn the far future, an archaeological team descends upon the planet Telos, the rumored final resting place of the Cybermen. But amongst the archaeologists are three people who secretly seek to revive the Cybermen and restore them to power, thus gaining power for themselves. The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie and Victoria find themselves reluctantly helping the team solve the various logic puzzles that will unlock the secrets sealed away in the Cybermen’s tomb. But the tomb is more than it appears to be—the Cybermen aren’t dead, they have simply lain dormant, waiting for beings of sufficient intelligence to reawaken them. They intend to convert the scientists into Cybermen, adding their knowledge and experience into the collective. This story introduces the CyberController, the big brain (literally) of the Cyber operation. While it may show its age a bit, it’s a taut thriller that mixes alien threat with the dangers of human greed and ambition. The sequence in which the Cybermen slowly awake and emerge from their tombs is one of the most iconic images in the history of the show. “Tomb” also illustrates how the Cybermen have evolved since their first appearance, becoming far more robotic than before—fully helmeted with squawky electronic voices, having excised even more of their humanity. The Cybermen really came into their own during the Second Doctor era (1966-1969), and Troughton here gives an electifying performance as his impish Doctor.


“Earthshock” (1982)

Image result for earthshockHaving not appeared at all during the Third Doctor era, and only once during the seven-year stretch of the Fourth (in 1974’s iffy-at-best “Revenge of the Cybermen”), the Cybermen break their long absence in “Earthshock,” their big, splashy 80s debut with a sleeker, more modern space-suited appearance. A freighter heading toward Earth in the year 2526 is unknowingly carrying a Cyber army in suspended animation. Earth is playing host to a conference of delegates from various worlds proposing alliance against the Cyber Armies; the Cybermen evacuate the freighter and turn it into a flying bomb that they plan to use to destroy Earth and the delegates. The Doctor (Peter Davison) and his friends do their best to divert the freighter away from Earth, managing only to shift it in time—about 65 million years into the past. The delegation is saved, but the dinosaurs are history. And one of the Doctor’s friends, Adric, sacrifices himself to ensure the planet is spared. “Earthshock” is a tense, action-packed story that draws inspiration from Alien. It also featured one of the show’s classic cliffhangers; with the production team having managed to keep the return of the Cybermen a complete secret, their reveal at the end of Episode 1 came as a complete, well, shock to the audience. Coming in his first season, this is the story that really starts to define the Fifth Doctor.


“Attack of the Cybermen” (1985)

Image result for attack of the cybermenWhen Doctor Who introduced the Cybermen in 1966 in a story set in 1986, literally no one at the time gave any thought to whether or not the show would still be on the air in 20 years’ time. So when 1985 rolled around and the show was still very much alive and in production, the logical thing to do was create a story that served as both a sequel and a prequel to “The Tenth Planet.” Thus, “Attack of the Cybermen” was born. The story, which also heavily references “The Tomb of the Cybermen,” is set on Telos and involves the Cyberfiends desperately attempting to change history and prevent the destruction of their home planet, Mondas. To do this, they intend to alter the course of Haley’s Comet and send it crashing into Earth. We learn that when the Cybermen occupied Telos, they all but wiped out that planet’s indigenous species, the Cryons—but a few continue to survive. “Attack” is a complex tale (it also features a character from the previous season’s “Resurrection of the Daleks”) that kicks off the Sixth Doctor’s first full season. It features two characters who have been unsuccessfully subjected to the Cyber conversion process, so they’re essentially stuck as half-Cybermen. While the Cryons are a tad on the unintentionally comical side, the idea is good and their bitchy dialogue is well written. It’s a dark (for its time) tale that revisits the Cybermen’s introduction and adds new dimensions to it, and establishes Colin Baker as an assertive and confident Sixth Doctor.


“Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel” (2006)

Image result for rise of the cybermenAfter Doctor Who was canceled in 1989, it was brought back to screens around the world in 2005. The centerpiece in the modern series’ second season was a reintroduction of the Cybermen. Rather than Mondas or Telos, though, these Cybermen originated on a parallel Earth. The TARDIS brings the Doctor (David Tennant) to a parallel world in which his companions’ loved ones—Rose’s father and Mickey’s grandmother—are still alive. The Cybus Corporation has been developing a means of extending life by taking the human brain and integrating into a metal body. The Corporation’s director, John Lumic, has been secretly experiment on the homeless, perfecting his process, driven by his desire to escape his broken, wheelchair-bound body. There are some genuinely creepy and disturbing scenes, such as one in the second episode in which a Cyberman’s programming starts to break down and the brain remembers her life before being converted. These Cybermen are a great deal more robotic than their classic series predecessors. Add in a subplot of Mickey getting involved in team of street vigilantes called the Preachers who are seeking to sabotage Cybus’ efforts, and the “Rise” two-parter delivers a good bit of real world grit.


The finale of Series Ten of Doctor Who airs on BBC America Saturday, July 1 at 9:00 p.m.  It stars Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts and Matt Lucas as Nardole. It features Michelle Gomez as the Mistress, John Simm as the Master, as well as the 1966, 2006 and 2013 iterations of the Cybermen. Look for the follow-up article Doctor Who: The Master – The Five Essentials later this week.

Interview with Doctor Who prop maker Nick Robatto

Doctor Who prop maker, Nick Robatto.

Doctor Who prop maker, Nick Robatto.

The 50th anniversary episode of the BBC science fiction television show, “Doctor Who” will be shown on television and movie theater screens all around the world at the exact same time on Nov. 23, 2013. The show’s main character is a centuries-old, time-traveling alien named The Doctor who can regenerate into a different physical appearance any time he is dying. He is eccentric, intelligent, charming, witty and has saved the universe countless numbers of times.

Armed with his incredible intellect, witty charm and his trusty sonic screwdriver, The Doctor has travelled through all of time and space in a physics defying (it’s bigger on the inside) time machine called the TARDIS. On screen the sonic screwdriver may have been created by The Doctor, but in reality it was built by Nick Robatto of Rubbertoe Replicas.

Nick Robatto has been one of the most active prop makers for “Doctor Who” since the program’s return to television in 2005. He has helped build not only every iteration of the sonic screwdriver, but also hundreds of other props ranging from small handheld items to much larger set pieces. In the summer of 2012, Robatto was given the opportunity to build the new TARDIS console for its debut in the “Doctor Who” Christmas special, “The Snowmen.” This month he sat down with Target Audience Magazine to tell us a bit about how he got into prop making for “Doctor Who” and his latest enterprise, Rubbertoe Replicas.

The 11th Doctor (as played by Matt Smith) and his new TARDIS console built by Nick Robatto

The 11th Doctor (as played by Matt Smith) and his new TARDIS console built by Nick Robatto.


As the prop-maker for “Doctor Who,” you obviously have some skill-sets. How did you end up where you are? Your work history, etc.

After finishing high school, I went through art college to complete doing art foundation. At that point, I just thought that since I liked drawing and painting I was going to something along those lines. I always thought I could be a graphic designer. But, I realized that I preferred making things, really. I was a lot better at it and I enjoyed doing that, so I sort of ventured into the three dimensional side of the art world. Then came the time when I had to choose my university degree, so I choose product design. I thought that it sounded good and I got to go to another city in Britain and live away from home, so I thought it would be great. Then, I started doing the product design course and after six months, I realized that I didn’t like it because it was all science and there wasn’t a lot of making stuff.

While I was in University, I went to the art college that was down there, and they had a model making course, which I did and I did really well. I finished that and I started straight away in a place in Cardiff, Wales. I was making architecture models, product models, exhibitions, sets and displays. I did quite a lot there, making bigger stuff. We did lots of convention stands and bigger stuff, but also with the architecture model making, I sort of like to do the finer detail stuff and the smaller stuff. So, after working there for about five years, I could more or less make little tiny things up to big massive things.

When “Doctor Who” started filming, they started contracting out some of the work to the company and I would make a few bits and bobs for them. Then they started wanting more and more props and then they started taking people on. Gradually, I just sort of found myself working for them more or less full time on a freelance basis. Then, they sort of took me on full time. Still freelance, but on like an eight-month contract a year on“Doctor Who” and when that wasn’t on, I was working on “Torchwood” or “The Sarah Jane Adventures.” So, I had a continuous run for about five years working on those programs.

The rotating rings on top of the new TARDIS console that debuted in 2013 "Doctor Who" Christmas episode

The rotating rings on top of the new TARDIS console that debuted in 2013 “Doctor Who” Christmas episode.

Did you have to get special training to use the tools that you use now, the lathe and the milling machines?

I learned a very basic amount of it in college during the model making course, but after college, I didn’t use the lathe or mill for quite a long time because the place that I worked didn’t have them. It was only until I started buying my own machines and taking them to the BBC workshops that I started to use them a lot more. I bought my own machines and sort of self taught myself.

Do you have any advice for people that are interested in becoming a prop maker?

When I was in college, a lot of people would specialize in one area like sculpting, architecture models, textiles, product models. They’d always concentrate on one area, but I always made sure that I did a bit of everything so when it came to the end of the year, the potential employers could see my portfolio and see that I was pretty diverse. I tried not to pigeonhole myself into one specific thing. You’ve got to be good at all of it really. Just try and get good at doing everything. Make loads of stuff.

Is there one specific material that you really dislike working with?

Fiberglass. I hate fiberglass. It stinks and it’s horrible and dirty, and when you sand it, it makes you itch. I don’t ever touch fiberglass. I just say that I don’t do it. Also, making things out of metal is always tricky because it takes a lot longer to machine it. You can’t just ram it through a saw … you‘ve got to take your time with it.

The TARDIS Door Sign

The TARDIS Door Sign by Rubbertoe Replicas.

It’s nice to make stuff out of clean things. Like, at the moment we’re making all of our TARDIS door sign replicas, which is just a timber frame. It’s nice, easy and soft wood to work with. The white part of the sign is made of foamex, with vinyl lettering on it. It’s all nice, clean work. You can just sit down and get on with it.

Do you have any specific prop that you made for “Doctor Who” that you consider to be your favorite?

There’s been a few little ones that I really liked. There were a few mashups, where they just gave me a pile of junk and I just stuck it all together, put a motor in and made it move. Stuff like that. Of course, making the sonics was good fun … well, I don’t know if it was good fun, but it’s nice to have my name behind it.

What do you think is your favorite “Doctor Who” episode so far?

I thought the last one,“Name the Doctor” was pretty good, when the TARDIS went massive. Then, the other one, the one that Neil Gaiman wrote, “The Doctor’s Wife,” and the Vincent Van Gogh one, “Vincent and The Doctor” were really good. They’re the ones that really stick in my mind I suppose.

If you had to pick a favorite Doctor, which would it be?

I don’t really know much about the old series. When I was younger, I think the one I remember most was the seventh Doctor played by Sylvestor McCoy. The only ones I sort of know are the three that I’ve worked with. Christopher Eccleston really didn’t stick around long enough for me, so it’s between David Tennant and Matt Smith. I met David Tennant a few times and he was a nice guy, but then so was Matt Smith… I dunno! I like Matt and David.

Looking forward to the future with Rubbertoe Replicas, what do you think are your next challenges?

It would be nice to get some more “Doctor Who” props out. When they come out with the new series, it would be nice to get the props out within a month or two of it being seen on screen. Trying to make nice things that are affordable for people is hard at the moment because we are making it all by hand. I don’t think a lot of people these days understand that. It’s nice to have something that’s not an injection molded piece of plastic from China, but I don’t know if people really get that at the moment. They’re so used to having these products that are just churned out in the thousands for a couple of bucks. Maybe we go down that road in the future, I don’t know. Part of the uniqueness of these products is that they are handmade. For every one hundred people, it seems only about one person appreciates what goes into a handmade product.

We really want to get the rights to distribute our “Doctor Who” replicas to the U.S., I think. It would be good to get into some U.S. companies who would then stock it and make it more available to the U.S. so that you wouldn’t have to pay such stupid shipping charges. We’ll see. It’s all still sort of new to us.

Follow Nick Robatto on Twitter, or Facebook and visit his website, Rubbertoe Replicas.

If you are a “Doctor Who” fan, make sure to read the Target Audience Magazine interview with composer Murray Gold.

Interview with Doctor Who’s Murray Gold

Promotional artwork for the "Doctor Who" 50th Anniversary episode. The episode airs on November 23rd worldwide.

Promotional artwork for the “Doctor Who” 50th Anniversary episode. The episode airs on Nov. 23 worldwide.

Murray Gold is the musical composer for one of television’s longest running and most popular shows of all time, “Doctor Who.” In 2005, the BBC brought back the show after a hiatus that many spanned almost an entire generation. Since then, the cast, show runner and producers of “Doctor Who” have all changed at least once, but it has been composer Murray Gold that has there for every episode since The Doctor returned to our screens. “Doctor Who” has been a life changing experience for Gold.

Working on the show has required him to reinterpret the series’ iconic musical theme multiple times and he has even had his “Doctor Who” compositions performed twice at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England. Murray’s music can be heard during the 50th anniversary episode of “Doctor Who” on Nov. 23, 2013, which the BBC will be airing the episode at the exact same time all around the world.

Murray Gold’s resume may be filled with episodes of “Doctor Who,” but he isn’t just limited to a show about a time traveling alien saving the universe. Along with his lengthy career of musical composition in television and movies, Gold has written plays, ballets and radio plays. In the past few years, Gold has won the Imison Award for Best Script by a New Writer for his radio play “Electricity” and the Tinniswood Radio Drama Award for Best Radio Drama Script for “Kafka: The Musical.”

To find out how Gold ended up in such a unique and coveted position, it requires a fairly rare discussion about his youth. While he currently resides and works in New York City, he was raised and began his education in a naval town on the south coast of England. “I went to an all boys grammar school in Portsmouth. Most of your readers might not know what an English grammar school is, but it’s basically a school that you have to take an exam to get into. I came out of there and went to Cambridge University and studied history. While I was at university, I was in bands and wrote a lot of music for theater productions. After Cambridge, I had a couple shows at the Edinburgh Festival, then I started writing music for theater.”

Graduating from such a well known a prestigious university didn’t have the immediate payoffs for Gold that he was looking for. Like most of us, for a few years after his time at the university, he found that making a living as an artist proved to be difficult. “When I was in my 20s, I went back home and felt terrible about myself and I didn’t know how anything was going to happen. That was probably the most difficult time of my life. I sort of believe that your twenties should be a part of your education, but (especially in England) most people don’t do post-grad. A lot of people leave full time education at 21, and there are those that leave at 18 and don’t even go into further education.

“I remember my dad used to say to move up to London and do some journalism, and I would say ‘That’s not what I want to do. That’s not who I am.’ But, I think he had a point. Sometimes it’s best just to get things going. I was pretty hardcore about what art was in those days. You know how some young people are so ‘I’m not going to sell out! I don’t want to do television. I would never do television.’ It was all theater and novels and the more avant-garde it was, the better. There was only certain kinds of theater I liked … not the commercial theater … unless it was Chekov or Strindberg. I was kind of like a miserable twenty something. A moody, miserable, little git.”

When comparing his post-educational experiences to those that people may currently find themselves in, Gold does think that technology has changed the playing field.

“I had been putting my work out there, but of course nowadays it’s easier to do that. The question is, can you have anybody listen to it?”

“What I mean by easier is that there are just ways of sitting in your house and making something go public that weren’t available in the nineties when I had left University. But, I was getting out and about. I was doing things and getting a reputation for writing music for theater. Then, one day somebody from television came and asked if I wanted to write some music for a documentary he was making. So, I did a few documentaries, and then I did drama … I was quite lucky, I suppose.”

Then, in the late 90s, a personal tragedy would would forever change his life and define who he is today. “I was still back in Portsmouth in 1996 when my brother died. My brother dying was a major jolt. I had been really depressed up until that point and then I had a reason to be depressed. It had the galvanizing effect of sort of saying ‘to hell with all that depression nonsense.’”

The emotional struggle with his brother’s death led to Gold taking on some work that he might have previously turned away. “I’d gotten a job writing soap opera scripts. I’d managed to convince this show-runner that I would be a perfect writer for this show. I ended up writing hundreds of episodes of this show, and then the next year I started working with this guy named Mark Munden on a documentary, who a little later came to me and told me he’d been asked to direct ‘Vanity Fair,’ a BBC costume drama. He said that he really wanted me to do the music for it. It was really out there musically. It was my first television job, and I’d done a lot of theater, so I was a bit like ‘it’s television, who cares?’

Cover Art for the BBC's "Vanity Fair" DVD

Cover Art for the BBC’s “Vanity Fair”

“So, we got this really out of tune brass band to make this really decadent sounding theatrical music. And it was really noticed and Nicola Shindler, who runs Red Production Company and Paul Abbott, who is one of Britain’s greatest television writers, were looking for someone to write the music for ‘Queer as Folk,’ which was Russell T. Davies’ series. They had gone down the road with somebody quite famous and it didn’t work out for whatever reason, and ‘Vanity Fair’ had just been on. Russell got on the phone with me and said ‘we’ve been watching ‘Vanity Fair!’ Marvelous music! Marvelous music! I’ve done this thing that I’m really proud of called ‘Queer as Folk.’ Would you take a look at it?’”

Little did he know that his work with Russell T. Davies would lead to project after project, eventually landing him the role of composer on “Doctor Who” in 2005. “First it was ‘Queer as Folk,’ then ‘Mine all Mine,’ ‘The Second Coming,’ ‘Casanova,’ ‘Doctor Who’ and then ‘Torchwood.’ I had no idea that Russell was going to do ‘Doctor Who.’ I’d heard that it was coming back and I was really excited about it. He wrote me an email, not long before we had to finish episode one which just said ‘Hey Murray, do you want to do ‘Doctor Who?’ I should have asked ages ago.’”

When asked why he has changed the theme song so many times since the show’s re-launch, Murray went into quite a bit of detail. “Sometimes it’s as simple as a reformatting of the title sequence. There may be an entirely new title sequence and the music might need to be slightly longer or slightly shorter. Or they might decide they want to do the teaser in a different way, or maybe the teaser at the end of the episode is different. So a lot of the time, the titles have been reformatted and they ask if I can change this and that about the theme. But, it is as difficult to change the length of the theme, as it is to do a new one, so I just do a new one. I suppose we tend to just make a little tweak every time there’s a big difference in the character lineup.

“Sometimes there is a new one for Christmas. With ‘The Snowmen’ episode the current show runner, Stephen Moffat, wanted something new again so that we could introduce the new companion, Clara. People might not agree, but I’ve always tried to stay quite faithful to the original version. I’ve never departed much from tempo or feel. The theme has always been rooted in the original Delia Derbyshire version.”

When asked if he feels that the show’s music has ‘gotten bigger’ under Stephen Moffat’s guidance, Gold disagrees. “If you listen the last seasons of Russell T. Davies and David Tennant’s run, especially the last two episodes, they were all intense with the orchestra. There were definitely changes though. I think there were certain cues leftover from the fourth season that were brought over into season five [Moffat’s first season as show runner].

“The ‘I Am The Doctor’ theme is definitely more thematic than anything we’ve had before … partly because Stephen [Moffat] loved it so much. The producers wanted to use it all of the time. They were probably proud that they had that theme because they had a difficult job to step in at that moment. They had to decide what they were going to keep from a very successful show, and if they were going to just keep everything, how would they be doing anything differently. They had lots of choices to make, and I think one of the things that helped them was that theme because they knew that it had never been heard previously. It was distinctive enough for people to recognize it.”

Although writing music for “Doctor Who” has occupied a huge part of his life, Gold has never wandered too far away from his desire to write stories. “I had a play called ‘Resolution,’ then something called ‘50 Revolutions’ and did an adaptation of ‘Candide’ for the Gate Theater. After that, I got asked to start writing radio plays. The first one I did was called ‘Electricity,’ and that won the Richard Imison Award for Best Script by a New Writer. After that, I did another adaptation of ‘Candide’ called ‘Little Joe and the Best of All Possible Worlds.’”


“Kafka: The Musical,” Gold’s third radio play is the one that seems to have garnered the most attention though. Starring David Tennant from “Doctor Who,” it is a Kafkaesque story revolving around writer Franz Kafka realizing that he has to star in a musical about his own life. Last year, when it won the Tinniswood Radio Drama Award for Best Radio Drama Script, Gold was both humbled and surprised. The radio drama had been broadcast in 2011, and then went on to be developed as a stage play in Vancouver, Canada. “I won the award for the radio play something like two years after it had been broadcast.”

When asked about where the idea for “Kafka” had come from, Gold explained. “I’d always joked about writing a musical about Kafka. I thought it was one of those jokes that was never going to be a thing. I told Jeremy Mortimer, who was the producer of the radio play, and he told me to go write it. So, I’ve won two radio play awards and I was just absolutely amazed and thrilled because I’d been doing music for a long time, and it was lovely to get acknowledged for these plays.”

Before winding up the interview, Gold did have one serious piece of advice for all the aspiring artists out there.

“Get up early, work, eat lunch, have an afternoon nap and then do another session of work. Don’t lose the afternoon nap! That’s the best thing in the world.”