Doctor who

CBBC’s The Famous Five shows you can update a classic without trashing it

The new Doctor in Doctor Who has blond hair, blue eyes and a firm handshake, dresses in a splendid red coat and has an exciting catchphrase: ‘Hounds are running! Tally ho!’ No, not really. The new Doctor is so very much what you’d expect the new Doctor to be like that you can guess without my telling you. And it’s not that I think that Ncuti Gatwa is going to be bad as the Doctor. On the contrary, from what little I’ve glimpsed of him so far, he seems charismatic, energetic, and fun. But I do wish the BBC commissars responsible for the series would try to make their social

When family viewing was full of creeping menace

Strange, really, that the scheduled output of traditional broadcasters became known as ‘terrestrial’ television, given that TV is an etheric medium and nowadays exclusively a digital one. Or perhaps it’s not so strange at all. Television is ‘bonded to the earth’, writes Rob Young, whose roving survey of small and silver screen creativity between the 1950s and 1980s seeks to connect those airborne signals to the soil beneath our shoes. Young’s first book, the excellent Electric Eden, rummaged around the untrimmed hedgerows of the British psyche via the medium of folk-related music. The Magic Box has a similar aim. The intention is to ‘gorge on a huge cross-genre feast of

Who volunteers to be lectured by children?

The screenwriter Russell T. Davies has said that only gay actors should be cast in gay parts, believing this leads to greater authenticity. The obvious question here is how would Russell know who is gay and who is not gay when he comes to casting? It is not always obvious, surely. Do all gay actors who attend casting sessions enter the room humming hits from Mamma Mia! before enthusing over the decor? Perhaps Russell just guesses, like I do when I’m watching the BBC weathermen flouncing around. The other obvious question is that if it’s authenticity you’re after, surely gay men must never be cast in straight roles? For reasons

The wrong kind of diversity

The BBC has advised its journalists not to use the word ‘terror’ or ‘terrorist’ when some bloke blows himself up screaming ‘Allahu akbar’ in a public place, thus killing as well lots of non-Allahu akbar kind of people. The words ‘terror’ or ‘terrorist’ are, in this context, pejorative and the use of them involves making an assumption, which of course we must never do. It may not have been terror which the chap intended to instil in the local population, but enlightenment, good cheer and a general sense of bonhomie, of course. Given that the BBC no longer uses the word ‘Islamic’ whenever mentioning these sorts of actions,  it is

Top of the Christmas lists

The ‘gift books’ are out again, piled high in Waterstones, books that have only one reason to exist: to be given to people who don’t want them on Christmas Day. Having written one or two myself, I have seen the look on the faces of potential purchasers as they pick one up and leaf idly through its well-crafted pages. The look that says: whose Yuletide can we ruin with this? As ever, happily, there are a few genuinely decent books in among all the drivel and nonsense and tired jokes about Brexit and Donald Trump. The Spectator’s own Mark Mason is a long-serving truffler of trivial facts, which he often

Get woke, go broke

You won’t be aware of this because the BBC has been keeping it very quiet. But the new Doctor Who is — wait for it — a woman! Let me say straight away that Jodie Whittaker is a delight. Opening as the new Doctor is never easy — all that tiresome establishing rigmarole you have to go through along the lines of ‘I’m feeling all funny. Almost like I’m a completely different actor but in the same body. What can it be? Who am I? Has anyone watching at home worked it out yet?’ But already we like her. Yes, at the moment she’s still a bit of a mishmash

BBC writer: Brexit voters delayed woman Doctor Who

Nowadays Brexit is blamed for a lot of things – in fact when good news does occur it’s often accompanied by the phrase ‘despite Brexit’. But up until now Mr S didn’t realise the dark force of Brexit had spread to a different time continuum. Steven Moffat, the creative force behind Doctor Who, has revealed the reason that it is only now a female has been cast as a Time Lord: Brexit voters. Asked why he never cast a woman as the Doctor, Moffat tells the Radio Times that he had to be mindful of viewers who voted for Brexit: ‘This isn’t a show exclusively for progressive liberals; this is

Who cares that the new Doctor is female?

Jodie Whittaker: what an inspired choice for the new Doctor. Not only is she a very fine actress, whether she’s playing stricken with grief, as she did in Broadchurch, or a comedically exasperated trainee nurse stressed out by aliens and chavs in the wonderful little film Attack the Block. She also exudes that quality every good Doctor needs: the everyman touch. Or everyperson touch. The sense that while this creature might be a Time Lord with two hearts and a police-box time machine, he — now she — is nonetheless like us. Special but connectable. Otherworldly but worldly. Whittaker can do that. I think she’ll be brilliant. But my joy

A thoroughly entertaining shot of Mozartian optimism: Mid Wales Opera’s Magic Flute reviewed

The Magic Flute Mid Wales Opera, touring until 4 May The backdrop is a hexagonal matrix, glowing in neon blue. Mist billows from the wings, and as a figure in a pink gas mask huddles in the foreground, a Victorian funeral party marches slowly across the stage. ‘Where am I?’ asks Tamino in the first scene of The Magic Flute and in Richard Studer’s new production for Mid Wales Opera, the answer seems to be the faintly eerie world of 1970s British sci-fi – an episode of Sapphire and Steel perhaps, or Tom Baker-era Doctor Who. Well, why not? Mozart and Schikaneder – whose libretto invokes Egyptian gods while specifying

Cheating death

2016 was probably the year even the most optimistic of us — those who can genuinely square the new populist politics with a bright future for truth-seekers, scientists and rational thinkers — gave up on the possibility of time travel. Surely, on every rally stage there should have been at least one white man from the future (it’s generally a white man for the simple statistical reason that if you’re a woman or a non-white man and go travelling in time, there’s only about 0.2 per cent of recorded history where you won’t materialise to immediate shouts of, ‘Quick, Paw, fetch the best whupping switch — and a cage’), wild-eyed,

Impure thoughts

Spoiler alerts aren’t normally required for reviews of Shakespeare — but perhaps I’d better issue one before saying that in BBC1’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Monday) Theseus dies near the end. Not only that, but Hippolyta and Titania fly off on butterfly wings to become lovers, and the mechanicals’ play goes down a storm. Personally, I’ve never been sure about the existence of that mysterious tribe known as ‘Shakespeare purists’. If they do exist, though, Russell T. Davies’s heavily cut and cheerfully tweaked adaptation seems almost deliberately designed to flush them out. Famous, of course, for reviving Doctor Who, Davies here showed a similar fondness for jumbling together different eras

A force for good

When I saw this book, a biography of Huw Wheldon, who was managing director of BBC Television between 1968 and 1975, I thought ‘Aha!’ Inevitably, my mind was filled with images -of Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall, of the Led Zeppelin guitar riff at the start of Top of the Pops, of the men in charge who had no idea what was going on. Might Wheldon have been one of the guys who had no idea what was going on? I tried to put this thought to one side. The book is by Wheldon’s son, Wynn. It’s a very moving account of a son’s love and regard for his father.

Was my article the inspiration for this brilliant BBC dramatisation?

The two things I hate most about Christmas are a) Advertland showing me how sparkly and joyous my home and bright-eyed kids are at this time of year, and b) the Doctor Who Xmas special telling me that if only I can open my heart and put cynicism aside, then I too can enjoy a mash-up of Dickens, C.S. Lewis and the Brothers Grimm, where daleks with tinsel round their guns exterminate the spirit of Scrooge as laughing children come pouring from the Ice Queen’s dungeon and something nice happens on a London housing estate. Or similar. That’s what was so great about We’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story (BBC2,

Ben Miller solves the pensions crisis – by pilfering from Doctor Who set

The new baddie from Doctor Who has come up with a novel solution to private pensions – stealing from the set. Ben Miller, star of the BBC’s Death in Paradise Drama, will guest star as “a dastardly villain with considerable sideburns” in an episode penned by Mark Gatiss. Describing himself as a “committed Whovian” he is such a fan that he is nabbing costumes and scripts in the hope that they will increase in value. Speaking to Mr S in the West End he said, “I’ve taken stuff from set including loads of photos which is very naughty because you’re not allowed to. I’ve kept everything; schedules and all the things you’ve got

Why doesn’t Doctor Who travel far from Britain? 

If I could go back in time, I’d watch Doctor Who from the very first episode. I wasn’t born in Britain, and with the 50th anniversary of the series hurtling towards us like an Earth-bound Tardis, I’m wondering if I might understand this cultural touchstone better if I’d grown up in the country, along with the show. But Doctor Who neophytes are in luck, because there’s a tiny loop in the time-space continuum whereby we can quickly catch up on Time Lord lore. To celebrate the 50th, the BBC has commissioned a host of programmes, many setting out to explain Doctor Who’s place as a British icon. This week there’s

Why Doctor Who is secretly Tony Benn

Who inspired Who? Leave aside for one moment the hyperventilating BBC enthronement of Peter Capaldi, though we shall return to him later. I mean way back at the beginning, 50 years ago. The Doctor was invented by a committee of middle-ranking BBC executives — but who was the role-model for this anti-establishment, vaguely dotty but distinguished figure? Come on! With hindsight, the inspiration must surely have been Tony Benn — and I’ll prove it to you. Having inherited the title Viscount Stansgate, Benn used an act of parliament in 1963 to disclaim his place in the House of Lords; in 1963, the Doctor, for his own part, disclaimed his place