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The TV Column: By Gerry Corner

Fabio Capello, Alan Hanson, Brian Blessed, Guy Mowbray - and the final whistle verdict on Matt Smith as Doctor Who

Written by . Published on June 29th 2010.

The TV Column: By Gerry Corner

OUR leaders have long believed God was on England's side. Maybe that's why, at 2-0 down, the manager of our national football team was attempting to open the lines of communication.

The wartime comparisons were hard for the mind to avoid as German hordes stormed through England's flimsy fortifications. This time, there would be no Dunkirk rescue. And if the players were calling on Churchill, it was to get a quote for life insurance before the plane touched down on English soil

“Fabio Capello clasped his hands in prayer,” said commentator Guy Mowbray. “That might be the only answer.” (Yes, Holy Father, I am Italian, but I'm not asking for me).

We all knew whose side the referee was on: first he got in the way of a (vaguely) promising England build up, then refused to give THAT goal, the one that brought '66 flooding back. Add another '6' and it starts to look like the devil's work.

It had all been going so well with England looking like real contenders (World Cup Football, England v Germany, BBC1, Sunday) but then the game started.

“I don't know what all the fuss is about; if they play well, they win,” drawled Alan Hansen, who is not English and was showing it.

The BBC eased pre-match nerves with a diverting, specially edited sequence featuring Fabio giving assistant Stuart Pearce a smart elbow in the ribs every time he got over-excited (Next time: How Fabio got the elbow).

As the time neared to engage with the enemy, Brian Blessed was the first man to go over the top, invoking Shakespeare's Henry V to rally the nation (again): “Cry God for Fabio, England and Saint George!”

“Well, it worked last time,” said anchor man Gary Lineker in defence of another BBC repeat.

Since the match was being shown on God's own broadcasting company, impartiality was not deemeed necessary. Hence, Mowbray ran up his colours straight away: “This is England's 4th game of a possible seven. Let's hope that this is slap bang in the middle of their World Cup campaign.”

By the 30th minute, England's tactics were heading down a familiar route – Route One. It was so easy for Germany, their goalie was saving shots with his eyes closed (well, that one from Lampers, anyway).

The wartime comparisons were hard for the mind to avoid as German hordes stormed through England's flimsy fortifications. This time, there would be no Dunkirk rescue. And if the players were calling on Churchill, it was to get a quote for life insurance before the plane touched down on English soil.

If only Lampard's goal had stood, it might all have been so different. Beckham and Rooney illustrated the size of the margin like anglers recounting the one that got away. Television cameras proved the point to the entire population of Planet Earth, bar the one person who could do anything about it.

The Germans in the crowd were probably thanking God, but mostly they were thanking the man in the middle. “Danke referee,” they called, which was remarkably close to what the English fans were shouting.

NOW the cosmic dust has settled, writer Russell T Davies moved on, and a brand new Doctor taken charge of a refurbed TARDIS, how has the brand that is Doctor Who (BBC1, Saturday) borne the loss of its best-loved storyteller at the same time as its best-loved Gallifreyan?

There have been changes, that's for sure. For starters, try this: never mind the paradox machine, the very things that make the 11th Doctor similar to the 10th are the very things that make him different.

David Tennant's Doctor was a galaxy away from Christopher Eccleston's Doctor, and Eccleston's equally different to Paul McGann's, and so on and so forth back to the beginning of Time Lords, yet the nature of Matt Smith's Doctor is pretty indistinguishable from his predecessor's – and there's the difference.

The gestures, the histrionics, the timing of the lines; the things that made Tennant super strength, now make for a sort of Tennant lite. Smith is a talented actor, who brings a welcome rush of youthful vitality and cuts a dash in elbow patches and bow tie, but his performance is essentially a good copy of the last version.

Is it possible that the producers, fearing a loss of viewers – and revenue – lacked the confidence to give Smith a free rein, clinging on to what they could of DT's magic? Perhaps that fear also prompted them to look beyond the under 10s and over 40s, and seek the post-pubescent vote this time around.

Practically the first thing we learn about Amy Pond is that she's a kissogram. Try detailing that job description to a nine-year-old who strongly suspects you're leaving something out.

Previous series included occasional sexual references but they were delivered at an angle that carried them safely above the heads of the Year Fours. Now it's right in your face, from the thrusting cleavage of River Song to a full-on snog from Amy Pond, making it look, at times, like an episode of Hollyoaks, except that Doctor Who's storylines are more true to life, of course.

New Who overseer Steven Moffat and his co-writers manage much of the wit and pace of the Davies era, but in this series, which finished at the weekend, they struggle to match the emotional heights that took the programme on to a different plane from the 20th century version. Writing which suddenly meant the Doctor was no longer merely an all-action hero, but a pastor of the universe with feelings that we felt too; and companions who felt passion, not just plain old lust.

Even the big tear-jerking scene of the final episode, in which Amy believes the Doctor is to sacrifice himself in order to save the universe (again), had a hollow ring as the rest of us were pretty sure the BBC would not kill the chief asset of a show that, in terms of science fiction's merchandising potential, is the televisual equivalent of Star Wars.

Many of the doubts thrown up by earlier episodes – in relation to plotting, characterisation, repeated use of comic devices, too many worst-case scenarios ( “I've got 20 minutes to save the world”) - were swept away in an hour-long finale which benefited from clever construction of the I'm-not-sure-what-the-hell's-going-on-but-it-sounds-good variety, and some good jokes, chiefly regarding the mind-bending implications of time travel. When an adult Amy comes face to face with a young Amelia, she greets herself by declaring: “Okay, kid, this is where it gets complicated.”

But if we are to judge the post-Russell T Davies era in its entirety, you have to conclude that Moffat is no RTD2 and, if he is, he belongs in Star Wars.

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

PollyJune 28th 2010.

Sorry dear it was of course the Tylers not the Pipers. In fact sorry for most of the above. It's the time war made me time loopy.

Polly SpocksJune 28th 2010.

Not much time for the new Timelord or Moffat then? Tennant was without doubt an enormous factor in the rising popularity of the programme and was a class act, but remember, he too had some really duff episodes in his first series bogged down by the family soap opera and love story that RTD (sic) insisted on torturing us with. Even the third series had some less than great episodes, although I may have missed some of the plot because I was too busy admiring the attributes of Martha Jones but mid way through and then particularly towards the end thanks to Derek Jacobi and John Symm it really then got going into something special. Then as I think millions thought “Catherine Tate!!!? You will wreck it, what the hell are you thinking of?” we witnessed perhaps the greatest Doctor companion double act ever. As good as Reg Holdsworth and Curly Watts at Bettabuys Throughout his tenure, there was always some of the over the top rolling eyes and gor blimies which started to irritate and the - right here is a really funny set piece now with David dressed in shades, a funny hat and doing a sloanie voice - also made you wish they would tone it down a bit. I am also surprised Russell T missed the opportunity to have two Cybermen snogging, or finding a use for the Doctors spare hand in a jar. But you could forgive a lot of that because Tennant was so engaging in the role and when talking about it. He just seems a very likeable actor. If you have enjoyed the programme over the years and been through the regenerations there is always a period of mourning for the previous incarnation. But young Smith, the person I had decided to hate from the day he was announced, as far as I am concerned, breezed into the part and has now got through his first series with largely flying colours. Considering I was determined to tear him to shreds couldn’t stand the gob on him or the stupid hair, I found him surprisingly good and now I think he looks really good and the hair is okay because he has convinced me he is the Doctor. Where it has been weak is due to some of the writing, rather than his performance. That penultimate story The Lodger one, with the fat lad off, whatever it’s called was absolutely awful. The worst ever shot football sequence, “because Matt used to be a really good player yah!” That was about as subtle as when they did a panto in crossroads because Noel Gordon used to sing in musical theatre. Almost as bad was lets try and make him as sexy as Tennant. How do we do that “ ahh, by having him running around naked and let the towel slip a few times so you nearly see his dematerialisation circuits” Okay so they did have Jon Pertwee naked in the shower in Spearhead From Space, his first story, but I don’t think that was aimed at schoolgirls.So, I don't think he Smith is doing a Tennant mark II at all, if anything, he is doing a little bit of a Troughton, with a touch of manic Michael Palin. I think Tennant and Smith are very different. Tennant was lots of big gestures and loud volume. Smith is small gestures, with engaging expressions and some unique and believable mannerisms that take me back to old school type Doctors. There are a few odd lines that don’t quite fit the persona but that is down to the writing and maybe the writers unable to exorcise the ghost of Tennant just yet as certain lines would have suited him better. I think Smith has a charm and vulnerability that was lacking in Tennants often too cocky Doctor even though he would have a little cry at losing his pearly queen innit. Gawd ‘elp us. But frankly at 900 odd years old, chasing some little blonde supposed to be just out of her teens? Would we have said ahhhhh how sweet if it was Jon Pertwee trying to give Jo Grant one in the cloister room? And name one thing that made Rose Paiper special, one quality that no other companion had ? Yet we were expected to believe she was so wonderful that the old bugger after 900 odd years, could suddenly fall in love. I mean blimey! Liz Shaw, Leela, the first Romana? The writers have also had a few mishaps trying to do the clever Time paradox stuff, that was done very well in some Star Trek Next Generation episodes I saw. Daft as they were, they seemed to have a logic in Star Trek, whereas here if it gets too complicated in the recent Dr Who they don’t have the answer other than saying it’s too complicated. The writing needs to sharpen up to keep the adult audience, even though there was some great comic writing helped by Smiths comic timing and acting skills. They can’t rely on Amy Ponds legs. What is interesting is the going back to two companions with Amy and Rory. I think it was always at it’s best when there were three in the Tardis. Barbara Chesterton and Susan, Ben and Polly ( why am I thinking magic kingdom?) Jamie and Zoe, Harry and Sarah Jane. The Pipers at least gave us Mickey, the boyfriend of the cry-faced Rose and I thought he was great as a comic foil and it became a great part for him. He is also a really good actor. There still aren’t that many good parts for black actors on TV outside of soaps and not in a heroic role, even in Hustle where the lead is a black actor, he is still a crook. Is Coronation Street still white supremacy apart from the leery git in the shop who drags out every vowel? I think he shagged Deirdre. Well one thing with Smith as the doctor, I don’t think there is a danger he is going to get any young ladies over the console next to the rising column. I think the dismissal of the randy Amy in her bedroom, the marriage to Rory and the whatever is going on with Professor River Song is a clear stamp being put on it by Moffat that we have had enough of that nonsense. Well I hope so. The jury should stay out until the Christmas special and into the next serried to give Smith and Moffat the same chance as Tennant had. The new design Daleks are however complete crap. They are like 70s soda streams. One final thought, I don’t think you can compare Paul McGann’s Doctor to any of the others. He could have been a great Doctor but the Americans wrecked it and the plot based around the Master was a nonsense to anyone not versed in the history of the programme. Maybe there is a possibility for another Two Doctors type story. It would be nice to see Paul McGann step into his Tardis again. But forget that stuff about your mother being human that was just the Yanks shoving in one of their anti commie hangover b-movie inserts. Well if you have read this far, I can tell you one thing, you’ll never get that time back again, but then time is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Spot onJune 28th 2010.

it's right that about Dr Who

DodoJune 28th 2010.

That Amy Pond is awful though, like some wilful whining teenager. If she doesn´t pull her socks up I´ll arrange the return of Donna Noble who was witty, clever and an asset to the plot, unlike drippy Pond.

Red or deadJune 28th 2010.

Ooh! You wasp!

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