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Happy birthday, Peter Capaldi!

Today is Peter Capaldi’s 57th birthday! In honor of the latest Doctor’s birthday, Doctor Who FAQ author Dave Thompson has written a birthday post, detailing his thoughts on Capaldi’s portrayal of the famous television character.

PETER CAPALDI’S BIRTHDAY       

by Dave Thompson

The odds were always stacked against the Twelfth Doctor.

For a start, was he the Twelfth Doctor? Even before John Hurt’s “War Doctor” came along to throw out the numbering once and for all, the very fact that the tenth had been doubled was already throwing the chronology a bit.

Add to this the fact that Peter Capaldi’s reign not only followed that of the bafflingly popular Matt Smith’s, but also the show’s own (frankly untoppable) fiftieth birthday celebrations; add to that, the continued sense that show runner Steven Moffat has now switched his default setting to Unnecessarily Convoluted Storytelling mode; and add to that, the mold-breaking emergence of the first Doctor in a decade who isn’t simply older than the show, he’s also older than any of his predecessors (William Hartnell was 55 when he debuted the role; Capaldi was 56) . . . that’s a lot of baggage to carry.

As he commences filming on his second season, however, Capaldi has already conquered the most important task of all. He has convinced us that he is the Doctor, and not just within the realms of his personal, vociferous, fan club (the fate of at least two, and possible four of his predecessors).

A performance that is uniquely his own has also, and utterly without contradiction, been described as an amalgam of every Doctor who came first; First’s irascibility; Second’s humor; Third’s occasional resemblance to the magician who performed at your best friend’s fifth birthday party; Four’s uniquely alien outlook; Five’s . . . well, we’re still waiting for five to show up. But Six’s irascibility, Seven’s sense of mystery; Eight’s . . . okay, eight is still absent as well. But Eccleston’s toughness, Tennant’s charm and Smith’s flapping silliness can all be extracted from Capaldi’s DNA; and he has required all those qualities, too.

It is redundant to suggest that Moffat’s career as a writer is locked in irreversible decline, particularly where Doctor Who is concerned. But the truth is . . . true. The first three stories that he wrote for the series, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances two-parter, The Girl In The Fireplace and Blink are routinely, and rightly, regarded as not simply the best tales told since the show returned in 2005, but among the best in its entire fifty year lifespan.

Subsequent creations could not maintain that quality, and often seemed set on upending it altogether; while the man who cast such razor-sharp eyes across simple human relationships via earlier creations Joking Apart, Coupling (both, tellingly, nominally sitcoms) and Jekyll is also responsible for foisting upon us some of the most cringe inducing romantic interests of the modern age: less Doctor Who, and more Who Cares?

That current companion Clara’s dalliance with “PE teacher” Danny Pink represents the most stultifying of them all was possibly the most heart-stoppingly dull of them all. Perhaps there are sound psychological reasons why the last ten year’s worth of Doctor’s companions have chosen to fall for the dullest blade in the knife box, but at least Mickey (Rose’s put-upon paramour) and Rory (Amy Pond’s pet rock) came good in the end, while even Donna’s ill-fated fiancé at least had the cojones to be working for the opposition all along.

The watery Pink, on the other hand, existed solely to provide the Doctor with an opportunity to indulge in further Mickey/Ricky mix-ups, this time by insisting that the math teacher taught PE; to push Clara into a series of emotional crises that were the least believable element of the entire series (and in a run that included the Moon being revealed as an egg; the legend of Robin Hood as an alien-induced hallucination; and trees as global fire-fighters, that’s quite an achievement); and to die, which we will get to in a moment.

Even more damagingly, not once were we offered any indication as to why Clara should care so much for the man. His persona is seen from just two perspectives – the Doctor’s scorn and disdain (which, unlike Ten’s constant mockery of Mickey, was not feigned), and his own tiresome PTSD induced sense of self-pity. Not once are we given even a hint as to why Clara should care any more for this bullying, over-possessive lunk than a fish would for a bicycle. Only once the season finale passed by did we understand why Pink was even part of the story to begin with.

It was so they could remake that whole Ianto/Cyber-girlfriend storyline from an old episode of Torchwood, of course. That, and the now inevitable insistence upon imbibing finales with a tissue box full of wearying lachrymosity. As if the death of Osgood, UNIT’s inhaler-wielding, scarf-toting hardcore queen of nerdish delight, was not shattering enough for the average viewer. As if the return of the Master, in the form of a fresh Mistress of Uber-camp Madness, was not breathtaking enough for the most trigger-happy channel-surfer. As if… as if we cared.

Capaldi triumphed over all of these things; and so did Clara, at least when she wasn’t being shoehorned into awkward clinches (and, via the Christmas special, even more awkward flashbacks) with the Pink thing. 

Indeed, no matter how high Capaldi soared as the season progressed, Clara soared likewise. Unquestionably, her sheer force of character convinced us that, at last, the Doctor had unearthed a force of nature capable of equalling even Rose (or Jo Grant, for any older viewers still watching). And capable, too, of delivering lines with such beguiling intensity that an entire generation is destined to melt every time they hear the words “run, you clever boy . . .” Or see a soufflé.

As an overall series, it wasn’t the best. At least three episodes (Into the Dalek, Kill the Moon, In the Forest of the Night) rank among the weakest deployed since the show returned, and it may or may not be coincidental that two of those were at least partially stymied by the frankly absurd science that underpinned them. Yes, we know it’s all make-believe, but if you’re setting a story on what claims to be the Earth that the rest of us live on, then make sure that basic physics don’t undermine the whole thing.

Of the others, Flatline, Time Heist and Mummy on the Orient Express were bold enough to withstand multiple rewatchings; Deep Breath was rewarding upon subsequent viewings; Robot of Sherwood was this year’s Dinosaurs on a Spaceship; The Caretaker was a glorious romp; Listen was a frankly terrifying notion that writer Moffat then castrated by trying too hard; and then it was time for the season finale.

Dark Water/Death In Heaven was the two-parter in which we finally learned the reason why past stories had been interrupted by Mary Poppins, before Poppins herself became . . . Well, cynics could point out that Missy is less a reincarnation of the Master than she is a pantomime revision of Moriarty, and there is truth to that. But she is also (like Moriarty) one of Moffat’s all-time classic villains; frighteningly insane, incalculably evil, and absolutely unmissable. The moment when she sweeps herself so elegantly backwards and calls out for “Doctor Chang” . . . if you didn’t have a Demented Nanny fixation before that, you do now.

And Capaldi? Capaldi matched her every step of the way, to emerge as strong a Doctor as he ought to be, and as likable a Doctor as he clearly doesn’t care to be. And, even better, unlike his last three regenerations, the man can’t even flirt properly.

Although you know that on the playground the following day, once the cries of ”exterminate” and “delete” had been exhausted, more than one juvenile would-be Lothario zoomed in on the girl of his dreams and declared “you look nice. Have you washed?”

Happy birthday, Peter Capaldi. And happy birthday, Doctor. May there be many, many more.

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Happy Birthday, Sylvester McCoy!

Sylvester McCoy, otherwise known as the Seventh Doctor, is 70 years old today. Enjoy an excerpt from Doctor Who FAQ, written by Dave Thompson.

The Seventh Doctor—Sylvester McCoy (born August 20, 1943)

All rolling “r”s and mischievous smiles, physically the Seventh Doctor harked back to the Second. But emotionally, he reawakened memories of the First. Cutting to the point of cruelty, and appearing ready and willing to disassociate himself from even his closest friends, the Seventh Doctor was deep.

Even as he wrestled with the disorientation that now traditionally followed a regeneration, he seemed to know a lot more than he let on—particularly when his only foil was Mel, a spoiled brat of a girl whom he inherited from the Sixth Doctor (and truly, that pair deserved one another), and who echoed Adric’s claim to be a mathematical genius, without ever offering up any evidence of the fact.

Rather, if one can imagine a young Margaret Thatcher disguised as Raggedy Ann, that was Mel in a nutshell, and the Seventh Doctor’s dislike for her was evident every time they touched down on a new planet and he allowed her to go off on her own. Just once before (Earthshock, 1982) had one of the Doctor’s regular companions actually died in the course of duty, Adric, remaining onboard a doomed space freighter as it crashed into the Earth 64 million years ago. And the Fifth Doctor at least summoned up a show of dismay in his memory. Had Mel taken a similar exit, one doubts that the Seventh would have proven quite so respectful. Even his farewell remarks, it was later revealed, were secondhand; they were originally written as an audition piece when McCoy tried out for the role.

If the nature of the Seventh Doctor was initially partially shaped by his disdain for his first assistant, however, it was with the arrival of his second, Ace, that he became the most successful and, generally speaking, likable Doctor since the early days of the Fourth in the company of Sarah Jane, or the Third as he adventured with Jo Grant.

A companion, after all, is not simply someone who tags along with the Doctor to ensure that he has someone to explain things to. She or he is also there to allow the television viewer to see the Doctor as something more than an otherworldly alien who is good at saving the world. She (or he) is there to make certain that we love him as much as they do.

The first three Doctors understood this instinctively; the Fourth at least knew it at the outset of his reign. And the Seventh tapped back into that knowledge, at the same time—and this is where his cruelty comes into play—as he played Ace like an unwitting chess piece in a series of adventures that hindsight revealed were purposefully designed to bring out a secret that her own life had somehow buried.

It was a gambit that the Eleventh Doctor would employ in his dealings with the third of the TARDIS’s ill-starred redheads, the fragrant Amy Pond. The difference, however, is that the Seventh Doctor did not feel the need to make his machinations blindingly obvious all the time. Again, he was deep, and a secret entrusted to him would remain a secret for eternity. Whereas the Eleventh would not simply blab it at the first chance he got, he would also try and make a jokey-wokey out of it. “Try” being the operative word.

 

Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQ also includes a comprehensive episode guide.

Doctor Who FAQ Trivia

Are you a true fan of Doctor Who? The first person to correctly answer the following questions will win a free copy of Doctor Who FAQ by Dave Thompson. Don’t forget to include your email address so we can contact you if you win!

1. Who played the first Doctor?

2. Who (or what) is the Doctor’s longest-running nemesis?

3. Who is the Doctor’s current companion?

4. How many incarnations has the Doctor had?

Good luck!

Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQ also includes a comprehensive episode guide.

From the Doctor’s most impressive alien foes and the companions who have fought alongside him to unimagined planets and unexpected points in history, from some of the greatest minds ever to have walked the Earth, to the most evil beings ever to haunt the universe, it’s all covered here, including the Tardis, the none-too-reliable “bigger on the inside than the out” blue box in which the Doctor travels.

Hal Leonard at Book Expo America 2013

Thanks to everyone who stopped by our booth at Book Expo last week! We had a successful show and a great time. Here are some highlights.

CSI

Party for our sales team at CSI in our booth

Kruth

John Kruth autographed his Roy Orbison biography, RHAPSODY IN BLACK. Here’s John wearing shades…Orbison-style!

Dave

Dave Thompson autographed DOCTOR WHO FAQ

FAQ

A nice display for our FAQ series

Ian

Ian Rusten stopped by and got a sneak peek at his BEACH BOYS IN CONCERT book coming out next month

shelf1

Nice display of all our forthcoming titles for Fall 2013!

 

Winners of our Raffles:

Family Tradition: Jill
Jimi Hendrix, The Ultimate Lyric Book: Alan
Treasures of Bruce Lee: Lynda
Les Miserables: Evan
Bob and Ray: Steve
Shell Shocked: Sharon
Congrats, everyone!

David Tennant – The Tenth Doctor

It’s David Tennant’s birthday!  Below is an excerpt from Dave Thompson’s Doctor Who FAQ in honor of the Tenth Doctor.

At the same time, the Tenth Doctor remains the most personable of all his 
incarnations, well groomed and humorous, loyal and intense, capable of swinging from crushing sentimentality to seething rage on whims that are all the more alien for their sheer humanity. He is a Doctor who has imbibed the best qualities of every one of his predecessors, without weeding through them to discover which might actually clash with one another to set up a fresh internal conflict.

Losing the companionship of Rose Tyler and her family would become the single defining moment of the Tenth Doctor’s life span, just as her companionship was the single most important relationship. Subsequent cotravelers Martha Jones and Donna Noble attempted to break through the resultant isolation, but they were never going to do so, while the other “friends” who passed through his life would likewise fall a long way short of the Rose-shaped ideal, no matter what depths of pathos they descended to in their attempts to pierce his armor. Rather, he recruited them for what he could get out of them, maintaining their presence until they asked to be released, but disdaining their friendship in his rugged pursuit of a higher goal.

Even Donna’s grandfather, a whiskery old gentleman with a kitbag full of war stories, only briefly captured the Doctor’s attention, while a cynical viewer might think that Martha entered the Doctor’s life only so there could be a personal side to his oncoming confrontation with her sister’s employer, the fast-rising politician Harold Saxon. If we were discussing the Seventh Doctor, by the way, that would not even have been in doubt.

Doctor Who FAQ

Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQalso includes a comprehensive episode guide.

Singing Songs About the Doctor

In which we learn that it isn’t all Dum-de-dum, Dum-de-dum…Woooo-ooooooooo!

In celebration of Peter Davidson’s birthday today…

The following is an excerpt of Doctor Who FAQ by Dave Thompson. Here, we list the author’s selection of songs about Doctor Who, but pick up a copy of the book to read the history, descriptions, and opinions that go with each song. Time for Doctor Who fans to load up their iPods with as many as they can get their hands on.

The Go-Gos—“I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas with a Dalek

Roberta Tovey with Orchestra—“Who’s Who?

The Earthlings—“Landing of the Daleks

Jack Dorsey—“Dance of the Daleks”

Frazer Hines—“Jamie’s Awa’ in the TARDIS”

Bongo Herman and Les—“Doctor Who

Jon Pertwee—“Who Is the Doctor?

Thin Lizzy—“Doctor Who

I-Roy and the Upsetters—“Doctor Who

The Art Attacks—“I Am a Dalek

Radio Stars—“Johnny Mekon”

Mankind—“Doctor Who

The K-9s—“The K-9 Hassle

Dalek I Love You—“Destiny (Dalek I Love You)

Worzel Gummidge—”Worzel’s Song

The Human League—“Tom Baker

Blood Donor—“Doctor ?

The Prisoners—“Revenge of the Cybermen

Bullamanka—“Doctor Who Is Gonna Fix It

Dr. Pablo and Dub Syndicate—“Doctor Who

Bonnie Langford—“Just One Kiss”

Frank Sidebottom—sci-fi medley

Who Cares—“Doctor in Distress

The Timelords—“Doctoring the TARDIS

The Cybermen—“Doctor Who on a Mission

Dalek Beach Party—“Teddy Boy’s Picnic”

Orbital—“Doctor Who

Mitch Benn—“Doctor Who Girl

Bill Bailey—“Dr. Qui

Martin Gordon—“Her Daddy Was a Dalek, Her Mummy Was a Non-Stick Frying Pan”

John Barrowman—“The Doctor and I

Chameleon Circuit—“Type 40

The latter, Chameleon Circuit, provided the music to this book’s book trailer:

Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQ also includes a comprehensive episode guide.

Doctor Who Loopholes

Tonight is the return of Doctor Who on BBC America. To celebrate, here is what Dave Thompson, author of Doctor Who FAQ, told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in a recent interview. Please visit the Gazette’s blog to read all that Thompson had to say about the show.

Gazette: According to lore, the 13th doctor should be the last — the 1976 episode “The Deadly Assassin” talked about a regeneration limit of 12 times, and Matt Smith is the 11th doctor. Do you know of a loophole or can you imagine one that would allow the Doctor to go on (I have a parallel universe theory, but that’s too easy).

Thompson: Good question!  I think the loophole they will probably use is, now that he is the “last” of the Time Lords, all laws of Time Lordy-ness can safely be suspended. Or at least forgotten. The 12 regeneration limit has, in any case, been broken by the Master without too many attempts to square it with canon, so it will probably not be an issue.  Unless, of course, the show is plummeting in the ratings and “The Final Doctor” becomes the hook to either win back viewers or end it altogether.

Keep reading this interview on the Pittsburgh Post Gazette!

Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQ also includes a comprehensive episode guide.

Patrick Troughton: The Doctor, The Clown

To celebrate Patrick Troughton’s birthday we have posted an excerpt from Dave Thompson’s new book Doctor Who FAQ. Please enjoy!

The Clown was the Second Doctor, formally introduced to his audience still lying on the TARDIS floor, where he fell at the end of the previous adventure.

In what we might call “the real world,” that in which BBC writers, pro- ducers, directors, and crew fuss around to bring the Doctor’s adventures into our living rooms, it was a moment of unparalleled drama, anticipation, and probably fear.

The outgoing William Hartnell was more than a popular actor, after all. To everybody and anybody who had any awareness of the show, he was the Doctor. White-haired and wrinkled, smartly attired and condescending. Whereas now he was dark-haired and shorter. Craggier, with the kind of face that could be described as lived-in. Kindly but a little lugubrious. The eyes sparkled, and the cunning of the First Doctor was a lot less pronounced. Politely, the Second Doctor looked a bit of a bumbler.

Who ever would accept it was the same man?

Certainly not Ben and Polly, his latest companions. And the man who called himself the Doctor didn’t seem too sure, either.

“You’re the Doctor!” said Polly, in answer to one of his rambling remarks. “Oh, I don’t look like him,” replied the Doctor. And the introductions could have gone on all night were it not for one slight problem. There were Daleks about, and if the Doctor had learned one thing over the past three years of television, it was that Daleks—his oldest and most lethal enemy—did not have time for small talk.

That was how this new man was to be introduced, not through the force of his personality, or the delight of his sense of mischievous humor, but through the sheer populist weight of his most implacable foe, the single most popular creation in the show’s entire history and still, all these years later, one of the most beloved (if a metal tin packed to bursting with unrepentant malice could ever be described as “beloved”) aliens in science- fiction history. We will get to know them better later in this book; for now, suffice it to say that the very inclusion of the Daleks’ name in an episode title was worth a million or so extra viewers every week, and The Power of the Daleks did not disappoint.

It still doesn’t. With hindsight, it’s difficult to say which future story was most heavily influenced by The Power of the Daleks: the Ninth Doctor’s Dalek, in which the time traveler’s pleas for an inactive Dalek to remain inactive are ignored, or the Eleventh Doctor’s Victory of the Daleks, in which stupid humans (Britain’s wartime hero Winston Churchill among them) convince themselves that it is they who call the shots, and that the Daleks are simply theirs to command.

Either way, in terms of storytelling, action, and excitement, the Second Doctor’s debut is at least the equal of the former and effortlessly superior to the latter, with the Daleks seemingly even more sinister than usual simply by virtue of behaving so helpfully.

Of course, they will soon be at their screeching, screaming best as well, but what is important here is less the manner in which the Doctor, Ben, and Polly defeat them than in the nature of the understanding that quickly comes to bind the three of them so closely. After all, this Doctor is still a total stranger to them, and while Polly is willing to accept that he might be the same man, Ben is considerably more suspicious. And it will take more than a silly hat and an annoying recorder to win him around.

But somehow, the Doctor succeeded. Yes he was a clown, and in sharp contrast to his prickly predecessor, a lovable one as well. But by the end of his first season, which concluded with another encounter with the Daleks, the Doctor was again the Doctor, and memories of his past personality were just that.

Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQ also includes a comprehensive episode guide.