1. FOLLOW THAT SHIP:
The opening few minutes of Time of Angels has to be the best pre-credits sequence of either New or Classic DW (a safe bet as Classic didn’t have pre-credit sequences). Its only serious rival for the title is the “Go to your room” cliffhanger resolution which opened The Doctor Dances. It seemed redolent of the spirit of the more over-the-top pre-credit sequences from the Roger Moore Bond films in the 70s which were mostly irrelevant to the plot but existed purely for the bonkers/wow factor. This reached its height in the opening of The Spy Who Loved Me which ended with 007 skiing off a cliff into a huge crevasse, only for an enormous Union Jack parachute to burst out of his rucksack and save the day.
This sequence sums up everything about how DW can score over the limitless budgets of Star Wars in the movies or Battlenoir Galactica on the TV – in its cheeky style. Star Wars might open with a display of scale by giving us hundreds of ships in a space battle which DW could never afford to realise to the same degree. Battlenoir’s multiple series length might allow them to invest in a big impressive spaceship set which wouldn’t be practical for a set which DW might only use for a single episode. Faced with this grand scale, it would be easy for DW to feel that it had to run to the opposite extreme and be the cheap little brother dealing with the small scale. But a simple concept like the hallucinogenic lipstick allows DW to do huge scale on a spaceship for nothing more than the cost of driving a crane to the nearest country park.
A long shot of Alex Kingston slinking along the grey, toilet roll tube corridors of the Byzantium is no Katee Sackhoff walking the wide corridors of the Galactica with a kick-your-ass machine gun, but the camera focuses instead on little details to intrigue us. A close-up of a pair of glossy red heels, of an evening bag sized silver gun being turned into a blowtorch, of the corner of River’s eye behind her customised Raybans (a must for any self-respecting 51st century welder). The elevation of concept over scale is reinforced by the intercutting of River’s actions with the Doctor discovering the results 12,000 years later in the museum.
All along the writer is sharing a sly wink with us at the crazy unlikeliness (yet perfect logic) of River’s escape plan. So crazy that we happily drop all critical disbelief and revel in the sheer bonkers escapism which is a closed book to George Lucas’ pseudo-mystical yearnings or Battlenoir’s need to be taken seriously as political allegory.
A villain in a tuxedo telling River in an evening dress that he’s going to have her shot, all the time politely addressing her as Doctor Song. How Bondlike is that? No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die. At which point River is blown out of the airlock, resplendent in heels and handbag and we get a nod to the scale bit of the wow factor with a couple of seconds of the side of the Byzantium receding away from her. Then the TARDIS comes to the rescue bang on time, she collapses through the doors into the Doctor’s arms and, without a word of explanation, as we get another brief money- shot through the open TARDIS doors of the Byzantium flying away into space, she commands: “Follow that ship” and we’re straight into the theme music.
I mean, please. What is not to love? There’s a bit on the DVD commentary of Rose where Russell T Davies talks about the importance of a scene looking as beautiful as possible (in the sense of lighting, colours, etc) in order to capture the attention of the casual viewer flicking bored through the TV channels. Some might cringe at the idea of someone entirely new to DW coming across the multiple vehicle pile-up which is the transformation of six billion people into the Master in The End of Time, imagining the potential new fans lost forever to DW as they change channels in their thousands. But, now and then, the opposite happens and DW gives us a piece of TV which does the joyously bonkers with unrivalled style, grabbing the casual viewers by the heart and dragging them along on the ride for the rest of their life.