Monday, June 30, 2014
Nightmare in Silver is rather disappointing. After Neil Gaiman's rather brilliant The Doctor's Wife I had high hopes for this story but in the end, with a couple of exceptions, I didn't enjoy it very much.
Firstly the two children - Angie and Artie - are an annoyance of the highest order. Is there anything more tedious than children complaining about being bored whilst travelling through space and time? Plus neither of the child actors does much to make me like either of them. Thankfully they're side-lined pretty quickly, which saved me from actually turning the blessed thing off.
Secondly the Cybermen. I've said often in this blog that the Cybermen often disappoint in televised adventures, whilst Big Finish seem to do a proper job with them.* This is another example. There's no point throwing in nods to Earthshock or Tomb of the Cybermen if you're going to make another disappointing Cyberman story.
The re-design does look lovely I'll give them that but Gaiman makes the mistake of 'upgrading' them to an almost invincible Borg style creature, which is supposed to make them more terrifying but only ends up making you think that the writer is painting himself into a very difficult corner. The ending isn't a terrible one but there really isn't that much tension to it from the moment The Doctor throws off his Cyber mind sharer. Basically somewhere along the line, despite all the clever new Cyber tricks, Cybermites and Cyber special effects, the Cybermen still aren't scary enough.
I'm not sure what the solution is. I think it might be that the Cybermen are at their best not in huge armies. At least not originally but when they're small in number, lurking in the shadows and when we see the horror of the conversion process. Their vulnerability had become ridiculous in the later years of Classic Who but re-jigging them to these invincible things removes some of their - and yes, this is an odd word to choose - 'humanity'. The horrifying thing about the Cybermen was always the fact that they were 'once like us', which is why despite their old-fashioned look now the original Tenth Planet Cybermen would be the scariest. It's why when Star Trek : The Next Generation created the Borg they kept some of that human flesh in there. They're us as we might be.
I also like the setting. The abandoned Theme Park with its Comedy Castle with its weird hints of Scooby-Doo is rather interesting. It's a twist on a base under siege ending as it does in a last stand at the Comedy Castle.
Also I quite liked most of Matt Smith's battle with the Cyber Planner. The inside of the Doctor's mind has certainly improved in quality since we last saw it in The Invisible Enemy and not a prawn in sight. Matt Smith's performance is mostly excellent but I think I could have done without the Ninth and Tenth Doctor impressions.
Ignoring the children - and I intend to never speak of them again - most of the performances are good. I can't really fault the acting from the rag-tag punishment unit that is basically a selection of cliches, including Tamzin Outhwaite's Captain; Jason Watkins as the poor unfortunate Webley and especially Warwick Davis as Porridge. I like Porridge. I hope we get to see him again, even if his secret is now out.
So it wasn't all bad but it was mainly not that great. Perhaps I was more annoyed at the time because I had high expectations of Neil Gaiman. He's a fantastic writer but I suppose to hit us with two brilliant stories out of two would be too much to ask. It is, for me, the weakest story of the second part of the Seventh Season, which is a shame.
*If you want to see how to do a genuinely creepy surviving Cyberman chess playing robot story then I recommend you listen to Big Finish's The Silver Turk, which I reviewed here, which I'm afraid makes A Nightmare in Silver look very poor indeed.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Ah The Crimson Horror. I wrote, at the time of broadcast about some of the more troubling aspects of this story in a blog called Doctor Lad so I don't propose to re-visit those issues in detail. Suffice it to say on re-watch I'm still not entirely comfortable with some of what is going on, particularly with the Doctor and Jenny but hey and ho.
The thing is apart from that this is a pretty good story. It's Mark Gatiss's second story of the season, after Cold War, and possibly his best so far. It's got a nice period setting, Victorian Yorkshire with a touch of the gothic. It has a sort of contemporary Talons of Weng-Chiang aspect to it.
It's structured in an interesting fashion with the initial part of the story revolving around Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Strax (Dan Starkey) and Jenny (Catrin Stewart) aka The Paternoster gang investigating the 'Crimson Horror' on behalf of a very fainty gentleman whose name escapes me as I write this. It turns out that the last thing the most recent dead man saw was The Doctor. So off to 'The North' goes The Paternoster gang.
Jenny gets sent inside the rather mysterious 'Sweetville', a model village project of the kind so favoured of the forward thinking Victorian philanthropist. In this case the mysterious Mr. Sweet* and Mrs Gillyflower (Diana Rigg) who is both villain and archetypal blunt talking Yorkshirewoman. Mrs Gillyflower has a blind daughter that she rolls out to convince potential settlers in Sweetville of the horrors of the demon drink. This is Ada (Rachael Stirling, who is Diana Rigg's actual daughter.**)
Diana Rigg is brilliant. Mrs Gillyflower is sharp, cold and focused on creating a perfect world for her people to settle down in. To achieve this she's prepared to sacrifice everyone else, including her daughter. The relationship between Ada and Mrs Gillyflower is probably the darkest part of this story, which is helped by Rachael Stirling's sterling - sorry - performance as Ada. Who it turns out saved the Doctor. The actual main villainous plan is a bit bog-standard Doctor Who. It could even be a steam-punk James Bond story if it wasn't for the identity of Mr. Sweet.
Mr. Sweet it turns out is a surviving member of a parasitical leech-like creature that Madame Vastra's Silurian kinsfolk had issues with back in the day. He's become 'close' to Mrs Gillyflower, who has been milking his venom for her plans. It is highly likely, of course, that Mr. Sweet will come to a sticky end but I'll let you see that for yourselves.
The Paternoster gang are as much fun as usual and this story gives Jenny a real chance to shine. First undercover and then when - in a Victorian Emma Peel cat-suit - she dispatches a number of Mrs Gillyflower's servants. Strax is still the comedy Sontaran: a toddler with laser weapons and grenades. I like Strax. I just wish he hadn't become the pattern for all Sontarans. It's a waste of a good race of baddies. Although you could argue Classic Who got there first with their portrayal in The Two Doctors but that would mildly undermine my sniffy little point so I shall pretend I haven't mentioned it and move on.
The Paternoster Gang are, of course, a bit surprised to see Clara but the Doctor never gets around to answering their questions about who she might actually be. As the season approaches its end I'm beginning to suspect we're getting close to an answer. There's a nice moment in the end scene with the annoying children*** where she sees a picture of herself that is supposed to be Victorian London but it isn't her. It's the other Clara.
Oh and before I forget I love the way they do the Doctor bringing Jenny up to date on how he ended up dipped in red gunk. It's all sepia, snaps and short scenes. It's rather cleverly done. And there's even a Tegan reference for the Dads and Mums, which is nice. It certainly helps make the story more structurally interesting than the plot probably deserves.
Which makes me sound like I didn't enjoy it but I did. I enjoyed it because it was although the plot wasn't radical it was a solid story well-told and it was fun (with my Doctor Lad issues put aside). I enjoyed it because of Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling. I enjoyed it because of the creepy cuteness of Mr. Sweet. I enjoyed it because it did interesting things structurally. And I enjoyed it because the Paternoster Gang were in it.
Would happily re-watch this one.
Next up...Nightmare in Silver
*I swear for a moment I thought they were going to sneak the Kandyman back in to Doctor Who when I heard about this story and saw the red gunk that was going to appear, which I thought was a bizarrely radical decision from Mr. Moffat. Alas I was wrong.)
**I'm sure you all know that but I'm putting it in as one of those pieces of standard trivia so as to earn myself some obvious trivia points. As you do.
***I'm sorry but they manage to be annoying in the short scene at the end of this episode and it doesn't bode well for the next story that they're in it for much more. I mean what does the threat to tell your Dad that Clara is a time traveller actually mean? Dad's going to go..."Oh really. Well you're fired." And not go 'O don't be silly. Time travel.' Even the pictures could be explained away if you wanted. Plus who took the picture in the submarine...and...oh don't get me started. I'm beginning to dislike Nightmare in Silver already and I've not even seen it. Again. Talk about pre-judging a story. But really Mr. Moffat what were you thinking.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS (hereafter JCT for the benefit of my fingers) is an odd little story. It's not particularly a story with much of a story. Indeed it almost feels like a story that has only two objectives: firstly to show off the inside of the TARDIS properly and secondly as a shaggy dog story leading up to a joke about Big Friendly Buttons (BFB). Oh and sorry to come over all Monty Python Spanish Inquisition it has a couple of little 'Clara-Doctor Arc' bits to get across.
There's a lot of whinging by Doctor Who fans - myself included - about 'cheating' endings in New Who (as if Classic Who didn't have its fair share of deus ex cop outs). The main complaint of course is the constant re-booting of the Universe to save everyone, which sometimes feels like cheating and sometimes seems like an unwillingness to confront the full horror of what has been created. The desire to make sure that everybody lives. JCT has the mother of all these kind of 'cheats', except it isn't cheating. The Big Friendly Cop Out is sign-posted right from the start and additional sign posts pop up throughout the story : the Doctor stealing the 'BFB', Clara's burnt hand etc. So yes, it might be a bit of a sneaky but it isn't an unfair re-set. We've been told it is coming. So when it arrives we shouldn't really complain. And I suspect the production team will have loved it knowing how much fan rage it would generate, although I could be wrong.*
Anyway mainly though it is a lovely opportunity to banish memories of The Invasion of Time and explore the inside of the TARDIS. Now, of course, budgets and technology allow us a proper taste of the infinite size of the TARDIS with its swimming pools, observatory and immense library filled with books from all over the Universe, including a rather interesting liquid talking Encyclopedia Gallifrey and a big chunky impressive History of the Time War. Not sure who the author of that book would be. Perhaps the Doctor himself. It certainly contains the Doctor's real name because Clara - for a while - knows what it is. Anyway I digress. I love all that stuff, even if I miss the roundels. The corridors look a little dull without them I feel. It just reminds you how far Doctor Who has come in terms of technology and budget. Now the producers of Doctor Who can do all those things that in the past either couldn't be done or were done badly.
After Hide this is another small cast. There's the Doctor and Clara plus Gregor Van Baalen (Ashley Walters) , his brother Bram (Mark Oliver) and Tricky (Jahvel Hall).These are the crew of the salvage ship whose attempts to nick the TARDIS kick-starts the whole mess. Gregor and Bram are human, Tricky is an android. A very human looking android. Unusually for Doctor Who Gregor, Bram and Tricky are black, which must make the only Doctor Who story where white actors are in a minority. All three put in solid performances but I think Jahvel Hall gets much more to do with his character and therefore is much more interesting. They have a story of their own but I won't reveal too much of it here to avoid spoilers. However the story's ending has a nice moment in it, which echoes a scene that happened earlier.
There's also some rather unpleasant creatures lurking aboard the TARDIS, which seem intent on killing everyone aboard. Clara wants to know what they are but the Doctor is unwilling to tell her. The Doctor knows what they are but, as he tells Clara, sometimes there are things you don't need to know. What they are is rather horrible. However they're really just there to push people in the direction that the story wants them to go in. They look rather good, especially in the longer shots, in the dark or through the heat haze. Again, like Hide, there's a couple of shots that are too close up and the costumes look a little costumey but I'm being harsh indeed. Mat King, the director, mainly does a fine job with this whole episode. Lots of interesting shots and cuts to make being trapped inside a box, even if it is an impressive and infinite box, rather interesting.
There's not much else I can say about this story. Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman are brilliant as usual. There's a couple of good scenes between them. Where we see how much the mystery of Clara has got under the Doctor's skin and also how scary the Doctor can be. Clara's line about the Doctor being the thing in the TARDIS she is most scared of reminded me of Rose's line in Dalek about the Doctor pointing a gun. It is nice to be reminded that there is something dangerous about the Doctor, especially to a new companion. The sliver of ice in his heart, as Emma Grayling says in Hide. But in general Matt Smith & Jenna Coleman make a rather brilliant team. There's a good solid chemistry between them. Their timing and delivery is a finely tuned as a couple dancing together.
So to cut a long blog mercifully short this ain't bad this. But not special.
*And if I am right this shouldn't be the reason for the production team to do stuff in the future because that way lies the Whizzkid.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
Hide has some rather good bits, a bit of average and a bit of hmmm about it. In fact for about thirty minutes it is spectacularly good: atmospheric, well-acted and occasionally terrifying. Then we discover what the 'ghost' is, which is clever but a little dull. Then we get a bit tacked on at the end that is nice in its sentiment but rather silly.
Other good bits. A fine pair of performances from Dougray Scott as Professor Alex Palmer - a relation of Harry Palmer's perhaps - and Jessica Raine as Emma Grayling. Both characters have a little more depth than is sometimes the case in Doctor Who. Professor Palmer is a button-up and closed down incredibly modest war hero. The sort of man that might keep a Victoria Cross in his attic.
Actually before I go on brief moment of quibbling here. The Doctor's a bit glib at dropping in information about people in this story. He does it with Professor Palmer - and reveals to Emma that the Professor has been lying about his war service - and he does it later when he spits out a lot of information about Hila Turkurian (Kemi-Bo Jacobs). The Doctor gabbles a lot in this story. Perhaps it is because he's been more scared than usual. He's certainly less good at hiding it than usual here.
Anyway back to Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine. Whilst Professor Palmer is emotionally buttoned-up Emma Grayling is a psychic empath, which means she's able read people's feelings, which brings its own difficulties as the Doctor explains without realising the impact his little information dump is going to have on Emma. It takes Clara to stop him. So as well as gabbling in this story the Doctor does his fair share of babbling too.
Both Scott and Raine give excellent performances and their strength helps pull the story through its less impressive final fifteen minutes.
At points during the first half-an-hour this story is genuinely quite scary and atmospheric. It seems to have picked up hints from both The Stone Tapes and The Omega Factor in terms of how to do haunted house stories. I love the hints of things in the dark.
I should also point out that once again I like the fact that Clara is actually genuinely quite scared at points throughout this story. Barry Letts once said that key to Elizabeth Sladen's performance was her ability to act scared and brave at the same time and Jenna Coleman has this knack too, which makes her a highly likable companion.
Part of this story's purpose is to remind us of the mystery of Clara's situation. The TARDIS doesn't seem to like her very much for mysterious reasons, although the TARDIS does do the right thing in the end. The Doctor also had his own hidden reasons for bringing Clara here. He wanted to run her past Emma Grayling. However that doesn't reveal anything much to us. She is, Emma insists, an ordinary woman. To the Doctor though she's the great mystery to be solved. Anyway whatever she is Jenna Coleman is pretty good.
Matt Smith's good in this even allowing for the excess babbling. There's a couple of lovely scenes : one with Dougray Scott in the dark room where Professor Palmer's reasons for wanting to go ghost hunting are explained and one in the TARDIS with Clara when they're talking about how the Doctor sees people.
The problem is it all becomes a bit dull once the ghost is explained. Then there's the secondary monsters. These are brilliant handled and their movements are creepy and strange. The only mistake is to show it close up when its more obvious costume nature is a tad obvious. It doesn't happen often in New Doctor Who so it is more noticeable when it does.
So it isn't a bad story this but the final few minutes don't quite live up to the brilliantly atmospheric first half an hour.
Friday, June 13, 2014
Cold War is a lovely new Doctor Who tribute to Patrick Troughton's era of Doctor Who. It's got a 'base under seige', it's got an Ice Warrior and it's got HADS (last seen in The Krotons is my battered memory serves.)
We find ourselves on board a Russian submarine. It's 1983. The Cold War is on. [D'oh] Mankind edges close to it's own mutually assured destruction. It's a tense time. And as Stepashin demonstrates this is a Cold War with hotheads on both sides.
It's an interesting choice to make it a Russian submarine and not a US or UK submarine. It adds a certain amount of tension that might not have been there in those circumstances. It also makes us - and how intentional this is I don't know - that we are all humans. We've all got families. We're all afraid. It asks us to be sympathetic to a group of poor Russian submariners who get bumped off rather unpleasantly, particular the poor two crew members who get diced and sliced to help Skaldak 'understand' humans. It's a nice touch by Mark Gattiss. This is a far better attempt at showing the horror of battle and war than Victory of the Daleks, because it is far more subtle.
It also rattles along at a hell of a pace, even with a few slower scenes in there to allow us to take a breath. The action starts from post-credits and doesn't really stop. There are however a couple of fine slow moments. All of which involve Clara.
One of which is unusual in Doctor Who. It starts when they find the - off-screen mutilated bodies - of the two Russian crewmen. Clara's reaction is genuine shock and then afterwards she has a conversation with Professor Grisenko - played by the legend that is David Warner - about how what she's just seen makes her realise that this just got 'real'. It's very rare for Doctor Who to acknowledge the horror of what a companion sees and how it might effect them. It's not dwelt on for long obviously because we can't have Doctor Who getting 'too real'. Let's face it lots of people die in the Doctor Who universe. In a myriad of different horrible ways. They die individually. They die in millions. They die on screen. They die off screen. The good guys die. The bad guys die. Death is ever present in Doctor Who but rarely to we actually dwell on it because lets face it if we did then the whole Doctor thing would be a lot less fun and the series incredibly bleak. [This subject has been on my mind today as I'm listening to the audiobook of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and am reminded of how utterly bleak Bellboy's death is in that story. Possibly the bleakest moment in the whole history of Doctor Who]
Anyway enough about death.
The Ice Warrior looks fab. They've tweaked the design a bit but it is pretty faithful to the original design. And it looks massive and genuinely rather terrifying and unstoppable. I do have a quibble with the creature inside it. It just lacks the same kind of imaginative oomph that the external design does. It's a sort of Pensioner Ninja Turtle merged with the fingers and hands of a Martian from the 50s film version of War of the Worlds, which may or may not be deliberate. They're both Martians after all.
The Ice Warrior's are one of those old-school Doctor Who monsters that have a culture. It's more hinted at in the television series than explored but both Big Finish and The New Adventures Novels explored things in more details. They've been under-used throughout really and Steven Moffat wasn't a big fan because he saw their slow, heavy breathing lumbering ways as the perfect bad monster to translate into the modern era. Mark Gattiss apparently sold him on them with this story. It should be noticed that Skaldak's voice was far less hissy, which helped with clarity. It is, of course, provided by Nicholas Briggs.
Skaldak's given a bit of character beyond just the big bad guy. He's woken up having slept for 5000 years. He thinks his race is gone. He misses his warrior daughter and their Songs of the Red Snow - if I've remembered that right - which gives Clara a chance to reach him by singing. Quietly. In fact, with the exception of Clara's singing moment, the final confrontation between Skaldak and the Doctor reminded me of the final confrontation between The Seventh Doctor and Morgaine in Battlefield as the Doctor tries to convince an alien menace of the dangers of releasing a single nuclear weapon. Whisper it but I think the Battlefield scene is done better.
Matt Smith's good in this but Jenna Coleman really shines. It's nice to see a companion who is genuinely scared and worried about what she is caught up in. The rest of the cast are also excellent Liam Cunningham does stolid bearded work well. David Warner plays the eccentric Professor Grisenko with style and his scene where he tries to distract Clara from everything that is going on around her is lovely.
So whilst it isn't the best Doctor Who story ever made it does a fine job of being both entertaining and a rather wonderful throwback to the Troughton era. A Classic Doctor Who story in New Who clothing. Even down to the return to (sometimes obvious) model work whenever we see the outside of the submarine sitting on the rocky sea bed. I like it.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Ah, The Rings of Akhatan. I really should dislike this story intensely. It's packed full of sentiment, it has a child actor at its centre and it features singing. A lot of singing. That sort of thing normally annoys me intensely. Especially in Doctor Who.
But I love The Rings of Akhatan and I'm not entirely sure why. Which I suppose makes this a pointless blog in many respects.
Let's start with the easy stuff: Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman. I love Matt Smith's Doctor. The way he manages to be both childish and grown-up at the same time is utterly magnificent. Then there's the way he can jump from frivolity to seriousness in the blink of an eye. He's funny peculiar and funny ha ha. It's rather brilliant. People talk a lot about the brilliance of the speech to the big starry parasite thing aka Grandfather and I do like that. It's nicely delivered. (And there's a nice version of Colin Baker doing the Sixth Doctor doing the same speech, which you can find here) But I also like the moments before that when Clara and he are discussing what to do. The 'I've seen bigger' bit. F'narr, F'narr.*
So Matt Smith brilliance. Tick.
Then there's Jenna Coleman. She's hit the ground running. To me there's a real chemistry between her and Matt Smith - or should that be Clara and the Doctor. Whatever. In this story she gets to be brave, kind and slightly magnificent. Her moment in the sun follows Matt Smith's speech. I'm going to call it the 'leaf speech'. It's that bit I like the most. After Matt's Doctor moment comes something even better. And nice moving speech about the infinite possibilities of those lost days and lost opportunities. The things we might have been and could have been but never got the chance to be.
To me this story, written by Neil Cross (No relation), has lots of nice moments in it like that. The Doctor's speech to Merry (Emilia Jones) about her uniqueness - "All the elements in your body were forged many, many millions of years ago, in the heart of a faraway star that exploded and died...Until, eventually they came together to make you. You are unique in the universe." - and how our soul is the stories we are made up of. A line that echoes something the Doctor says to Amy in The Big Bang : "We're all just stories in the end." This is no fairy tale. Part of me feels this story is about what makes us who we are. Our souls. Our memories. Our potential. Our responsibilities. Because in the end this story is also about doing the right thing, even if we are afraid. It's about standing up to be counted, even when the odds are against us. It's a very Doctor Whoey Doctor Who story.
Also that line about "You are unique in the universe" is a nice little juxtaposition with Clara's story. Because as far as we can tell she isn't unique in the universe and neither we nor the Doctor know why. As far as he can tell, from his pre-credit, stalking Clara is just a normal woman but something isn't quite right. Obviously that means another function of this story is for us to get to know a little more about Clara and for her to get to see what travelling with the Doctor is actually like. Welcome Clara to the strange, strange universe of Doctor Who. It's just possible the real Universe is as strange of course but I'm unlikely to find out.
So there's lots of reasons to like this story.
The singing doesn't bother me. It's part of the plot for heaven's sake. It's not the gratuitous and random singing of chart singles for the sake of it. There's a reason for it. And when Merry starts singing again towards the end it is her attempt to help the Doctor. If you want to be pretentious - and I do quite like a bit of pretension here and there - you can call it a metaphor for our profound interconnection in a complex universe. I wouldn't try and get away with that too often though. People may laugh.
Emilia Jones is also a child actress who isn't incredibly irritating. Unlike say that small child in Dragonfire or the children...ah...I'm getting ahead of myself. She's got a lot to do in this story does Emilia and I think she does it well.
Now talking of Dragonfire, if you want to see how much Doctor Who has changed then compare the under-budgeted, over-lit, under-populated cafe/bar scene where Ace gets introduced with the alien marketplace that we see here. Imagine what Dragonfire would look like now. We forget sometimes quite how far we've come as watchers of Doctor Who. It's nice to be reminded occasionally.
So there you have it. Hopefully I've explained a little why I like this story, which seems - from the DWM poll recently published - to be slightly unloved.
Give it another go. I hope you'll enjoy it a little more.
*For my foreign/younger readers 'F'narr, F'narr' is a sound made by Finbarr Saunders in Viz's fantastic comic strip: Finbar Saunders and His Double Entendres. I recommend its use whenever you hear a double entendre being used. At least until people start begging you to stop.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Clara 'Oswin' Oswald must be the most introduced companion in Doctor Who history. First she pops up in Asylum of the Daleks then in The Snowmen and once more here, in The Bells of Saint John. The Doctor doesn't seem to be having a problem with goodbyes at the moment but he is struggling a bit with hello.
Anyway The Bells of Saint John is a reasonable start to the second part of Series 7. It re-introduces Clara and this time she appears to be about to actually come on board the TARDIS in order for the Doctor to solve the problem that she appears to represent; it sets up the return of a returning villain and lets Steven Moffat make jokes about Twitter. It also features one of my all time favourite creepy moments in Doctor Who, but we'll come on to that.
The only problem is that because its main function is to get the Clara story rolling along - again - the actual adventure itself feels a little inconsequential. The Doctor seems to knock off the enemy in an afternoon. He almost doesn't have to break sweat, which is slightly annoying because I love the idea of 'something in the internet' : a World Wide Web of Fear if you will. And yet it almost seems thrown away here.
Now I often don't like Steven Moffat's ideas about who the Doctor is or how he should behave. Or his ideas about what constitutes a good companion in Doctor Who but I am beginning to admire his craftsmanship. The way he allows us to take a breath in the middle of a manic romp so that we have time to gather our thoughts before the next rush is admirable. Sometimes he gets a bit carried away and the rush overwhelms the story so that you find yourself at the end thinking, "Well, that was good but I'm sure there's something wrong there somewhere." Then you pick holes in the thing until all you have is holes. But when he gets it right, he gets it right.
And The Bells of Saint John gets it mostly right. It just feels a little throwaway.
There's a wonderful performance from Celia Imrie as Miss Kizlet - also a favourite in Patient Centurion Towers anyway since Acorn Antiques. Plus she appears in one of my favourite films of all time Heartlands, which stars Michael Sheen and I heartily recommend - which ends with that creepy moment I mentioned earlier: her reduction to her original factory settings. The realisation that she's just a lost little girl is both sad and rather creepy. It's not often you end up feeling sorry for a villain, but then Steven Moffat does like shades of grey.
I'm not going to say too much about Matt Smith. There's only so many times I can say how much I like his performance, although I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with the Doctor being quite so 'touchy-feely' with women he doesn't know. I know the whole 'Clara thang' means that the Doctor feels that he has a mystery to solve but - just occasionally - the Doctor seems to behave like an intergalactic stalker. I mean does the Doctor strike you as the sort of person who would go off to a Medieval monastery to paint pictures of Clara and contemplate what she means by her last words? The Doctor's an 'on his feet' thinker not the contemplative sort. After all that's why he left Gallifrey in the first place. This is a point I may come back to. Or not. Let's see how my whimsy takes me.
I do like Jenna Coleman though. Two (and a tad) stories in and her performance has won me over in a way that Karen Gillan's Amy didn't initially. [I grew to really like her and Amy in the end. It just took a bit of time to warm to her.] She's got energy and a certain sparkiness, which combined with her timing makes her rather interesting to watch. Yes, on the base level she's another pretty female companion that is part of a problem for the Doctor to solve but if you're going to do that as your cliche de jour then best get an actress that's can make that character interesting. Still early days yet. I may change my mind. It happens. More often than you'd think based on my ranting.
The Spoonheads are a nice little thing too, although I'm never quite sure why neither Clara nor Miss Kizlet run away from the thing when it tries to download them. Perhaps you can't but it does seem a bit odd. The scene in the cafe in particular with Clara just feels wrong. Maybe it is just me but as soon as I realised that the Spoonhead was a Spoonhead I'd be on my feet and away as fast as possible. I know I'm a coward but would you really just sit there and stare?
Love the Motorbike. Especially up the Shard. That's the sort of moment that people always think is rather silly but I always think of as being the sort of thing you can only do in Doctor Who and get away with it. There's not many other series that could - or would - try that sort of thing. Of course I have a high tolerence for the 'silly' in Doctor Who, which would probably not endear me to Christoper H. Bidmead but you can't have everything.
So that's pretty much it. The Bells of Saint John was a fun piece of Doctor Who fluff. It's entertaining, a little silly and gets the job of re-re-introducing Clara to the audience. Let's see how that goes shall we?
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Just as I was about to watch The Snowmen I realised that I hadn't actually watched it before. Bizarre. That makes this a landmark. It's the last Doctor Who episode - before the Capaldi - that I have never seen or heard. Obviously I'm too young to have seen the Missing Episodes. So woo-hoo.
Anyway that was rather fabulous. Mostly. It probably ties with A Christmas Carol as my favourite Christmas special so far.
We finally get to meet Clara. For a bit. She seems to have issues with dying of a similar nature to Rory. From Asylum of the Daleks we know that there is something odd about Clara. Something mysterious. As an audience we're allowed to be ahead of the Doctor on this. We know this is Clara because we've seen what she looks like. Although why it takes the Doctor so long to pick up on her voice sounding exactly the same as Owin's is rather odd.* But I'm putting it down to the Doctor being a little rusty after a prolonged post-Amy and Rory sulk.
There's no surprise that the Doctor has retreated to a cloud in a sulk. The first part of Series 7 - and the latter part of Series 6 - seemed to have been calculated to make the Doctor feel incredibly guilty. So he's changed his outfit to something darker, something Dickensian and gone for a long sulk. The Paternoster Gang - Jenny, Madam Vastra and Strax - have been keeping an eye on him and tried desperately to get him to cheer up but so far they've failed.
It takes Clara to do that.
Now I'm an old-fashioned Doctor Who fan and another companion with wrapped in a mystery is initially going to get me a bit antsy. I'm longing for a companion without baggage but if you're going to make the woman mysterious then making her interesting helps. It's early days for Clara so I'm not going to comment too much but I like the cut of Jenna Coleman's jib. She's got good comic timing, which I like. She also gives Clara a bit of spirit. (I refuse to use the word feisty. It has become something of a New Doctor Who cliche.) She's got the companion qualities of dangerous curiosity and selective hearing so is ideally placed to get herself into trouble. Let's see how this all pans out shall we. Even if it'll be a different Clara. Or the same one. Who kno...sorry, I said I wouldn't do that again.
Another good thing in this story is Richard E. Grant as Dr. Simeon. The main face of the enemy. His delivery is suitable cold and he's blessed with a face of such angularity that you'd cut yourself on the sneer. The voice of the enemy is Sir Ian McKellan. Mostly.
It's interesting that the end of this story sees the Doctor helping to birth an enemy that he has already fought and defeated twice. A long time ago. He also - for reasons I haven't quite worked out - give that enemy a tip on a strategic weakness that will lead to trouble for his earlier self. Good old Steven Moffat. He can never avoid a bit of timey-wimeyness if given the opportunity. I'm not sure why the Doctor doesn't recognize the name of the enemy he creates at the end. I'm not sure whether we will get an explanation or not at some future point. I'm not even sure if it is important. I'm being a little vague about who the enemy is just in case - like me - you've not actually seen the episode. Although why you would read a blog about a story you haven't seen slightly baffles me. If that's what you're doing go away and watch it now. Then come back to me.
It seemed to zip along at a heck of a pace, even when we stopped briefly for breath a couple of times. There's a nice scene in the TARDIS between the Doctor and Clara. Clara's dialogue here seems designed to show how different she is from previous companions. She doesn't say the usual thing on entering the TARDIS for example. And she's quick on the uptake. Very quick.
Matt Smith's excellent in this. The way he goes from the grumpy and sulky Doctor in the beginning of the story and is gradually re-born is wonderfully handled. There's a nice little moment when on seeing himself in the mirror he realises that he's still put on the bow tie. It's a signal to himself that he's still the Eleventh Doctor and that he isn't quite as lost as he thought.
Kudos to Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart and Dan Starkey for their usually high standards of work as the Paternoster gang. We get to learn a little more about Madame Vastra and Jenny's living arrangements, which is nice. Dan Starkey's Strax is great. The Sontaran Butler with a penchant for a violent solution to any difficulty. The problem now of course is that you're in danger of being unable to have the Sontaran's return as out-and-out villains if you keep playing them for laughs, which seems the waste of a good enemy if you ask me. Which you didn't.
I would quibble about the kiss, which seems almost gratuitous, but I won't because I genuinely ain't that bothered. New companions kiss the Doctor now. It's a thing. I'll get used to it in the end I'm sure. I will quibble about casting an actor like Tom Ward and giving him next to bugger all to do.
Ironically I almost forgot the Snowmen. I liked the idea of man-eating Snow(men) but after our pre-credit sequence they didn't really do much except pop up here and there and look snarly. The same thing goes for the Ice Governess. Impressive to look at. Quite scary in her way but underused.
However let's face it this story was all about getting the Doctor back up and running after a difficult time, introducing the mystery that is Clara Oswin Oswald and saying hello to an old enemy. Everything else was mere decoration.
*This comment of the Doctor's about her voice makes the issue of why Clara's voice was human over the microphone in Asylum of the Daleks but Dalek when she was in front of him. I'm sure Steven Moffat has an explanation. Actually I'm not sure he does but it probably isn't that important so I should stop worrying about it.
Saturday, June 7, 2014
Here's a thing. I really don't like The Angels Take Manhattan. There I've said it.
That's not to say there are not moments in it that I don't like or that the end of Rory and Amy's time with the Doctor isn't moving. Indeed their desire to be together and their paradox creating willingness to sacrifice their lives for each other (and perhaps the world) is the perfect ending of their story. And highlights again why I think Rory and Amy's 'divorce' really doesn't work for me in Asylum of the Daleks.
It looks great too. Cinematic. We're really filming in New York, which makes it feel much more solid. The performances are great. All of that is in its favour.
Because Rory and Amy's departure is so well done I'm willing to overlook the vomitous worship of marriage in this story as if being married somehow makes people better and more worthy. Yes, that's probably a harsh reading of the story but really how many mentions of 'that's what being married means' do we need. Yes, Mr. Moffat we get it. Marriage is a big deal. Not love itself. No it needs to have a ring on it.
Now I'm aware here that I'm going to come across as grumpy as hell. I know there are a lot of people out there that love this story. Well, I'm sorry but I don't.
I'm not going to quibble about the Angels being metal as well as stone or the Statue of Liberty (which I did at the time). I've realised now that the implication is that the Angels are now so powerful that they've taken over New York effectively running on the battery farm of human time energy that they've created at Winter Quay - which is a genuinely nasty and rather good idea. So they can move everywhere and take over anything and the reason no one makes a big deal out of the Statue of Liberty wondering about is that the paradox flattens the battery. The Angels never got to be that powerful. They never took over the Statue of Liberty, which implies that Sam Garner (Rob David) and Grayle (Mike McShane) weren't caught up in the whole thing either.
Oh and I love the baby Angels with their sinister giggle.
Again though this story seems to be the final emotional kicking that the Doctor has been getting through Series 7 so far. Story after story seems to have functioned a clang in a Cloister Bell of alarm for the Doctor and we get lots of talk about not letting the Doctor travel alone: from Amy in the postscript and from River in the final scenes inside the TARDIS.
I've said before with a story that sometimes a single line has the effect of a thread pulled on a jumper that the more you pull at it the more the jumper disappears. This story has one of those lines. It is River's line: "Never Let him see the damage. And never, ever let him see you age. He doesn't like endings."
Really. You think after all we've seen of the Doctor this even vaguely rings true. Don't let him see you age? What. Really? That's what you think the Doctor is. Indeed it echoes a line from The Power of Three where the Doctor talks about enjoying being with Amy and Rory 'fade away', which I'd forgotten about until this moment. It just all seems very un-Doctorish to me. And from the moment that line is uttered the whole story seemed to seem like a beautiful piece of music played on an out of tune piano.
Yes, I'm aware that I have taken against this story purely because it doesn't fit with how I see The Doctor's character. Could a Doctor afraid of endings have left Susan behind? Could a Doctor who can't watch people age really be The Doctor we know? I don't think so.
I feel a bit guilty for not liking this story because I know it means a lot to people. I've really liked Rory and Amy. I love Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill's performances. I just think something about this story doesn't ring true and I think that's because it is Mr. Moffat putting words into the Doctor's mouth that apply more to him. It's not the Doctor that doesn't like endings it's Mr. Moffat.
I'm also feeling a bit guilty because it seems that this story mattered a lot to Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill and that they were emotionally invested in it. I think that shows in the quality of their performances.
But this blog is about my personal reactions to stories and much as there is a lot to like about this story that single River line undermines my whole feelings about it.
It's not a terrible story. It's entertaining and moving. It just feels unfair to the Doctor to me and I really don't like that. It's a personal thing.
Friday, June 6, 2014
The Power of Three is a tad disappointing, although I like the central idea that an alien race might seek to invade the Earth - and then exterminate Earthlings - using our own curiosity and - in the Doctor's impassioned speech - our hope against us. The don't come in all guns blazing. They do a large scale guerrilla marketing campaign, which works very well.
There's also something rather lovely about watching the Doctor's inability to handle living an ordinary domestic life. His impatient toddler like reaction to the lack of action by The Cubes. It's also there to throw Amy and Rory's domesticity and their 'should we stay or should we go' conundrum into sharp relief. Rory and Amy are getting used to having a life lived one day at a time and they're getting to the point of deciding to stay at home permanently.
Again though this story is a whacking great signpost to the end of the Rory and Amy story. We know that we're approaching the end of their story arc - I knew that at the time so I'm not cheating by hindsight here - and this story might as well be called: "The Quiet Sign Post of Fate". There's a lovely conversation between the Doctor and Brian Williams (Mark Williams) that is just this kind of unsubtle hints even if they are well-written and well-acted. This is topped off with Brian's last line of the episode: "Just make sure they come home safe." It's like that moment in a war film where the soldier doomed to die an early death shows photographs of the girl he's going to marry when he gets home. That moment is when his best before date pops up. The same goes for the nice little conversation between the Doctor and Amy on the banks of the Thames about the Doctor's running. It's well-played but ultimately it is another signpost. This way The Power of Three implies is doom. [Cloister Bell]
My final good thing of this episode is Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave). She's the head of UNIT now, which is a much more scientific led organisation than it was back in the 80s. Or the 70s. She's also the daughter of the Brigadier. It's a nice performance from Jemma Redgrave and a nice tribute. I particularly like the Doctor's goodbye to her at the end of the story. It's a new addition to the Doctor Who mythology - note the lack of use of the word canon - and a good choice of actor.
So that's the good stuff.
There are things I don't like and two are linked: the rushed sonic screwdriver magic wand ending and the utter waste of Steven Berkoff. This story makes me realize why JNT wanted rid of the sonic screwdriver. It's too much of a cheat. And it makes the ending so rushed as to virtually be insignificant plus I fear that most of the people who had been cardiaced on Earth would be dead by the time the Doctor solves the problem even in the rushed way he chooses to do so. But obviously that would be hideously bleak so I can understand why they didn't do it.
And then you cast Steven Berkoff as the villain and then his scenes with the Doctor are so under-stated as to virtually be a conversation between two slightly annoyed people in a library. Steven Berkoff's can go so OTT that the wallpaper peels off the walls but he can also be genuinely utterly terrifying. It's such a bloody waste of an opportunity. The Shakri - for it is he - could have been played by anyone the way it is done. Let Berkoff be Berkoff I say. But I'm probably in a minority here. New Doctor Who is much less hamtastic than old Doctor Who used to be on occasion - with the possible and unfairly highlighted performance of John Simm as The Master and I miss the villainous ham. Who is going to remember the Shakri?
Actually this is one of the few stories where I think Matt Smith's performance doesn't quite strike true. There's too much toddler and not enough quiet power for my liking. It's one of the few Matt Smith performances that doesn't really hit the heights for me with The Curse of the Black Spot being the only other one I felt similarly about.
So basically a forgettable story with a few nice moments. It's not a bad story but it isn't there to do much else than emphasise the Doctor, Amy and Rory relationship. Almost every episode since The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe has seemed to be designed to show us the the dangers of the Doctor's existence and to make him feel bad.
Not one I'll rush to re-watch I must say.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
I really enjoyed A Town Called Mercy. I think more that I did on original watch. I think that's partly because I have been indulging in regular trips into the Western genre as part of my little project revolving around The Gunfighters and partly because it is nice to have another adventure that fits into the rather more old school Doctor Who pattern of just turning up and getting involved without dragging the baggage of a portentous story arc, although I think we are starting to see that the Pond's involvement with the Doctor is becoming more problematic. This I suspect will form part of our ongoing Series 7 stories.
The first thing I should say is that it looks fantastic. It helps that the production team went to Almeria in Spain to film it. Those of you familiar with Westerns will know that this is where a number of films, including A Fistful of Dollars were made. It doesn't look like a set or a beach in Wales it looks like the Wild Wild West.
Add to that a fantastic performance by Ben Browder as Isaac the Marshall, which really helps cement the genuine American feeling of this story.
For a chunk of this story Isaac is more The Doctor than the actual Doctor. The Doctor gets genuinely angry in this story at Kahler-Jex's actions as a surgeon. Angry to the point of appointing himself judge, jury and - not quite - executioner. I wondered at the time whether this was the result of the Dalek nanocloud as mentioned in Asylum of the Daleks but I noticed on this watch that Amy says to the Doctor that he's behaving like this because he's been travelling on his own again. A regular thread of New Doctor Who is that the Doctor needs companions to keep him 'human'. Left to his own devices he starts slipping into a Gallifreyan fugue, which leads him to start behaving like the Time Lord Victorious than The Doctor.
I do feel though that this is another story designed to make the Doctor feel bad about his lifestyle. After all you could blame the Doctor for Isaac's death so there's another death for him to take responsibility for. If you want to be horrible about it.
Then there's Khaler-Jex's discussions with the Doctor. The first of which effectively pushes all the Doctor's buttons and makes him angry enough to throw Khaler-Jex to the Gunslinger. The second, about the weight that Khaler-Jex will carry with him after his death, also seems designed to make the Doctor introspective. There are a number of quotes designed to echo the Doctor's own issues: "War is another world. You cannot apply the politics of peace to what I did. To what any of us did." But more importantly perhaps is the Doctor's quote at the end of another long discussion with Kahler-Jex: "You don't get to decide when and how your debt is paid". Add to that the reference to both men as 'Alien Doctors" and Khaler-Jex introducing himself as just 'The Doctor' and you can't avoid thinking this is another in a long line of stories designed to make the Doctor re-evaluate his lifestyle.
I should add here that all of these Doctor-Khaler-Jex conversations work very effectively, particularly because Adrian Scarborough does such a excellent job with the part. In some ways Khaler-Jex is a Doctor Who staple: the scientist who thinks the end justifies the means. An echo in particular of Davros - another scientist seeking to create a victory weapon to win a long war - if you ask me, which I'm sure you won't be.
But in the end he's more than that. He's one of the few that has realized that the price they paid for their victory might not be one worth paying.
What of the Gunslinger itself. It's effectively clunky. A Doctor Whoesque take on the Terminator. A few steps away from being a Cyberman. In a way though with all its rules it is probably not horrible enough to be utterly terrifying, but that's nice. It's a small scale story to some degree. It's one man's attempt to find revenge. In that sense it feels a bit like Doctor Who's take not just on High Noon but echoes the themes of a trio of Clint Eastwood's Hang 'Em High, High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider. The final acts of a far larger and darker story of a nasty war on a distant world of which we know very little.
Talking of themes that I notice that we get a reference to motherhood again when Kahler-Jex says to Amy: "You're a mother, aren't you...There's kindness in your eyes. And sadness, but ferocity too." I'm not sure what we are to make of this but the continuing thread of family seems to me to be important but I'm probably utterly wrong.
I haven't said much about the three regulars because Smith, Gillan and Darvill's performances never seem to drop to much these days but a polite round of applause for the face-off between The Doctor and Amy, which is played rather nicely by Smith and Gillan, with a nice little line from Ben Browder in there too.
Really enjoyed it. Probably thought to much about it now.
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
I like most things about Dinosaurs On A Spaceship. I think because it feels like an old school Doctor Who one-off adventure unburdened by the weight of story arcs, although I don't think it stops people looking for hints. After all The Moff's era of Doctor Who often sows little seeds throughout adventures that pay off. Eventually. Hopefully.
Having said that there is a darkness at the heart of this story that it is easy to overlook: the mass murder of Silurians by Solomon (David Bradley); Solomon's rather disgusting little speech about 'breaking' Nefertiti (Riann Steele) and - perhaps the most controversial moment in the story - the Doctor's decision to kill Solomon. There's no way around that fact. He doesn't let him die. He kills him.
People seem to think this is un-Doctorish but I'm not so sure it is. I think we've started to see the Doctor as far too saintly than his history would actually indicate. The universe is scattered with the bodies of people or creatures that the Doctor has caused to be killed. He doesn't often directly kill I'll accept that but, for me, I've never seen the Doctor as angelic. To me - as I've said in previous blogs - he's the sort of angel that gets referred to in one of my favourite speeches in Prophecy : "...always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever want to see an angel." One day I may write a blog at length about 'Death and The Doctor' but he's pretty ruthless when it comes to it, particularly if he's given you a warning. After all Solomon is a mass murderer.
Yes, it might be a little surprising for new Doctor Who and actually for The Moff's era but that's partly because Solomon is an unusually black and white villain for the Moff's era of the show (even though I'm aware the story was written by Chris Chibnall). An out and out bad guy with - apparently - no redeeming features. However surprising though it is I don't think the Doctor is a character without blood on his hands. The fact that the Doctor knows this is part of the weight he carries.
I did actually think at the time that perhaps there was going to be a thread in the season that showed that the Doctor had been slightly affected by the Dalek nano-cloud - see Asylum of the Daleks - but I'm not sure if I'm right about this. We shall see.
My other issue with the story is the 'comedy' sexism and unnecessary macho flirting of Riddell (Rupert Graves), although I'm inclined to think this is deliberately done for two reasons: firstly to show how wonderful both Nefertiti and Amy are and secondly to allow Amy to comment on the flirting between Riddell and Nefertiti as an ironic commentary on the flirting that goes on so much in New Doctor Who. (Phew, that's a oddly unlovely sentence.) I should add that I like both Rupert Graves' and Riann Steele's performances. They're nicely pitched.
Even allowing for that though do we have to start with another powerful woman grappling with the Doctor. It always seems a bit of wishful thinking on behalf of various Doctor Who writers to me. It's like after years of jokes about Doctor Who fans being single/living with their mother the (male) writer's of Doctor Who have turned the Doctor into a symbolic representation of Doctor Who fans. It's a kind of mass Mary Sue-ing. Or something similar.
Anyway enough of this taking all this stuff seriously I should stop briefly to give a small round of applause to Mark Williams who plays Brian, er, Williams aka Rory's Dad. It's a lovely understated and perfectly timed performance. I'd like to see more of Brian.
Actually I've written this as if I didn't really like it but I really enjoyed it. It's well-acted, even if some bits and bobs of the script irritate me and it feels like fun, which is the first story that's felt like that for a while. Sometimes this self-imposed 'watch all Doctor Who in order' plan feels like a chore but often a story pops up that is just good fun. This is one of those stories and one I'd happily watch again.
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
WARNING: This review contains massive spoilers. If you've never seen it before do not read this. There you go. Don't blame me if you get spoiled now.
I find myself in something of a minority when it comes to Asylum of the Daleks. The first time I watched it I almost gave up on it in a fit of fan fury. It's was - and remains - the only time I have ever (almost) given up on an episode of Doctor Who. And I've watched The Mutants. And The Armageddon Factor. And Time-Flight. Well, you see what I'm saying. It's unusual. I was genuinely actually quite furious.
And yet when I watched in this time I can't quite understand why I was so angry. There are still bits of it that I loathe starting with the Parliament and Prime Minister of the Daleks. I'm not going to rant here on how the whole idea of a Parliament of Daleks feels so un-Dalek as to be ludicrous. Partly because I spent a long time ranting about it at the time and have discussed all the ins and outs of the idea with fellow fans and partly because I'm aware that arguing about what a fictional race of aliens in a television series may or may not do is the way madness lies.
Oddly despite my irrational dislike of the whole Parliament of the Daleks idea I did like the idea that the Daleks have a concept of beauty that revolves around hatred. It adds a dimension to them: "Hate is beauty, beauty hate - that is a ye know on Skaro, and all ye need to know." As the Dalek Keats once wrote. I also like the throwaway line that follows that discussion that implies that the reason the Dalek's haven't killed the Doctor until now is that they find him (or the hatred of him) beautiful. It's certainly explains why they talk so much about exterminating him without getting around to do it.
Then there's Rory and Amy. This story shows that they are in the process of getting divorced and it turns out that Amy threw Rory out. This turns out to revolve around the fact that Amy has discovered, since Demon's Run, that she can't have children - which is a rather dark turn to events that seems to pass unremarked. Rory has apparently always wanted children and so Amy gave him up so that he could. I'm not sure this rings true based on what we've seen of their relationship up until now. These two love each other enough with enough power to cross timelines but not enough to actually have a discussion about children. Rory's a nurse. He might have some suggestions about surrogacy or adoption. Rory's not a bastard. This has been established so it just feels utterly wrong and almost a bit arbitrary.
I'm sure it is only me that feels like this. Perhaps I'm howling at the moon about consistency in character as much as my issues about the Dalek Parliament is the kind of desire for foolish consistency that is the hobgoblin of little minds.
So there's my two main gripes.
BIG SPOILER COMING
Now what this story does do rather brilliantly is surprise us with the unannounced early appearance of soon to be companion Clara Oswald or in this case Oswin Oswald.*(Jenna Coleman). It's an admirable coup de theatre. And Jenna Coleman does a brilliant job, especially when The Moff adds an impressive extra twist to the surprise of her appearance. Poor old Oswin. My one quibble is why when the Doctor and Rory are talking to Oswin her voice is human but when the Doctor speaks to her in the final scenes it isn't. It's a bit of a cheat really but not enough of one to spoil what is probably the best couple of moments in the story.
I'm not going to rant either about the silly ending in the Dalek Parliament where the newly Doctor amnesiac Daleks don't just exterminate the Doctor on sight because he's invaded their Parliament. Even if they had had one or two shots but the TAR...OK. I'll stop now.
I've got no complaints about the performances. I think Matt Smith is as brilliant as usual. Karen Gillan - who gets better with every story in my opinion - and Arthur Darvill are great too even if I don't like their plot line in this story.
It also looks great: the hundreds of Daleks, the dusty battered Daleks in the Asylum gradually waking up and the whole snowy mountain scene. I don't think Doctor Who has ever looked so good as it does at this point in its history.
But yes for me despite enjoying it much better this time around there is something unsatisfying about this story. The Doctor Who equivalent of that disappointment you get after eating something unhealthy that you really fancied but realize isn't quite what you wanted.
As I said though I get the impression that it is just me.
*Jenna Coleman's character will end up being Clara. In this story she's Oswin Oswald. I try to avoid foreknowledge spoiling stories but in this case it's tough not to.
Monday, June 2, 2014
I loathed The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe the first time I watched it. To the point of actually 'for heffelumps saking' at the television. Watching it for the second time I'm not quite sure what drew my ire. Yes, it's not particularly great. In fact it's probably the worst of the Christmas specials but it isn't quite as diabolical as I remembered.
Obviously the problem with Doctor Who Christmas Specials is that the fromage factor is pushed to an almost vomitous degree. If you've got an allergy to diary products then I'd steer clear of this.
It starts of with a sequence aboard a spaceship that involves lots of CGI, some serious explosions and possibly the most improbably ridiculous survival having unwilling exited a spaceship since the Heart of Gold happened to pick up Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect. At least that escape had a vaguely sensible science-fiction explanation. The Doctor's escape is just ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. And badly realized too.
Now, I'm aware that this kind of quibbling when the whole premise of the television series I'm watching is utterly ridiculous too but this is my blog and my rules.
We then meet Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner) who is actually the hero of this tale. The Doctor is here mostly in a comedic, trouble causing capacity (with a couple of exceptions). It's just before the outbreak of World War Two. She finds the Doctor - trapped in a spacesuit - and eventually returns him to his TARDIS via an 'amusing' sequence about her bad driving, which we'll get a callback to much later in the script. We also get to meet the whole family. Husband Reg (Alexander Armstrong), daughter Lily (Holly Earl) and son - and prototype geek - Cyril (Maurice Cole).
Skip on and Reg is flying his damaged Lancaster back home but he's lost and it's not looking good. Then we're back with Madge and she's got the dreaded telegram.* It's Christmas though and she doesn't want her children to link Christmas to their father's death so she hasn't quite got around to telling them. They're heading off to Madge's Uncle's huge country house for Christmas where the Doctor has already got there.
There's several minutes of Matt Smith being an over-caffeinated Doctor as he shows everyone around the house, which he's been busy doing up. I particularly like the Lemonade tap btw. If the Doctor can arrange a beer one for me that'd be great. But I digress.
To cut a long story short the Doctor's tried to arrange a surprise using a portal to a planet that is basically 'Planet of the Christmas Trees' and - as often happens with the Doctor's plans - it all goes horribly wrong. And the Doctor, Madge, Cyril and Lily get caught in the crossfire of the evacuation of the 'lifeforce/souls' of the Forest and an acid rain tree destroying forest destruction plan involving the people of Androzani Major. Apparently the trees of Androzani Major are the greatest fuel in the universe of some such hyperbole. They couldn't just be 'fuel'. They have to be the GREATEST FUEL IN THE UNIVERSE. Never knowingly small scale the Doctor Who Christmas Specials.
Except there is at the centre of all this BIG stuff a small scale story about families. Once more love is at the core of a Moff era Doctor Who story. This time it is the love of a mother - which is a thread that I suspect we won't see the last of. There's a couple of key lines about the power of women. It's almost as if The Moff wanted to show that accusations of sexism in his writing were ridiculous. So men are 'weak' and women are 'strong'. And Madge ends up being figuratively and literally the Mothership. All very metaphorical.
Phew. There's not much wrong with the performances - although I think in this story they're really pushing Matt Smith to be overly flappy. It's all mildly entertaining but once more the best moments are when Matt Smith's quiet and still. The little speech to Madge about why she's shouting at the children is lovely writing and brilliantly acted.
Holly Earl and Maurice Cole are good. Child actors can be a bit annoying but both of them avoid that, which is rather good. Although Holly Earl would have been about 18 when she played Lily so calling her a child actor is a bit unfair. Claire Skinner is also good as Madge, especially in the crying confrontation with the three employees from Androzani Major. Alexander Armstrong does what needs to be done in a part that doesn't have much too it beyond stolid British bloke.
I talked in the Let's Kill Hitler blog about glibness when it comes to Nazi's in that story and actually how Doctor Who isn't really the place to have a realistic portrayal of them and there's an echo here in the way we see Reg's rescue. We've established that one of his crew is badly hurt and yet once the plane has landed it's all about the family Arwell. The rest of the plane's crew are forgotten and for some reason that bloody annoys me. I find myself thinking that Doctor Who writer's should stop using World War Two as shorthand. I dread that one of these days The Moff will decided to homage A Matter of Life and Death. At that point I might actually throw a brick through my television screen.
I know Christmas specials have attracted a patina of extra cheesiness, generally but this one goes too far. It's like swimming in a sea of melting cheese. The Doctor Who equivalent of fondue.
*Actually I think one of the reasons the World War Two stuff annoys me is that I know my Grandma got one of those 'Missing Presumed Dead' telegrams. She was lucky and they eventually found my Grandad badly wounded and in hospital in Wolverhampton. This might not have skewed my reaction to the story but I propose it as a possibility.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
So Series Six comes to an end with The Wedding of River Song. Most of the threads left lying throughout the rest of the series are twisted together so that we can finally see how the Doctor escapes his fixed point in time death in Utah. Unless this is the final episode of Doctor Who ever. Except obviously it isn't. So he's clearly got to escape.
Initially we think it is River's refusal to actual kill the Doctor that saves him. Except her decision to not go through with it causes time to collapse. Everything is happening on Earth at the same time. There are Romans waiting at traffic lights, steam trains running through the Gherkin (for reasons I'm unsure of) and Churchill - who is the Holy Roman Emperor natch - knows about downloads. The Doctor needs to die. Then you start to think that Amy and River have come up with a cunning plan to save him but in the end the Doctor saves himself. He's been thinking ahead. Hurrah.
Of course the Doctor doesn't die. I had theories about the Flesh Doctor being the get out - and I'm sure a line was thrown into The Almost People as a deliberate Red Herring (although I could be wrong) - but in the end the Doctor comes up with another solution.
It's nicely written. I like the fact that the first part of the story is made up of the Doctor trying to avoid his fate and investigating why the Silence want him dead. It's only when when the Doctor is told of the Brigadier's death (in a short but rather sweet little tribute to Nicholas Courtney) makes him realize that time is catching up with him.
This is all done rather nicely through flashbacks as the Doctor tries to explain what is happening to Churchill. It's when we realize that the Silence are here already that things slip into the 'present'. It's all rather timey-wimey.*
Fast forward to the end via the re-introduction of Amy, Rory and River plus Madam Kovarian and the Silence.
The re-introduction of Amy is nicely done a little misdirection here and a nice little bit in the train between her and the Doctor.
Then there's some fun in a pyramid. A battle. Amy does something rather unpleasant to Madam Kovarian. It's actually a rather good moment. It would almost seem uncharacteristic of Amy if she wasn't given a couple of sentences which nicely explains her quiet anger. I quite like it. It seems a real response to an impossible situation. Rory gets to show his courage and general Roryness.
Then River Song gets to explain their plan to which the Doctor's response is rather short and cold. Then River Song gets married. And everything is re-set. The Doctor dies. Then we get a coda explaining how he doesn't. Or didn't. The Doctor's taking a step back out of the limelight. He's got too big. The combination of the shocks he's gone through since A Good Man Goes To War have led to this moment. Perhaps he's hoping his apparent death will hold off his final moments on Trenzelore.
So with all this explanation of the plot I'm clearly avoiding actually talking about what I think of the episode. It's a delaying tactic because whilst it's all very clever and exiting I found myself feeling a bit unbothered by the end of it. It's all clever-clever. It's well-acted and the actual wedding moment is nicely done but it feels unusually lacking an emotional centre. For me.
Perhaps that's just me. After a run of stories about love and sacrifice this one just feels a bit like it is missing something at its centre. Is it because this is the first of those story where intellectual overwhelms the emotional. There's so many threads to tie up, so much to deal with and so many questions to be answered that the heart of the story seems to be missing.
Who knew I'd ever criticize a new Doctor Who story for lacking emotional oomph but it just never clicked for me. It does the job of wrapping up the season though whilst leaving us one or two unanswered questions to take us through to the end of the Eleventh Doctor's era.
So actually I like it quite a lot even with my concerns. Good, but no cigar. As Churchill never said.
Closing Time sees the return of James Corden as Craig Owens and (very briefly) Daisy Haggard as Sophie. Mainly though it is the Doctor and Craig, which is good because James Corden and Matt Smith make an excellent partnership. It's Episode 2 of Doctor Who: The Sit-Com. A series that runs in a parallel universe. If you've got yourself a multi-reality DVD player Series 1 is now available on DVD.
Sorry I don't know what came over me there.
It's another small scale domestic story. Even the Cybermen aren't here in force. It's another story sign posting us towards the Doctor's fate, as outlined in The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon. The Doctor is in a thoughtful mood and seems to have popped by to see Craig as part of a farewell tour. There's a couple of nice little Matt Smith speeches about this, including the one on the sofa with Craig that ends with the most obvious moment possible. In fact the Doctor seems slightly concerned with how the Earth is going to cope without him. I hope he's not have a Time Lord Tony Blair legacy issues.
It's also another story about love. And love saves the day. Again. This time it isn't Amy and Rory's universe crossing love, it is Craig's love for his son Alfie (aka Stormageddon, Lord of All). If I was going to pick a theme in Series Six it is the power of love: whether that's romantic love : Amy and Rory or the Doctor and River, The Doctor and The TARDIS. Or if it is familial love: Amy and Rory with Melody; Henry and Toby Avery; Jimmy and Adam and Craig and Alfie. Love - of a kind - as the definition of what makes us human and love that can make us change the Universe. And a combination of the two in The Doctor's love for Amy (and Rory). We hear lots of talk about the Third Doctor being a kind of father figure but if there's a Doctor as father figure out there it is The Eleventh. I think we just don't pay as much attention because Matt Smith is so young and there's a lot of flirting going on.
So Series Six: love and family.
Of course I am almost certainly reading far too much into this whole thing: "I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren't there."
Anyway back to Closing Time.
There's a lot of good stuff in here. It certainly has that Doctor Who creepiness and the Cybermen, even though they're small in number, are suitably sinister. Indeed in a way it is one of the better Cyberman stories, even if they're here to show us the power of love*, which means you couldn't have picked another Doctor Who villain for the story really. So bonus points for effective use of Cybermen.
It's nice to see Lynda Baron in Doctor Who again, even if it is a reasonably small part. James Corden is good - as he was in The Lodger. There's an anti-Corden vibe out there sometimes but I can't be arsed to buy into that. One dodgy sketch show shouldn't really be held against you and he's never not good in his two Doctor Who appearances so let's not be so judgmental shall we. He says on a blog that is judgmental by its very nature. I think that might be irony.
There's a nice little moment where the Doctor is talking about coincidences and then walks right into a one. It's nice to see Matt Smith is still doing great stuff to but I still prefer the quiet and thoughtful Eleventh Doctor to the manic one.
But enjoyable though it is it does feel a tad inconsequential and like a second string story designed to make the final step to the series finale, particularly as the end of the episode is basically a five minute 'prequel' for The Wedding of River Song.
*Every time I write 'the power of love' I hear it in the voice of Jennifer Rush.