Doctor Who Review: The Caretaker

doctor who the caretaker review gareth roberts steven moffat paul murphy skovox blitzer peter capaldi jenna coleman samuel anderson

You’ve explained me to him. You haven’t explained him to me.

One of the things I always love about Doctor Who is the juxtaposition of the mundane and the ordinary. I know, so original! I imagine that just about every person commenting on Doctor Who ever has brought that up. In fact, I am fairly certain that I learnt the word “juxtaposition” from a Doctor Who documentary.

But, of course, the reason why people always mention this is because it’s true. It’s one of the things Doctor Who does best! And it’s never more apparent than in episodes set in schools. Personally, I always find it stranger to see the characters in a school rather than just in contemporary Earth, but I suppose that’s because I spend quite a lot of time in school still. Perhaps one day the Doctor in an office block will be the most disconcerting thing ever.

I digress, however. Review time. So, as per the usual, starting with the good. And there’s a lot of it!

doctor who the caretaker review jenna coleman clara oswald adrian eleventh doctor matt smith peter capaldi twelfth doctor gareth roberts

It’s a wonderful concept, an absolutely fantastic idea. There’s been similar episodes before, on the fringes of the topic, like School Reunion or The Lodger, but there’s still a remarkable amount of mileage in the idea. Coupled with the fact that the school is also Clara’s workplace adds another dimension to it again. The focus on Clara here was nice, especially because it did, once again, develop her character some more. They’ve really stepped things up with regards to Clara this time around, and it’s nice to see the possibilities for the character.

As is probably to be expected with Gareth Roberts writing, it’s a really funny episode. Just, throughout, there’s lots of brilliant jokes. The Jane Austen exchange and the Doctor whistling We Don’t Need No Education were both quite memorable, but the obvious best was the one surrounding the similarities between Adrian the teacher and the Eleventh Doctor. It was almost quite sad really, but also very, very funny.

Speaking of the Doctor, Peter Capaldi did really well again here. That must be so boring to read over and over in a review, mustn’t it? It’s never boring to watch, certainly. (I know it’s a strange thing to pick out, actually, but I really liked his intonation at the start, when talking about sinister puddles. It just… I’m not quite sure I could put my finger on it really, but it felt very distinctively Twelfth Doctor-y, as opposed to a line any Doctor could say.)

The strange thing to note, however, is that one of the best exchanges of the episode also highlights the biggest problem.

The exchange I refer to is the one which takes place in the TARDIS between the Doctor and Danny, with regards to the aristocracy and soldiers vs officers. It’s really well written, and it’s remarkably well acted, particularly by Samuel Anderson. It’s also a relatively different take on the Doctor vs Boyfriend conflict we’ve had over the years, because here the cause of the conflict isn’t (wholly, anyway) to do with Clara, but the Doctor’s own prejudice against soldiers.

doctor who the caretaker review danny pink samuel anderson twelfth doctor peter capaldi solider office tardis confrontation jenna coleman

Except… I mean, lets just come right out and say it. This is a plot device. It’s totally and completely contrived, and simply a reason to engender conflict. Arguably an unnecessary conflict really – if you want to do something new, which this is meant to be, why not have the Doctor and the Boyfriend take an instant shine to one another, and be friends from the start?

(This basically out of thin air hatred of soldiers was almost, actually, handled quite well in Into the Dalek, where the implication was that the Doctor disliked soldiers because the way the power their weapons gave them could be a corruptive influence. That could be tied into the aristocracy idea – only certain people can handle power, in his opinion? – or a reflection on the Doctor’s past – he believed he had that power because of his Time Lord heritage, which corrupted him, which is why he made those mistakes he referred to in Deep Breath. It’s also somewhat topical, actually, given the nature of events around the world currently.)

Largely, you can ignore this. Certainly, it bothered me more on first viewing; by the time of the rewatch, I was more accepting of it, and I could see the merits of the rest of the episode. And, hey, maybe the disdain for soldiers will receive some more development soon.

Another good episode, yes, but one affected by a relatively large flaw. Thankfully though, unlike Listen, this flaw doesn’t overpower the rest of the episode. 7/10.

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

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On Skulduggery Pleasant ending

skulduggery pleasant sceptre of the ancients derek landy book 1 harper collins tom perceval valkyrie cain hd

At present, I’m re-reading the Skulduggery Pleasant series of books, by Derek Landy. It’s partly in preparation for the final book, but also procrastination as well; the book is downstairs, on my shelf, ready to be read. I’m putting it off, basically.

I read the first novel back in… uh, 2006 or 2007. It was shortly after the first book came out. (There was an advert in a Doctor Who Adventures magazine actually, and that prompted me to read it, which is quite funny to me.)

I loved the book, and still do to this day. I was vaguely worried about re-reading it now, almost ten years later, I’d be looking over it with a far more critical eye, and take issue with all sorts of little things that would ruin my enjoyment of it.

But. thankfully, that proved not to be the case. They were still just as witty, and smart, and downright brilliant as I remembered. Compelling characters, genius plots, and a wonderful style of prose.

Right now, I’m about 200 pages into Death Bringer, which is the sixth book. One of my favourites, in fact, if ever I had to pick out particular ones. There’s another two books to go after this, and then…. The Dying of the Light.

I’ve been delaying it as much as I can. I’m reading all of the short stories between books (The Lost Art of World Domination is a gift, frankly) and I’m going to read Tanith Low in The Maleficent Seven when I get around to it. But there’s only so long I can put it off for.

Skulduggery Pleasant is coming to an end. Drawing to a close. There’s a finite amount of time left. Soon it won’t be an ongoing story, but something that’s been… historized, as it were.

And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

These books have been a pretty massive part of my life for years. About eight, in fact. I’ve written letters to Derek Landy, got responses, met him (wonderful fellow), entered competitions to create a character, spent hours of my life playing games on the official website, reading blog posts about it… In fact, some of my closest friends to this day I developed connections with through those books. Skulduggery Pleasant is something thatto say the leastoccupies a rather special place in my heart.

And now, very soon, it’s going to end.

That is frankly bizarre. The only interest I’ve sustained for that long is, I’d say, Doctor Who, but I don’t have to worry about Doctor Who coming to an end in the same way.

Something that has been a big part of my life is going to be over. No more. Not ongoing. Done. Finished. It’ll be an ex-story.

Ironically, I can’t really figure out how to vocalise what that would feel like, how to articulate or express the way this would affect me. That sounds melodramatic, and it sort of is really. But screw it, I don’t care. This is a chapter of my life closing, and it is really weird. It’s strange to think that I have the end to that chapter sat downstairs, on a shelf, ready to be opened…

… ready to end.

But not yet. Not just yet.

After all, as the poem goes, rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

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Conflict in a Story

Okay okay okay so. In English today, we were talking about Much Ado about Nothing, and how Don John’s role is, basically, as a plot device to create conflict in the story.

And anyway my English teacher starts to talk about how conflict is essential to a story. Generally I’d be inclined to agree with her, because I do think conflict is quite important, but then she said “In fact, I defy anyone to come up with a TV show, a movie, a book, a short story, any piece of fiction, that does not have a conflict to it.”

That’s where I sort of paused a bit. Any story? There has to be something, right? I mean, yeah, there’s always certain rules to a story, there’s always some things which must be true… but there are exceptions to every rule, no? All boundaries can be pushed, I think.

Her definition was quite broad, in fact. It wasn’t just an obvious conflict, anything that stops characters from getting what they want, but also internal psychological conflicts, and other similar things. Most things would be encompassed by her definition – I believe another example she gave was in detective stories, the search for clues and victim, that’s a conflict. Admittedly an obvious one, but still.

At the minute, the best I can come up with is short short stories, as in the ones that exist purely as set up for a final twist. The kind of thing I have in mind is like “The last man on Earth sat alone. There was a knock on the door.”,which was Hemingway I think, or “The smallest coffins are the heaviest.

I was leaning towards things like that because of the length of them – they don’t really have the time to set up any conflict. But it could be argued that there is, to an extent – in the first one, there’s the “what’s there?” question, and the mystery is a form of conflict. Same goes for the second really. But then, is the definition of conflict getting too broad?

You could argue as well that there’s implicit conflicts one could interpret in the text, like saying that coffin purchaser struggled with grief, but that’s not really a hard and fast rule – you’d be rather hard pressed to provide definitive evidence that the last man struggled with loneliness.

What that lead me onto though, and this is getting a bit meta, but… is there always an inherent conflict in story, but outside of the narrative? One that comes from the reader?

It was following on from the detective story thing actually. Is the reader wondering how the story ends, and trying to find out, a form of conflict? Yes, no, maybe? If they’re to reread the story, is the conflict still there, or gone, because they know how it ends?

Am I overthinking this? Almost certainly. Food for thought though, perhaps. But, really, is there a conflictless story? If you can think of a better example that The Last Man, which is frankly quite tenuous, do let me know.

Doctor Who Review: Time Heist

doctor who time heist stephen thompson steven moffat douglas mackinnon keeley hawes jenna coleman peter capaldi the teller

The Bank of Karabraxos is protected by the deadliest security system ever devised. Today you are going to rob the Bank of Karabraxos.

The lead up to this one was interesting actually.

I mean, to be honest, I wasn’t actually expecting much? The concept was great, but Stephen Thompson has been a bit rocky sometimes in the past. Still, I was quite looking forward to it.

But then Listen was such a massive let down, for me personally at least, and I really kind of went… “oh, hang on a minute. Let’s not get too hopeful.” I didn’t want to have too much riding on this, just in case it wasn’t so great.

Essentially, I was a bit wary, and trying to keep my expectations tempered. Which is always weird actually – the show should be reliably great, week in, week out, no doubts.

And I tell you what – if the show was consistently at the quality of Time Heist each week, I think the show could consistently meet high expectations.

doctor who time heist the bank of karabraxos peter capaldi jenna coleman stephen thompson steven moffat douglas mackinnon

The real stand out this week was the direction, I think. Actually, no, not I think – I know. Douglas MacKinnon did absolutely amazingly; I think Time Heist is the best directed of all his episodes. Everything looked fantastic – great production values, lovely sets, and the technical stuff in the direction was brilliant. The scene transitions in particular were nice; the Doctor’s head in the washing machine was a great little moment.

What really stood out to me though, and I really really loved, was all the great little cues and riffs on other heist movies. The signifiers and stylistic moments of the genre. It was fantastic, and really added to the sense that this really was Doctor Who doing a heist movie. There was a real sense of authenticity, and it all came from the direction. 10/10 to Douglas MacKinnon right there.

Obviously though that couldn’t have been done without the concept itself, which is, frankly, marvellous. Bank heist, done Doctor Who style? Love it, absolutely. And it’s a really brilliant spin on things – there’s a short interview with Stephen Thompson in this month’s Doctor Who Magazine, where he talks about how there’s always a disguises expert and a computer whiz, and that the obvious sci-fi twist was to make them a shapeshifter and cyborg type. Very clever.

On that subject, I should probably also mention the timey-wimey stuff, and the twists. I did, admittedly, take issue with similar things in Listen, but not here; I think the difference is, ultimately, one of presentation. The reason why I liked it this week was because it felt a little bit different to usual; we’ve seen similar timey-wimey stuff before, but not exactly like this. The closest I can think of in recent years is the Pandorica escape clause; last week I could rattle off plenty of similar timey-wimey moments.

Watching it I was always vaguely aware that the Doctor was, probably, the Architect – but I wasn’t sure how he was, which is the point, I think. That was how the twist paid off, for me. Didn’t see the Karabraxos bit coming though, that was excellent. I was also genuinely surprised when Saibre and Psi turned out to be alive – I really did think they’d died. And, rewatching it, their deaths still felt as though they had a bit of oomph to them even though I knew what was coming. That was nice; the episode gets to have it’s cake, and eat it too. Woohoo.

doctor who time heist clara oswald jenna coleman douglas mackinnon coloured lighting peter capaldi stephen thompson steven moffat

The acting was fantastic all round; another great performance from Peter Capaldi, especially… well, actually, no, all of it! Loved it, honestly. Great, great stuff. Keeley Hawes and Jenna Coleman were all both excellent, as were Jonathan Bailey and Pippa Bennett-Warner.

I’m not sure the episode was perfect though, not at all. My biggest complaint, if it could be called that, is that they had some great concepts that they didn’t quite push to the limit enough. I’m thinking specifically about the memories – how great would it have been if they lost all of their memories? It’d have given the episode a little extra bit of edge to it, I think – if, say, the Doctor is still instinctively taking charge, those moments of questioning him would have been better because perhaps even he doesn’t know why he did it.

The fact that they were doing it for a reason, to get the thing they wanted most, but they don’t know what it is; scenes of them second-guessing themselves and their old selves could be rather excellent. I also think that it could be actually rather good for a new Doctor – just after he’s changed, removing the memories, distilling him down to the base elements… and showing he’s still the same man.

And, frankly, I feel vaguely cheated that we didn’t even get one ventilation shaft sequence.

So, Time Heist. I think it’s fair to say that they really pulled it off with this one.

8/10.

Note from Alex of 2018: I’ve mostly been trying to leave these old reviews without caveats about how my taste has changed or whatever, but I really laughed at some of the glowing praise above. I’ve not watched the episode since, or at least I don’t recall have done so, but a lot of this is very funny to me now.

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

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TV Trailer Thoughts | Agents of SHIELD Season 2 – Preview Clip

agents of shield skye daisy johnson chloe bennet gloves quake season 2 preview clip reaction thoughts

There was a trailer, and that’s what I was referring to the other day, but it wasn’t actually all that interesting. A few short clips set to Highway to Hell, and that was all. I’ll link to it anyway though, in case that seems like something you have to see.

Anyway this has turned up though, and it’s far more interesting, so I’ll talk about that instead. Woohoo.

Two things worth commenting on, methinks. First is the Agent Koenig thing actually, and the fact it’s actually going to be a plot point. I’m always vaguely reticent about that sort of thing becoming a big deal, because I rarely expect a satisfactory pay off. I was content with… Agent Koenig 2, or whatever his name was, just being a quick joke at the end of the series. It made me laugh, at any rate. This seems, perhaps, like they might be overcomplicating it simply for the sake of doing so. Mind you, I was similarly worried when Coulson’s resurrection became a thing at the start (I was content with Tahiti being magical really), and I think it’s fair to say that, by the end, the subplot about Coulson was one of the best parts of the series. I’m looking forward to where it’s going too – hopefully the investigation Coulson is setting Skye on here is because he’s aware of what he’s doing himself…

The second is mostly implicit actually. Towards the end of the clip, the implication is that Skye is going to go and talk to Ward, who is, I suppose, kept locked up in a little room all the time, where he gets to take part in fun activities such as growing a beard, and probably drawing tally marks on the wall, both of which being The Best Ways to Show Passage of Time Ever™.

The question of what will happen to Ward is actually quite interesting to me. It seems likely they’ll have some sort of redemption thing going on, but I’m more interested in how it’s approached. I’ve spoken before about how I thought Hydra wasn’t handled so well (or rather, could have been better) in the final part of the series, and I really hope that’s addressed. I get the feeling it will be; the inherent hypocrisy that Coulson, Skye and the others are okay when Ward kills people they tell him to but not others is quite an interesting one to explore. His actions never changed, only his politics. That’s potentially quite a good theme, especially in contrast with Coulson’s “Agents of Nothing” bit (one of the best moments of the series) and the idea that the team are going to be shadowy vigilantes.

So, yeah. Looking forward to this. Still no Channel Four UK airdate though.

 

Film Trailer Thoughts | The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part 1)

hunger games mockingjay trailer katniss everdeen jennifer lawrence gale hawthorne liam hemsworth part 1 hd

Look, look, trailer. (He says, as though everyone hasn’t seen it already.)

It’s an interesting one, this trailer. When I first watched it, I was not, admittedly, all that wowed by it. The footage they’ve got seems pretty disparate, and it’s comprised mainly of people standing around being dramatic. Equally though, I have absolutely no idea how you’d make a trailer from this film. As I understand it, the way the film is split is that, basically, all the political intrigue and expository stuff is going to be in this film, with the more dramatic, actual revolution, being in the second film. Which is fine, obviously; that stuff was always my favourite part of the books, and I think it could make for a really excellent film.

But… it’s difficult to get right. I wasn’t a fan of the first film, and I still haven’t seen all of the second. The first film, I think, had a fair few failings (though probably not as many as I initially thought, I was rather harsh on first viewing) but what I’ve seen of the second was a massive improvement. However, certain elements didn’t make it into Catching Fire which would have set up the rebellion and revolution aspects here, so I’m interested to see how that plays out.

High hopes then, but tempered expectations. It hasn’t always worked out before.

(Mind you, that four note motif they play at the end of each trailer? Bloody love it. It’s so haunting and sinister.)

Doctor Who Review: Listen

doctor who listen review steven moffat douglas mackinnon peter capaldi twelfth doctor jenna coleman clara oswald samuel anderson rupert orson danny pink

Why is there no such thing as perfect hiding?

I went through quite a few different openings for this one. Various different ways to frame it, you know? I considered talking about the time of year, and other Doctor Who episodes that have been around this date in the past. I thought about mentioning people’s expectations, how this one seemed to be quite a good one in the lead up.

But, honestly, I didn’t quite see the point here. Actually, in all seriousness, I struggled a little bit writing this review. I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it, because it didn’t really feel worth spending the time on it.

It’s not that it was bad, although I certainly didn’t enjoy it. It was just… meh, I guess? I mean, there were bad things, and good things, and all it ever really added up to was… meh.

I get the feeling I’m going to be distinctly in the minority here. Which is, you know, fair enough. That even makes it more fun, actually, this giving of criticism. As much as I love it when people agree with me, the debates prompted by a difference of opinion are great. A group of people on the internet, who’d rarely talk in the real world, all brought together to critically discuss and analyse Doctor Who? Brilliant. (No, I’m not invited to many parties, why do you ask?)

It’s entirely possible that I just didn’t get this story. That happens; sometimes it’s nothing more than a difference of opinion, where one person can’t quite get the same feelings or responses from an episode. It just… doesn’t work for them. Listen absolutely falls into that category for me. There were plenty of smart aspects to it, and there was a lot to appreciate… but I don’t think I could ever really manage more than to appreciate it. Certainly, I don’t think I’m ever going to enthusiastically love it.

doctor who listen review blanket creature quilt red orphanage rupert pink danny pink samuel anderson jenna coleman peter capaldi

We’ll start with the positives, obviously. The big thing to love about Listen is, I think, the way it looks. It’s really well directed. The opening sequence is just lovely; the transition with the fish stood out to me in particular actually. Throughout the episode though there’s a real, palpable tension to it, which does come primarily from the direction and the lighting. It’s very evocative; all of those scenes in the dark really did capture, for me at least, that sense that there could be something you don’t quite see. Out there, watching, waiting.

In the writing, too, there’s a lot of plusses. It’s rather funny, in quite a few places. The “Where’s Wally?” bit was very, very good, as were a few of the one-liners here and there. The Doctor’s speech about how fear is a superpower is very endearing, and it’s fantastically delivered by Peter Capaldi – there was something about the way he acted it out, and the way he spoke, that really added another dimension to it.

But, honestly? The well starts to run dry there. All 23 of them, in fact.

It was pointed out, before this episode aired, that this is Steven Moffat’s first ‘normal’ episode since The Beast Below – everything else has been a series opener, or a finale, or a special, or a River Song episode. This is one of the first times he’s been able to write an episode devoid of any such trappings, and just take an idea and run with it.

And what he does is… resort to the same, tired old tropes.

Now, I am, by and large, a fan of Steven Moffat’s work. There’s certainly some ropey bits, and indeed some bad bits, but generally, I like it. I really think he brought some great things to the series, and the timey-wimey stuff is actually quite clever. But when he first did it, it was clever because that was, more or less, when it was first done. Now though? We’ve seen it quite a few times. The shine is gone.

We’ve seen companions as children. We’ve seen them being influenced by the Doctor, and seen their adult selves be shaped by that experience. (Specifically, we’ve seen Reinette, Amy, arguably River, and Clara all in this position. We can add Danny and the Doctor to this now. The only one who escaped it is Rory!) We’ve seen stories taking on a cyclical nature, with the ending influencing the beginning and the middle in a strange, ontological way. It’s practically Steven Moffat’s trademark, by this point. There was even an exact “scary scene” in Listen, which had been more or less completely redressed from Blink. “Don’t look away, don’t turn your back, and don’t blink”. “Don’t look, don’t turn around, close your eyes”.

doctor who listen review peter capaldi twelfth doctor coffee cup steven moffat douglas mackinnon jenna coleman samuel anderson orphanage

It… I am not against old ideas being reused and revisited. More often than not, these things have the potential to be used more than once. But there is a cut-off point. In fact, there’s something Steven Moffat said recently, which I’ve been quoting a fair amount to explain why the series needs to change – “When your new idea becomes your old idea, you need to do something different.” Seems as though he needs to take his own advice really.

(I mean, in all seriousness, what has this episode added to Danny Pink? It would have worked just as well with the Rupert and Orson being any other character. All this managed to do was inextricably tangle Danny with all the old, dated tropes, and indeed remove any interesting character motivations he may have had. “Why did he become a soldier?” “Clara, or something.” “Right, cool.”)

And it’s a shame, it really is. Because at its heart, Listen has a fascinating idea, and could have had a brilliant pay off. Sometimes irrational fears really are just irrational fears. Sometimes there are no monsters. That’s absolutely wonderful, but it needs to be done with a degree of subtlety. One which wasn’t really on display here. Or rather, it was there at times, but was ultimately taken away from by all the things we’ve seen before.

I mean, there never was any monster. It was set up and subverted at every turn – whenever there was the implication of a monster, a reasonable, rational explanation was provided. (My favourite was the bit with the coffee cup, actually.) And that’s the point – there was never a monster. But the ending got muddled and bogged down, and it lost that.

It lost that, I think, in no small part because of the sequence with Theta. It took the focus away from what was actually going on, and obscured it with a “look, Clara influenced the Doctor!” moment. How sparklingly original. (Also, the closing moments with the First Doctor quote, whilst absolutely lovely, would have had very little impact on anyone who wasn’t in the know. If, however, the irrational fear aspect hadn’t been obscured by all the “clever tricks”, well, then they’d have a greater resonance within this episode, as well as being a nice callback to An Unearthly Child.)

I mean… I guess this episode just ends up being a bit of a write off. And it’s a massive shame, really. It could have been so much, but because it was insistent on using old tropes as a crutch… it faltered, and, ultimately, failed.

I think… 5/10, really. Which is one of the lowest scores I’ve given in ages.

Note from Alex of 2018: Four years on, I am increasingly convinced I probably would have appreciated this episode more if I’d rewatched it a couple of times. I haven’t seen it again in the time since, I don’t think, but it is one I intend to get to – I think I was probably quite unfair above, and it deserves the re-evaluation.

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

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On Two Tribes

richard osman two tribes pointless quiz show review child genius bbc two light entertainment endemnol shine hd general knowledge

There’s this new quiz show, Two Tribes, which is hosted by Richard Osman and it’s on BBC Two. The catch, apparently, is that their success is dependent on how similar they are to their teammates – seven contestants are split into two teams based on their answers to Yes/No questions like “Are you single?” or “Do you like karaoke?”. The contestants are then asked general knowledge questions, and the team with the most points goes through to the next round. One person is removed from the losing team, and then they’re divided up again for the next round.

But oh my god it makes no sense. They make these divisions, but then that’s it. It’s just a silly little quirk, they don’t actually use the idea to their advantage.

For their success to be dependent on how similar they are to their teammates, the questions should revolve around the thing that split them. So maybe you split them initially based on something silly, like the karaoke questions, and then the questions would be based on a specific area, like World War Two or something. You’d then have to hope that the people similar to you, who like karaoke, are also really knowledgeable about the second world war. (I’d also change it so the entire team goes out each round, because that would spend things along quite a lot.)

Though maybe I should just accept the fact that quiz shows are only ever going to get more ridiculous and we’ve passed the point where they’ll make sense. Oh well, so long as I can answer the questions. (I got a Pointless answer the other day!)

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Doctor Who Review: Robot of Sherwood

doctor who review robot of sherwood mark gatiss paul murphy tom riley ben miller peter capaldi jenna coleman robin hood

History is a burden. Stories make us fly.

Robin Hood! Can you believe it’s taken over 50 years to end up with a Robin Hood episode? I mean, at the start, sure, that makes sense. It was an educational show, and Robin Hood isn’t, strictly speaking, “real”. So I suppose it makes sense that there was no Robin Hood story then. (Still, though, imagine a Patrick Troughton Robin Hood story, a la The Enemy of the World!)

But after that, I’ve no idea why he never turned up, especially once the idea of the celebrity historical was set up. There’s the odd short story and reference in the wilderness years, but never a fully blown appearance. (I have consulted wikipedia; I know this to be true.) Admittedly, the BBC series that ran when Doctor Who was off the air back in 2007 probably would have prevented anything being done then. (Loved that show, by the way.) And maybe the ITV version in the 80s, thinking about it.

Still, it’s great that he’s finally turned up. After all, everyone knows who Robin Hood is. Even though is he isn’t, strictly speaking, “real”.

Or… was he?

(He wasn’t, I just like to have little cliffhanger type things to go above the cut. Although, incidentally, the actual history of Robin Hood is quite interesting. Here, start with this Wikipedia page and then do further research.)

doctor who review robot of sherwood peter capaldi tom riley twelfth doctor robin hood ben miller sheriff of nottingham mark gatiss

Anyway, yes. The structure of this one is going to be a little different, because I want to talk about the Doctor and Robin Hood at the end a bit (actually, that’ll probably spiral off into it’s own post) so I’ll do the whole judgement thing here. Keeps it fresh, I suppose. (I could pretend it’s a reflection of the somewhat muddled nature of the legend of Robin Hood, but I haven’t actually put that much thought into it.)

I really liked this episode. It was a very fun episode, and I mean that as a genuine compliment. It’s ridiculously enjoyable to watch, and it’s very, very funny. It’s the sort of thing you’re going to watch because it’s a romp, and it’ll cheer you up. I spent the fair majority of this one smiling at the screen like a fool, because it’s so daft and cheerful it’s just really nice. Admittedly, that means it’s a difficult one to grade on it’s own merits, because comparatively,  it doesn’t have the same pros and cons as another, more serious episode might. It’s probably a 7/10 episode, in that sense, but it’s a different 7/10 to, say, The Long GameI’d also be hesitant to say that Deep Breath is actually better than this episode, even though I gave it an 8/10. That’s probably entirely incoherent, but it makes sense to me. Which is what matters! Oh dear.

Onto Ben Miller then. I thought he was great – one of my chief complaints about the episode is that he wasn’t in it enough! I just think he’s great. Brilliant in Primeval, brilliant in The Armstrong and Miller Show, and, again, excellent here. Very good performance as the slightly unstable, but very threatening Sheriff. He absolutely managed to sell the slightly off kilter humour without sending everything up – I loved the “First Nottingham. Then… Derby. Next… Loughborough. And then… THE WORLD!!!” line, it was absolutely fantastic. Pitch perfect.

(Mind you, I’m glad they cut out the beheading scene. I’ve watched a version from the leaked copy of the script, and it’s pretty ghastly. It’s not that it’s graphic, it’s just the way it’s staged – the Doctor and Clara put a sheet over the Sheriff’s head, Robin swings his sword, the body falls to the floor and Clara actually cheers. That’s misjudged regardless of recent goings on.)

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It was another great episode for Clara here. It was really nice to see her getting all excited about Robin Hood, holding her own against the Sheriff, and the more reflective conversations with the Doctor. Whilst I try and make a point about not bashing other stories to be more positive about the one I’m reviewing, it is becoming abundantly clear that Clara is receiving far more attention now than in series 7. Whether that’s because she stands independently of her arc, I’m not sure, but I’m definitely glad of the shift in focus.

There’s a few weaknesses, here and there. I’ve already spoken about how I’d have liked Ben Miller to get a little more screen time. Some of the dialogue for the Doctor was a little off, and it felt like it was adapted from a Matt Smith script, although that’s not a massive problem. The fighting between Robin and the Doctor got old after a while, really starting to grate, and the final bit with the arrow is the most tenuous piece of pseudo-science… ever, really.

But! The absolute biggest strength of this episode was the parallels drawn between Robin and the Doctor. That’s maybe a bit unfair to suggest, I suppose, because it wasn’t really the main focus of the episode; there was something of a subtle plot thread running throughout, and a few speeches at the end. But they were very, very good.

The Doctor is, just like Robin Hood, a hero who lives in stories. He’s not tied down by the real world, he’s above that. He can be a symbol of hope, and inspire people to do good in his name. It’s the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism.

I know that sounds corny and crap, because it’s just a TV show, it’s just a story…

But, after all, stories make us fly.

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

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On Moffat criticism (or a very specific one, anyway)

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I saw a post earlier, which was a criticism of Steven Moffat. I’m not going to link to it, mainly because I don’t have the link, but it was essentially a comparison between the way the Doctor talks to his companions in RTD stories and in Moffat stories.

The dialogue selected was, basically, paraphrasing of when RTD would give the Doctor speeches about how important his companion was, and examples of the recent snark between 12 and Clara – things like calling her egotistical, bossy, or short and roundish. These quotes were being used to vilify Moffat for… treating fictional characters poorly, probably.

The thing is though, they were absolutely false equivalents.

First of all, there’s the issue that the quotes were entirely devoid of context. The comments selected about Moffat companions are jokes between the characters – snarky banter, nothing more. It’s not intended as an insult or a put down. It’s not the Doctor being emotionally cruel or anything like that.

On top of that, Moffat has got speeches were the Doctor talks about how wonderful his companions are – there’s plenty where Eleven talks about Amy or Clara is, and even a few where he says that Rory is great. Conversely, RTD has had a few where he insults companions – there’s the bit about Jackie in Army of Ghosts, Donna in The Christmas Invasion, and plenty of occasions with Mickey.

Now, I’d never say that Moffat is perfect, because I don’t think he is. Better than people suggest, but not perfect, no. But that? That wasn’t a valid criticism of his writing, or treatment of women, or even his sense of humour. Frankly, it’s just a mistake. More than that, it’s deliberately picking out certain things whilst ignoring others, all devoid of context, to try and make him look as bad as possible.

That doesn’t help. Because it makes you look like a fool, and it means people are just going to switch off from your arguments. There are things that need to be pointed out, yes, but to flat out make things up to demonise someone?

Get out of it, that’s ridiculous.

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