Doctor Who Review: Last Christmas

doctor who last christmas review steven moffat nick frost santa claus jenna coleman samuel anderson peter capaldi paul wilmshurst faye marsay

Do you know why people get together at Christmas? Because every time they do it might be the last time. Every Christmas is last Christmas and this is ours. This was a bonus, this is extra. Now it’s time to wake up.

Happy New Year! Ish. Close, anyway. I’m a little bit late with this one, but I figured I needed to get on and post it today, because if it went up in a whole different year to the actual episode, that’d be one hell of a missed deadline, even for me.

Doctor Who at Christmas has become sort of traditional, hasn’t it? This is, after all, the tenth special that they’ve done. That’s pretty impressive, really. It’s not something you’d immediately link, Doctor Who and Christmas. But it does make sense, if you think about it. It’s the same sort of idea, in them both – being halfway out of the dark, and embracing hope.

Doctor Who at Christmas. Very fitting.

First of all, it’s worth talking about the concepts in play here. It’s some very clever stuff; the different layers of the dream are, for the most part, very well put together. As I was watching it on the first go around, I wasn’t entirely impressed by Clara’s sequence with Danny – not because I had anything against it, per se, but that I thought it might have worked better with a more subtle build up, with little clues and hints to make the audience doubt what was going on, and which scenario was a dream or not. But then, of course, we got that anyway later on in the episode, which was really the best of both worlds. (It could, perhaps, have been played up a little more however – there was a line in the episode which essentially amounted to “How can you tell which is the dream and which is reality, when they’re both so bizarre?”, and I think that could have been played up a little bit more and emphasized throughout.)

doctor who last christmas review clara oswald santa claus jenna coleman nick frost rooftop dan starkey elf steven moffat paul wilmshurst

It was, admittedly, a tad predictable. Fairly soon in the episode, it became obvious that the entire base was going to be a dream, or at least a little bit “off” – I think that it was around the second or third “it’s a long story” moment when I realised. Still, despite that, there were a lot of elements to it which really worked very well – I liked the sense of dawning realisation when the crewmembers looked in their manuals, seeing different words each time, and the eventual fates of each crewmember were quite poignant – particularly Bellows in her wheelchair, and Shona sat alone at Christmas. I think it’s a testament to the characterisation and the acting throughout the special that those moments had the impact that they did. (And that dancing scene was rather brilliant)

Nick Frost played an excellent Santa here. I’ve only ever seen him in The World’s End before, which is a weirdly depressing film. He was definitely a brilliant character. What I did really liked though, and I think it’s been pointed out a few times already, was the role Santa played as symbolising dreams and escapism. I thought that was a really nice way to bring Christmas into the episode, and making it work with the themes at play in the episode – particularly, the dreams segment.

Towards the end, when the characters are taking a sleigh ride across London, it really felt very upbeat and positive, and quite Christmassy too. I think that was an important moment to include, and I’m glad it was there.

doctor who last christmas review old clara oswald jenna coleman time of the doctor christmas cracker matt smith peter capaldi parallels

This was another good episode for Clara, I think. At the time of Death in Heaven, I wasn’t sure about her coming back in the Christmas special, because I thought that the ending she got was actually rather perfect – I spoke about it a little in my review. But, like I said at the time, it was still possible that they could bring her back and it would still work. For the most part, it did! It was great to see Clara back, and her final moments with Danny were excellent. (There was one line in particular which I thought was quite revealing about her character, but I’ll save that for another post)

I really liked the moment with old Clara, towards the end, where the Doctor helps her to pull the Christmas cracker. The parallels there with old Matt Smith in The Time of the Doctor from last year. It was, I think, rather perfect. Very poignant.

Buuuutttttt…. It’s not the end. And I’m in two minds about that. It’s funny, actually, because Clara did just get the second perfect departure, and she’s still staying! Can’t get rid of her! Here forever! Having said that, I do think that more can still be done with her character. She’s developed a lot since her introduction, and I think she can still continue to do so. My only worry would be that there won’t be a third perfect ending.

So, Last Christmas?

It was pretty good. It wasn’t perfect. At times, I felt a bit disconnected, and a little bored for a few segments. (The elves grated a bit)

But those are pretty minor complaints. I think it’s fair to give Last Christmas a 7/10.


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On James Bond, white Scottish men, and Idris Elba

idris elba james bond white man scotland black too street anthony horowitz rush limbaugh sean connery ian fleming

What’s interesting about the debate around Idris Elba playing James Bond is that it actually shouldn’t be happening.

Now, I don’t mean that in the sense that Idris Elba would be brilliant as James Bond (he would be). No, the thing is that James Bond’s race doesn’t actually matter – “white guy” isn’t intrinsic to the character.

Rush Limbaugh, who I know essentially nothing about, said that James Bond was originally “a white [man] from Scotland”. That’s actually wrong. James Bond wasn’t written as Scottish in the first place.

Sean Connery is Scottish. Ian Fleming actually didn’t think that Connery should play James Bond, because he was Scottish, and James Bond wasn’t.

But in the end, Ian Fleming thought Sean Connery was such a good James Bond, he actually then wrote James Bond as Scottish because of Sean Connery.

Now, I will admit, I am not an expert on James Bond. I haven’t seen any of the films, bar Skyfall. I’ve not read any of the books. Generally, I know more about the actual iconography of James Bond, than about James Bond the character.

But I do know that there is a precedent for changing his race on the basis of an actor doing a damn good job at playing the role.

And Idris Elba would be a damn good James Bond.

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Doctor Who Book Review: The Quantum Archangel

doctor who book review the quantum archangel sixth doctor mel craig hinton valeyard past doctor adventures

Hear me, Lord of Time. We are a vengeful people. Our reach is infinite and our patience eternal. For your actions, we will have vengeance. And the vengeance of the Chronovores is terror beyond imagining.

One of the most interesting concepts the show has thrown out across 50 years is, I think, the Valeyard. A dark mirror – wait, I’ve used this opening already, haven’t I?

Like Time of Your LifeThe Quantum Archangel uses the concept of the Valeyard to explore the Doctor’s character, and in particular his relationship with Mel. The book opens with the pair reeling from the destruction caused by a nuclear war on the planet Maradnias – a war which was, ultimately, the Doctor’s fault. In what proves to be a wonderfully written opening, Mel decides to leave the Doctor, and return home. You get a real window into their thought processes, and you can understand every choice they make.

… except the novel doesn’t quite open with that. Beforehand, there’s a prologue with the Eternals, the Guardians, and the Chronovores, which sets up a lot of details that will become important later on in the book – the Six Fold God, Calab-Yau space, and so on and so forth. These bits really come into play in the latter half of the story. It’s brilliantly realised, and full of very intricate detail that definitely adds to the proceedings.

So with that setting the scene – immensely powerful beings from before the dawn of time, the Doctor feeling the guilt of his actions and mistakes, Mel trying to start a new life outside of the TARDIS – the plot begins. And it’s one hell of a plot.

Essentially (and I’m simplifying a fair bit) the Master is fleeing the Chronovores, and decides that in order to survive, he must become a God – the Quantum Archangel. And, naturally, this is all goes very, very wrong…

Beyond that, I won’t go into much more detail about the plot for fear of spoilers, but I might talk about it in more depth another time. It’s the sort of thing I wouldn’t want to ruin; there’s some really wonderful, reality-bending stuff, which is best experienced with no foreknowledge I think. (I will say this though – the section with Mel includes the most frightening scene I’ve ever read in a Doctor Who novel)

The characters are all handled really well; I loved reading about this chapter in the development of the Doctor and Mel’s relationship. Equally, the Doctor and the Master’s relationship is painted quite well, typifying the way they interact somewhere between enemies and old friends.

It’s not perfect, sure – it’s built around a pretty massive coincidence – but a lot of the flaws that people tend to pick with it are a bit exaggerated. There’s a lot of continuity references, but they don’t feel all that obtrusive to me. It’s also a sequel to The Time Monster, which isn’t the most popular of serials, but it’s still pretty accessible if you haven’t seen it (like myself!).

Overall, it’s a great book, and it’s really worth a read. Especially for fans of the Sixth Doctor, I think, but that’s everyone, surely. The Quantum Archangel tells a truly epic story, but tells it in a uniquely Doctor Who way – it’s close, intimate, and full of a hope.


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Doctor Who Book Review: Time of Your Life

I’m trying to change my future… It’s a physical impossibility and in absolute contravention to the First, Second and Every Law of Time.

One of the most interesting concepts that Doctor Who has thrown out across 50 years is, I think, the Valeyard. A dark mirror of the Doctor, with all his capacity for cruelty and violence, all of his intelligence and his abilities, but without his moral code or his values. It’s pretty compelling stuff.

Admittedly though, the show did drop the ball a little bit with the Valeyard, in part due to some unfortunate behind the scenes consequences, and also because of Colin Baker being wrongly removed from the role. What that means, essentially, is that a lot of the potential of the Valeyard wasn’t really examined. (Personally, I’m hoping that he’ll return to the show again with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. It’s not all that unlikely, I don’t think; the Dream Lord from a few years ago was the Valeyard in all but name, after all.)

Because, however, a lot of the potential of the Valeyard wasn’t used in the show, he turns up a lot in the Expanded Universe… which brings me, finally, to the subject of this review.

Steve Lyons’ Missing Adventure novel, Time of Your Life, is set immediately after Trial of a Time Lord finishes. The Sixth Doctor has dropped off Mel, and has had his mind wiped. He doesn’t remember most of his trial, only bits and pieces – but he’s desperate to change the future. The spectre of the Valeyard is hanging over him; he’s exiled himself to the planet Torrok, living as a hermit, and refuses to take on companions, avoiding any red headed computer programmers he comes across.

But then, of course, the Time Lords have a mission for him. And a young girl, Angela, wants to travel with him…

The most interesting thing about this novel is reading about the Doctor struggling with his future. It’s always really compelling stuff, seeing him weigh up the consequences of his actions, wondering if the means (saving these lives in a violent fashion) justify the potential ends (becoming the Valeyard and doing untold damage), and his guilt over what happened to Peri (because of the mind wipe, he doesn’t know) as well as his fears about what may have happened to Angela when they’re separated. It’s one of the best portrayals of the Sixth Doctor I’ve read in a long time; not necessarily because this characterises him as he is typically, rather that it shows exactly how he would behave in one of the most trying periods of his life. One of my favourite scenes comes at the novel’s denouement, and it’s related to how the Doctor defeats the villain… I won’t say how, other than that it’s very, very fitting.

The rest of the novel has quite a few shades of Bad Wolf to it actually. Torrok is a planet which has gone to waste because it’s populace are addicted to bad soap operas – that’s where the Doctor lives as a hermit. The Time Lords then want him to investigate the broadcasting planet (it’s the usual thing; technology they shouldn’t have) and so along he goes (not without some complaining though).

The broadcasting planet, the Network, is a hell of a lot of fun. All the different characters are really well written, and you get a real sense of them and their existence. There’s Zed Martinelli, talk show host; Ray Day, soap opera star; Miriam Walker, campaigner against corruptive Television shows, and the fans of TimeRiders, a science fiction show unfairly cancelled, which suggests the Network bears a grudge against it. (Interestingly, there is no disclaimer suggesting that any similarities between the characters and real life people are entirely accidental. Odd that)

All in all, this is an absolutely excellent book. More than that, I’d say it’s an essential book; it’s a key part of the Doctor’s life, and it explores the consequences of his trial extremely well.


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Doctor Who Book Review: Blue Box

doctor who book review blue box kate orman jon blum sixth doctor peri hackers computers cover hd

They had an unusual relationship, these two travellers. The Doctor was twice Peri’s age at least, but he didn’t act like a father or an uncle – more like a big brother with a bad case of sibling rivalry. 

Recently I bought quite a few of the old Classic Who books, that were published when the show was off the air. I bought quite a few with the Sixth Doctor, and one of those books was Blue Box, by Kate Orman.

I was looking forward to reading this quite a lot – one of the few EDAs I’ve read, Vampire Science, was co-written by Kate Orman, and it’s an exceptionally good book. The same applies here; Blue Box is an absolutely fantastic read.

The plot is pretty clever, and not the sort of thing I’d ever really seen on Doctor Who before. It’s a novel about computer hackers, basically, and the Doctor has to join in with that world. There’s a lot of moving about from place to place (on a road trip!) as the Doctor, Peri, and two new characters track down Sarah Swan, another hacker, who has gotten hold of an alien computer device. It’s very well suited to a novel, and not the sort of thing you’d find in a TV episode.

For the most part, Blue Box is written in the first person, from the perspective of journalist Chuck Peters, who’s trying to write an article on the world of hackers. Because it’s all from his perspective, you see the way he rationalises it, swinging between assuming the Doctor was a Russian agent trying to find an American superweapon, or a British agent with his own agendas. Admittedly, this style of prose doesn’t always work – there’s quite a few instances where the character narrates things he wasn’t present to or couldn’t have known – but on the whole it was a nice change to the norm.

The key thing about Blue Box is characterisation though. Every character us absolutely pitch perfect. The new characters, Bob (a hacker friend of the Doctor’s, enlisted on the road trip for tech support) and Chuck both shine; they’re very distinctive, realistic characters. (There’s an interesting twist about Chuck and his background, which I wasn’t quite sure what to think of, but I’ll hold off in case of spoilers.) Sarah Swan is a perfect villain for this story – she’s petty, greedy and vindictive, and I guarantee you will hate her by the end of it. Other background characters like Mondy and Luis Perez also fit the story and add really well to the tone of the novel, creating a detailed view of the hacker world.

What’s really fantastic though is the Doctor and Peri. Because this story is set in America, near Peri’s home, what Kate Orman does is examine Peri’s homesickness, and why exactly she still travels with the Doctor, now he’s quite so abrasive. Their bickering is really well described, but it’s also made very apparent that the pair do care about each other a lot. It’s quite touching at times, and it’s absolutely how I think of them – sometimes the bickering is quite terse, but behind it is genuine affection. All in all, this is an excellent book. I loved the focus on technology, on computers when they were brand new. It’s particularly nice to read that now, when computers are such a big part of our lives. I’ll give it an 8/10.


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