Doctor Who Review: Face The Raven

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I guess we’re both just going to have to be brave.

I’ve been looking forward to this episode for a while now actually – I mean, obviously, I’m always looking forward to new Doctor Who, but particularly since I saw the fifth episode of You, Me and the Apocalypse, which shared a writer with Face The Raven. Sarah Dollard did a rather fantastic job on that show, so I was definitely looking forward to seeing her work on Doctor Who.

And it was great!

The trap streets are, first and foremost, a rather wonderful concept, well realised and fantastically presented. It’s the sort of idea you would have expected Doctor Who to have used in the past, and the fact that it now actually has is brilliant, because now things are a lot more complete, in a way. Face The Raven does a great job of showing it off in a uniquely Doctor Who way, too – Capaldi’s narration over clips of the Doctor, Clara and Rigsy walking through London, searching for trap streets does a wonderful job of grounding the idea, while invoking the classic Doctor Who juxtaposition between the mundane and the alien. I can almost guarantee that kids up and down the country were counting their steps on the way to school on Monday morning, and ending up highly suspicious when they inevitably lost count.

On top of that, though, the alien refugee camp aspect was a genuine stroke of genius, taking an already fantastic concept on to the next level entirely. Dollard did a great job of fleshing out that community, in a fairly limited space of time; one line that stood out to me, actually, was when one of the aliens said something along the lines of “Humans can survive losing whole limbs”. Little more than a throwaway line, I know, but I liked the implications of it; it counters the usual idea of aliens being more resilient and stronger than humans, and carries connotations of a sort of alien culture we’re not necessarily as familiar with in comparison to others.

It was also really nice to see the various different alien species we’ve grown to know over the years; I know they were just cameos, but it’s always exciting to see Ood and Judoon and the like. I really hope that at some stage in the next few years we return to these Trap Streets; there’s a lot of mileage there, and you could definitely get a few more episodes out of it. We’ve only really scratched the surface of the idea, and there’s definitely more to see.

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Of course, the Ood and the Judoon weren’t the only returning characters; we also had Rigsy and Ashildr, both in prominent roles. Admittedly, I was skeptical when I heard Rigsy was returning – I wasn’t entirely sure whether there was anything new to explore with the character, primarily – but watching the episode, it actually makes a lot of sense. I’m not really sure if Clara’s death would have had as much thematic weight had it not been a character that the audience, and both Clara and the Doctor, weren’t already familiar with. Rigsy makes a lot of sense, then; the only other character I can think of who might have fit the same requirements is actually Courtney Woods, but I’m not sure if that would actually have been better or not. Regardless, though, Joivan Wade did an excellent job playing Rigsy here, who is a really great character. (Did anyone know Joivan Wade is part of that Mandem on the Wall YouTube channel? I found that out recently, thought it was quite interesting.)

Maisie Williams gave another great performance in this episode with Ashildr’s third appearance this series – now, of course, she’s going by Mayor Me, and she’s leading the alien refugee camp of the trap streets. It was wonderful to see the character back again, further extending her progression across the series; Face the Raven does a really good job of building on Ashildr’s previous appearances, particularly that of The Woman Who Lived, by positioning the character in a slightly more villainous, antagonistic role. I actually really liked the way in which it was initially made to appear that she was working alone – for example, the involvement of the TARDIS key harkens back to Ashildr’s previous desire to leave the planet – which makes the eventual reveal that a higher power is involved all the more interesting a reveal. (Any guesses on who they are, out of interest? I’m thinking Time Lords.)

Honestly, the only slight issue I had was the fact that we actually knew Maisie Williams was returning. It would have been truly amazing if that had been kept a secret – honestly, a truly massive surprise. Nevermind, though. It’ll be surprising enough when she’s revealed to be the next companion! (Please?)

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Of course, though, the most important part of this episode was Clara. Because this was her departure, in the end. (Probably.)

Now, Clara’s already had two very good departures – once at the end of Death in Heaven, and then once again at the end of Last Christmas – so I was a little anxious to see how this departure for Clara actually went, and whether or not it would be a case of diminishing returns, or third time lucky. Thankfully, though, this was a wonderful exit for Clara, which was ultimately really fitting in terms of her character arc and progression.

In the end, Clara was undone by her flaws, and her attempts to become more like the Doctor. She had to be brave, and face the raven.

Thematically, there was a lot of resonance throughout this scene and all of Clara’s previous episodes, because it formed the culmination of a journey that we’d seen and taken part in alongside her. As a concept, I thought it was probably the best death that Clara could have been given; even though it was a result of her attempt to be more like the Doctor, in the end, she had total control over her death. The circumstances were inevitable, yes, but in the end, Clara was brave. Like she always has been.

It was a very intense set of scenes, and it’s times like this when Doctor Who fans should be thankful for writers like Sarah Dollard, and for actors like Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, because this was a truly wonderful sequence. It’s worth singling out Jenna Coleman though, particularly, given that this may well be one of the last times we ever see her as Clara.

Her performance was fantastic; genuinely compelling, and it gave life to some absolutely fantastic scenes. Which is what we’ve become accustomed to from Jenna Coleman, really; I am pretty firm in my belief that she is the best companion we’ve had over the past ten years.

So, then, Face the Raven. Honestly, it was truly excellent – I loved it. 10/10.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Hell Bent is literally starting right now. I have cut it pretty fine with the review this week!

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TV Review: Supergirl – Fight or Flight (1×03)

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How am I supposed to really become a hero if Superman has to keep saving me?

This was a really important episode, because it was clearly directly positioned as a response to all the inevitable doubts and complaints about the premise – doubts that I myself was guilty of, admittedly, but happily have been proved wrong about.

In this episode, Reactron, an obscure yet dangerous Superman villain, shows up in National City. He’s trying to pursue a vendetta against Superman, and as such, targets Supergirl. At first, she seems outmatched, and Jimmy Olsen (who is terrified of Reactron, given past experiences in Metropolis) calls over Superman, who saves Supergirl. When Reactron attacks again, however, Jimmy doesn’t call Superman, and Kara is able to defeat him on her own.

Now, that’s the basic plot (uh, spoilers). Whilst it sounds a little simplistic in many ways, I’d actually argue that this episode was essential to the continued development of Supergirl, as a program – but also, I think, to Supergirl as a character.

If you’ll forgive me for branching out into another company, I’d like to talk about the Avengers, for a moment. I quite like the Marvel movies, but a fairly common series of complaints directed at them is the question of where the other superheroes are all the time. You know, like, why doesn’t Captain America call up Tony Stark to help him with Hydra that one time, or why won’t Thor bring Bruce Banner with him to London, and so on and so forth. Whilst they’re not necessarily the most sensible questions to ask (there’s an obvious real world, after all, and it’s that RDJ is expensive) they do end up being noticeable little niggles in the narrative.

It’s a bigger problem for Supergirl, I would argue, given that her character appears very much defined by her relationship with Superman; it seems like, I suppose, the equivalent of a Nightwing show before a Batman one (or, for a CW comparison, a Roy Harper show before Arrow).

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But with Fight or FlightSupergirl has managed to put forward a simple – yet effective – reason to keep Superman out of the narrative. Kara simply doesn’t want his help; her journey as a hero requires her to be independent.

I really think that’s great, honestly I do. On one level, this is a rejection of ever doubt and complaint ever lobbied at the concept – Supergirl does not need Superman to be an interesting, compelling programme, because Kara Danvers is every bit the hero as Clark Kent. And, for the same reason, Kara Danvers doesn’t need Clark Kent. Yes, she’s still learning, and yes, she looks to her cousin as an inspiration – but that doesn’t mean she isn’t every bit his equal.

Having an episode centred around this was, I think, really important – and really effective, too. Supergirl is making a case for why it should be allowed to stand on its own – and that’s something it’s earned, definitely.

Melissa Benoist gave another great performance in this episode, doing a brilliant job of conveying Kara’s frustration at Jimmy, and her need for independence. I’m really liking Kara as a character, and Melissa Benoist does a fantastic job at playing her.

Again, fond of the other characters too. Cat Grant continues to be a great foil for Kara; the interview and subsequent articles about Supergirl formed the basis of a great subplot to this episode, with some great interactions between Kara and Cat. Jimmy and Winn were also entertaining; I really like Winn, actually, and he’s proving to be a lot of fun. True, he’s not quite Cisco or Felicity, but he’s getting there – his reaction to finding out about Clark Kent was pretty funny. ‘Twas also interesting to be introduced to Maxwell Lord, who I’m thinking will be our Lex Luthor substitute for the duration of this series.

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Reactron himself felt a little perfunctory, I admit; the villain in pursuit of vengeance is not the most interesting or original concept, and there was no new development of the concept on display here. But, to be fair, I don’t think it mattered – he was simply a function of the plot, there to escalate tension and provide a sense of threat, which was something that worked well enough.

What I did like, though, in relation to Reactron, was Kara’s initial decision to simply go and talk to him. I can’t find the exact quote at the minute, so I’m paraphrasing, but she essentially says that no one ever knew who he was before now – no one knew about his trauma and suffering – but now that she did, she’d try and talk to him and understand him.

That was a nice touch, I felt; ultimately, for Kara, the choice to become a superhero was one of compassion, based around helping others. The fact that’s she not discriminating, and she’s just as committed to helping the bad guys as she is the innocent victims, is a really great little character detail that was nice to see on display here.

So, Fight or Flight. This was a really strong episode; possibly the best of the three we’ve seen so far. Very impressed by the whole thing, in fact.

9/10

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Doctor Who: The Ultimate Doctor-Lite Story

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Ironically, I am writing this not that long after the announcement that Peter Capaldi is going to star in a single hander episode. That’s the literal opposite of a Doctor-Lite episode, isn’t it? Maybe I’ll post it around the time of that episode too.

First of all though, I should really explain what I mean by a “Doctor-lite” episode, just because it’s entirely likely that not everyone would be familiar with the nomenclature.

So, the production schedule for Doctor Who is pretty intense – I believe it lasts for about nine months – and that is going to be pretty hard on the actors playing the Doctor and the companions. Ever since 2006, then, they’ve had a “Doctor-lite” episode, with the intention being to free up the schedules of the actors a little bit, and let them have a much needed rest. At first, they had episodes with very minimal appearances from both Doctor and companion – that’d be Love & Monsters (a masterpiece) and Blink (similarly extremely good) – but later this evolved into double banking episodes. One would feature heavy appearances from the Doctor (Midnight, Closing Time, Mummy on the Orient Express) whilst the other would feature heavy appearances from the companion (Turn Left, The Girl Who Waited, Flatline). Essentially, then, it’s an episode with minimal appearances from one or both of the main leads. (Interestingly there wasn’t really a Doctor-lite episode in Series 5, but there was a companion-lite story. Matt Smith was in all likelihood worked half to death that year.)

The Doctor-Lite stories fascinate me, actually, because they tend to explore some themes and ideas that you can’t always do otherwise (I’ve actually written a little about that before, a rather long time ago) and give you new opportunities to tell different stories – part of the reason Blink works so well is because of it’s non standard structure, and the absence of the Doctor.

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They have, however, more or less abandoned that sort of idea, and they tend to err more towards the Flatline style of Doctor-lite stories – confine the Doctor to one setting, so it’s easy to shoot all of his scenes relatively quickly. It’s a little bit of a shame, actually, because I think something was lost there.

Which brings me onto how I would do a Doctor-lite story.

One concept that Doctor Who hasn’t really explored as much as other forms of sci-fi has is alternate dimensions and parallel universes – and that’s how I’d go about doing this. Essentially, you’d turn over one of the episodes to be an Unbound episode – featuring an entirely new actor playing the Doctor, just for the one episode, in an entirely different timeline.

I think the plot would actually have to acknowledge this, though, and be based around someone changing time. That’s why we have the Doctor being played by a different actor, a red phone box as the TARDIS, and various other idiosyncratic and strange departures from the norm. (This is actually partially inspired by an old comic from DWA, where someone kept changing time and Donna ended up with Lobster claws. It was great fun.)

You can riff off of other Doctor Who stories there quite easily – things like the moral dilemma of changing time from The Fires of Pompeii, but also the distress of John Smith having to become the Doctor again in Human Nature/The Family of Blood. After all, at the end of the episode, our parallel Doctor would have to fix the timeline, and become Peter Capaldi once again.

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(You’d probably have flashes of Peter Capaldi throughout the episode, as if his timeline is trying to break back through. I’d actually ape something Community did once – you could reshoot “flashbacks” from earlier episodes with, with the new Doctor in place of Capaldi, and then overlay that with the scene as we saw it, as though the timeline is still glitching between the two different states.)

The fact that excites me most, though, is that you have a lot of potential for different actors that you can bring in. The show attracts a lot of pretty high profile guest stars, and there’s a lot of people who would be interested in playing the Doctor – so why not let them? You can let an actor go wild for 45 minutes (or 90 minutes, because this gimmick could probably support a two-parter) and give us, the audience, their interpretation of the Doctor.

That’s the role you might put, say, Daniel Radcliffe into, or Michael Gambon, or Hugh Laurie, or Benedict Cumberbatch, or Johnny Depp (or John Hurt, if it hadn’t been for the 50th) into – fan favourite casting choices,or big Hollywood stars, who wouldn’t really be able to play the part long term, but would be able to give a really good performance for a one off episode.

(Mind you, I’d explicitly suggest against a female Doctor for this episode, and I’m not entirely sold on a minority Doctor either – neither of those should be shown as a deviation from the norm that needs to be fixed at the end of the episode, even if Idris Elba would do a really good job of this sort of thing.)

Actually, you know who’d be really good at it? Mat Baynton. He sort of strikes me as an amalgamation of Matt Smith and David Tennant at times – he’s the sort of actor who’d be a fantastic Doctor, but you can’t really cast him, because in many regards he’d feel too similar to what had gone on before… though, in this particular instance of alternate timelines, that’d actually be an asset, wouldn’t it?

It’s the sort of idea that would probably only work once, but if done right, you could get a lot of mileage out of it.

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TV Review: Supergirl – Stronger Together (1×02)

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Part of being your own man is knowing when to ask for help. 

So, here we are, on the second episode of CBS’ new Supergirl TV show, the brainchild of Ali Adler, Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti, who of course also work on the CW’s popular superhero shows, Arrow and The Flash.

I think because of this connection a lot of people were expecting something very similar to those previous shows – and admittedly, so far, there have been some noticeable similarities in terms of the basic format and set up and so on and so forth. But in this second episode, there was a noticeable departure from the precedent set by Arrow and The Flash, which I thought was pretty interesting.

In this episode, we’re introduced to Alura Zor-El, Kara’s aunt, and this season’s Big Bad – akin to Harrison Wells from The Flash, or Malcolm Merlyn’s Dark Archer in Arrow. Now, the character had been teased at the end of the pilot episode, but the assumption was that she’d remain in the shadows for a fair while longer before we actually saw her confronting Kara – an assumption that was shattered in this second episode.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t exactly revolutionary. I think for the most part we’re still going to be having a show which is akin to its predecessors in many ways. But this stood out to me, and it seemed worthy of comment, because it shows that Supergirl is willing to stand on its own, independent of the two shows it’s closest to. That’s a nice thing to know, and I’m glad of it; hopefully this show will be able to develop an independent identity of its own.

Similarly, actually, it occurs to me that this offers the show something of a departure from the standard Superman mythos; normally, a lot of the Krypton stuff is to do with Clark’s regret on missing out on an upbringing on his home planet, and wondering what it was like there. Kara, conversely, remembers Krypton – she lived there for almost half her life, essentially. It’s an interesting little detail that never really clicked for me before, and hopefully one that could be explored and developed to afford the program more depth – once again giving it a distinct identity of its own.

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I was also quite fond of the approach that Supergirl is taking towards showing Kara’s development as a hero, and the learning curve she’s finding herself on. She’s clearly out there trying to do good things, with a lot of consideration for people, but she doesn’t quite know the full extent of her powers or exactly how to use them, so things don’t always go according to plan. Melissa Benoist does a pretty good job of showing Kara’s earnestness, but also her frustration at not quite being able to succeed.

Now, a benchmark that I’ve been comparing Supergirl to is Man of Steel, given that it’s the most recent iteration of the Superman mythos; it’s the current big screen adaptation, and the movie seems to have defined the approach towards DC movies for the foreseeable future. Also somewhat relevant: I hated Man of Steel. All the usual arguments against it, really, but one big thing that stood out to me (and is actually relevant right now) was quite how violent it was; the movie revelled in the destruction of Metropolis, reducing the whole city to a crater, without even the slightest indication that Superman gave a damn about collateral damage.

That’s an “artistic choice” often defended by the in-story reason that Superman was on a learning curve, and he didn’t know what he was doing, etc etc. “You try saving a city without damaging it a little”, that sort of thing. Supergirl has managed to resist that entirely – Kara is learning, yes, but the worst thing she ever does is cause an oil spill, rather than level an entire city like a bomb went off. Ahem.

Obviously, yes, I’m biased because I have the correct opinion about Man of Steel, and there are people who are wrong that might disagree with me. But – aside from Man of Steel – I’m really glad that, with Supergirl, we’re seeing a bright and positive show that is capable of depicting some of the difficulties you’d associate with superheroism without resorting to destruction porn.

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The character interactions in this episode remained entertaining too, of course. Setting up Jimmy and Winn as Kara’s equivalent of Diggle and Felicity, or Caitlin and Cisco, is a nice touch, and the three characters work really well together – the montage of Kara finding different superhero work, as it were, and starting to turn the tide of the opinions against her, was a real standout moment in the episode. (Plus, they had a great inversion of the kitten stuck in a tree cliche, which they managed to turn into a great joke. I admit, I’d been hoping for a kitten in a tree at one point, but what we got was better.)

The DEO continued to be interesting, particularly with the revelation about Hank Henshaw: he’s an alien. Personally, I’m inclined to believe that – rather than being a villain – he’s the Martian Manhunter. It seems to make sense; he “used to” have a family, he’s knowledgeable about aliens, particularly Krypton, and he’s very conscious of the dangers posed by aliens. The glowing red eyes and apparent telepathy add to it, really. I’m definitely interested to see where that goes, because Martian Manhunter is a particular favourite of mine.

(Though having just googled it, actually, Hank Henshaw is a comics character who is a Superman/Green Lantern villain. So maybe that’s all just completely wrong on my part!)

I was quite pleased with this episode, actually. Supergirl started strong and has continued to be an impressive program, which I’m definitely enjoying. (I do think actually, in terms of my own subjective tastes, I might come to enjoy this more than The Flash or Arrow; at the minute, both of those come out on top because of my familiarity with the characters, but I think if Supergirl continues well, it may usurp some of the other DC shows!)

8/10

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TV Review: Supergirl – Pilot (1×01)

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My name is Kara Zor-El. 24 years ago, my planet, Krypton, was in serious peril. My cousin, Kal-El, was sent to a planet called Earth for his own safety and protection. You may know his story. Now it’s time for you to know mine.

So, Supergirl premiered about three weeks ago now, but I’ve only just had a chance to get to properly review it. I was quite interested to see how this would go, actually, because I had some initial doubts about the premise. I’ve outlined them here, but essentially, I was worried that the concept couldn’t stand on it’s own two feet; I thought that Supergirl, as a character, was too closely connected to Superman to work in an independent property. (My alternative, for the record, was Supergirl program about Clara Kent, and so on and so forth.)

But, then, the promo reel (which you can see here) was released, and I was actually quite impressed. It looked suitably entertaining to me, and it had a lot of the things I look for in these superhero adaptations – it looked bright and fun and cheerful and above all optimistic, which is of particular importance to me. And, hey, it was the first full 24 episode series featuring a female lead – there’s no way I wasn’t going to tune in for that.

How did it turn out, in the end?

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Obviously, the best thing about the show is Melissa Benoist, who plays our eponymous superhero. Her performance is fantastic; she really captures the bright and cheerful optimism that, to my mind, is so important for these characters to embody. There’s a real charm and charisma to her character; every second she’s on screen is genuinely endearing and just lovely to watch.

A standout scene for the character, actually, was when Kara was sat watching the news after having saved the plane. The sheer glee of the moment really shone through; the excitement was very obvious, and it was pretty infectious too. Melissa Benoist did a great job of conveying to the audience just how liberating a moment that was for Kara, and it’s a really effective moment, within the context of the program. I was very impressed by it, as well as a couple of later moments; Kara demonstrating her powers to Winn by jumping off the roof, and the training montage. Both were very triumphant moments, and I really think they were pretty effective too.

The episode did a good job of being a pilot, typically – the first episode of a program always has a different job to do than the standard weekly installment. Generally, each individual aspect of the premise that was set up and introduced worked quite well – Cat Grant seems to be a good foil for Kara, Jimmy and Winn both appear to be interesting supporting characters, the DEO has a lot of potential, and I felt they did a good job of introducing us to the relationship between Kara and her sister Alex. A pretty good job all round then really.

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The plot was fairly basic, admittedly, but that’s to be expected – with so many plates spinning in this instance, you can forgive them for that. The basic structure of this episode is simple enough, with the alien attacking and then retreating and then attacking again, although I do think perhaps the fact I knew most of the plot from the promo reel counted against the episode slightly.

There was one slightly clunky moment, though, that I wanted to comment on; towards the end, in the final confrontation, the DEO director says he thinks Kara won’t be able to beat the alien, and Alex replies “Why, because she’s a girl? It’s exactly what we were counting on.” It’s… an odd moment, actually. The episode has done a really good job with the feminist angle so far, I thought (I dislike that term, but I can’t think of a better way to articulate what I mean) but this stood out as particularly unsubtle. It actually made me think that perhaps the sequence had been cut down in the editing room somewhat, or maybe the script only partially redrafted at some stage – Kara appears to fake a surrender, which made me wonder if they had a plan depending on the alien underestimating her – particularly given he’d previously said he thought women were inferior to men. It wasn’t a huge barrier to my enjoyment of the episode, but it’s something I’ve seen criticised online, so I figured it’d be worth a comment on.

On the whole, I actually really enjoyed Supergirl. It was bright and fun and entertaining; it felt like a reaction against the grimdark nature of Man of Steel, and it did a wonderful job of conveying the sort of optimism which I consider so important in superhero franchises. Melissa Benoist was genuinely fantastic, giving a really compelling and endearing performance, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the series goes.

8/10

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Doctor Who Review: Sleep No More

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Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.

I’ve been looking forward to this for a very long time – ever since it was first announced that it’d be a found footage episode, actually, for two reasons. I always enjoy Mark Gatiss’ scripts, and to see him engage with a more modern horror trope sounded pretty exciting. That, and any attempts to play around with the format are always fascinating to me – it’s new and exciting, and it pushes the boundaries of what Doctor Who can do, crashing into different genres and telling new types of stories.

The found footage element, in the end, was actually really impressive. I thought it was really clever that the central conceit of the episode – the framing device – became a mechanism for the monsters to spread and attack further. It was a rather clever twist on the concept, actually, in a uniquely Doctor Who way. The final twist, with regards to the nature of the story and the transmission of the virus, was genuinely very clever.

What I really loved, though, was the slow reveal of the fact that no cameras existed through the direction. Obviously, Mark Gatiss deserves plaudits for the concept, but Justin Molotnikov, the director, did a genuinely fantastic job of hiding clues in the camera work. The switch to Clara’s perspective – and the use of Rasmussen’s perspective, when he appears – is a little difficult to notice at first, but as soon as you realise, the tension ramps right up, and the stakes are significantly higher. It’s a genuinely impressive use of the format, and it’s a really compelling, nuanced little trick, which is used very effectively. The whole episode was genuinely quite tense in places; some of the scariest Doctor Who we’ve had all season.

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I was similarly impressed by Reece Shearsmith, who gave an excellent performance as the villain of the piece. Essentially he carried it, for a rather long time; his character very much provided the focus of the piece, akin to the Elton Pope or Sally Sparrow of the episode – the episode positioning the Doctor and Clara as outsiders in their own story this week. That’s always a risky decision, that lives or dies based on the strength of the actor given such a responsibility, but thankfully, Reece Shearsmith managed to pull it off with aplomb.

The Sandmen, as the monsters to go with Shearsmith’s villain, were… interesting, as concepts. They made no sense, obviously; that just isn’t how eye dust sleep stuff (which has no proper name, weirdly) forms. All the blood and mucus that the Doctor referred to simply wouldn’t build up at all in the five minutes that people spent in the Morpheus machines. So, you know, utterly nonsensical monsters, and there were probably much more interesting concepts that could have been examined… but, to be entirely honest, it didn’t count against my enjoyment particularly. They had a clever hook with the found footage device, and an impressive visual design. I’m willing consider these monsters a success, even if they’re not the best things Gatiss has ever come up with.

Admittedly, though, the strengths of the episode do begin to run dry after that; there’s simply not a huge amount going on, and it’s debateable as to how successful it is. There’s not a huge amount here for the Doctor and Clara to do, for example, and the supporting cast here are even less developed than those who appeared in Under the Lake Before the Flood. On top of that too, actually, the resolution was a bit lacking in some regards. Whilst I’m aware that there’s going to be a sequel next year, and it was impressive to see the villain of this piece actually win, I do think that perhaps the end of the episode could have been tightened up a little bit.

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Honestly, though, it doesn’t feel like a huge detrimental factor to this episode. Where I marked Toby Whithouse’s two-parter down for the lack of characterisation of the guest cast, that was because it had little else going on – Sleep No More is making a very clear and deliberate effort to find something new to do, and provide Doctor Who like we’ve never seen it before. I’m a lot more inclined to allow some things past; the characterisation isn’t as much of a problem here as it has been in previous weeks because it’s simply not the focus of the episode.

Sleep No More is an odd one, it must be said. Certainly, I enjoyed it more on my first viewing – curtains drawn, dark room, very atmospheric – as opposed to the second time – in a brightly lit room – where I knew the majority of the plot beats and twists ahead of time. I feel like perhaps this is the sort of episode where it won’t hold up so well to repeat viewings; part of the tension came from not knowing what was happening, and that was undercut somewhat the second time around.

There’s a genuine chance that Mark Gatiss will be the next showrunner for Doctor Who; I really hope that, if he is, there are more experimental episodes like this. And, frankly, even if he isn’t, I’d like Doctor Who to be a little bit more bold, playing around with the format more. Next year, I expect a musical episode!

I enjoyed this episode a lot. I admire it a lot. And I’ll give it 8/10.

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TV Review: The Flash – The Darkness and The Light (2×05)

The Flash Logo review analysis retrospective barry allen grant gustin greg berlanti andrew kreisberg cw

I’ve already had my worst nightmare. His name was Reverse-Flash, and I spent a long time being afraid of him. I’m not gonna be afraid anymore.

One of my favourite aspects of the series last year was the character of Harrison Wells, as portrayed by Tom Cavanagh. I’ve written about it at length in the past, but suffice to say, I’m a huge fan, and I’m really glad to see Tom Cavanagh back in the series in a more substantial role. (Technically, there hasn’t actually been a single episode of series 2 without him.)

Now, the Earth 2 Harrison Wells is a very different character to the one we got to know last year; he’s much more abrasive and acerbic, for one thing, and he crucially isn’t actually the Reverse Flash. (Presumably.) Still, though, every interaction that the regular cast has with him is informed by the events of the last series, and it creates a very interesting new position for the character to occupy.

What’s most interesting, I think, was the new Wells’ relationship with Cisco. Amongst the other characters, it was essentially as you’d expect; Cisco’s response to the E-2 Wells, however, was explored in more depth, and afforded a bit more nuance. Carlos Valdes and Tom Cavanagh are both excellent actors; Cisco actively resents and resists against Wells’ presence, creating a palpable sense of animosity between the two men. One scene that stood out in particular to me was when Wells revealed to the group that Cisco was, in fact, a metahuman; it was a very clever way of structuring the reveal, taking the choice away from Cisco, and emphasising once again how dismissive and callous this iteration of Wells is. Good choice on the behalf of the writers here; I was similarly impressed by the parallels drawn between Wells killing Cisco last year and revealing his powers this year, with the actual physical actions being a mirror of one another.

(Similarly interesting is the fact that this Wells has a daughter, actually; that’s something I’m expecting to become very important in the coming weeks, and I think gives some rather heavy hints as to a potential identity for Zoom…)

the flash review the darkness and the light season 1 star labs tom cavanagh carlos valdes harry wells cisco vibe

Another character from last year who returned as a parallel universe counterpart was Linda Park, showing up as the villain of this story, Dr Light. It was an interesting concept to include – particularly given the reappearance of our Linda Park in this episode – but I do feel that perhaps the potential was entirely filled, and certain possibilities not explored. The appearance of your doppelgänger in such a way is going to throw up a lot of questions, but very few of the characters seemed particularly interested in asking them – surely Cisco would be inclined to enquire as to the existence of alternate versions of himself? It did feel a little like this was an important beat they’d missed, but for all I know, it’s something they’re planning on delving into in the future. So, minor niggle, but not the end of the world.

Certainly, the metahuman plot in this episode was an entertaining one – the idea of weaponised light was an impressive one, especially given that the ability to see is something that is pretty important to Barry when he’s running at such high speeds. Tying this into the speed mirage ability that the Reverse Flash had last year was pretty clever too – it worked well to add just a little bit more tension and intrigue to the character of Wells, as well as simply being a clever resolution to the episode in its own right.

It was also nice to see Linda back, in both capacities; including her as a supporting character for Iris at the Central City Picture News is a really nice touch, and hopefully it’ll lead to further development for both characters. Linda will presumably have something of an increased role over the course of the series, given the importance of the character in the source material, and it’s a smart move on the behalf of the program to begin to further develop her character now.

the flash review iris west candice patton central city news journalist editor

Speaking of Barry’s girlfriends, actually, it’s worth bringing up Patty Spivot, who remains utterly charming. She has a lot of chemistry with Barry, and the literal blind date the pair of them went on was wonderfully written (despite a few misgivings about the use of blindness as a device here, but admittedly I’m willing to let it slide). I’m really looking forward to seeing their relationship develop.

There was also progress with the Caitlin/Jay relationship, which I remain unsure about. They’re both two interesting characters that I enjoy seeing on screen together… but I do feel like there were more interesting choices that could have been made with regards to their characters, rather than simply putting them straight into a romantic relationship. Or, frankly, rather than putting them in a relationship so soon – there are another 18 or so episodes left of the series, and it does feel like this has a limited shelf life to it.

(Cisco and Kendra Saunders was quite fun to see as well, actually, because Cisco is eternally hilarious. I wonder how that’ll play out – especially given the identity of Kendra Saunders…)

So! The Darkness and The Light. An enjoyable episode, not without its flaws, but with an abundance of strengths to it as well. It’s most notable, I think, for re-introducing Harrison Wells, and indeed Tom Cavanagh, who has always been one of the strongest performers on The Flash.

8/10

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TV Review: You, Me and the Apocalypse (Episode Seven)

you me and the apocalypse review nbc sky atlantic rob lowe mathew baynton jenna fischer megan mulally joel fry pauline quirke hulu iain holland

You, Me and the Apocalypse is a bold, adrenaline-fuelled comedy-drama about the last days of mankind – boasting a relentlessly entertaining mix of action, adventure, romance and wit set against a backdrop of apocalyptic chaos.

The story follows an eclectic group of seemingly unconnected characters around the world as their lives start to intersect in the most unexpected ways, all triggered by the news that a comet is on an unavoidable collision course towards earth.

This is the first episode picking up after the fairly seismic revelations of last week; there was, obviously, a hell of a lot to live up to here. And I think it’s fair to say that this episode absolutely lived up to those expectations – I’d go so far as to say that it was the best episode of the series so far.

There were three main plot threads to this episode; the most important of which being, I think, the meeting between Jamie and Layla – which has been set up for a while now – and their inevitable confrontation. It was honestly fantastic; Layla is a rather wonderful, and very likeable character. There was a danger, I think, that perhaps the audience wouldn’t like her, given what happened between her and Jamie, but they’ve managed to avoid that entirely; Karla Crome, who plays Layla, gave a great performance. She’s a very charismatic character, in many regards – her courtroom scene is very endearing – but there’s a vulnerability to her which I think would earn her the sympathy of much of the audience.

Mat Baynton once again did a fantastic job with his dual role as the two twins; Jamie, dealing with further revelations about Layla, but at the same time overjoyed to meet his daughter, and Ariel, who remains a complete psychopath. It’s a testament to his acting that he can pull this off so well. Joel Fry was also rather wonderful, still; not just as part of a comic double act, but with his quiet conversation to Layla, about the pain she’s caused Jamie over the years. Really excellent stuff.

Stronger still, I’d say, was the Operation Saviour plot thread. Scotty has become one of my favourite characters, hands down; Kyle Soller did a great job of portraying Scotty agonising over his decisions, showing a genuine depth of internal conflict over whether or not he should turn Rhonda into the police. In the end, he did, because of course he did – it was the fate of the world. It was an absolutely tragic set of circumstances, but it was so well realised, in terms of the acting and the writing. An excellent piece of work from all involved.

That, in fact, was my favourite aspect of the episode – compelling though the meeting between Jamie and Layla was, the story of Scotty, Rhonda, Rajesh and General Gaines was thoroughly absorbing on a whole other level. Genuinely impressive stuff here. The final moment, where Gaines was able to set up a meeting between Rhonda, Scotty and Rajesh was lovely; melancholy and bittersweet, it was a rather wonderful moment.

Father Jude and Sister Celine ended up with the more comedic plotline this week; it turned out that the Messiah they were investigating this week was, in fact, hosting a large orgy. It was quite funny in place (”Ruthless, like Brangelina”), but also prompted Jude and Celine to finally formalise – and consummate – their relationship. Which is… well, it’s been inevitable from the start, and the pair certainly had chemistry together, but I do wonder if it was necessarily the most interesting path to lead the two characters down.

All in all, though, I really, really enjoyed this episode. Two very dramatic, compelling plotlines, and one entertaining and funny plotline. This is certainly the best episode so far.

10/10

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TV Review: The Flash – The Fury of Firestorm (2×04)

The Flash Logo review analysis retrospective barry allen grant gustin greg berlanti andrew kreisberg cw

Sometimes great possibilities are right in front of us and we don’t see them because we choose not to. I think that we need to be open to exploring something new.

They managed to pull off the same cliffhanger twice in the past two weeks, which I was quite impressed by. Both of the last two episodes ended with Professor Stein in some sort of medical distress; it was a clever device which has set up a rather tense emergency at the beginning of this particular episode.

Now, admittedly, going into this episode, I already knew a fair bit about what was going to happen, because I’ve been following the news about Legends of Tomorrow with a fair bit of excitement. It had always been obvious, I think, that even though Ronnie was no longer part of the show, there would be a Firestorm of some sort of another. And going by the casting announcements, I already knew we’d be seeing Franz Drameh as the new Firestorm, as opposed to… Demore Barnes, who played Henry Hewitt.

But, to be honest, I don’t feel like that was a problem; certainly, I don’t think I’ve missed out any important aspects of the episode, and I’ve more or less derived the same level of enjoyment from it that I would either way – which was, to be clear, a fair bit. It was a good episode!

I’ve always enjoyed the Firestorm central episodes, actually, because Victor Garber as Professor Stein is one of my favourite supporting characters, hands down. He’s an excellent actor, giving a brilliant performance; I enjoy seeing his character a hell of a lot. There’s always some great humour from him and his interactions with the other regular cast, but a fair bit of pathos too; despite the fact I knew Stein wasn’t going to die, there was some genuine emotion surrounding his circumstances in this episode.

Franz Drameh as the new Firestorm was also impressive, but I’m not sure if this was the best possible debut he could have had. I think that in part it’s because his origin was held back by a few clichés – specifically the lost football scholarship aspect, which felt overly familiar. But, on the flip side, they did a pretty good job of setting up some interesting character elements as best they could within the constraints of a 45 minute episode; I’m hoping that his reluctance to be a hero is expanded on somewhat in Legends of Tomorrow, because it seems like an angle that has a lot of potential to it.

the flash review the fury of firestorm martin stein jax jefferson star labs victor garber franz drameh legends of tomorrow

More interesting to me, admittedly, was the further development of the plotline featuring Iris’ mother – and the first reference to her brother, the as of yet unnamed Wally West. As I’ve said in my previous reviews, I’m really enjoying the weightier plotlines given to Iris this year, and I very much appreciate the continuation of them here.

It’s been really well handled, I think, and a lot of that comes down to the acting skills of Candice Patton, Jesse L Martin and Vanessa Williams, who plays Francine West. It’s a very interesting dynamic they’ve set up; Francine is clearly a struggling woman, even broken, and Iris is consistently very forceful in her dealings with her mother, because of the betrayal she feels. They’ve managed to give the characters entirely believable motivations, and their actions clearly stem from said motivations; the use of the MacGregors disease (which is from Batman and Robin, according to the internet) added a great layer of pathos to the whole thing.

It was also interesting to see another nod to Joe West’s lying in this episode, when he chooses to hide the sighting of Professor Wells at Mercury Labs from Barry. As a character flaw, it’s quite impressive, and it definitely has legs (haha) for them to run with it (hahaha) – it’s a subtle little thing, but it certainly has potential, and I’m glad that they’re turning it an actual facet of his character.

(Though, having said that, I sometimes worry if the character moments they throw in can be too subtle? It seemed clear to me that part of the reason why Caitlin has been placing so much emphasis on Professor Stein’s health in previous weeks, and her borderline desperation to save him this week, is because she sees him as her last link to Ronnie – and, similarly, the educated scientist Henry Hewitt reminded her of Ronnie far more than mechanic Jay Jackson. It was clearly there in subtext, but I wonder if perhaps that aspect would have been stronger had it been made more overt?)

the flash review KING SHARK patty spivot the flash vs king shark grant gustin earth 2 cgi

The rest of the episode was similarly entertaining too, of course. I love the fact that they used a character like King Shark – who’s properly expensive for them to render in CGI – as little more than a throwaway joke. That’s genuinely hilarious, in more ways than one, and I really admire the panache of The Flash.

Shantel VanSanten remains completely charming; Patty Spivot is a wonderful character, really brightening up the show every time she makes an appearance. Genuinely love the character, she’s wonderful. (Which is making me think she’s going to end up dead by the end of the series, which would be a huge shame. Hopefully we can avoid that particular route.)

And, of course, the cliffhanger ending is worthy of comment – Harrison Wells is back.

Brilliant. I love Wells. I’m so looking forward to seeing where this goes.

8/10

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TV Review: The Flash – Family of Rogues (2×03)

The Flash Logo review analysis retrospective barry allen grant gustin greg berlanti andrew kreisberg cw

You don’t have to admit it to me, but there’s a part of you that knows you don’t have to let your past define you. A part of you that really wants to be more than just a criminal.

With this episode, we see the return of Leonard and Lisa Snart – AKA Captain Cold and Golden Glider – who were amongst the best recurring characters on the show throughout the first season. It was great to see them back, and particularly in a story that added a great deal of depth to their characters.

Family of Rogues explores a bit of the backstory to the Snarts, introducing their father Lewis (Michael Ironside). The elder Snart is a well realised character, portrayed in such a way to deliberately and diametrically juxtapose him against the Snarts we’re already familiar with – though Leonard and Lisa have always been shown to be criminals, they’ve also always been fan favourite characters, and in certain ways quite likeable. There’s none of that here for Lewis, who’s clearly a violent and abusive person – possibly the most violent we’ve ever seen on The Flash, in terms of the type of punishments he deals out. He is, as Lisa put it, a “bad guy”.

The story of the abuse was handled quite sensitively, I think, and therefore quite effectively. Peyton List (Lisa Snart) carried a lot of that story really well – dialogue like “He always said he was teaching me a lesson. I must have been a slow learner, because the lessons never stopped” was very poignant, and the delivery of it was part of what made it so effective. Similarly, Wentworth Miller (Leonard Snart) and Michael Ironside also gave great performances, portraying the tension between father and son really well.

the flash family of rogues review captain cold barry allen leonard snart wentworth miller michael ironside

And of course, the Rogues’ interactions with the regular cast were as fun as ever. Cisco’s almost-romance with Lisa is rather entertaining, and quite sweet in many ways; they have an interesting relationship, one which is always nice to see more of. Similarly, Barry and Leonard Snart always have great interactions; I think Barry pretending to be ‘Sam’ will go down as one of the best comedic moments of the series, but the more serious moments, showing the grudging respect between Barry and Lewis, are quite compelling.

The Snarts weren’t the only family getting attention this week, though, with the return of Iris’ mother being an important plotline in this episode too. This was similarly well handled – like I’ve said before, it’s very clear that the writing team have listened to the criticisms made of last year’s series, and they’re actively trying to fix them.

We’re getting to see more of Iris’ relationship with Joe, seeing her act in a more independent fashion (how brilliant was the cold open in this episode? So brilliant) and now, when confronted with another lie, Iris is allowed to take responsibility and make her own decisions. It’s really well realised, and it’s great that Candice Patton has got this chance to show off her acting abilities.

the flash family of rogues review jesse l martin candice patton west joe west iris west francine west wally west

It’s also important, actually, that this was emphasised as a complicated situation; whilst Joe’s lies are never condoned, they’re not exactly outright condemned either. It was something that I quite liked, actually; Jesse L Martin gives an excellent performance here. I was particularly impressed by the story of Iris calling 911 as a child – it was quite poignant, and worked really well within the larger context of the episode.

Family of Rogues, then. This is certainly the strongest episode of The Flash’s second series (should that be season, since it’s an American show?), with two very strong plot threads running throughout. The contrast between the different families, and the use of family as a thematic thread throughout, gave the episode a very strong basis for some genuinely compelling character interactions, alongside great scenes and excellent dialogue.

9/10

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