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.)

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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.

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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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Doctor Who Review: Death in Heaven

doctor who death in heaven review steven moffat rachel talalay cybermen missy michelle gomez peter capaldi samuel anderson

Love is not an emotion. Love is a promise.

So actually, when I first watched this, I didn’t like it all that much.

I had problems with the second half in particular. It felt discordant, really, and rather sloppy. “Tonally inconsistent” is what I went for, I think. To an extent, I’d stand by that still.

But when I came round to rewatching it, with a little bit of distance and having had some time to ruminate on the episode a bit more, I did enjoy it a lot more.

I mean, it’s not perfect, and that’s a little bit of a shame, because I’d really been hoping for that. Probably unwise, admittedly, but still, that’s what I wanted. There are a lot of good ideas here, that’s certainly true, but the worry I had was that they weren’t really executed very well. Some things were better than others. Certain things were not executed as well as they could have been; others should have been left out entirely.

Admittedly, that paints a pretty negative picture of my opinion, and that’s not quite true, because there’s a lot of things I really did enjoy. Like, for example, Michelle Gomez. Wasn’t she just fantastic? Quite possibly the best Master of the new series (sorry John Simm) and I’d wager she beats out quite a few of the classics too. I get the feeling I’d end up just listing each and every one of her scenes if I were to start to pick favourites – but weren’t each of her scenes, especially with Peter Capaldi, just really, really compelling?

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But, hey, there’s nothing wrong with listing. The death of Osgood was a pretty wonderful moment (though I will miss her) and I totally agree with Moffat’s decision there – killing Osgood sets Missy up as a villain in a way that all her actions couldn’t really. We’re invested in Osgood, and the audience likes her, in a way that we wouldn’t be with Colonel Ahmed. It reminds me of this thing called a “pet the dog” moment actually – the idea being that if a character pets a dog, the audience will like them, because generally the audience will like dogs. Here, then, Moffat had Missy kill the “dog”.

Quite a lot of wonderful humour in there too; a favourite line of mine was, probably surprising no one, “Kill some Belgians, they aren’t even French”. Lots of very funny lines; but all ones which could have fallen flat, I think, if it wasn’t for the strength of Michelle Gomez’s performance. She really did hit every beat it was fantastic.

The characterisation there was absolutely on point. I realise a lot of people are accusing Moffat of getting it wrong, but no, they’re mistaken – elaborate schemes simply for the Doctor’s attention, and constant attempts to get their friend back (wasn’t that so sad?) have always been part of the Master’s MO, right from day one.

It also lead quite fantastically into the culmination of one of this series’ quasi-arcs – the question of whether or not the Doctor really is a good man. It’s been one of my favourite parts of this series, in fact, and I’m quite pleased with the resolution of it. Indeed, I’m hoping to do a full post on it soon (though with my time management skills, that could end up being closer to series 9 than to now) so I won’t comment on it much, but still, it was fantastic.

The use of the Master as the Doctor’s mirror concluded that thread quite well, and indeed rather poignantly; Missy’s attempts to get her friend back only confirmed to him that, despite his doubts, they really were pretty different. Dramatically, I think it has a lot of weight, and it was possibly the smartest way to draw that aspect of the series to a close without getting oppressively bleak.

And, of course, you’ve got to love this moment of realisation. Peter Capaldi is so wonderful:

I’m not a good man! I’m not a bad man! I’m not a hero! I’m not a President! And no, I’m not an officer! You know who I am? I am an idiot –  with a box and a screwdriver, passing through, helping out. And I don’t need an army, I never have.

And I mean, that’s to be expected, isn’t it? Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, the highlight of every scene he’s in. Absolutely wonderful.

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Same goes of course for Jenna Coleman. And in this case I’d also say Samuel Anderson. The scenes they had together were… they weren’t poignant, that’s not quite the right way to describe it, because that implies a level of serenity I think. Their scenes were a bit distressing sometimes. In a good way, I mean; they were all very emotional moments, and certainly quite impactful ones.

The writing of those scenes was generally pretty good; nice bit of dramatic irony (I know technical terms!) where the audience knew who Danny was, yet Clara didn’t. I quite liked that; on the whole, that’s not the sort of thing I find that impressive, but here it’s clear enough that Danny would be a Cyberman, so those scenes where Clara finds out where made more effective because the audience already knew.

Really gotta love their acting though, don’t you? I mean, again, I find myself at a loss for words because I’ve used most of them already. Regardless, they both absolutely sold each moment; Danny’s final speech and sacrifice, Clara’s anger at Missy, and their goodbye as Danny lost his emotions. It all lead into a pretty wonderful ending…

As endings go, it was very melancholy, wasn’t it? I actually really liked it, for the most part. The Doctor and Clara, lying to each other, trying to make the other happy, not realising that they were both as miserable as sin. I’d go so far as to say actually that the Doctor lying about Gallifrey, and intercutting the Doctor’s scenes with Clara against the silent anger of his “finding” Gallifrey is quite possibly one of the smartest things Steven Moffat has written. The final moment with Clara simply walking away was wonderful, and I think it would have been a pretty appropriate place to leave Clara, if not a happy one.

(At the minute, I haven’t watched the Children in Need clip, although I am aware that it makes it clear this isn’t quite the ending. It’s a shame, admittedly, because I really did quite like this idea… but I do trust them to still make it work. Possibly.)

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Now, while there were plenty of other brilliant things in the episode (the Cloud base! Skydiving into the TARDIS! UNIT!) the ending was also where the episode began to dip in quality, so it makes sense, I suppose, to segue into my own criticisms of those moments.

Going in chronological order then…

I wasn’t impressed by the Brigadier. I know, I know, but hear me out here. Ultimately, his appearance was superfluous – we all know that the Master is coming back, so the Brigadier didn’t save the Doctor from any hard decisions or realities there. When the Master does come back, it’s simply going to make this moment look a bit rubbish, and the Brigadier ineffectual. And, also… where does that moment actually work, in terms of the plot? How does it work, in terms of the logic and the rules? Why didn’t the Brigadier fly away and explode with the other Cybermen? Perhaps more importantly, where is he now? The thing is, other than being kinda sad and touching for a few short moments, the whole thing really does just fall apart if you think about it, and doesn’t quite work as what it was meant to – a salute to the Brigadier. The inclusion of Kate really is enough.

Clara’s “Two weeks later” moment, Danny’s potential resurrection, wasn’t handled all that well I thought. Part of it was time restraints, I think, and it seemed like there might have been another draft which worked better. A lot of exposition was delivered by Clara, and very quickly, and then the glowy portal talking and the boy emerging happened faster still. Certain aspects of that were a bit contrived as well – it was pointed out on another site that it would have been better if the explanation was not that the bracelet was running out of power, rather that it could only take one person at a time in one direction at a time. Maybe then if that scene was longer, perhaps there’d be a little more time to process things, and for them to be better developed, meaning one would get the full impact from it, if that makes sense. (Mind you, I did like the Doomsday parallels, that was a nice touch.)

As well as that, not entirely convinced the boy had enough set up for his moment to work. He was, after all, entirely mute, and didn’t have a screen time totalling more than a few minutes across both episodes. There’s also the fact that, you know, he’s a very young child, probably doesn’t speak English, his parents are almost certainly dead, he comes from a war torn country, and he himself has been dead for a least a good couple of years – what exactly does Danny expect Clara to do here? Now, admittedly, I can’t quite think of a way to make it work better, which undercuts what I’m saying a little. The scene struck me as off, regardless.

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Final complaint, and perhaps an obvious one.

I didn’t like Santa Claus.

I know, I know. It was just… I think it was a mistake, to place that post credits scene there like that. It was tonally inconsistent to say the least, and completely at odds with the ending we’d just had for Clara. The problem isn’t Santa Claus himself – the Christmas special looks fantastic! – but rather the placement of his appearance was very, very jarring. In The Writer’s Tale, there’s a discussion between RTD and Ben Cook wherein they talk about the merits of having Cybermen turn up at the end of Journey’s End, after Donna’s goodbye moment. The decision in the end was to leave them out, because they’d distract from the emotion of the moment; a trailer at the end would do the same job of looking forward to the future.

It seems odd to me that a similar choice wasn’t made here, because the same arguments apply pretty much exactly. Even to the point that they played a trailer as well! Very odd. Not the end of the world, admittedly, but it did detract from the quality of the rest of the episode.

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Okay then so.

Death in Heaven.

In a nutshell?

Some excellent ideas. Some excellent execution of those ideas. But also, similarly, some flawed execution of those ideas, which ultimately brought it down a bit.

A mark out of ten is… difficult, I think. Really, it’s an 8.5 out of 10, but I dislike giving half marks. So I will, I think, round down to 8/10, because I don’t think it’s quite good enough for a 9.

(On another note, apologies for the lateness of this review. Real life got in the way, I’m sure you know how it is. Across this week, I am hoping to write pieces about the series as a whole, and the character arcs of the Doctor and Clara – I’d expect those to be up at some point around the weekend.)

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Doctor Who Review: Dark Water

doctor who review dark water steven moffat rachel talalay samuel anderson michelle gomez jenna coleman peter capaldi cybermen

Don’t cremate me.

I haven’t seen the episode yet actually.

I’m writing this at about ten to one on Saturday, so there’s still… uh… 7 and a quarter hours until the episode begins, give or take ten minutes. So, obviously, I’ve not seen any of the episode, bar the odd clip and trailer. I have nothing to go on, but for a few last minute theories and expectations…

Honestly, I have no idea what to expect. Whilst Clara will possibly have some sort of villainous role in proceedings, I’m fairly certain that it won’t be as obvious as portrayed in the trailer – because, you know, it’s the trailer, you wouldn’t put your surprise twist in the trailer. But Steven Moffat would definitely put in a bit of misdirection, and something that might be part of a bigger plot twist. So we’ll see really. I do hope that Clara’s character development across the series isn’t undone, because that’s been my favourite aspect of series 8.

The other big thing to comment on is Missy, I think. I’ve not really said anything about her so far, because there’s been little to say – we don’t actually know much in concrete, after all, and I’m generally unwilling to speculate much. (Mind you, all those corpses in the trailer, and that “Who would go to so much trouble to keep the dead?” line – I’d bet that they’re dead Clara echoes. Or at least some of them anyway.) I did always sort of assume she was going to be a new character, but I have recently been thinking about the possibility that she’s the Master, and… well, I’m coming around to the idea, certainly.

But enough of that. Time to talk about the episode proper! (I wonder what I think of it.)

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Damn.

That was a mighty impressive piece of television right there. If nothing else, I admire Moffat’s gall. And his panache, because he pulled this off… masterfully. 

I was just bowled over by this, to be honest. Really struggled to form any sort of coherent comments for quite a while afterwards – I don’t think I’ve been this impressed by an episode since The Day of the Doctor, and even then I was impressed for different reasons. This was simply astounding.

But I’ve jumped the headline a bit there. Start at the beginning, obviously.

Right from the off, this episode was amazing. Properly, honestly, really dramatic – these are the scenes that would mark Doctor Who out as one of the best dramas on television, not just ‘some science fiction show’. Danny’s death whilst talking to Clara – “I love you. Those three words from me are yours now, forever” – was remarkably poignant. That’s going to stay with people, I think, and it’s going to sit with them for a very long time. In years to come, when we’ve reached the 17th Doctor, the people running the show will point to this moment as what inspired them to be writers. It is honestly that good.

And, of course, just like Moffat of old, once the bar was raised high – it was raised higher. The confrontation between the Doctor and Clara was tense. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a companion fight with the Doctor like that, but this was absolutely note perfect; every beat of that confrontation, and the eventual explanation for it, worked perfectly. (I’m going to run out of synonyms at this rate, honestly.)

The reason it all worked so well, I think, was because of the confidence of the piece. This was a dark subject matter, there’s no two ways about it. Death is a fixture of Doctor Who, that’s true, but it’s rare for the show to deal with it head on like this, and to acknowledge the effects of it. To show Clara grieving, and the way she dealt with it, or Danny meeting the boy he killed, or the dead feeling their own cremation, were all quite mature themes and ideas – but they weren’t avoided, they weren’t hidden with euphemisms, they weren’t obfuscated with metaphors. They were dealt with head on, and done with real panache. That was one of the most impressive things about the episode; not just the strength of the writing, but the confidence of the writing as well.

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As per the usual, all the cast were amazing. (I’m probably going to have to invest in a thesaurus actually, that would probably be a useful purchase.)

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman were fantastic throughout; the confrontation scene between them, as I’ve already mentioned, was just electric. The Doctor, taking control, intimidating Clara and trying to talk her down. Clara, not listening, not moving, not losing any ground. One of the best scenes of the series, frankly, because of just how brilliant these two are. Please, please, let them both be around for series 9!

And speaking of series 9, I also want Samuel Anderson to stick around. Join the crew full time, even. He’s not just a replacement Rory, or a replacement Mickey; Danny Pink is a properly established character now, because of just how fantastic Samuel Anderson is. His performance is wonderfully nuanced. The final “I love you” to Clara was excellent, because he was deliberately pushing her away. He didn’t want to say anything else, because he didn’t want her to follow him. Fantastic.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the final revelation (after all, I’ve skipped so many brilliant things – the Cybermen, Chris Addison, Rachel Talalay’s direction) because it really was masterful. Oh, as if you didn’t see it coming.

The actual moment where Michelle Gomez (who is fantastic) said it, where they finally confirmed that, yes, Missy is the Master (not the Mistress, no one will call her that, she’s the Master) was one of the most impressive moments of the episode. I’ve said that about a lot of things. It’s true of them all! But really, I got chills there. I didn’t quite think they’d do it – but no, they did. Amazing.

Obviously, it’s difficult to judge what this Master will be like, because she really only got 15 minutes or so screen time here. The deciding factor is next week, really.

The same goes for the episode as a whole really. Difficult to give it a proper mark, because of course it wasn’t one discrete story, it’s going to be continued. But based on the skill and the confidence on display… I am entirely willing to give this episode 10/10.

Just… damn. It was that good.

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Doctor Who Review: In the Forest of the Night

doctor who review in the forest of the night frank cottrell boyce samuel anderson peter capaldi jenna coleman harley bird sheree folkson

Tyger Tyger burning bright, in the forests of the night. What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?

I read somewhere once that Steven Moffat, moreso than anyone else who’d been in charge of Doctor Who, is to be credited with the introduction of celebrity writers. And you know, it does make sense really – Richard Curtis, Neil Gaiman, and to a lesser extent Simon Nye, are all pretty big names, which are just as likely to generate column inches as a celebrity guest star.

And now of course we have Frank Cottrell-Boyce.

Whilst I don’t have any massive attachment to them, Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s books are one’s which I’ve read and enjoyed quite a lot – my own favourite is Cosmic, which shares a few themes of parenthood with this episode.

Obviously then, with the announcement of Frank Cottrell-Boyce, I was quite looking forward to this episode. When the synopsis came out though, I paused a little bit. Trees? Didn’t really know what to make of it.

And, to be honest, I still don’t?

I mean I always say that thing, don’t I, about how it’s wonderful when Doctor Who is doing original things, because it’s a showcase for the series, and just how innovative it can be. And I stand by that! I honestly do mean it, and I would defend that view as best I could if ever someone tried to dispute it.

But, you know, trees. Trees. That’s… that’s pretty bizarre. I am not really sure what I meant to make of that? Like, at all.

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I think in part that’s because I am still not entirely certain of what actually happened in the episode. The trees, are, like, a planetary defense system, which are run by some strange glow-y life forms, who are sort of intrinsic to the eco-system of the planet, or something. These glow-y life forms, who I shall henceforth refer to as photoarboreals, or something, can communicate with Maebh (not Maeve?) because she has suffered a trauma and is now vulnerable and somewhat unstable.

That’s… that’s pretty bizarre. Not a slight on the the episode, not at all. But I am somewhat at a loss for words. The best critical opinion I can offer on the plot is a sort of squinty eye thing and non-committal wavey hand gesture.

There was, of course, a lot of good stuff to enjoy here. Peter Capaldi gave another great performance, and his interactions with the children were quite nice to see. I particularly liked the analogy drawn between TARDIS and Coke, which was rather a nice touch.

As a whole actually, this episode was a pretty good showcase for the regulars. Lots of nice little character moments – Danny in particular came off really well here, albeit perhaps at the expense of Clara. I’m actually quite liking Danny as a character; Samuel Anderson is a great actor, and there’s something about his portrayal that makes Danny fun to watch on screen.

I also really enjoyed the exchange between the Doctor and Clara towards the end, where she was trying to make him leave, and he offered to try and save her. There was a nice sense of foreboding there, and the dialogue between them – “I don’t want to be the last of my kind” – was just excellent.

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But, you know, there was an awful lot of stuff that wasn’t so great about this episode.

I’m in two minds about the kids, for example. Generally, they were on point – they were mostly believable, they had good dialogue, they were funny without being irritating, and the actors were all pretty good too, which is practically a miracle.

But… I can’t buy these kids as a group of 12 and 13 year olds. In part because of how young they all looked, but also because of their dialogue – it was really accurate, if you’re trying to show us ten year olds. This isn’t really what 12 and 13 year olds are like; or, at least, none of the 12 year olds that I know.

Something I was also sort of unsure of was Maebh, and her psychological issues. I’ve seen it be pointed out that this is meant as a parallel with William Blake – the person who wrote The Tyger – but… well, this isn’t something I would have picked up on, because I don’t know a lot about Blake, and I’d wager the same is true for a lot of the audience. As it was, I felt a little bit uncomfortable with the way the voices she heard and the fact she needed medication was presented. Frankly, I’m with Ruby on this one – they should have just given her the medication.

(Also, how ridiculous was the bit with the sister at the end? I know they were going for a grace note, and a bit of a happy ending, but somewhere along the lines that was lost, I think. Was… did the sister come home, and think “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if I hide in the bush, and jump out yelling ’gotcha!’ after I’ve been missing for two years?” or was it meant to imply that the sister was formed from the bushes? I’m also sort of struggling with the idea of introducing that sort of tragic event for the sole purpose of setting up a happy ending, but I can’t think about it logically with the way it was presented at the end.)

So, so. In the Forest of the Night. Really not sure what to say about this one? Because ultimately, there was nothing extremely awful or offensive about it, but equally, there was nothing extremely amazing of compelling about it.

I think really, in the end, it was just a load of tree-related nonsense. But it was fun tree related nonsense, and it was enjoyable enough to watch, and I think that’s all that matters really.

6/10, bordering on a 7, I think.

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Doctor Who Review: Flatline

doctor who review flatline jamie mathieson douglas mackinnon clara oswald jenna coleman joivan wade peter capaldi

You were an exceptional Doctor. But goodness had nothing to do with it.

Doctor Who is at its best when it does things that other shows can’t do, or simply haven’t been done before.

That is, I think it’s fair to say, one of the facts of the program. Innovation and originality are where Doctor Who sings; that’s the time when you can say “yes, this is one of the best things on television, and there’s nothing else I’d rather watch”.

And I tell you what, the Boneless absolutely typify this. They just aren’t like anything we’ve seen before. At first there’s this wonderfully strange, sickening sort of body horror – the nervous system, and the skin? That’s some really scary stuff. Then it evolves slightly, and there’s that Banksy style graffiti, shifting and moving and coming to life, claiming its victims by pulling them into the painting. And then those glitchy jittery zombie creatures, almost like something out of a videogame, with their slow lumbering movements, and a real evocation of the uncanny valley.

They were really very chilling, and really very Doctor Who.

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Visually, this episode was pretty stunning. I’m not talking in terms of the location or anything like that – though that train station was pretty spooky – but rather the direction, and all the little visual tricks that were used to really sell the idea of 2D monsters. Things like the shifting perspective, where the camera angles move and what we thought was 3D, like the door handle, is in fact completely flat. When they did that to one of the workers, it was just horrific, frankly.

Lots of great funny moments in here too – the Adams Family TARDIS, for example, that was pretty great. Going to be honest, I snickered a bit at Danny’s “…sounds active” line towards Clara, though it probably wasn’t intended the way I read it.

Rigsy (conscious echo of “Banksy”, perhaps?) and Fenton were both rather excellently characterised. Loved those two, and the conflict between them; the young, mostly harmless graffiti artist, and the old, bitter, probably a UKIP voter and all round nasty piece of work. There are few characters, I think, that I’ve genuinely hated quite so much as that fellow. I kept expecting him to be revealed to be some sort of alien (incidentally, the actor had a part in Guardians of the Galaxy recently, albeit under heavy prosthetics) but, no, he was just a horrible person.

The best part though, and what really made the episode stand out to me, was the further development of the relationship between the Doctor and Clara, and the question of whether or not the Doctor – and now Clara – really are ‘good people’.

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This is some fantastically weighty stuff; the Doctor’s own morality and manipulative nature is being reflected in Clara, and she is changing. It all adds up to a fantastic bit of character development, and it is, again, largely pretty new ground for the show – something similar might have happened in the NAs with Ace, perhaps, but I’m not certain of that.

It’s written with such subtlety and finesse throughout; one of the best moments for the Doctor, I would say, is his line “Absolutely” when Clara asks if he’s sure that the 2DIS will help them. It’s very clear though that he isn’t – which makes that line all the more crucial. For Clara, I’m thinking of the “on balance” exchange towards the end of the episode – she was so damn pleased with herself at being the Doctor, she didn’t even give a second thought to the people who had died. She started thinking on balance – which, as the Doctor says, is something he does so other people don’t have to. But because they’ve been around each other so long, she’s started doing it too.

Honestly, this was an absolutely fantastic episode. It was so deep, and clever, and nuanced. Definitely another strong 9/10 – Jamie Mathieson has to come back next year. And every year after that!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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Doctor Who Review: Into the Dalek

doctor who into the dalek review phil ford steven moffat rusty ben wheatley zawe ashton peter capaldi jenna coleman nick briggs

All those years ago, when I began, I was just running. I called myself the Doctor, but it was just a name. But then I went to Skaro. And then I met you lot. And I understood who I was. The Doctor was not the Daleks.

Daleks are pretty amazing really, aren’t they?

They’re one of the most enduring concepts in fiction of the 20th Century – there aren’t a great many things which could claim to have had such an impact upon the zeitgeist, or such an impact to their presence. They started out as Nazi metaphors, but they’ve outlived that. They have a new relevance. Daleks are creatures of hatred; they’re twisted mirrors which show our own propensity for cruelty and evil. Daleks are far more than just another Doctor Who monster. They’re the perennial threat, there since the start, all those years ago, when it began. To use them simply as monsters shooting and killing, whilst a lot of fun, is something of a waste. They can be a lot more – they are a lot more.

Into the Dalek is a lot more.

At its heart, Into the Dalek has a fascinating, complex moral dimension to it. It’s the question of whether or not you can have a good Dalek; whether it can overcome what is it’s basic nature. The Doctor is, of course, dubious. Why wouldn’t he be? Same goes for the audience. Everyone knows how a Dalek works, everyone knows what a Dalek is. And it’s not like we haven’t seen the idea of a good Dalek before; similar ground has been covered, though not quite dealing with the same aspects.

The episode deliberately plays off parts of the Dalek iconography from across fifty years, to really cement the idea that we don’t have a good Dalek. There’s some subtle symbolism, like the parallels to Dalekand there’s proper, classic scenes – “This door won’t hold forever, but I’ll be damned if I make it easy for them!”. It’s Daleks 101, all serving to reinforce the idea that there isn’t a good Dalek. Everyone expects the inevitable turn around – and there it was. It was even earlier than I expected actually, by a good 5 minutes or so – there isn’t a good Dalek.

But Into the Dalek is smarter than that. “Good” isn’t a matter of what side you’re on, it’s who you are. A Dalek isn’t something that kills and hates the good guys, it’s a thing that kills and hates. The big point of the Dalek is hatred. And they couldn’t take that away. They tried so hard but they couldn’t. The Dalek was still full of hatred – it was pointed in a different direction, sure, but it was still a Dalek. Everything else? It’s as Dalek as they come.

It’s the hatred that makes a Dalek, it’s the hatred that makes something evil. And it’s whether you rise above it that counts.

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Which brings us quite neatly onto the Doctor. Is he a good man? I don’t know. But I do know that Peter Capaldi is one hell of a Doctor.

I’m on the record as having said that my favourite Doctor is the Sixth. He’s still the Doctor, he’s still compassionate, he’s still a hero – but he’s an alien hero. He’s different, and he’s not all that easy to understand. Sometimes it won’t be clear what he’s doing or why, but he will always come through. Yes, he might be abrasive, but he’s saving your life. If your feelings get a little hurt, well, better sad than dead. And that applies very much to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. (6 x 2 = 12, after all.)

Peter Capaldi acts this fantastically. He is very, very good. I’d give a standout scene, but frankly I’d just end up listing them. The opening, where he forces Journey Blue to put down her gun, stop threatening him, and say please. All the brilliant one liners, the pithy humour, the sarcasm.

But he’s more than just that. There’s some real poignant and introspective moments here, which really make the story worth its salt.

“You are a good Dalek.”

Peter Capaldi really, really sells this part of the plot. The sheer contempt in his voice when talking about the “Good Dalek”, which begins hope and wonder when he thinks it’s possible… and the quiet, introspective sadness and revulsion when a Dalek looks into his soul and sees hatred.

That’s how you do a new and interesting take on the Daleks. By looking at them, and looking at what they mean. That’s when you find ways to make them continually relevant. And that gives us brilliant, brilliant stories like Into the Dalek.

doctor who into the dalek review peter capaldi twelfth doctor you are a good dalek greenscreen universe mind filled with hate

Clara is continuing to soar to new heights as well. When I first watched Jenna Coleman in the role (in another Dalek episode, no less) I thought that she might eventually become my favourite companion of the new series. In series 7B, however, Clara didn’t really get the focus she deserved, for one reason or another, which was something of a shame.

But that’s very clearly changing now. The writing is really concentrating on her now; it’s focusing on character traits she already had, but changing the way they look at them, and making them more central to her. She feels a lot more distinctive now, and it’s really encouraging. Seeing her hold her own with the Doctor, and making him re-evaluate his decisions and what he knows in a way that’s unique to her as a character? That’s brilliant.

Plus, Clara is a lot more fun to watch now. That sequence at the start with Danny Pink? Wonderful stuff, and very funny too. Samuel Anderson played the part really well, and there’s a lot of promise to the character, I’m interested to see where it goes. Loved his lines about the reading. I feel a kindred spirit.

Finally, the direction. It was really wonderful here. I loved the way they’d intercut scenes with flashbacks – it made Clara and Danny’s conversation a lot funnier, and gave quite a bit of impact to the Doctor meeting the Dalek by holding it off a little longer. The whole thing looked amazing throughout. Spaceship battles at the start? Fantastic. Inside of a Dalek? Brilliant. Exploding Daleks? Wonderful. It was probably the best set of Dalek fight scenes across the past ten years.

As you can tell, I really, really enjoyed this episode. Bar the 50th, it’s probably the best Doctor Who episode since 2012. Now, it wasn’t perfect, no – the scene with Missy in the middle jars a little, for example – but it’s pretty bloody good.

I’m going to give it a 9/10. In part, that’s because I’m saving the 10 – I’m confident that this series is going to keep getting better…

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A Private Eye Companion

doctor who noir detective private eye companion mystery frobisher danny pink samuel anderson series 8 episode idea pitch concept

So I mentioned a while ago that when I first saw Danny Pink, my first assumption was that he was some sort of detective. Anyways, since then I’ve been thinking about that, and how it might work in a series… Because, you know, if you’re going to have a detective companion, show them doing some actual detection – and who better for them to investigate than the Doctor?

So, the way I’m thinking this would work is if you use the detective (who probably needs a name. I’ll call him Danny for now) as the viewpoint for the series. Sort of a Doctor-lite set of episodes, similar in style to Blink. That probably wouldn’t be able to sustain itself for thirteen episodes though, so it’d probably be better suited to a split series set up.

Anyway, the very first episode would be quite a standard one. Alien invasion style piece, in a similar vein to Smith and JonesDanny the detective could help Twelve and Clara (just because it’s easy to use them as an example here, it’d work with any other Doctor/Companion set) to sort out the whole thing, wonderful, done. There doesn’t need to be anything specific here, it can just be a pretty generic invasion story.

At the end of it though, there is no offer for Danny to be joining the TARDIS crew, they just leave him there. Now, this could be what prompts him to go looking for the Doctor, but maybe not. Hell, maybe he doesn’t even like the Doctor very much, and thinks he needs to be stopped, which is why he goes looking for him. (But that might be a bit silly)

What I’m also thinking is that it shouldn’t be set in the present day, because that’s boring. If we can, I’d take it outside of England as well, but that might be a bit difficult. I’m leaning towards the 90s, maybe, or even earlier to give it a sort of noir setting. (Doing this first part of the series entirely in black and white would either be the best or worst decision. No inbetween)

So then you’ve got the next five episodes or so, which would all follow a similar ish structure; Danny does some investigating, looking to find the Doctor.

But, obviously, just investigating is boring. No one is interested in that, and it probably wouldn’t sustain all that many episodes… so, the basic structure of the series would be as follows –

  • Episode 2: This one would be a little more detective-y, showing Danny investigating the Doctor and Clara. Alongside that though, he’d have to deal with doing his job. So we could have something of a proper murder mystery detective story. In keeping with the fact that this is, you know, Doctor Who, the perpetrators of the crime could be aliens, or other time travellers, whatever. Potentially, lets say, these aliens were trying to find the Doctor; potentially that’s what prompts him to start his investigation.
    I’m considering whether or not Danny should be working on behalf of a mysterious client, who’s interested in the Doctor. That sets up some intrigue, and gives a bit more weight to the overall plot arc.
  • Episode 3: This time, investigations into the Doctor take on a more central part of the episode. In fact, I’m wondering whether this one should be a more comedic episode; some sequences of near misses with the Doctor could potentially be very funny, but might undermine some of the effect of Danny’s character. Maybe this one could also start to show some of Danny’s family and social life, defining him some more as a character.
  • Episode 4 and 5: Two parter, and much darker in tone as well. This is where I’m sort of leaning towards the 90s setting. Here, Danny would be kidnapped by UNIT – a very dark, gritty, morally ambiguous 90s UNIT, rife with corruption. From there, it’s something of a prison story, with subsequent breakout. How dark can it be made I wonder?  As many boundaries as possible should be pushed for this one. We should feel as let down by UNIT as the Doctor would when he finds out. (Maybe there should be a moment where we expect it to be revealed this is Torchwood or something, but it’s not, it’s definetly UNIT).
    If Danny starts the series as a relatively optimistic, happy guy, these are the episodes where he becomes much closer to the cynical, disenfranchised detective mould.
  • Episode 6: Out in the real world again, Danny is continuing investigations into the Doctor. (Maybe if he was given any family in episode 3, UNIT could have killed them in episodes 4 and 5, meaning this search for the Doctor is all he has left…? Is that too far?)
    Anyways, yes. If Danny did have a mysterious client, they would be the big bad for the episode. (Ooh, what if they’re the Valeyard?) The Doctor and Clara would need to return this episode, to meet up with Danny.
    From there, it’s all pretty simple – another, standard Doctor Who episode. The thing is though, Danny is much more of a pivotal character in this one than he was back in episode 1; the things he’s learnt about the Doctor actually all come in quite useful, etc.
    After that, it’s pretty simple – the day is saved, and Danny joins the Doctor and Clara for adventuring across time and space. (although… I’m not quite sure why he would? Especially if going for the “Doctor is bad” kind of idea with Danny. Not sure)

So… what do you think?

Note: 4 years later, I do think this is a little overly grim, if still a basically interesting concept.

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Also, Danny Pink.

doctor who danny pink samuel anderson series 8 peter capaldi twelfth doctor jenna coleman clara oswald maths teacher pe teacher coal hill school

It occurs to me that I never actually said anything about Danny Pink. At least I don’t think I did. I don’t… actually recally… oh well, whatever. You get to hear my multiple thoughts about Mr Pink twice! You lucky reader you.

It’s not actually relevant, but when I first saw him, I thought he was going to be some sort of Private Detective type fellow. It was mainly the name, and his coat. I associate that sort of colour name with detectives. Not sure why. That could be quite an interesting story… hmm. Expect elaboration on that tomorrow.

Anyway, Danny Pink. Cool, another companion. Teams of three are always interesting (it means I can adapt my Eleven/Amy/Rory script and send it in! Huzzah!) and can provide a good new dynamic. It’s also probably easier for the story, at times. You can split them up three ways instead of two!

Generally, as a ticklist… it’d be nice if he wasn’t a love interest for Clara, it’d be cool if he had an Ian Chesterton style relationship with the Doctor (“Mr Red”, “Danny Blue”, “Be quiet Green”!) and was quite sarcastic. Sarcasm is great.

Beyond that, I don’t really have any judgement. I’d like to wait until he actually turns up.

Still, looking forward to it!

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