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.

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

Doctor Who series 9 reviews

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Doctor Who Review: Series 8 Overview

doctor who series 9 review overview peter capaldi jenna coleman steven moffat era logo twelfth doctor vortex title sequence clocks clara oswald

So, with another series over, I wanted to take a bit of a look back across the whole series, seeing how it fitted together, talking a little bit about the arcs involved, and generally the overall quality of the episodes.

Here I’ve got links to my reviews of each episodes (some of which were, uh, posted quite late, meaning you may have missed them). Quite proud of most of them, although it is obvious in quite a few that I was running short of time, because they’re a little bit on the shorter side. Still, nothing wrong with being concise.

  1. Deep Breath | Steven Moffat | 8/10
  2. Into the Dalek | Phil Ford & Steven Moffat | 9/10
  3. Robot of Sherwood | Mark Gatiss | 7/10
  4. Listen | Steven Moffat | 5/10
  5. Time Heist | Stephen Thompson & Steven Moffat | 8/10
  6. The Caretaker | Gareth Roberts & Steven Moffat | 7/10
  7. Kill the Moon | Peter Harness | 3/10
  8. Mummy on the Orient Express | Jamie Mathieson | 9/10
  9. Flatline | Jamie Mathieson | 9/10
  10. In the Forest of the Night | Frank Cottrell-Boyce | 6/10
  11. Dark Water | Steven Moffat | 10/10
  12. Death in Heaven | Steven Moffat | 8/10

And presented here as part of a handy-dandy graph. I do love a good graph.

image

I’ve seen this series described as having had consistent quality levels since 2005, when the show came back. It’s interesting actually, because I would have said the same myself, before looking at my handy dandy graph.

In terms of numbers though, it got a total of 89/120, which works out as 7.417/10. Given that people were harking back to the 2005 series, that’s a rather useful point of comparison (even more so because it’s the only one I have mathematical date for). When I reviewed that series, it got a result of approximately 8/10 as an overall average. (You can see a very nerdy breakdown of the scores here. It wasn’t so popular, which is why I changed the format a little for this overview.)

What it is perhaps fairer to say though is that, barring a few mis-steps, the series had a much higher level of consistent quality than the last two Matt Smith seasons. I wasn’t really a fan of series 7, on the whole, and I felt that this was a massive improvement on largely every count.

In terms of Steven Moffat’s writing, this was another massive step up (Ignoring Listen, of course). Of the four series’ he’s been in charge of, this one is certainly the best since Matt Smith’s first. Perhaps the best altogether? I’m not entirely sure, but it may well come close.

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Something I think that series 8 did particularly well with, better than most others, was the way it treated the role of the companion.

Around the time of Asylum of the Daleks, when Jenna Coleman first appeared, I said something along the lines of “I think she’s going to be my favourite companion”. Words to that effect, anyways. Obviously this turned out to be not quite the case, given that Clara wasn’t quite in the spotlight in her own right throughout the rest of series 7.

But after series 8, I am actually quite prepared to hand Clara back that position.

It’s difficult to talk about the arc that Clara had throughout the series, because I really keep wanting to jump right to the end, because the way in which she developed still excites me so much. This is possibly one of the best uses of the companion role ever, and the best possible extension of the idea that the Doctor changes his companions.

Flatline was one of my favourite episodes of the series (making me a little sad my review is quite so short) and that’s because of what it did with the Doctor/Clara dynamic. Honestly, there’s just so many clever things about that episode I want to pick out, but the one that needs mentioning is the idea of lying, I think. You can see that being developed across the series, picked up on, examined, and looked at through all these different lights. It culminated in my favourite scene of the series – the Doctor lying about Gallifrey. How fantastic was that? Absolutely fantastic.

Now, none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for Jenna Coleman, who really showed how brilliant Clara could be. She absolutely deserved top billing at the end of the series. “Clara Who” is a show I would watch, let me tell you right now. (Though it needs a better name than that!)

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On another note, writers and directors. Some new ones this year, which is nice; as part of series 7 last year there were, I think, too many writers that had more than one episode, and had worked on the show before. It’s always good to get new people in (like me) though, to be fair, this year there was something of a mixed result in terms of new writers. Jamie Mathieson, absolutely fantastic, needs to return. Peter Harness, probably best forgotten about. And Frank Cottrell-Boyce… well, maybe? He’s the only one I have no particularly strong feelings about, for or against.

Normally, I don’t pay a great deal of attention to directors, which I probably should, but I’ve been really impressed by a lot this year. Douglas MacKinnon did another great job, and I was impressed by Ben Wheatley. Nice to see female directors on the team – I realise everyone else has said that, but it’s true. And, obviously, the fact that they were female directors wasn’t the only important thing – Sheree Folkson and Rachel Talalay are both very, very good.

(Mind you, still not that fussed about the possibility of Peter Jackson turning up. The fact he’s such a massive nerd makes me laugh, but there’s nothing that really makes me think “woah we need him here right now”.)

doctor who review series 8 kill the moon planet earth turn the lights off peter harness

There were certain things I wasn’t mad keen on, of course. I’m not sure if I’m becoming a bit more socially aware, or if there were more mistakes made this season, but a few things stood out to me as being a bit on the not-so-good side of things.

The abortion metaphor of Kill the Moon I already spoke about a fair extent, and the same goes for the medication stuff in In the Forest of the Night. Those were both things which should have been picked up on, and removed, but unfortunately… weren’t.

Something I didn’t mention at the time, but I still wasn’t sure about was this weird racial undertone in The Caretaker. Strange one really; it was clear the production team was trying to show a diverse, multi-racial set of students, but it fell down a bit flat since quite a few of the truant/miscreant kids were coloured. That can be written off as an accident, but I’m surprised no one took pause with the fact that the Doctor mocked Danny, suggesting he was only competent at physical tasks. Bit odd really, in terms of the way it could be read.

Also, speaking of the Doctor and Danny, where did that distaste for soldiers actually go, in the end? It all seemed a tad aimless. You can make a case, I suppose, for it having been set up for the finale, but even then… it wasn’t great. The set up with Missy wasn’t amazing either, I think it must be said, given that they were little more than sporadic “remember we have an arc guys” moments. Could probably have been replaced by “this is a mystery” cue cards, perhaps.

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So.

A final word on the Eighth Series of Doctor Who?

I think it was, honestly, quite brilliant. It had no shortage of misfires, that’s fair to say, but that’s not to say it wasn’t very, very good. You could really see the work that went into it, making each idea fresh and new, offering us some of the best character drama we’ve had in years, as part of a remarkably stylish, wonderfully written television program.

And, on today of all days – the start of our 51st year – Series 8 is worth talking about.

Because Series 8 shows us why Doctor Who has lasted quite so long, and why it is still kicking.

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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?

doctor who death in heaven review michelle gomez missy the master graveyard I just want my friend back steven moffat rachel talalay

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.)

doctor who death in heaven review cybermen danny pink the brigadier rain steven moffat rachel talalay graveyard

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.

doctor who review in the forest of the night samuel anderson danny pink harley bird ruby maebh arden trees forest wood sheree folkson

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.

doctor who review flatline douglas mackinnon the boneless perspective shift flattened worker jenna coleman joivan wade jamie mathieson

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: Mummy on the Orient Express

doctor who mummy on the orient express review jamie mathieson paul wilmshurst frank skinner foxes title sequence jenna coleman

Don’t stop me now, I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball! Oh, don’t stop me now, yeah, I don’t want to stop at all…

One of my favourite TV shows ever is House. I’ve never really written about it on the blog, which is something I’ll have to correct one day, but I absolutely love the show. It’s a fantastic Holmes adaptation, and there’s some wonderful, wonderful drama to it.

My favourite thing about it is, perhaps obviously, Hugh Laurie as House. I think he’s brilliant. Every second he’s on the screen is properly compelling; House is, in short, a fantastic creation. The best part about the character, or the bit that stands out to me at least, is the fact that that he’s very single minded in his attempts to help the patients – House doesn’t give a damn if he upsets people or offends them or even hurts them, because he knows without a doubt that it will, in the end, help.

So I was, it must be said, quite pleased to see Jamie Mathieson, who wrote the episode, naming House as an influence.

The-Doctor-as-House thread running through the episode is one of my favourite parts of the episode. This is, I think, probably the best way to pitch a more callous, brusque Doctor without him becoming a different character altogether; it highlights the fact he’s an alien, but it still keeps to the basic idea of the Doctor helping people.

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There’s a wonderful, morally ambiguous sort of thing going on with regards to the responsibilities the Doctor takes on when he’s travelling. It’s typified when, at the end, he says “Sometimes the only choices we have are bad ones”. I loved it, and I loved the way it was a bit more reflective than usual. It’s something I’d love to see explored a little more, and given some more time; it seems quite well suited to Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Older, wearier, and very keenly aware of the burden upon him. This is a really fantastic interpretation of the Doctor at this stage in his life, and it’s the sort of thing that’s making me really love Twelve.

But, as with House, not everyone is willing to put up with the Doctor. Following on from last week, we’ve got Clara back again, and it’s their last hurrah.

I really quite liked this plot thread – surprising me a little, actually, because I wasn’t that impressed last week. But there was a real sense of melancholy, actually, in the interactions between the Doctor and Clara. The arc that Clara went through, from hating the Doctor last week, to an apathy at the start of this episode, to finally realising just what she loved about travelling and accepting that the Doctor still did good in his approach to things was brilliantly pitched and absolutely note perfect. Beat by beat, moment by moment, everything was completely on the nose.

It was another brilliant showcase for Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. They’re so amazing together, it’s really compelling to watch, especially in episodes as well written as this. My favourite moments for the pair, actually, were the quietly awkward little exchanges towards the beginning; they’d both be trying to be nice, but then one of them would say something, and the facades would drop, and the sadness would be obvious. Moments like that were really touching, actually.

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Another thing worth commenting on is the background characters; Perkins, Moorhouse, Quell and Maisie. They were all remarkably well drawn; in a fairly short space of time, they all felt pretty real. What I particularly liked actually was how they each got their own stand out moments, as it were; I quite liked Maisie’s bit about hating her grandmother, and wanting her to die, except not really wanting it to happen. It was a fairly small detail, but it really did make her stand out far more than if she had just been the character who’s grandmother died.

Frank Skinner was another stand out, and he’s definitely going to go down another should’ve been companion. One of the more memorable characters here. Brilliant writing brought to life by brilliant acting. Can’t ask for more than that really. (In the DWM where I read the House quotes, incidentally, Jamie Mathieson said that he based Perkins on a friend. I’d be willing to bet the real life Perkins was chuffed!)

Finally, I loved the Mummy. That’s a sort of important thing I haven’t mentioned yet, isn’t it? The Mummy is in the title, after all. It was quite a scary thing, actually, and it tapped into the fear of other people not seeing what you’re seeing. When that was then flipped on it’s head later on, to become the scientific observation scenes, it was remarkably clever and added another dimension to the whole thing. Brilliant stuff.

So, all in all, that’s a pretty bloody fantastic episode. Definitely one of the best ones of the series – strong 9/10 for me, I think. Really looking forward to tonight’s! (Which is… starting right now.)

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Doctor Who Review: Kill the Moon

doctor who kill the moon review peter harness paul wilmshurst peter capaldi jenna coleman ellis george hermione norris

Whatever future humanity might have depends upon the choice that is made right here and right now.  Now, you’ve got the tools to kill it; you made them. Kill it or let it live, I can’t make this decision for you.

When I watched The Rings of Akhaten, I was quite… frustrated, I think, by the way it ended, and the way cultures were treated within it. I didn’t like how, at the end, the Grandfather was destroyed, taking with it the sun for an entire system of planets, and destabilising an entire religion. I know it wasn’t the main concern of the episode, but it made me uncomfortable nonetheless – the consequences of the Doctor and Clara’s actions were pretty damn clear, and the fact that they weren’t taking responsibility, nor the narrative presenting them as having a need to, irked me, to say the least.

So since that point, I’ve wanted a story where the Doctor takes responsibility for his actions, or, à la the Prime Directive, said he wasn’t going to interfere in something that resolutely wasn’t his business.

I thought I was going to get one, actually. I’ve lived for over 2000 years, and not all of them were good. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and it’s about time I did something to fix that. As a line, that sort of indicates the kind of thing I’m talking about, doesn’t it? A more reflective, responsibility and consequence driven approach.

And, hey, for a moment or two the story actually tries to be like that. The Doctor says it’s not his choice! Not his moon, not his choice.

Wonderful. The sort of theme I’ve been waiting for the past year, the brilliant team that is the Twelfth Doctor and Clara, and it has spiders on the Moon. How could I not love it?

Well, you want the full list of reasons, I suppose.

doctor who kill the moon review peter capaldi jenna coleman clara oswald orange space suit sanctuary base 6 peter harness paul wilmshurst

I mean… I’ll start at the beginning, because of course that’s what makes the most sense.

This episode felt very strangely paced. It’s most obvious at the start, where you go from Courtney in Coal Hill to a confrontation on the Moon. Very quick there, and yet everything is really drawn out after that. There’s little in the way of properly establishing things – the episode is far more concerned with getting to a certain point, and then just… staying there. It harmed the clarity of the scenes, I think, and the understanding you get of what’s actually going on.

The bit with Courtney at the start, for example. It’s never really followed through, the idea that put downs and insults can harm a child’s development – and, look, if you’re not going to follow through on it, why bring it up? It’s stranger still because it’s implied later on that Courtney and Clara were just joking and trying to convince the Doctor to give her a ride in the TARDIS. Except, the way that line is delivered means that it falls at a very strange point in the story and could easily be missed – which, like I’ve said, messes around with the clarity of the story.

It’s the same with Hermione Norris and her crew of Rubbish Spaceman and Teacher Spaceman. The point of them being there is brought up and dispensed with really quickly, when it should have been a much larger point of focus, especially given the eventual climax. Something has changed within the Moon, and it’s wreaking havoc all across the Earth, killing millions. These people are on a suicide mission to destroy the Moon, because even though that’s going to cause problems, it’s better than the alternative they already have.

What I just said there? That should have been a massive part of it. It’s practically crucial to the episode. But it’s two lines of dialogue at most, which is very easily missed. In fact, part of that I only knew because I’d read previews ahead of the episode, rather than it being anything established on screen. That’s a ridiculous error to make, because something like that is central to the episode. That’s the reason why they’re on the Moon with so many nuclear weapons (which are briefly established to have come from across the world – again, that’s a really important thing to note) and it adds a whole other dimension to the final conflict. And it’s a really, really important one; this isn’t just a case of what might happen if the Moon hatches, it’s also what is already happening. 

The “time is in flux” thing is also starting to get a little tired. I know that’s a ridiculous criticism to make; whether or not time is in flux is something of an inherent problem to Doctor Who, because, of course, the future is no less mutable than the past, so why can they act one way in some places but not in others? It’s a difficult one to answer, obviously. But when it’s the focus of an episode, it needs to at least have something new or interesting to add to the idea, rather than just trying to suggest that “anything can happen”. The fact of the matter is that it’s obvious the Moon won’t be removed, because that’s just awkward. Bringing it up like this just draws attention to the fact that this episode isn’t actually going to have any sort of lasting impact at all.

I mean, credit where it’s due, of course. A lot of the speeches here about time were quite well written, and Peter Capaldi is absolutely fantastic at giving the sense that he’s staring at something not quite there, something nebulous that’s just beyond us. He really looked like he was seeing into the web of time. Or came quite close to it, at any rate.

doctor who kill the moon review abortion aborted dragon egg hermione norris lundvik peter harness paul wilmshurst

But anyway. Onto the real problem, the thing that really bothered me.

The ultimate climax, the choice of whether or not to ‘kill the Moon’, seemed quite clearly to be an allegory about abortion. And it took a very specific, pro-life stance. Hermione Norris, who advocates the abortion equivalent, is shown to be in the wrong. She is criticised, implicitly by the narrative and explicitly by the other characters. They call her out on wanting to kill a “vulnerable baby”, tell her it’s not to blame, say that she shouldn’t take a life. And at the end, a very large show is made of her thanking Clara – specifically, thanking Clara for ignoring the decision made, and letting the Moon Dragon live. Letting it live is shown to be unequivocally right and good, and the alternative is a mistake. (Ignoring, incidentally, the set up given at the start, that the Moon as it is is killing the Earth. By not setting that up properly the dynamic of this metaphor is shifted away from “baby is killing the mother” to “baby is making the mother uncomfortable”.)

Now, I don’t really like getting deeply into politics on this blog. Largely, it’s not my place, and I’m not really qualified to comment. I’m not entirely sure I should be saying this now. But, equally, it’s a media review blog. Media connects with the real world, it has to. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, after all; there are politics in media. There are allegories. I think it’s important that these allegories exist, and I think it’s important that fiction gives commentary on issues like abortion.

The thing is… within the context of Doctor Who, yes, saying that you should try your best to make sure the Moon Dragon can live makes sense. Of course it does. But within the context of an abortion parable, which is what this episode tried to be – Doctor Who should not be saying that abortion is wrong under any and every circumstance. That just isn’t right.

Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable. The general dreariness of the episode would be forgivable, but for this aspect. The way it ended up, the message of this episode is just unpalatable.

Listen, at least, wasn’t offensive. This is… this is not so great.

3/10

Note from Alex of 2018: I am, with this review, quite out of step with certain circles of Doctor Who fans, circles I now move in quite a bit. Much of the above is not exactly brilliantly written, and I’m not entirely sure how much of it I’d agree with were I to watch the episode again.

Equally, though, I’m not exactly in a hurry to do that, because that abortion analogy – denied though it may have been by many involved with the episode – really did bother me quite a lot on a personal level. So, you know. 

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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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Doctor Who Review: Time Heist

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

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

The lead up to this one was interesting actually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10.

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

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

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