Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Lazarus Experiment

doctor who the lazarus experiment stephen greenhorn richard clark russell t davies ten years of the tenth doctor martha jones harold saxon

Oh, Martha Jones, you’re a star!

For the third week in a row, we’ve got an episode that isn’t particularly highly thought of – indeed, it’s another one of those that’s largely criticised and looked down upon.

I remember watching this one a few years ago, specifically because I found out that it wasn’t very popular but remembered quite enjoying it. And, indeed, I enjoyed watching it again. In fact, I just went back and checked my comments on it, because I wrote about it on a forum – and I thought it was “just brilliant”, apparently! Then I started criticising Neil Cross, which I’d probably be less inclined to do now, I suppose. Funny how four years change things.

On paper, there’s a lot of stuff that works; indeed, when translated to the screen, there are a lot of things that work too. Most of that is Mark Gatiss, actually. He’s clearly having a whale of a time, and enlivens the whole episode. Sure, he’s only playing around with an established trope, but he carves out a space for himself within it – chewing the scenery with great gusto, yet still managing to bring a degree of pathos to it where necessary. Even though it’s something we’re innately familiar with anyway – the mad scientist is a hallmark of the science fiction genre, stretching back as far as Frankenstein (though I’m inclined to argue that’s more horror than sci-fi, but anyway) – it’s not something that new Doctor Who had done up to this point. And, thinking about it, it’s not something they’ve done since – the closest I can think of is Miss Kizlet in The Bells of St. John, but that’s a bit of a stretch. Or maybe Mrs Gillyflower in The Crimson Horror? Debatable.

In any case, though, that means that Professor Lazarus, wonderfully unsubtle in both name and performance, is something of the definitive mad scientist of the new series of Doctor Who. Generally speaking, he fills that role quite well – like I said, Mark Gatiss gives a great performance – and the idea of the youth effect is actually quite a neat effect. And, of course, there’s a monster! It’s big and weird and fills the monster role very nicely. I don’t have much to say beyond that, but it

All of which is to say that, on its own, this is a nice episode. It’s an entertaining enough way to spend forty minutes, and that’s all it needs to be if you happen to be flicking through Netflix or just want to rewatch a non-event, almost casual Tennant story.

But it’s when taken in context of the rest of the season around it that The Lazarus Experiment just doesn’t quite work.

doctor who the lazarus experiment review stephen greenhorn richard clark mark gatiss young professor lazarus martha jones tenth doctor

Oddly, you can view The Lazarus Experiment as being something of a centrepoint for a lot of the themes of the Davies era. It’s one of the ones that most overtly grapples with the idea of the “curse of the Time Lord”, as the phrase was coined; where something like School Reunion dealt with this theme, The Lazarus Experiment tries to be about this theme, building itself around that idea. There are lengthy monologues (distinct from soliloquys, I now know) that are almost entirely about that – consider that line everyone loves to quote, “one person could live more in twenty years than another in eighty”. It’s dialogue that reaches for profundity, and it gives the episode a semblance of weight that goes beyond the mad scientist runaround it could have been.

But then, while it might reach for profundity, it doesn’t quite get it. Certainly, something like School Reunion is able to tackle those themes and have a degree of greater resonance because it has a tangible material connection to the past in Sarah Jane Smith. You can see the impact of the Doctor’s longevity, and that has a far greater impact than Mark Gatiss sat naked wearing a shock blanket in a cathedral.

If the episode lacks substance in that regard, then it would have to find it elsewhere – that makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, the problem with the quasi-profound dialogue is that it doesn’t really ring true. As is often the way with episodes that could have been great, it stumbles across the right stance to take without realising, and moves quickly forward: the moment when Lazarus asks the Doctor “who are you to judge me?” is key. Obviously, it’s playing on the fact that the Doctor is, actually, very old, but in some respects, it’s missing the point – which it gets so close too with “imagine what I could do in two lives, or three, or four”. With, of course, the implicit “or ten” following on shortly afterwards.

That’s what The Lazarus Experiment should have done, really. Mounted a challenge against the Doctor. I’m not suggesting he need to be accused of being a hypocrite or anything, but equally, this is the Doctor criticising a man for making himself younger to live longer, when David Tennant is eight years younger than Chris Eccleston. The idea that the Doctor gets younger every time he regenerates is an established one, if not necessarily accurate; the fact he lives lots of lifetimes is just a fact. There’s the potential for something interesting and introspective there – not dark and intense drama particularly, but you could absolutely pitch something at the same level as Thin Ice and how it interrogated the Doctor’s inclination to move on from deaths quickly. It wouldn’t have been difficult to do, particularly; given the mysterious Mr Saxon is Lazarus’ shady benefactor, it’d be easy to give him some knowledge of the Doctor. And, indeed, it could feed quite nicely into Francine’s problems with the Doctor, which are similarly unsupported.

It’s quite odd, really, that this episode waffles around the idea of criticising the Doctor, but ultimately stops short of it. Because he’s actually deeply, deeply unlikable here.

doctor who the lazarus experiment review martha jones freema agyeman unrequited love tenth doctor tardis richard clark stephen greenhorn

The treatment of Martha in this series is one of the most contentious things about it; it’s this episode that tends to be one of the big examples in terms of the critique. It’s not difficult to see why.

A lot it stems from wider concerns to the series that don’t necessarily originate with this episode – that’s what I mean about this episode diminishing as a result of being placed in its wider context. It’s the choice to present Martha as being gifted individual trips, rather than taken on as an actual companion – in essence, the Doctor is stringing her along. Really, at times, it seems like he’s deliberately teasing her, if not treating her as somehow fundamentally lesser.

I’m not convinced this reflects poorly on Martha, as such; her willingness to put her foot down and demand appropriate respect is admirable, and foreshadows her eventual departure neatly enough. The character is, admittedly, weakened somewhat for still having this unrequited love for a man who has, frankly, treated her horribly – which is, for all I’m willing to forgive The Lazarus Experiment the demand of the series arc, particularly evident in the dialogue here. There’s a vein running through a lot of the Doctor’s interactions with Martha that feel condescending and dismissive, if not indeed outright cruel.

I wasn’t, I have to say, particularly pleased about that at all. Why would I be? The Doctor is not a character I want to dislike. Particularly this Doctor – my Doctor – and it’s a real lapse that this issue ever arose. You can really tell that Russell T Davies was ill and unable to be as actively involved in the production of this series (not that he would have rewritten Stephen Greenhorn’s episode, but certainly could have given him a few notes!) – although, then again, it’s obvious enough that the unrequited love angle was his idea. Maybe it just wouldn’t work at all.

(Well, actually. What should have happened is for The Lazarus Experiment to be moved forward, switching places with Gridlock; the cruelty of stringing her along would have diminished considerably if it wasn’t for such a long time. And, actually, I can’t help but feel that an appearance from Sarah Jane would have helped as well, although that’s another kettle of worms entirely.)

On a related note, incidentally: the depiction of Francine here is quite poor, isn’t it? There’s no real weight behind her dislike of the Doctor – basically just the fact that he seems to be Martha’s boyfriend, and she’s not heard of him before tonight? Even her eventual news from Mr Saxon doesn’t gel, because we don’t know who Mr Saxon is; it makes Francine an antagonistic force in a way that Jackie never was, so we can’t quite sympathise with her when we absolutely should. Once again it does seem that the episode is stunted for not properly criticising the Doctor, when almost every aspect of the episode demands it, if not needs it to function properly.

So, sadly, it’s a weak instalment from Series 3 here. Plenty of fun in places, and I’m glad it exists for the sole reason of letting Mark Gatiss be a Doctor Who villain (filmed on his birthday, no less!), but beyond that… well, there are certain weaknesses it just can’t move beyond. It’s very much not the work of brilliance I thought it once was.

5/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

4 Sherlock easter eggs you might not have noticed in The Final Problem

sherlock the final problem benedict cumberbatch martin freeman mark gatiss mycroft john watson holmes amanda abbington benjamin caron steven moffat chess

With what could well be the final episode of Sherlock, we’ve been given one last chance to exercise our observational skills – to put into practice the science of deduction.

As we moved from one thrilling set piece to another, there was plenty to spot – but it’s understandable if you were caught up in the drama.

Don’t worry, though – we’ve got you covered. Here are four easter eggs you may not have noticed in The Final Problem.

(Be warned – there are some spoilers for The Final Problem throughout this article.)

The final of my three Metro Sherlock articles, which is quite a good one, I reckon.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | General TV Index

Was The Final Problem the perfect last episode for Sherlock?

sherlock the final problem benedict cumberbatch martin freeman steven moffat mark gatiss finale last episode new series series 5 series 4 bbc one sherlock holmes

In many ways, yes. Most immediately, it’s clear that The Final Problem was dedicated to ensuring that all the best aspects of Sherlock got their moment to shine; in that regard, no stone was left unturned. Lestrade, Molly, Mrs Hudson – even Moriarty got to return, bringing with him the same frenetic energy that characterised the show in its early days. There were plenty of classic Sherlock rug pulls too; look at how it was revealed that the prison governor was under Eurus’ control for an example of the quiet intelligence that has always characterised the show. With The Final Problem we got an episode that was as tense and engaging as The Great Game, as intimate as A Scandal in Belgravia, and as intelligent as The Reichenbach Fall – surely this is an episode that, even in its own right, would go down as a classic in Sherlock’s history?

More than that, though genuinely felt as though this was an episode dedicated to completing the story we’ve seen unfold for years – note the call backs to The Great Game and The Abominable Bride, and the subtle allusions to A Scandal in Belgravia. There’s something almost holistic about the construction of this episode, drawing together the sum total of the programme’s almost decade long history, and concentrating it into one 90-minute story.

An article I wrote immediately after The Final Problem ended. Broadly speaking, I do actually stand by it still; The Final Problem was far, far from perfect, and better critics than I have already done a good job explaining the flaws inherent within it. However, I’ll always maintain that as an episode, it was an excellent conclusion to this seven-year journey.

Plus, I finally used “holistic” in an article, so I’m reasonably pleased regardless.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | General TV Index

Sherlock: Why Mary Watson (probably) isn’t dead

sherlock series 4 mary watson the six thatchers rachel talalay alive sherlock holmes benedict cumberbatch amanda abbington mary watson john watson martin freeman mark gatiss

It’s also worth noting that a recurring theme within the episode is the narrative which rejects death; consider how the episode opens with Moriarty’s reappearance, and Mycroft essentially changing the ending of His Last Vow. Right from the beginning, The Six Thatchers is establishing an inherent ambiguity to that which is true; perhaps most significant of all though is The Merchant of Sumatra, oft-referenced throughout the episode, repeatedly emphasising that when confronted with a story that ended in death, Sherlock didn’t like it – and he changed the ending. Both Moffat and Gatiss are far too precise in their writing for that to be simple throwaway dialogue; it’s a clear statement of both theme and intent.

But another recurring theme throughout The Six Thatchers is the idea that Mary is, in many ways, an equal of Sherlock – as he himself put it to John, “she’s better than you at this”. Time and time again, The Six Thatchers presents Sherlock and Mary matching and surpassing one another, establishing Mary Watson as something of a mirror of Sherlock. What is Sherlock’s greatest achievement? What would demonstrate Mary is his equal, above all else? If Mary were, like Sherlock, able to fake her own death. It’s the sort of move that Moffat and Gatiss would delight in – at the same time both loyal to the Doyle canon, but also gleefully subversive of it.

While I didn’t really like The Six Thatchers on first broadcast, I’ve also been totally unable to get it out of my head for the past week – it’s had a far greater impact on me than any television series I’ve watched in a long time. Indeed, it’s the first programme I’ve watched in years that prompted me to sit down and theorise about the next episode, wondering where it was going and genuinely analysing it – it’s been a long time since I’ve even done that with Doctor Who, frankly.

If nothing else, I’ve now got a lot of respect for The Six Thatchers – surely anything that prompts this level of thought and dissection does, ultimately, have some sort of value. (Although I’ll be pretty annoyed if I was wrong.)

(And I did indeed turn out to be wrong. So that was disappointing.)

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | General TV Index

4 Sherlock easter eggs you may not have spotted in The Six Thatchers

sherlock series 4 the six thatchers easter eggs benedict cumberbatch martin freeman steven moffat mark gatiss

Sherlock has a history of rewarding the dedicated viewer with references, easter eggs, hints and in-jokes, and The Six Thatchers was no exception.

Season four got off to a bang, driving a wedge between John and Sherlock and delivering a shocking ending that will no doubt continue to be felt across the rest of the series.

But in among all the excitement, did you manage to keep up your observational skills, like the great man himself? Did you spot these clues and references in last night’s Sherlock?

An article I’m quite proud of – it’s my first for the Metro! (Perhaps somewhat amusingly, though, the above text I’ve copied isn’t actually written by me. Whoops.)

Regardless, I think this is pretty cool.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | General TV Index

Why Sherlock’s return didn’t quite work

sherlock the reichenbach fall death benedict cumberbatch mark gatiss steven moffat sherlock series 2 stephen thompson toby haynes

Ambiguities notwithstanding, the presented explanations as to how Sherlock faked his death all had one thing in common: the intention to fool John. It’s all about his perspective – where he’s standing, what he can see, and so on and so forth. It’s understandable in some ways, because in that scene John is the audience surrogate; indeed, there’s a tradition dating back to the start of Watson acting in that role. Convincing John of Sherlock’s death is, in effect, necessary to demonstrate it to the audience. But, here’s the thing: in an instance of dramatic irony, it’s revealed to the audience that Sherlock is alive. Most would have been expecting it, of course, but the confirmation shifts our perspective away from John’s – suddenly, we become a confidante. We’re in on it. John isn’t.

The Reichenbach Fall indicates a need to fool Moriarty’s assassins; The Empty Hearse presents instead an attempt to fool John, with no explanation as to why. The ending of The Reichenbach Fall becomes less about Sherlock outwitting Moriarty against the clock, and more about Sherlock pulling a cruel and elaborate prank on his best and only friend.

Finally drawing a close to my series of Sherlock articles (at least until Sunday), here’s one that expands on some observations I made a few years ago.

It’s weird, I guess; I feel like pivoting away from the technicalities to focus on the emotional aspect was the most sensible – indeed, even essential – choice to make. But I don’t feel like the emotional aspect landed, given the above; I suspect that’s part of why so many people struggled on the technicalities of it. (Though it didn’t help that the technicalities were a bit ridiculous anyway.)

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | General TV Index

What is the future of Sherlock?

sherlock bbc steven moffat benedict cumberbatch martin freeman mark gatiss series 5 reboot return future spinoff

Both of Sherlock’s headline stars are increasingly becoming blockbuster movie stars – it’s not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of course, it’s also things like The Hobbit or The Imitation Game, and so on and so forth. With Hollywood ventures taking up more and more of the duo’s time, and Sherlock itself being no small commitment, it does beg the question – just what is the future of Sherlock going to be like?

In discussions with The Telegraph last year, Moffat said of that Sherlock “could go on forever, coming back now and again”. There’s something I find quite exciting about this prospect, I have to admit, because Cumberbatch is right; we do typically only see Holmes and Watson at a particular stage in their lives. Can you imagine spending decades with these characters, getting to know them across the years, exploring them at different points?

Another recent article for Yahoo, containing some speculation as to the future of Sherlock, as well as something of an outline as to my own personal hopes for the future of the show.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | General TV Index

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Idiot’s Lantern

doctor who review the idiot's lantern mark gatiss florizel street the wire maureen lipman eddie connolly euros lyn russell t davies

Are you sitting comfortably?

I wasn’t exactly very involved in fan circles when this episode came out – excluding the playground, of course – so I’m not exactly hugely in tune with the received wisdom of this one, or indeed a lot of the early Davies/Gardner era stuff. I have mostly just tended to take the view that it’s all brilliant; usually it is.

Gatiss in particular has something of a reputation for writing some clunky episodes. I always sort of resist that reputation, because I’ve typically enjoyed (or remembered enjoying) his episodes at time of broadcast. (I think I was one of the very few people who actually really liked Sleep No More.)

But then, there is the fact that a lot of these episodes aren’t stories I’ve ever really watched critically. The Idiot’s Lantern was never really one I opted to rewatch frequently, so the only impression I had of it was the initial enjoyment – but, to be perfectly honest, at the age of eight I loved every single episode, with very little else to say. It was Doctor Who, and it was the best thing on television, and thus that was that.

When I’m watching them now, though, ten years later, they’re all getting something of a reappraisal. And admittedly, it does have to be said, The Idiot’s Lantern isn’t actually all that great. (There is a part of me that is genuinely worried I’ll get to my favourite episode of the series, and it won’t live up to my expectations.)

Don’t get me wrong, of course – I think it’s probably clear that preamble is leading to a criticism of this episode. It is, because there are problems with the episode. But there’s a lot of good stuff here too, and I think that’s worth commending and commenting on.

Evil TV is a wonderfully, uniquely Doctor Who idea. Of course this show, of them all, is going to put forward the dangers of watching too much TV – it’s not just twisting the mundane into something frightening, like the plastic sunflowers or vinyl chairs, but it’s something that is part of Doctor Who. That is a fantastic concept; not entirely dissimilar from the Weeping Angels, in a way, where the whole point is that you can’t hide behind the sofa. (Though, on the subject of the Weeping Angels, I wonder if perhaps this episode would have been improved with a Blink-esque final sequence to suggest that all TVs, even in the present day, remain dangerous?)

The episode is also very funny – to be expected, perhaps, given Gatiss’ comedy background. (I mean, I’ve never actually seen League of Gentlemen, but they were funny when they were on Horrible Histories together.) Lots of very good jokes in there; the one typically picked up on is where Crabbe tries to wrap his fingers around his elbow after the Doctor’s flippant rebuke of the Detective Inspector. (I just tried myself. It is, I can confirm, impossible.)

So, you know, all of that is good…

doctor who review the idiot's lantern mark gatiss david tennant billie piper motorbike scooter elvis hair mary poppins

… but the episode is sorely lacking in other places.

I think the main problem arises when the episode sidelines Rose from the narrative. (You can, of course, read a level of positivity from this, because Gatiss had done quite a good job of writing Rose up until the point when she was removed. Generally good lines all round, Billie Piper did a great job with the performance, it was all going quite well. Up until it wasn’t, really.)

On one level, it’s a shame because it means Tennant doesn’t have Piper to work with here. In the early part of the episode, their chemistry and interplay with one another really helped to enliven the episode – Tennant with DI Bishop and Tommy Connelly (more on whom later) just doesn’t have anywhere near the same spark. It is, ultimately, just a little less interesting with Rose gone.

But…

See, I just went and looked up some of the production history for this episode, on the Shannon Sullivan website. (It’s a great resource if you’re at all interested in how Doctor Who is made, and how the stories evolved from their original conception.) What I found out, then, was that this episode was in the fourth production block, and so was one of the later episodes in the production run.

That was a surprise, because from David Tennant’s performance, I could have sworn it was one of the earlier episodes to be recorded.

Saying that I feel a little guilty, because it just seems sort of… it doesn’t feel right to critique David Tennant’s acting. I mean, quite apart from the fact that he extremely well renowned and has received many an accolade, whereas I would have trouble as a non-speaking extra, there’s also the fact that he’s, you know, the Doctor.

But the fact remains that his performance just doesn’t quite work after Rose’s disappearance, because Tennant doesn’t seem to have figured out how to do an angry Doctor properly. Which is weird, I guess, because I seem to remember it working well enough in New Earth, but perhaps the difference is that here all he’s being given to do is essentially just be angry.

It is jarring, to say the least. Something which stands out to me is a point at which he yells in Tommy’s face, for no apparent reason – I think it’s supposed to be read as the Doctor feeling galvanised, because he’s just had a realisation, but it just comes across as deeply uncomfortable, on account of how harshly the line is delivered.

So, yeah. There’s not really any way of getting around this. Once Rose is gone, Gatiss just sort of writes an angry Doctor, and David Tennant can’t get that to work. It’s a shame, really, because it constricts the episode a lot.

doctor who review the idiot's lantern mark gatiss eddie tommy conolly rory jennings jamie foreman father florizel street

The other big problem and point of contention is the issue of Tommy and his father Eddie. It’s worth unpacking this one a little, I think.

Eddie as a character seems complex, but I suppose in reality it’s more applicable to describe him as messy, or even bungled. There are certainly a lot of scenes, at least initially, which seem to be aiming at depicting him as being something of a weak man, who does the things he does out of fear, but despite this is still a largely good person. You can see this from the fact that he is quite blatantly terrified by what’s going on around him; it’s particularly evident early on, regarding Gran who has her face stolen. And there are moments where he is nice to Tommy, and appears to be caring towards his wife. So, maybe he’s not completely irredeemable?

Arguably, this is something of a theme within the episode: weak men who are limited because of their fears. You’ve got Eddie Connolly, who’s clearly insecure and frightened, hiding behind this veneer of strength and all the associated bluster. There’s Magpie too, who does what he does because he’s scared of the Wire. Even Detective Inspector Bishop could be considered to fall into this mould, given that he simply rounds up the faceless people rather than dealing with them, instead of going out and doing his job properly.

That’s why Tommy is such a sympathetic character, then; he’s scared, yes, but he rises above it and goes further and does more. It was the third Doctor who once said that courage is being scared, but doing what you have to do anyway – and Tommy exemplifies that really well. (Hence, perhaps, his being dressed in similar colours to the Doctor.) It even fits in with the general idea raised by the Doctor at the end, that this is a brand new nation, shrugging off the shadows of war, with no place for men like Eddie Connolly.

Because that’s the other thing. For all that you can make a redemptive reading of Eddie, there are some things you can’t get around – he is also a horrible person. We feel so triumphant when the Doctor and Rose take him down a peg, because he’s a bully. He’s just not a very nice guy. He’s shout-y and angry and aggressive (making the Doctor seem unfortunately similar to him at times) and it is certainly quite heavily implied that he’s abusive towards his wife and child.

It is worth noting, too, that Tommy is gay. That’s the subtext, here, but it’s not exactly subtle – references to “mummy’s boys” and Tommy saying he wants to be able to love anyone he chooses makes it clear enough what the intention is. He was at one point going to admit a crush on the Doctor, but RTD cut that as he decided it was too far.

So, you know, Eddie Connolly isn’t just a horrible person, he’s also abusive, as well as being sexist and homophobic.

The message is absolutely that he should be left behind, and that the episode should unequivocally end with him being cast off and left behind.

But then we have Rose convincing Tommy he needs his father in his life. Which is spectacularly wrongheaded, really.

I mean, how is that meant to be taken? Is it a clever indictment of the 1950s, with Gatiss actually levelling a criticism at this era, and pointing out that even despite the air of optimism and the fact they cast off the shadows of war, some archaic attitudes remained? Or is it suggesting that we should still treat horrible people with a level of decency, even if they don’t extend the same kindness to us?

Of the two interpretations, I prefer the former. That would go some length towards salvaging the episode, certainly.

At the minute, though, it just feels like there were a lot of clever ideas, which all fell apart over the course of the script. And that’s a shame, really.

6/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

Doctor Who Review: Sleep No More

doctor who sleep no more review mark gatiss found footage reece shearsmith title card title sequence justin molotnikov peter capaldi j

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

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

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

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

doctor who sleep no more review mark gatiss found footage peter capaldi twelfth doctor eye contact clara oswald camera shift justin mo

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

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

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

doctor who sleep no more review mark gatiss reece shearsmith league of gentlemen found footage dr rasmussen justin molotnikov sandman

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

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

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

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

Related:

Doctor Who series 9 reviews

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Reviews Index

The Pseudo-Science of Doctor Who

doctor who kill the moon peter capaldi peter harness poster science realism moon egg single cell organism spider pseudo science

So, In the Forest of the Night and Kill the Moon recently have both got me thinking about science and realism in Doctor Who, and to what extent something actually has to be ‘correct’ within any given episode of the show.

I mean, Doctor Who is only science fiction in the broadest of terms really – how concerned it is with the science part of science fiction is rather malleable across the fifty years of the show. I think normally people would point to the beginning of the show, or Christopher Bidmead’s episodes as evidence of a time when Doctor Who was more concerned with actual, ‘hard science’, but equally you’ve got the Daleks and Maths Priests saving the universe.

It’s probably fair to say, I think, that Doctor Who is a show that uses the trappings of science fiction to present different forms of drama, and examine aspects of society.

The question is though, of course, to what extent does it matter how accurate the scientific trappings are.

Things like the TARDIS and other original ideas get a pass, I think, because they’re part of the suspension of disbelief. You accept that because no one really has a way to argue against a time machine, or a warp drive – if the narrative says “Aliens can do this” viewers are more willing to go along with this because it’s all fictional, and that’s inbuilt into the show.

But conversely, something like the Moon being an egg isn’t going to have such an easy time of it, because people know a lot about eggs. The problems with an egg increasing in mass, or the Space Dragon laying another egg identical in size to the one it just hatched from, are relatively self-evident to a pretty large amount of the audience.

doctor who in the forest of the night frank cottrell boyce poster trees peter capaldi london forest lion trafalgar square science realism pseudo science

It kinda comes down to a quote from… I think it’s Community? Anyway, it’s “That sounds wrong, but I don’t know enough about it to dispute it.” In scenarios where you can easily debunk something, or you know that the writer could have solved the issue with a quick google search, it’s far more likely to be a problem. But when there’s nothing more than a sense of “Hmm-I-don’t-know-about-this”, which is where In the Forest of the Night fell for me, I think one is more likely to go along with it, albeit with some reservations.

Equally though, how much does that matter?

For me personally at least, it depends how much I’m enjoying the actual story. I’m far more likely to give errors a pass if the plot itself is engaging – if I’m bored or disconnected from the story, I’m more likely to notice mistakes, and that’s only going to take me out of it more. (Incidentally, I think much the same of plot holes.)

And sometimes there’s moments where the incorrect science is actually better for the story than something which would be more correct – right now I’m thinking of Robot of Sherwood in particular. In a Robin Hood story, it makes sense for the resolution to relate to the firing of an arrow; the fact it doesn’t actually make scientific sense is mostly not the point, because it makes story sense.

Ultimately, of course, it is down to one’s own particular tastes. I think with simple things that can be easily fixed, then yes, the writer probably should amend it.

But to go into Doctor Who expecting rigorous scientific accuracy is probably missing the point a little bit.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Doctor Who Index