Posts Tagged With: jenna-louise coleman

Papa Louie Pals Presents: The Companions (Part 1)

Hello! Welcome to Good Burger, home of the good burger; may I take your order?

As you’ll have seen the other week, I spent large parts of August assembling a plethora of Doctors with the help of Flipline Studio’s Papa Louie Pals, which enables you to create your own characters in the vein of the developer’s cutesy, animated consumers and baristas. In other words, you too – in the comfort of your own home – can make the sort of people who wander in to Papa’s Tacoreria and order…well, tacos. Or burritos, or whatever else they sell; I’m sure I don’t know. I haven’t played them, remember?

But give me an app that lets me be a bit creative and it’s like a red rag to a bull, and – having done all the Doctors – I elected to spend a little time creating the companions as well. We start, today, with the New Who brigade: most of the big players are in there, although I’m kicking myself for not including Wilf. Just for good measure, I stuck a couple of villains in as well (all right, one villain in multiple forms, which does rather narrow it down). Oh, and I couldn’t bring myself to do Adam, largely because he’s a twat.

Still. Everyone else is here, just about. And yes, there is a Classic Who companions gallery in the works, at some point when I get round to it. I may even take requests, as long as they’re more imaginative than “Please stop doing this”.

Let’s get cooking…

We’ll get these two out of the way first. There are lots of ways to do Rose; I have gone with her series one look, which is a little more chavvy and a little less refined than the slicker haircut and more revealing outfits she wore in series 2. Donna looks like a slightly younger version of herself, but that’s not a bad thing.

Nardole is…well, he’s a little taller than I’d like, or a little slimmer; pick one. But he looks vageuly Nardole-ish. And I’m quite pleased with Bill; I even remembered to put the bow in her hair.

The Masters, next (yes, there are multiple versions). Simm’s 2007 look is basically a man in a black suit; take away the evil eyes and he could be auditioning for Reservoir Dogs. He’s accompanied here by River Song, sporting her classic vest-and-skirt combination, as worn in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ and probably other episodes I can’t be bothered to Google.

Two more Masters: the hooded monstrosity from ‘The End of Time’ and the restrained, bearded 2017 Master I always hoped we’d get to see. That’s my favourite contemporary take on the character, and it’s irritating that he really doesn’t work here: the hair is too shaggy, the beard (while being the closest I could manage) is wrong, and the tunic is more chef than rogue Time Lord. he looks like an evil sensei from a Japanese martial arts movie.

Missy, on the other hand, came out a treat, even if she does vaguely resemble a sinister version of Lucy from Peanuts. That’s presumably what Mickey Smith is thinking, unless it’s “Did I leave the iron on?”.

Series 11 now. Graham and Ryan first. Note that Graham’s smile is slightly smaller than the rest: this is deliberate.

And here’s Yas – along with Captain Jack, who is probably staring at her bottom.

The Ponds! They’re wearing matching shirts, which happened because I was feeling a bit lazy that morning, but it’s rather cute.

Lastly, Martha – whose jacket is just about perfect – and Clara. Specifically Oswin, although that dress isn’t quite as figure-hugging as I’d like. Still, she looks pleased with it.

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Have I Got Whos For You (Star Wars-tinted interlude)

We open with a deleted scene from ‘Cold War’.

You always wondered why they favoured close-ups for that scene, didn’t you? Well, now we know.

I was up at six this morning scrubbing through the Rise of the Skywalker trailer for stuff to Photoshop. Heaven knows there was no other reason. I was about to say I can’t remember when Star Wars trailers got so dull, but actually I can: it was the moment they released the full trailer for The Last Jedi, which was to all intents and purposes a direct copy of the one they did for The Force Awakens, and the moment that you realised that not only had they decided to emulate the teasers, they were also doing the same for everything else. I know I probably shouldn’t moan about this but there is something very lazy about the whole process: this idea that because something works you do it again, in exactly the same way, purely because people expect it.

So in no particular order, you have…ominous voiceovers! People glaring through the blades of ignited lightsabers! Running through forests / corridors / the snow! Wide shots of battle fleets! Cruise ships! Spacecraft flying through explosions! Ambiguous shots of first generation characters who might be killed off! General tedium! Next time, can we have a little information on the actual story? I’m not suggesting the entire story – the world does not need another Double Jeopardy – but something, anything that the gossip rags can talk about with actual substance, rather than combing Reddit threads for fan theory. God the rumour mill is tedious this time around. If it’s not mind games about Rey’s parentage or the redemption of Kylo Ren, it’s people trying to decide whether C-3PO is going to turn evil or sacrifice himself for the rest of the crew, or possibly both. At the same time.

They also talk about Matt Smith, of course – whom we assume was cast as the Emperor, although there was some fun to be had going back through the trilogy working out who else he might be playing.

What else has been going on? Well, the fallout about whether Doctor Who has become too politically correct continues in earnest, with the Real Fans on one side and the True Whovians (I leave it to you, dear reader, to determine which is which) on the other, and the likes of yours truly in the middle – wondering whether history is destined to repeat itself, wondering when “bad writing” became a cop-out soundbite for describing something you didn’t particularly enjoy without actually making the effort to explain why, and also wondering how it’s possible for a bunch of human beings to be so obnoxious and generally shitty to each other about a wretched television programme.

I mean God almighty. Still, on the upside, it’s something to read while you’re trying to circumnavigate Occupied London.

“How are we supposed to get through that lot?”

I’m not sure how I feel about Extinction Rebellion. I’m not sure how I feel about Greta Thunberg either, to be honest, but I suppose that’s the point – just as E.R. wouldn’t exactly be doing anything of consequence if we didn’t find them a nuisance and a pain. They’re getting out there and doing stuff, and perhaps that’s better than not doing anything, which is what I do. There are conversations to be had about their use of Starbucks and McDonalds, rather than the home-grown organic fair trade produce I presume people expected them to be carrying in those cotton rucksacks – either you can criticise them for double standards, or you can applaud them for doing what they can and acknowledge that everybody’s human, with the possible exception of some residents of South Dakota. I tend to veer between one extreme and the other, according to how generous I’m feeling. Still, it’s better than the Mercedes van-driving idiot who appeared on Good Morning Britain dressed as a vegetable – and who then, having already crossed the line between effective parody and preposterous nonsense while most of us were still in bed, proceeded to drag out a banana from his pocket and pretend it was a phone, in a scene worthy of Bert and Ernie. Now there’s a Rubbish Monster waiting to happen.

“Yeah, the red one next to the – hold on a second. Ah, Doctor. We meet again.”

To take our minds off all this, Emily and I elected to catch up on Holby City – we’d watched the episode where the plucky Scottish nurse was trapped in the holiday cottage with baited breath, and then lost interest when it sputtered out in a disappointed sigh as things failed to resolve the way we hoped (i.e. with a corpse). Here’s a fun fact: if you unravel the small intestine in any adult male, it will stretch to precisely the same length as this ludicrous Chloe and Evan story arc, where the locum doctor followed the predictable path from ex-boyfriend to current squeeze to husband to demented abuser within the space of a few weeks, before finally meeting his death when the respitory machine malfunctioned and Kate Stewart’s son left it just a little too late before telling anybody. Suffice it to say the bastard had it coming – he was a slippery customer and would almost certainly have weaseled his way out of things, as we were told in a clumsy monologue that reinforced, with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to a walnut, precisely how justified Cameron had been in his breaking of the Hippocratic oath. Evan was a nasty piece of work – a plot device used for issue highlighting, which is always Holby at its most annoying – and he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that meddling kid.

Things are back to normal now, except Sacha Levy appears to have gained the ability to teleport across from the hospital entrance to the taxi rank, completely unobserved, as long as the cameras aren’t on him. Weeping Angel, anyone?

It was Emily wot noticed. That should probably go on record, because she gets huffy when I don’t acknowledge her as the source for these things. (It reminds me of a paper that arrived in the proofreading pile some years ago: the first draft read “Professor ____ also acknowledges his wife, H.C. _____, who read through the original submission”. When the corrected proof came back from the authors, the final paragraph read “Professor ____ also acknowledges his wife, H.C. _____, who read through the original submission and provided many helpful amendments”.)

And she has been brilliant these past months: has that been written down yet? She is so much better than she realises: the rock and the anchor and the port in the storm and all the other cliches you can think of – but a cliche doesn’t invalidate truth. She is the best of both of us, and in a world where everything is hazy and grey and mad, she will carry you home.

Seriously. I could do this all day.

Categories: Have I Got Whos For You | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: ‘Day of the Doctor’

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Warning: contains a plethora of spoilers.

Picture the scene. It’s October 2012. In an old, oak-panelled tavern in the heart of London, two prominent BBC people are having lunch. One is Nicholas Briggs, best known on television as the voice of the Daleks / Cybermen / any other monster that needs doing. To call him the Frank Welker of Doctor Who is overstating the case, because Welker’s got a variety of voices, whereas Briggs only has the one. But Briggs also writes, and right now he’s working on the anniversary special for Big Finish, called ‘The Light At The End‘.

The other chap is Steven Moffat. And today he’s sharing stories with Briggs.

“So how does it end?”
“Well,” says Briggs, “It’s the TARDIS. Basically the Master is about to erase the Doctor from existence completely. But with a bit of – well, you’d call it wibbly-wobbliness, the Sixth Doctor is able to get all seven of his other selves – that’s all eight – to work in sync to ram the Master’s TARDIS, which saves the day. There’s a bit of technical wizardry involved, but essentially every Doctor turns up at once.”
Moffat looks crestfallen. “You’re kidding.”
“What’s the matter?”
“That’s what I’m planning.”
“Shit.”

There’s a brief, considered pause. Glasses clink in another corner of the pub. The barman wipes surfaces and pretends not to eavesdrop.

Then Moffat says “Well, we could do it anyway.”

‘Day of the Doctor’ is a weirdly schizophrenic beast. It’s an episode that’s steeped in nostalgia, whilst simultaneously pretending it’s not. It’s also a game-changer, not in the sense of redefining who the Doctor is, but what he’s done. Just as Davies pulled the rug out from under the collective feet of John Nathan Turner and every one of his predecessors, so Moffat’s done the same with Davies. How? Well, basically he changes the end of the Time War.

There is a thing in fandom where you airbrush bits and pieces from continuity if you don’t like them. So, for example, the Eighth Doctor’s ‘half human’ remark is frequently ignored by many people, who don’t like its implications and therefore attribute it to rule one. Some fans take it further still, and disregard the 1996 film entirely because of what it did to the Master. With ‘The Day of the Doctor’, Moffat’s working with extremes. The Doctor has been a genocidal warmonger since the day Eccleston took the hand of Piper and told her to run. The implication is that the Doctor has done dreadful things, and today they all got undone.

Except they didn’t. Because history probably isn’t changed – it’s just completed, and this was the day we found out. It’s not that Gallifrey was once destroyed and now isn’t; it was never destroyed in the first place. But crucially, come the end of the episode, the Doctor doesn’t know. There is a telling line halfway through when the War Doctor – John Hurt in sparkling, likeable form – talks to Clara. “How many worlds”, he says to her, “has his regret saved?”. And despite the rewriting of history (or, at least, history as we knew it), there’s a bitter irony in Hurt’s realisation that he’s going to forget everything that’s happened, because of contrasting time streams. Tennant’s Doctor, too, is forced to retreat once more into the dark shell he inhabited for much of the latter half of his run. Only Smith’s Doctor is able to escape with his memories seemingly intact, even if he then starts experiencing hallucinations in the middle of the National Gallery, ending the episode convinced he’s seen Tom Baker.

One of the nice things about ‘Day of the Doctor’ is that it doesn’t overstretch itself. Oh, the set pieces are intact, although the episode mirrors The Empire Strikes Back by putting the most impressive stuff in the opening act. Smith dangling from the edge of the TARDIS wasn’t exactly an easy secret to keep, so Moffat places it more or less at the beginning and makes it completely incidental to the plot. Also incidental – but warmly nostalgic – is the fact that Clara is now teaching at Coal Hill School. She’s clearly recovered from her thousand life ordeal, and is happy to pop off in the TARDIS at a moment’s notice.

Unshackled from her previous role as a McGuffin, Clara’s fun to watch, but she has to share the limelight. Jemma Redgrave returns as Kate Stewart, who’s apparently been living with Anne Robinson and raiding her wardrobe. Kate spends a good chunk of the episode arguing with herself from opposites side of a table, before three British character actors stick their hands in the air and all the lights go out. It’s like watching one of Beckett’s television plays.

Less nattily turned out than Redgrave is Billie Piper, who returns as a sentient consciousness that possesses three times as much personality as Rose and at least twice as much charm. If that seems harsh, bear in mind that I still have to undergo local anaesthetic before I can sit through ‘Tooth and Claw’. It’s the first time Piper’s been watchable in Who since 2005, and if she spends most of the episode impersonating Suranne Jones, her scenes are all the better for it. Even the Quantum Leap undertones (an invisible guide that only the War Doctor can see and hear) are somehow unimportant when she’s so downright sparkly, and it’s a telling reminder that our Billie can act when she’s got the right material.

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Tennant’s Doctor doesn’t have to interact with Rose, which makes his presence far more enjoyable. Instead, he’s romancing Joanna Page, playing a Queen Elizabeth who would seem more at home in The History of Tom Jones, one suspects, than at court. There are picnics and countryside frolics, and then the Doctor meets a Zygon horse. And then there’s a fez, thrown repeatedly through a big swirly thing.

The problem with the Zygon story is that it begins as the main storyline but then gets relegated to the sidelines when we realise that this is actually about the Time War, and having apparently run out of steam, Moffat doesn’t know how to resolve things. So he ends with a bunch of characters in a vault brokering a peace deal that we presume was successful, because that’s the last we hear about it. They have a role in the morality play, for certain, and their use of technology is something of a Chekhov’s gun, but overall you get the feeling that Moffat wanted the unavoidably phallic Zygons purely because he wanted the Zygons, and not because he had anything he really wanted to do with them. One of the great, criminally underused monsters of Classic Who is thus relegated to a forgettable storyline that’s been seen by millions of people who probably won’t understand what all the fuss was about.

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But if the Zygons are a disappointment, the interplay between the three Doctors makes up for it. Things start badly, with unnecessary gags about sonic screwdriver length (“Compensating for something?” mutters Tennant at seeing his successor’s longer model). But then they’re joined by an earlier incarnation and the story shifts up a gear. The three exploit their strengths to the full, making the most of every environment they occupy and turning in very different, but still very physical performances. As a result their scenes together are easily the best in the story, even if some of the dialogue is obvious and rather poorly performed (when the Tenth Doctor remarks that he doesn’t like the new TARDIS interior, one suspects that the look of indignation from Smith stems from a knowledge that he managed it better in ‘Closing Time’.)

Still, it works. Hurt’s performance helps tremendously. There was a concern that the War Doctor would be a grumpy, battle scarred veteran or a dark and sinister, almost unrecognisable figure. Instead Hurt plays him like a prospective father-in-law on a stag weekend, with a touch of Midsomer Murders. You could almost visualise him poaching rabbits from a nearby forest before seeing something he shouldn’t and winding up face down in a patch of mud, skewered by one of his own bear traps. His story has a beginning, a middle and an end – an end we finally get to see, even if the regeneration borrows directly from the very first, and is cut slightly short.

It is by this point in the story – and the subsequent scene with Baker – that you should have realised Moffat’s not taking himself too seriously. And it’s when he’s doing that that he’s at his best. Hence there is some dreadful but ultimately forgivable shoehorning. Classic lines are dumped in with as much abandon as they were in An Adventure in Time and Space, but here they work precisely because ‘Day of the Doctor’ is ultimately all about demolishing that fourth wall. As a result, the silliness all feels like part of the fun – the sort of sketches you might have at a Christmas party, and this is after all a fifty-year anniversary. I was even able to smile when Tennant discusses Trenzelore with Smith as if it’s a prospective holiday location. “We need a new destination,” he remarks as he enters his TARDIS at the end of the episode. “‘Cause I don’t wanna go”. Whereupon Smith turns to Coleman and quips “He always says that.”

It’s a story with all eleven Doctors, however briefly they may appear (and however unconvincing those cardboard cutouts / wax models they used at the end – I don’t think it was coincidental that the National Gallery is only a couple of miles from Madame Tussauds). We cried for a glimpse of Eccleston, and we got him, and somehow it didn’t matter that it was old footage with dialogue borrowed from ‘The Parting of the Ways’. Even Capaldi put in a brief appearance, albeit in an extreme close-up (the kind that would have made Wayne Campbell proud) in a scene that was most likely borrowed from The Thick of It. And the inevitable arguments that are going to follow about whether Hurt counts as Eight or Nine are entirely missing the point – although if we must, let’s call him 8a and leave it at that.

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So, too, must we ignore any sense of significance at Baker’s appearance. The scarf foreshadowed it, for certain, but his cryptic remarks about who he really was can be put down to Moffat having a joke. If the rediscovery of Gallifrey shifts the narrative focus and gives Capaldi something to do for the next couple of years, then so be it – but whatever Moffat’s posturing about “the terrible old man” and “the children he becomes”, you get the feeling that he was looking at ‘The Five Doctors’ – which Gareth describes as “more of a romp” – for inspiration. And for all the lingering over the big red button there was a sense of joy about this episode, both in its unlikely happy ending and in the final shot where the Doctor joins his previous incarnations looking up at the night sky. And what we were left with, when the extended credits had rolled, was a story about the Doctor as he was, and is, and should be, and sort of never won’t be…sort of thing. A story of importance, and one that satisfies on a narrative level, but one that was delivered with a consistent knowing wink to the audience, and a reminder that this is, after all, a television programme, and should be enjoyed as such. From Steven Moffat. Who knew?

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Review: ‘The Name of the Doctor’ (spoilers)

I was teasing the boys on Saturday. “Of course, the Doctor might regenerate,” I said, knowing he wouldn’t. “We might see the Twelfth Doctor.” Thomas then proceeded to ask what he looked like, and of course I didn’t know. After lunch, he fetched the customisable sonic screwdriver set that Emily got me for Christmas and assembled his own version, calling it “the Twelfth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, and I’m the Twelfth Doctor”. I nodded and smiled and took his photo, whilst working out what I’d say to him when it got to the end of the evening with no sign of a new Doctor.

Then we saw the episode.

The appearance of John Hurt – who, I confess, I’d entirely forgotten was going to appear – threw in a complete curveball at the very end. It wasn’t so much a cliffhanger as a game-changer, a reassessment of who the Doctor was and how we got here. It was also a shameless bit of stunt-casting. It was the First Doctor before he took on the appearance of Hartnell. It was an obvious reference to the Time War. It was the Other before he threw himself into the Looms. It was the final Doctor, who will not live to regenerate. It was brilliant. It was terrible. It was all of the above and none of the above, depending on what you read and what you want to believe. I think we’re beyond the stage now where it matters. This has either been the worst series since the revival or a dazzling return to form, and if you’re on one side then nothing the other can say is going to influence you. Perhaps we should stop arguing about it, stop polluting the pages of the web with our ramblings, and accept that we see things differently.

But this will fall on deaf ears. The enigma of Hurt’s Doctor and who he is will be shoved back and forth across blogs, Facebook groups, sycophantic Dan Martin Guardian columns, bitch-fests from Lawrence Miles and rambling fan videos from incoherent YouTube pundits, and it will long outlast its expected sell-by date. We’re all going to be horribly sick of it by November, and it’ll lead to a glorious anti-climax where you’ll be told something crushingly disappointing. Because ultimately, that’s what Moffat does. He asks you to guess what he’s thinking, but these days it’s seldom interesting or satisfying.

If nothing else, the “bit with Doctor Hurt” (as Thomas referred to it) puts an older actor in the role – something I’ve longed for, and something we’ve not had since Pertwee, who took over the role at 51. Of course, Pertwee embodied a dynamic, action-driven side to the Doctor, gleefully bringing down foes with skilfully choreographed martial arts courtesy of the stunt directors. It was something capitalised on by the relatively youthful Baker when he adopted the role some four years later, to the extent that the dashing sidekick who’d been brought in to do all the stunts was written out after several stories, having been used mostly to provide bumbling comic relief with occasional moments of brilliance. Still, the physical, action-orientated stance of the new incarnation of the programme has prevented the BBC from casting anyone who’s likely to get a heart attack from running along a corridor in a disused steelworks being chased by a monster that isn’t there.

This has meant a spate of younger Doctors; a trend that looks set to continue. Because let’s be clear on this: Hurt’s casting is atypical in that whoever it is, it is not a Doctor who is going to stay the course. He hasn’t said more than two dozen words yet and already we have established that he is a Doctor who either should not exist, a wibbly wobbly anomaly, or an incarnation who has been assigned to a crumbly CG-generated hell (filmed on location in urban Glasgow) because he did or will do something terrible. He is the Doctor’s dirty little secret, along with his secret stash of Sontaran pornography and what he and River really get up to with those handcuffs. (I suspect these two things probably aren’t mutually exclusive. There, that’s put images in your head, hasn’t it?)

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It’s a shame that in establishing this fact, Moffat resorted to the laziest, lamest trick in the writer’s book, which is to end an episode (and indeed a series) with that episode’s title. Some weeks ago, Gareth suggested to me that there would be a feint of some sort and that you’d have a bunch of characters charging into battle, dying in slow motion, bellowing “IN THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR!”. He was joking, but that’s only slightly more silly than what actually happened. I was so busy reeling from this that I didn’t even notice that Moffat also fulfilled Dorium’s “Fall of the Eleventh” prophecy by having the Doctor say “We don’t jump; we fall”.

I mean, honestly. This isn’t a clever reversal. It’s just bad writing. Confounding the expectations of your audience by deflating the balloon because it’s the last thing they were expecting is inexcusable. Making a joke out of a foreshadowing comment that is supposed to allude to the Doctor’s death doesn’t make you look clever or a master of your craft. It makes you look like a smug drama student. It’s like Bilbo Baggins getting Gollum to guess what’s in his pocket – a riddle he asked by accident and then exploited to get out of a life-or-death situation, but to the best of my knowledge no one is approaching Moffat across a slimy rock, threatening to eat him if he can’t guess what’s alive without breath and cold as death.

I remember being eight years old, and sitting at the side of the school field playing I Spy with a couple of friends. They tried, for a good two or three minutes, to guess the ‘B’ I said I’d seen, and eventually gave up, pronouncing me the winner. “Bus,” I said. “I saw one go past a while ago.” It’s cheating, and it’s unfair. But it was technically accurate. And thus it was a plot twist in the story of the game, one that eerily echoed the style of our current chief writer. Which is why the endless praise and shouts of “brilliant” baffle me.

“Yesterday,” said Gareth, “I gave a brief summary of the bits I knew of the episode. Try it, and about halfway through you’ll find yourself thinking ‘This is just really bad fanfic – if anyone had written it last year it would have been ridiculed’.” And he’s right. It reads like bad fanfiction and Moffat gets away with it because we still know him as the writer of ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ and we cannot quite wrench ourselves away from that image, or from the fact that a man capable of brilliance simply isn’t suited to a role like this.

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Of course, the question of who the Doctor is turned out fairly early on to be fundamentally unimportant, when the words “It is discovered” turned out not to allude to the Doctor’s name at all, but rather the location of his grave. This needn’t mean that the end of the show is in sight. An eventual death does not mean an imminent death, and there was no sign of any corpse inside the Trenzelore TARDIS. One could, perhaps, nitpick over the fact that the interior echoes the current design, but in the grand scheme of things I think there are other aspects upon which I could waste my time. Like the rotten dialogue, or the fact that the design of the Whispermen was strangely familiar.

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Certainly there were good things this week. When the Doctor is informed that his friends have been taken to Trenzelore, his reaction is to sit down on the sofa and burst into tears. It’s a mesmerising performance from Smith, so easy to forget in the blustery of what follows, but it’s arguably the most upset we’ve seen the Doctor since the revival of the show – a frail, fragile moment, and I wish we’d had a little more of that, and less of the angst-ridden silliness that followed.

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In all seriousness, this was good.

Performances aside, Saul Metzstein directed this as well as he’s directed any of his other episodes, with the darkness of Trenzelore effectively realised in the few shots we saw of it. This seemed to be a finale that dealt with metaphysics as much as anything else, and as such sets were almost theatrically abstract, with atmospheric, moody lighting standing in for actual detail. This was an episode of dread, and Metzstein (and cinematographer Neville Kidd) evoked this by juxtaposing tight, claustrophobic shots with wide, angled ones, as if someone were being observed from not far off.

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Similarly, the opening montage showed a certain visual panache, particularly if you didn’t know it was coming – as I didn’t. It was rough around the edges, for sure. The limitations of the BBC’s effects budget showed when Jenna-Louise Coleman was digitally pasted into old footage, standing looking confused in a park while someone who looks absolutely nothing like Patrick Troughton runs past her. But elsewhere, it worked. The tints and grains came out again as Clara jumped through different eras and went through costume changes at a rate that rivalled that of Madonna in Evita. This included a questionable CG-driven appearance from Jon Pertwee, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it encounters with the Eighth and Ninth. Davison was seen lying on a floor, presumably spouting dialogue from what I thought was ‘The Caves of Androzani’ (but which Gareth insists is probably from the beginning of his run), and Clara appeared to linger in the same corridor they used in ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ as a tall man in the Sixth Doctor’s frock coat and a blonde wig wanders past. (Presumably it was Sylvester McCoy.)

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The fans’ reaction to this opening, I’m told, has been split: a mixture of yah-boo-sucks directed at the naysayers, while the cynical amongst us have pointed out that it was mostly a lot of smoke and mirrors. Still, it looked reasonably impressive, and there was one moment of apparent importance, with an eyebrow-raising encounter back on Gallifrey. Fans of ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ will recall that the Doctor did not steal the TARDIS; the TARDIS stole him. This always felt like unnecessary anthropomorphism to me – the sort of thing that people say about their cats when it simply isn’t true – but it was in this singular scene that the police box’s apparent love-hate relationship with Clara was reconciled: through Clara, the TARDIS is able to reach out to the Doctor and influence him. Clara thus becomes the equivalent of a surrogate, with all the complications that that relationship entails. And it’s still silly, because it doesn’t seem to fit. (“I thought from what I read,” said Gareth, “that her meeting the Doctor was trying to save him from the Great Intelligence’s interference somehow. Was the GI whispering ‘go on, take this TARDIS – it comes with its own baby dinosaur’?”.)

While we’re on that, it’s also worth bearing in mind, of course, that the entire falling through time sequence was built on a colossal and quite unnecessarily complicated plotline: that of (the again under-used) Richard E Grant entering the Doctor’s time stream and changing everything he’s ever done. I know that time is supposed to be a non-linear ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff (I have left out the pause, but it was there) – nonetheless, wouldn’t it have made more sense for Grant to go back and kill the Doctor outright before he stole the TARDIS, while he was a frail and feeble old man, and save himself the trouble of having to dimension hop for millennia? But that would have been far too simple, and instead we’re faced with the supposedly Great Intelligence jumping through time, changing history for the worse, with Clara in hot pursuit, striving to put right what once went wrong. It’s like watching five series of Quantum Leap over the course of a few seconds, and we didn’t even get to see Dean Stockwell in a red suit.

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And while I’m complaining, I would like to point out that River Song’s appearance in this was nothing short of a disaster. It’s not that Moffat can’t write love stories. He proved that he could with ‘Blink’ and ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’, both of whom have touching, unresolved matters of the heart at their core. But the love scenes with River are turgid and unconvincing and riddled with shocking dialogue (I feel a top ten coming on, but I’ll leave that for another day when I don’t feel quite so cross). See for example:

River: There has to be another way. Use the TARDIS. Use something! Save her, yes, but for God’s sake, be sensible! [She goes to slap him and he catches her wrist] How are you even doing that? I’m not really here.

The Doctor: You’re always here to me. And I always listen. And I can always see you.

River: Then why didn’t you speak to me?

The Doctor: Because I thought it would hurt too much.

River: I believe I could have coped.

The Doctor: No. I thought it would hurt me. And I was right.

How, exactly, are we supposed to cope when confronted with this drivel? It doesn’t help that there’s no chemistry at all between Smith and Kingston, but even Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton couldn’t polish a turd. Still, we can’t just blame the dialogue – it’s the whole setup. The other part of the problem, you see, is the nature of the Doctor having any sort of lover, simply because it sexualises him and calls to mind the question of what he’s like in bed. It’s an elephant in the room, but that’s what you were all thinking about during that kiss, wasn’t it?

But there was, again, that feeling of smoke and mirrors during the finale: the sense of a beginning, and not an ending. Moffat has a tendency to open up a new mystery just as he’s resolving an older one, and while we now understand the mystery of Clara and no longer care about the identity of the Doctor, another enigma has cropped up to take its place. I wouldn’t mind this, except that some three years later, I’m still not entirely clear on how or why the TARDIS exploded.

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This feels very much like the chief writer stretching out his run on the show to breaking point, and serving up mystery after mystery purely as a guarantee that they will extend his contract, until he can resolve that story arc and start up a new one at the end of the series. Seldom is there any real closure, the way there was even under Davies’ reign, because there is always a new puzzle to be debated and blogged. It’s a trick used in 24, which got away with it (just) on the grounds of being a show that was outlandishly silly. But Doctor Who is not supposed to be silly. It frequently is, and occasionally on purpose, but I seriously doubt that they sit down at tone meetings and say “Right: zany, off-the-wall looniness for that Dalek story, then”. It’s supposed to be a flagship of British family entertainment. It is a show that contains amusing moments and the occasional subtle fracturing of the fourth wall (mostly through a mockery of writer’s conventions that I will grant is done quite well), but it’s taken very seriously by everyone who produces it. Every episode is supposedly lovingly crafted to respect what has gone before and then build upon it for the future.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe we expect the show to look too much to the past. Perhaps Davies’ first series in charge was overlooked. For better or worse, he rewrote the rule book and appeared to have little, if any consideration for what had happened before, inventing new monsters galore and cutting all ties with the Time Lords and Gallifrey with a view to building up a new fanbase from the ground up. At the time, we called this disrespectful. We called it dumbing down, and not mindful of the legacy of the programme and its perennial viewers. And then everything changed. Some eight years later, we have a show that is so steeped in its own sense of history and self-importance it has become its own Episode 1: tired, humourless, and far too pompous to actually achieve its aims. Doctor Who is struggling with the millstone of history that is affixed round its neck – racing back and forth through its own history, too concerned with continuity to think about story. It has become the Doctor himself, in that final sequence, submerged and suffocated and seemingly entrapped within his own timeline. We wanted more respect for tradition, and we got it, but the price tag was heavy – and if we may take anything from Saturday evening, and this series in general, it’s that you should be careful what you wish for.

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Review: ‘Nightmare in Silver’

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The first time Neil Gaiman wrote for Doctor Who, it was an episode that many people seemed to love. It had sparkling dialogue, some reasonably clever sequences and a wonderful central performance from Suranne Jones, whose role was the sort of thing you’d expect from Helena Bonham Carter (only without the body odour). In a season that began with an ineffective monster and closed with an ineffective twist, with comparatively little of substance in between, it was a breath of fresh air. The problem with ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, of course, is that for all its goodness it’s far less clever and original than the Confidential contributors would like to think it is, and the episode has coasted on a false sense of ‘innovation’ for the past two years. It’s a debt that Gaiman paid, to a certain extent, last Saturday evening, in a Cybermen story that was so shamelessly and openly derivative that it almost came across as cheeky. Almost.

I’m never sure of the extent to which the walking metal hulks that have graced our screens since 1966 were a direct influence on the design and concept of the Borg. Certainly there are elements: a seemingly unstoppable force of former humans fused with machinery, bereft of emotion, stomping across the galaxies, seeking to convert others to their cause, in a quite literal sense. But the whole point behind the original Cybermen was that they’d encased themselves in metal purely as a defence mechanism, in order to survive. Universe conquerors they were not. That came later, and it was to their detriment, because we realised that for a seemingly lethal force the Cybermen were actually a bit crap in battle, once you figured out they were allergic to gold. This particular weakness was taken to ridiculous conclusions in the latter years of the show: the Doctor’s explanation about gold dust corroding their circuits was plausible, but having Ace fire pound coins from a catapult in ‘Silver Nemesis’ was not. And they wonder why the show got cancelled.

(The gold thing always struck me as a bit silly, to be honest. It was a generic weakness inserted when the writers figured they needed a quick resolve on how to beat the Cybermen with limited resources. It’s rather like Green Lantern’s supposedly omnipotent power ring that apparently has no effect on yellow, simply because its extraterrestrial designers didn’t know what yellow looked like. This was being discussed at a seminar I once attended that basically rubbished GL, with the panel leader pointing out that in a straight fight, Laa-Laa could have him.)

But what Gaiman does in ‘Nightmare in Silver’ is give the Cybermen a thoroughly Borg-like makeover. It’s like watching Mission Impossible II: a film that borrows (intentionally or otherwise) from The Matrix, which itself borrows from earlier John Woo. Rather than standard programming instructions, they now work as part of a hive mind, a collective consciousness (which proves to be a vital plot point towards the end of the story). They upgrade using nano-technology (more on that later) rather than big saws and conversion units. What’s more, their resistance to previously effective weaponry increases as the episode moves forward, with attacks that kill one Cyberman proving ineffective on the next, as the metal warriors become impervious to the guns with the tedious repeated phrase “Upgrade in progress”. The gold allergy remains, of course, as epitomised in a scene where the Doctor appears to fight off a nano-infection with a sweet wrapper.

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All right, it’s a golden ticket. Still, the damage is done.

There is an early sequence in which a lone Cyberman ambushes a squad of unprepared soldiers, but I spent too much time shouting “CYBERMEN DON’T DO THAT!” to actually enjoy it very much. The troops are dreadful – a bunch of misfits sent to the backwards end of the universe for their collective failure to obey orders, only to encounter a threat that is very real – but it’s hardly their fault that the Cyberman is able to outrace the Flash and bend time like Neo. It gives them an edge that we haven’t previously seen, and a battle advantage that makes them more threatening than they’ve ever been (a necessary act, given that for the bulk of the story there are only two or three of them) but it’s hardly fair. Actually it just looks silly.

For ref., Cybermen don't do this.

For ref., Cybermen don’t do this.

Or this.

Or this.

But once you’re past the twaddle of this bit, the story kicks off proper and Gaiman has a blast being as silly as he can be with the airport security nightmares. They remove their limbs! They rotate one hundred and eighty degrees, owl-like, so you can’t disable them with a crafty EMP! And, of course, they set up cunning booby traps by placing disembodied heads on a pile of boxes so that an unsuspecting soldier will sneak up unawares, allowing the headless Cyberman to attack her from behind – even though, on a repeat viewing, the apparent Cyberman-in-waiting is so OBVIOUSLY A HEAD ON A PILE OF BOXES that the silly hussy frankly deserves an early grave. Honestly, it’s Darwin in action.

Seriously. My myopic uncle could have seen this coming.

Seriously. My myopic uncle could have seen this coming.

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So much for the Cybermen. What of their reasons for being there, and the story itself, given that it has come from the pen of one of the great storytellers of our age? Well, unfortunately it simply isn’t very good. Opening in a disused, rundown amusement ‘planet’, the Doctor and his companions step out onto a mock-up of the moon’s surface similar to the one that NASA used when they faked the Armstrong landing back in 1969. Clara’s brought her employer’s children along, essentially to fulfil their blackmail request, and curiously no one sees fit to mention the extraordinary coincidence of them only discovering the photos of her since she’s been travelling with the Doctor, when (according to the predestination laws of the Whoniverse) they’ve presumably been in the textbooks for years. Luckily there are also no Silence, so I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies.

The Doctor is carrying a golden ticket – a setup I really should have seen coming, but in the first instance it gives Gaiman the excuse to introduce them to the park’s well-dressed owner, Webley, played by Jason Watkins, whom regular BBC viewers may recognise from Dirk Gently. He’s obviously carrying off the Willy Wonka look, right down to the cane.

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Webley has a lone Cyberman holed up in his lair, controlled by Warwick Davis in this week’s bit of stunt casting. Davis is fun enough to watch, but his role is basically to fawn over Clara and wax lyrical about the nature of morality in sloppy, obvious hints that he’s hiding something. The unresolved would-be love story is a dig at social conventions, but it feels cheap. This is probably because there is comparatively little of Porridge (as we must unfortunately call him), because he has to share the screen with both the aforementioned misfit soldiers and Clara’s charges, neither of whom would look out of place in the Tracy Beaker dumping ground, and both of whom have the acting skills to match.

What’s worse, the only reason Angie and Artie are there is so they can get captured, which gives the Doctor something to do before the implosion of the planet. That’s it. This is foreshadowed in a stunning lack of judgement by the Doctor himself – who, at the end of a smashing day out, elects not to return the children to their planet of origin and instead decides to stick around and investigate the strange insects (must we refer to them as Cybermites?) that are scurrying around the complex. Having decided that he wants to stay, the Doctor then leaves Angie and Artie in an unguarded room and tells them specifically (and rather heavy-handedly) ‘not to wander off’. Yes, Gaiman is poking fun. But it’s the sort of staggering sloppiness I’d have expected from Mark Gatiss or Helen Raynor. Why not lock them in the TARDIS, which is the safest place for them to be? Just leave them by the swimming pool and tell them not to touch anything. It would have been more sensible, if not necessarily foolproof. Gaiman then attempts to redeem the insufferable Angie by having her solve an important mystery in the closing scenes of the episode, but it’s far too little, far too late. It isn’t helped by Smith mugging into the camera in one of those look-this-is-a-monitor shots, resolving to rescue the children he never should have taken his eyes off in the first place.

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It is at this point that things get interesting, when the Doctor is himself affected by the parasitic insects and partially transformed into the Cyberplanner, a throwback to the 1960s, with the remainder of the episode taken up by his struggle to maintain control. The battle for the Doctor’s brain takes place in three places: an empty sound stage that allows Mr Smith room to jump about a bit; in front of a reasonable CG-mock-up that echoes the insides of the Doctor’s head; and – for much of the second half of the episode – over a chess board.

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Truth be told, it is Smith’s performance once the partial transformation takes place that redeems the episode. Able to let loose as never before, he turns the Cyberplanner into everything Toby Stephens’ Dream Lord was, and more – by turns sneering, malicious and sarcastic, with the scene in which he attempts to dupe Clara (thoroughly unsuccessfully) a particular stand-out moment. If we remember Smith for nothing more than ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and this, it cements him as a tremendous actor, who shows us a side to the Doctor that we seldom see, making it all the more powerful when we do. It doesn’t completely work, of course – the Doctor’s attempts to control his arm are a clumsy parodic echo of Body Parts, and there was something about those multiple camera angles that seemed…oh, I don’t know…familiar.

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[Coughs]

While all this is going on, Clara has undergone an awkward metamorphosis into a military leader, whose task is to fortify the defences against a rampaging horde of CG Cybermen. Faced to draw on reserves she never knew she had, Clara has plenty of good ideas, but there’s no hesitancy, no second thought to anything she does, and that – after such a relatively short period in the TARDIS – makes her transformation all the more unconvincing. She holds it together for the sake of the soldiers she is commanding, and stands her ground when challenged, but we never once see the mask slip, making it a superficial performance. That’s bad enough, but the team she’s commanding is made up largely of expendable female soldiers who don’t need to be named, and two characters of relative importance who never get beyond being The Fat One and The Geeky One.

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(I’ll leave you to work out which is which.)

Still, it does at least solve the mystery of whatever happened to Charlie Pringle from Postman Pat.

The finale, too, is a bitter disappointment. The Doctor wins the chess game by cheating, and Porridge reveals his true colours and destroys the planet, successfully vanquishing the horde of Cybermen with far too many seconds to spare. The children return home, alive and seemingly unaffected by the ordeal of having been hypnotised by a demonic artificial intelligence and out-acted by a mute extra in a metal suit. There is no point, no lesson learned, no moral quandry. I’m not asking for a public service announcement in the manner of Masters of the Universe, but for a villain as complex and potentially interesting as the Cybermen, such superficiality can’t help but leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

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It could all have ended in tears. Ultimately, however, the story escapes by the skin of its teeth, thanks to the battle lines that are drawn after the Doctor’s infection and Stephen Woolfenden’s tight, focused direction in the second half. The sequences with Clara were tedious, but the Doctor’s schizophrenic arguments with himself constituted the most entertaining scenes I’ve witnessed in the show since ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’. The Cybermen themselves are played largely for laughs, and not always in a good way, but there is an undercurrent of menace that we haven’t seen for a while – and if Gaiman only managed to make them threatening again by cheating, then perhaps we should not hold it against him, if he can write the Doctor so effectively. ‘Nightmare in Silver’ is a poorly-structured, ill-conceived episode with little to recommend it except Smith, and the things he does with the words he’s been given. But that, in itself, might almost be enough. Almost.

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

God is in the detail (ix)

Ah, ‘The Crimson Horror’. Terrible things ‘appening oop North. Some of which are going to be VERY IMPORTANT LATER. Mark my words.

First: it’s a lamp.

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Except it’s not a lamp, is it? It’s an upturned bell. And what rings in the TARDIS every time there’s a crisis? Yes, the Cloister Bell. Moreover, note how the engraved pattern on this particular lamp strongly resembles a bunch of flowers. And what did Clara leave at her mother’s grave? Yes, flowers. Which, by the way, is a homophonic parallel to ‘flours’. And who uses flour? Yes, a Baker. As in Tom? And Colin? All of this is CLEARLY SIGNIFICANT. A wibbly wobbly crisis is looming, and it all revolves around Clara’s mother. And the Fourth and Sixth Doctor.

Now, look at Strax and Vastra.

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Actually, don’t look at Strax and Vastra. Look on the wall. You see the posters? Notice how ‘Decay’ is visible just between Strax and Vastra. Now think back to ‘State of Decay’, in which local dignitaries would take the prime of young villagers into a shadowy structure, where they were never seen again. Recall also that the ship in that was called the Hydrax, WHICH RHYMES WITH STRAX. Conclusions: the vampire bats are not dead; they are only SLEEPING.

Also note: CIRCUS, plainly visible in blood red, which is an obvious throwback to ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ – which, like ‘State of Decay’, also features The Three Who Rule (Ragnarok, in this case). Remember the werewolf in that story? Clearly related to the one Rose and the Tenth Doctor fought in ‘Tooth and Claw’ (which I know is one of SJ’s favourites). And, of course, that’s what they’ll have been doing when they encounter the Eleventh Doctor in November.

Now, observe this.

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Nine companions. No, it’s not the Fellowship of the Ring. It’s a CLEAR and UNAMBIGUOUS reference to Doctors One through Nine, which is why you’re only going to be seeing Ten and Eleven in November. They are presented here in human form, suggesting that the Doctor’s memories of his previous selves will be almost irreparably warped after his ordeal in the series finale in just over a week. It will be the Tenth Doctor and Rose who bring him out of his fugue. Anyone read ‘The Eight Doctors’? This is like that. Also note that two of them are carrying wooden clubs, which clearly echo the First Doctor’s cane and the Seventh’s umbrella. (Ella. Ella. Eh. Eh. Eh.)

To cement this theory, here’s a shot of the deadly poison, sitting in a vial, which is housed in…

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…a laundry basket? No. A BALLOON basket. Now, who do we know who had a hot air balloon? Yes, Jackson Lake. Who, if you remember, was also suffering from a fugue state where he had suppressed his true memory. Aha! You see? It all fits. Particularly when you recall that Jackson Lake fought the Cybermen, WHOM WE ARE ABOUT TO ENCOUNTER. And that this happened in 1851, which is 42 years before the setting for ‘The Crimson Horror’, and that ’42’ is ALSO an episode of Doctor Who. And (and!) that the Silence had the Doctor ‘killed’ at a LAKE, so as to avoid the revelation of his real name, WHICH WE ARE ABOUT TO LEARN.

(Except we’re not, of course. Oh, and as an aside, it’s also worth noting that if Jackson Lake’s balloon had really lived up to the name he gave it, then ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ would have been a much shorter episode, and all the better for it.)

Finally, here’s the Doctor, not proposing to Ada.

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See the box? It says E. RUTLAND & SON STOURBRIDGE. If you drop the ampersand from this, the remaining letters can be rearranged to form ‘STRONGER OUTRUN DISABLED’, which is an obvious reference to the Doctor running away from the wheelchair-bound Davros.

…well, we were due a Dalek story, weren’t we?

Categories: God is in the Detail, New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Review: ‘The Crimson Horror’

Last Monday, I was having lunch in Oxford with some academics. One of them was a part-time writer, and when the subject eventually turned to Doctor Who, he mentioned that he’d spent a few months in correspondence with Steven Moffat trying to persuade him to give him a commission, ultimately unsuccessfully.

“My problem,” I said, “is that there seems to be a bit of an old boys’ network there at the Beeb. It’s the only explanation why certain writers – and I won’t mention names – seem to get repeated commissions when they’re systematically incapable of producing anything that’s even remotely passable.”

He nodded. “Yes, I know what you mean. Although,” he went on, sipping his Merlot, “I couldn’t actually name any of Gatiss’s episodes.”
“How on earth did you know I was talking about Gatiss?”
“It was fairly obvious, really, wasn’t it?”

If you were here last week, you’ll have seen me lambasting ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’, an episode so bad it was the closest I’ve come to writing to Points of View asking why my money was being used to fund this shit. The story’s mediocrity shouldn’t have come as a surprise given that it was penned by the man who brought us ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’, which – as Gareth pointed out – has Amy Pond dressed as a soaking wet pirate and still manages to be dull. ‘TARDIS’ was full of massive plot holes, principals behaving completely out of character and a general air of stupidity about it, as if it were a story that had been written at three in the morning after several bottles of Gordon’s and half a pound of Red Leicester.

When I saw the writing credits for last night’s episode, my heart sank – but as it turns out, I worried prematurely. Because while ‘The Crimson Horror’ did indeed come to us from the hand of Mark Gatiss, and while it is guilty of the same sins I heaped upon its forerunner, there was something fun about its execution. Something – it may have been nostalgia, it may have been a growing sense of apathy about the series in general, it may have just been the mood I was in – pushed it over the edge into ‘So bad it’s good’ territory. That’s a dangerous place for Doctor Who to be, but on this occasion, it just about worked.

Telling a comparatively Doctor-lite story wouldn’t have worked if it hadn’t been for Strax, Vastra and Jenny. Still based in 19th century London, the lizard woman from the dawn of time (which was funny, if chronologically inaccurate) and her cockney life partner head for the grim lands of The North, with a lactating Sontaran who serves as comic relief coming along for the ride. I’ve given up caring about Strax’s role being little more than ‘the short, funny one’, because Dan Starkey plays him to perfection, and this week – albeit briefly – we actually get to see him back out of his dinner suit blasting away with a laser rifle in what is arguably the episode’s most satisfying moment. It doesn’t explain, of course, why Madame Vastra feels the need to wear a veil in public when Strax doesn’t.

Indeed, the freakish appearance of two of the threesome is milked to death by Brendan Patricks, who is cast as a Victorian gentleman whose role is to faint when he sees something unexpected. And that’s it.

Seriously, this was lame.

Seriously, this was lame.

There’s trouble at t’mill, see: there’s been a spate of mysterious disappearances, and freakish red corpses have been turning up in the river. Both are linked to a factory run by the creepy-looking Mrs Gillyflower, and it’s up to Vastra, Strax and Jenny to find out what’s going on. This leads to Jenny sneaking round the complex unobserved: she does this by asking a young girl to swoon right next to a locked door she wants to break open, leading a crowd of onlookers to wander up while she picks the lock right next to them, completely unobserved. As you do.

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It’s at this point that the Doctor shows up. Of course, his role in proceedings at this point is to stare wildly and do a passable impression of a zombie / Frankenstein’s monster hybrid. If Benedict Cumberbatch – who recently played opposite Johnny Lee Miller in Frankenstein – had at this point been cast as the Doctor, this would have been funny. As it stands, it’s basically an excuse for Matt Smith to show off the depth of his range, presumably workshopped in a ‘hilarious’ featurette that they’ll put on the DVD.

Mrs Gillyflower’s plan is to detonate a rocket filled with the toxic red venom over the Earth’s atmosphere, thereby wiping out its population except for her Chosen Race of Selected Few, stored safely in giant upturned sweet jars. She’s ultimately stopped by her daughter, who has borne the brunt of Mrs Gillyflower’s experiments, which would explain the milky eyes, blotched complexion and questionable acting.

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The concept of a supervillain trying to eradicate humanity so they can build an Aryan-type civilisation is nothing new, of course. Still, the resemblances to Moonraker were uncanny, right down to the final betrayal of the antagonist, instigated by a physically flawed character who realises they have no place in the New World Order. Of course, Ada doesn’t actually look anything like Richard Kiel, so that honour is left to Michelle Tate.

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The villain’s gender subversion was an interesting idea, but I don’t know why you’d cast someone like Diana Rigg in this role without doing something, at least, to explain why she was behaving the way she was – some sort of backstory, whether explained in exposition or told in flashback, would have been welcome. When the forty-five minutes were up, she was lying dead at the bottom of the launch bay and we still knew next to nothing about why she’d done the things she did. Perhaps the parasite infected her mind, the way Doctor Octopus’s arms corrupt him once they become permanently fused to his back, but it would have been nice to have been told (unless we were, of course, and I missed it because of the dodgy sound mixing). As it was, there was little for Ms Rigg to actually do except look menacing and sing snatches of ‘Jerusalem’, whilst being shot mostly from below so that she gave the appearance of always looking down at you.

This is not one of those shots. But I like her hair in this one.

This is not one of those shots. But I like her hair in this one.

Speaking of looking down, it turns out that this is what we’re supposed to have been doing all along, when it turns out that the mysterious Mr Sweet was not the Great Intelligence, as I’d initially suspected. The obvious ‘clue’ came when she appeared to drop salt down her blouse, but it wasn’t until she later unbottoned it (dear God, I thought all my Christmasses had come at once) that we discovered what was actually going on. Mind you, I’m sure I’m not the only one who spent the bulk of the episode – with its sticky red emulsion and British industrialisation imagery – hoping that Mr Sweet would actually turn out to be this chap.

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(I think it’s saying something when you find yourself longing for ‘The Happiness Patrol’. Don’t you?)

Of course, if we trace the lineage, the treacherous Mr Sweet eventually brings us here:

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Suzie Sweet, from Balamory. Who, by the way, lives here:

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In the red house. Hmm.

It all ends in a bit of a hurry. Mrs Gillyflower manages to launch the rocket but it doesn’t have the venom on board, so that’s all right. Then there’s a slightly awkward hostage situation which is resolved with the help of Strax, and then the Antagonist of the Week takes a tumble over a staircase. This leads to our clearest sight yet of the parasite that’s been attached to her bosom for God knows how long, just before it is mercilessly crushed to death by Ada.

Everything about this one was a mess. The Doctor-lite mystery aspect was an interesting idea but structurally off-key. Strax’s encounter with the direction-spouting Thomas Thomas (you see what they did there?), while amusing, was hopelessly out of place, as if Gatiss had made a bet with Reece Shearsmith that he could get a joke about sat nav into a Victorian episode. The final act was all over the shop, Rigg was underdeveloped, and there was absolutely nothing for Clara to do (yes, I know I complain about the whole Woman Twice Dead thing, but there must be a middle ground somewhere).

But there was something very old school about it all. Even the title evokes memories of Classic Who, while Mrs Gillyflower is a decent example of an established antagonist-beneath – the apparent villain who expires at the end of episode three just in time for the real monster to be exposed. Of course, this doesn’t happen, and the parasitic themes of the last fifteen minutes or so are to the story’s detriment, but whatever Gatiss lacks in storytelling ability he makes up for with sheer audacity – there’s dialogue and set pieces so outrageous that he gets away with it purely on the grounds of outlandish cheek. Bringing the series up to date, the visual approach works reasonably well, with Stephan Pehrsson favouring tight, almost claustrophobic views of the complex interior peppered with occasional wide shots – Jenny’s entrance into the ‘factory’, for example, is particularly striking, as is the grainy montage that serves as a flashback for the arrival of the Doctor and Clara. It starts out like old video footage and then morphs into flickering 1980s BBC drama material, with a subtlety I thought was long gone.

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When Neela Debnath opens her review with a sentence that contains both “Mark Gatiss” and “another great adventure” you have to question whether you’re watching the same show that she is, but for everything that was god-awful about this week’s episode, Emily and I found ourselves laughing at it. I think it’s saying something about just how far from the tree that apple has fallen when the best you can hope for from Doctor Who is ‘laughably bad’, but it might be the best we can hope for, at least until this arc is finished. It’s a shame Gatiss didn’t think to iron out the structural kinks and develop his characters a bit more, but I wonder whether that would have made ‘The Crimson Horror’ tedious, rather than so-bad-it’s-good. As it stands, I was happy to have a camp, reasonably awful episode with a fun streak running right down the middle, sandwiched between all sorts of awkward questions like exactly why they needed so many test subjects, what Thomas Thomas was doing out so late, and the length of Vastra’s tongue and whether that’s why Jenny has stayed with her so long. And seriously, who the hell was taking photos on that submarine?

Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Review: ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’

Things we learned about Doctor Who this week:

1. The TARDIS is about the most indestructible ship in the universe. It’s survived volcanic lava, corrosive acid and the Doctor can fix holes caused by Titanic-shaped spacecraft in three minutes flat. But apparently you can’t fly the thing (or at least Clara can’t) without turning off the shield oscillators, and if you then take a couple of knocks the old police box will basically self-destruct. Nine hundred years of time travel, and the Doctor still hasn’t sorted this out. Presumably it’s just one of those things he hasn’t round to doing yet. You know, like when you forget to pay your gas bill.

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2.  You remember that first question? The one hidden in plain sight, the one that must never be answered? The one that’s going to cause the cataclysm to end all cataclysms if its solution is discovered? Well, the answer is written in a book. In the TARDIS library. And not hidden away in an obscure volume at the back of storage, or in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of The Leopard”. It’s an enormous tome called History of the Time War on a reading stand in the middle of the room. Of course, the answer is probably only written once, “tucked away in the corner”, but the book happened to flop open at more or less that page in the same way that my unmarried friend’s mail order catalogues have a tendency to flop open at the lingerie pages. Either this is a tremendous double bluff and the information given there is false, or the Doctor’s real name is in fact the worst-kept secret since the existence of Torchwood.

3.  Speaking of libraries, the Doctor is a fan of Harry Potter. He has corked glass encyclopaedias that speak. I’m guessing he pinched them from Hogwarts, decanted the bottles and refilled them with stuff about his home world.

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4. The Doctor is thick. Having been dragged into a gigantic spacecraft by three dodgy-looking geezers running an illegal salvaging scam, he then takes them on board the TARDIS to find Clara by lying through his teeth, promising them a salvage to end all salvages before admitting he didn’t mean it,  and seems genuinely surprised when, rather than cooperating without question, they start nicking stuff. Of course, they’re not all bad. In the spirit of diversity we will recognise that we may classify them accordingly as the Unethical One, the Big, Thick One Who Follows Orders and the Sensitive One. It’s also worth noticing that the Sensitive One has an affinity with the sentient machinery of the TARDIS, being an android himself, unambiguously and with no sign of any ludicrous plot twist that would threaten to undermine this sense of connection.

 

(And I don’t care how much of this was about him dragging them into things so he could figure out why the one who was apparently an android still needed equipment. It was a stupid command decision.)

5. When you have a few minutes to fill, it’s always a good idea to have people running around the same bit of corridor repeatedly. It’s a good nod to the original series, in which the same bit of corridor shot from another angle was supposed to be a different bit of corridor in another part of the complex. In this episode, it’s the same corridor, because the characters are lost. It worked in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’. Hey, it worked in Matrix Revolutions. Oh, and show us a scene we already saw earlier in the episode, and then have the Doctor say “We’re witnessing the past”. You know, just in case we missed it.

Lots of this, there was.

Lots of this, there was.

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6. Clara genuinely doesn’t know anything of her other encounters with the Doctor. He’s only just figured this out, which is bizarre as most of us had cottoned on by the end of ‘The Bells of Saint John’. Oh, and if you have both characters in a crisis point, the best thing to do is take a metaphorical leap of faith into the unknown.

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Which is fine, and not at all what Doctor Who did very recently.

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7. A note about pleasing all the people all the time: if you’re panicking that all this TARDIS intricacy (which personally doesn’t bother me at all) is too much Rewriting The Show, the best way to satisfy the fanboys is to drop in a bit of radio noise from Classic Who. Susan Foreman’s ‘An Unearthly Child’ explanation should do nicely. That’ll give the conspiracy theorists more ways to connect Clara with the Doctor’s granddaughter. Better drop in a bit of Pertwee as well, though, just to throw them off the scent. Oh, and have a nice picture of the Eye of Harmony, to make things consistent.

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8. Apparently, Clara is “feisty”. And even the Doctor now thinks so.

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9. Two of the three Eastenders rejects have been complicit in what is possibly the lamest practical joke in history, in that they pretended their third brother was an android simply to pass the time. This consisted of giving him optical implants and a vocoder. This is almost as ridiculous as the episode of Red Dwarf in which a temporal pocket of false reality causes the crew to believe that Lister is an android, for all of five minutes. And this one didn’t even have an interlaced log cabin built from chocolate fingers.

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(Note: at some point or other, Moffat must have got wind of this and demanded a rewrite. The ‘joke’ is now justified by sibling rivalry. But sorry. Too little too late.)

10. Finally: if you’re stuck for a monster, a Silent Hill knock-off will do nicely.

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There is nothing I could commit to paper that could justify this irredeemable, inexcusable mess for what was once a great show – but if nothing else, the episode does one thing right. The Doctor manages to rewrite history with a metaphorical Big Friendly Button which turns out to be, in fact, an actual Big Friendly Button. It’s your standard reset button approach taken to literal extremes, with the sort of ontological paradox that Moffat loves and that he probably suggested to Stephen Thompson when he got stuck for an ending. But it was Emily who pointed out that this would be a handy gadget to have lying around the home. “Because,” she said, “I’d be able to rewrite time so that I’d never have to watch the bloody thing in the first place”.

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To be honest, I can’t argue.

Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: ‘Hide’

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“Raggy?”

It’s the oldest story in the book. Paranormal investigators with unresolved sexual tension camp out in supposedly haunted house to catch a glimpse of fabled ghost. Boyish time-traveller turns up with his bit of skirt and shows complete lack of social awareness. Lots of flickering candles, sudden noises and something lurking in the shadows. Eventually, time traveller discovers ghost isn’t actually a ghost, and the monster isn’t actually malevolent.

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At first I figured this was going to be the low-budget story. The Doctor demonstrated the concept of a pocket universe with two balloons, for heaven’s sake. The ‘opening gag’ consisted of Jenna-Louise Coleman putting her head round the door carrying an umbrella. It’s something they really need to stop doing. Pop culture references seldom work on Doctor Who, and the Ghostbusters shoe-ins have always been utterly lame.

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Yeah, they’re just not going to get the joke.

Not long after this the effects started in force, but even so there was something about this episode that felt very old school. It might have been the minimal cast. It might have been the fact that the bulk of it is set in a Victorian mansion with surrounding woodland that could have come straight out of Hinchcliffe’s gothic era. Or it could have been the obvious Scooby Doo links – a recurring theme that we’ll come back to in a few days. I can only be grateful that the Ponds have gone, because if they hadn’t you can guarantee that there would have been at least one scene where Amy was dragged off by the monster while Rory was busy in the kitchen assembling a giant sandwich.

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Another reason to be grateful for the Ponds’ departure is that one fewer companions gives space to Clara, who seems more and more fun as the question of who she is gradually fades into the background. We are given a quiet reassurance by Emma, the Psychic of the Week, who tells us (and the Doctor) that Clara is “a perfectly ordinary girl – very pretty, very clever, more scared than she lets on”. Elsewhere, the tedious question of why the TARDIS “doesn’t like” Clara is ostensibly answered, after she argues with it.

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Yes, fine, it’s all suitably existential and it builds on the idea of multiple versions of the same character, but they missed a trick by not inviting back Suranne Jones, who – I’ve decided – should become the resident TARDIS hologram. It would have solidified the virtual catfight, a catfight that is eventually resolved when the TARDIS starts playing ball and pops into the pocket universe just in time to rescue the Doctor from the monster-that’s-not-a-monster. Of course, this doesn’t stop him going back later.

(Which, by the way, reminded me of this.)

Ah, the joys of Krull. (Don't see it. It's rubbish.)

Ah, the joys of Krull. (Don’t see it. Seriously don’t. It’s rubbish.)

I’m not an idiot – all this apparent resolution is almost certainly to lull us into a false sense of security, and put a stop to the fanboys’ assertions that Clara’s muttered “I don’t think it likes me!” in ‘The Rings of Akhtanen’ actually means anything at all, when the locked TARDIS door thing is far more likely to have been something that they dropped in just to force her character to improvise (and besides, SHE DIDN’T HAVE A KEY). Still, Coleman is far more fun to watch when she’s allowed to be a companion, rather than an enigma. It’s no bad thing that the bulk of her facial acting seems to be done with her eyes, even if she’s obviously drawn inspiration from Kate Warner.

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If you’ve seen season two of 24, you will know that she does this a lot.

There are some lovely touches here and there – if the script is dull, some of Coleman’s one-liners are wonderful (when asked for the opposite of bliss, she immediately responds “Carlisle”); moreover, the scene when the Doctor’s about to leave the TARDIS and warns her not to touch anything – and she responds with a single, slightly incredulous thumbs-up – might be my favourite moment of the new series. I’m over-stating my case here, but it’s nice when Clara can just be Clara, without having to be the centre of the universe, and it’s moments like this that encapsulate that part of their relationship. This particular gag takes place within the framework of a TARDIS-based intermezzo where the Doctor is tracking back and forth through time to test out a theory. There are gratuitous nods to Classic Who (the Doctor laments the loss of his umbrella stand) and New Who (the spacesuit is, I think, the same one he wore in ‘The Waters of Mars’) but some of the cinematography is gorgeous.

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But the Doctor’s jaunt through history has only the barest connection with the plot (in the sense that he could have just explained it), and it all comes to a head when Clara stops to examine the nature of eternity. It’s not the first time in the new series that he’s had this conversation with a companion – as early as ‘The End of the World’, the Doctor allowed Rose to call her mother across the universe in what seemed to be an interesting proponent of San Dimas time. (When she laments that half the conversation took place five billion years ago and that her mother is now dead, the Doctor snorts “Bundle of laughs, you are”.) Meanwhile, back in the TARDIS, Clara watches the Eleventh Doctor at work.

CLARA:  Have we just watched the entire life cycle of Earth, birth to death?

DOCTOR: Yes.

CLARA: And you’re okay with that?

DOCTOR: Yes.

CLARA: How can you be?

DOCTOR: The TARDIS, she’s time. We – wibbly vortex and so on.

CLARA: That’s not what I mean.

DOCTOR: Okay, some help. Context? Cheat sheet? Something?

CLARA: I mean, one minute you’re in 1974 looking for ghosts, but all you have to do is open your eyes and talk to whoever’s standing there. To you, I haven’t been born yet, and to you I’ve been dead one hundred billion years. Is my body out there somewhere, in the ground?

DOCTOR: Yes, I suppose it is.

CLARA: But here we are, talking. So I am a ghost. To you, I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing.

DOCTOR: No. No. You’re not that.

CLARA: Then what are we? What can we possibly be?

DOCTOR: You are the only mystery worth solving.

Oh, it was all going so well.

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There’s a lot that ‘Hide’ doesn’t get quite right. The scientific explanation for the Chrononaut’s presence is inadequate, and two days after watching the episode I’m still trying to work out how she managed to write ‘HELP ME’ on the walls of the mansion. Jessica Raine is competent in an episode that requires her to do little other than look emotionally distraught, but Dougray Scott is clearly there just to cash his paycheque. The ending, too, is hopelessly off-base, from the Doctor’s muttered forest-bound monologue on the nature of fear to the sudden reversal in the closing scenes (although the device he rigs up is very Doctorish, and Clara’s gag about how sharks make babies is priceless). Every cliché in the horror book is mined, and Murray Gold’s score is once more intrusive – heavens above, can’t they just turn it down?

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For all that, it was fun. Most of the time. There were moments that scared me, and I haven’t been able to say that about a single Doctor Who story since ‘Blink’ (with the possible exception of ‘The God Complex’, depending on what mood I’m in). But then I read the reviews and the comments beneath, and I wonder if my standards have lapsed. These days, you see, we watch Doctor Who on the fly – I’m no longer playing catch up with the boys, and instead we all sit down together and have family viewing sessions, the way it’s meant to be. And I measure the success of an episode by how much my children enjoy it, and after this one was over I had to sit in a darkened bedroom with Josh so that he’d be able to go to sleep. Whatever the inadequacies of ‘Hide’, it got him back behind the sofa. And behind the sofa is, in an ideal world, the place where any Doctor Who viewer – eight to eighty – truly belongs.

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Review: ‘Cold War’

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A memo to the Doctor Who production team

1. If you’re going to do The Hunt For Red October, can we have at least one Russian officer – just one – who actually sounds a little bit Russian? Or, if that would have been incongruous, can we have a Russian crew that don’t all sound quite so English? I know questionable accents were a staple of Classic Who – I wince at ‘The Invisible Enemy‘ as much as anyone – but having them address each other as ‘comrade’ when they all sound like they’ve wandered off the set of 633 Squadron is just silly. And don’t even think about blaming it on the ‘TARDIS translation circuits’ bollocks. They didn’t even act Russian. Not even the Captain, whom I confess I rather liked.

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2. Just between you and me, I’m well aware that the whole point of having the Doctor and Clara ostensibly en route to Las Vegas was so that you could film Clara in something skimpy, get her instantly soaked when the submarine floods and thus fulfil every fanboy’s / lesbian fangirl’s wet dream. But next time, could you make it a bit less obvious?

You're not fooling anyone with your feisty, empowered woman shit, you know.

You’re not fooling anyone with your feisty, empowered woman shit, you know.

3. Speaking of obvious, when were you going to admit that Mark Gatiss basically wanted to write Alien in a submarine and then chucked in the Ice Warriors as an afterthought? Or was it that he wanted to bring them back, against Moffat’s better judgement, and that they compromised by having an Ice Warrior that would behave like its normal lumbering self for half the episode, and then turn into something out of a Giger design? It’s a shame, because you had an interesting, claustrophobic story going with that.

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But then it’s all dangerous Ice Warriors that lurk in the shadows and crawl through the ventilation ducts. I was half expecting the Doctor to open a cupboard and find a cat. And I do hope you paid the copyright fees on those Alien sound effects you licensed.

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Oh, and those eyes in the dark? Total rip-off.

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4. I get the Nordic / Russian implications in naming your chief villain Skaldak. And yes, it’s very Ice Warrior. But next time, would it be too much to ask to have a villain with a normal, English-sounding name? Something a bit less prickly; something that doesn’t sound like you shoved six random letters into the anagram generator? Something like, I don’t know, Nigel the Ice Warrior? Rodney the Zygon? Kevin the Sontaran?

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5. I meant to mention that you did a lot of good by deliberately showing us as little of the unsheathed alien as possible. The hands from the ceiling were a nice touch.

But then you went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid like I love you actually having Skaldak remove his helmet. It was bad enough when Stallone did it in Judge Dredd. Personally, I thought it would have made for a far more effective scene if the Doctor had had seen what was underneath with the rest of us following suit. But when you did go for the reveal, I couldn’t work out if I was in the Whoniverse or the DC / Marvel one.

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6. I love David Warner. I really do. I have done since he lost his head in The Omen. He’s the only reason I managed to make it through Wing Commander. But treat him with some dignity next time you have a bonding scene. Look at this dialogue. I mean, look at it.

Grisenko: Clara? What is it?

Clara: I was doing OK. I mean, I went in there, and then I did the scary stuff, didn’t I? I went in there with the Ice Warrior and it went OK. Actually, it went about as bad as it could have been, but that wasn’t my fault.

Grisenko: Not at all.

Clara: So I’m happy about that.

Grisenko: Yes.

Clara: Sure.

Grisenko: And so you should be. So what’s the matter?

Clara: Seeing those bodies back there. It’s all got very…real. Are we gonna make it?

Grisenko: Yes, of course.

Warner’s as dignified as they come, but even he can’t polish a turd.

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7. For future reference, Ice Warriors sound like this.

They do not – repeat, do not – sound like this.

I know Nick Briggs has a monopoly on the new voices (and the best Big Finish stories), but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you must revamp, at least try and do something silly.

(Yes, I’m plugging one of my videos. Bite me.)

8. If you’re somehow going to conjure a half-decent (the first half) script from Mark “second-worst Dalek story of New Who” Gatiss, please don’t let him finish it by having Jenna-Louise Coleman save the world through the healing power of Duran Duran. It sucked. It sucked donkeys.

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I mean, honestly. You have this as your moment of truth and then you put this episode right next to the one where singing saves the universe? And I thought the scheduling in series six was off.

9. Finally: make sure you give your secondary characters at least some motivation, because “Life’s too short” is never – under any circumstances – a decent reason to thaw out a frozen Ice Warrior.

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Look, Steven, if I’m a little grumpy about this it’s because I was up until half past two in the morning playing Bioshock Infinite, got four hours’ sleep, then did a three-hour round car journey to pick up Thomas, and then came back and finished cleaning the house for Daniel’s birthday party tomorrow. The floors are mopped and vacuumed but I think it’s fair to say I’m a little antsy. Thing is, you missed the boat with this one. It was all going so well, and you could have had a great story on your hands if you’d stuck to your guns in those early scenes. We know you think the Ice Warriors represent everything you dislike about Old Who. But some of us like them. Bringing them back in an admittedly faithful physical depiction doesn’t cut it if you’re going to use them in an episode where they simply don’t fit. It’s like dressing the Doctor like an English academic and then have him behave like a horny teenager. But then that’s what you do. Isn’t it?

Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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