Archive for the ‘SERIES 4 REVIEWS’ Category

Steam Pudding

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

The end of year special has now arrived after a great amount of
internet speculation.  We know how the story goes by now; if it
makes fans sit up and take notice then newspaper inches follow -
this story certainly delivered. But as seasoned fans do we expect
too much? As a popular yuletide diversion, does The Next Doctor‘s
easy charm offer anything else?

I suspect that this is the measure by which the remaining stories
mean themselves to be assessed for the RTD era, which as far as
you and I and Russel T Davies are concerned, is nearing its end,
and soon. We haven’t reached the end of the tenth Doctor, though
I would say it is telegraphed visibly here. Quite probably this all
could be explained by the fact that in order to save time and also
do justice to a hampered lead actor’s schedule needs dictated that
this story was filmed back to back with season 4, and it does show
in point of fact. David Tennant is a master at this and still remains
our best ambassador to the role, but looks knackered, acting in his
sleep (or was it the back problems already?)

You may recall last year saw TSV‘s most regal subscriber ever
realise the same cheese factor as Fear Her‘s Olympic torch, though
I will admit that this story is tighter (although it could be said we
haven’t seen the benefit of tighter editing, instead what we have
seen is a simpler plot and fewer supporting characters muddying
the story to fuss over than 2007′s support-cast massacre festive

If this year is better it’s because it’s quieter (though yet again
noone mentions still another giant-sized bother for London, or even
notices), and this also has more actual actors. David Morrisey is
then slightly less of a stunt casting than the ‘faddish’ John Simm.
I’ll say he does ‘sad’ well, which redeems that OTT CiN prelude.
Throw in the arguments over the months leading up to this that
The Next Doctor was based on Big Finish’s The One Doctor, then a
lot of the pantomime Doctor’s bluster may actually have been more
in keeping.

If this was indeed RD’s modus operandi then there’s an irony to be
identified in turning a man who has had everything in his life un-
kindly removed into a suddenly swashbuckling and outrageously
forward ‘hero’ may be smarter than it appears. We can also see
this through the Doctor’s own life the real Doctor adopts a bluster
to cover his inward turmoil. It’s a neat parallel to the tragic hero
the Doctor has become – a neat and exaggerated, portrait of the
usual candidate. That the Doctor also possesses the humanity to
address this himself is key to his persona.

Thanks to Tennant’s performance it’s not overdone.


The Remains of the Davies

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008


The Age of Steal

Monday, June 30th, 2008

I’m pretty sure that blasted hand hanging about is a bit of a “gimmie” to somehow re-ungenerating Tennant. That and Martha’s mystery chip being some sort of Apocalyptic reset at the end… and while we’ve all been set up that Donna is toast with a big sacrifice in the offing, surely it’s Grandad Cribbins with his undisclosed (medical?) secret (Poision Sky) who is going to make the sacrifice. Donna and the Doctor are still somehow mysteriously linked tho – prehaps he’ll regenerate into her?

I just watched it again tho and I get the horrible sinking feelling we’ve seen it all before and it’ll end up a bit of a mess. The whole dalek fleet take on the Earth smacks too much of the Toclafane (and even the invasion of Canary Warf & Parting of the Ways), Turn Left’s phantom/alternative year as the world goes to custard was also lifted straight out of Last of the Time Lords (even down to the troops on the streets and red-lit Tardis) though rather than walking the world like Martha, Donna had to just jog four blocks. And the Donna “impending doom” thing too, they’ve been seeding that one for an age now… like they did with Rose’s “death” in Doomsday

And the Daleks are 3 for 4 in the finale monster stakes, with Davros and Supreme (and we are all waiting for that egg to hatch – looks like it’s designed arround the dramatically important Hasps) joining the long line of uber-Dalek baddies (Emperor/Cult). The planets were hidden a second in the future, we haven’t seen that since the Sontarans and the ATMOS systems a few episodes ago (or one ago if you are in a retcon mood). Copper gets name checked, coz he really looked like the type of chap to be into sub-wave communications, and yeah, for the second year running we have a plot device reliant (or should that be “Reliant“) on phone systems. And did anyone else get a funny feeling watching Rose and the Nobles “praying” (and the world calling) for the Doctor over their mobiles?

Deja-vu all over again.

And other things have just been thrown into the companion heavy mix (and doesn’t anyone else find use of the expression “companions” a little jaring when used by charcters in the context of the story), the Shadow Proclamation and Harriet Jones bits only served to carry truckloads of exposition. (As well as making them both seem far too dull and pompous). The thing with the bees just petered past, a waste after all that build up; the Darkness… well that had nothing to do with the story – how does the stars going out fit in? How does the Cardiff rift power still work if the planet has been moved from the space/time location it was fixed at? Bad Wolf anyone – what was that about, really?

I would love all this to pay off, but I just get the feeling it’s very nice looking window dressing and repeating memes pulled out of Rusty’s bucket o’cannon (it even had Richard Dawkins in it!)And I’m sorry, but I just don’t see them getting away with a year of “specials” with a new Doctor, you would want a season, a strong run, time for the new man (or woman) to get his/her boots under the table. While the Hamlet thing and recent reports of renegotiating contracts is a bit of misdirection, why would we have a cut down run of stories if it wasn’t true? And why scan out a future with River Song if you’re going to chuck it in the bin four episodes down the line?


Sliding Bores

Sunday, June 29th, 2008


It’s pretty clear that NuWho seems to be forming a pattern with how the stories run, and this year’s Doctorless episode, while receiving good reviews elsewhere, just really seemed like “more of the same”… even bringing Rose back couldn’t save the episode from just feeling like we had seen it all before, and I’m not talking about the Sliding Doors parallel worlds, or V for Vendetta (more the comic than the movie) fascist UK, or the Firefly space-aged Chinese culture, or even the insidious bugs on your back from Babylon 5 (although 10 years older they still looked so much better), but in NuWho and all its recent tie-ins themselves.

There’s a history changing Trickster in Sarah Jane, a memory meddler in recent Torchwood.  Even the concept of looking at established Who mythology through more mundane eyes was done by RTD in Love and Monsters.  A militaristic alternative Earth – Rise of the Cybermen.  That also covers the dead TARDIS, though the red warning lights, solders patrolling the ravaged streets and a lost year as the world goes to custard hark back to Last of the Time Lords; Martha had to walk the Earth, Donna had to jog four blocks, both had contend with alt.universe.familyissues.retcon, (though Rose had to contend with that on her sideways trip as well).

OK lets talk about Rose, the apprentice has become the Master, she’s got the Time Machine, UNIT backup (wouldn’t it have been great if Angela Bruce had done a cameo, Bambera recalled in a time of crisis), the alien tech, the otherworldly knowledge, she’s even regenerated with bigger teeth…  But we had River Song last week pretty much pulling off the same trick (sans teeth).  In fact it is another common theme in nuWho – all the ladies are special.  But as Jamas notes, even though this is Donna’s story, this time they seem to be laying it on a bit thick.



And then we have the sacrifice (another nuWho meme).  Not only Donna, but also the Torchwood and SJS crews are all dead Dave, dead Dave, they are all dead!  And in rather secondhand, throwaway ways.  Is it really for dramatic impact, a shorthand cheat to up the ante in one of the most gloomy episodes ever, or simply a way of reminding us that they all exist… just in case they all happen to show up next week?





Strangers on a Truck

Saturday, June 28th, 2008


 ”Understand the procedure now? Just stop a few of their machines, their telephones, their lawnmowers, throw them into darkness for a few hours, and then sit back and watch the pattern.”
-The Twilight Zone, ‘The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street’

Just when we thought RTD would be bringing us another lightweight, earnest little tale with a bonkers futuristic setting, a comedy sequence in the middle and a heartwarming message at the end, along comes Midnight, a curious little number, and quite an effective one.

You may think that many ingredients have gone into this pudding – Hitchcock’s Lifeboat? Possibly. The Twlilight Zoneepisode referenced above? Maybe. Some jealousy at The Moff getting the best writer award again? It’s tempting to see it that way, and interesting given the stories’ juxtaposition and the general geopolitics of Who‘s future nowadays (oh, an add a recent OBE to the mix for good measure). But it’s possible none of these were in Rusty’s head the day he put pen to paper and wrote The Version Of Voyage Of The Damned We Wish We’d Had Instead. 

The story has to be seen not just as an improvement of 2007′s tinsel lint, but also a step up from the story’s setting’s near cousin – Davies’ New Earth stories. Several elements are there – inhospitable environment? Check. Post-dual gender relationship? Present. Focus on the mundane (e.g. traffic, hospitals, tour buses) as a form of future entrapment as much as the present? Why hello again. From the outset you’d almost expect to see a Cat Nun gliding along in the background during the book-ending Donna scenes, but no. Midnight‘s different, and better. Mainly because it consciously uses less.

One of the biggest assets this story has is the casual dropping of the expository element. The Doctor’s fellow travellers are drawn vaguely, but for a change we know all we need to know early on. True, David Troughton’s academic gives us some filler info, but it’s not intrusive, and it’s grimly reassuring that at the end of the story, he’s just as fallible and unreliable as any other human on board. Crucially so; Davies’ point seems to be that no matter how good or clever or ordinary we may think we are, we’ll surely all go to pieces very quickly under the easiest influence. Even the Doctor isn’t immune; rendered impotent and speechless, he is almost literally dragged to his death. It’s only the resourceful memory of an altrusitic hostess (er, check?) that saves his life, and the day.

Good story then. Spooky, sure. Dramatic – yep, and well acted to boot. But if Moffat’s preceding story marked a change in the Doctor’s life then Midnightis no less intriguing for the change in storytelling RTD employs – using less, drawing on more. Molto Belle.


River’s Little Band

Monday, June 16th, 2008

I have to admit something of a bias in reviewing this two-parter, naturally, because I am a Librarian. To say I held the title of the first part of this story and its setting with a sense of trepidation and misgiving would be an understatement. But I was of course fearing too much. The knowledge profession (no, IT industry, that is not you) has nothing to be wary of here. Not even shadows.

But let’s move away from this strange career-obsessive and let us instead consider the story.

By virtue or fluke of timing we fans have come to expect much of a Steven Moffat script, and certainly from where we are now, Silence/Forest carries the extra burden of expectation because of course Moffat is now the man upon whom the future of the series now rests. The shape of the future takes form in the present – so does this story bode well for the series ahead? I say yes.

Silence/Forest (and apologies for the clumsy titling) is a lot of what I suspect a good number of older fans would want in a story – it is multi-layered, multi-locational, high concept and witty. For the kids it has scary shadows and Skeletor in a space suit. As they are, the Vashta Nerada aren’t the most vital ingredient of the story, being as they are an elemental force of nature (the initial revelation that The Library held billions of individual life forms carries no surprise to someone who has a professional awareness of spores and dust mites). Take the element of death away and you have another thought-provoking exploration of a central theme in Moffat’s Who work – loss. So far in the new series we’ve had the devastating impact of the loss of parents and family (Empty Child), of loved ones across time (Girl in the Fireplace), the loss of one’s own place in time (Blink) and now, crucially, the loss of knowledge itself. The invasion of The Library triggers the colapse of meaning where bodies disappear to be ‘saved’ but are also overwritten so personal histories are recreated, condensed and made meaningless; the digitised conscious of a dying person loops into itself and ultimately degrades in a disturbing collapse akin to the mental deterioration of a dementia sufferer, and of course at the story’s core is another episode of the Doctor’s life – and potentially another love story, involving a person also separated through time about whom he cannot allow himself to learn, even after it is too late. It’s a lot to juggle, and for the most part Moffat does it well – Donna’s Doctor-less story is the more effective for being hers alone, and it is only the Girl/Doctor Moon installments that continue to jar, perhaps not helped by their starkly lit locations against the visually dimming Library planet.

As he has shown us in earlier stories, Moffat is defter at the fannish touches too – references to ‘spoilers’ being one of a few digs whihc, rather than break the fourth wall between viewer and story, add to the Doctor’s life using a common vernacular. Finally, there is the sense that, intended or no, here is Moffat laying down some conventions and threads for the future – the likely ‘return’ of River Song, the Doctor’s awareness that within this incarnation he will change dramatically (a very big thing given the slightest coverage), the fate of Donna and, with a literal click of the fingers, the Doctor begins his journey toward those things. it’s a magical scene, strangely reminiscent of the ‘blades of death’ scene from Euros Lyn’s directoral debut The End of the World. This of course is far from the end, it’s a restart, intended or not. And the future looks all the more intriguing for it.


The Sting in the Tail

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

This is a very silly story.  Unapologetically and unashamedly so.  After a season of drama and miss-paced adventures, to have something that is perfectly set and pitched, (even if is a slightly daft parody riddled with inaccuracies) is wonderful.  This has to be one of my favourite stories of the season to date, which makes the fact I have very little to say about it rather hard.  The cast shine, and the dialogue sparkles.  It’s the best giant bug ever in the series (although the competition is a bit manky).

Body count seems relatively low (and I don’t remember the reason for the second murder being explained outside of Confidential, or worked out why Agatha was linked to the Vespiform when Felicity Kendal was wearing the stone).  The denunciation is remarkably early in the piece, however the show isn’t meant to have the pace of a murder mystery, but a mickey-take of a murder mystery (I kept expecting the Two Ronnies to turn up with the Phantom Raspberry Blower, although the poisoning scene was pinched from the equally silly Prisoner adventure The Girl Who was Death).


Wouldn’t want to have more than one story like this in a season, but all in all, great fun. 


Next Time:  Someone is murdered in the Library… hang on?



Venus in Who Genes

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

What a waste.

It’s not that we were all merrily lead up the garden path thinking we would see revelations about the Doctor’s past. It’s not the fact we’ve seen it before, you’d need a long memory for The Ark, or a fairly good book collection for Father Time. Even Martha traipsing round the surface of a desolate planet doesn’t grate after last years finale. The regulars are on top form, with a refreshing lack of Donna “funny” set pieces (although there is an obligatory “You’re brilliant” – methinks they protest too much) the titular guest is easy on the eye, and everyone does fairly well.

It’s just too damned short.

It’s full of great ideas, good concepts, but like (and even more than) Pompei and Ood (and I know I sound like a broken record) everything is crammed in and rushed. The story is a bit of a run-a-round, but there is so much potential; The Hath look great, but lets see more of them, why are they there, what is their history? Why was the map and other information hidden? Why is the human protagonist so much older than his clone troopers? Martha’s surface trek seems too quick a jaunt, Jenny and the Doctor seem to bond too quickly. Given what could be done, given the scope of who Jenny is and what she means to the Doctor (given Helen Raynor spent two episodes rewriting Daleks Take Manhattan with Sontarans in it) it all just seems too pat and too easy.

Because the really worrying thing is this is a setup, a quick bit of groundwork for something else later on. Mid-season is usually where Rusty starts lining up the pieces for later on (Dalek/Long Game, The Cybus Stories, Saxon references in Lazarus/42), and if so, it all seems like such a waste.


Iron Nadines

Friday, May 9th, 2008

Generally the reviews on the boards seem quite in favour of the new Sontaran two-parter, old monsters returning with gusto and more pizzazz than, well, the other, more lacklustre early two-parters of previous seasons.  And really that isn’t a good yardstick to compare these episodes by.  Having felt that a bit of extra time would’ve benefited both Fires of Pompeii and Planet of the Ood to expand plot strands and ideas that were begging to be developed, Stratagem and Sky seemed too much like a runaround.  By co-incidence I ended up rewatching Girl in the Fireplace shortly after seeing the closing episode and it simply brought home to me (as Jamas noted in his blog) that this is just a really good Sarah Jane Adventure story.  It has it all, simple plot, in-jokes, turns-out-nice doppelganger, lots of action, backyard setting, eco-theme, villainous kid, and cutesy aliens.


I never thought I could describe the Sontarans as cutesy – but here they’ve taken one of the series’ design classics and tweaked it out of skew.  It’s not that they’ve made them short (they always were stocky, but they never made jokes about it before; I don’t see Pertles or Tom B wrestling with Chris Ryan); it’s not that they dressed them in baby blue (though black always looked niftier); it’s not even that they’ve turned them into cut-price Klingons; it’s because they’ve made them so bad at it.


After years of lone clones living by their wits, the warriors have arrived en masse, but seem a lot less sharp for it, the new army less than the sum of its original parts.  All the bluster about honour, and yet they resort to subterfuge, using kids and look-alikes (a Rutan method), shooting the unarmed as sport – they used to be even more shrewd and cunning, but they didn’t prattle on hypocritically about it.  All the moaning about females (whereas they used to be a curiosity), they seem more like gung-ho schoolboys.  The aliens of this story could be almost anyone, just with a lot of Sontaran window dressing, like the good old probic vent; their only weakness… that and bullets.  The new Sontarans have no fear of death, which is handy, as they seem far too good at it.


Donna continues to shine, although some of the set pieces (“you’re leaving?” TARDIS key) are such parodies they detract from the plot.  Bernard Cribbins needs to do a Mickey and come onboard for a stint on the ship (although given the behind the scenes reasons for his casting, the way his character is developing may be in slightly pour taste); even Sylvia gets a chance to look good (how would’ve we reacted to Jacqui or Martha’s Mum with an axe?).  Sadly they had to clone Martha to give her something productive to do, but all this aside it all just seems far too clever, mummy jokes, handy hammers, but really it’s almost an exercise in ticking the boxes: bring back Martha, tick; UNIT, Sontarans, tick, tick. Valiant, family issues, special effects, obligatory Rose reference etc.  Given the potential scope of what could be done with these two episodes what we’ve been given just seems a little mundane.


Sphere of Influence

Friday, April 25th, 2008

Slaves to the Music or Bad Things Happen to Ood People

Spoilers follow… (more…)