Archive for the ‘SERIES 6 REVIEWS’ Category

Forced Wedding and a Funeral

Friday, October 21st, 2011

And here we are at the final story of Series Six. The end is the beginning is the end, and what’s more, for a good part of it, we’re in a cave of skulls!

PA: How thrilled I am to see that not only is Dorian back, but he’s back in the right order, having been comprehensively decimated and yet living to tell his tale, tune into his excellent Wi-Fi, and drop doom-laden portent about the Doctor’s future to round things off. Oh well, you can’t have them all.

PLEASE let’s have a future with ‘Live Chess!’ in it, and please can the potential for the game be extended to Playstation/X-Box enthusiasts and boy racers? I mustn’t carp this early on, but I found the Doctor’s detective work to be the best part of the story – the skully cave, Mark Gattis’ eyepatched Cohen the Barbarian-like, and Amy’s office on a train carriage (I bet you’d like one of those, Al) As for the mention of the Brig, we seem to have the unhappy parallel this year of the series bookended by notable passings, with Lis Sladen’s death captioned in The Impossible Astronaut, and now Nick Courtney’s embedded into the storyline, Sort of.

Here’s the thing: I’d have been happy with an out-of-story tribute to Nick Courtney, the actor whose contribution to Doctor Who surpassed his most popular role by one pretty significant other character (and I don’t mean Tourist in Silver Nemesis) and his many many promotional appearances. I’m actually with Tom Spillsbury on this one, when he, announcing the death of Lis Sladen in the DWM editorial, implored the series heads to not acknowledge her character’s death, but simply let her fade away, presumably to still be having cracking adventures on her own, possibly forever.

AH: You’ve made a good argument regarding the ‘Courtney tribute’, that it might have been better to leave us to imagine further unseen adventures with the Brig – maybe fighting Inca demons in Peru – but always out there somewhere. I’m compelled to defend the scene however.
The Doctor has suddenly learned he’s lost a friend he thought would always be there – pure and simple. He owed the Brig his life countless times, but perhaps the Doctor never remembered him as often as he should, and certainly failed to pop back to see him and enjoy that brandy. And now it’s too late – he’s gone. No canonical retro-tidying, no glib caption – the Brigadier’s death (in his bed, as we were always told it would be) is blunt, unromantic and real, and it hurts the Doctor enough to accept his own mortality and move forward.
The fact that we never had the Brigadier grace Nu-Who is a tragedy which will always be lamented – an appearance along-side Tennant’s Doctor would just have felt so right. So perhaps the regret demonstrated over this missed opportunity is not only the Doctor’s, but the Production Team’s as well. Actually, maybe the episode’s dependence upon eyepatches is a tribute all on its own?
In the real world, Nicholas Courtney is hugely missed, and would hopefully have approved of this brief, but respectful reference.

PA: Yeah, I’d just have rather he’d at least have gone out fighting, off-screen, rather than being retired to a convalescing home. That’s no way out for an old warhorse, even if it is a nod to Battlefield, his now last ever on-screen performance in the main series.

AH: Some positives now: wasn’t Amy great? She’s only been gone for one story (bar a brief cameo) but it was so good to see her back – dressed like a grown up and looking fabulous in her eye patch. When she finally lets her pleasure at seeing the Doctor show, and we realise that the eyepatches don’t signify some awful alliance with the Silence, her joy is infectious. She even looked sexy firing a machine gun, saving ‘stupid-face’ – again.

PA: Again the disrespect to Matt Smith. Al, he was great this year! And so was Gillan. I noted a real step up from last year’s performance and yes, I agree that in WoRS, she was very good indeed. Her slow realisation that the only man for her was under her nose all the time – nicely written, and beautifully underplayed.

AH: No disrespect intended, I assure you – I’ve been fairly lavish of my praise of him in earlier reviews. Perhaps I sound guilty of taking Smith for granted because he’s always so consistently brilliant. Elsewhere, I thought the ‘Silents’ were well-presented – proper, creepy, implacable Who Monsters. The cracking glass as they placed their big ugly chicken claws against it was genuinely scary.

AH: The script itself probably earns the same criticism that Star Wars prequels earned, not so much a story as a fussy exercise in housekeeping – dusting off misplaced knick-knacks putting everything back where it should be. As you’ve said, this results in very little plot tension.

PA: To be honest I wasn’t sure there was much of a plot to look out for here. We knew there was an end point to be reached (though you just don’t know in these days of Moff’s plotting on a larger scale), we just needed the means to get there. I thought the ‘alternative universe’ thing was fine – nice to look at (and I still feel a little guilty at feeling nonplussed about spectacle these days after years of wanting more convincing, flashier visuals in the old series!) , but not a hundred miles away from a title card reading “six months later’.

AH: The end-of-year visual effects which had been so carefully saved up for were beautiful: the steam train roaring towards the great pyramid on a monorail being a particular stand-out for me. But it’s very much window dressing rather than integral to the story, unlike last year’s gorgeous Stonehenge spaceship rally.

PA: Agreed, totally. Why Egypt? I don’t remember anything in the episode that explained it. Imagination in the series is a wonderful thing, but I think it has to be an essential element of the story, if not the starting point. Cars on balloons? Cool – but Why? Etc.

AH: The tradition of featuring the ‘big guns monsters’ as cameo appearances to facilitate the plot, continues. I felt sorry for the Dalek – (surely the Doctor wasn’t torturing it?) – reduced like the Cybermen to a mere information source. I have to confess that I’m looking forward to a proper Dalek story soon – can we have some Ogrons too?

PA: I’m sure the Daleks are being kept for a big 2013 story, surely. And see my comments for Closing Time about Ogrons. I thought the dalek in this was a fun enough scenes, though I’m not big on the Doctor describing himself as ‘the Devil”. Did he go all Rory on them, as you have asked, or was it a happy coincidence he was in the area?

AH: Ultimately, I think the episode did everything it needed to do: resolution, humour, fun cameos, a bit of action, building some more tension for next year (including what sounds like Matt Smith’s final episode?)

PA: Could be! Look, I think it rattled along well enough, and I’m grateful for some of those plotlines finally being resolved, even as self-consciously as this. The backyard reunion with River and her parents was a pleasing tableau, but I’m not convinced Moffat still sees more storytelling opportunity in there, and I hope that in there is a genuine story. I much preferred last year’s finale.

But looking back and ahead. What do you think?

AH: I have to conclude that the first half of this series finished better: A Good Man goes to War being my second favourite story this year. Watching that felt as if the programme had suddenly woken up again after getting bogged down in ganger gunk for a very long two episodes. As for my first – The Doctor’s Wife is really the only story in the room, I think.

PA: Gaiman’s story takes some beating. I think it might be helped along by being one of the only stories without Moffat’s dabs over it. NO Kovarian peekaboo, no coda returning us to the arc, no splashy ganger revelations, not even a creepy nursery rhyme. It’s a favourite of mine, too. And The Girl Who Waited from the second half. I can’t choose between the two acts this year.

AH: Unfinished business: Is it just me, or does the oft repeated phrase “Silence will fall” only sound like a prediction of their defeat? Relax, Doctor – I don’t think it’s just about you.

PA: I hope so. The Silence aren’t a wholly satisfying race for me at the moment. There’s no obvious figurehead, no great dialogue – Kovarian became their Master/Davros figure for a while, so I might be happier to see more of the Church as a broader entity. Or, hey! Something completely different!

AH: The Doctor’s change of costume in Let’s Kill Hitler wasn’t resolved after all – would they run the answer to this across more than one series? And if so, could it be somehow tied-in with the eleventh Doctor’s final end, if he really is popping off next year?

PA: Has to be. I’m sure there’s an explanation waiting in the wings somewhere.

AH: As for the strange markings in the ground outside Amelia Pond’s house at the end of the last series – are we just to assume it was made by a Silence spacecraft?

PA: I’m not sure this is going to be revealed! It all points to a less than tidy closure this year, doesn’t it? On the subject of young Amelia, it was great to see Caitlin Blackwood reappear as she did this year, but visually she’s getting older. She’ll age faster than Alex Kingston, so if Moffat has plans for a storyline that feature her, he might have to get creative!

AH: And most importantly – the pre-series trailer promised us a winking, naked (or at least shoulder strapless) River Song. We’ve been robbed!

PA: Sorry, that’s secret Stormcage business. We might not ever get to see it now!

Three and a Half Cybermen

Friday, October 14th, 2011

closinglogoThe Lodger 2 introduces us to the cutest character seen on the programme since Zoe Herriot. He’s adorable while lying quietly in Craig’s upstairs room, and practically irresistible when held tightly by the new Dad. Even the Doctor carries him about and talks to him. Yes, ‘Bitey’ the Cybermat is an absolute delight, no doubt greeted all over the country by cries of “I want one!” when he first appears.

There’s a baby in this as well (Doctor Who does babies now, babies are cool?) and Stormageddon ultimately saves the day by doing what babies do best, loudly and persistently. It’s endearing to see that the eleventh Doctor, utterly clueless around women (unlike his sleazy predecessor) is completely at home with babies. He even speaks the language, although understanding cats in The Lodger 1 was much more useful.

Unfortunately the Cybermen continue to be comedy relief in this series, brought to a standstill earlier by Rory in a Roman costume and now forced to chase the Doctor and his chum Craig round and round a table like the Mummy in an Abbot and Costello film. Well, not quite, but you get the picture. A note to the Production team, please don’t use a first tier monster for the ‘comedy’ episode again, it’s just damaging and disrespectful. Get the Hoix out, instead.

Having said this, however, I have to confess to a moment of real shock as the Cyber face-plate closed over the helpless Craig’s features. I really did believe that this story might have come with a whopping great sting in the tail. It does, but that wasn’t it. Sad also, to establish the Doctor’s incompatibility with cybernisation, thus contradicting probably the best Cyberman story of all time – Big Finish’s Spare Parts.

It’s lovely to see Lynda Barron back, and she has some great scenes with Matt Smith. Something about the department store setting seemed to recall the two previous Doctor’s stories – contemporary Earth is now no longer represented by the hamlet of Leadworth, but an altogether more urban setting. Smith is of course wonderful, especially when facing the inevitable begins to weigh more heavily upon him. Craig handing him the Stetson is this Doctor’s Metebelis crystal, and his brief moment with the children before leaving is a touching, bitter-sweet moment. Matt Smith does ‘face acting’ like no other Doctor can, which is a little surprising when you consider how youthful and relatively unlined his features are.

The sting I referred to does tend to rather overshadow the episode it closes. Series Six-wise, all the pieces now appear to be in place for the finale, although the next time trailer seems to bring many more to the board – including another first tier monster whom I sorely hope gets a better deal than the poor Cybermen!


Like a Bull in The Shining’s Plot

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

complexlogoVisually sumptuous and lovingly recreated, The God Complex is a puzzler, but a satisfying one. Here we have that old chestnut of ‘Hell as a state of transit’, inasmuch as no one goes on holiday specifically to stay at a hotel – especially not this one with its stolid lack of obvious vistas (a porthole on Gibbis’ home world excluded) and repetitive décor. The set was beautifully accurate in its detail at least, and the episode wonderfully directed, giving this reviewer at least the impression that with stories as strong as this and direction to boot, the second half of Series Six might just be the turnabout I’ve been looking for.

As with Simon Nye last year, I suspect a fair amount of Toby Whithouse’s day-job may have crept into this story. With its domestic/urban nightmare-scape and mix of the horrific with the banal, it could be an episode of Being Human. In fact, there’s little horror in it of the visual kind; the Minotaur costume is beautifully made and may be that rare thing, a Doctor Who monster which is actually better in full view than close-up. Beyond this, the nightmares themselves are amusingly mundane, albeit believable. Yes, there are the Weeping Angels, but a PE teacher? A parent’s disappointment? Adolescent girls? Truly the neuroses of the adolescent-to-middle-aged male. The ventriloquist dummies and clown on the other hand are surely box-ticking for what are now stock bogeys in film and TV (although reader, I held for several months the belief that the Clown was the Doctor in the thrall of the Complex.) As for the opener’s scare; WPC Sally is terrorised by no giant ape, but an implausible gorilla from a children’s book? Mademoiselle, I truly sympathise.

There’s black humour amid the madness – the initially sympathetic and later sinister Gibbis retreating to sneakily devour the poor goldfish the Doctor and Amy took pains to save (not a ‘noone dies tonight’ day for our hero, this time), and the faces of the various victims immortalised as portraits – was one really a Tritovore? I loved the use of silence in this – never real silence of course, but scenes without dialogue above the banal ambient music of the hotel prison. Time passes in increments difficult to measure, and locations disorientate – it is a genuine prison.

And yet it’s one with a few free exits on offer for my favourite current companion Rory. What to make of this? A joke at his constant expendability, or a foreshadowing to what could be an upsetting finale (unless you’re Al, I suppose.) Is it the end for Amy and Rory? I’d LIKE it to be, not out of antipathy for either character or actor, both of whom have impressed much more this year than last. But because proper conclusions seem t be a rare thing in modern Who. Ever since Sarah Jane stepped back into the Doctor’s life it seems the series has had a hard time properly saying goodbye to its characters, bringing each around for a victory lap (or the Doctor’s), with only Eccleston a distinct omission. And so unexpected and moving was this farewell for Amy, a resolution to her Doctor obsession in the nicest of let-downs, that I pray it won’t be undone in a few weeks’ time (although thanks to advance advertising we know it must, in some way.) If it genuinely is the send-off we didn’t see coming, then it appears Moffat has given it to a safe pair of hands in Whithouse, who is currently running strong as my preference for next show runner.


Spec Savers

Friday, September 30th, 2011

First up, let’s give credit where credit is due. Yes, Neil Gorton’s subtle make-up job was a revelation, the robots were fun, the Tim Burton trees were great and Rory cries, but Karen Gillan owns this episode like no other companion ever has before.

Her exquisite performance as the 57-year-old Amy is the heart and soul of this story – as writer Tom McRae says, Gillan could have performed with marker pen lines on her face, and you’d still have believed it. Every gesture and look conveys betrayed trust and repressed hurt, a once irrepressible young woman now deeply withdrawn and protectively armoured, physically and emotionally. All this and pitching a very difficult age to play, perfectly. A mere seven years older than my own lovely wife, Amy hasn’t become old by any means – just experienced, embittered and toughened by a hard and lonely life forced upon her by a series of stupid mistakes.
Watch again for older Amy’s involuntary reaction to Rory’s fez quip; its entirely convincing that she hasn’t laughed in 36 years, or her surly suspicion when accepting the glasses from him. The weight and sense of wounded dignity to her performance utterly belie Gillan’s true age. And yet, in both guises, she even manages to make the macarena scene work (in Russell T Davies’ time, the song itself would no doubt have blasted over the top of this delicate sequence.)

And speaking of curious hand movements, the handbots were also well executed. At last one of George Lucas’s thankfully unused concepts – having Threepio see through his fingers – is realised. Amy’s ‘Wilson-esque’ pet, an acquired handbot whom she’s named Rory, is a lovely addition. The crude face she’s drawn on him has a smiling mouth, but upturned brows which make him look sad and apologetic – which is perfectly apt.

The scenario created here could never end painlessly, and the Doctor’s choice of resolution is heart-rending. I find it impossible to imagine any other Doctor playing this scene, but perhaps they were just lucky enough never to have to face a dilemma like this one. It’s a situation which provokes thought long afterwards – young Amy is our Amy, but her older self has just as much right to her life. Strong stuff – and quite right too.

The Girl Who Waited isn’t an exciting episode, but will, I hope, form the perfect farewell to Rory and Amy’s tenure on board the TARDIS. Perhaps not chronologically; but after a gift like this, there is surely nowhere else for these characters to go – and nothing else the Doctor can do to them. I think I can sense change in the air, and perhaps it’s about time.


Curious George

Friday, September 30th, 2011


In this modern Who era we are apparently supposed to look for themes, and this year, it’s all about families. Specifically parents and children. Absent fathers, monstrous mothers, enfants terrible.

Mark Gattis’ Night Terrors is a very personal piece. Confessedly part-therapy on the writer’s part and ostensibly framed in the style of (as has been observed elsewhere) a classic British portmanteau horror by the likes of House of Hammer or Amicus, it’s the human element rather than the monstrous which is the main attractor. This is no mean feat – Gattis is an avowed devotee of the portmanteau, as anyone who has seen his recent and very good History of Horror series will know, and to be sure the tropes are on show for this episode – dark rooms, fearful and imaginative children, juvenile toys turned into abhorrent and murderous devices. There’s even a giant eyeball in a drawer to tick the surrealism box (and not an Atraxi spaceship in sight this time). At the story’s heart however is a sense of loneliness and alienation – the cramped and anonymous location of a council flat with its elderly neighbours, a landlord and his dog, each, you would suspect, ‘keeping to themselves’ despite living in close quarter with who knows how many other like individuals. There’s Alex and the little-seen Claire, one of countless millions of couples who bear the heart-breaking frustration and disappointment of remaining childless despite best efforts human and scientific, and the emotional ordeal both bring to a relationship. And then there’s George, the improbable child, an alien who has been with them for… who knows how long?

If there’s one let-down in the story it’s in the Doctor likening George to a cuckoo, when this appears to be far from the case. Unless there’s a heavily-veiled truth that this little boy replaced an already existing child in order to be reared (a truly horrific concept perhaps fitting the earlier portmanteau but surely too strong for the likes of Doctor Who), then it’s really not evident. As it is he’s to all intents and purposes exactly what he appears to be, a child in need of a loving mum and dad. It just so happens that he’s not their biological offspring – and alien element aside, this is neither unnatural nor unusual. Nevertheless, it’s narratively important that George is an unknown, and red herring as it is, for the first three quarters of the story the suspicion must remain on him as a disruptive influence. It can’t all be dolls.

Oh yeah. Dolls and a dollhouse for a little boy? It’s been questioned elsewhere, but I just assumed it was a holdover present from a time when Alex and Claire didn’t have a child, but might have been expecting one of indeterminate gender.

And so the crux is acceptance. A different turn from that in The Also People, which shares its faux-family idea (but little else). The scares on show in Night Terrors are peripheral, even if the threats to Amy and Rory are real (though even Rory gets away with a metatextual “we’re dead – again!”), and in effect what you have here is a Doctor-centric episode with Tegan and Turlough in the ventilation shaft. No bad thing – we need to occasionally see that the Doctor is good with parents as well as with kids, and he’s bang on about puberty being Alex and Claire’s next great challenge. If I was uncharitable I’d say there’s Gattis setting himself up for a sequel (poltergeists, anyone?), but I’d rather believe that this is it for the story of George the alien child. And good enough. A return to form for the new series, and for Gattis.


Unchained Melody

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

If the title of this story had lead us all to expect 45 minutes of our heroes facing off against der Fuhrer, once again we’ve been wrong footed. Admittedly Rory (oh Rory; more on you later) does get to re-enact the first Captain America cover and punch the Nazi rotter, but after a handful of lines Hitler then gets locked in a cupboard for the rest of the episode.

So much for Adolf, this episode is really about River (splendid chap, both of them), neatly filling in some more gaps about her past/future and motivations. As was pointed out by some after A Good man goes to War, we found out who she is, but not what. Let’s Kill Hitler redresses this, and presents us with a thoroughly engaging earlier incarnation: Mels.
Through a series of flashbacks we discover that Amy and Rory’s previously unmentioned lifelong friend has had an interesting relationship with them both, being looked after and occasionally scolded by Amy, and becoming crucial in bringing the Ponds together.
The cornfield scene where we first meet Mels is the perfect introduction to her character, scattering our regulars like ninepins and prophetically drawing a line through the Doctor’s name in a little red corvette. It’s also sequence brimming with the joie de vivre we need to launch back into the second half of this series.
Sadly, we’ve only just met Mels when she dies, accidentally shot by her own intended target. It’s an interesting regeneration but we seem to be skimping on the actual ‘morphs’ these days – odd because the justice robot/Teselecta’s physical transitions are rather lavish – even taking on Alex Kingston’s hair, which is no mean feat. (I wouldn’t complain though, as River’s regenerations apparently also make her temporarily bullet-proof). The Teselecta strand of the plot is utterly surreal no matter which way you look at it, a square jawed captain slouching Kirk-like in a command chair, directing the miniaturised crew of a shape-changing robot on time-travelling missions of utterly pointless sadism.

To avoid giving a narrative of the story, I’ll mention the Direction at this point. This episode is full of great visual flourishes from Amy’s tossed TARDIS model becoming the real thing tumbling through the German skies, to the return of the banana gag from The Doctor Dances in a well-choreographed duel. Notice too how little stories are being told behind the main action – Mels holding her side before anyone realises she’s been shot, and the Doctor absent-mindedly flexing his hand as River’s poison begins to take effect.
There may be even more than meets the eye, too, as the author of this blog has suggested that the Doctor’s curiously-timed change into what appears to be his Pond wedding attire may be significant. He was right about the Time Lord’s costume-anachronism last year (Flesh and Stone), so I’d listen to him – those tails may be telling.

As to whether we can assume that River is reformed now, and how and why she loves the Doctor, perhaps it’ll be explained later. Let’s Kill Hitler is as much fun as the title suggests it will be, but one of the fundamental components of this series continues to disappoint me. I like Amy, I really do, but as sometimes happens in real life; marriage and motherhood have made her a lot less fun. She comes with even more baggage now (and some of it has a rather large nose). With each passing episode I’m becoming more convinced that being entrenched so deeply in the lives of the Ponds is diminishing the Doctor, making his world and potential so much smaller. I don’t think he’s happy about it either – and the sonic screwdriver isn’t going to get us out of this one.


The Little River Band

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011


Let’s try this again: Your inestimable blog editor published half a review recently to A Good Man Goes to War, and if it read rather like a one-sided conversation then… that’s because it was!

And so, without a further doo-doo, here’s the proper fulled up review, courtety of Al and Myself. Take it away, boys!

AH: This appears to be a story straight from young Steven Moffat’s Paisley Primary School exercise book:  Silurians, Cybermen, Judoon, a Sontaran, the Master teaming up with the Zygons to alter the outcome of the battle of Culloden (well, maybe next year).

PA: I think Arthur Darvill’s comment in the Confidential about it resembling a battle fought by action figures was apposite. Either Moffat has the Character Options equivalent of JN-T’s wall-o-photos when he’s suffering under the occasional bout of post-Sherlock writer’s block, or CO have taken over the script editor’s chair. So many new characters, and each one a ‘novelty’ or a spectacle in their own right. Yes, a battle needs fodder, and it needs memorable heroes and fatalities. But the fact that this story is the culmination of a hitherto unseen brewing conflict (I’m really tiring of the ‘Six Months Later’ style caption cards this series, to be honest), then we have a problem.

AH: Well, perhaps some have a problem?  I don’t frequent the message boards so am admittedly completely unaware of what the voice of fandom has decreed recently.  Personally, I look forward to finding out more abut this conflict, retrospectively. But to return to our ‘novelty spectacle’ characters – Dan Starkey improves massively on his last speaking role to give us the best Sontaran since Linx.  I loved his hearty farewells which also happened to be death threats. And as has been pointed out, these are Cybermen from our universe, missing the Cybus C from their chests, although this seems to have been the case with last year’s appearance, too.

PA: Oh yes. I heartily enjoyed Starkey’s turn this time ‘round. And it buried his off-turn from his debut. He seemed to be channeling Christopher Ryan – no bad thing! I think he’ll be great in his BF Sontaran story too.
The Cybermen – an improvement there too. I didn’t ask for much – just some moving on! And now we see a fleet of their Invasion ships! They sit at table and strategise! They get blowed up by Rory the Roman… oh well, add that to their already expanding list of weaknesses.

AH: In times past, the Cybermen’s presence would automatically mean they were the ‘rostered villains’ for the ensuing story.  I like the way that these expectations can now be played with. And never mind lamenting that the television series of Jago and Litefoot never happened, let’s have more of Madame Vastra and Jenny, both were utterly wonderful.

PA: Well, yeah. They were good, but I fear that with one statuesque lizard person with a nifty sword on show we’re now even further away from a Draconian appearance in New Who. And the relationship, the relationship… oh, if you must. We’ve sort of been here before though – Gridlock had both permutations in a single episode!

AH: I take your point regarding the Draconians, although they very nearly made it into The Pandorica Opens, apparently. But wait, there’s more: Hugh Bonneville and more spitfires in space sprinkled like ‘hundreds and thousands on the top – this was the food colouring-loaded dessert we were left craving after the previous stodgy, sugar free two parter.

PA: You do realize that your description there actually lasted longer than the scenes described? And where did they GO? I was swearing, then sighing resignedly at the screen by this point.

AH: The small moments are what really matter sometimes! Jenny makes some remark about Avery and Danny Boy having been returned to their own times.  As to how, I don’t really care, not enough to swear and sigh about, anyway!

I have to wonder if the Daleks have been held back for something special, or whether they are all in a panel-beating shop having their nasty bumps removed?

PA: Indeed. Back to the drawing board there, lads.

AH: In the first story to introduce River, I detected a certain counter-organised religion stance in Moffat’s depiction of a purely-digital after life.  And now we appear to have a fully fledged ‘Army of God’ as this years’ Big Bad. He claims that he’s just harkening back to earlier times when many armies were church based and the clerics from River’s second story did seem more sympathetic towards the Doctor.

PA: I’m a little skeptical about the Church angle. Madame Kavorian doesn’t appear to have the hallmarks of the officials we’ve met so far (Father Octavian comes to mind), so perhaps this is the Church moved a few steps further on in their grab for power, they already have the power, or they’re being used by someone else who has the power obviously or not. Fan theories have gone a bit silly over the alleged “omega’ symbol in the Church logo – I’m not convinced that we’re seeing another Time lord’s dabs on this.

AH: As I say, I’m looking forward to finding out! Apparently, as with many others, I guessed River’s identity with the first fleeting glimpse of Baby Pond’s Christian name.  Moffat’s fixation with watery surnames turned out to be of great significance after all.

PA: And here we come to the kernel of my disappointment over this story! You can’t help fan theories – fans are going to theorise, whether a series plays a long-game style narrative arc or not.

AH: So why even mention them – what bearing do fan theories have?

PA: The seeming ease in which this all falls together (admittedly in retrospect) does make the revelation of River’s identity and the Doctor’s ‘rising higher’ a bit of a stumble at the gate. Shades of the revolution in the capitol we’re told about but never see in Trial of a Time Lord, for example (but with build-up!) I’m not going to say I called this first – it seemed like such an easy explanation I admit I was looking (or rather not looking, as I didn’t want to overthink this) for something a little more beguiling. Well, maybe we’ve still not seen the full story yet. It has made things a little tighter-knit in the TARDIS at least. Phew.

AH: I did feel a little sorry for Alex Kingston, having to deliver that cod line about the Doctor rising higher than ever before and falling so much further, but she pulls it off, along with a Wonderful Stevie gag.  And as for telling 23 year old Karen Gillan that she’s her daughter… how do you play that?  But only this revelation could have shot us back up to the third peak of the dramatic ‘W’(after having fallen so much further than ever before ™) and ended the episode on the high it desperately needed.

 In terms of Best. Ever. Science-fiction orientated television programmes, is this not actually the second time a gifted young girl called River has been kidnapped by a scientific/military organisation to be turned into a weapon?

PA: Oh yeah, the ‘borrows’! I know I’m not the only one who watched the space battle in the first thirty seconds and thought of Revenge of the Sith, either. And we know how that turned out.

AH: Twins? I do have to say: I watched this episode with my heart in my mouth, being simultaneously afraid of what might happen next but also desperate to find out.  I cared deeply about characters who’d only just been introduced and felt more hatred for the villains than I have for a very long time.  Much better!

PA: I, too, watched this episode with my heart in my mouth- er. Yes, well. Look I’m prepared to take some of the blame for my own disappointment over this story. And I should remember that this is not a season-finale, it’s a mid-season ‘game changer’, whatever that means (“We play the game again, Time Lord. And the name of the game is… Boggle!”) But I’ve found a frustrating unevenness has crept in so far this year, with a lot of time paid on build-ups and less one one-off stories which, to my mind at least, have been the more enjoyable parts of 2011’s run. I’m concerned that I’m reaching the stage where far from wondering who River really is, who the girl in the space suit was, how or whether the Doctor will really die, what the weird TARDIS from The Lodger is doing in the Silents’ HQ, why Rory is now the Last and not the Lone Centurion et cetera, I actually don’t care. And if a paid-up, lifetime member of fandom with real-life distractions is getting a little tired of this, then what can be said of the ‘casual’ viewer? Might be time yet to wheel those stone angels back on set?

AH: If we’re widening our view to talk about the series so far, then I agree with a lot of what you’ve said.  Maybe as ‘paid-up lifetime members of fandom’ we no longer cope so well with the changes which the programme throws at us, whereas we once took Tristram in cricket whites, Season 23 and ‘more than just a Time Lord’ in our youthful stride.

As you say, we’ve only seen half this year’s story so far – we’re still paid-up, so let’s make the most of it

Ooze Company

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

almostlogoIn the half-time score for Who’s 2011 season it would appear that it’s Matthew Graham’s Ganger show which has taken the greatest kicking.

Traditional, slow-paced, under-plotted for two parts – The Rebel Flesh/Almost People shares many criticisms with Chris Chibnall’s Silurian episodes of last year, which also featured an arc-building coda involving a disappearing companion. The difference this year is broader though. A split in the season means that Graham’s script has been cast into sharper focus for its perceived failings. As a two-parter alongside the similarly less-loved Curse of the Black Spot we could have a three-to four split of ‘not-good’ versus ‘good’ in the 2011 series so far – not great odds. Additionally, as the remaining stories comprise themselves of another two parter, the mid-season finale and Neil Gaiman’s widely-lauded effort you can see the problem – this year if it’s not The Doctor’s Wife it’s either arc-building, in two parts, or just routine. And personally, I think it’s the arc-building that’s the problem.

My thesis then is that The Almost People isn’t a bad story. There are poor parts, for sure – the most patientest cutest widdle child on a holophone line ever, an abrupt character change in Cleaves that allows for a really unconvincing Noble Sacrifice ™ at the end that just screams “too many castmembers!” and of course the unexpected return of the Lazarus Monster as überGanger Jennifer. It is in places a plod, and its shock last-minute twist stands out not for being the clever bit in the script, but for being the obious equaliser, the hand-up offered by the series showrunner. Why else should we expect a two-episode build up to this when there’s an effective (and equally open) ending behind the Company doors on the mainland. If you want to see how that board meeting might have turned out, stay tuned for A Good man Goes to War, and see the Ganger role in future wartime diplomacy.

In the course of two weeks we’ve had less of a standalone story and more of a distraction from the main event – Amy’s quantum pregnancy, and Eyepatch Lady; so I do feel for Graham’s lot. An ordinary story with some great makeup and good design, some smar casting (ho ho) and a living Rory (we should have known something was up!!) Even Matt Smith’s double act was good – not smug, a little bit tricky with the swapped shoes, and more knowing than at first you might have thought. But it’s not enough, and future DVD box sets will not treat this story as The Exciting One With Gangers, but The One Where The Doctor Melts Amy And The Main Plot Kicks Back In – and after two weeks that just doesn’t seem fair.


Copy Rights

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

rebellogo The main revelation of this rather bleak and confined episode is not that the previously servile, artificially-created duplicates: the ‘Gangers,’ have somehow gained independent thought, but that the equally puppeteered Rory Pond has.  As I’m never slow to point out, he has never been my favourite character, but his devotion to ‘Jennifer’s (other) Body’ and emergent streak of wilfulness has suddenly made him a much more interesting character.  It’s a far more meaningful manning-up than that ‘20-centuries Centurion’ business last year.

Instead of striving to be an ‘other of significance’ to a hugely independent woman (I feel your pain, Rory) he has found a vulnerable and trusting girl who seems to like and even need him.  The catch is, of course that she’s not actually real, but this is a situation that may not be that new to some, either.

But whether Jennifer’s, or anyone else’s, Ganger is actually any less real than their original templates is the crux of this episode.  If it were Star Trek this concept would be blasted home with the subtlety of a phaser set on ‘moralise’.  Instead, we are forced to ponder the dilemma when Jimmy’s wistful recollections of his young son back on Earth are hijacked by his duplicates equally heart-felt sentiments for the same child.  “He’s my son too” says the Ganger simply, without a trace of defensiveness or challenge in his voice.

The opening sequence featuring a man nonchalantly left to die in an acid bath as the result of some playful jostling, loses its horror as we realise that we’ve actually witnessed the death of a manufactured avatar, but then gradually regains it again as these same facsimiles begin to think and feel.

If I may point to another contrast with science fiction television produced on the other side of the Atlantic, a laudable aspect of this episode is that the cast are refreshingly ordinary looking.  With the exception of the radiant Ms Gillan I’d surmise that none of them have been near a catwalk, or are likely to, and this makes them both real and easy to identify with, in both their forms.  Pallid, noseless Ganger-Jennifer may look horrifying as she tries to find the hiding Rory, but the desperation and regret in her eyes are heartbreakingly human.

This series has been an odd beast, so far.  The opening episodes flattered our intelligence and patience, whereas the climax to this episode had been clearly telegraphed from the moment the Doctor first saw the flesh vat.  Despite this, it’s a chilling moment and a violation of the Doctor’s appearance which hasn’t been seen since he got copied by a cactus all those years ago.

Inevitably, the ‘us and them’ situation boils over into Ganger warfare which inexplicably also boils over into a second episode.  It’s good stuff, but I’m not convinced there is really enough mileage left to justify another 45 minutes. But I look forward to being proved wrong.


The Lady of the House

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011


I once sat next to Neil Gaiman in a convention bar. There – that’s disclosure. Okay, it’s not that impressive but even in 1998 the man was becoming a force to be reckoned with. His writing was the first I ever heard of being discussed by adolescent girls in a comics shop – entirely without irony. But I remain undecided about Gaiman; I have three of his books and have finished only one of them, and that was twenty years ago. Love his lifestyle, envy his talent (and his library) though. He’s unconventional as a ‘traditional’ writer roped into doing Who in that he doesn’t come from an easily-defined genre – no sci fi, fantasy or horror, as we’ve had in years gone by, but is pretty much his own man. The closest you might come to pigeonholing him could be, what – magical realism? Fairy tale? The latter of course is very post-RTD new Who. Gaiman’s also a honing great fan of the show, as evidenced in his Confidential, and frankly, who else but a fan would not only feel chuffed putting a TARDIS within a TARDIS within a TARDIS, but also set most of his story in a junkyard, in a quarry? Seriously, why has it taken us this long to get here?

 The Doctor’s Wife is therefore a very obvious love letter to the classic series from an ardent and talented fan. Its dialogue sparkles as good texty dialogue should, it has visuals that look like theyw ere written by the writer, rather than approximated by a wardrobe department. Its very own unique TARDIS console was designed by a viewer, and as befits the writer’s vision for the revived show, it seems entirely fitting that the episode’s producer was once, like the Blue Peter winner, a twelve-year old girl. A miracle of casting, Suranne Jones inhabits the personified TARDIS with nothing to draw on; no precedent exists, not even the rumoured and dreaded rapping lips on the time rotor of past TV Movie Production Hells. Yet it’s an interesting facet to Moffat’s vision that of all the stories Neil Gaiman offered for the series, he opted for the ‘love story’, albeit fitting an incarnation of the Doctor studiously dodging the romantic lead angle ( bar maybe one subplot – I write this having not yet seen A Good Man Goes to War, so any revelations about the good Doctor and bad Professor Song can rest for the mean-time, thanks.) It’s tempered here as being a very ‘masculine’ love story – a man and his vehicle. Jeremy Clarkson could watch this episode and probably get weepy too. The past romantic, hitherto buried under a shuffling and awkward debutante remerges as a very Moffat-ish male parody, emotional over gears and levers and given extra sensitivity by Matt Smith and the aforementioned Gaiman. It’s a lovely, contradictory metamorphosis, and perhaps as well-timed as it could ever be, the Doctor’s wilful surrendering to his ‘better half’ the keys to the family car, as it were; but we know it can’t be as simple or as lovely as that forever.

 I’ve written this far without even mentioning the villainous House, Amy and Rory’s on-going trust and guilt issues manifest in the creature’s nasty games, and as effective as they are they are perfunctory – there’s simply so much going on that while they’re not entirely lost in the plot they are certainly surrounded by a  lot of distractions. Well made as it is though, The Doctor’s Wife is very much replay-Who, a story to be rewound for the little details rather than out of confusion or sheer fangeekery. And of course you want to be able to rewind to the best of these moments, in life as much as fairy stories, because you know that happy endings are rare things indeed.