Sunday, 25 December 2011

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. Review.

Dr Who, the Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, group shot

Hooray!

It's Christmas!

And that can mean just one thing.

That I've been watching Carry on Cleo, which I enjoyed immensely, especially the performance of Amanda Barrie as Cleopatra, surely one of the finest cinematic portrayals of a genuine historical figure ever.

But, of course, man cannot live by blockbuster historical epic alone, and so I've also watched Dr Who.

Dr Who, the Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, Claire Skinner and kids

In it, after crashing to Earth in a spacesuit that he's put on backwards, the Doctor's helped back to his TARDIS by Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner).

Later, during World War Two, he decides to return the favour by throwing a Christmas treat for her children.

Unfortunately it all goes wrong and they find themselves trapped on a Christmassy forest world that Bill Bailey and his loggers are about to destroy with acid rain.

As the spirits of the doomed trees take refuge in the children and then their mother, can our heroes escape before being dissolved?

Well, of course they can - it's a Steven Moffat script and it's a Christmas special, so you know everything's going to be fine.

But this is why I'm pathologically unsuited to be doing a review blog because to review things you probably have to have some sort of opinion about them and I really don't have any kind of opinion of The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. I didn't particularly enjoy it. I didn't particularly hate it. Like The Queen's Speech, it was just sort of there.

Dr Who, the Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, Bill Bailey
I certainly preferred it to last year's effort - the sight of Katherine Jenkins warbling to a shark is a nightmare that'll haunt me forever - but I don't feel any urge to ever watch this year's special again. The kids were fine. Claire Skinner was fine with the lighter bits but struggled to get depth into the more serious bits. Bill Bailey and his team were too silly for some of us. The CGI at the start was good. The CGI for the loggers' harvesting tripod was terrible. But, ultimately, whatever its strengths or weaknesses, the whole episode felt a bit nothingy.

The one time it did threaten to become involving was towards the end when, having hidden from her children the fact that their father's dead - killed returning from what I assume is a bombing raid - Madge is finally forced to tell them what's happened. This is more like it, a bit of resonance and emotion threatening to break out amid the froth.

Dr Who, the Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, Claire Skinner goes walkabout in the forest and snow

Unfortunately, Steven Moffat's troublesome desire to protect his target kiddy audience from any of the harsh realities of life, exemplified by his refusal to leave any character dead for more than five minutes, means the scene's almost instantly ruined by the father being restored to life.

Because of that, ultimately the episode's only real emotional impact comes right at the end, with the Doctor's reunion with Amy and Rory for Christmas dinner. Even so, although it's the highlight of the episode, the sequence is a pale thing compared to the joy and sense of liberation of David Tennant's first Christmas dinner with the Tyler family. The truth is that, as a Dr Who fan, I tuned in hoping for a Christmas cracker but instead got something that felt no more substantial than a cream cracker.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Season 6: an overview.

Dr Who, death of the Doctor, The Impossible Astronaut, Lake Silencio
A man rarely enjoys being split in two, and so the question was how would Dr Who cope with 2011 being a year of two halves?

Well, the way it started suggested it'd cope quite nicely as The Impossible Astronaut promptly flung a hand grenade under us with the death of the Doctor before growing more baffling and mysterious by the minute. It was anyone's guess just what was going on but it was never less than gripping, with a great cliff-hanger ending that saw our protagonists facing certain death.

Its follow-up - The Day of the Moon - suffered from a poorly judged beginning, the equivalent of a bad writer declaring, "With one mighty bound he was free!" as we were suddenly joining our heroes several months after the previous episode's cliff-hanger, with a garbled to non-existent explanation of what'd happened in between.

Nevertheless, once the opening was out of the way, the episode created an unforgettable atmosphere of mystery and intrigue, with a great sequence in an abandoned children's home and a genuinely clever resolution that fully justified the backdrop of Neal Armstrong's moon landing.

Sadly, after this, things quickly took a downturn. The Curse of the Black Spot wasted no time in reminding us that pirate romps aren't as easy to do as they might seem and, without the necessary panache, can soon find themselves all at sea.

Next came arguably the year's most talked about episode; Neil Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife, which the critics and most fans loved but I thought was genuinely poor. Suranne Jones was excellent but the idea of the Doctor having a near romance with his TARDIS was for me a dire warning of what happens when you let fans write a show.

For me, following a hugely promising start, the season was now struggling to get going.

That feeling deepened with The Rebel Flesh, a solid but dull episode that barely seemed to have enough ideas to fill one episode, let alone two.

But then something odd happened because, although 95% of the two-parter's plot'd been used up in the first half, the second instalment - The Almost People - managed to be a noticeable improvement. It still had its weaknesses but the whole thing felt less workmanlike, and Matt Smith seemed to be enjoying himself immensely playing two Doctors at the same time.

Sadly, the episode's good work was betrayed by Steven Moffat bolting an ending on that totally went against the spirit of all that had gone before, as the Doctor killed Amy's ganger lookalike after spending two episodes telling everyone not to kill gangers.

Still, despite that, it did set us up nicely for the mini-season's conclusion - A Good Man Goes to War - an outing I personally loved, giving us a Sontaran nurse and a Victorian lesbian adventurer, as the Doctor finally encountered and took on the season's main villains.

And if the revelation that River Song is Amy's daughter felt like the air being let out of a balloon after all the build-up we'd been given, it wasn't enough to mar my otherwise fond memories of the tale.

It was a long cold hard summer of endless rain and falling temperatures in Sheffield. At least that's how I remember it but the series returned with Let's Kill Hitler, one of the great episode titles of all time. It was a fun romp but I'm not sure a fun romp was what was required after we'd been plunged headlong into a war between the Doctor and a nut-job religion in the preceding story. Some of us had been expecting the show to ramp up a gear from that point on.

After such overly-rich fare, Mark Gatiss brought us back down to Earth with Night Terrors which managed to be less than the sum of its parts. It also set a worrying trend, with Rory and Amy seeming unbothered  about the fact their kidnapped daughter was still missing. Part of this problem was created by episodes not being broadcast in the order originally intended but, even if they had been, it's hard to see how the effect of seeing things in the right order would've made any huge difference.

After this came the Girl Who Waited, a chance to explore Amy and Rory's relationship - apart from the bit that involved them having a missing daughter, of course. Karen Gillan was excellent in this, which only made it all the more painfully obvious how poorly the actress had generally been served by the writers since her first appearance.

The God Complex was one of the series' highlights and, with its tale of a minotaur loose in a fake hotel, proof that science fiction/fantasy doesn't need a mega-budget to work. Good news indeed as there're rumours of a tightening of the purse strings for next year's series.

Closing Time set out to recreate the formula of last year's The Lodger. I loved The Lodger, seeing the Doctor in unfamiliar domestic circumstances was a genuine treat but, thanks to its paper-thin plot,  inappropriate use of the Cybermen and a weak resolution, Closing Time failed to recreate the magic - although it did allow Matt Smith to produce one of his finest performances, demonstrating he can do comedy and pathos with equal alacrity as well as having the ability to act like an overgrown kid while still seeming ancient.

The Wedding of River Song was a very strange egg. Taken in its own right it worked well enough, being full of ideas and having fun with a version of the world in which all of history exists at once. It dragged at one point, thanks to so much of the tale being told in flashback but it was mostly entertaining.

If it worked in its own right, as a means of tying off the series, it ultimately left too many loose ends dangling and featured a cop-out ending that felt somewhat empty. It also left us wondering just where the show was going in the future. Is there more of the River Song/Silence saga to come or are we to get a break from all that?

I've said this elsewhere but I couldn't help feeling it was a season that fell between two stools. It's incorporation of an extremely demanding story arc mixed with stand-alone episodes meant it had a strange stop-start feel, in which stand-alone episodes felt irrelevant as they weren't part of the main plot, while the overall arc seemed interminable as it took twice as long to unfold as it should, thanks to it constantly being interrupted by stand-alone episodes. In retrospect it might've been wiser to have had stand-alone episodes only in the first mini-season, with the second containing only arc-related stories. That way it might've felt more like Dr Who's Abbey Road rather than its answer to The White Album.

Monday, 3 October 2011

For those still confused, Madame Kovarian explains her master plan.

Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber), Dr Who
In the next few days, I'm hoping to give my overview of Season 6 of everyone's favourite science fiction show but, before then, there is one other matter to be dealt with.

Amazingly, despite Steven Moffat's crystal-clear story-telling skills, reaction on this blog and others suggests The Wedding of River Song has left people not totally sure just what's been going on.

Happily, all is not lost - as someone known only as Poparena has kindly put together a video in which Madame Kovarian explains her and the Silence's brilliant master-plan.

As you can see, once she explains it, it all makes perfect sense.

Or possibly not...

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Wedding of River Song. Review. (Spoilerific).

Dr Who, Wedding of River Song

Everyone loves a good wedding and everyone loves a good song. Personally, after my last bout with the insane scourge of Weil's disease, I'm not so keen on rivers. But, as that great philosopher Meatloaf once said, "Two out of three ain't bad," and, "Objects in the rear-view mirror may appear closer than they are."

Actually, Meatloaf was one of the few people who didn't turn up in this episode as Steven Moffat repeated his trick from The Pandorica Opens of bringing back old faces for a finale.

So it was that we got Churchill and the dodgy fat blue bloke with the money, the crew of the Teselecta, River Song, Madame Kovarian, the Silents, Rory and Amy. We even got a sort of appearance from the Brigadier, even if it was only in the form of a slap-in-the-face announcement that he'd died.

Dr Who, the Wedding of River Song. River Song with Madame Kovarian

But this was a different world from the one we know, as River Song broke free of her programming to refuse to kill the Doctor, causing a collapse of the barriers of time that left all eras of human history mangled up, with the Pyramids in America, pterodactyls in London and Charles Dickens on TV.

Dr Who, the Wedding of River Song
Can the Doctor do anything to sort out this interminable tangle?

Of course he can. He can get River Song to agree to kill him after all. And, after he sort of marries her, she does just that, making everything right with the world.

Well, apart from the fact our hero's dead.

Except he isn't - because he's been sneaky and, instead of sacrificing himself, has instead let River Song shoot Let's Kill Hitler's Teselecta, disguised as him to fool the Silence into thinking he's dead.

Just one look at the episode's opening sequence, with its shot of cars flying over the Gherkin while suspended from balloons, reminded us the Grand Moff likes to keep the big budgets for his own episodes, and so we got a curious kind of epic that managed to often be big in visual scale while small in mind-set, a kind of sci-fi version of those Agatha Christie scenes where Miss Marple stands in the drawing room and explains just who did what and how.

Despite all Moffat's weavings, twistings and turnings, you can't escape the feeling of a cop-out. After all, in order for Time to be put right, the Doctor has to die.

But he didn't.

It was the Teselecta that "died". A robot that looks like him might fool the Silence but it surely wouldn't fool Time itself. A lot of fans had speculated that the Doctor killed in The Impossible Astronaut was a ganger duplicate which, while it would've been more obvious, would've made more sense in the context of the story as, physically and mentally, it would've been the same being as the Doctor. On top of that there's the question of exactly how the Teselecta started to regenerate.

River Song in the closing moments really does come across as unacceptably smug with her revelation that she knew what was going on all along in The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon but was just pretending she didn't. A cynic would suggest she acted like she didn't know because Moffat at that point didn't know either.

Either way, the happy as Larry, "I'm so clever," way she made this revelation to Amy really did make her come across as a total bottom-hole. If I'd been Amy I'd have put her over my knee and given her a good spanking.

Dr Who, the Wedding of River Song, a captive Silent

Coming across much better was Amy in the alternate time-line, now in charge of Area 51 and its battle with the Silence, happy to give Madame Kovarian a good comeuppance with her own murderous eye patch. That's the sort of thing I like to see in a drama.

Alternate Rory was great too, showing his never-ending loyalty and willingness to endure agony and death for the cause. You did have to feel sorry for him as the Silents taunted him about his tendency to die more often than a bad comedian at the Glasgow Empire.

Not so good were the killer skulls in the catacombs of the Headless Monks. Skulls might be scary in theory but they tend to just look plain silly when they're wobbling about on a shelf, trying to eat you.

Dr Who, the Wedding of River Song, a gaggle of captured SilentsSo, now we have to look forward to the Christmas Special and next year's season, wondering just what form the show'll take from now on. There was a strong hint that the tendency to make the Doctor the centre of the universe is to be scrapped, with him returning to the more anonymous figure he was in the days of Hartnell and Troughton.

For some of us this can be no bad thing, as I've complained in previous reviews about the show having become too insular under Moffat, with seemingly everything that happens in all existence coming down to the Doctor and his companions. Call me old-fashioned but I tend to take the view that the universe is a big place and the heroes shouldn't be bigger than it.

Even now there're unanswered questions. We still don't know exactly who the Silence are or just what's behind them. Nor do we know the significance of the revelation that the oldest question in the universe is, "Dr Who?" Will these matters be carried on into a future storyline or simply forgotten?

Only time will tell.

But then, Time can't even tell if the Doctor's dead. Sometimes Time, like rivers, can be a very big disappointment to you.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Closing Time. Review.

Dr Who, Closing Time, Matt Smith and James Corden

The Doctor's rebirth in 2005 began in a department store and, with the irony that only scriptwriters can provide, I suppose it's appropriate that he should spend the last day before his death in one as well.

Already preparing for his predicted demise, the Doctor visits his ex-flatmate Craig (James Corden), only to discover Cybermen are abducting people, for spare parts, from a local department store. Investigating further, the Doctor discovers they're the crew of a ship that crashed to Earth a long time ago and have lain dormant underground until the nearby installation of power cables by the local council has awakened them.

Dr Who, Closing Time, James Corden being threatened by Cybermen

The fact that I can sum up the entire episode in one paragraph says it all about the main problem with Gareth Roberts' Closing Time, which is it simply doesn't have enough plot to go round. With a handful of characters and only two settings, the thing feels very very slow moving and over-protracted. This is especially evident in the section where the Doctor and Craig are menaced in Craig's house by a Cybermat. The truth is the whole section - and every appearance of the Cybermat in the episode - could be removed without anyone noticing anything amiss.

There's also the problem that the set-up requires the Doctor and Craig to keep taking Craig's baby son Alfie into highly dangerous situations, which it's hard to believe they'd ever do. Craig certainly wouldn't and, as the Doctor's in guilt-mode about putting others in danger, it's hard to believe he would either.

But perhaps Closing Time's worst crime is it wastes the Cybermen, using what're supposed to be the Doctor's second deadliest opponents in an episode that's basically a bit of throwaway fluff.

Dr Who, Closing Time, the Doctor captured by the Cybermen

The Cybermen are particularly let down by a weak ending as they just stand around while their plans fall apart around them. All they have to do at the critical moment is switch off the monitor that shows Craig his crying baby but, even when the Doctor's telling them exactly how the emotional response it's creating in Craig is messing up their attempts to Cyberise him, it still doesn't occur to them to do it.

If most of the episode feels throwaway, the one thing that isn't is the significance of its timing. This is the day before the Doctor dies, and we're never allowed to forget it. This is where the episode's main strength comes into play. That strength is Matt Smith as he handles the scenes where he has to contemplate his forthcoming death, and look back at his previous activities. As he's done before, Smith manages to perfectly convey the sense of being an old man in a young man's body while still coming across in other scenes as basically just an overgrown child.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The God Complex. Review

Dr Who, The God Complex, ventriloquists' dummies
It'd appear that sometimes in life the worst thing you can do is open a door. That's why I have a cat-flap fitted, and why I crawl through it every night to preserve my dignity. But I'm not going to let that stop me as, for one night only, Steve Does Dr Who flings open the doorway of Review and leaps, face first, into the Chamber of Opinion.

Looking for yet another holiday, the Doctor, Rory and Amy find themselves in a hotel with a nasty habit of bumping off its "guests". Once the hotel's made each "guest" enter a room that contains his or her darkest fears, they develop a compulsion to worship a resident Minotaur which then comes to kill them.

It turns out the place isn't a hotel at all but an automated space prison for the Minotaur which feeds on people's faith. And now, minor cast members despatched, Amy's next on the hit-list. Is this the end for our plucky heroine and her rather fetchingly decorated fingernails?

Of course it's not. Just as the Minotaur's about to get her, the Doctor kills it by talking Amy out of her long-standing faith in him, thus robbing the creature of its food source.

Deciding he can't keep putting Amy and Rory in such danger, the Doctor then leaves them behind on Earth, with a new home and car he's somehow acquired for them, then sets off to roam the Universe alone.

Dr Who, The God Complex, Gibbis (David Walliams)and Howie

At last, after a string of episodes that've almost worked for me but haven't quite got there, The God Complex is an story that really doesn't have anything for me to complain about. I didn't feel any great emotional involvement for most of it but perhaps in the end I didn't need to. It seems that, provided you play it straight, you can't go wrong with the old Agatha Christie, "Let's kill everyone off one at a time while the protagonist tries to work out what's going on," format but it was well structured, paced and performed, and how can you not love a Minotaur - especially one whose horns scrape the ceiling?

I am a little concerned though at how easy it was for the Doctor to dispel Amy's faith in him. Basically all he had to do was tell her to drop it and she did. I mean, Colin Baker once tried to strangle his assistant. That's the sort of thing that really shakes a companion's faith.

Dr Who, The God Complex, Matt Smith

But is there some significance in the fact that the evidence of this episode is that Rory appears to have no fears and no faith? Is this just one of those things, or will it prove significant? Could it mean there's something about Rory we've not been told? I still keep going back to the end of The Impossible Astronaut where it seemed The Silence had zapped him, only for him to turn up alive and well at the start of Day of the Moon with no explanation for what'd happened in between.

Dr Who, The God Complex, minotaur
I did say the tale created no sense of emotional involvement but that was only true until the final scenes because it'd take a heart of stone not to be touched by the Doctor's farewell to Amy. I've not always warmed to her, I must confess. This is mostly down to often sketchy and inconsistent writing rather than Karen Gillan who can come up with the goods when she's allowed to, but both Matt Smith and Gillan did an excellent job with the scene, and writer Toby Whithouse showed admiral judgement in knowing when to use dialogue and when to let the characters convey their meaning through actions and body language.

So it's farewell to Amy and Rory. They haven't always worked as characters but they've had their moments. And shall we ever see their likes again?

Of course we will. Is there really anyone who believes the Ponds won't be back?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Girl Who Waited. Review.

Dr Who, The Girl Who Waited, Karen Gillan/Amy Pond
Love conquers all, and I love conkers.

Strangely enough, only one of these themes is the subject of Tom MacRae's The Girl Who Waited. I'll leave you to guess which it is.

All concerns about their daughter seemingly permanently forgotten, the Doctor takes Rory and Amy to the 2nd best tourist spot in the universe but, with his usual capacity for landing everyone in trouble, they find themselves in a medical facility for people with a plague that kills its victims within a day.

The idea is that, for the victims, the facility compresses time, allowing them to live an entire lifetime in the twenty four hours they have remaining. Someone might question why the compression doesn't also apply to the plague they're carrying, meaning that, in their own time-line, they'd still only live a day. Seemingly that's not the case, although it's never explained why.

While the facility's automated systems see the Doctor and Rory as visitors, they see Amy as a patient, meaning she's trapped there unless the Doctor and Rory can get her out.

Karen Gillan/Amy Pond, Dr Who, The Girl Who Waited
Unfortunately, thanks the the time compression, by the time the Doctor and Rory get to her, she's aged 36 years, become a genius, is handy with a sword and has a right nark on at being abandoned for all that time.

Now the Doctor and Rory have to make a choice. Do they take the older Amy with them, thus sentencing the younger Amy to decades of being trapped, or do they go back in time and rescue the younger Amy, meaning the older Amy and all she's been through in 36 years'll be wiped out of existence?

Thanks to some baffling Timey-Wimey gobbledygook, involving electric cables and Love, they manage to make both Amys appear in the same time frame, so they can both, in theory, be rescued.

But the TARDIS'll only allow one of them aboard because of the paradox their co-existence is creating, meaning Rory has to make a choice as to which Amy to abandon to her unhappy fate.

White Robot, Dr Who, The Girl Who Waited
With its white sets, white robots and occasionally confusing concepts, there's more than a hint of Patrick Troughton's The Mind Robber about The Girl Who Waited but the story itself's completely different, throwing a focus on Rory and Amy's relationship and its power to overcome decades of separation, resentment and even the laws of time itself.

What probably pleases me most about the episode (apart from the smiley Rory-bot) is it doesn't cop out as I thought it was going to by having the older Amy killed in the slow-motion fight she, Rory and the younger Amy have with the facility's robots, meaning that Rory' forced into a choice over which Amy to abandon. Of course, he chooses the younger model. Whoever thought it was going to be otherwise?

Perhaps the episode's main weakness is that the whole, "Amy and Rory have a love so strong nothing can stand in its way," routine is something that's already over-familiar to the point of tiresomeness and, because Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan never actually come across like a couple in love, isn't something that overly interests me. To a large degree it gets back to the insularity the show's displayed too often in the Moffat era, where everything in the whole universe seems to pale in comparison to the needs and wants of the central characters.

I don't know if I liked this episode or not. It certainly tried to do something different with the format and was clearly classier than last week's outing but, then again, the first three episodes of this mini-season have been so different from each other in concept, tone and execution that it feels like you're watching a totally different show each week, giving a highly disjointed feel to proceedings. It's nice to be surprised but it'd be fun to watch two episodes in  row that actually feel like they're from the same show.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Night Terrors. Review.

Dr Who, Night Terrors, Matt Smith and scary dolls
He might not serve any noticeable purpose in most episodes but sometimes you can't help feeling sorry for Rory Williams. Not only does he have to put up with a scary wife whose face is a white doll-like mask with dead eyes and a fixed expression but, in Mark Gatiss' Night Terrors, he has to put up with his wife turning into a scary creature whose face is a white doll-like mask with dead eyes and a fixed expression. Some days a man just can't win.

Travelling in the TARDIS, the Doctor receives a psychic message from a child called George who's scared of monsters and needs someone to help him.

Well, that's the sort of plea I can ignore and the Doctor can't and so, before you know it, the Doctor's on the tower block where George lives, as Rory, Amy and just about everyone else we meet find themselves trapped in a doll's house, being turned into people-sized dolls.

By the end of the tale, the Doctor, George and the George's father Alex are all trapped in the doll's house and about to suffer the fate that's already befallen Amy.

It seems that George isn't a real child. He's an alien who, cuckoo-like, has entered the life of the childless Alex and his wife but, fearing rejection by them, is sending everyone who scares him to the doll's house in his wardrobe. It would appear that ultimately he's also scared of himself as, at the tale's climax, he even sends himself into it. With the giant dolls closing in on them all, can anything save them now?

Of course it can.

The love of a father can and, happily it's all sorted out when Alex gives George a good hug and declares that he'd never get rid of his "son".

Dr Who, Night Terrors, Daniel Mays and Matt Smith

Maybe I have too short an attention span but I can't help feeling that, with no noticeable threat in sight and Rory and Amy trapped in a mysterious house whose secret's all too obvious, the first twenty four minutes of Night Terrors drags horribly, a feeling not helped by Gatiss' insistence on having characters wandering around talking to themselves. You do wonder why TV writers never notice there's nothing like having characters talking to themselves to totally destroy the illusion that we're watching real people doing real things.

In the 24th minute, things pick up noticeably as, in the doll's house, the people-sized dolls arrive and start doing their thing. Suddenly, from that point on, it's a viable episode, let down only by an ending that's too pat to be convincing. I know fathers have bonds with their children but even so it's hard to believe that, having just discovered his son's an alien who's been manipulating him for eight years, Alex could so easily put that aside and unconditionally accept the boy as his son. Call me heartless but frankly, after a revelation like that, I wouldn't want to approach George with anything less explosive than a shotgun.

I've got to admit my hopes for Night Terrors weren't high. With Victory of the Daleks and The Idiot's Lantern, Mark Gatiss gave us, for my money, two of the worst episodes of Dr Who since the show returned in 2005, leaving me wondering if his far better Unquiet Dead wasn't some kind of fluke. Come to think of it, The Lazarus Experiment, in which Gatiss merely appeared, was also terrible. Sometimes it seems like just having Mark Gatiss connected with an episode, in whatever capacity, is enough to capsize it.

Well, this was definitely better than both Victory and The Idiot's Lantern though not as good as The Unquiet Dead, which filled forty five minutes more comfortably than this did. Like all Mark Gatiss scripts, it tended to be better in theory than in execution and, with its cuckoo-in-the-nest-child and something nasty in the wardrobe, it was hard not to notice parallels with Season Two's Fear Her. But, still, it's hard to go too wrong with scary dolls and scary doll's houses and scary wardrobes, and its mood of determined creepiness at least made a refreshing contrast to last week's sillier fare.

I should also add that, despite my disgraceful knocking of Karen Gillan's occasionally disturbing face, she's excellent in the episode and I still can't help feeling she'd make a better Doctor than assistant.

But, reader, I must make a confession. As we all know, it takes a keen pair of eyes and the finest of minds to be a critic. This must be why I managed to spend the first half of the show thinking that Daniel Mays, who played Alex, was in fact ex-Blue star Antony Costa. How impressed I was with the acting skills of  a man better known for not quite setting Eurovision alight.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Let's Kill Hitler. Review.

Dr Who, Let's Kill Hitler, the Numskulls Terminator
Gadzooks! The world's longest-running sci-fi show's back!

And that means it's time for not-quite-the-world's-longest-running-blog to cast off its mothballs, dust itself down, straighten its bow tie and fling itself once more into the Time Stream.

Needless to say the show returns with a mix of confusion, camera angles and flashbacks as the Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves joined against their will by Amy's never-before-mentioned ever-present childhood friend Mels who holds the Doctor at gunpoint and demands he takes them back in time to kill  Hitler.

It turns out Mels is not the only one with that thought, because a robot controlled by tiny people who live inside it's out to do the same. Basically it's a cross between Robert Patrick's shape-shifting Terminator and the Numskulls from The Beano, with a control room that's clearly a nod to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Unfortunately Mels' plan's foiled as the TARDIS crashes into the room just as the deed's about to be done, thus saving Hitler's life. Hooray!

Or, then again, perhaps not.

While Hitler surviving may or may not be good news, one thing that definitely is good news is that, in the melee, the mind-bogglingly annoying Mels is hit by a stray bullet.

The not so good news is she promptly regenerates into River Song, leaving it clear that Steven Moffat's determined to inflict her on us at every possible opportunity. Having been brainwashed by the bad guys, she poisons the Doctor by kissing him, then leaves him to die as she sets off to cause trouble in 1930s' Berlin.

Dr Who, Let's Kill Hitler, the Amy-Bot attacks River Song

Unfortunately for her, the crew of the Terminator/Numskulls robot decide to have a go at punishing her for killing the Doctor, as Amy and Rory find themselves aboard it and facing death at the hands of its mechanical anti-bodies. Happily it's all sorted out as River gets a fit of conscience and saves Amy and Rory with the TARDIS then cures the Doctor by giving him the rest of her remaining regenerations. With River recuperating in the best hospital in the universe, the Doctor and his mates go off in search of yet more adventures.

Dr Who, Let's Kill Hitler, Amy and Rory vs the anti-bodies

It's the sign of a good critic that they have a strong opinion on everything. Needless to say, I don't have a strong opinion on this episode. It was OK. It wasn't terrible. It was a little irritating in places, especially early on - the Numskulls robot feeling particularly gimmicky - while Moffat's obsession with River Song has long-since drifted into the realms of self-indulgence to a degree that makes you wonder if he thinks he's making the River Song show.

Still, for once with a River Song story, it manages to avoid throwing up too many new mysteries. I think the only addition we get here is the nature of the oldest question in the Universe, which apparently lies at the heart of everything that's going on. Of course, the question can be relied on to involve the Doctor, as the show's become so insular that everything in Moffat's Who Universe ultimately comes down to the current cast of characters.

While the episode didn't throw up too many new riddles, it did little to remove any old ones, effectively leaving us none the wiser about anything. Alex Kingston's clearly enjoying herself, Rory still seems to have no purpose other than to be a sidekick to a sidekick, and Moffat gets to do his usual thing of killing a character before bringing them back again. I suppose we just have to accept we're going to keep getting  River Song story lines until Moffat finally decides he can be bothered with concluding an arc that clearly interests him a lot more than it does some of its audience. While Let's Kill Hitler's all harmless, time-passing fun for the seasoned Who viewer, you can't help wondering how an episode like this'd strike someone who's never seen the show before.

Still, next week looks to be non-River Song related, and the monsters look suitably creepy, so hopefully we'll be given simpler fare before we're flung again into the endless world of the Silence and their endless machinations.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Dr Who Season 6b trailer for 2011 released. Spoilerish.


Steve Does Dr Who breaks its awesome silence to belatedly notice the BBC have released a trailer for the second half of this year's Dr Who Season 6. There's a few too many familiar monsters for my comfort but fortunately there's one or two new ones and we do get an intriguing shot of River Song. It looks like Amy's getting handy with swords again and who doesn't want to see minotaurs?

The main question I suppose is will the second half of this season finally wrap up all the loose plot strands or will it all spill over into next year's series? When will we finally know what's going on? When? When?

Saturday, 4 June 2011

A Good Man Goes to War. Review (Mahoosive spoilers).

Dr Who, A Good Man Goes to War, Frances Barber, Madame Kovarian
Dr Who's first mini-series of 2011 comes to an end with a story that no one with any sense ever thought would tie up all its loose ends, and surely everyone knew would create new ones.

Having decided to rescue Amy from the evil eye-patch woman and her lackeys, the Doctor recruits an unlikely army of Silurians, a Sontaran, a blue man and some pirates before setting off to get her back. After a daring raid on the bad guys' asteroid, it seems he's succeeded but, while he frees Amy, in his over-confidence he fails to realise until too late that he's not rescued her baby, leading to the deaths of a number of his accomplices and giving River Song a chance to hand him a Davros-style lecture about his nature before she finally gets round to revealing who she actually is.

Dr Who, A Good Man Goes to War, Rory, Amy and River Song
To be honest, the River Song revelation's not that big a shock - there weren't that many people she could be and still have it mean anything in context of the show, and I think most viewers had noted the similarity between the names Pond and River. So, when it comes, it feels a bit lame especially as we're exposed to the unlikely sight of Alex Kingston claiming to be Karen Gillan's daughter. Still, at least we've finally got that mystery out of the way.

Dr Who, A Good Man Goes to War, Madame Vastra
If the thing has the air of an epic and is clearly in some places in debt to Star Wars, its main triumphs are ones of characterisation, as we're introduced to what must be the only Sontaran nurse in the universe, a lesbian Silurian Victorian super-sleuth and a young woman who's joined the bad guys purely so she'll get the chance to meet the Doctor again after once encountering him as a girl. Steven Moffat really does like to have the Doctor first encounter characters when they're children, doesn't he?

Dr Who, A Good man Goes to War, Rory and Commander Strax
Did we ever think we'd encounter a likeable Sontaran? Probably not but Dan Starkey plays the part of Commander Strax beautifully, fully exploiting the ludicrousness of a character who cheerfully threatens to kill you while also giving you helpful health advice, and you have to love his dying words to Rory; "A warrior? Rory, I'm a nurse," giving Rory as much of a reality check as the Doctor's had to receive. The episode's full of such neat ironies, including Amy's part Time-Lord baby being put in the Doctor's old cot. There's also the revelation that the Doctor can allegedly speak Baby Language.

That aside, the amount of build-up the Doctor gets in this episode's quite startling and there's no denying that, clearly starting to believe his own publicity, he needs to be taken down a peg or two - although it's hard to see how the writers can possibly turn the Doctor away from seeming like the deadliest being in the universe after all the triumphs against ridiculous odds he's had over the decades and all the ones he'll inevitably have  in the future.

Probably the weakest element character-wise is the sight of Rory being bad-ass with the Cybermen. It doesn't matter how hard Arthur Darvill tries, it's still impossible to see him as anything other than amiably inept.

If Russell T Davies got accused of sometimes trying to cram too much into his epics, Steven Moffat takes it to a whole other level as he tries to pack an entire RTD style two-parter into just 45 minutes. Largely he succeeds. Despite so much having to be fitted in, the pacing mostly feels right. At times it all seems a bit too pumped up for Dr Who - especially the Doctor enjoying the Spitfire attack on the base a little too much for comfort - but, in fairness, that issue's addressed with River Song's lecture.

So, the Doctor's succeeded and he's failed. What next? We still don't know who's actually behind the scheme to nab Amy's baby - although there's an obvious set of suspects - and how does Hitler fit into it all? We'll have to wait a couple of months to find out.

But just what was that post-credits shot all about?

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Almost People. Review.

Dr Who, The Almost People, the ganger Doctor
Just as last night's Champions' League final was a game of two halves - with a lot more of interest happening in the Manchester United half than the Barcelona one - so, after a first part that left the story with seemingly nowhere to go and threatened to give us forty five minutes of barely more than people shouting, The Almost People somehow manages to be an improvement on The Rebel Flesh.

Despite a paper thin plot - the original staff are in one room and decide to move to another - it throws in enough twists, turns, details and deaths to keep us going, as the Doctor teams up with his duplicate to try and get as many people out of the acid factory alive as possible.

Dr Who, The Almost People, the ganger Jennifer
The ganger Jennifer. Sometimes adrip but
rarely a drip.
Granted, none of the twists are actually surprising, and the revelation that the Doctor and "John Smith" have swapped places is about as unexpected as the "shock" revelation at the end of Part One but it all keeps the story moving. Plus, Matt Smith's clearly having fun playing two parts at once. The right people get killed along the way; the original Jennifer really was a drip, the world didn't need two Jimmys going on endlessly about their son, and the charmless Buzzer was always asking to be eaten.

The exception to the right people getting killed was the ultimate survival of the original Cleaves who'd been a thoroughly unpleasant and block-headed individual all the way through. I suppose we have to put her unpleasantness down to the blood clot in her brain, and her later personality change down to its removal. But why do I get a feeling the duplicate Cleaves and Doctor will be back before the end of the series?

If it was mostly an entertaining episode, and the factory staff turned out to be more interesting than in The Rebel Flesh, the main downsides involved the assistants. Rory really is spectacularly stupid in this half, trusting "Jennifer" to a ridiculous degree, even when she's acting in a manner that should set alarm bells ringing in the emptiest of heads. Happily operating machinery, without the slightest clue what it's supposed to do, really doesn't reflect well on a man. As for, "This wheel's way too hard for a girl to turn," Argh!.

Amy, meanwhile, is consistently stupid and unpleasant, tactlessly insulting the duplicate Doctor who's trying to save her, and, for no good reason, blurting out that she's seen him die. I suppose we could put it down to her being a  duplicate and not the real deal but sadly her stupidity and ignorance here aren't out of character for the original Amy.

Dr Who, The Almost People, the ganger Amy
And that brings us the climax that threatens to overshadow the whole episode, as we get the reveal that the Amy we've been following for the last few weeks isn't Amy at all but a ganger, while the real Amy lies in a room somewhere, about to give birth, as Frances Barber shows off her taste in lipstick.

Compelling a revelation as it is, the ginger ganger is the episode's real problem. After two episodes of the Doctor telling us that gangers are real people too and should be allowed to live, he then, at the tale's climax, whips out his sonic screwdriver (where did he get that from? He's already given it to his lookalike) and ruthlessly destroys the fake Amy for no reason at all. I assume this section was written by Steven Moffat rather than Matthew Graham and it seems that either Moffat hadn't at that point read Graham's script or simply didn't care about it, as the Doctor's action here takes the philosophical point Graham's just spent two episodes making, screws it up and throws it in the bin.

So, Amy's about to give birth. But to what? Will it be the space suit girl? Will it be River Song? Will it be to a football team that can actually take on Barcelona? Only next week will tell us. Will we be there? Of course we will. Will we have a clue what's going on? Don't bet your bow-tie on it.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Rebel Flesh. Review.

Dr Who, the Rebel Flesh
The Rapture having bypassed my house completely, it's time instead for the TARDIS to take us where angels fear to flap, as we plunge into the depths of space and go further than we've ever gone before.

Up North.

It might not've been the end of the world on planet Earth but in the TARDIS it's feeling a little Apocalyptical as, blasted by a solar storm, the Doctor and his mates are forced to emergency land on an island-based factory employed in the creation of a wildly corrosive acid. In order to reduce the risk of them being dissolved in their own produce, the staff - who all seem to be from north of Watford - create mindless copies of themselves, called Gangers, that they control mentally in order to get them do the dangerous work.

Unfortunately, during the next burst of solar activity, the Gangers gain wills of their own, and the original staff and their duplicates soon find themselves at war with each other, as the Doctor deals with lookalike problems of his own.

Dr Who, the Rebel Flesh
After last week's determinedly offbeat offering, we're back with that old Who standby the base under siege. The twist being that the base this time is under siege from itself. The Rebel Flesh is an episode that keeps hovering on the brink of developing into something genuinely interesting but never seems to have the will to do so. The opening - with its depiction of Life On Mars/Ashes to Ashes' Marshall Lancaster being dissolved in acid but not being that bothered - holds out a promise that we're going to be given a dark comedy.

But then we aren't.

Later, with it not being clear just who's an original and who's a copy, the show threatens to become a The Thing style venture into paranoia.

But then it doesn't.

Next it threatens to become an exploration of the ethics of creating lifeforms purely to do the dying for us.

But then it doesn't.

Next it threatens to become an exploration of what it is to be human.

But then it doesn't.

Finally it threatens to become an exploration of the nature of identity.

But then it doesn't.

The fact that none of these potentially interesting directions are more than passingly explored, as the tale settles for just being about some dull people versus some other dull people, means that while it's not an actively terrible episode, it's also not very gripping. In fact, the most interesting thing to me is that Rory finally acknowledges his own personal elephant in the room by joking about his alarming tendency to die on a regular basis.

Amy, meanwhile, has her own elephant to deal with as she yet again runs into the eye-patch hatch woman. If only the Doctor would tell Amy about the phantom pregnancy. If only Amy would tell the Doctor about the eye-patch hatch woman.

Among everything that's going on, there's a member of staff who keeps sneezing. My in-depth knowledge of sci-fi cliché tells me this may prove to be the story's pivotal point. Do the lookalikes lack an immunity to the common cold that'll see them off? And is there significance to the fact that the workforce haven't heard from the mainland for a while?

With its refusal to focus on more interesting themes and its similarity to previous Nu-Who stories like Waters of Mars, The Impossible Planet and even last year's Silurian two-parter, The Rebel Flesh seems a little too familiar to fully intrigue, and at times comes dangerously close to feeling like it was written by the ten deadly fingers of Chris Chibnall. Moreover, with its extremely limiting setting and it's not overly compelling threat, it's hard to see where the tale can go in the second half. It's therefore worrying that the trailer for next week seems to consist not of plot developments, twists, turns and intrigue but almost entirely of people shouting. We can only hope the BBC're simply keeping the best bits from us.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Doctor's Wife. Review.

Dr Who, Idris, Auntie and Uncle, the Doctor's Wife by Neil Gaiman
Hiring Neil Gaiman to write a Dr Who episode was always going to be a risk. Despite the acclaim that's been heaped on him over the years, the truth is Gaiman's never totally mastered many of the basic skills of story-telling, such as plot, character and endings. He also has a tendency to go for style over substance to a degree that can leave his work teetering on the cliff edge of total pointlessness. In a comic book these weaknesses can be overlooked and even become a strength. Comics are a visual medium - and an abstract one to boot - in which a writer can get away with plenty as long as his scripts give an artist the ability to weave a certain kind of magic. No one ever accused Stan Lee, for instance, of being the world's greatest writer but that didn't stop his comics being classics.

Television, on the other hand is a more demanding mistress. There's no artist to fill the chinks in a writer's armour, and the use of real people and sets, rather than stylised drawings, gives it a literalism that demands a whole other mindset.

Dr Who, Suranne Jones and Matt Smith, the Doctor's Wife by Neil Gaiman
Receiving what appears to be a message from another Time Lord, the Doctor leaves the universe and lands on a living planet called House - but not before House steals the TARDIS' matrix - its "soul" - and put it into the body of a woman called Idris. After the Doctor's had the chance to meet the annoying locals, House's life-force leaves the Doctor and Idris behind, takes control of the TARDIS' physical shell and sets off to wreak havoc in our Universe. Can our hero catch up with him and restore the TARDIS' soul to its body before it's too late?

Of course he can - it'd be the end of the show if he didn't - but not before he gets to spend time with the woman the TARDIS has now become.

Dr Who, ood, the Doctor's Wife by Neil Gaiman

It's hard to know what to make of it. On first viewing, the thing's so inept in its story-telling that it feels like we've been TARDISed back to the grim days of Sylvester McCoy, while the actors playing Auntie and Uncle produce some of the worst acting you'll ever see on a TV screen. In fairness, as they're acting just like you expect Neil Gaiman characters to act, I suppose you have to absolve them of blame and assume they're simply doing what they've been told to.

If in the episode's first half, Gaiman at least pays lip service to trying to tell something that resembles a story, in its second he gives up altogether as we're given the Doctor trying to build a TARDIS from scratch while Rory and Amy run around corridors for what feels like an eternity. For fans of fake deaths, we also get the sight of Rory seeming to die and then being alive again. There's a novelty.

It doesn't help that, as House, Michael Sheen delivers all his lines with the vigour of an "I Speak Your Weight" machine, guaranteeing that Gaiman's inevitably weak - and hard to follow - ending is even less involving than it needs to be.

Dr Who, Idris, the Doctor's Wife by Neil Gaiman
On second viewing, the first half does feature some neat foreshadowing that relates to events in the second half, and the episode's real saving grace, Suranne Jones' performance as Idris, shines through, meaning it's not the complete disaster it initially seemed but, after the poor Neverwhere and now this, should Gaiman be allowed to write for TV again?

Probably not. His weaknesses are simply fatal in such an on-the-nail medium and his strengths have no way to express themselves amid such literalism.

But that's for Gaiman to worry about. For the viewer, the main concern has to be that, after a hugely promising debut, each episode of this current series has been weaker than the one before, and the trailer for next week's really doesn't look promising at all. Steven Moffat's proven he can write Dr Who but the worry is that, as show runner, he's threatening to be the man who steered the ship straight at the iceberg. The Doctor found his way back to our universe but can the show find its way back to where it needs to be? Or was my feeling that I'd been transported back to the late 1980s disturbingly apt? Will subsequent episodes bring a stirring turnaround or merely the beginning of the end?

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Steve McDonald's The Doctor's Wife. Vital news!

Suranne Jones, Dr Who, Neil Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife
Hello. Just popping in to make a quick announcement for anyone who might be on tenterhooks awaiting my pronouncements on Neil Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife. Thanks to it being a matter of life or death that I watch tonight's Eurovision Song Contest (come on, Jedward!), my review of said episode won't be posted until tomorrow (Sunday).

In the meantime, I have no doubt at all that Jedward will bring the bacon home for Blighty.

They are representing Blighty, aren't they?

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Curse of the Black Spot. Review.

Dr Who, the Curse of the Black Spot, Lily Cole, promo pic
Avast behind, webmates, Barnacle Steve here with another reaverous review fresh from the fathomy depths of Davy Jones' Blogger.

Actually, despite that completely convincing pirate impression, The Curse of the Black Spot was always going to have to work hard to win me over, as I've never been that into pirate romps, especially ones where the pirates never leave their ship, never romp and never do any actual pirating.

Not that the Doctor, Amy and Rory need worry about that, as they arrive on a pirate ship only to discover a Siren's killing any crew member who has an injury or illness.

Dr Who, the Curse of the Black Spot, Amy Pond, Rory and the Doctor
Of course, plunged into such a set-up, it's only a matter of minutes before the hapless Rory gets injured, and our heroes have to try and find a way to save him while simultaneously redeeming the ship's captain with the aid of a conveniently placed child. I get a feeling I was supposed to feel heart-warmed by this tale of a man rediscovering his values but the truth is the feelings I had most while watching it were boredom, disengagement and annoyance.

The dialogue especially irritated me. Too much of it could've and should've been cut out. It's an episode where the Doctor just never seems to shut up, forcing Matt Smith to give easily his worst performance since he took over the role, degenerating into endless mannerisms, quirks, jumping around and shouting. Sadly, he wasn't alone. Amy's also in full-on irritating mode.

Dr Who, the Curse of the Black Spot, Amy Pond and her cutlass
There're flaws too in Jeremy Webb's direction. It feels off all the way through, either being too frenetic, too long-winded or too static, depending on the scene. The problem's most obvious during Amy's swashbuckling sequence which feels clumsily staged and over-long, as does the Doctor's walking the plank segment. For all its manic energy, the sequence with the Doctor and the pirate captain Avery in the TARDIS feels like it lasts a life-time.

In fairness to Webb, it can't have been easy. The fact that almost the entire tale takes place on one not very big ship means there's a lack of visual change from scene to scene that quickly robs the episode of its visual interest.

Sadly, once the episode leaves the pirate ship and enters an alien spacecraft, things actually become less, and not more, interesting; the resolution far too reminiscent of other things. The revelation of a spaceship linked to an earthbound setting, its  crew dead, while part of its technology battles to fulfil its programming's too reminiscent of The Girl in the Fireplace, the holographic doctor too reminiscent of Star Trek: Voyager, and Lily Cole's attempts at inanely singing people back to health dredges up dread memories of Katherine Jenkins' warbling at that bloody CGI shark.

But, amongst it all, the episode's greatest over-familiarity, the killer, has to be that yet again we're confronted with Rory dying. This makes it three episodes in a row now where Rory's appeared to have kicked the bucket, and - combined with his multiple deaths in last year's series - it's starting to get ludicrous to the point of incompetence.

I think the less said about the scene of the totally untrained Captain Avery smoothly piloting a spaceship, as his crew saunter in, the better. I also have to say a major weakness is Hugh Bonneville's casting as Avery. He's an engaging and appealing presence but he's not meant to be. There's nothing in his performance that properly captures the ruthless greedy killer the script says he is. His redemption has no clout because, regardless of his actions, he never has the feel of a man in need of redemption.

I'm also not sure we needed the reminder of the Doctor's impending death or of Amy's on/off pregnancy, something the Doctor seems to have little interest in actually getting to the heart of despite him clearly mithering about it. The truth is that, like too much that happens in this episode, it feels like padding and you do wonder if the script ran seriously short and had to have extra bits added to fill it out.

So, overall, it's an episode I'd have to make walk the plank, rather than reward with extra rations. Still, I'm not an untraveled man - I've been on the Isle of Man ferry - and, as I know from my own adventures on the high seas, every voyage unearths the odd wooden doubloon and, with an unfeasibly posh Suranne Jones, next week's outing at least looks more likely to yield the buried treasure we all came here for.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Day of the Moon. Review.

Dr Who, Day of the Moon, Area 51
Part 2 of The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon is probably the greatest second episode ever made in the history of Dr Who.

Unfortunately the BBC didn't bother to transmit it and leapt straight to broadcasting Part 3 instead, leading to probably the most confusing opening sequence in the history of Dr Who, as, several months on from last week's cliff-hanger, we now find the Doctor a prisoner in Area 51 as his companions flee Canton and his FBI mates, only for it all to turn out to be a put-up job to throw the bad guys off the scent.

Even having seen the thing twice now, I'm still not totally sure what was supposed to have happened in the gap between the two episodes or whether there was really any point to the prolonged opening sequence. Surely, having fled the scene, straight after the Amy/Spacesuit Girl shooting incident, they could just've got in the TARDIS and set their plan into motion immediately? You know, the one about stopping the aliens?

Still, it did at least give us the comedy highlight of the episode as the TARDIS appears from nowhere to catch the plummeting River Song in its swimming pool.

Dr Who, Day of the Moon, Amy Pond at the children's home

Having done their little run around, our heroes set off to find the girl in the space suit, a quest that takes them to a disturbing children's home. It's these scenes where, shamelessly borrowing its feel from The X-Files, the episode's at its best, thanks to the creepiness of the place and the hapless proprietor who keeps leaving himself warnings to flee the building but then forgets he's the one who wrote them. All the while he blames it on the non-existent children while the place crawls with monsters. In the end, it's all resolved with the Doctor using Neil Armstrong's moon landing to turn the Silence's powers of post-hypnotic suggestion against them, and the world is at last safe for Nixon to run in its best interests.

In truth, the sudden jump from the events of last week's episode to this week's made Day of the Moon feel more like a 45 minute epilogue than an actual continuation, though, in its defence, time seemed to fly by while I was watching it.

On the other hand, that was partly because it felt like there really wasn't enough time to fit in everything it was trying to, as mystery and obfuscation were piled high onto each other like the world's tallest Knickerbocker Glory of Intrigue. It's fine to cram plenty of elements into an opening episode - that merely makes us curious to see how things turn out - but perhaps not so wise to try and do so for the resolution. We did at least, I think, discover that the Spacesuit Girl is (possibly) Amy's daughter and that the Silence want her for... ...erm something.

But if the episode was perhaps an instance of trying to over-pack its suitcase, there was one instance of over- packing that was a triumph of audience manipulation and that was its last scene, in which the young girl, now free of her space suit, turns up dying on the streets of New York, only to start regenerating. How could anyone not want to continue watching the rest of the season after that bombshell? It seems Amy's fears about her future children being affected by her time in the TARDIS has proven to be justified.

One moment that did stick in my mind amid the confusion, was the scene where Amy's exploring the children's home, only for a woman to momentarily appear at a window and say, "No, I think she's just dreaming," before vanishing. Leaving aside the fact it felt like something straight out of Ashes to Ashes, it raised a reminder that the last time we saw Amy pregnant was in last season's Dream Lord episode. With the TARDIS scanner unable to ascertain whether Amy is or isn't really pregnant, does this mean that everything we've been seeing since is a dream? It could explain an awful lot.

On the River Song front, I've now come to the conclusion that it was her past self, in the spacesuit, who killed the future Doctor in The Impossible Astronaut. Mostly this is because when she shot the departing astronaut, and it didn't work, she said, "No, of course not." This'd make sense in terms of River and the Doctor never meeting in the right order. After all, if you shot your past self, it'd presumably have no effect, as killing your past self would mean your present self no longer existed and therefore wouldn't be around to shoot its past self. It'd also explain River being in jail for killing, "The best man I ever knew."

I could comment on the Doctor's odd lack of curiosity about the strange TARDIS he keeps stumbling across but I suspect that he's more interested in it than he's letting on.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Impossible Astronaut. Review.

Dr Who, the Impossible Astronaut, Part 1, promo

There're a million and one reasons not to listen to Talksport. The latest and best is that a couple of days ago its TV critic declared The Impossible Astronaut to be too clever and complicated and said the show should get back to doing nice simple stories about the Doctor fighting monsters.

Like anyone who expresses an opinion about anything on that radio station, he was completely wrong, because The Impossible Astronaut's simply the best Doctor Who season opener since the show first returned in 2005.

While season launchers for Nu-Who have traditionally been light, straightforward romps designed more to ease you comfortably back into the show than challenge you, The Impossible Astronaut throws twists, turns, revelation, obfuscation and confusion at you from the start, as Amy, Rory and River are summoned by the Doctor to witness his death at the hands of what seems to be an astronaut, only to then go on to meet his earlier - still living - self before going back to 1969 to help Richard Nixon.

Richard Nixon has a problem.

Richard Nixon has lots of problems. Chief of which is that he's Richard Nixon. But this time, it's not one of the obvious ones that's causing him grief.

You see, the President keeps getting phone calls from a little girl who says she's being menaced by a spaceman. The quest to find her takes the Doctor and his pals to a building near-ish to NASA HQ and leads River and Rory to an underground chamber that looks suspiciously like the interior of the ersatz TARDIS from last season's The Lodger. Interesting that those controls look like they'd work best for creatures with sink plungers rather than hands?

Meanwhile, in an attempt to save the Doctor from his future death, the pregnant Amy shoots the little girl they went there to rescue.

Dr Who, the Impossible Astronaut, a Silent
Intermingled with all this are The Silence, a race of aliens in suits who you can only remember if you're looking at them. Why they're in the habit of wearing suits, I don't know but, as with Buffy's Gentlemen, the sight of a skinny, wrinkly monster in a suit and tie's oddly disconcerting and, even as a jaded adult, you can imagine just how unsettling they could be to younger minds.

This is by far the most ambitious opener since the show came back, ever more deeply entrenching the mythology Moffat's been building up for a long while now. I complained in my last post that in the early days of his first season in charge, Moffat had at times seemed too keen to replicate the Russell T Davies style, as though scared to shock the audience with anything too different but, here, all spiritual ties with that era are well and truly cut. He's showing the difference between himself and Davies in full, as we get the sense of the show as a sort of Rubik's Cube, with the pieces ready to slot into a place we can't yet imagine. Whereas RTD's story arcs often felt bolted onto the Doctor's stand-alone adventures, with Moffat - like the concept of time travel itself - they're hard-wired in so tightly you wonder how they can ever be disentangled.

River Song:
"Easter Island? They worshipped you. Have you seen the statues?"
Matt Smith is of course excellent, as he's been from Day One, and Alex Kingston manages to make what could've easily been an obnoxious and off-putting character in River Song strangely engaging.

That's not to say there aren't some concerns. Nothing's perfect. Not even me. As we all know, at times Moffat's palette can seem narrower than it is long. As so often, there's a little girl, there's a menace with a face hidden behind a mask, and of course there's River Song, escaping from jail for the millionth time. There's also the problem of just what Rory's there for. He's an endearing character but he doesn't actually do anything.

I was also uncomfortable that the only character in the whole episode who 's treated with total disrespect by everyone around him just happened to be black. This might be coincidental, just a quirk of casting but, given America's racial politics of the 1960s, it did feel somewhat uncomfortable to watch him being portrayed as an over-excitable block-headed fool.

Still, overall, the thing was great and you don't know how relieved I am to be saying that. After the Christmas Special, I had fears of starting off my blog with a great big thumbs down. That would've seen me agreeing with someone from Talksport. And we all know that that way lies madness.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Steve Does Dr Who - An Introduction.

Elisabeth Sladen, Sarah Jane Smith, publicity photo
Due to the death of Elisabeth Sladen just days before the new series was due to start, Circumstance has made this a strange time to be launching a Dr Who based blog.

I can't deny that Sarah Jane wasn't one of my favourite assistants. For all the talk over the years of her being the first feminist companion, my main memories of her from my childhood are of her tripping over things, being carried around unconscious half the time and possessing what seemed like an inability to meet a grassy embankment without rolling helplessly down it.

None of that of course was Lis Sladen's fault. Like any actor, she was stuck with the script she was given and, in the 1970s, the Doctor's assistants were often given scripts that didn't best serve them. I remember Louise Jameson's anecdote about taking every new script she was given and going through it with a Biro, crossing out all the screams.

But, whatever my doubts about Sarah Jane's original characterisation, Lis Sladen was a part of the show's history for a long long time and always came across has having a certain civilised quality. Plus, there's no denying the Sarah Jane Smith we got in the Sarah Jane Adventures was far closer to the character we'd always been told she was than the character she'd once been.

The fact that Sladen had seemed to be in perfect health and defying the years with consummate ease only served to make her death all the more shocking and saddening, rubbing in that it wasn't only Lis Sladen who died that day, it was a small part of our childhood, the part that believed that, with a police box and a screwdriver, time itself can be defied.

Sadly, time can't be defied, it rolls endlessly on, ultimately crushing all in its path. The death of Elisabeth Sladen forced us all, however subconsciously, to confront that.

But if time must travel ever onwards, so must this blog. I've not exactly set myself the most arduous of tasks. Each week, as soon as I've had chance to watch it twice, I'll review the latest episode, and no doubt annoy you by saying your favourite episode of all time is terrible and your least favourite episode's a masterpiece.

That's the funny thing about consensus - there isn't one.

For instance, I have to own up that I was planning to launch this blog after the last Christmas special but, unlike a lot of people, I really didn't like that special. I didn't feel I needed another retelling of A Christmas Carol, and the sight of Katherine Jenkins crooning at a shark was when I started looking at the clock and wondering how much more of it we still had to endure.

I'd also had problems with the first half of the previous season, as Steven Moffat seemed to be trying to still give us Russell T Davies' Dr Who instead of his own.

Happily, things picked up in the second half of that season, and, once the truly dreadful Silurian two-parter was over, it was all plain sailing, as everyone concerned seemed to find their feet and their feel. All I can hope is that, with a full season behind them, Moffat and Matt Smith have fully made the show into a pair of shoes that fit those feet like a glove and will use them to tread the path of total consistency.

Who knows; we might even finally get to find out who River Song is. I'm betting she's an agent of Omega but, then, none of my guesses about the show and its future developments have ever proven to be right. So, what do I know?
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