“Flatline” Review

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 9.29.06.pngLook, let’s get my one gripe out of the way. A class 117 DMU in 2014? I mean, this is supposed to be present day, modern Bristol, smart phones… And not only do we get a DMU that last saw mainline service 20 years ago, but which is in the green livery of 1960s BR it would have first appeared in following its manufacture around the start of that decade. Surely, any viewer would have been thrown out of the story by this extraordinary anomaly?

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“Mummy on the Orient Express” Review

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 8.18.15.pngGuuh ouh aah guah aaah. When I try to write how I felt while I was watching this episode, I end up doing little more than than transcribing my gurgles of pleasure. It’s the best episode since Listen. In fact, though Listen blew my socks off, this I enjoyed this more for quite simply distilling the very best of Doctor Who in general, and all the goodness of the Capaldi era (can we call it an era yet?) into 46 minutes of near perfection.

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“Kill The Moon” Review

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 9.55.11.pngVisually, this is an amazing episode – especially the moonscapes and the ultimate ‘hatching’ effect. Watch it with the sound down and it is as beautiful and flawless as… well, as an egg. But start listening to the plot, and some fairly major cracks begin to appear, as a turkey threatens to hatch out. Does the story have enough emotional nukes to kill the tur— okay, I’m probably taking this a bit far…

I did think this was pretty, I did enjoy more Courtney Woods, I did like the way Clara reacted to being pushed into taking responsibility for civilisation (“I’ll smack you so hard you’ll regenerate”), but… I fell into these cracks while I was watching:

  • The threat to Earth was established as being the additional mass of the moon. But the reveal, when it came, didn’t explain where this mass came from (did it?) Also, would the moon continue to orbit around the Earth if both bodies have the same mass (which I’m inferring from the fact they have the same gravity)?
  • The organism that was the moon: millions of years to hatch, then it reaches maturity in a few seconds to be able to lay a new egg. What did it feed on (i.e. where did the mass come from for the new egg, see crack #1)
  • The lights going out on Earth: so many problems, but let’s just settle for – just half the world’s population, is that fair?
  • Firing enough nukes into the moon to kill the…thing. That wouldn’t blow the ‘moon’ apart, then? I mean, is that not even enough of a possibility to be worth discussing?

Also I’m not keen on 2049. It’s not a worry that it contradicts The Moonbase (which I haven’t seen to know if whether it could be consistent with being on an egg). I just don’t like near-future stories. I’ll be in my 70s, if I live that long (“My Gran used to put things on Tumblr”) and I hope to still be watching Doctor Who and yet at the same time not being washed away by super-tides. But that’ll be one more thing for the next-show-runner-but-nine to fix (more cracks in time, Time War II?)

I won’t get too worked up about ‘fuzzy moments in time’ which we apparently had to contend with along with the fixed points, because I think the Doctor was lying.

Actually the main problem was the lack of emotional investment in The Choice. I think it’s essentiality trying to pull the same plot trick as Children of Earth but it fails to represent a real dilemma.

“Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. But imagine if a man each day should have to try to kill the sun? We were born lucky; he thought.”

At the time I was thinking how we don’t know if this super-bug species is even sentient. In retrospect I realise that’s not relevant, when it’s a foetus and we’re talking about an abortion. Meanwhile, on Earth, there are presumably hundreds of thousands of human babies and children dying every 12 hours, everywhere on the planet. Why are we hesitating here? How is this a problem for anyone but either the extreme conservations or most zealous pro-lifers (who anyway tend to be chauvinist when it comes to species).

“But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.”

It doesn’t help, either, that the plight of humanity is being told to us (tell, don’t show?); fed into the dialogue alongside the distinctly dodgy biology and physics – that’s why those distractions are such devastating fault lines in the emotional narrative of the story.

Actually, I don’t think episode was a turkey. I think Courtney was right, it’s a chicken1. Though given that it is a pivotal episode in the development of the Clara/Doctor relationship which has still to play out, it maybe that it will look different in hindsight once we’ve seen that run to its conclusion.

Apologies for the gratuitous Hemingway.

  1. I like chickens. I also like turkeys come to think of it. 

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Death of a Companion

evelyn.jpgIt was announced this morning that Maggie Stables had died. In the years when Doctor Who was not on TV, it lived on through the audios and BBC webcasts. Evelyn Smythe was the first new companion for the Doctor, and she travelled with Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor.

I remember listening to The Marian Conspiracy for the first time in a B&B in Aberlour many years ago, uncertain what to make of this unlikely pairing, but eager to hear more.

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“The Caretaker” Review

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 11.57.46.pngTonally wonky, this one. It starts out as if it’s an episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures, but Doctor Who has evolved with the recent regeneration, and Capaldi reminds me of a bemused Shakespearean actor whose been talked into doing an episode of The Muppet Show. I liked The Lodger. I think Matt Smith did great running around playing at being human (The Power of Three was another favourite). But this doesn’t fit with where Capaldi has been taking the character; it feels like he’s been transplanted into a different show.

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“Time Heist” Review

The-Doctor-and-Clara-2.jpgNow, I like Hustle as much as the next man1 so to have it combined with Doctor Who should be a real treat, but, for some reason I cannot quite put my finger on, this episode left me cold. Oh, I didn’t object to it – it passed the time quite merrily – it just left me without any strong emotion. Like a meringue. Or The Long Game.

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  1. at least, the first three series 

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“Listen” Review

Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 11.52.57.pngIt’s a rare pleasure when you really have no idea where an episode will take you next. In a restaurant for an excruciating first date? Under the bed in a children’s home near Oxford? The end of the Universe?

I thought I knew what was coming when I saw a couple of tweets likening Listen to Blink, as if we’d get a weeping angel for the ears. Blink was Moffat’s third Doctor Who story. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances won me over to the new series in 2005. The Girl in the Fireplace was sublime. Moffat’s scripts were the highlight of each series. Since he took over as the big chief writer, doing a lot more, his stuff has seemed less of a rare treat. It becomes easier to spot ideas being reused – there’s less that seems really new (although The Beast Below is seriously underrated – perhaps the subject for another post). Essentially I thought Listen would recycle Blink.

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“Robot of Sherwood” Review and Podcast

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 7.18.44.png I suppose I should have realised that there was a danger that having two iconic heroes in one story would result in a pissing contest. I had hoped that among the things this more mature Doctor would have left behind would have included his ego; alas we get a rather petulant Twelve who at first I took to be channelling Malcolm Tucker in his aggressive put-downs to Locksley. On reflection, though, I can imagine any of the recent Doctors – Ten, Eleven… Even Nine (remember his switching a banana for Captain Jack’s sonic blaster?) in that scene, and unlike the last two episodes that feel like they’ve been ever-so-carefully crafted for Capaldi’s Doctor this feels like it could have slotted in with any 20th Century Who. Despite that small quibble, magnified because just 3 episodes into his run, Capaldi’s performance is still what we’re all scrutinising, I do think Mark Gatiss crafted a superbly balanced piece that acknowledged and respected Robin Hood whilst keeping the Doctor at the centre of the action. Bravo.

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“Into The Dalek” Review and Podcast

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 12.09.03.pngDespite an elevator-pitch style premise, and a plot that borrows elements from many previous episodes, I’d rate this as  the best dalek story1 since Genesis. Unlike many Dalek stories, the Daleks were properly scary, thanks to a carefully crafted set-up and a well-calibrated threat-level. Well paced, well-plotted, with an interesting structure representing the multi-layered question at is core: fascinating storytelling. This was the first episode in which we get to see the non-traumatised 12th Doctor and – wow. We really are getting something quite new: has the Doctor ever been as dark as in that sequence from asking Ross to swallow the power cell to “he’s the top layer, if you want to say a few words”. Unlike the 6th, he’s not doing this for effect; it’s delivered with a chilling detachment. Read the rest of this entry »

  1. which I think is probably best defined as any story with ‘dalek(s)’ in the title 

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“Deep Breath” Review

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.45.07.pngWell, it’s better than The Twin Dilemma, but it’s not as straight-forwardly enjoyable as The Christmas Invasion. In fact, I think it’s going to take quite a few viewings to decide what I think about Deep Breath. There’s a lot to this episode, and I know I will only scratch the surface in this post. But it’s the unsettling experience of regeneration that raises all sorts of questions and uncertainties, rather than providing a triumphant moment of arrival for the new Doctor. The comparison with the the regeneration into the Sixth Doctor was inevitable since it was revealed the Twelfth Doctor would be “perhaps a little more fierce and a little less immediately knowable” (with more and more parallels emerging).

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