What I thought of Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time

In terms of stakes this episode of Doctor Who had a lot to achieve. It wasn’t just the last episode of Peter Capaldi’s run, but also head producer Steven Moffat, as well as being the first introduction of the first female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. Add into this the fact the story was a multi-Doctor story with David Bradley doing a good job of portraying William Hartnell’s first Doctor plus we’ve got a WW1 army officer played by Mark Gatiss who has been displaced in time for some reason. It sort of works as long as you’re prepared to ignore the plot as that’s really secondary to what else is going on here.

The episode starts with a recap of the very first regeneration 709 episodes ago as the First Doctor (One) faced down the Cybermen, and that nicely leads into One meeting Capaldi’s Doctor (Twelve) at the South Pole after he’s just faced down the Cybermen. Both are refusing to regenerate; in One’s case because he wants to die in the same body he was born in and in Twelve’s case because he’s done with it all. He’s tired of fighting and just wants some peace. In the middle of all this is the riddle of why a WW1 officer has be placed out of time with both Doctor’s? Enter a group of glass androids powered by memories called Testimony who harvest people’s memories at the moment of death, so when Twelve’s former companion Bill Potts returns she can only remember everything up the point of her death. Twelve suspects something bad is going on, and One and Twelve team up to find out what’s going on.

It turns out the plot doesn’t really matter. Testimony aren’t baddies, but actually an academic project from the future to preserve human memories and experiences. This plot device allows Moffat to bring back all of Twelve’s companions (yes, including Clara) to give Capaldi’s Doctor a farewell, and deals with the idea of memories never being replaced. We’ll just make new ones and move on instead of wallowing in past memories which is as subtle a way as possible as saying we need to move on but we’ll still have memories to fall back on when we can. to an audience partly made up of people concerned the new Doctor will be having adventures while not in possession of a penis.

As an episode it is probably the best Christmas special since A Christmas Carol, and a nice sendoff for Capaldi who again shows that he can make any script sing, and here’s been the problem with Moffat’s time as head writer; all the promise of his first year with Matt Smith vanished as plots became needlessly convoluted and were rarely resolved in any satisfying manner. Twice Upon A Time is a fairly simple story by Moffat standards but the hundreds of thousands watching for the regeneration who aren’t regular viewers would have been scratching their heads over some of the plot which did involve having a bit of knowledge of Moffat’s run and indeed, the 54 years history of the programme. Indeed one of the other problems of Moffat’s time is a viewer needed some knowledge of the history to appreciate the programme fully. That said the revelation of just who Mark Gatiss is playing is a lovely wee touch for fans of the programme going back to Patrick Troughton’s time, though I found Moffat making Hartnell’s Doctor a sexist prick

Yet this episode feels like a palate cleanser for what’s to come. A new producer/head writer in the shape of Chris Chibnall, and of course, a new Doctor in the form of Jodie Whittaker. Everything is set up at the end of this episode for a totally fresh start which brings me to the regeneration. Isn’t my favourite. That’s still Peter Davidson to Colin Baker at the end of Caves of Androzani. That story also featured a Doctor fighting off a regeneration, but in this case it was to save the life of his companion and it features the best opening lines from a new Doctor while breaking the fourth wall.. It still can’t be beat.

Capaldi’s regeneration is good though and is essentially a monologue outlining what the Doctor should be; never cruel or cowardly which is the line former Doctor Who writer Terrance Dicks has used for years to describe what the basic character of the Doctor. How Moffat uses that line here is to tell the audience that as long as the Doctor remains these things then they are the Doctor, regardless of how they look.

The new Doctor has a cliffhanger to resolve but she comes to the audience as either a blank slate, or as an evil example of how the snowflake Femnazis are making everything awful from the ”we’ve got blue passports” brigade. She’s got the potential to give the programme the jolt it needs as long as Chibnall remembers that not every viewer will be dripping in the history of the programme and to make stories accessible while at the same time keeping the hardcore fan happy. Not an easy task, but I wish them well and although I’m full of regret we never saw Capaldi hit his full potential that we’re going to get something very special with Jodie Whitaker.

And the new Doctor Who is…

Well, the men’s Wimbledon final is over and the new Doctor to replace Peter Capaldi is not Roger Federer, the new men’s champion, but is instead Jodie Whittaker, the first female Doctor and right now across the planet there are people’s heads doing this…

So well done to her and at this point I predict two things. There will be right wing leaning people who will cry and whine that this is ‘political correctness’. That basically, the Doctor having a vagina is unrealistic and is a sign of the decline of civilisation.

The second is that someone, somewhere on the left will have a blog/Tweet by the end of today saying ‘why wasn’t the new Doctor black?’ and decrying white privilege. If I gambled I’d bet big money on that by midnight, or in fact, the next ten minutes…

Steven Moffat has left Doctor Who and we might be demanding him back….

Steven Moffat, the lead writer and ‘showrunner’ (horrible Americanism)  of Doctor Who is leaving after series 10 of the new series next year. This should be a good thing as the programme is suffering from some truly terrible scripts plus there’s an instance by Moffat ro make things needlessly complicated for anyone just wanting to tune into a bit of Saturday night telly to have seen 53 years worth of episodes to get not just tiny wee things as a nod to the fans, but big major plot points.

Although Moffat has done some fantastic episodes his time in charge has been self-indulgent and it’s wasted one good actor in Matt Smith (who should have had more classic stories) and is still wasting a superb actor in the shape of Peter Capaldi. Moffat needed someone to curb him, and to be fair, his last series did feel better in terms of stories but yet again what let him down was his self-indulgence not to mention the avoidance of killing off Clara which was were her story arc was heading and would have made dramatic sense. Instead we got a pandering continuation for a character not to mention the threat of yet another return.

Tearing up the expected rules of drama is fine if you’re going to do something interesting with it, but Moffat’s done little interesting and there’s good reason why the episodes he wrote last series were the least interesting because he’d ran out of anything interesting to actually say. But Moffat did help bring the programme an international popularity as the BBC realised they could market the hell out of it outwith the UK, so he’s also guaranteed a cash-cow for the BBC at a time when the Tories are squeezing the corporation hard for budget cuts.

So he’s going. Good luck to him. I just hope he’ll have a good replacement with a good track record in writing some great plots and dialogue…..

Oh.

Fuck,

Chris Chibnall is taking over…..

 

Steven, I was a wee bit too harsh!! Please stay! We’ll be better together!

The Doctor Who finale was Steven Moffat’s big bag of shite for us all

Spoilers await for the latest episodes of Doctor Who. You’ve been warned.

 

In Crisis on Infinite Earths, the first huge DC Comics crossover series from 1985, writer Marv Wolfman was told to kill off the Barry Allen version of the Flash as a huge statement that DC were not mucking about in regards changing everything. So Wolfman gave Barry Allen an heroic death saving the entire universe from the evil bad guy, but he left an opening in that death should anyone at any point want to bring Barry back and it’d also provide new motivation for Barry Allen.

Wolfman’s idea was that Barry could be plucked from his timestream in the fraction of a second before he ran himself to death, and he’d live on having adventures, fighting crime, being part of the Justice League, etc, but all the time Barry would know that he’d have to return to face his death at some point so he’d make every second count in whatever time he had before going off to die. This way would have kept Barry’s sacrifice intact and created a new motivation for his heroism.

If anyone reading this was watching Hell Bent, the last episode of Series 9 of the returned Doctor Who last night you’ll realise right away that producer and head writer Steven Moffat used virtually that same idea to return the character of Clara back to life a fortnight after everyone thought her dead and gone in an episode that cheapens the previous episodes, and not just that, it means that in future if Moffat writes a major character or companion’s death, we’re not going to trust it. So frankly, why the fuck should we emotionally invest in anything Moffat writes at all from now on if something like Clara’s death can be so easily reversed?

Her death was the logical end of her story arc. She’s been cocky, selfish, stubborn and in thinking she’s as smart as the Doctor, she did something that doomed her to facing death and she did so calmly and heroically. She got a good death scene and we, the viewer were invested in that so even if you didn’t especially care for the Clara character (she was at times exceptionally annoying/badly written and acted) this was an amazing scene because it was great. A companion died because they thought they were the Doctor and the Doctor stood back knowing he could do nothing, then after being essentially put through billions of years of torture by the Time Lords turns up on Gallifrey to enact revenge and justice upon Rassilon and the High Council for their part in the Time War.

Everything up to there is great. There’s some nice little scenes of the Doctor mingling with ordinary Gallifreians that tell a lot mainly because of Peter Capaldi acting his balls off as he has done throughout this series. Then from about 20-25 minutes into Hell Bent it turns to crap as the Time War/Rassilon plot is wrapped up far, far too quickly (it’s a few lines of dialogue in passing) for something that’s been built up since the programme came back a decade ago.

No, that decade worth of plot, character development and story is ditched so the Doctor gets the Time Lords to pull Clara out of her timestream a moment before her death so she can help him find out who or what the hybrid (this series ongoing plot) is, but in reality the Doctor has gotten the Time Lords (who are now Rassilon free and look to the Doctor not just as a war hero that saved them all, but as a leader) to do this for him so he can bring Clara back to life, and it’s these scenes the writing collapses. The Doctor ends up shooting a Time Lord in a scene that’s stupefyingly  callous because this is something he’d never, ever do. Sure, there’s a line saying that ‘death is like man flu for Time Lords’ which is nonsense as the programme has made it clear that they feel every part of their death, and it ticks off another regeneration which brings them nearer to death.

But to Moffat, Clara is the most important thing here. The Doctor can go against 52 years of characterisation and act like an arsehole to save one life that’s lost because of that person’s hubris. Moffat looked like he’d carved out a good arc for Clara, given her a death which lets her leave with some dignity and this would give the Doctor the motivation to face the Time Lords and bang! There’s a decade worth of story ended in a decent way.

Instead Clara isn’t just alive still, but after some utter gubbins ends up with her own Tardis in the company of the immortal Me, the character played by Masie Williams. There’s some more gubbins that involves the Doctor forgetting the arseholery he’s done (but he’s still done it anyhow) and getting back to being the Doctor, but Clara and Me are whizzing round all of time and space in their own Tardis. Clara lives and she can have her own spin off because in the land of Steven Moffat, logical character arcs and character development goes out the window when it comes to a character who seems like his own avatar in the programme.

What’s really tragic is that this series has been on the whole, excellent. The focus on two part stories has allowed for some good storytelling, and the undersea base story, and the Zygon story stand out especially as some of the best stories since the programme came back in 2005. Also Peter Capaldi has hit his stride in terms of being the Doctor. He’s holding this programme together with some seriously good performances which considering at times he’s given some rubbish to speak, is a feat and a half.

Ultimately though allowing Clara to live, and to happily flash round round the universe in her own Tardis, cheats the audience and in the programme diminishes death as a serious dramatic threat for a future companion. In short, it’s a steaming big bag of shite that makes Clara The Most Important Companion Ever, and makes the next person smaller in scale because they’ll never be Clara and that’s quite depressing.

What I thought of Doctor Who: Last Christmas

The Doctor Who Christmas specials are now an essential part of the BBC Christmas Day programming not just because it gets a huge audience, but because there’s so much shite on normally that even a crap special is better than the latest revamp of whatever programme the BBC have decided to bring back from the dead. These Christmas specials are generally all over the place in terms of quality. Some are great fun, some are just appalling. This falls more into the badlands between both grounds while nicking from Alien, Inception and a large chunk of Alan Moore’s Superman story, For The Man Who Has Everything; a story that features an alien life form that attaches itself to Superman and gives him a perfect life in a dream just like the ‘Dream Crabs’ in this episode that attaches themselves to people and gives them perfect dreams before they die.

supermanannual11for-the-man-who-has-everything

This episode picks up after the end of the last series where the Doctor and Clara and split up with the Doctor thinking Clara had gone to have a life with the presumed resurrected Danny Pink (she hadn’t, he was dead and she was lying) and that Clara thinking the Doctor had gone to stay with his people after he rediscovered Gallifrey (he hadn’t, he was lying) so the pair split on less than honest terms. At the very end of the final episode of last series, the Doctor was interrupted by Santa Claus on the Tardis and this episode starts right on from that as Clara is awoken by Santa emptying his sack into her chimney before the Doctor arrives to whisk her to the North Pole and a base populated by scientists in a pretty typical Doctor Who type of set.

At the base there are four survivors of an attack by alien ‘Dream Crabs’ that have taken four of their colleagues by attaching themselves onto their faces and here’s from here where the Doctor and Clara arrive to get to the bottom of what’s going on. From here the story falls into Alan Moore territory via Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and some of it is very good, some of it is appalling and much of what makes it appalling is Nick Frost’s Santa Claus which is so clearly telegraphed as a dream that Frost may as well have ‘LOOK I’M A DREAM’ on his costume throughout the entire episode.

So somehow these monsters are attacking people randomly across the planet as the Doctor discovers they’re all dying as these aliens are sucking out people’s brains as they’re attached to people’s faces, but these people are stuck in a dream within a dream within a dream and on and on, so that what is ‘real’ becomes hard to work out. It is a little bit too obviously Nolan but through the filter of BBC family television so it ends up a bit neutered, but even so, it’s still so obviously lifted from Christopher Nolan (who himself lifted the idea from things like Little Nemo in Slumberland, another thing writer Stephen Moffat uses for inspiration here with Clara being Nemo) along with all the other bits of ‘inspiration’ that becomes so obvious that Moffat has a character referencing the fact the Dream Crabs look like Facehuggers from Alien. I think Moffat sat there looking like a cat that’d just learned to shite in the litter tray after throwing these references in but the problem is that the story gets clogged down in them and doesn’t flow. Especially as it’s Christmas Day and a large number of people watching it are expecting a decent adventure story which is what the Russell T. Davies specials were, even if some of those were also not very good.

It’s not that Last Christmas is terrible, it’s not, but it’s not especially good either. As said, it falls into a badlands between both mainly because the tone is all over the place. One minutes it’s all jolly and Christmassy, the next it’s being all meta about where it’s drawn it’s influences, the next it’s descended into a bad CBBC programme and on and on. Moffat doesn’t decide on a tone and stick with it, but instead makes a soup with chunky bits that look like they shouldn’t be floating in it, He doesn’t know whether to make it a light episode, or one that’s grim, or one that’s uplifting, so he just welds it all together and ties it up in his influences in the hope most people are too stuffed and/or pissed to notice that it really doesn’t work. It’s a distracting enough bit of telly but the main problem with Last Christmas is that it’s all so very boring and you don’t make a Doctor Who Christmas special boring as people will switch off, or judging by a quick look on social media, they’ll watch it and think it’s just shite.

There is one moment that made me think that perhaps this could be a fantastic episode. It’s the scene where the Doctor realises that the Dream Crabs can go through time, so goes to rescue Clara but discovers 62 years have passed for her so she’s now an old woman essentially waiting to die after a life where she’s lived it to the full even though the Doctor has left her behind. It’d have been a great dramatic exit for Clara and a reminder for the Doctor of humanity’s transience so the Doctor could have been put back in touch with his compassion which would have nicely developed the Capaldi Doctor on. Instead Moffat pulls the rug out from under us and this scene is a dream within a dream which means Clara is still young and still travelling with the Doctor, even though her story has hit a nice dramatic ending that gives her a close, and tells the audience that even the Doctor can suffer loss. Nope, it’s all back to normal as if nothing happened. Lies and deceit is forgotten about as the Doctor and Clara go off to have adventures next series.

Now before anyone says ‘aye, but it’s Christmas, you can’t kill off or get rid of a companion on the Christmas Day episode when everyone is full of booze and meat?”, they’ve done it before. There’s still hordes of 30-40 somethings traumatised by the death of Kylie Minogue.

Moffat chooses the easy route. The safe route. After the last series which on the whole was excellent that makes it all so disappointing as I know this could have been better but the whole thing seems like an idea they firmed up in the pub one lunch rather than make it something that is going to stand out in years to come, because really, few are going to remember this episode in years to come. In fact apart from Moffat’s first Christmas special, his Christmas episodes have been patchy to terrible.

This isn’t to say that I think Moffat’s time in charge is over as the last series showed that perhaps that was a wee bit premature but his time should be coming to an end as the audience needs a new voice in charge, and hopefully the BBC are smart and don’t make the next ‘showrunner’ (terrible American expression) a fan, but instead someone interested in making the best programme they can rather than pander to their own fan fantasies. Peter Capaldi is shaping up to be an excellent Doctor but it’s depressing to think that he’s going to be stuck in this occasionally infantile fantasy landscape Moffat seems to enjoy. We’ve had the programme since it returned be a soap opera, a 2000AD influenced SF/adventure, horror, a romance, then into the Moffat era it becomes this Harry Potter type fantasy which although Moffat does dive outside of that, it’s stuck in this odd middle class fantasy which although is different from RTD’s more working class based drama, is still odd and somewhat tiresome now. I hope Moffat does move on after the next series so we can see a new person in charge.

Last Christmas isn’t a great hour of telly. It has moments but overall it suffered from being too dull, let alone too mired in showing off it’s influences. All we need on a Christmas special is a good, well told story that holds the attention for 60 minutes while the turkey works its way through people’s colons. Throw in some action, some adventure and some fun and bingo you’ve got a Christmas special as opposed to Nick Frost mugging his way through an episode in a Santa suit.

We now have to wait eight months til the next series and indeed, the tenth anniversary of the programme returning in 2005. I hope it’s a good one…..

What I thought of Doctor Who: Death in Heaven

Thoughts about Deep Breath; Into the Dalek; Robot of Sherwood Listen ; Time Heist;The Caretaker ; Kill the Moon, Mummy on the Orient Express Flatline;  In the Forest of the Night and Dark Water

Well, Missy is The Master and that’s exploded a lot of tiny little minds. Meanwhile for the rest of us, what’s she got to do with the Cybermen and how is the Doctor going to fight his greatest nemesis and the Cybermen? Sadly, the biggest problem the Doctor seems to have is fans moaning about how the Master now being female is ‘revisionism’, or not ‘canon’, or anything that avoids the fact they probably have invested far too much in a programme, or are extraordinarily prejudiced against people with different genders to the majority of us. It’s not just male and female which makes Moffat’s decision to make Missy The Master braver than it first seemed, and I can only applaud him for that as it doesn’t seem to be kids who have the problem but adults. If you really look at the scenes of the Doctor and Missy/Master/Mistress and feel queasy then the programme isn’t the one with the problem.

So, the finale. How does it end up for the Doctor and his friends? Well the first thing anyone should notice is that Jenna Coleman gets top billing over Peter Capaldi which I found a tad jarring but seeing as the Doctor spends this episode either running around being useless, or moping, or talking and Clara spends the episode being more like the Doctor (which is paid off in her opening scenes where she tries to convince the Cybermen that she’s the regenerated Doctor) is probably right. If anyone remembers the Colin Baker era, his Doctor would often be entirely useless and would sail through a story having no effect on anyone. Now that was mainly bad writing but I understand what they were trying to do and they’re trying the same sort of thing here to more success but it’s resulted in an episode which could either be one of the best finale’s ever, or a steaming pile of shite. In fact it’s a bit of both.

It turns out that UNIT have been following the 3W corporation for a while and in a line of dialogue we get what should have been a series worth of build up and exposition, but the whole reasoning for 3W (The Master set the company up to prey upon the rich who he promised eternal life) is done and dusted in less than a second so we can get to the plot. It turns out the Cybermen have been watching Iron Man as they now have the ability to fly. 91 Cybermen fly from St. Paul’s Cathedral (which has somehow been converted secretly into a base where the roof can open up) across the UK. UNIT (well, Kate Stewart and Osgood who we met in the 50th anniversary special and has become a fan favourite since) and the Doctor work out that each Cyberman has been sent to seed Cyber technology over the graveyards of the country which would convert the dead into Cybermen.

So far this is all a great concept and it makes the Cybermen unstoppable as all they need to do is convert the dead when they fight humans. From here on in the episode does go to pieces a bit but it’s held together mainly by Capaldi and especially Michelle Gomez who is lapping up being completely mad and totally evil. The minute that we find out that UNIT have kidnapped the Doctor because in the event of a global emergency he would be made President of Earth (though there is a funny dig at the American president ‘going round bombing everything’ which should upset all the right people) is the point where you either switch off the brain or just shout at your telly telling it where to go.

Assuming you’re fine with the Doctor being in a UNIT 747 being Earth President which a massive picture of the Brigadier being made so obvious that it’s clearly foreshadowing something then you should be fine for the rest of the episode. On the plane Missy is kept locked up like Hannibal Lector which means we get probably the best scene in the entire episode. Here she’s telling Osgood that she’s going to kill her, but as the viewer we know she’s not going to kill her because the one thing Doctor Who doesn’t do now is kill off fan favourite characters which means we’ve got some mild threat and a chance to see Gomez be fantastic as a evil Master trying to scare Osgood. When Osgood finds out she’s free of her shackles and that she’s killed the two guards in front of her, we still don’t expect her to die. Then the Master/Missy kills Osgood. It’s a shocking moment ripped right out of classic Who where killing off sympathetic characters in callous ways was the norm. I can imagine a lot of kids taking this badly while the fan community is in mourning it seems. Osgood’s death ramps things up because it makes clear that the Gomez version of the Master isn’t playing around. I only hope Moffat keeps Osgood dead to make sure that the audience realises that the goodies sometimes die as opposed to being shunted to parallel worlds or have their mind wiped.

Meanwhile the 747 is surrounded by Iron Man drones, sorry, Cybermen, who tear the plane apart killing it seems Kate Stewart, and forcing the Doctor to do a freefall dive into a plummeting Tardis in a very Bondian scene.

At the same time, Clara has been saved from the Cybermen by Danny Pink who is now also a Cyberman but one still in control of his mind and emotions. This allows his to ask Clara to switch off his humanity so he can essentially die but this would mean he would become a full Cyberman, and that would mean he would kill Clara. This is pointed out by the Doctor who has arrived just before Missy who comes in in full Mary Poppins mode.

It turns out that Missy has thrown Clara and the Doctor together as Clara is a massive control freak which has seen her over the last series question the Doctor and his motives causing the Doctor to question himself with questions like ‘am I a good man?’. Missy them gives the Doctor the army of Cybermen as his own personal army because her idea is that she and the Doctor are the same really and all she wants really is her childhood friend back. After Danny’s emotion inhibitor is turned on he saves the world with the power of love overriding it  (yes, really, this is used again) by commanding all other Cybermen to take to the skies to explode and therefore cancel out the threat to the world, we’ve got a stand off with Clara, Missy and the Doctor. Clara wants to kill Missy which is by now, the only sensible option left but the Doctor doesn’t want to turn Clara into a weapon which is a thread that’s been running through the programme since it returned in 2005. There’s been an idea that the Doctor weaponises companions which we’ve seen over and over again and now seems to have paid off a bit as the Doctor takes the responsibility for killing the Master upon himself.

Before the Doctor kills Missy, she’s destroyed by a lone Cyberman who is actually Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. Yes really. I’m not sure whether this is a nice moment, or really, really bad fan-fiction made real but it happened, and also Cyber-Brig saved Kate from the 747. Sadly, we don’t get the Cyber-Brig as a new companion as he flies up and blows himself up as he’s obviously seen Iron Man 3 in the afterlife.

Clara and the Doctor split up after the Doctor goes to find Gallifrey after Missy told him where it is, except she lied and it’s not where she said it’d be, and now The Master is dead, he can’t exactly ask her again. Clara on the other had is visited by the voice of Danny Pink who is speaking to her from the afterlife (yes, really) telling her that he can send one person back to our world, however he chooses to send the boy he killed in Iraq/Afghanistan back so he can be with his parents, who we have to assume by now have been slaughtered by an American president bombing things.

Clara and the Doctor meet up for what is one last time to lie to each other. Clara tells the Doctor that Danny has come back from the afterlife, while the Doctor tells Clara he’s found Gallifrey. They lie, they hug and they leave each other in the middle of the one bit of Cardiff city centre (there’s a very nice bar not far from where that scene was filmed) that looks nothing like London and the episode ends.

Except it doesn’t. We cut after the credits start back to the Doctor sitting around moping in the Tardis and he’s startled to hear knocking at the door of his Tardis and a voice asking to be let in. The Doctor doesn’t let them in so they do it themselves and it’s Nick Frost playing Father Christmas. Bang! End Credits. I assume the final separation or reunion of the Doctor and Clara will be the Christmas episode but it’s a nice change in tone from moping grimness to light hearted nonsense which sets up the six week wait for the Christmas Day episode.

Back though to Death in Heaven, it’s an odd episode.I think it’s one of the best endings to a series so far, but then again it’s not got the punch of a Doomsday but coming on Remembrance Day weekend it discusses big themes of soliders, wars and loss. It’s also making it quite clear that the Doctor is no different from those sending men and women into battle even though he takes a moral high ground over the soldiers he meets. It questions the Doctor’s morality and in that respect all of this series has been doing that through the character of Clara.  We’ve been asked if the Doctor is a good man and in many respects he is, but he’s also someone who gladly uses others to defeat evil if if it means they end up dead like Osgood and Danny.  In this respect it’s been an ambitious series which has been thought out and planned well, but the problem in the entire series is the relationship of Danny and Clara, or to be more precise, the dreadful dialogue given to Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson. Even in this episode we’ve got to wade through dreadful, cliches dialogue while taking a leap of faith that these are two people who genuinely love each other as opposed to people who quite like each other. Anderson and Coleman have done wonders with that dialogue they’ve been given, but there’s been a lack of emotional depth in their relationship which hurt the payoff in Death in Heaven.

There’s also a problem using the Cybermen, in that it’s still not really a Cyberman story. It’s a story about the Master, Doctor, Clara and Danny. Moffat could have created a threat the Master had created, but using the Cybermen mean more fan recognition which isn’t always a good thing. In this case it flicks between a good idea and pandering to fanboys which is part of a problem with how the programme has developed under Moffat. Yes, it’s fine to drop a reference to the Chaplet Funeral Home as that’s not going to be jarring, but constantly reusing ideas & monsters from the old series   while not developing it’s own mythology. Since the programme’s return in 2005 they’ve slowly introduced all the old concepts to the point now where the only one left is the return of the Time Lords and the Doctor being on the run from them, rather than trying to find them. That I expect will change in the next few years probably before Moffat leaves.

This isn’t to say it’s not fun, but it’s overegging things to a degree where an episode like Death in Heaven felt bursting when it really needed to be smaller, which to be fair this is the smallest scale finale of any of Moffat’s series as it doesn’t involve the end of the universe.

All in all though, Peter Capaldi’s first series has been excellent, with one genuinely brilliant episode (Flatline) which is a classic and a story arc which made sense, more or less. Now the programme has to kick on after the Christmas episode which is really designed for a bit of fun while we’re all stuffed and pissed. Next series has to develop Capaldi’s Doctor because we’ve got someone who clearly loves the role and is doing some amazing work. give him even better scripts while developing a new mythology for the programme which looks forward, not backwards all the time.

Now we need to wait six weeks to see what on earth Father Christmas is doing on the Tardis….

What I thought of Doctor Who: Dark Water

Thoughts about Deep Breath; Into the Dalek; Robot of SherwoodListen; Time HeistThe Caretaker; Kill the Moon, Mummy on the Orient ExpressFlatline and In the Forest of the Night.

There’s not been a great Cyberman story since Doctor Who returned in 2005. There’s been some alright ones and some nice moments featuring the Cybermen but even their face-off with the Daleks at the end of the second series was a bit underwhelming, even though it was fun. Dark Water has been promised to be a dark, scary Cyberman story by Stephen Moffat, so does it actually serve up the best Cyberman story since the programme returned in 2005? Well, yes after a fashion as it’s only really a story which happens to have the Cybermen in it as they’re not the real threat but more of this later on.

It’s a dark episode for what is basically a children’s/family programme. In fact, I can imagine a lot of kids having some quite disturbing conversations about death after this episode; ‘mummy, is grandad’s soul in torment and constant agony forever because you decided to cremate him?‘. But again, I get ahead of of myself.

The episode starts with Clara acting odd as she goes over her and the Doctor’s adventures this series while speaking to Danny Pink who is walking around one of the bits of Cardiff that sort of looks like London if you squint hard enough.As Danny and Clara have a chat on the phone about their relationship Danny ends up walking out in front of a car and is killed in a scene which verges on melodrama (and falls into it at times) but is still oddly effecting as Danny isn’t a bad character, it’s just his and Clara’s relationship doesn’t feel quite real enough. This isn’t a problem of either Jenna Coleman or Samuel Anderson who have both shown themselves to be splendid actors this series, but it’s the often cack handed dialogue they’re given.

Still, it’s a shocking start to the episode to have it revolve round the death of a major character. This forces Clara into doing something very stupid with the Doctor as she thinks she’s blackmailing him into going back in time to save Danny, but as the Doctor points out he can’t do that. Clara thinks she’s fooled the Doctor in talking her to a volcano so she can bribe the Doctor by destroying the keys to the Tardis (even though it’s now well established the Doctor can open the Tardis by clicking his fingers) one by one. Of course this is Stephen Moffat pulling a bit of a bait and switch as it turns out that Clara has only betrayed the Doctor in a dream but she’s still betrayed him. This is all to give Capaldi a chance to show Clara (and the audience) that this Doctor may be harder and more pragmatic but he’s still the Doctor regardless of what he looks and acts like. He forgives her and decides to use the telepathic circuits of the Tardis to track down wherever Danny is and that could be the afterlife, something the Doctor says he’s been meaning to find out exists.

From here on this episode becomes incredibly unsettling. It asks questions about death and what happens to the consciousness after death that is frankly, possibly a bit too heavy for parts of it’s audience. I don’t mean children, I mean people who think it’s just always been a genre programme. Who has always asked it’s audience tough questions in the past in all it’s 51 years from the moment it introduced the Daleks to an audience still with the memories of the Nazis fresh in their mind.

The Tardis is taken to somewhere called 3W. A organisation that is effectively a privatised version of the afterlife. Clara and the Doctor have the story explained to them by one of 3W’s doctors that the company’s founder managed to record the voices of the dead in television static and they found out that the dead were in eternal torment. This is because the consciousness lives on in another life but it’s connected still to it’s body in this world. How Moffat explains it is in a scene where the 3W doctor explains that a foetus knows only the nine months spent in it’s mother’s womb and when it’s born, it forgets it’s previous ‘life’ as a bunch of cells floating around in amniotic fluid. After all none of us remember the trauma of being born and being ripped from one world and thrown into another has to be a trauma. It’s all genuinely disturbing not to mention it’s Doctor Who playing with the supernatural in a very Nigel Kneale style and doing it very well indeed. It also allows Moffat to reference this Monty Python sketch.

The Doctor says this is rubbish even though 3W have managed to contact Danny in the afterlife (who is having what happened to him explained and has met the child who he killed while fighting in Iraq. Another moment which jolts the viewer as it’s told in flashback) so while the Doctor leaves Clara to work out if it’s really Danny or not, he explores the 3W site and it’s again he meets Missy, who the Doctor and Clara think is a robot designed to show people around 3W’s massive mausoleum full of skeletons sitting in chairs.

On the Doctor and Missy’s first meeting they kiss. This isn’t especially important but in light of revelations later it’s something which is causing a fair amount of fuss online.

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Dark water is the name of the liquid that fills the tanks where the skeletons sit. The Doctor knows these skeletons are covered in an exoskeleton but dark water is something that makes inorganic material invisible. This allows for a slow reveal as Missy activates these skeletons who are actually Cybermen. The Doctor also discovers that 3W hasn’t discovered the afterlife, but people are being uploaded at the point of death  into a Time Lord Matrix, a sort of cyberspace first introduced in the Deadly Assassin way back in the 1970’s years before Keanu Reeves knew kung fu.

We leave Clara hanging up on Danny who hasn’t done enough to convince her that he’s really Danny, or at least that’s what he’s made her think as he’s clearly trying to protect her. As he’s about to delete his consciousness he’s stopped by the boy he killed. Meantime Clara is surrounded by Cybermen.

As for the Doctor and Missy, he finds that they’re in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London which allows the programme to update a classic shot from the 1960s that featured Cybermen.

That was then.

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This is now.

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It’s a nice little nod and well done by the episode’s director, Rachel Talalay.

It’s on the steps of St Paul’s that the Doctor finds out who Missy is and she tells him that Missy is short for Mistress, or the Master and that’s the end of this part of the finale. At this point cue tens of thousands of heads exploding as people get to grips with the Master becoming female. In fact one needs only to look on social media or places like Gallifrey Base to see some pretty nasty stuff being spouted about the idea that Time Lords can change sex so easily. Frankly if you accept a programme about an alien who can change his appearance when he dies and flies around space and time in an old police box, then the only reason you can possibly have in objecting to Missy being The Master is because you have a problem with gender and sexuality.

Yes, the reveal is a bit of a problem as it changes the episode from being a big Cyberman story to one about Missy and how The Master escaped Rassilon to get where she is now, but when I read people wittering on about the programme ‘jumping the shark’ or worst of all, ‘political correctness’ then it does make me quite sick as to mow many small minded arseholes there are. Missy has been played wonderfully by Michelle Gomez and she’s going to make a great addition to those who’ve played The Master. It is of course teasing the day when the Doctor will be played by a woman and I only hope whenever that day is that some of those bleating out the UKIP-esque shite about ‘political correctness’ have grown up or fucked off.

The final episode has a lot to deal with. It has to tell us how Missy came to be, where the Cybermen came into it, rescuing Danny Pink assuming it’s possible, saving Clara and of course the Earth from Missy and the Cybermen and tying it all up in an hour so we can watch Casualty and Match of the Day in peace. There’s a lot of plates being spun which has always been a problem for Moffat as we saw in the final Matt Smith episode where three years of plot development was tied up in a passing line.

I will say I’m impressed by Moffat getting a director like Talalay. Okay, she’s not as good as the superb work Ben Wheatley did but she’s a very, very good director and I don’t care what people think, Tank Girl is still a good film.There’s been a lot at stake this series after the limp performance of the mess of last series, but Moffat’s managed to pull off a fine series this year thanks mainly to some good scripts and of course, Peter Capaldi who has grown into the role brilliantly and I look forward to see how he develops next series now we’re at a point where this Doctor isn’t heroic, but he’s a good man who has to do awful things at times in order to be good. He’s a strong, decent realist as opposed to the idealists of Tennant and Smith.

Next week is the final episode of this series before we have a six week wait for the Christmas episode and then a long painful stretch before next August and Capaldi’s second series. If the final episode is of any sort of quality then for me, this will have been the most consistent and best series since Tennant’s second series in 2007. I only hope it is.

What I thought of Doctor Who: In the Forest of the Night

Thoughts about Deep Breath; Into the Dalek; Robot of Sherwood Listen ; Time Heist;The Caretaker ; Kill the Moon, Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline.

One of the things that Stephen Moffat has done since taking over Doctor Who is to get in big name guest writers such as Neil Gaiman or Richard Curtis who have delivered mainly pretty high quality scripts. This week’s episode is written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, the main writer for the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony and collaborator with Michael Winterbottom on films like 24 Hour Party People as well as his children’s fiction. This is a writer with an amazing pedigree so it’s a major coup for Moffat to get him on board, but does he deliver a good script?

No. In the Forest of the Night is dreadful and from a writer of this quality it’s a crushing disappointment as he’s written some amazing stuff, but this is drivel. The plot is nonsense, even for Doctor Who which has it’s odd bit of sheer nonsense over the years but on the whole it’s normally enjoyable nonsense. This is just plodding, dull rubbish.

The plot is that Earth has been overrun with plants and trees overnight for no real reason. The Doctor thinks it’s an alien invasion while Clara is with Danny Pink and a bunch of CBBC schoolkids having a sleepover in the Natural History Museum (yes really) who wake up to discover a London overrun by a new forest. There’s a whole lot of drivel involving a girl called Maebh, some more stereotypical CBBC kiddie antics,  some wolves, a tiger scared by Danny Pinks torch (seriously) some sparkling lights, more bad CGI, a falling Nelson’s Column and a London totally devoid of all people apart from those only needed for this story. Unless it’s Christmas Day, London is constantly busy with Trafalgar Square (the main location of the story) constantly flowing with people but in this there’s a handful of schoolkids, a few army people and The Doctor.

Eventually the Doctor finds out that a massive solar flare is about to be launched at Earth from the Sun and that this will wipe out all life on Earth and there’s nothing he can do to help. In fact the Doctor doesn’t do very much in this episode apart from realise he’s as much of planet Earth as Clara is. Eventually the Doctor works out that this has happened before and the Earth grows this forest as a sort of airbag to deflect the flare thanks to the extra oxygen in the atmosphere, which is what happens. After danger is averted things go back to normal. The End.

Coming on the back of lat week’s excellent episode, this is even more disappointing. There’s a germ of an idea and under someone like Barry Letts we’d maybe have got a better episode, but we didn’t which is why we got this mess. Yes, the programme has played loose with science over it’s 51 years but there’s a line where as a viewer you go ‘get to fuck!’ and this is it. So on that note let’s forget this episode ever happened and think about the two-part finale (a dreadful Americanism which has sneaked into the UK) starting next week. We know it’s got Cybermen and the mystery of Missy will be explained, but it also looks like Clara has her own secret which we’ll find out soon enough.

Just no more forests please.

What I thought of Doctor Who: Flatline

Thoughts about Deep Breath; Into the Dalek; Robot of Sherwood Listen ; Time Heist;The Caretaker ; Kill the Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express

One of the things which is a little bit predictable about this series is how many episodes are set on Earth and this is yet another episode set on Earth. For a programme which is fantastical which is supposed to spark the imagination it’s almost too hamstrung by the restrictions of budget, so the easy way round it is to set stories on Earth. This is some the programme has suffered from since it’s return in 2005 with some good episodes, and some really dreadful ones.

Although Flatline is a relatively cheap episode set on Earth and in fact, Bristol (even though it doesn’t look like it was filmed here in Bristol)  about aliens from a two-dimensional world invading Bristol which sounds utterly average, though the trailers made it look odd, but nothing exceptional.

Thankfully Flatline isn’t just exceptional, it’s the best episode of what is a series of high quality. It’s a fantastic bit of Who that draws upon classic Who a lot, while throwing in bits of Nigel Kneale, Twilight Zone and even a bit of Attack the Block. It’s a brilliantly original episode which seems like a Doctor-lite story as for most of the episode the Doctor is trapped in his Tardis whose exterior has shrunk thanks to these aliens sucking up ‘extra-dimensional energy’. This leaves Clara to carry most of the action this episode and the Doctor is an observer thanks to a bit of technobabble that allows him to hear and see what Clara does as she tries to get to the bottom of the mystery of disappearing people in Bristol.

This is yet another Clara episode, but it’s a vitally important one as she crosses a big line in it and one which is set up to have ramifications for the final episodes. In this, the Doctor discovers that Clara has lied to him about Danny Pink being fine with Clara continuing to travel with the Doctor. There’s a real sense of the Doctor’s outrage as he feels let down by Clara, but also at the same time Capaldi plays it so he’s almost impressed by Clara’s duplicity not to mention the fact she ends up being a very good Doctor.

As for the aliens, there’s some wonderfully chilling stuff going on as the Doctor and Clara work out that they’re not just turning 3-dimensional humans into 2-dimensional images slapped up on disused railways lines, which is a nice touch setting it in Bristol where every kid and their granny fancies themselves as the next Bansky. The moment when the Doctor sees that these creatures are dissecting humans and splattering their nervous systems or skin on walls is a brilliantly horrific moment right out of classic Hinchcliffe era Who.  There’s also a fantastic moment where the creatures are communicating with the small group of survivors that Clara is protecting where they reel off the number on the jacket of one of community service criminals with Clara, and then the camera shifts to show that he’s been turned 2-D. It’s a brilliant moment but one sadly a wee bit ruined when taken out of context in the trailers.

At the end and after the worst CGI train you will ever see, Clara comes up with a plan to use street art to save the world and the Tardis which by now is a small box (The Doctor has put it in ‘siege mode’ to save power and seal it off from the aliens) needs to be saved. She comes up with a solution which restores the Tardis allowing the Doctor to confront these invaders. This is a wonderful scene with Capaldi portraying the genuine anger of the Doctor being forced to send back the aliens (who he names The Boneless) to wherever they came from. It’s another wonderful scene as the Doctor knows he’s given them every chance but he has to stop them and that means killing some of them.

After the baddies and killed/sent home, the Doctor and Clara reflect upon what’s happened and we yet again in the new series see the Doctor turning a companion into a weapon, and Clara shows she’s a very effective weapon as well. There’s a lot which moves the characters on in this episode from Clara’s ingenuity coming to the fore again and Capaldi’s Doctor being not just heroic and compassionate, but actually positive about humans he’s trying to save.

Flatline is a genuine classic and an episode fans will be talking about in ten or twenty years. It’s horrific, creepy (the scenes of The Boneless trying to make themselves 3-D are brilliantly unsettling if somewhat reminiscent of the monster from a segment of the horror film V/H/S) and sets up the final few episodes nicely as the Missy storyline that’s been teased since the first episode pops up again.

There is only three episodes left with next episode being the last before the two-part final story featuring the Cybermen. I can’t wait……

 

What I thought of Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express

Thoughts about Deep Breath; Into the Dalek; Robot of Sherwood Listen ; Time Heist;The Caretaker and Kill the Moon.

A superficial look at the title of this episode and the fact it features comedian Frank Skinner would make anyone think this is going to be one giant pisstake, but in fact, it ends up being probably the most classic Who of all of Peter Capaldi’s stories so far. It also has a bloody impressive looking mummy as well as Foxes doing a nice cover of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.

The episode starts with the Doctor and Clara onboard the Orient Express, a spaceship based upon the train which allows the story to take place in a 1920’s setting without actually being set in the 1920’s. It’s a smart little trick as it could have very easily been set on the real Orient Express, but the space setting makes it very Doctor Who and it all feels very much like Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes/Tom Baker era of Who which is fantastic as it manages to pull it off.

This is also supposed to be the Doctor and Clara having one last fling before Clara goes off to live her life with teaching, and of course, Danny Pink. til then it’s this one last adventure which Clara thinks is just a visit to something amazing, though it quickly turns out that the Doctor has been invited there by Gus, the ship’s onboard computer to help solve the mystery of the Mummy that is killing people, except nobody apart from the victim can actually see the Mummy, also known as The Foretold. One thing though, once you see it you only have 66 seconds to live.

Eventually when the Doctor realises that all is not as it seems and Gus has brought a load of Mummy experts together in an attempt to solve this mystery, Clara sees the Doctor become the same callous bastard he’s been in much of this series, but unlike last week where the Doctor throws a horrible decision upon humanity, he’s the one making life or death decisions for people as the clock on their life is literally ticking down thanks to Frank Skinner’s character counting down the 66 seconds til their death.

Ultimately this episode is to justify Capaldi’s Doctor for acting like he does. Sometimes he has to be a bastard to make these decisions to save maybe not everyone, but most people. This entire story is basically to teach Clara that sometimes this Doctor has to take these decisions, even if they’re not especially heroic and his previous self in Matt Smith’s dashing young Doctor was the young hero compared to Capaldi’s bitter old realist. Yes, the Doctor does save most of the crew and passengers of the Orient Express but only after getting two of them to describe what they see as they’re waiting for their death in a very, very Tom Baker-esque pair of scenes.

The point of this is to show Clara a bit of reality about travelling with the Doctor. Yes, he’ll show you wonders but he needs to solve these problems and sometimes these adventures are lethal for people around them. He points out to Clara that she’s addicted to it all as he is to all the adventure, though Clara seems to want to leave and have a normal life with Danny, she decides against it to remain with the Doctor, Partly because she really can’t give it up, and also because she knows this man needs someone like her to give him a sense of perspective and humanity. She does this however by lying to the Doctor saying that Danny has said she needs to do this which is really her being a bit of a bastard to Danny, which is clearly something which will be brought up again in future episodes.

There’s also a return to the soldier theme which has trailed through this series which clearly looks as if it’s leading somewhere. I understand there’s still some American fans getting pissy with the Doctor’s prejudice against soldiers but it’s obviously part of the story and anyhow, it’s a sign that Stephen Moffat is actually politicising the programme again. The whole fetishisation of the armed forces is something this series is bringing up, though this is another episode where a former soldier with PTSD plays a major role. I only hope there’s a decent conclusion to where this is going though there’s a number of mysteries to be resolved including just who or what Gus actually is.

All in all this series is probably the best, most consistent since series three and has some of the best scripts since series five. The direction is of a incredibly high standard, though those Ben Wheatley episodes still stand out for some wonderful touches of flair, but overall there’s rarely a flat scene in this series. As for the acting everyone seems to be raising their game because of Capaldi, with even Frank Skinner putting over a nice little performance this week.Yes there’s sometimes a few dud minor roles but on the whole the acting has vastly improved, especially Jenna Coleman who really isn’t the same person making doe eyes at Matt Smith and just ran around crying in short skirts last year.

My only complaint is the scheduling of the programme now. 8.30 on a Saturday night for what is still a kids/family programme really is ridiculous and I do wonder what the BBC are playing at. Ok, this series is a bit more serious than previous ones, but it’s no less grimmer, and it still is enormous fun which is something some critics are missing with Capaldi. He’s clearly loving every second of playing The Doctor without pandering to fan wishes for more of the same sort of thing we’ve seen from Tennant and Smith. It’s a great central performance on display and one which is developing every week as we find out a little bit more about this most alien of Doctor’s since the new series began.

Next week looks to feature killer street art……..