|Posted by SonicR on October 26, 2018 at 3:30 AM||comments (2)|
The beginning of a new era of Doctor Who is always somewhat of an exercise in trepidation. Having grown accustomed to the previous status quo, with a well-established Doctor and a well-established showrunner, change can be difficult to handle. But as Doctor Who has shown over its almost 55 years, change is an essential component of the programme, and is the reason it is still around today. The big question, then, is whether the show has changed too much for its good? Only time will tell. But for now, three episodes into Series 11, it is clear that the show has changed considerably.
The most noticeable change is, of course, the fact that the Doctor is now female. The idea first teased in the 1980s, then spoofed in the 90s, has finally become a reality. I was not particularly excited by the announcement last year, and had still not completely warmed to the idea by the time Series 11 was due to air. Three episodes in, and I’m still not convinced it was a good move, or at the very least, that Jodie Whittaker was the right pick for the role. She’s certainly a talented actress in other roles, but her Doctor simply feels very forced, like she’s playing someone playing the Doctor, rather than just playing the Doctor. ‘She’s trying too hard’ would be a good summary of how I feel; I get the impression that her Doctor is meant to be eccentric in a vein similar to David Tennant or Matt Smith, but she can’t pull it off. Eccentricity is something that came very naturally to Tennant and Smith, but Whittaker is struggling, and it shows. To be fair to her, though, she’s not helped by the writing.
Both of the previous showrunners, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat, had a background in writing comedies before they wrote for Doctor Who, and that resulted in sharp, witty dialogue that conveyed a lot of information in as little time as possible. Chris Chibnall, on the other hand, excels in character dramas, and has become very clear in the two episodes that he’s written by himself so far, dialogue is not his strong point. It’s often clunky and awkward at best, and downright cringe-inducing at worst (“Biology!”;), adhering very closely to a format of question, exposition, question exposition. This is great for letting the audience know what’s going on, but it gives the episode a very stilted pace.
A final observation of the first three episodes is that Doctor Who still has yet to solve its tendency to lack good villains and monsters. This is somewhat understandable in The Woman Who Fell To Earth, which has to introduce both a new Doctor and the new companions. For The Ghost Monument and Rosa, on the other hand, their absence goes a long way to highlight how much better those episodes could have been had the antagonists been decent. In both, they feel like an afterthought, tacked on out of obligation, with no real intent to develop or explore them in any way.
Needless to say, my initial impression of Series 11 have been distinctly negative. While not terrible television – there are far worse shows out there – they are all reminders of how much better Doctor Who can be when it tries. All I can do now is hope that the remaining seven episodes are all marked improvements.
The Woman Who Fell To Earth
A largely unimpressive story that was the weakest introduction of a new Doctor since the show returned in 2005. As expected, how the Doctor survived a fall from a height many times the height of the one that triggered his fourth regeneration is completely brushed aside in favour of rapidly advancing the plot. The new companions are quite well-developed, with Bradley Walsh’s Graham being the standout. The Stenza, T’zim-Sha, had an effective design, but failed to do anything to establish him as a serious threat, and was removed from the episode quite cleanly and quickly. By far the highlight of the episode was the funeral scene at the end, which explored emotionally mature themes in a way that Doctor Who has rarely done before.
The Ghost Monument
The idea that the TARDIS was the ‘ghost monument’, a monolith that appeared every 1000 solar cycles on a planet before disappearing again was a fantastic one. Unfortunately, the episode failed to explore it in any meaningful fashion, instead choosing to focus on two characters completing a race, with the Doctor and companions tagging along in an effort to get off the planet. Numerous, more interesting plot elements are mentioned and ignored, with random robots and flying pieces of cloth showing up, doing nothing, before being defeated – all within the space of 3 minutes of their initial appearances. Finally, to cap the whole thing off, the two participants in the race decide to agree to tie for a win, and we get what is possibly the worst TARDIS interior since the 2005 ‘coral’ one. The cinematography, too is bizarre, with wide, gorgeous shots showing the South African countryside only gracing us at the end, after 45 minutes of close-ups.
Doctor Who has never shied away from dealing with contentious issues, and nor should it. The result is the best episode of the series so far – though admittedly that isn’t saying much. Rosa addresses issues of racism in a mature, realistic way, and the episode is all the better for it. However, its villain is weakly developed, and given no motivation beyond being a racist ‘just because’. He created obstacles for the protagonists, and once that job was complete, was removed from the plot in an extremely underwhelming way. The less said about the pop song at the end, the better. Graham is still the most interesting of the companions, but Yas is criminally underdeveloped, a major blunder that will hopefully be corrected in the very near future. The dialogue showed a marked improvement on the previous two episodes as well, no doubt due to the co-writing credit of Malorie Blackman.
|Posted by SonicR on December 28, 2017 at 8:05 PM||comments (3)|
Doctor Who's annual Christmas Special farewells the 12th Doctor - and the 1st.
Regeneration episodes: a necessity to ensure that Doctor Who continues, exchanging the lead actor for another. Some do a fantastic job at giving a conclusion to the incumbent Doctor's tenure, others...not so much. Thankfully, the former is the case here. Put simply, Twice Upon a Time was everything I wanted it to be: a fitting coda to the 12th Doctor’s adventures, and Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat’s time working on the show. Suffice to say, I’m tremendously pleased that all three went out on a high. There’s nothing worse than to have the last hurrah be an unintentional failure, leaving a bad taste in the mouth once their gone. No, here, Moffat has crafted a very personal, emotional story that in many ways acts as his and Capaldi’s final love letter to the show that they so clearly love.
The inclusion of the 1st Doctor is one example – not particularly necessary to the story (though really, the entire story isn’t strictly necessary in the first place), but nevertheless a welcome presence. I had worried that he would distract from the 12th Doctor’s swansong, but he was very much the supporting character here, leaving the story a good ten minutes before the episode ended, allowing us to have our final minutes with 12. But when he was around, he was great, giving us that distinctive gruffness, along with the twinkle and charm that endeared him to a whole generation of children over 50 years ago. The only downside, however, was the rather jarring ‘jokes’ at his expense concerning his views on women. While it would be silly to deny that 1960s Doctor Who was a product of its time, the extent of the first Doctor’s casual sexism (which is debatable in and of itself) was needlessly exaggerated here, and seemed only to exist so that Moffat and the audience could look back and laugh at how unenlightened we were a few decades ago. But barring those four instances, having the 1st Doctor play a major role in an episode was wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that I wish we’d had a bit more of him. For instance, the scene where he was discussing regeneration with his future self was building up to be beautifully poignant, yet was cut brutally short by Rusty the Dalek attacking them. Couldn’t we have spent just a minute or two more with them before the action started up again?
But throughout it all, David Bradley did an excellent job of playing the character, managing to replicate the main ‘essence’, rather than going for a full impersonation. And that’s what’s important. No one can replicate William Hartnell’s performance, physical appearance or voice, but Bradley succeeded in capturing the spark of Hartnell’s Doctor, and that definitely gave us the next best thing. Big Finish has announced that he will be doing a series of audio adventures as the 1st Doctor too, so I’ll be sure to check them out to have more of his great performance.
If there’s one, overwhelming disappointment I have with the inclusion of the 1st Doctor, it’s that we didn’t have him and the 12th Doctor go and visit their granddaughter, Susan. It would have been a lovely scene to have them make good on their promise to return to her – especially because the original actress is still alive! – but alas, it was not to be. A missed opportunity, and a real shame.
What wasn’t a shame, though, was Peter Capaldi’s final moments as the Doctor. And yes, while the TARDIS crashing after the regeneration wasn’t original in the slightest, the pre-regeneration speech consisting of giving a list of verbal instructions to the next Doctor was. Combined with 12’s final words of “Doctor, I let you go”, the whole scene did a marvellous job at embracing the change to come. And it did a good job of helping the audience embrace the change too – myself included. “I suppose one more life won’t kill anybody,” the Doctor says, as the music swells, bringing a sad, happy smile to my face. As someone who has been lukewarm at best to the idea of a female Doctor, actually seeing the morph between Peter Capaldi and Jodie Whittaker gave the idea the one thing it hadn’t had before – credibility. It grounded it within the show. Suddenly, Jodie wasn’t just an actress who was to become the Doctor is some abstract sense. She was the Doctor. Seeing the change made all the difference, and while I’m still not completely sold on the idea, I’m nonetheless quite excited to see how Jodie will go, and where the show takes the 13th Doctor.
And that’s the best thing about Twice Upon a Time, I think. It got me excited. It made me remember why I love Doctor Who. Though I can be a horrible old codger about it on occasion (just ask my housemates!), through all that criticism is a love for a show that never fails to inspire, to create wonderful characters, and to give us moments like the recreation of the Christmas Armistice, or the hug between the Doctor, Bill and Nardole. Or even the Clara cameo. Twice Upon a Time brought Capaldi’s tenure to a close, and it beautifully wrapped up the adventures of the 12th Doctor. It even did the unthinkable: it made me dislike Hell Bent a little less. How could it not, with that lovely grin on the Doctor’s face as he says he remembers Clara? Making me look back fondly on an episode I strong dislike is a true Christmas present from Doctor Who if ever I wanted one. As the Doctor himself said, "hate is always foolish."
Farewell, Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat, you will both be sorely missed.
|Posted by SonicR on July 7, 2017 at 9:35 AM||comments (2)|
The Eaters of Light is the first New Series story to be written by someone who also penned a script for the Classic Series. The author in question is Rona Munroe, and her previous Doctor Who contribution is actually the final story of the Classic era – 1989’s Survival. The Eaters of Light is a vastly different beast than Survival, but that can’t hide the fact that it is distinctly underwhelming.
Bland, dreary, dull. Those three words sum up the Scottish weather depicted in the episode, but they also encapsulate my opinion on the episode as a whole. There’s nothing really wrong with it; the premise is simple, the monster very well designed, and the resolution fairly straightforward, yet it still manages to come across as rather boring. There’s simply nothing to keep the viewer engaged. The monster element to the narrative had a great deal of potential, but that opportunity was squandered as soon as the episode decided to go off and have the Doctor moralise at a bunch of frightened teenagers instead. It’s a real shame, because the monster is very well realised, and could easily come off as terrifying, but it fails to do anything of merit other than killing a Roman to demonstrate its power, temporarily harming Bill, and moving the characters to where they need to be in order for the episode to conclude. It’s a plot device, nothing more.
But the monster being a plot device didn’t necessarily have to be a problem – not if the actual focus of the episode was any good. Exploring the cultural differences between the Picts and the Romans, comparing and contrasting the positives and negatives of both, then perhaps tying it all together using the monster as a metaphor (similar to how the monster in 2010’s Vincent and the Doctor is a metaphor for Vincent’s mental illness) would have worked really well, I think. What we get, unfortunately, is a group of Pict teenagers and a group of Roman teenagers both saying that they’re scared of the monster. The only real difference is to whom they’re saying it. It comes across as one-note, and very repetitive.
Eventually though, both groups encounter each other, and through an admittedly clever use of the TARDIS’ translation circuit, put aside their differences to send the monster back to its own domain. And they do so rather easily, diminishing the monster’s threatening presence even more – all by essentially holding up a magnifying glass to it and hoping the concentrated light refracted through the glass hurts the monster enough to coax it back into the portal. It’s a quick and easy way of getting the physical threat resolved, but again, the focus is on the characters, and yet again, the characters fall flat. For some reason, the Doctor decides that he must stay in the portal and fend off the creatures until the Earth is destroyed, though there’s no real justification for this plan – it just appears out of nowhere, with the Doctor already convinced it’s the only way to solve the problem. This is despite the fact that the monsters have displayed no feats of impressive strength, so surely blocking the entrance to the portal by collapsing the structure would suffice? Even barricading it would work quite nicely! There’s no real reason why anyone has to physically step into the portal to keep the planet safe.
But even once the Doctor is convinced to let the young Pict girl fulfil her tribal duties, with the Romans and the Pict musicians assisting her, the whole thing seems oddly unsatisfying. The whole troupe marches into the portal, intending to live out the rest of their lives fighting off the creatures, but no one seems to have thought of taking food and water in with them! In that case, they’ll only be able to spend roughly three days maximum in the portal (from their perspective) before they all die of thirst – and that’s assuming they’re not killed by the monsters first! The whole resolution to the episode, while simple and straightforward, seems to have been rushed in order to give a thematic conclusion to the characters, to the detriment of a narratively cohesive one. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, as long as we care about the characters and their themes, but as I’ve talked about above, that is most certainly not the case here.
All in all, The Eaters of Light strives to be a character piece, but ultimately fails in its ambition. It’s best element – the monster – is woefully underutilised, and is sidelined at the expense of a character piece that no one really cares about. The conclusion is rushed, and leaves the whole episode feeling distinctly underwhelming.
|Posted by SonicR on July 4, 2017 at 7:40 AM||comments (2)|
Despite the Ice Warriors being Doctor Who’s version of the ‘little green men from Mars’, the fact that they come from our planetary neighbour has never been anything of importance – an interesting titbit of information at most, and hardly relevant to the plot. As such, it’s tremendously satisfying to see them in action on their home planet, in an episode that twists the usual Doctor Who dichotomy of good humans defending Earth against the bad aliens. This inversion of the usual good vs bad formula also plays quite well into the traditional depiction of the Ice Warriors - despite being the classic Doctor Who villain (big and lumbering), in most of their apperances they've always been shown to be, at the very least, not wholeheartedly bad; even sympathetic, as was the case in their last appearance: 2013's Cold War, which was also written by the author of this story, Mark Gatiss.
Two of Gatiss' scripts for Doctor Who have also taken place in Victorian London, and from both of those it's evident that he's quite a big fan of the time period. So for what may possibly be his final Doctor Who script, it's no real surprise that he's combined two of his favourite aspects of Doctor Who into the one story that, against all the odds, actually works really well. Victorian soldiers on Mars fighting the Ice Warriors is something that sounds completely ridiculous, but the reason I think it works is because it takes full advantage of the colonial beliefs and behaviours of the British Empire at the time. Mars in this case is pretty much analagous to Africa, with the British troops coming in to claim the land for the Queen, and fighting off the natives in the process. Only this time, the natives have the superior technology to the invaders.
Fortunately, that's all in the subtext, and audience isn't barraged with a big speech about the wrongs of that historical attitude. This allows the episode to get on with the central conflict of the episode - humans vs Ice Warriors, with the Doctor trying to intervene and stop the conflict altogether. And yes, it plays out exactly as you expect, but it's done so well, with clear narrative reasons justifying the conclusion, and the fleshing out of the characters to make their motivations understandable, that Empress of Mars becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
Speaking of the inidvidual parts, I really enjoyed the first appearance of a female Ice Warrior. Only ever alluded to previously, it adds a new dynamic to the species – even if, combined with the ‘ice tombs’, the Ice Warriors appear to be the Martian version of the Cybermen, with the Empress as the equivalent of a Cyberleader. But one thing that Empress of Mars did so well is that it showed that, unliked the Cybermen, there was disunity among the ranks of the Ice Warrors in the form of the previously captured one, Friday; this lack of uniformity is also shown on the human side through the commanding officer. Doctor Who has never really done shades of gray well (it’s one of my issues with the Zygon two-parter from Series 9; no ‘good’ zygons are shown doing anything of merit), so it’s nice that the fact that there can be diversity within a faction can be shown in an effective way.
The episode isn’t perfect: for one, I wish that Adele Lynch, who played the Empress, had reigned in her performance; it was a bit too hammy for my taste, and did detract slightly from what was otherwise quite a compelling role. It’s also quite obvious that the script for Empress of Mars was written before Nardole was confirmed as a full time companion, with him disappearing out of the episode after only a few minutes, only to return towards the end. Nardole has been a very endearing presence this series, so his absence is noticeable, but the story works very well without him, and his return to Earth and recruitment of Missy to get the TARDIS back to Mars continues to set up what appears to loosely be the series arc; that of the Master’s redemption. I’m still not quite convinced that the Doctor attempting to turn the Master good is an idea worth pursuing, but the question of whether or not he’ll succeed is an intriguing one, and it will be interesting to see how it comes to a head, presumably in the finale.
Empress of Mars offered a great premise, compelling characters and sensible solution to the episode’s conflict, and it all made for an excellent episode. But the icing on the cake was the realisation that it essentially serves as a prequel to the Third Doctor story The Curse of Peladon, where the Ice Warriors are shown to be members of the Galactic Federation. The added bonus of a cameo from Alpha Centauri, an alien who also appeared in the Peladon story, was icing on the icing on the cake! The fact that Alpha Centauri was voiced by its original voice actor, 91 year old Ysanne Churchman, made the moment even more special, and easily cemented Empress of Mars’ status as the best episode of the series thus far.
|Posted by SonicR on June 20, 2017 at 6:25 AM||comments (1)|
Three-parters return with the Monks: mysterious aliens who seek to invade Earth – but only if they’re asked. It’s an interesting premise, but unfortunately the execution is somewhat lacking. As a whole, it fails to congeal into one unified story; while there are elements carried over between the three episodes, they never really capitalise on the potential to take those threads and explore them over the course of 135 minutes. Each episode prefers to instead introduce its own elements, and that works as a detriment to the story as a whole.
For instance, the first episode, Extremis, does a good job of giving us the first glimpse of the villainous Monks, their capabilities, and their level of dedication to ensure that their plan works perfectly. It’s all to do with simulations, and how to discern whether one is in the real world, or the simulated one. As such, it could be surmised that this theme would carry on through to the next two episodes as well. It does, but in a different way. Pyramid at the End of the World and Lie of the Land focus more on the psychological aspects of truth, to the detriment of the technological ones. And that’s unfortunate, because Extremis does quite a good job at tying the two together.
This is due to how it explores the ramifications of discovering that the world is a simulation. Readers of the Veritas book decide to commit suicide, and I think understandably so. After all, if the universe is just a simulation, then what’s the point to life? It’s hard to emphasise just how horrible I think such a revelation would be – Bill and Nardole are clearly aghast at the notion, and Bill in particular has trouble coming to terms with the reality of the situation. It’s an admittedly superficial exploration into the base existential questions we humans have, and how we’d react if something that we would normally never believe turned out to be true.
But it’s an exploration that could have become very substantial had it continued into the next two episodes. Having the Doctor, Nardole and Bill question whether they were in yet another simulation would have added a nice layer of depth to Pyramid at the End of the World. After all there was a test in the Extremis simulation that allowed you to know if you were in a simulation, so what if, for another simulation, there was no such test? What if the Monks wanted the people in the Extremis simulation to know they were a simulation? It could have become very mind-bending in ways like the 2014 Christmas Special, and I think would have worked better. For instance, Bill initially refuses to give consent to the Monks to invade, believing it all to be another simulation. But then the Monks reveal that this is in fact the real world, and so she consents, allowing the Doctor’s eyesight to be restored, and the Monks to invade. This ending for Pyramid would have essentially the big twist in Extremis done in reverse – that the episode has been taking place in the real world, not a simulation, and I think would have made for a more compelling episode.
That’s not to say that Pyramid didn’t have some good stuff – the protagonists working out the Monks’ plan works well, but at times it does feel like the characters are biding their time until they need to get in positions so that plot contrivances can setup the events for the next episode. And these contrivances are quite basic too – a very sick scientist who refuses to go home; both biolab airlock doors being able to be open at the same time, the locking mechanism on the lab door being something that no lab would ever use for a locking mechanism, and of course, the fact that the Doctor is still blind at all. The Time Lords are such an advanced race, but they don’t have something in the TARDIS that can heal blindness? Or the Doctor couldn’t have gone to somewhere that could have? None of these things are addressed, and it’s quite annoying. The fact that Bill (or anyone, actually) doesn’t notice that the Doctor is blind is another major let down. It should be obvious to anyone that he’s not behaving normally, and after what happened in Oxygen, the cause of the odd behaviour should be obvious, to Bill at least.
But contrivances aside, the ending to Pyramid is effective and well-constructed. Bill’s willingness to consent to the Monks despite not knowing what that would entail, while a big silly in the grand scheme of things, felt genuine after seeing the rapport they’d build over the course of the series. What doesn’t feel genuine, however, is her decision to shoot the Doctor one episode later, in Lie of the Land. Despite all the justification of her believing that the Doctor has joined the Monks, it comes off as a completely bogus character decision in order to get the Doctor to fake a regeneration so that the trailers could capitalise on the fact that Peter Capaldi is leaving at the end of the year. Has regeneration really been trivialised so much that it’s now just trailer fodder?
The Doctor’s fake regeneration really irked me – and not just because the scene involved both him and Bill acting incredibly out of character, but because it was some wasted potential. If you’re going to capitalise on Peter Capaldi’s departure, why not make the regeneration legitimate and make Lie of the Land the first appearance of the 13th Doctor? The episode is immediately made that more compelling, as now the Doctor has to defeat some aliens that are already settled in the role of Earth’s Masters, all while dealing with the usual post-regenerative symptoms. The ending would also be changed so that Bill renounces her consent to the Monks, and time rewinds back to the instant after the Doctor’s eyes were healed in Pyramid. A touch convenient yes, but better than the actual ending of the episode, where humanity forgot exactly what had happened over the past 6 months. What about all the people who the Monks killed?
As for Missy, well, I’m not really sure the story needed her. I get the sense that her appearances in Extremis and Lie of the Land were intended to set up her role in the final two episodes of the series. As it stands, I find the arc that they seem to be going with (turning her good) to be silly. The Master, good? Really? But that quibble aside, it’s actually rather nice seeing a different side to the Master, one where there’s no grandiose plan for killing the Doctor, or world domination (or both). You do get the sense that both she and the Doctor miss the friendship they once had in their childhood, and it will be interesting to see how that will play out over the rest of the series before culminating in the finale.
All in all, the Monk trilogy is a bit of a disappointment. It had a great setup and premise, but failed to capitalise on them, instead giving us plot contrivances and extreme out of character moments. Individually, the episodes are solid, but when taken together as a unified story, they reek of missed opportunity.
|Posted by SonicR on May 20, 2017 at 4:10 AM||comments (2)|
A solid historical romp, focusing yet again on the burgeoning friendship between the Doctor and Bill. Said friendship is given its first test, with Bill questioning the Doctor's past actions and morality. Thankfully, such conflict is solved organically and satisfactorily, allowing the episode to continue with foiling the plans of what is admittedly a one-note villain, whose only character trait is that he's racist. Still, the Doctor's punch was immensely satisfying! The giant fish beneath the Thames was certainly an imposing presence, but it's a shame it doesn't really do anything. I also find it hard to believe that it wasn't noticed during the periods when the river wasn't frozen over.
Series 10 continues its solid, if unremarkable, run with an episode that is everything 2013's Hide should have been. I criticised Hide for completely changing its tone from horror to sci-fi halfway through. Not so here. Knock Knock begins as horror, and commits to it, allowing for a much tighter story. That's not to say it is without its problems - the restoration of Bill's friends completely removes any impact the monsters of the episode might have had, and the revelation about David Suchet's character means that he is the fourth misunderstood villain/monster in as many episodes. Still the twist wasn't predictable, and Suchet is easily one of the highlights of the episode, oozing that signatory horror-style creepiness in every scene he's in.
This is more like it! The first true 'hit' of series 10 has arrived! Oxygen delivers a thrilling episode that makes full use of the excellent friendship built up between Bill and the Doctor over the preceding episodes, allowing it to be mostly action-orientated. Matt Lucas' Nardole is also given a lot more to do than he has previously, and the dynamic between him and the Doctor and Bill shines. The standout scene of the episode is the sequence where Bill's suit malfunctions in the airlock - Pearl Mackie completely sells how utterly terrified Bill would have been at the prospect of having seconds to prepare for the cold vacuum of space. The revelation that the Doctor is still blind by the end of the episode puts a great twist on things, and it will be interesting to see how it's resolved.
Thank you all for bearing with me over these past few weeks! Reviews shall commence again once the next 3 episodes have aired, as they're a three-parter.
|Posted by SonicR on April 30, 2017 at 12:45 AM||comments (3)|
Doctor Who has taught us to be afraid of shadows, statues and...frowning? Smile - or die.
When Frank Cottrell-Boyce was announced as the writer of an episode of Series 10, I wasn’t particularly enamoured. Memories of his previous episode, Series 8’s In the Forest of the Night resurfaced, and I groaned at the thought of a repeat of that distinctly lacklustre episode. Thankfully though, my fears were unfounded. Smile is completely different from In the Forest of the Night, both in theme and subject matter, and it makes for a much better episode.
Despite promising Nardole that he would not leave Earth to go on adventures with Bill, the Doctor takes her to the distant future, where a city ready for human colonists has been constructed on an otherwise deserted planet – too deserted. It doesn’t take the Doctor and Bill to realise that things aren’t as they seem, and that although the ‘emojibots’ that roam the city appear friendly, it doesn’t take much for them to turn that smile upside down.
Emojis. Emojis are everywhere these days. And while they are undoubtedly an extremely effective form of communication across language barriers, it’s not untrue to say that they’re being blown out of proportion a bit – emoji plushies exist, as will (sadly) an emoji movie. Needless to say, the notion of an emoji monster in a Doctor Who episode felt to me like the show was jumping on the emoji bandwagon in an attempt to use a cheap gimmick to appear more ‘up to date’. But to my surprise, they actually work quite well, and don’t come across as a gimmick at all. Having them be a mobile interface for the robot drones that make up the city came across as quite a sensible and realistic idea, and worked well to give the episode a physical menace that wouldn’t exhaust the CGI budget.
Unfortunately, the actual menace of the episode, the robotic drones, were a bit naff. Their style of execution reminded me a lot of the Vashta Nerada from the Library two-parter in Series 4, and they weren’t used often enough to be effective. Having the Doctor and Bill be stalked by the emojibots was all well and good, but you knew that even if they were caught, they would manage to escape before the drone-cloud descended and stripped the flesh from their bones. I think having a couple of extra, expendable cast members in the first two-thirds of the episode would have allowed the drones to come across as a more effective threat. A character slowly backing a corner, only to step straight into an emojibot would have worked a charm, I think.
But therein lies the problem – other than for establishing a more credible threat, there’s no need to add more expendable cast members. Having the first two thirds of the episode with the Doctor and Bill as the only characters was fantastic, allowing us to see how the their friendship was developing. And so ultimately, I think that while I would have appreciated a greater presence from the monster-of-the-week, I definitely wouldn’t trade it in for some good character building. Bill continues to impress, and if she’s as well written as she has been in her past two episodes, I don’t think it will be long before she’s rapidly climbing up my ‘favourite companion’ list – which is seriously impressive considering I was dreading her before the series began. There was only one moment where she annoyed me, but it was quickly forgotten about and wasn’t made into a huge episode-defining plot point. I’ll repeat the sentiment I expressed last week: Bill already feels like more of an actual character than Clara ever did.
I’m actually quite surprised at how well the first two-thirds of Smile worked, actually. In addition to the great character moments between Bill and the Doctor, we had a great mystery bundled in as well. The Doctor and his companion exploring a deserted structure reminded me strongly of the Fourth Doctor’s second story – The Ark in Space, and in many ways Smile is an updated version of it. It certainly feels like Cottrell-Boyce intended for Smile to be set around the same time as The Ark in Space, as the backstory Bill read in the book could certainly be harmonised with the history provided in The Ark in Space. There’s also the added bonus of one of the human colonists in Smile referring to himself as a ‘medtech’ – a phrase that has only previously been used in The Ark in Space. But regardless of all the callbacks to the classic Fourth Doctor story, it can’t be denied that Smile is ultimately inferior. The first two acts are great, but the last one drops the ball in a way that, although not terrible, leaves me underwhelmed. It’s like the episode was happily dragging along, only to realise that the time limit was about to run out, and then rushed to tie everything up in a neat little bow.
The explanation that the robot drones developed sentience just came completely out of nowhere and was rather muddled. A much simpler explanation would have been to stick with the ‘faulty programming’ angle, and just have the Doctor modify their base code so that they would no longer kill people for grieving; all the sentience stuff really was extraneous. I get the impression that Cottrell-Boyce wanted to conclude the episode in a ‘unique’ way, and that sentience was his answer to that, but he unfortunately didn’t have the time to make it work satisfactorily. Had the episode been another five to ten minutes longer, then I think the sentience aspect could have been fleshed out much better and made to work quite well.
All in all, Smile was an enjoyable episode. Bill continues to impress enormously as the new companion, and her exploring the deserted city with the Doctor and unravelling the mystery behind it all was definitely the highlight of the episode. The emojibots were a clever idea, but unfortunately the main threat of the robot drones were underused and given an unsatisfying conclusion.
|Posted by SonicR on April 22, 2017 at 2:50 AM||comments (5)|
Doctor Who returns to our screens after spending a year in the Vortex. Perhaps it’s found its pilot?
A companion’s introductory episode is always quite exciting: what will they be like? How will they react to the Doctor? How will they react to the TARDIS? For newcomers to the show, they will get to experience all these things for the first time through the companion’s eyes. For regulars, it offers the chance to share in their excitement, even if the situation has occurred many, many times before. The Pilot does precisely that as it kicks off Season 36/Series 10 of Doctor Who.
Bill Potts is an ordinary girl working in an ordinary university serving ordinary chips to ordinary people – but she also sneaks into distinctly extraordinary lectures taught by an extraordinary professor who makes no distinction between quantum mechanics and poetry, and who has a large blue police box in his office. But when her crush also starts acting extraordinarily (and not the good kind), she’s thrust headlong into a world more exciting than anything she’s ever imagined.
When Bill Potts was first announced as the new companion roughly a year ago, I was very disheartened. The brief Dalek scene portrayed ‘asBill’ as a another sassy, quick witted companion with a penchant for underestimating the severity of her situation, much in the vein of Amy and Clara in the later stages of their travels with the Doctor. And after the end of Series 9 completely destroyed any goodwill I had for Clara, the last thing I wanted for a new companion was someone similar to her.
So imagine how utterly relieved I was once I watched The Pilot. Pearl Mackie's Bill is not just a breath of fresh air – she’s a huge gust of it. It’s hard to put into words just how she differs from Clara, though adjectives like 'non-confrontational' and 'unsure' spring to mind. I think, however, that the best way to describe her is that she’s more real - she comes across as an actual person with insecurities, worries and questions. It's quite the testimony to Pearl Mackie's portrayal that I already feel like Bill's more of a character than Clara ever was after only one episode. Having her need the bathroom after running from the Heather-monster does wonders in making her more real and human to the audience; it shows us that she’s just like us. Compare her genuine amazement and wonder as she figures out the TARDIS, culminating in a “Doctor, it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside!” to the sassy quip made by Victorian Clara: “Smaller on the outside.”
I think the only criticism I have of Bill at the moment is the fact that we’ve seen her romantic side. Four of the five previous companions have had love interests, and it’s telling that the best one didn’t. And while Bill’s love interest appears to only have been around for one episode, I’m hoping that no one else comes along. Companion love interests have been done well (Amy and Rory) or badly (Clara and Danny), and it would be nice to simply drop that angle from the companion altogether and focus on them exploring the universe with the Doctor.
That being said, having Bill’s romantic interest become the monster of the week was a nice way of getting her thrust into the Doctor’s universe, both physically and emotionally. And while the monster wasn’t particularly threatening or even engaging, at least it did something, and it was a suitable menace for Bill, even if its intentions did ultimately turn out to be benign. I’m convinced though, that we haven’t seen the last of the Heather-monster, and will not be surprised if it turns up in the finale and ends up taking Bill with her (if the rumours about Bill being a one-series companion are true). It’s simply too mysterious to not revisit, especially considering it could follow the TARDIS throughout time and space, catching up with it after only a matter of minutes. That’s some seriously powerful sentient space oil!
Unfortunately, the rest of the episode was distinctly mediocre – so much so that at times it struggled to maintain my attention, resulting in me inadvertently noting the number of visual/plot elements that had appeared in previous episodes. It’s quite telling that the best part of the episode (aside from Bill) was the unveiling of the TARDIS interior, accompanied by a magnificent arrangement of ‘A Mad Man with a Box’, seven years after it was first used in Series 5. I must admit though, that I chuckled quite a lot when Nardole and the Doctor celebrated the fact that Bill had finally realised that the TARDIS was bigger on the inside. It was Nardole’s best moment in the episode, and it’s a shame that he wasn’t in more of it. I didn’t particularly care for him much in The Husbands of River Song, but I quite liked him in The Return of Doctor Mysterio, and I’m interested to see how his character is explored, considering that he was originally intended as a one-off in a Christmas Special.
I’m also quite interested in the contents of the ‘Vault’ under the university which the Doctor has seemingly been tasked with guarding. I’m already quite intrigued by it – which is more than can be said for the mind-numbingly stupid hybrid arc from last series. As long as the Vault is better handled than the hybrid (and really, the bar is so low that that’s not hard to achieve) then I’ll be happy.
There’s not really that much else to say about the episode apart from how refreshing Bill is. There were a few easter eggs sprinkled throughout for the more dedicated fans: the photo of the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan; the Movellans returning for the first time since 1979 to fight the daleks; and the Bill-Heather relationship referencing the first Doctor, William (Bill) Hartnell and his wife, Heather. The Pilot was a bog-standard episode of Doctor Who, not particularly special, or (unfortunately) engaging, but it was nonetheless a fantastic introduction for a new companion, who, I hope, will continue to shine alongside Peter Capaldi’s fantastic Doctor during his final series.
|Posted by SonicR on December 7, 2015 at 1:10 AM||comments (5)|
The very best of Doctor Who one week, and some of the worst the next.
I can't think of another supposed 'two parter' that has polarised me as much as this one has. But honestly, I don't think it even deserves to be called a two parter. The difference between the two episodes is so vast it beggars belief.
So, what's there to be said about Heaven Sent? Not much that hasn't been said already. Heaven Sent is the pinnacle of Doctor Who; everything works seamlessly together to create a fascinating, gripping solo adventure for Peter Capaldi's Doctor. The dialogue is engaging, the music is some of the best it's been, and the direction is masterful. Peter Capaldi demonstrates why he's one of the best actors to take on the role, managing to dominate the screen for fifty five minutes. This is his finest moment. The twist in the episode is one of the best I've ever seen on the program - cleverly set up with hints you don't understand before the reveal. The montage as the Doctor breaks through the Azbantium is simply amazing, and the revelation that he's back on Gallifrey and may possibly be the hybrid sets up an exciting finale in Hell Bent.
But then Hell Bent drops the ball in the worst way possibly. Put simply, while Heaven Sent is easily the best episode of Series 9, Hell Bent is easily the worst. First, the good stuff:
The explanation that the Doctor has become too obsessed about Clara makes sense, at least in the episode. The narrative makes it plain that he's gone too far, and realises and regrets this by the end. The Doctor acting so out of character is very effective, and you really could believe that he'd go to those lengths, even if you don't think he should have.
Seeing Gallifrey and the Time Lords again was great, even if they were sidelined halfway into the episode, and were rather underwhelming in general - especially a rather wimpy incarnation of Rassilon. The mentions of the Matrix were also greatly appreciated. The General's regeneration from male to female was something I saw coming thanks to the next time trailer, but it was well executed, and there was even a nice twist with the fact that the General's male incarnation was the anomaly, not the other way round. Didn't see that coming!
But by far the best thing about Hell Bent was the other TARDIS - specifically, the console room. It was a thing of beauty, wonderfully recreating and modernising the original 1963 design. Upon closer inspection, it gets even better, with minute design details from other console rooms as well. Add in the door sound effect from the 70s and 80s...I loved it. Could it be the permanent console room, please?
And that's where the good stuff ends.
Now obviously, the main conceit of the episode is that Gallifrey has returned, and is hiding close to the end of the universe to avoid detection. Okay, that's fine. There's just one problem: we're never told exactly how Gallifrey managed to extract itself from the situation it was placed in at the end of Day of the Doctor - that is, frozen in a parallel pocket universe. Clara mentions this in the episode, but the Doctor handwaves it away, saying that they just did it. No. That's not good enough, and it completely undermines the entire point of The Time of the Doctor. In that episode, the Time Lords were sending the 'Doctor who?' message into the universe in order to determine whether or not they could return via the cracks from Series 5. They never received an answer, but gave the Doctor a new set of regenerations, presumably so that he could find another way to facilitate their return. But now, in Hell Bent, they've already returned. They didn't need the Doctor. So what was the point of the 'Doctor who?' message? What was the point of the truth field on Trenzalore? Why bother giving the Doctor a new set of regenerations if you didn't need him anyway? What was the whole point of The Time of the Doctor?
But it also clashes thematically with The Day of the Doctor as well. The conclusion of that episode indicated that the Doctor had a new 'mission' - to find Gallifrey and restore it. This mission wasn't going to become the full time focus of the series, but it would be there in the background. And it was, to an admittedly small extent. The Doctor was incredibly angry when he couldn't find it in the series 8 finale. But it turns out he didn't need to go looking. It would just come back by itself. So what was the point of introducing that theme in Day of the Doctor, if it would be rendered moot a couple of years later, with no satisfying conclusion? And it doesn't help that when he does return to Gallifrey, he's not happy at all. He's the exact opposite - very angry. It makes sense within the narrative, but thematically it's a big mistake. For a satisfying payoff there, he should have initially been happy to find it. Let the anger come when he finds out that Rassilon is still in charge.
But okay, let's accept that the Time Lords and Gallifrey returned on their own volition, and are now residing close to the end of the universe. In Heaven Sent, the Doctor arrives there via his confession dial. Except that the last time we saw the confession dial, he had given it to Ashildr on Earth. One must then assume that the Time Lords collected it themselves soon afterwards. And herein lies a huge can of worms - the whole of the Doctor's ordeal within the confession dial makes no sense whatsoever. He apparently experiences four and a half billion years of a groundhog day style loop in the confession dial (never mind that we were only told that it was two billion in Heaven Sent). I had thought that extreme relativity was at play here - time inside the confession dial amounted to 4.5 billion years, while only minutes, hours or days passed for the rest of the universe. But dialogue throughout Hell Bent indicates that this isn't the case - everyone speaks as though 4.5 billion years has passed for the rest of the universe as well, agreeing with the Doctor's observation in Heaven Sent that he hadn't time travelled, and all those years passed linearly. So when did Gallifrey arrive back in the universe? 4.5 billion years ago (present day?). When did the confession dial arrive on Gallifrey? Was it lying there in the outlands for 4.5 billion years? Did the Time Lords wait 4.5 billion years before the Doctor finally escaped? Are the Time Lords all now 4.5 billion years older?
There's another problem too. The end of the universe does not occur in circa 4.5 billion AD. In fact, it's nowhere close. As established in Series 3's Utopia, the universe's end happens in circa 100 trillion AD. Hell, the Earth hasn't even been destroyed by the year 4.5 billion - as seen in 2005's End of the World, that event doesn't happen for another five hundred million years later! But no, here the end of the universe happens 99,995,500,000,000 years earlier. So either the Time Lords are actually hiding closer to the year 100 trillion, got their numbers wrong, and the Doctor did time travel whilst in the confession dial (or relativity was in play), or the universe's lifespan decreased by 99.9815%. I prefer the first option.
But Gallifrey's problems don't end there. Later in the episode, the Doctor nips forward to the last five or so minutes of the universe, and encounters Ashildr, who has somehow, inexplicably, survived all this time. Dialogue indicates that she's sitting in the cloister room in Gallifrey, from which the Doctor just departed. So, considering that Gallifrey was already hidden close to the end of the universe...where did all the Time Lords go between then and the last five minutes? Surely they all didn't die out? Surely they wouldn't have let that happen, by placing themselves in a pocket of time that operated independently from the rest of the universe, like they were in the classic series? Apparently not, for Ashildr is indeed sitting in the ruins of Gallifrey as the universe ends. So much for restoring it - it didn't last much longer anyway.
And so now we come to the conclusion of the hybrid arc. It transpires that the Doctor actually had no clue what the hybrid is, and was pretending to in order to have leverage over the Time Lords so that he could save Clara. So his confession in Heaven Sent that he a) knows the hybrid is real, b) where it is, and c) what it is - that's all completely false? So how is it in anyway a confession? How did it stop the Veil in that instance?Does that mean that his other confessions are lies too? That he actually did run away from Gallifrey was scared? And if the confessions don't actually need to be true, then why did he waste all that time punching through the Azbantium wall? He could have just said anything, labelled it a confession, and it would have allowed him to exit the confession dial. So what's the point of Heaven Sent?
When talking to Ashildr, he posits that she is the hybrid - human and Mire (incidentally, that 'immortality' chip is the absolute definition of miracle technology if it can last to the end of the universe without malfunctioning or breaking completely). However, Ashildr disagrees, instead postulating that the Doctor could be half human and half Time Lord. Ignoring the fact that I wouldn't ever call the Time Lords a warrior race, the moment she said this my heart stopped, fearing the worst. Thankfully, though, she dismisses the idea (though unfortunately without refuting it, and the Doctor doesn't either), and instead says that the hybrid is actually the combined force of the Doctor and Clara causing havoc throughout the universe. I don't agree with this at all, as it's a complete cop out from what the hybrid arc has been leading up to, and discredits the initial prophecy altogether. It was wrong about the half Dalek part, the 'crossbred [from two warrior races]' part, the 'conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins' part, and the 'destroy a billion hearts to heal its own' part as well - wrong about practically everything. Ashildr being the hybrid makes much more sense, especially as she does actually stand in the ruins of Gallifrey, and one could assume that, since all the Time Lords have vanished, she actually killed them all, therefore conquering Gallifrey. However, the argument that the Doctor does technically stand in the ruins of Gallifrey (along with Ashildr) is a valid one, but I disagree. I just don't buy it. The hybrid being two people isn't actually a hybrid either. It's just two people. At least Ashildr is actually an amalgamation of two species, even if one only ensured her immortality.
Regardless of what the hybrid actually is, though, the revelation goes absolutely nowhere, and once the Doctor and Ashildr depart the ruins of Gallifrey, everyone forgets about it. However, I have to wonder why on earth the Doctor allowed Ashildr to come with him. She's lived longer than anyone in the universe, is the last living being left in reality, and is about to face the end of everything. Quite frankly, I don't think she needed or deserved an escape option. Yet the Doctor just lets her tag along, with no explanation given. I honestly don't know why this decision was made, except for the fact that she was needed to fly the other TARDIS later in the episode.
So now we move onto Clara. Clara Oswald whom, for about a week or so, I thought to be the first companion killed off since 1982. Her death in Face the Raven was the result of a simple error, of her being trying to emulate the Doctor; but she was being too clever for her own good. And she realised that. She learnt her lesson. She accepted her death and walked bravely to it...and was rescued at the last second. This should never have happened. Just by that happening, it cheapened her death. But it wouldn't have ruined it. Had the next scene played out as it did except for the Doctor escaping with her out of the extraction chamber, I might have even rescinded on the opinion that her death was cheapened, and actually thought that it was improved. Had Clara convinced the Doctor to stop in the extraction chamber, told him that he was dishonouring her memory, that she didn't want him to do this, that she accepted the consequences of her actions, all would have been fine. If she had said all of that, and returned willingly to the trap street to face the raven, it's likely that I would have felt that her character arc was done more justice than it was initially.
But alas, that wasn't to be the case. Instead, Clara went along with the Doctor, all too aware that she was avoiding her death. And by the end of the episode, Clara's death is completely undermined. It holds no merit whatsoever. For although Clara does eventually return and is eventually killed by the ravenat some indefinite point in the future, she learns nothing from the experience. She has no consequences for her actions, for her mistake. She is instead allowed to essentially keep on living for as long as she wants before she decides she's had enough and is ready die. It's the exact opposite of what the whole point of her death was - that choices have consequences! But no, she's allowed to get off scot-free. Worse, she's effectively immortal now, so any life and death choices that she makes have no value whatsoever, so she can continue making the reckless, consequence free decisions. I'm sorry, but her death in Face the Raven is completely and utterly ruined, and completely and utterly undermined.
The less said about Clara and Ashildr travelling together in a stolen TARDIS, with a faulty chameleon circuit, the better. It's as bad as Rose getting her own human version of the Doctor. It's on the level of bad fanfiction. It's horrible.
I would also like to point out that the Sisterhood of Karn have no reason to be in the episode. They add nothing to it, they don't do anything, and worse of all, I have no idea how they managed to get to Gallifrey in the first place. The planet's meant to be hidden at the end of the universe - some protection that is if a group who has never shown any capability of space or time travel to find it and get to it so easily. Hell, how did they even know it had returned?
Oh, and the barn. Apparently it is on Gallifrey, which I still think is a load of rubbish. It's apparently within view of the Capitol now...it's a wonder the daleks didn't see the Doctor walking to it in Day of the Doctor. Nope, not buying it.
And so, all in all, while Heaven Sent is an utter masterclass in Doctor Who, Hell Bent is an travesty. Everything in Heaven Sent works, while barely anything in Hell Bent does. The difference in quality between the two is astounding. In fact, they're so different I can't rate them together, because I can't even think of them as two parts of the same story.
Heaven Sent gets a 10/10
Hell Bent gets a 4.5/10
For a series that has arguably been the best since Series 5, or perhaps even since the revival began, for it to end on such a bad note is incredibly depressing. And with the Christmas Special only eighteen days away, I'm afraid my enthusiasm for the show may not recover in time.
Thanks for reading,
A very broken SonicR
|Posted by SonicR on November 26, 2015 at 3:55 AM||comments (4)|
Australian writer Sarah Dollard's Doctor Who debut is the episode with the Big Event.
It's rather curious that, considering how dangerous travelling with the Doctor appears to be, only a handful of companions have actually died while doing so. Adric's death in 1982 is the one everyone remembers, but there have been others as well - two in the 60s, and two others later on in the 80s. So statistically speaking, it's quite a surprise that Clara should be the one to join this short list. And she does so in the best episode of the series so far.
Face the Raven sees the Doctor and Clara receive an urgent call from Rigsy (from last year's Flatline), who asks them to check out a tattoo that has inexplicably appeared on the back of his neck. Their investigations lead them to a small alien settlement under the command of Ashildr, who also controls a foreboding raven...
Let's cut to the chase right here - the final moments of this episode is what it's all about. And perhaps the most interesting aspect about those final moments is the fact that they're simply the result of an honest mistake on Clara's part. Rather like Danny's Pink's death in Dark Water last year, it's so mundane by Doctor Who standards - one could easily expect her to go out in a blaze of glory, sacrificing herself for the Doctor so that he could finish saving the day. Instead she was only acting too clever for her own good. Had she just thought about things for a minute, then everyone would have survived the story, and it's that unfortunate fact that makes her death so tragic - it was needless, ultimately pointless, and easily preventable.
But it also seems as though Clara wanted this to happen, at least to some degree. At one point, she flat out tells the Doctor that "Maybe this is what I wanted. Maybe this is it. Maybe this is why I kept running. Maybe this is why I kept taking all those stupid risks. Kept pushing it." The idea of her having a death wish ties in perfectly with her behaviour in Dark Water, where she also pretty much said she wouldn't hesitate to commit suicide if she could be with Danny afterwards. That's a very dark theme for Doctor Who to explore, even if it was only mentioned very briefly last year and didn't come up again until this episode, but it does narratively justify Clara's more reckless actions over this series - she had a subconscious desire to join her boyfriend in the afterlife.
So while Clara's death may have been good narratively, the way it's portrayed in the episode leaves a little bit to be desired. I've never been one for overblown companion departures, and while Clara's is more subtle than others, the first time I watched the episode, the scene dragged a lot - and the issue remained (though to a lesser extent) on the rewatches. It's not hard to see why, either, as the goodbye scene takes up about eight minutes of the episode. It's a sizeable and noticeable chunk of the episode, and I think it could have been trimmed a bit; it doesn't help that the raven takes ages to actually reach Clara as well. Having it leave its cage as she's walking out of the building would have made the scene feel faster, I think, as the audience is otherwise left waiting and anticipating the raven to reach Clara.
I also find it quite strange that the Doctor focuses all his anger towards Ashildr. While she is the one that orchestrated the whole scenario, it was Rigsy who sealed Clara's fate by agreeing to transfer the Chronolock. To be fair, he was coaxed by Clara, but it seems to me that he's more responsible for Clara's death than Ashildr is. Not that I want Rigsy to be on the receiving end of an extremely ticked off Doctor, but I do think the unequal amount of scorn is interesting. I suppose it all balances out when you consider that Rigsy will likely feel guilty about this for the rest of his life.
I will admit that I'm nitpicking here - I really did enjoy the episode. Rather unfortunately, however, it's just one of those times where an event in the last ten minutes of an episode overshadows everything in the preceding thirty-five. Yes, discovering just what was going on with Rigsy's tattoo was a nice, intriguing mystery, and the idea of an alien settlement hidden in London is also quite clever (though just why races like the Cybermen would be there completely bewilders me, as does the idea of a Cyberman running, terrified, from a raven), but they just aren't as 'important' as Clara's death. In fact, you could say that they're so 'unremarkable' compared to her death that there's not really find anything to say about them apart from 'they were good'.
So all in all, Face the Raven is a fantastic episode that will forever be remembered for the first death of a companion since the show returned. Clara's departure is well done, if a tad drawn out, and the rest of the episode is great, if rather 'normal' compared to the episode's denouement.