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Face the Raven Review

Posted by SonicR on November 26, 2015 at 3:55 AM Comments 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.


9.5/10

 

Series 9 Review Catchup

Posted by SonicR on November 21, 2015 at 11:05 PM Comments comments (2)

Thanks to a very busy schedule, I've found myself significantly behind in reviews, for which I apologise. Not having the time to go back and do a full review for all the stories I've missed, I've combined them all into one and given a small overview for each. Full length reviews will recommence this week with Face the Raven.


Under the Lake/Before the Flood

A solid, atmospheric base-under-siege story with a nice time travel twist for the second half. The 'ghosts' were a very well realised monster, and made for the most effective and creepy parts of the episode. The Fisher King, on the other hand, was somewhat of a disappointment, despite the excellent design. Some more screen time devoted to him would have been very welcome.

The secondary cast are likeable enough and surprisingly varied, though the romance parts seemed tacked on and rather unnecessary - particularly between the deaf woman and her interpreter. I also thought that the episode's resolution, while nice and neat, was rather rushed, which was surprising considering this was a two-parter.


8/10


 

The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived

Another solid, if unremarkable two-parter, whose funniest bit is probably the Monty-Python reference early on. Helmet inaccuracies aside, the Vikings in the first half are suitably entertaining, though I do wonder just how they managed to get their hands on some electric eels. The Doctor's realisation about his face is well done (even if his declaration that he 'saves people' is a bit naff), and music throughout the first episode is some of the best Murray Gold has ever composed. Unfortunately, the Mire are another monster confined to the dustheap, being completely ineffective despite appearing quite formidable. The 'immortality patches' are quite convenient too, and once again death is cheapened when Ashildr is revived.

However, this time it payed off, and probably because Ashildr is actually a recurring character this season. The Woman Who Died was at its strongest when focusing on her, telling us titbits about her long life over the centuries, and how she adjusted to it. That being said, some of her negative character developments (resorting to a life of crime) seem rather superficial, as she abandons them quite quickly during the climax of the episode. The whole climax was actual rather pointless too - the Lion Man's invasion lasted all of thirty seconds, and he was conveniently vaporised soon after.


7.5/10


 

The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion

The first proper Zygon story since the original back in the 70s, Peter Harness redeems himself from last year with the best story of the series so far. The political overtones are undoubtedly well intentioned, but they come across a bit ham-fisted and confusing. UNIT also seems to have had an Idiot Ball superglued to them, as the scene where the soldier leads his troops to their deaths has to be the most stupid things I've seen anyone do for quite some time. His 'mother' couldn't even tell him the date and place of his birth, yet he follows her inside!

Neither of those things detract from the story as a whole, and indeed the second half improves upon the first, with a fantastic speech by the Doctor in the Black Archive - one has to wonder if this will be Peter Capaldi's defining scene as the Time Lord. It was very nice to see Bonnie back down peacefully and assume the identity of the second Osgood, as opposed to going down fighting. I do wish, though, that we had seen some good Zygons, instead of them all being baddies. I'm not too sure about their new abilities either - it's a very worrying that they can all commit suicide (or murder) rather easily.


9/10


 

Sleep No More

The first Doctor Who episode without the title sequence, and the first filmed in the 'Found Footage' format, Sleep No More is a thoroughly engaging episode, with an ending that will probably give children nightmares for some time. The Found Footage style does seem like a gimmick, and I can easily imagine the episode being presented in the usual format, but the style nevertheless works, and works well. The monsters are nice and threatening too, but I don't really like what they're meant to be. Evolved 'sleep dust'? I think a better idea would have been for the dust to overtake the human body while in the Morpheus machines, and possess the victim, rather than conglomerating and becoming a separate entity. Still, it was refreshing to have an episode where the Doctor was basically clueless to what was going on, and left still convinced that events didn't make sense.


7/10

Magician's Apprentice/Witch's Familiar Review

Posted by SonicR on October 4, 2015 at 4:20 AM Comments comments (3)

Doctor Who kicks of its 35th Season with the return of an old enemy.



It's funny how 2010's The Eleventh Hour has become the 'gold standard' for Doctor Who openers - the one episode that all subsequent ones are compared to so as to give an idea of their quality. It's not an unfair development either - I personally believe that The Eleventh Hour is indeed the best first episode of a series we've had since the show has was revived. And while The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar come close to taking that crown, they can't quite reach it. That's not to devalue them at all, however, because both episodes set a high standard for the rest of the series.


The Magician's Apprentice/The Witch's Familiar see the Doctor face one his most persistent enemies - Davros, creator of the Daleks. This time, Davros is dying, and has requested the Doctor's presence. Accompanied by Clara and Missy to the Dalek homewold of Skaro, the Doctor is faced with the prospect that Davros may not be as completely ruthless as he thought.


First things first: this was possibly the finest story with Davros as the main villain since his original appearance forty years ago in Genesis of the Daleks. This is mainly due to the fact that he spends most of it simply talking to the Doctor, whether it be about the argument they've been having since they first met, or other, more surprising things, such as how he is glad that the Doctor found a way to save the Time Lords. It's compelling stuff, and Julian Bleach's performance is absolutely fantastic, managing to give the daleks' creator some real humanity to him, so much so that it's easy to feel sorry for him. The scene where he opens his eyes and shares a joke with the Doctor stands out as one of the character's best ever moments. And yes, while all the humanity, regret and compassion that Davros seemingly gained in his old age was all just a ruse, I don't think it undervalues the poignancy of the moments he and the Doctor shared - surely there was some truth to what the two were saying to each other?




But while Davros was the highlight of the story, the same can't be said for his creations and the details that writer Steven Moffat has added their lore. While the idea of their sewers being made up of the decaying bodies of dalek mutants that are no longer useful is a sufficiently creepy one, I can't say it's a revelation that I particularly like. For one, the issue is left frustratingly vague - we're only told that they're genetically engineered not to die. But whether this is limited to natural ageing, or if they'll continue living even if only one cell of their body remains, is something we're not told. The fact that dalek mutants are genetically engineered is all well and good, but I think the immortality part is taking it too far.


Likewise, the fact that the dalek shell controls how the mutant inside communicates is another such overstep. The big issue with this, I think, is that to quite a large degree it shifts the 'essence' of the daleks from the mutant to the shell - if the shell is the part actually communicating, then it is responsible for all the animosity and vile the daleks display. Conceivably, there could be a mutant inside who loves fluffy bunnies and cute kittens, but would appear as a normal dalek simply because the shell overrides any thoughts that aren't deigned as dalek. This isn't how it should work, and clashes quite severely with all prominent established canon. In most, if not all dalek stories since Genesis of the Daleks, it has been unequivocally stated that it is the mutant itself who is responsible for all the hatred, animosity and vile. The shell is just a weaponised survival tank. But here, it not only controls the output of the mutant, it also controls the firing mechanism, making it an automatic process when the occupant gets emotional. This is, I believe, yet another mistake - the firing of the gun should be a conscious decision by the mutant inside.


It really says something when the only thing I only partially agree with is the use of 'exterminate' as a reloading mechanism. But even so, I'm quite iffy on that too.


Unfortunately, while I dislike the additions to dalek mythology, I also don't have much in the way of praise to say for the actual things themselves either. Apart from reminding us that they can actually hit the main characters (if not exterminate them thanks to plot armour), they do nothing of merit. They talk, fly outside the city, receive some regeneration energy, and get defeated by what is effectively sludge. Of all possible ways to go, being killed by sludge has to be one of the stupidest. All they had to do was hover above the ground, and they would have been fine. But then again, it is the daleks, and being defeated in stupid ways is what they do. Anyone for some spinning daleks from Journey's End?


But while the daleks are decidedly lacklustre in this outing, the same cannot be said for the Doctor and Clara. The former's introduction in 1138AD as he plays an electric guitar while standing on a tank is a delicious sight of clashing time periods, while the latter takes convincing command during the opening few minutes. That being said - is UNIT really that stupid that it didn't think of any possible things the frozen planes could potentially do until Clara came along? Everything she theorised was rather obvious, I thought.


Michelle Gomez's portrayal of the Master is also as enjoyable as ever, and while I wish there were less of the 'crazy' moments, seeing her interact with the companion in a way the character hasn't done since Roger Delgado's original incarnation in the 1970s was a welcome sight, as were the mentions of her and the Doctor's deep friendship - something else that is rooted in the Doctor/Master dynamic from the 70s. And that's probably the most disappointing thing about Missy being in the story - she doesn't interact with the Doctor much, and no wonder, considering the focus of the episode was on Davros. Only room for one arch-nemsis to have extended screen time with the Doctor, it seems!




The cliffhanger for The Magician's Apprentice had been hyped up as being a 'whopper', and in some ways it was, though I do think it was slightly underwhelming, mainly because I did not believe for one moment that Clara and Missy had been exterminated, or the TARDIS destroyed. That being said, I was taken by surprise when the Doctor appeared to aim the dalek gunstick at a young Davros, though after thinking about it, it didn't take me long to realise he'd probably shoot the hand mines instead. That doesn't demean the fact that the resolution to all three parts of the cliffhanger were genuinely clever, however, and it's something that I haven't felt about a cliffhanger for quite some time (though that might also be because we haven't had a proper one for ages either). Missy's explanation of using the daleks' weapons' energy to teleport out at the last second was inspired thinking on Steven Moffat's part, and also allowed a fun flashback of sorts (and two unexpected cameos), and had the added bonus of accounting for her survival after Death in Heaven last year. Likewise, the addition to the TARDIS' HADS (Hostile Action Displacement/Dispersal System; the new Dispersal function was used in this story) ability was very readily welcomed. It's been some time since the TARDIS has demonstrated just how advanced it is. And while the Doctor did indeed end up shooting the hand mines, the ending scene was surprisingly touching, and nicely capped off the story.


In conclusion, The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar make a flawed but nonetheless very gripping and enjoyable opening to Series 9. I look forward to what the next ten episodes bring.


 

8.5/10

 

Dark Water/Death in Heaven Review

Posted by SonicR on November 27, 2014 at 4:40 AM Comments comments (3)

Plot threads from Series 8 come to a head, and a few from Series 7 get a mention too.




Doctor Who finales are tricky things to write, and extremely hard to get right - so much so that I think only 3 finales have achieved true excellence (the Series 1, 5 and 7 finales). Two of those were written by current showrunner Steven Moffat, but can he repeat his success again here for Peter Capaldi's debut series? Unfortunately, he can't, but he comes close.


Dark Water/Death in Heaven sees the Doctor and Clara search for an afterlife when Danny Pink is tragically killed in a car accident. The succeed in their search, only to discover that the afterlife is a myth concocted by Missy and the Cybermen. Will the Doctor and Clara be able to save Danny and stop the latest machination of the newest incarnation of the Master?


If I hazard a guess, the revelation that the Master regenerated into female form will be the biggest reason these two episodes are remembered. That’s not to say there weren’t other memorable moments, but the return of the Doctor’s arch nemesis understandably overshadowed anything else that happened, particularly for the first half of the finale, and it’s not hard to see why. Michelle Gomez’s incarnation somewhat returns to the more sinister roots of the character, while still retaining the distinct ‘crazy’ vibe that John Simm’s version possessed. As I was never a big fan of the Simm’s rather manic Master (instead preferring cool, calm and collected demeanour of the late, great Roger Delgado), this partial return to the original characterisation was a welcome relief. I also felt that the more zanier scenes worked well too; whether that’s due to the writing or Gomez’s performance, I’m not sure. In either case, this new version of the Master is one I definitely enjoyed, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of her in the future, despite the apparent obliteration by the Cyber-converted form of the Brigadier.


While Missy was great throughout Dark Water/Death in Heaven, her co-conspirators, the Cybermen, were unfortunately lacklustre. I felt they weren’t utilised as well as they could have, though this is somewhat understandable considering that Missy was the focus. However, both parts still felt like episodes that had Cybermen in them, rather than Cybermen episodes. That’s not to say they weren’t effective – far from it. The original Cybermen from the Classic Series had a large emphasis on body horror, and we see that aspect utilised again here for the first time in ages. It’s just that, apart from their scare factor and the general creepiness of the thought of dead people being converted, they’re left horribly under-explained. For instance, why couldn’t Cyber-Danny turn on his emotional inhibitor himself, and when it was activated, why did it seemingly have no effect? Similarly, why were he and the Brigadier the only two people not to be purged of their emotions? Most importantly, though, how could the consciousness of people in the afterlife be downloaded back into their bodies after prolonged periods of time? Surely their brain matter would have decayed away? In conjunction with the fact that the Cybermen are essentially Iron Man rip-offs, the end result is something rather confusing, and as a result is a bit of a letdown.




I also thought the same of Missy’s grand scheme. It was nice not to have the generic ‘take over the world’ plot, but her giving the Doctor an army did seem rather strange, thought the justification of her ‘wanting her friend back’ was a nice touch, and played on the long history the two have had together. All things considered though, it was a rather weak explanation, not to mention that it was an extraordinary amount of effort to orchestra the entire thing just to hand it over to the Doctor.


However, I think the source of my semi-disappointment with Death in Heaven stems from the fact that it largely ignores the fantastic potential set up by Dark Water. Towards the tail end of that episode, we’re shown what the Nethersphere actually is – a Gallifreyan Matrix (Hard drive). There are so many possibilities that the revelation opens up. Are the people inside actually dead, will their existence continue indefinitely, how does it work, why did it look different every time we saw it, are there other people like Seb, is 3W aware of the actual reality? The list goes on. Instead, the episode decided to deal with more emotional issues. This isn’t bad in and of itself, but I do wish we’d explored the ramifications of the Nethersphere some more.


That being said, the creative decision to make the finale a more personal tale definitely works in its favour. Right from the first minute of Dark Water, the audience knows that their heartstrings are going to be severely pulled as Danny Pink is quite shockingly killed off. I’d suspected that his character wouldn’t survive the end of the season for some time, but I never imagined that he’d be offed in such a manner. As Clara pointed out, his death was, by Doctor Who standards, rather mundane, and it’s all the more effective for it. If a main character dies, it’s generally a long and drawn out affair, so Danny’s death really stands as a stark contrast to the show’s norm. What makes Danny’s death even more noteworthy though, is the fact that he actually stays dead, making him the first recurring character to do so for too many years than I care to remember. Proper, actual death is something that has been severely lacking in Doctor Who of late, so the fact that it’s finally happened again is very relieving.




But as if that wasn’t enough, we are also treated to the shock death of fan-favourite Osgood, who is mercilessly disintegrated by Missy for no reason. It’s a chilling scene as Missy counts down to the moment of Osgood’s demise, though I have to ask how Missy managed to reach Osgood before the UNIT Guards watching her even blinked. It was a bold move for Moffat to make, but one I’m happy we went with. The audience did need to see how much of a threat the Master was this time round, after all, and Osgood’s death was the perfect example. For several horrifying minutes, I thought that Kate Stewart had also gone the way of Osgood, though fortunately that turned out not to be the case. That being said, I think they way she was saved by her Cyberdad was rather silly – why couldn’t the Doctor just use the TARDIS to catch her before she hit the ground?


The Doctor himself though, was, as usual, absolutely fantastic. Peter Capaldi has easily made the role his own, and I would say that these two episodes contain his best performance to date. After having a Doctor who wasn’t exactly ‘user friendly’ for 10 episodes, it was surprising to see the Doctor display some genuine tenderness after Clara betrayed him with the whole ‘destroy the TARDIS Keys’ scene. Capaldi really exhibited why he’s such a great actor in that scene, and made it really stand out. The same applies to the 'finding Gallifrey' scene towards the end. That was powerful stuff. As for Clara, well, lets just say she somewhat redeemed herself this time around. I still don't like how she treated Danny for the majority of the season, I do admit that having her realise just how much she took him for granted was a solid conclusion to their arc.


All in all, Dark Water and Death in Heaven make for a good, enjoyable finale. They're not the best, but are by no means bad. There's a lot to love in each. The reintroduction of the Master is great, and the episodes answer several lingering questions left over from both Series 7 and Series 8. Roll on Christmas!


8/10

 

In the Forest of the Night Review

Posted by SonicR on November 14, 2014 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (2)

Frank Cottrell Boyce gives Doctor Who the fairytale treatment with his first script for the series.




I wasn’t sure what to think when sitting down to watch In the Forest of the Night. The premise was intriguing, and judging from the next time trailer at the end of Flatline, it had a distinct fairytale vibe. However, as I watched, I couldn’t help being very strongly reminded of Kill the Moon – so much so that at times I forgot what episode I was watching. To be reminded vividly of another episode is rarely a good thing, but if said episode is Kill the Moon, then it most certainly is not.


In the Forest of the Night sees Clara and Danny and their class of students from Coal Hill School awaken from an overnight stay London’s National Museum to find that the whole planet has been covered by trees. Along with the Doctor, they will have to find the cause of the rapid expanse of vegetation while keeping the students under control.


One of the reasons I say that this episode reminded me of Kill the Moon was because it all felt extremely inconsequential. The protagonists show up, investigate what’s happening, something happens, and everyone goes home. The presence of the Doctor changes absolutely nothing. There are no stakes, and no consequences – a fact further reinforced by the extremely convenient disappearance of all the trees at the end. It’s the ‘new moon/egg’ all over again, a deus ex machina ending that only exists because the whole planet can’t be covered in trees for the rest of Doctor Who’s history. I think that it would have been better for the story as a whole if it had been set on some other planet that humans had colonised. That way, the trees could remain at the end, and no one would really care. But that didn’t happen, and as a result, I would say that In the Forest of the Night is simply too ambitious for its own good. Its very nature means that it can’t have any lasting consequences – something that the Doctor points out (in a way) at the end. Humanity will forget the trees, if only because narrative convenience demands it. The damage caused by the trees will be repaired, footage recorded of the event will be inexplicably ignored, and we’ll never hear about it again. That’s why I don’t particularly like large scale invasions on modern day Earth – they can only really have consequences that affect the main cast directly, but never the planet as a whole.




But the large scale impact of the trees (or rather, lack of) isn’t the only problem I have with them. Their mere presence raises a lot of questions that I’m sure weren’t intended. For instance, if the trees exist to protect the planet from a solar discharge of some sort (it’s not a solar flare, despite what the planet says), then why didn’t they do this exact same thing in the late 30th century, in which solar events were so fierce that humanity had to completely abandon Earth for thousands of years, leading to episodes like The Beast Below and The Ark In Space? I know that continuity and Doctor Who don’t go well together at all, but some narrative consistency, especially on this scale, would be really nice. Also, as an aside, it seems a bit stupid that after burning down the trees fails, governments resort to using chemicals to kill them. Why not get a good old fashioned axe or chainsaw and chop them down manually? Of course, there’s no guarantee that this would work either, but I think it strange that no one seemingly thought of this.


Unfortunately, the problems I have with In the Forest of the Night don’t end there – there are three specific scenes that were more irrelevant than most of the episode, scenes that didn’t impact on the story or plot at all. The first of these is the wolf and tiger attacks, which were obviously added purely for an ‘action scene’ and a shot for the next time trailer at the end of Flatline. Also, shining a light in a tiger’s eyes is not going to make it go away – and you definitely don’t do so from a couple of metres away. Secondly, the broadcast plea from the children not to hurt the trees just felt out of place, and I’ve no idea how it remained in the final version of the script, seeing as it was completely forgotten about the moment it was over. Not that it mattered anyway, since no major organisation is going to heed the words of a child asking them nicely not to hurt the trees. At best, they’d think it’s a ploy by some more extreme environmentalist groups to guilt trip them into making a decision. And finally, the appearance of the main girl’s sister at the end was Maid Marion from Robot of Sherwood all over again – completely unneeded and honestly, quite baffling. Why did we need her at the end; just to have a happy ending?


But while the central focus and other aspects of the episode fall flat, the characters shine. For the first time in a while, the child actors are actually pretty good – something that came as a huge relief, since they are, in many ways, the driving force of the episode. Their interactions with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor are fabulous, and are probably the most entertaining part of the episode. That being said though, I do wish that the children’s reaction to the TARDIS had been a bit more exciting. A soft ‘wow’ of amazement would have been much better than the apathetic shrugging of shoulders that we got.




The relationship between Clara and Danny was slightly improved this episode as well, though that probably has something to do with the fact that Clara wasn’t lying every two seconds. I particularly like how much travelling with the Doctor has affected Clara – she continually focuses on the bigger picture, at the cost of ignoring the smaller, arguably more important things. Danny is a counter to this, and the dynamic really worked, especially towards the end when he expresses no desire to travel with the Doctor, saying that he appreciates things on Earth just fine. It’s not something that Doctor Who has really explicitly explored before, so I’m glad it got mentioned, even if only for a minute.


In conclusion, In the Forest of the Night is, much like Kill the Moon, a disappointment, squandering basically everything it has going for it. There’s not much to enjoy here at all, with all but the characters and their interactions falling flat.


4.5/10

 

Flatline Review

Posted by SonicR on November 8, 2014 at 1:45 AM Comments comments (3)

Writer Jamie Mathieson explores the 2D and 3D worlds in his second Doctor Who script.




 

After the success of last week’s Mummy on the Orient Express, the fact that its writer would be penning Flatline was very welcome news. Could Mathieson replicate the success of his first episode? Yes, he definitely did. Flatline is simply superb, and ties for best episode of the series so far.


Flatline has Clara investigating monsters from another dimension that are terrorising Bristol, all while the Doctor is confined to the TARDIS after the monsters leech its dimensional energy, trapping him inside. Will Clara be able to save the world all by herself?


Original ideas on Doctor Who are somewhat of a rare occurrence these days – no surprise considering it’s been around for almost 51 years. But every now and then, an episode like Flatline comes along, and has a truly original premise; in this instance, monsters from a plane of existence with only 2 spacial dimensions attacking ours of 3. It’s an intriguing concept, and is pulled off very well here, with the ‘Boneless’, as the Doctor christens them, being extremely effective villains. Like the Mummy from last week’s episode, the Boneless actually do things and pose a real threat to the cast, instead of being shunted to one side in favour of something else, or forgotten about altogether. Their ‘gimmick’ also works well as a horror device – seeing people sucked into the walls and floor, then having their body parts displayed for all to see is a quite disturbing prospect. But another great thing about the Boneless is how they’re shown to adapt their attacks as the episode progresses, from simply being able to convert from 3D to 2D, then from 2D to 3D, and finally warping the two dimensional plane entirely until it resembles and functions like the 3D one.




But as great as the monsters were, they weren’t the only thing in the episode. Flatline was Clara’s time to shine as she filled the role of the Doctor while he was busy playing hermit crabs with the significantly diminished TARDIS. What’s interesting is that throughout the episode she seemed to be going through a checklist of things the Doctor would do. Recruit a companion, lead a large group of people away from a threat, promise to save everyone’s lives and invariably fail to do that. But the crux of this is towards the end, when the TARDIS needs powering up. Clara initially asks what the Doctor would do in this situation, but immediately corrects herself and asks what she would do instead. Exactly why she would seemingly reject the Doctor’s line of thought in preference for her own (in this instance, at least) is a bit unclear, but I think that perhaps she’s telling herself that she can solve problems independently, without any help from the Time Lord. Of course, it could also be simply because the Doctor wasn’t in a position to give advice at that time. But whatever the reason, I’m just glad that we could see Clara making these sorts of decisions by herself. And the actual resolution she came up with was, much like most of the episode, rather clever and imaginative, and one I definitely didn’t see coming. So well done Clara.


However, Clara didn’t manage to impress me 100%, and that’s due to her phone call with Danny Pink. I’ve been going on about how much I dislike Clara’s treatment of Danny thus far, so I’ll simply say that in this case, she probably should have ignored Danny’s call and set her phone to say that she was busy. After all, if she did it when Danny rung a second time, why couldn’t she have done it earlier and not have to lie to him again? Speaking of lying, the revelation that she deceived the Doctor at the end of Mummy on the Orient Express came as no surprise. I saw that coming as soon as it aired, but I’m glad it was resolved quickly, without dragging on for too long.


Another small problem with the episode is that the defeat of the Boneless feels rather rushed, and is completely unexplained. The sonic screwdriver once again comes to the rescue and makes the TARDIS do...what, exactly? The Doctor says that he’s sending the Boneless back to their own 2D world, but how he does that, and whether there’s anything stopping them from attacking humans again, we never find out. It would have been nice if we got some explicit confirmation as to what happened, and all it required was a few lines of dialogue. Get rid of the rather silly wannabe 11th Doctor speech that 12 gives before defeating the Boneless, and use the ~30 seconds of screentime to do some explaining.




But other than that, the episode's essentially perfect. Peter Capaldi is brilliant as usual, even with his limited screentime. His interactions with Clara without, especially the parts where he's communicating with her through the tiny TARDIS doors are one of the highlights of the episode, and part of me wishes that we could have seen more of him handing large objects to Clara through the small TARDIS when it's in her handbag. The supporting cast is great too, with Rigsy (Joivan Wade) being a stand out. I also liked how the unlikeable supervisor survived; it was a great way of subverting audience expectations as to who makes it out of an episode alive.


Overall, Flatilne is an excellent episode. With very well realised monsters, some great Clara moments, funny TARDIS moments and a solid supporting cast, a few minor niggles can’t stop it from being tied for the best episode of the Series so far.


9/10

 

Mummy on the Orient Express Review

Posted by SonicR on October 26, 2014 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (3)

 

The Doctor finally responds to the phone call he received at the end of The Big Bang.




 

New writers are always hard to judge on Doctor Who, as it’s hard to guess in advance as to whether you’ll find the episode enjoyable or not. So, was Jamie Mathieson’s first ever Doctor Who episode a success? It most certainly was! In fact, he’s written the best episode of the series so far.


Mummy on the Orient Express has the Doctor and Clara taking a ‘last hurrah’ trip on an interplanetary version of the famed Orient Express. Intending for the journey to be nice and relaxing, they soon find themselves solving the mystery of the Foretold, an apparition that kills its victims exactly 66 seconds after they see it.


I’m just going to say it right now, but the Mummy is the best monster we’ve had in ages. Incredibly effective, it actually comes across as very menacing, helped in no small part by the fact that it actually does something throughout the episode. The mystery about its identity and how it worked was also very well realised, and the overall result was an extremely engaging monster of the week. The ’66 seconds to live’ gimmick was a nice touch as well, but I did get annoyed at the onscreen timer counting down to zero. I understand what the production team was trying to do, but it wasn’t necessary at all, especially considering that the chief engineer, Perkins (Frank Skinner), was counting down out loud anyway. The onscreen clock could have been dropped, and the episode wouldn’t have been any worse for it.




That, however, is one of only a few minor gripes I have with the episode, the other being the fact that the unseen ‘villain’ of the episode, Gus, was left frustratingly unresolved. Who was he? Why did he want to use the Mummy’s technology? How many similar space trains had he used to examine the Mummy? How did he contact the Doctor? What happened to him? Alas, we are never told.


Apart from that, however, Mummy on the Orient Express shines in all other respects, with particular note to the Doctor/Clara interactions. While initially fearful that the events of Kill the Moon had been swept aside with no real consequence, I was glad to see that the Doctor’s actions still had repercussion, albeit not in the way I had expected. While I think the episode could have worked just as well had Clara been absent, having her there did allow the chance for the episode to explore the Doctor’s workings – particularly the fact of how he lies to people to gain their trust. The scene at the end where the Doctor explains his reasoning to Clara was also good, and finally cleared up some of the moral ambiguity surrounding Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor. It’s certainly reassuring to know that he does have his hearts in the right place, even if his actions don’t appear to demonstrate this. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.


But while the audience gained a much clearer appreciation of the 12’s conscience, the same cannot be said for Clara. As I said in my review of The Caretaker, Clara’s treatment of Danny has been nothing short of terrible, and it doesn’t get better here either. At the very end of the episode, she announces that Danny is suddenly alright with her travelling with the Doctor – however, it’s extremely obvious that she’s lying. Hopefully this will get addressed in future episodes, but for now I can do nothing but denounce her behaviour. Continue travelling with the Doctor, fine, but at least tell Danny about it first. He deserves to know, not to be shunted aside and left in the dark once again. Going behind his back shows that Clara has a complete lack of respect and willingness to trust the person she’s in a relationship with. Rather alarmingly, this is getting close to the Rose Tyler/Mickey Smith dynamic, something we do not need a repeat of.




Mummy on the Orient Express also had a fairly large amount of supporting characters, and unusually, all serve a purpose in the episode. Yes, two get killed off, but Masie is vital to the resolution and Perkins helps drive the plot forward. All four characters are surprisingly complex given their relatively brief screen time, with the Captain having a traumatic past, the Professor hinting at a lifelong obsession with the Foretold, Masie resenting her grandmother, and Perkins having begun his own investigation into the Foretold. It seems as though they’re all ripped straight out of an Agatha Christie novel – no surprise considering the title. It’s obvious that the episode draws inspiration from the crime novels.


All in all, Mummy on the Orient Express is a fantastic episode. With only two minor nitpicks, it has a great monster, great characters and some interesting interactions between the Doctor and Clara. Definitely the best episode of the series.


9/10

 

Kill the Moon Review

Posted by SonicR on October 11, 2014 at 8:10 AM Comments comments (3)

 

Peter Harness sends the Doctor and Clara to the moon in the near future for his first Doctor Who debut.




 

The BBC’s hype machine plays a pivotal role in the marketing of Doctor Who. Generally, they get the exposure and excitement levels just right, but this time, I think they over did it. The episode was really sold as a full on horror story and one of the darkest adventures ever, and it didn’t help that various advance reviews were consistently rating the episode very high indeed. And the hype worked – I was fully expecting something similar to Silence in the Library, except with spiders. What transpired was something...odd, to say the least.


Kill the Moon has the Doctor, Clara and her student, Courtney, visit the Moon in 2049, just as a group of astronauts are planning to blow it up. But as they uncover the mystery behind the Moon’s mysterious gain in weight, another problem presents itself. Can they sacrifice one innocent creature to save the entire human race?


Much like Hide last year, Kill the Moon completely changed focus about halfway into its runtime, and much like Hide, it's detrimental to the episode as a whole. One moment we’re cowering in fear from the spider-bacteria, the next we’re wrapping our heads around the fact that the Moon’s an egg. If Harness had just kept to one of the two main ideas here, then the episode would most certainly have been better off. And to be honest, I wish he’d stuck with the spiders. Baser-under-siege stories are admittedly a cliché of sorts for Doctor Who, particularly in the Classic Series, but there’s no reason why a new writer couldn’t put a new spin on the genre. The makings for a fantastic horror story are all there – deserted base, disposable crew, scary monster, but they all ultimately go nowhere. The deserted base is just...there, the crew are killed off for essentially no reason, and the monsters completely disappear once the story has no need of them. Seriously, there are a few shots of them swarming towards the base, and then they disappear, never to be heard from again, not even during the 45 minutes Clara, Courtney and the astronaut girl have to wait before the bombs explode. It’s very bizarre, and it also means that I have to add another dud monster to my list.




In additional to structural errors, though, the episode also fails quite significantly on the scientific front. Granted, this is a science-fiction show where the main character is a 2000 year old face changing alien who travel in time, but that shouldn’t stop writers from complying with relatively simple laws of science. As it happens, the biggest scientific problem in this episode actually undermines it completely. Eggs don’t gain mass (they lose it to the organism inside), so tides on earth would not have been changed at all until the Moon Egg hatched. Thus, the entire point of the astronauts’ mission is rendered completely moot, and so is all the gloom and doom about Earth. Shoddy science is something that is usually tolerated in Doctor Who, and for good reason, but when an episode’s entire premise is based around it, that’s when it becomes unacceptable.


But even if the major scientific error is ignored, the episode still amounts to virtually nothing. A large part of the Kill the Moon revolves around exactly that: whether or not they should kill the Moon. Should they risk humanity dying or allow a giant space dragon to fly free. It’s a nice conflict, and there’s no easy answer to the dilemma, or at least it appears that way. In the end, it turns out all the difficult questions were pointless, because the creature lays another Moon almost immediately after it hatches. While this is ludicrous by itself, it has the added effect of removing any consequences the episode might have had for Planet Earth. It’s a contrivance and a cop out and ultimately exposes the big problem I have with the idea of the Moon being an egg: it’s too ambitious. I know what writer Peter Harness was trying to do, but his idea’s on too big a scale. No matter what option the characters go with – be it blowing up the Moon or letting it hatch, the end result would be one massive continuity error. As Clara pointed out, there is most certainly a Moon after 2049, and this is precisely why a literal new Moon had to be created at the end. This begs the question as to why the episode had to be about Earth’s Moon; the concept of a Moon being an egg would have worked fine literally anywhere else. Make it a Moon of Mars, or Jupiter, Venus, some other planet. Anywhere would have been a much better alternative.




But for all the criticising I’ve done, there is one somewhat redeeming feature – the argument between the Doctor and Clara. After several years of the Doctor rarely ever getting called out on his actions, it was very nice to see Clara totally flip out at him. And she’s perfectly justified to do so; after all, he did just abandon her and two others before returning at literally the last second. She could have died, and it would have been his fault. But for all its brilliance, I don’t think it’s enough to completely save the episode. While it definitely shows that there are some consequences (though how long they last is another question), I think people are going to remember the confrontation very vividly and rate the episode high as a result. This might be the reason for the incredibly positive advance reviews. A similar thing happened with The Almost People in 2011 – only the final two minutes or so were remembered, and the episode was acclaimed as a result. As it stands though, the Clara/Doctor face off was a minute or so of brilliance, but it was too little too late.


In conclusion, Kill the Moon is the weakest episode of Series 8 so far. Overhyped, with structural and scientific issues abound, it somehow manages to effectively render itself pointless. Coupled with forgettable characters (I can’t even remember the main astronaut’s name) and pointless monsters, the episode is nothing but a disappointment.


5/10

 

The Caretaker Review

Posted by SonicR on October 11, 2014 at 5:10 AM Comments comments (3)

Doctor Who veteran Gareth Roberts returns to write for the new Doctor.




When it comes to episodes penned by Gareth Robots, I can never predict my reaction. Some, like have been genuinely great, others good, and the rest mediocre. So how did I find his latest episode? Rather unfortunately, it was very lacklustre.


The Caretaker sees the Doctor ‘infiltrate’ Coal Hill School to trap and destroy the Skovox Blitzer, an alien death machine that will kill all of humanity if left unchecked. But complications arise when he meets Clara’s boyfriend, the ex-soldier Danny Pink. How will the Doctor react, and will he be able to stop the Skovox Blitzer in time?


With a character introduced to the programme as the new love interest for Clara, it was inevitable that he and the Doctor eventually meet. This time, however, we already had a hint as to what the Doctor’s reaction would be. The boyfriend’s a soldier, and well, the Doctor isn’t particularly fond of soldiers. As such, I was expecting a somewhat antagonistic first meeting as the two sized each other up, followed by a series of verbal spars as they both trying and keep Clara’s attention – sort of like the Doctor’s and Robin Hood’s relationship in Robot of Sherwood. What we got, though, was much worse.


Right from the get go, the Doctor is rude to Danny, although at this stage, he doesn’t know anything about him at all apart from the fact that he teaches maths and was a soldier. Just this tiny amount of information alone gets on the Doctor’s nerves, as he somehow can’t comprehend the fact that a former soldier would teach anything other than Physical Education. (Fun fact, the Doctor’s good friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart actually taught mathematics after retiring from UNIT). He then resorts to calling Danny ‘PE’ for the rest of the episode. There’s no way to skirt around this: it’s bullying. By refusing to acknowledge what Danny actually teaches, the Doctor is continually putting him down, making him seem like a lesser human. Not to mention the references to Danny’s former career would no doubt have an enormous affect on the latter’s mental state. We’ve already seen that he suffers from PTSD to some extent; the Doctor’s actions would not help one bit.




The worst thing about the whole ordeal is that there’s no character justification for what the Doctor’s doing. Yes, he’s never been fond of soldiers, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming good friends with some in the past. The aforementioned Brigadier, Captain Yates, Sergeant Benton, Ross from the 2008 Sontaran episodes, his ‘daughter’ Jenny, Martha Jones...all were soldiers, and the Doctor got on fabulously with them. So why then does he have a massive problem with Danny? It can’t be because he’s Clara’s boyfriend, at least, not at first. Remember, the Doctor’s vitriol starts before he learns of their relationship. Thus, the only explanation is narrative convenience. The plot needed the Doctor to behave appalling to Danny for no reason, and he does. It’s a real shame, because this one fact severely detracted from the rest of the episode.


That’s not to say the whole Danny/Doctor aspect is entirely bad. On the contrary, it actually lends itself very well to a couple of character interactions, particularly when Danny sneaks on board the TARDIS. There’s a poignant moment when Danny begins mocking the Doctor by pretending to be a soldier obeying orders before he quietly points out to Clara that the Doctor’s reaction to his mocking behaviour is what the Time Lord is really like. A similar moment happens towards the end, when Danny asks Clara to let him know if she’s ever pushed too far. It’s evident that he really cares for Clara, and that his experiences with the Doctor have made him worry about her safety even more. And who can blame him? It’s not like the Doctor gave a great first impression


To be honest, I thought Danny was the best of all three main characters this episode, as Clara’s behaviour was also deplorable in places too. Danny’s right to ask if she thinks he’s stupid, because sometimes I honestly think she does. Danny sees an alien disappear in the Time Vortex and she STILL tries to pass it off as something more unbelievable than what he just saw? Sounds like you think he’s stupid to me.


Aside from those few issues though, the rest of the episode was pretty solid. It was nice to see a return to Coal Hill School, last seen briefly in The Day of the Doctor, but last visited by the Doctor in 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks, but it would have been even better if one of the Doctor’s old companions, Ian Chesterton, could have had a cameo. Hopefully that will happen in the near future. After all, the actor is still alive, and Ian is on the school’s Board of Governors.




Disappointingly, this episode joins the long list of those that feature subpar monsters. It displayed tremendous accuracy during its first ‘establish monster’s ability to kill’ scene, before missing everything of importance later on. The fact that it was touted as one of the ‘greatest killing machines ever created’ got on my nerves though – we’ve heard that before with the Daleks, the Raston Warrior Robot and a dozen other species; it’s getting tiresome. I will admit that it looked great though, and the VFX team should be very proud of their work. The method by which the Doctor initially planned to get rid of it was admittedly rather clever, but unfortunately his second method was a bit confusing, at least initially. It was rather difficult to make out what he was doing – helped in no small part by the iffy sound design which seems to be a major problem this series.


All in all, The Caretaker was a solid episode, let down by a rather serious flaw in characterisation. While it had some good character moments and great production design, the not-so-great aspects of the episode are a bit overwhelming.


6/10


 

PS: The short scene at the end was a great teaser for the series’ arc. Still got no real idea who or what Missy is!

 

Time Heist Review

Posted by SonicR on October 4, 2014 at 3:00 AM Comments comments (3)

The Doctor, Clara, a mutant and a cyborg attempt to rob the most secure bank in the galaxy.




 

It’s interesting to note that in almost 51 years, Doctor Who has never done a heist story – one where the specified goal is to rob a bank. Now, of course, that has all changed with the broadcast of Time Heist, where, in true Doctor Who fashion, the genre is given a neat twist that rounds off a very engaging episode.


 

Time Heist has the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) wake up with their memories wiped in a room with two strangers, Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner) and Psi (Jonathan Bailey). All four have to work together to rob the Bank of Karabraxos, all while avoiding the mind-liquefying Teller. Problem is, they don’t know what they’re stealing.


 

Setting up the episode with that mystery is one of the reasons Time Heist is so engaging. Right from the start, the audience is intrigued: what are they supposed to be stealing, and why? Fortunately, this mystery is maintained throughout the majority of the episode, until finally reaching a resolution in the dying minutes. And for once, the resolution was actually very well thought out. Although it was reasonably simple to deduce that the Doctor was the brains behind the whole scheme, the idea of using time travel to set up the heist was a clever twist. I had personally expected the Doctor to become the Architect and travel back in time to organise the heist after participating it, not doing it all beforehand. It was a welcome subversion of my expectations.




 

However, if there was one part of the ‘Doctor is the Architect’ reveal that I didn’t like, it was the whole “I hate the Architect” subplot that popped up a couple of times. It just felt tacked on and very underdeveloped – everyone says it, but only when the plot requires them to; the subject is dropped completely when it isn’t needed. As such, when the Doctor uses it to figure out that he’s behind the whole thing, it does feel like a touch too convenient. Also convenient was the fact that the episode’s villain, Ms Delphox (Keeley Hawes) didn’t get the monster of the week, the Teller, to kill the Doctor and Clara when it caught them, and again once they’d been apprehended. Given that there was a scene specifically showing how ruthless Delphox is with regards to illegal activity in the bank, it seems odd that she would even capture the Doctor and Clara, let alone ask a couple of guards to dispose of them.


 

Speaking of the monster, I’m glad to say that it was one of the highlights of the episode, with a great design and clever gimmick. While not particularly scary, it was very effective in what it set out to do, and I’m very glad that it wasn’t given one scene to show its power before being shunted to the side and forgotten, as has happened quite a few times in the recent series. The fact that it tied in with the episode’s resolution was a bonus too.


 

Rather frustratingly, there’s nothing much more to say about this episode. It was enjoyable and engaging, with great performances from the cast, and best of all, a good monster. A solid addition to the Doctor Who ranks, if a bit forgettable.


 

8/10