Thursday, 28 August 2014

Things only Doctor Who could get away with...

I love Doctor Who. Hardly an shocking statement but it’s true. There are so many reasons to love the show; the fantastic cast of characters, the vast engine of diverse storytelling, the multitude of locations, the great monsters, the performances, the music…so many reasons. But I think the reason why Doctor Who inches out my other favourites (Star Trek DS9, The West Wing, any number of BBC comedies) is its sheer balls. It’s ability to go one step further than any other show, to take an absurd idea and make it work or to take an absurd idea and make it flop in spectacular style. Doctor Who has more brio, more confidence than any other show on television and here are just a number of reasons why…

Hartnell’s stuff is where it all begins so this is where the ground rules are set and yet this is one of the most diverse and experimental periods in the shows history. Look at the basic ideas driving the series – a police box that travels through time and space – what other show would dare take something so profoundly absurd and make it work this well? The Web Planet pits a race of giant ants against a race of giant moths. The Daleks’ Masterplan is a 12 part epic that mixes alien planets, Earth in the future, Z Cars, a cricket match, a confrontation with Peter Butterworth, lots of Daleks and the death of two companions…there was no end to the ambition. Who else would attempt a studio bound western (The Gunfighters) and make it a hilariously funny singalong comedy? It doesn’t get any less mad with Troughton. Daleks glide through a Victorian house (Evil of the Daleks), Yetis menace the London Underground (The Web of Fear) and the Doctor leaps into a world of fiction, a world of giant toy soldiers, Gulliver and Rapunzel (The Mind Robber). Not only do these three stories pull off these blatantly insane concepts but they produce some stunning drama in the bargain. Go figure.

Who else but Doctor Who would take such a malleable concept and suddenly change the entire direction of their show and exile their main character to one planet?  Or spend four episodes indulging in Star Trek style Mirror Mirror fascist duplicates of the regular characters and flesh them out into likeable creations and then blow their world up and show their horrific deaths (Inferno?). Making the ultimate evil a representative of God (The Daemons)? Show the destruction of Atlantis just four years after it had already been depicted, somehow making it even more goofy than the first attempt (The Time Monster). Who else would dare to poke fun at themselves so hilariously than Carnival of Monsters with great lines such as ‘They’re great favourites with the children!’ when talking about the monsters. No other show would build an entire story around evacuating London due to a plague of dinosaurs popping into existence and fudge the special effects so spectacularly (Invasion of the Dinosaurs).

Doctor Who indulged in arcs long before it ever became famous to do so, seasons twelve and sixteen sees a 24 and 26 episode epic respectively. The Key to Time season brilliantly flaunts its premise in the first story and spends the next four stories quietly pretending to forget its quest story and wrapping up its contribution in a couple of minutes at the beginning (Androids of Tara) or end (The Stones of Blood) of each story. Who else but Doctor Who would spend three seasons so shamelessly pillaging from the horror genre, telling a pastiche of everything from Frankenstein (The Brain of Morbius) to Day of the Triffids (The Seeds of Doom) with a touch of The Manchurian Candidate (The Deadly Assassin) and Asimov (The Robots of Death) and somehow pulling them off more entertainingly than the originals. Only Doctor Who would spend two hours setting up the main plot of a story, the Sonatarans storming Gallifrey at the end of episode four of The Invasion of Time. Or have an alien being push the creation of the human race on so he can have several Mona Lisa’s painted and make a fortune selling them secretly so he can make time travel equipment and head back in time and save his race and wipe out the human race in the bargain (City of Death)! No other show would have the audacity to write out a team as glorious as the fourth Doctor, Romana and K.9 and replace them with Peter Davison, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa…and increase its audience figures.

Imagine facing the daunting task of having to kill off the most annoying companion of all time…only Doctor Who would have him trapped on a cyber-enhanced spaceship heading towards prehistoric Earth and have him wipe out the dinosaurs (Earthshock). Imagine attempting to visualise a Concorde landing in prehistoric Earth on the budget of a soap opera (Time-Flight)! Constantly innovating, season 20 introduced a homicidal companion, always trying to murder the Doctor as soon as his back is turned. What other show would wipe out its entire guest cast in a massacre that makes Reservoir Dogs look coy in comparison (Resurrection of the Daleks). What about the horror moments in season 22, the acid bath scene, Lytton having his hands crushed, the Doctor being pursued by a slavering cannibal through the Seville countryside, Davros having his hand shot off. No other show in such creative and reputable strive would produce Trial of a Timelord, confused mess of a story that somehow, somehow manages to be utterly wonderful at the same time.

What other show could schedule something as deliriously embarrassing as Time and the Rani and not lose all of its audience? Who else would proudly display the Kandyman during its biggest audience crisis? Which other show could pull such a surprising rabbit out of their hat and produce such a wonderful last season, full of genuine character development and delicious horror? What about sending Paul McGann to the US get him to snog a woman and wander about looking for a plot for over an hour and somehow not make it suck (The TV Movie)?

Who else could humanise the ultimate villain and win over a whole new audience (Dalek)? Captain Jack Harkness was introduced as the first openly gay character in the show, somehow beating Star Trek to the idea despite that shows liberal pretension (The Empty Child). What about having an entire episode where your regulars only make a cameo (Love and Monsters). Or taking hold of a novel and committing it to celluloid (Human Nature) with such passion? Telling a story with the twisted humour and scale of Utopia-Last of the Time Lords. Taking one of Britain’s most famous comedy actresses and getting her to emote heartbreakingly in the destruction of Pompeii. Producing the ultimate fanwank (The Stolen Earth) and making it the most exciting thing to ever hit our screens.

What other show would dare to have the central character kill off his wife before he has even met her for the first time? Or play a four year arc that is ultimately leading to a few scant explanations around a table? What other show would stage the death of its central character and shrug its shoulders when it comes to offering a decent explanation. Or to give a spaceship, 50 years old in conception, a whole new lease of life when it becomes a woman for a day? What other show would bring to together all thirteen protagonists in one spectacular experience? Is there any other show that has had episodes aired in cinemas? 

What other show has such a rich and varied number of spin offs of such quality? The Big Finish range manages to produce authentic classic Doctor Who stories without images to an astonishing quality. How about taking the reviled 6th Doctor, teaming him up cuddly academic Evelyn Smythe and making him the most wonderful, colourful, charming Doctor ever. Letting Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford rip the piss out of their characters in the gloriously funny The One Doctor. The range produced The Chimes of Midnight which shows what a well written Paul McGann could have achieved and manages to be perhaps the most perfect Doctor Who story in the bargain. The series performs the quantum leap of having companion Charley Pollard abandoned by the 8th Doctor and rescued by the 6th, a truly naff concept pulled off with real verve and style. Big Finish gave us the Bernice Summerfield range, now in its umpteenth season with a wealth of fantastic stories to be proud of.

What other show could produce over 250 original novels, transcending the shows entertainment roots and producing something far more adult and wonderful. Timewyrm: Revelation takes us into the Doctor’s mind and shows how truly fucked up he is. Just War devastatingly has companion Bernice Summerfield tortured by the Nazi’s. Alien Bodies dares to kill off the Doctor and have him bury his own future corpse. With The Burning, the 8th Doctor range wiped away all the mistakes of the previous 3 years and transformed his character into something far more interesting, aggressive and hilarious. Adventuress on Henrietta Street tells its story in the style of a historical document. The Crooked World takes place in a world of cartoons and tells an astonishingly poignant coming of age story. The Tomorrow Windows pastiches Douglas Adams and manages to have more laughs per page than any Pratchett novel. Festival of Death tells its story backwards. Combat Rock nestles the 2nd Doctor into a story of blood soaked cannibals and makes him utterly authentic. The Indestructible Man steals from Gerry Anderson whilst telling a gripping war on terror story.

And how about the spin offs on the telly? Who would have ever thought hiring Elisabeth Sladen to take on alien monsters with a bunch of pre-pubescents would have been the best thing ever? Who could have foreseen the series producing something as profound and heartbreaking as Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane? What about Torchwood? After Russell T Davies’ mature and gripping Damaged Goods nobody guessed his take on adult Who would flop so spectacularly in its first year. And then in true Doctor Who style, who saw it producing such a glorious, emotion fuelled epic in Children of the Earth this year?

What else but Doctor Who could do all these things? Now tell me why this isn't the greatest TV/book/audio/comic/etc series in the world...

In the Hands of the Prophets written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Religious fundamentalism and science battle it out in a game of politics…

Single Father: Sisko knew a conflict of human and Bajoran ideologies was inevitable and he refuses to start separating their interests. He’s not comfortable in the role of the Emissary and tries to get Winn to call him Benjamin. Anybody who wants proof of the breadth of character development compare Sisko's opinion on his role of the Emissary in this episode, in Accession and then in Behind the Lines. Astonishing progress. The scene between Sisko and Jake about the matter of interpretation is a very powerful one, I really like how he forcefully tells his son that the Bajoran spiritual faith isn’t something to scoffed at even if you don’t believe in it. This is a turning point for Sisko’s character where he gets to reaffirm his mission statement and evolve the themes that were laid down in Emissary. His speech to Winn and her followers kicks more ass than any amount of ships he can blow up with the Defiant because it shows him as a considered leader offering hope to both sides of this faction and despite Winn’s most insidious efforts he still comes out looking as though he is right. His acknowledgment that he and Kira have some damn good fights but they always come away with a better understanding of each other is terrific. The Sisko/Kira relationship has been one of the central highlights of the first season so it seems entirely apt that a scene showing how far they have come should cap of the debut series. 

Tasty Terrorist: Interesting to see Kira showing her support for Winn in this episode. It wont last long. Her assertion that teaching pure science without a spiritual context being another kind of philosophy is a potent view, it isn't one that I share but it does make you think. Kira awkwardly tries to excuse the absence of several Bajoran crewmen and continues to be a firm presence in Ops as the situation is crumbling around them. The last scene of the episode where Kira admits that Sisko’s speech struck a chord in her and that she is happy working with him ends the season on a positive note. 

The O’Briens: With a cheeky grin Keiko teases O’Brien about his amazing new young female engineering crewmember. ‘Just keeping you on your toes, O’Brien.’ It's great to finally see Keiko at work in the school and she does seem like quite a natural teacher and I am pleased that she doesn’t let a Bajoran spiritual leader waltz in and dictate what can and cannot be taught in her classroom. Whilst she might be a little too forceful in her defiance of spiritual teachings this is the healthiest development Keiko has had since she first appeared on TNG. I love O’Brien because he is such a fantastically flawed character with too many vices from swearing too much, being a little too friendly with his Bajoran engineers (perfectly innocent I might add but it is easy to interpret otherwise) and eating too many sweet things. He's you and I in the 24th Century. We have heard O’Brien say some casually racist things about Cardassians this season (and he would do so again) and it is interesting to see that he doesn’t like it when Bajorans give him the same treatment. Neela likes O’Brien because he doesn’t put on any airs and I couldn’t put it better myself. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘My philosophy is that there is room for all philosophies on this station!’ 
‘Some fear you as a symbol of the Federation that they view as Godless. Some fear you as the Emissary who walked with the Prophets. And some fear you because Vedek Winntold them to.’
‘The Prophets teach us patience’ ‘It appears they also teach you politics.’
‘The Prophets spoke! I answered their call!’
‘Maybe we have made some progress after all.’ 

The Good: Over its seven years DS9 would continually add to its arsenal of acting talent and each addition would turn out to benefit the show. Louise Fletcher is an superb actress and the role of Winn is a perfect match for her talent and both the character and the actress bring the best out in each other. Winn is insidious, a political mastermind who craves power and is adept at smiling at you whilst plunging a knife into your back. Some of the best ever DS9 scenes belong to this character. Look at the way she whips up the parents into a religious frenzy and hilariously appears to be offering an olive branch to Keiko. She’s so deviously polite you have to admire her ability to lie through her teeth. It's great to finally visit the Bajoran temple on the Promenade, an exquisitely designed and lit set. Whilst there is far too much technobabble flowing I really enjoyed the murder mystery subplot that rumbles through this episode and how it beautifully ties into the main story. The thing about Star Trek is it doesn’t venture out on location very often (a point that has driven me insane in the TNG episodes with a new planet each week that borrows the same interior planetary landscape each time albeit with a different coloured backdrop) but when they do the result is some of the most gorgeous photography you will ever see outside of a movie. Since this is our first visit to the Bajoran capital since Emissary it is nice to see that the rebuilding is complete since the Cardassians left and the planet looks as serenely and stunning as ever. The monastery gardens scenes in Prophets are stunning; the sun is shining through the tall trees, the birds singing and the water flowing gently down river. It's somewhere I would love to visit myself for a moment of calm. There’s another brilliant Odo/Quark moment (‘Those spiritual types love those Dabo girls!’).The fire that rages from the school bombing is an outstanding physical effect and it takes the episode to the next level dramatically. The school is left in ruins afterwards and is as potent an image of religious extremism as I have ever seen. I love that the revelation about Neela isn’t packaged as a massively melodramatic moment but revealed as a silenced look between her and Winn after Sisko’s speech. Winn is such a wonderful bitch that she is not only willing to let Neela sacrifice her life in order to further her political career but she also packages it as a religious decree. Look at the last shot of this episode, a stunning ariel view of Ops. 

Moment to Watch Out For: Aside from the wonderfully funny moment when Sisko leaps through the air I cannot think of a better staged sequence in Star Trek than Neela attempting to assassinate Bariel. Brilliantly captured in slow motion and precisely lit and performed, it still takes my breath away today after seeing it more times than is probably healthy even for a fan of this series. The way Neela slips effortlessly from the crowd into shot with her gun and the look on Bariel’s face as the shot goes wide and explodes behind his head are both very powerful moments. 

Only DS9: We have never seen political manoeuvring in Star Trek on this level before and it's quite gripping.

Fashion Statement: Vedek Bariel is one of the hottest religious leaders I have ever clapped my eyes on.

Orchestra: Wonderfully subtle music during the assassination sequence.

Foreboding: This episode is superbly structured – Neela is seen realigning the isolinear co-processor in the first scene after the titles which looks like a throwaway moment but proves to be the lynchpin of the entire episode.

Result: In the Hands of the Prophets starts out really well and just gets better and better and better. You have two equally interesting plots that run separately and blissfully come together in a powerful and dramatic climax. There is room for political manoeuvring, a murder mystery, character development, two outstanding action sequences and the introduction of two perfectly pitched and performed new guest characters in Winn and Bariel. It brings the season to a climactic end on a real high, showing the bold new direction that the show is beginning to take and leaves you with nothing but positive feelings about leaping into the second year. Star Trek has never been like this before and it is better than ever: 9/10

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Duet written by Peter Allan Fields and directed by James L. Conway

What’s it about: A Cardassian war criminal falls into Kira’s clutches…

Single Father: What’s wonderful about this episode is that all of the regulars get wonderful scenes whilst it is definitively highlighting Nana Visitor’s Kira. It's is such a beautifully simple situation where everybody wants possession of this man and Sisko is placed in the bureaucratic nightmare of trying to keep the Bajorans and the Cardassians happy whilst also sticking to Federation rules and pleasing his First Officer. We've all had days like that, when you can't please anybody. 

Tasty Terrorist: The episode that put Nana Visitor on the map. This is the last step of Kira’s phenomenal development throughout the first season (actually not quite, she still has a further realisation to make about the Federation in In the Hands of the Prophets) and the episode where her hatred for Cardassians is put under the microscope as she is forced to re-evaluate her opinion about a species that she reviles. Gene Roddenberry might have been against racist characters in Star Trek (although the cast of TNG were always making casual racist slurs) but it makes for great drama, especially as they come to realise that their stance might not be right. Always one to under react (yeah, right), Kira calls for Security as soon as she suspects Marritza is a war criminal. His assertion that she has hate in her eyes and wants to kill him might be ridiculous in any other situation but proves scarily accurate here. Kira is crafty enough to have contacted the Minister of State to ensure that Marritza is persecuted and released to Bajoran justice because she firmly believes that the Federation has no business telling them how to deal with their criminals. She promises Sisko that she will conduct herself accordingly even though she isn’t objective (clearly their conversation in Progress had an effect). Kira tries to silence the ranting Darheel by trying to pigeon hole him as insane but he refuses to let her label him that easily. Kira used to lie awake at night plotting the assassination of people like Darheel. The strongest realisation that Kira has during this season is that Marritza didn’t commit the crimes and that he was only one man…the fact that he is a Cardassian isn’t reason enough to persecute him. It’s a massive step for her and beautifully played by Visitor. Astonishing character growth for a Star Trek character in an astonishing episode. Still one of the finest character examinations in the franchise. 

Filing Clerk: A character so memorable, so brilliantly conceived, written and performed that he deserves a section of his own. He’s perfectly charming towards Sisko with a little acidic wit (‘Oh finally, the Federation to the rescue’). Marritza heads to DS9 with an agenda and he knows exactly what he is doing but its only at the climax that you realise this – throughout you are never sure who he is or what he is up to. He knows exactly how to play Kira, suggesting that it was the Bajorans that killed each other at the labour camp and the suggestion that Cardassians were responsible was made by them to provoke fear in their enemies. He even suggests that leaving Bajor was a political decision and that Bajorans achieved nothing by getting rid of them. And then once exposed as Darheel he stabs her in the gut emotionally by telling her she can kill him but it wont change anything about the murders he ordered. Marritza tries desperately to keep up his pretence, to rant and rave but he finally breaks down when his lies flood him with the same feelings of shame and guilt he felt at the time. He goes from being the most loathed character in Star Trek to the most sympathetic. 

Nine Lives: Jadzia the Champion Window Breaker, proof that Miss Goody Two Shoes isn’t quite as innocent as she seems (‘I was deadly’). 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If you’d seen the things I saw. All those Bajoran bodies, starved, brutalised. D’you know what Cardassian policy was…no I’m not even talking about murder, murder was just the end of the fun for them. First came the humiliation. Mothers raped in front of their children, husbands beaten until their wives couldn’t recognise them, old people buried alive because they couldn’t work anymore!’ Such is the ferocity of Nana Visitor’s performance with this one scene she exposes just how terrifying life under the Occupation must have been. Another hellish reminder of where she has come from. 
‘Persecuting Cardassians goes far beyond your job Major, its your passion.’
‘Kill me! Torture me! You can never undo what I’ve accomplished…the dead will still be dead!’
‘Nothing justifies genocide!’ ‘What you call genocide I call a days work’ – how James L. Conway lingers on Kira’s face after that line gives it even more power.
‘Cardassia will only survive if it stands in front of Bajor and admits the truth. My trial will force Cardassia to acknowledge its guilt. And we’re guilty all of us! My death is necessary!’ ‘What you’re asking for is another murder. Enough good people have already died. I wont help kill another.’
‘He was a Cardassian, that’s reason enough!’ ‘No…it's not.’ 

The Good: The way this story plots out its mystery storyline is beautiful, it is almost Garak-like in its Russian Doll layers of truth and deception. Marritza is a war criminal, no he isn’t, he doesn’t have Kalla-Nohra, yes he does, he is a file clerk, no he’s the butcher of Gallitep…no he is a good man trying to embody the guilt of his people. Marritza has a great point to make about making a race feel like victims and not having to lift a finger once you have achieved that. The psychological angle is often far more effective than the physical one. The sequence where they clear up an image of Gallitep and discover Marritza’s true identity is a masterpiece of scene construction – it is beautifully put together to up the tension and suspense without a single person raising their voice. Wonderful that an episode that is so focused on Cardassian atrocities ends on a Bajoran one. It seems there is still a long way to go before this race heals its wounds but with examples like Kira they are on the right path. The last shot is one of the most beautifully framed endings of any Star Trek episode. 

The Bad: The Bajoran drunk seems like a superfluous character…until the last scene where even his involvement is blissfully made necessary. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The scene where Kira finally gets Marritza to reveal his true identity is my favourite moment in Star Trek. It’s the only scene that manages to give me goosebumps and reduce me to tears in the same scene every time I watch it and the performances of Visitor and Yulin and beyond exceptional. Drama at its finest and it brings this episode to a devastating conclusion. Both characters undergo astonishing transformations in this scene and you realise this man is willing to sacrifice his dignity and his life to get his people to face up to their horrors. 

Only DS9: Duet pushes Star Trek levels into new areas of discomfort. When Tasha Yar talked about rape gangs it felt tasteless and ridiculous but when Kira talks of children witnessing their mothers being raped the very idea just fills you with horror. Maybe it’s the serious tone but the issues dealt with in this episode feel devastatingly real.

Teaser-tastic: All records show that the only you could have contracted Kalla-Nohra were at a Bajoran labour camp and their injured party is a Cardassian. Ouch.

Orchestra: Even the music is exceptional in this story – a particular feat given I cannot remember a single piece of music that has stood out in the first season to this point. This is a quietly scored episode to allow the performances to dominate but the music creeps in during some strong moments (the revelation of Marritza in the photograph, after the ‘genocide’ line, when Kira finally breaks him).

Foreboding: Neela is introduced as one of O’Brien’s engineering crew and she would take on a much greater role in the next story. It's done with all the subtlety of the Durst and Seska examples – and it came first.

Result: The most effective psychological drama in Star Trek bar none. Haris Yulin, character actor extraordinaire takes on a truly challenging part that could so easily have been nothing but a ranting villain and he embodies the role with such realism and terror you forget all about the make up and simply concentrate on the riveting drama between him and Kira. The script is a beautifully crafted thing literally stuffed with memorable dialogue (I had to carefully cherry pick my favourites above but pretty much the entire script sparkles) and featuring a mystery that will leave you desperate to know the truth by the climax. Add to this precise and subtle direction that teases the drama from the situation more exceptional work done with Kira and a conclusion that rips out your heart and stamps on it repeatedly and you have a rare thing. An episode that fires on all cylinders all the time. Exceptional in every single way whilst hardly spending a penny: 10/10

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Dramatis Personae written by Joe Menosky and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: The crew become infected by a telepathic race who destroyed themselves…

Single Father: Considering he can be such an intimidating bloke at times (both his muscular frame and his quietly menacing voice) I find it even more unnerving to find Sisko sitting reflectively in his office designing a clock (what the hell was that all about?) with only occasional sudden bursts anger and violence. The way he whispers his dialogue like singing to a child is enough to give me nightmares. My favourite scene in this episode comes when Sisko starts his new clock in the last scene, it’s the one touch of thoughtfulness in all the sci-fi melodrama. I’m really glad the baseball from If Wishes Were Horses and the clock from this episode stick around – they might be two of the most disposable episodes of the season but they do have an impact on the series, at least in terms of decoration. 

Tasty Terrorist: It does seem a little odd given all the development since the beginning of the season that we should return to the feisty tension between Kira and Sisko that was highlighted in Past Prologue but at least we have got to the stage where she will concede to ‘try things his way.’ At least until the Klingon energy sphere invades her mind and makes her try to murder him horribly. Once she is possessed Kira is so ridiculously butch and aggressive it is hard to take her seriously. Firstly she tries to manipulate Odo by going for the heavy seduction approach and then she manages to bring Dax around by aggressively flirting with her too. Is this a trial run for the bisexual good time girl Intendant? 

Everyday Engineer: Amazing how unlikable Colm Meaney can make O’Brien by twisting a few of his normal characteristics out of joint (his casual racism and generally opinionated nature are both oddly charming usually). Meaney seems to enjoy the chance to the chew the scenery in Sisko’s Office, channelling his performance from TNG’s Power Play.

Unknown Sample: Odo tries the softly softly method with Quark by gossiping with him about the Klingons but as soon as that doesn’t work (or Quark tries to bribe him) he turns on the bad cop which proves much more effective. When his face starts playing pat-a-cake it looks really excruciatingly painful, Auberjonois is great at playing those moments of sudden hurt. Whilst the kinky dominatrix approach doesn’t work on Odo I bet her talk of giving him free reign on the station and banging up whoever he likes made him wonder if he should support Kira in this power struggle for a second. He’s such a crafty character, manipulating O’Brien, Kira, Bashir and Sisko all at the same time. 

Community Leader: Trust Quark to try and wangle some compensation out of this whole sorry situation, putting on a fake neck brace and crying out ‘I want satisfaction!’

Nine Lives: Looks lethargic for the whole episode. It's easy to sympathise at times.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘She must have spies everywhere!’ – O’Brien on Kira.
‘Never Get me a phaser, I’ll get rid of Kira!’ – scary Sisko.

The Good: Even though the writing is pretty vacuous the direction tries to make up for it by suggesting a state of imprecision in every scene. Even Odo waking up on a bed in Infirmary is filmed in a very peculiar way. As something of a horologist myself I adore Sisko’s clock – it is so beautifully intricate and unusual. Even though the regulars on this show are more at odds than you usually see on Star Trek when they finally turn on each other in this episode it is spectacularly nasty with Sisko literally kicking the shit out of a Bajoran officer who is trying to put him to sleep, O’Brien slapping Dax around the face and Kira coming at everything guns blazing. The last ten minutes are the best of this episode in that respect with Odo trying to get everybody where he needs them whilst convincing them he is on their side. The climax is rather exciting in that respect. 

The Bad: Dax is looking vacant immediately after the teaser – I probably would have let the audience think things were normal for a little longer. As soon a somebody starts acting out of character you know that more is to come. The constant cuts to the Klingon log does explain what is going on but there are far too many scenes of people sitting around watching it. The conclusion is spectacularly daft with Odo opening a cargo bay door and allowing the atmosphere to escape as everybody hangs onto consoles.

Moment to Watch Out For: Watch out for the scene where Kira picks up Quark and throws him across the bar and so hard he hits the wall and brings a ton of glasses crashing down. Do not get this woman angry.

Result: Dramatis Personae is basically all the ill feeling amongst the crew of DS9 turned up the nth degree. To someone who watches the odd episode you might not even distinguish between their behaviour here (Kira beating up Quark and arguing with Sisko, O’Brien’s strong opinions about everything, Bashir playing the field) and the last time you watched but anyone who has watched the entire season will have seen subtle changes in their behaviour as the regulars have started to gel. This used to be my least favourite episode of the season because none of the characterisation on display is particularly subtle but the regulars certainly all give it their all and it results in an episode that is at least entertaining camp trash. If you ever wanted to see Kira flirt with Dax, Sisko kick the crap out of someone, Odo walk a fine line between two camps, O’Brien putting his tactical skills to good use and a cat and mouse hunt between the crew then this is the episode for you. Personally I prefer the more thoughtful brand of DS9 and this is nothing but a bad TNG episode played with a little more spice. This is the case for all the Joe Menosky inspired DS9 episodes…he is definitely pitching for the wrong show. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he found a home on Voyager: 5/10

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Forsaken written by Don Carlos Dunaway & Michael Piller and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Mrs Troi visits the station and falls for a most unusual man…

Single Father: The look on Sisko’s face when he turns away from the Ambassadors who have just invaded Ops is priceless. Somehow from deep inside he manages to conjure up a smile but you can see it is painful for him. Suck it up, Sisko, we've all had to toadying up to our superiors like this. Curzon used to delight in giving Sisko some dreadful assignments when he was a junior office and so now he enjoys torturing Bashir in the same way. He doesn't even hide the fact that he is getting off on watching his medical officer struggling. What a guy. 

Unknown Sample: Poor Odo doesn’t quite know how to react when Lwaxana visits him in his office in her sexiest wig (and her sexiest ever outfit) and literally starts climbing the furniture to paw at him. ‘Odo…it rolls of the tongue!’ His take on procreation is typically unique (it doesn’t require changing how you smell or sacrificing various plant life to serve as tokens of affection!). Odo understands thieves and killers but doesn’t have a clue how to handle women. He also doesn’t handle delicacy very well. The look on his face when he realises he is stuck in a lift with Mrs Troi is one of sheer horror (and very funny). When Mrs Troi starts going on about her lurid sex life with Ferengi’s Odo wonders wistfully how many volts are in the exposed circuit…whether to try and escape or commit suicide I’m not entirely sure. Odo is so used to people accepting him for what he is but not understanding him that when Lwaxana starts asking him about how he made his hair and about his past he talks about it tentatively. He never grew up per se, it was merely a transition between what he used to be to what he chose to become. Mrs Troi is right, it does sound very lonely. By the end of the episode she seems to have thawed out his metaphorical heart a little as he melts into her lap.

GE Doctor: How delicious that Bashir is lumbered with the ‘Ambassadors of Unhappy’. This bunch of complaining, opinionated, insulting and thoroughly miserable Federation representatives put him through the wringer and no mistake and it's wonderful to see Sisko palming off this rotten assignment on the young Doctor. 

Everyday Engineer: Remember when O’Brien was having a tiff with the computer in Emissary? Well that is nothing compared to the domestic he has to cope with it here. He’s so pissed off with its constant opinions he insists on doing a root canal and digging out the guts of the thing and putting back together so it does what he says. Shouldn’t take any more than two or three years.

Mrs Troi: I love Mrs Troi! I know people found her tiresome on TNG but for me she was the complete opposite. Here was somebody who spoke her mind, who took great delight in taking the piss out of the crass, middle class lot of them (even her daughter with the spectacularly insightful ‘Deanna dear I love you dearly but you do turn everything into an epitaph.’). So naturally she fits in perfectly with all the misfits and exiles on DS9, gambling and flirting generally having a great time. She turns Oo’max into some serious pain for Quark when he refuses to compensate for her missing hair brooch (‘I know where it hurts the most you little troll!’) and then falls for the enigmatic Constable Odo when she sees how unique a man he is. The chemistry between Rene Auberjonois and Majel Barrett is very natural and their quick fire exchanges have the witty repartee of a good Noel Coward film. Lwaxana heads off down memory lane and recounts the events of Ménage a Troi. The scene where Lwaxana tries to comfort Odo as he tries to resist regenerating is like none we have ever seen from her before, it completely redefines what the character is capable of beyond being a comic caricature. When she takes off her wig and offers Odo a rare glimpse into how ordinary she really looks your heart melts with the intimacy between the two characters at that moment. The writing is so sensitive and has taken two of the strongest willed Trek characters and broken them right down to their barest state and the result is that we understand them both so much more and invest a great deal in their relationship. Who saw any of that coming? 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You are the thin beige line between order and chaos!’
‘Every sixteen hours I turn into a liquid!’ ‘I can swim.’
‘Even we non shape shifters have to change who were are every now and again’ ‘You are not at all what I expected’ ‘No-one has ever paid me a greater compliment.’
‘When it comes to picnics the only thing that really matters is the company.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘That’s it?’ says the Bolian Ambassador ‘I was expecting more somehow.’ You really want to punch this guy in the face! 

The Good: Why is it when there are explosions and fires on DS9 they feel so much more dramatic than on other Trek shows? Afterwards the corridor is a wreck and screaming with sparks and filled with smoke. O’Brien's computer/puppy metaphor is one of the cutest (‘keep it off the furniture’). 

The Bad: Sisko schedules a briefing at 0400. In the morning? Is that the same corridor explosion from If Wishes Were Horses?

Moment to Watch Out For: The scene where Odo melts into Mrs Troi’s lap. My mum watched this with me on its first transmission and she was reaching for the tissues.

Only DS9: ‘Are you actually suggesting that we indulge in one of those disgusting Ferengi sex programmes?’ – this show is obsessed with sex! Every episode seems to have a reference! ‘I’ve never been with a shape shifter’ ‘Been with?’ The scene where Odo visits Sisko to complain about Mrs Troi’s voracious sexual appetite could only happen on DS9 (and not just because its these characters). It’s a delightful scene that sees Sisko loving Odo’s discomfort at being sought after ‘like a Wanoni tracehound!’

Myth Building: One thing I have noticed is that nine times out of ten if Michael Piller is involved with a script he literally brings the best out of the characters on this show…and Les Landau is extremely good at directing intimate dramas like this (see also Progress).

Result: Not content with having a gorgeous A story that sees Mrs Troi set her sights on Odo, The Forsaken also chooses to torture Bashir in an amusing B story and even feature a C story that uses technobabble in a really fun way. I’m not sure how they manage to pack it all in but none of these narratives feels undersold and they weave around each other effortlessly. Every scene is imbued with character that skips through everything from romantic comedy to intimate drama and the performances are sublime. Because it has so much going on it doesn’t quite have the focus of the best episodes of the season but it is still ridiculously entertaining and has some really moving scenes between Odo and Lwaxana. Both Vortex and The Forsaken offer tantalising glimpses into a softer Odo without diminishing the character in the slightest and have provided some of the most touching moments of the season: 8/10

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Deep Breath written by Steven Moffat and directed by Ben Wheatley

This story in a nutshell: The most schizophrenic Doctor arrives on the scene...

Indiscernible: 'I have a horrible feeling I'm going to have to kill you...I thought you might appreciate a drink first.' Welcome to the world of Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi. To say I was disappointed with his performance in the first half of Deep Breath would be an understatement. I had been telling doubters that this was going to be the most interesting Doctor yet and here he was jerking about like a puppet with his strings cut, talking nonsensically and failing to even tickle the funny bone as he did so. It was just irritating wackiness. That's a new approach (unless you count Sylvester McCoy's debut). Fortunately things took a massive u-turn in the second half and all the things I was expecting from Capaldi - gravitas, darkness and a suggestion of something truly sinister beneath - all began to surface. I wouldn't say that he is fully defined as a character like Matt Smith was in The Eleventh Hour. In fact I would say that he is barely defined as a character at all but that is rather exciting. Looking back at the 11th Doctor's era it is clear that he started at his zenith and generally haemorrhaged interest throughout his tenure until he was little more than a collection of quirks come his finale. Capaldi is in a much different place after his debut, with places to go and grow. I think it is going to be a most interesting ride.

His first scene is horribly awkward and packed full genuinely awful dialogue. Why secure an actor of this magnitude and give him such foolish things to say? This dialogue is beneath him and Capaldi struggles under its weight of ineptitude. It's basically the pre-titles sequence of The Christmas Invasion (Jenny's dialogue mirrors Jackie's at the end), three times as long, terribly scripted and without the impressive stunt of the TARDIS crash landing. The bedroom, eyebrows and anti-English dialogue is just as bad, it is a character trying to be idiosyncratic rather than simply being so...and that's painful. And as for the comic noise when the Doctor falls unconscious, that's just peculiar. His chalk equations on the floor of his bedroom was the first point where I thought this Doctor might work out, maybe that was the idea. To wrong foot us so completely. I wonder how many of the casual audience wont be watching next week though because of the crazy old git literally screaming his head from the rooftops and jumping in the Thames (several of my friends that don't watch the show on a regular basis declared this the worst thing they had seen on television in many a year). His sadness and anger for the burning dinosaur felt very Doctorish to me, a lovely touch. Planet of the pudding brains? I preferred it when he just called us stupid apes. The tension and chemistry between the Doctor and Clara in the restaurant scene is palpable, this shows great promise. All Moffat had to do was to add some mutual antipathy. Leaving Clara to her fate might just be the best thing he does in the entire story, for once the Doctor is a genuinely unpredictable. When he confronts the villain of the piece, all mood and wit, the Doctor has arrived, albeit not quite fully formed yet.

The Impossible Girl: The biggest revelation of Deep Breath, even moreso than Peter Capaldi for me. It's nice to see that there has been a genuine character rattling around inside there all this time and this 80 minutes did more to justify Clara's existence than the entirety of her output last year. I'll get the bad stuff out of the way first because the good stuff is worth concentrating on. This is an unrealistic leap in a positive direction. Last year Clara was self assured to the point of no longer serving as a character, she stormed around submarines filling with water, took on a haunted house and directed an army of soldiers against a Cyberman army without batting an eyelid or breaking a sweat. It was infuriatingly smug and unrealistic. This was not a character I could identify with. To have her go from that to falling to pieces just because the guy she fancies has changed faces (a fact that she should be intimately acquainted with because she has jumped all over his time stream) is seriously inconsistent to the point where we could be talking about another character entirely. However the new, less assured, more tentative and angry Clara is one that I very much like and can buy I'll let it slide this time. It is wonderful to see Clara not being able to cope for once, I can sympathise with her for a change. This new Doctor is gangly and awkward and she doesn't know how he fits into the life she has built with the old one. Suddenly this man that she fancies (icky) is old and ugly (comparatively speaking) and it has thrown her. Whilst her anger in the face of Vastra isn't scripted very naturally that is the first time that we have really seen her teeth. I wanted to applaud like Jenny. 'I am extremely cross' she tells the Doctor. Hurrah. We even get to see Clara failing to cope with her class at school. Now she is a mass of neuroses I find her infinitely more believable. 

Lizard Lady, Lesbian Lover & Jolly Sontaran: I fail to see the point in continuing to return to these characters if we never learn anything new about them when we do. Aside from highlighting a pro interspecies and gay stance (and I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that...just that it is highlighted to the point where this is the only interesting thing about these characters), there is little here that we haven't seen before. Frankly I would rather see the Tyler clan coping with a new Doctor because I can buy into them as characters and they mirror how I might react to things. A Silurian, a cockney maid and fat Sontaran form what can hardly be called a realistic set up so you've lost half the battle there already, albeit with the non-fan audience. They are semi-regulars now (having appeared in The Snowmen, The Crimson Horror, The Name of the Doctor and Deep Breath) but I fail to understand what makes them so fascinating that they are worth continuing the association. They're fun, they're worth the odd appearance, maybe once a year but if we're not going to learn anything fresh about their characters (continuing saying 'we're married' doesn't constitute something fresh) then I don't understand the appeal. It doesn't further the exploration of the Silurians, the Sontarans or humanity. I have to say I miss the idea of these species (well perhaps not humanity) as enemies of the Doctor. Using them as characters in a Victorian based sitcom is hardly seeing them at their best. Sorry to be such a killjoy. Plus Strax's idiotic misunderstandings of human anatomy are beyond a joke now, Douglas Adams Moffat aint.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'This isn't a man turning himself into a robot. This is a robot turning himself into a man.'
'Threats don't work unless you can deliver.'
'I am not a control freak!'

The Good:

* The one good thing I took from the first half hour was Clara spending the night with the Paternoster gang and generally slowing the pace down and soaking in the atmosphere of the period. There has been so little of that lately and I have missed it.
* Smacking Clara in the face with the Times. Laugh out loud funny. As is Strax falling to the floor like a sack of spuds after Vastra and Jenny have made such a graceful entrance.
* Brian Miller back in Doctor Who. The scene between the Doctor and tramp might be bizarrely written (all this obsession with mighty eyebrows, the Scots and stealing smelly coats) but it is beautifully performed by Miller and Capaldi.
* Clara insults the Doctor (he doesn't have the attention span) and the Doctor insults Clara (an ego maniac needy game player). This is a promising new trend.
* Simon guessed immediately that this was a sequel to The Girl in the Fireplace once the ticking in the restaurant began resounding. That doesn't make it any less of a chilling moment when you realise that the Doctor and Clara are surrounded by automatons. Moffat still has a penchant for the odd jarring shock. Although it still isn't original, an eatery filled with humanoid machines calls to mind The Android Invasion.
* The visible clockwork inside the robots heads. Just how I like my plots, very neat.

The Bad:

* The dinosaur is probably the worst thought through plot element in Moffat's entire reign and it kick starts a whole new era. Go figure. As far as Moffat is concerned it is probably just a fun way to introduce the Doctor to the audience but it comes with it a whole host of problems that counter the effect of a memorable introduction. For one it is hardly original, we had dinosaurs stomping about last year and the Doctor has already made a disgraceful exit out of the mouth of a giant creature (The Beast Below). Also wasn't one of the reasons Moffat invented the cracks in time and space to tuck away all those out in the open alien invasions that Russell T Davies was so fond of? And he is shamelessly flouting that rule to get a reaction. Don't get me wrong it looks fantastic, as good as any dinosaur I have ever seen on screen...but it isn't even a salient plot point. It is packaged as such for the first half an hour, stomping about the town with attitude but ultimately it is just a distraction, a way to turn a 45 minute story into an 80 minute one. It has nothing to do with the central narrative (nowhere to be seen for the first half an hour, aside from one brief moment) whatsoever. It is just a quirky way to bring the new Doctor to light in a spectacular way and then, like the irrelevant exercise that it is it just fizzles away and burns. And obviously nobody remembered this bizarre dinosaur shaped disaster afterwards. Never underestimate the human ability to forget things it can't handle.
* Ben Wheatley's direction is severely lacking in places. I don't often say that about a new series director but this was more apparent because the talents of this particular director have been splashed all over the media. It reminds me of something Eric Saward said once, that he could get in touch with genuinely strong writers but it doesn't mean that they could write for Doctor Who because it is such a curious beast. I would add direction to that list now. Wheatley manages to frame some scenes very well but were many more moments where I thought the tension and the humour missed the mark by a mile. The scene where the Doctor falls unconscious spectacularly fails to be amusing in precisely the way that Smith's collision with the tree was hilarious in The Eleventh Hour. And I think that is entirely down to the direction. Clara trapped underground without the Doctor should have been stiflingly claustrophobic and tense but shot mostly from a distance it fails to generate any anxiety. A shame, given the conscious choice the Doctor has made to leave her this should have been the most frightening moment of NuWho yet. Sabotaged by the director. His greatest sin is the action sequence at the climax though. Clara and the Paternoster gang are tackling the androids but it so confusingly directed you be hard pressed to figure out what is going on. The editor deserves a slap on the wrist too.
* The new title music is an assault on the ears, unfortunately. Murray Gold's season four score is still my favourite; exciting, dynamic, catchy, nostalgic. This version reduces the Doctor Who theme to the sound of fingers down a blackboard. And we all know how pleasant that sounds. The titles are better than last year but still a little too busy. What is wrong with simple? The TARDIS travelling down the vortex has always been enough...why is there suddenly a need to throw so much at the audience? Is Moffat scared they will get bored during the title sequence?
* Way to admit everything that went wrong during the Matt Smith era by acknowledging that Clara and the Doctor were boyfriend and girlfriend. The script makes several references to the fact that they both consented to that arrangement...and that should never be the case. Even with the Doctor and Rose in series two it was a one sided affair, he did have strong feelings for her but he certainly didn't lust after her in a short skirt or embrace the life as her boyfriend. Moffat has been obsessed with taking the Doctor to brink of consensual sex, acting up as Clara's boyfriend, lusting after her and being pawed at in Amy's bedroom. They've now chosen a lead who cannot fulfil that task for Moffat (visually it just would not work) and so now Danny Pink has been drafted in to add the element to the show that he simply cannot write without. The sex. You mark my words.
* 'It don't look realistic' 'I blame the government...' - why are the Victorian characters all talking in contemporary language.
* Let's count the recycled plot elements. Dinosaurs (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship), regeneration crisis (take your pick), the Paternoster Gang (five previous stories), robots stealing body parts (The Girl in the Fireplace), the Victorian setting (as predictable as contemporary London was during Davies' era after four airings in the previous ten stories), don't breathe (don't blink), the Doctor sailing over Victorian London in a hot air balloon (The Next Doctor). In fact was there a single original notion in this story? You would hope that recycling elements from The Girl in the Fireplace would add an extra layer of interest to the previous tale, would tell us something new that allows us to see it in a brand new way. Nadda, it is just a sister ship, plain and simple. And as much as I like the darker Doctor element, it is hardly a new idea. Hartnell had quite the temper, Troughton could jettison his humour in a moment, Pertwee was violent, Baker brooded, Baker II cut through time a space like a serrated saw, McCoy destroyed entire worlds, Eccleston epitomised menace and Tennant dished out some pretty severe punishments. It is only in the wake of the Nutty Professor that this shadowy approach feels refreshing. Even the Doctor killing somebody from a great height was handled in The Christmas Invasion. And they made far less of a song and dance about it. Tennant was just as dark, but less self consciously so. Next week: the Daleks. What happened to this bold new era of innovation?
* Horsey humour is so passé now. And the broom metaphor might have worked if it hadn't been done to much more amusing effect in Only Fools and Horses. 'Always look after your broom, Dave.'
* With Moffat you have to acknowledge that he changes the rules as he goes along or go mad. He might set something up in one story (say the Doctor's final death on Trenzalore with the TARDIS left as a monument) but he will completely contradict it in another (it never happened in Time of the Doctor so unless he will return once again to Trenzalore on his very last regeneration - which is the stretchiest of narrative stretches - there is no biodata for Clara to jump into a save his life because the TARDIS isn't there. Which means she cannot meet him in Asylum. Or The Snowmen...I'll stop before I short circuit) so that the set up in the first story makes no sense whatsoever. It might be lousy continuity and lazy (and I loathe to use that word) writing but you have to accept it as it is the only way to proceed through his era without having a logic based breakdown. Strax was established as a competent medical Doctor in A Good Man Goes to War. Now he cannot tell a human arse from the far side of the moon. It makes no sense whatsoever, it's character devolution for a cheap gag.
* 35 minutes into the episode, Vastra looks at a map of where the deaths have occurred. That is when the plot kicks in. That is almost the length of a standard episode.
* 'Clara, I'm not your boyfriend...' might be the worst line in Doctor Who ever. Why would that ever need to be said unless something had gone fundamentally wrong with the Doctor in the previous incarnation?
* Why would the Doctor need to phone Clara in the future to help her transition with the new Doctor when he is about to make an ages-long speech to her before regenerating? Why not just say 'Clara, I might be a bit of a wanker but stick with me' instead of all that airy fairy nonsense about never forgetting when the Doctor was me? Oh right, because they wanted a Matt Smith cameo and for the audience (and Clara) to be comforted. Bollocks writing, making zero sense when considered for a half a second. Aren't I clever because I set this up by having the TARDIS phone hanging off the hook in Time of the Doctor? Nope, you've just made yourself look like an idiot for setting up something that really didn't need to happen. Stop trying to be clever and think.
* The advert in the newspaper, that was a lovely hint of an arc. Somebody trying to keep the Doctor and Clara together. The final scene (despite being well played) was an indication that we were in for more of the same. Another smugly self assured mysterious woman who considers the Doctor to be her boyfriend. Hello River. Hello Clara. Hello Tasha Lem. Hello Missy. Try playing a new track, Moffat.

The Shallow Bit: Everyone is up in arms about the lesbian, interspecies kiss. Maybe they have forgotten about the Doctor and Jack's kiss in The Parting of the Ways. Or the thousand references to the fact that Vastra and Jenny are married. What do people imagine they get up to in private? Counting the scales on her lizard head? Upsetting homophobes and racists and delicate parents is three way win as far as I'm concerned. It was a gentle moment between two characters that is barely worth commenting about. The storm that has brewed in its wake proves that family television still has a long way to go. Allusions to Clara watching porn are hilarious, if slightly inappropriate. I hope kids don't probe their parents any further on that one. Jenny let's her hair down in her underwear...and she's beautiful. Who knew? Vastra in green...that's a nice look for her.

Standout Scene: The Doctor brooding menacingly in the TARDIS, refusing to conform for Clara. I feels different. This is a Doctor who wont go out of his way to comfort his assistant or the audience. I hope they keep that up. This is the most vital scene in the entire episode and I'm glad this is the one that Wheatley aced, especially the lighting. Even the TARDIS has more of a brooding edge.

Result: The first half an hour of Deep Breath might just be the most worst opening to any regeneration story. Previous recipients were either so shocking they were like having a bucket of cold water thrown in your face (the Doctor strangling Peri) or paradoxically so dreadful they were deliriously enjoyable to watch (Kate O'Mara dressing up and doing her best Bonnie Langford impression). I found myself drifting off to make dinner and just listening with one ear. Which is bizarre because the last half hour does some genuinely interesting things with its characters. Deep Breath has an extra 35 minutes to play with but it doesn't use them wisely. Time of the Doctor tried to squeeze too much into to short a time...Deep Breath has the opposite problem. Although there is the odd nugget of gold in the script, the dialogue is frequently painful and the plot is entirely made up of recycled ideas. Those who are declaring this as one of Moffat's best are clearly coming to the show from a different place critically than I am. Just because we so desperately want this to be a bold new era of Doctor Who...that doesn't mean it automatically is and whilst this has some fresh elements to it (mostly the Doctor's brooding darkness in the wake of Smith's wackiness) this is still laden with the flaws that have been apparent in Moffat's approach since series six. Perhaps this was the point where a new showrunner (hate that term), one who is not a fan should have taken the reins. It worked for Hinchcliffe. The new Doctor is deliberately awkward and non-conformist and whilst that might work for Doctor Who fans who understand that it takes a while to settle into the role I can only imagine the wider audience watching and recoiling at the enforced strangeness that the protagonist is forced to exhibit. Capaldi pulls it together in the last half an hour and focuses on the Doctor's exciting newfound murkiness but he really struggles in the opening half of this story. Clara is improved exponentially simply by reacting to the situation like a human being rather than the unfazed super companion she was last year. When did acting scared become a revolutionary concept for a companion? Only in the wake of Amy and Clara Mark I... While the plot never thrilled me, there were some intriguing scenes in the tail end of the story (mostly down to Capaldi's riveting performance) and whilst I never for one moment bought that the semi regulars would be killed (people don't die in the Moffat-verse, remember?) the climax is at least dramatically satisfying. Ben Wheatley is a name that has excited a lot of people but judging by the material here he was lauded a little too early. I would say he is one of the weaker directors to have realised a story yet. I would sum up Deep Breath as an abject failure as a story but an intriguing success as a character tale...once it got going. I would say that on strength of Time of the Doctor and Deep Breath back to back that Steven Moffat has gone bankrupt creatively (he has exhausted his well of ideas) but still has some tricks up his sleeves when it comes to his characters. It is a frustrating situation because I want razor sharp stories and strong characterisation but after the trinity of terror last year (Journey, Nightmare and Time) I will happily take at least one or the other for the time being. I am genuinely excited to see what the new writers bring this year with new set up but Moffat is going to have to up his game exponentially, in story terms, in order to get the show up to scratch: 5/10

Beyond the Grave written by Aaron Lamont and directed by David Darlington, Darren Gross & Jim Pierson

What's it about: “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise again for the difficulties we’ve been having. If you’ll excuse the expression, it seems we have a ghost in the machine...” Forty years ago, the paranormal television show Beyond the Grave broadcast a very special Halloween episode - live from Collinsport, Maine. Presenters Tom Lacey and Kate Ripperton introduced the nation to the legend of 'Mad Jack,' the local fisherman who had reportedly haunted the town's cemetery for over six decades. The terrifying events that followed have become infamous. Suppressed and denied by the authorities, the episode was thought lost forever... until now. Now, for the first time in forty years, you can hear the true horror of that fateful night in Collinsport...
Standout Performance: A chance for the entire cast (or a large percentage) to show up and expose the formidable pool of talent fronting this range. Steven Kelly and Asta Parry can be added to that list, they have the toughest job here by taking up the lions share of the action. Who impressed me the most? Colin Baker, in his momentary but unforgettable cameo.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'What were you expecting? A few spooky noises and the odd boo?'

Great Ideas: Time for something completely different, dispensing with the usual theme tune and prologue and using the Beyond the Grave intro to kick start this story. Different is healthy for this kind of range, it keeps the audience on their toes and reminds them that the formula can be broken when the need arises. They could do with a little of this in the Doctor Who main range at the moment. I also love found footage stories. They are something of a favourite of mine. If you go looking on the more obscure horror routes of Lovefilm and Netfix you will discover some rather wonderful (if highly melodramatic) found footage films (usually set in an asylum that some wannabe film maker has found to shoot it) that are well worth a look. There have been a number of attempts made on TV too, with Red Dwarf, Supernatural and Star Trek all having a go but so far Big Finish (audio being a medium that you would think would be ideal for this kind of story) has strayed away from the idea. The closest you will find is LIVE 34, which is a story told out news broadcasts. So the writer has started on the right foot by pushing for something completely innovative. The idea of sending a presenter overseas to Collinsport whilst the show is being broadcast in the UK is a wonderful idea for a horror, he is facing everything alone and all the crew (and the audience) can do is try and advise and listen to the hell he is going through. Jack Hutchinson was a fisherman with the local fleet took his wife and three children to the local cemetery and by the morning they were all dead. Frankly anybody who goes on the chase of such a story deserves everything they get, a bit like Alfie and Emma in Beneath the Veil. There is a 10% greater risk of a violent death in Collinsport than in the rest of America - I've barely scratched the surface with this town and I would say that is underselling the position. There is a strong indication of physical manifestation tonight and so the unwise and the exploitative Beyond the Grave team are camping out in the graveyard to see what materialises. You can't help but wish them the best of deaths. The ghost of Mad Jack is an established, if underground, paranormal figure. How glorious to have Tom interviewing the various characters that we have met through the previous handful of storylines, getting their opinion on the wife tales that surround Mad Jack. It is another way of making this a cohesive universe, bringing everybody together in one story without it being intrusively arc based. Carolyn was screaming drunk, of course. Alfie and Emma turn up, before the events in BtV and are just as irritating as ever. There have been extreme examples of malevolent presences at Eaglehill. What was I saying about found footage stories and asylums? Live television is a perfect ingredient of the horror genre...remember Ghostwatch? Experience the horror of the situation in real time. Aaron Lamont would be doing a pretty lousy job if he didn't ape the enforced banter and mockery of the evil spirits that is the bread and butter of the presenters on shows like Most Haunted. It just makes the build up all the more delicious, their mockery will eventually come back to bite them in the butt. The advert breaks are inspired because they allow a dramatic pause in the action, like the cliff-hangers over on Doctor Who. Maggie Evans bursts onto the scene of the broadcast, all portents of doom and disaster, just like Miss Hawthorne in The Daemons. I picked up on the screaming in the distance long before it was pointed out. It's just subtle enough that you might think it is a random background noise and problem with the sound design. This is a horror though...I knew it was a woman screaming. Danielle's appearance is a particular delight because you can hear the devils whisper underneath her natural brogue. I can't wait to find out the fallout from the events of Beneath the Veil. Chaos starts breaking out in town, Tom's visit and digging into its past being the catalyst to the madness that ensues. Have you ever been somewhere that just felt bad and evil? One place that has seen so much death and pain that it actually begins to crave it. I've heard of the theory of a location that is so absorbed with the pain it has experienced that it has taken on a malevolent force...but to crave such feelings, that is a genuinely chilling, original idea. What is this very old and very angry presence that has been unleashed in Collinsport? And if this is found footage from 40 years ago...where the hell is it now? Something that finds the darkest thoughts that you have ever had and makes them grow...brrr. In a tragic conclusion, Jim sacrifices himself to save them all leaving Maggie Evans bereft.

Audio Landscape: Braving the elements, wind and rain, deep breaths, a sinister nursery rhyme. Sorry, I got too caught up in the story to keep track of any more sound effects. Needless to say that it was a skilfully crafted piece of work with some stunning atmospherics. 

Standout Scene: The cut to the house of the couple that have been invaded by Mad Jack. Fuck me, that's scary. How about the scene where elements from so many stories blend (including the song from The Flip Side and the nursery rhyme that keeps making its presence known) in sequence that must have been a nightmare to edit. Too many riches to count, bringing all these stories together.

Result: 'It's going to make us do horrible things, Maggie...' Do not, I repeat, DO NOT listen to this in the dark on your own if you are of a nervous disposition. Beyond the Grave is a terrific culmination of many of the Dark Shadows stories I have listened to so far, a chance to gather all the characters inconspicuously in one narrative and bring their stories together. It also manages to have a smart and original story of its own that exploits the audio medium to its full potential and provides many skincrawling scares. That is a fine achievement. To be honest you can tell, even on a first listen, that this is a script that has been crafted with great care. I make it sound so precise which isn't the case at all whilst listening, Beyond the Grave sports a fun Most Haunted style scenario with a presenter visiting Collinswood and poking his nose into all the sinister goings on...and suffering the consequences of that. Mad Jack (for that is the name assigned) is the most disturbing nasty that this series has come up with yet, a genuinely terrifying presence that I'll probably be seeing in the mirror now. There are elements of the cult classic Ghostwatch in this story and lots of clever narrative jiggery pokery that comes with a found footage tale. There might be three directors helming this tale and they all deserve a round of applause because this much have been an absolute nightmare to put together into a cohesive story. The fact that they manage to put the pieces together in such a riveting fashion and have time for so many chilling atmospherics is worthy of some kudos. Beyond the Grave is genuinely innovative storytelling wrapped up in that insidiously creepy Dark Shadows atmosphere, it breaks my heart to think that thousands are buying Big Finish's less challenging ranges and are ignoring where the treasures lie. If you want to experience something more demanding than a nostalgia rush, pick up this experimental horror: 10/10