Monday, 20 October 2014

The Worlds of Doctor Who: The Reesinger Process written by Justin Richards and directed by Ken Bentley & Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: London, 1964, and the repercussions of Jago and Litefoot’s adventure are dealt with by Sir Toby Kinsella and his crack team of specialists at Counter-Measures. What is the Reesinger Process – and who is behind it?

Countermeasures: It is clear immediately that the three actors that played Gilmore, Rachel and Alison in Remembrance of the Daleks have developed a good rapport over the past three seasons. Although both Simon Williams and Pamela Salem do sound noticeably older (unavoidably so since it is astonishing to think that Remembrance aired 26 years ago) they still embody the parts that Ben Aaronovitch wrote for them and Karen Gledhill sounds like she has just stepped through time. I think Rachel would have made a superb companion for the seventh Doctor, she was an instantly vivid character played by a great actress and 'Chunky' Gilmore served as a Brigadier before the Brig's time, embodying all those characteristics that we adored about Lethbridge Stewart (his earnestness, the twinkle in the eye, his shoot first and think later policy). Again Alison was the odd one out, not really sketched in enough to make an impact but that is something the audios have a lot of time to do. Gilmore sees himself as something of a civil servant these days, much to his chargin. I love the idea that the Countermeasures team investigate the Reesinger Organisation from separate avenues and meet up unexpectedly once they are there. It proves that they are all independently capable and able to surprise one another too. Alison comments that it wasn't even a date and Gilmore stood her up - do these two have some kind of history? Rachel manages to cobble together a device that will counteract Rees' brainwashing, serving as the teams scientific advisor just as the Doctor was to UNIT in the 70s.

Great Ideas: The budget of the Ministry of Defence pays for the Countermeasures team to continue their investigations but there are questions being asked in very high places as to whether it is necessary expenditure. Sir Toby Kinsella is directly responsible for the team, a conduit between them and the government. Rees is up to his old tricks, convincing high ranking civil servants or those in the military in the 1960s to commit despicable acts: pushing people off trains, firing blind in a post office, grinding up sleeping pills and adding them to a night time tipple. Colonel Swinton attacked three officers and attempted to commit suicide, a gun to the head. The Reesinger Course is specifically designed to promote contingency character building. The clever use of Rees' name and his raison detre from the previous story tells you everything you need to know about just how he is enhancing their character on this course. It's just a matter of a waiting game to see how long it takes the Countermeasures team to figure out what his behavioural manipulation entails. It's unusual to be this far ahead of the heroes but it works in this respect especially when it is a race against time to prevent the loss of any more unnecessary deaths. When the victims of the Reesinger conditioning succumb and vacant their position (a polite way of saying kill themselves) there always seems to be somebody ready to take their place. And since they are all in vertiginous positions that puts whoever is controlling these replacements in a position of power. Rees has been inside Miss Wilton's mind, whispering in her ear, setting this whole operation up. His body is still lying at the bottom of the well, just bones. After he has been driven out of her mind, the music box still lingers and Ding Dong Bell is hummed in the final scene...Rees' presence still lingers on.

Audio Landscape: Big Ben chiming, cars chugging past in London, a scream, a gunshot, a train screaming along the tracks towards a screaming passenger, gunshots in a post office, the chinkling of china, throwing punches, marching soldiers, waters flowing, Ian smashing equipment, alarms sounding, walls crumbling.

Musical Cues: I rather like the theme tune for this series, as it sounds like a compromise between the melodramatic themes from 60s spy series and the more stylish expectations of shows these days. The rattlesnake motif at the end was particularly nice, as was the flute which added an air of mystery. I enjoyed the percussive soundtrack that guided the story along, it is an unusual musical style that is unique to this series. Ding Dong Bell is used to sinister effect again, too.

Isn't it Odd: About two thirds into the story we start entering into Star Trek Voyager territory, where technobabble starts to overwhelm the story. Unfortunately having Rachel spouting off a lot of scientific babble about brain waves isn't the best use of her character. She's smart but as an audience all we need to know is that Rees can brainwash people without going in to all of the specifics. The technical jargon does rather stall the story.

Standout Scene: Another strong climax where loyalties are tested. This time Rachel has to decide whether to use the machine to wipe out Rees' influence over Miss Wilton and potentially destroy the minds of her two friends in the process.

Result: 'If I can't have her...neither can you!' Now here is a series that I am relatively new to and I certainly haven't written any reviews of the range as of yet. Both Countermeasures and Survivors have been filed under 'Must Listen to when Big Finish's Doctor Who output becomes less prolific and I have the time.' I'm not a huge fan of the 60s Spy genre so it didn't draw me in like Jago & Litefoot did (I'm a sucker for Victorian chillers) but after exposure to Countermeasures in The Assassin Games and now The Reesinger Process it is clear that there is much more to this series than a rehash of shows like Adam Adamant, The Saint and The Man From UNCLE. For a start you have a superb ensemble cast who have gelled together very nicely, which helps the stories progress smoothly but there is also the added element that the Countermeasures team is constantly trying to prove themselves and that their funding could be cut at any minute. It's a team desperate to make an impression, break the rules and get results that satisfies themselves and those big wigs in the government who make the important decisions. There's a real world grit to this series that is absent in the heightened reality of Jago & Litefoot (I couldn't imagine an encounter between the Countermeasures team and the Scorchies for example) and it produces quite dour stories as a result. However if you are up for something moody and granular than you needn't look anywhere else. The Reesinger Process is a smart little story for the most part, one that takes the elements set up in the opening story and utilises them in an ingenious way. Rees is quite the machiavellian plotter and has had time to bed his plans, smuggling away in the mind of an innocent, manipulating certain parties and murdering his way into power. It falls apart a little in the last third when what appears to be a much more epic story has quite an intimate climax, concentrating far more on Rees' desire for to find his remains rather than the grand scheme for overthrowing the government which was where I thought this was heading. Still it is skips by effortlessly for the most part and certainly does its job - Countermeasures has bumped up the list of series that I must listen to soon. I can't see how this is a series that lends itself to particularly diverse storytelling (but then that is a criticism I levelled at Jago & Litefoot when series one was announced and it has been able to push the boundaries of expectation in so many ways) but I look forward to finding out how it might achieve that. Onwards to the UNIT Vault, I think The Worlds of Doctor Who series has been a very smart move on Big Finish's part and has already proven more worthwhile than the multi Doctor arcs (Excelis, Drashani). Beyond the running storyline (which is gathering momentum) it offers exposure to these wonderful worlds that Big Finish has created: 7/10

The Worlds of Doctor Who: Mind Games written by Justin Richards and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: In Victorian England, Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot investigate worrying events on the streets of London – which seem to be linked to the New Regency Theatre’s resident act, the mesmerist Mr Rees…

Theatrical Fellow: If you're new to Jago & Litefoot and are frightened that his blustery personality might have been watered down over eight seasons of exploration then put your fears to one side. He is absolutely the same man as he was in Talons albeit with a new element in his life that allows him to flourish and his best characteristics to come forth (that element is of course George Litefoot). Jago likes to think that he can keep a clear head during the intermission of the shows at his theatre but he doesn't like half measures either. He's always alert to the extraordinary, people are always candid with him because he has the ability to put them at their ease. Probably with a drink or two in their hand. Jago says he is not afraid to die but that is clearly a lie as anybody who knows him would know. Jago talks very well with his fists as it turns out, a punch that saves their lives.

Posh Professor: When dealing with the perpetrator of a grisly crime, Litefoot insists on making the definition between a gentlemen and a man. According to Jago he is a monolith of the professional fraternity. Litefoot happily pretends to soothe one of the victims of Rees control into thinking they have just had a bad dream when his gut is telling him that something much more sinister is going on. He's quite the performer in that regard. The climax is very good indeed with the good Professor forced to point a gun at Henry against his will. I think if he was forced to go through with the act George might very well have taken his own life whether he was influenced to or not.

Rees: A character that will stride from one spin off to another, Rees is the central antagonist of the Worlds box set. Played with silky voiced perfection by Jamie Glover, he cuts quite an impressive villain in the opening story. He's a sadist who enjoys forcing people to do things against their will and has the perfect opportunity to do so in his mesmeric act on stage. Jago has objected to his cruel act that sees women choking down on raw onions and worse but he refuses to change a thing, informing the impresario that he is pulling in the punters and making him a fortune. He does it because he enjoys it, forcing somebody to kill themselves or others gives him a thrill that cannot be captured in any other way. Worse, he likes to watch too.

Standout Performance: Benjamin and Baxter. It almost seems glib to still be placing them in this category after all these series but to put a fine point on it, this series simply wouldn't work without them. You'd still have the great storytelling, the atmospheric productions, etc...but without this pair of spectacular actors bringing their vivid roles to life it would lack the heart that makes it so unique. Bask in the glory of their work and the fact that years on it is still as entertaining as it was back when The Mahogany Murders was released.

Great Ideas: It is probably not a bad idea to start the Jago & Litefoot section of the box set, a box set that is setting out to introduce those people who haven't dipped their toes into the spin off ranges to see what they are all about and to their tastes, with an identical beginning to Talons of Weng-Chiang. An act at the theatre and Jago waiting in the wings to give the order for the curtain to go down. It makes the audience feel right at home. It's almost stereotypical Jago & Litefoot (Litefoot in the mortuary discovering the details of the latest case) but that is no bad thing as the norm on this series is still very good it has perfected the formula which has run a successful eight series now. The New Regency Theatre seems to be the hub of which the spate of recent murders is taking place in. People are having disturbing dreams about murdering people, like voices in the head telling them to perform the homicidal acts. They are all people who have been mesmerised by Rees on stage at the Regency Theatre. We might look back at the Victorian times and acts like the mesmerist that forcing people to behave in obscene ways to please the cheering crowds that want them to be as embarrassed as possible but (if you have the stomach for it) you should stick on The X-Factor auditions and you will see that things haven't changed one bit. There are still those who are desperate to see people disgraced and degrade themselves for the sake of entertainment. I don't think we've moved on in the slightest, we've just sought better ways of enticing people into being humiliated by dressing up the circus as an opportunity for them. I was pleased to see Ellie getting a substantial role, the writers seem keen for her to take a more active part in the series these days. She gatecrashes Jago & Litefoot's trip to the theatre, makes her feelings perfectly clear on the grotesque style of entertainment and almost suffers the fate of being the next victim. In a very funny moment it appears that Jago has instigated the birth of audio drama, promoting the idea of recording the acts at the theatre for punters to play back when they are at home. He foresees a time when there will be a big enough audience for full cast dramas to be recorded! It is a smart way of using the phonograph later in the story to fill in some of the expository gaps for Ellie and PC Quick and an imaginative to present the story in a different format.

Audio Landscape: Jeering, cheering audience, applause, the hustle and bustle of a bar, pouring a drink, a flashback to a suicide/murder with the water sluicing, footsteps, running water, birdsong, gunshot.

Musical Cues: As ever, Howard Carter's music is exemplary and he ploughs ahead with a sinister, slowed down version of a nursery rhyme that gives the piece a creepy, Sapphire and Steel-esque feeling at times. When Rees murders a prostitute in the street with the melancholic chimes of a kids tune playing it adds a whole new level of menace. 

Isn't it Odd: I have seen this plot played out before, people being manipulated by their dreams to kill, but it is such an insidiously creepy idea it pays off regardless of whether it is original or not. It takes our heroes an age to figure out that Rees is behind the murders, given that they lay out the clues that link the attacks and the people who have been on stage quite early on.

Standout Scene: My buttocks were firmly clenched during the scene where one of Rees's victims holds a gun on Jago & Litefoot and it escalates to a point where it looks like he is going to successfully commit suicide.

Result: The Worlds of Doctor Who kicks off with a tradition romp from Jago & Litefoot and that feels appropriate for anybody who might be thinking of dipping their toes into Big Finish's most successful (in my humble opinion) spin off range. Whilst long term fans of the series might be a little disillusioned that this wheels out the conventional elements, they are all used extremely well and brought to life by the inestimable talents of Howard Carter the whole story feels wonderfully immersive and atmospheric. What you take away from Mind Games is the creepy villain of the piece Mr Rees, an popular act at Jago's theatre who is slaughtering his way through Old London Town. Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter are effortlessly good (I don't think I will ever get bored of their chemistry, it simply glows) as ever and Lisa Bowerman continues to provide superb support as Ellie. There's nothing in particular to discuss in this summary because Justin Richards' perfectly acceptable script never wants to break outside of the box. It is here to present the glorious world of Jago & Litefoot in a bite size package and to put in place the arc elements of this box set. It is rare for the opening segment of a Big Finish box set to be the best of the bunch (the first Dark Eyes set was the exception to that rule) and Mind Games proves to be a worthy diversion but nothing that makes me heart skip a beat. If you bought a season of Jago & Litefoot in this vein you might feel a little short changed but as a taster it is quite engaging, especially the superb climax where the two gents prove how much they care about each other: 7/10

Series Eight

Deep Breath written by Steven Moffat and directed by Ben Wheatley

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

Full Review Here:

Into the Dalek written by Phil Ford & Steven Moffat and directed by Ben Wheatley

Result: Given the last collaboration between showrunner and Phil Ford produced the superlative The Waters of Mars (still my idea of the perfect Doctor Who story) I was expecting great things of Into the Dalek. It was certainly a step in the right direction after Deep Breath but unfortunately still riddled with flaws that kept it from being just above average for me. Into the Dalek wants to be a mad Fantastic Voyage style adventure, a gripping Dalek massacre and a psychological examination of both the Doctor and the Dalek and simply doesn't have the time to do justice to all three and so much of the material is rushed. It performs all three adequately (visually it works a treat) but I would say that The Invisible Enemy, The Parting of the Ways and Dalek tackle these three individual elements in a much more effective way because they have the time to explore them. Squishing them all together means there is barely a moment to breathe and in some cases the genres are fighting each other (Honey I Shrunk the Kids style running about inside a Dalek and a psychological face off between the Doctor and the Daleks are hardly the most complimentary of concepts). This so desperately wants to be Capaldi's Dalek but it isn't as hard-hitting or as intimate and he simply isn't scared enough of the creatures for it to have the same impact. Dalek was so raw it was practically bleeding, this discusses emotions and feelings but it doesn't show the characters experiencing them and there is a massive difference between the two approaches. Whilst it doesn't engage me psychologically, I have long awaited the time when the Daleks were behaving like total bastards again after being slowly castrated throughout the Moffat era and here they get to do what they do best, kill indiscriminately. The scenes of them storming the base and massacring the crew are a highlight. I found this entertaining, occasionally quite profound but this desperately needed an extra 15 minutes to add extra depth to the characters, detail to the setting and to allow the plot some time to breathe. Into the Dalek is packaged in such a mechanical way that it pretty much guts the story of any real tension. Kudos for the action content though and I can't wait to see a lighter side of Capaldi next week: 6/10

Full Review Here:

Robot of Sherwood written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Paul Murphy

Result: Romps. Some Doctor Who fans come out in hives at the mere mention of the word. Filler episodes that are designed to do nothing but fill an hour with energy, excitement and amusement, I rather like them when they are written with care and brought to the screen with some oomph. The Unicorn and the Wasp set the romp benchmark very high for me; a witty, beautifully cast and filmed mystery and a poignant character study to boot. Style, substance and humour. Robot of Sherwood doesn't reach anywhere near that lofty position but it is a step up from Curse of the Black Spot (it is more energetic and amusing) and a step down from The Lodger (it lacks the drama) in the romp stakes (hohoho). The biggest drawback to this episode is the intrusion of a SF story (signposted in the title, spoiling the surprise reveal of the robot) which is half baked and a bit embarrassed to be there amongst all the high jinks, peeping through the comedy tentatively. I question why this couldn't simply have been an exploration of myth (because that is much more interesting than slavishly copying the plot of Deep Breath) because the SF elements bring with them gaps in logic, irritating questions and an mortifying resolution. I want the show to be daring and attempt a pure historical without any SF trappings. The first half worked better for me in that respect but then the robots came stomping in on the fun and rob us of a genuine historical romp. I would have happily have accepted that the myth was real without all the is he/isn't he a robot nonsense. The biggest strengths of Robot of Sherwood are the superb central performances by Tom Riley (I think I fell a little bit in love with Robin) and Ben Miller, the generally gorgeous direction, light tone and stylishness of the whole affair. Gatiss isn't a comic genius so his humour misses as much as it hits but the moments it hit genuinely left a big smile on my face. A plot so light a gentle breeze would carry it away, a curmudgeonly Doctor spoiling the good heartedness of it all, charismatic guest performances, the impossibly smug and self assured girl, beautiful locations and a rousing score, terrible presentation of the narrative - I'm torn between the jolly mood and the moronism (ooh I've invented a word) of the writing. Robin Hood, Hollywood style, like a beautiful piece of art without intellectual worth: 5/10

Full Review Here:

Listen written by Steven Moffat and directed by Douglas Mackinnon

Result: 'Fear makes companions of all of us...' The most complex, baffling, thoughtful and frustrating Doctor Who story since Ghost Light, Listen practically defies explanation and will leave viewers as thrilled as it will irritated. I rather like that, it is Doctor Who pushing the boundaries again and not rejecting Hollywood concessions for the audience. Listen expects some people to be appalled. And others to be aghast at the liberties it takes. And others to be bowled over by its exploration of the unknown. Listen deliberately asks more questions than it answers which is bound to cause a portion of the Doctor Who fan base (who like to tidy away everything into boxes - take the subject of canon for example) to self ignite. It is basically four vignettes that are only tenuously linked; the first set piece being a take on the Russell T. Davies era (a date in a restaurant that goes disastrously wrong specifically reminds me of Boom Town), the second a mix of The Girl in the Fireplace (something under the bed), Blink/The Eleventh Hour (open/close your eyes and something nasty will happen), the third a riff on Midnight (a claustrophobic attack in an SF setting by something unknown) and then finally a reproduction of The Name of the Doctor (Clara playing a vital role in the Doctor's past). While none of these sketches are prototypal, this time Moffat has taken inspiration from the best of New Who and lumps them all together in one episode. I still think he is creatively bankrupt in his twilight years but Listen manages to sum up the best of NuWho in a very satisfying, cohesive way. And isn't Peter Capaldi superb? Whilst the individual set pieces all work for me in their own right (I have a few reservations about the one set on Gallifrey but the reveal that the little boy is the Doctor is expertly done), Moffat is still having trouble structuring a narrative. Or maybe that was the incoherent narrative to accentuate the obscurity of the threat and the lack of answers. To deny the viewer any of things they expect from television. Listen chugs along moodily...and then just stops as disquietingly as the material that has just played out. The quality of the writing does suggest that Moffat has been filling a role that doesn't suit him, wasting his time structuring seasons and doing an endless roll call of openers and finales when he is much better at concentrated, standalone adventures. It is trying to be more cerebral and philosophical than your average Saturday night fare (Primeval it aint), intelligent material like this should be commended and encouraged. It's taking an intellectual approach to exploring fear so it never reaches the anxiety levels of Midnight, which was very much an emotional exploration of the same idea, and that exposes the major difference in Moffat and Davies' writing. One is discussing what makes things frightening and the other is simply frightening. You decide which approach you prefer. Exquisitely shot, full of strong ideas and trying to say something vital about the titular character, Listen is the best standalone episode since Hide and if we could only write off Clara in a hideous accident it would score even higher. Had this been original it would have been an absolute classic: 8/10

Full Review Here:

Time Heist written by Steven Thompson & Steven Moffat and directed by Douglas Mackinnon

Result: Doctor Who's current obsession with Hollywood continues. We've had Jurassic Park in Victorian London, Fantastic Voyage in side a Dalek, Robin Hood with robots and now we are treated to Ocean's Eleven with time travel. On my first viewing I was glued to the screen because I was tricked into thinking that this was leading somewhere spectacular, something I haven't been lulled in to for some time. It's been an age since I last watched a Doctor Who episode where I didn't know what was going on and was simply enjoying the ride so much. The destination is nowhere near as enjoyable as the journey, that's unfortunate but this is still a thrilling first watch, one that ultimately spoils repeated viewings because of its questionable twists towards the conclusion. As usual it could have done with an extra fifteen minutes (the structure of the story would be completely different if it had that luxury) to allow the story time to breathe (this one is sprinting all the way through) and flesh out the characters (Keeley Hawes isn't given a character, she plays standard smug villainess number eighty four) but the fluidic nature of the storytelling and the breathless pace convince you whilst you are watching that it is the perfect length. It is only when you think about things afterwards that the cracks appear. Typical Moffat then. Still it is sporting some delicious visuals, terrific interaction between the actors, some acerbic lines and wonderful ideas. I cannot come down too hard on an episode that gets all those things right. Not only that but it is a Doctor Who story set on an alien world with exotic characters on display and that is something I can always get caught up in. Despite the wealth of faults which I have explored above, I found myself seduced by this one. It wasn't anywhere near as clever is it was trying to convince you that it was but this is a story that by its very nature is designed to be all style and no substance and boy did it deliver some style. Farscape sported a very similar episode to this (a bank heist on an alien world) on what must have been double the budget and with twice the perversion and imagination (more dumbed down for a family audience?) and as such this is a pale shadow of that, but in Doctor Who terms this was pretty classy stuff. I rather liked how sexy it all was but I can understand why some people were turned off: 7/10

Full Review Here:

The Caretaker written by Gareth Roberts & Steven Moffat and directed by Paul Murphy

Result: It's the robot I feel sorry for. Billed as the most deadly killing machine ever, it waddles into action like a hyperactive duck waving it's arms about... I couldn't help but go 'beedy beedy beedy' every time it showed up. It belonged in another episode too, like Robot of Sherwood it was another superfluous splash of SF in an episode that was trying to stay grounded in another genre altogether. I'm not sure Waterloo Who has legs to stand on; the school bound drama concerning two teachers, the alien caretaker that interferes with their love affair and the gobby student who stands in the background with her hands on her hips unimpressed by everything. If Moffat is trying to recreate the magic of the original TARDIS line up he has quite a way to go. What to think of The Caretaker? It was entertaining enough, but I did spend most of the hour wondering why I was watching this instead of something more engaging. 45 minutes passed harmlessly enough; some of it made me smirk, some of it made me clock watch and most of the relationship stuff fell flat because it was told without any joy. It's all character development, a story is barely considered. This is proof, if it was needed that I wont watch any old kitchen sink domestic drama and give it a free pass as some seem to think. This is what Russell T Davies was trying to achieve without the charm to make it work, this is domestic drama played for real without the entertainment value of warm and funny characters that makes getting close to them worthwhile. I am a long way from being convinced by Clara and Danny's love affair, which might just be the most sombre relationship I have ever witnessed on television. It's missing two things that would really make it work, humour and passion. In contrast the Doctor/Clara relationship has really started to gel for me now and they share a number of moments in The Caretaker where the characters sing together. It might have something to do with how Clara was wrong footed throughout, how the Doctor constantly kept her on her toes. They just work, in a way that Coleman and Smith never really did for me. The Caretaker is another episode this season that left me quite ambivalent (just like Deep Breath and Robot of Sherwood), I question whether this is a story that needed telling. Danny's integration into Clara's other world did not require an entire episode and if it was necessary I question whether it was told with enough pizzazz. There were some funny lines and moments but this wasn't a patch on Aliens of London (secondary characters drawn into the Doctor's world), School Reunion (the Doctor undercover in a school that evolves into the ultimate love triangle), The Lodger (the Doctor posing as a human and interfering with a blossoming relationship) or The Power of Three (companion who hops from one life to the other trying to reconcile the two). It was an awkward hybrid of old episodes, like most episodes in season eight, struggling to say something new but passing the time amiably enough. A situational comedy, that's where all the humour is (in the situation) and there is none left over for the characters, a fatal error: 5/10

Full Review Here:

Kill the Moon written by Peter Harness and directed by Paul Wilmshurst

Result: 'It's time to take the stabilisers off your bike...' I think I might be turning a corner with season eight. With the advent of Kill the Moon (and Mummy on the Orient Express for anybody who might be interested) that is four of the last five episodes that have ranked from good to great. Kill the Moon was written by a new writer to the series and it shows because it isn't resting on the laurels of the past but pushing ahead with something unique and groundbreaking (hoho). The fact that fan reaction to the extraordinary twist that the Moon is an egg was so divisive proves that he must be doing something right, until this point in the season I don't think there has been anything worth getting this het up about. This was a massive risk and for some (like me) it paid off in spades. I love how the episode shifts gears from your traditional Doctor Who spook fest (which the director pulled off with some gusto) to something much more dramatically substantial and philosophical. For once an episode tossed out the timey wimey clever cleverness and actually seemed to be about something. Whereas I have been slouching back and enjoying the show for what it is in season eight there were three times in Kill the Moon when I bolted upright on the edge of my seat and really paid attention (for the record it was the egg twists, the Doctor choosing to exonerate himself from responsibility and Clara's devastating accusations in the closing TARDIS scene). There is so much to admire about this episode; the stunning filming in Lanzerote, the arachnophobiacs nightmare, the standout performances of Capaldi and especially Coleman who truly proves her worth in the devastating climax. I'll take a point away for the humourless and generally staid guest cast of characters and another because Courtney's presence baffles me but overall this joins Listen as the best episode of the year to date for me. I feel as if the season is gaining more momentum as it progresses and new regime is starting to click into place. It's nice to be so positive about the show again. More new writers please, it is clear that the Moffat era can still flourish with some new creative blood to back him up: 8/10

Full Review Here:

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Love & Monsters written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Dan Zeff

This story in a nutshell: Are you kidding me?

Mockney Dude: Enchanting how a story that hardly features the Doctor can embody and mythologise him so completely. I love that fans criticise this story for doing exactly what they do, forming fan theories, imagining travelling with him, looking for what he means to us. Love & Monsters reveals the love fandom has for the show and the reception to it from the more militant quarters and reveals the hypocrisy and sheer anal fartitude of some quarters. It holds up a mirror to both the best (the sense of community, the love of the Doctor) and the worst of fandom and I'm sure that is the reason why plenty of people find it an uncomfortable watch - because it doesn't always paint them in a comfortable light. As a parody of a Doctor Who fan this is much more fun than Greatest Show’s Whizzkid because Davies bothered to give his wannabes character and charm whereas The Greatest Show in the Galaxy featured a walking gag who was bumped off once the point had been flogged to death. The scenes showing the Doctor as a spectre in the night, haunting Elton on the day that his mother died is another terrific example of looking at the central character afresh. That is an approach which is exemplified by this episode. It suggests that to be touched by the Doctor means that somebody in your life might be marked. The Absorbaloff wants to taste the Doctor’s experiences and intelligence. I hope he's got a hell of an appetite. I like the menacing idea that if your touch the Doctor’s life, even for a second, things change and sometimes for the worst. What does that say about Rose? There have been portents about her future because of her proximity to the Time Lord but this is the most forceful warning yet. It made you question at the time what Davies had planned for these two. I love the idea of only being able to see snippets of his adventures from afar too such as Elton does in the teaser. It makes his adventures look like one big long joke involving slapstick and monsters. It's an absolute riot. During his stint on the show Davies offered several new perceptions of the Doctor (as a romantic figure, as a man running from his past, as a man who bends the laws of Time to his will) but I think the image of his visiting a little boy at night like a spectre of death might just be my favourite.

Chavvy Chick: We see another side to Rose in Love & Monsters too, through her mother’s eyes. It is particularly useful in Rose’s case since she has become something of a jealous caricature of the character she played in the first season by this stage of series two and seeing how her absence affects Jackie gives us a unique new angle to her character. As much as you might not like how domestic the show became under Davies banner you cannot argue that it afforded a whole new perspective from the companions point of view on the show that had barely been considered before. It might have gotten out of hand come series eight with the companion popping in and out of their domestic lives and the TARDIS but back in the first four years companions were allowed to be companions (ie travelling in the TARDIS full time) with the occasion peek at the emotional consequences of who they have left behind. I love it when she steps out of the TARDIS furious that Elton has upset her mum but seeing how upset he is at losing Ursula she puts her arms around him and comforts him. It’s a wonderfully tender scene, which shows Rose at her best.

Not That One: These Doctor/companion lite episodes have given us some wonderful characters in the shape of Elton Pope, Sally Sparrow and Craig & Sophie all of which I feel are strong enough to hold up their individual episodes and could work as potential companions. Well maybe not Sophie but all the others. Marc Warren is astoundingly good in this episode (and that’s faint praise); he makes Elton sympathetic, funny, sexy, geeky and quite a delight to spend time with. At times he plays the characters more childish characteristics up but that only serves to make him even more sympathetic. He's you and me, sitting at home behind our keyboards and trying to get as close to the Doctor as possible. I think Davies and Warren have pitched the character perfectly, just pathetic enough to feel for him and confident enough to rise above his flaws and fight back. I love his naïve innocence that is expressed in how he can hurt the people around him (like Jackie) because he is so obsessed with the Doctor and cannot see that that obsession might have a profound effect on others. His romance with Ursula is played at exactly the right level with the two of them at arms length but desperately involved with each other emotionally and not coming to terms with their feelings until they are almost torn apart for good.. His realisation that he loves Ursula and wants Jackie as a friend leads to spectacular moment of regret where he betrays his friend by not being honest with her. How can you not cheer when he finally stands up to himself and gives Victor a piece of his mind. I could happily spend more time with Elton Pope, especially the way he so outrageously breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience all the time. Imagine a whole season of crazy narrative tricks and addresses to a video camera as Elton joins the TARDIS and records their visits for posterity. It's not such a crazy idea, it worked out fine in Stargate Universe.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The most beautiful sound in the world…’
‘So…we meet at last, LINDA.’
‘Because it’s never me is it?’ – that line should sound selfish but it's devastatingly delivered by Camille Coduri.
‘She tastes like chicken.’
‘The truth is the world is so much stranger than that and so much darker and so much madder and so much better.’

The Good Stuff: The opening really grabs your attention as you are plonked somewhere in the middle of the story told from the point of view of an outsider. That's the sort of subversion of the norm that you can expect throughout Love & Monsters. I have seen countless Doctor Who monsters, from both the classic and the new series, that look a damn sight less convincing the Hoix. For a monster that has been cobbled together at the last minute it is extraordinarily good. Miles better than the Absorbalof, strangely enough. Is this only the second time we have had farce in Doctor Who of this nature? The Doctor, Rose and the Hoix running about with buckets is every bit is chucklesome as Barbara whooping out loud and attempting to escape the clutches of a very horny in The Romans. I'm not a massive fan of this brand of comedy but when it is pulled off this well it is better to just go with the flow. A whole story in this vein would be too much but as a glimpse into the insane world of the Doctor ('You said red!' 'I said not red!') it works a treat. Russell T. Davies was a genius to recount the Earthbound new Who invasions from the point of view of a civilian, again something that has never been attempted before and it successfully manages to make the timeline since the show returned feel as though it is building up an impressive mythology. The re-enactments of Rose, Aliens of London and The Christmas Invasion are inspired, enough to make any fanboy squeal with delight. I especially like Elton's reaction to the Autons smashing through the window. It is very easy to get to know Elton when he is talking directly to us. Davies exposes the joy of meeting new friends through their love of the Doctor and the pain of those friendships being torn apart through the work of one dominant personality. You don't have to have dabbled too long in Doctor Who fandom to understand what he is getting at here. When it comes to capture the essence of humanity there was no finer writer on Doctor Who. He's a great wit too, scripting the scene in the launderette with sharp gags (Elton never had a chance as a spy when Jackie set her lustrous sights on him). It is by far Jackie's best appearance from her time on the show, allowing her to be screamingly funny (the moment she throws the wine over Elton is deliriously naughty and trampish) but giving her a great deal of extra depth and poignancy too (I've already mentioned her reaction to Elton's betrayal but her moment of stillness after speaking to Rose on the phone really hits home, suddenly making her realise how pathetic she is playing around with what is essentially a boy). Her love and loss for her daughter is keenly felt and Elton’s lies cut deep, making for a sharp rush of emotion in what is generally a very funny episode. The thread of Jackie being left behind to cope without her daughter (when it is clear that Rose gives her life meaning) adds a layer of heartbreak to seasons one and two that hasn't been matched since (there was a touch of it in series four but Wilf was only too delighted that his Granddaughter was out amongst the stars). You can imagine fandom diving behind the sofa at the thought of Bliss' face bulging out of the Absorbaloff's arse cheek but that's exactly the sort of naughtiness that I quite admire. It makes me chuckled that Davies made Clom and Raxacoricofallapatorius next-door neighbours, placing his two least loved monsters in the same neighbourhood. It seems like he knew that this Blue Peter competition inspired monster wasn't going to go down very well! It's very sweet that it is friendship that tears the creature apart. I'll take that over the 'love conquers all' nonsense that we've suffered time and again over the past couple of years. The Absorbaloff melts in a slushy puddle of green crap - we haven't seen anything quite this surreal in the show for some time (perhaps since The Collector suffered the same fate in The Sun Makers). Is the living shadow that haunted Elton’s house the first instance of the Vashta Nerada on Earth? Every now and then you have to throw something at the Doctor Who audience that makes them throw their hands up in disgust just to keep them on their toes. A pavement slab giving head is pretty gross but it does make me laugh every time. If you can't get a handle on that, I do understand. I feel for you, but I do understand. The episode ends on a great sentiment that deserves to be repeated (see above).

The Bad Stuff: The Absorbaloff is a fine idea in theory but I thought we had all but disposed of the idea of men in ridiculous rubber suits. If I were William Grantham I would ask for my money back. It really should have been rendered in CGI with the faces being far more animated and bulging in and out of the layers of fat. The scene where it wobbles after Elton down the street uin a thing is one of the few genuinely rubbish moments in NuWho.

The Shallow Bit: Marc Warren has a cute little chest, you can see why Jackie was so determined to get his kit off. The moment when he changes the light bulb and she admires the V that leads down to his crown jewels might just be the hottest moment in Doctor Who ever.

Result: The most controversial episode of NuWho in what was the most uneven season of the show (until seasons six and seven came along). Make of that what you will. It’s a story that playfully deploys all kind of tricks to keep the audience amused, aroused and enchanted; a non linear plot, narration, montages, flashbacks, character synopsis’, cine footage, drama, laughs, singing, sex, monsters and a kids dream to design a Doctor Who monster and see it brought to life. It defies all expectations and redefines what Doctor Who can be about. It plays by its own rules and effortlessly draws you in to its unique atmosphere. It manages to be the most exquisite love letter to Doctor Who (and Doctor Who fandom) and still upset half of its audience terribly. Not every Doctor Who story could be as incendiary as this one but after the complacency of much of season two (even the highlights have mostly been kisses to the past - gothic horror, Sarah Jane, base under siege) Love & Monsters proved that it was still possible to put a firework up the arse of fandom and give them a short sharp shock of innovation. The fact that some people will claim that it is as good as Doctor Who ever gets and others declare it the worst piece of television to grace their TV screens proves that he certainly got peoples attention and gave the show an injection of innovation. I think the first half of this episode is just about flawless in what it is trying to achieve with some exquisitely drawn characters (of the like we just don't get on the show any more) and a beautifully mounted scenario with people coming together through their love of the Doctor. The second half is more problematical because the Absorbaloff itself is so utterly outrageous (and the realisation could hardly be called a success) but there are still some startling scenes (Jackie confronting Elton, the Doctor at the bottom of the stairs) and some effective emotional nuggets. Marc Warren holds the whole episode together, giving one of the strongest guest performances as Elton. I could 100% believe in his character (because he is effectively me) and my concern and affection for him kept me interested all the way through. One of the most subversive episodes of Doctor Who and one of the riskiest. For the most part, I love it: 9/10

Monday, 13 October 2014

Kill the Moon written by Peter Harness and directed by Paul Wilmshurst

This story in a nutshell: It's all in the title...

Indefinable: Apparently the Doctor's rules these days include 'no hanky panky' so he's either been reading fandom's wish list (except the shippers who have been penned awaiting execution) or hanging out with JNT in the 80s. Either way it is nice to hear it expressed in a way less vomit inducing than 'I'm not your boyfriend.' Yeah, I'll never stop mentioning that line just so it doesn't happen again. This Doctor doesn't big people up and make them feel special, it simply doesn't register to him that that is something that he needs to do. It's such a marked difference from the hugging boys of old that you have to wonder if the Time Lords didn't deliberately toss in a little asshole juice when they blew the pixie dust out of Amy's crack in the sky. Try reading that sentence out loud. Watch him hopping about in front of his captors, babbling on about his endless regenerations if he should be shot again and no point does he try and make a single character feel comfortable in an already tense situation. Whereas the tenth Doctor had his fixed points in time that he can't change, the twelfth Doctor enjoys moments in time that he can't see or anticipate. The former came with emotional consequences of its own (not being able to interfere with terrible disasters) but the latter offers the unknown and for a character that became far too self assured and all knowing in his previous incarnation I find this a very satisfying development. Let's hope we visit a lot more of these unknowable points in time where the axis could shift dramatically either way. The Doctor makes a decision in this story of a sort that he has never done before. He chooses to remove himself from the climax and leave the hard choices to his companion. And what an impossible choice it is. I still haven't decided how I feel about this because I find myself siding with Clara at the climax when she calls him an insensitive, patronising bastard. However I can also see why he would want to leave this decision to the human race and not interfere (this would be ideal material for his next trial). Is it cowardice? Respect? He's so unknowable in his decisions it is hard to determine. It's a fascinating choice, dramatically, not only for the position it puts Clara in but also for the reaction from the audience. Are we supposed to like this man who will happily deal with the monsters but skip out of the way when the tough choices need to be made? I've seen this episode three times and I am still on the fence. Kudos to Harness for daring to do something as unusual as this. It's not until the Doctor sees how far he has pushed Clara that he will even acknowledge that he might have mishandled the situation. Fascinating stuff.

Impossible Girl: Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Finally! Sorry, I'm doing a little happy dance as I type. Finally Clara has been put in a situation that she cannot smile, charm or waltz confidently out of. She has to stay and make an awful choice, she has to face the emotional consequences of making that choice and she has to do it without the Doctor's help. How could I not empathise with Clara in this position? Suddenly she feels like a real person dealing with a real situation (albeit one that is utterly outrageous). She sheds tears. She reaches out for help. She's upset and afraid and alone. All the things I have wanted to see from her since the beginning of series eight. People who say they don't understand her anger at the end of the episode are failing to put themselves in her shoes. The fate of everybody on the planet at your fingertips, the fate of a newborn child? It's a catch-22 situation where it looks like something extraordinary has to be destroyed (the Earth or the creature). I would be furious if I was dumped in that situation and the man with all the answers popped off for coffee without a care in the world. Coleman is astonishingly good at the climax, crying what feels like real tears and facing a man she used to love and being slightly terrified by what he has become. I genuinely felt something for Clara that I never had before - pity. I don't like her allusions to domestic violence again, though ('I'll smack you so hard you'll regenerate!'). I can't wait to see where this goes. If Clara has walked out of the Doctor's life for good this moment will remain one of my favourite companion departures - it's the Tegan decision all over again but brought bang up to date ('If you stop enjoying it, give it up'). Clara has been belittled by the Doctor for what feels like the last time and she has had enough. That is quite a brave statement to make about a Doctor who is still finding his feet.

Angie the Second: I'm not entirely sure why we should be giving a damn about Courtney either, Doctor. There certainly isn't enough character there (yet) to offer her a pass as a companion and it did feel like she was the element that was shoehorned into the episode awkwardly. Harness said he wanted a younger character involved and that was his prerogative but the bizarre way she is deployed, heads back to the TARDIS and then wants out again when things get interesting makes it feel as though she has been bolted onto a story that doesn't really need her. Clara could have been the one who was menaced by the spider (and as the actual companion probably should have been) and the philosophical debate could have been handled by the adults alone. Certainly there is nothing that Courtney adds to the debate that contributes to the Moon's fate. On the plus side I could tolerate the actress and she's far less of an irritant than Angie was (despite my rather disingenuous title above) but saying that she still displays a lot of the attitude that bugs me about a certain type of child. I love the fact that the Doctor doesn't give a damn about her and takes her along to the Moon on a whim. Even better, when it appears the three of them are going to be shot the Doctor shoves Courtney in the firing line first. That moment was divine and very Colin Baker. At least she's not useless, spraying one of the giant spiders to death. Surely she realises that she cannot put pictures of the Moon on Tumblr?

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Little moments where big things are decided. And this is one of them.'
'The Moon's an egg...' - enjoy this moment, it might be the only point when Capaldi's Doctor smiles in the entire episode. He's clearly tickled by this insane development, something that even he wouldn't have conceived. The universe can still surprise him.
'It's your Moon, womankind. It's your choice.'
'Get back in your lonely bloody TARDIS and don't come back.'

The Good:
* A teaser where there is no hoping about to a million destinations to get to a very simple point? Where the central dilemma of the episode is alluded to within seconds? Where the dramatic thrust of this piece of drama is laid bare for the audience to see immediately? Peter Harness, you can stay. He was told to Hinchcliffe the hell out of the first half of the episode (or words to that effect) and he certainly has a damn good try at recapturing the feel of the opening episode of those mid 70s stories - suspicious guest characters pointing guns, a creepy alien landscape, the wreck of a spaceship crawlies with beasties. It's the stuff of nightmares and it feels like proper old school Doctor Who. As much as Doctor Who fans are open to the original ideas (although if they are too 'out there' they will reject them outright as this episode proved) they are just as comfortable with the base under siege formula that has served the show since its origins. Dark corridors, flash lights, scuttling creatures, imminent's a recipe that will never get old and always thrill (as long as it is directed as well as it is here). I especially love the image of the bodies twisted in webs lying on the Moon's surface. How chilling.
* And spiders? Come on, you know that is going to be a winner. They worked a treat in Planet of the Spiders when they were leaping onto peoples backs and they provide a thrilling (and terrifying if you are arachnophobic) monster for this story. Clearly the work of CGI, that doesn't make them any less skin crawling as they are scuttling over the walls at a rate of knots, leaping at victims with giant fangs and dribbling saliva and nesting in a dark crevice on the Moon, legs twisted together, crawling on top of one another and leaping out to attack unsuspecting visitors. It would have taken a real numbskull to mess this one up because two thirds of the audience are already terrified at the though of seeing a spider. But I have to say the director did a great job of taking the horror as far as it can go in the time slot, especially the attack on Courtney and sudden shock as the Doctor is leapt at from the nest. Very well done.
* I cannot in all good conscience provide a critical appraisal of this episode and neglect to discuss how stunning the production values are this week. I was quite taken aback by the quality of the production and how a trip to the moon was pulled off with cinematic visuals on a BBC budget. Whoever had the notion to use the volcanic plains of Lanzerote to double for the Moon's surface deserves a massive round of applause because the ensuing shots of the deserted landscape are just gorgeous. Doctor Who has presented quite a few versions of the Moon's surface and most of them have been pretty good but to have actors out on location in such vast space truly sells the notion of the unending desolation on the lunar surface. 
* It helps that the direction was a damn sight more imaginative than usual too. The dissolve of the moon into Clara's eye, connecting the orbiting body and the character in a visually arresting way provides the key to this episodes central dilemma without uttering a word.
* There are two musical themes this year that I have fallen a little bit in love with. One I am calling 'the Doctor Reacts', which is the blood pumping, pacy score that accompanies the more exciting moments of the season (such as the ship screaming down to the Moon in this episode). The other is 'The Doctor Muses' which is the unnerving, darker motif that plays every time he is deliberately try to creep people out (and sounds remarkably similar to and yet entirely unlike Stannis Boratheon's theme in Game of Thrones). Listen out for it when the Doctor talks about the gravity levels on the Moon, pointing out the inexactness of the situation. Add to that the piece that plays as the Doctor and his companions reach the Mexican colony and study the surface photos of the Moon. You're in no doubt that the shit has hit the fan...and is about to do so again.
* I love Clara's assertion that the Moon is still around in the future because it makes you think of the future times that she has visited and whether she would have taken the time to look up in the sky and check. It reminds us that the celestial body that effects so much of our lives is practically ignored by everybody except poets and children. We know it is there, we except that it is there, it lights up the sky at night but do we often take time to appreciate its dark beauty and its duty of care? I doubt it. Maybe we'll glance up at the sky tonight and offer a smile to the old Man in the Moon.
* We've been told that the Moon is getting heavier, we have the evidence of its newfound gravity and suddenly it starts splitting apart (in one glorious shot taking the shuttle down one of its cracks). This is suddenly a race against time to prevent a natural disaster and that always creates a sense of tension. But what on Earth is up with the Moon? Oh yeah, it's an egg. Hang on...what? The Moon that has been hanging in the sky longer than any of us have been on this Earth is a living creature gestating inside a shell. That's insane. It's whacky. It's impossible. It's so out there that half of fandom's love for the show shrivelled up and wilted away to nothing. It's just madness. I love it. It's as brilliant and bold and imaginative as a man with two hearts and the ability to regenerate travelling around time and space in a box that is bigger on the inside than the outside. It's the sort of crazy ideas that Doctor Who has been dining out on for 50 years. Scientifically it might be absurd (especially in relation to it hatching and the seas failing to let rip on the planet) but creatively it is one of the riskiest and bravest twists that Doctor Who has ever attempted. I was applauding.
* Suddenly this predictable, Hinchcliffe horror has become much more interesting, and consequently because of Lundvik's suggestion that they kill the creature and prevent it from hatching, a whole lot darker too. I personally found the second half of Kill the Moon far more engaging because suddenly the show was firing on all thrusters again, not dallying in a formula from the past (which so many episodes this year have been guilty of) but pushing for a dark, philosophical debate over an outrageous concept. It's more innovative than the show has been for year. You have three women discussing the rights and wrong of abortion. Those who choose not to see that are ignoring the evidence of their own eyes. Lundvik, Clara and Courtney have to make the decision whether to abort a child or destroy the Earth. It's an overwhelming decision and Clara buckles under the pressure. What a terrible position to put her in (and by golly it is about time).

The Bad:
* The curse of the dreary guests characters in season eight even extends to its better episodes. I have never been a huge fan of Hermione Norris and have often found her to be the sort of actress to walk through roles like she has a bad smell under her nose. Something haughty and unlikable. And as if to exacerbate that she is given a haughty and unlikable character to play in Kill the Moon. On the plus side I felt there was enough of a back story for her to feel like a real person but she wasn't anybody that I was desperate to give the time of day to. With the Doctor behaving in an exclusively abusive manner, Courtney acting out like your typical teen and the remaining guest characters being little more than canon fodder, I was stuck in the unfortunate position of only having Clara to have any feelings of warmth towards. Lundvik has an important dramatic role to play in Kill the Moon but by golly is she a bore. Has she never heard of gallows humour?
* Taking Courtney back to the TARDIS is a weird diversion from the story. I feel that once they reached the base the story should have remained there for maximum claustrophobia. The scene of her huffing and puffing in the ship hardly enamours her to the audience.
* A shame that once the purpose of the spiders is revealed that the writer and director ditch the idea of making them scary again. They become a bit irrelevant to the story, proving they were just there to kill time in the first place.
* The lights going off around the world? That all happens terribly quickly. It's one of those times when a big decision has to be made in a hurry because there simply isn't any time for it to play out at a more relaxed, thoughtful pace. The fact that the people of the Earth chose to kill the creature genuinely surprised me though, I thought there would be more lights left on. I guess we are a self-preserving species above all else after all.
* Even I had trouble with the creature inside the Moon laying another egg to take its place. Since when does a creature have the capacity to lay an egg at birth that is of larger mass than itself? Let's just assume this is an extraordinary species that we don't understand and hop along.

Result: 'It's time to take the stabilisers off your bike...' I think I might be turning a corner with season eight. With the advent of Kill the Moon (and Mummy on the Orient Express for anybody who might be interested) that is four of the last five episodes that have ranked from good to great. Kill the Moon was written by a new writer to the series and it shows because it isn't resting on the laurels of the past but pushing ahead with something unique and groundbreaking (hoho). The fact that fan reaction to the extraordinary twist that the Moon is an egg was so divisive proves that he must be doing something right, until this point in the season I don't think there has been anything worth getting this het up about. This was a massive risk and for some (like me) it paid off in spades. I love how the episode shifts gears from your traditional Doctor Who spook fest (which the director pulled off with some gusto) to something much more dramatically substantial and philosophical. For once an episode tossed out the timey wimey clever cleverness and actually seemed to be about something. Whereas I have been slouching back and enjoying the show for what it is in season eight there were three times in Kill the Moon when I bolted upright on the edge of my seat and really paid attention (for the record it was the egg twists,  the Doctor choosing to exonerate himself from responsibility and Clara's devastating accusations in the closing TARDIS scene). There is so much to admire about this episode; the stunning filming in Lanzerote, the arachnophobiacs nightmare, the standout performances of Capaldi and especially Coleman who truly proves her worth in the devastating climax. I'll take a point away for the humourless and generally staid guest cast of characters and another because Courtney's presence baffles me but overall this joins Listen as the best episode of the year to date for me. I feel as if the season is gaining more momentum as it progresses and new regime is starting to click into place. It's nice to be so positive about the show again. More new writers please, it is clear that the Moffat era can still flourish with some new creative blood to back him up: 8/10

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Curse of Peladon written by Brian Hayles and directed by Lennie Mayne

This story in a nutshell: It was a was a monster mash...

 Good Grief: I rather like the acerbic, downright rude third Doctor of seasons seven and eight. He can be a right bastard at times, bringing all his worst qualities to bear upon the authority figures that hound him in his new life trapped on Earth. However I think I prefer the gentler side to his personality, the charming rogue who bows down before royalty, who is charmed by his companion and who tries to juggle a hundred problems with a smile on his face and a song in his heart (even if it is a Venusian lullaby). In short, Pertwee was able to evolve the character into a much more appealing charmer over time, one who was less likely to take a report, shove it down your neck and make you choke and more likely to respectfully bewitch and negotiate. In The Curse of Peladon, Pertwee is inundated with those moments of charm that he sought.  There's something very blasé about his admission that he has gotten the TARDIS working again that leads you to believe that it's bluster covering up for the fact that the Time Lords are still pulling his strings. Still it's nice to know that things never change and he is still pretending he has gotten them exactly where they are meant to be when he way off course. Much has been said about the Doctor's prejudice in assuming the Ice Warriors are up to their old tricks but let's be honest the hulking great reptiles murdered their way through his first two encounters with them so it is a fair enough reaction to their presence. Had he at any point seen a gentler side to their nature then I would call him prejudiced but given he hasn't I would instead consider this a natural response. He learns a valuable lesson though, to not tarnish everybody with the same brush. I know some people who are appalled at the very notion that there could be noble Ice Warriors, that they should be treated as villains at all times but I rather like this learning curve the Doctor goes on. He's pretty conceited at the best of times in this incarnation so to mis-judge a situation so badly might have something to do with his generally softer approach from this point on in his run. I think it is rather wonderful that the suspicion is reciprocated, Izlyr is as mistrustful of the Doctor as he is of the Ice Lord. You've got to love the sheer self-importance of the man, suggesting that his death would lead to an interplanetary outcry. He's also the epitome of collective cool, strolling towards Aggedor (a creature that has already killed several men) with a spinning mirror singing a lullaby. Even in this patently absurd situation (singing to a man in a bear suit who is flexing his plastic claws) Pertwee doesn't falter. What a guy. 'He didn't even seem to mind when I scratched him behind the ears...' You could make an argument that the Doctor is responsible for Hepesh's death by bringing Aggedor to the throne room, it was a bold attempt to regain control of a volatile planet that was slipping back into barbarism that got out of control. Like a puppet on a string, the Doctor realises that this was all the work of the Time Lords again and they are heading straight back to Earth again. He seems resigned to his fate as an intergalactic yoyo at this stage.

Funky Agent: One of the strongest Jo stories because the writer allowed us to see her in the role as the perfect companion to Pertwee's Doctor but also for her to go it alone and enjoy some independence. This is exactly the midway point of her tenure so it is quite right that it indulges in the clinging-on companion antics of old whilst pointing forward to the future and her growing autonomy. Is it my imagination or is there something of Clara Oswald to Jo Grant at the beginning of this story, all set to have a date with Mike Yates and being yanked away by the Doctor to an alien planet? Even when she is angry with the Doctor for being dragged away and stranded on Peladon she still giggles and plays with him, there is an easy chemistry between this pair that positively glows on screen. Jo leaps on the opportunity to play at royalty and looks down her nose at her disgruntled companion ('the pilot was exceedingly inefficient' - check out Pertwee's reaction, it's a scream) and revels in the chance to flirt with the King. It's a delightful turn by Manning who is clearly having a whale of a time. Jo must be in her element, in episode two she has two charismatic, intelligent men vying for her attention. Jo responds warmly towards the King and the Doctor, torn between her feelings for one and her loyalty to the other. She figures that Peladon is only getting close to her because he wants a political ally but you only have to spend five minutes with the man to see that he is head over heels in love with her, like a dewy-eyed puppy. I think Jo deserves some credit for bravely battling the elements outside and almost falling to her death to sneak out of the Ice Warriors room and then walking smack bang into the ravaging beast of Peladon and not screaming her head off. In fact she retrains her lungs throughout this story despite being in some very frightening situations. King Peladon really could choose his moments more considerately, one moment he is condemning the Doctor to death and the next he's proposing to Jo! What would a relationship with this man be like? A round of executions in the morning followed by a request for ten children? Whilst some might accuse Manning of phoning in her performance on the odd occasion, simply having a laugh with Pertwee in zany settings rather than engaging with the drama that simply isn't the case in this story. Go and watch her in episode three, she's really give this her all ('I'm begging you! Please...'). The Doctor sends Jo off to take charge of the conference whilst he concerns himself with an open door, that is how much faith he has in her abilities now. Although she's still daft enough to be hypnotised by a spinning mirror.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Eeny meeny miny mo...' ROOAAR! 'Meeny?'
'What do mercy and compassion mean to you? You need someone to die to justify your own stupid superstition!'

The Good:
* Audiences must have been thrilled by the riot of colour, the unusual setting and the menagerie of monsters that were on display in The Curse of Peladon after a glut of exile adventures on the Earth. Unlike the dull, grey slag heap of Colony in Space, Doctor Who was once against revelling in the wackiness of the future and it's manifest of creatures and settings. It's the ultimate refreshment when watching these stories in order, an exotic diversion from Earth. It's as refreshing as The Mind Robber after a spate of base under siege stories or The Sunmakers after so many horror pastiches.
* Considering the wealth of problems going against it (a lack of money, being conjured up in BBC studios rather than on location) the realisation of the planet Peladon is pulled off extremely well. The castle itself looks grand and opulent and gothic, standing atop a grisly cliff face and lashed with wind and lightning. It immediately captures the imagination and these 'outside' sequences are aided by being shot on film and the elements being seen to assault the Doctor and Jo as they scale the cliff. Inside the sets are basic (there isn't much scenery to speak of) but that helps to suggest a people that live simply and there are an abundance of torches swaying in the breeze providing an atmospheric, smoky and claustrophobic atmosphere. The Curse of Peladon has a unique atmosphere in Doctor Who, capturing a medieval (and yet futuristic) society in its prime. This extends to the royal colours of the King's court and the impressive leather combat gear worn by the guards. It feels like everybody is working their hardest to make this citadel seem like a genuine seat of power of this planet. There's a glorious reminder of the harsh conditions outside in episode two as Jo has to climb out of the window and walk along the ledge, looking down at the lightning streaked, vertiginous drop below her. Lennie Maybe ensures the audience is as disoriented as Jo is, offering in a giddy POV shot of the drop.
* In the first scene the Chancellor and High Priest are squabbling over the mythology of this world, suggesting a long past. In the same breath we can see long standing relationships between these men coming to a head. I have known planets in Doctor Who stories that have been conjured up less authentically after four episodes (Karfel) than Peladon is after one scene.
* Immediately you have two very interesting ideas that are worth exploring, that of a feudal society trying to decide whether it wants to be refined by a more sophisticated one and the question of whether a myth can be said to be real because the people embrace it and fear it to be so. Especially fascinating when the Chancellor who was mocking the old superstitions is savaged by one of them the moment he is out of the throne room. A very real dilemma presents itself, embracing the past or embracing the future? Even the personal predicament facing King Peladon is a fascinating one, a boy born of parents from two worlds and struggling his whole life to bring them together. The Doctor sums up the King's dilemma simply and effectively - who will the people believe, their King or the mythology of Aggedor? The story has some fun as a whodunit with a variety of aliens for a while before revealing its culprit in episode four, the very creature whose life was threatened in the first place! The villain goes from trying to manipulate a myth to frighten off the Federation to staging a coup when that doesn't work. Like Terror of the Vervoids, it is a story whose plot is constantly evolving, throwing in all kinds of twists and turns to keep the viewer interested.
* Mayne's eyes must have been out on stalks when he read that the TARDIS has to fall disgracefully down the cliff, bouncing off it's surface all the way. With stylish modelwork and carefully angles it looks gorgeous on screen and it genuinely feels as though the Doctor and Jo are marooned.
* Not content with providing just one race of aliens, The Curse of Peladon delights in bringing five into your living room to thrill and surprise. The budget might have strained a little in bringing some of these creatures to life but they are imbued with a great sense of dignity and character by the script, how the actors react to them and the performers choose to play them that transcends their appearance. Alpha Centuri might by the least likely alien that you have laid eyes on but the shy and gentle movements, the blinking eye and shrill voice, the way he it shuffles about tentatively and how the Doctor and Jo treat it with such transforms into a creature I can believe in. It's the magic of Doctor Who, right there. It might look like an enormous knob in a cloak but to me it is a hysterical and very sweet delegate from Alpha Centuri. I love the moment in episode four where Centuri takes a vote under protest, accepting no responsibility for the consequences of that vote. The ultimate diplomat or the ultimate coward? On the one hand Arcturus is a box of tricks, a tentacled mutant having a disco inside a slimy glass dome but in the hands of this writer and director he is a scheming, lying trickster stirring up dissent on Peladon. It's almost a competition of the funny voices, Alpha Centuri's gay MP versus Arcturus' Stephen Hawking on acid. Add in the Ice Lord's sibilant whisper and you might wonder how anyone took any of this seriously but they do and the resulting menagerie is plausible because of it. In Curse of Peladon there are enough villains about for the Ice Warriors to be the good guys. That is an extremely novel idea and one the writer has fun with. And don't they looks fabulous in colour, the striking green of their armour adding a much needed splash of vivid colour to the proceedings.
* The return of the Ice Warriors is entirely unsuspected which makes their shock appearance all the more satisfying. Dudley Simpson's drum banging theme for the reptilian creatures is superb and I'm sure I'll be found lumbering around my flat humming this tune for the next week. The score in general is excellent, Simpson out from behind the electronic equipment (as he was forced to wrestle technology rather than instruments in season eights scores) and back in front of his mini orchestra. The result is a memorable and atmospheric soundtrack and one whose musical cues stick in your head long after you've finished watching. Although the music that accompanies Grun does occasionally sound like an instrument has let out a sly fart.
* I haven't even mentioned the performances yet, such is the wealth of positive things to say about this adventure. Pertwee is rarely better than he is here, at his most comfortable in the role (after his initial reaction to playing a straight part and before the apathy set in, getting to be brave, heroic, noble, romantic and intelligent) and Manning is clearly desperately in love with both him and David Troughton which spills on the screen addictively. You'll find no finer moment of intimacy between the Doctor and Jo than their conversation about the situation in their quarters in episode two. Troughton is a little bit wet but that is how the character is written, he's also commanding when he wants to be and thoughtful and gentle too. It's a very nuanced performance of a very nuanced character. The look on Peladon's face when Hepesh storms the throne room at the climax speaks volumes; disappointment, embarrassment and defeat rolled into one. And his tears when he cradles his one time mentor to his death are very poignant. What an unexpectedly rich relationship (he even pauses to preserve the mans dignity by putting a purple cloth over his face once he has slipped away before addressing his people and getting the situation back on track). Alan Bennion deserves a huge round of applause for taking the weight of expectation against the Ice Warriors and turning it on his head by proving honourable and considerate as Izlyr. A gruff and powerful actor was needed to bring Hepesh to life, a man who is single handedly trying to hold onto the superstition and violence of the past and Geoffrey Toone fills the screen with his personality. What surprises is that he also manages to show how frightened he is of the Federation, how tentative he is in upsetting them. Hepesh is another multi-layered character in a script full of them. There's a fantastic scene in part three where the High Priest drops all the pretence and has an honest conversation with the Doctor, admitting that he doesn't want his death, he just wants the Federation to high tail it away from Peladon. That's an essential scene because it softens Hepesh's character, he doesn't want to murder, he isn't an evil man, he just wants to keep things the way they are. If he achieve that and the Doctor survives then that is the better option. That makes him quite different from your standard Doctor Who villain. Even Grun the King's Champion who is used by Hepesh to do his evil deeds is given a shot of comedy and sympathy as he cowers and grunts at the thought of coming face to face with Aggedor (do-do-push pineapples shake the trees...). Saying that even the guard Captain, who hasn't even had any lines until this point, is given a shot of character at the climax, prepared to lose his life for turning against his King and looking humbled and embarrassed when he is spared. Whether it was the work of Hayles or Dicks, this monster mash is steeped in strong characterisation.
* Shot on film with impressive handheld camerawork and high angle shots, vicious stunts and moody lighting, the fight between the Doctor and Grun is one of the most impressive the show presented in this era. And given the qualities of the action sequences during the Pertwee era that is really saying something. It genuinely looks as though the Doctor is choking Grun to death at one point.
* Proving that this was a scenario with substance and populated by strong characters, there is an extended coda at the end of The Curse of Peladon that ties up many of the loose ends and allows for Jo and Peladon to part company on amiable terms. This world has been brewed up with some care so it is good to learn that the future is bright...until the miners strikes that is.

The Bad: Terrance Dicks should no better than to let lines like 'there is no plot!' past his censorious eyes. Fortunately there is an abundance of it in The Curse of Peladon. Yeah Aggedor is a man in a monkey suit and competes with the Taran Woodbeast as the least convincing hairy native wildlife but else were they going to pull this off? Had they kept the beast in the shadows it would have been even more unsatisfying. Given the strength of the direction overall, the end of episode three is bizarrely edited so a lot of dramatic things happen at once that make very little sense until the recap in episode four. As such it is one of the more confusing cliff-hangers. All you can say with some certainty is that 'lots happened.'  As good as the setting is, it does lose its novelty value in the latter episodes and can prove a little drab - you might be desperate for a hint of colour (you aint seen nothing yet, wait until the dowdy colour scheme of The Sea Devils and The Mutants!). The climax is theatrically staged (with the Doctor entering the carnage with Aggedor and using Hepesh's own secret weapon against him) but it is the only time the story the drama trips over a bit, with Hepesh doing his embarrassing Ageddor (push pineapple shake the trees) dance bit to try and get him back under control. Dramatically it is satisfyingly told but the performances finally tip over into melodrama.

Result: Peladon remains one of the most fascinating worlds that Doctor Who ever had the chutzpah to invoke. A feudal medieval world on the a precipice, deciding whether to take the plunge and accept Federation membership or turn back into superstition and violence. Populated with aliens from many worlds; the sweet and hysterical Alpha Centuri, the devious trickster Arcturus, a Time Lord posing as a Federation delegate and his human companion, a dignified Ice Lord and his Ice Warrior companion and even local wildlife savaging the guests in the secret tunnels. Every one of these characters has a story tell and they have been brought together in a story that presents a moral and personal dilemma (centred on King Peladon, a boy of mixed race who is trying to decide which half of him he should listen to), a massively entertaining murder mystery and an amusing political satire. The characters are wonderfully conceived, designed and performed and it is a real refreshment to be surrounded by so many unusual alien races. And Peladon itself is atmospherically brought to life by Lennie Mayne, a world of stark simplicity and smoky corridors, of wind lashed cliff faces and cavernous tunnels. Add in the Doctor and Jo at their most gorgeous, guest characters that are written with some depth and sensitivity (including a three dimensional villain) and a plot that constantly throws up surprises and you have a story which is firing on all cylinders. My only complaint is that at four episodes it is a little too busy in places, for once a Pertwee adventure that doesn't have the luxury of taking a breathe (the rarest of occurrences). Compared to Day of the Daleks, which presented its plot in an extremely clear cut and yet gripping manner, the handful of ideas, aliens, motives and twists means this a little more scatterbrained as a result. I do believe in Russell T. Davies assertion that there has to be some kind of connection to humanity in order for an audience to connect with a story emotionally (Jo is our conduit in this tale) but The Curse of Peladon does rather dispel his theory that there isn't a place for alien planets with a variety of colourful creatures on display taking dominance over the domestic elements. It presents its world and menagerie boldly and gets away with it because of it. I found this ridiculously entertaining and it would take the work of a real cynic to point at this and laugh. Those people don't deserve to be watching something that has so much pleasure to give: 8/10