The regulars -
The Eleventh Hour written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Adam Smith
TO BE REVIEWED...
The Beast Below written by Stephen Moffatt and directed by Andrew Gunn
This story in a nutshell: The last of the star whales is carrying the population of the UK on its back…
Fingers and Thumbs: Searching the stars for a new home, the Doctor sounds so proud of humanity. He likes to pretend that they are observers only and that he never gets involved in the affairs of others – hahaha! He suggests that what he always does is stay out of trouble. Oh he’s rib tickler, ay? When there is a child crying he will step into action. Way worse than Scottish. His madcap reaction to landing on a tongue is blissful. Drinking buddy of Henry XII, tea and scones with Liz II and knighted and exiled on the same day and so much for the Virgin Queen. Matt Smith has a few moments where he feels as though he is still feeling his way into the role…watch how he uneasily tries to reel off his gubbins about the torture chamber. What is odd is how shockingly unlikable when he turns on Amy for protecting him from such a tough choice, he’s really nasty and I’m glad he wouldn’t grow that vicious again. Clearly Moffatt is feeling his way into writing for the character as well and his rant against humanity feels very ninth Doctor and his screaming feels very tenth Doctor – this scene would not turn up later on in the season when everybody has settled down. Old, kind and the last of his kind, the Doctor looks out on a starscape and ponders his near fatal mistake. Its always a big day tomorrow for him, he skips all the little ones. He ran away a long time ago.
Scots Tart: ‘I’ve been dead for centuries!’ As Amy would continue throughout the season she would become more and more unlikable and selfish (the nadir of the season is Cold Blood for her character where she is simply there to provide sarcastic quips and look uninterested by the whole affair) but the first few episodes see her as Moffatt envisioned her, a fairytale little girl bewitched by the Doctor. Having her walk around a spaceship in her nighty is fantastically silly idea! This or Leadworth, what will Amy Pond choose? Her full name is Amelia Jessica Pond and her age is 13,006. Moffatt teases us with the continuing story of Amy with her marital status declared unknown. Whilst Amy has been shown an awful truth about the star whale her recorded message to warn the Doctor is way over the top (it feels like it has been scripted for a trailer). Protecting the Doctor from an impossible choice and she doesn’t accept his furious tirade against her and stands up for her mistakes. I love how clever Amy is to realise the whales benevolence and how she points out quite so nakedly that the Doctor could have killed a star whale. Amy is running away from her wedding, I wish we could have seen this kind of confliction later in the season where all we got was a horny Scot’s girl. ‘Got you.’
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m the bloody Queen mate. Basically, I rule.’
The Good Stuff: Starship UK is a great fantasy idea, skyscrapers reaching out into the glowing stars. Continuing the fairytale atmosphere of The Eleventh Hour Amy floats in space above a spaceship. There is a really slow pan across the floor when we first see the Queen, the rich velvet robe, the mask, the glasses of water…lots of visual mysteries to solve. This might sound like faint praise but there is something remarkably nostalgic about this story, it feels like a mediocre Tom Baker story with them landing somewhere a bit different with no emotional baggage. Being vomited from the whale’s mouth is a fabulous, exciting idea. They have been torturing the creature to keep it moving. Sophie Okenedo makes the recording of Liz X really poignant. The Earth was burning, the children screaming and the last of the star whales came like a miracle. Amy’s realisation pieces together moments through the episode very nicely. There’s a great cliffhanger featuring Churchill and the Daleks. The last shot is both epic (the whale) and foreboding (the crack).
The Bad Stuff: How irritating does that rhyming little girl in the teaser want to be? She undercuts the tension and it should have been her that was sent hurtling down the lift shaft. The Smilers are Moffatt’s least scary creation and they are completely unexplained. Like old school monsters it has a naff monster and cheap looking sets. Why does Liz talk with such a menacing whisper? I can only imagine she loves playing the woman of mystery quite a lot! The direction is slothenly throughout, static and lacking pace. If 1% of the population protest the ship would just stop…what kind of democracy is that? The scenes inside the whale’s mouth look exactly what they are, carrier bags covered in slime and rubbish. The polling booths are a remarkably unsubtle visual metaphor for government suppressing information. There must have been a better way of revealing Liz X’s age than the age of the mask? Why are the Smilers half human? The Demon Headmaster is wasted in a peripheral role. Would Liz X really have pressed the forget button over and over? After being tortured for 200 years wouldn’t the Star Whale be pissed?
Result: So many unanswered questions, undeveloped characters and gaping holes in logic, this doesn’t feel like a Steven Moffatt script at all! The Beast Below is crying out for more time to pace out and explore its ideas, to fill in some very important details. It needs a bigger budget to bring its ideas to life and more of a chance for its guest stars to shine. It should have been superb but its frustrating and vague selling itself on its emotional moments but lacks richness and detail in its plotting and setting. Both Matt Smith and Steven Moffatt are finding their feet and whilst both provide the odd moment of magic there are also awkward moments that are ironed out by the end of the season: 5/10
Victory of the Daleks written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Andrew Gunn
This story in a nutshell: The Daleks are Churchill’s secret weapon against the Nazi menace…
Cheeky Chappie: Matt Smith continues his run of gold with another script that affords him huge scope and a massive emotional landscape. It is fantastic that he is on such good terms with Churchill and we can only hope that in the future he meets other famous historical characters and they hug and catch up on old times! He admits he has just started running the TARDIS in. You can really see the difference between Smith and Tennant’s approach to acting in the scenes where the Doctor tries to convince Churchill about the nature of the Daleks. Smith plays it very gently and calmly whereas Tennant would have been all wild eyed and forceful. When Smith loses control and batters the Dalek casing with a spanner it is the sort of thrilling anger we have never seen from the Doctor before. The Daleks are everything he despises. His jammie dodger trick delights, I love the idea of a man who is willing to take on three death machines with a biscuit. There are few moments where Gatiss forgets himself and he writes for the 11th Doctor like the 10th (‘Don’t mess with me, sweetheart’ would never be said by Smith later in the season and his ‘You’re brilliant’ is a replay of a scene in Journey’s End). Destroy the Daleks or save the Earth – the script makes it abundantly clear that the Doctor will do anything to finally rid the universe of the Daleks but the only thing that could turn him away from that is his favourite planet in peril. When trying to convince Bracewell to live the Doctor manages to capture the joy and the madness of being a human being (I love his reaction to the name Dorabella). At the end it is pure fury as the Daleks once again live to fight another day but Amy manages to remind him of what a fabulous job he has done. He’s always worried about the Daleks.
Scots Tart: One of Amy’s best showings in her first season, she is positively orgasmic with excitement at turning up in the cabinet war rooms. She gazes out on the blimps and bombs with awe, history happening right in front of her. Real focus is given the fact that Amy doesn’t remember the Dalek invasion, the first big indication that something is wrong with this companion. Poor naïve Amy actually marches up to a Dalek and interrogates it (‘Love a squaddie!’). Amy gets to be thoughtful, sensitive and resourceful – it’s a shame they couldn’t keep this up! When it comes to convincing Bracewell to not crack open the planet of course tarty Amy focuses on fancying people that you shouldn’t but at least she is deliciously sensual with it. Amy realises that the Doctor isn’t all fairytales but that he has enemies. This is her wake up call that this life is dangerous.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘if Hitler invaded Hell I would give a favourable reference to the Devil.’
‘Would you care for some tea?’
‘KBO of course. Keep Buggering On.’
‘I don’t care if you are a machine Bracewell. Are you a man?’
The Good Stuff: I realise Ian McNiece is parodying Churchill but he’s so cheeky and likable that I can’t bring myself to disapprove. Bill Patterson is an actor I have always admired and he gives a superb performance in this story, I’m really happy he has finally made it into a Doctor Who story. The Dalek bolts blowing the bombers out of the sky is way cool. What a blissful idea, the Daleks (Ironsides) being Churchill’s secret weapon. There are a number of memorable visuals with the Daleks acting all devious in the background, especially when the Doctor peers over his shoulder and it glides past the door. I love the moment the Daleks drop their façade and we cut to the saucer in orbit, unlike most Dalek stories that follow a predictable path I had absolutely no idea where this story was heading (which is a very exciting feeling). Poor Bracewell, he is exposed as a facsimile and loses his hand at the same time! The movement of the camera in the Dalek saucer is very fluid; the Daleks get full exposure as the lens sweeps left and right. The new Daleks destroying the old ones is a visual representation of the Moffatt regime wiping away the Davies one. Okay they did build the outer space spitfires rather quickly but its fun! Remember when Doctor Who fans used to enjoy the show? Ducking and diving laser beams, swooping at the saucer and explosions and cheer! It’s delightfully silly and wonderful. The entire sequence of talking Bracewell out of detonating is one of my favourites of the season, the performances are sublime, the music hummable and it captures some real emotions. Bracewell’s freedom is very sweetly played. The ominous crack in the wall makes another appearance.
The Bad Stuff: Why did they bother with the pointless subplot about the woman and her squaddie boyfriend? Its so irrelevant and time wasting and makes no impact at all. Why have we never heard of the progenitor device before? Why wouldn’t the Daleks not recognise their own kind? They’ve got bloody sink plungers and whisks! Bracewell’s attempt to add depth to what is a bank holiday wartime blockbuster. ‘Do you worst, Adolph!’ – I hate these moments of desperately trying to please the audience.
Result: I cannot understand the vitriol that is directed at Victory of the Daleks. Compared to some of the episodes in series five it is pacy, funny, exciting and it looks fantastic. I realise people would prefer there to be more of the Daleks subterfuge but what we get is great fun and switching the location to the Dalek saucer gives the Doctor a chance to square up to greatest enemies with real style. The new Daleks are a matter of personal taste, I’m on the fence about their chunkiness and multi colours but I love how tall they are and their creepy new voices. Spitfires in space is a fabulously silly set piece but it proves that the budget might have been cut this year but the effects are still wonderful. Add gorgeous performances from Ian McNiece and Bill Patterson and a reasonably likable Amy and you have a fun, if shallow, bank holiday spectacular: 7/10
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Adam Smith
Geek Chic: Astonishingly this is Matt Smith’s first performance but you would never be able to tell he gives such an assured performance. Its easy to see why he was so daunted by such a demanding script as his first to film, its probably the most dynamic take on his Doctor in his debut season with some real tongue twisting dialogue and a need for some real gravitas! What an initiation!
Museums are how the Doctor keeps score. His half inching of the home box is hilarious…he looks like a little pixie skipping through the Archive back to the TARDIS! I love how childish he can be at times – ‘They’re just blue boringers now!’ The Doctor never puts the breaks on when he is landing his ship because he loves the vworp vworp noise! His detailed atmosphere check consists of the Doctor sticking his head out of the door. The Doctor is very wary of River and her knowledge of his future, clearly he doesn’t like somebody having the same sort of knowledge as him. I really like how nasty he can be to Amy at times, one because I think she needs it and two because it really gives him some bite. He’ll never get around to saving all of the human race because they spread like rabbits! Its so the Doctor to pretend that he’s not listening to River and Amy talking about him. The Doctor is humbled by Octavian’s comment that when he has flown of in his little blue box he will have to explain the deaths of his men to their families. He manages to undo Amy’s conditioning by biting her hand! If you’re smart you’ll never put the Doctor in a trap (or slap Graham Norton over the moment he mentions it). The Doctor in the comfy chair (‘Get a life, Bob’) is effortlessly cool. Matt Smith is not afraid to show his Doctor in real fear and when the Angels manage to grab him he lets out a chilling scream (its really scary…). His ruthlessness towards Amy extends to being honest about her I impending death. There is a moment in this story where the Doctor realises what has happened what has happened to Amy’s parents and why she is living in an empty house alone – he suddenly realises that time can be rewritten and he pauses. Octavian’s death is quietly powerful, he tells the Doctor that he cannot trust River Song, that he has no regrets and when the Doctor says he wishes he had the chance to get to know him better to which Octavian says, sacrificing himself, that he has seen him at his best. He gets viciously angry at River (probably quite unnecessarily but it does make you sit up!).
Scots Tart: I’m not the biggest fan of Amy I have to be honest. I do think the season has been beautifully wound around her character and I am very impressed because come the time of this story I was complaining that we haven’t explored her character like Rose/Martha/Donna and her family and I should have realised that Moffatt was cleverer than all that. By sneaking away her real life all season it means we get to experience a whole new Amy Pond next year, one with a mum and dad and a life to go back to and I am wondering if I will warm to that Amy more than this one. She’s okay but is a bit too mouthy for my tastes (I don’t mind a bit of mouth but it has to be pinned to intelligence like Donna) and her morals (head over the The Bad Bit) are severely lacking. Where she works best she is softer, more relaxed (Vincent and the Doctor is probably her best episode) but on the whole I think I prefer Rory as a companion.
She was promised a planet and will not let this opportunity slip through her fingers. Amy smugly takes the piss out of the Doctor and River’s relationship (she says she’s not that clingy but I do wonder). She’s shockingly naïve at this point declaring an Angel ‘just a statue.’ Gillan’s mad Ohica eyes are perfect to trap an Angel inside. She pauses the Angel on a loop in the tape which is a spare of the moment thing but everybody acts as though she’s Einstein! Her funniest line of the whole year is ‘have you got space teeth?’ She doesn’t want the Doctor to die with her. Imagine having to keep your eyes shut and circumnavigate the Angels. Brrr. As a time traveller the way she looks at the universe will change.
Enigma: I love that for River this takes places after the climax of the season – Moffatt is always getting us to look at things in new ways. River looks gorgeous in her dinner dress and must trust the Doctor implicitly to jump out of an airlock and assume he will be there to save her! ‘I’m going to be a professor one day? How exciting!’ The Doctor doesn’t know who or what she is, it’s too early in his time stream. Just when start to forget River is there the Doctor discovers she is being held in a stormcage facility. She’s a sucker for a man in uniform. She’s killed a man, a good man, a hero to many. ‘You’ll see me again soon when the Pandorica opens…’
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Wait until she runs. Don’t make it look like an execution.’
‘Like I said on the dance floor…you might want to find something to hang on to.’
‘There’s a difference between dormant and patient.’
‘We’re in the middle of an army! And its waking up…’
‘A forest in a bottle in a spaceship in a maze, have I impressed you yet Amy Pond?’
‘There’s an Angel in her mind!’
‘River Song I could bloody kiss you!’
‘You. Me. Handcuffs. Must it always end this way?’
The Good Stuff: The first disorienting swing around a sunny park is hypnotic and a really good sign for what is to come. I want River’s cutting torch gun! The leap to 12,000 years later grabs the attention. Old High Gallifreyan are words that can burn stars, raise up Empires and topple Gods and River Song writers ‘Hello sweetie…’ It’s a really great gag. This teaser is inventive, exciting and beautifully directed – how will they ever top this? The attention to detail is astonishing; the Delirium Archive is set up in a gorgeous church. The spaceship crash atop the church is worthy of a movie…who said the budget had been cut this year? What are those creepy screaming birds on the beach? That is the best transporter effect ever, it looks like a sandstorm! Prepare yourself for possibly the most frightening scene in Doctor Who where Amy is attacked by the Angel in the tape loop (a non fan friend was positively terrified by this scene and was not amused when I taped a picture of an Angel to her monitor at work!). Gillian plays it for real and the editing is razor sharp, the music perfect. The idea of Doctor Who monsters being able to reach out of the television set and claim their viewers is so frightening the idea deserves an Oscar! And the Angel goes quietly from scary blank eyes staring out to feral snarl to raised claws… That which holds the image of an Angel will itself become an Angel…brrr. The Aplands temple is a gorgeous visual, immense and epic, littered with statues, tunnels and shadowy hiding places. There’s even some room for good old-fashioned secondary characters being menaced in tunnels! The Angel shadow on the wall is so melodramatic and yet still really frightening. Messy divorces for the Aplands. The statues with melted faces are super spooky, there’s something wrong about such a disturbing melted look on a human face. The Angel that bends around the corner is the scariest! Turning off the torch…are you kidding me? The idea of the Angels down in the Aplands Maze of the Dead for centuries, hungry, losing their image is really horrific. Bob on the intercom haunts the Doctor (‘I died afraid in pain and alone’). Flesh and Stone opens on a similarly disorienting moment, the Angels reaching up to the characters standing on the ceiling! Hurrah for the genuinely nightmarish images of the Angels lit up by gunfire flame. The Oxygen Forest is a fabulous Doctor Who idea. How distressing is the Angels laughing? Adam Smith’s staging of the reveal of the crack in time over the Doctor’s shoulder is faultless. The Angels are reaching out for the end of the universe. One day in the future there will be a big bang so cataclysmic it will cause the cracks in the past and future. The people gulping light streaming through the trees is really ominous. Octavian’s death is beautifully done; a stone arm around his neck and if the Doctor looks around it will be snapped. The Angels only kill you; the time energy will snuff you out of existence (wow who would have ever thought the Angels would be the lesser of two evils?). On first broadcast the moving Angels made me scream out loud, I was that absorbed and terrified by the story! The two plots meet at the conclusion (the Angels and the crack) and cancel each other out which is typically efficient Moffatt plotting.
The Bad Stuff: I hate The Streets! The music after the title music is so loud it actually obscures the dialogue. ‘Ooh Doctor you sonicked her!’ – sometimes I really wanna slap Amy! Amy moving through the forest of Angels isn’t terribly well directed until she falls and then its really well directed! The last scene is a subject of much controversy and I just want to put in my tuppence. I don’t like it. It feels tacked on and ends a perfectly fine story on a sour note. Its not that somebody wants to shove the Doctor on a bed and have their end away with him because I’ve had some very naughty thoughts myself about David Tennant and Matt Smith! Nope if the Doctor wants to get his end away I don’t mind…the fella deserves a bit of loving considering all the work he’s put into the universe. Its Amy’s characterisation that bothers me. It’s actually made worse the more we get to know her. Rory is such a lovable loser you cannot help but hiss at her for even daring to throw away what she has with him. Frankly I don’t think she deserves Rory or the Doctor, the dirty skanky cheater! Monogamy is something I feel very strongly about and I really don’t want to see Doctor Who companions acting so selfishly. The way she continues to play the two men sits uneasily with me. So I say yay to sex in Doctor Who but nay with such a hoe!
The Shallow Bit: Aww…I just want to huge the Doctor when he sheds a tear for Bob.
Result: My favourite story of season five, Steven Moffatt has written a flawless script which is fantastically scary with a frantic pace and a chance for every character to get a moment to shine. The production is astonishing, very expensive looking and rivalling some movies I have seen lately for good looking set pieces. The atmosphere is tense and frightening; my friends daughter was traumatised by the first episode, literally petrified. Few Doctor Who stories are as dynamic was this without jettisoning their integrity and it manages to feel traditional (dark tunnels, ship under siege) and uniquely NuWho at the same time (exquisitely realised, achingly emotional). This is the point where the bubbling arc plots are at their most mouth watering and I don’t think the season is this interesting again until the finale. If they don’t rival their initial appearance the Angels are consistently innovated throughout and provide more than enough chills to justify their return. Suitably, this story also showcases the marvellous eleventh Doctor at his finest: 10/10
The Vampires of Venice written by Toby Whithouse and directed by Jonny Campbell
This story in a nutshell: Its all in the title…or if only it were.
Nutty Professor: As much as I don’t like the idea of the Doctor crashing (and ruining) Rory’s stag, his face when he jumps out of the cake is an absolute picture. I was much more impressed with the glorious shots of him swinging beneath the TARDIS console; sparks flying, goggles deployed and tinkering with the real lady in his life. He looks like the nutty professor more than ever before. The Doctor enthusing about Venice is appealing, giving the viewer a little history lesson and capturing the magic of the city far more effectively than a handful of brief CGI shots. Smith wanders down into the catacombs and is confronted by a gaggle of Vampire girls and you might just think that Patrick Troughton’s spirit has entered his body because his comic double takes, airy fairy body movements and delight at being in danger recalls his predecessor with great aplomb. There was a time when the Doctor would revel in the thrill of breaking into a convent school for vampires but nowadays he’s so entrenched in Eastenders territory he has to talk about being the unwilling target of an engaged Scot’s misplaced sexual frustrations. How the mighty have fallen. Rory makes a great point about how people try and impress the Doctor and as a result are a danger to themselves and his expectations. Matt Smith plays the role with such conviction that even when they try and make his Doctor sound like a hard man and he threatens to tear down the house of Calvierri (stone by stone, you know) and he marches off to get that done you believe him. For such a slight bloke that is quite a feat. Mind his ‘I tell you to do something and you do it’ tiff with Amy at the climax is horribly misplaced. I guess they were still feeling their way in with his character…I just cannot imagine that scene taking place now. The Doctor would find a much better way of getting Amy to safety.
Scots Tart: ‘Yeah sorry…I’m kind of engaged’ This is the point where they poisoned the well. Until now Amy has been a perfectly serviceable if completely bland companion (albeit one with an intriguingly structured opening episode) but The Vampires of Venice (or rather the cutaway scene at the end of Flesh and Stone that almost threatened to topple a classic story in one foul swoop) marked the fork in the road where the character turned actively unpleasant. Moffat has always preferred the mechanics of his arcs over the authenticity of his characters so Amy by the very nature of her narrative (that a crack in space has swallowed her existence whole and replaced it with one where she is brought up by her aunt) leaves her with a faceless background and little character beyond being a smart arse shoving her hands on her hips and posing dramatically. The irony being that once the universe is rebooted in The Big Bang and she is given her boyfriend and parents back the result for Amy is that she becomes only fractionally nicer (not enough to consider her agreeable however). The truth of the matter is that the idea of having a threesome in the TARDIS where the companion chooses the Doctor over her lover is a flawed idea. It doesn’t work for Amy on two levels – one because it refuses to allow her to have that special connection with the Doctor because twos company and threes a crowd (especially when you are banging one of them) and secondly because it’s a horribly abusive arrangement for Rory to watch the woman that he loves falling for another man. Rory is a far more interesting character because our sympathies automatically fall in his lap but the consequence of having Amy cheat on her husband to be (she would have gone all the way in Flesh in Stone had the Doctor not been above such things) and spend the next handful of episodes having to decide which man to choose turns her into a morally unsound, selfish and thoroughly exploitative character. It is not a shift in her favour by a long chalk. I found it quite ironic that once the cracks in time swallow Rory and take him from her, the consequence was for her to completely forget about him. Whilst this is a plot function rather than a character beat (what’s new?) it felt entirely in keeping with her hideous behaviour towards him. Its also quite telling that it took nearly an entire season and a half worth of episodes (not until the climax of The Angels Take Manhattan) to undo all the damage done here and to have Amy make the choice and commitment that she should have done from the very beginning. To forget about the Doctor and devote herself completely to her husband. The Doctor becomes an awkward third party that diverts the course of true love for nearly two and half seasons (despite the fact that he sees himself as the Pond’s counsellor he is actually the reason they have all of their problems in the first place) and even at the close he asks Amy to choose him over her husband (his desperate pleas to her not to step back into the past in The Angel Takes Manhattan). For me this was never an adequate place to take either the Doctor or his assistant. And it all starts here.
Amy looks appalled at the idea of a date with her fiancé and doesn’t even have the balls to look ashamed at how she has behaved. She’s far more passionate at arriving in Venice than in trying to address the problem of her slowly breaking down marriage (I guess ignoring a problem is the easy way out but it hardly makes her more appealing). When Rory is confused about the psychic paper Amy simply shrugs him off with an ‘I’ll explain later.’ Rather than say ‘I was wrong to cheat on you, Rory’ Amy instead tells him about how scared she has been almost as though that excuses her behaviour (the little punch on the arm is like how a sister treats a brother). She doesn’t want to talk about the deep stuff because it will ruin their date – seriously, are they trying to make her look selfish? You know that feeling when you are in a group of friends and everybody is deliberately having a laugh but excluding you…the Doctor and Amy’s excited exchange on the bridge with Rory looking on despondedly really taps into that. And she’s completely unaware that he is hurting. Is the woman a completely insensitive moron? Suggesting that she and the Doctor pretend to be husband and wife and she and her fiancé pretend to be brother and sister? When Amy was wandering around the vampire school I was hoping that she would be drained of blood as punishment for her insensitivity…probably not the best sign that a companion is working. Unbelievably the episode seems to make the decision that Amy gets to ‘review’ Rory and consider him worthy of her when that is the last thing that it should be promoting. The emphasis is on her being in the right. Astonishing. She even gets to choose to have Rory along for the ride in the future, having her cake and eating it by being able to play the two men in her life against each other. By the end of this episode I was spitting blood at the woman. I can’t think of a time when I have disliked a companion this much.
Loyal Roman: The idea of Rory leaving a drunken declaration of love on Amy’s answerphone whilst she is gadding about the universe with another man is heartbreaking. He’s such a trusting fool he would never suspect a thing! Rory is the only person who seems to remember that they are actually in real danger and despite the fact that she doesn’t deserve it tries to point out to the Doctor that he is constantly walking his fiancé into trouble. Rather than sit his wife to be down and ask for answers, it’s the Doctor that gets all the accusations flung at him. Its almost like Amy is a particularly special child that nobody wants to upset by forcing her to confront her own misplaced sexual morality.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Cab for Amy Pond?’
- Helen McRory clearly has what it takes to be a great Doctor Who villainess (one to add to a pleasingly great number that have appeared in the new series – Margaret Slitheen, the Wire, the Carrionites, the Sibylline) because she takes the part seriously enough when it counts (she could have stepped from a straight drama at many points in the episode) but still able to strut her stuff, hands on hips and shake her fist in the air when things turn sour.
- The sets, lighting and general design of the episode is a feast on the eyes. I especially love the impressive courtyard with arched alcoves and a grand staircase winding around it – filmed in long shot, the show hasn’t looked quite this expensive in a while.
- The one scene that really stands out amongst the mediocrity is the two hander between the Doctor and Rosanna. Not because it is especially well scripted but it is exquisitely performed by both actors and walks through a host of emotions from flirtatiousness to intruige to outright hostility. If only the rest of the episode had displayed such marbled depth.
- Murray Gold is having a whale of a time and his score suggests the operatic drama and spectacle of the piece that the actual content of the episode fails to deliver. I love his glorious horror theme as the Doctor is menaced through the catacombs by flame wielding vampires and the passion that the Doctor/Rosanna confrontation climaxes with thanks to the score is breathtaking. And the vocal chorus goes nuts during the climax in authentically melodramatic fashion.
- It seems somewhat ungrateful that I should complain about the location work of such a visually lush episode but I was so angered to see that the actual episode was not filmed in Venice (without a doubt one of my favourite places in the world) and yet the Confidential episode was that my opinion of this piece was automatically soured. The location work that is lavished upon this episode is gorgeous but having taken in the atmosphere of Venice I have to say they don’t even come close to capturing the romance and the mystery of the city in a way that actually filming in the real place would have achieved. It bothers me far more than previous attempts at this show pretending to go to places that they are not.
- I loathe Francesco with a passion. Considering he is a weasly, bullying mummys boy that was probably the idea but I also didn’t particularly admire the performance of Alex Price. He looks as though he has walked onto the wrong set at times and wishes he was playing a role on Rome instead. There’s something vaguely incestual about the relationship between Francesco and Rosanna, he loves nothing more than resting his head in his mothers lap and having his head stroked seductively. When his mother rejects him he plods off with a sour look on his face and preys on some virginal innocent instead.
- The teaser doesn’t work nearly as well as it should. I think the idea of the Doctor jumping out of a cake and telling Rory that his wife tried to kiss him in front of all his friends is supposed to be belly laugh funny but it plays out very awkwardly (and the drawn out pause before the title music kicks in makes prolongs the agony far longer than it should). There’s nothing worse than comedy that dive bombs and whilst I’m sure this is supposed to be an uncomfortable moment for all the characters its just the way I ever envisaged a Doctor Who story being kick started. Its bawdy and cheap where I’m accustomed the clever and inventive.
- I’m not sure if it’s the scripting or the performances but Rory’s speech to Rosanna about Amy getting into school is painful to watch. Its another instance of laugh out loud comedy that misses the mark by a country mile.
- CGI creatures have impressed on the show before (I especially enjoyed the nimble Krillatines) but the Satturnyne aren’t the most memorable of creations. Monsters that have two layers of deception before you get to the real thing…and ultimately they are just mechanical looking fish that stand there clenching their teeth with outstretched nails. They aren’t even as imaginatively designed and shot as the last time Doctor Who indulged with the notion of fish people (no I’m not talking about the trout finned Tereleptils) – at least those corral encrusted nasties performed an underwater ballet. The best they can manage here is a water being blown up through a river to suggest fish creatures breathing beneath. They might not have had much money in the 60s but by golly they had more ambition.
- Whenever a writer isn’t sure how to conclude a tale these days the ideal get out clause seems to be to shove the Doctor up a pole (or at least at high altitude). It happened in The Idiots Lantern, it happened in Evolution of the Daleks and it happens here. None of these episodes are anything out of the ordinary and all three of them exchange spectacle for intelligence during their climax to their detriment. The ariel shots of Venice wracked by storms feel as though they have leapt straight from The Shakespeare Code. They didn’t even have the chutzpah to electrocute him this time.
- So let me get this straight. This isn’t the work of vampires but a race of fishy aliens that have set up a school for girls so they can turn Earth females into amphibians and toss them into the water to copulate with the horny males of their kind? Isn’t that just the most embarrassing b movie idea ever to grace Doctor Who? And that is in the face of some pretty stiff competition. We’ve sat through 45 minutes for this revelation? Rosanna wants to cause earthquakes to create tidal waves and turn Venice into an underwater city for her freakishly fishy folk.
- As soon as Guido reveals that he has a store of gunpowder in his house its pretty obvious that his character is going to sacrifice himself. When it came I greeted the ‘surprise’ with a cry of despair rather than surprise. And to be fair the explosion is pretty lame.
- They say bad things always come in threes and the final comedy nugget that sinks like a stone is the appalling directed ‘and so’s your mum’ fight between Rory and Francesco. Its supposed to show Rory in a heroic light but its so awkwardly filmed and performed both actors look deeply uncomfortable. ‘Did you say something about mummy?’ It lacks the wit
The Shallow Bit: Considering Venice is the most romantic city in the world and this episode purports to be something of a romantic comedy/tragedy…there is nothing in the least bit seductive in how this instalment is presented. Odd.
Foreboding: ‘And so in memory of those children lost to the Silence…’ Another example of Moffat trying to be all clever-clever at the expense of making any sense. In theory the idea of setting up the next race of nasties a season before they appear is a sound idea. In practice having the Satturnyne come to Earth to escape from them and then to establish that the Silence have been present on Earth long before they arrived makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Surely they would have just wiped them all out as soon as they made their presence known?
Amy’s Choice written by Simon Nye and directed by Catherine Morshead
This story in a nutshell: ‘Amy’s men, Amy’s choice…’
The Nutty Professor: Highlighting the differences between the ‘never looking back’ tenth Doctor we open this story with the eleventh Doctor visiting Amy and Rory five years after they left him. When he sees Amy’s life in the dullest village known to man he wonders what they do to stave off the self-harm! He threw the TARDIS manual into a supernovae because he was cross and he disagreed with it. Not even the Doctor can withstand the charms of a nice old lady who wants you to try on a woolly jumper for size. The Dream Lord is instantly charismatic and insulting, taking the piss out of the Doctor’s many ridiculous nicknames. The madcap vehicle, the cocamene hair, the clothes designed by a first year fashion student…if he had any more tawdry quirks he could open a tawdry quirk shop! He sniffs out things that aren’t exactly as they seem. Why does everybody expect him to always know everything? Fascinating that the Doctor figures out who the Dream Lord is on the strength of how much he hates him and that opens up a whole universe of possibilities about the Doctor’s self hate. There’s a scene where the Doctor is stumbling down the street and into the butchers where he is supposed to tripping over himself needing to put his head down but I really can’t see much difference between this and his usual exuberant campness! The old man prefers the company of the young? Ouch Amy has really put the Doctor on a pedestal and when he cannot save Rory she question what the point of him is. Matt Smith’s quiet ‘okay’ as Amy reveals that she wants to kill this reality because she cannot bear a life without Rory is desperately sweet. You just want to hug him. The darkness in Amy and Rory would have starved the Dream Lord because the Doctor chooses his friends very carefully but in over 900 years to choose from the Doctor was a feast. The last shot is very telling – the Doctor still has his own demons to face and the Dream Lord is waiting…
Scots Tart: This episode was the making of Amy for me, the point where I could actually see some potential in the character beyond being aggressive and flirtatious. Amy screams so loud she scares a crow from a tree! How funny does she look with the bowl of pudding mix perched on top of her pregnant stomach stuffing her face? Equally hilarious is her fake pregnancy moment when she manages to turn the Doctor as white as a sheet with a simple scream. It’s fascinating that when Amy has to make her choice before both men she says Rory but doesn’t even look at him. She’s gone from the day before her wedding to telling her fiancé they will get married ‘some day.’ Amy’s casual ‘whack her!’ makes me wet myself. More insane humour as she does her little poncho boys dance! The Dream Lord manages to get to nub of this seasons problem: Amy ran away with a handsome hero and would she really give that up to be with a bumbling country doctor who thinks the only thing you need to remain interesting is a ponytail? Interesting that Amy doesn’t like being asked to make a choice of which life is the real one. The big question is does Amy really deserve Rory when she only realises how much she loves him after he dies…and that it takes two attempts at this to really drive the point home? If real life is the world where Rory is dead Amy doesn’t want it and she makes an unforgettable decision to kill herself and make the other world a reality.
The Loyal Roman: Rory’s ponytail has to be seen to be believed (by Amy also it seems who takes a sly look behind his back the first time they wake up in the TARDIS). Rory, bless him, is deluded that if anybody around here is the gooseberry then it’s the Doctor! He wants the village lifestyle so badly he is convinced that it is reality. All of Rory’s dreams are encapsulated in seeing the nursery for their baby and Arthur Darvil captures your sympathies effortlessly as he sags over the crib. Amy’s reaction to him cutting his ponytail gets me every time, its such an oddly tender moment.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’ve swallowed a planet!’
‘When worlds collide!’
‘You can’t spot a dream while you’re having it…’
‘Time to sleep…or are you waking up?’
‘It can be the night before our wedding for as long as we want!’
‘Loves a redhead our naughty Doctor. Has he told you about Elizabeth the First? Well she thought she was the first…’
‘You’re probably a vegetarian aren’t you, you big flop haired wuss!’
The Good Stuff: Straight away we are back into a lovely green environment – this really is the season of the scenic country landscapes and villages that I just happen to find charming. I love the camera shot that comes over the side to slowly reveal Amy’s pregnancy, that’s some clever plot revealing camerawork. I like how the pollen falls through the Leadworth scenes almost imperceptibly (you could almost mistake it for light rain most of the time). You have three distinct personalities in the TARDIS now; Rory thinks of their life in a sweet little village being married to Amy as a dream come to true, to the Doctor it was a nightmare and as far as Amy was concerned she was the size of a house! Its brilliant to spend so much time in the new TARDIS giving the audience to get used to the feel and size of it and its interesting that when the ship loses its power and is plunged into darkness it is far more atmospheric than the last time they tried to do this (Rise of the Cybermen). Without a doubt Toby Jones gives one of the finest villain performances since the series came back – he’s a delight to watch and sports some very witty dialogue. Nice to see that the Doctor is still concocting weird devices out of household objects (this time a corkscrew and a whisk) ala The Time Monster. A cold star is another simple but effective fantasy idea in this fairytale season – they are literally drifting towards a cold sun (there is a magical shot of the TARDIS approaching the star with ice crystals bursting on its shell). The march of the octogenarians is very quirky, I was cheering upon the first broadcast (especially the one with the Zimmer coming over the field!). Ice can burn and sofas can read dont’cha know? How funny is it when the Doctor knocks that old woman off the roof – it’s so wrong I can’t help but laugh! The cut from Amy driving the van into the cottage to the snow crusted console room is one of the best scenes of the year and the imagery is unforgettable.
The Bad Stuff: People bemoan the answer being nothing more than psychic pollen is disappointing but the method for whipping up their dream state isn’t important. It’s the character work that is important.
Result: Nice to see the old ‘sideways’ adventures leaking back into the series and this is a particularly good example. The premise is so simple; two worlds and one of them is a dream and our heroes have to figure out which one is which. It brings to the surface a whole universe of feelings that exists between the three main characters and finally puts to rest the three in a bed tack that has been plaguing the last few episodes. Murray Gold provides a memorable score and the episode is full of unusual imagery but what really impressed me was the wealth of quality dialogue that Simon Nye conjures. This is only Doctor Who to mention self-harm, feature old ladies being up, ends in suicide (twice over) and explores just how much the Doctor might hate himself. It wont be to everybody’s tastes because there is a distinct lack of traditional elements but I found the character work enchanting and the layered plot one of the most successful of the year. I would love to see the Dream Lord back again: 9/10
The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Ashley Way
TO BE REVIEWED...
Vincent and the Doctor written by Richard Curtis and directed by Jonny Campbell
This story in a nutshell: The title says it all…
Nutty Professor: Whilst I was already convinced this was the episode that my mom finally fell in love with Matt Smith as the Doctor and got over her pining for David Tennant. The almost flirtatious way that the Doctor and the museum guide admire each others bow ties always makes me smile. He’s not that kind of Doctor. Matt Smith seems to revel in any chance to be a bit silly and yet he never comes across as such and so the energetic way he dashes around the courtyard waving the pole around to attack the invisible creature is a delight. The Doctor takes absolute delight in tossing old junk out of the way so he can look for his invisible alien detector which was a gift from his Godmother. His experiences are that surprisingly there is always hope. Fascinating to see that whilst the Doctor is confident at confronting whole armies (such as he will in a few episodes time) but when it comes to one mentally ill man he is awkward and shy. The Doctor is armed with over confidence, a briefcase and a small screwdriver. His camp little dancing to the soothing music of the TARDIS makes me want to kiss him.
Scots Tart: The Doctor is being super nice to Amy at the moment and taking her exactly where she wants to go and she smells a rat. Amy’s one moment of ‘God I want to slap her’ (trust to only have one in an episode is a rare and treasurable thing) was when she told Van Gogh and the bar owner to both shut up and she will buy the drinks. Its that smug, superior tone that grates and the way she thinks she can talk to anybody the way she likes. But as I said, its just one moment in an otherwise faultless episode for Amy. She knows that Vincent will take his own life but when the Doctor puts it into words she cannot handle it especially when he says it will be in only a few months time. Amy suggests that she is not really the marrying kind, another subtle touch of the arc not getting in anyone’s way. Amy looks genuinely pained that they didn’t manage to save Vincent from committing suicide and the Doctor’s attempts to cheer her up are some of their nicest moments together.
Earless Artist: Its one of those freak occurrences that the person who happens to be the spitting image of the historical character just happens to be the best person for the part. The year before his death is described as ‘the most astonishing outpouring of art in history.’ In his lifetime he was a commercial disaster, selling only one portrait to the sister of a friend. The pre credits sequence gives you everything you need to know about Van Gogh before we meet him and taps into your sympathies for the man effortlessly. He’s come to accept that the one person who is going to truly appreciate his paintings is him. You forget that Van Gogh doesn’t know how revered his artwork will be and the Doctor and Amy’s horrified reaction to him daubing white paint all over a picture to draw the creature really brings it home. Sunflowers are disgusting and a challenge, this man is truly a genius. With the Doctor he has fought monster together and won and on his own he fears that he will not do as well. To use your pain to portray the magnificence of the world is Vincent Van Gogh’s gift to the art world and to the human race.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Every time I step outside I feel that nature is shouting at me! Come on! Come on! Come on…capture my mystery!’
‘Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly. In the right order.’
‘Will you follow him?’ ‘Of course!’
‘Be good to yourself and be kind to yourself.’
‘That strange wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the worlds greatest artist but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.’
‘I still can’t believe one of the haystacks was in the museum. How embarrassing.’
‘The way I see it every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things but vice versa the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.’
‘The ultimate ginge.’
The Good Stuff: Whilst much of the imagery in this episode is strikingly I can think of few openings that top the crows flying from the glowing corn as something approaches the camera for gripping you instantly with visual beauty. Bill Nighy is one of those actors that you always hope will wind his way into Doctor Who one day but never think he will. He’s a joy in this episode simply because he makes such an impact with very few scenes, that’s the skill of a good performer. The cat on the cobblestones as the TARDIS materialises in the alley is one of my favourite TARDIS landings ever. The set designers should be extremely proud of recreating the café exterior with such an eye to detail. Is the accordion music in the bar the Doctor’s theme for the season? Curtis cutely dresses up the first Krafayis as a psychotic episode of Van Gogh’s before the Doctor realises there is a genuine threat present. Watching these two great men being led a merry dance by this invisible creature is a joy to watch. Its lovely that with all the technology at its disposal Doctor Who of this day and age will still plump for invisible aliens (its not a budgetary thing because they still have to go to the lengths of creating the beast in CGI and the physical effects probably cost more anyway) and watching it pursue the Doctor through the streets is surprisingly tense (Blair Witch aside, I always love dramatic handheld camerawork). Plus Amy turning up around the corner makes the audience laugh and jump which is always a great feeling. I’m not sure what is more striking – the sunlight streaming into Van Gogh’s bedroom of the truly stunning image of Amy surrounded by sunflowers. We are reminded of the tragic events at the end of the last episode in a very delicate moment showing how subtle arc plots if needed. The Doctor and Amy in the confession box is another exuisitely lit scene. Doctor Who is not the sort of show that discusses the effects of depression and there is a very telling moment where the Doctor tries to and Vincent tells him to shut up – the episode has already shown us in some very powerful scenes that Vincent is unstable and it doesn’t need to push it further (like most shows would) in diasecting his apparent madness. The double whammy twist of discovering that the Krafayis is blind and then its accidental murder completely turns the simple plot of its head and guts the viewer. Seeing the world through Vincent’s eyes is sheer visual poetry and it will be a long time before the series offers anything that potent again. Even the touch of the TARDIS covered in posters that have burnt off in the vortex is perfect. The endinf made me choke with tears when I first watched this. Simon and I were sitting on the sofa with tears streaming down our faces hugging each other with the sheer magic of it. Can you think of a more amazing gift the Doctor could have given Vincent than to realise that his work would eventually be hailed as the work of a genius? Its hugely uplifting and beautiful and Curran’s dizzying reaction is captured to perfection.
Result: I don’t think the Steven Moffatt era of Doctor Who triumphs with the same consistency as the Davies one but when it does score a real winner it knocks the previous era out of the park. Vincent and the Doctor is a truly sophisticated episode of Doctor Who and one of the few moments of television that actually brought tears to me eyes. Its awesome than an episode with such gorgeous character drama and one that studies schizophrenia with such bold facedness still has time for a giant invisible chicken and even that narrative is a tear jerking delight. Visually it is one of my all time favourite Doctor Who stories, every frame has been exquisitely lit and designed to provide a feast for the eyes and some of the imagery is as dazzling as a Van Gogh painting itself. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan give their best performances of their first season and Richard Curtis treats the pair of them to some wonderful dialogue and interplay. But the star of the show is Tony Curran who takes a potentially unsympathetic role and creates a Vincent Van Gogh who is entirely credible and great fun to be around and before the episode he will have broken your heart. The intimacy and chemistry between these three characters is extraordinary. Some people might not like this slower, more character based drama but I found it intoxicating and with the Angel two parter it is my favourite episode of series five: 10/10
The Lodger written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Catherine Morshead
Whacky Wanderer: Possibly Matt Smith's finest hour in his impressive first season as the Doctor, and certainly his cutest. My own dear mother was extremely resistant to Smith because she was so desperately in love with David Tennant (and who can blame her for that?) but come The Lodger she had finally been worn down by just how adorable this new incarnation of the Doctor is. One part Troughton, one part Tennant (his ruthlessness) and two parts Matt Smith's brilliantly quirky and intelligent self, the eleventh Doctor has well and truly flourished come the end of his first year (although for me personally I thought that was when he muched on fish finger custard).
He is an ancient amateur and an absolute dream! I love how he doesn't have a clue about currency and turns up on Craig's doorstep with three grand in a paper bag telling him not to spend it all on sweeties! His gentle air kissing, continental style, is so sweet you just want to hug him. Don't call him the Rotneister. The quiet way he reacts to Mark coming into money suggests 7th Doctor style setting up events after he is done. He learnt to cook in Paris. He looks a little hurt when he admits people never stop telling him he's wierd. Craig looks the Doctor up and down and assumes that he is gay! His singing in the shower is very reminicent of the 3rd Doctor in Spearhead from Space. Seeing the Doctor in the buff is a real eye opener...he's even more of a skinny rake than I imagined! I love how he walks around totally unselfconsciously in the nude. The gentle bromance between the Doctor and Craig is lovely and there is a lot of subtle touching that makes it feel very convincing. The Doctor is the only person in the unvierse (aside from possibly Graham Norton) who would walk up to a bunch of solid looking footballers and start air kissing them! It is wonderful to see the Doctor enjoying himself so much in something as frivolous as football, Matt Smith was clearly having a ball (haha) and it is quite infectious. Like me he cannot bear wine and spits it back into his glass! I love the delicious visual of forcing Craig to drink from a teapot spout. Having worked in a call centre on the phones for over a year I was cheering when he blew raspberries at Craig's nastiest customer! This Doctor really is like me, he sits and has a conversation with the cat (man sometimes they are the only ones who understand).
Surrogate Companions: Since Amy Pond contributes absolutely nothing to the story until the final scene lets instead focus on Craig and Sophie, the Doctor's one time companions for this story. I loved it when Sophie said 'It's just Craig', that feels so real because I think we all have friends who say that when they are comfortable with us. I also think we have all had a friend who has phoned up and ruined plans with their latest drama! Who has ever had feelings so strong that the thought of telling the person that you love them makes you feel physically sick? The Doctor is the unwanted third person in this romance and I've been that person too! Craig's jealousy of the Doctor feels so real, I think we would all feel that way if somebody crashed into our lives who was funnier, more confident and talented than ourselves. Somebody who impresses all of your mates is never wanted. I am not the hugest fan of Amy Pond solo and frankly I think i would have preferred to have had Craig and Sophie throughout this season, they are far more likable.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Six billion people. Watching you two at work I'm starting to wonder where they came from.'
'Is that a lie?' 'Of course its a lie!'
'For Godsake kiss the girl!'
'That's a number to beat.'
The Good Stuff: The threat up the stairs is very Psycho-esque in that it is extremely simple but very menacing. The spreading mould and electric flashes through the window causes your mind to reel at what on Earth is going on up there. I love the scrambler that makes you talk total gibberish. The footie scenes are so unrepresentitive of Doctor Who they should be cherished for that fact alone but they are also gloriously uplifting. The wierd contraption the Doctor builds out of bits and bobs is the modern day Time Flow Analogue from The Time Monster! Ouch - the headbutting 'contact' scene is certainly memorable - imagine th Five Doctors if this had been the method of their pooling of knowledge...it would have been bloody! The twist that the building is only one storey comes from no where and the TARDIS set (designed by a Blue Peter winner?) is fabullusly eerie. The simplicity of the two dovetailing plots through a kiss a little tacky but you still go 'awww' all the same. I really like the idea that we don't know who was trying to build a TARDIS but if I know Moffatt we will find out before his time is up. Amy discovering the ring was a great moment and I couldn't wait to watch the next episode (especially when I saw that awesome next time trailer!).
The Bad Stuff: The Lodger is extremely poorly placed in the season - I would have put this much earlier where we needed to get to know the Doctor better. With the Silurian two part, Van Gogh and The Lodger there are too many small scale character tales in a row and the season lacks the dramatic impetus of a Davies' season at its best (compare to season four at this stage - the Library two parter, Midnight, Turn Left...). Who on Earth is that drunken old soak who shuffled past Craig's place? Would anybody in their right mind actually go up the creepiest set of stairs in the history of first floors? Even if a little girl in pigtails was asking for help from the shadows I would pass! Did Amy have to be so badly sidelined in this story? There is some really gooey squelchy kissing in Craig and Sophie's last scene.
Result: Who ever thought Doctor Who could work as a blokey sitcom? The Lodger is basically a three way character drama between the Dcotor, Craig and Sophie but its far cuter and aimiable than you could ever imagine. Its Matt Smith's sweetest performance in his first season and there is a lot of comic potential in the Doctor trying to fit in in suburban Britain. You wouldn't want to see this sort of thing too often but as an amusing one off it is a perfectly charming production, filmed with a delicate touch and featuring two warming performances from James Corden and Daisy Haggard. Is this the only Doctor Who episode to be inspired by a DWM comic strip? If so lets let Gareth Roberts plunder his own work more often, this is as feelgood as a night night of pizza/booze/telly with good friends: 8/10
The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Toby Haynes
TO BE REVIEWED...