Wednesday, 26 March 2014

School Reunion written by Toby Whithouse and directed by James Hawes


This story in a nutshell: Welcome back, Sarah Jane Smith!

Mockney Dude: This is David Tennant’s early period so he is still coming to terms with the part and looks like an enthusiastic youngster. What really helps sell him as the Doctor is Tennant’s own natural hero worship of Elisabeth Sladen bleeding into the show. When the Doctor is this excited to be reunited with an old companion, so is the audience and even if the new audience that came to the show since its revival don’t know who Sarah Jane is they can see through his reaction that it is clearly someone special. For a moment he is happy to get lost in the past and remember all the good times he had with her and can be seen walking the corridors with a lovely dopey grin on his face. He’s precisely the sort of attractive, dynamic and refreshing supply teacher that we used to get back when I was at school. They always seemed so much cooler than the old stuff shirts that we were usually stuck with. There’s something wrong about the fact that the Doctor moves on because he can’t bear to see the people he loves wither and die. It would be a hard thing to witness but I can’t imagine the Doctor I know and love turning his back on somebody because he can’t face the fact that one day they will be gone. He’s not that much of a coward and surely that would mean that he would never travel with anybody because we’re all going to die eventually (or is it the eventually that is the key to the whole thing?). Much better is the Doctor’s face off with Mr Finch which shows for the first time that David Tennant can bring some real menace to the role. He’s been frantically energetic throughout New Earth and Tooth and Claw but now he gets the chance to bring it down several notches and plays that lonely avenger that was at the heart of his best performances. The Doctor proves himself as a flawed individual once again by falling for Finch’s sales pitch and the chance to save the Time Lords. As usual it is down to Sarah (think of Genesis of the Daleks and Pyramids of Mars) to provide the humane perspective and to remind him that he cannot play God otherwise he would be as bad as the people he fights. As the Doctor mentions in School Reunion, I rather like the idea of him having a little posse too. By the end of this episode it is remarkable how will the Doctor, Rose and the two Smith's all fit together. 

Investigative Journalist: What a triumphant return to the show for Elisabeth Sladen. It is a reunion so successful that it spawned an entire spin off series that lasted five years, which gained popularity in spades and was only brought to a conclusion due to Sladen’s tragic early death. I’ve heard people applaud the show for bringing back such a nostalgic element and doing it so successfully (after the Daleks, Sarah Jane is the biggest link between the classic series and the latest incarnation, successfully bridging the gap between the two and making it smaller) and others bemoan that it re-introduces the character in a way that perverts everything that was good about her in the first place. I am very much in the former category and don’t think that Sladen would have been interested in the role had they represented her character erroneously (listen to her in interviews, she is clearly an actress of great integrity). The implication that seems to stick in peoples craw is that that Sarah was in love with the Doctor which I personally don’t see pushed to the fore with any great passion besides a few fun throwaway references (the ‘guy’ she met once, ‘the missus and the ex’) although it’s one of the few times that I could actually get behind the idea in the classic series because there was such a strong, unspoken chemistry between Sarah and both of her on screen Doctors (and note that, unlike Jo before her and Leela after her, there was never a hint that Sarah having fallen for anybody else during the course of her travels). Go check out her reaction to the Doctor’s ‘deaths’ in Monster of Peladon, Planet of the Spiders and Pyramids of Mars…there is clearly something a bit more complex than the norm going on between these characters. As far as I am concerned Sarah Jane met this amazing man who took her for a whirlwind spin around the galaxy and she was besotted with him (I don’t actually think it was love but a very powerful friendship) and when she returned to Earth (naturally) nobody else could quite match up. That makes sense to me. That’s how I would feel if I were chosen by the Doctor. Once again, Sarah Jane is my identification figure. Her return to the fold as an investigative journalist looking into the unexplained is exactly how we met the character in The Time Warrior and it feels as though we have come full circle. She’s funny, silly, a bit pathetic in places (but then she always could be, that was part of her charm), serious when she needs to be, still asks all the right the questions and is firmly grounded with one foot in reality. All the things that made Sarah so special back in the day. I desperately wanted her to leap in the TARDIS at the end and toss Rose and Mickey out of the doors but then we would have been denied four and half awesome years of the Sarah Jane Adventures. For what could have been a coda to her adventures with the Doctor, this is just about perfect and says all the things that went unspoken in The Hand of Fear.

Sarah Jane comes bouncing into the story, hot on the heels of a mystery and clearly relishing the chance to sniff out a new alien menace. The difference in approach between Sladen and Piper is extraordinary; Sladen chooses to wander the school corridors terrified of the shadows and screams that echo about in the night whereas Piper walks around cocksure and unfazed by the whole thing, taking the mickey (hoho) out her boyfriend. Sladen makes the situation scary, whereas Piper makes it undaunting and causal. I know whose approach I prefer. The scene where she comes face to face with the TARDIS is one of those spine tingling moments that the new series pulls out of the bag every now and again (aided by Murray Gold’s superb score, I might add). I don’t quite understand why Sarah has forgotten the events of The Five Doctors so I can only guess that when the TARDISes were all returned to their correct time and place by Rassilon that everybody had their minds wiped of the events that had taken place. The point here seems to be that Sarah has had no contact with the Doctor since the end of The Hand of Fear. The only thing that could be more delightful than the return of Sarah is the return of K.9 too and together the two of them make a far more attractive prospect than Rose and Mickey. There is something very real about Sarah Jane’s reaction to being dropped back on Earth that speaks to me more than Rose’s jealousy in the face of the revelation that she isn’t the first person to have travelled with the Doctor. Her departure in The Hand of Fear was very sudden and jarring and to go from the life that they had together to one of gas bills and earning a crust would feel like a slap in the face. I would defy anybody to not feel the same if they were forced to leave the TARDIS against their will like that. That little breath that she takes when the Doctor offers to take her with him again says wonders. She’s been wondering all these years what the reason was for being dumped back on Earth was and now she knows it wasn’t anything to do with her. The relief is palpable. And this time she gets to say no and choose to leave of her own volition and find her own life and that just feels right. It’s even more wonderful that we get to see the life that she goes on to lead.

Chavvy Chick: Most New Series episodes have their weaknesses and School Reunion’s is Rose. It’s not even that she is horrendously characterised all of the time because throughout most of the episode she is fine but there are just a few moments when I wanted to break down the fourth wall, jump into the telly and give her a good slap around the chops with a wet fish. This should be Sarah Jane’s story but it tries to be as much about Rose and I think that was a mistake given everything else that it tries to pack in as well. The suggestion during their bitch fight seems to be that Rose could rival Sarah in the companion stakes but she doesn’t have what it takes to stand even half as tall. Jealousy is not a very attractive quality (whatever Russell T Davies might seem to think) and transforming Rose from a strong, independent woman into a seething, green eyed monster was the point where her character was irrevocably damaged as far as I was concerned. There’s a wonderful moment in the musical episode of That 70s Show where everybody is ignoring Fez and walking around saying ‘what about me me me…’ in a parody of how self interested that cast of characters can be at times. That is basically all I hear when Rose bursts out of the café and confronts the Doctor about ‘really seeing the future’ and how unimportant she is in the grand scheme of things. Somehow she always manages to bring a situation around to how it affects her more than anybody else. That might be realistic in the grand scheme of things but it isn't very attractive. The Doctor hasn’t met anybody quite this self-interested since Tegan (who was irritating for very different reasons). Just when I was starting to come round to the Rose/Sarah relationship she has a fatal reaction to Mickey’s suggestion to join them in the TARDIS. What is wrong with the woman? Doesn’t she know how to be happy for other people?

The Tin Dog: Mickey fits in rather well at this point, although it has to be said that he is treated appallingly by both the Doctor and Rose (this would continue through the next handful of episodes).  Only Sarah Jane gives him the time of day which leads to one of his best ever scenes where he realises that he is the ‘tin dog.’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I can’t believe its you!’ SCRRRREEEAAAMMM! ‘Okay, now I can!’
‘You can tell you’re getting older when your assistants get younger.’ 
‘In the year 5000 this was cutting edge!’
‘And what of the Time Lords? I always thought of you as such a pompous race. Ancient, dusty Senators. So frightened of change and chaos.’
‘You act like such a radical and yet all you want to do is preserve the old order.’
‘No, the universe has to move forward. Pain and loss they define as much as happiness or love. Whether it’s a world or a relationship, everything has its time and everything ends’ – this is beautifully played by Elisabeth Sladen and has only gained more strength in the wake of her death.
You bad dog…’ ‘Affirmative!’
‘Goodbye, my Sarah Jane…’
‘He replaced you with a brand new model!’ ‘Affirmative!’ ‘Yeah, he does that.’

The Good:

  • I thought I had struck gold when I heard what the list of elements making this particular episode were. Not only were we being re-introduced to Sarah Jane but also Anthony Head was making a guest appearance as the central villain. Head is somebody I have longed to see make an appearance in Doctor Who (his turn in the Big Finish Excelis series was appallingly handled for the most part) after his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and he acquits himself beautifully here. Mr Finch is a fine, oily bad guy who gets a terrific backstory, a marvellous visual identity (turning into a Krillitane off screen) and a scary raison d’etre (being the figurehead of a race of opportunists that cherry pick the best bits of the people they destroy). To top it all off he even gets to gobble down children! It’s a great role for Head and he proves marvellously smooth and sinister in the role. Eugene Washington makes for a creepy presence as Mr Wagner too, luring the children and teachers to their deaths. I love how Finch is still picking bits of teacher out of his teeth when he returns to his office to initiate the plan. That is one villain without table manners.
  • It’s a pretty sharp script by Toby Whithouse, getting to the point about the children being hyper intelligent extremely quickly, revealing how it is done (via the chips) in the next scene and given Sarah Jane a way into the story.
  • As An Unearthly Child, Invasion of the Dinosaurs and Remembrance of the Daleks prove, Doctor Who feels very at home in a school setting. There is something about the mixture of the mundane and the extraordinary that takes place there that sums up the magic of the show better than almost any other setting. I love the idea of something sinister happening behind the scenes, children slaved to computers in back rooms and having their imaginations drained and the ensuing creativity trying to crack the secrets of the universe. It touches upon Davies’ own Dark Season and works as a homage to Marc Platt’s Downtime (which also starred Elisabeth Sladen). Instead of the monsters going after something ridiculous like everlasting life or super powers they are instead trying to gain control of the building blocks of the universe. It’s an audacious concept and one well worth waiting for. If the Krillatines were successful in cracking the code they would have been able to reshape reality as we know it to their design. It’s a terrifying prospect and one that could have seen the end of the Doctor’s adventures (or rather wiping the slate so he never existed). Who knows what kind of miserable universe they would have conjured up? I'm guessing much like that of Turn Left.
  • Either a large slice of the budget has been devoted to bringing the Krillitane to life or The Mill has simply gotten better at this sort of thing since the likes of the Jagrafess in series one. Either way they are stunningly realised monsters that look and sound suitably scary (I love the sudden screams they exude out of those thin mouths, dribbling with drool) and look authentic crawling along the walls of the school and silhouetted by the moon. There is something fluidic about their movement that makes them one of the most naturalistic of monsters and if my brain wasn’t hard wired to tell you they are special effects I could almost be convinced they were the real thing. They are so successful visually it baffles me that they haven’t been brought back for a second airing.
  • Murray Gold is fired up by this material and provides some of his most memorable music for season two. All the scenes surrounding the Krillitanes and the cracking of the Skasis Paradigm are enhanced by his melodramatic stylings and use of a male choir and the Sarah Jane theme is beautifully done, especially during their moment in gardens outside the TARDIS.
  • The fact that Sarah was whistling down a road in Aberdeen at the end of The Hand of Fear is hilarious. He got it wrong again.
  • The Rose/Sarah monster bitch off is one of the funniest things that the New Series has ever presented. It’s a glorious walk through some of the more memorable nasties that they have both encountered, exquisitely played by Sladen and Piper and every geeks dream come true. Two beautiful women arguing over who has met the more monstrous aliens. It makes me laugh every time. ‘The Loch Ness Monster!’ ‘Seriously?’ It’s the turning point in their relationship too and it’s great to see the pair laughing together and comparing the Doctor’s foibles (much to his annoyance). Suddenly this pairing works.
  • Who hasn’t wanted to smash through their school in a car? This scene must have been relished by the children watching and even I, years after my time in education, punched the air as Mickey came crashing through the main doors.
  • I cannot tell you the delight I experience every time I watch the sequence where K.9 appears to save his friends who are being menaced by the Krillatines in the lunch hall. Just the sound of that nose blaster makes my heart sing. There’s something in-built in me that just loves K.9 to pieces so when it looks like this might be his curtain call I was on the verge of reaching for the tissues on my first viewing. The thought of no more adventures with this daft tin dog broke my heart and the exchange between him and the Doctor before he blasts the oil is played for maximum effect. Sarah’s horrified reaction to his sacrifice adds much to the effect too, as usual she manages to make even the most ridiculous of things credible and, in this case, heartbreaking.
  • The last scene between the Doctor and Sarah is one of my favourites in the entire run of Doctor Who, from the classic series right the way through to its latest incarnation. The gamut of emotions it takes me through each time I watch it (even on first transmission I was blubbing like a baby but it is even more affecting since we have lost Sladen) is extraordinary. It is a fitting goodbye scene for the best of friends, a reminder that the Doctor doesn’t forget his mates and an affirmation that Sarah was the most special of companions. If the hug doesn’t set me off (it usually does) then the sight of Sarah walking away from the TARDIS for the last time alone usually does and if all else fails the triumphant return of K.9 and how they walk off into the sunset together to start a new life finishes me off. Had this been Sarah’s last appearance in Doctor Who, it would have been the perfect way to see her off. Fortunately the show still had a number of uses for her yet.
The Bad:
  • I remain deeply unconvinced about the whole Krillitane oil being their downfall. It strikes me as an easy get out clause which is introduced early to try and convince the audience that it is a clever plot device when it is pulled out at the end. It is just as simplistic and obvious as Hexachromite gas was in Warriors of the Deep. There are a fair few cop solutions of this nature during Davies' time. 
  • Picking child actors is a lottery. With Kenny, Milo and Melissa the production team drew the short straw. Fortunately the episode doesn’t rest on their performance and they barely feature. Fear Her wasn’t half as lucky. Mind you the cockney dinner lady is hardly a great success either. I can get behind the excitement of the school being blown up (it’s every kids fantasy, surely?) but not the hero worship for the fat kid at the end. Like that would ever happen.
 The Shallow Bit: Sladen looks more radiant than ever. Did she age backwards?

Result: With the Doctor investigating a supernatural mystery with an attractive cast of characters, the school setting, witty dialogue and the presence of Anthony Head, Russell T Davies has finally managed to meld Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the way he has mooted ever since the show was brought back. It is just as engaging as Joss Whedon’s opus too, and has the feel of a really good episode that could have sprung from one of the first three seasons. However with the return of Sarah Jane, School Reunion is much more than just a homage to another show, it is a terrific character drama in its own right. It is a furiously paced mystery with some memorable set pieces and a satisfying resolution that is tied into the theme of loss that the series (since the absence of the Time Lords) is exploring. I’m amazed at how much they managed to pack into this one episode without any of it feeling overly rushed; the Doctor gets a number of great moments (his face off with Finch and his temptation at bringing back the Time Lords), Mickey gets to prove his worth once again, there is space for a fabulously oily villain and scenes of icky monsters tearing about the school threatening to snack down on the children. At the heart of the episode though is Elisabeth Sladen’s triumphant return to the series and she sets my heart fluttering whenever she appears. Sarah is still feisty, nosy, nervous and brave - it feels like she has never been away and I love the way she so effortlessly shows the newbies how it should be done. She’s scared when she needs to be, asks the right questions, queries the Doctor’s motives only when absolutely necessary and remains as resourceful as ever. I would have killed for a season with the tenth Doctor and Sarah Jane but I take some comfort in the fact that their paths would cross three times more in the course of the two series. Sladen’s efforts here are rewarded tenfold by the advent of The Sarah Jane Adventures and for that alone I will always be thankful for this episode. Aside from the alienation of Rose, School Reunion ticks most of my boxes and whilst it isn’t perfect (too many irritating kid actors for a start) it does have an awful lot going for it and enough fan pleasing elements to have me punching the air, beaming like a lunatic and blubbing like a baby: 9/10

Monday, 24 March 2014

Scavenger written by William Gallagher and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: Thursday 28 May 2071: the day the Anglo-Indian Salvage 2 rocket launches. Its mission: to clean up space; to remove from Earth’s orbit over a century’s worth of man-made junk… From the viewing window of a nearby space station, the Doctor and Flip have a unique view of Salvage 2 as it sets about its essential task – and of the disaster that unfolds when Salvage 2 encounters something it’s not been programmed to deal with. Something not of human manufacture… Back on Earth, the Doctor fights to save Flip from becoming part of a 500-year tragedy being played out in orbit, hundreds of miles above. And millions will die if he fails.

Softer Six: The Doctor is trying to make Flip understand that only a few remarkable people have had the opportunity to see the Earth from space in her time. He tries to make her take it in and appreciate it. Like he mentioned in The Fourth Wall, why would they be watching the goggle box when they could be experiencing events first hand. I have to say, I got a little kick every time the Doctor said 'Jyoti.' He's looking forward to showing Flip India, after the current crisis is over of course. The Doctor can't resist a little boasting about how he helped get Space Guard started. Once upon a time the Doctor did a trick in space with a single cricket ball, obviously he had no imagination then because now he is playing dominoes with satellites. The Doctor has what you call a working knowledge of history. He would do anything to try and save Flip but when she is trapped in an alien death machine that is attempting to wipe out everybody in New Delhi he cannot find an argument where her life is worth saving more than the entire population of a city. People usually believe him when he says he will be back later. The Doctor has absolute faith in the fact that he will be able to save Flip, which makes his defeat all the more crushing. Listen as he confidently strides through the last episode, tying up all the loose ends and leaving the retrieval of his companion to the last minute because both he and Flip have absolute faith in his ability to save his friends. He has learnt from experience that discretion is sometimes the better part of valour. Boastful Sixie returns when both the Doctor and Salim are willing to sacrifice themselves to Scavenger to save Flip/Anarkali and he points out in no uncertain terms that nothing compares to the knowledge packed away in a Time Lord's brain. Even though Salim set this process in operation centuries ago, the Doctor feels like this is his responsibility for waking up Scavenger all these years later. A desperate Jessica asks the Doctor to take her away in the TARDIS to escape her fate which he appears to be considering until she offers him money.

What the Flip?: Is this the end for Phillipa Jackson? Unless the next sixth Doctor trilogy picks up where this story leaves us that would certainly seem to be the case and in a way I would almost be happier if that were the case because it is something that has never been tried with a Doctor Who companion before. Leaving their fate unresolved and in the hands of the audience. Scavenger is a great final story for Flip (if this should be the case) because she gets a huge chunk of the action, gets to put her life in danger (which seems to be her raison d'etre) and share some memorable exchanges with the Doctor. It feels as though they have travelled together for a long time at this point, even if we have only been privy to six (technically seven) of their adventures. There have clearly been a wealth of stories that we haven't been able to listen to but you can make them up yourself. Flip is still banging on about Tranquillity so the Doctor has obviously not managed to keep his promise to take her back there. Flip understands the Doctor is the type that requires flattery to get things done...and she just lets him talk his way through his miraculous solutions. Flip understands their strengths and where she and he are needed in a crisis. She's always being told off for running off but this time she is staying put and helping where she is needed. Flip has a younger brother and with one you learn how to get things done. What is it with the sixth Doctor's audio companions floating around in space. First Evelyn got into spot of bother in The Feast of Axos and now Flip is having to calm herself down as she makes an emergency evacuation from the Nelson Mandela Space Station by jumping out of the nearest airlock in a spacesuit. They saved some people on the NMSS and as far as Flip is concerned that is what they are there for. Her parents had always wanted a boy and when they finally had one they pretty much left Flip to her own devices (they even named him Philip just to rub salt into the wound). Comparing her family with Jyoti's, she wishes hers had been bothered enough to tell her to see the world. You get a real sense of a girl who would never have amounted to anything because she was never given a sense of self worth until the Doctor came along. Now her confidence is sky high because she has seen so much and saved so many people, she truly believes she is somebody worthwhile now. Trapped inside Scavenger, deprived of oxygen and heading towards the Nelson Mandela Space Station to murder everybody on board, Flip quietly admits that she wants to go home. That finally this has all become too much for her. As the missiles scream towards her she gives the Doctor the gift of telling him that he has taken her everywhere she has wanted to go. If she is to die here, she doesn't want him to think for one second that she regrets travelling with him. That is a very selfless thing to do when you are facing execution.

Standout Performance: I am a huge fan of Anjili Mohindra and have been ever since she first set foot onto Bannerman Road in The Sarah Jane Adventures. I think it is a criminal shame that I haven't seen more of her on TV since Elisabeth Sladen's death but she discusses the amount of work she has been doing in the theatre since then. I will have to see if I can catch something if it comes to town. Mohindra gives a charismatic performance as Jyoti, an Indian astronaut that befriends the Doctor and Flip. You don't have to be told that Anjili and Lisa Greenwood get on like a house on fire away from the microphones (having met at a convention and remaining firm friends ever since) as they share an instant chemistry. However this story belongs to Colin Baker and Lisa Greenwood who both get some juicy dramatic opportunities. The Doctor is on the ground trying to weave his way through the politics and sort out a hundred and one technical problems at once which gives Baker the chance to take control and command his way through the story. And that's just how I like him. Flip is trapped in space in the most dire peril, her mind being invaded by an alien device and trying to tell herself that she isn't petrified of dying alone and terrified. Greenwood has never been better, Flip is a quick thinker and brave with it but by the end of this tale she is reduced to a frightened little girl who genuinely thinks she is going to die.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Look down there, Flip. The whole world bursting with life and energy and potential. Just India there, India alone has more variety and vitality than some entire planets than I've been to. Humanity is exciting, it's the only word for it. And yet for all that humanity is vibrant, exciting and yes, indomitable...you really are the most terrible litter bugs!'
'Who kicks footballs into space? Frank Lampard?'

Great Ideas: The Nelson Mandela International Space Station - that is a rather well timed tribute to the recently deceased President. Clean Up Space 2071: Britain has provided financial support to the Indian Space Agency to clean up space junk. Dead satellites, rocket engine fragments, nuclear reactors...dangerous equipment flying through space that could cause terrible destruction. The Doctor rather cleverly uses Space Guard to force two satellites to hit each other, causing a chain reaction of dominoes so a satellite is thrown into the path of Jyoti and Flip to grab onto. How incredible would it be to see that sequence realised? Unfortunately the final satellite is Scavenger and the nudge that the Doctor gives it reboots its systems. And then their troubles really begin...  Jessica Allaway won Wimbledon in 2057 and is now on board the CupS programme as a British expert. Gallagher made a smart move when he decided to make Scavenger an alien device because the Doctor has to try and puzzle it out as the story progresses. Part mechanical, part sonic, part laser - like a real scavenger it takes what it needs from a spy satellite to complete its mission. Gallagher needed to add another element to the story since four episodes of the Doctor trying to outwit and alien probe might have run out of steam. He injects a little exotic history into the mix, telling the story of the Crown Prince Salim and his romance with the slave girl Anarkali and their connection to the Scavenger. The Doctor discounts this theory because he met the author of this fiction, Abdul Halim Sharar, in another life but upon reflection it turns out that Salim was Sharar telling an autobiographical tale. People say that Anarkali was executed for being in love with Salim, dying between two walls but the truth is much more insane. Scavenger landed in 1600 Century India and took Anarkali from Salim, needing a living mind enslaved within its circuitry. Salim had a cough and was considered imperfect by the alien device, which was why it took his lover instead. Since then Salim has never aged and has worked tirelessly to try and get his love back. Now Scavenger is awake it is going to prowl in orbit of the Earth, seek out every space station, satellite and probe and take them apart for any equipment it might need. Flip is trapped inside without depleted oxygen and it is going to start with the Nelson Mandela, sucking out all of their oxygen to keep the host alive. It is an insidious, unstoppable device. Scavenger's masters sent it to Earth to look for high technology and when it discovered nothing of use in the 17th century it put itself into hibernation until Earth's technology was sufficiently developed to be worth scavenging. The TARDIS resists landing on Salvage-2 because it fears that Scavenger will start dismantling it for spares. When Jessica sends up missiles to destroy Scavenger, Salim reacts by having Salvage-2 scoop up and consume the alien device and programmes it to drop Scavenger off outside their front door. It was the only way to save his long lost love and the Doctor's friend. Slavage-2 is not strong enough to hold the device and it breaks free, ripping its captor to shreds. Scavenger starts cleaning up the Earth, seeing its inhabitants as junk littering the surface. The Doctor gambles that Flip's desire to be somewhere else would be stronger than Scavenger's desire to clean up the Earth. Which is the case, but it confirms what he already suspected that Flip is becoming part of the machine. Scavenger needs hosts and it goes to great lengths to protect them but only as long as it takes to absorb them into its workings. Anarkali would have died from oxygen starvation whilst her mind was slaved to the machine, which is exactly what is happening to Flip now.

Audio Landscape: Walking on gantries, swishing doors, a shuttle launching, alarms, two satellites colliding, typing, a fantastic voice for Scavenger, cameras snapping, rewinding a tape, firing lasers, drums banging, water trickling, Scavenger crash landing, firing on New Delhi, fire trucks sounding, Flip leaping from Scavenger...

Isn't it Odd: Whilst the characterisation is generally very strong in this release (especially the Doctor and Flip), I found myself getting more and more irritated by Jessica's constant racist slurs and divination of the British. Pretty much every line that she has in the story comes with a caveat that the British are ultimately a superior race. It turns her into a one-note, thoroughly unpleasant character. Mind you without her the story would lack a human protagonist of any kind so perhaps it is good that there is someone to hiss at. Her downfall at the end of the story is very satisfying. I'm always complaining about antagonistic characters of this nature being inserted into stories simply to increase the running time (Classic Doctor Who was notorious for this) and to cause obstructions to the plot...so to learn that Jessica's plan all along was to cause a deliberate obstruction to Scavenger programme was actually rather clever. Her exposure means an end to her thus far illustrious career.

Standout Scene: The final scene really stands out because at last there is a real emotional connection between the Doctor and Flip, just as they are about to be separated. She's standing on the edge of Scavenger running out of oxygen and considering jumping to Earth, leaving a message for him completely unaware that he is listening. She wonders if he brought her to the Nelson Mandela for such a spectacular view of the Earth to make her home sick, to encourage her to leave him now the holiday is over. She thinks she is a liability to him, and that he wants to head off and find out what has happened to Peri. The whole time the Doctor is listening, objecting, and appalled that she could think he would ever want to get rid of her. Flip has always been hasty to jump into action and so it is quite appropriate that her final act should be her most reckless moment of all. I had goosebumps as she finally jumped, her scream filling the headphones. What a great way to depart, her fate unconfirmed. Always go out leaving them wanting more.

Result: Pacy, dramatic and ending on an emotional high, Scavenger is by far the best of this trilogy of sixth Doctor adventures. Be warned there is a lot of astrobabble inherent in this adventure but that cannot be avoided in a cat and mouse chase between the Doctor and an alien device that is on the scavenge for biological an technological parts, including wiring up Flip to its systems and attempting to dismantle a space station. If you like your plot-based Doctor Who then this might just be the story for you as Scavenger is packed full of incident and clever manoeuvres to try and outwit the death machine, including playing dominoes with satellites, missile strikes, an attack on India and even some exotic mythology thrown in to add some local colour. This is probably the closest a Big Finish adventure has ever come to techno porn but Gallagher ensures that the pace is furious and the gadgetry is always being used in an exciting way. In the midst of all this you have the Doctor trying to cope with international relations whilst trying to use the technology he has to outwit the alien scavenger. For a time it looks like he might have bitten off more than he can chew. And caught up in the machinations of Scavenger is Flip, scared and alone, and facing certain death. Kudos to both Colin Baker and Lisa Greenwood who make this pairing work better than ever before, especially during the final few minutes where it looks as though they are about to ripped apart forever. It was a bold move to put Flip on hiatus in such an uncompromising, perilous fashion but sure leaves you hanging on an unforgettable note. I wouldn't suggest listening to Scavenger in one go because there is relatively little relief for its two hour length and you might find it heavy going. One episode a night over four nights means you can space out the excitement and really enjoy the shift into high drama in the last episode. Nick Briggs ensures that the story never flags and he has assembled a strong cast who make the most of their roles. Scavenger might not be to everyone's tastes but it knows precisely what it is doing - providing a thrill ride in space with some strong emotional beats. As a farewell to Flip it is a triumph: 8/10

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Hastings Half Marathon!

I completed the Hastings half marathon today - 2hrs 7mins! We raised a fantastic £737.00 for a local Eastbourne Hospice and there is still money pouring in. I know plenty of you guys donated and so many of you anonymously so I cannot thank you personally. Thank you so much for your generosity - it was a crazy fun day and I loved every second of it :-)





Monday, 17 March 2014

The Brood of Erys written by Andrew Smith and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: Space travellers are warned to keep away from the area of the planet Asphya and its unremarkable moon Erys. Not the best place to materialise the TARDIS, then – as the Doctor discovers when his ship is raided by the imp-like Drachee, and his companion Flip is carried away… But the TARDIS isn’t the only stricken vessel in the region. Aboard a nearby space yacht, the Doctor encounters a woman who holds in her head the secret of Erys – a secret suppressed by amnesia, or worse. Flip, too, is about to learn Erys’ secret. But once you know Erys’ secret, you can never escape.

Softer Six: Andrew Smith has a fine handle on the sixth Doctor, his mannerisms and attitude. If Colin Baker thinks that is the case, who am I disagree? The Doctor is recalibrating the TARDIS systems which is precisely the sort of thing he seemed to be doing every other week in the mid eighties. The TARDIS is fascinating for most people but he is not willing to turn it into a crèche for intergalactic spawn. The Drachee mind control causes great pain for him but he is more than a match for their mental powers. He's quick about saving Sara when it is clear that her space yacht is going to explode. I can't imagine any other Doctor squaring up to a living moon with quite the same brashness and authority as Sixie,  I can see him there with his hands planted in his sides and standing tall against such a powerful adversary. Do we believe for one moment that the Doctor will be stripped of the TARDIS forever? No, and given he gets over the shock pretty quickly I gather neither did he. Mind you at least he would be stuck in a pretty interesting place, having the chance to converse with a living moon for all eternity. As is so often the case...he has an idea. There are vulnerable points in every living being and the Doctor knows it will only be a matter of time before he discover Eyrs'. Colin Baker makes the Doctor's reunion with Flip a palpably triumphant moment before telling her off for attempting another reckless act. In the Doctor's experience there are very few creatures that are truly evil, just misunderstood, and he certainly thinks that Erys falls into that category. Where everybody else sees a being to fear, the Doctor sees a living moon in pain trying to protect its young. His chat with Erys after his surgery is rather lovely, too old beings who have seen the universe change around them discussing the weight of parenthood and companionship. The thought of Peri is strong in him at the moment, another mention of her after last month. Are we leading up to the Doctor seeking some answers about the fate of his former companion? There is a nice parallel made with Erys' situation and the Doctor's decision at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Digging into the Doctor's memories, Erys can see a time when he found it necessary to let the person he loved more than all others go for her own good. It is a lesson that Erys can learn from with his own children who want to see the universe. He has regretted his decision to shut Susan out of the TARDIS many times, even wished it undone, because he has missed her. There is no doubt in his mind that it was the best thing for Susan.

What the Flip?: I had an interesting discussion recently with one of my friends with regards to the role of the companion and whether they perhaps get a little too much exposure in the new series at the Doctor's expense. There is an argument to be made there, especially with Moffat openly admitting that he thinks that the companion is even more vital to the success of the series than the Doctor. Umm...check out the title of the show again. I only bring this up because I have read some criticism of Flip in recent months and some scathing comparisons to other companions of late who perhaps have been given more exposure and focus. Hex and Ace have dominated the seventh Doctor stories. The fifth Doctor has all but vanished in the melee of companions that he is juggling. And the subtitle of the latest eighth Doctor saga is named after his latest companion, such is her importance to the running storyline. In comparison Flip is content to be a part of the stories that she is involved in but she doesn't control them. She's a Doctor Who assistant in the classic mould, somebody to bounce ideas off, to get into trouble, to provide an engaging subplot and to bring a bit of humanity and life and perkiness to the stories. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. Should Scavenger turn out to be her final adventure I wouldn't call her run a failure simply because they decided that for once the Doctor should have an assistant and not an equal, personality wise. Plus Lisa Greenwood has been consistently likable in the role and seems to get better with each passing story. The problem doesn't seem to be Greenwood with the wider audience but that the character doesn't seem to be going on some great emotional journey that exposes a tortured back story and that she is happy travelling with the Doctor and isn't blaming him for all the universes woes. Because that seems to be the norm these days. I would quite happily enjoy more trilogies with Flip just as she is but I fear if she were to return that these elements would start to creep in. So maybe it might be just as well that she is confined to seven stories where she manages to provide able support for the Doctor and have a whale of a time in his company.

I like the way Flip makes (sorry) flippant comparisons between the future technological marvels with contemporary technology that she understands. She brings it down to a level that is far easier to comprehend. Is Flip an idiot for letting the Drachee into the TARDIS to scamper about? Perhaps, but under the same circumstances I might have done the same thing if they were sufficiently cute enough. So I guess that makes an idiot too. Flip is a lot of fun when rounding up the Drachee in the TARDIS (it is her responsibility after all), treating them like naughty children. She's frightened of spiders, especially when they are twice the size of her. She's not dismissive about the danger she is in but Flip is familiar with the idea of living worlds, having been transported to Symbiosis when she first met the Doctor. After flying a Skylight in Wirrn Isle, Flip is ready and willing to jump into a skimmer to escape Erys for good. As much as I was enjoying Flip's adventures on her own (when he life is threatened she really is very capable) but I was pleased when she met up with Elgin and was able to converse once again. She's happy to use herself as bait for the mud creatures whilst the Doctor does whatever he has to do despite his protestations. Living dangerously is becoming a bit of a habit for her. I would have spat my coffee out if Erys had stated Flip as the companion that the Doctor elevated above all the others...and her reaction when she discovers that it is Susan is hilarious. Flip understands that the Doctor wants to go off in search of Peri and feels no animosity because he does. She worries that one day he might want to shut her out of the TARDIS as he did Susan but he alleviates her fears.

Standout Performance: How do you go about playing a living moon? With a lack of gravity of course! Boom boom! Brian Shelley turns in a terrific performance as Erys, able to play a benevolent deity as convincingly as he is a jealous parent. There is no doubt that Erys is a being of great power in Shelley's hands, his operatic voice booms in the minds of those who dare to approach. I also want to give a small round of applause to Chris Overton as Terril, a part the requires him to swing from playful to sinister and working through a rather comical voice modulation he achieves both extremely well.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Child? Bit creepy...'
'Short version; kidnapped by aliens, spoken to by a moon, swallowed by the ground, run away in one of their skimmers.'
'How do you kill a planet?'
'A lonely childhood, a rebellious adolescence, you couldn't wait to get away from your people and your planet Gallifrey, could you? So many adventures you have had in your travels. So many enemies but so many friends...' - the Doctor gives Erys his memories to aid in his recovery.
'Evil just shouts louder than goodness.'

Great Ideas: The teaser is a fine red herring that leads you to believe that the man hypnotising Sara is a villainous sort who is using her against her will when the story goes on to prove that this entire sequence is nothing of the sort. One planet all alone in a system with a ring of radio beacons warning people away. This might be one of those times when discretion is the better part of valour. Within 15 minutes Andrew Smith creates a memorable setting, the TARDIS is invaded, Flip is kidnapped, the TARDIS has the life crushed out of her, a ship screams out of hyperspace and the Doctor meets the sole inhabitant and we visit an alien world...it feels like The Brood of Erys is trying to make up for how slow Antidote to Oblivion was. I like the very Terrance Dicks way that the Asphians are represented solely by one figurehead - it is an economical way to give a race of people a personality. I can remember on my first listen that I found the Asphians a little sketchy as a race...which was a problem until the twist was revealed. Way to get out having to give these people any great depth and get away with it, Andrew! The Drachee bring to bear terrible mental agonies on the Asphians as though it was simply sport to them, the creatures at this point seemingly a force for evil. Once it is revealed that the Asphians are merely avatars it changes the whole emphasis, this situation no different to parents allowing their children to play violent video games. Erys is violent towards outsiders because in the past people have come to mine his carcass and take his children away. What else should a parent do but protect himself and his brood in whatever possible? The mining cartels of the neighbouring systems have tried many subterfuges to land their people on Erys. Sara is quite an interesting prospect because it would appear that her amnesia gives Smith another chance to skip over any deeper characterisation but in reality he is saving her story for the latter episodes. When she attempts to destroy Erys it appears that she is a programmed terrorist when that is far from the truth. Smith works several of these misunderstandings into his story, the information missing to put the events in context. There is a fascinating biological cycle on Erys, with the moon providing the nutrients that nourish and strengthen the Drachee, just like a mother providing milk for her young. You've got to love the notion of Flip tethering herself to the console (via the seatbelts from Timelash) and given she doesn't know how to fly the Ship getting Elgin to fling the ship through space to crash land on the planet. What a girl. She's safe because of the TARDIS dimensional interface, the interior dimension counteracting the effects of the exterior one. Erys made the people of Asphya, they are nothing but avatars, creatures made out of the elements of Asphya. With so much going on elsewhere, I'm not sure we really needed the twist about Erys creating his own Drachee spy to walk amongst his children and discover what their plans are. It is the equivalent of a parent dressing up as one of the kidz and hanging out in their gang to see what they get up to in private. Pretty creepy. But it does allow the story to fling in a new direction, one where Erys is angry and creates mortals of mud to murder those who have incensed him. The mention of the survivors of wrecked ships existing somewhere on Erys whose minds are used to create the avatars on Asphya is a huge clue as to the motive behind Sara's journey to the living moon. There are illicit tours run by unscrupulous entrepreneurs to Erys, danger seekers who want to experience the thrill of landing on the living moon. Sara's husband runs such a tour and arranged for their children to be able to experience one of the tours, a birthday treat for Jen. When they all went missing Sara went to the authorities but they refused to send out a rescue party because they were too afraid of Erys and its children.  Sara asked for a mind wipe so she could reach Erys unscathed - how can you afflict a mind that is vacant? She planned to injure the moon just enough to be able to find her family and get away. Much like The Feast of Axos, this story features the sixth Doctor walking around inside a living thing and manipulating various biological components to provoke a reaction. With Erys willing to let his children head off and explore and allow the neighbouring races to visit the future is uncertain, but its looking optimistic.

Audio Landscape: Read through this section and see what a challenge it must have been for Steve Foxon to bring this story to life. It is to his credit that it The Brood of Erys is convincing throughout, no matter how weird things get. Hypnotising beam, the skimmers screaming through space and halting by the TARDIS, landing on the TARDIS, the Drachee whooping an screaming and scampering about the TARDIS, the Drachee mind control, the space yacht leaving hyperspace, explosions inside the space yacht, the ship exploding in space, splashing through mud, tearing the protective film, a shivering, hissing spider, screams, bubbling mud, water dripping, Flip ascending in a skimmer, an explosion contained within mucus, the skimmer powering down, the Asphians being dissolved by Erys, the feeder tubes pumping nutrients into the captors, the mud creatures squelching forward and growling, being swallowed into the ground, draining the containers.

Musical Cues: It might give you a headache after a while (turn your headphones down then) but the persistent drum beat that kicks in during the action sequences really give the story a feeling of movement.

Isn't it Odd: One place where I really thought that Smith missed out was in tying the Doctor/Flip relationship into the theme of parenthood. By the end of their first trilogy they were being mistaken for father and daughter and his constant chastising of her reckless attitude was pleasing paternal. And yet Smith has the two characters split for the majority of the story and doesn't probe their relationship enough, beyond a little berate for her risk with the TARDIS in episode three. This could have been the breakout story for the pair in respect of their father/daughter interaction. It was made for it. Is this in contradiction to what I was saying earlier about Flip? Not really, because there is no reason that an examination of their relationship had to be drowned in angst. The ending of the Sara plot is a little too glib. She frees her family and they all go home unscathed. That's a little easy, isn't it? I would be furious if my husband endangered my children like this.

Standout Scene: The opening sequence in the TARDIS that sees the Drachee flying towards and landing on the TARDIS and gaining access are exactly the sort of effects marvels that work far better in your head than could ever have been realised at the time. On audio this is genuinely exciting idea and one that I can consign the appropriate mental budget to. An invasion of the TARDIS by childlike imps flooding through the doors - anybody who says this story has nothing new to offer is mistaken because there has never been anything quite like this in the series before (the closest I can think of is Biroc's invasion of the ship in Warriors' Gate).

Result: 'Living planets aren't easy to kill...' Really rather engaging if perhaps an episode too long, The Brood of Erys is a story that defies description because it juggles a lot of very big ideas with a very blasé attitude. Don't listen to the naysayers the suggest that this is a traditional Doctor Who story because despite a few familiar ideas, there are very few stories that resemble this one. Andrew Smith is a pretty reliable pair of hands these days and he has written a fast moving script that gives both the Doctor and Flip plenty to do, creates an interesting SF setting on a grand scale, includes a couple of guest characters with some surprises up their sleeves (Sara and her father transform from terrorists to concerned relatives as the story progresses) and works the theme of parenthood into his story in a number of thought provoking ways. It isn't a piece of art but there is a great deal going on and most of it is well worth listening to. This is the ideal kind of story for Nick Briggs to helm, one where he gets to flex his directorial muscles and bring an entire alien solar system to life complete with a living moon, several alien races and all kinds of actions sequences. The soundscape for this story (including the pacy score) is exceptional, Steven Foxon doing his usual sterling job. Colin Baker clearly feels much more comfortable this month and gets to command his way through the story, squaring up to and ultimately forming a relationship with a living moon. It is a shame that he and Flip are separated so quickly, especially since a story about parenthood seems perfectly set up to explore their relationship in quite a probing way. However, it does give Lisa Greenwood the chance to head her own subplot, Flip once again put through the physical and psychological wringer. Where does The Brood of Erys go wrong then? I would say there is enough material to comfortably tell a three part story but at four parts certain sections are stretched a bit, even if each of the cliff-hangers do all branch the story off in a new direction. Some of the action is a little repetitive but the change of rapid change of locations does help in that respect. After reading some sour reviews of this story I came to it expecting the worst and found myself pleasantly surprised. It's not vintage Doctor Who but it is a solid action adventure tale with some interesting concepts in play. I was rather charmed by how unpretentious the whole piece was, being content to tell a story unencumbered by angst. It was rather refreshing for it: 7/10

Monday, 10 March 2014

Tooth and Claw written by Russell T Davies and directed by Euros Lyn


This story in a nutshell: A werewolf…and Queen Victoria!

Mockney Dude: Coming straight off the icky ‘I love you so much Doctor’ vibe from New Earth we now have an established Tenth Doctor and a companion that adores him. At times it veers on the edge of smugness (especially in the face of Queen Victoria) but the early scenes of the two of them dancing around the console to 70s pop and laughing their heads off as the TARDIS crash lands is probably the most content you will ever see this two without wanting to physically tear them apart. Next up it's jealousy corner with Sarah Jane and Madame de Pompadour so it's nice to see a jolly Doctor and his perky assistant just having a laugh in the style of the classic series without any nauseous romance angle getting involved. Tennant’s face when he mentions Margaret Thatcher is a peach. There is something rather lovely about the Doctor introducing Rose to Queen Victoria as if he does this sort of thing all the time now – it isn't awestruck wonder when he meets historical figures, it's more been there/done that and enjoying the experience through his companions' sense of excitement. Bringing Tennant’s natural Scots accent to the fore was a great idea and it is a shame that he wasn’t able to play the part with it all the time. It is very sexy. The Doctor’s reaction to the werewolf (‘that’s beautiful!’) is spot on and instantly secured my attention that he was the Doctor. I remember thinking when the Doctor puts his specs on and declares books the greatest weapon they could have I was grinning from ear to ear because Tennant’s tenth Doctor had finally arrived and I was completely entranced by him. Manic, driven, intelligent and with crazy hair – this is a new hip and very sexy Doctor. And this is a manic, intelligent, crazy, hip and very sexy episode for him to truly sell himself in. I love scene at the end where the Doctor and Rose were knighted and given a dame hood before being kicked out of the Empire and being asked never to return. It is the first sign of them being punished for their carefree attitude to travelling through time and space, an attitude that would ultimately see them torn apart for good.

Chavvy Chick: Rose’s attempts to get Queen Victoria to say ‘we are not amused’ borders on the irritating but only because she is being facetious during a crisis when people are dying. It is not exactly the reaction a decent human being would have, it isn't gallows humour, it's just smugness. ‘People are being savaged by a werewolf? Who cares! I've got a tenner riding on this!’ Her big fat grin as she patronisingly tells the Queen it isn’t amusing at every opportunity does get wearying pretty quickly. Where we see Rose at her best is where she confronts the Host and breaks down the class barriers by forcing the Mistress of the house to aid in their escape. There is a lovely touch of continuity when the Host says there is something of the wolf about Rose and that she once burnt like the sun. Is that Rose’s first ever scream when she comes face to face with the wolf? No, I think that might have been in the face of the Reapers in Father's Day. Oh no, she also let rip a belter when she fell from the barrage balloon in The Empty Child. I always feel that screaming in Doctor Who is fully justified because that is precisely how I would react in exactly the same situation. In the end of day I can handle just how overly confident Rose is in this episode because the whole piece is so pacy and cut together so stylishly that I was distracted at every turn. That wouldn't always be the case this season.

Queenie: I always get a little thrill when a guest star pops up who has played another role in the series and Pauline Collins is a fine example in both cases. She is one of my favourite aspects of the otherwise overlong Faceless Ones six parter in season four and she dominates proceedings here without ever losing a hint of her femininity as Queen Victoria. I love the fact that within this action tale both Davies and Collins allow the Queen some moments of great pathos and depth – the scene around the dinner table where she talks about the loss of her husband and the comfort of a good ghost story is a great example. She goes from playing a historical celebrity in Doctor Who to an actual character with a backstory and feelings in those moments. Queen Victoria pulling a gun from her purse and shooting her nemesis might sound a little over the top but Collins plays this as an entirely natural reaction to so many attempts on her life and I literally punched the air with delight. What else would you do in that circumstance if you were protector of the Realm and your life is in danger? Her violently angry tirade at Rose and the Doctor for making light of these murderous events is extremely welcome. It was long past time somebody reminded this pair of jokers of the cost of their adventuring and I’m glad it was somebody with the integrity of the Queen. Victoria both rewards and punishes the Doctor and Rose for their role in these events which is just about the only sane reaction one could have to this crazy pair. Is Queen Victoria a werewolf? A quirky finishing touch. It is a terrific guest turn, a part that could easily have been overlooked in the midst of all the werewolf action but Collins' commands the attention with her dignified performance.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The dead stay silent…and we must wait.’
‘And then it begins – The Empire of the Wolf.’
‘Pardon me Your Majesty but you’ll have to leg it out of a window!’
‘Starships and missiles fuelled by missile and driven by steam. Leaving history devastated in its wake.’

The Good: From the offset this episode looks as though it has had several million dollars spent on it with the glorious opening shot of the monks strolling through the Scottish hillside. I have read reviews by stuffy old Doctor Who fans who think that sequences like the snappily edited and beautifully choreographed fight scene featuring Monks in vivid red displaying their martial arts skills do not belong in Doctor Who – I reckon they should go and puff on their pipes, stick their slippers on and go and watch The Space Museum. It looks fabulous, it gets the story off to a visually stunning and dramatically impressive start and it was enough for certain children of my mates to turn round and finally admit that Doctor Who is ‘bloody cool.’ And there is nothing wrong with that every now and again. A massive thumbs up for Murray Gold’s faux Karate Kid score too – much of his music for this story is the most memorable of season two and has had its pride of place on my MP3 player ever since the soundtrack came out. When it is warmly lit like it is in Tooth and Claw the tenth Doctor console room is easily my favourite of the new series, it's not trying to be too quirky like Matt Smith’s 80s lounge and it feels both welcoming and exotic at the same time. The setting of this story is beautifully captured by director Euros Lyn. From the rustic exterior of the house to the Gothic trappings inside, it is the perfect setting for this tale of wolves and wonder. In particular the telescope standing proud in the rooftop conservatory sticks in the memory. Davies has really cottoned on to the fright factor and he fills this story with some wonderfully atmospheric moments – I especially love the scene where the Host in the cage puts his fingers to his lips and shhs the ladies who are trapped in the cellar with him. The writer is answering all of the criticisms that have been levelled at him - he's too whimsical, too camp and too domestic - and has instead delivered a script that is tight, atmospheric and offers the director terrifying opportunities. The telescope is like technology pornography – the bigger it gets the more of reaction it provokes and this is a design of real beauty. Never mind the black contacts or the pale make up; it is Tom Smith’s liltingly frightening performances as the Host that really gives me the willies. For a show that attracts a huge number of children the transformation sequence is absolutely chilling and extremely graphic for the time slot and was sure to get some kids hiding under the covers. It isn’t rushed either which I admired the production team for, it is a proper werewolf transformation worthy of a blockbuster. I've seen some dreadful werewolf costumes on every cult TV show from Buffy to The X-Files and it is rather wonderful to see Doctor Who take the most sensible and ultimately most realistic approach to realising the creature, a CGI creation that moves like lightning and truly convinces. For once Murray Gold knows when his music isn't needed and there are a number of highly tense moments in silence when all you can hear is the wolf padding closer and breathing heavily. The celebrated shot of the Doctor and the wolf on either side of the door listening to each other justifies the premise of this episode on its own. Davies isn’t afraid to dispose of his likable characters, which makes this a far more effective drama than it might be because there is a feeling that anybody could be next. Lyn cleverly shows the werewolf attacks from the wolf's POV and they prove to be surprisingly savage. The script is written so neatly that the house initially appears to be a trap for the Doctor and our heroes but ultimately proves to be a trap set up long in advance for the wolf. Poisonous walls and a ready made weapon in the conservatory, like a good Christie these elements are seeded early so the conclusion is very satisfying. A trap within a trap…I love it when moments like that are revealed. The climax of lights and fury channelled through through the telescope is memorable and I love how Davies manages to add a little moment of pathos with the Host asking to be killed now he has been caught like a fly trapped in amber. In tantalising scene of myth building Queen Victoria plucks the idea of the Torchwood Institute to deal with extraterrestrial encounters. At this point it is impossible to know how far this idea would extend...


The Shallow Bit: I find the Scottish accent really bewitching and so I was quite sold on the setting quite early on. Sir Robert is modestly handsome too. Dying so your wife would remember you with honour – that might be one of RTD’s best ever character moments.

Result: When Queen Victoria said she had a taste for supernatural fiction I couldn’t help but nod in agreement and I can still remember the night this was aired and I sat enraptured by a visually stunning and exciting werewolf tale. Russell T. Davies and Euros Lyn work up to the scares, build a tangibly rising atmosphere of terror and seed the show with terrific character vignettes to make Tooth and Claw one of the shining gems of season two. The script in particular seems to be a response to Davies' critics who complain that he writes nothing but kitchen sink drama and fluff and instead he knocks out his tightest piece of writing yet, turning the setting into a conundrum to be puzzled out and utilized to defeat the wolf. As a visual piece it is still one of the most successful episodes of the new series, every shot beautifully considered and edited together with dynamic fluidity. The performances are all top notch with David Tennant really making his mark as the manic, wild eyed Doctor and Pauline Collins producing a sympathetic and resourceful Queen Victoria. Once you strip away all the gloss there is an intelligently rendered tale to be unearthed, one that is happy to put the willies up you. This is a Hinchcliffe horror for the next generation; it's fast, it's sexy, it's scary and it's brilliant entertainment – no wonder a whole new generation fell head over heels in love with Doctor Who: 9/10

Saturday, 8 March 2014

New Earth written by Russell T Davies and directed by James Hawes



This story in a nutshell: The Doctor visits New Earth and discovers things aren’t quite as they seem…


Mockney Dude: There is a world of difference between Tennant’s faltering performance in this episode and his confident portrayal in Partners in Crime (which I have recently watched) and what really stood out here was that he is trying too hard to impress. There's actually a great deal of his performance here that reminds me of Peter Davison in Four to Doomsday, a nervous actor trying to find his feet in an important part and choosing manic energy and squeaking voices as a default setting. The Doctor’s vicious advance on Novice Haim in the face of the slave pharmacy really hits home how righteously angry he can when he feels strongly enough about a cause. Although I do wonder if it would have been more effective had Tennant chosen to underplay it a bit. Still I wouldn't want to face that torrent of abuse myself. When he says that there is no higher authority than him you have to wonder if he hasn’t gotten a bit to big for his boots as this is exactly the sort of thing I used to criticise the seventh Doctor for in the New Adventures – taking responsibility for the universe and insisting that things were done his way. I’m not sure what gives him the right, he understood that in Genesis of the Daleks but maybe he has been at this lark too long now to see that he can’t manipulate the entire universe into one that he is happy with. Perhaps the loss of the Time Lords has given him something of a God complex, which is something that would develop and build momentum throughout his era and finally explode in his penultimate story. But the first stirrings of that behaviour begins right here. Cassandra inhabiting the Doctor doesn’t work at all for me and not just because Tennant acts like a bad drag act but because of the same reason that The Twin Dilemma troubled so many people – you shouldn’t make the Doctor act like a complete twat in his first full story. There are compensations though; Tennant's reaction after Rose/Cassandra kisses him is a scream and his non-reaction to the decontamination lift really made me chuckle. Tooth and Claw would set up his Doctor far more effectively for me, everything is a bit too self indulgent here.

Chavvy Chick: Since when did people being happy get so annoying? There has been a shift in the dynamic between Rose and the Doctor since Tennant took over and it is now less of a marriage of equals and more about stressing how deliriously happy they are travelling together. People who are happy together don’t have to constantly drive home the fact – that’s what insecure people do when they think they are happy. Trust me, I do it all the time. I really wanted somebody to pass me the sick bucket during the scene where they are lounging on the grass talking about their ‘first date’ – its so cloying I think my blood started to clot. Davies is capable of much subtler characterisation than this and it feels like he is praising his own success a little too much. Cassandra calls Rose a ‘dirty blonde assassin’ which isn't exactly true (she had nothing to do with her murder) but it's very funny nonetheless. Cassandra inhabiting Rose’s body allows Billie Piper to drop all the gooey stuff and have some fun as a seriously bitchy tramp and strangely enough she is much more appealing in that role (‘Nice rear bumper!’). New Earth does set the scene for some overdone moments of happiness between the Doctor and Rose in series two...but as has been pointed out elsewhere Davies was setting up their downfall in Doomsday from afar and trying to make sure that the finale hurts. We might have to experience the smugest Doctor/companion pairing to get there but the pay off sure is devastating.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Goodbye trampoline and hello blondie!’
‘That’s all they are…flesh.’

The Good Stuff: The effects landscape for New Earth is startling after a season that shied away from giving us this kind of impressive planetary surface for budgetary reasons. It is a stirring mixture of modern (the spectacular cityscape) and retro (hover cars). The Cat People make up is really shows the difference between what was capable in 2006 and what was capable in 1989 – the Cheetah People from Survival would have benefited from subtler, more detailed make up such as this (and as a cat owner for years those noses are so uncannily realistic). I like the idea of a run of stories in the same time period that fleshes it out more each time the Doctor visits. The End of the World/New Earth/Gridlock builds up a detailed picture of a time in a way that a 45 minute episode rarely has time to. I do think it is a shame that there wasn't a New Earth tale in series four (in place of The Doctor’s Daughter for example) so Davies took the story right through to his departure. After her attention grabbing debut in The End of the World it wasn’t going to be long before Zoe Wanamaker was back as Cassandra and whilst the character doesn't have the same impact as she did in her debut, she is still a great deal of fun with her bitchy asides and grandiose schemes of body snatching. There is a great deal more depth to her this time around which is rewarding, this isn't simply the case of bringing back a popular character for the sake of it (something that both the classic and new series are both guilty of) but Davies has decided to add layers to her now he has opportunity to revisit her. Shots of the huge underground warehouse housing millions of cloning pods are impressive, it’s a similar effect that they used in Star Trek for the inside of the Borg Cubes and just as memorable. Cassandra’s quietly horrific reaction to being inside the clones head is the one point that I felt Davies managed to add a little depth to his plot without pushing too hard. It's a subtle reaction in a story that is lacking any. The final scene almost makes watching this story worthwhile on it's own, a beautiful moment of redemption for Cassandra where she greets herself at an earlier point in her life and reminds her that she is beautiful. It is so gorgeously played and directed that it feels like belongs in an entirely different episode.

The Bad Stuff: The Millennium Centre is clearly the Millennium Centre and not a hospital on New New Earth. That might seem like facetious comment to make but sometimes you just have to say it like it is. Shooting scenes in the abandoned areas of the hospital gives the show a cheap and nasty look – I was having flashbacks of The Invasion of Time. ‘Oh My God! I’m a Chav!’ is a funny line but it does throw open that question of whether the inhabitants of the universe 5 billion years in the future would be talk in 21st Century slang terms. I doubt it. Davies stretches broad comedy to his limits in giving Cassandra some painfully unfunny cockney to drawl. Should a story that is supposed to be a treatise on slavery and medical experimentation really be hung with such camp and slapstick dressings? The idea of the Sisterhood's medical breakthroughs all being the result of slavery and torture is a powerful one but it hardly has time to be considered when we are being distracted with farcical body swap scenes and Tennant camping it up. Doctor Who has a good track record of confidently switching between comedy and drama but the two genres are presented at such ends of the scale that one actively fights the other. I would much rather this was a seedier episode that concentrated more on the darker underbelly of the Sisterhood's operation. As a result New Earth feels like a watered version of both stories that Davies is trying to tell. Not only that but they don't feel like they should be part of the same episode at all. The only point in which Cassandra's body swapping has any impact on the 'clone meat' plot is when she (in desperation) has to pop into the body of one of the victims. Otherwise the two plots exist side by side, fighting for dominance. Why would Cassandra snog the Doctor when he was the one that tried to kill her? Or is that Rose's deep rooted feelings bubbling to the surface? Mind you how can Rose have such affection for this new Doctor...she has only just met him! If Cassandra can read Rose’s mind surely she can see that she doesn’t understand any of the technical jargon she is pouring from her mouth. Or is this a really obvious marker for the kiddos at home to explain how the Doctor knows that Rose isn’t Rose. If so it makes long me for the days of sophisticated plotting and characterisation of the classic series. A dazzling city filled with fit people who are unwillingly (and unknowingly) sucking the goodness out of force bred clones to keep healthy – this should be really powerful stuff but because we never get to visit the City and meet the people and force them to understand the implications of the secret behind their prolonged lives it has no bite. We just assume that once the hospital was shut down the secret was leaked. Cut out the body swapping nonsense and make this a split narrative set half in the hospital and half in the city and show the cause and effect of the cures that are being administered and the shock knowledge of how they came about. It's not like Davies not to make the drama cutting and personal but he avoids holding a mirror up to society who just want a quick fix at the expense of a tortured species and instead focuses on them as a slave race who need to be liberated in a very clichéd Doctor Who plot. You could cut out the whole sequence of the Doctor and Rose leaping down a lift shaft for a start which adds nothing but spectacle and wastes time that could be spend add a little substance to the scenario. Spraying the clones with the various solutions and watching them all hugging each other is not only an insultingly easy solution but also irredeemably twee one. What was Davies thinking? The kids in the audience aren't so simple that they need things boiled down quite this simply. The more interesting consequences like what happened to the Sisterhood now they have been exposed is ignored altogether.

Result: With a slave race being exploited, the villain doing a very bad impression of the companion, a new Doctor making his debut and making a tit out of himself and a scene with a character screaming ‘let me out!’ from inside a plastic cubicle it is heartbreaking to see Davies paying tribute to another classic tale – Time and the Rani! Considering the effects work, the make up and the amount of extras on display it is an oddly cheap looking episode that dodges the dramatic bullet at every turn when what was needed was a sizzling re-instatement of the best of the first series. As a comedy it fails because it isn’t very funny with some arch and embarrassing performances from the leads and as a tragedy it bombs because there is simply no time to give any substance to the situation. It's agonisingly sentimental in places (I always take a sick bucket for the first scenes with the Doctor and Rose) in a way that Doctor Who has never dared to be before and it swaps mature storytelling for a childish tone and overly simplistic solutions. Contradictory to this, the last scene manages to be one of the best moments in the entire Davies era for its stark emotion and you have to wonder what this could have been like had the whole piece been written this powerfully. New Earth reminds me of a dopey puppy that desperately wants to be liked but unfortunately all it deserves is a good kick. There's a much stronger story to be told that ejects all the body swapping frivolities and focuses more on the dark underbelly of the Sisterhood's operation and it's effect on New New York: 4/10

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

In Living Memory written by Scott Handcock & Gary Russell and directed by Gary Russell

What's it about: Bernice Summerfield is alone… Having been captured – albeit technically rescued – by an old enemy, she finally learns the truth her friends and their disappearances… and realises that she is a cog in a far greater machine. Whatever happens, this is now the end for Bernice Summerfield… and she’s determined to go down fighting. But how long can she resist when the odds are stacked against her? And is there really such a thing as a happy ending…?
Archaeological Adventuress: Okay...this is going to get a little bit complicated. In Living Memory chronicles the lives of three different versions of Bernice Summerfield as set up in Judgement Day a million years ago so do try and bear with me. Benny is writing her diary once again and because it has been so long she isn't sure what she is supposed to say. The Epoch say that she is the threat and she is the scheme, whatever that might mean. She can deal with robots, mad scientists, religious nut jobs, intergalactic mobsters, bounty hunters, Gods...anything they care to throw at her really. She can't believe that she would ever forget Peter and is furious that the Epoch would take something so precious from her memory. It was never their intention to take away everything so he never had anything to fight for but it certainly seems to have worked out that way. Apparently Benny exists at al points in time, at the start and end and all points in between. She never shuts up, or at least at any point she is aware of. She always makes it up as she goes along and things usually turn out for the best. The Bernice's have to decide which of them should throw themselves into the vortex for all time and it falls to the one who has been on Legion for months and forged a relationship with Peter to hold back. She's the mum he knows. Before she goes, the paradoxical Benny orders her counterpart to use the Epoch technology to do something for herself for a change. To change the timelines and get back all her friends. The whole of time and space is open for them to re-map and have one last grand adventure.

Dog Boy: I really love Peter. More Peter please.

Super Villain: I hope this version of Braxiatel makes it into the next era of the Bernice Summerfield range otherwise I have to wonder what the point of him was (besides them wanting to continue to use Miles Richardson). We haven't learnt a great deal about him, he hasn't come face to face with his evil predecessor and his story hasn't come to any kind of climax. He was just sort of there because Brax is always there. Weird.

Jumping Jack Flash & Mysterious Girl: A shame that in what could be their last story Jack and Ruth spend the majority of the time as either different personas or caught up in the convoluted plot mechanics at the end of the story. We don't really get to spend much time with them or explore their characters. As such it is hardly a fitting send off for either of them.

Standout Performance: Unusual to hear Sean Carlsen playing a part that isn't Narvin (from the Gallifrey series). I kept expecting a twist that somehow he had wormed his way into the Bernice Summerfield series via Braxiatel. Bowerman excels, as ever and I think she could play this part in her sleep now (although there is never any danger of her phoning it in, she's always superb). It could be the last time that this cast of regulars are all together so relish this opportunity.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'You've sliced a hole in history itself! Have you any idea how dangerous that is?'
'And now it's all over for Bernice Summerfield!'
'This is the first time we've had you all in the studio at the same time, isn't it?' 'Apart from the script I wrote, you mean?' 'Funny enough I always forget about that one' - I had to chuckle at this.
'Would actors have red glowing eyes and look like a Killoran?' ' Tom's...method.'

Great Ideas: The Epoch are from the realm of time and their station is at the heart of time. It transpires that the Benny that landed on the world from The Living Memory is a completely different Benny to the one who was depicted in the carvings and brought the planet to its knees - I told you this was going to get confusing. As soon as I heard the name Bernard Springwell I should have figured out who he was...especially given the Epoch's ability to re-map people. Temporal instabilities were detected around Bernice even before Saravas and at first the Epoch thought they were centred around Jack and Ruth, two people out of time. So they removed them. Even after the removal of them from her timeline, the instabilities around her continued to flourish. Further action was required and Braxiatel was also seized and removed from her timeline. They had to determine her friends origins and establish all the external factors. Even her son was taken. I have to admit the way this has been segued into the Missing Persons box set has been excellent, allowing each of the regulars a chance to shine in their own story and then snatched away in a very subtly handled moment at the end of each one. It has been an intriguing mystery, although I never imagined a million years that they would wind up in an idealised version of The Archers. The Epoch channel and co-ordinate history through the vortex, re-mapping events whenever the scheme is threatened. That's a fantastic idea, and potentially the greatest threat that Bernice has ever come up against given she could be written out of existence in a heartbeat. A temporal traffic control centre, the Epoch monitoring and correcting. If Bernice was pushed into the vortex she would be scattered through space and time, the energies would rip her apart before she even had time to die. A million tiny fragments splintered throughout history. The Epoch figure that if they keep re-mapping time until Bernice Summerfield never existed then the threat that surrounds her will never exist as well. They had her timeline isolated so that her removal will barely cast a ripple. The Epoch split Benny up into three versions Judgement Day. There was one in Victorian London, one who was a caveman and the normal Benny. The caveman was eaten by a dinosaur (no I'm not kidding) but the Victorian Benny survived and has been off having adventures right across the universe, looking for Legion, searching for Peter whilst the normal Benny has been there, done and bought the T-Shirt. The Epoch always do things in threes and Bernard Springwell has been re-mapped so many times that he has forgotten that he was ever Bernice Summerfield. I never saw that one coming, admittedly. If one of the Bernice's throws themselves into the Epoch's rent in time they will reset the universe and exist throughout time and the scheme will be redundant.

Audio Landscape: Lading bay doors opening, ship descending, birds chirruping, a cow mooing, a cock crowing, the Epoch stomping about, rain falling, mobile interference, phone ringing, a door opening,

Musical Cues: Enough terrific soundtrack giving the story a good kick up the ass on occasions. The closing piece of music that builds to a dramatic and optimistic crescendo is particularly excellent. The final musical suite was gorgeous and it really feels like an end of an era...more than the story did in fact.

Isn't it Odd: The Epoch set up a false life within a false life for Benny's friends. The first is an Archers style scenario where they are all living in and around a farm where bizarre soap opera style events take place. And the second is a recording studio for Big Finish Productions where they are all actors taking part in a range of stories under the title of Bernice Summerfield. Whilst the latter worked for me in a post modern, cheeky kind of way I fail to see the point of the former beyond a few digs at soap plotlines and some 'aren't we clever' dialogue that parallels their characters in the simulation to their characters in normal life. It is no where near clever or funny enough to justify this bizarre setting. I was left scratching my head mostly until they reached the audio productions simulation. I was wondering why the writers were taking such a facetious approach to what could be the last ever Bernice Summerfield adventure. The gags come thick and fast in the 'audio drama' scenario; some of them work brilliantly (the dig that Lisa Bowerman is involved in every spin off series, 'Two words: Beth Chalmers') and some of them were real stinkers (Hierophant Russell, 'Bernice Summerfield is a part she just happens to play...and rather well it seems.'). If these reality as fiction scenes were trying to be unnerving, they fail but you have to give them marks for sheer bare faced cheek. Russell and Handcock writing a part for themselves slagging off of their own script achieves a certain mischievous grandeur. We spend far too much time with the regulars in their faux-Archers guises trying to escape out of that reality, it is a scene that plays out for nearly ten minutes when all it does is push the plot into another illusion and the same thing has to be achieved all over again in that false reality. It feels like the writers are deferring the climax. I can't decide if having the actors asking the script writer to explain the plot because the whole thing is getting too convoluted is ingenious or just really lazy scripting. I honestly had forgotten all about the three Benny's from Judgement and to suddenly bring it up now just to tie up a loose end seems...pointless. If it was never going to be a relevant plot point throughout the post-Year Zero adventures it feels senseless to dump it on us at the end of the road as if it was important all along. The point where we had Bernice Summerfield talking to Lisa Bowerman with the actress thinking she is an over excited fan I thought the writer(s) had lost the plot. It had gone beyond a joke at that point. There is some very bizarre box ticking that goes on at the end of this story with the Doctor sending the Epoch off to extract Bernice from Zordin because that is what happened in the Epoch box set and Handcock hasn't yet explained why. It is masquerading as Bernice doing something clever and paradoxical when the answer is they did it...because they did. So the Epoch's plans were to what exactly? Get rid of Bernice because she might threaten their plans? But what plans? Are we ever told or did I miss that bit?  And they are defeated because Benny tricked her Bernard Springwell persona into bringing herself and her doppelganger here. Or something. I'm so confused. As far as I can tell by involving Bernice at all in their plans has been their downfall. And the only reason she is their downfall is because they are so obsessed with her potential ability to bring about their downfall. Or something. To be honest I'm not entirely sure but this whole thing feels like a pre destination thingamajig that's wound up around a rent in space that's coiled up with technobabble. Or something.  It's a load of technical jargon that doesn't mean a great deal and about as far from a satisfying, dramatic climax as you can get. None of it means anything. Even the sacrifice of Bernice doesn't mean anything because we have only just become aware of the doppelgangers continuing existence. And Brax, Peter, Ruth and Jack are just bystanders to all this technobabble - none of them are actually instrumental in the plot at all. It lacks the personal touch and therefore is hard to get emotionally involved. The Epoch sought out a Bernice Summerfield thinking that she would want to end the potential chaos they could see her causing but instead she re-mapped and re-mapped new alternatives and became Dr Bernard Springwell. Why did Benny do that? When did Benny do that? Why would she start playing God with peoples lives and turn herself in a bloke? The idea of Benny herself being the villain of this entire arc is a phenomenal idea but it needs far more attention and explanation than this backhanded account. This should have been the focus of the entire story, not the faux-Archers bollocks. Why would you avoid a dramatic scenario like that and instead just throw it in as an unconvincing, throwaway piece of exposition? 'Ultimate power, ultimately corrupting...' is the only motivation we get but that just isn't the Benny I know. She wouldn't play about with the lives of everybody in the universe, even if she thought it was for the best. The ending with Benny leaping into the time vortex, scattering herself about and resetting everything that has happened since the Epoch set gave me flashbacks to Clara in The Name of the Doctor. And it made about as much sense and left as many questions of illogic hanging.

Standout Scene: 'Or we use the Epoch's technology one last time. Use it to find the people we've lost. Bev and Adrian. Jason' 'Antonio' 'Lara' 'Leo' 'My home...' 'There's nothing stopping us now. Nothing at all. We literally have the universe at our fingertips. So come on...one very last great big adventure! Out there...real life! What do you say?'

Result: I've heard some very dramatic things said about In Living Memory, some stating it is a fatally misjudged piece. I don't think it is anywhere near as bad as all that although it is spoilt by one very unfortunate error - there is no way this should have been the season (and potentially the series) finale or the final story of the  Handcock/Russell era of the Bernice Summerfield range. If this was a mid season affair and touting the same ideas, I think it would have gone down a lot more favourably. The problem is that these two men have posed a number of mysteries that they feel have to be answered before they move on and so instead of presenting a piece of drama (much like The Curse of Fenman before it) instead we get a series of long winded explanations trying to tie up plot elements that occurred in releases three years previously. If their aim was to push the range forwards away from the complicated arc plots into more standalone territory then clearly they failed because this is precisely the sort of tidying up that Eddie Robson had to do with his superlative two parter Resurrecting the Past/Escaping the Future. Not only that but the finale is hopelessly complicated and technobabble ridden, not so much elucidation of the Epoch/triple Bernice storyline and more a ridiculously complicated way of pushing a giant reset button. It left me wondering if this storyline had been worth pursuing if this was the outcome and pondering whether the series should have simply pushed ahead with an anthology series of standalone adventures. So what did work here? For a start it is fantastic to have the entire cast working together again and as an endorsement of the actors that Handcock and Russell have brought together to front this range, In Living Memory stands proud. Where I imagine Bernice, Peter and Brax always being part of this series, I hope this isn't the last we have heard of Ruth and Jack. Especially since they do nothing of worth here beyond playing other parts. Where some found the fourth wall breaking scenes in the sound booths a chore, I thought they were a rather nice flourish. It is smug as hell with far too many in-jokes but as a piss take of the 'behind the scenes' featurettes and a puzzle within a puzzle for Bernice to try and figure out I thought it was quite imaginatively done. It is another superb opportunity for Lisa Bowerman as well, acting her heart out as multiple Benny's and doing her damndest to try and make this web of explanations make sense. To her credit, she almost succeeds while you are listening, it is only when you start to think about it afterwards that it all falls to pieces. Besides I would listen to Bowerman read a shopping list and she is given plenty of witty lines and moments to shine here. The final scene leaves the series in a state of flux and an opportunity to mould itself into whatever it wants to be. I have no idea what the Bernice Summerfield range has to offer next but needless to say that I am still head over heels in love with the character and am excited to listen to what is coming. Whilst I have some issues with the over arching storylines that they have produced (more often than not promising far more than they ever delivered) over the past five box sets, I have been impressed with the overall standard of individual adventures that have been told. I do feel that Handcock & Russell are departing just as they have hit their stride (the Missing Persons box set has had two standout classics) but it has been a fun ride with them at the helm. In Living Memory is an average conclusion to their tenure, which is a shame, and it doesn't really sum up the enjoyment they have provided along the way: 5/10

The Kraken's Lament: 8/10
The Temple of Questions: 6/10
Private Enemy No.1: 9/10
Judgement Day: 8/10
Brand Management: 7/10
Bad Habits: 9/10
Paradise Frost: 9/10
Vesuvius Falling: 9/10
Shades of Gray: 9/10
Everybody Loves Irving: 5/10
A Handful of Dust: 5/10
HMS Surprise: 8/10
The Curse of Fenman: 4/10
The Big Dig: 10/10
The Reverent's Carnival: 7/10
The Brimstone Kid: 7/10
The Winning Side: 10/10
In Living Memory: 5/10
Many Happy Returns: 10/10