Monday, 6 April 2015

Extraordinary pieces of television

Here is a list of 20 pieces of television that I have already reviewed that I would like to share with you in no particular order. Television deserves to be savoured...

The War Games written by Terrance Dicks & Malcolm Hulke and directed by David Maloney

This story in a nutshell: The ultimate Doctor Who epic which results in his death…

Oh My Giddy Aunt: Ten episodes of Patrick Troughton! Ten episodes! What a treasure trove! The usually jubilant second Doctor shirks off his usual frivolity as soon as he realises he has landed in the First World War. It's great how he huffs and puffs his way through his fake trial and kisses Zoe before going off to be shot – from its first episode The War Games feels very different and as though something important is happening. When he is pinned up to be shot there isn't that sense of comfort that this is just another cliffhanger that will be resolved quickly in the next episode, it really feels as though the Doctor might die such has been the swiftness and brutality of his trial. The sheer unadulterated gall of the Doctor walking into the military prison and pretending to be an officious inspector makes me howl with laughter every time I watch it –Troughton is sublimely funny as he chews out the smug military Commandant (‘D'you know who I am, sir!’). It just goes to show that when he wants to be Troughton can be every bit as frightening as Hartnell. He’s all bluff and bluster in the face of military might, declaring ‘Are you going to shoot us? My friends and I are leaving!’ He is eager to blow up the safe, the little anarchist, proving he can never quite let go of the sense of juvenile excitement when breaking the rules. He cheekily disarms the German Leftennant with an obvious ploy. Some of my favourite scenes in the story come when he interrupts the lecture, plays about with the equipment without asking and generally behaves like a naughty schoolboy. The Doctor recognising the War Chief is a chilling moment when everything we know about the character is turned on its head. How wonderful is his ‘...better leave him on simmer!’ Only Troughton could make a ridiculous line like that work so well. The Doctor crawls out of the TARDIS waving a white hankie in surrender and then throws a smoke bomb – he’s brilliantly anarchic. As the Doctor tries to juggle so many problems at once Troughton’s performance becomes increasingly frantic, expressing the sense of desperation he is facing. ‘Don’t worry I’m not going to hurt you’ says this little pixie to an armed guard. Troughton’s quiet unapologetic intensity when he talks to someone from his own planet is simply the best scene he has performed in the show to that point. And that is against some stiff competition from practically every other story. Could the Doctor have gone rogue and betrayed his friends because he’s out of options? How much quality material can one actor be given in one story? I love the panic stricken cowardice as Villa goes to the kick the bejesus out of him and when we return to him the Doctor is involved in a violent scrum! ‘Did you really think I would be involved in your disgusting schemes?’ he tells the War Chief, deadly serious. ‘For once Jamie do as you are told!’ – that makes me crack up although it does show that the Doctor is truly out of options, snapping at his best friend. Observing and gathering knowledge was never enough for the Doctor, he was bored and wanted to explore the universe and visit countless civilisations and so he stole the TARDIS and went on the run from his people. It’s a great credit to the writers that we have waited 6 years for these answers and they do not disappoint and feel like a very natural revelation that fits both Hartnell and Troughton. Bravo! Watch the Doctor dash madly around the console as he tries to escape the Time Lords, this is gripping stuff. Troughton is fabulously defiant in the tribunal, the Doctor not only admits his interference in other cultures but he is proud of the difference he has made. It's brilliant that the most revolutionary Doctor should go out kicking and screaming, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Ten episodes of challenging material and you cannot fault Troughton for one second – he’s a brilliant actor and this is an unforgettable swansong for his Doctor.

Who’s the Yahoos: I said in my reviews of The Seeds of Death that I thought season six could happily chug on without Jamie and it was newcomer Zoe that had all the best material (and a hilarious relationship) with the Doctor. However the War Games is the one exception. Given that this is Jamie’s last story of an incredible stretch (just one story less than Troughton and for the sheer wealth of episodes he is unbeaten when it comes to the Doctor's assistants) Dicks and Hulke give him some wonderful things to do and remind us of his origins and how far he has come. As an ex-resistance fighter he takes great umbrage to being called a deserter. It is wonderful to see Jamie as a fighter once again having to use his wits and fists against an overwhelming enemy. He cannot imagine fighting a war in holes in the ground and blowing the hell out of each other, his is a far more romantic vision of hand-to-hand combat. Jamie, who used to fight against these people to the death, is willing to talk to a Redcoat and work out a plan to escape together. He’s hilariously rubbish at subterfuge and almost blows the Doctor’s cover by demanding what he is playing at when he is trying to rescue him from the military prison. Frazer Hines looks so cute with a cushion over his head to protect him from the exploding safe, he's so confident in the part at this point that it would be a long time indeed before another actor was quite so contented in the role of a companion. Brilliant to see Jamie smash an American off his horse with a tree stump and steal the animal – this was very much his life before the Doctor. He rides through the hills and rescues Lady Jennifer in the very model of a dashing hero! He insists that she cannot come with them to the control centre because she is a woman in what I can't make up my mind is a chivalrous or sexist (you decide) act. There’s some fabulous funny business as Jamie trips through the door posing as the leader of the rebellion. Both Jamie and Zoe have unwavering loyalty to the Doctor and refuse to believe that he would betray them. Jamie’s fake processing is gigglesome (‘Oh aye…I’ll obey yer!’ Loyal to the last, he refuses to leave the Doctor even when he is on the run from his (clearly dangerous) own people. ‘The TARDIS is no good to you!’ he tells the War Chief, ‘he can’t even steer it properly!’ He says he will never forget the Doctor and you believe him until that devastating final twist. The Doctor’s laughter as Jamie runs after a Redcoat so furiously is wonderful, the affection he has for the young Scot is palpable.

Beautiful Brainbox: My favourite girl of the era gets some wonderful material in her last story. Somehow Zoe looks even cuter than ever in her trench coat. She is a real feisty mare when she wants to be and gives the soldier an earful for keep bellowing at them and Smythe also gets a piece of her mind for his ridiculous kangaroo court. She’s resourceful too, searching the general’s quarters and rescuing the Doctor (risking execution herself) and smashing the vase over the Commandant’s head as he is about to phone through and expose the Doctor as an imposter  As the Doctor says: ‘What a nice and clever girl you are!’ ‘The girl is from the future and the boy is from the past’ – given the run of contemporary companions we have had in the new series it is easy to forget how experimental they were with companions in the classic series and what an inspired idea the culturally diverse duo of Jamie and Zoe was. Once again Zoe is paired up with the Doctor and they make a giddy and excitable pair as they explore the control centre. She’s given a blast of the mind probe but it's not enough to bring down this stubborn lass. Her photographic memory is brought to the fore; she’s like Adric done right, a total boffin but cute and engaging with it. Wendy Padbury is excellent at adding little moments that add depth to the situation and I love her disgusted look away as a man is beaten. ‘For such a little woman your mouth is too big!’ says Villa, brilliantly summing her up. I guess she's like Tegan in that respect, but charming and resourceful with it. Look at her pigeon steps as she heads off to get Jamie to introduce him to Villa; she’s just as good at comedy as her co-stars. She puppeteers the young Scot hilariously, she is such a fabulous know it all and she puts all the right words into his mouth. When asked why he lets a woman speak for him, Jamie questions why not if she's right and Zoe promptly perks up with: 'I am!' Zoe and Jamie convince the Doctor to make one last halfhearted escape on his home planet. Seeing Zoe back on the Wheel is actually far more upsetting than Jamie in the Highlands because there is a strong feeling that her adventures with the Doctor made her a better person and now that has all been forgotten. It's such an unforgettably cruel thing to do Russell T Davies borrowed it for Donna in the new series and it still works like a charm.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You send no car to meet us on our arrival and now you add insult to injury by doubting my credentials! D’you know who I am sir?’
‘I had every right to leave…’
‘I was bored!’
‘No…no, you’re above criticism, aren’t you?’
‘I thought I’d forgotten something important but it doesn’t matter…’
‘Is this the best you can do? I’ve never seen such an incredible bunch!’

The Good Stuff: The wartime opening of landing in a wasteland and being bombarded with explosive is so immediately atmospheric Maloney used it twice, here and in Genesis of the Daleks (another classic that he helmed). After 12 weeks in space this is a much-needed dose of realism. You can hardly say this story is slow to get going since they are captured by the Germans and rescued by the British within five minutes. Both Carstairs and Lady Jennifer are superbly characterised and acted allies of the Doctor, an extremely likable pair. it would have been so easy to have written these characters as upper class stereotypes but Dicks and Hulke are far too good to fall back on cliche. From the opening episode you can feel the noose tightening around the Doctor’s neck, sentenced to death within 25 minutes! Mud, explosions, barbed wire, gunfire, prisons and executions, it might have been transmitted early but they certainly managed to whip up a gritty wartime atmosphere. The Seven Sisters Country Park is just down the road from me and one of my favourite places to visit so imagine my thrill when I saw the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe emerging there during the Roman scenes? Every time I visit now I half expect to see a Roman legion charging towards me. The second cliffhanger feels like it is befitting of a silent movie with a Roman army chasing our friends as our friends try and crank the car into operation. It's a particular favourite moment of Terrance Dicks and sees the story twisting off in a completely unexpected direction. I felt so sorry for Ransome, such a bumbling fellow, and tied up and gagged in an ignominious fashion. Edward Brayshaw gives an instantly charismatic and fascinating performance as the War Chief and he is totally believable as rogue from the Doctor’s own race. There's a heightened realism about the character that really sells that he is from a race that is extremely confident in their own abilities. Maloney directs the location scenes with real bite, the hand-to-hand combat scenes are violent and nasty and people are shot dead with no hint of cutting away in case they upset the kiddie winks  The War Room is a well designed set which the director shoots imaginatively (I really like the low shot through the table map of the zones). How does a story this long feel so pacy? I love, love, love the groovy sixties pop art guillotine door and the huge hanging balls in the processing room – was the designer on acid? When you see colour photos of these sets we should be ever more thankful that it was shot in black and white. James Bree’s delivery is an unusual monotone but he has an intensity and anger that makes him unmissable. He’s also very quotable -’…the-war-LORD!’ How much fun is having the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe (aww) dressed up as period soldiers? It feels like a return to Troughton's early days in the part where he dressed up in something outrageous every week. A shrinking TARDIS makes for a fantastic cliffhanger, sold almost entirely by the actors. That skin crawling sound effect makes the War Lord’s arrival very powerful and Philip Madoc’s performance is eerily intense – he’s another great character in a story that is already stuffed to the brim with a memorable guest cast. Just one gaze from the War Lord makes me want to crap my pants. As Terrance Dicks says, if the War Chief is playing pantomime menace then the War Lord is playing menace for real. Everything about him is so still and controlled that when he does finally lose it you know things have gotten really bad. Bringing together all the resistance is the next brilliant innovation. It’s a regular Doctor Who cliché to rouse the underdog but done on this scale it feels fresh and invigorating. The bitch fights between the Security Chief and the War Chief get better and more dramatic until they are literally screaming at each other. They remind me of the Dominators in that they have the same argument repetitively and with increasing intensity but this time it is pulled off perfectly, with superb dialogue and pitch perfect performances  It's great how the story has been constructed so that by episode seven you can skip from the control centre to the Romans to the First World War without batting an eyelid - the scale is incredible. The time barrier surrounding the chateaux sees the story breaking new ground again, using the set up imaginatively  A gigantic army of the most violent humans is actually a very scary idea. The thought that the aliens couldn't find a more aggressive and brutal race than humanity out there to cherry pick the most violent examples is a cutting condemnation of our species at its worst. You can’t help but feel uplifted as the resistance starts to fight back, luring out the guards and capturing them all (with some gorgeous upbeat music). Villa is pure comic gold, he’s so stupid he can’t even pretend to be processed (‘Your machine is no good!’) but finally gets to be trigger happy (‘I told you! My guns is best!’). Everybody gets a chance to shine in this four and half hour story. The War Chief kills his rival and in a very satisfying moment of callousness. ‘They’ll show you no mercy!’ he screams in fear of the Time Lords approach and they feel like an awesome force before they even show up. The War Chief was such a huge villain he deserved such a fantastic death scene full of bluster, attempting to run away and being cornered and fired upon by a multitude of guns. Few villains come to such deliciously melodramatic ends (I can only think of Mavic Chen and Salamander at this point in the shows history). The sound effects as the Time Lords descend sounds like the anger of the Gods approaching and the slow motion cliffhanger sees the Doctor trapped like a fly in amber, time having literally run out for him. Who said that only Steven Moffat has the budget and imagination to hop from location to location? On the run from his people the Doctor goes from the First World War to plopping down on the ocean, sinking beneath the waves, deep space, crocodile infested swamps before landing on an alien planet…all in the space of five minutes. There’s a long shot of the TARDIS in episode ten where it looks absolutely massive, just as it did in An Unearthly Child. Visually it feels like the show is coming full circle, really selling how impressive the Doctor's machine is. It’s a torture tribunal for the War Lord who suffers a moment of insanity as he screams for mercy as the Time Lords force a confession from him. Guns and violence inside the TARDIS – is there nothing this story can’t do? Obviously not, as it also provides a fascinating backstory for the Doctor. Erasing the War Lord and his planet suggests the sort of powers the Time Lords wield. Fascinating that the Doctor should have to tell the Time Lords about the Daleks, it is their first exposure to the race that will ultimately wipe them out. If it wasn’t heartbreaking enough to have one of the strongest Doctor/companion teams torn apart, the injustice of having them forget their time with the Doctor is as devastating as it is unjustified. That's why it lingers in the memory. Exile on Earth, no TARDIS and a new face, it is a shocking final indignity for the Doctor and brilliant way to shake up the format. What an exciting, jaw dropping way to end sixties Doctor Who with the Doctor screaming for mercy as he is blasted into oblivion.

The Bad Stuff: The open-mouthed Romans are daft. Is that the campest German officer of all time (‘Soooo you were lost!’)? What are those groovy specs all about? And magnet controls? Most of this stories rare issues are usually aesthetics. The American Civil War sections are where the padding sets in with one side gaining a foothold, then the other, then back again and then the resistance take over. The action is well directed but it does feel like a way of stretching out the story in it's middle episodes. Another black guy bites the bullet in the Troughton era. Are those the kinkiest rubber suited guards ever? Despite some great moments it is during episodes five and six that the only harmful padding takes place (especially all that nonsense about taking the panel off the processing centre wall that seems to go on forever). Episode six is the cheapie (if this story was missing from the archives you know this would have been the one that was held back by the BBC) with lots of wobbly walls, no new sets or locations or actors. Is the name SIDRAT a joke? Those Time Lord technicians don’t put up much of a fight, do they? I don’t know if I would use the Quarks as the first example of the menaces I have fought!

The Shallow Bit: What is it about good-looking pairs in the sixties? Steven and Vicki, Polly and Ben…Jamie and Zoe are just gorgeous! David Troughton makes an appearance and he's quite the cutie. Bring on The Curse of Peladon.

Result: The ultimate Doctor Who epic and ten episodes of absolute magic. The way this story stacks up its revelations and becomes more vast and epic as it progresses is breathtaking; the war, the glasses, the scanner, the second TARDIS, the mists, the Romans, the map of all the war zones, the control centre, one of the Doctor’s own people, the resistance, the Time Lords, the trial, the forced regeneration…this is a beautifully crafted piece of work that is never short of surprises. The beautifully written and performed villains encourage you to keep watching, starting very effectively with General Smythe and simply getting better and better – the Security Chief, the War Chief, the War Lord and finally the Time Lords - with each one feeling more powerful and dangerous than the last until you are gasping with delight at how high the stakes have become. I remember when I first watched this story on a scratchy videocassette at Christmas – I was watching one episode each morning before heading off really early to do some overtime and I can still remember the dazzling atmosphere of the darkness outside, the Christmas lights glowing and this black and white delight transporting me back to a point in the series that was truly innovative and gripping. I was absorbed and enchanted. You’ve got a massive and engaging cast of characters brought to life by some great actors and enough locations to fill a season all artistically shot by the director. Right at the centre of this masterpiece there’s Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, a great team and they are appropriately all given their finest material in their last show together. Exciting, shocking, hilarious, dramatic, action packed and reshaping the series forever, The War Games sees the Troughton era end as it began with a triumphant story. As proof of what Troughton could do with the role there is no finer story and we are blessed that this epic somehow escaped the culling and clung to the archives. 

The Body written and directed by Joss Whedon

What’s it about: Joyce has died and we witness how everybody copes.

The Chosen One: In the face of the dreadful shock that her mother is dead, Buffy reverts back to an almost catatonic, childlike state where she doesn’t know how to cope with anything and calls her ‘mommy.’ Gellar plays that first sequence entirely on her own and is absolutely superb, the best she has ever been in the series. Her panic, her juvenile confusion on the phone to the emergency services, her petulant insistence that she is called mom and not ‘the body’, Gellar (and Whedon) capture that sense of unreal, trance-like state that you retreat into when something shocking happens that you can’t cope with something that has been presented to you. It’s like Buffy is taking in every detail that is going on around her but actually isn’t taking in anything at all. Straightening her mothers skirt before the paramedics reach the house is such a natural reaction, Buffy wants her mom to look her best in the face of strangers. Look at the look on Gellar’s face when she is told that her mother is definitively dead and there was nothing she could do, it’s a look of young lady whose entire world has been turned upside down and there is nothing she can do about it. The look of shock on Buffy’s face when she screams at Giles not to move her mothers body, at once realising that she is really dead and that she has accepted the fact, haunts me every time I see it. Buffy’s quiet acceptance of Anya’s (awkward) comfort is a really lovely moment.

The Key: This is the stage when you realise that not only is Dawn here to stay but that you have completely accepted her as a member of this ensemble almost as though she has always been there. Cleverly Whedon cuts to Dawn crying as though she has already been told about her mom but we soon realise it is tears about something as vacuous as a boy calling her freaky. It’s horrific to know about Joyce’s death before Dawn and being able to watch her last few minutes as she is blissfully unaware of the state of affairs and that her world is about to be upended. It’s the most uncomfortable foreknowledge…and the thought that I was intrigued to see how she would react to the news made me question my own reaction to this drama.

Ripper: Giles automatically assumes a parental role with Joyce out of the picture. But then he has always been her surrogate dad.

Witchy Willow: Some people cope with tragedy by focusing on something trivial and Willow’s obsession with what to wear to the hospital feel very natural. Tara is hanging back, trying to be supportive and when the time comes she steps in and kisses her girlfriend to calm her down. It strikes me as a good move to wait for the first onscreen kiss between these two characters to come in such an honest episode. There is so much else to focus on that it practically slips by unnoticed. That Anya/Willow rivalry bubbles over again when Willow reacts very badly to her constant questions of how to deal with grief and whether they will see the body. It’s also very real to start mistreating those around you when you are hurting. Tara’s admission that she has lost her mother comes out of the blue.

Gorgeous Geek: Xander is desperate for somebody to blame – Glory, Doctors, anybody so long as he doesn’t have to accept that it was just a pointless accident. Punching the wall is probably how I would cope, I have been known to lash out when I don’t know how to react to something (but never at a person I might add).

Vengeance Demon: After hundreds of years of maiming and killing people Anya finally comes up close and personal to mortality in a way that has never affected her before and she simply doesn’t understand the concept. Oddly Anya and Giles’ comedy cuddle is one of the most touching moments in the episode.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Things don’t happen. I mean they don’t just happen.’
‘But I don’t understand. I don’t understand how this all happens, how we go through this. I mean I knew her and there’s just a body and I don’t understand why she can’t just get back in it and not be dead anymore – it’s stupid! It’s mortal and stupid. And Xander’s crying and not talking and I was having fruit punch and I thought well Joyce will never have anymore fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs or yawn or brush her hair, not ever and no-one will explain to me why.’
‘It’s not her. It’s not her. She’s gone.’

The Good: Massive kudos to Kristine Sutherland who has the thankless task of playing a corpse through this episode and with her bland, lifeless eyes staring out of the screen the episode offers some of the most chilling imagery I have ever seen committed to film. None of that Joyce warmth is present, every time we cut to her it is a shocking reminder that she really has gone for good. The show pulls off the most awful trick imaginable by having Buffy return home to find her mom dead on the sofa. It’s one of the most frightening moments in television because although it has been heavily foreshadowed earlier in the season and touted as possibility you never really believed that they would go through with bumping somebody like Joyce off in such a realistic way. Buffy has always been about as out there as genre television comes so to wrench the audience out of that fantasy and to so cruelly dump them in reality at for this one hour is extremely jarring and painful. The series even went to some lengths to suggest that Joyce’s condition might be the work of this years Big Bad, Glory. So to suddenly, without warning, confirm that it was nothing of the kind and just a horribly real blood clot on the brain is a nauseating tug into reality. I know a friend who has returned home and found her flatmate dead and by all accounts it is horrific a situation as you would imagine. The thought of this ever happening to me with my husband fills me with dread. Cutting to a sequence at Christmas filled with warmth and joy is possibly the most unkind place that Whedon could take us, remembering the good times before painfully wrenching us back to the present where the person that brought everybody together has departed this mortal coil. Whedon ensures that we never get anything less than 100% exposure of the pain his characters are feeling, the camera following them around from room to room as they try and cope with this impossible situation. Who wouldn’t play out the scenario that Joyce is alive and well and thanking them for reaching her in time. It’s another horrendously malicious trick on Whedon’s part but one that feels like a very natural reaction to the situation so he completely gets away with it. Choosing the shoot Dawn’s reaction to the news from the near-silent POV of her classmates was a sublime move, seeing the horror unfold from a dispassionate distance. I honestly don’t know if I could have taken another in-your-face reaction shot at this point. There is a very impressive tracking shot that follows the Doctor from Joyce’s body in the mortuary all the way along the corridors to Buffy and her friends, a look of regret on his face as he has to discuss the arrangements with her. Whether he is telling the truth or just trying to comfort her, the Doctor tells Buffy that even had she been there by Joyce’s side there was nothing she could have done. It would have a swift and (mostly) painless. It’s not a great comfort but it’s what I would need to here to prevent me from blaming myself. The crisp, cool lighting as Dawn enters the morgue is just perfect, really highlighting the sense of unreality and reality colliding. I’ve heard complaints that this episode didn’t need a vampire to appear at the end and that it should have stood alone as a piece without any fictional nasties present but I genuinely feel that without that bridging between this painfully real human drama and the Buffy we know and love the sudden yank back to normal in the next episode would give the viewer whiplash. We needed to be reminded that life does go on, there are still enemies that can be fought and that this show will survive without Joyce. Played in absolute silence, it is by far the most chilling vampire attack that either Buffy or Angel has ever dished up. Listen to how savage and desperate Sarah Michelle Gellar’s sounds, like Buffy really needed something to fight. The shot of Buffy and Dawn looking on their mother on the mortuary slab took my breath away, it’s so unnerving. Dawn is what is known as a mystical ball of energy so the cliffhanger to this episode when she reaches out to touch her mother is one of the tensest ones yet. Will she be able to bring her back to life with on touch? So many little details jump out that make this episode so unusually direct and personal and impacting; the cracked rib, the lost focus on the telephone dialling pad, the tinkling chimes, Buffy’s vomit, the sweat glowing on her forehead as she is bleached in the unreal sunlight, charcoal running down a board, the blue top on the chair, the parking ticket and the awkward moment when Buffy apologises to Tara for having to go through all this.

The Bad: I perhaps would have dispensed with the theme music for this episode. It just feels completely out of place in what is essentially the most honest piece of character drama you are ever likely to see. ‘We’re not drawing the object…we’re drawing the negative space around the object…’What the fuck sort of hippy shit are they teaching kids at school these days? I can remember when this episode first aired I was working with a man who was the most vacuous, bitchy, shallow and self-centred human being it has probably ever been my misfortunate to know (this is the man who filmed himself having sex with his ex and sent it to his current boyfriend as a way of splitting up with him…that’s how low he was prepared to sink and revel in it). I was still reeling from this drama and he came into work declaring it was the most boring thing he had ever seen and‘nothing happened!’ I took that as a massive compliment in The Body’s favour.

Moment to Watch Out For: Basically the whole episode but if I was forced at gunpoint to choose one moment it would be Anya’s speech about not understanding. Usually it is Willow who breaks my heart with moments like this but Emma Caulfield seizes this moment and provides us with a heartbreaking and chilling monologue that proves that Anya is far more than just a collection of witty quips.

Orchestra: Whether Whedon thought Wanker was up to the task or not, the decision to remove the music from this episode is vital to it's success. The silence gives the characters actions and reactions so much more meaning.

Fashion Statement: That red sweater of Buffy’s is one of my most enduring memories of this episode. I hope we never see it again or it will just bring back all these memories.

Result: One of the most painful hours of television I have ever had to sit through and yet consequently one of the most beautiful too, watching The Body is like having your heart ripped out of your chest and crushed before your eyes. It’s the point where these characters go beyond a fun, quirky ensemble into real people that you want to reach into the television and comfort. Sarah Michelle Gellar gives the performance of her career in this episode and the rest of the ensemble perform wonders too but the person that makes the biggest impression is Joss Whedon who has clearly poured so much of himself into this disquieting, shocking piece of television. Clearly a personal piece of work, he has never allowed us this close to himself and the characters and his use of silences is disquieting in the extreme. Removing Joyce from the show was something that nobody wanted but I can understand the reasons why in storytelling terms and in order to push the audience to the limits of what they can feel about these people. The Body is a cornerstone moment in Buffy and one of those game changing episodes that affects everything that comes afterwards. That a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer could produce something as hauntingly real as this is a fantastic achievement. It is quite simply one of the finest episodes of television ever broadcast and most shows couldn’t come anywhere near to claiming something as bold as that. 

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose written by Darin Morgan and directed by David Nutter

What’s it about: Fate. Determinism. Co-incidences. Life. Death.

Trust No-One: There’s a fantastic build up to the introduction of Mulder in this episode with talk of aspooky and unorthodox advisor that is being brought in to help with the investigation. In walks Mulder and the police don’t have a clue who he is – it’s the Stupendous Yappi that they have been waiting for! This is the sort of self-critical humour that Buffy excels in and taking the piss out of its own staple ingredients is the surest sign of confidence a show can exude. Yappi advances on Scully when he picks up on negative energy in the room which is interfering with his insights but suddenly turns on Mulder who is told to leave the room like a naughty schoolboy (Scully’s ‘I can’t take you anywhere’ made me howl). He gets his own back on Yappi when he asks him to read his mind. Even though Bruckman is the one with the paranormal ability he still wants to see Mulder’s ID when he starts spouting off his usual paranormal inanities (‘I’m supposed to believe that’s a real name?’). Mulder is asked if he wants to know how he dies and insanely says yes not realising that that knowledge will define the rest of his existence. Is Mulder really going to die of auto erotic asphyxiation? Who cares when his reaction to this is such a scream. Mulder isn’t a Freudian so I guess its nice that there is something that he wont buy into. I was beginning to wonder. Bruckman ultimately saves Mulder’s life – the fact that he knew that stepping in the pie signified the approach of the killer is what prevents his throat from being opened up. That Bruckman’s ability (that has to this point only signified misery) could ultimately save a mans life is a lovely gift to the character. It adds to the poignancy of the conclusion that he never realised that he has finally done some good.

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘Mr Bruckman there are hits and there are misses. And then there are misses…’ is possibly Scully’s best line in the entire series as she responds to Bruckman’s assertion that they will end up in bed together. Scully enjoys a scientific rationale for everything and at times it feels as though she enjoys taking all the wonder out of life. Which is why the first scene she appears in she and Mulder start debunking psychics with descriptions like anthropomancy, professional prognosticators and amateur tasseogrophers. Making something that is potentially dangerous feel very safe and scientific. There’s a gorgeous comment on Scully’s need to know how and why paranormal happenings take place summed up beautifully by Bruckman who points out that they have happened ‘so what are you complaining about?’ Any episode that can get Scully to say ‘fat white Nazi storm trooper’ gets my vote. Gillian Anderson’s performance at the climax is the very epitome of tenderness with a tear that wants to escape her eye but she is so restrained (and its all the more touching for it) that she wont let it go. I love the fact that Scully earns a dog out of this exercise. Hurrah for its appearances later in the year.

Banana Cream Pie: Bruckman is a delightful character from the off, mocking the idiotic predictions of the Stupendous Yappi that turn up in the National Enquirer but buying the magazine anyway. Peter Doyle gives a magnificent performance, delivering his lines with a warm and yet still deadpan approach which makes every gag a winner. Doyle makes such a an obviously scripted character entirely credible and great fun to be around. He deserves every plaudit that was handed down to him and more. Anybody who is that down on life has the ability to be really funny. To be able to tell how everybody is going to die would be a terrible curse, burdening you with a poisonous knowledge of everybody you touch in life.‘Sometimes it just seems that everybody’s having sex except for me…’ How can you not love a character that can pause halfway through reliving a terrible crime for a moment of melancholy like this? Why would Bruckman pursue a relationship with anybody? You would be blighted with the exact circumstances of the moment they would be taken away from you. Instead he lives a depressing existence selling insurance because at least he can do some good with his gift that way, ensuring that people who are about to lose somebody are sufficiently covered. Bruckman hears somebody at his door and correctly predicts that it is Mulder come to drag him further into this investigation but when he looks up says ‘oh, its you.’ His (or should that be Darin Morgan’s) self deprecating humour never fails to hit the spot. Hoping that the eventual fate of his helping the FBI will lead to his mother never meeting his father and his birth never taking place (he’s kooky like that), Bruckman is eager to get started. Moments like this signpost the touching ending. When Scully is doubtful that Bruckman’s abilities can give them any satisfying leads (as Bruckman himself says ‘I guess I can’t see the forest from the trees’ – I don’t think I’ve ever seen that line filmed in an actual forest but then I guess only this episode would dare) its brilliant that his wild goose chase is revealed to be irrelevant because the very place he asked them to stop the car is where the victim is, underneath in the mud. Hauntingly the connection between Bruckman and the killer is made perfectly clear, one predicts the deaths and the other makes them happen. You cannot have one without the other. Destined to a life of solitude, of selling insurance, of never being able to look at a single person and not be confronted with death, Bruckman pokes a finger in the eye of fate and chooses to take his own life. Given his unguarded depression throughout it shouldn’t come as a great surprise but it feels devastating to lose such a magnificent character.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I have to an APB out on a white male, 17-34, with or without a beard, maybe a tattoo who’s impotent’ ‘Might as well go home, Mulder. This case is as good as solved.’
‘This is from your New York Nicks T-Shirt!’ – when Darin Morgan wanted to write an episode based around the same theme as Beyond the Sea I never thought he would so hilariously reference the episode.
‘If co-incidences are co-incidences then why do they feel so contrived?’
‘Don’t you understand it yet son? Don’t you get it? You do the things you do because you’re a homicidal mainiac…’ – Bruckman has to spell out to the killer the reason behind his murder spree. The way he smiles because that makes sense is utterly chilling. 

The Good: What a shame that The Stupendous Yappi had to be reduced to only a couple of scenes because his presence is a delight, especially his insights into the killer that all come with an addendum of ‘or not’ or ‘I think.’ It’s a wonderful piss take of Derek Acorah and his contemporaries and prove that as long as you make a show out of it you can convince people of psychic ability through theatre. Its played to comic perfection. Its an episode that is happy to continually pause and make thoughtful observations without ever halting the flow of the narrative. Why do we collect the things that we do? What are the moments in our life that make us decide to follow a certain path? Why do we see meaningful patterns and configurations in things that inherently don’t have any? ‘How could I see the future if it didn’t already exist?’ ‘If the future is already written then why bother to do anything?’ – an exchange of two very good questions that I can remember debating long until the night with a Christian friend recently. Wonderfully Bruckman in one of his flights of fancy lists pretty much every ‘time travel’ plot sported by most genre series. What Bruckman has touched upon is to look at the specifics of everybody’s lives so he can determine when all the variables will come together and lead to your death. Very few shows I have watched have come up with an idea that fascinates me quite as much as this one. A cats cradle of decisions and influences  that make up a life and converge on the point where it ultimately stops. To study just one person and see that process in action would be the work of a lifetime. You can’t have an episode the focuses on the abilities of psychics and mediums without a sequence where our heroes fate is spelt out. The way this scene plays out with Morgan undercutting the tension with humour (Bruckman is far more interested in the flavour of the pie that Mulder has stepped in than the knife that is approaching his throat) is inspired. In the vision Mulder’s throat is slit because Bruckman is seeing what the killer wants to happen rather than what is actually going to happen. It means when this scene plays out later in the episode there is a real sense of anticipation. What an astonishing visual Bruckman decomposing is. I’ve seen similar effects on other shows but they always cut away at some point, this is a progression of purification from a dead body right the way through to a pile of dust and beyond. There is such delicate tragedy in the way that Bruckman tells Havez that he isn’t going to die of lung cancer and lights up a cigarette, a tender gesture since he is the only person who knows that it will be his last one as the killer is about to murder him. Through Havez we see the link between Bruckman and the killer, he’s predicted his death at the hands of the killer so now he has no choice but to turn up and make sure it happens. Bruckman’s curse is to cement the fate of these people. Even woman’s intuition gets a mention here, the most mentioned form of psychic ability in my world.

Pre Titles Sequence: One of my favourite pre titles sequences from one of my favourite episodes, this teaser manages to be funny, thoughtful, clever and frightening in the space of a couple of minutes. The irony of a fortune teller not being able to predict her own death is one of the most blackly funny things I have ever seen committed to film. I also love the idea of a serial killer who has absolutely no idea why he is about to go on a killing spree and seeking the advice of those people that would ultimately be his victims. This episode thrives on madness like that.

Moment to Watch Out For: Whether it is fate, co-incidence or pre-determinism through life choices, Bruckman and the killer coming face to face in the hotel room is one of the most spine tingling moments this show ever produced. It gives me goosebumps every time I see it. 

Result: I have never known a single episode of television that managed to be this bleak and yet so delightful to watch at the same time. Darin Morgan is in another league to the rest of the writers on this show and believe me the team that contributed to The X-Files were frequently excellent. His scripts are bursting with ideas, intelligent observations, imagination, laugh out loud humour, brilliant lines and phenomenal characters. If we are talking about substance I would say that Morgan is one of the foremost scriptwriters for television of all time. Every scene is a gem, packed with moments that will make you laugh and cry and experience all the emotions in between. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is the ultimate expression of what Morgan could bring to The X-Files and remains one of the shows most significant achievements. I spend so often reacting to this show (because it is often scaring the pants off me) that it is a refreshing change when it gives me this much to think about. Tempering all of the philosophy with humour is inspired because it never feels like you are being lectured at but introduced to catalysts that get your imagination firing in a very gentle way. From the black comedy of the pre titles sequence to the tear jerking conclusion, there is no part of this episode that isn’t magnificent. I’ll see other episodes of The X-Files that will make me tingle with how glorious they are but nothing will quite touch me in the same way as the tale of Clyde Bruckman and his terrible, terrible gift. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis of the Daleks written by Terry Nation and directed by David Maloney

This story in a nutshell: Can the Doctor stop the development of the Daleks?

Teeth and Curls: I’ve just finished watching the whole of season twelve and it confirms what I have always suspected – that Tom Baker took a little while before he truly found his feet in the role. When the material is top notch (The Ark in Space & Genesis) he fits into it like a comfy slipper but when it titters on the verge of being average (The Sontaran Experiment) or downright shocking (Revenge of the Cybermen) he is completely at sea but still trying to make his mark. Robot he’s allowed as a breather because anybody would be a little manic in their first story. Filmed out of sequence, Genesis was the last story of that season filmed and it shows because Tom has found his groove and would continue to play this moody, if occasionally playful, hero for the next two years in this vein. There is a confidence and brio to his performance here that wasn’t there before – this the fourth Doctor that is instantly recognisable. The one who cracks jokes in the face of a rifle, walks blithely through minefields, locks swords verbally with a psychotic genius and questions his right to murder. It's one of Baker’s best stories and considering how good he is throughout his run that is no small statement.

The Doctor is shocked that the Time Lords would have nerve to ask anything of him after stripping him of his second life, exiling him to Earth and treating him like their delivery boy. Once they gave him back his freedom (he did save the entire universe after all) he thought that was it and he will no longer tolerate their continual interference in his life. Unfortunately the Time Lord agent has the one word at his disposal that makes the Doctor’s blood run cold; Daleks. ‘Who is this Davros?’ – oh Doctor, you’re going to wish you never asked. In an iconic scene Davros introduces his Mark III travel machine to his staff and the Doctor almost becomes the very first victim of a Dalek. The intensity and seriousness of his plea to the Kaled government is impressive, once the Hinchcliffe era is over there would only be a few scant moments of that kind of gravitas in the remaining four seasons. The ‘deaths’ of Sarah and Harry, two of the sweetest companions he has ever travelled with gives Tom Baker the chance to really show the audience what he is made of. He launches himself at the firing pad to stop the rocket that will kill his friends and when he fails he falls, defeated and despondent with only his mission pushing him on as if he has to complete that to make their deaths worth something. So often we explore the companions reaction to the possibility of the Doctor being dead but it is rarely the other way round and after this wave of depression its easy to see why not. Clearly his friends make his existence worthwhile, otherwise it's just duty and where’s the fun in that? He’s so thrilled to see Harry and Sarah, grabbing his hand excitedly and embracing her. Davros proves once and for all that the Doctor’s companions do obstruct his life as well as enriching it by using them to extract the information for every Dalek defeat. The Doctor looks disgusted that Davros could describe a conscience as an ‘affliction.’ In a seminal moment for the fourth Doctor he has the choice to destroy the Daleks or not and he is paralysed by the decision. Holding the two wires perilously close together he questions if he would be any better than the Daleks if he causes their genocide. He remembers the worlds that became allies because of the Daleks, perhaps seeing some good in their tyranny. The story opts out of forcing him to make a choice which is a shame because I would have loved to have seen which we he jumped. Its ironic that this is exactly the same choice faced by the eighth/ninth Doctor when the Daleks invaded Gallifrey. Had the fourth Doctor intervened his people would still be alive but he would also be every bit as battle scarred and tortured as the ninth Doctor. It’s a fascinating quandary both in its own terms at this point in the shows mythology and considering what comes later.

Investigative Journalist: Poor Sarah, she hasn’t had much of a time of it of late! After watching the Doctor die she was the object of affection for a Giant Robot, she was accidentally put into cryogenic storage, tortured by a Sontaran and now she is left for dead amongst a heap of corpses as gas fills her lungs and is put to torturous work by the sadistic Thals carrying their poisonous weapons! It's enough to make a girl want to head back to London and have a rest! I bet it puts her work as a investigative journalist into perspective. Sarah falls into the hands of the very sweet Muto Sevrin who takes care of her whilst she is a prisoner of the Thals. She hasn’t lost that season eleven spirit after all as she whips the exhausted slaves into a fighting unit to escape their captivity. I don’t care how contrived it might have been, the first time I saw the freeze frame cliffhanger that has Sarah falling from the scaffolding of the rocket I was absolutely gripped with excitement. There’s nothing quite like a Doctor Who cliffhanger that sings this well and I was desperate to know if this was the end of my favourite companion. The fear that Elisabeth Sladen displays as she has to cross to the rocket and is playfully kicked to her death by a sadistic guard is unlike anything we have seen from a companion before, that is real terror in her eyes and it is really uncomfortable to witness. It's one of the few moments that this fluffy show tips over into sadism – it makes for a great scene but that discomfort must mean the boundaries have been pushed as far as they can go. I find it very cute that the scene where Sarah warns the Doctor about heading down the ventilation shaft is played almost identically in her own series with the eleventh Doctor in many years to come. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I Say: It’s a shame that there is simply too much going on in this story to give Harry the attention he rightly deserves but Ian Marter makes the most of every moment he is given. Harry shows incredible courage in his willingness to hold the landmine as the Doctor lifts his foot off, anybody else would be out of there in a shot and it says something about how much this Doctor cares for his Doctor. He looks oddly comfortable with a gun and pair of handcuffs! As a Doctor Harry finds the idea of racial cleansing horrible. Like Louise Jameson being gnawed on by a giant fluffy rat, Ian Marter gives his all when Harry sticks his foot in a deadly clam and almost convinces that it is a deadly threat. That’s how good he is.

Scarred Scientist: Michael Wisher gives the single most impressive performance as Davros in the characters run. The Terry Molloy version has taken flight on audio and his prolific nature means that I still consider him to be the definitive version but I would never suggest that Wisher’s performance here is anything less than bravura. In a sequence that redefines the word iconic, Davros is first seen in the half-light whispering to his subordinate that the weaponry of his new creation is perfect and we pan back to reveal a Dalek. We’ve never seen anything quite like Davros before. Sure there have been some pretty gruesome monsters but this monstrous grotesque, somewhere between an ordinary man and a twisted gargoyle truly sours the stomach. For a moment you could be forgiven for thinking this is a nasty looking statue because he is perfectly still and his icy, purring voice seems at odds with its lifeless natures. His limp, scarred hands shake their way towards the buttons on his wheelchair – what’s astonishing is how powerful this character seems despite his obviously crippled nature. The metal grips that is embedded in his head is nasty – it is literally knitting his skull together! What could have possibly happened to make a man so disfigured? Only Davros could possibly think that ‘the best is yet to come’ when talking about giving a Dalek the ability to cold bloodedly kill. His wheelchair having a Dalek design is a great touch because it makes total sense of where that part of their design came from. There is something stiflingly claustrophobic about the way Davros commands the bunker with practically all of his workers terrified of him and opposing the Dalek project. Davros is also a skilled politician who can manipulate the government with gentle words whilst performing the most outrageous acts of treason by giving the opposition the ability to destroy his own people. That was the point where he went from being a superb villain to the best we have ever had. It's such a diabolical act of cowardice to ensure that he can continue with his work you almost have to admire his sledgehammer techniques. That is the point of no return where Davros has surrendered everything to his work on the Daleks and nothing will stop their completion. Even if he has to tear the entire planet apart with his bear hands the Daleks will see the light of day. If you betray his trust he will finds a way to kill you as Ronson discovers. Davros lays the blame for his own treachery on the scientists doorstep and orders him exterminated. It's fascinating to see how Michael Wisher builds to a tyrannical, Hitleresque shriek as he orders the mans death almost as if he surrenders to his own Dalek side when his bloodlust boils over. Even Nyder looks appalled at the notion that Davros would murder his own people to suit his needs (although its not enough for the man to show a flicker of emotion, naturally). Davros talks of peace and prosperity on Skaro, a new dawn for the Thal race but as soon as they fire their rocket to wipe out the Kaleds he sends the Daleks in to massacre them all! It's typical Davros to talk about erasing ‘stupid emotions’ from his workforce so they can still make use of their inventive skills. The Doctor tries to convince Davros to make the Daleks a force for good in the universe and his nemesis toys with the idea playfully but that was never going to be an option. In Davros’ warped view of the world power comes through strength and the ability to threaten and kill and the only way the Daleks will survive is if they are dominant life form destroying everything else. It turns out Davros’ one weakness is a hunger for knowledge and he tries to turn on the charm to extract the Doctor’s scientific secrets. Davros actually considers the Daleks a force for good because once they have destroyed all other lifeforms there will be no need for fighting – that’s some warped philosophy. Wonderfully we get to see just how vulnerable Davros is, the Doctor practically killing him by a mere flick of a switch. He’s little more than a robot after all. There’s a stunning moment where gunfire sounds and Davros is alone in the dark in his laboratory waiting for the Elite to find him, plotting silently. Your average villain wouldn’t get a moment of chilling reflection like that. Just when you think that Davros cannot sink any lower he exploits democracy to buy himself time to get his Daleks back from their last massacre to wipe out the few scientists that are left on the planet. Skaro is literally a sea of corpses with the Daleks the only thing to show for the slaughter. After his psychotic attacks I cannot believe there are people who would still stand at Davros’ side. Ignominy is something that all power hungry dictators have to face and Davros’ punishment for his actions comes at the hands of his own creatures. Their lack of pity, the very emotion everybody has been telling him to imbue the Daleks with, is what brings Davros down and it has a delicious taste of irony to it. His dying scream is the one moment where you feel for this character in over two and a half hours, cut down as he tries to bring his creations to an end.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We must keep the Kaled race pure…
‘Now undoubtedly Davros has one of the finest scientific minds in existence but he has a fanatical desire to perpetuate himself in his machine. He works with conscience, without soul and without pity and his machines are equally devoid of these qualities.’
‘The Council have signed the death warrants of the whole of the Kaled people!’
‘I have betrayed the future!’
‘To hold in my hand a capsule that contained such power. To know that life and death on such a scale was my choice. To know that the tiny pressure of my thumb…enough to break the glass would end everything! Yes, I would do it! That power would set me up above the Gods and through the Daleks I shall have that power!’ – we don’t usually have dialogue as thoughtful as this to savour and it really is relishable. I love the way Davros snaps his finger and thumb together to simulate releases the virus, the old loon!
‘Rebellion is an idea in the mind! Suppress it and it hides away and festers…’
‘Do I have the right?’
‘Have pity!

The Good: · David Maloney has a great eye for memorable imagery and his opening of a mist swathed battlefield with gas masked soldiers emerging and gunned down in slow motion has to be one of the most nightmarish first scenes since Terry Nation’s The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The War Games and Invasion of the Dinosaurs have similarly dour opening scenes but there we have the Doctor and his assistants to let us know things will be all right. Genesis of the Daleks chucks you in at the deep end amidst bloodshed that it never recovers from. No wonder Mary Whitehouse was appalled – the Doctor and his chums walk across a minefield strewn with corpses and discover a bunker entrance piled high with yet more bodies. It’s a massacre! I love the shots of hulking, malformed Muto pursuing Sarah through the mist – talk about tense! The spotlight in the Muto’s face (revealing his terrified grimace) as he is shot down sticks in the memory and so does the guards reaction, worrying more about a waste of ammunition rather than a waste of life! The sequence of Sarah on the scaffolding is dynamically shot with lots of under lighting to increase the tension. He uses lighting to incredible effect as the Daleks make their way through the Thal city and Kaled bunker on a rampage, throwing their dark shadows on the wall to pre-empt their appearance. The gorgeous shot of a Dalek scouring the battlefield with explosions lit up behind it conjures up images of devastating tanks grinding up filthy land in the World Wars and taking the lives of so many.
· I always thought I sensed Robert Holmes’ hand in the premise of the show because it is so instantly memorable but after having watched Terry Nation's Survivors and Blake's 7 I am not so sure any more. He is clearly a much better ideas man than I gave him credit for. The Doctor being sent back to Skaro by the Time Lords when the Daleks were first created to avert their creation. I can’t imagine even a non-fan wouldn’t be excited by that! There is just so much potential in the scenario ofdiscovering how such ruthless creations came to be, to explore the war that caused their genesis and the moral implications of genocide.
· The first episode is a perfectly formed pieced of drama and is up their with The Invasion part six as one of the greatest episodes of Doctor Who ever made. The dramatic premise, the return of the Time Lords, slow motion deaths, explosions, a gas attack, the Doctor standing on a landmine, gunplay, meeting some truly sinister characters, the unfolding horror of the scenario and that humdinger of a cliffhanger that reveals Davros for the first time and the very first Dalek. It’s sublimely good.
· The idea of a war that has been fought for a long time so the resources have been depleted and the technology has become more primitive is fascinating because most modern wars accelerate the technology available. The notion that even as we sink back into primitivism we can still find ways to slaughter each other is a chilling one. It just makes the fight more vicious and nasty. The formation of the Elite to think up fresh methods of killing is frightening, especially when that group has become so powerful they are practically controlling the government. Davros has wormed his way to the top and changed their researches towards the survival of their race but with a sadistic desire to use the results of that research to crush all resistance on Skaro. In one bold stroke Terry Nation and Robert Holmes have taken the outwardly ridiculous appearance of the Daleks and turned it into something that is functional and purposeful. By showing the Doctor the creatures that the Kaled will mutate in to we have a clear reason behind putting them inside the pepper pot casings – simply to keep them mobile and protected. The scope of Genesis of the Daleks is incredible with both sides in this war being wiped throughout the course of the story and a new race being born. We truly are seeing the dying days of this planet and the birth of a blasted wilderness that will dovetail into the very first Dalek story with the first Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan arriving to find the mess that his future self has left behind.
· There is some impressive acting talent on display throughout this story. It's great to see the usually camped up Guy Siner playing a straight part and he’s perfect for the role of the young, sadistic general whose trying to play tough. Even the way he excitedly screams out his hatred of the Thals so unconvincingly helps to explain how he wasn’t ready for this role. Who would ever believe that this is the same Peter Miles who played the violently aggressive Dr Lawrence in Dr Who and the Silurians and the madcap brainbox Dr Whitaker last season in Invasion of the Dinosaurs? Stick him in a Nazi-esque uniform and give him a pair of menacing specs and he becomes Nyder, the cool, unnervingly controlled and sinister right hand man of Davros. There’s barely a flicker of a smile in his performance throughout the six episodes and every move he makes is robotic and perfectly judged. Michael Wisher aside, it’s the standout performance of the story. In a very small part Hilary Minster terrifies as he fucks with Sarah’s mind by pretending he is going to let her fall from a great height.
· Dudley Simpson’s music is such an odd beast because whilst it is recognised as some of the best that the show featured there is also the feeling that it can also be a little predictable at times. My opinion is that he was a superb composer who occasionally got a little too cosy. I find most of his work during the Troughton era to be of a superb standard (Evil of the Daleks, The Ice Warriors and The Seeds of Death all feature memorable scores) and whilst his music became a little safe during the Pertwee era (with some exceptions – I find his most memorable music for that era is during the year he was forced to go electronic!) it would seems that the high violence count and atmosphere of the Hinchcliffe stories has re-invigorated him! The Ark in Space had a top notch, moody soundtrack but it can’t hold a candle to what he achieves in Genesis of the Daleks. He’s relying heavily on the piano a lot here and proves what a dramatic instrument it can be and there are some terrific moments of underscoring (Davros first revealing the Dalek has a sinister underscore) and excitement (listen as he bashes away on the piano when the Daleks go in the attack in the later episodes).
· The script plays fun games in trying to convince you that Nyder is working against Davros. The idea has merit because even he looks taken aback at Davros’ mania at points but as soon as I saw him smile (it looked more like a sneer) I knew he was up to no good. When he plays his hand, Peter Miles aces the robotic response to remind you that this quisling is completely without remorse just like his mentor.
· Astonishingly this story gains momentum by scaling the story down as it goes along. Power of the Daleks worked in reverse by opening very small scale and working its way up to a Dalek slaughter. Genesis starts on an ambitious grand scale and as each side is diminished we find ourselves losing more locations until we are trapped in the claustrophobic walls of the bunker. Then the remaining scientists are bumped off which leaves one last victim; Davros. I love how the script goes from the epic to the intimate because most stories work the other way around. It literally feels as if the story is closing in around you until there is nowhere left to run.

The Bad: It would be churlish to focus too heavily on the minor mistakes made in a story that has been put together with such care. The toxic reader by the Thal rocket is simplistically designed and after the myriad of impressively designed sets the caves that the Doctor and Harry find themselves in are distinctly plastic looking and full of crapola BBC props. The electric fence and mutant cliffhangers are that brilliant but they serve their purpose. I would have loved it had they had the guts to end episode five on ‘do I have the right?’ I was utterly absorbed by the story until I saw the TOTAL DESTRUCT button and then I was reminded I was watching Doctor Who.

The Shallow Bit: Don’t dress Tom Baker up in a black leather again. Just don’t.

Result: A masterpiece of suspense and visceral and psychological horror, Genesis of the Daleks lives up to its iconic status and then some. I don’t care whose name is on the credits, this script was either heavily rewritten by Robert Holmes or he gave notes every stage. Under Terrance Dicks Terry Nation produced Planet of the Daleks and the yawning chasm that exists between that story and this is too damn noticeable to be quite believable. Whoever was responsible the script is a work of art in itself; an exercise in world building, character examination, moral dilemmas and how to pace a six part action adventure with real momentum. David Maloney is next in line for credit because he takes this script and refuses to let one iota of atmosphere bleed away. The direction is bold, violent and shocking – you wouldn’t want Doctor Who to be this way every week because it is just too disturbing in places but as a fatalistic one off it is a tour de force. The lighting is superb and Dudley Simpson’s music has really come on since Tom Baker took over the role, highlighting the drama whilst cutting away the melo. It’s a huge cast and nearly all the roles are impeccably performed from the sadistic (Hilary Minster) to the uncomfortably still (Peter Miles) with Lis Sladen and Ian Marter providing impeccable support to Tom Baker’s Doctor who has finally come into his own. The plaudits have to go to Michael Wisher though for creating such a memorable grotesque in Davros – the last three episodes see the action quotient drop but its still completely riveting because Davros’ malevolent behaviour is absolutely delicious to watch. There’s no part of Genesis of the Daleks that isn’t firing on all cylinders and it’s the first major success of many for incoming producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. Even the conclusion is satisfying, managing to be both anti climatic and loaded with irony and murderous relish. It's not a story I can watch over and over because its depressing tone can be quite hard hitting but every time I do watch Genesis I am reminded of just how good Doctor Who can be when everything comes together with absolute precision. Outstanding. 

The Curse of Clyde Langer written by Phil Ford and directed by Ashley Way

This story in a nutshell: Clyde is homeless and friendless and this is the story of how it happened…

Until Next Time…Miss Smith: I cannot tell you happy I am to see Elisabeth Sladen looking so vibrant and gorgeous in her last season – she’s dressing snazzily and she barely looks a day older than when she left the Doctor 30 odd years ago. Looking great and delivering the sort of consistently engaging performance that has won her a whole new audience. Her journalistic tendencies have her exaggerate stories and tells Mr Smith of the raining trout being that big when in fact they were only that big. Sarah mentions that it wouldn’t be the first time that aliens have masqueraded as Gods which is a lovely mention of Pyramids of Mars. I love the fact that, curse aside, Sarah Jane really encourages Clyde to explore his artistic side and sees real talent in him. It is so easy to be hard on kids these days but to work with them and see potential, Sarah is a terrific role model to most people over fifty that I know. Lis Sladen plays that first scene where Sarah turns on Clyde to the hilt, her mood turning on a sixpence and laying into him with viciously and he reacts as if she has physically struck him. I had a sudden twinge of how my dad used to take the piss out my arty side when I was younger, especially how Sarah flings his ‘stupid comic’ across the room calling it rubbish that made the scene especially uncomfortable. Sarah always was far more of role model to me than my pops ever was so to see her behaving this way was a real shocker. After completely ignoring it in the last season I really enjoyed the focus on Sarah being a journalist again this year, it feels like the character is coming full circle since this was how we were introduced to her in The Time Warrior.

Graphic Artist: It did strike me when watching the final three SJA adventures that the age that both Clyde and Rani are at now and at this point in their lives when they are mature enough to enjoy themselves they would make perfect Doctor Who companions. I wouldn’t want that to be the case because these two are most definitely property of this show (and the chemistry built up between Lis Sladen, Daniel Anthony and Anjili Mohindra isn’t something that you can just transplant elsewhere, its something special that has been built up over time) but as a wisecracking but thoughtful young man Clyde might have been one of the finest of the Doctor’s protégés. When Clyde leaves school he wants to put his artistic talents to good use and judging by the mock ups he creates of The Silver Bullet it must just be something he excels at. He’s glad that Sky has turned up because finally there is somebody who appreciates his comic genius (certainly Rani isn’t going to encourage him!). If any story is going to teach you to keep your hands to yourself in a museum this is it. Clyde loves art even if it does bite back. What’s interesting to note is that the curse takes some latent feelings about Clyde and enhances them – I’m sure Sarah does have a mild distaste for how Clyde gently mocks Luke all the time, Haresh has always let the lad know what he thinks of him and his mum must wonder what he is up to skulking about with Sarah Jane all the time. Daniel Anthony is too good in these stories that engage your sympathies. It might be because he usually plays the joker in the pack but when he is given material where your heart bleeds for him it usually has double the effect (Mark of the Berserker, The Nightmare Man). Anthony underplays his shock and tries to reason with his friends calmly before running away and it is highly effective. For Clyde whose dad left him suddenly there is nothing more frightening for his newfound family of Sarah Jane, Rani and of course his mum doing the same thing. Seeing Clyde standing in the rain, homeless and crying at having lost everyone he has ever cared about, you must have a heart of steel if this doesn’t move you. He has always thought of himself as a fighter having a wild life but burning his comic feels like he is finally accepting that that life is over.

Journalist in TrainingRani tells the romantic story (or not) of how her mum and dad met in a museum. Sarah didn’t realise that Gita was the museum type and her instinct are spot on – it was raining. Even through the feelings of rage the curse draws out of them both Rani and Sarah both feel a tangible sense of loss. The way it is played, a subtle tear and a quiet admission, is a lovely affirmation of their feelings for Clyde.

Sarah’s Daughter: With only three stories under her belt we never really got to see Sky flourish in the same way we did Luke but in those three stories it was clear that SJA was going to revolutionise the Dawn from Buffy teenage girl stereotype (my word she was irritating and angsty at times!) just as they had the Wesley Crusher-from Star Trek TNG boy genius type with Luke. Like Luke it looks as though Sky is going to be bright and inquisitive and thrive in a school environment but unlike Luke she is much more free with her opinion and sure of herself. I like the fact that Sky thinks of something as terrifying as going to school for the first time as something exciting – seeing the world through her eyes is quite magical. Mr Smith is still nervous around Sky because he is nervous that she will fry his circuits! The way Sky fights so hard to make everybody realise they are behaving irrationally is her best material in the series and Sinead Michael tackles the tricky scenes with some skill.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Haresh there seems to be a trout on your window cill…’
‘Why did you give her money?’ ‘Because she’s a scrounger’ ‘Why did you give her some?’ ‘Because its probably not her fault…’
‘When its raining chocolate let me know!’
‘Look if you’ve had a row with your folks go home. With any luck you’ll be nice and warm in bed tonight. Spare us a thought.’
‘Who ever heard of a homeless person having charisma?’
‘And no one knows because they don’t want to.’

The Good: A London school and a giant book about The French Revolution, like Remembrance of the Daleks this is another quiet kiss to An Unearthly Child. The Sarah Jane Adventures has always had a penchant for memorable imagery but the sight of raining fish flopping and twitching in the school playground has to rank pretty high on the weird scale! I love the fact that although clearly made with quite a scant budget the museum is somewhere fresh and interesting looking and not just set inside the Millennium Centre again. As ever this show knows exactly when it needs its effects and the way Clyde’s name comes alive in burning letters as he sleeps really sells the idea that something dreadful is about to happen to him as a menacing portent. Its another awesome score courtesy of Sam Watts with the curse theme highlighting the sudden burst of aggressive behaviour in Clyde’s friends very effectively, probably a bit too much because I was whistling this for days after the show was aired. There’s a wonderful little moment where Clyde’s friend Stevie takes the piss out of the fact that he can’t find work – this kid was still at school in the shows second season and it proves that the regulars are growing up and not finding life so easy in the real world. The boys pushing Clyde around and destroying his phone is far more effective than a similar scene in Doctor Who’s Survival when Ace is advanced upon by a pack of athletes because these are ordinary kids turned violent and there is something very mundane and primal about that. There’s a great shot of Clyde literally being tossed out onto the streets which is a great visual for what is happening in the story. When Clyde returns home I love the back of the head shot of his mum sitting at the table – I have seen a number of horror shows/films employ that shot to suggest that there is somebody dead sitting at the table and it has pretty much the same effect here since Carla has read Clyde’s name and her own son is dead to her now. The episode has built so brilliantly in tension that the cliffhanger isn’t just another tense scene but a moment of kindness because that is the last thing we expect. The scenes of Clyde living rough under a railway bridge are brilliantly realised and never patronising, these are just ordinary people who have fallen on hard times and living rough. It doesn’t push for the sympathy vote and that it is why it’s a million times more effective than the Hooverville scenes in Daleks in Manhattan. This feels real not some syrupy interpretation of homelessness. ‘The myth says the Medicine Man from the great tribe trapped the God…’ – the Doctor? How many times have I walked past people asking for spare change like Ellie does here? This story holds a mirror up to the audience and they might not always like what they see. Ellie feels that her dreams to get her life back on track and find a nice boy are coming true now she has met Clyde. The episode has worked to such an extent that the moment of greatest tension comes not when Clyde has to face up to the supernatural force inside the totem pole but when he has to turn his back on Ellie to join his friends and save the day. I was watching with Simon and he was screaming at the telly ‘don’t you dare leave her!’ For a moment the apocalypse comes to the attack with windows exploding and that bloody ugly totem pole with its twitching mouths attacking.

The Bad: It’s a shame that there couldn’t be a guest appearance by Luke in this story because that would have been the final nail in the coffin for Clyde to have his best friend turn on him to his face. Sarah and Rani repeatedly Clyde’s name over and over goes from tear jerking optimism to cringeworthy over sentiment on a second by second basis and the music is working far too hard to make you feel at that point. 

Result: Poignant and affecting, it is wonderful to see the Sarah Jane Adventures going out at the top of their game and using science fiction to explore some real issues. Daniel Anthony has really grown into his role of Clyde Langer is this is his best performance in the series, really tugging at the heartstrings as his friends and family force him out of their lives. Matching him beat for beat is Lily Loveless who is wonderful as Ellie and really has an effect on how Clyde views the homeless and the way the story suggests an optimistic end for both of them before wrenching it away is very well done. Unusually for this show there is a lengthly coda showing Clyde desperately searching all the homeless shelters for Ellie and not succeeding, it is a final touch of realism in a show that has offered an honest and unflinching account of being stuck on the streets. And who says that television can’t move you to act? On the strength of this story I contacted the Salvation Army the very next day and have put myself up to volunteer in the dinner service for the homeless twice a week. How lovely that this family show could make me look at my own dismissal of the homeless and reconsider my beliefs. 

Baelor written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Alan Taylor

What’s it about: The plot depicts Eddard Stark, imprisoned and accused of high treason, struggling with the decision whether to falsely confess to save his daughters. His wife Catelyn negotiates with Lord Walder Frey for the use of a strategic river crossing and his son Robb fights his first battle in the war against the Lannisters. Meanwhile, Jon Snow discovers a secret about Maester Aemon, and Daenerys stands up to Qotho and challenges Dothraki traditions to care for Khal Drogo.

The Starks: All Ned hears are hints and whispers told to him in secret by Varys (although to be fair everything he informs him is the truth), a man that he doesn’t trust an inch. He could be feeding him any old nonsense. He would rather die a man of honour than live in the service of a pallid little swot like Joffrey. Those words will come back to haunt him very soon. Catelyn is a woman of means and marches into the Twins where no man dares to tread and bargains away her sons marital future to allow them to cross and face the Lannisters. Robb’s reaction to discovering he is to be wed to one of Fray’s hideous daughters really made me chuckle. That’s just what you need to hear when you are about to head into battle…that the reward for risking your life for your fathers honour is to be lumbered with an awkward Plain Jane. Richard Madden’s speech to his men at the climax is particularly rousing. Its easy to see why the producers wanted him to have a larger role in the second year. Before he is killed, Ned gets to see that Arya is alive and well. Its some small compensation for a man who is about to draw his last breath. The fact that he debases himself before that little shit Joffrey and hands him his honour and he still gets executed proves that there is no hope for the principled on this show. It breaks every convention of television as I understand it. Brilliantly.

The Lannisters: Placing Tyrion and his barbarian horde in the vanguard of the army tells you everything you need to know about how much Tywin Lannister cares for his son. We’re introduced to Shae for the first time, the exotic prostitute acquired for Tyrion to enjoy his final evening before the battle commences. Like everything to do with Tyrion this relationship doesn’t develop in the way that you would expect. Shae isn’t treated as a mere sex object to titillate but as a person with feelings to share his time with. Their relationship will continue to develop long into the second season and beyond and proves to be unexpectedly rich and rewarding. The moments of warmth between Tyrion, Bronn and Shae are treasurable because such sentiment is rare on this show and its nice to see (for once) that the honourable characters are given a moment of relief. I would have been mightily upset had any of these character not made it to the end credits. The drinking game that Tyrion suggests allows us to learn a great deal about all three characters, especially that in the right circumstances they have real honesty and integrity. I believe it is Tyrion’s humility when telling his story about the first woman he ever slept with which encouraged Shae to fall in love him. 

House Targaryen: Making Drogo weak only serves to make Daenerys stronger and she speaks to the Khal’s men with ferocious authority. Its interesting that the two men that would have fought so violently over Daenerys (Drogo and Robert Boratheon) both come to ignoble ends when their status deserved something more rousing. Danerys thought herself safe because of her position and condition but Mormont spells out that as soon as Drogo dies her protection vanishes and the fighting begins as the rivalry for a new Khal begins. This seems to be the episode where everybody makes the wrong choices and whilst I applaud Dany for employing the services of Mirri Maz Duur it is clear from the uneasy tone of the scene that it is a decision she will learn to lament. Blood raining down on her face, forbidding screams sounding from the Khal’s tent and the song of the dead being sung…what has she become in order to save the man she loves?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your mother would still be a milk maid if I hadn’t squirted you into her belly!’ is quite one of the vilest lines of dialogue I have ever heard and so naturally deserves plaudits.
‘The dead will dance here tonight.’
‘Stay low’ ‘Stay low?’ – all the funnier because it took me a second or two to figure out Tyrion’s response!

Bloodshed: I’m soon to show the series to my husband and I can just envision his reaction to the amount of animal butchery the show demonstrates. For some reason he has absolutely no problem with watching mass slaughter on television (although I would point out that he doesn’t actively seek out like a crazy person) but if somebody so much as looks at a dog or a cat in the same way and his grumpy face is there to stay for the duration. I can only imagine what he will say when the horse is slaughtered as violently as it here. I never had any doubt in Mormont’s ability and whilst the fight is choreographed to give Qotho the upper hand I had no doubt who would be face down in the dirt by the end.

Lust: More midget sex, if you like that sort of thing.

The Good: Gorgeous, sun kissed location work introduces us to the Twins, Ireland’s rugged beauty at its finest. David Bradley can often be found playing vicious, vile old gits and that’s because its something that he does so well. As with so many of the characters in this show, it is immaculate casting (I cannot imagine any other person in this role) and he can be seen chewing up the scenery, finding it a bit grisly and spitting it out again. ‘Fifteen she is…a little flower, and the honey’s all mine!’ This show continues to astonish in its ability to rivet you to the screen throughout dialogue scenes the length of a bible. The first fifteen minutes are taken up almost entirely by two lengthy dialogue sequences (Varys/Stark and Catelyn/Frey) but what they are discussing is the entire future of the landscape of this show. Mia Soteriou makes an instant impression as the unearthly witch Mirri Maz Duur who has knowledge of the black arts that could possibly save Drogo’s life. Whilst she is a prisoner, mistreated and abused she still manages to convey a sense of confidence and cunning. Robb sneaking up on the Lannister army is probably the worst thing he could have done ultimately. There is no time for them to get pre-battle nerves, its straight into the fighting with gusto. Tyrion being trampled on by the barbarians as they advance forward itching to fight made me howl with laughter. Bless him. Had we cut away from the fight completely it would have been desperately disappointing and so the staging of the aftermath is vital. It’s a brutal image of a war lost with bloodied corpses filling the fields. The futility of it all drives home when you see loss of life on such a scale. Robb proves to be a master tactician, sending only 2000 men (or should that be martyrs?) to fight and using the rest of his resources to wound Tywin Lannister in a way that really hurts. Kidnapping his son. Tywin said in his very first scene that it is the Lannister name that needs protecting above all else and whilst they may have one a victory (or sorts), they have lost face. That’s something that requires a firm response if they are going to continue to hold King’s Landing in a grip of fear. The staging of the final scene of the episode and the direction in general is breathtaking, far beyond what you normally see on television in terms of styling and scope (it feels as though it has slipped from a movie). Everything about this scene has been set up to make the audience believe that Ned will survive. Sansa has already been seen begging for her fathers life, Joffrey has shown brief moments of kindness towards her before, his death is the last thing that Cersei wants with Robb Stark now in possession of her brother and lover and the simple fact that Sean Bean has been our point of view character since the beginning of the series means that we really can’t do without him. There was no way in hell that they would ever cut off his head. Until they do. Now I believe that they are capable of absolutely anything on Game of Thrones. George R.R. Martin is a genius. A breathtaking moment of television of the sort that only comes around once in a blue moon. Its especially wonderful because its Joffrey’s foremost rebellion and the first sign that Cersei has lost complete control of the little gimp.

Connections: David Bradley played the marvellously sinister Argus Filch in Harry Potterand more recently another slime ball in the Doctor Who episode Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

Result: The series has been building to a battle for the past couple of weeks and the early scenes in Baelor seem to promise its execution before the curtain falls. What happens instead (and I’m certain it was a budgetary necessity but it actually works in the shows favour because of it) is that we get all the excitement of the build up of the battle and none of the disappointment when the show cannot pull off theLord of the Rings style battle scenes we might be expecting. Its like a Christmas present, the anticipation of opening it is always far more exciting than after you have torn away the wrapper. At the same time the writers understand that they need some kind of a climax that will satisfy the audience and they time the death of Ned Stark to perfection. To say I was gobsmacked when the end credits kicked in would be an understatement. I was so convinced that they would never in a million years kill of such a major character (and acting wise probably the shows biggest draw) that I rewound the last minute or so to watch it again to make sure what my eyes were telling me were true. I haven’t had this much fun with a TV show in many, many years. The developments across the Narrow Sea also had me gripped with the ignominious death of another character reinforced by a horrifying decision on Danerys’ part. The show has been dipping its toes in supernatural waters over the past few weeks and now it plunges head first and delivers some genuine scares. The character interaction is at its best, production values soar (even when economising by keeping the battle off screen) and the dialogue has never been more cutting. The best episode of the season although that isn’t a slight on any of the other installments. They are all of a supreme quality too but they just don’t have the ending this one has. 

Blake written by Chris Boucher and directed by Mary Ridge

What’s it about: The end is nigh, the Federation is drawing close and the Avon and his crew are trapped on Gouda Prime without a hope...

A Good Man: Strongly identified with rebels and very popular with rabbles, Blake makes a very welcome return to the series just when you didn't expect him. It was never confirmed or denied that he genuinely was present on Terminal or whether he was alive or dead at the end of the episode. It is glorious that they managed to convinced Gareth Thomas to make a final appearance in the show in it's last episode, it gives the series a definitive feeling of coming to a close. Blake is hold up on Gouda Prime, trying to avoid turning up dead. He can't really tell if somebody is a Federation spy or not anymore. He's a tired, broken man, a far cry from the stalwart idealist of seasons one and two. To be honest I think he is far more interesting this way. I think he likes playing the part of the gruesome, whiskered bounty hunter. He always did have a touch of the romantic about him and playing the opposite to his character must help pass the time. The scenes between Blake and Tarrant are believably muscular and gripping, it is a shame that we didn't get more of a chance to explore this relationship as I think there would have been some entertaining fireworks between them. You can understand why Blake is playing underhanded tactics on Gouda Prime, to root out the Federation spies and to keep his skin wrapped comfortably all over. However not trusting Tarrant turns out to be a fatal mistake on his part, pretending to have captured him to lure Avon out into the open was a dangerous move and one that he pays for with his life. It isn't Tarrant he has misjudged, but Avon. Blake failed to recognise how paranoid his friend has become without his influence and the mere mention of the only man Avon ever trusted turning against him is enough for him to pull the trigger.

Anti-Hero: Maybe it is a jibe at Blake or maybe it is Avon questioning his own status but when he is informed that a figurehead is important his response is that 'any idiot can be one.' Brilliantly, Avon admits that he has known about Blake's whereabouts for some time and had his pact with Zukan worked out he would have left him on Gouda Prime to rot and said nothing. What a cold, devious man he is. He's precisely the sort that you want on your side during a conflict, somebody who is willing to do anything to get the job done and leave his personal feelings at the door. He is exactly the wrong person you want on your side during peace time though, he would stab you in the back sooner than look at you.

Maximum Power!: Servalan's absence in the finale is made even more apparent when Avon and Dayna discuss and even insult her.

Warrior Babe: Wasted for the most part. She's a part of the ensemble but she isn't really given anything distinctive to do. She's the first one to be gunned down but again it is probably the least impressive.

Resistance Agent: Tarrant is quick to point out that the last time they went after Blake they were lucky to get out with their lives. It takes talent to fly a dead ship and Tarrant is willing to stay behind and see Scorpio down so Avon can get away with the others. There's no time for grand speeches or farewells, just an acknowledgement of the facts between them. For a moment it is genuinely possible to believe that Tarrant is dead amongst the wreckage of Scorpio such is the state it is left in after the crash.

Petty Thief: Look at Vila when Avon is making his rousing speech about finding a idealistic leader to lead a rebel assault on the Federation. Vila knows precisely who Avon is describing.

Blonde Bombshell (Mark II): Soolin grew up on Gouda Prime but she refuses to call it her home. For a home you need a family and hers were murdered when the Federation declared GP an open planet. As the season has progressed with have had the opportunity to learn more and more about this mysterious character. Now we have reached the finale and she has blossomed into her role as one of the crew and has an intriguing back story to boot. Soolin has certainly been better served than Dayna in season four and I would have liked to have gotten the chance to get to know her even more had the series continued. Glynis Barber is much more than just a pretty face, she brings some real steel to her performance. Gouda Prime was an agricultural world and the settlers were sent there to grow crops for the Federation. Soolin's family were amongst the farmers  and eventually they were given title to the land. Eventually the Federation discovered there was more profit below the ground than above it only the farmers were in the way and the law was on their side. Get rid of the law ad you get rid of the problem. When the mining corporations moved in, the farmers were moved out and those who refused were killed. It's Blake's 7's version of Colony in Space...only not six episodes long with a happy ending. To be fair this would have made a pretty decent episode in it's own right. It might have been quite a nice way to introduce Soolin, losing her family and having nowhere else to go. Soolin is more confident than ever on her home soil, even standing up to Avon when she thinks that they might be the bait in a trap he has set.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'A strategic withdrawal is running away...but with dignity.'
'It is the Day of the Bounty Hunter.'
'The fire was stupid. Putting Vila on guard was suicidal. What's the matter? Staying alive too complicated for you?'

The Good: Opening on the same gorgeous modelwork that Mary Ridge produced in Rescue featuring Scorpio ascending from the base on Xenon and taking to the skies...with one dramatic difference. As soon as they have entered orbit explosive charges rip through the base and tear it to pieces. Avon and his gang are leaving for good and never coming back. Avon is worried that Zukan may have betrayed the location of their base and wants to prevent any sneak attacks by abandoning it. It genuinely feels as if our crew are on the run again, this time in a creaky old rust bucket of a ship. I wonder how long they will last. It has taken four seasons a tour of the bleakest, most desolate quarries in the south regions of England but finally we have reached a location that you might actually want to visit. The forests of Gouda Prime make an impressive backdrop for the finale, a sun kissed wood where Blake is ambling away his days catching vermin and roasting it for food. Arlen stumbles over Blake and the first thing he notices is that she is carrying a Federation gun. He should have trusted his instincts. The story of Gouda Prime is a gripping one, a planet that draws every crook and swindler in the quadrant to steal its riches. Precisely the sort of place where Blake would be holed up and where Avon and his crew should avoid if they want to live to tell the tale. Precisely the sort of doom-laden planet to set the last episode of Blake's 7 on. Now I can see where the bitch fights between K.9 and Mr Smith came from in The Sarah Jane Adventures, the conflict of circuits between Orac and Slave are a delight to witness. That should have been exploited far more throughout the season, especially when you realise that this Peter Tuddenham essentially having an argument with himself. 'We are approaching Gouda Prime...and Scorpio is under attack!' - a great shock moment. Mary Ridge goes hell for leather in Scorpio's final battle, spinning the camera 360 degrees to offer a disorienting view of the craft that is spinning out of control. Staging the crash of Scorpio into Gouda Prime should have been an absolute no-no given the usual success rate of effects on Blake's 7. And yet somehow Mary Ridge manages to pull off this set piece with her head held high. A combination of live action shots and modelwork, cutting from chaos on the bridge as the set is blown to smithereens with Tarrant desperately trying to hold her steady and exceptional modelwork as the ship crashes down into the canopy and tears through the trees. It is insanely dramatic and pulse racing. Tarrant trying to grip hold of the floor as it tears from the hull and spits him out might be an exact copy of a scene from Terminal but the effect is still as terrifying. Even more so because this is a character I care about. No base, no ship and no really feels as though time has run out for our motley heroes. It's a great feeling when you have absolutely no idea how a story is going to pan out. David Collings is always a sure sign of a quality cast. Everything seems to have been thrown at this episode; Dudley Simpson is on cataclysmic form, the set design is masterful and the location work doomy and stylish. Add to that some of the most impressive camerawork ever to be seen, roving around empty sets to create a sense of atmosphere. I don't care what anybody says, I find Slave's dying words just as poignant as Zen's in Terminal. He's apologises for his imminent demise and uses Tarrant's name as he powers down, rather than 'Master.'We learn what finally happened to Jenna. She ran the blockade once too often and eventually hit her self destruct and took half a squadron of gun ships with her. A poignant reveal and a rare off-screen death on this show, this is more affecting because of Gareth Thomas' angry delivery.

Musical Cues: Dudley Simpson has something of a conniption fit during the space battle sequences, his music reaching a dramatic crescendo we haven't heard in some time.

Moment To Watch Out For: The last couple of minutes of Blake are not only the most well remembered of the entire series but could qualify for the most vivid ending of a TV series ever. People still talk about it today and their stunned reaction when the episode was originally aired. For sheer impact, killing off your entire cast of characters and letting the bad guys win has to rank pretty high. It is a stunningly dark climax, matching the beginning of the series, and one where things go from bad to worse for the crew. What is brilliant about the Blake/Avon reunion is that we have been waiting for this throughout the entire episode. Stranding the crew on Gouda Prime has been all about bringing these two characters together eventually and as we race towards the climax they are both heading for the same location. Are we heading for a gloriously upbeat ending where they form a new alliance and plan to tear down the Federation for good? Of course not, this Blake's 7 we are talking about, the most cynical show to have ever hit our screens. Avon tragically misreads the situation and thinks that Blake has betrayed him to the Federation and the unthinkable happens. Instead of a happy reunion, he shoots the only friend he ever had in the stomach. The special effects team ensure that the audience is aware that there is no way back for Blake, half of his digestive system is shot clean away by Avon. Gob smacked doesn't begin to cover it. And it doesn't stop there. Arlen is revealed to be a Federation agent working deep cover and the base is surrounded. Cue the systematic massacre of the regulars, captured in glorious slow motion. With each one you're left going 'but...but...' as they unbelievably they are all slaughtered. Trust Tarrant to go down with such a heroic pose too. The final moments where Avon is surrounded by Federation guards and stands over the lifeless body of Blake and raises his gun to defend himself are simply sublime. As far as the show is concerned, the Federation has won and Avon is stuck in the tightest corner imaginable. There have been many theories over the years of how he might have escaped this situation but it seems pretty clear to me that this is the end of the road. Four years of fighting the Federation...for nothing. Wow, that's downbeat. And yet curiously appropriate for the most cynical of shows. Watching this sequence gives me goose bumps every time. It is event television in every meaning of the word.

Result: The finale to end all finales. If you thought Star One and Terminal were intense, they have nothing on Blake. Whilst I think that the series pulled off a massive renaissance in the latter half of season four (almost so good that I wish there was a fifth series if the standard could be maintained), if you remained unconvinced then Blake might be enough to justify the extra season on its own merits. It's that good. Mary Ridge surpasses her excellent direction elsewhere in the series and provides a conclusion with a palpable sense of dread and excitement throughout. Somehow she pulls off the crash and destruction of Scorpio in an unforgettable set piece that doesn't disappoint given the meagre resources of the show. It genuinely feels as though our heroes cards are up. Avon is teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown, Soolin is given some much needed back story, Tarrant shares some wonderfully guarded scenes with Blake and Vila and Dayna are clinging on for dear life. Did I mention Blake? Gareth Thomas makes a striking return to the series in what is probably his finest performance, Blake playing games with people who could be potential allies or enemies. What makes this episode standout so much is not so much the journey to the final five minutes because it transpires that much of this has been planned and that Gouda Prime is set to be the location of the launch of a new wave of resistance against the Federation but the outcome where one terrible, fatal misunderstanding leads to a massacre and a trap that Avon's crew cannot escape. To end the show on such a shockingly brutal, unforgiving note is pure Blake's 7 and to leave Avon's fate in the hands of the audience was a touch of genius. It is still one of the most talked about series finales because of that final scene. That's how much of an impact it has had. Blake takes big risks and wins and it proves to be the most memorable of all Blake's 7 episodes. Always leave them wanting more. 

The Unnatural written and directed by David Duchovny

What’s it about: A man who fell to Earth and fell in love with baseball…

Trust No-One: ‘Did your mother ever tell you to go out and play?’ Proof that nobody knows these characters quite like the actors themselves, Duchovny writes for Mulder and Scully like a sweet old married couple, attracted to each other despite themselves. Season six has been a great year for shippers (I hate that term but I have to concede that the group exists) where the Mulder and Scully interaction has soared to a new high. They’ve kissed and he has told her that he loves her (Triangle), with another man in his body he has tried to woo her into bed (Dreamland), the lack of passion in their relationship has been discussed (The Rain King) and they have set up house in suburbia (Arcadia). When he leaps at her and takes a bite out of her ice cream, I have never felt a stronger bond between these two characters. If there was ever a time for them to sweep aside all the paranormal bumph and having hot sweaty sex on a desk, this was it. Mulder examines baseball scores from the past because it reminds him that even though the universe is an every changing entity, some things stay the same. Arthur Dales might have told his brother that Mulder was the biggest jackass in the Bureau since he retired…or he might not (Arthur Dales the Second is quite the dissembler).

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully wonders why the pair of them aren’t living their lives in the real world at the weekend instead of being stuck down in the basement going through dusty old records. Mind you, she can talk. Instead of chowing down on a delicious ice cream she indulges in some godawful none fat ricycle version. Sapping all the fun out of ice cream, very Scully. Watching Mulder give Scully an early birthday present of teaching her how to lay baseball reduced me to a great ball of gooey goodness. Seriously, Anderson and Duchovny have never looked as comfortable in each others company and it is a delight to watch the character enjoying their time together before it runs out.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I don’t want to be no famous man. I just want to be a man.’
‘Mulder it is such a gorgeous day outside. Have you ever entertained the notion of trying to find life on this planet?’
‘My brother started the X-Files in the Federal Bureau of Obfuscation before you were born.’
‘Maybe you’d better start paying a little less attention to the heart of the mystery and a little more attention to the mystery of the heart.’
‘Speaking metaphorically is for young men like you, Agent McGyver. I only have time to speak the truth.’
‘This is my true face.’ 
‘Shut up Mulder, I’m playing baseball.’ 

 The Good: Given that racism is still rife in certain parts of America – if that upsets you then stop burying your head up your ass, there are elements of racism that are alive and festering all over the world – this was quite a brave piece of writing on Duchovny’s part. He handles the issue with real sensitivity, encouraging the audience to emphasise with Exley from the start (played as well as he is I think I would have fallen for him anyway even if the script had been clunky and obvious…but it isn’t it’s delicate and subtle). It is unfortunate that Darin McGavin was too ill to play Dales in The Unnatural since it is the one episode where he would have had a decent guest starring role (and unlike the last attempt to include actually has a good reason for him being there) but ultimately I prefer M. Emmet Walsh’s gloriously sardonic style of acting. Duchovny writes Dales’ brother a deliriously cranky and no-nonsense old man with so much wit at his fingertips he might be a direct descendent of Noel Coward. The last minute change of casting left Duchovny desperately trying to re-write his script and he comes up with a brilliantly lazy explanation (‘Our parents weren’t exactly big in the imagination department’). Can passion make you shapeshift from one person to another kind of person? That is a deep philosophical question that requires much more time than I have to answer but needless to say I would answer a resounding yes. Have I seen men and women behave in a completely different way once they have fallen in love (not necessarily with a person, but with hobbies, pets, etc)? Oh yes. How Arthur Dales the younger is initially mocked by the Negro community as their way of introducing him to the fold is excellently handled. Frederic Lane also gives a exceptional performance, effortlessly agreeable and with a real feeling of warmth developing between Dales and Exley as the episode continues. How Duchovny frames his passage through time by mirroring events from the past and the present gives the audience an engaging visual hook when crossing from one to the other. How lovely it is to see Brian Thompson given the chance to act rather than stand in the background and loom menacingly. For fans of the series, Duchovny films his first scene obscurely so we’re not even aware that it is the Bounty Hunter until the scene is almost over. Exley deliberately plays badly so that he doesn’t get noticed by the scouts, not because he is a black man who doesn’t want to face the ignominy of playing in the white league but because he is an alien that doesn’t want to go home. As soon as they move on, disgusted at his poor performance, he hits a ball so powerfully that the score board is destroyed. Great stuff. In the middle of this generally serious (if sentimental) piece there is a glorious moment of comedy where Dales spies Exley in his natural form and screams like a big girl, fainting like a Jessie over and over again. That is probably the best ever make up for one of the Grey aliens that the show ever attempted as well, weirdly convincing in baseball gear. Imagine a race of beings that don’t laugh, or experience the pleasure of things. What an awful existence that would be. Wonderfully, when things start to get a little too cloying, Exley starts taking the piss out of the usual platitudes that dramas like this promote. There is something so sweet though about one last game of baseball, a game that has given you such joy and allowed you to experience the best of humanity, before going home. Like the last supper but with mittens.

Pre Titles Sequence: A playful first scene which crests an ominous looking hill with a star speckled sky over the rise promising supernatural wonders…only to settle on a night time baseball game. Whether it is the chemistry between the actors, Snow’s cuddlesome score or simply the intimate way that Duchovny films it, this opening is imbued with the kind of warmth that many shows couldn’t even aspire to, let alone accomplish. The appearance of the Klu Klux Klan to spoil a perfectly innocent game between black and white breaks your heart.  Everything about this off shoot of racist reactionaries turns my blood cold, especially how they don’t even have the courage to show their faces and reveal their identities. Hiding behind a ghost mask and carrying a gun seems like such a chicken shit way of going about things. To have the white characters throwing baseballs in their faces to protect their black friends might be my favourite moment of the year.

Moment to Watch Out For: The final ten minutes of The Unnatural sees the episode really come into its own with regards to providing an emotional experience. Exley talking so proudly about hitting a home run, holding back the tears, to a member of his own race that cannot understand why he has risked everything for such a childish pursuit…I had to hold my breath to hold back the tears. It is so understated, it is beautifully handled. The simple but extremely effective conceit of Exley having human blood rather than alien poison might not make sense logically, but emotionally it is bang on the nail. The crane shot that pulls down on the younger Dales as he cradles Exley in his dying moments and fades to another on the older Dales remembering the event and weeping was when I finally stopped resisting and went and grabbed some tissues. Very little television affects me like this, but when it does and the floodgates open I’m practically inconsolable. It’s only the fact that this has such a degree of tenderness to it that makes all the difference.

Fashion Statement: Who cares about the colour of his skin, Jesse L. Martin is a fine looking young man and plays his role of Josh Exley with such charm that I was bewitched by him throughout. The version of Come and Go With Me To That Landthat the baseball players hum and then sing on the coach is possibly my favourite piece of music to compliment an episode of a TV series. Ever since I first saw this episode I was beguiled and can be heard humming and singing it all the time. It’s just beautiful.

Orchestra: Whimsical, sinister, jocular…it is another phenomenal Mark Snow score in season six. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when Snow is given material that excites him he goes all out to provide a memorable musical experience and given his propensity for excellent soundtracks in season six he must have been geared up by the quality of the episodes throughout the entire year. The subtle, ominous piano theme that plays over the more shattering moments in The Unnatural remains one of my favourite pieces of Snow’s work. 

Result: ‘ET steal home!’ Sometimes it is a case of a show jumping the shark when they start to let their actors take hold of the wheel and write and direct episodes but David Duchovny manages to prove with The Unnatural that that isn’t always the case and sometimes things can work out very well indeed. This is probably my favourite episode of an extremely strong season, the sort of episode that would have been unthinkable during the shows gestation period (it barely features the two leads) but which shows how far The X-Files has come since then in terms of mature storytelling and confident themes. The story of Josh Exley, the alien that fell in love with humanity through baseball, is beautifully told and the performances by all of the guest cast are on another level to anything we have ever seen before in this show, really helping the drama to come alive in unexpected ways. Duchovny doesn’t just judge the emotion in the script flawlessly but he has an excellent ear for witty dialogue too which left me having to be quite ruthless in only selecting my absolute favourite examples. The episode is bookended by two of the finest Mulder/Scully scenes you are likely to witness, showing that six years on that the characters were in love with each other more than ever and the chemistry between the actors had simply sweetened over time. The last time I saw an actor take up the mantle of writing an directing an episode this successfully was Avery Brooks in the DS9 episode Far Beyond the Stars. Bizarrely enough they both share a theme of racism but also have a very similar tone of warm sentiment and biting injustice. The fact of the matter is that if you took away a few fleeting glimpses of an alien and the annual appearance of the bounty hunter and this needn’t be an X-File at all. However I am sure glad that it is; standing out in a seasonfull of standouts The Unnatural is funny, enchanting, charming and might just break your heart before the credits roll. I love it to pieces. 
Fragments written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Jonathan Fox Bassett

This story in a nutshell: How did I join Torchwood? I'm glad you asked...

Hunky Hero: 'I don't exist, and for a man with my charisma that is quite an achievement.' I love how the rest of the team walk around the warehouse quite slyly whilst Jack cannot resist melodramatically turning each corner with his gun poised, like a child playing cowboys and Indians. This guy just cannot resist making a show of himself. The caption 1392 deaths earlier for Jack's flashback brings a smile to my face every time. Only on Torchwood. Waking up with a bottle in his stomach is a quick and dramatic shorthand for the kind of life (or rather death) that Jack has had to suffer over the years. It is surprising that he isn't more psychologically unstable given the number of undignified and brutal murders he has been forced to endure. It explains a lot about how he seizes each day as it comes and behaves so radically over the top. When you cease to fear death, the rules of life change. Jack was convinced that if he lived through the 20th Century and met up with the Doctor again then everything would be put right. His curse of immortality would be put to rest. Jack cuts quite the figure in his grey cloak and bushy sideburns, working for Torchwood post Tooth and Claw. I'm so pleased that this important segment of Jack's life is sketched in, it fills in so many of the gaps between The Parting of the Ways and Everything Changes (or if you are only including Doctor Who - Utopia). Jack is the only member of Torchwood to survive long term but that is only because he cannot die. Otherwise the life expectancy of it's staff is not hopeful. What is fascinating about the sequence where Alex murders the Torchwood team (the one assembled before the one we currently know and love) on New Years Eve is that he might have a point that they were mercy killings. In the next year Jack would lose Owen, Tosh and Ianto. Who is to say that if he slipped them a pill it wouldn't be a more humane way to go?

Dangerous Doctor: You'll never see Owen so warmly or loosely played by Burn Gorman as you do in the scenes before he joined Torchwood. He was deliriously happy with his life, engaged to be married and loving his work. He's a completely different person. The fact that it is his first experience of Torchwood that tears down his picturesque existence and shits all over it goes a long way to explain his severe attitude problem, why he goes to such extreme lengths to feel things and the huge chip of bitterness on his shoulder. It must eat him inside to be working for the organisation that fail to save his sweetheart. This is the most essential element of this episode for me as I have always seen a great deal of potential in Owen (mostly because Gorman is such a fine actor) but was irritated at how he was so often characterised in a way that made me want to push him away. He was, frankly, quite the shit in season one with very little let up. I thought it was just because he was seduced by the lifestyle and that he was a weak man but Fragments reveals that he was a victim of circumstance and that there is a genuinely nice person locked away inside all that resentment. This is sterling repair work and allows you to see his journey in a whole new light. It also makes sense of how he has been softened this year. It's not Owen finding the love, it is remembering who he used to be. Gorman's performance after Owen's fiancé dies is fantastic, Chibnall is asking him to convey a breakdown (shock, grief, angry acceptance) in about 2 minutes worth of material and he is more than up to the task. Suddenly that anger towards Jack in the finale of season one makes a lot of good sense whereas at the time it felt unnecessary and reactionary. In context, it is perfectly natural.

Shy Geek: At first Fragments looks as though it is only going to tell us that Tosh is really clever. Big whoop, we know that already. However the purpose of the sequence where she infiltrates the Ministry of Defence is to reveal that she was convinced into working for Torchwood. A splinter group threaten her mother to harm her mother if she doesn't put her skills to good use and UNIT walk in on that operation, capturing what they think to be a terrorist. The shot of Tosh alone in a barren cell with big brothers eye looking down on her exposes the bleakest moment in her life. Toshiko is essentially blackmailed into joining Jack's team, given the unenviable task of helping with the hunt for alien technology or being made an example of by UNIT. It is a good thing that she ultimately learns to love her work because it was never the path she would have chosen. I've always said that Tosh works best when she is portrayed as a victim (it works to Mori's strengths as an actress too, pulling at the heartstrings) and her tale proves that she has always been the underdog, the one who is pushed around and mistreated. What a life. Jack sees something in Tosh and thinks he can bring her out of her shell. She's certainly more confident as a part of Torchwood than she was in her life before. It isn't an entirely altruistic act (after all he wants her skills) but the fact that he sees potential in her is very sweet and step in the right direction for her.

The Butler: Astonishingly Chibnall somehow manages to provide some kind of context to explain away his abysmal Cyberwoman episode. Colour me impressed. It doesn't mean that the season on turkey is any better as a result (because it is still one of the most retarded piece of television I have ever seen) but it does at least explain why Ianto joined Torchwood Cardiff in the first place was to be able to move his partially converted girlfriend in and perhaps get her some help. He goes to some extreme lengths to get Jack's attention, everything but sucking him off to arouse his interest. Ianto is so desperate to infiltrate Torchwood he is willing to offer any service; coffee boy, guard dog, prostitute...he's even willing to work without pay. Gareth David-Lloyd has come on in leaps and bounds in season two, from the most invisible member of the ensemble to the most adored. That's down to some nifty repair work by the writers and an increasingly confident and comedic portrayal by David-Lloyd.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'By the way... love the coat.'

The Good: What a phenomenal teaser that takes the ultimate Torchwood image of the team turning up in their SUV and snazzy clothes to take charge of a situation and punctures it by setting of several high explosives and bringing them all down in one blow. The shot of the warehouse windows exploding outwards is very impressive and it is a dramatic kick start into an episode packed full of vital character vignettes that reveals how each of the team first joined Torchwood. The debris that has fallen on the team in the warehouse looks genuinely dangerous and the characters reactions to be confined and injured feel very real (especially Tosh's claustrophobic screams). That it is vital to making this episode work, we have to feel that this could be their last day on planet Earth in order for the story of how they were recruited into Torchwood to really impact. The Blowfish character in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang didn't do much for me, driving about Cardiff in his sports car and insanely overplayed by Paul Kasey (mind you I'm not sure if you can underplay an alien Blowfish). Here the character is put in context and his history with Jack is revealed. It honestly makes all the difference. We also get to meet the young fortune reader who turned up in Dead Man Walking, giving her presence in the season additional depth. Jack's story skips wonderfully from the end of the nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth. How many shows can do that and not batter an eyelid. We never quite learn who these dead members of Torchwood are...but I would love to find out more. That melodramatic mission statement is given its foundation as Alex commits suicide and asks Jack to give Torchwood Three a purpose. The episode is structured so that we see how the Torchwood team before our set of regulars were slaughtered so it can move on to showing how each new member was conscripted. In Tosh's story it is astonishing to see the darker side of UNIT, the methods they use to co-erce people into helping them is a far cry from their cuddly public image. I wouldn't mind seeing a little more of the sinister underbelly of the organisation. Cutting from Tosh being told her work with Torchwood will be dangerous to her trapped under a pile of rubble screaming is superbly done, Chibnall bridging the gap between the vignettes and the framing narrative with dramatic flair. Jack and Ianto bringing down the Pterodactyl in the warehouse is one of my favourite Torchwood set pieces; silly, exciting and horny.  I don't think I have ever experienced such an extended gasp of breath as I did when I first saw that eye watering shot of Owen staring up at a shard of glass that is threatening to fall and slice him in two. He's never coming back from that. How gruesome is the idea of the brain leech that poisons those it comes into contact with and causing the carrier to suffer amnesia? Just one of a large number of stunning ideas in Fragments. The fact that the explosions are the work of John Hart from the beginning of the season brings the whole year to a cohesive whole and promises a reunion in the near future. It's an tantalising note to leave the episode on because it also promises a reunion between Jack and his brother, the back story of which has been seeded earlier in the season. This season of Torchwood feels so much better plotted than the last. Plus more James Marsters is always a bonus.

The Bad: It's a small niggle but if Jack had been waiting to catch up with the Doctor throughout the 20th Century and has all the resources of Torchwood at his disposal (who are also looking for their enemy) then wouldn't he have caught up with him during his exile? Continuity be damned. There was an actor in Army of Ghosts that was the spit of Gareth David-Lloyd. What a shame it wasn't him because that would have been a wonderful link between the two shows.

The Shallow Bit: Hands on hips, flirtatious and unafraid of their sexuality, the ladies of Torchwood in the Victorian era are clearly infected with the same lack of sexual inhibitions as the current lot. Perhaps there is something in the water. It strikes me that everybody that has ever worked for this organisation is bisexual. That isn't a criticism, just an observation made because there is a relative dearth of bisexuals on television and so it really stands out.

Result: My favourite episode of the first two seasons, bar none. It astonishes me that it has taken this long for this episode to be told and that is because the first season was far too obsessed with Gwen and her journey with Torchwood to worry too much about how the others were brought into the fold. That is rectified brilliantly here. If this had been the first episode it would have salvaged so much of the first season, it shows all the characters at their best and explains an awful lot about why they are how they are. Something I was completely in the dark about in the debut year as they behaved so appallingly. As we hop from story to story the tone and genre shifts with absolute confidence; thrilling, silly, funny, heartbreaking, claustrophobic, dramatic...this is what the show should have been all along. Better late than never. What I love most about Fragments is that it fills in so many gaps in continuity and so many vital nuggets of information about the regulars that it provides an incredible amount of context to the first and second seasons of the show, effectively answering a lot of the criticisms of the series with some very satisfying answers. Some of my strongest grievances about the show are addressed; Jack's melodrama, the Pterodactyl, Cyberwoman, Owen's bastard behaviour...Chibnall has taken a look at what hasn't worked in the first two seasons and sought to give it an explanation. The fact that it does this just as the status quo is about to be shaken up irrevocably is perfect timing, leaving the first two years of the show as a cohesive story in its own right. Fragments manages to tell stunning individual vignettes and a gripping framing narrative and ends on a whopper of a cliff-hanger that left me begging for more. What a turn around for the show. 

Beyond the Sea written by Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by David Nutter

What’s it about: Scully’s father has died and the only way she can contact him to say goodbye is through a serial killer on death row…

Trust No-One: Given her bereavement Mulder tries to be extremely gentle with Scully but it appears that she is as uncomfortable with him calling her Dana as he is of her calling him Fox – there is a wonderful awkwardness between them when the focus is on their relationship rather than the work which is well worth exploiting further in the future. Morgan and Wong always seem to want to push Mulder and Scully out of their comfort zones (they certainly managed that in Ice) and here they perform a much awaited role reversal of making him the sceptic and her the believer. Now Mulder is watching on as Scully is manipulated by a paranormal possibility because there is a personal stake involved and what is really interesting is how much more unlikable he is in this role than Scully usually is. He’s furiously angry when Scully admits that she listened to Boggs and found Henry’s previous nest thanks to his ‘gift’ but omitted to mention that in her police report. Mulder comes across as very bitter that she is embarrassed to admit that she has opened her mind to extreme possibilities.

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘I’ll believe you if you let me talk to him…’ Gillian Anderson’s breakout episode and the first time (except for moments during Ice where she really came alive) that the audience realises that she is going to be a force of nature in her own right not just David Duchovny’s sidekick. There is something different about Beyond the Sea from the off that sees the supernatural horrors that Mulder and Scully see from a distance (and to be honest don’t usually connect with on an emotional level) invading one of their homes. That it is Scully (the unbeliever) that this should happen to makes this a very special episode indeed. A lot of work has gone into that opening scene to make the Scully family a realistic one and not just some more pointless background about the character (like they did with the unforgettable Phoebe Green for Mulder in Fire). Her father clearly disapproves of her career path but prompted by her mum asks how everything is going. There’s clearly a lot of warmth between them but also some antagonism as well and that pretty much sums up most families in my opinion. It’s the sign of a great actress that rather than giving everything from the off and playing Scully as angry and bitter that her father has died she restrains her performance to such a degree that it is coldly very affecting so that when she finally explodes with anger the audience feel as though they have been physically struck. Its breathtakingly good. Scully is so desperate for one last chance to talk to her father she stands there before Boggs admitting that she willing to throw away everything that she knows to be true and believe him if he can put her in touch with him one last time. It has been worth Scully’s dogged (some might say overdone) refusal to believe in extreme possibilities just for the character gold they mine from her here. Bravely Scully denies herself closure by refusing to be Boggs’ witness and receiving the message from her father. Who would want the last memory of a man they love to come from the lips of a serial killer about to be gassed to death? Scully quietly admits to Mulder that she is afraid to believe.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Some killers are products of society. Some act out past abuses. Boggs kills because he likes it.’
‘He could be trying to claim you as his last victim.’

Ugh: ‘The kidnapper is aroused at the prospect of becoming a killer…’ This is the first bog standard (or non supernatural) serial killer to feature in The X-Files and he remains one of the most frightening. What makes him so effective is both the material that we do see (pretending to be an authority figure and coaxing the kids out of the car so he can knock them out and drag them away) and what we are toldabout (Boggs’ explaining on how he is getting off on whipping them with coat hangers) and between those two things we are painted a pretty obscene picture of what a nasty piece of work Lucas Hendry is.

The Good:
  • In a way it is a shame that Don S. Davis has to die in the opening scenes because he would have brought such a presence to this show as Scully’s father. You only have to see what a lift he gave Stargate SG-1 during its dodgier periods. I would have liked to have seen how Scully tried to juggle up her family and her work in future episodes but with her father out of the way she doesn’t have to justify herself to anybody (until her brother joins the show in season five and gives Mulder a hard time). Regardless Davis has a wonderful presence here simply by the weight that is given to his absence and it pleases me that he was brought back for a special moment during Scully’s crisis in One Breath.
  • As frightening as Lucas Henry is he has nothing on Luther Lee Boggs and Brad Dourif gives a career defining performance as the manipulative serial killer with the ability to look into the eyes of other killers. Dourif is often saddled in the role of murderers (he just about manages to be the best guest turn in Star Trek Voyager too with his unforgettable turn as the killer Suder) but he manages to embody their instability and barely restrained anger in a way that makes him deeply uncomfortable to watch. This is an actor who doesn’t care how pretty he looks or how depraved he might seem, he becomes these sick individuals he is asked to play and convinces you completely that they are real people. There is a two way razors edge which makes the character so fascinating – he holds one to his prosecutors throats by suggesting that he can commune with Lucas Henry and help them find the missing children and they hold one to his throat with the death sentence that is looming over him. Its such a twisted, fascinating game that Mulder and Boggs engage in made even more edgy by the snippets of hope that Boggs tosses Scully. Right up until the end Boggs appears to be tricked and he always manages to know that the newspaper and the Scully’s trick with the fake deal are bogus. Boggs’ death at the climax is one of the most stifling moments of television as he attempts to hold his breath as the bubbling gases fills the room. Its horrible.
  • The funeral scene is perfectly shot by David Nutter highlighting the drizzly, miserable mood of the crowd as they stand huddled together under umbrellas as Bill’s ashes are released into the sea breeze. The rain and the sea can stir up memories and Margaret’s tale of Bill’s proposal is very touching and so is the gift that she gives Scully by letting her know that he was proud of her accomplishments.
  • The episode brilliantly exposes Boggs as a completely fraud when he gathers all manner of erroneous information from what he thinks is supposed to be a piece of fabric connected to the case when in fact it was torn off of one of Mulder’s T-shirts. Our minds made up, Morgan and Wong then toss in the first glimpse that Boggs can commune with Scully’s father. I love it when writers play games with the audiences certainties like this. Boggs could have set up Mulder to be shot but how did he know that his blood would wind up on the cross? I really like it when this show tosses out an extreme possibility (in this case Boggs being able to commune with Henry) and then gives you an equal amount of evidence either way (Boggs is utterly engrossing when he looks through Henry’s eyes and through sheer conviction you may very well believe him but he is also proven later in the episode to have connections with the man and could have known about the abduction of the kids from the off) so you have to decide whether you believe it or not. There is a massive difference between this and denying the viewer any kind of closure because whatever you choose to believe Beyond the Sea still makes for a satisfying episode.
  • David Nutter did such a fantastic job of creating a stifling atmosphere in Ice and his work here in Beyond the Sea is just as special. I love the cut between Henry whipping at the kids with the coat hanger and Boggs recoiling as if he is the one that has been struck – its only a small moment but it visualises the bond between them in a very violent way. The monochrome hell that surrounds Boggs as he walks towards his death with his victims watching him is one of the most haunting sequences you will see on television. Judgement day writ large.
  • Boggs’ story about having a cigarette when he was younger is very telling because in its own quiet way it explains the reason that serial killers murder. Its that thrill, that desire to do what your not supposed to do. It’s a very profound statement for the show to make.
Pre Titles Sequence: When I told Simon I was going to embark on an X-Files marathon as I had with the Star Trek shows he had two reactions. Aside from ruffling my hair in that cute way of his to tell me he loves the fact that I’m a dweeb the first memory of this show that popped into his mind was of Scully’s father mouthing silently in the armchair at her as she woke up in the middle of the night. It had scared the life out of him when he was younger and had remained with him ever since. It’s a genuinely unnerving moment of prescience that works so well because you could easily dismiss it as a fevered dream image that lingered in your head after you have woken up. Except the audience sees him too and it is followed by a call from Scully’s mother to say that her father has died.

Moment to Watch Out For: Scully losing it completely at Boggs when she discovers that he has a connection with Henry. Anderson is like a firecracker that gets more and more explosive and until she is literally screaming blue bloody murder at him. For the usually reserved Scully this a real watershed moment. ‘Well I came here to tell you that if he dies because of what you’ve done…four days from now nobody will stop me from being the that’ll throw the switch and gas you out of this life for good you son of a bitch!’

Foreboding: This episode is paid off in a massive way in season two’s One Breath where we finally get to here Scully’s fathers final message to her.

Result: An astonishing episode so early in the shows run and one of the best X-Files of its nine seasons, Beyond the Sea has a richness and raw emotion that makes it extremely uncomfortable to watch and yet utterly beguiling at the same time. Glen Morgan and James Wong are a cut above all the other writers on the show (with Squeeze and Ice already under their belt) but this is even better than their already stellar efforts as they engage with Scully on a very personal level following the death of her father and delve into the mind of two very sick serial killers. Gillian Anderson gives an extraordinary performance here and proves that she is no small talent and when handed the right material she can blow her co star out of the water. Her haunted, frightened, angry turn as Scully desperately trying to cling onto the vestiges of her father through a serial killer remains the highpoint of the first season. Brad Dourif matches her intensity and the scenes between them prove to be electrifying drama. Director David Nutter understands the episode and paces it perfectly, filling it with beautiful and disturbing images and giving the actors the right amount of exposure so they can knock your socks off. Beyond the Sea has a complex script that is playing games with its characters and the audience and delves into some unclean areas of human behaviour. Its a peerless piece of supernatural drama and setting the bar really high for the rest of the season to match up to. Brave, original and extremely dark; death has never seemed a more terrifying concept. 

Living Witness written by Bryan Fuller, Brannon Braga & Joe Menosky and directed by Tim Russ

What’s it about: Step on board the warship Voyager for more torture, executions and genocide…

Hepburn-a-Like: Tucked into a Starfleet uniform and some dominatrix black gloves, Janeway finally drops the pretence of being a civilised human being and admits that she is a Nazi dictator! Its what I’ve been saying all along! Frankly some of her methods here aren’t that far removed from the Janeway we usually get and her sledgehammer tactics to get people to comply with her wishes are spot on! Just goes to show you can get the emphasis right but the details wrong! Either way Kate Mulgrew has great fun chewing up the scenery as Furher Janeway! I love the way that Janeway refuses to let her crew have all the fun and when there is an execution to be had she’s right in there pulling the trigger and relishing the corpse falling to the floor. Making the parallels with Hitler complete there is a myth about Janeway’s ‘personal Almanac’, obviously the Starfleet version of Mein Kamph! She deals with squabbles amongst her crew with a phaser blast to the console! Janeway prefers to attack the general population rather than simply targeting military outposts, its far more effectively. In reality the death of Tedrin is a ‘tragic, needless death’ rather than at the hands of the  bloodthirsty Nazi Janeway which is nowhere near as fun!

Tattoo: Typically the least interesting ‘bad’ character is Chakotay whose performance is barely different from normal (ie not very good). I guess that’s why they gave the massive tattoo on his face to make at least appear visually that there is a difference.

EMH: What a sinister version of the Doctor plugged into the medical console with freaky, cat like eyes! Robert Picardo could teach Beltran and the other a good deal about playing menace, he underplays it but his calm anger is spine chilling. He steps into a inadequately acted scene in sickbay shows his fellow slouches how it is done by attempting the dissolve the prisoners optic nerve. Emphasising just how different the Doctor is to his crew, here he is centuries after they have all died still going strong and forced to new a new path in life. He wonders if he is going to have to live his life as a holographic Rip Van Winkle but instead is exploited as a living witness to the events that took place in the past.

Brilliant B’Elanna: A shame that Roxan Dawson was away this week so she could be with her baby because a murderously aggressive Torres would have been a joy to watch. That Doctor states she had a vulnerability that made her quite endearing.

Borg Babe: In this version of history Seven is still a Borg drone and is only woken up when Janeway requires an assassin to do her dirty work. There are number of other drones they have assimilated into the crew and Janeway lets her increase their numbers when there is a boarding.

Mr Vulcan: The massive eared, sinister Tuvok is much more fun than the usual dour get we have to hang with. This is the sort of character I would have liked Tuvok to have developed into if they had allowed the Meld storyline to evolve. Someone who smiles sadistically when people are being tortured.

Parisian Rogue: There’s real tension between Paris and Chakotay, fist fighting in a staff meeting! This is how it should have been since Caretaker! Way to show us what we’ve been missing out on!

Forever Ensign: Harry Kim as a violent bully is so extreme I was almost horny when he was on screen! This is definitely the way to go with this character.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The best way to bring down a ruler is to make his people suffer!’ – Janeway gets lots of camp, evil statements like that that are a joy to listen to. ‘Defeat/genocide…why quibble semantics?’ is another powerhouse line in the same vein.
‘Watch you mouth, hedgehog!’
‘History has been abused! We keep blaming ourselves for what happened in the past!’

The Good: The way the story cuts to a lesson being explained to a class in a museum is beautifully done because it is exactly at the point where we want to see some prime destruction! They say that history is written by the victors and here is an episode that shows a menacing slant on the Voyager crew from the point of view of a race they encountered on bad terms. It’s an outstanding premise for a show and probably the most original piece of the entire season. Voyager now is a warship with a compliment of over 300 soldiers that went around attacking worlds to exploit them for resources to try and get them home. Tim Russ shows great skill in his direction of the episode especially in the transition scenes from the evil Voyager to the museum – in an early scene we slide back from an effects shot that pauses to show it on a viewscreen and later he pans across a room to show the observers watching from one of Voyager’s windows. It’s a visual creativeness that we aren’t used to on this show. Being set centuries after the end of the show is intriguing – I wish we could have learnt something of Voyager’s eventual fate. Its fascinating to me because my husband is very much of the opinion when he walks around museums that state as fact how things were in the past through a few insignificant artefacts that there is no way of ever knowing if that is the truth. History as we know it has been magicked up through the surviving evidence but the chances are the many events that are taught in school could have been very different had the emphasis been different. I’m pleased that a Voyager episode is provoking this kind of intelligent questioning as it proves to me that it is still capable of producing something with substance. I even like the scenes that see Quarren working in a simulation of Voyager, watching him work alone in the confines of Engineering shows what a great space that set is to film in when it isn’t being ignored in favour the latest ridiculous plot. Henry Woronicz gives a thoughtful performance as Quarren and manages in a short space of time to make him a likable and yet flawed character. Somehow the Doctor’s appalled reaction to the psychotic versions of the crew make it even more amusing! Events have been re-interpreted to make this race feel better about themselves, the only ones who can’t see are the Kyrrians. What’s even funnier is that as soon as the Doctor rewrites the programme t show what really happened (and thus what would happen in a normal Voyager episode) its nowhere near as entertaining! The episode also throws light on how damaging it can be if you do start rewriting history, centuries of peace can turn into war when the foundations of a culture are thrown into a new light. The attack on the museum is shocking and Russ employs an impressive to cut to the morning so we can survey the wreckage in the dawn light. Even a small touch such as focussing on the tricorder during the attack so we know where it is when the Doctor and Quarren don’t (and it’s the vital piece of evidence that could stop the fighting) is well thought through by Russ. The clever ending that hops forward into the future once again offers hope for the future of these people and a happy ending for the backup Doctor.

The Bad: Do you remember the Red Dwarf episode Angels and Demons? Living Witness reminds me desperately of this. You have the normal, holier than thou, goody two shoes Voyager crew (you know the one we spend every week with) and then their sadistic, evil, completely irredeemable counterparts making an appearance here. There is no middle ground, it goes from one angelic extreme to a demonic other. Somewhere between these two sets is where you’ll find the DS9 crew with lots of shades of light an dark (some call it ambiguity) and as such the are far more interesting than the Voyager crew that have no flaws and thus are loaded with them. Don’t get me wrong I think Living Witness is a classic episode but it strikes me as odd that the writers should have to leap from one extreme to the other in order to make an entertaining episode of Voyager, it kind of exposes where the show is going wrong in the character department. I thought Voyager didn’t have a back up? Or did they construct after the Message in a Bottle debacle.

Moment to Watch Out For: All the scenes set on Voyager are top notch and its not often I get to say that!

Fashion Statement: Janeway’s fierce spiky haircut in the simulations makes her look like the ultimate feminist lesbian!

Result: Take a fun, interesting premise (a race remembers Voyager as a ship of villains), one of the best regulars (Robert Picardo on great form), a strong political stance (proving that people don’t want their established version of history to be altered) and work in some delicious ‘evil’ alternatives of the crew and a director who is sweating blood to make the show visually and emotionally effective and you have a Star Trek masterpiece. I call it Living Witness! Given Robert Duncan McNeill’s astonishing direction of Unity and Time Russ’ work here on Living Witness directing is clearly where their talent lies and I would happily lose both Paris and Tuvok if it meant we could have episodes of this quality on a regular basis. It pleases me that Voyager can still produce gold like this because I was starting to wonder and Living Witness is a stunning episode sandwiched by two of the worst. Voyager was lucky that the Doctor was on hand to set the record straight but it makes you wonder how many established historical events were corrupted by the victors (or the victims) to paint an ugly picture of the past. Frankly this would have made a far better two parter than The Killing Game because there is so much more of this culture and the malevolent crew to explore and the sweeping reforms in Kyrrian society almost feel rushed confined to 45 minutes but regardless this is still an impeccably written, powerful piece that makes its point well and provides top class entertainment as it goes. It’s the best episode of Voyager since Scorpion Part II. 

Turn Left written by Russell T Davies and directed by Graeme Harper

This story in a nutshell: An alien force invades Donna’s past to kill the Doctor and destroy the future…

Delightful Donna: So Catherine Tate can’t act? Here’s her chance to prove that not only she can but given the right material she can shit all over every other companion that has come before her (and certainly since her). Donna and the Doctor have now got to the stage where they are having a blissful time together, in Russell T Davies terms that means they are about to be split apart in the most catastrophically dramatic way possible (twice over actually, both here and in Journey’s End). She doesn’t need to know if she will be happy in the future because she’s happy now. The relationship between Sylvia and Donna bubbles with resentment and disappointment, it's one of the great unsung relationships in Doctor Who because it contains so much that is just feels so real. She is trying to get Donna to work as a secretary and has no faith in her daughter to find a job that has a future (‘City execs don’t need temps except for practice’). In a moment of pure thoughtlessness, Donna has a bitchy  reaction to her redundancy and completely skips right over the fact that people have died (no wonder she missed the Cyberman invasion, etc). And yet somehow you still love her. Sylvia admits she has given up on Donna, what a devastating thing to hear from your mother. I love how she doesn’t just throw herself into Rose’s arms, she’s quietly very aggressive with her and can totally look after herself. Her mockery of northerners clearly comes from an angry place and too enduring too many episodes of Coronation Street and is very, very funny. Look at the scene where she walks away from her mother in that long black coat, she looks like a spectre of death. She genuinely thinks she is nothing important (I guess her mother has told her enough times for it to make an impact) and after Rose tries to convince her of the contrary Donna’s ‘just don’t…’ speaks volumes. Donna is all flame hair and fire! Bravely she agrees to see the creature that has been hiding on her back and Tate aces the fear and anger, giving a performance of intensity that we aren’t used to on Doctor Who. This is the episode where Donna proves she doesn’t need the Doctor to be exceptional, she can do it all on her own. A companion has never been treated to a vehicle of this kind to prove their mettle before and I am so happy it was Donna (and Tate) that was afforded that honour. Donna’s optimistic speech about putting time back on track twists into pure terror when she realises she is going to have to commit suicide, a transition that Tate makes effortlessly. Proving that she understands how important the Doctor is, Donna commits suicide to make the world a better place. Somehow that bleak ending manages to be staggeringly optimistic because Donna proves herself as the ultimate companion, laying down her life even when she is terrified to do so. What a character. The fortune teller backs away from her, telling her she is so strong and asking what will she be? This is powerful stuff.

Chavvy Chick: I know it’s a coarse observation to make...but what has happened to Rose’s teeth? It is very interesting that Rose is played as a supernatural portent of death for Donna. If she had to return to the show (and after her sensational departure I still wonder if it was necessary) this is an inventive way to pull it off. She has crossed many different realities as an anonymous benefactor. I have to say I really like this witty, clever and confident Rose, she reminds me of the rock chick from series one but one who can now step into the Doctor’s shoes very snugly and take over his role in the series. Perhaps the idea of her running an alternative universe Torchwood wasn't such a crazy idea given the evidence in this episode. Billie Piper isn't quite afforded the same opportunity as Tate in Turn Left but she still acquits herself well. They make a pretty formidable team.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We’re just no one Donna. We don’t exist.’
‘Oh my God. The stars are going out.’
‘You liar! You told me I was special!’ – I have never seen a line delivered with such venom!

The Good Stuff: How much do I want to visit that exotic marketplace? Every time I visit Chinatown in London it reminds of the back alley planet from Turn Left, all lanterns, eateries and delicious foreign smells assaulting you. The chilling pre-credits sequence involves the notion that somebody can invade your memories and manipulate them to change the future. The Trickster was the finest SJA villain because of this stunning modus operandi that opened up so many storytelling possibilities and it is great to see that spilling over into Doctor Who. Like Love & Monsters Davies plays about with his own continuity but he uses it like a scalpel here, cutting and slicing at the very fabric of the series. Graeme Harper’s recount of the Webstar attack on London cuts out the hysterical music and makes its advance over London silent and consequently a million times scarier. The Doctor’s body on the stretcher with the sonic screwdriver slipping from his dead fingers is a terrifying image, and yet one of many in this episode. The events of Smith & Jones play out but this time Martha, Sarah, Luke, Clyde and Maria all die on the moon. Given Elizabeth Sladen's death these scenes have an extra layer of poignancy to them. Isn't it wonderful how all of the fluffy, much moaned about Russell T. Davies threats to the Earth that bring the planet to its knees? Utilising the Voyage of the Damned threat of the Titanic almost crashing into the planet but this time actually showing the devastating consequences adds another element of danger to the former story every time I watch it. The delayed impact felt by Donna’s family and the mushroom cloud hanging over the city is a devastating moment. London destroyed and everybody you know dead, that is almost impossible to come to terms with. At this point I realised this had to be undone at some point and feared the worst kind of reset button (ala Last of the Time Lords) but Davies has something much more personal in mind. Suddenly we are in darker territory, refugees being piled into tiny houses, no employment, concentration camps and armed soldiers on the streets. How can you not love Wilf? He refuses to take off his daft antlers at the super posh hotel, ‘God bless America!’, enjoying a sing song with his fellow house mates and his beautiful tears which leave you with no illusion to the horrors he has witnessed in his life. ‘Every day I think of someone else. All dead’ – I really like how Davies doesn’t ever shy away from the psychological consequences of losing everybody you love. Of course the Adipose hit America the worst – that is a rare (priceless) gag in an otherwise black episode. Donna’s ‘Where are you going?’ as she chases after the army van and the following scene where Sylvia stares at the audience blank faced, the only thing she can bring herself to part her lips for is to insult her daughter are two of the bleakest moments you will see in Doctor Who. Illusions to slave camps and depression and hopelessness brought to life so vividly by Jacqueline King - the Doctor hasn't been anywhere near as brave as this since because it is so emotionally real, Just when you think it cannot get any more apocalyptic the stars start going out. The visual of the dying, musty TARDIS is unforgettable. The ship aches for the loss of the Doctor, in throes of depression herself. S much so it resists the attempts of Rose and UNIT to coax her back into life. The episode never stops surprising - Donna landing half a mile away from her destination is both hilarious and edge of the seat exciting. Who saw that devastating conclusion coming when they walked into this episode? Donna proves herself as the selfless person that she really is and kills herself to save the Doctor. To follow that up with such a breathtaking cliffhanger which heralds Rose's return to our universe and suggests that the drama in this episode is only the beginning was a bold move. Nobody can build up to a finale like Davies and here he provides his most appetite whetting example of gearing the audience up for what is to come whilst still telling a brilliant story. Turn Left is a 45 minute long prelude to the finale, showing you the result of what will happen (the stars going out) if Davros (as yet undisclosed) manages to prime his reality bomb.

The Shallow Bit: Donna is beautiful throughout, outside and in. The moment Donna realises it is a time machine Rose breaks into a smile that makes you realise this is out Rose all along. 

Result: Turn Left is bold, brilliant and shits on continuity with real verve. Because of its lasting emotional impact on me, the stunning production values, the bleak, uncompromising tone and adult content it manages to achieve the knocks Blink from the top spot of my favourite Doctor-lite episode. Season four had been performing extremely well up until The Unicorn and the Wasp but the run of episodes from The Silence in the Library to The Stolen Earth are exemplary one of the greatest runs of knock outs in the shows history. Given the Doctor's absence this should be the weakest of the bunch but it is actually my favourite and the two individuals responsible, Russell T. Davies and Catherine Tate, should be extremely proud of what they achieved here. Tate has always been excellent but here she is a revelation, silencing all of her critics with a performance that has down in Doctor Who history. Russell T, Davies has written an impeccable script and it is dramatically realised by Graeme Harper giving us a deliciously dark waltz through the last four years of alien invasions and showing us the consequence of them without the Doctor's interference. Jacqueline King and Bernard Cribbins provide the best support that Tate could ask for, propping up the episode with some weighty talent whilst still giving her the limelight. The world without the Doctor is a scary place and the episode never shies away from how much we are in his debt. But the human race is a formidable force too and Donna proves once and for all what an incredible person she is; suffering terrible indignities, watching her world collapse and then willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to put things right. I couldn't love her character more than I do in Turn Left. Series four raced towards its conclusion with six incredible episodes in a row and Turn Left rises ever so slightly above the quality and drama of its neighbours and has a vivid, stark and emotional identity all of its own. 

In the Pale Moonlight written by Michael Taylor (although it has Ronald D. Moore’s fingerprints all over it and he should deservedly get the credit)  and directed by Victor Lobl

What’s it about: Sisko is going to bring the Romulans into the war…

Single Father: We open on Sisko making his log, distracted and frustrated and its easy to see that this isn’t going to be an easy ride. He can’t even talk to his closest friend (Dax) about what he has done so he has to lay it out in a message that he knows can never be entered officially into the log. Sisko has always been a realist and a fighter but his decision to bring an entire race of people into their conflict with the Dominion takes his recklessness and risk taking to a whole new level. He will single handedly be condemning a race of people to terrible casualties to make the losses his side is taking less severe. That’s dark territory for any character but for Sisko who has always been characterised as a builder of things to see him tear a society down so brazenly is shocking. Its another example of this war pushing the characters into dark corners and forcing them to make tough calls that will relieve the situation but eat at the soul. What’s very sweet is that initially Sisko does believe that he might be able to dredge up some genuine evidence of Dominion duplicity. His intentions were good but I don’t think he realises (at first) the lengths he is going to have to go to to see this thing through. Sisko steps over the line as soon as Garak suggests manufacturing evidence to convince the Romulans of the Dominion’s intended treachery and he listens. He had the choice to walk away and he didn’t take it. Sisko thinks that he is off the hook by getting permission to go ahead with this insane plan from Starfleet Command but the moral implications soon sink their claws into him. I get goosebumps every time I see Brooks addressing the camera directly and telling us that people are dying out there everyday and his morality will have to be shoved aside to save lives. If you want to see how intimidating Sisko can be as a character and Avery Brooks can be as an actor watch the scene where he threatens Tolar, pinning him to the wall. Brrrr. The trouble with Sisko’s argument to Vreenak is that he is talking about what will happen after the war is over…the Romulan has facts at his fingertips the prove that there is a more likely chance that the Dominion will win given the current statistics. He lied, he cheated, he bribed men to cover the crimes of other men, he is an accessory to murder…and yet he thinks he can live with it. Sisko looks directly at the audience and tells us that he can live with his guilty conscience…but faltering repeats the statement as though even he can’t quite believe it.

GE Doctor: Bashir has become a tough bastard this year, hasn’t he? I love the way he stands up to Sisko in this episode and refuses to be cowed by his intimidation.

Nine Lives: It’s the last great Sisko/Dax scene of the series where she steps into the role of a Romulan leader and tries to make Sisko see that he is going to have to provide some pretty compelling evidence in order to get them to side with the Federation. Her controlled, eyebrow raising delivery is spot on and Sisko is right when he suggests that Dax would have made a good Vulcan! ‘So their crossing my backyard to give the Federation a bloody nose? I can’t say that makes me feel very sad…’

Community Leader: The look of satisfaction on Quark’s face when he realises that every man has his price is a golden moment in this drama. Neelix would have been only too willing to have helped Janeway out of this sticky situation with the law whereas Quark is revelling in the fact that he has the good Captain at his mercy and exploits the situation for all the profit that he can.

Plain and Simple: It’s a tough call but this probably just about inches out The Wire, Improbable Cause and In Purgatory’s Shadow as the finest Garak episode but it is a very tough contest. Andrew Robinson gives a tour de force performance in this instalment and manages to deliver some stunning expository dialogue to the audience with razor sharp wit and compelling menace. After Garak’s disturbing revelation that everybody seems to trust him these days along comes an episode that shows how dangerous this man can be and how far he is willing to go to get results. Infiltrating enemy territory and dredging up damning evidence against the Dominion is a suicide mission and that is way outside his field of expertise. I love the way Garak informs Sisko that all of his contacts on Cardassia are all dead within one day of speaking to him (‘I guess that’s a testament to Dominion security…’) because he is wide eyed and amused by the idea! It seems that since the murder of Ziyal he has lost all interest in relationships and is focussing on the bigger picture. Garak’s plan to convince the most openly pro-Dominion Romulan senator to back them and forcing the rest of the Senate to fall into line is a strong one but what a risky strategy to use faked evidence of a planned invasion of Romulus. Despite things being this perilous there’s still time for some great humour with Garak as he tells Tolar that he will be along to say hello and winds up Worf just by telling him it’s a pleasure to see him.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘That was the moment I made the decision. It was like I had stepped through a door and locked it behind me. I was going to bring the Romulans into the war!’
‘It may be a very messy, very bloody business. Are you prepared for that?’
‘You will tell the Senator that this information was obtained through various covert means at great cost to the Federation. At least ten good men lost their lives bringing it across the line, that sort of thing.’
‘I have to promise to stay away from the Klingon Empire. That’ll be tough!
‘I’m making a new agreement. If that programme passes inspection, you walk free but if there is even the slightest flaw then I will send you back to that Klingon prison and tell Gowron to take his time while he executes you!
‘To be honest my opinion of Starfleet officers is so low you’d have to work very hard in indeed to disappoint me…’
‘The soufflé will either rise or it wont. There’s not a damn thing you can do about it!’
It’s a faaaaake!
‘And what about Tolar? Did you kill him too?’ ‘Think of them both as tragic victims of war!’
‘That’s why you came to me, wasn’t it Captain? Because you knew I could do those things that you weren’t capable of doing. Well it worked and you’ll get what you wanted, a war between the Romulans and the Dominion. And if your conscience is bothering you you should soothe it with the knowledge that you may have just saved the entire Alpha Quadrant and all it cost was the life of one Romulan senator, one criminal and the self respect of one Starfleet officer. I don’t know about you but I’d call that a bargain.’

The Good: The idea of framing the story with Sisko’s log entries is a stroke of genius because throughout it guides us through this web of lies and deceit, it emphasises moments of drama and makes them even more tense than they already are and it allows us closer to Sisko than we have ever been before and it his darkest moment of the war. It gives us a direct window to Sisko’s soul, he isn’t really making a log, he is talking to directly tous and asking for us to make a judgement on these events. The fourth wall has well and truly been smashed. The very idea of a weekly casualty list being posted and becoming a grim ritual on board the station during wartime is terrifying – Sisko mentions that not a week goes by when somebody doesn’t spot the name of a friend, an acquaintance or a family member on that damned list. It’s a crushing reminder that peoples lives are being affected everyday by this devastating war and Sisko has grown to hate Friday’s when he has to post them. The Romulans have always been the most evasive and insidious of Alpha Quadrant races and as Dax says they are in the perfect position to watch their biggest rivals slug it out in a long bloody war. It makes what Sisko suggests sodangerous, by attempting to bring the Romulans into the war it could go either way. They could ally themselves with either side and since the Federation is taking such heavy losses already it would just about finish them off to have another fleet turn against them. With so many lives hanging in the balance and an example of the dramatic uprooting of peoples of lives if this goes wrong being epitomised in the opening six episodes of this season, the stakes have never been higher. That is a great place to start an episode. The Dominion has invaded Betazed? About damn time! We can only hope that Counsellor busybody was visiting her mother at the time (Troi has never been a decent character and Lwaxana failed to impress in either Fascination or The Muse) and was caught in a horrific blast by a Jem H’adar strike party. What’s that? She turns up on Voyager? Trust them to spoil the party! Tolar is exactly the sort of weird looking alien that turns up on Voyager every week (in fact I think he might be the very alien from The Voyager conspiracy painted blue!) but he is given a DS9 makeover and winds up being a seedy, drunken, violent criminal that Sisko just happens to need to see this scheme through. Throughout Victor Lobl’s direction is claustrophobic and tenser than the elastic on a fat mans waistline but the way he executes the sneaking in of the Romulan ship invisibly is expertly done. Stephen McHattie provides a memorable Romulan character and probably the most important appearance of anybody from that species in the Trek franchise. His signature line has gone down in Trek history (its there in the sparkling dialogue section). The Dominion shipyards are operating at peak efficiency whilst the Federation ones are being rebuilt, the Dominion is breeding legions of Jem H’adar warriors and Starfleet is experiencing a manpower shortage…which side would you choose? Garak has set up Vreenak as evidence that the Dominion is planning to invade Romulus. By murdering him on a secret detour to a Federation station when publicly he is returning from Dominion territory it looks like they have tried to assassinate him because he has found out something dreadful. With the data rod surviving and any imperfections put down to the explosion there is all the evidence they need to join forces with the Federation against an enemy that was planning to conquer them. Clever bastard. Sisko deleting his log means we as the audience are the only people that will ever know what has happened to bring the Romulans into the war, itsour secret now. Absolute perfection.

The Bad: This is not a criticism of this episode but of the sort of people that suggest that because this is an episode of Star Trek this isn’t a drama that is entering dark territory like ‘real life’ dramas do. The horrendously underwritten and overpriced Trek review book Final Frontier suggests this and it made me want to use the breeze block of a book and use it for toilet paper but I wouldn’t assail my arse with such disagreeable scribblings. Whilst shows such as The West Wing do open our eyes to the tough decisions of government and how people are affected about those decisions it is thescale of this episode that makes it so impressively sinister and penalties so colossal. We’re not talking about one planet but an entire Quadrant. One mans soul is the tipping point between saving billions of lives and throwing them away. We are never allowed to forget the consequences if Sisko’s plan is compromised (indeed we saw that in The Sacrifice of Angels when Weyoun suggested that the entire population of Earth would be wiped out if the Dominion managed to take the Quadrant) and we are reminded of the crushing effect on his morality if he does go through with it. Under any circumstances this is dangerous material, ominously presented and it genuinely pushes DS9 (a show that is no stranger to presenting the less savoury side of life in the 24thCentury) into even darker territory. Its fascinating to compare the lives of Sisko and Janeway in their respective series six – he is juggling the fates of Empires whilst she is personalising her own dildo!

Moment to Watch Out For: Has there ever been a better ‘oh shit!’ moment than the one where Vreenak turns on Sisko in appalled fury and declares that he knows the data rod is a fake. All of the worrying, the buttock clenching, the soul searching…all of that for nothing as the whole plan crumbles before Sisko as the Romulan plans to expose his deception to the entire Quadrant. The first time I watched this I was gasping for air! Like the minefield being deactivated and Dukat’s declaration that he is going to murder everybody on Bajor it is another season six moment where I genuinely thought ‘how the hell are they going to get out of this one?’ If that wasn’t enough the final dialogue between Garak and Sisko is possibly one the best scripted exchanges ever seen in Trek. Go and watch it now and bask in the riveting performances.

Only DS9: Erm, yes

Orchestra: Rocks & Shoals, The Sacrifice of Angels and Tacking the Wind all have outstanding David Bell soundtracks but I don’t think his music has ever felt more appropriate than in In the Pale Moonlight. As soon as Sisko embarks on this scheme it is greeted by a foreboding notes that suggest this is going to be an ominous ride and the dark forcefulness of the score when Sisko shoves his principles aside and pushes on gave me chills.

Foreboding: This is the beginning of a strong Romulan presence on DS9 which would turn out to be another fine innovation late in the day that would reap some dramatic rewards. Check out Shadows & Symbols and Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges for the best examples of this.

Result: Justifiably one of the most popular episodes of Star Trek and paradoxically one of the least Roddenberryesque pieces of drama the franchise ever put out, In the Pale Moonlight is a triumph of taking risks and winning and establishes itself as a benchmark in quality for DS9. Sisko has the germ of an idea that could help the Federation win the war but in order to put that into practice he has to make a deal with the devil, wrestle with his conscience and put the lives of billions of innocent people before his own integrity. Before you know it the Captain is breaking crooks out of jail, manipulating logs, blackmailing local crooks and obtaining illicit tender for the criminal classes. It’s an astonishing downward spiral of events that fights against the grain of Roddenberry’s idea of the perfect leader. The next time you want to criticise Avery Brooks’ performance as Sisko remember this episode and bite your tongue. Between Far Beyond the Stars, Waltz and In the Pale Moonlight you have an actor that has blossomed into his role and is delivering powerhouse performances on a regular basis. Coupled with Andy Robinson’s tour de force as Garak who is characterised so sharply he might just slash your wrists if you get too close and you have a drama that is truly bolstered by the gob smacking quality of the dialogue and performances. The epic sweep of events and the fiendishness of Garak’s plan kept me on tenterhooks throughout and at one point I genuinely thought it was all over for the Federation. I’ve said it before but I don’t think it is more appropriate than during this episode (and selected highlights of season seven) but putting DS9 on a war footing has been the best decision Trek has ever made. It has forced the show to raise its game even higher, delivered consistently powerful drama and afforded the Trek franchise to explore some edgier, more controversial themes. In the Pale Moonlight is the epitome of all of these innovations and top class drama in its own right. 

Conversations with Dead People written by Jane Espenson (the Dawns scenes), Drew Goddard (the Trio scenes), Joss Whedon (the Buffy/Holden scenes) and Marti Noxon (the Willow/Cassie scenes) and directed by Nick Marck

What’s it about: Dead friends and family contact the Scoobies…

The Chosen One: Things we learn about Buffy in this episode: that she thinks that there are relationships that survive but she has a habit of targeting the impossible ones, she has a hard time trusting men because her first example of one (her dad) cheated on her mum, she has trouble connecting to men because she thinks she is better than them, she admits that she behaved like a monster with Spike and at the same time let him completely take her over, last year she wanted to be punished in the way that she thought she deserved, even though her friends tell her that they love her it doesn’t penetrate because they cannot possibly understand what it is like to be her – she has a superiority complex but she’s got an inferiority complex about that. Oh how I miss complex characterisation like this in cult television. Oh and she’s so self involved she barely remembers anybody who existed on the periphery of her life during High School (‘I don’t remember you being this annoying!’ ‘You don’t remember me at all!’ ‘Yes I do!’ ‘Yeah after 30 minutes of reminding!’).

The Key: More of this frighteningly likable Dawn, buying pizza against her sisters instructions and spilling it over one of her shirts and shrugging it off because she’ll probably think it is blood. Oh and cutting chunks out of the wall when playing with Buffy’s weapons and shoving pot plants in its place to cover it up. 

Witchy Willow: Alyson Hannigan proves just how good she really is (if she hasn’t done so already you must have lost all your critical faculties) by breaking down whilst talking to Tara when she isn’t even present. I had goosebumps all over when she admitted that her girlfriends absence hurts so badly and isn’t getting any better. I can believe in this relationship even when one of the participants is dead. Willow admits that she lost herself after Tara died, that she used the magic to become somebody who wasn’t in pain but it turned her into something dark and evil.

The Trio: Jonathan and Andrew are back in town because they think they might be needed in the fight that is to come and to potentially redeem themselves. Cue comic mishaps from the off, starting with their hilarious misinterpretation of the Klingon portent regarding the new Big Bad: ‘It eats you starting with your bottom.’ In Seeing Red we saw Andrew trying to make a dramatic exit to the skies and it going hilariously wrong, this time he is trying to make a stealthy entrance in the other direction and winds up screaming into shot and landing on his arse. Great stuff. It’s when Warren showed up that I started to have an inkling about who the Big Bad might be…there have been far too many appearances of dead people for this to be a co-incidence now (Buffy haunting Spike, the montage of old villains in Lessons, now Cassie and Joyce). In a very sweet speech Jonathan admits how much he misses High School, from the people who pretended to be his friends to those who treated him appallingly because at that point in his life he felt as though he belonged somewhere. He misses those people and in a spectacularly cruel display Andrew informs him that none of those people even know he exists anymore. There is something horribly malicious about Andrew leading Jonathan to the Seal only to stab him in the gut and end his life. The First has proven itself as a darkly manipulative force that will utilise any methods to achieve its purpose. Andrew is going to have to do a great deal of soul searching and repent in order to wipe away the sins he commits in this episode.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Are you alone?’ BANG! BANG! – very creepy.
‘This is beyond evil, this is insane troll logic!’
‘Buffy I’m here to kill you not to judge you.’

The Good: The unusually stylish opening sequence immediately informs the viewer that this going to be something a bit different, to some seductively sombre music we experience a montage of clips featuring Buffy in the graveyard, Willow in the library and Dawn at home. The locations where they will remain throughout the episode in their various confrontations with the new Big Bad. The episode keeps cutting back to Spike at a bar trying to pick up women and it fails to make any sense until the conclusion, proving just how well plotted this piece is.

Once again the Summers household seems to be tuned into Carnival FM but it’s a million times better than the drivel Buffy was weeping to in Listening to Fear. Immediately there is a feeling that something terrible is about to happen to Dawn at home alone, there has never been scenes like this before with one of the characters wandering about and enjoying themselves. Nick Marck shoots through the kitchen window as Dawn dances about as if somebody is watching her from outside. It is the closest that the series has ever coming to offering an authentic horror movie experience and the director is smart enough to remember that sound effects and subtle visual effects are far more effectively creepy than throwing a whole ton of CGI at the audience. Cue the reverberant banging around the house, the TV that turns on by itself unplugged, the microwave that explodes and the subtle suggestion that Joyce is trying to reach. When Joyce manifests herself on the sofa in the pose she was found in at the point of her death in a split second shot my heart skipped a beat. Blood writing on the walls, furniture stacked, growling in the darkness – Marck throws every horror cliché at you and directed this well it really gets under your skin. If you pause the DVD at the right point you can see the demon straddling the white eyed Joyce as she screams and reaches out for Dawn, it’sterrifying. The Summers residence sure does take a beating in this season but nowhere is it more destructive than in Conversations with Dead People. Walls burst and crack, windows shatter and furniture is destroyed. The First proves itself to be a truly insidious force, faking a ghostly manifestation so Dawn feels like she has defeated something sinister in order to speak to her mother. The truth being that Joyce is a manifestation of the First offering her a warning that would eventually serve to turn her against her sister.

It absolutely sucks that Amber Benson couldn’t take part in this episode. Whether it was because she was unavailable or because she didn’t want to play Tara as something bad, it is disappointing that they couldn’t offer one last glimpse at their incredible relationship. Saying that I think the writers dealt with the situation in the best way that they possibly could, bringing back Cassie from Help and offering her as a conduit between Willow and her ex-lover. Giving the reason that because Willow has killed that she cannot be reunited with Tara makes perfect sense even if this ultimately proves to be a ruse on the First’s behalf. Once again Azura Skye is superb, managing to swing from melancholic empathy to grinning malevolence. The First is attempting to convince Willow to stop using magic because it knows that she is one of Buffy’s strongest weapons. Cassie/Tara is believable to a point but Willow soon starts to suspect foul play when the conversation takes a turn towards discussing suicide.

It’s the dialogue that stands out in the Buffy/Holden sequences; razor sharp, funny, revealing and quite touching. It’s Joss Whedon at his finest, far superior to his half hearted approach to Lessons as the beginning of the year. Outing Scott Hope as gay was a really nice touch. This is the extended therapy that Buffy has needed for some time, being able to air her feelings without any fear of reprisals and the fact that her recipient of all this honesty is a vampire that she is fighting to the death gives these scenes a real edge. The crushing inevitability that they are going to fight to the death even though they are clearly enjoying each others company always lingers. The action itself is very smartly choreographed, especially when they struggle with each other whilst crashing through a stained glass window into a mausoleum before the graveyard setting gets stale. 

Moment to Watch Out For: There are many, many great moments in Conversations with Dead People but the highlight has to be the quadruple whammy of twists as the plotlines all converge in the last five minutes. Holden reveals that Spike was responsible for siring him and thus he is killing again. Joyce manages to speak to Dawn and warn her that when the time comes Buffy wont protect her. Andrew murders Jonathan in a callous act that brings the Seal in the High School basement to life. And the First reveals itself to Willow after attempting to convince her to commit suicide (‘It’s not that bad…it’s just like going to sleep’). All these threads that have gaining momentum throughout the first handful of episodes are already paying dividends and its only episode six. If we can keep up with this quality of storytelling Buffy will be going out on a real high. The climax to this episode enjoys that tingle of excitement you get when everything starts to come together in a very exciting direction.

Foreboding: Check the section above – so much to deal with after the revelations dished out here.

Result: ‘You don’t know hurt. This last year is going to seem like cake after what I put you and your friends through and I am not a fan of easy death. The fact is the whole good versus evil, balancing the scales thing, I’m over it. I’m done with the mortal coil but believe me I’m going for a big finish…’ With the four best writers on this series, both old and new, combining to write a script I was expecting big things. Fortunately it doesn’t disappoint and this is the second episode in the opening run of season seven that exists in my top ten favourites of the entire series. Conversations with Dead People is one of those Buffy episodes that sticks out because it so different from anything else the series has done before and yet it contains all the core ingredients that make the show such a smash hit; laughs, drama, intense character development, great twists, memorable action, scares and scorching dialogue. I couldn’t have been more thrilled with where season seven was heading when this episode first aired and it holds up to repeated viewing brilliantly with Nick Marck’s polished direction looking as good now as it did a decade ago. It deals with many of the criticisms of season six (looking into both Buffy and Willow’s self destructive behaviour) whilst pushing forward this years plot with a hefty shove. Dawn’s horror movie experiences at home are probably as intense as the show ever dared to push the genre and the re-introduction of Trio works a treat because whilst it appears that they have come to repent for their previous misdeeds there is something far more sinister at the heart of it. The dialogue is constantly surprising, the action relentless and the last ten minutes manages to kick start a multitude of fascinating new plot threats that weave throughout the rest of the year. Like Selfless before it, this is Buffy at it’s very best and it’s fantastic to see the show delivering such value so close to it’s demise. Exhilarating.

Yesterday’s Enterprise written by Ira Steven Behr, Richard Manning, Hans Beimler & Ronald D Moore and directed by David Carson

What’s it about: The Enterprise NCC-1701C survives its final battle and history is irrevocably changed…

To Baldly Go: Patrick Stewart’s angry performance in Yesterday’s Enterprise is one of the things that really makes it stand out as a dramatic classic. This is a Picard that has been hardened by warfare and wont stand for any of the usual nonsense that our Picard lets slide. He is still a man of integrity but he pulls his punches when he needs to and makes tough choices without doubting himself. The scene between Picard and Tasha when she reveals Guinan’s foreknowledge is beautifully performed by both actors – ‘There’s no sense in this at all!’

Mr Wolf: All those prune juice jokes for Worf in seasons to come, the joke starts here with Guinan introducing him to the bowel opening drink. Worf considers Earth females to be too fragile but Guinan disagrees and says she can think of a few women that would find him tame!

Security Chief: Denise Crosby must have stepped back into this greatly improved (and ever popular) version of the show that she abandoned ship and regretted her decision. The return of Tasha is not something that I am particularly interested given the handling of her character in the first season but even I have to admit it is pulled off with some verve here and it might have been an interesting shake up to have kept her back for a few episodes. Many people say that the Tasha/Costillo romance is an unnecessary distraction but it is vital for two reasons. The first is that we need a reason for Tasha to choose to go with them and the second is to prove how given the right writers this character could have been toned down enough to be made to work.

Brilliant Bartender: Guinan finally gets a blisteringly good role in an episode and it pleases me to see that it is in one that is so fondly remembered by fandom. Her instincts are spot on but when she comes to Picard telling him that everything is wrong she sounds like some mad old soothsayer. She cannot explain it to herself so she cannot explain it to Picard but she knows that those 40 billion people should not have died in this war. In a very chilling scene Guinan tells Tasha that she died an empty death without purpose and that they weren’t meant to know each other at all.

Dancing Doctor: ‘Nonsense Doctor’s always over protect their patients’ ‘And Captain’s always push themselves too hard’ – even Dr Bev is getting in on the great characterisation.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Families. There should be children on this ship’ ‘What? Children on the Enterprise? Guinan we’re at war!’ – if only Picard, if only…
‘Who knows if we’re even dead or alive?’
Tasha…you are not supposed to be here.’
‘We’ll make it one for the history books’ ‘I know you will Captain.’
‘Lets make sure history never forgets the name Enterprise.’

The Good: The shift from the reality we know to the much darker version when the Enterprise survived is seamlessly achieved and pulled off without any kind of explanation at first. It is like an electric shock to the audience that are left floundering as to how Tasha Yar could be back and the ship can have changed so much and I love that they are willing to take that kind of risk with the show. The new Bridge is gloomy, dramatically designed and just about a million times more evocative than the beige airport lounge we are used to. You can definitely see where the increased budget went. Can we keep it please? The Enterprise is now a battleship in a war with the Klingons and the Captain begins his usual voiceovers with ‘military log.’ The Bridge that the Away Team beam over to is smoky, dirty, destroyed, littered with corpses and fires – probably the most haunting beam in site to the whole series (until the teaser to Best of Both Worlds). We don’t require the changes explained to us in laborious detail, Picard merely mentions that the act of a Federation starship saving a Klingon colony may have averted 20 years of war and we have all the answers we need. Suddenly we are in Trek moral dilemma territory at its best. To make things as they were Garrett needs to send her ship back into a conflict that she knows she wont survive – would you become a martyr to prevent two decades of war? Whilst many people would simply say yes that is a near impossible choice to make because by accepting it you are agreeing to go to your death so history remembers you fondly. We have had many scenes of debate amongst this crew over the mot trivial of issues but here is a whopping great decision for them to make and suddenly the differing opinions of the crew make for terrific drama. One more ship will make no difference in the here and now and ultimately going back to their deaths might be the only way to help – to prevent the war altogether is the only way that the Federation is going to win. Garrett’s death is shocking enough but then the camera pans down to show a piece of shrapnel sticking from her bloody forehead. Gorgeous model work and effects make the final battles scenes stirring and exciting, exactly the sort of sensational climax this episode needed. Riker is killed, Picard leaps over to tactical and the Enterprise is hammered by Klingon firepower…

The Bad: This has been pointed out in my favourite Trek review website (Jammer’s Reviews) but I completely agree so it is worth re-iterating. This is not so much a criticism of the episode itself but of the running series but it seems it takes a spatial anomaly to bring this series to the brink of war. It is easily the most cynical portrayal of the Federation at war that we ever get in TNG and it is absolutely gripping. With DS9 they actually take the series down this route proper and come the beginning of series six we are literally in this kind of hell.

Moment to Watch Out For: The tension when Guinan walks into Ten Forward and sees Tasha standing at the bar is one of the most uncomfortable moments in Trek. She knows that Tasha is supposed to be dead and Whoopee Goldberg does more with a stare than most actors could do with an episode.

Moral of the Week: Small events can have vast consequences.

Fashion Statement: Wesley looks awesome in a red uniform and the sooner they pour him into one and out of the grey tunic the better. The uniforms of the old Enterprise are just one step further than those from the movies which is a lovely touch of continuity.

Orchestra: A huge round of applause for Dennis McCarthy in this episode who delivers a knockout score for a knockout episode. The early scenes featuring Guinan have a discomforting discordant sting playing through them and the later battle scenes are made all the more dramatic and dynamic for the music.

Result: In the season three sweep stakes Voyager has been running on the spot with little interest and DS9 has been using its first half to build to a kick ass second half but it is TNG where all the classics are. I have awarded no less than four episodes perfect marks so far and Yesterday’s Enterprise wont be the last masterpiece before the year is out. It doesn’t surprise me that this episode is written by strongest of DS9 writers and the ones that would take the sister show down this exact path for real. You can almost imagine that this is what the Enterprise was like during the Dominion War. There is a fantastic role for Guinan who acts as an anchor to our universe and the return of Tasha Yar is far better than I could have ever expected. The story only has one route to travel down and that is for things to return to normal but as a peek into a dirty, violent and uncomfortable Alpha Quadrant with the Federation spirit blasted to hell by war this is an absolute work of tour de force. Yesterday’ Enterprise is about as dramatic as TNG comes and it has a premise that I wished they had saved for the movies because it is ripe to be exploited with a big budget. Its certainly far more effective than any of the TNG movies we got. Stunning.

Release written by David Amann and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Is Doggett about to learn the truth about his sons murder?

Closed Mind: 'In his mind he can never do enough, suffer enough for what happened...' The sudden connection between this murder case and that of Doggett's son is so unexpected it made me sit up and gasp. There isn't a hint of a relationship between the two until we see both pinned to Mims' wall. There is am astonishing  silent scene where Doggett pulls his sons ashes from his closet and sits them down in front of him in the dead of night, reminding the audience that he hasn't been able to put his murder to rest and move on with his life. I really admire the amount of emotion that Patrick is willing to display at Doggett's weaker points in this episode, he manages to make the man vulnerable without ever losing that tough veneer that serves him so well. Watch as Doggett recounts the murder of his son, tears welling in his eyes, to Mims but refusing to look away. The show has never obsessed over the murder of Luke Doggett in the same way that it did with the disappearance of Samantha Mulder and as such it has been a skilful and emotive back story to return to. It was first introduced in Invocation near the start of season nine and with the advent of Monica Reyes' introduction in This Is Not Happening we learn that is how they first met. We were then afforded brooding flashbacks to the discovery of the body later in the season and a rare glimpse into how the loss still haunts Doggett before dexterously re-introducing the storyline in John Doe in season nine by having that character lose his memory and therefore go through the shock of discovery all over again. It has been very adroitly handled, and you can hardly say that about many of the running character storylines in The X-Files (look at Scully's cancer which was inexplicably cured when the writers got bored with it). With the show coming to a close it is time to give Doggett and this delicately written storyline some closure. Doggett's affiliation with The X-Files could even be seen as a last ditch effort to try and find some kind of explanation for what happened to Luke, although he has already admitted that if there is a paranormal rationalization he wouldn't be able to live with himself because he didn't explore every avenue post mortem. For him to turn to Mims isn't a leap of faith but another potential avenue to explore, to finally find some answers however difficult they might be. Scenes between Doggett and his ex-wife are very affecting because you can see that Barbara is trying to move on with her life whilst Doggett is like a fly trapped in amber. Turning up with new wild theories unexpectedly opens up the wounds that Barbara is trying to heal. There's a palpable chemistry between these two characters and there should be, Barbara is played by the real-life wife of Robert Patrick. Doggett has a made to measure suspect in Mims and yet with his time with him something about him being revealed as the killer of his son doesn't sit right and he still goes after Regali. The finale scene is a very cathartic moment for the character, releasing his sons ashes, walking away from his wife and embracing Monica. Finally life can move on for John Doggett.

Oddball: Like John Doe and Hellbound, Reyes shows a surprising amount of steel when she is forced to confront those who play loose with the law. He quiet confrontation with Regali is loaded with tension and she lets him know in no uncertain terms that she knows what he is capable of and that she is going to stop him. And you believe her. Just as the show used to do with Mulder and Scully every now and again to keep things interesting, they reverse the roles of Doggett and Reyes in Release so that he is the believer and she is the sceptic. Doggett desperately wants to believe that there is a link between this case and Luke's but Reyes has bluntly point out that the connections are tenuous at best. Even Doggett's wife admits that he and Monica could have something together but he wont let her in because he is scared to commit to any relationship that might hurt him. We saw a little of that in Audrey Pauley where he is clearly in love with her but when it comes to the moment to reach in and kiss her he still resists. It's fascinating to learn why Monica broke off her relationship with Follmer in New York, because she saw him being paid off by mobsters to keep his mouth shut. She cared about him and didn't want to sabotage his career but she didn't want to be associated with a man as unscrupulous as he had turned out to be.

Smarmy AD: Follmer has to be considered something of a failed experiment despite some attempt to make him a different kind of Assistant Director than we have seen previously. His previous relationship with Reyes gives him an edge and Cary Elwes is a charismatic enough performer to give the man a smarmy edge that makes you want to punch him every time he is on screen. He has all the qualities to make him a genuinely compelling character but he needs something to do for that to come to fruition and Carter and Spotnitz (responsible for the mostly dreary mythology episodes this of which Follmer barely features outside of) tie him to his office for the most part, and force him into the same ambiguous model as all the others. Sometimes helping the cause but mostly seeming to fight against it. A shame because it might have been nice to have had a character who was actively working against the X-Files for a change, someone who we could truly hiss at. Frankly he's been a little too quiet and ineffective for his own good. So it is nice that in his final appearance in the show that the writers (not Carter or Spotnitz tellingly) find something genuinely interesting to say about the man and put a light up to his less than dignified past. He made the unfortunate decision to accept a silence money from Doggett's sons killer back in their New York days, a decision that clearly has him breaking out into a cold sweat when Doggett starts asking questions about the case again. The trouble with Follmer he is ultimately a good man who want Doggett to learn the truth about Luke but he knows that in doing so his part in the hush up will come to light. What a nightmarish situation to be in. The moment when Reyes steps into his office to accuse him of accepting hush money, Doggett is standing over his shoulder like a hunting dog waiting to be let of the leash. Ultimately Follmer makes the right choice, shooting Regali and saving Doggett the indignity of having to do so and flush his career down the toilet to avenge his sons death.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Kind of annoying, isn't he?'
'What do you do with them?' 'I sit with them. For a long time. They tell me things.'
'Cadet, you should know there's a real good chance you're nuts.'
'Would you have listened to me otherwise? A mental patient with insight into your sons death?'

Ugh: Blood dripping from a wall, maggot ridden body parts, crime photos as a piece of art.
The Good: How can you ever forget Jared Poe's performance in Release? My eyes were drawn to him instantly and whenever he is on screen no other actor, not even the likes of Anderson and Patrick, had a chance. Mims is such a compelling character from the off, a man who is far too involved in the machination of killers to be healthy, seemingly lost in the details of the crime. He is far and away the brightest of Scully's students but also the most remote and socially awkward. It is as though he lives and breathes criminal activity, which turns out to be the case when we visit him at home only to confronted with his macabre wall of murder victims. Poe plays the character as though he is mildly autistic, unaware that he overstepping boundaries or behaving in a bizarre way. If the idea was to create a Sherlock Holmes style character then Shiban, Amann and Poe have succeeded in creating a compelling detector of minute detail in crimes but any similarity between the two characters is superficial. Mims is uniquely awkward and bizarre, a powerful character in his own right. The first shots of his wall of nasties really sells the freakish obsession that Mims has with murder and those that commit it. Sal Landi deserves a great deal of credit for refusing to sensationalise his character of Regali in the way a great many actors who are asked to play killers do (as compelling as he might have been, there is something deliriously heightened about James Remar's performance in Daemonicus). He's a most uncharismatic man, boring almost. And that's what makes him so credible and so terrifying. You could imagine this man slipping into any crowd and sniffing out his next victim. 

Pre Titles Sequence: Immediately this episode feels like a great deal of effort has gone into making it as much of an event as possible without pushing too hard. The music and cinematography of the teaser are both stylish and the conceit of Doggett scratching away at the plaster board only for the wall to start bleeding is a memorable visual. There's no real indication of what this is going to be about, only that it is going to be rather special.

Moment to Watch Out For: The slow motion arrest of Mims and Doggett's reaction to the blank wall where the crime photos once were is very powerful. But even more so is very quiet, underplayed scene in the bar where to the truth about Luke is spilled. As I approached the end of this episode I desperately wanted Doggett to get the answers that he had been searching for. After being through so much and still being such a dignified and thoroughly likable man he deserved to know the truth so he can move on with his life. The truth isn't glamorous and only satisfaction comes from finally knowing what happened. Bob Harvey has a thing for little boys and spots Luke riding his bike around the block. He takes a chance and smuggles the boy back home. There he spots another criminal and in doing so signs his death warrant. The fact that his murder might have spared him unspeakable cruelty at Harvey's hands, that is might be the preferable option, is quite repulsive. The X-Files has always had one foot firmly in reality and for one episode it plants the over squarely in it as well. This is unpleasantly plausible and in no way sensationalised. It's actually quite horrible in its simplicity compared to alien clones and walk-in spirits. A little boy murdered for seeing something that he shouldn't. Patrick is sublime in this scene, showing remarkable restraint where I thought Doggett would be pummelling this man to death.

Orchestra: Mark Snow's emotive score for Release is one of the aspects that really stands out. I think his work on season nine is generally very good (especially in shows like John Doe, Audrey Pauley and Improbable) but the haunting piano motifs that play throughout this episode are something very special. It reminds you that at his best, Snow's music really cannot be beaten.

Result: Kim Manners has brought to life countless X-Files episodes up to this point and has become far and away the most prolific director on the show. He's a reliable pair of hands, a man who understands how to push the boundaries of television visually and can always be counted on to bring something interesting to the screen. His work on Release might be his finest direction on the show; each shot expertly crafted, the lighting atmospherically judged, the camera moving in skilful and unexpected ways and the actors always given his attention. It isn't just polished, this is a exquisitely crafted piece of drama that is a pleasure to watch unfold. When you start adding in other elements such as Mark Snow's delicate and emotional music, Robert Patrick's standout performance on the show, a script that starts of as a standard murder case but blossoms into something with tragic consequences for Doggett and the unflinching dialogue and characterisation you are looking at an episode which stands tall in the top ten listing of the shows all time greats. What really pushes this to new heights is the creation of Mims, Scully's savant student who obsesses of murder and can make outstanding deductions based on his intimate understanding of the crimes. Jared Poe gives a compelling turn and the script is constantly finding new ways to look at the character from genius to failed FBI Agent to probable killer to obsessed victim. He is as enthralling as he is sinister. Release is such a cut above the episodes that surround it because it is one of the few instalments of the final run that isn't obsessed with Mulder and doesn't make ill judged decisions with regards to wrapping up its storyline (like both Jump the Shark and William did). It gives Doggett the closure he needed from his sons death in a very moving fashion and allows him to move on with his life, his work on the X-Files and potentially a relationship with Reyes. It is a deeply satisfying drama in that respect. It is astonishing how the season nine rule works, as soon as the focus is on Doggett and Reyes again it is delivering powerhouse work. The trinity of 4-D, John Doe, Audrey Pauley and Release are enough to justify the seasons existence alone but I cannot help but wish that there could have been even more in this vein and less of an obsession with a stagnant character that isn't even around anymore. Those people that think the show never captured the glory of the first four seasons in its final year need to watch Release, it is one of the finest dramas that The X-Files ever put out.


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