Saturday, 30 January 2016

Rendition written by Doris Egan and directed by Billy Gierhart

This story in a nutshell: On the way to America, Jack realises he is all too mortal…

Hunky Hero: Jack really must feel like the bad penny because every time he shows up something awful seems to happen to his friends. Making him mortal is just about the most interesting thing that could be done with his character because the audience has become so adjusted to his immortality. Suddenly he is the only man on Earth who is in danger of being killed, it’s a fascinating role reversal but oddly still doesn’t make him any less reckless! Every bug in existence is out to get him, the only man who can get sick and die. He tells Gwen he went a long way away after the events of Children of Earth but cannot answer her question of it helped.

Welsh Babe: Irritated by the fact, Gwen has been missing Jack and since it has been so long she was starting to wonder if her time with Torchwood was a fairytale.

Holding the Baby: When Rhys is defending Jack from Gwen’s bile you know there has to be something wrong with the world. Whilst the cuts back to England did begin tire by the end of this season Rhys (for me) is the most likable and engaging character left in this show and as the ordinary bloke the only one I can truly relate to. Gwen barking orders on the plane is hilarious, its probably Eve Myles’ best scene to date because she gets to play comedy and drama with equal vigour. Her scream when she found the orange wire and cut it regardless as whether it is important to the function of the plane they are flying in or not made me punch the air.

CIA Survivor: ‘The more you struggle the more he enjoys it’ and clearly Rex is getting some kind of perverse pleasure out of ripping a baby from its mother and taking her across the world which might not be the best creative decision considering he is supposed to be our new hero. Mehki Phifer grows into the role (and the style of the series) very quickly but these first few instalments see him playing Rex as a twitchy, nervous sort of guy. I understand that he has suffered a pole through his shoulder and risen from the dead but it comes across as the actor unsure of his place within this world and not the character.

New Girl: Esther is about to get a severe reality check as 50,000 dollars is wired into her account and she is set up to take the fall for her nosing into all affairs Torchwood.

Daring Doctor: Vera is by far the best new character this season and she’s played with real charm and gusto by Arlene Tur. Her assertion that they are handling this emergency the wrong way around is inspired. They shouldn’t be dealing with the major injuries first because those people aren’t going to die. It’s the people with the minor injuries that should be a priority because they need to bed space for the long term patients that aren’t going to get better. She is smart enough to recognise that they cannot assume anything except that things are different now and they have to handle the situation on a day by day basis.

Anti Christ: In the grand scheme of things I am not certain I understand the purpose of Oswald Danes with regards to the series because he becomes nothing more than the punch bag that everybody can take their anger out on in the last handful of episodes. His character spec still bugs the hell out of me – I’m not sure why Torchwood always has to go to such extremes and making Danes both a paedophile and a rapist is so distasteful that even suggesting we should ever sympathise with such a man feels dirty. I like it when shows push me into uncomfortable grey areas but this is not one of them – its asking the impossible. And yet his ascension to some kind of dark messiah and voice of the People feels oddly believable.

Public Relations: A character that gained more importance and interest as the series continued (so the antithesis of Esther who got less appealing as the show continued), Jilly Kitzinger is a firing redhead out for herself in this mess and willing to make a deal with the devil (twice over it turns out) in order to profit from the Miracle. Lauren Ambrose is the surprise hit from this season as Peter Capaldi was in Children of Earth and she plays the character with a giddy, twitching self confidence that hides a darker distaste for what she is having to do to make a name for herself. When she is on screen my eyes don’t look anywhere else and that is a sign of a actress who can make something out of an incidental part.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If the devil himself walked the Earth he’d need representation’ ‘If the devil himself was walking this Earth he’d definitely be working in PR.’
‘What if your big success is one Welsh woman and a dead body?’
‘If you’re the best England has to offer…’ ‘I’m Welsh!’ 

The Good: Oswald Danes’ death turning up on You Tube with a comedy video over it is exactly the sort of perverse nonsense net nerds get their kicks out of and it really feels as if the show is representing the now. I think it is astonishing in hindsight that there is so much emphasis placed on the Miracle itself in the first half of the season when that turns out to be massive red herring to what the is really going on (reorganising the planet and ensuring it is controlled by the right elements). It frightens me to think that forcing Oswald Danes to confront a photograph of the young girl that he raped and murdered live on television is exactly the kind of sensationalist stunt that would pulled by today’s media to shock and excite its audience. Esther’s escape from the CIA is nicely paced and claustrophobically directed, its smartly done to keep the character looking intelligent whilst also feeling as though a hand is closing around her. I love action scenes in cramped plane cabins and this is one of the best I have seen with Gwen literally ripping up the floor and smashing the galley to find what she needs to save Jack. Its furiously paced, beautifully performed and very exciting. I don’t know if Vera’s plan is medically sound (I assume that it is) but it is certainly the most dynamic way of curing somebody from arsenic poisoning that I have ever seen. The cuts to Vera and her team trying to help reminds me of the scenes in World War Three when Jackie and Mickey are menaced by a Slitheen and the Doctor works furious to figure out their weakness, it has that same furious velocity.

The Miracle: One thing that really impressed me this year was how many different ways they managed to explore the Miracle and what it meant on a sociological, theological and medical level. The idea that you can’t kill your enemies is having an inflammatory effect, a Hutu village was destroyed in Rwanda with men, women and children having their brains bashed with hammers, thrown into a pit and bulldozed over. 80% of India is Hindu and reincarnation is no longer on the table with nothing to keep peoples behaviour in check. Esther predicts the most likely outcome is war with Pakistan but to everybody’s surprise the Indian Prime Minister announces his desire to reconcile with Pakistan since now they only have one life they have to make it count. Does suicide even exist anymore? If you can’t kill yourself now it will have no effect but the intent was there – what does that mean on religious level where such an act would ordinarily prevent and place in heaven? Hospital beds are filling up because those who should heal aren’t including people with infections, they are becoming germ incubators. Germs will stay within the livings bodies and the more antibiotics they get they will become resistant and within six months drug resistant organisms will be everywhere. This is fantastic, very clever observations using this premise to its fullest effect.

The Bad: Coarse sexual humour is a real bug bear of mine when done badly (go and watch the Inbetweeners to see how it can be really funny) and Rex’s ‘I’ll let you feel me up’ to the air steward (who has to be gay) is a little tasteless. ‘I’m American too! Can’t I contribute to our global cultural hegemony with a nice frosty cola?’ is a truly dreadful line and the sort that was excised in Children of Earth. The fight at the airport should have been far more hard-hitting rather than the kung-fu panda moves that are on display. At least Gwen looks embarrassed about the moment when the CIA bitch stands in front the taxi with her head on the wrong way – its not a bad idea in theory but the realisation sucks.

Result: At this stage of the game the Miracle is still an thrilling new concept and the first half of the episode is devoted to throwing up some very interesting and unusual developments around the world as the human race refuses to die. Then with a suddenly acceleration of pace the second half of Rendition explodes with excitement as Jack is poisoned and Gwen fights to save his life and Esther realises how much danger she is in. If there is any material that lets this episode down it is the unsubtle approach to the Oswald Danes plotline but that is handled within two or three uncomfortable scenes and doesn’t hamper the good work being done elsewhere too badly. Both Vera and Jilly make their presence felt are by far the most appealing new characters and the set piece on the plane deserves a round of applause for its ability to make you laugh and gasp in equal measures. Two episodes in and Miracle Day is bubbling with fresh ideas and excitement and the show feels as though it is truly on its way to being an international epic. Only the last few painful minutes after the plane touches down drag this down from a 98/10

Friday, 29 January 2016

Miracle Day: A New World written by Russell T Davies and directed by Bharat Nalluri

This story in a nutshell: One day nobody on planet Earth died. And the next, and the next, and the next…

Hunky Hero: A smart audience will figure out the picture of Jack is from World War II and that he hasn’t aged a day. Standing there before Esther like a living embodiment of the immortality that has struck the world, he cuts quite an imposing figure. The biggest miracle is that Jack has hurt his arm – it appears that whilst everybody has gained his regenerative powers he is now mortal again. That’s another strong idea because we had all become desensitised to Jack ever being in trouble no matter how much cement they pour on him and this makes him a character to genuinely care about again. Jack feels responsible in keeping Gwen safe as the last member of his team to survive.

Welsh Babe: Gwen is living out in the countryside now as far away from her old life as she can get without leaving Wales. She and Rhys have the most beautiful house on the beach where they are brining up their baby. Gwen is both haunted by and missing her old lifestyle and secretly tells her daughter stories about the aliens that she met. They live in a blanket of paranoia every time someone knocks on the door and treat the most innocuous events with suspicion (with good reason, it appears). Gwen feels completely impotent because this is exactly the sort of thing she used to deal with all the time in Torchwood but now she has left all that behind. Visiting her dad in his hospital bed is as useful for her character as Ianto visiting his sister in Children of Earth was for his. Rhys is furious that Gwen is interested in the Miracle and reminds her of her responsibilities to her daughter. There are few things on this Earth cuter than Gwen putting the earmuffs on her daughter before unleashing a volley of bullets.

CIA Survivor: I’m not sure that opening on this character smiling in the face of somebody being diagnosed with Leukaemia is the best idea Davies has ever had. I get that he is a hard nosed CIA operative but I still don’t buy that any human being could be quite so cold as to laugh in the face of a terminal illness because it would mean promotion. He thinks the UK government is like kindergarten which means he can’t be all bad. When Rex flicks through the news channels and has an outspoken nurse crying out that he should be a corpse, that is the first time I felt something for his character. Without the Miracle he would be dead which gives him a very personal interest in this spell that has been cast over the whole world. He asks the questions a lot of the survivors must be asking: ‘What happens to me when it ends? Do I die?’ When I first watched this I found Mehki Phifer’s performance a little too hysterical to be convincing but how else could you play a man who has survived a pole to the chest who is in excruciating pain and pumped full of drugs? The last death on planet Earth co-incides with the Torchwood being splashed across the CIA computers which gives Rex a strong link to follow up.

New Girl: Whilst the performance is a tad too earnest at this point, I really like the approach of Esther being intrigued by the notion of Torchwood and beginning her own private investigation into the organisation. In a way you want to scream at her to run away and not bother because her life will be turned upside down but in another you really want her to succeed because she will be a cute new member of the team. Because she was talking to Rex when he crashed his car Esther feels as though she is responsible and she owes to herself to look into Torchwood.

Daring Doctor: Of the new actors brought into the show it is Arlene Tur who makes the greatest impression on me. She’s world wise and hip and very humanistic and Vera looks like she is going to be a very welcome addition to the Torchwood team.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You don’t reprieve a man you failed to hang because the rope snapped.’
‘Anyone who worked for Torchwood died in action. And they died young.’
‘Warfare’s even worse when bodies refuse to die.’
‘Its like the British equivalent of New Jersey!’ and ‘I’ve got to pay for this Bridge? Damn Wales!’ – which pretty much exactly what I said when I travelled on the Severn Bridge!

The Good Stuff: I much prefer the subtler title sequence – I know some people want Torchwood to be all bombast and style but this is a much quieter title sequence which drives home the Miracle Day premise. A huge round of applause for the Miracle Day premise which is so simple and yet opens out so many storytelling possibilities it is one of those ‘why the hell hasn’t anyone thought to do this before?’ ideas that crops up every now and again. I have seen many shows deal with immortality for one character but by opening out this curse to the entire human race you have a premise that will see the entire Earth facing extinction in a very unusual way in four months and you know the populace will get more and more desperate as the show continues. Bravo Mr Davies for such a dazzling concept. Opening on the horrific murder of a paedophile which proves to be very discomforting to watch, Miracle Day looks like it is going to walk in Children of Earth’s footsteps with some uncomfortable material. I really like the idea of Torchwood being this long forgotten organisation that nobody knows about but is treated in the higher echelons of the CIA as something to be whispered with reverence. The show has managed to mythologise itself successfully. Rex being speared with poles is a shocking and nasty moment. The majestic sweep across the Welsh countryside is beautifully achieved by the director, it’s the sort of location work this series has been capable of since its inception but it has always gone for the harsher industrial look of Cardiff City. Bill Pullman plays Danes with such a odd accent that is both barely decipherable and very creepy at the same time. After a slow premise building first half it is nice to get some action and a sniper blowing himself up and our heroes leaping out the window to safety is just what the Dr ordered. The sniper whose body is burnt to a frazzle and still breathing (and having his head chopped off!) is exactly the sort of twisted horror that Torchwood excels in and I hope we see more this can of Tales of the Unexpected style black humour in later episodes. I was recoiling in shock and laughing at the same time, great stuff. You can really feel the budget during the exciting Welsh action sequences and the sight of that black helicopter appearing at the window is truly dynamic. I can just imagine Americans flocking to the beach in which this gorgeous dusk chase was filmed – they manage to make Wales a genuinely dynamic place that should satisfy even the American fans!

The Bad Stuff: A man accused of the rape and murder of a 12 year old girl is exactly the sort of concept that no other science fiction show would touch and Torchwood seems to revel in the dirtiness of. Even though it lack subtlety that isn’t what I have a problem with it’s the hyperbolic statement ‘She should have run faster.’ Its not only really distasteful but means the character is hard to believe before we even meet him. The guy who talks to Danes in prison bugged me because he had some great lines but the performance is dreadful. Rex’s journey to the UK feels really quick.

The Shallow Bit: Jack looks unbelievably hot after he has jumped in the fountain.

Result: Whereas Children of Earth felt like a transition story cutting away all the usual Torchwood nonsense and homing in on the characters, Miracle Day feels like a brand new pilot for Torchwood and it begins with a great degree of confidence. Imagine for a second that the first three series never existed this actually feels as though it is the first ever episode of Torchwood dealing with an old British organisation. Because it is setting up the premise and characters it isn’t so much a strong piece in its own right but as an opening piece it is one of the stronger pilots I have seen of late. There is tension, action and a fantastic premise at the heart of the show. In a way I wish they had left Wales behind and started the whole show afresh in America but some of the shows best scenes are those featuring Gwen’s paranoid life. By the end of the episode I was intoxicated by the potential of the Miracle Day idea and cheering as Gwen was brandishing a rocket launcher during a stunning beach sequence. Rex and Esther have yet to grow on me (but by the next episode I’m sold) but Vera is a great new character who I hope they keep on. Its not the best episode of Torchwood because it has to do too much but it certainly kicks things off in exactly the right direction: 8/10

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Children of Earth Day Two written by John Fay and directed by Euros Lyn

This story in a nutshell: The Hub has been destroyed, Jack is dead and Gwen and Ianto are on the run…

Hunky Hero: I don’t think it will come as a shock to anybody if I said that I don’t find John Barrowman a particularly convincing leading man. He’s a fabulous entertainer and very enjoyable to watch when he is a sidekick in Doctor Who but I just don’t feel he has the gravitas and that special something that commands your attention as a lead. So it came as a great surprise to me when I realised during Children of Earth that he really could convince as a lead but only when he has been stripped away of everything that made this show what it was in the first two years. With the Hub destroyed, his life constantly under threat and no chance to be generally abusive, heartless and blackly humorous at all the wrong times he comes across as a real person in a desperate situation and I really wanted to watch him. All it took to make this character work was for Russell T Davies (in typically unsubtle Torchwood style) to blow him up inside his place of safety and put him back together again as a fugitive. Go figure. Its not the only loss Jack will suffer this year but it seems the more this character endures the easier it is to like him. Wowza, finding bits of Jack in the wreckage is really nasty but blackly funny in a way that only Torchwood in its in yer face glory can be. For once Torchwood allows our imaginations to do some of the work rather than shoving the offal up our nose and the twitching body bag that sees Jack being Humpty Dumpty’d had me applauded for all its off screen grisliness. Drowning Jack in concrete that will set around his body and murder him over and over again is bloody quirky and quite wonderful and affords the show the chance to indulge in a great big silly set piece worthy of the first two season when Gwen and Ianto shatter the concrete block and release him. All this horror and the first sighting of John Barrowman’s flaccid penis and grubby ass! How much indignity can one character take?

Welsh Babe & Brilliant Boyfriend: they really have turned Gwen into an action heroine in the style of Lara Croft, haven’t they? Watch as she juggles two guns and takes down a sniper on the roof! Gwen has always been our eyes and ears on Torchwood so suffering is her rasion d’etre be it the culture shock of joining Torchwood, her agonising guilt over her affair with Owen, losing him and Tosh, now losing her place of work and later this season losing another friend. She’s got victim written all over her by simply associating herself with this insane organisation and yet what I love about her is that no matter what they throw at her she never loses that fighting spirit and always comes back kicking and screaming (and juggling pistols). You have to admire that kind of persistence and self inflicted pain! Poor Rhys is the doting husband who does as he’s told for the most part (but gives her a good slap, emotionally speaking, when she needs it) and when she comes home and orders him to get out as soon as possible he knows it has to be something serious. You have to feel sorry for the guy! Kai Owen is such a huge asset to the show (I can completely see why Gareth David-Lloyd got the push but they kept Owen on for Miracle Day) because he plays Rhys as such a wonderfully normal character – he’s like O’Brien on DS9. The every guy who you can completely invest and who can step up to the plate and be a hero when you least suspect it. The scene where Gwen tells Rhys that she is pregnant as they lie on a shifting load of raw spuds is delightful for its sheer incongruity but mostly because Owen’s smile and good humour is so infectious. Only Rhys would think about his stomach when their contact from inside the government is agonising over committing treason on her second day on the job! Steak pie and politics – brilliant!

Sexy Secretary: By invading his sisters house in the dead of night the horror extends to Ianto’s family and not just his own safety. It makes this feel very personal and invasive. I usually hate the way the working class man is portrayed in dramas as violent and uneducated but there is something about the sheer brio of using this rough Welsh neighbourhood violently that is a moment of triumph against the authority. Under any other circumstances watching a mob threatening the establishment would be despicable but it says something about this show that it can turn all that on its head so the thugs are the good guys. His brother in law admitting they are the only family Ianto has is quietly very touching. We learn that Ianto’s father was quite abusive but in very subtle ways. How comes he is only becoming interesting now he is on the way out? Being forced to listen to Jack’s screams as he is tortured means that Ianto’s tears for his lover mean something – compare this to his tears for Lisa in the ridiculous episode Cyberwoman where you just didn’t give a toss about his hysterics and you can see how far we have come.

The Good:
· Lets put this into perspective because it is so nice to be able to say good things about Torchwood – this is a show that is willing to take risks in order to win. At the end of the last episode Russell T Davies blew up the central location which will never be seen again, killed off the main character who wont be around for a little while and forced the remaining team members to go on the run. Not many shows would shake up the format to that extent and in cult TV I can only think of a few examples when it is done this well (Blakes’ 7 destroyed the Liberator in a devastating season three finale and DS9 kicked all of its regular cast off the station and moved in all the enemies for quite a period) and it really shows what Davies has been saying all along about this show. That nothing and nobody is safe, characters come and go and the format can be changed on a sixpence. Its refreshing to find a show that takes those kind of risks (I don’t think Stargate SG-1 surprised me in any way to this extent until its ninth season) and it means that if you don’t like the show as it is now (although why that should be because it’s the best it would ever be at the this point) there will be a new premise, location and regular cast next year. Not good for those who enjoy continuity but like Doctor Who it has proven to have a malleable format that gives it staying power. The story literally doesn’t give you a second to breathe and take in these developments, opening on a fantastic action set piece with Ianto and Gwen on the run from assassins.
· Graeme Harper aside, Euros Lyn is the greatest find for NuWho and he has the ability to capture beautiful images on a budget and still pace a story beautifully whilst encouraging the actors to give their best. If this story was a gift to him for bringing such gems as The Girl in the Fireplace to life so vividly it is a massive compliment to his skill. Look at the POV shots of Gwen in the wreckage of Torchwood – her sound as muffled by the explosion and the flames flicker and wobbles as she tried to get her bearings. You’ve got dynamic action set pieces, intimate moments between characters and ambitious plot twists (the children freezing, Jack’s reassembling, smashing the concrete block) and Euros Lyn barely breaks a sweat in bringing these very different styles together into one cohesive whole.
· I love the idea of the government trying to destroy Torchwood. When Gwen asks the question you have to wonder if she has been paying attention for the last two seasons where they have been pissing off the authorities at every single turn and offering a two finger salute at anybody who thought they could criticise them! There comes a time when the real power will no longer indulge a controversial element and has to crush it and using a national emergency to cover their tracks is just about the best way to do it.
· Nice to see PC Andy turning up but the poor bugger is trapped on the wrong side and finds himself dodging bullets that Gwen is shooting!
· There’s a fascinating titbit of information on the write up of Torchwood that Lois reads – Torchwood Glasgow is thought to have disbanded. Perhaps if a fifth series was to go ahead we could relocate there with the characters who survived Miracle Day and build up a new regular cast with the rogue members of this team.
· The ‘we want a pony’ gag is sifted pleasingly from the horrific child possession plotline and shows how sophisticated the humour is compared to the ‘the end of the world is nigh, lets have sex’ crap last year.
· Peter Capaldi is just so good in this role, just like he is in every role he takes. I loved the moment where he thanked the Prime Minister for giving him a chance to be the middle man in these affairs and he learns he has been put in the front line because they are the first to fall. His reaction is gorgeously simpering. Thank goodness Capaldi isn’t playing his character from The Thick of It otherwise he would have unloaded a barrage of expletives that would have made Gordon Ramsey blush down to his toenails!
· Now we have experienced the children freezing act a couple of times we know that only unpleasant information is going to be imparted each time it happens. Which means around the 32 minute mark my buttocks clenched in anticipation when they began intoning in that horrid alien tone. Having the show originally take place over five days means that lines like ‘we are coming tomorrow’ takes on a whole new meaning.

The Bad: Lois is such a fine addition to the cast and her slow induction into Torchwood is beautifully done so it seems such a shame that she vanished between this story and Miracle Day.

Result: Day Two is a transitional episode switching the attention onto the government characters whilst exploring life on the run with Gwen and Ianto and it says something about the skill with which this story has been put together that it is still packed full of exciting set pieces, memorable imagery, striking character moments and a feeling of momentum. Giving Peter Capaldi such a large slice of the action was a winning notion because he drives this season with a nuanced performance that really grabs your attention. The Jack-in-a-bag subplot is fantastic also because whilst the series is busy sophisticatedly rewriting its DNA, these darkly funny moments remind us there is still enough room for grisly madness in here. I remember at the time loving the fact that the dramatic impetus that the episode introduces was going to continue throughout the week and how the writers managed to include just the right balance to subplots to give the story some real substance. In previous seasons I found myself fighting against the current of ridiculous plotlines and childish extremes (you know the sex’n’swearing’n’blood) but now it is so easy to just go with the flow and enjoy the classy storyline. They manage to eek out the surprises and developments a bit at a time so you are always desperate for more (Ian Gelder is so menacing he deserves the cliffhanger here). Torchwood has done a complete u-turn in terms of quality it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that this was the only series to gain viewers as it continued: 9/10

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Man Who Wasn’t There written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Joss Agnew

This story in a nutshell: The last ever televised Sarah Jane Smith adventure…

Until Next Time…Miss Smith: This seems an opportune moment to mention my all time favourite Sarah Jane moments…or rather a favourite moment from each story!
The Time Warrior: ‘Why don’t you take of that ridiculous costume and go home to your butchers shop!’
Invasion of the Dinosaurs: ‘Run along and play whilst the adults get on with the real business!’ 
Death to the Daleks: ‘I can sink anywhere…’
The Monster of Peladon: ‘There’s nothing only about being a girl, your majesty.’ 
Planet of the Spiders: ‘Please, don’t die…’
Robot: ‘But you can’t take on the whole world! Don’t you understand they’ll destroy you!’
The Ark in Space: ‘Conned again! You’re a brute!’
The Sontaran Experiment: ‘Heeeeey! (feet kicking out of a ditch)
Genesis of the Daleks: ‘We’re talking about the Daleks. The most evil creatures ever invented! You must destroy them! You must complete your mission for the Time Lords!’
Revenge of the Cybermen: ‘Will you stop going on about your wretched gold, Harry!’
Terror of the Zygons: ‘Well as long as you don’t turn into a Zygon…’
Planet of Evil: ‘But the power is low...'
Pyramids of Mars: ‘We’ve got to go back…’
The Android Invasion: ‘I came here once on a story...'
The Brain of Morbius: ‘I was attacked by a great claw thing that looked like it was mad of butchers leftovers!’ 
The Seeds of Doom: ‘You’re as bad as Chase, Scorby. All these guards, all these guns. Other people don’t matter! You’re not complete unless you’ve got a gun in your hand!’ 
The Masque of Mandragora: ‘You don’t have to use that fifteenth century doubletalk with me! I speak da pretty good inglish!’ 
The Hand of Fear: ‘Oh come one. I can’t miss Gallifrey!’ 
K.9 and Company: ‘You didn’t forget…’ 
The Five Doctors: ‘Thank you very much for rescuing me Doctor but now will you kindly tell me why I need rescuing!’ 
School Reunion: ‘He replaced you with a brand new model! Yeah, he does that.’
The Stolen Earth: ‘You’re so young…’
The End of Time: That look she gives him…

Look at all this gorgeous material Sarah Jane gave us before she was given her own series? What companion can boast so many quality moments? I would have thought this day would never come…the last story to ever feature Elisabeth Sladen playing Sarah Jane Smith. I’ll tell you something – it’s a death that has hit me more than any other in my life to this point. I have lost family to the ravages of age and disease but they have never been close relations. For some reason this hit really hard and I felt completely numb for almost a week. Simon had to come home from work because I wouldn’t stop crying (that’s a three hour train journey from Luton to Eastbourne) and I felt so ridiculous because this was a woman I had only met once (as fabulous as that was) and in actuality it was just a character I was grieving. It took me nearly a week to figure out why I was so upset, not only had I lost my childhood hero (I had started watching Sarah Jane classic Who’s when I was about six and instantly fell in love) but Sarah Jane represents the perfect Doctor Who companion, the every woman, us. She was our window into adventures with the Doctor and I think when Elisabeth Sladen died and the character was no more, a little bit of each of us died too. It’s a testament to her warmth, wit and wonder in the role that she touched so many peoples hearts and even more so that there was a moment of national mourning when she was taken from her family. Rather than mourn her death any longer (I still get pangs every time I think of the character) I want to continue to celebrate her astonishing body of work in this section of the website and the classic Who areas too. She will always be my hero and she’s up on my wall so I can look at her every day. Love you Sarah Jane and in my eyes you’re adventures will go on forever…

Poor Sarah, her harem of children all seem to think that the money that pays for the house grows on trees! When she suggests that three of the top journalists have been invited to the launch of the Serfboard Rani asks painfully if she knows any of them! She tries to bask in the glory of being the best parent on the Earth for obtaining a Serfboard for her kids before anybody else (‘Hurrah for mum!’) and then snatch away her moment of glory by introducing an element of mystery that Sarah cannot resist. We get to see her at her journalistic best, enthusing about the Serfboard whilst candidly informing Harrison that she spotted the flaw in his presentation and will expose his secret unless he exceeds to her demands of a personal interview. All with a smile on her face. I actually punched the air with excitement when Sarah sees through Serf’s attempts to hypnotise her (‘I’m an old hand at hypnotism…’) because that is something that long characterised her time on classic Who. Clearly her time wasn’t wasted with the Doctor because she has a hundred and one ways to escape a locked room but finds the classics are the best! She suggests she is about to do something devilishly clever and the next time we see her she is dressed up as a cleaning lady – the third Doctor must have told her about his ingenious scheme in The Green Death! 

Boy Genius: Clyde confirms that no matter where you originated from, even if you were created by an alien species with the intelligence of thousands…once you leave for university you become a slob and who doesn’t know how to fill a cupboard, only empty them. Clyde refers to him as Franken-bane’s monster and his greatest success! When Luke reveals his dog whistle so he can call K.9 whenever he wants I beamed…he’s become a proto-Doctor! The way Tommy Knight gently plays his scenes with Sinead Michael shows just how far he has come as an actor, he taps into a very sensitive side of Luke and shows how this relationship would have been a very rewarding one to follow. 

Graphic Artist & Journalist in Training: Calling Clyde and Rani ‘Clani’ is wonderful because it confirms at last that these two have finally got it together (although that had happened around the time they first met its just that neither one of them could admit it!) and its also one of those horrendous ‘shipper’ nicknames that do the rounds on the internet (another show that has taken the piss out of such a bizarre phenomena is Supernatural with its digs at ‘Wincest!`). Frankly I cannot imagine a better place to leave these two in the series than as a couple, happy with their lives and continuing to save the universe and back in time for a cuddle and a kiss. Its where we’ve been leading for the past two seasons now. You might be disappointed that Clyde and Rani are left out of the action for so long but it allows them to enjoy plenty of time together in their last adventure and revel in the chemistry between Anjili Mohindra and Daniel Anthony. Clyde is delicate in a very manly way…he’s got artists fingers don’t’cha know? Watching them dressed up as mad scientist trying to dissect the Serfboard is very funny and they’re right, it is just like the old days. There has been so much talk about Rani wanting to be a journalist and now she gets the chance to jump into action, invent a cover story for her and Clyde and infiltrate Serf Industries. She’s clearly learnt from the best. 

New Kid: Bless her, she is really nervous about meeting Luke for the first time considering she is practically his replacement since he left. Imagine if the series has ended and we hadn’t had the chance to see Luke and Sky working together like this. In a way it is sad because they make such an effective little Smith unit but we should be grateful that they got to rock on in the last story together. Watch as they activate the Serf levers all on their own proving what a winning combination of kids Sarah Jane has. Sky writing Serf’s dialogue had me in stitches…especially when she tries to make him sound authentically American. ‘You’ve been watching Toy Story again!’ 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What do you think pays for all this? Taking in washing?’ 
‘I pride myself that I can deal with any old spanners that can get into the works!’ 
‘How are you going to feel when everybody is walking down Bannerman Road tonight with their arms out crying serve the computer…?’ – you’ve got to love a show that takes the piss out of its own plots so brazenly! This applies to both Invasion of the Bane and The Secrets of the Stars! 
‘I expected high class industrial spies! Not Mumsnet!’ 
‘I’m going to stop you!’ ‘What are you going to do? Hit me with your handbag?’ 
GRAB HARRISON’S PEN… ‘I’ve never been so glad to see a full stop!’ – is this the naughtiest joke ever seen in Doctor Who and related spin off material? 
‘Remember he’s American!’ ‘Yeeee-hah!’ 

The Good: 
· Its really funny because I was just discussing with Simon the other the how Rise of the Cybermen takes a ‘new fad’ and does something sinister with it but this is the most blatant and enjoyable example yet. The Serfboard (whilst being a little clunky) would be exactly the sort of mobile computer that kids would go nuts for and beg their parents to buy for them. So it’s a perfectly exploitable greed for an alien menace to take advantage of. And with that ripe American smile attached to the product how can we possibly refused…since everything that is a hit over there is surely going to catch on here. Its basically a huge Apple Mac parody but delivered with such unashamed confidence you cannot help but be dragged in. 
· Isn’t it great that even this close to the end they were still finding ways to innovate this character and meeting up with Lionel, an old friend (‘I could have been so much more!’) from her younger journalistic days adds some more background colour to her past. As a massive fan of Peter Bowles (well my Nan is the fan, he’s the only bloke that can still get her randy (!!!) but I adore To the Manor Born) it is great to see an actor so sophisticated and suave to play this role. 
· James Dreyfus is the perfect actor to play a villain in the Sarah Jane Adventures because he has that wonderful archness to his delivery that makes me howl even when he is being menacing. Its only when you encounter a deliberately terrible baddie like him that you realise just how good the hit rate has been for this series (The Trickster, The Nightmare Man, etc) and Dreyfus throws himself into this part with absolute confidence and no ego whatsoever. The result is a glorious z-grade villain who has a witty insult for every occasion but couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery never mind the launch of the latest ‘in thing.’ To create a great villain who winds up being a total flop because of his earnestness is the norm on Doctor Who but to create a deliberately naff villain who is great because of it…well that’s a very clever pin on things and deserves a round of applause from me. ‘Tea? Coffee? Anthrax?’ When he gets to show his true colours he turns out to be a pathetic little man that needs to torture slaves in order to bring his plans to fruition…what a loathsome prick. ‘Read my lips Pollyanna…I don’t care!’ When it all boils down to money (as it so often does in any story) Harrison’s reaction (‘Shock horror!’) is Gareth Roberts telling us that he knows how often this has been peddled out but its still a lesson worth remembering. And like all bad villains he gets a wonderful ‘Noooooo!’ curse at the end! 
· Mr Smith casually tries to pretend that it will take a while to do what Sarah Jane asks of him and then brings it up within seconds. Even the computer on this show kicks ass! Clyde and Rani trying to discreetly suggest that Mr Smith might have been affected by the Serfboard is chucklesome (‘I can hear you Clyde…’). 
· I remember watching this when it first broadcast with Simon and he was howling with laughter at the interview scene where Sarah tries to get Joseph Serf to touch something by what ever means necessary whilst still keeping up appearances. That’s Sarah Jane, making my husband laugh right up until the end. Great stuff. 
· How cool is the reveal of how Mr Serf works? Tiny Jawa-like aliens with one eye working a steampunk device that controls every aspect of his face and body! I don’t know which came first, the Tesselecta from Let’s Kill Hitler or this but they are both a glorious idea. Whereas the Doctor Who version is trying to be slick and clever (one of the reasons why in later years I would rather watch SJA) the Skullion version is far more entertaining with huge labels showing which part of Serf they are manipulating and the general oily, hissing dilapidated state of the technology. It has character and functionality whereas the Who version only had a poor plot device to end the season with. This is exactly who classic Who would have represented the idea had it taken place around the same time as Carnival of Monsters brought the Miniscope to life, great cranking levers, clunky typewriter and all! What other show could take such a ridiculous concept and make it work so well? The fact that one of the levers reads ‘BUM’ makes my day! 
· The design and make up of the Skullions is really well done because they are just freaky enough to be pretty gross to look at whilst also being cute enough to feel sorry for them. Trust SJA to inject a social commentary into all of this madness and the thought of a black market in alien species existing out there is enough to turn your stomach. Talk about science fantasy commenting on reality! ‘You’re so naive! This is the way the world works!’ is what Harrison says to Sarah Jane when she expresses her disgust and to a degree he really has a point. Luckily we have Sky who is new the planet to have the horror of slavery explained to her and her quiet reaction (‘is this what humans are like?’) takes this from being a preachy scene to something much more profound. 
· There’s a line about a deliberate leak of information about the Serfboard to drum up extra interest. Is this a sneaky comment on the pirate copy of Rose that made it online before transmission by any chance? 
· I’ve heard ‘you and whose army?’ so many times in science fiction usually as the punchline to a dreadful joke but SJA follows it up with a moment of pure cinema as a spaceship fills the heavens above them. Imagine me punching the air with excitement because that’s what I did. 
· Can you imagine a better note for this series to go out on? Not a cliffhanger ending that leaves everybody in suspense and without wrapping up all the loose threads either. All of our favourite characters together having prevented a filthy scheme and back at home in time for tea. With endless adventures still to come in our imaginations as the story goes on…forever. The last image of Sarah Jane is her smiling at her friends and that’s a great way to remember her and everything she has gained since this series has begun. Imagine if this series had not been given the go ahead…we would have had three incredible years with Sarah during the seventies but here we have been fortunate enough to have 28 more hours with her at her absolute best. A huge thank you to Russell T Davies for taking a risk with this series and winning big time. 

The Bad: Edyta Budnik is the one weak link in this otherwise flawlessly cast story. Fortunately we don’t see a great of her. 

The Shallow Bit: Elisabeth Sladen joined the series in 1973 and left the Doctor Who universe in 2011…and she was absolutely beautiful throughout. Somehow she managed to get better looking as she got older. Perhaps that had something to do with us getting to know the character and the actress better over time but just look at Elisabeth Sladen in The Man Who Never Was. Smart, funny, gorgeous. Considering he began the series in a white smock Luke has come a long way under Clyde’s tutorage and he dresses very modern but understated. Me likes. 

Result: A delightfully zany plot for the Sarah Jane Adventures to bow out on and the chance to see Elisabeth Sladen at her best, the amazing chemistry between the cast and what a fine innovation Sky was to the series. It is just about the perfect note to end the series on. I can’t imagine closing a show as warm as The Sarah Jane Adventures with a story as dark as The Curse of Clyde Langer or The Nightmare Man and whilst they might have better stories they aren’t really what this show was all about. There is a pace to events, a confidence in the writing and a general sunniness to the material that reminds you precisely why you fell in love with this show in the first place. Gareth Roberts fills the story full of charming character scenes and really funny jokes and the emphasis on the Smith family allows us to get close to this gorgeous unit for one last time. The slavery angle adds some depth but its laboured and it really makes my heart sing to think that in her very last adventure (as far as we see – in my head she just goes on and on…) Sarah Jane helps free an exploited slave race. I really thought re-watching this would make me weep like a baby so imagine my surprise when it had me laughing my head off throughout and luxuriating in the glow of the chemistry between the actors. Sarah Jane Smith kicked ass, right until the end and this is a winning send of for her. Go back and watch it with your grief switched off and bask in the glory that is this show:8/10

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Children of Earth: Day One written by Russell T Davies and directed by Euros Lyn

This story in a nutshell: One day all the Children of the Earth stopped…

Hunky Hero: Jack has the potential to be such a fascinating character it really pissed me off that the writers of the first season tried to suggest he was an all out action thug who solves his problems with a shotgun and sleeps with anything that comes to hand. I couldn’t relate to him in the slightest despite John Barrowman’s occasional attempts to make him gentler. This is a man who has lived through the entire 20th century waiting for the Doctor to turn up and rescue him. There is so much potential for a man who has lived through some of the most shocking, romantic and unforgettable historical events. Towards the end of the last series they began to shows us what he had been up to in that time, joining Torchwood, working in a circus…and here Davies introduces us to Jack’s daughter and his grandson who thinks Jack is his uncle. His character is developing very nicely; I hope they can keep this up. Alice asks Jack to stay away because she looks older than her father, he makes her feel old. She can see right through her father and his wish to spend time with his grandson on the day that all the children stood still and she warns him away. Jack really objects to being told he is part of a couple and is surprisingly brutal towards Ianto. Poor Jack is shot dead and soon as he wakes up is shot dead again!

There’s Lovely: What a wonderful little touch when Gwen touches the photograph of her two dead comrades and says good morning to them. Gwen’s approach to recruiting is much more touchy feeling than Jack’s, she goes out to the poor sap that they have lured in and she talks to him. Brilliant, beautiful and completely bloody magic – her life is bigger since she joined Torchwood. Rhys is very understanding of Gwen’s job these days, he’s such an adorable fella she is lucky to keep hold of him. When Gwen is told she is pregnant she is left reeling with shock, it was the last thing she expected to hear. Once it is confirmed she thinks the news is bloody brilliant.

Jack’s Fella: Ianto is suddenly in very safe hands with Russell T Davies and he suddenly feels less like a spare part and more like a real person. He is childishly excited when Jack acknowledges their relationship in public and grins that this is all a bit new to him. The scenes between Ianto and his sister are vital because they ground the character like never before and are beautifully performed by both actors. When their father died he couldn’t wait to get away from his family and move to London almost as if he was ashamed of his background. When Ianto quietly admits his relationship with another man (‘its not men…its just him’) I actually felt something for the character for the first time.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We are coming…’
‘What’s in there?’ ‘Big science fiction super base!’
‘The civil service…the cockroaches of government.’
‘I’m going into England! Farewell forever!’
‘Have you gone bender?’

The Good Stuff: I love that they have disposed of the ridiculously camp theme tune and simply gone for a simple, gripping introduction instead – it really feels like this show has grown up. What’s even scarier than Village of the Damned style evil children – the thought of the children of this planet being manipulated into doing nothing. Aliens that induce endorphins in the body making you dying happy – you’ve got to love considerate nasties! Its great to finally see the government tackling with all these alien menaces that the Doctor, Sarah Jane and the Torchwood crew have been handling, its long past time we saw the serious bureaucratic side to alien incursions. Peter Capaldi is such a superb actor it is wonderful to see him earning such a pivotal, unforgettable role in this story. He adds a touch of class to every scene he appears in. Rupesh stalking Torchwood mirroring Gwen’s introduction really hits home how they fudged the first episode and how Davies is now showing how they deal with things. The camera gliding through the groups of children screaming in unison is really scary. All the children of the world talking at once…and one old man, now that’s intriguing. Ian Gelder is brilliantly creepy as Mr Dekker; there is something unbelievably unnerving about his smiling confidence in the face of such terrifying events. Lois is an instantly likable character in a way none of the regulars were in the first season. I love Ianto’s greedy niece and nephew who snatched at the notes he offers without a thank you. I love the Welsh scum stealing the SUV and mooning out the window as they drive past whilst Ianto’s brother in law throws bricks at the car! There is a quiet intensity to Susan Brown’s performance as Bridget that is mesmerising. Lois discovering the order to kill on Jack is excitingly directed and perfectly paced. Rupesh shooting Jack is a fantastic shock – it comes completely by surprise and I jumped out of my skin the first time I watched it. The thought of Jackexploding is horrible and surely there is no way back for the character even given his invulnerability. The final word of the episode chills the blood.

The Bad Stuff: This is gripping stuff, for once no complaints.

The Shallow Bit: Rik Makarem as Rupesh is just about the most mouth-watering bloke I have seen on the telly in years. What a shame he had to turn rogue and be shot! Is it my imagination or does Charles Abomeli look like a coloured slightly plumper Colin Baker?

Result: Torchwood has graduated from Cardiff and is now taking place on an impressive national scale. Whereas the focus of the first two seasons was ‘isn’t Torchwood cool?’ and for the most part proving the exact opposite it is brilliant and bold step to twist a knife into that reputation and have the government not only considering them a pain in the ass but to actively seek out to eliminate them from these proceedings. To have our team as victims automatically wins the audience over and suddenly we care about these three renegades in a way that we never did when they were heroes. The show feels bigger, bolder, far more confident and features a cast to die for – Children of Earth was a quantum leap forward for this show and it shocked an unforgiving audience into giving it a second chance. The character work that Jack and Ianto receive is incredible and suddenly they are real people with families and a relationship to question. With all these innovations it’s easy to skip over Euros Lyn’s typically stunning direction, the sweeping musical score and a cliffhanging final five minutes that will leave you reeling. The mission statement is clear and by the end of the episode that daft SUV is gone and the daft secret underground base has gone and Torchwood has finally grown up. This is event television and at it’s finest and the perfect opening step for this mini series: 10/10