Friday, 26 December 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Last Christmas

'Last Christmas, the Eleventh Doctor went away. But, the very next day, the Twelfth Doctor came. This year, to save them from fears, Santa turned up on a sleigh...' 

'Every Christmas is last Christmas.'

After the harrowing events of series finale 'Death in Heaven' the mid-credits reveal of Nick Frost as Santa Claus seemed utterly ridiculous. This was a year where the show had aimed to be darker and more sombre - and now it was introducing the decidedly magical and whimsical figure of Father Christmas into the Doctor Who world. It can't be real. Surely it was all a dream? Well, yes, it may have been. But, that's a long story. 

Yes, as if to assure fans that he had not gone insane, Steven Moffat shrouds Santa Claus' (début?) appearance on the show in a very traditional Who plot, albeit with a few clever twists. In fact, the whole thing was boldly cerebral for a Christmas special, on a day when we traditionally use our stomachs more than our brains. Not to mention creepy, The Kantrofarri are something of a hodge-podge of familiar monsters (the episode itself even acknowledge's Alien's influence on them  - resulting in the story's best line from the Doctor: 'There's a horror movie called Alien? That's so offensive. No wonder everyone keeps invading you.') but very effective nonetheless and fit well into this year's rousing roster of revolting reprobates who have suitably Moffatesque creepy powers including the Foretold and the Boneless.

Much like the previous two Christmas specials, 'Last Christmas' was an important instalment of the series ongoing plotlines rather than the traditional (this is Doctor Who's tenth annual Christmas episode, facts fans) standalone episodes. As such its heart is the Doctor and Clara's relationship, once again showing us that, though their friendship has not been easy this year, they have a deep affection for each other that keeps them together. The most touching and poignant parts of the episode are Clara's dream of a perfect Christmas and the Doctor's late arrival at Clara's. The scene with the elderly Clara, one who has travelled the world just as the character wished to do way back in 'The Bells of Saint John' and who needed the Doctor to help her pull a cracker just as she did for him in 'The Time of the Doctor', appeared to be a sad but fitting end for Miss Oswald... but appearances can be deceiving. Despite the evidence of the end of Series 8, the two best friends are sticking together. 

So what's next for the Doctor and Clara? I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of Faye Marsay's gobby Shona - the most fun and developed of this episode's guest stars. Perhaps the Doctor and Clara will gain a new companion in the first episode of Series 9, which we already know will be called 'The Magician's Apprentice.' After all, it was Shona who called the Doctor just that in this episode...

Although reminiscent of Inception and Who episode 'Amy's Choice', 'Last Christmas' was a highly original episode compared to most Christmas specials. Santa Claus' appearance was much publicised but really he and his comedy elves were just the tinsel decoration on the story branches of this Christmas special tree (yeah, I'll stop now) and was all the better for it. This was not my favourite Christmas episode but if every Christmas special is as good as 'Last Christmas' then we are sure to have a very merry Christmas for however long the Doctor Who Christmas tradition goes on for. Doctor Who - it's a long story.  

Nobody likes the tangerines - what's to be the Doctor's Christmas present this year?

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Doctor Whos of Christmas Past - Version 2.0

A few years ago I made a handy go-to guide of Doctor Who's Christmas specials. Since then the Doctor has fought living snowmen, met his end on the planet Trenzalore and we've all got a little older. This year the cranky Twelfth Doctor comes TARDIS to sleigh with Santa Claus himself in 'Last Christmas' so it seems a perfect time to treat you all to an updated look at the Doctor Whos of Christmas Past...

The Christmas Invasion

Story: As the Doctor recovers from his recent regeneration, the Earth has to face the threat of the skeletal Sycroax without his help. Will he wake in time to save the world? And, more importantly, what will he be like?
Thoughts: Who's first Christmas special and still one of its best. It ingeniously makes us wait a whole forty minutes for our first proper meeting with this new Doctor  - which allows us to follow Billie Piper's Rose as she has to adjust to the change and fill the Doctor's role herself. With extra kudos for being a proper sci-fi story while also thoroughly Christmassy, this one's a ball!
Christmas Rating: 4 Christmas Puddings!

The Runaway Bride

Story: The Doctor suddenly finds himself with a new companion - mouthy bride-to-be Donna - who somehow ends up in the TARDIS rather than the alter. However, it seems something much bigger is happening this Christmas - something creepy-crawly...
Thoughts: A fun Christmas romp that well fits a day when everyone wants a jolly old time. Looking back now, its interesting to see Catherine Tate as someone quite different from the more rounded Donna from Series Four.
Christmas Rating: 3 Christmas Puddings!

Voyage of the Damned

Story: Taking a trip on an ill-fated starliner called the Titanic, the Doctor - accompanied by ambitious waitress Astrid - has to save the crashed ship's passengers from the deadly Host. With the ship threatening to destroy the Earth, just how many can the Doctor save this Christmas?
Thoughts: Essentially a Doctor Who disaster movie starring Kylie Minogue, 'Voyage' could have gone very wrong but thankfully its great fun. Aside from Kylie, the ensemble casts each get a chunk of the action and you find yourself playing the 'oh, I hope they (don't) die' game.
Christmas Rating: 3 1/2 Christmas Puddings!

The Next Doctor

Story: During a Dickensian Christmas, the Doctor has a shock as he meets - the Doctor!
While coming to terms with his apparent future self, he also has a truck-load of Cybermen aided by the sinister Miss Hartigan. Surely two Doctors combined can stop the Rise of the Cyberking?
Thoughts: A total blast from start to finish, this is Davies' second-best Chrimble special. Initially feeling cheated by the reveal about Jackson Lake, I now have a great liking for David Morrisey's turn as the flamboyant would-be Doctor. Plus, a Victorian Christmas is always welcome.
Christmas Rating: 4 1/2 Christmas Puddings!

The End of Time (Parts One and  Two)

Story: When the end of time itself is predicted, the Doctor is drawn into a battle that encompasses the whole of the human race, his greatest enemy and the return of something he had thought forever lost. This time the Doctor can't win. This is the Doctor's final battle.
Thoughts: As epic in terms of storytelling as Doctor Who has ever been, this is a grand, rather melancholy exit for David Tennant's Doctor that must have the most characters and places ever featured in a single Doctor Who story. On the downside, it's not all that Christmassy.
Christmas Rating: 3 Christmas Puddings!

A Christmas Carol

Story: To save a honeymooning Amy and Rory from crashing into Sardicktown, a Victorianesque world (that has flying fish!), the Doctor must teach the miserly Kazran Sardick the meaning of Christmas and to be a better person. Can the Doctor play the Ghost of Christmas Past well enough to save his best friends - and the heart of Mr Sardick?
Thoughts: My personal favourite Who Christmas special. Its also one of my favourite adaptations of Dickens' novel. Michael Gambon is terrific as Sardick, making the change in his character thoroughly believable, Matt Smith proves himself once again an absolute star while Steven Moffat delivers one of his best ever scripts. Superior Christmas entertainment.
Christmas Rating: 5 Christmas Puddings!

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

Story: 1941, Madge Arwell and her children are evacuated to the country for Christmas where they encounter a quirky gentlemen with a blue box that houses another world inside. This winter wonderland is not as harmless as it once seems, however, as acid rain and the menacing Wooden King and Queen demonstrate...
Thoughts: Evoking CS Lewis' perennial children's classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is an excellent idea from Moffat for a Who Christmas special - and he certainly pulls it off. Claire Skinner is fab as, I suppose, the stand-in companion while its all a light-hearted runaround with a tender centre (in the form of the loss of Madge's husband). Perfect for Christmas Day!
Christmas Rating: 4 Christmas Puddings!

The Snowmen

Story: On Christmas 1892, living snowmen threaten to take over the world - and even those intrepid investigators, the Paternoster Gang, can't stop them. At least the Doctor is around. Oh, if only he wasn't retired...
Thoughts: Christmas belongs to the Victorians, as this charming adventure with lashings of Henry James and Arthur Conan Doyle (and a huge dollop of Doctor Who nonsense for good measure) confirms. A rare Chrimble special that serves a purpose in the wider series arc - and is all the stronger for it.
Christmas Rating: 4 1/2 Christmas Puddings!

The Time of the Doctor

Story: There is a message being beamed across the stars. The Doctor and his greatest enemies are gathered around a small planet to discover its meaning. The planet is the fabled Trenzalore, where the Doctor shall meet his end, and the message is the oldest question in the universe: 'Doctor Who?'
Thoughts: Much like 'The End of Time' before it, 'Time' has the tough task of providing a satisfying finale for a popular incarnation of the Doctor as well as a cheerful Christmas special - and is even more admirable as it does it in less than half the runtime of its predecessor. Moffat's script gives Number Eleven a fitting end and, as ever, Matt Smith delivers a beautiful performance as the man who stayed for Christmas.
Christmas Rating: 3 1/2 Christmas Pudding!

And there we have it. As a Doctor Who fan I find it rather wonderful that Doctor Who is so wrapped up in the Christmas season that its a constant fixture of festive telly. After filling up on huge dinners, millions gather round their sets to watch a Doctor Who specially tailored for this time of year. And, as this guide shows, they're guaranteed something special.

Next time: This Christmas Doctor Who puts the claws in Santa Claus as the Doctor and Father Christmas team up when terrifying monsters cause havoc in the North Pole. 25th December at 6.15 pm on BBC One.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Next James Bond Film is... SPECTRE

The title of the latest James Bond film (the twenty fourth since the film series began fifty two years ago) has been revealed. And it is called...

DAH-DUM (or however else you represent the opening sting of the Bond theme). 

For those not in the know of James Bond history, Spectre is not only an oddly supernatural sounding title for a spy thriller it is also the name of Bond's greatest adversary. SPECTRE is a vast criminal organisation which Sean Connery's Bond (and briefly George Lazenby's version) tried to bring down throughout his tenure, It stands for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (with an acronym that forced they had to be evil). The organisation has been absent from the film series since Roger Moore took over as Bond in the 1970s but fans have predicted the return of SPECTRE in some form ever since Daniel Craig's rebooted iteration of the character discovered a new criminal organisation in town; Quantum, who were behind the exploits of his first two films. With the reveal of this film's title, it seems they might not be two distinct entities. Perhaps Quantum was a cover name for SPECTRE all along... 

The other big news today is the reveal of the cast. Of particular interest is Andrew Scott, known to Sherlock fans as everyone's favourite good old-fashioned villain Moriarty. It's thought that he will play another villain here, a mole inside MI5, but his casting might just be a clever move by the filmmakers to play off his status as a 'villain actor' to derail suspicion from the real mole. Who knows? 
Also in the cast is Christoph Waltz (who can be soon seen in Tim Burton's new film, Big Eyes). It is thought that he will be playing the traditional head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the original bald man with a white cat on his lap who became the clichéd image of a supervillain. Whether this is true or not the film does look set to follow Skyfall in taking classic Bond stylings and giving them a 21st century twist. 

Truth be told, the title strikes me as a bit odd - it's a bit like the next Batman film being called Joker or calling the next Sherlock episode, in which Andrew Scott will also appear, 'Moriarty.' Still, whatever the thoughts about the title let's hope the film can recreate the quality of previous Daniel Craig Bonds, Casino Royale and Skyfall (we don't mention Quantum of Solace), two films whose spectre will surely be hanging over this one. 

If you like James Bond and want to stay on this site (don't be shy - grab a chair, feed a fish) then you can read my review of Skyfall here

Spectre will premiere in cinemas in November 2015

Monday, 1 December 2014

Monthly Mini-Reviews: November - Sherlock Holmes Special

With the airing of Series 8, it's all been a bit Doctor Who crazy at Scribble Creatures over the last few months, and I feel I've been neglecting my other great fictional interest, Sherlock Holmes. November turned out to be a very Holmesian month with the release of Anthony Horowitz' Moriarty, a follow-up to his successful Holmes pastiche The House of Silk, and the opening of Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die, the new exhibition about the detective at the Museum of London. Pulling these facts together, I deduced that I should dedicate this month's Mini-Review post to the world of the Great Detective. Now read on - the post's afoot.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice

For many fans the premise of The Beekeeper's Apprentice and its many sequels is simply sacrilegious to the Holmes canon. It not only concerns Holmes' adventures after his retirement in Sussex - away from his synonymous London - but pairs him with someone other than Watson - Miss Mary Russell, a very modern (for the 1910s) young woman. Fans need not worry though as Laurie R King crafts a fantastic Holmesian pastiche, featuring a gripping mystery but with a strong heart in the growing friendship between Russell and Holmes. Russell herself is a very likeable character. She could come across as Mary Sue Russell as she worms her way into the circle of familiar characters - including a fleshed-out Mrs Hudson and her kindly 'Uncle John' - but she impresses us with her competence straight away. Like the best modern Sherlock Holmes stories, it is more invention than imitation but is peppered with pleasing references for Holmes fans who may be put off by the story's different take on Holmes. This fan, however, can't wait to read the next Mary Russell adventure.

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Speaking of different takes on Sherlock Holmes, they don't come much more different than Guy Ritchie's blockbuster that reinvigorated the Great Detective's popularity, just a smidgen before Sherlock came along. When I first heard of this film I expected to dislike it but was pleasantly surprised. Its action-packed steampunk feel is infectious rather than annoying and, beneath the additions of fights and explosions that was made much of, the film sports a great 'Sherlock vs the supernatural' mystery that ends in a threat to the British Empire. And it finds time for cameos from Irene Adler and Moriarty himself. On the behind the scene documentary on the DVD, the cast and crew are eager to emphasise that their film is surprisingly close to Conan Doyle's originals. It's not but in this case that's no bad thing. Sadly I was less taken with the sequel but if they ever do a third film I hope it can reach the heights of this one.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes 

As I had claimed November as Sherlock Holmes month, I couldn't resist a rewatch of my favourite Sherlock Holmes film. Generally forgotten in the filmography of revered director Billy Wilder, Private Life is an under-appreciated gem of a film, at times hilarious, thrilling and touching. Many criticise it for not delivering on its premise of exploring, well, you've read the title but I would say the film is clever enough to give a deeper look at the man beneath the logical mind while still providing a fun adventure about the Loch Ness Monster. The film was famously slashed by half of its original three hour running time before its release, but I really don't know how that extra time would have improved on the film as it is. I could go on but some idiot made this a post of mini-reviews. Instead, I'll let Past Me tell you some more about it here.

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

By the time he wrote his last Sherlock Holmes stories - or 'police romances' as he called them - in the 1920s, Conan Doyle was long past caring for his most famous creation but, thankfully, that does not show when reading The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle clearly tried to spice things up for himself as some of these stories take unusual forms, in terms of narration - two stories are written from Holmes' perspective rather than Watson's and one is from an omniscient third person point of view - as well as narrative - one story, 'The Creeping Man', borders on science fiction. The other collections of the Canon are generally regarded more highly than this one but these twelve tales of deduction are still very enjoyable and essential for any reader of Sherlock Holmes. Despite his reluctance, we can be thankful that Conan Doyle continued to write for Sherlock Holmes all his life, giving us sixty fantastic stories that form the bedrock of an entire genre.

Pick of the Month: As I have only revisited the others on this post this month, the coveted prize has to go to The Beekeeper's Apprentice for introducing me to a new book series I must get my hands on. The choice was really quite elementary.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Death in Heaven

Two of the Doctor's oldest enemies have returned and want to take away everything that is precious to the Time Lord and Clara. Will there really be 'Death in Heaven' in the series finale?

'Hey Missy, you're so fine. You're so fine you blow my mind, hey Missy.' 

Doctor Who finales are always something of a double-edged Darth Maul-style sword. On one hand, they are automatically the most anticipated and often most exciting to watch by nature of their sending off the current run of the show with a bang. On the other, the pressure of ending the series on a high note can be too much and such episodes don't always live up to the hype. In this respect, 'Death in Heaven' succeeds, delivering an episode both exciting and emotional in equal measure.

Perhaps unlike the feature-length series opener 'Deep Breath', this episode certainly benefited from its fifteen minute extra running time, which really allowed for a few scenes to be further explored that might otherwise have been cut short. The story deserves praise alone for wrapping up most of the ongoing ideas and themes of the series - from Clara and Danny's relationship to the Doctor's dislike of soldiers. Building on the thoroughly glum 'Dark Water', 'Death in Heaven' tugged at the heartstrings and contained its fair share of shocks to boot. Much like last week, however, there were points at which I thought the show was pushing the boundaries of taste. In particular, one 'reappearance' of a much-loved character seemed a tad dubious in its execution to me and I'd rather it hadn't happened. Still, there was much to enjoy elsewhere…

While it was fun to see them, this episode had the unenviable task of featuring two classic villains in the Cybermen and their Master. For the Cybermen, this was glorious comeback. Their new jet-powered boots are a great new superpower to add to their evergrowing collection and the image of them attacking UNIT's plane like gremlins is a terrific moment. Likewise, not since 'Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel' has the true terror of the Cybermen been demonstrated this well: that they were once us. Whereas previous episodes have cast them as regular robots, we are left in no doubt here as to who these Cybermen are underneath. 
Also, Michelle Gomez is rather wonderful here as an utterly 'bananas' incarnation of the Master. What she does, particularly mowing her way through the episode's supporting cast and her scenes with the Doctor, she is brilliant at but with the episode as packed as it is the character is not as well explored as she could be - just why was she suddenly so besotted with the Doctor, for instance? This reviewer certainly hopes she will return. 

Despite the shocks and the Cybermen, the true heart of this episode is the trio of central characters who all go through the ringer here. Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson have been superb all year and each go out with another fine performance. Anderson's Danny proves to be the real hero of the series as he finds redemption for past failures in the most tragic of ways. Faced with his old enemy, the Doctor has to look hard at who he is but comes out the other end a wiser man by realising he is nothing but ‘an idiot with a box.’ And Clara...Well, poor Clara. The final scene between Capaldi and Coleman is a touching affair and beautifully scripted by Steven Moffat, acting as a bittersweet round-up of the characters’ journeys over the series.

There really was much to like about this finale which encapsulates this series' style, mood and its courage to be different. It was not a heavenly episode of Doctor Who but that's not to say it came from the Nethersphere either. Say something nice? How about: 'Death in Heaven' is almost certainly the best finale since 2010. There you go, that's something to squee about. 

In the words of Clara, thank you Capaldi and Coleman for making Doctor Who feel special. 

Next time: The Doctor returns at Christmas when he faces the great evil of ... Santa Claus and his elves? 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Top Five Fictional Female Villains

Last week, there was a shocking reveal at the end of the penultimate episode of this year's run of Doctor Who. It turned out that - oh, it's been a whole week now, I can say it - the mad Marry Poppins-esque Missy who has been terrorising the Doctor is in fact... the Master!
So to coincide with the return of the Doctor's greatest adversary in a very different form, I thought it time to look at the most despicable women from the halls of fiction, an illustrious category that the Master now belongs to. In no particular order, I give you the most terrible, terrifying and iconic female villains.

Morgan Le Fay
Appeared in: The legends of King Arthur

I'm something of an enthusiast of the legend of King Arthur. I don't claim to be an out-and-out expert but I appreciate the tales as something like the founding fathers of British storytelling and always enjoy dipping into the wealth of interpretations of the stories (although I was never that fussed about the popular BBC series Merlin, oddly enough). The legends, of course, have brave heroes in King Arthur and Merlin but also have a great villain in Arthur's half-sister, Morgan Le Fey (sometimes called Morgana) who acts as the main antagonist in most modern versions. Lusting after the throne of Camelot, Morgana will stop at nothing to end Arthur's reign, including using her own son, Mordred, to kill his uncle (and sometimes father) in battle. She's been hounding King Arthur in various forms over roughly a thousand years - you don't get much more of a determined villain than that.

Irene Adler
Appeared in: 'A Scandal in Bohemia' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and numerous film and TV adaptations and literary pastiches.

Technically, Conan Doyle's original character from the Sherlock Holmes canon was not a true villain - Holmes was against her in the case but her only crime is a dalliance with a European royal in her youth. In most adaptations, however, her character is extrapolated to become a proper criminal. Much like Catwoman is to Batman, she and Holmes tend to work on opposite sides of the law but nevertheless harbour an affection for each other, sometimes this is unspoken, sometimes it is a fully-fledged love affair. This version of the character has been explored recently in both Sherlock and the Robert Downey Jr films but in Elementary, the character was taken further. The presumed dead ex-love of Sherlock, Irene turned out to be a female Moriarty in disguise. Changing a male master criminal into a woman - I'm sorry, Moffat, I think someone beat you to the punch.

The Other Mother
Appeared in: Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Neil Gaiman's Other Mother from his exquisitely creepy children's novel Coraline is less of a villain in the femme fatale mould of Morgana and Irene and more of a walking nightmare. A creature from a realm of her own devising, like a spider in its web, the Other Mother lures children into her lair to feast on their souls. To entice the children, rather than use a house made of sweets, she acts as a loving parent... just one with buttons for eyes. The Other Mother is an utterly terrifying creation, playing off the inherent childhood fear of adults you trust to look after you turning out to do the opposite. As well as the simply intrinsically scary image of people with buttons for eyes. something which resides firmly in the uncanny valley.

Miss Havisham
Appeared in: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

As a creation of Dickens, the claim that Miss Havisham is a cast-iron villain is a less clear one than with others on this list. The woman has a sympathetic backstory and eventually repents her wickedness, but she is still the greatest thorn in Pip's side as he tries to woo the love of his life, the icy Estella. Having been jilted at the altar, the ageing bride-to-never-be forever wears her ragged wedding dress and plans to use her adopted daughter, Estella, to break the hearts of men everywhere like her's was broken. Miss Havisham is someone whose own debilitating heartbreak and thirst for revenge has blinded her to how her actions affect others. Firstly, not only does she torment Pip merely to wallow in his pain but, more importantly, she raised Estella to be nothing more than her foot soldier, to go and act out her wish to destroy all men for her. 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned', indeed.

Dolores Umbridge 
Appeared in: the Harry Potter novels by JK Rowling and its film series, played by Imelda Staunton

The most despicable character in the Harry Potter series. Yes, Voldemort killed Harry's parents. Yes, Bellatrix Lestrange killed Sirius Black but neither of them wore such an alarming shade of pink.
Outwardly twee, Professor Umbridge harbours a deep lust for power and a sadistic streak as great as the Dark Lord's own, shown in the gruesome punishments she dishes out in detention and her placement at the head of the Ministry of Magic's witch-hunt (sorry, muggle-hunt). From her prissy, condescending nature to her more despotic tendencies, Umbridge is unlikeable to the core. In fact, Umbridge is so repulsive you can hardly stand to look at her photograph. That's why I've put her last, so you don't have to look at her for too long. And that's the truth because, as Umbridge herself likes to brand people with, I must not tell lies...

'Death in Heaven', the Doctor Who finale, is on tonight at 8.00 pm on BBC One.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Dark Water

The future becomes unclear when events take a turn for the existential in 'Dark Water.' Things are going to get very murky, indeed...

'The darkest day. The blackest hour. Chin up, shoulders back. Let's see what we're made of.' 

Before this regenerated series of Doctor Who started, a lot was made of the fact that it would be 'darker.' Upon airing, it could be said this was met with a pinch of salt. Sure, the show had a more serious Doctor and the series had sported episodes about weighty topics such as the nature of fear and tricky moral dilemmas but was it actually any darker than Doctor Who before it? Well, after tonight, we can say they were right to give us that warning as 'Dark Water', the penultimate episode of Series 8, was as bleak as the show's ever got. 

As with the hints scattered throughout preceding episodes, this episode's premise revolved around the age-old question: what happens after death? The answer, it turns out, is not a happy one, to say the least...
A few years ago, Torchwood presented its own, suitably nasty, depiction of the afterlife which was a natural fit for an adult-orientated programme that enjoyed exploring areas that its parent show couldn't. When said parent show did exactly this here, however, it felt unsettling in more than just the obvious way - should the show, that is avidly watched by children everywhere, do something as properly dark as this? Or perhaps this is a distinctly adult fear, one which kids will miss, but will keep us old folks awake at night? Either way, 'Dark Water' is certainly paving new ground. 

In other matters, the episode is on surer ground. The Cybermen's return in this episode was no secret but their actual reveal in the episode is inspired, a macabre twist on the classic image of Cybermen escaping their tombs. Gone are the invincible athletes of 'Nightmare in Silver', these silver soldiers march with menace down the steps of famous London landmarks and even use their old catchphrase 'delete.' Amongst the boundary pushing elsewhere its nice to see something so punch-the-air 100% Doctor Who

But enough of these trifles. There was only one question on our lips going in to this episode; who is Missy? Well, we certainly got the answer to that. In the end, it's the reveal many of us were expecting. The clues were all there. A penchant for pseudonyms. A love for teaming up with other baddies.  A general need to cause trouble for the Doctor. My personal reaction was to cackle for the next ten minutes at the sheer bravura of the move. Here's hoping Michelle Gomez gives the role its due now that the cat is out of the bag (or the Time Lord is out of the Time War...).

It is, of course, impossible to judge the episode fully without seeing its concluding chapter (what is Missy planning next? will everyone get out alive?) but the first forty-five minutes of this show-stopping story contained heartbreak, horror and shocks aplenty. Just like the Cybermen hiding in Dark Water, we've seen the skeleton of this finale, now I can't wait for the rest. 

The Doctor and Clara land in water that is deep as well as dark when the Cybermen arrive...

Next Week: Old friends and old foes surround the Doctor and Clara as the series comes to a blistering end. Will there really be 'Death in Heaven'? 

Monthly Mini-Reviews: October - Halloween Special

We made it through the horrors of All Hallows' Eve, everyone (that is unless you are a ghost reading this, in which case I apologise for my insensitive comment but commend you on being a thoroughly modern ghoul and using the internet)! However, the terror isn't over yet. Today, we have horrifying tales of a monster and a man (but which is which?), a killer with some vacancies in his motel, a ghost story on a broken-down train and a whole other world underneath a world at war. Read on, if you dare, for the Monthly Mini-Reviews... Halloween Special!

 Frankenstein (2011 Stage Play)

Mary Shelley's immortal Frankenstein has been adapted so many times over the years that there's a whole myth around the story which is far removed from Shelley's original text. In this recent theatrical version, from the combined talents of Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle and therious thespians Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller (also both Sherlocks), the story is taken back to the beginning, keeping the shape and power of Shelley's exploration of science and the ambition of men while also not afraid to embellish details to enhance the material. Namely, the duality between creation and creator is increased, which was showcased, famously, by having the two main actors swap roles every night. I have been lucky enough to see the play with both actors in the roles (it was reshown in cinemas this Halloween) and both are terrific in capturing the tragic creature and the aloof doctor and the whole thing really is an exquisite production. Much like Dr Frankenstein's experiment, Frankenstein refuses to stay dead and long may it live if it is still being interpreted in such novel ways after two hundred years.

Psycho II

Since seeing Hitchcock's seminal thriller/horror Psycho for the first time last year, I've become quite a fan (but not in a creepy copycat kind of way) of Norman Bates, having also enjoyed the television series based on the character's early years. I settled into Psycho II, then, expecting a schlocky slasher but perhaps one with a enough of a hint at the original to sustain interest. In the result, Psycho II is a decent, if superfluous, sequel to the original. This is in large part down to Anthony Perkins who once again nails the nervy charisma of Norman as his character returns to Bates Motel twenty years later and fights to prevent his 'mother' from controlling him again. While it obviously ups the gore of the original, it is mostly psychological horror on show here as we get inside the mind of a killer. It's the sort of horror film that makes you want to have a shower after watching it. Just make sure you lock the bathroom door first...

Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth

Gothic horror is not something touched on enough in Young Adult fiction, but thanks to modern master of the macabre Chris Priestley the great tradition of Poe and MR James is being kept alive in his Tales of Terror, an anthology of spooky stories linked together by a encompassing narrative. The first two in the series - Uncle Montague's... and ... From the Black Ship - I loved and this final instalment is as much of a treat at this time of year. The tales are of a consistent quality but particular highlights include the peculiar puppets of 'Gerald' and murderous murmurs of 'The Voice.' Priestley clearly is a lover of the genre which comes through in his gleeful splashes of horror and habit for giving his characters a hard time (to say the least). The whole thing is saturated in Victoriana, evoking the masters of the craft, and an old broken down steam train makes for an eerie backdrop. Be warned: not one to read while commuting.

Pan's Labyrinth 

I haven't been much of a fan of other works by Guillermo Del Toro I've seen. Though his inimitable style is obviously visually interesting his films, to me, seemed to lack a depth or heart. This is the exact opposite of the case with his Spanish language dark fantasy film, Pan's Labyrinth, which marries gorgeous visuals with an in turns disturbing and uplifting story of fairy tales and war.
The contrast of Ofelia's magical underworld, represented by the avuncular Faun (played by prolific monster man, Doug Jones, star of Hellboy, Hocus Pocus and Buffy the Vampire Slayer) with the brutality of the Spanish Civil War, characterised by the sadistic Captain Vidal (a far scarier horror villain than Dracula or the Wolfman) could be jarring but they come together to tell a tale about how there is light in even the darkest of scenarios. It is all topped off with a terrific performance from the young Ivana Baquero as the bookish but brave Ofelia, the Alice in this twisted take on the works of Lewis Carroll, Arthur Machen and others.

Pick of the Month: It's a tough choice but as I've seen the terrific Frankenstein before, the one I was most blown away by this month, of this quartet of stories to make your quiver, was Pan's Labyrinth. Well done, Pan's Labyrinth. I owe you a coke.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Review: Doctor Who - In the Forest of the Night

Once upon a time a forest grew across the world overnight.. But does this story have a happy ending?

'This is my world too. I walk your earth. I breathe your air.' 

Doctor Who has fashioned a new tradition for itself under Steven Moffat's reign; that of the 'celebrity guest writer.' Though perhaps not as much a household name as other such writers as Neil Gaiman and Richard Curtis, this week's episode was penned by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, the Carnegie Award-winning novelist and writer of the famous opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. Clearly, this guy has big writing chops (never understood that phrase. Doesn't chops mean mouth? And if so, why does the size of your mouth denote how talented you are at your chosen field?). So did he pull it off with his déb-Who?  

'In the Forest of the Night' opens with a wonderful pre-titles sequence featuring the Doctor befriending the sweet yet troubled Maebh (Abigail Earnes being by far the best of this week's younger guest stars). It's a charming scene that really feels like a new writer putting a fresh stamp on the show (the explanation of the TARDIS as like sugar in coke is inspired) and its topped off with the reveal of London landmarks surrounded by trees, a truly enchanting image that sets up the whimsical tone of the episode.

Unfortunately, this assuredness does not hold out for the whole forty five minutes. The symbolism of forests in our collective consciousness, how they are always places of danger in folk tales and myths, is very strong. Hidden amongst other plot points there was even a reason why woods are humanity's primal fear. It is a shame then that this fascinating notion was passed aside for none-too-subtle ecological messages ('if they're good then why are we chopping them down?' one child even says) which feel somewhat recycled from the other year's 'The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe' (which also featured living trees with tinkly lights, now I think about it).

Still, Samuel Anderson is served a considerable role this week as Danny gets to be in his comfort zone, leading his young troops through danger, and Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are as good as ever with particular praise going to the Doctor's touching nod back to 'Kill the Moon.' Also, not enough mention has been made this year to Murray Gold, who has delivered endless memorable music for the show for almost ten years now. In this episode he seemed to have a ball, playing off the fairy tale qualities of the story in his score (there was a fabulous, rousing piece of music accompanying the shot of Nelson's Column surrounded by the forest). It's amazing that man's talent hasn't run dry after all this time.

Full of literary allusions, this ecological fairy tale of an episode was certainly an original treat. It had its flaws - a promising premise that never quite lived up to its potential (with an unfortunately risible final scene that was predictable from the off) - but Cottrell-Boyce bravely fashions a sort of all-ages modern fantasy out of the stuff of Doctor Who and experimentation must be encouraged. Otherwise nothing would ever grow.

'You need an appointment to see the Doctor' - The TARDIS turns classroom this week...

Next week: Old friends and foes alike return for the first part of this year's finale. Terrible sacrifices must be made when things get murky in 'Dark Water.' BBC One, next Saturday.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Flatline

The TARDIS really was bigger on the inside this week but did the episode itself exceed its dimensions or did it just 'Flatline'?

'I'm the Doctor. But you can call me Clara.' 

Some Doctor Who titles say it all. No one sat down to watch last week's 'Mummy on the Orient Express' saying 'I wonder what this will be about?' This week's episode, however, sported much more nondescript nomenclature. With so little able to be gathered about the episode, it could have gone anywhere. In the end, it was one of the strongest episodes of this series, featuring a fantastic new enemy and a great use of its leading characters. 

This series is already full of fabulous monsters - The Teller, the Foretold, Skovox Blitzer (only joking) - but this week's lot (no idea what to call them - living graffiti? The muralons?) might just be the best so far. This show's already made us take notice of statues, or flickers in the corner of the eye but now we also have to watch our backs when we pass a piece of street art. Two-dimensional aliens could have felt like a hodge-podge of other monsters - a bit of Vashta Nerada, a sprinkle of Chloe Webber and her penchant for literally capturing people on paper - but it never does and the aliens come out as true original creations. Kudos to Jamie Mathieson, who has proved himself these last two weeks to be a talented Doctor Who writer. A veteran of other quirky genre shows Being Human and Dirk Gently, he clearly understands how to spin a proper Doctor Who yarn. In my books, he is welcome back any time. 

It is indicative of the extent of Clara's growth this year that an episode led by the character last series might have been a worrying concept - would she be strong enough to carry it? - but here it feels perfectly natural, and, just as the Doctor says, she made a 'mighty fine Doctor.' Speaking of the Time Lord, compared to other so-called 'Doctor-lite' episodes, he really was in it a fair amount. In reality, the episode was more of a role reversal for the two - even down to the fact that the Doctor gets to chastise Clara for her lack of 'goodness.' Is this the start of a slippery slope for Clara? Will she be able to climb back up? With the finale only weeks away, we may find out soon enough...

This has been one of those reviews that has turned into a string of praise but there were simply so many moments to relish this week. The Doctor acting like Thing from The Addams Family when pulling the tiny TARDIS away from the train tracks. The rather Looney Tunes method of fooling the aliens (remember Wile E Coyote drawing a fake door in a mountain to trick Road Runner?). Even the 'phoning home' segments of this episode had much more of a purpose than last week, embellishing the idea of Clara's 'cheating' on Danny. The bottom line is, though it was at first as hazy as the nature of this week's ambiguous aliens, 'Flatline' turned out to be anything but flat.

You know when people say paintings follow you around the room? Apparently it's the same with graffiti...

Next Week: 'Tyger, Tyger burning bright/ In the forests of the night...' William Blake's famous poem comes true when trees sprout up overnight in next Saturday's episode of Doctor Who. 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Mummy on the Orient Express

Mummy! The Doctor's holiday turns into a horror when something goes a-murdering on the Orient Express...

'I'm the Doctor and I will be your victim this evening. Are you my mummy?'

Doctor Who has cultivated a new type of story for itself in recent years. Rather than just historical stories, contemporary adventures and proper sci-fi dramas set in the future, there is now the historical-in-space. In the past we've had the Titanic ... in space! Dickensian London... in space! This week, the show gave us, you've guessed it, the Orient Express ... in space! And, something else you already guessed, on board is a rather ancient and unwanted passenger...

As this was an episode premise I was very much looking forward to I'm glad to say it was a very enjoyable adventure. We have a gaggle of guest characters with their own secrets but other than that, 'Mummy on the Orient Express' wisely does not lay on the Agatha Christie allusions (something already done brilliantly in 'The Unicorn and the Wasp') and largely plays its absurd plot straight, meaning that we just accept the bonkers juxtaposition of a classic horror creature and the period glitz and glamour. In fact, a word (or a few words. Oh, what the heck, a whole sentence) must be given to the set and costume designs here as the famous train looked wonderful in its 1920s décor and the Mummy, along with its chilling conceit, really was quite a visceral creation for Doctor Who. It is sure to give children tears before bedtime (that is if they're even still awake - for British viewers, the show is being shown increasingly late in the evening, something I'm not too sure of). 

Due to the lack of the Doctor's companion in promotional material, I assumed the Orient Express was going to be a Clara-lite ride but in the end Jenna Coleman (looking glorious in full flapper garb) had an important decision to make this episode and it was lovely to see the Doctor's kinder side leaking out again as he tries not to annoy his friend. Frank Skinner is also likeable as engineer Perkins but with the amount of screen time he shares with the Doctor the role does smack a little of  'celebrity guest star of the week.' So much was made of him, in fact, that I was a convinced that he would either turn out to be the culprit or an agent of Missy. Well, it still could happen.

Overall, featuring an entertaining script from newcomer Jamie Mathieson and great visuals (the clock counting down in the corner of the screen is a nifty, almost Sherlockian, device), the episode's lighter touch is a welcome change from 'Kill the Moon' although particular moments of happiness here do somewhat undercut the drama of that episode. Still, it seems a trifle unfair to complain about such things as, on an insular level (there was no appearance of the Promised Land this week), this episode invited us on board and took us on surely the most solid, classic and classy adventure this series. If you have a counter-argument, I'd like to hear it. You've got 66 seconds...

Is there a Doctor on board? - The Time Lord has to solve the mystery of the mummy murders...

Next week: Separated from the Doctor, Clara must face an alien menace from another dimension in 'Flatline' on BBC One at 8.30pm.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Kill the Moon

Stepping on the Moon might be one small step for a man, but it's also one massive decision for all of mankind in 'Kill the Moon'...

 'It's time to take the stabilisers off your bike.'

Over its long history, Doctor Who has posited quite a few difficult moral decisions - should humanity share the world with the Silurians? Should the Doctor save Pompeii? Is it right to destroy Gallifrey for the sake of the Universe? Well, the latest episode of Series Eight offered us a new, more avant-garde, one. Would you kill the Moon?

Without saying too much (I know, if you're reading this you've probably already seen the episode, but you just might be here to get some sort of spoiler fix, and I don't want to indulge that - see a Doctor), this episodes sports a terrific premise and one that's pure Doctor Who; an ingenious twist on a familiar (if outer space) object. Much like 'Listen' elsewhere this series, the episode also earns marks for audacity for switching styles half-way through, beginning as a sci-fi horror story (with that wonderfully eerie image of cobwebs on the Moon) and then developing into a moral debate which shakes the solidarity of our heroes' friendship...

On the other hand, 'Kill the Moon' isn't perfect. First-time writer Peter Harness is, in my opinion, still learning the Who ropes and much of this episode lacks the witty repartee that distinguishes most stories. Furthermore, there was some dissonance between the matter of the episode and how it had been promoted - the shocking action that the Doctor was said to make here was not quite so Earth-shattering (or rather Moon-shattering) as it had been made out to be. This could be seen as a plus, though, as rather than breaking the character in the end it just pushed the Doctor towards measures he doesn't usually take but kept the morals of our hero intact. 

It hardly needs saying any more, but Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman once again did their best with the dramatic possibilities of what they were given. Clara's tearing the Doctor apart is particularly impressive, even though I generally find it more enjoyable to watch a Doctor and a companion getting on rather than arguing (yes, I'm looking at you, Sixth Doctor and Peri). Likewise, Ellis George did a commendable job this week as guest traveller Courtney. The school girl was not a crucial element to the episode but at least was not as superfluous as the Matiland children from 'Nightmare in Silver.' Still, after last week's sparks between the Doctor and Danny I'd have much rather seen Mr Pink join the TARDIS crew in place of his student. As a soldier, he might have been on the 'Kill the Moon' side of the argument - which would have given it a more interesting voice than Hermione Norris' sadly undeveloped character, Lundvik

For all my grumblings, however, 'Kill the Moon' was a worthy addition to the series, moving this run of episodes up a gear as it heads into murkier territories. It might not have been out of this world, but, with a thoughtful subject matter, an unpredictable Doctor and a lack of easy answers, it certainly had gravity.

Dark Side of the Moon - a difficult decision has to be made... but what will the Doctor do?

Next week: The Doctor has a ticket to board the Orient Express... in space! With a Mummy! I bet you'll never guess the title...
'Mummy on the Orient Express' is next Saturday at 8.30pm on BBC One. 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Monthly Mini-Reviews: September - Young Adult Novel Special

Despite how it may look on this blog, I haven't simply spent the last two months watching the new series of Doctor Who non-stop (you have to do something in the time that it takes to load the next episode). I've also been reading, and the following post will focus on the Young Adult titles I have consumed of late. 
There's always something of a debate going on between literary people about whether adults should read Young Adult books or not. Personally, I'm a big advocate for the former as I have no idea why you would close yourself off to such an imaginative and all-consuming range of books. Something these mini-reviews will hopefully demonstrate...

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

There's always something especially alluring (at least for me) about books that are quirky and indefinable, and Ransom Rigg's hit début novel Miss Peregrine... definitely fits this bill - a light sci-fi/fantasy novel, it is inspired and illustrated by old photos of peculiar children. As fascinating as the images are - and the book itself is a beautiful thing to behold - the story is also engaging, featuring lots of great ideas. For a British reader, I noticed a few Americanisms slip through into the Wales-set story but that is not enough to detract from the well-disseminated mystery plot, with a brilliant monster and, on occasion, unexpected depth. Apparently, that old master of the macabre, Tim Burton is set to direct a film version and, after enjoying the book as I did, I'd say he could have something very good - but certainly peculiar - on his hands.

 Skulduggery Pleasant

Sometimes things in the world just don't make sense. When the first book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series - sporting the fabulous premise of an undead detective caught in a war against the forces of darkness - was released I was the perfect age to read it... but I didn't. Several, years later, I'm now playing catch-up. The first book is, as one would expect, a fun adventure with great snappy dialogue and a enjoyable apocalyptic plot. It's one that feels familiar but writer Derek Landy uses this to his advantage, to spend more time filling out the bare bones of the characters (and, yes, that pun was definitely intended), most notably the skeletal Skulduggery and his new teenage sidekick Stephanie (or Valkyrie, as is her preferred name). After the experience of reading this one, I look forward to the rest (I'm told that the latest, final, book is absolutely heart-breaking). As for why it took so long for it to occur to me to read the books, that is still a mystery. In fact, I might need the services of Skulduggery himself to investigate it...

A Monster Calls

Whereas the previous two books I've looked at have been popular series-starters, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is a very kind of book. From an idea by Siobhan Dowd, who sadly passed away before she could write it, this story sees Conor, whose mother suffers from cancer, being visited by a giant, story-telling monster every night. It's a very moving and heartfelt book and, again, supported by gorgeous illustrations from Jim Kay (I'm loving this trend for well-designed books - I wonder if it's a stand against the rise of ebooks?). Ness handles the sensitive material well, making the tale a very human story with elements of fantasy rather than the other way around. If a monster comes to your window tonight to tell you a story, you wouldn't go wrong if you asked it to tell you this one.

 11 Doctors 11 Stories

No, I can't go a whole post without mentioning Doctor Who. I'm well aware I have a condition and I'd thank you not to mention it. Harrumph.
For the 50th anniversary last year, BBC Books brought together eleven of Young Adult fiction's finest writers to pen a story for each of the eleven Doctors (aw bless, only eleven) and this chunky compendium is the result. As all anthologies do, the collection has its highs and lows. Some authors, sadly, while no doubt talented, do not quite connect with the world of Doctor Who enough to pen a proper Doctor Who tale. However, applause must be given to Malorie Blackman, Charlie Higson and our old friend Derek Landy for some of the best stories in the collection. Rather predictably, my favourite was Neil Gaiman's effort featuring the Eleventh Doctor and Amy fighting the chilling monsters, old enemies of the Time Lords, the Kin. If Mr Gaiman ever writes for the show again (and he'd bloody better do) here's hoping he brings the Kin with him to the smallscreen.
Typically, just as I have purchased this, the BBC are about to release the collection with an extra story starring the Twelfth Doctor. To make sure this doesn't happen again, I think I'll hop a few years into the future and grab the 25 Doctors 25 Stories version.

If you are interested in reading more, then please visit my run-down of the 10 Best Moments of Series 8 So Far. For every view it gets, one pound is given to the British Whovian Foundation, a charity dedicated to helping Doctor Who fans deal with their terrible life-long affliction. Thank you, every little helps.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Review: Doctor Who - The Caretaker

After taking care of the universe for centuries, the Doctor becomes the caretaker of Coal Hill School when an alien menace arrives. This really is the end of the world for Clara...

'I'm the one who carries you out of the fire. He's the one who lights it.'

Last week we had Doctor Who as a classy crime caper but this week was a very different kind of class as the show turned into a high-school drama - demonstrating the perils of Parent's Evening and examining the home lives of teachers. Waterwho Road, if you like. However, if this all sounds a little domestic (you wannabe Ninth Doctor, you), the Doctor and his impact on the everyday is very much at the heart of this school day in the life. 

Contrasting with other episodes this year, 'The Caretaker' had a simple plot, merely used as a tool to hang lots of heart and humour on to. Much more than most Doctor Whos this episode was led by its characters with the three leads all giving wonderful turns. Clara and Danny's relationship continues to impress and Samuel Anderson displays a nonchalant charm as his character treats the Doctor with irreverence rather than the usual awe, quite rightly pointing out the Doctor's hypocrisy when it comes to soldiers. There will surely be sparks to come in the TARDIS soon, and it won't just be because of some faulty switch...

The highlight of the episode though is, as it should be, the Doctor. Cast hilariously as Clara's disapproving dad, he's eager to meet his ward's suitor and sports a proud glint in his eye when he thinks she has chosen a boyfriend like himself (or one of his selves). This was surely Capaldi's most endearing performance in the role yet with the dour tones of his first few episodes thankfully toned down to be replaced by a twinkly-eyed irascibility in the vein of the First and Third Doctors.

On the other hand, after the magnificence of the Teller from last week, the twitchy, ungainly Skovox Blitzer must be one of the least threatening Doctor Who monsters ever, despite it apparently being 'one of the most deadly killing machines ever created.' Personally, I assume the Doctor was embellishing the danger somewhat to impress Clara - rather than having the potential to blow up the planet, the Skovox Blitzer seemed to merely be the scourge of school chairs.

Overall, as with any episode by Doctor Who's king of comedy, co-writer Gareth Roberts, 'The Caretaker' gave us lots to smile at, even if it was not his best work (that's a tie between 'The Shakespeare Code' and 'The Lodger' for this reviewer). By virtue of it being the episode that took care of the series' ongoing plot threads (Danny meeting the Doctor and, going by the 'next time' trailers, providing us with a new companion in schoolgirl Courtney) it was not a standalone great. However, with an abundance of warmth and wit, plus a welcome appearance by Peter Capaldi's The Thick of It co-star Chris Addison as Missy' prissy secretary. this caretaker episode of the show went about its job with flair. Top marks!

The Caretaker throws a spanner in the works of Clara and Danny's relationship

Next Week: The TARDIS takes the Time Lord, Clara and Courtney on a grand day out to the Moon. However, the Doctor must take a giant leap and face a grave decision - can he really 'Kill the Moon?' 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Time Heist

The most impregnable bank in all the universe, you say? The Doctor thinks differently in this week's crime caper of an episode...

'It's just a phone, Clara. Nothing happens when you answer the phone.'

For Doctor Who's seventh series, you may remember (unless you've had a bite from the memory worm) that every episode was plugged as a 'movie-of-the-week' with stories riffing off westerns, film noirs and horror films alongside others. This week we were treated to Series Seven's missing adventure, Namely, 'Time Heist', an episode that does exactly what it says on the tin and provides a sci-fi spin on the classic heist movie. 

As with the writer's previous effort, Stephen Thompson's adventure has timey-wimey painted all over it. The set-up could have come from any high-concept thriller film - four people wake up knowing they must rob a bank without remembering why they're doing it - and continues the strong openings of this year's run so far. The momentum is also generally kept up throughout the episode thanks to the pace and the camaraderie of the characters. If there is a fault in the plotting then it's that some of the twists don't come off quite as surprising as intended - although second guessing the characters is sometimes part of the fun.

In other areas, however, the episode certainly succeeded on all fronts. This, the second episode this year from veteran Who director Douglas MacKinnon, is as slick and stylish as Doctor Who has ever been and fits in with the flashier direction this series has been gifted with. It seems that since its visit to the silver screen the show is clearly making more of an effort to match up to its cinematic counterparts. 

Word must also be given to the cast which is ably filled out by Jonathan Bailey and Pippa Bennett-Warner as the Doctor and Clara's fellow bank robbers. They are not the Doctor's best ensemble gang ever but both are given enough to be likeable amongst all the action. Keeley Hawes is also well cast as the prickly Miss Delphox, a woman of many facets... 
Something that also struck this reviewer this week was how much Peter Capaldi has completely consumed the role of the Doctor. This is only episode five but it seems like he has always been in the role, insulting Clara's appearance and telling everyone to shut up. Crucially, though, his antipathy for others has occasionally bordered on making the character too far removed from our classic hero but here the Doctor shows his intelligence and compassion, as well as his grumps. This is the Doctor we all know and love. 

On the whole, 'Time Heist' is a fun jaunt away from the heavier episodes this year ('Listen, 'Into the Dalek'...). A kind of Doctor Who does Hustle (Doctor Who-stle?), it provides a solid 45 minutes of cleverly-plotted entertainment. It may not linger in the memory as much as some others but still serves as a important addition to the series - particularly in its inclusion of the Teller. With a memorable design, creepy power (the 'that's not tears. It's soup' line was utterly chilling) yet sympathetic edge, it is surely the best monster this year. And I'm telling the truth about that. Trust me, he'd know.

Reign of Teller - The Doctor and co have to watch out for this monstrous guilt-tripper.

Next week: The Doctor gets a new job - as Caretaker of Coal Hill School. Just as Clara is trying to sort out her relationship with Danny. This can only mean trouble. Oh, and there's an alien involved. This can only mean Doctor Who...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Listen

Listen up! This week the Doctor searches for the thing in the corner of your eye in this utterly unique adventure...

'What's that in the mirror, or the corner of your eye?/ What's that footstep following but never passing by?/ Perhaps they are just waiting, perhaps that when we're dead/ Out they'll come a-slithering from underneath the bed.' 

For a that show can literally go anywhere, Doctor Who has quite a lengthy checklist of things we expect from each episode. But sometimes an episode comes along that breaks the mould - and 'Listen' is one of those episodes. This week we were delivered many inversions of the show's norms - just this once there was a hugely ambiguous nature to the monster of the week, it centred around the Doctor and Clara on their 'days off'' and, most tantalisingly, went to places that the show has never been before. Well, it has but it hasn't. Trust me, it's timey-wimey.  

There seems to be a deliberate effort to up the thematic content of the episodes this year as, beneath the whimsical adventures in space and time, we've had stories that are really about change, hatred and heroism. This week's episode not only continues the theme but emphasises it. While 'Listen' may start out as a familiar - but still spooky as heck - Moffat scarefest it then goes down a completely unexpected avenue to become a sensitive mediation on loneliness and fear. As the First Doctor - and now Clara - said 'fear makes companions of us all.' 

While we've come to expect great blockbuster finales and Christmas specials from Steven Moffat, this episode takes him back to his creepy one-off roots, In fact, Moffat has described the episode as a 'chamber piece' a small-scale adventure with few performers. In such a story as this, then, the cast is all important and, thankfully, the three leads of Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson do not disappoint. Firstly, Capaldi embodies the Time Lord better than ever before here, as we see him inspire children and face terrifying sights but also explore new facets to the character like his almost unhinged obsession with the notion of a perfectly-evolved hider. Can such things really exist?

Meanwhile, as several incarnations of Pinks were met this week, Anderson's Danny (don't call him Rupert) is fitting well into the show, aided by the actor's awkward charm that fizzes with Jenna's perky Clara. Speaking of whom, Clara herself proves once again this week how invaluable she is to the Doctor - we've already seen her save his entire life and inspire him to rescue the Time Lords but here she makes her biggest impact on the Doctor yet. The Doctor is the solider who never carries a gun - I wonder where he got that idea from?  

'Listen' utilises all the classic horror film tricks and motifs (the thing under the bedsheet is one we've all seen before but that makes it no less eerie here) to treat us to a sleepless-night-inducing episode but then is also not afraid (ha!) to pull the rug from our feet and surprise and scare us in different ways. But embrace that fear because being scared is a superpower. And being scary is just one tool in the endless arsenal of Doctor Who, the show that can do anything. Just as this episode reminded us. 

It's the end - Is there something waiting on the last planet in existence?

Next Week: The Doctor and Clara save the day - by robbing a bank? Find out how in 'Time Heist'...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...