Sunday, 31 August 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Into the Dalek

Is the new Doctor a good man? We find out as the Doctor and Clara travel into the most dangerous place in the universe. Into Darkness. Into the Dalek...

'Clara, be my pal. Tell me, am I a good man?'

The new Doctor is never really properly the Doctor until he has tested his mettle against the metal of the Daleks, his oldest, deadliest and most reliably-defeated foe. Except this time, as Peter Capaldi goes eyebrow-to-eyestalk with his nemesis, there's a difference...

Let's jump right into that proverbial Dalek and get to the meat of this episode. Firstly, the decision to include a 'good Dalek' was a canny choice as a means to highlight the new Doctor's shifting moral code, an angle that gives the story a philosophical bent amongst the lots of lovely shots of Daleks blowing up. Speaking of which, a word must be given to director Ben Wheatley who has directed these past two episodes with a real flair and certainly delivered here with some superb shots (particularly the 'Dalek explosion porn' as it was christened by writer Clayton Hickman). Both of these elements conspired to give the episode weighty themes and a visual finesse to boot.
On the other hand, despite these pluses what prevents 'Into the Dalek' from being a fantastic episode is the fact that the plot feels a little familiar. Featuring narrative devices reminiscent of 'Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS' and 'Let's Kill Hitler', it also has a similar tone and set-up to 'Dalek' (also, as we're on the subject, the Doctor really should be more open to the notion of a good Dalek by now - he's met quite a few, not least the tragic yet heroic pepper-pot version of his companion).

However, as with 'Deep Breath', this episode's biggest strength is not the plot but the character interaction. Once again, the chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman is sublime, with the audience siding with Clara more and more thanks to the Doctor's morally dubious actions. He's certainly still the same man underneath but he now has a more pragmatic attitude to death and survival. Although that's something he may regret after the Dalek Rusty's damning words.

The Doctor wasn't the only person Clara had on-screen chemistry with this week, though, as new love interest, fellow teacher Danny Pink, was introduced. Though they sat a little disjointedly with the rest of the story, the scenes at the school were some of the most confident of the episode. Overall, the show is still working out the kinks of its new persona (much like the Doctor) but it seemed to handle itself with more assurance while set at Coal Hill School. Well, it is the show's ancestral home, after all.

On the whole, then, 'Into the Dalek' is an enjoyable, lofty adventure if one that lacked that special spark of greatness due to the familiarity of the plot. The new direction of the series and the cast continue to impress, however, so - contrary to the Doctor's claim in this episode - the TARDIS looks set not to travel into darkness but into a bright future for Doctor Who.

In the Pink - Clara's new love interest Danny is introduced.

Next Week: Two age-old heroes collide when the Doctor meets Robin Hood in 'Robot of Sherwood'!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Deep Breath

And breathe out - Peter Capaldi's first episode has aired! But how did the new Doctor measure up? 

'I'm the Doctor. I've lived for over 2000 years. Not all of them good. I've made many mistakes. And it's about time I did something about that.'

Has any other actor been the Doctor so immediately as Peter Capaldi? Usually when a new Doctor is announced there's months of trepidation on the fans' part, worrying 'will this new guy fit the bill?' But it felt different this time. As soon as Peter Capaldi was announced to the world, walking out of the smoke holding his lapels, he was the Doctor. Then when we got to see a glimpse of him in 'The Day of the Doctor' - those were the Doctor's eyebrows. It was simply a fact that the Doctor's future was in safe hands. So, a whole year after he was announced as the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi last night made his début in the role. And how like Doctor Who to give us a change we've already accepted and then rip the rug from under our feet. Make no mistake, 'Deep Breath' marked a regeneration, not just of its leading man, but of the whole show, hurtling us into a brave, moodier reincarnation of Doctor Who

After one of the daftest (for daft, read brilliant) pre-titles sequences to ever grace the series - not only is there a T-Rex in Victorian London but it also coughs up the TARDIS! - 'Deep Breath' proves to be a more low-key affair than other opening episodes. Instead of a large-scale alien invasion we have a pseudo-sequel to 'The Girl in the Fireplace' with a troupe of Clockwork robots rebuilding themselves with bits of people - with some clever parallels drawn with the eerie Half-Face Man and the Doctor (both have changed their body parts so many times they can't tell if they are the same person underneath any more). And, of course, the Paternoster Gang return with the now customary comedy Sontaran antics of Strax. However, this was just window dressing as the main thrust of the story was the idea of changing perceptions and age. In all, then, the plot was a familiar one but it was how it was told and the moments hanging on it that set the different tone. Quite fitting for an episode about patchwork monsters, really. 

Perhaps this episode's biggest surprise, however, was how it is really Clara who steals the episode. Some have said that the character served as a plot device throughout Series Seven rather than a proper person but here we are unequivocally on Clara's side as we both adjust to the new Doctor. Jenna Coleman delivers her best performance yet, imbuing Clara with facets to her character - fear, anger, grief - that we have never seen before. The spark that she shares with Peter Capaldi is incredibly fresh and feels like none of the other Doctor/companion pairings we seen so far in the revived series. These two have real promise to grow into one of the great TARDIS teams.

Invasion of the Dinosaur: A T-Rex visits Victorian London.

But the most important question is -  yes, all right, I shan't keep you waiting any longer (blimey, put down that pitch fork) - how was Peter Capaldi? Well, over the course of the adventure there are hints of Christopher Eccleston ('I'm stuck on the planet of the pudding-brains!'), Tom Baker (there's much wide eyes and eyebrows - plus a mention of long scarves) and Jon Pertwee (the more autocratic attitude and the dress sense) but really Capaldi carves out a Doctor who is all his own. He's in turn mirthful and mournful, crazed and calm, not-your-boyfriend and, oh, so very Scottish. Deep Breath was a wonderful taster, showing us all that this new Doctor is capable of, but he is still a newborn. We'll have to wait until next week to see him on an ordinary day. Because travelling inside a Dalek is just another Saturday to the Doctor.

Complete with a thrilling title sequence (still not sure of the shrill new theme though) and a new mood and tone, this new series could literally go anywhere but there is someone to hold our hand along the way. Irascible yet irreplaceable, Peter Capaldi is the perfect man to helm this brand-new version of the show. The old Doctor Who is gone. Long live the new Doctor!

P.S. As we're on the subject of old Doctor Whos... While it's sure to prove a controversial moment, I for one thought Matt Smith's cameo as the Eleventh Doctor was a stroke of genius. It could have come across as fandering (that's a contraction of fan-pandering - do you like it?) but instead marked a special moment of Clara's - and our - acceptance of the new Doctor. This moment tells us that beneath the volatile and a little unknowable Twelfth Doctor, the more amiable, human characteristics of the Doctor - that Matt Smith embodies - are still there. Also, more Matt Smith is always a good thing.  

Monday, 18 August 2014

Doctor Who: Series Eight Episode Titles Revealed

With only five days to go until Peter Capaldi makes his full-length début in 'Deep Breath', Who fans were treated today with a full list of this series' episode titles. Just like the chapter page of River's book in 'The Angels Take Manhattan' I always look forward to the titles being released as its like a collection of spoiler-free hints that get you excited for what's to come, rather than the gimme-gimme nature of proper spoilers (yes, I'm looking at you, those who watched the whole thing online weeks back). So let's take a sneak peak at Series Eight...

1. Deep Breath by Steven Moffat

This one we've known for a while, of course. The 75-minute special promises to be a relaunch of the show in style, with much more emphasis on characterisation and mood, apparently, than whizz-bang action. That said, it is still Doctor Who, so there will be steampunk spaceships, clockwork men and T-Rexes. We only have to wait till Saturday to see how it all comes together...

2. Into The Dalek by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat

This recently revealed title implies the tantalising premise that the Doctor will venture into a Dalek. At the moment I'm imagining a spiritual cousin of Tom Baker adventure 'The Invisible Enemy' in which the Doctor goes inside his own body (don't ask) but it could be more of a philosophical episode where the Doctor has to learn how to get into a Dalek metaphorically i.e. learn how to think like it. Who knows...

3. Robot of Sherwood by Mark Gatiss

The 'Sherwood' of the title would suggest that we are in for a Doctor Who/Robin Hood team-up - an event that is surely overdue. How has no one else thought of that in fifty years? This looks set to be another of Mark Gatiss' wonderful romps, like last year's terrific 'The Crimson Horror.'

4. Listen by Steven Moffat

What do you know? When a teaser trailer was released a few weeks back of Peter Capaldi, I mean the Doctor (we'd better start calling him that), sitting on the roof of the TARDIS saying 'listen' we just assumed it was a sign of his eccentricity. Now it turns out he was actually giving us an episode title - and we didn't realise! We'll have to listen closer in future.

5. Time Heist by Steven Thompson

One of those titles that says what it does on the tin. Moffat has stated that one of the episodes this year 'a heist movie done with Doctor Who' so I'm going to out on a limb - no, make it two, an arm AND a leg - that this is the episode to which he's referring. If so, it looks set to be continuing on from the 'Movie-of-the-week' ethic of Series Seven. This is also the episode that Keeley Hawes will guest star in, as the villainous Miss Delphox.

6. The Caretaker by Gareth  Roberts and Steven Moffat

Co-written by Doctor Who's funniest writer - whom, I think, the show really missed in Series Seven - this one is sure to be the comedy episode of the series. The title is syntactically similar to Robert's previous story 'The Lodgerso this may be an episode either stylistically similar or, well, actually similar. Maybe the Twelfth Doctor's about to pop back to see his old friend Craig? 

7. Kill The Moon by Peter Harness

This one possibly wins this year's 'Let's Kill Hitler' Award for the Most Audacious Title. Little is known plotwise about this one but we do know it was filmed in location in Lanzarote - the same place Fifth Doctor story Planet of Fire was shot. As Lanzarote doubled for the planet Sarn in that episode, it is thought that the TARDIS could be returning there. Also, that story featured the Doctor's old enemy the Master, leading many to speculate the old devil is going to make a comeback too. I'm twiddling my evil moustaches in anticipation. 

P.S. How does one kill the moon?

8. Mummy on the Orient Express by Jamie Mathieson 

Hmm, perhaps the Most Audacious Title Award should be split? Intriguingly, way back at the end of Matt Smith's first series in the role, in the closing moments of The Big Bang (blimey, doesn't that feel a long time ago now? Doesn't time fly when you live in a rebooted universe), the Doctor received a phone call from the Orient Express, asking for help to deal with an Egyptian Goddess who was attacking the train. The similarity of the title to that suggests we are about to find out what happened. Perhaps the Doctor has only just remembered to go there?

9. Flatline by Jamie Mathieson 

In this second episode in a row from ex-Being Human writer Jamie Mathieson (there's lots of new Who writers around this series), we see... Well, it could be anything. The title is giving away no clues. One of Moffat's hints for the series is that this is proper scary one so have that trusty sofa at the ready to jump behind. Unless this episode's about a monster behind the sofa...
I'm now copyrighting that idea, just so you know.

10. In The Forest of the Night by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce brings us this lyrically-titled story. Apparently, this is a fairy tale of an episode - but one quite different from those told by Steven Moffat. I'm very intrigued by this one. Could it be this year's 'Vincent and the Doctor?'

11. Dark Water by Steven Moffat

In a first since the aforementioned 'The Pandorica Opens'/'The Big Bang' in 2010, the finale of Series Eight will be two episodes long. Little has been revealed as of yet but we do know that Michelle Gomez will be appearing as the interestingly-named Gatekeeper of the Nethersphere. And so too will the pesky Cybermen, recreating a iconic scene from the past - parading past St Paul's

12. Death in Heaven by Steven Moffat

This is my personal favourite title of the new series - but what does said title belie? Moffat, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman have all spoken about the themes of the series including double identities, lying to protect those we love and the idea that travelling with the Doctor might not be healthy for those around you. With this in mind, we can expect a big finale with possibly some catastrophic results. Sporting such a grand-sounding title, it's bound to be an Earth-shattering ride. As I'm sure will the whole of Series Eight.

Take a deep breath, everyone. Just five days.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Doctor Who: Step Back in Time - Series Seven

The Time of Capaldi is almost upon us, with just a over two weeks left until his feature-length début (how spoiled are we?) is broadcast across television and cinema screens alike. So its time for Eleven to take one last bow as we cast a look back at the most recent series of Doctor Who: Series Seven. Though it's sort of two series that can either exist apart or as one. Like a worm. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Series Worm...

Starring: Matt Smith (the Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams), Jenna-Louise Coleman (Clara Oswald) with Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra), Catrin Stewart (Jenny Flint), Dan Starkey (Strax) and Alex Kingston (River Song)
Produced by: Marcus Wilson and Denise Paul
Executive Produced by: Steven Moffat and Caroline Skinner

Best Episodes

Asylum of the Daleks by Steven Moffat
What better way to open a series than a visit to a planet full of insane Daleks? 'Asylum' is a true thriller of an episode, starting the year of the 'Movie-of-the-week' perfectly. Alongside the aforementioned sanity-impaired Skarosians is a subplot involving the Doctor trying to save Amy and Rory's marriage and a surprise appearance from companion-to-be Clara (well, sort of) with Jenna proving herself to be a terrific actress. It turned out these episodes wouldn't just be any old movies-of-the-week, they would be blockbusters. 

The Rings of Akhaten by Neil Cross
Once in a while, a Doctor Who episode is unlucky enough to find itself on the receiving end of a barrage of criticism. So while many don't care for Neil Cross' début Who I, for one, think it's hugely enjoyable. The story may be slight but that only means it's going for atmosphere and heart more than complex plot. This also gives the other areas of production more chance to shine then usual, in particular costume design and Murray Gold's soaring score. 'Rings' is a magical sci-fi tale. Good enough, in fact, to feed Akhaten himself. 

The Crimson Horror by Mark Gatiss
With 'Cold War', Gatiss provided his best Who so far but his second of this series was somehow even better. A wonderful hodge-podge of Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Gatiss' very own Lucifer Box novels, 'Crimson' is a horror-tinged adventure with some great innovative storytelling. The finest example so far of how a Paternoster Gang spin-off show would work. The answer? Get Mark Gatiss to write it.

To read my reviews of all episodes of Series Seven click here

 TARDIS Team(s)

Series Seven is the first to employ the idea that the Doctor's companions do not have to runaway with the Doctor full-time. After formally leaving the TARDIS during the previous series, Amy and Rory Pond are unique in that the Doctor continues to come back for them, taking them on one-off trips across time and space before returning them to the normal lives. In fact, this arrangement went on for years, with the Ponds ageing from twentysomething to middle-age - however, though the Doctor does try, you can't hold off growing up forever. In the end, it took an invasion of New York by Weeping Angels to force the travels of the undisputed longest-running companions of the revived series to come to an end. 
The Doctor's next companion, Clara, was a true anomaly. Not only did she appear before she joined the Doctor on his travels, she also died - twice. When 21st century Clara (as opposed to Victorian and Dalek Clara) finally travelled in the TARDIS (with a similar arrangement to the Ponds) it made for a unique Doctor-companion dynamic. For the first time, the audience did not see through the companion's eyes to crack the mystery of the Doctor but quite the reverse. 
As well as his core companions, Series Seven also gives the Doctor a number of go-to allies. Reintroduced after their popular début in Series Six, Victorian detectives Madame Vastra and Jenny, now joined by the reformed Sontaran Strax, the Paternoster Gang notched up three appearances, including the series finale. This same finale also found time to wrap up the story of the Doctor's wife, River Song, literally laying her (data) ghost to rest. Out with the old and in with the new, it seemed the series was preparing for a change. A regeneration, you might say...

Story Arc

In a series full of firsts, Series Seven takes a new take on the issue of story arcs. Whereas its immediate predecessors were almost serials in their attitude to ongoing storylines, this series took a much looser approach. This was a series that was proud to be a different show every week, made up entirely of single-episode stories. Defined by featuring two different sets of companions, the two halves of the series are really two shorter runs bolted together and so have their own stories to tell.
The first five, or Series Pond, were the softer of the two on story arc, being almost devoid of overarching narrative, with the exception of some thematic foreshadowing of the Pond's exit. The second, or rather Series Clara, brings things to the boil somewhat more with the mystery of Clara, 'the Impossible Girl' being referenced in most stories before being revealed in the finale.
However, there was something that dripped through both Series Pond and Clara, as with 'Bad Wolf' or 'Torchwood' it was just a phrase that had a larger meaning. In fact, it was a question. The oldest in the universe. The question that the Doctor had been running from all his lives was coming back to haunt him. And that question was: 'Doctor Who?' The answer, apparently, lay on Trenzalore.
Combined with the 50th anniversary outing and Christmas special that followed it, Series Seven combined lively stories with friends and enemies, new and old, to send the Eleventh Doctor off in style. What's more, with its big-screen ambitions, Series Seven is the reason Doctor Who is currently enjoying a semi-regular home at cinemas worldwide. Thanks to Series Seven, the Doctor, rather than the Daleks or the Cybermen, is taking over the world.

Coming Soon: It's not just his kidneys that have changed. The new Doctor lands 23rd August. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...