Monday, 31 May 2010

"Hey nonny, where's my iPod?"

Fanzine edited by Gareth Kavanagh and Colin Brockhurst, 2009

It took three attempts (the post is rubbish around here), but I finally got my copy of Vworp Vworp!. An honest-to-god printed fanzine – with nifty transfers, no less – Vworp Vworp! makes me feel all warm and fluffy about Doctor Who, which, after the ennui-inducing Cold Blood, is quite impressive. It’s a love letter to Doctor Who Magazine, which particularly pleases me as DWM has always been close to my heart, but which is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to overlook.

It’s heartening to hear that I wasn’t the only one to get knuckle-whiteningly excited waiting for the latest issue to drop through the letterbox (I used to wake up early and sit by the front door), or feel excruciatingly hard done by if it was late. DWM is still one of my favourite parts of, what – not the series, but Doctor Who as something that encapsulates numerous media. It probably wasn’t until I discovered the magazine that I really got into Doctor Who, as it formed my introduction to 30-odd years of history. It being the nineties – a time I hold as being a particularly if unexpectedly worthwhile period to get into the series, when it was in the domain of the fans, and the series entirety was being explored and analysed to a uniquely far-reaching extent, in lieu of fixating on a new series.

I still have all those back-issues, and every so often I’ll heft them out of the wardrobe and, unlike most things from childhood, they never disappoint. Obviously nostalgia plays its part, but I’m a fairly critical, analytic kind of person, and I still think, on balance, those nineties issues’ design is gorgeous, the strip’s never less than involving, and frequently better than that, and the articles – the sort of in-depth discussion there isn’t really any space for when the series is on-air – are still funny, perceptive, clever, and always self-aware. That’s what I love most about DWM; its obvious, unfailing love and interest in the show, but which doesn’t mitigate its ability to take the piss spectacularly, both of the show and of fandom itself.

A lot of Vworp Vworp! focuses on the comics, which I’m a massive fan of – the nine-year Eighth Doctor cycle is rightly fondly remembered, and was a large part of my enjoyment of the magazine, even if it’s not quite as dementedly wide-ranging and wonderfully unrestrained as the best of the Fourth to Sixth Doctor’s runs. There’s also a feature on the making of The Cybermen strip, which is especially welcome as that strip is probably one of my favourite things in Doctor Who. Even in the small images printed in the article, it still looks incredible - stylistically incomparable, and not only within Doctor Who. I’ve never failed to be massively impressed by Adrian Salmon’s art, and it was particularly effective there, meshing perfectly with the arc’s epic, faux-mythological tone. (Trade paperback? Anyone?)

Also, unexpectedly enjoyable are some short interviews with the artists of the various DWM funnies over the years, something I’ve never given much thought to. Also, hands up who knew the artist on the current, wonderfully daft Doctor Whoah! panel on the letters page is the singer from Reuben? (You can see a couple on Jamie Lenman’s page, here.)

Vworp Vworp! is obviously a labour of love, but that isn’t enough to make something a success - so I'm really pleased that that effort has completely paid off. It looks great (the fake seventies Doctor Who Weekly-style design), and it’s genuinely unique in looking into both DWM and specifically the comic with anything like this amount of depth and genuine interest.

Really, really impressive. Can’t wait for more.

It’s for sale here.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Reaction: COLD BLOOD

Written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Ashley Way, 2010

Wow, congratulations, Mr Chibnall, that was even shitter than last week. I really was hoping this story might improve… but it was evidentially not to be. I found Cold Blood quite heinous – as I keep saying, much as I appreciate the general approach, tone, etc, of this season, that just makes missteps like this even more inexplicable and lamentable.

This story really feels like a renege on this season’s earlier promise; if The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone had been swapped with this, at least the season would’ve felt like it was improving.

Of the stories I’ve liked less, Victory was just kind of lame, while Vampires of Venice was funny but not much else – but this has no redeeming features. So much so that, forgive me, I’m going to resort to bullet points (a sure sign a story just isn’t worth bothering with).

Trad in the worst possible way, this episode was riddled with averted executions and convenient rescues – which actually make me very glad the new series ordinarily ploughs a new furrow. It might make its own mistakes, but at least they’re relatively novel mistakes.

Particularly glaring old school elements:
• A return to a rag-tag team of misfits alternately standing around awkwardly and running through corridors.

• The ‘villain’s dead – or is she!’ moment.

• The waddling Mindwarp-like scientist and clichéd wise elder role.

• Crappy, hammy deaths.

• Not one but two lame-o peril-averted-at-the-nick-of-time moments (“Fire!” “STOP!”). And, really, the dissection – is that acceptable as a cliffhanger resolution these days? He’s going to dissect the companion… oh, he was interrupted. That’s IT?

Other bad things:
• There does seem to have been some resistance to Karen Gillen/Amy within fandom, which I haven’t agreed with - but this script seems to have brought out the worst in absolutely every aspect of the production. I can suddenly see how her delivery could grate, being irritatingly one-note and arch regardless of the situation she finds herself in. Similarly, after she’s picked the pocket of a would-be dissectionist, I also get what people mean about her preternatural unflappability and competence. I’m going to be charitable and put that down to this one-off lapse in the writing though.

Similarly, this story actually manages to make the Eleventh Doctor seem like the adolescent imposter everyone was worried Matt Smith might turn out to be (which he mainly hasn’t) - all ‘zany’ dialogue and by-numbers moral condemnation in place of actual characterisation.

• The voiceover seemed like a rather desperate attempt to invest the story with some gravitas, but felt inappropriate and unnecessary.

• Bizarrely, the seemingly sledgehammer foreshadowing of Elliot’s dyslexia came to nothing. Maybe more cuts?

• The “dressed for Rio” ‘gag’ doesn’t even work – she’s wearing a (p)leather jacket, FFS.

• Meera Syal, though I like her, just isn’t that… good, in this context.

• There’s no fictive justification for the Silurians’ mask, which destroys suspension of disbelief because there’s no other way to view them than from a production PoV – ie, that they couldn’t afford prosthetics. The fey minidresses don’t help.

Having said that, given how shittily plastic the Silurians’ masks looked in teasers and publicity photos, they actually look a great deal better than the creatures’ faces proper. I guess I’m just a monster-monster person, rather than a people-monster lover.

• The Planet of the Apes-style trumpeting horn section. Nuff said.

• That there was no twist to Alaya knowing who’d killed her – well, of course it was the sour-faced harridan. Rory would’ve been more interesting.

• Cringeworthy fanfic sci-fi names: ‘Restac’?!

• Really obvious reuse of the location from The End of the World and Gridlock.

• And finally, the mind-bogglingly convenient ‘well, we’ll just go back to sleep then’ dénouement.

In the interests of balance (god forbid anyone think I’m not balanced) - good points:
• Rory, who I really like having along… Oh. (I do still wish for a 100% companion figure who simply happens to be male, though - Jack was a Doctor-surrogate, and Mickey and Rory wouldn’t be along for the ride if it weren’t for their other halves, the primary companions.)

However, even Rory’s death seems like a gyp (well, it obviously is); he’s been so blatantly set up as a dupe that it feels like the story arc contrivance it undoubtedly is, rather than a meaningful event in its own right. Especially as it was done (better) two weeks ago in Amy’s Choice.

• Robert Pugh.

• Nice to have a Doctor who’s good with children – it suits the storybook take on the series, and seems natural given his appeal to (and affinities with) that demographic. Strange this never really been done before

• Not so much ‘good,’ but it did amuse me that the Silurians’ camera system was apparently programmed to do crash-zooms at dramatic moments.

Anyway, I’m done with this story. Onward and (hopefully) upward.

The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood has been likened to a take on the trademark moral ambiguity Malcolm Hulke introduced into his scripts, but it comes off as a flaccid knock-off, with considerably less sophistication. In fact, its wannabe moral complexity has nothing on Doctor Who and the Silurians. The new series is obsessed with making every character likeable and giving everyone a redemptive moment, so much so that it comes at the expense of the story itself. The seventies had a much more pragmatic approach, in that many of the guest characters didn’t really ‘matter’ – and I mean that in a good way. Imagine a Doctor Who and the Silurians where Miss Dawson, hysterical PA, was considered worthy of her own emotional arc; I’m really not convinced that’d add anything.

While it’s pointless to say any particular stories from wildly different periods of the show (and of TV itself) are ‘better’ or worse than one another, that a modern story nods so clearly to a previous period, and not only manages to make a total hash of things, but also remove the elements which gave the earlier period its depth (namely its uncompromised and unshowy approach to the morality of the situation)… well, something’s gone tits up, hasn’t it?

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


Written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Ashley Way, 2010

At least with a real unadulterated stinker, you know it's fairly unlikely many people are going to turn round and say it was brilliant. The trouble with inconsequential, nothingy filler like this is how many people will be won over by it - which is grim, because this is a lazy, lazy story. I have no problem with writers showing their influences, but when you can tick off a handful of blatant precedents from within the series (Doctor Who and the Silurians (obviously), Inferno, The Dæmons, The Green Death, Frontios, Father's Day), something's severely wrong. Whether deliberate references or not, that forcefields round villages and bodies being sucked underground and Welsh mining villages facing deadly danger have all been done within THE SAME SERIES, one has to worry.

Everything about this story creaks. Though realised perfectly well, this sort of tedium just isn’t really worthy of anyone's time. And what's worse is knowing the production team think they're doing something new and relevant. All the bollocks on Confidential about how the Silurians need reinventing - a mentality I loathe anyway, and no, they don't; they didn't even need to come back. There's a disproportionately massive build-up to their appearance within the story, but, really, who gives a shit about the Silurians? Of the past series' established returnees which haven't already been plundered, the Ice Warriors are about the only ones with any potential mileage left. The Silurians - really?! And then to redesign them to within an inch of their lives, so they have almost nothing to do with their previous realisation, surely defeats the object of their reappearance anyway.

If the new design were a success, I wouldn't pooh-pooh it on general principles alone; I’m pooh-poohing it not because it's a new design, but because it’s so much less memorable than the original. At least they could have kept the third eye, which was the defining featuring of the original, as well as a fairly interesting idea (is a really poor CG tongue actually any better?). We've all seen slightly rubbery reptile-people on screen before. These are entirely undistinguished, and much as they may be better in terms of allowing individual characterisation, there's nothing to define them from any number of creatures from Buffy or Farscape. I can’t be the only person who instantly coveted the alternative updated-but-recognisable Silurian maquette briefly glimpsed in Millennium FX’s workshop on Confidential.

I have my worries about the sheer amount of recurring monsters this year; it smacks of Moffat trying to have his cake and eat it, with a new Doctor, companion, TARDIS interior, titles sequence and theme arrangement - but then loads of ‘safe,’ familiar enemies.

This does make me ponder though what monsters I’d bring back if (…when!) I have the opportunity to do so. In fairness, anything other than the Daleks and Cybermen, and maybe Sontarans (at a really charitable push) isn’t going to mean the first thing to anyone outside of fandom, so the difference between the Zygons and the Vervoids coming back would be entirely meaningless. (Although, as long as it’s done well, any recurring race should be able to have the same impact - as long as they aren’t handled as if every single casual viewer should know their entire backstory, as in the early eighties.)

There must be something to be said for journalists being able to Wikipedia old monsters, which I suppose amounts to a little extra publicity, but really, besides the big-hitters… I wonder whether Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat are ever tempted to bring back something really shlocky (I’m choosing to ignore Gridlock, as the Macra amount to little more than an in-joke) – maybe do an Alien Bodies on the Quarks or the Voord or something. (Knife-wielding rubber-clad ninjas? That works.) Or maybe something which never troubled a general audience first time round, like the Haemovores.

It’s often said in regard to lamentable, unforgivable Hollywood remakes (of either stone-cold classics – like the eternal triumvirate of never-should-have-been-allowed desecrations: The Wicker Man, Get Carter, and The Ladykillers - or fast-turnaround English-language cash-ins like the US Let the Right One In or the mooted Will Smith Oldboy) – why not remake something that was crap to begin with, rather than sullying the original? I can’t help feel the same mentality might be a preferable approach to returnee monsters – lets face it, a fan’d get a thrill whether it’s the Voc Robots or the Dominators that’s coming back, so surely it’s preferable to improve something rather than risk damaging the original.

Anyway, it does feel like the series needs to do something different, otherwise we’re in for an endless parade of rehashes of adequate but uninspired (seventies) monsters: the Axons, the Krynoid, giant maggots, the Draconians, etc, etc…

I'd feel slightly more charitable about a still ill-conceived 'reimagining' if the story as a whole presented the slightest whiff of originality. The Silurians have a good concept going for them, but not when we’ve seen it all before.

Of course it's unfair to vilify a given author, but then some people do bring these things on themselves. Chris Chibnall does have quite an abominable reputation, and though mostly derived from his Torchwood scripts (42 was... fine), it's not something he's done much to repudiate here. I do often despair of the 2005-current series' pathologically fast-paced format, but, on this evidence, why not utilise that pace to fill two episodes with much more event than possible in a one-off story... rather than simply slowing the action to a crawl, and thinly scraping the story over two weeks, like butter over too much toast. (Two-parters should have the same pace with more content, not just slowed down to fill the slot.) I'm absolutely not adverse to stories building over a longer period (hello The Invasion and The Daleks' Master Plan), but there's no advantage here, when the story, such as it is, comprises a boring scenario, boring characters, and boring script. All we get is unsatisfyingly laboured foreplay, with a fudged, um, climax.

The format applied to the series by Russell T Davies is going to cast a long shadow, so forgive me if I seem a little bitter - it's just that one of the few things that could be relied on over the post few seasons is that this slot would deliver one of the year’s strongest stories, from The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances to Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. On the basis of The Hungry Earth, this story is already falling considerably short of that standard. It even manages to make this TARDIS crew seem flat, for the first time, and the device of using an ‘ordinary’ character to reinforce how amazing the Doctor is is getting very old.

Victory of the Daleks was just fluff; fair enough. The Vampires of Venice was, if nothing else, funny (and it was nothing else). The Hungry Earth was - what? Even its potential atmosphere - quite effective in a pre-titles sequence which almost made the Death of the Week not seem entirely perfunctory - was undermined by stupid, forced lapses of logic like the Doctor only realising he's facing Silurians/Eocenes/Homo reptilia/Earth Reptiles after seeing that they’re cold-blooded (no brainer, surely?), or forgetting about little Timmy, or whatever his name was.

I can't even be bothered to say anything cutting. I wish I could say this was a disappointment, but I didn't even have high expectations to begin with. It’s particularly galling that this season’s equivalent of The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky (a tedious and unoriginal two-parter needlessly reintroducing an ‘updated’ classic series monster) comes directly after its best story, Amy’s Choice.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Reaction: AMY'S CHOICE

Written by Simon Nye, directed by Catherine Morshead, 2010

Rather disparagingly, The Guardian have effectively dismissed Amy’s Choice as ‘the cheap episode’ of the season, and a “Simon Nye-penned curio”. Well, get a grip. This is what I’ve been waiting for from this series; admittedly, I didn’t expect it to come from the writer of Men Behaving Badly, but… who cares?

Off-beat, small-scale, and relatively experimental (given how much the series generally adheres to a formula): these are things I particularly prize in Doctor Who, which is often at its strongest when forced to push in new directions, rather than relying on CGI flying saucers and ever-escalating season finales. It’s hard to not see this as Inside the Spaceship redux (down to the perfunctory justification for the events of the story), and an equivalent to that story’s limited setting is the perfect format through which to explore this sort of less-is-more potential.

Amy’s Choice marks a return to an infrequent milieu for Doctor Who: fantasy worlds, or borderline-surreal domains; previously done in, what, The Celestial Toymaker, Mind Robber, Deadly Assassin, and the last couple of episodes of Trial of a Time Lord. Although I imagine this sort of thing – something conceived as ‘sideways’ digressions when the series was in the planning stages – is unlikely to become a regular fixture, it’s the polar opposite of the urban realism, and, more broadly, literality that underpinned the last few years’ output. Even the basic sci-fi staple of a metaphysical entity like the Dream Lord is something of a relief after five years of rhinos with ray guns.

Everything about this story is simple – obvious, even – yet nevertheless feels unprecedented. The TARDIS becoming a major setting; a ‘Bad Doctor’; even the idea of evil pensioners – simple concepts, but all the more effective for that. The character of the Dream Lord undoubtedly benefits from the corresponding lightness of touch brought to it by Toby Jones (Truman Capote in Infamous – the Antz to Capote’s A Bug’s Life). Jones not only manages to convey the maliciousness of the part (rather than out and out evil), but actually make an entirely believable Doctor figure.

Inevitably, there have been fans (presumably the ones convinced that every female character is going to turn out to be the Rani…?) trying to overstate the connection to the aforementioned Trial’s evil-future-Doctor, the Valeyard, as if the merest mention of the V-word would cause spontaneous orgasms across the country. Well, obviously there’s a connection: it’s the same idea. And if one is so inclined it’s easy enough to suggest that the Valeyard will come from the same dark corner of the Doctor’s subconscious as the Dream Lord, sometime in the future. Case closed. (The Dream Lord even flits about in the same way as the Valeyard does.)

The difference between the Valeyard and the Dream Lord is that the latter makes so much more sense; it’s a more convincing take on (when you think about it) an achingly obvious idea, because he’s still recognisably the Doctor, albeit one with a streak of malevolence. That he's playing malevolent little games actually makes him seem far more twisted. The Valeyard, on the other hand, might as well have no connection to the Doctor, being an unremarkably slimy black-clad villain. In this case, the revelation of the villain’s identity makes sense, without feeling pointlessly gimmicky or overplayed. (The reflection in the TARDIS console is a nice touch though, recalling the Second Doctor seeing the First’s face in a mirror after his regeneration.)

I also found it quite pleasing how much Toby Jones’ casting relates to a classic series idiom, rather than a Matt Smith equivalent (in the way John Simm was a Bad Tennant - in every sense...). He also has a touch of Being Human’s villain, Herrick, about him; a sort of innocuous, banal evil. Actually, Jones’ is an unflashy performance, but it’s quite masterful, and I think almost without doubt the most memorable villain since the series returned. (Son of Mine is effective, but that’s a series of quirks rather than a well-characterised performance.) It might lessen the character’s ambiguities, but I would be genuinely pleased to see the Dream Lord return, in some form (especially given his various guises).

As much a glaringly obvious concept as the Bad Doctor, marauding OAPs is triple-distilled Doctor Who, a perfect example of the oft-cited ‘twist on the familiar’, with the advantage of being absurd (think Father Ted), but simultaneously threatening. The icy TARDIS is a similarly low-key but memorable visual conceit, which is far more interesting than any number of fatuously overblown CGI orgies. From a purely visual perspective, it’s as gorgeous an image as Liz Ten sitting in her room of water-filled glasses. The playground outside the castle ruins is memorably (and appropriately) odd, too.

That this story also manages to include some arguably overdue character-based development of Amy Pond, deconstruct the Doctor, and still manage to be very funny are all reasons to be extremely cheerful. (“You know the Doctor – he’s Mr Cool”. Cut to the Doctor reeling down the street.) There’s never going to be a massive amount of space for substantially developed guest characters in a 45 minute format, so it’s not unwelcome for a story to dispense with them entirely. (And perhaps because of this, for once, it also felt like the series was capable of really using the 45 minute format, with the story feeling full but not rushed.) The main guest in The Vampires of Venice is a case in point of a character who becomes entirely two-dimensional at the expense of the regulars.

My problem with that story, that - though very funny - there wasn’t any substance to counterbalance the humour is nicely corrected here. While still laugh-out-loud funny in places, there was also a certain amount of dramatic weight and a far more original plot at work.

Deconstruction of the Doctor is always welcome (“Friends – is that the right word for the people you acquire?”), and I like the acknowledgment, as in Boom Town (another ‘cheap one’), that not only is the Doctor flawed but that he recognises this himself. Perhaps more importantly, it is good to finally have some substantial focus on Amy, as it does feel like the character’s been taken for granted, with a story based round her feeling overdue. I also can’t help seeing this story as yet another renunciation of the Davies years (something that’s become habitual in this series, and makes me wonder precisely what Moffat thought of Davies’ run); a whole story based around the companion choosing her boyfriend over the Doctor.

What else? Lazy bullet points:

• Jumping a time track – more points for referencing a story from a full FORTY-FIVE YEARS ago. Especially The Space Museum, of all possibilities…

• Rory hitting a old lady with a lump of wood and the Doctor knocking one off a porch with a bedside lamp… Ah, inappropriate violence – always guarantees a belly laugh.

• On the basis of Confidential, it’s quite charming that the three mains are apparently exactly the same as their characters in real life. Bless, etc.

Behind the Sofa has an annoyingly insightful review/analysis, here. The observation that the story benefits from the dreamworlds being presented without recourse to flashy techniques is interesting, but it also makes me sort of wish we could’ve had some Gondry/Jonze-style visual invention.

Amy's Choice may not be an instant stone-cold classic, but it’s pretty close. Though I’m loving the sensibility of this series, its regulars, etc, this is one of the best episodes for me so far. The Eleventh Hour may be the best expression of Moffat’s vision, but I do wonder whether the shine’ll rub off when all the things it introduced have become ordinary.

In a way, I suppose this is as emotionally asinine as the show’s ever been… but that just goes to show how much difference a variation in tone and approach can make, because suddenly I give a shit about these sort of emotional moments. After only seven episodes I care more about these regulars than I did any of the previous five years’.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Behind the Sofa

Just a quick shout-out for Behind the Sofa, a collaborative reviews site I've only just become aware of.

There's a particularly spirited defense of The Vampires of Venice that you can read here, and a hearteningly analytical series of reviews of the BBC's Eighth Doctor Adventure novels here. Unfortunately nothing on the New Adventures, but one can't have it all, can one?

Sunday, 9 May 2010


Written by Toby Whithouse, directed by Jonny Campbell, 2010

Well, that kind of pissed me off. I like vampires. That is, their fictive potential - even though, a), I’m not a goth, and, b), I’m not really sure where that started, as I was never formatively into anything vampirey.

Given the current excess of all things vampiric in popular culture, then, I’ve been wishing Doctor Who would go there. It’s a no-brainer, surely? (Especially given the flatness of State of Decay.) In fact, I was all ready to relate this story to the icily beautiful Let the Right One In, Park Chan-wook’s sumptuous, morally-conflicted Thirst, or even the swampy Southern Gothic eroticism of HBO’s True Blood (though please note: not Twilight). Notice how I’ve cleverly managed to still do that, even though it’s now frankly irrelevant, as The Vampires of Venice itself actually invalidates the comparison.

The Vampires of Venice’ – except, that’s a big fat lie, isn’t it, because it’s actually The Space-Fish of Venice. What annoys me most about this ‘twist’ is that to all intents and purposes, this is a vampire story – but with an, ‘Oh, wait, fooled you!’ element tagged on. Given the massive convolutions the script has to go through to make the space-fish able to masquerade as vampires, that begs the question – why not just make them vampires? (Especially since there’s a perfectly good ‘ancient enemies of the Time Lords’ backstory already established.) Or have them as space-fish from the beginning, and scrap the pretence.

It’s like having a race of pepperpot-shaped robotic creatures who say ‘Exterminate’ a lot, and then saying they’re not Daleks. (Though, thinking about it, in relation to the new Mighty Morphin Daleks, one can only hope.) I mean, does the production team really think Men in Black-style, poorly CG’d fish-aliens are going to prove more memorable than vampires? There’s a reason such a simple concept has endured.

Before I spontaneously combust with exasperation, good things: the story undoubtedly benefits from locations that never could’ve been filmed in the UK. The period setting is pleasingly atypical for Doctor Who, too. And any appearance by William Hartnell, even on a library card, is welcome. It is also genuinely very funny (“Lovely girl. Diabetic”; “According to this, I am your eunuch”; the Doctor’s Mary Poppins moment, pulling the massive light from inside his jacket)... but then, overall, its flippancy just adds to the lack of substance.

Far too much here feels very tired, too (yeah, I’m already out of good stuff): Rory’s Mickey shtick (although it is surprising how likeable and familiar he is in only his second appearance - but though I much prefer him to Mickey, he is unavoidably playing that same role). Ditto the monsters-on-the-run-from-a-plot-device (the Gelth, the Pyrovile). Ditto the sympathetic-character’s-arbitrary-but-convenient-self-sacrifice. Ditto the climactic-climbing-up-a-tower-to-stop-the-dastardly-and-slightly-overcomplicated-scheme (The Idiot’s Lantern, Evolution of the Daleks).

I absolutely love Being Human, a program that is far better than it has any right to be, which, though not without its faults, balances genuine humour with pathos, as well as surprisingly uninhibited violence. Another of its strengths is in its eschewing of big, hokey setpieces like what we get here. Oh, Toby Whithouse, you disappoint me. Though, frankly, thinking back to School Reunion, maybe my faith was misplaced.

Dear Toby – some queries:
• Surely the contrivance with the teeth doesn’t work because they would be physically there all the time - so why would people only perceive them at certain moments?
• In The End of Time, the Doctor could apparently see through, or at least recognise the Vinvocci’s disguises… Why not here?
• Sunlight reflected from a hand-mirror blows up Gilbert-from-Being Human… Why, when all the ‘vampires’ have been wandering around in daylight with ineffectual parsols for the whole episode?
• Why have Rosanna’s clothes suddenly become real at the end?
• And most glaringly, why the hell did the space-fish even need to flood Venice? Hmm? Could they not just have lived… in the sea?!

Normally nothing ticks me off more than fans griping about little details – suspension of disbelief and all that – but then, some writers (ie, Steven Moffat) seem to be able to deflect attention from such niggles, so they genuinely don’t seem important. This script doesn’t do that.

So, while I’ve got the story on the floor, let’s give it a final kick. Flicking a switch to stop the storm. Right. There’s a fine line between ironically undercutting audience expectations and just… copping out. And what happened to the tidal wave, ehhh?? Horrible bit of stock footage of the clouds parting too. I thought those days were past.

You might have realised by now that I’m slightly sore about the vampire cheat, and, in fact, for me this story has been the biggest disappointment of the series so far. Victory of the Daleks was crap, but then, it’s a Dalek story, for god’s sake! But what’s particularly galling about this story is that it’s perfectly entertaining… yet amounts to a forgettable waste of a location shoot. It’s just fluff.

Still – a chink of light through the shoddily CG’d clouds: Amy’s Choice looks… promising.

Sunday, 2 May 2010


Written by Steven Moffat, directed by Adam Smith, 2010

As Steven Moffat has made the analogy of this story being the Aliens to Blink’s Alien (the overrated and dumbed-down action version, then?), presumably Weeping Angel³ (underrated, but beautiful and uncompromising) and Weeping Angel: Resurrection (of which, frankly, the less said about the better*) will soon be on their way… Not to mention the superb and not superfluous at all Weeping Angel vs Smiler spin-off.

Enough facetiousness (…maybe). Much as I am loving almost everything about this series – Matt, Karen, the fairytale sensibility, and the feel of a synthesis of the old and new series – on balance, this wasn’t one of Steven Moffat's strongest stories. At least not compared to his pre-showrunner numbers. It fitted together, but, though I appreciated its relatively small focus, as a four- and, after Octavian's death, three-hander, there didn’t seem to be a massive amount of substance to this episode. Similarly, nothing particularly unexpected happened, and in fact, on a second viewing which usually consolidates my impressions, I found Flesh and Stone strangely unengaging. Nevertheless, depending on how much this series adheres to the template of the past few seasons, it's still relatively early days and there's presumably space for deeper, richer stories in its second half.

The most notable element of the episode was having the arc-seeding crack play a substantial role in the series well before the finale; I was worried it would simply end up glimpsed in every episode… However, that would have been below Moffat, and I’m glad to see he’s shaken the Bad Wolf/Saxon precedent. Both as an arc and in terms of its potential repercussions on the continuity of the last few years, it is becoming very intriguing. Also, it's quite fantastic to see the sort of questions asked by fans actually addressed by the Doctor within the show, for example, regarding the CyberKing. The willingness of the program to not only address but make something out of continuity gripes like this – and with such a fast turnaround - is part of the joy of modern Doctor Who.

River, of course, is also a continuity issue in progress. If River perhaps eventually kills the Doctor, it’s a rare author who deals which such monumental elements of the Doctor’s life (however obliquely – so far), much like the skirting around his name in The Girl in the Fireplace and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. (This suggestion also calls to mind what Lawrence Miles did with the Doctor’s corpse in (the brilliant) Alien Bodies.)

I am a little dubious about a character who’s predicated around ‘being mysterious' - hopefully just not indefinitely. Like the revelation of the Star Whale not quite matching up to the apparent magnitude of Starship UK’s secret, there’s always a worry that the truth about River will be underwhelming if it’s dragged out too long. (Having said that, that’s a measure of how fast things move in The Broadband-Speed Age, seeing as this is only her second appearance.)

Given everything River apparently knows (the Doctor’s name, again, and how to fly the TARDIS or write in Old High Gallifreyan), I just hope the series can muster the scale to realistically portray their relationship – whatever that relationship turns out to be. This was my worry with Silence in the Library; that future stories wouldn’t do justice to how expansive their relationship seems when told as backstory. The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone has certainly raised more unexpected questions, so I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

Also in terms of unanswered questions, presumably the people who also mentioned this are simply reading too much into a continuity error (of the production variety), but when the Doctor returns to Amy to tell her, “Remember what I told you when you were seven,” he appears to have both rolled up his sleeves in one shot, and regained his jacket in another. I doubt this is deliberate, as there just isn’t enough emphasis, but… will he return to this scene in a later story? Hmm.

As for Amy, I was starting to find it hard not to see her as a return to the old days, in that she hadn’t really contextualised her adventures in relation to her real life... I’m not convinced whether this is good enough any more, so I’m glad she expressed a desire to go home, even if only briefly; it’s good to see her acknowledge the life she’s been prevaricating about.

While we’re on the subject of the return to chez Pond… I’m sure loads of people (Daily Mail readers?) will loathe Amy’s play for the Doctor, but I loved it; once again, the Moffat administration undercuts the Davies approach. Where Rose was in love with the Doctor, the earnest emo yearning is here replaced by Amy simply wanting to jump his bones.

Though her having a wide-on for the Doctor is very funny, it does seem to come out of nowhere. I like that she’s a bit wanton though (on the night before her wedding, no less!); it makes her more human than Rose or Martha’s mooning around. Also, if Amy is perhaps a return to a pre-2005 companion template, the Eleventh Doctor’s reaction to her advances feels like a return to the Doctor of old who was completely befuddled by sex (a far cry from the Tenth's glee in having apparently devirginised Elizabeth I...). Although, let’s face it, One to Seven never even made it to first base, unless Polly got the horn in a lost episode or something. (Look, if previously unheard-of test footage of the first regeneration has just been found, anything’s possible.)

When not fighting off sexually rapacious companions, I’m slightly surprised the Doctor didn’t encounter the Angels face to face more, given that this is the first time we've really seen them together. Although, I guess there's only so much interaction you can have with something that doesn't move when you're looking at it. Speaking of which, it was fantastic seeing the Angels move when Amy’s eyes were shut; though obviously not stop-motion, there was something pleasingly Harryhausen-like about the sinuous movements of 'stone' figures. (Also very reminiscent of certain moments in Mike Nichols’ Angels in America.)

I do wonder though if the Weeping Angels are too complicated, relatively speaking, to ensure their longevity? Compared to the Daleks (fascistic robot creatures) or Cybermen (mechanised humans), stone statues that are defined by the rules governing them (you have to stare at them… but not for too long) aren’t perhaps straight-forward enough to support numerous rematches. Look at Victory of the Daleks though; maybe that’s for the best.

Like The Beast Below’s glorious production design, the ludicrous idea of a forest aboard a space ship is quite inspired, and, as with The Eleventh Hour, it's wonderful to see more non-urban environments. It also forms a good hunting ground for the Angels, but, it must be said, in terms of the much-overstated ‘scare factor,’ the Angels are creepy, and they’re used effectively to create tension… but this is no scarier than Doctor Who’s ever been. Though a combination of humour and scares is bread and butter to Doctor Who, perhaps this is due to a jokiness which persists from the previous four series – especially in regard to the Doctor – which all too often means the former negates the latter.

I’m slightly uncertain as to how to feel about this story, but I think that’s mainly down to the frustration of not being able to put it into the context of an entire season yet. As Matt Smith’s first two-parter though, it’s a welcome addition to the student-Doctor’s freshman year, where – for once - the resolution to the cliffhanger is actually better than the cliffhanger itself. Crap titles, though.

*I can forgive Jean-Pierre Jeunet pretty much anything, but still - what?!