Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Written by Gareth Roberts, directed by Steve Hughes, 2011

Being a fan of The Lodger, I was very much hoping this’d make a hat-trick of high-quality consecutive episodes, yet in the end it erred somewhat too much on the side of mundanity. Not quite as funny or likeable as the previous Colchester-set offering, the general tone is undoubtedly congenial, but let down by the marginalised and somewhat ineffectual Cybermen. Seriously: impassive robot men with the strength of ten who make people like themselves – this stuff should write itself, yet the Cybermen have nary a handful of effective stories under their shiny belts (for my money, Tomb and The Invasion, and, er…?), and, while it kind of worked in The Lodger, the love-conquers-all ending is pretty weak; conversion is the thing that should give the Cybermen a frisson of abjection, so to have the process overcome by fatherly affection is just… weak. Having said that, it’s characteristically snappy and fun, and I think will no doubt repay multiple viewing, but seems a little bit nothingy at this point in the season.

I know nothing about the finale beyond having seen the RT cover [at the time of originally writing this], so I know Amy and Rory are on hiatus here rather than gone for good already – and let’s face it, they were never going to be written out at the end of an inter-season story – however, I quite like the disruption of the norms of companions’ coming and going by having them not appear. Craig makes a surprisingly good surrogate comp, though it makes me realise, given the Tenth Doctor’s multiple pairings (…slag), how much I’d like to see Eleven in the context of someone new.

As for the coda… Well, let’s leave that until after The Wedding of River Song…though it was nice to see Alex Kingston get to do some Actual Acting for once, as opposed to her usual vamping.

Friday, 25 November 2011

On the possibility of a David Yates feature film

Christ, I’m sick of hearing about the sodding thing already. Mooted cinematic Doctor Who outings have so consistently gone nowhere that this feels too abstract to really believe that in four years I might be here reviewing it.

But – regardless of the actual likelihood of this whole thing coming to aught – my initial response, that refitting Doctor Who for a global audience will no doubt be seen to require some major work, fills me with horror. But, actually, there’s a lot about the template Davies established (and which Moffat has done little to change, fundamentally) that I don’t like in the present incarnation of the series, so the idea of an entirely fresh approach could in fact yield something amazing, and perhaps unprecedented.


Maybe a ‘new take’ (in the sense that the UNIT era, or season 18, or the Cartmel seasons – and numerous others – were relative departures at the time) is quite exciting – there just seems to be an arrogance immediately apparent in Yates’ patronising ‘they did a good job, but we’re going to do something better’ implication… which reet puts my back up. On an entirely first-impressions basis, I’m feeling maybe it’ll be a godsend if this is entirely separate from the series, and even the existing canon/continuity (rendering it as apocryphal as the Dalek movies).

Obviously, speculation at this stage on whether a film might be a continuation of the series, or replace it (at least temporarily), or exist entirely separately, is patently futile, so let’s put that to one side. More to the point, a film, at least if done relatively straightforwardly – eccentric, mysterious time traveller fights aliens – could be great. But David Yates' hand on the tiller doesn’t fill me with massive amounts of confidence. Okay, he’s done some worthy TV, and Harry Potter admittedly isn’t my bag, but he doesn’t strike me as a director with the individualistic or original sensibility that a project like this might really benefit from. (The Harry Potter movies’ self-importance and sense of undeserved weightiness is actually not a million miles away from the TVM. And if you've read my thoughts on that, well – ALARM BELLS, to put it mildly.) Of course, from an industry perspective, what you could politely term ‘a safe pair of hands’ (ie, not a Terry Gilliam) is always going to be the preferred route – the path of least resistance - but creatively, that thinking is death.

In a period characterised by the bastardisation of anything vaguely worthwhile (remaking The Wicker Man, The Ladykillers, Akira, Let the Right One In, Straw Dogs, blah blah blah…), I can’t begin to imagine how horrendous a big-screen ‘reimagining’ has the potential to be. Either the excessive, pointless backstory-wank of the post-Survival movie pitches, or some ‘postmodern’ Bewitched-style metatextual abortion where ‘the Doctor’ is really Peter Cushing’s son. Pretending to be an alien. (Or something.)

I shudder to think the liberties that might be taken in the interests of making the property accessible to a global audience to whom Doctor Who means nothing. If the twenty-first century revival has shown us anything, it’s that respect for the existing series is not only possible in light of an effective reboot, but desirable in terms of depth of story and also fan/audience goodwill. There’s definitely an unfortunate potential for a movie to try to define itself as a separate entity from the series (even if it does prove to be ostensibly linked to the existing continuity) with gratuitous redesigns and rethinking of established elements. (Which seems a bit pointless given the infinite possibility for satisfying adventures within the ‘mad man with a box’ template.) I just really hope things aren’t changed things for the sake of change, or that they're at least justified narratively if they are.

Also, in structural terms, with so much riding on a (by comparison to TV) large budget and a short running time, I can imagine a one-off Doctor Who movie becoming hamstrung by trying to represent the entire franchise with a standalone hour-and-a-half story, and ending up trying to be all things to all people and doing too much. This could be ugly. Given Doctor Who’s ability (in a series) to change from episode to episode, maybe the way to equal that in film would be a wide-ranging, multi-location story akin to Moffat’s finales. It would also be good to see the budget used for foreign location filming outside of the series’ means, but I imagine a biscuit-tin England is more likely, given its ‘Englishness’ will no doubt be used as an international selling point.

More generally, in terms of money, I’ve repeatedly said that, in recent years, my favourite stories have been the lower-budget ones that have to get by on invention rather than money, so the prospect of a big budget take makes my heart sink. Though, on the (admittedly, rather meagre) plus side, a cast of actors of the calibre of Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, John Hurt, Fiona Shaw, et al, in Doctor Who, would be pretty nifty.

So, I dunno. I’m not actually as absolutely scandalised by this announcement as I could be – although apathy could be doing its bit there. A big, fun, exciting, scary, mad adventure (which doesn’t mess up or, necessarily, even engage with existing continuity) – sounds like it should be easy. Just as long as it’s not mired in continuity, backstory, infodumps. Or Gallifrey.

(I’ve seen a lot of messageboard comments suggesting pre-100,000 BC adventures. To which I can only say: please, god, no. Not only because of my massive affection for the earliest seasons, but because (DUH!) elucidating origins that have remained opaque for 50 years would be even more of a disaster than, say, ahem, opening a stand-alone movie with a regeneration. More prosaically, the First Doctor doesn’t even like humans at the time of that first story, and he’s certainly not a moral crusader at that point, so how would earlier stories work? A Hartnell lookalike collecting soil samples hardly screams moneyspinner.)

I will monitor development with… trepidation.

Oh, and, okay, while we’re at it: the inevitable casting mêlée. The one slightly interesting suggestion that I’ve heard so far (read as: which will never, ever happen) is Andy Serkis. I’d go with Toshiro Mifune, myself. But he’s dead. Or take a punt on Klaus Kinski. But he’s insane and dead. Or Tilda Swinton. But that would be too ‘edgy’. Or Simon Russell Beale. But he’s rotund, 50, and no-one knows who he is. More realistically, Chiwetel Ejiofor could be good. Maybe Peter Capaldi, or Dominic West (a burlier Doctor?). Just no-one boringly young, bland and good-looking – ta.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Play with Captain Jack!

Just put a few Character Options action figures on Amazon Marketplace, y'all, in addition to DWMs, books, videos, etc. Check them out!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Dan McDaid

I haven't been following the DWM comic of late, I'm ashamed to say, so I don't know what story this is from, but... I like it. That is all. It's the TARDIS going freaky - that's cool, is it not? And at least I'll be able to catch up now the trade collections are being restarted. (HUZZAH!) But, yeah - Dan McDaid's art is a funny one. I have a lot of time for the comic, and I'm always happy when they branch out and take a punt on artists less concerned with realism than the prevailing style of, say, Martin Geraghty - having said that though, I wasn't massively enamoured when Hotel Historia came along, which just seemed a bit too scratchy and messy... But, having become more familiar through his blog with his style I'd certainly be up for the chance to get round to reading this strip. And he created Majenta Pryce. RESPECT.*



Wednesday, 2 November 2011


Written by Toby Whithouse, directed by Nick Hurran, 2011

TWO IN A ROW! Well, bugger me.

I was quite a fan of Being Human… to start with… even if it did quickly degrade into humourless self-importance - so I’ve always hoped Toby Whithouse’d have it in him to deliver. Much like The Girl Who Waited, a relatively tight, small-scale setting and premise is a massive benefit, as is the fact that Whithouse isn’t working to some horribly hackneyed alien-invasion template. I can’t help thinking in some ways that DW is at its best when taking a slightly mental concept and running with it, rather than just indulging in bog-standard robots-and-spaceship sci-fi-ery.

There’s quite a comic book feel to the story’s premise – nightmares in hotel rooms! – so it’s especially striking that this is then built up into something with a certain amount of genuine emotional kick. The coda may seem a little out of nowhere but works because it fits thematically, while of all the new series’ would-be companion figures, Rita is quite lovely, and feels real, and as such there is a weight to her death that, say, a more contrived character like Lorna Bucket didn’t achieve.

Stylistically, the B&W CCTV footage and various other camera affects are perhaps slightly overegged, but are unusual enough to give the story a unique feel (and it’s certainly welcome to see the show developing a visual identity beyond soap-style point-and-shoot).

Also! ‘A distant cousin of the Nimon’! I love the strange sense of validation when obscure stories are referenced on primetime BBC1.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Get them while they're hot!

Public service announcement:

Just put a couple of years' worth of Tennant-/Smith-era Doctor Who Magazine back-issues on Amazon Marketplace: check! Them! Out!

There's also assorted Doctor Who books, including a copy of Gareth Roberts' The Well-Mannered War - have a scroll through!


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Mel Vogt

I have little time for fan-art. And genre mash-ups between shows are par for the course in that sort of arena. So-oo, I should hate this... But, I only just discovered Adventure Time (I was so excited, I even wrote about it on my not-we page) and I like it enough that I actually think this is pretty cute.

More of Vogt's work here.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Written by Tom MacRae, directed by Nick Hurran, 2011

Okay, so, despite the white void and white robots, this isn’t 'Return to the Land of Fiction'. But – that’s okay, because this is the good stuff. And, yeah – the miraculousness of that doesn’t escape me, coming as it does from the writer of The Age of Steel – aka, THE WORST NEW SERIES STORY EVER.

I’m wary of openings as hackneyed as ‘the Doctor promises a location which he doesn’t deliver,’ but this makes it all the more astounding that The Girl Who Waited has almost immediately become located alongside my favourite episodes of Moffat’s era, Amy’s Choice and The Doctor’s Wife. That is (the latter's fannish grandstanding aside), stories which rely on strong premises and sense of place over flimsy ‘return of the Daleks!’-style concepts; which hold to their internally consistent rules (the failing of Night Terrors); and which are low-key enough to be able to explore that situation.

It’s no coincidence - and I'm aware I always bang on about this - that the ‘cheap’, limited episodes are the ones which are often most satisfying, having as they do to rely on compelling storytelling rather than sloshing money around on special effects. Having said that, this episode does look good, but all the more for being as controlled as the plot itself is. Equally, there really isn’t a lot to the plot, but, akin to mysteriously-opening stories like The Space Museum or The Web Planet, the situation is opaque enough to remain interesting and not develop in an entirely predictable way.

Plus, a major point in its favour: a DIY-samurai Amy, taking a leaf out of River/Liz 10’s book – fabulous! (ACTION FIGURE!) The makeup is even nicely underdone, while her hatred of the Doctor and her embittered outlook on life is convincingly brutal. And the climactic fast/slow robot slice-and-dice is pretty sexy.

The idea of characters ‘waiting’ has recurred repeatedly with Amy and Rory, but rather than feeling repetitious, it’s become a trope that lends some continuity to the characters, and is genuinely expanded upon here rather than simply being referred back to as a smug little nod. The various moral dilemmas here also don’t seem false or rote either, and the emotion seems to develop naturally - as opposed to the inevitable re-establishement of the ideal (and highly predictable) status quo in Night Terrors.

Obviously emotionalism has become a tenet of the revivied series, yet often its development can seem as textbook as a lazy pre-titles death, so it’s something of a joy when that emotionalism creates something genuinely moving, given how absurd a series it is we’re talking about.

I don’t have a great deal to say about The Girl Who Waited because I liked it so much it seems counterproductive to pick over it too much. But, a sincere development of Rory and Amy’s relationship is always going to be welcome, as is a return to a more authentically ‘adult’ tone adult tone. On this evidence – unlikely though it feels to be typing this – Tom MacRae is more than welcome to return for future seasons.

(Also, the reference to ‘Disneyland, Clom’ made me laugh more than anything else so far this season.)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Dan Hipp

I love illustrators who work in really bold, distinctive styles, and especially given his unashamed pop-cultural glee (Tintin vs Aliens, anyone?) Dan Hipp's work is consistently exhilarating and effortlessly cool. So, I love that he’s done a Eleventh Doctor illustration, but considering there’s so much that could be done with Doctor Who, I wish he’d done… more.

Loads and loads of other stuff here. (Warning: it's quite addictive.)


Monday, 10 October 2011


Written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Richard Clark, 2011

As this is the sort of second-tier episode we’ve seen so many times before, why isn’t it at least proficient? (And given that no-one has a good thing to say about Fear Her, why sanction something that comes across as little more than a rehash?) In the face of these seasons’ increasingly baroque approach to arcs, the idea of stories based round relatively basic scenarios is an appealing one (not because Moffat’s approach is ‘too’ complex, simply because the show is increasingly appearing rather too desperate to impress)… But despite how easy that sounds, Night Terrors doesn’t entirely deliver.

I’m sure Mark Gatiss is lovely fellow – but I don’t rate him as a writer. Not least since his brand of unreconstructed ‘trad Who’ grates so much, as it’s almost entirely founded on a spurious good-old-days behind-the-sofa nostalgia, which seems to necessitate the regulars being split up, and liberal amounts of textbook corridor-wandering. Let’s Kill Hitler may have been almost absurdly batshit crazy, but at least its melange of varied locations and flashbacks is inestimably more ambitious than a script like this. It reeks of wannabe ‘classic storytelling’ – yet despite the familiarity of its component parts, Gatiss manages to make his story both wildly ‘untidy’ (despite its generally simplistic premise in practise it seems weirdly overcomplicated), yet also rather too slight. The SJA-style ‘he’s an alien’ justification for the whole situation, and its saccharine happy ending are pretty bit weak, too (well, happy ending until the greasy landlord comes to collect, I imagine).

Overwhelmingly though, this is a bit of a too-transparent attempt to ‘do a scary one’ – though at least this belies and contrasts the opener’s rollicking broadness. The dolls are pretty freaky (though who’d give a child a house with figures like that in the first place?!), though an old dark house and disembodied child laughter are ridiculously old hat. Visually, it’s a shame they didn’t make more of the (obvious-from-the-wooden-pan) dollshouse, plumping for location filming rather than a set which could’ve more realistically replicated the scaled-down simplicity of a dollshouse, and made more of the oversized Planet of Giants props.

Ultimately its failings are in its lack of cohesion – even the various ways in which the incidental characters are taken suggests the story could’ve done with some judicious tightening up: people being sucked into a dollshouse: okay (though the lack of reference to the previous story’s miniaturisation makes its reshuffling pretty obvious) – the lift and the bin bag bit prob weren’t necessary.

Where it succeeds is in returning the show to a “could get a bus here” location – it’s been a while, and given my initial feelings about series one’s urban locales, it’s unexpectedly agreeable to be back somewhere akin to the Powell Estate, especially in the company of this most whimsical of Doctors. Less positively, I wondered at the time of A Christmas Carol whether the new series’ engagement with child characters (something unknown in the old series) would start to get old. It is something of a no-brainer, but I admit I’m starting to become a bit apathetic to it, maybe cos the Doctor-as-oversized-kid is maybe a bit of an over literal representation of his anti-establishment outsider status.

I’m sure Gatiss has got a good story in him; this just isn’t quite it. As I say, I think the notion of a ‘traditional’ Doctor Who story is kind of a nonsense – but though none of his TV stories have been entirely successful to my mind, it feels like there must be a Doctor Who and the Silurians-style unreconstructed number somewhere in his mind; something that’d work without being pulled between old-school straight-forward adventure and new series emotionalism. Or maybe just a full blooded monster story with graveyards and things. Yeah, there you go: someone pass that brief on: “graveyard and things” – go!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Elin Jävel

Apologies for the chopping-and-changing in the design department ('design'; I use the word loosely). I'll get it nailed... One of these days. (Sigh. I hate Blogger.)

But, in the meantime, THIS! This is great. Not only do I love that someone has made a doll of the Eleventh Doctor - and a non-realist one to boot; Character Options have got that covered - but I particularly love that it has the vibe of something that's been lurking at the back of an Eastern European toyshop. For forty years.

(More Deviations by Jävel here.)

Thursday, 6 October 2011


Written by Steven Moffat, directed by Richard Senior, 2011

Well – I seem to increasingly be saying this about Steven Moffat’s stories, but that was a queer fish. There’s lots of fun to be had here, and some lovely moments, but once again we get a rather self-involved tangle of wrapping-up and foreshadowing played out among the four main characters, in a situation which might as well have taken place anywhere. Like most people, I’m somewhat relieved quite how much the Hitler situation turned out to be ratings-baiting misdirection, but equally, I’d quite like Moffat to actually deliver an honest-to-goodness plot that occupies definite location, and features more than a handful of very minor characters in addition to the regulars. (Certainly, none of his event episodes have delivered as well as his first finale, which somehow managed to balance scale with a tangible sense of plot development.)

It’s a concession I’m slightly loathe to make, not least because it was a dynamic I’ve always been so disapproving of in the Davies era, but I suppose this story’s reliance on twists, set-pieces and the laying of future groundwork is acceptable in a season premiere (well, kind of). It goes without saying that the series’ ability to support a story featuring “a time-travelling, shape-shifting robot operated by tiny angry people”, a Hitler cameo, and an evil early Melody and the regeneration into the River we know – and more – is a prime example of Doctor Who’s deliciousness. But, equally – and, I suppose we can again lay this at the door of the ‘event episode’ defence – the series seems to be sliding in a somewhat lighter direction than Moffat’s avowed ‘dark fairytale’ mentality might initially have suggested. However, I say that with no foreknowledge of the remainder of this half-season, so who knows – it just concerns me somewhat that the Doctor is almost entirely a comic figure by this point.

As for River, in a way I sort of preferred her as a mysterious-but-glam archaeologist, though it’s undeniably good fun to see her psychopathic programming in action. Mels takes the piss a bit though: she’s like a refugee from some alternative-universe Hollyoaks-demographic version of the series. Mainly though, the sudden advent of a character in this way both reinforces the sense of Moffat’s on-the-hoof manipulation of at least the details of his own masterplan, whilst coming across as a contrivance too far. It’d be almost an unforgivable cheat, perhaps only justifiable because it involves River, and she can get away with anything.

Case in point: River giving up her regenerative ability to save the Doctor is pretty neat, and doesn’t feel like a pat reversal of his death-by-lipstick, but then, River’s Time Lord powers seem a bit too neat to me anyway. (Though the Doctor’s description of her as the ‘child of the TARDIS’ goes some way to suggesting a semi-conscious helping hand on the part of the old girl which sits slightly better with me that the idea that anyone shagging on board will produce a brand new Time Lord.)

What else? There are lots of pleasing nods – Rose, Martha and Donna’s images seemed a bit unnecessary, but the reappearance, even briefly, of young Amelia, and the glimpses of Amy and Rory’s pre-Doctor Leadworth lives are appreciated.

However, overall, there’s something quite shonky about this story – an uneven, slightly clunky tone, as well as the plot. It feels slightly, at the moment, like the River/Silence saga might keep on unfolding, forever, in ever more tortuous ways, but I guess when this arc is resolved it may be easier to accept Let’s Kill Hitler as the balls-to-the-wall romp that Moffat no doubt intender. And, fair enough.

Also: like the Doctor’s new coat. It’s good. Also, I found the Tesser-whatsit’s antibodies hearteningly crap.

NB: I enjoy the tortuousness of Moffat’s arc; but, I have to say, I kind of hope, next year – are we getting new companions?! – stripping things back wouldn’t be entirely unwelcome and might be quite refreshing. The unravelling of River’s identity, her killing of the Doctor, blah blah: as a dedicated follower, though it can get a tad overwrought, it’s satisfying to watch it all unravel, but, really, what did a casual viewer think of this?! I feel like the aforementioned Big Bang, say, wrapped itself up quite neatly, but in ways self-contained enough to not be entirely baffling.., whereas, this…

Saturday, 1 October 2011

'Shall We Destroy?' - reborn!

Well, mercy me, I'll be goddamned; SWD? has been idle, necessarily, for quite some time - but now, as (I'm sorry to say) I don't have any international jaunts on the horizon (...or a job), I intend to update with something approaching regularity for the foreseeable.

First things first, obviously there's series 6b to get out of the way (but I can't be fagged with Miracle Day...). Then, as I've been suffering classic series withdrawal somewhat, I'm planning on allowing myself a strict regimen of Doctor-by-Doctor stories (as per my previous Ten Stories series) - as a way to avoid spiralling off into an endless spiral of VHS-consumption...

So what else is already on here? Well, there's a handful of articles, of sorts, on DWM's 'Mighty 200' countdown, on the Doctors themselves, on the Doctors' costumes, top novels... Then there's the aforementioned series of Ten Storiesstory-by-story reviews of series one and Matt Smith's debut seasona whinge about (old-school) Torchwood masquerading as a review of From Out of the Rain; and standalone reviews of Evil of the Daleks, The Massacre, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, An Unearthly ChildFang Rock, Paradise Towers, Invasion of the DinosaursThe Smugglers, Planet of the SpidersRevelation of the Daleks, the Voyager and A Cold Day in Hell! comics collections - amongst others. Have a browse.

I've also accumulated a large array of visual apocrypha, with which I plan to continue gradually interspersing the reviews. This one's credited to 'Art Grafunkel' (which I presume is this guy), from a series of unbound Thirteenth Doctor designs, others of which I've posted before - here. A female Doctor with clown makeup, in an African blanket, fishnets, with a sonic staff/spear and a serpentine cybermat. This should be totally absurd, but somehow I like it; it has a confidence few of the other unbound Doctors from that ‘challenge’ did, both in terms of its visual realisation and in its concept; most of the others where white men in period costumes, so I appreciate the fact that, by comparison, this is a slightly bizarre imaginative leap.

So, SWD? isn't dead. Yet. Enjoy.

(PS - oh, BTW: assorted Doctor Who oddments for sale HERE, on Amazon Marketplace.)


Monday, 5 September 2011

Missing the first half of series six was bad enough, but this is just ridiculous.

(Updates in a few weeks, y'all...)

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


Written by Steven Moffat, directed by Peter Hoar, 2011

Last update for a while, as I’m going to South America for three months. If I don’t die, I will return to post more in October. Mm, the anticipation’s so palpable, I could bottle it...

Well. Doctor Who has repeatedly confounded expectations this season (at least in the event episodes), and so – again – I find it quite hard to know what to think of this episode. Less a story, as with The Impossible Astronaut, and more a culmination of various plot strands and scene-setting for continued narrative, its resultant lack of resolution renders it somewhat less than the triumphant story it’s been heralded as.

Don't get me wrong - in some ways it’s highly impressive, not least for having a structure pretty much unlike any previous DW story, with its various fleeting visits to disparate locations – in former years the sort of thing only budget-less media like the novels or comics could muster. I absolutely applaud this sort of outside-the-box thinking; DW is all about variety, but stories like The Curse of the Black Spot or The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People belie the possibilities that affords by delivering such staggeringly overfamiliar premises.

In A Good Man Goes to War, though not up with Moffat’s best – or maybe it didn’t feel quite worthy of him for the lack of voices over radios, memorably contrived monsters, or even narrative chicanery – it’s in its ability to prove that Doctor Who’s box of tricks need never be emptied in which it suceeds. Otherwise, there is something lacking to it. Like the season opener, it suffers for its dearth of answers – which, as I don’t really care that much about how a general audience might respond, doesn’t really matter a great deal, as they will presumably come; though we get a couple of biggies here (who the 'impossible astronaut' was and why she could regenerate; River’s identity – more on that later), the basics are somewhat neglected. 

For example, the Eye Patch Lady – maybe we’ll get to know more about her, but I wouldn’t be that surprised if the details will be considered unimportant and we’ll have to simply accept that she’s the head of a Doctor-hating organisation… just because she is. This role inevitably brings back memories of Army of Ghost’s Torchwood 1, so perhaps it’s a mercy that that was fumbled so spectacularly (a woman with bad hair in a white room with some soldiers) that this can’t help but have slightly more impact. Still, it is a bit flimsy – a default baddie: a militia on a secret base. But then, coming up with a non world-domination premise is pretty good. The grandeur the episode aspires to, certainly in its first quarter is laudable, but perhaps doesn’t quite come off, and feels almost unbalanced in its size (would, say, the Third Doctor really have bothered to scour the universe and tear battlefleets apart to find Jo Grant? Even if she was carrying Mike Yates’ child).

That aside, Moffat nevertheless makes some of the tricks he’s already previously played seem impressively fresh, like the cameoing guest characters from previous stories; I was somewhat dubious about a surplus of returning monsters (…again), but that he makes this work in a different way than in The Pandorica Opens is quite a thrill. (I was all ready to rant about how no-one really gives two shits about the Silurians or the Sontarans (“Don’t slump; it’s bad for your spine”) being rolled out as a gambit for ratings, so I’m massively appreciative in this instance for an entirely unexpected take on raiding Millennium FX’s storeroom.)

But - while I’m a sucker for glimpses of new characters and situations from Doctor Who’s huge universe, and as charmed as the next ming-mong by the idea of a sword-wielding lesbian Silurian crimefighter in Victorian London, broadly-sketched characters based more in concept than characterisation are symptomatic of – for all the talk of how ‘dark’ the series is becoming – the cartoonish universe Doctor Who inhabits. That it’s hard, for example, to imagine, say, Jago and Litefoot coexisting with Madame Varna, even though they share the same peasouper milieu, goes some way to illustrating how much the series' tone has shifted across the years. As with the lack of answers, or insufficiently developed Actual Plots, the guest characters here do seem rather underwritten and ultimately only really fodder for Character Options (Arthur Darvil even describes it on Confidential as feeling like a dream team of action figures and cartoon characters).

Moving on - as for that revelation (spoilers! Of course): well, River Song’s identity is unsurprisingly a victim of its own expectations. I suppose I was expecting that Moffat’s tortuous imagination would confound us all, so her identity being relatively easy to guess (as one of only a few viable options), certainly given the clues in this episode, is a bit underwhelming. Also - and I don’t know how I feel about this - there’s the fact that her identity doesn’t really change anything… 

In a way, I'd've almost preferred that she turned out to have been a baddie or have dubious allegiances, or at least play up here moral ambiguity. The question of her physiognomy does raise some questions, but it’s overshadowed for me by it all seeming slightly cobbled together: Amy and River’s names tie in, but that could be happenstance on Moffat’s part; also, she’s never previously given her parents anything but the most cursory attention, which doesn’t ring true and makes the whole thing feel like a last minute fix. I don’t buy the idea that Moffat is pulling things out of his arse as he goes, but there wasn’t the big, ‘Ah, OF COURSE! It all fits together!’ moment which I was hoping for. (Especially when there’s loose ends like, why did River investigate the child and the spacesuit as if she knew nothing about it?) Also, the effect of the circumstances of her conception seem a bit too easy to me, whereas (perhaps because it hasn’t been the subject of a few years’ speculation) at least the baby’s appropriation as a weapon in a campaign against the Doctor himself is rather neat and satisfying. Though, personally, I thought it’d make most sense for the child in the opener to be River and the Doctor’s.

Still, whatever I feel about River’s identity, it doesn’t invalidate the character, and there’s still interesting things for her to do (killing 'the best man she ever knew'; perhaps even marriage? Which would make Amy and Rory the Doctor’s in-laws…). 

At least, though the hyperbole surrounding the Doctor reaches hitherto unseen heights here (something I've been becoming bored with), it’s refreshing to find this story fundamentally engaging with the idea that the Doctor’s self-aggrandisement and ‘impending godhood’ isn’t necessarily the best path along which to take the character. Perhaps disappointing is the total failure of the story to live up to its own bullshit: darkest day? Anger being new? We-ell, not really. That’s the trouble with hype; we’ve seen the Doctor go so much further into dark, vengeful territory in The Waters of Mars and The Family of Blood, while having him confronted with his own failings would be interesting if it hadn’t already been done in former story, and even Journey’s End.

In short… Well, I don’t really know what to think. As with my reaction to The Impossible Astronaut, there’s almost too much detail to take in… but also too little story to be ultimately satisfied. As with Moffat’s earlier contribution to this half of the season, it’s unarguably impressively audacious, and genuinely does new things with the series, certainly ramping the story-arc format to hitherto unseen heights. But, I feel we have to admit that judgement must be deferred until the autumn, when maybe some resolution will retroactively render this mid-season finale a landmark rather than a mildly frustrating curiosity.

More broadly, I’ve come to prefer the finale episodes of the Moffat administration over the dispiritingly soulless affairs they were under Davies, but, still, the thinking that increasing the amount of event episodes with a split season like this equates to a big win seems dubious territory to me; predicating the series around shock tactics and revelations is a dangerous, ever-escalating precedent to set – I’d much rather see storytelling held above attention-seeking twists, which, paradoxically, both court and alienate mainstream audiences (based on mainstream reaction). A Good Man is an exciting, confident episode, but outside of its place in this story arc, one wonders how much merit it’ll have in future; ironically for a hugely hyped EVENT EPISODE, I cant imagine it being held up as a massive classic in the way the more self-contained and satisfyingly standalone Doctor’s Wife could conceivably be.

But, yeah. ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ is a brilliant title, anyway, and given the strength of this half-season’s highs, I’m pretty excited. Only two stories were underwhelming, and generally speaking the remainder more than made up for any shortcomings, delivering some extremely successful and surprisingly challenging entries into Doctor Who’s canon.

But, until then, questions and speculations…

  • Why’d the church give the child to the Silents to look after? (...I hope there actually is going to be a satisfying answer to this and not just ‘because they did’.)
  • The deliberately playful intimations of incest or hardcore ‘hanky-panky in the TARDIS’ aside, surely the idea of River growing up as the love interest of someone who’s essentially her godfather is a bit freaky, is it not…?
  • Initially I didn’t like either “I speak baby” or the idea of Time Lords developing through exposure to the vortex – but, actually, both those ideas do make sense (especially given the seeming existence of a Time Lord rank and then a Gallifreyan hoi-polloi).
  • Interesting in retrospect seeing the things that have been foregrounded in previous stories – not so much stuff like the Flesh, but the signposting that, say, Amy and Rory do, yes, have a bedroom onboard the TARDIS, etc.
  • And, most nigglingly - why would the Doctor’s own cot be onboard the TARDIS, hmm? Was William Hartnell dragging it around with him when he decided to nick her (or her him). It doesn’t even make sense that he might have used it for Susan, as she apparently remembered Gallifrey - so who’s this someone else Alex Kingston has let slip it was used for...?
(More questions, here, on Bleeding Cool.)

PS I’m ashamed to say I missed the Silurian cunnilingus gag. What’s wrong with me?!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


Written by Matthew Graham, directed by Julian Simpson, 2011
You can find a version of my review of The Rebel Flesh here, on Kasterborous.
Tempting though it is to simply write “Shit sandwich” in lieu of a proper review, fanboy completism compels me to give it an at least slightly less desultory shot than that.
There’s nothing wrong with these two episodes – well, there is; they’re lazy and inconsistent and poorly developed, but Doctor Who’s been knocking out stories like this since… forever, so it feels a bit churlish to get the claws out. The thing that gets me is that, as showrunner, Steven Moffat can’t fail to be acutely aware of which stories in any given run are going to be the flabby also-rans that no-one’ll bother to rewatch on the DVD boxset. Maybe it’s necessary to throw the audience a bone and deliver some unreconstructed running-around-in-corridors, but… I don’t really by that that should be part of the programme’s structure, or that the series wouldn’t be improved if, as far as possible, it never let its ambition slip as low as this.
Okay, so, given a three out of four hit rate so far this season, and especially having the unenviable task of following up the impeccable Doctor's Wife, The Rebel Flesh suffers from not being an event episode. But then, I’m dubious about the mentality that says ‘event stories’ are fantastically important – I mean, using that phrase to describe the openers and finales where the narrative big-guns are cracked out. But then, title aside, The Doctor’s Wife isn’t easy to pigeonhole as an event episode in that way: no season-long plot strands come together, there’s no revelations about anyone’s character or origins… But it feels special just because it’s not only hugely imaginatiove, but well enough written to do justice to those ideas.

Even accepting the idea that dependable, nuts-and-bolts Doctor Who is desirable, what does this story have to work with? Karma-tempting overconfidence in scientific advances is hardly fresh territory, while having the Doctor wrestle with humanity's potential for inhumanity is becoming something of a shop-worn subgenre in itself – although, in fairness, at least the script attempts to engage with the resulting questions of what it is to be human. Throwing in the ever-present threat of acid is hardly the narrative flourish that might’ve redeemed matters.

In the interests of not being a totally unremitting bastard for a thousand words, Matthew Graham’s second contribution to the series may be unlikely to win many accolades, but despite a slow and somewhat infodump-heavy opening, it at least avoids the schematic seen-it-all-before pitfalls of stories like (most recently) The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. It’s not even the worst story of the season – curseoftheblackspot, cough cough. As the action gives way to a more low-key creepiness – in keeping with season six's increased gothicism – Graham steers the story away from the action end of the Doctor Who spectrum into more engaging territory. The ganger head on a snaking neck – sort of an early-evening take on Cronenberg's version of The Thing – is pretty freaky, but it does feel there's still a lot of untapped potential for clammy who's-who paranoia which isn't entirely satisfied in the first instalment.

Unfortunately, I think any goodwill this territory might’ve clawed back is fairly comprehensibly squandered by The Almost People, which fails utterly to do anything interesting with the story. Again, The Doctor’s Wife plays against it; by comparison, this more straight down the line narrative can't help but feeling naggingly unsatisfying. Similarly, in launching the series with a story that matches or outdoes the complexity and relatively serious dramatic register previously built up over several episodes in previous seasons, it's a slight disappointment to regress (as in The Curse of the Black Spot) to a lighter, less character-driven approach. It's notable also that the more, uh, jobbing writers often fail to capture the regulars so effortlessly. Especially when it comes to the Doctor, unlike when written by Moffat or Gaiman, there is a risk of his becoming a collection of traits and wisecracks rather than a living, breathing interpretation – despite Matt Smith's continued dedication to the character.

Okay, I feel a bit back spewing so much scorn. Perhaps it is too harsh to see The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People as anything other than a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin return to the age-old base under siege format (albeit under siege from within). There are elements which strike on first viewing at least as unconvincing or a little unfortunate: a solar storm? Uh-huh. And pumping acid? From... where, exactly?; the slightly sitcom-ish suddenly-messy TARDIS interior; the-woman-from-Teachers’ abruptly changeable character (surely in a story lazy with doppelgangers, well sketched out characterisation is something of a must?); the two-parter tendency to stretch out a story over double the usual length, rather than sustaining the single-parters’ pace for twice as long; Muse. At least we're given a setting rocking the inherently memorable collision of ancient and technological which has been working since, say, The Ice Warriors’ combination of country mansion and pop-art catsuits. And, at least they didn't miss the ganger-Doctor boat; we haven't had a Doctor-double since... well, okay, since Journey's End. But you can never have too many Doctors. 

But then you get the dispiritingly raft of schematic plot points that you can’t help but see coming from a mile off. Male Guest Character #1’s despicably saccharine son; painfully contrived Noble Self-Sacrifices so as to prune the narrative loose ends, rather than resolving it through organic storytelling (and conveniently leaving no doubles) so as to prune the narrative loose ends, rather than resolving it through organic storytelling (and conveniently leaving no doubles – you can’t tell me there REALLY was no alternative to both ganger-Teachers-woman and ganger-Doctor sacrificing themselves?!). And don’t forget to throw in an arbitrary eleventh-hour monster! (Speaking of which - is anyone else feeling withdrawal for full-blooded slavering monsters this season? Even the Silents were genteel enough to wear suits.)
Add to that some Castrovalva-style impressions of past Doctors’ catchphrases (the naffest kind of ‘kiss to the past’) and another example of this series’ repeated insistence on solving everything with numerous guest characters trooping into the TARDIS (I mean, I know Moffat has a chubby for the Davison era, but didn’t everyone hate that back then?), and you get an exceedingly disillusioned viewer.
And then, as if that weren’t enough, even more laughably - riddle me ree, but doesn’t the Doctor’s out-of-hand liquefication of Amy’s ganger negate the WHOLE BASTARD PREMISE of the story, which just shows what pointless posturing all its ‘we’re equally valid too’ bollocks was. Squirm your way out of that one, Graham.
It’s even more galling that the lacklustre entirety of these two parts exist only to facilitate its final scene. I didn’t see the ganger-Amy revelation coming… well, before the coda, anyway… but the prior hour and a half of mediocrity numbed my ability to care somewhat. And, as natal body horror cliffhangers go, nothing can or ever will beat the fully-grown head of Udo Kier being born at the conclusion of the first series of Lars von Trier’s diabolically brilliant The Kingdom.
…But, having said all that, my seven-year-old niece appreciatively dubbed The Rebel Flesh “the scariest one ever,” so what do I know?

Thursday, 9 June 2011


Written by Steven Moffat, directed by Toby Haynes, 2011

I feel I may have been overly harsh with The Impossible Astronaut. It’s just that, while I applaud increased complexity in the series, I feel it could/should be better handled than as simply a plate-spinning exercise – yet, Day of the Moon worked for me in almost all the ways the previous instalment didn’t. Whereas that was forty-five minutes of frustrating and seemingly directionless foreplay, this flows and starts to makes sense, rather than being too busy delivering a zinging high-concept opener to bother with such trivialities as even a suggestion of where the plot was going to go.

The three-months-later opening is a typical Moffat curveball, and gives a welcome sense of scope (as it’s rare for a story to take place over more than a few days), which is also matched by the story’s geographical shifts. If you’re going to bother setting a story in America, I suppose it’d be a mistake to overlook the country’s ridiculous scale.

The more outré elements of Moffat’s approach to storytelling deliver some surprising and arresting moments (the Silence-flanked child-astronaut; Nixon appearing from a sealed prison cell), and generally gel better than in the jumpy first part. His continued (and impossible to ignore) reliance on familiar tropes – recordings/transmissions; a sinister child; writing on walls; monsters based round childhood fears; even down to specific elements like River’s freefall into the TARDIS – would be getting absurd if they weren’t coupled with an actual plot this time round.

Speaking of which, though grateful for it showing its face, I’m not sure this plot holds up to scrutiny that well; in fact, a lot of it doesn’t make a great deal of sense (as pointed out on Tachyon TV) - but, crucially, Moffat has a knack for circumnavigating these criticisms with events that seem absolutely, intuitively right, so you forgot they're not necessarily logical. So, on the surface at least we have a coherent story – which almost made me forget til the end that a) the Doctor’s willing self-sacrifice, b) the Silence/the Silents’ part in last season’s TARDIS explosion, c) Amy’s pregnancy, d) Frances Barber in a futuristic eyepatch, e) the identity of the Child, and f) holy shit, that cliffhanger… are all utterly unaddressed – and on top of the promised reveal re River.

I really, really hope none of the answers to these questions fall by the wayside. Perhaps it’s more frustrating though that the entire explanation for this plot is left hanging – what are the Silents trying to achieve with their occupation? And what do they need the child for – why the life-support? (Tying into the space race simply because they needed the suit seems a tad tenuous.) Also, why does the child only bust out of the spacesuit after her encounter with Amy? And is she no longer important once the Silents have Mrs Pond? And is the Aickman Road pseudo-TARDIS the Silents’, or something they’ve nicked? Can it time-travel?

And as for the Silents themselves: they're relatively freaky, in a Munch-does-the-Grim-Reaper double-whammy of tick-box creepiness, although not really outdoing the Weeping Angels as Best Moffat Monsters. I mean, why has no-one pointed out that a monster you can’t look away from is basically THE SAME PREMISE as the Weeping Angels? Or at least, leads to the same ‘don’t take your eyes off them’ scenarios. But, at least the inversion of the expected invader status is original, as is their having been on earth indefinitely. (Although this does smack slightly of the disclosure of Torchwood 1’s hitherto-unsuspected century-long presence – though at least this is kind of self-retconning concept.) The idea that every time the Doctor has or will land on pre-late-sixties earth they’re there is quite odd, and gives a sense of weight to the episode – but without necessitating Davies-style suspension-of-disbelief-busting and conspicuous worldwide incursions. The brilliantly satisfying conclusion wherein the human race fights off its oppressors… without knowing about it, is quite delicious.

What else? A less jokey, more emotionally convincing take on Amy and particularly Rory’s relationship works well. While I commend the twenty-first century version of the series’ insistence on being all things at once – funny, moving, scary, etc – the gap between the Chris Cunningham-lite of hordes of Silents clustering on the ceiling and the ever-present fanfare of The Star-Spangled Banner heralding Nixon’s various arrivals (which I though was very funny) nevertheless gives rises to some massive tonal lurches. Unless I was just feeling particularly uncharitable for part one, Day of the Moon seems more convincingly creepy, with its forays into (southern) gothic territory, but this did make me wonder whether it would have been more compelling without the underlying jokiness, for once?

Moffat’s tortuous approach to the series makes it increasingly difficult to make informed judgements, at least about an ‘event’ story such as this. I’m torn between being impressed by his audaciousness and also wishing that he’d still write – at least occasionally – with the self-contained coherence of something like Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead.

Also, how many people (like me) assumed from the trailers that the imprisoned Doctor prisoner was a secondary/future version, Jubilee-style?

Written by Stephen Thompson, directed by Jeremy Webb

Stories aping the titles of pop-cultural bilge like The Da Vinci Code or Pirates of the Caribbean are always going to approached (by me) with caution. I didn’t expect massive amounts of originality, and The Curse of the Black Spot spectacularly failed to subvert those expectations. An arbitrary pseudo-historical setting with an arbitrary ‘supernatural’ villain, couched in slightly naff sci-fi terms, cf Tooth and Claw, Vampires of Venice, et al. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

The lazy historical shorthand of this story led me to spend most of the time watching it thinking how I’d inestimably prefer a see the show take the plunge and deliver a genuinely dramatic take on historical settings. Even – the very idea! – a pure historical. Having people say ‘blaggard’ doesn’t a convincing sense of time or place make.

Doctor Who has always been a beast of varying quality, of course – that’s all part of the appeal – perhaps most obviously illustrated by the yawning chasm of quality between The Caves of Androzani and the hot-on-its-heals Twin Dilemma. However, whereas that is at least impressive in its inexplicability, this unsteady volte-face from The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon is perhaps even more dispiriting, as it marks an example of Doctor Who at its most production-line banal. That this story could be entirely transplanted from the second half of this season to the second story in the running order speaks volumes about its inherent pointlessness and paucity of anything approaching originality or character development. A cutesy, precocious, kickable child (actor)? An eye-stabbingly inept father-son relationship, written with no feeling or insight whatsoever? A flippant guest-character-in-the-TARDIS scene? Really?

I might’ve moaned that Moffat took too long to let us in on the plot of his season opener, but at least there were still enough memorable things happening for it to never be less than watchable. This, on the other hand, is less a story, more a collection of contrived injuries, the repeated identical deaths of non-characters, and a criteria for ‘monstrous’ appearances almost more contrived than The Vampires of Venice’s. What a waste of the quite lovely Lily Cole, too, especially considering how good she is in Gilliam’s (overambitious but surprisingly effective) Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus.

I’ll concede that at least the final third stuff is a little unexpected, even if the solution to the situation does lift from Steven Moffat’s Girl in the Fireplace and The Doctor Dances – was Stephen Thompson (who?!) looking to pick up some brownie points with this blatant brownnosing? It does however suffer from the same damaging tonal shift as The Stones of Blood.

How can forty-five minutes of filler be so stretched? Talk about a first draft script; this doesn’t even warrant hating. Listen to The Smugglers instead.

Written by Neil Gaiman, directed by Richard Clark

Well, this is certainly the one I've been looking forward to – if only for that ming-mong-baiting former JN-T decoy title seeing the light of day.

I can take or leave Gaiman – generally there’s rather too much just-because macguffin-based plotting in his writing; nevertheless, the prestigiousness of having him write for the show doesn’t escape me. Yet, my apathy aside, this quickly announces itself as without doubt the work of an original – especially in contrast to the generica of the preceding episode.

Gaiman brings a definite, richly detailed but off-kilter sensibility to the series, which rubs off even on the production design – the eroded formations of the crashed ‘spaceships’, the dresses and the hotchpotch costumes – and there’s a similar richness and depth to the concept at large: a sentient, TARDIS-eating asteroid outside of the universe, and the TARDIS herself being given human form. The latter of which could have been so awful, worthy of all those dreadful post-Survival movie concepts where David Hasselhoff and Eric Idle and god knows who else were mooted as Doctors. I had no idea what was coming so it’s a huge complement that the way it’s handled felt entirely natural, with Idris’ glitchy and non-chronological speech. A lesser writer would’ve just made a human TARDIS a sexy sidekick in a policewoman’s uniform, rather than a Helena Bonham-Carter-style “bitey mad lady,” so I can only be grateful that we dodged that bullet.

Perhaps the most notably thing about this story is how unapologetically fannish it is: from the title down to the throwaway inclusion of an Ood – which shows how misleading trailering can be; this is no recurring monster per se, rather the big-picture perspective of a fan to whom elements from throughout the series’ history are fair game to explore.

In terms of specifics, the Eye of Orion, the Matrix (kind of), and the High Council are namechecked, while ‘House’ and ‘Auntie’ and ‘Uncle’ suggest the Gallifrey of Marc Platt’s Lungbarrow novel; there are hints of Morbius’ Karn (crashed spaceships and stitched-together bodies); then there’s The War Games hypercube things; even corridors! Only an unashamedly slavering fan would give us our only glimpse of new series TARDIS interior space (aside from The Christmas Invasion), or have the Doctor build a console out of the remains of a hundred different crashed TARDISes. Then there’s the archived spare console rooms (that’s so fannish – the idea that any of the previous console rooms could be revisited), Rory’s brief query about the Doctor’s room, and the concept of the TARDIS’ consciousness residing beyond human comprehension or language and across all of space and time, which is straight from the novels.

Even the idea that exploring the Time Lords in post-Time War Doctor Who is entirely viable shows pretty definitively what a ming-mong perspective Gaiman’s coming from: exploring the Doctor’s initial theft (and the neat inversion of it/her being the one doing the choosing); the shaving mirror on the souped-up console… That a story containing all these elements isn’t a massive gushing fanwank of Gary Russell proportions – that’s impressive. It feels like fan fiction with a budget – and, in case you’re not sure, I mean that entirely in a good way, in the sense of the best New or Eighth Doctor Adventures, which drew on a fannish perspective to continuity, but made something new and original out of the ideas they tackled. Also, these things aside, that The Doctor’s Wife is dramatically successful despite consisting of a junkyard, some corridors, and a disembodied voice as an enemy – well, I take my hat off to Gaiman.

Though I really like his American Gods novel and have a soft spot for the Neverwhere series, Gaiman’s not an author I’d expect to praise. I think it just shows though that authors coming out of leftfield (despite being a long-term fan) and bringing a new sensibility to the series can be so much more rewarding than those who evidently feel they know what format is expected (The Curse of the Black Spot) and are afraid – or it doesn’t even occur – to subvert established boundaries. By way of example, the grotesque, Beckett-like Auntie and Uncle are far more interesting than you’d ordinarily expect from such short-lived characters, while ‘House’ - something innocuous made sinister - is so much better a name than some made-up SF bollocks (‘Zolfar,’ or whatever); in these elements, Gaiman unarguably distinguishes himself from the second tier of Doctor Who writers, who’d never inject this much interest into such tiny elements of their scripts.

Likewise, it speaks volumes that the idea of the tattooed Corsair will undoubtedly inspire countless flights of fan-fiction fancy. I love how buccaneering the name is, and, from only the couple of details we're privy to, he/she sounds far more interesting than the numerous other renegade Time Lords the spin-off media in particular has always been littered with.

It’s seldom that I fall a bit in love with every element of a story, but in this case the location, the characters – Idris/the TARDIS especially – House, etc, all did it for me. (And I think while its engagement with fannish preoccupations helped, it certainly wasn’t the be-all of the story, and references to the High Council or whatever wouldn’t have meant diddley had it not brought anything new to the table.) This “plughole of the universe” is one of those situations that could sustain so many more stories (which is surprisingly not that common in Doctor Who), and this magical and strangely moving story makes me very, very keen for Mr Gaiman to become a regularly contributor to the Doctor Who world. (Perhaps a novel...?)

The status of the titular wife could seem a cop-out of Doctor’s Daughter proportions if the story at large weren’t up there with The Girl in the Fireplace or Human Nature; those occasional new series stories where everything is above reproach. In fact, this really does feel like a perfect example of a Doctor Who nailing absolutely every element: it’s mysterious and intriguing, creepy, exciting, funny, moving – yet without the lurches of Moffat’s opener.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Wild Horses of Fire mk. II

Oh dear - another dirty, dirty bit of self-publicity, I'm afraid. 

I posted a while back about my Blogspot movie review blog... but I've now jumped ship to Tumblr, home of kittens, porn, and wannabe-hipsters - so, CHECK IT OUT HERE! Hurrah!

PS Also, while I'm at it, still lots of Doctor Who goodies for sale on Amazon Marketplace HERE (second and third pages). Oooh!

PPS Day of the Moon, The Curse of the Black Spot, and The Doctor's Wife reviews coming soon, I promise! Watch this space, etc.

Saturday, 28 May 2011


Directed by Toby Haynes, written by Steven Moffat, 2011

Talk about tardy to the party. However, I did write this immediately after the episode aired – only circumstances have prevented me posting it till now – so it’s written without any foreknowledge of the subsequent five episodes.

I’ve tried more successfully than normal to avoid all spoilers for this season. Ood… Cybermen… yeah, yeah. But we know this isn’t the real meat. There’s been a real emphasis in interviews and publicity on this season’s game-changing nature, its re-engagement with the mystery of the Doctor, the way it will push the series in whole new, internet-melting directions… All par for the course, you might think, with new series publicity. But the specificity of this hyperbole, the idea that this new run will indeed do some unprecedented things, seems tangible enough that I haven’t been able to stop wondering maybe they do have something definite up their sleeves. It’s all dreadfully, dreadfully exciting anyway.

There’s undoubtedly a danger that this level of massively-inflated hype might derail the series if it’s perceived to have been out of all proportion, but then, it does seem quite apparent that the post-Davies honeymoon period is over, and that’s exciting in itself. Whereas Moffat’s first series mainly adhered to the format laid down by his predecessor, here we appear to be dealing with something entirely different: a two-part opener? And a big, dark, ‘important’ two-parter to boot, the sort of thing previously saved for the last part of the season. Filmed in the US, for the first time. Oh, and a season split in two?

These might not seem like revolutionary changes to a casual audience, so it’s easy to be blasé – but they’re pretty audacious after five years of a quite definitive format. Add to that Moffat’s assertion that where last year was designed to assure those suffering Tennant-withdrawal that the show could continue as successfully, here he’s kicking into gear and willing to challenge the audience in unforeseen ways.

I don’t really watch other genre shows – well, sci-fi – which are the area in which season-long (or longer) story arcs have gained prevalence, so I can’t really comment on the oversaturation that some people seem to feel has hindered their efficacy. (Obviously dramas can have numerous long-running plot strands which may twist and turn and surprise the audience, but this strikes me as being more a reflection of life, whereas plots and schemes and misdirection in something like Doctor Who are a much more contrived form of narrative (not using ‘contrived’ in a necessarily negative way).) I’m quite excited by their potential, especially as it’s a potential I don’t think twenty-first century Doctor Who has yet realised (the ‘memes’ of Davies’ series do not a story arc make). It is in Moffat’s first series that the most fully-formed through-story has been realised, so I’m fascinated to see where he goes with an arc that not only binds a season together but continues directly from the previous one, and, in turns of River Song, from even further back.

While I agree that there may be some concern about story arcs hinging on a level of engagement with the series which might alienate a broader audience (not unlike the early-eighties continuity deluge), I can’t find myself worrying too much. I’m really not going to complain about a surfeit of intelligence or complexity in Doctor Who, and in fact find it massively exciting that Steven Moffat is allowed to go in a direction that demands so much from his audience.

But, on to specifics…

That was a difficult one. Obviously, as a ming-mong, it’s safe to assume that I’m on the series’ side; however, though the audaciousness of a dark, complex, American-set two-part opener isn’t lost on me I am still able to look beyond those elements, and, unfortunately, beyond those elements this episode didn’t satisfy me.

Maybe I’m just too impatient – having grown up with a complete 1963-89 run on tap where I never had to wait for anything to unspool at its own speed – but the twists and questions The Impossible Astronaut raised seemed contrived in a way Moffat’s generally managed to sidestep previously.

Naturally I appreciate that it’s hard to judge a two-parter on its opener alone, but, especially given this is a season opener, surely this is an episode that demands to feel coherent on its own terms, in the sense that The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang, though dependent on each other, also felt satisfactory independently. Similarly, the humour, scares, and complexity don’t hang together as effortlessly as in, say, the similarly wide-ranging Big Bang (which I’ve recently re-evaluated as being the more effective episode of last year’s finale) – here, regrettably, those elements feel just a tad forced. I sort of wish Moffat’d just try to write a solid story with mystery and twists and clues naturally arising from the plot, rather than contriving an all-over-the-place narrative (such as it is) around those things. I have no doubt Moffat can make the next episode pay off, but does that excuse the first episode of the season feeling quite so exclusively expository?

Considering how many ace pre-titles sequences series five provided, The Impossible Astronaut’s opening is slightly baffling – not in terms of understanding it, but simply in appreciating quite why he did it the way he did. Surely something as simple as Amy and Rory’s relationship to the Doctor is unnecessarily complicated by having them suddenly separated from him for two months, rather than have him pick them up from their extended honeymoon (as I’d presumed was the case from the trailers). Also, why did the Doctor even need to attract Amy and Rory’s attention by gallivanting through history – especially when these scenes led to unpleasant echoes of the Tenth Doctor’s pre-End of Time shenanigans.

Perhaps I’m less well disposed to this story because of the aforementioned massive hyperbole that’s preceded it; I’d be very surprised if The Curse of the Black Spot and even The Doctor’s Wife don’t benefit from not having so many elements trumpeted months in advance. The slight sense of anticlimax ranges from the Silents not being any scarier than Doctor Who monsters have ever been, to the sense of underuse of the US locations. Hmm… America. Yes, it’s unusual to see the Doctor there, but I can’t help feel, ‘Ehh. Seen it’. The Silents/Silence are also too obvious an attempt to best the Weeping Angels, and that kind of inorganic approach (‘They’ve got to be THE SCARIEST MONSTERS EVER!!!’) never works. You can’t force these things, and they’re too similar anyway, with their comparable psychological gimmick.

Even in terms of its ‘darkness’, while, yes, unusual for an opener, this story has little more than a veneer of ‘adult’-leaning atmospherics - but no more so than the previous few late-season two-parters. Certainly, tonally, this is far less adult (ie, serious, uncompromising, harrowing) than, say, 100,000 BC or The Daleks (alright, I admit, not up-to-date points of reference…).

To be honest, I’m slightly at a loss as to how to respond to this episode – partly, it seems too much is shoved in, but conversely it felt like nothing actually happened, or, at least structurally, it’d all just been vommed out… Again, yes, it’s the first of a two-parter. But does that excuse how unsatisfying this episode was? The Doctor orchestrating his own death is the only brilliantly Moffat-worthy conceit here, and I’m not sure that warrants the entry fee.

There are also a couple of what, to my mind, seem rare Moffat missteps – which is all the more unfortunate when relating to things that didn’t need tweaking anyway. Namely, River and the Doctor’s lives explicitly going in different directions seems a mistake; I can buy random interactions, but pinning their encounters down to a structure doesn’t really make sense, and takes the fun out of that. (Isn’t very timey-wimey, is it?) Also, my worry with River, since Silence in the Library, has always been: when is there going to be time for the full scope of their relationship to realistically play out? Surely it must be more expansive than just fleeting meetings for occasional adventures? And does her apparent youth in their initial encounters (from her perspective) preclude us getting to see those meetings - or will Alex Kingston be recast?

And, the pregnancy revelation – well… so what? Okay, maybe this will simply be something which drives the Doctor to decide he should no longer be endangering Amy and Rory, but it would at least seem fresher if we hadn’t already seen Mrs Pond great with child (after a manner) in Amy’s Choice. Last year’s cracks through time look increasingly pedestrian in light of Moffat’s escalating tortuousness, but at least it’s a – superficially, at least – easy-to-grasp concept to string through the season. It’s probably pre-emptive, but I’m puzzled that no more definate new-season strands have emerged, despite the Doctor’s death seeming to be being discussed in these terms… Which might just prove a case of overegging the pudding. Could this not be tied up next week…?

Hmm. Definitely one that will stand or fall on its resolution. Can’t help feel I may have been a bit harsh – would I prefer the return of the Adipose? 

...Well, no. Obviously.