Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Time of the Doctor

And so we bid goodnight and goodbye to Matt Smith as the curtain also comes down on 2013. ‘Time of the Doctor’ finishes my marathon too, begun back in February and I have to say, if you ever want to get to a point where you are partially ‘over’ your favourite TV, for a short while at least, then try watching 800 episodes of it in one year. In fact, try it in 11 months. That’s something like three episodes a day on average. So yeah.
The Oswald Christmas
‘Time of the Doctor’, like Moffatt in general, is dividing the Doctor Who ‘community’ with a very clear between those that think it (and he) is brilliant, and those who loathe it all. There are very few in the middle there. ‘Time of the Doctor’ for me is full of fantastic stuff, with equally as much stuff that made my eyes roll like some cantankerous old man who thinks only the Lambert era had anything of value yet watched the following 48 years of the show complaining all the way. And I really don’t want to be that guy. Honestly.
Clara and 'Handles' - the Cyberhead.

So. I really loved the last fifteen minutes, and I adored the way that this Doctor, now the 13th as David Tennant regenerated into David Tennant officially according to the extrapolation in this episode using up a regeneration and counting John Hurt’s Doctor, died of old age. This consisted of two makeup jobs on Matt Smith, one to age him a bit which was very unconvincing, and
Orla Brady as the curious Tasha Kem.
another for right at the end which was superb, and very Hartnell-esque. Matt Smith deserves kudos for his portrayal as much older as well.
The way that he was given a new life cycle, to use the regeneration energy to destroy the Dalek fleet, also, was much better than I feared it was going to be. Something given to save his life through the crack on the wall because Gallifrey was on the other side of it and without the Doctor they will be stuck there forever. So it made sense.
Inside the Papal Mainframe.
Clara’s father, as he is now, was seen for the first time with little impact as was her grandmother and presumably father’s girlfriend. They were treated as mostly irrelevant. The Christmas stuff didn’t work so well, and you’d think the episode would have been much darker had it not gone out on the 25th of December. So I guess we have to make allowances but really, a town called ‘Christmas’. What I wanted to see was it play out over a longer period of time, for the Doctor’s relationship with this town to develop as a little love affair.
Karen Gillan makes a fleeting appearance.
There was a lot of attempts at humour that for me simply fell flat I am afraid. The Doctor being naked essentially for the sake of it, wearing holographic clothes which Clara’s family couldn’t see. Just to show that after all this time, and Matt Smith’s Doctor is supposed to have lived for many hundred years, he still doesn’t get social skills to the point of utter stupidity. I don’t buy it for one second but I also for one second do not blame Matt Smith for it either.
There’s so much I could analyse and
A Hartnell-esque farewell to Matt Smith's Doctor.
say why I didn’t like it, but at least the big questions on my mind were answered, if pretty much in an expedited paragraph of dialogue somewhere in the middle. The Silence and its purpose, Madame Kovarian, the exploding TARDIS. Bit odd to wrap up stuff that hadn’t been mentioned for two series, but hey, that’s the way the Moff rolls.
The change from Doctor to the other was lightning quick and we get to see Peter Capaldi in a very impressive 15 seconds as the Doctor. More traditional? Looks that way. Hopefully a better bunch of eccentricities than we’ve seen from Matt. I liked his Doctor for the most part, but at times he went too far for me. C’est La Vie. I am more excited by the new than upset by the leaving!


Sunday, 29 December 2013

Day of the Doctor

So. I watched this on Sunday morning Japan time November 24th. I watched ‘The Five-ish Doctors’ with Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy as the thing downloaded, which I enjoyed immensely. It was very funny and a great nod to the past. And then it was time. 50 years in the making – ‘The Day of the Doctor’. It had, sadly, already been spoiled to ribbons. We already knew who John Hurt was ‘ the War Doctor’ – thanks to a brilliant prequel featuring Paul McGann. We already knew that David Tennant and
Tom Baker makes an appearance,.
Billie Piper were returning, so was the Time War, and so was Kate Lethbridge-Stewart. And the Zygons. I wish some of those elements had been kept secret. BUT the worst leak that I had read just by accident was that Tom Baker was making an appearance. And I tried not get spoiled for this one, I really really did.

So with the absence of surprises, I delved into this 76-minute special. I watched it twice on Sunday. The first time left me feeling incredibly flat. Disappointed. Not angry or resentful I should add, I just didn’t connect to the thing. I didn’t enjoy it I guess. I didn’t think it was in anyway bad, but I didn’t like what Steven Moffat had done, the choices he had made along the journey. Which I thought was fine, everyone has different opinions, different expectations and you can’t please everyone, and this time I was one person who it hadn’t hit accord with and such is life.
John Hurt as the Doctor.
I watched it later, in the evening again. And I got more out of it. I didn’t completely change my mind, but I got more out of it. I smiled more. I enjoyed it more. So let’s look closely at what we got.
We got the Time War. I will start with the biggest negative of all perhaps, and that’s the way the Time War was depicted. It’s supposed to a war in TIME, as far as I understood. BUT instead it was merely Daleks and Time Lords shooting at each other. A lot. The argument could be made that it wasn’t waged through time but FOR CONTROL of time, but we had been told before it was the former. The look of what we got was very good, very epic. But I felt letdown as how the Time War had been envisaged.
Billie Piper.
We got the War Doctor. And really this is what the story was all about, and with that I have a big issue. John Hurt plays the Doctor the once. He’s a special guest-star in this episode and he’s centre-stage. To me that was not right. In the broader sense it is about the 10th and 11th Doctor who have tried to forget the Time War, and this incarnation of the Doctor. The story is about the Doctor’s self forgiveness. Until they decide to change history. The most powerful and best point of the special is when ten and eleven (now eleven and twelve) stand side by side with the War Doctor to end the time war with this amazing sentient weapon – another aspect I liked. The weapon is played by Billie Piper. More on her later.

But the idea of changing the past, it’s something that’s crept in frequently it seems of late. Just change history. It harks back to ‘The Waters of Mars’ when the 10th (11th) Doctor declares he is so powerful history is his to command. And then he realises he’s gone too far. So what is this? And yet history is and isn’t changed. Gallifrey is saved, hidden somewhere, giving the Doctor a quest to find it. It’s beyond timey-wimey now. The Doctor will still say the same person and believe he destroyed Gallifrey and the Daleks, until he reaches the point in his time stream with Matt Smith. Ok. But what about ‘The End of Time’? Did that happen? How does it all fit in? It’s not worth thinking about because nothing will ever make sense again. I liked the Time War idea. I think perhaps we didn’t need to see it. Ever. As much as many fans have been screaming for it. In one foul swoop Moffat has changed the Time War and added another Doctor into mythology.
Which also begs the question – why not use McGann as the War Doctor? I can’t believe people watched the show JUST to see John Hurt, and at least that would be a nod to the older fans in some way. Was Moffat determined that none of the existing Doctors should be shown to do something so bad as destroy Gallifrey? I think it would have worked better with McGann personally, and it wouldn’t have changed what people accepted and Who-history. A perhaps better argument against McGann appearing as the Doctor in ‘Day of the Doctor’ could be that if one was included (as the Doctor) it would be unfair on Davison, McCoy and Colin Baker.
David Tennant and Billie Piper. Great! They weren’t teamed together which was a blessing. Billie was really good as the weapon, creepy and all. David Tennant was somewhat understated, which was nice actually. Moffat decided to give the three Doctors a fair bit of screen time together, unlike previous attempts at multi-Doctor stories, and that really paid dividends. I’m not really sure about the stuff with Elizabeth the first. David Tennant really is the romance Doctor. And now married to Elizabeth the first!
John Hurts’ mocking of Tennant and Smith has made a lot of Who-fans smile, myself included. That was played beautifully. We had the 13 Doctors working together with a great sound-alike of William Hartnell and an ever-so-brief appearance by Peter Capaldi (which I was expecting sadly) as the TARDISes are used to save Gallifrey. We had some wonderfully clever uses of time, having all that time from Hurt’s Doctor through to Smith’s to calculate how to save Gallifrey. Except – Hurt’s and Tennant’s Doctors were supposed to forget everything! Ooops! But what’s a good episode without massive plot holes?
I didn’t like Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and the eagerness to blow up London. The Zygon sub-plot was almost irrelevant and they left the Zygons negotiating with Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and forgot about it. Well, unless we see more of it in the future of course. But it didn’t bother me. Nice touches here and the – the use of the Coal Hill School, where Clara now teaches, and I Chesterton as the ‘Chairman of the Governors’ too, lovely touch.
And then we had Tom Baker in the final scene (not as the Doctor), and he was simply magical. There’s not much more I can say about that scene. Doctor Who is going to change from this story, you can be sure about that. The exact direction is known only to Mr Moffatt, but I think it will include Gallifrey. A search for Gallifrey. That could be the focus of Series 8.
The plotting of the special disappointed me, but there was still a lot to like. Some wonderful moments. The Doctor – the Doctors were the focus, not the Daleks or the Zygons, and surely that’s something they got right. I’m a grumpy old man and not everything floated my boat. But that’s the way it goes sometimes. I’m not going to shout with indignation over the parts I didn’t like, or act like ‘HOW DARE HE’ in regards to Mr Moffatt. He’s a fan too, and presumably he wrote what he would have liked to have seen. Which is the only way he could about it. Doctor Who is 50 years old. I love the show. I do not love every single story. Probably though, every single story has a moment, an idea, something I liked. And this, despite the plotting, had plenty.


The Name of the Doctor

Howdy folks. Sorry to not have been around much with the ol' blog, my computer had conniptions, died, came back from the dead and two days later died again, for good. I've been away filming this weekend, and took possession of a new computer a few days back. I spent a good three days solid setting it up, but I have 3 stories to go to finish this blog, and I hope I can still get that done this year. As from next year, this blog may change a little to include more about Professor Who and the filming of it, planning and so forth, and when the next series rolls around in August-ish of Doctor Who, to review the new episodes. There are some episodes in January (ish) I want to reassess - The Tenth Planet, Enemy of the World, Web of Fear and the Ice Warriors principally. Since I reviewed these stories, either the episodes were returned (missing) or the DVD came out with animation for missing episodes. Anyways, today's blog is about the final episode of series 7, a rather spectacular story called 'The Name of the Doctor'.
Catrin Stewart and Neve McIntosh are back as Jenny and Vastra.

For any die-hard fan of Doctor Who, this was a bit of a love letter, wasn’t it? We see every incarnation of the Doctor thus far in this episode – albeit a couple of them are incredibly fleeting (Paul McGann especially). We have Clara popped into the various Doctor’s timelines with some pretty nice (although some think a little crude) special effects work. We have the Vastra/Jenny/Strax team back together (yet still no clue as to who brought Strax back to life) again, and they are always great and Dan Starkey is just brilliantly funny, Richard E. Grant as the Great Intelligence, Trenzalore, and thankfully the ‘name’ of the Doctor is not revealed, but in fact it’s about what he stands for, what he does. Because frankly if we ever learn his name there’s nothing I can think of that would make it that special – ie – ‘Ok, you’ve got me, my name is Bert!’ Not going to live up to expectations.
Richard E Grant is also back!
Was there much of a plot? Nah. It wasn’t that sort of episode. It was basically answering the question we’ve wondered since ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, ‘Who is Clara Oswald?’. And we get a bit of glee with Clara interacting with William Hartnell. Interestingly, the sets were pretty limited in this story. I imagine the working of Clara into old footage, and the colourisation of Hartnell must have cost a bit, so we don’t get a lot of different sets – although they weren’t needed. There isn’t a lot of location shooting either – I suspect that the house Clara lives in is a location, but aside from that it seems mostly in-studio. I guess it helps keep secrets.
So are we satisfied with Clara’s story? Look, the resolution was very good, I liked it a lot. The only issue I had with it was Clara’s willingness to jump into the time stream, admittedly aided by the fact that she had been told she was the impossible girl the Doctor had met twice before, but had she formed as strong a bond between herself and the Doctor to go ahead and jump? I wasn’t quite convinced, I felt there needed a bit more in the scripts, or indeed more time for that bond to be so strong like Rose or Amy.
Nevertheless, great stuff. Less unanswered questions than usual too for a series finale, which is nice. Would really love a two-part series finale though! And then the teaser for the 50th anniversary special – the reveal of John Hurt as the Doctor! The captioning, they could have done without. Really it added nothing to the episode and generally Doctor Who has not done that sort of self-referential mularky in the past.

All in all, a fantastic way to end the series, lots of ‘squee’ moments for the fans, wraps up Clara’s storyline, I really enjoyed this. Series 7B has ended on a high with the last few episodes, after the first 4-5 episodes, solid as they were, for me failed to reach any great heights. Maybe Mr Moffatt was a bit unsure where he was taking the Series? The thing is, unlike the RTD era where we had oncoming menace that the Doctor would have to face at the end of the 13-episode run, Moffatt has chosen to arc series with a central question (with the exception of series five, which I think was the best Steven Moffatt series). In series 6 it was ‘does the Doctor die? And if not, how does he avoid death?’, Series seven it was ‘Who is Clara?’. I felt like RTD’s stuff built better because you got more pieces to the puzzle as it moved along – Series Three, despite its dreadful end, did this best of all.

As for the situation at the moment with split series and the like, Moffatt may feel that that won’t work so well. It’s easier to remember one single question during the mid-series break, than a whole set of elements that are building towards something more significant. Anyhoo, as an episode this one was great!


Thursday, 19 December 2013

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, The Crimson Horror & Nightmare in Silver

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Understandably, this was a much anticipated episode with most of it set inside the TARDIS. Audiences could finally get a real sense of the inside of the space ship – they’d had a glimpse of corridors in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, but now they would see much more and the TARDIS had regenerated since that episode.
So, it was always going to disappoint really, wasn’t it. Corridors are corridors so what did they expect? An over lit ugly look that we had in the 80s when Bidmead decided to set half of every adventure he wrote in the TARDIS? Something like the mental hospital used to double as the TARDIS interior in ‘The Invasion of Time’? Surely this was better than those examples? I think it was. Some of it’s quite nice. Perhaps this is an example though of the reduced budget the show’s been running on since the Global Meltdown. I thought they realised it pretty well, it just didn’t blow my socks off and I’m not really sure how they would have achieved that anyway.
As for the story, ho-hum yes well. Reset switch, this time flagged as almost an in-joke, but essentially the whole resolution would not have been possible without it. Clara learns a whole lot of things including the Doctor’s name which she sees in the Doctor’s diary, and then the reset button takes her back to before it all happened. In fact none of the adventure happened and only the Doctor can remember, which to me is a bit like ‘What was the point of all that?’.
Then we have the 3 guest actors, playing brothers, who frankly, especially Javhel Hall playing the youngest brother, were very below par. Not that they had much to work on script wise, they weren’t exactly interesting characters to play. The idea that someone could be human but fooled into believing he was a robot is frankly, incredibly stupid.
I know that it disappointed a lot of people, but it’s not the TARDIS which was disappointing, it’s the whole damned story which goes right back to writer Stephen Thompson. Sorry.

The Crimson Horror

Diana Rigg as Lady Gilliflower

‘The Crimson Horror’, written by Mark Gatiss, was most welcome at this point in the season. I had been a bit underwhelmed to this point by the episodes that had gone before, but ‘The Crimson Horror’ – without a doubt Gatiss’s best contribution to the series, was wonderful. It’s light-hearted and comedic in places, but that didn’t bother me at all. I really loved it and was happy that it didn’t sag in the middle like so many of Gatiss’s scripts do.
Rachael Stirling as Ada.
We have Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and Strax (Dan Starkey) returning to light up the TV screens for starters. And they are in fine form indeed. We have the running joke of the man who keeps fainting throughout the story after being shocked – at Vastra first, then Strax and finally the TARDIS dematerialising.
Clara doesn’t get a lot to do which is the only negative that comes to mind in this story. Jenny is shown to be wonderfully dextrous when she fights
Being lowered...
off some men, the Doctor doesn’t appear in the first 10-15 minutes, we have a wonderful collection of odd characters such as the guy at the morgue, but best of all we have Diana Rigg with a red maggoty thing stuck to her bosom! What more could you ask for.
It’s just 45 of fun, a bit of a romp. Diana Rigg’s daughter plays… well her daughter on screen too. She’s great and gets her revenge when she squashes the maggot under foot in the end (Mr Sweet), her ultimate revenge!
Catrin Stewart gets feisty as Jenny
The director, Saul Metzstein, should also be commended. He uses a variety of techniques to tell this story including grading the flashback sequences with scratches and the like which was really a nice touch. I had a smile on my face all the way through this episode. More like this one please, Mr Gatiss!

Nightmare in Silver

We see the return of the Cybermen in this story written by Neil Gaiman. They have a lovely redesign, very nice work indeed. The design is slicker than the previous rather clunky design, and yet feels like it lends much from the Cybermen of ‘The Moonbase’ and ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’. When will they bring back the chest unit though?
Warwick Davis
Unfortunately the story is not nearly as good as ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, although it did improve on a second viewing. One disappointing aspect is that it is set in a giant amusement park, but it doesn’t utilise this location much at all. Just really one building and a castle, which they shot on location. Well, I guess they were always going to do that.
Matt Smith gets to wrestle with the ‘Cyber-planner’ inside his head and does a rather good job. That worked nicely and the partial Cyber-isation
on the face was a good effect. I think this suffers from trying to do too much for a single episode though. If we had more money and two-parts, there could be something really epic with people fighting the Cybermen in various locations around the theme park. As it was, the Cybermen just attack the castle. Any issue they have now they can get past with a quick ‘upgrade’, which really takes the fun out of it, I reckon.
Warwick Davis, who was in Harry Potter, plays the Emperor, and he’s very good. He’s the main guest star, however we do have two kids who not only are annoying to watch but actually appear to have been written that way in the first place. These are the kids that Clara nannies and they found out about the Doctor and insisted on going on a trip, which frankly was again poor scripting but that’s probably a Moffat thing. They don’t really serve any
function in the story – the Cybermen said they needed young minds but honestly that was not an important point. The story would have been better off without them. We again see how child-like Matt Smith’s Doctor is, although it is a bit funny too which helps when he doesn’t get to play chess.
The rumour is that Moffat had much less to do with this episode than ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, but I must say I think it was odd to get Gaiman to write this episode, what with Cybermen and many characters, it’s kinda the opposite to the previous episode he wrote. It is for the most part entertaining, at times light, at times dark. It is many things, but not as good as it could have been I feel.


Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Rings of Akhaten, Cold War & Hide

The Rings of Akhaten

‘The Rings of Akhaten’ is clearly not a fan favourite. Maybe it’s because people don’t like ‘singing’ in Doctor Who – it’s not the first time singing has featured mind you, we heard singing in ‘Planet of the Ood’ for example and ‘Gridlock’, but it does feature perhaps most prominently in this tale by Neil Cross.

To be honest, my main criticism of ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ is simply that it appears to be more ‘style’ than ‘substance’ as it were. It looks rather nice, with the exception of the creature which is basically the sun that the asteroids are circling. A face appears in the sun and it is a little dodgy to be honest. But the planet itself looks rather splendid with a nice assortment of aliens on it. This is the real Clara’s first journey in the TARDIS, so in true ‘The End of the World’ spirit, we get a cavalcade of aliens to suggest to Clara what she will be in store for in the future.
Emilia Jones
The story starts with the Doctor, a little creepily, visiting moments in Clara’s past. We see where the leaf that Clara gives to the monster comes from and why it’s significant – without it, her parents would never have met. But perhaps they needed a bit more on this leaf which saves the day in the end.
We also see now just how much of an obsession Clara has become for the Doctor – again a little creepy I guess. We have a little girl – Mary
Gejelh, played by Emilia Jones as a main character who is supposed to keep the monster asleep with her song. As annoying as kids may be, they always seem to cast well. She does a good job. The story tends to drag a bit and loses a good portion – 5 minutes at least at a guess, to nothing but singing. But I don’t get the hatred for the episode either, I rather enjoyed it despite its issues.

Cold War

Liam Cunningham.
‘Cold War’ sees the much anticipated return of the Ice Warriors to Doctor Who in an episode set inside a Soviet Submarine Captained by Zhukov, played by Liam Cunningham – of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame. Written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Douglass Mackinnon, this story is much improved from Gatiss’s previous Doctor Who outings, the last of which was an incredible snooze-fest in ‘Night Terrors’. Obviously Mr Moffat and Mr Gatiss are good buds. God help us if he ever gets to write a two-part story!
Whilst there is a lot to like about the tale – it is stylishly directed, the Ice Warriors (albeit just one) return, some great acting by Cunningham and David Warner as Professor Grisenko, I failed to experience the ‘wow’ that many fans did it seems. There’s not much to the tale. They find the Ice Warrior in the ice at the north pole and decide to take it back to Moscow, it comes to life, kills, escapes from its suit, returns to its suit, decides to destroy Earth but gets
beamed up to an Ice Warrior ship.  That sums up this 45 minutes of Doctor Who in a nutshell.
And that’s 45 minutes of Doctor Who. I question what they are doing with Clara – she gets a bit to di here but I am not sure of its significance, being sent into to talk to the Ice Warrior. It’s a pity that Nicholas Briggs decided to completely change the voice too. I rather liked the hissing!
An Ice Warrior unmasked.
It is a bit derivative. It’s basically ‘Dalek’ on a smaller scale. Plus I wasn’t convinced by the Ice Warrior out of the armour with long and spindly fingers and hands. That didn’t quite ring true for me. The armour, however was a very true to the original modern interpretation. That liked. Not so much the voice. It’s not a bad story by any means, but it kinda felt like – ‘time to bring an old foe back, hmmm why not the Ice Warriors! We also should set an episode in a submarine! In the 80s! With some Duran Duran!’. I’m not sure of the point of the episode I guess. It doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with the 7B arc.


Jessica Rayne.
‘Hide’ is well.. ok. It’s not very special, but it’s not dreadful either. It’s not very exciting or action packed, there’s a nice twist at the end with the strange tree-creature (which I’m sure had a name) being in love with another such creature stuck in a different dimension. It’s light-hearted in places. Dark in others.
We have a Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott), living in a house, trying to track down ghosts because he’s haunted about what he did in the war. We are in 1974 by the way.
With him is Emily Grayling, played by Jessica Raine (who portrayed Verity Lambert in An Adventure in Space and Time incidentally). She’s sort of physic – she has some link to the ghosts, but it seems they are also secretly in love with each other.
I liked the idea of the first human to travel through time being stuck in a different dimension where time is moving much slower than ours, which is part of the plot. I didn’t like the opening where the Doctor and Clara arrive and declare themselves ‘Ghostbusters’, as if once wasn’t more than enough! There’s your Moffat again I think, he loves those lines before the opening titles roll! shame on him!
Dougray Scott.
Neil Cross wrote the episode, and it’s clear he’s not the man to turn to for a high paced adventure! However it is nicely directed (Jamie Payne) and shot. Very creepy, very moody, but probably not as scary as they were hoping for. Jenna Louise Coleman gets a decent crack in this one and does very well. Matt Smith is as mad as ever and I keep wishing he’d tone it down a little, or mature just a little. It’s all very matter-a-fact and there’s not a lot of concern for the lives of Grayling and Palmer when he decides to use Grayling to connect to the other dimension. Which is reminiscent of Eccleston and Hartnell in some ways. But both changed during their time and found more compassion. Smith has compassion, but it seems a very selective compassion in some ways.