Monthly Archives: November 2015

Doctor Who: Heaven Sent Review

Heaven Sent by Steven Moffat

Warning: Major Spoilers!

Normally companion exits occur in the final episode, so we have to wait till the following series or Christmas special for the Doctor’s reaction to them. Not this time. Following Clara’s death in Face the Raven, the 12th Doctor is clearly damaged here – while he’s mellowed a bit this year you have to wonder if Capaldi’s performance is about to take a much darker turn. We’ll find out next week – but first here’s my view on ‘Heaven Sent’.

Speaking of Capaldi’s performance he again knocks it out of the park this week. And he’s not the only one. Back from Dark Water/Death in Heaven last year, Rachel Talalay’s direction again delivers, and Murray Gold’s score is equal to the task as well. But maybe sharing highest praise with Capaldi is Moffat, who delivers his most complex episode to date. It’s a single hander for 95% of the running time (which at 55 mins is no easy feat!) and Moffat keeps everyone invested with some marvellous concepts, jump scares and tantalising revelations that change the very heart of the Doctor Who mythos. Anyone who’s still a Moffat hater… how? He might of screwed up a few times (Matt Smith’s final episode, series 6 and 7’s format) but that’s because he takes risks as showrunner and as a writer. And this series nearly all of them have paid off – for every episode this series I know at least 1 friend who really likes it. That’s never happened before. It’s why I’m glad he’s staying next series – who else writes for Who that could have come up with an episode like this?

The Veil was a properly creepy (silent) villain, slowly stalking the Doctor through a castle littered with lures and traps, only stoppable by making confessions. I’m sure plenty of younger viewers would have been pretty scared at certain moments in this episode. The Doctor’s Sherlock esque mind palace sections worked well to give us an impression of just how complicated and fast the Doctor’s mind is, while his conversations with an imaginary Clara felt predictably poignant after last week. The revelations were very surprising and I hope we get answers to some of them next week (Why was the Doctor so scared he left Gallifrey? What makes the Hybrid so Dangerous? Why did the Time Lords (or whoever else) send the Doctor back to Gallifrey? The fact that the Doctor was actually trapped in the confessional dial for most of the episode was neat, and I’ll admit that for once I didn’t see that twist coming. Thanks to some spoilery promos, I knew the episode would finish on Gallifrey, but the revelation that ‘The Hybrid is Me’ sets things up intriguingly. (This also has a potential double meaning – while it seems to be referring to the Doctor, we know from the trailer that Maisie Williams is back in the next episode – and her character is referred to as Me…’ just a thought for all of you there)

I singled Capaldi out for praise after his speech in The Zygon Inversion. But most of the actors who played the Doctor are capable of such knockout moments – remember Smith’s Pandorica speech or Tennant’s Timelord Victorious or Eccleston raging against the Daleks? Every one of them has a stand out moment. But here’s an opinion that might cause some controversy: I don’t think any of them could have made this episode work the way Capaldi did. Some Doctors just don’t have the kind of personality needed for this sort of episode (couldn’t see Hartnell or Pertwee or Eccleston faring well) whereas some actors are far better at bouncing off other people (Troughton, Davison, Tennant etc.). While I’m sure Smith or McCoy or Colin Baker could have given their all (they all had a mad energy that might have held the screen for 55 mins) only Tom Baker might have come close to Capaldi here (he’s the only Doctor to have had a similar episode – The Deadly Assassin Part 3 for those who are interested) – they both have a truly magnetic screen presence that makes them watchable on their own for 55 mins. If there’s an argument for Capaldi being the most talented actor to play the role (and there is one) – this episode and this series as a whole has strengthed it considerably.

Overall a mind-bending, high concept episode of Doctor Who that might just be the cleverest thing Moffat’s written. Can Hell Bent finish off this superb three part finale in style? I certainly hope so.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Next Time: The Doctor faces the Timelords and the series draws to a close…

Advertisements

Doctor Who Series 9 Part 2 Review

I gave up weekly reviews a while back due to work commitments, but here’s a compilation of my thoughts on episodes 5-9. I’ll publish individual reviews for the last 2 episodes (I feel they’ll be momentous enough to need them after Face the Raven!)

First up the (sort of) two-parter featuring Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is a mixed bag, but Williams and Capaldi are on top form throughout.

Warning: Spoilers!

The Girl Who Died by Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat

Overall: A patchy first half hour saved by a brilliant last 15 minutes and some stellar performances from Capaldi, Coleman and Maisie Williams. The Viking supporting cast were very forgettable, and the ideas weren’t as classic as Mathieson’s two debut episodes last year. The final 15 minutes (where it felt clear Moffat had had more input) were something else though. I liked the throwback to Capaldi’s previous appearance in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ and the explanation that the Doctor chose his face as a reminder that ‘he can always save 1 person, even if he can’t save them all’. The monsters weren’t all that impressive – though the resolution to the episode felt a lot better than the built up. Set up ‘The Woman Who Lived’ well though.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Woman Who Lived by Catherine Tregenna

Overall: A great performance from Williams – the ideas and dialogue are top rate but like ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ it’s a bit lacking in action – and the villain is almost superfluous to events. Rufus Hound’s turn as Sam Swift ‘the Quick’ is amusing if inconsequential. Clara’s absence wasn’t a problem (mainly because of Williams’ fine turn). It was very similar to ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ in how it was built completely around the interaction of two characters. Also – I can’t remember an episode where I’ve been less on the Doctor’s side? Ashildr’s motivations and grievances felt perfectly natural in this episode, and I was worried that the Doctor’s refusal to help her leave Earth was creating another Missy. While she redeems herself at the end this, to me, was a stark reminder that the Doctor is falliable, and his choices aren’t always the right ones.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Next the Zygon two-parter, arguably the highlight of the series so far (until Face the Raven aired anyway). Also another belter (albeit a far less divisive one) from Peter Harness after Kill the Moon last year – at a time when we’re wondering who’ll succeed Moffat as showrunner, if he keeps this run up we might have to add another name to that list.

The Zygon Invasion by Peter Harness

Overall: This was my favourite episode of the series when it aired. The Zygons potential as enemies is fully realised after being teased in ‘Day of the Doctor’. There are some slight annoyances – the plot twists are obvious: I’d predicted Clara would end up being a Zygon before the episode even started and the American policewoman being one was easily guessable. It also annoyed me how the UNIT troops didn’t open fire when they were ambushed in London (lazy scripting). But these minor quibbles couldn’t detract from a fine episode that built up to a great cliffhanger. It was definitely the most action packed episode of the series (not a bad thing after several episodes that had been very character focused) and by far the most political – with messages on war, immigration, integration into society and extremists. Not that it was a bad thing – regardless of your stance on matters like fighting ISIS or Syrian refugees it doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the episode – and I’m never against Doctor Who taking moral stances on real world issues.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Zygon Inversion by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat

Has Capaldi ever been better? His anti-war speech at the end as he railed against both the humans and Zygons that would see each other destroyed was up their with Smith’s Pandorica and Akhaten speeches. The idea of the Osgood boxes was good, with the 50/50 chance of either Kate Stewart or Bonnie/Zygella (great nickname for Zygon Clara) destroying their own people showing the frank nature of warfare – and it only suited the Doctor’s character (particularly a post-time war Doctor) that the boxes where actually empty and the threat an illusion. If anyone out there is still denying Capaldi is a great Doctor, please do the rest of the fandom a favour and leave. This episode proved you wrong. Clara also got better material than she has for most of the series as she played both Clara and Bonnie (now we know Jenna C0leman can play villains!) and their interactions were the highlight of the episode before 12’s marvellous speech. I didn’t like it as much as Invasion – it slowed down slightly too much in the middle, but it recovered it’s momentum in the final third of the episode. Shame Osgood won’t be the next companion though.

Rating: 4 out of 5

And finally this year’s experimental episode: the found footage adventure that doesn’t quite spark.

Sleep No More by Mark Gatiss

Overall: Doctor Who’s first foray into found footage doesn’t quite work. The script is good, the direction isn’t bad either – but the rest doesn’t quite come together. I can get past ridiculous concepts in Doctor Who episodes. Hell I even liked Kill the Moon despite the ludicrous physics involved. But the monsters in this? Formed from mutated sleep dust from yours eyes? The sandmen just didn’t work for me as a concept. The supporting cast are pretty one-dimensional as well. Reece Shearsmith is okay (though Gatiss shoehorning his friend into his work is really starting to grate on me – Shearsmith isn’t an actor I rate that highly) but his interruptions to camera really detract from the tension – I’d have much preferred if his appearances were limited to the info-dump at the start and the surprise cliffhanger at the end (suggesting at a possible sequel to this episode?). It wasn’t a terrible episode and I’m sure some people liked it, but for me this was Gatiss weakest episode – it was just too average in a season where every other story has worked so well!

Rating: 3 out of 5

Now if you haven’t seen Face the Raven yet, go do so! If you have, please check out the review I posted yesterday.

Doctor Who: Face the Raven Review

Face the Raven by Sarah Dollard

I have been writing up my reviews of episodes 5-9, but this seemed more important so I got this done first.

Warning: Major Spoilers! DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU’VE WATCHED THE EPISODE!!!!

The rumours have been around for weeks. The past few days had whispers in corners of the internet (particularly fandom websites). The whole season had been building to it. But part of me didn’t think they’d actually do it. But they did.

Before I get to the point (and the SPOILER), a few notes about the episode itself. It’s a confident and momentous debut from Sarah Dollard – kudos to Moffat for giving one of the series’ most important episodes to an unproved writer (on who anyway). She can definitely come back next season. Murray Gold’s work on the soundtrack, usually sublime, was superb here and really added to the tension and foreboding in the episode. The direction wasn’t bad either.

The idea of a Quantum shade was a good one, and the return of both Rigsy (another good turn from Jovian Wade) and Ashildr (Maisie Williams continues to be on top form) was welcome. Like in the Woman Who Lived, Ashildr’s motives were uncertain for much of the episode, and the series continues to dabble in the Grey areas of morality it works best in. I also really liked the idea of Ashildr creating a ‘trap street’ as a refuge for aliens trapped on earth, so they live peacefully rather than causing chaos (yet can live as they wish, unlike the Zygons two weeks ago). The idea of a Janus species that can see both into the future and past has a lot of potential too (might they be due a return next season?).

And now… the crux of the episode. Clara’s exit. The whole season has had a theme of Clara’s desire to become ‘the Doctor’ and here she finally (and inevitably) bites off more than she can chew in her desire to save Rigsy. Her reckless streak was always going to be her downfall, and unlike the Doctor she can’t just regenerate when she makes a mistake. Unlike previous companions who died on the show (in the 60’s and 80’s) Clara gets time to contemplate her fate. This lessons the shock factor but not the impact, if anything it increases it. Her last act? Trying to stop the Doctor becoming vengeful (we saw a worrying glimpse of 12’s dark side when he was threatening Ashildr) and resolving to face (the raven) her death bravely. Jenna Coleman and Capaldi were both fantastic here (it almost goes without saying now).

So Clara’s dead. Ashildr’s taken the Tardis Key. And the Doctor’s been kidnapped by some unknown enemies (unless you’ve read the synopsis for episodes 11 and 12 or seen the rumours). The stage is set for a hell of a finale (the hybrid, the confession dial, a vengeful doctor?). Don’t let us down Moffat, if the finale works this might just be the best series since the revival.

Overall… I can’t see how they could have done this better. The script, acting and ideas all came together. It seems inevitable Coleman will have an appearance of some sort in the finale, but if this is her last hurrah, it’s a fitting one.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Next Time: The Doctor is alone and trapped and facing an unknown enemy… and his promise to Clara doesn’t look like holding…

Movie Review: Spectre

Spectre starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz and Dave Bautista

Warning: Major Spoilers

The expectation for a bond film had never been higher. Skyfall was a record breaking entry that set the bar pretty high in terms of quality – there’s a reason it came top of my Best bonds list – beautifully directed, with a great theme song, an unsettling performance from Javier Bardem and a marvellous final set piece, it was excellent. So did Spectre live up to the hype?

The start is very promising, as it begins with arguably the best opening sequence as Bond stalks a target through the ‘Day of the Dead’ festival in Mexico City in one stylish tracking shot that shows director Sam Mendes hasn’t lost any of his touch. The highlight of the opening sequence is a spectacular prolonged fight aboard a helicopter – which is the first of this films major strength – it’s set pieces. The one problem I had with Skyfall was that the set pieces were infrequent and the opening bike chase in Istanbul was pretty dull – which is a problem when you don’t have too many action pieces in a film. Spectre is far more ambitious – it’s set pieces are bigger and more numerous – though as a consequence it loses some of the careful plotting that helped Skyfall build up to its spectacular finale.

The opening titles are among the best I can remember in a bond film – whatever you think of Sam Smith’s ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ (personally I like it, though he’s no Adele) it fits in perfectly with the stylish visuals. It also features the first of many references back to the previous Craig films – as images of Silva and M fleetingly pass by. This film has more continuity with previous films than the series has gone for since Connery and Lazenby battled Blofeld and Spectre (in its first incarnation) repeatedly in the original 7 bond films. The new ‘Spectre’ links all the villains from the previous Craig films – Le Chiffre, Mr White, Green, Silva – through its own villain in Franz Obenhauser and this helps the film feel like the culmination of Craig’s story arc.

Christoph Waltz gets even less screentime as Obenhauser than Javier Bardem in Skyfall, though his creepy, understated performance is effective. His childhood connection to Bond isn’t as effective as you’d hope (we could have really used a flashback during the sequence in Morocco – although the film is already a long one so I understand why they didn’t). Fortunately he is backed up not only by the rest of the Spectre organisation but a superb pair of supporting villains – Andrew Scott as a amoral civil servant trying to scrap the 00 section (and sharing more than a few pointed confrontations with Ralph Fiennes’ M) and Dave Bautista’s humourless henchman Mr Hinx (who has about 1 line of dialogue but is still the most memorable henchman since Jaws or Oddjob).

Hinx is one of the best things in the film (and also the reason it shouldn’t be a 12A – his level of brutality is well above that). After a Game of Thrones style execution of a Spectre member he has 3 confrontations with Bond – in two vehicle chases (including a car with gadgets for the first time in the Craig era), in Rome and Austria, before a truly brutal train fight with Bond in Morocco – it’s rare to see Bond outmatched in combat, but even with help from Lea Seydoux’s Madeline Swann he barely survives a bout with Hinx – a sequence which left most people in the cinema breathless, and seemed even more brutal by the lack of any music. Speaking of music, Thomas Newman’s effective score last time is replaced by a far more pulsating, bombastic accompaniment on this occasion. The film loses something after Hinx’s inevitable exit, while the finale in London works, Waltz isn’t as menacing without Hinx and the Morocco section is probably the weakest part of the film.

Lea Seydoux is easily the best Bond girl since Eva Green and the rest of the actors all give their best. I particularly liked Q’s interactions with M and Bond, showing even more how well suited Ben Whishaw is to the role. Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny has also had more to do in two films than the other versions did in 20. I like the MI6 ensemble so I’m not complaining that this film gave them a bit more to do. I also hope this is Craig’s last film – not because he’s bad, far from it he’s probably the best of the lot (yes even better than Connery – after all Craig’s never had a bad performance whereas Connery was downright terrible in Diamonds are forever) but because the ending of this film (and the overall feel of it) was a perfect way for him to end his tenure.

Overall, Spectre boasts some fantastic set pieces and some terrific performances and ties the four Craig films together perfectly – however the film itself lacks Skyfall’s cohesion in the second half. Its not a flawless effort, but its a highly enjoyable one.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

For anyone wondering how Spectre fits into my Best and Worst Bond films – it would come 4th, behind Skyfall, Goldfinger and Casino Royale. However while it may not be the best Bond film, it might just be my favourite.