Monthly Archives: April 2017

Doctor Who: Thin Ice Review

Thin Ice by Sarah Dollard

Warning: Minor Spoilers.

Maintaining the usual Who format, after giving a new companion a trip to the future, Bill gets one to the past as well in Thin Ice. It was written by Sarah Dollard (writer of last year’s excellent Face the Raven) who yet again showed her ability when it comes to writing dialogue – check out the tense exchange between Bill and the Doctor over his non-reaction to a young urchin’s death or the Doctor’s speech on what marks an evolved species – both were excellent character moments.

Unfortunately, unlike Face the Raven, this lacks any real oomph. It’s a fun, but ultimately forgettable run-around. There’s a fair few ideas we’ve seen before (the humans are the real villains, not the large alien monster who is merely surviving) and all the stuff about race and privilege seemed a bit on the nose (though I applaud them for including it, and I did cheer when the Doctor punched a racist aristocrat). It was just a bit too inconsequential for me, in a way reminiscent of some of Rose’s early stories. Nevertheless, Bill and the Doctor were still a delight, and it was good to see Capaldi having more to do this week.

The pacing was also noticeably more uneven than the last two weeks, perhaps to its detriment, as the plot took 20 mins to really get going and then moved so fast it skipped over anything particularly interesting. The direction also seemed a bit flat compared to Lawrence Gough’s excellent work on the opening two stories. I didn’t dislike the episode (it has a certain simple charm) but I prefer slightly more substantial stories.

Ultimately, the episode may have been better off ditching the monster entirely and just focusing on the unjust aspects of Georgian society – Bill and the Doctor’s reaction to the rampant inequality was certainly the episode’s strong point – especially considering the whole ‘monster waste as fuel’ plot was a bit crap and didn’t go anywhere. Lord Sutcliffe was also a very thinly drawn villain – lacking any real menace or interesting qualities. I guess the point was that he was a laughable figure, but after 3 episodes with weak or could’ve-been-better villains, I’m expecting the Doctor to face something more substantial next time. Fortunately, David Suchet’s Landlord looks set to provide just that…

Rating: 3 out of 5

Overall an average episode, though one with an important message and one punch the air moment. Hopefully Bill Anderson’s direction is a bit more creative next time.

Next Time: Bill gets a nightmare of a landlord (we’ve all been there) and finds herself in a Monster House…

Side Note: So there’s something alive in the Vault. Missy, John Simm or the Cybermen? Whatever it is, I’m starting to hope it kills Nardole and stops him whinging about oaths every episode (come on guys, Matt Lucas was good in the Xmas Special, give him something better to do than be a wet blanket).

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Doctor Who: Smile Review

Smile by Frank Cottrell-Boyce

Warning: Minor Spoilers

If the show has one formula it has kept through all 10 seasons, it’s that when we get a new companion, we get a contemporary earth episode introducing them, then 1 historical episode and 1 futuristic episode to develop their relationship with the Doctor and get them used to the time travel concept. Smile gives us a futuristic run-around on a human colony which gave off some serious Black Mirror vibes at times (technology gone wrong etc.).

This episode, on paper, was possibly the one you’d have picked to be this series’ duff entry (every series of Modern Who has had one). There’s two reasons I say this – 1. Emojibots. Not exactly a monster you can take seriously and one that could very easily be mishandled. – 2. It’s written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, writer of Series 8’s weakest entry (In the Forest of the Night) which received a lukewarm response at best (I personally gave it a 3 out of 5, which was probably as positive a rating as it got). Despite these reservations, I’m happy to say the episode, while not a classic, was actually pretty good.

It takes it time building up, as did last week’s opener, but fortunately this again allows us to spend more time with Bill and her growing rapport with the Doctor. Bill seems more inquisitive than most companions – she’s full of questions that aren’t always obvious in a way that feels different from most companions. Her observations/deductions about why the Doctor likes having a police box for a spaceship disguise were nicely played, as was her horror at the massacre of the human colonists and her initial reservation to get involved (again, not a reaction we’ve seen normally from companions). I still think she’s the most believable companion the show’s given us – her reactions seem natural and human in a way we arguably haven’t seen for a long time.

Capaldi gets more to do than last week, as the lack of a guest cast for a good 30 mins of the runtime forces the Doctor to play detective while endeavouring to keep Bill safe. The emoji-bots lacked the menace needed to make this a great episode, but the swarms of nano-bots and the fate of the dead colonists made sure there was some tension simmering in the background (arguably it needed slightly more though). For the second week in a row, Murray Gold’s soundtrack is completely different to previous years – were it not for Twelve’s theme, you’d forget it was the same composer – but this series’ style seemed to have breathed a new lease of life in the music as well as the show itself. The direction maintains the high standard from last week, as the Valencia filming location gives the director some cool architecture to work with as a backdrop.

On a side note, this is as close to an episode of the Classic Series as most you are likely to ever see – the slow build up, straightforward plotline and heroic Doctor getting involved could have been straight out of Tom Baker or Patrick Troughton’s era (minus the decent special effects obviously). However, i’m finding the more straightforward approach refreshing after 5 seasons of complex, action packed episodes and storylines (i’m sure they’re coming later in the season and i’m looking forward to them, but a slow build up is a nice change). On another side note, Moffat likes his quirky monster weaknesses doesn’t he? (‘Keep Smiling’ is basically another ‘Don’t Blink’, ‘Don’t Breathe’ etc.).

There are a few problems: the resolution was all a bit too simple (the Doctor fixing a problem by waving the sonic screwdriver around is never the most satisfying way to end an episode) and the guest cast aren’t the best, but overall this was an entertaining, solid episode of Doctor Who, if not one that you’ll be rushing to re-watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Next Time: The series goes Victorian again as the Doctor and Bill hunt a monster living under a frozen River Thames…

Doctor Who: The Pilot Review

The Pilot by Steven Moffat

Warning: Spoilers!

Well that was different! Was it me or does the show have a very different feel post-Clara? Even Murray’s Gold’s music felt revamped. If you know anyone who’s never seen Who before this would have been a good episode to start them with (which I sense was Moffat’s intention). There’s no real hint of any series myth-arc here, Moffat simply gets on with introducing Bill and forging the start of her friendship with the Doctor.

The big thing this episode had to sell was new companion Bill Potts (along with new actress Pearl Mackie): and both come across very well. Bill seems like a real person you could meet in a way that Clara didn’t, which makes for a refreshing change. She’s also not as quick to get to grips with time-travel or the Doctor as Clara or some other companions have been – there’s definitely an air of realism to her. She’s also funny (the penguins line made me chuckle) quirky and curious – all the classic companion traits really. Pearl Mackie’s acting seems pretty good too – though neither her or the character were particularly challenged here – but I’m sure she’ll get more to do in coming weeks. As for the character’s publicized sexuality – its shown, not told, and that’s a very adult way to approach it – its part of her character but it doesn’t define her. Good job Moffat.

Matt Lucas’ comic timing brings a certain charm to the cowardly but well-meaning Nardole while Capaldi’s Doctor seemed a touch more restrained (if just as out of touch with humans) than he was last series (no OTT entrance on a tank this time, THANK GOODNESS!). The possessed/converted/whatever the hell Heather (Stephanie Hyam) was made for a creepy if rather unthreatening foe. That’s about all I have to say: the direction was good, the music was good, the script was good but nothing was extraordinary. Looking forward to next week!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Overall it’s all a bit inconsequential and more of a controlled character piece than a mind-blowing adventure, but it’s done so well I can’t help but like it. As for Bill? Things are looking good, but we’ll have to see how she does as the series goes on. But its a solid start for both Pearl Mackie and Series 10.

Next Week: Bring on the Emojibots! (An episode pretty much guaranteed to be better than it sounds on paper).

Which Doctor Who Series was the best?

 

As series 10 approaches here’s my rundown of those that came before it. I will state that I like all 9 of them even the one I’ve put in 9th place (each series has an average score of between 3.65 and 4.04, so there isn’t a massive difference in quality as far as I’m concerned). At least half of you will probably disagree with my order, but that’s the point of opinion pieces isn’t it?

I’m not including any Xmas or other Specials (i.e. the Snowmen doesn’t count as part of Series 7 nor is The Waters of Mars an extension of Series 4). For every series I’ve rated each episode as either great, good, average or weak and I’ve also given the average score for each series (the order is loosely based on this but not entirely so). Feel free to leave comments with your own order below…

Warning: Spoilers for Series 1-9 (obviously!)

(9th) Series 4: Putting this last will undoubtedly be a controversial choice, but there are several reasons this is the case. Firstly, Donna is my least favourite companion, and while Catherine Tate shines in some episodes (The Doctor’s Daughter, The Unicorn and the Wasp, Turn Left) she’s downright annoying in others (Partners in Crime, The Fires of Pompeii, Journey’s End) as while she is good at tender and quiet moments she tends to massively overplay comedic or angry moments (where she just comes across as hysterical). Secondly, Journey’s End is my least favourite finale in all 9 series (I enjoyed it to an extent when I was 14 but now it just annoys the hell out of me with its overuse of technobabble, B-movie universe ending plotline, piss-easy resolution and ridiculously long runtime). It’s overblown, overdone and completely squanders the great set-up The Stolen Earth had created. Davies reversing Rose’s exit annoys me more than Moffat’s admittedly haphazard exits for Amy, Rory and Clara put together (it was perfect and didn’t need changing plus the finale had too many characters before Rose, Mickey and Jackie turned up). That all said, the series isn’t actually that bad – the Poison Sky till The Stolen Earth is actually a very, very good run of episodes, David Tennant’s performance is great (even if I think the 10th Doctor gets a bit too passive/pacifistic) and John Barrowman and Billie Piper make the most of their returns (unlike Freema Agyeman, whose acting is pretty weak at times – a problem that wasn’t there at all in Series 3). In the end, there’s only 5/6 episodes from this series I’m likely to ever rewatch again – which is a lower figure than it would be for any of the other 8 series. It was a consistent run, but in the end, it could have been so much better. 

Great Episodes (4.5/5 or higher): Silence in the Library, Forest of the Dead, The Stolen Earth

Good Episodes (4/5): The Poison Sky, The Unicorn and the Wasp, Midnight

Average Episodes (3 or 3.5/5): Partners in Crime, The Fires of Pompeii, Planet of the Ood, The Sontaran Strategem, The Doctor’s Daughter, Turn Left

Weak/Bad Episodes (2.5/5 or lower): Journey’s End

Season Average: 3.65 (A few classic episodes can’t save what is in the end a pretty average run of stories.)

(8th Place) Series 6: I might be pro-Moffat but I can see why some people hate this series. Aside from the increased complexity, 5 of the episodes are pretty weak and thus the quality of the season has a real inconsistency to it. It’s not a series which rewards casual viewers – but it isn’t trying to be. It has a lot of really good episodes – but the mid-season break doesn’t work on a series this inconsistent – neither half is as good as it would have been as a whole (though the 2nd half is definitely better than the first). The series myth-arc overshadows everything else and I know this annoys a lot of people. On the positive side, Rory becomes a much better character in this run and is one of the highlights of the series. Conversely Amy’s character doesn’t really go anywhere – though I’m not blaming Karen Gillan for that – despite ‘The Girl Who Waited’ giving her one of her finest hours. Suranne Jones is probably the best of the guest stars (as Idris/The Tardis) while Matt Smith and Alex Kingston are both good as ever as the Doctor and River Song, even if it’s probably Smith’s weakest season overall with one or two exceptions where he gets stronger material. The most inconsistent of Moffat’s series, but it has more highpoints than low ones.

Great Episodes (4.5/5 or higher): Day of the Moon, The Doctor’s Wife, A Good Man Goes to War, Let’s Kill Hitler, The Girl Who Waited, The Wedding of River Song

Good Episodes (4/5): The Impossible Astronaut, The God Complex

Average Episodes (3/5): The Curse of the Black Spot, Closing Time

Weak/Bad Episodes (2.5/5 or lower): The Rebel Flesh, The Almost People, Night Terrors

Season Average: 3.73/5 (Plenty of hits dragged down by too much filler).

(7th Place) Series 3: Fan opinion of series 3 tends to come down to whether or not you’re a Martha fan or not – because the episodes themselves are consistently good/average rather than great/terrible. Blink is amazing and Gridlock is dull and has a stupid concept, but everything else falls somewhere in the middle. The Dalek two-parter is a wasted opportunity (the pig-slaves look particularly stupid) while Human Nature is charming and The Lazarus Experiment exciting (Gatiss in my opinion is a better actor than writer). Smith and Jones serves as a great introduction for Martha, who proves herself a very capable companion even if Agyeman’s Martha isn’t quite as charming as Piper’s Rose. The finale is a mixed bag with Utopia rescued from mediocrity by an awesome 2nd half (and a stunning performance from Derek Jacobi), The Sound of Drums giving John Simm his best material (so far – come on Moffat!) and Last of the Time Lords fumbling the landing and getting far too ridiculous. My patience with RTD snapped after the final episode and never really recovered – I feel sorry for John Simm – his master was written so poorly at times I don’t think we ever got to see his true potential barring a few scenes in The Sound of Drums. In the end I quite like Martha, although her family never felt half as well-written as Jackie or Pete Tyler did were, David Tennant was as good as ever and John Barrowman made a welcome (if all too short) return.

Great Episodes (4.5/5 or higher): Blink, The Sound of Drums

Good Episodes (4/5): Smith and Jones, The Shakespeare Code, The Lazarus Experiment, Human Nature, Utopia

Average Episodes (3 or 3.5/5): Daleks in Manhattan, Evolution of the Daleks, 42, The Family of Blood, Last of the Timelords

Weak/Bad Episodes (2.5/5 or lower): Gridlock

(6th Place) Series 1: It has 3 very strong episodes. It only has 1 terrible episode. But the first series’ low budget and low ambition mean it hasn’t aged too well in comparison to the others – it’s still a fine series, but too much childish humour (farting aliens and burping wheelie bins) and too many stories set on space stations make this occasionally frustrating to re-watch. Eccleston and Piper are great throughout though, and the guest stars shine even when the CGI monsters don’t (Nestene and Jagrafess… ughh). It has its moments and serves as a good reinvention of the series, but it’s not quite a classic run. John Barrowman injects some energy into the final 5 stories as Captain Jack (indeed from The Empty Child onwards the series has a very strong run) but Mickey is a waste of a supporting character. The series does feature the best Dalek story of the modern era though.

Great Episodes (4.5/5 or higher): Dalek, The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, The Parting of the Ways

Good Episodes (4/5): The Unquiet Dead, Boom Town, Bad Wolf

Average Episodes (3 or 3.5/5): Rose, The End of the World, Aliens of London, World War Three, Father’s Day

Weak/Bad Episodes (2.5/5 or lower): The Long Game

Season Average: 3.81/5 (A consistently good run which never hits true greatness)

(5th Place) Series 2: This series has a lower average rating than several of the ones behind it on this list, but there’s a good reason for the inconsistency. Series 2 would have the 5th  highest average if it hadn’t included Love and Monsters, which is not only the worst episode of the modern run but quite possibly the worst episode of any Doctor Who era (I’ve watched episodes from 1963 which weren’t this bad!). The Absorblaroff is the stupidest monster ever seen on Doctor Who (which takes quite some doing – there’s a whole pantheon of bad monsters from Classic Who) and Russell T. Davies’ script is the nadir of his writing career. Aside from that episode, series 2 is pretty great. It still has the best finale in Army of Ghosts/Doomsday (the only weakness being the Cybermen’s inability to kill a single Dalek – I mean come on!) and two of my favourite stories of all time in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit and The Girl in the Fireplace (which I consider to be the best modern who episode – just surpassing Blink, Dalek and Heaven Sent). New Earth is pretty weak and the Cybermen aren’t quite as scary as they should have been but otherwise it’s a great season. If only Russell T. Davies hadn’t later Retconned what was a perfect (if heartbreaking) exit for Rose. Still, it’s the best series of the Davies era and features two of the best cliffhangers in who history in ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘Army of Ghosts’.

Great Episodes (4.5/5 or higher): The Girl in the Fireplace, The Impossible Planet, The Satan Pit, Army of Ghosts, Doomsday

Good Episodes (4 out of 5): School Reunion, The Age of Steel

Average Episodes (3 or 3.5/5): Fear Her, Tooth and Claw, Rise of the Cybermen, The Idiot’s Lantern

Weak/Bad Episodes (2.5/5 or lower): New Earth, Love and Monsters

Series Average: 3.73/5 (Love and Monsters drags the series down all by itself with its score of 1/5 – even the worst episodes from the 60’s and 80’s don’t get a rating that low from me! Quite possibly the worst episode of Doctor Who ever made)

(4th Place) Series 7: Again I’m going against the fanbase a bit here. But I really don’t get the hate this season receives. Admittedly a few episodes could have used a bit more script-editing from Moffat (a problem he fixes somewhat in series 8 and 9) but none of the episodes are terrible. No not even Rings of Akhaten (its experimental yes but 1. This isn’t a bad thing and 2. Matt Smith’s performance is extraordinarily good). Amy and Rory get a strong exit (if not as strong as they could have had if Moffat had simply killed them off), Clara gets several great introductions and Matt Smith is probably at his best here. The finale isn’t as good as I’d have liked (its too busy setting up the 50th) and Nightmare in Silver should have been better (and scarier) but there’s relatively few disappointments. The Power of Three coasting through on the cast’s chemistry is probably the most wasted opportunity in the season, but when we have an appearance from the wonderful Mark Williams as Brian Pond (Williams), I won’t complain. I think I like this a lot more than other fans because I instantly liked Clara (I knew Jenna Coleman’s potential from other stuff I’d seen her in) and I think series 8 and 9 proved me right – though I’m sure some people still disagree.

Great Episodes (4.5/5 or higher): The Angels Take Manhattan, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, The Crimson Horror

Good Episodes (4/5): Asylum of the Daleks, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, The Bells of St. John, Hide, The Name of the Doctor

Average Episodes (3 or 3.5/5): A Town Called Mercy, The Power of Three, The Rings of Akhaten, Cold War, Nightmare in Silver

Weak/Bad Episodes (2.5/5 or lower): N/A

Season Average: 3.88 (A consistently good run, if one bereft of any classic episodes)

(3rd Place) Series 8: For the first half of the series I wasn’t sure about it (or Capaldi) but from the last 5 minutes of ‘Kill the Moon’ onwards the series really kicks into high gear and doesn’t let up till the finale. And who didn’t get shivers at ‘Dark Water’ and its electrifying ending? Capaldi, Coleman, Samuel Anderson, Michelle Gomez and Moffat delivered a great season – which I must say I didn’t expect to be topped quite so soon. The direction was of a very high standard (particularly by Rachel Talalay and Ben Wheatley) and Murray Gold’s as good as ever. What’s not to love? Missy is a far better written Master than John Simm ever was, new writers Jamie Mathieson and Peter Harness deliver some of the season’s highlights and directors Rachel Talalay and Ben Wheatley are some of the best the series has seen. Into the Dalek might not have been as revolutionary as hoped, and Robot of Sherwood, Time Heist and In the Forest of the Night were fun run-arounds rather than classics, but it’s the only series of the 9 apart from series 7 with no weak episodes. If the Cybermen had been better utilized in Death in Heaven and Kill the Moon’s science wasn’t so ludicrous this series might have edged into 2nd place on my list.

Great Episodes (4.5/5 or higher): Listen, Kill the Moon, Dark Water

Good Episodes (4/5): Deep Breath, The Caretaker, Mummy on the Orient Express, Flatline, Death in Heaven

Average Episodes (3 or 3.5/5): Into the Dalek, Robot of Sherwood, Time Heist, In the Forest of the Night

Weak/Bad Episodes (2.5/5 or lower): N/A

Season Average: 3.96/5

(2nd Place) Series 5:

The last time the show went through a truly major transition (until Series 11 in 2018 anyway) was 2010. Change of Doctor. Change of companion. Change of showrunner and executive producers. And yet boy did Series 5 deliver on everything it needed to. Matt Smith did the near-impossible task of making the Doctor truly alien again (after Tennant’s incarnation gave us the most ‘human’ version we’ve ever seen) yet still remaining as likeable. He has the same relentless energy but a mad professor vibe instead of Tennant’s and Eccleston’s tortured heroism – which is a refreshing change of pace. Amy Pond may not have always had the best writing throughout, but I can’t really fault Karen Gillan’s acting anywhere, while Arthur Darvill provides sterling support and avoids making Rory into just another Mickey Smith. As for the writing, Series 5 is probably the highlight of the show’s run. Moffat excels with the overarching mytharc and the guest-writers are the best they’d been since Series 1 – even Gatiss, Whitehouse and Chibnall’s mixed entries still have plenty to love.

Weaknesses? The Beast Below is probably the most boring thing Moffat’s ever written and… that’s about it. The Silurian two-parter is a bit by-the-numbers (but still engaging enough to get a 3.5) and the monsters in Vampires of Venice and Vincent and the Doctor are a bit unconvincing, but as a whole the series has the best myth-arc of the 9, coupled with a fantastic opener, an epic finale and a groundbreaking turn from Matt Smith. Even Tennant/Davies fans have to acknowledge this was a superb series that showcased Moffat and Smith’s talents. Gillian and Darvill both grow into their roles, while Alex Kingston makes River Song a joy to watch in her four appearances in the series. The infamously needless redesign of the Daleks aside, the series makes few errors. The number of fans I know who don’t like this series is lower than it would be for any of the other 8 – it’s certainly the least hated run, but the inconsistent writing for Amy and Rory means it isn’t quite the best…

Great Episodes (4.5/5 or higher): The Eleventh Hour, The Time of Angels, Flesh and Stone, Amy’s Choice, The Pandorica Opens, The Big Bang

Good Episodes (4/5): Vincent and the Doctor, The Lodger

Average Episodes (3 or 3.5/5): Victory of the Daleks, The Vampires of Venice, The Hungry Earth, Cold Blood

Weak/Bad Episodes (2.5/5 or lower): The Beast Below

Season Average: 4/5

(1st Place) Series 9:

What a series! Heaven Sent is up there with the best things Moffat’s written, Capaldi’s performance was BAFTA worthy and Jenna Coleman sealed her status as one of the best actresses to play a companion. A near-perfect final 3 episodes and an experimental yet successful run of 9 before it, this series had something for anyone. Even Sleep No More has its advocates (though I’m not one of them – it had some interesting ideas but I think the direction wasn’t equal to the task – and Gatiss’ script had its usual overload of clichés). The Girl Who Died is the only other weak link (let down by poor extras and a lack of real tension) but still has its moments. Hell Bent was a divisive finale but it was done so well I won’t fault it too much for messing around with Clara’s exit. Maisie Williams was a particularly memorable guest star (particularly in the wonderful The Woman Who Lived). Any fanboys (or fangirls) still pining for Tennant and the Davies era – what show have you been watching? Capaldi is as strong an actor (if not stronger) as Tennant ever was and half the time he’s getting better material (cf. his speech in Zygon Inversion and basically everything in Heaven Sent). So on behalf of Capaldi and Moffat’s fans – this is my favourite series of the show (modern and classic) and I can’t wait for series 10. Hope Capaldi and Moffat exit on a high!

Great Episodes (4.5/5 or higher): Before the Flood, The Woman Who Lived, Face the Raven, Heaven Sent

Good Episodes (4/5): The Magician’s Apprentice, Under the Lake, The Zygon Invasion, the Zygon Inversion, Hell Bent

Average Episodes (3 or 3.5/5): The Girl Who Died

Weak/Bad Episodes (2.5/5 or lower): Sleep No More

Season Average: 4.04