Monthly Archives: December 2017

Top 10 TV Episodes of 2017

Rather than my usual top TV shows, I decided to do a top 10 episodes. This was for several reasons: firstly, a lot of my favourite shows have underperformed this year (House of Cards, Doctor Who, The Americans, The Flash), and a top 4 shows would be about the best I could manage, and secondly because many of those shows still had terrific episodes even if the overall season was a bit of a let-down. So without further ado, here’s my TV picks from 2017.

I’ve made any spoilers as minor as possible, but pretty much everything referenced here was either in trailers or has been general knowledge for at least 6 months.

10. World Enough and Time (Doctor Who, Series 10) Series 10 may have been a weak run for Doctor Who, but Steven Moffat’s writing, Capaldi and Mackie’s acting and Rachel Talalay’s direction was flawless throughout. World Enough and Time is up their with Moffat’s best: a dark, creepy haunting tale set on a spaceship stuck orbiting a black hole, causing time to run faster at one end than the other. Throw Missy, a classic monster and another returning (disguised) villain into the mix and you have a classic in the making. If only so much of it hadn’t been spoiled beforehand, this episode might have been a lot further up my list.

9. Season Finale (Robot Wars UK) The last series of Robot Wars had 1 or 2 duff episodes, but the finale was so spectacular that it has to get a place in my top 10. The ten way Robot Rumble to decide who got the coveted sixth spot in the final was perhaps the best 5 minutes of television this series has ever produced, and the sheer chaos of it all was wonderful to behold. The final rounds themselves weren’t bad either – with several surprises as Defending Champions Carbide were placed under extreme pressure and a few no-hopers (Nuts 2) actually acquitted themselves rather well.

8. Beyond the Wall (Game of Thrones, Season 7) Game of Thrones seventh season may have thrown out the careful plotting a bit too much for some fans, but the sheer spectacle of the thing and the wonderful array of character interactions (some we’d waited years to see) still made it insanely compelling viewing. This episode, where Jon Snow and a band of followers including the Brotherhood without banners, The Hound, Tormund, Jorah and Gendry, all venture North of the Wall to search for proof of the White Walkers existence, is on a scale worthy of Lord of the Rings. To say any more would spoil what’s so great about it, but the soundtrack, direction and spectacle were all second to none, even if the resolution is somewhat ludicrous.

7. The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (Gotham, Season 3) Gotham’s not had a great year by all accounts. While we’ve had several great villains truly come to the fore (Riddler, Ra’s al Ghul, Professor Pyg) there’s been too much slow-burning about Gotham, and too many characters have got short-shift. But every so often, the show delivers a real gem, and that’s exactly what we got in this, the third part of a trilogy marking Jerome’s return in season 3. Seeing teenage Bruce Wayne face off with the man Gotham fans are 99% sure is the future Joker was stunning television, and the whole Riddler-Penguin civil war wasn’t a bad B-Plot either. It has a lot of great Bruce and Jerome moments that I won’t spoil, and one hell of a cliffhanger too.

6. The Dragon and the Wolf (Game of Thrones, Season 7) Remember what I said about character interactions? Well the finale had a truck full of them. Whether it was the Hound and Brienne coming face-to-face again, Jon Snow and Daenerys finally meeting Cersei or Jaime finally, FINALLY seeing Cersei’s true colours, it was epic. Littlefinger’s plotline was a punch the air moment for every fan watching, and the final scene with the White Walkers sets up season 8 perfectly. A great finale, if not quite the best episode of the season…

5. Doomworld (Legends of Tomorrow, Season 2) – I would never have expected Legends of Tomorrow, the most ridiculous Superhero Show on TV (featuring time-travel, aliens, mythology etc.) to also have been the best and most consistent one in 2017. But it was. Mainly because of its amazing season 2 plotline, which saw the superhero ensemble face-off with the Legion of Doom (featuring the Reverse-Flash, Dark Archer, Damien Darhk and Captain Cold – aka four of the Arrowverse’s best villains). Doomworld gave us a look at a future where the villains actually won, a rarity on any superhero show, and was a fabulous hour full of redemption stories, villainous one-liners and a kick-ass final battle scene. If season 3 lives up to this standard I won’t be complaining much.

4. Infantino Street (The Flash, Season 3) I’ll be honest, the Flash’s third season was terrible. The main plot didn’t work well and it largely squandered any goodwill left over from the excellent first one and a half seasons. Infantino Street was its sole knockout hit, the penultimate episode of the season, which featured both the return of fan-favourite Leonard Snart and had the villainous Savitar finally delivering on his potential. The ending scene is up their with the best Flash cliffhangers (and there are A LOT of good ones). Pity the producers ruined everything in the season finale, but in my view that doesn’t diminish this classic instalment. Let’s hope season 4 has more episodes like this.

3. Storm-y Weather (Orange is the New Black, Season 5) Orange is the New Black’s status as one of the all-time great Netflix shows remains untarnished (unlike House of Cards, for various reasons), and season five continuing the trend of a series that has actually got better year on year (how many shows can say that?!). Set over 3 days rather than several weeks a la previous series, season 5 gave us a gripping depiction of a prison riot and what happens when the inmates turn the tables on the awful prison officers. This episode (the finale) finally forced the prisoners (and bastard guardsman Piscatella) to face up to their actions and face the consequences. Filled with emotional performances, it confirms that this series really does have longeveity. The use of the ‘To Build a Home’ song over the last 5 mins really was something beautiful too.

2. Lian Yu (Arrow, Season 5) – Season Five finally broke the norm for Arrow finales (i.e. a yearly attack on Star City) and instead presented a much more personal, visceral conflict between Oliver Queen and Prometheus, leading to a monumental battle between both sides (including the whole of team Arrow, Black Siren and several recurring fan favourites). Even the flashbacks were great, as Oliver faced off with a brutal Russian terrorist (played menacingly by Dolph Lungren). Throw in a spectacular cliffhanger and this was by miles the best episode Arrow’s given us since Deathstroke unleashed his army in season 2. A truly terrific finale.

1. The Spoils of War (Game of Thrones, Season 7) – It had to be really. The Spoils of War is a contender for best Thrones episode of all time. It contains a lot of fan-favourite moments and a truly awesome battle scene. Arya training with Brienne is just the icing on the cake. The finale builds and builds to something truly special as we finally see just what those Dragons are really capable of… A masterpiece, and the best episode of TV I’ve seen in a long time.

And here’s my TV Awards for 2017

Best Actress: Melissa Benoist (Supergirl)
Best Actor: Nikolau Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister, Game of Thrones)
Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Gomez (Missy, Doctor Who)
Best Supporting Actor: Wentworth Miller (Snart, The Flash/Legends of Tomorrow)
Best TV Show: Game of Thrones/Orange is the New Black
Best Script: Steven Moffat (World Enough and Time, Doctor Who)
Best Director: Rachel Talalay (World Enough and Time, Doctor Who)
Best Special Effects: USS Callister (Black Mirror)
Best Composer: Blake Neely (Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Villain(s): The Legion of Doom (Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Hero: Jon Snow (Game of Thrones)
Worst Actress: Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek Discovery)
Worst Actor: Doug Jones (Star Trek Discovery)
Worst Director: Charles Palmer (Oxygen, Doctor Who)
Worst TV Show: Star Trek Discovery
Worst Script: Aaron Helbing and Todd Helbing (Finish Line, The Flash)

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The Capaldi Era Reviewed

Well that’s that. Peter Capaldi has bowed out as the 12th Doctor after 4 years in the role. Over his 3 series and 4 Xmas specials he’s had numerous very strong showings and has given us several diverse takes on his character, so here’s my tribute to Twelve’s era. First up, my take on his best (and worst) episodes!

Obviously, major spoilers for Series 8-10. If you haven’t watched them by now, that’s not my problem.

12’s Worst Episodes

5. Oxygen (Series 10) by Jamie Mathison – A missed opportunity. Oxygen got bogged down in its anti-capitalism message and forgot to have fun along the way. Zombies onboard a space station really should be scarier than this. The acting was decent, but the direction lacked any drive whatsoever and seriously undermined the tension.

Rating: 3/5

4. In The Forest of the Night (Series 8) by Frank Cottrell-Boyce – Boyce’s first contribution to the series isn’t bad, it just isn’t that interesting. The child actors aren’t terrible (like Angie and Artie in Series 7) but they don’t add much to proceedings, and while Capaldi, Coleman and Samuel Anderson (Danny – remember him?) are all on form, things never spark into life. The direction is good though, and the storyline is inventive enough (trees have reclaimed earth and brought the human race to a standstill). Like Oxygen, it’s environmental message just weighs the plot down a bit too much.

Rating: 3/5

3. The Girl Who Died (Series 9) by Jamie Mathison – ‘We’re Vikings!’. Not very convincing ones mate. Containing some of the worst extras ever to appear in modern Who, it’s a good thing The Girl Who Died also had the wonderful Maisie Williams guest starring, because it’s one of the weakest scripts in series Nine. Only the last 15 minutes (where I suspect Moffat took over from Mathison as lead writer) have any real oomph to them.

Rating: 3/5

2. The Lie of the Land (Series 10) by Toby Whitehouse – A really disappointing ending to the ‘Monk trilogy’. The performances carry it and help avoid it being a disaster, but the Monks are defeated far too easily and the whole ‘fake regeneration’ thing was just silly.

Rating: 3/5

1.  Sleep No More (Series 9) by Mark Gatiss. An episode that tried to do something different with its found footage storyline, but is let down by forgettable guest stars and some truly stupid sci-fi (I mean living dust from eyes coming alive? Seriously Gatiss?). It should have at least been scarier, but everytime there was a threat of tension, Reece Shearsmith (absolutely woeful – the worst guest star in Capaldi’s era) turns up with more dull narration to drag proceedings down again. The script itself isn’t actually that bad, but the execution lets it down.

Rating: 2.5/5

Fortunately these episodes were the exception to the rule in the Capaldi era. Most of his episodes received either a 3.5/5 or a 4/5 from me, with several getting higher than that. So next up, here’s my list of his five best outings as the Doctor.

12’s Best Episodes 

5. Listen (Series 8) by Steven Moffat The first episode that really showed Capaldi’s potential. From his opening monologue to the end credits, he holds you attention and never lets it go, while Moffat delivers his most inventive script since Blink. It isn’t flawless, but sheer clever scripting and acting prowess from the three leads ensure it was one of Series 8’s highlights.

Rating: 4.5/5

4. World Enough and Time (Series 10) by Steven Moffat. Series 10 may have been a bit disappointing, but if you didn’t get shivers/punch the air during the last five minutes of ‘World Enough and Time’, you aren’t a proper who fan. Seeing two Masters on screen together for the first time was immensely engaging, and Moffat’s script made the Cybermen creepier than they have been in decades. If only we’d had fewer spoilers going in…

Rating: 4.5/5

3. Face the Raven (Series 9) by Sarah Dollard. Well this one was truly heartbreaking as Clara finally oversteps the mark in her attempts to be like the Doctor. Capaldi, Coleman and Maisie Williams are on fire here, and Sarah Dollard makes one of the best debuts I can remember as the writer for arguably the most important story of series 9. The script is excellent, while the direction, acting and Murray Gold’s music combine to make the episode’s climax truly heartwrenching… I do wish Moffat hadn’t undone it in the finale.

Rating: 5/5

2. Dark Water (Series 8) by Steven Moffat. The first two-parter in 3 years got off to a flying start with Dark Water, which takes its time but builds and builds to a jaw-dropping final 15 minutes. Some seriously creepy ideas about the afterlife, the return of the Cybermen and the reveal of just who Missy really is combine to make this a truly great episode. Capaldi, Coleman, Anderson and Michelle Gomez really gave this their all.

Rating: 5/5

1.  Heaven Sent (Series 9) by Steven Moffat. The winning combination of Moffat’s writing, Capaldi’s acting, Talalay’s direction and Murray Gold’s music reached its apex here in Capaldi’s sublime one-man (well, almost) show. While personally I find Dark Water more entertaining, Heaven Sent is undoubtedly the better episode and is up there with the best of what Moffat’s ever written. But Capaldi is the unquestioned star of this show – I’ll repeat what I said it my main review – only Capaldi could have carried an episode like this so well. Even Eccleston, Tennant and Smith, all fine actors, wouldn’t have matched him here, and that’s about the highest compliment I can give.

Rating: 5/5

For anyone interested, here’s the average score each of Capaldi’s series has got from me:

Series 8: 3.96/5. Series 8 featured several great episodes and no failures, while the Missy arc was the most satisfying season long mystery we’d got since the cracks in time in Series 5. Capaldi’s darker, grouchier take on the Doctor is refreshing even if it doesn’t always hit the right notes, while Jenna Coleman really comes into her own here.

Series 9: 4.04/5. Series 9 is the best modern who has given us so far, and if Chibnall/Whittaker or anyone else bests it I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Two weak episodes and a disappointing season arc aside, everything works. Capaldi gives us the definitive version of his Doctor (edgy and not giving a damn, but somewhat mellowed compared to his first series) and gets some of his best material, while Jenna Coleman’s marvellous performance proves she deserves to be the longest serving companion in Modern Who, and her partnership with Capaldi was clearly something truly special.

Series 10: 3.75/5. A VERY average run despite its strong finale, series 10 was something of a disappointment. Moffat still delivered, but his support writers (with the exception of Rona Munro and Peter Harness) let him down, though Moffat has to accept some blame for the Vault Storyline going nowhere and John Simm’s return being too widely spoiled. Pearl Mackie was excellent as Bill, but rarely got material that let her show off her talents. Capaldi’s Doctor, unfortunately, mellows too much in this last season, into near-forgetability by the end. His performance is still there, but the promise of his darker take on the Doctor has vanished, which was a shame. Like Tennant and Russell T. Davies, I can’t help feeling Moffat and Capaldi stuck around one season too long…

To finish up, here’s my 10 favourite moments from the Capaldi era.

10. We Surrender (Mummy on the Orient Express, Series 8). One of the 12th Doctor’s first truly heroic moments is where he stands up to the Foretold, knowing he only has 66 seconds to make it stand down before it kills him. Great scene.

9. Hello Sweetie (The Husbands of River Song). While most of this Xmas special was focused on comedy, the moment where River finally realizes that Capaldi is the Doctor was very sweet, and Capaldi’s ‘Hello Sweetie’ knocks it out of the park.

8. Those Eyebrows (The Day of the Doctor). Okay, slight cheat, this isn’t in any Capaldi episodes, but come on. Capaldi’s Day of the Doctor cameo was amazing. What a way to introduce a Doctor.

7. Clara Leaves the Doctor (Kill the Moon, Series 8). 12’s patronising behaviour finally comes back to bite him as an upset Clara gives him both barrels and leaves the Tardis in tears. Coleman’s performance was simply marvellous.

6. The Pope Ruins Bill’s Date (Extremis, Series 10). Quite possibly the funniest scene in Who History as Bill gets a girl back to her flat only to find the Doctor has accidentally left the Pope in her bedroom. Talk about a passion killer.

5. Clara Dies (Face the Raven, Series 9). What more can I say. We all knew it was coming at some point in Series 9, but it still hit hard anyway. The fact that Clara is arguably my favourite companion didn’t make it any easier.

4. The Doctor’s Speech (The Zygon Inversion, Series 9) The Doctor’s anti-war speech was a powerhouse of a performance by Capaldi, and even if the Zygon two-parter wasn’t the most memorable bit of Series 9, his speech to convince both sides to stand down gives it a perfect denouement. Who’d have thought Capaldi would surpass this a mere 3 episodes later…

3. You Know Who I Am (Dark Water, Series 8). The Missy reveal was up there with the Daleks surprise appearance in Army of Ghosts and the Master’s initial return in Utopia. It’s one of the best cliffhangers in the Capaldi era, and Capaldi and Michelle Gomez absolutely nail the scene. Well she couldn’t keep calling herself ‘The Master’ now could she 😉

2. Hello Missy. I’m the Master (World Enough and Time, Series 10). Simm’s performance has never been better. The face pull just made it all the more perfect. We knew it was him, but the reveal was pulled off with such gusto that it was epic anyway. This scene alone made the disappointing Series 10 worthwhile.

1.  Breaking the Wall (Heaven Sent, Series 9). What else could it be. Not forgetting that Murray Gold delivers his best soundtrack in YEARS for this scene, the moment where Twelve finally escapes his prison after spending millions of lifetimes punching through a near-indestructible wall was both epic and insanely clever. Well done Capaldi and Moffat – we won’t forget this one in a while.

To sum up, while Capaldi’s final series prevents me from labelling his incarnation the best version of the Doctor (Tom Baker is probably never going to be surpassed), he proved beyond doubt that he was one of the finest actors to play the role, easily matching what Eccleston, Tennant and Smith had achieved before him. Good luck Jodie Whittaker, you’ve got one hell of an act to follow…

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran and Andy Serkis

First half is spoiler-free, spoilers after the warning half-way through.

I liked Force Awakens. But I didn’t love it. While a funny, entertaining and well acted entry in the franchise, it played things far too safe and was far too similar to A New Hope. It also left far too many questions unanswered, leaving The Last Jedi with the difficult balancing act of providing answers, setting up Episode IX and still providing a good enough story to be a hit with audiences. Fortunately, Rian Johnson seems to posses a far greater understanding of what makes Star Wars great than J.J. Abrams, and delivers a touching, epic film that, while somewhat reverential to the original trilogy, is still focused on telling an original, engaging story and not just rehashing the franchises greatest hits (like the second half of Force Awakens). It stands well on its own merits and also serves as a fitting middle segment of this sequel trilogy. As for the lingering questions from Force Awakens: it explains Rey’s origin and the reasons for Luke’s disappearance well enough, while Snoke’s backstory remains frustratingly obscure, as does the First Order’s rise to power between Episodes 6 and 7.

The film itself isn’t perfect (its slightly longer than necessary and the dialogue can feel a bit forced and clunky in places) but overall is a resounding success. Even the Porgs aren’t that annoying (they aren’t up there with Ewoks or Gungans anyway). New cast members Kelly Marie Tran (playing Rose, a young resistance fighter who gets entangled in Finn’s storyline) and Laura Dern (Leia’s second in command) slot into their roles with ease, while the regulars all give accomplished turns. Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley bounce off each other well, while Adam Driver and Carrie Fisher keep the other plotlines engaing. General Hux (Gleeson), Snoke (Serkis) and Poe Dameron (Isaac) all get a welcome amount of extra screen time which helps flesh out their characters far more than in Force Awakens, although Gwendoline Christie is still rather wasted as the underused Captain Phasma.

The production team have performed equally well. Rian Johnson’ direction helps return a sense of wonder to proceedings, and he handles the action squences remarkably well, particularly the opening space battle and the various bits of lightsaber action. John Williams’ musical score is an improvement on his lacklustre effort for Force Awakens, and although its still below his best work for the series it serves well enough throughout. The film’s plotline is refreshingly well-crafted, even if the script could have used a bit of polishing to cut some of the corny dialogue (and perhaps losing 5-10 minutes would have helped the film feel tighter).

Overall Last Jedi delivers on giving us an engaging story without just re-treading old ground. It’s a touch too long and the dialogue can be a bit clunky, but some brilliant action pieces, surprise twists and good performances from the cast help it to surpass Force Awakens and leave the stage set perfectly for Episode IX. Hopefully J.J. Abrams can improve upon his previous effort and give us a fitting finale to the current trilogy.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!

So, onto the specific plot points. We’ll probably never know who Snoke was now, but given how long the film already was, I can understand why they didn’t bother fleshing out his backstory. It would only have worked well if Luke had been present for the reveal anyway, given that no other character had met Sidious or might have heard of Darth Plageius (the only two good Snoke theories). Either of them revealing themselves to Rey alone would have just fallen flat. Snoke just being an evil guy who rebuilt imperial forces into the first order isn’t exactly a satisfying answer to who he is, but I think the fanbase may have simply overthought it. This does make it more of a pity we never got any flashbacks to how the First Order formed, which might have fleshed Snoke out a bit. Fortunately, Andy Serkis’ performance still made Snoke a memorable foe, making the surprise twist of Kylo Ren turning on him all the more effective. Having Snoke and Ren both still in play in Episode IX might have led to Abrams crafting something too close to Return of the Jedi anyway, so only having Ren and Hux left on the villains side should provide a different dynamic. Phasma’s death was less impactful, mainly because she’s done bugger all so far, though her fight with Finn was pretty decent.

Speaking of fight scenes, Rey and Ren fighting Snoke’s bodyguards was pretty epic (nice to see Imperial bodyguards actually doing something for once – Sidious’ men looked cool but never sprung into action once). Johnson did a good job of teasing one of them turning to the light or dark side, but I’m not surprised he didn’t follow through on it. Kylo taunting Rey about her ordinary parentage was an effective enough way to reveal that Rey ISN’T a Kenobi or a Skywalker or the daughter or Sidious or Snoke (the later theories night have worked but, in the end, Rey not being born someone important with a famous family seems more appropriate than forcing a connection with Luke, Leia or Obi-Wan. I was mildly surprised they gave Finn another love interest in the form of Rose, but as someone who never entirely brought into Finn and Rey i’d be quite happy if Finn did end up with Rose, as Boyega and Kelli Marie Tran have good chemistry with each other. Rian Johnson did a good job of making Finn’s death feel like a genuine possibility in the final sequence, but this is Star Wars, not Game of Thrones, so I wasn’t surprised by the Rose-ex-Machina rescue. Admittedly Rose and Finn’s trip to the casino was probably where the film’s runtime could have been cut down easily, but the two made an interesting enough pairing that it was still an enjoyable part of the film.

One thing that really pleased me in the film was how the force was dealt with. Too often in the prequels the Jedi merely felt like skilled warriors rather than powerful wielders of ancient power, but here Luke, Snoke, Rey, Kylo and Leia all used it in interesting ways. It was nice to see Leia finally use some force ability other than telepathically sensing Luke or Han, while Rey and Kylo’s psychic connection was a neat trick to allow dialogue between the two of them. It was a slight pity we never got to see Luke square off with Snoke, given that Snoke seemed potentially even stronger than the Emperor ever was, while Luke’s force projection ability provided a neat final twist.

To sum up, it wasn’t perfect, but the combination of surprises, quality acting and diverting action sequences place this above Force Awakens in the Star Wars saga. It may not be the series’ absolute best, but it’s still top 4 or 5 as far as I’m concerned.