Category Archives: Doctor Who

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 the return of fan-favourite Leonard Snart and 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 spectacle 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…

Doctor Who: Series 10 Review

Here’s my view on the highs and lows of series 10, as well as my opinion of what the show needs to do in Series 11.

Summary:

I had two thoughts at the start of the series that are still true by the end of it. 1. Bill is something we haven’t seen before in Modern Who: a realistic companion, whose fears and sense of wonder seem just like how any human would react to a chance to travel in time and space, and how they’d react to it. 2. This series feels more like a run in the classic 1963-1989 series than it does a series of modern 2005-2017 Who. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (some of the classic series runs are really very good – any modern fans who are curious should check out the series from 1970, 1974-77, 1979, 1982 and 1988-1989 – they all have some cracking stories) and for a while the new feel seemed fresh and worked for the opening 4 episodes as the series had a steady if unspectacular run. Unfortunately, the show never picked up the pace or impetus until the two part finale. The Monk trilogy started well and set things up intriguingly for the third part conclusion, but then Lie of the Land brought the whole thing to a unsatisfying halt. The Vault mystery was initially gripping but the answer was too obvious and too uninteresting compared to the question (always a mistake with season long mysteries). There were other problems too, as Nardole varied between hilarious and downright annoying depending on who was writing the episode, and at the series end I have to question what he really added to it all. Why not have Missy acting as a temporary companion throughout the series, try to rehabilitate herself before the Master throws a spanner in the works in the finale? Then you could ditch Nardole and the Vault and cut the fat out of the series. There was also a perplexing lack of action for much of the run, and while Doctor Who isn’t meant to be all guns blazing or fun of fights like Game of Thrones, it should strike a better balance than this series did, with only 2 episodes (Empress of Mars and The Doctor Falls) giving us some decent action scenes. The direction standard varied considerably as well, compared to the wonderfully shot series 9, and I hope at least half of this series directors aren’t asked back again. Murray Gold’s soundtrack had the odd standout moment, mostly in the two-part finale and Bill’s theme, but I can’t help feeling he should stand aside and let someone fresh take over – he’s not at his best anymore. While Moffat’s 5 episodes were solid, the other writers’ efforts were all a bit average (Rona Munro and Mike Bartlett were the only ones to excel) and while there were no disasters, there were no classics either. The two-part finale was very good, but is probably the only thing this series will be remembered for. Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie gave their all, but for me neither got as much to work with as Capaldi and Coleman did in the last two series. Michelle Gomez and John Simm were brilliant, I just wish both had slightly more screentime.

Overall, this is my least favourite season of Modern Who. Its not bad, just forgettable and it fails to make the most of its potential. Normally I can name about 8-9 episodes I’d be itching to rewatch when a series finishes. This time that number is down at 3-4. Moffat has always excelled as a writer, but for me, this series showed it is the right time for him to step down as showrunner. The show needs some change, and not a moment too soon, it looks like we’ll get some.

Episode Ratings: (Episodes ranked from best to worst)

World Enough and Time: 4.5/5 – If not for early spoilers and a slow pace, it would be a classic.

The Doctor Falls: 4.5/5 – Cool, emotional, full of fan-service but underuses the Master and overshadows the Cybermen too much.

Extremis: 4/5 – A great episode let down by a disappointing final twist.

The Pilot: 4/5 – A solid, fresh, if unspectacular start.

The Pyramid at the End of the World: 4/5 – The realism of the science lab’s security procedures and a slow middle prevent this going any higher.

The Eaters of Light: 4/5 – A fun, old school filler episode let down by an all too predictable and simple resolution.

Knock Knock: 4/5 – Creepy and effective but with a familiar and all too easy ending.

Smile: 3.5/5 – A black-mirror esque story of technology gone wrong serves as a fun filler episode and allows the Doctor-Bill friendship to develop nicely.

Empress of Mars: 3.5/5 – A well-acted, action filled runaround, but nothing we haven’t seen a dozen times before.

Thin Ice: 3/5 – Has its moments and Bill continues to be a breath of fresh air, but the plot is wafer thin and the villain too pathetic one-dimensional to be threatening.

The Lie of the Land: 3/5 – Decent episode but woeful finale to the Monk trilogy. Wasting 20 mins on a plot that goes nowhere doesn’t help. What exactly was the point of the Monks?

Oxygen: 3/5 Terribly directed and not remotely scary enough. Shame, because the script and the performances are quite good.

Highlights:

  • The Doctor Punches a racist (Thin Ice)
  • The Pope ruins Bill’s date (Extremis) – Perhaps the funniest Who scene ever!
  • Bill makes a bad deal with the Monks (The Pyramid at the End of the World)
  • The Doctor and Missy chat in the Vault (The Lie of the Land)
  • The Master meets Missy/Bill turned into Cyberman (World Enough and Time)
  • Missy kills the Master/The Master kills Missy (The Doctor Falls)
  • Heather returns and saves Bill (The Doctor Falls)
  • The First Doctor Returns (The Doctor Falls)

Low points:

  • Nardole being irritating (Smile, Thin Ice, Oxygen)
  • Veritas turns out to be a simulation (Extremis)
  • The Doctor’s Fake Regeneration (The Lie of the Land)
  • The Monk’s are defeated by Bill’s Love for her mum (The Lie of the Land)
  • The Doctor and Missy’s relationship is left unresolved (The Doctor Falls)

Series Rating: 3.5 out of 5. It wasn’t bad but it was nowhere near the standard we’ve had since Series 5 onwards (discounting parts of the mixed 6th series).

What does Chibnall need to do in Series 11 (and beyond)?

  1. Give us a good new recurring monster/villain: The Monks potential was largely squandered and all the other aliens were one-offs I doubt we’ll see again. While Moffat’s reign has given us some great one-off monsters and villains (The Dreamlord in Series 5, House in Series 6, Solomon in Series 7, The Foretold and The Boneless in Series 8, The Fisher King and The Veil in Series 9) we haven’t had a classic new-who recurring monster that’s worked since ‘The Silence’ in series 6. Apart from them, The Ood and the Weeping Angels (who are long overdue a return) there haven’t really been that many original New-Who monsters which fans have taken to (The Slitheen and Judoon were okay, but there’s a reason neither have showed up except in cameos since Season 4). I think its about time we got another, and maybe a fresh pair of hands like Chibnall’s can come up with one.
  2. Bring Back the Weeping Angels: Sure Moffat’s the only writer whose ever used them as the main villains of an episode, but that doesn’t mean that someone else can’t do them well. They are a damn sight scarier than the overused Daleks and Cybermen, plus as we’ve only had 3 stories where they’ve played a big part, there must be plenty of new stories that can be told with them.
  3. Use a Classic Villain other than Daleks or Cybermen: The Daleks’ overuse in Modern Who is infamous, and the Cybermen are starting to have a similar problem – they’ve appeared (and been beaten too easily) on too many occasions to be the same hit they once were (also the number of stories that haven’t been told using them must be running pretty low right now). But then again, Classic Who also gave us Sontarans, Silurians, Ice Warriors and Zygons, all of whom have been used sparingly. The Zygon population on Earth leaves an obvious plot for any writer who wants to go there and the Sontarans haven’t got a full on appearance since Series 4, which as they are arguably Classic Who’s Third Best Monster is a bit of a shame. The Ice Warriors really need a two-parter (not written by Gatiss) to show their full potential as well. Given Chibnall has written two Silurian stories in the past, I’d imagine we might well expect them to return. Even if they don’t get a full return, you could at least bring back Strax, Vastra and Jenny couldn’t you?
  4. Give us more two-parters: The Two-parter format of Series 9 worked wonderfully, with only the sole standalone episode (Sleep No More) disappointing. Two-parters tend to be better than solo outing because they aren’t as rushed (there are exceptions on both sides but if nothing else who doesn’t love more cliffhanger endings?). I’m a big fan of three part finales as well, as both Series 3 and Series 9 gave us a hell of a finish (okay, admittedly the third part in both cases was flawed, but the build up to both was downright epic).
  5. Ditch the companion stereotype. Give us something different: We’d had 10 series, yet all the main companions fall into the same segment of society from the same planet in the same time period. Donna, Jack, Bill and Rory all felt fresh because they offered a slightly different type of companion (they were either slightly older, or male, or had a different sexuality). Aside from family/background, there isn’t a hell of a lot of difference between Rose, Martha, Amy and Clara (Don’t get me wrong, I loved all four of them). What i’d argue its time for is a bit more experimentation. How about a companion from a past era (which would give a ton of storytelling potential) or an humanoid looking alien (classic Who did this a lot in the 70’s and 80’s and it worked really well). Or perhaps more simply, make the main companion male have two men in the Tardis for a change (a friendship/bromance would certainly offer something different). Equally if the next Doctor’s female, two women might well have a different dynamic, as would a female Doctor with a male companion. Whatever Chibnall does, I really hope he shakes things up a bit with the Tardis crew, the show needs to start offering something new or its lifespan won’t be as long as it should be…

Speaking of the new Doctor, I think I am hoping for a woman this time. If it works for the Master…

 

Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls Review

The Doctor Falls by Steven Moffat

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS!!!

I said last week if this finale didn’t score 5/5 stars it would be a failure, given the potential it had. That may have seemed harsh, and I’ll rephrase that statement – if The Doctor falls fails to get 5/5 it means the episode was a missed opportunity, not a failure. Long story short – it hasn’t got a 5/5 from me.

The episode is good, if slightly less so than last week’s World Enough and Time, but this is hardly unusual for Doctor Who finales. As far as two-part finales go, you have to go all the way back to The Parting of the Ways in 2005 to find a Finale that was better than it’s preceding episode. Moffat’s writing, Talalay’s direction and Murray Gold’s score all perform, as do the cast, and I did really like large parts of the episode, but like Hell Bent last year, you feel like if Moffat had gone a slightly different route with the plot, it could have been even better.

While the double-Mastercide may look like the end for the character, Moffat’s handily left a way out for Chibnall (or any other future showrunners) in that Missy can’t remember if she is Simm’s direct successor or another incarnation (or incarnations) of the Master came in between them. While the Master and Missy’s end were neat and neatly refuted last week’s declaration that ‘you would never be so…self-destructive’, it was a bit underwhelming in that we saw neither regenerate (though in Simm’s case that may be because of the get-out clause I mentioned earlier) but primarily it felt wrong for me that the Doctor didn’t know about Missy’s change of heart. While that’s tragic in itself its not really satisfying, and I really hope she has some kind of appearance in the Xmas special to correct this oversight. I had mixed feelings about the Master-Missy part of the episode. While it was very fun seeing them together, and while I much preferred Moffat’s writing of Simm’s Master to that of Russell T. Davies (Seriously what the fuck was he doing in The End of Time with that stupid undead cannibal gimmick?!?!) it didn’t feel all that consequential in the end. They argue with the Doctor, they refuse to fight, Missy changes her mind and they kill each other. Not really a plotline that works when crammed into about a quarter of the episode. A multi-master story should have been the focus of the finale (as should a Cybermen evolution come to think of it) but Capaldi’s imminent demise and Bill’s predicament ended up overshadowing them both.

Ah yes, Bill. While I’m sure some fans will be annoyed that this is the third time Moffat has saved companions who looked destined for death, for me Bill’s reprieve seemed far more merited than Clara’s or even Amy and Rory’s. (I still maintain, Clara should either have stayed dead or simply died properly at the end of Hell Bent. I also maintain Amy and Rory should have died jumping off that roof rather than being trapped in the 1930’s. Both would have been much stronger exits.) Bill’s is nowhere near as annoying for two reasons: firstly Bill hasn’t been a long-term companion like the others and thus her death would have seemed less merited and premature, and secondly because Heather’s appearance tied up a loose end from the Pilot, while by comparison neither Clara nor Amy’s rescues were in any way foreshadowed or narratively justified. Bill’s was.

The Cybermen were yet again little more than cannon fodder, which, particularly because this was the case in Death in Heaven as well, is a real pity. We still haven’t had a great Cyber story in modern Who, something Chibnall can hopefully fix when he takes over – for starters by making them the main villain and the focus of the episode withput getting overshadowed by Daleks or the Master. That said, it was cool seeing Mondasian, Cybus Industries and Modern Cybermen side by side.

While the (brilliant) cliffhanger had me in full-on fanboy mode, I must admit it would have been better had rumours of David Bradley’s role in the Xmas Special not been leaked months ago. Can UK Media please fuck off and let us be surprised by Who once in a while?

In the end, I feel like we needed another episode between this and World Enough and Time, in which we could see the Master’s rise to power on the spaceship through flashbacks, get more Missy-Master-Doctor conversations and also see the Cybermen develop and turn against the Master in Level 1000 over 45 mins (thus giving both more screentime and making the Cybermen into more of a threat as they subdue and convert the city’s population). Then you could have had the Doctor help the Masters escape and jumped into the last 45 mins of this episode as a finale. That would have been much better in my opinion, as then the two Masters, Cybermen and the Doctor’s imminent death might have all got the attention and screentime they deserved.

Overall like Hell Bent and Death in Heaven before it, it’s a good hour of television, but not exactly what I wanted from a series finale. It wraps some things up in style but underused its villains too much. It’s probably Moffat’s best finale after Series 5’s ‘The Big Bang‘ though.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

So the long wait for Christmas begins as we see Capaldi joining David Bradley’s first Doctor for one last adventure before he regenerates. Hopefully it’ll be the send-off Capaldi (and Moffat) deserve.

I’ll do a full review of Series 10 later this week, featuring my view on what went right, what went wrong and how it could have been improved.

P.S. For any Game of Thrones fans reading this I’ll be doing some predictions for season 7 towards the end of the week as well, so keep a look out!

P.P.S. I’ll try to put out reviews of Wonder Woman and Season 5 of both House of Cards and Orange is the New Black as well, but those may well get pushed back a week.

Doctor Who: World Enough and Time Review

World Enough and Time by Steven Moffat

I’ll give a spoiler warning, even if the BBC showed all but one plot point in the trailers.

This episode might have been a classic but for two avoidable problems. But really it comes down to one problem: unnecessary spoilers. The episode all moved a bit slowly in the second half, but that was only an issue because we all knew where it was going. We knew the hospital patients were being converted into Mondasian Cybermen. It was thus very easy to guess that was exactly what was going to happen to Bill. We knew John Simm’s Master was returning. Thus it was pretty easy to guess ‘Mr. Razor’ was more than he seemed. I can understand why the Cybermen’s return was announced early. They feature in exterior-shot scenes which extras or photographers could easy have spoiled. The episode works whether or not you know they’re coming. But Simm’s reveal was so late on, and only in front of the principal cast members, that spoiling his return seemed completely unnecessary. Had he been a surprise this could have rivalled ‘Dark Water’ and ‘Utopia’ for great Master shock reveals. But, whether to entice viewers or just out of idiocy, the BBC decided to announce Simm’s return and put him in various trailers. #Mistake. Fortunately, despite this misstep, the episode was pretty damn good!!!

I feel like I’ve been moaning about the direction for half the damn series, but Rachel Talalay has never disappointed on Who (seriously, someone hire her for the final Game of Thrones season!!! Imagine what she could do with that budget!). The ship reveal was sublime, the creepy hospital expertly shot, and the episode generally full of little directorial flourishes that helped make the last two finales so splendid. Murray Gold’s score was pretty good for the most part too. Moffat’s script deserves equal credit with Talalay’s direction, as, just like ‘Dark Water’ and ‘Heaven Sent’ Moffat comes up with a great sci-fi concept to base an episode around. The ship with time running faster/slower at each end is a great idea and one he has plenty of fun with, even if the episode spends a little too long explaining it as a concept. In short, the production team nails it.

Nardole and Capaldi played a smaller role in proceedings than normal, though Capaldi’s explanation of the gravity-time phenomenon was good and his recollections of him and Missy as young boys on Gallifrey was touching. The episode was instead largely carried by Missy, Bill and Mr. Razor (AKA the Master – I’d sussed that out within about five minutes of him being on screen and I’m guessing most of you knew well before he and Missy went face to face). Michelle Gomez had tremendous fun playing ‘Doctor Who’ and winding Bill and Nardole up, while Bill’s experience in the hospital leads to one of Pearl Mackie’s best performances to date. But the real praise has to be saved for John Simm. His performance (under heavy make-up) as Razor was so good I almost started doubting if it actually was the master under there. His Master may have only been on screen for two minutes, but this is the first time since ‘The Sounds of Drums’ I’ve really felt like Simm was playing the Master as he should be. He was (thankfully) restrained,  and more of a smirking, creepy villain than the laughing, overblown psychopath Russell T. Davies wrote. This version of Simm’s Master just felt instantly more nuanced – and hopefully the next episode will maintain this transition and not revert to the animalistic madman from ‘The End of Time’. Credit to Simm and Moffat if that happens. The scene between him and Missy was the best scene Simm’s got since the phone call between him and Tennant in Sound of Drums, and if we’re lucky the interaction between those two will give us plenty more highlights to look forward to.

Overall, World Enough and Time works very well, but the slow pacing in the second half and the big drawn out reveals are far less effective because of the spoilers. The stage is set for a truly great finale though. Don’t let us down Moffat.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next Time: The Cybermen rise and evolve, The Doctor and Nardole try to save Bill, The Master fights for his future and Missy finally decides what side she is on…

Seriously if this finale doesn’t get 5/5 they’ve fucked up. Because they’ve created a set-up with so much potential that anything less than perfection would be a missed opportunity

Doctor Who: Episodes 8-10 Review

My enthusiasm for this series of Doctor Who has decidedly dropped, hence why I’m reviewing the last three episodes at once. I’ll cover the finale episodes individually because there will doubtlessly be more to talk about in them.

Warning: Spoilers!

The Lie of the Land by Toby Whitehouse

Oh dear. The Monk trilogy was going so well.

It’s not that this episode is bad exactly, its just deeply unsatisfying as the final part of a trilogy (sounds familiar). Wasting 20 minutes of the episode on a throwaway plot which ended with a fake regeneration (presumably only included to put some cool shots in the series trailer) really did not help matters. Nor did the Monks, who’ve been meticulous in their plans, being defeated so easily (by the power of love overcoming technology/brainwashing… groan – this plot device should never be allowed in Who again – its fucking annoying how overused it is!!! – Think Fear Her, Victory of the Daleks, Night Terrors, Rings of Akhaten etc… only reset buttons are worse or more bloody frequent). Rant over, Mackie, Lucas and Capaldi are all good (Capaldi’s fake turn to the dark side is very, very well acted, and if this episode had been in his first series it might have even been believable), but that’s not enough to save this episode. If it wasn’t for Missy’s scene stealing turn in the vault, it wouldn’t get nearly as high a rating.

If the Doctor had really been brainwashed by the Monks in serving them and Bill managed to break their hold on him, before the Monks attack on mass in response maybe we’d have got a decent conclusion from this story. In many ways it reminded me of Last of the Time Lords from Series 3: an occupied earth, a captive Doctor, a companion who is everyone’s only hope and a nonsensical climax which combine to provide a decent episode but an uttering unsatisfying conclusion to what had been a promising 3-parter.

Overall ‘the Lie of the Land’ is an entertaining enough episode, but a sorely disappointing climax to the Monks trilogy. The acting and dialogue is good, but the plot is bland and the direction flat.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Empress of Mars by Mark Gatiss

Mark Gatiss has a VERY mixed record on Doctor Who (rather like his mixed contributions to Sherlock) – while most of his stories fall safely into the average category (think The Idiot’s Lantern, Victory of the Daleks or Cold War) at other times he’s utterly predictable, churning out dull crap like Night Terrors or Sleep No More, or occasional triumphs like The Unquiet Dead and The Crimson Horror.

This episode combines two of Gatiss’ favourite Who tropes: Ice Warriors (as mentioned he scripted their modern return in series 7’s Cold War) and a Victorian setting (which he used in Unquiet Dead and Crimson Horror, as well as the Sherlock Xmas special). I preferred the Ice Warriors in this story to the one in Cold War, least because the Ice Warriors are slightly more nuanced this time. They’re ruthless, loyal, merciful and honourable, all in the same 45 minutes, rather than a monster running amok on a submarine and then being merciful in a completely out-of-character way.

If Cold War was the Ice Warrior version of Alien, Empress of Mars is Aliens with far more action and Ice Warriors than the previous entry. The Ice Warrior weapons are a bit odd (why they didn’t stick with their weapons from the classic series/Cold War is slightly baffling) but I’m just glad we got some action after what has been for the most part a pedestrian and rather uneventful series. Pity the Victorian soldiers were so forgettable. They are well acted (Ser Meryn Trant off Game of Thrones made an appearance) but very thinly drawn by Gatiss and downright clichéd in some places. Only the Ice Warrior Friday really leaves a lasting impression.

Overall, like Smile earlier in the season, it’s an entertaining filler episode that never really does anything revolutionary. It’s workmanlike yet enjoyable with an alien threat in the Victorian era and is standard Gatiss fare – but if this is his last Who episode, maybe that’s for the best.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Eaters of Light by Rona Munro

This is something notable. An episode written by not just one of the writers from the classic series, but the one who wrote the very last story of that run (Survival) in 1989 (it’s a decent but unremarkable 3-parter featuring the Master, appropriately enough). She’s the first classic-who writer to return for the modern series, but did she make the most of it?

Answer: Sort of. The Eaters of Light is one of the better episodes of the series, but given its consistent mediocrity that doesn’t say an awful lot. Like Empress of Mars it’s a very simplistic episode but fortunately has slightly better characters. The monster is more menacing than some we’ve had this series, but in the end its defeated rather easily (see also Smile, Lie of the Land etc.). Pearl Mackie and Peter Capaldi give their best as always, while the younger supporting cast is likeable. It’s probably the best material Matt Lucas has got from a writer other than Moffat too. Equally its the best soundtrack from Murray Gold in a while, but I still think it might be time for him to go; the music has generally been background noise this season (for series 1-9 it was something closer to an art form).

The Missy scene is kind of awkwardly fixed on, but Capaldi and Gomez make up for it. The Vault plotline really did go nowhere didn’t it? Rule for showrunners: never make the question more interesting than the answer (something season 2 and 3 of The Flash can’t stop bloody doing, but I had hoped Who was above that cheap viewer-bait).

Overall, a good script makes this one of the better entries in Series 10, but a forgettable monster and predictable climax means it doesn’t soar as high as it could have. Rona Munro can definitely come back next season though.

Rating: 4 out of 5

10 episodes. I’ve given five 4/5 ratings, two 3.5/5 ratings and three 3/5 ratings. This is currently the lowest scoring run of who episodes (according to me anyway) in all 10 seasons. No other series got this far in without getting a 4.5/5 or a 5/5. Moffat’s 3 episodes were all good but only 2 of the support writers really nailed their entries. Whatever happens in the last 2 episodes it’ll still probably be my least favourite (modern) series of Who. Unless the finale REALLY steps things up a gear. Fingers crossed. Speaking of which…

Next Time: Missy’s rehabilitation is put to the test on a ship stuck near a black hole, while her predecessor and some very old-style Cybermen…

Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World Review

The Pyramid at the End of the World by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat

Warning: Major Spoilers!

This isn’t a conventional three-parter so much as three interlinked standalone episodes, as very little of Extremis carries forward here (Missy doesn’t appear for one thing). The Monk’s real plan was the high point of the episode, as after totally misdirecting the Doctor they essentially blackmailed humanity into accepting their rule or be destroyed by a catastrophe of their own making. It was refreshing to see an alien race using humanity’s own mistakes against them rather than simply threatening them with some form of alien tech. I liked the use of the Doomsday clock as a warning, and The Doctor discovering where the threat was by tricking the Monks into revealing which security camera they were monitoring was very clever. However, the dragged-out reveal of the Doctor’s blindness to Bill was a bit frustrating, even if the final scenes delivered on the pay-off as the Doctor’s weakness nearly proved fatal for him, and was ultimately the reason the Monks won.

So the Doctor’s blindness is finally cured. As with last week, Nardole was actually a valuable addition here (the Doctor’s blindness plotline has really helped Nardole’s supporting role in the show find its feet) while Bill was back to her best as Pearl Mackie proved in the final scenes how well she can handle the emotional beats her character has to deal with. Bill putting the Doctor ahead of humanity’s safety should make things interesting for her next week as she deals with the inevitable guilt of that decision. Tony Gardner and especially Rachel Denning were also good value as the two lab scientists (wouldn’t mind seeing more of Rachel Denning – after David Suchet in Knock Knock she’s been the best guest star so far).

The Monks are more intriguing than anything else at this point. We’ve had two episodes of them now and still know very little other than they are methodical, strategic and that their monkish appearance isn’t their true form. This is creating a lot of theories that there is a more familiar foe hiding underneath the monks outer appearance, but I’m sure we’ll learn a bit more about them next episode. Their desire to rule through love rather than fear is a fair bit different from the normal alien invaders we see on who, while their test of the purity of surrendering (and their cold execution of those found wanting) all combined to make them something we’ve not seen before. However, it was another action-light episode, and I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m ready for more of an action packed adventure (which hopefully we may get next week!).

Overall an enjoyable episode that flirted with greatness but never quite went all the way. However, the stage is now set for the concluding part of this three-parter to be an absolute thriller, which this series is still crying out for. Hopefully Toby Whitehouse doesn’t let us down…

Rating: 4 out of 5

Next Time: The Monks have control of Earth and Missy’s giving advice on how to save it… what could possibly go wrong?