Category Archives: Series Review

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

My Top 10 TV Shows of 2016

I only did a top 5 last year but I felt I’d watched considerably more this time, so a top 10 seemed more appropriate.

Minor spoilers for all shows – no real specifics though, don’t worry.

10. Gotham (Season 2 Part 2/Season 3 Part 1) Gotham has often been considered the problem child of the DC universe – it isn’t part of the Arrowverse or the movies and thus sits awkwardly in the middle. Its tone tends to be wildly uneven – one episode gave us the hilariously OTT ending of Butch blowing up a villain with a Bazooka while another had the incredibly tense sequence where the Mad Hatter forced Jim to choose which of his two love interests was shot. However, this year has seen arguably its best run of episodes yet, with a superb Mr. Freeze origin story, a very sweet romance between the teenage Bruce and Selina, a great main villain in season 3 in the Mad Hatter and the winning combination of Penguin and Riddler, who are arguably the best villains on any superhero show right now. The show has miss-stepped a fair few times (the godawful Gordon in prison episode, two lacklustre season finales) but overall its showing great promise, and the first six episodes of season 3 were simply amazing.

9. The Grand Tour (Series 1) Clarkson, Hammond and May’s return may be a mixed bag of the hilarious and the cringe worthy, but overall its been a very welcome addition as well as the main reason to fork out for Amazon Prime. There’s been a few duff moments (particularly in the second episode ‘Operation Desert Stumble) but overall its given us all of the comedy, cars and catastrophe we wanted. It goes without saying, its completely trounced (and savagely mocked) the travesty/pile of excrement which was the Chris Evans version. Serves the BBC right.

8. IZombie (Season 2 Part 2) Anyone who’s not tried IZombie due to the stupid sounding title should really give it a second thought. The unique plotline it has (Zombies gain temporary memories/personality traits from the brains they eat, which allows main character Liv to solve the murders of people who end up in the morgue she works in) really opens up a wealth of storytelling potential, while also leading to some great comedy (the episodes where Liv eats the brain of an erotic novelist spring to mind, though there’s plenty of others with great comedy from similar ideas). The second half of season two in particular ramps up the drama element as more of the main cast find out about Liv’s true nature and the company that created the Zombie outbreak comes under the spotlight. Roll on season 3!

7. The Great British Bake Off (The final series that anyone will bother watching) Second only to the terrible Top Gear reboot in the list of BBC cock-ups this year was the loss of Bake Off to Channel 4 (seriously, who the fuck will watch it with no Mel, Sue, Mary as well as having to put up with sodding ad-breaks). I may have been a late-comer to the series, but the sheer charm of it all won me over and as it is it’s unofficial swansong, I thought i’d include it in my list. Full of the brilliant Mel/Sue interplay with the contestants, lavish desserts and culinary disasters (Andrew forgetting to put the oven on was hilarious) it also gave us a real character in Selasi (to cool to put into words) contestants who were easy to root for in Andrew and Benjamina and my personal favourite, pout-queen Candice Brown (too sweet for words – simply adored her!). This series was the perfect send off to a teatime treat of a show.

6. Legends of Tomorrow (Season 1 Part 2/Season 2 Part 1) The Arrow/Flash spinoff took a few episodes to get going in 2015, but it blew it out of the park in 2016 and surpassed both its parent shows (I sense a pattern emerging – expect Supergirl to be high on this list next year!). The first season gave us a thrilling climax as the team contended with the time masters and Vandal Savage, and the second gave us one of the best supervillain team ups in history as Malcolm Merlyn, the Reverse Flash and Damien Darhk joined forces (Legion of Doom!!!) It also has some of the most colourful characters from the Arrowverse in anti-heroes Snart and Mick (Captain Cold and Heatwave), Captain Rip played by Rory from Doctor Who!! (usually amusingly muttering ‘oh bloody hell…’ as the teams plans fall apart every week) and Sara/White Canary, who continues to be one of my favourite superhero characters (who else can seduce both the Queen of France and girls in Salem in the same episode? Her becoming temporary captain also really gave her character some great material this year. A very silly superhero show, but isn’t that just what we need after 2016?

5. Black Mirror (Series 3) The first of 3 Netflix series in my top 5, Black Mirror’s move from channel 4 to Netflix looks increasingly inspired. Not only has it got rid of ad-breaks and freed up the episodes running time, but increasing the series length to 6 episodes seems to have improved the quality rather than detracted from it. Even weaker episodes like ‘Playtest’ are still worth watching, while there’s some classically dark instalments with clever stings in the tail like ‘Shut Up and Dance’, for those who want more of what series 1 and 2 gave us, as well as new concepts and episode formats. The highlight for me, has to be ‘San Junipero’, sad and heartwarming in equal measure and a very neat sci-fi idea. Overall though, its a sublime run of episodes and well worth your time.

4. Game of Thrones (Season 6) Thrones might not have had a particularly consistent run of episodes (a real slow-burner mid-season with a bit too much padding, particularly in the Arya and King’s Landing storylines) but who cares when it still gave us exactly what we wanted in a kick-ass and explosive finale, a scintillating clash between Jon Snow and Ramsay, Daenerys being awesome for the first time in a while and the sheer horror of the white walkers attack leading to the tearjerking ‘Hold the Door’ moment. If season 7 can keep up the work of episodes like ‘Home’, ‘Battle of the Bastards’ or ‘The Winds of Winter’, then we’re sitting pretty for a thrilling penultimate series.

3. Orange is the New Black (Season 4) Orange is the New Black has got stronger every season and the fourth series doesn’t buck the trend. Despite being arguably one of the darkest series we’ve had from the scriptwriters, it balanced comedy and tragedy as effectively as ever. Any series that combines tear-jerking mental health plotlines and that horrifying twist at the end of episode 12 with laugh out loud moments such as the unlikeliest threesome probably ever seen on TV (I won’t spoil it, its so much better if you aren’t expecting it) is clearly onto a winner. Well done OITNB, yet again you’ve been one of the Netflix highlights this year. Just not as good as…

2. House of Cards (Season 4) After a mixed third season, House of Cards turned things around and delivered what may be its best season so far. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright’s acting was first class as always, but this time the writing was on par with their performances as the shows version of the US presidential election provided great drama and plenty of shock narrative twists. The way they utilised characters from previous seasons like ex-president Walker, Lucas Goodwin and Raymond Tusk was both expertly done and a real treat for long-term fans. I’ll credit them for not simply caricaturing Trump and Clinton either, instead giving us Joel Kinnaman’s Republican candidate Will Conway who seems like the ideal potential president, but has weaknesses/flaws that become apparent over the season, and was a far more engaging type of figure for Francis to face off with as he was continually at a PR disadvantage. Bring on season 5!

1.The Americans (Season 4) The most consistent series on television was a stand-out this year as the Russian spy pair/American married couple dealt with more problems than ever before as their lives increasingly teetered on the edge of unravelling. Dylan Baker was the stand-out guest star as a Soviet sympathiser working in an American viral lab, while the main cast was as great as ever, particularly Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, Frank Langella and Alison Wright. The Jennings had to deal with their daughter’s struggle to accept their true identity, the loss of one of their closest informants and missions they worth becoming increasingly uncomfortable with. A slightly lacklustre season finale aside, it was a flawless run with several shock character exits and plot twists, can’t wait for the final two seasons of this thrilling if slow-burning drama.

Missing out on the list was Arrow (still rebuilding after a so-so year), Flash (ditto, Zoom was the most disappointing villain I’ve seen from DC’s TV universe), Red Dwarf (promising but not back to its best yet) and Jessica Jones (too much padding). There are some shows I haven’t got round to watching yet (Supergirl and Westworld for example) and some I just don’t watch (like Walking Dead).

As for the disappointments of the year, my worst offenders have to be the Chris Evans Top Gear (for obvious reasons – what a TWAT!), Doctor Who spin-off Class (very pointless – even Torchwood Series 1 was less awkward) and Luke Cage, which completely wasted its potential and contrived to make sure whichever style of show you like, you would hate half the season. (Congrats Marvel, you have made something worse than Agents of Shield… can’t you just give us Jessica Jones season 2 already?!)

My TV Awards 2016

Best Actor: Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)/Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)/Robin Wright (House of Cards)
Best Supporting Actor: David Tennant (Jessica Jones)
Best Supporting Actress: Lori Petty (Orange is the New Black)
Best Episode: The Winds of Winter (Game of Thrones)
Best Hero: Sara Lance (Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Villain: Ramsay Snow (Game of Thrones)
Best Scripting: The Americans
Best Direction: Black Mirror
Best Soundtrack: Game of Thrones

If you’ve got your own list or disagree with mine, feel free to comment below. Happy New Year!

Jessica Jones: Season 1 Review

Starring Krysten Ritter and David Tennant

Looking for a quick Netflix binge or a new superhero fix? Jessica Jones might be just what you’re looking for…

Warning: Minor spoilers!

Marvel might have stolen a march on DC in film since the Dark Knight Trilogy, but thanks to Arrow, Flash, Gotham and Supergirl, DC’s pretty much owned the TV side of things. Or at least, it did whilst it’s only competition was the by-the-numbers and underperforming Agents of Shield. But Marvel has struck back. Agent Carter, Daredevil and Jessica Jones are three Marvel shows that have received critical acclaim, and as I had some time on my hands this summer, I decided to check them out, starting with Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones isn’t your standard superhero TV show. She doesn’t wear a costume, have an alter-ego or superhero name, and the shows much more psychological than action-packed, and has a very noir feel, emphasised by the trippy opening titles and unusual, jazzy soundtrack. Jessica has some classic superhero powers (namely super-strength) but the show avoids the usual cliché of having a villain with similar powers for her origin story or first onscreen outing (aka like Superman and General Zod, Iron Man and Iron Monger, Green Arrow and Malcolm Merlyn etc.).

Instead we get Kilgrave (David Tennant) who might just be the most unsettling villain I’ve seen since the J0ker. His powers? Mind-control. He can compel others to do anything – be it throw coffee in their own face, kill someone they love or jump off a rooftop. Very few superpowered villains are terrifying simply by the nature of their powers – Kilgrave is an exception. Having a super-strong heroine go up against a villain who can effectively turn anyone in the whole city, her closest friends or even herself against her leads to a very tense 13 episodes. That said, he isn’t an entirely unsympathetic villain, his motivation and his past, once later episodes shed light on them, spark some pity for the man, helped in part by Tennant’s marvellous performance.

The acting in general is superb, Ritter makes Jessica a very complex heroine to root for – you won’t agree with everything she does in her quest to catch Kilgrave. The supporting cast all shine, particularly Carrie-Anne Moss as ruthless lawyer Jeri and Mike Colter as fellow superhuman Luke Cage.

The show as a whole is very dark – dealing with very adult topics such as suicide, rape, abortion and PTSD – sometimes you forget this is a superhero drama – anyone who wants the happy go-lucky feel of Marvel films, go somewhere else – this is properly compelling drama that only Winter Soldier and Civil War have come close to delivering. It has it’s lighter moments, particularly in the opening episodes, but overall this is something of an emotional roller-coaster.

So far all good. Issues? Well the show has a few. It’s 13 episode run-time feels undeserved – a few unnecessary plot developments could have been scrapped a delivered a much tighter 10 episode run. Will Simpson, a love interest of Jess’ surrogate sister Trish, has a plotline that really drags in the second half of the season, and even though it’s obviously setting something up for a second season it detracts from the main plot too much to have been necessary. The final showdown between Jess and Kilgrave is satisfying to watch but predictable. In general though, it was a solid first season and a sign that on TV at least, Marvel is willing to take risks with it’s storyline and characters.

Overall: Murky morals, an unsettling villain and a conflicted heroine makes this compelling viewing. It’s not a smash hit and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but its very much worth a look.

Season Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (would have been 4/5 if it hadn’t dragged out the story too long)

Reviews coming soon: iZombie – season 1 review, followed by Suicide Squad, Orange is the New Black Season 4 and iZombie season 2!

 

Doctor Who: Series 9 Review

Well that was quite a series.

Warning: Spoilers (Obviously)

As I’ve said before – for every episode this series I know someone who loves it – it hasn’t had a universally disliked episode (unlike the 8 series before it) and Heaven Sent was an episode which was so good that it means I have to redo my top ten list!

Best Episodes: (4.5/5 or higher) Heaven Sent, Face the Raven, The Zygon Invasion, Hell Bent, Before the Flood

Worst Episodes: (2.5/5 or lower): None. Shows the quality of the season.

The Magician’s Apprentice – 4/5 – Mad but brilliant.

The Witch’s Familiar – 4/5 – Davros’ best appearance since 1975.

Under the Lake – 3.5/5 – Well crafted but lacking real tension.

Before the Flood – 4.5/5 – Now that’s how you finish a two-parter.

The Girl Who Died – 3.5/5 – An amazing last 15 minutes, a weak first 30.

The Woman Who Lived – 4/5 – Maisie Williams is great.

The Zygon Invasion – 4.5/5 – A globetrotting action fest.

The Zygon Inversion – 4/5 – Capaldi’s finest hour.

Sleep No More – 3/5 – An experiment that doesn’t quite work.

Face the Raven – 5/5 – Clara gets a fantastic exit.

Heaven Sent – 5/5 – A Masterpiece. Nothing else to say.

Hell Bent – 4.5/5 – A divisive, emotional, mad but epic finale.

Highs: Capaldi’s acting has placed him right up there with the best. Anyone who says Tennant can’t be matched as the Doctor is talking bullsh*t after this – Capaldi proved in the solo episode he can more than match Eccleston, Tennant and Smith (and the classic Doctors). Coleman has to be one of the best actresses to play a companion – and while it was time for her to leave, I’ll miss her. Maisie Williams was predictably the stand-out guest actor. The standard of direction, music and scripting this series has been consistently high from the writers, directors and Murray Gold.

As for the scenes that impressed me the most:

  • The cliffhanger to The Magician’s Apprentice
  • The Doctor’s conversation with Davros
  • The deaf Cass is stalked by an axe-wielding ghost in Before the Flood
  • The Doctor defeats the Fisher King (Before the Flood)
  • The Doctor realises where he chose his face in The Girl Who Died
  • A UNIT soldier debates shooting a Zygon posing as his own mother
  • Clara and Bonnie’s interaction in the Zygon Inversion
  • The Doctor’s Anti-War speech in the Zygon Inversion
  • The surprise ending of Sleep No More
  • Clara’s death in Face the Raven
  • The Doctor escaping the prison in Heaven Sent
  • Clara realising the Doctor lost 4.5 billion years trying to save her

Lows: The Doctor on a tank in Magician’s Apprentice? The underused guest actors in Under the Lake and Sleep No More. The poor guest actors in The Girl Who Died. Reece Shearsmith. That’s all I got.

Series Review: Gotham Season 1

Gotham starring Ben McKenzie (Jim Gordon), Donal Logue (Harvey Bullock) and Robin Lord Taylor (The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot)

I was always skeptical about Gotham. A Batman prequel? Batman without the Bat himself? Sure, Jim Gordon is an important character, but could he really hold a show by himself? But as it’s the final third of summer and Gotham has just been added to Netflix, i thought I’d give it a shot.

Warning: Minor Spoilers for season plotlines – no main character deaths will be mentioned.

Gotham has a threefold focus: Jim Gordon’s struggle to improve the largely corrupt and mob-controlled Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), Bruce Wayne’s journey after the loss of his parents and the origin stories of various villains (Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Ivy, Scarecrow, Joker, The Dollmaker, Zsasz, Harvey Dent and Red Hood are all teased or part of season one). The opening episodes are important (the Waynes are gunned down within the first ten minutes of episode 1 – we knew it had to happen soon but i didn’t expect it that fast!) but the series only really gets going by episode 4 (which is good, as i usually give up by episode 5 of a series if there’s nothing to merit continuing – coincidentally Breaking Bad has 1 episode left to convince me after a disappointing opening 4…). If you’re still unsure by this point, watch episode 7 (Penguin’s Umbrella) because it’s the first great episode Gotham delivers – and if you still don’t like it by then it’s probably not for you.

Ben McKenzie doesn’t put in a bad performance as Gordon, though playing the out and out hero doesn’t always give him a lot to do. His interactions with Harvey Bullock and Captain Essen (the two who he works with at the corrupt police department, who slowly show signs of redemption by helping him more as the season progresses) are well written, but it’s his scenes with Penguin that really shine. Barbara, Gordon’s supposed love interest, wasn’t all that good (hence their break up mid-season) but her pairing as a mentor to Selina Kyle works better, and Morena Baccarin is much better as Leslie Thompkins, who Gordon grows close to in the second half of the season. David Mazouz is excellent as the young Bruce Wayne – inquisitive, intelligent, arrogant and isolated, you can see shades of the Batman slowly forming. He’s helped by Sean Pertwee as a younger, more active Alfred than we’re used to, but really shines when he’s paired off with Selina Kyle (who’s both enigmatic and far more morally grey than Bruce – but the early signs of an attraction between them is obvious).

This is the one of the few Batman adaptions to do one thing: have someone other than Joker as the main villain. After the Nolan trilogy, the Arkham games and virtually every animated series used him as the centerpiece, Gotham broke the mold (at least for it’s first season) and went with Penguin instead. Sure Joker may crop up at some point (and he may have already – we’ve had a couple of possible Joker candidates appear so far) but i applaud Gotham for not using him straight away. Joker works so well against Batman i believe they should really save him for later seasons when Bruce gets closer to becoming the Bat anyway – having him opposite Gordon probably wouldn’t be as effective. Season 2 will have him in some way – but i hope he doesn’t steal too much of the spotlight from Penguin and Riddler – who have been built up so effectively in season 1. Robin Lord Taylor is the highlight of the series as Penguin, who is caught in the middle of a brewing Gang War between the Falcone and Maroni crime bosses, as well as the ambitious Fish Mooney, who is plotting to usurp Falcone. Watching him squirm, weasel, murder and plot his way up through the ranks of Maroni and Falcone’s organisations (switching sides more than once) is a highlight. Corey Michael Smith has a slower plot arc as Edward Nygma, who as a social misfit working as a forensic analyst for GCPD, is constantly put down by the cops (save Gordon) while harbouring an unrequitted crush on a colleague which eventually drives him to commit his first murder. He really comes into his own late season, and will doubtless fall further into villainy in series two.

It’s easy for a TV series to have a lot of episodes I’d rate as 3.5/5 (above average) or 4/5 (good). Agents of Shield had plenty that good. I stopped watching it because it failed to have any classic episodes (5/5) and only a couple that were near-greatness (4.5/5) – and because it wasn’t improving (and because the season as a whole was disappointing, even if the individual episodes were generally fine to watch). In a 22/23/24 episode season you expect better – i mean in general half of the episodes per season that Flash or Arrow produce are of very high quality – impressive for a series that long. So how did Gotham fare? Well i gave 6 episodes 4.5/5 – these were generally episodes that were part of the main season arc and had a compelling main villain. The season as a whole felt a bit disjointed (mainly because the network extended the season several times) – two recurring characters basically disappear without comment after episode 10. A few mid-late season episodes feel like they are just killing time to the finale (especially Fish Mooney’s plotline). But it still fits together better than Agents of Shield (because it’s main storyline was more compelling) and Arrow Season 3 (which was too drawn out even if it had some great episodes).

Overall, Gotham has given us some great versions of Batman villains (i can’t think of better versions of Penguin, Riddler or Victor Zsasz), some colourful mob bosses, and a main character who is easy to root for. Yes, it’s pacing isn’t always spot on, the season wasn’t a cohesive whole (mainly because it kept getting extended) and i hope we’ve seen the last of OTT Fish Mooney, but overall i was pleasantly surprised by Gotham’s first season.

Series Rating: 4 out of 5

Much better than Agents of Shield, but still not quite up there with Flash and Arrow. Still a must see for DC/Batman fans. Can’t wait for season 2.

Arrow Season 4: The Make or Break Season?

Warning: Spoilers for Series 1-3!

Every TV show gets to a point where it’s beginning to waver or viewing figures are declining and the next season is arguably a crucial one. Game of Thrones Season 5 was one, because it was adapting the weakest parts of the books, and despite a few stumbles, it came through unscathed and as good as ever. Homeland redeemed a weak third season with an excellent fourth run. Doctor Who Series 8 proved Moffat wasn’t done as showrunner just yet after the fanbase was beginning to tire of him. And now Arrow faces a 4th Season which has to repair the damage of season 3.

What went wrong last season? Several things – the side-villains who only appeared in one or two episodes, just weren’t as good as in previous seasons. Olicity (i.e. fan pairing of Oliver and Felicity) was badly-mishandled (what is it with DC and rubbish love interest storylines?) and too much time was spent on characters we don’t care about (Laurel… why hasn’t she been killed off yet???). The flashbacks have always been a mixed feature – but this season they were simply abysmal until the final few episodes. And most annoyingly of all – the main storyline, with Ra’s al Ghul and the league of Assassins, got dragged out far too much – it had some great moments ‘The Magician’ ‘The Climb’, ‘Nanda Parbat’, ‘The Offer’, ‘Al-Saheem’ ‘This is Your Sword’ and ‘My Name is Oliver Queen’ were arguably the best episodes of the season – but everything else either felt like filler or a slow burner building up to these episodes – and when you’re talking 23 episode seasons, it’s a serious problem if 2/3 of them either aren’t addressing the main storyline or aren’t moving it forward enough.

Not to say the other episodes were bad – Arrow has never delivered an episode I’d give less than 3.5/5 to. But the problem was that not only were they a step back from the astronomic high of season 2 (where I’d give almost every episode 4.5 or 5/5) but that Flash did such a better job in it’s first season. For the first third of the seasons, the two shows were equal as Flash started to find it’s feet, but in the remainder Flash was better than Arrow almost every week without fail. Why? It’s more light-hearted tone was far less draining than Arrow’s most sombre season yet, with far more comedy moments to alleviate the tension. It also had better guest villains (helped by the fact most of them had super-powers, which makes even a bland villain watchable) and a more compelling main villain (which they integrated into the season far more effectively). Arrow Season 3 in many ways reminded me of Merlin‘s final season – the individual episode quality was high, but overall the season was too frustrating and drawn out to be satisfactory. So what should Arrow do in season 4?

1. Be less bleak: Arrow was simply too draining last season – from ‘the Climb’ onwards the tone was consistently dark and the characters rarely had a moment of relief. Killing one of the main characters in the opening episode, one of the most popular recurring villains late season, fake killing both the main character mid-season and his support team in the penultimate episode… plus killing and then resurrecting another one of the main characters… you get the idea – and while this gave us some great cliffhangers it was too emotionally draining to watch and set a too sombre tone for the entire season. Barring characters like Felicity’s Mum and villain Cupid there wasn’t a whole lot of comic relief either to alleviate the tension between the main characters. This needs fixing next season, and fortunately the showrunners have already indicated season 4 will have a somewhat lighter tone attached.

2. A more compelling main villain: Deathstroke and Malcolm Merlyn were great villains. Ra’s al Ghul was a good villain but lacked links to any characters save Nyssa and Malcolm, and hence wasn’t as effective as either of them. H.I.V.E. (the company that killed Diggle’s brother) and Ra’s old enemy, Damien Darhk, are being lined up for next season, but I’m hoping they have a more renowned supervillain tucked away – the season could use something that isn’t a faceless military group (like General Sharif’s men in the Hong Kong flashbacks…) or else it risks being a let-down.

3. Better Side-Villains: Can Flash lend Arrow some Meta-humans? (Ideally more interesting ones than Deadbolt). Flash’s rogues gallery was pretty impressive, and would certainly present a different kind of challenge to Oliver. I’ve got my fingers crossed the Trickster might make an appearance as well (just because it’s Mark Hamill – villain of the season on Flash? He came very close). Otherwise we could be relying on a returning villain: is it time for Huntress or the Clock King to return? Shame they killed off Count Vertigo (the replacement Vertigo was a real let-down) – but could Deadshot still be alive? Here’s hoping!

4. Kill Laurel: Seriously. It would solve an awful lot of problems and please 99% of the fanbase. Just do it!

5. No more crap romance plots: Let Olicity work – the two characters have enough chemistry not to need drama to be interesting. Diggle and Layla managed it. Don’t give Thea a new boyfriend – Thea is a good character but it would seriously lessen Roy’s exit if she immediately moves on.

6. Either Give Us Decent Flashbacks or Just Scrap them: Flashbacks worked well in Season 2 and the Second Half of Season 1. Because they were relevant to the main storyline. In season 3 the Hong Kong flashbacks were mostly irrelevant till the last 3 episodes where everything came together. However they were very good when Oliver wasn’t the focus – flashbacks into Deadshot’s past or showing us how Malcolm Merlyn joined the League of Assassins were interesting – so maybe limit it to flashbacks for villains or simply give Oliver something more interesting to do next season – maybe with the Russian Bratva? That’s the only part of his five years they haven’t shown yet that could be interesting…

Review: Orange is the New Black, Season 3

Orange is the New Black, starring Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon and Kate Mulgrew

Warning: Spoilers for seasons 1-3

One of the three major shows on Netflix (along with House of Cards and Breaking Bad), Orange is the New Black is notable as being one of the few shows on TV with an almost entirely female led cast – apart from a few of the guards and the odd husband/boyfriend, men don’t have much prominence save in a few flashbacks. But this isn’t a bad thing, and the show has arguably one of the best casts on TV, with seldom a weak performance. And, no, this isn’t just a show for women, I’d recommend guys watch it as well.

Is it a comedy or a drama (or a softcore lesbian film)? To be honest, it can be all three of these, and the fact the show is hard to define isn’t a bad thing. Season 3 has the most split focus of the 3 seasons so far, with multiple subplots rather than one overriding plotline – but I thought this was a big improvement (unlike those reviewers over at Den of Geek – who pissed me off criticising this season to the extent I’m now reviewing it just to voice my disagreement). Season 1 was mainly based on how the privileged Piper Chapman (Schilling) adjusted to living in prison for the first time, and her relationship with Alex (Prepon) a lesbian ex-lover who grassed up Chapman to the police for her involvement in a drug ring Alex ran. Season 2 expanded things a bit, with new prison inmate Vee being the focus as the most despicable villain this show has delivered so far, while Chapman dealt with the breakdown of her relationship with her fiancée Larry on the outside, as well as loneliness after Alex got released.

Season 3 is a different beast – with the three main villains of season 1 and 2 (the perverted prison guard Mendez, the inmate Vee and corrupt prison boss Natalie) gone or limited to cameos, the show spends more time on its supporting cast – even the minor characters like Chang and Norma, who had little to do in seasons 1 and 2, get flashbacks in 3 which enrich their characters.

The major subplots? There’s a religious cult that develops around Norma, one of the inmates who despite being mute has a natural ability to connect with and sooth other inmates, which provides its share of both drama and ludricous comedy, but manages to avoid repeating season 1’s fanatical christian plotline. Joe Caputo, the prison manager, becomes a key player this season as he struggles to keep the prison open, appease his staff and the new management and remain ‘the good guy’ he has been striving to be all his life – probably the most cohesive plot arc of the season. The funniest plot without doubt had to be ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren writing overtly sexual sci-fi fiction which becomes a hit among both the prisoners and a few of the guards, and redeemed crazy eyes in my opinion after I grew to hate her due to her association with Vee in season 2. The fake conversion of the black prisoners to Judaism in order to get the superior Kosher meals also provides plenty of laughs, while their adoption of prisoner outcast Soso in the final episode was heartwarming (and will hopefully make Soso a less annoying character in season 4). Pennsatucky and Big Boo are also a surprisingly affecting odd-couple friendship, and Pennsatucky herself has gone from one of the main antagonists in season 1 to one of the most likeable characters in season 3 – it’s amazing what the right pairing and a few flashbacks can do.

As for Piper, after ensuring Alex got re-arrested at the end of season 2, here they resume their twisted yet loveable relationship (now even, having both screwed each other over – both literally and figuratively) but there’s a few new elements in the mix: Alex’s new paranoia that her former drug boss is out to murder her for betraying him, Piper’s new enterprise which involves selling prisoners’ used panties to online perverts for profit (surely both the weirdest and the funniest idea OITNB has ever come up with!) and Stella (Ruby Rose) a new inmate who catches Piper’s eye (and that of most of the viewers judging by the comments i’ve seen!). This new love triangle isn’t as wearisome as the Larry-Piper-Alex one in season 1, and Piper is far less annoying than in previous seasons as her character becomes both colder and more ruthless – a welcome change from the insecure mess she occasionally became in earlier episodes.

Overall, season 3 is definitely my favourite of the 3 so far, the comedy is at its apex and the drama took a step back after getting slightly too dark last season, and Piper and various other characters have become much more likeable.

Season Rating: 4.5 out of 5.