Category Archives: TV Review

A Series of Unfortunate Events, Season 3 Review

Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith and Lucy Punch

Warning: Minor Spoilers Follow

I wasn’t all that impressed with the first season of Netflix’s adaptation. Sure, it was entertaining in its way and better than the film, but let’s be honest, that isn’t hard. The second season picked up a bit, but mainly because it was based on some of the better books in the series (and even then, it’s Vile Village adaptation was dire). Fortunately, it’s a case of third time lucky for Netflix. I don’t know whether or not its that the scriptwriters just kicked things up a gear or the fact that these episodes are based off the best books in the series or that because the final season its more focused on wrapping things up in a satisfying way, but this one WORKED!

Neil Patrick Harris, now freed from the need to play a different version of a disguised Olaf every week, is at his best here. Olaf is menacing, OTT, world-weary and maniacal, sometimes all in the same scene, and he generally carries it off with aplomb. Malina and Louis are as perfect as ever as Klaus and Violet, and Patrick Warburton finally feels like a worthwhile addition to the series. The direction and look of the thing is as great as ever, but crucially, the scripting feels a bit tighter, and boy does that make a difference. Notably, the episodes are a bit shorter than previous seasons, which seems to have been a smart decision. There’s noticeably less padding and everything just flows better.

There’s still the odd change from the books which doesn’t really strike you as necessary, but by and large, its a pretty faithful adaptation of events. But there’s one bonus here book readers will love – you finally get answers that the books, crucially, did not give you. Flashbacks in the Penultimate Peril two-parter really help to flesh out the schism, the sugar bowl, Olaf’s turn from Volunteer to Villain and Lemony and Kit Snicket’s characters. Kit Snicket is perfectly cast as well, which is crucial seeing as she’s so important to the last few books. The other bonus is the welcome return of Carmelita Spats, who is perfectly done and is endlessly entertaining when onscreen. Lucy Punch isn’t quite as memorable as Esme as she was last season, but she still gets the odd moment.

It’s not perfect by any means – Phil still seems miscast, the Violet and Quigley subplot seems rushed and the decision to spare the bald man and the henchperson of indeterminate gender last season doesn’t really serve any purpose, but for the most part, this is a big improvement over the last two seasons. But for everything that doesn’t work, there’s plenty that does. Usman Ally nearly steals the show as the hook-handed man, while the Klaus and Fiona subplot works very believably.  The Man with Beard but no hair (played by Richard E. Grant) and the Woman with Hair but no Beard make a great set of villains to throw both Olaf and the Orphans off balance in this series as well.

Overall, Netflix finally manages to strike the right tone and conclude the series in an engaging, satisfying way. The cast give their all and the writing’s stepped up a gear from last season. The flashbacks alone give book readers a reason to check this out – it really answers any questions the books ever left you wondering…

Rating: 4 out of 5

The theme tune really is catchy isn’t it?

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The Best and Worst TV of 2018

So, after films, we’re onto TV. I’m not going to run through all the stuff I’ve seen for this one, mainly because I’ve not caught up with a lot of US TV shows like Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, so I can only review half the episodes from this year. Bear in mind I’ve not seen some of the best received stuff this year (The Bodyguard, A Very English Scandal etc.) so this is basely solely off what I’ve seen and is my opinion, not a definitive list! Feel free to comment your own best/worst shows below.

I’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible.

Top Five:

1. The Americans (Season 6) – The best way to some up the quality of this sublime spy drama set in the cold war is as follows: even if Game of Thrones absolutely nails Season 8 next year with battle scenes above Lord of the Rings intensity and standard, I’ll probably still name The Americans as the TV show of the Decade. It’s been that good. It’s had 5 great seasons and 1 that was merely good, but that’s still a better hit rate than any other six season show I can think of. I’ve given perhaps one episode in its entire run 3.5/5. Everything else has been 4/5 or (usually) even higher. The final season somehow managed to ramp things up a gear while still remaining the slow burning tense classic its always been. Not only did it use the masterstroke of having lead KGB spies Philip and Elizabeth on opposite sides for most of the season, but we finally saw FBI agent Stan Beeman close in on them, leading to an electrifyingly tense and devastating finale, as the Jennings finally had to face the consequences of their actions. It didn’t tie up all lose ends, but this show has always been too clever for that. After all, how many spy operations do you think have a definite, clean ending? Either way, it was utterly unmissable television, and while its one for the connoisseur rather than the mainstream, it still seems a shame that most people still haven’t had a chance to see it.

2. I’m a Celebrity (UK Series 18) – I’m not normally one for reality TV, but this had such a good line-up that I just had to give it a go. I do like I’m a celeb, but usually they have truly detestable celebs on there, like Katie Price or Gemma Collins, so I’ve avoided it for the past few years. This year though, has to be the best run the shows ever had in the UK. Not only did we have Harry Redknapp turning himself into a true national treasure with his stories, but we had Anne Hegerty battling against the odds to overcome some deep personal challenges. The show was largely heart-warming because everyone there was genuinely pleasant for the most part. Even Noel Edmonds, who you could tell was only brought in to stir things up, proved to be a pretty nice guy for most of the run. Even more surprisingly, the celebs were all very good at the trials – I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many full houses of stars! Though admittedly, they were amusingly awful at the dingo dollar challenges. The best thing of all though, had to be the cute friendship between John Barrowman (who had a song for every occasion) and Emily Atack (who was adorably cute and mischievous). If 2018 needed something, it was definitely this series, which for a few blissful weeks almost made you forget about Trump and the mess being made of Brexit.

3. Orange is the New Black (Season 6) It may not have been OITNB’s best season, but it was still Netflix’s top effort this year. Throwing all the inmates into maximum security really allowed the show to mix this up with a tenser atmosphere and some new inmates and guards. With the usual mix of comedy, dark storylines and romance (including some very surprising pairings – who’d have thought 5 years ago that Caputo and Fig would be the easiest couple on the show to root for?). ‘Badison’ made one of the show’s most detestable villains in years (probably the nastiest one since Vee in season 2) and the shows closer focus on some of the characters really allowed them to shine more than normal (Daya, Freida and Nicky in particular). Ultimately, it could have had a better overall plotline, but its set the stage for the final season well enough to scrape into my top 3.

4. Big Mouth (Season 2) Easily the funniest show on Netflix at the moment, Big Mouth is a hilarious send up of puberty that only an animated show could get away with (for obvious reasons). It has its share of family guy-esque gross out comedy and your typical teenage awkward humour, but what makes this unique is the fact it takes time to focus on both genders difficulties (usually these kind of comedies only go with one or the other) and actively personifies those awkward, stupid teenage impulses in the form of ‘hormone monsters’ who actively encourage the characters to ask each other out or to do any number of stupid things, usually with hilariously destructive or embarrassing results. It may sound ridiculous, but its worth a shot and will probably have you poking fun at your own awkward teenage experiences subconsciously – while answering all the questions you’d wished you’d had answers to ten years ago. 

5. Jessica Jones (Season 2) Despite the lack of a signature villain to rival David Tennant’s Kilgrave, Jessica Jones managed to be the most compelling superhero show this year (bearing in mind that I don’t watch Daredevil). Krysten Ritter remains one of the best actresses in Netflix’s employ, and Jessica’s self-destructive tendencies remained firmly in sight this year, particularly with Trish, Malcolm and Hogarth all having various crises of their own around her. Trish really became one of the most hateable characters on TV this series, and whether season 3 pulls off one hell of a redemption story or has her go full villain it’ll be interesting to see. The icing on the cake though, had to be Jessica’s Kilgrave hallucinations in episode 11. It was great to have David Tennant back even for just one episode, and having him play the devil on Jessica’s shoulder was a stroke of genius! Sure the first episode wasn’t great and it was still 2 or so episodes too long, but overall the series was less padded than arrow verse shows, more interesting than Luke Cage and less ridiculous than Gotham or Black Lightning.

Bottom Three:

3. Lost in Space (Netflix) – Netflix’s Lost in Space remake looked amazing, but felt hollow. It was billed as old-fashioned sci-fi, and to be honest that’s what it felt like. It was an adventure with plenty of threat and peril, but little substance or innovation. The cast worked well for the most part, even if Parker Posey’s Dr. Smith was an underwhelming villain. It was well directed and had good special effects, but ultimately, it was a very forgettable ride. Netflix can do a lot better.

2. Doctor Who Series 11 (BBC One) – Oh god, where to start with this one. How to ruin a 50+ year old show in one series? The most miscast actress possible in the title role? How to lose all the shows’ hardcore fans in a single series and achieve an audience score of 28% (and FALLING!) on Rotten Tomatoes? This isn’t Doctor Who. Its a Politically Correct Nightmare of ham-fisted dialogue, woeful villains, weak companions and patronising themes. Chris Chibnall shows his mishandling of Torchwood Series 1 and 2 was no accident – he’s even worse here. Bradley Walsh is the sole redeeming factor, but he can’t save this mess by himself. If you get past episode 5 without giving up, you’re probably a masochist or someone who’s never seen the show before. Utterly dire.

1. Britannia (Sky) – This is one mindf*ck of a show. Set during the Roman Invasion of Britain, it features a heavy emphasis on the Celts’ reaction to the Roman threat and the druids’ influence over the Britons. It has an all star cast, including Zoe Wanamaker, David Morrissey and Ian MacDiarmid, but its just so weird. The plot makes no sense, the supernatural elements feel decidedly out of place, the theme music is dire and some episodes are a real slog to get through. You might be intrigued by it initially, but honestly don’t bother. Its a total waste of your time.

Best Actor: Matthew Rhys (The Americans)

Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)/Keri Russell (The Americans)

Best Supporting Actor: Mustafa Shakir (Luke Cage)

Best Supporting Actress: Selenis Leyva (Orange is the New Black)

Best Special Effects: Lost in Space

Best Animated Show: Big Mouth

Best TV Show: The Americans

Best Episode: The Americans – Dead Hand

Best Writing: The Americans

Best Soundtrack: The Americans

Best Theme Tune: Big Mouth

Best Direction: The Americans

Best on-screen pair: Emily Atack and John Barrowman (I’m a celebrity)

Best Hero – Jessica Jones

Best Villain – Bushmaster (Luke Cage)

Worst Hero: The 13th Doctor (Doctor Who)

Worst Villain Tzim-Shaue/Tim Shaw (Doctor Who)

Worst Actor: Nikolaj Lee Kaas (Britannia)

Worst Actress: Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who)

Worst Supporting Actor: Tosin Cole (Doctor Who)

Worst Supporting Actress: Parker Posey (Lost in Space)

Worst Writing: Chris Chibnall (Doctor Who)

Worst Episode: Britannia – Episode 7

Worst Soundtrack: Britannia

Worst TV Show: Britannia

 

House of Cards Season 6 Review

Starring Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Diane Lane, Campbell Scott, Lars Mikkelsen, Boris McGiver, Derek Cecil and Greg Kinnear.

Warning: Major spoilers for Season 5, Minor Spoilers for Season 6.

House of Cards used to be the best show on Netflix. The first two seasons are still as good as anything the service has ever produced. The show made a few missteps in season 3, but recovered in Season 4, which was mostly a return to form. Then, two big curveballs threatened to bring the whole thing crashing down. First, Season 5 was a mess, with a few standout episodes let down by a contrived plot, obvious twists and an inability to live up to the real life drama created by the current White House administration. It was easily the worst of the bunch. Then, far more seriously, the show’s star, Kevin Spacey, spectacularly fell from grace under a deluge of sexual harassment allegations from other actors and crewmembers (which are still not proven as of yet, but Netflix had little choice but to drop him and erase the two episodes he’d already filmed).

Fortunately, Season 5 ended in a way which made it easy for Netflix to continue with the show, as Claire Underwood, Francis’ wife, had become president following her husband’s resignation. However, a lot of fans were concerned about this, as while Robin Wright is a very good actress, she had ultimately been second fiddle to Spacey for most of the run, and the seasons which had focused on Claire more weren’t the best. However, Netflix ploughed ahead, and for completionism’s sake, I decided to give the final season a go.

So… does it still work without Kevin Spacey in the lead?

Surprisingly, yes it does.

Robin Wright is a revelation now she’s been freed from being the support act. As a lead, she’s far more compelling and likeable than she ever was before. Similarly liberated is Michael Kelly, whose Doug Stamper gets far more to do without Francis pulling his strings. While neither has been my favourite character during the 5 previous series, they both come into their own here, and its very hard to decide which of them to root for. The series introduces a new group of villains in the form of Bill and Annette Shepherd (Greg Kinnear and Diane Lane), two influential businesspeople who try to force Claire to support their various agendas, and have vice-president Mark Usher in their pocket. Both prove to be good rivals for Claire, and while not up there with Lars Mikkelsen’s wonderful Russian President Petrov (who steals every scene he’s in once again), they are two of the more memorable adversaries the show has given us so far, and their recruitment of Seth ties them into Francis’ world nicely. The conflict between all these parties, as well as Tom Hammerschmidt and Janine’s continuing desire to bring Claire down and destroy Frank’s legacy, makes for very compelling viewing.

At 8 episodes long, it’s shorter than the other seasons, but this actually works in its favour, as things feel less padded out than before (though in truth, 10 episodes might have worked better!). The soundtrack and the direction are as good as ever, while the writing is a notable step up from Season 5, if not the best we’ve ever had on the show.

But does Season 6 end the series on a satisfactory note?

No, unfortunately it doesn’t.

Spacey’s absence is dealt with well, as is Doug’s end of season 5 predicament. But while the show ties up most of Season 5’s loose ends well enough, it fails to do the same for itself, mostly because of the finale. Episodes 4-7 of season 6 are brilliant, but episode 8 is not. The conflict between Claire and the shepherds is left sort-of unresolved, Seth, Janine and Mark Usher don’t really get any kind of meaningful resolution to their storylines and the final showdown between Claire and Doug is unsatisfying, and features a twist that doesn’t really work.

Ultimately, were Netflix to change its mind and commission a 7th series, I would now be happy with that. But if this really is the end… it could have been so much better. So, to sum up, Season 6 may leave a bitter aftertaste, but it reminds you of why this show was such a hit. Spacey’s shadow looms large, but the show proves that it was never just him that made it such a success.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (its a fun ride, but the final episode drags the whole thing down)

Coming soon: Expect my review of Detroit: Become Human, one of the year’s most thought provoking video games, and sometime after, my take on the new Fantastic Beasts movie.

How Doctor Who S11 could have been saved.

I’ve been a Doctor Who fan (I hate the term Whovian) for over 13 years. The series has had its ups and downs in that time, but I’ve always stuck with it. Even series 10, which tested my patience, had the hooks of an intriguing finale and Capaldi’s exit to convince me to go the distance. But the current series has finally broken my resolve. My interest in the show, at long last, has died. The sad thing is, it really could have been so different. In the words of Peter Davison’s Doctor ‘there should have been another way…’

Having decided to give up, my weekly Who reviews will cease. I may eventually do more Who related content, but this will likely be revisiting either the classic era or episodes from the Davies and Moffat runs. So as a sort of last hurrah, here’s my opinion on how Series 11 could (and should) have been so much better.

Option 1: Fire Chibnall and hire a decent showrunner.

There’s still a possibility that S11 will get its act together with a run of four non-Chibnall episodes. But even if it did, Chibnall’s doing the finale and will still do the lion’s share of the following season – which makes me dead set against continuing. Showrunners have a massive impact on modern TV shows, and while the show can survive hit-and-miss writers (Russell T. Davies) and divisive showrunners (Steven Moffat) it can’t maintain the quality if the head showrunner is a consistently poor writer. A lot of my pre-existing concerns about Chibnall stemmed from his record as showrunner on Torchwood Series 1 and 2. While both series have highs and lows, Chibnall’s episodes were never the highlights, and often included some of the worst in each run (Cyberwoman, Countrycide, etc.). Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t involved in Children of Earth, which was Torchwood’s undisputed highlight, or Miracle Day, its more mixed sequel. This combined with his mixed record on Who should have ruled him out for the position. Especially when the other options were considerably better. I’m not a Being Human fan, but Toby Whitehouse’s experience as a showrunner of a cult fantasy show like that made him a prime candidate for Who (not to mention his record on both Torchwood and Who edges Chibnall’s). Other Who writers who’ve excelled in recent seasons might have also been good shouts (Peter Harness springs to mind – Kill the Moon, the Zygon 2-parter, The Pyramid at the End of the World). Jamie Mathieson would also be up there, as of course would Neil Gaiman. But frankly, its hard to envisage ANYONE having done a worse job than Chibnall. You could have given it to the Merlin/Atlantis guys, who’ve never even written for Who, and I’d probably be happier.

Option 2: Reduce Chibnall’s input and hire more of the proven Who writers. 

If the showrunner is flawed, the show can still succeed, but this is normally only true when the showrunner writes very few episodes. Think of Tennant’s first series. Davies wrote 5 episodes out of 13, but even though 2 of them were utterly dire (New Earth, Love and Monsters) it didn’t hamstring the series, because he nailed the finale and the other writers by and large did a very good job. Chibnall’s decision to retain NO existing Who writers never sat well with me. You need variety on a show like this, and that comes from different writing styles as much as different plots during episodes. Having 5 Chibnall episodes in a row at the start was beyond excessive (especially in a ten episode series), and its telling the only standout was the one co-written by Malorie Blackman. Even Moffat, Who’s best modern writer, never wrote half the episodes of any of his series. He had more sense than that. So, Chibnall should have spread his episodes out a bit more, as well as writing less of them (the opener, the 2nd episode and the finale would have been a good shout). If only he’d hired more proven writers. The number of former who writers who deserve another crack at it is very high: Neil Gaiman (The Doctor’s Wife), Tom Macrae (The Girl Who Waited), Rob Shearman (Dalek), Simon Nye (Amy’s Choice), Matt Jones (The Satan Pit) and Paul Cornell (Human Nature) all come to mind as writers of hit episodes who’d be welcome back. Sure, not all of them may want to, but you’re not seriously telling me NONE of them would?

Option 3: Recast the Doctor. (Hold fire people, hear me out).

It’s really hard to tell whether Jodie’s Whittaker’s take on the character is suffering purely as a result of the writing, or whether she just isn’t suited to the role. Her hit rate is slightly better than Chibnall’s (2 good episodes, 1 average, 2 bad) but her Doctor has some serious issues. Her preachy nature grates really badly, and while her pacifism is a Doctor-ish trait, its being pushed to extremes (think Tennant’s final season, where the character became excessively passive). Her manic energy isn’t as infectious as Smith’s, and her relentless enthusiasm is borderline annoying, and while Jodie’s acting isn’t in question, I do not think the way she’s playing the role suits either her or the character.

Before I get savaged by feminist Whovians, this has literally nothing to do with her being a woman. Her first episode proved that a woman can play the role without any issues (which Michelle Gomez’s run as the Master had already shown most fans anyway). I’d happily welcome another female Doctor, but I’d prefer it to be someone who’s a genuine fan of the show (like Tennant or Capaldi) or someone who can deliver a truly unique take on the character (like Tom Baker or Christopher Eccleston). Jodie’s a fine actress, but I’m not convinced she’s what the show needs.

Just off the top of my head, there are numerous actresses who could own the role (Claire Foy, Maxine Peake, Helena Bonham Carter, Krysten Ritter, Hayley Atwell etc.). If the BBC wanted to go another way for diversity, there’s plenty of non-white actors who’d do a great job (David Harewood, Mahershala Ali, Richard Ayoade, etc.) I’m not one of those people who ever believes acting roles should be cast on the basis of skin colour/gender (unless the character is intrinsically tied to being one way, such as James Bond being always male, Black Panther always being a black actor etc.). But the Doctor isn’t defined by either of those things. So frankly, it doesn’t matter who plays him/her so long as they can do the job. I’m honestly not sure Jodie can.

But from what we’ve seen so far and what’s been said in interviews, I sense Jodie mainly got chosen for two reasons: the BBC/Chibnall wanted a female Doctor; and Chibnall knew and liked her because she worked with him on Broadchurch. Neither of which are good reasons. Moffat’s worked with hundreds of great actors/actresses (Jack Davenport, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michelle Ryan, James Nesbitt) but he chose ones he’d never worked with before. Davies had no pre-existing ties to Tennant, and while he knew Eccleston, Chris was never his first choice. If Jodie was picked because she’s Chibnall’s vision of the character personified, that’s more justifiable but doesn’t help, as his vision is all out of whack.

Option 4: Totally re-work every aspect of Series 11.

Hiring better directors would be a good start (Bring back Rachel Talalay, or hire the standout ones who work for Netflix or Game of Thrones). Using some old monsters rather than dispensable villains-of-the-week (okay, the Daleks, Master and Cybermen have been overused, but there’s plenty of stories left to tell with the Weeping Angels, Sontarans or Ice Warriors, to name just three). Aim the show at a family audience or a young adult one NOT just at children. The show has only really been a pure children’s show once in its history (the early William Hartnell era) and the show wisely ducked out of that approach in the mid/late sixties. Who has always been, and always should be, a program both adults and children can enjoy – and right now it isn’t. Give it a proper story arc or make it entirely episodic (its currently trying to do both and thus is not succeeding at either).

Also, you could change the main cast. The show has only had two spells of three companions in the Tardis (1963-1965, 1980-1982) and to be honest, both those eras have a couple of very weak companions, even if some of them are stronger (Ian and Barbara, Turlough). This is natural, because let’s face it, developing four main characters in a satisfying way and giving them all enough to do on a show like Who isn’t easy. There’s a reason Moffat didn’t have River travel with Amy and Rory full time. If there has to be three companions, why not do something really different and kill Ryan in the opening episode, and have Grace travel with Graham and the Doctor instead? She was a much more interesting character in the premiere, and we’ve never had an older couple in the Tardis (or even an older woman), and you’d still have the whole grief plotline playing out over the series, and the superlative Bradley Walsh. Ryan is nothing we haven’t seen before (male sidekick character who gets involved in the action or serves as comic relief). Aside from his dyspraxia, he really has very little to differentiate himself from Mickey or Rory (particularly if they go the predictable route and pair him up with Yaz). No slight on Tosin Cole’s acting, but aside from the Rosa episode, the character hasn’t shown a lot of potential. Rather than making stupid political points in a ham-fisted way every two episodes, how about the show does something truly groundbreaking, like putting the Doctor and Yaz in a relationship (not only does that have TONNES of storytelling potential, but it would also give Yaz something to do, not to mention allow the show to explore the Doctor’s sexuality, which is a topic it rarely dares touch). Additionally, rather than glossing over the Doctor’s gender change with a couple of jokes, how about explore the impact this has on the character. I’m not saying the Doctor should visibly change personality or dislike the idea, but given the character has never changed gender before, you’d think we’d at least see some sort of phase where she gets used to it.

Well there you have it. I’ll bring this to a close before it goes any further into a full-on rant, but there you have it. It’s only my opinion, and the show may yet prove me wrong. But either way, I’m not tuning in to find out.

Since I’m no longer covering Who, expect a few more video game reviews and Netflix Shows on my blog in the future. I may have started the blog to write about Doctor Who, but honestly, it’s not worth it anymore, even if its behind some of my most-read articles.

Thank you to everyone who’s read, liked, or commented on my Doctor Who reviews and articles, but after 4 years of blogging and 13 years of watching, I’m hanging up my sonic.

‘Doctor… I let you go’ (If only it had ended with Peter).

 

Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum Review

By Chris ‘can’t write for toffee’ Chibnall

Minor spoilers follow

The fact I’m insulting the writer in the first line probably tells you what I thought of this one. It many ways it wasn’t as irritating as ‘The Ghost Monument’ or ‘Arachnids in the UK’ but it had another, major, problem. It bored me.

First the (few) positives. The P’Ting was actually quite an interesting idea, even if it looked like a gremlin crossed with the crazy frog. The idea of an alien that isn’t inherently evil but causes misery via its own efforts to survive has been done before on Who (those Stingrays in Planet of the Dead for example) but never quite like this. Chibnall’s irritating and ham-fisted politics rarely reared their head here. Also the direction was competent and the special effects have never been better. Unfortunately, I just ran out of positives.

Even the things I’ve liked about previous episodes didn’t shine here. The music faded into the background and wasn’t remotely memorable. Bradley Walsh did a good job but had nothing to work with this time. Ryan and Yaz got a share of the action but had nothing interesting to really do (again!). Jodie’s Doctor was less preachy but her enthusiasm remains annoying rather than infectious (if they’re going for a female Matt Smith vibe, they’re failing badly!). It seems clear that Chibnall always places more emphasis on the guest characters than the main cast, which was okay in previous weeks because the guest actors were usually interesting, well written or performed well.

This week, they were well acted but poorly written and totally bland. I couldn’t give a damn if any of them survived, which is never a good sign. Whatever you thought of Russell T. Davies, at least his supporting characters dying had an impact on the episode (As shown by the flashbacks in Journey’s End). Whatever you thought of Clara, Bill, Amy or Rory, at least Moffat ALWAYS gave them something of note to do. Chibnall is failing on both counts right now. He’s wasting his energy writing sub-plots no one really cares about (such as the Cicero siblings animosity or the male pregnant alien – who the hell bloody cares!!). The only thing he throws in that has an impact is Ryan and Graham’s shared grief, but that’s 2 mins out of 50 and can’t carry things by itself. Ryan’s absent father plot might work depending on how it pays off, but his revelation to Yaz about his mother seemed really random and not naturally brought up – the writing felt forced, as if Chibnall thought this needed to be introduced now, when really it should have been drip-fed throughout the series.

The big problem in the episode was the threat level was high, but you knew it would be okay in the end (one character might die, but you know a ship full of main cast can’t be destroyed. Again, the supporting characters being bland doesn’t help either, cause they’re the only ones ever really at threat here. The most interesting of them is dead in the first 15 mins, too.

Overall, the episode looks good and has a memorable alien for the first time this year, but the writing lets it down again, with bland characters, a half-baked plot and an ill-used cast. I’m hoping the other writers might pick things up now Chibnall’s run of stories is done. But I won’t hold my breath.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Next Time: A Yaz centric episode? Let’s hope it finally gives Mandip Gill something to work with.

Doctor Who: Arachnids in the UK Review

By Chris Chibnall

Minor Spoilers Follow.

So after an intriguing opener, a frustratingly bland follow-up, and a politically-charged, powerful but divisive third entry, has Doctor Who’s 11th Series finally found some rhythm?

No. No it bloody hasn’t. And it’s abundantly obvious who’s fault that is.

The cast do their best here, but while they keep things watchable, its very hard for actors to rescue things where the writing is this poor and the dialogue this ham-fisted. Bradley Walsh continues to impress, and it was a relief to see Mandip Gill get slightly more screentime this week (now her family’s been introduced hopefully that might help flesh her out a bit). You suspect in the Moffat/Davies years Yaz would have been the sole companion – and I feel sorry for the actress cause I think she would have knocked it out of the park back then. Now, the material isn’t good enough and she’s got little enough of it compared to the other four. Tosin Cole doesn’t get that much to do this week, but he seems to have settled into the role of Ryan well enough. I am not liking Jodie as much as I thought I would a few weeks back – but with this kind of writing its very hard to tell how much that’s on her. She’s clearly as good an actor as the previous Doctors but her Doctor’s personality is getting a bit wearing. Doctors are always on Thin Ice with me when they get too preachy (Tennant and Capaldi both came close to this during their last seasons) and unfortunately Jodie’s incarnation gets VERY preachy whenever she goes into moral outrage mode. Yes, the Doctor should always be someone who calls out injustice, stands up to evil and holds the universe to rights. But this NEEDS to be shown – NOT spelt out for the audience as if we’re all four-year-olds.

Anyway, the writing. God the dialogue is atrocious in places. Gone are the dramatic, uplifting speeches of Moffat or the intense drama that Davies dished out. While some of the quiet, understated moments of emotion or humour work, this is largely down to Bradley Walsh or Tosin Cole, not the script. I can’t think of a single memorable line that Jodie has said so far to be honest. The plot is still riddled with clichés (monsters and toxic waste – really? Even comic books dropped that one a long time back) and while, yes it is very easy to take shots at Americans at the moment, the politics here felt REALLY forced. Chris Noth’s businessman was such an obvious caricature than it was hard to take him seriously as a character, and let’s face it, he was just incompetent and closed-minded, not devious or despicable enough to be a compelling villain. The Doctor having a thing against guns is nothing new (4 and 10 were especially notable for this) but most of them do, reluctantly, permit their use by allies when needed. Some of them have indeed used them in particularly dire scenarios (5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12 have all used some form of weapon when needed). But again, the issue here got very preachy – and the sympathy for the spiders was, while a doctor-ish trait, done in an on-the-nose and ham fisted way.

Now I’m no fan of spiders – I have a notable fear of the larger, hairier varieties. But these ones were not scary. Harry Potter had scarier ones with 2002 level special effects. While they certainly looked realistic, they weren’t creepy enough and never really threatened the main cast in a significant way. The direction was a mixed-bag – the show still looks miles better than it did even a couple of series ago, but the director really didn’t seem able to make anything remotely scary. For one thing, everywhere is too well lit – it doesn’t matter how proud you are of your CGI monsters, you know they’ll probably look better in the dark – and they’ll definitely be scarier. The composer gave it a decent shot (and let’s face it, creepy music wasn’t always Murray Gold’s forte either) but it was probably his least memorable contribution so far.

The guest cast seemed good (the one thing every episode has nailed so far has been the guest actors/actresses) but Chris Noth in particular seemed to deserve much better material (like Art Malik in Episode 2). Yaz’s family seem like interesting characters, which is a relief after Clara’s and Bill’s dragged things down whenever they showed up, so hopefully we’ll see a bit more of them as the series goes on.

In many ways ‘Arachnids in the UK’ reminded me of Oxygen last year. Poor writing, crap political asides and lame jokes coupled with uninspired direction and a cast that, despite their best efforts, can’t rescue it. Since Oxygen is arguably my least favourite Capaldi episode, this is not a good sign. Series 11 so far has had one of  the weakest starts of any modern series. Normally in Who when this happens, things pick up around episode 5 or 6. Fingers crossed.

Overall, while the episode was watchable and the cast shone in a couple of places, Chibnall is falling below my already low expectations for him. Even his ‘Cyberwoman’ and ‘Sex Alien’ episodes of torchwood had more oomph than this. The cast has potential, but you just get the constant sense that things could be so much better with a different writer and showrunner. Whatever Moffat and Davies’ flaws, they never had me this worried about the shows future.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Next Time: F*** knows. Something in a hospital. These teasers are just annoyingly bland now – they’re better off scrapping them completely.

On the plus side – only 1 more Chibnall episode left before we get 4 in a row where he isn’t involved. Whether I still care by that point is debatable.

Doctor Who: Rosa Review

By Chris Chibnall and Malorie Blackman

After last week’s frustrating debacle, my expectations were very low for this week’s instalment. Questions remain about Chibnall’s ability to write Who, and another week of underusing Yaz’s character, too much talk, overly-pc politics and weak villains seemed very much on the cards, particularly in an episode that was sure to be politically-charged given its focus on Rosa Parks, one of the most famous figures in the 20th century. Rosa’s story is undoubtedly important and still resonates with many today, particularly in the Trump era, but her story needed deft handling to work well as a 50-min drama. Who has a tendency to get very heavy-handed when getting moralistic (think 2017’s ‘oxygen’ and its broadsides on capitalism or 2014’s ‘In the Forest of the Night’ and its extremely cumbersome environmental message). Both episodes covered issues of importance, but on both occasions the moral/political message was put forth in such a ham-fisted and on-the-nose way that the episodes themselves ended up being some of the worst in their respective seasons. Doctor Who should always be free to bring issues like these up, but it is primarily a drama, not a documentary or an educational programme, and it needs to cover such topics a bit more subtly and a lot less-preachily. Get the message across, but in an entertaining way and without overshadowing the drama.

Did Blackman and Chibnall succeed in doing so? Surprisingly… yes they did. The episode showed 1950’s Alabama in a no-holds-barred way, which was both shocking and exactly the right thing to do. Segregation is a very, very dark stain on US history, and given that racism is still rife throughout the states today, reminding everyone of just how bad things were, AND how much more needs to be done, was a very timely message. The whole culture clash/shock that Ryan and Yaz experienced felt especially jarring, but crucially was done in a plausible way, which time travel shows can often fail to do (Legends of Tomorrow often ignores racial issues when travelling through time). There were still some clunky bits of dialogue (Yaz’s and Ryan’s discussion on discrimination could have been written by a six-year-old) but for the most part, the episode really hit home both as a moral message AND as a drama. Which is exactly what it should do.

The show’s production did generally seem to work far better this week. The plot was a lot more engaging and less cliched than last week (maybe smaller scale plots are the way to go for Chibnall?) and didn’t involved a rushed or convenient ending. The new title sequence is definitely growing on me, and Segun Akinola is really convincing as Murray Gold’s replacement as composer. The music played a big part in selling the emotional resonance of the story, and while using songs over the final scenes hasn’t always added much to Who episodes in the past, it felt appropriate here. Director Mark Tonderai also had a much better week than last time (perhaps he’s more at home with period dramas than futuristic run-arounds). The cast seemed to relish better material as well, with both the guest actors and the regulars putting in good performances, particularly Vinette Robinson as Rosa Parks, who was portrayed in a very believable and historically accurate way.

Yaz finally gets some decent screen time in this one, and Mandip Gill makes the most of it. Yaz may not have had anything that significant to do yet, but she does hold a lot of promise, and the character has a good dynamic with the other members of the team (at least when used properly). Bradley Walsh continues to be the best thing about the ensemble, and his rather understated take on Graham is a welcome contrast to the more lively Doctor and Yaz and the headstrong Ryan. His lingering grief at his wife’s death was touching, and Walsh seems to have a very good handle on the character already. Tosin Cole gets his share of compelling material too this week, and you get a sense the actor was really glad to be part of this story. Jodie Whittaker also fares a great deal better than last week – she doesn’t over-talk everything and plays a more significant role in events when she is involved, even if you do occasionally sense she’s still finding her feet.

There are a few lingering issues. The characters seem real enough, but they still aren’t always talking in a natural way (Chibnall’s dialogue doesn’t always seem to suit them) which has the unfortunate side-effect of reminding you that these are only actors playing a role. The dialogue does at times still feel very generic. The shows morality seems a bit variable too – last week the Doctor was annoyingly preachy about Ryan using a gun, yet this week she’s seemingly fine with him straight up murdering (effectively) the villain of the week? Be consistent please Chibnall. Speaking of villains, while Krasko was well-acted, he was essentially another one-note villain, who’s only interesting feature was his history as a stormcage inmate (its where River Song was imprisoned) – his plan was believable and well thought out, but his motivations aren’t really delved into any more deeply than simple racism and a nasty streak. While the episode was wayyyy above the level of the last two, I do have to wonder how much this episode’s success was down to Blackman’s involvement, because I’m still not entirely sold on Chibnall.

Overall, Rosa made for a powerful, emotionally compelling episode that takes a deserved swipe against some of the worst humanity’s past (and, unfortunately, present) mistakes. Rosa’s story was told in a sensitive (and crucially unpreachy) way that will (hopefully) affect most children and adults who watched it. I was pleasantly surprised. The series may still have its flaws, but this is the first episode where they faded into the background and allowed me to just enjoy the experience. More like this one please.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next Time: Arachnids cause chaos in the UK (as if we didn’t have enough problems already) and we meet Yaz’s mum.

Well this episode has given me enough motivation to stick with the series, but I hope we can get this kind of hit on a consistent basis soon. And Chibnall really needs to get help on writing dialogue in a more purposeful and less heavy-handed way.