Category Archives: TV Review

Marvel: The Defenders Review

Starring Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones and Sigourney Weaver.

Contains Minor Spoilers.

I should say before starting that I’m not a massive Marvel TV fan. I liked Jessica Jones, despite its overlong runtime, but thought Luke Cage was a wasted opportunity. I didn’t watch Iron Fist because it got savaged in reviews, nor Daredevil because the character doesn’t interest me (thanks, but if I want Vigilante Justice I’ll stick to Batman or Green Arrow). Ultimately though this wasn’t a massive problem (I read a brief summary of Iron Fist first and that sufficed) as all the plot points from Daredevil and Iron Fist are brought up during Defenders dialogue anyway, so its pretty easy to get up to speed. Obviously you’ll get more out of this if you’ve seen all four of its predecessors, but as long as you’ve watched at least 2 of them I’d say its perfectly accessible.

The other Marvel shows on Netflix suffered because they were 13 episodes long, at least 3 more than needed in both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage’s case. The Defenders solves this problem by only being 8 episodes long, and although it’s initially a slow-burner (you don’t see the 4 heroes all interacting together until episode 3 and 4) it feels appropriate. The interaction between the four is definitely the highlight: Luke and Danny make a surprising good pairing, while Jessica holds her own and remains the most stand-out of the four. Luke is far better here than he was on his own show (as Jessica Jones proved, Luke works better as a co-star rather than a leading man) and from what I’ve heard about Iron Fist Danny is similarly improved by being one amongst equals rather the focus of everything. Charlie Cox gives a fine performance as Daredevil, but his reluctance to get back in the suit is something we’ve seen again and again in Superhero stories (Spider-Man 2, Superman 2, The Dark Knight Rises, Arrow etc.) and makes him the least engaging to watch.

Several supporting characters return from the individual shows, though most don’t do an awful lot, with four exceptions: Foggy, Misty, Claire and Colleen. While Claire and Colleen merit more screen time than they get here, Misty’s presence brings back a few of the issues that dragged Luke Cage’s show down. The Police vs. vigilantes conflict is downright tiresome at this point, and Misty’s interactions with Jessica are just frustrating. The final episode renders the whole going above the law issue pointless, something which is irritating when you could have easily cut an episode’s worth of padding out without this plotline.

The villains suffice but don’t really steal the show the way David Tennant’s Kilgrave did in Jessica Jones. Sigourney Weaver is obviously good, but  her character is ultimately too sidelined in the second half (another problem familiar to Luke Cage fans) and the rest of ‘The Hand’, while getting a handful of cool fight scenes, aren’t much better. Speaking of fight scenes, this is where the Defenders soars. Several of the heroes clash with each other in beautifully choreographed sequences, while the group fights against the villains are also a treat, even if you never really believe the heroes are in danger (this is Marvel after all…). The direction as a whole is superb, and the show is nicely complimented by the musical score. The acting is consistently good, as is the production, but ultimately, like EVERY Marvel TV series, the writing lets things down a few too many times. The Defenders is better than Luke Cage and about equal to Jessica Jones, but falls short of DC shows like Arrow, Gotham or Legends of Tomorrow.

Overall its entertaining but carries over a few problems from previous series, and the last few episodes are riddled with plot holes. Classic Marvel: high on spectacle, low on substance, despite its pleasingly adult tone and superb direction.

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Given how good Jessica and Luke were here, I’ll keep going with their shows. Danny and Colleen were engaging enough that I may give Iron Fist a shot, but The Defenders didn’t change my opinion on Daredevil. Still not interested.

Ultimately while the Defenders is cool, Marvel still has a long way to go before they match DC on TV. This was a step forward though.

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Game of Thrones: The Spoils of War Review

The Spoils of War by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!

WHAT. AN. EPISODE.

That final sequence was simply mind-blowing. Even though it was one of the shortest episodes in Thrones history, it could very well be the best we’ve had so far. Between another long awaited reunion, a fantastic duel between two of the shows most badass characters, Jon and Daenerys growing closer and THAT final battle, it had everything i’d want from an episode and more!

Before I get to the climatic battle, the earlier scenes are worth commenting on because of their own extremely high quality.

First, Arya’s return to Winterfell! Now Sansa and Arya never liked each other in season 1 (the last time they saw each other) so it made sense that their reaction to seeing each other alive was mutual relief and respect rather than unrestrained joy. Arya sparring with Brienne was fucking epic as well, loved every moment of it (especially Sansa’s WTF expression and Podrick’s glee at seeing Brienne sweat for once). Great fight choreography. Sansa (and Littlefinger, more worryingly) now have more of an idea of what Arya’s capable of, particularly after Bran revealed he knows about her kill list.

Bran is a dick. Though seeing him creep out Littlefinger (I.E. the creepiest motherfucker on Game on Thrones) was hilarious, him being cold to Meera after all she’s done for him was very, very cold. Bran was always one of the least interesting Starks (after Rickon) but he’s borderline unlikeable now – though him giving Arya his Valyrian steel dagger was a nice touch at least (money on Arya killing a White Walker has to be high now). It was just great seeing the three Starks reunited for the first time since Thrones’ first ever episode (yes – THAT long ago!), but it was also a reminder of how broken they all are; Arya’s turned into a smiling assassin who loves killing, Bran’s a cold shell of himself who has visions and Sansa’s only just turned a corner from all her trauma in seasons 1-5. Can’t wait for Jon to come back and complete the circle (even if Bran might ruin it by telling Jon who he really is!). Now Arya’s in the North that reunion with the Hound might be on the cards soon too. Could have don’t without the two dickish guards on the gate at Winterfell, whose sole purpose seemed to be a reminder that not all the Stark soldiers are nice guys (the same way Ed Sheeran’s crew in the premiere reminded us that not all Lannisters are heartless bastards – more on this later).

Meanwhile on Dragonstone the groundwork was being laid for the perhaps inevitable union between Jon and Dany. Jon: ‘She’s got a good heart’. Davos ‘Yes, I’ve seen you staring at her heart’ might have been one of the funniest one-liners we’ve got this series, and one which makes it clear Jon likes Daenerys. The one-liners were certainly out in force this episode [Daenerys: ‘What Happened?’ Missandei: ‘Many things ;)’ and Brienne: ‘Who taught you?’ Arya: ‘No one’ were just perfect]. Back to Jon and Dany; their scene in the cave (what is it with Jon and women in caves?) was sweet, and the fact that Daenerys now seems convinced about the White Walkers is a definite plus point – and her opinion of Jon seems to be improving – though for now it seems to be mostly respect rather than anything else. Jon’s brief confrontation with Theon seems to have placed these characters in an uneasy truce for now (Jon hasn’t forgiven Theon for betraying Robb, but spares him for Sansa’s sake) but didn’t really add much to the episode (that said it only lasted like 1 minute).

Before I get into the battle scene, I should note that this is the FIRST ever episode of Thrones Matt Shakman has directed. What a brilliant debut. This battle scene not only rivals Blackwater, the Battle for the Wall, Hardhome and the Battle of the Bastards – it comes mighty close to beating them (I might JUST prefer the Wall and Hardhome but its a mighty close thing – who’d have thought back in 2017 that Blackwater would have been surpassed not one but FOUR times? This show is incredible). The whole battle of Dothraki and Dragon vs. Lannisters was amazing, but there were two simply stupendous scenes (I’m running out of adjectives strong enough to convey how fucking good this was). First: Bronn vs. Drogon. Bronn man’s Qyburn’s Scorpion (a type of Ballista) and actually manages to wound the Dragon (whose plummet almost had me thinking Drogon had it). He hadn’t, but fortunately Bronn survived anyway. Tense and nerve-wracking, this was the first time Daenerys and her dragons had been pitted against a character we really cared about. And in typical Thrones style, the next bit was even more tense.

Still recovering from that last scene. Jaime knows the Lannisters have lost the battle. The Dothraki have overwhelmed them and they have no weapons left capable of killing a dragon. He could run. But he doesn’t. He charges down Daenerys while she’s trying to wrench that bolt out of Drogon. As Tyrion watching on comments ‘You idiot. You fucking idiot’. The music swells (Ramin Dwajadi is the best bloody composer on TV right now). Then Jaime and Daenerys lock eyes. Shivers. For one moment as he charges you think she’s dead – then Drogon swivels into view and Jaime looks certain to die – then Bronn crashes into him and knocks them both into the river. This has to be my favourite scene in the show so far – both Nikolas Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage knock it out of the park – and its probably Jaime’s best scene since his bathtime confession with Brienne in Season 3.

I could go on and on about how great this battle was, but more importantly, it does something no battle on the show has done so far. It pits characters the audience all care about against each other and forces them to finally pick a side. In every other battle on Thrones 99% of the viewers were on the same side (i.e. Tyrion vs. Stannis, Night’s Watch vs. the Wildlings, Jon vs. the Walkers and the Starks vs. Ramsay). I doubt that was the case here. Jaime and Bronn are fan-favourites – and they’re on what is almost certainly going to be the losing side this season. Supporting Dany means hoping they die instead at this point and supporting Jaime the opposite (its Thrones – Euron and Cersei won’t be the only two who die in the next 3 episodes – that would be a massive cop-out). That considered, this battle finally made me realise whose side I’m really on (apart from the Starks, but that’s a given – I’ve never felt much for the Lannisters or Targaryens).

I’ve never been a massive fan of Dany (I love Emilia Clarke, but Daenerys has been so irritating for half of her screentime, even if she was badass for the rest of it, that I’ve never wanted her to sit on the Iron Throne). Her arrogant demand that Jon bends the knee didn’t help (whose pride is the issue here Dany? You hypocrite!). But because Tyrion, Varys, Missandei, Jorah and Grey Worm are all characters I like, I thought I wanted her to beat the Lannisters. I’ve realised I don’t – I actually want Jaime, Bronn and even Cersei to win (or at least lose but kill Daenerys in the process). I realised this when Bronn faced down Drogon and I actually punched the air in triumph when he shot the dragon. And then when it looked like it was a clear choice between Jaime and Dany and I was willing him to kill her. I really don’t want him or Bronn to die. Even Sam’s brother Dickon seems like a nice guy. Yes, their side is flawed, but Daenerys is the one burning men alive (and we all know how the last leader who did that fared…) and leading a horde of pyschopaths (the Lannister/Tarly soldiers are a mix of good and bad led fighting for an evil queen – the Dothraki are far, far worse overall when you look at their history – even Khal Drogo wasn’t really the nicest guy). And Daenerys’ right to be on the throne comes from what? That she’s the daughter of the worst king in Westerosi history? No wonder Jon doesn’t want to Bend the Knee. Sure a lot of you disagree with me, but I just thought I’d point out how much the show could polarize its fanbase from this point forward.

Overall everything came together: the writing, the direction, the music, the effect and the acting combined to deliver what was, in my view, the best episode of Game of Thrones to date. If I could give it 6 stars for the last sequence alone, I would, even without the wonderful scenes at Winterfell and Dragonstone.

Rating: 5 out of 5!!!!

Next Time: Who the fuck cares, if its half as good as this I can’t wait!!!

So if we’re talking reality here, Jaime really should be dead (armour that heavy in water will almost always drown the person wearing it), but he probably isn’t – which means Bronn probably survived to, so someone could save Jaime. At least I hope so. It’s gonna be a long wait till next time!

50 min episode = my longest Thrones review. This show is anything but predictable.

 

Game of Thrones: The Queen’s Justice Review

The Queen’s Justice by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!!!

Ice has met Fire. Book and Show fans alike have been waiting for this for a very, very long time. The first 20 mins of the episode was devoted to tense conversations on Dragonstone, and while Varys and Melisandre sparring was entertaining and Tyrion and Jon reminiscing was amusing, there was only one thing the viewers wanted to see. Jon and Daenerys. Well they didn’t shag (yet). They didn’t kill each other (yet). But it could still go either way judging by their interaction here, as the two argued (both equally stubborn!) but later showed a mutual respect (which stopped short of attraction but give it time guys). It was pretty good, but I suspect the best is yet to come from this pairing, which seemed mostly to be setting things up for next season (when they will inevitably have to unite against the White Walkers). The dialogue was very slick, particularly between Tyrion and Jon, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in this uneasy alliance/co-operation. The fact them meeting wasn’t the highlight of the episode shows how good the rest of it was!

We’re being spoilt for battle scenes atm. Grey Worm and the Unsullied attacking Casterly Rock (which finally made an appearance!) was a short scene but Tyrion’s narration coupled with a narrative twist meant that it was a memorable one. Tyrion and Dany are really being outplayed by Jaime, Cersei and Euron atm aren’t they? Euron’s making Daenery’s fleets look like a laughing stock, Jaime’s strategy lessons at the hands of Robb Stark seem to have made him into a formidable General who is completely undoing Tyrion’s plans, and Cersei is better at manipulating powerful people than ever, here winning the Iron Banker Tycho (a returning Mark Gatiss) back to her side for now and keeping Euron onside without giving him what he wants yet.

I said at the start of the season Daenerys needed to suffer some setbacks to keep things interesting, but the shows gone further than I expected after only three episodes. Dorne is gone. Her fleets are gone. The Tyrell forces are either dead or have joined the Lannisters. Grey Worm and the Unsullied are trapped in hostile territory with no food. If it wasn’t for her Dragons, Daenerys would be almost certain to lose. Now she’s lost all 3 of her allied Westerosi houses, she’ll be forced to bring out the Dragons and Unsullied, as well as maybe asking Jon for help (though given how far North Jon’s men are i doubt he can do much, unless he wants to leave Davos behind as another advisor for the Queen). Seeing the Lannister armies march on Highgarden was suitably cool, and Diana Rigg fitting got the last word as fan-favourite Olenna was finally killed off (surprised Jaime didn’t lose his cool and run her through after the cunning old goat ensured a painless death for herself).

Mark Mylod can definitely come back as a director for the final season. The last two episodes have looked superb and he’s made two short battle scenes feel quite special. Hope the remaining directors this season are up to his standard!

Lena Headey and Nikolai Coster-Waldau are killing it this season – Jaime’s facial expressions are consistently spot on (whether shock at Euron’s foul-mouthed jibes or stunned realisation as Olenna confesses to killing his son) while Cersei’s glee/triumph at paying back Ellaria in kind for murdering her daughter was a high point for the character (and Lena Headey). For the first time I feel like Cersei is now a villain you can root for – you still don’t want her to win, but she’s now fun to watch the way Joffrey and Ramsay were, which wasn’t the case for most of seasons 1-6. Speaking of villains you can root for, Euron’s hilariously over-the-top style of villainy is a nice wild card in the mix at the moment – the odds on Jaime killing him seem to be getting higher every episode, though I’d settle for Theon, Yara or a Dragon doing it. Euron’s development into a memorable villain is what should have happened with the Sand Snakes and Ellaria, who we thankfully saw the last of this week as Cersei brutally (but admittedly justifiably) exacted revenge for her daughter and cruelly left Ellaria to watch her own daughter die slowly from poisoning. It was a great scene, with the writing and acting (particularly from Headey and Indira Varma) superb throughout.

Bran and Sansa’s reunion was one of the least interesting bits of the episode, but then again, it is Bran, whose newfound coldness (and lack of tact) isn’t making him any more endearing. Sansa’s joy at seeing him alive was nicely played by Sophie Turner though, and it was nice to see that Sansa is actually good at ruling the North (a sign of things to come if anything happens to Jon?). Hopefully Arya will be in the mix next week – as a lot of people have been waiting for a stark sister reunion for a long time. Sam and Jorah’s scene was touching but didn’t add much, though I have to wonder if any of those old books Sam was ordered to copy contains info on the White Walkers? On another note, Dany really needs some good news soon, so hopefully Jorah will be back at her side shortly, now he appears to be cured.

Overall, it was another strong episode with a twist at the end, it kept the momentum going but wasn’t quite as strong as last week’s episode. Still better than anything else on TV atm though!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next Time: Arya returns to the North, Cersei presses her advantage and Daenerys tries to overcome her recent losses…

Game of Thrones: Stormborn Review

Stormborn by Bryan Cogman

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!!!

Well that was more like it! After the (nevertheless good) hour of set-up in the premiere, Stormborn delivered some interactions and reunions fans have been waiting years for, as well as a kick-arse battle scene (more on that later…).

Daenerys’ arrival has really shaken things up (in a good way!) on the show, not just because its brought six seasons of disparate plotlines together but also provided some character combinations we’ve never have seen before. Melisandre, Tyrion, Varys and Daenerys verbally tussling with each other over the nature of Jon Snow was neatly mirrored by Cersei and Jaime trying to convince Randall Tarly (Sam’s dickhead Dad) to help them fight her and Jon squabbling with the Northern lords to convince them trusting Daenerys is a necessary risk if they are to have a chance of defeating the White Walkers. These scenes were a joy to watch, and it was nice to see Yara, Theon, Ellaria Sand and Olenna Tyrell joining in with Daenerys council of war. This led to loads of great payoffs and references for long-term viewer, such as; Tyrion squaring off with Ellaria for murdering his innocent niece, Sansa coolly reminding Jon that Daenerys’ father burnt their grandfather alive, and Daenerys testing Varys’ loyalty after reminding him of his history of changing sides and betraying both her family, the Lannisters and the Baratheons.

Another pairing we’ve never seen before was Sam and Jorah, with Sam risking his position at the citadel to try and save a damned Jorah, which was touchingly revealed to be because of the admiration Sam possessed for Jorah’s father, the deceased Lord Commander. The healing scene made for uncomfortable viewing (its a good job this show is on well after dinner time!). Equally tantalising was the tension between Jon and Littlefinger – with Jon making it abundantly clear that Littlefinger’s affection for (i.e. perving on) his sister is not welcome. Doubtlessly this threat will drive Littlefinger to scheme against Jon more actively as the season progresses.

Arya’s catch up with Hot Pie (his first appearance since Season 4 – I swear Hot Pie is gonna be the only character left alive when the show ends the rate they kill people off) served as a nice way to show how much Arya’s changed since the early seasons – as well as a way to provide information to take her North (to a reunion with Sansa? And Bran? And Jon? And maybe even the Hound?! we can but hope). Nymeria’s rejection of Arya was saddening, but given we saw this kind of behaviour from Drogon in season 5, I’d put money on Arya’s direwolf returning and saving her life before the end of the season.

I argued in my season predictions that Daenerys had to suffer some major losses if her vs. Cersei was to take a whole season. I said last week I expected the show to build Euron up as a villain. The groundwork for both was laid here, and in spectacular fashion. Not only did we get confirmation that, thanks to Qyburn, Cersei has weapons (i.e. high-powered ballista’s) capable of hurting/killing dragons, but Euron dealt Daenerys and her followers a severe blow in a thrilling naval battle. This finally established Euron as a force to be reckoned with as he cut a swathe through his opponents (killing not one but TWO of the irritating Sand Snakes single-handedly), before overpowering Yara and intimidating Theon into abandoning his sister and fleeing (damn, Alfie Allen’s performance as Theon was good! Sure, his escape was cowardly, but after everything Ramsay did to him, is it any surprise Theon is still broken? He really needs to have a chat with Varys or Grey Worm about moving past his… deficiency). The battle itself was great, even if the action was limited to two ships, mainly because it came out of nowhere (I was expecting this to happen, but not as early as the end of episode 2!!!)

It also has ramifications for what happens next. Without Dornish forces, the Tyrells can’t take King’s Landing by themselves, so Daenerys will have to unleash the Dothraki (and the Dragons) which will drive more allies into Cersei’s clutches. Dany had better hope nothing goes wrong with Grey Worm’s attack on Casterly Rock… (Given all the effort the show has expended to make us care about him and Missandei – their romance was pretty sweet – THAT sex scene included – I am starting to worry about him. Normally once we care this much about supporting characters on Thrones their lifespan gets prematurely cut short!)

Overall there was a lot of talk and character moments in the first 50 minutes, but these were all of such high quality and were so rewarding for long-term show (and book) fans that I was on course to give this a 5/5 even before it brought out a stonking great naval battle for the last 10 minutes! That battle proved the shows increased budget-per-episode is reaping dividends. Hat’s off to writer Bryan Cogman and director Mark Mylod, both knocked it out of the park this week. Bring on episode 3!

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Next Time: Grey Worm attacks Casterly Rock, Euron returns to King’s Landing in triumph and Jon Snow meets Daenerys!!!!

So Ellaria Sand is Euron’s gift to Cersei. Odds on Cersei killing her daughter Tyene (and then her) in some gruesome way must be pretty high, and I’m not sure Yara’s long for this world either… Also why did they recast the 1 of the 3 sandsnakes that the fanbase actually sort of liked?! (Yes, for her entirely gratuitous prison nudity/flirting with Bronn, but still. At least the others are dead and the Dorne storyline pretty much along with it).

Game of Thrones: Dragonstone Review

IT’S BACK!!!!

Dragonstone by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

Warning: SPOILERS!

Thrones’ premieres tend to be the weakest episodes of the season, normally because they’re focused on set up rather than payoff – I’d only give 1 premiere more than 4/5 (Season 3’s excellent Valar Dohaeris). This one is pretty standard, but a kick-ass opening scene, a sense of momentum and a divisive cameo make this more memorable than some opening instalments have been. The increased budget was apparent in a few scenes (Dany’s dragons soaring over Dragonstone, the White Walker’s army in Bran’s vision) but I’m sure we’ll see it to greater effect later on this season.

This was the first ‘cold open’ (i.e. pre-credits scene) a premiere’s had since season 4. And boy, was it a great one. A superb final performance from David Bradley (playing Arya pretending to be Walder) caps off a wonderful punch the air moment as Arya singlehandedly massacres what’s left of House Frey by a mass poisoning. The Red Wedding didn’t work out so well in the end, did it?

Things in the North were fun (Brienne and Tormund is still hilarious, Lyanna Mormont still one of the best characters) while the beginnings of a Sansa-Jon split were sowed nicely. Jon is a decent ruler (his decision to arm and train all Northerners, of both genders, was very practical) but is focused solely on the White Walkers, which doesn’t sit well with Sansa, who (understandably) wants revenge on the houses who sided with Ramsay and is wary of the unpredictable Queen Cersei. You can see both sides, along with the possibility that this rift between them isn’t going to end well…

One of the more surprising sequences involved the Hound and the Brotherhood. Thoros and Beric’s importance is being emphasised a lot for two characters who’ve been missing for 3 seasons, but Beric’s frequent resurrections coupled with Thoros’ apparently genuine ability to produce visions suggest they might be pretty integral to fighting the White Walkers. The Hound’s growth as a character was nice as well – he’s still damaged from the events of ‘The Broken Man’ last season and here he was forced to confront the consequences of old sins, as the Brotherhood stayed the night at the farmhouse where the Hound stole silver from a helpless farmer back in Season 4 (who has since killed himself and his daughter rather than starve). The scene where he buries the bodies and struggles to find the right words for them was probably the most moving part of the episode.

While the sequence with Sam at Oldtown was fairly long, his lack of screentime in season 6 made it a refreshing change, and Jim Broadbent’s role as the Archmaester added some gravitas to proceedings. The revelation that Jorah is now in the citadel’s holding cells (presumably awaiting treatment for his greyscale) was also a nice cameo.

Speaking of cameos: Ed Sheeran. Normally when thrones does cameos the musician is firmly in the background (like Coldplay’s Will Champion at the Red Wedding) but this one stuck out a bit more. But it was relatively harmless, and Arya realising that not all Lannister soldiers are bastards was an interesting character moment as she shared their food and seemed to enjoy herself for the first time in a while. How long this lasts with her apparent mission to kill Cersei is debatable…

Cersei and Euron’s parlay was interesting if unexpected, though Euron’s proposal was a bit of a surprise (though it gave Nikolaj Coster-Waldau aka Jaime some nice material to work with). Theories on what Euron’s gift will be? I can only think of two possibilities – he’s about to (try to) inflict a sizeable defeat on Dany’s fleet or bring Cersei someone she hates (Tyrion, Varys etc.). Should be interesting, because Euron really needs something to make him into a Ramsay or Joffrey worthy villain. Right now he’s a cool-looking support player, but that’s about it!

The final sequence with Dany and Tyrion was cool, hopefully foreshadowing a bit more screentime for them in episode 2. Was half expecting Melisandre to emerge from hiding somewhere, but I’m sure she’ll reappear later in the season. Sam’s discovery about Dragonglass in Daenerys new stronghold seems to point to Jon (or more likely Davos) heading south sometime in the near future too…

Overall, the direction, soundtrack and production standards are as good as ever and while its mostly moving the pieces into place, the episode sets the stage the rest of the season beautifully. Hopefully episode 2 can now bring the action and get things moving…

Rating: 4 out of 5

Next Time: Jon faces trouble in the North as Daenerys, Tyrion and her allies plan the invasion of Westeros…

Doctor Who: Series 10 Review

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

Summary:

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

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

Episode Ratings: (Episodes ranked from best to worst)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights:

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

Low points:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls Review

The Doctor Falls by Steven Moffat

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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

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

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

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