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02 “The Witch’s Familiar” (Doctor Who series 9) [SPOILERS]


doctor who peter capaldi

So regular readers will know that when I watched the début of Peter Capaldi’s second series in the TARDIS, I was pleasantly surprised. Having cast my eyes around the interwebs, that wasn’t universally the opinion, but I’m standing by my impressions.

It was funny, it was dark, it was bold, and as the opener to a new series it did what too often New Who has shied away from. The cliffhanger also raises an interesting format, whereby they seem to be going for a collection of two-part episodes, and giving stories two hours to run over. This feels like a little more room for stories to breathe, and a step towards the serials of old.

And given that this blogger grew up on the adventures of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor (Reruns, I have to stress -Ed), a character which more than a few times Capaldi’s iteration has harked back to.

Of course, setting up a compelling story is all well and good. New Who has always excelled in that. It‘s the resolution that Moffat et al usually fall down on, and it’s that on which “The Magician’s Apprentice”/”The Witch’s Familiar” will be judged.

Read on…(and mind the spoilers)

01 “The Magician’s Apprentice” (Doctor Who series 9) [SPOILERS]


doctor who peter capaldi

So the Doctor is back. Thank goodness for that.

The previous season, Peter Capaldi’s first in the leading role, was a hit and miss affair, but it did rather end on a high note with Michelle Gomez’s fantastic “Missy” (The Mistress… As in, The Master, but female. Geddit? -Ed) as the perfect villainous counterpoint for Capaldi’s mad Scotsman. One of the finest climaxes, in fact, since the BBC resurrected the series.

This, though, is the difficult second album of the Twelfth Doctor. In some ways a little more hopeful that it might be a little smoother this time around, given that the episodes here have all been specifically written for the Capaldi, rather than Matt Smith’s leftovers.

And, having had a glance down the episode list, it looks to me like the episodes are actually structured as a series of two-part stories. Which, from my perspective, sounds great. What we need from this new Doctor is some exploration of the particular character of this incarnation. And Capaldi is just crying out for a darker, grittier sort of Doctor.

Read on…(and mind the spoilers!)

01 “Deep Breath” (Doctor Who series 8) [SPOILERS]


doctor who peter capaldi

To say that I’ve been looking forward to Peter Capaldi’s debut as eccentric box-based time traveller the Doctor is a bit of an understatement. Those with a keen memory may remember that when Matt Smith announced his departure, my favoured choice was the enigmatic Iain Glen.

Despite this, I felt that Capaldi was an inspired choice, ticking many of the boxes I outlined in my plea for Glen. Older, with a sense of gravitas. Even if I was half-hoping for Malcolm Tucker in space (on which note, his first line on the show back at Christmas, morphed in my mind into “Do you know how to fly this f***king thing?”).

I was never much of a fan of Matt Smith’s tenure, if I’m honest. What seemed fresh about him at first pretty quickly felt like David Tennant on too much sugar. The series has been crying out for a lead with a shade more seriousness; a return, perhaps, to the Doctors of yesteryear.

So with the above weight of expectation on Peter Capaldi’s shoulders, how did he perform?

Read on…(and mind the spoilers)

Heresy of the Week: 2013 showed that HBO are still idiots


Breaking Bad

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

Following on from previous years since it started broadcast, HBO’s flagship show Game of Thrones is the most pirated television show of the year. Other successful shows, lower-ranking on the list, demonstrate and confirm some of the reason’s for the gritty fantasy epic’s popularity with pirates.

Read on…

The Tractate Middoth – A Review


the tractate middoth

I like ghost stories. I like them at Christmas. It’s why I watch A Christmas Carol most years (albeit the Muppets version).

Occasionally, the BBC thoroughly earns its licence fee for the year (look away now Rob Wilson MP), by doing a terrific ghost story adaptation. Given that M.R. James is one of finest masters of the form, he’s usually a safe bet for source material.

Within my admittedly short and ragged memory, the 2010 adaptation of Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad featuring John Hurt was excellent. And the 2009 we were treated to a fine adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw featuring the admittedly bland and characterless Michelle Dockery.

This year it’s the turn of The Tractate Middoth, which is a story I have never even heard of, let alone read.

Read on…

Heresy of the Week: HBO are idiots


game of thrones joffrey clap

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

Despite creating a number of very successful TV shows, drawing an audience of millions across the world, HBO’s approach to home media and post-broadcast is bemusing, and in many ways entirely counterproductive to the company’s interests.

Read on…

Jorah Mormont for Doctor Who!


iain glen jorah mormont

So, with Matt Smith’s departure from the classic British science-fiction show Doctor Who, the time is upon us once more to select a new actor to portray the last (probably) of the Time Lords, the lonely God — the Doctor.

Well, the BBC does the selecting. But since the rumours of possible replacements have been dire at best, I thought I’d wade into the debate. So far I’ve heard suggested Richard Madden (too young), Rupert Grint (too Ron Weasley, and too awful), Helen Mirren (too expensive), Benedict Cumberbatch (too Sherlock Holmes), and even David Duchovny (I don’t even… Just… No!).

The answer is clearly Jorah Mormont Iain Glen. And here’s why

Read on…

Doctor Who Series 6 (A Review) [CONTAINS SPOILERS]


Since my review of Doctor Who series 5 is still seemingly so popular over a year on, and since the sixth series of the time-travelling sci-fi institution is over, I’ve decided that I’ll stage another review of the whole series. And, without resorting to any River Song jokes, this review will contain spoilers.

To recap where we are as of the end of series 5, the Doctor (along with Amy, Rory and River) has saved the universe from destruction at the hands of an exploding TARDIS, but still doesn’t know what caused it to explode in the first place. Rory and Amy have gotten married, before whizzing off with the Doctor for more adventures (including their honeymoon, as depicted in A Christmas Carol, the 2010 Christmas special). We also know that River Song is married, and is in prison for killing “the best man I’ve ever known”.

Now, come along reader. We have a series to review! Geronimo!

(Sorry)

  • The Impossible Astronaut

The Doctor is back with a bang. Literally. After seeing an older Doctor die at the hands of a mysterious astronaut on the shores of Lake Silencio, Amy, Rory and River join their Doctor on a trip to 1969, following a series of cryptic clues. This was a good opener, with a particularly powerful opening gambit. Killing off main characters in the opening episode isn’t an unusual move, but killing off the  main character is new. The joke about Americans and guns made me giggled (again, sorry) and showed that the usual DW wit is alive and well. One of the particular highlights of this episodes is a Richard Nixon which puts the play-dough version in Watchmen to shame.

  • The Day of the Moon

Following directly on from The Impossible Astronaut, this episode sees the Doctor and his usual companions- joined by Canton Everett Delaware III, who eagle-eyed sci-fiers will recognise as Romo Lampkin of BSG fame- waging a revolution against the mysterious Silence. The Silence are a fantastic idea, creepy figures standing in the background of forever unable to be remembered. They’re up there with the Weeping Angels in the downright creepy stakes. This was another brilliant episode, opening the season with a cracking two part story. And the regenerating girl at the end was a superb touch.

  • The Curse of the Black Spot

From the brilliant, to the not so brilliant. There wasn’t anything exactly wrong with this episode, but coming after the The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon two-parter, it feels very flat. The pirate romp idea has been shoehorned into a Doctor Who story, and one expects that it’s only in order to show Karen Gillian in a pirate outfit. And not enough was made of Lily Cole, whose perfectly spherical head made her excellently suited to being a much more alien monster than she played. Probably the only real filler episode of the series.

  • The Doctor’s Wife

Having said that The Curse of the Black Spot was the only filler episode, I do feel that if this episode wasn’t magnificently good, it would dispute that title. Written by the brilliant Neil Gaiman, it adds nothing to the overall story arc, but really is so good. The Doctor follows a Time Lord distress call to a TARDIS-eating asteroid creature, where the TARDIS enters a human body. Cue endless witty exchanges!

  • The Rebel Flesh

The Doctor, Amy and Rory land smack bang in the middle of a showdown on an island between a group of acid miners and their “flesh” duplicates, formerly merely tools, now sentient. This is classic DW fare, with the Doctor desperately trying to keep two peoples from going to war. See last season’s Silurian two-parter. It’s good enough, but doesn’t really come into its own until the second part.

  • The Almost People

And here we are. With a flesh duplicate of the Doctor running around too, things were always going to be more fun. Everything goes to hell in a handbasket when one of the Flesh duplicates goes a little monstery. Lots of running around and shouting, until at the end Amy goes into labour, and is revealed to be a Flesh duplicate herself. This was a cliffhanger and a half. Moffatt knows how to keep an audience watching, and this is it.

  • A Good Man Goes to War

Back to the main storyline we go. The Doctor and Rory gather an army to rescue Amy (plus her daughter). This was an episode that should have been great, and that knew it should have been great. The problem was that it overreached a bit. The Doctor winning the battle without any bloodshed was a good touch, but when it went wrong (as we knew it would) it just felt a bit too…obvious, for the Doctor to fall for. The reveal of River Song’s identity (She’s Amy and Rory’s baby. Also, part Time Lord. Don’t ask) was made entirely too obvious, but the performances of Matt Smith and Alex Kingston in the last few minutes save it.

  • Let’s Kill Hitler

It’s not filler, but it’s not good. The addition of Hitler was wholly unnecessary (he spends all but the first five minutes of the episode in the bloody cupboard), and frankly was probably only for the jaw dropping title at the end of A Good Man Goes to War. The whole point of the episode was to show Melody Pond “becoming” River Song, via a shapeshifting robot (the teselecta) crewed by mini-people. Which seemed unrealistic and entirely too sudden. And so the Doctor would know the date of his death. All of which could have been achieved without Hitler. My least favourite episode  of the series.

  • Night Terrors

The Doctor helps a frightened child, and ends up trapped in a dolls’ house filled with very creepy dolls. This feels very close to the Tennant/Ecclestone episodes that RTD used to write. Not in a bad way. It’s creepy, and endearing, and explores the Doctor’s character surprisingly well.

  • The Girl Who Waited

The best episode of the series. Really, truly, fantastically made. The Doctor and Rory try to rescue Amy from a different “time stream” which is moving faster, and end up finding a bitter, angry Amy who has been waiting for them for decades. More Doctor characterisation, but this time vicariously, through his effects on other people. RTD tried for this a number of times, most notably in the series 4 finale, but never managed it as effectively as The Girl Who Waited.

  • God Complex

Another very good examination of the Doctor’s character through his relationship with others. The gang become trapped with a bunch of other randomers in a hotel, in which there is a room somewhere containing each person’s greatest fear. It’s a nice use of the Room 101 idea, and a particularly nice twist at the end which sees the Doctor have to break Amy’s faith in him. The ending, with Rory and Amy leaving the TARDIS, came straight out of left field, though it’s a bit dampened by knowing that they will certainly be back in the series finale. The question you’re left wanting answers for, though, is what was in the Doctor’s room?

  • Closing Time

James Corden and Cybermen. Oh joy. One is the silver enemy of the Doctor who I have never found scary (sorry, I know that’s heresy, but it’s true). The other is a man I very much want to dislike, but keep catch myself giggling at. It wasn’t a bad episode, even despite my prejudices. And actually, placing it 200 years on for the Doctor, and just before the events at the beginning of The Impossible Astronaut, was a good touch. The best part was at the end, when the Doctor is finally ready to go to Lake Silencio.

  • The Wedding of River Song

This is an episode which has divided opinion, but which I loved. The Doctor searches for the reason that he has to die (he will answer the first question), before going to Lake Silencio. There, a younger River in the astronaut suit fails to kill him, causing time to “all happen at once”. This episode has some lovely scenes, including Emperor Winston Churchill, and a steam train into an Egyptian pyramid. The Doctor convinces River that she has to kill him, in order to save the universe (for a change) and she does.

Except she doesn’t. Face it, we all knew that the Doctor would survive. He always does- that’s half the fun of it! The use of the teselecta was something a lot of people guessed, but I admittedly didn’t.

The resounding theme of this series was the Doctor, facing who he is and his own demise. It did that very well, particularly with the Doctor’s realisation in A Good Man Goes to War of the effect his fame was having on the universe. The end of The Wedding of River Song has the Doctor very much alive, but with only a handful of people aware of that fact (and the fixed point in time thing does make sense, it’s all a matter of perspective). It’s an excellent lead into the seventh series, which will be the 50th anniversary of the show.

As for the future? I think we had a fairly large hint from Dorium Maldovar (who still looks like the fat Zahn from Farscape episode John Quixote) with that business about the fall of the Eleventh, on the fields of Trenzalore. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the big hurrah Moffat has planned for the anniversary.

River Song’s story, too, isn’t as finished as everyone else seems to think it is. In Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, River knows the Doctor’s name. But he hasn’t told her yet (when he said he had told her his name, he’d told her to look into his eye). I think we’ve more to see of Alex Kingston.

Finally, in the break between A Good Man Goes to War and Let’s Kill Hitler (whoever came up with that break idea really does deserve something painful to happen to them) a teaser trailer was released. It showed a skeleton, holding a dying sonic screwdriver. I don’t think it was a teaser trailer for Let’s Kill Hitler. I think Moffat is playing the long game with us.

Doctor Who Series 5 (A Review) [CONTAINS SPOILERS]


So, Doctor Who. That stalwart of British TV, pride of the BBC. Since regenerating in 2005, it’s been one of the most popular TV programmes in Britain, and has received international acclaim. And the fundamental difference about the fifth series: Matt Smith. You have to sympathise with the guy. It’s a massive role, and he came to it from nowhere, and got a lot of stick from it. And yet, he’s been fantastic.

The role of the Doctor has traditionally been a rocket to stardom (or for Paul McGann, a motorcycle to “what the hell was that?”), and those who do well at it deservedly meet with success. And Matt Smith has been great, I think. He’s proved himself worthy of the role, and played it with a spellbinding sense of humour, which is the fundamental requirement of the Doctor. Everything is going to shit all around him, and he’s still cracking jokes.

What else is new? New companion. Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan. And of her? She was pretty good. More independent than previous companions, and less doting on the Doctor. Or is it more? Maybe a bit of both. Obsessed with him, but not following him around like a helpless puppy, a la Rose Tyler and Martha Jones. But, good as she might be, she will always fall down next to the raw sex appeal of Bernard Cribbins!

And the story? Well, it’s done the usual Doctor Who trick of meandering between “bloody brilliant” and “not worth bothering with”. I’ll do a quick summary of each.

  • The Eleventh Hour introduced the new Doctor, Amy Pond, and the overarching story of the cracks and the Pandorica.
  • The Beast Below was average as an episode, but an unusually strong social comment on ignorance over responsibility.
  • The Victory of the Daleks was pretty crap, actually. The highlight of the craptasticality was the new “iPod” Daleks, hand designed by Apple, to rape a precious childhood treasure.
  • The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone two parter was excellent, I thought. It brought back the best of the new villains, quantum-locked stone Weeping Angels, as well as fleshing out the overarching storyline of the cracks and what they mean.
  • The Vampires of Venice was a “meh” episode. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t bad. Truthfully, it just felt like filler, even though I’m fairly sure it was supposed to expand the character of the new Doctor.
  • Amy’s Choice was one of my favourites. Whereas the previous episode tried to expand the Doctor’s character, this one did. It showed the dark side of an ancient alien, and gave Amy Pond her first real characterisation, making her far and away the most real of the companions since the reboot.
  • The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood two-parter was another blinder. The issue of protecting humanity was examined in the light of an old species, with just as much claim to Earth as humanity. And the seeds for the finale were sewn in the final moments.
  • Vincent and the Doctor was actually a lot better than I expected. Every series they throw in a “historical celebrity” episode, and usually they’re pretty dire. This one was actually very good, largely because of a stellar performance by Tony Curran, and brilliant writing.
  • The Lodger is the only one I haven’t seen (which I will rectify, eventually). But popular opinion seems unfavourable towards it. Along with some fairly severe criticism of James Corden, which I don’t really get… But whatever.

And the finale two-parter: The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang. Which was the highlight of the whole series. The twist at the end of the first part was outstanding, I thought. It turned the idea of the Pandorica on its head, and whilst I’ve heard people claim they saw it coming, I’ll freely admit that I didn’t. The final scene, where the Doctor’s enemies drag him into his new prison was a cliffhanger worthy of the very best. The main problem was always going to be the resolution. Doctor Who has a bad habit of flat resolutions: series 1 was alright, series 2 was quite good, series 3 was shit, series 4 was shitter.

But this time? It was right. It felt right, and it worked, with more twists than a country lane. But it worked. There wasn’t any bullshit, cop-out psychic whatever. It was natural. And I loved it. Others won’t. But I did. So they can go sulk. It rounded off the story, but left enough open. And here’s the biggest (I think) spoiler: we may have an overarching storyline, over serieseses!

Yeah, I’m a geek. And after watching the end of The Big Bang, I wouldn’t be anything else.

Fire up the Quatro! (Ashes to Ashes – A Retrospective Review) [contains spoilers]


So, it’s over. And in all honesty, what an ending.

But first, a little background. In 2006 a fantastic series called Life On Mars began. It starred John Simm as a present-day policeman, who ends up in a coma and goes back to 1973, where he has to figure out what is happening, whilst dealing with classic 70s policeman DCI Gene Hunt. It was funny, witty, intelligent, and very entertaining. It made two series, and ended with a perfect ending.

Then, it was followed by spin-off series Ashes to Ashes, which featured another cop (this time a woman) going back to the 80s, and playing out a similar series of events. I’m going to start by saying that it wasn’t as good as Life on Mars. For starters, it suffered from the inevitable plague of “spin-off syndrome”. Namely, that most spin-offs are awful. Now, that wasn’t true here, it just wasn’t as good as its predecessor. Part of the problem was lead actress Keeley Hawes. She just didn’t have the same chemistry with Glenister that Simm did (which is a little odd when you think about it, actually…). But that’s not really her fault, since very few people have the kind of acting talent John Simm kicks around. I found her irritating though, and her moral stances reflected the same stubbornness that she chided Hunt for, the only difference being that it was her opinion that was unquestionably right, rather than his.

But for all I can criticise it, I have to praise it too. It was an absolutely beautiful concept (something which the US remakers failed to grasp), and Ashes to Ashes introduced another dose of philosophical uncertainty into the mix. The story was excellent, with the final season and the final episode standing out in particular, and the writers correctly deduced that the real star of Life on Mars had been old-fashioned copper Gene Hunt. Whilst LoM had been about Sam Tyler, AtA was very definitely about Gene.

Last night’s finale confused me. I mean, really confused me. All the way through, I had no idea how it was going to end (well, sort of; I called that they were all dead ages ago), and especially as the series has only ever been realistic police drama mixed in with a bit of psychology, the lurch to full-blown existential headfuck could have been a little jarring, were it not so perfectly written.

The best ending to a series is when it is completely natural. I don’t know if the writers had this specific ending in mind when they started, but it fits so well with the rest of the series that there really couldn’t have been any more perfect ending. The police purgatory wasn’t the creation of Sam Tyler, or Alex Drake. It was, and had always been, the Gene Genie’s world. The whole thing was steeped in symbolism, from the duality of the Hunt-Keats relationship, to the death of the Quatro at the end (one of the most weirdly moving moments in television).

Part of the attraction of both series was, of course, the nostalgia factor. I wasn’t alive in either the 70s or the 80s, so that’s perhaps a bit wasted on me. But the historical context manifesting through background events, through the style, and through the soundtrack, meaning that for a lot of people it’s like looking back in time. Even not having been there, I appreciated a lot of it. The Falklands War, and Maggie Thatcher’s 1983 reelection in particular. And I think this is how the finale works its magic. The shows realism has grabbed the audience every bit as much as it has Alex, and that is one of the primary things that keeps everyone guessing.

So in conclusion, I suggest you watch this. You need to start with Life on Mars, obviously, but really it’s so good that it’s hardly a burden, and you really should have already seen it. The two series run together, and by the time you reach the end, it will all seem to have fallen into place. This is brilliant storytelling, coupled with great characterisation, and fantastic acting in particular from Phillip Glenister. Gene Hunt is the classic, outdated copper. Sexist, bullish, very politically incorrect. But I defy you not to love him, when it’s all over.

This is fantastic drama, and fantastic entertainment, and proves that the BBC can still make the very best television around. It makes you feel all proud to be British!