12.4 – “Genesis Of The Daleks”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 12 with tags , , , , on September 20, 2015 by Review The Who

CW Series 12 - Genesis Of The Daleks

If you’re watching this one after the decades of mythology built upon its foundation, this is the one where SHIT GETS REAL, GUYZ! THE FIRST SHOT OF THE TIME WAR IS FIRED! But whenever you’re watching it, this is The Secret Origin of The Daleks, with The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry plonked in the middle of the last days of the Thal/Kaled war, sent on a mission to end the Daleks before they’re even started.

Christ, imagine having to not only find something new to write about “Genesis Of The Daleks” that hasn’t already been said a hundred times before, but to do so in the looming shadow of “The Magician’s Apprentice” – a season opener that certain corners of the internet (i.e. the nerdy ones that you’re just as guilty of reading as I am) are fairly convinced is going to be a direct sequel. The whole context could’ve change by the time this is published!

So let’s skip quickly through the obvious flaws: 6 episodes is too long for any story, the giant clam is terrible, Terry Nation can’t help but slip into adventure serial mode even with a script editor clearly kicking him up the arse for once, there’s been a millennia of war and yet – despite being aware of it – no-one has thought to use the secret tunnel that leads STRAIGHT INTO THE THAL CITY, Thal city security is frankly terrible, it’s kind of hard if you’re of a certain age to take Guy Siner as a Nazi seriously (no matter how good an actor he is), I have friends who make a fairly convincing argument that yes, you do have the right, actually…and yet, and yet…

It’s a fucking stone cold classic, isn’t it? I mean, come on. It’s BRILLIANT. Despite being peppered with a couple of plot holes so big you could pilot a planet through ‘em. I mean, in one respect it’s like Doctor Who in microcosm. There are odd ropey bits, but those ropey bits don’t stop the whole being basically AMAZING, do they? NO THEY DO NOT. “Genesis Of The Daleks” features – in the shape of Davros – an instantly classic, utterly superb villain. Michael Wisher totally nails his performance, switching from icy megalomania to histrionic frustration, often within a single line of dialogue. It’s dirty, grimy, gritty and dark, yet doesn’t make me pull the sort of faces I normally pull at those adjectives. This is a millennia-long war that – on a 70s BBC budget – manages to feel like a millennia-long war, with all the grotty violence that suggests. The script is highly quotable and features a bunch of ideas and set-ups that define the series. The world-building is the best we’ve seen in aaaaages, there are moral dilemmas and Stuff To Think About, and – oh yes – visual references to The Seventh Seal?

Bring. That. Shit. On.

Sometimes there is no new angle, and sometimes you don’t need one. Sometimes it’s enough to just sit there going “Wheeeeeee!!”, pausing only to idly wonder how the hell Terry Nation, coming off the back of “Planet Of The Daleks” and “Death To The Daleks”, managed to write something this enjoyable. And then you thank the deity of your choice for whoever let Robert Holmes loose on Doctor Who and watch the rest of the story with a great big idiot grin on your face. And all is good with the world.

Do I really need to say any more? 8/10.

Written and edited by Steve Horry


7.6 – “The Bells Of Saint John”

Posted in New Who, Series 7 with tags , , , , on September 20, 2015 by Review The Who

DW Series 7 - The Bells Of Saint John

I don’t know where I am!” say lots of people who have been trapped in the wi-fi. The Doctor, however, is pretending to be a monk in 1207 Cumbria, but gets a call on the TARDIS phone from a terribly familiar young lady who needs helpdesk support. The Doctor arrives in the present day, rescues his impossible girl Clara and, together, they set out to find out what’s going on and put a stop to it.

At last! The proper roll-out of the impossibly pretty and perky Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald, the OFFICIAL new companion. All quite exciting really. We’ve already been teased with her in two superb episodes – as saucy, brilliant yet tragic Oswin in “Asylum Of The Daleks” and as cute, dynamic yet tragic Clara in “The Snowmen”. What a pity then that “The Bells Of Saint John” doesn’t really come close in quality to those two corkers.

It doesn’t help that it’s got a ticklist of Moffatisms that always get my goat. Anachronistic overly calm child being spooky; faceless, voiceless sinister “monster” that walks slowly; innocuous words as ominous repeated catchphrase – “I don’t know where I am”. Well I know where I am, Steve – stuck with a bunch of clichés that I’ve seen too many times before.

The story, or at least the situation that our heroes must deal with, is not so strong either. Again, people being spirited away to a virtual place is hardly original in the New Who era. Celia Imrie is great as our lead villain, but Miss Kizlet joins a growing list of strong, posh women in dark suits. And it’s never really clear what the point of the exercise is – why are people being uploaded to the “wifi”? I’m sure the Great Intelligence has a great plan behind it all, but who knows what it is – we’re never told. It’s quite cool how Miss Kizlet hacks her staff’s minds to get them to act just how she wants but so much else makes no sense.

The spoonheads are just plain daft. So they’re actually portable servers who disguise themselves as people that their targets know, except their heads twist around so that the downloading “beam” can be used? WHY?! Since Miss Kizlet seems to have no trouble controlling a whole café full of people from afar, why does she need to have the spoonheads wandering around? After all, aren’t people being uploaded to the wifi?!

All that stuff isn’t so important though – this story is really about Clara and turning her into THE companion. However, the Clara here is nowhere near as good as the Clara in “Asylum…” and “The Snowmen”. In her previous stories, Clara was smart and dynamic and very much driving events along. Here, Clara is really just someone that stuff happens to. I suppose that’s the point; she is The Impossible Girl of mystery and it’s up to The Doctor to pull her into his adventures. I’ve got no issues with Coleman as an actress as she more than proved her worth in her first couple of outings. When there’s a chance to show it, she’s strong here, showing how a raised eyebrow and subtle smile can go a long, long way. It’s just unfortunate that she doesn’t have the character I was hoping for to put all of that talent into.

Matt Smith, once again, elevates the mediocre to something better; he twirls and twitches his way through things with ease. The Eleventh Doctor, no longer weighed down by the Ponds, is back to having fun again. He has great chemistry with Coleman; The Doctor and Clara spark nicely over their breakfast, cheerfully rescue planes together and don’t quite flirt, but almost do. The anti-gravity bike up the side of the Shard is good fun, The Doctor’s trick of reprogramming the spoonhead to fool Miss Kizlet and upload her was pretty clever and the Great Intelligence reducing Miss Kizlet back to a scared little girl – that was just plain nasty. The whole thing may not quite hang together, but the episode certainly has its moments.

Episodes like this are frustrating. We know Moffat is a seriously good writer when he turns it on, but sometimes he seems to be just ticking off the boxes. There’s enough sparky stuff to entertain but, after two awesome preludes to this, Clara’s actual proper debut is a little bit of a letdown. Smith, Coleman and Imrie provide enough talent to give this 7/10.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes

20.1 – “Arc Of Infinity”

Posted in Classic Who, Season 20 with tags , , , , on September 20, 2015 by Review The Who

CW Series 20 - Arc Of Infinity

Ten years on and Omega’s back, hatching a plan to steal The Doctor’s “bio-data” and cross over from the anti-matter universe – which will have the inconvenient side effect of fatally blowing the matter universe up. On Gallifrey, a traitor must be unmasked before the High Council can carry out The Doctor’s termination and in Amsterdam, some teenage backpackers are being hypnotized in a spooky basement by a giant rubber chicken monster. Well, they do say the drugs are pretty good out there.

Doctor Who, just like nature, abhors a vacuum. That’s not to say that there aren’t frequent pockets of airlessness in the series; back in the days when stories had to run to 5, 6, 7 episodes or even longer to make their seasons work, you might have an entire episode of tedious corridor-running, or capture-escape-recapture shenanigans, that leave us no further on at the end of the 20 minutes than we were at the start. But in general the show manages to avoid too much “business as usual”. I’m almost certainly biased but I feel like I’ve seen lots of Star Trek episodes which are just that, and no more than that: some conventional Star-Trek-type things happen in them, no new ground is broken, no expectations are defied, and everyone seems perfectly happy with that state of affairs.

But Doctor Who when it’s working, which is to say most of the time, tends to give a little bit extra. It might be something as simple as the regulars clowning around, or some mad curveball of British eccentricity in the script taking us places that the Enterprise crew would never be bold enough to go. But there’s usually something there to love, even during supposed all-time nadirs like Season 17 or Season 24.

I’ve watched “Arc Of Infinity” around four times now in recent months and, having said all of the above, my brain can find almost zero little crumbs of Whovian comfort to cling onto for support. For a serial that’s meant to be ushering in a triumphant 20th anniversary season, it manages to demonstrate a truly breathtaking inability to understand what needs to go into a Doctor Who script to make it successful, or even remotely watchable. In my reviews of Season 19 I banged on enough about my problems with certain incoming personnel of the mid-1980’s regime but, honestly, “Arc Of Infinity” is where it becomes obvious that the pantsness of “Time-Flight” was no mere blip. The show’s format has curdled into something really quite off-putting, and pretty soon only weird anorak-sporting saddos are going to want to drink it.

But enough preamble, what’s “Arc Of Infinity” all about? Two different plots, interleaved: the first, a Gallifrey-set whodunnit in which his friends must race against time to find the traitor in the High Council and provide a stay of The Doctor’s execution; the second, some teen backpackers confronting monsters in a crypt in Amsterdam. If you’re scratching your head right now trying to work out how these two plotlines could possibly join up, don’t worry, I can practically guarantee by this point that I’ve watched “Arc Of Infinity” more times than you and I still can’t make much sense of it. Essentially Who’s fortunes had reached the stage where they could afford to film one production per season abroad (for some small values of abroad), JN-T presumably liked the idea of a weekend in Amsterdam, and they shoehorned it in.

Let’s deal with the plots one at a time. Plot A at least sounds promising, doesn’t it? A sequel to the much-loved “The Deadly Assassin”? In fact it turns out to be one of the final few nails in the coffin of the idea of setting stories on Gallifrey. What should be a planet of infinite, breathtaking wonders is once again a few beige antechambers populated by a small gaggle of crusty high-court-judge types. Apart from Borusa (who is never recognisable as a long-running character anyway, due to his twenty-a-day regeneration habit), all of the mystery suspects (including a couple of “old friends” of The Doctor) have to be introduced from scratch. Is there any reason we should care about the solution to this mystery when the characters are barely distinguishable and there’s no time to distribute clues, due to half the running time being wasted on an acned teen kicking around Amsterdam? The big twist (sorry if this is a spoiler but I really fail to see how anyone could spoil “Arc Of Infinity”) is that the suspect who seems nicest is – gasp! – the traitor and the one who seems most horrible is – no way! – loyal. Agatha Christie this ain’t. “The Unicorn and The friggin’ Wasp” this ain’t!

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands…

One thing I do grudgingly like about this serial is how it trolls its audience for the first couple of episodes. Adric has left, Tegan has left. People are always going on about how Nyssa is the best companion of that particular line-up but, Jesus, watch the two-handers between her and The Doctor in this episode and tell me that, without the mouth on legs and the pyjama-wrapped brat to liven things up, things haven’t reached “watching paint dry” levels of tedium. Anyway, the point is that we’re definitely in line for a new companion. Enter Robin Stuart and Colin Frazer, the obvious candidates, especially Robin, as Colin gets nobbled by some kind of alien turkey pretty early on. And, OMG! No one liked Adric, but they’ve achieved the impossible here and found someone even worse. Awkward, goggle-eyed, terrible dress sense, stupid (not only has he managed to lose his passport, he seriously thinks the Dutch police will throw him into jail for this), unbelievably rude to the poor youth hostel receptionist who is trying to help him, ill at ease with girls…did the production team of the time not understand that their substantial spotty teen boy demographic might want some escapism out of Doctor Who, rather than a mirror held up to all their flaws?

But of course it’s all a trick, showing us this vista of unimaginable horror so that we do what we never imagined we would and breathe a sigh of relief when it’s revealed that Janet Fielding has in fact signed up for another season. Although, one of the most interesting things in “Arc Of Infinity” is right at the end, as The Doctor’s face falls when he realizes he really is “stuck with” Tegan again. Full credit to the 1980’s production team for their exploration of the idea of companions being more of a problem for The Doctor than an asset, though it’s not until the arrival of Ace that why The Doctor tolerates having companions will be anything other than a baffling conundrum.

But yeah, Robin Stuart is terrible, the pointless choice to film some scenes in Amsterdam is terrible, Gallifrey is terrible, the whodunnit is terrible, the Matrix being a few wobbly criss-cross lines generated by a BBC Micro is terrible and an insult to “The Deadly Assassin”. Bringing back Omega with an uglier costume, no discernible personality and a giant rubber chicken for a butler is terrible and an insult to “The Three Doctors”. The technobabble (all those “pulse loops” and “fusion boosters”) and the slavishness to continuity (namedropping Leela, wasting time on a discussion about the temporal grace goof from “Earthshock”) in the place of any kind of heart is terrible. The continuing decision to have The Doctor and companion attempt to solve almost every problem with guns is really terrible. Colin Baker in the role of Maxil is not completely terrible, if your idea of “not terrible” is “able to portray a dead-eyed Nazi thug with real conviction”, but of course the idea to take this performance and make a Doctor out of it may well be the most terrible ever. I think everyone agrees that as celebrations of two decades of the show go, this is a massive misfire.

But is there anything good to say about “Arc Of Infinity”? Well…I’ll offer up two things. Firstly, and okay, this is clutching at straws a bit, the name of the episode is really beautiful and evocative. It’s hard to understand how such a poetic story title could be attached to such a lumpen and prosaic story. Secondly, there is one scene in “Arc Of Infinity” that I really like, sadly in Episode 4, so much too late to stop anyone switching off, but still. Yet another terrible decision has been made to have Omega turn into Peter Davison in an ugly boiler suit and facial eruptions legging it around the streets of Amsterdam. Briefly, though, he stops to listen to a steam organ and, these being carefree pre-Yewtree days, exchanges some coquettish smiles with a tiny winsome blond Dutch boy. The tragedy of Omega is that all he wants to do is live; listen to music, feel the sun on his face, maybe skip through a field of tulips holding hands with a tiny child, I don’t know. But of course thanks to his exile to the anti-matter universe all of these joys are lost to him forever. The rest of the adventure squanders him entirely with boilerplate villainous posturing and bluster, but this scene economically describes his predicament, as moments later his face begins to revert to anti-matter and bystanders start screaming. It’s worth all the rest of “Arc Of Infinity” put together, as far as I’m concerned.

Even the aforementioned glimmers of something good and interesting about this serial aren’t enough to amount to an extra point out of ten. “Arc Of Infinity” is an empty void of a show, a display case for continuity porn instead of imagination, technobabble instead of plot, guns instead of humour, shoddy production value, contractual obligation rubber monsters and unimaginative direction instead of any discernible love anywhere. If Doctor Who is about joylessly reprising things from the shows past then this might qualify as some kind of success, but if it’s about anything else at all then I can only award it the ultimate bad story accolade of 1/10.

Written and edited by Matthew Marcus

8.10 – “In The Forest Of The Night”

Posted in New Who, Series 8 with tags , , , , on September 8, 2015 by Review The Who

DW Series 8 - In The Forest Of The Night

Clara and Danny take a group of “gifted” students for a sleepover at the Natural History Museum in London, only to wake the following morning and discover that the whole of London has become overgrown with trees. But it’s not just London, as The Doctor soon discovers; it’s the entire planet.

If I was in a cruel mood, I’d probably find it quite easy to dismiss “In The Forest Of The Night” as a piece of filler designed to tide us over before we get to the two-part series finale, where all of the interesting shit always happens. But having watched the episode and mostly enjoyed it (as well as having fun spotting all of the William Blake references), I’m inclined to be a bit more generous towards it’s lightweight nature. There’s also a nice little message tucked away amongst the foliage instead of being forced down your throat.

Playing out with a fairytale atmosphere, “In The Forest Of The Night” is the story of a planetary invasion with a twist; rather than the Earth being plagued by some alien menace or transdimensional beings, nature itself is apparently rising up in rebellion. Overnight, the entire planet has become swamped by trees of all varieties, turning the Earth into one giant forest.

There’s the usual running about as The Doctor and Clara attempt to figure out what’s really going on, with the assistance of a young girl named Maeb who for some reason is able to hear the voices of the trees. When they realise that the trees can’t be destroyed it starts to look as though the forest will become a permanent addition to the world, that is until The Doctor looks in Maeb’s school book and sees that she’s drawn a picture of the sun burning the Earth up. Investigating further, The Doctor discovers that a solar flare is going to hit the planet and destroy everything.

Okay, so science is pretty much meaningless in this episode, as solar flares do not work that way. As it turns out, the trees have grown up to protect the planet, not invade it, so that when the solar flare hits the excess oxygen the trees have created will be burned away by the flare and the Earth will be safe. Again, not science. Not even close.

But that’s alright; this is very much a fairytale episode, with the emphasis being on the ideas, specifically that people should’ve trusted a little more and feared a little less (the government for example immediately attempts to burn the trees, only to find that they are impervious to fire). It’s a fine message, one that isn’t slapping you about the face and trying to make you feel bad. It’s a positive idea.

But despite good performances all around and the subtle message…yeah, this isn’t an episode that I’d ever watch again. It’s enjoyable enough but it certainly doesn’t rank amongst the most memorable of stories.

“In The Forest Of The Night” is a fun little pit stop before we dive into the more serious drama of the series finale and, for the most part, it works just fine. Lightweight, sure, but diverting and enjoyable nevertheless. And for once I didn’t recoil in abject horror at the performances of the child actors! A curiously watchable 5/10.

Written and edited by Richey Hackett

1.9 & 1.10 – “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances”

Posted in New Who, Series 1 with tags , , , , , , on September 5, 2015 by Review The Who

DW Series 1 - The Empty Child

The Doctor and Rose find themselves in the middle of the London Blitz, where falling bombs aren’t the scariest thing happening. A young boy in a gas mask has everyone terrified, simply by asking one little question: “Are you my mummy?” It’s up to The Doctor, Rose and their newfound friend, Captain Jack Harkness, to find out exactly what’s going on.

This is one of my absolute favourite two-parters. I love these episodes. If I go all gushy, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So, why do I love this story so much?

Well firstly, the writing is excellent. We start off with The Doctor and Rose chasing an object through space. This leads to a brilliant bit of comedy when the TARDIS lands and The Doctor steps out to ask some locals whether anything has fallen out of the sky recently. He’s interrupted by an air raid siren and realises exactly where – and when – he is. The writing throughout both episodes is of a consistently high quality and there are some fantastic lines, especially for The Doctor and Captain Jack.

The plot is solid, too. It centres around a little boy called Jamie, who’s scaring the living daylights out of his “sister” Nancy (who – spoiler alert – turns out to be his mum; I know, it’s all a bit EastEnders) and everyone else who meets him, by asking “Are you my mummy?” He has a gas mask fused to his face and anyone who touches him will become “empty” like he is; masked and doomed to wander listlessly, asking the same question over and over. Somehow, a child’s voice calling: “Mummy? Muuuuuummy?” is even scarier than the most deadly of aliens. It’s a fantastic juxtaposition; how can a child be the cause of such fear? The answer is, yet again, that this is a brilliant piece of writing from Steven Moffat, wonderfully acted by the whole cast.

Florence Hoath is brilliant as the terrified young Nancy. She’s taken it upon herself to look after the city’s homeless and orphaned children, having recently lost her brother Jamie in an air raid. Nancy knows that the scary, “empty child” is Jamie, but her terror whenever he comes close is completely believable. Some actors are able to convey enormous amounts of emotion with just a single look and Hoath manages this when Nancy stares at Jamie, just before she runs away in fear; we can tell that there are hundreds of things she wants to say to him, but can’t bring herself to. We can see that she doesn’t want to fear him, but that she’s horrified by what he’s become. We somehow know that she blames herself for it long before the revelation that she is his mummy. That’s a heck of a lot to convey in just a look, but she manages it and she deserves a mention here.

Nancy is torn between wanting to solve what’s happening and loyalty to her family/fear at the truth coming out. She tells The Doctor that the object that fell from the sky is connected to her brother, but that it’s being guarded by soldiers. Again, Hoath plays this conflict of emotions brilliantly; I can’t stress enough how well acted I think both episodes are by everyone involved.

“The Empty Child” is also the first episode in which we encounter Captain Jack Harkness. I’ve always been a fan of Captain Jack and his debut appearance, dressed in RAF uniform, flirting outrageously with Rose (and anyone else who happens to catch his roving eye) immediately caused him to stand out from other guest stars in previous episodes. It was obvious that this was a character with the capacity to stick around. When we meet Jack, he’s flying what he says is a Chula war ship. A ship he tries – unsuccessfully – to sell to The Doctor. The Doctor eyes Jack with not a small amount of suspicion and in return, Captain Jack mocks his screwdriver. There’s some brilliant writing as the pair peacock it out in front of Rose and it’s the start of a relationship I wish we could see more of. And no, I don’t mean in that sense. Although…

Anyway, back to the plot: The Doctor heads to a hospital close to where the object he was chasing crash-landed. Inside, he meets Doctor Constantine, brilliantly played by Richard Wilson. All of Constantine’s patients have exactly the same physical symptoms – a scar on one hand and a gas mask fused to their face – and all seem to be comatose until Constantine shows The Doctor that they all react simultaneously to loud noises. Constantine explains that Nancy’s brother Jamie was the first patient with these symptoms and that others followed after but, as he’s talking, he begins to morph into one of the “empty” people himself. It’s a genuinely frightening scene, which makes me shudder every time I watch it.

Captain Jack and Rose arrive just in time to rescue The Doctor, where Jack finally admits that his “Chula war ship” is not a war ship at all, but a medical ship. He denies that it could have anything to do with the strange goings on in London but The Doctor isn’t convinced. They don’t have much time to argue, however, as it’s time for the cliff-hanger: The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack are all trapped in a room as the “empty” patients head towards them, arms outstretched, calling for their mummy…

“The Doctor Dances” starts off with another example of the comic writing I love in this two-parter. As the “children” edge closer to the trapped trio, The Doctor yells: “GO TO YOUR ROOM!” It works – if only defeating a Dalek were that easy, eh?! However, as the gang head back to the part of the hospital where Jamie was originally treated, The Doctor realises that they’re in his room. Sure enough, Jamie appears and it’s time to run…

Whilst Jack teleports back to his ship, Rose decides it’s the perfect time to ask The Doctor to dance. Because I don’t know about you, but being chased by a strange, possessed child always unleashes my urge to boogie. The Doctor doesn’t get a chance to break into the Macarena, however, because Jack teleports him and Rose onto his ship. Damn. On board the ship, The Doctor uses Nanogenes to fix a wound he’s picked up along the way.

Back on Terra Firma, Nancy is on her way to where the crashed object is being heavily guarded, having told the children she’s been helping to stay away from her, as it’s her that Jamie wants and they’re no longer safe with her around. Before she gets very far, however, she’s captured by soldiers and it’s not long before we realise that the “empty children” no longer need to touch people to pass on the symptoms; the “virus” is now airborne. Nancy is horrified when she’s left with a soldier who morphs into an empty child, but manages to put him to sleep by singing him a lullaby.

The Doctor, Jack and Rose arrive to rescue Nancy and The Doctor quickly realises that the object he was chasing was in fact the shell of a Chula medical transport. He deduces that the same Nanogenes from Jack’s ship are responsible for the epidemic of “empty children.” When Jamie was killed in the air raid, the Nanogenes tried to repair him. After that, they used him as a template for all humans, hence the gas masks fused to faces and the many people with a sudden mummy-obsession. As the object is opened and the “empty children” converge on the site, The Doctor realises that Jamie’s mind is controlling everyone and that he won’t rest – and therefore the epidemic won’t stop – until Nancy answers his question: “Are you my mummy?” This leads to a poignant scene in which Nancy admits that yes, she is his mummy. The Nanogenes are then able to properly repair Jamie and Nancy can finally remove his gas mask. Once Jamie is “fixed,” The Doctor takes a gamble and sends the Nanogenes to repair everyone else too. And it works, leading to one of Christopher Eccleston’s greatest moments in the role of The Doctor “Everybody lives, Rose. Just this once – everybody lives!”

Jack stops a German bomb from falling on the site, capturing it with his ship with the intention of throwing it out into space. We get a nice Bad Wolf reference here; the bomb has “Schlechter Wolf” written on the side of it. Since there was a historical bomb at the site, The Doctor sets the Chula medical transport to explode once everyone is safely out of the way, ensuring that history is correct and that the Nanogenes can’t do any more damage.

And yes, because it says so in the title, right at the end of the episode, The Doctor dances. All together now: “YMCA!”

Where do I start? The comedy between The Doctor and Jack, the brilliant plot, the superb acting, the fantastic use of something so seemingly un-scary to terrify the pants off the viewer…this two-parter has pretty much everything I could ask for from my favourite show. A classic 9/10.

Written and edited by Emma Tofi

2.8 & 2.9 – “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit”

Posted in New Who, Series 2 with tags , , , , , on September 5, 2015 by Review The Who

DW Series 2 - The Impossible Planet 2

The Doctor and Rose travel to a space station close to a planet called Krop Tor, which is orbiting around a black hole. An expedition crew are drilling into the planet in an effort to understand the peculiar “gravity funnel” that’s stopping Krop Tor from being sucked into the hole. However, the deeper the crew drill into the surface of the planet, the stranger things get. And when a quake hits and the TARDIS falls, it looks like The Doctor and Rose have no choice but to stick around and find out exactly what is lurking below the surface…

The cool thing about “The Impossible Planet”/”The Satan Pit” is that it unashamedly hones in on a pretty scary subject. The concept of a “devil” is one we’re all familiar with and both episodes are littered with references to the number of the beast and other religious overtones. I can remember watching it for the first time and thinking: “Really? The actual devil? Are we going there?!” I was torn between thinking it was one heck of a way to potentially alienate viewers (and piss off Christians) and deciding it was a rather brave thing to do. Brave or insane. I never fully decided.

In my eyes, episodes in which we meet a group of new characters all at once can be a little hit and miss. If the writing isn’t done well and there’s no chemistry between the actors, you can find yourself not caring about the gang The Doctor has encountered. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen here and the crew of the base at Krop Tor are a believable team. It’s a good job, because you need people you can believe in if you’re being told to accept the idea of a “gravity funnel” and a planet magically not disappearing into a black hole.

This story introduces one of my favourite New Who aliens, the Ood. I feel a bit sorry for them; not only are they essentially a slave race, but considering they’re “good guys” they certainly spend a lot of screen time (and not just in this episode) becoming evil in one way or another. Poor tentacle-faced things must spend their lives not knowing whether they’re coming or going! So I’m saying it right now; if the Ood feature in any future stories, can we please decide whether we want them to be nice or nasty and stick to it? That said, I do like the idea of the Ood being a race that are linked to one another telepathically and that does obviously make them rather open to telepathic control by an evil entity. Damn, those Ood and their whole, being possessed schtick. Major design flaw, if you ask me.

The suspense built up by suggesting that the devil is lurking deep below the surface of the planet helps push the episode along nicely and little hints, such as the “impossibly old” writing that the TARDIS is unable to translate help to encourage the viewer into thinking that yes, we’re genuinely talking about the horned beast from the biblical stories. When one of the space station crew, Toby, becomes possessed by the Beast and begins to change, the suspense builds further. The menacing whisper of Toby’s name by the Beast as he fights his possession is pleasingly scary and I can imagine a few younger viewers looking at the back of the sofa as an inviting place to be! Will Thorp does a great range of facial contortions as he fights his possession and eventually gives in to it, going on to murder his colleague Scooti (why, by the way, do futuristic characters on this show have to have such silly names? She sounds like an intergalactic children’s TV presenter). Being possessed by the devil is probably not the easiest task for an actor, so credit here to Will for doing it with alarming realism.

Meanwhile, when the drill can go no further, The Doctor offers to go down to the planet with another crew member, Science Officer Ida Scott (see, a sensible name!), because of course he does. I mean, the TARDIS has fallen down there, but also OF COURSE HE DOES. He’s The Doctor! They discover the large, circular door of “The Satan Pit,” covered in yet more ancient writing. We’re set up for a cliffhanger as the pit opens, the Beast supposedly releasing Toby and possessing a whole legion of Ood instead and, just for added fun, the planet begins to fall into the black hole…

“The Satan Pit” then starts right at the same moment, which is always a tricky thing for a double-episode to do, as it means fighting to keep the same level of suspense from the word go. As the remaining crew members on the base attempt to stay alive in the face of the possessed Ood (seriously, give those poor guys a break!), Rose finds herself having to persuade everyone not to harm Toby, now that he’s no longer possessed by the Beast. Unfortunately, this never worked for me. Maybe I’m just exceptionally clever, but more likely this was far too obvious a red-herring. Because spoilers, sweetie; he’s still possessed and he won’t make it out of this episode alive. It’s a shame that it wasn’t all that believable, as it would’ve been a cool twist to have Toby’s demonic side revealed as a shock at the end, after we genuinely thought he was back to normal. But like I said, I saw through this right away and spent the rest of the episode waiting for the inevitable “revelation.”

Meanwhile, the much meatier and more enjoyable part of this episode for me should have been the revelation of what the Beast really is (and if he finds love before the last petal falls from the magic rose – will he become a prince again?! Oh, wait…). As The Doctor and Ida prepare to return to base, the Beast declares from within his pit that he was sealed in there at the very birth of the universe and is now ready to break free. He describes himself as the epitome of evil across all religions…again, I really like that the show went there with this theme. Some will definitely have the opposite view and see the idea of a “devil” as incredibly cheesy and trite, but I like how instantly identifiable it is and it’s a well-known thing to be scared of. What I really love is the way the Beast communicates with the crew, playing on their individual fears and weaknesses. It’s a classic tactic and it works, even foreshadowing Rose’s death “in battle, so very soon.” The Doctor makes one of his speeches, insisting to the crew that they can be far stronger together than the Beast is alone. The Beast gets pretty narked about that and snaps the cable to the lift carrying The Doctor and Ida back to base, trapping them underground.

Whilst things are getting ever more chasey and deathy up on the base (with crew member Jefferson sacrificing himself to buy the rest of the gang time to escape), The Doctor decides to enter the pit itself to confront the Beast. He finds two jars on pedestals at the bottom of the pit and the light from these conjures up his physical form. For me, this was a bit of a let-down. The CGI isn’t brilliant and I felt as though The Beast did an awful lot of tongue-poking for my liking. You’re the devil, mate, not a six year old in the playground. Anyway, The Doctor deduces that the Beast’s conscious mind has long left his body and that the planet of Krop Tor has been used for thousands of years as the perfect prison for his physical form. The Doctor realises that destroying the two jars that conjure up the Beast’s form will kill him, by plunging the planet into the black hole, taking the Beast’s conscious mind with it. The Doctor realises that smashing the jars will put the entire crew back on base at risk, as it’ll destroy the gravity field and potentially send them into the black hole, too. However, it’s a risk he’s willing to take and he does it anyway, before conveniently finding his TARDIS as he’s making his escape. A bit too conveniently, to be honest…

Meanwhile, as the rocket containing the crew struggles to get away from the pull of the black hole (and as the “surprise” of Toby still being possessed is revealed and he’s shot out of a window and sucked into the hole), there is an about-turn and the rocket begins to fly safely out of harm’s way. How? The TARDIS, of course. All’s well that ends well. Unless you’re an Ood, because The Doctor apparently couldn’t save them. I’m telling you, guys, those dudes get such a bad time of it on this show!

The episode ends with the crew’s captain listing the names of his deceased colleagues “with honours.” He does at least include the Ood, so they’ve got that going for them.

It’s a hard one for me, this. I really like the suspense and the idea of using the devil, because it’s so instantly recognisable and so instantly scary. But I feel like everything was resolved far too easily and the actual appearance of the Beast just didn’t really do it for me. That and the obviousness of Toby’s ongoing possession let this episode down for me and takes it from a 7/10 to a 6/10. And for the love of all I hold dear, someone give the Ood a break!

Written and edited by Emma Tofi

7.5 – “The Angels Take Manhattan”

Posted in New Who, Series 7 with tags , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2015 by Review The Who

DW Series 7 - The Angels Take Manhattan

The Weeping Angels have infested New York in 1938 and taken over an apartment block so that they can send people back in time and then keep them there until they die, before luring them to the place where they die and sending them back in time and…are you following this?! Rory has been picked up by the Angels and taken back to 1938 so that they can lure him to the apartment block and so on and so on. The Doctor, River Song and Amy chase after him, but need a serious paradox to foil the Angel’s plan.

Leaving aside all the returning baddies from Classic Who, the Weeping Angels have to be New Who’s premier monster. “Blink” is constantly voted as one of the truly best episodes of New Who and I personally think that “The Time Of The Angels” is just as good – as Steven Moffat himself put it, it’s the Aliens to “Blink” being Alien. Mind you, if we follow that analogy, does that make “The Angels Take Manhattan” Alien 3? One hopes not.

Fortunately, it is not the failure that Alien 3 was, but it still struggles to make the impact of its predecessors. Which is a pity because, on reflection, this story lets us see the Angels in real action. In “Blink” we had a bunch of supposedly weak Angels trying to survive and generally being very scary in a timey-wimey mish mash story. In “The Time Of Angels” they were essentially a terrifying threat responsible for some serious running around (both done excellently, I might add). Here, they are seriously up to no good. The central idea, of them having a farm in New York, imprisoning and feeding off their victims for decades, is really quite horrific; it’s deviousness and sadism on a Dalek scale. Having their victims meet their older, just-about-to-die selves is really quite sick.

The Angels get a few great scenes – the statue of the mother and child waiting and waiting for their moment to attack Grayle’s house, the Cherubs in the basement and the sheer audacity of having the Statue of Liberty become a Weeping Angel. The problem is, this isn’t really a Weeping Angels story. It’s the grand farewell of the Ponds. Well, it’s the grand farewell of Amy Pond and her appendage, Rory. It pretty much overshadows everything else, as it has done for the first five episodes of Series 7. And with another liberal dose of “Amy loves Rory”, it’s rammed down our throats at every opportunity.

They have a picnic and Amy is wearing glasses and is starting to get wrinkles (nonsense, Karen Gillan will remain unblemished forever…but I digress); continuing reminders that The Doctor doesn’t like endings; how The Doctor can’t read ahead and learn what is going to happen. It’s as though the episode is banging a fist on the screen and shouting “HELLO?! You have been paying attention, right? You are aware that a BIG EVENT is coming?!!”

In some ways, it’s been the continuous over-emphasis of “Amy loves Rory” for the last two and a half series that spoils this story. Rory being sent back through time by the Angels with The Doctor, Amy and River in desperate pursuit is a good idea but we’ve seen Rory die, or nearly die, so many times now that this really has no impact.

We get a pretend end before a final, super-emotional encore. On top of a building, with the Statue of Liberty about to get Rory (if you’re going to get zapped into the past by a Weeping Angel, that is one hell of a Weeping Angel to get zapped by), Rory makes the ultimate sacrifice (again) and, of course, Amy has to join him while The Doctor screams in impotence. White-out, reset and back to normal. Ho hum.

So everything works out alright. OR DOES IT? Because in the present day at the graveyard, there’s a headstone with Rory’s name on it and a somehow-surviving Angel ready to get him. Arthur Darvill doesn’t get to make a final speech, he’s just gone. Karen Gillan gets the big scene and says her last “Goodbye, Raggedy Man.” For now, at least…wink.

That final page of the book assures us that Rory and Amy did live happily ever after (which sort of nullifies just how nasty them Angels are) and, despite my general sense of “Thank God they’re finally gone”, the last shot of Amy being a shot of the young Amy waiting to begin her adventures with The Doctor was still very, very sweet.

If only this had been a two-part thriller with the Angels’ evil plan as the driving force of the story, I’d have loved it to bits. Alas, the overwhelming last hurrah for the Ponds takes over and the old maxim of less is more gets forgotten. The Ponds most royally overstayed their welcome; I think they should have been allowed to live happily ever after when The Doctor dropped them off after “The God Complex”. Karen Gillan as Amy keeps us with it though (and not for the first time). Gillan can do emotional and fiery and not mushy. Smith, I feel, is not so well served – he’s just left to get angry about it all. I think the Moff was trying too hard here, there’s none of the sparks, no killer lines, none of the plain joy and excitement that the Eleventh Doctor is usually all about.

Oh Amy – all flaming red hair, saucy fury and oh so short skirts. I may have disliked a lot of what went on while she joined us in the TARDIS, but I never fell out of love with her. “This is the story of Amelia Pond, and this is how it ends.” I can only give this story 6/10 but Amelia Pond – she’s an Eleven, every time.

Written and edited by Richard Barnes