Warning: contains MAJOR spoilers for aired episodes.
And so we reach the end of the tenth season of Doctor Who since its revival in 2005. This latest run of 12 episodes has simply flown past and it’s hard to believe that it’s already over. It seems no time at all since we were being introduced to Bill Potts and wondering who or what was in the vault being watched over night and day by the Doctor and his acerbic aide Nardole.
But all too soon we’ve come to the moment where we say our goodbyes to Bill, and Nardole, and even Missy. It’s not impossible that one or more of them might show up for a cameo in the Christmas special in six months time, but it seems unlikely. Their tales are told, for now at least, and the decks are being cleared for a new regime to come in and make itself at home. All that remains is one final contribution from Peter Capaldi and showrunner Steven Moffat, and then the curtain will come down for the last time on this particular era of the world’s longest running science fiction show.
So, did the season go out in style or with a whimper? Last week’s story “World Enough and Time” raised expectations sky high for the second part of the finale, and it’s rare for a two parter to sustain high quality across both outings. There was a real risk that “The Doctor Falls” would prove to be an anti-climax and leave us all feeling a little deflated. But fortunately that didn’t prove to be the case on this occasion, not by a long way, and we find ourselves going into the summer on an emotional high. Read the rest of this entry »
Warning: contains MAJOR spoilers for the episode.
Is there a case to be made for Rachel Talalay being the best director to have ever worked on Doctor Who? With all due respect to the formidable talent that has been a part of the show over the years, I think there just might be. She’s primarily based in North America and has recently helmed episodes of the DC Television Universe (The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow), but those are high volume, quick turnover production lines – big budget, top quality to be sure – in which every instalment has to be stylistically in line with all the others. That’s not the case with Doctor Who, which actually positively thrives on the diversity of writing and direction of each individual story. It not only allows but positively encourages its creative talent to bring their own unique artistic sensibility to the production.
Small wonder then that Talalay is happy to keep crossing the Atlantic to work on our modest little family entertainment, where it seems she’s found something of a creative soul mate in show-runner Steven Moffat who has penned all seven of her Who outings (including the yet-to-be=filmed 2017 Christmas special). Likewise it’s clear that Moffat has come to see her as his go-to director, as he’s selected her to take charge of the final two-part stories of each of Peter Capaldi’s three seasons, arguably the most crucial episodes of the year. And Talalay has never dropped the ball once, with 2015’s “Heaven Sent” in particular one of the all-time best single episodes of Doctor Who in over five decades.
Invoking “Heaven Sent” sets an unrealistically high bar for this week’s latest episode, and it would be silly to expect “World Enough and Time” to match it. But my, does it come close. Even going into the episode with such outrageously raised expectations knowing it’s the latest Moffat/Talalay collaboration, it manages not to disappoint or underperform in any respect. Despite working with a budget that would probably barely cover cast and crew catering over in the DC TV Universe, and working on only four or five small scale sets with just six credited guest stars, Talalay manages to make the penultimate episode of season 10 feel big, bold and epic. She is able to pull out all the best aspects of Moffat’s scripts and ensure that the finished product has depth and class and significance. In fact, if I had to review “World Enough and Time” in a single word (and I’m sure long suffering readers of Taking The Short View wish I would!) then it would be: magnificent. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers for episodes aired to date.
When writing about “The Eaters of Light”, it is mandatory to start with a section about the writer of the story or else risk losing one’s Doctor Who reviewers union card. It’s not just because Rona Munro is an award-winning theatre playwright with three decades’ worth of success to her name, together with a number of television and radio projects. Rather, it’s her unique position within the history of Who itself. Some 28 years ago, she was the writer of the classic-era story “Survival”, the serial that inadvertently brought the curtain down on the original run of the show.
Needless to say, it wasn’t her fault that the show was cancelled (or more accurately, that the BBC simply never got around to ordering season 27). By the time “Survival” was being made, the writing was already firmly on the wall in permanent marker. However, for some 16 years thereafter, Munro had to live with the reputation of having penned the final nail in the coffin for the Doctor when it came to his television adventures. Fortunately the show finally regenerated in 2005 and against all odds came back to life, bigger and stronger and more successful than ever, and no one could have been happier at its renaissance than Munro herself who was and is a genuine Who fan then and now.
To have Munro return to write for the show in 2017 is another example of how the current season is looking to its past to find a new way of moving forward. I’ve commented in previous reviews of how the show is mixing in grace notes to the past in season 10: Susan’s framed picture on the Doctor’s desk in “The Pilot”, for example, or Ysanne Churchman’s credit at the end of last week’s “Empress of Mars“. Seeing Munro listed as the writer of “The Eaters of Light” is right up there in terms of misty-eyed nostalgia for Who fans of good standing, as she becomes the first (and obviously to date only) person to have written stories for both the Classic (20th century) and New (21st century) incarnations of the show. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers for episodes aired to date.
If this is to be the final Doctor Who contribution of Mark Gatiss, as the writer himself has hinted, then at least he got to throw himself a fun and fitting farewell party in the form of this week’s episode “Empress of Mars”. While it’s normal for critics to say that no two Gatiss stories for the series are the same – and that’s still generally true, even about this latest offering – in this case it also feels like a medley of some of his greatest hits from over a decade of writing for the show.
I’m always a little wary of a Gatiss story, because they can go very badly wrong just as easily as they can be spectacular successes. The trailer for “Empress of Mars” with its comedic caricatures of 19th century British Empire army soldiers and cackling alien reptile queens made me fear this would be one of the former. Fortunately when it came to watching the episode I was swiftly reassured that actually it was trending more towards the the other end of the spectrum, albeit without ever really threatening to hit the heights of the deliciously arch “The Crimson Horror” from 2013. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers for episodes aired to date.
Something that’s surprised me about season 10 – but which I haven’t wanted to keep labouring repeatedly every week – is just how political this run of Doctor Who stories has been. Of course, the show had its activist periods in the classic era of the show thanks to writers and producers such as Malcolm Hulke, Barry Letts, Robert Holmes and Robert Banks Stewart, but generally speaking the 21st century incarnation has shied away from being too obviously message-led. It’s what made the 2015 Zygon two parters (overtly about immigration and terrorism) so shocking at the time.
But this year’s stories have seemed increasingly issue-led. It started softly enough with “Smile” in which people were not allowed to be unhappy, on pain of death. Then we had Sarah Dollard’s restrained and nuanced critique of capitalism and slavery in “Thin Ice”, which – after an innocuous haunted house hiatus – fed directly into Jamie Mathieson’s far more vitriolic “Oxygen” which covered similar ground albeit with the volume turned up to 11. But the political aspect really got into gear with the Monk Trilogy that started with Steven Moffat’s “Extremis”, in which – amid sharp meditations about life, death, faith and truth – there was the suggestion that something has gone very wrong with today’s world at a deep conceptual level. It echoed real modern angst fuelled by the fact that even experts, pundits and opinion polls can no longer understand or predict the world around them. After that “The Pyramid at the End of the World” from Moffat and Peter Harness provided a clear study on the meditation of power – of how ruling by fear and oppression is inefficient if you can obtain consent and thereby rule by some form of love or at least gratitude for preventing global apocalypse. And now the latest episode, “The Lie of the Land”, brings in the current phenomenon of “fake news” and links it with the propaganda and newsspeak envisaged by George Orwell in 1984 to illustrate how fragile concepts like free will and democracy are under such malign influences. It’s something we’re seeing play out on newspaper front pages and on social media every day. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers for episodes aired to date.
With “The Pyramid at the End of the World”, Doctor Who returns to one of its less-familiar genres. It’s a global techno-thriller in which the end of the world is nigh, only nobody knows exactly which one of several dozen apocalyptic scenarios is actually in play. The only group that does are the mysterious Monks introduced in last week’s episode, but who this week step out of the shadows and emerge in the glaring light of day to offer to save humanity – if we ask them to. And for an ill-defined price in return. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers for aired episodes
The clue to this episode of Doctor Who is in the title: “Extremis” is expressly designed to push the series’ format to its limits. It’s outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat allowing himself once last burst of unrestrained fun, one final valedictory outing for the writer who has scrambled our brains time and again since he took over the show in 2010. As he says himself in the most recent edition of Doctor Who Magazine, “It was my last chance to bend this show to see how far you can go before it breaks. Forgive the indulgence.”
Whether you will forgive said indulgence or not depends on how much of a fan you are of the classic ‘timey-wimey’ Moffat style of writing. This is an episode that takes great delight in confounding and confusing the audience, just as Moffat regularly used to do in the likes of “The Impossible Astronaut”. You’ll be intrigued and irritated in turn, excited and exasperated almost at the same instant. Love it or hate it, the one thing you can’t be is indifferent.
I’ll certainly confess to being baffled by most of the episode, in which very little seems to be following any kind of logical narrative structure. Nor does Moffat exactly play fair with us, because even if you’re paying full attention it’s still absolutely impossible to work out what’s going on – at least not until the moment when Nardole (Matt Lucas) and Bill (Pearl Mackie) stumble across the portal hub, and Nardole discovers a certain lack of substance to his existence. After that things fall pretty quickly into place – fortunately, as there’s only about five minutes left to run at this point – and after all the teasing baffling build-up it has to be said that my reaction to the big reveal was: “Oh. Is that it?” Read the rest of this entry »
Contains some spoilers for aired episodes
Given that I tipped my hand last week and declared myself a fan of the scarier side of Doctor Who, you’d probably expect me to wax lyrical over the latest episode “Oxygen” and say how utterly brilliant and fantastic it was. And just to defuse any potential anxiety in the minds of readers of this article, I’ll cut to the chase and admit that yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
In terms of the spectrum of scariness, last week’s “Knock Knock” was a familiar, cosy haunted house story with a happy ending; but “Oxygen” is a desperately chilling story in which everything we thought we could rely on is systematically taken away or turned against us. It is unsettling from the very beginning, and only gets worse as the story goes on. The demise of the sonic screwdriver is painful enough, even before the killer punch in the final scene that we simply don’t see coming and which has big implications for the rest of season 10.
Having brought us a “Mummy on the Orient Express” in his first contribution to the show in 2014, writer Jamie Mathieson this time offers up zombies on a space station. At least, that’s the ‘high concept’ pitch for the episode suggested by the publicity stills. In fact, there are no zombies here – the 36 terminated workers on the Chasm Forge (a brilliant name for an asteroid mining station) aren’t supernaturally reanimated, but are just literally dead weight strapped into their still-operating smart space suits. The question is: what happened to them, and why? Read the rest of this entry »
Almost five years ago I wrote enthusiastically about the release of Universal Studio’s Monsters – The Essential Collection, a boxset of eight of its most famous golden age horror movies from the 1930s and 1940s. It was the first time these iconic movies had been officially released in the UK on Blu-ray in newly remastered high definition versions, and they were a glorious sight to behold
At the time I penned gushing reviews of Dracula and Phantom of the Opera. As it happens I recently rewatched the original 1931 Frankenstein film and was astounded all over again – both by the flawless and beautiful monochrome restoration of a film that’s now nearly 90 years old, and also by how terrific the film itself still is, and how brilliant Boris Karloff’s portrayal of the monster remains to this day. My only criticism is that it’s so short and over all too quickly, the Monster no sooner brought to life than he is running amok and being hunted by a pitchfork-wielding mob of angry villagers. The clarity is so vivid, you can clearly see the folds and creases in the cloth backdrops used for the sky and clouds.
The Monsters – The Essential Collection boxset was one of my favourite purchases of 2012, and the only drawback to it was that several of the later movies from the Universal horror franchise were not included, among them some of my favourite if lesser-known genre films of the period. I confidently predicted that it surely wouldn’t be long before a second volume took care of that omission; alas, I waited in vain for years for such a boxset to materialise here in the UK, and it never happened. Until now. Well, sort of. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains some spoilers for the episode
Over the years, Doctor Who has been many things and dabbled in dozens of genres. But while its adaptability and flexibility is undoubtedly the show’s core strength, for me at least it is never better than when it’s scary in a good old “watch while hiding from behind the sofa” fashion. Think of the show’s golden period when it borrowed liberally from horror stories such as Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde during Tom Baker’s early years; or the memories of the giant maggots and equally oversize spiders faced by Jon Pertwee; or even the eerie dead forest and the ghostly abandoned futuristic city of “The Daleks” in 1963. Or more recently, the remarkable success of the spectacularly creepy “Blink”, still regarded by many as the singe best Who story of all time. As it happens, the location for this week’s story was next door to the house used for “Blink” in 2008; it’s a small universe after all.
It’s why I had such high hopes for this week’s episode which promised flat-out old-fashioned horror movie chills. If “Knock Knock” had only managed to deliver on that level, I would have been a very happy camper.
The thing is – it did deliver. And I was happy. And then it continued. In the end, it so far exceeded my initial already ridiculously over-optimistic expectations that ‘happy’ falls absurdly short of capturing my current mood. Read the rest of this entry »
A year ago, I found myself unexpectedly drawn into watching the first season of American Crime Story, which dramatised the story of the 1994-5 OJ Simpson trial. While I didn’t specifically follow the original case at the time, it was impossible not to be aware of the key points given the saturation coverage of it in the media at the time. Much of what was shown in Ryan Murphy’s The People vs OJ Simpson turned out to be remarkably familiar to me, and I was surprised by quite how many details I had retained.
The advantage of a dramatisation is that it can take you behind closed doors where cameras were never allowed at the time; and it is also able to shape the narrative into a more understandable format to make the events easier for the layperson to understand compared to the miasma of contemporary news reports and frenzied speculation. That said, a dramatisation does leave you wondering just how much or what we see and hear has been invented, however well-meaningly. You’re left wondering about some of the performances and some of the weird wardrobe and make-up decisions, such as why David Schwimmer is made up as a Word of Sport Dickie Davies lookalike, and why they cast such a bad actor in the role of OJ’s live-in friend Kato Kaelin. That’s because we’re far more critical of the authenticity of a drama in ways that we would never question live television news footage, which confirms that Bob Kardashian really did have a ‘skunk stripe’, and that Kato actually was that weird and the actor totally nailed the portrayal after all.
Even so, much as I liked The People vs OJ Simpson, after ten episodes of OJ drama I had absolutely no appetite to seek out another seven and a half hours of viewing on the subject, factual or otherwise. But then ESPN’s epic OJ: Made In America won the Best Documentary Academy Award in February, and I heard such good things about it that I felt an itch that needed to be scratched – maybe not least because having seen the dramatised version, I now wanted to see how reality measured up. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains some spoilers for the episode
Judging from the online reaction to “Thin Ice”, the third episode of the tenth series of Doctor Who, it’s been a huge hit with both professional and fan critics who evidently believe it to be the best episode of the show in years. And I’m very happy to see that sort of positive reaction, even if it does make me feel I’m on the outside looking in on this occasion – able to see the enthusiasm from a distance but unable to join in, like the designated driver at a particularly exuberant house party.
It’s not that I thought “Thin Ice” wasn’t very good – far from it, it’s got some great moments and overall is really quite admirable. But I didn’t love it, not in the same way that everyone else seems to have done. Instead, it left me oddly cool – which is perhaps appropriate given the title and the setting of a 1814 Frost Fair on the frozen surface of the River Thames, a far cry from last week’s futuristic utopia. Read the rest of this entry »
A thriller about technology and hacking is the sort of thing that’s right up my street, and I’ve been keen to watch Mr Robot for ages. Thanks to Amazon Prime I’ve finally got around to digesting the first ten episodes, and I have to say it didn’t disappoint.
At the same time, neither was it quite what I was expecting – which is good, actually. It’s much rougher and more authentic, stylishly directed and photographed but never forgetting that it lives on the streets of New York City every bit as much as the sleek corporate offices that tower over the skyline, their chief executives looking down on the teaming masses below and utterly disconnected and removed from ordinary people both physically and mentally.
It’s a story with its roots in the Occupy campaigns, a drama about the rage and helplessness that normal folks feel in the 21st century as prices spiral, banks foreclose and surveillance is everywhere. That oppressive malevolence is represented in Mr Robot by the not-too-subtly named E Corp which hacktivist Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) targets, aiming to wipe out the international conglomerate’s records which will free millions of people of their debt – and potentially crash the entire capitalist system worldwide. Read the rest of this entry »
I like to think of myself as a fan of cult TV and indeed of vintage television as a whole, so I was rather startled to stumble across Colonel March of Scotland Yard completely by accident while browsing through Amazon Prime a few weeks ago. It’s very much the sort of niche thing I enjoy and yet for some reason its very existence had totally passed me by.
Made in the mid-1950s, it’s a classic example of television of that era – which is to say, it’s almost entirely shot on a soundstage in long unedited single takes in which people talk to each other and any action such as there is will be limited to a single punch thrown in an attempt to make the showdown more dramatic. It’s certainly not going to appeal to a modern day audience raised on the kinetic antics of 24 or The Blacklist, and most viewers will find it cripplingly dull. But for a small number of people – myself included – its copious charms more than make up for its manifest limitations. Read the rest of this entry »
If you wander into any High Street book store at the moment you’ll almost certainly stumble across Noah Hawley’s novel Before the Fall placed in prominent locations. Part of that is because Hawley has become something of a star name and hot property thanks to his day job as showrunner and lead writer of the successful Fargo and Legion television series. I confess it was his name on the cover that initially drew my interest too. However, I stayed because of the book’s concept – and pretty soon I ended up paying for a copy because I was by then hooked after reading the first chapter.
Before the Fall starts with a plane crash. A private jet chartered by TV news executive David Bateman to take him, his wife Maggie and their two young children along with family friends Ben and Sarah Kipling and bodyguard Gil Baruch back to New York City from their holiday home in Martha’s Vineyard ends up plummeting into the Atlantic. Of the eleven passengers and flight crew aboard, there are only two survivors: one of them is Scott Burroughs, a failed painter who shouldn’t even have been on the flight but who now finds his life transformed by the experiences he goes through. Read the rest of this entry »