Doctor Who S11 E10: “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

And so we reach the end – all too soon. A ten-episode season simply doesn’t feel long enough for Doctor Who, even if we still have one more feature length special to come on New Years Day. But it’s quality over quantity as the saying goes, so how does the 2018 season finale “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” written by showrunner Chris Chibnall fare on the former attribute? As ever, the answer to that is mixed and not altogether straightforward.

We start with the kind of opening scene that used to be standard in the 1970s series but which has been little used in recent years: with no Doctor in sight, we have two entirely new characters talking cryptically and portentously to each other about a pressing situation in terms that we don’t know nearly enough about to understand. What we can tell is that Andinio (Downton Abbey’ Phyllis Logan) and Delph (Wizards vs. Aliens’s Percelle Ascott) are members of the ultra-rare Ux religious order who possess incredible powers to manipulate reality. Oh, and they’ve got a guest dropping in for tea. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E9: “It Takes You Away” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

It was the best of episodes, it was the worse of episodes…

Regular readers might recall that I was a bit grumpy last week in my review of “The Witchfinders”. It simply didn’t work for me, although I know the vast majority of viewers appeared to genuinely love it beyond measure. However for me, it was comprised of individually strong elements that lacked an overall coherent vision. The different parts rubbed against each other awkwardly and kept throwing me out of the story so that I wasn’t able to enjoy it at all, and instead ended up frustrated and less than happy. Or to put it another way, you could say that the individual parts were much greater than the whole, at least as far as I was concerned.

This week’s episode “It Takes You Away” is almost the mirror image (pun intended) of its precursor. Like last week, it is also comprised of several distinct parts; and on this occasion the quality of each component was less consistent than the previous instalment, ranging from the brilliant to the near-risible. But what writer Ed Hime and director Jamie Childs are able to manage this week is to wrangle these different elements into one unified end result that was superior to the sum of its parts. The key was a consistent stylistic vision and tone to the overall endeavour, provided by an adherence to overarching universal themes of love, loss and mythic folklore. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E8: “The Witchfinders” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

We’ve already discussed how new Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall has sought to rediscover and reinvent the ‘historical’, a strand of the show that effectively died out in the 1960s. He did so by seeking stories from modern political history like “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab” that could carry a relevant social message for the present day audience at the same time, rather than simply rehashing junior school classic texts on the Aztecs, Romans and the Battle of Hastings.

This week sees the third ‘historical’ story in eight episodes, which seems a little overkill. But this one treads a very different path by reverting to exactly one of those sort of textbooks you used to read as a child – or maybe a Ladybird? – on the witch trials of the 17th century. It’s not worrying too much about the details and doesn’t twist itself in knots making sure that history isn’t changed by the Doctor’s activities. Instead it takes the gist of the period, just a flavour, and then weaves a merry romp out of it. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E7: “Kerblam!” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

What’s the betting that someone in the Doctor Who production office has just had a particularly aggravating experience getting an order from Amazon? Because the first part of this week’s episode is exactly the sort of light hearted revenge fantasy that you’d expect to come from the pen of an aggrieved creative media industry professional in frustrated response to such a real-life run-in.

In summary, “Kerblam!” is the largest online retailer in the Doctor’s universe. When she receives an unexpected package (a fez, just one of several light touches of fan-pleasing continuity on display this week) that also contains a cry for help from someone within the company’s fulfilment centre (comprised of an entire moon of the planet Kandoka), naturally the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her friends Ryan, Yas and Graham (Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh) can’t resist investigating. They soon uncover a number of unexplained disappearances among the company’s skeleton staff of human workers and set out to find who is responsible – and who raised the alarm. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E6: “Demons of the Punjab” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

Last month, the episode “Rosa” caught fans out by delivering an unabashed return to the ‘historical’ sub-strand of Doctor Who that had been more or less dormant since the 1960s. The truly surprising thing about Vinay Patel’s “Demons of the Punjab” is that it repeats the same trick just three weeks later, establishing beyond doubt that “Rosa” was no mere one-off quirk but rather a fundamental tenant of new showrunner Chris Chibnall’s vision for the future of the venerable show, despite this being the first time this season that he takes a step back from writing duties.

The destination this week is India in 1947 on the eve of Partition, that typically British pragmatic bureaucratic ‘solution’ to an intractable problem that caused huge upheaval for millions of people and cost a large proportion of them their lives, setting off an onslaught of ethnic cleaning and laying down fault lines in world geopolitics that persist to this day. You have to say this about us Brits: when we put our minds to, we really know how to spectacularly screw things up with a ‘sensible’ solution that makes no sense but causes infinite harm to those on the ground. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E5: “The Tsuranga Conundrum” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

At the end of last week’s episode I suggested that it had felt like it marked the end of the first four-part phase of Chris Chibnall’s project to re-energise Doctor Who. It implied in turn that this week would be the start of the next phase, with things starting to settle down to what passes as ‘normal’ in this extraordinary show after the necessary transition period establishing a new Doctor, new companions, and a new production team.

And broadly speaking the peculiarly named “The Tsuranga Conundrum” does indeed feature what passes for an ordinary day in the life of the Tardis crew. We find them in the middle of dumpster diving on a planetary scale (for what exactly I’m still none too sure) with dialogue letting us know that some time has passed since Graham, Ryan and Yas (Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill) actively decided to join the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) on her travels. They have clearly bonded as a team over a number of off-screen adventures and have the familiarity of a group of people who have got to know one another much better in the interim. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E4: “Arachnids in the UK” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

Doctor Who is usually thought of as a science fiction series, and sometimes as a family or even (incorrectly) a children’s programme, but at heart it’s actually an anthology show capable of covering any and indeed every genre in existence from week to week. I’ve said before that my personal preference is when the show sets out to be scary in a good old “watch while hiding from behind the sofa” fashion – Yetis in the Underground, mannequins coming to life in shop windows, and the glorious Gothic horror period when Tom Baker faced mummies, werewolves, vampires, a Frankenstein’s monster and the Loch Ness Monster. So on that basis you’re probably expecting me to declare the latest episode “Arachnids in the UK” as being far and away the best episode of season 11 to date, right?

Yeah. Well. Okay, you got me. That’s exactly what I do think. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E3: “Rosa” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

Before we get to the subject of this week’s latest episode of Doctor Who, indulge me for a moment in a little preamble.

Back in the 1930s, Lord Reith’s founding principals for the British Broadcasting Corporation were that it should seek to inform, educate, and entertain. This ethos was still very much in place in 1963 and therefore deeply instilled in the original Doctor Who production team. Amid the action and adventure, and the science fiction and fantasy, the programme also sought to teach children about Romans and Aztecs, about who Marco Polo was and what happened at the Battle of Culloden.

Sadly the popularity of Daleks and Cybermen meant that historicals soon fell out of favour, but they were still sufficiently part of the programme’s DNA that when Russell T Davies rebooted the show in 2005 it included episodes in which the Doctor and his companion met real life figures from the past such as Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, Madame de Pompadour, William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie but these were usually played for larger-than-life comedy. Steven Moffat included encounters with Winston Churchill and Vincent van Gogh, but after that the sub-genre faded away again with the exception of the out-of-context comedy appearance by Egyptian queen Nefertiti in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” – which was, perhaps significantly, penned by Chris Chibnall. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E2: “The Ghost Monument” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

Normally when a new Doctor (and production team) takes over, you have to wait for the second episode for things to settle down in order to get a clear picture of where the show is truly headed under its new management. But this time it seems we’ll have to wait a little longer, until episode 3 at least, because “The Ghost Monument” gives us little in the way of pointers to the long-term future.

That’s possibly because the story picks up to the split second where “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” left off, and as such feels like a direct continuation. There’s still a sense of everything being on the throes of post-regenerative trauma, with all the various bits still fizzing through the air and looking feverishly for their correct place in the order of things. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S11 E1: “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” (BBC One)

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Trying very hard to avoid any spoilers

Things have been quiet of late at Taking The Short View Towers, but it was inevitable that the return of Doctor Who to our screens would be a wake-up call rallying us back into service. And so off we go into the autumn with a new season of Time Lord related reviews.

It’s certainly good to see the show back – about time, you could say – but you’ll quickly find that nothing is exactly like it was before. If the prospect of a new actor playing the title role isn’t enough, then hold on to your floppy hat and long scarf because this is where everything changes. Read the rest of this entry »

The Snorkel (1958)

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Hammer is best known for its decades of hugely successful horror output including the genuine classics Dracula and Curse of Frankenstein, but it wasn’t always like that. The studio had been set up in 1934 and produced a long line of largely unremarkable British movies, before developing a penchant for making film versions of hit television shows.

One such was Nigel Kneale’s BBC serial The Quatermass Experiment which proved Hammer’s stepping stone into the horror genre. But in 1958 this direction was far from set in stone, and the company was still producing films in many different genres including crime and psychological thrillers.

One of these was The Snorkel, and the ludicrous title is probably the reason why you will not have heard of it before – I certainly hadn’t. It completely fails to convey the fact that this is a gripping and actually rather dark affair which if you approach in the right spirit and stick with it to the end proves remarkably tense and chilling. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 12 [Blu-ray]

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The history of classic Doctor Who on DVD goes back to a time before I even had a DVD player. The first story released on the medium was 20th anniversary special “The Five Doctors” in November 1999. After that, there was a new serial available every two or three months as regular as clockwork. Picking up the latest release became part of the turn of the wheel of time, as reliably comforting as spring following winter.

Alas all good things eventually come to an end. The final regular release was “Terror of the Zygons” in September 2013, at which point all the existing stories had been faithfully issued. There was an epilogue when “The Underwater Menace” was released in October 2015 after the retrieval of previously lost material; another rediscovered serial (“The Enemy of the World”) previously issued in bare bones fashion as part of the regular DVD run earned itself a special edition in March 2018 (one can only hope that the same thing will eventually happen to “The Web of Fear”.) Read the rest of this entry »

Solo – A Star Wars Story (2018)

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Contains no plot spoilers

Long time readers of this blog, if there are such things, will know that I rarely go to the cinema these days. The only films that can tempt me back to the multiplex tend to be the latest instalments in the Star Trek, James Bond and Star Wars franchises and then mainly for sentimental reasons – not having missed a new theatrical release in any of the three series since the late 1970s.

I was starting to think that Solo – A Star Wars Story was about to he the one that finally got away. A busy period of work meant I didn’t have time to get to the cinema for several weeks after it came out (and is also the reason for the lack of new posts here, for which I can only apologise), and its growing reputation as a commercial flop for Disney meant that it was already being ushered out of the local Odeon in favour of evermore superheroes and dinosaurs.

This week was probably my final chance to see Solo on the big screen – and to be honest, I was sort of non-plused about the whole idea anyway and not even sure if I wanted to make the trip. But I did, and I’m glad I did, because I can report with no little relief that I enjoyed the film. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks (1973) [DVD]

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Sometimes when you’re writing about an episode of long-running TV show, there’s a lot to include: maybe it’s a particularly excellent example of the show in question, or perhaps it does something new and original. Or possibly it’s a particularly poor example of the series in question which gets the blood boiling. But by and large, and almost by definition, most instalments of a show are actually bound to be more or less average: solid, predictable, quite entertaining but nothing to get all that excited about.

When it comes to Doctor Who, the 1973 story “Planet of the Daleks” is one of those that is largely and literally unremarkable – and therefore hard to say all that much about. In fact if you look in Doctor Who Magazine’s 2013 reader poll of the first 50 years of stories, then you’ll find it almost precisely at the midway point of the 241 entries included in the survey. Read the rest of this entry »

The City and the City, by China Miéville (2009)

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China Miéville is surely one of the most distinctive voices writing in modern fantasy today; indeed, to the point where he pretty much defines the sub-genre of ‘new weird’ in order to distinguish his work from the hoards of Tolkien, Martin and Rowling clones occupying the broader uploads of fantasy literature.

Rather than writing about elves, dragons and magicians, Miéville’s stories are based on speculative imagination – taking an idea or observation from today’s world and then twisting it into a bold new take on alternative reality, which is then told in an uncompromisingly modern way. The most famous of his works is arguably the award-winning The City and The City, a book I’ve intended to read for years. With a BBC TV version imminent, I realised I had to get a move on if I was to see it before the adaptation is broadcast. Read the rest of this entry »