Doctor Who: Shada (1979) [DVD]

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Christmas Day was a very Doctor Who affair this year. Not only was there the official Christmas special in which Peter Capaldi handed over the reins to Jodie Whittaker, I also spent the afternoon watching the latest Blu-ray release direct from 1979 – “a little later than planned” as the introduction wittily explains.

The six-part serial “Shada” has legendary status among Doctor Who fans. Intended as the final story to season 17 of the classic series, it’s the only one in the 54 years of the show’s history to fail to make it to air. Of course there have been all manner of story ideas that even made it as far as being commissioned as scripts, but none have actually started filming only to be abandoned midway through.

That’s what happened to “Shada”. Industrial action saw the plug pulled after initial location filming in Cambridge and the completion of the first of three recording blocks back at BBC Television Centre. All the extant footage was carefully stored away, but with series stars Tom Baker and Lalla Ward departing the show the following year there was no opportunity to go back and remount the production in order to complete the missing scenes. The existing material has been released in various forms over the years, including a VHS version with linking narration covering the missing scenes supplied by Baker. There was an animated version rewritten to star the Seventh Doctor (Paul McGann) and more recently a novelization of Douglas Adams’ scripts by Gareth Roberts. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time (2017)

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Contains spoilers for the 2017 Christmas special

The Twelfth Doctor has left the building. And in a passing of the flame ceremony not seen since New Years Day 2010, we also say farewell to much of the creative talent that had been driving Doctor Who forward for the last seven years, including series star Peter Capaldi, regular contributor Mark Gatiss, composer Murray Gold (or so it’s rumoured) and last but by no means least showrunner and main writer Steven Moffat.

They sign off with “Twice Upon A Time”, which is a love letter from them to the series itself. As well as characteristically outstanding direction from Rachel Talalay, it features performances of the highest order from Capaldi and Gatiss, from Pearl Mackie as companion Bill Potts, and especially from David Bradley as the First Doctor who was originally played by William Hartnell and who briefly returns here in archive footage from 1966. It’s also an example of Moffat’s writing at its highest quality, providing a thoughtful character-driven drama that delivers a perfect Christmas message while signing off an era of the show and clearing the decks for what’s to follow in Autumn 2018. Read the rest of this entry »

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

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It’s been a while since I’ve been to the cinema to see a fim on the big screen, and I was shocked by how much ticket prices had risen. They’re now the same as a new-release Blu-ray, which at least has re-watch and re-sale value. Small wonder then that these days I limit my theatrical outings to three specific categories of films – new James Bond, Star Trek and Star Wars instalments – which I’ve been faithful to ever since the Seventies.

Somewhat to my surprise I duly made it to see Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi before Christmas, and without having suffered any spoilers. I’d even kept away from official trailers in the build-up to the film’s release. I had seen the reviews, and noted that they’d started with euphoric raptures before curdling somewhat with criticism from fans who weren’t happy with the direction the series was going, but I made sure to avoid any details of either praise or gripes until I’d seen the film for myself. Which I now have.

Before I go on, a word about spoilers. I don’t intend to reveal any here – I’d rather everyone saw it in the unsullied state that I managed for myself – but inevitably there will be comments and hints in this review that betray more than a given reader might like. So if you are staying clean and pure from all spoilers, then perhaps it’s better to look away now just to be sure. And just to add, some elements of The Force Awakens are also discussed here since the statute of limitations on spoilers from that film has now expired. Read the rest of this entry »

Passengers (2016)

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Without a doubt, Passengers is a beautiful film to look at. Great care has been made by director Morten Tyldum and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto to ensure that every frame is a joy, and the human stars are just as pretty and perfect as the set design and the special effects. But underneath the polished surface veneer there are problems to be found, both in the story by Jon Spaihts and in its on-screen execution. Read the rest of this entry »

Vintage crime round-up: Scotland Yard (1953-1961), Crown Court (1972-3)

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Earlier this year I wrote about a series called Colonel March of Scotland Yard which was effectively a 1950s version of The X-Files starring Boris Karloff. I found it on Amazon Prime but it’s subsequently been on local cable station London Live, and then had a full transmission on the really rather terrific classic TV and film archive channel Talking Pictures.

The same channel followed that up with a daily run of the similarly-named but otherwise quite different Scotland Yard. This consists of a series of almost documentary-style dramatic recreations of cases ostensibly from the records of London’s police force. The whole set is also available on DVD from Network. Read the rest of this entry »

The Farthest (2017)

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Today it seems like we have always known what Jupiter and Saturn look like close-up. Open up any book on astronomy, or watch any TV documentary about space, and their iconic appearance is readily available in up-close high definition detail, as familiar to us as any holiday beauty spot on Earth. Read the rest of this entry »

Armchair Detectives S1 (BBC One)

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Susan Calman’s star is very much in the ascendency. As well as her popular stint on Strictly Come Dancing, she’s also been hosting Armchair Detectives – a daytime quiz show in which contestants watch a mini-crime drama set in the fictional Scottish town of Mortcliff and attempt to figure out whodunnit. Read the rest of this entry »

As I was just saying . . .

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Whoops, what happened there, then?

After the last Taking The Short View post some four months (!) ago, I decided to take a couple of weeks off after completing all that time-intensive coverage of the most recent series of Doctor Who. That break then dovetailed into the traditional month-long August hiatus for the blog (when there isn’t much around to write about anyway), and then September arrived. And then October, and November…

As time ticked on, various real life commitments popped up and deterred me from getting back to work here. In addition there was simply wasn’t much around inspiring me to write reviews, and so those initial couple of weeks ended up stretching to a few months almost without my noticing.

But with Christmas looming it’s time to get back in the saddle and resume normal service, with apologies for the break in transmission for anyone who was inadvertently left wondering where I’d gone in the meantime. Let’s just hope I can come up with something that proves worth the wait…

Doctor Who S10E12 “The Doctor Falls” (BBC One)

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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 »

Doctor Who S10E11 “World Enough and Time” (BBC One)

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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 »

Doctor Who S10E10 “The Eaters of Light” (BBC One)

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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 »

Doctor Who S10E9 “Empress of Mars” (BBC One)

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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 »

Doctor Who S10E8 “The Lie of the Land” (BBC One)

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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 »