Chris Chibnall

Doctor Who New Year Special: “Resolution” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode

The Doctor Who production team were damned if they did, damned if they didn’t on this one. As soon as they teased “the deadliest creature in the universe” in trailers, fandom was rife with speculation that this could only mean the return of the Daleks, after a maiden season for Jodie Whittaker conspicuously devoid of any of the Doctor’s greatest adversaries of the past. So should the production team deny it – and risk leaving fans disappointed and disillusioned weeks before the broadcast – or simply accept that the surprise had been spoiled?

Unfortunately, in the end the secret simply could not be kept all the way to New Year’s Day, which is the new slot for the annual Doctor Who special after it was bumped from Christmas Day. To be honest, I’m in two minds about this time switch as I found that it really did leave a sense of something missing on the 25th. There’s also an implication of the show losing prestige and no longer having the full-throated support of the current BBC hierarchy, both of which are worrying signs of those of us who are long-time fans. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Broadchurch S2 E1 (ITV)

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The biggest surprise at the conclusion of the first series of Broadchurch had been the appearance of the caption after the end titles boldly declaring that “Broadchurch will return”. Why such a surprise? The eight-part story surrounding the death of young Danny Latimer in a small south west coastal resort town had been such a perfect gem of a production that you couldn’t help but wonder just what on earth they could possibly do to extend the show that wouldn’t also end up wrecking the reputaion of the original in the process.

It was with this trepidation in mind that eighteen months later I sat down to watch the first episode of the second season – and happily, any fears or concerns that I had about whether Broadchurch could possibly return as strong as it went out were pretty much swept aside in the first ten minutes. In a ghostly echo of the way that the first series had kicked off, it opened with an overview of our sprawling main cast of characters as they started to converge on one particular destination in town. But there were no cheery nods and waved greetings this time; it was a far more sombre affair as they all headed to the local court to see the murderer of Danny Latimer formally enter his plea. Once this was done then everyone would be able to start to move on, recover and heal from the vicious wounds inflicted on the community by the original killing and the investigation that had followed.

The way the moment was built up, you just knew there was a sting coming. It wasn’t very hard to see what it had to be, either. But even so, the moment when it actually came was still enough to make you gasp and it actually felt like you’d been slapped round the face without warning. Any show that can achieve something of that impact before the first commercial break clearly knows what it’s doing, and there was no question that the showrunner and series creator Chris Chibnall was in assured form as he set about following the implications as they rippled through the community. Read the rest of this entry »

Broadchurch E8 (ITV)

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Contains spoilers: if you haven’t seen the final episode, do not read on!

I can’t remember the last time that ITV went to town hyping the last episode of a drama series quite as much as it did with Broadchurch in the days leading up to Monday night’s conclusion to the eight-part series.

In many ways, all the build-up and hype were the show’s biggest enemies in the end, reducing the story of “Who killed Danny Latimer?” down to the same level of whodunnit parlour game as “Who shot JR?” or “Who killed Laura Palmer?”. In fact the show had never been intended a simple matter of guessing who the guilty party was: instead it was meant as a deep and emotional study on the effects of a terrible crime on a small close-knit community. A Fatal Attraction-style shock/twist ending was never really on the cards and just like Forbrydelsen before it, Broadchurch was determined not to go down that road no matter who it left feeling dissatisfied. Read the rest of this entry »

ReTake: Broadchurch E1-7 (ITV)

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ReTakes are second looks at things that have previously been reviewed on this site, with the intention of updating previous takes on the subject.

When I first reviewed Chris Chibnall’s story of a community struggling to come to terms with the murder of a local 11-year-old boy and the search for his murderer, I said that I didn’t understand the fuss and adoration that the series appeared to be getting from all quarters. While good, it didn’t seem to me to be that special, I wrote.

I largely feel the same way, to be honest, but want to add that the most recent half of the series has been a lot stronger and more gripping than the first half and that I’m certainly very pleased to have watched it from the start. I certainly wouldn’t dream of missing this Monday’s extended final episode in which all is (hopefully) revealed.

A lot of the things that niggled at me in the opening episodes have been attended to in what is clearly a meticulous and intelligently thought-out overarching plan. For example, the clichéd angst-ridden nominal star of the show – DI Alec Hardy, played by David Tennant – has been transformed by later events surrounding his health and revelations regarding a previous botched investigation elsewhere. And the co-star – DS Ellie Miller, played by Olivia Colman – has developed wonderfully. I originally criticised a scene in which she struggled to give a morning assignments briefing to the murder team, but in episode 7 there’s a reprise of that and her no-nonsense, hard-hitting professionalism is an effective demonstration of how hardened she’s been made by the events in the meantime.

So, fair play Mr Chibnall – you knew what you were doing, and you executed it brilliantly.

The last hurdle will be delivering an effective, satisfying climax and resolution to the story. This is easier said than done: even the superlative Forbrydelsen managed to not quite deliver the knock-out punch at the very end of its original 20-episode run. Will Broadchurch? I worry that, like its Danish antecedent, it might have shot its bolt too early: two moments in episode 7 – the appearance of the man that Susan Wright (Pauline Quirke) said she saw on the beach with Danny’s body; and the final words that Ellie says to Susan – point unequivocally to one suspect, and it’s someone who has topped most internet polls since almost the very first week of the show.

If it really does turn out that the solution is that ‘easy’ and obvious right from the start then it’s going to take some of the power out of the entire series. Even a late swerve from the ‘obvious’ suspect to the idea that he was merely covering up for someone else in his family would be a touch anti-climactic at this stage, and yet it seems that structurally at least the show has left itself no other path to go down in its final minutes. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s what happens, and how well it can pull off the big reveal by which it will surely be judged down the line.

The final episode of Broadchuch is at 9-10.05pm on Monday April 22 on ITV. It will be available via ITV Player for a week afterwards. The series is released on DVD on May 20, 2013.

Broadchurch (ITV) and Mayday (BBC)

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It’s funny how sometimes two shows (or two films, or two books) with almost identical ideas show up at virtually the same time. On the screen, we’ve had two volcano movies, two meteor films, two Capote biopics and two Snow White reboots show up at the box office within a few weeks of each other; and now we’ve had the TV equivalent, with two shows about shocking crimes being done to local children in small idyllic English communities airing within hours of one another.

Of the two, I think it’s fair to say that BBC’s Mayday had been widely derided, whereas ITV’s Broadchurch would be up for sainthood were it a person, such has been the adulatory response to it. I’m going to slightly take issue with that, but I’ll start by saying that the two shows are strong dramas, well made with excellent casts, and that both are certainly well worth watching.

So why didn’t Mayday go down that well while Broadchurch has been such a hit? It may be because the former is not the show that people thought they were getting from the trailers, whereas the latter emphatically nails it, delivering to and exceeding viewers’ expectations. Because the truth is that despite their similar-sounding premises, these are two surprisingly different shows. Read the rest of this entry »