Dan Starkey

Doctor Who: “Last Christmas” (2014)

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Contains spoilers. Seriously, don’t read until you’ve seen the episode.

I’ve talked before here on Taking The Short View about how difficult the Doctor Who Christmas Day special balancing act is. It has to deliver an hour’s worth of television that will entertain millions of casual viewers slumped in front of the telly still recovering from their annual turkey blow-out, as well as satisfying the astronomically high expectations of the die hard fans of the show who know every twist and turn of the series inside and out and expect the same high standard from the special if not more. Its the impossible show to write, and more often than not in the past the end result has been at best mixed and at worst quite poor indeed.

It’s not as if you can solve the Christmas Special problem by simply having Santa Claus show up and be the Doctor’s companion for the occasion, now is it? Or maybe you can… After all, season eight saw the legendary Robin Hood asserted as being a real figure, so why not Santa? That’s what the light-hearted cliffhanger at the end of “Death in Heaven” seemed to suggest might be happening and I admit that I was deeply concerned that this was indeed where Moffat was headed. Robin Hood was bad enough, but while the consensus is that he never actually existed Robin was at least based on the tales of a couple of local figures around Nottinghamshire who likely did which makes it just about tolerable. But Santa? How do you have a figure of his, uh, stature appear in the show and not end up with some risible “Oh he was just as robot/alien/impostor” explanation – the likes of which could easily ruin Christmas for children who as a result suddenly start to wonder if maybe Santa isn’t real after all. Christmas Day really isn’t the time or place for that sort of trauma, so best leave Santa well and truly out of it surely? But oh no, not if you’re Steven Moffat: he’s the kind of writer that as soon as the control console lights up with warning lights telling him to alter course, he just locks on and goes straight for it. Rather like the Doctor himself would, in fact. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (BBC1)

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Spoilers, sweetie.

I’m confused.

nameNot, I should immediately make clear, by the story and events of “The Name of the Doctor”, the series finale of the extended staccato season 7 of Doctor Who. As has so often been the case with Steven Moffat’s work down the years, what appeared at the outset to be brain-scrambling head-twister of a puzzle is by the end almost charmingly simple and straight-forward by the time it’s explained – and I mean that as a sincere compliment, an example of the craft of writing at its highest level.

Most of us had already figured out that the secret to Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) was that she had somehow been ‘split up’ and scattered (“like confetti”, as the show itself described it) across all of time and space in a manner akin to the fate of the last of the Jagaroth from the classic serial “City of Death”; all that this new episode did was provide the mechanism for how this did indeed come to happen, and why it was that the Doctor kept running across her. It was not coincidence, it turned out, but an essential part of the design – no accident but rather completely unavoidable. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror (BBC1)

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One consistently recurring question among fans over recent years has been why accomplished writer and performer Mark Gatiss hasn’t been able to deliver a follow-up to match “The Unquiet Dead,” his first Doctor Who episode back in 2005. There was the undercooked ‘meh’-ness of “The Idiot’s Lantern” for example, and the flat-out disappointment of “Victory of the Daleks” which was only partially the result of the new-model primary-coloured candy-floss iDaleks. Even 2011’s “Night Terrors” felt like it should have been so much better rather than just acceptably decent.

Given his undoubted talents – just check out his writing for Sherlock for example – and his unimpeachable love of the series, a resounding Doctor Who success for Gatiss has been long over due. Arguably last month’s “Cold War” was the best of Gatiss follow-ups, and it was certainly pretty good and well-received even if I personally thought it narrowly failed to fully deliver. So you can understand then when I say I’d rather given up hope of ever finding a Gatiss-penned Doctor Who that I could unreservedly, unhesitatingly gush over and declare as being his best contribution to the series of all time; and I certainly wasn’t expecting “The Crimson Horror” to be the episode to prove me wrong.

Well paint me red, dress me in long johns and call me dear monster, because I’ve never been happier having to eat my words: “The Crimson Horror” was the most tongue-in-cheek fun that Doctor Who has had in a very long time. Possibly ever, actually. It is delightfully wicked and clever from first to last and shows just how good Gatiss can truly be when he slips his leash and goes on the rampage unfettered by cerebral concerns of what a ‘good’ Doctor Who episode needs to or should look like. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who: “The Snowmen”

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Contains spoilers, although I’ll try and be as gentle as I can…

SnowmenI really should know better by know than to allow myself to get too excited about Doctor Who specials. After all, they’ve had a pretty patchy history, with last year’s “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe” the worst of the bunch. On top of that you’ll recall that I was less than happy with the way that the so-called ‘Series 7A’ ended with “The Angels Take Manhattan” so it’s not like I was feeling particularly in sync with the series at the end of 2012. But all the advance word of mouth about this year’s Christmas special was so positive, and all the preview clips released were so good, that I lowered my guard and allowed my expectations to rise rather too unrealistically – to the point where it would have needed “The Snowmen” to be one of the best Who outings in years just to meet let alone exceed them.

Read the rest of this entry »