Contains some spoilers for the episode
It must take a huge sense of self-confidence and belief to be the show-runner of a huge international series like Doctor Who, to the point of hubris and arrogance. That’s not a criticism – I just don’t see how anyone could do the job otherwise. Part of that mindset must include never fully accepting when you’ve made a mistake – or at least, not one that you can’t rectify down the line.
Back in season 8, Steven Moffat picked children’s novelist Frank Cottrell-Boyce (of London 2012 opening ceremony fame) to write an episode for Doctor Who. The end result – “In the Forest of the Night” – sharply divided both fans and critics, and was the least popular story of that run. Personally I liked the episode somewhat better than most people seemed to and found its change of pace refreshing, but even so I can’t say I was clamouring for more of the same anytime soon.
But Moffat sticks to his guns, and Cottrell-Boyce gets a second bite of the Who apple with this week’s episode “Smile”. This sophomore effort shows that the writer has worked hard to address the criticisms of his maiden outing and in some areas is much improved, while other aspects show much the same hallmarks of Cottrell-Boyce’s work – for both good and ill. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains some spoilers for the episode
It wasn’t until the opening credits rolled on Saturday’s brand new series of Doctor Who that it was fully brought home to me just how long it’s been since we’ve had a proper first-run episode to savour, Christmas specials notwithstanding. It’s been more than 16 months since the end of series nine – already the travels of the Doctor and Clara seem like they belong to a completely different era of the show.
Clara’s extended tenancy in the Tardis also means that it’s been four and a half years since we last had the pleasure of being introduced to a new companion. In that time we’ve celebrated the 50th anniversary of the show, seen one Doctor bow out and another take over who himself is already about to move on. Fond as I was of Jenna Coleman, that’s probably too long a period than is entirely good for the show: while the Doctor might regenerate from time to time he’s still the same character, and these days it’s the companion who offers the best opportunity for the production team to refresh the show from the ground up with new blood.
Given that series star Peter Capaldi and showrunner Steven Moffat are both moving on after the current run, they would have been forgiven if they’d simply opted to just coast to the finish line on auto-pilot, before handing things over to Chris Chibnall who will do his own thing in 2018. But that’s not their way; revitalised by the lengthy interval between seasons, Moffat throws himself into this latest reinvention with the enthusiasm of a three-day-old puppy playing with a new favourite toy rather than the jaded 55-year-old who’s been grinding away at this every day for almost eight years now. It’s not the first time he’s reimagined the show: he transformed it into a charming fairy tale with Matt Smith’s first season, before going for a more hard-edged science fiction approach with convoluted time travel plots that continually tested the audience’s ability to keep up. He reinvented the show once more when Capaldi took over the role by daring to be darker, and played with the format again with more two-parters in 2015 than ever before. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been exactly a year since Doctor Who‘s most recent new adventure, and so the anticipation ahead of the 2016 Christmas special was sky high. When “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” finally arrived on Christmas Day, it quickly turned out that – not for the first time – the show has wrong-footed us and that it isn’t the episode we might have thought that we had been expecting and in some cases dreading: Doctor Who has moved on. And that’s a good thing.
In the past, showrunner Steven Moffat has delivered some of the most Christmassy of Christmas specials imaginable, from 2010’s “A Christmas Carol” to 2011’s “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”, 2012’s “The Snowmen” and 2014’s “Last Christmas”. By comparison, last year’s “The Husbands of River Song” was somewhat light on the Christmas trappings, and this year’s story goes even further with only a brief prologue at the start being set on Christmas Eve. Even then it’s only so that eight-year-old Grant Gordon (Logan Huffman) can understandably mistake the ‘old guy’ hanging upside down outside his New York apartment block window 60 floors up in the air for Santa Claus. After that however you’ll look in vain for any festive feels. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains some mild spoilers for the series, although there shouldn’t be anything too explicit.
It feels odd to me that anyone should make a show for a streaming service but then decide to dole out the episodes once a week on what is effectively a conventional TV network broadcast schedule. But that’s what the BBC has done with Doctor Who spin-off Class and it’s also what Amazon Prime are doing with their nothing-at-all-like-Top Gear new series The Grand Tour, so what do I know?
Saturday saw the final episode of the first season of Class land on the BBC’s iPlayer, which means that we’re now able to look at the whole run of eight stories in context. From what I’ve seen up to this point, the reaction of Who fans has been somewhat mixed to say the least, and not even the theme song has escaped criticism. Moreover, the strategy of making it an online exclusive has likely limited the show’s reach outside that base of Whovians: as much as the BBC might wish it so, people simply don’t currently see iPlayer as a Netflix-like service for new online material, but rather mainly as a catch-up facility.
That’s a shame because Class deserves a rather more love than it’s currently getting. It’s not perfect – far from it, it has many annoying swings in tone and approach. However the production quality of the finished episodes has been consistently high throughout with excellent acting, direction, photography and FX work across the board. It’s certainly better than you might reasonably expect for a brand new show, unlike for example the wildly variable start to fellow ‘grown-up’ Who spin-off series Torchwood in 2006 which really did take a long time to find its feet and work out the kinks, and which had some really terrible moments during its first season. Read the rest of this entry »
Of the 97 episodes of 1960s Doctor Who that no longer exist thanks to a cost-saving policy of wiping and reusing master video recordings, perhaps the ones whose loss are most acutely felt by fans of the show are the six comprising “The Power of the Daleks”, Patrick Troughton’s first outing in the role. Not only was it the story that established the act of regeneration in series lore (without which Doctor Who would never have lasted 53 years), it’s also one of the very best stories featuring the Doctor’s arch-nemeses the Daleks. Sadly, although fandom rejoiced when two long-lost stories (“Enemy of the World” and “Web of Fear“) were rediscovered a couple of years back, there’s no hope that any such miraculous resurrection will be possible for “The Power of the Daleks” and so instead we’ve had to make do with a novelisation and an off-air sound recording made by a fan at the time of the story’s single airing on BBC television.
That changed this month with the BBC’s release of a specially commissioned animated reconstruction of the serial. It’s not the first time that the BBC has used animation to cover for a lost episode, but in the past this has been limited to when just one or two episodes of a longer serial are missing (“The Reign of Terror”, “The Tenth Planet”, “The Moonbase”, “The Ice Warriors”, “The Invasion”.) It appeared that the BBC had gone off this idea and the part-completed animation of missing episodes of “The Underwater Menace” was abandoned, while the one still-missing episode of “Web of Fear” was replaced by a series of static stills made up of telesnaps (photographs of a television screen taken during broadcast.)
It’s therefore quite a surprise to see the BBC return to the idea of animation, and moreover for a serial where no episodes at all survive save for a few short clips that had been re-used in other programmes. It’s a mark of how highly regarded the serial is, and how keenly fans of the show have wanted a chance to see it in some form or another. The question is, does it work? Read the rest of this entry »
The long gap between seasons nine and ten of Doctor Who has been filled with this latest spin-off from the 21st century parent show: after Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures comes Class, which débuted last weekend on BBC3 which is now an online-only streaming channel, the Corporation’s attempt to produce a Netflix-type service for a young audience while also cutting overall costs.
Fortunately the cost-cutting facet isn’t particularly evident in the first episode of Class which is handsomely mounted and stylish with some impressive special effects – although one sequence ostensibly set on an alien world is a notable example of how to creatively cut corners where possible without harming the whole. Otherwise it’s mainly set in the hallways and classrooms of Coal School Academy (formerly Coal Hill School, which has a long history in Doctor Who), but the supposedly everyday normal setting is emphatically upended by alien invaders even before the Who-influenced opening credits kick in. Read the rest of this entry »
The six-part Doctor Who serial “The Seeds of Doom” dates from 1976 and was part of the show’s 13th season, which has a strong claim to be considered as one of the best runs of the classic era of the show since it also included “Terror of the Zygons”, “Planet of Evil”, “Pyramids of Mars”, “The Android Invasion” and “The Brain of Morbius”.
Sadly I didn’t see any of these stories when they originally aired, since I’d gone off in a major pre-teen strop on the quite sensible and reasonable grounds that Tom Baker was not Jon Pertwee. I have repented in the 40 years since of course, and have caught up with all the aforementioned stories on UK Gold or more recently on pristine digitally remastered DVDs, and while many Whovians cite “Zygons” or “Pyramids” as their favourite story from this period I have to say that speaking for myself I think it has to be “The Seeds of Doom”. Read the rest of this entry »
As things turned out, there wasn’t enough time between the end of Doctor Who series 9 and the follow-up Christmas special for us to produce our now-traditional look back over the most recent run of stories featuring our favourite maverick Time Lord. Instead, we thought we’d allow the holiday festivities to well and truly settle down before finally turning our merciless combined fan gaze on the latest run of episodes. Plus, there was the small matter of John, self-confessed Star Wars superfan, experiencing an awakening of some sort…
Then, just as we were thinking of putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard and touchscreen), the news broke that Steven Moffat is to step down as showrunner after the next series and the torch is to be passed on to Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall – himself a man with impeccable Doctor Who fan credentials who has contributed several stories to the show over the years, and also to Torchwood which he co-produced for the first two series.
Does the confirmation of his impending departure colour our perspective of Moffat’s fifth complete series in charge of our favourite show? Will we get misty-eyed and sentimental about the Grand Moff’s achievements now that the end is in sight? You’ll have to read on and see, as we embark on a particularly timey-wimey trip through the highs and lows of series 9.
Spoilers ahoy, Sweeties! Read the rest of this entry »
I confess that I had a bad feeling about this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special as soon as I heard that noted comedians Matt Lucas and Greg Davies were among the main guest stars, and that one of the characters was King Hydroflax. This had all the hallmarks of the show lurching firmly into ‘silly’ territory, the kind of thing that I don’t take to at all well. My only hope was that the promised return of the divine Alex Kingston as the inimitable River Song would counter the potential downsides.
Even with that hope in mind, my first viewing of “The Husbands of River Song” did not go well. It really was very, very silly indeed to the point of being a wacky cartoon caper (there’s even a comedy ‘whoosh’ sound effect when River throws a head-in-a-bag to the Doctor at one point), and just to make matters worse there’s a heavy added layer of Douglas Adams humour to the whole thing – the kind of surreal shenanigans that only Adams himself could ever really pull off and that everyone else is best advised to stay well away from.
The resulting confection managed to hit all the wrong buttons for me, and in entirely the wrong order. To make matters worse, I even dozed off in the middle – although admittedly, this was at least as much to do with sinking into a food coma after Christmas dinner as it was a justified critical verdict on the show. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers. Only to be read once you have already seen the episode. You have been warned!
So that’s it. Another season of Doctor Who is complete. And for my money at least, it’s been one of the best since the last full season helmed by Russell T Davies as showrunner: stronger, more consistent and without a doubt more coherent and satisfying than it has been in years. The only question coming into this weekend was whether Steven Moffat could close it out successfully without fumbling the ball on the line.
The short answer is that he could, and rather magnificently, in a fitting finale that addresses and encompasses all the major themes of the season in a way that is both suitably epic for a season finale and at the same time wonderfully intimate and character-led.
The longer answer is by definition somewhat longer (duh!) and more detailed, and contains a few more ‘buts’ along the way. While this was perhaps the best finale since “Journey’s End” it still contains a number of flaws and imperfections and some things for us to note that the show needs to avoid in the future. But before we spoil the mood with such talk, let’s first appreciate all that worked rather brilliantly in “Hell Bent” Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers. Only to be read once you have already seen the episode. You have been warned!
Well, that was certainly extraordinarily audacious.
Seriously, can you think of any other television show on any other major network in the world that would hand over 55 minutes of its prime time Saturday evening schedule to what was in effect an experimental one-man avant-garde stage show?
The end result will likely be extremely polarising: some people will surely love “Heaven Sent” and rate it as one of the best things that the show has ever done, while others will doubtless trash it as self-indulgent pretentious nonsense. Still more will just wonder what the heck it was all about having been completely baffled and bemused by the whole thing. And many of us I think will just need some time to let this one sink in before we’re able to fully decide where on the spectrum we sit. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains major, MAJOR spoilers. Do not read if you haven’t already seen the episode. You have been warned!
And so the moment that we knew was coming has finally arrived – just slightly earlier than we expected. At least, it was unexpected providing that you were able to avoid the tidal wave of spoilers that flooded the Internet in the days preceding the broadcast of “Face The Raven”, episode ten of the 12-part season nine of Doctor Who.
Actually I’d already had an inkling that it might happen by knowing something of the content of the final two-parter still to come, but it was quite extraordinary how the firewall of security around the show comprehensively broke down in the run-up to last Saturday – even to the point of the show’s star Peter Capaldi apparently letting slip on a national chat show the big dramatic twist lying at the end of this week’s story. The secret was so completely spoiled that I had even started thinking that maybe it was all a double bluff, a red herring designed to lead us into expecting one thing while delivering something else. So much so that I’d half-convinced myself that the ‘twist’ was going to be that Clara would escape her fate by standing and facing the raven, that confronting the fear with the mantra “Let Me Be Brave” might remove its power of death over the victim. But no, it was not to be.
To be honest, even now – several days after watching the episode – I’m still wondering whether that cavalcade of spoilers in the days leading up to the broadcast really weren’t some sort of intentional campaign of disinformation. Part of my thinking here goes back to the question “Are spoilers actually spoilers?” that we’ve tackled here on Taking The Short View before. Certainly a spoiler changes how you watch something and what you get out of it: instead of the brief shock of the actual moment, in this case you get 45 minutes of increasing tension and anxiety as the moment approaches and you’re hoping that you’ve been wrong all along. But that could be what the programme makers had been intending all along in this case, hence the possibility of intended leakage rather than accidental or malicious spoilers. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers to keep you awake.
Whatever else you might say about Mark Gatiss, you really have to admire his range and diversity when it comes to the stories that he’s written for Doctor Who across the years. From Victorian ghost stories guest starring Charles Dickens to haunted dolls houses on a modern council estate, subservient Daleks making tea for Winston Churchill to murderous BBC continuity announcers in the 1950s, not to mention reviving the Ice Warriors to a soundtrack of 80s pop classics and the real-life origins drama An Adventure in Space and Time. His most recent story contributions have been his most out-and-out comedic, although the gothic black comedy The Crimson Horror and the bright and the breezy historical romp Robots of Sherwood could hardly have been more poles apart.
Just when you think you’ve got a grip on what he’s going to do next, Gatiss tends to want to spin off in a whole new direction – and that’s exactly what he does with this week’s season nine entry. You might not think it would be possible to create a brand new story that is simultaneously equidistant from every single one of his previous seven contributions, but that’s precisely what he does with the highly experimental “Sleep No More” as he conjures up a pure science fiction horror story that’s singularly and surprisingly lacking in laughs despite guest starring his old League of Gentleman pal Reece Shearsmith in a leading role.
The one thing that is always consistent with Gatiss’ contributions is that he delivers an incredibly rich script packed full of ideas – some of them borrowed but equally as many of them fresh and original. There’s usually so much going on that the stories threaten to spin out of control, fizzing so violently that they fly apart or spontaneously implode and combust. As a result the stories rarely all manage to work completely for everyone, but they’re never dull. For the reviewer, however, there’s a risk that any analysis of a Gatiss story will end up becoming a checklist of influences and concepts in play rather than a proper look at the story as a whole. Apologies in advance if that turns out to be the case here. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers, in duplicate
As someone who had been an out-and-proud, unabashed fan of Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman for sometime now, one of my biggest frustrations has been why so many other people have not been able to see the self-evident truth of their greatness as the Doctor and Clara. Initially I could kinda-sorta understand it in the latter case, since Clara’s first year was somewhat wasted being saddled with ‘the impossible girl’ label, and even once that was mercifully put to bed showrunner Steven Moffat continued to have an oddly unfocused view of the core of the character that remained. Clara ended up being pushed and pulled all over the place, first by the demands of that week’s story and then by that season’s overall arc, yet even when Clara was at her most untethered Coleman herself was always excellent, often making Clara credible purely through the force of her own will and acting talent alone.
Similarly, I’ve completely believed in Capaldi’s Doctor ever since his opening scene in the first post-regeneration story “Into the Dalek”. I liked the whole ‘crisis of confidence’ voyage of self-discovery of season eight and how they dared to make the the Doctor a much darker and more mysterious figure than his most recent predecessors – although at the same time I’m even more thrilled by the way they’ve matured the character this season, making him warmer and more heroic while at the same time still retaining the spiky edges and the sense of alienness. And yet strangely a lot of people people seem to have remained rather cool toward the twelfth Doctor, perhaps still pining for the days of the more straightforwardly cute and adorable Matt Smith or David Tennant to return.
One theory I’ve seen is that for many, Capaldi’s Doctor has been lacking a ‘signature moment’ to match Tom Baker’s early highlight in “Genesis of the Daleks” when he debates about whether to destroy the Daleks for all time; or Sylvester McCoy’s ‘Unlimited rice pudding”; Eccleston’s “Everybody Lives!”; or Tennant showing up to a sword fight in his pyjamas and toppling a Prime Minister with a whispered “Doesn’t she look tired?”; or Smith’s full-blown rock star moment at Stonehenge. Actually I’d argue that if anything, the problem for Capaldi is that his tenure-to-date as the Doctor has been so packed full of such moments that we’ve become overloaded by them, inured and immune to their effect. Rather like the way that we develop a protective shell and become blasé about Aaron Sorkin’s genius by dismissing his work as ‘just’ a bunch of stylistic tricks and tropes, we run the risk of becoming hardened about and blind toward just what Moffat and Capaldi are achieving not just on a week-by-week basis but also in a scene-by-scene and at times even line-by-line sense.
When that sort of attitude sets in it can be very hard to break through the shell and make people see the matter with fresh eyes; but from the online reaction I saw after “The Zygon Inversion” from professional critics, die hard fans and casual viewers alike then the breakthrough defining moment for the Twelfth Doctor might just have finally arrived, and it was a glorious sight to behold. The ‘truth or consequences’ third act is surely the moment that will be played on clip shows whenever they cover the Capaldi era on the show; and the only worry is that it might end up overshadowing everything else around it, because it really was that good. It’s the kind of scene where everything – concept, plot, dialogue, performance – comes together so brilliantly that if just this one scene had been in any other television series in history, that series would necessarily be instantly acclaimed an all-time classic. That it comes in a show already 52 years old and with more than 200 stories under its belt is almost unfathomable.
But let’s go back for a few minutes and rewind all the way to the start. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains Spoilers in Duplicate
A few weeks ago, I commented on how Steven Moffat is able to pick up a stray bit of random, accidental production miscontinuity and weave an entire story beat out of it, as he did recently in “The Girl Who Died” when he made use of the fact that Peter Capaldi had already appeared in Doctor Who as a different character before he was subsequently cast in the title role.
This week’s story “The Zygon Invasion” does that again, this time taking a whole bunch of loose threads left over from past stories and fashioning from them a full-blown tapestry to compete with the very best that Bayeux can produce. So much so in this case that for the first time I can recall outside of a formal two-parter, the episode has to do a fully-fledged American-style pre-titles flashback in order to recap events that happened a couple of years ago – specifically in the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor” which had marked the first return of the classic Who adversaries the Zygons, one of the best loved creatures from the history of the show despite the fact that they only ever made one appearance back in a 1975 Tom Baker story. Read the rest of this entry »