Douglas Mackinnon

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (BBC One)

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Contains Spoilers.

sherlock-1I’ve always been surprised by the runaway popular success of BBC One’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson.

It really does take the mantra of ‘smart is the new sexy’ to a whole new level and goes places that are so supremely ambitious that they become indistinguishable from the pretentious and self-indulgent a lot of the time. That makes it very much my sort of show, but I’m surprised it appeals to the mass audience anywhere near as widely as it apparently does if viewing figures are to be believed. The latest 90-minute special entitled “The Abominable Bride” was certainly one of the biggest and most hyped attractions of the BBC’s 2015 Christmas and New Year schedules and its importance was reflected by a near-simultaneous broadcast in the US on the same day.

Co-written by the show’s co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, you can see the DNA contributed by both parents: the dizzyingly complex plotting we’re familiar with from Moffat that twists past and modern strands together with frightening ambition, and the more viscerally pleasing Gothic horror sensibilities of Gatiss who also appears on screen as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft – the smarter of the Holmes boys. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who “The Husbands of River Song” (2015)

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Contains spoilers.

drwho-xmas-dvdI 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 »

Dr Who S8 E9 “Flatline” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the aired episode.

It’s no secret that I’ve been enjoying this new season of Doctor Who a lot more than I did the last, as my broadly positive reviews here on Taking The Short View will attest. Viewer and fan reaction has been more divided however, and even I have to admit that there have been some fairly chunky ‘quibbles’ with each of the episodes to date. For example there were the extraordinarily wide corridors and oversized ventilation ducts in the supposedly ‘impregnable’ Bank of Karabraxos in the otherwise fun “Time Heist”; the lack of any actually interesting ‘A’ plot in “The Caretaker” to balance the banter; the industrial quantities of suspension of disbelief one had to have to hand to swallow the huge amount of bad science on display in “Kill The Moon”; and how last week’s story “Mummy On The Orient Express” was only partially successful in ramming two 30-minute stories into a single 45-minute slot.

flatlineBut now we get to “Flatline”, and I find myself in a strange position – almost bereft, in fact – because here we have a story that has nothing to quibble about*. Not one discernible flaw to it at all as far as I’m concerned. What’s a reviewer to do in such a situation? I guess there’s nothing for it but to gush. I’m not used to gushing, but here goes.

For once we have a Doctor Who story that feels like it has the perfect amount of material for its running time, and which manages to deliver on all levels without feeling like a mini-anthology story in which one bit of the episode is designated to atmosphere and scares, another to relationship dramas, a moment for ethical dilemmas, some laughs and humour, and then finally some running around action to entertain the youngsters. “Flatline” still has all those components and more, but the way it puts all the pieces together results in a single coherent result that flows naturally from one phase to another, and all in an overall package that resembles the very best of Classic Who in a way more that we’ve seen in years. Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S8 E5 “Time Heist” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the aired episode.

At last, an episode of Doctor Who series 8 that isn’t going to take a long, detailed treatise to review but can instead be covered succinctly and concisely in just a few paragraphs. That’s because “Time Heist”, the fifth outing for Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, foregoes the usual series arc connections and deep psychological insights and instead delivers purely and simply what it promises in the title: a rollicking bank heist adventure story, delivered with the appropriate timey-wimey layer of shenanigans to make the whole thing authentically Who.

duoFor reasons unknown even to himself, the Doctor and Clara (Jenna Coleman) have agreed to participate in a raid on the most secure bank in the universe along with two other individuals with unique talents, shapeshifter Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner) and tech-augmented hacker Psi (Broadchurch’s Jonathan Bailey). They’re pitted against the bank’s merciless director of security Miss Delphox (Line of Duty’s Keeley Hawes in deliciously icy villainess mode) who has at her disposal the services of The Teller, an alien telepath who can hunt down any guilty thoughts and then administer a quite shockingly gruesome punishment when called for. But the Doctor and his team themselves have help from someone who seems able to know exactly what tools to give them at any given moment in order to succeed… Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S8 E4 “Listen” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode.

One of Steven Moffat’s undoubted strengths as a writer is to reject preconceptions and to fearlessly go wherever his instincts as a writer tell him to. While it’s worked to huge acclaim on Sherlock it’s an approach not without its risks, as consistently confounding your audience’s expectations while also demanding they follow you on this unfamiliar path can throw up resistance and ultimately even hostility. And if there’s an episode of Doctor Who that demonstrates this most clearly it’s this week’s “Listen” which at times seemed to actively seek to rile both casual viewers and long-term hard-core fans of the show alike.

listenFor the former group, “Listen” must have been a very strange watch – especially at prime time on Saturday evening surrounded by glitzy celebrity talent competitions and quiz shows. Less a mainstream family drama and more of an experimental psychological stage play, “Listen” eschews conventional narrative for mood and atmosphere through a series of connected vignettes where you have to really work hard to figure out exactly what’s going on if you’re to make sense of it. And things are little better for the latter group, the hard-core Who fans, who won’t have seen 50 minute this off-the wall since 1963’s “The Edge of Destruction”/”The Brink of Disaster” two-parter and who will have been even more provoked by the final five minutes in which Moffat once again inserts himself (via his companion character Clara Oswald) into the very core mythos of the show. Along the way, Moffat does something that is keenly uncomfortable for fans of the show: he takes our hero, the Doctor, and deconstructs him, taking him from all-powerful Time Lord to someone as vulnerable and as human as the rest of us. Outrageous!

No wonder the reaction to the episode was so mixed. Those who liked it really liked it, while those who hated it were apoplectic with fury because the show hadn’t delivered what they felt it should have done, that Moffat hadn’t had the decency to keep himself within appropriate bounds. I can kind of understand that having been off-side with Moffat’s approach myself on many occasions in the past; but at the same time Moffat’s audacity to dive in and find new directions for the show are what give it renewed life and vitality. To merely do the same thing time and again, or to stick within the established rules of the show without ever seeking to expand them, is to make Doctor Who an inert museum piece doomed to irrelevance. “Listen” makes it clear that this will never be allowed to happen under Moffat and that the show will always be trying to reinvent itself and find new things to try each and every week – whether you like the end result or not. Read the rest of this entry »