Jamie Mathieson

Doctor Who S10E5 “Oxygen” (BBC One)

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Contains some spoilers for aired episodes

Given that I tipped my hand last week and declared myself a fan of the scarier side of Doctor Who, you’d probably expect me to wax lyrical over the latest episode “Oxygen” and say how utterly brilliant and fantastic it was. And just to defuse any potential anxiety in the minds of readers of this article, I’ll cut to the chase and admit that yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

In terms of the spectrum of scariness, last week’s “Knock Knock” was a familiar, cosy haunted house story with a happy ending; but “Oxygen” is a desperately chilling story in which everything we thought we could rely on is systematically taken away or turned against us. It is unsettling from the very beginning, and only gets worse as the story goes on. The demise of the sonic screwdriver is painful enough, even before the killer punch in the final scene that we simply don’t see coming and which has big implications for the rest of season 10.

Having brought us a “Mummy on the Orient Express” in his first contribution to the show in 2014, writer Jamie Mathieson this time offers up zombies on a space station. At least, that’s the ‘high concept’ pitch for the episode suggested by the publicity stills. In fact, there are no zombies here – the 36 terminated workers on the Chasm Forge (a brilliant name for an asteroid mining station) aren’t supernaturally reanimated, but are just literally dead weight strapped into their still-operating smart space suits. The question is: what happened to them, and why? Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S9E5 “The Girl Who Died”

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Contains spoilers for the aired episode.

girl-who-died-1I admit, I didn’t have high hopes coming into this episode. From the previews it looked like Doctor Who’s latest attempt to switch into historical romp mode after the pair of pretty heavy and intense two-parters opening season nine. As long-time readers of Taking The Short View will probably recall, I pretty much hate such diversions as my loathing for last year’s “Robots of Sherwood” will attest. Generally speaking, it’s been my unwavering view that the show during Steven Moffat’s tenure has struggled badly when it comes to striving to do light-hearted fare, with a very few notable exceptions, and that it shows just how hard it can be to do comedy satisfyingly in a show which is at heart an action-adventure drama.

Moffat did at least pull out all the stops and try his absolute best with this latest offering, mainly by putting his top writing team on the job – one of whom, inevitably, is Moffat himself. It’s a measure of how fast and high Jamie Mathieson’s Who stock has risen since his début scripts for “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline” last year that he’s the other name on the script. Surely if anyone could have pulled off an entertaining historical romp without making my teeth itch and my toes curl it would have been Moffat and Mathieson? Read the rest of this entry »

Am I a Good Man? A look back at Doctor Who Series 8

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Generation Star Wars‘ John Hood and Taking The Short View’s Andrew Lewin look back over the latest series of Doctor Who and come to a shocking verdict…

Before it started to air, Steven Moffat promised that series 8 of Doctor Who would be completely unlike anything we’d seen before – and he wasn’t joking. Peter Capaldi’s mysterious, unpredictable and at times downright unlikeable portrayal of the titular Time Lord at times evoked Colin Baker’s tenure as the Sixth Doctor. While he didn’t actually try to throttle his companion this time around, the latest Doctor certainly threw enough caustic barbs at Clara Oswald to provoke some of the most memorably heated confrontations between the show’s stars that we’ve ever seen in 51 years of the programme’s history, while at the same time in Danny Pink’s character arc there was a hint of the redemption found by mercenary Lytton in 1985’s über-violent “Attack of the Cybermen”. The eighth series certainly proved full of dark themes, challenging subjects, black humour and genuinely frightening horror to an extent that the series has never before attempted, but it also aspired to moments of pure visual poetry and took time to indulge in the silliest of comedy romps along the way. No wonder that Capaldi’s first year in charge of the TARDIS has proved almost as divisive and controversial as Baker’s did in its day.

With a few weeks now elapsed since the shattering climax, and just before we board the TARDIS once again for the 2014 Christmas special, John and Andrew compare notes about each episode of series 8 in turn with the benefit of distance and hindsight, and then gird themselves to debate the big question of the year: was it a triumphant hit or a disastrous miss? You might be shocked by how it all turns out… 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 »

Dr Who S8 E8 “Mummy on the Orient Express” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the aired episode.

It’s been fascinating to see just how divided reaction has been so far to the new season of Doctor Who and indeed to the new incarnation of the Doctor. Many people love it and think it’s the best the show has been in years, but there’s also been a lot of very negative criticism even from long-standing hardcore fans who are just not liking what they’re seeing. In many ways I can understand what they’re going through, because I myself grew increasingly frustrated and restive with the stop-start, wildly variable season 7; however I’ve found season 8 a substantial return to form and one of the most consistently strong series of the show for many a year – and Peter Capaldi is wonderful.

drwho-mummyHarder for me to understand is the criticism I’ve seen for this week’s story, the indulgently-titled “Mummy on the Orient Express”. How could any Who fans really take against this one, given all its lovely grace notes to the series’ past? From the start, there’s Capaldi adopting garb very reminiscent of outfits memorably worn by both William Hartnell and Jon Pertwee back in their respective days; and he gets to channel his very best Tom Baker impression in a lovely interior monologue scene before going on to proffer jelly babies sublimely presented as delicacies laid out in their very own gold cigarette case. There’s also a fun ‘mystery shopper’ misfire for the psychic paper, which really hasn’t been seen enough of late. Overall the entire main storyline is intentionally suffused on many different levels with the spirit of one of the very best of the classic Who serials, “Pyramids of Mars,” even down to a very familiar-looking Sarcophagus in the boxcar. It also gives us Capaldi’s best performance yet as the Doctor, commanding and brilliant and clearly racked with self-doubt, yet also for once really quite charming.

Best of all, the titular Mummy was by no means the jokey presence that the punning title might have led us to believe. Instead it was properly scary both in its basic appearance and choreographed movement, and in the way the episode detailed its unstoppable attacks on the train passengers and crew. Rather like a ticking time bomb, the way that the stop-clock appeared on screen from its initial reappearance to count down to the victim’s inevitable death never failed to be scarily effective even with five repetitions, thanks to subtle new details of the attack being added each time – the most effective of which being when the Mummy walks right through a corporeal Doctor in its relentless pursuit of its intended prey. Read the rest of this entry »