Home, the long way round: Doctor Who Series 9
Generation Star Wars‘ John Hood and Taking The Short View‘s Andrew Lewin take their customary look back over the latest series of Doctor Who.
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 »
Doctor Who S9E12 “Hell Bent”
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 »
Doctor Who S9E11 “Heaven Sent”
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 »
Doctor Who S9E10 “Face The Raven”
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 »
Doctor Who S9E9 “Sleep No More”
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 »
Doctor Who S9E8 “The Zygon Inversion”
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 »
Doctor Who S9E7 “The Zygon Invasion”
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 »
Doctor Who S9E6 “The Woman Who Lived”
There was someone odd, almost off-kilter about this week’s episode of Doctor Who right from the start. As soon as the Doctor’s head poked out of the Tardis door and wasn’t immediately followed by any sign of Clara, it was clear that was something fundamentally different about “The Woman Who Lived.”
Of course the show strives to be different almost every week – it’s why I end up doing a review of every episode while virtually every other show on TV can be sufficiently covered in a single post. That variation has been particularly apparent under showrunner Steven Moffatt who delights in confounding expectations and coming up with new things with which to tease and titillate the viewers, whether it’s new variations on old themes like “Under the Lake” or ostentatiously radical reinventions like “In The Forest Of The Night”. Some work and some don’t, but it’s never dull or boring and the same was true of the entirely off-the-beaten-track diversion this week. Read the rest of this entry »
Doctor Who S9E5 “The Girl Who Died”
Contains spoilers for the aired episode.
I 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 »
Doctor Who S9E4 “Before the Flood”
There be spoilers here.
“Before the Flood” is the clearest evidence yet of a new approach to Doctor Who being steered by showrunner Steven Moffat, and in particular a rather radical new way of handling two parters. Traditionally such stories are essentially one continuous narrative told with a cliffhanger at the midpoint after which the second part of the story resumes much as it did in the first half. However, that’s not satisfyingly innovative enough for Moffat, and he evidently has a different plan in mind for this year’s stories more along the lines of how he constructed “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang” in 2010.
While there is obviously strong continuity in terms of plot and characters between “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood”, at times they seem like they’re telling two different stories which just happen to overlap to create an overall third tale. Where the first story was very much a tense and claustrophobic base-under-siege horror story that included a mystery and a meditation on life after death, “Before the Flood” has a very different feel with an eerie 1980s ghost town and a timey-wimey science fiction temporal paradox to get one’s head around. The danger is that opening out the narrative like this might dissipate some of the earlier tension successfully generated from being trapped in the undersea base, but the good news is that this didn’t happen at all – for me at least – and the story remains commendably gripping for almost all if its running time. Read the rest of this entry »
Doctor Who S9E3 “Under the Lake”
There be spoilers here.
The problem with starting a season off with a huge blockbuster like “The Magician’s Apprentice”/”The Witches Familiar” is that anything that comes after it is liable to look rather pale by comparison. No matter how good it is, it will simply come across as second best and a bit of a dip after the highs of the season opener.
That can especially be the case when after the startling originality and vaulting ambition of the first two-parter, you instead take a step back as it were and have a story that is altogether more from the mainstream and whose primary ambition is just to thrill and scare you and most of simply to entertain the viewers – even if it means to do so by borrowing some of the show’s most familiar tropes as a warm and reassuring security blanket in the process. Read the rest of this entry »
Doctor Who S9E2 “The Witch’s Familiar”
Spoilers. Big Ones. Right from the start.
As feared, I’ve been too inundated with work to sit down and tap out any thoughts about the second episode of Doctor Who on Saturday, although I did at least get to watch it live at the time which was rather more than I’d hoped for. There seems little point in going into too much detail this long after the fact – I’m sure you’ve already read dozens of review pieces about “The Witch’s Familiar” by now and are hardly slathering over the prospect of another – so I’ll keep this relatively short. And when I say ‘relatively’, long-time Taking The Short View readers can feel free to smirk.
If you cast your mind back, you’ll recall that my main churlish complaints about the season opener were that for all its fan-pleasing treats, the episode was overly reliant on several old tropes and in particular lacked substance under all the tricks. Given that the follow-up episode was completely the reverse of that – taking risks and doing things the show has never done before, and overall stuffed to the gills with genuine substance with remarkably few mere ‘frills’ – you’d think I’d come away from this one feeling really happy and praising it to the skies as one of the best episodes of recent years.
Actually I’m going to praise it not just as one of the greatest episodes of Doctor Who of all time, but as one of the most superlative pieces of TV drama I think I’ve ever seen. Full stop. Read the rest of this entry »
Doctor Who S9E1 “The Magician’s Apprentice”
Spoilers. Big Ones. Right from the start.
It’s strange, but I knew exactly where “The Magician’s Apprentice” was going less than 30 seconds after it began. And I mean exactly.
As soon as I saw soldiers fleeing over the smoke-wreathed battlefield and the eclectic mix of technologies (WW1 biplanes, bows and arrows, laser blasters) I thought ‘Skaro’. And the minute the young boy came into focus I knew what his name was before he gave it. And I was also pretty certain that we were heading for an exploration of a seminal bit of dialogue from the classic “Genesis of the Daleks”, the one in which Tom Baker’s Doctor asks Sarah Jane (Elizabeth Sladen) what she would do if she travelled back in time and met an evil dictator – Hitler, say – when he was just a small boy. Would she be justified in killing him before he could commit his heinous crimes, even though he’s just an innocent, blameless child? Sure enough the exchange was not only implicitly evoked but eventually explicitly shown.
I don’t know how or why I was able to instantly jump to this revelation. I had stayed absolutely clear of spoilers, save for the fact that the Daleks themselves were back – and that was hard to avoid given that they were out and about, doing station announcements on the London Underground as part of the PR blitz leading up to the first episode of season 9 of Doctor Who. While you could argue that Daleks immediately suggest Skaro, in fact the Daleks’ home world has only featured once – and just briefly – in the rebooted TV series to date. Similarly. while Davros might appear to be an easy leap to make, the creator of the Daleks actually hasn’t been in the show for seven years, not since he encountered the Tenth Doctor in “Journey’s End” during the Russell T Davies era. In the circumstances therefore, I don’t think my sudden flashforward leap was quite as obvious as it might have initially appeared. But it was made, and that’s all there is to is, and with it comes a bit of a problem. Read the rest of this entry »
Doctor Who: “Last Christmas” (2014)
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 »
Am I a Good Man? A look back at Doctor Who Series 8
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 »