Doctor Who S10E12 “The Doctor Falls” (BBC One)
Warning: contains MAJOR spoilers for aired episodes.
And so we reach the end of the tenth season of Doctor Who since its revival in 2005. This latest run of 12 episodes has simply flown past and it’s hard to believe that it’s already over. It seems no time at all since we were being introduced to Bill Potts and wondering who or what was in the vault being watched over night and day by the Doctor and his acerbic aide Nardole.
But all too soon we’ve come to the moment where we say our goodbyes to Bill, and Nardole, and even Missy. It’s not impossible that one or more of them might show up for a cameo in the Christmas special in six months time, but it seems unlikely. Their tales are told, for now at least, and the decks are being cleared for a new regime to come in and make itself at home. All that remains is one final contribution from Peter Capaldi and showrunner Steven Moffat, and then the curtain will come down for the last time on this particular era of the world’s longest running science fiction show.
So, did the season go out in style or with a whimper? Last week’s story “World Enough and Time” raised expectations sky high for the second part of the finale, and it’s rare for a two parter to sustain high quality across both outings. There was a real risk that “The Doctor Falls” would prove to be an anti-climax and leave us all feeling a little deflated. But fortunately that didn’t prove to be the case on this occasion, not by a long way, and we find ourselves going into the summer on an emotional high. Read the rest of this entry »
Doctor Who S10E11 “World Enough and Time” (BBC One)
Warning: contains MAJOR spoilers for the episode.
Is there a case to be made for Rachel Talalay being the best director to have ever worked on Doctor Who? With all due respect to the formidable talent that has been a part of the show over the years, I think there just might be. She’s primarily based in North America and has recently helmed episodes of the DC Television Universe (The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow), but those are high volume, quick turnover production lines – big budget, top quality to be sure – in which every instalment has to be stylistically in line with all the others. That’s not the case with Doctor Who, which actually positively thrives on the diversity of writing and direction of each individual story. It not only allows but positively encourages its creative talent to bring their own unique artistic sensibility to the production.
Small wonder then that Talalay is happy to keep crossing the Atlantic to work on our modest little family entertainment, where it seems she’s found something of a creative soul mate in show-runner Steven Moffat who has penned all seven of her Who outings (including the yet-to-be=filmed 2017 Christmas special). Likewise it’s clear that Moffat has come to see her as his go-to director, as he’s selected her to take charge of the final two-part stories of each of Peter Capaldi’s three seasons, arguably the most crucial episodes of the year. And Talalay has never dropped the ball once, with 2015’s “Heaven Sent” in particular one of the all-time best single episodes of Doctor Who in over five decades.
Invoking “Heaven Sent” sets an unrealistically high bar for this week’s latest episode, and it would be silly to expect “World Enough and Time” to match it. But my, does it come close. Even going into the episode with such outrageously raised expectations knowing it’s the latest Moffat/Talalay collaboration, it manages not to disappoint or underperform in any respect. Despite working with a budget that would probably barely cover cast and crew catering over in the DC TV Universe, and working on only four or five small scale sets with just six credited guest stars, Talalay manages to make the penultimate episode of season 10 feel big, bold and epic. She is able to pull out all the best aspects of Moffat’s scripts and ensure that the finished product has depth and class and significance. In fact, if I had to review “World Enough and Time” in a single word (and I’m sure long suffering readers of Taking The Short View wish I would!) then it would be: magnificent. Read the rest of this entry »
Doctor Who S10E10 “The Eaters of Light” (BBC One)
Contains spoilers for episodes aired to date.
When writing about “The Eaters of Light”, it is mandatory to start with a section about the writer of the story or else risk losing one’s Doctor Who reviewers union card. It’s not just because Rona Munro is an award-winning theatre playwright with three decades’ worth of success to her name, together with a number of television and radio projects. Rather, it’s her unique position within the history of Who itself. Some 28 years ago, she was the writer of the classic-era story “Survival”, the serial that inadvertently brought the curtain down on the original run of the show.
Needless to say, it wasn’t her fault that the show was cancelled (or more accurately, that the BBC simply never got around to ordering season 27). By the time “Survival” was being made, the writing was already firmly on the wall in permanent marker. However, for some 16 years thereafter, Munro had to live with the reputation of having penned the final nail in the coffin for the Doctor when it came to his television adventures. Fortunately the show finally regenerated in 2005 and against all odds came back to life, bigger and stronger and more successful than ever, and no one could have been happier at its renaissance than Munro herself who was and is a genuine Who fan then and now.
To have Munro return to write for the show in 2017 is another example of how the current season is looking to its past to find a new way of moving forward. I’ve commented in previous reviews of how the show is mixing in grace notes to the past in season 10: Susan’s framed picture on the Doctor’s desk in “The Pilot”, for example, or Ysanne Churchman’s credit at the end of last week’s “Empress of Mars“. Seeing Munro listed as the writer of “The Eaters of Light” is right up there in terms of misty-eyed nostalgia for Who fans of good standing, as she becomes the first (and obviously to date only) person to have written stories for both the Classic (20th century) and New (21st century) incarnations of the show. Read the rest of this entry »
Doctor Who S10E9 “Empress of Mars” (BBC One)
Contains spoilers for episodes aired to date.
If this is to be the final Doctor Who contribution of Mark Gatiss, as the writer himself has hinted, then at least he got to throw himself a fun and fitting farewell party in the form of this week’s episode “Empress of Mars”. While it’s normal for critics to say that no two Gatiss stories for the series are the same – and that’s still generally true, even about this latest offering – in this case it also feels like a medley of some of his greatest hits from over a decade of writing for the show.
I’m always a little wary of a Gatiss story, because they can go very badly wrong just as easily as they can be spectacular successes. The trailer for “Empress of Mars” with its comedic caricatures of 19th century British Empire army soldiers and cackling alien reptile queens made me fear this would be one of the former. Fortunately when it came to watching the episode I was swiftly reassured that actually it was trending more towards the the other end of the spectrum, albeit without ever really threatening to hit the heights of the deliciously arch “The Crimson Horror” from 2013. Read the rest of this entry »
Doctor Who S10E6 “Extremis” (BBC One)
Contains spoilers for aired episodes
The clue to this episode of Doctor Who is in the title: “Extremis” is expressly designed to push the series’ format to its limits. It’s outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat allowing himself once last burst of unrestrained fun, one final valedictory outing for the writer who has scrambled our brains time and again since he took over the show in 2010. As he says himself in the most recent edition of Doctor Who Magazine, “It was my last chance to bend this show to see how far you can go before it breaks. Forgive the indulgence.”
Whether you will forgive said indulgence or not depends on how much of a fan you are of the classic ‘timey-wimey’ Moffat style of writing. This is an episode that takes great delight in confounding and confusing the audience, just as Moffat regularly used to do in the likes of “The Impossible Astronaut”. You’ll be intrigued and irritated in turn, excited and exasperated almost at the same instant. Love it or hate it, the one thing you can’t be is indifferent.
I’ll certainly confess to being baffled by most of the episode, in which very little seems to be following any kind of logical narrative structure. Nor does Moffat exactly play fair with us, because even if you’re paying full attention it’s still absolutely impossible to work out what’s going on – at least not until the moment when Nardole (Matt Lucas) and Bill (Pearl Mackie) stumble across the portal hub, and Nardole discovers a certain lack of substance to his existence. After that things fall pretty quickly into place – fortunately, as there’s only about five minutes left to run at this point – and after all the teasing baffling build-up it has to be said that my reaction to the big reveal was: “Oh. Is that it?” Read the rest of this entry »
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 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 »
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 »
Doctor Who S8 E11/2 “Dark Water”/”Death in Heaven” (BBC One)
Contains complete spoilers for the episodes, and for the season.
It’s genuinely hard to know what to say about the two-part season finale that concluded series 8 of Doctor Who this week. It was the most extraordinary, compelling and unique 75 minutes of television I think I have ever seen. But if you ask me whether I enjoyed it, I’d have to say: ‘I’m not sure. Was I actually supposed to?’
“Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” were not enjoyable in the sense that, say, 2008’s “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End” had been. That David Tennant story was practically a celebration of all that the modern rebooted series had been up to that point, and it was intoxicatingly uplifting and rousing. By contrast, the final two episodes of Peter Capaldi’s first season in the Tardis could scarcely have been more different: a dark and sombre meditation on some of the most difficult and profound issues pertaining to the human condition, there were no happy endings here and the ultimate feelings it engendered were bleakness and melancholia. The abyss hadn’t just looked back into you, it felt like it had signed a long term lease, moved in and redecorated the walls in the blackest of black for good measure.
I said a few weeks ago that “Kill The Moon”‘s foray into full-blown Alien-esque horror refuted the argument that Doctor Who was just a kids’s programme any more, but the season finale took the show so far out of its children’s/family background that it was more akin to a classical and/or religious epic quest story such as Homer’s “Odyssey” or Dante’s “Inferno” or even Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. (I’m joking with the comparison: obviously, Moffat is by far the better writer of the quartet!) It gave us a deep examination of death and loss, of love and hate, of grief and despair, of the nature of true friendship, of truth and lies, and ultimately the question of good and evil as the show finally answered the question that the Doctor had asked three months ago in “Deep Breath” when the Time Lord had wanted Clara to tell him whether or not he was a good man. Read the rest of this entry »