Paul Wilmshurst

Doctor Who: “Last Christmas” (2014)

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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 »

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 »

Dr Who S8 E7 “Kill The Moon” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the episode.

If in the future anyone ever insists on describing Doctor Who as just a children’s show, sit them down to watch the first half of “Kill The Moon” and then stop the DVD, turn to them, peel the cushion off their face that they’ve been hiding behind, and ask them if they still think that.

killthemoonBecause blimey, Charlie – that first 20 minutes on the moon was quite something. Fans (myself included) who’ve wanted the show to return to the darker, grimmer, horror-inflected days of Philip Hinchcliffe-produced 1970s Who not only got what what we asked for but had even us saying ‘Whoa, wait a minute, let’s back it down a few notches here!’ It’s a good job that the show aired so late (8.30pm) – as it is, if it had had even longer to establish the incredibly creepy and threatening setting any further than it did, even the watershed mightn’t have been enough to stave off a flood of angry letters from viewers worried why their children turned out all traumatised on Sunday morning.

It’s not the first time that giant spiders have turned up on Doctor Who of course – I still have fond (if that’s the right word) memories of the antagonists of “Planet of the Spiders” who did for Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in 1974. But back then we knew that the spiders weren’t real because the FX were ever so slightly crap, which was a relief. Not the case in “Kill The Moon” however, where – thanks to some incredibly sharp and precise direction from Paul Wilmshurst – everything appeared terrifyingly real, enhanced by some of Murray Gold’s best incidental music for the show in many a long year. Also to be highly commended is the way that the show reproduced the surface of the Moon via a combination of location shooting in Lanzarote and some digital decolourisation and grading to make it suitably lunar-hued. I would honestly say I’ve never seen the Moon look better on screen in any TV show or film, even 2001. It certainly knocked that studio set they used to mock up the Apollo 11 landings into a cocked hat. (Kidding!) Read the rest of this entry »