I’m a big fan of the work of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, but I confess that I was a little wary of their new take on the Dracula story. The trailers for the new three-part serial made it seem rather knowingly camp and full of quips, which didn’t appeal to me at all. And I wasn’t at all sure about the casting of Danish actor Claes Bang in the title role.
It turns out that I needn’t have worried. Moffat and Gatiss know exactly what they’re doing and stir in a rich mix of jet black horror into the well known tale of the Transylvanian aristocrat, keeping enough of the original source material while at the same time giving it an energising new approach to bring it alive for a new generation of viewers.
The first episode, which aired on BBC One on New Year’s Day, concentrated on the story of solicitor Jonathan Harker who travels to Count Dracula’s castle in order to conclude a property transaction only to find himself a prisoner, his life draining away while his elderly host (strongly evoking Gary Oldman’s 1992 take on the role) gets younger and more virile by the day. The first hour is surprisingly faithful to the equivalent early sections of the book, setting up the familiar (and not so familiar) rules by which vampires operate. However it does have to navigate through a century of contrary lore so some changes are inevitable – for example, the literary Dracula had no problem being in sunlight. And while this Dracula clearly has an issue with crucifixes and symbols of religious faith, he teases us by saying it’s not what we think it is – suggesting a series arc and a big reveal to come in part three.,
By sticking with this one story instead of jumping around as Bram Stoker did only enhanced the growing claustrophobia and terror. Moffat and Stoker respect the epistolic nature of the novel by having Harker relate his story to Sister Agatha, a nun at a convent in Hungary played by Dolly Wells. It’s only in the final half hour that the show starts to go in a new and original direction with big revelations about both Harker and Sister Agatha that will catch out anyone who thinks they know the story.
Yes, this Dracula is a little camp and comes up some eye rolling quips (although Sister Agatha is a match for him in terms of getting the laughs) but given how full-on the horror is elsewhere the light touches are a welcome variation in tone that work far better than I’d expected and/or feared. While still a little too louche for my liking, there’s no question that Bang assuredly delivers the big bucks in the main role. In the end I was quite taken by the first part and very much looking forward to the second, which airs tonight with the finale on Friday.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Dracula is airing in three 90-minutes episodes on BBC One on January 1-3 2020. It will be available after transmission on BBC iPlayer and is a co-production with Netflix.
Contains spoilers for the 2017 Christmas special
The Twelfth Doctor has left the building. And in a passing of the flame ceremony not seen since New Years Day 2010, we also say farewell to much of the creative talent that had been driving Doctor Who forward for the last seven years, including series star Peter Capaldi, regular contributor Mark Gatiss, composer Murray Gold (or so it’s rumoured) and last but by no means least showrunner and main writer Steven Moffat.
They sign off with “Twice Upon A Time”, which is a love letter from them to the series itself. As well as characteristically outstanding direction from Rachel Talalay, it features performances of the highest order from Capaldi and Gatiss, from Pearl Mackie as companion Bill Potts, and especially from David Bradley as the First Doctor who was originally played by William Hartnell and who briefly returns here in archive footage from 1966. It’s also an example of Moffat’s writing at its highest quality, providing a thoughtful character-driven drama that delivers a perfect Christmas message while signing off an era of the show and clearing the decks for what’s to follow in Autumn 2018. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
Contains spoilers for episodes aired to date.
Something that’s surprised me about season 10 – but which I haven’t wanted to keep labouring repeatedly every week – is just how political this run of Doctor Who stories has been. Of course, the show had its activist periods in the classic era of the show thanks to writers and producers such as Malcolm Hulke, Barry Letts, Robert Holmes and Robert Banks Stewart, but generally speaking the 21st century incarnation has shied away from being too obviously message-led. It’s what made the 2015 Zygon two parters (overtly about immigration and terrorism) so shocking at the time.
But this year’s stories have seemed increasingly issue-led. It started softly enough with “Smile” in which people were not allowed to be unhappy, on pain of death. Then we had Sarah Dollard’s restrained and nuanced critique of capitalism and slavery in “Thin Ice”, which – after an innocuous haunted house hiatus – fed directly into Jamie Mathieson’s far more vitriolic “Oxygen” which covered similar ground albeit with the volume turned up to 11. But the political aspect really got into gear with the Monk Trilogy that started with Steven Moffat’s “Extremis”, in which – amid sharp meditations about life, death, faith and truth – there was the suggestion that something has gone very wrong with today’s world at a deep conceptual level. It echoed real modern angst fuelled by the fact that even experts, pundits and opinion polls can no longer understand or predict the world around them. After that “The Pyramid at the End of the World” from Moffat and Peter Harness provided a clear study on the meditation of power – of how ruling by fear and oppression is inefficient if you can obtain consent and thereby rule by some form of love or at least gratitude for preventing global apocalypse. And now the latest episode, “The Lie of the Land”, brings in the current phenomenon of “fake news” and links it with the propaganda and newsspeak envisaged by George Orwell in 1984 to illustrate how fragile concepts like free will and democracy are under such malign influences. It’s something we’re seeing play out on newspaper front pages and on social media every day. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers for episodes aired to date.
With “The Pyramid at the End of the World”, Doctor Who returns to one of its less-familiar genres. It’s a global techno-thriller in which the end of the world is nigh, only nobody knows exactly which one of several dozen apocalyptic scenarios is actually in play. The only group that does are the mysterious Monks introduced in last week’s episode, but who this week step out of the shadows and emerge in the glaring light of day to offer to save humanity – if we ask them to. And for an ill-defined price in return. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Contains some spoilers for the episode
It must take a huge sense of self-confidence and belief to be the show-runner of a huge international series like Doctor Who, to the point of hubris and arrogance. That’s not a criticism – I just don’t see how anyone could do the job otherwise. Part of that mindset must include never fully accepting when you’ve made a mistake – or at least, not one that you can’t rectify down the line.
Back in season 8, Steven Moffat picked children’s novelist Frank Cottrell-Boyce (of London 2012 opening ceremony fame) to write an episode for Doctor Who. The end result – “In the Forest of the Night” – sharply divided both fans and critics, and was the least popular story of that run. Personally I liked the episode somewhat better than most people seemed to and found its change of pace refreshing, but even so I can’t say I was clamouring for more of the same anytime soon.
But Moffat sticks to his guns, and Cottrell-Boyce gets a second bite of the Who apple with this week’s episode “Smile”. This sophomore effort shows that the writer has worked hard to address the criticisms of his maiden outing and in some areas is much improved, while other aspects show much the same hallmarks of Cottrell-Boyce’s work – for both good and ill. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains some spoilers for the episode
It wasn’t until the opening credits rolled on Saturday’s brand new series of Doctor Who that it was fully brought home to me just how long it’s been since we’ve had a proper first-run episode to savour, Christmas specials notwithstanding. It’s been more than 16 months since the end of series nine – already the travels of the Doctor and Clara seem like they belong to a completely different era of the show.
Clara’s extended tenancy in the Tardis also means that it’s been four and a half years since we last had the pleasure of being introduced to a new companion. In that time we’ve celebrated the 50th anniversary of the show, seen one Doctor bow out and another take over who himself is already about to move on. Fond as I was of Jenna Coleman, that’s probably too long a period than is entirely good for the show: while the Doctor might regenerate from time to time he’s still the same character, and these days it’s the companion who offers the best opportunity for the production team to refresh the show from the ground up with new blood.
Given that series star Peter Capaldi and showrunner Steven Moffat are both moving on after the current run, they would have been forgiven if they’d simply opted to just coast to the finish line on auto-pilot, before handing things over to Chris Chibnall who will do his own thing in 2018. But that’s not their way; revitalised by the lengthy interval between seasons, Moffat throws himself into this latest reinvention with the enthusiasm of a three-day-old puppy playing with a new favourite toy rather than the jaded 55-year-old who’s been grinding away at this every day for almost eight years now. It’s not the first time he’s reimagined the show: he transformed it into a charming fairy tale with Matt Smith’s first season, before going for a more hard-edged science fiction approach with convoluted time travel plots that continually tested the audience’s ability to keep up. He reinvented the show once more when Capaldi took over the role by daring to be darker, and played with the format again with more two-parters in 2015 than ever before. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains some spoilers
With the singular exception of Doctor Who I tend not to write more than one post on any given television show per season, unless something occurs that significantly changes my initial take on it, so I hadn’t intended to contribute any more thoughts about the latest series of Sherlock following my review of the New Year’s Day episode. But since it appears that this might be the very last we see of the Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss incarnation of the consulting detective, an exception seemed called for in order for us to take one final look at the whole of season 4.
As regular readers might recall, I rather enjoyed “The Six Thatchers” which was the first of this run of three episodes, although some were put off by the Bond/Bourne overtures and pined for the time when the show ‘just solved mysteries’ (which was never the point of Sherlock.) I did however grumble about the final 20 minutes which seemed clunky and mis-paced after what had gone before. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been exactly a year since Doctor Who‘s most recent new adventure, and so the anticipation ahead of the 2016 Christmas special was sky high. When “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” finally arrived on Christmas Day, it quickly turned out that – not for the first time – the show has wrong-footed us and that it isn’t the episode we might have thought that we had been expecting and in some cases dreading: Doctor Who has moved on. And that’s a good thing.
In the past, showrunner Steven Moffat has delivered some of the most Christmassy of Christmas specials imaginable, from 2010’s “A Christmas Carol” to 2011’s “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”, 2012’s “The Snowmen” and 2014’s “Last Christmas”. By comparison, last year’s “The Husbands of River Song” was somewhat light on the Christmas trappings, and this year’s story goes even further with only a brief prologue at the start being set on Christmas Eve. Even then it’s only so that eight-year-old Grant Gordon (Logan Huffman) can understandably mistake the ‘old guy’ hanging upside down outside his New York apartment block window 60 floors up in the air for Santa Claus. After that however you’ll look in vain for any festive feels. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
I 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 »
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 »
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 »