steven moffat

Doctor Who S9E10 “Face The Raven”

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Contains major, MAJOR spoilers. Do not read if you haven’t already seen the episode. You have been warned!

drwho-raven-1And 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”

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Contains spoilers to keep you awake.

sleep-1Whatever 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”

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Contains spoilers, in duplicate

zygon-inversion-1As 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.

zygon-inversion-0When 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”

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Contains Spoilers in Duplicate

zygonA 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”

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Contains Spoilers

woman-who-died-1There 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”

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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 »

Doctor Who S9E4 “Before the Flood”

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There be spoilers here.

dr-who-flood-1“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”

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There be spoilers here.

lake-1The 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: “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 »

Doctor Who S8 E11/2 “Dark Water”/”Death in Heaven” (BBC One)

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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?’

death-in-heaven“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 »

Doctor Who S8 E10 “In The Forest Of The Night” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the aired episode.

I wasn’t able to watch the latest episode of Doctor Who as it went out live, but I certainly saw the aftermath break out on Twitter. On this admittedly limited sampling of viewer reaction I think it’s safe to say that “In The Forest Of The Night” wasn’t so much disliked as it was actively loathed with lashings of vitriol. It meant that when I finally came to watching the story I did so with some considerable trepidation, wondering what utter disaster I was about to experience.

forestStrangely enough, however, for at least 30 minutes this story actually worked for me – and rather well at that. I’ve written before about how I miss the days when the Doctor would just go wandering around a new world finding things to explore like he used to do on Skaro or Vortis during William Hartnell’s tenure; the modern series usually has no such time for such aimless meanderings and every second of every single scene now has to earn its place in the running time by being forced to carry highly condensed industrial quantities of plot exposition and character development. But not this week: during “In The Forest Of The Night” we finally had time to breathe, and it was rather pleasant – at least for a while.

The bizarre alien world that the Doctor and Clara were discovering and exploring was 21st century Earth, but it was unlike any incarnation of London we’ve ever seen before. If ever an episode of Doctor Who has been inspired by a single image, then it’s surely here with the vision of the modern metropolis completely overrun by trees and plants to the point where Trafalgar Square is a dense forest. It’s kind of the inverse to the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics which depicted England’s green and pleasant lands being torn asunder by sprouting industrial chimneys; here, the trees got their opportunity to take their revenge for that affront. Surely that link can’t be just a coincidence, since this week’s writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce was Danny Boyle’s collaborator for that seminal occasion. Overall it’s the kind of thrilling notion that sends a shiver of delight rather than of fear down your back at the thought, but the question is whether the episode can bridge from this striking imagery and successfully transition into an engrossing story, and the unfortunate answer in this case is … Not really. 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 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 »

Dr Who S8 E6 “The Caretaker” (BBC One)

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Contains some mild spoilers for the episode.

I confess, I really wasn’t looking forward to this episode of season eight of Doctor Who, mainly because it seemed it would be very much in the same vein as Gareth Roberts’ previous contributions to the show during Matt Smith’s tenure, “The Lodger” and “Closing Time.” Both of these had milked comedy from making the Doctor a fish of water in a contemporary urban setting – the first in a flat share, the latter by giving him a job in a department store. This weekend’s instalment seemed to offer a retread of much the same ground, with the Doctor this time having to assume the identity of a school caretaker, once again proving how incapable he is of going ‘undercover’ and remaining remotely inconspicuous in any normal setting.

caretakerAs a one-off concept in “The Lodger” this sort of thing worked perfectly well, giving Smith a chance to indulge in his most clownish comedy playing alongside James Corden and Daisy Haggard. While it avoided poking fun too directly at the show it was still too much Doctor Who: The Sitcom for my personal taste especially as the plot of the story was largely missing in action. The follow-up episode “Closing Time” tried to compensate for this by having a heavyweight threat in the form of the Cybermen, but that just resulted in the story going all over the place with lots of different influences pulling this way and that before a painfully mawkish and rushed ending. I was, therefore, resigned to “The Caretaker” continuing the downward trend and had little doubt that I would be writing a review that said “not my sort of thing, rather hated it, let’s hope for better next week.” Read the rest of this entry »

Doctor Who S8 E5 “Time Heist” (BBC One)

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Contains spoilers for the aired episode.

At last, an episode of Doctor Who series 8 that isn’t going to take a long, detailed treatise to review but can instead be covered succinctly and concisely in just a few paragraphs. That’s because “Time Heist”, the fifth outing for Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, foregoes the usual series arc connections and deep psychological insights and instead delivers purely and simply what it promises in the title: a rollicking bank heist adventure story, delivered with the appropriate timey-wimey layer of shenanigans to make the whole thing authentically Who.

duoFor reasons unknown even to himself, the Doctor and Clara (Jenna Coleman) have agreed to participate in a raid on the most secure bank in the universe along with two other individuals with unique talents, shapeshifter Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner) and tech-augmented hacker Psi (Broadchurch’s Jonathan Bailey). They’re pitted against the bank’s merciless director of security Miss Delphox (Line of Duty’s Keeley Hawes in deliciously icy villainess mode) who has at her disposal the services of The Teller, an alien telepath who can hunt down any guilty thoughts and then administer a quite shockingly gruesome punishment when called for. But the Doctor and his team themselves have help from someone who seems able to know exactly what tools to give them at any given moment in order to succeed… Read the rest of this entry »