Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Face The Raven - Review

Let's set aside the final 5 minutes or so for now, and look at the rest of this week's episode. because if it hadn't been for that shocking conclusion how would this story have stood up?
A interesting premise was the idea of the Trap Streets. It is one of those things that are hard to retro-fit into the series, however. We now that this particular street has been in existence for at least a century - so does that mean UNIT and Torchwood knew about it? How many more are there on Earth? Did the Third Doctor visit any whilst he was exiled on Earth, or are they something he has only recently discovered?
The mix of aliens was a bit arbitrary - it felt like they simply used whatever costumes came to hand. Can't really see either Cybermen or Sontarans in a refugee camp.
The basic plot, up until we learned that Ashildr was up to something, was a murder mystery. Obviously Rigsy isn't the sort of person who would kill a defenseless woman - alien or otherwise - so it looked as if the Doctor was going to have to find out who really did it. Except we didn't have that many obvious culprits, and I could see by the clock that they were rapidly running out of time to develop this as a credible plot.
I had also guessed that this was where Clara was going to cop it. Which brings us to what this episode is always going to be remembered for.
We've had companion deaths before - two in the same Hartnell story and one in Davison's tenure. The death of Rory in the Silurian two-parter was spoiled by the release of a photo from the series finale in which he appeared - and Moffat went on to totally destroy Death as a threat throughout the Matt Smith period.
Now, we know that we haven't seen the last of Jenna Coleman in the series - one look at the cover of the current DWM will testify to that. I would be very upset if Clara's death was undermined by some cop-out explanation that she is alive and well somewhere. Her departure has already been set up then compromised twice before.
No offence, but I hope she really is deaded this time.

With those three previous deaths in the series, the Doctor never got a proper chance to say any kind of good-bye. This time, Clara was able to say what needed to be said to the Doctor - look after yourself and don't take revenge, basically.
I think the thing that shocked me most about her death - not being surprised that it was actually going to happen as I have said - was the fact that it hurt. Clara is clearly in pain after the Raven flies into her, and for a prolonged period thanks to the slo-mo. This wasn't some sanitised Sci-Fi death at all. All of Missy's victims get obliterated in a fraction of a second for instance.
It wasn't a quick death, and she had very little time to prepare for it. I am not surprised that it has upset a lot of younger viewers.
The episode ended on a cliffhanger, with the Doctor teleported off to who knows where. We know that it is going to be some big mechanical castle, with a creature called the Veil, but who is behind this and why? Who was Ashildr working for?
The obvious culprits are Davros and the Daleks. The former did want to get his hand on the Doctor's Confession Dial after all. The whole Dalek / Time Lord hybrid thing is still to be resolved.
Then there are the Time Lords themselves. Look closely at that photo of Ohila in the latest DWM and you'll see she is in the presence of Time Lords. If the Doctor is somehow responsible for bringing the Hybrid about, could his own people be out to stop him? Sounds like the sort of thing Rassilon might do. Anyone know if Timothy Dalton has been in Cardiff earlier this year?

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

tardismusings - on hiatus

Nothing to do with Michael Grade, and no, there won't be any charity single coming out in the next week you'll be very pleased to hear. The Sun newspaper won't be able to claim that it was all due to them that this blog will be bouncing back on Wednesday 25th November.
Am taking a little break to visit the old country - assuming it hasn't been blown away by the gales or submerged by the rain.
This does mean that I shan't be posting my review for what promises to be a pivotal episode on Saturday night until I come back. I think we can all see what is coming in Face The Raven, can't we?
Also coming next week will be the TARDIS Travels for the first half of the current series, and we finally get to take a look at the first part of Trial of a Time Lord.
See you next week.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Season 23 - Not! Part Deux.

One last thing to look at before we get to Season 23 proper - The Trial of a Time Lord.
Last time, we looked at what we didn't get, with the abandoned story-lines. What the "Hiatus" did deliver was a solitary radio story - "Slipback" - and a rather embarrassing charidee single.
"Slipback" was written by script editor Eric Saward, and was broadcast in small chunks on BBC Radio 4 during a children's programme slot called Pirate Radio 4.
6 x 10 minute episodes were broadcast between 25th July and 8th August, 1985.
The plot, in a nutshell, sees the Doctor and Peri arrive on a spaceship called the Vipod Mor. There is a mad computer, and a captain who likes to spread the many diseases he suffers from. The story then has the ship going back in time to create the Big Bang - flatly contradicting the events of Terminus, which the writer had script edited only a couple of years before.
The captain - Slarn - was played by Valentine Dyall (the Black Guardian). Dyall sadly passed away two weeks after recording.
As the only new Who for a while, the story got a DWM cover (probably the most boring in its history).

It is an inconsequential little piece, with some rather juvenile humour. Saward novelised it, and it has subsequently been released on audio tape and CD. A few years ago, it was given away as a freebie by The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

The mid-eighties were the time of the charity single - inspired by Live Aid. Miscellaneous musoes would get together and sing a catchy number for a particular charity or to raise awareness for some issue. The Who effort was the brainchild of fan-adviser Ian Levine. Musically, his big thing was Northern Soul, which he still promotes, but he was also closely involved in the club scene (e.g. London's Heaven).
The single - Doctor-In-Distress - brought together a whole load of music people you didn't know then, and certainly don't know now, plus actors associated with the show - Baker and Bryant obviously, plus Courtney, Ainley and Faith Brown (who had appeared in Season 22).
You can hear - and see - it in all its horrific glory on the Trial DVD box set.
Some choice lyrical snippets:

"Eighteen months is too long to wait,
Bring back the Doctor don't hesitate..."

"There were evil metal creatures
who tried to exterminate,
Inside each of their casings
a bubbling lump of hate"

And best (worst) of all:

"There was a Brigadier and a Master
and a canine computer.
Each screaming girl just hoped
that a Yeti wouldn't shoot her..."

Cole Porter would have killed for lyrics like those. I think not...

Monday, 16 November 2015

55 Minutes of Heaven

Just read that the penultimate episode of Series 9 - Heaven Sent - is going to be a whole 55 minutes long. The villain / monster of this piece - which is a solo outing for Peter Capaldi's Doctor - is The Veil. It will be played by Jami Reid-Quarrell, who we previously saw as Colony Sarff.
Trying to work out what this year's finale might be about has been a bit of a nightmare. Images from the last episode feature a 1950's style diner. The keyword for the season has been "hybrid".
We know Clara is going, and there is still that Confession Dial to be addressed. I'll be very surprised if we don't get another appearance from Missy. This week's episode might shed light on Ashildr's fate. We know that River is back for the Christmas Special - so maybe a cameo in the same way that Nick Frost appeared last year?
There was an interesting thing in last month's DWM, where the interviewer of costume designer Ray Holman was shown a sketch of a costume from this episode. He mentions a gaunt male figure and asks "But isn't that...?". Obviously implies that someone we have seen before is coming back...

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Sleep No More - Review

Had to watch last night's episode a second time this evening before posting about it. Wasn't entirely sure about it on the first viewing. At heart, it is very much a classic base-under-siege tale - much favoured in the Troughton era. The Doctor even had the "When I say run..." line, which I'm sure was deliberate.
What was different was the way in which the story was presented - entirely assembled from found footage. These were mostly the rescue troopers' helmet cameras - which just happened to film everything exactly like a HD camera would, which was convenient. Then there were the space station's CCTV cameras - until we found out that it didn't have any...
Generally, I run a mile from found-footage movies. They are usually cheap horror films. Two big problems I have are (a) the footage is usually very shaky and you can't tell what the heck is going on - and it gives me a headache, and (b) people film things that they simply never would. Take what wasn't a cheap horror movie - the big (and brainless) Sci-Fi blockbuster Cloverfield. It loses all credibility when you find someone filming when a real person never would. (The chase through the subway tunnel is a prime example). And of course added to this is the fact that no camcorder known to Humankind has batteries that last that long.
Fortunately my two gripes were not present. Not much shaky-cam and what we saw made sense in the context of the story. I must admit that I took Rassmussen's advice and did watch closely - so picked up on the fact that we were seeing some images from the camera-less Clara's point of view straight away.

The monsters - Sandmen - were well enough realised but a bit generic lumpy aliens. The idea that they are made from sleep-gunge is certainly novel. Rassmussen's plan at first seemed to have a touch of the Vervoids about it - highly infectious spores needing to be stopped from reaching a populated planet. Then everything changed in the closing moments and we were led to believe that we couldn't trust what we had just witnessed - and it was all about the footage itself that contained the danger.
As huge fans of the portmanteau horror movies, Gatiss and Shearsmith love things with a twist in the tail. Just watch any episode of Shearsmith & Pemberton's excellent No.9. (I cried my eyes out at the end of the Sheridan Smith / Tom Riley episode in season 2).
How significant was it that the Doctor's last line was "Nothing about this makes any sense..."?

At the Festival on Friday, Mark Gatiss mentioned how great Doctor Who was for being able to cover topical issues without the need of a sledgehammer. This story had things to say about privatisation and hence capitalism - with the whole Morpheus thing being about getting more work out of people by reducing their need for a good 8 hours kip. (Shades of The Sunmakers?) There have been stories for years about workers in the financial industry being pressured to work every hour god sends - which has driven some to suicide and breakdown. The topicality of the Zygon episodes was also mentioned. Who would have known that the dreadful scenes from Paris would be broadcast worldwide just a few hours later... Like I said back in that first Zygon episode review, if you'll pardon the digression, "terrorist" and "asylum-seeker" are not interchangeable phrases. Sadly, I suspect a lot of people won't grasp that over the coming days and weeks. Je suis Paris.

Reece Shearsmith nicely underplayed the mad scientist. No Prof Zaroff histrionics here. Poor Bethany Black was saddled with a bit of a thankless role as the clone-grunt 474. Neet Mohan's Chopra was pretty.

For the first time in the show's history there were no opening titles. The continuity announcer on BBC1 mentioned that the story had been written by Mark Gatiss. Writers don't usually get an on screen mention before the programme starts, so this was obviously designed to take the lack of titles into account.
Where they would have been we had a screen full of letters and numbers. Clara Oswald's name jumped out. It was only when I froze this that I noticed "Doctor Who" written down the middle of the screen like an acrostic, in slightly brighter lettering.
The story title and writer credit were put in during the end credits.
I loved the reference to the naming of the Silurians - an old fan bugbear. Perhaps the Doctor's "Dustmen" might catch on. There may be a sequel where we see they have spaceships shaped like bin lorries. (For the benefit of non-UK readers, dustmen are garbage collectors).
Also liked them addressing the thing about sticking the word "Space" in front of things to make them sound more futuristic. Fortunately Doctor Who hasn't been too guilty of this over the years, but I do recall a reference once to "Space Medicine". Certainly there have never been any "Space Hats".
I came away from the second viewing much happier - it is one of those stories that demands more than one watching. If only to see Chopra again. Chopra pretty.

Chopra. Pretty - until he got dusted.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Doctor Who Festival 2015

Just spent a fantastic day at the ExCel Centre in London's Docklands, attending the first day of the Doctor Who Festival.
I was in the Cyberman stream. Got there around 9.20am. Fairly easy journey from where I live - just over an hour and only one change (from the Overground to the DLR).
A few cosplayers in evidence even before I went into the venue. A very good 4th Doctor, loads of Osgoods, a Davros and a couple of 12th Doctors - going for the red velvet coat look (see next week's episode) and talcum powder in the hair. Not a shortage of fezzes either.
We were all given a handy little guide which had a map plus an itinerary - and the all-important lanyard that let you get in and out.

Things kicked off at 10am in the main hall with a 45 minute panel looking at the work of Millennium FX. Kate Walsh from the company, who you will now know well from the last two issues of DWM, and Mark Gatiss were on the panel - he to talk about how monsters and aliens are created in the mind of the writer, and she to say something of how they are realised physically on screen. As well as an appearance from a Mire, we also got to see a sneak preview of the Sandman from Mark's next episode, which airs this weekend. The clips seen so far imply that it will only be glimpsed and not dwelt upon, but today I got to see it in its full glory.
Mark came up with an idea for a new monster, and two of Kate's team had just half an hour to devise something that fitted his description. I'm glad to say that the more old-fashioned 2-D artist's effort got a bigger vote than the 3-D artist's one.
Next up, I was lucky enough to have bagged a photo-op with Peter Capaldi himself (they sold out pretty quick). My Facebook fans will have seen the result. Yes, I opted for the Pertwee pointing pose. (Surprisingly not many did today). Turns out Peter's cousin comes from my home town. Yes - you do get the chance to have a quick chat at these events.

Mire components - incredibly light-weight actually.
I only had a small opportunity to visit the main hall afterwards, as I had another photo-op booked with Mark Gatiss. (We should have checked with each other beforehand, because we were both wearing plaid shirts - which probably wrecked the camera). This was just to get the lie of the land for a more leisurely look round either side of lunch. On the opposite side of the venue from the hall where the panels were taking place we had the main hall. One area was devoted to talks by the visual effects crew - yes, Danny Hargreaves was blowing things up - as well as the computer animation gang.
There were about a dozen merchandising stalls - selling everything from life-size Daleks and exact replicas of Doctor costumes, to figurines and magazines. DWM was there. Big Finish was there. Forbidden Planet, Sci-Fi Collector, Underground Toys...
I had lunch in the Fanzone area, where there was a running Who quiz going on all day. I didn't take part - for fear of causing young children to burst into tears when I won. I am nothing except caring - and modest.

It wasn't all merchandising. There was a recreation of Davros' infirmary from this year's opening two-parter to explore for a start. We also had a Drama Workshop section, a Production section (laid out like the Viking hall from another recent story - with Odin's costume on display and the wooden dragon prop close by).

Two sections I did linger in were the prosthetics and costumes departments - as the following pictures will demonstrate.

The thing was - you actually got to prod them. They weren't stuck behind a glass case or a "Do Not Touch" sign. We were encouraged to touch and try things on. 
I must admit - I squeezed Davros' Nose.

After lunch, my first panel was the writer's one. Hosted by the excellent Matthew Sweet, the panel comprised Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Catherine Treganna. It included a (very brief) exclusive preview clip from Sleep No More. Interestingly Sweet read out an earlier draft to the conclusion of her episode - just to show how much changes during the writing process. (Ashildr would have had descendants - one of whom would have featured in this, and Leandro would have appeared human throughout - only becoming lion-ish at the very end).

Next panel was the hugely entertaining "Meet The Cast" one - Peter Capaldi, Michelle Gomez, and Ingrid Oliver - hosted by Toby Hadoke. Just one example of a question - a lady from Belgium wanted to let her know that she wasn't at all offended, but did want to know if Michelle would ever consider dropping a plane on to any other country (Death In Heaven having featured Missy intending to drop the Doctor's plane on that country...). Michelle referred the matter up to her boss - Mr Moffat. As always with these things, the best and cleverest questions came from the youngest attendees - of whom I'm glad to say there were many. (This became a bit of a running gag throughout all the panels - as today was supposed to be a school day, and parents in the UK get fined if their kids don't show up. Doctor Who is worth a fine - and a two-fingered gesture towards the unimaginative plodders who now run our schools).
After these two panels, I had another photo-op - with Michelle Gomez. My goodness, but she is a very funny person all the time. I think every one of us got a different expression from her and she just did what she wanted for each photo. I fully intended my pic with Peter to be my new Facebook profile picture, but the one with Missy is the better one. We did the Masterly back to back to pose, in case you're wondering.
Some other pics coming up - costumes this time...

Ohila of the Sisterhood of Karn
Didn't I see this bloke in "Count Arthur Strong" as well...?
Actually, that last bloke (who did indeed feature in an episode of Count Arthur Strong - as the Count has paid me to mention....) was made by the prosthetics team. But talking of costumes brings me to my last session for today - the cosplayers competition. 
There were three groups, based on age. This was presented by Kristal - she of the very popular You Tube video-blogs. The under-10's section was won by a very shy little boy called Bertie, who appeared as the 12th Doctor replete with sonic shades and guitar. The teen section was won by a young lady who had made a very nice (but a bit too green) Silurian mask, and the adult winner was a cardboard-box-TARDIS-wearing lady.
The overall winner for this first day of the Festival was a Missy.
I finally set off for home just before 6pm.
Cue some totally gratuitous pictures of Daleks just to round this post off.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

TARDIS Travels No.35(b)

The second half of Peter Capaldi's first season, plus his first Christmas Special. Last time, the Doctor had taken Courtney into space in order to dump the Skovox Blitzer. Unseen, he will have returned her to Coal Hill.

Journey 764: Location and date unknown, to London, 2014.
The TARDIS returns to Coal Hill School in Shoreditch, where Clara has a problem. The Doctor has upset Courtney Woods, and he needs to do something to help her low self-esteem.

Journey 765: London, 2014, to space shuttle in Moon orbit, 2049.
The TARDIS is supposed to be landing on the Moon itself, but materialises instead on a shuttle which is about to land on the satellite. Later, the Doctor will send Courtney back to the ship. It falls down a crevasse which opens as the "Moonchild" starts to hatch.

Journey 766: Space shuttle to Moonbase, 2049.
The Doctor instructs Courtney in putting a control disc into the console, and the ship travels automatically to the base.

Journey 767: Moonbase to Moonbase, 2049.
Leaving the humans to resolve the problem with the hatching creature, the Doctor departs - returning some time later.

Journey 768: Moon to Earth, 2049.
The Doctor takes Clara, Courtney and Lundvik back to Earth where they witness the hatching - and the creation of a new Moon. The specific location is unknown, but is somewhere in the Americas, as the Doctor implies that Lundvik can walk to Cape Canaveral. All previous trips to the Moon now have to be redefined as Old Moon or New Moon. Or Old Egg and New Egg.

Journey 769: Earth, 2049, to London, 2014.
The Doctor takes Clara and Courtney back to the school. Clara is furious with the Doctor for abandoning them earlier. Could their travels be at an end? Clue - No, they aren't.

Journey 770: London, 2014, to Orient Express (in space), date unknown.
Unseen, the TARDIS will have left the school and returned to London sometime later. Despite their big falling-out last time, Clara has accepted one last trip. They arrive in the baggage car of the space-going replica of the Orient Express. The computer GUS puts a force-field around the ship. GUS has been trying to get the Doctor here for some time - having earlier almost tempted the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory.

Journey 771: Orient Express to unknown planet, date unknown.
The Doctor rescues the survivors on the train before it blows up, and deposits them on an unspecified planet. Looks a bit like New New Earth, actually.

Journey 772: London, 2014, to Bristol, 2014.
Unseen, the Doctor will have taken Clara back home, then picked her up to take her to a meeting in the park with Danny Pink. Instead of arriving where he is, the ship ends up in Bristol - in somewhat reduced circumstances.
The TARDIS continues to shrink, with the Doctor trapped inside. Clara carries it around with her, but drops it when she is hiding from the Boneless in the train tunnels. The ship adopts "siege-mode" - appearing as a silver cube covered in Gallifreyan symbols. Clara tricks the Boneless into reconstituting the ship.

Journey 773: Bristol - tunnel to railway sidings, 2014.
The Doctor takes the ship back to its original landing site, its external dimensions now fully restored.

Journeys 774 & 775: Bristol to London, 2014, to London, 2014.
The Doctor takes Clara back home, then travels to Trafalgar Square. Overnight, the planet has become densely forested.

Journey 776: London to Earth orbit, 2014.
The Doctor takes Clara into space where they see the forest protect the planet from the solar flares.
Unseen, he will have taken her back home afterwards.

Journey 777: London, 2014, to unknown planet, date unknown.
Danny has been killed in a road traffic accident. Clara finally gets hold of the Doctor by phone. He is on a strange rocky planetoid.

Journeys 778 & 779: Unknown planet, date unknown, to Shoreditch, 2014, to the City of London, 2014.
The Doctor travels to Earth to pick up Clara. We see it visit a volcanic planet, but this proves to be all in Clara's mind. The gooey telepathic circuits come into play once more, as they direct the ship to where dead Danny might be found. This proves to be the 3W Foundation. This funerary complex turns out to be in a dimensional pocket within St Paul's Cathedral. This is all the work of the Master - now the Mistress. UNIT have the TARDIS transferred to Boat One, their presidential aircraft. When Missy escapes and the Cybermen attack, the TARDIS is sucked out of the hold. The Doctor is pulled out after it, but manages to freefall to the tumbling ship and get inside.

Journey 780: England, 2014 - mid-air to cemetery, location unknown.
The TARDIS materialises in the graveyard where Clara has been taken by Cyber-Danny.

Journeys 781 - 783: England, 2014, to Binary Co-ordinates 10-0-11-00 by 02, to London, 2014.
The Doctor goes looking for Gallifrey - at the co-ordinates given by Missy - but finds she has lied. He then travels to London to meet - and say farewell to - Clara. Those co-ordinates are where Gallifrey was before it was hidden in a pocket universe - first mentioned back in Pyramids of Mars.

Journey 784: London, 2014, to unknown planet, date unknown.
If you think I'm going to cover all that to-ing and fro-ing last Christmas, then dream on... No landings on a rooftop with Santa and his elves, or bases at the North Pole. All dreams. Never happened.
The Doctor wakes up on an unspecified planet, where he had been attacked by a Dream Crab.

Journey 785: Unknown planet, date unknown, to London, Christmas 2014.
Alerted to the danger to Clara from the Dream Crabs, the Doctor goes to rescue her. The tangerine on the windowsill, plus the fact that this is not the 60's block of flats where she is supposed to live, might suggest that this is also all just a dream...