Wednesday 29 October 2014

In The Forest Of The Night - Review

Well that was an odd one. Very dreamlike. Very fairy tale. Something which Torchwood has done very successfully - thanks to writer P J Hammond. In fact, I was somewhat reminded of his story Small Worlds - from TW Series 1 - at one point. In that, it turned out that Faeries were real - actually ancient yet timeless creatures (related possibly to the Mara). They dwelt in the forests also. It transpired that the little invisible midichlorian things in this have been around since before Mankind, and periodically save the planet whenever the Sun throws a tantrum - which they can detect even if our solar observatories can't. (A recent issue of DWM had a thing called the Bidmead-o-Meter in it, where the more ludicrous the science, the more his head blew up. Lord only knows what he thought of this one...).
The fairy tale elements were quite obvious at times - specific references to Hansel & Gretel, as well as the fact that young Maebh, in her red hooded coat, was menaced by big bad wolves. Those wolves, and a lone tiger - tying in with the William Blake poem from which the title springs - were the only real menace. At no time, unfortunately, did I ever feel that the planet would get frazzled - in the same way I never thought that the Moon hatching a few weeks ago would destroy Earth.
Other dislikes: last week was supposed to be the Doctor-lite story, but I felt he hardly needed to be there this week. There was the one establishing shot at the beginning - just before the credits - of London swamped by foliage, but apart from some "street furniture" dotted about a Welsh forest, we could have done with a reminder that this was truly the heart of London. Where were the thousands of citizens (and tourists) with their camera phones - sticking it all on You-Tube and Instagram? Apart from Maebh's mum and a couple of blokes with flame-throwers - just to set up the idea that the forest was flame retardant and so signal the happy conclusion - we saw no-one. And, how did Maebh's mum just happen to find her daughter near Trafalgar Square, when - for all she knew - she was somewhere in Kensington, where the Natural History Museum actually is?
Regular readers will know I always worry about kids in the programme. As with Listen earlier this series, my fears were unfounded. The kids were actually all right. Quite funny actually, and the performances were fine.
The relationship between the Doctor / Clara / Danny was further defined. Danny thinks there is enough on Earth, now, to wonder at. When push came to shove, she elected to stay behind and face possible death rather than be saved. Stating she did not want ever to be the last of her kind must have been like a slap in the face to the Last of the Time Lords - "I don't want to end up like you" in other words.
Certainly not the sort of story you could get away with on a regular basis. It will divide opinion. I suspect that it will not fare well when it comes to votes and polls -  which is a bit of a shame as, in half a century of storytelling, Doctor Who should be able to indulge in more fantastical elements once in a while. Just a shame they had to stick that preposterous ending on - with the missing sister popping out of a rhododendron bush (or whatever) That was just cringe-worthy. Did you notice that she was wearing a khaki combat jacket? That's lazy BBC shorthand for "homeless kid". Apparently, when you run away from home you get given one of these coats. You don't necessarily get to be reunited with your family by being magically vomited out of any shrubbery, however...
Next week - the start of the grand finale. Cybermen on the steps of St Paul's. Again... Oh. it could happen every week as far as I'm concerned.

Monday 20 October 2014

Flatline - Review

We had seen the photos from the location shoot - of the little TARDIS at Barry Island and the Doctor climbing out of it. Despite this, I still laughed out loud when we saw the scene on screen.
The ship has been shrunk in size before - and usually the occupants are shrunk with it (Planet of Giants being the obvious example). It's an idea that goes right back to a potential first story back in 1963. Here, the imagery of the tiny TARDIS and a full size Doctor is one of the great things about Flatline. The face peeking out - like someone looking through their letter box - and the hand popping out, giving items to Clara, were all wonderful images. Best of all was the Thing-like way the Doctor moved the ship out of the path of the on-coming train. That's Addams Family Thing.
For a Doctor-lite story, Capaldi had some great material to work with. Despite being stuck in the tiny ship, he communicates with Clara throughout, so you don't feel he's sidelined at all. Then there was that little dance he gave. And "The Man Who Stops The Monsters" scene once the TARDIS has been restored to its proper size is this Doctor's first proper rousing moment.
This is a much less abrasive performance from Capaldi. Less heartless. Furious only when he finally confronts the aliens and expels them - having given them every chance.
The way that the Doctor is sidelined in this works far better than the way in which Clara was sidelined last week, despite both stories being written by the same author - Jamie Mathieson. He's proving to be quite a find for the programme.
Clara gets to be the Doctor this week - even wielding the sonic screwdriver and the psychic paper (which apparently does not work on people with no imagination - probably why the Doctor never tries it on the monsters). Jenna Coleman is great again this week. She - and her character - have been so much better this series. Once again, Danny only appears during the course of a phone-call. The Doctor has now discovered that Clara has lied to Danny - so she can't take the moral high ground any more - the way she has done recently.
The two-dimensional aliens were very well realised - first as snake-like tendrils then as warped versions of their human victims. The Doctor names them the Boneless.
The deaths are quite disturbing. Compare with Series 2's Fear Her, where people are going missing from another housing estate. That had zero atmosphere, and was cloyingly sentimental. This was never going to be like that.
Joivan Wade's Rigsy is the surrogate companion. Christopher Fairbank (old meanie Fenton) was one of those characters you expect to see meet a dreadful fate, but - like Rikston Slade in Voyage of the Damned - somehow manages to survive.
The rest of the Community Service gang were obviously there merely as Boneless-fodder. A shame as Matt Bardock certainly deserved a better role.
Overall, a great little episode, with some wonderful imagery, creepy monsters, and a much less abrasive Doctor / Clara relationship - mainly because the plot separated them so quickly.
The series story arc moved on just a little - Missy seems to have selected Clara for her, as yet unknown, scheme.
Next week - tigers and wolves, and trees. Lots and lots of trees.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Episodes 10 - 12 screen shots

The Blogtorwho site (see link to the right) has some screengrabs from the video of Foxes' cover of Don't Stop Me Now - the Queen number which featured in Mummy On The Orient Express. These images come from the last three episodes of Series 8 - mostly from In The Forest Of The Night but some are clearly from Dark Water / Death In Heaven - like the Cybermen at St Paul's above. Here's a selection:

The Earth surrounded by flames...

... as observed by the Doctor and Clara.

Trafalgar Square covered in foliage...

"Tyger, tyger burning bright..." (So that's where the title came from)...

The obligatory trailer explosion image.

Sunday 12 October 2014

Mummy on the Orient Express - Review

A good story - but not a great one. The actual Mummy plot struggles to fill the fraction of storyline it has. It appears, there's the 66 second countdown, the victim dies. Repeat. The most famous piece of literature set on the Orient Express was a whodunnit. You know the one I mean. The one where they alldunnit. This story shows us the Mummy (a wonderful costume design) in the opening seconds - so we know who is doing the killing. The question posed instead is why? (It's a whydunnit).
Writer Jamie Mathieson could have added more of the whodunnit element if it had been suggested that one of the passengers or crew was really the person behind the computer - GUS. For a brief moment, we do think that the amiable Perkins might not be quite all that he seems.
As it is, the mystery of who brought the Doctor and all the other experts here is left hanging - to be resolved another day. All we know is that they are a cold-blooded killer, interested in the Mummy - or the Foretold to give it its proper title - in order to retro-engineer a weapon from it. Seems the mystery goes back to the closing moments of The Big Bang - where the Doctor got a call enticing him with an escaped Egyptian goddess on the space-bound version of the famous train.
Interesting that the Foretold proved to be a malfunctioning soldier. Are we to see some sort of parallel with Danny Pink? (Samuel Anderson quite literally phones in his performance this week).
The remainder of the story's running time deals with the aftermath of the big bust-up from last week's episode.
Did you notice how Clara did not appear in any trailers or photos? Seems it was a deliberate decision, to make us think she really had stopped travelling with the Doctor. Trouble is, the synopsis writer for the episode wasn't told...
To begin with, this is going to be her last journey. She no longer hates him - just dislikes him.
Later, she has realised that she cannot give up this lifestyle - but needs to understand where the new Doctor is coming from. He isn't heartless, just has a lot of bad decisions to make.
Clara asks the Doctor if his lifestyle is a form of addiction - and we know that it is she who is addicted. Danny thinks she is giving the Doctor the heave-ho - but she is determined not to do so.
I am starting to long for Clara's departure (as much as I like Jenna Coleman). The constant pulling away from the main story to her relationships with the Doctor and Danny can be a little jarring. A bit irritating. Did you notice how, when supposed to be consoling a woman who has just lost her mother and who is trapped in the baggage car with a killer Mummy on the loose, Clara still managed to bring the conversation round to her relationship with the Doctor? Do male writers think that women can only ever have a conversation about men? They can't try to work out what is going on and try to solve things instead?).
Here's to the next companion being someone who simply travels with the Doctor and has adventures - and most definitely doesn't want to get inside his trousers.
I read recently that Frank Skinner was worried that people would simply see him as "stunt-casting". Having Foxes on the cast list did make me worry about this too. As it was, he gave a lovely performance. Fortunately, the pop singer only got a cameo.
Clara was sidelined in the baggage car for much of this story. Next week, it looks as though the Doctor will be taking a back seat - trapped in the TARDIS...

Thursday 9 October 2014

Figurine Collection - October 2014

Three new figurines this month - the two regular releases plus the latest of the subscribers-only Daleks.
This latter is the Saucer Commander from The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It's the one which only appeared in the second episode of that 1964 story (plus the reprise at the start of part three). It was then repainted to represent the Black Dalek Supreme.
Talking of paint jobs, the work on my figurine is not that great - especially the skirt section. Considering these Daleks are special releases, a little more care should have been taken.
The two regular releases are Kahler-Tek from A Town Called Mercy, and an original Pertwee era Sea Devil. I particularly like the Sea Devil - with its Nora Batty wrinkly stockings.

Monday 6 October 2014

Kill The Moon - Review

One of those stories where it was certainly best not to know very much in advance. Had I known that the Moon was going to prove to be a ginormous egg I would not have approached this in the right frame of mind. When you think about it, it is a silly concept. Imagine if the synopsis had read "The Doctor and Clara arrive on the Moon to find it is an egg about to hatch a baby dragon. They then have a big argument." Might have given that one a miss. As it was, that is exactly what this story boils down to - yet it worked beautifully.
After one of the briefest pre-credit sequences, which was actually a throw-forward to the latter part of the story, we pay a quick visit to Coal Hill School where the Doctor is somewhat bullied into doing something to lift Courtney's self-esteem -  he having apparently deflated it in the first place. Quite how the Doctor could be held responsible for her going off the rails, when she was Miss Disruptive Personality 2014 already, I don't know. Things move rapidly - no messing about with the storyline - and we are on the Moon, meeting the space shuttle crew who have come to blow it up as it is threatening to destroy the Earth. 10 minutes in, and our heroes are already being threatened by giant Moon spiders. A brilliant new monster design, kept mostly to the shadows and augmented by nice sound effects, a new generation of arachnophobes will have just been created I'm sure.
And this is what we thought this whole story was going to be about. As it was, they were  - a bit like the Blitzer last week - a threat of the week only. Turned out the story wasn't really about them at all.
They prove to be very big bacteria, living on something even bigger. Something over a billion tons.
Which brings us to the big reveal that the Moon is really an egg, and its occupant is about to hatch.
Cue moral dilemma: destroy a newborn, unique, life-form to protect the Earth, or risk the planet's destruction.
One thing I did know about the story in advance was that the Doctor was going to do something "shocking". This proved to be his abrupt departure - leaving Clara, Courtney and shuttle commander Lundvik (Hermione Norris - a rather too understated performance) to make the big decision on their own. They are able, by an unlikely plot contrivance, to contact the Earth for the population to help them decide. Do you really think the entire planet could co-ordinate the big switch off in so few minutes? Maybe it was just the big electricity monopolies who voted.
As it is, Clara goes the opposite way anyway and stops the bombs. The Moon creature hatches out and the Earth isn't destroyed. It actually lays an egg of its own (bigger than itself), so we get a new Moon to replace the old one - so there wasn't really that much of a threat after all.
Happy ending. Well, not quite. Clara is furious with the Doctor for his departure at the crucial moment. Personally, I felt sorry for him as she raged against him. True, it hasn't been in his nature to stand aside in quite this way in the past - but he had a valid point. People need to make their own decisions, and he did trust Clara to make the right decision. He did the right thing, maybe just not in the right way. Thing is, Clara has never really committed fully to TARDIS life and all that this entails. She's a bit spoiled, wanting the best of both worlds. Travel and adventure but without the responsibility - something the Doctor himself has been accused of in the past. Turn up and topple an empire overnight, then disappear before the full effects of regime change are felt.
This story is going to change the relationship between the pair - for the better on both sides I hope.
From the trailers for next week's story, it looks like Clara is sitting this one out. The following story is supposed to be Doctor-lite on the other hand, so the rift won't heal quickly it seems...