The following are reviews I have written for Gallifrey Times and I thought I would put them all together in one place on this blog, enjoy!
10. Face the Raven 7/10
Face the Raven can be described as a game of two halves, not in terms of duration but there is a clear divide between the story and then Clara’s death. Firstly the story. Returning character Rigsy provides a useful conduit to draw the TARDIS to modern day London, it’s always London. There is plenty of intrigue with the Torchwood ‘aliens amongst us’ mantra, set in a Harry Potter/Diagon Alley environment. The countdown tattoo is also an element borrowed from Justin Timberlake/Anna Seyfried movie ‘In Time’ but it does grip the viewer as does the intriguing murder mystery which sadly turns out to simply be the ruse for a trap. So we must now address the second half, the demise of Clara Oswald. For an actress who has been in the show since 2012, she possibly deserved a more publicised send off, occurring largely under the radar.
I was not very emotional about it all but I’m sure plenty of others were. Unfortunately a precedent has been set that a character’s death rarely prevents that character from reappearing, Clara in particular. Perhaps having the latest issue of DWM on the coffee table didn’t help with the sense that it is not the last we see of Clara. It seemed a very innocuous way to go too and boy did they milk it for all it was worth. I’d be interested to see the script, Jenna must’ve had 3 pages of lines to learn. After so many years on the show she probably deserved more publicity that this was her last but it almost certainly is not.
Recently so much has been made of the time shift viewing figures so it is a brave call to drop a huge sea changer which lots of viewers will inevitably have spoiled before they have a chance to watch it.
The real test of this episode will be how it is followed up. The Doctor’s behaviour, attitude and emotion can elevate this episode, like Utopia in 2007 which although thin on content had enormous repercussions for the remainder of the series and as a result it is more highly thought of. However the last word must go to Jenna Coleman who has hopefully enjoyed her time on the show as much as viewers have enjoyed watching her adventures.
9. Sleep No More 5/10
This week Doctor Who ventured into the ‘found footage’ genre popularised by movies such as The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield, the latter being one of my all time favourite films. The episode titled Sleep No More is a definite departure from the norm, there’s no title sequence or theme tune for a start, and should rightly be praised for doing something different with the Doctor Who format. With an intriguing plot centred around sleep deprivation technology, an eery atmosphere and a frightening monster it has all the ingredients to deliver an instant classic. However, the result falls flat and leaves the viewer scratching their head with no resolution to the peril whatsoever.
Firstly, a programme which begins with someone telling the audience not to watch is immediately asking for trouble and ridicule, even if it is later explained in the dramatic but far from satisfying conclusion. Similarly, despite an attempt to deliver a ‘found footage’ episode it stops short of embracing the genre. It is less ‘found footage’ and more of a holiday video edited together with a tedious commentary which slows the action. If done properly the story would begin with a UNIT (or other military) date stamp or record entry and present footage taken from security camera recordings. Like a black box recorder on a plane, there is no editing just the presentation of evidence. Instead we get ‘found footage lite’ with POV shots akin to Channel 4’s Peep Show, merged together with CCTV material. Ultimately this is explained away at the end and is probably an attempt not to alienate the regular audience.
A lot of debate will now centre on the conclusion with it probably being very decisive. In my mind it seemed muddled, left open for a second part or sequel which doesn’t appear to be forthcoming from the Next Time trailer. I like that occasionally the Doctor might not win, using the TARDIS to escape a situation he cannot change, it adds unpredictability. But this didn’t feel like that, the Doctor and Clara were off to Neptune and the sandmen were coming so why won’t we see what happens next?
Other irritants included Elaine Tan’s overuse of the word ‘pet’, the repeated feel of theCold Blood (2012) homage to Alien and the way Bethany Black was utilised. After the positive use of deaf actress Sophie Stone in Under the Lake where she was the commanding officer, Black as the first transgender person to appear in the show is sadly reduced to a drone of low intelligence.
The sandmen themselves were classic Doctor Who monsters but don’t be mistaken this is not a complement. They are humanoid creatures, easier to realise in production but are strikingly similar to other efforts such as Ballal the Exxilon (Death to the Daleks, 1974) in the classic series and the zombie creatures from Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS(2013) in the modern era. Their creation is simple to comprehend and interesting to consider. However, things get very sketchy when the dust in your eye has the ability to observe through a hosts eye, an attempt to explain away the POV camerawork.
In conclusion, Sleep No More provides engaging viewing with scares and atmosphere aplenty. It does however fail to fully embrace the genre it is attempting to replicate, with a baffling finale that left this viewer ruing a missed opportunity.
8. The Zygon Inversion 7/10
The uncomfortable feeling last week was even nearer the knuckle right from the start with a plane being blown out of the sky, just like a shocking news story which has dominated the media recently.
I liked the concept of a conscious person inside a Zygon pod, akin to a form of ‘locked in syndrome’. However it allowed for the episode to become very Jenna Coleman centred. Coleman is a great actress and it’s nice to see her given an opportunity to do something different. But it felt completely wrong for the Doctor to be squaring up against Clara, even a Zygon version. The Zygons themselves were under-utilised, with the exception of one tremendous scene in a mini mart and the distressing suicide of a peaceful Zygon. The ultimate conclusion boiled down to an intense game of Deal or No Deal with no payoff. The status quo was restored, there were two Osgoods, Zygons and humans still on Earth. So what did the story accomplish? Not a lot really.
The saving grace however is Peter Capaldi who was simply mesmeric. I’m starting to run out of superlatives for his consistently supreme performances. That speech immediately goes down as one of the greatest delivered by a Doctor. At a time when Doctor Who’s position in the schedules is being debated I’m getting concerned that the show is going away from it’s traditional family viewership. This season more so than others has delivered episodes which are very dialogue heavy and with less action, alienating the younger members of the audience. As an adult I’m all for this to continue and an 8pm broadcast time would also be appropriate. In the meantime, this story was gripping, intellectually stimulating and deeply political. I just wish we had more Zygons!
7. The Zygon Invasion 8/10
The Zygons are back, hurrah! Of course they had appeared in the 50th anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ and we are treated to a couple of clips from that story as an introduction. But this marks the first proper Zygon story in 40 years. I had issues early on with the plot. Where did the figure of 20 million Zygons come from? Also, only those in the Black Archive would’ve forgotten if they were human or Zygon. Have the Zygons been given new identities or duplicating? When did Zygons get the ability to expel electric charges? We see Osgood in New Mexico so how does she end up in Turmezistan, Zygon EasyJet? (Other airlines are available.) Some of these queries are cleared up, Zygon hatchlings giving the 20 million number but it was still a confusing start.Anyway, I digress. I can see the Doctor just jamming away in the TARDIS with tedious adventures interrupting. However, this interruption is more serious with Zygons gone rogue on Earth. Then we come to the uncomfortable bit.
Words such as ‘radicalisation’, training camps and the monochrome Zygon logo all ring as references to ISIS, making it feel very political and potentially very distressing, perhaps not something Doctor Who should be replicating. Shapeshifting aliens are not a new concept but this episode for the first time accentuates the fear, paranoia and unpredictability of what that can fully entail. The UNIT soldier falling for a Zygon impersonating his mother was an idiot but who could possibly pull the trigger in his position? The rules have now been changed so Zygons can take the form of someone in a memory, conveniently to add more unpredictability. How do you fight an enemy when you don’t know who it is? That concept is the real success of this episode, intriguing and complicated but a riveting watch. The scenes are also brilliantly filmed, giving it a global reach akin to a James Bond film. The revelation of (SPOILER) Clara being a Zygon is quite dramatic and gives Jenna Coleman an opportunity to do something different with her acting. Confident about the cliffhanger resolution but still impatiently awaiting the second half of the story to see what direction it takes next!
6. The Woman Who Lived 5/10
The Woman Who Lived is a direct sequel to last weeks The Girl Who Died and deals with the Doctor’s action of giving Ashildr eternal life. It is sometimes argued that the Doctor swans in and turns around a situation but disappears again failing to see the fallout. The consequences of the Doctor’s actions were explored well with The Ark in 1966 and The Long Game/Bad Wolf in 2005 but was sorely lacking following the dramatic conclusion to The Waters of Mars in 2009. On this occasion it is perhaps something we could do without. The story centres on Ashildr’s struggles with her immortality and it is her scenes with the Doctor that fill the programme. Outside of that the plot is fairly thin, an amulet which opens a universal portal and Tharil lookalike Leandro being under-utilised. As is always the case with these plot lines the obvious exit is for the alien to hitch a lift in the TARDIS but of course it is a part of a dastardly plot for invasion or human destruction. Rufus Hound appears as Sam Swift, adding comedic relief to the tedium of the rest of the episode and there is a popular name check of fan favourite Capt Jack Harkness.
However, the episode is a masterpiece from the two lead actors Maisie Williams, who is far more experienced an actress than her youthful looks suggest, and Peter Capaldi. Both are at the top of their game, Williams having honed her acting skills on Game of Thrones and Capaldi flourishing deep into his second year in the role of the Doctor. So much is the need to let these two run riot with the script that third wheel Clara is removed from the action altogether. The Doctor and Ashildr dynamic might still have another story yet to tell which would be a treat as It is these two alone who engage the audience, not the action or special effects, and credit to them.
1. The Magician’s Apprentice 10/10
Doctor Who is back! This is cause to celebrate on its own. However, the first episode of the new series is possibly one of the best episodes ever made and deserves limitless praise. To call The Magician’s Apprentice a tick box exercise would be unfair. There are however a lot of elements, Davros, UNIT, Missy, Daleks, all vying for space within the script. Steven Moffat balances it all perfectly. Although I’m still not comfortable with Missy being the Master, Michelle Gomez is brilliant in everything she does! Without giving too much away the two episodes are a love song written for the 1975 story Genesis of the Daleks. A quote from that story, used in the episode, became the starting point. A young Davros. Could you kill that child? Given the cliffhanger it appears the Doctor has made his choice!