REVIEW: Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World

Last week Doctor Who ‘Extremis’ burrowed away in my brain for days and gave me a breakdown of sorts. My initial positive reaction gradually dissipated as gaping holes in the setup opened wide before me. There were huge flaws but as a story to set up a trilogy I accepted it. But then comes ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’…

Firstly the episode has to open with a recap of what happened last week. This means Bill relays the story that The Doctor has told her to her date, Penny. Knowledge of The Doctor is shared pretty freely it seems. Anyway, Bill and Penny return to the kitchen table. Now Steven Moffat clearly found his joke about the Pope interrupting a date so funny that he not only had to replay it for the audience but repeat it with someone else. It was misjudged in ‘Extremis’ and verging on offending the viewer by expecting another laugh seven days later. The pre-titles therefore serve no purpose whatsoever except to prepare you for what is to follow; scene after scene of plot exposition.

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Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World (C) BBC

The Plot

From the very outset viewers endure scene after scene of humans and alien creatures conversing. Humans talking to humans. Humans taking to aliens. Alien talking to aliens in the presence of humans. The only potential action sequence of multiple human forces attacking the pyramid is swiftly negated. Instead we get scene after scene of exposition. There is no action whatsoever. Dialogue heavy scenes sunk series 9 stories and we are back to that method of storytelling. No show, all tell.

All the way through the episode is desperately attempting to explain what the hell is going on. From why is the pyramid in Turmezistan to the Monks need for consent, all of this has to be spoon fed to the viewer. The three minutes to midnight doomsday clock had to be explained too but why these creatures choose a 5,000 year old pyramid to hide out in was not.

At least the Monks did something this week. They actually took a few lives. But overall they just stood around, walked, pointed, did their inconsistent speech (flapping the jaw up and down irrelevant of the dialogue) and droned on about consent. “Fear is not consent.” If BBC Shop was still open that could’ve been the next t-shirt slogan. Was it intended to be a weird allegory about rape? Anyway, the Monks require a disaster to befall the human race in order to be invited to take control of planet Earth. But they don’t want the humans to know about it, just take their word for it. The Monks don’t even cause it, they just watch it happen. If the humans don’t know about the disaster befalling them then they won’t consent effectively to saving.  But I imagine these creatures of seemingly limitless power and benevolence can rectify everything even after it is too late? It’s just nonsense.

Last week we learned that the creatures have run simulations to identify Earth’s weakest moment. This was a simulation so intricate that it could predict the presence of two non-humans and that one of them was blinded by events that occurred in the far future. Yet they still didn’t anticipate that The Doctor, like he always has done, would save the day, which he does. For the viewer there was absolutely no doubt as to where the disaster would occur because they’d been shown it.

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Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World (C) BBC

The Conclusion

One scientist has her reading glasses broken and the world will end because a hungover colleague gets his sums wrong and loses the ability to close airlock doors properly. What the hell kind of story is that? Getting the quantities of chemicals wrong, fair enough. But an experienced scientist is expected to lose the ability to shut an airlock door behind him because of a hangover? Come on! When you are working in that environment you are meticulous about safety protocols. Equally you wouldn’t just remove your helmet because you felt nauseous. Those suits are worn for a reason. Similarly what kind of air filtration system removes bacteria only to pump it out into the atmosphere? Bit of a design flaw that. At this point I lost patience with the product.

Anyway, The Doctor solves it all because that’s what he does. Then for all the technology in the laboratory a door is fitted with a manual locking mechanism. Why? Because The Doctor, you might not have realised this, is blind. You wouldn’t have thought so the way he flew round the laboratory but honestly he’s blind.

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Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World (C) BBC

Blind or not blind?

When The Doctor first appears in the episode he opens his eyes and moves around the TARDIS console strumming his guitar. He then places the instrument down without any problems at all. No missing the rack, he just turns and places the guitar safely in its place. It certainly doesn’t imply that The Doctor is still blind. In the remaining scenes the sonic sunglasses provide some form of vision. Surely if you were actually blind you’d still move a little hesitantly even with these sonic shades?

To make things worse as The Doctor was locating the lab he removes his sonic shades, holding them in one hand. Despite being blind he still managed to move directly towards the TARDIS console and operate the correct lever to dematerialise. It was a smooth movement. He’d already walked around the console and yet showed no hesitancy whatsoever. And this was supposed to be a character who was blind? All of this inconsistency meant that I simply stopped believing that he was blind because he wasn’t moving like he was. The sonic shades were also so effective that he just moved around as normal. No tripping up the step in the TARDIS, or catching the corner of console. Nothing. So when I needed to believe that he was trapped because he couldn’t see I just didn’t.

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Doctor Who: The Pyramid at the End of the World (C) BBC

Earlier in the episode the sonic screwdriver was shown to have the ability to lift a MANUAL barrier. It was seen in the series trailer and in promo pictures, you can’t miss that it is manual barrier. A sound effect tried to hide this fact but even the most moderately attentive viewer would’ve noticed this. If this magic tool can lift a manual barrier then to see it stumped by a door was simply inconsistent. Similarly, the idea that Bill had not worked out that the Doctor was blind stretched credibility. Nardole stood metres away telling the Doctor what he should be seeing made it a bit obvious. So far the character has been presented as sharp and intelligent making this at odds with the rest of the series. In her defence I stopped believing he was blind too. To base the entire finale on resolving this inconsistency was utterly bewildering. So then suddenly The Doctor has his sight back again.

Next Time…

Ultimately we’ve spent two episodes, nearly an hour and a half, to get to the point where The Doctor has sight again and we can have an episode with the Monks in charge of Earth. As a result we have had to endure not one but TWO setup episodes to get to that point. Frankly, it hasn’t been worth the effort. Missy will also be in that episode next week too so the Monks will probably be made redundant so she can get in her sparky dialogue. Other than the line “To rule with fear is inefficient”, there is very little about the Monks that makes sense thus far. In fact there is very little about them which is even notable at all. They just feel very generic and bland.

Next week ‘The Line in the Land’ could be a classic with some fabulously dystopian imagery. However the journey to get to that point, over the course of two episodes, has been prolonged, confused and tedious, full of inconsistent messages. After the first five episodes were so consistently strong, two thirds of the Monk trilogy have so far been nothing but filler material. I liked the simulation idea but gradually it fell apart. This week it didn’t take extended consideration to become irritated by the paper thin idea that a hungover scientist will bring about the death of civilisation.

When added together ‘Extremis’ and ‘TPATEOTW’ don’t stack up. Spectacular power and simulation technology is made completely futile when ultimately all they needed was a manual locking mechanism on a door to achieve their goal. Perhaps next time they attempt to take over a planet they could lead with that one and save us all the bother!

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Doctor Who: Extremis: Why it’s bugging me

Extremis 1It has been a few days since I watched Doctor Who ‘Extremis’. On first viewing I was gripped and thoroughly engrossed with what was presented. However, the more I’ve thought about it, the more the episode falls apart…

The Simulation

Initially I was impressed with this revelation, largely because I didn’t see it coming. My initial thoughts were of the Matrix or Deep Thought from ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’. Unfortunately buying into the concept exposes the flaws of it.

Firstly, this simulation is so intricate that not only can it account for the rogue elements of a Time Lord and his assistant Nardole, but also details such as the inside of the TARDIS. Similarly, this simulation is so advanced that it can legislate for The Doctor going blind. What makes this even less likely is that these events occurred not only off-world but also in the far future. If an alien species can create technology that advanced why would they need to rehearse an invasion? In fact, what was it that was frightening about the Monks?

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Doctor Who: Extremis (c) BBC


The Monks

Visually the Monks were very striking. When the distorted facial features were revealed it was a strong moment. But other than emerging from the portals which they presumably opened, they did nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Consider when we were introduced to the Silence who, let’s be frank, are not a million miles removed from this new creation. In a scene in the Ladies toilet (The Impossible Astronaut, 2011) the quirk of forgetting the creatures when you were no longer looking at them was introduced. The alien then murdered an innocent woman in front of Amy Pond. In contrast the Monks ambled after a fleeing Doctor and did some pointing. There wasn’t actually anything which they did that was fear inducing. Even they way they spoke was clumsy. The mouth opened and a voice was emitted. Fine. Worked well for the Cybermen. But then there were moments when the jaw did move whilst the voice was projected. Pick one! Plus they fell into the classic Doctor Who monster flaw; utterly inept in a chase situation. Even a Doctor struggling to see managed to elude them.

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Doctor Who: Extremis (c) BBC


The Doctor

Again my initial reaction was how refreshing it was to see The Doctor being vulnerable. However the more I’ve considered it, the more illogical it became. In the past we have seen the Time Lord use some of his regeneration energy. Once it was used to recharge a fuel cell (Age of Steel, 2005) and on another occasion this energy was donated to Davros (The Witch’s Familiar, 2015). And yet this ability has been forgotten. Instead a new tool was introduced with some nonsense about borrowing from a future regeneration. The Doctor’s blindness could have been implied at the conclusion of ‘Oxygen’ then the simulation revelation could’ve been further reinforced by the bombshell that he was indeed still blind in our reality. Instead this simulation was, somehow, able to anticipate The Doctor going blind.

Nardole

Assisting The Doctor is of course Nardole and we had a hint that he’d been sent by River Song. He even claims and behaves like a bad ass, elevating his character above that of comic foil. Unfortunately seconds later he shrieks and undoes all of that positive work immediately. His character is just so inconsistent. Also we can assume that he isn’t human and is slightly robotic but yet the Monks were able to legislate for his presence and fit him within the software subroutines. Once again his place within the simulation program lacked credibility.

The Pope

The preview scene of the Pope interrupting Bill’s date typifies the episode. It is clumsy. Firstly, there’s a touching moment where Penny begins to reveal her nerves about her sexuality. Bill shapes up to help her through it in the caring manner that we’ve come to expect of her. To ruin this poignant moment is, of all people, the Pope. The way Penny reacted, not thinking it was a foolish student housemate but instead recognising the real Pontif was telling. This implied a history of Catholicism but that was not clear. Instead the scene degenerates into comedy but falls flat on it’s face.

Extremis 3Missy

Another guest appearance in the episode was a returning Missy. Her plot thread ran alongside the main story as The Doctor reminisced about the events leading to his guarding of the Vault which has been developing throughout the series. Whilst it came as no surprise who was in the Vault it could’ve been handled so much better. Firstly, whoever was in the Vault was clearly alive as we previously heard them banging on the door from the inside. Part of me was anticipating a Moffat-esque twist where it turned out not to be Missy inside. However with The Doctor venturing inside in an earlier episode and stating Missy directly by name that twist simply would not work. Again the more you think about it, the more you realise that it doesn’t quite work. Much like CERN.

CERN

The famous research centre’s inclusion was an intriguing prospect. Why a catholic priest felt the need to share a translation that the world we are in was in fact a simulation is beyond me. With that information why would they then feel the need to partake of a mass suicide, using stock from ACME it seems, again doesn’t make sense. Had those responsible at CERN believed that they had been the ones responsible for opening the portals into our world, unleashing the alien creatures, then that would’ve been more logical. It would also have generated a sense of guilt and despair. Instead they just couldn’t deal with the idea of being part of the simulation. Like most of the other pieces of this episode’s puzzle it simply could’ve been better.

‘Extremis’ is the first of a trilogy and perhaps some of these elements will be developed further. My initial reaction of the episode was a positive one but as the days passed it began to trouble me all the more. I hope this post has outlined why.

Steven Moffat quits : a reaction

It has been a few days now since the dramatic news was announced that Steven Moffat would be standing down as Head Writer and Executive Producer of the BBC Wales produced Doctor Who. Firstly, a tribute.

doctor-who-steven-moffat-season-10-showrunnerSteven Moffat : The Legend

Many writers have contributed to the history of the programme. All have been entertaining and many have come up with some unique and original creations. However, there are a select few who have achieved that consistently. Robert Holmes and Terrance Dicks were joined by the man who successfully brought the show back after over 15 years, Russell T Davies. Now it is certain that Steven Moffat has earned his place on that list. His accomplishments are numerous. He created the Weeping Angels, the Silence and River Song, introduced the world to two different incarnations of the Doctor and managed to deliver a critically acclaimed 50th Anniversary special. Under his stewardship he has been responsible for the past five series of the show but his sixth will be his last.

Moffat’s skill at building a complex tale has come in for criticism a lot recently, particularly after the recent time-hopping special from another of his shows ‘Sherlock’. My own humble opinion concerning the conclusion of the latest series was one of disappointment due to the focus on a departing Clara Oswald. On that basis perhaps it is indeed time for some new ideas and Chris Chibnall was certainly the leading candidate.

chibnall1986Chris Chibnall

Sadly for Chibnall he will frequently be reminded about his appearance on ‘Open Air’ discussing ‘The Trial of the Timelord’ season, see the image above. This does prove his long term consideration of what makes for good Doctor Who. He has contributed episodes to Doctor Who, Torchwood, Life on Mars and Law and Order: UK. Crucially his popular and BAFTA award winning creation ‘Broadchurch’ starring Tenth Doctor David Tennant, has demonstrated his skill being at the helm of a show. Doctor Who is certainly in safe hands.

Doctor-Who-S9-E1-The-Doctor-IconicThe Future

What is far more troubling however is the news that there will only be one Christmas special in 2016 and series 10 will be broadcast in spring 2017. It feels like 1985 all over again. Doctor Who has been back on the air for over 10 years now and the apathy has set in. Now I am one such viewer who a few years ago would plan the weekend around the broadcast of new Doctor Who. Last year however the Rugby World Cup was on and catch up TV was required. But it is my belief that the BBC have themselves cultivated this viewer apathy. This is because Doctor Who is no longer at one consistent broadcast time but moved around the schedule because the priority is Strictly Come Dancing. If BBC One are not going to give it the respect and promotion with something as basic as allowing the public to know when it is going to be on each and every week then viewers might get excited about it once again. Frankly, Peter Capaldi deserves better.

All the more insulting is the ludicrous quote from BBC One Controller Charlotte Moore, claiming that “national moments” need to be rationed and so Doctor Who series 10 will be held back to 2017. Once again that elevates the European football championships and the Olympic Games above Doctor Who but both are summer events. Historically, new seasons of Doctor Who have debuted in January and frankly that is a far more sensible time of year than the spring which would see viewing figures drop as the weather improves and fewer people at home watching television. Similarly, the cluttered schedules of the autumn are equally unsuitable as has been proved over the last two years. Perhaps therefore Chris Chibnall’s first task is to get a stronger slot and consistent time for the programme to be broadcast.

REVIEW: Clara Oswald

imageThe series finale of Doctor Who is one of the highlights of the year but so often fails to match the hype, could ‘Hell Bent’ buck the trend? Sadly not. After the superb effort of last week’s episode the viewer is brought down with a crushing bump. In ‘Heaven Sent’ the Doctor struggles to deal with the loss of Clara, angry, alone and afraid. But it’s okay because this week he has found her again, almost immediately, in an American diner of all places. So what was the point I hear you cry? Who knows! imageThe companion is a crucial part of Doctor Who and why it is successful. They are the human, more often than not, that the viewer can connect with and journey with vicariously. By contrast the Doctor is an alien and so difficult for us to relate with. This has been the case since the beginning when the old man in a junkyard was a complete mystery and two school teachers provided audience connection. However, when the show becomes all about the companion it sidelines the Doctor, your leading man, belittling the programme to the level of generic serial drama (soap opera).

imageClara Oswald is the absolute worst culprit for this. She became the impossible girl, splintered along the Doctor’s timeline to save him over and over again. She triggered the Doctors’ change of plan and the ultimate rescue of Gallifrey. In ‘Listen’ (2014) she cements herself as the reason why a young Timelord had a fear of the dark. A year ago the series finale became the story of heartbreaking loss of boyfriend Danny, suffocating an exciting Master/Cyberman storyline into an irrelevant sideshow. History has repeated itself with that one. She has been the villain through Zygon doppelganger Bonnie and has become the Doctor, Jenna Coleman’s face even appeared in the title sequence for Death in Heaven, as sacrilegious as you can get. Now the character even has herself a TARDIS! The lunacy of a woman who apparently couldn’t work iplayer or wifi now being able to pilot a time machine is unfathomable. Friends are those who leave footprints on our lives, Clara Oswald has left a steaming turd.

Doctor Who Series 8

At times she is not even a likeable character, an egotistical control freak who dies because of her reckless stupidity. Fortunately this is Doctor Who where death is meaningless. And you thought Rory Williams was bad? He doesn’t hold a candle to Clara. I was one who didn’t get emotional about ‘Face the Raven’ because I anticipated a Clara return and sure enough the whole of ‘Hell Bent’ became about her.

hell_bent_gallifreyAs has been the trend with the whole series there was no big action set pieces just dialogue heavy acting lessons. Last we knew of Gallifrey it had been placed in a parallel pocket universe, however at the end of all things it magically reappears in it’s original universe so the Sisterhood of Karn can pop by. Explaining that away is conveniently passed over. However, Gallifrey looked incredible and there was even a new old TARDIS to get gooey eyed about. Rassilon was overthrown. There were nice cameos from a Dalek, Cyberman and Weeping Angel, just because. We even had a returning Maisie Williams, again just because. Who even knows what the hybrid was, apart from a plot point, so sadly no new fantastically brought to life creature. Just a prophecy that delivers only more words. The elements were all there including Peter Capaldi at the absolute height of his acting skills but sadly nothing but a flat aftertaste is delivered. At least he finally has his own sonic screwdriver, only taken 2 years!

With Clara gone, hopefully, please Rassilon let her be gone, how can you possibly follow her? River Song is perfect because of her back story and should be great during the Christmas special. But long term what can be done with a new companion? Perhaps now is the time that some fresh ideas are brought in with Moffat stepping down from Executive Producer but still writing brilliant material like ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ and ‘Heaven Sent’. Saying that if anyone can think up a brilliant new companion Steven Moffat is the man!

REVIEW: Doctor Who 2015 season

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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!

REVIEW: Doctor Who : The Feast of Steven (1965)

Feast of Steven 2I’ve decided to revisit some of the lost episodes from Doctor Who’s history which no longer exist in the archives by using the original audio recordings which have been remastered and released onto CD. It is also possible to find some very good reconstructions on the internet using images taken from the broadcast.

This is effectively the first Doctor Who Christmas Special, broadcast on Christmas Day 1965. It is a total departure from the epic ‘Dalek Master Plan’ story, in fact the Daleks are barely mentioned at all. In fact it is like no other episode of Doctor Who ever produced, a peculiar comedy during which William Hartnell wishes the viewers a happy Christmas.

The TARDIS lands and the Doctor is concerned by the pollution outside, telling Steven and Sara to remain inside. As it turns out they have landed outside a police station in the North of England, on Christmas Day. Following the Doctor being arrested Steven poses as another policeman, which is to facilitate a visual joke later. In the mean time Sara manages to fix the TARDIS scanner and the three escape and dematerialise in another location. The travellers immediately jump to the aid of a woman being tied to a circular saw only to discover that they have stumbled onto a film set and have ruined that take, much to the dismay of the actress. It is not the only film being made however as the TARDIS trio have landed at a Hollywood studio in the 1920’s. Sara encounters a Lawrence of Arabia style movie and Steven is confused for a cast member of a Keystone Cops picture, explaining the borrowed police uniform which triggers a comedic runaround chase. Two of my particular favourite quotes to sum up the ludicrous nature of the episode come from Sara who complains that, “a strange man kept telling me to take my clothes off” and the Doctor who describes the location as “a madhouse, it’s all full of Arabs”. Not sure modern Doctor Who could get away with that, although ‘Love and Monsters’ did manage to get an oral sex reference accepted. During the visit to the Hollywood film studio Steven and the Doctor bump into Charlie Chaplin and the Timelord also meets Bing Crosby.

Feast of StevenAfter the travellers return to the TARDIS and leave they take a pause to celebrate, despite being in the midst of an epic battle with the Daleks, toasting a happy Christmas with some champagne. The Doctor turns to the camera and wishes “a happy Christmas to all of you at home”, breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly, the only time in the programme’s history that this has been done.

As mentioned previously this is effectively a stand alone episode within the Daleks’ Master Plan story, and perhaps does provide some comic relief in what is admittedly a dark story where the whole solar system is in jeopardy, but fortunately we will return to that with the next episode, ‘Volcano’.

REVIEW: The Daleks’ Master Plan : Episodes 1 -6 (1965)

The Daleks' Master Plan 2

I’ve decided to revisit some of the lost episodes from Doctor Who’s history which no longer exist in the archives by using the original audio recordings which have been remastered and released onto CD. It is also possible to find some very good reconstructions on the internet using images taken from the broadcast. Fortunately on this occasion we still have episodes 2 and 5 to enjoy plus some addition clips, such as (spoiler warning) Katarina’s death which was shown on Blue Peter, a programme which was archived properly.

Given the epic length of The Dalek’s Master Plan I have decided to review it in stages starting with the first half of the story. Following on from the conclusion of ‘The Myth Makers’ the TARDIS lands on the planet location seen in ‘Mission to the Unknown’, Kembel. Also on Kembel are two Space Security Agents Bret Vyon and Kurt Gantry, the latter being killed by a Dalek in a scene which does still exist on film. Bret Vyon appeals to fans immediately because he is played by Nicholas Courtney who would later return to the series as Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart and fortunately he manages to help Steven recover from the wounds inflicted in Troy. We are introduced to the character of Mavic Chen, Guardian of the Solar System and (spoiler) the shocking twist is that he is actually in league with the Daleks and provides the crucial Taranium core needed for their great weapon, the Time Destructor. From that moment on the plot becomes all about the Taranium core, so much so episodes 3-6 might as well be retitled ‘The Quest for Taranium’. During that chase across space Katarina sacrifices herself for the Doctor, Steven and Bret. It happens suddenly and the remaining three actors are suitably solemn and stunned, resonating to the audience. Sadly Katarina only appears in a total of 5 episodes, her character struggling with what a key is for example, so it is no wonder that she was written out so quickly. However the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, would get a companion from the past in Jamie McCrimmon, his inquisitive questioning caused by his inexperience enlightening the viewer and proving a historical companion could be succesful. The Taranium core still remains a plot point however moving forward into the second half of the story so perhaps Katarina’s sacrifice has merely postponed the inevitable, the Daleks recapturing it once again.

dalekmasterplanA particular highlight is the scene of the Daleks burning down the forest of Kembel, there is something very beautiful about a Dalek with a flame thrower, even in black and white, and it surprises me that it has not been replicated more frequently.

Later we are introduced to Sara (sometimes pronounced Sara but also Sarah) Kingdom, who reveals herself to be Bret Vyon’s sister, after killing him, which seems strangely tacked on but does allow Jean Marsh to demonstrate her acting skills, conveying genuine remorse. Sara takes a bit of convincing that Mavic Chen should not be trusted and with good reason, Kevin Stoney is incredibly charismatic in the role. Although the character is a stereotypical power-hungry villain, Stoney manoeuvres seamlessly from incandessant rage to seductive charm, elevating him above that of a cliched scoundrel to that of one of the most memorable guest star appearances in Doctor Who’s history.

Next up is episode 7 ‘The Feast of Steven’ which I shall review separately for reasons which will become soon obvious.