REVIEW: Suicide Squad

imageThe critics have been pretty scathing about this latest offering from the DC comic universe whilst fans have been very vocal with their enjoyment and aggressive towards those who have not shared their opinions. As is always my policy, only by viewing the piece can comment be made. So I have watched it and have thus formulated my own opinions. However I have found myself falling off the fence towards the opinions shared by critics.

The following will include a number of spoilers so do not hamper your own enjoyment by reading on if you intend on watching the film yourself.

Following on so quickly from the dud that was ‘Batman vs Superman’, released mere months ago, comes ‘Suicide Squad’ a tale about a group of villains from the DC Universe coming together for a special mission for the good guys, who are of course the US Government. The formulation of this squad is based on the possibility that now Superman is dead another Superman might exist and could potentially not be on the side of the authorities and therefore a terrorist. This Taskforce of unruly and uncontrollable maniacs is supposedly going to be a line of defence against the forces of darkness. It makes as much sense as two good guys (Batman and Superman) going up against each other. That being said the concept has vast potential. Antiheroes receiving the focus for an entire film fits the DC Universe much better than Marvel given the darker tones explored through the comic books and also previous film adaptations such as Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’. Sadly, the final result is nothing but a crushing disappointment.

imageThis is probably an old-fashioned idea but this film needed someone to write the plot and a scene breakdown on a piece of paper. Such a basic act would’ve revealed the well documented glaring structural problems that exist throughout. As expected, the film required a number of scenes introducing the vast cast of characters who would form Taskforce X. These introductions are not balanced in the slightest with numerous flashback sequences and a central focus on Deadshot and Harley Quinn but more of them later. Making the introductions is Amanda Waller, a Government official who has struck upon the nonsensical idea of using the most dangerous criminals to execute dangerous missions. She is deliberately unlikeable to encourage the audience to root for the squad, revisiting conspiracy-fuelled themes of distrust for authority figures.

To be clear however there is no immediate threat that requires the formation of the Suicide Squad. Such is the abysmal plotting, the squad’s formation creates the threat that they end up battling. Amanda Waller manufactures the peril herself as before the team is even formed one of the members goes rogue, the Enchantress.

imageCara Delevingne is a model trying to act and frankly it comes across that way. She is the most bland villainess to hang an entire movie on. The key to any good drama is to create peril with an imposing and believable villain. It is no wonder that when it really matters her dialogue is heavily manipulated by voice effects in an attempt to add gravitas and threat which Delevingne is simply incapable of delivering. As the movie reaches is climax the Enchantress has created a Stargate in the sky because magic is the perfect excuse for yet another CGI monstrosity that looks visually impressive but lacks meaning or intelligent thought. Similarly, her faceless soldiers are meaningless fodder to add jeopardy and her brother, another CGI creation which is particularly unconvincing.

imagePart of the Enchantress’ backstory is that this mythical being, worshipped as a God by an unidentified Central American civilisation, has taken over the body of archaeologist June Moon. She in turn is the love interest of Rick Flag, the military man charged with controlling the unruly Suicide Squad. His character is quite strong, admittedly with questionable motivation but he is a solid presence in the film and shares the lead with the only major actor Will Smith as Deadshot with the two characters providing an engaging double act throughout.

imageDeadshot is the real lead of the piece, sharing entertains exchanges with Rick Flag. This is unsurprising given the casting of consistent leading man and box office draw, Will Smith. The appearance of such a familiar star does mean that Deadshot’s mask is only worn briefly so as not to conceal the film’s top star. Deadshot does however receive the most attention regarding his backstory. In fact Deadshot receives three introductions all of which are focused on his daughter. Whilst it is of course difficult to be separated from your child the point is excessively laboured and frankly he may be a talented shot but he could always get a job at Wallmart to provide for his daughter instead of choosing the life of the hitman. Fortunately Smith’s ability as the wise-cracking lead, mirroring Robert Downey Jr’s Ironman for Marvel, showcase those skills honed in other summer blockbusters such as ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Men in Black’. This influence is crucial in making the chaos presented remotely passable for viewers.

Other members of the Suicide Squad receive much less attention. Diablo is particularly interesting, seemingly underestimating his power and ending up incinerating his wife and children, but even this could’ve been presented clearer. Killer Croc is also very well realised but is presented as a simple monster. Similarly, Katana and Boomerang are given very little introduction but the latter is at least particularly entertaining outside of the fight sequences. Shamefully the character of Slipknot is not even introduced properly but appears only to get killed, such is the amateurish plotting to prove a point as to why the squad are participating in this madness. With so many characters it was always a tall order to give them equal coverage but that possibility is extinguished as the limelight is instead hogged by Harley Quinn.

imageThe character of Harley Quinn is intriguing, corrupted by the Joker and choosing to follow in his crazed footsteps. Margot Robbie is tasked with bringing her to the screen and is very entertaining as the pigtailed lunatic. However, Harley is completely over sexualised, bordering on the grotesque mysogynistic. Sexually licking the bars of her cell is one thing but deliberate shots of her hotpants and rear end are simply unnecessary. Her impractical outfit is then maximised by a predictable rain shower which allows for Harley’s entry into a wet t-shirt contest. Whilst I am sure none of the suits involved in constructing this film are even remotely aware of the popularity of Harley Quinn with cosplayers but the sexualised image presented in this film is going to be replicated by teenage girls. As a result all those involved, from the film makers to the distributor, have a responsibility to consider how these images are going to impact on their audience. Another individual hampered by the decisions made regarding their onscreen appearance is the Joker.

imageJared Leto’s Joker is an irrelevance in the film. Whereas Ben Affleck’s Batman makes a few cameos over the two hour duration, the Joker can only be described as having an extended cameo. I’m not sure if I was expecting more of him during the film but watching Leto’s portrayal I am grateful that his appearances were limited. He has to provide the worst onscreen version of the Joker ever. It is a modern interpretation but that results in an image conscious gangster, hanging out in nightclubs, covered in bling and tattoos. He is unpredictable and manic, capable of spinning on a razor blade but the Joker’s unpredictability should also extend to his image. The sinister false smile is sadly now only a tattoo on the back of his left hand. Making the Joker look like a typical gangster, save for the green hair, reduces him instead of elevating him above stereotypes. This gangster image therefore smothers what interesting aspects Leto was attempting to bring to the role. The one successful line is when the Joker declares that he is “just going to hurt you, really, really badly”. Leto is stripped back and delivers the line in a truly sinister manner, it is just a shame that there is so little else that matches this high point.

 

imageI cannot understand how the final product can possibly be the vision which the director David Ayer had set out with when embarking on the project. It is a textbook example of a studio corrupting their own output based on the reactions of the public to other movies. For example jokes are inserted, not skilfully but in a manner akin to dropping an anvil onto an orchestra and expecting a symphony, because Deadpool’s wit entertained audiences. Similarly, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ featured a brilliant soundtrack, presented as a mix-tape which entertains both Star Lord during the story as well as the watching audience but the retro tracks also juxtapose so well with the futuristic alien visuals. Suicide Squad however just drops recognisable tunes into the edit with no connection whatsoever to the visuals. The most appropriate word to describe it is ‘cynical’.

DC have been playing catchup with Marvel’s movie offerings but instead of embracing the differences they have simply attempted to replicate their successful formula. Suicide Squad is a missed opportunity that is so poorly executed but because it has drawn massive business at the Box Office it will be declared a success. The standalone Wonder Woman movie looks promising and hopefully will not be clouded by the influence or appearance of another superhero to distract from the plot. DC’s inevitable response to Marvel’s Avengers will of course follow with the Justice League movie. Given the deeply flawed offerings of ‘Batman vs Superman’ and now ‘Suicide Squad’ the Justice League movie has to be approached with a significant amount of trepidation.

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REVIEW: Game of Thrones : Season 6 Finale

imageIn a season which had a pedestrian build-up, to say the least, slowly putting in place the pieces it needed to deliver an impressive finale and it didn’t disappoint. After setting it all up, the final two episodes roared to life with explosive scenes that redefined the phrase “must see television”. All the plot threads have had significant screen time dedicated to establishing events but the payoffs were more than worth the wait. If you’ve not caught up then do not hamper your enjoyment by reading further, there will be spoilers!

imageLast week saw the epic ‘Battle of the Bastards’ for Winterfell and certainly lived up to expectations. Fortunately good triumphed over evil as the Starks recaptured their home and Ramsey Bolton finally got his just desserts. More than that the episode saw a truly spectacular battle. It’s epic scale alone set new standards for what can be achieved with a supposed TV budget. There was a gritty, and at times suffocating, realism which heightened the brutality and the chaos of such a battle. From the very start there were moments where the viewer is left concerned that things were not going to go the way of the Starks, beginning with Rickon’s death. This was at the hands of an arrow from Ramsey Bolton, at his most manipulative and despicable that continued as he instructed his archers to shower down arrows on his own men, building a grotesque wall of corpses with soldiers from both sides. With the Wildling Warriors and Jon Snow surrounded all seems lost. imageBut then as the audience’s collective heart sinks, Sansa and Littlefinger come to the rescue with the Knights of the Vale. The overhead shot of the cavalry sweeping away the Bolton army was beautifully created, sending Ramsey into retreat behind the walls of Winterfell to little avail. Jon Snow gets his shots in as he pummels at Lord Bolton’s sickening face but it would be for Sansa to have the final triumph and the last shot of the show. Ramsey’s cruelty ultimately proves his undoing and Sansa walks away with a subtle smile knowing she has got her revenge.

‘The Winds of Winter’ picked up the mantle from ‘Battle of the Bastards’, an episode many have considered to have been one of the best the show has produced, and somehow delivered even more punch. From the very outset there is a beautiful melancholy tone, beginning before a musical note is even heard as a lone bell, watch out for it later, chimes impending doom. The incidental music then assists the drama so skilfully and has to be acknowledged.

imageAll the scenes in King’s Landing for effectively the last two seasons have been building to this moment, the Trial of Cersei Lannister before the Seven Gods. The rise of the Faith Militant had of course proved to be a catastrophic miscalculation by Cersei, having to endure the humiliating walk of shame at the end of Season 5. But you always knew she was going to have her revenge and boy did she, also wiping out the Tyrell’s at the same time. Loras admits his guilt and dedicates his life to the Seven Gods, meaning the graphic mutilation of his pretty forehead. His life didn’t have long left however as, in a plot stolen from Guy Fawkes, wildfire tore through the Great Sept of Baelor in another spectacularly delivered effect. Yet in a typically unexpected twist Cersei’s greatest victory resulted in her cruelest loss as King Tommen drops to his death in a shot similar to the humourous demise of Denholm Reynholm in ‘The IT Crowd’. You feel that with all her children gone, like Lady Olenna Tyrell, there will be no limits to her madness.

imageThe extended running time of ‘The Winds of Winter’ was fully utilised as a number of threads were tied together, such as Sam and Gilly arriving at Oldtown and Shireen’s brutal demise last year finally catching up with Melisandre. Arya Stark’s personal journey finally begins to be accelerating as she ticked another individual off her kill list in this episode. The time spent learning the ways of the House of Black and White finally come to fruition as she wreaks her revenge on Walder Frey on behalf of her mother, brother and all the viewers shaken by the events of the Red Wedding.

For the really hardcore followers Bran’s journey into the past would reveal the true identity of Jon Snow’s parents, Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. The gut wrenching realisation that after all this time Ned Stark was not in fact his father but had kept up a lie to protect his sister’s son was another example of how incredible Game of Thrones is as a television series. As well as delivering the explosive sequences and epic battles already discussed it also provides deeply intelligent plotting which elevates it to the ranks of a television masterpiece.

imageJon Snow’s own journey during this season, which of course started with him being dead and in need of resurrection, also ends in triumph as he is declared ‘The King in the North’. Once again however it is young Bella Ramsey who steals the scene as Lyanna Mormont, shaming the other Lords of the North, turning the tide and triggering the acknowledgment of his place as ‘King in the North’. A particular thread still left outstanding is that of Sansa Stark and Littlefinger, the lecherous and goateed individual revealing his intentions for the Iron Throne in this episode. However you feel that Sansa will not ever forgive him for handing her over to the Boltons and his comeuppance may come in Season 7, when he will surely pay a heavy price.

imageAnother exciting prospect for Season 7 is of course the fact that finally, FINALLY, Daenerys is making her move for the Iron Throne and heading for Westeros. The building of her army has taken an eternity but now she stands with Dothraki and Unsullied warriors, the ships of Yara and Theon Greyjoy, an alliance with the Martels and Tyrells, the council of Tyrion and Varys plus three freaking dragons! As will probably be the case there might be an extended period of build up before a battle between the Lannister and Targaryen armies that will surely raise even higher standards for epic television storytelling than we have already enjoyed in Season 6. Beyond that I predict we will also be treated to a thrilling climax between fire and ice because lest we forget in all this excitement, “Winter is Here”.

REVIEW: New Top Gear

imageIn perhaps the most anticipated relaunch of a television programme since Doctor Who returned in 2005 another global BBC brand returned to our screens last night. The strategy was clear from the outset, replicate the format of the previous show but with new presenters. Unfortunately the team of seven was largely absent with Sabine Schmitz only making a cameo and the limelight being taken by Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc. Evans is clearly excited to be given the opportunity to present the show but burdened with the pressure and responsibility of the relaunch couldn’t find the balance between addressing the studio audience and the viewers at home, resulting in some very shouty delivery. Matt Le Blanc is the star although he should clearly have opened with a “how you doing?” The American was far more natural and even though known as an actor he appeared more than comfortable in the role of presenter. During his films, which as usual were gloriously shot, for this first episode Le Blanc is knowledgeable and engaging, managing to grasp the dry sense of humour familiar to a British audience.

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All the boxes were ticked to try and present the show as the same which had been so successful before. “All we know is he’s called the Stig”, a Top Gear road trip with unreliable vehicles and a series of challenges for the presenters. The only real change, besides the audience on the balcony, was to the ‘star in the reasonably priced car’ which now featured a rally cross section to the lap. The Ramsey and Eissenberg segment also suffered from pandering to the studio audience, alienating the viewers at home.

Whilst many I’m sure have been composing their derogatory reviews since Clarkson, Hammond and May departed, this new Top Gear has tried to stay faithful to the previous regime. Unsurprisingly it is not the same because the pieces of the jigsaw are now different and for people to criticise it because of that is unfair. Amazon will be providing the familiar format and the big test for the Top Gear brand will be it’s ability to attract and retain an audience. If the first episode is anything to go by Matt Le Blanc is certainly worth watching.

REVIEW: Batman V Superman

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Batman v Superman has received much critical analysis and I thought I would offer my opinions having viewed the film. Plot spoilers will follow so do not read on if you wish to retain your own enjoyment of the movie.

Firstly, let’s start with ‘Man of Steel’, Zack Synder’s first foray into the film world with Superman upon which sets the scene for this second movie. Whilst it proved divisive I didn’t mind it too much but questioned why there was a need for yet another retelling of Superman’s origins beside legal reasoning. That feeling resurfaced in the early stages of Batman v Superman as yet again we see another retelling of the demise of Bruce Wayne’s parents and the imagery of a young Master Wayne engulfed by bats. This is an early indicator of how grim the tone of the tale is going to be with no lighter moments whatsoever in the entire two and a half hour experience. However, the purpose of this movie is clear, to set up a ‘Justice League’ release to rival Marvel’s Avengers series. The subtitle ‘Dawn of Justice’ obviously alludes to the Justice League and curiously much of the publicity included the fact that Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, also featured in the movie. Perhaps this was a deliberate method used by the studios of avoiding spoilers by broadcasting spoilers themselves. It’s title also broadcasts the plot as it can be easily concluded that there would be at least one epic battle between Batman and Superman. However, that creates many of the flaws that hamper the film.

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Superman is one of the most difficult characters in fiction because he is so powerful, the impervious ‘man of steel’ means that any effective drama necessitates that he loses his power and therefore Kryptonite is needed to make his battle with the merely human Batman competitive. Similarly, Ben Affleck’s Batman requires an armoured suit so as to withstand the blows delivered by the son of Krypton and his descent into paranoia regarding the supposed danger presented by Superman muddies the water even further. Viewers are subjected to confusing hallucinations or dream sequences that emphasize his paranoia with no real indicator as to why it has been triggered other than one of the more intriguing areas that the film does explore, the human toll taken by citywide destruction caused by battling superheroes. Similarly, Superman’s reasoning for disliking Batman, triggering the inevitable conflict, is wafer thin in construction and is easily dismissed by the simple coincidence of both heroes mother’s sharing a first name.

Batman-v-Superman-poster-previewThe alien Kryptonite element centres around Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, a frankly hideous portrayal, spouting nonsensical verbal diarrhoea in an attempt to convey the character’s lunacy. Similarly suffering from the story is Lois Lane, often pointed to as a beacon to other media of how to portray female characters as strong-willed and empowering. Instead, Lois is reduced to the role of ‘damsel in distress’ not once but thrice, Superman’s ‘spidey-sense’ tingling whenever his beloved is in danger no matter where on the planet she is. In contrast Ben Affleck’s portrayal of Batman is strong, an aging caped crusader no longer at his peak and given more room to strike up an entertaining relationship with Jeremy Irons as Alfred and it seems only a matter of time before a stand alone Batfleck-flick is released. Hopefully, it will be a lot tighter in construction than this film’s effort.

Batman-v-Superman-battle-posters-featured-imageIt is a shame that the film disappoints because underneath the effects-heavy bravado is a fascinating story which questions how the elevation of Superman to that of a God has the potential to divide humanity. This is based on the fear that if this all powerful alien chose to he could wipe out the residents of planet Earth. Similarly, as he is defined as an American icon where does his jurisdiction end and what of the costs of his actions, particularly to the human lives affected and even those ended? Sadly, that line of questioning is swiftly disposed of as more destructive battles drag out the run-time even further with an invented Kryptonian monster used to unite the warring caped heroes with the randomly introduced Wonder Woman so as to set up the Justice League movies to follow.

There is one line in the film where Perry White states categorically that “Nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman”, which if true would not bode well for the box office takings. With the extraordinary number of superhero movies being released over the forthcoming years, from Marvel and DC, it is a concern that suddenly the bubble might burst and viewer apathy might take hold as they tire of the endless genre with little that is new and fresh to draw the attention. Unfortunately, films which miss the mark like this one might bring forward this apathy sooner than should be the case.

The State of Rugby Union

As 2015 draws to a close it is a time for reflection. It has been a year where the biggest tournament in rugby union came to the UK, the regional game in Wales continued to meander laterally and the laws of the game continue to baffle and irritate.

ChampsRugby World Cup 2015 was a huge success. Despite eye-watering ticket prices and a decision to have football stadiums hosting matches instead of the rugby heartlands the tournament generated fantastic atmospheres and delivered some particularly memorable matches. Few will forget Japan defeating the Springboks in the ultimate example of having confidence in ones own ability. New Zealand played a brand of ‘Total Rugby’ from a different planet against France in Cardiff. There was the controversy of Australia’s last minute victory against Scotland and Craig Joubert’s dash from the pitch. Wales overcame all the odds created by a lengthy injury list against England to pull off a famous win. The hosts failing to emerge from their pool, Stuart Lancaster losing his job and the entire Sam Burgess saga was pure sporting soap opera. The final match itself also provided a tremendous advert for the sport with plenty of action and drama, ably controlled by a Welshman.

WRU-home-kit-5-playersThe relationship between the Welsh Rugby Union and the professional regional teams has certainly been strained in recent years and 2015 was no different. Not that long ago we had the Faletau affair with the talented No. 8 venturing to Bath anyway, leaving the Dragons with no transfer fee and the WRU left with egg on their face. It is a peculiar situation with the Union trying to attract it’s big name stars back to Wales with central contracts but their contribution to their region is often limited. There are five professional teams, Scarlets, Ospreys, Dragons, Blues and of course Wales, all with a core support. Plus, there is your local grassroots club in the town or village where you live. With so much rugby available, clashes are bound to happen, people have busy lives and responsibilities, the costs add up, plus the amount of television coverage, it is no wonder that attendances are hampered. In a few weeks the Six Nations will return and the nation will join forces again but the poor players will be flogged further after the tournament with another four Test matches by the end of June, three of which are away to the World Champions.

There is no easy solution. Fans will flock to see big one off games during the festive period and support their nation, proving that the sport still lies at the heart of Wales. However, finding the balance of encouraging those fans to support their local club, their region, as well as their nation is a tough ask. But unless a solution is found, one of that trio will suffer and fade away beyond all recognition.

Owens_ref_finalThe law book, refereeing and the crucial interpretation variations are probably the most debated part of the sport. A demand for accuracy has resulted in an increasing reliance on the Television Match Official hampering the flow, momentum and entertainment aspect of the game. The Maul in particular has proved to be an effective source of points because the whole area has become a shambles. Players join the maul in front of the ball, the player with the ball often detaches and moves to the back in order to guide the drive and defenders are blocked from tackling the ball carrier. Equally the scrum has resulted in plenty of lost time with teams using the set piece as a source of points instead of a simple way of restarting the match.

Despite these issues 2015 saw some incredible matches outside of the World Cup. Australia beat the All Blacks to lift the Rugby Championship. The final Saturday of the Six Nations was spectacular with tries galore. In Europe Wasps have been exhilarating in victories over Leinster, Bath and champions Toulon. In the English Premiership Exeter have been performing consistently and look a good bet to hold on to a top four place. In Wales the top of the Premiership is more competitive than in recent years with Pontypridd not running away with the top spot and Merthyr are living up to expectations in the Championship.

Jonah Lomu2015 was also sadly the year when we lost the first rugby superstar, Jonah Lomu. 20 years ago he changed the sport and became a global icon. His power and pace was matched by his humility. Sadly, he was never a World Cup winner but there is no greater tribute to Lomu and the equally imposing Jerry Collins, than having later All Black icons McCaw, Carter and others successfully retaining their trophy and cementing their place as perhaps the greatest sports team in history.

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.

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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!