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Doctor Who: Face the Raven (Review)

“She enjoyed that way too much.”

“Tell me about it.”

– Clara Oswald, RIP (for now)

Of course a season of two-parters would end with a three-parter.

That said, it seems quite clear that Face the Raven is the first part of a three-parter in the same way that Utopia was the first part of a three-parter; it is largely a standalone story that exists to manoeuvre the various characters to the point where the season finalé can actually begin. In a way, Face the Raven even marks its own “return of a classic series element”, albeit in a much more subdued manner than Utopia. It seems quite clear exactly who Ashidlr is dealing with, and it seems to be a pretty big deal.

Quoth the raven...

Quoth the raven…

There is quite a lot of narrative shuffling taking place here, to the point that Face the Raven feels very much like a premise rather than a self-contained story. The episode was allegedly cobbled together at reasonably short notice when Mark Gatiss could not extend Sleep No More into a two-parter keeping with the rest of the season. Given all the demands imposed on the script, it seems perfectly reasonable to suggest that Sarah Dollard was handed what is traditionally known as a “nightmare brief.”

In light of all of the obligations imposed on it, it is surprising that Face the Raven works at all. It is even more impressive that it works downright splendidly.

... nevermore...

… nevermore…

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Doctor Who: Series Eight (or Thirty-Four) (Review/Retrospective)

You asked me if you’re a good man and the answer is, I don’t know. But I think you try to be and I think that’s probably the point.

Peter Capaldi’s first season of Doctor Who is astonishingly linear.

That feels like a very weird thing to type, but it’s true. Executive producer Steven Moffat backed away from the ambitious structural experiments that defined the two previous seasons, pushing the show back towards a fairly conventional and logical structure. Between Deep Breath and Death in Heaven, there was a clear logical progression. The season did not begin at the end like The Impossible Astronaut did, or end at the beginning like The Name of the Doctor.

doctorwho-deepbreath2

Instead, things progressed cleanly and logically. Character arcs evolved in a very clear and structured way; themes built organically; the season’s central mysteries had little to do with the intricacies of time travel and more to do with guessing the nature of the returning threat. The result was perhaps the most accessible and linear season of Doctor Who since Steven Moffat’s first year as executive producer. In fact, it was the first season not to be split since Steven Moffat’s first season as executive producer.

To be fair, it is easy to see why such an approach was taken. While Peter Capaldi might be one of the most high profile and most successful actors to ever take on the lead role, changing the lead actor on successful television show is always a risky proposition; it is impossible to be too careful in managing the transition. The actor’s first season in the role is an endearing effort; a rather safe first half of the season giving way to a more adventurous and playful second half. While the season has a few flaws, it is hard to consider it anything but a massive success.

doctorwho-intothedalek17

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Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor (Review)

It’s okay, Barnable, don’t worry. I have got a plan. Off you pop.

[beat]

I haven’t got a plan, but people love it when I say that.

Doctor, what are you going to do?

I don’t know. Talk very fast. Hope something good happens. Take the credit. That’s generally how it works.

– the Doctor and Clara discuss standard operating procedure

An epic struggle for universal peace lasting centuries on a back water world; a conflict spanning generations; the potential to re-spark the Time War; the possibility of burning the turkey. The epic and intimate co-mingle in The Time of the Doctor.

In many respects, The Time of the Doctor serves as an effective counterpoint to The End of Time. Even the title seems to allude towards the Tenth Doctor’s final episode, as if to suggest that “time” is a thing that passes naturally rather than ending brutally. “I don’t want to go,” the Tenth Doctor pleaded in his final moments, a line that Moffat gently tried to re-write at the end of The Day of the Doctor. The Eleventh Doctor is more even-handed. “But you, you are the Doctor,” Clara assures him. “Yep, and I always will be,” he replies. “But times change, and so must I.”

This is when the magic happens...

This is when the magic happens…

(In fact, Moffat has a bit of gentle fun at the expense of The End of Time. Whereas the Tenth Doctor reluctantly sacrificed himself to save Wilf, the Eleventh Doctor quite selfless spends his entire life defending the town of Christmas on the planet of Trenzalore. Discussing the fake regeneration at the climax of The Stolen Earth, the Eleventh Doctor quips, I had vanity issues at the time.” He could easily be hinting at the hubris that built up towards the Tennant and Davies era’s swansong.)

In contrast, The Time of the Doctor was relatively low key. Well, as low key as an episode featuring all of the Doctor’s classic adversaries laying siege to one planet across hundreds of years as the threat of a reignited Time War looms large in the horizon. Still, as wonderful as that epic scale might be, The Time of the Doctor feels like a spiritual companion to Moffat’s other Christmas episodes – the story of the loneliest man in the universe saving Christmas (the town and the holiday), on an intimate scale that just happens to be epic; “the man who stayed for Christmas.”

What's cooking?

What’s cooking?

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Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (Review)

How do we get down there? Jump?

Don’t be silly. We fall.

– Clara and the Doctor set things straight

Like The Wedding of the River Song, The Name of the Doctor suggests that Moffat might be better served by reverting to the Davies-era model of two-part season finalés. The strongest season ender of the Moffat era (and probably the best season finalé of the revived show) was The Big Bang, because it felt like Moffat had enough space to allow his ideas to breathe. The Name of the Doctor is a lot sharper and a lot more deftly constructed than any of the closing episodes from Russell T. Davies’ seasons, but it feels a little too compact, a little too tight for its own good.

To be fair, Moffat is has very cleverly structured his season. The mystery of Clara was seeded as early as Asylum of the Daleks and hints have been scattered throughout the past year of Doctor Who. Even the build-up to the final line of the episode feels like an idea that Moffat has been toying with since The Beast Below. Despite all this, it still feels like The Name of the Doctor could do with a little more room to elaborate and develop the concepts at the core of the story.

Journey to the centre of the Doctor?

Journey to the centre of the Doctor?

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Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (Review)

“Good guys do not have zombie creatures. Rule one, basic storytelling.”

– Clara understands the way the universe works

And here our big theory that this anniversary season is a “greatest hits” collection runs into a bit of bother. Okay, Cold War was definitely a Troughton-era throwback. And Hide had a definite Hinchcliffe-and-Holmes feeling to it. (“The Baker Street irregulars” in 1974.) Maybe you could stretch it a little bit and argue that The Bells of St. John is a tribute to the Pertwee era by way of Russell T. Davies; and The Rings of Akhaten definitely feels a little like a classic bit of Hartnell-era world-building.

Making the case for The Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS is just a little bit harder. After all, The Crimson Horror is another throwback to Hinchcliffe and Holmes, while Nightmare in Silver is another “base under siege by classic monster” tribute to Troughton. So there’s only one missing piece here. If that “greatest hits” argument holds, then Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS must be one gigantic shout out to the John Nathan Turner era.

Hear me out.

A shining beacon of light...

A shining beacon of light…

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