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Doctor Who: The Doctor Falls (Review)

In many ways, World Enough and Time felt like a nostalgic return to classic Doctor Who.

The first part of the season premiere luxuriated in its relaxed pacing, as Bill watched grainy black-and-white footage that moved at a glacial pace. When the Cybermen appeared, they were explicitly classified as “the Mondasian Cybermen” and designed to evoke their earliest appearance in The Tenth Planet. When John Simm revealed himself, he was wearing a “rubbish beard” under an overly-elaborate disguise. There was a sense that Steven Moffat was bidding farewell to Doctor Who with a celebration of the classic series’ eccentricities.

March of the Cybermen.

In contrast, The Doctor Falls is much more of an encapsulation of Moffat’s themes and ideas during his time on the show. Even the title of The Doctor Falls evokes the Moffat era; The Doctor Dances was the first episode to include the words “the Doctor” since Holiday for the Doctor, the first part of the First Doctor serial The Gunfighters. Moffat’s fascination with the Doctor as a character and concept is born out with his repeated reference to the character in the titles of his era; Vincent and the Doctor, The Doctor’s Wife, The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.

More to the point, The Doctor Falls returns to the idea of Moffat’s “Doctor trilogy” as the heart of his tenure as executive producer, the narrative running through The Name of the Doctor, The Night of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor. Positioned roughly half-way through his run in terms of seasons and episodes, those stories encapsulated a lot of what Moffat felt about the character and the concept. It makes sense that The Doctor Falls should return to those ideas.

Masters of the Universe.

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Doctor Who: World Enough and Time (Review)

The Moffat era will likely be remembered for its “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey” plotting, so perhaps World Enough and Time is an appropriate end point.

World Enough and Time begins what will be Steven Moffat’s last season finale, and what will be his last run as both writer and showrunner on Doctor Who. It is the beginning of the end. It is in some ways a less dramatic farewell than that overseen by his predecessor, with a year of specials meaning that Russell T. Davies was credited on the last nine episodes of his tenure. Instead, World Enough and Time is the first of Steven Moffat’s last three scripts for Doctor Who.

Heart-to-heart-implant.

World Enough and Time is bookended by these references, reminding the audience that time is running out for the Doctor. The teaser suggests an inevitable regeneration, as the Doctor stumbles out of the TARDIS burning with energy. The closing shot of the “Next Time” trailer at the end of the episode is the Doctor digging his hand into the soil as the energy flows through his body. There is a definite sense that the Twelfth Doctor is (a lot) closer to his end than two his beginning.

Indeed, even the inclusion of the Cybermen in World Enough and Time plays into this idea. The Daleks have arguably always functioned as the death drive within Doctor Who, the Last Great Time War serving as a metaphor for the traumatic cancellation. The Cybermen provide an interesting inversion. They represent the continuation of life through grotesque means. The Cybermen are monsters that sacrificed their humanity to survive. While the only answer to the Daleks is life, the only answer to the Cybermen is death. Death comes to time.

No time for Missy-ing.

There are several interesting aspects of World Enough and Time, from the decision to build the two-parter around the Cybermen rather than the Daleks through to the decision to include two versions of the Master. However, the most strikingly “Moffat-y” aspect of the episode is how it approaches the question of time itself. The central hook of World Enough and Time is a colony ship where time has been dialated by a black hole, but that is not the most interesting “timey wimey” element of the series.

Instead, World Enough and Time is notable as a surprisingly nostalgic indulgence. It is an episode seems to bring the show back to its earliest days, from the Master’s campy disguise to his rubbish beard to the quite pointedly “Mondasian Cybermen” to the time spent watching a black-and-white show waiting a week to see what would happen next. World Enough and Time is a surreal curiousity, rather than a bombastic event. There is something very surreal in that.

Doctor Who watches Doctor Who.

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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: Death in Heaven (Review)

Welcome to the only planet in the universe where we get to say this. “He’s on the payroll.”

Am I?

Well, technically.

How much?

Shush.

Death in Heaven doesn’t work quite as well as Dark Water. Then again, it has a lot more to do.

After all, Dark Water was a sublimely extended joke – a forty-five minute gag. It is easier to affectionately parody the excess of the Davies-era finalés in the first part than it is to offer a straight-up imitation of those same finalés in the second. This simply isn’t the sort of season finalé to which Moffat’s style lends itself. This is very much a return to the scale and mood of The Parting of the Ways, Doomsday, The Last of the Time Lords or Journey’s End – the type of big emotive farewell season-ender that the show hasn’t done in quite a while.

"Hm. It used to be a lot easier to inspire terror. Time was five Cybermen marching around St. Paul's Cathedral..."

“Hm. It used to be a lot easier to inspire terror. Time was five Cybermen marching around St. Paul’s Cathedral…”

This is a different beast than The Name of the Doctor, The Wedding of River Song or even The Big Bang. After all, although The Big Bang was the second part of a season finalé with the entire universe at stake, the bulk of the story featured familiar characters in a relatively confined space. In contrast, Death in Heaven is very much structured as an “event” story built around an iconic adversary and teasing the departure of a long-term companion. It is full of big emotional beats and stunning set-pieces, placing the entire Earth at the mercy of a massive extraterrestrial threat.

Most of Death in Heaven feels like Moffat is writing in a strange language; he knows the words, but the grammar does not entirely fit. And yet, despite that, Death in Heaven mostly works. It doesn’t work as well as it might; it isn’t the strongest script of the season by any stretch; it is a little disjointed, a little all over the place, a little too giddy with itself in places. However, it is as clever as viewers have come to expect from the show and the writer, remaining in tune with the season’s core themes and putting an impressive capstone in Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor.

Psycho selfie!

Psycho selfie!

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Doctor Who: Dark Water (Review)

I presume you have stairs?

I’m not a Dalek.

Dark Water is downright provocative in places, and rather ingenious.

On the surface, Dark Water is the first part of a season-ending two-parter building to the return of two very obvious pieces of Doctor Who continuity. In doing so, it cleverly demonstrates one of the most obvious issues with the two-part structure in contemporary Doctor Who. The episode spends forty-five minutes building to a game-changing cliffhanger that is quite easy to figure out ahead of time. (Not least because the BBC’s publicity department loves Cybermen.) As such, the typical first part of a two-parter ends where the Doctor Who story actually begins.

doctorwho-darkwater9

However, there’s something far shrewder happening beneath the surface. While Dark Water spends most of its runtime affectionately mocking the inevitability of the two revelations at the climax, it is very in keeping with the aesthetic of the Moffat era around it; it is much more interested in the intimate than the epic. The climax beautifully subverts the classic Davies era “global invasion” cliffhanger by dismissing the Doctor as “another mad Scot” while the public look on bemused at the six Cybermen wandering down from St. Paul’s Cathedral.

In contrast, the juicy parts of Dark Water are those defined by the personal relationships at play. For all the iconic visuals and soaring music, the episode doesn’t close on the Cybermen or the Master; it closes on Danny and the reflection of the young child he killed. The episode’s big dramatic beat is that final conversation between Danny and Clara. The reveal that Missy is really the Master is obvious, but it is more interesting for her re-contextualising her relationship with the Doctor as that of a spurned and abandoned lover. It’s all personal.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who – Assimilation² (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

It’s amazing that Assimilation² represents the first official crossover between Star Trek and Doctor Who. After all, the nineties saw a trilogy of comics and novels in which Star Trek crossed over with Marvel’s X-Men. At the same time, though, the miniseries’ combination does seem a little odd. Pairing the Cybermen and the Borg is a bit of a no-brainer, but the Eleventh Doctor feels like a bit of a strange fit on board Picard’s Enterprise.

The Ninth or Tenth would arguably offer more of a contrast with Picard’s restrained and dignified command style. The Tenth Doctor and Donna arriving on the luxury Enterprise practically writes itself. (“Now that’s what I call a spaceship. You’ve got a box, they’ve got a Stella Liner.”) Picard and the Eleventh Doctor feels like a particularly bland pairing, if only because there’s no way they’d try each other’s patience. The Eleventh Doctor would probably work better in the context of Sisko’s Deep Space Nine or either Kirk’s Enterprise.

Still, although Assimilation² never quite takes full advantage of its central hook, it’s a diverting enough mish-mash of two science-fiction staples.

Cue Who?

Cue Who?

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Doctor Who: The Next Doctor (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Next Doctor originally aired in 2008.

Oh, goodness me. Well. But this is… but this is nonsense.

Well, that’s one word for it.

Complete and utter, wonderful nonsense. How very, very silly.

– Jackson Lake and the Doctor

The Next Doctor actually has a pretty audacious concept. It’s one gigantic tease that plays off the audience’s media savvy. Airing after David Tennant’s departure from the role had been announced, but before Matt Smith had been named as Tennant’s successor, The Next Doctor is one gigantic tease. Like the surprise “regeneration” at the climax of The Stolen Earth, it’s a shrewd attempt to turn the audience’s expectations against themselves.

After all, the gap between an announced departure of an existing lead and the point where he actually leaves is rife for experimentation – particularly in a show about time travel. Up until The Next Doctor actually aired, it was quite possible that David Morrissey was Tennant’s successor, and The Next Doctor was a rather clever twist on the classic “multi-Doctor” story by having the Doctor team up with his future self.

Of course, as with The Doctor’s Daughter, Davies was just teasing. It’s to Davies’ credit that The Next Doctor remains interesting even after the illusion begins to slip. The first half is actually a wonderfully solid mystery and character study, albeit one that descends into confusion and chaos in the second half of the episode.

The Next Doctor...?

The Next Doctor…?

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