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Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived (Review)

Can’t we share? Isn’t that what robbery is all about?

– the Doctor on redistribution of wealth

The Woman Who Lived adopts the same structure as The Girl Who Died, basically grafting a fairly generic alien invasion narrative on to a more character-driven story. It is an approach that worked very well for Jamie Mathieson and Steven Moffat, but it admittedly works a little less smoothly this time around.

The Girl Who Died had the luxury of some very generic antagonists posing a very generic threat to a very generic village populated (for the most part) with fairly generic characters. Against this backdrop, there was room to develop not only the character of Ashidlr, but also to flesh out the perspective of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara. The stakes weren’t particularly high in the context of Doctor Who, and the resolution was decidedly goofy. But that was the thrill.

Okay, now Peter Capaldi is just showing off...

Okay, now Peter Capaldi is just showing off…

The Woman Who Lived is decidedly heavier in tone and content. This is not to suggest that the alien threat at the heart of the episode is any more substantial or nuanced. There is an alien emissary plotting to open a dimensional portal so that his buddies can harvest the Earth for their own sinister purpose. This is, if anything, even more generic than the Mire’s plot to harvest testosterone. The problem is that the script clutters everything up, adding betrayals and macguffins and mythos that add little of value.

It is not as if the convolutions of the generic alien invasion plot exist to balance a lighter character-driven story. If anything, the meat of Ashidlr’s character arc is to be found in The Woman Who Lived, as she learns to cope with the mixed blessing of immortality. The Woman Who Lived certainly gives Maisie Williams more to do. So The Woman Who Lived has a lot more going on than The Girl Who Died, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Candle in the wind...

Candle in the wind…

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Doctor Who: Before the Flood (Review)

“Prentis! He’s alive.”

“No, he’s just not dead yet.”

– Bennett and the Doctor understand how this whole base under siege thing works

There is an argument to be made that Before the Flood is just too damn clever for its own good.

Under the Lake was a very conventional and familiar “base under siege” story, the kind of tense confined thriller that Doctor Who did so well. However, Before the Flood does more than simply extend that premise by another forty-five minutes. Instead, it gets decidedly playful. This is a nice twist on the structure of the season, a season built around multiple interlocking two-part episodes. Taking advantage of the break between Under the Lake and Before the Flood, writer Toby Whithouse shifts the episode’s genre along with its setting.

A Fisher (King) in the face of reality itself...

A Fisher (King) in the face of reality itself…

The teaser sets the tone, with the Doctor addressing the audience directly. In fact, one suspects that google searches on the phrase “bootstrap paradox” jumped dramatically at around 8:27pm BST, 10th October 2015. Although the episode’s closing sequence suggests that the Doctor might plausibly be addressing Clara, the framing makes it quite clear that he is talking through the television to the viewers at home. As if to emphasise this little detail, the Doctor’s wailing electric guitar plays into the opening credits; in case the show needed to be more self-aware.

However, Before the Flood is never entirely sure how much of this self-awareness is genuine cleverness and just how much of it is necessary structuring.

Flood of ideas...

Flood of ideas…

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Torchwood: Miracle Day – The New World (Review)

In a way, Torchwood: Miracle Day is a miracle itself. It’s a sign of just how far Russell T. Davies has brought Doctor Who, to the point where one of the franchise’s spin-offs could be an international co-production between America and the United Kingdom. Sure, Starz is hardly the best and brightest of American networks, but it’s no small accomplishment on the part of Davies.

America has been something of a promised land for the franchise since the eighties, when John Nathan Turner would spend considerable time and money visiting American fan conventions or casting multinational companions or even arranging international co-financing or to air The Five Doctors first in international territories. None of those examples really took, and most of America only really knew the franchise through PBS airings of the Tom Baker era.

Jack's back...

Jack’s back…

Davies did a lot of work to bring Doctor Who to America. That work really came to fruition during the Steven Moffat era, with a massive opening two-parter set in 1970’s America and the use of Utah as a crucial location. Massive visits to Comic Con became an annual ritual for the show, its producers and performers. The Day of the Doctor will be broadcast live around the world at the same time, no small accomplishment.

While it’s undoubtedly on a much smaller scale, it is nice that Miracle Day affords Davies a chance to be part of this expansion – spearheading his own project that directly intersects with American television. Starz is hardly Fox, the network that Davies originally pitched to, but it is a significant achievement, and a lot of Miracle Day is best understood as an opportunity for the franchise “to go American.”

Defying classification...

Defying classification…

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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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Star Trek: Voyager – Projections (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Projections is really the first episode of Star Trek: Voyager that feels like it is the right script coming from the right staff writer. At the start of the show’s first season, it seemed like writing assignments were handed out almost at random, with no real acknowledgement of the relative strength of any of the writers involved.

Brannon Braga is one of the best science-fiction high-concept writers in the history of franchise, but he was assigned the character-driven second episode Parallax and the issue-driven Emanations; Michael Piller’s personal strengths were always more firmly aligned with character development, so it felt strange to see him writing the time travel adventure Time and Again and the anomaly of the week in The Cloud.

All by myself...

All by myself…

Pushing the boundaries of a writing staff is something worth doing – forcing various members of the team to ease themselves out of their comfort zone – but it felt counter-productive to do this during the first season of a new Star Trek show. After all, the first season is about putting the best foot forward, and many of the early scripts for the show feel like they were handed to the wrong writers during the development process.

With Projections, it feels like Brannon Braga finally has a Voyager script that plays entirely to his strengths as a writer. It is arguably his most character-driven script on the franchise to date, but it also anchored in a pretty fascinating existential dilemma. In many respects, it is a spiritual companion to Frame of Mind, a sixth season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generationpreoccupied with questions about what reality actually might be.

Everything falls apart...

Everything falls apart…

Following on from Heroes and Demons, Projections is only the second episode of Voyager to focus on the character of the Doctor. However, much like Heroes and Demons, it demonstrates the versatility of the character and the range of the actor. Projections is a very clever script that relies on its central character to really carry it across the line. At this point in Voyager‘s run, Robert Picardo seems to be one of the few members of the ensemble who could really pull it off.

The result is one of the (if not the) strongest episode of the show’s first two seasons – somewhat appropriate, given the way the show straddles the gap between the first and second seasons.

He's not all there...

He’s not all there…

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Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express (Review)

“You know, Doctor, I can’t tell if you’re ingenious or just incredibly arrogant.”

“On a good day, I’m both.”

Mummy on the Orient Express is Doctor Who in a blender. It’s classic period piece, genre pastiche and science-fiction spectacle, mixed with a healthy dose of creature feature horror and a solid development of the themes running through the eighth season so far. It’s clever, witty and energetic. The episode is a delight from beginning to end, beating out Robot of Sherwood and Time Heist to claim the title of the year’s best “romp” – as you might expect from a story that is a Hammer Horror murder on the Orient Express in Space.

doctorwho-mummyontheorientexpress8

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Star Trek: Voyager – Eye of the Needle (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Eye of the Needle really should be a bigger deal than it is.

Looking at the basic premise of Star Trek: Voyager, a story like Eye of the Needle should be an “event.” It should, at the very least, be a mid-season finalé. Ideally, the episode would serve as the season finalé, bringing a sense of closure to year of adventuring by our crew, suggesting that there is some measure of hope for them. Perhaps home is not as far away as it might seem.

"Hm. You appear to have beamed me up in my pyjamas..."

“Hm. You appear to have beamed me up in my pyjamas…”

Voyager is a show about a ship stranded on the far side of the galaxy. The crew are isolated from friends and family. The return journey will take seventy years. It is quite possible that this will be a generational voyage. The Voyager crew will return home to a world that has changed without them. It’s heartbreaking even to think about.

So the ship’s first chance to get home should be something to get excited about. It should be cause for celebration; it should feel like a lifeline dangling just within the reach of our characters. There should be a sense that this sort of think might only happen once, and everybody best be prepared for it. Instead, it happens six episodes into the season, and the audience spends forty-five minutes waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Thoughtful Janeway pose #452...

Thoughtful Janeway pose #452…

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