Doctor Who Festival, Sydney AustraliaBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 24 November 2015 - Reviewed by Tim Hunter

Doctor Who Festival
RHI, Sydney, Australia
21-22 November 2015
Sydney has always been known as a warm and sunny city, but on the day before the Doctor Who Festival took over the Horden Pavilion and Royal Hall of Industries (RHI) for the weekend, it surpassed itself. Flying in from Melbourne on Friday, where it had been a cool 15 degrees Celsius, it was 41 degrees on arrival in Sydney. That’s 108 degrees Fahrenheit – which, as Sylvester McCoy said, sounds much more dramatic.

Happily though for both attendees and the team from the UK, a cool change swept through Friday evening, so the next morning, everyone was queuing under a cloudy sky and in a much more respectable 20 degrees. Which is just as well, because dealing with the queues outside the Horden Pavilion, a venue known for hosting concerts and the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras party, for 45 minutes would have been unbearable in the previous day’s heat.

Yes, in true British tradition, the day started with polite queuing. Four lines, apparently: the Dalek TARDIS ticketholders, the Dalek General Admission, the Cybermen TARDIS ticketholders and the Cybermen General Admission. Not much in the way of visible signs and directions however, so harried security personnel were constantly asked which line was which, and many people realised they were in the wrong line. Still, it gave everyone the chance to check out a healthy number of cosplayers, dressed in various versions of the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor costumes, a handful of Weeping Angels, homemade Cybermen, priestesses from ‘The Fires of Pompeii’, River Song, an occasional Captain Jack, and quite a few Osgoods.

As a rule, there wasn’t much complaining though, and I made it in – with the Cybermen stream and a Press Pass – into the main theatre for the first event, the Real SFX Show with Danny Hargreaves. He joined host Adam Spencer on stage, blowing up a Dalek casing and talking about his effects work on the show over the past ten years. He spoke about how different actors dealt with his explosions (Matt Smith squealed and jumped, Peter Capaldi apparently met one over-exuberant explosion with a steely gaze directed at Danny), and then demonstrated, with the help of a couple of volunteers, set off a charge in a rogue Cyberman’s chest. It was a fun and colourful start to the day, and the audience were enthusiastic and appreciative. It made a normally unreachable element of Doctor Who that much more real.

That would continue, as we then streamed into the RHI, where the rest of the Festival was set up:  stalls, merchandise, props, costumes, a Pub Quiz and three separate areas for further discussions with those who work behind the scenes. First up was Mark Gatiss on the Dropbox Stage, chatting informally with local comedian and host Rob Lloyd about writing for Doctor Who. He was intelligent, articulate and considered with his answers, with a large focus on his most recent episode, Sleep No More, inspired apparently by his 3am insomniac state and rubbing the sleep out of his eye. It was also his first ‘future’ story, a satire on capitalism, and he spoke about enjoying creating a whole new world in the way Robert Holmes had.

He also spoke about lesser known things, such as the Doctor Who reboot pitch he, Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman took to the BBC in 2001 or 2002, which involved an English village and a strange man in the antiques store, who would be revealed as the Doctor. And the idea he tossed around of adapting his New Adventures novel, Nightshade, for the 2013 TV season, but with Ian Chesterton as an old man imagining the Zarbi and the Voord.

Gatiss also spoke of the strong female characters and presence in the series now, how he’s really a frustrated casting director, the fact that there’s no way an Ice Warrior in full armour could actually fit in a Soviet submarine, and how much he enjoyed working in references to old stories, like DVD Easter eggs.

Joining Lloyd on the stage next was Millennium FX’s Charlie Bluett, who took us through the creation of the Sandmen from Sleep No More, which included one of said Sandmen lumbering into the audience and onto the stage to be unmasked – literally. Fun facts taken from this session: KY Jelly is used to make monsters glisten, and the old Classic monsters are the hardest ones to create.

The Science of Doctor Who was the next session on this stage, and Lloyd, with Dr Martin White, presented a lively and cheeky exploration of scientific concepts, such as relative dimensions and regeneration, with the help of a Whiteboard, complete with its own minions, at one point. Fun fact: there are more than four dimensions in the universe – it’s more like 12!

Time then for more queuing – for food and coffee, to buy merchandise, to see the costumes and props, which included a great model of the Dalek City from this year’s season opener, The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, a Zygon, the Fisher King and a Mire, and to try and get a photo with a Dalek and Christmas tree in a fake snowstorm. This last one proved very popular, and even though I queued up more than once for this, I didn’t get the photo opportunity because I had other events to get to.

Such as the Sylvester McCoy session back in the Theatre. Hosted again by Spencer, McCoy was in great form, starting off on the stage with Spencer, talking about ferrets down his trousers, hammering nails into his nose (and how that is done without dying), playing the spoons on Kate O'Mara’s chest, which was very bouncy, apparently, but soon, with microphone in hand, he was down in the audience, answering questions and wandering around talking about all manner of things and jumping from story to story. His musings were illustrated with images quickly sourced online by the mixing desk crew and flashed on the screen as McCoy’s stories unfolded, which added an extra layer of context and visual reference.

Fun facts taken from this session: McCoy’s favourite story to work on was Survival (he attributes this to the actress who couldn’t deal with her cat costumes and stripped it off and ran into the desert wearing just a thong…); his favourite new monsters are the Weeping Angels; he got lost in Colin Baker’s costume and the Harpo Marx wig when filming his regeneration scene; and both he and Paul McGann have rubbery faces which worked well in their regeneration scene. All this made for an entertaining 45 minutes, and he was clearly a hit with the children and many others who may not have seen any of his work as the Seventh Doctor.

Then it was time for the session everyone was waiting for – Peter Capaldi, Steven Moffat and Ingrid Oliver – a last-minute addition after Billie Piper cancelled during the week. She may have been last-minute, but she was a welcome addition, and the three of them on stage together, moderated again by Spencer, had an engaging banter and rapport. Oliver spoke about her audition and getting her ‘penny-dropping moment’ look just right – which she and Capaldi then demonstrated, to rapturous applause and laughter. She also told of her first acting job, playing Shakespearean roles for American tourists at the Tower of London, and how her first scene for Doctor Who was there, so had a nice synergy for her.

Capaldi, at the end of an exhausting day, still had energy to talk about sitting at home alone watching the 50th anniversary special, having not been invited to anything, and how excited he’d been to work on The Fires of Pompeii, but said he’d loved to have played a monster covered in latex and killing David Tennant. He also spoke about having lunch with Matt Smith before starting the role, and Smith was on crutches. He and Moffat also enjoyed some dry and dour Scottish repartee, which the audience loved, and Moffat explained that writing the 50th anniversary special was the hardest thing he’s done – especially since he started out with no Doctors under contract at all, just Jenna Coleman. He also mentioned that while he may have suggested someone like John Hurt for the War Doctor, he never thought they would actually get him.

Spencer had asked the audience beforehand to think of questions beyond the obvious stuff that you could find the answer to by googling, and they did. Apart from a question about a Doctor Who/Sherlock crossover, which Moffat quickly shut down, there were some thoughtful and left-of-centre questions. Capaldi was caught out by one fan asking about his 80’s pop band, The Dream Boys, and a potential film about them. That started a whole conversation about the name sounding like The Chippendales, or a calendar – which then inspired a comment about the Women of UNIT sounding like a calendar and how Capaldi would like to see that calendar. As anyone would.

The final question was about the panel’s thoughts on the expanded Who Universe, such as novels, comics and audio plays, and Moffat took the talking stick and spoke about how he loved the fact that the past is still growing, and that it feels unstoppable. And that, he said, is the mark of a legend that can never end.

Enough time then, to head back into the RHI and a couple of final sessions in the Arena area. Hosted by comedian David Innes (who, with Rob Lloyd, form the comedy duo Innes Lloyd) was the Fan Challenge, or as Innes called it, the Game of Rassilon, where participants play in a series of physical trivia challenges to win the award. A mixture of easy, difficult and almost impossible questions from all eras of the show, it demonstrated exactly how much fans know, regardless of their age.

After that, it was time to meet the monsters. Strax performer Dan Starkey and Dalek operator and monster actor Jon Davey explained and demonstrated how to walk and speak like a Sontaran, how to make the foam rubber Mire costume stomp like a heavy metal robot, and how to get in and out of a Dalek casing. Both performers were relaxed and entertaining – especially Davey mincing around in a headless Mire costume, and seeing inside a Dalek, and it was a fun and lightweight way to finish a very intense and overloading day.

Yes, it was a long day, but for the attendees, who had travelled from all across Australia, from Perth and Brisbane and other cities, it was a unique look into the workings behind a much-loved show. Hopefully this isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime event, because despite the queuing, it was a great success, and the guests were very impressed with Australian fans’ love, devotion and dedication to Doctor Who. So, can we have more, please?

Face the RavenBookmark and Share

Saturday, 21 November 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Face the Raven
Written by Sarah Dollard
Directed by Justin Molotnikov
Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Joivan Wade, and Maisie Williams
Transmitted 21st November 2015, BBC One 

“She enjoyed that…….way too much” - Rigsy, Face the Raven


This year, Doctor Who’s arc has been a collection of ominous themes, sketched in throughout the series, and gathering momentum week-on-week. The Doctor’s confession dial. His mistake in reviving Ashildr. Friends within enemies. The hybrid - whatever that may be -  and all manner of other hybrids, thrown in to keep the Doctor and the viewer guessing. And, most of all, an increasing sense of dread about the fate of the increasingly fearless, reckless, thrill-seeking Clara Oswald - forecast through portentous dialogue, and the Doctor’s worried eyebrows.


This week, it all came to a head (well, most of it), in one of Doctor Who’s finest three quarters of an hour, beginning with a mystery, snowballing throughout, and ending in lump-in-throat tragedy.


Kicking off with the returning Rigsy calling the TARDIS, having woken up with a regrettable tattoo and no memory of last night, new writer Sarah Dollard plays an absolute blinder - as the Doctor and Clara are drawn quite literally into a Trap Street. The tattoo is of a number, and it’s counting down. It’s a death sentence.


The conceit of the street, literally hiding in plain sight, is a brilliantly Doctor Who idea. Everybody at some point has counted steps, then unaccountably lost their place and started again. Everyone has failed to see something right in front of them. The sense of clouds gathering is there from the start, and Dollard gives the Doctor (resplendent in purple velvet) and Clara one last moment of fun, as they search for the street from above and on foot, before finding it - in one of those rare occasions that London looks and feels like London.


This street, a haven for aliens living peacefully on Earth is a trap in more ways than one. It’s a honeypot for the Doctor, who can’t resist the mystery, and he’s only drawn in further when it turns out Rigsy is being accused of murder by the self-appointed Mayor, and every thread leads to more puzzles to solve. 


That Mayor is Ashildr, who must be nearly the Doctor’s age by now. She’s still calling herself ‘Me’, and hasn’t seen Clara in such a long time, she only knows her through conversations written down on ancient journal pages. She’s evolved from storyteller, to amoral highway(wo)man, to a glacial leader of a community, and the passive-aggressive, resentful relationship with the Doctor fizzes on screen. It’s just one layer of tension. The residents of the street are fearful and distrustful of outsiders. Ashildr allows the Doctor and Clara some time to clear Rigsy’s name, but not before showing what the quantum shade in raven form is capable of. Her rule, she claims is peaceful and just, but her ruthlessness is something to behold. Just how much of it is for show is debatable, as Maisie Williams’ quiet, still performance gives little away.


Nothing in this episode is what it seems - not the community of familiar and hostile aliens hiding behind the perception filter (also a neat way around the pretty, but stagey Trap Street sets), or the ominous caged raven that enforces Mayor Me’s law. The dead Janus woman isn’t dead, and her son is actually a psychic daughter. Rigsy is framed and lured in to entrap the Doctor. Clara secretly takes the chronolock curse from Rigsy, in a reckless, yet well-meaning double bluff. Most crucially, Ashildr’s promise of protection means nothing, and Clara pays the price.


It’s all a trap. Everything has been engineered by Ashildr in the name of handing the Doctor over to parties unknown. The only genuine things to come out of her ruse are her shocked reaction to Clara’s accidental sacrifice, and the revelation that she’s traded the Doctor for the safety of her people.


The climactic scenes between Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, and Maisie Williams are electric. The Doctor’s cold fury as he very convincingly threatens to rain hell on the street is balanced by Clara first refusing to believe she’s not indestructible, before stoically accepting her death sentence, and then ordering the Doctor not to be that guy - to be a Doctor, not a warrior, before walking outside and facing the raven. As she falls, lifeless to the ground, the pain of losing his best friend is written all over his face.


Shattered, the Doctor turns to Ashildr and, in a masterfully understated moment, issues a chilling warning about how small the universe can be when he’s angry at you. He’s terrifying, a barely tamed beast without his friend to tame him, and the woman responsible for his pain nods in cowed silence. In the face of this loss, he’s never more dangerous. And then he’s gone, teleported away to who knows what fate.


Face the Raven might be the best standalone episode of Doctor Who in a couple of years, or might be the first part of a three part finale. How it all ends remains to be seen, but it looks like the trouble is just beginning.




New Adventures With The Tenth Doctor #11- Fountains Of Forever Part 1Bookmark and Share

Friday, 20 November 2015 - Reviewed by Dan Collins
Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #11 (Credit: Titan)
Writer: Nick Abadzis
Artists: Elena Casagrande
Letterer: Richard Starkings and Comicraft's Jimmy Beancourt
Colourist: Arianna Florean
Editor: Andrew James
Publisher: Titan Comics
Release Date: June 10, 2015

Last issue Gabby defeated the Shreekers but now she faces a bigger challenge:  mending things with her BFF Cindy. Is there room for a third wheel now that Gabby’s hanging around with the Doctor? As they attempt to sort things out, the Doctor tracks down some out of this world artifacts that are being auctioned off on the black market.  

Before getting into the ups and downs of this issue, there’s a big change to be noted. After finishing the Weeping Angels of Mons storyline, Robbie Morrison wrote a filler standalone issue for #10 before relinquishing the writing duties to Nick Abadzis. This is the first part of the next storyline that will take us through the end of the first year of these 10th Doctor comic book adventures.

This story gets off to a dramatic start but it’s more like Keeping Up WithThe Kardashians than Gone With The Wind. The very first page has a giant panel of Cindy’s pouty face while she is texting Gabby calling her a “bad friend.” That angst filled message is just a device to keep the main characters in New York for another adventure, but it ends up being one of the more annoying moments in this issue.  I had a lot of trouble identifying with these two characters, especially Cindy. All of their early panels together feel like bad reality TV, full of superfluous drama that does nothing for me as a reader. It’s only later when Gabby starts to understand her relationship with the Doctor that things become interesting. Those epiphanies won’t be new to the reader though, we’ve seen them before on the silver screen.  Moreover, after Cindy’s petulant start to this issue, I had already decided that I didn’t like her and nothing in the rest of the comic changed my mind. My only hope is that her character is meant to be irritating and grating and that as this story moves toward its resolution she will find herself becoming the hero much like Gabby did in the last issue.

So, one storyline feels like filler but what of the other? The Doctor gets off to a decent start, strolling through the city singing “New York, New York” and name checking Joey Ramone and the CBGB club as he tries to barge into the secret auction. As he thumbs through a catalogue of junk being sold off as alien artifacts he has a clobbering run in with a professional acquirer. Cleo has made a living stealing items of interest and selling them off to private collectors. She’s here looking for one particular device that offers its user a “fountain of youth.” The technology is too dangerous to allow in human hands, so the Doctor decides to team up Cleo to recover it. He forgets rule number one, don’t trust a mercenary, and ends up being betrayed by her multiple times.

I found this issue to be a somewhat challenging read. The entire secondary storyline with Cindy and Gabby didn’t hold my interest. Watching the Doctor on the trail of a deadly alien device should have been an enjoyable romp, but it wasn’t. I was irritated that Cleo kept making a fool of our hero and that he had ever trusted her in the first place. The artwork did its job but nothing above and beyond. The real saving grace to this story is the final two pages when the Doctor finds himself on the wrong end of the fountain of youth device. The last couple panels all but guarantee that you are going to come back for another installment. I’m hoping that things pick up in the next issue and that this is just a rough start to a new arc with a new writer.

Bonus Comic Strip: A Rose By Any Other Name by Rachael Smith

The Doctor is still depressed over losing Rose-The-Human so he immerses himself in the sitcom Chums. Rose-The-Cat tries to convince him that there are better things for him to do with his time, but instead finds herself completely enamoured with the show as well. After wallowing in self-pity for a long time the Doctor realizes that he isn’t good for anything anymore prompting his feline friend to suggest they travel back in time to when he was good at something. I thought this humour strip tucked away at the end of the main comic was enjoyable and poignant.

Doctor Who Festival - London 2015Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 15 November 2015 - Reviewed by Marcus

BBC Festival (Credit: BBC Worldwide)This weekend saw thousands of Doctor Who fans descended on East London for the 2015 Doctor Who Festival held at the ExCel Centre in docklands.

The event is the second official Doctor Who event to be held in London, following the 2013 celebration of the show's 50th Anniversary. It was sold out on all three days, proving there is a large appetite for these conventions with people attending from around the globe.

Thee was plenty to see for even the most dedicated fan, with audience panels, photo sessions, sets, talks and a hall full of merchandise to browse. Unlike the 50th Anniversary Festival, this one was firmly dedicated to the Capaldi era with all the main guests reflecting the latest series of the show. For those used to the more intimate smaller conventions the big official event can seem intimidating, but the crew worked hard to make the occasion as informal as possible. 

The highlights for many included the three panel shows, hosted in the massive main arena at the venue. The meet the cast panel was the one everyone wanted to see and the crowds weren't disappointed when Peter Capaldi,  Michelle Gomez, Ingrid Oliver and Steven Moffat, also  joined by Jenna Coleman on Saturday and Sunday, took questions from moderator Toby Hadoke.

Peter CapaldiThe team were witty and entertaining and Hadoke chaired the session with style. It could have been longer as the 45 minutes flew by and with five on the panel, some were better served than others. The love for the series shone through and the packed hall was very entertained by the whole affair.

One thing that could be curtailed were the number of questions taken from the audience. While I applaud the aim is to involve the fans as much as possible, the whole process does drag  with many of the same questions coming again and again, mostly aimed at the two main stars and excluding the rest of the panel. With hosts as competent and knowledgeable as Toby Hadoke the random selection of questions is just not needed and a more balanced and informative panel could be held without it. Maybe in future audiences could send in questions in in advance and the best ones chosen to avoid the endless What's your favourite episode? query. Having said that the panel handled the audience with style and handled some of the more undiplomatic comments with just a modicum of irritation.

The other panels were just as entertaining and not to be missed. The writers talk gave an insight into the perils and pain of being a professional writer. The participants varied each day with all the Series 9 writers being represented at some point. It can't be easy as a writer, used to working alone with a keyboard, to put yourself up before an auditorium full of many opinionated fans. The team dealt with the various queries with tact and style. Matthew Sweet made a great host and showed his own love of the series.

The Millennium FX panel, which featured Mark Gatiss, took the audience through the creation of a new Doctor Who monster while showing how some of this series creations were realised. It was informative and entertaining and well worth watching and gave a sneak preview of this week's monsters The Sandmen.

Davros in the Dalek Sick Room set (Credit: Harry Ward / Doctor Who News)Away from the main stage there was much to enjoy. Several sets had been transported from Cardiff giving fans the chance to visit the Viking village of Ashildr or to wander the corridors of The Dalek city of Davros. Some areas could have done with more space, the costume and props display in particular was crammed into a small square in the centre of the arena, resulting in gridlock throughout much of the day. Those who persevered were greeted with a range of items from the current series, including the two Osgood boxes. 

Clara's flat was recreated, giving fans the opportunity for a picture lounging on her sofa. 

In The production Village the Assistant Directors who work on Doctor Who gave a presentation on just how the show is shot and how labour intensive the whole process is. In a very slick, quick fire 30 minutes they took the audience through a typical day on set, explaining what happens when, and just who is involved. If you ever wanted to know what the Gaffer does, or who types up the call sheets, then this was the show for you. The team were joined during the day by Production Designer  Michael Pickwoad and Costume designer Ray Holman who described their roles in the series.

Sarah Dollard, Peter Harness and Steven MoffatOver the other side of the hall Real SFX and Danny Hargreaves entertained the crowds with some of the many bangs and explosions from the series in a very entertaining show. Meanwhile in the Drama school there was a chance to learn how to act like a Dalek or become a Director, while Big Finish held a master-class in voice acting.

The fan involvement was encouraged and some of the cosplay on show was incredible. The USA may have come up with the concept, but modern UK fans have
taken the process to their hearts with some incredibly clever and inventive outfits on show.  

For those with money left in their pocket the shopping village contained enough merchandise to sate the appetite of the most dedicated fan, with all the main official brands represented.  A tent, erected by the Horror Channel, screened archive episodes.

All in all it was very successful event as evidenced by the satisfied comments filling the forums and the happy faces leaving the venue. Yes there queues were to long sometimes and the venue a little crowded, but the organisation was superb with the events running like clockwork.

Let us hope the success of this years event helps persuade BBC Worldwide to make the Festival an annual event. 

Sleep No MoreBookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 November 2015 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Reece Shearsmith (Credit: BBC / Simon Ridgway)
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Director: Justin Molotnikov
Producer: Nikki Wilson

This review contains plot spoilers.

In a break from series nine’s pattern of two-parters, this standalone tale is gothic Doctor Who at its most chilling, and it would have greatly benefitted from a Halloween transmission date. Somehow feeling as if it’s arrived a fortnight late, this is nonetheless a gift of a story. Atmospheric and disturbing in equal measure, there is little in the way of musical bombast or melody to lighten the load of this episode. Instead, the events we see unfolding are accompanied by electro ambience, by slowly creeping bass lines and by dark rumblings. It’s distinctly non-traditional in form – found-footage horror which sacrifices the programme’s title sequence in order to better convince as documentary Who – and yet also conventionally creepy in a host of ways: we get some brilliantly realized monsters, and characters are gradually separated from the rescue team, as is the time-honoured way of things.     


Writer Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith (Rassmussen) are both very much playing to their strengths here; Gatiss as a skilled creator of unsettling worlds, and Shearsmith as our initially sympathetic narrator whose view of life is ultimately revealed to be dangerously askew. It seems as if Gatiss may have been inspired by Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, picking up on its theme of society’s apparent need for constant productivity. The Morpheus machines are a science fiction version of Crary’s cautionary tract, and Gatiss perfectly parodies corporate-speak in the Morpheus sales patter, and through that irritatingly jaunty Sandman song: “terms and conditions apply”. Meanwhile, Rassmussen is the obligatory Dr. Frankenstein-esque figure – an over-reaching scientist who has created monstrous new life. He suggests that human beings waste a third of their lives asleep, where “time is money”, and consequently he’s set out to remove this fruitless downtime, creating an entity which has gone without sleep for some five years.


In a sense, it’s a shame that Doctor Who didn’t do the found-footage thing when it was a fresher part of the horror genre rather than an arguably over-exposed and over-exploited trope. But that doesn’t really matter, because Gatiss uses the concept of found footage so brilliantly and so expertly that when you hear Chief Nagata’s statement about the rescue team’s “head cams” for the first time, like the Doctor you can’t quite get it to make sense. There’s a good, old-fashioned distinction in criticism, between content and form, and Doctor Who is typically more focused on content – what are the monsters? How will the Doctor and Clara escape and save the day? But here there seems to be very little mystery surrounding what the sleepmen, dustmen or Sandmen are: the Doctor nails this with a good theory about a third of the way into the episode, even if by the end we’re not quite sure exactly what’s been staged and collated, and exactly what’s actually happened outside of Rassmussen’s manipulation: ”none of this makes any sense”, complains the Doctor.


Because this is very nearly Meta Who; an episode that’s centrally about the form of the show, all direct address and signposted storytelling. Sometimes journalists (and some fans, and probably even some journalist-fans) complain that the series is too self-referential these days, all about knowing in-jokes and moments of spot-the-continuity. But these 45 minutes are properly and gloriously self-referential, ending with a discussion of how Doctor Who stories need to be shaped and structured. Sleep No More also hosts not one, but two of the sharpest pieces of misdirection in the series for some time – we assume that cameras must be everywhere within the Verrier station, of course, but at the same time we also assume that the recurrent, blocky glitches are nothing more than meaningless visual markers of the episode’s found footage gimmick. Marc Olivier has recently discussed what he calls “glitch gothic” (in the book Cinematic Ghosts), where the disruption of images signals the irruption of ghostly forces or the loss of reassuring vision, and Sleep No More’s most creepy moment resides in its closing example of glitching. The Sandmen surely aren’t going to escape into the world via physical objects or physical media, not in a world of digital, electronic signals… and Shearsmith’s final ‘piece-to-camera’ on the subject is thrillingly demented.


There's also some humour scattered through the shadows and pseudo-CCTV of Sleep No More. “Cuts, pet”, is how Nagata explains that there are only four members of the rescue team, while the fact that Nagata, the Doctor and Clara find themselves shut in with “dead meat” is also a deliciously dark moment. The computer voice’s refusal to allow Deep-Ando access, insisting that he “sing the song”, also offers a suspenseful but wry distraction from the episode’s underlying mechanics. And Sleep No More’s Shakespearean title is handily quoted for viewers; Peter Capaldi relishes the chance to break the fourth wall and address the ‘camera’ to eloquently educational effect.   


Preceded by ‘Terror(ists) of the Zygons’, and even an eye-opener of a Genesis of the Daleks remix, Sleep No More is likely to be edged out in end-of-season polls. It shouldn’t be, however, because this is exquisitely constructed Doctor Who that doesn’t draw on monster nostalgia or on revisiting an all-time great. This is simply great-storytelling-about-storytelling meets great-camera-work-about-camera-work, all wrapped up in some clever twists and outstanding monster designs. It’s a sign of the production team’s confidence and ambition that an episode like this – surprisingly experimental for an incarnation of the show that’s in its tenth year – could and would be attempted, and there’s an energy and vitality to proceedings that really fires things up. Yes, it may be frustrating that we’re left wondering about the status of what we’ve see – somewhat like sequences of The Trial of a Time Lord, perhaps – but the ensuing debate on unreliable narrators is bound to be entertaining.


Found footage is usually deployed as a budget-saver, and so we’re brought back again to “cuts, pet”. If this was an experiment born, in part, out of cost-savings then it shows how austerity can sometimes – only sometimes – be the mother of invention. Gatiss delivers a finely tuned and seriously spooky script, and Shearsmith sells it perfectly from beginning to end. It’s also a relatively unusual episode insofar as neither the Doctor nor Clara ever seem to work out exactly what’s been going on: their understanding remains glitchy and partial. But the shock ending requires that, and so our leads are subordinated, for once, to the gothic form. Perhaps there’s a dangling thread here that calls for a sequel, but I’m tempted to say not – Sleep No More is wonderfully effective just as it is, and deserves to inspire plenty of “wide awakes” among the audience. I do wonder if it’ll spark discussion over just how scary the show ought to be (though being shown in a later time slot this year may protect it from that). Shearsmith’s final revelation could have been even more terrifying, however, had it been entrusted purely to the actor’s performance, or perhaps if it had involved just the first moment of dusty degeneration: the overall special effect that draws events to a close strikes me as excessively stylized and heightened, as if fantastically drawing attention away from the horrifying implications of Rassmussen’s speech.


But there are very few missteps here, and Sleep No More shows that there are still, even now, innovative and compelling new games that can be played with the format and the very form of Doctor Who. It may not quite be an instant classic like The Zygon Inversion, but mark my words, in years to come generations of viewers will remember ‘the terrifying one with all the cameras and the sleepy dust monsters’. Oh yes, this one will be a sleeper.

LEGO Dimensions (with Doctor Who level pack)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 November 2015 - Reviewed by Emma Foster
Lego Dimensions (Credit: LEGO)

LEGO Dimensions base pack, released 29 Sep 2015
(platforms: XBoxOne, XBox360, Wii U, PS3PS4)

Doctor Who Level Pack, released 6 Nov 2015

This evening I found myself watching Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle from The LEGO movie battle a huge robotic version of the Joker on top of a nuclear power plant hovering above Springfield with a massive grin on my face. From the moment the "toys to life" trend started it seemed inevitble that LEGO would be joining in sooner or later, with LEGO Dimensions they have done so with aplomb.

If you've ever played any of the pantheon of LEGO games before you'll find yourself in somewhat familliar territory when it comes to the control scheme, but the game play itself is taken to a new level with the interactive game pad which you will be using to solve puzzles and build customised LEGO teams. The game draws from a dizzying array of properties as diverse as the Ghostbusters films, Scooby Doo and the Portal series to send our motley trio on series of adventures to defeat the evil Lord Vortech. Of special interest to Doctor Who fans will of course be the show orentaited level within the game where our heroes find themselves bumping into the Doctor and ending up in the invitable creepy base filled with Cybermen and Weeping Angels. The level will probably take most gamers around 30-45 minutes to complete and if you're so inclined you'll be popping back frequently to pick up collectibles. Without venturing too far into spoilers there is lots of fun to be had with some excellent scary stuff mixed in with some genuinely tense moments trying to solve puzzles while under alien duress. In that respect the level could almost be viewed almost like an episode, albeit with some quite unusal companions for the Doctor.

This might be one of the greatest "family" games ever created, encouraging the adults to take to the carpet with the kids to move figures around the game board and help out with some of the more knotty puzzles. Some of the smallest LEGO fans may also need help putting together the base portal as it has quite a lot of fiddly, small pieces. Some adventerous parents might even be tempted to plug in a controller themselves as the game supports two player local co-op. For those of us adults playing the game while using the game board to move the interactive mini-figs around to solve puzzles and the like is innovative and fun it's also frankly a bit of a pain. I was playing on the XBox One and the game board plugs into the back of console via USB, the problem is that is where to put the blessed thing while your hands are occupied with the controller. It wasn't until I started playing that I realised just how much you're required to use it, so I found myself sitting on the floor next to it, ending up with an almighty crick in my neck. This being said though is minor complaint from a thirty something with a wonky back and the inherent satisfaction that comes from solving a puzzle using Gandalf to hop between portals soon cures all ills. Kids unencumbered by middle aged back woes will love it.

LEGO Dimensions: Doctor Who Level (Credit: LEGO) LEGO Dimensions: Doctor Who Level (Credit: LEGO) LEGO Dimensions: Doctor Who Level (Credit: LEGO)

Now on to the main drawback of LEGO Dimensions, the cost. The base game pack will set you back around £80 and if you want to buy some of the level packs and fun packs the effect on your bank balance will be ruinous. The temptation to invest in the many team and level packs so you can explore very nook and cranny of the enormous "multi-verse"of LEGO dimensions becomes irresistable. If you're a Doctor Who fan just looking to enjoy some of the Doctor in brick form this game may not be for you. The game relies on the user having at least a passing interest and familliarity with the properties it's "mashing up". If The Simpsons, The Lord of the Rings, the DC Universe and the LEGO Movie don't do much for you then you might want to wait for the Doctor Who LEGO sets coming in December.

Now on to the Doctor Who "level pack". Put simply and for those who wish to avoid spoilers about the content of the level itself, it is simply sublime, playing out like a TV episode and it even gets its own title sequence. For those of you who don't mind reading about the plot it's fairly simple as far as Doctor Who goes these days, The Doctor, aided by his trusty friend K9 and hopping from timezone to timezone using the TARDIS must destroy a series of shield generators in an effort to foil the Dalek's invasion of Earth. On the way you'll whizz breathlessly through 19th Century London, Skaro and even pay a visit to Trenzalore. You'll also be doing battle with Autons, Daleks, The Silence and even the Weeping Angels. It's quite incredible how scary the Angels manage to be, even when rendered with the inherently adorable LEGO faces. The main campaign of the level weighs in at over an hour, one of the lengthiest LEGO game levels ever and if you choose to hunt down every collectible you'll be spending considerably more time there. This is no bad thing as the main story is filled to the brim with background details that will delight fans young and old alike. 

In addition to the main campaign level buying this pack grants you access to the Doctor Who "hub world" where there are more mini missions to complete, baddies to beat up, races to run and collectibles to find. It's basically Doctor Who heaven and as a extra special treat you can choose between any of the Doctor's incarnations to play as while you're there, with little dialogue clips to along with them.

LEGO Dimensions: Doctor figure (Credit: LEGO) LEGO Dimensions: Doctor Who Hub World (Credit: LEGO) LEGO Dimensions: Doctor Who Hub World (Credit: LEGO)

The level pack was obviously put together by people with a deep and abiding love for the show and while any fan will enjoy what it has to offer the main issue must be with the cost of the pack. The set which includes three mini-figs (The tweleth Doctor, K9 and the TARDIS), the DLC Doctor Who adventure and access to the Doctor Who hub world retails at £29.99. This is roughly double what DLC costs for most other games and is more in line with the newer "Season pass" system that many AAA games are now utalising which generally speaking enables the user to get any and all future DLC releases, access to multi player and other bonuses. Ultimately it will be a personal choice if you want to invest in further Doctor Who LEGO adventures, especially as the level that comes with the main game is quite satisfying. However, the opportunity to run around Telos as the Second Doctor having just beat the beastly Daleks with a trademark Twelfth quip and some nose laser action from good old K9 is just enough to justify the investment.