Mummy On The Orient ExpressBookmark and Share

Saturday, 11 October 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

Mummy On The Orient Express
Written by Jamie Mathieson
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Frank Skinner, David BamberChristopher Villiers, Daisy Beaumont, John Sessions, Foxes Samuel Anderson,
Premiere 11 October, BBC One
This review contains plot spoilers.

"You know Doctor, I can't tell if you are a genius or incredibly arrogant',.. "On a good day I'm both". - Perkins to the Doctor

What a romp and what a showcase for Capaldi. This was always the breed of story I hoped to get when Steven Moffat was first confirmed as showrunner. It has the heart of Doctor Who's golden period from 1974 to 1977 when Tom Baker was at his peak but also slots in very comfortably with a 2014 autumn schedule on a Saturday night. Doctor Who has often borrowed its own past successes and done something new, often to great effect. Thanks to a very capable director in Paul Wilmshurst (who continues to impress after 'Kill the Moon') and a more than competent script this is definitely one of those winners.

The story is remarkably simple without being too predictable. Various passengers from all walks of life on the Orient Express are being targeted by a remorseless creature that only they can see and feel. Despite their understandable panic there is only confusion from the people around them and nothing can be done within the span of Sixty-Six Seconds. And the Doctor realises that he is facing a stern test of his ability to come up with a solution. This is not a murder mystery for a Poirot or Marple and not everyone is playing by the rules..

The haunting killer of classic Who's 'Mind of Evil' is subtly referenced in the threat the Mummy presents - only the victims can see it . The way that it can move anywhere and not be stopped by physical items like bullets or locked doors is a perfect way to scare the junior members of the audience. The gimmick of having there be a visible counter remorselessly marking the moment of demise on-screen is somewhat odd but does come off - at least until Gallifrey's favourite son pulls off a beautiful trick (which doubles as an homage to Moffat's very first televised story).

The Orient Express is one of many in the cosmos and history, but this particular one rattles through the vacuum of space relentlessly, caring little for its appearance compared to other vessels that normally occupy this zone. It also used to be a tour through an area of the galaxy that had many a remarkable planet. However although this appears to be just another one of many journeys, there is a real twist when the whole vehicle is shown up as nothing more than a laboratory for testing a sample group. Although it is perhaps not totally watertight as the TARDIS has clearly broken into the environment!

What is clever is that quite a few of the victims are not all that likeable, or perhaps we catch them on a bad day. This is very welcome as it means that what normally is just monster fodder is something else and links in smoothly with the whole amoral presentation of this new Doctor which has fascinated many viewers since the season premiere. Also commendable is how the Doctor gets caught out several times - once when he casually mentions knowing a particularly memorable planet, now long-gone. This is put to effect later with an impact on the overall drama when the psychic paper turns out as not a simple plot short cut after all. The Doctor is realistically challenged, but such is his ego he will have none of it, and as bodies pile up his hubris and ruthlessness only seem to magnify.

When it comes to actually saving the day, it turns out to be a pyrrhic victory. A good number of people get back home unscratched. Some of the apparently threatened passengers were only hard light holograms and so were never really at risk. But lives are lost and not just to the sinister bandaged antagonist. Other carriages with real living people are broken into and the bodies are left to float in space, most likely forever. And this is a direct consequence of the Doctor's efforts: he does get the right end result, but only after a fatal trial-and-error procedure. The Twelfth Doctor may not react too overtly to this disturbing turn of events but he surely knows he could have done something different.

Guest stars are all up to the standards the better episodes have set previously, with a welcome cameo from talented singer Foxes and a nicely balanced guest role for Frank Skinner as Perkins. When he first appears there is ever so slightly an element of creepiness as appears rather indifferent to an old woman's death; but then perhaps he didn't take kindly to being looked down upon as was implied by what little we saw of her. I won't claim Skinner is as good an actor as he is a comedian but he still fits the particular role quite handily. Having Capaldi around certainly helps too as he effectively assumes the role of guest companion. His eventual moment in the TARDIS is also wonderful. The sheer exuberance that someone experiences from seeing dimensional transcendence is a trope I will never tire of. Meanwhile Clara is forced into another section of the train and interacts quite significantly with Maisie - herself a fine one-off character that very much needs saving by the Doctor.

Yes, she did not storm off after all, despite all the signs being there. Clara perhaps more predictably is the voice of morality again; with her friend admitting he could not do anything until he had all the facts at hand. That they are still together is a result of their deeply held admiration and respect. Purely liking one another as most platonic friends doesn't come into it, but then how many friends are there who are come from different planets and have such contrasting life spans?

Danny once again takes a backseat role the second week running, but the arc is still being explored in interesting ways. His seeming acceptance of Clara's hectic lifestyle and how the Doctor really cares on some level despite all his harmlessness is interesting if perhaps a little forced. I do welcome character development for this year's new star of Doctor Who and I am being won over gradually. However in all honesty I still find Samuel Anderson somewhat underwhelming in relative terms, especially if I were to compare him to Arthur Darvill who was rather similar in function.

Although the resolution sees the doctor disable the Foretold and use part of its core to save everyone remaining on the train, there is still no sign of the real threat who caused the crisis in the first place. This is a good idea and knowing Moffat there is as much chance that the answers come next season as they do by the closing twelfth episode of this present run of episodes. So we are left with a rock solid story that can stand up on its own and reward many a viewer's time, but also is well-woven into Series 8. I eagerly await the next Jamie Mathieson effort; conveniently enough it is scheduled for next Saturday evening.




New Adventures with the Eleventh Doctor - Issue 3: What He WantsBookmark and Share

Saturday, 11 October 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #3 (Credit: Titan)Story – Rob Williams, Artist – Simon Fraser, Colorist – Gary Caldwell

It is 1931 in Mississippi and something very strange indeed is at work. Some previously unseen characters are aware of The Doctor - who is in the control of a hypnotic force that ensnares the local community. Events look to be coming to a head and it is left to Alice and newcomer John Jones - who resembles a young David Bowie - to somehow seize control and get the Doctor out of a pickle. The sinister ‘SERVEYOUinc’ corporation are again at play and looking to make life difficult for the people who inhabit the Bayou location – and their big star Robert Johnson.

Matt Smiths portrayal is still relatively fresh in many sci fi/fantasy fanatics’ minds, and many will want further material for such a well-conceived and well-realised incarnation. This series has the potential to take Doctor Eleven down some interesting avenues and so far the overall arc is at least promising something quite good. But the actual stories since Issue 1 do not seem to require the most dynamic side of the doctor: last time also had him captured early. Also lacking was a chance for him to alter events around him before the final confrontation, and his personality did not show the kaleidoscopic range of a good TV episode. This time round it is perhaps even more of an issue, as he is initially presented as possessed, before the story jumps to the initial events chronologically. Although he is restored to normal by the close of this issue he still needs other’s support especially that of a significant new supporting character. This brings back memories of the 9th doctor having others help him save the day; yet that seemed less of an issue due to all the wonderful angst that he held over destroying both his race and the Daleks. But Doctor 11 while perhaps clownish on the surface is very good at assessing problems and getting a solution, so I really hope the creative team get him to be a bit more hands on as the overall arc continues to unfold.
John Jones is an interesting experiment by the creative team in that he is seen to start at the bottom rungs of the career ladder of music. He is a bit daft, a bit precocious as well and somehow is the pineapple topping to go on top of a pizza – clashing but actually a good blend in this adventure. How he gets aboard the TARDIS in the first place though is a bit unrealistic and shows off the normal crew to be rather irresponsible.
As regards other characters – the one off villain in this issue is a triumph of good art portraying a sinister opponent, with his lines most likely being deliberately generic as he is a spokesman for ‘SERVEYOUinc’. But still something about the corporation built up now in two installments just doesn’t feel terribly impressive. I want a real scene stealing villain to be behind the problems the Doctor is facing, rather than some poor man’s Morgus from ‘The Caves of Androzani’. Still, there is time for the stories to get that part fixed.

Robert Johnson is a fun enough character who probably would work very well on-screen. Yet there is a pre-existing relationship between the Doctor and him which could have been perhaps built up to a little better. The other locals of the Mississippi are just making up the numbers but at least do not have any bad dialogue to make them memorable for the wrong reasons. Still for me the best element of the comic is Alice herself. She has more to share with the Doctor over her poor situation back home on Earth, but doesn’t let poor events get in the way of real excitement over the opportunities that time travel grants her. 1980s TV companion Tegan Jovanka is certainly not in her sphere of influence it would appear!
As I await the next stories, I feel something a bit more substantial needs to happen and this particular Doctor needs to be shown off to his best effect. I believe the team can improve their results but they must change the formula a bit.
**

The first bonus strip is a very funny one panel story by David Leach and AJ concerning a classic game for children that the Doctor wants to try out.
The second tag-along is another winner from Marc Ellerby and denoted as ‘Sonic Sleuth’. The absent-minded professor Doctor is at his most incapable, and Amy needs to help him out. Another great insight into the strains of being an odd-time-travelling couple.




Kill the MoonBookmark and Share

Saturday, 4 October 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock

Kill The Moon
Written by Peter Harness
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Ellis George, Samuel Anderson, Hermione Norris, Tony Osoba
Premiere 4 October, BBC One
This review contains plot spoilers.

Every now and again, an episode of Doctor Who comes along that divides and conquers at the same time. Kill the Moon could be that episode. It subverts expectations, and not just those of the viewer - nobody in this story gets what they expected either.

The episode begins with a quick scene-setting moment of Clara and 'disruptive influence' Courtney Woods on the Moon in the year 2049, broadcasting a message - they have a terrible decision to make. We then flash back to the present day at Coal Hill School, where Clara is giving the Doctor a piece of her mind for taking Courtney for a spin in the TARDIS at the end of The Caretaker, then telling her (off-screen) that she's "nothing special". Suddenly faced with an unhappy companion and a clearly distressed teenager, the Doctor makes the snap decision to take Courtney to the moon to try and make up for it, with Clara still on board. They arrive, not on the Moon, but on a dilapidated space shuttle heading very rapidly for it. A space shuttle full of nuclear bombs.

They are confronted by Captain Lundvik (Hermione Norris), and her two crewmates Duke (Tony Osoba) and Henry (Phil Nice). Lundvik's crew are on a desperate mission. The Moon has put on weight, and the Earth is being crushed under the pressure. Humanity is at the brink of extinction. Space travel at this point is in the doldrums, the last mission to investigate was ten years previously, and the Mexican crew disappeared without trace. Lundvik's crew have liberated a shuttle from a museum and are there to destroy the Moon. Norris is good as Lundvik, who comes across as cold and calculating, but in reality is a desperate, numbed woman on a suicide mission. Her cohorts, sadly don't get much to say or do. If this was Star Trek, they'd be wearing red shirts.

The Doctor is instantly on the case, noting that there is gravity where there should be none, and that the Moon is breaking up already. They investigate the base set up by the Mexicans, only to find it deserted except for cobwebbed and space-suited corpses. New Director Paul Wilmshurst wastes no time with the scares - there's something hiding in the shadows of the moodily-lit base, and in craters, some rather nasty spider-like creatures that make short work of Lundvik's crewmates. There's a brilliantly tense scene where the Doctor and co. attempt to escape a 'spider', and Courtney is trapped on the ceiling of a room with one when the gravity fails. The Doctor of course gets her back on the ground, and Courtney herself deals with the creature, but this is when the story starts to change from a straight scare-fest into a very different beast, from Philip Hinchcliffe scares to Malcolm Hulke moral grey areas.

It's all getting a little too real for the clearly scared Courtney, who asks to go home. The Doctor doesn't put up much of a fight, but locks her in the safety of the TARDIS while he continues his investigation. Ellis George is very good as Courtney. A whole episode of a teenager snarking in this scenario would be annoying and unrealistic - she shows that she's scared and cares enough about the situation to want to help, but even in the face of armageddon the shields are up, and she prefers to call Clara 'Miss'.

Paul Wilmshurst's direction is exemplary. He makes stunning use of the Lanzarote location as the lunar surface, and will doubtless traumatise a fair few youngsters with those vicious, screaming spiders. More from him please. New writer Peter Harness is also a real find, deftly handling scary and weighty with enough room for a joke about tumblr which other writers may have made into purest driven cheese.

The spiders are actually a form of bacteria, and the Doctor soon realises that the Moon isn't just a pile of rock orbiting the Earth. It's an egg, an egg with a very long gestation period - and it's hatching. A unique baby is about to be born.

Lundvik still wants to know how to kill it. Humanity is still at risk. Clara and Courtney insist that it's wrong to kill a baby. Clara turns to the Doctor to make a decision. And he walks away, disgusted with Lundvik who has primed the bombs, but adamant that this isn't his decision to make, snapping that it's time to take the stabilisers off the bike, and leaving the three women forty-five minutes to make a decision. Doctor Who is tackling abortion, and the Doctor has abdicated his responsibilities.

Clara puts it to the public vote. Humanity predictably chooses itself, but at the last moment she hits the abort button, and the Doctor reappears and whisks them back to Earth, where they witness the creature's birth from afar. You don't quite get a good look at it, which leaves something to the imagination. It lays a new egg to replace the old one before it flies away in peace.

Wrap up time.The Doctor makes a stirring speech about today being a turning point for humanity. Lundvik thanks Clara for stopping her from destroying an innocent life. Courtney heads for double Geography in the knowledge that she was the first woman on the Moon. All's well that ends well. Except when it doesn't.

Clara has been fairly subdued throughout, but is furious with the Doctor for leaving her with such a huge decision that she could so easily have got wrong. He gently tries to convince her that he knew she would always make the right decision, but it doesn't wash with her. He's patronised her and scared her out of her wits, and she makes a good point - he walks our world and breathes our air, so when we need him he bloody well needs to be there for us. The exchange ends with Clara telling the Doctor to go away and stay away.

Capaldi and Coleman are both excellent. The Doctor is still blunt, rude, and difficult, but he shows a slightly softer side towards Courtney and shows no hesitation in rescuing her, and a certain manic glee as he rushes around investigating. Likewise, he's warmer than usual towards Clara and clearly trusts her to make the right choice based on her character and his bluffing about history, despite how it backfires for him. The fangs are out however, when he makes his comment about the bike stabilisers. This Doctor feels he was in the right to step back and let history decide itself, and feels vindicated when the creature swoops off and the crisis is over. It's a bold choice to let the Doctor do this, clearly the 'Am I a good man?' arc is heading somewhere. How much of this he'll take on board is anyone's guess, but I'd imagine his mind will be well and truly made up by episode twelve.

Coleman, meanwhile, is notably less bubbly than usual for the bulk of the story, but is startling at the end. We've seen a tearful Tegan Jovanka say that it's not fun anymore, and a brave-but-upset Martha Jones leave the TARDIS to be there for her traumatised family - but Clara's scathing fury at the Doctor is something new. Leaving was never like this before. And it really feels like goodbye.

A brief coda follows, with Clara pouring her heart out to Danny, who tells her that if she was really done with the Doctor, she wouldn't be so angry. This feels tacked-on, doubtless to give a note of hope that Clara will reconcile with the Doctor, (of course she will) and to give a little hint to the continuing mystery of Mr Pink's army days - but personally I feel this takes away from the brilliant scene that precedes it.

Anyway, this quibble aside, this is an excellent, thought-provoking, and very grown-up piece of Doctor Who. It's not a comfy ride - and it's sure to prove divisive from its themes and the Doctor's vanishing act, but it's fair to say the stabilisers are off for this one.




The Twelfth Doctor: mid-term reportBookmark and Share

Friday, 3 October 2014 - Reviewed by Tim Hunter
Before we get to Peter Capaldi’s seventh episode as the Doctor, Kill the Moon, halfway through the season would seem a good time to see what we’ve learnt about the Doctor. Not surprisingly, nothing is cut-and-dried. If anything, every episode thus far has shown a different side to the Doctor, and a different mood, not all of them pleasant. In fact, they’re mostly bad moods, but that’s not necessarily a negative thing. Let’s have a look at the first six episodes, and the moods the Doctor displays.

Deep Breath: Angry Doctor
In his first story, the Doctor is angry for a number of reasons: he’s just regenerated, he’s confused, and he’s not happy with an older face – especially those eyebrows (but he quite likes the new accent). He’s experienced some memory loss, he’s not sure how to relate to people, most importantly Clara, but by the end of the episode, he’s calmed down enough to know he needs Clara’s friendship – and he asks her for it too, with a little help from his previous self’s phone call.

Into the Dalek: Cold Doctor
While the Doctor finds the thought of a good Dalek confronting and challenging, his focus on the mission to go inside Rusty and ‘fix’ it is very tight, and he can’t spend time showing compassion or grief when Ross is killed by the Dalek antibodies. He’s removed, emotionally distant, and even he isn’t sure if he’s a good man. It’s all a mask, of course, to protect him, in the same way his previous selves used bravado and gleeful excitement as masks, but not as endearing.

Robot of Sherwood: Grumpy Doctor
This less-than-endearing Doctor continues here. He’s disappointed that Clara wants to meet a legend rather than a real historical figure, and he’s irritated by Robin Hood, his merry men and their laughter and banter – maybe it reminds him of his previous selves’ modus operandi. And he’s annoyed that he’s proved wrong about Robin Hood. But then at the end, he drops the pretence, and we see the unwilling hero behind the mask.

Listen: Scared Doctor
The mask drops further here. There is something under the bed, it scares the Doctor because he doesn’t know what it is, and he doesn’t like that. So he sets out to find out what it is. Rather than putting himself on the line, he uses Clara to explore this universal dream. Thanks to her distraction though, it’s Danny Pink who’s the unwitting subject, until Clara is taken to the Doctor’s own childhood and his own fears.

Time Heist: Driven Doctor
In the same way the Doctor did in the Dalek mission, he takes control of the bank heist and assumes command, seemingly unconcerned by the other team members’ feelings. He’s not sure who the Architect is, and why they’re breaking into the bank, but he knows they’ll only find out by completing the impossible mission at any cost. Luckily the actual cost isn’t that dire – something that he himself set up, and once again, showing that under his brittle exterior two very compassionate hearts still beat.

The Caretaker: Jealous Doctor
While he goes undercover at Coal Hill Secondary School, ostensibly to see k out the deadly Skovox Blitzer, the Doctor is secretly investigating Clara’s private life, specifically her ‘boyfriend’. And he gets that wrong too. He knows, despite the feelings he still has (and can’t quite express) for Clara, regardless of his regeneration, he’s not her boyfriend, and won’t ever be. But he still wants her to be happy. That’s why he looks at Adrian and sees something of his previous self, and assumes that this is Clara’s love interest. He’s not happy when he discovers Danny is her actual boyfriend, and he’s jealous. Because he doesn’t like military men and takes an immediate dislike to Danny, and because he believes Danny’s not good enough for Clara – something that Danny challenges him on.

The Impossible Girl
But enough about the Doctor. Let’s talk about Clara. What does she think of the Doctor? Because she really is the voice of the audience, whether they are hardcore fans or just casual viewers. In Deep Breath, not only do we see her struggling to accept this new/old face of her friend, but it’s addressed overtly, specifically in the conversation she has with Madame Vastra about veils and perceptions. In subsequent episodes it’s obvious that she still enjoys travelling with the Doctor – with reservations – but she’s not yet ready to let Danny in on the secret, at least until she is forced to in The Caretaker. She is, like the audience, slowly getting used to this new Doctor and his moods. She may not like everything he says or does, but she remains faithful to him and is willing to give him a go. And that too is made obvious in Time Heist, when Psi notes how often she excuses his bad behaviour. And with Danny in the picture now, we’re seeing a more complex Clara. She’s not just the perky cheeky Impossible Girl – she too has her secrets and faults.

In the Pink
As for Danny Pink, he’s a character that’s developing quite nicely. Cast from the same mould as Mickey and even Rory, but with more baggage and backstory, it didn’t take him long to work out the Doctor, and seeing that develop will be quite the treat. So bring on the next six episodes and let’s see what else we learn about the Doctor, Clara, Danny – oh, and Missy too…




The Mega (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 2 October 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock

The Lost Stories - The Mega
Written By: Bill Strutton
Adapted by Simon Guerrier
Directed by Ken Bentley
Released December 2013

If The Mega had been made in 1971, it could have been a classic season finale. There are so many strong Pertwee-era ingredients that it feels perfectly at home in Season Eight, the only thing missing is the presence of the Master. Here, it's lovingly nursed from a storyline by The Web Planet writer Bill Strutton by Simon Guerrier, and performed by Katy Manning and Richard Franklin.

The Mega deals with an attempt to force the West to disarm and put an end to war by Prince Cassie of the fictional nation Golbostan, backed by the alien Mega - beings of pure energy. The story begins with the Doctor, Jo, and Captain Yates heading through a sea of protesting youngsters to a demonstration of a horrific new weapon - a nerve gas which can choose its victims. A regular army General comments that the gas can be used on the protestors, much to the Doctor's outrage - at which point the General is assassinated by the Mega, and things begin to unravel. The Doctor and Jo are led to Cassie's castle in Golbostan by the Mega, whilst things get worse - the Prime Minister is the next target, live on TV, the Brigadier is placed under arrest, and Yates and Benton try to keep order when panic-stricken rioting breaks out amongst the public.

The story resonates with both period and modern concerns about war, protest, and the use of WMDs, and given Malcolm Hulke-like moral shades of grey. The whole conceit of the nerve gas that can pick its victims by their genetic make-up is very similar to the chilling Janus virus in Channel 4's recent Utopia. The murky concept of 'the greater good' also comes up, despite things having descended by episode six into borderline armageddon. In an echo of his apparent treachery in The Claws of Axos, the Doctor at one point seems to side with Cassie and the Mega's plot, and indeed is seen as a traitor by the top brass at home. He has to appear to co-operate to an extent to save lives - including Jo's, and is every bit the clever, resourceful, and flamboyant Third Doctor we remember - bursting with moral outrage.

The whole tale is carried beautifully by Katy Manning and Richard Franklin, with Derek Carlyle and Bo Poraj in supporting roles, and directed by Ken Bentley. Manning in particular deserves props for not only her note-perfect performance as Jo Grant, but managing to evoke Jon Pertwee in the lines she reads for the Doctor. It's not perfect, but it's a testament to her considerable skill with voices. Franklin plays basically all of UNIT. His own performance as Yates is as good as ever, and his Brigadier in places evokes Nicholas Courtney very well. As for Benton, he doesn't have so much to do - but Franklin leans perhaps a bit too hard on John Levene's West Country accent and makes him sound like he's auditioning for The Wurzels.

Nonetheless, this is an excellent story, and well worth three hours of your time.