Jago & Litefoot & Strax - The HauntingBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 December 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
 Jago & Litefoot & Strax (Credit: Big Finish)
STARRING:  
Christopher Benjamin (Jago), 
Trevor Baxter (Litefoot), 

Dan Starkey (Strax), Lisa Bowerman (Ellie), 
Conrad Asquith (Inspector Quick), Stephen Critchlow (Marvo) and Carolyn Seymour (Mrs Multravers)

Other parts played by the cast.
 

Written By: Justin Richards
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Sound Design:Howard Carter

Music:Howard Carter, 
Theme by Jamie Robertson

Cover Art:Tom Webster

Released November 2015 Big Finsh Productions

 

Strax: a squat and fearless warrior, who has over time become domesticated and able to provide manservant duties to another being not of the planet Earth. He is still a handy fighter and possesses technical knowledge that puts to shame most of those who are native to the blue-green planet  that the Sontaran is somehow learning to call 'home'. He has almost died on at least one occasion but for the most part is a lot harder to hurt and overcome than he would first appear, possessing disproportionate strength for someone of his stature, were he the human that he feigns at being.

Jago: a man with many a turn of phrase, and who despite his natural cowardice has seen and overcome various dastardly foes, or foiled a plan or two hatched by conniving traitors to Queen Victoria's regime. He ran countless good shows at the Palace theatre before later overseeing other stirring acts - for a range of clientele - at the Alhambre Theatre and (most recently) at the New Regency Theatres. Whilst sometimes prone to making careless errors, there is a native instinct hidden within which allows him to sometimes outwit those that underestimate him.

Litefoot: the man of intellect, travel experience and sophistication. He made much of his present living as a pathologist and is able to come up with practical solutions, sometimes using fine powers of lateral thinking. He has been the closest of friends with Jago and has become somewhat more of a outgoing character under the influence of the truly charismatic. Whilst playing somewhat of a secondary 'Watson' role to the Sherlock-like Fourth Doctor (in The Talons of Weng Chiang), he is clearly the more authoritative half of the pairing with Jago.

 

How Strax becomes a figure in the lives of Henry Gordan Jago and Professor George Litefoot is documented in this new story from a talented creative team, that have produced various winning Big Finish products over the preceding years to 2015. This play also forms one example of an increasing number of these spin off products to tie-in firmly with the New Series, by having arguably the most memorable of the 'Paternoster Gang' in a starring role. There is no direct appearance of the romantically linked Jenny and Madame Vastra - the former human, the latter Silurian - except for the device of Strax being concussed and later 'duped' into believing Jago and Litefoot are his two female associates..

The play is an absolutely engaging (and relatively straightforward) affair, with experienced writer Justin Richards knowing how to satisfy long-term fans, as well as those who have previously enjoyed Jago and Litefoot on audio, and also any who may only know the Matt Smith era which had multiple uses of the Paternoster gang. By making the focus on character, there is little danger of losing track of the plot should a listener be distracted whilst out on a walk or doing some other activity at the same time. And the characters are all portrayed well enough that we can infer there is more to their lives than just the heady adventures they embark on.

A great opponent is always vital to an adventure really cementing its place in the listener's memory banks, and we have a creepy old lady who is after the dissected 'smarter' brains of any half-civilised life that she comes across. Some people pay the price for taking the time to answer he queries, and some are fortunate to be just that bit too dim. We would normally revel in the comeuppance for such a character, but both the writing and the acting for Mrs Multravers are very strong. Thus the twist involving her motivations comes off as that bit more credible, and the climax to the main plot takes up a different feel, that avoids the usual recycling that could have happened were the premise in less capable hands.

 

Extras:

A serviceable enough documentary showing how much the regulars are enjoying the chance to work with Dan Starkey in his role from the main 'parent' TV series; although he has graced audio plays like this before in other roles. There perhaps could be a little more revelation and light-heartedness going on, when comparing the behind-the-scenes' vibe to some other ones that have graced Big Finish's output. At around 15 minutes it also feels just a touch too short.





Torchwood: Fall to EarthBookmark and Share

Monday, 14 December 2015 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood Fall to Earth
Torchwood: Fall to Earth
Written by James Goss
Directed by Scott Handcock
​​Starring: Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones); Lisa Zahra (Zeynep)
Released by Big Finish Productions - October 2015​
 

“Don’t forget me.”

“Never could.”

“In a thousand years’ time, you won’t remember me.”

“Yes, I will. I promise, I will.”

Half a dozen years may have passed since Ianto Jones bade his love an emotional farewell with these heart-breaking words in Torchwood: Children of Earth’s devastating third instalment, but this much is certain – while we’ll have to wait for Jack’s first post-Miracle Day adventure courtesy of Big Finish before knowing whether he kept his promise to his most faithful companion, judging by the still-standing memorial erected in the character’s honour down on Cardiff Bay shortly after his demise, fans haven’t shown any signs whatsoever of forgetting him as of yet.

Indeed, such is Ianto’s immense appeal that from the moment Big Finish confirmed that Gareth David-Lloyd would reprise the role in the second of their Torchwood audio dramas, Fall to Earth, the release in question almost instantaneously seemed to become the most anticipated instalment of Season One – or Season Five, depending on how one views this freshman run in terms of its canonicity and chronology – outclassing even the John Barrowman-led The Conspiracy or the Eve Myles and Kai Owen-starring Forgotten Lives to the extent that his return in future seasons now seems all but guaranteed despite Mr. Jones’ present posthumous status. Yes, for those wondering, despite David-Lloyd taking on the leading role this time around, his character hasn’t somehow been resurrected via a hallucination as was the case in BBC Radio 4’s 2011 drama The Lost Files: House of the Dead, but instead features in a seemingly standalone storyline which appears to take place sometime around the events of Season Two – although once again, don’t expect much in the way of direct references to the rest of the team beyond a couple of passing namechecks. All the same, though, even if we won’t be seeing Ianto’s eternal slumber interrupted in the near future, judging by the strength of David-Lloyd’s performance, more flashback outings certainly wouldn’t be unwelcome.

Not only does he recapture the innocence, the somewhat dry wit and above all the infrequent recklessness that made his character such a joy to watch develop in the first three seasons of the show’s televised run, but in the small space of just an hour of air-time, he simultaneously manages to endow his construct with new facets such as a profound fear of dying alone, a renewed emphasis on proving himself to a team who (rightly or wrongly) too often view him as a “coffee boy” at best and a surprising willingness to sacrifice his life for the cause in the hope that this will at least ensure his teammates’ hard-earned respect if nothing else. What with all of the hype surrounding this release in particular, few could have blamed either David-Lloyd or indeed writer James Goss for resting on their laurels in an attempt to simply depict Ianto in as quintessential a manner as possible, which makes their efforts to achieve precisely the opposite that much worthier of credit aplenty.

Speaking of Goss, this reviewer has started to lose count of the number of accomplished contributions the man behind the recent novelisation of City of Death has made to the so-called Whoniverse in recent years – incidentally, the short story he’s written for the just-released hardback novel, Doctor Who: Legends of Ashildr, comes highly recommended too – and by no means does his third Torchwood audio storyline fall short of the mark either. It’s certainly not a game-changer in the same vein as The Conspiracy was with its integration of social media, conspiracy theory-driven bloggers and other topical elements which affect today’s secret agency into its array of storytelling methods, yet there’s still something refreshing about the way in which Goss crafts the entirety of his simple yet engaging narrative around two characters, one of whom (Ianto, for those wondering) must spend what appear to be the final moments of his life attempting to convince the other, a telesales assistant going by the name of Zeynep, that without her assistance, the plane he’s currently in the midst of piloting will surely crash and burn, doubtless taking countless lives in the process. Such a unique dynamic as this naturally lends itself far more to the format of an audio drama than it would have to any of Torchwood’s televised outings, and true to form, Goss takes full advantage of the rare nature of his opportunity, throwing various spanners in the mix so as to keep both the listeners and the characters on their toes – an aspect of the tale of which director Scott Handcock takes full advantage by cutting from Ianto to Zeynep to some of the external forces threatening the former with a tension-inducing rapidity –  but equally giving his lead performers just as much chance to shine as Peter Capaldi received from Steven Moffat in “Heaven Sent” just a few short weeks ago.

Of course, had the casting team at Big Finish found anyone other than the ideal actress to portray Zeynep in an initially clueless but gradually endearing manner, then much of the astounding work done by Goss in the scriptwriting department would arguably have been for nought. Enter Lisa Zahra, who handles her character’s aforementioned transition with such ease that anyone listening with no knowledge whatsoever of Torchwood’s past on TV might genuinely begin to wonder whether she has featured on the series before in some capacity. Few instances come to mind where one of the show’s weekly supporting cast members has slotted into their role with such effortless aplomb as is the case with Zahra, nor where they’ve instantly demonstrated the potential to be able to capture the audience’s attention for virtually the entirety of an episode’s running time as is required of this fast-learning newcomer here. If there’s one criticism to be made of Zeynep as a character, it’s that we’ve seen the tale of a hapless bystander who by unlikely coincidence ends up helping our protagonist and in doing so having something of an epiphany about their own life to date, but again, Goss does his utmost to turn the listener’s preconceptions about storylines of this ilk on their heads in revealing further details on the nature of Zeynep’s involvement with the company behind the experimental Skypuncher space-cruiser Ianto’s flying come the third act, even it’s still not quite enough of a rug-pull moment to justify the ever-so-slightly clichéd approach.

Whilst Fall to Earth has its minor shortcomings, however, the same can be said of virtually any audio drama on the market at the moment, and whereas some of Big Finish’s more recent releases like Doctor Who: The Warehouse have all but completely succumbed to their faults, thanks to its stunning lead performances, compellingly-structured (if at times predictable) script and fast-paced direction, the studio’s sophomore Torchwood release without question boasts more than enough in the way of commendable merits to at the very least warrant a single listen from anyone who dares call him or herself a fan of the original TV series, and will doubtless serve just as significant a purpose in sustaining Ianto Jones’ surely eternal cultural legacy as his Cardiff Bay memorial. Perhaps in a thousand years’ time, Jack won’t remember his former lover, but provided that Big Finish continue to capitalize on David-Lloyd’s evident enthusiasm for the character and his immediate future, there’s every chance that come 3015, new generation of fans will still remember the “coffee boy” who gave his life to stop the 456 a thousand and six years before. The Skypuncher may have experienced a Fall to Earth, then, but far from it looking set to follow a similar trajectory, Ianto Jones’ appeal may well only continue to rise with future appearances – and quite right, too.





The Doctor Who Festival – Australia 2015Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 10 December 2015 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
The author with Peter Capaldi. BBC Worldwide sought to personalise the photo opp experience for fans.
The Doctor Who Festival - Australia
Hordern Pavilion & Royal Hall of Industries, Sydney, NSW
21-22 November 2015
A BBC Worldwide event
Guests: Peter Capaldi, Ingrid Oliver, Sylvester McCoy, Dan Starkey, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Danny Hargreaves, Daniel Nettheim, Jon Davey

Merely a week after the ExCel Centre in East London had hosted the Doctor Who Festival, the show was on the road again, over 17,000 kilometres away -€“ this time at the Hordern Pavilion and Royal Hall of Industries, in Sydney, Australia.

While the numbers who rolled through the Pavilion on the weekend of 21 and 22 November probably did not rival the attendance of UK fans at the ExCel Centre the week before, you certainly could not fault the passion and the exuberance of the Aussie fans. The bulk of the attendees would have been locals from Sydney but there were many fans (this Melbourne-based writer included) who made the trek from all parts of the continent, from as far away as Cairns (a good 2500km north) to as far west as Perth (a mere 4000km away) and as deep south as Tasmania to see the Doctor Who circus roll into old Sydney town.

It really was as much an Australian event as it was a Sydney-based one, illustrating just how universally loved Doctor Who is in this former colonial outpost. Australians and the ABC, the Australian public broadcaster, have traditionally been great supporters of Doctor Who over its 52 years, and the series has never been more popular amongst younger and older Australian fans alike. Indeed, whether it was deliberately planned or otherwise, the timing of the Australian Doctor Who Festival could not have been better -€“ 2015 is, after all, the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who first airing in Australia.

Indeed, BBC Worldwide should be commended for going all out in its organisation of this event and not taking Doctor Who'€™s Australian fan base for granted. Not only did we get an impressive line-up of guests, spearheaded by the current Doctor Peter Capaldi (Capaldi is the first incumbent in three decades to visit Australia in an authorised capacity; before that, you'€™d have to go way back to the early 1980s when Peter Davison did a promotional tour), but BBC Worldwide spoiled us even more by putting on display costumes and props from the just completed latest season of the program, including a Mire trooper'€™s armour (The Girl Who Died), the towering Fisher King (Before the Flood), the Sandman King (Sleep No More) and a Zygon (The Zygon Invasion/Inversion). There was even a miniature of the Dalek city on Skaro (as seen in series opener The Magician'€™s Apprentice/The Witch'€™s Familiar). This well and truly exceeded my expectations; while I expected to see props and costumes on display, I was expecting them to be from years well past.

Volunteers from the audience help Danny Hargreaves blow up a Cyberman on stage.In addition to Capaldi, the guests for the weekend also included executive producer Steven Moffat, series writer Mark Gatiss, Ingrid Oliver (Osgood), who stepped in at the last minute when Billie Piper pulled out due to filming commitments, and Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy. Dan Starkey (Strax) and monster artiste Jon Davey (who has played Daleks and Cybermen in the modern TV series) also participated in live shows in which they demonstrated to fans what it was like to walk like a Sontaran or to operate a Dalek. Another highlight of the weekend was the visual effects show hosted by Danny Hargreaves and his Real SFX team in which he wowed the audience by triggering charges on a Dalek and a Cyberman on stage and discussed the challenges of working in pyrotechnics (including setting up the charges that unveiled the impressive "€œNO MORE"€ banner blasted by the War Doctor in The Day of the Doctor). Fans also had the opportunity to line up for photos at the Real SFX team'€™s booth with a Dalek, a Christmas tree and polystyrene snow!The Fisher King impressively towered over its admirers.

In addition, there were various other panels occurring contemporaneously within the Festival hall, eg The Science of Doctor Who (which has previously toured Australia), the writers'€™ masterclass (with Mark Gatiss), the Production Village (with questions answered by series director Daniel Nettheim) and the Doctor Who Pub Quiz.

Meet and greet

The Q&A sessions with Hargreaves, McCoy and Capaldi, Oliver and Moffat in the main theatre were hosted and moderated by local ABC radio identity Adam Spencer. Sylvester McCoy, as always, proved to be the consummate entertainer, preferring to get up close and personal with the fans rather than staying still on the couch on-stage. Sylvester is no stranger to the Doctor Who convention circuit in Australasia; he's been here numerous times since the mid-2000s, including filming in New Zealand for The Hobbit film trilogy, and while he often regales us with some very familiar stories (eg the female artiste in 1989'€™s Survival who stripped herself naked from her Cheetah Person costume after overheating and was last seen running up some sand dunes in a thong!), he nevertheless knows how to keep an audience entertained. He also remains ever so spritely, despite being in his seventies and hobbling around with a cane (thanks to, as he put it, so many "€œcomedy injuries"€ sustained during his time as a stuntman and performer on the Ken Campbell Roadshow).

McCoy had fans rolling around in the aisles with his Sean Connery impersonation when discussing why David Tennant chose not to use his Scottish accent during his tenure as the Tenth Doctor. He also amused everyone with his recollection of the regeneration scene in the 1996 TV movie; he described himself and Paul McGann as having "€œrubber faces"€ and proceeded to pull all manner of strange expressions when explaining that he and McGann had to screw up their features for the CGI team to complete the regeneration effect. He also clearly enjoyed ribbing his predecessors and successors, eg describing Colin Baker as having a "€œgreat costume"€ and McGann as a "€œrather ugly Liverpudlian"€.Sylvester McCoy proved to be the consummate entertainer, preferring to get up close and personal with the fans rather than staying still on the couch on-stage.

While Sylvester was as comedic as ever, the real stars (at least as far as the fans were concerned) were Peter Capaldi and Ingrid Oliver who spent the bulk of the weekend patiently and industriously meeting, greeting and posing with fans for a succession of photos. It is all too easy to just herd fans through, snap their photos and usher them on (as often happens at fan-run conventions). It is to BBC Worldwide'€™s credit that as much effort as possible was made to personalise the experience for fans by having the minders introduce each and every person by name to Capaldi or Oliver who would then acknowledge them. The actors were also quite happy to do fun poses with the fans, including Capaldi'€™s (now) signature finger pointing as the Doctor.

Capaldi himself acknowledged just how much hard work it was during one of four live panels that he attended over the weekend, along with Oliver and showrunner Moffat. "€œI can'€™t speak,"€ he started a little breathlessly at one point, "€œbecause I'€™ve just been doing 180 photographs and saying '€˜Hello, how are you? I love you too, goodbye!'"€ However, he qualified that initiatives such as the Doctor Who Festival and also last year'€™s World Tour are great things to do because "€œit'€™s very easy to forget, when you'€™re in a bubble making the program, what the constituency of the audience is, and when you see that and when you get to meet youngsters, five-year olds, six-year olds, ten-year olds, teenagers, hipsters, baby boomers, middle-aged people, old people, it'€™s great for us to be reminded of the audience because you are the people we are making the show for!"€ (He naturally received a round of applause for these remarks.)

Capaldi further got brownie points with the Aussie audience for saying that he didn'€™t truly realise the extent of what it was like to be the Doctor until he saw Australian fans "€œen masse"€ at the Sydney Opera House during the World Tour. At that time, he had just finished making his first series but it had not gone out and so he did not know what the reaction would be to his performance. Similarly, he recalled feeling a little left out during the 50th anniversary celebrations in November 2013; he had been announced as the new Doctor at that point but was not invited to participate in the celebrations with his predecessors. This led Moffat to jokingly tease Capaldi for just being the classic grumpy Glaswegian!

t didn'€™t take long though for Moffat to do a little grizzling himself when Spencer asked him how the touring party had coped with the heat wave the day before, as Sydney'€™s mercury exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (or 108 degrees Fahrenheit, which Sylvester McCoy said sounded more impressive!). Moffat remarked that the heat, coupled with the northerly winds, made him feel like he was being assaulted by a giant hair dryer! He was also astounded to see Australian business people wearing suits in the heat. "€œWhy aren'€™t you dying?"€ he quipped.Ingrid Oliver puts on her best

Ingrid Oliver was not as unfamiliar with Australian conditions, having previously toured in a sketch show based on her BBC2 comedy series Watson & Oliver (with fellow comedienne Lorna Watson). Oliver stated that she knew she was truly in a Doctor Who episode (2013'€™s The Day of the Doctor) when she was required to put on her "€œbest Doctor Who acting"€ -“ at the moment Osgood realises that the Zygons are hiding under shrouds in the Under Gallery. (Capaldi helpfully described this as "€œpenny drops"€ acting, which subsequently led both actors to playfully put on their best "€œpenny drops"€ expressions for the benefit of the fans.) The Day of the Doctor also proved to be something of a homecoming for Oliver, as location filming was done around the Tower of London - where her first job after drama school was to dress up in period costume to entertain American tourists!

Like Capaldi, Oliver also didn'€™t realise just how much the part of Osgood had cut through with fans until she started to meet lookalikes that were dressing as Osgood (including moderator Spencer'€™s daughter who greeted her backstage by inhaling an asthma pump!). She also talked about just how gut-wrenching it was when she realised Osgood was to be killed off in Death in Heaven but was elated when she was invited back to reprise the role this year.

Guitars and homaging the Beatles

Peter Capaldi discusses how he, Jenna Coleman and two Daleks paid homage to the album cover for the Beatles' Abbey Road.Capaldi similarly expressed elation when he discussed the 12th Doctor'€™s guitar. He recalled that he had made the suggestion to Moffat about the Doctor playing an electric guitar in passing between seasons, promptly forgot about it and was then delighted to find it had been taken up by the script writers. He then accompanied the production team to a vintage guitar shop in Soho where he chose a guitar that reminded him -€“ "€œthis is really for guitar geeks"€ -“ of a home-made version of a Fender Stratocaster. Capaldi subsequently complimented a fan in the audience who came dressed as his character, complete with Fender Stratocaster!

Spencer also asked Capaldi about the publicity photo taken in September to promote the return of Doctor Who in which he, Jenna Coleman and two Daleks paid homage to the album cover for the Beatles'€™ album Abbey Road. Capaldi stated that the photo was taken in "€œ30 seconds, a minute tops"€ (because Abbey Road is open to traffic) but they practised in a nearby car park with the Daleks before doing the shot.

Capaldi also recalled how excited he was to originally play Caecilius in the 2008 Doctor Who episode The Fires of Pompeii alongside his predecessor David Tennant. As he was a huge fan of the TV series and never expected to have any further involvement with Doctor Who, he was very easily tempted to accept the offer without even reading the script before his wife urged him to be "€œprofessional"€ about it. He invoked plenty of laughter in the audience when he joked that there was a little part of him that wanted to be the monster that could kill Tennant!

When it came to eventually being offered the part of the Doctor, Capaldi stated, "€œThere was a part of me that said I had to be realistic and consider how my life would change ... I knew that my visibility would change and I would be famous in a way that I hadn'€™t been before. I don'€™t think being famous is a natural condition, it'€™s quite anxiety-making and odd. So I had to seriously think about that, even though I was prepared to take the risk ..."€ Interestingly, he later said that while he enjoys playing the role, he still doesn'€™t really think of himself as a "€œDoctor Who"€, "€œmay be when it'€™s all over"€.

That said, he added that while he finds the part physically exhausting, thanks to doing minor stunts and running up and down corridors, he nevertheless finds the part keeps him "€œhealthy, spritely and spry"€.

Childhood heroes

Capaldi was also asked about the actors that inspired him growing up. He cited John Hurt, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, as well as the first four "€œDoctor Whos"€, as actors that had impressed him. He recalled how he met Peter Cushing as a child and got his autograph and because the two of them shared the same initials, he styled his signature after Cushing'€™s autograph, which he described as a "€œvery elegant and considered signature"€.

Moffat also recalled how John Hurt came to be cast in The Day of the Doctor. "€œWe had this situation where we managed to accumulate two Doctors for this special and I had the idea that maybe there was one more Doctor than we knew about, the Doctor who fought during the abominable hiatus of all those years, 16 years without Doctor Who ... When I wrote the ending to the script for The Name of the Doctor, I had it written that a famous actor turns around. It had to be a famous actor, someone you would have cast back then as the Doctor. I remember saying somebody like John Hurt, whom we regarded as completely inaccessible.

Despite playing the role, Capaldi says he still doesn't think of himself as a "€œWe were weeks out from shooting, we were so close, I could barely stop crying and so we sent the script to John Hurt. And in an incredibly short space of time, he read it and said '€˜Yes'€™, which was astonishing to us! And the question that came through via John Hurt'€™s agent: '€˜John wants to know, he actually is a '€˜Doctor Who'€™ now, he wants to know ..'€™ I told him, '€˜It'€™s not a trick, he is a proper '˜Doctor Who''€™. He got the benefit, you see, he worked three weeks in Cardiff and he'€™s an official '€˜Doctor Who'€™."€ Moffat added Hurt'€™s casting was such a huge relief, considering at one point neither Matt Smith nor David Tennant were contracted and he was faced with the possibility of writing a 50th anniversary special with just Jenna Coleman!The miniature of the Dalek city on Skaro.

A legend without end
To close, Moffat was asked his opinion of Doctor Who'€™s expanded universe (eg the comic strips, the novels, the Big Finish audios). He said what he loved about the expanded universe was that the "€œpast is still growing, there are still more episodes of David Tennant or William Hartnell that we never saw. It means that the future for Doctor Who extends in both directions, all of them are still alive, all of them are vibrant. You have Big Finish, the comics and the books making new stories. It feels unstoppable. It'€™s not just growing into the future, the stuff that'€™s supposedly over is still growing and I think that is the mark of a legend that can never end"€.

There's no doubt events like the Doctor Who Festival further enrich the legend for fans. The Australian Festival was a well organised, memorable and fantastic event. If the exercise is repeated in future -€“ whether that is in the UK, Australia or indeed in Doctor Who'€™s other traditional markets such as North America -€“ I encourage all fans to attend. While the price of entry may seem hefty (almost $AUD200), the experience is more than rewarding.

 





Series Nine - A RetrospectiveBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 9 December 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The Magician's Apprentice (Credit: BBC / David Venni)This 2015 batch of new Adventures on TV had a somewhat difficult start to its campaign. Unlike the last two years of screened material there was no obvious hook to bring the masses back for more long-past-teatime, Saturday fare. Last year had the new Doctor, and indeed a gender-altered Master. The year before was the 50th anniversary, and by both luck and circumstance the coup of hiring legendary screen star Sir John Hurt. And yet I have been most satisfied, challenged and moved by these recent standalones, two parters and ambivalently-connected arc episodes. It is hard to imagine many other years being quite as good a vintage as this one. Ratings and audience appreciation are perhaps not what die hard fans would want, and yet the overall show has more lives than a cat and so many more avenues to pursue. Having writing talent from relative newcomers such as Sarah Dollard and Peter Harness is one of many positive omens.

What a relief it has been that showrunner Steven Moffat decided to go back to the continuous run of episodes both this year and last, as was the convention for most of 2005-2008. I prefer the opportunity to invest in characters over a reasonable period and to also appreciate story arcs and recurrent themes this way. The Christmas specials certainly are a mainstay of Yuletide TV schedules, and whilst not usually offering 24 caret gold stories, do their bit to reflect on the current series before viewers await the next one. River Song alongside just the Doctor seems like a good approach, and finally makes Alex Kingston the younger romantic interest of the Doctor (after being something of a 'cougar' figure for Tennant and especially Smith). How much the Doctor shares his various mental torments relating to Series 9's concluding three episodes should also be of real interest to the faithful viewer.

Whilst Series 8 was a pretty good batch of episodes, not everyone took to the new Doctor, despite the guaranteed excellence of an actor likePeter Capaldi. The deliberate choice of having him question whether he was a 'good man' meant his actions and attitude at times were pretty cold in away not so starkly seen since the Sixth Doctor (with some flashes here and there from the likes of Ecclestone and Tennant at times more recently).

This latest collective of escapades however gives us a more avuncular Tardis pilot. He may still be awkward with a given human being, such as Rigsy's baby but he tries to be agreeable and has also taken to being a bit of a senior rocker - with sonic glasses and electric guitar. Most friends and acquaintances of mine who follow the show have been much more convinced and happy with this more 'accesible' and warm persona. That is not to say though that he cannot be ruthless, (as seen in his defeat of Davros and the Daleks, his outwitting of the Fisher King, or his gunning down of the General on Gallifrey - regeneration or no regeneration),  or too stubborn and reckless (his imposed immortality on Ashildr which contrasts with the accidental state Captain Jack was left in, and his refusal to let Clara die which results in one of them having to forget their time together). But a flawed Doctor is for me the best way to get behind him, rather than running the risk of another generic white hat. The first four Doctors in particular were lovable, silly, authoratitive and moody to greater or lesser degrees. Capaldi being an actual fan of the Classic Series recognises that complexity is paramount to making the title role a success.

I have always been a Clara admirer, going right back to her plucky debut which ended in the most agonising of reveals that she was the maddest Dalek in the 'Asylum'. Although her on/off appearances abroad the TARDIS, and multiple exits may have whittled down others' good will, I still was happy to see her accompany the grey-haired Time Lord after various 'farewell' moments. But early on in Series 9 most faithful viewers knew that Clara's long running stint was finally reaching a conclusion. Although there were teased deaths in most episodes leading up to Face the Raven, the eventual method of departing the mortal coil was most appropriate for her personality and indeed her legacy. She chose to cheat a duplicitous Me of harming someone, even though it was just manipulation to make the Doctor bend to her collaborators' terms. But Clara's 'smart' intervention only served to highlight how some legally binding contracts are painfully narrow in scope. Her dignity in accepting she was done for, and the Doctor's desperate attempts to pull a rabbit out of the hat were some of the finest moments not just of Capaldi's run so far but of all of Doctor Who. And the cinematic, elegantly done way Clara let the Raven extract the life from her, with multiple camera shots and a deliberate decision to eschew sound effects, meant it almost took on a poetic elegance. Some however have not been happy with her continued use in the series finale, but surely turning an ordinary Earthling into a never-aging, somewhat stilted entity who will eventually have to go back for her fixed point of death, is a particularly memorable way to bid adieu to both a fine actress inJenna Coleman, and a uniquely crucial figure in the Doctor's many lives. That she pairs up with the morally dubious Ashildr/Me and gets to fly another stolen TARDIS invites viewers of all ages to imagine countless riveting avenues for a whole new duo.

The consistency of this season has been truly commendable. Only The Girl Who Died, featuring Vikings and a fake god with semi-cyborg warriors fell short of the mark for me. In many ways the ingredients were good but the end result was a cheesy romp more at home on the weekday afternoon slot of young children's TV. Although twists and directorial flourishes were evident, I never really cared for the fate of the supporting characters and would have been indifferent to Ashildr, were I not a big admirer of Maisie Williams' natural style from Game of Thrones. But my overall attitude to the episode is boosted by observing that the plot set up much of the remaining series quite well and gave the Doctor a chance to really see much negative influence he can wield, despite himself.

Most two-parters were very enjoyable and did enough to justify their length. The Davros/Missy/Daleks effort from Moffat was a great showcase of what makes Doctor Who fun, moving, chilling and unpredictable. Only the ending fell down somewhat in that it made Davros look a bit too foolish, whereas his defeat when supposedly in charge of the Hand of Omega is still a fine moment from the Seventh Doctor era. The twisted genius discounting the 'inferior Daleks' as not being linked just felt a little contrived. And yet by needing this conclusion to bring Capaldi and Julian Bleach together for amazing conversation after fascinating discussion, I can forgive Moffat in not plotting his story as tightly as Toby Whithouse did In his respective two parter.

I have always been partial to adventure stories involving the sea and underwater base intrigue.  Under the Lake /Before the Flood certainly was another strong addition to the many such examples available. By limiting the screen time of the main villain and showing the human players in depth, we were made to feel like real lives and emotions were at stake. Whithouse's script showed poise and confidence, and Capaldi gave us a taster of the outrage and dedication to winning at any cost; which was in evidence when threatening Me in the latter episodes of the series. The Fisher King had brute force and special powers with 'ghosts', but the Time Lord who cradles Earth had the guile and the masterplan. By linking a story already full of incident with a most ingenious subsidiary plot involving Beethoven gaining inspiration, this will be a personal favourite of mine even if other productions were arguably better overall.

The Woman Who Lived immediately answered questions as to what an immortal Ashildr could be capable of, and her collaboration with the leonine aliens with dark designs for Earth showed the folly of the Doctor believing a human could remained uncorrupted by having an endless lifespan. I was quite excited for this highwayman-themed story, but had to almost force myself to finish it in one sitting. Though it did many basic things right, it seemed to not have enough urgency or fully-fledged characters to connect with. And yet the decision to ultimately lose out on having a fellow immortal join the 'young' wonan was astute, perfectly setting up the rather pompous and indeed dangerous leader of a hidden society in Face the Raven. And as she faced endless centuries before at last sitting on Gallifrey's ruins, the audience were invited to reflect that the Doctor was more relatable on the surface and also more deplorable in essence.

Some perhaps would cite the Mark Gatiss effort, Sleep No More , as the low point for Series 9. I never found it totally gripping, but I still admired the attempts to do something different. The Doctor was never going to come close to pulling off a win, or saving even half the lives of the military force he teamed up with. The final twist which had a strong meta element was nicely done though, and helped compensate for a sluggish pace, lack of memorable sets or monsters, and a bizarre decision to crop the opening credits and bolt them wih the closing ones.

Other than three comparative misfires, the series showed verve, heart and invention aplenty. Who can forget the haunting and disturbing showcase of Capaldi's range as the Doctor is trapped in the most punishing of groundhog days in Heaven Sent? Or the impassioned and perfectly scripted speech our hero gives to the representatives of the human and Zygon races in the bunker, which makes them realise there are no winners in war?

Having a good variety of time zones, planets and space stations - real, imagined or fake - also showed the care and attention that the producers, writers and other crew were willing to bring to the table. The modern show may now be a veteran, even if one were to somehow discount the Classic Series as another entity altogether, and yet that can be a big plus. For now, the happy medium has been found and bottled, and can be sprinkled over the airwaves and streams of various nations worldwide. 

So it's a long wait for more top notch Capaldi/Moffat fare, especially once the Doctor and River have had a reunion for the umpteenth instance in their amazingly tangled time-streams. But why not  press the reset button? Just go watch the opening pretitles on Skaro's warzone and the Doctor being forced to question his moral framework like rarely before..right up to the closing moments where he opts for a sonic screwdriver proper once again, and adventures in the past, present and future. 

'Series 9' (or 'new' Doctor Who's Eleventh Year) is one to treasure and cherish time and time again.

 

*****************

Episode rankings

The Outstanding: Face the Raven, Heaven Sent

 

The Excellent: The Magician's Apprentice/ The Witch's Familiar, Hell Bent, Under The Lake/Before The Flood

 

The Good: The Zygon Invasion/ Inversion

 

The Average: The Woman Who Lived, Sleep No More

 

The Disappointing: The Girl Who Died





Hell BentBookmark and Share

Saturday, 5 December 2015 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
Hell Bent: The Doctor, as played by Peter Capaldi (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgway)
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay
Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Maisie Williams, Donald Sumpter, Clare Higgins, Ken Bones, T'Nia Miller, Malachi Kirby, Linda Broughton
Transmitted 5th December, BBC One

This review is based on a preview copy of the episode. It contains plot spoilers.

Clara Oswald was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

Opening this review with a misquotation from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is not arguing for a direct parallel between that book and Hell Bent. There are echoes, however, in the tripartite division of the story into past, present and future sections in which the Doctor is, if possible, both Marley’s Ghost and Scrooge. He confronts his past, attempts to reshape his present, and is surprised by the questions posed in and by his future in which his past, in the sense of his memory of events, is actively reshaped. Throughout Steven Moffat displays preoccupations familiar from his previous work from inside and outside Doctor Who, while also making inventive use of elements inherited more generally from Doctor Who’s past.

Several episodes in this series, particularly those where Moffat is a credited writer, have emphasised the centrality of Clara to the Doctor’s world. For Clara, things seem to have been slightly different. I’ve complained in reviews here and elsewhere that Clara seems to have been marginalised at some points in the season, with several episodes giving her little to do or writing her out almost completely. Hell Bent begins with a double-bluff concerning her which draws on long-term viewers’ memories of her introduction and first season arc while teasing about the Doctor’s intentions and backstory as well as the very existence of Clara in the narrative. Clara Oswald, it turns out, is as good a performer as Jenna Coleman can make her, and that is very good indeed; and the Doctor is not as in control of the situation as we might at first assume. All this is for a later revelation.

As it is, the sight of the Doctor travelling across (one of) the United States of America in a stationwagon carrying his guitar journeys some way towards rehabilitating one of the (for me at least) less successful set pieces of the opening episode, the introduction of the Doctor seemingly in a state of midlife crisis playing guitar on a tank. In contrast the Doctor with guitar here is a different kind of folk hero-musician, not anxiously playing to a crowd both appreciative and oblivious in the arena but one with a quieter and introspective ambivalence, who could have been one of the Bob Dylan figures in Todd Haynes's film I’m Not There.

The Dylanesque Doctor compliments the American styling of Gallifrey. This Americanism isn’t simplistic: it’s an American-ness filtered through non-American readings and reconstructions, appropriate for a Doctor Who made in Cardiff and in this case Lanzarote. Shedding his red velvet coat after his return home, the Doctor adopts a demeanour reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name but an outfit owing more to the classic western, including a character whose actions reflect upon genre morality and authority, Will Kane (Gary Cooper) in High Noon. Spaghetti western (the location for Gallifrey is politically if not geographically southern European) receives a transfusion of Hollywood introspection. The art deco stylings of the Time Lord city (its name another American reference), if coloured green, could easily represent the Emerald City of a still-potent American myth, The Wizard of Oz. The parched landscape isn’t just that of the spaghetti western but of another British institution’s idea of America, 2000AD’s Judge Dredd and the America between the megacities of its early epic The Cursed Earth.

Gallifrey as America is by no means new. The barn introduced in The Day of the Doctor and revisited in Listen has always had something of the American Gothic about it. The Outsiders of The Invasion of Time were styled after native Americans (a costume intended more appropriately for the feline natives of Gallifrey in the story which The Invasion of Time replaced). In The Deadly Assassin it’s explained that the Doctor’s exile to Earth was the result of the Celestial Intervention Agency’s actions, Gallifrey’s CIA undertaking dirty tricks in an era of post-Watergate scepticism. It’s where we first hear the city of the Time Lords referred to as the Capitol, the American term for legislative buildings. So Hell Bent is built on decades of layering.

This is a 2000AD-influenced British Marvel depiction of Gallifrey, too. Gone are the voids of The End of Time and (at first) the wrecked landscape of The Day of the Doctor. Instead the Gallifrey whose Capitol is contained within a sphere, introduced in The Sound of Drums but recalling artwork from early 1980s Doctor Who Monthly, is extended and explored, the outfits of the military recollecting the uniforms seen in the Steve Parkhouse/Mick Austin era of the Doctor Who Monthly comic strip. Later in the episode, the conversation the Doctor has in the Matrix Cloister with Clara about the young Time Lord who broke in there and who turns out to have been the Doctor himself is a reminder of something this reader at least felt invited to infer at the end of the Steve Moore/Steve Dillon Doctor Who Weekly comic strip The Stolen TARDIS.

Like his High Noon precursor Will Kane, the Doctor doesn’t cower in the face of a gun, though Kane didn’t have to face one as large as one on the Time Lord military vessel. The insectoid appearance of the Time Lord craft have something vaguely of Starship Troopers about them, a reminder of how militarised a society Gallifrey had become during the Time War. The Doctor’s renunciation of his title at the end of Face the Raven gains more force here; Moffat is revisiting and perhaps also revising the War Doctor. The episode vividly depicts the authority the Doctor has as the man who won the Time War. The traveller is changed into a man of the people and the planet, seen eating a soup the colour of soil and sky. An interlude in the chamber of the high council is accompanied by music inspired by the Carmina Burana familiar from the Omen films. Negotiation strategies fail bringing the Time Lord Messiah, Rassilon, up against the Doctor as a morally certain Antichrist.

It’s appropriate that the Doctor proclaimed in publicity as a rebel Time Lord, who imports part of Peter Capaldi’s own life story as a post-punk musician into his identity, this should so completely undermine the rule of ‘Rassilon the Redeemer… Rassilon the Resurrected’. Anarchy in the Time Lords indeed. Donald Sumpter plays Rassilon as a reedier figure than Timothy Dalton, a more pensive and nervous incarnation, a war leader more bureaucratic than imperious. The Moffat/Sumpter Rassilon is capable of indulging and enjoying petty hatreds where the Russell T Davies-written Dalton Rassilon was coldly dismissive. Sumpter’s Rassilon is authoritative but fragile, as he has to be to be both followed and removed so early in the story.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is coldly tricksterish. On the basis of the first segment, viewers might have expected Hell Bent to be about the Doctor leading a rebellion of the socially excluded country dwellers on Gallifrey. The Capitol isn’t stormed; instead the Doctor becomes the de facto leader of a military coup, a coup where his allies don’t know where he is leading them. Capaldi is on superb form here as a Doctor who manages to be both testy academic dashing down a pupil and master of misdirection who sets up another red herring.

Part one of the story segues into the second part. The Doctor has dealt sufficiently with his past: he now needs to revise his present. The re-presentation of Clara’s death is played and delivered extremely well; Jenna Coleman’s reaction to the suspension of the raven and the sudden appearance of a duplicate Doctor flagged up the absurdity of the situation without diluting the horror of Clara’s death. The suspension of time is represented by the impression of analogue colour television ghosting, appropriate because from now on Clara is a Doctor Who-science version of a ghost. From the point of view of any observer trapped in the usual processes of time, she’s a duplicate of the Clara who we saw die in Face the Raven; but from the point of view of the Time Lord someone artificially extracted from time temporarily and always dependent on her return and death. The backlighting of the Doctor is reminiscent of the rescue of Caecilius and his family in The Fires of Pompeii, revisited in The Girl Who Died, a reminder that this Doctor regards himself as someone who saves people and of his real intentions in retrieving Clara. Of course he was going to try to save Clara; of course this was always his plan. Unfortunately sometimes people are ungrateful, particularly when they are being denied agency.

Triangulating the single-minded Doctor between a violated and understandably uncomfortable Clara and the decent and honourable General challenges the audience’s perception of the Doctor as hero and builds on the re-establishment of Clara as moral centre which occurred when she accepted her fate towards the end of Face the Raven. The Doctor’s destructive insistence on his own needs is well contrasted with the politeness and sympathy shown by the General: ‘You too, Sir,’ in the face of death is generous. The Doctor’s dismissal of death on Gallifrey as ‘man flu’ is nonsensical and flies in the face of the Doctor’s own desperation at what seems to be the end of his life in The Time of the Doctor. The regeneration of the General as a woman is a rebuke to this comment, made more pointed by her relief at shaking off a masculine excess of ego, something from which the Doctor suffers. The whole sequence from Clara’s anger at the nature of her rescue to the General’s post-regenerative remarks gives much for students of Doctor Who’s attitude to gender to consider. More broadly, it’s with moments like these that the picture of the Doctor as off the rails and forgetting his principles is coloured in. Although I’d seen ‘Female General’ in the cast list I’d not expected that she would be the same character; farewell to Ken Bones who was a touchstone of solidity in the best Lethbridge-Stewart tradition in The Day of the Doctor and whose placing as e voice of Gallifrey in The Time of the Doctor gave him a centrality in the ongoing myth which suggested we would see him again, if (as turns out) only once. Hello too to T'Nia Miller whose casting is another this year to maintain Doctor Who's links with the works of Russell T Davies, and who carries forward the General with laconic efficiency.

In Doctor Who, emotional and moral anguish needs to be offset by adventure, so the Doctor takes Clara into the Matrix Cloisters to dodge monsters or prove his affinity with them. The trapped Dalek begging for euthanasia, the Weeping Angels and the Cyberman are all reminders of Clara’s timelooped, undead condition. The revelations about the Confession Dial and the way it operates cast some light on the confessional purpose of the interspersed diner scenes. In the Cloister, Clara returns to her old role as the Doctor’s manager-therapist, acting for both of them when asking Ohila and the Time Lords to tell her how long the Doctor was in the Confession Dial, and successfully developing a strategy to allow the Doctor to steal a TARDIS and restart his future. She also, crucially, deploys a phrase the Doctor previously used to include himself and Ashildr: ‘people like you and me’. The Doctor is treating Clara as someone to whom he has a ‘duty of care’, but his actions, none greater than extracting her from her timestream, both neglect this duty and ignore the metamorphoses Clara has undergone.

There’s a continual and cumulative sense that the Doctor’s achievements in this story are anything but, and not only because they are presented as flashbacks linking the Doctor’s uncertain reminiscences in the diner. The Doctor’s refashioning of his present ends with Ohila treating his flight from Gallifrey with contempt. The Doctor seems to want incompatible things from his future, promising Clara renewed adventures in time and space while saying he needs to make an adjustment beforehand – wiping her memory – and desperately heading further and further forward in time in the hope that her heartbeat will start.

The third section of the story suggests that the only future on offer in following this route is the last dying ember of the universe sustained by Ashildr. Maisie Williams is found reigning over the ruins of Gallifrey in the manner of a supremely confident queen of a school sixth form, more socially confident than the Doctor but academically the pupil who has outshone her teacher, who was after all more absent than not. The Doctor finally addresses her as Me; a concession to her own sense of identity at last and accepting that after billions of years his memories of her can’t define her. Peter Capaldi plays the Doctor as fond of her and angry with her too. Their discussion sees the Doctor’s days like crazy paving meet Me’s slow road: summer can’t last for ever, Me has learned, but for the Doctor it can and must. Her questioning about his secrets – the half-human question is pointedly raised and tantalisingly remains open – reveals that the Doctor and Clara together are the Hybrid, if it exists at all.

The painful relationship break-up which ensues is most agonising because Clara successfully asserts her agency in a way which has to harm the Doctor’s sense of who he is. The Doctor, at the end of the universe and ‘answerable to no-one’, has to be threatened into accepting that he is answerable to himself and to his friends. With Clara, he can’t be the Doctor as she and he want him to be. Nevertheless, this final decision on who will lose their memory is agreed together using a Time Lord device which it turns out Clara has successfully reprogrammed, despite the Doctor’s doubts. There are immediate regrets, but the conversation restates several of the essentials of modern Doctor Who. Important is the reminder that no-one is ever safe; the Doctor has taken on the role of Jackie to Clara’s Rose and needs to be relieved of that nisidentification, brutally. Also important is the idea that if you are cowardly, you must make amends: the Doctor has sacrificed his memory for Clara, perhaps, but the new authorities he left behind on Gallifrey now have a case for restitution too, amongst others.

The Doctor’s theft of a TARDIS, complete withPeter Brachacki-inspired décor, was a sign that his quest for his future was an attempt to recover a past he could no longer have. As Me said, Clara was dead and gone by her own choice; keeping her alive and not alive and without her memories of her time with the Doctor was no existence at all. However, it turns out that the new/old TARDIS can be a new start for two people and the departure of Clara and Me in their TARDIS makes the nods to Warriors’ Gate seen by some in Heaven Sent a pointer to the final circumstances of Clara’s departure, having some parallels to that of Romana in that she (and Me) become alternative Doctors, on the run with a TARDIS with a broken chameleon circuit. It’s also part of an uplifting conclusion after a grim fifty-odd minutes.

The absence of dialogue as the Doctor reconciles his immediate experiences emphasises the visual. The Doctor has been poised between superhuman and everyman since the beginning of the series. His discomfort at the dematerialisation of the diner around him and the revelation of the landscape of dust and sand and rock is crushing, as if the Doctor is a desert traveller who finds the oasis they have discovered is a mirage. However, the reunion of Time Lord and TARDIS is beautifully choreographed, the ship emerging from left as if it’s the only tangible thing in a dream world. The Doctor’s awakening of his ship is a recovery of his own sense of self after four and a half billion years of his own time, using the same visual language of lights switching on as used in Heaven Sent to mark return to consciousness. The new sonic screwdriver (not quite sure what the merchandisers will make of this one, but we will see) is given to the Doctor as if by the Lady of the Lake to King Arthur, rippling out from the surface of the console. Rigsy’s painting and Clara’s final chalked message assure the audience that there will be some relic of Clara in the Doctor’s future even as her image is blown away on a Nevada wind.

Is Hell Bent successful? This partly depends on how well one responds to the episodic structure. It is jarring to find characters being established and then disappearing quickly from the plot, such as Donald Sumpter’s Rassilon; Ohila, the General and Gastron disappear from the story without the audience being certain that their role in it is over. (As an aside, Steven Moffat’s development of the ties of obligation between the Doctor and the Sisterhood of Karn is intriguing – Ohila’s line about loving fireworks appears to say she has come to Gallifrey as a spectator, but might also be a fannish reference to the ‘Mighty Atom and a Thunder Flash’ the Doctor leaves behind to help sustain the sacred flame at the end of The Brain of Morbius.) The audience is deliberately led up a few garden paths before establishing that the story is both a revenge and a rescue narrative, and also a continuation in a series of new landscapes of the quest begun, over and over again, in Heaven Sent. After supervising a closed, repetitive world in Heaven Sent, Rachel Talalay and her team make the best use of a series of contrasting wide landscapes and closed worlds, all in their ways representing different stages of contemplation.  

There are obvious criticisms. The story is fuel for those who remonstrate with Steven Moffat for not letting the dead stay dead. The extension of Clara’s life through Time Lord intervention isn’t a denial of the decision she made to take responsibility and die, though. The story works to make the Doctor understand why Clara died, and when he realises he can’t accept it, realising his is the wound that must be cauterised. If the flexibility of Doctor Who can’t be used to explore death, then it is being restrained from dramatic purpose, and this does. Clara and Me have both stopped the Doctor’s denial of their deaths making them into victims of his all-powerful but uncontrolled compassion and it’s right that they collaborate in his rehabilitation at the end. If the Doctor, as we have been told repeatedly since 2005, changes lives, the people he meets have to be shown to change his to validate Doctor Who as drama.

Doctor Who is more than a drama series; it’s a pan-media, pop culture event. There were several points in this episode where it seemed to be in open conversation with its own media coverage and reception. If so, there’s some acceptance of criticism: Clara’s declaration that she can’t trust the Doctor when he shouts feels like an acknowledgement of audience resistance to the Malcolm Tucker-like ‘Shuttity-up’ Doctor of Peter Capaldi’s first season, and an admission that this element was overdone. Like Peter Capaldi the actor, the Doctor can’t be the Doctor all the time, but unlike Peter Capaldi the actor he has (at least to our knowledge) no episodes of Veep to go and direct. There’s perhaps something too about Capaldi’s comment on his 1970s fanhood, that if you grow up with Doctor Who you have to leave it. Capaldi was an active fan before the era of Longleat and Doctor Who fandom’s discovery that it could be its own rock and roll; but it’s tempting (though not necessarily in the text) to read Clara here as the fan who recognises the addiction, makes the break, but finds after a dialogue there were things in her existence with the Doctor worth pursuing on their own terms. Memories become stories become songs.

As often in recent Doctor Who, the conclusion of the season could have been better served by the episodes which led up to it. The coalition between Missy and the Daleks hinted at in The Witch’s Familiar fails to materialise here, but may well in the future. Indeed, there is a point where the viewer might expect Missy to wander in from the shadows and gloat at what appears to be her triumph, though perhaps the Doctor does not quite go far enough to dramatically justify it. I think I’d have liked another Ashildr episode between The Woman Who Lived and Face the Raven, probably involving Clara to give the two women more of a rapport. The legend of the Hybrid could have been better-exposed throughout the series too, even if its development had to be left to the end.

One more problem is illustrated by Clara's reference to the Chronolock and the viewer being shown those '000' digits showing that her time was up. There's no explanation for new viewers or those who weren't concentrating as to what this is. It's fine for Doctor Who to be uncompromising, but at the same time it needs to be accessible. The absence of information for viewers who didn't see Face the Raven adds to the disquiet felt in some circles that a more welcoming, happier Doctor Who might be more successful as Saturday night television. Currently it's a bit of an outlier, though still more successful at winning and keeping viewers than some critics will have us think.

Otherwise, Hell Bent rattles through a lot of story at great pace and with a more single-minded determination than most other Steven Moffat finales. Its title is appropriate in so many ways, alluding not only to the Doctor’s determination but how his purpose corrupts him, as well as to the warped society of the Time Lords and Rassilon, the destination of the end of the universe, and the rescue of Clara into a half-life which doesn’t restore her to her former state. It occurs to me late in the review that this guitar-playing Doctor is an Orpheus in Hades, but it’s his mistake to keep looking back; Clara is no Eurydice, and neither is Me. For all the sleight of hand with plotting (I’m not sure at this point whether the Matrix Cloister labyrinth scene really justified itself in terms of whether the Doctor and Clara really needed to be there, but it played the part of a world of the dead more than adequately and gave the monsters some exposure) Hell Bent satisfactorily ended the Doctor’s relationship with Clara as we have known it (despite what we’ve been told, there is potential for a reunion) and seems to have completed the Doctor’s two-season long quest to rediscover himself. A less introverted and better-signposted arc in the future would be welcome, but Hell Bent succeeded on more than its own terms both a series and serial drama and as retelling and extension of folk tale.





Twelfth Doctor #10 - Gangland (Part Two)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 3 December 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who: Twelfth Doctor #10 (Credit: Titan)
Writer - Robbie Morrison
Artists - Brian WIlliamson & Mariano Laclaustra
Letterer - Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Colorist - Hi-Fi
Editor - Andrew James
Designer - Rob Farmer
Assistant Editor - Kirsten Murray
Published July 29th 2015 - Titan Comics

"We obviously have different concepts of negotiation. I was thinking merely of letting them live. You on another tentacle, are surplus to requirements" -

The Cybocks clarifying a proposition in conclusive fashion.

 

As so often is the case for the Doctor and his precocious best friend, an intended breakaway has led to an unintended bedlam in 1960s Las Vegas. And not only do they face danger but so does the Wolfpack, headed by the singing superstar that is Frankie Seneca. A certain boxer with more than a few wins to his name - Sonny Lawson - could provide a helping hand (or two) to the Doctor's cause, and end up stopping the creepy crawly interlopers that represent the surviving Cybock Imperium.

It won't be easy with a powerful Time Lord weapon in the hands of the Cybocks, but the Doctor will still fancy his odds in the city where gambling is be-all-and-end-all. No pressure then(!). It is not just a group of people or even a town, but the whole planet Earth that could be wiped out with irrevocable effect, should the initial plan of societal assimilation not prove totally suitable...

 

We have another opening prologue which is somewhat more rapid in its page count, and reinforces just how evil the chief Cybock is, deep down. The threat of the Time Lord weapon is a nice instance of something meant for lofty and 'proper' purposes being subverted.. And yet while the renegade Doctor cannot be held accountable for the creation of such a danger, he still feels he must fix the fault to the very best of his ability, rather than getting carried away in performing yet more heroics.

The pairing of the Doctor with Sonny is very nicely done. A man of science and intellect is matched with someone known primarily for his fist fighting but who himself is quite astute and was able to learn from set-backs in order to become the sporting champion he is famed for. That Sonny was forced into backing up the mob for his family's safety is a device which reminds us that deplorable acts and allegiances can be rooted in the best of intentions. Doctor Who does not always explore morality and consequences as well as more 'serious' drama, but when it cares to do so, it can certainly be moving.

A device is used to turn normally those two-bit and despicable Vegas gangsters that manipulate the boxer into temporary allies. As the saying goes "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". And furthermore this story does not just feel like having to bring its plot forward, but allows some quality world building as well. We have some wonderful exchanges and dynamics going on. The essential plot is relatively straightforward but avoids the boundaries of predictability just enough to maintain that vital element of tension.

We also get some brilliant comic relief with the 'Wolfpack', which is more than just a simple homage to our reality's Sixties Ratpack. They show some ability to think on their feet and take advantage of their value to the Cybocks. Perhaps having been involved in some unusual scrapes in their reality's movies has given them a built-in-advantage, when something truly bizarre and surreal transpires in that aliens are coming down to the desert in force and looking very mu

Robbie Morrison can pen down-beat tales capably, and pull off romps like this in successful fashion too. The villains are not just any monster of the month(s) but a properly malevolent and devious enemy of the Time Lords themselves. There is some very enjoyable dialogue; if overly jokey at times. The setting and the related vibe are used as much to inform characterisation and plot developments as readers can wish.

The artist pairing of Williamson and Laclaustra is just as strong in this concluding issue, with both action-packed large panels and more emotive or personal small panels being rendered to convince the reader of the narrative as a cohesive whole.

The Doctor's seeming bravery at the end, when he chooses to play a game with the ruthless Commander Kronos ends in relatively simple fashion but does its part in honouring the fascinating backstory of the Time Lords and their many wars over all of time and space. Clara may trust her mood andW unpredictable friend for the most part, but even she must guess what is the method required to pull off a triumph on occasion (c.f.Before The Flood). 

A fine little tale this, and one to read and re-read as the current TV run draws to its end for the time being.

 

BONUS HUMOUR STRIP - The Meddling Of Clara's Song


Colin Bell again shows his dutiful frame of mind in attempting a one page tag to the main story that echoes some themes but is perfectly independent as well. Following the previous month's Day of the Tune, this sees the vital nature of the translation circuits that each TARDIS carries being made abundantly clear. A number of different, non-humanoid alien - sketched by Neil Slorance - feature in the audience as Clara tries to put on a good performance. Even today, such odd creatures would not be a feature of televisual Doctor Who.