The Ghost MonumentBookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 October 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Dennis
 The Ghost Monument: Yaz (Mandip Gill), The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham (Bradley Walsh) (Credit: BBC Studios (Coco Van Opens))

 

BBC One (United Kingdom)
Broadcast on: Sunday 14th October 2018
Running Time: 50 minutes

There are spoilers in this review - so if you haven't seen the episode yet, and want to stay in the unspoiled, please come back later.

With the major festivities of that exciting and fresh-faced first episode well and truly out of the way, it's time for Doctor Who to settle in properly and get back to business. Of course, with a new head-writer in the driving seat and a whole new production team bringing a fresh approach to the show, business, as usual, could mean pretty much anything at this point. Judging by The Ghost Monument alone, it seems to mean both entertainment and frustration.

Like with the Doctor's other recently-regenerated incarnations, this second episode crash-lands our new hero onto an alien world (in this case, literally), before setting off with the herculean task of setting a tone for the new Doctor and her companions by testing their mettle. We’ve seen it done before in episodes like The Beast Below or Smile – throw the new companions into a completely alien environment and see how they cope.

Here, the marooned time-travellers must join the surviving participants of an interstellar race to survive the hostile dead planet of Desolation. By doing so, they stand a chance of finding the Doctor's lost TARDIS. But the planet holds a secret, and enemies are lying in wait.

For the most part, the episode has its charms and isn't without incident - there are some cracking ideas here that merit further exploration. But Chris Chibnall’s script is handicapped early on by a severe lack of momentum, with the episode spending too much time merely chauffeuring the characters from point A to point B. The main monsters of the episode - the ribbon-like Remnants - only make their presence properly felt in the final few minutes, and when they do show, it's largely underwhelming.

The big reveal of the alien world being weaponised by kidnapped scientists is a solid idea, but it's only mentioned briefly towards the end and never utilised in a manner that benefits the drama. Even more jarring is how the plot suddenly hints at a connection to the Stenza, last week's human-hunting aliens, only to forget about the whole thing altogether. Clearly, this looks set to be a continuing story arc thread running through this series (which is certainly welcome), but the reference feels clumsily forced here.

Of course, whilst the main crux of the plot is merely a hodgepodge of half-baked ideas (were the random robots really necessary?), Chibnall's script does deliver in terms of sound character moments, both for the main characters and guest cast alike. Jodie Whittaker is just as watchable and captivating as she was last week – ever-evolving in her portrayal of the Doctor, here showing off a bit of the Doctor's more judgemental, authoritative tendencies, but still the delightfully mad and upbeat character we met previously.

The Ghost Monument: Epzo (Shaun Dooley), The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) (Credit: BBC Studios (Coco Van Opens))Guest stars Susan Lynch and Shaun Dooley benefit from Chibnall's script as well, each of their respective characters getting a fair portion of the drama, with some excellent insights into their pasts and their motivations for partaking in the deadly space race. Chibnall’s strength clearly lies in his ability to identify and write the relatable aspects of a character, no matter the setting/situation.

Unfortunately, the companions are not all served by the script as well as they should. Tosin Cole's Ryan continues to get the most to do, whilst Bradley Walsh again provides the episode with plenty of heart (and a few banging comedy one-liners). Better yet, the previous episode’s major tragedy isn’t forgotten, which leads to a touching scene between the two bereaved men. However, Mandip Gill’s Yasmin still remains hugely underdeveloped, and oft-times her character feels severely inconsequential to proceedings. Of course, there may be more chance for her to shine in future episodes, but at this point, there isn’t a lot here for us to go on. Three companions plus a new Doctor may be a bit too much for the show to handle. Hopefully, this concern will be proven wrong soon enough.

Of course, the big talking point of this otherwise so-so episode is the big reveal of the new TARDIS interior. We only see it for a bit, slowly teased out to us as the Doctor enters, and it’s a lot to take in when we do. A slight return to the more organic look of the Davies era set, albeit with a more crystalline aesthetic as opposed to coral, first thoughts are mainly that it looks a bit cramped around that console and the lighting doesn’t quite do its grand size justice. However, it’s interesting and visually stunning enough to warrant more screen time in the future. Yet another box ticked for this new era.

Frustrating as the main alien plot is, there's still much to admire in The Ghost Monument - the direction and cinematography are both slick and sumptuous to behold, the new Hartnell-influenced opening titles look amazing, the cast is excellent, the ideas are imaginative and Chris Chibnall clearly has a talent for creating relatable characters in extraordinary situations. But the more pedestrian pace proves the biggest detriment to an otherwise decent episode, with both the monsters and any actual incident included as if they were merely an afterthought.

Entertaining but instantly forgettable, The Ghost Monument is nowhere near terrible, but for an episode that centres around a race to the finish line, it's ironic that it chooses to crawl instead of run!





The Woman Who Fell To EarthBookmark and Share

Sunday, 7 October 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
 The Woman Who Fell to Earth - The Doctor	- Jodie Whittaker (Credit: BBC Studios)
Written by Chris Chibnall
Directed by Jamie Childs

Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole, Mandip Khan,
Bradley Walsh, Sharon D Clarke

First broadcast 6.45pm, Sunday 7 October 2018 

I'm the Doctor - Sorting out fair play throughout the universe......

 

Writer Chris Chibnall, and Director Jamie Childs finally present to us The Woman Who Fell To Earth. It feels like it has been a long time coming (which it has). Now for the big question...was it worth the wait? Absolutely. 100%.

 

There are spoilers in this review - so if you haven't seen the episode yet, and want to stay in the unspoiled, please come back later.

 

Talking of spoilers, I must say that the new team have done EXCEPTIONALLY well at keeping key story points away from prying eyes, something which is an amazing feat in this day and age, and  is a factor that I'm sure will help this new series of Doctor Who become appointment television once more.

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth is a story that has the theme of family solidly at its core. As the story unfolds we are first introduced to Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole), who at nineteen years of age is learning to ride a bike. Ryan has dyspraxia, a condition which has affected his co-ordination. The dyspraxia features in the story later on, and it is great to see the writer not being afraid at bringing something like this to the fore of the story, and to make it a positive factor for Ryan, by shaping his determination.

 

Ryan's Nan, Grace (Sharon D Clarke), and her husband of three years Graham O'Brien (Bradley Walsh) are trying to encourage Ryan in his efforts, which end with a very frustrated Ryan throwing the bike off a cliff. When Ryan tries to retrieve the bike he stumbles across some strange, glowing geometric shapes, that when touched, result in a large blue...blob suddenly appearing. Ryan calls the police and as a result we meet Yasmin Kahn (Mandip Gill).

 

From here the action moves swiftly onto a train that is under siege by an alien force. Graham and Grace are both caught up in events, urging Ryan and Yasmin to rush to help them. It is here that our new Doctor literally drops from the sky and takes complete control of the situation. Jodie Whittaker's first scenes immediately reassure the viewer that the character of the Doctor is in very safe hands.

 

 The Woman Who Fell to Earth - Ryan Sinclair - Tosin Cole (Credit: BBC Studios)What follows (for the most part) is a regeneration story that (I would say) is most comparable to The Eleventh Hour. In it we have an alien warrior on a hunt, which once the hunt is completed, will ensure his succession on his home world. It of course falls to the Doctor and her new friends to stop him, and protect the hunter's  prey.

 

Along the way we learn that the TARDIS is missing and that the Doctor can build a sonic screwdriver by combining a small piece of alien technology along with some spoons. We also learn that the Doctor will stop at nothing to protect her new friends, and even strangers. 

 

Things suddenly become very serious towards the end of the story, with the surprising, and rather shocking death of Grace. The aftermath of which is very sensitively handled. So much so in fact that I did wonder how the Doctor's new friends would be written into the next story, which is resolved quite simply by the Doctor accidentally kidnapping them all.

 

Oh - and along the way the Doctor gets her new outfit from a charity shop - which I think is quite a perfect way for her to acquire new clothes.

 

 

The story positively romps along. Chibnall obviously loves the characters that he has created. The background on the companions (there I have said it! Companions!) is quite rich. Ryan gets the most development. The story opens with him saying the line "So today, I want to talk about the greatest woman I ever met." Of course at the start of the story we immediately think that he is referring to the Doctor, but by the time we reach the end, and catch up with Ryan, we realise that he is referring to his Nan, Grace. It's a clever and beautiful piece of writing.The Woman Who Fell to Earth: Graham (Bradley Walsh), Yaz (Mandip Gill) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Ben Blackall))

 

Graham also get's his fair share of screen time, with his character (as probably to be expected) having many of the funnier lines. His speech, at Grace's funeral is particularly moving. I did feel though that Yasmin could have been given more to do. This is something that  I am hoping  is put right in future episodes.

 

So what of the new Doctor? well, she actually drops into a scene to the beats of the Doctor Who theme (more on that later). Here we have a massively confident debut for Jodie Whittaker. For me there were two absolutely defining moments. The first was her rather beautiful description of the regeneration process. Never has regeneration, and what it does to a body and mind been summed up so perfectly and in so much detail. The second is  the crane top speech to the alien hunter, which immediately shows that she stands firmly shoulder to shoulder with any man that has gone before her. The characterisation is re-assuringly the Doctor. She is quirky, full of energy, brave, kind and absolutely outraged in the face of injustice.

 

The feel of the show is fresh, and this isn't just because we are in Sheffield, and not Cardiff. The effects are very well realised and rather beautiful, especially in the rendering of the alien's other worldly Gathering Coils, a frenetic tangle of metallic tendrils and lights. Jamie Child's direction is urgent, but at no point does anything feel rushed. 

 

The Woman Who Fell to Earth (Credit: BBC)The biggest contribution to the shows freshness is the  writing. By killing off a seemingly major character in the shows first episode, Chibnall has created a feeling of very real threat and menace, and also a plot line that should bring two of the characters closer together. In the shows closing minutes the Doctor's new friends are literally dragged into her next adventure, which in itself should create some interesting character dynamics.

 

Ah! - The theme! There's no blast of the  new theme tune at the beginning of the story. In fact there are no credits at the start of the show all. However we do get to hear the new version over the end credits. Personally I think that new composer, Segun Akinola's closing theme is the best since David Tennant departed. Don't get me wrong, I loved Murray Gold's music, but I thought the main theme had lost i's way through Smith and Capaldi's tenure. I can't wait to hear his version played over the opening credits next week. To me, Akinola's main theme reminded me of McGann's. The incidental music throughout is also very good, and different to what has come before, but this again further freshens the feel of the show.

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth is a confident opener to this new series, and an episode that heralds an exciting new era for Doctor Who. The story made this viewer laugh, shed a tear, and kept me gripped throughout - which for me means that the show hit all the right notes. In it we find a confident, yet down to earth Doctor, surrounded by new faces both in front of and behind the camera. Personally, I can't wait to see where they all take us next.        

 

 

 

 





Twice Upon a Time (DVD)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 17 March 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Twice Upon a Time (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
Directed by: Rachel Talalay
Written by: Steven Moffat
Starring:
Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), David Bradley (The Doctor),Pearl Mackie (Bill Potts),Mark Gatiss (The Captain)
Format: DVD, Blu-Ray
Duration (Feature): 58mins
Duration (Extras): 100mins
BBFC Classification: 12
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin
Originally Released: January 2018

It’s an irony pointed out in last month’s Doctor Who Magazine that with 7.92m viewers more people tuned in to see David Bradley’s regeneration than William Hartnell’s back in 1966. Undoubtedly that’s partly down to the First Doctor’s original swansong being an event preceded by little fanfare. Good old Dr.Who simply has another of his adventures and then, once new foes the Cybermen have been dispatched with never to return, he has a bit of a funny turn and changes face. In fact, it feels less like the climax to The Tenth Planet than one of those cases where the beginning of the next serial is brought over to the end of the previous one in order to generate a cliffhanger. There’s certainly no sense of The Tenth Planet being about the Doctor’s decline and need to change.

Of course, it’s all different these days and modern regeneration stories and long goodbyes to beloved actors and a chance to take stock and sum up what their Doctor stood for and where the show may go from here. This has probably never been more true than with Twice Upon a Time, a story which takes place entirely during the regeneration, with the Doctor having been mortally wounded two episodes previously and, from the very opening shot, locked in a dilemma about whether he wants to go on at all or to finally, finally, go gently into the night. While simultaneously retroactively giving the First Doctor the chance to consider the enormity of that first regeneration – surely the most traumatic as everything you’d ever known is stripped from you, and even your forehead will no longer be the one your mother kissed goodnight, your fingers not the ones you learned to tie your laces with, your eyes no longer the ones that looked into your father’s eyes.

Ultimately a tale about self-sacrifice and duty, with both Doctors looking at the impact they’ve had, or will have, on the universe and deciding they have a moral obligation to march ever on, it’s appropriate that it intersects with World War I and Mark Gatiss’ Captain stoically prepared to die for his country as so many others had before him. The Twelfth Doctor has certainly had his issues with soldiers during his time in the TARDIS, so compassionate view of the Captain’s situation is an important component of the capstone on his era, while the “I’ve lost the idea of dying,” speech may be one of the lyrical things Doctor Who has had to say about the true nature of heroism.  It might also be the crucial moment where the Doctor loses the idea of dying himself.

Both Doctors do fantastic work here, with Bradley perhaps having the harder job – not because of the risk of comparison to William Hartnell (does anyone ever expect a note-perfect impersonation from this kind of thing?) but because of the balancing act being truthful to his own character’s drama while not stepping on what has to be, above all Peter Capaldi’s moment. As always, Capaldi dances wonderfully between gravitas, whimsy and the explosions of raw, tortured emotion that always bubbled under his Doctor’s stony exterior. It’s largely through his skill that the somewhat unlikely, and certainly disturbing, concept of the Doctor wanting to die somehow feels a natural development on the Twelfth Doctor’s journey. Even more impressively, he manages to make this conflict work for a Christmas Day teatime slot.

It all adds up to one last chance to appreciate just how great a talent Peter Capaldi is, and how lucky we were to have him on Doctor Who for as long as we did. If his impassioned final speech may be seen as a mission statement for whom the Thirteenth Doctor will be, for whom the Doctor will always be, no matter his or her external appearance, then his successor’s first line could just as equally be seen as a summing up of the man she used to be. “Brilliant.”

 

Extras

If it’s disappointing that Twice Upon a Time feels doomed to fall between the cracks – not included on the Series 10 set and near certain to not be included as part of Jodie Whittaker’s premiere boxset either, then at least it’s accompanied by a relatively decent set of extras for a one episode release. Between them the two documentaries and panel interview presented here, the extras clock in at almost two hours – about twice the length of the episode itself.

Doctor Who Extra: Twice Upon a Time covers the making of the Christmas itself, with contributions from Steven Moffat, Rachel Talalay, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas and Mark Gatiss. A highlight is the tantalizing glances of the partial remounting of The Tenth Planet that was ultimately cut from the episode itself (presumably because in aiming to be true to the 1960s original, it inadvertently creates the potential appearance of mocking the wobbly sets and wobblier acting). It’s a fascinating insight into the thinking behind the episode and full of anecdotes both fun and touching, from Mark Gatiss fulfilling a lifelong dream of having a Dalek mutant suck on his face to David Bradley and Peter Capaldi both almost corpsing with emotion the first time they found themselves amid the 1914 Christmas football match.

The End of an Era covers, in fact, the end of two eras – the first half placing Twice Upon a Time in the context of Peter Capaldi’s time on the show and the journey the Twelfth Doctor has gone on from remote, amoral alien to twinklingly inspiring university lecturer, the second looking back at Steven Moffat’s epic marathon of being responsible for making more Doctor Who than perhaps anyone else ever. It’s particularly nice to get Moffat’s personal highlight and lowlights on his run (Day of the Doctor being “the most miserable experience to work on") in his own words.

Rounding it all out is the full Doctor Who panel from San Diego Comic Con 2017. Watched from a point of time after the Christmas Special has been broadcast can make it a sometimes vague, fluffy experience as nobody can actually say much about the episode except in the most general terms. However, with Peter Capaldi, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Michelle Gomez and Pearl Mackie in attendance there can rarely have been such a concentration of pure wittiness in one room before and they banter off each other and moderator Chris Chadwick delightfully. And it’s a proper lump in the throat moment to see thousands of people give Capaldi a standing ovation in thanks for his three seasons and for him, in turn, and in the manner of his typical kindness and lack of self-regard, turns into an opportunity to make a speech praising those he’s worked with and giving them full credit for what they’ve accomplished together.

It’s an essential moment on a disc strangely missing the voice of the big man himself. The absence of a commentary really bites on this most important of stories, and he’s only a very sporadic presence in the other extras on the disc, mostly represented by old encounters with the team from earlier in his run.  Perhaps on the cusp of his departure things were too raw and intense to dwell upon on camera, but it feels like there’s an important and revealing interview waiting out there in our future to be had. It’s not, unfortunately, on the Twice Upon a Time DVD.

 

Packaging and Presentation

For all fans’ efforts, from making their own covers to petitioning specials to be included in boxsets, the shelves on which our physical record of the show sits have always looked pretty chaotic, a mishmash of logos, shapes and formats. Twice Upon a Time, vanishingly unlikely to find a home on The Complete Series 11, doesn’t help matters and seems doomed to sit awkwardly between the two seasons, a thin streak of white.  The cover too is pretty uninspiring, simply being the main publicity image for the episode. Despite the reasonably full listing of extras, it certainly looks pretty vanilla and rushed out when in your hand.

 






Doctor Who: The Complete Series 10Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 18 January 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Doctor Who Series 10 - DVD (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
Written by: Steven Moffat, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Sarah Dollard, Mike Bartlett, Jamie Mathieson, Toby Whithouse, Mark Gatiss, Rona Munro, Peter Harness
Directed by: Rachel Talalay, Lawrence Gough, Bill Anderson, Charles Palmer, Daniel Nettheim, Wayne Yip, Ed Bazzalgette
Starring:
Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Pearl Mackie (Bill Potts), Matt Lucas (Nardole), Michelle Gomez (Missy), John Simm (The Master), Stephanie Hyam (Heather), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Cybermen), Tim Bentinck (Voice of the Monks), Jennifer Hennessey (Moira), Ronke Adekoluejo (Penny), Justin Chatwin (Grant/The Ghost), David Suchet (The Landlord), Nicholas Burns (Lord Sutcliffe)
The Fan Show presented by: Christel Dee
Format: DVD, Blu-Ray
Duration: 10hrs 15mins
BBFC Classifaction: 12
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin
Originally Released: November 2017

It’s a tribute to the flexibility of Doctor Who that though these episodes represent the end of an era both before and behind the camera, they feel as fresh, if not fresher than the show has in years. As beloved as she was to many, after three seasons of Clara it was time for a new dynamic and, importantly, a companion specifically tailored to emphasize and complement the strengths of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. In Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), always questioning, always sincere, always learning, the Twelfth Doctor received the perfect student to his shock-haired professor.  The presence of Nardole (Matt Lucas) in the mix adds to the sense of this being something new. We’ve had TARDIS Trios before, but the previous pattern has largely been the Doctor’s own companion (Rose, Amy) gaining a companion of their own (Mickey, Rory). Nardole’s mix of a loyal manservant and nagging prison guard – hectoring the Doctor to keep to his vow – is something we haven’t seen before. The dynamic between the three is charming and funny and, nicely, the writing team avoids the obvious route of making Nardole antagonistic to new girl Bill. Instead, as much as he disapproves of the Doctor putting them all in danger to show off to Bill, he regards her as entirely blameless and is always kind and protective towards her.

Lucas and Mackie prove themselves more than equal to the challenge of the scripts. Although she was an established theatre actor, the mix of pluck, innocence and pure emotion Mackie brings to Bill is all the more remarkable considering that by the end of her first day working on Series 10 she had more than doubled her entire time on a set up until that point. Lucas, for his part, proves a clever actor, adept at judging a line of a scene and the extras make clear that a lot more goes into his approach than to simply steal every scene with ad-libs.

But without a doubt, this season belongs to Peter Capaldi. For an actor leaving the role because he fears he was running out of new ways of doing it, it's the mercurial, ever-evolving nature of his Doctor which astonishes most. Back in 2014, echoing the approach to the Sixth Doctor by making the Twelfth initially prickly and difficult so he could mellow over time was a high-risk policy. But the 2017 series entirely validates the idea, with the concept of Capaldi's Doctor as someone who only likes to think of himself as cold and aloof, but is actually an exposed nerve of love and anger giving us not only some interesting story possibilities but opportunities for some of the most compelling performances of any actor to play the Doctor.

After Series 9's barnstorming "Call this a war?!" speech, and the bravura one-man show of Heaven Sent, you wouldn't have been blamed for thinking the Doctor Who slot in Capaldi's showreel for his inevitable Lifetime Achievement Awards had been taken, yet the raw emotion of his pleading "Because it's kind" speech in The Doctor Falls gives them a run for their money. While elsewhere, he can speak entire novels without a word when asked if he can even remember how many people he's killed in Thin Ice. But most impressive is the continuity of character - there's never a sense of an actor changing gears as the Twelfth Doctor flits between passionate academic ("TARDIS... It means LIFE!") to ironic asides to towering rages.

This relationship between these three leads fits perfectly with the setup for the new series. The decision to make the Doctor a professor at Bristol University is genius. It gives the excuse for a number of the type of nerve shiveringly perfect monologues Peter Capaldi does so well, disguised as college lectures and echoes Rose’s introduction of “the War” as a mysterious event that’s scarred the Doctor since we last saw him? Why has he lived in exile on Earth for half a century? Is it self-imposed? What’s in the Vault?  This last question also provides a shakeup of modern Doctor Who’s formula for series arcs. Usually, some keyword or hint is scattered through the scripts, the significance to be revealed in the finale. Or, alternatively, the Doctor is faced with some puzzle and then sets out to… put off solving it until his Plot Alarm Clock hits “Series Finale.”  Here the mystery isn’t spun out for too long and instead replaced midway by a new one: is Missy (Michelle Gomez) really reformed? And the answer to that itself turns out to satisfyingly untidy and an opportunity to show not just how gloriously mad Gomez can be, but how great a dramatic actor she can be.

Meanwhile, though the arc may not reach the extent of serialization of something like The Walking Dead or Jessica Jones, there’s no doubt that the standard Doctor Who notion of ‘one parters’ or ‘two parters’ breaks down this season. This sense of a narrative flowing and building from one episode to the next makes Series 10 a genuinely fresh feeling and exciting ride. The building of the Doctor’s wanderlust, the recklessness that borders of death wish that comes with it, and the resulting consequences define the whole strand of episodes from Oxygen to The Lie of the Land which then segue effortlessly into the revelation of Missy and the Doctor’s deep need to believe she can change.The individual episodes soar to meet the quality of the arc, like the wit and fun of The Pilot, and the insanity and claustrophobia of Oxygen, and the meditations of how small random mistakes can so easily build to a nightmare in The Pyramid at the End of the World, while the final two-parter possibly finally gives the body horror of the Cyberman concept the treatment it deserves, Series 10 hits several highs. It’s a testament to this high bar that even the worst story of the series, Knock Knock, is merely a bit ordinary compared to the others rather than actively poor.

 

Extras

While sadly the days of commentaries on every episode appear to be long gone now, the three we get here are both witty and informative. Writers Steven Moffat, Mike Bartlett, and Jamie Mathieson provide insight into how their scripts reached their final form, with Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas on hand with their own tales from the sets of The Pilot and Oxygen, and balance between being engaging and funny company with showing a genuine interest in the writing process and the roads untaken in the versions of the scripts they might have performed in. Director Bill Anderson appears on the commentary for Knock, Knock and the unique challenges that shoot provided. Good as these commentaries are, the reduced number means there’s less scope for hearing from a greater variety of departments.

That slack is taken up, somewhat, by Doctor Who: The Fan Show – The Aftershow (as host Christel Dee herself admits in the first episode, a mouthful of a title) which manages to give a voice for everybody from costume designers to prosthetics artists, as well as guest stars as varied as David Suchet or man-behind-the-Monks Jamie Hill. While episodes such as Matt Lucas and Mark Gatiss’ hilarious, and slightly naughty, ramble around the houses of every question, and Steven Moffat’s in-depth interview about the final two-parter, are genuine highlights of the entire box set.

Christel makes for a charming and personable host, so adept at making you feel like you’re simply sitting with her having a lively chat about Doctor Who in her front room that fans meeting her at conventions probably take a moment to remember they’ve never actually met her. Yet with The Fan Show also freely available online (and indeed, in a longer form than presented here) giving over an entire disc to it does feel a little pointless – except, perhaps, as future proofing for generations to come in case YouTube ever goes the way of AOL Online.

Elsewhere, Becoming the Companion delves into the process of casting an excited, and slightly daunted, Pearl Mackie and follows through her early days of being announced and starting work on set. It’s bookended at the other end of the series by twin documentaries The Finale Falls and The Finale Countdown, which present a similarly excited, and also slightly fraught, Steven Moffat as he scrambles to the finish line to get The Doctor Falls finished with only days left before broadcast. But the Inside Look which accompanies each episode is eminently dispensable – not only the fluffiest of fluff but obviously created as teases to be shown to people who haven’t yet seen the related episode. And how many of those will have bought the box set, let alone watch the extras about an episode before the episode itself?

 

Packaging and Presentation

The most inexplicable thing about this set is the absence of any way to tell which episodes or special features are on each disc. There’s no insert sheet or booklet with a listing and, even as a cost-saving measure, it makes no sense for the usual listing printed on the disc art to have been dispensed with. Fortunately, thanks to Matthew Purchase, a fanmade insert is available and downloadable here:

The DVD box itself is a slimline sort and though some complain they find the format flimsy, it’s sturdy enough for me and sits more tidily on the shelf. The cover art is striking and takes a greater risk than simply placing a previously released promo photo on the cover. Even better, the Blu-Ray Steelbook has typically stunning art by the dependably brilliant Alice X. Zhang.





The Doctor FallsBookmark and Share

Saturday, 1 July 2017 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
The Doctor Falls : The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay

Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas
with Michelle Gomez, John Simm, Briana Shann,
Rosie Boore, Samantha Spiro, Simon Coombs,
Nicholas Briggs, Stephanie Hyam, and David Bradley

Produced by Peter Bennett
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin

A BBC Studios Cymru Wales Production for BBC ONE
First broadcast 6.30pm, Saturday 1 July 2017

 
This review contains spoilers and is based on an advance preview copy of the episode.
 

Last week Matt Hills described World Enough and Time as ‘the bleakest and darkest that Doctor Who has been for quite some time’. The Doctor Falls, befitting the second part of World Enough and Time’s story, maintains if not deepens this atmosphere. Nothing that is done in World Enough and Time is reversed. At times many of the lead characters seem to be competing to find which of them has the most profound death wish. The plan the Doctor comes up with can only obtain a minor respite for the embattled humans on floor 507. Indeed, when the Doctor argues that the emergence of Cybermen is inevitable in any human society, and where he also points out that in this closed and time-dilated environment their advantage is overwhelming, what point can there be to fighting on? It’s this question which The Doctor Falls seeks to explore, and in doing so say more than we have heard for some time, if ever, about both Steven Moffat’s and Peter Capaldi’s understanding of who the Doctor is. The result is oddly uplifting. My first reaction, as messaged to one of the editors of this page, was ‘Shining, brilliant, beautiful’; but I added that I think I needed more words to do the story justice. So:

The shift of setting between the first and second half of a two-part story is an established Steven Moffat device. As The Big Bang moved from the underhenge of the climax of The Pandorica Opens to the museum, so The Doctor Falls uses its pre-credit sequence to establish the society on floor 507. The Big Bang was itself a cornerstone for the edifice of mythology which Steven Moffat had (with characteristic use of paradox) already begun to build before the stone was set. The Doctor Falls finds Moffat readying and detonating the explosion which will bring down his own version of Doctor Who. The destruction is even more careful than that wrought by the Doctor within the episode, but the visuals suggest what happens: though so much is reduced to ash, burning the old growth might allow for the cultivation of the new.

Floor 507 displays a placeless but vaguely mid-Atlantic rusticity, neatly juxtaposed with the gas-choked dystopia over five hundred floors below. It’s an agricultural community where children are central and guarded against the predations of the topknots by a thin line of defenders. It recalls Russell T Davies's idea from his 2003/4 pitch document, that outer space stories should feature human pioneers so the audience have points of identification, perhaps unconsciously also recalling the western. In contrast to the masculine universalism of the Cybermen – both male in that there are no Cyberwomen, but genderless in that the Master insists Bill is now an it – the community has a matriarchal bent, with Hazran as its leader. The chief cook and chief executive are the same person, unproblematic and brought to the screen with authoritative warmth and human fear by Samantha Spiro. The character reminded me a little of Lucy Cohu's Deborah Goren in Ripper Street. There are at least nods to the New England orphanage of The Cider House Rules, and to the pioneer communities of Little House on the Prairie, but theirs are not the stories being told.

Introducing a child viewpoint character is an old familiar Moffatism, here used self-consciously. Briana Shann’s Alit recalls Caitlin Blackwood’s Amelia Pond; apparently parentless, independent, willing to confront her fears, and bearing enough of a resemblance to Pearl Mackie’s Bill (exaggerated by the hairstyling) to make one wonder if there is a direct connection between the characters. Perhaps this is Moffat once more embodying the child audience and acknowledging its link with the companion. Alit is the first person Bill sees when she arrives on floor 507, and the first person to make an empathic connection with her when she wakes up from the ‘sleep’ induced by the Doctor. Alit perhaps embodies the audience’s hopes that Bill can be restored to humanity, as well as the wish of her community and the Doctor for a non-cybernetic future. In reminding long-term viewers of lost friends, and present lookers-in on the current predicament, Alit helps to highlight the optimism underlying what could otherwise be read for much of its length as an overwhelmingly pessimistic episode.

The Doctor Falls follows the non-linear structure of World Enough and Time in its first act, containing flashbacks within flashbacks. However, opening the main narrative with a scene where the Doctor is undergoing torture and ritual humiliation is a good choice. There’s something Christ-like about suffering enabling the Doctor to restate his values, though I’d be cautious about following this parallel too far. The scene and the Doctor’s speeches also help divorce the episode from the detail of the setting: there will, the Doctor says, always be Cybermen, wherever there are human beings. The origin of the Cybermen is a tale Doctor Who has told elsewhere in other media, and it’s a legend which this episode supposes will be told again and again in different ways. Hence the nod to Doctor Who Magazine's The World Shapers with the mention of Marinus, and why it is perfectly acceptable in this context for the Cybermen to blast death rays from their headlamps in a way which they never managed before on television, but did on the back cover of  the first paperback edition of Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet. Cybermen created by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis; but with embellishments by Chris Achilleos, Grant Morrison and many others. Moffat, like Russell T Davies, has never been reluctant to draw from non-television Doctor Who where it helps develop a concept. Likewise his attitude to the programme’s lore: the importance is not in the detail of where the Cybermen come from, but that the Cybermen’s conviction that turning people into Cybermen is a dead end for all the natural and moral sciences. As someone once said, they must be fought.

Bill is herself a battlefield. The Master likes to remind everybody (but particularly the Doctor) that she is a Cyberman, the result of a conversion process which stripped away anything deemed useless to Operation Exodus. From his point of view, Bill is dead. The programme shows the Master to be wrong, or at least that it disagrees with his view of the individual as nothing more than an organism. As long as Bill recognizes and believes in herself, she exists, even if the programming of a Cyberman rages like a hurricane in her head. The continuing presence of Pearl Mackie in the credits and her voiceover in the trailer tantalized exactly what role she would play, and doubtless many hoped or expected a speedy and conventional resolution. The Master’s brutal taunting is a reminder that we can obtain neither. The device of allowing the viewer to see, most of the time, Bill as she understands herself, not only avoids practical problems surrounding the uniformity and inflexibility of the Cyberman costumes, but allows Pearl Mackie’s talents to be displayed in a way they haven’t been so far. Mackie's physical awareness makes her fill the space of a Cyberman while remaining visibly Bill to us. We often see Bill as a Cyberman only when she is reminded that a Cyberman is what others see – such as when she walks in on Hazran and Nardole unannounced and Hazran blasts away with her shotgun. It’s a jarring, heartbreaking moment.

Also breaking hearts is Missy. Those hoping for an hour of multi-Master malevolence will be disappointed, but I think this episode does better with the scenario it presents than it would with the one some seem to have hoped for. Michelle Gomez plays Missy in the manner of an addict who keeps slipping from the wagon, deliberating giddily between new and old hits and guessing at some kind of peace beyond the spectre of withdrawal. It’s an irony that the Doctor never knows for certain that Missy was luring her former self into a trap which would have made her feel free to help the Doctor. In the meantime Missy and the Master flirt like bad fairy nobles making sport in the woods. Shakespeare scholars will know better, but their bickering seemed to me a sort of self-obsessed fusion of elements of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing. Gomez and John Simm are very good at this, especially as there’s a genuinely disturbing undercurrent to their bantering. Simm in particular, with his beard, is a poisoned Pan, a violator whose lust for his next self reminds one of the brutality with which the Master treated his wife Lucy.

Despite his very real and effective threat (and history) of violence, John Simm’s Master is a hollow malevolence, harmful, damaging, self-consumed, but overall an evil with no point to it. I’ve been looking at academic Doctor Who books for another project, and remembered that in an interview with the writers of Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text, Douglas Adams complained that the Master’s plans had no meaning. The Doctor theorizes the path of the Master’s career on the ship in a way which assumes the emptiness and self-defeat in the pursuit and exercise of absolute power for its own sake. In return, later, the Master critiques the Doctor’s course of action on his way to floor 1056, arguing that if the Doctor hadn’t given his lecture on time dilation he would have arrived early enough to save Bill. This line of reasoning is possibly flawed in story terms, but anticipates (or echoes, depending on where one stands) the criticisms made by several reviewers of World Enough and Time. It’s an old fan observation that the Master often seems like a character who realizes that he is in a television series and behaves accordingly, but here his criticisms flag up his own powerlessness; he’s not willing to act in a way that helps anybody or contributes to the main narrative, so stands on the sidelines and plays critic until he can escape. It's tempting to think of this aspect of him as a departing showrunner who knows his successor is already in the office.

The Doctor Falls is a good episode for Nardole, a character whom we never really got to know and who has probably suffered from never having been the focus of an episode. A friend explained him to her enquiring mother as the Doctor’s butler, and perhaps that’s why he remained semi-visible, his full properties a secret. Here, though, Hazran makes her discovery of him one of her missions and Matt Lucas’s depiction of Nardole’s awkwardness must resound with everybody who has felt unworthy of another person’s esteem. It’s natural and credible and also very much part of Moffat’s observational writing of male self-effacement and overconfidence as a mask for doubt. How one greets it will depend on one’s patience with Moffat’s themes, but for me, here, it works unobtrusively, the Doctor and Nardole competing over their relative usefulness, or lack of it. Nardole’s departure doesn’t give him a chance to say a long goodbye; he leaves as part of an operation in much the way he might have done if he’d expected to see the Doctor again, but as he never had a conventional introduction this is appropriate.

As a title, The Doctor Falls intrigued me more after World Enough and Time because in one sense the Doctor had already fallen; he’d hubristically reduced his way of living to a formula by which he thought he could test Missy, and where stock phrases had replaced psychological insight. Instead we have a heroic fall which (like much else, as Matt Hills noted last week) calls back to the series trailer. The Doctor says he is a man of peace, but walks in war, and here he accepts the fate of the warrior, picking off more Cybermen than logic would perhaps expect with his absurdly versatile screwdriver until a Cyberman blasts him down through the chest, a wound which is one of at least two ways in which Bill’s fate has anticipated his own. The devastated landscape which the Doctor’s bomb leaves behind is as much a design achievement as anything Michael Pickwoad has hitherto accomplished – a landscape we’ve got to know has become a devastation of a kind previously associated in his time on the series with Skaro or Trenzalore, and this time the Doctor is the immediate cause.

Redemption and the chance of new beginnings come in part because the Doctor was wrong. There was hope and there was a witness, perhaps even a reward. I’m sure that in earlier seasons we’d have had glimpses of Heather now and then, as the series piled arc upon arc. None of Steven Moffat’s companions have been allowed to return to anything approximating their old lives; travelling with the Doctor means incorporation into the mythic substrata of the universe, and so it proves with Bill, reunited with a Heather whose personality has now re-emerged and seems dominant in the watery spaceship. It's good to see Stephanie Hyam once more; there's still a note of wondering in her performance but the dislocation has become the confidence of the explorer. As all the interaction between Bill and Heather is seen from Bill’s narrative point of view once Bill has been remade as a Heather-like creature, perhaps what we see is all a translation convention. Whatever, the choice to become human again is open; it’s intriguing that the door is not closed entirely on Pearl Mackie’s return. However, if this is a farewell, it’s a good one. There's irony in the Doctor’s regeneration being sparked by a tear (a rearranging of the meaning of grief expressed for the third Doctor in The Monster of Peladon and Planet of the Spiders, of course) from a protected friend who has now turned twice into a creature he has previously fought against. It recalls Russell T Davies’s theme of the Doctor as agent of liberation rather than reinforcer of parental authority. However, this year the Doctor has forgotten that lesson and become guardian and tutor to both Bill and Missy, with Nardole as an unteachable voice by the wings. The Doctor's efforts to protect people have not succeeded in the way he sought. As the first Doctor realized at the conclusion of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, beneficial change can come from taking the risk of being brave enough to let go. That was the real lesson of Susan's portrait seen on the Doctor's desk in The Pilot, and he had forgotten.

The problem, of course, is that the Doctor doesn’t want to let go. Bill, as a Cyberman, wanted to die if she couldn’t be herself any more. The Doctor wants to die too. Peter Capaldi’s performance of a fragmented Doctor, repeating the words of his earlier selves while holding on to his current physical form, was dizzying, helped by a camera which located him at once from several angles and levels in the TARDIS interior. Perhaps this Doctor’s changes of persona across series reflect an ongoing uncertainty about who he is which stretches beyond the ‘Am I a good man?’ interrogations of series eight. Back in 2010 Frank Collins wrote (in a review of The End of Time) of the tenth Doctor’s life as a Bildungsroman; the Doctor’s reward for personal development and the achievement of self-knowledge, was however to be returned to adolescence to begin the process again. Perhaps this older Doctor is about to change without having reached the point his two immediate predecessors did, and worse, can’t see any prospect of doing so.

What, then, can be made of the first Doctor’s emergence from what presumed convergence of narrative (over fifty-one years) leads us to believe is an Antarctic blizzard? I’d thought earlier this series that Steven Moffat’s valedictory notes weren’t only for the period he’s been showrunner, but for the entire period he’s been involved, from the time Doctor Who returned in 2005. The Logopolis homage of companions suggests this too in content, as well as calling further back in form. If nothing else, the montage will open up arguments about who counts as a companion again, which will keep a lot of people happy and angry at the same time. The first Doctor said, if only in the script of The Tenth Planet, that he would not go through with the change to his next self, and the meeting of the two Doctors benefits from that level of fan knowledge while I hope still working as a confounding moment – a ‘suspended enigma’, it was once called – for those who don’t know. In the brief time we see him, David Bradley gives a performance which is very much the first Doctor as opposed to his William Hartnell or his Hartnell as the first Doctor from An Adventure in Space and Time, which augurs well.

I’m always conscious that I tend to emphasize what works for me in these reviews, and they are often moments which leap out rather than broader themes or more thorough analysis. This article is based on one viewing of the episode and I’m still not sure why I found it so positive an experience. Throughout I imagined that the director, rather than the Doctor, must have the hidden arms of a Venusian Aikido practitioner; Rachel Talalay conducting with at least three batons like a hexapod, but with many more eyes than Alpha Centauri. The open vistas of floor 507 come to mind; the fatally wounded Doctor’s monologue about stars, too, was uplifting despite its note of disappointment, perhaps because it acknowledged that the Doctor’s belief and perhaps hope that this was the end for him was false. Heather’s return was a reminder that hope, even if apparently lost, can never be written off. Yet throughout there are sacrifices unappreciated and only postponed, with the sense that the inevitable is only being delayed. Perhaps the episode can be read as a musing on mortality, especially given that Cybermen, Time Lords, unconverted humans and indeed puddle-spaceship-creatures are all seeking to delay the inevitable, unless they are the Master, which is in a sense to be nothing at all because he can’t adequately empathize with others’ conditions. If so, it’s also the second part of three. The twelfth Doctor’s finale is begun, but it is not over, and we have to wait almost six months to conclude our verdicts on the whole.





World Enough and TimeBookmark and Share

Saturday, 24 June 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
World Enough and Time: Mondasian Cyberman, The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))
Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas
Guest starring Michelle Gomez and John Simm
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay
Executive-produced by Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin

First broadcast on BBC1, Saturday June 24th, 6:45pm
 

This review is based on a BBC preview and discusses major spoilers from the very beginning

 

From its specially-shot 'A Time for Heroes' promo trailer onwards, Series Ten has raised the question of Bill's fate. And although Steven Moffat's writing is famed for reversing and undoing the loss of key characters, this episode has the feel of something truly irreversible. It's the bleakest and darkest that Doctor Who has been for quite some time, and hopefully it won't provoke audience complaints. But the Mondasian Cybermen are incredibly spooky and unsettling, thanks both to their authentic, old-school voices and the very visible remnants of their humanity. Moments such as a pre-Cyberman intoning "pain" over and over again seem a world away from stereotypical 'children's TV' (either that, or I need to adjust my sense of the stereotype). Bill's predicament is treated in a full-on stylized fantasy mode, though, as if to render it less shockingly 'realistic'. Of course, there was never going to be blood - Doctor Who has to make sure that it doesn't transgress BBC guidelines - but the impressively striking visual of Bill (and us, and the Doctor, and the camera) realising that there was gaping, empty space where flesh and blood should have been was a truly startling sequence. And this in an episode packed with reveals and surprises, right from the pre-titles.

Seeing the Doctor fighting his regeneration suggests that this must be the beginning of a three-parter that will only properly conclude at Christmas. Yet featuring a flash-forward (if that's what it is) to the Doctor's moment of regeneration doesn't quite seem to fit with recent publicity discussions of the regen's "complication" this time round. There must be more to it, I would have thought. And the opening's impact also felt a touch reduced thanks to the game-playing of Lie of the Land earlier this series: is this just another tease and fakeout, or is it the real deal? Hopefully the latter, but in a provisional world of stories and simulations, doubts can linger.

However, there's enough 'meta' and self-referential commentary on show to stock a supermarket shelf's worth of easter eggs; the Master seems passingly familiar with conventions of Doctor Who episode titling, for instance. He prefers 'Genesis of the Cybermen' to World Enough and Time, though is less familiar with the Big Finish story Spare Parts that this appears to supersede in canon. And Missy enjoys teasing her "disposables" (and the fan audience) with tales of the Doctor's "real name", resulting in the fourth wall at times appearing to have a ragged SFX hole punched right through it. Putting Missy and the Master together risks overloading the density of camp quippery, but sadly they share relatively little screen time during this outing.

World Enough and Time: Bill (Pearl Mackie) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Jon Hall))For an episode marked by the science of time dilation, there's an odd kind of temporal distortion going on throughout. In effect, 'time' has already passed much quicker in Doctor Who's hype and marketing than it does within the story: we already know that the Cybermen will show up, and that the Master is somehow behind proceedings. Consequently, World Enough and Time frequently feels like an episode striving to catch up with itself, yet remaining focused on almost pure delay (the emphasis on arriving elevators captures this perfectly well, along with the near freeze frames of Mr Razor's TV). This must surely count as one of Who's great set-up episodes. Even the Doctor gets in on the act, settling down to watch with a packet of crisps.  

Despite much grumbling about the recent (final?) series of Sherlock, one thing I thought it did extremely well was to mislead the audience into believing that a particular actor was actually a number of different characters. Prosthetics skill aside, the device is far less successful here. Depending on your facial recognition capabiities and knowledge of past Doctor Who, it may seem fairy obvious what trick is being pulled for the sake of a Masterful cliffhanger, and this aspect struck me as the least well achieved element of the episode. But given how hard-hitting the reveal of Cyber-Bill was, the Master's ornate scheming was always going to be left slightly in the shade, and it could be argued that its "dah-dah, it's me!" daffiness offered a lighter counterpoint to the terrifying narrative of Bill's situation. (As an aside, presumably part of the BBC's strategy behind live-streaming a Pearl Mackie Q&A right after this episode must be to reassure younger audiences that Pearl is fine in real life). And as a lead-in to episode 12, this multi-cliffhanger does its job perfectly.

'New' Doctor Who (though of course, it's not-so-new now) tends to be at its strongest when it intricately melds intimate moments of characterisation and emotion with epic science-fictional conceits. World Enough and Time displays this quality of 'intimate epic' by combining the vast Colony Ship with moments such as the Doctor and Bill discussing his history with Missy. This suffers slightly from the old 'show don't tell' maxim; a lot of the emotional weight behind the Doctor's fateful decision to test Missy's redemption/'goodness' relies on what we are told rather than what we're shown, and on how invested audiences are in the Doctor-Master/Missy backstory. Yes, the Doctor's hope was sharply delineated at the very end of last week's episode, but it still feels as if more emotional scene-setting would have been valuable for the Doctor-Missy storyline. As ever, though, Missy is a joy to behold, and her introductory sequence as she steps out of the TARDIS and shares her newly adopted name is simply brilliant. Michelle Gomez makes the absolute most of Moffat's zinging dialogue, whilst Missy's companions/pets look on, suitably aggravated.  

If the Master-Third Doctor era was marked by the 'UNIT family', then this moment in the show's history also carries a strong familial sense, and not just because Missy's continued presence echoes that of the Delgado Master. Bringing Rachel Talalay back behind the camera for another finale means reassembling a crack team, whilst Bill and Nardole have gelled extremely well across this series, with Capaldi's Doctor undoubtedly benefitting from Doctor-companion relationships designed to World Enough and Time: Missy (Michelle Gomez), The Master (John Simm), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway/Ray Burmiston))suit his characterisation. 

Talalay's direction makes the Mondasian Cybermen genuinely scary; the decision not to directly show Bill's partial conversion is also a sound one, as it ramps up the tension when we realise that a cyber chest-unit must have been installed, whilst the eventual 'full' Cyberman emerging from shadows is a memorably familiar sequence. Although the body horror that could have been pursued is dialled down somewhat, the partial conversions' monotone cries of anguish remain bleakly forceful. Who has rarely been this disturbing or this existentially raw. Thankfully, Talalay also has some fun with the time dilation (assuming this wasn't purely an editor's choice), as various sequences cut stylishly in and out of freeze frame. It is only the treatment of Mr. Razor that feels a little curious; he is featured so directly, even in relative close-up, that it's difficult not to discern the stunt being entertained, even though this kind of disguise has a well-established history in the programme. Presumably it was decided, directorially, that it didn't really matter when the penny dropped for audiences as they'd be waiting for the cliffhanger pay-off in any case.     

Given that the 'iconic poster image' for this episode so strongly echoes that from Day of the Doctor, next week's title seems equally likely to refer back to the "Gallifrey Falls" strand of Steven Moffat's overarching plot. Will we see more of the Doctor's regeneration... perhaps even a number of different possible new faces starting to coalesce as the twelfth Doctor progresses towards the thirteenth? This transition has been more of a tease than ever before, and no doubt the showrunner hasn't run out of tricks yet. 

Bring it, as the Doctor would say.