The Tsuranga ConundrumBookmark and Share

Monday, 5 November 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
 The Tsuranga Conundrum - Jodie Whittaker / Suzanne Packer (Credit: BBC Studios)
Writer:  Chris Chibnall
Director: Jennifer Perrott
Series Producer: Nikki Wilson
Executive Producers: Chris Chibnall and Matt Strevens

Starring Jodie Whittaker. Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole, Suzanne Packer and Jack Shalloo

A BBC Studios Production for BBC One

First broadcast Sunday 4 November on BBC One
Running time: 50 minutes

Warning: this review contains spoilers from the outset   

 

Treated as a traditional 'base under siege' story this may seem a little disappointing, but taken as a deliberate attempt to do something different with the well-established template, it comes into focus as an intriguing and largely successful entry into the emerging Chibnall oeuvre. Perhaps the biggest divergence lies in the form of the singular Pting threat, created by Tim Price in a 'writers' room' session. Where usually one might expect uncanny robots, or even oversized insect-like creatures in the style of the Wirrn (not something that would work particularly well so soon after last week's giant spiderfest), here we instead get a toothy yet cutesy miniature troll or gremlin who drifts away at the end, blissed out after a hearty meal. It's a tonal shift that questions our expectations about the appearance of monstrosity -- something that 'The Woman Who Fell to Earth' failed to do, with its generic depiction of the Stenza as a terrifying, blue-skinned warrior race. However, constituting a "chalice"-level threat -- this story borrows its take on futuristic language as absurdist from the Russell T Davies playbook -- there can be no doubting the danger posed by the Pting.

And if this threat is unconventional, so too is the Doctor's ultimate solution, something which the dialogue rams home for long-term and new viewers alike: "funny, I'm normally the one defusing the bomb". Add to this an extremely unusual opening, where the thirteenth Doctor proves to be fallible against a sonic mine, and this proves to be a story repeatedly taking the less trammelled path rather than pursuing well-worn story beats, even down to the sonic screwdriver being (temporarily) incapacitated. Pleasingly, a cliched 'awww, you named him after us' moment once Yoss has given birth is also thoroughly undermined, and the otherness of 67th century male pregnancy is re-asserted, up to a point, in the face of pure 'relatability'. At the same time, the episode features plenty of predictable corridor action and presumably redressed/re-lit sets, allowing the Tsuranga to take on a greater scale than the budget might otherwise have allowed for. Traditional production techniques underpin the less trad storytelling.

Doctor Who has always drawn inspiration from the real world around it, and this tale is no different on that score. One strand of Chibnall's world-building concerns the Tsuranga's automated systems and how its passengers will be treated if they declare the Pting presence. This very much felt like a comment on today's 'smart' computer systems, along with algorithms that reult in experiences of 'computer says no', and operating systems that pester their users for updates and upgrades. The Tsuranga's automatic set of decisions -- "who designed that?" -- creates an ever more restricted set of possibilities for the Doctor, making this not just a 'base under siege' variant but also a kind of 'base (remotely) attacking itself' story, as well as supplyng the raw material for Chibnall's eventual twist and the Doctor's puzzle-solving (something that felt slightly under-motivated by Durkas's brief mention of energy).  

The very final sequence reminded me slightly of 'Gridlock', whilst the playfulness surrounding a male pregnancy aboard the Tsuranga offered more of the (retro) 'public service Who' that previous weeks have delivered via inclusions of dyspraxia, cancer, and, of course, a critique of racism. This week's family entertainment talking point revolved around issues of reproduction, and one can imagine conversations productively being sparked about how men could have babies, and for that matter, what not taking "precautions" might mean. This re-gendering of pregnancy continues Chris Chibnall's interest in not just riffing on the RTD era's investment in emotional realism, but also in returning to a re-tooled sense of how Doctor Who can remain distinctive -- as vibrant SF spectacle with an educative mission statement for its much younger viewers. Likewise, the Doctor's homily about imagination, and her delight in response to the anti-matter drive as a scientific achievement, add to the educational balance sheet via a smart sense of Doctor-ish passion. Jodie Whittaker gets most of the best lines, and doesn't waste a single one, as her depiction of the ages-old Time Lord continues to impress.

The Tsuranga Conundrum: Durkas Cicero (Ben Bailey-smith), Eve Cicero (Suzanne Packer) (Credit: BBC Studios (Ben Blackall))But if some of this makes 'The Tsuranga Conundrum' sound overly worthy, it's just as well as to recall that the episode works effectively in a series of other ways. The 'conundrum' of the title ostensibly refers to the problem of how to defeat the Pting, given that it can't be killed or even touched, and will eventually eat its way through the entire spacecraft that the Doctor, her friends, and assorted patients are all trapped on (the script makes a suitably big show of denying the Doctor her TARDIS, along with any teleport or life pods). There is another conundrum on show, however -- how can the story combine 'base under siege' tension with character asides and moments of personal development that might seem better suited to the 'slow(er)' TV drama of something like Broadchurch? This is a tricky balancing act, and I sometimes wanted more of a sense of the alien creature's approach or deadly progress to keep tension levels up via an extra Pting cutaway. On the whole, though, character beats and the main plot are interwoven via different protagonists' skills (such as neuro-piloting) that need to be used, along with the occasional bit of misdirection (I was convinced that Ronan, Eve Cicero's android consort, would come into play as a non-organic character who could handle the Pting and thus sacrifice himself).

Sometimes Doctor Who offers a warm glow of familiarity for long-term fans, and sometimes it chooses to unfold in less predictable ways. I didn't feel that 'The Tsuranga Conundrum' was 'bad' Who for an instant, but it was very deliberately and knowingly different Doctor Who -- hardly surprising for a new showrunner's opening season, I would argue. Will Whittaker's Doctor continue to display fallibility rather than ever-present, superheroic and legendary brilliance? (Her initial modesty over the Book of Celebrants giving way to an irrepressible boastfulness was another lovely Doctor-ish moment among an episode jam-packed with them, Hamilton fandom included).  

This year looks set to carry on inspiring audience debate via thoughtful portrayals of cultural identity and history; we have the Indian Partition and 'The Witchfinders' to come, along with what will no doubt be a broadly satirical commentary on "the galaxy's biggest retailer" (warehouses the size of a planet?). But whether it is tackling a surprisingly cute alien or a sometimes inhospitable hospital ship, Doctor Who is surely in the rudest of health right now.       





Arachnids in the UKBookmark and Share

Monday, 29 October 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
 Arachnids In The UK: Ryan (Tosin Cole), Graham (Bradley Walsh) (Credit: BBC Studios (Ben Blackall))
Writers: Chris Chibnall
Director: Sallie Aprahamian
Executive Producers: Matt Strevens and Chris Chibnall

Starring Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole, Chris Noth

A BBC Studios production for BBC One

First UK broadcast Sunday 27 October on BBC One
Running time: 50 minutes

SPOILERS MAY BE AHEAD - READER BEWARE

 

The Doctor gets her friends back home to Sheffield, as promised, but finds it a bit difficult to say goodbye right away.  She joins Yaz and Ryan for tea, as Graham heads home to face the emptiness of his home without Grace, and while at Yaz's flat...they run into a new problem (I know...shocking), this time it is big spiders.  Events lead the TARDIS team to a yet to be opened hotel owned by a miserable American businessman played by Law & Order's Chris Noth, and there they find that the big spiders are numerous and some are even larger than a human being. 

As a simple monster of the week, it's a fairly enjoyable episode. The spiders are big and scary, but they aren't defeated with the most interesting of  climaxes. The businessman who longs to be President is a pretty generic baddie, but Noth does play him with plenty of gusto.  As I've come to expect, I think our new TARDIS team is quite enjoyable to watch.  We get a bit more depth for Yaz this week, a little bit of character building for Ryan, and some really lovely character stuff for Graham. 

Really, what I am enjoying about this season hasn't been so much the plots or the villains (other than last week's Rosa), but I've been far more interested in the character stuff with all of our new leads.  Whitaker really works as The Doctor, she plays the part in her own way but still owns the room like all her predecessors.  And her new Team TARDIS is a good group, and I'm enjoying getting to know them each week.  This episode sufficiently builds up their characters just enough to make you believe them when they tell the Doctor they'd like to continue traveling through time and space with her. 

Chibnall has been writing almost all of the episodes of the season so far, co-writing last week's with Malorie Blackman.  I'm assuming much of the episode was written by her, and he punched it up for his long term season plans or something.  But at any rate, he has had been a credited writer on everything this season, and while his stories aren't blowing me away with their originality, his character stuff has been top notch.  I'm enjoying his stuff, and while I am looking forward to seeing some episodes written by other writers (which will have to wait until after next week it seems), I think he has done a good job of reinventing the show over the first half of his first series as showrunner. 

This is a fairly generic Monster of the Week which has just enough character stuff to keep me interested.  It isn't perfectly executed, but I am finding myself loving the new cast enough that I like spending an hour with them each week. 





RosaBookmark and Share

Monday, 22 October 2018 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
Rosa: Rosa Parks (Vinette Robinson) (Credit: BBC Studios (Coco Van Oppens))
Writers: Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall
Director: Mark Tonderai
Executive Producers: Matt Strevens and Chris Chibnall
Starring Jodie Whittaker
Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole
Vinette Robinson, Joshua Bowman, Trevor White

A BBC Studios production for BBC One
First UK broadcast Sunday 21 October, 6.55pm, BBC One
Running time: 50 minutes

"A pure historical," said my friend.

"Almost," I replied, "Certainly the closest we've had in the twenty-first century," I added, and might have further suggested "Since The Highlanders", but that would have opened a debate about Black Orchid for which it was not the time then, nor is it now.

Rosa didn't need jargon about fixed points or the sanctity of the web of time to tell its story; Malorie Blackman hasn't before and doesn't now. Causality was real, and fragile, and human; and the consequences for people were closer to the focus of the story than the conscience of a Time Lord, though that was by no means forgotten. There was for the first time in years a sense that circumstances had trapped the Doctor and their friends in a historical moment which couldn't be ignored, and that a series of personal obligations confined them there until wrongs were righted, or in this case ensured to happen so that a good outcome could be predicted. Everyone's psychology is in play, not only the Doctor's - Graham and Ryan and Yaz all have to cope with how their exposure to Montgomery, Alabama at the turn of December 1955 changes them. A screencap of Jodie Whittaker, neck muscles tensing as the Doctor not only fights her wish to interfere on the side of someone she admires for doing right, but also her shame at being in a privileged position in this society, has understandably been widely shared online since broadcast. Segun Akinola's score evoked the celebration of American commonality in the work of Aaron Copland while contrasting with the realities of inequality endured by the citizens of the United States.

The episode tackled historical racism more directly and more believably than any Doctor Who story since Human Nature/The Family of Blood. While Thin Ice offered a cathartic statement of disgust in the Doctor's violently punching Lord Sutcliffe after he insulted Bill, here the systematic persecution of 'coloureds' was made plain from the opening. The staging of the first encounter of Rosa Parks (Vinette Robinson) with James Blake (Trevor White) in 1943 (not, as I first thought, dramatic license, but a historical event) skirted a little too closely to presenting Parks's later action as some kind of feud, although this was mitigated initially through Blake's uniformed institutionalised identity, and later through Blake's conversation with Graham over pool. Blake is conservative man complacently attached to how 'the way things are' protect him at the expense of the rights of others, of a piece with the way he feels threatened by Ryan's blackness, asserted or not.

Events in this story reject any conception of the Doctor's travels into the past as jolly historical tourism. As soon as Yaz declares that "time travel's awesome!" her euphoria is undermined by the assault on Ryan. Good manners - as Rosa Parks enforces upon Ryan - are a matter not only of courtesy but of self-defence in Montgomery. Casual behaviour towards others, including strangers, becomes a mark of progressive tolerance on one hand but also of the privilege of living relatively secure from fear of another. The Doctor and Graham come close - but not as close as they could - to experiencing the police as if they were black when under the intruding eye of Officer Mason (Gareth Marks). Mason can rudely barge into a private room because he has the monopoly of force, and compel the Doctor and Graham into outward conformity to social norms so their friends can escape arrest. One of the many notes of humour in an unflinching tale (though family-friendly - no on-screen lynchings) was Whittaker's portrayal of the Doctor's reaction to Graham putting a husbandly hand on her shoulder; this is a world which inhibits her Doctor-ness through gender expectations. Meanwhile Ryan and Yaz in turn conform by briefly living in an alley behind bins. It's a powerful sequence, as the script acknowledges how little agency Yaz and Ryan have in Montgomery. Their dialogue offers straightforward contrasts in their experience: Yaz still excited that history is taking place around them, enabled somewhat by the difficulty Montgomery's racial classifications have in dealing with her appearance, while Ryan is miserable and angry. Yaz's remark that America will have a black president in fifty-three years time is presented as part of a progressive narrative, but Ryan's doubt about her optimism is surely shared by many in her audience given the pandering to white racism by many elements across government in the present-day United States.

This is a Doctor Who for an age where politicians have done well out of banter and wit and celebrity charisma, overcoming the hindrance of policies absent, incoherent, contradictory or widely unpalatable with personality. Jodie Whittaker's often curiously understated performance here underlines this, especially when contrasted with Joshua Bowman's Krasko, whose flippant attitude to his murders suggests someone who believes he can joke his way out of trouble but dreams of using force. Chris Chibnall's Doctor Who which doesn't oversell its symbolism, so Krasko isn't orange or blond as some productions might have made him. Bowman plays Krasko as a wolf guarding his territory; the Doctor's puncturing of his alpha male pretension by describing him as 'neutered' isn't enough to stop him prowling off with a swagger, outwardly certain of victory. He's despatched in a way which seems in the short term to vindicate Ryan's predilection for shooting at things, but Ryan's action this time is not condemned. Kraskos's return later in the series at first seemed to me a reasonable expectation, but after reading other views and considering how self-aggrandizing a thug he is, perhaps allowing him to gain status in the programme as a primeval proto-racist thousands of years in prehistory would be too generous to him.

The climax is carefully orchestrated, building up to a dull and sorrowful realisation that it is impossible for the Doctor and friends to escape complicity, whether they are the privileged Doctor and Yaz, Ryan seeking to be unobtrusive, or the awkward white man standing, Graham, in whose cause therefore Blake seeks to force Rosa to the back of the bus. The beats familiar to anyone who has read up on historical events then play out, as Blake calls his supervisor, the police arrive and escort the arrested Rosa off the bus, accompanied by Andra Day's 'Rise Up', a song of liberation in perseverance. Rosa Parks's collective activism was quietly played, but it was shown in the evening meeting at her house and given context not only in colour prejudice but in a struggle to be educated which many working-class women would recognise. While the Doctor's awestruck behaviour on meeting her was placed directly in the comedic tradition established by the Ninth Doctor in The Unquiet Dead, it's Ryan who gets to meet Martin Luther King (Ray Sesay) and respond in a way which though performed with a little exaggeration feels from Tosin Cole an entirely natural reaction to meeting historical figures who have been exemplars in Ryan's upbringing.

Grace's memory is an even stronger presence than it was in The Ghost Monument. Grace herself is an absence triangulated with the presence of two dead icons alive in visitable history, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Ryan can't admit his grief to Graham or perhaps to himself, but comes closest when in King's presence at the Parks household. Other threads of continuity go further back, Chris Chibnall's series being keen to show that this is still Doctor Who even when told in a new voice. In doing so new layers are brought to old stories. Stormcage was a laughably permeable prison for River Song with little thought to the nature of her fellow inmates, but there is no redemptive narrative for Krasko. The mechanics of Rosa are speeded by the Doctor contacting her 1950s American acquaintances, giving a practical purpose to namedrops of the past and subsuming the Doctor's celebrity networks into purposeful determination. Artron energy is reintroduced, explained and dramatized. Casting, as often, offers layers: Morgan Deare appears as a frightened and angry old man, where thirty-one years ago in Delta and the Bannermen he was a stupid CIA agent whose behaviour embodied British caricatures of Americans while young Britons made American pop culture their own. Where the 1987 story celebrated 1950s America for its lack of barriers, its 2018 successor acknowledges the divisions on which the economy which exported that culture in part relied. The origins of Malcolm Kohll, Delta's writer, in apartheid-era South Africa, juxtaposed with the post-apartheid South African locations for this story only accentuate the parallels and contrasts which have accumulated.

Indeed, the treatment of history in this story offers a plainer authenticity than the series has seen for a very long while. The Girl Who Died presented a rounded view of Viking life - raiders yes, but farmers and dreamers too. It was set in a much more heightened reality than this, though - just as The Woman Who Lived which followed it made an alien out of royal iconography for a story set during the mid-seventeenth century English republic. Rosa is set in a less romantically mythologised past than either. Its decision not to challenge legend by exploring the detail of the discussions which led to the decision to begin civil disobedience against racial segregation on buses recalls the treatment of horned helmets seen in The Girl Who Died, but nuance points in a more didactic direction here - that the detailed reasons why Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery on 1 December 1955 are less important than that she did, and that circumstances and consequences made the act heroic. 

This Doctor Who past is one which recognises today's centrality of identity politics. The era just passed, where the fictionalised past of Europe was populated by non-white minorities, while rightly acknowledging historical diversity and saying that everyone had the right to claim the court of Versailles, the legend of Robin Hood or Victorian London as their own history, perhaps obscured the recently won battles and the ongoing conflicts over the rights and roles of minorities in modern Britain and other countries with a historically privileged imperial majority constructed as white. The basics here are re-addressed. The hybrid of re-enactment and invention in a highly symbolised past gives way to sober restatement of essentials with little room for ambiguity. The moral situation is clear, and reflection on what it might feel like to be out of one's time and an unwilling actor in the past is not easy. The myth is present but shapes what is selected and how that is prioritised. It's a pity that the Doctor was given the line that Rosa Parks changed the universe and then pointed to the asteroid 284996 as evidence, because the naming of the asteroid surely more specifically represented how Rosa Parks changed how people viewed the universe around them.

Rosa was accomplished television, claustrophobic and epic at once. I'd have liked more exposition about the civil rights movement in Montgomery and was disappointed in some minor points of presentational detail - specifically the changing signs on the bus seats and the modern typography - which undermined the otherwise beautifully crafted setting. Nevertheless there was much less preaching at the audience than I feared and what there was mostly came at moments when it was justified by drama and character. Vinette Robinson delivered a Rosa Parks of quiet strength exasperated at becoming the straight woman for the British visitors at a time of crisis and pointing out the limits to the Doctor's freedom of action where her business was concerned. A Doctor Who which advertises its introversion a lot less than in recent years might still be erring too far in assuring the audience that they are not being excluded from a private joke. Threat was always present in a thinly charming but soon all too apparently hostile environment. Rosa was confident but still a little anxious contemporary Doctor Who , tapping firmly on the nose, indignant at injustice and individual failures but ending in the hope for positive change the thirteenth Doctor's arrival presaged.





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.        

 

 

 

 





Planet of the SpidersBookmark and Share

Saturday, 21 April 2007 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

There are several elements to this story that not only make it great - but even make it a bit beautiful: 

The first and most obvious one is the character of Tommy. Although we're never told why a person with special needs is allowed to roam freely about a monastery (and, from an extremely budhist point-of-view, it's almost sort of nice that it's never explained), his involvement in this story is crucial to its noteworthiness. As a viewer, I grew attached to Tommy in ways that I never have before in a Doctor Who story and, for that matter, never have since. I like him quite a bit already even before the Blue Crystal changes him, but as I journey with him after the change I, pretty well, fall in love with his character. So that when he finally dives in the way of the blast of mental energy in the basement, my fear for his safety caused me to produce an audible yelp. Amusingly enough, others who have watched this story with me had a similar reaction to that moment. Which just goes to show, really. 

Another really downright fantastic element of this story is K'anpo/Cho-je. At last, we meet this mysterious mentor of the Doctor's. Even though we only ever heard of him for the first time a season or two ago - we were immediately fascinated with him. And it's almost a bit sad that he does get referenced one or two more times in the series, but we never do actually see him again. Still, the meeting they have near the end of the story is completely worth stopping the whole plot for. It's a magnificiently scripted and performed scene. And the ultra-cool regeneration that follows as K'anpo morphs into Cho-je almost "steals the the thunder" of the Doctor's regeneration. 

Almost, but not quite. 

The strongest, most powerful, element of this story is the demise of the Third Doctor. Written in a way that is still quite grandiose (after all, Pertwee did carry the role for five years and deserved a noteworthy swansong) without being quite so intentional about it as "Logopolis" was. The grandness, in fact, is executed in what I feel is the "right" kind of way: through some really strong characterisation. The Doctor, because of the nature of his character, is frequently a "constant" in his stories. With little or no real sense of growth to him. But the journey he takes in this tale leaves him a changed man by its conclusion. And not just in a literal sense. And though there have been other stories where the Doctor had brief "snippets" of character growth (ie: the little moment in "Ressurection of the Daleks" after Tegan leaves where he feels he "must mend his ways") - this story really makes the Doctor's character growth its most pivotal point. And this is what really causes the whole story to shine. So that, as he collapses to the floor of the UNIT lab and bids his adieu - I am truly touched by his departure. It is, in my opinion, some of the most compelling drama of the Pertwee era. Thus making it the best note for the lead actor to leave on.

As has been discussed in other reviews, Planet Of Spiders has some very "clunky" moments to it too. If there's any evidence that the show was getting too dominated by Pertwee's personality, it's the chase scene. Purely a twenty-minute throwaway that becomes difficult to watch after seven minutes or so. It does almost seem like they're just completely indulging Pertwee's love of strange vehicles. But it does have, at least, some fun little comical moments to it involving the police officer and the sleeping bum. And even the Whomobile flying is kind of a neat twist. Even as fake as it may have looked. So, as bothersome as the chase sequence might have been, in some ways, it's still not as bad as all that.

I'm probably more bothered by the apparent "woodeness" of the cast of villagers on Metebellis Three. Wow, there's just some really bad acting going on in some of those scenes. Most cringeworthy of them all is the woman who played the mother. I'm sure she was cast because she was related to the right person. No one could have been impressed with her as an actress! The fact that she really painfully flubs one of her lines just makes matters worse. Easilly, one of the worst performances ever done in a Who-story - and there have been some bad ones over the years! But, if given the choice of going back in time and being able to alter only one facet of this story - it would be the re-casting of this character before it would be taking out of the chase scene. 

There are probably a few more weaknesses to this story but the strengths, I feel, definitely outweigh them to the point of making them painfully irrelevant, for the most part. The story shows some very strong continuity with the way it wraps up a few important ongoing threads that have been weaving through the series. One of particular noteworthiness was the final progression of Mike Yates. Ever since "Green Death", the series seemed to be doing some interesting things to him. Which I felt was a great move. Compared to the Brig and Benton, Mike was painfully bland in most of his stories. To take him through the journey they did was a nice touch. 

Another really nice touch was the fact that, although the story celebrates many of the quintessential aspects of Pertwee's era, it also strays from it in other vital ways. Thus giving the whole thing a bit of a "Caves Of Androzani" kind of feel. Like that story, things happen in Planet of Spiders that don't normally happen in the Third Doctor's tenure. And that aspect, in itself, makes the story all the more enjoyable. Particularly to someone who found much of this era just a tad too formulaic for his liking. 

So, the final verdict is that the story does have its fair share of flaws. But it also "transcends" (you can't help but use that word in a story about Budhism) a lot of the restrictions the series imposed upon itself at the time. And that, more than anything, is what makes Pertwee's farewell both memorable and even a bit beautiful. A very deftly-crafted sentimentalism that could have been easily messed up in less-capable hands.