Thin IceBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 April 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Thin Ice (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgway)
 

Doctor Who - Series 10, Episode 3: THIN ICE

STARRING: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas

WITH: Nicholas Burns, Asiatu Koroma, Simon Ludders,
Tomi May, Guillaume Rivaud, Ellie Shenker, Peter Singh,
Badger Skelton, Austin Taylor, Kishaina Thiruselvan


Written By: Sarah Dollard
Directed By: Bill Anderson
      
Produced By: Peter Bennett

Executive Producers: Steven Moffatt, Brian Minchin

First Shown on BBC 1 - 29th April 2017

NB - This review contains a plethora of spoilers (based on a Preview Edition of the Episode).

The TARDIS has suddenly decided to take Bill and The Doctor off course. Both the precise location in England and the temporal zone are different to what was hoped for. Having been to the future of mankind, the ages-old academic and his youthful student find themselves instead in Regency London. It is a time of great development and industry, but also one where the slavery trade is in full swing. Many orphaned children struggle for survival on a daily basis. The Thames has been frozen over and this has led to a large-scale market being set up on the ice.

However, warning signs have (barely visibly) been laid out, so as to remind people of the ice being less sturdy in certain regions. And this is with good reason. People have begun to disappear, and it would appear there is a connection to some un-natural green lights that can be seen through the frosty surface.

Eventually the Doctor and Bill have to investigate in-depth, and some hard truths come to bear. For the first time, their relationship faces a test. But perhaps in facing a very human, very cold, monster in the form of Lord Sutcliffe, they can continue to function as a partnership of universe-weary wisdom, and fledgling careless brilliance.


 

This story continues to see the 2017 sequence of Doctor Who in fine fettle, and assure viewers that soon-to-depart Peter Capaldi is now producing some of his best form (as opposed to phoning it in for a nice pay check and exposure via prime time scheduling). By now it is standard practice that the first two adventures proper for a companion of the Doctor, after the season opener, see a quick succession of the past and future. (The order tends to fluctuate, depending on the season in question).

With these second and third episodes, at least there is a small change-up, utilising the secondary companion (as played by a confident Matt Lucas). The framing device of Nardole scolding the Doctor for going off world - which indeed is true for the events of Smile, if not technically this third adventure - is nicely done, and also includes a hint of what the Doctor and his part-robot-part-humanoid friend are guarding back in Bristol.

Lord SutcliffeSarah Dollard came up with a wonderful debut story last series, and provided a most memorable official demise for Clara Oswald, with Face The Raven. This story is not quite up on the same level, and continuity-wise is not a game-changer. However, the many virtues of world building and characterisation are all present and correct, once again. Virtually all the on-screen players who end up as nutrition for the aquatic alien being are sketched out effectively - even if they have rather limited screen time to work with, due to the primary character development being devoted to our two regulars.

This episode often makes no attempt to hide how it takes inspiration from previous stories in Doctor Who's lore. The Doctor advising Bill how to get to the wardrobe is a reminder of (the un-transmitted but frequently adapted) Shada. After the Doctor and Bill begin their explorations proper, the TARDIS pinpoints the size of the being under the ice, and also how much danger it poses, which is a faint echo of the ending moment of 1963's very first Who serial. More recent use of past convention is found in the use of the sonic screwdriver and psychic paper, with the former in particular driving the earlier parts of the story forward. 

Possibly even more so than prior episodes this year, the main heart of Thin Ice lies in the Doctor and Bill continuing to establish a working partnership together. Whilst the Twelfth Doctor noticeably ‘softened’ over the course of Series Nine, he still retained some darker edges, and these are particularly conspicuous at times. The cold manner in which he retrieves his sonic screwdriver from both the doomed Spider, and later one of Sutcliffe's thugs, leaves Bill repulsed and shocked. Noticeably she feels horror, irrespective of the actual personal qualities of the person who could not be saved from their fate.

The Doctor also deciding to be far more mysterious (certainly when compared to his Ninth and Tenth incarnations) over how he has had to make difficult choices when saving people, and also when to kill, is a very nicely-played scene by Capaldi and Mackie. True, it could easily appear in any given episode at any opportune time, and is not necessarily dependent on the story surrounding it. But it still is fine work from the writing/production team, and of course the main praise should be reserved for our two lead actors.

And in general, the Doctor is showing hints of his rather less personable qualities, which most of us have come to associate with his maiden season in 2014, rather than the somewhat breezier persona that crossed the airwaves on a weekly basis two autumns back. He is blunt to Peter Singh's 'Pie-Man' on their very first meaning, going so far as to undermine the legitimacy of the man's livelihood, back in a time of Earth history where ethics and truth did not have the same priority they do today. And whilst it is meant to be humorous for the audience (in a very knowing Roald Dahl fashion), his description of the lost children as being on the "menu", is indicative of his grim acceptance that the alien being simply is higher on the food chain than humans, regardless of whether it should belong in the Thames river in the first place.

But there are plenty of lighter/warmer sides to our title hero too, with the mention of a magic wand being a reminder that whilst Doctor Who is officially a sci-fi show, in many respects it takes sustenance from traditional fairy tales and legends. The very first actor to play the role on TV, William Hartnell, once described the main character as a combination of a Wizard and Father Christmas, and his point still stands many years down the line. Also, the quiet little scene as the Doctor tells a 'bedtime' story to some of the orphans is beautifully played and directed. Suddenly the moral dilemmas are secondary, and all that matters is a wise man with grey curls, presenting a narrative with conviction and gusto.

Come the end, as the remaining survivors find themselves fortunate to have a wonderful new property in which to live, there is a knowing look from the Doctor and Bill acknowledging that the deeds must be in the name of a male heir. Yet if the time-travelling genius could bend the law and change history to allow the charming Kitty to have the privilege of being the next in line, then he would. It is a moment that has huge impact on anyone with a semblance of heart and soul in them.


Thin Ice (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgway)Bill continues to put hardly a foot wrong, whether in terms of connecting with the audience or being acted authentically by the (comparatively inexperienced) Pearl Mackie. Along with other examples given here, there is a lovely moment where the Doctor's favourite student is overcome with wonder that she can walk on the Thames. Whilst the famous river is a great visual motif, it is also not associated with being crossed without the help of a vessel, and is heavily polluted. Later, when it is made clear what the villain's key motivation is in terms of the energy source he is obtaining, a very funny (if naughty) joke is made as Bill reacts point-blank. The full phrase would not pass the censors for a show like Doctor Who, even if movies shown even earlier on other TV channels get a free pass, but by being so coy in doing a quick edit, the effect is markedly pronounced. (And furthermore, another continuity echo is made, in terms of Rose teasing Cassandra, back in Series Two's opening story). 

The ending of the story is probably the most fully satisfying for the show in some time, with perhaps the last such occurrence being the conclusions of Heaven Sent and Hell Bent. Whilst perhaps simplistic, it is elegant and uses the decision to give just enough explanation via rapid editing, and travelling forward to the present day, with an archive newspaper article being knowingly referred by the Doctor. He often realises that sometimes an abridged account of the whole truth is for the best. That the ostensible monster of the story is not judged guilty of any wrongdoing, and is merely manipulated by Lord Sutcliffe, is welcome too. And show runner Moffat clearly has decided to steer away now from the overused 'everyone lives' trope. The good, the ambiguous, and the dastardly all firmly remain dead and buried. Thus, the Doctor's quiet admittance to Bill of the limits of his power to save people is not compromised in the final stanza.  

The episode also looks very impressive. The scenes underwater are built up to in a suitably suspenseful manner, before the efficient SFX work comes into play, accompanied by some of Murray Gold's best use of more subtle musical dressing. This ensures the core of the story is strong. Sometimes going into the murky depths of the aquatic can be a pace killer, but not here thanks to the decision by Bill Anderson to emphasise mood and uncertainty in the earlier sections of the story.

Elsewhere on ground level many extras are used, along with ‘convincing’ animals in the background, and props galore. There is a sword swallower, some play fighters, and countless other novelties. Never for a moment does it not feel like the capital city of England developing at a fast knot, back in the time of the Regency era. 

So far, the show has done fine work in establishing who Bill is, by giving her plenty of character and plot-relevant material, this latest instalment very effectively addresses her attitudes to sci-fi itself, and more significantly to her identity as a woman with a mixed ethnic background. The character material on Bill being something of a sci-fi fan herself is mostly played as light-hearted self awareness, which is so indicative of Steven Moffat’s general style – both in Doctor Who and in his many other TV (and film) projects over time. Asking the Doctor to clarify if they are on a parallel world, and just why he calls his sonic screwdriver that name are amusingly played out in dialogue.

However, the more worthy focus on attitudes of mankind concerning 'race' is made into a significant part of the story. Having the Doctor and Bill trying to integrate as best they can feels more important than in other episodes where the setting is simply pure fantasy/ sci-fi in nature. For the young lady from the 21st century England, there already is likely one too many a memory of being treated as inferior for the way she looks. To suddenly be back in her own country at a time when slavery was acceptable (be it of women, foreigners, those of 'other races', or even children) is a major jolt, and she immediately makes an effort to dress up so as to fit in, but clearly wishes this was not a requirement. And of course, eventually even that change of attire is not enough to stop a bigot from verbally abusing her.

The man in question is Lord Sutcliffe, and this main villain for the episode is not a pleasant person in many respects. He seems utterly without empathy, and has a detachment about his overall operation, even if the end result would see him become richer (and thus more powerful) still. However the denigration of his ‘inferiors’ who do not share ('enough of') the same bloodline as him remains the most deplorable aspect. Whilst the Doctor and Bill manage to set time 'right', the story very quietly yet noticeably makes a point that the evil of slavery is something mankind must realise over time is wholly wrong.

I have few real complaints with the basic narrative. It does in principle echo many episodes of yesteryear – something probably inevitable given how far the series has been in existence – but is never executed in anything less than an enthusiastic manner. Nonetheless, a general issue I have had with Series Ten again crops up here. We have at least one moment for the audience being ‘spoon-fed’, when the distinctive hat of Spider (the thieving little boy who could not be saved) is seen as rejected by the monster in the depths of the Thames, along with quick flashback of his thieving of the sonic device the Doctor so prizes. 

Thin Ice (Credit: BBC/Jon Hall)

This reminded me of the repetition used concerning Heather meeting Bill on a night out, when the original image was already striking enough in how it was shot to resonate with the viewer. Perhaps though, exposition and clarification of the mystery does not quite verge on being so heavy-handed, as during the scenes in Smile where the TARDIS duo found out the whole truth behind the dilemma they were presented with.

I mentioned Sutcliffe as serving the themes of the story well, but as an actual genre villain, he is rather middling overall. Whilst certainly played competently by Nicolas Burns, in that the audience is made to firmly dislike him, he also is very much out of his depth. The screen time afforded him is neither used efficiently enough to give us truly involving motivation and back story, nor abundant enough for him to be memorable in the viewers' minds after the episode has concluded. Sutcliffe's henchmen are never made into anything too chilling or threatening, but still have enough dialogue and commitment in the performances to convince viewers that they could have come from the criminal underworld, and are making the most of an employer with more money than most others. Dollard still does fine work with the villains, in terms of presenting the more corrupt and deplorable aspects of British society at the time, where gaps between the so-called upper and lower classes were wider than any cracks in the river's ice.

However, the performances of the children are uniformly terrific, which is pleasing to see after Smile had a winning turn from Kaizer Akhtar. When the Doctor needs some exposition from the locals, it is the orphans who whole-heartedly give him the information he requires, and the story smoothly advances as a result. Furthermore this authenticity of portraying urchins who barely are able to keep themselves fed really helps the end of the episode.

As the alien creature emerges from its 'prison' and is displayed in full, top-quality CGI glory, there is a great moment as Bill admires how it looks and is able to forgive it for being a killer. But the best part of the satisfying resolution is seeing the Doctor restore the barely surviving orphans to a place of safety – one far grander than any could have dreamed of. The wink in the eyes of both the Doctor and Bill as they turn the class expectations topsy-turvy, really helps this become a ‘punch-the-air’ moment. And it would not have been nearly so effective, if the children had not been as fully breathed to life in the performances by these youngsters. 

As good as our leads are here, and I expect even better work in the ‘bigger’ episodes to come, the main praise should be reserved for the quintet of Badger Skelton, Asiatu Koroma, Austin Taylor, Kishaina Thiruselvan, and Ellie Shenker.


OVERALL ASSESSMENT:

Series Ten's third individual story stands up well, as a very enjoyable outing in the early 19th Century. It is thoroughly watchable, whether the viewing takes place on a Saturday evening (as per tradition), or via a streaming device that does not have to be fixed down in a given time and place (like the TARDIS herself). And the icing on the cake? A snappy preview that sees the definitive Poirot actor – David Suchet – making a guest appearance, to potentially lend the hyperactive Time Lord some pearls of wisdom.

 





Supremacy Of The Cybermen - Complete CollectionBookmark and Share

Friday, 17 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
SUPREMACY OF THE CYBERMEN (Credit: Titan)
Writers: George Mann + Cavan Scott

Art: Ivan Rodriguez, Walter Geovanni, with Alessandro Vitti


Colorist: Nicola Righi With Enrica Eren Angiolini

Letterer: Richard Starkings
And Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt

Senior Designer: Andrew Leung 

Senior Editor: Andrew James

Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton
& Amoona Saohin

Designer: Rob Farmer

Published :7th March 2017

The most recent incarnations of the Doctor must combat the might of the Cyberiad - an overwhelming force that links the minds of Cybermen through all of time. The Tenth Doctor is forced to use a super-powered, and truly gigantic machine, as part of a combat alliance with Sontarans (who are normally his sworn enemies). The Ninth Doctor is on the back foot as he seemingly loses Rose forever, and his faithful time ship into the bargain. The London of 2006 that was established as relatively safe is now totally overcome by the silver giants. And as for the Eleventh Doctor, both he and Alice face a change of evolution back in the ancient time zone of ‘Prehistoric’ Earth. A change that contradicts established knowledge concerning the fate of the Silurian race.

But it is the Twelfth Doctor who is facing the eye of the storm and discovering what his Cybermen nemeses are intending to do, not only with the wider cosmos, but with the  temporal flow of causality itself. It soon becomes clear that this Doctor’s apparent triumph over Rassilon (in Hell Bent) was only short-lived. The alternately legendary and reviled keystone figure in Gallifrey’s history (depending on when in his elongated lifespan) is now truly betraying his own kind, by allowing the Cybermen to have access to the higher technology of his race. In return for this 'sharing' of superior knowledge, the former Lord President is accepting some Cyber ‘enhancements’ to his own person.


The initial two issues of this arc were separately reviewed on this site last year, and the consensus was that the initial foundations were promising.

So the logical question is: does the conclusion deliver?

In a nutshell - this is a satisfying romp  for the general time required to read through it. And as a collected edition it also perhaps reads in the best way, for one to enjoy such a large scale and ambitious type of story. When this story was first being released every month (or every other month) in the second half of 2016, sometimes the wait between issues highlighted how sparse was the material that most of the starring Doctors were given. 

The key premise of the Cybermen looking to master both space and time is perhaps not new when one is to consider the likes of Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis, but with all due respect to those 1980s stories, the ideas at work here are that much stronger. Also, the limitless 'budget' of comics is also put to better use than was ever the case with those TV outings’ resources. The Doctor rarely is put under such immediate pressure as in this tale, and it is refreshing to have his other selves being so helpless and threatening to drag down the ‘present’ (Capaldi) incumbent. There are plenty of moments of high drama, with full-on ‘shock effect’ as various associates, or close friends of the Doctor(s) are seemingly slain, or coldly assimilated by the impassive forces of the Cybermen.

The biggest stumbling block for this distinctly ambitious story is that the jeopardy is raised to such intense levels that the final method of bringing things to a close verges on deus ex machina. Yet it does see some welcome character development for one of the main antagonists, that arguably was not the most easy to anticipate based on much of the previous storyline. If one were to look for how strong the conclusion is overall, such as by comparing it with the prior year’s Titan comic event, then it is clear that the ending Paul Cornell devised for his Four Doctors story was just that margin more satisfying and neat.  

Also, whilst it was brave to force the Twelfth Doctor to be the one regeneration to have the key to the puzzle, it is a little frustrating that the Doctor’s various companions are so passive here – again Cornell’s story was mindful of keeping the considerable precedent of the assistant role being crucial to the Doctor’s fortunes. As an introduction to those not so familiar with Doctors of past times – even in the recent decades – this adventure does fine work in maintaining key defining traits. The Eleventh Doctor is as light hearted and unflappable in the face of danger, as the most striking turns Matt Smith contributed on-screen. The Tenth Doctor has those hints of darkness and fury, such is the relatively short period that has occurred since the Time War. The Ninth Doctor’s relatively macho and assertive nature is well captured, and despite the human casualties that assault his senses, he still has that firm core belief in his ability to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat. Titan had also done a fine job in their ongoing regular comic lines to introduce teasers for this saga by having Doctors from the classic era of 1963-1989 pop up , and this is executed well in the main story by having further glimpses of the TV Time Lords of yesteryear..There are also some other pleasing references that operate in relieving the often relentlessly grim vibe – such as the mention of the 'Kessel Run' by the Ecclestone version of the Doctor.

The visuals are mostly effective from the artwork team that contributed to this mini-arc, and the wealth of time and space is no doubt a cause for excitement for both casual reader and loyal monthly purchaser alike.  The main artists – Ivan Rodriguez and Walter Geovanni – are able to put their personal stamp on a wealth of familiar faces, along with those newly introduced for this particular story. There is good further art support from Alessandro Vitti, and the main colouring work from Nicola Righi is typically lively and effective in conveying the mood intended by co-writers Scott and Mann.


Overall, readers can do far worse than give this graphic novel some time and careful attention as they uncover the myriad threads concerning Doctors past and present, as well as the turbulence that is Gallifrey in the future. It perhaps is not up there with some of the very best stories from Titan, but as an adventure featuring the second most recognised monster of the show, and one that makes some interesting use of the different Doctors from television screens in the last 12 or so years, it is definitely worth a look. It remains to be seen if Series 10's concluding episodes make equal or better use of the (potentially infinite) Cybermen concept; one that is now more than Fifty Years of age.





Twelfth Doctor Vol #4 - The School Of Death - (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 February 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek


Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor Year Two #1 (Credit: Titan)

STORY 1 - The School Of Death

STORY 2 - The Fourth Wall

STORY 3 - Robot Rampage

Originally Published in Twelfth Doctor Year 2 Issues 1-5
(+ A Free Comicbook Day Issue)

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

WRITER: ROBBIE MORRISON

ARTISTS: RACHAEL STOTT, SIMON FRASER

COLORISTS: IVAN NUNES, MARCIO MENYS

LETTERS: RICHARD STARKINGS +
COMICRAFT’S JIMMY BETANCOURT

 SENIOR EDITOR: ANDREW JAMES

 ASSISTANT EDITOR: JESSICA BURTON

 DESIGNER: ROB FARMER

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

PUBLISHED: 13TH SEPTEMBER 2016 TITAN COMICS

"There’s something fishy going on at the remote Scottish school of Ravenscaur...

Something that has bedevilled students and teachers alike...

Something that has lurked in the caverns beneath the school for millennia!

Only the Doctor and Clara can unravel a deadly conspiracy that reaches as high as the Prime Minister of England!"

(Official Teaser To The Title Story)


The feature story had originally four issues in theYear Two run with which to build up suspense, and feature a number of engaging subplots, as well as a loosely connected solo adventure for the Twelfth Doctor taking on Captain Volk, and his lethal pirates/mercenaries. With this prologue of sorts, the reader only witnesses the climactic moments, but it still resonates enough to feel like a proper story in its own right.

An exciting first impression is made in the 'pre-credit' sequence counterpart, as teacher Christel is hounded by mysterious forces. This 'sacrificial lamb' is given enough likability, and connection to Clara, for us to care about her grim fate. 

As the primary action unfolds, the creepy Mr Beck is keen to fully introduce The 'Impossible Girl' to the school, which turns out to have a number of skeletons hidden in its closets. After some mystery, the majority of the tale can be described as a thoroughly enjoyable romp. Two additional new 'assistants' help the Doctor overcome the real threat behind the cold-hearted bureaucratic school; one that Clara had intended to teach in, as a change-up from her hectic life in the capital city.

Overall the story can be likened to a mixture of prior Sea Devil stories, with a 'Village Of The Damned' situation, as the local island/school community are all but completely mentally subdued. The Doctor and Clara clearly are at a stage in their partnership, where they enjoy each other's company and accept that they are very different in approach. Thus they can work together assuredly to solve the problems as required. I know many devoted fans prefer the Doctor to actually get on with his best friend, more often than not, and I count myself in that group.

It is also welcome to have UNIT involved once again in these comics, with this present variant of the Doctor; (albeit now sadly announced as departing come Christmas this year). After the Zygon Invasion/Inversion story of Autumn 2015, this story honours continuity in typically faithful Titan style, by having both Osgoods feature in the narrative. Along with the much-loved Kate Stewart playing her role to help the Doctor, in the same way her father helped his 'predecessors', there has been a proper 'renaissance' for UNIT, of late. This is in thanks not only to the TV shows being seen globally, but also the work done across Doctor Who's various other mediums, ever since 2012's The Power Of Three.

But ultimately the final triumph comes down to the TARDIS duo, and a pair of delinquent but warm-hearted teenagers, who have been too stubborn to be recruited by the Sea Devil's army of zombies. Come the ending there is a nice hint of the next stage in the journey of life for these two guest characters. The TV show - particularly the modern version - has always been good at not only wrapping up the main problem but making followers care about the fortunes of characters, most of whom are unlikely to ever be seen again. 

Some nice light-heartedness helps the story from taking itself too seriously, which is a wise move given how close to the Establishment Nose the satire verges on, at times. The Doctor's blasé attitude, or boldness, when confronted by the pub of possessed villagers would certainly play out well on primetime TV. His weak 'sea urchin' disguise is a fun example of his inconsistent ability to blend into his environment. I also enjoyed the swordfish ally, he acquires as he pretends a completely inanimate object is of the same value as K9 or Kamelion from his days of 'youth', but a nice irony is made of this towards the final stages.

Other elements though would stretch the budget quite considerably, with some of the action being worthy of a proper Hollywood blockbuster. With the fine artistic skills of Rachael Stott and Ivan Nunes on display, the epic scope of the action is translated handsomely well, however.

This effort entertains throughout. I cannot honestly say any of the new characters were ones for the ages, or worthy of a further adventure down the line, but they fit well into a fun story, where the odds seem stacked against contemporary human society. The original Sea Devils had its flaws but always knew how to move the narrative into some new location, or confound expectations. In that sense then, The School of Death rises to the surface with gusto, rather than stagnating to the bottom of the sea, like the much-maligned Peter Davison sequel.


The second story is rather more satirical and self-referential, both in terms of its moods and its themes. It does an impressive job in casting retrospective light over the Doctor Who mythos itself.  There is even a rather 'meta' take on the comic book medium which makes the story both entertaining, and distinctly different from other such stories, that centre on a mystery and a relentless force needing to be overcome. 

A fun poke at the TV show's once male-dominated fanbase is briefly incorporated into the tale. As many know, the male-female ratio of Doctor Who aficionados has evened up considerably in recent years thanks to the quality writing and casting of the 21st century series.

Readers get to see some decided vanity from the Doctor –  a defining characteristic whichever face/body he is inhabiting – when he displays outrage over the persona, or image, that he has online. This internet portrayal of our title hero reminded me of the very knowing TV portrayal of Clive, a superfan utterly obsessed with the mysterious Ninth Doctor, who featured in the reboot triumph that was Rose

Also notable - if perhaps somewhat surprising, given how much Clara has experienced - is the Coal Hill School teacher's cynicism over comic book shop staff claims regarding people going missing. At this point in her (ultimately infinite) life, she has seen enough weird and wonderful things. Then again, real people that we all know, are contradictory and three-dimensional. Whilst very likable, Clara would not be human without some judgemental sides to her character, and some entrenched pre-conceptions over certain types of people.

With perhaps other references to the biggest comics and comic book companies also being intended by Morrison, I did enjoy one particular nod towards Marvel’s Silver Surfer.

This story also operates as a loose sequel to Series Eight gem Flatline, and does a fine job of using a well-designed monster without just simply repeating the same ‘gimmick’. Whilst ‘The School Of Death’ had more time to develop its key supporting characters, as well as have some decent tertiary ‘cast members’, The Fourth Wall still is well-paced, and does a fine job of marrying continuity between the Titan comics and the actual TV show.  

Dialogue also seems to be pitched perfectly for the talents of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, were this to be an actual story made for Series 9. Prior stories (including the preceding Sea Devil one) have ‘cameos’ as panels within the story, enabling a clever parody on the comic book canvas and panelling techniques.

The story also works on another level by having a strong message concerning escapism, especially one found in a personal hobby that others deem as 'not cool'. The danger of slipping too far into make-belief, however, should always be an important consideration for someone to still be healthy and interact well with others. For a story that had a solitary issue originally with which to get its objectives across, this is very impressive, and arguably the high point of this collection.


Rounding off Volume Four is a fun, if very brief, sequel to Fourth Doctor debut Robot. With its limited page/panel count Robo Rampage acts more as a straight-up King Kong homage. The difference between the 1933 classic movie and this story, is that the English capital city is the playground for chaos, as opposed to Manhattan. As the metallic monster attacks the London Eye, this much 'older' Doctor rants over the greed and irresponsibility of humanity that has allowed for Professor Kettlewell’s invention to suddenly be back in the public sphere.

This story has no Clara, but we do get a nice turn for Osgood, giving her more to do than in the main Sea Devil story. The UNIT scientist is still eager to be a proper companion (and into the bargain be excused from her day job duties). Showing her fanatical side, Osgood showers the grey haired wearer of sonic sunglasses with a number of 'alternative titles' to that of "Doctor". Some of those names are references to past TV stories. Ultimately though she tries to christen him with one of her own monikers.

The previous two stories had their moments of mirth, but this one is probably the most amusing in terms of comedy, and can be regarded as a longer attempt at the (once customary) ‘bonus humour strip’.


BONUS

Two alternative covers are featured in full page size. They are credited to respectively Brian Miller, and Simon Myers.

Other featured (albeit smaller-sized) covers are credited to MyersAlex RonaldWill BrooksJAKe, and main artist Rachael Stott 

The main title cover is credited to Alice X. Zhang, and also features in the gallery section


SUMMARY

Altogether then, this is a fine collection of wholly new original stories that help develop both the main two characters, as well as some of the recurring allies to feature in the Steven Moffat epoch. It deserves to be taken as authentic and official in the time lines as the main televised entity itself. Oddly, there is no separate title for The Fourth Wall story within the collection (although the phrase is found within dialogue), whereas Robot Rampage (originally published for Free Comics Day) retains its name in-story. Regardless, if the reader has missed some or most of the prior issues released in Year 2, then this collection is the best option on the market. 

One to keep and enjoy.





The Return of Doctor Mysterio - Additional ReviewBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 December 2016 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
The Return of Doctor Mysterio  - Nardole (MATT LUCAS), Grant (JUSTIN CHATWIN) (Credit: BBC)
Starring Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Justin Chatwin,Charity Wakefield, Tomiwa Edun and Aleksandar Jovanovic
Written by Steven Moffat
Executive produced by Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin
Produced by Peter Bennett, Directed by Ed Bazalgette
Broadcast on BBC1, December 25th 2016
Again, Happy Christmas!!

The Doctor was back, briefly – and he was tripping across genre again and enjoying the dance. The decision to bring an American superhero into Doctor Who enabled the programme to reconnect with the contemporary and demonstrate that it still has that sense of humorous self-mockery British Book News remarked upon at the end of the 1970s, to the joy of Target Books and their blurb-writer. Much of the wit was extracted from the tension between the conventions of superherodom as presented by the story and the conventions which the Doctor seemed to think Doctor Who follows, while remaining aware that the two are not so different. It also – and far more successfully than The Husbands of River Song – extracted the twelfth Doctor from the shadow of the fiftieth anniversary year and from the intense presence (however appealing character or performer) of Clara. While the references to River Song and to UNIT and Osgood might have been designed to reassure committed viewers that the recent history of Doctor Who the programme was not being set aside after the Doctor’s twenty-four year night with River (neatly paralleled with his twelve month absence from television screens), they just kept to the right side of confusing entanglement for the Christmas Day viewer while looking to the wider television environment of streaming services and cyclical repeats where The Return of Doctor Mysterio will be watched minutes after The Husbands of River Song rather than a whole year.

I’d been cautious about the success of Doctor Who creating a televisual New York in Cardiff and Bulgaria, and the trailers and advance clips had somehow suggested a colder, grainier environment than I was used to from the gleaming adventure series, bright lights and sharp tonal contrast in so many American series. In the context of the whole, though, The Return of Doctor Mysterio did mount a credible New York, with its oddly warm green-white nighttime apartment set which could have been inhabited by characters from a realism-seeking police procedural, and most impressively of all the cityscape through which young Grant flew, the Doctor clinging to his heels, in the opening sequence. The Bulgaria-based New York streets compared favourably with locations in the superhero series with which The Return of Doctor Mysterio invited comparison, but Doctor Who’s sense of reality, at least here, was less dependent on the suggestion of a crowded Manhattan of people, businesses and criminals than on central pillars of emotional credibility.

Justin Chatwin’s Grant was a familiar Steven Moffat hero, a heterosexual man but uncertain in his relationships with the opposite sex and hiding behind masks literal and metaphorical in order to police desires he doesn’t know how to translate into reality. Moffat views the Doctor as part of this tribe, and his warnings that Grant shouldn’t repeat his mistakes recalled the Doctor’s advice to Young Kazran Sardick back in A Christmas Carol not to retreat to his bedroom and invent a new kind of screwdriver. Grant’s dogged professionalism in addressing Lucy by her married style when working as her nanny might seem odd given that he has known her since elementary school, but it’s another act of distancing and concealment. Charity Wakefield’s performance as Lucy complemented the worldview of Grant and the Doctor, combining a set of female attributes from male-viewpoint adventure stories – the reporter, motherhood, physical attractiveness, precise attention to dress sense, uncounterable authority – while still suggesting a believable person who could be represented differently by another narrative voice. Her deployment of torture by stress relief toy was played deadpan, admirably, and somehow represented Doctor Who's appeal across generations, So integrated was Wakefield's performance in the fiction that one of my family didn’t recognise her from Wolf Hall and assumed that she was an American guest star. Lucy was also a mask-wearer, of course, as Grant both recognised and did not recognise. Her shapeless grey dress, her date night red dress, as well as Grant's self-deprecating and self-deflecting casualwear and the Ghost's businesslike sculpted black costume made a starkly effective debut for new series costume designer Hayley Nebauer.

The Doctor was reintroduced as a man of action and legendary figure, both aspects in distress. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is perhaps the most difficult to pin down because his range is so broad; here he was at his warmest and most magical, someone whom a child would trust, lightly delivering brutal put-downs, at ease with the contradictions of being both someone passing through with no ties and a self-acknowledged saviour of humanity with contacts in a planetary defence agency. Depicting the Doctor as a swinging pendulum in a window was a great sight gag, pun on Time Lord, and witty introduction to a child’s worldview. Moffat has compared the Doctor to Father Christmas before, in The Curse of Fatal Death and The Doctor Dances, but here it was both a way of emphasising young Grant’s naivety and literalness and setting up the way the episode performs a series of commentaries. I enjoyed the irony of the Doctor offering sardonic comments on superhero lore when his own contains its fair share of pretend science and unlikely transformations. It’s possible to read the Doctor’s insistence that the moment the superhero’s love interest – Lois in Superman, Lucy here – discovers the superhero’s secret identity, the story is over, as a criticism of the ensemble superhero television series of the present day. There, the superhero’s activities depend on the presence of a substantial back-up team fully aware of who he or she is. The Doctor might agree with this, but Nardole’s presence and explanation of the Doctor’s recent backstory to Grant and Lucy indicate that the episode itself does not. The probability is that Grant will continue his adventuring in a new context, backed up by Lucy and baby Jennifer. I've largely avoided reading other reviews while writing this one, but know I wasn't the only person imagining what shape a Ghost spin-off might take. However, more immediately this rejection of the idea of the hero - whether the Doctor or the Ghost - as lone saviour indicates that the Doctor, having lost Clara and River, needs to assemble his own new family. Nardole has been reattached sensitively and gently by Matt Lucas, and (as the first pre-credits ‘Coming Soon’ for a new season for some years stressed) we are soon to meet Bill.

Although unheralded as such, The Return of Doctor Mysterio might be seen in future years as bearing a similar relationship to The Husbands of River Song as The Woman Who Lived does to The Girl Who Died given comparable links of theme and characters. The head-opening secret society of Husbands now become the brain-removing Harmony Shoal, and receive development, becoming scheming villains rather than containers. The Doctor is working through, and out, loss both times, and preaches the embrace of change. This is more foreshadowing, both of the new companion for the new series and the new directions beyond as Steven Moffat yields the showrunner’s chair to Chris Chibnall. These are simple points made clearly for the Christmas Day audience who might have just finished dinner; it will be intriguing to see how a full series builds on them.





The Return of Doctor MysterioBookmark and Share

Sunday, 25 December 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
The Return of Doctor Mysterio  - Doctor Who (PETER CAPALDI) (Credit: BBC)
Starring Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas. Justin Chatwin
Charity Wakefield, Tomiwa Edun and Aleksandar Jovanovic
Written by Steven Moffat
Executive produced by Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin
Produced by Peter Bennett, Directed by Ed Bazalgette
Broadcast on BBC1, December 25th 2016... Happy Christmas!

This review contains spoilers

 

I'll admit that I went into this year's Christmas Special with somewhat lowered expectations. The Children in Need clip had seemed a touch too stylised when viewed out of context, and then there'd been a surprisingly low-key trailer. Fan expectation can be a tricky superpower to handle, capable of spoiling things that would otherwise be appreciated when it blasts too high, and equally capable of casting a rosy glow over new episodes when set far lower. In this case, by not expecting too much I found myself savouring a wonderful Christmas present of Who, and a gift of a return from Peter Capaldi and Matt Lucas.

For once, this Christmas Special isn't excessively garnished with festive trimmings, and it's all the better for it. Once an obligatory (and amusing) Santa reference is out of the way, we settle down to a loving homage to Superman, Superman: The Movie, and superheroes more generally, replete with lovely moments like a Shuster and Siegel name-check. And although the Doctor may not initially get how superheroes work, Steven Moffat's script is perfectly at home in this world of romantic comedy and wish fulfillment, even if he can't resist an assortment of X-ray vision jokes. "Light to moderate" excremental humour -- always a winner with the Christmas Day family audience, I suspect -- also slips by several times, with the "passing" of Grant's condition being a somewhat incongruous moment, especially as it places our favourite Time Lord in the role of an anxious parent awaiting... well, you know, that.

The flying effects and the Ghost's appearance appeared vaguely questionable in advance publicity but viewed in situ they are part of a beautifully-produced confection. 'The Return of Doctor Mysterio' looks consistently impressive, and there can be little doubt that its budget is all right there on the screen; Peter Bennett deserves our Christmas cheers for his production work on this, as does Brian Minchin for his sterling exec-production. New York has rarely looked so New York-y, particularly given that it's all a matter of media trickery here; iconography that's been replayed so many times in movies, reduced to its visual essence, that the unreality has become convincingly TV-real. Additionally, we get an array of directorial and design flourishes to remind us that this is a comic book-inspired version of Doctor Who. Entering events via a comics page is apposite, especially as one panel appears to prefigure the Doctor clinging to Grant's window sill, suggesting that this entire story is an imagined version of a graphic novel. And we are treated to some comic book-effect split-screen roughly halfway through, another nice touch from director Ed Bazalgette. Then there are the coloured rectangular window panels that linger in the background of Harmony Shoal's office, representing yet more bright evocations of the comic book form. 

This isn't all comics callbacks and romcom sparkle, however. There are echoes of Christmas Specials past: the plummeting spacecraft (and this episode's overall tone) put me in mind of the brash and movie-referencing 'Voyage of the Damned'. At times, this story could almost be channelling Russell T. Davies at his most crowd-pleasing (shots of crowds looking up into the sky: check) and it knows exacty what it's doing. We also get small moments of real human feeling, crackling like popping candy in a Christmassy Heston Blumenthal creation. The "24 years" sequence is especially outstanding, and Peter Capaldi's delivery of "Everything ends. And it's always sad" shows that he doesn't need a big old monologue to dazzle. Slightly akin to Rogue One making you think differently about Star Wars: A New Hope, this speech (plus the return of Harmony Shoal/The Shoal of the Winter Harmony and Nardole) made me see 'The Husbands of River Song' in a different light. What had seemed rather forced last Christmas, for me anyway, took on a much greater depth when reassembled through the lenses of 'Doctor Mysterio'. Even Nardole, who I had found a little frustrating last time round, was a far more welcome presence as the Doctor's glued together companion. Matt Lucas's performance is uniformly excellent here, and bodes well for next season, I would say. Hiding a key plot point within Doctor-Nardole banter was cleverly done, as was the rapidly sketched-in sense that Nardole sees his role as one of caring for the Doctor. The character still needs further thickening and deepening, but I've no doubt that future scripts and performances will be well up to delivering on that. 

The Return of Doctor Mysterio  - Lucy Fletcher (CHARITY WAKEFIELD) (Credit: BBC)

In fact, all the guest stars work really well in this outing: Justin Chatwin is effectively cast in the "mild-mannered" Clark Kent/Superman role, and Charity Wakefield makes the most of portraying Lucy Fletcher, who at times displays a sharp sideline is sub-Sherlockian deduction. Chatwin's switching between a "superhero" gravelly voice and "civilian" voice helps to sell his character's secret identity, even if, as the Doctor acidly notes, some situations "are too stupid to be allowed to continue". And Steven Moffat revels in the twists and turns of misunderstanding that a superhero narrative can afford (when is the Marvel Cinematic Universe hiring him?). The ultimate reveal of the Ghost-as-Grant is cleverly integrated into the Doctor's plan to save the world, with these plots dovetailing neatly in a masterclass moment of scripting.

Are there any pitfalls to this Christmas offering? Harmony Shoal are resolutely B-movie-style opponents, albeit good fun, but perhaps Lucy's deployment of Mr. Huffle as an interrogation device is a step too far. It's different, for sure, but would the Doctor really respond to this kind of thing? Presumably, he's indulging Lucy as he recognises her cleverness, but Mr. Huffle still gets to be quite annoying quite quickly. Even as a plot device this is remarkably twee stuff. But if, as a reviewer, I'm reduced to complaining about such minor things then I'll happily take that.

With mentions for Osgood and UNIT, and retoolings of favoured Moffatisms (especially the "in one bound they startlingly move from mediated presence to live presence" shtick) this will no doubt repay plenty of repeat viewings. It's an episode that suggests Moffat has endings on his mind, as well as the fact that endings can simultaneously be new beginnings (unsurprising for a showrunner entering his last season in the role). Nowhere is this fixation more apparent than in the outstanding "Coming Soon" trailer affixed to the end of this broadcast which really deserves its own screen capped review. "Can I use the toilet?" may well be one of the most refreshing lines of dialogue I've ever heard in Doctor Who, bringing an unexpected strata of basic reality to the Whoniverse. Just when fans might be expecting Moffat to wind things up towards a grand finale, Bill's introduction feels like a breath of fresh air, as if we've suddenly been thrown into series one of a brand new show called Professor Who. "See the universe anew": there can't be many better Christmas gifts than that.

To my mind, 'The Return of Doctor Mysterio' is one of the stronger Christmas Specials, successfully paying tribute to a genre that's long been an "anomaly" for the programme. Welcome back, Doctor, your unique superpowers have been missed.    





Class Season One - Episode 1 - For Tonight, We Might DieBookmark and Share

Saturday, 22 October 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Class - Series 1 (Credit: BBC/Todd Antony)

Starring: Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, Vivian Oparah, Katherine Kelly, with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor.

Written By: Patrick Ness
Directed By: Edward Bazalgette

Released Online (BBC Three)  - 22nd October 2016 

This review contains spoilers

 

Coal Hill School has now become an academy, and it is some time since popular teacher Clara Oswald became missing, presumed dead. Life at the educational establishment goes on though, and a quartet of remarkable youngsters are attending the academy: Charlie, April, Ram and Tanya. One of these is an aloof and unpredictable young man, another a self-conscious but kind and loyal young lady, another a promising athlete with something of a chip on his shoulder, and the last a brilliant student who has skipped a year and who tells things exactly the way they are.

'The way things are' ..become somewhat surreal, however. A student has suddenly gone missing, and a new teacher - Miss Quill - has joined Coal Hill and acts in the most awkward and unnatural of ways. A shadow creature is beginning to stalk students, and before long a legion of otherworldly beings are stampeding the premises, despite a carefully arrange prom by April.

Could this be grounds for the return of Coal Hill's rather eccentric Caretaker??

 

 

Class (Credit: BBC)2016 will go down in Doctor Who lore as something of a 'gap year'. The first one of these was back in 2009, which featured a number of specials. Since then, other years have been rather light in terms of having new material with the Doctor on TV. Currently, fans are eagerly awaiting Series 10 to materialise onscreen in the spring of 2017. In the meantime, there will be the customary Christmas special.

There now is also this particular edition to the wider Who mythos, and somewhat appropriately it is set  in the school that was the workplace of the first two human companions of the Doctor - Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright -  before they were whisked away on the most incredible of journeys.

 

Other spin-offs have been part of early evening or prime time TV once modern Doctor Who fully got under way. Torchwood was most deliberately intertwined with the main Who universe, despite its very different target audience. Class falls between the parent show, and Torchwood, in that the 'young adult' is the intended demographic. There is some gore now and again, and sexuality and relationships are given much emphasis - unsurprising, with the show set in an academy, with teenagers on the verge of adulthood.

Many fans will have been made aware by press that the Twelfth Doctor would pop up immediately in this maiden run of the new show. However, as it turns out he is used sparingly enough to allow the main protagonists to have their crucial limelight. Having the Doctor teased as being shown in a flash back to explain Quill and Charlie being on Earth in the first place is a wise move, before the eventual crisis point where he pops up in the nick of time to quell the threat posed by the Shadow Kin. Capaldi manages to make the most of his limited screen time and continues to act in the vein of a traditionally open and friendly Doctor, as he did for much of the 2015 TV run.

Some of these new characters that viewers will follow in coming weeks are more engaging than others, owing both to the script and to the actual actor. Miss Quill (Katherine Kelly), and April (Sophie Hopkins) definitely stand out best for me, although there is a lot of potential for Charlie (Greg Austin) as well, given his back story. Tanya and Ram do have their moments but sometimes can feel stilted. Fady Elsayed has a substantial enough resume already, but can't overcome the 'jock' clichés enough for him to be particularly remarkable in this first installment. Vivian Oparah shows some of her acting inexperience at times, but still convinces more than not, and should grow into the role under the solid production team involved with the show.

 

Patrick Ness' script is reliable and confident in getting a suitably energetic adventure across, but also affording some good work into making us connect with the characters, and that includes some of the relatives of the students. Ness also wants to keep one guessing, which is always an asset of TV drama. One or two other academy students had the potential to end up as main characters, but are killed off by the Shadow Kin in resounding fashion. And the violence does mean this is not really a show for 'under-12s', with Rachel's gory death, and Ram's horrific leg injury really pushing the envelope. 11829519-low-.jpg

The direction and music - from Ed Bazalgette and Blair Mowat, are similarly assured. Some scenes flash by in heartbeat, but the overall feel of the episode is just coherent enough, that the fast pace is manageable.  This season opener has many moments of literal light and shade to explore and the production makes the most of the opportunities afforded. Obviously, the budget is not in the same stratosphere as Doctor Who, and some of the effects with the Shadow Kin or the unearthly dimensions that April or Charlie can see in their mind's eye do require a little tolerance on a given viewer, used to more seamless CGI.

Class stands up as a show with a steady foundation and a lot of good will both in front of and behind the camera. It may currently not appear to offer anything truly pioneering, given the likes of Buffy, Misfits and many late afternoon teenage dramas, that have graced TV screens. But it is still a justifiable addition to the Doctor Who canon and has plenty of room to grow into something truly distinct and memorable.

 








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