OxygenBookmark and Share

Saturday, 13 May 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Oxygen: The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Des Willie))

Space, the final frontier - these are the opening words of Oxygen, spoken by the Doctor, over a stark visual of two individuals floating lifelessly in space. The monologue might be an homage to that other long-lived sci-fi show, it sums up this episode perfectly. In space, we need oxygen to survive. Welcome to a universe where oxygen is a commodity. It makes perfect sense. In space, oxygen is just about the single most precious thing there is. Welcome to Oxygen.

 

BEWARE - THERE WILL BE SOME SPOILERS.

 

The pre-credits sequence has to be one of the creepiest yet. We find two people working their way around the exterior of a spaceship, their oxygen running dangerously low. One sees a shadow of something that is behind them flickering across a bulkhead. She turns and sees zombies, lurching zombies in helmet-less space suits, looming towards her through the dark vacuum arms outstretched. Her companion turns to see what is happening and sees that she is also now a zombie and is clawing mercilessly towards him . And then Murray Gold's theme kicks in.

Back on Earth the Doctor is meant to be giving a lecture on crop rotation, but is actually,  quite aptly, giving a lecture on the effects of space on the human body. This is quite a handy and very timely lecture that will become a practical experience later in the story.

Oxygen: Bill (Pearl Mackie), Tasker (Justin Salinger) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))The Doctor though has very itchy feet (no surprise there) and wants to escape the university and his duties to The Vault. It doesn't take long before the Doctor, Bill and Nardole find themselves in the TARDIS, answering a distress call. The trio materialise on a spaceship (which of course is the ship that featured in the pre-credits sequence) and find that it is a mining ship, that at first seems deserted (don't they always). After further exploration they find a dead crew member in a space suit, anchored to the floor by his magnetic boots, which are forcing the corpse to stand upright, leaning slightly to one side (this is such a simple, and creepy effect). It's quite a grisly sight that upsets Bill massively, in fact, she looks truly terrified by the scene - which makes her very human and incredibly relatable. Here is where the horror starts.

In true, classic Doctor Who style there follows, of course, a lot of running down dark corridors, doors that won’t open, screaming, panic and facing up against all the odds. Oxygen is a base under siege story where the threat is already in the base. The tension really is palpable, if this story doesn't send the kids scuttling behind the sofa, asking their parents if it is safe to come back out yet, I don't know what will.

Pearl Mackie as Bill continues to excel. I absolutely adored her when she was testing the gravity on the ship, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet. When the Doctor tells her that the gravity is artificial, she disappointedly points out that it doesn't feel like space. She then looks out a window in pure wonder and takes in the rest of the ship and the stars, "NOW it seems like space!" she says in pure wonderment. On the flip side of her initial of course is her terror at the threat, which is truly palpable. And yes, when her space suit starts to malfunction, she is so very good that it will leave you breathless.

Peter Capaldi puts in another performance that cements home to us all that he will be missed when his time eventually comes. At points during this story, it feels as if the Doctor is out of his depth, which is something that immediately puts the viewer on edge. Plus there are actual ramifications to his actions and heroics that seem as if they will carry on into the next episode, and possibly the rest of the series. Now THAT gives you a story with depth. Wait for his reaction to an unfortunate incident with the sonic, its classic.

The guest actors are all very good, with Mimi Ndiweni being the stand out as the straight talking Abby.Oxygen: Abby (Mimi Ndiweni), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))

The show is brilliantly directed by Charles Palmer, who makes the tension and events very real. Palmer has worked on Who before with credits that include The Shakespeare Code, Family of Blood and Human Nature. Oxygen contained some of the best direction I have seen in Who, and Palmer's style was, for me,  very reminiscent of Graeme Harper. Palmer knows how to handle Who, and it shows in buckets.

Oxygen is written by Jamie Mathieson, who is, of course, an old hand now, and boy is this evident. Once the TARDIS crew materialise on the ship the action DOES NOT STOP until the epilogue. Everything is believable and well thought out. From the tech to the characterisations of the guest stars. This is sterling stuff.

However, there is a little bit of guff. I truly hate to single him out, as I think this may be Moffat's brief for the character and not his fault, but Matt Lucas's Nardole has started to grate on me. At the beginning of this story, he is brilliant. I adored how persistent he was at trying to get the Doctor back into the TARDIS and back to Earth to watch over The Vault. But as the episode went on, he just became the obligatory comic stooge. I've never been a fan of an obvious comic stooge, so this might be just me. There is also another reset button that puts right MOST of the carnage, but without re-setting, there really would have been no way back.

Negativity aside, there is a lot of continuity in this episode, for starters the nod back to the second story of classic Who (I don't need to tell you which one!), where the Doctor lies about the fluid link. There are also a number of ongoing themes, Artificial Intelligence being one of them, and racism another. As a viewer, you are not quite sure where to look when a blue alien accuses Bill of being racist. Bill is obviously mortified, but at the same time realises that her actions did cause offence finding that the boot on a very different foot. As well as continuity, there is a familiar feel to events. The space suits reminded me of those in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead, especially with the flashing coloured bars that show the level of oxygen left. The gritty interior of the space ship harked back to The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit. I was also reminded at points of The Robots of Death  and The Sun Makers. While on the subject of capitalism, there is an instantly classic line in Oxygen that sums up the whole of this story - "We're fighting the suits!"

I thought last weeks Knock Knock was a bit of a misstep, yes it was a good story, but it all unraveled rather quickly in the end. I always judge Who by it's re-watch value, and I can't see me revisiting Knock Knock again anytime soon. Oxygen, however, has the feel of an instant classic, the best in the season so far, and probably up there in my top three Capaldi episodes. I promise - Oxygen will leave you breathless and is sure to absolutely max you out on that adrenaline.

 





Knock KnockBookmark and Share

Saturday, 6 May 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Knock Knock: The Landlord (David Suchet) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))

Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas
Guest starring: David Suchet
Co-starring: Mariah Gale, Mandeep Dhillon, Colin Ryan 
Ben Presley, Alice Hewkin, Bart Suavek and Sam Benjamin 

Written by Mike Bartlett
Directed by Bill Anderson
Produced by Nikki Wilson
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin

First broadcast on BBC1 on Saturday May 6th at 7:20pm 

This review contains spoilers and is based on a standard, non-binaural preview version of the episode. 

Speaking at the BFI/Radio Times TV Festival last month, Steven Moffat remarked that one thing he'd like to do after showrunning Doctor Who is write a play. Moffat has done his bit for trafficking between the worlds of theatre and TV talent this season, however, by securing the services of both Rona Munro and feted playwright and Doctor Foster creator Mike BartlettKing Charles III, one of Bartlett's recent and highly successful plays, is about to hit our television screens in an adapted version, whilst 2016's Wild -- a piece based loosely on the Edward Snowden case which took a radical turn into almost Who-esque territories -- has shown Bartlett's affinity with relevant material. Now, it would seem, is very much Mike Bartlett's time to clamber aboard the occasionally creaking but always smartly veneered Whoniverse.

Knock Knock is, let's face it, a rather cheesy title, gesturing at those repetitive old "Who's there?" jokes that probably still generate endless amusement among the programme's youngest fans. But by giving this reference an adult spin -- for this is a riff on the venerable haunted house subgenre -- Bartlett cleverly blurs together child and adult sensibilities right from the outset. Playing with the Doctor's relationship to Bill, and having her address him as "grandfather", is also a lovely throwback to the 1960s show; I initially responded to it in exactly this manner, as a gift to long-term fans. But cunningly, it also slots perfectly well into the theme of this episode's eventual and familial denouement, a smart tongue-and-groove piece of thematic construction (and generational confusion) that's hidden in plain sight.  

Writers new to Who have a tendency to emulate the leading tropes of their commissioning showrunner -- Matthew Graham's Fear Her often felt like RTD-lite, and Stephen Thompson's The Curse of the Black Spot replayed Moffat's favoured device of 'technology gone awry'. Here, we get an aspect of the ordinary, everyday world transformed into a fantastical threat, something which, though it has an extensive history in the programme, has also become part of the Moffat repertoire. And there's a kind of variant take on "are you my mummy?" which harks all the way back to The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Having said that, Bartlett doesn't only seek to fit seamlessly into the Moffat-esque way of things, and also stamps his own mark on proceedings, notably in a comedic sequence criticising the state of students' rental accommodation in the UK, albeit imparting its critical stance with a deftly light touch.

On the minus side, I felt that Bartlett was sometimes a little cramped by the demands of a 43-minute single episode when he's evidently used to working with longer dramatic forms that have more space to unfold characterisation (something that the serialised Doctor Foster achieved quite brilliantly). Since the haunted house story calls for a number of characters who can be bumped off, Bartlett is also pretty much obligated to give Bill a decent number of housemates. This immediately causes a difficulty because each one threatens to become a student stereotype or a single-note creation. Perhaps slightly fewer students to be menaced by Wester Drumlins -- sorry, Bill's new residence -- would have helped on this front.

The tightly-coiled demands of an episode that has to set up atmospheric menace before delivering a pay-off 'reveal' also make life slightly difficult for guest star David Suchet, who is required to oscillate between ordinary-but-odd, outright creepy, and something far more essentially and basically human. It's a tough ask, and in places Suchet's performance seemed a little too mannered to me. But regardless of that, Doctor Who is fortunate to attract actors of such calibre, and I was admittedly disappointed that fan speculation regarding 'the Landlord' (that he would become a recurring character of some mysterious and Time Lordly status) fell wide of the mark. Suchet's character is very much a one-shot, belonging to this story alone. 

 

Knock Knock: The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Bill (Pearl Mackie) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))
Series 10's Vault storyline continues to gather pace, and the concluding moment -- withholding a reverse shot that would have revealed who was in there -- was deliberately cheeky, and all the more effective for it. But an episode entitled Knock Knock is bound to rely, more than most Doctor Who, on its sound design and soundtrack. On the whole, this worked very well, though the level of aural threat could perhaps have been more intense (I'll be interested to see whether advance hype surrounding this as a very scary episode is reflected in the general fan and audience response, as well as how much difference the binaural version makes). I'm a horror fan, but for my money this was far stronger on atmosphere and build-up than any genuine sense of shocks, jumps or 'scares'. The monsters' mass presence was, in the end, effective without being remarkable -- we dodged a Tractator-level incident, to be sure, but all the CGI hordes still felt generically competent rather than truly memorable.

 

And packing an episode with wood-related content is, I suspect, always going to be a risk in terms of inciting reviewers' puns or provocations (you can just imagine how any journalist looking for a punchline would reach for their finest grain of 'wooden' material). Actually, focusing on this dimension -- something that has rarely featured in Doctor Who other than as a challenge for the sonic screwdriver -- gives this episode a very specific and quasi-historical flavour. Yes, it's a present-day story, but instead of brutalist concrete-morphing creatures, steel-and-chrome monstrosities, or electronic/nano-techno-villains, there is something almost pleasingly quaint, if not retro, about a good, old wood-based threat. There's a sense of sedimented history, and the dust of ages, that setlles over 'Knock Knock', making the eventual reveal of Eliza's presence (and identity) an integral part of this 'return of the repressed past'.

Knock Knock does what the best of contemporary Doctor Who has always strived for: it combines fantastical threats with social commentary and moments of touching emotion and humanity, at the same time as fusing 'child' and 'adult' levels of meaning. As the proverbial 'family television' it also uncovers a gothic, dysfunctional family -- one that needs to be fixed by the Doctor's intervention. Holding on to the past at any cost is shown to be a powerful mistake, and 'Knock Knock' is ultimately about a very different kind of fear to its earlier evocations of creaking floorboards and unseen forces, zeroing in on the fear of loss, and all the misguided actions it can provoke, rather than notching up a villainous case of megalomania or 'evil'. In this, it marks its distance from certain previous incarnations of the show, and develops an approach highlighted in The Pilot. But the question that remains, given the Doctor's chatty engagement with the Vault's occupant, is whether he too, like the Landlord, is mistakenly holding on to an aspect of the past... In a week or two, we'll start to get some answers. 





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.