Last ChristmasBookmark and Share

Thursday, 25 December 2014 -  
 

Last Christmas
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Nick Frost, Dan Starkey, Nathan McMullen, Natalie Gumede
Premiere 25 December, 2014 - BBC One

This review contains plot spoilers.

Ever since the first Christmas special back in 2005, Doctor Who has been a festive fixture, as much a part of the schedule as Morecambe and Wise and Only Fools and Horses once were, and the inevitable Strictly Come Dancing special is now. With all the festive trappings of the last few years, it was surely only a matter of time before Santa Claus himself showed up amidst the snow - but is he real?

In contrast to Robot of Sherwood, which presented a real-life Robin Hood as fact, Steven Moffat wisely leaves it open here. Nick Frost's Santa of course helps save the day, but he's a dream construct....or is he? That tangerine at the end leaves it open. We don't know. Arguably, we should never really know.

Last Christmas could end up going down in history as being one of the oddest things ever to go out on TV on Christmas Day. The tone moves from comedy to full out scares, via off-kilter dream-like moments and a happy ending for nearly everyone. The first ten minutes alone are quite, quite mad - but Moffat knows this, runs with it, and it all pays off over an unusually structured, yet satisfying hour. There are nods to Alien, and The Thing, and even a surprise quote from Die Hard.

Another thing worth pointing out - Doctor Who is now most definitely not for part-timers. Last Christmas acts as a sort of coda to Series Eight, if you've not been paying attention, this isn't for you. While nowhere near as merciless as The Time of the Doctor, context is all, and the fallout from the events of Death in Heaven is dealt with here. Danny's sacrifice and Clara's sense of loss, the Doctor and Clara's lies to each other about Gallifrey and Danny, and the way forward for everyone (except Danny, naturally). Christmas is often a time of change and renewal, and, sometimes, moving on - this is neatly used by Moffat as a metaphor for the Doctor and Clara's relationship.

We open with Clara meeting Santa and his comedy elves on her snow-capped rooftop, before the Doctor sweeps in to whisk her to a polar scientific outpost with a crab problem. The inhabitants of the base are struggling against the Kantrofarri, or, the Dream Crabs. It's Christmas, and the pudding brains are for pudding. The Facehugger-like Dream Crabs, a creation straight out of Alien (Michael Troughton's Professor Albert even explicitly says so, prompting a priceless response from the Doctor) are slowly killing them by inducing a dream state whilst eating their brains. The Crabs are pretty revolting, and their central conceit is grisly. The lumbering 'sleepers' they are attached to are also suitably sinister. Jenna Coleman gets her first true old school scream of terror as a Dream Crab lunges for her. It gets her, but she's unwilling to leave her dream of a perfect Christmas with Danny, with Samuel Anderson giving a strong, sad performance as Dream-Danny, who encourages her to leave him, and by association, to move on.

Moffat's script dines out on the concept of dreams within dreams and nails the skewed logic of a dream state - we're in Inception territory here. Things are ever so slightly off throughout, only the Doctor notices the clues, and even he is up the creek without a paddle until Santa helps everyone wake up, and return to real life, all except the unfortunate Albert, who doesn't make it out.

And what of Santa? Frost is used sparingly, and mostly for comic relief, he has some great moments sparring with Capaldi though. Does he convince as Santa? The hair is white, he looks the part, but there's no getting round the fact that a much younger man is in there. Frost's charisma helps sell it though. Nathan McMullen and Dan Starkey's comedy elves are somewhat less successful, and they don't get much screen time, as if subject to a last minute rewrite when someone upstairs decided they were a bad idea.

Capaldi and Coleman are excellent as always, with Coleman a slightly less dominant presence than in Series Eight, and Capaldi giving perhaps his most Doctorish performance to date, now free of all that ‘Am I a good man’ baggage. Michael Troughton as the unfortunate Professor Albert is good, but doesn’t get a lot to do, but Natalie Gumede as Ashley and in particular Faye Marsay as Shona both shine – Marsay is almost companion material.

Paul Wilmshurst’s direction is superb. He has some slightly dubious CGI to deal with where flying reindeer are involved, but otherwise shines at bringing to life a studio-bound episode that is essentially a dream within a dream within a dream in places. More from him please.

We close with the Doctor and Clara moving past the baggage of the last series, and joyfully running into the TARDIS in search of new adventures. Whether it’ll all end in tears or not, and if this really is the last we see of Danny Pink is up for grabs, but the future looks bright. Roll on 2015, and a very happy Christmas to all of you at home.





New Adventures with the Tenth Doctor: Issue 5Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 21 December 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Credit: TitanStory – Nick Abadzis
Artists – Elena Casagrande & Arianna Florean
Publisher:Titan Comics
The Arts in Space Conclusion

The Doctor is in a very compromising situation, and seemingly outwitted by the trap that has been sprung by the disturbed apprentice of artist supremo Zhe Ikiyuyu - who may be lost now forever, Once again it is up to the latest companion onboard the TARDIS to try and save the situation, and thus protect all those who live on the unusual world of Ouloumos. Will Gabby be able to cope given just how alien the environment is compared to her native New York?

This is a very good story to show the multilayered personality that underlines the Tenth Doctor. Even in comparison with the solid first story in this series ('Revolutions of Terror') this really feels like an authentic portrayal on paper of Tennant's magnetic characterisation. The Time Lord is very assured but also quite concerned about the potential ramifications of the apprentice taking over the art zone. He has a quip or two always to hand, but appreciates that he perhaps was a little too late to help his good friend Zhe - such is the somewhat arbitrary nature of when and where the TARDIS lands.

The team behind this comic continue to chart a course of fine conceptualisation and execution. Abadzis knows how to balance plot, characterisation and overall continuity very well, and clearly has thought through his abundant ideas so that the key skill of firm storytelling is not lost along the way. The constant threat posed by the antagonist is certainly played just right: Zhe has become victim to her own amazing computations, with her apprentice now a creature that is strong enough to form a 'male' and 'female' persona in separate corporeal forms. This two-parter has lots of deliberate confusing moments, almost as if the readers themselves have turned up in an absurdist, surrealist and nightmarish world.

Yet with some solid exposition this state of bewilderment is not over done, and there is a clear sense of what is fundamentally going on as the story reaches a crescendo. Also effective is the gentle set-up for the next adventures to feature the Doctor and Gabby; potentially leaving space for a return to the world of Ouloumos and/or its inhabitants. Art work this time is almost all done in the 'main style', as used in issues 1 to 3 and some of issue 4 - Casagrande and Florea doing some fine work together. One excellent visual device is the variety of odd animated objects - particularly the butterfly lips that perhaps reveal a little too much of characters' inner secrets.

However one especially large panel by Florea does see a brief appearance of the diary sketches that Gabby is able to put down as she makes use of spare time in-between high-risk escapades. This perhaps means that the entire story is best read in a single sitting. The journal is the most overt way of portraying a youngster joie de vivre and relative lack of world weariness, and reflects just what is most needed by the Doctor. He is by this point time-and-space-weary; maybe owing to how late into his original life cycle of regenerations he has progressed. The fine artwork seems to be fully reflective of the heavy themes and topics of the art world in the story, and is arguably at the highest level of the series thus far. Of particular note is how clearly the various characters are drawn - with the apprentices being particularly well-done as sinister and yet somewhat sympathetic living entities. The variety of frame sizes and how much dialogue is utilised also shows the strong harmony the writer and artist for these comic books have generated together.

And there is a lot of subtext at work in this story, making it a lot more memorable and imposing than the somewhat run-around nature of 'Revolutions'. We are made to consider what it is like to see a world and its occupants from another perspective entirely. There are also emotive topics such as lacking belief in oneself and allowing isolation to cause a flawed decision making process. Overall this is another winner in a very consistent series.

**
Bonus strips this time round are following suit with the main features by forming multi-part stories. 'To Heck and Back' by AJ sees the apparent return of the Satan creature (from the 'Impossible Planet' story in Series 2 of the parent TV Show). Although it is quite an imposing figure, we are never in any doubt that the Doctor is up to the challenge of fending it off once again.
The latest entry in the 'Rose by Any Other Name' storyline - courtesy of Rachael Smith - is again quite amusing. The new cat onboard the TARDIS is playing up to the 'prima donna' stereotype, managing to dash the lofty dreams that the Doctor had in mind for it. This is a good mini-story with nice traditional artwork. Composition is solid and there are clear emotions on the faces of the characters which don't feel forced.




New Adventures with The Eleventh Doctor - Issue 5Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 December 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Story - Al Ewing,
Artist – Boo Cook,
Colours – Hi-Fi,

Released December 2014 by Titan Comics
Publisher:Titan Comics
Issue 5: The Sound Of Our Voices

As this story comes to a climactic showdown, the TARDIS crew must avoid grave peril abroard the SERVEYOUinc research satellite, and find if possible a peaceful solution to the apparant threat of the ‘ARC' creature. The Doctor is required to put on his thinking cap and deduce the vital clue to this mysterious scenario, but is forced to handle violent Security Chief Officer Hart. Suddenly appearing out of thin air in the middle of a crisis has ended up making the time travellers ideal scapegoats for the nefarious goings on. The new companions of the Doctor meanwhile are themselves forced to use their ingenuity - with Alice stepping to the fore as the decisive one, just as John Jones seems like a rabbit in the headlights.

Those readers wondering if Alice and the Doctor will part ways get their answer promptly enough as the Time Lord shows his considerable nous. In doing so he finds the real truth behind the ARC creature, and ensures that those abroad the station realise just why things have got so perilous. Although Alice is in many ways trying to find herself again after losing everything back in her 'real' home, she is also having a brand new start in life. Like so many before her such as Amy Pond and Rose Tyler she can now avoid having to worry about the mundane aspects of life back on Earth. But learning to understand an individual as deep and complex as the Doctor could still outweigh all the giddy heights that are now coming her way.

John Jones on the other had has not really had much of a detailed journey in this two parter; his intro in issue three still being the standard which needs to be met or exceeded . Nonetheless this character does not in anyway detract from events, and there is still plenty of time for some good material to appear. Male companions can sometimes not quite work in Doctor Who as well as the more traditional female counterpart, but there are enough strong examples to inspire Titan's creative team. Also in all fairness Alice was introduced first, and with enough background that she deserves to have further exploration. And unlike Jones she does not represent a take on an iconic cultural figure, and as such deserves focus.

Al Ewing completes the first multi-part story of this comic series well enough; perhaps a whisker short of fulfilling the promise of the first installment. The Eleventh Doctor really feels like the real article that graced TV screens for four years. When the conclusion unfolds, the Doctor's assertive manner in resolving affairs is spellbinding and uplifting. Of note also is the way he evaluates Dr. Rutherford on her actions and instead chooses a rather surprising companion to join him. Ewing complements the decent characterisation with a brisk pace and lively speech bubbles for the majority of the players involved. Although it could be argued that Jones only really works in the story to explain the comment by Hart that there were 'three' in the doctor's party when they first met him on the world of Rokhandi.

I continue to enjoy the efforts of artist Boo Cook, with him providing a style of artwork that engages and fits in perfectly with the sterile and detached future setting. A fine line is trod between a believable world and a slightly 'out-there' dimension, and this evokes quite well the very distinct style that the Matt Smith/ Steven Moffat stories constituted. The expressions of Jones and indeed Alice to some degree are what one would expect of people who do not belong to this corner of space. in a chapter of history yet to happen from their points of view. Also praiseworthy is how Cook’s artwork becomes more literal and realistic to emphasise fierce emotions - especially when it comes to the distinctive face of the Doctor.

As much as I was engaged by this story on the whole there are some areas to criticise. The plot may have some hooks as far as who is really manipulating affairs, but much of the action resorts to the typical Doctor Who trope of running around and making up a solution on the fly. There is also the obvious overuse of Serve You Inc, with little substantial development to compensate. As this is issue 5, the reader will no doubt wish for a bit of a change up. The story arc has become just that bit too noticeable, and hopefully there will be some strong stand-alones which remind the reader of Doctor Who's unequalled scope for a plethora of bold stories.
Issue 4 did have a bit more thematic depth which does not have quite the pay off here. At the same time even the best stories can have this element of mindless action to and fro. This story does at least reach a conclusion which is able to subvert expectations and as a part of an ongoing series it works well enough.

**
Once again the two bonus strips Are from AJ and Marc Ellerby respectively. 'Stop That' involves the Doctor on a planet that seems uncannily like Mars seemingly ready to find some trouble. But before he can get far, it would appear the TARDIS is trying to aggravate him, as concerns his final destination that was foretold long ago.
The second bonus comic has the TARDIS crew of Amy and Rory and gives the Ood a big starring role. Fun is poked at social media and popularity, with the Doctor clearly insecure that he is not quite the darling with the universe that he used to be. 'An Ood Thing To Say' is pleasant enough, but perhaps not quite as funny a piece as Ellerby is capable of.




Tom Baker at 80Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 7 December 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Tom Baker at 80

Tom Baker
Interviewed by: Nicholas Briggs
Big Finish Productions 2014
Available from Amazon
Although I first encountered Doctor Who with Sylvester McCoy as the lead, it was Tom Baker's electric portrayal of the Time Lord which made the biggest impression on me ultimately. Such is the amazing legacy of the bohemian, scarf-wearing Fourth official incarnation that he had an extra (and original) cameo in the Day of the Doctor anniversary special. In a scant few seconds of screen time a vaguely-named gentleman - maybe the Doctor, maybe Tom Baker himself - utterly stole the show.
Now Tom has reached his own milestone of 80 years living on this curious old world of ours, and what an eventful life he certainly has had. And he would appear to have only further gained in wisdom and self-awareness with age; a commendably thoughtful and intellectual artist of his craft.

This release - available since mid-autumn - is a chance for Nick Briggs to try and uncover further memories and defining events from Baker's past. The interviewee is more than responsive, helped in no small part to the pair's collaboration on documentaries specially released (when VHS was still the mainstream video format), and of course the 21st century Big Finish productions of 'missing stories' co-starring Louise Jameson and the late Mary Tamm.

The format is one that leads to casual, but not overly lightweight discussion. Recorded back in March of 2014 a lot of material was edited down into the 2 hours plus that fill this double CD release. Although Briggs is an unquestionable expert on Doctor Who, he chooses to play down his role and knowledge, therefore allowing Baker to speak at great length at all sorts of topics and to often throw in a great deal of spontaneous wit.

Some visitors to this site will know a good amount about how Baker fared during his time in Doctor Who, and this production does not retread too much material which is readily available elsewhere in various media. Consequently the listener is able to learn a little more of Tom's thoughts on his Catholic faith growing up, family life in Liverpool, and the status of being poor and unable to live as certain more fortunate individuals could. Discussion involves his markedly different job roles as a monk-in-training, army medic and building site labourer (with emphasis on tea-making over heavy lifting!).

There is also some welcome discussion of three major TV projects - 'Medics', 'Randall and Hopkirk Deceased' (where he was able to assist fellow ghost Vic Reeves) and 'Monarch of the Glen'. And of course Baker was able to use his fine vocals on the narration of 'Little Britain', which elicits his charmingly satisfied observation that the children who grew up with his Doctor in the 70s ended up giving him new work once they were established in the industry themselves.

Perhaps one nit-pick would be that the lack of a robust structure does sometimes lead to certain stream-of-consciousness material which gets in the way of further elaboration on topics that are quite fascinating. Yet Tom Baker is one of those people I would genuinely tolerate reading out endless definitions from a dictionary. His amazing voice is not the only selling point here either. He is warm, humble and supremely spontaneous and witty. There is the often observed point that Baker simply played himself as the Doctor, and he himself seems to go along with this line-of-reasoning. But Doctor Who would have hardly been as iconic and have such a legacy had not such a major charismatic star been involved.

A rather edgy aspect of the interview is Baker's sharp awareness of death and mortality - both his own and peoples in general. But rather than being maudlin he expands on this to explain how he has mellowed and tries to make the most of his time in a positive fashion. Baker also briefly illuminates his deep thoughts on his major romantic partners in life. Thankfully there is no 'Piers Morgan' style push for gossip from Briggs, who knows full well that despite apparent extrovert qualities, Tom Baker is in various aspects quite a private person.

Sometimes the small scale projects with a basic one-to-one dynamic can be as illuminating as a full scale documentary. This is one such example. Considering the many interviews available on the market this stands tall and is a great way to spend a spare afternoon, whether at home or on the go. If you are stuck for ideas this time of year then look no further for this interview as a small gift.




Twelfth Doctor # 2 "Terrorformer" - ConclusionBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 December 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Story - Robbie Morrison,
Artist – Dave Taylor,
Colours – Hi-Fi,

, Letterer: Comicraft,
Publisher:Titan Comics
Carrying on from Issue 1 the Doctor and Clara continue to be front and centre of the main action on planet ISEN VI, where a cutting-edge terraforming has gone awry. The mysterious entity that is behind the violent disturbances is fleshed out via the opening flashback sequence. The reader learns of the core history of the Hyperions - a race of sentient sun-like beings- that have turned vicious and destructive as their natural life cycles ended up coming to an end. Such is their all-consuming lust for energy they had completely forgotten their prior placidness. They were ultimately a threat to the entire comos, and this meant that various other powerful species constituted a Galactic Alliance. One of those in the collective were none other than the Time Lords - with Rassilon himself being involved. Now there seems to be the one sole surviving Hyperion, and it wishes to devour all it can on Isen VI. The Doctor and Clara require the assistance of their current allies, and need to find a solution effective enough to stop this threat once and for all. The Twelth Doctor's wits, sharp tongue and full force of personality end up helping him as much as his technical skills and vast bank of knowledge acquired over the centuries.

The overall quality of this series is reliably consistent. Morrison is a fine hand at using pacing to full effect, and seemingly aware of providing context for any readers who may have missed the previous instalments or are just new to this fictional universe in general. Despite the flashback full of exposition opening things up, the story never really drags. Also there is just enough of a sense of the back-story being necessary for the themes, emotions and plot.

In comparison with the other new comics lines, these stories could end up being the most purely ambitious as they play out on the largest scale. Thankfully characterisation is still a strong priority - the hallmark of Doctor Who on top form. Writing also is strong in providing us a lead character who very conceivably evokes the sharp persona of Peter Capaldi's Time Lord. He is still not quite sure of who he really is, but upon facing an old enemy of his own people he is forced to bring his best efforts to bear; rather than stand about and be passive as he clearly has shown himself to be by now. And his teacher friend Ckara Oswald continues to be fully at ease in an environment fare more dangerous than Coal Hill School, but seemingly less stressful at the same time!

The climactic confrontation scenes between the Doctor and the villainous Hyperion known as Rann-Korr work on both a dramatic level as well as bringing to mind the whole lone survivors dynamic that would crop up on television on occasion (i.e. with Van-Statten's Dalek and the Master). And as with part one there are echoes of television Series 8: Clara has to fence one of the possessed robots in much the same way that the Doctor confronted Robin Hood with cutlery in episode 3.

When it comes to how Clara and the Doctor operate together, there is little overt tension other than the standard superficial bickering which can be seen even with TARDIS crews who are thoroughly comfortable together. However this would presumably change as this comic line seeks to portray stories that were not on-screen from later on in the Series 8 timeline. Dave Taylor is more than equal to the writing, with some evocative pencils here. The action scenes feel real and lively, and the range of reactions to various developments that are ethched on characters' faces is also commendable, Arguably the highlight of both issues 1 and 2 is the fiery visualisation of the Hyperion itself..

Of course we need a sound presentation of the Doctor as well, and the good dialogue provided by the writing is reinforced by familiar expressions that we all know and appreciate from the very talented Capaldi. This is a comic which has been given a lot of attention to detail, and one that is good enough to deserve a re-read later on. For whilst the main story at hand is enticing enough, there are lots of other themes and subplots to engage the reader. I especially enjoyed the contrived wedding -complete with the runaway groom, and the pair of twist codas - one of them revealing just how vicious a supposedly cute group of monkey-like aliens really are.

The next story is only tantalisingly shown but would appear to have an archaelogical aspect to it which evokes such popular stories as 'Tomb of the Cybermen' and 'Pyramids of Mars'. All those who miss their customary fix of police box and sonic screwdriver on the TV can certainly find a more than worthy substitute, thanks to these confident original stories from Titan Comics.

**

The first extra strip 'Me Time' - from AJ- is a simple enough story which reflects just how casual the Doctor/Clara pairing can be, given her whole other life working for a living in London. The jokes are reasonable enough but perhaps this could have been a touch stronger when considering the material that has been offered to us in other editions in the last few months. The second strip - from new team Colin Bell/ Neil Slorance - is both thought-provoking and amusing. The philosophical debate over how each individual senses life in a unique way is made even more interesting by considering how a humanoid alien like the Doctor has his own perception; given his infinite-seeming lifespan. But this is a bonus strip with a twist in the tale. We get a punch line in the final panel which avoids trivialising those deep concepts excessively as well as actually making this one page story sufficiently memorable.







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