Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Doctor's Wife

Before I go wanking on I think I should come out and say that The Doctor's Wife is one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who. I understand, like all Doctor Who, that there are people out there that don't like it. Well, your entitled to your incorrect opinion, as I am to mine.

The reason this episode works so well isn't just Neil Gaiman's script, which is something of a game-changer in Doctor Who terms. At least until The Moff...sorry...I'm getting ahead of myself here. Instead of the Doctor being just an aimless wonderer in time and space The Doctor's Wife basically puts into words what a lot of us had ultimately expected: "No, but I always took you where you needed to go."

After all the Doctor's always dropping into the middle of trouble and why wouldn't it be because the TARDIS is deliberately taking him to the places where he can be of most help. Yes, it is a risky proposition but it's fun. And it was the TARDIS as much as the Doctor who wanted to get out there and see the universe.

Putting the TARDIS's 'matrix' into a real human (?) body gives the Doctor a chance to properly interact with her - and her it must be for this - for the first time. The fact that Idris comes in the form of the rather fetching Suranne Jones is just a bonus. Or as Amy says when The Doctor introduces them: "Did you wish really hard?" Their chance to talk doesn't last long and I'm not afraid to admit that the last scene between them does make me a little teary. Idris's speech about being alive and the little goodbye/hello bait and switch is well-written and heart-breakingly performed.

I'll stick my neck out a bit here and say that this episode stands (or might have fallen) on Suranne Jones's performance as Idris. Too much and it would have been terrible, too little and it wouldn't have packed the emotional punch it did. How do you play a 11 dimensional folded matrix scattered across all space and time in human form? Where do you even begin? Wherever it was Suranne Jones nailed it. Costumed like an escapee from a Tim Burton movie she's brilliant from start to finish. The eccentricity and the seriousness. I love the scene when Idris and the Doctor survey the wreckage of hundreds of TARDISes. It's moving, clever and a rather lovely tribute to the Doctor and Doctor Who without being unsubtle.

Actually there isn't a dud performance in this, even though the cast is so small. Adrian Schiller (as Uncle) and Elizabeth Berrington (as Aunty) give minor parts a pathos they might not deserve. There's no real explanation as to who they were or are (or what Idris was before she was occupied by the TARDIS - the truly horrific bit of this story).

Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan do sterling work as Rory and Amy, especially when they're stranded in the House occupied TARDIS and House starts playing little tricks with their minds. They're certainly having their relationship tested those two. They've become a sort of twisted version of that expression, "Whatever doesn't (or in this case does) kill you, only makes you stronger."

On the subject of House, Michael Sheen gives a great vocal performance. The combination of intelligence, darkness and arrogance gives House a creepiness above his actual presence, which is the visual equivalent of throwaway.

But best of all is Matt Smith. This is a real display of his talents as the Doctor. I think this was the story that pushed me to putting Matt Smith above Tom Baker as my favourite Doctor - at least for a short while. It's filled with great scenes for him: his excitement when the message arrives in the TARDIS, his anger and sadness when he sees all the little boxes, the scene surveying the TARDIS graveyard and everything that happens in the TARDIS after everyone is back together. But most of all every scene where he's interacting with Suranne Jones. The two of them are great together as this old-married couple. I could watch their scenes together over and over again.

Having said all that I go back to my original Suranne Jones comment. This story stands up so well because she is so brilliant. Without her strong performance it would have been unbalanced. This story is so good because she's as strong as Matt Smith.

We come back here to the classic conundrum. Is the acting as good as it is because the script is good? I'd say in this case yes. It's a fine piece of writing. It's both a good stand alone story and a lovely tribute to Doctor Who as a programme. Now I'm not a Gaiman fanboy - as you'll find out when we get to Nightmare in Silver* - but this is a brilliant piece of work.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - probably ad infinitum - it is harder to write a blog when you love a story. Taking a terrible story to pieces is easy. Perhaps that says something about me. Or humanity in general. If one can arrogantly extrapolate the behavioural problems of an entire species from the writing quirks of one individual. Which you probably can't.

So to cut this short. I loved it.

I hope you do too.

*Spoilers. Sweetie.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Curse of the Black Spot

There's no getting away from it, The Curse of the Black Spot, is not very good. It has Pirates. Always a good thing. Well, almost always. It has Hugh Bonneville. Also always a good thing.

Apart from that though it is disjointed and rather inconsequential.

In fact it is one of the few episode of New Doctor Who when you wonder if any one was actually paying attention in the edit. Of particular note is the sudden and unexplained disappearance of Lee Ross's character - who is credited as 'The Boatswain'. One minute he's there. One minute he's gone. No one explains why. No one appears to care, which isn't a good sign.

I like Pirates. I've still got a soft spot for Treasure Island, which is the book I would read to any child of mine (should I have any) as they were growing up. I like the way that Captain Avery is a casual throwback to The Smugglers's just pretty empty.

There's too much piffle, not enough action. The threat - even if this story is written by Steven Thompson - is the classic Moff era 'non-threat'. It's all another misunderstanding. And the Doctor is particularly useless in this. Constantly making wrong guesses about what the threat is and then making a drastic leap of faith right near the end which leads them to a solution. Or at least to the final act.

The threat - the Siren - is played by Lily Cole. She's a lovely, strange looking woman Lily Cole and that helps with some added CGI to make her look suitably ethereal and alien but that's about it. The demon-fire stuff is good but in the end it is all a bit of a nothing.

And that more than anything else is the criticism of this story. It's a place-filler. An idea - let's do a Pirate story - that doesn't really live up to whatever the expectations were when it was originally mooted.

There's bits of good stuff scattered in there among the nothing: the ship looks great; the costumes are fine; the scene where Amy comes to rescue the Doctor is rather good; Hugh Bonneville does a fine job as Captain Avery, which isn't the best part in the history of Doctor's just frustrating. Inside this is a story that might have been something. If it had been darker, slower and less flash. There's no point having fab special effects if the story around it has no real power. It's like sticking lights on a stick (to make a slightly less rude analogy than the traditional one about polishing turds. Which I've now mentioned. So what was the point. [Shrugs])

In fact I'm trying to draw this review out for the sake of not just writing: "Curse of the Black Spot. It's rubbish." I know people don't set out to make bad episodes. In my opinion most bad stories have inside them a good idea. Or even a great idea. It's often lost in the process of taking that idea and turning it into the televised episode. In new Doctor Who I think a lot of the problems come from hacking the story down to fit the forty-five minute slot. Would The Curse of the Black Spot be better if it was two episodes long? Possibly not. But another ten minutes might have helped. Or a different edit. Or something.

And with that I think I'm done.

Not the worst ever Doctor Who episode. Not even the worst ever episode of New Who. But a rather lacklustre, untidy damp squib of a thing lifted from total disaster by Hugh Bonneville really.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Impossible Astronaut - Day of the Moon


I really enjoyed that.

This is the first time I've re-watched them since first broadcast and I found them more enjoyable on the second watch - with perhaps a couple of quibbles that I shall come to later if I can remember what they are.

I had to stop myself from pulling into this story what I already know from further down the line even though that's impossible really. I did try though. However I do have one question, which I shall raise in a later review, when it is less of a spoiler.

This has all the timey-wimey-show-stopping-smart-arsery that irritates people about The Moff. A shocking moment down at the Lake, a twist in time and a set of mysteries for us to contemplate, some of which have only just been answered in the final moments of Matt Smith's Doctor. There's a lot going on here. Seeds being sown and threads being picked up from previous stories (including Silence in the Library-Forest of the Dead and The Lodger).

River Song is here and I like her more with each appearance. I should first admit to a soft spot for Alex Kingston, which may make me a little biased, but I think she's great in this story. Some people complain that River Song undermines the Doctor but Romana did too in a similar way and no one really whinged about that. You think I'm wrong? Look at the scene in The Horns of Nimon when Romana shows the Doctor her sonic screwdriver, which is so much better than the Doctor's he tries to nick it. Now make Romana River Song and The Doctor. See. I'm right. In fact for a while I thought River Song might turn out to be Romana. I think River and the Doctor work well together.

Yes, I'm as uncomfortable as the next old-school fanboy with the Doctor snogging anyone but you know I'm more convinced he'd fall in love with River Song than I am that he would do so with Rose as an example. Yes, sometimes the flirting is a little too much but at least it is witty. Most of the time. Plus Alex Kingston and Matt Smith have a certain chemistry that one would be churlish to deny.

Anyway the story itself includes some genuinely creepy moments and at points has a Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe about it. Particularly in the abandoned children's home with its dazed and crazed staff member, Dr Renfrew (Kerry Shale) - which is surely a Dracula reference. I love Shale's performance here and that whole sequence brings home rather nicely how spooky a set of villains the Silence are: a sort of Men in Black meets The Scream. I'm don't entirely buy the 'they've been here since the dawn of mankind' bit as I'm sure The Doctor might have noticed before now but I like them.

The problem with blogging these two episodes is there is so much going on here: the mysterious little girl and her ability to regenerate; the Doctor's 'death'; the Silence; the mysterious eye-patch lady; Canton Everett Delaware III (a rather brilliantly gruff Mark Sheppard adding another science-fiction/cult television franchise to his CV); President Nixon played not as an out and out villain - I love the 'hippy' - 'archaeologist' exchange btw; Amy's pregnancy/non-pregnancy; the mysterious invitations and so on. It's packed full of stuff but none of that seems to slow it down. In fact - well, not fact but anyway - they fly by. I like the way that not all of these things are solved at the end of this episode, although I'm not entirely convinced the Doctor would shrug it all off so casually at the end as he does.

I particular love the end of the Impossible Astronaut and the way it flips into the beginning of Day of the Moon six months later with the Doctor a prisoner and all his companions dead. Or not.

I think this is the story where I actually really began to like Karen Gillan's performance as Amy. I always liked Arthur Darvill's Rory but now Gillan seems to raise her game and the two of them together are something rather good. I didn't think this at the time but it is nice to have a proper relationship inside the TARDIS after all this time. This is Ian and Barbara for the 21st century television viewer. Or how I'd have liked Ian and Barbara's relationship to pan out.*

And Matt Smith is simply magnificent. After one season he seems to have established himself in the part. Once again - is this a Doctor actor thing - he's at his best in the quite moments. This isn't a Doctor who needs to raise his voice to be authoritative. He's so good I keep forgetting that the lucky bugger's younger than I am. Matt Smith definitely conveys the air of a man older than his apparent years who is carrying the weight of the world - or Universe - upon his shoulders. It's Matt Smith's brilliance that holds all this stuff together. I remember feeling that here was a Doctor that might rival Tom Baker in my affections. If the scripts were good enough.

Questions: How does the Silence's forgetting effect work via hologram? Was it really necessary to kill that poor woman in the White House toilet? How did the Silence's time-machine thingy end up in The Lodger? Should we be quite so comfortable with the Doctor's apparent comfort with River Song killing people? Is all this timey-wimey stuff actually cheating, even if it is all rather clever? What has happened to the Laws of Time? Did anyone not ask what the men in the White House were shooting at? And so on.

In the end this is rather good fun, which is what I ask for from a Doctor Who story. There's lots of questions to be answered and let's be honest this is a bloody fantastic way to kick off a new Doctor Who season. With a bang. Not a whimper.

*Oh come on surely I'm not the only one who thinks Ian and Barbara got it together when they got back home. After all it's pretty obvious they'd been getting it on in The Romans.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Christmas Carol

I think A Christmas Carol is my favourite Doctor Who Christmas Special so far. Obviously it's a Doctor Whoified version of Dicken's original story but deliberately so. The Doctor needs to save 4,003 people and the best way of doing that is to go all 'Ghost of Christmas Past' on Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon). I think you'd call it meta if you were that way inclined. Fortunately I'm not.

Like most Doctor Who Christmas specials it has that extra layer of fromage, which I normally find a little too much for my slightly bitter and twisted palette, but this time doesn't irritate the hell out of me. Like it often does.

Yes, there's a certain amount of silliness - the shark-rickshaw fly by I'm looking at you - but it is a very specific kind of Doctor Who silliness. After all in what other programme would you see Katherine Jenkins singing 'In The Bleak Midwinter' to a shark. None. Not one. I've said before I have a high tolerance for silliness in Doctor Who - after all I adore The Happiness Patrol - as long as it fits the vibe of the story and this does even if the shark-rickshaw skirts very close to the edge and stumbles over to stupidity. I suspect it is the sort of thing people with lower tolerance levels than I would disapprove of.

As might Katherine Jenkins be. She plays Abigail and I'm not going to pretend her performance sets the world alight but she does what she needs to do. I'm aware that there are people out there that don't like Katherine Jenkins, mainly because her looks are deemed to have got her work her voice doesn't deserve. (Honestly, if you want to see this take a look at opera/classical 'fans' talking about her.) I'm not enough of an expert to tell you but I do know that she does a good enough job with Abigail. After all she's the angel that really saves - and almost condemns - Sardick. I expect calling her Angela instead of Abigail might have been too much of a giveaway. It's not the Doctor that saves Sardick really. It's Abigail. Even if their story must end on a bittersweet note.

The best thing about this episode though is Michael Gambon's performance as Sardick. It says a lot about the new Doctor Who that an actor with the stature of Gambon is happy to take a part - an impressive and large part I admit - in it. (Actually and Katherine Jenkins to be fair.) Not is Gambon just a brilliant actor but his intereactions with the Matt Smith are rather lovely. In fact all three Sardick's do a fine job with Matt Smith so kudos to the casting director.

And Matt Smith.

There are three actors playing Sardick. Laurence Belcher, who is Young Kazran, and for a teenage child actor both surprisingly good and not very irritating. Then there's Danny Horn, as Adult Kazran, he gets probably the least to do but gets to snog Katherine Jenkins a lot. Actually he also does a fine job of conveying the change in Kazran when he realises what Abigail's situation is and that when he freezes her back in the cryo-chamber thing, he's also freezing his own heart. The Doctor's reaction to all of this is also rather well-played by Matt Smith: a combination of concern for Kazran and hurt at his - apparent - dismissal.

Kazran's an interesting Doctor Who villain because he's not without hope of redemption. From the moment, early in the episode, when the Doctor watches as he doesn't slap a small child, there's a possibility that there's more to Kazran than his grumpiness might indicate. Indeed you get the impression that this moment, coming as it does shortly after the Doctor has laid down the threat on Kazran changes the Doctor's whole approach. That and the nudge from Amy.

Amy and Rory don't get much to do in this episode except to be both the people the Doctor is trying to save and also to be a running joke about their costumes and why they are wearing them. Ah, the benefits of introducing sex into Doctor Who. So many smutty jokes, so little time.

Anyway you know the rules by now. Eventually the Doctor saves the day. People sing. The shark flies and off we go. Leaving behind another world and an unfinished story. You wonder what happens to Kazran after everyone has gone. How will he cope? Who knows? Who cares? We're off on another set of adventures. If we dwell on all this stuff the whole thing will unravel. I'm still trying to work out why the Doctor left Chloris in the hands of the man who was the chief thug and plant wrangler of the main villain. Does he not think these things through?

In fact The Moff's Doctor is much less hung up on this interfering nonsense. Now if he needs to save Rory and Amy's lives he'll interfere with another man's timeline to his hearts content. Jumping in and out of timelines.

AND WHAT'S HAPPENED TO THE BLINOVITCH LIMITATION EFFECT?? (Sorry, I came over all grumpy Doctor Who fan there. I really do need to get out more.)

Anyway I really enjoyed this singing, Sardick and shark all.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Gunfighters : Part One - A Review

Once upon a time before fandom had access to DVDs a Doctor Who uber-fan claimed that The Gunfighters was the worst Doctor Who story ever made. I can't remember who said this and nor do I intend to be rude about a person with such deficient taste. All I will say is that they were, are and will always be wrong.

The Gunfighters is a wonderful story. I won't claim it to be flawless but it is as far away from being the worst Doctor Who story as it is possible to be unless you are The Armageddon Factor. In which case your prize awaits.

It features one of William Hartnell's finest performances as the Doctor because he gets a chance to show how good his comic timing is and there I suspect is the reason why some people hold it in such low esteem. Because - for the most part - The Gunfighters is a comedy. A parody in fact.

A lot of lip service is paid by Doctor Who fans to the flexibility of Doctor Who's format. It can be anything we say and there is a certain amount of truth in that. Doctor Who has the potential to do any kind of story and fit it inside that Blue Box. But I'd argue that the series has never been as radical as it was during The Hartnell era when they seemed happy to try different things with every story and The Gunfighters is one of those experiments: a comedy western parodying the Westerns that were regular visitors to the screens of Britain big and small.

The late-50s and early 60s saw a rash of Western Television series, particularly featuring genuine historical figures from the 'Wild West' and The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral became a particular focus. Relevant to the cast of characters in The Gunfighters in particular were Johnny Ringo (1959-1960) and Bat Masterson (1958-1961). Both characters that feature in The Gunfighters but had nothing to do with the real Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

But there was also The Life & Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-1961) and Tombstone Territory (1959-1960) and that's just those Western series based on and around figures and places involved in The Gunfight at the O.K. Corrall. A glance through the Radio Times from 1963 onwards shows the regularity of Westerns on British television: Wagon Train, Laramie, The Lone Ranger, Wells Fargo, The Virginian and on the same Saturday that saw the broadcast of the first episode of The Gunfighters: A Holiday for the Doctor at 7pm, BBC1 was showing Belle Star's Daughter in a regular Western film slot.

British television viewers were as familiar with Westerns as American viewers. And the people who featured in The Gunfighters would have been known names. Wyatt Earp had cropped up in films since silent films - in fact you might argue that the cultural significance of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral as an event starts with films - but My Darling Clementine (1946) and The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) are two obvious examples. In fact I'd argue that the scene at the Clanton's house in The Gunfighters is a distant echo of a scene in My Darling Clementine.

It's always dangerous to try and pinpoint the influences on a writer but Donald Cotton's choice of Bat Masterson as Tombstone's Sherriff, instead of the actual Sheriff John Behan, and the involvement of Johnny Ringo indicates an awareness of names viewers might be familiar with from film and television.

But perhaps the most two most obvious source for influence are Carry On Cowboy (1965) and Cat Ballou (1966). Both are comedy Westerns, which hints at something in the air which Donald Cotton might have picked up on. Most obviously though Cat Ballou features a chorus - Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye (who would eventually turn up in Delta and the Bannermen) - who pop up occasionally to sing a song that comments on and narrates the story.

So The Gunfighters 'Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon', which is one of the most criticised bits of the story, might be better seen as lampooning Cat Ballou or at least 'borrowing' the idea. Parodying a major film of that year makes a small amount of sense.

The barman , Charlie, is surely also an echo of the barmen who crop up in countless Westerns, including My Darling Clementine. And the Clanton's persecution of Steven and Dodo forcing them to sing The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon definitely reflects a scene in My Darling Clementine, when the Clanton's - again - bully a drunken English actor of the old school who is reciting Shakespeare.

I mention all these sources because I want to emphasise that the best way to enjoy The Gunfighters  is to watch it knowing that this isn't a proper historical but a parody. It's Doctor Who as comedy.

Now I suspect how you feel about The Gunfighters is reflected in your feelings about comedy in Doctor Who but I enjoy it, particularly when it is done well, and I'd argue that Donald Cotton, who wrote the story, writes good comedy. Take a look not just at The Gunfighters but at The Myth Makers too. Indeed for me The Myth Makers is the missing Hartnell story I'd most like to see.

Yes, the problem with the comedy parts of The Gunfighters is that there is a wee bit of a jarring clash once Johnny Ringo arrives and everything becomes much darker. Johnny Ringo brings genuine nastiness (which might unintentionally reflect the fact that the real Johnny Ringo was actually as nasty as fiction would have us believe based on what little is known about him). The real Johnny Ringo wasn't present at the O.K. Corral, as I've already mentioned, but his life was to end in unpleasant and mysterious circumstances, possibly as part of the on-going fall out from the deaths of the Clanton's at Tombstone. (I may say more about this is in the second part  of the blog or not. I suspect it depends on the space I have.)

But in the main it is genuinely quite funny. Hartnell shines now he has a chance to let down his comedy hair so to speak and there's hardly a fluff to be heard.The first two episodes in particular are filled with genuinely good stuff from Hartnell. His scenes with Doc Holliday in his 'surgery' are very funny and nicely played by all concerned.

Peter Purves too is expertly deadpan. The supporting performances are of variable quality and the accents drift all over the place. Sometimes very, very far from the mid-West of the USA. Even Dodo doesn't annoy me as much as usual and her attempts to get Doc Holliday to take her back to Tombstone are well-done.

However John Alderson does a stout job as Wyatt Earp. Indeed Alderson had a career in the US appearing in Western series such as Gunsmoke, Bonanza and The Wild, Wild West (amongst others). Anthony Jacobs is great as Doc Holliday too. It's funny to think Holliday was genuinely a dentist. There's seems something odd about that. (In My Darling Clementine they make him a medical Doctor btw so it isn't just The Gunfighters itself that is packed full of historical inaccuracies). Laurence Payne's got a fine touch of nastiness about him as Johnny Ringo and Richard Beale does an OK job with the rather dull part of Bat Masterson.

The rest of the Clanton's and the Earp's are playing it much more straight and are therefore much less interesting.

Apart from Dodo there's only one other female character in it and that's Kate (Sheena Marsh). In real life 'Big Nose Kate' was a long time 'friend' of Holliday's and so she's partly there for that and partly to play a sort of traditional Western role : the woman to whom the gunfighter can return. In fact the triangle between her, Holliday and Ringo might have been picked up from My Darling Clementine too  (where Linda Darnell plays Chihuahua*, Doc Holliday's lover and bar room singer). Or from The Gunfighter, a 1950 film starring Gregory Peck as 'Jimmy Ringo' and Helen Westcott as Peggy who is - to quote the poster - "His only refuge..."

Once again making guesses about what influenced a writer's decisions in terms of character or plot. It could be none of these things but if you watch The Gunfighters alongside some of these films there's enough resonances to make you think. But equally that's because some of these things had become clichés by 1966 and part of the fun of The Gunfighters is that it is mocking these clichés.

The other good things about The Gunfighters are that the sets look great and the gunfight itself is really well directed (and varying accurate but again more detail on that in part two). The build up to the fight is delightfully tense and Hartnell's visit to Pa Clanton to try and stop the fight is nicely done.

As I said at the beginning. The Gunfighters isn't flawless and your tolerance for The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon might effect how you see this story but if you step back from looking at it purely as a Doctor Who 'historical' and see it for what I think it is : a parody of Western television and film using Doctor Who's flexible format to do it then I think it is one of the Hartnell eras more entertaining stories.

In the second part of this column I shall try and put some genuine history behind the story of the Gunfight at the OK Corral or as one writer describes it better, 'The Fiasco on Fremont Street'.

*Yes, she really is called Chihuahua.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Pandorica Opens-The Big Bang

Here we are. The end of Matt Smith's first season. And Karen Gillan's. And Arthur Darvill's. And, of course, Le Grand Moff himself. A two-part story featuring Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans and El Sinko de Kitchen, plus River Song and the end of the entire Universe. So nothing too drastic then. Just a quiet end to a rather enjoyable season.

We begin with a pre-title sequence featuring a number of figures from previous stories: Van Gogh, Bracewell, Churchill, Liz 10 and, of course, River Song. We sow the seeds. The TARDIS is going to explode. Can it be stopped? Who is doing it? Why? And will any of these questions be answered? Well no, not all of them. It's Le Grand Moff. He likes to leave threads a-dangling as the final scene at the end of The Big Bang makes clear.

It all roles along at a fair old speed. The Pandorica is a legend. It's a fairy tale. It's a box containing something or someone the whole universe is pretty scared of. Or interested in. In the end it's another trap. A big trap. The Doctor's many enemies gather together to save the Universe from what turns out to be a bit of a misunderstanding. The Universe gets destroyed anyway. Except Earth. Naturally.

The best bits of The Pandorica Opens happen once Rory turns up. Arthur Darvill is rather brilliant at this stuff and just when you think he's just there as big-nosed comic relief he gets something serious to get his acting teeth into. Proof that a male companion can work. I particular admire the scenes between Rory and The Doctor as they meet again for the first time and it takes the Doctor a little while to realise who Rory is. Then there's Rory's attempt to get Amy to run away from him when he realises that he's about to do something terrible.

Indeed for me the multi-jeopardy cliffhanger at the end of The Pandorica Opens is one of the best in the whole series history. How the blithering 'eck are they going to get out of this one. The Doctor's now a mad man in a very small box, Amy and River are in deep trouble and all the stars in the sky are going out. It's not looking good.

And the beginning of The Big Bang whacks us with a rather lovely little surprise too. It all starts off so well and then we get to see how it was all done, which is slick and clever but feels a lot like cheating to me. As a Doctor Who fan of a certain age bought up on the Blinovitch Limitation Effect and the impossibility of the Doctor saving Adric what Le Moff does, whilst done well, just isn't quite right. If he can do what he does in this story why isn't the Doctor doing it all the bloody time? What was all that Time Lord Victorious stuff about if the Doctor's going to have a relaxed attitude to the Laws of Time? Are there even any Laws of Time to uphold if there's no one there to police them, except the Doctor himself.

It didn't ruin the story for me. It was entertaining enough. It just felt like a trick. A clever trick. All smoke, mirrors and misdirection. There's no harm in that. It's just less fun. For me.

There were lots of great scenes in both episodes. The Doctor's Stonehenge speech seems to be a popular bit of Doctor Who but it didn't grab me quite so much this time. Perhaps it's the perennial shouty Doctor problem.  I so prefer Matt Smith when he's quiet. He has more power then. As evidence for that I give you his monologue to the young Amelia Pond (Caitlin Blackwood) towards the end of The Big Bang. It's both lovely writing and good acting. That's power.

Oh and a quick word of praise for Caitlin Blackwood who does a fine job as young Amelia, again.

Karen Gillan herself gets some nice bits and bobs too. Her 'something old, something new' speech at the wedding is great. As is her interaction with the Doctor when he's in the Pandorica.

Then there's Alex Kingston as River Song. There are some people that don't like River Song. I'm not sure why. She's an interesting character - although there's a bit of Bernice Summerfield in there if you ask me - played by a brilliant actress. Yes, sometimes the 'Hello Sweety' stuff seems a bit naff but I like River Song. And she looks gorgeous in her 'stealing paintings' outfit. But I digress. I think part of the problem is that if River Song were the only women in Moff's Doctor Who who was a mysterious puzzle that required solving I think she'd be even better. Unfortunately Amy and Clara come with riddles of their own. It's like a Sphinx convention.

Anyway Kingston's great in this. I love her reaction to the Doctor's fez and her cold and angry dispatch of the stone Dalek. Oh the Daleks in this are the horrible Victory of the Daleks clunky ones, which is a shame. They're like Boris Bus Daleks to the Cusack Dalek's Routemaster.*

So these are two enjoyable episodes with some genuinely solid scenes but, as I said, sometimes the outs feel a bit like cheating.

*For my foreign readers Google images of Boris Bus London & Routemaster London & you'll see exactly what I mean. One is a classic piece of design. The other a bloated half-arsed tribute.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Lodger

And we're back.

Hello everyone. It has been a while.

Well, I enjoyed that. Doctor Who as sit-com. It's Mork & Mindy redux. Well, the Doc and Craigy but you know what I mean. An alien in a human home. The Doctor trying to be an 'ordinary' bloke whilst changing the lives of almost everyone that comes into contact with him, but especially Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard)

James Corden comes in for a lot of flak from chunks of the general public but he's rather good in this. Perfect casting in fact. And perhaps the thing I like about this story above all is that Craig's inability to tell Sophie how he feels about her seems quite real to me. I know I've been there myself. [And that's all I'm ever going to say on this subject].

Also there's the inertia of normal life. The way we get trapped in the cycle of work-sleep-work-sleep and afraid to try and fail. To me this is a story about how the real failure is not to act: Craig can't tell Sophie how he feels because she might reject him; he can't tell his boss his ideas for the workplace because he's 'just a phone drone'.

Actually perhaps that's why I like this story so much. It's horribly familiar to me as a long-term 'phone-drone' with a share of missed relationship opportunities and a dangerous resemblance to the my couch. [This blog is in danger of turning into an episode of Oprah so I'll stop now before it's too late.]

Sophie's got her own dreams too but her equally unspoken love for Craig is holding her in place. The Doctor manages, in his own inimitable way, to get her to take first steps and as a result almost puts a spanner in the works of true love.

It's only because this is an episode of Doctor Who that the Doctor doesn't ruin everything. There has to be something nasty in the domestic woodshed. Although in this case it's something nasty in the upstairs flat. By the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes.

In this case the villain, like a number of villains in 'New' Doctor Who, isn't actually evil. It just is. No feelings, no empathy and no understanding of consequences. It's just doing its job. We never - at this point - find out what is really behind it or where it comes from. It just is and let us be content with that.

Matt Smith is brilliant in this as he goes into full fish out of water mode. This couldn't have been a Tennant story because Tennant's Doctor would have been able to pull off the ordinary bloke thing too well. It wouldn't have been as funny. Plus Smith's chemistry with Corden is good enough to make me think they could make a good fist of an actual sitcom together. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the Doctor - or this Doctor anyway - turned out to be good at football. It's not just amusingly un-Doctorish but a nice nod to Matt Smith's own background.

This is a bit of an Amy lite story as she only pops up occasionally, although she does get a nice little moment at the end of the episode so there's not much to say about Karen Gillan's performance, although I think she is starting to grow on me as an actress. The more she does, the better she gets.

So in conclusion - as I always used to say when ending my degree level essays with clunking  literalism - I loved this story. Doctor Who: The Sitcom. It could work you know. Although I'm aware there's a lot of people out there that have a sniffy view about Doctor Who and comedy, which I a subject I may come back to in another blog.

Coming soon.

In black and white.