Monday, December 17, 2018

The Magician's Apprentice / The Witch's Familiar

So, The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar kicks off Series 9 in an entertaining style.

Firstly we find ourselves on Skaro. There's a child trapped in a field of hand mines. His life is at risk. The Doctor shows up and promises to help. Until the child tells him his name. Then, well, then the Doctor seems to do something un-Doctorish. This takes a metaphorical argument that the Doctor uses in Genesis of the Daleks and makes it a literal moral challenge.

The Doctor has apparently disappeared, which is concerning to everyone but particularly Missy who has received a Confession Dial from him. That's a bad sign from a Time Lord point of view. We find ourselves joining Missy and Clara as the zip off to 11th century England to find him.

And find him we do. He's throwing a party. With a tank, an electric guitar and some sunglasses. This is the Doctor as rock and roll star. It turns out that he's been invited to see Davros who is dying. Allegedly. Davros sent out his serpentine servent Colony Sarff (Jami Reid-Quarrell) out to find him. Colony Sarff is a fine invention and I like the way an interesting idea is bought to life. He's certainly a little creepy.

Skipping along the Doctor, Missy and Clara find themselves held on a space station about which the Doctor is suspicious but he is taken away to meet Davros before the truth is revealed. There's a great chemistry between the three of them, but I particularly love Missy's amused contempt for Clara. who she treats like an annoying child. I don't know if I've commented much on Michelle Gomez's performance as Missy so far but this was the story when I finally fell in love with it. She's brilliant throughout. Odd, but nasty. Funny, but cruel. And she's clever, which I like. She's not going to have rings run around her by the Doctor.

We are led nicely towards a mighty cliffhanger with a great revelation. It's looking bad for the Doctor, but then when doesn't it.

The Witch's familiar picks up where we were. And things take a turn. The scenes between the Doctor and Davros (Julian Bleach) are brilliant. I'd go as far as to say that Bleach is the best Davros since Michael Wisher. He brings out a breadth in Davros that is sometimes missed. Their conversations feel like they've just picked up from their chat in Genesis of the Daleks, although there is an element of Alan Moore and Brian Bollard's 'Killing Joke' in there this time around.

Davros is trying to use the Doctor's compassion against him and to trap him. Everyone - The Doctor, Clara and Missy knew it was a trap - but the Doctor walks into it anyway and then flips it all around and screws Davros over. Like always. One of the problems with recurring villains in something like Doctor Who is why, once the Doctor arrives, they bother going on with their plans. They always lose. I mean if I was The Master/Missy or whoever as soon as the Doctor arrived I'd pack my bags and go off somewhere else. I actually quite like the idea of a story whereupon The Doctor's arrival the Master (or whoever) decides to quit and the story shows how the Doctor thwarts even this limited ambition.

The Doctor wins, although Missy tries to stitch him up near the end in a rather unpleasant manner as is her wont. The Missy-Doctor relationship feels the more like a friendship that has gone awry than usual, although it was there with Delgado and in little bits with Simm. Missy wants the Doctor's attention and friendship again but can't help but sabotage the attempt by some act of cruelty.

It's a good start to a season that will be made up almost entirely of two-part stories, which is a brave choice from Steven Moffat. There are some wonderful performances - and I haven't raved about Capaldi much this time even though I could rave for hours about how brilliant he is. But Julian Bleach, Michelle Gomez and Jenny Coleman are equally good. The dialogue - mostly - sparkles. The different interactions between them all - in the various combinations - work wonderfully.

On a final note, there's something very Doctor Who about zombie Dalek sludge. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Last Christmas

Let us travel back to Christmas Day 2014. Our presents have been opened, we're stuffed with Turkey and Christmas Pudding and wearing our wilting and slightly torn Christmas cracker hats. It's time for Doctor Who. It's time for Last Christmas.

I really enjoyed this. And you know I'm going to say it. I think that Steven Moffat's Christmas Specials are amongst my favourite episodes of post-2005 Doctor Who. Actually, sod the prevaricating about dates they're amongst my favourite episodes of Doctor Who. Ever.

Yes, they can be twee. But it is Christmas Day. If we can't all go a little soft-hearted for one day of the year then what I demand is the point of anything. Let us wallow in our own Weltschmerz and crack on.

We begin with Santa Claus. Or Father Christmas. He's crash landed on Clara's roof with a couple of snarky Elves and woken poor Clara up. She, clad only in a nightdress so appearing as a sort of female Arthur Dent, has come to find out what's going on. And from here all sorts of shenanigans occur.

There is danger. There's an alien threat. Obviously. There's an isolated base at the North Pole. So far so base under siege. But then there are dreams. And dreams within dreams. And dreams within dreams within dreams.  And, most importantly, there's Santa. Here to save everyone on this Christmas Day. Played rather magnificently by Nick Frost at peak Nick Frost. If there was a role made for Nick Frost it is Santa Claus. He bounces off Peter Capaldi well and gets to be all cuddly and avuncular.

There's also the four members of the base. There's Shona (Faye Marsay), Ashley (Natalie Gumede), Fiona (Maureen Beattie) and Albert (Michael Troughton). Why they are all at the base is, of course, a long story but at the base, they are and threatened by things that go face-hugging in the night, which gives us the set-up for a rather nice 'Alien' joke. All four of them are excellently played by poor Ashley has the least interesting character. Shona is another in the long line of 'almost companions'. Characters so well-played and interesting that you'd quite happily have them join the TARDIS.

This story definitely wears its influences with pride. Indeed, there's pretty much a list of them towards the end: Alien, The Thing and Inception are the three most obvious. And you know I don't find that annoying. One of the great things about Doctor Who has been the way it takes an idea from somewhere else and Doctor Whoifies it up. And Last Christmas throws all its influences together like the ingredients from what's left in my kitchen cupboard at the end of the month when money is scarce and turns it into a surprisingly delicious stew type thing.*

Anyway, there's adventure and excitement and really wild stuff. But there's also tenderness and a little sadness. Clara and The Doctor reveal that they both lied to each other in order to make the other happy, which in the end probably hasn't made either of them happy. Clara slaps the Doctor again about which I am not happy, but it is slightly more justifiable here than it is in Into The Dalek. I still don't like it.

The scenes with Clara and Danny at 'Christmas' manage to be both rather moving and creepy at the same time. I really wish Samuel Anderson had been given more of a run as he's such a good actor but it was not to be. Poor Danny Pink.

This might have been Jenna Coleman's last Doctor Who story and the ending clearly could have been one thing, but she decided to stay so we have the joy of seeing the Doctor and Clara heading off out into the Universe together again. It's a happy ending to a story that, it petted heavily...with melancholy.

I really enjoyed this one. It kept me happily occupied on the journey to work this morning. It almost made me cry on the Bakerloo Line to Waterloo, which would have been mildly embarrassing.

Merry Christmas.

Next up. Season Nine.

PS I tried not to spoil this too much. I hope it worked.

*No, that's not a metaphor - or is it a simile - that's going to take off any time soon.