TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10

Episodes, in order of preference
World Enough and Time
Extremis
The Doctor Falls
Thin Ice
Knock Knock
Oxygen
The Eaters of Light
Smile
The Pilot
Empress of Mars
The Pyramid at the End of the World
The Lie of the Land

Top 5 guest spots
1 David Suchet’s Landlord was as perfectly written a character as befits one of our more superior actors
2 Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Kieran Bew and his astronaut in Oxygen was no exception
3 Nicholas Burns‘ malevolent Sutcliffe was a delightfully Dickensian villain 
4 Another theatrical delight of mine is Anthony Calf, impressive as the pseudo-Victorian Godsacre
5 Rebecca Benson’s young Pict impressively led The Eaters of Light from the front, a perfect vessel for Rona Munro’s vision

Saddest death
Michelle Gomez’s Missy has been a brilliant breath of fresh air and whilst her decision to follow Moffat and Capaldi out the door is understandable, it isn’t any less disappointing. And perhaps the timey-wimeyness of the circumstances around her passing mean that maybe this isn’t the last we see of her…

Most wasted guest actor
I don’t what I expected from the reliably excellent Samantha Spiro in Doctor Who but I didn’t get it from her part in The Doctor Falls.

Gay agenda rating
With Bill onboard, A+!

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode 1 – The Pilot

“Do you know any sci-fi?”

So here we are, the moment that the epic rewatch has been building up to – the start of Doctor Who’s tenth series, notable for being the final one for both Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor and showrunner Steven Moffat. And perhaps predictably, Episode One – The Pilot is a cracking piece of TV, a real return to form that hopefully will last across the entire series (I’m not holding my breath…) or at least the majority of it (that I feel more confident about).

Key to this is the arrival of Pearl Mackie’s new companion Bill, a welcome breath of real fresh air into the standard trope but more importantly, a distinct separation from what came just before. No offence to Jenna Coleman’s Clara but the character’s knowingness made it hard to ever warm to her and though on paper, the idea of her being more of an equal to the Doctor has legs, in reality it just became rather self-satisfyingly wearying. Continue reading “TV Review: Doctor Who Series 10 Episode 1 – The Pilot”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 9

“Time will tell, it always does”

Phew, the rewatch comes to an end with the most recent series, another that I hadn’t seen any of since it originally aired. And again it was one of highs and lows, a frustrating sense of pick and mix that never settles. So from the astonishing bravura of the (practically) solo performance in Heaven Sent to kid-friendly quirks of the sonic sunglasses and guitar playing, Capaldi took us from the sublime to the silly. Fortunately there was more of the former than the latter (although it is interesting that my memory had it the other way round).

Part of it comes down to knowing in advance how the hybrid arc plays out (disappointingly) and a little perspective makes Clara’s departure(s) a little less galling. This way, one can just enjoy the episodes for what they are, free from the weight of the attempted mythologising. The Doctor raging against the futility of war, the wisdom (or otherwise) of forgiveness, the repercussions of diving in to help others without thinking through the consequences…it is often excellent stuff. It’s also nice to see Who employ its first openly transgender actor (Bethany Black) and a deaf actor playing a deaf character (Sophie Stone)

Episodes, in order of preference

Heaven Sent
The Zygon Inversion
The Zygon Invasion
The Woman Who Lived
The Girl Who Died
The Magician’s Apprentice
The Witch’s Familiar
Face the Raven
Before the Flood
Under the Lake
Hell Bent
Last Christmas
Sleep No More
The Husbands of River Song

Top 5 guest spots

1 Jemma Redgrave’s Kate Stewart, rarely putting a foot wrong since being introduced a while back
2 T’nia Miller’s newly regenerated Gallifreyan general is the perfect baiting of all traditional attitudes
3 Representing for Wigan, Ian Conningham is a tenderly moving Viking father
4 Gruffudd Glyn and Reuben Johnson amuse as the bantering pikemen in The Woman Who Lived
5 Davros is a stalwart of many an adventure but Julian Bleach’s injection of real personality was a proper eye-opener

Saddest death

It’s operatically overblown and ultimately undone by the machinations of the following episodes, but I’m putting Clara’s demise in here.

Most wasted guest actor

Even with the shortest of scenes, Robin Soans is heart-breakingly good in Face the Raven

Most important thing that is never mentioned again (or has never been mentioned before)

Extraction chambers…puh-lease

Gay agenda rating

C – aside from Clara alluding to having snogged Jane Austen, Who’s famed gay agenda really is lacking under Moffatt’s reign

 

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 8

 

You are the chief executive officer of the human race”

 

 

It was quite interesting to rewatch Series 8, one which I hadn’t revisited at all since it originally aired, as my memories thereof were not at all positive. And whilst disappointments remained – Robin Hood, 2D cartoons, the treeees! – there was also much to enjoy that I’d forgotten about. The smash-and-grab of Time Heist, the simplicity of ghost story Listen, and the ominous darkness of the finale.

 

I’m still in two minds about Peter Capaldi’s Twelve though, I want to like him so much more than I do, and I think you do get the sense of him feeling his way into his irascible take on the role. Jenna Coleman’s Clara benefits from being released from the yoke of impossibility to move to the forefront of several episodes and if she’s still a little hard to warm to, that finale really is superbly done. And then there’s Michelle Gomez, stealing the whole damn thing magnificently!

 

Episodes, in order of preference

Listen
Dark Water
Death in Heaven
Time Heist
Kill the Moon
Deep Breath
Mummy on the Orient Express
Into the Dalek
The Caretaker
Flatline
In the Forest of the Night
Robot of Sherwood

 

Top 5 guest spots

1 Michelle Gomez’s genuinely psychopathic reinterpretation of one of the show’s key villains has to be one of the boldest and most brilliant moves in new Who
2 and 3 Jonathan Bailey’s cyberhacker Psi and Pippa Bennett-Warner’s shape-shifting Saibra both made pleasingly fleshed-out impressions as supporting characters-of-the-week
4 David Bamber’s quiet dignity as Captain Quell
5 Tom Riley, just because!


Saddest death

A few too many fakeouts here – the brutal suicides of Flatline, Missy’s slaughtering in Death in Heaven, all undone, so it is probably Danny Pink’s demise that proves most affecting in the end.


Most wasted guest actor

All too briefly used in Mummy on the Orient Express is the glorious Janet Henfrey.

 

Most important thing that is never mentioned again

When the TARDIS is under attack, it can go into self-protective Siege Mode. It has done this on-screen… exactly once.


Gay agenda rating

C – now we’re blase about lesbian lizard/woman pairings, there’s not a huge amount more of fun to be had on the LGBT side

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 7

“It is known that the Doctor requires companions”


Right – the first season that I haven’t rewatched any of at all. Things get a bit hectic here as once again, the series got split in two, accommodating the mid-season departure of Amy and Rory and the (re-)introduction of new companion Clara Oswald, plus a pair of specials respectively marking the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and the end of Matt Smith’s tenure as Eleven. It all adds up to a bit of a bloated mess to be honest, though not without its high points.
Amy and Rory feel a little ill-served by their final five, the introduction of Mark Williams as Rory’s dad detracts from their screen-time (yet he doesn’t feature in their farewell?), though the return of the Weeping Angels gives their noirish NY-set exit episode some real heft. And though I admire Jenna Coleman’s confident take on Clara, she’s a hard companion to warm to without any contrasting humanity to go with her intelligence and intensity.
The ‘Impossible Girl’ arc didn’t really tick my box and the grandiosity of Moffatt’s writing for the finale of The Name of…, The Day of… and The Time of the Doctor doesn’t really help (I was curiously unmoved by all the fan-service second time round). Still, Gatiss knocks it out of the park with the superb Ice Warrior tale Cold War and bringing mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time. 

Episodes, in order of preference

Asylum of the Daleks
Cold War
Hide
The Name of the Doctor
The Power of Three
The Crimson Horror
The Angels Take Manhattan
The Snowmen
The Day of the Doctor
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
The Time of the Doctor
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
The Bells of Saint John
Nightmare in Silver
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
The Rings of Akhaten
A Town Called Mercy

Top 5 guest spots

1 Dame Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling – together on screen for the first time
2 There’s not much Jessica Raine does that I don’t love and she’s great in Hide
3 Liam Cunningham/David Warner
4 Riann Steele’s Nefertiti
5 Neve McIntosh/Catrin Stewart/Dan Starkey – the Paternoster Gang deserve a shoutout because they really do work well together

Saddest death

Not really any tragic demises that caught my attention – Matt Smith’s farewell speech is probably the moment that moved me the most

Most wasted guest actor

Lots of far too small guest appearances (Tessa Peake-Jones for one) but Jade Anouka’s blink-and-miss-it waitress is a real missed opportunity to utilise such a great actor.

Most important thing that is never mentioned again

Either everything in this series makes complete sense or else I’ve stopped caring… Oh I know, that conference call thing. Just no.

Gay agenda rating

A – Vastra and Jenny’s relationship is proudly out in the air, David Warner hits on the Doctor, and Clara is (at least) bi-curious

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6

“Demons run when a good man goes to war”

And here it is, the point at which I stopped loving new Doctor Who, even in a series that has two of the best episodes it has done, and the first series that I haven’t ever rewatched in its entirety. I do enjoy Matt Smith’s Eleven immensely but the writing across this season – which was split into two for transmission – was just fatally erratic for me. Alongside the innovative work from Neil Gaiman in The Doctor’s Wife and Steve Thompson in The Girl Who Waited, two contrasting but superlative pieces of writing, stories such as The Curse of the Black Spot and Night Terrors took the show to a less sophisticated place – (or do I really mean that I started to feel that this version of Doctor Who wasn’t necessarily aimed at me…?)

Even the big finales (for there were two, one for each half) fell a little flat. The premonition that the Doctor would “fall so much further” than ever before in A Good Man Goes to War raised expectations only to be dashed by an overloaded episode with little emotional heft aside from the River Song reveal, and The Wedding of River Song suffered from the general over-use of the characters dying-but-not-really-dying trope (poor Arthur Darvill…). That said, the high points of the series are so very good – the striking US-set opening double-bill, the Doctor finally meeting the TARDIS, and brain-scratching sci-fi with real heart. Frustratingly inconsistent.

Episodes, in order of preference

The Doctor’s Wife
The Girl Who Waited
The Impossible Astronaut 
Day of the Moon
The Rebel Flesh
The Wedding of River Song
A Christmas Carol
A Good Man Goes to War
Let’s Kill Hitler
The Almost People
Closing Time
The God Complex
The Curse of the Black Spot
Night Terrors

Top 5 guest spots

1 Suranne Jones’ Idris – I think this is one of my all-time favourite performances – idiosyncratic and unexpected, interesting and deeply moving, the farewell scene as Smith’s lips start to wobble is simply heart-breaking 

2 Mark Sheppard’s work as Canton Everett Delaware III is vividly done

3 Although only appearing in voice form as Interface, Imelda Staunton still brings enormous gravitas to a striking episode

4 I love Sarah Smart and so getting two distinct versions of her Jennifer in 

The Rebel Flesh/

The Almost People was a real bonus

5 As Madame Kovarian, Frances Barber was a delicious teasing presence as her brief cameos hinted at the series arc. That her character’s fully-fleshed appearance was ultimately a little underwhelming is best swept under the carpet.

Saddest death

Idris aside, Christina Chong’s Lorna Bucket

Most wasted guest actor

Daisy Haggard, if we had to suffer the return of James Corden’s Craig, the least they could have done was give her a decent role in the story too.

Most important thing that is never mentioned again

What throws the TARDIS so off-kilter in The Rebel Flesh? A solar tsunami from our Sun you say? Oh, one of those old things

Gay agenda rating

A – Marriage equality is raised, gay marriage is shown and crime-fighting kick-ass inter-species lesbians are introduced

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Specials 2008-2010

“Because your song is ending, sir…It is returning. It is returning through the dark. And then, Doctor? Oh, but then… He will knock four times.”

Cos he’s special, David Tennant got to spread his farewell over 4 specials from Christmas 2008 to New Year 2010, and as this also marked Russell T Davies’ departure from the show, the stories start off grand and rise to operatic scales of drama by the time we hit the megalithic The End of Time. That finale works well in its quieter moments but does suffer a little from an overabundance of plot and whatnot. The Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead are good value for money romps but it is The Waters of Mars and all its attendant darkness that stands out most, teasing all the complex arrogance of a God-figure gone wrong.

.

Episodes, in order of preference

The Waters of Mars
The End of Time
The Next Doctor
Planet of the Dead

Top 5 guest spots

1 Bernard Cribbens’ Wilf, graduating from guest appearances to fully-fledged companion for The End of Time was a masterstroke – their ruminative conversations a powerful counterpoint to all the bombast
2 As the would-be Doctor in The Next Doctor, David Morrissey’s pained eloquence was just lovely, all the more so for its initial unexpectedness

3 Lindsay Duncan’s intense Captain Adelaide Brooke and her defeat of the Time Lord Victorious and all his hubris – wow.
4 Velile Tshabalala’s Rosita – another to add to the list of companions that could have been
5 This series also saw the last appearance of Lachele Carl’s US newsreader Trinity Wells, a constant since the reboot whose brief reports were always nice to see.

Saddest death

I’m probably supposed to say Ten here but the portentousness of the farewell tour was too much even for me, so Adelaide’s demise gets the nod for being so fantastically dark 

Most wasted guest actor

Catherine Tate – given the sledgehammer of Donna’s departure, bringing her back so minimally in this way felt like a slap in the face

Most important thing that is never mentioned again

Are the Weeping Angels Gallifreyan in origin as hinted here? Or is it just me?

Gay agenda rating

F – with the focus on Tennant’s (and Davies’) departure, I think they forgot about the gays (Alonso and Jack’s implied hook-up aside)

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 4

“Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved”

 

And here we are, my favourite series of Doctor Who. So much huge wonderfulness and even its less good moments are still more than halfway decent. Key to the series’ success is Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble – gobby and one-dimensional in her introductory episode the Christmas special The Runaway Bride, her character journey throughout this season is magisterially constructed, a true awakening of self (with thankfully no romantic inclinations towards our Time Lord) and one given unbearable poignancy due to its frustratingly tragic end.
It’s also one of the best constructed series in terms of its over-arching season arc, its warnings and clues layered meaningfully into several stories and building into a momentous and properly climactic finale, which lands just about the right level of grandiosity. There’s also the first companion-lite episode (the superbly creepy Midnight) to go with the Doctor-lite one (the achingly beautiful dystopian Turn Left); a typically brilliant Moffat double-header in  Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead with gorgeous work from Alex Kingston as the soon-to-be-hugely-significant River Song; and if the return of Rose undoes some of the emotional impact of the Series 2 finale, Billie Piper’s work is spikily powerful. These are episodes I can, and have, watched over and over again.

 

Episodes, in order of preference

Turn Left
Silence in the Library
Forest of the Dead
Midnight
The Unicorn and the Wasp
The Stolen Earth
Journey’s End
Planet of the Ood
The Fires of Pompeii
Voyage of the Damned
Partners in Crime
The Sontaran Stratagem
The Poison Sky
The Doctor’s Daughter

Top 5 guest spots

1 Fenella Woolgar’s marvellously layered Agatha Christie
2 Ryan Sampson’s brattish teenage genius Luke Rattigan
3 Sarah Lancashire’s nanny in the stars Miss Foster
4 Lesley Sharp’s technical brilliance (along with everything else) as Sky Sylvestri
5 And serving up Winifred Bambera-style realness, Noma Dumezweni’s Captain Erisa Magambo

Saddest death

You have to admire Kylie’s gumption, not only securing a guest star role as Astrid Peth but securing her place in the annals as one of the few companions to perish in the line of duty. Special mention to the truly haunting demise of Talulah Riley’s Miss Evangelista in The Library.

Most wasted guest actor

O-T Fagbenle’s Other Dave, I just love him too much to be satisfied with anything less than a lead role.

Most important thing that is never mentioned again

THE REALITY BOMB – yet another all-powerful weapon that no-one else has tried to use

Gay agenda rating

B – loving the casual references to characters’ sexualities (ie Sky in Midnight) and the pointed recognition of the contemporary difficulties – of the flirting boys in The Unicorn and the Wasp

 

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 3

“You 

 

Are 

 

Not 
Alone”
There’s something perhaps a bit perverse in some of the strongest episodes of new Who emerging from the series which (arguably) had the weakest companion. Freema Agyeman was ill-served by writing that couldn’t let her be a companion in her own right, as opposed to the-one-in-Rose’s-shadow, and consequently never felt entirely comfortable in the TARDIS.
Series 3 has real highs and certain lows – the introduction of Doctor-lite episodes (to ease the production schedules) produced the inventive wonder that was Blink (and further proved Steven Moffat’s genius), the unashamed grab for the heartstrings was perfectly realised in the Human Nature / The Family of Blood double-header, and the re-introduction of one of the Doctor’s most enduring foes was well-judged. That said, we also had the inevitable return of the Daleks who already feel like they’re in danger of over-exposure.

 

Episodes, in order of preference

Human Nature
The Family of Blood
Blink
Utopia
The Shakespeare Code
Gridlock
The Sound of Drums
Last of the Time Lords
42
The Runaway Bride
The Lazarus Experiment
Smith and Jones
Daleks in Manhattan
Evolution of the Daleks

Top 5 guest spots

1 Dean Lennox Kelly’s rugged and omnisexually flirtatious Shakespeare was hugely charismatic
2 Almost unbearably poignant, Jessica Hynes’ Joan Redfern’s love story with the human John Smith is magnificently done
3 A pre-Hollywood Carey Mulligan’s Sally Sparrow – the best companion that never was
4 Tom Ellis all stubbly is always a treat
5 Derek Jacobi’s Professor Yana – I still get chills thinking about the epic reveal at the end of Utopia

Saddest death

A tie between the Face of Boe’s heroic demise in Gridlock and Chipo Chung’s gently elegiac and courageous Chantho.

Most wasted guest actor

Bertie Carvel’s three seconds as The Lazarus Experiment’s Mysterious Man is egregious, as is most every choice for Miranda Raison’s New Yoik flapper.

Most important thing that is never mentioned again

 

I think most things in this series made sense or had their time and place, even the paradoxes, after all it’s just “a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey….stuff”.

 

 

 

Gay agenda rating

B – Shakespeare and the Doctor makes for the kind of fanfic that (some) people dream of.

 

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 2


“Some things are worth getting your heart broken for”

David Tennant’s opening season took the template of the opening series and ran with it, Russell T Davies’ vision finding its ideal mate in the Scottish actor. The typically adventurous sweep was tempered with a more tender vision, which considerably upped our emotional investment (previous companions returning, romantic connections whether past or present).


Bringing back the Cybermen was an interesting move, as was the introduction of the notion of parallel worlds (and how important that became…). And if the series-long motif of Torchwood didn’t really pay off, especially not when one considers what Torchwood the show became, the finale to Doomsday is pretty close to perfection.


Episodes, in order of preference

The Girl in the Fireplace
Doomsday
Army of Ghosts
School Reunion
New Earth
The Christmas Invasion
Tooth and Claw
The Impossible Planet
Rise of the Cybermen
The Satan Pit
The Age of Steel
The Idiot’s Lantern
Love & Monsters
Fear Her

Top 5 guest spots

1 School Reunion is a bit of a shonky villain-of-the-week episode all told, but it is completely redeemed by its parallel plot of the show revisiting past companions and the effect travelling with the Doctor has on those left behind. Lis Sladen’s return as Sarah-Jane Smith was simply spectacular and perfect in its emotional nuance.
2 Just as heartbreaking but in a completely different way, Sophia Myles’ Madame de Pompadour makes The Girl in the Fireplace a stirring high-point for Doctor Who in its entirety
3 Andrew Hayden-Smith’s Jake with his excised gay agenda (see below) still manages to come across as a better companion than Mickey with a fraction of the screen time
5 Only a short appearance in The Idiot’s Lantern but Sam Cox’s resigned detective is still top notch

Saddest death

Helen Griffin’s redoubtable Welshwoman Mrs Moore was a standout in the resistance fighters of Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel

Most wasted guest actor

Personally it’s the 5 seconds of Cathy Murphy (Tilly from the amazeballs The House of Eliott) in The Christmas Invasion that annoyed me most, but there’s something a little odd about the way Maureen Lipman’s Wire in The Idiot’s Lantern is portrayed that doesn’t make anywhere near the most of her.

Most important thing that is never mentioned again

Anyone who cracks the Skasis Paradigm (also known as the God Maker or the Universal Theory) would be able to control the very building blocks of the universe. So its a wonder that only the Krillitanes of School Reunion have ever tried it.

Gay agenda rating

D – hardly any gayness in this one, indeed references to a gay coupling between Jake and Ricky in Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel was removed into the world of deleted scenes.