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 Series 5

“I’ve seen many things, my friend. But you’re right. Nothing’s quite as wonderful as the things you see”
So as David Tennant’s Ten regenerates into Matt Smith’s Eleven, Doctor Who also changed showrunner/lead writer/executive producer/oddjob man as Steven Moffat took over the reins from Russell T Davies. The pressure was on both to deliver – the relatively unknown Smith had low expectations, Moffat had sky-high ones due to his much-garlanded writing – and I don’t think you can argue that they didn’t. Smith revealed an impossibly ancient soul to his youthful frame with a Doctor unafraid to be as angrily dark as hyper-actively quirky. And Moffat constructed a complex series, introducing the depths of new companion Amy Pond slowly, and building to a multi-stranded timey-wimey finale that makes the head hurt just to think about it.


Elsewhere, the overused Daleks returned in multicoloured format, the Weeping Angels were much more successfully reprised in a stonking double-header, the Silurians also came back, and Arthur Darvill’s Rory grew in stature to become an effective second companion as opposed to a third wheel. Oh, and Helen McCrory stole the show, but then you knew I’d say that didn’t you 😉

Episodes, in order of preference

The Time of Angels
Flesh and Stone
The Vampires of Venice
Vincent and the Doctor
The Pandorica Opens
The Big Bang
The Beast Below
The Hungry Earth
Cold Blood
The Lodger
The Eleventh Hour
Amy’s Choice
Victory of the Daleks

Top 5 guest spots

1 Sophie Okonedo’s spiky monarch Liz Ten
2 Helen McCrory’s Signora Calvierri is vividly complex
3 Alex Kingston’s River Song, so achingly good before it all got way too complicated
4 A bit under-utilised but Susannah Fielding’s army officer Lilian is nicely done
5 Starry starry Tony Curran’s Vincent Van Gogh is an archetypal Richard Curtis bloke and all the more effective for it

Saddest death

Rory – I know, not a ‘real’ death but you didn’t know that at the time and it is still powerfully played, particularly in its aftermath

Most wasted guest actor

Olivia Colman, although she does get to utter a pre-warning about the Pandorica

Most important thing that is never mentioned again

The rationale behind the Dream Lord was fascinating and I’d’ve loved to have seen more of him (if only to get more Toby Jones)

Gay agenda rating

E – even with rainbow coloured Daleks, it’s all rather cis-het

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.

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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)

TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

Preview: Unreachable, Royal Court

“All artists have their whims”

A slightly odd experience to see a show being performed almost entirely on-book but such is the nature of Anthony Neilson’s collaborative creative process of shows being created in the rehearsal room that the scripts for Unreachable had only been printed the day before. And what’s more, they’re only being used as a starting point for considerably more rewrites, which will continue to happen up until press night later this week. So all I’ll say is that the show is brilliantly light-hearted at a time when the world is seemingly going to shit, the ticket price is worth it for the allotment joke, the corpsing (whether real or not) should be kept in, and Matt Smith is one flirtatious bastard when it comes to live audiences.

Running time: around 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval) (at the moment)
Booking until 6th August

Short Film Review #64

“Hope and memories go together”

A hotch-potch of video clips for your pleasure!



The Lion King gets a new ex-rugby playing Kiwi Simba.




The latest short film in the Young Vic’s series is Astoria, supporting their newly announced strand of work around refugees.



Anthony Neilson’s new play Unreachable at the Royal Court is going to be trailed by a series of shorts, hopefully making the most of the interesting casting of Matt Smith.



An audio play rather than a film but I’m sneaking this in anyway, a prologue of sorts to the Gate’s The Iphigenia Quartet, written by Clare Slater and read by the endlessly sonorous voice of Hattie Morahan. You’ll be careful about putting together the guest list for the next party you hold after this.

CD Review: American Psycho (London Cast Recording)

“Let’s be clear, there’s nothing ironic

About our love of Manolo Blahnik”

So in a slightly odd turn of events, as Rupert Goold’s American Psycho opens for previews on Broadway, the London Cast Recording of the Almeida’s Winter 2013/14 production is finally released. That London run was well-received by me, so much so that I went back (not just to post the pics of one of its nifty ad campaigns) twice and Duncan Sheik’s music was a big part of that, very much appealing to the 80s kid in me.
Sheik’s score is bathed in a glossy sheen of electronica, predominantly made up of original songs but also featuring covers of some 80s classics – Human League, Tears for Fears, even Phil Collins in radically reharmonised version of ‘In The Air Tonight’. And it’s the ideal partner for this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel and surprisingly, it holds up really well, even without the vivid visuals (not least of Matt Smith’s abs).

The prevalence of 80s influences in music today means that it often sounds as contemporary as it does retro. It’s not a massive stretch to imagine Brandon Flowers singing ‘Killing Time’ or ‘Not A Common Man’ and if Matt Smith doesn’t have the greatest range, his slightly flat delivery perfectly reflects the detached nature of Patrick Bateman’s absolute amorality, something of which we’re constantly reminded by the welcome inclusion of several spoken passages. 


Workout anthem ‘Hardbody’ loses none of its lascivious gaze (just listen to the glee with which the boys sing the word body), the ode to fashion ‘You Are What We Wear’ remains as sharp and tuneful as I remember, led by a wonderfully dry Susannah Fielding and Katie Brayben (I still chuckle every time I hear crème de menthe and Oscar de la Renta being rhymed) and Cassie Compton’s heartfelt contributions as the one halfway empathetic character as PA Jean sound beautiful. 

Even though I enjoyed the show, the glacial synthesised sound of Sheik’s orchestrations on record make this score much more musically enjoyable to listen to than I ever imagined it would be. The addition of a couple of bonus tracks sung by Sheik, plus ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ (which I think has been cut from the US production) just adds to the package of what is an unexpectedly successful cast recording. And now I want to see it again, if only I had a trip to Broadway coming up soon…