All 22 entries tagged Doctor Who
View all 37 entries tagged Doctor Who on Warwick Blogs | View entries tagged Doctor Who at Technorati | There are no images tagged Doctor Who on this blog
October 03, 2015
- Doctor Who
“Never start with your final sanction”, says Clara in Series 8 opener Deep Breath. “You’ve got nowhere to go.”
Doctor Who has made a habit of nearly always starting with its final sanction. The Doctor’s dying. It’s his darkest hour. Again. Like it has been, on and off, since he looked like Matt Smith. This time though he’s leaving behind a Confession Dial – a last will and testament – that may, or may not, have something to do with the fact that he once abandoned a helpless child on the battlefield of Dalek homeworld Skaro. A helpless child called Davros.
The two part series opener sets itself up as both a prequel and a sequel of sorts to 1975’s Genesis of the Daleks, which is generally considered to be one of the best Doctor Who stories of the old series, and introduced Dalek creator Davros. There’s even a clip of it in the show, which an old, dying Davros uses to taunt Peter Capaldi’s Doctor’s cruelty towards his younger self and parrot back to him his dilemma from that episode: if you could kill an evil dictator in their childhood, would you? It’s a neat premise, but it takes a while to get there.
It all looks brilliant, with Skaro being a particular highlight. The mud-slicked ‘handmines’ are a brilliant, typically Moffat-y creation, and eerily recall both Pan’s Labyrinth and horrors of the First World War. The newly rebuilt Dalek city, on the other hand, is an exercise in revisiting the show’s 60s sci-fi roots. Speaking of Daleks, we learn more about them than we have for years in Missy’s slightly torturous demonstration of their controls to Clara. ‘Feelings trigger the gun’ sums them up pretty well, and lends a much more tragic edge to their tale.
There’s a lot of effort spent getting characters into the right place. As ever, the psychotic Missy has survived implausibly and is holding the world to ransom with an unnecessarily complex scheme just so she can get UNIT to bring Clara over for a chat. It’s a bit too knowing, this sequence, but it’s worth it for Michelle Gomez’s brilliantly mercurial performance. She’s hilarious and terrifying in every scene she’s in.
Clara and Missy find the Doctor in some unimportant corner of history, teaching peasants the word ‘dude’ and playing rock music atop a tank, which is one of those moments where you’re extra glad that it’s guitarist Peter Capaldi who’s the Doctor now, and not Sylvester ‘I can play the spoons’ McCoy. It all strays a bit too close to cringe, but Capaldi saves it with a renewed warmth and vulnerability to his Doctor. It’s a softer side to the Timelord that survives even through the cliffhanger ending that sees Missy and Clara seemingly obliterated on Skaro (inevitably, they survive), and generally the Doctor is a whole lot more likeable than he was in Series 8. Funnier, too: his entrance in Davros’s stolen wheelchair in the second episode is hilarious. ‘Admit it – you’ve all had this exact same nightmare.’ As solid as the stories in the last series were, the acerbic 12th Doctor and the increasingly conflicted Clara weren’t always that fun to travel with. These first two episodes suggest that this hopefully won’t be a problem in 2015.
It takes The Witch’s Familiar to justify some of the excesses of The Magician’s Apprentice – they work much better together than they do on their own and I’m glad I waited until I’d seen both before reviewing. The first episode’s service to a 2 and half hour TV serial from the 1970s that most of the audience will never have seen came at the cost of acknowledging the series’s most recent history. Not only does death have no meaning for Missy, but Clara has gone back to teaching in Coal Hill and is fine about her boyfriend dying now. The Doctor, having decided not to let time with Clara slip away in Last Christmas, has abandoned her again. Whilst it was nice to see Karn, the Maldovarium and The Shadow Proclamation again, these fan moments felt like distractions to the big questions about these characters that, thankfully, started to arrive in Episode 2. The flashback explanation for Missy’s survival is a brilliant device, and we get some bonus Hartnell and Baker moments too as well as a reinforced sense of shared history between the Master and the Doctor.
The pairing of Missy and Clara as a sort of twisted Tardis B Team is brilliant, and half the fun is waiting for Michelle Gomez’s impossibly likeable villain to inevitably turn on Clara. As she seals Clara inside a Dalek casing as a ploy to infiltrating their stronghold, there’s a real sense of claustrophobia and dread that the Time Lady can’t be trusted – which of course, proves right by the end of the episode. Trying to get the Doctor to kill the still disguised Clara himself is something so Machiavellian that it’s the perfect scheme for the Master.
The Doctor gets an unlikely assistant himself too, as Davros gives him the puppy dog eye and briefly convinces the hapless Time Lord to part with some of his brand new regenerative energy to keep him alive for one more sunset. It’s great to see these two age-old adversaries talking again, not least because it gives Capaldi even more room to help define his Doctor. ‘I came because you asked.’ says it all. Julian Bleach does an incredible job as Davros beneath the prosthetics, and even manages to steer the moment of improbable laughter between Davros and the Doctor just clear of the ridiculous zone.
Of course, it was all a trap, and the Daleks start to steal the Doctor’s healing powers courtesy of creepy CGI snake man, Colony Sarff. But in typical Moffat style, the Doctor had laid his own trap – and the revitalised living dead Dalek sludge in the catacombs beneath the Skaro city ooze up and devour their younger selves. It’s one of a few moments that only makes sense because the plot requires it to. For instance, it does seem odd that Missy, after bringing the world to the edge of destruction (and, worse, killing poor Osgood – although I’m placing my bet right now that she survived using the same teleport trick from this episode), is suddenly the Doctor’s best friend in the Universe again. He was furious with her at the end of Series 8. Even if he’d forgiven her, it’s still been over a thousand years since they had a conversation that didn’t revolve around not dying. Wouldn’t they have just lost touch?
The Doctor realises that his earlier decision to abandon the young Davros was wrong, and returns to save him and embed the idea of mercy in his – and therefore, the Daleks – consciousness, which is the clue that allows him to realise Clara is hidden in a Dalek and save her life. It’s a convoluted way to get a cliffhanger in between the episodes where it looks like the Doctor might vaporise the child Davros, but it’s a neat resolution. For once, Doctor Who starts with its final sanction, but still manages to find somewhere else to go, and it’s totally in keeping with the emerging Doctor that Capaldi is building: ruthlessly kind.
In amongst all this, there’s plenty of questions being asked that we hopefully will build across the series. How will Missy survive? What became of her daughter? What’s the Doctor’s confession? Why did he leave Gallifrey? What is the legend of the Time Lord/Dalek hybrid? Does Clara have a PGCE? Did Danny have a favourite peg? Who knows…
October 04, 2014
- Doctor Who: Series 8, Episodes 2 - 6
- Not rated
It's been a while since I last updated this blog. I am of course, still watching Doctor Who - I'm just not finding the time to write such long reviews!
It's also struck me that I seem to be repeating myself in those longer pieces. Reflecting on elements of the design, performance and so on in a show with such high production values means that eventually you start going round in circles. Of course Peter Capaldi's performance in any given episode is great. He's Peter Capaldi.
So with that in mind, I'm going to start trying for much, much shorter blogs. Hopefully they'll be a bit more interesting, and I might even actually be able to keep up with writing them!
So then, here's my super-short reviews of Episodes 2 - 6 of the season so far.
Into the Dalek
The internet loved this one, but I wasn't quite so keen. It feels too early for Capaldi's Doctor to meet the Daleks, although you can see why they decided to bring them in to help define the Twelfth's character: as the Doctor himself explains, he sets his identity compass based upon the basic fact that he is not like the Daleks. Even so, in Phil Ford's gritty space warzone, Capaldi's Doctor seems cold, dispassionate and even cruel: the moment he exploits the trust of a doomed soldier, only to glibly wade through his remains a minute later doesn't sit comfortably with the tone of the show. Still though, Ford succeeds in producing a solid episode that does at least present some decently threatening and undefeatable Daleks. It's just that it feels somewhat flat, and perhaps a little too dark too soon.
Robots of Sherwood
Once again, I found myself disagreeing with the internet. Fan forums seemed to hate this episode, but I thought it was great fun. Comedy episodes don't normally work, but Mark Gatiss deftly navigates his way through what would normally be cloying moments, and Capaldi's deadpan humour keeps the Robin Hood pastiche from getting too saccharine. Complaints about realism in the ending, where a golden arrow shot into the sky powers a spaceship back into orbit, seem void in a series about a 2000 year old man with a spaceship made of wood. Ben Miller feels underused, but ultimately it's an enjoyable story about telling stories, and it lets Capaldi explore the Doctor's lighter side. It's not the best episode of the season, but it's by no means a low point either.
My favourite episode of the series so far; possibly my favourite episode ever. Steven Moffat apparently wrote this "to prove he could write", and it feels like a true study in Moffat-isms: time paradoxes, childhood fears and a catchy line ('Listen!'). A tight concept explores the Doctor on his own, tackling something that's been playing on his mind for years. It's tense, and there's some efficient tea-time horror, but ultimately, the ambiguous ending seems to imply that really there's nothing to fear but fear itself: and the best monster of the series may well just have been a naughty child hiding under a bedsheet. Fans were apparently divided by the ending, showing Clara seemingly plant the seed of the Doctor's anxiety in his head as a child. This didn't bother me (even if I'm not sure how the Tardis could land in that barn - I'm fairly certain the paradox should make the Cloister Bell ring itself to pieces) but I did wonder: how do we know the Gallifreyan child Clara meets is definitely the Doctor? There are other Timelords who knew the Doctor as a child, and there's probably more than one way you could interpret the idea of fear being a superpower. If that turns out to be part of The Master's troubled youth, then I'll find an appropriately jubilant GIF to post.
Another solid episode, and another facet to the Doctor's personality. After some previous piratical misfires, Stephen Thompson finally hits the spot with his brand of high-adventure, slick Doctor Who. The Teller is a great monster, and there are some truly horrible ways to die in the Bank of Karabraxos. The Doctor's callousness is chipped away little by little throughout the episode, first revealing a slightly softer side with the doomed Saibra, then - by the reveal of his motivation for robbing the bank in the first place - a familiar sparkle of the Doctor's more familiar benevolent self, as he helps The Teller and his partner escape, and relieves a dying Karabraxos of her guilt. However, he does all this whilst never questioning the morality of the incredibly harsh, exploitative bank. We may see him laughing and joking with his newfound friendly thieves at the end, but I did wonder at this point if this Doctor is so morally neutral and detached that he could ever forge meaningful friendships with others. And then...
Coal Hill School is the perfect place to show that The Twelfth Doctor really does care, about humanity and, specifically, about Clara. After weeks of put-downs to Clara (which, as many have pointed out, were a little grating - I think they're just meant to show that this Doctor is very much incapable with human interaction), he's introduced to Danny Pink, her boyfriend, and finds a new target for his frustration. Samuel Anderson is really enjoyable as the capable, if awkward, Danny and he was introduced so well over the previous weeks that I really did feel defensive when the Doctor wouldn't accept him. But it's the Doctor who's being defensive here too, watching over and protecting Clara with the misplaced paternal zeal of a fierce grandfather. Which is exactly why Coal Hil, his granddaughter Susan's old school, is the best place to set this little story. Oh yeah, and something about a Skovox Blitzer. Wasn't Chris Addison great?
So there we are. Not really that short a blog at all, really. But made up of tiny little ones. Still really enjoying the story arc overall, especially in its simplicity and relative unobtrusiveness - I want to find out more about The Nethersphere, but it's not getting in the way of each of the one-off stories. The continued increase in screen time and general agency for Clara is welcome too, and the way her life intertwines with each episode lends a brilliant sense of continuity. Midway through what is arguably the most consistently entertaining series of Doctor Who for years, and apparently at a 'game changing' point next episode, I'm really excited to see where the rest of Series 8 is going.
August 26, 2014
- Doctor Who: Series 8, Episode 1
Spoilers for Deep Breath.
If Deep Breath makes one thing clear from the outset, it's that Peter Capaldi is the Doctor. Not just the Twelfth one, or the older one, or the moody one: Capaldi takes a 50 year-old screen role, defines and then redefines it in a matter of moments. Somehow, he manages to take something with such a legacy - and so much baggage - and inhabit it completely whilst also moving it into a new light. It's a brilliant, show-stealing performance. Capaldi's Doctor is at both times coldly furious (borrowing, at times, a little of Malcolm Tucker) and charmingly big-hearted. He's the archetype now.
Thankfully, the story matches his enthusiasm and confidence, giving him the room to perform. As a regeneration episode, the focus is obviously on Capaldi's Doctor finding his feet and ensuring continuity with the series. Arriving in Victorian London, having dragged an unfortunate dinosaur with him, the Doctor's post-regenerative fugue recalls similar beginnings from Tennant and Pertwee. Clara and the Paternoster Gang keep the Doctor on track and help with the sense of transition from one era to the next. The episode's central mystery, revolving around murderous cyborgs harvesting organs to repair their ship, is a direct quote of an earlier Moffat story, The Girl in the Fireplace. In fact, there's even a knowingness to the familiarity of the set-up as Capaldi blithely denies any memory of his earlier encounter with similar cyborgs. In many ways, Madame Vastra, herself quoting Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, sums it up best - "here we go again".
Just a few subtle references...
And yet, at the same time, it's by no means an episode that plays safe. Steven Moffat writes the most satisfying story he's penned in a long time, partially by virtue of a newfound restraint and darker tone (more on that later), but mostly by bringing a little more character to Clara. Jenna Coleman seizes the opportunity and carries the episode, turning in the best and most believable performance of her time in the series. It still feels like Clara's not yet fully arrived, but at least she gets moments of bravery, selfishness and even comedy - for once, she doesn't feel like a passive spectator, plot device or sacrificial object.
Clara's renewed character is allowed room to grow in the lengthier sections of dialogue. Whilst this is in part due to the extra-long run time, it's also because of a shift in structure and pace. Deep Breath is more straightforward, quieter and more conversational than other recent episodes - there's an element of restraint in the writing that allows for greater depth. As an example, the episode manages to have something of a slow burn opening, despite featuring a dinosaur. Rather than sending the prehistoric CGI model on a rampage through Westminster, Moffat draws pathos for it as the Doctor first translates its loneliness, and then heartbreakingly fails to save its from a barbaric fate.
The site of a dinosaur burning alive is one of several moments in the episode that lend it a tone that's not necessarily darker than previous series, but more balanced and macabre. The tone is balanced far better, so there's a sense of menace and dark humour throughout rather than a series of jarring setpieces that jump between clowning and carnage. The scenes with the zombie-like cyborgs who don't eat or breathe are genuinely creepy and tense (did you try and hold your breath along with Clara, or was that just me?) and Half-Face Man's cog-filled head, gelatinous eye and spaceship made of skin are delightfully disgusting creations. It helps of course that director Ben Wheatley is no stranger to horror or comedy, having directed Kill List and Sightseers. Here, he holds the shots for longer than usual, giving Moffat's dialogue the space it deserves, and in action sequences there's a focus on reactions. He also plays with the way series conventions are shot - notably, in the Tardis, he shows the ship in flight without feeling the need to throw the camera around or show the machine in action. Combined with the new theme tune, which feels more akin to 80's Who, and trippier title sequence it appears that the show is placing a new emphasis on eerie rather than epic.
I like it, but it's a bit...90s...?
Personal highlights? Murray Gold's soundtrack, which complements the new tone; the genuine friendship Clara seems to have for Strax, even after he hits her in the face with a newspaper; "karaoke and mime"; Capaldi's "attack eyebrows" and the scene in the restaurant at the end where the Doctor realises his description of the decaying cyborgs matches himself - very similar to the confrontation between Matt Smith and Prisoner Zero at the end of The Eleventh Hour. Matt Smith's cameo is a moment that might divide fans (I thought it was a bit unneccessary), but at least it provided a new way of reinforcing the continuity between Doctors. And at least no one said "timey-wimey".
There are clear plot arc hints at work, but for now at least they seem refreshingly simple. Is there some mysterious message that the Doctor was trying to tell himself by choosing Caecilius's/John Frobisher's face for his latest regeneration? Who was the woman in the shop that Clara met, and was she the same person who placed the newspaper ad? And what about sinister, slightly-mad Missy? Why does she say that she'll keep the Scottish accent her "boyfriend" has acquired? I've convinced myself via fan theories that her name's short for "Mistress", and is a clue that we've just met the first woman to play The Master. But who knows what the future holds? Right now, Peter Capaldi is the Doctor, and Doctor Who is brilliant again.
January 01, 2014
- Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor
Spoilers for The Time of the Doctor.
There is a question, we were told. The oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight. A question that must never, ever be answered. And now we know what it is.
Every time anything happens in The Time of the Doctor, ask 'why?' and silence will fall. Slightly fumbled Christmas specials are sort of par for the course (cf.: Moffat's previous half-cooked turkey, The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe or Russell T Davies' own pickled egg, The Next Doctor), but The Time of the Doctor will forever be Matt Smith's last episode as the Doctor, and Peter Capaldi's first. Such an important moment is almost completely lost in a muddle of ideas, leftover plot threads and irrelevant characters, saved only by the performances of the principal cast.
The Silence has been following the Eleventh (Thirteenth?) Doctor now since 2010. It's been behind each and every one of the bad things that have happened to the Doctor and his chums since he started wearing bow ties, and The Time of the Doctor recapitulates (and relies on) each of these many convoluted key plot points from Series 5 - 7 ad nauseum, dutifully working its way through a checklist of details so meticulous that recent and casual viewers will have no idea what's going on.
For fans that have been following closely, there are answers, finally, but not much sense - we may have been given a piece of the puzzle that fits, but it certainly doesn't have the right bit of the picture on it. Clara even goes through the rules of regeneration, for all those viewers (i.e.: most of us) who've never seen The Deadly Assassin and don't know about the fact that the Doctor can only change his face 12 times. The Doctor canonises some previously dubious regenerations and lets us know that he's at the end of his life - if nothing else, the Doctor will have brought peace to several heated threads on fan forums this Christmas.
'The Question' is asked, and the Doctor vows never to answer for the sake of peace. But it's that other question - 'why?' - that really comes back to haunt us. Why did we have to deal with all of this in Matt Smith's final episode? We've waited three years for some of these plot threads, why clumsily solve them now and get in the way of Smith's farewell? The realisation that the Eleventh Doctor would be the last, the new lease of life from the Time Lords and the rise of Kovarian's splinter-church are all really interesting stories - why shove them into the bin with a few lines of dialogue?
There's actually a scene where everyone sits down and explains everything that's happened since 2010.
You also have to ask why this story is the one being told. The central plot of the episode involves a Mexican stand-off that sees the Doctor wait to die in a town called Christmas (why is it called Christmas, other than because it's Christmas?). But why tell that story? Why would that be interesting to watch - and what makes it significant as the last story for the Eleventh Doctor? And why burden Matt Smith with prosthetic make-up for his final performance as the progressively aging Doctor? Much of this episode involves characters running in and out of the Tardis as the Doctor sits around and waits - and when Clara's left behind for the second time and the Doctor is indisposed, Tasha Lem, High Priestess of Exposition, is drafted in to fly her back to the Doctor instead. When you start replacing characters with talking get-out clauses, you've probably written in too many problems.
There are, however, some brilliant ideas caught in the middle of it all - the wooden Cyberman, the ever-baffling Church, Handles the tragicomic Cyberhead and the children's drawings are all brilliant touches that recall the fairytale-like era of the Eleventh Doctor. The tone is generally spot-on (I didn't cringe once) and the cinematic direction and Murray Gold's score are both as beautiful as ever, the latter revisiting motifs used in previous regeneration episodes to emphasise the meaning of that change: it's always the same man, just ever so slightly different. But there are also several other moments that fall flat - the arbitrary Weeping Angels sequence, knowing jokes about Matt Smith's wig and, most notably, the entire nudity/holographic-clothes routine. Several revelations about the plot threads also only really work if you stand back, squint a bit and assume the Doctor never asks any questions. A few new clues are even sewn in to this episode (who wrote that poem?) but now we know how plot mysteries get resolved, it feels pointless to speculate about what they could mean. Too much "timey-wimey".
It's not a terrible episode, but it's such a shame for Smith in comparison to David Tennant's final outing, The End of Time. Whilst both of these regeneration stories bring unresolved plot arcs to a close in ways which one might cynically say were never planned from the outset, Russell T Davies gets away with it because his plots were always straightforward, bombastic affairs designed to get characters from A to B and show us how that made them feel. Davies is also - if nothing else - the undisputed master of teary goodbyes in Doctor Who, and so whilst Tennant's episodes wrap up the Time War, Master and Ood Prophesy threads, they do so in a way which focuses on the Tenth Doctor's personality, warts and all. Both are stories about aging and mortality - but whilst Tennant gets to reflect on what this means for his character in juxtaposition to the Master, Rassilon and Wilfred, Smith instead has a lonely hour which is largely filled with exposition, explanations and a massive explosion. As Ted B. Kissell in The Atlantic points out, this may be because the Eleventh Doctor never really had a character arc at all.
This is an overly harsh pictorial analysis.
This being said, when Smith does eventually regenerate, it's brilliant. Not the first step, mind - his speech atop the bell tower to the assembled alien hordes recalls his greatest moments, but the unleashing of his destructive regenerative powers seems at odds with the peace he spent several centuries protecting in Christmas. After the explosions are over, the second, final stage is far more moving. Perhaps sensing that he's not great at goodbyes, Moffat makes the final change a much more solemn and sudden affair. Smith, thankfully restored to youth, delivers a brilliant final speech in a strange staccato rhythm that really does sound like the words of a dying man. The small cameo from Karen Gillan as Amy Pond is also truly touching, a final dreamlike image from the fairytale era. And then, the regenerative energy spent, Smith snaps his head back and Peter Capaldi appears, doing the standard confused, post-regenerative routine - first impressions though are better than those I felt for both Smith and Tennant, and I'm truly excited to see how Capaldi's Doctor will develop.
Clara though, I could do without. Despite her mystery now being solved, she remains the Impossible Girl - unknowable and underdeveloped, a character lacking any real character. She's a bit too perfect - effortlessly becoming a secondary school teacher and fitting planning and marking in around jaunts in the Tardis - and her only defining personality trait is that she's a nice person, which is great, but not enough to make her a fully-formed character. Even the brief introduction of her family (apparently living in Rose Tyler's old flat) doesn't shine any light on who she is and why we should care about her. We're told that she's the Doctor's best friend, but he seems happy to abandon her and let her die, or at the least use her as bait in an elaborate and faintly misogynistic ploy to revive Tasha Lem's humanity. He even ignores Clara and focuses on a vision of Amy when his final moment arrives. Yet still, Clara never questions the Doctor. Jenna Coleman shines every week with the material she's given, but she could do so much more with the character. With Coleman staying and Capaldi arriving, my main hope for Series 8 is that the characters grow in a direction that fully utilises the talents of the cast.
The Time of the Doctor is a sad goodbye to the brilliant Matt Smith, but for all the wrong reasons. Here's to 2014, and to Sherlock!
November 24, 2013
- Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor
Spoilers for The Day of the Doctor & The Night of the Doctor.
Well. That was a bit special, wasn't it?
I almost don't want to review The Day of the Doctor - it's not fair. What can you compare it to? It's a delicate balance between a museum-piece for the series' 50th anniversary and an exemplary episode that demonstrates exactly what the series does best. It's an affectionate glance back for fans and a resolute look forward for new audiences and, most of the time, it gets it perfectly right.
It was certainly a triumphant tribute to the series, a jubilant celebration of all things Who - and the atmosphere in the small cinema in Leamington Spa on Sat 23 Nov where I went to catch the screening was truly heartwarming. Whole generations of families came along together, whilst there were several fezzes, bow ties, sonics and scarves bobbing about in the foyer - along with one dedicated fan dressed as the Tenth Doctor, and half a cat nun. At the end, there were actually some fans in tears. The episode was also the very best use of 3D I've seen (admittedly, I'm not normally a fan) and it looked stunning on the big screen.
It's also a thoroughly enchanting episode - and, as I mentioned previously, it's a perfect tightrope walk between fan service and telling a good story. There are scenes where every line is a quote, reference or echo of a previous speech, the soundtrack incorporates practically every Murray Gold motif from the last 8 years, and sets are cluttered with tiny details from the show's history. The choice of Zygons is telling in itself - classic, celebrated villains from one of the show's most popular eras used in an invasion subplot that could really have been any episode in the show's recent run. Their design hasn't changed but the execution has - Kate Stewart's gruesome transformation proving the show can still scare children with old ideas.
The episode tells three interconnected stories that are new but, in each way, already familiar: A UNIT story with Kate Stewart, the current Doctor and Clara; the frequently hinted-at brush with Elizabeth I and the Tenth Doctor; and the War Doctor's decision at the Fall of Arcadia to end the Time War. The result is a perfect parable of the life of The Doctor, serving to remind himself of who he really is: never cruel or cowardly, never giving up and never giving in. At the same time, the episode accomplishes this reaffirmation even as it introduces us to a previously unseen version of the Doctor who, remarkably, establishes himself almost instantly in John Hurt's expert performance. His quiet fury and sadness seen in the opening scene at the Fall of Arcadia is perhaps unique to him, but his more amiable interactions with his two future selves were pitch-perfect and totally believable as the Doctor. As with McGann's brilliant outing in The Night of the Doctor, it genuinely feels like a missed opportunity when we see him regenerate.
As brilliant as John Hurt was, it's still a shame we didn't get more 8th Doctor. Maybe more in the future?
Hurt, Tennant and Smith make a brilliant ensemble, and the dialogue is probably some of the funniest in a long while. The frequently mentioned dynamic between Tennant and Smith is obvious and hugely endearing, but it's really Hurt's sardonic Doctor undercutting them both that brings out the best of the laughs. Jemma Redgrave's Kate Stewart makes a welcome return, and Ingrid Oliver's UNIT scientist Osgood is a brilliant new addition, replacing the absent (but mentioned) Malcolm from Planet of the Dead - I'm hoping she becomes a recurring character. Billie Piper's return will no doubt have disappointed some fans - as hinted at in the trailers, she wasn't the Rose Tyler we knew. Personally, I'm glad that Rose was left out of this one as each of her returns has slightly diminished her original, heartbreaking exit - plus, we get something brilliantly new from Billie Piper. Whilst she looks like the Bad Wolf - complete with glowing eyes - she talks in an exaggerated version of RP, placing emphasis on odd syllables. As the conscious interface of a Timelord weapon, The Moment, she bears something of a similarity to Suranne Jones' portrayal of the Tardis. The only disappointment was that neither the Tenth nor Eleventh Doctors got to see her - and the Tenth's fleeting reaction to her name is all too brief to have meaning.
Indeed, moments like this make you feel that perhaps there's such a thing as too many references - including some that I'm sure either sailed over my head or were missed in the flurry of events - and the result sometimes threatens to undo the careful nostalgia balancing act. The Tenth Doctor's dialogue in particular feels like a re-run of greatest hits - his machine that goes 'ding', or his rant at the rabbit both strong examples of this, before we even get to 'I don't want to go'. And as much as I loved Tom Baker's beautiful, restrained and characteristically eccentric cameo at the end (the perfect way to connect the classic and new series together), I'm still struggling to work out who exactly this 'Curator' with a familiar face actually is. It's not a complaint - I really loved all these little moments - but they do occasionally push the episode towards a meta black hole.
I reckon all television programmes earn the right to a sentimental dream sequence once every 50 years.
Multi-Doctor stories are also always bound to fall foul of continuity - and this is another reason why I feel like I shouldn't be reviewing this episode. I shouldn't be saying that it's frustrating that we never learn how Clara and the Eleventh Doctor escaped his own timestream (and Trenzalore); I shouldn't be asking how the Doctor was able to call upon the assistance of all of his previous incarnations to assist in an act that they can't possibly know about in their own timelines; and I shouldn't be wondering about the significance of Tom Baker's character. This is, after all, a celebratory episode like The Five Doctors - it's sort of par for the course that anything can happen, and amnesia will take care of all the repercussions. But in this episode, we get a drastic rewriting of the Doctor's story: we learn that, through a predestination paradox, the Doctor never committed genocide - he only thought he had. Gallifrey is now safe, and waiting to be restored. It changes how we view the previous seven series, and it will change the Doctor's outlook in the future.
Because this episode presents itself as such a shift in narrative for the series, it's difficult to ignore the rest of the continuity - and the most notable of these is the clash with the description of the Time War and the Time Lords in The End of Time. The two visions of the war vary wildly (I have to say, I preferred Russell T Davies' poetic-apocalyptic description better - has Steven Moffat now retconned all of his story arcs completely?) - one explanation may be that in a Time War, The Last Day is just the Doctor's last day of fighting in the war, occuring across all of time simultaneously. In either case, it'll be interesting to see what the Doctor finds waiting for him if he ever reaches his home.
These aren't even complaints though - more things I noticed. The show was both a brilliant celebration and a strong episode and it launches a brand new era for the show. And whilst we don't get any of the answers Steven Moffat suggesteed we would, there are a few interesting points for the future. How will the Eleventh Doctor behave now he has been absolved of his sins? And how will the series adapt to restore some of the texture to his character that comes with averting genocide rather than causing it? Aside from the Doctor's new mission to seek out Gallifrey, there's also the brief but exciting glimpse of Peter Capaldi's Twelfth (Thirteenth?) Doctor and - in his introduction - the possible suggestion that he will indeed be the last: 'No, sir. All 13!'
Trenzalore remains important, and you do have to wonder if there's any significance in Clara becoming a teacher in Susan's old school (did you spot Ian Chesterton listed as chair of governors?). Beyond that, we still don't know why the Tardis exploded, nor who gave the Doctor's number to Clara, nor any rationale behind Madame Kovarian's actions - and we've still no clue as to why 'silence will fall' on Trenzalore. Unless, of course, we haven't seen the last of the Omega Aresenal and The Moment, which could very easily connect all of these things...
Happy Birthday Doctor Who: you wise, old, brilliant, beautiful thing. 50 years young, and still trying something new. Here's to Christmas!
November 10, 2013
Spoilers for The Name of the Doctor and The Day of the Doctor
The BBC today released not one but two Doctor Who - Day of the Doctor 50th Anniversary trailers. And besides causing general fan excitement and providing yet more reasons to most definitely #SaveTheDay for a screening - at home on your sofa or in a cinema worldwide - there were dozens of little details that hint at the direction the episode is taking. Apart from the general brilliance of seeing Tennant, Smith and Hurt together, Matt Smith hanging from the Tardis above the National Portrait Gallery, angry Zygons and the explodey deaths of several unfortunate Daleks on a war-torn Gallifrey, here are ten tiny fleeting moments that caught my attention across both trailers:
10 - The Sontarans
Bit of an obvious one to start with as there are a lot of shots of this. I've fiddled with the contrast and colour of this screenshot to get a clearer shot, but that definitely looks like a Sontaran ship to me on the left of the screen - although it might also be one of The Silence's Timeships if the decloaked version from The Lodger is anything to go by. Either is significant - if this battle is against the Daleks and is set in the Time War, the Sontarans were banned from fighting - which suggests that history has changed and the war reopened from its 'time lock'. If it's The Silence, then their relevance to the series might finally start to become clear...
EDIT: The general internet consensus is that these are some sort of Dalek variant - on closer inspection, they do resemble the more open casing of the Dalek Emperor from The Parting of the Ways.
9 - Clara's Vortex Manipulator
Another slightly obvious one - the signature lightning special effect and wristband suggests Clara is about to vanish into the time and space ether courtesy of a Vortex Manipulator - but who did it belong to first? River Song maybe? This might have something to do with the connection to Clara she was referring to in The Name of the Doctor. Personally, I'm holding out for an appearance from Captain Jack Harkness, another previous owner of a Vortex Manipulator - but with John Barrowman adamant that he's not appearing, it might be unlikely.
8 - UNIT and a base under siege...
It's just a quick moment, but I thought it might turn out to be important, hinting that UNIT - along with Kate Stewart and Ingrid Oliver's Tom-Baker-scarfed character - might play some other part in the story beyond getting the Doctor to the National Portrait Gallery. And whilst we're on the subject of UNIT...
7 - The Two Kates?
Look past the Two Doctors in this very short clip, and you can clearly see what also looks like two versions of Kate Stewart, the Brigadier's daughter, too - albeit with every-so-slightly different hair - suggesting some timey-wimey shenanigans in the UNIT base.
As an extra bonus point too, the gun behind David Tennant's head is a Dalek tommy gun made for their half-human army from the Series 3 two-parter Daleks in Manhatten/The Evolution of the Daleks. Besides being a lovely bit of set-dressing, does this mean that UNIT are expecting to fight the Daleks?
6 - Rassilon?
Last seen falling back into The Time War in The End of Time, is that Timelord President Rassilon leading up this platoon of marching Gallifreyans? It's difficult to tell, but the leader on the right cuts a very familiar silhouette.
5 - John Hurt's Tardis
It's a small detail I appreciate, but whilst the console that John Hurt's Doctor is piloting in the first trailer appears to be the same as the Ecclestone/Tennant era, it's actually a subtly re-dressed set: the central column and control panels are all lit white, the signature cabling is absent and there are pewter/white floor tiles in place of the metal grilles that appear in the more familiar console room. This could be another visual hint that Hurt is a Doctor positioned somewhere between the 8th and 9th versions we already knew about it. And whilst we're on the subject of Type 40 Time Travel Capsules...
4 - Tardis in a Tardis
Another very small moment, and maybe one that's not too enlightening, but it's something of a thrill to see a Tardis (in this case, The Eleventh Doctor's, complete with St John Ambulance logo) parked inside another (whilst it's quite blurry, you can make out the orange roundels and hanging cabling of the Tenannt era console room) - is this the first time we've seen this in a full episode since Logopolis?
3 - What's happened to Rose?
When it was anounced that Billie Piper and David Tennant would reprise their roles as Rose Tyler and the Tenth Doctor, I assumed that we'd see them together at an earlier point in their timelines when they were still travelling and, since images released since have only really featured the Doctors, I figured that Rose and Clara would be left behind by the Doctors to start their journey alone together (a phrase that actually works in this context). But I'm beginning to think from these two trailer that Rose might actually be far more important to the story than had previously been suggested. For a start - what's happened to her? In this shot, her costume appears torn and burnt, like she's just fought her way through a terrible battle. I don't think we've ever seen Rose dressed in this style of costume either, which suggests she's from a point much later in her timeline than her last chronological appearance in Series 4. And then of course, there's that moment with her glowing eyes...
2 - Bad Wolf...
Although you can't really see it as well in a still image, Rose's eyes glow a bright yellow in one short clip of the first trailer. It could be a reflection of something of course, but the artifical nature and Rose's expression are very reminiscent of her brief stint as a god-like entity possessed of all the power of the Time Vortex - the 'Bad Wolf' from Series 1's finale The Parting of the Ways. If this is true, it's a nice reference that loops the rebooted Doctor Who back to it's origins in 2005. It also suggests that Rose may yet use this power again, and there are also some other hints that she may be even more important still...
1- The Moment
In both trailers, there's a mention of something called 'The Moment' which, as we learnt in The End of Time, was something The Doctor used to end the Time War and destroy both his people and (almost) all of the Daleks in the universe. It's impossible to tell for certain at this point, but there's a strong visual implication that the object in question is this Gallifreyan-loking artefact above. If this is true, then it seems that the rumours of John Hurt being the Doctor to end the Time War seem very plausible. But it's interesting to note where this object is stored...
This stunning shot of John Hurt shows a barn or shed in the distance that matches the look of the room where The Moment is being stored. But where is this shed? Gallifrey would seem an obvious answer, but the building has a far more human look than the Citadel of the Timelords, and the sky is an Earthly blue rather than the burnt orange of Gallifrey. Is it possible that this is another trip to Utah, site of the Doctor's supposed 'death' in Series 6's The Impossible Astronaut? If so, perhaps the actions of The Silence may finally be explained. Whether The Silence are present or not, John Hurt still won't be alone in the shed...
I've adjusted the brightness in this shot slightly to make it clearer, but if you look to the right of the frame it seems that Rose is present with Hurt's Doctor at a time when he is about to do something with The Moment. There are a lot of other shots in both trailers too which show Hurt and Piper together or show Rose inside the same room. If this is true, it seems that Rose may meet Hurt's Doctor at a point after she is separated from the Tenth Doctor, and may even have been present at the end of the Time War. The fact that the Ninth Doctor doesn't recognise her when he meets her also suggests that he cannot remember exactly what he did in the war.
Letting nothing slip
Those are my top ten, but there are so many other moments of interest (if you'll excuse the pun) - I haven't even mentioned Joanna Page as Queen Elizabeth I. Well, I have now.
The dialogue in both trailers doesn't give too much away, but there are also a few small points that caught my attention. It's perhaps telling that Rose is the person to mention The Moment, and it's also interesting to note that John Hurt says he's looking for The Doctor and doesn't recognise Ten and Eleven - this would seem to confirm that he's a past incarnation of The Doctor rather than an echo of the future. It's also great to hear the Tenth Doctors's quip about not liking the Tardis redecoration - a line that's been used by The Second Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and even the Eleventh Doctor over the years. Finally, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors seem to have a row over where it is they're going - with Ten saying he'd like to know and Eleven assuring him he's best off not knowing. The Time War would seem an obvious choice, but is this all heading back towards Trenzalore...?
What do you think? Have I missed anything? Answers on an internet postcard - drop me a comment below!
August 04, 2013
So, television's greatest secret is out: Peter Capaldi is the next Doctor.
It's a move that I frankly couldn't be happier about - Peter Capaldi is an incredibly talented actor and frequently appears on my list of ideal actors to play the Timelord. But until the news actually broke tonight, I'd always assumed he'd forever belong to the fantasy football leagues of Doctor Who choices.
For a start, he was the tabloid and bookie's favourite, a guessing game which normally turns out to be hopelessly, completely wrong. Four years ago, the papers were telling us with absolute certainty that Paterson Joseph was going to be the 11th Doctor.
But mainly, it's Capaldi's filmography that made me assume that he could never be the next Doctor. Firstly, it's long and prestigious - and whilst few would doubt the formidable CVs of any of the recent Doctors, none of the last three were BAFTA winning household names before they took the part. Indeed, it's Capaldi's most well known role - Malcolm Tucker in In The Loop and The Thick Of It - that I assumed would lock him out of the Tardis. Capaldi's performance as the Machiavellian spin doctor is brilliant, exuding menace from a complicated anti-hero that always somehow inspired a certain level of pathos. But it's also a role notorious for exotic insults, put-downs and language so obscene a swearing consultant was employed for vulgarity verisimiliuide. As a show with cult status, the internet is full of videos, GIFs and even a Buzzfeed List [not safe for work] dedicated to the incredibly well-crafted venom of Malcolm Tucker. Surely there's got to be a few eyebrows raised at the choice of the same actor to appear in one of the most iconic family-friendly roles on television? Does he have too much baggage to take on the role of the Doctor?
I'm not crying moral outrage - not even whispering it - but there's surely a PR gamble here with the possibility of 8 year old children googling their new favourite actor and discovering a whole host of new vocabulary. My primary-school teaching other half is already scratching her head about the implications it'll have on her ideas of using Doctor Who in literacy sessions she was planning. In a year's time, Malcolm Tucker will be appearing on Blue Peter and peering out from lunchboxes nationwide.
Of course, there's a precedent for this sort of thing that suggests it's simply not a problem: Billie Piper's lead role in Secret Diary of a Call Girl has not debarred her return, and there was the brief parallel run of Doctor Who with its sullen, spotty, adolescent cousin, Torchwood (in which Capaldi himself played the conniving and murderous Frobisher in creepy alien child-abduction serial, Children of the Earth) that seemingly did no harm. And obviously, by sheer virtue of casting an older actor with such huge experience, it's inevitable that somewhere in their filmography there's going to be a GIF of a role in their career that you wouldn't show to your kids. That's just the internet, and time.
And I am incredibly, incredibly glad that an older actor will be playing the Doctor again. I'm even more thrilled it's Peter Capaldi. He looks like a wizard, a coiled spring with fierce presence and a huge range. For some reason, he reminds me of Jon Pertwee - but we'll have to wait and see what his own interpretation of the role will be like. For me, some of the most enjoyable relationships in the show have been the ones without the school-girl style crush; the Ninth Doctor and Rose; the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble; the Eleventh and Rory. I'm also hoping a slightly older actor will see a return to this sort of dynamic, although if River Song were ever to return, I think that Capaldi and Alex Kingston would work really well together.
It's a long wait til November. Now it's an even longer wait until Christmas. It'll be sad to see Matt Smith exit, but this regeneration promises to be truly exciting. Now, if they can only explain what he was up to in Pompeii with the cabbie from Sherlock...
December 27, 2012
- Doctor Who: Christmas Special 2012
Best Doctor Who Christmas special ever? Certainly. Best episode of Doctor Who since about 2010? Almost definitely. Like a huge plateful of Christmas dinner, it's hard to know where to start. Normally, I'd begin by tossing out the sprouts but thankfully Steven Moffat decided to serve none. Honestly, there's nothing I can fault The Snowmen on. Like the gravy (and my analogy, I appreciate) the plot here is a little thin, but in an episode of change and big ideas, I think that's probably a wise move.
Critics have said that 2012's festive outing in the Tardis feels much less Christmassy than normal - personally, I don't agree. Nothing says Christmas in Doctor Who like untimely demise and, in particular, women falling to their death in slow-motion. The eponymous snowmen, made of living snow, are credible villains: camp enough for Christmas, but never straying into pantomime. Richard E Grant puts in a fantastically restrained performance as Simeon, their lord and master, and it's a real shame that he's left apparently dead at the end of the hour. His story - a sad little boy, manipulated by his own loneliness into a monstrous Victorian overlord - is a dark tale, and largely bereft of Christmas spirit, but it parallels the Doctor's apathy and fits in with the Victorian melancholy.
Nothing more festive than an ice-zombie of a drowned-governess...
Despite the downbeat plot, the episode is perfectly balanced thanks to the returning crime-fighting trio of Strax, Jenny and Madame Vastra. Surely the most well-loved bit-part characters of the new era, it's great to see them back in action (and in Strax's case, back from the dead). I'd love to see more of them - I'm not certain they'd be able to survive their own spin-off without the Doctor, but they'd make a great alternative to The Brigadier as recurring characters. The direct references to Sherlock are also difficult not to smile at, although you do have to wonder if Steven Moffat's mind is slowly melting into the shape of a pipe.
Of course, the most anticipated return of the episode was new companion Clara (previously Oswin). Jenna-Louise Coleman puts in a great performance, and her relentless charm and optimism is the perfect antidote to Matt Smith's broken Doctor. It's great to see some proper character development with the Doctor for the first time in a long while, and Coleman's character is the best mystery of the series to date. I was relieved that the Doctor made the connection between her and souffle girl before the end, as too much dramatic irony slowly sours into frustration. Despite disappointment in the past with long plot arcs, I'm genuinely optimistic about Clara and can't wait to see how she turns out.
The unsung heroes of the episode have to be the designers. From the Victorian streets to Simeon's steampunk lab and Vastra's Silurian hide-out, it's a beautiful looking piece of television. And of course, there's a whole new look to the Tardis - bruised and battered on the outside, cold and alien on the inside - like a cross between a submarine and a cathedral. I love the new look - I was never very keen on the last console room, as it just didn't look dangerous enough. It looks like the general structure of the room has been carried over to the new set, but the stark colours and closer walls lend the new design a claustrophobic feel. The only downside for me was what I think was a fairly prominent use of CGI on the set. I know that modern television relies on CGI for even simple shots - adding location backgrounds, etc - and that this is normally so seamless that you don't even notice. But the joy of the last two Tardis sets is that you could feasibly walk onto either. Just as with the wooden box itself, they had a 'realness' to them that made them somehow tangible. With the new set, I'm not sure how much is just green cloth, but certainly the spinning rings and ceiling detail must be. This is a shame because it's a feature we'll see every time the Tardis travels - although the central column does have a subtle, 'real' movement of its own. A small moan I know. I'd love to know if anyone's seen any production photos of the actual set, but I'm almost certain that the rings are CGI: the spotlights on them don't affect the shadows on the floor of the set.
Slightly-less 'bigger on the inside'...
The new Tardis design is also a clear nod to the history of the show, reflecting the Davidson and McGann era consoles. This is part of a whole pattern of brilliant homages to the history of the programme - the revamped title sequence, theme tune and the Doctor's costume all borrow elements from previous incarnations of the show. Richard E Grant has also previously played two 'unofficial' incarnations of The Doctor, and the Doctor's self-imposed exile lends the episode a Pertwee era feel. As a special treat for the nerdiest of fans, the Doctor's memory of 'The Great Intelligence' controlling the evil snow is most likely from two Second Doctor adventures, The Abominable Snowman and The Web of Fear, both featuring the same snowman-controlling entity. The latter episode is also set largely in the London Underground, and was broadcast in 1968 - The Eleventh Doctor in this episode gives the Great Intelligence a map of the Underground from 1967 - essentially, The Snowmen could be seen as a prequel. What's slightly worrying is that this is not your common or garden Doctor Who trivia; only one of the six episodes of The Web of Fear even survives. It's clear that the series is gearing up for its 50th Anniversary celebrations, and that's brilliant - as long as the series doesn't start to lose itself in referencing its back catalogue.
For me, this is easily the best episode of Doctor Who since The Eleventh Hour. With the Tardis sitting high above the clouds, it's a return to the dreamlike, fairytale quality that's been largely missing since the Doctor 'died', and it's great to have the Doctor on a mission again - there were many times during the last two series where it felt like he was sort of ignoring everything that happened around him. It also leaves us with so many questions for the new year. Who brought Strax back to life? How has Clara survived? Why did she choose 'Pond' as her only word to reach the Doctor and why does she know so much about him?
Is it Easter yet?
October 26, 2012
- Doctor Who: Series 7, Episode 5
A month ago we said farewell to Amy and Rory, killed by the Weeping Angels. The Angels Take Manhattan was a dark, beautiful looking episode that took the Angels back to their Blinkroots - scary, clever villains (the statue of Liberty angel is just brilliant) with a unique time travel twist. But the plotting of the past in a pulp novella was much clumsier than Sally Sparrow's notes from the Angels' first outing, and did feel a bit repetitive.
The plot was also nowhere near as tight as Blink, and the holes bothered me greatly - as did a few tonally off-key moments, like River breaking her own wrist and the moribund couple's suicide pact that was more than a little troubling.
It was these holes that got me thinking though: I'm really not sure that this is the very last that we've seen of Amy and Rory. Regardless of the fact that I don't buy into the Doctor being unable to rescue the couple from some point in time (or at the very least, pop in for tea) we know that River will send her book to Amy to be published, and surely that means they could possibly meet again? We also know that River has unfinished business with the Doctor; she still doesn't know his name, and we know that's coming at The Fields of Trenzalore and The Fall of the Eleventh (I'm hoping that's going to be the episode title). With River still clearly having a part to play, it's not too much of a leap of imagination to think that her parents might have a brief cameo before her time - and the Eleventh Doctor's - comes to an end.
In fairness, this is probably just be wishful thinking. I can't say the Ponds' goodbye packed the same weight as Rose's departure, or the last two regenerations. Rory escapes a truly horrible fate but is instantly, dismissively offed - and that's just not fair really, considering how much practice he'd put into dying. Amy's goodbye is a little more poignant, but still feels hurried. It's only really the Doctor's dash back to Central Park to pick up the last chapter of his book that carries any punch - Moffat might make darker Who than Russell T Davies, but he's just not as good at sad endings.
In the end, there are just too many loose ends; if anything, the additional, un-filmed scene makes things even more muddled. Brian's lovely and everything, but what about Amy's parents? Are they dead or just forgotten? And why doesn't River get in touch with her grandfather?
Perhaps I'm nitpicking. At the very least though, we can be certain that we'll see the Angels again. The Doctor just left one wandering around New York...
September 18, 2012
- Doctor Who: Series 7, Episode 3
A Town Called Mercy is a return to form, and everyone's gone trigger-happy - not least Chekhov.
I'm a big fan of Chekhov's Gun (steady now). It's an old-fashioned, solid mantra for making drama with a good, logical and (mostly) satisyfing plot:
If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there.
- Anton Chekhov
Too often in Doctor Who, the gun is left hanging on the wall - or worse still, the wooden clogs in the corner magically come to life and shoot a Judoon in the knee (actually if that really did happen I'd probably love that episode). So A Town Called Mercy is a welcome break. Within 15 minutes of the Doctor, Amy and Rory walking into the Old Western frontier town of Mercy, the writing is on the wall for stranded alien Kahler Jex and his Cyborg nightmare 'The Gunslinger'. When Jex mentions how he used to be a surgeon and is 'sort-of' a father, we know that the monster that hunts him is a Frankenstein of his own making. And when the Doctor discovers his hidden spaceship, we know that the self-destruct sequence will come back to haunt one of the characters. It's the massive, used-to-be-an-arm, gun on the wall.
Either that gun is really massive, or this episode should've been 'Honey, I Shrunk The Doctor'
In that respect, the episode is slightly (and I really mean only slightly) disappointing. The plot is solid but predictable and there's no surprises in this little morality play - and no new ground for the Doctor to tread. As the characters struggle with what to do with Jex, equal parts the hero and the war criminal, we once again glimpse the Doctor's own guilt at his previous actions and see his principles questioned and tested. But there's nothing here that's not been done before - in Dalek, Boom Town, The Doctor's Daughter...actually, practically any episode with the Tenth Doctor. It's true that none of these episodes possess the same eloquence and subtlety in dialogue, character and performance (Adrian Scarborough is particularly enjoyable as the mercurial Jex) - but in terms of emotional kick, and how much we're made to care about the Doctor, they still come up trumps over A Town Called Mercy.
It's still a great episode of Doctor Who though, and the outcome is immensely satisfying. Elements of Frankenstein, Terminator, Red Dwarf and obviously numerous Westerns are threaded organically into the plot, and whereas other 'genre-takes-on-genre' episodes of Who feel cold and laboured (once again, Curse of the Black Spot, I'm not naming any names...) this feels like a loving homage from the Final Frontier to the Old Frontier. The Doctor's attitude to guns is the only inevitable clash, but Toby Whithouse manages to find a way to make the Doctor a cowboy who never fires a single bullet - unlike Amy, whose trigger-happy moment brings one of several moments of well-fitting humour to the episode.
Making Doctor Who funny is just as important to the identity of the series as scaring children witless. Whithouse gets this spot on too: the unseen screams and clinical euphemisms from Jex's experiment records recall the equally unpleasant Cybermen conversions in Rise of the Cybermen and will likely leave it's mark on many a nightmare. Whithouse manages and balances the the tone so carefully that the episode never feels too saccharine, even when the largely-forgettable bit-part townspeople die-or-survive over-earnestly; and unbelievably, even when the impressively monstrous steel and flesh creature suddenly goes all cuddly at the end.
'Sorry...who are you?'
It is a shame that this episode is so Doctor-centric that Amy and Rory don't get an awful lot to do; but this looks set to change in the next episode, The Power of Three, that focuses on their life between saving the universe. I'm massively excited about this domestic invasion story (not least because it features Steven Berkoff, and is rumoured to include a frankly long-overdue appearance of Prof Brian Cox) - as good as the Blockbuster idea is, you can't beat the Doctor making a house call.