Conversations with Thomas (part one)

It’s a Tuesday evening, and I have just put ‘City of Death’ into the DVD player.

 

Me: Apparently, this is supposed to be one of the best stories ever.

Thomas: Have you not seen it before?

Me: Not this one, no.

Thomas: Not even in the future?

Me: …I really don’t know how to answer that.

Thomas: Guess what. I ate some food and it tasted like triangles.

Me:

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Independent State of Eyebrows

It took a while for Gatiss and Moffat to wade in on the Scottish Independence debate, but it had to happen eventually.

 

Distress

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Riddles and sheds

So what have I been doing when I’m not either writing reviews, refining satirical conspiracy-laden theories about the arc or convincing the Metro readership that Classic Doctor Who was better?

Well, reading the news. Doing any sort of journalism, however low-key, requires a finger on the pulse. But even if I’d gone dark, it was hard to miss the Apple iPhone 6 Songs of Innocence debacle.

Cyber_U2

I also spend a lot of time answering email, and summarising plot threads to Gareth, who has yet to watch any of the new series on the grounds that “You aren’t exactly selling it to me, you know”. It’s true that the quality level has been variable: patches of good and patches of appalling, with one entire episode (‘Into the Dalek’) that lies squarely in between. Capaldi is great, but the scripts are not. I more or less accept this as par for the course these days; I can’t help feeling we’re all marking time until Moffat steps down and Gatiss takes over as chief writer – a prospect which, thanks to his recent output, actually no longer appalls me as much as it once did.

When New Who is proving to be a less-than-fulfilling experience, I go back to the old stuff, which isn’t always a good thing. The other week, for example, we watched ‘The Two Doctors’, which is (as Gareth says) “a tremendous waste of Patrick Troughton”. The basic problem is that there is no story: it takes two and a half hours for the Doctor to have two or three one-minute conversations with his past self, visit Seville and tussle with some comically tall Sontarans. The Androgum thing is a good idea that never convinces, because they’re so downright irritating. On the plus side, Colin Baker does manage to take Nicola Bryant on an early tour of the Google server farms.

Two-Google

Google actually figures – in a manner of speaking – in ‘The Ice Warriors’, which I finished this morning, and in which a group of isolated humans have become so reliant on technology that they are incapable of rationalisation or even thinking for themselves, relying exclusively on technology. When it’s suggested that Director Clent forego the I.T. consultation process and actually make a decision, he freezes and panics. In the 1960s the idea of a supercomputer that could answer any question and suggest a course of action for any situation was still buried deep within the realms of science fiction – but as time passes, and dependency on the internet and the cloud increases, I can’t help wondering if we’re breeding a generation who’d rather use a search engine than cultivate a thought process. Why bother finding out what happens when you drop Mentos in Diet Coke when you can just see it on YouTube?

It needn’t go this way, of course. It’s just a question of encouraging independent thought, which is what I try to do when I tell my children not to believe everything they read. We try and bring a little philosophy into the dinner table conversation. Occasionally this backfires. At Beaver camp earlier this year I spent half an hour in a forest clearing trying to explain the door riddle to Thomas, after he’d seen it in ‘Pyramids of Mars’. In the end I found three trees in a line, and took it in turns to be the guards in front of imaginary doorways. The conversation lasted most of the evening, on and off, in between the games of snap and the s’more session round the camp fire. What I should have done, of course, was this.

Pyramids_Question

Anyway.

My parents have just got back from a holiday in Norfolk – a place that forms what may just about be my first memory, besides the one that I wrote about way back in 2011 when I started this blog.

“This,” said my father, “was in a garden just up the road from us.”

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(The TARDIS in question is, I’m told, in Stiffkey, near Wells-on-sea.)

“We knocked,” said my father, “but the Doctor was out”. So they didn’t see inside, although if they had, it might have looked like this:

TARDIS_Int

Edward, meanwhile, has developed the annoying habit of pulling any DVDs he can reach off their shelves, spilling them on the floor. This means that the carpet of my study is at this very moment covered with plastic boxes. Unfortunately the only ones he can reach are the Doctor Who discs, because I like to keep them close to hand, and THEY HAVE TO BE IN THE CORRECT ORDER. Thus, in the process of returning them to their rightful places these last weeks I have become highly prolific at the story sequence for Baker through to McCoy, and could probably tell you them by heart.

But here he is, embroiled in our now daily ritual that is the Touching of Peter Capaldi’s Head.

Capaldi

The other day I put on the recon of ‘The Wheel in Space’, and as soon as he heard the theme music, he clapped. I have trained him well.

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Review: ‘Listen’

Listen_07

Warning: spoilers below.

Try and picture the perfect episode of Doctor Who. An episode that manages to thrill, astound, frighten and amuse in equal measure. A story that encompasses the length, breadth, depth and emotional core of time and space. A story that chills us to the bone with the most terrifying monsters that we could imagine. Most importantly, a story that reaffirms what we knew about the Doctor while opening up new windows of enlightenment and sending us off into the most wonderful, unexpected and exciting directions.

‘Listen’ is not that episode.

I feel like a broken record sometimes. The main problem is that I don’t write Doctor Who. I suspect the only way I’d be actually happy with the show is if I were the one emailing scripts to Brian Minchin every week. It’s not about keeping the quality levels up. I’m not saying the scripts are bad, necessarily – by and large, this one wasn’t. It was decently paced, occasionally funny and clever in its execution. It revisited old territory but explored it from a fresh perspective. And then it screwed with the mythology, again.

It’s not that I mind explorations of the Doctor’s past. It would be churlish to criticise Moffat for trying to fill in the backstory – heaven knows Davies did enough of that when he brought back the Master. Not only were we given a reason for the Master’s madness, it transpired that most of it wasn’t actually his fault. Davies rewrote the Time Lords as despicable warmongers whom the Doctor reluctantly destroyed for the greater good, but this isn’t really such a leap from their actions in Trial of a Time Lord, or even ‘Arc of Infinity’.

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But what got to me about ‘Listen’ – and the episodes before it – wasn’t the revisionism. It’s the companion-centric worldview. Listen: relatable companions have always been sewed into the mantra of the show. I’m aware that a charismatic hero accompanied by a bumbling sidekick puts us into Harry Sullivan territory. You need a companion with a little pizzazz and presence and who isn’t going to spend ninety per cent of her time onscreen trying to shatter glass.

Clara has pizzazz in spades. One of her best episodes is ‘Hide‘, one of the first to be shot and one in which we spent most of the time watching her just be, rather than have the universe revolve around her. It’s one of the few times the Doctor is (for the most part) more preoccupied with solving the mystery-of-the-week than he is with solving the-mystery-of-the-series. Given breathing room and the right script, Clara is wonderful to watch; very different with each Doctor she’s encountered, but that’s a strength. She’s sassy and funny and Coleman plays her extremely well.

It’s therefore insulting when, once again, Clara gets to rewrite the backstory: it implies that being a twenty-seven-year-old teacher is somehow not enough. The crucial scene this week comes in the closing act, where a small boy – who turns out to be the Doctor, of course – is huddled under the covers in what looks like a set from The Village. Faced with imminent discovery from two Gallifreyans wearing Crimson Field costumes Clara’s response is to do the one thing she knows for sure will terrify the small child: she hides under the bed. The soothing monologue that follows is textbook Moffat: reassuring mawkishness from Clara, intercut with slow motion hugging and brooding shots of the Doctor, all accompanied by Murray Gold at his sweetest. You remember that scene at the end of The Two Towers where Sam monologues to Frodo, while Jackson cuts between Osgiliath and Helm’s Deep? Basically that, only the music’s rubbish.

Listen_Chart

 

If I’m cross about this, it’s because Clara’s already had more input over the Doctor’s life than any other companion really should. Writing a control freak doesn’t give you license to control all of time and space, and Moffat must surely know this. Spinning out the impossible girl thing over a single arc was irritating enough, but its inclusion here is frankly deplorable. Sentiment abounds. Clearly the intention here is that we leave the room older and wiser and more fulfilled. And oh, look: they’ve dropped in a nod to ‘Day of the Doctor’ while they’re at it, as an audience reminder that Moffat’s revisionism extends beyond the people who get to come along for the ride.

Listen_03

I wouldn’t mind if all these little companion-based tweaks and bumps actually added anything to the Doctor’s character, but they don’t. It’s egotism in action, and while it’s supposed to be clever and enlightening and have us evaluate the Doctor in a whole new way, it just feels like the Minecraft skin effect: cosmetic changes that are fundamentally pointless because ultimately they don’t make us think of the person we’re watching any differently. It’s a change that Moffat’s made simply because he can, and while I daresay the tumblr feeds will be buzzing this morning, all I’m reminded of is that scene in Friends where Rachel complains to an increasingly possessive Ross “It was like you were marking your territory. You might just as well have come in and peed all around my desk!”.

It’s a shame, because there are elements of ‘Listen’ that were actually very good indeed. The episode opens with another disastrous encounter between Danny and Clara, this one from Clara’s perspective, as we are shown in flashback the reason she’s come home early, and alone. Then the Doctor arrives, and we’re off to an orphanage, where a young boy is frightened of the Thing on top of the bed. The Thing is under a pile of covers. We never see it, although the Doctor does. He reassures the young Rupert Pink that “Fear is your superpower”, even though he’s apparently as frightened as anyone else. The camera cuts back and forth with vigour, allowing us glimpses of the Thing but teasing us all the while. It is an electrifying scene, superbly directed with impeccable performances from everyone, including the heap on the bed.

Listen_01

Similarly, the planet at the end of the universe is impressive, even if this is where the story starts to tail. It isn’t enough that this nameless lump of rock is just a colossal McGuffin. There is something outside that door, and the fact that we never get to see it wouldn’t be so frustrating if it weren’t established that it wasn’t actually important. Because rather than actually discuss what happened when the airlock blew, Clara and Orson watch the Doctor have a catnap and then she launches the TARDIS. And they didn’t even visit the restaurant.

Listen_06

 

Listen_04

Ultimately, it emerges, we’re watching a story about Clara: her relationships past and present and the hold she has over the Doctor, and over Danny. This is partly what makes the episode so unsatisfying, because it starts out as something else completely, with strong performances from everyone, particularly the Doctor. If, in ‘Robot of Sherwood’, Capaldi was basically forced to be Shrek on his way to lunch at The Ivy, in ‘Listen’ he takes centre stage – at least until the locks on the ship blow. He’s controlled and cynical but also calm and reassuring, and it’s therefore frustrating to see him sidelined during the last fifteen minutes in favour of Moffat’s emotional fanwank.

And ultimately, it’s the uneven structure of ‘Listen’ that proves its undoing. If the point, as Clara muses at the end of the final act, is that there really is nothing under the bed – presumably so that the BBC have a standard press quote for when the OFCOM letters start to arrive – then why establish this in such a confusing manner? It’s suggested that the pile of blankets on Rupert’s bed was another orphanage resident having a joke, but it’s a point that is ultimately lost amidst all the time-hopping and revisionism. The other week, I described ‘Into the Dalek’ as an episode that did nothing particularly well and nothing particularly badly. ‘Listen’ was up and down like a rollercoaster, its highs more than eclipsed by its lows. Like Clara and Danny’s first date, it was a good idea, ultimately squandered by stubbornness and ego. In the end, there is nothing beneath the bed but old territory revisited, and you can’t help thinking there are better ways to spend an hour of your life.

Listen_05

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God is in the detail (part xiv)

Today we’re looking at ‘Robot of Sherwood’, and the buzz on the street is this.

TARDIS Door TARDIS Door 2

You’ll note the TARDIS door: closed in one shot, open in the next. Clearly, fandom concludes, this MEANS something. It’s not just one of those continuity errors, or a question of the door being blown open by the wind. It’s a quite deliberate VISUAL CLUE that is of VITAL SIGNIFICANCE to the arc.

To which we here at ‘God is in the Detail’ Central say -

RobinHood-PrinceOfThieves_28

Let’s be clear on this. The jacket in ‘The Time of Angels’ was a continuity fluff Moffat noticed after the episode had been shot and which was too expensive to re-do, so he capitalised upon it and wrote it into that last episode. In a similar way, this TARDIS door is clearly just a door that was left open by one of the production assistants while they were setting up for the next shot. It doesn’t mean anything at all. While we’re on it, I’d be willing to bet that George Lucas didn’t know when he planned the synopses for Episodes IV and V that Luke and Leia’s kisses would turn out to be incestuous, but that he did know that GREEDO CLEARLY SHOT FIRST.

However! If you want the real inside scoop on those seemingly trivial details in ‘Robot of Sherwood’ that seem completely insignificant but which are actually going to be VERY IMPORTANT LATER ON, then you’re in the right place. We’ll start with a good look at Clara.

Sherwood_Detail (2)

 

Yes, yes, she’s very pretty; a veritable study in scarlet (well, it’s more a sort of orange, but that doesn’t really work). However, it was Gareth who spotted the clear visual connection between Clara’s headgear, Madame Kovarian’s patch and Davros’s third eye.

Robot_Comp

 

But it gets better.

We’ll take the words ‘Madame Kovarian’, and we’ll remove the letters that also feature in ‘Davros’, and thus we get:

M A D A M E   K O V A R I A N

Leaving us with ‘MAME KAIAN’, which (if you swap one of the ‘M’s for a ‘D’) can be rearranged to form ‘A NAKED AIM’. Clearly this means that the TARDIS door is open because the Eleventh Doctor has been hiding inside it, in the nude. With an arrow.

Naked

(You would not BELIEVE what I had to search through to find those. Honestly. The stuff that’s out there on the internet.)

Speaking of targets, that brings us to this:

Sherwood_Detail (3)

There are five targets, clearly alluding to ‘The Five Doctors’. The target that is used for the final round is pierced by six arrows, five of which are shown here.

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Following this, the Doctor destroys the target. This is a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS REFERENCE to the ‘Do I feel lucky?’ monologue at the end of Dirty Harry, in which it is unclear whether Clint Eastwood fired six shots or only five.

Harry Callaghan was the name of Clint Eastwood’s character in the Dirty Harry films. Harry Sullivan was a character who travelled with – yes, that’s right – THE FOURTH DOCTOR. You see how these references keep cropping up? THIS CANNOT BE A COINCIDENCE. THIS IS A CLEARLY PLANN-

Sorry, I spilled some Tizer on the Caps Lock and it got stuck. Better now.

This is a clear reference to the arc. Both Fourth Doctor and Tenth Doctor were mentioned before. Remember the pigs in my ‘Deep Breath’ post? Here they are again.

Sherwood_Detail (1)

Now, let’s look at Clara.

Sherwood_Detail (4)

 

Notice that there are fourteen candles in shot. This clearly represents fourteen Doctors – the thirteen canonical ones and the Shalka Doctor, who was played by Richard E. Grant, in a story that also featured David Tennant, who plays the Tenth Doctor.

Notice also the way the camera is positioned here. The candles are directly above the goblet, in such a way as to suggest that the goblet is actually on fire. The Goblet of Fire was the Fourth Harry Potter book. I will repeat that: the Fourth Harry Potter book. Moreover, the film of Goblet of Fire includes the sinister Barty Crouch Jr., as featured below in a scene that didn’t happen, but which really should have done:

Snickers_moody

And who, pray tell, is playing Barty Crouch? That’s correct: David Tennant, WHO IS ALSO FAMOUS FOR PLAYING THE TENTH DOCTOR. (Although he really ought to have finished that polyjuice transformation scene by mumbling “New teeth. That’s weird.”)

I swear, I don’t know how it works; I just pluck them out of the air…

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God is in the detail (xiii)

Today in God is in the Detail, we examine ‘Into The Dalek’.

Walls are what you need to be looking at for this episode. Walls, and lots of them. Well, two or three. But there are CLUES on these walls, things that may seem like standard background detail but which actually have GREAT SIGNIFICANCE when it comes to the arc.

For example. Here’s Danny in the office, looking at a wall.

Into_Dalek_Detail (2)

But ignore that wall. That wall’s not important. All right, actually it is, but we’ll come back to it. Look instead at the back wall, next to the window. Notice the pyramid? You know, the pyramid we discussed last week which is an OBVIOUS REFERENCE to ‘Pyramids of Mars’, and the imminent return of the Fourth Doctor? Well, I’ll go one better: next to the pyramid is the Eiffel Tower, which the Fourth Doctor visited with Romana at the beginning of ‘City of Death’.

Right, now you can have a look at what Danny’s examining.

Into_Dalek_Detail (3)

…Yes, it’s the London Eye, which also acted as a transmitter for the Nestene Consciousness back in 2005, signalling the IMMINENT RETURN of the Autons, and Camille Coduri to boot. But wait! Perhaps it’s not Jackie Tyler – perhaps it’s Mickey Smith, who just last week was cozying up with the Second Doctor and River Song.

Chasing-Shadows-2

And, of course, a ford (as discussed last week) is part of a river, and ‘Into the Dalek’ was co-written by Phil Ford, as well as starring Bradley Ford in the role of Fleming I’m sure I don’t need to join the dots here. But if you needed any further proof that these two things were IRREVERSIBLY CONNECTED -

Doctorin'_The_Tardis

I rest my case. And here it is.

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Incidentally, ‘City of Death’ also featured Kevin Flood in the role of Hermann, and rivers flood, so this should give you all the proof you need. THIS CANNOT BE A COINCIDENCE.

Meanwhile, Danny’s maths lesson appears to have been interrupted by a young David Lynch, sitting at the back.

Into_Dalek_Detail (4)

 

I’ve blogged about the David Lynch / Doctor Who connection before, and guess what? TWO of the four references in Mulholland Drive are to Fourth Doctor stories.

Jago-Club

Master-Monster

IT’S THERE IN BLACK AND WHITE. (Oh, all right, that’s a metaphor.)

Meanwhile, inside the Dalek, we can see a green coil which is OBVIOUSLY SUPPOSED TO BE A SNAKE.

Into_Dalek_Detail (8)

I’d say it’s the snake from ‘Kinda’, but the phone’s just a dummy and the windows are the wrong size it’s the wrong colour. I have a feeling I’m clutching at straws here. For example, I wrote about ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ last week, and it’s a pity there aren’t any snakes in that.

Snake_Show

Or I was thinking about some of the more obscure Fourth Doctor stories, such as ‘The Sontaran Experiment’. But there aren’t any snakes in that either.

snake_sontaran

But anyway. Look at this.

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Notice ‘F74′ scrawled up the side, and ‘F75′ on the opposite side. And how stories 74 and 75 in the sequence happen to be ‘Planet of the Spiders’ and ‘Robot’, both of which deal with the regeneration of the Third Doctor into the Fourth Doctor. This is a matter of STAGGERING IMPORTANCE. CLEARLY the Fourth Doctor is about to make an UNEXPECTED COMEBACK. And you know I’m right because I’ve just spent ages talking about it, including WRITING IN CAPITALS BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT PEOPLE DO WHEN THEY’RE SAYING THINGS THAT ARE ACTUALLY QUITE OBVIOUS TO OTHER PEOPLE.

Meanwhile, Clara is having a conversation with Danny, but notice the folder she’s carrying.

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The name scrawled on the front is ‘Gareth Wilkins’, which may not seem important, but it’s my theory that it means A GREAT DEAL. In order to ascertain why, we must look beyond the name. There are architects and therapists called Gareth Wilkins. However! If we take the words ‘Gareth Wilkins Clara Oswald’ we can rearrange them to get ‘Analogical Ward Threw Silks’, which is a clear reference to the thing that happens fifty seconds into this, which is taken from – oh look! – ‘Pyramids of Mars’.

Well, perhaps.

Incidentally, ‘Gareth Wilkins Clara Oswald’ can also be arranged to form ‘A Collateral Warding Whisks’, and a clearer reference to the Daleks’ other implement you could not wish for.

dalek_doodle_by_nesasta-d3jfosj

I daresay Danny is finding this all very amusing.

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And oh, look. It’s the Eiffel Tower.

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Review: ‘Robot of Sherwood’

Robot_Sherwood (3)

A couple of years back, I had an email from my brother. “We were just discussing Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in the office,” he said. “I couldn’t remember – wasn’t there a bit when they walk from Dover up to Nottingham in a single day, via Hadrian’s Wall?”

Prince of Thieves was released in the summer of 1991, spawning megastar status for Kevin Costner, a resurgence in interest in the legend of Robin Hood, and a song that made Bryan Adams so rich he probably could have retired. (Sadly he didn’t, but that’s a whole other story.) The film was over two hours of rip-roaring swashbuckling entertainment, full of romance and adventure, the clashing of steel and the satisfying thump of flint into wood.

It was also wildly ridiculed, as anything truly popular generally is. Chief amongst the complaints levelled against the film was Kevin Costner’s ‘appalling’ English accent. Having watched it again relatively recently, I don’t think appalling is the right word – ‘non-existent’ may be a more apt description. (Curiously no one ever seems to have a go at Christian Slater, who is frankly no better.) The film is also scant in its accuracy when it comes to period detail, with various dialogue anachronisms (which seems a forgivable offence, seeing as the alternative would have been to have them speak in Anglo-Saxon), as well as the apparent invention of printing some two hundred years too early.

robin-hood-prince-of-thieves-original

But the biggest complaint levelled against Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – at least by British people, who know their geography – was a matter of distance, and that’s what I explained when I emailed my brother.

“Here’s how it works. Robin and Azeem land on the coast and Robin kisses the sand and then tells the Moor that ‘By nightfall, we’ll celebrate with my father’. This is the film’s big mistake, because what they really ought to have said was ‘In a couple of days, we’ll celebrate with my father’.

But let’s actually look at what’s going on here. There are white cliffs, so everyone assumed it was Dover, even though it was actually shot at Eastbourne. Similarly, the wall doesn’t have to be Hadrian’s Wall; it could just a wall somewhere. And this changes everything, because if you don’t have to use Cumbria as a waypoint it shortens your journey time considerably.

Still, I was wondering if it was possible to walk from the coast up to Locksley, wherever that is, in a single day, so I looked it up. Now, the legend usually associates Locksley with a spot in South Yorkshire. It’s more or less equidistant from the coast, so at the risk of being wrong let’s say that Grimsby was the closest spot they could have landed where there could have been cliffs like that, allowing for erosion and the passage of time. I’ve never been, but for the sake of the argument we’ll assume it is. It’s marked on the map below, along with the most direct route they could have taken.

Loxley

Now, according to scale, that’s about 62 miles, give or take, and assuming they can walk in a completely straight line without having to cut round obstacles or hide from the Sheriff’s men. It’s possible to walk this sort of distance in a single day, but in order to do this, Robin and Azeem would have had to land on the coast at dawn (as it’s clearly light when they get there) on the longest day of the year, when it gets light at around 5 a.m., and then walk non-stop until ten o’clock. It’d be manageable with horses, but they don’t have them, so they’d have to maintain an average speed of four miles an hour (clearly faster than they’re going) and not stop for lunch.

Note that it’s clearly night when they arrive so they could have walked late into the evening, but either way, the whole thing’s bollocks really, isn’t it?”

I’ve long-since wondered whether the people who knocked Prince of Thieves for its general sloppiness were simply missing the point. This was a story based clearly on historical legend, with a character who in all likelihood either never existed at all or who almost certainly wasn’t the thigh-slapping merry hero we’d allowed him to become. To complain that they got a couple of period details wrong seems a little silly. But when I think about Doctor Who, I realise how our complaints of “THAT WOULDN’T HAPPEN!” are all too frequently met with derision and scorn. “You’re talking about a thousand-year-old alien who travels in time in a magical blue box,” the non-fans (or, even worse, ex-fans) will reply. “None of it would happen”.

This was bugging me over the last couple of weeks until I started thinking about ‘Victory of the Daleks’, which – as you’ll remember – includes Spiftfires in space, moving from a theoretical blueprint to the dark side of the moon (yes, I know it’s all dark) in under fifteen minutes. And I realised it’s not the concept that bothers me: it’s the in-universe execution. Fifteen minutes can’t be explained by any sort of reasonable dissection – it doesn’t allow time to scramble pilots or negotiate union fees with the engineers (and yes, I know there was a war on). A lot of the time it seems churlish to criticise Doctor Who for its scientific accuracy, but this was the point at which my suspension of disbelief – crucial in such things – abandoned me completely, although I still get postcards. If Gatiss had said “Oh, by the way, there’s an experimental warp drive function as well” I’d have rolled my eyes, but I wouldn’t have thrown my Tenth Doctor action figure at the TV. At least most of the stuff that defies the laws of physics can be explained with ‘alien tech’. This was just ‘rubbish writing’.

Spitfires_in_Space

What you’ve just read was a very long detour around last night’s episode, so I hope you’ll forgive me. But essentially, I’ve decided I’m going to cut Mark Gatiss a break. It’s not that I’ve been overly harsh on him. I am still bemused by his repeated commissions, despite the fact that his episodes are full of paper-thin characterisation, questionable motivation, nonsensical stories and rubbish dialogue. There must be other, better writers out there (and no, I do not include myself amongst that number).

‘Robot of Sherwood’ was one of those episodes that shouldn’t have worked. At all. It was a masterclass in how not to write dialogue. Every trick from The Adventures of Robin Hood was used. Lutes were played. Little John was improbably tall. Ben Miller’s Sheriff of Nottingham was a walking cliché, even once his dastardly scheme was revealed. Most distressingly of all, Gatiss actually has him say “Do you really think your peasant’s revolt can stop me?”, leading the Doctor to reply “I rather think you’re the revolting one around here”. The only thing that was missing was the thigh-slapping, and that’ll probably show up in a deleted scene they’re saving for the Blu-ray.

DW_Chart_8-03

I was going to write that it was almost inconceivable that we’d reached fifty plus years of Doctor Who without really dealing with Robin Hood – the closest example being, perhaps, the First Doctor’s encounter with Richard the Lionheart back in ‘The Crusaders’ – and then I remembered that forays into the past generally do need to have some sort of historical accuracy, and that Newman and Lambert would not have approved of the sort of frivolity we had last night. On the other hand it didn’t stop JNT touching on Arthurian legend in ‘Battlefield’, even going so far as to establish the Doctor as the archetypal Merlin figure.

Perhaps the only reason Doctor Who has never done Robin Hood is that he simply doesn’t fit in the story, as this weekend’s episode proved. The Doctor was the most reluctant of chaperones, only taking Clara to Sherwood so that he could prove her wrong, two minutes before he duelled Tom Riley with a spoon and fell off a log. The use of cutlery for this purpose may or may not have been a nod to The Blue Raja in Mystery Men, but it was certainly an improvement on its use as a percussion instrument, even if it still bore the residue of Häagen-Dazs, which in turn made me think of Aslan. “Rise up, Sir Doctor of Gallifrey. And, whatever happens, never forget to lick your spoon.”

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It’s curious, but the last time Doctor Who was this guilty of cliché mining was ‘A Town Called Mercy’, which I hate, largely because it tried to be a serious episode when the subject matter was always going to work against it (and because Toby Whithouse clearly thought sticking the Doctor in a Spanish desert with a Stetson would mean he didn’t have to write a script). ‘Sherwood’ neatly sidestepped this in its first five minutes by pairing the time travellers up with someone who was ostensibly fictional, or at least thoroughly incongruous, meaning that we instantly accepted the silliness that followed, because we knew that some sort of twist was coming.

The fact that the twist doesn’t come at all was a bold move, and one that paid off. It’s established fairly late that Robin Hood isn’t actually fictional, but a flesh and blood person who exists in the form of a heroic, impossibly groomed bowman, simply because he does. Thus, Errol Flynn’s portrayal isn’t just definitive, it’s eerily accurate. The point (which Gatiss makes in the form of several heavy-handed dialogue exchanges, but then subtlety never was his forte) is that just because heroes are legendary, it doesn’t follow that they’re imaginary.

Robot_Sherwood (6) Robot_Sherwood (4)

It’s about the only thing that worked. There was a confessional heart-to-heart between Robin and Clara that read like a script from Neighbours. And sorry, but the robots were rubbish. Superficially they resembled a cross between the Vocs of ‘Robots of Death’ (almost certainly intentional) and Michael Jackson’s robot form at the end of Moonwalker. (That scene’s always bothered me a bit, by the way. It stands to reason that if you’re cornered by hordes of gunmen and an angry Joe Pesci, a passing shooting star is going to be very handy. But wishing you could turn into a giant robot? Really? Wouldn’t it be easier to wish for a convenient lightning strike, and keep the CG budget down so they could spend the balance on hiring children who could actually act?)

Sherwood_Robot

But the robots strode about a bit, and decimated with their lasers, and the only scene in which they’re actually interesting is the one in which they’re upstaged by Capaldi – who, bored with the archery contest, annihilates the target, Indiana Jones style. It’s the funniest bit in the episode, along with the climax, in which the Doctor, Clara and a wounded Robin manage to fire a Chekov’s gun golden arrow into the side of a spacecraft (cue this week’s arc reference), conveniently providing it with enough gold to send it into orbit, where it safely explodes. You can picture the chief robot staring sadly down at his Map To The Promised Land, clutching a rosary and murmuring “Now I’ll never know if I was right…”.

The Doctor leaves, reuniting Robin with the missing Marian (Sabrina Bartlett, playing a character whose mystery we’re never really interested in solving) as a parting gift. It means, at least, that we’re spared the indignity of more sparring between the two male leads – and who knows, Capaldi may even actually have something to do next week besides spout tedious exposition and complain about the laughing. I come across as flippant, I’m sure, but essentially his role in ‘Robot of Sherwood’ was to stand about looking awkward while Tom Riley (who was, it must be said, the best stereotype I’ve seen in years) did all the work. At least Clara had that scene in the banqueting hall. It’s still early days for Capaldi, but the Doctor was so generally useless this week I almost felt like I was watching Eccleston again, except there were fewer gay jokes.

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Perhaps it was the wine. It says something for the quality of the writing when you and your spouse have an unspoken agreement that 2014 Doctor Who can only really be endured under the influence of alcohol. Or perhaps it was the cast, who were clearly having a ball this week. You’ll notice that there are no silly captions in this week’s images, because I didn’t think it would be appropriate. A few years back I had the misfortune to watch National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1, which fails as a motion picture experience for the same reason that Scary Movie failed: they were both sending up films that were already half-pastiche. How do you spoof something that’s a spoof?

Last year I singled out ‘The Crimson Horror’ as the best of a dreary series – its light-hearted, old school approach the perfect foil to Moffat’s posturing about the Impossible Girl and the wretched River Song. I sincerely hope that series 8 doesn’t go the same way, but the worst case scenario is that Emily and I spent the best part of an hour or so last night being thoroughly entertained. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures – as far as I’m concerned there’s good TV and bad TV – but perhaps a bad episode that doesn’t take itself seriously (and perhaps the biggest flaw amongst Whovians is that we take ourselves, and the show far too seriously) is better than an average episode that does. This was a bad episode that urged you to just forget about everything except enjoying yourself, and that’s what we did. And as much as my past form of criticising Mark Gatiss is urging me otherwise, I simply can’t bring myself to write that up as a loss.

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God is in the detail (xii)

Regular readers of this blog will know that every time there’s a series on, I try and deconstruct the arc. This is more difficult than it sounds, because each series of Doctor Who actually has two arcs. There’s the one that’s obvious, with the clues and hints thrown out by Moffat on a weekly basis for us to work out who’s in the astronaut costume, or what that crack means, or why the first question must never be answered. It is usually a bit dull, even though – like Scooby Doo – I can never solve the mystery before the shaggy-haired running bloke does.

But what most viewers don’t know is that there is in fact a SECRET ARC, drawing on deeper magic from before the dawn of time, which features many subtle CLUES and VISUAL IMAGES that are hard to miss unless you do a frame-by-frame search. So with that in mind, here’s the latest instalment of those SEEMINGLY INSIGNIFICANT THINGS that occur that are going to be OF VITAL IMPORTANCE LATER ON.

We’re an episode behind, which is going to mean playing catch-up, but today we’ll look at ‘Deep Breath’.

Seemingly obscure references run rampant throughout this story. The most obvious one is this.

Deep_Detail_1

“What?” I hear you say. “It’s a clock. It’s just showing the time it was when the controller droid fell / was pushed out of the skin balloon.” But that’s CLEARLY NOT THE CASE AT ALL. Instead, 1:27 is a reference to series 1, episode 27, which happens to be the first episode of ‘The Aztecs’.

How do I know? Well, next I’ll draw your attention to this:

Deep_Detail_2

In the first instance, the river Thames features prominently on this map. A ford is a part of a river. Carole Ann Ford starred in ‘The Aztecs’. Conclusions? The Doctor’s Granddaughter Susan is ACTUALLY ANOTHER INCARNATION OF RIVER SONG.

Carole-Alex

Notice the triangular shape made near the upper middle of the map, where three of Vastra’s lines intersect. It’s clearly a pyramid. Moreover, the lines are done in red, and in ‘Pyramids of Mars’ Sutekh wore a black mask with red lines on it.

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Madame Vastra wears black. Conclusion? She’s actually AN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN GOD.

What’s more, if we transfer this to a map of contemporary London, the lines come out here:

Deep_Detail_7

Yes, yes, you can all stop thinking about Predator now.

A triangle intersecting Piccadilly Circus (a reference to the Seventh Doctor’s ‘Greatest Show In The Galaxy’), Soho (‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’) and touching on the edge of Carnaby Street, alluding to the Third Doctor’s dress sense. This is CLEARLY IMPORTANT. You’ll remember the appearance of Tom Baker at the end of ‘Day of the Doctor’ – I don’t think it was a one-off cameo.

We can take this further. Have a look here:

Deep_Detail_3

The tables in Mancini’s Family Restaurant. Never mind the fact that Henry Mancini wrote the theme to ‘The Pink Panther’, about a famous jewel thief, CLEARLY REFERRING TO THE IMMINENT RETURN OF Lady Christina de Souza from ‘Planet of the Dead’. There are eight tables here, of varying sizes. If we tally up the total number of serials for each Doctor of the Classic Who run, beginning in 1963, we get the following:

1. William Hartnell – 27
2. Patrick Troughton – 23
3. Jon Pertwee – 24
4. Tom Baker – 41
5. Peter Davison – 20
6. Colin Baker – 10
7. Sylvester McCoy – 12
8. Paul McGann – 1

Now watch what happens when we transpose those names onto this chart, granting each table its appropriate Doctor according to relative size from the camera’s perspective:

Deep_Detail_6

 

Hartnell’s is in black. The First Doctor wore black. So does Madame Vastra. AND SO DOES SUTEKH THE DESTROYER.

But it’s not only Classic Who that’s getting a mention. Here, we can see Clara’s nightmare, experienced during her bout of unconsciousness in the restaurant basement, and apparently a flashback to her first day of teaching. Notice, at the bottom right corner of the board (just beneath the angled edge of Clara’s folder), the words ‘My brother is a pig’.

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You may have to open the image in a separate tab to see this, but it’s there. Now, ostensibly this deals with the concept of metaphor and simile. But. But. BUT! I suspect the truth may be murkier still, and connected with this chap.

Laszlo

And who presumably went on to marry Tallulah with an ‘h’ and father strange pig children who will grow up to exact a terrible revenge upon the Doctor for not putting Laszlo out of his misery, perhaps by making a spaceship crash into Big Ben or something.

Now, have a look at the exterior of Madame Vastra’s townhouse.

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Question: When is a door not a door?

Answer: When it’s a TARDIS. Look. There are three blue doors, lined up in succession, which calls to mind this:

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Thus a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to ‘Day of the Doctor’, heralding the likely return of the War Doctor, as he gets to travel round London getting irritated with Strax (join the queue, John. Join the queue).

Except, of course, that first door is a whopper. It’s easily twice the size. Or perhaps, again, it’s all a matter of perspective. Perhaps it’s enormous, like this.

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Conclusions? WE ARE GOING BACK TO TRENZELORE. Because, you see, ‘The fields of Trenzalore’ can be rearranged to make ‘A deftest horizon feller’, which undoubtedly means that Capaldi’s Doctor is going back to Trenzalore to restore its war-ravaged state to its former glory – a sort of paradise, if you will.

Sorry, what’s that?

Oh, if you like.

Doctor_Who_Series_8_-_1_1.15.26.24

 

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Attack of the Cidermen

Round about the time Peter Capaldi was stepping out of the TARDIS for the first time, making dwarf jokes, I was sitting in a tent in the middle of Northamptonshire, shouting at my children.

This was half by choice. It shouldn’t take a genius to work out which half. We visit Greenbelt every August bank holiday; a vibrant, multicoloured rain-soaked celebration, with logistical problems and mud and the queues for the toilet all forgotten in the light of the afternoon sun as the Proclaimers take to the stage. We’ve been blown away by Bellowhead, dazzled by Courtney Pine and frankly baffled (in the best possible way) by the Polyphonic Spree. One year we almost saw Gil Scott Heron, except he didn’t show up, and then inconsiderately died before they could re-book him.

But camping with small children is no picnic. It’s not so bad when it’s warm and they can run around outside. In Kettering it was cold, particularly at night. It’s not long before the silliness sets in and the tent becomes one of those impromptu bouncy castles, the soft walls given a new lease of life in games of tag. We spent an hour getting the damned thing erect, having inexplicably started from the wrong end after years of doing this and discovering, all too late, the optimal, argument-free method for putting it up and getting it down the very week we deem it no longer fit for its intended purpose. Meanwhile the kids are ripping down the sleeping compartment and there is water on the floor from the hole in the roof, despite my other half’s best efforts with the gaffer tape. (She is the seasoned camper with all the knowledge; I help where I can.) Oh, for a portable structure that’s bigger on the inside, like that tent in Harry Potter, or…sorry, there was another example of this, but it escapes me now.

Our regular Greenbelt attendance also means that for two years out of the last four, I’ve missed the opening episode of a Doctor Who series. This year I came close to actually watching that leaked version, realising after a couple of minutes of viewing the black and white footage that it frankly wasn’t worth it. It’s said that good speakers can improve a poor song, or at least mask its inadequacies, but I really didn’t want to experience Capaldi’s debut without all the bells and whistles that would make it bearable.

But the Greenbelt audience has its fair share of Doctor Who fans as well. This (not taken by me) is a good start.

TARDIS_toilet

There are assorted TURDIS jokes I could make here, but dedicated fans will appreciate the irony of sticking this on a portaloo, given in 2001’s ‘The One Doctor’ – featuring a false Doctor (Christopher Biggins) who travels through time and space in a toilet. You can guess the materialisation sound.

Back in 2005, Paul Cornell visited. I didn’t see him, plumping instead for Philip Purser-Hallard talking about ‘The Spirituality of Doctor Who’ – the sort of phrase that typically fills me with dread, but he spoke with expertise and panache (“A character significantly named ‘Adam’ is falling from the Doctor’s grace after he gives in to temptation, by a woman, to partake of forbidden knowledge”) and managed to argue, quite convincingly, that the Eccleston series wasn’t nearly as pro-atheist as many believed. It was an informative hour capped by an entertaining Q&A session in which, having listened to all sorts of theories about deus ex machina and liberal Christianity, a young boy stuck up his hand and got a near standing-ovation when he asked “The episode with the children with the gas-masks – what does that have to do with the Bible?”.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival was Folk On, Greenbelt regulars and always well-attended. To save time, think ‘The Wurzels, but funny’. Halfway through their “difficult second album”, this West Country trio perform songs like ‘Dad, I’m In Love With A Morris Dancer’ and ‘Alright’, along with occasional covers like ‘Let One Go’ – and, during last summer’s Daft Punk infatuation, ‘Get Folky’. A single song can take a good six or seven minutes, given their habit of stopping halfway through the third verso in order to speculate on whether what they’re actually singing makes any sense. ‘Ernie the Slug’ is a good example of this -

“Here’s a little song about Ernie
Ernie my little pet slug
We used to go for walks in the garden
And have a nice picnic on the rug”.

In the event of this year’s version being made available, I’ll replace the link above, but it gives you an idea. Anyway, the titular Ernie meets a grisly fate, the severity of which is altered according to audience makeup. This year’s was particularly ferocious, and – mindful, perhaps, of the children in the audience whom he’d just upset, or perhaps it was all just one big gag – lead singer ‘Derek Tinkleberry’ changed gear a bit. “‘S alright!” he reassured the audience. “‘E’s regenerated, ‘asn’t ‘e? Like the Doctor. Look, there ‘e is now. He looks a bit older, but we’ll give ‘im a chance, eh?”

We were down at the Make and Create tent for an entire day, as Emily made sock monkeys and built bamboo lanterns for a procession that was cancelled. We could think of several names for the Make and Create tent, but there may be minors reading this. Trust my children to pick the most complicated crafts – never mind the fact that none of the crafts were suitable for all but the most dexterous of children (sewing? Really?). Not that I’ve ever enjoyed arts and crafts, as a child or an adult. Give me a box of Lego bricks and I’m happy for hours, but when you have three children with the attention span that ours have, you don’t get beyond the first gluing exercise before the eyes begin to glaze over. You find yourself scouring the room for something sharp enough to punch a hole through a plastic lid, because the scissors are too rounded and in any case the little girl with the purple dress and the pigtails has been hogging them for FIFTEEN MINUTES while she cuts out paper doilies. You’re trying to glue the end of a toilet roll to a cardboard box but it won’t stick, so you switch to sellotape, but that doesn’t work because the end is stringy and won’t unpick because you clipped your nails that morning. The yellow felt tip has run out and the orange is nowhere to be seen, and your children have been drawing on their hands because they’re bored. But you want to see this through, because you’ve started and you’re damn well going to finish. And then it’s not a junk modelling session anymore; it’s a quest, and you don’t care if your kids are now running riot by the Stickle Bricks – you will, darnit, you will finish this robot you’ve started to make, with or without their help.

Having spent four hours (continuously) sewing sock monkeys, Emily decided to make a lantern for Thomas, and she decided to give it a TARDIS shape. This was after realising that one of our completed sock monkeys appeared to be wearing a fez.

Monkey_Lamp

Anyway: all this meant that we weren’t here for ‘Deep Breath’, but that’s OK, because that’s why we have catch-up (“And please, just learn to use iPlayer!”). But here’s the funny thing – having showered and unpacked a bit and got the children into bed so we could watch the episode in peace without the barrage of questions we’d be unable to answer because it’s too early in the arc – after all that, ‘Deep Breath’ was in many ways quite similar to the festival we’d just experienced. Because we spent a year waiting for it, and talking about it, and arguing with people online as to whether the big changes were going to mean it would be a success or a disaster. And there were people saying that change had always been a part of it, and that they could remember the days when things were very different, and we should all be grateful that it was still going. But when it actually came to the episode, it took ages to get everything set up, the children got bored, half the time we couldn’t hear what anyone was saying because it was accompanied by deafening music, and while there were moments of beauty and wonder, we realised by the end that we’d had to wallow through a lot of crap to get to them.

And next year, I’m buying a camper van.

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Review: ‘Into the Dalek’

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Warning: spoilers herein.

Yesterday morning, I watched ‘Deep Breath’ again with the boys. Daniel lasted half an hour, and then the dinosaur exploded and he wandered off to see his mother. Joshua watched the whole thing with academic interest. And Thomas kept his head half hidden under the duvet during the final act (everything from the basement onwards). Two eyes and a nose barely visible above a mound of fabric, like Wilson from Home Improvement or Wilfred from The Bash Street Kids. Watching it again I was able to plot my general interest level for the episode, and it looked like this.

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Total Film used to do similar graphs (and perhaps still do – I haven’t bought an issue in years) for every film they reviewed, and it was a very convenient way of checking how good something was without actually having to read the review properly. When it came to doing last night’s episode, the graph looked like this:

Into_Dalek_Chart1

(This was fun. I may do it every week.)

In the first instance, there was nothing inherently wrong with the Contractual Obligation story that was ‘Into the Dalek’, despite its pedestrian title. There were explosions. There was a bit of trickery from the Doctor. There was stoic support from Clara. More to the point, there wasn’t a single mention of soufflé or eggs. It could have all gone so horribly wrong. It could have been Clara sitting outside the Dalek brain during that final confrontation, reasoning with it, delivering an impassioned, empathetic monologue. “I’ve been a Dalek,” she’d say. “I know it’s difficult to believe to look at me, but it’s true. I’ve been a lot of places. Sometimes I choose not to remember, because if I remember, it’ll drive me crazy. So the door stays shut. But I know what it was like – I remember what it was like, just for a moment, to be a Dalek and despise myself. And I managed to channel that force for good, even though it meant the death of me.”

Instead, she got a boyfriend. Oh, he’s still only a maths teacher this week, barking out orders at the Coal Hill Cadet School one minute and then, some moments later, handing out a homework exercise that mysteriously skips the last question on page 32 (which is clearly something for the denofgeek comment boxes). I really didn’t want to have to tell you that Danny sounded like an adult version of Mickey Smith, but the truth will out. His early scenes with Clara are clumsy and forced – Coleman has, at this stage, far better chemistry with Capaldi – but that at least works within the context of the relationship they’re trying to create, and this is no doubt something that’ll change (or, if it doesn’t, we’ll be stuck with a Smith / Kingston pairing, and I’ll have something else to whine about). Structurally, Moffat drops a clanger in the opening segment by having Danny reveal his hand far too early, with the Deep Dark Secret manifesting itself through unexpected pauses and the shedding of a single tear. It would have been better to keep this for an end-of-episode reveal, or even a future instalment, but heaven knows there are enough arc references to drop in already, with the references to the Rani the Eyepatch Lady the post-op Master Missy. So we’re stuck with the crying. (And we’ll not talk about the end of ‘The Snowmen’, of course. That would just bring back bad memories.)

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But Danny’s introduction is merely a counterpoint to the Doctor’s own encounter with a group of human soldiers (the most emotionally prominent of which is the improbably named Journey Blue) gathered at an unspecified location at an unspecified point in the future, and the fact that they’ve captured a Dalek. This Dalek appears to have developed a fault, in that it now wants the destruction of all Daleks, so the Doctor, Clara and a bunch of expendable warriors we haven’t really had time to care about are shrunk and then placed inside the Dalek in order to find out what’s going on.

Those who are saying this is Doctor Who meets Fantastic Voyage are basically correct (the Doctor even acknowledges that it’s a “fantastic idea for a movie; terrible idea for a proctologist”), but we’ve been here before, of course, more than once. Visually, ‘Into The Dalek’ works reasonably well, even if it’s somewhat formulaic. The interior of the Dalek’s memory banks resembles the corridor of a worn-out spacecraft (the nods to 2001 are presumably intentional), while much of the highly radiated interior looks mysteriously like a pumping station – but it’s difficult to know exactly how you’re expected to render the inside of these things without resorting to CSO (which is what they did in ‘The Invisible Enemy’), or a big pile of jelly beans.

Carnival

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The last time I wandered around the middle of a Dalek, it was July 2013 and the Dalek was a giant hedge maze in York. It was hot, and the Sixth Doctor was there, in the form of pre-recorded information points. It was certainly a lot less metal. There were annoying children and the occasional wasp, but no steam or vents. Nor did we have to contend with the Dalek’s antibodies, who bear a passing resemblance to the Toclafane, and whom the visitors inadvertently manage to annoy not long after they arrive, upping the threat level and leading to the dispatch of the bearded Ross (Ben Crompton, whom viewers will recognise from Man Stroke Woman).

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This week’s Callous Bastard moment: it’s not that the Doctor doesn’t try to save Ross, having accepted his inevitable death with the sort of blasé indifference that would cause James Bond to raise an eyebrow (Roger Moore’s, as theatrical as possible). It’s that he leads Ross – and the audience – to believe that he’s got a plan. It turns out that the pill he gave Ross will enable them to track his progress through the Dalek’s casing (“Top layer,” he later says, indicating a large pool of liquefied human remains, “If you want to say a few words”). This is the sort of pragmatism that we’re gradually coming to expect from the Twelfth Doctor, and Capaldi delivers his lines with a brash carelessness that is frankly a joy to watch. It’s going to upset people who are used to the sort of poignant farewell that was granted to Father Octavian in ‘Flesh and Stone’, but it’s kind of nice to see something a little less melodramatic than Tennant’s mournful stare and pleas that “some good may come from your death”, along with the declaration that he’s so, so sorry. And someone finally seems to have had a word with Murray Gold. Either that or I’ve managed to get the sound mixer settings on my TV balanced.

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In the process of repairing a radiation leak, the Doctor manages to fix the Dalek, restoring its core programming and sending it out after the humans outside the surgery. Capaldi’s prejudices about inherent Dalek hatred and rehabilitation – along with Clara’s response, which is to slap him – carry a whiff of social commentary, but this is never really expanded upon, beyond an ironic twist in the final act when it is the Doctor’s hatred that successfully reprogrammes the Dalek to once more destroy its kind. Futilely protesting “There must be more than that”, the Time Lord’s latest incarnation looks out of his depth for the first time, in a scene that would have worked far better had they not blown the budget on the opening space battle, leaving us with some warped overlay that resembles a vintage pop video.

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Somewhere on the cutting room floor (do they still have cutting room floors? Do they still even have cutting rooms, or is it all done on a laptop in Steven Moffat’s office?) there’s a scene which explains exactly how the Doctor, Clara and Journey managed to actually get out of the Dalek and back to normal size, given that most of the personnel involved in the experiment are either dead or off doing other things. Or perhaps it happened, and I’d drifted off. There’s a slightly barbed farewell, echoing the Doctor’s callous treatment of (among others) the UNIT personnel in ‘The Sontaran Strategem’, and then the question of whether or not the Doctor is a good man is finally and definitively answered, with an “I don’t know, but keep trying”.

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Ben Wheatley helms his second episode in a row, and does so with flair, reining in Capaldi so that we see the Doctor we’re expected to see – there is a sense that ‘Deep Breath’ was anomalous in a way that ‘The Eleventh Hour’ wasn’t. Favouring wide, mid-range shots over tight ones, he grants the action scenes an uneasy pace, and intercuts between Danny’s imagined conversation with Clara with the one that actually happened to amusing effect. Still, even he can’t resist including the two staple shots that appear to be part of every episode in the Dalek repertoire: the eyestalk close-up, and the eyecam shot.

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At the end of the day you come away feeling both underwhelmed and strangely relieved: a sense of watching an Who-by-numbers, rather than a story that will sit alongside ‘The God Complex’ or ‘Human Nature’. I measure my enjoyment of episodes by watch checks (seven) and grabs for the remote control (only one). That comes out at about average. But perhaps ‘average’ is enough. It’s certainly a step up from ‘shit’, which if I remember correctly is how I described the last time we encountered the metal dustbins in any real capacity beyond an extended cameo, in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’. ‘Into the Dalek’ is nowhere near as smug or pointless. Neither does it plumb the depths of bad acting and rank stupidity displayed in ‘Evolution of the Daleks’, or the comic silliness and wild implausibility of ‘Journey’s End’. The fact of the matter is that we haven’t had a decent Dalek story since ‘Dalek’, and even that was based on a Robert Shearman audio drama that was frankly much better.

Familiarity breeds contempt, you see. I hate to generalise, but unless you’re the sort of person who actively scans ahead to the mid point of of ‘The Big Bang’ so that you can watch the stone thing trundling round the museum, rather than hitting the chapter skip button at the beginning of River’s “Mercy!” exchange, this was always going to be a non-starter. If we must have Daleks every series (and I accept that we must, in order to appease the Nation estate) then they’re never going to reach the heights of ‘Genesis’ or ‘Remembrance’ – people will never get the chance to miss them, and will never fool themselves into thinking that ‘Doomsday’ was actually any good, the way that everyone apparently did with ‘Revelation of the Daleks’. So ‘average’ and ‘a bit boring’ – both words Emily and I used last night – may not be particularly kind, and nor do they represent a show at the top of its game, but they’re an improvement on ‘rubbish’. And improvements I can deal with.

Into_Dalek_09

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