Posts Tagged With: doctor who series 8

Have I Got Whos For You (Kenneth Horne edition)

This week, a deleted scene from The Last Jedi gives us the crossover the fandom deserves, if not the one it needs.

Elsewhere in the same film, Peter Capaldi makes another unexpected appearance in the caves below the island.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Matt Smith joins David Tennant in revealing the more unusual places fans have accosted him for attention.

And this abandoned concept sequence from the original Star Wars shows that George Lucas had plenty of controversial ideas before Peter Harness did.

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Happy Star Wars day…

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 978)

This week: as the recent series of The X-Files draws to a close, speculation mounts as to exactly what happened in ‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat’, and what it could possibly have to do with Doctor Who.

News breaks of Christopher Eccleston’s impending arrival at Comic Con.

And Peter Capaldi turns sixty. To which we say Happy Birthday, sir. May all your camels be fertile, and may the wind be always at your back, except when you’re standing at the edge of the harbour.

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Interlude

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Review: ‘Last Christmas’

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There’s an episode of Buffy that’s always got to me. It’s called ‘Normal Again’, and within it Buffy has an encounter with the Trio and is left believing that her existence in Sunnydale as a Slayer has been a delusion experienced during a stay at the psychiatric institution in which she still resides. Within the ‘delusion’, Buffy becomes increasingly confused and Willow tries to get her to drink the antidote. Back in ‘reality’, her mother is still alive and married to her father, and a kindly doctor is trying to explain that the reason the stories have become so ridiculous lately is because the delusion is breaking down, which almost feels like an apology. The episode cuts back and forth between the two until it’s established that the institution is a hallucination, and order is restored. Or is it? Tellingly, the very last scene of the episode shows a catatonic Buffy seated in her hospital room, while the doctor examines her unresponsive pupils and admits that “We lost her”.

‘Last Christmas’ was a story about layers of reality. It established the concept of false reality painted to look real in order to entrap the viewer. Having dealt with this fairly early on, the story then throws a curve ball when the Doctor reveals (and then reveals again, and then again) that what we believe is real is actually another layer of the dream. Thus characters believe themselves to have woken from a nightmare only to find that there’s another one still going on. This is, perhaps not surprisingly, all tied up with the presence of Santa. ‘Last Christmas’ also broke the mould by becoming the first episode of New Who that I’ve actively decided not to show my children, although more on that later.

Things open on what we assume is Christmas Eve, and a scene that most of you probably watched on YouTube. Clara is awoken by a noise from outside her house and finds Santa on the rooftop, arguing with two of his elves (Misfits‘ Nathan McMullen and semi-regular Dan Starkey, bereft of the Sontaran makeup but still playing the comic relief). Before we have the opportunity to examine just why Clara was almost on the naughty list at the age of nine, the TARDIS materialises and the Doctor whisks Clara away to the Arctic, although not before asserting that “No one likes the tangerines” (which, by the way, is really not true, at least in our house).

The bulk of the narrative takes place in an Arctic base that deliberately (and quite self-consciously) rips off The Thing. Indeed, the entire story is basically a homage to a number of different horror movies, Ridley Scott being the most obvious example – the awakening dream crabs are a cross between the facehugger from Alien and the adult form of the egg that it hatches, with teeth to match. As is now traditional with a new monster under Moffat’s reign, the crabs have a metaphysical twist: they are only active when they’re either observed or being thought about, leading a surrounded Doctor and Clara to frantically screw their eyes closed while Emily shouted “BLINK!”.

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If the crabs are reasonably frightening, the fantasy in which they dump Clara is positively sugar-coated, although this is presumably all for effect. The production team soften the lighting, Murray Gold’s score becomes annoyingly intrusive and Moffat gives us the farewell scene between Clara and Danny that he presumably thought we wanted to see. It wasn’t enough to have them sobbing in a graveyard before he exploded over London; we now get to see Samuel Anderson wearing a Santa outfit (which will give the fan-fiction writers something to do, I suppose). It’s all very tear-jerking, although it’s more about Clara dealing with her grief than actually saying goodbye to Danny, given that she’s effectively talking to a hallucination. The net result is really not like Ghost; it’s more like A Beautiful Mind. (That’s not a compliment, by the way.)

In more quasi-fan pacification, the nature of Jenna Coleman’s hesitancy over her contract with the BBC is handled with one of Moffat’s false endings: the Doctor arrives back at Clara’s house sixty-two years late, the sort of cock-up with repercussions that would make even the Ninth Doctor wince. This is, as it turns out, still Only A Dream, but just for a couple of minutes, we’re led to believe that it’s the end of the road. It’s really an excuse to reverse the cracker scene from last year, and that in itself works quite well – but it’s a shame that the makeup used to age Coleman is so utterly unconvincing, leading Emily to remark “Ooh, it’s Yoda!”. Well, not quite, but Yoda is arguably an improvement.

The remainder of the episode is a bunch of characters that warrant minimal emotional investment, seeing as they are mostly plot devices. Shona is by far the most interesting – clearly potential companion material, presumably in the mould of someone as delinquently troublesome as Ace or Leela. Michael Troughton is as good an actor as his father, but is given little to do except read from an instruction manual and chew up the scenery. Said scenery is admittedly impressive, the closing flyover echoing any number of Christmas classics, while the Arctic base is claustrophobically rendered in muted tones. Likewise, the dream crabs have clear action figure potential, even if – as a friend of mine pointed out – their hosts look they have Brussels sprouts on their heads.

“Oh, not sprouts. I hate sprouts.”
“Oh, will you stop whinging Eddie! Nobody likes sprouts.”
“Then why are we having them, then?”
“BECAUSE IT’S CHRISTMAS!”

The most ridiculous thing to happen in ‘Death in Heaven’, of course (besides the Cyber-Brigadier, which still makes me angry) was the appearance of Nick Frost at the door of the TARDIS. Moffat plays on this during ‘Last Christmas’ by making the entire story one long knowing wink: Santa arrives at the Arctic base just in the St. Nick of time (or not, as it turns out) with an army of slinkies and toy robots, riding a reindeer like the Lone Ranger mounted Silver and handling a tangerine like a grenade. Meanwhile, Starkey has an orange balloon gun. It’s purposely silly, and indeed the appearances of Santa in the episode have a whiff of the absurd about them: Santa the action hero, Santa the gunslinging hero, and Santa the saviour of humanity.

Actually, that’s the problem. Because the presence of Santa in ‘Last Christmas’ becomes something of a litmus test: in other words, as the Doctor assures his companions, they know they’re dreaming because Father Christmas himself is there to put things right. We may assume, indeed, that the entire last scene of the series finale was itself a dream, presumably one that Capaldi had after watching too many Russell T Davies episodes. Somewhere between that first low-angled establishing shot and the final rescue in the snow, we’re told in no uncertain terms that Santa is – at least in this case – a group hallucination made flesh, a gestalt entity that drops out of the sky in what I have no choice but to label sleighus ex machina.

That’s fine. But at the risk of sounding like Mary Whitehouse, has anyone stopped to think about the children? Look, I’m not opposed to the idea of dramatic presentations where people don’t believe in Santa. Miracle on 34th Street constructed an entire narrative around the concept (a reference that Moffat openly admits to, when he has one of the surviving characters unfold a sheet of paper that contains her Christmas TV schedule and the writer’s apparent influences for the episode, presumably to avoid having to stick ‘The works of H.R. Giger and John Carpenter are acknowledged’ in the credits). There are plenty of grumpy people who grew up too fast and become the voice of cynicism in such festive tales, refusing to believe even the evidence of their own eyes.

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But here’s the thing: even if I manage to describe the various dream states and layers to my seven-year-old so that he knows whether the characters are asleep or awake (“This is an episode,” said Emily, “that they’re just not going to understand at all”), how the hell do I explain the deliberate fictionalisation of a character he still believes in? Santa’s existence here isn’t just something that’s contested by the stuffy grown-ups before he reads off their Christmas wishes from behind his Google glasses; his status as something we’ve dreamed up to help us is more or less concrete. And no, an ambiguous tangerine on a windowsill doesn’t count.

It’s possible, of course, that I’m going to re-read this tomorrow and decide that I’ve got the whole thing wrong. Even then, the opening scene on the rooftop makes for uncomfortable viewing, with Clara suggesting that her “Mum and Dad” were the ones who delivered presents. I don’t think that’s yet occurred to any of my children, and if the episode had stopped there, with doubts about Santa then quickly rebuffed, then that would have been fine. But then making the whole story about this seems not only unnecessarily metaphysical but also downright unpleasant somehow, with Clara’s final affirmation that yes, she believes in Father Christmas, but that “he looks a little different to me”, frankly a little insulting. I’d accept that our interpretation was perhaps skewed by a cynical take on Moffat’s writing, but an episode of a family show that questions the existence of Santa on so many levels, irrespective of their resolution, seems to be entering dodgy territory.

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Of course, the tangerine has two possible meanings, and choosing between them is obvious. Presumably we’re supposed to infer that it’s the calling card for a real-life Santa Claus, because the alternative is another layer of reality: in other words, this is still a dream. It’s far less ambiguous than the ending of ‘Normal Again’,  I’ll grant, and this is ironic given that the dream state isn’t actually as unattractive a proposition as you might think. If nothing else, it would explain why the story was so preposterous and downright confusing.

Come to think of it, can we track the beginnings of the head crabs back to the ending of ‘Kill the Moon’, when Clara telephones the entire planet? Or perhaps ‘Listen’, with its ridiculous Gallifreyan lullaby? Actually, can we just write off the entire last series as a lucid dream and start again from the moment Capaldi staggers out of the TARDIS at the beginning of ‘Deep Breath’? I know I complain about narrative tangents, but to be honest, that’s a twist I could handle.

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God is in the detail (part xxiii)

I’ve been procrastinating a bit on this final entry, largely because it’s a week until Christmas and we still have to finish tidying the house. But needs must. I don’t want to let you down; I know how hotly debated these posts are at the conventions and on Reddit threads. Oh, the sacrifices I make for you lot.

First, let’s follow through on something we started mid-series. You will remember some weeks ago, I talked about the precise line of dialogue that occurred at 31:59, and how these dialogue snippets formed a rough conversation if you were to stitch them together. For the first time tonight, I can reveal the entire exchange, as it occurs at these time points throughout each episode of the series.

“It says lunch, but not when and where.”
“How?”
“Such a pretty thing. What a queen she would have made.”
“Do me a favour. Take my advice. When you get home, stay away from time travel.”
“My face fits. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must take the Teller to its hibernation. You two, dispose of our guests.”
“If it comes back Thursday night, are you sure about that? ‘Cos you said the chronodyne is unstable.”
“We just need to make up our minds, that’s all. Well, you know him.”
“Am I close?”
“What’s going on? Why the red light?”
“I can save you and Danny.”
“We’ve all heard it.”
“I’m leaving.”

And backwards:

“I’m leaving.”
“We’ve all heard it.”
“I can save you and Danny.”
“What’s going on? Why the red light?”
“Am I close?”
“We just need to make up our minds, that’s all. Well, you know him.”
“If it comes back Thursday night, are you sure about that? ‘Cos you said the chronodyne is unstable.”
“My face fits. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must take the Teller to its hibernation. You two, dispose of our guests.”
“Do me a favour. Take my advice. When you get home, stay away from time travel.”
“Such a pretty thing. What a queen she would have made.”
“How?”
“It says lunch, but not when and where.”

And I think we all know what that means, don’t we?

Let’s think visual, now. Examine this image of the exterior of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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As you’ve probably guessed, it’s the chocolate orange-like segments that we’re looking at. Numbers are important here at God Is In The Detail Central, and we may see that there are precisely 22 spikes on display. The 22 April 2011 is the date on which the Doctor was gunned down by an astronaut at Lake Silencio in Utah – words that can be rearranged to form ‘Eek! Sil in Cola’.

Swire Coca-Cola have a prominent Utah production base. And yes, ‘Sil’ is a real word; he’s a nasty character who first turns up in ‘Vengeance in Varos’, story number two in season number 22 of Doctor Who‘s original run.

The number 22 is also known in bingo language (bingo lingo? it should really be called bingo lingo) as ‘Two little ducks’, for obvious reasons. This is a CLEAR AND UNAMBGIUOUS reference both to the use of ducks in ‘The Eleventh Hour’, in which the newly-regenerated Doctor enquires as to the lack of ducks on the duck pond, and also 1986’s Howard The Duck, which starred Lea Thompson as the young musician who forms an ethically dubious relationship with an extraterrestrial waterfowl. As if the fact that Howard the Duck’s production coincided with the original broadcast of season 22 weren’t enough of a coincidence, Lea Thompson is also famous for starring in films about astronauts and time-travelling teenagers. This isn’t just serendipity, THIS IS PLANETARY ALIGNMENT.

(Incidentally, as well as owning a cuddly panda named Amble, Gareth also has a cuddly bat named Eek!. But you can take these things too far.)

As a brief parenthesis, and jumping right to the end of the episode, here’s a sight that no one ever thought they’d see in the TARDIS.

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The sudden appearance of Jeff Santa Claus was both the episode’s big cliffhanger and – for those viewers who found ‘Death in Heaven’ as miserable as I did – something of a welcome relief from all the angst. But of course, there’s a chilling (quite literally, as it turns out) subtext to the appearance of a supernaturally powerful omnipresent figure in a red suit, whose name can be rearranged.

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Oh, bugger off, Church Lady.

No, I’m talking about the casting of Nick Frost. FROST! At CHRISTMAS! We can only conclude that Michael Troughton will be bringing along a huge quantity of fish, or possibly a narrow (and extremely heavy) feeding container for animals, depending on whether we’re talking about phonetics or spelling.

Meanwhile, in the morgue…

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What’s curious about this image? The eye wash poster on the wall. I’d make reference here to the Big Finish Dark Eyes series, except I have yet to listen to it and Gareth has warned me not to do so, because (and I quote) “[spoiler] first appears in [spoiler], where the revelation is [spoiler], and this happens before [spoiler]. I think it might be too big a spoiler to tell you much more of that, unless you’re already spoiled for it. Suffice it to say that you should listen to [spoiler] before [spoiler].”

But if we were to spell these words using the NATO phonetic alphabet, we get:

Echo
Yankee
Echo

Whiskey
Alpha
Sierra
Hotel

Which refers, in turn, to the following episodes:

‘Deep Breath’ (in which the Doctor drinks whiskey)
‘The Curse of Peladon’ (featuring Alpha Centauri)
‘Asylum of the Daleks’ (filmed in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Spain)
‘The God Complex’ (obviously)

(Coincidentally, episode four of ‘Marco Polo’ was ‘Five Hundred Eyes’, which is the equivalent of two hundred and fifty Cybermen. There are no direct links to this number of Cybermen in any of the non-fan fiction stories I could locate, but the Bad Wolf Bay farewell scene at the end of ‘Doomsday’ topped the list of top 250 sci-fi moments in issue 250 of SFX, while Dr. Harold Shipman is purported to have murdered 250 patients. Call it clinical detachment, but it’s hard to say which of these horrifies me more.)

We look now at the reforming Cybermen in their graves.

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You will recall that the resurrection programme was initially only patchy, and that only a handful of corpses in each cemetery were being reconstructed. It would be easy to assume that this was totally random. Except – EXCEPT! – a closer examination reveals this is not the case.

First let’s look at the Greek letters for Delta Theta Sigma, which – as we are all aware – refers to the Doctor’s college nickname and the incarnation that introduced it.

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Now examine the patterns generated by the placement of the reanimated Cybercorpses.

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And finally, look again at that opening image of Saint Paul’s.

Heaven Detail (5)

 

Well now. Isn’t that special?

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The Christmas Special, and why it matters

In the first instance, this.

It’s less than a fortnight until the Christmas episode, and we still know bugger all about it. Here’s a quick fact check:

  • ‘Last Christmas’ (and you didn’t say that, you sang it) sees the Doctor meet Santa, who seems to have turned up in time to put wrong things right, like a sort of bearded Mr Pink-Whistle, without the cat. He’s accompanied by two elves (one of whom is Dan Starkey, usually seen surrounded by prosthetics, serving tea for the glory of the Sontaran empire).
  • In the clip above, Santa chats to Clara for a while, before the Doctor shows up, whereupon the two drop into the sort of intense, absolutely serious conversation that made Airplane! so intentionally amusing.
  • We have no idea yet what the Doctor is going to face, although it looks like the designers have taken inspiration from H.R. Giger.
  • There is a tangerine, which has already been labelled an object of Deep Significance.

It’s the first time we’ve actually seen Saint Nicholas actually appear onscreen, but on the other hand –

 

Look. I don’t want to be all Captain Grumpy again. But at the risk of pouring cold water over this roaring hearth of publicity, the episode is already in potentially murky waters based on that Children In Need clip alone. I’m alluding, of course, to the suggestion that many people believe Father Christmas is fake. Yes, there’s a lot of clever-clever winking and cries of “Of course he’s real!”. But Clara’s assertion that her annual yuletide benefactors were ‘Mum and Dad’ is going to raise awkward questions, at least from the youngest of viewers. Normally I have to stop my children from watching Doctor Who because the monsters were too frightening; only in recent years have I had the cause to worry about sexual content, but at the risk of overreacting I’ve already made the conscious decision not to show the Children in Need preview to any of them until I’ve seen what follows. The implications contained in this scene alone make ‘Last Christmas’ sound like a story that we’ll have to watch on our own first, which surely isn’t the point of a family show.

That may sound overly harsh, if not a little cantankerous (although let’s be honest, that’s more or less what you’ve come to expect from me). But just this once, there’s a reason for it. Here’s something that might not have occurred to you – and apologies if you’ve read the ‘Doctor, Widow, Wardrobe’ review, but I’m going to repeat myself – watching a Doctor Who winter special is, to a certain extent, rather like going to church on Christmas morning.

Why is this? Well, one thing consistent church attendance has taught me is how we cater for people at different times of the year. And there’s something in particular about Christmas where church gets perhaps a little more accessible. Or at least it should. Because the fact is that some people come to church at Christmas and then that’s their fix for the next twelve months, apart from the occasional wedding. And perhaps because of that we need to make things a little easier and more comfortable, and a little less automatic. We need to give context, explain things and show that we’re not entirely stuck in our ways: cut off, exclusive, or inapproachable.

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The Christmas Special has become, to a considerable extent, Doctor Who for people who don’t normally do Doctor Who. It’s an episode viewed by people watching with relatives or friends, dragged in because The Gruffalo’s Child has finished and the remote is buried beneath mounds of wrapping paper. Elderly aunts and uncles may watch out of pure curiosity, having not seen the TARDIS materialise since Pertwee.

That we are now in this position is a bone of contention for some, but it is what it is, and when it comes to December 25 it can go both ways. Some stories (‘Voyage of the Damned’ springs to mind) are immediately accessible, generally occurring at pivotal, transitional moments where the Doctor is between companions or arcs. Others (‘The Time of the Doctor’, ‘The End of Time’, ‘The Snowmen’) are nigh-on impenetrable for newbies or visitors, relying heavily on knowledge of previous stories. (The first example above is particularly guilty in this department, hearkening back as it does to stuff that happened in 2010, and haphazardly tying every single plot thread together in a jumbled, confusing mess.)

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. But it should. It matters because there’s an ambassadorial aspect to being a Doctor Who fan. You’ll often find yourself in the position of having to describe or even defend the show to people who haven’t watched it in years – if they’ve ever watched it at all. Christmas is a chance to do just that. They watch the Christmas special and perhaps they’ll tune in to the next season. Then they might go back and explore Tennant or Smith. Then you convince them that actually, the original series is not only worth a look, it surpasses everything they’ve done since the revival. Before you know it they’re watching recons and downloading Big Finish audios by the terabyte. But it’s hard to actually get the non-fan interested if all they’ve got to go on is an inaccessible story. And more than this, you don’t want to spend half an hour on Christmas night actually answering the rhetorical “I don’t know what you see in that…” when you’d rather be getting drunk and playing Pictionary.

Seriously, Steven. You owe us. It’s been nearly three years since the last decent Christmas episode, and goodness knows we could do with a bit of light relief after watching the stilted farewell between the Doctor and the increasingly irritating Miss Oswald (right after her dead boyfriend turned into a firework). I know I place too much value on what folks say online, but it would be nice, to be honest, if I could switch on my computer on Boxing Day and read comments from people saying “I’ve not watched Doctor Who in years, but I switched on last night and was pleasantly surprised – it was lighthearted, appropriately seasonal, and it didn’t take itself too seriously. And Peter Capaldi really was very good.”

Although presumably his initial response to the sight of Father Christmas will be “Jeff?!?”.

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Review: ‘Death in Heaven’

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Warning: Contains a whole lot of spoilers.

Let me save you some time. If you wanted a precis of ‘Death in Heaven’, you could do worse than look at Steven Moffat’s To-do list.

“Here’s the problem,” said Emily, as we packed away half-eaten bags of Chinese nuts, finished off the plum and blackberry wine (homemade, although not by us) and tried to keep Edward away from the Lego. “Generally speaking you see occasional bad episodes of Doctor Who and you think all right, fine, perhaps they’re building to something a bit more interesting. And then you get this, and you realise they’re doing nothing of the sort.”

This little observation came at the end of a discussion (complete with quotes, in silly voices, from yours truly) that tried to determine whether tonight’s finale was in fact better or worse than ‘Fear Her’, ‘A Town Called Mercy’, ‘Evolution of the Daleks’ or ‘Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS’. It’s telling when you find yourself having to drudge the back of your memory to recall those stories you’d sooner best forget in order to cushion the blow that is the mess you’ve just experienced. It’s the equivalent of doing a Tequila slammer, in which you fill your mouth with pungent, fiery liquid while juxtaposing it with sourness to counteract the general unpleasantness of the whole concoction. Some people like Tequila slammers, of course. Myself, I’ve never seen the point.

You know how you get some New Who episodes that chuck a bad idea at you and it’s bad and you hate it? And then you move onto something else very quickly that perhaps isn’t quite so bad and you sort of forget about the bad bit until the end when you look back? Well, ‘Death in Heaven’ is worse. It’s not one bad idea, it’s a whole heap of bad ideas thrown at you with the sort of merciless onslaught that grave robbers probably got when they were sitting in the medieval stocks. Not since ‘The Wedding of River Song’ have I wanted an episode so badly to end before it completed its running time, and not since that very same episode have I seen such a cacophony of stupid, pointless and empty concepts dressed up as storytelling, only to find myself in an apparent minority when it comes to appraising an episode that everyone else seems to be describing as a ‘classic’.

Where to start? Well, we’ll begin with the Cybermen, whose role tonight was to stand in a cemetery. The plans borne out by Missy in ‘Dark Water’ came to fruition with the latest upgrade in Cyber technology: the natives of Mondas have, it seems, found a way to resurrect the dead. Hence the consciousnesses of the deceased were harvested inside the Matrix until they were ready to be reborn: “Every tiny particle of a Cyberman,” explains the Doctor, “contains the plans to make another Cyberman”. The U.N.I.T. chap he’s explaining this to (Sanjeev Bhaskar, this week’s stunt casting) looks as incredulous as we do at this revelation. The one-size-fits-all ‘nanotechnology’ solution is thus implemented as an excuse to have an army of the dead rise from their graves in order to destroy and then enslave humanity, the day before Remembrance Sunday, while a dead soldier looks on.

It could be that Moffat didn’t plan this on purpose. Its questionable timing may be nothing more than simple bad luck. Or perhaps the BBC knew what would happen and knew that they’d be able to bat down any complaints using the “this storyline was handled with dignity and respect and we are sorry for any offence that may have been caused” card, figuring that the show’s advocates on Gallifrey Base would do the rest. The other week I complained about the abortion subtext in ‘Kill the Moon’, suggesting that you can’t handle big issues within the confines of a forty-five minute drama. The problem with ‘Death in Heaven’ is that it doesn’t really handle anything; it basically digs up a hundred thousand graves and then leaves the ground covered with soil.

So am I overreacting when I suggest that the theme was in poor taste? Perhaps. But the fact of the matter is that while I’ll defend the BBC to the grave, I find it increasingly difficult to trust them. After years of being stuffy and responsible they seem to have found a second childhood, and now the corporation behaves like the teenager that you allow to have some freedom in the hope that (s)he’ll grow up a bit, only to find that said teenager has been rather reckless on social media and is frankly misspending his pocket money. They can handle themselves without my input, I daresay, but you can’t help shaking your head in despair.

I’d leave it at that. But the fact that the nano-conversion debacle isn’t the worst thing in the episode is, I think, a measure of how far down the slope we’ve come. Danny Pink, as it turns out, is back, but wearing armour, having been able (somehow) to retain his humanity even as he’s crammed into a metal suit. It’s almost disappointing when he doesn’t start weeping oil. If they’d had the usual nonsense they use in stories of robotic possession, where the mutated hero has a gun trained at the head of his sidekick, who is urging “Fight it! Fight it, Sam! You’re still in there! Don’t let it take you!” then I’d still be rolling my eyes, but at least we’d have seen some sort of conflict. Instead we are left to assume that love conquers all, even enforced robotic conversion, and I really thought we’d left all that behind in 2011.

Danny, at least, gets the exit he deserves, basically saving the world while the Doctor makes a couple of speeches and banters with Michelle Gomez. It’s a send-off of sorts for Samuel Anderson, even though (despite the episode’s final scene) I suspect we have seen neither the last of him nor his girlfriend, who gets to do a pointless opening monologue where she pretends to be the Doctor – a scene concocted, as Emily put it, in order to create an ambiguous teaser. I may have been wrong about Missy being the Master (even though it wasn’t a serious guess) but it was patently obvious that Clara’s apparent character transformation was nothing more than clever editing. Her final scene with the Doctor is quietly dignified, at least, as she wanders off down the same street they landed upon in ‘Deep Breath’ (and which, at least within the context of the show, is supposed to be Glasgow, making very little sense).

Pulling the strings of the Cyber puppets, Michelle Gomez is just about the most watchable thing this week. She manages to be sinister without being irredeemable, and crackpot insane without descending into the sort of overacting we saw in every scene featuring John Simm. Far too much is made, unfortunately, of the nature of madness, but there are some lovely moments with the Doctor and with Osgood, even if having her singing “Oh, Missy, you’re so fine” to the tune of ‘Mickey’ seems like far too much of a stretch.

Unfortunately, we see far too little of her. Moffat crams a hundred things into an hour of television, and you’re left with a whistle-stop tour of great ideas unused; seeds that have been left to gather dust on the stony path where they’ve landed. The Doctor’s role as President, for example, is given next-to-no context beyond the words “Emergency protocols”, and is not explored because there simply isn’t time for him to actually do anything before his Air Force One is attacked. There is also the ludicrous question of the flying Cybermen, who now have rocket boots simply because the plot demands that they have rocket boots. There’s no context given: the Cybermen are now basically the writer’s dream, a monster you can change according to how you need an episode to run. “We are being told that these metal men are known as Cybermen,” a radio DJ announces early in the episode. “But unlike the accounts we have on file, they now have the ability to fly.”

That doesn’t stop Kate Stewart (the ever-watchable Gemma Redgrave) dumping a 1968 Cyberman’s helmet on the ground in the opening scenes, effectively throwing down the gauntlet – a challenge to which the 2014 Cybermen respond by later sucking her out of a plane. It’s such a sudden and undignified end (at least Ingrid Oliver gets a few last words before being zapped into oblivion) that you know there is no possible way that it can be final – this isn’t Buffy, after all. Deaths here are long and drawn out, and usually accompanied by tinkly pianos.

But the discovery of Kate at the end of the episode is coupled with what is perhaps the most horrid thing that happens this week, when the One Good Cyberman turns out to have a body double. “Hooray for the Brigadier,” read the GB comments. “He finally got to kill the Master!”. Or “Oh, I am LITERALLY weeping buckets. So sad.” Perhaps (s)he had turned over to The X-Factor by mistake, just in time to catch someone securing a place in next week’s show before even singing a note by dedicating a performance to their dead grandmother. Or perhaps I’m just dead inside, given that the only thing I wanted to do when the Doctor saluted (which was in no way foreshadowed and not obvious at all) was throw things at the TV. Never mind the fact that no explanation whatsoever is given for the Brigadier’s ability to override the Cybermen’s programming (at the expense of any other deceased human being who might have been similarly impassioned); it’s a pitiful, horrible way to deal with the death of a soldier. “Wish hard enough,” Moffat seems to be suggesting, “and you too can rise from the grave to kill Hitler.”

 

Teasingly, ‘Death in Heaven’ offers up a false ending, interrupting the story’s downbeat conclusion with what is quite possibly the most ludicrous thing to happen in Doctor Who since Hugh Quarshie attempted an American accent. It’s as if we’re being offered, at this point, that most unlikely of scenarios: a happy ending. The fact that this message is delivered in the way it is almost suggests a nod and a wink on the part of the creative team – an acknowledgement, in a way, that what we’ve just had to witness was both stupid and depressing, but that they’re going to put things right. The Office – the British version, at least – ended its second series on a depressing note but gave us a Hollywood ending in a two-part special that saw Tim finally pair up with Dawn, while an understanding blind date offered a glimmer of redemption for David Brent. Could this frankly disastrous series of Doctor Who be about to spin round and offer a fun, light-hearted and yet emotionally satisfying conclusion?

After everything I’ve been complaining about these past few weeks, it’s almost too much to hope for. But it is nearly Christmas.

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Heaven_Chart

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God is in the detail (part xxii)

We’re on the home straight now for clues and conspiracies, but there’s still plenty more to see. Here’s a look at ‘Dark Water’, whereby we may be privy to the secrets within if we are willing to tap the surface.

First, have a look in the park.

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There are thirteen visible pillars in that central structure, a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to the thirteen canonical Doctors, including John Hurt. Note also the sun spots. The furthest pillar to the right (but one) has a sun spot above it, making it clear that this refers to the Tenth Doctor, who was briefly possessed by a sun in ’42’.

’42’ was also the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything, a concept developed by Douglas Adams, who was script editor for Doctor Who during the reign of the Fourth Doctor, whom we’ve already discussed in depth. Look closely and you’ll see that the figure at the base of the plinth appears to be holding up a lower case ‘B’, clearly alluding to Tom Baker.

But where is Danny, anyway? Well, he’s in Alexandra Gardens, in Cardiff, specifically walking past the Welsh National War Memorial, dedicated to soldiers who died in World War I – featured as an ephemeral plot point in ‘The Family of Blood’, an episode starring The Tenth Doctor. And then there’s the use of the gardens in ‘Last of the Time Lords’, which also starred…well, you know.

Moving on a bit, I felt like doing some drawing today. So I did. We started by looking at the disco ball that houses the souls of the dead.

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If you assume that the prominent red dots each symbolise one incarnation of the Doctor (as we did the other day) you can then concoct a visual representation of the stories in which they interact. (For reasons that should be obvious, this does not include regeneration stories.)

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Finally, if we isolate the colours:

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The three letters at the bottom – COI – could apply to the now-defunct Central Office of Information, but are more likely to refer to Coi, a restaurant in San Francisco – the setting for the 1996 Doctor Who movie starring Paul McGann (and again, we’ve discussed him before), battling against THE MASTER. Could we be about to see the return of Grace Holloway?

Curiously, COI can be rearranged into ICO, a particularly fine PlayStation game, and one which has no reference to anything here, but it’s included because Gareth and I both love it (and knowing him, he’ll know come up with some sort of plot-related connection between the game and the Whoniverse).

Look now at Steven Moffat’s Clara’s post-it note collection.

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The white owl on the shelf alludes to the owl owned by Ted Moss in ‘Image of the Fendahl’, featuring the Fourth Doctor. It is white because it also refers to the White Guardian, destined to make a reappearance soon.

Also examine the three notes arranged in a column beneath the John Lennon autobiography on the upper shelf, whose title is only partly visible. It’s apparent that these are important, because the role of Lennon was played by the Ninth Doctor:

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They read ‘Saibra’, ‘Vastra’ and ‘Robin Hood’ – words which can be combined and rearranged to form ‘Bravo! Historians abroad’. This is an opaque reference to ‘Marco Polo’, WHICH HAS CLEARLY BEEN FOUND. ‘Marco Polo’ also stars Mark Eden in the titular role, and from here we may trace links to Cornwall’s Eden Project and the site of what must surely be a 2015 story, presumably involving Sontarans.

If this connection seems somewhat tenuous, let me add some cement. The architect for the Eden Project was Nicholas Grimshaw – a surname adopted by various Who actors in other roles, most notably William Hartnell (in Carry on Sergeant) and, um, Bruno Langley (in Coronation Street), whose appearance most people would probably rather forget. But it was an episode with the aforementioned Christopher Eccleston, so IT STILL COUNTS.

And if you needed any more proof, consider that the Eden Project is built on top of a clay pit, which was formerly used as the surface of Magrathea when the BBC were filming The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – which was written by…

 

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God is in the detail (part xxi)

As the series draws to a close, the conspiracy theories come thick and fast. What’s Missy’s endgame? Is Danny really dead, or has he just had an out-of-body experience, like Bill Cosby in Ghost Dad? And how did Clara’s face get so improbably round?

Two GIITD posts to do before Saturday. Let’s start with ‘In the Forest of the Night’. Here’s Trafalgar Square.

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Things we can observe here: first, have a look at Nelson. Significantly, Nelson is missing his right hand, which he lost at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797, along with most of the arm attached to it. Viewers of New Who will recall that the Tenth Doctor also lost his right hand in a battle with the Sycorax commander, above the Earth on Christmas Day 2006.

Tenerife is in the Canary Islands, which ostensibly means nothing, until you remember that the Tenth Doctor fought the battle of Canary Wharf, which he won, although it led to the (temporary) loss of Rose. This all points towards I. Nelson Rose, author and world expert on gambling and gaming law, and also the Horatio Nelson Rose, the sort of thing that Harrison Chase would have in his collection.

And significantly, Harrison Chase encountered the Fourth Doctor. THE FOURTH DOCTOR. Conclusions? We’ll meet the Curator again, inside a casino.

It gets better. The digits in 1797 can be rearranged to form 1977, which was the year that the Brigadier ran into Nyssa and Tegan at Brendon Public School. Things get really interesting when you rearrange the letters in ‘Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife’ only to get ‘Abacus trident zealot efferent’, a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to Kate Lethbridge-Stewart’s plan to drag UNIT away from its occasionally violent past, as well as her father’s teaching career in ‘Mawdryn Undead’.

Curiously, you can also see the London Eye, which itself has an eye on the (unseen) National Gallery, which featured in ‘Day of the Doctor’, which also starred David Tennant. I leave the conclusion to you, dear reader.

Let’s move on. Introducing Clara Oswald, Lord of the Rings.

Sorry. I mean this.

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The number of vertical lines in this picture is 63, the year Doctor Who started. The number of horizontal lines is 26, the total number of Doctors if the Doctor ends his life at the end of this regeneration cycle. Significantly, the large red line is THE TENTH ONE UP. Perhaps Tennant got to be ginger after all, even if it was only in a tree.

63 multiplied by 26 is 1638, the setting for ‘Silver Nemesis’, WHICH INCLUDES THE CYBERMEN. Even without the publicity for ‘Death in Heaven’, only an idiot couldn’t have seen this coming.

Trees figure significantly in ‘Mark of the Rani’, in which –

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If I’d been writing this before ‘Dark Water’, I’d have concluded that MISSY IS ACTUALLY THE RANI. However, seeing as Moffat’s put that one to bed, we may now theorise that THE RANI IS RETURNING NEXT YEAR IN THE BODY OF A MAN. My money’s on Ross Kemp.

Now, here’s a lovely picture, courtesy of Maebh.

Forest Detail (4)

“We were supposed to draw a picture,” says Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. “Anything we wanted. I drew a man. He got hurt in the neck by another man with a screwdriver. Everyone got upset. They had a meeting. Mom started crying. I don’t draw like that anymore.”

[…]

Sorry, I copied down that quote fifteen minutes ago, and then got distracted watching YouTube videos of Haley Joel Osment. Where were we? Yes.

Three (well, almost three) red dots. Three (well, almost three) Doctors. ‘The Three Doctors’ (1973)? Yes, because ‘The Three Doctors’ sees an end to the Doctor’s exile, setting up his next story, ‘Carnival of Monsters’, in which he spends quite a lot of time on a boat. AND THE WORD BOAT IS PRINTED IN THAT PICTURE.

However, we may also look at ‘Day of the Doctor’, which includes THE TENTH DOCTOR, but also a cameo by Tom Baker. Baker’s first adventure was ‘Robot’. And in order to deal with the rogue lump of metal causing havoc around the English countryside, the Brigadier (mentioned earlier) deploys a tank.

AND THE WORD TANK IS PRINTED IN THAT PICTURE.

Lastly: you will recall that the opening of ‘Day of the Doctor’ sees the TARDIS airlifted to The National Gallery (which we’ve already discussed) by helicopter. AND THE WORD HELICOPT-

Oh, you really don’t want me to go on, do you?

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Review: ‘Dark Water’

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WARNING: Spoilers below.

Well, congratulations, Steven. You did it. For a change, you’ve surprised me. Not by producing a belter of an episode, something I thought was no longer within your abilities as showrunner. No, instead you managed the stupid-and-obvious route to a finale, rather than the stupid-and-obscure one.

‘Dark Water’ spends much of its time in a world of half-truths and guarded uncertainty, telling you things it then retracts or twists, and it’s only when we’ve had twenty minutes of nothing happening that you realise its purpose is largely to set up the chess pieces for next week’s explosive finale. It does this by delivering three significant plot developments, in the manner of one of those episodes of 24 that still gets talked about years after its broadcast. Facebook group comments are full of multiple punctuation marks (and poor spelling, but that’s par for the course). The #whoismissy tag clogs up Twitter feeds. Tumblr goes into general meltdown. Gareth informs me that the general mood on Gallifrey Base is “my jaw is still on the floor”.

The problem, as he then puts it, is this: “Surely, if you’re waiting for a revelation, you’re expecting it to be (say) the Master, the Rani or Romana (according to posts), then it’s not jaw-droppingly stunning when it turns out to be one of them?”. I’ve written about this before, but to re-iterate: years ago I saw The Sixth Sense, and figured out the twist halfway through solely because I was looking for it. If you know that something colossal is coming then to say that you were gobsmacked at the reveal is nothing but hyperbole. And yes, I know I’m making a fuss about inappropriate language. I’m an English graduate. It goes with the territory.

Inappropriate language is, indeed, all part of the fun this week, as the Doctor informs Clara that they’re about to ‘go to hell’ – a remark that she understandably interprets as a curse. It follows three minutes of fiery dialogue at the edge of a volcano, in a scene that really couldn’t be more Lord of the Rings even if Jenna Coleman were dancing around the edge with the TARDIS key, bellowing “Precious is ours!”. (Of course, if she were wearing nothing but a groin-covering cloth while doing so, it would have made for a better scene.)

The rot sets in early. The confrontation by the TARDIS is taking place in a kind of simulated reality, a hallucination that the Doctor has allowed to run its natural course. In a nutshell this means that you get to take events to a headline-grabbing extreme just before admitting that the footage that saturated the trailer – and all the speculation that follows – basically counts for nothing, because the whole thing was a dream. I don’t care what it says about Clara’s determination to win back Danny, it was a glorified publicity stunt. I was half expecting her to wake up in a hotel bedroom just as Matt Smith was stepping out of the shower.

“Except,” wail the fans who are convinced this was a masterstroke, “it did happen, because Clara saw it happen, and the Doctor saw it happen. So it sort of did.” Indeed, it sort of did, in the same manner that Amy Pond sort of murdered Madame Kovarian and Rose Tyler / Amy Pond / Donna Noble sort of died, and I didn’t much care for those storylines either. So yes, I can see why the Doctor got upset with Clara, even though it’s hard to believe that a man of his scientific bent would ever actually use the words “go to hell”, except perhaps in his confused, post-regenerative let’s-strangle-Nicola-Bryant phase.

Ironically, this little tete-a-tete follows the only truly effective moment in the episode, in which Danny Pink is killed – suddenly and (more or less) offscreen. When you think about it, the development is obvious – the Doctor and Clara needed a reason to visit the afterlife, and there is none more emotionally cogent – but it is still a powerful scene, Moffat’s tendency to deliver a punch via the use of technology once more working in his favour. There is no kneeling by the corpse, no tearful farewell – indeed, for an episode that is to all intents and purposes about Danny and Clara, the two of them share no screen time together. There is, instead, just Clara, reflecting in her kitchen that Danny’s death was, in Whovian terms, “boring”. And she’s right, and somehow that makes it worse.

What follows is a strange sort of Eurydicean descent into the underworld, with gender roles reversed and Capaldi playing a ferryman of sorts to Clara’s Orpheus. The Poppins-esque Missy is cast in the role of Hades, which would presumably make the amiable (if slightly sinister) Seb the Persephone equivalent. Seb (Chris Addison, doing the best he can with a dog’s breakfast) manages to stay on the watchable side of creepy by not coming across as the sort of bureaucrat you’d expect to find in a place so obviously obsessed with data trails as hell seems to be. He is, instead, the good cop (the contrasting white suit can’t have been an accident) to Missy’s bad: cheerful but agenda-focused, usually wearing the sort of expression worn by HR executives who know there’s been an official complaint against you even though they’re not supposed to talk about it, and trying not to use the word ‘app’. “iPads?” he sneers, when Danny points out this week’s obvious use of product placement. “We’ve got Steve Jobs.”

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The involvement of the Cybermen is the episode’s second big reveal, although there’s a little foreshadowing in the shape of an obvious visual motif: a shot of two sliding doors lurching to a close to reveal a familiar-looking design, while Murray Gold drops in his motif from ‘Rise of the Cybermen’. It has the subtlety of a house brick through the window of the only Indian family in the neighbourhood, or – if we’re talking filmic analogies, that moment in The Phantom Menace where Yoda muses with Samuel L Jackson as to whether they killed the Sith Master or whether he’s still out there, just before the camera lingers on Ian McDiarmid for what seems like an incredibly long moment. Or, while Star Wars is on the table –

That’s not a dig. This isn’t 1981. You can’t keep these things secret, and Moffat knows that – this particular cat was out of the bag, through the door and in a different house eating the fish pie on the windowsill before we’d even seen Capaldi fall out of the TARDIS for the first time. It’s a shame, because the reveal takes the form of slow filtering down a glass tank filled with ‘dark’ water, echoing both ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’ and ‘The Wedding of River Song’, and it would have been reasonably effective if everyone in the universe apart from the Doctor hadn’t known it was coming. Instead, we get a lot of chin-scratching from Capaldi, who furrows his brow (and, thank God, doesn’t tell us he’s doing it) while muttering “there’s something very obvious I’m missing…”, in the manner of Inspector Gadget, or one of those TV security guards who’s busy on his Walkman while there’s a fight happening on one of the screens just behind him.

Such jesting is predictable and I thought we’d got it all out of the way in ‘Deep Breath’, but Capaldi does it with flair, and always remains watchable even when he’s been handed a lemon (which is often). The fourth wall breaking continues to be an overused trope, but it does allow for the odd comical moment – “Stop it with the eyes,” he says to Clara, when she’s upset early in the episode. “How do you do that anyway? It’s like they inflate.”

Eventually the Doctor and Clara find their way out of the mausoleum (which looks, by the way, suspiciously like the Temple of Peace) and then there are conversations about death that will “change your way of thinking”, because the dead – as it turns out – continue to feel pain. The short-term sensation of being burned alive, therefore, is presumably far worse to endure than the long-term reality of having your body slowly devoured by worms. There may be a further explanation pending next week, but I wouldn’t count on it.

And then there’s that last revelation. Slowly, tantalisingly, it’s teased out. There is a robot-related feint which fools nobody (except, again, the Doctor). Then there is the revelation that Missy is a Time Lord (“Time Lady, please”. And for a moment, for one glorious moment, you think that Moffat may actually be about to resurrect a long-gone character and give her a chance to shine. I’m not a big fan of arcs – that’s no secret – but if anyone deserves one, it’s her. It builds and builds. The Cybermen stomp across London, in scenes that echo ‘The Invasion’. Danny contemplates deletion. The Doctor panics. The whole thing seems, as far as Missy’s concerned, to be a colossal joke.

And then the punch line is utterly deflating.

Look, it’s not that I mind the idea of gender change on a physiological level. Regeneration isn’t a closed book – if anything, I’ve found the one-size-fits-all approach adopted since 2005 rather silly, and it was nice to see Moffat circumvent that back in January when Smith became Capaldi.

The problem is that this has territory-marking written all over it. You can almost visual the producer’s meetings, in which Moffat pleads with the powers that be to let him have a female Doctor. “Look, just one. Please. Tamsin Grieg’s free and wants to do it. Plus you know there’s a world of stuff I could do with the Long Game connection.”
“Steven, the answer’s no. It just creates far more problems than it solves. Have you not thought about the biological implications? You’ll have to do a parents’ leaflet.”
“But I’ve only got one more bet-you-can’t to do, and then Mark has to buy me a PlayStation.”
“Look, I don’t give a toss about what you get up to in the BBC bar, we’re talking about pissing all over a fifty-year-old institution.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“I’m still on ‘No’, Steven.”
“Can I bring back the Master and turn him into the Mistress?”
“…That is utterly, utterly lame. And that’s before we get to the S&M implications.”
“I can get Isobel Pickwell.”
“One series. That’s it.”

I know I go on about the territory marking far too much, but it’s difficult – after Clara, the War Doctor and heaven knows what else – not to read it into every situation. The Master returns, only he’s a woman, clarifying once and for all that Time Lords can lose more than their memories when The Big Change hits them. Seriously, Steven, you just couldn’t leave it alone, could you? You couldn’t leave it for the next showrunner to deal with; far more fun to have a go yourself without actually doing the central character any lasting damage. Plus, as Gareth points out, this is “ignoring that Big Finish did it – which, to be fair, we should, because it was an awful story“.

None of this is really fair on Michelle Gomez, either. The fact of the matter is that she acts her socks off in every scene she’s in, and is far more of a Master than John Simm ever was (Prime Minster or Hoodie mode). The kiss throws up all sorts of insinuations as to the nature of their relationship (and casts the whole ‘brother’ thing in an entirely new light) but it’s no worse than much of the fanfiction that’s flooded the internet, so it isn’t something to get upset about. Begrudgingly, if we have to have a female Master I’m glad it’s her. Following a similar train of thought, I have to go to the dentist in January to have a tooth extracted, and after the last time (during which I passed out in the chair) they’ve told me they’re going to sedate me. That’s all well and good, but it still doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy the experience.

There are good things in ‘Dark Water’. Clara is almost bearable. The Cybermen are always fun to watch, even in their bad stories, and they haven’t done a single Matrix zoom yet. Danny’s tragic past is at last put to bed, or at least put out into the open. The Nethersphere is visually impressive, once you get past the idea that the consciousnesses of the deceased are living inside a colossal disco ball. The writing, while far from Moffat’s best, isn’t exactly his worst, either. And Rachel Talalay directs with flair, teasing the best out of her performers.

It’s just the final, crushing disappointment of that last reveal. It’s a thoroughly inane solution to a potentially interesting problem, and my hunch – that it would be a colossal let-down – has sadly proven correct. As far as ridiculous cliffhangers go, it’s up there with ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, because in one foul swoop the arc has become all about Who Missy Is, as opposed to what (s)he might be up to: the more interesting question, by far (Doctor Who does the afterlife – potentially fascinating) but now destined to fade into the background so we can concentrate on the relationship between the Doctor and his erstwhile school chum, and how it might have changed now that they have to use separate showers in the gym. I’m not saying don’t bring back the Master. Just bring him back in episode one and let us get to know him properly. Don’t rock the boat under the pretence that you actually care about gender equality. Don’t give the internet any excuse to have conversations like this.

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Some months ago, when I sort-of reviewed ‘Deep Breath’, I remarked that “there are two possibilities: either the name ‘Missy’ is a deliberate clue pointing to something that sounds quite horrendous, or it’s a deliberate red herring designed to make the fans think that something’s going to happen, and this sort of tedious tomfoolery is exactly what makes the clue hunt so interminably dull.” The former, then. I’ll admit it caught me off guard, largely because it smacks of a man who’s finally decided that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that’s a line that Moffat seldom, if ever, seems to tread. Unfortunately, while we still have to wait until next week to be sure, it seems to me that the line is pointing straight downwards.

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DarkWater_Chart

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