Posts Tagged With: steven moffat

Doctor Who: the alternative headlines

When you work in the press, in whatever capacity, you’re surrounded by headlines. They’ve always been important, but in the digital age they’re the very lifeblood of what we do. In a world where success is monitored by the hit counter, first impressions are vital. That’s why clickbait is such big business: when a deadline is looming but you have nothing interesting to say, make it look as though you have. This revelation came to me quite recently, but what happened next will astound you.

In all seriousness: there’s nothing wrong (all right, rephrase: there’s nothing particularly new) about sexing up a headline a little bit, so long as you don’t tell any outright lies. Part of the problem stems from expectations – before the birth of the internet you could scan the body text beneath the headline and get an idea of the piece without having to actually read it in full, or at the very least ascertain its length. These days, if you’re being fed a juicy story, chances are it’ll be on social media, where the headline and covering image has been scrupulously prepared for maximum impact so as to grab your attention, with the actual text lurking on another page – and by the time you’ve worked out it wasn’t worth your time, you’ve already clicked.

People react to this with varying degrees of annoyance – personally, I’d say it’s all part of the way that online news has developed, and that the pious “There, I saved you a click” brigade really need to grow a sense of humour. But I would say that, seeing as it’s what passes for a day job. What annoys me is the tedious, over-excited headlines we draw from all those conveniently-worded soundbites that you get at the press screenings, convention appearances and Doctor Who Magazine editorials. Let me give you a few examples from the last year:

  • Jenna Coleman thinks Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who casting is “genius”
  • The next series of Doctor Who will feel like “the first episode you ever see”
  • Is this the greatest scene in modern Doctor Who history?
  • A scene in the Doctor Who Christmas special had the Doctors “almost blubbing”
  • Steven Moffat drops hints about Jodie Whittaker’s first Doctor Who scenes: “She’s given us the Doctor we’ve always known”

Don’t get me wrong. The BBC wants to sell its own product, and I’m OK with that. You need to be outwardly enthusiastic; any producer who said they thought they had a turkey on their hands would likely be given their cards, and we all know what happens when the stars dare to insult the directors. But still. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told I’ll be stunned, amazed, upset and blown away by what’s going to happen in the next series of Who, or how things were going to be truly fantastic.

Can I plead, perhaps, for a little more honesty? Or if that’s really not something we do (“The truth, Minister? You can’t expect Her Majesty’s Government to start telling the truth!”) then perhaps a little more humility, however false? And with that in mind I’ve come up with a few ideas for headlines that I’d like to see, however unlikely their appearance on the news feeds.

 

 

 

 

I am very ‘umble to the present moment, Master Copperfield…

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The Kasterborous Archive, #6: Everything has its time and everything dies

Author’s notes:

This is an interesting one.

It stems from the tail end of series 9. I was in a bad place generally, which didn’t help – but was also fed up with Doctor Who. It precedes a year-long absence for the show that reinvigorated my enthusiasm, to a certain extent; series 10 was certainly a dramatic improvement, largely thanks to Bill. Simultaneously the article (which pre-dates any announcements about the departures of Capaldi or Smith) has a lot to say about holding on to things until they crumble into dust; the fans often don’t know when they’ve had too much of a good thing, and as the Doctor wandered wearily into the TARDIS at the end of Hell Bent, there was a part of me that wished he’d just shut the door and stay there and let the show die naturally. Have I shifted my position since then? Yes. Do I stand by what I said in 2015? Also yes. There’s nothing wrong with embracing your contradictions.

Everything has its time and everything dies

Published: 29 November 2015

Coming soon to a newspaper near you: an article about ratings. Ratings or contracts. Ratings or contracts or BBC cuts. The future of Doctor Who, it seems, has never been so shaky or uncertain. Rumours abound about the prospect of the show being put on hiatus, or cancelled altogether amidst fears of falling popularity and failure to put up a fight against The X-Factor (which seems to be having troubles of its own). Those of us who browse the press and the forums will know that this is nothing new. But the most disturbing thing about the current trend, at least for me, is how little I actually care about it. For the first time in a long while, the prospect of the show’s cancellation, however unlikely (and we’ll get to that), fills me with far less dread than it ought to.

It’s a great job, getting paid to write about Doctor Who. I wouldn’t swap it for all the elephants in Mumbai. Is it worth the affront you experience when you receive a critical drubbing from people who’ve missed the point, or (far worse) the heartache and disappointment that bites when a piece is routinely ignored? Yes, it is. Is it worth the long, coffee-fuelled 2am finishes every Sunday morning scribbling reviews and opinion pieces and uploading endless GIFs in order to make deadline and beat the web traffic? Of course it is. Is it worth the torture of having to endure the atrocity that was Before the Flood not once but twice so that I can explain it to my children? Yes, just about. Is it worth the sense of weariness my wife experiences when I persuade her to sit through yet another tedious episode because my reviews are always better when I can feed off her witty and acerbic remarks? Well, you’d have to ask her that, although she’d probably sigh a little bit and give you a smile that speaks volumes.

But the problem is that it’s now the writer in me that is pleading for its continued renewal, rather than the fan. Writing semi-professionally about something you love is a dangerous tightrope, and one that many of us walk. I’d hate for it to become any sort of crutch, but writing about Who – in whatever capacity – is one of the few things I know how to do reasonably well, and it’s for that reason alone that I pray that the continuous reports of the show’s imminent demise are nothing more than an exaggeration designed to shift units.

Pay particular attention to that word ‘alone’, because it’s where I’ve been going with this. Because the fan in me no longer cares about New Who. Seriously, I don’t. I’m worn out with high expectations that are constantly dashed. I’m tired of the ominous looks that plagued this series whenever Capaldi was alone with Clara, leading to a death scene that lasted seven minutes longer than it should have. I’m tired of the mysteries and arcs and things that are supposed to be important and the stupid tendency the show has now to make great, bold affirmations about why the Doctor left Gallifrey / grew up scared of his own shadow / bought a new toaster when it doesn’t actually matter. I’m tired of inconsistent writing and good ideas squandered. I’m tired of humourless gravitas and awkward, ill-fitting social commentary shoehorned into poor scripts (the Zygon stories were a notable exception). I’m tired of all the sodding electric guitar references (although I don’t dispute that Peter can play). And I’m tired of the cult of smugness that surrounds it: the press saturation and stunt casting and the feeling that this should somehow be BAFTA-standard high drama, rather than lightweight family entertainment.

Moffat sits in a different chair to the one occupied by John Nathan-Turner, but ultimately it’s the same situation: outstaying your welcome. The longer he’s here, the more we allow him to do: not content with having undermined everything Russell T Davies achieved (I’m not going to expand on this; if you can’t figure it out it’ll give you something to argue about), he’s now making his mark in other ways, too numerous and obvious to mention here. Somewhere, I’m convinced he has a list of “Things I want to do before I step down”, and presumably if he manages to tick off everything on the list then Mark Gatiss has to buy him a PlayStation 4.

Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt. There was a time, not long after the 2005 resurrection, where I’d rebuff any criticism of the show with “Yes, I agree, but it’s Doctor Who. Isn’t it better that it’s back?” There was a time when I truly believed that. There was a time when if asked to choose between episodes like Fear Her and cancellation, I’d plump for the former in a double heartbeat. The frightening thing is that if you’d asked me the same question after viewing The Woman Who Lived a few Saturdays ago, or the dirge that was Face The Raven just the other week, I genuinely don’t know what I’d have said. Are stories like this really the best we can do? Is this the height of quality for a flagship programme, for prime time Saturday night television?

The fact of the matter is that the years when Doctor Who was not on air were some of the most productive and fruitful in the history of the show. The Big Finish franchise – now a bloated and distorted mutation of its former self – was established in order to make the stories that the BBC no longer wanted, and did it brilliantly. The New Adventures, Past Doctor Adventures and the webcasts all came out of the fans’ desire to fill the vacuum that Michael Grade had created. Oh, not everything worked. (Have you read Eye of Heaven? It’s appalling.) Still, some of the most interesting stories and ideas ever featured in Doctor Who came out of that period. The Americans don’t want Paul McGann? Fine. We’ll give him a whole history. We’ve even got a companion who gets turned into a fish.

I was reiterating this to my children just the other day. “There are hundreds of old stories you’ve not watched,” I told them. “And most of them are worth a look. There are hundreds of books and hundreds of audio dramas and comics and even I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer. If they stopped making new Doctor Who stories tomorrow it’d still take aeons to get through everything.”

I once met a Christian speaker who talked eloquently on the matter of dying churches. The crux of his argument ran thus: if churches filled with an ageing population are in danger of becoming empty, perhaps we shouldn’t be so desperate to refill them. If clubs and organisations are winding down, perhaps we should let them. Perhaps Doctor Who is drawing to a natural conclusion that we should allow to happen before it reaches series-too-far territory (a ship which I’m sure many people would argue has already sailed long ago). Perhaps, as the Ninth Doctor famously says to Rose at the close of The End of the World, everything has its time and everything dies. Perhaps we’ve forgotten that. Perhaps instead we’re more concerned that everybody lives, whatever the cost.

At the same time, a thought occurs: Doctor Who is probably not going to be cancelled, and in its current form it is not going to change. Moffat shows no signs of leaving; he outlasted Smith and he may well outlast Capaldi. For as long as he’s willing to believe his own hype (in the weekly cries of “Genius” and “OMG BEST EPISODE EVER I AM LITERALLY CRYING BUCKETS!” that frequent forums and Tumblr feeds) then there’s no reason why he should. The rants of old fogeys like me will not shake him, nor should they. I’ll shout into the wind for as long as I feel the need, but I seldom expect anyone to actually hear, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. And truth be told I like a man who stands by his convictions, even if we’re polar opposites in terms of how we approach things.

So I’ll keep watching – I have a vested interest in the show’s continuation, after all – and I’ll keep complaining because I’m not a sycophant, I can’t heave my heart into my mouth, and eventually after all this shouting into the wind there is at least a distant possibility that someone is going to listen (just as there is a possibility that an infinite number of monkeys given an infinite number of typewriters will eventually produce a script better than Evolution of the Daleks). At the same time, if the front page exclusive tomorrow morning read “DOCTOR WHO CANCELLED” I think I can say, for the first time in ten years, that I probably wouldn’t care that much. I mean, I’d have to find something else to fill my Saturday evening. But that’s fine. It’s been years since I watched The X-Factor.

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Doctor Who series 10: the executive summaries (part two)

Right, where were we?

(If you missed part one, it’s here.)

The Pyramid at the End of the World

‘If anything, The Pyramid at the End of the World suffers from Difficult Second Album Syndrome, or at least second act fatigue. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, except to say that nothing very much happens. That’s something we’ve got used to this series, but that it’s suddenly a problem is less a hallmark of collective boredom and more the fact that a ponderous narrative like this does not sit well with the alien invasion badge the episode wears at its heart. This is the middle part of a trilogy, a fact that we’re never really allowed to forget.

The basic problem is structure. The sort of personal journey that forms the story’s emotional core works fine when you’re watching a character piece – as we did with, say, The Pilot – but it’s less successful when large chunks of the episode revolve around the Doctor travelling from one place to another, interacting with supporting characters who are presumably baffled as to why they’re having to contend with a cantankerous retired prog rock guitarist, and wondering when the real hero’s going to show up. Far from the dashing, tedious hero we’ve encountered, this is a man who tactically misjudges an elementary problem and is doomed as a result. That needn’t be a bad thing. Stories in which the Doctor blunders into a bad situation and makes it worse can be marvellous. Unfortunately, this week’s wasn’t one of them.’

DWC write-up

The Lie of the Land

‘Certain things about The Lie of the Land grated. The structure is off, somehow, as if this were a very good two-part story crammed into 42 minutes, because the Monks had taken up two episodes already and they couldn’t stretch to another. Its voiceover is cloying and unnecessary: it is, to all intents and purposes, the Blade Runner of Nu Who, and it is only in the final reel that its purpose becomes apparent, Bill’s mother becoming not just a convenient expository sounding board but also a crucial plot device. The whole thing is very Rings of Akhaten with the same wind machine they used in The Pilot but you can, at least, understand why we’ve had to put up with half an hour of interior monologue.

There is an awful lot of decent material this week, even if it isn’t always used as effectively as it might be. The opening montage, which openly parodies Forrest Gump, is nothing short of marvellous, particularly with the addition of Capaldi’s soothing voiceover, bookended by the most sinister of grins. Capaldi, indeed, is absolutely the best thing about this week, whether he’s comforting a suddenly remorseful Missy or – in the episode’s high point – explaining his apparent change of heart to an incredulous Bill with such fortitude that for a second you’re almost prepared to believe it. Unfortunately, it’s a that scene concludes with a mildly ridiculous denouement, and a quite unnecessary regeneration from the Doctor – “A bit much?” he quips, mostly through the fourth wall, and thus confirming that the whole thing was more about deceiving the audience than it was about winding up Bill.

But the voiceover isn’t the only thing that jars. The society Whithouse creates is frightening and oppressive and reasonably convincing, but there frankly isn’t enough of it: fascist police states are encapsulated in single, cliche-driven boot-in-the-door scenes (first they came for the communists, and I did not speak out), where non-conformists are dragged away in full view of disapproving neighbours. How much more might we have benefited from a more comprehensive overview of those who rejected the Monks’ programming? The resistance movement, and the laughing men behind the guns that served under the Doctor? The figureheads in charge, kowtowing to the will of the Monks, struggling to remember a time when they succeeded or failed purely on the whims of political ambition? Even the Monks themselves, who linger in the background this week, motives untapped, barely uttering a word? How much better, indeed, might the story have been had it begun with the planet under a state of siege, with flashbacks to key moments from the Pyramid episode and all the ephemeral dialogue from last week scattered to the ashes and replaced with something a little more substantial? We’ll never know, but it doesn’t stop me wondering.’

DWC write-up

The Empress of Mars

‘What to say about Empress? It’s not profound. It makes no real political point, save the kind of digs at the British Empire you typically see on Horrible Histories (a show in which Gatiss has appeared, along with his League of Gentlemen co-stars). It has a lot of stuff about queen and country, including a pleasing Pauline Collins reference. It has an amusing, if fairly derivative cold open – excuse pun – that is enough to draw your interest, even if it does not quite reach the hyperbolic praise that Moffat ascribes to it (“The best pre-titles idea [he’d] ever heard”, according to Doctor Who Magazine, which rather overstates its supposed brilliance). It has a bunch of gung-ho British soldiers speaking an indecipherable language (‘rhino’ is mentioned; I honestly don’t know whether this is colloquially accurate or whether Gatiss is just making this s**t up). And it has a new form of squareness gun: it literally folds people up in a sort of fatal compression, useful for packing suitcases. Gatiss describes this as “a new way of killing people”, suggesting that he’s never read The Twits.

Basically, it has ‘filler’ stamped all over it, but there is nothing wrong with a decent filler. Some episodes of Doctor Who are destined to set the world alight. Gatiss’ latest will not, but that’s not the end of the world. If its supporting characters could do with a little more depth, that’s a by-product of the 40 minute structure (and something which, when Chibnall comes to the table, could do with a serious rethink). The leads acquit themselves more than adequately, even if the Doctor has little to actually do this week except react. And it has Ice Warriors doing Ice Warrior-ish things, in a self-contained narrative that, while popping the odd seam in its bag of containment, manages to just about stay inside it. Profundity can wait: this is fun. Really, what more do you want on a Saturday evening?’

DWC write-up

The Eaters of Light

‘There is a scene about fifteen minutes into The Eaters of Light which is borderline painful to watch. It involves Bill in an excruciating, needless discussion about her sexuality, and it sticks out like a sore thumb because the rest of the episode is so good. Everything else just works. This is a self-contained narrative that is sure of its own identity. It is well-constructed and frightening when it needs to be, with decently-realised set pieces: it helps, also, that director Charles Palmer takes his visual cue from Nick Hurran – and, in particular, The God Complex – by showing us the monster only sparingly, a wriggling, tentacle thing where the gaps are filled by the limits of the human imagination.

Supporting characters are affable enough, but it’s the leads who excel – with the Doctor as compelling as he has been all year. “Are you sulking?” he says to Kar. “When you want to win a war, remember this: it’s not about you. Believe me, I know.” It is whispered and understated, with Capaldi’s native Scots perhaps even more pronounced than usual, the way that newly repatriated residents often find their accents slipping back towards the native when they go home. It’s a stunning scene, worthy of the best of Tennant, but you sense that of the newer actors only Capaldi could really have pulled it off. If this series doesn’t win him a BAFTA, there is no justice.’

DWC write-up

World Enough and Time

‘Some episodes of Doctor Who fall under an umbrella we might label Event Stories. A Good Man Goes To War (and its immediate follow-up) might be a decent example; The Wedding of River Song is another. Monsters and threats are all present and more or less correct, but the McGuffins serve the dramatic purpose of padding out the running time between the twists. Put simply, these stories are not about the story; they’re about traversing the arc. Event Stories are usually the ones that people remember, because they are the game changers – the ones that kill, that resurrect, that shine a torch onto the identity papers of heretofore mysterious, enigmatic guest stars.

World Enough and Time is a classic case of an Event Story. This is not an episode that you watch for the meat, because by and large there isn’t any. Oh, there are Things That Happen. Many of the Things That Happen will have the fans talking: one or two undoubtedly resulted in the collective dropping of jaws. Nonetheless, it is the moments, rather than the whole, that you carry with you. That’s not to do it a complete disservice: Bill is as good as ever, the hospital is appropriately creepy, and Rachel Talalay shows once more exactly why she’s one of the best directors in the business. John Simm is marvellous as the Fagin-like, heavily accented Mr Razor, and Missy’s “Doctor Who” exchange with Bill and Nardole takes an axe to the fourth wall and essentially summarises every conversation I’ve ever had on Facebook. It’s just a shame that that moments like these couldn’t have occurred within the confines of an actual story – instead of a collection of vignettes and moments, stitched together into a Frankensteinian whole, much like the shambling abominations that haunt the corridors of the Mondasian spacecraft.’

DWC write-up

The Doctor Falls

‘It just wasn’t very good, really, was it?

I mean I could lie about it, if you want. That might have been the easier solution. I’ve had calls for my head this week. “When the show is cancelled,” someone said, in the wake of a negative write-up I gave it, “the finger will point at this, fair and square”. Clearly he’s overestimated the clout held by a single entertainment journalist, although I did appreciate the compliment.

Here’s the basic issue: the Doctor is old and tired and gives up. That’s it in a nutshell. His plan to get rid of the Cybermen is to blow up as many as he can while a group of colonists escape in a lift. It’s an excuse to write him into a situation where he is forced to regenerate – and then stubbornly refuses to, using pain as a stimulus in much the same way that Rutger Hauer staves off his death towards the close of Blade Runner. That’s the sort of corner that will prove difficult to write yourself out of the next time it happens, although that’ll be Chibnall’s problem, which largely explains why Moffat did it.

The leads, to be fair, acquit themselves brilliantly. Mackie is all tortured angst and wall demolition (she will, at least, be useful if the Doctor ever needs a knock-through); Lucas improbably gets a love interest, but his farewell is pleasantly understated; Gomez and Simm work well together, whether they’re dancing or (literally) at each other’s throats. Simm, in particular, is a revelation, the Master we could have done with ten years ago, instead of the mugging (if well-matched) idiot who came up against Tennant – each Master reflects the Doctor they’re encountering, and this older, less ridiculous version is the perfect foil for Capaldi. Speaking of Capaldi, we are once more in BAFTA territory, with the actor switching between tearful pleading and raging against the dying of the light, often within the same reel.

But the real problem with The Doctor Falls – aside from its failure to live up to the generally tremendous series that preceded it – is that Moffat once more sacrifices story for crowd-pleasing spectacle, Bill’s tedious (and overwrought) resurrection a depressing reminder of Clara’s. This is ultimately about pushing the envelope as far as possible before abruptly dropping it in the shredder: all you end up with is a bunch of plain white confetti, of little use to anyone. “Doctor Who,” says the chief writer, “shouldn’t really be about death. I don’t believe it’s the kind of show that says there are bitter, twisted, nasty endings because it’s not.” Keep telling yourself that, Steven.’

DWC write-up

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Doctor Who series 10: the executive summaries (part one)

When I’m not blogging here (which seems to be most of the time these days), and when I’m not writing for Metro, you’ll often find me over at the hallowed halls of The Doctor Who Companion, churning out think pieces and gently poking fun at fan theory. We are a small but dedicated and also very eclectic team, and the great thing about the DWC is the sheer variety of stuff that’s on offer – we don’t just do news and reviews, there’s an awful lot of other content, and if you’re not reading it, you really should be.

But reviews are where we’ve been at for the past twelve weeks, because that’s what you do when there’s a series on. To keep things interesting, the site’s editors had a different person review each episode, and then asked for two-hundred word summaries from the rest of us, which they pasted into single documents, serving as composites of alternative views and opinions to sit alongside the main review for that week. And it occurred to me, as we reached the end of the run, that these little vignettes were actually as good a summary of how I’ve felt about particular episodes as anything else.

So I’m reproducing them here. And if you’ve been reading my series 10 reviews, you’ll probably recognise much of the text, because it’s usually lifted word for word. But I daresay there were at least some of you who simply scrolled to the end to look at the interest chart, right? And now you’ll never have to worry about what I said. So here are episodes one through six, each linked to its DWC communal write-up so you can see how my opinions compared with the rest of the team (if you want to read the stuff I published here, it’s available from the Reviews tag). I didn’t do one for ‘The Pilot’, having actually written the main review for that week, but I’ve cobbled something together, and episodes seven through twelve will follow in a day or two.

 

The Pilot

‘The best way to describe The Pilot is ‘grounded’. Because this is an episode that is anxious to root itself (to use Peter Capaldi’s own words) before you’re allowed to go anywhere. This is not a Doctor who turns up and comically integrates himself (or rather fails to) into a community, as we saw in The Caretaker or The Lodger. This is a Doctor who’s already been on the scene a long time, who cannot possibly be as young as he looks, and who is visibly offended when people fail to point this out. But there’s more to it than that: this is not another Snowmen, in which the arriving companion breaks the Time Lord out of a funk overnight. It takes time. The Doctor’s tenure may be well-established but it still takes a good few months (read: minutes) for his new companion to discover what’s really going on.

The episode’s success lies largely in the fact that it doesn’t try to do too much. The cast are a big help – Capaldi is comfortable and self-assured as the Doctor, and his support make the most of what they have – but the strength of The Pilot lies in its concept of space, in a strictly terrestrial sense. It introduces new characters and gives them breathing room – hence the Doctor and Bill are flung together not by impossible forces, but by a sense of mutual loneliness and the driving need to explore. By the time the Doctor has temporarily abandoned his plans to guard whatever it is he’s guarding in that vault and whisk Bill away to the stars (tellingly with a line that echoes Christopher Lloyd’s reckless abandonment of responsibility at the end of Back to the Future), it feels like an inevitability – and we cheer with her.’

DWC write-up

Smile

‘The last time Frank Cottrell-Boyce wrote for Doctor Who, he produced something that – for better or worse – was unlike almost anything that had preceded it. In Smile, the references come thick and fast: The Happiness Patrol-esque drive for shallow optimism; the Vardy’s childlike misunderstanding, echoing the nanogenes in The Doctor Dances, only with the appetite of the Vashta Nerada; the Seeds of Doom bit… I could go on. Had Cottrell-Boyce delivered 45 minutes of tropes and no substance, I’d be glowering, but there’s plenty of meat on the bone (which is more than you can say for many of the colonists). With the help of some thoughtful dialogue, and a narrative sparsity that mirrors the vast, almost minimalist surroundings, the episode’s real joy is the chemistry between its two leads, an ostensibly chalk and cheese pairing that is showing real promise. There’s nothing wrong with homage when it works, and Smile does.’

DWC write-up

Thin Ice

‘Perhaps the best thing about Thin Ice is the wink it makes at the audience. It is not a story that pretends to be grand or significant. It is a story in which the Doctor rewrites Dickens and gets all fanboyish over a con artist. It is a story in which an unreconstructed Nicholas Burns does the splits as the ground cracks beneath him. It is a story in which you wonder whether the thing in the Vault is actually John Simm, and whether the final ‘boom’ that accompanies the words ‘NEXT TIME’ is a simple sting for the episode 4 trailer or that crucial fourth knock.

But at its heart, it’s a story about the necessity of exploration: to scratch and forage, to find both the joys and the darkness therein, the frozen river serving as metaphor for Bill’s discovery of her mentor’s darker side. The path to enlightenment, it is implied, lies not in the certainty of tradition but the willingness to think sideways, whatever the risk. “Only idiots know the answers,” the Doctor insists, in the episode’s latter third. “But if your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what’s your future worth?” Ultimately, Thin Ice speaks to us of the dangers of venturing deeper – the perils that lurk in the darkness and the fear of the unknown – but also of the unexpected clarity that results when you come back up to the surface.’

DWC write-up

Knock Knock

‘The central problem with Knock Knock is that it simply isn’t very frightening. There’s nothing wrong with the set-up: six people in an overly large house with dodgy electrics and a seemingly inaccessible tower, presided over by a sinister, seemingly omnipresent figure with the ability to suddenly pop into existence as if from nowhere, like a podgy Q from Star Trek. The contract is signed with nary a second glance at the small print – if anything, Bartlett has written a morality fable for the EULA generation that emphasises the importance of reading the terms and conditions. Only Bill remains wary – but even she is keen to avoid discussing the obvious problems lurking in the house, clearly seeing it as a means of escape. The students’ nonchalance is the sort of behaviour that usually has the audience screaming at the TV, but it’s very easy to do that when you’ve already heard the screams of the house’s first victim, and a seemingly blasé attitude is at least consistent with the jumping in feet first attitude that Doctor Who typically seems to espouse. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is – but how might we apply that logic to ‘the gateway to everything that ever was, or ever can be’?

What the episode needs is a little more of the scare factor that drips through in the much-improved second half, and a little less of the mundanity that punctuates the earlier scenes: conversations about Bill’s sexuality spring to mind, as does the rather tedious question of whether the Doctor is her father or grandfather. This was clearly an experiment, and while the list of gripes (the occasional fall-back on conventional horror tropes; the Doctor’s effective relegation to sidekick status; the Freudian thing) is plentiful: they don’t make for an experience that is unilaterally bad, just one that feels like a disappointment after the last three weeks. But perhaps it’s not a bad thing that the bubble has burst. If this is the first time in the series we’ve had call to say ‘Meh’, then that’s a sure-fire indication that on the whole, they’re getting it right.’

DWC write-up

Oxygen

‘Oxygen is one of those ‘worthy’ episodes. You know, the sort where everyone talks about the message. It happens a lot, and it’s a problem. It’s nice that people care about things, but the earnestness with which throwaway lines of dialogue and supposedly grand speeches are adopted as profile signatures and – just occasionally – life mantras is something that puzzles me immensely. It’s as if Doctor Who is no longer allowed to be important unless it means something. Robert Holmes showed you can be political, and thus this is something you ought to do at every conceivable opportunity, with episodes that say Important Things left on a pedestal, while the more superficial, disposable stories (sit down, Planet of the Dead, your chops and gravy are in the microwave) are critically lambasted for being disposable candy floss. There is bugger all social commentary in The Invasion; it’s Cybermen running around London. It is also tremendous fun. That really ought to be enough.

Thankfully, Oxygen has the fun factor in spades, whether it’s the Doctor effectively kidnapping Nardole in the opening scene, or the mesmerising, wordless spacewalk (when people say things like “You’re about to be exposed to the vacuum of space!” in Hollywood blockbusters it sounds corny as hell; Capaldi pulls it off); or the moment, just a short time later, when the Doctor abandons Bill in a corridor. It manages this despite a dearth of interesting supporting characters (indeed, the only one you notice is memorable precisely because he shouldn’t be) and a rather clumsy, overstated semi-cliffhanger. None of this matters when the rest of it is as good as it got this week. A triumph, from start to not-quite finish.’

DWC write-up

Extremis

‘I called this. I just want that noted for the record. I called it months ago and said that the idea of an unreliable Doctor – one who thought he was the Doctor, but wasn’t – was something the show hadn’t really done yet and that I wished it would. I know the overlap is all wrong, but I’m just going to leave that there. And yes, I know that you don’t have to be real to be the Doctor. But still.

Extremis is a story in which the dramatic climax is someone sending an email. On paper, it must have seemed ludicrous. In practice, it is stunningly effective: it is, like Let’s Kill Hitler, one of those stories where everything works because nothing works, full of crazy ideas and head-scratching nonsense. The action moves from the Vatican to the Pentagon to CERN for no reason other than it can, with a global conspiracy that is almost as needlessly elaborate as the Cyberman’s convoluted plot in The Wheel In Space. It is likely to be divisive. Some people will love it, others will hate it. On its own, it does not easily stand up: as part of a trilogy, history may judge it more kindly. Some will rail against its supposed cleverness; others (like me) will see this as an example of Moffat pushing things as far as he can, and perhaps not quite as far as he wanted (how more daring might it have been had we discovered that every previous episode, and not just this one, had been a simulation, and that it turned out that David Bradley was guarding the vault?). Some will cheer at the audacity of actually killing the Doctor; others will produce a Series 6 box set and cough gently. This is not one for the ‘generally good’ or ‘generally bad’ pile: it will tread the uneasy tightrope between the two, with fans and critics either side, anxious to give it a push one way or the other. In the grand scheme of things, it’s Marmite. But that’s OK. I happen to like Marmite.’

DWC write-up

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In the beginning was the curd

First, this.

Doctor_Pun5

I frequent two Facebook Who groups, one of which is devoted exclusively to Classic content (1963-1996, with concessions for Big Finish). It’s a nice, tightly run group with decent moderation and friendly banter, but one thing that occasionally frustrates me is a certain disdain towards negativity. It’s not quite the “everyone’s opinion is equally valid” rubbish that I had to put up with in GCSE RE, but it seems that dumping on the bad stuff is frowned upon. If you mention that Adric was a douche, for example, you’ll frequently get a bunch of people telling you that no, he was good, and it’s wrong to single him out, to which I typically reply that no, he was a douche.

The same thing goes when it comes to discussing individual episodes: a common response is “It was a good story, and I don’t understand the hate”. Frequently these are people who assume that if you dump on stories from 1985 you have a personal vendetta against Colin Baker. It’s as if the concept of quality control is entirely meaningless. I wouldn’t mind, but when this came up the other week the story being discussed was ‘The Twin Dilemma’. After pointing out the disastrous script, the unlikeable Doctor, the narrative-that-goes-nowhere and the dreadful acting from the twins (honestly, my dining table is less wooden), my closing response was “I think there are worse, and these things are always going to be a bit subjective, but if you really can’t understand why so many people hate it so much I might diplomatically suggest you haven’t really watched it properly.”

I mentioned a while back that whenever I’m done watching a Classic story, I’ll email Gareth a list of bullet points. I also mentioned that ‘Warriors of the Deep’ arguably warranted its own entry, and it does, just about. This is not a lengthy discussion – ook, there’s plenty of sensible critique about ‘Warriors’ out on the interweb, and you don’t need another essay from me as to why it’s the worst Silurian story of the lot (and yes, I’m factoring in ‘Cold Blood’). Instead, you may have my bullet points, occasionally embellished with images.

– I love Tegan opening the ‘stuck’ door with no effort at all, particularly as it comes hot on the heels of a documentary I was watching this morning about women in Doctor Who and whether they were portrayed properly. (It features an irritating DW Magazine girl saying “No, I don’t think strong female villains are empowering…”)

– Someone call International Rescue, and tell the Tracy Brothers we’ve found those missing outfits.

Warriors_Costumes

– Stupid guard moment #1: they walk into the chemical lab, purposely looking for intruders, say “Nah, no sign of them here”, and they don’t bother checking behind the shelves. THEY DON’T BOTHER CHECKING BEHIND THE SHELVES.

– When I was a kid I watched an episode of Grange Hill when Jeremy was larking about in the swimming pool, and drowns. There is a reason, I think, why three decades later this is just about the only episode of the programme I can actually remember. The end of episode one of this is a bit like that, without the acne.

– Stupid guard moment #2: two of them, patrolling the perimeter, fail to notice an unconscious crew member left IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CORRIDOR ABOUT SIX FEET AWAY.

– The Manipulator. It’s like one of these:

Adictaball

– Ooh. Stunts. And the Second Doctor’s catchphrase. As long as you ignore the wobbly scenery, this is quite exciting.

– Oh dear God the Myrka.

– “Help! We’re being attacked by a green pantomime horse and I can’t get out from under this polystyrene door!”

– Hang on, did Solow really just try and do kung-fu on the horse? Because I think that’s a contender for ‘most stupid kamikaze move in history’. Almost as silly as attacking a Dalek with a baseball bat.

– They left the TARDIS doors unlocked. They LEFT THE TARDIS DOORS UNLOCKED.

– Unfortunate, really, that the chief sea devil has a name that (in the filtered voice of a Silurian) sounds rather like ‘Cervix’.

When I sent the Davison-does-mail-order image to Gareth, his response was “Surely there should be a Little Miss Moffett somewhere?”

I said “Funny you should mention that…”

LittleMissMoffat

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Interlude

As much as I’d like to deliver the next exciting installment of ‘God is in the detail’, I’m afraid Edward’s second birthday is going to have to take priority. You’ll have to wait. But in the news, series nine guest star Maisie Williams plans a follow-up to John Barrowman’s foray into slightly filked musical showstoppers:

A previously unseen outtake from the first episode of ‘Death to the Daleks’ makes its way onto the internet:

And not everyone approves of showrunner Steven Moffat’s hopes of resurrecting an old enemy.

See you next time.

 

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Review: ‘Sleep No More’

9_9 Sleep No More (8)

Disclaimer: What follows is not exactly a review, because this is the sort of episode that defies conventional reviewing. It is a dramatised behind-the-scenes look with the reviewer’s opinions shoehorned in; it is completely fictional, and any similarity to real situations is pure luck. Please take it in the spirit in which it was intended, i.e. hastily written and not terribly funny.

 

INT. STEVEN MOFFAT’S OFFICE. DAY

[A Thursday afternoon sometime in December. MARK GATISS sitting on a sofa, in conversation with STEVEN MOFFAT – who, unbeknownst to Mark, is playing Candy Crush on Facebook, even while thumbing through a script on his desk.]

STEVEN: Sleep deprivation’s been done, Mark.

MARK: Not like this.

STEVEN: The X-Files managed it twenty years ago.

MARK: It’s topical. Didn’t you see that whole propaganda speech I put in about hyper-productivity and how everyone’s going to be able to do more? That sort of thing’s always fun to tear down. The junior doctors are going to love it.

STEVEN: I’ve already got Peter Harness doing immigration. We can be topical but I can’t be seen to be too left-wing. The Mail already have me on speed dial.

MARK: This isn’t like the others. They don’t go mad and start killing everyone.

STEVEN: They don’t?

MARK: Page thirty.

[Moffat thumbs. Reads. Nods.]

STEVEN: Anything else I should know?

MARK: I wanted the computer to sound like GLADos.

STEVEN: Fine, but I’m casting British. We don’t want a lawsuit.

MARK: Hey, you Frankenstein, me Igor.

9_9 Sleep No More (6)

 

INT. DOCTOR WHO PRODUCTION OFFICES. DAY

[A read-through is in progress. JENNA COLEMAN, PETER CAPALDI, REECE SHEARSMITH, MARK GATISS, STEVEN MOFFAT all present.]

PETER [reading]: “What used to be sleep in your eye has turned into a carnivorous life form.”

JENNA: Oh, you are shitting me.

PETER: Yeah, that’s – I’m pretty sure that’s not in the script, Jenna.

[There is laughter, with an underlying tension.]

STEVEN: Problem, Jen?

JENNA: This is utterly ridiculous! You’ve written –

STEVEN [pointing at Mark]: Hey, he! He’s written –

JENNA: I mean, he’s written, whatever, he’s written a monster that’s made out of sleep dust.

MARK: It’s never been done before, though.

JENNA: No, because it’s a fucking stupid idea! It defies common sense and logic! It’s the worst kind of pseudoscience! It’s worse than Spitfires on the moon! This is supposed to be new levels of realism and my suspension of disbelief just had its strings cut.

STEVEN: Don’t hold back, Jenna, tell us what’s really bothering you.

JENNA: Shut up. Look, it’s as bad as that episode of Red Dwarf where Chris Barrie was gonna clone himself out of dandruff. And that was supposed to be funny.

PETER: Yeah, that one was funny, actually.

JENNA: Was. I don’t know. Yeah.

MARK: Look, it’s – they’re gonna look horrible. In my head, I mean, they’re like big brown things. Big wrinkled brown things with enormous mouths.

STEVEN [to the room]: Don’t spread that around, everyone, it’s not on the list of controlled leaks.

JENNA: Made of sleep crust.

MARK: Yeah.

[There is a very tense pause.]

JENNA: Probably a good thing this guy wasn’t trying to cure the common cold.

[A burst of laughter across the entire team, and the tension’s gone.]

9_9 Sleep No More (7)

 

INT. BBC CAFETERIA. DAY

[Lunch. REECE SHEARSMITH is sitting with ELAINE TAN.]

ELAINE: So how’d you get the Adventures in Space gig, anyway?

REECE: Oh, Mark owed me a favour. I said I really wanted to play Troughton.

ELAINE: For one scene.

REECE: There was supposed to be more of it, but it’s on a cutting room floor somewhere.

ELAINE: It didn’t make the DVD?

REECE: No.

ELAINE: It wasn’t really acting, though, was it? You just sort of turned up in a wig and did a bad impression.

REECE: But it needed to be there. It’s the whole transition thing.

ELAINE: And by the time they found out you couldn’t actually do Troughton, it was too late.

REECE: Exactly.

[They clink cappuccino mugs.]

9_9 Sleep No More (2)

 

INT. SET. DAY

[A chase is being filmed. JENNA is running up a corridor; all of a sudden she trips and falls.]

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Cut! OK, reset, we’ll go again.

JENNA: Owww! Shit, I think I twisted my ankle.

PETER: Oh, Terry Nation would’ve loved you.

JENNA: Shut it and help me up.

FIRST UNIT DIRECTOR: Jenna, you all right?

JENNA: These shoes are abominable. Why couldn’t I have worn the Faith ones? They were great. They were flat.

FIRST UNIT DIRECTOR: Listen, costume’s not really my department, but I think it was the cameras, they needed decent eyelines for the handhelds –

JENNA: It’s not my fault I’m short!

PETER: Listen, Caroline John managed a weir in a miniskirt, and that was in January. You can do cope with gratings.

JENNA: I’d like to see the Doctor manage this in heels.

PETER: So would half the audience, I think.

9_9 Sleep No More (5)

 

INT. ANOTHER SET. DAY

[An abandoned power station somewhere. Neet Mohan and Bethany Black wander corridors.]

BETHANY: Quiet. Little too quiet.

NEET: Are you in character?

BETHANY: No, I mean generally. What is it? Something’s different.

NEET: No idea.

BETHANY: I think it’s Murray Gold.

NEET [sucks in teeth]: I knew there was something different about this week.

BETHANY: There it is.

NEET: I find it refreshing. Certainly a change from the usual overwrought stuff. At least you can hear the dialogue.

BETHANY: You say that like it’s a good thing.

NEET: It’s not?

BETHANY: The problem is it sounds like dialogue. It doesn’t – look, in real life situations, like the one this is supposed to be mirroring, people don’t do complete sentences. They talk over each other, they –

NEET: I know that, I’m just, I’m just saying –

BETHANY: – interrupt each other, there’s no –

NEET: – look, we don’t want to alienate the audience, right? If it’s too Woody Allen people are gonna switch off. We’re already pushing the envelope.

BETHANY: Please! The envelope is still on the table. The sealant is still applied. The corners are undamaged. The –

NEET: You know, I think I prefer you in Hulk Smash mode.

BETHANY: Whatevs.

9_9 Sleep No More (4)

 

INT. ANOTHER SET. DAY

[PETER and JENNA are between takes.]

PETER: It’s different though, you’ve gotta give it that.

JENNA: It is different. It’s like nothing we’ve ever done before. But the rushes are giving me nausea.

PETER: Do we even have those anymore?

JENNA: You know what I mean. There are just so many cameras.

PETER: And for the first time I can look at them without the fanboys ranting about the fourth wall!

JENNA: It just wasn’t what I thought it was gonna be.

PETER: Listen, Blair Witch was low-tech because it wouldn’t have worked any other way. The multi-camera thing is part of the story.

JENNA: Yeah, about that, am I missing a page? Is this one of those things where they only send it out to you, and you’re not supposed to tell me?

PETER: No, I think Mark’s lobbying for a follow-up.

JENNA: Hence the ending.

PETER: Hence that.

[Awkward pause]

PETER: You’re not gonna say anything, are you? ‘Cause we don’t want a repeat of the read-through.

JENNA: I’m just saying, why don’t they turn on the sprinklers? Boom. Problem solved.

PETER: Because they don’t have sprinklers.

JENNA: They have space-sprinklers.

PETER: Don’t start that again.

JENNA: Hey, I got him to put it in.

PETER: Look, it’s not Ibsen, but it’s better than the Daleks one.

JENNA: My nephew’s written better than the Daleks one, and he’s seven. You’re just defending it because he gave you Shakespeare.

PETER: I really, really want that nomination.

9_9 Sleep No More (3)

 

INT. STEVEN’S HOUSE. NIGHT

[STEVEN is sitting with his feet up; fingers thumb the surface of an iPad. SUE VERTUE is on a laptop on the other side of the room. An iPlayer broadcast of the episode has just finished: somewhat anomalously, the credits roll.]

SUE: Well, that’s gonna freak out the kids.

STEVEN: Always the plan. Come on, you have to hand it to him. A story about getting enough sleep, or else, broadcast just before bedtime.

SUE: Except everyone uses iPlayer these days.

STEVEN: Well, I can’t do everything.

SUE: How’s the Twitter feed?

STEVEN: Oh, it’s downright hysterical. There’s a guy here who decided to explain the word ‘pet’ to the Americans.

SUE: Just don’t go on the Guardian. You know it affects your blood pressure.

STEVEN: I won’t.

SUE: Coming to bed?

STEVEN: Shortly. Need to do the next set of soundbites for the press releases. See you so-

[He looks up from his iPad and notices that Sue is giving him a very odd look.]

STEVEN: Why are you staring at me like that?

SUE: Don’t stay awake too long.

[She dissolves into sleep dust. Steven screams. Cut to black.]

9_9 Sleep No More (1)

S9-09_Sleep

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Ta-ra, Clara

You know what? I’m already regretting that title. It really only works written down.

Anyway, the next God Is In The House Detail installment will follow in a couple of days, but here’s a quick break from proceedings to deliver two bits of news. First, if you’ve not had enough of Zygons yet, I did a Silly Thing in Metro this week.

Metro

 

You can read the whole thing here. I’m not asking you to put it on Reddit or anything, but I am plugging this one to death, so in it goes.

In other news, Steven Moffat has announced at a Q&A that “Clara is gone and will never return.”

“I can only say,” he added, “that what will happen will shock, surprise and terrify. Strictly in that order.”

Yes, but rule one: Moffat lies. Or he changes his mind, which he’s allowed to do (unless you’re Ian Levine, apparently). More specifically he allows us to believe one thing for the sake of good press and then does his own thing; it’s all an elaborate game to him, and one that many fans apparently enjoy playing, although I can’t say I’m one of them.

Anyway, you don’t need to deconstruct this latest revelation, because I’ve done it for you.

 

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The inevitable Hobbit / Doctor Who thing

Ta-dah!

I do – I promise – have something more substantial than random meme generation in the works, but that’ll have to wait until next week. Right now much of my time is taken up moving furniture, because we’re having the place redecorated. (I don’t like it.)

At the moment (as the euphoria from the Star Wars trailer fades and everyone realises that it was just a collection of the sort of stuff you’d hope to see in the trailer for a new Star Wars film) our attention turns east, to the fires of Mount Doom: a place not visited, as far as I’m aware, in the new Peter Jackson movie, although given the other liberties he’s taken with the story, I wouldn’t put it past him. The basic problem Jackson had when he came to do The Hobbit is similar to the one that Lucas experienced – when it came to actually telling the stories, they both started in the middle. Jackson therefore found it impossible to produce The Hobbit as the standalone tale it was originally meant to be: it was always going to become a prequel to Lord of the Rings, and the first part at least suffers for it.

Sometimes, telling a story out of order works wonders. Pulp Fiction does it – the impact of the film would be lessened considerably were it not for its out-of-sequence narrative, which leaves a character who dies in the middle very much alive come the relatively upbeat end credits. And, of course, some of the best Doctor Who stories work in the same way; the ballad of River Song may have suffered in its execution (not to mention a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads), but it was at least an interesting story for about…ooh, an episode or two. Similarly, some of the best Big Finish productions start in the middle – ‘Creatures of Beauty‘ is an obvious example, as is ‘The Natural History of Fear’, which keeps you guessing and ultimately saves its crucial reveal for (literally) the last two minutes.

The idea of Doctor Who and out-of-sequence narratives makes for a rather tenuous connection to The Hobbit, of course. But I’ve written – more than once – about Tolkien’s mystical realm, and its tentative links with everyone’s second-favourite Time Lord (after the Corsair). A quick Google for fanfiction throws up a large variety of stories, none of which I intend to read, although some of the more interesting summaries are included herewith –

Timeless Wings (TimeLordHowl) – “Izzy is a Time Lord who has suffered more than most – she’s lived through genetic fusion, which is how she got her wings. Not only that, but she is stranded in Middle Earth during one of the most important times in its history.”

Everything is going to be fine (Nadarhem) – “When the Doctor crash lands with Clara on an unknown planet in an unknown dimension het thought he was just having a bad day. When he finds out it wasn’t the Tardis that brought them there. He realises that this bad day may turn in a horrible day. When on an Patrol near Dol-Guldur Legolas finds two odd people who claim to be timetravelers he knows it’s going to be a long walk home.”

Akin (Pie In The Face) – “The Doctor, while tracking down an interesting bit of Void matter, runs into Legolas, who is now living in present-day London. During journeys through time and space the two learn that Time Lords and Elven Princes are more akin then they thought.”

Out of Middle Earth: A Journey Through Time and Space (13GaladrielofLorien) – “Teenage Galadriel and her two best friends Celeborn and Melion are teleported to the modern world where they meet five modern day teenagers: Aralynn, Jacen, Bethany, Dae, and Diana. Elsewhere, the 10th Doctor along with companion Rose are accidentally aged down so that they are both teenagers. The twelve of them end up meeting and must unite to save the universe as we know it.”

Then, of course –

uktv-doctor-who-nightmare-in-silver-1

As opposed to, say…

Smeagol-Gollum

“I saw a ‘webisode’ or ‘minisode’ or something a while ago,” said Gareth the other morning, “in which the Tardis filled up with multiple copies of Clara. They started talking and complaining – and, of course, two stood near enough said ‘you think that’s bad, we have to share a bed!’ (with knowing look at each other). While I’m certainly not objecting to such thoughts, or similar comments from Amy when she met herself in the two-five-minute sketch thing, you really couldn’t imagine two Rorys saying such things, could you?”

“In Who, definitely not,” I said. “In Torchwood, almost certainly…”

All of which led to the image you saw at the top of this post. I asked Gareth if he could think of any more. “Not many off the top of my head,” was the response. “I suppose you could show a picture of Enemy Of The World and call it ‘The Two Troughers’. Or the bit from The Five-Ish Doctors with David Troughton and call it ‘The Return Of King Peladon’.”
“I’ll give it some thought. It could always be a series.”
“Many things are.”

In the meantime – and also thanks to Gareth – there’s this.

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Review: ‘Deep Breath’

Deep_07

I went off the grid for a few days at the tail end of last week, camping in Northamptonshire. More on that another day. It means that as far as Peter Capaldi’s debut is concerned, I’m a little late to the party. But at least I brought wine.

What follows is not actually a review. There are hundreds of them out there and at this comparatively late stage in proceedings I don’t think there’s anything I could say that hasn’t been written already with far more coherence than I could manage at half past one in the morning. Instead – and for one week only, unless for some bizarre reason it proves wildly popular – this is a one-stop hop through the general mess that was ‘Deep Breath’, with stuff that cropped up during a first (continuous) and second (stop and start) viewing, interspersed with random Fireworks images. I make no apology that some of it is puerile and some of it is crap. It’s the sort of stuff I would have tweeted, had I watched the episode live. “This way,” I explained to Gareth, “you’ll be saved the job of actually having to watch it.”

“Gosh,” was the response. “This from the person who encouraged me to give the new season at least two episodes before giving up?”

“I do want you to watch it”, I said, “because you might need a frame of reference for the rest of the series (and all the memes I’m going to do), but it’s an hour and a quarter, and you will be emailing me saying how much you hate it and want to give up watching way before the end. I’m just saving us that conversation.”

You will notice that I do not talk about the conclusion. This is largely because the arcs have become so tedious over the years I’m airbrushing them out of the discussion, except to say 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.

In the meantime, let’s have a look at that dinosaur, shall we?

Deep_09

00:12 – OK, so we’ve been here before. More than once.

00:50 – Ah, look, it’s the Three Amigos looking up at the CGI. Vastra’s making veiled references (pun subconsciously intended) to female genitalia. Business as usual, except that Strax hasn’t said a word yet.

01:48 – Jenny: “It’s the TARDIS!”. Just in case we hadn’t spotted that.

02:43 – Oh, it’s Peter. First word: “Shush!”

03:15 – Dwarf jokes? Really? Weren’t the potato ones bad enough?

04:20 – Clara’s hair is amazing. Her role has thus far been to stand and look shocked and devastated, but she does it so well. Presumably she’s just seen the script for the series finale.

05:30 – He’s pissed out!

05:48 – Ah. And we’re back in ‘Planet of the Spiders’ territory. I do miss Nick Courtney.

06:00 – DEAR GOD WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO THE TITLES?!?

Oh, this is all wrong. The clocks, the cogs, the roman numerals, the planet alignments. Is this something to do with him travelling through time, by any chance? This is horrible to watch; it’s like they had a brainstorming session for new title sequence ideas and decided to use every post-it note on the flipchart. It looks like something a fan did. Oh, wait.

Murray Gold has done the impossible and managed to produce a theme arrangement that I hate even more than his 2010 edition. The strings are so screechy they make my ears bleed. When will the man learn that less is more?

“I’m going to have to leave the room every time this comes on,” says Emily. I have to agree. It also calls to mind a conversation I had with Gareth a few weeks ago, in which he directed me to a video I didn’t see until a few minutes ago:

Seriously. What sort of idiot applauds a screen graphic with a person’s name on it? “Woooo! It’s a typeface! SICK!”

07:00 – We’re in the bedroom. I don’t know if I’m watching an episode of Doctor Who or a BBC drama about dementia.

07:55 – Peter: “I like to skip ahead to my bit. It saves time.” Congratulations, Doctor, you’ve just described the internet.

08:30 – Smug monkey joke from Vastra, complete with feminist twist to make it acceptable. Also misses the point that the Doctor is a Time Lord. Presumably in there so that the pedants have something to moan about.

…wait a minute.

10:40 – Ah. Dinosaur soliloquy. This is admittedly quite good. The last time Moffat wrote dialogue this eloquent for someone lying in a bed, we were waiting for the rain to stop. Coincidentally that also featured a young woman talking to a would-be boyfriend who’d suddenly aged several decades.

12:13 – Bloody hell, it’s Ali G’s mate Dave! What happened to him, his voice finally break?

13:50 – All right. Clara may as well be wearing a t-shirt that reads “I LOVE MATT SMITH” and running a tumblr page. I can see what Moffat’s trying to do here but this really does come across as a fan lecture.

17:35 – “Oh, look!” says Emily. “It’s Mary Poppins!” Capaldi is bouncing across the roof, a little like Patrick Troughton in ‘The Invasion’, minus the panache. Then the dinosaur explodes, and Vastra demands that Strax free the cabbage, which instantly makes me think of killer plants. This is like watching Second, Third and Fourth Doctor stories all at once.

20:00 – Peter: “Sorry sorry. Sorry. Sorry sorry.” Well, that’s the new catchphrase sorted then.

23:05 – Oh look, it’s the Short Funny One again. Don’t knock her out by throwing the newspaper through the window, Strax. Don’t knock her out by – shit.

26:20 – Gosh, Bill Oddie’s really let himself go.

27:30 – And we’re back to the face. FFS, WHY DOES THIS HAVE TO BE A THING? Did Colin Baker stride around the TARDIS console room saying “I look like Maxil; obviously the Time Lords are about to do something dreadful”?

Oh, wait.

28:40 – Ten years ago, Emily and I were living in a bungalow out in the sticks where the only pizza we could get delivered came courtesy of a bearded, leather jacket wearing chap in his late thirties – think of a short-haired Bill Bailey – who had incredible eyebrows. As he and I traded cash and hot food I noticed that his manner was vivacious and even hyperactive, as if he were watching out for a passing police car, while his eyebrows – two great bushy things – jerked constantly up and down in rapid succession, like two limbo-dancing caterpillars. I tell you all this because it’s frankly more interesting than the Doctor’s rambling monologue about the Independent State of Eyebrows. This is clearly Capaldi’s Ridiculous Chin moment.

30:16 – Oh, you’re married, are you? Thank you for pointing that out.

35:30 – The Doctor and Clara, in a restaurant. These two are sparking off each other wonderfully. It’s back and forth, back and forth, with overlapping sentences and a chemistry that is very different from the one that Coleman had with Smith, but no less effective. It’s like they’ve been working together for years.

38:12 – All right, this just kicked up a notch. Forty minutes of indifferent comedy and I’m suddenly enjoying it thoroughly. Wheatley’s direction is understated but effective and the score is, for a change, unintrusive.

42:45 – And all at once, Capaldi is the Doctor. It’s nothing specific, more a quirky eccentricity that underpins an absolute sense of self-control. It’s halfway between Tennant and Davison. Leaving it until now was a risky gambit, and Moffat’s only got away with it by playing to the strengths of his leading actor, but it works.

45:15 – So. That was Utter Bastard Scene #1, then.

47:10 – “Look!” squeals Emily. “It’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! She’s the music box doll from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!” And of course, she is.

50:02 – Ha! Clara’s just explained the second rule of classroom management: never make a threat unless you’re prepared to carry it out. As a failed teacher, I remember this one well. Moffat wins brownie points for its inclusion, or at least manages to slip back up the negative zone towards zero.

(The first rule of classroom management, in case you’re interested, is anticipate the problem in advance and plan things so that the likelihood of it happening is reduced. In other words, think about the worst things that could happen and develop a workaround that you can implement before it all goes south. Thinking about how bad things could possibly get was basically what got me through ‘Journey To The Centre of The TARDIS’.)

51:33 – Emily again: “Ooh. The Crème brûlées you could make with that torch.”

53:25 – “Rubbish robots from the dawn of time” might just be my quote of the week. And now Capaldi’s raging against mime, which ups the heroism quotient of his Doctor considerably.

54:48 – Jesus, was it really necessary to have Strax repeat Michelangelo’s comedy fall from the 2007 TMNT trailer?

Deep_01

57:30 – So we have a Doctor who kills and drinks. ‘Dark’ is not the word. ‘Lazy’ might be.

59:45 – It’s a shame the controller isn’t nearly as creepy as the waiter was. The waiter sounded like a sinister Speak & Spell. The controller sounds like a shady villain in a BBC Dickens adaptation.

60:54 – I think I caught a Father Ted joke just then, but it’s hard to tell because Capaldi’s mumbling, or the score is too loud, or both. If I wanted to hear an angst-ridden Scot muttering unintelligibly, I’d be watching Gregor Fisher.

61:51 – Broom handles now. If they resurrect Only Fools and Horses, Moffat really should write for it.

63:15 – I don’t have a problem with the lesbian kiss from a moral standpoint. It just seems unnecessary. But I can’t think of a single kiss since 2011 that needed to be in there.

64:50 – Emily and I both just cried out “Ow! It really hurth! I’m going to need thome ithe cream…” Oh, and there it is. The hungover look. Coming soon to a Google image search near you.

67:10 – Give it up, Steven. Please. No more redecorating jokes. Or round thing jokes. In fact, don’t do jokes. Or love scenes.

68:10 – “What do you think?” Well, I think Jon Pertwee wants his jacket back.

69:40

Clara: Hello?

Eleventh Doctor [on phone]: Hello.

Clara: You realise this totally undermines your replacement.

Eleventh Doctor: Yes, but the teenage girls are upset. And there are little children fidgeting on the sofa because they don’t accept the grumpy old man.

Clara: Oh, come on. People got used to Colin.

Eleventh Doctor: No they didn’t. The show was suspended for a year and a half and the hiatus spawned the worst novelty single in history.

Clara: Point taken.

Twelfth Doctor: I do feel somewhat upstaged by this.

Eleventh Doctor: Shut it, Malcolm. This doesn’t work out, you have the Musketeers to fall back on. Clara, one last question: am I ginger?

Clara: …Not exactly.

Eleventh Doctor: Bollocks. [Hangs up]

Clara: Want to help me rebuild the Fourth Wall, Peter?

Twelfth Doctor: I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed.

Clara: Where are we, anyway?

Twelfth Doctor: Glasgow.

Clara: Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s Cardiff.

Twelfth Doctor: Close enough.

 

Next week: we travel inside a Dalek, and find several eggs, a repository of lint, and all those lost pens you thought were down the back of the armchair.

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