Doctor Who – Time Heist Review (or “The One That’s A Bit Like A Casserole And A Sylvester McCoy Story”)

September 20, 2014

Well last week’s review caused a bit of a stir.

Some people thought I was being unfair and judgemental about other Doctor Who fans (note I say “Doctor Who Fans” and not the incredibly wanky “Whovians”, which is the first and last time you’ll see that word written on my blog), the most recent comment of its kind being  “So it’s ok to have an opinion, as long as it isn’t that you don’t like New Who?”.

That’s just silly.

Of course everyone is entitled to an opinion, but at the same time, for an opinion to carry weight – in my eyes at least – it has to be one from a fair and balanced starting position.

To me, if you are determined not to like something, then in the face of all the positives, you won’t.

On the other hand, if you are so biased towards something that you never see its faults, then your praise becomes empty. If you say you love everything, then when something really good comes along, you won’t be able to express that.

I was also accused this week of carrying myself as if only my opinion counts; like I’m the only person in Doctor Who fandom who is capable of expressing an objective opinion. That’s just silly.

I’m sure there are one or two others out there apart from me… ;-)

Seriously though, if you convince yourself that you won’t like something before you watch, you may as well not watch it.

But anyway, that’s not the point of this article. You’re here to read my thoughts on the latest episode – Time Heist.

And as always, I’m happy to oblige…

Doctor Who – Time Heist Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor and Clara rob a bank, though they don’t know why.

Thoughts – A Bit Like A Casserole

My aim for this season is to get each review out as soon as possible with my immediate reaction to the episode while it’s fresh in my mind.

"Hey look, it's the woman off Ashes to Ashes" said my brother. Oh thanks Steven, I really wouldn't have known that if you hadn't said...

“Hey look, it’s the woman off Ashes to Ashes” said my brother. Oh thanks Steven, I really wouldn’t have known that if you hadn’t said…

But it occurred to me while watching Time Heist that because the episode was built upon the mystery of why the bank is being robbed, who is responsible for getting them to rob it, and what it actually was they were robbing, then this is a story that probably needs a second viewing to truly appreciate it.

In a sense, it’s like when you make a casserole. You enjoy it when it’s fresh out of the oven – of course you do – but you don’t get the full flavour of the ingredients until you have some of the leftovers the next day.

With Time Heist, I think my lasting opinion will be formed properly the second time around when I don’t have to concern myself with keeping up with every line in fear of being left behind.

That’s not a bad thing though; for an episode to keep you on your toes so that you don’t want to miss any plot development is a sign of depth; it shows that it’s something worth paying attention to. And the good thing about it was that every question you asked as a viewer was answered in a neat and clever manner. That’swhat

Again, not that I want to continually criticise Mark Gatiss’s writing, but this didn’t feel like a predictable, linear chore dressed up with a few gags like the Robots of Sherwood did.

No, Time Heist was a good episode, and it’ll probably get even better the second time around.

It Could Have Been A Sylvester McCoy Story

Remember when I said that The Robots of Sherwood felt like it was written for Matt Smith?

Well here’s an episode that came across like a Sylvester McCoy story.

And for those of you who haven’t read my opinions on his era, I don’t mean that as an insult.

With its darker and more ponderous theme, I could quite imagine the Seventh Doctor put in this same position; the only difference being that he would probably have known what was going on the whole time and had simply refused to tell Ace. But it did have parts that were reflective of his era.

The Teller had the air of the Destroyer about him, while Ms Delphox could easily be compared to Helen A from the Happiness Patrol.

Does anyone else see that?

A Welcome Lack of Humour

Here’s another thing I noticed; for the first time, this story seemed to deliberately lack humour.

Am I the only one having trouble believing a Sensorite would want to rob a bank?

Am I the only one having trouble believing a Sensorite would want to rob a bank?

It’s good for episodes to have humour from time to time, but Doctor Who is not a comedy, nor should it look to parody different themes each week.

In Time Heist, I felt that Capaldi’s Doctor got a chance to develop even more without the crutch of being a less-sweary Malcolm Tucker (also his use of the word “shutity” was definitely written with Tucker in mind) and once again, he excelled in doing so.

Having had a quick look at Twitter before writing this up, I’m not sure where people are getting the idea that this was a “romp”, and I think the Telegraph’s idea that it’s a parody of the banking system is trying to find clever subtext for the sake of seeming deep.

No, to me this felt quite serious, and it was a welcome change.

Great Visuals

I’m a big believer in the importance of visuals, and this story – nay, this entire season of Doctor Who – passed that test with flying colours.

One of the crushing aspects of Matt Smith’s stories  – from his second season onwards – were that they all felt so dark and murky, with only the brightness of The Girl Who Waited really standing out as being dissimilar to the rest. Time Heist differs from Listen, which in turn differed from Robots of Sherwood and so on.

The setting of Time Heist was particularly good. The CGI looked of a high standard, the setting felt like there had been some real imagination put into it, and the appearance of the Teller – though definitely familiar from some other Sci Fi show/movie – felt new for Doctor Who and was actually very impressive.

Random Observations

  • I like a bit of clever writing, and so the part where it was revealed why the Doctor was specifically chosen to rob the vault – i,e. that it was a bank job specifically for a Time Traveller – was great. Well…I say that, but then I took a moment to think about the name of the episode and realised I should have seen that plot development coming.
  • One thing I didn’t quite get was why The Teller didn’t end up damaging the Doctor in any way whilst turning his mind into soup.
  • Being someone who likes to spot obscure character actors in other roles (the best one ever being my identification of an extra from the Daemons by looking at the back of his head in an episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads), my brother’s
    You know how babies have that soft bit on the top of their heads? Am I the only one worried that you might accidentally end up doing something like that to one if you hold it the wrong way? I probably am...

    You know how babies have that soft bit on the top of their heads? Does it ever worry you that you might accidentally end up doing something like that to one if you hold it the wrong way? Or is it just me?

    startling realisation of “Hey, that’s the woman off Ashes to Ashes” didn’t exactly blow me away. Thanks for identifying one of British Televisions’s top female actresses of the last 10 years, Steven, I’d have never have known if you hadn’t told me.

  • And as you would expect from an actress of her aplomb, Keeley Hawes was perfectly acceptable in her role.
  • But to be fair, I think every one of the guest cast was good, and added to my enjoyment of the episode.
  • Am I the only one who has a hard time believing a Sensorite would rob a bank?
  • The pacing of this story, as well as the direction, was great. The brisk nature and sharp scene changes added a lot to the episode.
  • In that respect, in some ways it felt more like a US TV Drama than a UK one.
  • Writer Stephen Thompson has clearly played Portal, based on that device used in the elevator.
  • I find the nature of the Doctor & Clara’s relationship an interesting one. Unlike every other companion, he just drops her off at home every week. I wonder why the Doctor has never thought of this before, or crucially, why any of his companions have asked him to do that? Wouldn’t it make more sense? Why doesn’t he go back and whisk Dodo off on a few adventures in between his time with her? Oh that’s right, because she just abandoned him without so much as a by-your-leave. The ungrateful bitch.
  • Thankfully, this is another story that is light on the season long story arcs. Yes, they bring up the woman in the shop, and Clara’s domestic relationship is in there again, but neither were major parts of the episode.
  • That we don’t get any scenes with Missy is a relief. The absence of that from the last three episodes is something I’ve very much enjoyed.
  • Next week’s episode looks like another big change, and I’m looking forward to it.

Doctor Who – Time Heist Review: Final Thoughts

So I’m pleased to say this is another episode of a high standard, meaning that this season – five episodes in – has had more hits than misses.

If the quality remains consistent over the next few weeks, we’ll have the makings of a pretty special season of the show.

But looking at Time Heist in particular, I thought it was an enjoyable, well paced yarn that has the potential to be even better the second time around.

A solid thumbs up from me again.

Enjoyed reading this Doctor Who review? Why not check out my book on Amazon. Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: Book One – The Classic Era. It’s available for a great price and can be read on any mobile or tablet device. Plus, you get a free preview of it so you can try before you buy. Get it here


Doctor Who – Listen Review (or “Oooooh, You Can’t Mess With Fandom’s Makey-Up Rules, Apparently”)

September 13, 2014

Up until the emergence of “The Omnirumour” in mid 2013, I never really frequented Dr Who forums or mixed in those circles on social media. What that meant was that I never took part in the immediate post-mortem discussion of new episodes of the show.

That’s changed now obviously, and I’ve found that the old saying – “Opinions are like arseholes; everyone’s got one”  – is absolutely true.

Take last week for example; I didn’t rate the Robots of Sherwood highly at all, but I would never go as far as to say it was dreadful. But some people jumped on it like it was television’s worst moment, while others engaged The Hyperbole Hyperdrive and proclaimed it amazing.

And that’s fine; people are allowed opinions, but it’s the agendas I don’t like.

Case in point; a tweet from the brand manager of Dr Who said that he thought it was a “Perfect episode”. Now obviously, that’s utter bollocks by anyone’s standards, even if it is his job to be positive, and when I pressed him on it – because if you’re saying it’s perfect then it must be, by definition, the best episode of Dr Who of all time – he backtracked and said he meant he wouldn’t change a thing about it.

Meanwhile, there are people so blinded by hatred for “modern Who” that they try to insist that literally any new episode is shit; they don’t give things a chance. There’s even a “Fans of Classic Who Who Hate Nu Who” Facebook group.

What happened to reasoned debate? What happened to people taking each episode as they come and offering a critical, but fair assessment? Why watch a show when you’ve convinced yourself you’re going to hate it anyway? Or why bother to comment on an episode if you’re going to be so ludicrously positive about it that people can’t take you seriously?

Well I hope that I don’t come across that way and that I judge everything as fairly as I can.

As it turns out, this review – of the latest episode, Listen – is the 500th Article I’ve published on Stuart Reviews Stuff.

And thankfully – and fittingly – fate has dealt be a positive story to review.

Doctor Who – Listen Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor wants to establish whether there’s a form of life out there that has perfected hiding as a defence mechanism, while Clara tries to enjoy a date with Danny Pink.

Thoughts – Now We’re Talking

To cut right to the chase, I’ll just say that I thought Listen was brilliant; it really was a fantastic episode of Doctor Who.

What a fantastic, shit-eating grin

What a fantastic, shit-eating grin

Indeed, I’d go as far as to say it’s the best episode we’ve seen since Steven Moffat took over from Russell T. Davies back in 2010 (not that that’s especially hard of course).

That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise though; when he’s on form, Moffat is capable of writing some of the best stories of Doctor Who ever, as we saw with Blink and The Girl in the Fireplace. Does this rank that high? Probably not, but it’s too soon to say, considering this is being written on the same day that it was broadcast.

All I know is that on every level by which I judge this show – Drama, Pacing, Originality, Direction, Acting Standards etc – this was a success.

To be more specific, I’d break it down as…

Drama: The notion of the Doctor trying to get to the bottom of the mystery of that feeling that you aren’t alone is a clever one, and what I liked in particular was that it avoided falling into the Moffat cliche of him deliberately looking to scare children. It’s quite the opposite; by finishing the way it did – not specifying if there really were aliens living a hidden existence, and revealing that the truth behind it was that the Doctor himself used to be scared of the dark and had a “dream” of someone underneath his childhood bed that turned out to be Clara – was genius. A refreshingly different and interesting conclusion.

Pacing: It hit the ground running with that scene with the Doctor “talking to himself” (but actually to us) and just kept going for the entire 45 minutes at a smooth, enjoyable speed. I thought it was slick.

Originality: This felt different to other Doctor Who stories. If Robots of Sherwood was depressingly by-the-numbers, this stood out as something fresh. And to bring up the Doctor’s childhood was a top notch twist, in my opinion at least.

Direction: While nothing out of the ordinary, it still hit the notes it needed to hit with style.

Acting Standards: With a relatively small cast, the emphasis was on the two leads and they were both tremendous. Unlike last week – which I remain convinced was written for a generic Doctor character rather than Capaldi specifically – this one was the former Malcolm Tucker’s best story yet. He was sensational throughout, with a wide range of emotions and a character so engaging that he brought the viewer along with him for the ride. I can’t speak highly enough of him. And in fairness, Jenna Coleman was great as well. Each week, she becomes stronger and more assured in her role and compliments Capaldi beautifully. But her strength as a character also allowed Danny Pink to have credibility as a character too. I was impressed. I hope she’s not leaving.

Beyond that, annoying nods to Moffat’s “clever” season arcs were left out, unwanted references to 40-year-old episodes for cheap pops were avoided and the episode felt like it could appeal to almost anyone.

Almost…

Ooooh, You Can’t Interfere With Fandom’s Makey-Up Rules

I’m going to be honest here; I have cheated a little bit.

The first thing I did when I finished the episode was to have a quick check on Twitter and Facebook, and wouldn’t you know it, there are some fans out there who are being negative about this episode.

And why is that?

Because they – *gasp* – showed us the Doctor as a child.

Apparently, some people have decided that this is a n0-no.

Give me strength…

I’m the first person to criticise messing around with established continuity, but when I do, I feel there’s some level of reasoned thought behind it. I thought Terry Nation’s rewriting of established Dalek lore in Genesis of the Daleks was poor because he should have

"Oh my god, she's talking to the Doctor as a child!!! I'm going to get all upset about it and rate this story 0/10. That'll show them"

“Oh my god, she’s talking to the Doctor as a child!!! I’m going to get all upset about it and rate this story 0/10. That’ll show them”

known better, and I thought the “Half-Human” nonsense from the TV Movie was just stupid.

But showing the Doctor as a child? What’s the problem? The bases were covered by having it established that under Clara’s control, the TARDIS could operate outside its normal parameters – meaning that it could find its way to Gallifrey – and more importantly, it worked within the confines of the story.

And perhaps more importantly, it was a plot development that doesn’t have far-reaching consequences. It was important for this episode only, and that’s what counts. It made *this* episode make sense. Actually, it also made some sense of The Day of the Doctor too.

So what’s the problem?

The answer is that there isn’t one, so may I just say this to people who have got themselves upset over this incident…

Get over yourselves. You don’t “own” Doctor Who and you don’t get to impose fandom set ground rules.

Rant Over.

Random Observations

  • Once again, the humour in the exchanges between The Doctor and Clara was a highlight. Though thoroughly convincing as a serious – nay menacing – actor, Peter Capaldi’s history playing Malcolm Tucker means he has an understanding of comic timing and expression that his predecessors perhaps lacked.
  • Highlights on that score included the scene with the TARDIS in Clara’s bedroom and the one where he introduces her to Orson.
  • But what makes him so good is that he’s also able to flip that switch and be dark and serious too. The scene where he demands Clara go back into the TARDIS was superb.
  • The writing of that scene was brilliant too, because it made sense of the Doctor’s motivation for wanting to find the answer to his question.
  • And it was then followed up by the scene with Clara hiding under the young Doctor’s bed.
  • That bit where she grabs onto his leg was one of those “Aha, it all makes beautiful sense” moments. I love those.
  • This episode plays up to Steven Moffat’s strengths as a writer. And I think that’s what makes his run as series show runner so frustrating. It’s clear to me that his strengths lie in these one-off episodes, and when he’s charged with overseeing an entire season, he struggles under the weight of writing these tiresome 13 episode arcs and of trying to be too clever by half.
  • Anyone who seriously suggests that Mark Gatiss is a good writer should sit down, watch the Robots of Sherwood, then watch this and explain to me how they can think that way.
  • So what was underneath the bedsheet? Not knowing is actually better.
  • And you might say “But hold on, wasn’t this supposed to be some sort of universally shared dream? Where’s the resolution”, but I think that was covered. The suggestion – as I saw it – was that the truth of the matter was that it is probably just in your head. The true story was the Doctor’s insecurities from childhood.
  • In my criticism of the show as it currently stands to the Brand Manager, I made the point to him that it doesn’t always have to be about aliens. Doctor Who is a more flexible beast than that. This proves it. How crap would it have been if the episode had ended on aliens pouring through that airlock, only to be very quickly defeated by a triumphant Doctor? That would have been flat and predictable.
  • Hey, it’s the same space-suits as in The Waters of Mars.
  • Ok, I’ll criticise it a little bit and question how the last planet has a sun when the idea put forward in Utopia was that the last of the suns was dying. Pedantic? Maybe, but I have to be even-handed.
  • Did I see a Sensorite in the next time trailer? At last!!!!

Doctor Who – Listen Review: Final Thoughts

So I think it was excellent.

On almost any level, this story was a home run.

It’s frustrating then that the show can’t be like this every week, especially when the guy in charge of it is responsible for writing an episode of such high quality.

But alas that hasn’t been the case for some time.

Hopefully next week retains the high standard set here.

Oh, and one more thing; if you’re going to watch Listen and genuinely dislike it because of the scene with the Doctor as a child, I have three simple words for you.

Get a grip.

Enjoyed reading this Doctor Who review? Why not check out my book on Amazon. Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: Book One – The Classic Era. It’s available for a great price and can be read on any mobile or tablet device. Plus, you get a free preview of it so you can try before you buy. Get it here

 

 

 


Doctor Who – The Robots of Sherwood Review (or “Does Anyone Else Think This Was Written For Matt Smith?”)

September 6, 2014

September 6th, 2014 – 18:00

Ok, so we’re 90 minutes away from the next episode of the new season of Doctor Who – The Robots of Sherwood.

Now this is a story from the pen of Mark Gatiss, who I personally don’t rate much as a writer. Indeed, I thought his most recent effort – The Crimson Horror – was genuinely the third worst Doctor Who story of all time, and I mean that with all sincerity. It was absolutely diabolical. Not only was it unfunny, it had an insultingly bad cameo from a supposedly talented actress in Diana Rigg.

Everything about it was bad; nothing about it was good. I hate it.

So that has left me concerned about tonight’s episode. I think to myself “Why has this man been given another chance to write for the show? Is it just because he’s Moffat’s mate?” The answer to that is most likely “Yes”.

But then if I’m being objective, not everything he has written is unworthy of reaching our screens. That’s not saying much though; while the likes of the Unquiet Dead, The Idiots Lantern, Victory of the Daleks and Cold War aren’t that bad, they aren’t that good either. The only one that I gave a positive review to in my run-through was Night Terrors.

Thinking rationally then, this will probably be ok, although it carries a risk of being terrible, with the slight possibility of being enjoyable.

I’m a glass half full kinda guy though, so I’ll cross my fingers and hope for the best.

I’ll report back afterwards with my findings.

Doctor Who – The Robots of Sherwood Review: What’s This One About?

Clara wants to see Robin Hood. The Doctor doesn’t believe he exists. It turns out he does.

And there are robots involved too.

September 6th, 2014 – 20:32

Thoughts – An Uneventful Rollercoaster

So I hoped for the best. Did I get it? Did I buggery.

You wouldn't know it by looking, but the guy in the water is the hero

You wouldn’t know it by looking, but the guy in the water is the hero

I don’t think it would be fair to say that The Robots of Sherwood is bad, but it just felt all over the place.

What I mean by that is that certain elements of the story felt extremely rushed (such as the Robots and their motivation), some felt overdone to the point of being boring (The Doctor’s petty arguments with Robin) and others just felt pointless (beyond there being a need for the inclusion of characters from the traditional Robin Hood story, neither Marion nor the Sheriff of Nottingham contributed anything).

So I’d say the pacing was all wrong, and that’s never a good thing.

Perhaps if a little less time had been spent in that dungeon with the Doctor and Robin bickering about who had the better plan, the scenes with the Doctor planning an escape wouldn’t have seemed so rushed that they came across as an afterthought.

But I suppose this is a Mark Gatiss script, and there are limits to what we can expect from him.

Was This Story Written For Matt Smith?

I can’t be the only person who watched a lot of the scenes with the Doctor and Robin and thought “This was written with Matt Smith’s Doctor in mind”.

For the past two weeks we’ve seen Peter Capaldi’s Doctor scripted with a combination of sarcasm and menace, and yet in the Robots of Sherwood it felt like we were back with Matt Smith and his childish, fidgety interactions of the past few years.

It didn’t work, and Capaldi himself seemed to struggle with it.

As big a fan of him as I am, I will criticise him when I have to, and because the writing of his character wasn’t the best, some of his delivery seemed unnatural and awkward.

His delivery in the next time trailer was probably his most assured of the day, and that just backs up my point.

This Idea Has Been Done To Death

I moan about Dalek stories, and justifiably so.

Hey, it's a midget who looks like a combination of Roy Castle and Bernard Cribbins. At least the Cribbins bit is new

Hey, it’s a midget who looks like a combination of Roy Castle and Bernard Cribbins. At least the Cribbins bit is new

You can only see the same thing so many times before it becomes boring.

Well I’ve had enough of the “Doctor meets a historical figure and leads them on a journey of self discovery” gimmick.

Since the show came back we’ve had Dickens, Queen Victoria, Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Vincent van Gogh and now Robin Hood.

That’s enough.

By the time this episode reached its conclusion and we saw The Doctor talking to Robin about their legacies and how similar they are, I thought to myself “We’ve been down this road too many times before”.

I would hope that we don’t see an episode like this for a while, but sadly if the show is still being run by the same people next year, we’ll probably see a story involving the Doctor meeting Enid Blyton as we find out that the Famous Five were real and had helped save 1930s England from The Rutans or something. And it’ll be written by Gareth Roberts.

Actually, I bet that there’s a Doctor Who writer out there somewhere wishing that the Harry Potter books were written 100 years ago so they could do one about J.K. Rowling and alien wizards.

Change the record please!

Is It Good To Have a Fan Write For The Show?

But that leads me to a point about the way the show is currently run.

If you’re a Doctor Who fan who pays attention to online discussion – and if you’re reading this review there’s a chance that you might be – you might have noticed the debate lately about the way writers are picked to pen episodes of the show. Some of that debate it childish attention seeking from people who know better, but there’s an interesting point hidden in amongst the agendas.

Doctor Who right now is produced by a “Super fan” and he generally invites his Who-loving friends – like Gatiss – to write for him.

Ben Miller - or as I call him, "The Guy Who Looks Like The Guy"

Ben Miller – or as I call him, “The Guy Who Looks Like The Guy”

Now the problem with that is that there’s this desire to put in lines to appeal to like-minded fans of the show. Throughout my reviews I’ve called this fanwankery.

Sometimes it has its place – like in the 50th Anniversary year – and other times it doesn’t.

I don’t think it did tonight. The reference to the Miniscope was too prominent and the picture of Patrick Troughton dressed up as Robin Hood was fanwankery at its worst.

You’ll notice that last week there weren’t any direct references to The Invisible Enemy, were there? And that was a good thing.

I’ve got no problems with anyone writing for the show if they do a good job, and it seems more likely that it’ll be fans who want to write for Doctor Who, but I’d much rather they concentrated on making their own stories worth remembering, rather than taking time out to pointlessly shoehorn in references to old episodes to impress their mates.

Random Observations

  • To give The Robots of Sherwood credit, there were some lines of dialogue that made me chuckle, like the Doctor’s “And do people ever punch you in the face when you do that” and the line about how he made an arrow with a homing device installed.
  • Similarly, the scene where the Doctor was investigating the Merry Men and diagnosed the guy with six months to live was the best part of the whole thing.
  • But at the same time, other lines – like the aforementioned argument about who has the better plan in the dungeon – were puerile.
  • The one person to emerge with full credit in this episode is Jenna Coleman. Once again, she played her part with confidence and assurance and was written for well.
  • Though now I come to think of it, this story seemed to forget about the new Doctor/Clara dynamic entirely, which is disappointing.
  • And where was the army teacher guy? Why introduce him last week and not bring him back tonight?
  • If they go to the trouble of saying how Robin has too good a set of teeth for the era, how come Marion also had perfect teeth and that was ignored?
  • Why was Marion waiting round the back of the TARDIS when the love of her life was audibly standing mere feet away from her, having a chat?
  • When the Sheriff of Nottingham first appeared, I asked “Oh, is that the guy who looks like the guy” and my brother said “You mean Ben Miller?” He knew exactly who I was on about. I’m sure everyone would.
  • The midget looked like a cross between Roy Castle (as they all do) and Bernard Cribbins. Spooky.
  • No Missy tonight, but another reference to “The Promised Land”. Let’s see how that develops.
  • What the hell was up with The Spoon? Again, a bit childish for my liking.
  • The scene with Robin and the Sheriff’s final confrontation did nothing for me. I sense we were supposed to care about it because we accept that the two are arch enemies, but within the confines of this story, it was just two thinly written characters having a tentative fight, the outcome of which was entirely predictable.
  • Final thought: what was up with the laughter stuff? Did I miss its resolution? Or did Gatiss not bother?

Doctor Who – The Robots of Sherwood: Final Thoughts

I’d sum up my feelings on The Robots of Sherwood by saying that it felt directionless.

It’s all well and good deciding that a story with Robin Hood would be fun, but it has to have an interesting hook to it, and this idea of bland robots/aliens interfering with a historical figure is something we’ve seen quite enough of.

Moreover, it felt like a story written with Matt Smith in mind, and it didn’t seem to have much in common with what we’ve seen from the Peter Capaldi/Jenna Coleman stories so far.

To bring it all back to the start of this review, I’d say this was down Steven Moffat giving yet another chance to a man who just isn’t a particularly talented writer.

Mark Gatiss doesn’t have it in him to consistently write good TV. Come to think of it, he doesn’t have it in him to consistently act well on TV either. He should concentrate on one, and I’d recommend acting because he can do less damage that way.

Next season, he needs to be passed over for someone more talented.

Sadly, if Moffat is still in charge, that just won’t happen.

On the plus side though, it was better than The Crimson Horror.

Enjoyed reading this Doctor Who review? Why not check out my book on Amazon. Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: Book One – The Classic Era. It’s available for a great price and can be read on any mobile or tablet device. Plus, you get a free preview of it so you can try before you buy. Get it here

 


Doctor Who – Into The Dalek Review (or “Oh Doctor, Not The Daleks Again”)

August 30, 2014

“Oh Doctor, Not the Daleks Again!”

I believe that was the headline of an article in The Sun newspaper back in 1988 before Remembrance of the Daleks was transmitted for the first time.

The notion behind it was of course that the Daleks had been done to death and really didn’t need brought back again.

You could certainly imagine that headline would be used in 2014. After all, in the nine years since Doctor Who came back to our screens, the Daleks have featured in ten stories before their latest appearance in “Inside The Dalek“. And now that makes three appearances in the last year.

It’s too much, isn’t it? It gets boring and repetitive.

But I suppose part of that comes down to this supposedly scientific formula for introducing a new Doctor. People look back at Tom Baker’s first season and think that the successful way to introduce a new Doctor is to settle him in with some established monsters early on. Personally, I think good stories will do, but what do I know, eh?

And maybe I’m being too judgemental. Maybe in spite of everything, the Daleks will seem fresh and interesting and this will be an exciting story.

Or failing that, maybe Peter Capaldi will continue to impress in spite of the mundane over-reliance on a monster that desperately needs to disappear for a while.

Doctor Who – Into the Dalek Review: What’s This One About?

As someone who seeks to avoid spoilers, I didn’t realise how literal the name of this episode would be until I watched it. But yes, this is a story of the Doctor going into the Dalek.

We’re inching closer to Pudding of the Daleks with each story…

Thoughts – Nothing Groundbreaking

I don’t want to seem like I’m being negative about Inside the Dalek because on the whole it was a decent 45 minutes of Doctor Who.

"See you in a few weeks mate"

“See you in a few weeks mate”

But the reasons for my enjoyment were not really because it was an awesome idea.

Indeed, I thought it came across like the sort of thing you’d listen to in a Big Finish Audio. And not the pre-2005 glory years but rather the post Nu-Who “All Our Best Ideas Will Be Used On TV” style Big Finish.

Decent story though it is, you could certainly imagine it being done with Colin Baker and Nick Briggs shouting at each over the medium of audio.

And maybe that’s me being harsh; after all, it did at least try to do something different with the Daleks, and offer an alternative to the usual format. That at least is worth commending.

But ultimately, the Daleks are not exciting or interesting anymore. All they do is shout, occasionally try to sound profound and sympathetic and exterminate some no-mark extras who you have no emotional attachment to and therefore don’t care if they get shot.

They just have no appeal to me anymore and I believe they need to disappear for a few years. Unfortunately, commercial considerations will outweigh creative ones and they’ll probably be back again before the season is done.

The New Doctor Again

So if the plot didn’t light up my life this evening, what did?

Mostly, I’d say it was Peter Capaldi.

I could be getting ahead of myself, and I probably am, but because he just seems so well suited to the part, I think he has the potential to be my favourite ever Doctor. I want to watch the show for him as much as I want to watch it for the show.

"Oh for fuck's sake. He's probably right"

“Oh for fuck’s sake. He’s probably right”

That never happened with Eccleston, Tennant or especially Smith. Hell, I just found Matt Smith to be annoying after a while.

But Peter Capaldi? He’s fantastic. He is what the Doctor should be. In actual fact, it’s like he’s the Doctor made to appeal to the kids who started watching in 2005 and have now grown up. It’s a bit like the way the Harry Potter movies began to take on a more adult form by the end, or how the WWF Attitude Era grabbed back the fanbase who watched it as kids in the late 1980s/early 90s by presenting a more gritty, adult style.

I don’t know if he’ll appeal much to young kids, but he appeals to me and presumably anyone who has ever seen The Thick of It. Indeed, his style of Doctor is almost Malcolm Tucker without the swearing, and that’s exactly what everyone wanted when it was announced that he was cast in the role.

Is he too harsh? He could be – and his absolute lack of empathy towards the death of Ross would suggest that he might be – but he’s ably assisted by Clara because she works as a yang to his ying. Like last week, Jenna Coleman has shown how much better she is as a companion when she works alongside someone she actually has chemistry with.

In particular, the continual criticism of her appearance by the Doctor works to great comic effect, and brings out the best in both of them. Lines like “Ach your hips are fine; you’re built like a man” and  – in response to her asking him how she looks – “Sort of short and roundish, but with a good personality, and that’s the main thing” are genuinely funny and really add to events.

When it comes to the main cast, Doctor Who is currently in top form.

Random Observations

  • Now I know that there are only 45 minutes for the writers to work with, and that any ending would have to be a little bit contrived, but I still thought that Clara’s ability to work out exactly how to bring back the Dalek’s memory seemed too
    I was going to make this a caption about the obvious blue-screen, but instead I just want to say Capaldi looks like a mouldy potato here.

    I was going to make this a caption about the obvious blue-screen, but instead I just want to say Capaldi looks like a mouldy potato here. Or Frank Skinner.

    convenient and rushed. She might have travelled with the Doctor for a while, but that doesn’t make her a genius.

  • I did like the way that they’ve finally begun to give her a character and a proper life outside of her time with the Doctor
  • And speaking of that, the story did a good job of introducing her new – I would assume – love interest,
  • I don’t know what’s going on with Missy, beyond a hope that it’s not a female Master. Oh please don’t be.
  • While the direction of the story was of a more than acceptable standard, this is the second week in a row where I’ve felt it’s been too obvious that Capaldi is standing in front of blue-screen.
  • It would be really churlish of me to say “It’s a bit too much like the Invisible Enemy for my liking”, as I really doubt that similarities to that story are uppermost in the minds of the people making the show in 2014.
  • What isn’t churlish though, is to say that the line about the Doctor being a “Good Dalek” is too similar to the exchange between Eccleston and the Dalek in Dalek.
  • I don’t think I commented on the new theme tune last week. Do I like it? Not that much, but then nothing other than bringing back the Peter Howell version would please me.
  • Another gripe: How come the Dalek was able to shoot the other Daleks without taking a hit itself?
  • Oh yeah, and one more thing…how come they were all dry again when they moved into the next room after being soaked in that pool of animal remains?
  • At least the writers are being honest about the Daleks reappearing again, with the Doctor saying “Until next time” to it. That makes a change from “OMG, the entire Dalek race has been destroyed forever again”.
  • Next week’s episode looks like it might be good, but seeing as it’s a Mark Gatiss story, I’d say the prognosis isn’t all that great. I’m a glass half full kinda guy though so I’ll approach it with a positive outlook.

Doctor Who – Into the Dalek Review: Final Thoughts

So it has its good and bad sides to it.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve come away from watching it tonight believing the Daleks need to go away and stay away, and that Peter Capaldi is an amazing Doctor.

Those were my expectations, so they’ve been fulfilled.

And I enjoyed it on a general level, so on the whole I can’t complain.

Enjoyed reading this Doctor Who review? Why not check out my book on Amazon. Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: Book One – The Classic Era. It’s available for a great price and can be read on any mobile or tablet device. Plus, you get a free preview of it so you can try before you buy. Get it here

 


Movies: Under The Skin Review (or “Well If Paul Likes It…”)

August 30, 2014

Back in the day, my friends and I used to hold a weekly film night. Taking turns each week, one of us would bring along a movie that the others hadn’t seen before in an attempt to broaden their horizons.

Some of the efforts brought along were good (like Gregory’s Girl, The Firm, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and All About Eve) while others were not (like Bubba Ho Tep and The Grapes of Wrath – the latter of which was a blind choice my be and under-the-skinone I’ll regret for the rest of my life. Boring doesn’t even begin to describe it).

It was during this period that I discovered just how bad I thought my friend Paul’s taste in movies was. He brought along the likes of The Fountain and Videodrome, which I either sat, open-mouthed at how awful they were or just fell asleep through boredom.

It’s still a recurring joke now that I like to bring up at almost every opportunity. If I see a film and think it’s rubbish, I’ll say “I bet Paul liked that” and the thing is, he usually does!

Anyway, last night I watched Under the Skin, and upon hearing I was watching it, I got a message from Paul to say “Under the Skin was one of the best films of the year so far!”

“Oh bollocks”, I thought.

Under the Skin Review: What’s It About?

A mysterious woman drives around Scotland, seducing and feeding upon random blokes.

Under the Skin Review: Who’s In It?

Scarlett Johansson. There are others of course, but she’s really the only one needing mentioned here.

Under the Skin Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

Well the reviews are mixed. If you go to imdb, you’ll see it only gets 6.4 from just under 32,000 votes. The thing is, I don’t think that’s from people giving it a 6 or 7; I think it’s from people either giving it 10 or 1.

From what I can gather reading the reviews, people either think it’s a masterpiece or a lot of boring old toss.

My mate Paul thinks it’s a masterpiece, my brother – who suggested we watch it as he loves the book it’s based on – thought it was extremely boring.

What category do I fall into?

Under the Skin Review: My Thoughts

As a rule, I don’t like films that try to be arty. 2001: A Space Odyssey ranks as one of my least favourite films of all time. For me, the basis of a good movie is a strong plot; I watch these things for the story and the dialogue.

Under the Skin doesn’t seem to have anything resembling that; at least not in the traditional sense.

At first, I thought “What’s going on here”, as long arty direction shots were mixed in with seemingly random set piece like Johansson’s character driving around Glasgow looking for the M8 and then suddenly sitting on a beach near Arbroath watching a Czech surfer try to help a man save his drowning wife from the sea.

It didn’t make sense.

Neither did the weird ritual – I assume – murder of the blokes she picked up on her travels in some sort of black pool of fluid.

And yet…and yet I was strangely captivated by it.

As much as it didn’t make sense in a traditional way, it also kinda did. The set piece at the beach served to show that (and I’ll put this bit in white text in case it spoils it for you) as an alien she had no traditional human emotions like empathy, especially as she simply ignores the screaming toddler left alone after its parents drowned, and this was hammered through more with her nonplussed reaction to the deformed guy in the van.

The director deserves a lot of the credit for that.

In a movie without any significant dialogue or plot, it still manages to keep my attention, because it’s the imagery that tells the story. There’s also a greater sense of reality to it, with hidden cameras in the van allowing Scarlett Johansson to ask genuine members of the public for directions. That lead to the sort of earthy Glaswegian comments like “Yous are looking for the M8? It’s down past Asda by-ra-way” that no script writer would have the balls to write. As a Scot, I found it hilarious, but I imagine people from a different country might struggle to understand what they are saying. Certainly, I don’t think I’d have found it quite so amusing if those passers-by were Londoners.

If I was to criticise the direction for anything though, it would be that although I found it amusing seeing a guy wearing a Hibs shirt being murdered, I didn’t want to see his erect penis; that put me right off my dinner that did. Oooft.

Scarlett Johansson deserves a lot of credit for making her character quite believable to. For an actress who – let’s be fair about it – has never really set the heather alight with her performances, I thought she was very good.

The only thing from an overall point of view that I did find a bit lacking was the stuff with the motorcyclist guy. It didn’t really feel all that necessary to the story, such that it was.

Under the Skin Review: Summing Up

If you’d told me what this was about before I watched it, the chances are I probably wouldn’t have bothered with it.

But I’m actually glad I did.

Though not my type of thing by design, Under The Skin – in large parts thanks to Jonathan Glazer’s vision, but also down to Scarlett Johansson’s performance – turned out to be a pretty decent example of doing something different with film.

Against all the odds, I enjoyed it.

And most worryingly of all, I actually think I agree with my friend, Paul. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was still worthy of praise.

The world will never be the same again.

 

Hey, did you know I’ve published a book? Check out my thoughts on Doctor Who in Stuart Reviews Doctor Who – Book One: The Classic Era, available at Amazon

 

 


Movies: Into the Storm Review (or “Fails To Deliver The Gimmick”)

August 29, 2014

Into the Storm describes itself as a “Found Footage Disaster Movie”, but it’s not.

And if you were wanting to judge it on what it says it as rather than what it actually is, then you’d come away from it feeling a bit disappointed.

If the idea is that we’re watching a film that was pieced together by some documentary maker to bring to the screen the story of a freak tornado storm that hit the Oklahoman town of Silverton, then it fails to deliver.into the storm

From a directorial point of view, it seems to flip back and forth between spectacularly good “found footage” and standard invisible camera stuff. I do think they tried to cover it by suggesting there was a mute, unnamed character with them filming the whole time, but the idea is ridiculous. There were no camera wobbles or anything that would suggest this was anything other than a regularly filmed movie.

In a nutshell, Cloverfield, this is not.

And that’s a pity, because it takes away from what is an enjoyable disaster movie.

It moves along at pace, it never gets boring, the acting is of an acceptable standard and the special effects are as good as you would expect.

If I was to criticise the plot for anything though, it would be that you could spot a mile off which characters would die. It really was that predictable, even though a lot of those deaths ended up being spectacularly dumb.

But that’s a minor criticism; on the whole, if you ignore the failed “found footage camera” gimmickry, this is a fun movie that you can switch off your brain for 90 minutes and enjoy.

I’d say it was worth your time.


Doctor Who – Deep Breath Review (or “Just Like My Unearthly Child Tagline, I’m Moved To Say That The Doctor Is An Utter Bastard. And Isn’t That Great?”

August 23, 2014

I like watching things without knowing what’s going to happen beforehand.

It baffles me that some people don’t seem to share that view and want to spoil things for themselves ahead of time, whether that be from reading plot details in advance or in the case of this new season of Doctor Who, watching leaked episodes in a quality unbecoming of the experience.

I just don’t understand why some people watched an apparently monochrome, low quality version of the opening story of Peter Capaldi’s reign as Doctor Who – Deep Breath – when it was accidentally put into the public domain a few weeks back.

What’s the point? Why not show the restraint to watch something in all its intended glory? Why ruin it for yourself?

It’s bizarre.

My brother asked me yesterday if I really knew nothing about this story before its broadcast, and I said that apart from it being set in Victorian England and involving Madam Vastra & Co, the answer was no.

He seemed amazed, but in my opinion, that’s how it should be.

Unfortunately, I’d forgotten that that wasn’t strictly true.

In actual fact – and assuming that nobody would be daft enough to read this review before watching it, and therefore operating under the assumption that I’m not spoiling this for anyone – I did know that Matt Smith was going to make an

What a bastard. Fantastic

What a bastard. Fantastic

appearance. And do you know what? That really pisses me off, because I shouldn’t have, and it ruined what would have been a terrific surprise.

Right now, reviewing this as I am mere moments after finishing watching the story, I can’t remember exactly how I came to know that. It was probably reported in a newspaper or on some website like Digital Spy, and that irks me. How is ruining the plot of a TV show newsworthy anyway?

Humbug.

Aaaaaaaanyway, here we are at the start of the Peter Capaldi Era of Doctor Who, and unlike every review I’ve written about the show, this is one I’m doing entirely based upon a first viewing.

It’ll be interesting for me to look back on this in the years ahead to see if my opinions on it will change.

Oh, and before we get into it, can I just take a moment to shamelessly plug my first book – Stuart Reviews Doctor Who – which is available to buy on Amazon for all Kindle, Tablet & Mobile devices. It’s great…honestly, and it gets 5 stars. Get it here

But back to Deep Breath.

Doctor Who – Deep Breath Review: What’s This One About?

A new, angry Scottish Doctor, a Dinosaur in Victorian London, robots looking for paradise, and a reference to an old story that I didn’t get until it was spelled right out for me.

Thoughts – The New Doctor

Ok, so let’s start with the new man.

Before I’d even watched this, I’d prejudicially made up my mind that I loved Peter Capaldi and was entirely sure that his take on the Doctor would be amazing.

Was I right?

Of course I was.

The first ten minutes or so of his character weren’t all that great, but they never are when a new Doctor comes along. Don’t get me wrong, this was hardly a “Three questions; who am I? Where am I? And who are you?” moment (oh…old story reference alert) but at the same time, it felt as though the lines given to him didn’t suit him as an actor.

Really, in his first few scenes, Peter Capaldi was sort of playing Matt Smith, and that was never going to work.

But from the scene with the tramp onwards, he was gold.

With the menace of a non-sweary Malcolm Tucker, but also with the gentle grandfatherly assurance of a William Hartnell style Doctor, Peter Capaldi – and I suppose Steven Moffat – have hit it out the park with this one.

Will the kids like him? I’m not sure. I’m writing this before I’ve read anyone’s feedback on his performance, so I don’t know for sure, but I doubt he’ll have the same appeal as David Tennant or Matt Smith to people of a certain age, and in a sense I feel he’s more aimed at viewers like me. I’m more than happy with that though.

Some of his lines cracked me up, and in particular, his exchange with Clara in the restaurant about the self obsessed egomaniac had me laughing out loud. Just brilliant.

The question of whether or not he’s a proper bastard is yet to be answered, but right now he certainly seems to be.

The Matt Smith Cameo

Like I said above, I don’t think Capaldi will have the same appeal as Matt Smith in certain quarters, and so, having Smith appear to convince Clara – and by association the viewing public who maybe hadn’t already decided Capaldi was awesome -

What a moment this would have been. had the press not ruined it in advance

What a moment this would have been. had the press not ruined it in advance

that he was a man who was vulnerable and needed to be given time was a smart touch.

Long term readers of my Who reviews might think “Hold on Stuart; you had a go at the writers for doing something very similar in both the Twin Dilemma and Time and the Rani“, but I think it’s different. Here, the audience identification figure – as Clara was in this episode – is being assured that he’s someone who must be given time and that she mustn’t judge by his older appearance (which is the thing that the kids will probably hold against him). In those other two stories, the new leading man basically told the viewer “You might think I’m a shite actor, but you’re stuck with me, so stick that up your pipe and smoke it”. It’s really not the same thing.

Anyway, Smith’s final appearance was handled very well, and I was impressed with him. I was less impressed with Clara not bothering to say goodbye to him, as she just hung up the phone. What a bitch!

If only that bit hadn’t been spoiled for me beforehand…

Clara

Speaking of Clara and her role as audience identification figure, I thought she was written for far better than in the past here.

My criticism of her last year was that despite being played well enough, her character was empty. There was nothing to her other than being the companion. We knew nothing about her.

Deep Breath managed to add some layers to her character, and with an actor that she actually seems to have some chemistry with, Jenna Coleman thrived.

With the news that she’s set to leave at Christmas – and once again, may I thank the press for ruining that one ahead of time – I’ve gone from being not fussed at all, to quite disappointed. On first impressions, these characters seem to work well together, and it’s a shame they’ll be split up.

And What Of The Story Itself?

It’s very easy in a new Doctor’s first story to forget about the plot and concentrate on the new man.

Not the best special effects. #BarryLettsCSOLoyal

Not the best special effects. #BarryLettsCSOLoyal

While I don’t think the plot was forgotten about per se, I do think it existed merely to help form the character of the new Doctor and his dynamic with Clara, and I’m happy enough with that.

There was nothing particularly groundbreaking or clever about it, and as a flowing narrative it won’t be remembered along with the classic stories, but then again I have no problems on that score.

It’s set the scene for what’s to come, and incidentally, I have absolutely no idea where they’re going with that new story arc with Heaven.

Let’s hope it’s more Bad Wolf than River Song though, eh?

Random Observations

  • Surprisingly, I enjoyed the use of Vastra and Jenny here. They helped Clara and the audience understand the new Doctor that little bit better.
  • I’m not sure about Strax though. He’s clearly a comedy character, but I think that comedy is wearing a bit thin.
  • The scene at the end is very like the final scene of The End of the World. I’m sure that was not an accident.
  • From an effects point of view, there were a couple of scenes – particularly the opening one with the dinosaur in the Thames and the one with the Doctor standing on the roof – that looked shonky. In that latter example, you could so clearly see he was standing in front of a backdrop that you might have been forgiven for thinking it was Barry Letts and Season 8 all over again.
  • The “You’ve redecorated. I don’t like it” line should never be used again. Ever.
  • I’ve got to be honest; I didn’t see the Girl in the Fireplace reference until it was so obvious that a blind man couldn’t miss it. That’s a shame.
  • Ok, I’ll be pedantic; when a Giant Cyberman walked across Victorian London, at least they came up for a reason for why it wasn’t recorded in the history books. How will they explain away the dinosaur?
  • The main villain robot looked a bit too much like a cross betwee the Gunslinger from A Town Called Mercy, and Richard E. Grant’s Great Intelligence for my liking.
  • If they keep talking about how much they miss the original TARDIS interior design, why not just bring that back?
  • In a weird coincidence, I was watching an episode of Black Books the other night that included the guy who got his eyes removed in this episode. Not a very exciting coincidence I’ll admit, but a coincidence nonetheless.
  • Though they were no doubt written with Clara being the audience identification figure in mind, some of her lines about changing the Doctor back seemed at odds with what we know she knows about him.
  • As a native of the same country, I love that Capaldi is being played as an angry Scotsman.

Doctor Who – Deep Breath Review: Final Thoughts

The main aim of Deep Breath was to introduce the new Doctor, and Steven Moffat achieves that spectacularly.

Peter Capaldi is assured and pretty much awesome already in the part and on initial impressions, has the potential to be one of the best Doctors of all time.

That’s fantastic.

It’s also great that Clara finally seems to have some purpose to her character and that Jenna Coleman works well with the new leading man.

On all those scores, Deep Breath is a success.

Judged on the merits of a stand-alone Doctor Who story though, the likelihood is that Deep Breath will never be considered a classic, or at least not by me.

Still, it did what it set out to do, and I enjoyed it a lot.

So I’d say it was a success and a strong start to the new season.

 

Remember!!! Get Stuart Reviews Doctor Who over at Amazon. I have no doubts it’ll be the best $9.99/£6.14 you spend all week.


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