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

 


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.


TV: 24 – Live Another Day Review (or “One of These Days, The Daleks Will Show Up”)

July 17, 2014

Let me first start off by saying there are spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t seen all of 24 – Live Another Day, then I would suggest you skip it.

Anyway, for those of you who have seen it, here are my thoughts…

24 – Live Another Day Review: What’s It About?

The British widow of an Al-Qaeda commander killed in a drone strike by the US plans on taking over US drones and attacking London with them unless President James Heller – on a state visit to the English Capital – turns himself in.

Naturally Jack Bauer has heard about this and emerges from exile to help stop them.

And sure enough, he’ll kill lots and lots of people to make sure he doesn’t fail.

Also, because this is 24, once that initial threat is over, there’s suddenly a newer, bigger threat than ever before. Oh!!!! Em!!!! Gee!!!!!

24 – Live Another Day Review: Who’s In It?

Apart from the obvious one, 24 – Live Another Day brings back old cast members like the incredibly wooden President Hellerbot (James Devane), his daughter with the face like a soup ladle, Audrey (Kim Raver) and the fidgety and awkward to

"Destroy him! Destroy him at once!!"

“Destroy him! Destroy him at once!!”

watch Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub).

Other than them, major parts go to the likes of Yvonne “Typecast” Strahovski, Steven Fry, Tate Donovan off the O.C. and the most b00-hiss of panto actresses, Michelle Fairley.

Oh, and in terms of minor parts, there’s only bloody Denis Lill as the captain of a Russian ship!! Denis Lill getting TV jobs in 2014; awesome.

24 – Live Another Day Review: My Thoughts

Well in every way, this is the standard 24 formula. Jack Bauer reluctantly emerges to deal with a threat, the local authorities initially mistrust him and  – despite his record in the past – believe he’s fighting for the forces of evil until he proves himself; then the threat becomes critical, it gets stopped just in time, only for another, bigger threat to turn up. Throughout it all, Jack happily slaughters dozens upon dozens of people that he deems unworthy of living while screaming in people’s faces saying “WHERE IS (insert critical piece of information here)” and then just before the end he comes up against some kind of personal tragedy. Oh, and as always, someone working with Jack turns out to be a villain.

But who cares if that’s the formula, it’s a great laugh when it’s done correctly.

And unlike the last couple of seasons of 24 – which seemed to be unimaginative, uninspiring and at times plainly ridiculous – this did manage to get it right.

I’ll be honest; the first few episodes were a wee bit disappointing, and in general the Margot Al-Harazi storyline was let down by Michelle Fairley’s rather dodgy acting skills (cue Game of Thrones fanboys sending me angry emails), but it soon picked up pace.

And by the final quarter when the Chinese turned up, it was just fantastic.

Indeed, the bit where the Chinese showed up was such a great and unexpected swerve, that it reminded me as a Doctor Who fan of the end of episode one of Earthshock where the Cybermen suddenly appeared out of nowhere. The screen grab there reflects that.

So overall, I found it an enjoyable return to form for a series which shows that it still has legs. Long may it continue

Random Observations

  • I laughed at the bit where Heller tells the British Prime Minister “You’d have done the same if roles were reversed”. The understated look of “Don’t think so, mate” on Steven Fry’s face was great.
  • Going back towards the start of the season, was that meant to be the House of Commons Heller was speaking to the MPs in? If so, that was rotten.
  • I find that Yvonne Strahovski just plays the same part in every show now, and I’m getting pretty tired of her. There’s no doubt she’s well suited to playing the intense high action roles she’s cast in, but you’d think she’d try to amend her acting style at least a little bit.
  • At least we won’t see William Devane in the show again. What summed his acting ability up was the way he wandered back aboard Air Force One with a coffin containing his recently deceased daughter, and his emotions and expression were no different than they had been at any point in the show previously.
  • Hey look, it’s Kevin McNally off Dad!
  • I think Cheng Zhi would have been better if he was played by Ken Jeong
  • Do you think Jack will face any kind of enquiry for throwing Margot out that window?
  • You can’t not laugh at the bit where her daughter was hit by that bus.
  • In a real life situation where someone – even the US President – had to get to the centre circle of Wembley Stadium on a night when it was closed, they’d have far more trouble getting access than they did. Inevitably there’ll be some simpleton groundskeeper with the keys who would have come out with the line “I don’t care if you’re the Queen of Sheba mate, you’re not getting in there tonight” 
  • There’s a bit where someone – I think it was Strahovski – tries to get a shell-shocked child to open up to her by offering her a can of Ginger Beer. Ginger Beer? Really? I imagine most children these days would have told her to fuck off.
  • As always with 24, there were plenty of example of people being beaten to within an inch of their life in one hour, and being seemingly fine in the next. You’ve got to love it.
  • Similarly, the ease in which they got through traffic was astounding.
  • 24 simply has to have an episode where the Daleks show up towards the end. Surely you agree with me on that?

 


TV: Murder One Review

July 13, 2014

Back in the mid 1990s, Sky One was one of the best channels available in the UK. Whether it was Games World (anyone remember Big Boy Barry?), The Simpsons (when it was still good) or WWF, there was plenty there to keep me occupied.

Now I can’t even remember the last time I watched Sky One, or what is even on it anymore (I just checked; it’s still The Simpsons, but also Modern Family, and that’s about it).

The point is, it used to be as important a channel to me as BBC One.

And one thing I remember most of all about it back in those days was a TV show I never even watched.

Murder One.

I think what made it such a striking show, purely based on the weekly adverts, was the sight of leading man Daniel Benzali; an actor with a head like a white chocolate Malteser. The vision of him clearly stuck in my mind.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and I decided to buy the boxed set, based on nothing but those memories of the adverts. I didn’t even check whether it was highly rated before I bought it.

So far, I’ve only seen the first season.

Was it any good?

Murder One: What’s It About?

From the mind of StevenBochco – probably the most famous TV Crime writers in America with hits like Hill Street Blues,NYPD Blue,Columbo (a few episodes at least) and L.A. Law to his credit – Season One of Murder One focuses on the

There's the man with a head like a white chocolate Malteser, Daniel Benzali

There’s the man with a head like a white chocolate Malteser, Daniel Benzali

“Goldilocks Murder Case”, in which famous movie star Neil Avedon is accused of raping and murdering the 15-year-old call-girl, Jessica Costello. Avedon must call upon the help of Defence Attorney Theodore Hoffman and his team to prove his innocence.

But with the millionaire businessman – and alternate suspect – Richard Cross seemingly intent on making the defence’s lives as hard as possible while claiming to be on their side, Hoffman & Associates have their work cut out for them.

Over the course of 23 episodes, the case – from Avedon’s arrest through to his trial – is fully dealt with before the truth is finally revealed.

Murder One: Who’s In It?

The leading man is Hoffman, played by the aforementioned Dr Bunsen made flesh, Daniel Benzali. Other than him, recognisable actors these days would include Mary McCormack (West Wing, In Plain Sight), Stanley Tucci (he makes movies you know) and Gregory Itzin (the rat bastard slimeball President from 24)

Murder One: How Highly Is It Rated?

Murder One is critically acclaimed and has a cult following. In the UK and Europe it was a hugely popular show at the time, but in the US it struggled with ratings, with viewers apparently unable to cope with the season-long story arc format. Those silly Americans…

Right now on imdb, it gets an 8.0 rating.

Murder One: Was It Any Good?

I would say so, yes.

In some respects, Murder One is quite dated. Now that’s not going to come as a shock seeing as it’s 18 years old, but being dated can sometimes work to a show’s advantage. Personally, I love watching old episodes of Columbo, as they have a time capsule like quality to them; it’s like you’re watching a show made in a completely different world. Stuff from the mid-90s though can be dated in a poor way. You look at the outfits, the hairstyles and the production values and think “Urgh, I remember those days”.

Mostly what dates it is the aforementioned production values. The opening credits look extremely old-fashioned, and they are made worse by the attempts at using “hi-tech” CGI. Then there’s the incidental music, which often sounds like something from a Sega Megadrive game. Awful.

As well as that though, the mid 1990s were a time when TV wasn’t taken quite as seriously across the pond as it is now. It feels as though Television acting wasn’t deemed as worthy as the cinema back then, and arguably the reverse is true now. But what that means is that you watch the show and see some examples of acting – like that of Bobbie Philips and Patricia Clarkson, who played Julie Costello and Annie Hoffman respectively – that are so bad, you know that they wouldn’t be deemed acceptable in 2014.

So in those respects, it suffers, but thankfully the good outweighs the bad.

Daniel Benzali and Stanley Tucci are both excellent in their starring roles and bring a sense of authenticity to the part, and while most of the other actors are of a good standard, Gregory Itzin must also get a special mention for being possibly even more unlikable as the slimey District Attorney, Roger Garfield.

Beyond that, the season long story arc is well paced, and though there are the occasional lulls and distractions – like Hoffman’s marital crisis which came out of nowhere – I felt it kept moving smoothly from episode to episode and kept me entertained.

It was also interesting to see court procedure laid out in more detail than you’d usually expect on TV. In particular, I found the episodes dedicated to juror selection intriguing.

Finally, the conclusion to the whole thing kept me guessing, and I found myself pleased to know I hadn’t manage to work out the ending in advance.

Who Should Watch Murder One?

I’d recommend that anyone who enjoys crime drama or long, winding story arcs would enjoy Murder One.

I certainly did.

Give it a shot.


Ten of the Best TV Show Finales of All Time

April 4, 2014

Ok, so since I did an article on 10 of the Worst TV Show Finales of All Time, it’s only fitting that I should do one on 10 of the Best TV Show Finales of All Time too.

Like I said in the last article, some shows could have had tremendous conclusions if they’d only left it at that point. I’m thinking about the likes of Chuck, Only Fools & Horses, Alias and Scrubs, but alas they did nothing of the kind, and they kept going long past the point of exhaustion.

But these 10 shows didn’t.

As always, Spoilers Ahoy!!

1. Blake’s Seven

How Did It End?: In the last episode, Avon and the crew of Scorpio meet up again with Blake. Only Blake is a bad guy! Or is he? A miscommunication leads to Avon shooting Blake dead, and then being ambushed by members of the

And there wasn't a dry eye in the house

And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house

Federation. All of Avon’s team are shot – presumably dead – and the last thing we see is Avon being surrounded by a group of gun-toting bad guys. He raises his gun, smiles to the camera, and as the end credits music is played, we can hear shots being fired.

Why Is That Good?: Because it’s such a fantastic and dramatic way to end the show. They brought back the original lead, killed him off, destroyed Avon’s ship, killed all the crew and it appears as though Avon too has breathed his last. Talk about shocking! And the way we don’t know for sure who was firing all those shots as the end credits rolled made it even better. Did Avon escape? We’ll never know.

2. The Shield

How Did It End?: After being kinda the bad guys all the way through, Vic Mackey and the Strike Team finally get their comeuppance in a dramatic, action packed conclusion to a long story arc (#ArmenianMoneyTrain). Rather than going to prison though, Vic’s punishment is being tied down to a meaningless desk job; his ultimate hell.

Why Is That Good?: Because the drama led somewhere and the right thing happened. The longer the Shield went on, the more the supposed heroes – Strike Team – showed themselves as being pretty horrible blokes. Vic’s punishment was an inventive way of wrapping things up; far more inventive than sending him to jail or killing him off.

3. Friday Night Lights

How Did It End?: Character Arcs were completed, The Coach made the right move by putting his wife’s career first for once, and it finished on a great montage that showed what happened to all the characters. And moreover, it didn’t show what happened at the very end of the final game of the season.

Why Is That Good?: Everything wrapped up nicely and the writers made the right choice when it came to Coach Taylor’s choice of whether to stay in Texas or accept a lesser job to allow his wife to pursue her dreams for once.

4. The Office (UK)

How Did It End?: Everyone got the happy ending they wanted.

Why Is That Good?: Because a happy ending once in a while is the right thing to do, and the finale to the UK version of the Office did it better than almost any other show. Just when you thought Tim and Dawn wouldn’t get together, they did, and at last David Brent stuck up for himself against Finch. A perfect way to end the show at Christmas.

5. The Office (US)

How Did It End?: A few months after the documentary is released, Dwight & Angela get married, Jim & Pam move away and Michael returns briefly but in a way that doesn’t overshadow the rest of the cast.

Why Is That Good?: Pretty much the same reasons as the UK version. It just seemed like the right time and place for the show to end, and it was well handled.

6. Breaking Bad

How Did It End?: Walt dies killing the bad guys and saves Jesse’s life.

With the odds against them, could Angel and his crew survive? We never found out, and that's a good thing

With the odds against them, could Angel and his crew survive? We never found out, and that’s a good thing

Why Is That Good?: The finale to Breaking Bad is a bit different to other shows in that the finale itself wasn’t meant to be sentimental or shocking on an individual level, but it was the end to a story-arc that had built up from the moment the show started. Everything that happened before it was key to getting the characters to where they were in the last episode. There were no cop-outs and no disappointments; this was the only way Breaking Bad could end, and it did not disappoint.

7. The West Wing

How Did It End?: With the handover of power from the Bartlett Administration to the Santos one.

Why Is That Good?: Because it was time for the show to end. Had it gone on for a few more years with a mostly new cast, it would eventually have just petered out and died. This was the right time for it to end. And when watching it, I knew that it was the right time for it to go. It didn’t outstay its welcome.

8. Angel

How Did It End?: A bit like Blake’s Seven. Angel and the remaining members of his team are trapped and under attack with practically no chance of survival. Can they do it? We never find out; all we know is that they try.

Why Is That Good?: Again, it’s a shocking way for the show to end; this was not the type of TV show that needed a flippant, cheery conclusion. And just like Blake’s Seven, it left you to speculate as to what happened.

9. Ashes to Ashes

How Did It End?: Both Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes are explained in this gripping and dramatic final episode.

A fitting end to a great series

A fitting end to a great series

Why Is That Good?: Because unlike Life on Mars, it explained what exactly was going on to the viewer, and it did so in a way that satisfied. The scene outside the “pub” at the end was moving and the way each character’s storyline is dealt with properly was executed perfectly.

10. Blackadder Goes Forth

How Did It End?: The troops in the front line are at last faced with the reality that they must go over the top and into battle.

Why Is That Good?: I think everyone loves the way Blackadder Goes Forth ends; it’s just so emotional and moving, and yet it still manages to retain the comedy element. The final shots of the troops going over the top and then the cut in of the poppy fields probably brought home the realities of the First World War to a whole new generation. Superb.


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