Doctor Who – Flatline Review (or “The Tagline ‘The Golden Age Express Trundles On’ Would Have Worked Better Last Week”)

October 18, 2014

Last year on December 26th, I wrote my review of Time of the Doctor and my final thoughts on the Matt Smith Era.

In those two articles, I was pretty clear in my thoughts; Steven Moffat had to go.

Examples of  lines used in those articles include…

“The big problem with Matt Smith’s era is Steven Moffat. He’s just not a very good show-runner.” and “Do I want this to be the end of Steven Moffat in charge of Doctor Who? Yes.”

And I feel I was justified in saying that. Matt Smith’s final season was easily the sixth worst of all time, which is incredible when you think about how much more money and effort is spent on the show these days, and how much more talent there is supposed to be on the creative side of things.

Yet there it was; episode after episode of dreariness.

I did write something else in that article though. In it, I said to future readers – in the event of Moffat staying on for another year - ” …if he got his act together to make the next season amazing, then chuckle with hindsight”.

The sophisticated amongn you will immediately identify that the wall there needs "Kilroy Was Here" written on it

The sophisticated amongn you will immediately identify that the wall there needs “Kilroy Was Here” written on it

Well it’s time to chuckle with hindsight, because against all expectations, that’s exactly what he’s done.

So far this season, we’ve had two decent episodes, one poor one and then a run of five crackers in a row.

It seems almost unfeasible that we could have six. That would put it up there with some of the best runs the show has ever had.

It would get people considering it a Golden Age.

So there’s a lot of pressure on Flatline to be good then…

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

2D Monsters attack Bristol, and the Doctor is trapped in the TARDIS

Thoughts – To Start With A Criticism

Well I’ll start with my one big criticism of Flatline.

Put simply, the monsters were too easily defeated.

Now I can understand why that was the case; this was an episode based around the idea of the Doctor being trapped and Clara filling in for him. To centre the story around that meant that time could not be devoted to the Doctor hatching a plan to defeat them, and

This guy wouldn't have got the part if John Bennett was still alive

This guy wouldn’t have got the part if John Bennett was still alive

it was also unfeasible for Clara to be the one to send them packing.

So what could the writer do? Probably not much else.

And while our hero saved the day and Clara had her own victory by being the one to bring the TARDIS back from the brink, it just ended up making it feel like the 2D monsters were no match for the Doctor.

Now you could argue that this means the monsters are so weak that any return for them would be unfeasible – after all, if the Doctor hadn’t been trapped, it would have been over in two minutes – but why would they need to come back again anyway? One story with them is enough.

Overall though, that was a relatively minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, and once again another highly enjoyable episode has been delivered.

And Now To The Praise

Yup, Flatline is another quality story.

In particular, what I liked about it this week was the freshness of ideas.

It’s not just that writer Jamie Mathieson has come up with completely new ideas for the show – like the 2D monsters – but he’s also taken previously used ideas like the psychic paper and the Doctor being stuck in the TARDIS and made them feel reinvigorated. It’s a remarkable thing for a writer to achieve at this point in the show’s life, and it’s definitely something he deserves a massive amount of praise for.

Already, fans are throwing his name into the hat as a potential new show runner – which is a huge relief because a year ago the best picks were Gatiss, Whithouse or even Hinchcliffe again – and it’s something I would agree with, but I think people are forgetting that it appears as though there’s life in Moffat’s reign yet.

Either way though, it’s great to have such a talented writer delivering enjoyable scripts for the show; everyone benefits from that.

A great special effect but perhaps not one that translates to Screen Caps

A great special effect but perhaps not one that translates to Screen Caps

And it’s not just the freshness of ideas that made those scripts enjoyable, but it was also the tone.

At times during Flatline there appeared to be a sense of serious urgency that the show has perhaps missed for the last wee while. I think the reason for that is largely down to the setting. While last week, there was some level of urgency, as a viewer, I think I was more disconnected from it because of where it was set. Having a mummy attack people in fancy dress aboard a train in space doesn’t have that same sense of familiarity about it as two-dimensional creatures living inside walls and sewers in contemporary Bristol.

So that was great, and what made it even more great was that in amongst that seriousness, there was still plenty for the viewer the chuckle at, and it was done in such a way that didn’t detract from the overall tone.

All that adds up to Flatline being another rousing success. Long may it continue.

Random Observations

  • This is yet another story that presents Clara in powerful way. Here, she is the Doctor, and as the Doctor says, she was “exceptional”. Much like the turnaround in Steven Moffat’s abilities, I still can’t quite get over how much my perception of Clara has changed in the space of a year.
  • I like that the Doctor impressed upon her though that goodness had nothing to do with it though.
  • The Missy cliffhanger was a bit of a game-changer. I’m keen to know where they are going with that.
  • My brother seemed to get awfully excited upon hearing the noise the TARDIS console made when the Doctor opened the doors remotely. I can’t say I was blown away by it, but hey, whatever floats his boat, eh?
  • But seriously though, there can’t have been made times in Modern Who where the TARDIS doors have been opened from the console?
  • Among the most amusing parts of today’s episode were the Doctor moving the TARDIS by hand, and him passing Clara a sledgehammer from her handbag,
  • The special effects for the 2D monsters were mostly good, but perhaps a little hit and miss. I thought the scene in the living room looked excellent, as did the bit where the door handle was made 3D, but the movement of the aliens near the final confrontation seemed less impressive.
  • The part played by Christopher Fairbank would have been ideal for John “LiH’sen Chang” Bennett, but unfortunately he’s dead. Them’s the breaks, I’m afraid.

    If you're anything like my brother and are the sort of person who looks at the pictures before reading the review, this screencap will confuse you. But Waaaaaaassssssssssssuuuuuuuuup!! anyway

    If you’re anything like my brother and are the sort of person who looks at the pictures before reading the review, this screencap will confuse you.
    But Waaaaaaassssssssssssuuuuuuuuup!! anyway

  • I’m assuming this was really a “Doctor-lite” episode and we just weren’t supposed to know it?
  • Characters in TV and Film who die for the sake of it is one of my bugbears. There’s no need for people to give up their lives in that sort of “Oh just leave; I’m happy to die here even though there must be a simple way for us both to escape” way and yet it happens time and time again. I like how the scene on the train addressed that.
  • In my review of Kill the Moon, I noted that I hadn’t picked up on the abortion subtext, but even I couldn’t miss the nod to Banksy in Flatline. A graffiti artist in Bristol called Rigsy? Yup…I spotted it. Well done me.
  • For no good reason, I got sidetracked writing this review by a sudden desire to watch the Budweiser “Wazuuuuuup” adverts from 2000 on youtube. So while you read this, roll back the years and give me a “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaasssssssssssuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup” for good measure.
  • Danny only seemed to be in this episode to remind us he still exists, although it looks like he’ll play a bigger part next week, judging by the trailer.
  • This is yet another story I could imagine involving McCoy and Aldred. Weird.
  • I’ve not mentioned Capaldi yet. Awesome as usual.
  • I thought a good title for this review would be “The Golden Age Express Trundles On”. And it is, although it occurs to me it would have worked better last week considering the episode was set on a fucking train!! Oh Stuart, you do come up with good ideas at the wrong time.

Doctor Who – Flatline Review: Final Thoughts

Last week when I watched the Next Time trailer for Flatline, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for it, and I based that purely because of where it was set. To me it looked a bit dull.

So I didn’t expect this run of quality episodes to continue.

But it did.

Since Doctor Who came back in 2005, consistency has been hard to achieve, and yet here we are with an extraordinary sixth hit in a row.

We’re in a Golden Age folks.

And now that I’ve said that. just wait for it to come crashing down next week.

Hey, you know I’ve written a book with my reviews of all the Classic Era Dr Who stories right? Bought it yet? Why not? Sort that out immediately!! As someone on a Dr Who forum said this week, “The humorous nature of the reviews is worth the asking price”. He’s right! Buy it now.

Also, if you’re on Facebook, remember to “Like” Stuart Reviews Stuff to keep up with all my articles.


Doctor Who – Mummy on the Orient Express Review (or “The One Where Frank Skinner Found His Way Onto The Set”)

October 11, 2014

I can’t help it.

I just have to read what people say about these new episodes so I can appreciate the seethe from people determined not to enjoy them for reasons I just can’t fathom.

The one that’s caught my eye this week – because it’s 21:37 and I can’t actually see much in the way of feedback yet – comes from a comment made *before* the episode was broadcast on the wonderfully titled and presumable glass-half-full and agenda free Facebook group “CLASSIC DOCTOR WHO FANS WHO DISLIKE NEW DOCTOR WHO” (all in caps).

The line was that this person was upset about the ridiculousness of an Orient Express in Space because it was fantasy, and when someone asked him how it’s no more or less fantasy than a Police Box that is actually a Time Machine that’s bigger on the inside, along with a lead character who can regenerate and has two hearts, the retort was that “Right. Because NONE of those things serve a purpose on the series”.

What?

Well anyway, while you get your head around that gem, it’s time to discuss that particular story, Mummy on the Orient Express

Doctor Who – Mummy on the Orient Express Review: What’s This One About?

Well…and I know this might come as a surprise to you…it’s about a Mummy on the Orient Express.

You’ve got to love an enigmatic episode title.

But then I would also say, is it really about that? Hmmm?

Thoughts – Is Doctor Who More About Relationships In This Season?

I do scoff a bit at the way some people are so negative about Doctor Who these days, as you can probably tell, but to be absolutely fair about it, in amongst the downbeat “I will always hate this no matter what” style doom mercantilism some people do have a point.

Not a screencap, but I felt the need to bring this wonderful retro poster to your attention. All credit must go to the artist, Stuart Manning for this. Just brilliant.

Not a screencap, but I felt the need to bring this wonderful retro poster to your attention. All credit must go to the artist, Stuart Manning for this. Just brilliant.

Mummy on the Orient Express is another example of a Doctor Who episode where the alien – in spite of it being the selling point of the story – plays second fiddle to a relationship drama.

As much as the side-attraction of the story was about a mysterious Egyptian Mummy who appeared only to the person it was going to kill, 66 seconds before it killed them, at the heart of it was Clara’s continuing relationship troubles with the Doctor.

From the get-go we learned that following their bust up last week, this was a supposed last-hurrah; a final adventure for her with the Doctor before they said their goodbyes and parted company forever. Then, throughout the episode, while the Mummy made its appearances and killed off characters we didn’t have any reason to care about, the characters we do care about continued to discuss and develop their own relationship.

And finally, once the Mummy had been killed off (and I must admit, the way it was so easily cast aside was the one thing I found disappointing about the episode, although I don’t suppose there’s anything else the writer could have done considering the build-up) we went back to Clara and the Doctor.

I get why people don’t like it, or at the very least struggle to accept it if their first love is the Classic Series where none of that happened.

But I do like it.

For me, it’s a more complicated and mature way of story-telling, and rather than be criticised, it should be praised.

I mean, as much as I love Doctor Who almost all the way through, character development wasn’t even a remote consideration at some points during the Classic Era. A companion would join the show and either stay exactly the same or slowly morph into a generic Doctor Who companion before suddenly having one episode’s worth of development to give them a reason to leave the show. Hell, in JNT’s time, the companions never even changed their clothes. So if you have a look at Earthshock as an example, where suddenly in Episode One, Adric wants to go home because he feels he’s overlooked by the Doctor and picked on by Tegan & Nyssa, you think “When did this happen?”.

I’m sorry, but that’s not quite as good as what we get now.

And sure, overdoing the relationship stuff, or writing it badly can be worse than having no development at all; I found Rose’s psychotic unrequited love for the Doctor in NuWho’s Second Season to be annoying and missing the spot. Instead of empathizing with Rose, I just thought “Bitches be crazy”.

Anyway, the point I’m making is that here we have a situation where the companion now really matters, and her relationship with the Doctor makes a difference to stories and to the Doctor’s character. Clara – as the audience identification figure – asks the

Chunky legs, eh? #AwaitsBeingCalledAChauvinist

Chunky legs, eh? #AwaitsBeingCalledAChauvinist

questions about the Doctor that we need to know, and he answers them. It works. It’s a more grown up and intricate style of writing and it’s one I welcome with open arms.

As a story arc, this is shaping up to be the best one Doctor Who has ever done, and I really mean that. There’s still time for it to be ruined of course, but I actually feel that the Clara/Doctor/Danny dynamic is the most important part of the show now. If next week there was just this generic “Alien invades planet before the Doctor stops them” style storyline without any mention of the existing character dilemma, I’d be disappointed.

Times change and shows move on. This is what Doctor Who is currently about, and I think that’s brilliant.

But Back To The Matter At Hand…

Anyway, to go back to this episode, I will happily say that once again, I really enjoyed it.

Not only was it a fun gimmick, even if – as I said above – the Mummy was defeated rather easily, but it was another example of a story flowing well and keeping me both guessing and interested.

Frank Skinner appears to have wandered onto the set in fancy dress, and Bald Bruiser Brody in the back there doesn't look happy about it

Frank Skinner appears to have wandered onto the set in fancy dress, and Bald Bruiser Brody in the back there doesn’t look happy about it

In particular, what sold this story for me was the entire creative process around it.

It looked fantastic, with great sets both before and after the change to Gus’s space craft and a nice claustrophobic atmosphere, but perhaps more importantly it sounded great too.

Tonight, I thought the incidental music was a stand-out; it brought the very ethos of the episode alive and – not to sound poncy – made me feel like I was watching something made from the period the Orient Express decor was suggesting.

Brilliant stuff.

To criticise it though, I did feel that Frank Skinner was a bit…well…not the best. If this was the John Nathan Turner era, people would probably be complaining about hotshot casting, considering it just felt like in the middle of this interesting story, Frank Skinner was just wandered onto the set in fancy dress. While he was no means bad, he’s never going to win any acting awards, is he?

That’s a minor issue though, and certainly from an overall first impression, this was another hit in a long line of top episodes.

Random Observations

  • In my review of Kill the Moon, I said this; “Put it this way; if Clara goes back to being a happy-go-lucky companion without a clear reason for why she has forgiven the Doctor, then I’ll be disappointed.” When she walked out of the TARDIS at the start with a smile on her face, I did feel disappointed, but as it turns out, I actually think the way it was dealt with was fine. I’d much rather it was woven throughout the entire episode rather than addressed in a pre-credits sequence with her forgiving him and then dropping the matter entirely.
  • I’d be interested to know whether the Mummy on the Orient Express idea was always planned to work as an episode – considering it’s mentioned at the end of Season 5’s “The Big Bang” – or whether the writer, Jamie Mathieson, was inspired by that episode to write it.
  • And speaking of Mathieson, it’s pleasing to see yet another new writer be given the chance, and grab the opportunity with both hands. He did a top job.
  • Looking at his Wikipedia bio, it also turns out he wrote a movie I love and would heartily recommend to anyone who watches Doctor Who, Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel. My watching of it pre-dates Stuart Reviews Stuff, hence the lack of a review, but I’d urge you all to seek it out.
  • I could spend more time enthusing about just how good Peter Capaldi is, but is there a need? Faultless again. He’s just superb; it’s like Doctor Who was made with him in mind.
  • Here’s a comment to enrage the feminists who are happy to pass judgement on men’s looks but go mental if a man does the same to a woman…Didn’t Clara’s legs look chubby in those pyjamas?
  • Perhaps I’ve not given enough credit to the Mummy and the 66 second gimmick? It deserves it because it was tense and also very well directed.
  • Hey look, it’s the woman off The Curse of Fenric.
  • The line about the Doctor lying about visiting that planet didn’t really go anywhere, did it?
  • Another episode without Missy? Fine by me.
  • The Mystery Shopper line stands out as a highlight.
  • It’s now 22:37 and I’ve had a look at general views of this episode and for once it’s mostly positive. Indeed, I can’t see any 1/5 or 1/10 marks for it anywhere, with even the most savage of critics begrudgingly stating that it was “ok”.
  • But there’s always one. Over on the aforementioned NuWho bashing club, someone said they didn’t like it and remarked that “Clara served no purpose”. Presumably anyone who thinks that would watch Twelve Angry Men and say there was no need for Henry Fonda’s character.
  • Finally, I have to give credit to Stuart Manning, who has been making retro posters for every episode made during this season. His latest one, as you can see, is just superb. If these are available to buy, I want one.

Doctor Who – Mummy on the Orient Express Review: Final Thoughts

So while I thought the storyline involving the Mummy played second fiddle to what this story was really about – the Doctor’s relationship with Clara – I thought as an overall package, this was yet another magnificent episode of Doctor Who.

Golden Age? It’s looking like it to me.

Now I’ve gone and jinxed it!

Enjoyed this review? Buy the ebook of my Classic Series reviews over at Amazon


Doctor Who – Kill The Moon Review (or “So We Have To Call The Patrick Troughton Story ‘The Eggbase’ Now Do We? Hmmph”)

October 9, 2014

A couple of notes before I launch into this review.

1) This is late because I’ve been away on holiday, although I did get to see the episode as it was transmitted.

2) I’ve just gone through the comments section of my blog and realised there were about 30 Dr Who comments that I hadn’t actually approved. So if you’ve been making comments and wondering why they haven’t appeared, I apologise.

But anyway, back to the review and it’s Kill The Moon.

Like I say, I watched this on holiday with friends and I had to impress upon them with great sternness that they must not talk at any point during it. And they managed to achieve that, but by keeping quiet, they also fell asleep after about 5 minutes.

I certainly wasn’t complaining…

Doctor Who – Kill The Moon Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor makes a schoolgirl feel special (and isn’t it sad that people will read into that the wrong way in this Yewtree era) and falls out with Clara after pissing her off once too often. Also, some fans who look for reasons to dislike have also now got the trump card of “I can’t watch The Moonbase anymore without thinking it should be called The Eggbase”)

Thoughts – Fallout Watch

Every time I write a new Doctor Who review, I promise myself I’m not going to spend too much time analysing what other people think. As you’ll remember, a few reviews back I was pretty critical of fandom to the point where it upset some people, and what I

That kid is looking over his shoulder thinking "Why is that substitute Caretaker still hanging around? And why is he so well dressed?"

That kid is looking over his shoulder thinking “Why is that substitute Caretaker still hanging around? And why is he so well dressed?”

don’t want is for people to think that I’m scoffing at their opinions.

And everyone is entitled to an opinion, although I’ll take it more seriously if it’s well thought out (and I’m sorry, but hating on this story because it “Ruins the Moonbase” is not something I’ll take seriously)

My opinion will come soon, but writing this on the Thursday following its broadcast, the dust has well and truly had time to settle and the reviews are in.

And there’s no doubt that Kill The Moon has been divisive.

Forums are split between people giving it 5 stars and 1 star, Twitter was ablaze with negativity and positivity and reviews have fallen on two sides of a very large fence.

But what I’ve noticed is that the ones who are being more full of praise are people looking to be entertained for 45 minutes on a Saturday night, while the ones who are being negative are ones who perhaps are holding Dr Who to a certain standard, not necessarily of script quality but rather or maintaining a certain ethos.

Or to put it another way, if you go to a general entertainment site like Den Of Geek, IGN, Digital Spy or the majority of the newspaper websites, you’ll read glowing reviews of this episode, but if you visit Dr Who forums, there will be large sections of the membership base who’ll dislike it because it doesn’t follow what they believe Doctor Who should be about (an example of which was that Clara threatening to slap the Doctor was wrong because you never saw a Classic Era companion do that)

And that’s an opinion people are entitled to have, although I’d question why they continue to watch the show.

Having checked out the fan polls of each of the season’s stories so far on a few sites, I see some people have given every story either 1/5 or 1/10. To those people, may I suggest that you save yourself pain and just stop watching?

Anyway, that’s enough of me discussing other people’s opinions, here are mine.

A Top Story With Issues On Second Viewing

Now I know there are going to be some people who sit back and scoff the moment they read this, but I really enjoyed it on my initial viewing.

Not a happy camper

Not a happy camper

It worked for me because it told a story that developed from beginning to end, it kept me engrossed, it had me guessing and it provided me with that brilliant “Ah, now it all makes sense” conclusion. The whole point – on first viewing – was that the Doctor had brought them to a key and decisive moment in the Earth’s history so that Courtney could feel special and so Clara could blossom. That’s fantastic and ticks all the boxes for a good story.

On second viewing though, I think there are some issues.

The first thing is that the prolepsis pre-credits sequence is utterly pointless. But I’ll let them off with that because I think sometimes the need to have a pre-credits sequence works as a bit of crutch anyway. The idea is that it has to be dramatic and hook you in before the opening credits, even though it makes not the slightest bit of difference in the UK – where we don’t have a commercial break between these scenes – whether or not you start with one of not.

And because Kill the Moon is a slow burner, there’s no obvious point where you could insert a pre-credits cliffhanger moment anyway.

The main issue I have with it on second viewing though is the Doctor’s involvement.

On first viewing, I didn’t really spare a huge amount of thought to how he acted for the first 35 minutes of the episode when it was revealed – or at least heavily hinted at – that he knew what was happening there the whole time. On second time, you can’t help but focus on it and question why he acts like he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on before the reveal.

That they outright did not say that he knew what was going on pardons that to some extent, but it still gets marked down a touch in my eyes for it.

These are not game changers for me though; I hugely enjoyed watching Kill the Moon on both occasions.

The Way The Doctor & Clara Are Written

Central to my enjoyment was the way the Doctor & Clara were written and performed.

I’ve given a lot of credit to Peter Capaldi on this blog, and he deserves it. Once again, he delivered some fantastic lines – best of which was his superb delivery of “Oh don’t be so stupid” when Courtney asks if the TARDIS has any games – but it’s easy for me to only

Someone just told these Cybermen that they are standing on an egg. In particular, the one on the left feels like a right cunt

Someone just told these Cybermen that they are standing on an egg. In particular, the one on the left feels like a right cunt

give him the credit and not the writer for coming up with these lines in the first place.

The Doctor – now probably more than ever before – has a character that feels deep, interesting and believable and that is massively down to Moffat and his team.

The best comparison for that would be Matt Smith’s Doctor, who for me was unbelievable. He was quite clearly a guy trying his very hardest to act wacky and alien and he was written inconsistently by writers who didn’t seem to know what his character should be from one episode to the next. Capaldi on the other hand almost comes across like he’s making these lines up himself, such is his comfort in the role and credit must be shared all round for that. When you go back to watch this entire season in quick succession, you’ll watch one episode and see how even the best of actors can have a bad day when the lines they have had written for them don’t match the character. Most of the writers (*cough* except Gatiss *cough*) have done themselves proud.

The credit for them doesn’t stop there, as – like I’ve been saying all season – Clara is also written well and she too is comfortable and believable in her role.

I had read some criticism of her performance here in the aftermath of its transmission and I just don’t have a clue where that is coming from. She’s terrific throughout, and is on fire in her scene with the Doctor at the end.

And that scene, by the way, was probably the very best thing about the episode. It would have been the perfect way for a companion to leave if that was the aim, and it’ll be interesting to see how they follow up on this next week.

Put it this way; if Clara goes back to being a happy-go-lucky companion without a clear reason for why she has forgiven the Doctor, then I’ll be disappointed.

Random Observations

  • There’s no doubt that the science is crap here, but I really don’t care about that. This wasn’t the Wheel In Space where the plot was based around a ludicrous lack of logic, but instead it was based around the notion that we accept the Moon is an egg and that when it hatched, it laid another moon sized egg in its place. If you can’t do that for the sake of enjoyment, then how can you accept any of the monsters?
  • The other thing I’ve seen people criticise the story for is that it’s a tail about abortion beneath the surface. Even after two viewings, I didn’t pick up on that, although it’s an interesting theory. I’m not fussed by it though, because it would only make a difference to me if it was so obvious that it overshadowed the story, and it didn’t.
  • To go back to how the Doctor is written, I loved the “You can’t post pictures of me online” bit, as if that was the most important thing to talk about.
  • I also thought the “Somebody deserves a thank you” bit was great.
  • One criticism I would have though is that the other two astronauts were only there so they could be killed off.
  • Another one would be the way Courtney Woods suddenly ignored the life threatening situation she was in to have a crack at Clara for dating Danny. That seemed silly.
  • Will the kids of Coal Hill School not be thinking “The Caretaker dresses a bit fancy does he not?”
  • Or even “Why is the substitute Caretaker still hanging around?”
  • It’s good to see a new writer given a chance here. Peter Harness (which unfortunately for him sounds like a brand of underwear) knocked it out of the park with Kill the Moon.
  • I’ve noticed that society has a problem – especially when it comes to children – with not being considered “special”. This whole episode was based around trying to solve a “disruptive influence’s” behavioral problems. You see that these days in schools and kids sports clubs where certain age groups now never have winners or losers, and everyone gets a medal. Not that this is the sort of place for this debate, but I think that’s absolutely ridiculous. If kids are mollycoddled to that extent in school then they are in for a shock when they enter the real world.
  • So the point is, maybe this whole episode should have finished in less than five minutes with the Doctor suggesting that Courtney get a grip and see a behavioral psychologist?
  • If you’ve ever thought of watching the horror film Apollo 18, don’t. This is far better.

Doctor Who – Kill The Moon Review: Final Thoughts

While Kill the Moon has certain issues that make you criticise it more on second viewing, it is still – on the whole – a fantastic episode of Doctor Who.

For me, it felt fresh, it flowed well and it had a top ending with Clara reading the Doctor the riot act.

Once again, another episode in this season has been a success.

Surely the run has to stop soon?

As always, here’s my reminder to buy the book – Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: The Classic Era

 


Doctor Who – The Caretaker Review (or “Oh The Humanity Of It All”)

September 28, 2014

Apologies for not getting to this review sooner folks, but I was knackered last night by the time Doctor Who had finished and knew that if I’d started writing in that state my review would be crap.

So after a reasonable night’s sleep and a second viewing on iPlayer, I’m in the right frame of mind to review the sixth episode of the latest season, The Caretaker.

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

Relationships, human drama, a regenerating school and a killer robot that is very much an afterthought.

Thoughts – Oh The Humanity Of It All

Sorry to keep returning to my thoughts on fandom, but something occurred to me last night as I checked out viewers opinions on Twitter and Facebook.

He's obviously enquiring about a Dead Aunt

He’s obviously enquiring about a Dead Aunt

As you would expect, the very first reactions were negative. I say “expect” because it’s the most negative people who generally feel they have to get their opinions across within 47 seconds of the show finishing. Anyway, in amongst the usual “Moffat must go!” and “This is the worse (sic) episode ever” type tweets, I noticed some people suggesting that the main problem with The Caretaker was that it focused too much on human relationships instead of the Doctor’s battle against the monster of the week.

Now that’s fair enough; if people watch the show for that reason then they will most likely have been disappointed, because like I say above, this week’s alien threat was an afterthought. Beyond killing a policeman, and in spite of being trumpeted as a threat so powerful it could destroy the entire world, The Blitzer (and I actually had to look up its name, despite watching the episode twice in the last 12 hours, such was its insignificance) was easily defeated twice and without any fuss. It certainly won’t be remembered by the masses 40 years from now.

But to me, that’s not a problem. Long term readers of my reviews (*hint* and if you’re not a long-term reader, you can rectify that by buying my e-book *hint*) will know that I’ve always been of the belief that the show does not have to be about the monsters and should focus on other areas from time to time.

So I was happy with it, and to be fair, from looking again at fan reaction it appears that the majority agree with me.

This is one story where the alien threat didn’t need to be anything other than an afterthought.

I like that this was an episode that expanded upon Clara’s relationship with Danny Pink and finally moved their story arc forward by having the Doctor and Danny meet at long last. I also like that it developed both Clara and Danny more as characters. If you remember my main criticism of Clara last year, it was that she was an empty vessel; a character without a character, so to speak. Now that has been fully addressed and she’s fast turning into one of the most developed characters to ever travel with the Doctor.

And while I found the clashes between the Doctor and Danny a little forced at times – with their initial reactions to each other laid on so thick that nobody could miss the “I don’t like soldier/I don’t like officers” angle they were going for – it succeeded in moving

Mon then!!

Mon then!!

the season along nicely.

On the whole then, I’m happy with it.

And I enjoyed it to. It isn’t just that it was a creatively satisfying box-ticker of an episode; it engaged me, I found it funny and I enjoyed the viewing experience.

Bravo!

But to get back to what occurred to me, with people moaning about what Doctor Who should be about, rather than what it currently is about, it made me wonder what the social media reaction would have been to Season 7 of the show back in 1970. Nowadays people consider it one of the best and most consistent of all, but it was a massive change to the format at the time. Were people upset at the time? And do the people who get upset about the show now consider that over its 51 years, the show has switched gears a fair amount? Because if they don’t, then they should.

The Mystery of Coal Hill School

Coal Hill School confuses me.

I can't get my head around this school. It's in both a built up urban area and seemingly the countryside

I can’t get my head around this school. It’s in both a built up urban area and seemingly the countryside

I could be deliberately anal about it and say that it’s not the same school they used in Remembrance of the Daleks or even – it would appear – in Day of the Doctor last year, but I won’t. I won’t even say that it might be a school that can regenerate, because even if it could, that still wouldn’t be as confusing as Grange Hill suddenly upping sticks and moving to a completely different city.

No, what confuses me about it is that if appears to be a school set in an urban area on one side, hemmed in to an established, built up part of London that could not possibly have changed in decades or even centuries, and yet on the other side it looks as though it’s situated in the open space of the countryside, with vast areas of green and roaming play areas.

I just don’t understand it.

Nor, incidentally, do I understand the chess board in the corridor. Surely that would have been vandalised or at the very least be missing some pieces? It would have been in my school and I went to a “posh” one at a time before every second child had ADHD.

Random Observations

  • Once again, Peter Capaldi is just tremendous. Everything about him – and how he is written – is a joy. He just makes poor old Matt Smith seem incredibly crap in comparison. Long may Capaldi reign.
  • The scene where the policeman is killed by The Blitzer is actually quite grim for a show like Doctor Who. Even in these desensitized times, the sight of a severed and smoking hand falling to the ground is pretty strong imagery.
  • It’s often said by people who have an agenda, that the CGI and special effects in Doctor Who pale in comparison to those used on US TV shows, especially the big ones. Well I’d point anyone who thinks that in the direction of the newest episode of one of US TV’s biggest shows, Grey’s Anatomy. The scene with the helicopter trying to land on the roof was terrible compared to any effect seen on Who in the last few years.
  • I can’t look at the guy playing the Headmaster without thinking about his cameo in that episode of Coupling where he plays the guy smoking outside. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about #DeadAunt.
  • The PE teacher stuff went on a bit long for my liking, and I didn’t think it was particularly funny either. The rest of the comedy was great – especially the way the Doctor accidentally thought Clara was going out with the Matt Smith look-a-like – but that stuff left me cold.
  • It would appear that the school only had three teachers at parents evening, and two of them were English teachers.
  • That jumper the Doctor was wearing is awful.
  • This is the second story in a row that I could see Sylvester McCoy starring in. Of course, there wouldn’t be comedy; instead, the Seventh Doctor would be lying to Ace about the reason for being there, while Ace would have confronted some demon from her childhood. You know…like all the McCoy stories with Ace.
  • I weep for the death of the English language. Anyone who says “Bezzie Mates” needs a slap.
  • I didn’t realise soldiers were all Olympic Gymnasts too, or is that just another one of Danny Pink’s talents?
  • Outside of The Thick of It, Chris Addison’s acting style gets on my nerves.
  • And I only just remembered that since they were both in The Thick of It, if he has any scenes with Capaldi, it’ll be a reunion. Hopefully Peter can refrain from telling him to “Fuck Off”
  • First mention – I think – of the Incidental Music this season. I thought it was pretty good last night.

Doctor Who – The Caretaker Review: Final Thoughts

So it’s another strong story in a season which looks like it’ll be remembered as one of the best in a long time.

Hopefully I’ve not jinxed it now that I’ve said that, but anyway…

The Caretaker is all about character development and moving the season further along. I’m happy with that, and I enjoyed it.

It really is as simple as that.

Hey, it’s time for me to spam by book – Stuart Reviews Doctor Who – Part One: The Classic Era. Have you bought it yet? If not, why not? Get it here


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

 


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