Doctor Who – The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar Review (or “So Davros Just Couldn’t Be Bothered Opening His Eyes Before Now?”)

September 26, 2015

Right then; so as I explained last week, I don’t see the point in doing reviews of single episodes when they are part of a larger story, and that’s why I’ve waited until now to fully review The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar.

I’m not exactly sure why these episodes are named as they are mind you, considering there’s no obvious link between them and what happens on-screen. It’s like calling The Power of Kroll ‘The Lugubrious Teapot’.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not daft; I realise that they are paired episode titles where The Doctor is considered The Magician and Missy is The Witch, but still…any episodes involving them could be called that. Should this not have had a title more relevant to the matters at hand?

But anyway, on to the review.

Doctor Who – The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar Review: What’s This One About?

Davros – who it turns out has just been keeping his eyes closed out of laziness all these years – says he’s dying and wants to see The Doctor one last time having just remembered that he left him to die as a child.

But what he really wants is to trick him into giving away some of his Time Lord energy so that the Daleks can be made more powerful.

But the Doctor actually knows this and it’s a double bluff.


Thoughts – Don’t Look Too Closely, It’ll Just Ruin The Moment

So I’m a bit torn over my review of this one.

I liked it and I thought it was great fun to watch, but that was while I was still in a position where I didn’t really know how it was going to end.

The Special Weapons Dalek's Appearance: Token Fanwankery

The Special Weapons Dalek’s Appearance: Token Fanwankery

I think if I watched it again with the benefit of knowing how the entire story pans out, it wouldn’t be quite so good.

And in 2015, I think that a story needs to be able to hold up to repeated viewings if it’s going to be considered a success in the long run.

But what’s the problem with it, I hear you ask?

Well there are a few things.

For one, despite some fantastic build-up in Episode One and for the majority of Episode Two, the ending was a bit flat. I could accept that Davros was tricking The Doctor into giving away his Time Lord energy; that was actually a good twist considering the emotion and tone of the scenes building up to it. However, The Doctor operating a double bluff whereby he knew exactly what was going to happen all along doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Quite honestly, it let down all that had come before it.

Then there’s last week’s cliffhanger. Now I appreciate that Doctor Who has struggled for years with cliffhanger resolutions because 90% of them involve The Doctor and/or his companion quickly getting out of a life threatening situation, but this one’s a bit different. This was a trick cliffhanger.

It was a misplaced scene deliberately presented out of context. Long term readers of this blog will remember I criticised Image of the Fendahl for doing the same thing.

The implication last week was that The Doctor was going to travel back to kill Davros as a boy to prevent Clara from being killed. That was exciting. But the actual reason – that he wanted to instil the concept of mercy into a character who famously tried to save his own life at the end of Genesis of the Daleks with the line “Have pity” – wasn’t exciting at all. Especially when you realise that Davros only actually remembers his meeting with the Doctor a long way into his own future.

Meanwhile, the rewriting of lore bugged me a little bit. The notion that the Dalek casing translates the words of the occupants into basic Dalek-isms is adding new detail that doesn’t hold up, while the idea of the sewers being alive with living Dalek remains was only there to explain away the ending.

You could argue that any Doctor Who writer is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t with the Daleks. If they try to add a new twist to Dalek lore, people like me will criticise it for not holding up to what was previously established. But if they don’t add anything new then it’s just another story based around a tired old monster that should have been put out to pasture years ago.

I guess once again I’m coming to the conclusion that this is another Dalek story that would have been better if the Daleks weren’t in it.

We Almost Got The Davros Story I’ve Been Asking For

And that’s a point. I’ve said a few times over the years that what Doctor Who really needs is a Davros story and not a Dalek story.

Mummy, mummy, what's the Doctor doing to the old blind man?

Mummy, mummy, what’s the Doctor doing to the old blind man?

These two episodes are evidence of that.

As much as I’ve criticised certain elements of this two-parter, I thought the exchanges between The Doctor and Davros were magnificent. Both Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach were on top form and were ably assisted with – credit where it’s due – some superb dialogue written for them by Steven Moffat.

The scenes where they discuss how they’d love to have fought on the same side, and share their passion for their own planets was top-notch, and the one where they share a laugh was something I didn’t think I’d ever see.

And even though it doesn’t make even a lick of sense, the bit where Davros opens his eyes was touching. It actually had me sucked in thinking we were going to see a situation where Davros repents for the choices he’s made and asks the Doctor to go back in time to kill him as a boy.

That would have been a braver and better ending; an ending that people would either be furious about or remember with reverence for years to come.

Alas it was not to be.

I’ll repeat though; if this was just about Davros on his deathbed it would have been a vastly superior story.

Random Observations

  • My attitude to fanwankery sways with the wind. Sometimes I think it’s cool and other times I think it’s there to paper over the cracks. In this story, I thought some of it – like trying to recapture the design of the Dalek base from their 1963 debut – was great, and yet in others – namely having the Special Weapons Dalek hanging around the control room and never even shooting its gun – was daft.
  • Armed with the knowledge that Jenna Coleman is leaving the show, but ignorant to how and when that happens, I was quite excited by the thought that Missy might have tricked the Doctor into shooting her
    Wait...he's not blind, he's opened his eyes!! Holy Shit!! Holy Shit!! Holy Shit!!

    Wait…he’s not blind, he’s opened his eyes!! Holy Shit!! Holy Shit!! Holy Shit!!

    in the case. Then when that didn’t happen I thought she might die when being disconnected from the plugs in her brain. After all, didn’t Missy allude to nobody knowing what would happen when they unplugged her? But they just dropped that bit.

  • Going back to my point about the Dalek case translating Clara’s words, I’m sure you all know that I’m just thinking “Ian Chesterton, The Escape, 1964”.
  • As much as I would have preferred it if Missy was a character in her own right rather than The Master turned female, I do think she’s a great addition to the show. Michelle Gomez is pretty fantastic.
  • The line about sourcing the only other chair on Skaro was good.
  • So was the one where Missy says she’s been wanting to meet Davros for years.
  • As I suspected last week, the stuff with UNIT at the beginning didn’t really have any purpose beyond shoe-horning them in. Not that I mind that, but still…
  • I won’t be fussed if they’ve decided to write out the Sonic Screwdriver in place of the super-shades. Change isn’t always a bad thing.

Doctor Who – The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar Review: Final Thoughts

I think The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar could be summed up as a story where the performances of the actors and strength of dialogue in certain scenes make up for a rather dodgy plot that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Knowing how everything pans out, I don’t think it will be as enjoyable on repeated viewings, but at least we’ll have the scenes with Capaldi and Bleach to make up for that.

Calls to Action

Remember to…

a) Like Stuart Reviews Stuff on Facebook or Twitter

b) Read about my books – focussing on reviews of Doctor Who from the very beginning – here

c) If you appreciate my sense of humour, go ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’ 



Doctor Who – The Magician’s Apprentice Review (or ‘By Avoiding Spoilers, You Get A Nice Surprise’)

September 19, 2015

Yay, Doctor Who is back!

And here’s the thing; since I have absolutely no interest in checking out spoilers – unlike a great percentage of the Who fans out there including my brother – I didn’t actually know that this episode had Davros or the Daleks in it. I didn’t even know Missy was in it.

So it was a nice surprise. If you knew all this stuff in advance, the chances are that you’ve ruined what would have been a cool moment for yourself.

Anyway, I’m led to believe that for the most part, this season of the show will have a number of two-part stories, and much like last year with Dark Water, I’m not keen on the idea of ‘reviewing’ half a story every

It's a bit like visiting your gran in a nursing home.

It’s a bit like visiting your gran in a nursing home.

second week.

Therefore, my plan is to do the full write-ups when each story concludes, but to keep my finger on the pulse, I’ll do these little placeholder articles at the end of the ‘Episode Ones’ if that makes sense.

So how am I feeling about The Magician’s Apprentice so far?

Here’s a brief Random Observations section to tide you over until next week.

  • The buzz on social media is that this felt like a Season Finale in terms of scale, budget and gravitas, and I’d agree. Usually the opening episodes have a tendency to be a bit flat, but this was straight in at the deep end level stuff today. I thought it was great.
  • Like I said above, Davros returning was a nice surprise, as I was hugely praising of Julian Bleach in his last appearance in The Stolen Earth & Journey’s End. He was just as good here. His line delivery is just fantastic.
  • Of course, with Davros must come the Daleks too unfortunately, and a bit like Asylum of the Daleks, I think that having lots of different Dalek designs was there purely to try to disguise the fact that they are such a busted flush these days. The Daleks have been done to death and have no appeal to me anymore.
  • But hey, when writing is as good as it was here you can’t fault it, and in spite of the Daleks, this was a great episode.
  • And maybe if we all cross our fingers, next week will result in them being written out for ever. That’s certainly what the exciting cliffhanger suggested. I doubt it’ll happen though.
  • There was a definite element of Star War-ishness to this. The scale, the ‘Cantina’ scene, the light speed stuff. But it worked.
  • If I was to be critical, I’d suggest that maybe though there was too much knowledge expected of the viewer for everyone to enjoy it as much as die-hard fans.
  • Although I suspect that line about the Doctor being a little girl was put in to enrage those very viewers.
  • When I come to review the entire story next week, I imagine I’ll dismiss the opening scenes with the planes as being unnecessary.
  • Capaldi is beginning to look a bit like Pertwee isn’t he?
  • The opening scene with the hand mines was about as ‘Moffat’ as it gets.
  • How did Davros get a copy of the Doctor doing his speech about killing the boy in Genesis of the Daleks. Was he under observation all the way through that story?
  • In a world of predictability, I’m not actually sure how the cliffhanger is going to be resolved. So that’s something to look forward to.

And on that note, I’ll leave you until next week.

Remember that although some of my Doctor Who reviews from An Unearthly Child onwards are hosted on this site, you can read them all by purchasing the eBooks over on Amazon. For more information, read this.


Stuart’s Movie Catch-Up: Sliding Doors Review

September 18, 2015

For the last 17 years I’ve occasionally thought to myself Sliding Doors seems like the sort of movie I would enjoy; I really should sit down and watch it some time”, and yet in all that time I never have.

Why? I really don’t know. Maybe I’ve always thought about watching it in situations where it hasn’t been available. Maybe in the past I’ve looked for it on Sky and it’s not been on, or I’ve browsed and DVD aisle in Tesco and it hasn’t been in stock.

Whatever the reason, on a quiet Friday night in September 2015, I was surfing through Netflix looking for something to watch and there it was.

So I had to put it on.

The question is, did it live up to 17 years of mild hype?

Stuart’s Movie Catch-Up: Sliding Doors Review – What’s It About?

When Helen Quilley (Gwyneth Paltrow) is sacked from her job, she makes her way home via the London Underground. But a split second moment whilst walking down the stairs leads to two different scenarios and slidingtherefore two different timelines.

In one, she gets on the train, sits next to James (John Hannah), strikes up a friendship and goes home to discover her boyfriend in bed with another woman.

In the other, she misses the train, never meets James and gets home after her boyfriend’s mistress has left.

Each outcome results in her life taking a dramatically different direction, and we get to see those directions in parallel.

Stuart’s Movie Catch-Up: Sliding Doors Review – Thoughts

That sounds complicated doesn’t it? Perhaps too complicated for some to get to grips with, right?

But it’s not, and that’s very much to Sliding Doors’ credit.

Built on an interesting premise, this manages to be a pretty straightforward and easy to follow romance flick that I imagine most people could sit down and enjoy without getting lost. I say most people, because I imagine there will be some out there (like my mum for example) who find Back to the Future to be alienating and difficult. Those people may not enjoy this.

I did though; I thought it was an entertaining and easy watch. The biggest complement that I could pay it is that on a Friday night after 9pm, I’m surprised I didn’t fall asleep in my chair while it was on.

The main cast all put in a good shift – John Hannah especially – although Paltrow’s English accent was a little bit grating. What was most comical was that in the opening scene, she’s putting on a hammy English accent while English actor Kevin McNally spoke through the dodgiest of American ones.

If I had a criticism of it, it would be – and here’s a spoiler so I’ll type it in white text if you’ve not seen it so click on it to highlight the words – that although it was an interesting premise, it didn’t really have a natural ending beyond one Helen being happy and the other being sad, so they decided that both versions of her would have a serious accident. I’m not sure why they decided to kill off the happy one, and then have the sad one meet James anyway, but they did. I suppose it had to end somehow.

Perhaps my main take-home from Sliding Doors though is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie before that is so incredibly ‘Of It’s Time’. The style and quality of camerawork – and incidental music from Dido – could not have been the product of anything other than late 90s Britain. The only way it could have been more obvious was if there was a cameo from Tony Blair and the Spice Girls.

That’s not a criticism though, just an observation.

So Did It Live Up To The Hype?

Having waited so long to watch Sliding Doors, I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it.

It’s a movie based on an interesting premise, and it’s written, directed and acted well.

It gets a thumbs up from me.

Movies – Legend Review

September 11, 2015

As someone with a marketing background, I enjoyed the little trick the people behind Legend employed with their movie poster.

If you haven’t seen it yet, cast your eyes upon the image on the right and have a look for the Guardian’s review score. You assume that it’s a 4 or 5 star review obscured by Tom Hardy’s head, but the truth is that legendthey only gave it a 2.

Although most people seem to consider it a top movie, that reviewer thought it cartoonish and shallow.

So I wonder which side of the fence I’ll fall on?

Movies – Legend Review: What’s It About?

It’s the story of the rise and fall of the Kray Twins in 1960s London, with the foundations of the plot built around the relationship between Reggie Kray and his wife Frances.

Movies – Legend Review: Who’s In It?

The roles of both of Ronnie and Reggie Kray fall to Tom Hardy, while the supporting cast includes the likes of Christopher Eccleston (who manages to stay until the end of the film), Emily Browning, Taron Egerton and Kevin McNally.


Biopics are an interesting genre because seeing as they are based – however loosely – on reality they tend not to build up to a climax. Real life doesn’t work that way.

So like most movies of its kind, Legend is more interesting than exciting.

But that’s fine; that’s what you expect. It’s not as if you go in wondering how it’s going to conclude; you know that the Krays end up in the clink.

To be critical of it though, I think that in certain respects it dragged and in others it barely scratched the surface. For example, while I thought too much time was devoted to the mistrust Ronnie felt towards the firm’s accountant, Leslie Payne, other aspects – like the way their mother was suddenly key to a few scenes and then immediately forgotten about – were hardly touched upon.

Meanwhile, having done a little bit of research before writing this review, I was interested to find that Reggie Kray was bisexual. That was something not even hinted at in Legend, in spite of them going all guns blazing with Ronnie’s sexual orientation.

Still, maybe that doesn’t matter so much because in the main it was a fun and enjoyable effort that seemed to be played as a dark comedy 90% of the time.

Was that what they were going for? Perhaps and perhaps not, but if it wasn’t, then the director should have had a word with Tom Hardy about his over-the-top portrayal of Ronnie. I just couldn’t take it seriously.

In that regard, I think the Guardian’s reviewer is spot on. It is cartoonish and it is shallow.

But where we differ is that I don’t think that should go against it. If it was played deadly serious it probably would have seemed a bit worthy and boring, considering the subject matter.

Overall, the standard of acting was good, the entire production had a real sense of authenticity about it, it kept my attention and it made me laugh at times, so it gets a thumbs up from me.

And while it isn’t perfect, and isn’t anywhere near as good as last week’s movie – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – I’d recommend giving this a shot.


Doctor Who – The Brink of Death Review (or ‘The One Where The Sixth Doctor Finally Regenerates’)

September 9, 2015

I was recently asked if I’d be interested in going back and reviewing all the Doctor Who Big Finish audio adventures.

To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t, and there are a few reasons for that.

For one thing, it would be too great an undertaking, as there literally hundreds of stories to get through.

And not just that; I actually find them quite difficult to listen to. What I mean is that if I put on a Big Finish last thing at night, I only stay awake for a matter of minutes before falling asleep. If I try to listen to one in the living room in the evening, I’ll find my attention wanders. Really, the only times I can properly enjoy a Big Finish are on long journeys or first thing in the morning.

Most of all though, I wouldn’t really want to. As high quality as Big Finish can be – and stories like The Holy Terror are as good as any episode of Who that has graced our screens – there’s also a hell of a lot of dirge in there as well. It would be unfair to say that the standard of writing is perhaps not what it once was on these stories, but it’s certainly a valid point to suggest that after sixteen years of these releases and 10 years ofsixthdoctorthe_last_adventure_image_large the TV show being back on the air, there lacks a freshness about their output.

And that’s my biggest problem with Big Finish; the lack of imagination that seems to plague it now.

A quick look at the recent releases show that there have been some Rani stories, another E-Space Trilogy, a Cyberman one and of course plenty of Dalek releases. The latest Dalek story seems to be one about how they’ve gone back to 1987 to take over the computer games industry. I mean…what? It could be Doctor Who at its finest for all I know, but it’s a far cry from the Daleks’ Master Plan in terms of scale. This genuinely is Pudding of the Daleks territory (Pudding of the Daleks being my idea that having explored every other Dalek avenue, there will be a story where the Doctor goes for lunch somewhere and they are in control of the kitchen).

Then there’s this idea that they come up with their stories by spinning a wheel and hoping for the best. That certainly seems like the most plausible explanation for why there are stories involving The Fifth Doctor, Steven & Vicki or the Seventh Doctor & Jo.

Plucking some names out of thin air, I could say that there might one day by a story involving the Sixth Doctor, Mike Yates and Leela where they have to team up with Group Captain Gilmore to battle against The Nimon in London in the Swinging Sixties. And you wouldn’t be hugely surprised if that turned out to be scheduled for release in 2016.

I get it though; Big Finish are a business, and they have to create what sells. Despite its obvious quality, the aforementioned Holy Terror was one of its lowest sellers because it didn’t involve any marquee names in Doctor Who.

So while I can forgive them for what they do, I don’t have to enjoy it.

But having said all of that, I am going to write a Big Finish review today.

After all, The Brink of Death is the one where the Sixth Doctor finally regenerates…

Doctor Who – The Brink of Death Review: What’s This One About?

Replaced in time by The Valeyard and stranded as a ghostly image in The Matrix with only six minutes to live, The Doctor faces a race against time to save not just himself, but the entire Time Lord race.


This is a story that you’d imagine both Colin Baker and Big Finish have wanted to do for some time, both for creative and financial reasons. I’ve written before about how Baker got a bit of a rough time of it in how he was written out, and so I think it’s good to see him get this chance to bring some form of closure to his character.

And that’s what this is all about; closure. It bridges the gap between The Ultimate Foe and Time and the Rani, it offers a final confrontation between the Doctor and the Valeyard (and even manages to rejig the lore behind that character to make more sense in a world where we know he wasn’t a version of the Doctor between the 12th and 13th regeneration) and it explains the circumstances behind the Sixth Doctor’s demise.

That’s not as easy as it sounds. When you take a moment to think about it, the writer of the story – and I’m sure you’ll be shocked to discover that the person chosen by Big Finish Head Honcho Nick Briggs for this prestigious task was Briggs himself –  is boxed into a corner from the start. No matter what he writes, it has to end up with the Doctor dead on the TARDIS floor on the planet Lakertya. So what leads up to the regeneration has to explain why they are there.

To be fair to him, I think he manages it without it seeming tenuous, so he deserves credit.

Is it the best story in the world? No. Without its significance – i.e. if the Doctor simply defeated the Valeyard and lived to fight another day – I doubt many people would go out of their way to recommend it. But it’s good enough. It held my attention, it wasn’t overly complicated and it had a small cast who all did a good job with what they were given.

If I had any real criticisms, they would be twofold.

Firstly, it seems as though Bonnie Langford is in it because she has to be. Mel makes only a fleeting cameo appearance, which I find disappointing because she’s actually very good in these audios.

The second is the way it finishes. What you’ve got to remember about this being his ‘regeneration story’, is that he doesn’t actually regenerate in it. That happens in a pre-credits sequence before the start of episode one of Time and the Rani. So this audio actually ends before the big event. If it was me, I would have gone out of my way and paid what I needed to pay to have this story finish with audio from that television episode. If it had ended on the line “Leave the girl, it’s the man I want”, the coolness factor would have gone way up for me.

Alas it was not to be, but as it turns out, someone on Youtube has had the same idea. I won’t link to it,  but it’s easy to find.

Should You Listen To The Brink of Death?

Put simply, for the historical significance alone, you should definitely listen to The Brink of Death.

It’s a decent story that flows well, and Nicholas Briggs does a good enough job considering the constraints he was working under.

At last, Colin Baker is allowed to send his Doctor off in a way that is fitting of a man who has poured his heart and soul into making these audio adventures over the last 15 years.

So give it a listen, even though there are better Big Finish audios out there.

Calls to Action

Remember to…

a) Like Stuart Reviews Stuff on Facebook or Twitter

b) Read about my books – focussing on reviews of Doctor Who from the very beginning – here

c) If you appreciate my sense of humour, go ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’ 


Movies: Me And Earl And The Dying Girl Review (or “Beautifully Understated”)

September 4, 2015

There was one time I went to the cinema – it was to see Charlie’s Angels back in 2000 – when half way through the film it dawned on me; what I was watching was a load of absolute crap. Sitting there, I just thought to myself “I’m really not enjoying this at all”.

Truly it was a waste of time and money.

And that’s stuck with me throughout the years.

Today was the opposite.

Sitting in the cinema on my own – seriously, there wasn’t a single other person there – an hour in to watching the newly released Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, it occurred to me “This is absolutely brilliant”.Me_&_Earl_&_the_Dying_Girl_(film)_POSTER

The funny thing is that I find movies of this understated, almost lazy indie genre to be very hit and miss. You know, that sort of ‘Michael Cera Awkward School Kid In A Sleepy Dismal Town’ genre that was in vogue 7 or 8 years ago.  Sometimes, in the hope of being ‘indie’ it’s as if they forget that the viewers are looking to be entertained.

But I’ve got to say, even though it seems to get some pretty mixed reviews – of the few reviews I could find, one gave it two stars and another gave it five – I’m happy to stick up for it.

I’m getting ahead of myself though…

Movies: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Review: What’s It About?

Based on a novel of the same name, it’s about a 17-year-old socially awkward schoolboy, who is coerced by his mother to spend some time with a classmate he barely knows who has just been diagnosed with leukemia. Naturally a strong friendship forms.

Movies: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Review: Who’s In It?

The lead characters Greg, his friend Earl and the girl, Rachel are played by Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler and Olivia Cooke respectively. It also stars the likes of Connie Britton, Nick Offerman and Jon Bernthal in adult roles.

Movies: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Review: So Why Do I Like It?

In spite of this movie not having the most dynamic of plots, I just thought it nailed what it wanted to do perfectly.

At times it was laugh-out-loud funny (the mock-up films that Greg and Earl made were worthy of a chuckle) and yet it also managed to be really sad as well.

This told a story, and though I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you by giving anything away, it told it well.

But I think what perhaps stood out the most was the presentation. The actors – specifically Mann and Cooke – were fantastic, and their performances were captured impeccably by the director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

Lingering shots at unusual – but not arty-farty – angles sold the emotional impact of scenes and the narration, both in terms of what Mann was saying and the text on the screen (e.g. ‘The Day I Got Into My First Fight’ and ’12o Days Into This Doomed Friendship’) gave it a very slick feel. The pacing too was spot on because it never felt like it sank into a lull at any point.

Really, this was just a touching and charming movie that will put a smile on your face and bring a tear to your eye.

Like most movies of its genre, it is understated, but it’s beautifully understated, and ended up feeling very real.

It’s easily the best movie I’ve seen at the cinema this year, with only Whiplash coming close.

It would be a real shame to let this one go without seeing it, so I hope it gets more than one person showing up to subsequent performances.

So get yourself along to it when you’ve got the time.