Doctor Who – Thin Ice Review (or ‘No, Doctor Who Didn’t Just Confirm the Existence of Jesus’)

April 30, 2017

I’ll be honest; it took me a while to get my head around how to approach the Smile review.

For as decent as story as it was, it felt that talking points were few and far between, and when that happens, the most difficult thing to come up with is an introduction. I even contemplated changing the structure of my reviews to allow me to launch straight into it.

At this point though – hundreds of Doctor Who reviews and two books in – that would be madness.

The advantage though is that because of all of that, I knew that this week – in my review of Thin Ice – I’d have a stick-on easy introduction simply by repeating that anecdote.

And that’s exactly how it’s turned out.

See what I did there?

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

You’d be forgiven for thinking “I bet it’s about the Ice Warriors”, but no it’s not. It’s about death, pre-Victorian London, a frozen River Thames and a big fish that excretes human remains as powerful fuel.

Thoughts – They Killed A Child. Oh Em Gee.

So there are a few things worthy of discussion here but first of all I have to bring up the fact that a child was killed off.

Child or not, if you commit the crime, you pay the price

Brave.

Now before you think I’m some kind of sociopath, hear me out.

In just about every medium of entertainment you can find, children are presented as these resourceful, independent, almost magical beings who are capable of solving all the world’s problems themselves without those pesky, incompetent adults getting in the way.

If aliens were scouting Earth and using TV as the guide, then they’d believe that humans peak in terms of intellectual and problem solving abilities between the ages of maybe 10-14.

That’s nonsense of course. Children are by-and-large rubbish, resource-draining hangers-on who are almost entirely reliant on adults to exist. We’ve all been kids and we all know that’s true.

So in a show like Doctor Who, when alien threat lurks around every corner, it might just be the case that once or twice, a kid might fall foul to such a menace rather than – oh I don’t know – a trained security guard with years of experience in the special forces.

I understand why kids are presented like that; it’s because shows written for kids will present kids as the heroes. You won’t see a child save the day in tonight’s Line of Duty finale, but at the same time, I would ask why – even in a show where kids are being written for – can a child not be sacrificed to make a point?

In Thin Ice, that finally happened. And against any sensible prediction I might have had, that child wasn’t brought back to life by the end of the episode.

Like I said above, I found it refreshingly brave, and it made the underlying theme of the tale – that if Bill wants to lead the type of life the Doctor has, she will face death even in its most harrowing of ways – stand out.

So well done to the writer for doing that.

An Episode That Could Have Been Made In The 1960s

I watched this episode with my dad last night. That usually throws up some general irritations like “Pause it, I need to go to the kitchen” every five minutes, but for once he made an interesting point.

The Doctor here looking very much like the vulture from Splash Mountain

He suggested that this episode might have been one made on the cheap.

On the face of it that seems daft, as Thin Ice certainly appeared to be a rich and resplendent costume drama that any production company would be proud of.

But I think he could be on to something.

Period costume dramas are the BBC’s bread and butter. They’re up to their ears in the outfits from that era and have locations they can film at on their doorstep.

This episode had a small amount of CGI, a large amount of costumes and surprisingly limited scope. If you notice, a lot of the scenes take place in confined settings, with mist and fog reducing the scope of what you can actually see.

So it probably didn’t cost all that much to make in comparison to other episodes.

In a sense this is one episode that could have been made as far back as the 1960s, as long as the final shots of the fish were done using models.

And that’s to Thin Ice’s credit.

Sometimes you might wonder where modern Doctor Who would be without certain special effects to bring the visuals to life.

Thin Ice stands on its plot, its dialogue and its character development rather than its CGI or the visual appeal of a monster.

Random Observations

  • I had a look at fan opinion before writing this review, as I always tend to do, and one thread from a forum summed up Doctor Who fandom in a nutshell. The first three posts were “Meh, it was ok”, “I thought it was really good” and “Absolute horse-shit. I put it off after 15 minutes. Disgusting”. You’ve got to love opinions.
  • One opinion I did see was that some didn’t approve of the suggested swearing from Bill. Lighten up folks.
  • I’ve noticed that the writers are trying their best to find new questions for Bill to ask the Doctor; questions that no other companion has asked before. Some of the lines are just for comic effect of course, such as the ones she asked when she first entered the TARDIS, but the aforementioned questions about death and the Doctor’s exposure to it have some merit and depth to them.
  • One thing that has been asked before though is about black people in pre-20th century England. But then it’s normal for her to want to ask that, so it needed to be in.
  • I’ve not touched too much upon the ‘threat’ of the episode – namely Sutcliffe – but really, was he anything more than window dressing for the real underlying theme of the relationship between Bill and the Doctor?
  • Having said that, the only part of this episode I would mark down would be the bit where the Doctor punches Sutcliffe in the face after his long speech to Bill about diplomacy. It was a bit too ‘on the nose’ for my liking, pardoning the pun.
  • Speaking of the Doctor, once again – and I know, I know, I say this all the time – Peter Capaldi was terrific. No matter who takes over from him, they won’t be as good.
  • Cleverest scene of the week was the one where the Doctor convinces the Workhouse supervisor to tell him everything he needed to know.
  • The guy doing the coin trick should have been played by Aziz Ansari.
  • In last week’s review I voiced concerns about the way this would be another ‘Aliens in recent Earth history’ story and questioned why people within the show wouldn’t be more aware of things from the past like that. I think the relatively small scope and subsequent ‘Back At The Ranch House’ dialogue did a good job of allaying those concerns.
  • In my journey round the internet to see what other people thought about the episode, two more things stood out. The first is that a lot of reviews now have a Random Observations section (hmm…) and the other is that one article asks “Did Doctor Who just confirm the existence of Jesus?”. I mean…come on.

Doctor Who – Thin Ice Review: Final Thoughts

Overall, I would consider Thin Ice to be the best episode of the season so far. It explores serious issues alongside some lighter comedic moments, it makes brave choices, it looks good and it flows well.

As with all episodes so far, it also continues to develop the likeable relationship between the Doctor and Bill.

I enjoyed it, and while you’ll never be able to please Doctor Who fandom in general, it seems to me that most others enjoyed it too.

More Doctor Who Reviews

Remember that you can read a select amount of my Doctor Who reviews on this blog and all of them in my two ebooks, available here from Amazon

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Doctor Who – Smile Review (or “Not Exactly Original, But Then What Is These Days?”)

April 24, 2017

The problem with writing a review long after most people have already had their say is finding a fresh take on it. You don’t want to look like you’re just repeating what someone else has said.

As an example, many of the reviews for Smile have drawn comparisons with Black Mirror. I had thought that myself, so I was disappointed – if a little unsurprised – that it appears to be the consensus.

Perhaps I can expand on that though and offer some kind of unique perspective…

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

The Doctor and Bill (I wrote Pearl the first time around because I still can’t identify the character as Bill yet) land on a recently set up Earth colony to find that the robot builders have killed everyone because of their lack of understanding of negative emotions.

Thoughts – The Black Mirror Comparison

So yes, this is like the sort of thing you’d see in an episode of Black Mirror, but then you could review an episode of Black Mirror and say it’s a bit like something you’d see on the Twilight Zone or Out of the

Mon Then

Unknown. The nature of the beast is that for as long as television has been a thing, there have been science fiction shows on air, and so there’s likely to be that element of repetition.

At its heart this is a tale of colonists under threat/robots vs humans and that’s hardly new.

Even if you plan on narrowing the comparisons down to Doctor Who, there have been many stories about Earth colonies and expeditions, and even the apparent uniqueness of this episode – the emoji based robots – is something that’s kinda been done in The Beast Below.

Ultimately when it comes to plot, almost everything has been done before to some extent and this episode is no exception.

The big question is whether or not it’s any good.

The Quality of the Episode

The answer to that question is that it’s good in some ways, but not so good in others.

I liked the visuals. Smile looks different and so is a feast on the eyes. Not only is the setting interesting but the emoji-bots have a certain charm to them that will make this story memorable for years to come. They are a bit like the Quarks in that regard.

I also enjoyed the interaction between the Doctor and Bill. Their relationship was expanded upon and Bill’s character came across once again as likeable and an improvement over most of what we saw of Clara.

Admit it; at this point you thought to yourself “That’s her off the Thin Blue Line”, didn’t you?

What I didn’t like was the resolution to the plot.

It’s all well and good having the general idea for a story, but you’ve got to see that through to the end.

After a good buildup in the first half of the episode, things just fell flat towards the end.

The explanation of what caused the advance settler team to be killed was repeated and then the whole thing was solved with the most thoughtless of plot devices – the reset switch.

That in particular let Smile down because although I largely enjoyed it up to that point, I think my lasting memory of it will be the rather dodgy ending.

Random Observations

  • Top marks for ending the episode by segueing into next week’s. For the Doctor Who fans out there who seem to be eternally concerned with the show’s ratings, this will probably work to get people tuning in again on Saturday.
  • I notice that Nardol didn’t play much of a part in Smile and will likely barely appear next week either. That’s a pity.
  • The line relating to Scottish Independence will be grabbed by both sides of the debate. Some will say that it’s taking a shot at the SNP, while others will contend that it supports their stance. Either way it’ll be tiresome.
  • Admit it, one of the very first things you did when watching Smile was turn to the person beside you – or failing that think to yourself – “That’s her off The Thin Blue Line isn’t it?”
  • So, the actors inside the emoji-bot costumes? Children or dwarves?
  • Surely rather than reset everything, the Doctor could have just urged the colonists not to bother accepting the emoji buttons from the bots? Then they wouldn’t know if they were unhappy.
  • The explanation of why the emoji-bots couldn’t handle negative emotion was pretty ropey. Surely they must have encountered some unhappiness or anger before the first settler died?
  • The trailer for next week got me thinking about how it seems that there have been a lot of obvious alien invasions/encounters in pre-20th century London, and that in turn got me thinking about another issue. When the Mondas Cybermen turn up, will Bill know about them considering the events of The Tenth Planet happened in 1986? If not, why not?
  • And am I looking too deeply into this?

Doctor Who – Smile Review: Final Thoughts

Smile is largely unoriginal, but then what isn’t these days?

It should be commended for at least presenting something that looks fresh and for continuing to expand the Doctor/Bill relationship.

However there’s no excusing the cop-out reset switch ending.

Final result then: Hit and Miss.

More Doctor Who Reviews

Remember that you can read a select amount of my Doctor Who reviews on this blog and all of them in my two ebooks, available here from Amazon


Doctor Who – The Pilot Review (or ‘The New Companion, The Token Monster and The Box Ticking Dalek’)

April 16, 2017

After almost a year and a half without regular episodes, Doctor Who is back.

And it’s a season I have mixed feelings over.

On the one hand, while I appreciate that he’s still capable of writing the occasional top episode, I’m glad that Steven Moffat is leaving, but on the other, I’m gutted that Peter Capaldi – for me the best actor to take the part – is also departing.

Some might say he hasn’t been given the best material to work with, which is arguably true, but I think a lot of very good episodes have been glossed over for people to make a generalised view that the show is not as good as it once was.

Less welcoming to new and casual viewers? Fair enough, but then that is apparently what the first episode of this new season aims to correct.

It’s a bit of a ‘soft reboot’.

It’s ‘The Pilot’

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

The Doctor is working as a tenured lecturer at a university and has taken a shine to a girl who works in the canteen and attends his lectures.

Meanwhile the most powerful puddle in the universe lurks nearby.

Thoughts – Let’s Talk About Bill

The main thing to focus on in this story is the debut of the new companion, Bill Potts.

Unlike some, I won’t focus on her sexual orientation as it doesn’t matter either way to me. Much like the heavily debated gay kiss in Beauty and the Beast, I totally appreciate the significance of it, but I’m personally

Anyone concerned about a puddle being on the ground even though it hasn’t rained for a week has obviously never been to the Gallagher Retail Car Park in Dundee….

not bothered. If it makes a positive difference to some viewers, I’m all for it. If it makes a negative difference to others, then those people need to get a grip.

But regardless, her sexual orientation shouldn’t define her character, and I don’t think it does.

Personally, I thought the immediate establishment of her tutor/student relationship was well done as it set the tone quickly and efficiently.

On first impressions, Bill seems like a fun and quirky companion who is probably easier to relate to that the increasingly smug Clara. That’s a tick in the box for making things more welcoming.

So on the companion front, we’re off to an encouraging start.

The Story Itself

But what of the story beyond Bill?

It was fine…for what little else there was.

The ‘monster’ – because lets not forget that Doctor Who apparently has to have one of those – was good in theory, but was spectacularly underplayed.

Here’s an organism that can travel millions of years in an instant and is impervious to anything you could throw at it, and yet it offered no real threat and barely had any tension surrounding it.

That seemed like a missed opportunity.

But then I don’t think it was supposed to be anything more than a token alien to operate as a backdrop against the introduction of Bill.

Long term readers of the blog probably looked at this image and thought the tagline should be ‘Mon Then’, but it’s a picture of a Dalek and the Daleks can just fuck off.

Beyond that it served to set up the rest of the season rather than focus on being in the moment, and I guess that’s just the nature of the beast.

I enjoyed it, but it’s one of these stories where people will look back and say “Yeah, it was good for what it was”.

 

Random Observations

  • I thought about writing a dedicated section of this review to my dismay at the Daleks showing up for the sake of the BBC’s ongoing contract with the Terry Nation estate, but really, it doesn’t merit it. They obviously have to appear at some stage, and I’m glad that we’ve got over that hump already.
  • But if they appear again I won’t be happy.
  • There were other elements of ‘fanwankery’ such as the Movellans appearing with them, and the pictures of River Song and Susan, but I think we can forgive that.
  • I would be interested though if Susan manages to turn up at some stage. My only potential concern there is that Carole Ann Ford’s last proper acting role appears to be The Five Doctors. There’s just a chance she might be out of practice…
  • The overall highlight of the episode has to be Bill’s dialogue upon entering the TARDIS. That scene in general was well done, and it’s fun that they keep managing to find new and interesting reactions for people entering the TARDIS for the first time.
  • We’re not at ‘Strike Me Pink’ levels from Black Orchid yet then.
  • I also got a laugh from the line where she asks the Doctor if he knows much about science fiction.
  • While the water monster appears to be a slight ‘Best Of’ homage to Midnight and The Waters of Mars – and that’s great – I do feel that its realisation on-screen was a bit of a let down. I know the show doesn’t have the world’s largest effects budget, but that for me goes down as ‘Ropey CGI’.
  • I haven’t yet mentioned Peter Capaldi or Matt Lucas, but I don’t really feel I need to. Both were effortlessly top-notch, as usual.
  • I’m encouraged by the mystery of what’s in the vault, and though I don’t think we have to know what’s in there by next week, it would be nice of this didn’t remain a mystery until the cliffhanger of the penultimate episode.
  • Another element that was underplayed but that I thought was a nice touch was the pictures of Bill’s mum that the Doctor had taken for her.
  • The scene in the bathroom was mildly creepy. Perhaps it was Steven Moffat’s way of making children scared of having a shower.
  • Anyone overly concerned about a puddle on the ground even though it hasn’t rained for a week obviously hasn’t been to the Gallagher Retail Car Park in Dundee…
  • The one dialogue letdown was the “I’d leave it ten minutes if I were you” toilet humour. The show is better than that.
  • Perhaps its worth noting – as this might have been a problem with the episode rather than my lack of attention – that I actually couldn’t remember the name of the new companion at the start of this review. I’m not sure if it’s not mentioned enough or that the character’s name is far less memorable than the name of the actress playing her, but either way, I had to look it up.

Doctor Who – The Pilot Review: Final Thoughts

As stated above, this will come to be regarded as an inoffensive, perhaps even by-the-numbers companion introduction story.

It was fun and it did its job, but it was essentially a story about a new companion with a token monster and an even tokener (and I know that’s not a word) appearance by the Daleks thrown in for the sake of it.

Hopefully anyone who thought the show was too geeky and unwelcoming can come in and join the party now.

More Doctor Who Reviews

Remember that you can read a select amount of my Doctor Who reviews on this blog and all of them in my two ebooks, available here from Amazon.

 

 

 

 


Movies – Beauty and the Beast Review (or “A Visual Feast, Not An Audible One”)

April 7, 2017

Seeing as pretty much everyone who goes to see Beauty and the Beast has probably already seen the cartoon version, the onus of any review should not be on whether or not it’s a good story, but rather if it manages to successfully bring the cartoon to life.

It does and it doesn’t.

From the very beginning you can see that unlike the Jungle Book – which played it straighter with almost none of the songs from the original present – this was planned as a shot for shot remake. Yes, it adds a bit here, removes a bit there and expands upon/offers a new interpretation on some elements from the cartoon, but it’s essentially the same thing.

And it looks spectacular, it really does. This movie is without question a feast for the eyes.

Unfortunately it’s not a feast for the ears.

Because here’s the problem; it’s a musical and many of the actors hired to play the parts can’t sing to the standard you’d expect.

Take Emma Watson for example; there’s no question that she looks the part for the role and although she’s not the best actress by any stretch of the imagination, she manages to get by.

But she really can’t sing.

She talks through most of her lyrics and every word seems to be auto-tuned to the max. It’s quite difficult to listen to, especially considering how good the songs are from the original.

You can almost excuse it though because the role of Belle really had to be filled with an actress of some repute.

What I don’t get is why they had to cast big-name actors who can’t sing for characters who are CGI teapots and candles for 99% of the movie. One of the big draws from the original was Angela Lansbury’s Beauty & The Beast song which gets absolutely murdered by Emma Thompson. The same applies to Ewan McGregor’s destruction of Be Our Guest.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt many people go to see a movie based upon which actors are doing voice parts so why not just hire people who are maybe not so well-known but could have done a better job?

It’s not all bad though on that front. I thought the casting of The Beast (Dan Stevens) and especially Gaston (Luke Evans) was bang on. The latter managed to both look like the cartoon version and was actually able to sing.

And one of those songs brought up a significant aspect of the movie; Disney’s first openly LBGTQ character.

This has caused a lot of silly and unnecessary controversy from backward thinking countries/regions who are appalled at the thought of two men dancing but are strangely ok with a young girl falling in love with a giant horned animal.

I get the significance, but – and I say this as a straight, white male and thus not the demographic that this will be as important to – I can’t help but feel that making that first character the bumbling, stupid sidekick of the villain was a poor choice. And the writing and performance – especially in the Gaston song – seemed rather worryingly to be based on the relationship between Craig and Anthony in Big Brother 6. Anyone remember that?

Anyway, on the whole it was enjoyable but if you were to ask me if I’d rather watch this one or the original, I’d definitely pick the cartoon. The songs are just too central to what makes the movie what it is, and that’s where the live version is let down.

So it brings it visually to life, just not audibly.