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.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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

August 30, 2014

“Oh Doctor, Not the Daleks Again!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts – Nothing Groundbreaking

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

"See you in a few weeks mate"

“See you in a few weeks mate”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Doctor Again

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

Mostly, I’d say it was Peter Capaldi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Observations

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

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

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

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

Doctor Who – Into the Dalek Review: Final Thoughts

So it has its good and bad sides to it.

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

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

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

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

 


Doctor Who – Dalek Review (or “How To Book The Daleks – Part Two”)

June 24, 2013

Back in my review of the William Hartnell story, The Chase, my angle was on how the Daleks are “Booked” – i.e. how they are written and presented to the public.

I made the point about how at that stage, they weren’t supposed to be the most threatening force in the universe and so making the story almost comical in its portrayal of them was not the bad thing that so many fans believe it to be.

Since then in their nine subsequent appearances in Classic Who, I lamented the way they went from being super-villains in Daleks’ Master Plan and Power of the Daleks, to rubbish characterless drones who were mostly fodder to keep a Davros story moving along.

Yes, as much as their final Classic Who story – Remembrance of the Daleks – was a top quality tale, the Daleks were a spent force long before that point.

So bringing them back was not without its risks.

Any writer tasked with the responsibility would have to make sure their iconic status was re-established and that viewers would find them refreshing.

So could Rob Shearman do it in the effectively titled Dalek?

We shall see.

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

Heavily influenced by Jubilee – the Big Finish Audio by the same writer starring The Sixth Doctor & Evelyn Smythe – it’s about a single Dalek left over from a war who is kept prisoner and tortured.

This one escapes and wreaks havoc upon the base it has been kept in, but a bond it has formed with Rose leads to it changing.

Thoughts – How To Book The Daleks (Part 2)

Booking is important.

Doctor Who fans around the world get a sense of excitement upon seeing a Cyberman head, and then a sense of annoyance as the pedant in them realises it's a Revenge of the Cybermen head rather than an Invasion one

Doctor Who fans around the world get a sense of excitement upon seeing a Cyberman head, and then a sense of annoyance as the pedant in them realises it’s a Revenge of the Cybermen head rather than an Invasion one

In professional wrestling, a form of pre-determined “Sports Entertainment”, the ability to sell tickets to the arenas and the shows to a Pay Per View audience depends upon people believing that there’s something worth buying; believing that something interesting might happen.

So the main event of the card has to involve a credible threat. If nobody believes the challenger will win then they won’t bother paying to see it.

As such, wrestling promoters – if they are doing their jobs right and they so rarely are – must ensure that the challenger is perceived as someone who has a chance of beating the champion.

This thinking can be applied to the Daleks.

The Dalek looks up at Adam and chuckles to itself thinking "Did he not watch Remembrance of the Daleks?"

The Dalek looks up at Adam and chuckles to itself thinking “Did he not watch Remembrance of the Daleks?”

The Daleks – as far as the general public are concerned – are the main villains in Doctor Who. They are his most deadly enemy. Within the context of the show this is also the case.

So they have to be strong, they have to have credibility; a belief that the Doctor might not be able to defeat them.

The Daleks from Destiny onwards were killed in such great numbers and so easily that each time they came back for more there was no drama. What was the point of it?

RTD was faced with the dilemma of making them credible and threatening again, and what better way to do that than to have one single Dalek wreak so much havoc.

It’s booked as being almost invincible, while also being a clever enough foe to outsmart its opponents at every turn. A one “man” war machine.

The Dalek is also given a personality, feelings and a sense of individualism. Through the power of Rob Shearman’s writing, we almost end up feeling sorry for it, despite it having just killed so many people. To some degree, the Dalek cuts through his captors like a Stallone or Schwarzenegger style action hero and the way it developed a bond with Rose and the way the Doctor was so desperate to see it killed, it almost, almost flipped the show on its head and turned the hero into the villain and the villain into the hero.

The Doctor’s reaction is what sells it most. He’s a mixture of terrified and furious. Its mere presence brings out a side to the Doctor that we’ve not seen before, even going back into the Classic Era. He wants to hurt it, he wants to kill it, he is the one – as I say – almost acting like the villain. And it’s summed up beautifully by the Dalek saying “You would make a good Dalek” to him.

His reaction to that was superb

When the 45 minutes was over – with the Dalek not even being defeated by the Doctor – the viewers were left thinking “Well if only one Dalek can do all that, imagine what an entire army of Daleks could do!?!”

Instantly they have been re-established as the number one villain to a whole new generation, and they also look a lot better too.

As such, Dalek was a success not just as a single episode, but in setting up the finale too.

Random Observations

  • It’s amazing to think that this was shown on TV at a time when 2012 seemed futuristic. I’m not sure technology has advanced quite as fast as they thought it might.

    It's a trap! Again!

    It’s a trap! Again!

  • Here’s a throwback from Classic Doctor Who – we have the ridiculous “Two Way Television Screen” for the Doctor’s conversation with the Dalek.
  • Generally speaking, the acting is again of a high standard, with the likes of Corey Johnson (van Statten) bringing solid performances to the table.
  • Christopher Eccleston was a star here. His range of emotion didn’t seem forced like McCoy or Colin Baker, and the writing gave him something different to try as the Doctor.
  • Even Nicholas Briggs, who I don’t like much at all, was very good as the Dalek voice.
  • I also thought it looked great too, and though I said before that that would go without saying, I’m saying it.
  • The Kaled mutant looked fantastic.
  • As well as that, the Incidental Music  really made a difference to what we were seeing and heightened the drama, probably for the first time since the show returned.
  • The only negative? The bloke off Coronation Street who I find wet and irritating.
  • What I found interesting was the almost arrogant/apologetic way Adam had to admit to being a genius. I’ve never understood why people should be embarrassed to be clever, but it’s fine to shout out from the rooftops that you’re thick, and wear it as a badge of honour? It’s inverse snobbery.
  • I loved the line about how van Statten owns the internet. I wonder if anyone really does?
  • I’m not sure how Broadband (which might have seemed new and exciting in 2005 but I doubt it) could have come from Roswell though?
  • Having the Dalek be able to swivel round like a tank seems like such an obvious idea that you wonder why it was never done before. Budget constraints probably.
  • The levitation bit would have seemed more exciting if it hadn’t been done before though, but I’m sure this was just to vanquish the commonly held belief by morons who would say that they can’t climb stairs.

    The Kaled Mutant takes a bit of time out to catch some rays.

    The Kaled Mutant takes a bit of time out to catch some rays.

  • It might have been a reasonable thing to say in the 60s, but is the comparison to a pepper pot still valid in 2005? Do people still have pepper pots shaped that way as standard?
  • Hurrah for the appearance of a Revenge of the Cybermen Cyberman head. Although it probably should have been an Invasion one if we’re being anal about it.
  • I enjoyed the scene where the Dalek crushed the bloke’s head with the sucker, finally giving that particular appendage some use.
  • If you like Dalek, then I seriously recommend you listen to the aforementioned Jubilee. It’s suitably different – and yet similar enough – to Dalek that you can easily enjoy both.
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #15. High praise indeed

Doctor Who – Dalek Review: Final Thoughts

With a score of #15, this is Doctor Who fandom’s third most favourite Dalek story.

My personal opinion is that while that might be right, I’d disagree with Genesis and Remembrance being #1 and #2.

What is clear is that Dalek immediately takes the crown from the Aliens of London as being the best story since the show came back.

It does exactly what it sets out to do – it re-establishes the Daleks as the Doctor’s #1 nemesis.

And it does it with some style in a well put together 45 minutes that is a success on almost every level.

Highly recommended viewing.