Doctor Who – The Eaters of Light Review (or “Light Filler”)

June 18, 2017

A few months ago there was a bit of excitement among fans of the show that there would be a classic series writer returning to pen an episode in the latest season.

Though I can’t say I was excited, it certainly piqued my interest…until I found out it was by Rona Munro, who wrote the frankly awful Survival.

Hey, maybe in the intervening 28 years she’s got better?

We can but hope…

Doctor Who – The Eaters of Light Review: What’s This One About?

The TARDIS crew go to second century Scotland so that the Doctor and Bill can settle a bet on who knows more about what happened to the Ninth Roman Legion, who famously went missing without trace.

Obviously there are monsters.

And music.

And love.

Or some such nonsense.

Thoughts – It’s All A Bit Kiddy

Seeing as I write my reviews on the Sunday after transmission, I always have a quick look at what other reviewers think first, just out of curiosity.

In one review, the angle they took was that the casting of so many young actors was a clever slap in the face to people who assume that Doctor Who is a kids show.

This is how I felt watching this episode. I think Capaldi felt the same filming it.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to that view.

I felt this episode felt like a kids show rather than something aimed at a broader audience, and not just because of the casting (although it didn’t help).

To me, The Eaters of Light felt…well…a bit light.

There was so little to it that it felt like there was only around 15 minutes of plot accounted for, with the rest made up of unnecessary dialogue and stalling.

The monster of the week had no character to it, it barely appeared and though it was sold to us as one of the greatest threats the universe has ever seen, it was defeated by the equivalent of letting it run outside before closing the door behind it.

The only saving grace was that the last scenes with Missy in the TARDIS at least felt like they were going somewhere, and would lead into next week’s two-part finale.

And hey, maybe that’s it; maybe like Fear Her or Boom Town, this was an episode to kill a bit of time before the proper drama kicks off next week.

Regardless of that though, this wasn’t up to much.

The Characterisation of the Doctor

I’ve always said that Peter Capaldi is fantastic. He’s a superb actor who – by and large – has always been at the top of his game even if the quality of the script isn’t great.

But here I didn’t think he was at his best.

He looked bored and lacking in enthusiasm for the episode and I don’t blame him.

The Doctor was written as a miserable bastard whose only purpose was to deliver expository sciencey dialogue that explained what was going on with the monster of the week up until the last minute where he decided that he must sacrifice himself to save the universe.

And then as it turned out, he wasn’t even allowed to be the hero, as the kids all grouped together to vanquish this apparently unstoppable monster.

Yay, go kids.

I wouldn’t have been enthusiastic either.

Let’s Write An Episode All About The TARDIS’s Auto-Translate Feature Despite Forgetting To Use It A Few Episodes Ago. Yay.

A few weeks ago in my review of Extremis, I asked why the TARDIS didn’t translate the Pope. I wasn’t getting upset about it; I merely asked the question in my Random Observations section.

In one of the replies to my review on the blog – and by the way, I do enjoy hearing what you all think about my opinions even if I don’t agree with them – someone said “As far as Pope not being translated is

“You’re really brave”.
“Are you not coming too?”
“Erm….we’ll remember you”.

concerned I find it curious that you’ve failed to realise how the Tardis translation works. The Tardis translates everything, unless it is funny for her not to.”

Now I’m sorry, but that’s the type of reply that gets my goat a little bit.

It’s as if this reader owns a leaflet containing The Official Rules of Doctor Who that I have perhaps missed and is saying to me that I am unequivocally and factually incorrect to make that observation.

And of course, I’m not.

It’s just an inconsistent approach to writing and it’s a bit lazy, regardless of whether or not people want to excuse it for the sake of sticking up for something that they like.

And it’s that inconsistency that has led me to bring the subject back up today.

In The Eaters of Light, the TARDIS’s auto-translate appears to be a corner-stone in the dialogue, with Bill being surprised she can understand the Romans, the Romans being surprised that they can understand the native Scots and The Doctor making a poor gag about how everyone sounds like children.

Not only is it a bit of an odd thing to bring up so late into Bill’s time in the TARDIS, but it’s clearly just time filling dialogue to mask that there’s very little substance to the episode.

And like I say, it’s brought up mere weeks on from the Pope speaking to Bill in Italian.

So it’s worth bringing up.

Though I did like the gag about how the TARDIS must also have lip-sync.

Random Observations

  • There’s inconsistency in other areas of the episode too. Unlike last week where Nardole was happy to go to Mars and release Missy from the vault, he’s back to asking why they left her unattended. To be fair, the Doctor addresses the inconsistency in the dialogue, but doesn’t explain or excuse it.
  • The stuff with the crows is probably the sort of thing the writer and/or Steven Moffat found dead clever. Again, I just thought it was stalling.
  • I’m from Scotland but I absolutely hate that Celtic music played throughout.
  • And the twee over-amplified accents annoyed me too.
  • I didn’t really understand the ending. The Doctor said he needed to keep watch over the gate because he was the only person with the life span to do it for all eternity. Yet this was resolved by maybe eight humans going in at the same time? How does that work?
  • Also notice that while the young Scots girl was well up for it, her brave mates basically said “We’ll remember you but we’re fucked if we’re coming too”. Nice.
  • The premise to the episode is a good one though. There’s a reason for them being there.
  • I noticed over the past week that there was a bit of controversy over the casting of a black actor in Queen Victoria’s army. If you missed it, Mark Gatiss wasn’t too keen on the casting – done not for realism but because the BBC want casting to be a bit less ‘homogeneously white’ – until he was placated by the evidence that there was one single black soldier in her army. I see both points. The BBC are right to encourage multicultural casting – and if we’re being honest, there should be a lot more of it in shows like Eastenders – but you’ve surely got to cast accurately for the role. I can’t see many people complaining that Doctor Who is homogeneously white when Pearl Mackie plays the second lead and so I doubt anyone would have been upset about it if that soldier had been played by a white guy. Anyway, I bring this all up because again, an ancient army has been cast in a multicultural way. But before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the Roman Army that came to Britain was filled with men from North Africa.
  • Looking ahead to next week, I felt it was a bit ‘name-checky’ to call them ‘Mondasian Cybermen’.
  • And I’m annoyed that that same awful Cybermen incidental music is back.
  • I was hoping for the 1960s Cybermen incidental music to go with them. Let’s hope it happens.

Doctor Who – The Eaters of Light Review: Final Thoughts

My brother said to me yesterday morning “I’m looking forward to next week’s episode; I can’t help but think this one will just be filler”.

He was right.

The Eaters of Light was a strangely empty episode with a childrens TV feel and a poorly written Doctor.

It’s not terrible, but it’s far from being good.

Though I hope Rona Munro isn’t asked back.

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 Empress of Mars Review (or “Generic But Better Than Expected”)

June 11, 2017

I consider myself a fair-minded person.

So despite Mark Gatiss routinely delivering episodes at the poorer end of the spectrum – which would make you wonder why he keeps getting asked back to write more until you remember that he’s Steven Moffat’s bezzie mate and nepotism is rife in the world of TV writing – I sat down to watch The Empress of Mars with an open mind.

It might be good.

Maybe…

Doctor Who: The Empress of Mars Review – What’s This One About?

Like a lot of Mark Gatiss’s episodes – seven out of his nine episodes actually, which makes you wonder how much imagination he has – it puts aliens in a period setting.

Well…if we’re being fair it puts period humans in an alien setting, so I guess he probably though he was being clever.

Thoughts – Better Than Expected But Very Generic

Right, I’ll get this out of the way now; I liked The Empress of Mars. I know, I’m as surprised as you.

Classic Series fans around the country lose their shit at Alpha Centauri showing up voiced by the same woman…

As a standalone episode watched in isolation on a Saturday night, this did the job fine.

It had a good setting, identifiable characters and a simple plot to follow.

But – and I expect you knew there’d be a but – it still had its issues.

If I was to be overly critical I’d say that this was an episode written in the most generic of terms.

While Knock, Knock felt like it was written for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and while many of the earlier episodes of this season were penned with Bill in mind, The Empress of Mars appears to fit any Doctor and any female companion.

Hell, it could even have worked with any group of humans and any alien.

And that’s not good.

It sums up the Gatiss style. He’s good at coming up with the setting, but his characterisation is lacking.

That being said, I will repeat that I did enjoy it overall.

The Vault

I’m at the point now where I take issue with The Vault.

In the early episodes of this season when we didn’t know who or what was inside it, the writing was that Nardole did not like the idea of the Doctor leaving Earth in the TARDIS because if he went away for a while

Meanwhile the younger viewers share Bill’s expression of “It’s just an eye”.

then the planet would be in danger from its contents.

That’s fallen by the wayside.

Now that we as viewers know what’s in it, that’s been forgotten about.

Now not only do they all go off on their travels together without fear of Missy doing anything, but Nardole is happy to take her off on a jaunt in time and space.

That’s poor. It’s like when a good-natured character has shockingly been revealed to the viewer – and only the viewer – as being evil, then they start acting evil all the time. It annoys me.

But then that’s probably Moffat’s fault rather than Gatiss’s.

Random Observations

  • I imagine classic series Doctor Who fans around the world lost their shit when Alpha Centauri showed up, voice-acted by the same woman as in the Peladon stories from the Pertwee era. I thought that was kinda cool too.
  • Do you get the feeling that – much like some early episodes in this season – it was written without Nardole in mind?
  • Going back to what I was saying about it being generic, I don’t think the way Bill reacted to being in a war zone – seeing men being killed in front of her and not even raising an eyebrow – was in keeping with her established character.
  • I’m not doubting that this wasn’t researched and therefore wasn’t possible, but how could a guy who was hung for desertion be reinstated as the leader of a platoon of men? At the very most, surely if it didn’t work they’d have just sent him home?
  • Catchlove was probably the most one-note boo-hiss panto villain seen in the show for a while.
  • Certain parts of this episode felt very convenient. For example, beyond giving them a reason to go to Mars and to marry up the beginning and end of the episode, why were the Doctor and his chums in that NASA control room at the start? And why – beyond engineering a situation where Nardole wasn’t in it and Missy got out of the vault – did the TARDIS suddenly leave?
  • The timeline of the Ice Warriors really doesn’t make sense to me, but I think that’s another article for another day.
  • Also, why is there never any continuity with the Ice Warriors’ guns? Either from the 1960s would do me fine. But now they seem to have ones that disintegrate humans and tie up their clothes in a neat bundle for washing.
  • The Ice Warriors weren’t voiced by Nicholas Briggs again. I bet he’s fuming.

Doctor Who: The Empress of Mars Review – Final Thoughts

When you sit down to watch a Mark Gatiss-penned episode of Doctor Who, you expect a few things.

  1. A period piece
  2. A decent idea in principle
  3. A story written for almost any Doctor or companion
  4. Paper thin characterisation
  5. For it to be shite

We hit four of the five today, but thankfully the one we didn’t was number five.

This was actually decent enough.

So I’m as happy as I think I have any right to be.

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 Pyramid At The End Of The World Review (or “There’s No Room For A Tagline”)

May 28, 2017

So after the disappointment of last week – which I have to say a lot of people strongly disagreed with me on – I was skeptical of how good The Pyramid at the End of the World would be.

The only glimmer of hope was that this episode is written by some somebody different.

Could that make a difference?

Dr Who – The Pyramid At The End Of The World Review: What’s This One About?

A Pyramid at the end of the world, would you believe?

Well…that, monks and a midget. Whey-hey.

Thoughts – Much Better, But What Was The Point Of Last Week?

So this was vastly superior to Extremis in just about every conceivable way.

For one thing, it was a straightforward story that didn’t depend upon deliberately swervy detours just for the sake of trying to be clever,

Being blind is all fun and games….

nor did it jump about from one storyline to the next.

Put simply, there’s a threat to the world and the Doctor and his friends have to try to sort it.

It had purpose and wasn’t just reset at the end.

You’ll hear no complaints on that score from me.

And even though I still contend that the monks are a variation on all Steven Moffat’s recent monsters, in this episode at least they’ve got something to them. Their characterisation is interesting as it differs from the alien norm.

The one thing though that stood out about how this episode panned out was how pointless last week’s episode was.

Because nothing from Extremis really mattered here.

The Monks from last week were portrayed as aliens running simulations to plan the end of the world, but that’s not what their aim was this week. Even when it inevitably turns out next week that their motives were not entirely altruistic, that still doesn’t mean that this episode couldn’t have worked without Extremis.

The Cliffhanger

Last week I complained about how poorly The Doctor’s blindness was used.

This week is the polar opposite.

In Extremis there was no point to him being unable to see, especially as he very quickly got his sight back for the plot to be able to

…Until you have to open a combination lock on a LCD screen

progress.

In Pyramid, it was used as well as it could be.

The Doctor’s shortcoming played a part throughout the story, but it didn’t dent his confidence – in his words, his ability to save the world with his eyes shut – until the very last moment when the simplest of tasks resulted in his downfall.

That led to Bill offering her consent and will subsequently spill over into what happens next week.

In my opinion, this was such a good twist that it should have been saved for Peter Capaldi’s final episode. Yes, it’s similar to what happened to David Tennant in The End of Time, but I don’t think that matters.

The idea that the Doctor could end up dying as a result of something so simple is the basis of the best regenerations.

It would have been brilliant.

So there’d better be something amazing lined up for the end of this season/Christmas Day.

Random Observations

  • While not wanting to accuse a writer of having one idea and running with it again and again, the structure, characters and setting of this episode are very similar to The Zygon story from last season.
  • Oh Em Gee!!! The Monks aren’t voiced by Nicholas Briggs
  • My only real complaint about this episode is that they come to the conclusion that it must be some kind of bio hazard threat very quickly and without consideration of anything else. Even allowing for how brisk Doctor Who must progress in its 45 minute format, this was still a bit too convenient for me.
  • But once it was established that it was a bio hazard issue, the way the Doctor narrowed the location down was pretty smart.
  • I have a fear that next week will end up a bit of a damp squib in the same way as The Last of the Time Lords was a poor follow-up to The Sound of Drums
  • Once again I feel I have to praise Pearl Mackie. She’s just top notch as Bill. Hopefully she’ll still be in it next year.

Doctor Who: The Pyramid At The End Of The World – Final Thoughts

This was a great improvement on last week and an episode that built up to a superb cliffhanger.

Hopefully next week won’t disappoint.

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 – Oxygen Review (or “A Flawed Classic”)

May 15, 2017

On Friday night at Tannadice Park, the home of my team Dundee United, I saw one of the finest goals I’ve seen scored in years. It was an absolutely blistering strike; a joy to watch.

So when I sat down to watch Oxygen, I hoped my good fortune would continue and that I would see one of the best episodes of Doctor Who in a long time.

What would be the chances of that?

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

An attack on capitalism.

Or if you prefer, Space Zombies!! Aaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!

Thoughts – A Classic Episode, But Not Flawless

As luck would have it, this did turn out to be one of the best episodes of Doctor Who I’ve seen in years, and I say that without hyperbole.

Almost everything about it, from the pre-credits sequence – which I might add does the job it should do as a prologue to events rather than just a few scenes before a randomly placed opening credits sequence – it

Presumably they are all looking at this corpse and wondering how he still manages to look healthier than Burn Gorman

hits the ground running with great direction, appropriate incidental music and as good visual effects as you could expect from a show with Doctor Who’s non-Hollywood budget.

And from there it flows. There are no lulls, no pointless scenes; it’s one continuous uninterrupted thrill from beginning to end, culminating in that tremendous cliffhanger.

But it wasn’t perfect.

There were parts of it – like some of Nardol’s dialogue about the voice of the suits and where he joins in the hug at the end – that didn’t quite fit in with the overall mood of the episode.

Also, I found the resolution to Bill’s supposed death a little confusing on first viewing and had to go back a second time to double-check.

But those are minor issues that don’t drag down what is an excellent Doctor Who story.

Like The Best of Tom Baker

Remember last week when I said that Knock Knock could only be a Peter Capaldi episode?

Well there’s no question that Oxygen could be an early Tom Baker story. And that’s a good thing.

The setting and set-up is pure Ark in Space, the excitement of answering a distress call has been lifted out of Planet of Evil, while the anti-capitalist agenda is like a modern-day twist on Robert Holmes’s attack on the HMRC in The Sunmakers.

This Is For Children?

It’s a common misconception that Doctor Who is ‘For Children’. It’s a family show aimed at adults and children alike.

He looks like he’s drawing a thingy. Lolz

Except that Oxygen doesn’t seem like it’s aimed at kids at all.

The sinister suit wearing zombies are the sort of thing that would have kept me awake at night when I started watching the show, while the Doctor’s  unusual vulnerability and Bill’s near death must have proved pretty upsetting.

Mind you, I’m all for it.

Random Observations

  • With Nardol featuring more heavily – apparently because this is the first broadcast episode where it was written knowing he was a major part of the show – we’ve seen the good and bad of Matt Lucas. As touched upon earlier, I found the stuff with Velma silly, but enjoyed the humorous exchanges with the Doctor in the TARDIS at the start. Best of all though was the scene at the end, where Lucas played it straight and was effective in doing so.
  • The incidental music in the vacuum of space reminded me of Four to Doomsday and Enlightenment. I wonder if that was intentional?
  • Having the real villains of the piece – the company – never appear was a refreshing touch. Similarly having space suits be the immediate threat proved different to the norm. I liked it.
  • I found the explanation that “These suits will probably be offline” to be a trifle convenient.
  • Bill seems to have a different hairstyle every week,
  • I’m intrigued to see where the blindness angle is going. Perhaps it will be the trigger for the next regeneration.
  • Looks like it’s Missy in the vault. Oh…yay.
  • Unusually, this episode has been well received by most fans, with the main criticism from people who disliked it being that they felt it had too many speeches. I didn’t really consider that a problem.
  • Overall I thought the best scene was the one where Bill’s helmet malfunctions. The quality of direction was spot on and it also moved the action along nicely. Bravo.

Final Thoughts

In my overall rankings of every Doctor Who story up to Last Christmas – which as you know is available from Amazon as part of Stuart Reviews Doctor Who: Book Two – the highest rated Peter Capaldi story is Listen, while the highest rated Matt Smith one is The Day of the Doctor. At this moment I think Oxygen is better than them both. It’s not better than the next David Tennant story on the list – the thematically similar Waters of Mars – but it runs it close.

So therefore, I can say in all honesty that this is the best Doctor Who story I’ve seen in almost 8 years.

That’s pretty good going.

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 – Knock Knock Review (or “A Welcome Change of Style”)

May 7, 2017

This season of Doctor Who has been dubbed as a reboot for the show; a jumping on point for new viewers or old ones who may have been disillusioned in the recent past.

On the face of it, it certainly looks like it, as the order and style of episodes mirrors the formula from Russell T. Davies’ first season back in 2005.

First we had the new companion introduction episode, then a trip to the future followed by an adventure in Earth’s past.

For the fourth episode it’s a return to contemporary Earth for the latest episode. Knock Knock.

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

Bill and her mates move into a spooky old house that eats people.

Thoughts – Like A Russell T. Davies Story

There’s a lot to enjoy about Knock Knock.

It’s got a simple premise that’s mostly easy to follow, strong performances from the lead actors and the main guest star, plenty of witty, snappy dialogue and a great look and environment to set it in.

That old pro Suchet acted his arse off. You shouldn’t be surprised.

Throughout the story, I laughed but I was also engrossed, and that’s a great combination.

What’s more, this was like a welcome change of pace from what we’ve come to expect to be the norm for Steven Moffat. In many ways – just like other standout episodes of his stewardship like The Lodger – this felt like a throwback to the Russell T. Davies era. It was contemporary and relatable but had that Doctor Who twist so you knew what you were watching.

And yet at the same time, this also felt like it could only be a Peter Capaldi episode. Sometimes you get ones like that. Ghost Light stands out as the sort of story that could only fit Sylvester McCoy’s take on the Doctor, while the aforementioned Lodger wouldn’t work with Jon Pertwee making Craig an omelette and going down the park to play football with the lads.

This story largely works because of Peter Capaldi’s age compared to Bill and her friends. It’s the little things like Harry going past and saying “Oh wow, Doctor! Legend!” and the way Bill feels a bit embarrassed to be seen with him; it’s written with Capaldi in mind, and that’s great.

But it’s not the only reason it works. David Suchet – well-known and respected actor that he is – does a brilliant turn as The Caretaker. He takes what another actor might have made a bit ‘one-note’ and adds some layers to it. He does an excellent job.

Knock Knock looks good as well, both in terms of the setting but also the effects. I thought the wooden Eliza looked fantastic, while the lice in the wood didn’t look in any way ropey.

On the whole, I have to say I enjoyed this more than any other episode so far this season.

But it wasn’t without its faults.

The Problems

For as good as Knock Knock was, some parts of it didn’t really make much sense.

First of all there’s the character of the Landlord, despite how well he’s played.

The reveal that he was actually Eliza’s son rather than her father is something I had mixed feelings about. I was glad that they addressed it because it made sense of the fact he wasn’t made out of wood and

Apparently the impact of Eliza was dampened by people looking at publicity photos in advance of the episode. That’s their problem.

seemingly had been living for well over a hundred years, but that opened up other questions based on how he was presented earlier in the episode. While there was some flimsy line of dialogue that explained his lack of memory or knowledge of the outside world, they didn’t touch upon the way he was able to appear out of thin air and vanish at the drop of a hat.

I felt it let the character down.

The resolution was also a bit of a damp squib too. It’s not as bad as the reset switch from Smile, but the way Eliza decides that she doesn’t want to cause any more fuss came across as limp.

Most of all though, I think what stood out in a negative way was how Bill’s character changed compared to last week. In Thin Ice, Bill confronts death properly for the first time. It had an impact on her and left her a bit shaken.

This week, as far as she was concerned, her flatmates were all killed in the space of a few minutes; some right in front of her. And yet it doesn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference to her.

Now I know that it wouldn’t have worked too well if she was a blubbering, hyperventilating mess over it, but to be so aloof directly opposed what she was like last week. That’s worth criticising.

Random Observations

  • While I wouldn’t really consider it a problem, part of me – perhaps the psychotic part – was a tad disappointed the dead didn’t stay dead.
  • Seemingly Harry was supposed to be Harry Sullivan’s grandson but that was cut. I can’t say I’m disappointed as it certainly wouldn’t have added anything.
  • So far, Nardol’s been a bit pointless hasn’t he?
  • What’s in the vault? The obvious guess is Missy but I hope it’s not.
  • There are lots of references to the Doctor’s impending regeneration. This makes me sad.
  • Watching this, I found myself comparing Knock Knock to Hide because of the setting. What a load of shite Hide was, eh? It shows that an idea just isn’t enough, neither is a setting. This was night and day in comparison.
  • I read a review where someone said the impact of Eliza was dampened by the BBC releasing pictures of her before transmission. Well that’s why you don’t look for spoilers then isn’t it?
  • I didn’t want to go back and change my review of Thin Ice from last week, but it suddenly occurred to me on Thursday that I forgot to mention that the wrestling moves used in the scene towards the start were completely and utterly anachronistic. For shame.

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 – 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


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.