Doctor Who – Heaven Sent Review (or ‘Three Cheers For The Slow Build’)

November 29, 2015

After last week’s rant about spoilers, I’m pleased to report that I managed to sit down to watch this latest episode – Heaven Sent – without key plot points being ruined in advance.


Of course, I had to be vigilant. Apart from the BBC’s own press releases, there are also these terrible attention seekers – and there are a good few of them – who have (or at least say they have) access to the BBC’s preview website and love to ‘drop hints’, like retweeting people who ask them questions like “Will this happen?” and answering “I couldn’t possibly comment”. And then on top of that there are the people who look to retweet those retweets as well.

They can do it if they want of course do that if they want, and I don’t have to follow them. So let’s just say that there were a few people muted on Twitter this week…

On that note, I was asked recently – as a Doctor Who blogger with a reasonable following – if I’d be interested in getting access to the BBC’s preview hub, but I wouldn’t. I like to watch the shows when they are broadcast, and I like to be able to review the episodes freely. Let’s be honest; the BBC won’t want someone to do a preview or review of an episode that says ‘That was shite’, will they?

But anyway, let’s move on from that and get on with the review.

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

The Doctor wanders around his own personal hell for a while.

Thoughts – The Slow Build

Ok, back to spoilers for a moment…

My brother – who can’t seem to help himself when it comes to accidentally spoiling TV stuff for me before getting all defensive and saying “That’s not really a spoiler” – did say to me a few weeks ago that one

The Doctor realises "Where did I get the soup?"

The Doctor realises “Where did I get the soup?”

episode of this season would be a single-hander, where Peter Capaldi would be the only one in it for the duration.

So after a few minutes watching Heaven Sent, I remembered that.

And I was concerned.

It would take some pretty impressive writing and acting to be able to pull something like that off successfully and though it’s been done before – most famously in a superlative episode of One Foot in the Grave – there was no guarantee it would work.

Furthermore, considering the time slot and the level of expectation that always seems to surround the show, it seemed like a big risk to take.

And for the first ten of fifteen minutes I wasn’t too impressed. The pace was slow and the scenes with the Doctor talking to himself in the TARDIS in his own mind seemed expository.

Slowly but surely though, it built up, with little hints being dropped early on leading to the fantastic reveal that the skulls were his own and he’d been dying and repeating the cycle over and over again for 7,000 years.

That’s a great twist. I mean…really great. The sort of twist that makes you think back to everything that’s happened so far that you didn’t register fully and think “Oh so that’s what that meant!”.

Had that been spoiled for me in advance I’d have been raging.

From there, the way it showed that he kept repeating the process over and over again over the course of a couple of billion years to break down that wall of Azbantium was full of drama and emotion and until eventually…eventually…he broke through.

And what was on the other side of the wall labelled ‘Home’? The TARDIS? No, it’s Gallifrey.


I saw it coming, but unlike last week’s spoilers, I didn’t know it was coming (even though I heard afterwards that the BBC revealed it in a trailer, the daft bastards) and therefore it was far more rewarding for me as

Watching the opening scene again knowing what this red hand means is allows for a different viewing experience.

Watching the opening scene again knowing what this red hand means is allows for a different viewing experience.

a viewer.

So yes, there’s no doubt that this episode was pulled off spectacularly. It was a masterpiece of writing from the inconsistent Steven Moffat and indeed of performance from Peter Capaldi, who was able to carry 55 minutes of TV almost entirely on his own.

Random Observations

  • The only other Doctor I could imagine starring in this would be Sylvester McCoy. Couldn’t you? Certainly I don’t think it would suit the likes of David Tennant, although that’s not a criticism of him.
  • And speaking of Tennant – and indeed going off on a tangent – if you haven’t seen Marvel’s Jessica Jones then you should rectify that immediately. He’s exceptional in it.
  • The incidental music was a change from the norm; something different from the usual Murray Gold output, and I’m happy with that. It did sound like an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe though.
  • I knew we hadn’t seen the last of Clara, and I imagine there will inevitably be a scene with her next week too.
  • You could argue that by appearing, she takes away from the notion that this is a single hander. But at the same time, it advanced the plot. As far as I know this wasn’t an episode built around the gimmick that it only involved Peter Capaldi, so there was no reason for her not to be there.
  • While there’s a chance this episode might have less appeal on second or third viewing, I think it’ll just have a different style of viewing experience. For example, you’ll watch the first scene again and realise exactly what’s going on. I like that.
  • One question though; where did he get the food?

Doctor Who – Heaven Sent Review: Final Thoughts


Heaven Sent was a change from the norm; a brave idea that could so easily have gone wrong.

But it didn’t.

It was – as I’ve already said, but I’m happy to repeat again – superb.

More of the same quality next week please.

Calls to Action

Remember to…

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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 – Face The Raven Review (or “Who Cares About Spoilers When There Are A Few Extra Viewers To Round Up”)

November 21, 2015

Dateline: November 21st 18.02

I hate spoilers.

I don’t see the point in spoilers.

I don’t understand the mindset of people who want to read spoilers.

And for a TV station that is noncommercial and therefore doesn’t need to worry that much about viewing figures, I really don’t understand why the BBC would want to give away spoilers.

So I’m actually a bit pissed off at the moment.

Why? Because I was browsing the web earlier on and noticed that the main headline on Digital Spy this morning read ‘BBC Announce How Tonight’s Shocking Doctor Who Will End’.

I’m not daft.

I have a basic ability to work stuff out and I know what that headline means…

They’re going to kill off Clara.

But why would I want to know that before I see it? Why am I  – a regular viewer – having my enjoyment and sense of surprise ruined just so the BBC can attract some extra viewers who otherwise might not have bothered to watch.

Why are they more important than me?

To quote Bret Hart, “Frustrating isn’t the Goddamned word for it; this is bullshit!!!”

Of course, for all I know they might not be killing off Clara in Face The Raven, but I bet they will.

I’ll report back after the episode to let you know.

Dateline: November 21st 21:12

Doctor Who – Face The Raven Review

Nope, I was right; they’ve killed off Clara.

For fuck’s sake!!!

So as you’ll have gathered, I’m annoyed about this.

The death of a companion doesn’t come along often, so had the BBC not revealed it this morning, I would not have been expecting it (even though I knew Jenna Coleman was leaving at the end of the season). But

"Frustrated isn't the Goddamn word for it. This is Bullshit" said Bret Hart. I echo these sentiments

“Frustrated isn’t the Goddamn word for it. This is Bullshit” said Bret Hart. I echo these sentiments

since they did, and therefore I was, I think they ruined it.

To go all the way back to the 1980s and Earthshock, the big thing was that the BBC kept everything relating to it a secret. Nobody knew the Cybermen were going to be in it, and nobody knew Adric was going to die.

So both came as a huge shock.

There was that point where the first time viewer saw Adric left aboard the freighter and surmised that he would inevitably be saved. Then, slowly, they probably thought “Hmmm, maybe he won’t”, and when he died, it would have knocked viewers for six.

But the moment Clara suggested that she take over the death sentence, I knew that was it. So I felt robbed of that creeping realisation that she was going to die, and I feel cheated as a result.

And of course what happened was that a scene that probably should have been emotional ultimately wasn’t.

Now I would also argue that the overall presentation left something to be desired. I don’t think the music ramped up the drama, and I felt that the interaction between Clara and the Doctor – both in terms of dialogue and delivery – failed to capture the gravity of the situation. She was about to die and neither she nor the Doctor seemed particularly concerned about it.

It was just a bit weird.

My dad – who last week didn’t realise that the dreadful Gatiss episode was a single part story – didn’t pick up on the fact that she’s actually dead. Because it was played so loosely, he assumed that she’d be back in next week’s episode after the Doctor saves her.

And hey, maybe she will be. Maybe this isn’t the end for Clara and we’ll get something more dramatic in the two-part finale to send her off permanently.

But we probably won’t.

So to me, it felt like a damp squib.

I’d have expected better from all concerned.

So What About The Rest Of The Episode?

Well apart from that, this felt like the standard light episode you’d get before the finale in a Doctor Who season. The sort of Boom Town/Fear Her/In The Forest of the Night style affair that we’ve come to expect

Break Down The Walls of Jericho

Break Down The Walls of Jericho

over the years.

It brought back some characters we’ve already seen and it had the sort of frivolous plot you’d consider to be reasonable before the season builds to its dramatic conclusion. Basically it was fine; nothing amazing but nothing worth panning.

Exactly the sort of episode that would have been perfect to kill of a companion when the viewer least suspected it. So why ruin it!!!!!

Random Observations

  • I don’t really get how Ashildr has gone from being an average – yet immortal – girl to someone with the knowledge and expertise to organise a refugee centre for aliens.
  • Nor do I get how certain species – such as an Ood – would end up being on Earth in the 21st century.
  • Or why – beyond a direct comparison to Harry Potter – it’s designed like a Victorian street.
  • Or even why they had to disguise themselves as human if they were hidden away anyway.
  • And do we really need another plot like this when we’ve just had a Zygon story?
  • The bloke who is killed by the raven first was in the episode of Jonathan Creek with Maureen O’Brien and Bernard Kay. I hope at least one person reading this thinks “Oh yeah, that’s where I recognise him from.”
  • Clara’s actual death wasn’t plotted particularly well. There wasn’t a satisfactory reason for why Rigsy could be saved but she couldn’t. Note that I say ‘satisfactory’ reason; I know there was a reason given.
  • And as for Clara, I think from every angle you could approach it, she would have been better off leaving in Last Christmas. A story originally designed to write her out, it would have given her character a proper sendoff. Instead, we got a companion without direction for 10 more episodes before her disappointing demise in a nothing episode. She held on just a little bit too long.

Doctor Who – Face The Raven Review: Final Thoughts

Like I say, you’ll be able to tell that I’m not too impressed by the BBC’s actions here.

You might think “But I didn’t get it spoiled for me because I didn’t look at Digital Spy this morning so you have no grounds for complaint”. But I would counter that by saying pointed out that I should not have to avoid general entertainment websites before an episode has been transmitted to make sure major plot-points are not spoiled.

I would have liked to have watched this without the ending being telegraphed, and even though I felt it lacked the level of drama and gravitas that it should have done (and I think everyone involved can take some of the blame for that) it still would have been better if it had come as a shock.

So I’m disappointed.

I hope the BBC got their extra viewers to justify it.

Calls to Action

Remember to…

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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 – Sleep No More Review (or “Find Out If I Liked It In Real Time”)

November 15, 2015

Sunday, Nov 15 2015 – 16:29

So it’s 16:29 on Sunday and I still haven’t seen the newest episode of Doctor Who, Sleep No More.

“How is that even possible?”, I hear you ask.

Well it was my brother’s birthday meal last night and so I had to miss it. It means this is the first episode of Doctor Who I’ve missed on transmission day since my dad forgot to record episode four of Paradise Towers while I was at Beavers (a sort of Scouts for younger kids) back in October 1987.

And the strange thing is, my brother is more intensely interested in Doctor Who than I am, so I had to ask him why he had arranged a meal for that time.

The conversation went like this…

“You realise if we go out for a meal at that time, we’ll miss Doctor Who?”
“Yeah, but it’s the Mark Gatiss episode that night”.
“Oh, well fair enough then”.

Yes, that’s right, because this episode is penned by Mark Gatiss, I really couldn’t have given less of a toss about missing it.

Because – as long time readers of this blog will know – I think Mark Gatiss is crap.

Generally, his episodes – with the notable exception of Night Terrors – are average to poor, and are often comfortably the worst episode of each season. In the case of The Crimson Horror meanwhile, he was

Hey, it's a random appearance by The Hand of Omega

Hey, it’s a random appearance by The Hand of Omega

responsible for the worst Doctor Who story since the show came back, and in my opinion the third worst of all time. It was horrendous.

So it annoys me that this man continues to get to write for the show when I’m sure there are so many more talented writers out there who aren’t mates with the Producer or in with the bricks at Television Centre. No other writer gets to have interviews with the press to promote his stuff before it’s broadcast, no other writer – as far as I can tell – gets to cast his unsuitable mates in lead roles within the episode and no other writer would get chance after chance to come back again in spite of producing sub-standard writing. So why does Mark Gatiss?

Incidentally, you might get a chuckle to know that I recently found out that the man himself has blocked me on Twitter. Why? Well I’ve never tweeted him, so he must have either searched for his own name and found a tweet from me saying he was crap, or he’s read one of my reviews where I’ve said he’s crap. Either way, he must not have liked being called crap.

It’s my opinion though, and I think I’m fair in my criticisms.

But look, I haven’t even watched the episode yet, so for all I know it could be great and I’m putting the cart before the horse.

Then again, I did see a few tweets today from people saying “Well that was the worst in the series so far” and my dad – under the assumption I’d already seen it – asked me if it was a two-parter because it didn’t seem very clear.

So the warning signs are there.

Like I say though, I think I’m a fair-minded bloke, so I’ll watch the episode without prejudice and report back in an hour or so with my findings…

Sunday Nov 15 2015 17:47

What The Hell Was That?

Ok, I’m back…

For the first ten minutes of Sleep No More, I was busy trying to recite the recipe of Humble Pie in my head, because it seemed like it might actually be a good episode.

What the hell was that?!

What the hell was that?!

The story was set up well enough, even if it was a bit too expository for my tastes, but it was at least on the right track.

Then it all just went to shit.

Maybe I’m tired, but I lost the thread of it completely. The crew were devoured by sleep dust monsters, the ‘found footage’ wasn’t really found footage, the guy played by Mark Gatiss’s mate was actually the villain who was narrating it while events were going on and there was some kind of evil plan involving a guy who hadn’t been to sleep in five years?

It was not easy to follow or enjoy and it was summed up by the resolution being The Doctor running away shouting “It doesn’t make sense; none of this makes any sense”.

I think I’ve said before that Gatiss comes across as an ideas man rather than someone with the ability to make those ideas come to life reasonably on the page. Victory of the Daleks was just “Let’s redo Power of the Daleks” while the episode with Robin Hood was reasonable in theory. Here, he had a selection of ideas that aren’t bad, but he didn’t have the ability to string them together and make them work. Ideas were built up and then thrown out (such as devoting time to the Grunt which went nowhere) and others failed to click at all.

Really, it was just rubbish.

But are you surprised?

Let’s Give Credit To The Guys Who Make Peep Show

The main take home from Sleep No More though, as far as I’m concerned, is that I have a new-found appreciation for the actors in the Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show.

I felt Peter Capaldi struggled with the Peep Show style First Person Perspective acting

I felt Peter Capaldi struggled with the Peep Show style First Person Perspective acting

The style of Peep Show – in case you didn’t know – is that everything is filmed from a first person perspective, and the actors never look anything less than natural.

I don’t think you could say the same of the cast of Sleep No More.

You know I think Peter Capaldi is brilliant, but I thought he really struggled  to find his acting form when he was addressing the camera directly, and the rest of the cast were no better.

I would say it looked awkward, but I think the most appropriate thing to say about it is that it looked like the sort of thing you’d expect to see on the monitors in the queue for a theme park ride. It felt very ‘Hey kids, I’m The Doctor, and with your help, I can defeat these nasty sand monsters’.

Poor stuff.

Random Observations

  • I’m not just saying this because he’s Gatiss’s mate, but Reece Shearsmith was honking. Just an awful performance.
  • To go back to the problems with the writing, I thought that The Doctor managed to work a lot of things out without any explanation. Every time the plot needed advancing, he suddenly had all the solutions. It was like being at school and cheating on your maths homework by giving the answer but not showing your working.
  • This week’s fanwankery comes in the form of a ‘The Silurians Were Named Wrong’ reference. Yay.
  • How did Clara end up in that pod so quickly?
  • I wonder how much they had to pay for the use of the Mr. Sandman theme?
  • To go back to the direction, it was all over the place. For me, you either go all in or you don’t bother. There weren’t scenes in Cloverfield filmed ‘normally’; it was all about the lost footage. By switching back and forth in styles, it felt awkward.
  • At the end of the episode, I just sat there, opened mouthed, in awe of just how bad it was. The last scene in particular felt like he was trying to channel the last scene from Blink, and failing miserably.
  • The only thing I can say in a positive light is that I welcomed the return of the single part story.
  • My brother just told me that Dr Who fandom just let out a collective groan at the news that – against all sensible odds – Mark Gatiss will return to write another episode in Season 10. For fuck’s sake!!!!

Doctor Who – Sleep No More Review: Final Thoughts

I wanted to be proved wrong, but I wasn’t.

Once again Mark Gatiss has written the worst episode of the season.

Is anyone shocked?

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 Zygon Invasion & The Zygon Inversion Review (or “UNIT Soldiers Are Fucking Morons”)

November 8, 2015

I read an interesting point on a forum the other day.

Despite running for 52 years and with a mammoth 270 stories and counting to its credit, people tune in to Doctor Who every week with an unfair level of expectancy. For some reason, there’s this view among some fans that if each new episode isn’t one of the top 10 best of all time, then it somehow is a disappointment.

Some may argue that’s not the case, but I think it is, and to an extent I’m guilty of it too. I’ve seen shows with similar amounts of episodes – Grey’s Anatomy being a good example with 251 episodes broadcast – and don’t tune in expecting the best episode ever, but I personally hold Doctor Who to a higher level of account. If it’s not good, I’m disappointed; if it’s only average I hold it against the writer.


And probably not very fair either.

But then I guess part of that is down to the show having such a wide remit. Because you can do anything with it and because it’s so popular among people who have made a career writing for TV, you’d hope there will always be fresh and interesting ideas and high quality penmanship in the scripts.

And then instead Mark Gatiss gets to write another episode…

But the Gatiss-bashing can hold off for another week.

For now, it’s time to review the latest two-part story, The Zygon Invasion & The Zygon Inversion.

Doctor Who – The Zygon Invasion & The Zygon Inversion Review: What’s This One About?

Asylum Seekers and the futility of war.

Thoughts – Let’s Not Dwell Too Much On The Obvious Subtext

I don’t really want to spend my time going into a deep analysis of how the subtext in this one is relevant to the society we live in at the moment. It’s not a new thing (look at The Green Death for an example of

"Listen son, I refuse to answer any personal questions you might have that would prove I'm your mother and not an alien that can change shape to look like her. Just trust me and come inside here; you've got nothing to worry about. Honest."

“Listen son, I refuse to answer any personal questions you might have that would prove I’m your mother and not an alien that can change shape to look like her. Just trust me and come inside here; you’ve got nothing to worry about. Honest.”

another story driven by a moral dilemma in the public consciousness at the time of broadcast) and it’ll be done again.

And it didn’t overshadow the story either. I didn’t come away from it thinking that this was a writer making a political stand at the expense of an interesting plot, but that instead he used current world events to build a story of his own.

The asylum seeker stuff perhaps didn’t resound with me as much as it might with folks in England – where immigration is a far greater issue than it is in Scotland – but I did like the anti-war message at the end. Using the Doctor as an outsider, writer Peter Harness presented a simple but effective point about the folly and futility of war. Peter Capaldi meanwhile acted out that point with gusto. Some are calling it his defining moment as the Doctor, but I just see a great actor maintaining the high quality of work we’ve come to expect from him.

As a story, this was yet another game of two halves over the two episodes. The Zygon Invasion was the globe-trotting action packed one, while The Zygon Inversion was more thought-provoking and low-key. While they do of course amount to single story, if I was to rate one episode over the other, I’d say Inversion was easily the better of the two.

But Sometimes The Writing Isn’t Great

The writing wasn’t of a high standard throughout though, as there were plenty of aspects of this story that irked me.

Take for example the way Bonnie took over Clara. Where do you begin?

For one thing, how did she manage to look like Clara before she’d even placed her in a pod? Because that’s what happened. While Clara was lying unconscious on the floor of her neighbour’s flat, she was already in the other room looking like her.

And then there’s the scene where we the viewers find out that Bonnie actually is Clara; that one was terrible in retrospect. Why? Well think of it like this…

Bonnie – acting like Clara – brings the armed UNIT soldiers down into the underground lair with the instructions to shoot all the pods. She then knowingly reveals the original Clara in the pod before – still acting as Clara remember – suggesting that the Zygons must be growing humans. It was only after Jac reminded her that Zygons didn’t grow humans and then realised herself that Bonnie mustn’t be Clara that she suddenly turned heel and became evil.

I think that’s bad because it was written and acted out for the viewer. Jac was telling us “That’s not really Clara” and once that had happened she was disposed of. In reality, people don’t talk and act in exposition

"Fair do's maw. I'll come in"

“Fair do’s maw. I’ll come in”

for some hypothetical third party who might be watching.

What if the UNIT soldiers managed to kill all the Zygons? How would that have helped her cause?

There’s more examples of the bad writing too, such as…

  • We were supposed to believe that Kate had been killed and replaced by a Zygon, but the truth was that she resolved her sticky situation by shooting the Zygon in the head.
  • The Doctor and Osgood jumped out of an exploding plane, but the only people they meet when they parachute into a town by the shore are two policemen who just so happen to by Zygons.
  • When Bonnie turns that guy back into a Zygon, nobody around him is remotely fussed. Now if we are to assume they are all Zygons too, why does he run for cover like he doesn’t want to be seen?
  • The way the local Zygon leaders are two children; that’s just unnecessarily quirky.

But worst of all there’s the scene outside the church in the first episode.

The Scene Outside The Church

Ok, so you’re a trained UNIT soldier on a mission to rescue one of your co-workers from a church that you know is filled with Zygons, a species you’re well aware can change its shape to look like anyone, including the people you know and love.

When you get to the church something looking like your mother comes out to meet you on the steps.

Initially you’re not fooled by this, and her claims that she is real and your commanding officer is really a Zygon seems ridiculous, but to be sure – and the behest of your commanding officer – you’re told to ask her

Oh My God!!! How will Kate get out of this one?! Answer? Shoot him in the head mate.

Oh My God!!! How will Kate get out of this one?! Answer? Shoot him in the head mate.

some personal questions just to make sure it definitely is a Zygon. After all, if it’s your mother, she’ll know the answers to them.

So you ask …

“Date and place of my birth?” – after all, any mother would know that and the Zygon wouldn’t.

It answers…

“They brought us here; there’s using us against you. I’m scared.”

Ok, so maybe that’s not answered the question, but rather than ask for clarification – because this is a life or death situation – you decide you should ask another one instead…

“Name of my favourite teddy bear?”

It answers…

“Sorry mate, I can’t remember, but I tell you what; come inside this building and I’ll prove we are who we say we are. Honest”.

So what do you do? Do you…

a) Ask her another question; if she’s your mother, she will know something about you.
b) Decide that she’s clearly bullshitting and shoot her.
c) Conclude that she must be your mother, and then walk into an ambush and die moments later.

Nobody would pick C. Nobody.

Absolute garbage.

Random Observations

  • So when did Osgood become such a fan favourite? The press and reviewers were getting their metaphorical cocks out and having a massive wank over this character’s return?

    Osgood is back. I'm so terribly excited. Hold me back.

    Osgood is back. I’m so terribly excited. Hold me back.

  • Personally I can take or leave her, but I’d err on the side of leaving her because she is the physical embodiment of fanwankery, even down to the clothes she wears.
  • I imagine the line about Osgood hearing about two different meanings for TARDIS was fanwankery too.
  • And so was the name dropping of Harry Sullivan. How did he manage to create that anti Zygon gas anyway? They all died?
  • Oh, and how about the ‘Five Rounds Rapid’ line? Fankwankery overload!!!!
  • It was a little bit too convenient that Clara was able to control Bonnie in such a simple way. In spite of just being a school teacher, Clara seems to be the most incredible human being to have ever lived.
  • Well…apart from Rose Tyler of course. She was able to build a device that allowed her to travel between dimensions, in spite of never even going into Further Education.
  • I’d have preferred it if Clara explained she knew that Truth or Consequences was a town in New Mexico by saying “Cactus Jack mate, innit”.
  • Hey look, Peter Capaldi gets to act alongside another star of The Thick of It.
  • The line about Clara being dead for a month is obviously going somewhere…

Doctor Who – The Zygon Invasion & The Zygon Inversion Review: Final Thoughts

To go all the way back to my point from my introduction, this is quite clearly not one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time.

There was plenty to nit-pick and really, some of the writing was just ludicrous, but both episodes still entertained me.

Is that enough? Yes, I think it is.

While I hold Doctor Who to a higher standard and will call it like I see it in my reviews, the key is whether or not it was good enough to enjoy watching and not whether it’s as good as The Talons of Weng Chiang or Blink.

So far this season hasn’t delivered anything close to a Top 10 story, and I don’t think it’s hit the heights of most of last season, but it’s still been good enough for me to appreciate.

But will I be able to say the same thing next week?

After all, it’s Gatiss…

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 Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived Review (or “Keep Your Main Course Separate From Your Dessert”)

October 25, 2015

As you know, my policy is to only review two-part stories at the end of the second episode.

But I’ve made a bit of an error there because despite thinking that The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived was indeed a two-parter, it actually wasn’t. Instead it was just two linked but separate stories written by different people.

I wish I’d known that last week.

But hey, it is what it is, and so I’ll just review them both now.

Doctor Who – The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived Reviews: What Were They About?

A Viking Dad’s Army and a Dick Turpin-esque affair that managed to show that sometimes comedy, serious human drama and alien invasions work and sometimes they don’t.

But it mainly shows that they should be kept apart.

Thoughts – Keep Your Main Course Separate From Your Dessert

Here we have two episodes that could and should have had markedly different tones, but unfortunately everything was mixed in together and it didn’t work.

The Woman Who Lived would have been infinitely better if this guy was played by Ken Dodd

The Woman Who Lived would have been infinitely better if this guy was played by Ken Dodd

Think of it like going for a meal; you have your savoury main course and your sweet dessert. Individually they work, but if you put them on the same plate, it’s far from ideal.

That’s what’s happened in these two episodes.

To begin with we have the comedy romp that is The Girl Who Died. The Doctor is faced with training up a bunch of rag-tag Vikings, without a warrior among them, to face off against one of the most fearsome alien races in the galaxy. It’s light, it’s amusing and it never takes itself too seriously.

And that’s great; that worked. I thought the stuff with the nicknames, the guy who had a phobia of seeing blood (which upgraded to passing out at the mention of blood) and the way the Mire were vanquished was all entertaining enough. I found it amusing and it all seemed to wrap up well.

On that basis, this could have been an episode from any David Tennant or Matt Smith season and would be one that people would think was decent enough and be mostly happy with. Nothing spectacular, but nothing bad.

But then all of a sudden with 10 minutes to go it got all serious with Ashildr dying, the Doctor flashing back to his past (which I’ll get to) and then turning her into an immortal. It was a mix that led people last week to consider that it was a single episode in two parts of its own.

Fast forward a week and we have The Woman Who Lived start off as – and should have stayed as – an episode about the fallout from the Doctor’s decision to save her. Now, hundreds of years and several lifetimes later, Ashildr is an embittered, isolated woman who has forgotten most of her past and lives alone.

But then all of a sudden there’s an alien involved and it turns into an absurd comedy with played-for-laughs policeman and Rufus Hound as a Carry-On style highwayman.

It didn’t work at all.

What should have happened here was that one episode stuck to comedy and the other one was entirely serious.

By blending it all together, neither episode was as good as it should have been, especially The Women Who Lived, which was just a mess.

The slow pondering nature of the Doctor’s examination into Ashildr was totally juxtaposed against the silly comedy, and there was no reason for the alien lion thing other than this belief that Dr Who needs one to fill some kind of quota. It added nothing to the story and only served to annoy me.

Is Doctor Who Becoming Too Insular?

The great success of Doctor Who’s return in 2005 was that it was written to appeal to everyone, and that’s exactly what it did.

"Mummy, Mummy, who's that? " "I'm not sure; I've tried this show for the first time and am utterly lost"

“Mummy, Mummy, who’s that? ” “I’m not sure; I’ve tried this show for the first time and am utterly lost”

Now though, I wonder.

If I had never seen Doctor Who before this season, I imagine I’d struggle to understand what’s going on. I think I’d feel like I was missing something and that too much foreknowledge was expected of me.

While it can be cheap, there’s nothing much wrong with the occasional nod to the past, such as last night’s mention of the Terileptils in relation to The Great Fire of London. But when foreknowledge is almost essential to understanding the point of an episode (like the first two episodes of the season where knowledge of Davros, the Daleks, UNIT and even the Master was important to the flow of the narrative) then it becomes a problem.

In The Girl Who Died, I don’t think it was necessary to flash back to The Fires of Pompeii. The Doctor could quite easily have decided on a course of action to save Ashildr that didn’t involve remembering that his 10th incarnation saved the life of a guy who looked like he does now. Why could they not just ignore the fact that they cast Peter Capaldi twice? I’ve said it before, but if that’s important why did the Doctor not wonder why he kept seeing Michael Sheard or Philip Madoc throughout history considering the amount of times they were recast?

No, that was just pointless. It probably appealed to 0.2% of the viewers, with everyone else either thinking it wasn’t needed or not having a clue what was going on.

Meanwhile, next week’s episode appears to require knowledge of The Day of the Doctor.

There’s no doubt that the Doctor Who production team should be mindful of the show’s past when writing new episodes, but history shows that living in the past can have a detrimental effect on the quality of episodes. You’ve only got to look at the JNT era to see that.

Clara – Marking Time Until She Leaves

I’ve mentioned it already this season but Clara seems to have lost her identity and her purpose. Now it’s like they know she’s leaving so why bother developing her character any further?

"Hiya, I'm just popping in for a minute to fulfil some contractual obligations before I leave"

“Hiya, I’m just popping in for a minute to fulfil some contractual obligations before I leave”

The strides she made last season are gone, and have been replaced by a rather smug shallow companion who was has become so incidental that she was only in The Women Who Lived for a couple of minutes at the end, presumably to fulfil contractual obligations.

Remember how she was originally expected to be written out in Last Christmas? That would have been better.

Random Observations

  • Originally Brian Blessed was lined up to play the leader of The Mire. That would have been so much better.
  • I suppose if Ken Dodd played Lady Me’s butler that would have been amazing too, but sadly it was not to be.
  • I’m not entirely sure how or why Ashildr died. I even watched The Girl Who Died a second time and it’s not mentioned. Have I missed something?
  • For all the talk of the second dose of that immortality stuff, for it to be wasted on Sam Swift was a very poor way to go. Personally I’d have either given Ashildr a happier ending or saved it for a subsequent story, because let’s face it, she’s coming back at some point.
  • Another aspect of The Woman Who Lived that I didn’t get was the way Ashildr knew so much about The Doctor. Before you say that it was explained by her saying that she’d spoken to people the Doctor had met in the past,  I don’t think it was. Sure, people may have known the Doctor but it’s not as if he tells everyone his life story, and it doesn’t explain why she’s so keen to travel away from Earth or into future times. Ultimately, in spite of the wisdom she’s accrued over her 800 years or whatever it was, she’s still someone who has lived her entire life in primitive times. I think that’s sloppy, but you might think I’m being picky.
  • Also, while I get the whole 10,000 hours to master a skill stuff, I really don’t understand how she was able to put on a completely different man’s voice.
  • Other than to give Clara the line about how she’s wearing a spacesuit, what exactly was the point of the beginning of The Girl Who Died?
  • To give the story a little bit of credit, the Doctor at least trying to explain the ripples/tidal waves rules was interesting.
  • I feel I need to reiterate just how pointless that alien lion/tiger thing was in The Women Who Lived. It’ll go down as one of the most nondescript aliens in the show’s history.
  • Done well, these two episodes could have worked like The Ark, with the Doctor and Clara immediately landing in the same place hundreds of years later to find Ashildr has turned into a properly evil despot who needed to be stopped. Alas, it was not to be.
  • It also would have worked better if both episodes were written by the same person.

Doctor Who – The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived: Final Thoughts

Ok, so it was an interesting idea for a two-part story, but that’s not how it turned out.

Had The Girl Who Died stuck to light comedy and The Woman Who Lived remained exclusively serious, then it would have worked so much better.

Unfortunately by trying to accommodate comedy and drama in both episodes, and also giving the second episode an unnecessary token alien invasion, neither episode was as good as it could have been.

And that’s a shame because in theory it could have been top notch.

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 – Under the Lake & Before the Flood Review (or “That’s Why You Don’t Review A Story At The Half Way Point”)

October 10, 2015

So like I was saying a couple of weeks ago, there’s no point in writing a review of a Doctor Who episode when it’s the first of two-part story.

I don’t think there’s any story that proved that point more than Under the Lake & Before the Flood!

Doctor Who – Under the Lake & Before the Flood Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor travel back to the past to change the future…or is it that he creates the future?

Thoughts – A Proper Two Part Story

99 times out of 100, in any TV show, the reason for a story to run over two or more episodes is simply because there’s too much plot to fit into a single one. Essentially, it’s just a longer episode spread over a number

And With That, The Fourth Wall Was Broken

And With That, The Fourth Wall Was Broken

of weeks with placeholder cliffhangers inserted to act as a checkpoint.

This is the 1 time out of 100 when it’s not.

Rather than being one long story, this is an example of a two-parter that utilises the break to tell a tale that could not be effectively told in one sitting. Under the Lake is the set-up episode, introducing characters and environments and acting as its own little Base Under Siege drama. Without Under the Lake, the overall story wouldn’t work. But the Base Under Siege stuff isn’t the overall point and most likely is not what the central concept of the story either.

Because this is one of those rare – and yet very welcome – examples of Doctor Who, the TV show about a man who travels in time, presenting a story based around the concepts and paradoxes associated with Time Travel.

In particular, it’s about The Bootstrap Paradox (like the Doctor says, google it).

And I’ve got to say, I loved it.

This was clever, it kept me guessing and unlike the first story of the season, it didn’t have a conclusion that left me feeling let down. Instead, when The Fisher King was caught in the flood and the Doctor emerged from the stasis chamber, I felt a sense of deep satisfaction that I’d watched a story expertly written.

And I’m hugely surprised to say that considering the writer – Toby Whithouse – has been slated on the pages of Stuart Reviews Stuff in the past for writing some utter drivel.

Credit where it’s due though; this was excellent.

Is Doctor Who A Kid’s Show?

The answer to the above question is obviously ‘No’, it’s a TV show aimed at the whole family and always has been, but I bring this up because I was debating this very issue on Twitter earlier on today with people

'Mon Then!!!!!!

‘Mon Then!!!!!!

who were adament that who is naught but a kids show.

There’s no way an episode of Doctor Who like Before The Flood is aimed at kids; no way at all.

Apart from the plot being probably too complex for a lot of adults let alone kiddywinkles, I just can’t imagine any movie aimed at children including a scene like the one where a scary looking ghost with an axe stalks an unwitting deaf woman in a dark dingy corridor.

Or maybe I’m being too naive as to what passes for kids TV these days.

No matter how you slice it, that was aimed at adults first, and long may that continue.

Breaking The Fourth Wall: What Did You Think?

I can imagine that when the dust settles on this one, a lot of Doctor Who fans – because we aren’t in any way the sort of people to over-analyse stuff and get upset over anything different are we – will be ill at ease with the breaking of the fourth wall that happens a couple of times in Before the Flood.

My thoughts? Well I don’t want Doctor Who to become Lovejoy with all that sort of ‘speaking to the audience’ stuff, but I thought it worked here and it aided the telling of the story.

So while it shouldn’t be made the norm, it worked fine here.

Random Observations

  • I loved the different theme music at the start of Before the Flood. Not as much as I’d have loved it if it was the 5th Doctor’s theme, but you can’t have everything.
  • Though I’ve focussed more on Before the Flood in this review for obvious reasons, I thought that the cliffhanger to Under the Lake was a good one.
  • As usual there were some amusing and snappy lines of dialogue – usually from Peter Capaldi – but I think my favourite one was where Clara hands him the cue cards explaining how to react to the situation
    It's The Asian Alistair McGowan!

    It’s The Asian Alistair McGowan!

    they were in.

  • The War Minister, eh?
  • I think it sets a good example to showcase actors with disabilities. I read a comment from a deaf person that said that young deaf kids who watch the show will have felt amazing to see someone with the same issues as them being called the most important person in the room by the Doctor.
  • Having said that though, just because you’re deaf, it doesn’t make you Daredevil, so that bit where she dodges out of the way of the axe using her extra sense was a bit much.
  • How come the base was completely abandoned?
  • If I was to criticise the story for anything it would be that Clara appears to be morphing back into a generic companion. So far this season there’s been nothing much to her character beyond being a mild sociopath who is thrilled to be placed in dangerous scenarios.
  • The point raised by the character who I shall dub ‘The Asian Alistair McGowan’ is an important one. Why is it that – when it comes to the crunch – the Doctor doesn’t really give much of a toss about the lives of the people he meets who aren’t his travelling companions. It’s fair to say that he did let O’Donnell die to test a theory, and that’s a bit of a dick move on his part.
  • To go back to something I said earlier about the writing keeping me guessing; I don’t want you to think it confused me, because it didn’t. Obviously I predicted that the Doctor would be responsible for the dam bursting from the moment The Bootstrap Paradox was raised, but throughout the episode, the way he would get to that point remained a mystery. It was only about 10 seconds before he emerged from suspended animation that I guessed he was in there, and that’s ideal. No writer wants to craft an episode that makes viewers think “What was that about?” or “How did that happen?”. Instead, I think they should aim to give the viewer the sense of satisfaction of being able to work out what’s happening at the last possible moment. For me, that’s the best way.
  • The Fisher King was a pretty daunting character, with an impressive look and a commanding voice. I liked how the director avoided showing him until the last possible moment. That worked well for me.

Doctor Who – Under the Lake & Before the Flood Review: Final Thoughts

This story shows why I was wise to keep my counsel last week and leave it all to this review here.

Last Saturday I wouldn’t have known that this was a story about time travel and the Bootstrap Paradox, and so my review would have taken an entirely different direction.

It would have been like reviewing a meal while it’s still being cooked.

Now that I’ve had a chance to see the whole thing, I can confidently state that this was a fantastic example of Doctor Who done right.

Toby Whithouse is a writer who I have rightly panned in the past, with The Vampires of Venice actually finishing in the top ten worst Doctor Who stories of all time in my second book (see below).

He’s excelled himself here though and I’m happy to give him a bundle of praise.

This was brilliant.

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 & 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’ 




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