26 November 2015

Ashildr, no! We will not let you go (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.10, "Face The Raven")

This review contains major spoilers.
So, Clara is dead, in essence stabbed in the back by a Quantum Shade. I entered this episode pretty much knowing that she was going to die in this one; the Moff dropped a comment at the Doctor Who Festival saying that there would be a 'shocker' in this moment and then the BBC essentially revealed it on the morning that the episode was to air in the UK.
So, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories about spoilers. It's a fact that the ratings for this season have been notably down - the average is a 1.2m viewers reduction an episode not counting iPlayer. So, the BBC would want to drum up media interest and therefore the ratings by dropping some big hints that 'Tonight Someone Dies'. This has been an ongoing practise for many years in many countries; the trick is to do it well. The good example I can think of is the Season 2 finale of NCIS, which put all the regulars in mortal peril, made you think that everyone was safe... then had one of them shot in the head. Of course, nearly all media productions leak and people do because there's little chance of them actually getting caught; I can't think of a recent example myself outside of putting entire episodes onto the Internet, but I'm going to ask at Gallifrey Base.

In any rate, we knew Jenna Coleman was leaving because it did leak and so the BBC had little benefit in trying to hide it... but the purist in me wishes we could have had another Adric-style sudden exit. One of the best moments of the last few years was John Hurt's reveal as The War Doctor; I knew he was in the 50th Anniversary Special, but not who he was playing.

The Twelfth Doctor's 'formal' costume hasn't been seen very much in this current run, by which I mean the white shirt version with the red-lined jacket. It's appropriate for this episode that he wears something more 'in fitting' with what is a death episode. There's definitely some strong humour here ("Did you make this human?") but we get to see a very angry Doctor in this... at one point threatening to unleash the Daleks and Cybermen on 'Trap Street', which of course would be abandoning his name even more than the War Doctor ever did. It puts his speech in "The Zygon Inversion" into context... it's easy to preach forgiveness and reconciliation in most cases, but a sight harder when you're the one that's been directly wronged.

Clara makes a very Doctor-y move... which ultimately doesn't work. She takes Ashildr at her word... and fails to realise that people can't always keep said word. Some stuff about why she can't pass the 'chronolock' onto anyone else appears to have been cut from the episode for pacing reasons... but she faces her death with dignity. Although I'm not the first to admit that tight sweater was pretty distracting.

Riggsy returns from last season's "Flatline" (My review of that is here) and does a decent job; I didn't remember the character that much from the original episode, but it's clear that he is somewhat of a reformed character... who really didn't deserve the stuff he's been put through in this episode.

Me or Ashildr... definitely a woman who has bitten off far more than she can chew. Her control of Trap Street is ruthless by modern standards, but you do have to remember that she was born in a time when executing thieves was commonplace - in a society where a bad harvest could endanger an entire community and a theft could lead to starvation. That said, she's definitely shed any claim to 'good' status with that... although arguably she'd lost it previously as she's murdered people in the past.

Trap Street is a very interesting idea with links back to the Zygon two-parter; the fact that aliens cannot live openly on Earth is a reflection of older struggles in the LGBT community. Also, it does look very atmospheric. We get to see some of the vast array of creatures that have appeared in the show's history - I noted a credit for RTD as he'd created the Ood.

The Raven... I believe they've got a link with death. Very well done in terms of effects and getting struck by one is definitely a horrible way to go.

For all the 'spoilering' done, this was still a superb episode and sets things up very nicely for the rest of the finale. It's frankly a better exit than any companion in the post-2005 era... and one of the best in the show's 52 year history.

The Purple Air Farce (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.19, "Tomorrow is Yesterday")

Can you pull over? Your right tail light is broken.
Well, it's been a good while since I've done one of these and since then we've got the announcement of a new TV series, which I am very much looking forward to. Meanwhile, let's go back to 1967... which is something the crew of the Enterprise kind of do in this episode...

After an encounter with a 'black star', NCC-1701 is warped back to Earth in the late 1960s. As they fly over Earth, a US Air Force plane intercepts them... and they end up destroying it with their tractor beam. Beaming the pilot on board, they now find themselves with a problem - getting back home and dealing with the pilot...

A couple of interesting spacey points that I want to begin with. I'd never heard of a 'black star' before with super gravitational effects - a black dwarf, yes and definitely a black hole - but not one of those before. My research suggests that the term 'black hole' wasn't in popular use at this time; John Wheeler is credited with popularising it (not creating it, which he always denied) after a 1967 meeting) although the concept most certainly existed back into the 19th century. Interesting how space science has developed even in the history of Star Trek.

Another one is actually more tragic. The story doesn't specify the precise year it takes place in (although the Star Trek Chronology would place it as 1969), but refers to being three days before the first manned 'moonshot', which was seen as likely in the next few years - although some at NASA thought it would be well. I wondered if this was made before the Apollo 1 disaster, the death of three astronauts in a fire during a launch rehearsal... and I was right. In fact it aired 26 January 1967, the day before that tragedy.

Kirk, Spock and McCoy are all on fine form here; as well as dealing with the main plot, they also have to deal with a faulty computer programmed with a flirty personality, which adds some more humour in what is intended to be somewhat of a humorous episode - Kirk getting some great stuff with the Air Force. We also get Scotty at his engineering best, quickly fixing the problems that got them there.

The US Air Force, depicted in action via stock footage (the pilot, Captain John Christopher, flies a F-104 Starfighter) generally comes right out of Central Casting... we've got Ed Peck as a very stern Air Police officer and a Sergeant who spends his entire time on the ship gawping in amazement at the Transporter Room. Also, in an episode heavy with 'Starship Acting', we get to see both sides in a fight use 'Kirk Fu' in a scene that reminded me of 1960s Batman in its exaggerated action. Also, is it the colour wash or do those uniforms look purple to me?

Now I've seen a lot of 'timey-wimey' stuff in my time as a Doctor Who fan, especially where Steven Moffat is involved, but even I had to metaphorically scratch my head at how Spock resolves part of the problem re the crew.



A reasonable enough episode, but by no means brilliant and with some distinctly head-scratching moments at times. Also a bit too slow for my liking.


23 November 2015

Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the broadcast of the first episode of Doctor Who. The current run has been very good, with the Twelfth Doctor well developed now... and Clara's departure will live long in the memory.

Although ratings have again fallen, the international performance is strong and the fact there are plans for five years in the future suggests the show still has a long time to run. I definitely hope it goes on - there's nothing else like it on TV.

17 November 2015

The Blair Bait-And-Switch project (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.9, "Sleep No More")

I attended the Doctor Who Festival at the ExCeL Centre today; highly enjoyable and very interesting, with some real insights into the production of one of my favourite TV shows. Also, some superb cosplay examples out (wouldn't do that myself, not my cup of tea).

Anyway, onto tonight's episode, penned by man of two hats Mark Gatiss. This 'found footage' episode is definitely the most unusual story in the show's history; no title sequence (just a sort of title card) and in fact a narrated story put together by a scientist. I've got to say that it's definitely going to be one I remember for many years to come... so I guess it did its job.

Capaldi plays it very seriously in this episode; while there are jokes, he's not in a larking about mood, getting to the point and making several key realisations that something is quite, quite dodgy. The current lead actor in this show can turn quickly from hilarious to scary... a skill that not all of the Doctors have possessed over the years - Tennant, Smith and Capaldi can do all do it, but with the greatest respect to the other Doctors, some of them can't.

Jenna Coleman, whose arc is heading towards its conclusion and by 6 December will be an ex-companion if not sooner, also plays it more restrained than normal - there's no jokes about kissing Jane Austen (although kudos for the writers for making her seemingly bisexual without it being the key part of her character) or Year 7s here.

Rassmussen, the operator of the station, is played by Reece Shearsmith. I've not been overly keen on his work - while he was good as Patrick Troughton in An Adventure in Time and Space, I wasn't a fan of Missing and found the one episode I watched of Inside No.9 not my cup of Tetley's. However, in this case, he definitely does the job, being suitably creepy in his addresses to camera and proving very much to be an unreliable narrator; indeed Gatiss knows the potential problems of the sub-genre of found footage, which he neatly resolves here.

The Sandmen (one of which turned up at the last panel at the Festival, albeit obscured by the blue lighting) are very well realised - one of many superb works from Millennium FX since the show came back. The whole idea of them is a very interesting one; perhaps slightly illogical, but hey, this is Doctor Who, a show with a spaceship bigger on the inside than out.

The soldiers were definitely one of the most interesting parts of an episode that very much focuses on them; this episode not only has the first openly trans actor in the show's history, but I believe is also the second episode (after "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS") where Caucasians do not make up the majority of the cast that aren't wearing a monster suit. The Indo-Japan idea was very interesting and better executed than Firefly (which for all its merits, had no regulars of Asian background).

Also, the final twist... quite superb.


A very unusual episode of Doctor Who and highly, highly atmospheric. Not a true great by any stretch of the imagination, but still very good and superbly written.


16 November 2015

Blog activity

Things are likely to be somewhat reduced for a while; for various reasons, I've had to cut back on my computer activities.

Some things, including my Homeland season 5 review, will be much later and probably much shorter than planned.

14 November 2015

Terrorist attacks in Paris

The murder of 129 people (at least - there are still about 80 in a critical condition) in Paris is the worst atrocity brought upon western Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004.

This was a highly coordinated attack involving at least eight people; there will have be an analysis as to what clues, if any, were missed by the French authorities to see what lessons we can learn to prevent future attacks. Or at least try to prevent some - I sadly think it's only a matter of time before we have another one, possibly even in the UK.

Make no mistake; these terrorists are utterly warped. For them, going to a rock concert is a capital offence, worthy of execution without trial. I'm not sure you can ever reason with them.

I am concerned about what the results of this may be; for one thing, I'm severely doubting the Schengen Agreement can survive in its current form. Also, the French presidential election next year may led to Marine Le Pen winning... and then things will really get ugly.

I only pray that moderates on all sides prevail.

11 November 2015

Armistice Day 2015

101 years after the start of the war to end all wars; they're still going on... and sadly will probably keep going on.

We should all do our best to limit conflict and assist those who are its victims; for there are many indeed.

Lest we forget.

27 October 2015

You ain't nothing but a Rufus Hounddog (Review: 'Doctor Who' 35.6, "The Woman Who Lived")

There is a well known 'thing' in media analysis called the Bechdel Test. Developed by Alison Bechdel as somewhat of a joke for a comic strip whose name might trip some filter or content things on Blogger way in 1985, it basically measures female representation in media. To pass the test, a film must have two named female characters, who have a conversation with each other... about something other than a man. It is somewhat of a flawed test - indeed, Sex and the City actually fails it - but still an interesting one. It should also be pointed out that many classics fail it - including Star Wars - and you can still have a good story without it.

It is therefore interesting to note that the first female written Doctor Who episode since 2008 (Helen Raynor's Sontaran two parter) - indeed Catherine Tregenna is only the fifth such writer in the show's history[1] - passes this test... but barely. Lucie Fanshawe is not seen in the rest of the episode after the titles, I believe.


The Doctor is on fine form again in this episode - demonstrating his ability to blunder into situations and be very, very grumpy. He gets some great lines, especially his entire first exchange with 'The Knightmare' and also gets some really emotional exchanges with Ashildr.

Clara is only in the final scene of this episode - she's teaching Year 7s Taekwondo - and isn't honestly missed that much. The scene she does get is entirely fine, don't get me wrong. I get the strong feeling this was the 'companion-lite' episode; the show typically has at least one 'companion-lite' and one 'Doctor-lite' episode a season to get all the filming into the timeslot.

Ashildr, or Me... what a tragic character. A more well thought out depiction of the problems of immortality I have not really seen. The Doctor is a Time Lord and so living to 2,000+ years is entirely normal for his people, but it's not for humanity - we get to see a woman who has has lost everyone she's ever held dear and has no end in sight... as well as only the memory capacity of a standard human. It's clear that she's gone rather mad as a result and arguably crosses the line - but does get some redemption at the end. A return for her is definitely welcome; all of her scenes are great and Maisie Williams holds your attention.

Sam Swift the Quick... well, Rufus Hound is arguably not everyone's cup of tea. His cocky swagger reminds me of Lord Flasheart, played of course by the late Rik Mayall, but Mayall did it much better. His pun-laden speech at the Tyburn gallows (which was in fact outside the City of London as it was then, although not next to a castle) sets a new record for penis jokes in an episode of Doctor Who at two, although this episode doesn't quite reach the heights of dirtiest jokes told in the show's history - tied between RTD and Moffat in fact.

Me's ally is a well done 'cat' creature... and I was actually reminded somewhat of the Kilrathi from Wing Commander in the Tyburn climax. Indeed, all of the special effects were good here - something that remains a strong point of the show.

Speaking of the climax, which involved insanely overpowered fireballs (see Irregular Webcomic! for more of those) and some really rather magical stuff, I wasn't overly keen on it. The show's starting to get a bit overly casual with cheating death and super technology; I'd personally reign it back in.


Not having Clara in this actually helped - it allowed for a lot tighter focus for the story and much more screen-time for the frankly superb Maisie Williams. Got to say next week looks very interesting as well.


Please note that there will be no review of the next two-parter as I'm just too busy at the moment.

[1]Barbara Clegg, writer of 1983's "Enlightenment" (the first classic story I ever saw, not counting the TV Movie) is the first - while Lesley Scott was credited for "The Ark", it appears she actually didn't contribute anything to the script at all.