20 October 2014

A Pacer, but not a Sprinter (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.9, "Flatline")

Clara, with some assistance from the Doctor who is trapped in the TARDIS, has to stop some two-dimensional aliens.
  • Clara was doing the Doctor-y stuff this week and doing very well at it; you could do an entire series (or novel) with just her.
  • There were some great scenes with Capaldi in the TARDIS and we've now firmly established "pudding brain" as a catchphrases. Many a laugh, that's for sure.
  • The creatures were scary, if a bit two-dimensional (ba boom tish).
  • Does Doctor Who not have the kudos to actually use a DMU type that hasn't been retired from the main network for over a decade? I'd love to see a Pacer get destroyed.
  • Definitely not doing the 'everyone lives' trick these days, that's for sure.
  • Bristol? Not a choice I'd make, but nothing wrong with it.
  • Stan was a real nasty piece of work; wasn't the actor in Auf Wiedersehen Pet?
  • That banishment speech? So done before. It was supposed to feel epic, but it was just derivative.
  • The plot thickens with Missy...

Conclusion

Certainly one that engaged the attention with a good deal of humour, although I have to admit the train bit annoyed me.

7/10

18 October 2014

Not Quite First Class, but heading there (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.8, "Mummy on the Orient Express")

The Doctor and Clara (surprisingly) board a hyperspace version of the Orient Express, where an invisible mummy is picking people off.

  • Capaldi was again great in this episode; I doubt the Doctor is heartless deliberately, but he certainly comes across that way.
  • I'm sure that Clara's flapper outfit will get some positive comments among the fans; she's definitely been given a Fan Service Pack this season.
  • I'm glad that they chucked in the line about it being slightly bigger than the 'real' one; you know what the fans can be like.
  • Frank Skinner was rather good in this; I've not seen him in much as a serious actor and hopefully he'll do some more.
  • This wasn't the best paced story in the world; the resolution was a little sudden.
  • Some great lines in this; I particularly liked what seemed to be a Tom Baker impression by Capaldi, but Coleman got some good ones too.
  • Gus... total psycho; reminds me of GlaDOS from Portal.
  • Jelly babies in a cigarette case? Classic.
  • Still would like Danny Pink to actually leave Earth.

Conclusion

An enjoyable episode, but by no means a classic.

7/10

10 October 2014

Clacton and Heywood

UKIP has gained its first elected MP; the party switcher Douglas Carswell getting elected by a five-figure majority for the Eurosceptic party.

In addition, Labour got its majority in Heywood and Middleton slashed to 617, but did manage to retain the seat.

One is always in danger of drawing too much from a by-election, especially in a place like Clacton; very white, in coastal Essex; a high-profile by-election of an ex-Tory defector. A big blow to the Conservatives sure, but how big was Carswell's personal vote?

Heywood is of a bit more concern to Labour... but the close result's impact is diminished by the fact that only 36% of the electorate turned out - it was 57% at the 2010 general election. The casual Labour supporters assumed it was safe and didn't turn up.

Not a reason to panic, but we do need to focus on GOTV efforts next year; UKIP are the beneficiaries of apathy.

09 October 2014

That's going to give some people arachnophobia (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.7, "Kill the Moon")

  • A superb performance from Capaldi here, with lots of humour and also lots of 'menace'. I'm reminded of "The Waters of Mars" (which also featured the Doctor acting like that)
  • Jenna Coleman - excellent. Spending most of the episode in a spacesuit allowed us to focus on her acting skills rather than her outift.
  • Courtney Woods turns up again... and she's not annoying at all. I've changed my mind about kids in the TARDIS; she'd be welcome back.
  • Great stuff from Hermione Norris. Bumping off her two colleagues allowed for focus on an excellent actor, but does she ever do anything apart from cynical.
  • Nice to see some Mexicans in space... unfortunately they ended up dead. We didn't even get any of their names... not even a haunting photo.
  • Spider effects were great... and Capaldi is of course not the first Doctor to be face-hugged in something.
  • Lunar surface frankly needed some micro-craters. It's getting hit by stuff all the time.
  • I'm sure there's some conservation of matter/energy errors here.
  • Lots of nice little references here... including to Blinovitch!
  • Next week looks like a Clara-lite episode; that will be interesting.

Conclusion

An excellent, highly thought-provoking episode, with possibly big ramifications for the show.

9/10

02 October 2014

Cool enough for school (Review: 'Doctor Who' 34.6, "The Caretaker")

Gareth Roberts has written two previous stories where the Doctor has gone undercover as a human. Teaming up with Steven Moffat, he's done a third and it's better than the last time.
  • Peter Capaldi is demonstrating a considerable talent for comedy that I hitherto didn't realise... but then again, I didn't watch The Thick of It.
  • Jenna Coleman is continuing to excel here; loads of great lines and I see Gallifrey Base has a thread on her skirt.
  • I hope that Danny Pink gets to travel on the TARDIS at some point; he'd be good once the Doctor learned to fully accept him.
  • The whole gag with the teacher in a bow tie... excellent. I can see why the Doctor thought that (then again he does have an inflated opinion of himself)
  • Will we see the invisibility watch again? Possibly, possibly not.
  • There wasn't a huge amount of plot in this, more comedy with a plot tacked on.
  • I like the bit in the parents' evening about the "disruptive influence".
  • Courtney reminded me of that kid from "Nightmare in Silver" last year.
  • Nice little homage toThe Bill with the PCSO there.
  • Next week looks very interesting indeed.
Conclusion

Enjoyable, but by no means a great... I did start clock watching.

7/10

28 September 2014

50 years and counting (History of 'Doctor Who')

http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20140913225613/tardis/images/1/1a/Listen_%28TV_Story%29.jpg

The face of the future

When Orla Brady was offered a guest role in "The Time of the Doctor" as a space priestess, she accepted it without even reading the script. Peter Capaldi almost did the same when he guest starred in "The Fires of Pompeii", but was convinced otherwise.

That's a sign of the prestige of Doctor Who. A show where you can escape from the repetitive cop drama or kitchen sink roles and travel into space; something that doesn't just apply for the actors - even the title sequence is enjoyable, which is something I can say about few shows today[1].

It's one reason why the show is now in its 34th season, with 812 full length episodes to its name as of November 2014. Another is the fact that it is not bound to one particular actor or one particular producer; the show has turned them over at a rate greater than pretty much any other show that I can think of... with the possible exception of Saturday Night Live[2].

There are other reasons though:

  • The general quality of the leads: It's true to say that there has never been a bad Doctor. Even Colin Baker, whose Big Finish works are very good and very popular. The companions may be hit-and-miss, but when they hit, they hit. It's a pity few of them have gone on to really big things.
  • The plots: not just bad aliens come to take over Earth and are killed by good humans, this show brought us 'aliens' who were here before humans.
  • Some of the concepts: other shows may have their cool spaceships like the Enterprise and Serenity (ironically, considered junk in its verse), but a telephone box bigger on the inside that can travel anywhere in space-time?
    • Also, a character who when faced with death can change his appearance, allowing for a total of 13 actors (in the main show) to have taken the leading role... as well as for each to put their own perspective on it.
    • The sonic screwdriver. I'd want one.
  • The lack of reliance on special effects: Let's face it, much, correction most, of the special effects from 1963-1989 don't stand up to modern scrutiny; but they've never been the be-all-and-end-all of the show. Indeed some of the best effects have been the simpler ones; the Dalek extermination, the TARDIS materialisation... and the original title sequence.
  • The fans: Without the devotion and continued work of the show's many fans, it would not have come back... and many people wouldn't be working on the show today had they not been fans.

All in all, Doctor Who has survived because it's not just a good show... it's a brilliant show.

****

When doing such a long work as a history of a 50-year-old sci-fi programme, one has to use a variety of sources. This list won't be comprehensive, so I apologise to anyone I've missed out, but the following have proven invaluable.

 

Books

  • The Television Companion (First edition 1996, revised edition 2003 – I own the 1996 edition) by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker – a standard tome for the book that covers each story with transmission dates, trivia and excerpts from contemporary, as well as more modern reviews. A must-have -  it's proven very useful for my reviews of incomplete stories.
  • The Discontinuity Guide (First edition 1995, second edition 2003 – I own the first) by Paul Cornell, Keith Topping and Martin Day – another of the standard reference books for the show, I picked this up in a charity shop and it was a positive bargain. It covers all the classic era stories (plus "Shada" and "Dimensions in Time"), with quotes, goofs and a brief analysis for each story.
  • Whology – Doctor Who: The Offical Miscellany (2013) by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright – an official compilation of facts, statistics of varying randomness and lists for the 50th anniversary; including the Doctor's family tree! This goes up to "The Snowmen" and excludes "Shada" from various calculations.
  • Doctor Who: The Vault (2013) by Marcus Hearn - another official anniversary book, covering the history of the show with many previously unpublished pictures, especially of merchandise.

 

Magazines/Fanzines

  • Doctor Who Magazine – running since 1979, mostly monthly but originally weekly under title of Doctor Who Weekly, the official (but editorially independent) mag published by Panini, who took over the British arm of Marvel Comics in 1985, has a regular comic strip, features galore and many an exclusive. It also holds the world record for longest-running magazine based on a TV show.
  • Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games – Issue #18 contains a comprehensive list of every DW video game yet released.
  • Radio Times - running since 1923, this high-quality British TV listings magazine is always good for some interesting facts.

Podcasts

  •  DWO Whocast – Dave Keep has some particularly good insights on the classic run, although he no longer hosts the show.
  • Radio Free Skaro
  • Splendid Chaps – a series of live shows from Australia for the anniversary year.

 

Websites and blogs

****

While this has been a real labour, it's also been a labour of love. I've been a fan of the show for over half my life and I estimate the amount of money I've spent on this show as at least a thousand pounds, including a train trip to Cardiff to do a walking tour[2]. I have to say that the research I've done has been at times illuminating for me; I've definitely learnt a lot from this.

I've certainly made some inaccurate statements (I seem to have gotten the wrong end of the stick over Holmes writing while script editing - it appears to be a union thing) and I'd like to apologise for those.

Thank you very much for reading this and I hope you enjoyed it.

[1]Current exceptions to this: Person of Interest, Game of Thrones and er that's about it.

[2]While my experience with SNL is distinctly limited (it doesn't air in the UK and I don't do torrenting), I have experienced a number of its alumni in other shows, such as Amy Poehler in Parks & Recreation, Julia-Louis Dreyfus in Veep or before he appeared on SNL, Kenan Johnson in Kenan & Kel. Also, one of my favourite films is The Blues Brothers, who of course started on the show!

[3]Lessons learnt from this: The Class 43 HST feels faster than the Class 395 Javelin despite being 15 mph slower, Cardiff is a very nice place and I should go First Class more often.

26 September 2014

Back to Iraq

Tonight, British MPs voted overwhelmingly to support RAF participation in air strikes against IS/ISIS/ISIL (whatever you want to call them) in Iraq.

While I wish we were not launching attacks in the country for the fourth time in my lifetime, we cannot allow this terrorist group to continue to run its barbaric state and expand further. They do not just want Iraq or Syria... and even if they did, we cannot let them have it.

I hope this campaign will be short, I fear it will be long, but it needs to be done.