2014 Predictions

New Year is rapidly becoming my favourite ‘holiday’ celebration.  Why?  Unlike Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and most of the others, it actually seems to have a purpose that’s neither religious nor consumerist.  Although not the greatest fan of fireworks, I do enjoy using New Year as an opportunity for reflection on the year past, and to take a look at the year ahead.  I do this for my own life – though that would be dreadfully boring to put on this blog – but I’m also increasingly trying to do it for the world at large.  The rushed predictions I made for this year turned out to be 65% correct; next year I hope to beat that record!  I’m going to split the predictions into categories rather than just focusing on exciting/dull political developments as I did for this year.  So, without further ado, here are my 2014 predictions:

UK Politics

  • The Coalition will survive to the end of the year, but the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will really start ramping up the rhetoric to differentiate themselves from one another.  The Liberal Democrats will focus on the social liberal policies while remaining economically right-wing.
  • European elections: The Conservatives will lose out massively, perhaps dropping to 15-20%, while I expect Labour to lead at maybe 25% or so.  UKIP will, of course, dominate the news, and I expect them to come a close second to Labour but they won’t have a massive breakthrough.  The Liberal Democrat vote will collapse, falling below 10%.  The Greens will (hopefully!) keep at least one seat, while I think the SNP will make some gains in Scotland.  There won’t, however, be a clear leader in the election.
  • The Scottish electorate will reject independence in the upcoming referendum, but it’ll be closer than most are currently predicting.  The share voting Yes will be above 35%.
  • We might finally get some decent policy announcements from Labour.  Maybe.

Elections Worldwide

  • The constitutional referendum in Egypt will go ahead and provide a Yes vote, resulting in parliamentary and presidential elections later in the year.  I expect Sisi will run for president, or push a figure from the military.  These elections might not be completely rigged but I don’t expect their results to be universally accepted.
  • Libya will finally end up with a government by the end of the year, which will be more liberal-leaning than many other post-revolutionary governments in the region.
  • North Korea’s ruling party candidates will be returned to parliament with 100% of the vote.
  • Iraq will struggle to hold parliamentary elections within an increasingly violent atmosphere; Shia candidates will narrowly achieve a majority over Sunni and secular alternatives – Nour al-Maliki will probably continue as Prime Minister.
  • The European Parliament as a whole will see a massive rise of national eurosceptic parties – like UKIP – gaining seats in the legislature.  Otherwise, perhaps a small shift towards the left?
  • The Bharatiya Janata Party will defeat the ruling Indian National Congress in India.
  • The Fidesz Party in Hungary will consolidate its rule, leading to increasing concerns of authoritarianism in the country.
  • The ANC will be re-elected in South Africa, although with a smaller majority than in any other post-Apartheid election.  President Zuma’s popularity will continue to decline nonetheless.
  • In Sweden the Social Democratic Party, in alliance with the Greens, shall sweep to power.
  • Despite mass protests against her government earlier this year, I expect President Rousseff shall cling onto power in Brazil.
  • The Democrats shall take control of the United States Congress, finally ending the gridlock upon American politics. (I can dream)

Other World Developments

  • The Syrian conflict will become so depressing I’ll probably stop writing and talking about it.  The death toll shall pass 200,000, the government and Islamic radicals will become increasing winners at the expense of the population, and the international community will twiddle its thumbs while Russia, Iran and Hezbollah more and more start to call the shots.
  • The Sochi Winter Olympics will pass without too many more terrorist incidents.  There will be heightened international criticism of Russia’s human rights record, which will then be largely forgotten once the media coverage dies down.
  • We’ll be seeing a lot more about the travesty of oil-drilling in the Arctic.
  • There will be another coup, either in Africa or Asia.
  • Something big will happen to a South American country.
  • At least two countries will become more democratic.
  • Keep an eye on Ukraine – I expect certain elements of the country to increasingly resist Russian influence.
  • China’s economic growth rate will recede although still stay above the majority of countries in the world.
  • The dictator whose political demise I’ll predict this time is Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president of Algeria.

Cultural Predictions

  • Doctor Who: Steven Moffat will announce plans to resign within the next year, potentially followed by an announcement of a successor.  The return of an undivided series structure, alongside the return of multiple-episode stories (not yet announced) will improve series 8’s standing in my reviews.
  • Radiohead will release their ninth album, and it shall be amazing.
  • J.K. Rowling will publish her sequel to The Cuckoo’s Calling, which will become an instant best-seller.

 

Advertisements

Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor (Review)

Contains spoilers.

I’m not ready for this.  It does not feel like four years ago that Matt Smith first blazed onto our screens within the fires of David Tennant’s wrecked TARDIS.  It’s gone by so quickly and, now, it’s time to say farewell to Matt Smith also.  ‘The Time of the Doctor’, written, of course, by Steven Moffat, concludes the loose trilogy beginning with ‘The Name of the Doctor’ and ‘The Day of the Doctor‘, featuring the return of the Time Lords and Trenzalore, the Doctor’s final resting place.  This is the first proper regeneration episode Moffat has written, immediately setting itself up to be a different beast to David Tennant’s swansong, The End of Time, an epic battle against the Master and Time Lords.  The episode also promised to tie up most of the loose ends left during the Smith era.  Could any episode live up to these expectations?

On the whole, I think ‘The Time of the Doctor’ did a pretty decent job.  It’s been quite divisive among fans, with only 54.16% of voters on popular fansite Gallifrey Base giving the episode a rating of 8/10 and above (compared to 85.51% for ‘The Day of the Doctor’ and 96% for ‘The Name of the Doctor’).  I can certainly see why – the episode isn’t devoid of failings.  But in spite of this, I think there’s a lot to be valued indeed, and I expect much of this negativity is result of the disproportional pressure this episode had to meet expectations.

The episode began with interchanging scenes between the Doctor’s investigation of this mysterious, guarded planet emitting an untranslatable signal which has gathered every powerful force in the Universe, and Clara’s battles to have a Christmas dinner.  The Doctor’s scenes were very well realised and served to be a good introduction to the episode.  Although I wish there didn’t have to be Christmas references every time (the Doctor must live in fear of Christmas Day considering he always regenerates around that date), the more comical scenes on Earth did turn out better than I expected.  The Eleventh Doctor has been very funny during his time – balancing this brilliantly with the more serious aspects of his character – and it feels suitable that we have this one last laugh with him.

I enjoyed the Papal Mainframe as a presence within the episode.  As ever, Moffat’s jabs at religion amuse me (“We’re having an unscheduled faith change…”) and it’s also through this that we finally get some answers!  The Silence monsters were genetically engineered priests who you forget once you’ve confessed – genius – while we discover the Silence religion was born out of a need to prevent the Doctor ever speaking his name to release the Time Lords (more on that later).  The events of series 5 and 6, chiefly the destruction of the TARDIS and the whole plot involving River and the astronaut suit, are revealed to be the work of the breakaway ‘Kovarian Chapter’ which sought to change the Doctor’s past*.  I appreciate the answers, having long given up hope of having an answer to the TARDIS’ explosion, though it would have been nice if these big running threads had been explore more deeply than within a minute of exposition simply brushing them away.

Essentially, the real crux of this episode revolves around the Doctor’s discovery of a crack inside the town of Christmas on Trenzalore.  Through the crack the message is being emitted, from Gallifrey, on repeat: “Doctor Who?”  Here is the oldest question, hidden in plain sght, within a truth field where no living being can answer false…  If the Doctor lets out the Time Lords by answering his name, the Silence will destroy Trenzalore and the Time War will begin again.  Therefore, the Doctor dedicates his life to protecting the town of Christmas from the multiple invaders from above, including Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Weeping Angels and more.  I think this aspect of the episode is my favourite thing about this episode.  Becoming the patriarch of a small town, immersing himself in its life and protecting it until he’s old and feeble suits the Eleventh Doctor in a way I can’t imagine any others – would the Tenth Doctor have stuck around so long without getting bored?  I doubt it.  What’s more, the town is beautifully realised.  The character of Barbable achieves so much by so little, as do various other small roles, really making us care for these seemingly insignificant people, involved in this cosmic war by mere misfortune.  I love that there’s only five minutes of sunlight a day, which we see in an incredible shot featuring some of the best lighting I’ve seen – hats off to director Jamie Payne.

After what must be something like 900 years we see the Doctor, old, wizened, but still with a spirit to protect the town.  I have to say, I’m not entirely sure of the logic here.  The Doctor claims that every life he saves is a victory, which I can somewhat understand given that he must feel some guilt over bringing this siege upon the townspeople, but it’s not exactly the best plan given that they’ll be annihilated the moment he dies anyway – it’s just putting off the inevitable.  There’s then a twist thrown in that this is the Doctor’s final incarnation, since the War Doctor counted as one and the Tenth Doctor’s botched regeneration in ‘The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End’ (2008) counted as the other.  This is a good twist and adds extra tension, but it needed to be better planned.  If the Doctor always knew this to be his last regeneration then the regeneration effects during his faked death (‘The Impossible Astronaut’, 2011) were fooling no-one.  It feels cold, too, being jumped on the viewer like this.

Another criticism I have of this part of the episode was the very bizarre structural shape it took.  Most episodes – or narratives in general – have natural rises and falls in the action, generally building up to a climax of sorts.  ‘The Time of the Doctor’ does have a climax of sorts in that scene where the ancient Doctor faces off against the Dalek mothership, which is a genuinely fantastic and thrilling sequence (“EMERGENCY!  EMERGENCY!  THE DOCTOR IS REGENERATING!”), but it’s a short-lived rise in action that’s had very little build-up at all.  I think this is what a lot of people have found issue with – the episode comes across as very disjointed and all over the place.  Because I think Moffat handles the content well within this loose structure it’s not a massive problem for me, but I do acknowledge that the narrative is weakened in this respect.

Then the regeneration.  I never cry at television but, if I did, the tears would certainly have been streaming down here.  “I will not forget one line of this.  Not one day, I swear.  I will always remember when the Doctor was me,” he says in his final words.  What a contrast to the Tenth Doctor’s “I don’t want to go.”  Magnificently written and performed.  Then the bow-tie dropping to the floor – oh, it’s too much!  The appearance of Amy at the end seems to have also galvinised opinion – again I don’t have a great issue with it, since it was handled well and Amy was clearly this Doctor’s closest and longest-known friend.  Additionally, it’s very fitting of Moffat to have the Eleventh Doctor die of old age, given his affinity for ‘timey-wimey’ stories and avoiding violent deaths.  As for the regeneration itself, I did feel it was way too rushed (I like watching one face transform into another), but Peter Capaldi’s entrance was great.  Within about 20 seconds he’s already proved he has what it takes to be the Doctor, staring at Clara through alien-like eyes and darting round the console.  A refreshing divergence from the boundless youthful appearance of Smith’s Doctor, too.  I’m very much looking forward to next year!

For his final appearance Matt Smith gave another typically top-notch performance.  From his comic wackiness with Clara, his grief at Handles the Cyberhead’s death, to his determination in protecting Christmas and his joy at having his life extended at the climax, Smith had us utterly within his control through his enchanting performance.  His will be a tough act to follow – tougher, I would argue, than even David Tennant’s.  Jenna Coleman is also continuing to be very good as Clara.  I felt Clara seemed a bit more like an actual person in this episode, now we’ve seen more of her family and she’s getting more chance to develop chemistry with the Doctor, but she still lacks many defining characteristics besides the ‘feisty’, one-liner ridden dialogue Moffat gives most of his female characters.  Tasha Lem was convincingly portrayed by Orla Brady, giving the character more depth than I’d have expected, though she is also let down for the previous reasons.  Debatably, the star of this episode is Handles, whose death was almost as sad as the Doctor’s.

Overall, I think ‘The Time of the Doctor’ is a very fitting and satisfactory send-off for the Eleventh Doctor.  It isn’t perfect but it’s much better and more coherent than the kind of story we’ve seen recently from Steven Moffat.  I think it’s true that he struggles to reconcile the needs of plot arcs with the needs of individual stories, and I wouldn’t say he achieves this here (it must have been challenging for the casual viewer to follow), but for the Doctor’s regeneration it’s perhaps more forgiveable.  I enjoyed this one a lot.

Final rating: 9/10

*Incidentally, I mused in my review of ‘The Name of the Doctor’ that Steven Moffat either intended the Silence to be the most useless villains ever or he’s making it all up as he goes along.  Turns out it’s still the latter, but he’s used the first as an excuse to cover his tracks – only they’re more useless than I even imagined, having created the very cracks they sought to prevent by blowing up the TARDIS.

 

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary in Review

I apologise for how incredibly late this is (dashing to get it done before tomorrow’s Christmas special!).  I’d blame university, essays and so on but it really is, as ever, just due to my poor time management.  Working on it…

Anyhow, the landmark 50th anniversary of Doctor Who has come and gone, but did it live up to the intense hype surrounding the event?  I have to say that, up until November, I’d been very underwhelmed by efforts to commemorate the anniversary.  We had the second half of series 7 – I think* – earlier this year which, if I’m being honest, was not the best run the revived show has had.  That ended in May and since then there’s been radio silence of all things Doctor Who, apart from the passing announcement of Peter Capaldi being cast as the Twelfth Doctor.  So I was quite eager to see whether these November festivities (yes, it does count as a holiday) would be worth the wait.  Because we’ve had such a variety of audio-visual treats over the last month I’ll think I look at them separately before assessing the anniversary as a whole. (Warning: CONTAINS MULTIPLE SPOILERS)

The Night of the Doctor

This ‘minisode’ prequel certainly got the anniversary off to a dramatic start!  Who expected Paul McGann to make an appearance?  Fans have been clamouring for him to make a reappearance as the Eighth Doctor and, at last, he has returned, and we’ve finally found the answer to his regeneration.  This is a short piece, only seven minutes in length, but it covers so much in that time, racing from element to element.  It begins on a crashing spaceship where Cass (Emma Campbell-Jones) desperately calls for help.  Her computers starts havering about doctors – “Stop talking about Doctors!” she demands.  We hear a reply: “I’m a Doctor…” and, in typical Doctor Who fashion, the camera pans round for the big reveal.  “But probably not the one you expected,” says Paul McGann, in this instance speaking directly to the audience.  This brilliantly plays with the audience’s expectations and establishes so much within merely 25 seconds.

The story then follows a traditional format: the Doctor saves a young woman who wants to see the universe and is evidently perfect companion material.  However, yet again, our expectations are subverted and she ends up choosing death over trusting a Time Lord as a result of their role in the horrific Time War.  Previously in the series we’ve been introduced to countless species who lost their homes in the Time War, numerous extinctions, and even an episode partially set during it (‘The End of Time Part 2’, 2010), but I think this terror towards the Doctor is the most effectively I’ve seen the scale of suffering during the war expressed in writing.  “Who can tell the difference anymore?” she says, comparing Time Lords to Daleks.  This is absolutely chilling.

The remainder of the story takes place on Karn (last seen in ‘The Brain of Morbius’, 1976 – a nice throwback for the fans).  Somehow, it seems natural that Paul McGann’s regeneration was effectively an act of suicide, which again emphasises the severity of the war.  I think that “Physician, heal thyself…” are the greatest final words a Doctor has ever spoken.  This is a beautifully written short piece by Steven Moffat, proving once again that he writes best when handling self-contained stories rather than longer arcs.

The only real negatives I have for ‘The Night of the Doctor’ are related to its production.  Visually it’s perfect, but the general style of direction is just too restricted by its ‘minisode’ format.  This is a story which needs more time to be told; at barely under seven minutes it rushes through at breakneck speed.  It’s also choppily edited together with generic soundtrack pieces over the top, at times resembling a fan production (such as the sort of thing I’ve generally produced – ahem – ) than an official work.  I’m particularly alluding to the bombastic score playing during the final seconds as John Hurt, the ‘War Doctor’, picks up the ammunition belt.  It completely jars with the tone of the scene.

Overall, Night of the Doctor’ succeeds at everything it was intended to do but it can’t avoid coming across as such wasted potential.

8/10.

The Last Day

This is another short, eerie prequel leading up to ‘The Day of the Doctor’.  Shots taken from the perspective of a soldier, resurrected as an android to guard the city of Arcadia (referenced by the Doctor in Doomsday, 2006 – some nice continuity here!), give this a chilling tone, working effectively to bring to life just how hellish the Time War is.  Not an awful lot to say about this other than it succeeds tremendously at establishing the events surrounding the Fall of Arcadia.  Ending with a Dalek onslaught and the narrator exterminated, this leads directly into ‘The Day of the Doctor’ and promises much to come.

9/10

An Adventure in Space and Time

To me, An Adventure in Space and Time always was going to be the highlight of the anniversary festivities.  I remember watching Coronation Street do a similar origin story very successfully back in 2010, which no doubt must have helped inspire some aspects of this drama while also proving to be a hard act to follow.  Though in my opinion not the greatest writer Doctor Who has seen, I was very pleased to have Mark Gatiss writing it, this kind of thing seeming to be his area of expertise.  I went into this very excited indeed; and, generally, my expectations were met.

Although the drama’s intention to tell the story of Doctor Who‘s creation, it is at its core a character-driven piece.  On one hand we have the story of Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) trying to break into the television business despite coming against the institutionalised sexism of the BBC, developing alongside the tale of William Hartnell (David Bradley) searching for fulfilment in his acting career.  The focus passes from Lambert to Hartnell as the drama proceeds but they’re both told beautifully well.  Doctor Who proves to be the salvation for both.  In his writing, Gatiss really captures the love and dedication which went into creating the show.

The acting was generally absolutely spot-on.  That opening moment when David Bradley walked onto the TARDIS set, amazingly recreated, wearing the First Doctor’s outfit… It was like watching William Hartnell return from the dead, his mannerisms were so perfect.  As Hartnell himself, he nailed that fine line between crotchety old man and lovable grandfather – the scenes with his real-life granddaughter and later with the kids in the park, where he completely relished getting into the role, were joyful to watch.  Likewise, his forced exit from the show as a result of poor health was heartbreaking.  Although I had no pre-conceptions, Brian Cox and Sacha Dhawan also managed to successfully capture how I imagined co-creator Sydney Newman and director Waris Hussein.  And although I didn’t notice it at the time, seeing original actors William Russell and Carol Ann Ford in cameo roles was a very nice touch.  Although I don’t believe there was a bad actor in the production, two actors whom I felt were miscast were Jamie Glover as William Russell** and Reece Shearesmith as Patrick Troughton.  Again, nothing against their acting – it is as superficial as them simply not looking like the people they were recreating.

The direction is definitely another stand-out feature which brought Adventure to life; Terry McDonough really took us back to 1963.  It’s such a fantastic period piece.  So many shots stick out in my memory as excellent, but I think my favourite has to be the moment when the Daleks were first unveiled.  That pan above the wobbly set was such an effective introduction.  I also loved seeing how colourful some of the sets were.  A couple of colour photos do exist from the 1960s and I’m always astonished by how bright they were.   The transitions between recreating moments from the show and moments offstage were absolutely seamless, making the drama seem even more vibrant.

If I have one criticism of the whole production, I feel much of it was rushed.  I think this is a flaw in both the writing and the editing, although not one I have a solution for – there is no easy way of representing three years in the course of 90 minutes.  Although this sometimes worked to the show’s benefit, such as the repetitive photo-shoots Hartnell had to endure with an increasingly alien cast rushing past, I think the focus did sometimes lapse as a result.  Nevertheless, the sheer amount Gatiss managed to cram into the script given such constraints is impressive.

Overall, An Adventure in Time and Space was a very laudable production indeed.  I’d even go as far to say that it’s the best anniversary celebration I’ve ever seen, oozing pure love for the show.

9/10

The Day of the Doctor

The long-awaited 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who has finally passed.  I remember back when I first became a fan of the programme, noting it as being 44 years old (so this must have been 2007, my 12-year-old self at the height of his Doctor Who fandom), and looking ahead to that far-off day when my favourite show would turn 50.  How would it be celebrated, I wondered?  I’d watched previous anniversaries: The Three Doctors (1973), The Five Doctors (1983) and Dimensions in Time (1993), all of which featured a return of past Doctors.  This did appear to be the conventional way of celebrating the show’s anniversary.  However, I recall Steven Moffat ruling out a multi-Doctor story so it’s perhaps surprising that’s what we ended up with***.  It was quite exciting to see David Tennant announced to return (Billie Piper less so).  Then the first trailers erupted across Facebook and Twitter, showing Dalek spacecraft engaged in warfare, a return to the Time War, and answers behind the enigmatic ‘War Doctor’, played by John Hurt and introduced in ‘The Name of the Doctor’ earlier this year.  The publicity behind the special certainly made it unmissable viewing.

I’m going to get the negatives out of the way first, partly because it’s neater and partly because, on first viewing, I must confess that I absolutely hated ‘The Day of the Doctor’.   Structurally, the episode is divided between two plots.  On one hand you have the War Doctor (or alternatively the Ninth Doctor; perhaps even Doctor 8.5) leaving Gallifrey with The Moment, the most destructive weapon in the Universe, and on the verge of using it to wipe out the Time Lords and Daleks when the Moment’s conscience, played by Billie Piper, sends him through time to meet the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors in a bid to alter his resolve.  At the same time UNIT summons the Eleventh Doctor to investigate monsters which broke out of a painting, which later turns out to be a Zygon invasion which the Tenth Doctor first investigated upon suspecting Elizabeth I had been impersonated.  I can see the reasoning for these dual plot strands, as the Zygon invasion forms the backdrop of the War Doctor’s inner turmoil as he discover’s how his momentous decision will change him in future incarnations, but I’m afraid it fell rather flat on me.  This is essentially a story about the Time War and the Doctor’s involvement in ending it.  Obviously I’m a critic and probably don’t represent the target audience, but with this expectation in mind I didn’t really want to watch a somewhat silly romp featuring the Tenth Doctor at his most annoying.  The tonal clash between these two stories just didn’t work for me.  Also, the Zygon story has to have had the least satisfying conclusion I’ve ever come across.

Furthermore, upon first viewing I wasn’t keen on where Moffat took the Time War story.  It was absolutely brilliant initially, with those scenes of absolute hell in Arcadia followed by the War Doctor’s retreat on that desert planet being some of the finest the show’s ever produced, but I really think the horrors of that moment were betrayed when the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors joined the War Doctor in pushing the button to end it all.  This is what bothers me about Steven Moffat’s writing: although he is sometimes an undeniable genius, when he gets something wrong it not only ruins his own episodes but also destroys your opinion of what’s come before.  To me, the destruction of the Time Lords was the absolute peak of the Doctor’s loneliness, despair and desperation.  To have company at this most important moment ruined it.  Then, there came that decision to trap Gallifrey inside a bubble of time?  Forgetting the multiple logical fallacies in this (surely the Daleks didn’t send every single individual Dalek on that one assault upon Gallifrey?  Surely they wouldn’t all be killed in the crossfire?  And what do you mean, ‘I suppose we’ll never know if it worked?’  If it didn’t work the whole of time would have been ripped apart by Rassilon in ‘The End of Time’ (2009)!), it again destroys most of the drama during the 2005 series focusing around the Ninth Doctor dealing with what he did.  The logic of not remembering doesn’t even work – how does the Doctor now have memories of something he didn’t even do?  And while we’re on logic, why did the War Doctor randomly regenerate at the end of the episode, other than for convenience of showing how Christopher Eccleston became the Doctor (which is now infinitely duller than we had all imagined – thanks Moffat).  I appreciate you couldn’t show anything as dark as this in what is essentially a family show, which is why I think Moffat would have been better to have just left the Time War alone.

My final niggle is with some of the characterisation.  Principally, I really don’t like how Clara has suddenly become the doctor’s BFF and now knows everything about him, making all these comments like, “I always know [when you need time alone,” and so on.  Logically, again, it makes sense – she probably has the most intimate connection a companion has ever had to him following her entry into his timestream at the end of series 7, but emotionally it falls flat.  We have never had chance to watch their relationship develop on screen – she was there as his friend simply by virtue of being ‘the impossible girl’.  This is a flaw of the writing, to be clear – Jenna Coleman does a brilliant job with what she’s given.  I also think better use could have been made of the Tenth Doctor, who was kind of relegated to the sidelines when alongside Matt Smith and John Hurt.

With these thoughts running through my head I was almost despairing at the 50th anniversary.  But then I watched it again and did manage to pick up on some more positives.  As I mentioned, the sequences involving the Time War in the first half are beautifully written and stunningly directed.  I think the assault of Arcadia is the best battle to have ever been visualised in Doctor Who, even if it was disappointingly conventional considering the grisly imagery we’ve been previously given about the Time War.  Likewise, the sequence where the War Doctor retreats to the desert planet is fantastically written (“Time Lords of Gallifrey, Daleks of Skaro… I serve notice on you all. Too long have I stayed my hand; no more, no more.  Today you leave me no choice: today, this war will end.  No more.  No more…”  Ooh, the shivers) and the cinematography is incredible.  I have few criticisms of Nick Hurran’s direction, who is establishing himself as one of Doctor Who’s very best.  Likewise, the ending scene where Tom Baker returns is well written, acted and directed by all.  This is perhaps one scene I can forgive for not totally making sense – it’s Tom Baker after all!

With the aforementioned characters notwithstanding, I think this episode also proved to be generally pretty strong on characterisation.  Particularly John Hurt who, despite my objections towards the impact it would have upon the canon, I want to have entire seasons of acting as the Doctor.  He played the role brilliantly, bringing an older and hardened portrayal to the character that is still essentially Doctorish at heart(s), and his exchanges with Matt Smith and David Tennant were a joy to watch. Easily the best thing in the episode. And although I wasn’t keen on her role in the story, Kate Stewart was played well by Jemma Redgrave, establishing a likeable recurring character.  It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the character of Rose, which is why I was so annoyed to have Billie Piper returning, but it must be stressed this isn’t due to her acting ability.  With Piper playing the Moment’s Conscience, merely in the form of Rose, I don’t have any criticisms at all of her role in the episode.  The Zygons I wasn’t keen on at all – the cynic in me would say they were there solely to make the merchandise officials happy – while the character of Elizabeth I was superfluous at best and irritating at worst (that said, I enjoyed the conclusion to this running gag of the Doctor’s relationship to the Queen, but it really didn’t warrant this much screen time).

Over all, I have very mixed feelings towards this episode.  I certainly wouldn’t say it was a failure – it succeeds wholeheartedly at providing a spectacular anniversary special which celebrates the past while also looking to the future – but it definitely was brought down by quite a few failings.  But, because it’s Christmas tomorrow, I think I’ll be generous.  I can’t help but like the episode now I’ve rewatched it several times, despite the furious complaints of my science-fiction mired brain.

Final rating: 7/10

The Five Doctors(ish) Reboot

Anyone that knows me could testify that comedies are my least favourite genre of television – I tend to find them so boring.  So it’s perhaps a surprise that this low-budget comedy production, sneaked into the anniversary celebrations under everyone’s noses, would prove to be my favourite offering of the entire month.  There’s little I want to say about it other than you should watch it right now.  Even if you’ve seen it before, go find it right now and watch it again!

Essentially, it makes light of the fact that Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy weren’t asked to be a part of ‘Day of the Doctor’.  It features their attempts to get involved and, when Steven Moffat refuses them (in some absolutely hilarious scenes), they try to sneak onto the set.  Oh, the entire thing is brilliant beyond description.  So many people have made cameos in it – I lost count of the amount of times I wanted to shout in joy, “How did they get hold of that person?!”  The amount of cameos goes to show just how much love there is for this TV show.   It’s brilliant in that is doesn’t take itself at all seriously – whether by portraying Colin Baker as an egomaniac that subjects his family to regular viewings of his 1980s episodes, or showing Steven Moffat to be a heartless monster who plays with action figures all day long, I think this is one of the most hilariously self-aware things I’ve ever watched.

Just, go watch it now – you should have stopped reading after the first paragraph.

Final rating: 10/10

Overall, Doctor Who fans have been truly treated by the sheer amount of content we’ve had to feast on during the anniversary celebrations.  Sure, not all of it was brilliant, but I think this is definitely without doubt the best overall anniversary the show has ever had.  Compare it to the droughts experienced in 1993 and 2003 and the show seems to be very strong indeed.  I look forward to 2023, 2024 and so on, and perhaps even the 100th anniversary in 2063 if I’m still alive! (I’d only be 68 – it’s possible!).  Here’s to many more years of this utterly fantastic program.

*Took me a moment to remember when it actually aired – that’s how little an impression it made on me.
**It must have been surreal for Russell to see someone on set playing himself!
***Less so when you remember Rule 1: The Moff lies!

Peter Capaldi is the 12th Doctor!

Peter Capaldi has been announced as the Twelfth Doctor in the hit BBC series, Doctor Who!  I’ve posted my reaction and thoughts in the form of a vlog, which you can watch here.  However there’s a couple of things I’ve thought of since.  I wonder how the Doctor’s relationship with Clara will change?  Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman have good ‘chemistry’ together, but Capaldi in the role will completely change that.  I can imagine the Doctor taking on a more fatherly, mentor role to her – but that’s largely just an assumption based on Capaldi’s age.  Also, I’m glad to see that the reaction to his casting has been mainly positive.  A few people aren’t pleased but I would definitely say the majority share my view that he will be great in the role.  I’ve seen a couple of younger people reacting negatively, which has made me wonder whether Doctor Who’s modern youth fanbase will react to an older Doctor.  I see no reason why it should be a problem and this negativity, I expect, largely stems from the fact that an older Doctor is unusual – he’s the oldest Doctor to have been cast in the new series by about 15 years of age.

Yes, I highly look forward to Capaldi’s portrayal of the Doctor.  Bring on 2014!

Doctor Who: The Witch Hunters [Novel] (Review)

Contains spoilers.

 

I’ve always considered the Doctor Who novels to be a weaker offshoot of the main television series.  Bound by continuity, unable to make major alterations to the development of characters or stories, I had an image of them as being superficial adventures – as entertaining as these can be.  I was given The Witch Hunters by Steve Lyons about 5 or 6 years ago as a birthday present and decided to read it now.  It was published in 1998 – during what fans consider the ‘wilderness years’ of the show after it had been cancelled in 1989 and before its return in 2005.  Set in Massachusetts, 1692, the story focuses around the tragic events of the Salem Witch Trials.  It features the First Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara and fits between “The Reign of Terror” and “Planet of the Giants” (around 1964).

The historical setting is the most striking aspect of the novel.  Doctor Who, up until 1966 or so,  featured frequent ‘historicals’ in which the travelers would land in a period of Earth’s history and be the only alien influence seen during the story.  I rather miss that format – it would be nice now to see the Doctor travel back in time and not have aliens cause Mt. Vesuvius to erupt, for Shakespeare not to be influenced by witches, etc.  But I digress.  There was a point half way into the novel where I feared the antagonist would be revealed as supernatural witches, but it soon became clear this uncertainty was Lyons’ intention to make the mass hysteria appear all the more powerful.  This tactic most definitely worked.  I also enjoy the TARDIS landing on what seems like Earth but the travelers having no idea where they are.  I wish that too would happen more frequently in the new series, but then nowadays there isn’t time for exploration.

Mass hysteria is a concept I in my snug, stable society have always struggled to understand, but Lyons’ approach to the subject is both tactful and enlightening.  Even before the Doctor explains it, the tight-knit, claustrophobic community crippled by mourning and paranoia is developed through virtually every page and the reader believes that such hysteria could occur in this village.  (Actually, these conditions finally provide a decent excuse for Othello…).  I’m still not entirely convinced by the explanation for the children’s well-timed fits during the courts, but a combination of the puritanical society denying them an outlet for energy, the regular abuse they face, living on the edge of the Known World with all the trauma that entails and the fundamental religious belief all comes together to create a psychological state I could scarcely imagine.  It is obvious Lyons has done his research.  My main criticism is that the religious aspect sometimes felt a little shoehorned – Ian, coming from the 1960s UK, really wouldn’t say something like ‘your Bible’.  Even if he himself is not religious – possible after all of his experences – he’ll certainly have friends or family at home who are.  I get that the intention is to further portray this village as alien to the travelers but on this occasion it’s a bit forced.

This is why I love historicals; through a glance into different cultures, different beliefs and different events they shine varying lights into human nature.  Humans become the enemy, with all the ambigueties this entails.  The Witch Hunters is no different in portraying the dark side of humanity than we saw with the Aztecs and French Revolution on TV, but what does make it different is the increased amount of cruelty we see.  This must have been when the novels entered their ‘adult phase’ – both Ian and Susan experience forms of torture during the story and the entire plot is mired with death.  This is much darker than anything which would have been allowed on TV, and I love it!  Also, historicals really do provide different perspectives of the world.  No better is this seen than in Samuel Parris’ ironic desire to: “go down in history for all the right reasons” by ridding Salem of witches – an action which, of course, has instead made him infamous and a figure of hatred.  It also allows for time jumps, described well by beginning each section with a date; one page we’re in 1692 and the next it’s the 1950s.  So much fun! (Besides, er, the witch executions…)

The laws of time are given an interesting role here, too.  It’s a concept which has been explored numerous times in Doctor Who – often in direct contradiction with what has previously been established.  Rather than messing with the more modern idea of ‘fixed points in time’, Lyons builds on the ideas first developed in “The Aztecs” that history cannot be changed.  This is proved wrong when the characters make minor alterations, and so I am left to assume that this is an artificial rule imposed upon the Doctor.  Is he so scared of changing time because to do so might catch the attention of the Time Lords he’s currently on the run from?  It’s never said for sure but the novel does hint that’s the case.

I was also highly impressed with the way Lyons wrote the characters.  As I already mentiond he is restrained with what he can do, although he skillfully takes as much from the characters as he can.  He managed to tie the novel in to the vague developments shown in the TV series, contributing to Susan’s growth to independence and the Doctor’s lonely nature, as well as creating an insight into the Doctor’s strained relationship with Ian and Barbara which will actually help me to understand their interactions better whenever I next watch an old episode.  That’s powerful writing to do that.

Ian and Barbara’s dialogue could effortlessly have come from William Russell and Jacqueline Hill, while the Doctor’s mannerisms were usually believable.  Susan was the weakest written character, I found.  The Susan of this story was written convincingly enough but it didn’t quite fit in with the Susan from TV.  While I enjoyed her almost childlike hope that Ian and Barbara would continue travelling forever, she was at times written to be too young.  I think Susan’s age is supposed to be around 15 or 16 but she’s written to be more like a 12 year old.  This was a flaw of the TV series too but it’s particularly prevalent here.  Considering the adventures she ought to have had at this point, on Skaro, with cavemen, Revolutionary France, the Aztecs, the Sense-Sphere… etc. – she really ought not be this naive.  The Doctor, on the other hand, was developed well beyond the writing for TV.  We see his inner turmoils as he is forbidden from altering time, the discrepencies between what he says and what he thinks which can only be hinted at from television performances.  When he takes future victim Rebecca Nurse forward in time to see a production of The Crucible, then shows her Salem in the modern day, it’s such a beautiful reflection of the character which I’m accustomed to seeing only in the new series.  Yet, Lyons has fit these attributes to the personality of the first Doctor – a successful blend of new and old.  That bit where he manages to convince the prison guards to let Ian free is so Hartnell, yet also has the depth which only developed later.

In conclusion, Doctor Who: The Witch Hunters is a surprisingly entertaining and thought-provoking book.  It’s expanded my knowledge of the Salem Witch Trials – appearing to be exceedingly accurate from my own limited research – and has expanded the already established characters.  It’s encouraged me to seek out more Doctor Who books in the future.

Final rating: 9/10

Matt Smith to Leave Doctor Who

Leaked early by the press yesterday (as ever), it has been announced that Matt Smith is to quit his role as the Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who.  His final episode shall be this year’s Christmas special, meaning that we’re only going to see him twice more in the part!  There’s the 50th anniversary special on November 23rd, then Christmas.  Then he’s gone!

I haven’t really had a specifically positive or negative reaction towards the news.  Well, obviously, it’s his life.  But he’s also had a long run, just surpassing the number of episodes David Tennant made.  I’m not sure there was much further the character could have gone. However, I do have a couple of regrets.  My first is that we’ll never get to see Smith written under the leadership of another head-writer after Steven Moffat.  I should probably clarify that, although I’ve criticised him a lot, I do actually have a lot of respect for Moffat’s writing – I just think his series planning leaves something to be desired.  I would have preferred Moffat to leave before Smith.  Also, if Moffat is planning to leave after another year or so, whichever characterisation he creates for the Twelfth Doctor would be inherited by his successor.  Actually, that could be quite interesting – or disastrous.  My other main regret is that we won’t see much development between the Eleventh Doctor and Clara, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, as they’ll have only shared… 11 stories together?  12, technically?  Well, I suppose that’s sort of a whole series’ worth of episodes, but it hasn’t felt like it… *cough* broken format *cough*.

Regardless of my thoughts, I wish Matt Smith the best of luck with what I’m sure will be a busy acting career in the future.  He has certainly been brilliant as the Doctor.

Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (Review)

Contains spoilers.

Who is Clara?  What will happen at Trenzalore?  Why have the Silence been trying to kill the Doctor?  What is his greatest secret?  Will his name be revealed?  These are just some of the questions which I was hoping the season finale of series 7 would provide answers to.  Now, it’s no secret that series 7 – particularly the latter half – has not been entirely to my taste.  I enjoyed Asylum of the Daleks, The Angels take Manhattan, The Snowmen, The Rings of Akhaten, Hide and The Crimson Horror, but the rest have been quite below par in my view, and the series as a whole has suffered due to experimentation with the structure – every episode being a different ‘blockbuster’ story.  But can The Name of the Doctor, written by Steven Moffat – who I’ve criticised a lot, but can be fantastic on a good day – and directed by Saul Metzstein – who has already proven his ability – bring about a decent end to the series?  Essentially, yes.

Firstly, that opening!  From the line: “what sort of idiot would try to steal a faulty TARDIS?” it became clear that this episode was something different.  Gallifrey!  The classic Doctors!  I keep rewatching it on BBC Iplayer, just to check it actually happened.  They’ve ingeniously taken clips from the classic series, between 1964 and 1987, and slotted them into the episode.  This involved green-screening Clara onto shots which, yes, was a little bit obvious but really, who cares?  We’re seeing the classic Doctors!  And then there’s that conversation between Clara and the First Doctor, who has been colourised from an episode of The Aztecs (1963).  I’ve seen the colourisation criticised by people with a greater technical knowledge than I have but, again, does it matter?  This was an utterly delightful sequence.

The episode builds on this opening and continues to strengthen.  As ever, I enjoyed the Doctor’s ‘gang’ of Madam Vastra, Jenny, Strax and, returning in this episode, River Song.  After getting information from a man due to be executed (which is never properly explained, like a few things in this episode), the team host a ‘conference call’, where each becomes unconscious in their respective time and location and end up in some dreamworld.  The logic is patchy, but it’s a great idea.  And I love that Strax was in Glasgow at the time!   And then it all takes a sinister turn when the Whispermen attack… “I think I’ve been murdered…”  It’s terrifying!  These scenes really work.

It’s when the action moves to Trenzalore that the episode begins to develop a few holes.  I really like the concept of this being the graveyard of some bloody battle, a battle the future Doctor didn’t survive, although I’m reluctant that they’ll just never mention this again.  This is the second time in Moffat’s writing that we’ve seen how the Doctor dies, though he’d probably just get out of it by saying that “Oh, this wasn’t actually the Doctor” (which would ruin the whole purpose of the episode… Again.  Yes, I’m beginning to understand Moffat’s ways).  It’s the villains which prove to be the greatest weakness of the episode.  The Great Intelligence is back, still inhabiting the body of Dr. Simeon from The Snowmen, but I’m at a complete loss over what it actually wants.  What’s its motivation?  We’ve seen it try to destroy human life and gain power twice now, and its third plan is to undo all the good the Doctor has done, for its ‘peace’?  It’s an audacious plan but it’s been done before, and it never ends well for anyone.   And who are the Whispermen?  Really, who are they?  They’ve just been thrown in because the Great Intelligence needs henchmen, but have had absolutely no development.  Wouldn’t it have been better for the Silence to return instead (and thereby tying up a loose end which still has been left ignored since 2010*).

Almost every problem this episode has is a result of having squeezed it into a 45 minute slot.  It is extremely rushed, to the episode’s great detriment.  There’s a scene where Clara suddenly gains memories of the events in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (though not, conveniently, of having read his name in The History of the Time War), and she’s understandably freaking out, and then cut to about 5 seconds later and she and the Doctor are confronting the Great Intelligence.  No movement, no transition.  Oh, and the plot holes.  So many things have been left unresolved: how did the Doctor see River, when she’s a data ghost connected to Clara? (he says some rubbish like “I always see you,” but that’s poetry, not a plot explanation).  And just other petty things, like Dorium’s wording in The Wedding of River Song:

“On the Fields of Trenzalore, at the Fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked”

‘The Fall of the Eleventh’?  That’s either the death of the Doctor – meaning that his future death must be resolved again and soon – or his literal fall in the TARDIS to the planet which, frankly, is a pathetic explanation for the prophecy.  And the ‘no living creature’ line is completely wrong, as the only person who doesn’t fail to answer is dead.  And who is ‘the woman from the shop’ who gave Clara the Doctor’s number in The Bells of Saint John?  Why was the TARDIS irritable towards Clara in earlier episodes?  I’m not forgetting these things.

You’d be forgiven for thinking I disliked this episode, but it generally works really well – I’m just losing patience with the inconsistencies.  The sequences of the Great Intelligence entering the Doctor’s timeline and Jenny dying, then Strax reverting to Sontaran ‘default’ and getting killed by Vastra, is chilling.  Then Clara entering!  These segments were very well indeed, and there is a proper sense of closure to the series.  Actually, I’m rather impressed at the degree to which Moffat has explained the Clara mystery – I don’t think I have any questions left (I’m slightly grumpy, as Moffat stole an idea I wrote in a fanfiction script three years ago – but that’s neither here nor there).  So does this mean that Clara now knows more about the Doctor than any other companion?  Or, I guess this Clara won’t have the combined knowledge of her other splintered beings through time.   Oh, and I’m glad the significance of the leaf in The Rings of Akhaten finally has an explanation.

The ending works really, really well.  In that cavern where everything around them is the Doctor, they see a silhouette of a figure standing at the edge, who the Doctor warns Clara away from.  This scene is both brilliantly directed and written, and the reveal of John Hurt is skillfully built up to.  It’s disappointing that they ruined it with the irritating, unnecessary and nonsensical caption: “Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor” (the Eleventh Doctor has just explained that he abandoned the title of Doctor), which completely took me out of the action and unforgivably broke the fourth wall.  That’s how desperate the team are to get views for an episode to be broadcast in half a year’s time.  Oh well, most of it worked well.  John Hurt was amazing in the 20 seconds or so of screen time he had, so in that respect I cannot wait for November.

Villains aside, I enjoyed all of the characters in this episode.  Matt Smith gave another fantastic performance as the Doctor.  The scene where he begins to cry upon hearing about Trenzalore shows what a versatile actor he is, as well as his tone of trepidation throughout the rest of the episode.  Jenna-Louise Coleman continues to act Clara well, despite inconsistent writing.  Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart and Dan Starkey are again all great as Vastra, Jenny and Strax.  Jenny’s recovery from having her heart stopped is one of the better resurrections Moffat is fond of writing, and it gave them the great exchange: “The heart is a relatively simple thing” – “I have not found it to be so.”  Alex Kingston returns as River Song in what is kind of written as if to be her last appearance, being the only episode featuring her to be set after Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, where her body died and her consciousness living in the Library’s data core.  It’s a fitting tribute to the character, but the door is still open for her to return.  I think Moffat’s treading a little close to the line with their ‘relationship’, having the Doctor kiss River without any pretext though, at the same time, it kind of feels natural if we’re not seeing River again.

Metzstein’s direction is great, again.  The Whispermen do seem fairly scary, and the scenes on Trenzalore are very atmospheric.  There’s not a lot to say other than that – I hope he keeps up the good work!

Overall, I think I’ve been too harsh towards The Name of the Doctor in this review as I really did enjoy watching it.  It must be one of the better episodes in this series.  And I’m now, for the first time, properly excited for the 50th anniversary special – this episode is almost seeming like the tame lead-in, or the prologue.  And, amazingly, Steven Moffat has written himself out of the hole he was in regarding the Doctor’s name.  Despite the title and advertising of the episode, the Doctor’s name was (thankfully) not revealed, yet the finale doesn’t feel cheapened in any way.  Not perfect by any means, but a very sound conclusion to the series.

Final Rating: 8.5/10

*I’ve read fan theories suggesting that the Silence were trying to prevent the Great Intelligence’s plan from been carried out, by killing the only person who knows the Doctor’s name – himself – and therefore prevent him opening the tomb.  However, let’s look at their plan.  First they try to kill him by destroying the TARDIS when he isn’t in it, with the side-effect of blowing up the Universe.  That went well.  Plan B: they steal his companions’ daughter and train her to be an assassin, only to throw her into an astronaut suit underwater with no control over her actions, just because who doesn’t think about underwater astronauts when planning a murder?  Having River inside was needless, and had the side-effect of ending time when she refused to kill him.  That also went well.  It had the second side-effect of allowing River to discover the Doctor’s name [though how did that happen?  It was revealed he didn’t actually tell her that when they got married], which later allowed the Great Intelligence to enter the Doctor’s tomb and wipe out his achievements.  Wait.  If the Doctor must always die at Trenzalore, which presumably is a given considering they’re making plans around it, then won’t killing him elsewhere create a paradox?  Or is that the purpose?  …  Either Moffat intended the Silence to be terrible, terrible planners, or he has no idea where he’s going with any of his plot threads.  I wonder which it is… ?