Tuesday, 30 April 2013

My favourite part of the latest Doctor Who episode was the confirmation that Clara's from Lancashire, and isn’t, as it may have seemed before, a Londoner with a really badly acted London accent. She’s the Northern companion we’ve all been waiting for. That's how she's survived dying twice; she's a tough Lancashire lass. She can prove the Doctor wrong regarding that quip in The Beast Below.

Aside from that, Steve Thompson's episode had its ups and downs. It was called Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS and didn’t do a bad job of bringing to the screen the Jules Verne sense of adventure which that title conjures up. Captured by a space salvage crew, the TARDIS took a bit of a space hit, and Clara became trapped deep in the space ship, causing the Doctor to set off the space self-destruct unless the space salvage crew space found Clara.

The infinite breadth of the TARDIS is a strange place. The majority of the audience (including my mum, as she texted me in confusion at 7:15) doesn’t realize there’s more than just the console room, but certain fans are always demanding to see more. “I want to see the swimming pool”, “why have we never seen the bowling alley”, “the BBC are morally obliged to show us the Doctor’s toilet so I can get the brand of loo roll he uses right in my fan-fic” – those kinds of fans. Occasionally, an episode comes along which tries to explore the Doctor’s ship more than usual, and these fans are usually left dissatisfied - one Tom Baker story infamously shot it in a Victorian hospital after the BBC realised they couldn't afford sets, rendering the TARDIS a little, well, bricky.

The last attempt was 2011’s The Doctor’s Wife, which, while a brilliantly spooky and touching script, fell short in actual TARDIS rooms – we saw some corridors and an old console room, but the Zero Room (look it up) was cut for time and budget reasons. Journey pulled out a few more stops, showing us the library, the Eye of Harmony, and, indeed, the swimming pool. Oh, and again, there was a hell of a lot of corridors. Despite my dislike of the current console room, it was a very well designed and lit episode; the TARDIS really felt like a dangerous labyrinth actively working against those trapped inside it.

The additional element of jeopardy was the Time Zombies stalking the infinite corridors. I’m undecided on how crap these actually were. They were sufficiently unnerving as mysterious burnt husks, and the reveal that one was from Lancashire (and also was Clara) actually surprised me and upped the stakes. But the timey-wimey explanations for how they got to be who/where/when they were… I’m not entirely convinced any of that made the remotest of sense. But it wasn’t as problematic as last week's nonsense.

Nor was this as problematic as my one major complaint about the episode – the guest cast. I never really sympathized with the Van Baalens, and that’s as much down to the writing than it is to the acting. For the episode to really grab me, the salvage crew would need to be likable, and, really, how am I meant to like a character who convinces his brother he’s an android for the lols? That’s horrible. And also stupid. And I saw it coming. In the acting department, the guy playing the older brother has to win a Doctor Who Razzie for his one mildly confused and offended expression which he made at everything, from entering a spaceship that’s bigger on the inside to being killed by a Time Zombie, via everyday conversation.

On the positive side, I did like the characterisation of the Doctor in this episode. Once again, we saw the manipulative side to Matt Smith’s Doctor; the side which lies to make people follow his plan (I saw the self-destruct trick coming but loved it), the side which scares Clara more “than anything else on this TARDIS”. The tension between the two as he finally challenged her to reveal who she is, only to find as little answer as he got from Hide’s psychic, was a great development in an arc that’s really keeping my interest. However, I did expect the TARDIS’ dislike of Clara, as established in The Rings of Akhetatekeatnakanetekhaten and Hide, to come up in this episode and it seems a bit of a missed opportunity that it didn’t - that could have really upped the tension surrounding the TARDIS' hissy fit.

But overall, is Journey a good Doctor Who episode? Sadly, there are several flaws in it, particularly the guest characters, that stop it reaching the full potential of its title. It is nice to see a good range of new TARDIS rooms, and visually it’s a treat, but The Doctor’s Wife is a better all-round TARDIS-centric story. It is, however, certainly a vast improvement on Steve Thompson’s previous effort, the dire Curse of the Black Spot. And the Doctor's waistcoat looked really swank. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

On 21.4.13 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments

N.B. From this week on, my Doctor Who reviews will be getting shorter, because I’ve returned to university and realized how much work I’ve been neglecting. Fans of brevity, rejoice.

Neil Cross’ first Doctor Who story, The Rings of Akhetatakaktenetanekaten, was hated by many, but I loved it. I wasn’t sure what to expect from his second.

Entitled Hide, it’s set up as a traditional ghost story. A haunted house in the 1970s was the setting, and the Doctor and Clara joined ex-spy Alec Palmer and his assistant Emma on a ghost hunt. The first ten or fifteen minutes of the episode set this up very well, hitting all the right spooky notes. I particularly liked Dougray Scott saying ‘Caliburn Ghast’ in a rich Scottish accent.

The episode took a turn for the worse, however, when Cross then tried to bring in a science fiction explanation for the hauntings. Now, Doctor Who has never been the most scientifically sound of shows, and often I don’t care. I’m happy to suspend disbelief if the story’s good enough. But sometimes, making shit up can be taken a step too far, and Cross crossed that line.

The ghost was a time traveller trapped in a bubble universe psychically projecting herself through to the… what?

The Doctor made a portal through to this bubble dimension, which contained a forest floating in space, and sometimes, but not always, a copy of the haunted house… how?

The time traveller was perceiving time much faster, so millions of years for the real world was three minutes for her, and yet that changed so they were in synch as soon as the Doctor went there… huh?

Oh and also, there’s a misshapen rubber suit trapped in the bubble dimension, who has a lover trapped in the real world in which time moves who-gives-a-shit-about the-numbers times slower, and they… oh, for…

As I write this, I keep thinking of more things that were never explained. The ‘HELP ME’ on the wall. The floating black disk. There was a floating black disk. It smashed at some point. I don’t know what it was.

Basically, Hide was a bloody shambles, hindered by Cross' apparent need to give a science fiction explanation to the traditional ghost story while retaining its atmosphere. This resulted in a story much more complex, flawed, and even generic than the episode would have been had it kept the straight-faced and very effective ghost story of the first fifteen minutes going.

On the plus side, the repressed love between the Professor and his assistant was sweet. Watching the two of them flounder over each other before finally finding a way to express their feelings made the rest worth sitting through.

Also, the arc about the TARDIS disliking Clara is developing interestingly, and I liked the joke about the umbrella stand. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Director Joseph Kaminski hasn’t been in the business for long, but his second feature, Oblivion, is just as ambitious a science-fiction extravaganza as his first, 2010’s Tron: Legacy. Starring Tom Cruise, Oblivion is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which the Earth has been ravished by nuclear war, the aliens who caused this are still at large, and the moon has exploded. No, I’m not sure why the moon has exploded either. 

Jack Harper (Cruise) and Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) are left on Earth, supervising the hydroelectric generators and armed drones which collect energy for humanity’s offworld colony. Victoria, looking forward to leaving Earth at the end of their shift, does everything by the book. Does Jack? Hell no, he’s Tom Cruise. When a spaceship crashes and the orders from Mission Control are to stay away, Harper goes to take a look. Inevitably, this results in a lot of shooting, a lot of fast space helicopter flying, and the discovery of survivor Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who changes everything. 

The most popular criticism of Oblivion is that it's too derivative. Yes, it clearly takes influence from Top Gun, Independence Day, and 2001, plus a chunk of Wall-E minus the charm, but hey, there’s no such thing as an original story. It takes these tropes and uses them in a plot which moves along energetically with a lot of twists and turns. Some twists can be seen from a mile off, some will remind you of films you’ve seen before, and one or two are genuinely interesting. If you can ignore the influences and concentrate on the world of Oblivion, they come often enough to keep you compelled. It's a grand, ambitious, and enjoyable story, if predictable. 

I’m not a fan of Tom Cruise and this film didn’t convince me otherwise. Not through lack of trying; he certainly plays up to his action movie credentials, zooming around on a space motorbike, shooting stuff up from his space helicopter, and wearing sunglasses like only a professional sunglasses wearer could. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that all this is overcompensating for something – a lack of charisma, maybe. I just wish he’d done less and Olga Kurylenko more, as she's the one with good screen presence. Her Julia shows the occasional sign of being able to match up to Harper in the badass department, but is ultimately rendered by the script subservient to Cruise’s hero, used as the love interest he must fight to protect. 

Riseborough’s Victoria, meanwhile, is a contrast to the other two leads in her reluctance to actively fight the system, stemming from her desperation to escape to a better world. This makes her a complex character which Riseborough pulls off rather well, making her awkward relations with Harper and Julia tense and intriguing. Victoria is annoying at all the right times and I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for her. I don’t understand why she needed the glamourous heels though. There’s nothing wrong with caring about your appearance, but most women left to poke at a computer screen on a post-apocalyptic wasteland for years wouldn’t be forgiven for taking a hoody and some slippers. 

Speaking of questionable costumes, let’s not forget Morgan Freeman. Well, how could we? He does get second billing in the credits and joins Cruise on the poster. Which isn’t really fair given his limited screen time. While I don’t want to give too much away, his character shows up later in the film as an archetypal character of the post-apocalyptic genre and doesn’t add anything original to this trope. Indeed, his sections of the film are, sadly, the parts where I most found myself checking my watch. Though his character may be the worst written in the film, his costume will at least be memorable. If you’ve seen Beneath the Planet of the Apes, it’s that kind of ridiculously camp. 

Where Oblivion is particularly strong, however, is in its visuals, and that’s down to Claudio Miranda, the Director of Photography who recently picked up an Academy Award for Life of Pi. Miranda and director Kaminski certainly make an effective team; visually, Oblivion is magnificent. From American landmarks turned to rubble to the ruins of a collapsing library, all shot in wide, sweeping vistas, there’s a lot to look at. 

Which is a good thing, because the generic plot isn’t guaranteed to keep your attention all the way through. Oblivion is, at its worst, plodding, predictable, and unbalanced, but at its best, a fast and entertaining ride. For me, the biggest issue is my lack of engagement with Cruise and the eventual passiveness of Julia, but it’s definitely got enough nicely-composed action and carefully structured twists to be worth the ticket price, for sci-fi fans in particular.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A world gripped by nuclear tensions, David Bowie topping the album chart – no, it’s not 2013, it’s 1983, though the whole North Korea situation is a timely bit of publicity for Mark Gatiss’ latest contribution to Doctor Who, Cold War.

The setting was a Russian nuclear submarine carrying a creature found frozen at the North Pole, a creature which turns out to be an old enemy of the Doctor’s – Ice Warrior Skaldak. Naturally, it didn’t take long for the Martian behemoth to break free.

Bringing back the Ice Warrior race, last seen in 1974, in a claustrophobic one-versus-humanity story reminiscent of 2005’s Dalek or Ridley Scott’s Alien worked well to create a formidable villain. Not much had changed in terms of their design – the silly LEGO hand had been replaced by a much more dextrous claw, but the classic hulking green armour remained, brushed around the edges to be suitable for the era of HD. Perhaps the production team have learned from the backlash to the new Daleks and Silurians...

But that’s not all – in a brilliant twist, a desperate Skaldak abandoned his armour and roamed the submarine naked. The scene where Clara, attempting to negotiate with the captured Skaldak on behalf of the Doctor, realised that she was talking to an empty suit, was exquisitely unforeseen and scary. Gatiss kept the Alien-esque horror going at full pelt from then, with the surprisingly spindly-armed creature always a step ahead of the crew, hidden in the shadows and never shown in full – well, nobody wants to see an Ice Warrior’s naughty bits at teatime on a Saturday.

The submarine setting, a claustrophobic, inescapable environment with its own inherent dangers, an undersea Nostromo, fitted this story well. What could have emphasized the claustrophobia more, however, would be if the corridors were a little tighter – they’d been made bigger than actual submarine corridors to fit the Ice Warrior suit, apparently, but Skaldak spent a lot of the episode hanging unclothed from the ceiling, and the suit did have more than enough corridor width, so a little less space would certainly have helped.

Nevertheless, the submarine was a great choice of setting, and it worked brilliantly with the theme of Cold War tensions. While Skaldak on his own may not have been as indestructible as a Dalek at full power, he had the ability to take advantage of a world on the brink of war. At this point in history, it wasn’t just the Martians who could bring down humanity – humanity itself very nearly did. This theme was explored through the different perspectives within the Russian crew and three great guest performances – Liam Cunningham as the level-headed, authoritative Captain, Tobias Menzies as the eager subordinate insistent on being ready to fire at any moment, and the great David Warner as the Professor who didn’t give a shit and wanted to listen to Duran Duran. Professor Grisenko was one of those characters who are so good that I want them to follow the Doctor into the TARDIS at the end and become a new companion.

And, again, I liked Clara this week. Though I wasn’t fond of her in Moffat’s introductory episode(s), she’s fast becoming a rounded and engaging companion. It’s nice to see her growing into the companion role and learning how the Doctor’s world works. This is her first ‘scary’ adventure and it was lovely to see her genuinely scared shitless after seeing sailors killed by Skaldak. “It's all got very... real,” she says, as Grisenko tries to console her; a beautifully human moment that made me want to jump into the screen, hug Clara and shout “everything will be alright, because you’re now a character I like!” By the end of the episode, Clara had got over this fear and played a vital part in convincing Skaldak not to blow up the world. “Saved the world, then. That's what we do” she says to the Doctor. She’s growing up fast.

On the other hand, I do feel that the ending felt a little anticlimactic and that a more powerful "actually, I won't nuke the world" moment was needed. Perhaps a fault with this scene was that the Doctor’s threat to blow up the submarine, using his sonic screwdriver, wasn’t at all believable.

Which brings me on to my one other criticism of this episode, and it’s one that’s been made before. The sonic screwdriver was overused. It can be a useful tool to move the plot forward, but I like to see the Doctor solve problems by being clever, not by waving around a magic fix-anything wand, and this episode featured it in quite a few scenes which would have worked just as well without it. Arriving in the falling submarine, the Doctor worked out which way to steer it to safety by taking some unknown readings with his screwdriver – why couldn’t he have worked this out by looking at the sub's readings and judging the falls himself? Later, he tracked nudey Skaldak by taking some unknown readings with his screwdriver – why couldn’t he have used his eyes?

Despite this, I really liked Cold War. The Rings of Akhaten remains the highlight of the series for me (no, really), but the dual tensions of the desperate Martian and the fingers on the nuclear button kept me gripped throughout. Gatiss has delivered his best Who episode yet, a real edge-of-the-seat thriller that shows his love for the submarine movie and for the Ice Warriors. It’s a perfect re-introduction of an old villain; let’s hope I can say the same about Neil Gaiman’s Cybermen and Steven Moffat’s Zygons…

I also liked the pun in the title, though I think Skaldak should have used some more.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

On 9.4.13 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments
I watched the latest Doctor Who a day and a half late, and by then had picked up the general opinion on it – that it’s crap. A lot of people had told me it’s crap. I was apprehensive. 

But people were wrong. I really enjoyed Neil Cross’ The Rings of Akhaten. In fact, I enjoyed it more than The Bells of Saint John. What you gon’ do ‘bout that, people? 

For her first trip away from Earth, the Doctor took Clara to “something awesome” – that something being the Sun-singers of Akhet, a solar system containing more made-up sci-fi words than the opening of Dune. From Dor’een the barking moped dealer to the ghostly-voiced Vigil, Akhet was a beautifully designed society populated by a myriad of interesting creatures. The visually rich marketplace and amphitheatre scenes live up to the tradition of the Star Wars cantina. What a perfect setting for Cross’ tale of gods and monsters! Throughout, the story brings into question the nature of belief, a theme which begins with the Doctor regarding the culture’s beliefs as “a nice story” and seems to crescendo at the moment you realise that they’re keeping the Old God asleep not out of respect but out of fear, before the big twist revealing the true nature of Old God – which Team TARDIS implode the shit out of anyway. These mythic elements to the story reflect the writer’s views through an increasingly mad allegory which allows for great drama – and that’s pretty much my description of good science fiction. 

One of my main criticisms of The Bells of Saint John was that I wasn’t yet finding Clara an engaging companion. This week, that changed. The story played out through Clara’s eyes and, with her sassiness toned down, she became a likeable and interesting character rather than a plot point. The opening montage summed up Clara’s family history beautifully. We saw the very sweet backstory behind her leaf, and, for the first time, we saw how she’s lost someone important to her – her caring mother. This explains her refusal to abandon the children she nannies and, later in this episode, her care for the afraid Merry, nicely linking her character story to the plot of the week. She’s a character for whom family matters, and her quirks are related to this – the inheritance of the saying “oh my stars” from her mother is a subtle and lovely touch. I liked this character. 

I liked the Doctor in this episode too. Like with Clara, Cross’ Doctor seems toned down from Moffat’s. He’s clownish as ever at times, but not annoyingly so – his failure to join in the Long Song is hilariously reminiscent of a footballer who doesn’t know the national anthem. Using the phrase “technical boo-boo” and the word “refulgent” in the same episode, this Doctor is childish but also clever. We saw the caring side to the Doctor, as he wanted to take Clara on a nice day out and keep her safe, but also the nicely manipulative side, first tracing her life from the shadows. Thankfully, this mix of caring and manipulation for Clara didn’t descend into the perverseness that last week’s unconscious stroking incident got close to. Later in the episode, the Doctor’s speech to the Old God is powerful, using nods to previous stories to explore his own past, without becoming indulgent or angsty. Matt Smith delivers a beautiful performance that balances all of these contrasting elements of the Eleventh Doctor into a Doctor that, more than I have in the past few episodes, I liked. 

In a moment reminiscent of 2005’s The Parting of the Ways, Clara, having been sent to run away as the Doctor faced the Old God alone, drew on her mother’s words and turned back to help him out. A great moment of characterisation for both of them, which led to a fine conclusion. Yes, it’s one of those Doctor Who dénouements where the day is saved by some mystical and scientifically unsound power of emotion; I have complained about the overuse of such endings before, but for me, this one worked. Thanks to the well-set up nature of the culture’s use of sentimental objects, the smooth links to Clara’s past, and excellent performances from Smith and Coleman, this ending really worked. 

I’d also like to briefly mention Murray Gold’s score, which was particularly good, and not too intrusive for once, in this episode. Clara’s theme over the opening montage and the powerful instrumental backing to the ceremonial song were the highlights which really brought out the emotion in these sequences and made them flow. 

My final “I liked this thing” point goes to the way the Doctor’s picking up and dropping off Clara at the start and end of adventures, like in series 7A with Amy and Rory. This fits well into the pacing of the episode rather than being a burden – Clara’s excited waiting for the TARDIS to show up tells us a lot about her character in one quick and quiet moment. 

The general consensus, as I said at the start, seems to be that The Rings of Akhatekatakenaten (that title gets longer every time I try to write it) is crap. I really don’t understand this. Cross’ script has an ambitious story and a great balance of sentiment, adventure, and character detail. It’s been brought to the screen amazingly, with a glorious detail and atmosphere in every corner of the alien world. With the zany excesses of last week toned down, this episode made me start to like Clara, and the Doctor’s great in it too. Screw you, general consensus.

Monday, 8 April 2013

On 8.4.13 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments
Last night I got back from the National Student Television Association's 2013 conference in Exeter. My apocalyptic rom-com The End of the World was nominated for the Best Writing and Best Drama awards. It didn't quite entirely win, or indeed get Highly Commended, in either category, but it was shortlisted twice, i.e. was in the top five from fourteen entrants, which is pretty good, right? 

My station YSTV didn't completely quite manage at all to hold onto our Best Broadcaster trophy from last year, but we did win the Best Technical Award and one of our number was elected NaSTA Chair, so it could have gone worse. 

I also made some great contacts, met some amazing people, and drank reasonable quantities of wine. Yes, only 'reasonable'; who needs after-parties when you can chat to the writer of Dalek until 3AM? 

Speaking of which, to top it all off, I've just caught up on Doctor Who and this week's episode isn't as crap as everyone told me it was. Longer review coming soon.

Well done everyone involved in the NaSTA conference - a fantastic, productive, exciting, and ultimately knackering weekend.

I'm the sassy one.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

On 4.4.13 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments
Hope everyone's having a good Easter!

I watched Jaws yesterday for the first time since I was little, and not just because the scene where Brody drinks wine from a pint glass is perfect pre-NaSTA viewing. It's often regarded as a classic, but my thoughts on it this time branched off an adage Mark Kermode has been repeating - he says that Jaws is not a film about a shark. 

He’s wrong. 

It’s very much about a shark.

Less so in the first half. This contains the most interesting bits of the film, which, not by coincidence, are the bits where we don’t see the shark. There's so much going on, all brought to the fore by people's reactions to the shark attacks, and all upping the stakes for Police Chief Brody. We've got tensions within the community, Brody's need to protect his family, his fear of water, the mayor insisting on keeping dangerous beaches open, the social divide between Quint and Hooper. Here, the scenes of the beach being terrorised by the shark are rendered suspenseful and terrifying by the fact that we don’t actually see it – what we do see are its effects, its point of view, and what we hear is John Williams’ masterful theme. We know it's there, the characters who refuse to believe it frustrate us, and we fear for the doomed tourists.

The first half of the film really does deserve to be called a classic.

In comparison, the second half of the film, despite having some wonderfully directed action sequences, is bland – most of the interpersonal conflicts have been resolved and it’s just three men getting on quite well out at sea while fighting a shark. The social issues from earlier are subordinated to the fight between men and shark. This is where Jaws is indeed, sorry Mr. Kermode, a film about a shark, and it really isn’t as good. 

I was disappointed that Brody coming to terms with his fear of water ended with the boat being flooded from shark attack – it never really felt like he was willingly conquering the fear, making that personal sacrifice.  Indeed, having forgotten how the film ends, I was expecting the action to return to the beach, his family to once again be in danger, and for him to have to choose to go into the water to save them, but he never really had to make such a choice and the family seem to have been forgotten about, so his journey doesn’t really feel finished. 

That’s not going to make me watch the sequels…

Monday, 1 April 2013

The companion introduction episode is one of the staples of a Doctor Who storyline. It’s where the key relationship that will define the upcoming run of the series is spawned, where the audience can jump in and meet the Doctor anew as his new friend does. It’s an episode that can show Doctor Who at its best – The Eleventh Hour, Rose, and, of course, An Unearthly Child, are all brilliant, timeless episodes that kicked off their respective series with aplomb and immediately hooked new generations of viewers. The companion introduction episode is so important that the latest companion has had three.

Yes, three. Don’t worry – all will be revealed. The third, The Bells of Saint John, kicked off series 7B this Easter weekend. But did it live up to the aforementioned classics?

The episode opened with the Doctor in  a medieval monastery, trying to solve the mystery of having seen the same woman die twice through the medium of painting and isolation. While I’m not a fan of the reclusive Doctor and like him much better when he’s actively investigating, the couple of scenes that brought him from here to his next meeting with Jenna-Louise Coleman’s companion were brilliant. I love that, in one of those “I really should have seen that coming” moments, the title referred to the TARDIS phone, and the  phone conversation was a work of witty genius - “The internet? It’s 1207” “I’ve got half past three.”

It didn’t take long for the Doctor, donned in a lovely new purple coat (I’ve been waiting years for a nice purple coat – where can I buy it?), to end up re-united with a Clara who’d never met him, defending her and the world from a mysterious organisation controlling people through the wi-fi.

The new TARDIS duo fought this technological conflict against the backdrop of a bustling contemporary London. There’s no doubting that the location filming in actual London – they didn’t have to tape over the Welsh signage for once – looked stunning, though the publicity calling it a Bourne movie with aliens was perhaps a little ambitious; the episode never had the same sense of scale that such comparisons imply. It did have a good action-packed pace, with the best motorbike stunts and nearly-crashing planes that a BBC budget can manage.

I also appreciate the story being about something important in our culture – Moffat’s attempt to make us scared of the wi-fi was a clever twisting on the familiar with a good dose of the socially relevant. Moffat used humour, action, and robots shaped liked spoons to poke fun at our internet-entrenched society, with the villains’ downfall being their careless giving away of information on social networking sites. Russell T Davies’ stories, as well as much of the classic series, often had a similar edge of satire, using science-fiction to explore topics such as an obesity crisis, governmental corruption, and society’s addiction to reality TV. This is something that’s been sadly missing from much of the Moffat era, which has instead focused on timey-wimey mysteries and exploring the Doctor as myth. I saw a tweet comparing the episode to Black Mirror – and that’s a good sign.  What’s science fiction about if it’s not about our society?

On other levels, however, the story fell flat. It took this satirical idea and made an enjoyable ride out of it, but the progression of set pieces felt quite generic, quite predictable. Overall, the plotting felt unexceptional – very much reminiscent of 2008’s Partners in Crime.

Speaking of being reminded of previous episodes, Moffat has been criticised in the past for re-using ideas, and the Spoonheads were a bit Silence in the Library, weren't they? 

"Clara Oswald has left the wi-fi. Clara Oswald has been saved." 

Plus, the girl from the book cover, as creepy as she was, seemed to steal the repetition of words idea from Davies’ Midnight before becoming a Library-esque spoon. I suspect the Moff has been watching series four.

Of course, the wi-fi plot wasn’t the only thing going on in The Bells of Saint John, as the Doctor continued his investigation into Clara Oswald, the woman twice dead. As a mystery, this is shaping up quite nicely, with the genesis of future Oswin’s computing skills being shown and enough new elements added to keep us guessing. Is she a Jagaroth-style splinter across time? A trap laid by the Great Intelligence? A result of a clumsy time traveller spilling his time coffee into a fragile part of the  time vortex? I’m looking forward to finding out.

On the other hand, I'm still not feeling connected to the character within the mystery. When companions have been introduced before, we've seen the story through their eyes, with emphasis on their normal human life and the Doctor being the mystery that mixes things up. Conversely, we've been introduced to Clara through the Doctor's eyes. She isn't a character encountering mystery and plot, she is the mystery and the plot. The emphasis is on the Doctor working out this mystery. And so, despite nice little touches such as the '101 Places to Visit' book and the unmet desire to travel, we've seen very few scenes of her living her life which have been uninflected by this mystery - there's been little chance to connect with her as a human. Ever since Ian and Barbara investigated an unearthly child, the best companion introductions have shown them meeting the Doctor through their human eyes. Moffat's trying to reverse this, and, while I do find Clara's mystery interesting enough to keep me guessing, it's not working in terms of making her a relatable character.

Another criticism levelled at Moffat is his inability to write varied and believable female characters. Does Clara fit these criticisms? She certainly shares a certain sassiness with Amy, River, and Irene before her, though, unlike the latter two, isn’t overtly sexualised. If anything, it was the Doctor acting a bit of a perv, forcing his way into a poor young girl’s house and stroking her as she lay unconscious. Good on her for calling this out, suspicious of his attempts to get her into his box. Clara don’t take no shit. Hopefully, now that she’s realised that the Doctor is, in fact, a Time Lord and not a sex-crazed maniac, we can leave all that behind. Also good on her for being reluctant to leave the children she cares for – at heart she seems like a good person. I’d just like to see more of her as a person and not as a plot.

Despite my lack of connection with the character, it does show that Jenna-Louise Coleman is a talented actress and her energetic repartee with the Doctor is a joy to watch. It’s also nice when her Northern accent comes through. We’ve had a Doctor from Gallifrey with a Manchester accent and now a companion from London with a Blackpool accent – can’t be too long before he have a truly Northern character!

Meanwhile, Celia Imrie gave an excellent, nonchalantly sinister performance as Miss Kizlet, a suited femme fatale very much, perhaps too much, in the vein of Kovarian or Partners in Crime’s Miss Foster. Her decision to kill a subordinate, though not until after his holiday so as not to be “unreasonable”, was a darkly hilarious summation of this character type. We never got to know much about Kizlet, though given the reveal at the end that she was no more than a mindless puppet of the Great Intelligence, that was kind of the point. As insidious as she’d been, her regression to a child looking for her “mummy and daddy” as the giant evil face of Richard E. Grant returned her soul was sudden and shocking enough to make me feel a little sorry for her.

Ah yes, Richard E. Grant’s giant evil face. Go on then, who predicted the Great Intelligence would be the big villain of the 2013 series? Moffat’s pulled an enemy out of long ago in the Doctor’s past and updated them to fit this arc – and it seems to be working. The majority of the audience won’t even have realised the presence of a classic villain in either of the past two stories, but won’t have been alienated by their lack of recognition either. The Intelligence is a nice hark back to old days for the fiftieth anniversary year and genuinely seems to work with the stories it’s been in so far. Plus, it’s Richard E. Grant.

While I’m on the subject of plot arcs, I kept expecting the identity of "the woman in the shop" to be a big reveal at the end of the episode. Looks like that will have to wait.

So, did I like The Bells of Saint John? It’s fast, it’s fun, it has lots of great lines. It’s not going to be a classic. Steven Moffat is a better writer of plot arcs than Russell T Davies, and Clara’s mystery is developing well, but Davies is the better writer of character, and it shows in Moffat’s failure to make me like Clara. Maybe with time, she'll grow on me.

With time. It's one of those episodes that would have benefited from being longer. An hour would have given the plot more space to grow out of its generic structure into something more complex and unique. And maybe if Clara's introduction had a bit more time, we could see a bit more character to her, care more about her, see more of the world through her eyes. Steven Moffat is on record as saying that any story can be told in 45 minutes. This isn’t untrue, but not all stories can be told well in 45 minutes, and not all stories should be told in 45 minutes. The Bells of Saint John, like a lot of Moffat’s series six episodes, suffered from being rushed.