Friday, 31 October 2014

I like Doctor Who episodes to be bold. This is a show that can go anywhere and anywhen, but it’s too easy for stories to stick too firmly to a safely established formula, or, in the case of the Moffat series, mimic a cinematic genre too closely. My favourite episode of all time is Vincent and the Doctor, which uses the show’s format to tell a heartbreaking story about depression, and one of my favourites from this series has been Listen, a story like no other in its use of nothing but fear itself as a villain. 

This week’s In the Forest of the Night had all the hallmarks of a great, unconventional story – a high-profile guest writer (children’s author Frank Cottrell Boyce), a cracking concept (the whole world comes to a sudden arboreal stop), a modern take on the fairytale, incorporating issues of mental health. Hey, for us pretentious arty types, it was even named after a great poem.

So, it could have been a brilliant episode. In execution – not so brilliant.

OK, good things first. I loved the idea of the forest as a nightmarish place, the inspiration for our scariest folklore. Very true, and the references were handled nicely – while it took imagery from Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood, it self-reflexively wove these into the narrative, an exploration of what these tales mean to us. And showing this through a child’s perspective made it all the more scary. A big, bad forest is no safe place – and yet it is “lovely”, as Maebh recurrently points out. Like the Tyger of Blake’s poem, the forest is at once brutal and beautiful, and the direction of this episode really showed that off. It’s amazing how much you can do by plonking a few traffic lights and a London taxi in the middle of Welsh forest, and child’s-eye-view camerawork built a great sense of wonder, including one of the greatest ‘entering the TARDIS’ shots I’ve seen.

And thrown into the depths of this forest we have the Coal Hill Gifted and Talented school trip. Except they’re not really gifted and talented, they’re the failures of Coal Hill. Aka the underdogs – the real heroes of any Doctor Who story. In Maebh Arden, we have a vulnerable child, on medication to suppress the voices she hears. Now, the message the Doctor spouts regarding Maebh – we should listen to what children have to say – is commendable, but many people have understandably seen the episode’s stance on medication as somewhat problematic (see this guy, for example) – some kind of ‘she may be on medication, but that’s fine, it helps, it doesn’t make her any less special’ speech from Clara could have rectified things but never came. I did like the missing sister element, a very sad and believable edge to Maebh’s story; it’s just a shame that the sister’s return had to be so awkwardly twee.

The other kids in the group are much more weakly characterised. The episode attempts to set up one kid as the bully and one kid as thick, in a couple of fast-paced classroom flashbacks, but this only appeared after Clara had commented on how the adventure in the forest had made the bully say please and had made the thick kid work something out. And this is about ten minutes into the episode. The problem solved before it’s set up, and a wasted opportunity to develop these characters over the course of the episode. Plus, the actress playing the ginger kid is really shit. I cringed whenever she talked.

On the plus side, I do think Clara and Danny’s relationship is progressing nicely, as Clara’s deceit is revealed and Danny’s secret is yet to emerge. I like how there’s a solid development of their relationship in each episode. It feels planned out, whereas character arcs in recent years have felt like an afterthought, or, in last year’s case, non-existent.

My main problem with ITFOTN, however, is the lack of tension. The invasion resolves itself. Which leaves the Doctor and pals doing absolutely nothing of any purpose. Well, Maebh makes that phone call which apparently stops governments from destroying the trees – but come on, really? I find it very hard to believe that the world’s governments just put down their acid sprays and abandon the plan that, as far as they’re concerned, will save the earth, just because a little girl tells them to. Maybe the threat and its resolution would seem more real had we seen some of these government planes in action – as it is, there feels like little connection between what we see in the TARDIS and the rest of the world, and so the episode’s final act falls dramatically very flat.

My other major quibble is with the science behind this story. Now, I know this is a fairy tale, and I know Doctor Who is science fantasy not hard science fiction, and I hate to be that guy who points out any inaccuracy, but there’s a point where suspension of disbelief fails, and this episode, like Kill The Moon before it, crosses that line. More than anything, the bit which grated with me was the “You’ll forget all of this” resolution. Hmm. Really? At least come up with some bullshit sci-fi explanation and not just “oh, humanity just forget anything traumatic that happens”.  No, we absolutely don’t. We have a day called Remembrance Day, and we complain to the BBC when our news presenters fail to wear memorial poppies. And even if we did forget, would people not notice the loose tiger and the collapsed Nelson’s column, and all the selfies and TV news broadcasts with the trees clearly on show?


Maybe I'm being overly critical as this is an episode I really wanted to be good. I honestly had high hopes for In the Forest of the Night, and it let me down. OK, there's a lot to love – the enchanting visuals, the message about listening to kids, the fluffy old tiger. But it could have been so much better.


Thursday, 30 October 2014

On 30.10.14 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments

You may be more familiar with John Frankenheimer’s disastrously weird version of the H.G. Wells classic, but The Island of Dr. Moreau has actually been adapted for cinema three times – the Brando-starring flop was preceded by 1932’s Island of Lost Souls and by Don Taylor’s 1977 adaptation, now available on Blu-ray.

Mariner Andrew Braddock finds himself stranded on the remote island of Doctor Moreau. Suspicious of the exiled scientist’s peculiarly grotesque servants, Braddock comes to realise that Moreau has been experimenting on the islands’ animals, turning them into humanoid creatures with the ability to walk and talk just like us. Moreau rules over these ‘humanimals’ like a god, but, of course, they’re not going to stick to his laws forever.

Compared to the Frankenheimer version, which brought the story into the modern day and added some unusual ideas to the mix, this is a relatively faithful adaptation, and Wells’ story remains a powerful warning against abuse of animals in the name of science. Burt Lancaster is a great Moreau, if more genial than the Brando and Charles Laughton incarnations, while Michael York is a strong lead as Braddock. The film’s also successful in lending depth to its human-animal hybrids, rather than treating them as mere ghastly brutes. 

The more problematic characters are the ones that don’t originate in the source novel, such as Maria, a conveniently attractive young woman living with Moreau. Despite the fact that Maria repeatedly says she’d rather stay on the island, Braddock decides she’s wrong and needs to escape with him. She follows along unquestionably and does absolutely nothing to affect the plot. Sigh.

A couple of unnecessary narrative additions and dated make-up work aside, The Island of Doctor Moreau is a well-made adaptation of an important sci-fi novel. Hiding its low budget reasonably well, it’s no blockbuster but a solid piece of Sunday afternoon viewing.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

After last week’s cracking outer-space romp Mummy on the Orient Express, writer Jamie Mathieson had a second shot at Doctor Who with Flatline.

The Doctor and Clara arrive in a Bristol council estate to find something leeching off the dimensional energy of the TARDIS (science!), leaving Clara’s ride home unfortunately miniscule. With the Doctor trapped inside this tiny merchandising opportunity (there has to be a hand puppet, right?), it’s up to Clara to take the lead in an investigation which brings them into conflict with aliens from a two-dimensional universe. And, like last week, Mathieson’s script has all the right elements of a solid Doctor Who story... 

A mix of detective work and action set pieces? Check. Nicely planted clues in the weird murals, effective rise in terror as the monsters grow stronger. I'm not sure exactly what they were trying to achieve by ramming the train, though. That was a silly plan.

An edge of comedy? Check. This was funny in all the right places, mainly drawing its laughs from the Doctor's predicament – passing the sledgehammer out of the miniature TARDIS is a wonderfully slapstick moment, and that Addams family reference is just brilliant. 

A weird and scary monster? Check. The flattening of people into the walls is properly unnerving stuff, tied neatly into the graffiti-strewn estate, and the idea of a two-dimensional villain breaking into our universe is one of those "why hasn't anyone thought of that before?" ideas.

Developed supporting characters? Check. The conflict between the community service worker Rigsy and his grouchy supervisor Fenton plays throughout, and like all good Doctor Who, it’s the underdog who wins out. It could, however, have been nice to dig a little deeper into these two – could either of them have a more noticeable change over the episode? What is it that made Fenton such a grump? 

But the real lead here was, for once, Clara. Sure, the real reason the Doctor was locked in the TARDIS was that this episode was filmed simultaneously with the last one, where Clara was stuck in a carriage, but this clever way around the double-banking issue allowed the Doctor to still be present and Clara to take charge. She’s been growing from strength to strength over this series, and made a great ringleader in the Doctor’s place – clever, compassionate, tough. I also like that she’s been lying to the Doctor about Danny, adding an extra layer of complexity to their relationship and making her more active and decision-making than last week's ‘Danny’s fine with it, so I am’ reveal implied. The obligatory ‘Danny Pink on the phone’ scene, however, did feel crowbarred into this episode – it doesn’t make a lot of sense for her to be taking personal calls when there’s an alien that needs urgent escaping from. And I do get the feeling that Danny’s one-scene-per-episode is starting to make him a little dull – luckily, next episode seems to be throwing him centre stage again.

So this was a very strong episode and all my criticisms are but minor niggles – a little more depth to the supporting characters, Danny felt shoehorned in, the train-ramming idea was silly. Oh, and why does Missy have a normal iPad? They could have at least decorated it a bit to make it all sci-fi. That’ll look dated in five years (and that, dear friends, is the epitome of a minor niggle).

As I was saying, a very strong Doctor Who story. Funny and scary in equal measure; a lot packed in without feeling rushed. With this and Mummy on the Orient Express to his name, I’d definitely welcome Jamie Mathieson back for more.

Friday, 17 October 2014

On 17.10.14 by KieronMoore in , ,    1 comment

Holy New Magazine, Batman!

Issue 406 of Starburst Magazine is out now, and it contains a preview of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar written by yours truly. Plus, there's a lot of Batman content to celebrate the Blu-ray release of everyone's favourite god-awful-yet-utterly-brilliant 1960s superhero series.

You can buy the issue in print here or digitally here.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

After last week’s ambitious but flawed attempt at dealing with Big Serious Issues, this week’s Doctor Who had a less high-brow pitch. The title says it all, really – Mummy on the Orient Express. There’s a Mummy. And it’s on the Orient Express. In space.

The Doctor takes Clara, on the brink of giving up on the whole time travel lark, on one last hurrah, a grandiose train journey through the wonders of the universe. Of course, there’s been a murder, an old lady killed by a Mummy only she could see. It’s Agatha Christie meets Hammer horror, and the Doctor soon finds himself leading the investigation.

And that’s the main thing I loved about this episode. It’s an investigation. The Doctor’s often depicted as an action hero, but I like to see him as a detective – a Sherlock Holmes in space, picking up clues from his environment and defeating the monster with intellect. There wasn’t much room on this train for running around, and so new writer Jamie Mathieson gave us a tightly plotted mystery – and also deserves a biscuit for having the often-overused sonic screwdriver rendered useless. Some of the reveals in the climax may have felt a slight bit rushed, and a slight bit scientifically iffy, but that’s difficult to avoid with the format; importantly, everything slotted together nicely and it was fun to watch the Doctor work things out.

The episode also works well because of the eponymous villain. Mummies are rarely done well and are little used in modern genre fiction, especially compared to similar iconic creatures such as vampires and werewolves. I certainly can’t imagine a Mummy joining the Being Human gang Mathieson spent four years writing for. But this was a Mummy done brilliantly. With its rotting bandages and lumbering yet unstoppable approach, the very sight of it meant death, and the on-screen clock only added to the tension, involving us in the investigation and acting as a constant reminder that time is running out. And time did run out for several characters – despite its seemingly wacky premise, this was an episode in which people died, and their deaths were felt. And just when you think you know what’ll happen next, the evil supercomputer controlling the train chucks all the chefs into the coldness of space. Ouch. Dark, but not at the expense of the fun.

It’s not quite the last hurrah Clara had hoped for, and the B-story of her desire to leave the TARDIS for good is brought in at just the right moments without stepping on the toes of the plot, though it did feel like she was in that luggage car for a bit too long (practical reasons, I assume, as this episode was double-banked with the next). And I’m not entirely sure that Clara deciding to stay with the Doctor because Danny says it’s OK is sending the best messages about independent women. At least Clara’s continuing to be a lot more believable this series than she has been previously, thanks to much more consistent characterisation and having an emotional, character-based arc rather than that impossibly convoluted Impossible Girl bollocks.

My only other gripe with this episode is with the bunch of apparent genius scientists gathered together to fight the Mummy. They’re the best in their fields, and yet… they all just stand around. Sure, it’s a decision to keep the script economic, but it’s incredibly noticeable that only one of them ever actually speaks. 'Scientist with Enormous Beard' was a particular favourite character of mine and I was disappointed he didn't get any lines.

All in all, though, Mummy on the Orient Express is, if not groundbreaking, solid Doctor Who. A great monster, a tightly plotted investigation, the Doctor and Clara both on form. I’m looking forward to Jamie Mathieson’s second episode next week, even if the trailer failed to grab me.

Oh, and it also had a cool jazz cover of Don’t Stop Me Now. It only clicked after the credits had rolled that it ties in with Clara’s story. Clever. I had no idea who Foxes is, and having now googled her, her music is not to my taste, but who can object to jazzed-up Queen? Here it is again:

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The title of the latest Doctor Who episode may have reminded you of Steven Moffat’s Let’s Kill Hitler, or of that quote from Romeo and Juliet. But is Peter Harness’ Kill The Moon an epic of Shakespearean quality that will endure for centuries or a big pile of crap with no redeeming qualities other than one of history’s most evil men being comically punched in the face? Or somewhere in the middle?

The Doctor takes Clara and Coal Hill pupil Courtney on a trip to the moon, only to find that something’s up with its gravity (I love how he uses a yo-yo for this, much cooler than the oft-overused sonic screwdriver). This is apparently causing chaos for those down on Earth, and so our time travellers bump into Lundvik (Hermione Norris) and her astronaut henchmen, sent to blow up the moon. Which will make everything fine. I’m not going to try to work out the science here. 

The team’s search of the barren lunar landscape leads them to a worryingly cobwebbed Mexican research project, and its not long before they’re under attack from very deadly spiders. With a Lanzarote volcano standing in effectively for the moon, this early section of the episode looks and feels great, an isolated horror reminiscent of The Waters of Mars and certainly not comfortable for arachnophobes.

And then, at its midpoint, Kill The Moon takes an unexpected twist. The Doctor works out what’s going on: the spiders are bacteria, and the moon is… an egg. Housing a giant alien creature, about to hatch. And we’re treated to one of the best pieces of dialogue in the history of Doctor Who:

“I think that it’s unique. I think that it’s the only one of its kind in the universe. I think that that is… utterly beautiful.”

“How do we kill it?”

Ouch. A heartbreaking statement of intent, and a curt summary of the moral dilemma that makes up the second half of the episode. The Doctor, appearing callous in a way unexpected of previous incarnations, but with the best of intentions in letting humanity decide its own fate, buggers off. Clara, Lundvik and Courtney are left with a difficult choice – kill the creature and save Earth, or let it live and risk bits of moon-egg falling into the atmosphere. I love sci-fi that deals with tough dilemmas and the interchanges here are exquisite. Lundvik, who has no children, is cold and logical – one life to save the entire earth is no loss to her – and uses the argument that Clara might have children down on Earth to try to convince her to save them. But it’s Clara’s caring, you could say maternal, side that keeps her firmly in favour of not blowing up baby. Is this an exploration of maternity? A metaphor for abortion? (If so, is it problematic that it comes to a pro-life conclusion?) This is worthy of a lot of discussion, but however you interpret it, what we have is three female characters arguing about whether it’s right to kill an unborn. Which, compared to the likes of Time Heist, is pretty deep stuff.

But, despite this great central dilemma, Kill The Moon does have its flaws…

Firstly, once the moon’s secret has been revealed, the episode is suddenly lacking in physical threat. A great monster has been set up in the ‘bacteria’ spiders, but they just… stop attacking. Why? The bomb countdown set by Lundvik is arbitrary and dramatically meaningless, because the heroes have control over it, so the situation would be much more immediately tense if they were under attack and had to make their decision before the spiders overwhelmed them. At one point, the three of them run down a corridor in slow motion with explosions going on around them, for no real reason other than  that the director probably realised how visually dull the surrounding scenes are.

Secondly, I want to know more about Lundvik and her team. She’s a very interesting character – the loner scientist who’s concluded that “some things are just bad” – and so I wanted to know more about how she got to this point, what made her so bitter. More backstory would have made her side in the big debate even more powerful. But a bigger problem is her team, who are just… well, nobodies. One of them is presented as the bumbling comedy moron who worries about how to find the instruction manual for the nuclear bombs he’s been entrusted with. Even considering Lundvik’s line about them being the last astronauts left on an Earth turned against space travel, this Mr. Bean wannabe would never had been allowed within five kilometres of NASA. Giving either of them a hint of personality wouldn’t have hurt, either.

Thirdly, Courtney, while a great addition to mix up the TARDIS dynamic, didn’t do enough to earn her place in this episode. Her early nervousness and desire to go home seemed like a set-up for her to build some courage and save the day in the episode’s climax, but no. She sort of stood around as Clara did stuff. Plus, she gave us one of the worst lines of dialogue in the history of Doctor Who:

“One small thing for a thing, one enormous thing for a thingy thing.”

Fuck’s sake. I complained about series eight’s abuse of the word thing last week, but it’s fought back, and it’s fought back hard.

Anyway. Kill the Moon isn’t brilliant, but teeters on the brink of brilliance. Issues with its characters and its suspense aside, this was the kind of sci-fi that has a deep ethical dilemma at its heart, and a load of great dialogue exploring that issue. And the same cannot be said for Let’s Kill Hitler.

Next week: Thing on the Orient Express, followed by In the Forest of the Thing, Thing of the Daleks, and The Last Thing of the Time Things.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

On 7.10.14 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments

Being a vampire is serious business. If there’s not an ornate castle to stalk, there’s a millennia-spanning conflict to be fought or a love triangle to brood over. And so it’s rare that we see a lighter side to these mythical beings, never mind a side as all-out silly as What We Do In The Shadows, a mockumentary from New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement.

Best summed up as This Is Spinal Tap meets Only Lovers Left Alive, Clement and Waititi follow a group of house-sharing vampires through their everyday life as well as their supernatural machinations – they spend as much time arguing over who does the dishes as they do sucking blood. While it is endearing to watch how these experiences help the characters adapt to the twenty-first century, the film’s one weakness is perhaps its narrative structure – the overly everyday presentation leaves it without a particularly dramatic climax.

But that is hardly a problem, because WWDITS is funny. Really, really funny. Best illustrated by a scene in which Viago prepares to bite into a victim’s neck by putting down newspaper sheets so as to avoid staining the floor, this film has an intense understanding of both horror conventions and social norms and is relentless in its parody of them.

I was lucky enough to see What We Do In The Shadows at Grimmfest 2014. It has a proper UK cinema release on 21st November - be sure not to miss it!
On 7.10.14 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments

It’s the future. We know it’s the future because cars have one back wheel and Sam Treadwell lives in a house that looks like CBBC retrofitted an igloo. He’s in love with his partner Cherry. We know they’re in love because they have sex on the kitchen floor. She’s a robot. We know she’s a robot because they’ve left the tap running during aforementioned sex so the sink overflows and short-circuits her. Oops.

Desperately in need of more randy kitchen bonking sessions (he says there was love there, but really, it’s the kitchen sex), Sam sets out to find a replacement robot. But it won’t be easy! All the robots that look like her are locked up in a crumbling casino out in the ruins of Las Vegas. I’m not sure why. And the desert surrounding Vegas is patrolled by some bad guys in explorer hats led by a bloke who looks like Steve Irwin. I’m not sure who they are or why they patrol the desert. Sam hires ‘tracker’ Edith Johnson and together they head off into the wasteland – but evil Steve Irwin particularly hates trackers. I’m not sure why. And he has a lot of bees. No, not sure on that, either.

Besides this failure to make the rules of its world at all clear, Cherry 2000 seems to have no idea what genre it is. While it’s largely a sci-fi action movie, it occasionally decides to try its hand at bawdy sex comedy, but its attempts at humour make The Hangover Part III look like it was written by Oscar Wilde. There’s a town called Glory Hole. That’s it, that’s the joke.

And sometimes it tries to be a romance. Which it manages to do an even shoddier job of.

It’s awful. Really, really awful.


Now that I have your attention, I’ll talk about all the other brilliant aspects of Space Truckers.

Space Truckers is a gaudily coloured attempt at sci-fi, with an Alien meets Yellow Submarine meets Big Mutha Truckers visual style. Dennis Hopper is one such trucker, ferrying square pigs and floating beer around the solar system. After pissing off his employers InterPork, Dennis has no choice but to ferry a mysterious cargo to Earth, alongside fellow space trucker Stephen Dorff and young space waitress Debi Mazar, who’s agreed to be his fiancĂ©e in exchange for a lift. Of course, shit goes down. They get hit by asteroids, then captured by space pirates, then the cargo turns out to be an army of 5,000 deadly deadly robots. Bugger.

Admittedly, it’s a cracking concept, and one that could, with the right script and direction, be an entertainingly camp sci-fi comedy. And there are bits of it which live up to that premise. The killer robots are surprisingly not shabby – creepy, relentless killers reminiscent of the Terminator films.

Despite this, Space Truckers is guilty of some of the worst scenes in all of science fiction. Which brings me back to Charles Dance, who’s the real star of the show as a cyborg space pirate who very nearly could have been a well-designed villain. This potential is entirely squandered in what must be the weirdest sex scene ever, in which Tywin Lannister himself reveals that his penis needs to be cranked up with a lawnmower-style cord. No, really. There’s an awkward delay as he tries to get his lesser-used reproductive systems ‘operational’. With classic lines like ‘I emit a low amp electrical wang pulse designed to drive women wild with pleasure’ and, later in the film, ‘If I had an anus, I’d probably soil myself’, it’s a role Nicolas Cage would have been ashamed to take.

To be honest, I bloody love Space Truckers.
On 7.10.14 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments

It’s easy to forget that Nicolas Cage has made good films. Leaving Las Vegas, Bad Lieutenant, this year’s Joe. The DVD cover for Tokarev tries to remind us of this, proudly showing off its “Academy Award Winner” of a star. The film itself does its best to make us forget this.

Cage plays Paul Maguire, an overly controlling father with a rough past and a very particular set of skills. One day, his house is broken into and his daughter is taken. You wouldn’t be mistaken if you assumed that the film’s taken some liberties and taken its plot directly from another popular action thriller…

Now, Taken isn’t perfect, but compared to Tokarev, it’s the Citizen Kane of shoot-em-up exploitation. The writers here seem to have entirely missed what made Taken suspenseful. Without spoiling too much, the kidnapping plot is wrapped up way too early, with a twist that feels like a midpoint coming about half an hour in, meaning that Maguire spends much of the film with no clear objective other than being a massive knob. He's not an action hero, he’s a bully. At one point, he strangles his wife. We’re meant to root for this guy.

Tokarev is 98 minutes of arseholes shouting at other arseholes. The action’s boring, the dialogue’s shoddy, the men are depthless, and the women are all strippers or victims. On the positive side, there’s an amazing contribution to any future ‘Nicolas Cage loses his shit’ YouTube montages.

Not many box sets feature dinosaurs, sharks, aliens, and evil trucks, but that’s what you’ll find in this diverse array of Steven Spielberg movies. The first collection officially approved by the man himself contains eight of his Universal-produced films – four classic blockbusters (Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, The Lost World), and four lesser-known movies making their Blu-ray debut (Duel, The Sugarland Express, 1941, Always). You’ve all seen and loved the first four, so let’s have a closer look at the others…

Duel (1971) was made for TV just as Spielberg was moving into cinema, and is a real gem of a thriller. On a long desert road, a man overtakes a slow-moving truck. Then the truck driver attempts to kill the man, and a ninety-minute chase sequence ensues. You’ll be on the edge of your seat for all ninety. Spielberg directs tense action like no one else and this early road rage movie screams of a director who’s going to make it big.

The Sugarland Express (1974) feels less blockbuster and more New Hollywood, with a freewheeling road movie sensibility in the Badlands-esque script and in Vilmos Zsigmond’s unflashy cinematography. The true story of a couple on the run and the policeman they take hostage is rich in character and subtlety, but as the cop bonds with his captors, a police captain is hot on their tail.

While many Spielberg films are funny, they’re rarely full-blown gag-ridden comedies. 1941 (1979) is the exception, and, well, it’s a good job he soon returned to what he’s good at. Even with a stellar comedy cast including Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and John Candy, the gags just aren’t funny enough to forgive the lack of narrative focus or character depth, with too many jokes relying on big things exploding – though one set piece involving an artillery cannon being fired inside a house is impossible not to laugh at.

Always (1989) - a remake of the 1943 drama A Guy Named Joe - stars Richard Dreyfuss as a fire-fighting pilot who returns from the dead to help his girlfriend move on and teach a new recruit to fly. It’s hampered by Dreyfuss’ possessiveness tipping over into creepiness and by overly melodramatic dialogue, but worth it for John Goodman’s supporting role; his sublime, hilarious bromance with Dreyfuss and his heartbroken look when he sees his fellow pilot’s plane up in flames really stick in the mind.

Then there are some other films with dinosaurs and sharks in. They’re pretty good, too. Sure, some other classic Spielberg movies may be missing from this set, but it’s a real treat to see a few you may be less familiar with, and even the weaker films here have a lot going for them. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be shocked and you’ll be enthralled.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Gareth Roberts has always been one of the more comedic Doctor Who writers, having properly found his niche with 2010’s hilarious The Lodger, which saw the Eleventh Doctor grounded on Earth and forced into the horrors of living with James Corden, and which got a sequel in 2011’s Closing Time. If there was one common criticism of these episodes, it’s that Matt Smith’s wacky Doctor was heightened to the point of inconsistency with other episodes. So when I found out that Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was going to get the same treatment this year, I was a little concerned – would the more zany quality of these episodes fit with Capaldi’s moodier Doctor?

I needn’t have worried. The Caretaker, which saw the Doctor go undercover in Coal Hill School to track down an evil robot known as the Skovox Blitzer, was a perfect fit for Doctor Twelve. The same wit was still present, but with a much more acerbic tone, giving the Doctor such great lines as “It’s assembly, go and worship something” and “Haven’t you got shoplifting to do?”

Importantly, The Caretaker was less of an all-out comedy than Roberts’ last two efforts, for it had a serious dramatic focus – with the Doctor sweeping the corridors of Coal Hill, the stage was set for the Time Lord to finally meet Clara’s new boyfriend. This was the confrontation the series had been building up to this far, a build-up continued by the first half of this episode, with Clara desperately trying to keep the two separate and the amusing twist of the Doctor arrogantly assuming she’s going out with another teacher who happens to look like Matt Smith. But when the episode reached its midpoint and the inevitable finally happened, it didn’t disappoint. 

Danny screwing up the Doctor’s plan to off the Blitzer, only getting rid of it temporarily, allowed the episode to take a rest from the plot and really throw these characters in each other’s faces. Of course the Doctor objected to Danny’s soldiering history, but Danny’s rebuttal was a very clever move, comparing the Doctor to an officer who sends his troops into dangerous situations. His attitude to Clara at the end may have seemed overly controlling, but it felt motivated by a dark secret warning him to stop her making whatever mistake he did – and there’s clearly more conflict to come. Let’s hope Clara gets to assert herself a bit more when that happens – she was too busy patching up the conflict between the two squabbling men here to actually do a lot herself. Nevertheless, Roberts gave Clara and Danny their best dialogue of the series, a step up from the Coupling-esque awkward flirting they’ve had so far. 

One further problem with their relationship as we saw it here is that every Clara/Danny up to now has shown it on the brink of falling apart, and so it would be nice to see some scenes where they’re actually happy together. You know, to make us care more if it does fall apart. As it is, Clara’s shout of “I love him” seemed undeserved. Maybe now that she can stop hiding her life with the Doctor, things can start looking up for them...

Let’s not forget this episode’s younger guest star, Coal Hill pupil Courtney Woods. I loved how the Doctor seemed to warm to her because of her being a fellow disruptive influence – the good old supporting the underdog aspect of Doctor Who. She’d make a good secondary companion, so it’ll be interesting to see how she fares when she shows up again in the next episode.

If there’s one element I’ve not touched on, it’s the Skovox Blitzer, the robot who provides the actual plot. And the reason I’ve not said much about it is because it's a very thin plot. The robot stalks around, blows shit up, and does what it has to do to get the lead characters shouting at each other. The lightness of the plot could be a problem in other episodes, but here it works, allowing Roberts to focus both on the comedic conceit of the Doctor trying to fit in as a caretaker and on the real conflict of the episode, that between the Doctor and Danny.

There are a couple of minor things that have been annoying me. Things which I feel the need to point out. Please can we stop using the word “thing”. “I’m doing a thing”, “I’m waiting for a thing to happen”, “it’s not a plan, it’s a thing”. Three times in this episode and at least once in each of the previous two. It’s getting irritating. Also, Capaldi’s eyebrows aren’t really that remarkable, so can characters please stop acting like they are. It’s the classic screenwriting error of telling us about a character trait rather than showing it. But with eyebrows.

But, as I said, minor points. The Caretaker gave the comedy of The Lodger a grumpier twist, while knowing at what points to switch into serious drama mode. With a simple plot but a focus on complex relationships, it felt tonally like an episode from the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who, and was a much-needed opportunity to take a break from complex plotting and work out where we really are with these three characters, while setting things into motion for the darker twists I’m sure are coming. All things considered, The Caretaker is not only one of the best episodes of series 8 yet but Gareth Roberts’ best script for Doctor Who.

As a bonus feature, now we’re mid-series, here’s how I rank the episodes so far, from awful to brilliant…

2. The Caretaker
1. Listen

On 1.10.14 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments