Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Doctor trapped in a Dalek city, face to face with Davros. Missy and Clara elsewhere on Skaro, not dead. Lots of Daleks. After last week’s whole episode of set-up (plus this week’s pre-credits to establish the not dead thing), it was time to get serious. (Oh, and nice of them to explain Missy surviving Death in Heaven – so the similar death effects weren’t just a coincidence!)

As set up in last week’s all-expenses trip for the Doctor Who crew to a cafe in one of our hot countries, the theme of The Witch’s Familiar is friends and enemies, and the blurring lines between the two, a theme reflected in the episode’s two pairings of characters usually on opposite sides – the Doctor and Davros, Missy and Clara. It’s a wonder Steven Moffat managed to avoid the line “We’re not so different, you and I.”

So, looking at the Doctor and Davros first. Wisely, this episode sidestepped the trolley dilemma (of whether it’s right to kill a child in order to save many people in the future) set up by the cliffhanger – after all, Genesis of the Daleks explores this very problem rather well, and Moffat would be setting a difficult task for himself in attempting to remake a classic. The Witch’s Familiar also avoids too much unnecessary mucking around with established Dalek history, another trap that many feared Moffat wouldn’t resist diving into.

Rather, this episode focuses on the present, and on the Doctor and Davros as two old enemies temporarily putting their adversary aside, with Davros pleading for the Doctor to be, well, a doctor, and to see he survives one last Skaro sunrise (Skaro Sunrise should be a cocktail – 6 parts orange juice, 3 parts tequila, 3 parts hatred). It’s a trap, of course, but there’s a lot of very good stuff leading up to the reveal that could almost fool you into thinking you won’t need your Admiral Ackbar memes, and Julian Bleach gives Davros an emotional range never seen before. Congratulating the Doctor on saving Gallifrey is an excellent, surprising moment – he’s trying to show empathy, but can only do so within his ideology of race above all. And his eyes! Perhaps what impressed me most about that moment was the realisation that Bleach had been giving this remarkable performance with his eyes shut.

But, though Davros’ sudden turn back to the megalomaniacal is another great part of Bleach’s performance, the actual climax of this confrontation, in which the Doctor channels his regeneration energy into some wires, doesn’t feel as solid as the build-up to it. Firstly, I’d like to know, even if it’s just a detail noticed on second viewing, at what point the Doctor realises (a) Davros is lying and (b) there’s a way to get the upper hand. It all seems very arbitrary. Perhaps he could have overheard a report on Missy's disruption in the sewer, thus giving him his get-out?

And secondly, this Dalek hybrid regeneration thing. Right. The Daleks loudly announce “WE ARE MORE POWERFUL NOW” and then sort of sit around, failing to do anything about their worst enemies smashing the place up right in front of them. Even if it’s meant to be a set up for a future story, the Daleks’ increased powers need to raise the dramatic stakes, and they just don’t. Also, I have trouble believing the Daleks would want to be Time Lord/Dalek hybrids given they’re all about the racial purity.

Meanwhile, Clara and Missy head back to the place where they’d both just been shot (it’s as good a plan as any…) via the sewers. Nothing quite as complex here, but I did enjoy these scenes. The sewer-graveyards are a wonderfully creepy idea, and Missy playing her twisted take on the Doctor’s usual role is delightful – pushing Clara down the hole, "every miner needs a canary", "the bitch is back". The downside is that Clara does little in this episode other than be pushed down holes and into Daleks – a stark contrast to Super-Clara of last week. At this rate, series nine Clara will be as inconsistently characterised as series seven Clara.

But these antics were ultimately a sideshow to the Doctor’s confrontation with Davros, and it’s remarkable that, after last week’s manic race through time and space, the heart of this episode was a lengthy reminiscence between two old men in a basement – the kind of thing which wouldn’t be allowed within a hundred miles of the Matt Smith era. As a two-parter, we may look back on these opening episodes as structurally messy, but the second part doubtlessly benefitted from its concentrated setting, which allowed us some quality insights into the Daleks’ creator. With time, The Witch’s Familiar may overtake the action blockbuster Asylum of the Daleks and the more Doctor-focused Into the Dalek as the most fondly remembered of the Moffat era’s Dalek episodes.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

On 26.9.15 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments

Bletchley Park, 1941. Britain’s greatest mathematicians oversee the cracking of Nazi codes, an effort that will turn the tide of the war. It’s a perfect setting for a Doctor Who historical, one in which Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor fits particularly well (especially once he’s toned down his clothes to blend in), and one which the franchise hasn’t visited before. 

Having found himself stranded at this point in history, the Doctor’s attempts to get his TARDIS working again bring him into conflict with a very peculiar alien – a creature composed of radio waves. It’s one of Doctor Who’s more unusual concepts, and seems very fitting for both the setting and the audio medium.

How much you get out of the story will depend on your interest in and knowledge of the period, as the use of codebreaking machines in the fight against this alien does get rather complex towards the end. Nevertheless, it’s clear that writer Matt Fitton has done his research into the era, and all the tropes familiar to fans of Second World War intrigue are present – double-crossing, code-cracking, and even a trip to a Nazi submarine.

This story is also notable for introducing a new companion; Miranda Raison gives Constance a steely, professional demeanour, making her stand out as a companion who’ll be able to stand up to the Doctor when necessary.

After last month’s The Last Adventure powerfully filled in an important gap in the Sixth Doctor’s life, Criss-Cross is a lower key adventure for Old Sixie. And yet it’s solid Doctor Who – an intriguing alien, a fitting setting, and the debut adventure of a strong new companion.

Sunday, 20 September 2015


“It’s my party, and all of me is invited.”

If any line sums up The Magician’s Apprentice, it’s that one, from the midpoint scene; a bombastically grand entrance for the Doctor in the same way the whole episode serves as a grand entrance for series nine. Gone are the days in which we can start a series with a little scuffle against some Autons – in Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, everything is a blockbuster.

So, the, erm, “plot”… With the Doctor not answering his calls, Clara teams up with Missy to find him. Turns out he’s got himself into quite the dilemma, having saved/abandoned/shot a child who turned out to be Davros, and now the older incarnation of the Daleks’ creator wants a word. Not long after Clara and Missy find their old pal, the three of them are whisked away to Skaro.

Now, I have a strong feeling that if, in a few years time, we ask ourselves what this opening two-parter was about, we’ll think of whatever happens in next week’s The Witch’s Familiar. This first half is all set-up, really – one long first act. But what set-up!

Moffat is great at making it look like a lot’s happening when actually nothing substantial is, and the sheer pace of this episode is captivating, taking us on a tour of time and space and using several pretty good ideas (the frozen planes, the handmines) for a couple of scenes only before moving onto the next thing.

And these ideas see Moffat do what he does best – terrifying the pants off kids.  The handmines sequence turns a daft pun into something genuinely creepy and atmospheric, and Colony Sarff are an instantly iconic henchman (henchmen? henchcolony?) who’ll be haunting many nightmares for sure.

You just know there was a deleted scene where he introduced crack to the Middle Ages.

But what keeps bums on seats is the confident chemistry between the three leads. Peter Capaldi’s settled into the role of the Twelfth Doctor, having fun on lighter form than last year. This is the rock and roll Doctor, and Capaldi is fantastic, arrogantly commanding the crowd, switching effortlessly to sentiment where it’s needed, showing compassion for friends and enemies alike. If anything, he’s toned down the grumpy up a bit too much – begging Davros to save Clara seems out of character, and it would be nice to have one or two of his Malcolm Tucker-esque acerbic put-downs.

Michelle Gomez’s Missy, however, is hard to fault. From her wonderful put-down of Clara, via her terrifying murder of yet more UNIT grunts, to her tickling a Dalek’s balls after making a ‘dog’s bollocks’ joke, no one steals a scene like Missy, and it is intriguing to see her portrayed as an old friend of the Doctor’s, for once on his side as they journey into what she’s sure is a trap. Oh, and I loved the offhand explanation of her being alive – “not dead, back, big surprise, never mind.” And then she dies again, fast becoming the new Rory Williams (who himself was the new Master).

If there’s one weak point, it’s Clara. Sorry, Clara. She’s never had the most consistent characterisation, and her portrayal in some scenes here felt rather too heightened. Commanding an army of kids before being summoned by the Prime Minister and instantly solving all the problems that were puzzling the world’s security services, she’s the coolest schoolteacher in the world – unbelievably so. I did, however, like the scene in the prison cell where she tells the Doctor off – “Don’t apologise, make it up to me.” – which feels very teacher-y, giving her the moral upper hand on the Doctor while very much rooted in her background. For better or worse, Clara’s an experienced companion now – like Amy and Rory in series seven, and we know how well that turned out...

Oh yeah, there’s Davros too, who was due a return. Julian Bleach is ace. More on him next week, I expect, as episode two looks set to delve into his history with the Doctor.

And not a paradigm in sight.

And that’s another remarkable thing about this series opener – it’s full of Doctor Who history, having a brand new villain journey through locales from the Matt Smith, David Tennant and even Tom Baker eras before sending a Doctor in Hartnell-esque trousers into a sequel to Genesis of the Daleks. There’s a proper visit to Skaro, too, featuring an even more varied range of Daleks than 2012’s Asylum of the Daleks (though it’s a shame it wasn’t the Special Weapons Dalek who got to blow up the TARDIS). Never has the series felt so confident in its own mythology, and it’s difficult to resist a game of ‘spot the re-used Torchwood costume’.

But that’s another pleasure that’s ultimately superficial without the backbone of a story; The Magician’s Apprentice is one of those episodes that's really fun on first view but falls apart if you think about it too hard. Indeed, the plot holes are larger than the plot itself… How do you determine that the Doctor is ‘missing’ when he doesn’t ever live in the same place for more than 45 minutes? Surely the Doctor has knowingly gone into much more deathly traps many times before without making such a fuss about it? And how the hell does Clara’s ludicrous plan to locate him actually work?

But, as a way of bringing us back into the habit of wondering whether it's next Saturday yet, a lot of this episode works: it's full of scary villains, bold ideas, and Dalek testicle jokes. It embraces its own mythology while pushing the boundaries forward and blending comedy, sci-fi and horror like no other show can.

The Magician’s Apprentice is in no way a good Doctor Who story. But it is good Doctor Who. Now we’ve had our welcome back party, let’s see what actual stories series nine brings.

(I hear the November issue of Doctor Who Adventures is going to be a good one…)

Sunday, 13 September 2015

The best things about Legend:

3. Tom Hardy
2. Tom Hardy
1. Donkey in tuxedo

Really, Tom Hardy puts in two incredible performances, making both of the Kray twins – the scheming, business-headed Reggie and the rage-filled, instinctual Ronnie – terrifying in their own different ways and sympathetic in their own different ways. It’s Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale as played by the same actor.

Unfortunately, despite some lively dialogue, the script’s structure is rather shambolic, with important plot threads disappearing for long stretches of time and scenes often repeating themselves – Ronnie repeatedly gets pissed off at the brothers’ business manager, giving the same arguments each time, before actually doing anything about it. Christopher Eccleston is great as the copper investigating the Krays, but he shows up at random points scattered throughout the film and his story never seems to progress – he’s doing pretty much the same thing every time we see him.

Emily Browning’s Frances, who becomes Reggie’s wife, narrates the film, giving the audience an emotional in-point, but her storyline feels like nothing we haven’t seen before – I did end up feeling sorry for her, but also a bit annoyed at her inability to do anything not revolving around her feelings for Reggie (though that may well be a consequence of the film having to stick to the true story).

It’s at its best when it lets Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy riff off each other, and when it has a sense of humour, mainly revolving around Ronnie being overly terrifying, which creates some unforgettable, brutally hilarious moments – telling an American Mafioso about his sexual preferences, getting annoyed at someone not singing at a wedding, encountering the aforementioned donkey.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

On 9.9.15 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments

Thirteen-year-old Oskari is from a tough, manly community in Finland in which everyone is a man and every man is expected to go hunting on his thirteenth birthday and bring back an animal which represents the man they’ll become. His father brought back a bear. Thing is, Oskari’s not as manly a man as his father.

On his own hunting trip, after failing to find any animals worth killing (let’s not get into that…), he bumps into the President of America. Also known as Bill. As played by Samuel L. Jackson. You see, Air Force One has been shot down by terrorists and the Pres is stuck in the forest, with a traitorous Secret Service agent on his trail. Now it’s up to Oskari to escort Bill to safety.

The terrorists pursue Bill and Oskari through a series of action sequences, each one more ludicrous than the last, especially when this thirteen-year-old turns into a miniature Van Damme and jumps from a cliff onto a helicopter. It’s really not a film that stands up to much thought – in terms of anything that happens in the plot, quite a lot of the dialogue, or indeed the dodgy gender politics inherent in the “becoming a man” character arc.

It’s far from the best action film you’ll see this year, but to thirteen year olds looking for an enjoyable adventure, or to retro action fans looking for a reminder of simpler times, Big Game provides ninety minutes of unapologetic escapism.

Big Game is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 21st September.