Tuesday, 24 November 2015

On 24.11.15 by KieronMoore in , ,    17 comments

Visit Starburst for the full version of this review.

The most viewed programme in American cable history and applauded by critics and fans, The Walking Dead is an international phenomenon, and yet its hardy survivors have only just ventured out of Georgia. There’s a whole lot of walker-infested territory to explore, and so a spin-off series was perhaps inevitable.

The six-episode first season of Fear the Walking Dead takes us to Los Angeles, back at the beginning of the outbreak. Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) is a high school counselor, her partner Travis (Cliff Curtis) a teacher – ordinary jobs in an ordinary world. And then a suspicious flu outbreak closes the school, and Madison’s junkie son believes he’s seen a dead girl rise.

It’s a slow-burning series, which may not be to everyone’s tastes compared to the action-packed Walking Dead, but there’s a lot to appreciate in the way it builds up paranoia and fear. Particularly interesting is the relationship between the civilians and the military, who set up camp in LA claiming to be protecting the people but become increasingly controlling and secretive – it’s a trope that’s been done in zombie fiction before, but one that works well here.

Where the series falters is in the characters of Madison, Travis, and their families, who aren’t as well defined as they need to be, often acting out of character in order to serve the plot – who does what in several scenes is very interchangeable, giving away the poor construction. Kim Dickens, who was impressive in Ben Affleck’s Gone Girl, is given particularly short shrift, with no clear arc to Madison’s character and often sidelined in favour of the male characters.

At the heart of these problems is the decision to focus on one ordinary family, meaning they end up crowbarred into plots; a more ensemble approach allowing us to spend more time with, for example, the doctors struggling to deal with the deluge of patients and the lower-ranked soldiers questioning their orders, could have given a more compelling look at the collapsing society. There are lots of good ideas in this world, but Fear fails to dig deeply into them.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Blimey. Where to start on this one?

Let’s skip right to the big talking point: Clara’s dead (but is she?).

From a writer new to Doctor Who, the final ten minutes of Sarah Dollard’s Face the Raven are a magnificent piece of character writing, perhaps Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman’s best scene together. It’s a proper, emotionally hefty death, with increasing terror as you realise there’s no way out for Clara, balanced with her bravery and bossiness to the last minute. It’s surprisingly dark for Doctor Who, particularly when she ruminates that “maybe this is what I wanted”, but wisely refrains from lingering on the depressing points and allows Clara to bid farewell by offering a last piece of advice to the Doctor – she knows more than any companion what he can become when he’s angry and reminds him not to be that man again. Her death may have been inevitable given her increasingly Doctor-esque thrillseeking tendency, but despite her flaws, she bows out gracefully, healing others to the last minute. Just like the Doctor, in any of his incarnations, would.

I have two concerns about Clara’s death, and neither of them are criticisms of this episode. They’re about the past and the future.

The past: this character arc of Clara’s dangerous thrillseeking has been brought up sporadically across series nine (and the end of series eight), but it’s been inconsistent, and, as I pointed out last week, she’s found herself sidelined in too many episodes this series. While there are some good moments early on in Face the Raven in which the Doctor worries about Clara getting herself into danger, her downfall would be more effective had it been more consistently planted, and had she done more in the preceding episode than have a nap.

The future: surely Steven Moffat’s too egotistic to let a companion be written out in an episode not written by him, and it does seem like Jenna Coleman will be back in some form or another in the finale. Moffat tried to have his cake and eat it with Amy Pond’s exit by making it a 'death' but having her still be alive in a past the Doctor can’t go to, and ended up with an over-convoluted, ludicrous mess. Please, Steven, let a death be a death. Something small like the Doctor visiting a past Clara or one of her fractures (from series seven) could work.

But while this was clearly Clara’s story, it was also good to see Rigsy and Me again, two returning characters who slotted very neatly into Dollard’s story. Rigsy first appeared as Clara’s ‘companion’ when she took on the role of the Doctor last year, so it’s appropriate for it to be him she sacrifices herself for in the culmination of that arc. It was interesting to see how cleaning up the Doctor’s messes on Earth had led Me to a position of authority among its alien refugees, thus showing another side to her – at points seeming like the episode’s villain but ultimately acting out of concern for the lost and vulnerable under her protection. Capaldi and Coleman are deservedly getting a lot of praise for those final scenes, but for me, the moment when I realised Clara’s fucked was Williams’ look of horror upon realising the chronolock had been switched, followed by the reveal that she’d planned everything intricately so that no one would die, and Clara’s ballsed it up – the antagonist turned helpless ally, and the moment that says “mystery plot over, time for a death scene – ready the tissues”.

Minor nitpick #1: the Doctor insists on referring to Me as Ashildr. That’s not her name and hasn’t been for centuries. Get it right, Doctor.

And I haven’t even got into the concept of the episode’s plot yet, which is odd, because it’s a fantastic one. An alien refugee camp hidden among the streets of London is such a Doctor Who idea, ripe with potential stories. It’s a setting in which I want to spend more time, with every lovely little detail setting the mind racing  (How did the two Judoon end up here? Why the need for medical rationing? Why is there no Torchwood Blowfish? They always use the Torchwood Blowfish!). Wonderful set design from Michael Pickwoad and his team, too – if Neverwhere were made for TV today, it wouldn’t go wrong in taking inspiration from this.

The murder mystery plot is very nicely structured, letting us explore the street and feeling sufficiently substantial, and yet concise enough to allow the Clara-centric scenes room to breathe. Plus there’s the initial search for the trap street, for which Dollard has come up with clever ways for the Doctor and team to search, rather than relying on technobabble or the Doctor’s existing knowledge – “If you see something unusual or notable, dismiss it, just keep walking. But if there’s a bit of London so unremarkable you don’t even think about it, stop. You could very well be standing right outside a trap street” is a remarkable, magical line. I hope you all had fun looking out for trap streets in the past few days. I have.

Minor nitpick #2: After scanning Rigsy in the TARDIS, the Doctor jumps to the conclusion that he must have been to a trap street rather abruptly – I’m not sure what his logic was there.

It’s remarkable that I can be so praising of an episode that breaks that golden rule of Doctor Who – the Doctor loses! Sure, he finds the truth behind the ‘murder’, and he does technically achieve his goal of saving Rigsy, but the chronolock still claims its victim, and he’s hopelessly sent away as captive of whoever’s behind all this. In many respects, the episode this most resembles is 2007’s Utopia, which also starts as a seemingly ordinary episode but takes a shocking twist towards the end that leaves the Doctor in big trouble and heads into a final two-parter. I really love Utopia, but Face the Raven pulls off that trick as well as Russell T Davies did, if not better – the shock ending is strong in both, but this has a fantastic world and engrossing investigation story to boot.

All in all, the only negatives I can find are, count them, two nitpicks.  An astonishingly good Who debut from Dollard.

I’m going to put Face the Raven below the Zygon episodes in my series ranking because, though I had more criticisms of those, not much can live up to their political ballsiness or Capaldi’s Doctor-defining rage. But there’s a fascinating pattern emerging – of the ten episodes so far, the bottom five in my list are from writers who’ve written Who several times before, while the top five are from writers who’ve joined the team in the past two years. Doctor Who is a show that thrives on change, and the one big success of the Capaldi years so far, other than P-Caps himself, is that so many good episodes have come from the new blood.

  1. The Zygon Inversion
  2. The Zygon Invasion
  3. Face the Raven
  4. The Girl Who Died
  5. The Woman Who Lived
  6. The Witch’s Familiar
  7. Under the Lake
  8. The Magician’s Apprentice
  9. Before the Flood
  10. Sleep No More

Friday, 20 November 2015

On 20.11.15 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

The new issue of Starburst is out now!

I've contributed the preview of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (cover feature, woo) and a feature looking at the best of Star Wars video games.

What can you expect from the long-awaited Episode VII? Did I manage to give an objective overview of Star Wars games or did I ramble on about my personal childhood favourites? How (and why) did I quote Taylor Swift in a bio of Kylo Ren?

Buy it now to find out, from online or from stores (WH Smith and Tesco both stock it these days).

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

When it was first announced, Mark Gatiss’ found footage-style Sleep No More was pitched as “a unique episode of Doctor Who”. That’s kind of ironic, considering that found footage films are getting increasingly repetitive; it’s also kind of a tautology, given that each Who episode, with its own setting and guest cast, is unique; most of all, it’s no guarantor of quality.

On the space station Le Verrier, in orbit of Neptune, Professor Rassmussen (Reece Shearsmith) has invented a device that prevents the need for sleep. But it’s all gone predictably tits up, creating evil dust monsters, and a rescue squad – joined by the Doctor and Clara – are sent to extract the crew.

With this story shown to us through what initially seems to be footage from the soldiers’ helmet cams and CCTV cameras, this found footage idea is a new type of Doctor Who horror story, and the episode deserves praise for its attempt to shake up the format (though this style must have been seen in hundreds of films by now). The twist is particularly clever; I'd noticed Clara and Rassmussen’s POV shots and thought “those two don’t have helmet cams, they’ve mucked this right up”, but was very impressed when this turned out to be deliberate – “there are no cameras”, the Doctor observes. Unfortunately, the alternative explanation given doesn’t make a lot of sense. So the footage is being shot by hyper-evolved sleep mucus in everyone's eyes, as well as by the dust in the air (pretending to be CCTV cameras), and somehow transmitted around the station for anyone with a sonic device to intercept? You what, mate?

And that’s a recurring problem with this episode – there are a lot of ideas, but they don’t slot together, resulting in a plot crammed with too many confusing elements. The Doctor's final line, "none of this makes any sense", is very appropriate. For example, why jump so quickly to the conclusion that sleep is a necessary part of life? The satirical gag that corporations want to keep their workers awake for longer is nice, but hardly justifies Rassmussen’s technology as inherently bad. The plot becomes particularly muddled when it comes to the final act and Rassmussen’s evil scheme. What exactly is his motivation? If he’s one of the Sandmen, how has he managed to keep human form? If the Sandmen can’t see, how can he? 

The problem here, I think, is the disparity between the Sandmen as accidentally created mutant monsters and as scheming galaxy-conquerors. “We can’t leave this place until there’s no trace of the dust, or that’s it for [the human race]”, says the Doctor, but the only encounter with the Sandmen before that point ended with one getting defeated by having a door slammed into its arm. Perhaps the story could have benefitted from a dose of simplicity, with the Sandmen not as a threat to the entire human race but simply a very dangerous menace to those trapped on the station with it, taking an extra cue from the minimalist found footage horrors that inspired this episode – after all, the witch in Blair Witch Project isn’t trying to take over the world, nor are the spirits in Paranormal Activity.

On a visual level, too, the episode could have mimicked the popular found footage films more confidently; though it starts out by setting up the creepy atmosphere well, later action sequences drop the ball by having so many cuts and unbelievable angles that it’s not particularly distinguishable from a usual Who episode. Lingering on the CCTV shots for longer, à la Paranormal Activity, or showing scenes through only one character’s point of view, à la Blair Witch or Cloverfield, could have made the tension work a lot better.

My other problem with Sleep No More is that, perhaps as a result of the plot complexities getting in the way, the characters are very under-developed. Out of the rescue squad, the only ones with any real story are 474 and Chopra, but even that doesn’t go much further than the cliché of him realising the errors of his prejudice when she sacrifices herself for him. The Doctor himself gets some nice, if understated, moments of investigation, and gets to quote both Shakespeare and Oliver!, but Clara, as has been the case too often this series, finds herself sidelined – the only thing she does to advance the plot is get dragged into a big box and have a nap. I do like that she gets to name the creatures, bringing to mind the Doctor’s final speech from Flatline, and so a subtle reminder of this series’ arc of her becoming more like the Doctor – but so close to her leaving, the arc should comprise of more than subtle reminders.

A disappointing step down after the last four episodes have been fantastic, Sleep No More fits into a category of Doctor Who episodes labelled “well, at least you tried”. It has strong ideas and some spooky moments, but with a more coherent plot and more confidence in its visual style, may have been able to give its characters depth and push the scares further. 


  1. The Zygon Inversion
  2. The Zygon Invasion
  3. The Girl Who Died
  4. The Woman Who Lived
  5. The Witch’s Familiar
  6. Under the Lake
  7. The Magician’s Apprentice
  8. Before the Flood
  9. Sleep No More

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Visit Starburst for the full version of this review.

There’s good reason for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas being regarded as a great work of twentieth century literature; Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 experiment in Gonzo journalism captured the end of ‘60s drug culture in an unforgettably visceral way. If you haven’t read the book (you should) or seen Terry Gilliam’s 1998 film (ditto), you may want to seek out Troy Little’s new graphic novel adaptation.

The story sticks very closely to the original, right down to chapter titles and dialogue. Journalist Raoul Duke (a fictional version of Thompson himself) is sent to Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race. He takes along his attorney, a rented convertible, and a trunk full of “every kind of drug known to civilised man since 1544 AD”. For Duke (slash Thompson), this is no simple sports journalism assignment but an opportunity to chronicle what’s become of the American Dream – in the least sober way possible.

While this objective may seem somewhat narcissistic, the chaotic events that befall Duke make for compelling reading, and Thompson’s manic commentary on society is just as funny as ever – who can forget the irony of Duke being reassigned to cover a national police convention on narcotics control? And in among the insanity, Fear and Loathing has some deep insights into the rapid changes in American society at the time.

Though Little's vibrant, cartoony style doesn’t always capture the depressing, messy depravity of Duke’s journey quite as well as Ralph Steadman’s sketchy illustrations, it's constantly a joy to look at, with the two volatile lead characters extravagantly stylised and with the more surreal hallucinations depicted like a twisted take on a Saturday morning cartoon – Little’s take on the ‘bar full of lizards’ scene is somehow both colourful and grim.

The overall effect is a graphic novel as vivid and manic as the book it adapts. Its strict loyalty to its almost 45-year-old source means there’s nothing particularly surprising here, but it’s nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining adaptation of a fascinating and wonderfully depraved classic. 

As your attorney, I advise you to read this comic.

You read correctly, it’s that Django, with that Zorro. Bounty hunting ex-slave Django Freeman, as portrayed by Jamie Foxx in Quentin Tarantino’s movie Django Unchained, teams up with iconic swashbuckler Zorro in this comic miniseries, co-scripted by Tarantino himself with Zorro comic writer Matt Wagner.

Django meets an aging Diego de la Vega on the road in Arizona. After they’ve dispatched a gang of outlaws together, Vega enlists Django in his scheme to bring down the corrupt, slave-exploiting Archduke of Arizona.

Seeing these heroes side by side provides lots of fun, particularly when Django figures out Vega’s secret identity as Zorro and the action really gets going. What’s particularly compelling is the contrast which the writers draw between them; Zorro uses his nobleman status and clever ruses to defend the oppressed, while Django, having experienced the pain of slavery directly, is on a more personal quest and is prone to rougher, violent vengeance. 

The focus on the two heroes does mean, though, that the characters of the Archduke’s wife and son, themselves victims of the Machiavellian ruler, are underdeveloped, after initially being set up as central to the story.

If there’s one more criticism to be made, it’s that Django/Zorro lacks the flourish of a Tarantino movie. Despite artist Esteve Polls capturing all the tropes of the Western effectively and colourist Brennan Wagner giving it a strong, heated atmosphere, the whole presentation does feel much more functional than the dramatic cinematography we’ve come to expect from the director’s movies.

Nevertheless, this volume’s story feels like a worthy sequel to Unchained, not least for the pleasure of seeing the two very different outlaws working together. Oh, and the very clever mash-up of one of the movie’s most famous lines with an important part of the Zorro mythos is a moment to savour.

Monday, 9 November 2015

There are a lot of non-spoiler reviews out there already for new Bond film Spectre, so I thought it’d be more interesting to go straight into everything I thought about it. Hence a big spoiler warning…

  • First of all, it’s a visually brilliant film. The opening shot through the streets of Mexico City is incredible both in how detailed and busy an environment it efficiently conjures and in the technical marvel of the Touch of Evil-esque four-minute continuous take (yes, I know there are hidden cuts, and no, I don’t care). The action sequences throughout the movie are remarkably staged, though never pass the high bar set by the pre-titles. My stomach genuinely churned at the helicopter backflip stunt.
  • Largely due to the quality of the action, Spectre is an entertaining piece of blockbuster cinema, with a whirlwind tour of locations and characters - at no point in its two-and-a-half-hour running time did I get bored. That’s not to say the story is great…
  • Blofeld turning out to be Bond’s brother, or half-brother or stepbrother or something… I don’t necessarily object to looking into Bond’s past (Skyfall did this very well), but in this instance it feels very clumsily tacked-on and unnecessary. The Craig era has tried to make Bond more emotionally invested in the story, which, barring On Her Majesty's Secret Service, he'd never been before, and which worked really well in Casino Royale and Skyfall. Here, it's just awkward.
  • What particularly doesn’t work is the "you made me who I am" shit – because if someone's jealous of their brother getting all the attention and then they become an evil supervillain, it's obviously the brother's fault, right? The whole final act is one naff, ineffective guilt trip, and Blofeld's motive is hella messy. He sets up a complex trap in the old MI6 building to... what? Tease Bond a bit? What does that have to do with everything that's been set up about Spectre being all about coldly gaining world domination?
  • The surveillance plot is a lot more interesting than this awkward personal vendetta, and it's interesting to see a big action movie try to tackle this very current issue. If Spectre were real, taking control of the world's digital surveillance is the kind of thing I'd expect them to be up to in 2015, so it’s a shame it gets relegated to a side plot for M to deal with. However, both Spectre and Skyfall have the same problem for me – they argue that giving any corruptible authority unlimited powers of digital surveillance is bad (can't argue with that), but the alternative they offer up as morally better is that instead of spying on the villains digitally, governments should send assassins to kill them in the good old fashioned shooty explodey way, and equally not tell anyone about it. Which, you know, isn't that much better. There's a very good anti-surveillance film to be made, but it's very hard to fit it within the frankly conservative format of the James Bond series.
  • I do like the fact that the loose ends of the Quantum arc were returned to, and was satisfied with the explanation that Quantum was part of Spectre. Nice to see Mr. White again.
  • We get the Craig era’s first ridiculous death machine in the form of Blofeld's brain-drilling chair… it does seem that, after starting on a very realist, Bourne-inspired note, these films have become steadily more silly. As indeed, most Bonds become more silly towards the end of their era - Roger Moore’s clown costume, Brosnan’s invisible car. It would have been nice to have had one more film in the style of Casino Royale, but it seems the general dissatisfaction with Quantum of Solace killed that chance.
  • Bond forcing himself onto a widow is up there with Goldfinger’s barn scene in the ranks of uncomfortably misjudged sex scenes. This film's awkward "waste of good scotch" moment.
  • Lea Seydoux’s character gets out of the whole thing a bit better than Monica Bellucci’s - she at least gets to be smart and to have some depth. Though she does need to be rescued one time too many - when she tells Bond “I’m leaving you, I’m just gonna wander off alone down this dark London alleyway”, you know exactly how everything's going to play out.
  • Ralph Fiennes as M… meh. I miss Judi Dench. Having Bond’s boss be female allowed his sexism to be called out, and reverting to a male M seems to be undoing that progress. I loved M's story in Skyfall, and it was a great death scene, but in hindsight, could it not have ended with her surviving?
  • Similarly, Ben Whishaw’s performance as Q is a lot more traditional, with less of the twenty-first century geek stuff and more gadgets and quips, which I'm not entirely convinced by - again, undoing progress for the purpose of nostalgia. Though it is Ben Whishaw, so I can’t not love him and his lovely jumpers; the “I told you to bring it back in one piece, not bring back one piece” line, and his reaction when Bond doesn't laugh, is very funny.
  • Speaking of Dame Judi, she does get her cameo here, but it’s never explained how she knew about Marco Sciarri or why she’d leave it until after her death to tell Bond to go after him. What was that about?
  • I thought the title song, Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall, was really painfully awful when I first heard it. But somehow, with the accompaniment of the title animation, it’s not that bad. It’s not good, but it’s not that bad.
  • How incompetent are Spectre’s goons? “We’ve managed to knock out James Bond and the head of MI6, should we take them both?” “Nah, just take Bond, leave M here.” The restraint with which C tells them to actually, go back and get M (by which time he’s woken up and headed off to arrest C) is admirable.
Altogether... an enjoyable film, with admirable intent to draw the Daniel Craig era to a close and to tell a contemporary story, but some misjudged character decisions mean the script lets it down, particularly in the final act.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

If you weren’t yet convinced, you must be now: Peter Capaldi is the Doctor.

Following on from last week’s The Zygon Invasion, this episode, by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat, sees Capaldi’s Doctor and Osgood racing to confront the Zygon extremist who’d stolen Clara’s body – all leading up to a final confrontation underneath the Tower of London.

And what a confrontation. Last week’s episode set up the story as the most political Doctor Who’s been in ages, with UNIT drones, Zygon refugees, and radical terrorists, but part two’s climax is where the Doctor finally lets his own opinions on the situation loose. I'm somewhat uneasy about the start of this rant, with his argument that the Zygons should just get over the unfair treatment of their species, but once he really gets going on the consequences of war, particularly the culpability of both sides, the arguments are powerful and Capaldi is electrifying. “Because it’s not a game, Kate – this is a scale model of war!” It's a desperate plea for pacifism crossed with passionate rage in a way which gets right to the heart of who the Doctor is, and yet which no other Doctor could pull off. It's a Doctor-defining scene. 

And it’s a scene that works on many levels – as well as drawing on modern day politics, it draws on the history of Doctor Who (the Doctor having seen all this before in the Time War, and even right back to The Silurians – Kate finally making up for her father turning another potential peace into a genocide). Even the date of broadcast is relevant – on the day before Remembrance Sunday, the Doctor, remembering his own grief, monologues about the importance of turning mourning for the millions lost into a reminder never to let the same horrors happen again rather than an excuse to keep on fighting. Also, extra plus points for not overdoing the music like many a big speech of Matt Smith’s era – Peter Capaldi running on full steam needs no musical accompaniment.

There is one nit I have to pick, and I admit it is a minor nit, but the Black Archive’s memory wipe sprinklers… they seem to pick which memories to wipe and from whom based on what’s convenient for the plot. They didn’t make much sense in Day of the Doctor and don’t here either.

But, while the Black Archive confrontation is getting all the love, there’s another scene I want to single out as one of my favourite recent Doctor Who moments, and that’s the Doctor and Osgood meeting Etoine, the ordinary Zygon just wanting to get by. Zygon society is so much more wonderfully complex than that of one-note villains like the Daleks, you see. This Zygon silent majority were talked about but unseen in Invasion, and for the extremist villains to really work, the introduction of a typical Zygon everyman was vital. When the Doctor finds him, Etoine’s been forced into exposing his natural form as part of Bonnie’s scheme and is driven to suicide. His despairing call of “I never wanted to fight. I just wanted to live here. Why can’t I just live?” is extraordinarily familiar; this is not just anti-war Doctor Who but pro-refugee Doctor Who, and it’s amazing how the episode gets away with being so bold. 

So, two brilliant scenes. What else is going on? The Clara/Bonnie conflict is a clever way of utilising a character who’s effectively trapped in a big orange blob for the whole episode, and of putting Clara’s people skills to the test. It does feel, however, that Clara hasn’t yet had an episode this series where she’s got to do a massive amount – let’s hope she gets a chance to shine soon before all these hints about her mortality come to something.

I’d also like to give a big shout out to Osgood, who I found rather gimmicky in Moffat’s earlier scripts, but who really proves herself in this episode. She turns from a stereotypical starstruck fan into someone able to see themselves on an equal level with the Doctor, and able to stand up to him when he asks that silly “Zygon or Human?” question yet again. It’s a development that naturally flows into the final scene of her turning down what she’s always wanted, and the Doctor’s parting “I’m a very big fan” line got me right in the feels (because sometimes daft tumblr terminology is totally appropriate).

One more minor negative, which is that some of the early Doctor/Osgood scenes don’t work on a visual or action level quite as well as last week’s globe-spanning episode – cutting to the Doctor the moment after his parachute lands gives away the low budget, as does the ease with which they escape from the Zygon policemen (surely they’d get back in their police car and give chase!). 

Nevertheless, I don’t like to be too harsh on something which was obviously down to restrictions placed on the production, and the positives of this episode – Harness and Moffat’s script and Capaldi’s performance – more than outweigh the negatives. This two parter has come together brilliantly as one of Doctor Who’s boldest stories in a long time, and the BBC deserves big applause for broadcasting such a relevant and abrasively anti-war episode during Remembrance Day weekend. Whereas this series' opener tried to be great Doctor Who by aping an old classic, this story broke new ground and in so doing created a new classic. 

  1.  The Zygon Inversion
  2. The Zygon Invasion
  3. The Girl Who Died
  4. The Woman Who Lived
  5. The Witch’s Familiar
  6. Under the Lake
  7. The Magician’s Apprentice
  8. Before the Flood

Monday, 2 November 2015

The latest issue of Doctor Who Adventures is out this Thursday, and I've written the comic strip!

Which is rather exciting. Artwork is by Russ Leach with colours by John Burns.

In TIME AND PUBLIC RELATIONS IN SPACE, the Doctor gets a makeover and a new agent - and isn't too happy about it...

Doctor Who Adventures 8 is available from all good newsagents, superstores, and interstellar black markets.

Here's the cover and a little preview:

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Back in November 2013, I criticised (the otherwise very good) The Day of the Doctor for leaving its Zygon storyline with a pretty major loose end, not actually telling us what had happened to the suckery orange aliens trying to blow up London. And yet, despite the fact that a bit more epilogue in that special would still be useful, all the concern was totally worth it for The Zygon Invasion, a story which actually picks up where Day left off. I love it when things in Doctor Who seem to have been planned in advance.

What’s better, The Zygon Invasion gives us a very different story to Day, or indeed to most of what we’ve seen in recent Doctor Who. With twenty million Zygons hidden across the globe, the peace was always going to be fragile, and Peter Harness’ script sees a splinter group begin an insurrection. This is Doctor Who as political thriller, and a very contemporary one at that. 

Harness’ last Who episode, Kill the Moon, has often been interpreted as a commentary on abortion, but can seem muddled as to what it’s actually saying (plus it’s rather devoid of physical threat, and oh, it turns out the moon’s an egg), but The Zygon Invasion is a much more complete and confident script. It really doesn’t hold back (this is Doctor Who, why be subtle?) – the Zygon extremist group resembles ISIS, UNIT use drone warfare, and people prejudge Zygon refugees as benefit scroungers. When the Doctor rants, “This is a splinter group. The rest of the Zygons, the vast majority, they want to live in peace. You start bombing them, you’ll radicalise the lot”, it’s clear this is one of the boldest, most unashamedly political Doctor Who stories in a long while. Which I love. The Steven Moffat era’s been very reticent to comment on the real world like Russell T Davies often did, preferring to introspectively explore the Doctor himself (and some episodes, like last week’s, have done that very well). This satirical kind of story has been notably lacking, but now it’s back in style.

And what style! With trips to New Mexico and Turmezistan (which is as real as Made Up Crescent), it’s a much more global thriller than the ‘70s UNIT stories which rarely ventured further than Kent, while 24-style shakycam and militaristic musical cues really sell the atmosphere. Plus, just as the set designers got a shout-out in my Girl Who Died review, I feel it’s the sound designers who are the unsung heroes here – details like the birds and dogs in the New Mexico desert and the choppers in the background of the Middle East military encampment really make us forget most of this is actually Cardiff. 

And what makes this more than just an episode of 24 is how the body-snatching nature of the radical Zygons provides some very creepy moments of alien menace. That scene on the staircase, with Zygons appearing in the form of soldiers’ relatives, is an incredible piece of paranoia-fuelled tension, very dark in the cheap yet heart-breaking way only Doctor Who can do, while the twist with Clara is perfectly planted – one of those twists that, in hindsight, you should have seen coming. And what a cliffhanger! With the Zygon insurrection beginning and UNIT compromised, the stakes couldn’t be higher – not unless there was a missile about to blow up the Doctor. Well, shit.

If I have anything to criticise, it’s that the Doctor’s rather passive when alongside Colonel Walsh in Turmezistan, standing by silently as she orders her troops to shoot at the Zygon duplicates. It’s a passivity that seems particularly odd given how abrasively anti-military he was in the previous series – series eight’s Doctor would have needed to be physically restrained in order to stop him waltzing in and shouting at the soldiers to put their guns down. At least the trailer implies that he’ll get his rage on and stick his nose in a bit more next week.

It’s much more like a Davies two-parter in its format, too – this isn’t two loosely linked episodes, but one ninety-minute story, and rightly so, as there’s more than enough material here. Full judgement, therefore, must rest until next week, and the success of this thriller will hinge on its ending – how exactly will things turn out, particularly for the millions of Zygons who do want peace? Harness has been ticking the right boxes so far, but given that the insurrectionist Zygons do actually have an understandable motivation (they want to be themselves and not be forced into blending in), the ending will have to be very carefully balanced.

But if the second part does wrap things up satisfyingly and keeps up the quality, The Zygon Invasion/Inversion could well be one of the defining stories of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who. It’s a thriller of global proportions, with creepy body horror and brilliant sci-fi twists. It’s also a very bold political satire that couldn’t be more relevant in 2015. It’s unlike so much recent Doctor Who, and yet that’s what makes it great Doctor Who. Because the best Doctor Who breaks new ground.

  1. The Zygon Invasion
  2. The Girl Who Died
  3. The Woman Who Lived
  4. The Witch’s Familiar
  5. Under the Lake
  6. The Magician’s Apprentice
  7. Before the Flood