15/07/2020

Fear Her review


Series 2@14. Unusually low key episode works until the final lap.
`Fear Her` feels like it’s come from somewhere else, that it was written for another project or as a short story and somehow found its way into the 2006 version of Doctor Who for which it just seems a bit out of place. Only Matthew Graham knows if that is the case but unfortunately it has gone down in history as the dud of the season which makes it sound like it’s awful. Which it isn’t. Parts of it are quite intriguing and it has the rare distinction of being a genuine mystery that the Doctor and Rose have to solve by deduction; an aspect Graham’s script acknowledges with their jokey detective banter. There’s something of Sapphire and Steel about the premise, though in place of that show’s spooky old buildings we’re in the middle of a modern Close with yellow bricked houses and daylight. It’s difficult to escape the feeling that the episode would have been better set at night in a creepy old house.


13/07/2020

Love and Monsters review


Series 2@14. Playing with the format of Doctor Who yields surprising results. 
There’s something quite prescient about `Love and Monsters` that has only become apparent since it was broadcast. YouTube had only been going for less than a year when the story was written and made yet the episode presents main character Elton’s story like a vlog even taking time to comment on the fact. Elton has to lean over to do a zoom in (but gets a remote control zoom at the end) and he offers his story with an awareness of the form in which he is doing so mixing it like a tv series. Like Doctor Who I suppose. The episode has become synonymous with being a comment on fandom and fans but it is actually not specifically about that at all. Russell T Davies writes here passionately (well he always writes with passion) on friendship through shared interests, on how such relationships develop and also how fame can affect things for the worse. LINDA’s happy gatherings, though initially intent on tracking down the mysterious Doctor, develop into more conventional activities like baking or making music. It’s only when the original aim is hijacked by Kennedy that everything is messed up.

10/07/2020

The Satan Pit review


Series 2@14. A devilishly clever and exciting watch from start to finish.
“The devil is an idea,” says the Doctor at one point in this fascinating second part which mixes up traditional action, an astoundingly big monster and some philosophical debate in a glorious package. It’s an episode that brims with the confidence of success yet also continues to grow the series in interesting new directions. It’s easy to imagine a story like this in the old days only it would limit itself to the threat of the possessed Ood. `The Satan Pit`, rather like the Beast itself, is wilier than that and has the Doctor and Ida discuss the idea of the devil while trapped at the bottom of a 10 mile abyss. I remember watching this at the time and being constantly wrong footed as to where it was going especially when we get to see the Beast and it can’t speak at all. That his mind has been separated adds another jeopardy in an episode that first time round keeps you guessing. 

06/07/2020

The Impossible Planet review


Series 2 @14. Superior episode that shows all that is great about this era of the show. 
A sure fire way of knowing just how much Doctor Who has permeated popular culture is when you see kids playing a scene from the series. Back in 2006 I was in a shop when I heard a familiar refrain - “We must feed”. Sure enough, two children were pretending to be Ood in public as if it was the greatest thing ever. They were re-playing what is both an excellent opening scene and also one of the best gags the show has done. And after that the episode never stops delivering on every level. Those kids obviously loved it because it’s big, colourful and packed with incident. It’s got the spine tingling voice of Gabriel Woolf who chilled another generation thirty years or so earlier. It’s got the Ood one of the few classic monsters the modern series has created. Yet it also has a mind bending concept and an undercurrent of devilish behaviour. It looks fantastic, it moves at just the right pace, it manages to show a convincing lived in and worked in base. It has a great roster of characters. In fact, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it! 

02/07/2020

The Idiot's Lantern review


The traditions of the 1950s and of Doctor Who itself meet in a well-played, visually impressive episode. 
Sitting between the least and most appreciated stories of the season, both of which are ambitious and much talked about two parters, `The Idiot’s Lantern` has tended to be overlooked which is a pity because there is much to love in Mark Gatiss’ compact homage to both the dawn of television and classic Doctor Who. He takes the traditional elements of a great Who story- a memorable monster, a gaggle of interesting characters, a crazy mad villain, a companion in danger and a pseudo historical setting and brings them to life in fresh ways. The episode shows too how in that old Doctor Who tradition minimal resources can be stretched. The story was probably cheaper to make than either of the two epics that surround it yet this never shows. Director Euros Lynn’s love of askew camera angles ensures 2000’s Cardiff easily becomes 1950s London. If the static sometimes looks a little like it’s been rushed this actually fits in with the tone of the story. All together it turns out this is one of the season’s best episodes.

28/06/2020

Age of Steel review


Series 2@14. Second part of alternative Cyber origins story has surprising heart. 
After the awkward `Rise of the Cybermen`, part 2 of the story proves to be better if only for the fact that a lot happens. Coming across at times like a pocket 45 minute movie, `Age of Steel` is an old fashioned adventure in which our heroes storm the headquarters of the villain three ways and each has a tale to tell. Furthermore it belatedly does introduce something of the people who become Cybermen. These are fleeting (because the pace of the episode is speedy) but important moments where the original person behind the metal mask is revealed in tragic metallic tones. In both cases the person was female which somehow makes it more poignant. With John Lumic largely out of the way for the greater part of the episode things become rather more serious though he does return in an unintentionally amusing giant armchair as the Cybercontroller. Its then you realise, this is really a comic book story. Everything is broadly sketched with just enough emotion to pull you in. And that’s what makes if fun.

26/06/2020

Rise of the Cybermen review


Series 2@14. An alternative Cyberman origin story with some parts that don’t work. 
Ever since `Genesis of the Daleks` fans dreamt of a similar tale to show the origins of the Cybermen. Set on Mondas in the midst of some kind of plague, we would see the controversial initiation of the process by which body parts would be replaced by machine elements and the traumatic effect it has on the population. Which is sort of the approach Steven Moffatt took latterly. Here, if Lumic’s wheelchair bound manic behaviour appears to consciously echo Davros the story takes another path. His genius being shunned by governments has more contemporary currency though it might have been interesting had writer Tom MacRae added an actual financial angle given that in reality there are medicines available to treat serious illness but the NHS deems them too expensive. Otherwise it’s hard to see Lumic’s actions as being anything other than self serving which presumably was not what started his work. 

21/06/2020

The Girl in the Fireplace review


Series 2@14. A primer for the Doctor Who that was to com. 
Watching this episode after we’ve seen Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner is interesting because many of his signature ideas are contained within it. We’ve got what came to be known as `timey wimey` stuff in the windows that open into different periods in the life of Madame de Pompadour, `monsters` that turn out to be an advanced technology gone wrong. There’s a girl meeting the Doctor when she’s young and then again as an adult, the Doctor having a somewhat romantic interlude and the notion of something underneath the bed. In a sequence where the Doctor reads Reinette’s mind there is even talk of the Time Lord as `a lonely boy`. These concepts and ideas became some of the cornerstones of Moffat’s version of Doctor Who. What is also here, surprisingly, is the brutal slaughter of the crew of the spaceship from which the Clockwork robots come. We don’t see it on screen of course but it is there and, no, they don’t get somehow saved at the end. Perhaps they did in the original script but RTD vetoed such a cop out. I single this out because it’s the uncomfortable scenario that gives what would otherwise be a fanciful episode some edge.


16/06/2020

School Reunion review


Series 2@14. A lesson in how to combine new and old Doctor Who in one irresistible package.
`School Reunion` sounds like an overdose of nostalgia as not only Sarah Jane Smith but K9 as well re-appear in an old fashioned sort of plot involving creatures taking over a school. You can sort of imagine it being done back in Sarah’s day. Yet by combining this with the ongoing Doctor story- his survivor’s guilt mingled with the acts he undertook in the Time War- and also his history of leaving people behind - you end up with something that seems as modern as anything else did in the season at the time. Toby Whithouse with, you suspect, more than a little assist from Russell T Davies uses the theme of replacement and moving on across all aspects of the episode. The reunion with Sarah triggers Rose’s insecurity that she, too, will one day be similarly abandoned while Sarah’s own description of life after the Doctor is a rarely explored angle. Cleverly the Krillitanes are a race who replace their body parts and end up looking completely different after each conquest thus mirroring the emotional plot line.

10/06/2020

Tooth and Claw review


Series 2@14. Kick Ass monks, Queen Victoria and television’s best ever werewolf!
As an opening gambit, the first few minutes of `Tooth and Claw` take some beating as a gang of shaven headed monks show off their moves- often in slow motion- in a martial arts masterclass quite unlike the opening of a Doctor Who episode. Helmed by Euros Lynn, one of the best directors to have worked on the modern show, this is an episode where everything comes right. Arguably it might have made a better opener for this series. It’s an odd mix when you think about it- monks, Queen Victoria, a werewolf and a giant telescope but it all fits together so well. It’s an editing success too- some of the cuts are so fast but you still get the essence of what is happening. Though there is no blood to be seen (apparently banned at such an early hour) we are left in no doubt as to the viciousness of the werewolf.