14/09/2020

Fury from the Deep review

The new animated version of `Fury from the Deep` arrives with a big reputation. Word of mouth from those who saw it fifty two (!) years ago suggest it’s one of the scariest adventures but we’ve been here before. `Tomb of the Cybermen` enjoyed similar reverence until it was actually found and revealed to be nowhere near as amazing as we’d expected. Sure it was good but had a major narrative flaw that was impossible to reconcile. After struggling with `The Faceless Ones`, dipping out during the interminable scenes with Scouser Pauline Collins, I was certainly hoping for more inspiring material because however good the animation is it can’t really alter the story significantly. On the surface `Fury` fits the late Sixties model of a place under siege with a variety of characters defined more by their job than their personality. They shout and argue a lot about procedure, ignore any obvious warnings that things are going wrong allowing the Doctor to lurk in the background till he pulls a solution out of the hat early in the last episode. However what unfolds is much more interesting, that rarity of a second Doctor story that gets better as it progresses.

 


04/09/2020

Season 13@45 - Terror of the Zygons

Doctor Who never scared me - it thrilled me! Even as a child I watched it without feeling the need to leap behind the sofa. Instead I revelled in all those monsters and slime and robots and everything else. Yet I think that one of the scariest moments in any iteration of the programme is the end of episode one of this story when we see a Zygon for the first time. It is something to do with the fact that, as well as  the appearance of the creature being grotesque anyway – a cross between an embryo and a sea horse- it has its mouth wide open and Sarah’s scream is given a slight echo and mixed into the end sting when the theme music starts. Somewhere in the land of What-if there is a period of Doctor Who called the Banks Stewart Era when the writer Robert Banks- Stewart took over the series and every story was delivered with same brio as `Terror of the Zygons` and `Seeds of Doom`. It would be full of hard action, vicious antagonists, quirky characters and lashings of richly swirling Geoffrey Burgon incidental music. In the event though we have just ten episodes with these ingredients but they do stand out even from their much admired fellow stories this season. Unbelievably `Terror` was supposed to end season twelve - can you imagine this story being shown in the summer?


 

20/07/2020

Doomsday review


Series 2@14. Emotional finale draws together the season’s themes.
The most remarkable aspect of this gripping finale is not the Daleks vs Cybermen dust up nor the skyscraping concepts on display but the acting of Billie Piper. When it comes to the crunch she delivers a performance that is so nuanced and interesting it takes your attention away from the metallic battling elsewhere. Rose Tyler’s always been both normal and yet unusual with a rare empathy for the victims of the Universe; that’s why she and the Doctor are such a good fit. There’s a scene early on where she stands up to the Daleks with a mixture of cheekiness and grit. It’s one of many moments where Billie P nails exactly what Rose should be like, the template for the modern companion. When we reach the sad ending of the story the way she just crumbles on the other side of the Void seems so real and raw. The series did- and in some ways still does - miss her not that I’m suggesting she keeps popping back of course. In fact the show almost undid the simple beauty of the final Bad Wolf Bay goodbye when Rose did indeed come back a couple of years later. “Will I see you again?” she asks tearfully. “Yes, in a couple of season’s time” the Doctor doesn’t say. 


17/07/2020

Army of Ghosts review


Series 2@ 14 Unlikely set up leads to a sterling climax. 
“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” quotes the Doctor and the trouble with this episode is that nobody else is either. For a writer who prefers to emphasise the emotional aspect of his work, the first half of Russell T Davies’s season finale treats the apparent return of the familial deceased as little more than a gimmick. There’s certainly mileage in a more carefully calibrated tale of such apparitions but it is absent here replaced by a somewhat irritating Doctor and said ghosts just standing about while people play football or wash the dishes. There is no real interaction with them neither does the subsequent parade of then contemporary television programmes featuring ghosts convince. A more qualified student of television might be able to relate how clever this all is but in this context it provides an awkward opening to a story, totally devoid of any sense of threat.  Admittedly RTD does throw in references to some kind of psychic suggestion but much of the episode lacks the fire suggested by the bold introduction. Luckily better things are lurking later on.



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.