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Archive for the Category "Doctor Who Reviews"

“Don’t touch the baby!” May 17

Father’s Day tugs at the heartstrings from the word go. It builds up the story of Rose’s dead father, pushing all the psychological buttons for you to come out the other end welling up. And hurrah for that.

Doctor Who can do anything, which makes me wary of accusations that an episode "isn’t Doctor Who." Writer Paul Cornell pushes the envelope here, telling a very different short story using the Who universe. And yet the requirements of the plot mean that only a few TV shows – and perhaps only Doctor Who – could tell this story. Time travel is a key element, clearly, but the nature of the show is that we blithely accept much of the time travel related setup. We suspend our disbelief because the central core of the story – of Rose coming to terms with her father’s life and Pete Tyler sacrificing himself for the world – rings true. Even some of the more random additions – the first telephone call and the Streets track on the radio, and even the odd bit with the TARDIS in the church – don’t detract from the episode.

The cast are terrific. Eccleston is at his best and Billie Piper’s reactions are utterly believable. For the first time, I enjoyed Camille Coduri’s performance, and Shaun Dingwall set a gold standard for Doctor Who guest stars. Joe Ahearne, who also directed Dalek, showed himself again to be the series’ most effective director so far.

There were some great moments: the Doctor finding the TARDIS reduced to a police box; Mickey swinging in the playground as everyone else disappears. The red monster point-of-view shots were reminiscent of “Classic Who” while the appearing/disappearing car reminded me a bit of Back to the Future, as did the scene where Pete asks Rose about his future (although it also reminded me of the Star Trek: TNG episode Yesterday’s Enterprise).

As with any story, there were little niggles. The Reapers can eat people but are too weak to smash a stained glass window. Can’t they just materialise in the church? Using with the TARDIS key to cause a really slow reconstruction of the TARDIS jarred (and the TARDIS then disappears again so it was also redundant plotwise).

There could only be one resolution to the plot, but that’s not a criticism. We are told at the beginning of Romeo & Juliet that it’s not going to end happily but it no more spoils the conclusion than knowing that Pete is going to die at the end of Father’s Day. Touching, dramatic and groundbreaking, Father’s Day may have to fight it out with Dalek – two stories very different but also similar in ways (“both alike in dignity”?) – to win the title of best of the series. But with five more episodes to come, that could all change…

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“I’ve changed a lot since the old days” Apr 28

So, after something of a delay, Aliens of London reviewed. Leaving it until after World War Three was useful as I can now review episode four knowing how the story was resolved. It also means I won’t ask questions like “Why not take over the Prime Minister’s body?” which have now been answered on screen.

The revelation that Rose has been missing for a year provided plenty of opportunity for domestic backdrop to the alien invasion, and Russell Davies used it to the full. That Mickey would be suspected of murdering Rose was all too believable. I’ve been undecided about Camille Coduri’s and Noel Clarke’s performances but I’m slowly settling on Clarke’s portrayal of Mickey as being spot on, if a bit goofy at times (e.g., the OTT wall collision as the TARDIS dematerialises) but Coduri’s Jackie as a bit hammy. Sorry Jackie fans. She’s at her worst as soon as she gets a telephone in her hands.

Aliens of London has a noticeably slower pace than the previous episodes but it nevertheless feels scrappy, jumping around from scene to scene. Eccleston seems to be mugging more, but given his comments his first scene involved chasing a pig, perhaps much of this episode was filmed before he’d settled into the character.

The plot itself is a great idea: aliens faking an invasion in order to get alien experts together to kill them (and later to justify a nuclear launch). The Slitheen as humans have been accused of being a bit CBBC, which is fair enough, but it doesn’t damage the episode so long as this is a characteristic of the aliens. As long as the rest of the characters appear to be taking the events seriously (for example, Navin Chowdry is excellent as Indra Ganesh), the Slitheen can still seem dangerous. If I were to change one thing about the Slitheen, it would be the thoroughly un-alien zips.

Once again, there were plenty of good gags, notably the Patrick Moore quip and Harriet Jones’s ID card waving, and the special effects (even the disrobing Slitheen) were good – and, of course, still light years ahead of the original series. It was a shame, given the use of Andrew Marr and Matt Baker, that the BBC News 24 reporter was an actor. (The News 24 clock appeared to be missing from some shots too.)

The return of the cliffhanger to Doctor Who was welcome, with three sequences building to a strong climax – albeit ruined by the “Next Time” teaser (and a cursory resolution in the next episode).

My least favourite of the first four episodes, but still the best thing on TV at the time. And Penelope Wilton was terrific.

“Ah, well, if you can’t take criticism…” Apr 10

On Saturday, there was a royal wedding and the Grand National. So which programme, according to overnight viewing figures, had the highest average viewing figures for the whole day? Yep: Doctor Who, with 8.3 million.

The Unquiet Dead was another heady mix of suspense, top notch special effects and great dialogue. This was a more traditional Doctor Who story – especially the pre-title sequence – but no worse for it. Now that we’ve got to know the regular characters, Mark Gatiss was able to tell 45 minutes worth of story, a Victorian ghost story with a sci-fi twist.

Billie continues to prove what an inspired choice she was for Rose and the supporting cast were uniformly excellent. Simon Callow – who appeared as Charles Dickens again on Saturday night on BBC Four – brought the writer to life, and got to save the day. While it can be argued that this renders the Doctor, as hero, somewhat redundant, it is only because the Doctor has convinced Charles that the aliens are real that Dickens can help defeat them.

There were some very funny lines – “Brecon?”, “Go out there dressed like that and you’ll start a riot, Barbarella” and “under the stairs, past the bins” being my favourites – although my own quibble was one joke I didn’t rate: when Dickens cries “What the Shakespeare?” But I know other folk who found it funny – horses for courses, I guess.

Without intruding into the plot, there were more hints of the story threads running through the series. The “Time War” that destroyed the Gelth’s physical forms also left the Nestene and the Doctor homeless. And Gwyneth is horrified by the “big bad wolf” she sees in Rose’s future Earth; we then see “Bad Wolf” grafitti on the side of the TARDIS in the (very moreish) preview of next week’s episode.

The Unquiet Dead was at times properly frightening. The lovely scene in the scullery between Rose and Gwyneth (like the scene with Raffalo in The End of the World) fleshed out Gwyneth as a character and made her sacrifice all the more touching. I confess to shedding a tear at TV Doctor Who for the first time since 1973, and I wasn’t even born then.

My favourite episode so far. Next week: Aliens…of London!

“Welcome to the end of the world” Apr 03

Last night was The End of the World.

On first viewing, I thought it was excellent but it didn’t really engage me. I’ve watched it again today and enjoyed it much more.

Billie Piper continues to shine as Rose. The use of Britney’s Toxic as incidental music worked surprisingly well – disappointing they didn’t opt for Because We Want To though. We’ll have to wait and see whether Toxic and Tainted Love are cleared for the DVD release.

The opening titles worked much better than on Rose. Following the recap and teaser worked really well. The Doctor’s bicycle pump in the TARDIS scene has, of course, caused controversy amongst some of the loonier fan element. I just thought it was fantastically vulgar and one of many fun scenes throughout the episode.

The aliens were very well realised, especially Jabe who Yasmin Bannerman made absolutely real. Cassandra was wonderfully silly, although you can debate until the cows come home how a stretched piece of skin could have a voice. And was it just me, or did Rose appear to shout “Stop f*cking about!” at one point? The Doctor’s reply – “I’m not mucking about!” – implies she didn’t…

I did have some quibbles, though. The story is set up as a whodunnit but it doesn’t achieve that. It can’t in 45 minutes – that’s why shows like Midsomer Murders and Inspector Morse are feature length. Consequently, the villain turns out to be one of only two aliens with any real depth.

Why don’t Cassandra’s moisturising sidekicks return with her if the Doctor is simply reversing the teleport device? Why don’t the other monsters leave the room to avoid being crisped? And why is the platform’s reboot switch cut off at the end of a fan room?

The Doctor appears to use the force to pass the last fan – rather more Buffy than Doctor Who. More annoyingly, if he’d rushed past the fan blades when he had the chance a few moments earlier, he could’ve got to the switch much more easily. A bit unsatisfying dramatically.

My biggest gripe, though, was the Doctor’s treatment of Cassandra. He treats her pretty callously. Murderer or not, this didn’t work for me, although other fans I’ve discussed it with weren’t bothered by it at all. Hopefully this is the sort of thing Billie Piper was referring to in interviews when she talked about educating him and will be part of his character’s development in the remaining episodes.

Those issues aside, though, this was still one of the technically most accomplished episodes of Doctor Who ever. Visually magnificent, funny and real, it continues to bode well for the rest of the series.