Tag Archives: Steven Moffat

BBC TV REVIEW – DRACULA (2020)

BBC TV REVIEW – DRACULA (2020)

Created and Written by: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat

Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Producer: Sue Vertue

Directors: Jonny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, Damon Thomas

Cast: Claes Bang, Dolly Wells, John Heffernan, Morfydd Clark, Joanna Scanlan, Lujza Richter, Jonathan Aris, Sacha Dhawan, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Clive Russell, Mark Gatiss, Catherine Schell etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are uber-television scriptwriters of vast experience and expertise. Solo and together they have been involved with fine TV programmes including: Sherlock, Doctor Who, Coupling, The League of Gentlemen, Press Gang, Jekyll and many other films, comedies and dramas. Their latest BBC project found them combining forces again and breathing new life into Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel. Screened over three dark nights on BBC1 from January 1st, 2020 onwards, this horror adaptation mixed Stoker’s traditional vampiric tropes with fresh and bloody ingredients infused by Moffat and Gatiss’ typically iconoclastic approach to genre.

The structure of the first episode, Rules of the Beast, finds a gravely ill Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan), recounting his misadventures having travelled to Count Dracula’s (Claes Bang) castle in Transylvania. A haunted shell of a man, his stories of doomed employment, entrapment and the “children of the night” are delivered to Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells). Somewhat incisive, intelligent and irreverent for a nun, Sister Agatha becomes both our hero and main foe to Dracula’s nefarious uber-villain. Having said that, the fantastically witty script and Claes Bang’s charismatic representation of Dracula almost succeed in making him the hero. Indeed, other than being a life-sucking, murderous, blood-addicted, shape-shifting, immortal and homicidal maniac he’s actually quite charming and likeable.


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The first episode, apart from certain structural alterations and differences in characterisation, stays kind of faithful to the spirit of Stoker’s gothic vision. The second episode especially is one of the best examples of horror television I have seen in a long time. Cleverly called Blood Vessel, the action merges suspense and terror with an Agatha Christie style of plot. Here the crew and passengers of the ship Demeter find they are at the mercy of a vicious killer. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who is picking them off one-by-one. The episode also contains an ingenious reference to the BBC anthology series Inside No. 9. Thus, overall, this was my favourite episode of the series.

By the third episode though, Gatiss and Moffatt couldn’t stop themselves taking a bold leap away from the original text. The Dark Compass contains some fantastic twists and ideas, but arguably the writers strive too much for reinvention and originality. So much so, it lost some of the narrative impetus of the first two in the mini-series. Nonetheless, I would love to see more of Claes Bang’s Dracula in the future. His performance and chemistry with Dolly Well’s Sister Agatha were a bloody joy. Likewise, the script was brilliant; full of fangtastic one-liners, poetic turns of phrase and fascinating plot developments. Lastly, I was grateful they did not spare us the horror too. There were many memorably gory deaths throughout, as Dracula and his wolves wreaked devilish havoc across land, time and the television screen.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


TIME TO SAY GOODBYE – DR WHO – SERIES 10 REVIEW

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE – DR WHO – SERIES 10 REVIEW

TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSIONS IN SPACE

I love Doctor Who and have written many times about it on this blog with reviews and articles. I think what I love about it most is that within the genre structure of a Time Lord and companions doing battle against foes is the fact that you can end up anywhere in time and space; in scientific reality and magical fantasy. Each episode contains surprise and mystery and imaginative ideas which draw you in again and again. So, here I go with a review of the at times completely genius, occasionally so-so, but mainly brilliant entertainment that is Season 10. If you also wish to read last season’s review please do so here.

SPOILERS AHEAD, DARLING

Couple of minor gripes before I start!  Please stop with the preview spoilers BBC!  There were too many dramatic surprises within the series given away across the TV screens and T’internet. Firstly Capaldi’s departure from the show AND John Simm would be coming back as The Master. Oh, and the origins of the Mondasian Cybermen was revealed too giving away another surprise from the exceptional double-headed finale. Lastly, now Chris Chibnall is to take over from Steven Moffat as showrunner, I hope he’ll dispense with the incessant characters dying and coming back to life trope. This has now literally been done to death. However, putting these minor grumbles aside I was very entertained by the season overall.

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WHAT’S IN THE VAULT?

When the commanding character actor, musician, director and writer Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor Who a few years ago, I was very excited. Here was an experienced actor full of gravitas, energy, wit, light and dark humour, who would no doubt bring his own vision to the role of the ancient Gallefreyan. And I was not disappointed at all!  I really loved Capaldi’s Doctor because he was very rounded and in his face you could see the years of time-travelling experience. And wow – can he deliver a grandstanding monologue too!

In Season 10, he was meant to be anchored to Earth guarding the Vault, having taken an oath to ensure Missy/The Master does not escape. Instead he attempted to redeem Missy – portrayed with devilish brio – by Michelle Gomez. Did he succeed? Well, it’s open to interpretation. Nonetheless, this story arc was way more convincing and emotional than Season 9’s confusing “Hybrid” arc. In fact, I’d say Steven Moffatt nailed the dramatic arc and emotion on this one.

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THE NEW FACES

The Doctor, as well as looking after the Vault, found two new companions in tow. They were Bill Potts, played with a wide-eyed and naïve charm by Pearl Mackie. We also had a former rogue-but-now-kinda-sweet cyborg called Nardole, portrayed by the brilliant comedic actor Matt Lucas.  In a terrific meta-gag from Steven Moffat, during World Enough and Time, Missy called them “Exposition” and “Comic Relief”; however, I think they were a bit more than that.

As usual the audience were reflected in Bill’s character as her initial wide-eyed and open-mouthed awe at the Doctor and the Tardis’ capabilities gave way to an awe and wonderment at the space adventures that ensued. Bill proved herself a valuable sidekick to the Doctor. She had a kind soul and there were some emotional pull to her due her being an orphan, plus being gay created an extra dynamic in the storylines as well as some humour too.

Nardole, on the other hand, was mainly played for laughs as he had some fantastic banter with the Doctor. Lucas did not go over-the-top wacky though and gave Nardole a world-weary trudge and set of grumpy looks and fine one-liners. At the same time he remained very loyal to the Doctor and really came into his own in the latter episodes when his hacking skills were used to combat the Cybermen.

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THEMES

Thematically this season of Doctor Who was very strong. Of course the Doctor remained stalwart in his world view of protecting the oppressed against evil. But he also had a redemptive plan where Nardole and Missy were concerned. Reading between the lines it appeared Nardole had a shady past so the Doctor employs him to do right by his oath to guard Missy in the Vault. Missy however, was a more difficult proposition and during Extremis it is revealed the Doctor saves her from death, with a view to redeeming her soul. This theme plays out really well within the individual episodes, especially in the wonderful denouement of The Doctor Falls where Missy and her older self, The Master (fiendishly portrayed by John Simm) join forces against the Doctor; only for Missy to kind of atone and attempt to join the Doctor in the fight against the Cybermen.

Love was another powerful emotion and theme to pervade the season.  The Doctor’s love for, or at least yearning for the childhood friendship he had with Missy/Master shone through during those final episodes. Bill’s love for her deceased Mother was palpable too, playing a big part in defeating the Monks in The Lie of the Land. Also, it was Bill’s love for Heather during the The Pilot episode which eventually saved her and the Doctor from certain death during The Doctor Falls. It was a big leap of faith in the storyline to believe this substantive narrative call-back, but I think it really worked and I was pleased Bill survived. What becomes of the Doctor we shall see?

The episodes generally were very strong and Doctor Who also gave some terrific social commentary in between the monsters, robots and general temporal trickery. Thin Ice critiqued racism, while Oxygen did the same with corporate greed. Rogue landlords and the student life were satirized in Knock Knock and most powerfully religious, medical and military control were examined and disparaged during the trilogy episodes: Extremis, Pyramid at the End of the World and Lie of the Land. Visually the show was also very striking with agricultural, urban and futuristic locales merging with some wonderful beasts, humanoids, robots and space zombie foes. Thus, overall, in my humble opinion, it was a very impressive and rich raft of Doctor Who episodes.

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EPISODE REVIEW AND RATINGS (with more SPOLIERS)

  1. THE PILOT – Steven Moffat

This was a terrific opening episode full of fine sci-fi and fantasy concepts which established a melancholic desire for belonging and love across the stars. Bill meets the Doctor and is pursued by a strange alien force in oil form and we see the Vault for the first time. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

  1. SMILE – Frank Cottrell Bryce

Bill and The Doctor visit an Earth colony run by Emoji-faced robots which somehow had been programmed to treat grief and depression as a disease. A beautifully designed other world setting mixing future and agricultural landscapes is the strength of this episode. The Bill and Doctor dynamic also developed very nicely too.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)

 

  1. THIN ICE – Sarah Dollard

Set in London 1814, the story found a nasty English Toff exploiting a beast below the iced river of the Thames for super-fuel. Bill discovers the Doctor is not a stranger to death and as a critique of the racist and prejudicial nature of the upper classes the episode works very well. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

 

  1. KNOCK-KNOCK – Mike Bartlett

Strange landlords, cockroaches and a house that eats people are the dangers that face Bill and her flatmates in this episode. David Suchet is on excellent form as the antagonist compelled to keep his Mother alive in a touching reveal at the story end. Capaldi’s Doctor is kind of in the background but, of course, comes to the fore when danger strikes. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

  1. OXYGEN – Jamie Mathieson

This was a terrific episode set on a space station where the air is literally paid for by the breath. Space zombies run amok as the Doctor, Bill and Nardole join a panicked crew into battling both monsters and a capitalist algorithm hell-bent on increasing profits. It’s full of great space mechanics, plot twists and race-against-the-clock excitement. Plus, the biggest gut-kicker is the Doctor goes blind; and the ramifications are very dramatic in later episodes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 10)

 

  1. EXTREMIS – Steve Moffat

This was a tricksy episode because, amidst the Doctor’s blindness, we also got the Doctor saving Missy from a fate worse than a fate worse than death. We also got The Monks who, similar to the skull-faced Silence were a religious baddie determined to take over Earth. It was wonderfully crafted with a fine Monty Python “Killing Joke” homage and convincing critique of organised religion and suicide cults. Arguably the simulacra-twist at the end undermined the drama a tad, but on second watch it was a very clever and well-written episode. (Mark: 8.5 out of 10)

  1. THE PYRAMID AT THE END OF THE WORLD – Peter Harkness and Steven Moffat

Following on from the religion heavy previous episode here the writers took a swipe at the military and the scientific folly of humanity. The Monks now reveal themselves openly and clearly to the world and that they will save the Earth from a biochemical catastrophe. The most powerful aspect of this episode is Bill’s decision to save the Doctor’s sight even though it means the Monks gaining control. Here the emotional power of the script was impressive and Capaldi was awesome in both wit and gravitas. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

 

  1. THE LIE OF THE LAND – Toby Whithouse

The Monks trilogy came to an end with the world plunged into a dystopic Big Brother style mind-controlling of stupid and gullible human beings. The Doctor has sided with the Monks and Bill and Nardole must track him down to attempt a reversal of fortune. Again Bill is at the centre of the emotion here as Pearl Mackie delivers a fine dramatic performance. Safe to say the Doctor and Bill’s love for her mother defeat the Monks somewhat fantastically but a strong denouement nonetheless. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)

 

  1. EMPRESS OF MARS – Mark Gatiss

A meta-mish-mash episode from Mark Gatiss, as Zulu meets the Icemen of Mars! This fast-paced episode was reminiscent of old Doctor Who as the British Empire soldiers find they are no match for the Icemen and their recently awoken Empress. A direct cousin to the Gatiss-penned episode Cold War, what it lacked in emotion it made up with in humour and derring-do. (Mark: 7 out of 10)

 

  1. THE EATERS OF LIGHT – Rona Munro

More soldiers but this time the episode features the Picts and legendary 9th Roman Legion which mysteriously went missing in 2nd century Scotland. There was a lilting Celtic vibe to the music and cold landscape as a vicious beast feeds on the light and any humans in its way. I enjoyed the witty script and mix of historical and science fantasy made it very watchable indeed. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)

 

  1. WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME – Steve Moffat

This was my favourite episode of the season; only spoilt by the BBC ridiculous policy of giving away plot details in the trailers.  Here the Doctor, Nardole and Bill land on a humungous space-ship over 400 miles high which is perilously close to a black hole. The Doctor gives Missy a chance to shine as er… The Doctor and much hilarity ensues. Michelle Gomez owns this episode and the moment she meets her past Master is a wonderful twist. I loved the duality of evil theme and the ship with different temporal states was just a brilliant concept from Moffat. Bill’s slow transition into a Mondasian Cyberman is directed with creepy imagery and fear-inducing dread; while Capaldi’s face when he realises he’s too late is damned heart-breaking. (Mark: 10 out of 10)

  1. THE DOCTOR FALLS – Steven Moffat

The Doctor, Nardole and Cyber-Bill join together to battle the gathering Cybernetic storm. In their way though are the old Master and an on-the-fence-good-bad Missy. Bill’s realisation that she is a Cyber-person adds real pathos, while the Missy/Master axis of evil contains some dark wit between the action. The Doctor stands strong, until even he cannot sustain life amidst the beatings, electrocutions and explosions he suffers. With the Doctor and Bill virtually dead, and the Master and Missy killing each other, it is left to Heather (from The Pilot) to save the day. It was a big narrative pill to swallow but I loved the sentiment of love conquering space and time. Lastly, the final image of the Doctor, dying in the snow, being found by his original self was a wonderful payoff to lead into the Capaldi’s regeneration episode. (Mark: 9 out of 10)

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THE FUTURE

I read on the social media forums a lot that, amidst the more level-headed Dr Who fans, people are very critical of how the show has gone under Steven Moffat. Like a football supporter unhappy with their manager they have been complaining that Moffat’s writing is not very good and episodes have become stale and repetitive or even worse boring. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I say to those people to stop watching.

Having viewed all of the rebooted Dr Who seasons many times I think, for a science-fiction family show screened at teatime on a Saturday it is actually on the main brilliant. Some of Moffat’s over-elaborate timey-wimey arcs have probably been too complex and fantastical, however, he has tried to be imaginative and experimental and for that should be congratulated. He has done great service to the grand Time Lord and he, the production crew, actors and writers should be proud of their wonderful efforts.

We await a new Doctor and a regenerating writing team led by Chris Chibnall of Broadchurch fame. Broadchurch was a brilliant police show set in a coastal community and if he can bring the emotion and depth of character to Doctor Who, I believe the show will be in safe hands. And who will be the next Doctor! Well, my choice would be the superb actor Reece Shearsmith and if they so happen to make the character female then I would go for Olivia Colman. Who it will be only time (and space) will tell.

 

SIX OF THE BEST #6 – ACTORS TO PLAY THE NEXT DOCTOR WHO!

SIX OF THE BEST #6 – ACTORS TO PLAY THE NEXT DR. WHO!

In my occasional series called Six of the Best, I select six of something or other which I like the best. So here goes with six of the best actors who I personally would love to play the next Doctor Who!  Obviously, they won’t play the Doctor at the same time but if they were chosen they would be great choices.

As a big Doctor Who fan I reviewed the show many times on this blog and the next choice of everyone’s favourite time-traveller will be an interesting one. The new showrunner will be Chris Chibnall of Broadchurch fame so I look forward to his choice. The bookies odds are currently:

Latest Doctor Who Betting

Phoebe Waller-Bridge – Evens
Natalie Dormer – 4/1
Kris Marshall – 5/1
Tilda Swinton – 5/1
Michaela Coel – 7/1
David Harewood – 8/1
Richard Rankin – 10/1

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Personally, I’m not warming to any of these choices other than Tilda Swinton that is. So, these are my preferred choices:

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REECE SHEARSMITH

The star of:  The League of Gentlemen (2000), Psychoville (2009), Inside No. 9 (2014), Chasing Shadows (2014) and many many more, is my number one pick. He has the humour, versatility and dark spirit needed for the role of Doctor!

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OLIVIA COLMAN

Given her experience of working with Chris Chibnall on Broadchurch, Colman would be an appropriate choice. She has a wealth of acting roles behind her in both comedic and dramatic roles and is just a brilliant actress.

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HELEN McCRORY

An actress of immense quality and charisma, McCrory would bring a sophistication and Gothic heart to the role of the ancient Gallifreyan. She has also been a villain in a previous Doctor Who episode but I can forgive her given she has an excellent acting CV.

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RORY KINNEAR

He was bookies favourite in 2013 before Capaldi got the gig. While Capaldi has put in some fine performances I still think Kinnear would have been better. He has great acting experience, vulnerability, intelligence and steel which could serve the role well.

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ZAWE ASHTON

Fleabag star Phoebe Waller-Bridge has been offered up and would be an okay choice but if the producers wanted to be adventurous then Zawe Ashton is a better pick in my view. She’s funny and quirky and has a cool irreverence as seen in the comedy Fresh Meat.

Neverland

RHYS IFANS

The laidback Welsh actor has been delighting us for years with his insouciant performances in indie and blockbuster movies. He can play intelligent, complex and simple characters; but it’s his sly wit and stoner charm which I think can take the Doctor in an interesting direction.

Anyway, they are my choices. Here’s a video from What Culture with their picks:

DOCTOR WHO (2005 – PRESENT) – MY FAVOURITE EPISODES

DOCTOR WHO (2005 – PRESENT) – MY FAVOURITE EPISODES by PAUL LAIGHT

With SEASON NINE upon us and in appreciation of Doctor Who, from circa 2005, I look back in admiration at the last 10 years of the Doctor in his new inceptions.  I’ve picked some of my favourite episodes incorporating TWO episodes from each of the eight prior seasons!  So here goes: GERONIMO!

**SPOILERS DARLING**

EPISODE 1.6 – DALEK – Writer: Robert Shearman

This episode found the Doctor and Rose going underground in Utah, 2012. There, a megalomaniac collector, Van Statten, has all manner of alien artefacts including a Dalek that is being experimented on.  This was a very gripping episode and one where Eccleston’s dramatic muscles were really flexed. I loved the fact the Dalek was defeated having been ‘infected’ with humanity. It also had a great bit of dialogue when the Doctor is told: “You would have made a good Dalek!”

EPISODE 1.9 – THE DOCTOR DANCES – Writer: Steven Moffat

This episode concluded what began with The Empty Child.  I loved the wartime setting and the gas-masked creatures really sent chills down the spine. The subtext of war children hung heavy over the episode and in their own way both Rose and the Doctor are orphans.  In this thrilling episode the emotional barriers come down between Rose and the Doctor as they dance together amidst the horrors of World War II.


EPISODE 2.4 – THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE – Writer – Steven Moffat

What if the Doctor fell in love?  This incredible episode asks that question and others with a mind-bending yet romantic intertwining of the Timelord and Madame De Pompadour.  3000 years in the future Rose, Mickey and the Doctor finding a floating space vessel with temporal windows to the past. Yes there’s a horse on a spaceship in this one too plus: humour, romance, action and under-the-bed-frights. The pace zings along and the chemistry between Sophia Myles and David Tennant is electric.

EPISODE 2.13 – DOOMSDAY – Writer: Russell T. Davies

And so it came to pass Rose and the Doctor part in the most spectacular of ways, amidst a war on Earth between Cybermen and Daleks. Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was a brilliant companion both sparky and brave and loyal until the end sacrificing herself to save the Doctor.  It’s full of action and emotion as the Doctor and Rose bid a sad goodbye. Russell T. Davies’ strength as a writer was making the science fiction seem very real and imbue the fantastical with real emotional kick.

EPISODE 3.8 – HUMAN NATURE – Writer: Paul Cornell

In this stunning episode we get Tennant’s Doctor BUT he isn’t the Doctor; he’s actually a teacher called John Smith hiding from aliens.  It’s a wonderful concept and brims with dramatic irony as Mr Smith has weird Deja vu of a life he believes he has lived only in his dreams.  Martha (Freema Agyeman) excels here and the story – set in 1913 on the eve of war – doesn’t shy away from critiquing the racial and class politics of the day.  There’s a lovely Remains of the Day subplot as the Mr Smith/Doctor falls for Jessica Hynes’ matron just as the Family of Blood come to call.

EPISODE 3.10 – BLINK – Writer Steven Moffat

What makes a classic Doctor Who episode?  Is it the story and the action and the science fiction and the laughs?  Yes, of course! But what REALLY makes is a great monster: a seemingly undefeatable foe that tests the Doctor and his companion to the limit of their powers. Blink introduced the terrifying Weeping Angels so don’t BLINK or they’re on you like the taxman and they’ll drain your life just as quick. The episode is Doctor-light with Carey Mulligan playing haunted Sally Sparrow, and while the writing and structure are tricky, Moffat really pulls all the strings together on this one.

EPISODE 4.7 – THE UNICORN AND THE WASP – Writer:  Gareth Roberts

There are probably way better episodes but I chose this light and fluffy one because I’m a sucker for Agatha Christie murder mysteries.  It skilfully throws Christie’s actual 3-day disappearance in with a monstrous wasp, a cunning jewel thief and a wicked murder plot. The Doctor and Donna play detective in a ripping yarn which features an early appearance from Oscar nominee Felicity Jones.

EPISODE 4.10 – THE FOREST OF THE DEAD – Writer: Steven Moffatt

This two-parter began with the episode equally brilliant Silence in the Library which set up a thrilling plot and enigmatic ‘companion’ that is River Song (Alex Kingston). It also established the nasty microscopic dust-mite Vashta Nerada i.e. “the shadows that melt the flesh”.  Moffat once again conjures up a mind-bending plot which jumps from a 51st Century and a strange dream world which Donna gets sucked into.  It was this surreal Bunuelian nightmare place which stayed with me as Donna gets married, has children and then loses them all in a matter of moments.

EPISODE 4.15 – THE PLANET OF THE DEAD – Writers: Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts

Okay, so I’ve had to cheat here.  I’ve added another episode because Season 4 was extended by a series of specials. The Planet of the Dead as it was another fun episode full of verve, pace and great images including a bus stranded in the space desert. I love episodes when they’re in the far flung netherworlds of space and this was a lovely light bit of sci-fi fluffery before the imperious pathos of Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

EPISODE 5.10 – VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR – Writer:  Richard Curtis

The 5th season of the rebooted genesis veered from Davies’ strong science fictional, yet plausible, arcs to something more akin to science fantasy under Steven Moffat.  However, my favourite episode of the whole season was one, which while rewriting history in a most memorable way, had at its heart a very warm, tragic and human story.  Vincent and The Doctor was about depression, art, failure, creative perception and did what we all would hope to do with time-travel: right the injustices of the past. At the heart of the story is Vincent Van Gogh and the artist’s battle with his demons, both literally and symbolically.  The monster of course is depression and the writer Richard Curtis handles the subject deftly and gives Vincent an incredibly emotional denouement.

EPISODE 5.11 – THE LODGER – Writer:  Gareth Roberts

Season 5 was brimming with imagination and great science fiction involving the “cracks in the Universe” which worked paradoxically but still created SO many questions. Thus, The Lodger was a welcome moment in the season when The Doctor – with Amy ‘chilling’ on the TARDIS – came into the lives of Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard). The Doctor had a big impact on Craig’s life playing accidental matchmaker while utilising Matt Smith’s great comedy timing. Throw in a nefarious alien presence to deal with and you have a wonderful episode that is a lot of fun.

EPISODE 6.3 – THE DOCTOR’S WIFE – Writer:  Neil Gaiman

This is the season where Steven Moffat really made things VERY with paradox upon paradox as the Doctor faced an existential crisis being given the knowledge of his own death and also knowing his mysterious assassin. Standing alone from the big story arc was the episode The Doctor’s Wife. It was an immediate hit for me with a wonderful concept, beautiful effects and stunning cast including Suranne Jones as a physical incarnation of the TARDIS.  The whole show is about the lovely relationship between Idris (TARDIS personified) and Matt Smith’s frantic Doctor as they exchange banter while constructing a makeshift TARDIS from the scraps lying around.  Jones is amazing as Idris and there is great chemistry between her and Smith as they race to save Amy and Rory from the murderous computer ‘House’.

EPISODE 6.10 – THE GIRL WHO WAITED – Writer:  Tom McCrae

In The Girl Who Waited Amy Pond becomes trapped on Chen7 in a timeline that splits her character into younger and older versions of herself.  So, when the Doctor and Rory attempt to save her trapped soul they overshoot by 36 years and find a bitter, rabid Amy now characterized as an ass-kicking-Sarah-Connor-survivalist-type who refuses to save her younger self.  It’s a heart-wrenching episode which Karen Gillen owns; giving two great performances. The relationship between Rory and Amy hangs heavy in the air as there is papable sense of loss to the core of The Girl Who Waited. 

EPISODE 7.1 – ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS – Writer: Steven Moffat

Season 7 opener Asylum of the Daleks is an absolute cracker as the Doctor, Amy and Rory are “summoned” by the Daleks to venture into the Dalek “nut-house” and save them from a bunch of crazy rogue Daleks threatening their very existence. Oooh, what a switcheroo; the Doctor SAVING the Daleks!  Jenna Coleman’s appearance was a fine touch and her lightness in performance was a fine counter-point to the heavy nature of the insane Dalek asylum. The subplot of Rory and Amy’s marriage difficulties, the crazy Daleks and the sadness in the final reveal really added to the drama and pulled at the heartstrings. This episode breathed further life into the Daleks as one, if not the greatest, of the Doctor’s greatest foes.

EPISODE 7.5 – ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN – Writer: Steven Moffat

Angels Take Manhattan was so heart-wrenching as Matt Smith excels in a very dramatic show against old foes the Weeping Angels! The opening of the episode begins in a film noir style story and is framed like a detective novel as Moffat delivers a meta-fictional structure combined with a spooky haunted hotel story.  It’s full of grand twists and turns which pull the viewer from past to present and back again.  Moffat ratchets up the scares by introducing us to new version of the ‘Angels’ like little buggers the Weeping Cherubs. And get this:  the STATUE OF LIBERTY is a WEEPING ANGEL!  Incredible!  Saying goodbye to a companion is always tough but Amy and Rory went out in great style and are still out there somewhere.

EPISODE 8.8 – MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – Writer: Jamie Mathieson

Capaldi was brilliant as I thought he would be and I loved one of his opening gambits to Clara:  “Am I a good man?”  Moffat developed this character subtext very well notably in the episode Listen, where not much occurred on the page yet in the murky margins and shadows there was impressive suspense and terror.  However, I loved the awesomely titled Mummy on the Orient Express as it crammed so many great things into the 45 minutes running time.  The Doctor and Clara are on one last voyage before going their separate ways yet a vicious Mummy (AKA The Foretold) is killing passengers who only have 66 seconds to live once he targets his victim.  It’s great fun and kind of scary and as the Doctor cracks the case he shares some fine one-liners and banter with a terrific cast including Frank Skinner and David Bamber.

EPISODE 8.11 – DARK WATER – Writer: Steven Moffat

This episode is pitch black darkness personified as the Doctor and Clara end up in the Nethersphere, where they finally get to meet the enigmatic Missy who had popped up throughout the season. Death casts a looming shadow and even I had my pillow over my face when I heard the screams of the dead cry: “Don’t cremate me!” in one harrowing scene.  By the time the Cybermen are marching down St Paul’s (in tribute to The Invasion from 1968) steps I was gripped. The performances are superb from Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and the Mistress herself Michelle Gomez, who demonstrates a gleeful mania to great effect.  A superb episode with no kids in to ruin it and thankfully the Hollyoaks style romance is replaced by a morbid bleakness.

SPECIAL MENTION: THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR – 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL

I’ll round up this run through with a special mention of The Day of the Doctor, which was the closest we’d get to a new Doctor Who movie.  It was a spectacular piece of writing by Steven Moffat and a brilliant story which rewrote the whole Doctor Who narrative. It brought THREE Doctors (Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt’s War Doctor) into a mixture of high concept sci-fi and operatic drama which soared in tribute to fifty years of the Timelord. The chemistry between the Doctors was a joy (and Tom Baker popped in at the end too) as they go back to the Time War era and review the decision to destroy Gallifrey and the end the war with the nefarious Daleks. This was a Doctor Who production of the highest order and it demonstrates the power and prowess of the show that it was shown simultaneously in 94 countries hitting the Guinness Book of Records for largest ever live simulcast!

EPILOGUE

I have realised Doctor Who is MORE than a TV show.  It’s a huge cult with fans all over the world who are as passionate about the show as people are about religion or their chosen football team.  If I’m honest the old show I watched as a child holds so many great memories but nostalgia can be a cruel guide so it could be easy to dismiss the new show “because it’s not as good as when I was a kid!” But, “new” DOCTOR WHO has on the whole has been brilliant too.  I may not like everything about it but it still retains that magical quality I experienced as an earthly child growing up on a high-rise estate in South London.

DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART THREE by PAUL LAIGHT

DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART THREE

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

MATT SMITH

Suddenly the Doctor was very, very young; almost a child in vision and attitude as played by the tall-stick-insecty-excitable-Tigger that was Matt Smith.   My brain exploded.  I was used to the Doctor being an elder statesman and of course this shifted somewhat with Eccleston and Tennant, however, they seemed older. These were actors who had done Shakespeare (I think) and looked like they’d lived. Not Matt Smith. He was an unknown. He looked like he had just left school and was on a gap year to India or a kibbutz. He was posh. His Doctor wore a bow-tie!  A bow-tie!  Never fear though because Matt Smith made the role his own over 4 years, a multitude of brain-twisting episodes and seven specials.  His strengths were his physicality, mania, fun and playfulness and there was a lot of Patrick Troughton in his performance; playing the fool before revealing a devilish plan by wrong-footing the villain and audience.

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Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON FIVE.

EPISODE 5.10 – VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR – Writer:  Richard Curtis

Steven Moffat had written some amazing Doctor Who episodes so it made sense he would take over the production running reigns.  The 5th season of the rebooted genesis veered from Davies’ strong science fictional, yet plausible, arcs to something more akin to science fantasy under Moffat.  Quite frankly, I found some of the plot twists utterly barmy but still very much loved many of the episodes. Indeed, The Eleventh Hour was a fantastic introduction to Matt Smith and his feisty companion Amy Pond. Plus, the finale involving the Pandorica opening and subsequent Big Bang were impressive works of television.

However, my favourite episode of the whole season was one, which while rewriting history in a most memorable way, had at its heart a very warm, tragic and human story.  Vincent and The Doctor was about depression, art, failure, creative perception and did what we all would hope to do with time-travel: right the injustices of the past. At the heart of the story is the Doctor and Amy’s meeting with Vincent Van Gogh and the artist’s battle with his demons, both literally and symbolically.  The monster of course is depression and the writer Richard Curtis handles the subject deftly and gives Vincent an incredibly emotional denouement to the artists’ life; something denied him in reality.

EPISODE 5.10 – THE LODGER – Writer:  Gareth Roberts

This season was brimming with imagination and great science fiction and the story arc involving the “cracks in the Universe” worked paradoxically but still created SO many unanswered questions. Moffatt asked us to take a massive leap of faith and his ambition and vision was to be applauded; but with the fantasy, complex structural conceits occurring at such it was sometimes tough to keep up on first watch.

Thus, The Lodger was a welcome moment in the season when The Doctor – with Amy ‘chilling’ on the TARDIS – came into the lives of Craig (James Corden) and Sophie (Daisy Haggard). The Doctor had a big impact on Craig’s life playing accidental matchmaker, impressing his mates with his football skills and his boss at work. Utilising Matt Smith’s great comedy timing and buddy-buddy act with the excellent Corden, The Lodger relies not just on laughs and but emotion too. Throw in a nefarious alien presence to deal with and you have a wonderful episode that is a lot of fun.

Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON SIX 

EPISODE 6.3 – THE DOCTOR’S WIFE – Writer:  Neil Gaiman

This is the season where Steven Moffat really made things VERY complicated with all manner of twisty, turny, space operatic plots delivered at a whizz-bang pace that at times left me dazed and confused.  It was paradox upon paradox as the Doctor faces an existential crisis being given the knowledge of his own death and also knowing his mysterious assassin. Also, thrown into the mix is Amy’s pregnancy, a weird eye-patched villainess  as well as horrific memory-melding monsters called THE SILENCE. Moreover, enigmatic River Song pops up all over the place just to confuse the viewer further!  These stories encapsulated within:  The Impossible Astronaut, Day of the Moon, A Good Man Goes to War, Let’s Kill Hitler, The Wedding of River Song etc. are all great and full of wonderful ideas and I think in time will be considered classic Doctor Who. However, they don’t quite make my list.

The Doctor’s Wife was an immediate and cracking hit for me with a wonderful concept, beautiful effects and stunning cast including Suranne Jones as a physical incarnation of the TARDIS.  Doctor, Rory and Amy pass through a rift which means the TARDIS ends up in a weird isolated place run by a nasty sentient being called HOUSE.  In HAL-like fashion, House (voiced by Michael Sheen) steals the TARDIS along with Rory and Amy on board and it is left to the Doctor and an odd, sparkly female being called Idris to save the day.  It’s a lovely relationship between Idris (the TARDIS personified) and Matt Smith’s frantic Doctor as they exchange flirtatious banter while constructing a makeshift TARDIS from the scraps lying around the amidst the crumbling tip that is the place on which they are trapped.  Suranne Jones is amazing and beautiful as Idris and there is great chemistry between her and Smith as they race to save Amy and Rory from the murderous HOUSE.

EPISODE 6.10 – THE GIRL WHO WAITED – Writer:  Tom McCrae

This is what time-travel films and TV shows are all about for me: presenting complicated paradoxical timelines where individuals eventually face different versions of themselves and must deal with a moral dilemma.  It’s occurred to the Doctor many times before in the classic older and the newer series but in The Girl Who Waited it was Amy Pond who becomes trapped on Chen7 in a timeline that splits her character into younger and older versions of herself.  So, when the Doctor and Rory attempt to save her trapped soul they overshoot by 36 years and find a bitter, rabid Amy now characterised as an ass-kicking-Sarah-Connor-survivalist-type who refuses to save her younger self.  It’s a heart-wrenching episode which can be considered Doctor-lite, however, Karen Gillen owns it; giving two great performances. The relationship between Rory and Amy hangs heavy in the air as there is papable sense of loss to the core of The Girl Who Waited. 

Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON SEVEN

EPISODE 7.1 – ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS – Writer: Steven Moffat

This season wasn’t as mind-blowing in terms of the over-complex story arc as Season SIX, but it still tested the grey cells and by the time we got to the excellent-almost-made-this-list-season-finale The Name of the Doctor plausibility was on the creative rack screaming for mercy; in a good way.  The season traversed the loss of not one, but TWO companions in Amy and Rory, and introduced Clara Oswin Oswald in her various incarnations. One may argue the whole Clara-in-the-Doctor’s-timeline arc was quite baffling and needn’t be so insane but I enjoyed the mystery of the “Impossible Girl”; and it was great to see all the old Doctors again.

Anyway, the season opener Asylum of the Daleks is an absolute cracker as the Doctor, Amy and Rory are “summoned” by the Daleks to venture into the Dalek “nut-house” and save them from a bunch of crazy rogue Daleks threatening their very existence. Oooh, what a switcheroo; the Doctor SAVING the Daleks!  The production values of Doctor Who just got bigger and better as the seasons progressed and with an Army of Daleks and the planet Skaro on show here the special effects teams were producing TV work of the highest order in shiny, shiny high-definition. Arguably, though the writer(s) could have dug the season into a narrative hole in relation to what comes after but Jenna Coleman’s appearance was a fine touch and her lightness in performance was a fine counter-point to the heavy nature of the insane Dalek asylum. The subplot of Rory and Amy’s marriage difficulties, the crazy Daleks and the sadness in the final reveal really added to the drama and pulled at the heartstrings. This episode breathed further life into the Daleks as one, if not the greatest, of the Doctor’s greatest foes.

EPISODE 7.5 – ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN – Writer: Steven Moffat

Angels Take Manhattan wins out over episodes I loved like:  Cold War, Hide and The Snowmen, because it is just so heart-wrenching.  Matt Smith excels in a very dramatic show which finds the Doctor lose Amy and Rory to old foes the Weeping Angels! The opening of the episode begins in a film noir style story and is framed like a detective novel as Moffat delivers a meta-fictional structure combined with a spooky haunted hotel story.  It’s full of grand twists and turns which pull the viewer from past to present and back again.  Moffat ratchets up the scares by introducing us to new version of the ‘Angels’ like little buggers the Weeping Cherubs. And get this:  the STATUE OF LIBERTY is a WEEPING ANGEL!  Incredible!  Saying goodbye to a companion is always tough but Amy and Rory went out in great style and are still out there somewhere.

 

PETER CAPALDI

Malcolm Tucker as Doctor Who?  Say that again:  Malcolm Tucker as Doctor Who?  Yes!  This is where the whole-huge-behemoth-new-Doctor-Who-binge-catch-up began for me.  Peter Capaldi is a great actor and has been in many fine shows, not least the iconic-Machiavellian-sweary-political-demon in the awesome Thick of It.  So, when it was announced he would replace Smith the younger, I was back into the Whoniverse like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe. This would be, in my mind, the return to an older, darker Doctor spitting out words of wisdom and barbs to his companions while shooting venomous looks and ire at his villains.  The season kind of was like that and kind of wasn’t.  I think Capaldi is a fine, fine Doctor and probably would have been better in the previous era as his visage and ability is probably more suited to age of Troughton, Pertwee and Baker. But, overall, he brought a real depth and dark sarcasm to the series which leavened out the more ridiculous and fluffy aspects of the show; the slushy romance and kids basically.

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Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON EIGHT


EPISODE 8.8 – MUMMY ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – Writer: Jamie Mathieson

I struggled big time picking two out because I enjoyed most of the episodes of this season. Many of them had moments of greatness in them but they also had some elements which I personally didn’t like such as: over-reliance on Danny and Clara’s Hollyoaks romance.  Having said that there were some memorable concepts, baddies and nods to film genres including: heist movies; earth-saving trees; hatching moons; a Dinosaur in ye olde London; half-faced clockwork Victorians; chilling 2D Boneless; the mysterious Missy; the Doctor as a child; an analysis of a Dalek’s soul; Robin Hood and a shrinking TARDIS!

Capaldi was brilliant as I thought he would be and I loved one of his opening gambits to Clara:  “Am I a good man?”  Then, just then, I thought we are really going to take a deep look at WHO the Doctor really is!  Indeed, the army of writers led by Moffat developed this character subtext very well notably in the episode Listen, where not much occurred on the page yet in the murky margins and shadows there was impressive suspense and terror.  However, my first choice is the awesomely titled Mummy on the Orient Express and this crammed so many great things into the 45 minutes running time.  The Doctor and Clara are on one last voyage before going their separate ways yet a vicious Mummy (AKA The Foretold) is killing passengers who only have 66 seconds to live once he targets his victim.  It’s great fun and kind of scary and as the Doctor cracks the case he shares some fine one-liners and banter with  a terrific cast including Frank Skinner and David Bamber.  Brilliant script too.

EPISODE 8.11 – DARK WATER – Writer: Steven Moffat

This episode is pitch black darkness personified.  It opens with Danny Pink’s death, before moving onto a tricky scene where Clara fails to get to the Doctor to change this event.  Yet, the Doctor rewards Clara’s desperate attempt to trick him by saying they are “going to hell”.  Thus, they attempt to track Danny’s spirit and end up in the NETHERSPHERE or “Promised Land” where they finally get to meet the enigmatic Missy who had popped up at the end of quite a few episodes throughout the season.

Death casts a looming shadow over this episode and even I had my pillow over my face when I heard the screams of the dead cry: “Don’t cremate me!” in one particularly harrowing scene.  Further, we also get to delve into Danny’s backstory such as that of the child he killed when serving in the army which, along with Clara’s grief, added texture to the theme of mortality within the show.  By the time the Cybermen are marching down St Paul’s (in tribute to The Invasion from 1968) steps I was gripped. The performances are superb from Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and the Mistress herself Michelle Gomez, who demonstrates a gleeful mania to great effect.  A superb episode with thankfully no kids to ruin it and one which the second part Death in Heaven had to go some to match.

SPECIAL MENTION: THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR – 50TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL

I’ll round up this run through of the Whoniverse with a special mention of The Day of the Doctor, which was the closest we’d get to a new Doctor Who movie.  It was a spectacular piece of writing by Steven Moffat and a brilliant story which rewrote the whole Doctor Who narrative. It brought THREE Doctors (Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt’s War Doctor) into a mixture of high concept sci-fi and operatic drama which soared in tribute to fifty years of the Timelord. The chemistry between the Doctors was a joy (and Tom Baker popped in at the end too) as they go back to the Time War era and review the decision to destroy Gallifrey and the end the war with the nefarious Daleks. This was a Doctor Who production of the highest order and it demonstrates the power and prowess of the show that it was shown simultaneously in 94 countries hitting the Guinness Book of Records for largest ever live simulcast!

Finally, in doing this piece I have read a lot of critical, blog and online forum reviews during my research I have realised Doctor Who is MORE than a TV show.  It’s a huge cult with fans all over the world who are as passionate about the show as people are about religion or their chosen football team.  If I’m honest the old show I watched as a child holds so many great memories but nostalgia can be a cruel guide so it could be easy to dismiss the new show “because it’s not as good as when I was a kid!”. But, the reboot has on the whole. has been brilliant too.  I may not like everything about it but it still retains that magical quality I experienced as an earthly child growing up on a high-rise estate in South London.

DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART TWO by PAUL LAIGHT

DOCTOR WHO: A SPACE (AND TIME) ODYSSEY – PART TWO

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**


CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON

It was so important to get the casting right for the new Doctor Who.  They could have gone for someone more comedic but in casting serious stage and screen actor Eccleston I think they got it spot on.

Famous for his dramatic roles in: Let Him Have It (1991), Shallow Grave (1994), Jude (1996), Our Friends in the North (1996), 28 Weeks Later (2002) and many more; he brought a depth and earthy humanity to the Gallifreyan.  He also brought a certain pathos, danger and aggression which gave meat to the drama and grounded us in a believable reality despite facing foes such as the Autons, Slitheen, Reapers, plus old favourites the Daleks and Cybermen.

Billie Piper’s working class shop girl Rose Tyler was a wonderful companion to Eccleston’s Doctor.  Despite, on occasions, seeming to reign in the darker edges it was a cracking shame he only did 13 episodes.

Here are my favourite two episodes of SEASON ONE.

EPISODE 1.6 – DALEK – Writer:  Robert Shearman

This episode found the Doctor and Rose going underground in Utah, 2012. There, a megalomaniac collector, Van Statten, has all manner of alien artefacts including a Dalek that is being experimented on.  This was a very gripping episode and one where Ecclestone’s dramatic muscles were really flexed. I loved the fact the Dalek was defeated having been ‘infected’ with  humanity. It also had a great bit of dialogue when the Doctor is told: “You would have made a good Dalek!”

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EPISODE 1.9 – THE DOCTOR DANCES – Writer: Steven Moffat

This episode concluded what began with The Empty Child.  I loved the wartime setting and the gas-masked creatures really sent chills down the spine. The subtext of war children hung heavy over the episode and in their own way both Rose and the Doctor are orphans.  The episode introduced dashing space and time con-artist Captain Jack Harkness and, while not a fan of John Barrowman, the character added intergalactic pizazz to the show. In this thrilling episode the emotional barriers come down between Rose and the Doctor too as they dance together during a touching moment amidst the horrors of World War II.

 

DAVID TENNANT

So the legend goes a young child by the name of David McDonald once proclaimed his intention to become an actor because of his love of Doctor Who.  His parents scoffed at this suggestion.  But flash-forward through time and that dream became a reality.

Having appeared on stage and screen, even sharing a scene with Eccleston in Jude (1996), the now-monikered David Tennant would become a Time Lord!  Arguably, Tennant is probably the perfect Doctor Who: funny, serious, crazy, good-looking, smart, tricksy, great hair, honest and at times slightly scary.

While Eccleston was excellent with the drama he sometimes struggled with the one-liners but Tennant encompassed all the emotions taking the baton from his predecessor and running riot with some incredible performances in many, many great episodes.

Here are my favourite two episodes of SEASON TWO.

EPISODE 2.4 – THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE – Writer – Steven Moffat

What would happen if the Doctor fell in love?  This incredible episode asks that question and others with a mind-bending yet very romantic intertwining of the Timelord and Sophia Myles hot French historical figure Madame De Pompadour.  3000 years in the future Rose, Mickey and the Doctor find a floating space vessel with temporal windows to the past. The Clockwork Android crew on the spaceship require De Pompadour’s brain to save their ship but the Doctor comes to the rescue on horseback!  Yes there’s a horse on a spaceship in this one too plus: humour, romance, action and under-the-bed-frights. The pace zings along and the chemistry between Myles and Tennant is electric. This is great because it collapses the historical with imaginative sci-fi concepts and a very touching love story.


EPISODE 2.13 – DOOMSDAY – Writer: Russell T. Davies

And so it came to pass Rose and the Doctor part in the most spectacular of ways, amidst a war on Earth between Cybermen and Daleks. Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was a brilliant companion both sparky and brave and loyal until the end sacrificing herself to save the man she loves; the Doctor.  It’s a great episode full of action and emotion as the Doctors’ greatest enemies’ face-off on Earth and as the Doctor and Rose’ bid a sad goodbye, Rose’s familial backstories dovetail with great effect as she is reunited with her mother and ‘dead’ father in a parallel universe from which she cannot return. Russell T. Davies’ strength as a writer was making the science fiction seem very real and imbue the fantastical with real emotional kick.  Tennant just rocks in the episode too!

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Here are my favourite episodes of SEASON THREE.

EPISODE 3.8 – HUMAN NATURE – Writer: Paul Cornell

In this stunning episode we get Tennant’s Doctor BUT he isn’t the Doctor; he’s actually a teacher called John Smith hiding from aliens so deep under cover he doesn’t know his real identity.  It’s a wonderful concept and much fun is had by Tennant in his performance while the episode brims with dramatic irony as Mr Smith has weird deja vu of a life he believes he has lived only in his dreams.  Martha (Freema Agyeman) had a tough role following Billie Piper but she excels here and the story – set in 1913 on the eve of war –  doesn’t shy away from critiquing the racial and class politics of the day.  There’s a lovely Remains of the Day subplot as the Mr Smith/Doctor falls for Jessica Hynes’ matron just as the Family of Blood come to call. Again, wartime is used to fine effect and of course the real Doctor comes back just in the nick of time to save the day.

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EPISODE 3.10 – BLINK – Writer Steven Moffat

What makes a classic Doctor Who episode?  Is it the story and the action and the science fiction and the laughs?  Yes, of course! But what REALLY makes is a great monster: a seemingly undefeatable foe that tests the Doctor and his companion to the limit of their powers.  Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, The Master, The Autons, Ice Warriors etc.  were awesome but Blink introduced the terrifying WEEPING ANGELS.  I shiver with fear at the thought of these seemingly harmless statues which move when you are not looking at them. So, don’t BLINK or they’re on you like the taxman for non-declaration of earnings; and they’ll drain your life just as quick. This is a blinding Doctor-light episode and contains a lovely Carey Mulligan playing Sally Sparrow. The writing and structure are tricky yet superb and while the Doctor and Martha mainly appear via obscure video messages Moffat really pulls all the strings together on this one.

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EPISODE 4.7 – THE UNICORN AND THE WASP – Writer:  Gareth Roberts

Most of the episodes I have chosen so far have been quite heavy. Indeed, I almost chose The Fires Of Pompeii over this one as it had a terrific moral dilemma at its heart with Catherine Tate’s warm-hearted Donna attempting to change the paths of history at the destruction of Pompeii. However, I chose this light and fluffy episode over it because I’m a sucker for Agatha Christie murder mysteries.  It skilfully throws Christie’s actual 3-day disappearance in with a monstrous wasp, a cunning jewel thief and a wicked murder plot. The Doctor and Donna play detective in a ripping yarn which features an early appearance from Oscar nominee Felicity Jones.

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EPISODE 4.10 – THE FOREST OF THE DEAD – Writer: Steven Moffat

This two-parter began with the episode equally brilliant Silence in the Library which set up a thrilling plot involving the first appearance of the enigmatic ‘companion’ that is River Song (Alex Kingston). It also established the nasty microscopic dust-mite Vashta Nerada i.e. “the shadows that melt the flesh”.  Moffat once again conjures up a mind-bending plot which jumps from a 51st Century Library — that has somehow become a humanity vacuum — and a strange dream world which Donna gets sucked into.  It was this surreal and somewhat Bunuelian nightmare place which stayed with me as Donna gets married, has children and then loses them all in a matter of moments.  As the Vashta Nerada kill off River’s space crew one by one the Doctor must save Donna and the Library!  Does he do it?  Spoilers, darling!

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Okay, so I’ve had to cheat here.  I’ve added another episode because as Season 4 was extended by a series of specials which would see the handover from Davies to Moffatt as showrunner and the eventual passing of the TARDIS from Tennant to Matt Smith. 

EPISODE 4.15 – THE PLANET OF THE DEAD – Writers: Russell T. Davies and Gareth Roberts

Planet of the Dead was the first Doctor Who episode to be filmed in high definition and was another fun episode full of verve and pace.  I liked the fact the Doctor was companion-lite in The Next Doctor, Waters of Mars and this exciting segment.  It was full of great images including a bus stranded in the desert with echoes of Flight of the Phoenix and in the guise of foxy Michelle Ryan we had more than a nod to the videogame character Lara Croft.  I love Doctor episodes when they’re in the far flung netherworlds of space and this was a lovely light bit of sci-fi fluffery before the imperious drama and pathos of Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

SAINTS AND WINNERS: A WEEKLY REVIEW

SAINTS AND WINNERS:  A WEEKLY REVIEW

Seasons greetings! Double busy leading up to Christmas with lots of cultural stuff going on so I’ve consolidated all my viewings, derring-dos and reviews of last week into one manageable post.  Enjoy!

**Contains mild spoilers**

 BILL BURR – I’M SORRY YOU FEEL THAT WAY (2014) – (NETFLIX)

The Massachusett’s born fortysomething everyman comedian is an absolute straight-talking joy.  He sails close to controversy on many occasions giving political correctness no mind at all. But it’s not shock for shock’s sake but rather well thought out and cutting rants covering domestic violence, plastic surgery, guns and the cult of celebrity.  I particularly love his cracking-take-no-prisoners-delivery and he is very adept at imaginary on-stage conversations which are relentlessly hilarious, hitting his targets full in the face.

DR WHO – THE MIND ROBBERS (1968)/SEEDS OF DEATH (1968)

Wendy Padbury Zoe Doctor Who 1968

From the 6th season of the classic science-fiction serial, with Patrick Troughton as the eponymous time-traveller, these two episodic stories find PT on great form with Zoe and Jamie as his companions.  The villains of each piece are The Master (not that one) of the Land of Fiction and The Ice Warriors in Seeds of Death.  The latter foes are particularly nasty pieces of work although they do find themselves undone if you turn the heating up a bit. Troughton is a fantastic Doctor playing the fool while hiding a devious mind as he allows the enemy to think they have the upper hand before prevailing victorious.


DR WHO – SEASON 7 (inc. DAY OF THE DOCTOR)

I’ve really enjoyed Matt Smith’s final season as the Doctor and some of the episodes have provided some cracking televisual entertainment.  Some of the concepts and plot twists, I must admit, I found initially baffling but that was because the writing was so fast-paced and spirited.  But overall Steven Moffat and his whole production team deserve credit for a fun, funky and very dark (where Amy and Rory were concerned) season which also introduced a sparkling new companion in Clara (Jenna Coleman).

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Personal highlights for me included:  Asylum of the Daleks, The Angels Take Manhattan, Cold War, Hide and the 50th Anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor which had THREE Doctors and a history-bending game changer.  Brilliant to see John Hurt appear as The War Doctor and Tennant return also.  I am very pleased too that I have watched the Time of the Doctor too and I am finally onto Peter Capaldi’s Time Lord; which is how this latest obsession began.


HESHER (2010)

This obsidian painted comedy about family grief features Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Hesher:  a crazed-heavy-metal-anti-heroic-outsider-mentalist. Hesher crashes into the lives and the house of the Forney family as they attempt to get over a recent death.  And while he seems to be a negative reality void sucking the life out of them he kind of becomes an anti-angel providing some kind of weird and wonderful family therapy.

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It’s a difficult film to get into initially as it’s quite bizarre but ultimately it’s got a great little black heart of gold showing that togetherness will overcome.  Despite an A-list cast including Natalie Portman it’s very much a low budget-under-the-radar gem with a loud heavy rock soundtrack.


PAUL FOOT – SECRET CHRISTMAS COMEDY SHOW 2014

Myself and Brett Sharpe have formed the Dr Who-Paul-Foot-Spurs-Supporters Fan Club. It’s very niche but inclusive club which anyone can join if they like those particular cultural phenomena. Our inaugural Christmas outing was to a secret location in London and involved seeing the master of merry mirth — Paul Foot — putting on his own little show for his fans or connoisseurs as he calls them.  It was an incredible show made all the more marvellous because it was in an intimate venue above a pub. I cracked up throughout as Foot treated us to some of his greatest comedy hits including: RADA story; EUROSTAR story and how to get REVENGE on BED & BREAKFAST LADY.


RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) – BFI SCREENING

Here’s a surprise: I love Star Wars!  Not the prequels but the original films. I saw them all at the cinema and they are three of the most perfect piece of entertainment one could hope for. They captured the imagination of a wide-eyed seven, ten and thirteen year boy (that’s me!) when each of the trilogy was released. With their: spaceships, creatures, heroes, mercenaries, droids, monsters, light-filled swords, noble Knights protecting the Empire and rebels battling gigantic Death Stars – WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE!    I watched the final film in the trilogy at the BFI Southbank’s majestic cinema NFT1 and Return of the Jedi looked wonderful. I laughed, gasped and cheered in all the right places as Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, Han Solo etc. fight and defeat the Dark Side in a galaxy far, far away.


SPURS Vs NEWCASTLE – CAPITAL ONE CUP QUARTER FINAL

Christian-Eriksen-Tottenham-546907

I went to White Hart Lane to watch Spurs against Newcastle in the Capital One cup and what a terrific performance they put on. It was tight for a while against an under strength Toon – who had been in good form in the League – but a mistake from their young keeper allowed Bentaleb to score the first. Chadli made it 2-0 with a fine run and shot before Kane and Soldado finished the Northerners off!  The great news is we got Sheffield United in the semi-final so MUST have a positive chance of getting to the final at Wembley.  Since this game we also beat Burnley 2-1 at home so allied to our last-gasp win against Swansea the Pocchettino’s Spurs are on a grand roll for now.

ST VINCENT (2014) – FILM REVIEW

I love Bill Murray. The guy is a comedy legend and general all-round media eccentric.  He’s been in some terrible films and some classic movies. The one over-riding consistency in all his movies are he is ALWAYS brilliant.  In St Vincent he plays a curmudgeonly scoundrel who sleeps with hookers and drinks himself unconscious. When Melissa McCarthy’s single mother Maggie and her son Oliver move in next door Vincent becomes an unlikely babysitter to the boy.  It’s an okay film which promises much dark and bittersweet humour in the vein of Bad Santa (2003).

However, while Vincent starts off as a bit of a scumbag he is redeemed far too easily for my liking and while the script is very witty it runs out of steam just past halfway and even Murray cannot save an overly saccharine and sickening ending.  Also, Naomi Watts is wasted as an offensive stereotypical Eastern European prostitute while McCarthy is criminally underplayed given very little to do.  A disappointment overall as all the plot strands are resolved easily and without any real comic or dramatic thunder.