Friday, 22 August 2014

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Saul Metzstein

This story in a nutshell: It's all in the title…

Nutty Professor: ‘Did the Silurians beg you to stop?’ What happened between the Doctor’s seventh and eighth incarnation? Did he suddenly acquire some of Red Dwarf’s sexual magnetism virus and become and overnight object of instant arousal? Once upon a time there wasn’t a hint that the Doctor was even slightly interested in sex and nowadays its unusual if he isn’t shoved against the TARDIS and fondled as he is here. I still don't like it and I hope that it is jettisoned along with Smith at the end of Time of the Doctor. There is a lovely touch when Riddell asks where the Doctor has been because he popped out for some liquorice seven months ago. It looks like Amy Pond isn’t the only person he pops in on sporadically. As I said in Asylum of the Daleks, Matt Smith has nailed the part by this stage of the game and it was even more noticeable this week as he ran through a myriad of emotions. He holds the frantically paced and complexly plotted show together by the sheer force of his confidence and charisma. If the Doctor can navigate his way through this increasingly complex show we just hang onto his coat tails and enjoy the ride. Of course the Doctor still has a Christmas list, all the best adults do. Is there a single piece of music, work of art or historical event that the Doctor didn’t have some participation in? I’m starting to get the picture that the entire spectrum of human endeavour can be summed up in one word: Doctor. The Jagaroth and the Daemons and all the others that claimed to have pushed humanity forwards have nothing on this meddling Time Lord. The Doctor is a very emotive man when it comes to words like piracy and genocide and the thought of over a thousand Silurians being slaughtered by Solomon is enough to get his blood boiling. I screamed with laughter when he snogged Rory one minute and slapped him about the next – these two would have made a great pair without Amy. The Eleventh Doctor sure likes to talk big but often his bark is much worse than his bite so it's pleasing to see him follow through on a threat here and take a life so ruthlessly. He had every opportunity to rescue Solomon but chooses to walk away and rid the universe of his scourge. I like my Doctor to have some edge (it's one of the reasons I feel in love with Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor) and this really struck a chord with me. I’m sure there’s some parents at home appalled to see their children’s hero committing murder so bold facedly after an hour of popcorn television but I’m willing to bet that the kids loved it. Count me amongst them. The look the Doctor gives Amy when she suggests a bleak future ahead speaks so many words…does he know what is going to happen to the Pond’s?
Scots Tart: ‘I’m easily worth two men!’ Ten months on and it looks like Amy and Rory have sorted things out and are living in wedded bliss once again. What the hell? What was the point of that upset in Asylum of the Daleks then if things were going to go back to normal so quickly? It’s great to see Amy so well written for just as she is about to depart the series. Although I have never been keen on the character, it would be lovely for her to go out with some fond memories. She gets to play Doctor by having her own companions and press buttons and ask the right questions. Clearly when she’s not being a total harridan to her husband she is quite a resourceful woman to have around. I love the way that Amy figures out what happened to the Silurians through some clever deduction long before the Doctor is told about their demise. She disapproves of weapons so clearly she has learnt from the best. It's lovely to hear her say that she is Rory’s Queen and not the Doctor’s. Finally she has her priorities straight, ready for that all important decision she has to make in The Angels Take Manhattan. 

Loyal Roman: How unusual in this post 2005 Doctor Who to meet a companions relation so long after their debut. How great that they managed to procure the deadpan services of the irreplaceable Mark Williams to play Rory’s down-to-Earth father. Doesn’t like travelling, carries useless paraphernalia in his pockets…Brian reminded me rather worryingly of my Nan. Splitting Amy and Rory up gives us a chance to bask in the what-could –have-been Doctor/Rory partnership (much overlooked when the red headed vixen is about) and a chance to indulge in some humorous like father/like son gags. When a triceratops starts sniffing at your crotch stay very, very still… Brian sipping tea and eating a sandwich on the threshold of the TARDIS as it is suspended in space above the Earth is so magical it almost hurts. What a phenomenal image, it captures the magic of travelling in the TARDIS in a very humble way. He’s slightly underused here so its nice to learn that he will be turning up again later in the series.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You don’t have any vegetable matter in your trousers do you, Brian?’ ‘Only my balls…’
‘Argos for the universe…’ – what a terrifying idea!
‘How do you start a triceratops?’
‘Where’s a Silurian audience when you need them?’

The Good:
  • It's clear to me now that within Moffat’s regime an episode of the series simply cannot begin with the TARDIS landing somewhere randomly like it did in the classic series week in, week out. Instead every episode is kicked off with a breathless stroll through a myriad of locations to set up the episode ahead. This really annoyed me last year (it's like the show wants to justify its budget by wasting cash on set up scenes) but I’m kind of just going with the flow these days and have accepted that’s how things are. I’m still not keen on the approach but it's clear that even the guest writers are adopting Moffat’s in house style so I should just get used to it or move on. The events that happen in the pre-titles sequence would have taken place over an introductory episode in the classic series (and the reveal of the dinosaurs would have made a stonking cliffhanger) and there would have been more time for more character building, dealing Rory’s dad’s abduction, why the Doctor has cherry picked his gang…but saying all that this is quite economically told and gets to the heart of the episode in record time. It lacks atmosphere but it does get us where we need to be 15 minutes sooner than Asylum of the Daleks did.
  • Love the idea of the Indian Space Agency. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is bursting with gorgeous ideas like this, almost as if Chibnall has finally been let of a leash and allowed to let his imagination run riot. The exotic design of their spaceship is awesome. It's also very classic Who to film the Doctor and friends having fun on a beach and pretending that it’s the engine room of a spaceship powered by an ocean (just think of the entire fake Earth in The Android Invasion). As the Doctor says its quite ridiculous but also brilliant and it strikes me that most of the best ideas to come along in Doctor Who could have that slogan tagged to them. Whilst I’m on the subject of great designs, the Silurian ark looks unlike any spaceship I have ever seen on television and is all the more impressive for it.
  • Umm…dinosaurs on a spaceship! Let me say that again…dinosaurs on a spaceship! Unless you have had your inner child surgically removed by mortgage repayments and PTA meetings this is a fantastically exciting prospect. And we are in an age where the show can not only promise such an ambitious concept but deliver it too. The CGI involved in bringing the beasts alive is stunning and the action sequences wouldn’t look out of place in a feature film. Watching a dinosaur stomp merrily past the TARDIS literally had my inner fanboy tingling. This is what Saturday night telly should be all about! Only Doctor Who could get away with the wonderfully daft gag of Riddell trying to step over a baby T-Rex without waking it up. Simon and I were clutching at pillows as it started to stir… The scenes of the Pterodactyls are excitingly realised with the camera literally swooping down from the sky with them to hunt the Doctor and friends.
  • Doctor Who is the sort of show that has such a rich mythology that it can dip into it from time to time to tickle the fans and broaden the knowledge of the newbies. Having the spaceship turn out to be a Silurian ark works a treat because it fits in perfectly with their original appearance in the classic series. You can imagine a contingency of them leaving the Earth when they thought the moon would collide with the planet and taking specimens with them to repopulate a new homeworld. They had a T-Rex in Dr Who and Silurians so it all fits together beautifully. I just adore the fact that Doctor Who can add depth to a story 30 years after it was first broadcast (I got the same feeling with the Dalek Invasion of Earth/The Stolen Earth moving the Earth plot device). Nice Silurian musical sting from Murray Gold too.
  • It's been a long time since we’ve enjoyed a really loathsome slime ball of a villain like Solomon. These days the writers are so invested in making their bad guys three dimensional they often come with a sob story attached. Solomon is just a nasty piece of work, obsessed with wealth and willing to murder anybody to ensure that he leaves with the highest profit. David Bradley is superb in the role, his weariness suggesting that a lifetime of corrupt and despicable behaviour has left him a twisted, vengeful wreck of a man whose heart only beats faster for money. Truly hissable and certainly the only nasty in recent memory to make a allusion to rape. Perhaps Chibnall has been reading too many of Terrance Dick’s original Who novels.
  • Despite being told at a pace that Roadrunner would consider breathless (and that is down to the running time rather than the fault of the writer) Chibnall’s script is quite tightly written. The ready-to-launch missiles give a sense of jeopardy from the off and the Doctor and his friends a time limit to discover the truth behind the mystery of the artefact. It's purpose and abandonment are deftly explained and there is a threat ready and waiting at the heart of the ship in shape of Solomon. Lots to overcome, much to save and a cast of characters that all do their bit to achieve it. It's all wrapped up nicely with a touch of sadness, a sleight of hand trick and a satisfying death. Masked as a big, daft movie on a TV budget, this is actually a pleasingly plotted piece of work.
  • Maybe I’m just a big soppy Jessie but killing Tracie made my heart bleed. Its blatantly manipulative but it scored a bulls eye with this viewer.
The Bad: 
    *   I realise I’m trying to apply logic to a situation that has none but there was once a time when taking a character from the past and placing them in the future would cause all manner of confusion and questions. Queen Nefertiti takes it so much in her stride you would think that the Egyptians were used to dealing with intergalactic space arks all the time.
  • ‘I thought we might need a gang…’ Strange that the week that the Doctor needs a gang he happens to choose (and baring in mind has the pick of time and space) the two people who just happen to be perfectly suited to this situation. Had the Doctor chosen to bring them along because he knew what was going to happen it might have made some kind of sense (and given Steven Moffat’s wibbly wobbly approach to time travel it could have been explained in a line or two) but the whole ‘oh look I just happen to have a big game hunter and two people who share the same DNA to hand’ approach just feels contrived.
  • A friend said to me this week that it does seem odd that Steven Moffat should praise the show for being more complicated but churn out episode titles that would only appeal to a two year old. It’s a valid point (the episode titles have been shaky since Moffat took over) but just this once the title completely matches the tone of the episode. It suggests a fun blockbuster and it delivers.
  • Nice chunky robot designs are somewhat spoilt by a rare casting mistake in the new series. David Mitchell and Robert Webb are comic gold usually but something went a bit amiss here and their very human sounding robots fail to strike a chord at any point during the episode. The pissing oil gag falls way short of the mark.
  • Just a comparison but the Rory/Brian scenes flying the spaceship weren’t a patch on the Wilf ones from The End of Time. Bernard Cribbins managed to tap into a sense of wonder and excitement that I just didn’t feel here.
  • One small request: can we make the camerawork a little less posey in future? The way some of the shots capture the Doctor and his companions make it look as if they are on a photo shoot for a fashion magazine and are clearly designed to front a trailer. I can’t think of a time when the Doctor has been shot so consciously. It kind of takes you out of the drama.
The Shallow Bit: Matt Smith gets more beautiful by the episode, his puppy dog look just makes me want to hug him. The ISA is like the set of a Bollywood film, many of which I would personally recommend and not for storytelling purposes. Phew! I’m sure Amy handling a gun to knock a number of dinosaurs out provided a thrill for more than a few men.

Result: A frantic, colourful, wildly imaginative adventure which fits into Doctor Who mythology like a hand slipping into a glove. After Chibnall’s previous Doctor Who scripts I wouldn’t have suspected he would be able to conjure up anything as convivial as this but he has managed to whip up an effortlessly enjoyable hour of television. The only reason you wouldn’t take pleasure in something as crowd pleasing as this would be if you were deliberately denying yourself child-like thrills and in such a horror packed world why would you do that? This is the story where the Doctor escapes from a pair of stomping robots on a Triceratops and there’s no universe in the multiversal spectrum where that isn’t just cool. Energy, laughs, gorgeous visuals, a Doctor to be laughed at and feared and a host of colourful characters – the reasons to watch are manifold. It's true that Doctor Who feels more Disney than ever before but in a TV schedule that is as bleak as the current one just means there is more room for child friendly entertainment that adults can enjoy. This big, bold adventure is the most purely pleasurable slice of Doctor Who since The Unicorn and the Wasp and I would happily take its giddy thrills over much of what was coughed up last season. Sometimes Doctor Who just has to be fun and its sad that some people (polar reactions to this episode have been dramatic) have forgotten that. Not perfect but worth getting in touch with your inner child to enjoy: 7/10

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Progress written by Peter Allan Fields and directed by Les Landau

What’s it about: Kira is torn between her newfound friendship with a Bajoran farmer and her duty…

Single Father: Highlighting Sisko and Kira’s growing relationship in some unexpected ways, Progress is an episode all about character and pushes them into revealing how they really feel about each other. Sisko has to rein in Kira’s fiery temper when she lunges an insult at the Minister and takes the very revealing step of beaming down to talk his first officer out of making a mistake that will ruin her life. He tells her that when he first met her he thought she was hostile and arrogant but he was wrong and that Bajor needs her and more importantly he likes her. Already they have come a long way from the fractious relationship of the first two episodes and things would just continue to get more complicated and respectful from hereon. 

Tasty Terrorist: Here’s another episode that stretches both Nana Visitor as an actress and Kira as a character but in a very different way to the psychological nightmare in Battle Lines. The relationship between Kira and Mullibok is beautifully written and performed so that both characters are instantly likable despite their differences and as a viewer it is easy to invest a lot of emotional weight in the friendship. Kira doesn’t like uniforms but they come with the job. She can see through Mullibok’s manipulations straight away even when he tries to get her mad by point how fabulous her arse is. As soon as Mullibok makes Kira realise that he is in exactly the same situation being forced to leave the moon as she was during the Occupation, that oppression is just a matter of interpretation, the episode suddenly gets a whole lot more interesting. When he tells Kira she is backwards for not just sweeping them all out of there it is almost as if she took the phaser blast. The most crucial moment, however, comes when Sisko tells her that she is on the other side of being oppressed now and that she has to make uncomfortable decisions and she hates it. Kira’s final decision to destroy Mullibok’s life to save it is deeply affecting for her and just as Battle Lines showed her that she still had anger inside of her this episode reveals that she has stepped over a line now and accepts her new life. All she needs to do is realise that Cardassians aren’t all evil (Duet) and we will see some of the strongest character growth over a single season for any Trek regular. A lot of time is being invested into this character and it is really paying off. 

Starfleet Ferengi: I have to get this little confession out of the way but I just find Nog the cutest thing on the planet. I don’t know if it is the cheeky way that Aron Eisenberg plays him or if it’s the delicately humorous writing or even just the adorable freckles and little ears (at least in comparison to his father and uncles) he has but every time he is on screen I find him an absolute delight. He’s still in the money grabbing stage of his youth her and when his lobes start tingling it can mean only one thing…opp-or-tun-ity. Watch as he waltzes his way through the station on his way to his first big profit. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You know those seven or eight little wiry hairs that come out of his forehead? They make him look kind of cute’ – one of the most charming facets of Jadzia’s personality is her willingness to see past surface appearances and fancy the most outrageous of people, starting here with Morn. Her taste does not improve with age, she also has a thing about Captain Boday (with his transparent skull), Ferengi’s and most heinous of all...Worf!

‘If I leave here I’ll die so I’d rather die here.’
‘The Cardassians probably told you that you didn’t stand a chance either, did you surrender?’ ‘No’ ‘Why do you expect me to act any different from you?’
‘You know you’re causing a lot of trouble’ ‘I can’t tell you how delighted I am to hear that!’
‘You have to realise something Major…you’re on the other side now.’
‘Last one…’

The Good: It might have one of the worst backdrops ever seen in Star Trek but the studio set for Mullibok’s house and garden is charmingly designed and lit (I love how the sunlight stretches through the front door like one of those perfect lazy afternoons). I wouldn’t want to leave such a lovely place either. I remember reading that Mullibok was supposed to be a much more unlikable character, vicious and unsympathetic but it would have gutted the episode of its emotional worth had they played it that way. Brian Keith gives a very strong performance as the stubborn farmer who simply wants to be left alone to get on with his life. You genuinely believe that this man has rebuilt his life from nothing and tamed the harsh land of the moon on his own and fully support his decision to stay even though it will cause so many more people to suffer. Mullibok proves to be the master of diversion and tells all manner of wonderful (and probably wildly exaggerated) stories – I have no idea what a two headed Malgorian is but it's one hell of tale. The subplot that sees Jake and Nog venturing on their first business deal has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot whatsoever but dovetails with it beautifully so that the episode never feels slow or unappealing. I love how they are always a gnats hair away from actually earning some latinum and up their merchandise with each successive deal. I have a big grin on my face every time I watch the ‘what do you want?’ ‘I’m here to see Major Kira’ ‘Well she doesn’t want to see you and neither do I!’ exchange and then he goes on to take the piss out of Kira’s tree story (she looks so embarrassed). This is character gold. Tapping the core of one of Bajor’s moons will provide power for thousands of homes. Perhaps they should have reminded Minister Jaro of that when he tried to boot them off the station. Mullibok’s two friends don’t talk at all and when he says ‘the Cardassians took care of that’ it brings home the horrors of the Occupation more than a thousand descriptions of torture and bodies. 

The Bad: It’s a shame that they had to include an action sequence in the middle of the episode because we were getting on perfectly well without it – I probably would have had Mullibok suffer a heart attack of some other reason for making it easy to be able to get him off the moon. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The last scene which is quietly one of the most devastating scenes the show ever gave us. I am so glad we never heard from Mullibok again because it would have cheapened this terrifically ambiguous ending.

Only DS9: How comes DS9 can get these cute little touches of character so right that bolster the episodes whether the other shows fail? How cool is the scene where Sisko orders Bashir to give him a recommendation that Kira stays on the planet and says he will ‘take it under advisement.’

Orchestra: The music in the last scene is genuinely beautiful. Go and listen to it again, it builds to a superb climax.

Result: Oddly for a show that flaunts such impressive technical ability, DS9 is often at its best when it scales right down and tells a powerful story between two people. This is probably the sort of episode that people bemoaned about in the first few seasons for being boring but for me it is anything but and both the writing and the performances are so sensitively handled I was captivated from the first second to the last. DS9 doesn’t need to juggle empires to be great television, two of the best episodes of the first season feature nothing but Kira spending a whole episode chatting to a Bajoran and a Cardassian and makes outstanding character out of them. Progress adds a lot of depth to the shows Bajoran setting and to Kira and Sisko and there is even a highly engaging subplot to break up the intensity of the character scenes: 9/10

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Asylum of the Daleks written by Steven Moffat and directed by Nick Hurran

This story in a nutshell: The Doctor is enlisted by the Daleks to destroy the insane…

Nutty Professor: Asylum of the Daleks is as much about the character of the Doctor as The Impossible Astronaut was a year before and in both cases it concerns wiping him from existence. I'm not entirely sure the purpose of trying to obscure the history of the Doctor was all about when by the end of the year Moffat was (understandably) choosing to celebrate it as much as he humanly could. I've come to expect that level of inconsistency from the current administration. Something I do object to slightly is the way the directors continually trying and make Smith look all shadowy and moody – it was done in A Good Man Goes to War when he was framed in the light of the TARDIS doorway and it's done again here, a slow motion shadow caressing the wall before he is seen in shot. It wouldn’t be so bad but in the very last story we saw him offering lollipops to kids (figuratively speaking) and making all their Christmas dreams come true and if I’m honest he’s far more convincing in that light than he is as a portent of doom. I'm not saying he should only be one thing or the other but the contrast in two back to back stories couldn't be more diverse. And he's hardly convincing as the ominous bearer of doom, is he? However Matt Smith is on top form throughout this episode and it feels as though he has been practising many of Troughton’s mannerisms and facial tics because the engaging similarities between them is more prominent by the episode. The way he scrunches his face up and prepares for death and comically opens one eye is pure, blissful Troughton. He marches on with explanations that reveal the danger he is in but he cannot quite fathom what that is half the time because he’s so busy being clever. Another Troughton trick is to show real fear as if your very life depended on it and Smith has tapped into that brilliantly here when he is faced with three psychotic Daleks and no way of escaping. It's really dramatic and totally destabilising for kids who have bought into his Doctor. Smith manages to make emoting with a Dalek prop a genuinely heartbreaking experience. When he is given a chance to stand back from the verbal diarrhoea and timey wimey quirks and simply act he is magnificent. He’s back dancing around the console at the end of the episode screaming out the title of the show. He’s just a joy to be around. Like Tennant in his third series I was sure that Smith had really started to nail it in spite of the material. Little did I know that he would descend into clich├ęd mannerisms, gabbled explanations, arm waving and sonicking by the end of the season. A shame. 
Cute Genius: How? How did they manage to keep Jenna Louise Coleman’s appearance a secret? I was one of those people who was completely unaware and I literally grabbed Simon’s arm and started shaking him with excitement. I was blown away by the audacity of introducing a companion in such an unusual way and what’s even better is that Oswin is instantly likable, smoulderingly sexy in a cute little red number and handles humour and tragedy with equal aplomb throughout the course of the episode. Sign me up for more please. There's not a sign of bland as barbie Clara that would pop up later in the season. After three years with a companion I had struggled to like it looked as though I might be able to enjoy the show on all levels again. Sigh. The second Smith and Coleman start talking to each other I was suddenly very alert, there was a real spark of something new and very likeable happening. What happened? I genuinely believe that Oswin (or bold as brass Clara from The Snowmen) would have been an infinitely preferable option to the walking wallpaper version we ended up with. I loved the way we cut to her casually lounging on the chair being smart as hell as everybody else rushes about in a craze. Coleman makes for a convincing whizzkid, what a shame we lost that. Enough with the instinctively clever kids, lets have a companion who can match up to the Doctor in the brains department. I could have seen the Doctor and Oswin tapping into that hilarious Doctor/Zoe rivalry. Whatever the future brought it was still a fascinating way to introduce a new companion and it brought with it a great many questions. For the first time in ages I was intrigued by the show again. 

Scots Tart & Loyal Roman: Amy has had more screen time than any of the new series companions at this point and has pretty much been explored to death and yet not really explored in the slightest. If you not really keen on the Scots tart then this might have the unfortunate issue of souring your opinion of the past two years of Doctor Who. It felt as though their story had come to a natural end last year when the Doctor dropped them at a home of their own in The God Complex, or even when they were seen toasting the Doctor’s sleight of hand concerning his death in The Wedding of River Song or even when they invited the Doctor in for Christmas dinner at the end of The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. That’s more endings than Lord of the Rings! Just leave already. But no we're off on a jaunt with Amy and Rory for five more adventures to make sure that everybody is well truly ready for them to go when they eventually leave. Moffat now has to include unseen complications to justify their return and given the pains he took to explore (although not really explore) their pre wedding jitters, their marriage and their first born it seems really peculiar that they have reached divorce between seasons. It feels as though we’ve missed a season that explored their marriage breaking up. To go from domestic bliss in the previous Christmas special to the two of them having parted in the very next story feels premature and unnatural.  And no I shouldn't be expected to watch those online snippets of story to explain away what is going on - the show never felt the need to exclude information in its actual stories before. When Amy so effortlessly psychoanalyses every movement the Doctor makes you can take it one of two ways – that they know each other so well now that they don’t even have to talk to communicate or that that relationship is tired and has run out of surprises. Amy is no longer scared of anything and it's another reason for her to go. Sarah Jane would have made the sequence with the animated Dalek zombies terrifying just by having a naturally terrified reaction to the nasties and I’m afraid that Amy’s ‘is it bad that I’ve really missed this?’ just doesn’t cut the mustard. Where has our audience identification figure gone? Note Coleman’s performance at the climax where she is surrounded by Daleks and terrified as we witness the flashback to what happened to her. That’s the way to do it. Amy is back to being her cold, bad ass self (‘just life – that thing that goes on when you’re not there’) after Moffat went to such lengths to make her a little more gentle last year (making us feel for her by putting her through hell). Amy being turned into a Dalek is in no way as effective as Amy being turned into an Angel in Flesh and Stone – when you start recycling dangers for the same character they need to be shown the door. There is one scene where Gillan and Darvill nail it so perfectly that it proves to be almost as potent as the climax to The Girl Who Waited even I didn’t buy why they had split up for a second. It is the actors salvaging this stuttering, inconsistent mess of a character arc. I adore the idea of the Doctor making Amy think she is going to be converted so it forces the two of them to talk through their problems. However…sorting out their entire marital difficulties (which was on the verge of collapse) with one conversation? This is definitely a relationship that plays out in broad strokes. I would hate for kids of broken homes to be watching this and thinking that their mummies and daddies could sort out their differences over one chat. Dropping Rory and Amy off again is just bizarre...just have them enjoy a spell in the TARDIS uninterrupted by Amy's crack and ganger duplicates. They feel even more like hangers on when they aren’t full time crewmembers.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I thought you’d run out of ways to make me sick…but hello again. You think hatred is beautiful?
‘How long do we wait?’ ‘The rest of our lives.’

The Good:
  • They made a fair old attempt to visualise Skaro in the very first Dalek story but I don’t think anybody would have foreseen a day where we would witness such an impressive CGI swoop through the wastelands of the planet. I love the little details (like the flock of birds) and the sight of the encrusted Dalek effigy is unforgettable. This is the way to get the attention of a 21st Century viewer using state of the art digital effects.
  • Mythologizing the Doctor at the beginning of the episode is very clever because given the events that transpire at the climax it is the last time that can ever take place. Until he’s defeated them another thousand or so times…
  • How creepy are the bone crunching Dalek eye stalks coming out of their slaves foreheads? The way they judder like puppets before converting reminded me of the Waters of Mars and it's just as spine chilling. Not sure about the guns coming out of their hands though. Later we experience marching zombies that pleasingly reminded me of Silence in the Library (raiding your own creative cupboard is an old Terrance Dicks trick and one I much approve of!) and the eyestalks bursting from the desiccated heads was deliciously gruesome. This version of the walking dead was exactly what they were trying to visualise with the Robomen in The Dalek Invasion of Earth but they never would have gotten away with anything this macabre at the time.
  • Some people have wept over the new title sequence. It’s a bit darker. I don’t see any issue. Wait until season 7b and then you can complain. 
  • An entire planet of insane Daleks, that’s freaking brilliant! Has Doctor Who location work ever looked as stunning as it does these days? The stunning snowy vistas filmed abroad really help to sell that this is a desolate alien world. And how quirky is the Dalek eyestalk that sticks its head out of the snow to find the Doctor? The opening sequence inside the Asylum shows Daleks from various classic and new series Doctor Who stories in various states of disrepair, moodily lit and with water dripping down across the location. It is effortlessly atmospheric and enough to get any fanboys heart racing.
  • The way Moffat stacks up the clues, building up to the truth about Oswin is very effectively achieved without making it obvious. Finding the Alaska and the crew that has been dead a year, the step ladder, her scanner resembling a Dalek eye…all leading to that tragic twist. ‘Why hasn’t the nanocloud converted you?’ – Simon wasn’t fooled for a second that there was something wrong about Oswin’s apparent safety but he thought the show was leading up to a twist that she was somewhere else entirely. The way the camera swings around to reveal the Dalek is one of the best visual twists we have seen since Wilf was knocking on the glass four times at the end of The End of Time. The horror of a human being trapped inside a Dalek is right up there with the chilling Stengos scenes from Revelation of the Daleks. Seeing Oswin wired up inside that claustrophobic shell and trying to hold onto her humanity is genuinely nightmarish. If it was Moffat’s desire to make the Daleks scary again he doesn’t need to drop us in their equivalent of a mental hospital – this form of identity rape is far more insidious and terrifying.
  • Love the Dalek attempting to self destruct to kill the Doctor. Devious bastards. Especially love the way we are informed before the Doctor is with a cheeky POV shot.
  • Intensive care was creepy as hell and I could have spent much more time in there seeing how the Daleks treat their insane. 
  • Did any of you fanboys not experience a tingle when Oswin mentioned Spiridon, Kembel, Aridius, Vulcan and Exillon?

The Bad:
  • There will always be sad fanboy questions but I think you can answer most of them with the casual explanation that the Time War changed everything. I thought Skaro was wiped out at the end of Remembrance of the Daleks and that the places where the Time War was staged were locked out of existence. Or is this not the case?
  • I wasn’t that keen on the Parliament of the Daleks because it feels like the sort of CGI spectacular that is custom made for trailers rather than a necessary part of the story. It's another example of the show becoming more Hollywood and whilst the visuals are generally superb (although the Prime Minister is a gloriously bad rubber prop that reminded me we were still watching Doctor Who) I’m not sure that the show needs to be bigger and bolder simply because. That’s the point where it becomes Star Trek: Voyager. ‘SAVE THE DALEKS!’ is their mantra but it's another trailer inspired indulgence rather than an actual indication of what lies ahead. ‘RID THE DALEKS OF A MILD IRRITANT!’ would be more accurate but I guess it isn’t quite as catchy. If this had taken place during the RTD era I could have seen him dispensing with all of the Parliament nonsense and had the first scene take place with the Doctor landing on the Asylum planet. It would have been more of a classic Who adventure, not concerned so much with the nuts and bolts of explaining everything but getting straight down into the bowels of that planet and revelling in the sinister atmosphere of the location. I would have preferred that version because all the best scenes take place in the Asylum. Does the Parliament sit around the rest of the time and think up all of the Daleks’ convoluted schemes? 
  • Why did they make the Asylum with an impenetrable forcefield if there was the possibility that they might change their minds and no long want to preserve their insane? Another reason to skip straight to the Asylum is to avoid silly questions like that.
  • Again there is too much set up – Amy and the Doctor should have come across the Alaska and the zombies sans the speaking member that leads them there. It's much more atmospheric without explanation. Old school Who didn’t feel the need to pre-empt every scare.
  • ‘Eggs stir (one) minute’ – clever or daft? Both but I'm erring towards the latter. It's another pointer towards the Oswin/Dalek twist but it also feels like a writer has stared at the word for too long waiting for something new to emerge concerning the Daleks. And the best he could come up with was omelettes.
  • Amy’s dream state is beautifully directed and will wrap you in a blanket of surrealism for a minute but it is another distraction. Moffat needs to trust that the audience will stick around if they aren’t pulled in a new direction and distracted every minute. 
  • How could they destroy the Asylum?
  • With the emphasis on the RTD Daleks are we to assume this as an acknowledgement that the Fatleks from Victory were an abject failiure?
The Shallow Bit: Jenna Louise Coleman. Just gorgeous.

Result: A mixed opener that whilst weighed down slightly by some unwieldy elements that have creeped into the show of late (over explanation, too much set up) still manages to achieve the impossible – it turns the Daleks into a truly frightening opponent again. Steven Moffat is trying all sorts of new things with the Daleks (or is at least re-imagining old ideas in a very fresh way) and the episode is packed full of memorable moments involving these Doctor Who icons. Nick Hurran deserves massive credit for his imaginative, atmospheric direction and there was simply too many creative choices to keep track of (effective POV shots, breaking the fourth wall and stunning Ariel vistas amongst them). He makes the Asylum a shuddersome location and it broke my heart to see it blown up at the end because I was hoping for subsequent visits. I could have happily have snipped Amy and Rory out of the story and focussed solely on the engaging Doctor/Oswin relationship because as characters they have long outstayed their welcome. Jenna Louise Coleman on the other hand makes a stunning debut and just about everything to do with Oswin was perfectly realised especially that shocking twist at the climax. However it is Matt Smith that deserves the highest praise, three years in and he has nailed the role – providing some really dramatic moments and even some scares (the Doctor is far more frightened of the Daleks than Amy is!). I thought this was going to be the episode that deftly recaptured my insane passion for this show but it didn't achieve that lofty status. For whetting my appetite for the return of Coleman it was invaluable but for convincing me that the Pond's need to depart it was essential. Moffat is on the verge of telling a half decent story here (he has the ideas for it) but it appears that he has forgotten how to construct a script and so snaps into his default mode to overcomplicate everything. Asylum of the Daleks could have been a simple, effective chiller but instead it tears me in two troubling directions, great moments and dodgy moments bound together in a flawed script. Any story were I would happily excise the first 15 minutes (when it is 45 minutes long) isn't firing on all cylinders: 6/10

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

TNG Season Five

Redemption Part II written by Ronald D. Moore and directed by David Carson 

What’s it about: Klingon civil war is in the air…stirred up by the Romulans. 

To Baldly Go: You get the impression that Moore is giving us a taste of how the show would be if he was holding the reins and immediately Picard is a more dynamic character without losing any of the depth that has made him stand out from Kirk. His refusal to believe Guinan’s story about the Enterprise-C sees a return of that steely, immovable Picard from Yesterday’s Enterprise. Proving that in Moore’s hands he could be a much more interesting, less studious character, Picard raps Data’s hand at the climax for disobeying orders (which is where the scene would have ended in seasons one and two) but follows that up with a cheeky smile and ‘nicely done.’

Mr Wolf: One of Moore’s complaints about TNG was that the characters were not allowed to breathe as individuals or to explore their own separate cultures and he sets out to make an active criticism of Worf here in that respect, highlighting how even amongst his own people he acts like a Starfleet drone. Jean Luc has waved his magic wand over this sour faced, duty bound Klingon one time too many for that conditioning to be broken so easily. Worf has completely forgotten what it is like to be involved in Klingon politics. It’s not about bandying together to fight your enemy and all standing around patting each other on the back (that’s the Starfleet way). No, it’s more like standing on the deck of an old pirate ship and whoever takes their eye off the ball gets a cutlass in the throat as they each try and succeed each other, everybody jostling for command. Worf gets told that he made the wrong choice putting on the Klingon uniform and gets a good beating for his morality. This guy really needs to choice which side of the line he is going to stand on. That is his curse.

Fully Functional: He approaches it as a question of logic but it feels like there is something of a bruised ego when Data isn’t assigned a ship in the fleet. I’m not sure why Data sounds so angry when he threatens to relieve Hobson of duty…surely he would approach this as dispassionately as anything else. Unless Hobson’s obstinacy is enough to rile even a machine that doesn’t possess emotions. 

The Traveller: As usual Guinan is responsible for some of the best scenes. Its lovely to have some kind of follow up to Yesterday’s Enterprise and Guinan spells out the events to Picard and how it is perfectly plausible that Tasha could have had a Romulan baby. Whoopi Goldberg really lends some credibility to this most absurd of plot twists. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If I’m right then you are responsible for this entire situation…’
‘But its our way! It’s the Klingon way!’ ‘But it is not my way.’ 

The Good: Talk about opening with a bang! One Klingon ship is firing on another, we pan across a bridge in flames past a dead officer with a piece of bulkhead sliced into his face and settle on Tony Todd in commanding form as Kurn igniting a suns corona and destroying the two pursuing ships. You have most definitely got my attention. The direction of these scenes is quite unlike anything we have ever seen in TNG before, it reminded me more of the atmosphere of DS9 in its later years (the attack on the Dominion shipyard in Shadows and Symbols played out in a very similar fashion). Its bizarre seeing Timothy Carhart in such a subservient role because I vividly recall his turn as the fat-sucking serial killer on The X-Files but he does the best he can with his standard material here. His racial slur is probably his best moment (can you be racist with an android? Are they a separate species?), suggesting that Data is more concerned with the functioning of the ship than the people on board. There is a wonderfully dramatic shot of the Enterprise and Sela’s Warbird squaring off against each other. There is a real vitality to this episode that you rarely get a sense of in TNG. Given I had the same reaction to Tasha Yar as a skin rash, the return of Denise Crosby to the series isn’t something that I greeted with much enthusiasm. However they have shoehorned her into a role that is entirely without emotion - that of a Romulan Commander - so all my previous complaints about her performance (that it was too melodramatic, that her emotions exploded from her like fireworks) are no longer relevant. She’s not dazzling, but she’s more than competent here. That’s enough for now and its lovely to have a potentially semi-recurring character and figure head for the Romulans with this kind of emotional sting. Whilst Tasha’s sob story is laid out it is worth remembering that this isn’t our Tasha Yar that Sela is talking about but the battle hardened one from an alternative timeline. It took Lursa and B’tor an age to turn up but I was smiling from ear to ear when they did…especially B’tor’s drooling over Worf. These two are such fun. The way they simply beam out and leave their puppet child Toral to his fate made me laugh my head off. The sooner they return, the better. Data lighting up the Romulan Warbirds with torpedoes like picking out mines in the ocean is another glorious visual. It was only at the end of this story that I realised that TNG has managed to generate a significant number of excellent recurring characters – Guinan, Gowron, Kurn, Lursa and B’tor, Sela…it might not be a match for DS9’s oeuvre (but then a list that contains Garak, Dukat, Winn, Weyoun, Rom and Nog was always going to dominate) but its still an eclectic bunch of characters that are well worth re-visiting. 

The Bad: Is it my imagination or are all Starfleet Admirals just there to say no? It’s a negative to the new logo that fronts the title sequence. Because of it the show looks like we are entering a gay disco. It’s hilarious that Picard talks of their awesome fleet of twenty ships. Twenty? And it takes them a great deal of time to assemble that many! Come DS9’s later seasons Starfleet would assembling fleets of hundreds of warships. The Data as Captain subplot is so mundane in the case that you can see how it will play out as soon as Hobson requests a transfer away from him. Data will prove himself in combat and his crew will rally around him. The end. Its enough to make you want to give up your TV and take up fly fishing. Not even Moore can breathe life into that sort of material. 

Moment to Watch Out For: Without a doubt the best moment in this episode was when Commander Sela appeared on the viewscreen and declared that Tasha Yar was her mother. To this day I cannot decide whether this is an awesome, shocking revelation or the most god-awful soap opera trickery. But the fact that it can be interpreted in both ways is what makes it such a great scene. To follow this with a scene between Picard, Dr Bev and Troi discussing the ways that Tasha could have given birth to Sela when she would have had to have been a child at the time and her medical records show that she never gave birth is even more hilarious. 

Moral of the Week: Be careful who you send back in time. You never know who they might end up in bed with.

Orchestra: Dennis McCarthy is one of the new resident musicians that Rick Berman brought in to replace Ron Jones. He tries valiantly to inject some pace into the action scenes with his muted score but its nothing compared to what Jones would have achieved (see The Best of Both Worlds).

Result: Astonishingly Redemption Part II doesn’t drop the ball but instead runs with the idea of a fresh, dynamic take on TNG. Enjoy it whilst it lasts because season five is the soapiest year of Trek of all time so things are about to get comfortable again real soon. My favourite element of the concluding episode is the awesome revelation regarding Commander Sela and how it connects to Yesterday’s Enterprise. It simply isn’t like TNG to play with its own continuity in such a fiendishly clever way and the truth about how her mother behaved in history is finally revealed. There’s also a higher action quota than usual and director David Carson provides some stunning sequences (particularly the pre-credits waltz through a suns corona) that still hold up today. It’s a shame that amongst all the continued Empire building (for both the Klingons and the Romulans), the pyrotechnics and the politics that we should have to suffer the sub plot of Data learning the ways of Command. Whilst I’m happy that it is shunted off into a minor subplot rather than commanding an episode of its own, it feels like it’s only there to remind us that this is still dreary old Star Trek at heart. With such a myriad of plots taking place, Worf’s resignation and re-integration into Klingon society gets squashed down to a few scenes but they serve to highlight what would become the central dilemma of the character: Human or Klingon? I could forgive him anything for the glorious ending where he refuses to kill Toral and walks away, unafraid to be different from his peers. He really is exceptional in every way. There is an awful lot going on in the conclusion to Redemption and most is really rather good: 8/10

Darmok written by Joe Menosky and directed by Winrich Kolbe

What’s it about: ‘Darmok and Jilad at Tinagra…’

To Baldly Go: In Picard’s experience communication is a matter of patience and understanding…he really has to learn to keep his mouth shut. He obviously wasn’t paying close attention during the Scouts when he was a nipper as he seems to have little luck when making a fire whilst his alien companion enjoys warm and light from a distance. Whilst the presence of dangerous cutlery and the two highest ranking officials on both ships might suggest a duel (Arena-style) it is only Picard who interprets it that way. What does that say about him as a man? Much of this episode falls on Patrick Stewart and he captures the frustration and triumph of being forced to understand an alien language with his trademark subtlety and skill. His recount of the tale of Gilgamesh is riveting, Stewart paints a picture with words that is far more dynamic than anything the director can whisk up within this episode. He is a fine storyteller. I really must try and see him on the stage before it is too late. Picard really runs rings around his crew here, figuring out the Tamarian language in an impossibly tight situation. His crew have the luxury of the ships resources and can pool their resources and get absolutely nowhere. 

Mr Wolf: I don’t know how Worf got any work after he left the Enterprise. Whenever anybody wants to beam the Captain away from the ship they seem to have no trouble whatsoever. There is a very amusing moment in DS9 where Odo lists a number of security breaches that occurred on the Enterprise during his run…but the shapeshifter suggests that they were the exception rather than the rule. Working my way through this series it seems to me that it is the other way around! 

Alien Empath: Troi is on the verge of having another hissy fit. She’s quite hysterical at times, isn’t she? When it comes to imparting obvious information she is all over it. When it comes to an episode where her apparently essential empathic observations are required she is useless. It is galling because given the right kind of material, I know this character can be made to work. 

The Good: Deanna makes a fantastic point about how they may have advanced technologically and culturally to such an extent but when a new species with a language turns up they are completely stymied. The unknown creature that Picard and the Tamarian Commander have to face is intriguingly realised through smoke and mirrors. They could have gone with something as obvious as the Gorn but instead this optical illusion is much more interesting…and unknowable. There is something triumphant about the moment when Picard finally realises how the Tamarians communicate (their Commander practically falls to the floor and preys to the heavens that his companion has finally started to comprehend!). I loved the discussion of storytelling and how without details or knowing the context of how a story is being emphasises you can have no understanding of it. This is healthy, intelligent discussion in a show that can so easily fall into the trap of having its characters talk like walking automatons. I could almost forgive Kolbe anything for that glorious final shot of Picard at the window. If only he had injected that kind of imagination into shooting the rest of the episode. 

The Bad: Whilst it is a very cute idea that a species speaks entirely in metaphor I don’t know if on any level it is convincing. Surely you would need more than a handful of poetic phrases to get by in your day to day life? Considering the high amount of location work this show boasts it disappointed me that the director failed to make good use of this opportunity. After the dynamic direction of Redemption we are back in typical TNG point and shoot territory. 

Moment to Watch Out For: Picard being beamed away at precisely the wrong moment. It’s the sort of last minute rescue that is lauded on this show and his ungrateful reaction is a lovely subversion of that.

Moral of the Week: A problem shared is a problem halved.

Fashion Statement: Jean-Luc is sporting a new leather topped uniform jacket for this story, almost as if he knows he is going to be trapped on a scorching desert planet which is going to require something cooler to wear.

Foreboding: The presence of Ashley Judd is welcome and it pre-empts her role in The Game. It’s another character like Ensign Gomez in series two that should have stuck around for longer.

Result: I fully accept that this episode has a fantastic message and says some clever things about the nature of communication…but it is just so slow going in places that I found it hard to keep my attention levels up. The relationship between Picard and Dathon is lovely but the threat should have been introduced far sooner and the constant cuts back to the Enterprise add very little to the overall piece. Joe Menosky is a writer that I often underestimate because of his later allegiance with Brannon Braga over on Voyager which saw the show runner bleeding away much of the mans talent and churning out episode after episode of popcorn entertainment. Sometimes his imagination takes him too far into cuckoo territory (Masks, Emergence, Distant Voices) but at other points he hones his imagination into something truly creative and impacting (The Nth Degree, The Thaw, Blink of an Eye, Muse). Darmok shows that Menosky is a writer that thinks outside the box and is willing to try new things. Its interesting and intelligently written, but not terrifically engaging. Ultimately you have to give Darmok points for trying something fresh, for pushing Gene Roddenberry’s morality to the front and for continuing to distinguish Captain Picard as a much more thoughtful, intelligent man than Kirk. I just wish that the originality and inventiveness on display here could have been packaged in a more dynamic way. TNG’s in house directional style really holds back some of its better episodes (VOY had the reverse problem, it was often beautifully executed but appallingly written). Patrick Stewart and Paul Winfield’s superb performances overcome most of this episodes visual problems: 7/10

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Wedding of River Song written by Steven Moffat and directed by Jeremy Webb

This story in a nutshell: Time has gone batty because the Doctor hasn’t died…

Geeky Hero: The Doctor is even worshipping himself these days by calling himself the ‘face of the devil’ to a Dalek. Get over yourself man and get on with your adventures. I was unsure about the Doctor’s willingness to just roll over and let himself die in Closing Time and was really happy to see that his fighting spirit had returned here. The Monks don’t want to kill the Doctor; they just don’t want him alive because he is a man with a long and dangerous past. It transpires that the Silence wanted to kill the Doctor because at some point the question of his name will be asked. Big deal. Ace asked that question in Silver Nemesis and the universe didn’t end. The series did but the universe didn’t. Are we heading for a big revelation at the 50th Anniversary that answers the question of Doctor Who? If so, it could be another anchor point in the shows mythology like revealing The Time Lords at the climax of The War Games. Alternatively it could completely demystify the character and prove that the mystery surrounding his past on Gallifrey really was never worth hearing. Dangerous business but the show hasn’t remained at the top of its game for this long by playing safe. If he had to die he didn’t have to die alone which explains why he invited his friends to watch him croak it. It makes perfect sense that the Doctor as the Tesselecta would forgive River for murdering him because she isn’t in control of the spacesuit but do you know what? I think even if it had been him he would have forgiven her anyway – I know the Doctor and he isn’t the sort of person who would go to his death baring a grudge (that's why Tennant railing at his death in The End of Time was such a unique aberration). Maybe the Doctor does have a degree of modesty left because he finds the idea that River would send out a distress beacon to the people of the universe to aid him stupid and that it wouldn’t mean anything to anybody. He’s decided that the universe is better off without him but the universe doesn’t agree – this is veering dangerously close to the sort of hero worship that Davies employed (‘I can’t let you die without knowing that you are loved!’ - oh vomit) but at least it isn’t as bad as the uncomfortable mythologising of the character in A Good Man Goes to War. However the big coup for this episode and of series six in general (because this is clearly where the series has been heading) is the Doctor’s realisation that he has been far too noisy of late, too omnipresent and approaching something that people consider to be a benevolent God. Now the universe thinks that he is dead he can go back to his simple life of adventuring and keep his head down. I was literally leaping around my front room as he made this decision and Simon was quietly phoning the nearest asylum from the sofa. About bloody time. Although I do have to say Moffat wouldn't have to state that he is dialling back so much if he hadn't tried to make his legend too colossal.

Scots Tart: I genuinely feel that where Amy and Rory have been left now is the perfect stopping off point for their characters. I didn’t warm to her at all in her first series but given the torture she has been through this year I couldn’t help but change my opinion sightly. I’m still not sure about her being satisfied with her baby growing up with mercenaries but then I guess she did grow up with her daughter in a perverse way (Mels, try not to think about it too hard or you’ll give yourself a hernia). Dropping Amy and Rory off and giving them a house and a car so they are safe and settled is just about the perfect ending and with the two parents and their daughter reunited at the climax of this tale and laughing together at the Doctor’s ingenious escape, this could happily be the last time we see any of them. What else can be done with Amy? She’s met the Doctor, waited for him, met him again, waited for him again, met him again, had the culture shock of the TARDIS, tried to get in the Doctor’s knickers, travelled with her husband, lost her husband from all time and space, got him back again, got married, regained her parents, had a baby, lost her baby, grew up with her baby, discovered who her baby is, grown old waiting for the Doctor and Rory to save her, prevented that and finally been forced to leave the TARDIS to keep her safe. Taking the character beyond all this madness would feel like treading water which parts of The Wedding of River Song already does since it features a parallel Amy who has once again lost her husband (this is getting sloppy now Amy - look down the back of the sofa, that’s where things usually are). Amy has felt much more interesting this year (whereas last year she felt like a backstabbing wench) but she’s pretty much been done to death and I feel it is now time to try out a new dynamic with the 11th Doctor. Her murder of Madame Kovarian does surprise but it leaves me feeling kind of ambivalent towards the character again – perhaps River would have turned out to be a psychopath anyway? Amy realising that the Doctor is her son in law is just about the perfect closing line she could have asked for.

Loyal Roman: The man who dies and dies again, as the Silence call him. Poor sod. Is that how is going to be remembered?

The Missus: Hell in High Heels is how the Doctor describes River. So it turns out that the climactic face off that we saw in The Impossible Astronaut was in fact a piece of theatre masterfully played by both the Doctor and River – him as the Tesselecta and her knowing full well that she will drain the suit of power. River breaks down at the thought of having to murder the Doctor and cannot let him go without letting him know that nobody in the universe loves him more than she does. It's shocking to think that the scene in the garden is the first time that we get to witness a proper conversation between Amy and River as mother and daughter and the chemistry between them is completely different. It's worth noting that so much time and energy in series five and six has gone into trying to convince the audience that River has a dark side and tried to murder the Doctor (she did, temporarily, but not at the point that you are told she does) when in fact she is forced into a suit which doesn't give her any choice. Couldn't the Silence have used anybody?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He always made us pour an extra brandy in case you came round one of these days.’
‘My friends have always been the best of me.’
‘She would like to go out with you for texting and scones.’
‘You embarrass me!’

The Good:
· I have a very good friend who has thoroughly enjoyed the show since it has been back on the air (the lure of Chris Eccleston as the Doctor was too much for her to resist) and we have had many wonderful chats about the show, especially in the last year with the tangled web of River Song’s timeline to unthread and comprehend. One opinion of hers is that the show cannot match the production values of American sci-fi (I think she said it has a ‘Doctor Who look’) but I cannot disagree with that more if I tried. What strikes me about American sci-fi in general is that there are standard sets that the show takes place in but Doctor Who conjures up a dazzling new environment every single week. As for the effects I think that this show is at the cutting edge of CGI with some stunning landscapes and monsters being brought to life. What I am leading to is the beginning of this episode which opens with a stunning madcap landscape that sees steam trains screaming out of the gherkin in London, cars flying in the sky and pterodactyls screaming overhead and swooping down to steal food from children looks spectacular. I wouldn’t expect better from a movie.
· Lovely details in the universe crunched into one time period – a Roman waiting at traffic lights, The War of the Roses enters its second year, Charles Dickens rewriting A Christmas Carol to fit the current temporal insanity (a superb cameo by Simon Callow), the Buckingham Senate and Silurian Doctors.
· It's always a pleasure to see Ian McNiece back as Winston Churchill and I have heard people complain about his constant reappearances but each time there has been a perfectly rational explanation for it and it gives the series a pleasing sense of continuity. He’s such a charming actor you know you are in for some delightful scenes.
· The scuttling, carnivorous piranha skulls stripping a man of his flesh is such a gloriously old school bit of camp menace that I fell instantly in love with it. For such an absurd concept they sends a chill down the spine. It’s a lovely detail to add to the legacy of the Headless Monks, beheading their victims alive and turning their skulls into vicious little vermin.
· The tribute to Nicholas Courtney’s death within the show really took my by surprise and I must have audibly sighed because Simon took my hand and squeezed it! Its beautifully done with the Doctor declaring that time has never laid a glove on him and receiving the devastating news that the Brigadier has slipped away in bed. Smith looks physically pained by the news and then a sense of euphoria sweeps over him. It’s like a universe without the Brigadier is not one that he wants to live in and he suddenly declares that he is ready to face his death. Never before has their relationship been felt so keenly and I have never wanted to hug the Doctor more than at that moment.
· We have been learning about fixed points in time and space since The Fires of Pompeii (The Waters of Mars is another great example) - actually even though they weren’t described as such the concept has been in place ever since The Aztecs when the Doctor growled ‘You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!’ It is nice to finally see the consequences if you do alter a fixed point in time – it stops and every time period exists at the same time. Absolute madness. No wonder the first Doctor sounded so furious.
· The Silence are one of the most ghoulish looking Doctor Who monsters and having visited the Doctor Who Experience in London I can report they are just as creepy in the flesh. That horrible sucking noise chills my blood and their screaming, puckered faces are enough to give me nightmares. They are easily the best monster to come out series six.
· Love the cheeky and playful version of the already cheeky and playful Eleventh Doctor’s theme when he spots the tributes to the ‘Raggedy Doctor’ in Amelia’s train cart.
· The episode very cleverly fools you into thinking the Doctor is willing to be killed and force the issue by touching River and hopping back to Lake Silencia. Bring forth the hero worship as we all admire him for sacrificing his life to put things back on track. Given the truth of who he is it is probably the most manipulative Moffatt has ever been and the most devious and I really admire him for that.
· ‘Tick-Tock goes the clock now prison waits for River…’ – everything as far back as The Time of Angels has now been explained satisfactorily in her timeline. The Doctor was the ‘greatest man she has ever known’ that River killed and the reason she is imprisoned in a Storm Cage. Very nicely done, if protracted.
· Hands up time – I didn’t guess that the Doctor was the Tesselecta the whole time even though it was staring me in the face. Neither did Simon. And whilst it was a cheat (and as a consequence so was the whole arc) it was still a surprise.

The Bad:
· One thing that really bugs me these days is that the show is a complete sell out when it comes to the episode titles. Moffat has gone on record himself saying that there are better titles for the episodes but going for ratings drawers like The Doctor’s Wife, Lets Kill Hitler and The Wedding of River Song attracts more people to the show. Is that the sort of legacy you want? Not one of integrity but one of popularity? I understand this approach even if I don’t like it and I think it’s a shame because there would be some fantastic alternative titles to these episodes. Looking at the episode listing for series six is like looking at the chapters in a soap opera.
· The LIVE CHESS sequence is brilliantly realised and looks grungy and dangerous…wasted on one scene. I bet there could be an awesome adventure set in that location.
· Is Dorium Maldovar as a head in a box a step too far? I love the actor and the character (what little we have seen of him) but I don’t know if we are straying into parody now. Mind you the ‘how bad are my injuries?’ gag is brilliant. The head in the box feels gratuitously out of place during the tribute to the Brigadier.
· ‘What’s so dangerous about my future?’ ‘At the fields of Trensalor, at the fall of the Eleventh…’ – this arc isn’t even over yet and Moffat is already preparing for the next. I hope this isn’t more false promises because we were guaranteed to witness the Doctor’s greatest fall at Demons Run (which we didn’t by a long shot) and then we were also promised his death (again false). ‘The fall of the Eleventh’ – sounds like another dreary death threat. Which it was. He's not even the eleventh Doctor, so the whole myth is nonsensical. It must have been written by a Doctor Who fan before he watched Day of the Doctor.
· Were the new scenes at Lake Silencia filmed during the American sojourn because they look like fixed close ups with unconvincing lake backdrops?
· ‘And I turned around and they were all wearing eye patches!’ – the tribute scene was lovely but once again we are plunging off a cliff into the parody universe.
· A powerful monster tries to put the Doctor out of the way as the universe comes to an end, Amy forgets all about Rory and River turns up to save the day. Comparisons with The Big Bang are fair but in context it feels completely different.
· Madame Kovarian has been one of the highlights of this year even though she has had precious little screen time. What a pity then that she should once again be reduced to a cameo and dispatched without much thought. We were promised great things with this character but they all came to nothing. I do hope we get to see her again somehow because Frances Barber is so good in the role.
· I still don’t understand why the Doctor marries River. Or whatever that pathetic excuse for a ceremony was. Was it just to give this episode its naff title?
· If you are really pernickety you could pull the logic, the continuity and the surprises of this story to pieces. But lets leave that to the people who care about such things… Mind you I have just written 3500 words on this episode but considering the fact that I reasonably enjoyed it I hope I shall be forgiven.

Should Doctor Who have such a heavily structured arc playing out over a season? Does the show lose some of its identity when telling one long story rather than individual ones? Or does the show feel out of date when telling standalone adventures without some over arcing momentum to keep viewers watching? All very good questions and I’m not sure where I fit in to it all. Series six has been such an oddity for me. At times it has touched on absolute genius (The Doctor’s Wife) and at others it has felt as if it is losing its magic because it wants to be flashy/geewhizz/smart all the time and doesn’t give itself time to breath and tell stories that allow its performers to act (because anybody can act like a smart ass). There have been some knock out shocks along the way (the end of A Good Man Goes to War and the River twist in Let's Kill Hitler certainly qualify) and the sense that the show was building to something momentous, even if the former trick you into thinking that the episodes you have been watching something more impressive than in reality and the latter is paid off disappointingly. I’m not sure that with this episode they pulled off what Moffat were promising, lots of ambition and no satisfying place to take it. Simon, on the other hand, has found himself drifting away from the series in the standalone episodes (he couldn’t bear Night Terrors or Closing Time) but was on the edge of his seat during the arc pieces (he loved the opening two parter, the middle two parter and this episode). I had the opposite effect finding the Steven Moffat scripts my least favourite of the year and wishing the show would wrap the arc so it can get on with telling good stories as it has done week in week out for over 40 years. I find that the arcs were just about perfect during Davies time with emphasis on the running storylines woven into the standalone adventures but not so much that they dominate them (the bees, the planets disappearing and Doctor/Donna were all great examples in series four). Moffat’s stories written during the Davies era are my favourites of his (the Angel two parter is the only exception) and rather than focussing on telling a good story he is far more interested in hopping about all over the place, telling non linear narratives, throwing away inspired concepts on one scene wonders and being a bit too smart (and by that I mean stylish rather than intelligent) for his own good. He’s a fantastic storyteller but seems to have gotten it into his head that a story cannot be told unless it encompasses hundreds of locations, time periods and lots cocky dialogue. Every one of his stories has stand out moments but I don’t think a single one holds together as a piece of storytelling. Whoops, I have gone well off tangent. My point is that there is so much detail that you have to keep up with in season six that if you miss one of the pivotal episodes you are pretty much screwed. There are rapid clips at the beginning of this episode trying to keep you up to speed but they go past so quickly you’ll give yourself a headache trying to take in a years worth of plot in a minute). It;s unfair on those who want to dip in and out of the series. I know plenty of people who gave up this year (hardcore fans and casual viewers) simply because the show became too unwieldy to handle and that’s a shame because there is good stuff in here. I don’t want to rant because I don’t think Doctor Who has ever looked as good as it has this year and with Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill giving stand out performances (in some places despite the material) but I just feel that the focus now needs to be on good old fashioned storytelling (some decent historicals would be nice) and less of the an obsession with the Doctor (whether that's his death or turning him into some dark avenger). Judging by the Doctor’s comments at the end of this episode (which I really appreciated) I thought that might be the case. Oh what a fool I was.

The Shallow Bit: The Doctor does look hot in that hat Simon, you’re right. The beard on the other hand is a definite no-no. And the hippy hair has to go too.

Result: What a curious beast The Wedding of River Song is (hate that title!) because it fails to be the climactic finale that was promised but it still manages to tell a reasonably enjoyable story. I remember a time when all a season finale had to be was an entertaining story so it doesn’t do anything wrong on that score but considering what we have been promised over an entire season I can understand if people found this…anti climactic. Although you have to remain alert this is a very nicely structured piece with the Doctor relaying his story to Churchill through its first half until we reach the point where all of time stops, which paradoxically kick starts our story from the point of the Doctor’s death and its aftermath. Am I making sense? Try watching the episode then! As usual Moffat is juggling 400 ideas and has seemed to have taken a gentle dose of mind altering drugs before sitting down at the keyboard but this time we are talking about the Doctor’s death (or what was supposed to be the Doctor’s death) and if weird shit didn’t coalesce around his demise it would feel as though the universe had shrugged away our hero. Besides, it is at least entertaining weird shit with some startling imagery (a steam train heading into a pyramid adorned with AREA 51 on a sun kissed desert) and imaginative world building. This is pretty much the epitome of Moffat insanity with him getting so many things spot on (goodbye Brigadier) and just as many things wrong (more promises he can't keep as we head into the 50th anniversary year) but on the whole providing a colourful and creative, if subjectively flawed, finale. Let the madness end now though and lets get back to some good drama: 6/10

The Storyteller written by Kurt Michael-Bensmiller & Ira Steven Behr and directed by David Livingston

What’s it about: Chief O’Brien is used as a pawn to reaffirm the identity of the new Sirrah…

Single Father: Sisko is swaggeringly confident about his dealings with the Nevat and the Paku which proves entirely unfounded when he realises that he is going to be handling a stroppy little Bajoran madam. I’m almost willing to bet that Ben has done plenty of silly things to impress girls when he was younger, probably with Curzon in tow. He seems very proud to hear that Jake speaks so fondly of him. 

Starfleet Ferengi: As much as I hate to promote anarchy over order I find Jake and Nog hanging out on the Promenade, flicking peas at the passing aliens and flirting with girls far more believable than that swot Wesley Crusher constructing intercom announcements out of Picard’s speeches. Nog is good at spotting opportunities and offers that gift to the girl that he fancies. When he gets a little kiss as a reward for his troubles and Nog is glowing with joy and it is a charming moment. 

Everyday Engineer: O’Brien tries very hard to keep his poker face on but this is a hearty Irishman who isn’t used to disguising his feelings and a trip alone with Bashir is about as appealing as having his pubic hairs extracted one by one with a pair of tweezers. The early runabout scene reveals just how uncomfortable the pair are in each others company which hilarious given that come the final season they will be in throes of the greatest bromance in the Trek universe. Watching O’Brien blessing a child is really funny and his discomfort at being such a recognised figure is very in keeping with his character. He likes to slip into the background and do the dirty work. The Storyteller pushes Meaney's comic talents to the fore, exposing another talented side to the actor. Is there nothing that he can't do?

GE Doctor: When Bashir asks O’Brien to call him by his first name it sounds like he is flirting with him – no wonder he finds it uncomfortable to get his mouth around it. Watch as Bashir basks in the attention that they receive thanks to O'Brien's position as the Sirrah, accepting the plenitude of gifts on his behalf! 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m not a little lady!’ 
‘Opportunity plus instinct equals profit!’
‘Where the bloody hell are those lights?’
‘Lets get out of here before they change their minds’ – at least O’Brien can see how fickle these Bajorans are!

The Good: It’s the reaction shots in the first scene that make it work so well with Sisko not comprehending why O’Brien doesn’t want to go on this mission until Bashir comes strolling in boasting his usual youthful exuberance. The caught-with-a-hand-in-the-cookie-jar look from O’Brien and the pained anger from Sisko made me laugh my head off whilst Bashir is grins away obliviously. It's nice to be in on a secret little joke between the characters. Bajor is always so bright and sunny, it makes for a visually delightful planet to visit whenever we get the opportunity. The sequences with Jake, Nog and Varis Sul see DS9 entering sitcom territory with comic play fights between the boys outside her quarters, Nog getting tongue tied in her presence and the wonderfully silly moment with Odo’s bucket and oatmeal in security. It should be painful to watch but the performances are delightful and the tone is pitched just right. Just when I was thinking that Jake seriously needs to get some trendier clothes Nog throws ‘Odo’ all over him. Every now and again Trek pulls out all the stops and produces an interior set that really impresses and I was blown away by all the nooks and crannies in this Bajoran town that the designers added for the director to film in. 

The Bad: The whole Sirrah plotline lacks punch, especially after the drama of the last two episodes. Dramatically it is well plotted and the characters all act in natural ways but it feels too lightweight and disposable to be of consequence. You get the feeling whilst watching that you will never hear from this colony of Bajorans ever again and low and behold we don’t. The Dalrock cloud is quite a menacing sight but unfortunately the actors are rather unconvincingly plastered against the effect. Frightening away a monster with good vibrations – what an odd premise! The handheld cameras come out for the sequence where Hovath attacks O’Brien (to be fair it is such a limited space David Livingston had no real choice but to film an action scene this way) and while the execution is dramatic the tone of the actors is vaguely comic and it jars. 

Moment to Watch Out For: O’Brien atop a cliff face wearing robes that make him look like Father Christmas and crying out: ‘Once there was a Dalrock! And it's here!’ Proof that DS9 could, on occasion, be as camp as all other Trek shows.

Teaser-tastic: Odo is a glass! The Kai is on the station! The leader of a group of Bajorans is a young girl! I’m not sure at this stage if DS9 has quite grasped the idea of hooking the audience in with its teasers.

Foreboding: Once again there is talk of civil war on Bajor…the pieces are moving into place for the impressive three part opener to season two.

Result: I really don’t understand why Voyager and TNG don’t highlight their subplots in the same way that DS9 does because it is the delightful Nog/Jake mischief that saves The Storyteller from being a dud. There is some fun watching the odd couple O’Brien and Bashir dancing around each other but the main plot of the episode belongs in a fairytale book and not a Star Trek episode. It's neither entirely comic or satisfyingly dramatic and falls between several stools and as the middle of three Bajoran episodes in a row it falls way short of the greatness of the two surrounding it. However with the negotiation subplot on the station this episode remains amiable enough and the Jake and Nog interaction continues to be one of this series’ most delightful surprises: 6/10