Monday, 30 November 2015

Face the Raven written by Sarah Dollard and directed by Justin Molotnikov


This story in a nutshell: Finally...time for an interesting companion.

Indefinable: Yes! The cunt is back! Forgive me language but I can't help but swear when the show I love abandons something that wasn't quite working - Capaldi as a middle aged rock star Doctor - and remembers what did work so well in the previous year. It will long be remembered that the twelfth Doctor is at his best when he is a moody git and when he has a massive chip on his shoulder about something. It's quite in a way that any incarnation of the Doctor should be at their most memorable when they are in pain but when you have an actor with the gravitas of Peter Capaldi then you need to utilise him to the full. And that isn't shoving an electric guitar in his hand and turning him into an ageing hipster, it is forcing the character to face some dark situations and deal with the emotional fallout. Fear the Raven is the transition period for number twelve, taking a blissfully happy Doctor and systematically tearing down his smile and leaving him hopeless. It actually applauded, what a sadist. I love the idea that when this Doctor is trying to be nice, you have to be worried. It's a portent of doom. You can almost understand why Clara thinks she can adopt the Doctor's style and absolute belief in his ability because she has seen him make the 'I am the Doctor and I defeat the monsters!' speech ad nauseum. Well she gets her last exposure to it here, as he charges off to save Rigsy. My favourite moment in Face the Raven came when Clara asks the Doctor if he can fix it and save her and he looks at her sadly and says no. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Laugh because Clara is doomed or cry because the Doctor is facing his worst demon - hopelessness. Ultimately the Doctor is responsible for saving the Time Lords and the Doctor is responsible for saving Ashildr and so when those two things come together and generate the downfall of Clara Oswald...he is ultimately responsible for the cause of her demise too. I wonder if he will ever come to that realisation and it will break him?

Impossible Girl: Well thank goodness she's gone. I've already seen next weeks episode and I can confirm what I always suspected, that this Doctor works extraordinarily well without her. Suddenly he's on another level and it's all because his happiness with Clara has been snuffed out. The biggest joke about Clara is that one of the most important of companions (insofar as she visited the Doctor as a child, she was there to convince him to act at one of the most important moments of his life and she splintered off throughout his life and saved him in countless ways) turned out to be one of the least memorable. Perhaps if less time had been spent weaving her into the Doctor's timeline so her impact would never be forgotten and more time had been spent giving her an actual personality and a believable backstory that served as a foundation to the character it might have been sad to say goodbye. But all I felt was relief. I said above that it was almost entirely the Doctor's fault that Clara was able to die but she had her own hand in her death too, of course. She is so arrogant that she believes that there isn't anything that she and the Doctor cannot cure. Even a black mark on her soul, a death warrant scrawled in blood. And when you think about it it was Clara herself that had the audacity to change the Doctor's mind about the fate of his own people. She was the one who pushed his buttons and emotionally manipulated him into saving them. So twice over she is responsible for putting herself in the ground...both times it was through her arrogance that she is right and the Doctor's apparent defeat is wrong. I really like that. What doesn't work for me is the inference that Clara has become some kind of proto-Doctor and this is her punishment for fulfilling that role. Anybody who denies that that is what is being said in Face the Raven, the Doctor directly admits as much in Heaven Sent. Whilst the idea that she has stepped up and taken on his role might bear fruit in series eight - especially in episodes such as Deep Breath (where she had to take the reins), Kill the Moon (where he decides to step out of the action at a pivotal moment), Flatline (where he was trapped in the TARDIS), In the Forest of the Night (where she forces him to leave) and Death in Heaven (where she actually takes his name and first billing in the titles) - it lacks any truth in series nine where she has taken a massive step back and fallen into the traditional companion role. If this was what they were building up to in her final season we needed to see far more evidence that she was taking stupid risks and following her Doctorly instincts in a dangerous way for the idea to feel like it has come to a natural conclusion in Face the Raven. But the simple truth is that, a few moments aside, Clara has become inessential again in her final year (removed completely from The Woman Who Lived, swapped for a more interesting version in the Zygon two parter and beyond bland in episodes such as Sleep No More). So as I said, had this episode come at the beginning of series nine, after her breakout season last year, it would have held more dramatic weight and been bourne out of the evidence of her actions. But at the tail of this season, it feels like an empty gesture at the end of a season that hasn't needed her. I still think she would have been better off bowing out at the end of Last Christmas. Always leave them wanting more, not desperate to get rid of you. What I do want to say in her favour though, despite the repeated mishandling of the character by the writers are the performances of Jenna Coleman. Clara might be faceless so that she can practically be moulded into a different character each week (her naiveté in the opening two parter this year doesn't square up at all with her confidence last year) but Coleman manages to bring a likeability to the role that means that whilst this companion never lit my world on fire she was at least amiable. Certainly her chemistry with Peter Capaldi is palpable and never is it more apparent than throughout Face the Raven. Clara hanging from the TARDIS over London and loving the danger of it is a beautifully realised scene (given how preposterous it is) but we needed to see more of that kind of material in order for her decision to take the death sentence from Rigsy to make sense. There is another mention of Jane Austen, another half-arsed indication that Clara might be bisexual. Since this is never explored or seen as something that requires further elucidation it is another potentially interesting side of Clara that we never get to engage with. Certainly the reference doesn't make her more interesting, which I think is the idea. Clara's reaction to the Doctor's rage at being unable to save her is the one emotional beat that rung true from her. She's ironed out all his rough edges since his regeneration (practically neutering him as a result) and here he stands on a precipice again, ready to dive back into anger and despair. She's terrified at the thought of his returning to that dangerous state and makes him promise not to exact revenge because of her stupid mistake. That is probably the most selfless thing Clara has ever done. Knowing that she is going to die and protecting her friend from himself rather than raging against her own fate. At her last breath though Clara is nothing like the Doctor. She just sort of gives up.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I guess you're just going to have to be brave...'
'Everything you're about to say, I already know.'

The Good:

* Hidden streets in every city in the world that harbours aliens on the run and hiding from pain sight. It's something that would excite children and adults in equal measure. Kids because they can let their imaginations run riot as they walk the streets wondering if they are near an entrance to another world. And adults because they can get lost in the fantasy of why the aliens there and what has forced them to go into refuge. Doctor Who is one of those shows that can really thrill me with an idea alone (that springs from the classic series that was loaded with imagination and couldn't always go all the way to realising it...but the ideas were so exciting anyway) but in Face the Raven this idea is mooted, then sought and then brought to the screen with real splendour. There is a gentle feminine touch that runs all the way through Fear the Raven and it extends to the characterisation of the characters, the exploration of the ideas and the realisation of the setting. There is a gentleness to what hits the screen which contrasts brilliantly with the urgency of the situation and how the panic snowballs into terror come the conclusion.
* A tattoo that heralds the coming of the reaper (or the raven in this case) might not be an original idea (The Sarah Jane Adventures made the idea of alien scrawl on your arm terrifying in The Mark of the Berserker) but it is still a disturbing one. One that counts down the minutes until your death is the original element and it is enough to get Rigsy in a cold sweat and summon the Doctor.
* I enjoyed the Torchwood reference because there is not enough effort made to suggest that the spin offs that Russell T Davies created are still in existence. It was also a smart way to turn Rigsy's mark of death into a mystery, with disturbing flashbacks breaking through his amnesia and slowly drip feeding the audience information about his branding.
* Part of the fun of the hidden streets notion is the use of old monsters in disguise. Series nine might be a little continuity heavy in places (Daleks, Davros, Zygons and Time Lords all with their complex back stories) but this is a gentle way to tickle a fans taste buds without losing the wider audience. Judoon, Sontarans, Cybermen, Ice Warriors, Silurians and Ood all feature.
* The Raven turning to black smoke and screaming as it comes for you, sweeping through the streets and stabbing you in the back, black smoke pouring from your mouth as you expire. It's one of the more disturbing means of dispatch the show has presented in many years.
* Who are these mysterious people that have done a deal with Ashildr to procure the Doctor? In the same way that Utopia kicked off a dramatic two part finale with something a little quieter (mind you I don't think anybody could call the final ten minutes of Utopia quiet, just the first half an hour), Face the Raven is all set up for the Heaven Sent/Hell Bent conclusion to series nine. It certainly generates a great deal of questions...and curiosity. I defy anybody to not want to know more and to not want to experience the fallout of Face the Raven. The show hasn't been left in a place this gripping since the climax of Kill the Moon last year.

The Bad:
* Rigsy certainly wasn't an terrible character in Flatline but I wouldn't go as far to say that he deserved a second showing. There were certainly far more worthy candidates in series eight that could have been brought back but they don't feature in the right time period to make this story work. I was at a convention recently that featured Jamie Matheson and he admitted that there was a lot of character work in Flatline that didn't make it to the screen because of time constraints (funny because it felt like one of the best character pieces of the season) which included a scene where Rigsy and Fenton bonded over a mobile phone because neither of them had anyone to call when the going got tough. It would have been an extraordinary moment (and one that would have without doubt have made the cut had Davies been in charge - he was all character character character) and probably sold him as a character for me. I'm not saying that this wasn't a decent airing for the character because Dollard manages to give him a brand new lease of life that occurred after the events of Flatline and a life that means he needs to survive the events of Face the Raven to get back to. It makes him surviving important in a way it wasn't in Flatline (beyond being a nice guy). My point here is that although Rigsy is well handled, I still wouldn't say he is the most memorable of characters or one that it was necessary to bring back...
* ...which brings me to Ashildr. A character who conceptually it was well worth bringing back but who was so neutered and misrepresented in The Woman Who Lived that it left me associating her with the taste of bile crawling up my throat and into my mouth. A combination of Maisie Williams' flat performance (a shock after her joyful turn in The Girl Who Died) and some underwritten characterisation pushed the immortal Ashildr into the league of least memorable guest characters. It was astonishing because the idea of an immortal of the Doctor's making causing trouble throughout history was a vigorous central idea for an episode but the translation of that idea was lost to tedious pondering over the idea of immortality itself. The trouble with the return of Ashildr and Rigsy is that they didn't excite me. Quite the reverse in fact. But the upside of that is that both characters managed to surprise me in Face the Raven...not because they were suddenly vivid and alive (although Ashildr benefits greatly from her return here) but because a great deal of damage limitation has been achieved and it leaves both characters in a better position for return visits after this. I certainly would like to see Ashildr back after the dramatic events of the climax and how it leaves her and the Doctor. That does excite me.
* Essentially Face the Raven is designed to remove Clara from the series in as turbulent a way as possible for the Doctor. In a way that leaves him helpless to stop her from croaking it and out for revenge. But in order to reach that point it utilities a mystery (what did Rigsy do to earn the mark of death?) which dominates the first half and rather gets forgotten about in the second half. The answers never match the potency of the mystery as presented and the episode becomes entirely focussed on Clara making you wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place. Like I said, it was basically a stepping stone to pushing Clara on her way.
* Death takes forever in Doctor Who these days. Eccleston's Doctor making a bit of splash about the fact that he was leaving in The Parting of the Ways was fine because he was introducing a new generation of kids to the concept of regeneration. Tennant took an age to snuff it but then he was wrapping up an entire era of the show so the self indulgent whirlwind tour of everything that made it special was forgivable. Come Matt Smith's exit and we're actual pausing to destroy an entire Dalek army and making speeches. And now Clara, hardly a companion that deserves such attention, spends over five minutes preparing the Doctor for her death before walking out on the streets and meeting her maker. It goes on forever. At this rate by the time Capaldi leaves we will need an entire episode of him giving a monologue on death before he explodes into the next Doctor. Death used to be shocking, quick and gutsy on Doctor Who. Now it is the most ponderous of experience. In terms of being brave, Clara facing the raven is the show showing it's audience that death can be faced with your head held high. In terms of being dramatic, running away from the raven would have been far more effective. It depends which way you fall on the matter.

Result: Ominous, with a great sense of location and some gorgeous touches that make the overall experience a memorable one. There is a sumptuous visual element to Face the Raven that lends it a lot of presence and the way the episode starts to prickle like sweat on your back that you just cannot reach is expertly handled. The things that didn't quite work for me were Clara's death itself (don't pop on this site if you don't want to read spoilers) and the importance of the return of Ashildr and Rigsy, one of whom was a character that bombed earlier this season and the other who was a faceless element of last years strongest story. Fortunately they are both given much better treatment this time around and emerge as much stronger characters as a result. I thought the whole notion of the hidden streets was really imaginative and finding it was brought to the screen with panache, the first ten minutes are some of the most entertaining of the season as a result. And when we get there the use of old monsters in an unusual way was cleverly handled and the concept of the alien bolthole opens up storytelling possibilities for the future. I would love to see this idea used again. Clara is the most troublesome feature, just as she has been for much of the last two and a half years worth of Doctor Who. Her death winds up being as awkward and as vanilla as her life. She just sort of gives up on the Doctor's say so and walks straight into the arms of the reaper. But not before making half a dozen speeches whilst a crow that should have reached her in ten seconds stops off for lunch. Seriously...death is such a rare thing on Doctor Who now and it goes on forever (before being undone). It should have been short, sharp and unexpected rather than a ponderous and clock watching experience. When you are shouting 'just die already!' at the screen you have lost the emotional connection with the moment somehow. But then it is very hard to have much of a connection with a piece of pure cardboard. I'm being tough but in essence I am astonished how a character that had the ability to be hugely impacting wound up being as forgettable as she did (and not because the actress in the role isn't up to scratch). Clara is the ultimate vanilla companion, the average yard stick that all the others can be judged by. The build up to her death is far more impressive than the moment itself, that feeling that you cannot outrun the raven. Unsurprisingly the most interesting thing about her death is the fallout and where it leaves the Doctor, not the loss of the character itself. It's Capaldi that sells the moment (although I have to be honest Coleman is no slouch either) and his restrained rage after he has lost his best friend is a sight to see and leaves the show in an exciting, turbulent place for the future. What I think gloriously apt about Clara's death is that I have been harping on about how irritatingly clever clever and smug the character has been pitched and ultimately it is her own ego that brings her down. That's hilarious: 8/10

Saturday, 21 November 2015

ONE WEEK TODAY UNTIL THE WEDDING!

15 years together this week...I'm hoping for the best episode of the season on the wedding day. A Capaldi solo episode on...well that would be telling!


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Series Nine


The Magician's Apprentice written by Steven Moffat and directed by Hettie Macdonald

Result: Impressive moments scattered around a terribly indulgent episode, The Magician's Apprentice is possibly the ultimate expression of all of Moffat's strengths and weaknesses as a writer of Doctor Who. Huge creative ideas, individual scenes that take your breath away, a vivid Doctor and villain and moments that make you scream 'why didn't they do that before?' (especially the twist in the pre-titles sequence). Countering that you have some over generous humour (that pointless medieval sequence), few concessions to a non-fan audience (perhaps justifying the appalling overnight rating) and an episode that schizophrenically shifts tone and pace with alarming inconsistency. Moffat is one of the most fascinating writers to have ever written for the show, capable of refining what this show is all about with absolute clarity and delivering it to perfection but also capable of taking the show to places that where it cannot sustain itself and filling episodes with some of the most appalling scenes and blandest characters imaginable. He reminds me of Chris Carter over at The X-Files, both the best and the worst writer of the show he is writing for. Essentially what you have with The Magician's Apprentice is a morality tale about whether Doctor could kill Davros as a child - a bold way to open the season. The trouble is that this is only dealt with for about fifteen minutes and the slack is taken up with some of the most indulgent padding imaginable bringing our heroes (and anti-heroes) together. The plot kicks in around the 30 minute mark...and that should never be the case. This might be the first of the two parters this year but that doesn't mean you should waste the extra time that you have and still have to rush things. I don't want to be too critical though, especially when Hettie MacDonald is on board to paper over most of the cracks with her avant garde direction. She makes Missy's introduction in the square palatable despite the fact that it is completely unnecessary and if it does have some horribly unfunny moments there is a energy to the medieval scenes. However she does her best work on Skaro, giving the actors appropriate exposure and letting Capaldi, Bleach and Gomez flaunt their talents. There is certainly a confidence to how this story is presented and the second episode promises to be a fine companion piece to Genesis of the Daleks. Who would have ever thought that would come to be. The Magician's Apprentice is basically Attack of the Cybermen all over again; the opener of a season comprised of 45 minute two part stories, loaded with continuity and a little distracted in it's first episode, albeit with some tasty moments. Let's see if it dive-bombs in episode two in the same way. We're almost back where we were in the eighties, the show being made for fans: 7/10

Full Review Here: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-magicians-apprentice-written-by.html

The Witch's Familiar written by Steven Moffat and directed by Hettie Macdonald

Result: Proper old school Who done to perfection. I don't know what the wider audience will think of The Witch's Familiar but I cannot imagine a long term fan of the show not getting a great deal of satisfaction from this smart and emotional slice of classic Who. For Moffat, it is his finest stab at an episode since the anniversary, perhaps since the beginning of the Matt Smith era. I'm not blind to the talents of Hettie Macdonald's efforts, she does a lot to make the script look as impressive as possible, delivering some awesome set pieces and dialogue scenes that literally had me holding my breath. In stark contrast to last week this is a story that barely wastes a moment and plays games with the audience throughout. Clara is the only character that fails to make much of an impression but with the vivid completion of Capaldi's Doctor, a sexy and sassy Master and Davros playing mind games I am not at all surprised. And between her appalling mistreatment by Missy and her nightmare inside the Dalek casing, Moffat tortures her enough to make up for any blandest in her characterisation. I can't remember the last time I spent this much time discussing the characters in a Moffat script rather than the ideas, for once he scales back on trying to write a huge sprawling epic and focuses on the people involved and the result is an intense, disquieting and moving piece of work. The scenes between the Doctor and Davros are exactly the sort of thing I thought we would be getting on a regular basis when he took over as showrunner and it's a shame it has taken four series to get there. But now we are...more please. Don't get me wrong there is the usual Moffat trickery in here where pretty much everything is a con but on this occasion that is precisely why this all works so well...because the performances are so powerful you can believe what you are being told only to have that turning point in these characters lives snatched away. It's an extraordinary sleight of hand. Looking at the two part story as a whole I think this is overstuffed, particularly in the first episode (although the pre-titles sequences here was just as pointless) and it would have made a near-perfect 60 minute story had we reached Skaro a lot sooner. Most of the second episode is extraordinary though, and for the conclusion to top the set up is the rarest of things in any show. 8/10 for the whole piece but top notch marks for the concluding part: 9/10




Under the Lake written by Toby Whithouse and directed by Daniel O'Hara

Result: Derivative, but pacy and full of mysteries and realised within an inch of it's life. Whilst I was watching Under the Lake I was fully aware that we had seen all of this done before (the recipe is basically every base under siege story ever told with extra lashings of The Impossible Planet, The Waters of Mars and Cold War) but that didn't stop me enjoying what was essentially a firm meat and potatoes slice of Doctor Who that doesn't really put a foot wrong in its realisation. Simon made me realise something whilst we were watching together - this is essentially an extremely long winded way of putting across a piece of information that could have been dealt with in the pre-titles sequence (that the ghosts are a distress call for whatever is trapped on the sea bed) but the extra time allows us to build up some atmosphere, get to know the crew, let Capaldi do his thing and enjoy some spooky moments. Us Doctor Who fans like nothing more than a lot of exciting running around, a few mysteries and a good, creepy cliffhanger. What Under the Lake has in spades is a great deal of potential to wind up being a hugely satisfying two part story, all the elements are in place for the second episode to deliver a massive punch. More than ever since the show returned to our screens in 2005 the show is being made for it's fans, which is why you can hear the cry of delight from that quarter whilst the viewing figures from the abandoning audience at large are at an all time low. Whithouse's strongest? Let's wait until next weeks episode to determine that (the trailer looks awesome, it reminded me of the outstanding Doctor Who novel City of the Dead in some ways) but at the moment it sits way above The Vampires of Venice and but below School Reunion (which still makes me cry), The God Complex (which is one of my favourites from series six) and A Town Called Mercy (despite its reputation I still love it). What all these episodes prove is that Whithouse is an extremely versatile writer within the Doctor Who format and is foremost in my mind as a possibility for showrunner. His understanding of nuts and bolts Doctor Who with a little extra spice in Under the Lake is another notch on his belt: 7/10


Before the Flood written by Toby Whithouse and directed by Daniel O'Hara

Result: Too much blabber, not enough bollocks. A portent of the Doctor's death that leads to a discussion of him accepting the inevitable...haven't we been here before? Wouldn't it have been more dramatic to have made Clara the ghost given this episode was released around the time of the news that Jenna Coleman is leaving the show? I can sit and watch Peter Capaldi agonise over the fate of the Doctor until I petrify but if it turns out that the Doctor was the architect of this personal quandary in the first place it leaves the emotional core of the episode hollow. The sin that this episode commits is that it becomes more about the mechanics of the plot than the emotions of the characters within it. That means the plot has to be intricate and smart, not over explanatory, swindling and centred around a concept that cannot deliver a satisfactory conclusion. The bootstrap paradox by it's very nature leaves us questioning when the solution of this plot was set in motion. Aside from one death that is mildly affecting, everybody walks away from this episode unscathed and the plot ties itself up a little too tidily. My main reaction was after all the budding potential of Under the Lake was 'is that it?' And that's a shame because there are plenty of peripheral elements that do work within Before the Flood. The guest cast acquit themselves beautifully (although they are given less time to impress this week), the faux-Russian setting is original and visually stunning, the impact of the destruction of the Dam can be felt through the screen it is delivered with such drama and Capaldi once again proves that he has the nuts to be the finest Doctor since the show returned. And the ghosts continue to be a gloriously frightening prospect, even if their presence is never adequately explained. But it's all for nought if the they are hung on a narrative that sags and boughs and refuses to hold those elements aloft. This could have been a rule breaker but instead it refuses to take any real risks. Like the Davros two parter, this could easily be a gripping one hour show and with some tinkering with the latter half be a much more mesmerizing experience. Don't get me wrong, I'd rather have this story told with too much time rather than too little but the length is still not quite right. As a whole, it's okay but I was expecting a lot more. As an individual episode, Before the Flood scores points for atmosphere and individual moments but concludes this story in a limp fashion: I honestly cannot choose between 5/10 or 6/10 so you can make up your mind for me...


The Girl Who Died written by Jamie Mathieson & Steven Moffat and directed by Ed Bazalgette

Result: I haven't supped down on a crisp and sweet glass of lemonade in a while when it comes to Doctor Who, it's been all full bodied wines and black coffee. Actually with all the thigh slapping, sweat and cheering going on I guess this is more like a glass of frosty beer, straight from the fridge. For the first time ever I watched an episode with a friend, 12 hours flight time away and 9 hours apart and I'm really pleased that it was this episode because more than any other this season The Girl Who Died is the kind of sunny and witty piece of fluff where it is better to share the laughter. Our consensus was that it was the most enjoyable the series had been for some time. The new series of Doctor Who has taken on a bit of a Friends approach, where you can sum it up with a casual description. This was the one with the Vikings and robots. To describe it like that is to do the script a disservice though, which throws in some interesting curveballs and remains unpredictable and entertaining throughout. It's not often that I don't have a clue where a story is heading for it's entire length. The mood shifts in the flash of a rapier too, from comedy to drama and back again, exuding the sort of confidence I don't often see on television these days. Interesting that by ejecting all the timey wimey clever cleverness from the series for one week allows for more time for the show to breathe, for the people to come to life and for the Doctor and Clara to engage in real conversation. Factually inaccurate they may be but the Vikings were a likeable bunch and I genuinely cared about their fate. I really like the nature of this episode as well, a one part adventure with consequences that spill off into another individual piece next week. When Steven Moffat said he was going to mess about with the nature of the two part story he wasn't kidding. Some of the elements didn't come off; the Doctor's plan is genuinely naff and the chief villain of the piece is so forgettable I don't think I will remember him beyond the length of this sentence and the CGI snake isn't a patch on the one we witnessed a few episodes back. But The Girl Who Died rises above those problems by remaining so damn sunny throughout, putting a great big smile on my face and giving me moments to consider too. There's nothing quite like it in Doctor Who, which is something of a rarity these days and for that alone it should be celebrated. Especially the Benny Hill sequence. The bulk of this episode deserves a solid 7/10 but thanks to the additional weight of the last ten minutes: 8/10


The Woman Who Lived written by Catherine Treganna and directed by Ed Bazalgette

Result: 'You know what they say, big nose...' '...big handkerchief!' Noel Coward, eat your heart out. It's an observation that has been made before by myself and others - Doctor Who can survive anything (even being totally crud to the point of b-movie entertainment) but being boring. Even In the Forest of the Night wasn't dull, even if it was frequently excretal to the point of Simon and I reaching for the pause button to let off another string of expletives. And to be honest Doctor Who by it's very nature of shifting moods and genres, countless settings and times and transferable guest characters, monsters and villains is one of the few shows that rarely settles down for long enough to become dreary. So when I spend an entire episode wondering when it is going to move into first gear, I am genuinely surprised. I can see the intention of what is being attempted here, capturing the tragedy and horror of immortality in a child but something fell way short of that in the execution. Thanks to a half-arsed science fiction plot that might just count as the least substantial since the show returned in 2005, it is clear that Catherine Treganna has much more interest in writing a character piece than a Doctor Who story. What baffles me is why she didn't stick to her guns and jettison the pointless alien threat and do just that, write the equivalent of a romantic novel about a girl trapped in amber whilst time moves all around her and truly engage with the heartbreak of that theme. I'm not sure that I would find it any more appealing (because there are also huge performance and direction problems within the sequences that give Ashildr focus) but at least it would be a less schizophrenic and awkward piece. Heartless comedy in one direction, ponderous musings on the nature of an eternal life in another with the faint whiff of science fantasy drifting in under your nose, that's the essentials of The Woman Who Lived. Confident direction might have papered over some cracks but instead the inconsistent tone and uncomfortable comedy is compounded by a director who cannot bring together so many tonally jarring and disparate elements into a coherent whole. The biggest shock for me was Maisie Williams, her inability to convince in the titular role was the greatest barrier to the episodes success. Occasionally making me feel something but more often giving the impression of a child trying to play an adult, I was struck (like slap to the jaw with a wet fish) at how little chemistry she shared with Peter Capaldi. They are both strong performers so technically this should have been a recipe for gold but for the most part it felt as though they were acting against stand-ins because they couldn't both be there at the same time, when clearly that wasn't the case. The extended dialogue scenes might be well written (if sporadically a little florid) but with actors that mix like oil and water they do not play out at all smoothly. And with no atmosphere to them they fall horribly flat. Like I said, I was bored. And that was before reaching the appalling conclusion at the stocks with some crass jokes and a blink an you'll miss it attack by aliens. The rarest of things, a Doctor Who story where practically nothing worked for me at all. It's trying to be emotional but the approach is more intellectual, which doesn't surprise me in this era. Most damning of all, this was so vanilla that the appearance of Clara at the climax actually raised the quality of the piece. Utopia summed up everything this episode is trying to say in a five minute two hander between the Doctor and Jack except it was better written, better performed and far more assured. I defy you to find something new this has to say on the theme of immortality. Even Ashildr's new role as the clean up agent after the Doctor is essentially what Jack and Sarah Jane were doing in their respective series for years: 3/10


The Zygon Invasion written by Peter Harness and directed by Daniel Nettheim

Result: Considering the allegory, this lacks urgency and anger and comes across as a half-hearted attempt to make a comment on extremism and immigration. It's occasionally daring in it's hard hitting dialogue but that is never backed up by actions in the script. But what it lacks in gripping political comment it makes up for in entertainment with some nice twists, the delightful return of Osgood (with a built in excuse for her appearance) and some pleasingly scary moments. With it's location hopping and tense action there were moments when this episode reminded me of Homeland and Alias and I mean that as a compliment. It's not a comment that I could make about any other episode so the director certainly generated enough of an authentic international feel. Some of the location work has been extraordinary this year and this episode is no different in that regard. Mind you, the globetrotting does mean that we are not really connecting with this story in an emotional way. The myriad of locations and characters means that we aren't allowed to spend much time with or get close to anybody actually caught up in this struggle on either side and so there is a personal distance between the situation and the audience. But that has often been a problem with Moffat Who and I would rather take the exotic locales if it is going to be quite a inexpressive ride anyway. It starts brilliantly but loses steam before the end and climaxes on a cartoonish cliffhanger that fights the more mature tone it seems to want to engage with. The Zygons are an interesting race but this inverted invasion doesn't really have anything much to say about them beyond their terrorising ability to mimic human beings. I'm hoping for a little more detail about the race in the next episode otherwise the new series has plucked them from classic Who without giving them any kind of modernization. There's a lot I would have done differently (that old chestnut) but it's trying to do something a bit different to the usual alien invasion story (like the Silurians they're already among us) and as set up for a potentially inflammatory second part it certainly provides enough that is different to keep me interested: 6/10


The Zygon Inversion written by Peter Harness & Steven Moffat and directed by Daniel Nettheim

Result: Each Doctor has a scene where they give a performance so raw and mesmerising that it is possible that every other scene during their tenure can be judged by. For Eccleston it was his agonised turn as the war-torn Doctor in Dalek, Tennant arguably delivered his most astonishing work when pushed out of his comfort zone (Human Nature, Midnight and The Waters of Mars), Matt Smith dazzled in the quietly intimate Vincent and the Doctor and John Hurt sparkled throughout Day of the Doctor (I'm frightened at the thought of how good he would have been long term). Now Peter Capaldi has been handed what is essentially a star vehicle in The Zygon Inversion, a ten-minute monologue on the pointlessness of conflict and the need to talk that stripped away all the irritating quirks that have been bolstered on to his character this year and allowed the actor to captivate the audience in the way that only he knows how. It's quite simply astonishing. So astonishing that it rises head and shoulders above much of what the rest of the episode is doing and provides a hugely memorable climax to the piece. Capaldi is so convincing that he hands the story an ending where absolutely nothing happens...and it is all the more powerful for it. Climaxing a potentially catastrophic conflict on an intimate moment of drama is a risky business (Simon was expecting something much more showy and despite the performances couldn't help but feel let down) but for me it pays off in spades here. Which is good because this turns out to be one of the least effective invasions (remember the title of the previous episode) the show has ever presented but I guess they are admitting that ultimately this is nothing of the sort with the title. It's more The Zygon Co-habitation, although I guess that doesn't quite have the same gumption. The Zygons, whilst visually captivating, turn out to be some of the worst tacticians the world has ever seen. There are so many ways they could have caused disruption and devastation on a massive scale aside from searching for the Osgood box that I have to question whether Bonnie was genuinely invested in the idea in the first place. Davies used to stage invasions on an epic scale with flair and colour, this is a much quieter, less showy affair which for much of this episodes running time made me wonder what all the fuss was about. It's the blink and you'll miss it invasion featuring monsters that change their mind at the last minute and achieve very little. And yet within this whispered conflict there are some lovely, subtle touches and visuals and the comment that utopia never lasts forever and somebody will always come along and destroy the vision that you have fought so hard for is so achingly profound I was astonished that I had never had the point elucidated on television before with quite such clarity. What is war really for when nothing last forever? When there will always be another despot unhappy with the status quo. Why not sit down and talk instead of fighting when fighting is ultimately fruitless? A very worthy message, beautifully put across. Invasion/Inversion might just be my favourite of the year so far because despite the fact that the story as a whole is a series of missed opportunities it got me thinking and discussing the show in a brand new way. And that really excites me. What it didn't do got me thinking about a direction the show could take with a braver production team. It sounds like a backhanded compliments to say where this episode failed thrills me and maybe it is. But the fact that it took a risk (even if it didn't push it far enough) planted a real seed of interest. A fresh and original approach that doesn't quite work is still a fresh and original approach. It could be tighter with stronger characterisation and stronger in it's sentiment but it is a stepping stone to a new type of new Doctor Who - one with a political agenda and driven by anger. This is an episode that provokes discussion and gives people, fans and non fans a like, a something inflammatory to talk about and that can only be a good thing, whether you agree with its politics and the conclusions it draws or not. That and the extraordinary ten minute performance-piece from Capaldi is more than enough to weigh against the episodes flaws and deliver a confident: 8/10


Sleep No More written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Justin Molotnikov


Result: Is it better to try something bold and experimental and fail or to churn out the same old guff that you know you have a chance of getting right? Before watching Sleep Mo More I probably would have gone for the former (indeed The Zygon Inversion was an attempt at something different that only went partway towards succeeding in it's goal) but now I'm starting to wonder if I have had it wrong. Over the past two years it has been the two episodes that pushed the envelope the most that have impressed me the least; In the Forest of the Night and Sleep No More. Gatiss' approach baffles me because he has taken what is essentially a simple story and butchered it with a found footage narrative device and turned it into a frustrating puzzle piece that bewilders and leaves a nasty taste in the mouth when you realise the reality of the nature of the episode. He's forgotten to include characters that might make this a worthwhile experience. He's neglected to include one line of dialogue that might engage with this viewer and bring the shaky premise to life with some significance. I'm a massive fan of the found footage horror genre (when a new movie comes out to employ this technique my friend Kate and I get terribly excited) and was extremely turned on by the premise (as I'm sure Steven Moffat was) and I am baffled how something with so much potential can turn out to be so vacant and devoid of interest. Losing the title sequence and music sounds like a good idea in theory but perhaps I am more of a traditionalist than I previously thought because it felt like a lesser piece for their absence. Sleep No More wants to hit you with a wham bang twist ending but it just leaves you scratching your head and feeling thick as shit as if you've missed something that was never there in the first place. It would be like an Agatha Christie novel climaxing with the reveal of a murderer that hasn't been mentioned or alluded to throughout. I like the idea of the bad guys winning for a change but pulling the rug from under the audience in such a deceptive way is inexcusable. Sleep No More should have been all atmosphere, it should have pushed the horror content of the show to its limit, it should have taken hold of a tired format and revolutionised it in a way only Doctor Who can. It should have been brave. I seem to be saying that a lot this year. Before the Flood could have been tragic, The Woman Who Lived could have been heartbreaking, The Zygon two parter could have been much more daring in it's handling of it's politically inflammatory content and Sleep No More could have been absolutely terrifying. Braver decisions are needed. This is a show that is losing its pulse. Let's not turn this into the season that could have been. Unbelievably almost completely devoid of engaging material, an astonishing admission given the head start this episode had. If this review is full of hyperbole that is because frankly because getting het up about how dull this was is just about the most interesting thing you can say about it. I can't say I wasn't warned not to watch: 2/10

Sleep No More written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Justin Molotnikov


This story in a nutshell: I don't want to put myself through it again for the review...

Indefinable: Poor Peter Capaldi. He's practically holding this show up with his bare hands at the moment, finding nuggets of gold in some pretty unremarkable episodes. But he's fighting a losing battle with Sleep No More. Did the Doctor really visit Le Verrier space station? Was the footage real? Does anybody care? What shocked me was just how functional the dialogue between the Doctor and Clara was. It was painfully bland, standard Doctor/companion material 101. It could literally be transferred from any other set of regulars without changing a single line, that's how lacking in individuality and personality it was. What was even more telling was the way this episode was shot and how it shone a shocking new light on the twelfth Doctor and Clara. Take away the flashy editing, soft lense work and music and expose Capaldi and Coleman to handheld shots with extended pauses and they are left looking utterly uncharismatic and awkward. Which is perhaps not the best light to shine on your stars. Capaldi tries to injects some urgency into the revelatory dialogue but this isn't a script that is interested in exploring it's concepts, simply to throw the ideas at you and get on with more running about. He's trying to dramatise vacant dialogue. When the show can't even rely on Capaldi to bring it to life, perhaps the best actor to have ever played the Doctor then there is something fundamentally wrong with the approach the show is taking.

Impossible Girl: Duller than a dull thing with knobs on. Just leave already. I'm growing increasingly bored of Clara and am starting to wonder why she wasn't written out in Last Christmas when she was originally supposed to. I think I would have thought much more of the character had she gone out on that high. The situation rather reminds me of a frequent problem that occurs over at Big Finish where the creators of Doctor Who audio enjoy working with a particular actor/actress so much (in particular I'm talking about India Fisher and Philip Olivier) that they keep using their characters long past their ability to generate decent stories. The result? A character that everybody remembers for sticking around too long and dragging out their story, characters that would have had a much more memorable, truncated run. Always leave them wanting more, never leave them wanting less. I can understand why Steven Moffat wanted to keep Coleman around for another season, if she has hardly set the audiences world on fire Clara has at least become a recognisable figure and has comfortably bedded herself into the series. And for Coleman it is the security of another years work and an unwillingness to part with a character that has put her on the map. But I have seen very little material that justifies Clara's extended use, in fact if anything I would say that after a reasonable showing in series eight she has regressed in interest and personality to the sort of bland non-entity she was in her time with Matt Smith's Doctor. Coleman is likable but that isn't enough, Clara needs to exhibit some kind of personality, bring some kind of drive to the stories, to leave her mark with the sheer strength of her character. Instead she oftens blends into the background leaving very little in the way of an impression. I couldn't fathom Gatiss' approach with her character in Sleep No More, if this is a piece of fiction then there was a the perfect opportunity to have some fun with the character but even Rasmussen could not assemble this footage in a way that made Clara seem interesting.

The Good:
* I rather like the song 'Mr Sandman.'

The Bad:

* Here is a brief synopsis of this episode or at least my take on it: Rasmussen creates a technology that deprives people of sleep that goes tits up and transforms those who are exposed to the technology into Sandmen. They aren't just blobs of sleep dust but can effectively turn into anything. They want out of the technology and to spread into the solar system. They lure a rescue team into a trap on Le Verrier. The Sandman who has taken on Rasmussen's form constructs a narrative out of the footage on the station to spread the virus and turn everybody in the Solar System into Sandmen. The bad guys win. My question is this...how can you take hold of a synopsis as dramatic as that and produce a script as tedious as this? How can you gut a story that is potentially full of drama of practically any worth? Answers on a postcard please, Mark Gatiss and Justin Molotnikov. Or if you would like my more detailed take on the matter...
* I appreciate the show attempting to take on a fresh visual style. I have been highly complimentary about the location work this year and some of the more potent direction, it has been an extremely polished season on the whole. Sleep No More attempts to be ambitious visually with most of the episode being shot from the POV of one of the characters and via security footage, a bold idea utilising lots of handheld camerawork that brings to mind the look and feel of series such as 24 and Battlestar Galactica. As far as I can see though the director failed in his mission to bring this footage to life with any urgency. Much of the episode was paceless, ponderous and lacking drama. It took characters that were already lacking substance and left them exposed them as little more than monster fodder. There were lingering shots on the drab sets and the lighting failed to generate any menace. Also the disclosure of the sleepy gunk monsters was a massive mistake. I haven't been this embarrassed to see a monster in long shot since Nightmare of Eden. Like the Mandrels these nasties should have been kept to the shadows throughout. They lumber about even more precariously than the Fisher King and reduce the episode to something of a farce. It's all very trying to convince us that a monster is frightening but when the evidence of our own eyes screams otherwise it's a rather fruitless affair. Some people have observed that this had the feel of a computer game with it's multiple angles and POV shots. You're right, it does. But I don't play computer games and I don't watch Doctor Who to emulate their style...especially when the way the show is usually shot is much more effective.
* Victory of the Daleks. Cold War. The Crimson Horror. Robot of Sherwood. What do these episodes have in common aside from being unreservedly bland? Lack of characters. Oh there are people who feature in them...but they are shells of characters without essence or personality. It's a common problem to report in the Moffat era, a stress on story over character and it's why so many of his episodes lack the re-watch factor. If you don't care about anybody then what is the point of watching? You might find fault with The Unquiet Dead and The Idiot's Lantern but you cannot deny that they had heart and at the centre of both stories were vivid, defined characters. But that was Davies' speciality and clearly he gave both scripts a spring clean. Sleep No More is the worst example yet, even worse than Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS for facelessness. These are grunts, not characters. We even get a spec which says as much. The actors must have read the script and scratched their heads at how to bring any kind of presence to these people. I don't know who these people are, where they have come from, where they are going...or why I should give a shit if they live or die. The inference is that things have been edited in a particular way so it is very possible that for the benefit of dramatic effect Rasmussen omitted all the scenes that shone some light on their personality. But I doubt it. Half the battle for this kind of survival contest is making us care about the people who are being hunted. I was longing for them all to be slaughtered as soon as possible so we could get on with something else. The jigsaw puzzle POV approach hampered things even further, switching viewpoints made it impossible to focus on any one character and follow their development. One character was entirely defined by the use of the word 'pet'. Yep, this is sophisticated stuff.

* I think Reece Shearsmith is genuinely good actor. He's proven his versatility time and again in his worked with the League of Gentlemen and more recently in his superb anthology series Inside No 9 but something went disastrously wrong with his performance here. The part was underwritten for sure but there is something about the pressure of this episode that demanded a grander performance than he delivered. It's too subtle by half and as such I found the central villain of the piece too mild and lacking in menace. It wasn't until the final scene that he made any real impression on me at all and that was entirely down to the work of the special effects team. The vanilla villains (The Fisher King, the Space Viking, the Lion Man) of series nine have another member on their team.
* Monsters that are made out of the evolved gunk in your eye. We're really scraping the barrel now. Creatively, I mean. Visually certainly.
* What was the point of the truncated language of one of the characters? It was introduced but never explored. It made the character sound faintly retarded for no reason, which felt like a bit of an insult. I think it was just another quirky idea thrown into the mix without much thought. Gatiss is much better than this. Seriously, go and read Nightshade.

Result: Is it better to try something bold and experimental and fail or to churn out the same old guff that you know you have a chance of getting right? Before watching Sleep Mo More I probably would have gone for the former (indeed The Zygon Inversion was an attempt at something different that only went partway towards succeeding in it's goal) but now I'm starting to wonder if I have had it wrong. Over the past two years it has been the two episodes that pushed the envelope the most that have impressed me the least; In the Forest of the Night and Sleep No More. Gatiss' approach baffles me because he has taken what is essentially a simple story and butchered it with a found footage narrative device and turned it into a frustrating puzzle piece that bewilders and leaves a nasty taste in the mouth when you realise the reality of the nature of the episode. He's forgotten to include characters that might make this a worthwhile experience. He's neglected to include one line of dialogue that might engage with this viewer and bring the shaky premise to life with some significance. I'm a massive fan of the found footage horror genre (when a new movie comes out to employ this technique my friend Kate and I get terribly excited) and was extremely turned on by the premise (as I'm sure Steven Moffat was) and I am baffled how something with so much potential can turn out to be so vacant and devoid of interest. Losing the title sequence and music sounds like a good idea in theory but perhaps I am more of a traditionalist than I previously thought because it felt like a lesser piece for their absence. Sleep No More wants to hit you with a wham bang twist ending but it just leaves you scratching your head and feeling thick as shit as if you've missed something that was never there in the first place. It would be like an Agatha Christie novel climaxing with the reveal of a murderer that hasn't been mentioned or alluded to throughout. I like the idea of the bad guys winning for a change but pulling the rug from under the audience in such a deceptive way is inexcusable. Sleep No More should have been all atmosphere, it should have pushed the horror content of the show to its limit, it should have taken hold of a tired format and revolutionised it in a way only Doctor Who can. It should have been brave. I seem to be saying that a lot this year. Before the Flood could have been tragic, The Woman Who Lived could have been heartbreaking, The Zygon two parter could have been much more daring in it's handling of it's politically inflammatory content and Sleep No More could have been absolutely terrifying. Braver decisions are needed. This is a show that is losing its pulse. Let's not turn this into the season that could have been. Unbelievably almost completely devoid of engaging material, an astonishing admission given the head start this episode had. If this review is full of hyperbole that is because frankly because getting het up about how dull this was is just about the most interesting thing you can say about it. I can't say I wasn't warned not to watch: 2/10

Monday, 9 November 2015

The Zygon Inversion written by Peter Harness & Steven Moffat and directed by Daniel Nettheim


This story in a nutshell: Ten minutes of gold surrounded by a lot of problems...

Indefinable: Despite the fact that I will suggest elsewhere that Peter Capaldi gives is most assured and memorable performance in The Zygon Inversion (which he does but it is contained within a gobsmacking ten minute acting set piece), he does still face some of the smug quirks that have held him back the rest of the year. A terrible American accent, walking away from a lane wreck without batting an eyelid and brandishing those hideous sonic sunglasses again. Less of that please because the best of what we see here is the best that the Doctor has ever been. And 51 years after his first reveal that is an extraordinary statement to make. It's astonishing that we have spent the last season and half with Capaldi and Coleman and yet this material sheds new light on what they can deliver, performance wise, in a very refreshing way. Trust the Doctor to even make his conflict deterrents over complicated - four functions? Capaldi must have salivated when he read the second half of this script. Even his staunchest of critics this year who have suggested that he hasn't been offered material worthy of his talents have to shut the hole in their faces. People like me. The Doctor's reaction to the futility of war and the need for conversation over adversity is so striking and raw, I don't think the point has been clarified this perfectly in the past five decades. It boils away all the quirks and gets to the heart of what the Doctor is all about in a fashion so riveting (it's essentially all down to Capaldi) that I can't imagine it ever being bettered.

Impossible Girl: Both something of a missed opportunity AND a fascinating turn by Jenna Coleman. Both of the regulars are given rare opportunities in this episode, far out of their comfort zones as the Doctor and Clara. What baffles me is that if Jenna Coleman can be this riveting to watch...why is she stuck playing the ceaselessly vanilla (if likeable) Clara? Imagine a darker, less perfect version of Clara in the Bonnie mould (kind of what we got in Dark Water but not just when she is in the throes of depression) full time? How much more interesting would that have been. Bonnie is cold, calculating, intelligent, ruthless, thoughtful...and Coleman runs with it. It's quite a feat because evil doppelgangers can bring the worst out in actors and yet she resists the chance to descend into moustache twirling villainy and instead creates a fully formed character that is so distinct from Clara that it exposes her versatility as an actress better than her usual role ever has. As a showcase for Coleman, this is extraordinary. As an example of what a missed opportunity Clara has been, it's quite a painful watch. I also question the psychological intensity of the Clara/Bonnie scenes which are mere pin pricks when they should have gone for the jugular and been much more probing and disturbing. I might have tackled Clara's alleged bisexuality in these scenes, I would have had Bonnie stop her heart and enhance that feeling of claustrophobia and I would have used the exchanges as a chance to tell us more about Bonnie as a character. The idea is sound, they just don't do much of interest with it.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Why can't I just live?' Bravo for that line. Bravo for giving the non-violent immigrants a sympathetic voice.
The entire speech by the Doctor...which would take far too long to quote. Rather than reading it here just go and watch it again. The words on the page cannot do justice to the skill in which they are brought to life by Capaldi.

The Good:
* One of my major complaints about The Zygon Invasion was that the overall view of the Zygon immigrants was very one sided with only the extremists being represented and behaving in an appalling way. This is immediately rectified in Inversion and I really appreciated the scenes of the peaceful Zygon being forced to metamorphose and expose himself to the rest of humanity. It is a not-very-subtle way of showing how the few make life extremely uncomfortable for the many. Just because one foreigner is shown to be a terrorist, it doesn't automatically mean that everybody with the same nationality living amongst us are and yet they are tainted as monsters all the same by a people that cannot differentiate. It's a shame that there was a complete non-reaction from the kids watching him transform because that strikes me as not only a major aberration (that sort of thing happens all the time in London, does it?) but also the episode ducking the chance to make a major comment on the paranoia of the British and how they would become violent and suspicious amidst racism. It ducks the approach to hold up a mirror to humanity and show the ugliest side to our nature, which is a crying shame. Although his committing suicide rather than face the wrath of a people that cannot accept his nature is very powerful.
* The Osgood box is essentially the opposite of the Osterhagen Key from Journey's End. That was a genuinely destructive piece of hardware encapsulating the most extreme reaction to a world gone to hell. The Osgood box inverts that, an concept to keep the peace posing as a piece of hardware holding the solution to a world gone to hell. I'm not sure either are entirely convincing in real life terms but they both provoke some strong drama and work within the terms of their narratives.
* 20 million Zygons exposed, it's a fascinating new take on the standard invasion notion. So strong I almost wish they had had the guts to go through with revealing them and forcing the show to make a comment on the reaction of a world that learns that aliens are among us... It would probably be something like the reaction to the ghosts as Cybermen in the series two penultimate episode, abject terror. But how much more interesting would it be to see 20 million peaceful Zygons exposed? How far would our humanity extend to these non-violent immigrants? It's a fascinating prospect...
*...and yet the ending of this episode is so powerful in it's implications of nothing happening to change the status quo it justifies its decision not to expose them.
* For the first time since her conception Kate Stewart is written as a person rather than a series of one liners. She's allowed to display genuine sentiment and not just sass. Is that because somebody else is writing for her aside from just Moffat? Very possibly.
* Ingrid Oliver gives another gorgeous turn as Osgood in what is turning out to be one of my favourite original recurring characters from the Moffat era, weighing in against an awful lot that I have grown tired of. My only problem with Osgood comes at the end of the episode where Moffat cannot resist by reset the situation so we have two versions of the same character back in action - he cannot bear to lose a single character, can he? I know it is technically a different person but essentially the status quo has been restored in every way and that's a little too tidy for my tastes given how catastrophic this situation was posed. And I rather liked the psychological angle of Osgood having to cope without her doppelganger. 

The Bad:

* I mentioned in the last episode that it could be potentially awkward to feature a possible plane crash in any piece of fiction because you never know what might be coming up next in the news. Allow me to quantify that statement. In the wake of a devastating plane crash amid political scandal to see two characters walk away from the devastating wreckage of a fictional planet crash in such a cartoonish fashion is a bit awkward. It's bad timing and the fact that this episode aired amidst the mysterious circumstances of a genuine disaster is unfortunate and impossible to predict. It does make me wince a little though, and probably always will. In essence it reminds me of the opening episode of The Lone Gunmen which featured a plan to bring down the Twin Towers with a plane just six months before that shocking event happened for real. In an episode that is purporting to look at conflict through mature eyes, this is pretty crass and unconvincing stuff.
* The Clara/Bonnie material was potentially probing but far too surface level and gutless to truly get under the skin of either character. For a story that wants to present Doctor Who as more than just science fiction, The Zygon Inversion avoids the chance to tackle Clara in a psychologically disturbing way. And I think that is because she essentially a surface level character and always will be. You can't scratch too deep beneath the surface because ultimately she is hollow. Quips and concepts, rather than personality and character. That's what Clara is And that's what this material is. So whilst I appreciate the claustrophobia of the visuals (Clara trapped in her own flat is a compressing experience), these scenes quickly run out of innovation and steam.
* Did Rebecca Front's character die? Did I miss something? Dropping her from the action all of a sudden is very strange. What a thankless role for such a great actress.

The Shallow Bit: Coleman as Bonnie; what is it about an evil companion that is so damn hot?

Result: Each Doctor has a scene where they give a performance so raw and mesmerising that it is possible that every other scene during their tenure can be judged by. For Eccleston it was his agonised turn as the war-torn Doctor in Dalek, Tennant arguably delivered his most astonishing work when pushed out of his comfort zone (Human Nature, Midnight and The Waters of Mars), Matt Smith dazzled in the quietly intimate Vincent and the Doctor and John Hurt sparkled throughout Day of the Doctor (I'm frightened at the thought of how good he would have been long term). Now Peter Capaldi has been handed what is essentially a star vehicle in The Zygon Inversion, a ten-minute monologue on the pointlessness of conflict and the need to talk that stripped away all the irritating quirks that have been bolstered on to his character this year and allowed the actor to captivate the audience in the way that only he knows how. It's quite simply astonishing. So astonishing that it rises head and shoulders above much of what the rest of the episode is doing and provides a hugely memorable climax to the piece. Capaldi is so convincing that he hands the story an ending where absolutely nothing happens...and it is all the more powerful for it. Climaxing a potentially catastrophic conflict on an intimate moment of drama is a risky business (Simon was expecting something much more showy and despite the performances couldn't help but feel let down) but for me it pays off in spades here. Which is good because this turns out to be one of the least effective invasions (remember the title of the previous episode) the show has ever presented but I guess they are admitting that ultimately this is nothing of the sort with the title. It's more The Zygon Co-habitation, although I guess that doesn't quite have the same gumption. The Zygons, whilst visually captivating, turn out to be some of the worst tacticians the world has ever seen. There are so many ways they could have caused disruption and devastation on a massive scale aside from searching for the Osgood box that I have to question whether Bonnie was genuinely invested in the idea in the first place. Davies used to stage invasions on an epic scale with flair and colour, this is a much quieter, less showy affair which for much of this episodes running time made me wonder what all the fuss was about. It's the blink and you'll miss it invasion featuring monsters that change their mind at the last minute and achieve very little. And yet within this whispered conflict there are some lovely, subtle touches and visuals and the comment that utopia never lasts forever and somebody will always come along and destroy the vision that you have fought so hard for is so achingly profound I was astonished that I had never had the point elucidated on television before with quite such clarity. What is war really for when nothing last forever? When there will always be another despot unhappy with the status quo. Why not sit down and talk instead of fighting when fighting is ultimately fruitless? A very worthy message, beautifully put across. Invasion/Inversion might just be my favourite of the year so far because despite the fact that the story as a whole is a series of missed opportunities it got me thinking and discussing the show in a brand new way. And that really excites me. What it didn't do got me thinking about a direction the show could take with a braver production team. It sounds like a backhanded compliments to say where this episode failed thrills me and maybe it is. But the fact that it took a risk (even if it didn't push it far enough) planted a real seed of interest. A fresh and original approach that doesn't quite work is still a fresh and original approach. It could be tighter with stronger characterisation and stronger in it's sentiment but it is a stepping stone to a new type of new Doctor Who - one with a political agenda and driven by anger. This is an episode that provokes discussion and gives people, fans and non fans a like, a something inflammatory to talk about and that can only be a good thing, whether you agree with its politics and the conclusions it draws or not. That and the extraordinary ten minute performance-piece from Capaldi is more than enough to weigh against the episodes flaws and deliver a confident: 8/10