The Blue Box Blog

Emma Lou's adventures in Doctor Who fandom

Archive for September, 2012

Doctor Who: “The Angels Take Manhattan” Review

Posted by emmahyam on September 29, 2012

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE

Scream, cry, kick the house down in excitement and reach for a box of tissues its time once again (all too soon it seems) for another Doctor Who mid series finale.

And what a finale, Moffat promised us a blockbuster every week and the past four episodes certainly stuck to that promises, going into this show it seemed we were being set up for an Al Capone type noir adventure full of tommy guns and fancy cars but as always The Moff put a swerve on us. This was very much an emotional story about our core four characters of Amy, Rory, River and The Doctor with everyone else pushed out to being somewhat extraneous characters, there to get our heroes to the right place at the right time.

That seems to be my main criticism of Who these days, if you can call it one, that we never seem to have quite enough time, I wish we could have spent some more minutes with Grayle and The Weeping Angels, surely Moffat’s finest monster creation, they were horrifyingly creepy as always with those nasty little cherubs another nice, if skin crawling addition to the monsters pantheon. That being said they felt a little bit off their game here, not quite as scary or horrible as they have previously been in stories like “Flesh and Stone”. I even began to feel a tiny but of sympathy for the one Grayle had been torturing, it reminded me somewhat of the eponymous Dalek from “Dalek”. I think the Angels are something that works best if they’re kept to being an occasional treat rather than a once-a-series regular, here’s hoping we don’t see them again for a little while.

On to the main meat of the episode then, The Ponds, as Moffat promised there were tears a plenty as Amy and Rory went to happily “live to death” courtesy of the Angels, never to see The Doctor or their daughter, River again. Blimey didn’t it seem a dark prospect, not many Saturday evening family telly shows where a couple commit suicide together! It all came good for them in an odd sort of way though, they got to live a long, happy life together and Moffat gave us a wonderful coming of full circle as we finally got an explanation for that odd little moment from “The Eleventh Hour” with the young Amelia. What he takes away with one hand he gives back with the other, it was a remarkably bitter sweet but fitting ending. That’s not to say that the episode had the air of a funeral as some previous departure episodes have had, there was plenty of humour and running around to be done, I particularly liked the sniping between The Doctor and River and their behavior towards each other raised a smile from me, check out The Doctor fixing his hair before he sees River again.

Our core regulars gave marvellous performances across the board, Alex Kingston was smashing selling River’s combination of grief and happiness at the fate of her parents, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill continued their good work from the previous episodes as did the wonderful Matt Smith, being particularly effective at portraying The Doctor’s rage and loneliness as once again The Doctor is left alone, albeit with River’s warning not to stay that way for long.

So what next for the good Doctor? It’s on to the Christmas Special and once again we’ve got the prospect of an unsettled, dark Doctor left to forge on through the universe alone, The Doctor says he hates endings and while its all said and done for The Ponds The Lonely God must move on and I for one can not wait to see what adventures and scrapes he gets himself mixed up in next. Roll on December.

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Doctor Who: “The Power Of Three” Review

Posted by emmahyam on September 22, 2012

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE

Three: it’s the magic number, it’s a hat trick and according to Pythagoras it’s the noblest of all digits but what can it do for The Doctor and his companions? And more importantly what on Earth has it got to do with a plethora of small black cubes? The Power Of Three,  is an extremely good episode, that benefited from a lighter feel than the morality play of “A Town Called Mercy”. There were two story threads at work, the mystery of the cubes and the everyday life of Amy and Rory.

Chris Chibnall has come in for sometimes heavy criticism for his Doctor Who work in the past, something I touched on in my review of “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” but once again he has come up with another Douglas Adams like idea of an extermination via the medium of small, black cubes, at first bewildering as the populace search for meaning in them but then slowly they are integrated into everyday life, only when people accept them as part of the furniture that the cubes strike. It turns out that the cubes are just as avatar of the Shakri, a Timelord fairy story made real come to wipe out the plague of Humanity. Bill Hicks once memorably described people as “a virus with shoes” and it seems the Shakri feel the same way, you wonder why, with the Shakri able to perceive all of time, Earth is due for the exterminators. It struck me as a little simplistic that the episode turned into another “are humans all that bad?” argument. I wonder if this is something that we will be revisiting at some later date? Especially as humanity is supposed to spread throughout the cosmos, as seen in Series One. I hope so. It’s a shame that Steven Berkoff’s baddie felt thrown away in the speed of wrapping everything up.

Chibnall gave the viewer plenty of treats, the now traditional celebrity appearances in the shape of ubiquitous cool science guy Professor Brian Cox and perpetually grumpy Sir Alan Sugar and for long time Doctor Who fans Jemma Redgrave led the return of UNIT to the show, and it was a lovely touch that it turns out she’s The Brig’s daughter. However as I mentioned to my other half, does this mean that “Dimensions In Time” is now canonical? God forbid. The dialogue was mile a minute, almost verging into screwball comedy in some of “lounge” scenes as The Doctor, Amy and Rory affectionately yelled at each other and it was just as laugh out loud funny.

Then there’s the other side of the episode: Rory and Amy, and a glimpse into their lives. Given that the pair are soon to leave the TARDIS, this was a chance to see what they do when the Doctor isn’t around to dump an Ood in their loo and run off again. It turns out The Doctor has been in their lives for ten years, a fact that actually took me back a little, it makes you wonder just how long some of his other companions knocked around the universe with our favourite Timelord. It’s probably not surprising then that a more domestic existence has appeal and an urge to settle down permanently has arisen. we also see the consequence that Rory and Amy’s lifestyle has on the people around them. We’ve had the families of companions taken into account before, but to spend some time deepening their lives was a great move, it’s nice that Rory’s career as a nurse, a flipping good one at that, is given plenty of airtime.

Hauntingly though we got Brian Williams’ realisation of what may be ahead. It was lovely to see a parent react to The Doctor without giving him a slap, unlike previous parents, Brian believes The Doctor is worth the risk but in between some excellent comedy work that sense of foreboding lingers. Mark Williams has for me been the revelation of this mini series of  Doctor Who. In just two episodes, he’s had a real impact on me. Matt Smith was fabulous as always, like the cubes I’m beginning to take him for granted, the episode asks lots of different things of him. He shows off his excellent physical comedy skills once again and in his delivery of the dialogue, for example when he’s getting in a grump about being bored, he’s mesmeric. As well as comedy he also manages to get across things like loneliness, guilt and sadness without any of the changes seeming clunky or forced.

There was a problem with the episode, for all of it’s quality ” The Power Of Three” just had a bit too much going on, it hit a stumbling block come the end of the episode. It felt there was plenty here for a two parter, the slow invasion storyline is wrapped up ridiculously quickly in a simple “reverse the polarity” solution. That being said “The Power Of Three” was enormous fun, very much in the manner of “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” I feel kindly enough towards the sheer fun of it all to excuse the plot wobbles.

Now though begins the wait for the mid-series finale. The promised tear jerker in our series of blockbusters. This is the end of  The Three, the Doctor, Amy and Rory are apparently closer than they’ve ever been. And with The Moff around that’s a sure sign that things are about to go horribly wrong.

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Doctor Who: “A Town Called Mercy” Review

Posted by emmahyam on September 15, 2012

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE

 

Amongst the best episodes of the last series of Doctor Who was for me Toby Whithouse’s The God Complex, a beautifully made piece of television that was happy to steer the Doctor towards much darker places. Whithouse has history with Doctor Who, having also previously written School Reunion and The Vampires Of Venice. But with A Town Called Mercy, he’s put together something very rare, a Doctor Who Western which actually works, the previous attempt in the shape of  “The Gunfighters” is not an all together well regarded effort, this is a vastly superior episode.

And this is a slightly darker proposition, too. After the comparable lightness of Dinosaurs On A Spaceship, A Town Called Mercy pushes the Doctor to more uncomfortable emotional places than we’ve seen this series thus far. The cracks and strain on the Doctor are starting to show. Series 7 has demonstrated the comedy skills of Matt Smith extremely well and we also get to see his strengths when things go more serious. Smith is just terrific, his faux swagger as he asks for something strong (a cup of tea with the bag left in) while he nearly chokes on this toothpick is in wonderful contrast to his rage at Jex (him shouting at him to sit down nearly caused my eyebrows to fly off my forehead). Its also interesting to compare Jex and The Doctor, deep down they both seek the same thing.

The Doctor, being shown this reflection of himself can’t cope and does something that may make some fans uncomfortable, it takes a simple statement of “this isn’t how we roll” from Amy to bring The Doctor back to Earth and to remind us that The Doctor seeks his redemption through the actions of his friends. Gillan and Darvill are still at their best, with another unspecified period away from The Doctor our companions relationship seems once again to be on an even keel but if the episode has one major flaw its that Amy and Rory don’t get a great deal to do, this very much being a tale of The Doctor’s conflicted nature.  This being said it does bring Amy Pond a little further forward than we’ve seen her the past week or two. It also exists pretty much as a standalone piece, even though there’s the odd hint of undercurrent developing, Jex’s comments on motherhood being both touching and ominous.

The production values ate absolutely terrific, Doctor Who has taken on three different genres this series so far, and each of them has looked outstanding. That’s no small feat, and A Town Called Mercy looks the best of the lot so far. The wild west landscapes look appropriately sunblasted and desolate, A Town Called Mercy is the most cinematic of the three episodes we’ve seen this series to date.

As for the episode itself, Whithouse certainly knows his onions when it comes to westerns. He throws in a few more ingredients, too, with a sense of The Terminator in places, and a tip of the hat to the mighty Westworld in The Gunslinger with a healthy dose of humour chucked in, the horse who really prefers to be called Susan especially amusing. The early part of the episode, where he’s having fun with the genre and exploring it, is arguably when A Town Called Mercy is at its strongest, as the episode progressed I found myself wondering why The Doctor didn’t just use the TARDIS to solve the whole problem, this is addressed somewhat within the episode however its a little dissatisfying, much as in “The God Complex” Whithouse tends not to let a slightly shonky plot holes get in the way of the message he’s trying to get across.

There is a small sense for me that there was a slightly better episode that could have been made out of the mix of ingredients here. That’s not to say A Town Called Mercy is a bad piece of Saturday night telly, far from it. As it stands, though, A Town Called Mercy is a very good episode, with some excellent moments, all draped in utterly lush visuals, another success for the much vaunted “flexible format” of Doctor Who and another blockbuster delivered with confidence and appropriate Wild West swagger.

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Doctor Who: “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” Review

Posted by emmahyam on September 8, 2012

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE

Like a lot of fans, when I heard the title of this episode, I said “really? Dinosaurs… on a spaceship? What is it actually called?” but no that was the title, so amid many raised eyebrows this episode bursts forth, and how, within minutes you’ve been whipped through multiple timezones and settings at such a dizzying pace that you feel slightly overwhelmed, but that’s Doctor Who these days, keep up or turn over and watch The X Factor instead.

This may read as a criticism but it is not, with an episode this bonkers you need an appropriately bonkers start to hurl you straight in, the madness reflects the chaos that is The Doctor and the whirlwind that is his existence, but anyway on with the episode as The Doctor assembles a motley crew of an Egyptian queen, a big game hunter and the Ponds plus Dad to save a ship full of dinosaurs from being blown up by the Indian Space Agency. This is most definitely a story aimed at the family audience rather than “The Fans” but is that really a bad thing? It’s hard to be cross with an episode that is just this much fun, the humour doesn’t always hit, some of the ‘Carry On’ style jokes will have you groaning but the more subtle joking raised a laugh from me, in particular the lovely touches of the ship being powered by waves from an internal beach and the tantrum throwing useless robots, beautifully voiced by comedy duo Robert Webb and David Mitchell.

The tone is also helped along by the guest stars playing it absolutely straight, it would have been easy for them to mug at the camera, falling about and overacting but they’re extremely believable, I particularly enjoyed Amy taking on the role of The Doctor with two ‘companions’ in Nefertiti and Riddell. Our regulars are on excellent form as always with Arthur Darvill really getting his teeth into the comedy aspects, Matt Smith is great, his face is mesmerizing to watch but also subtle, check out his little smirk when he goes unidentified by Solomon’s scanner, however the stand out performance in the episode is that of Mark Williams as Rory’s Dad Brian, I think we may have found a new Wilfred Mott in him, a man obsessed with golf who carries a trowel with him at all times who in the end of the episode just wants to sit quietly with a sandwich and a cup of tea and gaze down at the Earth, wonderful.

My fears that this episode was just using the Dinosaurs was just a gimmick were quickly allayed by the clever touch of having the ship be a Silurian ark invaded by a sneering villain in the shape of David Bradley’s Solomon and here in lies some of the problem with this episode, while it’s a ton of fun while our heroes are running about the ship, riding on very nicely realised dinosaurs once it gets down the core the episode becomes less interesting, Solomon is a pretty generic baddie, all full of threats and concern only for profit and the ending is a little pat with The Doctor casually blowing up his ship. Chris Chibnall has had a somewhat checkered history with Doctor Who, writing the good but not great “42” and the underwhelming “The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood”, not to mention being largely responsible for the atrocious Torchwood series one. That being said I believe that this is his best work so far, a good, solid episode that’s lots of fun but with some nice, deeper moments being mixed in, the little exchange between Amy and The Doctor sends hair standing up on your arms and gives us some heavy foreshadowing of what is to come and I’m ever so grateful he resisted the temptation of having someone say “I’ve had it with these *expletive deleted* dinosaurs on this *expletive deleted* spaceship!”

This is a story which is most reminiscent of episodes like “The Unicorn and The Wasp” and “The Lodger”, an entertaining romp perhaps let down slightly by not having much of a plot to pin it all on to, that being said I enjoyed watching it tremendously and as a slice of Saturday night entertainment it can’t be beat, I’m very much looking forward to watching it over again to pick up the little bits of dialogue I missed. In a series where Moffat promised us a blockbuster every week this episode certainly delivers.

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Doctor Who: “Asylum of the Daleks” Review

Posted by emmahyam on September 2, 2012

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE

I’m beginning to think Steven Moffat might be some sort of  evil genius, thank goodness that The Moff has turned his mega mind to writing Doctor Who because if not, he’d have probably hollowed out a volcano and held the world to ransom by now. It’s not often that a sofa full of cynical Doctor Who fans, all of over 20 years standing, are shocked into total silence by what they’ve just seen.

We had been lead to believe that we wouldn’t be seeing Jenna-Lousie Coleman, the incoming Doctor Who companion until the Christmas episode but as always we had forgotten the mantra of Matt Smith’s tenure “Moffat Lies”. Companions have gotten out of  tight spots before, but it’ll be interesting to see how Coleman’s character, going by the name of Oswin here, manages to get out of being a Dalek, but is she even the woman we think she is? I expect we will find out soon enough but what another marvellous Moff creation, all full of snarky cracks about the Doctor’s chin and throwaway lines about sexual experimentation (“Actually it was Nina – I was going through a phase…”) there’s a deeper vulnerability there too, which makes her eventual fate in this episode genuinely upsetting.

Meanwhile back with our regulars Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan are on top form, delivering scenes of the like we’ve never seen between Doctor Who companions before. They sell the fact that the horrors that Rory and Amy have been through have both torn them apart, and left them inseparable. They’ve both actually needed each other as much all along, and only on the precipice of them splitting once and for all can Amy finally admit that to him. Those complaining about a lack of consequences from last year get something meaty to chew on here as it’s reveled that Amy cannot have any more children, heavy stuff for a Saturday evening. You also get the feeling that having reunited them, Moffat is about to put them through the ringer all over again. Matt Smith was once again brilliant as the Doctor, imbuing him with whimsy but also ancient, suspicious and struggling with guilt, look at his reactions to the Daleks throughout, he hates them not only because of what they do, not only because of what they did to him but also because of what he did to them as a consequence of his actions in the past.

I was impressed by everyone’s favourite malevolent pepper pots here, the Asylum is a genuinely unsettling, that the insane Daleks are almost being kept as a exhibition of beauty by the others as well as it being a handy prison, wrapped up in that is the implication that The Dalek’s perversely find The Doctor’s hate beautiful. Having The Daleks forget The Doctor is a wonderful idea, much like the beginning of the series in 2005 where some of the shackles of past continuity were thrown off we get to start all over again with the Daleks, opening up new story possibilities. For me this was very much Moffat’s take on the episode “Dalek” trying to inject tension and pathos back into them. If I have one complaint for this episode its that we didn’t get to see enough of the Daleks, with old models like The Special Weapons Dalek only being glimpsed in the background, it would have been amazing to see them in action again. Mind you the aforementioned sofa full of cynical old git Doctor Who fans were punching the air at the shout outs to past Dalek encounters, the worlds of Spiridon (Planet Of The Daleks), Kembel (Mission To The Unknown) and (The Daleks’ Master Plan) and Exxilon (Death To The Daleks).

It was an impressive opener, it’s a confident, ambitious, bombastic start to a big series for Doctor Who. It packs a lot in, and you can sense that there’s been a real effort to deliver the kind of one-off weekly blockbuster that we’ve been promised and we have to the Oswin questions. Amy, at one point in the episode, has her mind clouded, and sees people where there are actually Daleks. Has the Doctor fallen prey to that, too? Is that why he can hear Oswin’s voice, rather than the sound of a Dalek? How is she going to get from the inside of a Dalek to the Christmas special? Mister Moffat it’s over to you, and I can’t bloody wait.

 

 

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