Monday 26 October 2015

The Woman Who Lived

Musings from the Mind of MetalOllie - Doctor Who - The Woman Who Lived After a comparatively weak episode last week, I had hoped that The Woman Who Lived might prove a little more substantive. So did it live up to expectations? Well...
The episode opens with The Doctor meeting Ashildr, who, posing as a highwayman is in the middle of robbing a stagecoach that conveniently happens to be carrying an alien artefact which, with the assistance of his newly acquired (just in time for a Xmas toy) "curio scanner", he has been tracking. Why he wants it is never properly explained, although I suspect it is simply to prevent anyone from using it. The scene is somewhat spoiled by the male voice that Ashildr projects. Aside from the limp explanation that she "practiced" how to do it, the lip syncing is utterly atrocious. She barely remembers using the name Ashildr, referring to herself as simply "Me".
The direction and photography on the opening scenes, and throughout the episode are, frankly, beautiful, as the shot below demonstrates. The costume department have outdone themselves, and the characters look rich and vibrant.

Strictly speaking, The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived aren't a two part story, and so, given this episode doesn't directly follow immediately its predecessor, it makes the Doctor's meeting of Ashildr a little too coincidental for my liking. Nevertheless, meet, they do, and with the stagecoach disappearing into the distance, they set off in pursuit of the artefact. A spot of breaking and entering, and it is swiftly retrieved, whereupon the Doctor remarks that it resembles the Eyes of Hades.
On arriving back at Ashildr's residence, The Doctor finds out how the past 800 years have treated the young woman. It transpires that being immortal is more of a curse than a blessing, a theme which The Five Doctors briefly touched upon. Ashildr has seen loved ones, including her own children die, and feels trapped within her life. Williams' portrayal of anger and bitterness juxtaposed with a playful, almost reckless attitude to life is to be commended. It is somewhat strange that, in 800 years, Ashildr has found no one, including her own children, to be worthy of immortality, by utilising the second bio-chip, although it is conceivable that her own experience tells her that imbuing someone with the prospect of eternity is a gift one would not bestow on a loved one, as an act of kindness.
Once again, we are treated to a disposable "monster of the week", one so instantly forgettable that I had to Google what he was; a Leonid, with self illuminating eyes, and an inexplicable ability to breathe fire. As a side note, it is interesting that, again, eyes appear to be a running theme, both with the glowing eyes of the Leonid, and the with the references to the Eyes of Hades. Rufus Hound compliments the episode with a bawdy portrayal of fellow highwayman, Sam Swift, although it is his soliloquy on his desire to live which has the most impact, and is much more effective than his gallows humour.

Unfortunately, there is, yet again, no discernible plot of which to speak.  This is very much a character piece, one which continues explores the ramifications of the Doctor's actions and echoes the cafe scene from Remembrance of the Daleks as he contemplates the ripples and tidal waves he leaves in his wake.

It transpires that Leandro the Leonid (seriously, who named this bloody thing!) plans to use the amulet to open a portal to another reality, to return to his people, and in order to do so, someone must die. The Doctor explains that this is due to the fact "every death is a fracture in reality"  (Huh? Since when? 7 billion people on earth alone, with thousands dying every day.. reality should not only be "fractured, but completely buggered by now!). Sparing the life of her servant, Ashildr opts, instead, to use the imminent death of Sam Swift to execute her plan. How she plans on travelling through the open portal is never explained.

For no apparent reason, as soon as the portal is opened, alien ships start firing on Earth. In order to close the portal, Ashildr uses the spare medical repair chip from the Mire's helmet, to revive Swift, and in turn, save the crowd from being zapped into oblivion.

The humour in the story is decidedly hit and miss. Jokes about being "well hung" have absolutely no place in Doctor Who. I know television series evolve, and times change, but honestly, could you envisage anyone in the Hartnell era making puerile jokes about genital size? Tregenna seems to have forgotten that she isn't writing an episode of Torchwood. Doctor Who is a family show, and tawdry lines like this do nothing but cheapen the series.

Asinine humour aside, there are some genuinely touching moments between The Doctor and Ashildr, as they pontificate on their respective mortalities, the impact of longevity, and the losses they have to endure. In doing so, it was nice to hear Captain Jack Harkness get a mention, and as the Doctor warns Ashildr of the events to come in her own future, Terileptils also get a namecheck when the Doctor recounts the Great Fire of London, a nice reference to the Fifth Doctor story, The Visitation.

The final scene sees Clara, who has spent the episode taking her pupils to a Taekwondo class, back aboard the Tardis, where she shows the Doctor a photograph of a child he had helped with their homework. The Doctor's eyes are soon drawn to the young woman in the background; Ashildr, who has, presumably been lurking around in the vain hope of being photographed at Coal Hill School.
Capaldi is, as usual, on fine form, and Maisie Williams proves to be competent, delivering every line with a believable conviction. Perhaps my main issue with the casting of Williams is that she looks much too young. The scenes with her kissing Swift felt rather uncomfortable, and she doesn't quite have the physical gravitas to portray someone who has lived for 800 years. She makes up for this, somewhat, with her delivery, but nonetheless I found it slightly jarring.

Overall, The Woman Who Lived is an incredibly lacklustre episode. The constant foreboding and subtext of Clara's imminent demise have gone past the point of wearing thin. We get it; she's leaving. Probably dying. It doesn't need hammering home every bloody week. If Clara is about to pop her clogs, any meaning or depth will have been eroded by the omnipresent sense of impending doom. Character deaths work best when least expected. Whilst I didn't care for Danny Pink, his death was shocking, and had meaning. The most obvious example is, of course, Adric, whose death had a real impact at the time.
Stunt casting does not a good story make. It needs substance, and The Woman Who Lived is sadly lacking in that department. As a character piece, it works reasonably well, but as an adventure it falls rather flat. It's an episode of "banter", "deep and meaningfuls", some running around, and an alien who just happens to be present. It isn't "In the Forest of the Night" bad, but, for me, at least, it's a dreary episode, with no discernible storyline or plot, punctuated by superlative dialogue. That's an odd, disconcerting combination to say the least.
I have to be honest, despite some stellar acting and strong, emotive dialogue, this one did nothing for me. I struggle to relate to Maisie Williams' character, even given her acting ability. The plot is weak, and the resolution even weaker. The story does pose some interesting questions, particularly how Ashildr knows so much about The Doctor. She refers to  him as "the man who runs" echoing Davros' description of titular Timelord from The Witch's Familiar. We now now know that Ashildr will return later in series nine, and so I suspect this will be addressed then. It will be interesting to see how Ashildr develops as a character, particularly with several hundred more years of life experience.
Scoring the episode is tricky. Superb performances and well crafted dialogue between The Doctor and Ashildr should have made this one of the highlights of the season. A decent plot and a credible alien threat would have elevated it much higher than the 5/10 I'm awarding it. A lot of style, but unfortunately, very little substance.

Monday 19 October 2015

How Do You Solve A Problem Like a Muslim..

I dislike Islam. Does that make me a racist, "Islamophobic" or a bigot? I don't think so. I don't like Christianity either. Or Judaism. Or Scientology. Or any other religion. On the other hand, I have no problem with Muslims, Christians or Jews. Scientologists are some thing of an exception, as they aren't a religion, despite their claims to the contrary, or their designation by various Governments; they are bunch of dangerous, money hungry fruitcakes! Similarly, I have no time for Creationists who posit that the earth is 6000 years old, and that humans happily rode around on Stegosauruses, while trying to figure out how to rub two sticks together and pondering which apples would have them banished to the Land of Nod.

This post isn't about religion per se. It's about bigotry, hence my opening statement. Having seen a few tweets on the subject of racism, Islamophobia and general assholery, I was inspired to lay down my thoughts on the subject. 

I see, time and again, people who are critical of Islam or Muslims being labelled as racist. And it irritates me. Islam, as with all religions should be criticised.. Its claims and morals should be held up to scrutiny. As should every religion and it's belief structure. Criticism of Muslims, however, is a different kettle of fish.

In the most simplistic terms, hatred of Muslims is categorically not racism. Something you can convert to, or, as per Islamic beliefs, revert to, is, by definition, not a race. Race is determined by genetics. 

When I look at far groups such as English Defence League, I see a bunch of knuckle-dragging, bigoted racists. When I look at Britain First, I see exactly the same, in smart suits. They are prejudiced against Muslims, and it is DRIVEN by racism. I think it's a safe bet that the vast majority of people who hate Muslims ARE racist. It is perfectly possible, however, that some of the people who hate Muslims do so solely on the basis of their religious beliefs, rather than the colour of their skin. Let's not forget, there are a small, but growing, number of white Muslims. Would a far right, white individual who hates a white Muslim be guilty of being a racist? Of course not! Similarly, and quite recently, there has been an incident with a black person verbally abusing a black Muslim. Again, would we consider this as racism? Not if you have a rational mind. That doesn't excuse or diminish this sort of bigotry.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not defending any of these clowns. A bigot is a bigot, regardless of whether their views are formed on the basis of race, religion, sexuality or gender. They are all as bad as each other. But to apply blanket labels such as "racist" is wrong, and diminishes true racism. This is one of the reasons I find terms like "Islamophobia" somewhat disingenuous. A phobia is a an irrational fear, and whilst there are, undoubtedly, some who genuinely do fear Muslims, "phobia" rather diminishes the bigotry behind the hatred. The same is true of homophobia. These are terms we have come to accept and understand, but that doesn't mean they are apposite. Let's call both what they really are; not phobias, but pig-ignorant bigotry and prejudice. 

The media does little to unite people of different races OR faiths. When an atrocity is committed in the name of Islam, people always, without fail, ask where the moderate Muslims are, condemning their actions. And the answer can be found on social media, where the vast majority are literally screaming down the actions. Right wing media seldom gives them a voice, as it doesn't fit with their narrative.

So, how DO you solve a problem like a Muslim? Simple, really. You don't. If you think Muslims are a "problem", it's YOU that needs solving. The vast majority of Muslims are decent, kind, honest people. And whether driven by race or religion, hatred of them is bigotry. Pure and simple.

Sunday 18 October 2015

The Girl Who Didn't Die

'The Girl Who Died' opens with the Tardis being buffeted around in space, and to the sound of the Cloister Bell. For reasons best known to absolutely no one, Clara is floating around in space, where an alien "Love Sprite" is making an ascent toward her face, in pursuit of a free meal. Deftly materialising the Tardis around Clara, the Doctor proceeds to acquaint the Sprite with his boot. It's a fun, but ultimately pointless way to open the episode, as it serves no purpose to the main storyline, perhaps with the exception of Clara being in a space suit. 
Upon landing, the Doctor and Clara are captured by a group of Vikings. The sonic sunglasses are unceremoniously snapped in half, and cries of joy can be heard from fans across the Universe as the bloody things finally get their just desserts. Unfortunately, their demise is short lived, and they pop up later in the episode, albeit in a somewhat monocular condition. It becomes clear, very quickly, that this is going to be a much more light-hearted story; a "romp", not dissimilar to Robot of Sherwood, than the previous four episodes.

Having attempted to fool the Vikings into believing he is Odin, the Doctor's plan to assert authority is short lived when the "real Odin" makes an appearance in the sky, in what is, arguably, one of the most laughable moments I have ever seen in Doctor Who, and not in a good way. Aside from serving absolutely no purpose, the effect looks cheesy and would feel much more at home in a Monty Python film. Of course, this isn't Odin, merely a projection by an alien race known as the Mire. Why they need to masquerade as a Norse deity is somewhat baffling, given they arrive, take what they need, and bugger off again.

Clara and Ashildr, played by Game of Thrones star, Maisie Williams, are whisked aboard the Mire's ship, when they detect their use of the sonic sunglasses. Clara is immediately commanding and assumes the role of the Doctor to a degree, speaking with authority to the leader of the Mire. However it is Ashildr's speech which inadvertently provokes a war with the alien race, who have only stopped by to plunder the testosterone and adrenaline of the strongest Vikings. As alien plots go, it's a pretty naff one, by any standard.

With war declared, Clara and Ashildr are returned to earth, and the Mire announce that they will be back the following day, which seems an unusual way to conduct a war. The Doctor imparts some words of wisdom, advising the villagers to pack up and leave, and promptly prepares to take his own advice and leave them to their imminent demise. It is only the cries of a baby which change his mind...
I've never been keen on the Doctor "speaking baby"; I find the concept perfectly ridiculous, given how much we know about human development. And yet, somehow, Capaldi actually manages to make it work, considerably more so than his predecessor, even if the baby does appear to be extraordinarily articulate, poetic and even philosophical.

The Doctor, in a particularly lighthearted scene, trains the would be warriors, and prepares them for the oncoming war. He holds little hope for them, as they are particularly inept, until he recalls the "words" of the baby; "fire in the water"...
Inexplicably, the Vikings appear to have acquired a barrel of electric eels, from the local lake, a species which not found anywhere in Europe. This is simply lazy writing. Earth set stories need a modicum of realism, and glaring errors such as displaced eels, and Vikings with a knowledge of corn, which has yet to be discovered, do the story no favours.
The Doctor uses the electric eels to form an electromagnetic current, which disorients the Mire and removes one of their helmets, which the Doctor fits to Ashildr, who then uses it to project the image of a serpent-like dragon. It is slightly odd that, given their technology, the Mire seem unable to work out that this is an image being projected into their eyes. As a side note, it's interesting that, once again, eyes are an important part of the story, although considerably less so than in the previous stories from season nine. The Mire's humiliating defeat comes courtesy of Clara's phone and the Benny Hill theme. The less said about that, the better...!

The Girl Who Died weaves humour and a serious tone much more fluidly than the aforementioned 'Robot of Sherwood'. The scenes with a "dead" Ashildr are quite moving, and lead to a particularly intense scene in which the Doctor postulates that he is tired of losing people. It also addresses the long awaited question first posed in 'Deep Breath'; why the Doctor chose to wear the face of Caecilius. It serves as a reminder, and to hammer the point home, we are treated to a flashback of 'Fires of Pompeii'. It isn't necessarily the most satisfying of explanations, however the use of the flashback sequence and Capaldi's passion lend it a credence which could have easily been otherwise lost.
The hand of Resurrector In Chief, Moffat, is clearly at work here, as Ashildr doesn't stay dead for very long. Reviving her with a piece of alien technology, is, I suppose, better than a "timey-wimey" resurrection, but the notion that this will make her immortal falls a little flat. The Doctor elaborates that Ashildr is now a hybrid...

After much speculation as to the identity of Maisie Williams' character; could she be Susan, The Rani, Romana, or another long established character, it seems plausible that her mythology harkens back a whole three weeks, to The Witch’s Familiar, in which Davros tells the Doctor of the Gallifreyan prophecy which states that two great warrior races would be ‘forced together to create a warrior greater than either’.

The main strength of the story lies, once again, in Capaldi's portrayal of the Doctor. Seemingly channelling previous incarnations, most notably the Third, Fourth and, particularly, Seventh Doctors, he is on fine form, capably juggling humour, weakness, strength and authority with ease. Unfortunately, his presence isn't enough to save this story from mediocrity.

The constant foreboding of death is starting to get rather tiresome. It's clearly attempting to assure us that Clara is about to shuffle off her mortal coil, so much so, that I fully expect it to be a double bluff, with Clara living happily ever after. Similarly, the glib references to Clara's sexuality feel forced and unnecessary. Using sexuality for cheap laughs is exactly that. Cheap. Cheap and crass.

"The Girl Who Died" isn't a bad story. It just isn't a very good one, and certainly isn't up to the standard of Jamie Mathieson's earlier work. It's hard to believe he was the writer, given the shallow, almost non existent, plot. Having been hyped to oblivion, Maisie Williams does surprisingly little, aside from spending most of the episode looking like a startled fawn, caught in the headlights of a particularly large truck. Her scenes with Capaldi work well, however, and are clearly key in building a bigger storyline, both next week, and perhaps later in the season.

Purely as a story, I wouldn't normally rate it any higher than a 4/10. Glaring errors which could be resolved by a cursory glance at Wikipedia, the Python-esque Odin, and an absence of plot all do the episode no favours. It is only a stellar performance by Capaldi which lifts the episode to a generous 6/10. A mediocre effort at best. 

Monday 12 October 2015

Before The Flood

After a stellar episode last week, the two part story, penned by Toby Whithouse, came to its conclusion on Saturday, in Before The Flood. So, did it manage to live up to expectations?

The story opens with The Doctor breaking the fourth wall, and talking directly to the audience, to explain the Bootstrap Paradox, which posits that should someone travel  back in time to alter a past event, thus bringing a change in future events, their future self would then be living in an altered or "new" present. Therefore, the "old" present could not have existed. This is the Bootstrap Paradox. Of course, if you want a better explanation, you can Google it!

This isn't the first time the Doctor has broken the fourth wall. First seen, at least by those fortunate enough to have been alive in 1965, Hartnell used the technique in “The Feast of Steven”, to wish viewers a Happy Christmas, and in the 1978 story 'Invasion of Time', the Fourth Doctor famously proclaimed "even the sonic screwdriver won't get me out of this". I cannot comment on its use by Hartnell (even I’m too young for that!), however it worked well with Tom Baker. Unfortunately, in 'Before the Flood', it seems oddly disjointed and out of place. I prefer to think that the Doctor was addressing O'Donnell and Bennett, who had boarded the Tardis at the end of 'Under the Lake', or perhaps even 'Clara', as the chronology is never made explicitly clear.
In the previous episode, it was mentioned that the Doctor had dismantled his radio in order to build a clockwork squirrel (and why wouldn't you!) and during the Doctor’s soliloquy, the squirrel can be seen sitting next to his guitar amp, which references the name of the electrical store, Magpie Electricals, from The Idiot's Lantern.

The Tardis materialises in 1980, at the height of the Cold War. The village, modelled to appear as a Russian military base feels faintly reminiscent of the setting of the Seventh Doctor story, “The Curse of Fenric”.
Encountering the Tivolian, Albus Prentis, The Doctor surmises that the ship is, in fact a hearse, and Prentis, the undertaker. Aside from a little comic relief, which unfortunately feels rather forced, Prentis adds little to the proceedings.

The concept of the Fisher King, however, works well, and is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time one villain has been portrayed by no less than three actors at the same time, with Neil Fingleton providing the physical attributes, while Peter Serafinowicz voices the alien, accompanied by dulcet roar of Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, which as a Who and metal fan (hey, the clue is my name!) was a huge delight!
Unfortunately, however, very little is explained of his origins, nor how he knows of the Time Lords, and he is woefully underused. I found it interesting that he referred to Time Lords as “curators”, perhaps as a subtle nod to the appearance of Tom Baker, in ‘Day of the Doctor’
As a side note, The Fisher King is named a mythical being from Arthurian legends; a figure of supernatural power and an emblem of the life force. Similar to the Bible’s ‘fisher of men’ the alien creature uses its power to draw in “disciples” with the coded message on the wall of the ship, which rewires the synapses of those who read it. Curiously, whilst bearing little resemblance to his namesake, he does bear a striking resemblance to the monster featured in the mural.

O’Donnell is built up to be a sufficiently likeable character, so her death is a particularly poignant moment, and the anger felt by Bennett at the Doctor’s apparent willingness to allow it is palpable. Echoes of ‘Father’s Day’ are present as the Doctor warns Bennett that he cannot alter time to save her.

Security Protocol 712 first appeared in Blink where a hologram of the Tenth Doctor speaks to Sally Sparrow and Larry Nightingale after they enter the Tardis, and it makes an appearance here, as the Tardis returns Bennett to The Drum. Why The Doctor doesn't travel by Tardis is never fully explained, neither is an explanation provided for the Tardis' inability to translate the writing on the wall of the capsule.

There are elements of the story which feel decidedly recycled, and perhaps the most significant of these is when the Doctor makes his entrance from the stasis chamber, borrowing heavily from “The Pandorica Opens”. Similarly, the time travel element of the story has been used before, in both the aforementioned 'Blink' and again, in 'Time Heist'; arguably, to better effect and with more fleshed out explanations.

“May the remorse be with you” – Cheeky Star Wars reference? 

Ultimately, 'Before the Flood' isn't a bad episode, but the convoluted explanations, rushed ending and misuse of the alien characters means it falls short of the stand set by its predecessor. There is much to like in the episode. Most of the nods to previous episodes are subtle enough to be pleasing without appearing overtly self-referential, the Fisher King looks and sounds absolutely magnificent, and again, Capaldi is absolutely mesmerising as the Doctor, often detached, calculating and manipulative, most notably in his handling of the imminent demise of O’Donnell, who he appears to use to test his theory. Clara echoes this, although less well, and seems quite callous in her regard for the lives of others.
The strongest aspect of the story, however, lies within the supporting cast. Morven Christie is immensely likeable as O’Donnell, whilst Cass (Sophie Stone) is commanding and believable in every scene. The bittersweet moment in which Lunn professes his love for Cass works well, and one cannot help but feel sorrow for Bennett, and for the loss of O’Donnell.
The use of the “sonic sunglasses” (which coincidentally seem to fit neatly into the Base’s control panel) are something of a “deus ex machina”, but one which doesn't grate too much, despite the rather silly idea that they can project holograms through deadlock seals, and connect to the base's wifi. Similarly, the fact the hologram is able to interact with physical objects, by opening the door to Faraday Cage is baffling. Im all honesty, the sooner someone steps on the bloody things, the better!
Whilst ‘Before the Flood’ fails to live up to the exceptionally strong ‘Under the Lake’, it is, nonetheless a strong, competent story, one which I feel requires more than one viewing to fully appreciate. Many of the subtleties make much more sense upon repeated viewing, and the complexity is lessened when viewed forearmed with the logic behind the ontological paradox the denouement of story relies upon.

This review wouldn't be complete with mentioning the theme tune.. After an oddly misplaced guitar lick of Beethoven's Fifth, the theme is overlaid with a rock style guitar piece, played by Capaldi, and it sounds fantastic. It brings a depth to the otherwise insipid music which has been one of the weaker points of the Twelfth Doctor's tenure. It's a pity it is a "one off" as it compliments the tone of Capaldi's Doctor perfectly.

Scoring the episode is tricky. Upon first viewing, my inclination was to give it a reasonable 6.5/10. A repeated viewing, however, pushes this to a solid 7.5, as the complexities and nuances become clearer. Despite failing to match the strength of 'Under the Lake', it is still, arguably stronger than Doctor Who has been for some considerable time, and season nine is shaping up very nicely. Long may it continue!

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Newsie Musings

It's been a lively few days for Doctor Who. As well as an outstanding episode last Saturday, courtesy of Tony Whithouse, there have also been a number of annoucements, some of which have been greeted with considerably more enthusiasm than others.

On 1st October, the BBC had Twitter buzzing with a news of a "major announcement", more "massive" than we could possibly imagine. Naturally, this raised a whole heap of speculation; rumours of a film, an Eighth Doctor mini-series, and most predominately, the prospect of missing episodes being returned. 

When it was announced that new spin off series, entitled 'Class', had been commissioned, the news was not well received. Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you'll know that 'Class' is aimed at a young audience, and is set in Coal Hill School. Comparisons to the Sarah Jane Adventures were inevitably drawn, and many were left feeling somewhat deflated by the news. That despondency stems from the ridiculous amount of hype by the BBC, rather than the proposed content of the forthcoming series. The BBC had built people's hopes up to unimaginably high levels, and those hopes were somewhat dashed by the less than stellar announcement.

I don't intend to write off the series without at least giving it a go. It may turn out to be fantastic. I think, when it is released, a lot of people will do the same. At the moment, people are reacting to the announcement itself, and the way it was handled by the BBC, rather than the content of the announcement.

Meanwhile, under the hashtag #OnlytheMonstrous, something was brewing at Big Finish. Very little hype, simply the hashtag and a tantalising picture..

When, on 5th October, Big Finish announced that 'Only The Monstrous' was the title of a new series, starring Sir John Hurt as The War Doctor, the news was met with considerably more enthusiasm than the BBC annoucement earlier in the week.

The War Doctor is a concept I have always been somewhat ambivalent toward. Sir John Hurt was, of course, fantastic in 'Day of the Doctor', however, I have always found it oddly jarring that a hitherto unmentioned regeneration had been sandwiched into the series, largely for the sake of utilising a star of Hurt's magnitude. This can be forgiven, given the significance of the anniversary, but nonetheless, The War Doctor seemed at odds with the very nature of the titular Time Lord. That Big Finish have chosen to expand on the War Doctor is an interesting prospect; if anyone can add depth and credence to the character, it is, most certainly, Big Finish Audio.

Since the annoucement, Big Finish have updated their website, which indicates there will be at least four series of The War Doctor.

Somewhat, obscured by the announcement that Big Finish had secured the considerable talents of John Hurt, was the news that The Eighth Doctor would feature in a series focusing on The Time War. Of all the announcements, it is this one which excites me the most. Paul McGann has long been a firm favourite in the Big Finish audio range, from his earliest stories, such as 'Storm Warning' and 'The Chimes of Midnight', through to the stellar 'Dark Eyes', which spanned four, highly successful, seasons.

It seems probable that the Eighth Doctor 'Time War' series will focus on the events leading up to the superb short, 'Night of the Doctor', which delighted  so many fans by finally giving McGann a proper regeneration sequence. According to Big Finish's website, it is a prequel to their War Doctor series. The bad news is that we will have to wait until November 2017 for it! 

Add in the already announced 'River Song', 'Churchill', 'Classic Doctors, New Monsters' and 'UNIT' series, it is clear the next couple of years are going to be packed to the rafters with Doctor Who audio adventures. And if recent releases are any indication of quality, we are in for a treat (or multiple treats!) of epic proportions. 

Season Nine is shaping up nicely, 'Class' may well surprise us all, and there are no less than SEVEN series on the way from Big Finish. What a cracking time to be a Doctor Who fan!

Monday 5 October 2015

The Underwater Musing

This review contain spoilers and mild swearing. If you don’t wish to read either, click here. Go on. I dare you!

The Underwater Musing. Aka, All About The Base. (Sorry. I'm so sorry!)

Under the Lake, the much anticipated third episode of season nine, penned by Toby Whithouse wastes no time in plunging us, the viewer, in, quite literally, at the deep end. Set on-board an underwater base station, “The Drum”, in the year 2119, a mysterious craft has been discovered. Within the first few minutes of the story, we are introduced to the crew, one of which is killed, and we are given our first glimpse of the ghosts which form the central focus of the story.
The Doctor and Clara arrive three days after the death of crew member Moran. There are no pointless scenes of Clara fart-arsing around at work here. Immediately upon arrival, they are embroiled in a mystery…
From the outset, the tone of the story is very clear. This is, in every sense, a "base under siege" style story which has served previous incarnations, most notably Troughton and Pertwee, so well.
Reminiscent of the greedy, or power-mad characters of old, Richard Pritchard is a trope; but one which works well and echoes classic era characters such as Mr Chinn from Claws of Axos, Professor Stahlman (Inferno), and Eckersley from Monster of Peladon. with his lust for profit. ‘Vector Petroleum’ are the latest in a long line of Doctor Who mining corporations; the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe faced the Issigri Mining Company in the 1969 story The Space Pirates, whilst the Third Doctor and Jo encountered the IMC (Interplanetary Mining Corporation) in Colony In Space two years later. Similarly, the Fourth Doctor materialises aboard the sand-miner, ‘Storm Mine 4’ in Robots of Death, whilst the sixth Doctor met the repulsive, slug-like Sil, a representative of the Galatron Mining Corporation, in the 1985 story Vengeance On Varos.

Similarly, this is not first time the possibility of ghosts has been raised in Doctor Who. In the 1972 story, Day Of The Daleks, the Third Doctor was sent to Auderly House, to investigate ghostly sightings which later transpired to be time-travelling soldiers from the 22nd century. In recent years The Ninth Doctor faced Gelth in The Unquiet Dead, while the Tenth Doctor story Army Of Ghosts featured ghostly apparitions, which were subsequently revealed to be a Cyberman invasion force.

2015-10-06 01.21.50

Whether intentional or otherwise, eyes appear to be a recurring theme of some importance in series nine. The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar both made strong use of eye imagery, from the hand-mines, to the revelation that Davros has semi-functional eyes. Under The Lake has several close-ups of the mysterious symbols, etched into the wall of the spaceship, reflected in the eyes of various characters, including the Doctor; magnets, which imprint a memory into the synapses of the brain. The Doctor refers to these as the equivalent of an “earworm”, and are, courtesy of Peter Andre, one of the reasons he no longer has a functioning radio aboard the Tardis which he dismantled to build a clockwork squirrel!


The supporting cast is incredibly competent, and it is particularly pleasing to see a deaf person in a strong, commanding role. Sophie Stone, who plays the deaf and mute character, Cass, shines in every scene, and is able to utilise her disability to further the story, by lip-reading the words spoken by the ghosts. The representation of disability within Doctor Who is long overdue, and it is to Whithouse’s credit that he has sculpted a solid, believable and likeable character in Cass. Equally, the casting of an actor with a disability is very welcome.
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In response to the Tardis Cloister Bell (a moment which will surely have pleased diehard fans) the Doctor and Clara share a brief exchange in the console room, in which the Doctor makes it abundantly clear that he is in charge; there is only one Doctor. He also reveals his caring side, explaining his duty of care toward Clara.
There are frequent, subtle references to episodes past, notably, the Doctor's cue cards, one of which pays homage to Sarah Jane being taken home to the wrong city; particularly fitting since it was Toby Whithouse who revived Elisabeth Sladen’s much loved character, in his first Doctor Who story, School Reunion. Autons and Gangers, get a mention, and one of the ghosts is a Tivolian, a race introduced in The God Complex, also written by Whithouse.
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There are even a couple of Star Trek references subtly incorporated into the story. Did you spot them? The mural on the wall features three characters who appear to be wearing the blue, red and yellow uniforms from the classic series. Also, the flood door which closes on Clara is labelled ‘1701B’. NCC1701-B is the ship registry number of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek; Generations, on which Captain Kirk was presumed killed.
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The sets look magnificent, and the Tardis, replete with roundels has seldom looked better. The sonic sunglasses make another appearance, however, within the context of the episode, their use as a “relay”, transmitting the Doctor’s POV seems wholly appropriate, and they work surprisingly well.
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Capaldi is, I feel, more “Doctor like” than ever before, and, perhaps, most surprising is Clara, who feels much more like a traditional companion. Once all of the “impossible girl” arc, love interests, and her work as a teacher are stripped away, she becomes much more credible as a companion. If there is one criticism to be found, it lies in the line “I want to kiss it to death”, which is, perhaps, one of the oddest things I have ever heard the Doctor utter. It is a piece of dialogue which doesn’t sit well with me at all, largely as it makes no sense whatsoever! Ultimately, though, one poor line does little to detract from an otherwise superb story.
The episode has strong horror elements, but is carefully suffused with enough humour to balance this, without detracting from the “scare factor”, and there are numerous questions raised, which will keep us all guessing until next week. Why doesn’t the ghostly Pritchard murder Lunn? Why did the ghosts summon the submarine, or more specifically, why do they need more people to convert. Why are they only able to utilise metallic objects, and who, or what, is in the stasis pod?

The cliff-hanger suggests a degree of complexity to the next episode, with the climax featuring the Doctor leaving The Drum and travelling back in time to investigate the origins of the craft. Could it be that the stasis pod contains The Doctor himself?


Ultimately, there is very little to fault with Under The Lake. It is fast paced, entertaining, horrifying and funny, all in the right places. Moreover, it feels like a classic series story, which is perhaps fitting, as it has all the makings of becoming a classic in its own right.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed my comment in which I remarked that I felt this was the best episode since Vincent and the Doctor. Having rewatched the story, it is a comment I retract. Under The Lake is better! In fact, I would posit that it is, arguably, the best episode since Waters of Mars. It feels, in every sense, like a true classic, which can be summed up in three words.. Fantastic.. Bloody fantastic!
With The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar earning 8/10 and 6.5/10 respectively, it is an absolute joy to assign a score of 9.5/10 for Under The Lake.