TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – ASCENSION OF THE CYBERMEN/THE TIMELESS CHILDREN (2020)

Image result for doctor who the timeless childrenDOCTOR WHO: ASCENSION OF THE CYBERMEN/THE TIMELESS CHILDREN (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 23 February & 1 March 2020; Running Time: 115m (1 x 50m & 1 x 65m); Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Jamie Magnus Stone; Writer: Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Sam Heasman; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Sacha Dhawan (The Master), Jo Martin (The Doctor), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Ian McElhinney (Ko Sharmus), Julie Graham (Ravio), Alex Austin (Yedlarmi), Matt Carver (Ethan), Rhiannon Clements (Bescot), Seylan Baxter (Tecteun), Kirsty Besterman (Solpado), Steve Toussaint (Feekat), Rhiannon Clements (Bescot), Jack Osborn (Fuskle), Evan McCabe (Brendan), Branwell Donaghey (Patrick), Orla O’Rourke (Meg), Andrew Macklin (Michael), Paul Kasey (Judoon Captain Pol-Kon-Don), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of Cybermen & Judoon Captain), Matthew Rohman (Cyberman), Simon Carew (Cyberman), Jon Davey (Cyberman), Richard Highgate (Cyberman), Richard Price (Cyberman), Mickey Lewis (Cyberman), Matthew Doman (Cyberman), Paul Bailey (Cyberman).
      Synopsis: In the far future, the Doctor and her friends face a brutal battle across the farthest reaches of space to protect the last of the human race against the deadly Cybermen uncovering the secret of the Time Lords in the process.
     Comment: Enjoyment of this two-part finale will very much depend on the viewer’s willingness (notably die-hard fans) to buy into writer Chibnall’s re-invention of Time Lord history. The opening episode is an excellent scene-setter full of energy and drama, featuring the Cybermen on a mission to reassert their domination, with an injection of mystery surrounding the so-called “Timeless Child”. Then at the cliffhanger, the Master resurfaces along with a gateway through to a destroyed Gallifrey and we move into a second episode that will divide fandom right down the middle. Firstly, Dhawan’s take on the Master as some form of unhinged psychotic has taken the character away from the charm and subtlety established by Roger Delgado back in the 1970s, with more than a nod toward John Simm’s similarly unhinged portrayal. Dhawan’s performance is way OTT and ill-serves the character, robbing him of any real menace. Secondly, the Master’s appearance relegates the Cybermen to a mere side-show as his battle of wills with Whittaker’s Doctor in the Matrix takes centre stage. The Master’s motives are muddled and his seeming alliance with the Cybermen (mirroring that in The Five Doctors) lacks any core logic beyond the madness displayed in the character. The frenetic nature with which Chibnall tries to cram so many revelations and explanations ultimately weighs down the second episode. The story’s whole is very much less than the sum of its parts – the excitement of the first episode giving way to bafflement in the second. That said, the second episode still has its moments. Whittaker is able to stretch her range more, for the most-part dialling down the motormouth patter. The visuals are very good and each of the companions gets room to breathe. However, I can’t help feeling Chibnall has created a rod for his own back here, by trying to create his own vision and tying it with what has gone before. The result feels overly forced in its attempt to re-boot Time Lord history, leaving the viewer pondering how this will change things going forward. The likely answer is it won’t as the general premise of a time traveller fighting evil throughout the universe remains.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – THE HAUNTING OF VILLA DIODATI (2020)

Nadia Parkes, Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, and Lili Miller in Doctor Who (2005)DOCTOR WHO: THE HAUNTING OF VILLA DIODATI (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 16 February 2020; Running Time: 49m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Emma Sullivan; Writer: Maxine Alderton, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Agnieszka Liggett, Joe Skinner; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Lili Miller (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin), Nadia Parkes (Claire Clairmont), Jacob Collins-Levy (Lord Byron), Maxim Baldry (Doctor John Pollidori), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Lewis Rayner (Percy Bysshe Shelley), Sarah Perles (Elise), Stefan Bednarczyk (Fletcher), Nicholas Briggs (Cyberman Voice).
      Synopsis: The Doctor and gang arrive at the Villa Dioscidati, Lake Geneva, in 1816 – on a night that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The plan is to spend the evening soaking up the atmos in the presence of some literary greats – but the ghosts are all too real. And the Doctor is forced into a decision of earth-shattering proportions…
     Comment: Another episode that has a lot right with it but still manages to frustrate. The story has a great setting in an old house at Lake Geneva and the premise is obviously geared toward events inspiring Mary Wolstencrof to create the vision for her novel Frankenstein. The house is suitably spooky, populated with quirky characters and some chilling surprises. But yet again there is too little time to cover all the ideas on show and the narrative appears muddled as a result. There are still too many companions to fully justify themselves Cole’s acting has been wooden at best and here he gives possibly his worst performance delivering lines with little conviction or flair for humour. The shoe-horning in of the Cyberman threat – which we could all see coming following pre-empts earlier in the series – raises more questions than are answered here. The closing two-parter will hopefully square these off. Whittaker has the occasional strong moment, whenever she is given more to do than just dial-up the quirky scale beyond Tennant levels. She is very good in the scene close to the finale where she debates the actions she should take with her friends.  The series is running out of time to hit the heights we have come to expect but hopefully, the season finale will deliver.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: CAN YOU HEAR ME? (2020)

Image result for doctor who can you hear meDOCTOR WHO: CAN YOU HEAR ME? (UK, 2020) ***½
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 9 February 2020; Running Time: 49m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Emma Sullivan; Writer: Charlene James, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Agnieszka Liggett; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Ian Gelder (Zellin), Buom Tihngang (Tibo), Clare-Hope Ashitey (Rakaya), Sharon D Clarke (Grace O’Brien), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya Kahn), Aruhan Galiva (Tahira), Sirine Saba (Maryam), Nasreen Hussain (Anita Patel), Everal A Walsh (Gabriel), Michael Keane (Fred), Amanda Liberman (Mum), Willie Jonah (Old Tibo), Anthony Taylor (Andrew).
      Synopsis: From ancient Syria to present-day Sheffield, and out into the wilds of space, something is stalking the Doctor and infecting people’s nightmares.
     Comment: An episode with lots of ideas around the psychological impact of nightmares linked to a god-like race known as the Eternals who feed off the mental instability that the dreams cause. It’s an intriguing and creepy episode for two-thirds of its runtime powered by some wonderful visuals, an intelligent script and a deliciously evil villain in  Gelder’s Zellin. The companions all get their own sub-plots as each has an element of their psyche manipulated by Zellin.  Unfortunately, things unravel a bit in the final third and give us a finale which is resolved all too quickly – continuing the issues the production team have in trying to tell complex stories and deliver new concepts in a single-episode format. It’s a shame as there is so much promise here, but Chibnall either lacks sufficient editing skills to understand how to best land the ideas of his writers or he is trying to cram too many story threads together and as a result creating too much for the viewer to absorb.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: PRAXEUS (2020)

Image result for doctor who praxeusDOCTOR WHO: PRAXEUS (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 2 February 2020; Running Time: 50m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Jamie Magnus Stone; Writer: Pete McTighe, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Catherine Goldschmidt; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Supervising Art Director: Rebecca Brown; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Deian Llyr Humphreys; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Warren Brown (Jake Willis), Matthew McNulty (Adam Lang), Joana Borja (Gabriela Camera), Molly Harris (Suki Cheng), Gabrielle Tolol (Jamilia Velez), Soo Drouet (Joyce), Tristan de Beer (Zach Olson), Thapelo Maropefela (Aramu).
      Synopsis: The Doctor and her friends split up to investigate multiple mysteries across planet Earth. What connects a missing astronaut in the Indian Ocean, birds behaving strangely in Peru and a US naval officer washed up on a Madagascan beach
     Comment: There’s much to like in this episode through individual scenes and lines of dialogue but, as a whole, the story suffers from gaps in logic and character actions. It’s a shame because this episode is very effectively and visually directed by Stone, who manages to create a few moments of tension as well a sense of menace in those early scenes. McTighe and Chibnall’s script has some strong ideas around a viral epidemic being created through plastic pollution. But once again the production team feels the need to preach to the audience about populist issues via its heavy-handed messaging at the expense of solid story construction. Structurally, the story initially creates its mystery by having the Doctor and her companions split across three continents to triangulate seemingly independent events into a solution the answers each individual mystery. This works well and allows each companion a sub-plot. But as the story progresses the writers seem more concerned with getting over their environmental message of doom and ensuring they tick all the boxes on diverse and inclusive specifics, that they lose the plot with the plot. Historically, the series provided a haven from sexual politics but now it has almost become a campaign board, so much so that the relationships feel forced to fit the political agenda rather than add anything to the story itself. McTighe had written possibly the best episode of last season’s run (Kerblam!) and here too shows signs he potentially has a strong story in him. Whether or not Chibnall’s contribution knocked this off course cannot be discerned, but the early promise gave way to a disappointing conclusion.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: FUGITIVE OF THE JUDOON (2020)

DOCTOR WHO: FUGITIVE OF THE JUDOON (UK, 2020) ****
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 26 January 2020; Running Time: 50m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Nida Manzoor; Writer: Vinay Patel, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Sam Heasman; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Supervising Art Director: Rebecca Brown; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Deian Llyr Humphreys; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Jo Martin (Ruth Clayton), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Neil Stuke (Lee Clayton), Ritu Arya (Gat), Paul Kasey (Judoon Captain Pol-Kon-Don), Michael Begley (All Ears Allan), Judith Street (Marcia), Katie Luckins (Tourist), Nick Briggs (Voice of Judoon ), Simon Carew (Judoon), Richard Highgate (Judoon), Richard Price (Judoon), Matthew Rohman (Judoon)
      Synopsis: Ko Sho Blo! Trigger-happy space police the Judoon are targeting 21st-century Gloucester. The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham race back to Earth in order to prevent them doing too much damage to the cathedral city. But who are they looking for, and what did they do to incur the wrath of the Judoon?
      Comment: Well, last week I said I felt a strong story may be just around the corner. It’s difficult to fully assess The Fugitive of the Judoon in isolation because it is really a set-up episode which should hopefully pay off over the remainder of the series. As such it achieves its objective splendidly by creating some genuinely surprising plot twists. The episode, co-written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall, started shakily with the Judoon arrival in modern-day Gloucester initially failing to grab interest. However, once the true reason for their arrival is revealed the episode shifts up a couple of gears and moves into one revelation after another to set up a hugely promising conundrum for the Doctor to solve. The return of Captain Jack Harkness was intriguing and his involvement in the story is still to be fully explained. Barrowman clicks back into character and Jack delivers a message of warning to the Doctor’s companions before vanishing again. The character of Ruth is the most intriguing and raises even bigger questions around the direction Chibnall is taking us with this series. The tension builds through the episode as the Doctor discovers the true nature of the fugitive. Whittaker delivers her strongest performance to date and finally gets some moments of dramatic conflict to work with. There are now many unanswered questions and it will be a real test of Chibnall’s skills as a writer to resolve them all satisfactorily. For now, we can be glad we finally have an episode worthy of the brand name and whilst I am hedging my bets on the outcome, I have much more optimism, albeit cautious, than at any time under Chibnall’s stewardship.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: NIKOLA TESLA’S NIGHT OF TERROR (2020)

DOCTOR WHO: NIKOLA TESLA’S NIGHT OF TERROR (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 19 January 2020; Running Time: 51m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Nida Manzoor; Writer: Nina Metivier; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Sam Heasman; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Tim Hodges, Rebecca Trotman; Supervising Art Director: Rebecca Brown; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Amy Riley, James Spinks; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Goran Višnjić (Nikola Tesla), Robert Glenister (Thomas Edison), Anjli Mohindra (Queen Skithra), Haley McGee (Dorothy Skerrit), Paul Kasey (Harold Green), Robin Gulver (Bill Tallow), Erick Hayden (Mr Sorenson), Russell Bentley (Mr Brady), Brian Caspe (Mr Martin), Shaun Mason (Foreman).
      Synopsis: 1903. On the edge of Niagara Falls, something is wrong at Nikola Tesla’s generator plant. Who or what is sabotaging the maverick inventor’s work? Has he really received a message from Mars? And where does his great rival Thomas Edison fit into these events? The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham must join forces with one of history’s great minds to save both him and planet Earth.
      Comment: An improvement on Orphan 55, but problems still remain with Chris Chibnall’s vision for the series. The positives include a more coherent story, excellent visuals and convincing production design. The story itself is rather generic, despite the interesting setting in turn of the century (19th to 20th) New York City. Chibnall continues his fascination with lesser remembered historical figures, who are given a platform to raise awareness of their important contribution. This time its Tesla and his innovative use of electrical current. The invading monsters here resemble the Racnoss from The Runaway Bride – substituting scorpion-like beings for spiders – but repeating the Queen of the Hive theme – even down to similarities in make-up design and the way Mohindra’s interpretation closely matches that of Sarah Parish. The story again needs more room to breathe and develop its theme of the competition between Edison and Tesla. There is again too little room for the three companions to contribute to the story effectively and the production team need to see the errors of their way in over-crowding the TARDIS. Whitaker is also partially sidelined here in favour of building up the historical elements in the story and the script gives her little scope to add depth to her performance. The need to cram as many elements into a 50-minute story as possible leaves the thing too crowded to fully satisfy, but there are signs that a strong story may be just around the corner. For me, two-parters are the way forward. Spyfall, despite its flaws, demonstrated this. Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror is a standard Who story told at breakneck speed in a series that is finding it increasingly difficult to demonstrate the story-telling strengths that have kept it popular for nearly sixty years.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: ORPHAN 55 (2020)

Image result for DOCTOR WHO ORPHAN 55DOCTOR WHO: ORPHAN 55 (UK, 2020) **
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 12 January 2020; Running Time: 46m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Lee Haven Jones; Writer: Ed Hime; Producer: Alex Mercer, Nikki Wilson; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Tom Chapman; Supervising Art Director: Joseph Wynne; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Laura Fraser (Kane), Gia Ré (Bella), James Buckley (Nevi), Julia Foster (Vilma), Amy Booth-Steel (Hyph3n), Will Austin (Vorm), Col Farrell (Benni), Lewin Lloyd (Sylas), Spencer Wilding (Creature).
      Synopsis: Having decided that everyone could do with a holiday, the Doctor takes Graham, Yasmin and Ryan to a luxury resort for a spot of rest and relaxation. However, they discover the place where they are having a break is hiding a number of deadly secrets. What are the ferocious monsters that are attacking Tranquillity Spa?
      Comment: An overly frenetic episode that tries to hammer home its environmental message about the threats humans create to the future of their own existence. It does so in a very ham-fisted way and with little finesse or time for reflection. The single-episode format for the series is not working in the hands of the current production team. The episode runs at breakneck speed and the intended irony of its core revelation falls flat. Hime’s writing is poor with cliched dramatic moments coming across as derivative of much that has gone before, attempting to recall Aliens and Planet of the Apes without either the style or resonance of those vastly superior offerings. The music score, which the director seems to feel needs to be underscoring the action 100% of the time, becomes overbearing and regularly drowns out the dialogue. The intention is obviously to create mood and tension, but the result is merely annoying and cloying. Whittaker tries her best to inject the required tension whilst still delivering an overly busy performance, but she shows signs of a potentially more restrained and effective portrayal that hopefully will emerge as the series progresses. The Dregs are no more than monster-of-the-week snarling creatures that give an opportunity for the cast to run away from them up and down corridors in a cartoon-like manner. I hope this episode is just a blip after the more promising, if flawed, Spyfall. The series desperately needs to up its game very soon by slowing down and allowing stories to breathe, tension to build and characters to have depth. On a positive note, the production values and visual effects are strong.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: SPYFALL (2020)

Image result for doctor who spyfallDOCTOR WHO: SPYFALL (UK, 2020) ***½
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 1 & 5 January 2020; Running Time: 2 x 60m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Jamie Magnus Stone, Lee Haven Jones; Writer: Chris Chibnall; Producer: Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Catherine Goldschmidt, Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman, Tom Chapman; Supervising Art Director: Joseph Wynne; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
      Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Sascha Dhawan (‘O’ /The Master), Lenny Henry (Daniel Barton), Stephen Fry (‘C’), Sylvie Briggs (Ada Lovelace), Shobna Gulati (Najia Kahn), Ravin J. Ganatra (Hakim Kahn), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya Kahn), Melissa De Vries (Sniper), Sacharissa Claxton (Passenger), Willian Ely (Older Passenger), Brian Law (Operative [US]), Buom Tihngang (Tibo), Asif Khan (Sergeant Ramesh Sunder), Andrew Bone (Mr Collins), Ronan Summers (Rendition Man), Christopher McArthur (Ethan), Darron Meyer (Seesay), Dominique Maher (Browning), Struan Rodger (Voice of Kasaavin), Aurora Marion (Noor Inayat Kahn), Mark Dexter (Charles Babbage), Kenneth Jay (Perkins), Blanche Williams (Barton’s Mother), Andrew Piper (Inventor), Tom Ashbury (Airport Worker).
      Synopsis: Intelligence agents around the world are under attack from alien forces. MI6 turns to the only people who can help: The Doctor and friends. As they travel the globe for answers, attacks come from all sides. Earth’s security rests on the team’s shoulders, but where will this planet-threatening conspiracy lead them.
      Comment: There is much to like in this opening story of series 12 – the second series under Chris Chibnall’s helm and with Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. It’s fair to say series 11 was a big disappointment in that it promised much and delivered little. It appears Chibnall has listened to some of the criticism and partly addressed the issues here, but as yet not wholly. Spyfall is an entertaining story and much the better for being stretched over two episodes. The story itself lacks a certain logic in the complex nature of its invasion plot and the re-introduction of The Master without an explanation of how this is linked with his/her demise two seasons ago. The story was also very fragmented and at first an obvious riff on the James Bond franchise. Part 2 moved into broader concepts with the re-introduction of the Doctor’s arch-enemy. Don’t go looking for logic into how this hangs together with the development of computers over a period of nearly two-hundred years (from Briggs’ Ada Lovelace to Henry’s modern-day guru) or an invasion from a still unseen alien menace from outside our universe who are somehow in league with the Master. The story fails to gell as a whole even though Cibnall is at pains to leave no holes in the plot. But there is a very intriguing reference to the fate of Gallifrey and the Master’s knowledge about its secrets, which promises much for the series ahead – as long as Chibnall can deliver on this. Whittaker is far more at home as the Doctor here, projecting a more dramatic side to her performance. Dhawan makes for a deliciously evil Master who, whilst veering a little too close to John Simm’s OTT performance, manages to just about stay this side of caricature. One of the problems Chibnall has failed to resolve is the issue of too many companions. Do we really need three of them stumbling over each other to solve the same problems? That said this is a promising opening with great production values and a huge sense of fun.

TV Review – DRACULA (2020)

Image result for dracula bbc 2020DRACULA (UK, 2020) **
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: Hartswood Films / British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) / Netflix; Release Date: 1-3 January 2020; Running Time: 3 x 90m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Atmos; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Jonny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, Damon Thomas; Writer: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat (based on the novel by Bram Stoker); Producer: Ben Irving, Larry Tanz, Sue Vertue; Executive Producer: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Ben Irving, Sue Vertue; Director of Photography: Tony Slater Ling; Music Composer: David Arnold, Michael Price; Film Editor: Colin Fair, Tom Hemmings, Paulo Pandolpho; Production Designer: Arwel Jones; Art Director: Harry Trow; Casting: Kate Rhodes James; Costumes: Harriet Ferris; Make-up: Dave Elsey, Lou Elsey; Sound: Doug Sinclair; Special Effects Supervisor: Paul Dunn; Visual Effects Producer: George Tully.
      Cast: Claes Bang (Count Dracula), Dolly Wells (Sister Agatha Van Helsing/Dr. Zoe Van Helsing), John Heffernan (Jonathan Harker), Morfydd Clark (Mina Harker), Joanna Scanlan (Mother Superior), Lujza Richter (Elena), Jonathan Aris (Captain Sokolov), Sacha Dhawan (Dr. Sharma), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Adisa), Catherine Schell (Duchess Valeria), Youssef Kerkour (Olgaren), Clive Russell (Valentin), Natasha Radski (Mother), Lydia West (Lucy Westenra), Matthew Beard (Jack Seward), Mark Gatiss (Frank Renfield), Lyndsey Marshal (Bloxham), Chanel Cresswell (Kathleen), Sarah Niles (Meg), Phil Dunster (Quincey Morris).
      Synopsis: In 1897 Transylvania, the blood-drinking Count draws his plans against Victorian London.
      Comment: Adaptations can go one of two ways. Either a faithful representation of the source material or a completely different take. So, what to make of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s take on Dracula? It seems to me that it tries to be all things to all people and will therefore likely end up disappointing most. Why? Moffat, in particular, for some-time now has been trying to be too smart in his writing, going for showstopping revelation after show-stopping revelation. He brings that thinking to Dracula as the adaptation veers increasingly further away from its source material as it painfully slowly progresses the narrative. The story is divided into three distinct sections across the three episodes. the first deals with Jonathan Harker’s visit to Castle Dracula and the horrific discoveries he makes there. the second with Dracula’s voyage to England and the third with the ultimate showdown in London. Gatiss is an ardent fan of the horror genre and of Hammer films in particular. His influence is seen at its greatest in the atmospheric first episode, which for the most part establishes a truly gothic and horrific setting. The problem is that after this promising opener, the second episode stalls during the interminable and repetitive voyage, with Dracula picking off the crew one by one, before it finally veers off the rails completely in the third episode by moving the action to a modern-day setting. The result is jarring and neither does justice to Stoker nor succeeds as a post-modern interpretation. Gatiss and Moffat’s vision comes across as two writers trying to be overly smart without the needed controlling hand to challenge their increasingly wild ideas.  It’s a shame because there is a lot to commend the production from a technical standpoint and in the charismatic performances of Bang and Wells – if you can accept both in their wise-cracking characterisations. Viewers not familiar with the Dracula legacy both in print and on-screen may find much to enjoy, but those more acquainted with Stoker or Lugosi or Lee will likely see the smugness of the characters as an unnecessary enhancement. For me, I finished the viewing experience having enjoyed aspects, mostly those which steered a closer course to my ideal, but was frustrated by the liberties taken with the material and the looseness and laziness of some of the writing –  the close of episode two with Dracula emerging from the sea after over one hundred years only to find a police task force and helicopter waiting is written for effect without a care for logic. Stronger editing could have condensed this self-indulgent and bloated misfire into something leaner and more efficient. A shorter piece would have made the viewing experience much more rewarding and avoided a lot of the repetitiveness. Four and a half hours of Gatiss and Moffat’s trying to demonstrate how clever they are as writers to me detracted from the core story and whilst their vision for Dracula can be seen as a brave attempt to do something different it strays too far from the novel and legacy to be satisfying.

TV Review – THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (2019)

Image result for the war of the worlds bbcTHE WAR OF THE WORLDS (UK, 2019) **½
      Distributor: ITV Studios Global Entertainment; Production Company: Mammoth Screen / British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) / Creasun Media American; Release Date: 17, 24 November & 1 December 2019; Running Time: 3 x 60m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Stereo; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Craig Viveiros; Writer: Peter Harness (based on the novel by H.G. Wells; Producer: Betsan Morris Evans; Executive Producer:Jamie Brown, Peter Harness, Minglu Ma, Preethi Mavahalli, Damien Timmer, Craig Viveiros; Director of Photography: James Friend; Music Composer: Russ Davies; Film Editor: Adam Bosman, Josh Mallalieu; Production Designer: Pat Campbell; Casting: Karen Lindsay-Stewart; Costumes: Howard Burden; Make-up: Amy Stewart; Sound: Jonathan Seale; Special Effects Supervisor: Chris Reynolds; Visual Effects Supervisor: Stephen Coren, Sally Goldberg, Ivor Middleton.
      Cast: Eleanor Tomlinson (Amy), Robert Carlyle (Ogilvy), Rafe Spall (George), Jonathan Aris (Priest), Rupert Graves (Frederick), Woody Norman (George Junior), Nicholas Le Prevost (Chamberlain), Susan Wooldridge (Mrs. Elphinstone), Taliyah Blair (Lillian), Reid Anderson (Stall Holder), Philip Gascoyne (Navy Officer), Charles De’Ath (Greaves), Joey Batey (Henderson), Sam Benjamin (Salesman), Freya Allan (Mary), Christopher Hatherall (Naval Lieutenant), Daniel Cerqueira (Stent), Aisling Jarrett-Gavin (Lucy), Bradley Cottrell (Newspaper Boy), Harry Melling (Artilleryman), Kieron Bimpson (Captain), Cokey Falkow (Army Officer), Milo Twomey (Sergeant Major), Michele Donockley (Red Planet Survivor).
      Synopsis: Set in Edwardian England, this new adaptation of H.G. Wells’ seminal tale – the first alien invasion story in literature – follows George (Spall) and his partner Amy (Tomlinson) as they attempt to defy society and start a life together. The War of the Worlds tells their story as they face the escalating terror of an alien invasion, fighting for their lives against an enemy beyond their comprehension.
      Comment: This adaptation of H.G.Wells’ classic novel plays loose with its source material and clumsily attempts to invent its own allegorical agenda with references to British colonialism. Rather than follow the novel’s linear narrative we jump between scenes set during the invasion and three years after into a post-apocalyptic landscape. The latter scenes only serve to slow the narrative and remove any fluidity and excitement that the invasion generates. Split across three hour-long episodes, the story feels overly stretched despite the occasional excitements and moments of tension. Tomlinson is good as the heroine who is conflicted between her bravery and responsibility to her unborn child. Spall is also okay as an everyman out of his depth. Carlyle, however, is wasted in a role that largely consigns him to the periphery of the action. What lets the production down is the writing, which is often stilted and provides a totally unsatisfying conclusion which clumsily attempts to be symbolic. Viveiros struggles to lift the material and settles for long moments of slow-motion action and introspection, which further dilute some of the set pieces. Technical attributes, however, are pretty good for the limited TV budget.