TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – THE HUSBANDS OF RIVER SONG

THE HUSBANDS OF RIVER SONG
1 episode / 56m / 25 December 2015
Rating: ∗∗∗
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Douglas Mackinnon
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Alex Kingston (River Song), Matt Lucas (Nardole), Greg Davies (King Hydroflax), Rowan Polonski (Flemming), Robert Curtis (Scratch), Chris Lew Kum Hoi (Alphonse), Phillip Rhys (Ramone), Anthony Cozens (Concierge), Nicolle Smartt (Receptionist), Liam Cook (King Hydroflax’s body), Nonso Anozie (Voice of Hydroflax).
Plot: It’s Christmas Day on a remote human colony and the Doctor is hiding from Christmas Carols and Comedy Antlers. But when a crashed spaceship calls upon the Doctor for help, he finds himself recruited into River Song’s squad and hurled into a fast and frantic chase across the galaxy. King Hydroflax (Greg Davies) is furious, and his giant Robot bodyguard is out of control and coming for them all! Will Nardole (Matt Lucas) survive? And when will River Song work out who the Doctor is? All will be revealed on a starliner full of galactic super-villains and a destination the Doctor has been avoiding for a very long time.
Comment: Christmas specials have been a hit-and-miss affairs over the years and this particular episode demonstrates the inconsistency perfectly. Obviously written as a fun romp with a seasonal theme it is often amusing, but seldom challenging. That is probably the point. Who wants heavy drama on Christmas Day other than fans of Eastenders? This episode, therefore, is not meant to be a serious addition to the series, merely an entertaining diversion. As such it provides contrast when compared with the majority of series 9 through the lightness of its approach. Capaldi demonstrates his true range by being as adept at comedy as he is at drama. The plot really isn’t worth scrutinising and the whole episode is merely contrived to re-introduce Alex Kingston’s River Song. Her return is welcome, but her seeming inability to recognise the new Doctor even when presented with his TARDIS seems inappropriately dim. Their scenes together, however, demonstrate a strong chemistry given the high level of association the character has with the Matt Smith era. In all this is an enjoyable, if light, addition to the annual Christmas Day outings.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – FACE THE RAVEN

FACE THE RAVEN
1 episode / 47m / 21 November 2015
Rating: ∗∗∗∗
Writer: Sarah Dollard
Director: Justin Molotnikov
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Jovian Wade (Rigsy), Maisie Williams (Me [Ashildr]), Simon Manyonda (Kabel), Simon Paisley Day (Rump), Letitia Wright (Anahson), Robin Soans (Chronolock Guy), Angela Clerkin (Alien Woman), Caroline Boulton (Habrian Woman), Jenny Lee (Elderly Woman).
Plot: The Doctor and Clara are reunited with Rigsy, the `pudding brained’ grafitti artist who gained the Time Lord’s respect by helping him face off an invasion by inter-dimensional beings known as the Boneless in Bristol. Together the trio investigate a strange alien world hidden on a street in the heart of London. They soon discover this unusual road is sheltering some of the most fearsome creatures in the universe – including the immortal Viking Ashildr, who the Time Lord last encountered in the 17th century in the guise of noblewoman-turned-brigand `Lady Me’.
Comment: Well-paced and intriguing episode with its primary purpose being to set up the exit of Clara and lead into the two-part season finale. The hidden street in the centre of London is a neat idea and eerily gothic with the tension kept high through atmospheric camera work and the idea of a countdown tattoo. Capaldi is again in top form and he and Jenna Coleman play Clara’s exit scene with nice understatement. Williams makes her third appearance of the series and it is likely we will see more of her before the two-parter finale is done as the episode ends on a cliffhanger with the Doctor being teleported out to who knows where.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – SLEEP NO MORE

SLEEP NO MORE
1 episode / 45m / 14 November 2015
Rating: ∗∗∗½
Writer: Mark Gatiss
Director: Justin Molotnikov
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Reece Shearsmith (Gagan Rassmussen), Elaine Tan (Nagata), Neet Mohan (Chopra), Bethany Black (474), Paul Courtenay Hyu (Deep-Ando), Zina Badran (Morpheus Presenter), Natasha Patel (Hologram Singer), Elizabeth Chong (Hologram Singer), Nikkita Chadha (Hologram Singer), Gracie Lai (Hologram Singer).
Plot: Video recovered from the wreckage of Le Verrier Space Station details how the Doctor and Clara became entangled in a rescue mission. As the footage plays out, a horrifying secret is uncovered, one that might threaten the life, sanity and species of anyone who watches. Comment: Experimental episode using the popular found-footage horror genre as the basis for a confusing monster takes over space station story where the viewer is never sure if what they are seeing is real, fabricated or imagined. The sandmen are a creepy design and the inter-cutting between shifting viewpoints helps keep the tension high. Capaldi is looking increasingly at home as the Doctor now, having settled down his characterisation. I’m not really sure I got the whole thing and will probably need to re-watch to dig out some of the subtexts, but I did enjoy this episode for its willingness to bring a new twist to a more traditional Who plot, which it executed pretty well..

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: THE ZYGON INVASION / THE ZYGON INVERSION

THE ZYGON INVASION / THE ZYGON INVERSION
2 episodes / 93m / 31 October & 7 November 2015
Rating: ∗∗∗∗
Writer: Peter Harness & Steven Moffat
Director: Daniel Nettheim
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Ingrid Oliver (Osgood), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Jaye Griffiths (Jac), Nicholas Asbury (Etoine), Cleopatra Dickens (Claudette), Sasha Dickens (Jemima), Rebecca Front (Colonel Walsh), Abhishek Singh (Little Boy [Sandeep]), Samila Kularatne (Little Boy’s Mum), Todd Kramer (Hitchley), Jill Winternitz (Lisa [Drone Op]), Gretchen Egolf (Norlander), Karen Mann (Hitchley’s Mom), James Bailey (Walsh’s Son), Aidan Cook (Zygon), Tom Wilton (Zygon).
Plot: The Zygons, a race of shape-shifting aliens, have been living in secret amongst us on Earth, unknown and unseen – until now! When Osgood is kidnapped by a rogue gang of Zygons, the Doctor, Clara and UNIT must scatter across the world in a bid to set her free. But will they reach her in time, and can they stop an uprising before it is too late?
Comment: A somewhat heavy-handed political allegory enlivened by some atmospheric visuals and a towering performance from Capaldi, who has really grown into the role of the Doctor. Jenna Coleman is also excellent in her dual-role as Clara and Zygon duplicate and Ingrid Oliver is again appealing as Osgood. The Zygons are an effective classic monster and the plot concerning a faction group looking to break the peace treaty brokered at the close of Day of the Doctor is involving. The story occasionally suffers from some over elaborate ideas, which lack follow-through such as the UNIT jet being shot down and no-one seemingly blinking an eyelid. I’m also not sure I still get the whole dual-Osgood scenario, but it did set up a splendid finale which gave Capaldi the opportunity to deliver one of the most passionate speeches in the series’ history. Capaldi’s performance is reminiscent of Tom Baker at this best as The Doctor argues ethics and values with the Zygons and Jemma Redgrave’s UNIT commander in an attempt to restore the treaty. Stirring stuff then in a story that ultimately satisfies despite its none-too-subtle political messaging.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – THE GIRL WHO DIED / THE WOMAN WHO LIVED

THE GIRL WHO DIED / THE WOMAN WHO LIVED
2 episodes / 92m / 17 & 24 October 2015
Rating: ∗∗∗
Writer: (1) Jamie Mathieson, Steven Moffat & (2) Catherine Tregenna
Director: Ed Bazalgette
Cast: (1 & 2) Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara), Maisie Williams (Ashildr/The Knightmare). (1) David Schofield (Odin), Simon Lipkin (Nollarr), Ian Conningham (Chuckles), Tom Stourton (Lofty), Alastair Parker (Limpy), Murray McArthur (Hasten), Barnaby Kay (Heidi). (2) Rufus Hound (Sam Swift), Gareth Berliner (Coachman), Elisabeth Hopper (Lucie Fanshawe), John Voce (Mr Fanshawe), Struan Rodger (Clayton), Gruffudd Glyn (Pikeman Lloyd Llewelyn), Reuben Johnson (Pikeman William Stout), Ariyon Bakare (Leandro), Ariyon Bakare (Leandro), Daniel Fearn (Crowd 1), Karen Seacombe (Crowd 2), John Hales (Hangman).
Plot: (1) Captured by Vikings, the Doctor and Clara must help protect their village from space warriors from the future, the Mire. Outnumbered and outgunned, their fate seems inevitable. So why is the Doctor preoccupied with a single Viking girl? (2) England, 1651. Deadly highwayman ‘the Knightmare’ and his sidekick stalk the dark streets of London. But when they find loot that is not of this world, they come face to face with the Doctor. Who is theKnightmare in league with? And can the Doctor avoid the hangman’s noose and protect the Earth from a devilish betrayal?
Comment: A two-parter with each episode having distinct plots but an overarching theme concerning Williams’ Ashildr and how the Doctor impacts her life. Both stories are historical based with fantasy/alien elements incorporated and both are entertaining if slight. The Viking story is the more enjoyable of the two with a simpler plot, but occasionally it descends into childish humour. The highway bandit story is a more serious affair dealing with the aftermath of the Doctor’s decision from the first story. Clara is absent for most of the episode leaving the story to delve deeper into the cause and effect of the Doctor’s decision – notably its impact on Williams’ character. The resolution is a little disappointing for a series steeped in plot twists and unexpected turns, but may potentially be evidence that Moffat has scaled back on the big concept shock tactics and opted for more concise character-based stories – not necessarily a bad thing.

Doctor Who Retrospective 1.9/1.10 – THE EMPTY CHILD / THE DOCTOR DANCES (2005)

THE EMPTY CHILD / THE DOCTOR DANCES
2 episodes / 85m / 21 & 28 May 2005
Rating: ∗∗∗∗∗
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: James Hawes
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Kate Harvey (Nightclub Singer), Albert Valentine (The Child) Florence Hoath (Nancy), Cheryl Fergison (Mrs Lloyd) Damian Samuels (Mr Lloyd), John Barrowman (Jack Harkness), Robert Hands (Algy), Joseph Tremain (Jim), Jordan Murphy (Ernie), Brandon Miller (Alf), Richard Wilson (Dr Constantine) Noah Johnson (Voice of the Empty Child), Dian Perry (Computer Voice).
Plot: London, 1941, at the height of the Blitz. A mysterious cylinder is being guarded by the army, while homeless children, living on the bomb sites, are being terrorised by an unearthly child.
Comment: Atmospheric, funny, frightening and terrifically entertaining this remains one of the series’ all-time classics. The haunting “Are you my mummy?” plea of the gas-mask faced child is unforgettable. The story was shot entirely at night and set during the London Blitz. The visual effects work is impressive, notably during the scenes where Rose is hanging from a barrage balloon rope. Barrowman makes his debut as Captain Jack Harkness and immediately strikes up an excellent chemistry with the two leads. Eccleston was right when in the finale he claimed he was “on fire”. His performance here hits just the right mix of gravity and humour and his “Everybody lives” speech is the most uplifting moment in the series’ history. Full of witty one-liners, scary moments and one of the best cliffhanger resolutions, this is a story that lives long in the memory.

Doctor Who Retrospective 1.8 – FATHER’S DAY (2005)

FATHER’S DAY
1 episode / 43m / 14 May 2005
Rating: ∗∗∗∗
Writer: Paul Cornell
Director: Joe Ahearne
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Shaun Dingwall (Pete Tyler), Robert Barton (Registrar), Julia Joyce (Young Rose), Christopher Llewellyn (Stuart), Frank Rozelaar-Green (Sonny), Natalie Jones (Sarah), Eirlys Bellin (Bev), Rhian James (Suzie), Casey Dyer (Young Mickey).
Plot: Rose travels back to 1987, to witness the day her father died. But when she interferes in the course of events, the monstrous Reapers are unleashed upon the world, and a wedding day turns into a massacre. Even the Doctor is powerless, as the human race is devoured.
Comment: Powerful and emotive episode that tugs at the heartstrings like no other story in the series to date. Cornell’s script may feel manipulative, but it plays nicely against the paradox of time travel. Ahearne also directs with energy and encourages exceptional performances from the main cast. By now Eccleston and Piper have established a strong enough rapport for the audience to believe Rose when she says the Doctor can never leave her. Dingwall is also excellent as Rose’s father, who’s bickering relationship with her mother bursts Rose’s idealistic fantasy of an idyllic marriage. The denouement is sympathetically played and is guaranteed not to leave a dry eye in the house.

Doctor Who Retrospective 1.7 – THE LONG GAME (2005)

THE LONG GAME
1 episode / 45m / 7 May 2005
Rating: ∗∗½
Writer: Russell T Davies
Director: Brian Grant
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Bruno Langley (Adam), Colin Prockter (Head Chef), Christine Adams (Cathica), Anna Maxwell-Martin (Suki), Simon Pegg (The Editor), Tamsin Greig (Nurse), Judy Holt (Adam’s Mum).
Plot: Adam discovers the wonders of travelling in the Tardis. In the far future, Satellite 5 broadcasts to the entire Earth Empire. But anyone promoted to Floor 500 is never seen again, and the Doctor suspects mankind is being manipulated. Does Adam have what it takes to become the Time Lord’s companion?
Comment: This episode is largely unremarkable and is the second in this series (after THE END OF THE WORLD) to use a space station setting. The premise doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny and the CGI monster of the week does little but show its fangs. Simon Pegg adds some wit to the proceedings as The Editor, but outside of the regulars the cast is largely unremarkable – save for Tamsin Greig’s poker-faced nurse. The direction by Grant is quite flat but there are a couple of memorable sequences – notably as Maxwell-Martin’s Suki explores Floor 500. A trend has been setting in through the series in that lead writer, Davies, has been responsible for the weaker scripts to date. Grand ideas lacking in logic and often held back by juvenile humour. Thankfully here that is kept in check and whilst the story fails to excite, it is not a disaster – merely bland. Also, thankfully, Langley was not kept on as a companion.

Doctor Who Retrospective 1.6 – DALEK (2005)

DALEK
1 episode / 46m / 30 April 2005
Rating: ∗∗∗∗½
Writer: Robert Shearman
Director: Joe Ahearne
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (The Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Steven Beckingham (Polkowski), Corey Johnson (Henry van Statten), Anna-Louise Plowman (Diana), Bruno Langley (Adam), Nigel Whitmey (Simmons), John Schwab (Bywater), Jana Carpenter (Di Maggio), Joe Montana (Commander), Barnaby Edwards (Dalek Operator), Nicolas Briggs (Dalek Voice).
Plot: Beneath the Salt Plains of Utah, the billionaire collector Henry Van Statten holds the last relic of an alien race. When the Doctor and Rose investigate, they discover that the Doctor’s oldest and most deadly enemy is about to break free. It’s a fight to the death, with Rose caught in the middle.
Comment: The series finally finds the right tone with this excellent episode. Eccleston gets his characterisation spot on as his hatred for the Daleks drives his anger at Van Statten’s keeping the creature alive in his underground museum. This gives Eccleston the opportunity to demonstrate his acting credentials and he delivers in spades. There is also some fun with corporate satire and the exhibits of Van Statten’s collection with various creatures from the Doctor’s past. Piper continues to impress as Rose who shows empathy for the tortured Dalek. Langley’s Adam, however, is not up to the task both as a character and in Langley’s insipid performance. This is the one down-side to what is otherwise the best episode in the revived series to date propelled by Shearman’s sharp script and Ahearne’s breathless direction.

Doctor Who Retrospective 1.4 & 1.5 – ALIENS OF LONDON and WORLD WAR THREE (2005)

ALIENS OF LONDON / WORLD WAR THREE
2 episodes / 86m / 16 & 23 April 2005
Rating: ∗∗½
Writer: Russell T Davies
Director: Keith Boak
Cast: Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Corey Doabe (Spray Painter), Ceris Jones (Policeman), Jack Tarlton (Reporter), Lachelle Carl (Reporter), Fiesta Mei Ling (Ru), Basil Chung (Bau), Matt Baker (As Himself), Andrew Marr (As Himself), Rupert Vansittart (General Asquith), David Verrey (Joseph Green), Navin Chowdhry (Indra Ganesh), Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones), Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine), Naoko Mori (Doctor Sato), Eric Potts (Oliver Charles), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), Jimmy Vee (Alien), Steven Speirs (Asst Commissioner Strickland), Elizabeth Fost, Paul Kasey, Alan Ruscoe (Slitheen)
Plot: The Doctor takes Rose home, but when a spaceship crash-lands in the Thames, London is closed off and the whole world goes on red alert. While the Doctor investigates the alien survivor, Rose discovers that her home is no longer a safe haven.
Comment: This is the renewed series’ first two-parter and whilst it suffers from inconsistency in tone and, in particular, the overuse of much juvenile humour, there are enough excellent scenes to display the potential of using the strong cast to its strengths. Eccleston again demonstrates a skill for the dramatic or reflective scenes, but a lack of subtlety with the comedic moments. The Slitheen lose any fear factor through the farting noises they emanate. Piper continues to impress as Rose and Coduri and Clarke return from the first episode, as Jackie and Mickey. The revelation of how long Rose had been gone adds some sobriety to the proceedings. There are some heavy-handed references to the Iraq War and international politics, but Wilton maintains dignity as MP Harriet Jones – destined for greater things. Disappointing for those who like their Who more serious and challenging, but fast-paced and entertaining for younger viewers. The tone would settle as the series progressed and as Eccleston grew into the part.