Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dimensions Sublime



Good Doctor Who stories are like trains. You wait through six half-baked nonsensical plots and then finally two come along only a week apart. Yes, it’s true I did that joke last week, but it seems fitting when the same writer has been responsible for both of the season’s best episodes so far.


Flatline is the second best only in the sense that it follows Mummy On The OrientExpress, but in all other respects I think it’s even better. It’s clever, creepy, tense, amusing, entertaining and wonderfully inventive. And by clever, I actually mean clever and not liable to be pulled apart if left alone with a kitten for less than five seconds.


If you can count the flaws and plot holes on the fingers of one hand, you know it’s a good un. With Flatline, I have fingers to spare.


When the Doctor says ‘they’re using the dead as camouflage’, I did hmm a little, it occurring immediately to me that if you’re in the walls the best camouflage is looking like a wall. And while Clara’s idea of using the picture is ingenious (and I use that term less freely than many seem disposed to throw  the word ‘genius’ at any passing Who episode), I did wonder if 2-dimensional creatures that had recently perfected the art of converting things to 3D would keep at it for quite so long when they realised it wasn’t working. Wouldn’t they stop and think something was fishy?


But those questions are tiddlers in the Doctor Who logic pond.


While Mummy’s passenger list included a lot of extras who were little more than set-dressing, here we see victims becoming part of the scenery in a more fatal sense and the CGI is used to dramatic and very memorable effect. One or two characters could have used an extra dimension or so, notably the train driver who struck me as a bit lacking. But others are well drawn and even if the community work supervisor has a mind of narrower gauge than any model railway, it’s not as though there aren’t people like that in the world and the story gets good mileage from his lack of imagination. It’s as useful in its own way as Riggsy’s artistic skills.



A note on Riggsy: he exhibits more personality and charisma than the all-too-regular Danny Pink. So let’s hope Danny turns out to be the Master or somebody and Riggsy can step in as replacement male companion contender. His readiness for self-sacrifice is wonderfully comical (it’s earnest, but we know it’s not going to happen) and to see him saved from the fate of many a supporting DW character before him by a hairband is a superb touch.


Referred to as a Doctor-lite story by some, even though Clara takes the reins – and the sonic screwdriver and psychic paper – I nevertheless felt the Doctor was right there throughout, at the heart of things and it’s a neat trick to have him inside the shrinking TARDIS and almost granted the equivalent  perspective of an out of body experience, watching himself at work as Clara loads up Doctor-emulator Vista and runs with it. Much as the author takes his central premise and runs with that, milking loads of great material out of it and not skimming on detail.


The Addams Family TARDIS is just one stand-out example of the inventiveness on display and we’re treated to all sorts of inter-dimensional visual play, with the Doctor handing items to Clara from a Dungeons & Dragons-style Handbag Of Holding. The graffiti people are fantastically well-realised and the ‘body art’ – a nervous system and a magnified mural of human skin – as evidence of the flatlanders’ work is inspired. The shambling, 3D zombies they become as they attempt to invade our world and pursue Clara and co through the tunnels is very effective  and not too far from some of the figures you might find stalking you through a Resident Evil game. Put me in mind of some of the fractured dream elements of Shinji Mikami's The Evil Within (minus the excessive gore!), so I’d be surprised if this episode didn’t give young kids nightmares. Let’s hope.


And even the use of a suspended bubble seat in a room with walls and floor come alive is a clever piece of situational construction. Yes, it’s built in and you guess it’s going to be used but it’s a simple touch that provides an opportunity for some hastily improvised use of the environment to escape a seemingly unstoppable foe. The sort of thing I’d prefer to see more of than handy waves of the get-out-of-jail-free screwdriver.



Jenna Coleman really shines as Clara in her Doctorish role, enjoying herself immensely – of course! – but also given an insight into the burdens and responsibilities that come with the job. In essence, it’s a neat switcheroo body-swap episode without the actual swapping of bodies.


And as if that wasn’t enough, here’s the icing on the cake: there’s this whole question that the flatlanders aren’t monsters and are merely misunderstood. Or rather, they’re only striving to understand the 3D world, trying to communicate. “Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?” says the Doctor. Well, no, as a matter of fact that would be par for the course. What is a refreshing change is that they turn out to be monsters. Nice one. Thank you for that.


If Mathieson gets to write more Doctor Who next year, Moffat may have to apply his script-editing skills to start inserting gaping plot holes and logic failures to bring his stories in line with the rest. Or alternatively, here's a shocking idea, have himself and the rest raise their game accordingly.


Assuming he doesn’t do that, future stories from this writer may as well come branded with a simple advertising slogan:


Mm-Mathiesons.



SAF 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

First Great Eastern




Good Doctor Who stories are like trains. You wait through six half-baked nonsensical plots and then finally one comes along. Let’s hope more follow, but for now Mummy On The Orient Express stands as the best of the season so far. At last, a tale that by and large holds together and makes reasonable sense.

Not bad going for an adventure set on a train in space. One of my more outlandish Who book proposals featured a trans-dimensional train, so I was never going to have a problem with the concept of a space-train. I did wonder why such a vehicle would feel the need to take a winding route across the heavens, but my wife put that down to a driver indulging his boyhood fantasies of being a real train driver. Who’d want to drive in straight lines?

Fair enough.

What we have here is a story that moves forward in relatively straight lines, throwing in a few twists and turns along the way. For the most part it’s a neatly constructed adventure mystery and a successful fusion of its diverse ingredients.

It’s a given that Capaldi and Coleman give outstanding performances, but that’s no reason not to give them a mention. And just when you think they’ve shone their brightest they manage to deliver more. Much as I found the basis of the Doctor-Clara division flimsy and contrived, its fallout and resolution here provides for some truly great moments. It does tether us to Earth and dull Danny Pink, but that’s less intrusive, more of a branch line to this story.

The use of the digital countdown was a tad intrusive, I found, at times an effective device for heightening the tension, at other times making the action appear drawn out to tally with the impending deadline. But the adventure rattles along at a good pace, without being afraid to throw in quieter moments that help amplify the times when the Mummy makes his appearance and somebody’s clock starts ticking down once more.

Bit disappointing to find that many of the people on board are holograms, but the actual characters who are present are fair to great. With the latter category including Frank Skinner as Perkins, who is surprising treat to watch. Terrific character, given some fab lines. I’m not sure I would have objected if he had elected to tag along on board the TARDIS as a resident engineer.

And the adventure leaves us with a tantalising mystery as to the identity of Gus (voiced by John Sessions, no less), surely something we’re going to see unveiled later in the season. The possibilities at this stage are more intriguing for me than the whole Missy mystery.


The roaring twenties aesthetic for train and passengers is nicely realised, and Clara looks especially gorgeous in the period costume. The musical contribution from Foxes providing a welcome touch of class – and to be honest I wouldn’t have minded a touch more of that.

There are minor quibbles. Chief of them for me being the use of a conspicuously handy gadget that transfers Maisy's anxieties and issues to the Doctor, thus drawing the Mummy’s attention. I mean, why not use some Time Lord telepathic trick – there’s at least some precedent for that – rather than conjure up a purpose-built gadget out of thin air? Come on, Jamie Mathieson, you’ve outdone all your fellow Who writers thus far this year, why drop the ball at that late stage in the game? Details.

Also, I think some more characterisation for the collection of scientists on board would have been preferable to having them all standing dumbly around looking vaguely like Einstein and other noted brains from history. But I appreciate that a 45-minute episode could get a bit overcrowded that way. Not unusual for trains, but I get how it could create problems for a humble one-parter. So, ultimately easy enough to forgive.


Every other story this season has for me fallen apart at the slightest touch like expired life forms in Skaro’s petrified forests, their often convoluted routes littered with plot holes that often would’ve required only a granule or two of extra thought on the part of the writers/script editors to repair.

Here, by comparison, the writer makes the task of constructing a half-decent story look as easy as coupling a few carriages together. It’s kind of sad that this constitutes a vast improvement, but that’s how Mummy On The Orient Express felt for me.

Not perfect, but by current standards this qualifies as first class.


SAF 2014

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Lunar Sea


At some point before the current season of Doctor Who, I imagine thousands of hopeful plots queued up to audition at some BBC Cardiff office and they were eventually narrowed down to thirteen. And I guess what we're seeing are the ones that didn't make it as far as judges' houses. Or boot camp. Or possibly even to the audition registration desk.

Sheesh. Some episodes have had their redeeming qualities and Kill The Moon had its share. It lost my interest early on by following the now standard pattern of starting with a) a pre-credits scene explaining the basic setup and b) a post-credits opening scene in Grange, sorry Coal, Hill soap land. It's gotten to the stage where part of my brain disengages as soon as I see those school corridors, Danny Pink, Clara's kitchen or any of the usual domestic earthbound elements or sets. They just don't interest me.

Good job then that by seven minutes in we're on the Moon, searching around a shadowy lunar base infested with spiders. Well, a spider. But hey, the Moon is breaking apart and it's absolutely crawling with eight-legged freaks. Unfortunately, the Doctor and Clara are joined on this Moon landing by a fairly dull collection of Two-Legs.

Yes, folks, the Earth is facing disaster and they can only scrape up a second-rate shuttle to investigate the source of the disaster. Fair enough. But I'm not entirely clear on why they could only find third-rate personnel, since you'd expect them to send the best. In Armageddon they found Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck at relatively short notice. All the world can manage in 2049 is the cast of a BBC re-imagining of Dad's Army and Three's Company hybrid. In a nod to Nightmare In Silver, we also have Courtney, a kid who manages to get *bored* on her first trip in the TARDIS. When you add her to a Clara who just can't seem to commit to more than one TARDIS trip a week, well, it's kind of understandable if I'm not really feeling the spirit of adventure here.

Where this episode succeeds over others this season is in effect. By which I don't mean FX, although those are at times stunning. Mostly the lunar landscape shots. The spiders themselves are pretty well realised and the director does build an effective atmosphere of suspense with the shadowy interiors and the scuttlesome beasts. In these sequences, it doesn't feel like the story is straining for scares, the way other episodes have come across this series. Alas, these moments are seasoned with rather dragging sequences devoid of tension and featuring more boring than any drilling operations attempted by the Mexicans.


Where it does strain - and suffers a nasty rupture - is in striving to throw in a huge, mind-blowing original twist. Obviously, the Moon can't really be made of cheese, so here the writer opts for an alternative (non-dairy) product - eggs. The Moon is an egg. It's the kind of central conceit that would have been perfectly at home in Red Dwarf, but it's really hard to take the oh-so-serious-and-weighty moral dilemma at the heart of this tale seriously when we're presented with the notion of another giant space chicken.

This one isn't invisible like the one in the Van Gogh episode either. We get to see it, flapping away in the sky after the Moon breaks up. Of course, because Doctor Who is brought to you by Everything-Has-To-Work-Out-In-The-End-O-Vision, it lays a brand new egg before it flies off into space. And it's here where I feel the deepest sympathy for the creature because the poor bugger has had to lay an egg more than twice the size of its newly hatched body. Cripes, that must have hurt.

Capaldi and Coleman act their socks off and there are some great scenes between them. But it's a case, once again, of the actors making the best of their material, because the situation seems highly engineered and contrived. At one point the Doctor is telling us quite emphatically that there are points in space and time that he can't simply walk away from and then declaring just as emphatically that this is in fact one situation where he has to walk away and let humanity - and Clara - make the decision. What's more, Clara puts the whole question - kill the chicken? don't kill the chicken? - to a global referendum. Well, I say global, one assumes it was only about half the world that got to vote - so a fairly middling turnout. But what's worse is that they're expected to vote based on very sketchy information. Nobody on Earth at this point has the faintest idea  that that there is a creature at the heart of the Moon but she addresses them as though they have been watching the episode this whole time.

Giant spiders on the Moon might have been more than enough to promote this episode well above the preceding entrants in this year's show. As it is, I'm left with an overall impression of a poorly engineered morality tale purpose-built to deliver Clara's (well-acted) strop at the end and her falling out with the Doctor. Almost as though the Doctor is now driven by an urge to create drama.

Wholly unconvincing and I wish they had discovered the Moon was made of cheese (even the kind that's full of holes), served on something slightly less crackers.



SAF 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Strange Hill





“Good old fashioned Doctor Who fun,” somebody said to me on Twitter last night. They were responding to my less than enthusiastic reaction to the latest episode, The Caretaker.

‘Good’ and ‘fun’ are subjective, so fair play to anyone who got that much enjoyment out of it. Me, I got bored. Tedious fluff, I thought. But I’ve racked my brains and can only guess that by ‘old-fashioned’ the Twitterer meant circa 2006.

Soap opera first crept into Doctor Who during the Davison years, I’d say, with the dysfunctional TARDIS family and small chunks of an average 4-parter given over to whingeing and bickering. Used to annoy me, particularly Adric’s whining which probably would have driven K9 away if he hadn’t already left for E-space by the time Nyssa and Tegan joined. Later, Ace to some extent seemed like a weird Grange Hill graduate and brought some soapish baggage with her which was woven into a number of stories.

But it was only really with the return of the show in 2005 that companions brought their families, boyfriends and kitchen sinks with them for large stretches of the adventures on offer. Where they didn’t bring all that along, they’d be popping back to see them all the time and the stories were often built around the baggage.

Sitcoms started to creep in a little later. And The Caretaker fits that mould, unsurprisingly similar to The Lodger aka The One With James Corden. In a decent run of stories, that sort of thing is passably amusing and Roberts (and Moffat) can certainly write wit. Unfortunately, he can also write a great deal of stuff that rhymes with wit.

In this case, Roberts shouldn’t shoulder all the blame. This Ozzie 4 The Squaddie, Clara loves Danny Pink story arc has been imposed from on high and I guess if you’re at all invested in that, then this episode would be a corker. Sadly, it lost my interest before their first date. As I’ve said before, I had high hopes the writers would be building Clara as a character after a season of using her as a plot device.

High hopes were the opposite of what I had coming into this episode. Expectations were lowered by five preceding substandard tales. So it’s even more remarkable that it still managed to disappoint. But I do suffer from chronic optimism when it comes to Who – I keep watching in hope that it will get better.

Sadly, this kind of soap-sitcom fare is part of the new standard, with a plot flimsier than a routine instalment of Friends (which runs for about half the length). Here, we have the Doctor going ‘deep undercover’ as a school caretaker in order to ferret out a sort of malicious Metal Mickey, ‘one of the deadliest killing machines ever built’. Well, sure, I mean it kills a whole policeman. A low body count in a comedy is fair enough, but my main objection with the thing is that it looks bloody stupid. Contemporary US drones look meaner and deadlier and while they might have a spot of trouble negotiating school corridors you could do worse than borrow a little from the military design mindset. Monster design has been generally poorer than in the ‘good old days’.


The rest largely boils down to farce, centring around the comic exploits of the new caretaker (teehee), Clara trying to juggle her stressful sci-fi adventure lifestyle with a job and her new beau (hoho), and the Doctor butting heads with Danny Pink like a jealous ex or a father vetting his daughter’s boyfriend or a child acting out when his mum has a new boyfriend on the scene (somebody fix my cracked ribs). His refusal to accept Pink as anything but a PE teacher goes beyond stubborn to dense. We see the same petty and infantile side of the Doctor we witnessed to excess in Robot Of Sherwood and further allusions to his absurd soldierphobia. Yawn.

Honestly, I struggled a bit to see the episode through to the end. What I struggled with afterwards was how this Twitterer could see it as old-fashioned Doctor Who. Each to their own and all, but still. I don’t know, I only faithfully watched the show since the early Pertwee era and caught up on the Troughton and Hartnell years a little later in life.

Unless it was a reference to having two teachers and a young pupil on board the TARDIS, just like back in the day the show began. But, strange, I don’t remember Ian and Barbara having any trouble juggling ordinary life with life on the TARDIS...

Oh yes, that’s right, they were whisked off on adventures in time and space and weren’t dropped off back home every week.

As such, I recklessly replied to the above tweet thus: “There was nothing old fashioned about it and very little good. Ymmv.”

Which sounded fair enough in my own head and normally I’m not one to diss and tell but for the purposes of making a point here I will share the answer that earned me from the Twitterer in question:

“oh god, you’re not one of those ‘it was only good in the 60s when the Doctor forgot his lines every ten minutes’ people are you?”

This seemed at odds with their previous views of ‘old-fashioned Doctor Who’. So again, I had to assume that to them ‘old-fashioned’ meant rather more recent. My inability to recognise the striking similarities between The Caretaker and pretty much anything from An Unearthly Child to Survival was apparently my failing as a viewer and a fan just too darned nostalgic for the days of William Hartnell’s increasing illness.

For the record, no, I’m not ‘one of those people’. Indeed, I’ve always endeavoured to be balanced in my reviews, be it a modern or ‘classic’ DW. Even though Hartnell and Troughton were both before my time I gained a tremendous appreciation for their respective takes on the role as well as for the achievements of the production teams working under the extraordinary pressures and limitations of technology and budget of the time.

If today I detect a laziness in the writing and/or a growing drought of good ideas, a degree of repetition or any other aspect I’ve found lacking, if that’s born of any comparison at all it’s as measured against other more recent and contemporary TV shows that have been created in comparable environments. And on that gauge, Doctor Who is currently falling short by quite some distance. Orphan Black, for example, was not everything a friend of mine cracked it up to be, but it (the first season anyway) made for much more compelling viewing than DW.

If compared directly with immediately its own preceding seasons, the shortfall is less marked but the problem for me there is that it’s nowhere near different enough. In Capaldi we have a great new Doctor and we had a great new opportunity which, to my mind, is being frittered away week by week. Meanwhile, Clara is being wasted on weak sub-soap rom-com material.

The Caretaker did everything its title promised. It removed my inclination to care. The X Factor's borderline sadistic six-chair challenge has more drama

YMMV. Your mileage may vary. For me, Doctor Who seems to have run out of gas.

All of this, of course, is opinion. Not fact. There's really nothing more complex to be read into it than that. Disagree, argue passionately against it. But if Twittering fans do feel the need to level their own pet theories as to why I have those opinions, well, that's what the Block option is for.


SAF 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cop-Outs And Robbers


Despite the fantastic work done by this season's previous four episodes of Doctor Who to try to lower my expectations, this year's fifth instalment, Time Heist, managed to fall a bit flat. It was all a bit like Hustle, without the really ingenious, cleverly constructed plots.

There are probably some people, mostly including the writers, who believed the cons featured in Hustle represented the absolute pinnacle of devious plotting. Alas, I was not among them. They were generally obvious, contrived and successful by virtue of the mark's stupidity. Time Heist suffers somewhat in comparison by being more full of holes than a standard tea bag.

It's something we've come to expect from Steve Thompson, writer of such pedestrian logic-deficient works as Curse Of The Black Spot. But in this case it's not all his fault. For one thing, Steve Moffat take the credit of co-collaborator. For another, we now live in an era of Who in which the TARDIS and/or sonic screwdriver are used for everything. So if you're in the business of creating a good temporal bank job plot you first have to come up with a convincing reason why the TARDIS can't be the obvious solution.

Oops.

Solar flares were offered up as the excuse, because obviously they would have rendered navigation impossible. Erm, yes, like they always do. Clearly. Of course, that begs the question why, when staging a Time Heist, you wouldn't just set your TARDIS to pop into the private vault to rescue the two alien lovers a little before or after the solar flare activity. No, thanks, as a 2000-year old super-smart Time Lord I'd much rather set up this convoluted break-in plan that makes no sense whatsoever, exploiting the unique talents of my trusted companion and two really dull additions to the supporting cast canon. Cos, you know, that'd be more fun.

And it was fun. In the sense that it was driven along by some witty dialogue and some great moments, much like any other Who episode, but those moments failed to hold together as any kind of convincing whole. Jason Statham routinely delivers more ingenious crime capers.


In addition to Capaldi continuing to be awesome, we had Keeley Hawes in cool ice-maiden mode and an interesting telepathic creature in the form of the Teller. But rather like the nice CGI high-tech cityscape was let down by the bank interiors - bland corridors and some basement full of pipes - it all ultimately adds up to wasted material. The Doctor's 'brilliant' plan is to use memory-wiping worms so that he and his friends are guilt-free right up to the point they've opened the case and walk into the bank. Whereupon the incredible guilt-detecting telepath skips right past the four prospective bank robbers to some random suspect who's only there to have his head caved in for demonstration purposes.

Just as last week's astoundingly clever Listen was a sub-par exercise in time-travel 101, this episode's main surprise will be in the number of people who turn out to have been surprised to discover that the Doctor turns out to have been the architect of the whole mission. The main unexpected twist for me was that it all emerged as a rescue mission to bust out the Teller's bug-eyed lover, but largely because I didn't expect them to pull quite such a similar so soon after Hide.

If only the greatest bank in the galaxy was as riddled with holes as this episode, the Doctor and Clara could have walked right in. Then again, they pretty much did just that from being hauled into Keeley's office to clambering through the vents into the amazingly ultra-secure private vault.

The thing is, in order to construct a genuinely clever heist plot (particularly with a time-travel angle), you'd ideally have to be pretty clever. And I don't get the impression that any single Who writer is up to the task. Or possibly in this case any two Who writers together.

To be fair, it's possible - and even probable - that Moffat only wrote the tiresome earthbound Clara dating scenes that kicked this escapade off. And if every episode this season is going to be bound up in that soapy tedium, the future doesn't look particularly bright.

On the other hand, if Time Heist is an example of what occurs between Clara's domestic lifestyle, maybe we'd best just focus on the soap opera.

SAF 2014

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bed, Barn & Beyond




Listen. That wheezing, groaning sound you hear could be the TARDIS materialising in time for another adventure. On the other hand, it could be the sound of this week’s episode straining for effect. It really, really wants to be scary.

Listen does manage to struggle its way up from disposable fluff to atmospheric and, at times, creepy run-of-the-mill Doctor Who fare. Of course, whereas in the old days the show might set out to scare us kids, here in the 21st century we get treated to a 45-minute counseling session.

It’s okay to be scared. And anyway there’s nothing there.

A Doctor Who story with a purely imagined menace. That’s new. Although come to think of it, it does vaguely resemble Hide, the most atmospheric and creepy episode in recent memory that turned out to be a love story. But this was cleverly interwoven with one of Moffat’s ‘timey-wimey’ (yegads, I hate that term) masterpieces. So more like Blink then, without the monsters.

Blink. Listen. The Silence. Whatever you do, don’t blink, cos those Angels only move when you can’t see them. And the Silence, well, keep looking at them because the moment you turn around you forget they were ever there. This notion of some mystery creature that has perfected the art of hiding appears to be riffing on a familiar Moffat theme.

The thinking seems to be, What can I scare the young viewers with next? Superficially it’s a clever approach – because who hasn’t woken up in the night as a kid and felt there was something lurking in the dark or under the bed? I know I have, not least because Doctor Who used to give me such terrific nightmares. Nothing ever grabbed my ankles, mind you, but still it preys upon a feeling with which most of us will be familiar. Smart move and we kick off here with an intriguing premise – the notion of a creature that has so perfected the art of concealment it might never be seen by anyone. So how would anyone – even the Doctor – ever know it was there?


Unfortunately, this speculative premise is far more interesting than the explanation eventually provided. It's a rare but chronic condition shared by a few other stories in the past. (See very early Hartnell vehicle, Edge Of Destruction, and initially fascinating, ultimately god-awful Matt Smith Chibnall-scripted dumbfest Power Of Three.) Invariably fatal.


The twist here is it’s nothing. A phantom menace, if you will.  A term which could have applied to about 90% of the preceding season’s tales. This is a non-threat born of the Doctor’s paranoia and the fact that hauling Clara along on a hunt for a creature that only might be there when you’re alone strikes him as a smart ploy.

But then, he’s stupid enough to believe that this same master of concealment could be the figure on the bed with a blanket over its head. And he’s stupid enough to believe that the best move when perhaps confronted with the very thing he’s seeking is to stand with his back to it and tell everyone, whatever they do, don’t look round.

And frankly, when you have to make your ostensibly smart characters behave stupidly to make your story work that’s when you’ve lost. Lost my attention, at any rate. As though Clara’s (albeit endearingly naive) historical ignorance in last week’s Robin Hood outing wasn’t enough.


For an extra helping of dumbness on the side this week, because she’s dating an ex-soldier we have her blurting another idiotic joke about killing. Okay, we can attribute this second blunder to nerves, but Clara is smart, intelligent and confident. She exhibits no nervousness whatsoever when she first corrals Danny into a date back in Into The Dalek.

As in that episode, we kick off with a strong pre-titles hook only to return to soap-opera territory as Clara dines out with Danny ‘Interesting’ Pink. Makes you long for the days when the Doctor couldn’t steer his TARDIS with any accuracy, obliging the companion to stick around for a perilous life of adventure rather than take a taxi to a weekly escapade between real-life dramas. And by real-life I mean contrived Hollyoaks-level situations, of course. Now it’s just difficult first dates, but next thing you know it’ll be a disastrous wedding and a major annual fire at the local pub.

There were some nice touches and stand-out moments in this one (e.g. Clara posting out the toy soldiers around Rupert ‘Interesting’ Pink’s bed, the Doctor pinching the caretaker’s coffee – saw it coming,  but still nicely done etc). And I suppose the identity of the boy in the barn comes as a surprise, even if chiefly because the Gallifrey of the Doctor’s youth that lived in my imagination rarely involved barns as an accommodation option. Still, it was also nice to have a reminder of the fabulous John Hurt Doctor and Day Of The Doctor, what I consider Moffat’s most recent triumph. But my biggest fear is that this is another tale leading to some resolution concerning the Doctor’s ‘trouble with soldiers’, which to my mind should have been a non-issue in the first place.

On the whole this story was like a piece of cheap jewellery you might see being flogged on a shopping channel. The presenters are all hyped up, trying to convince you how wonderful it is, but it’s really just a necklace of pretty beads strung together, not nearly as exquisitely crafted as they’re making out. And there’s the sense you’ve seen a dozen others like it.


Moffat’s clear love of cyclic stories has extended to bring us a series that seems stuck in a chronic hysteresis-style rut, content to repeat itself because of some paranoid fear that any deviation from the formula may result in a ratings dip. It’s a particular shame because when you have two leads as engaging and so damn near perfect as Capaldi’s Doctor and Jenna’s Clara, these letdowns amount to a greater waste of opportunity.

Never mind, instead of watching from behind the sofa the new trend is to watch from the therapist’s couch. So hopefully, now that we’ve dealt with our nightmares and fear issues, future episodes will address these dreams I keep having.

See, Doctor, I keep imagining there might be something there, a decent story lurking just at the edges of my vision, but I turn on my TV every Saturday evening and there's nothing of substance there. Only shadows.

 
SAF 2014