Sunday, September 25, 2011

Only Fools And Cybermen

Last night saw the return of the show’s spin-off sitcom Two Pints Of Vraxoin And A Packet Of Jelly Babies, penned by Gareth Roberts and currently enjoying a season of only one episode a year. This time it’s The One With The Cyberman In The Changing Room and, like The One With All The Football, it’s funny stuff.

Unlike the Cybermen, our hero Craig (James Corden) has progressed, becoming a dad and the episode gives us a far more credible portrait of a father struggling to cope than Doctor Who’s earlier (and less hilarious) Night Terrors. This rarely falls short of being entertaining, liberally peppered with laugh-out-loud lines – and even Corden is liberally peppered at one point – with pepper – as customary guest star, the Doctor, does a dazzling bit of faffing about in the kitchen shortly after his arrival. It’s just one of many inspired touches of visual comedy to go with the positively fizzing dialogue. And Roberts does a good job of running with Moffat’s idea that the Doctor can speak baby. You’d have to be a fool or a Cyberman not to find this amusing.

Indeed it’s so good, the sooner Gareth Roberts lands a BBC 3 sitcom commission and retires from Doctor Who, the better for us all.

Briefly, I had to cast my attention back to what I wrote about The Lodger last year, because as I pondered the delights of this episode I grew wary of repeating myself. Because – very like the Cybermen – this is exactly like the previous iteration but slightly worse. For the framework for all the domestic comedy antics, I can only imagine Gareth retained the original script and did a quick cut and replace on a few details. Hidden TARDIS-like ship upstairs becomes hidden Cybership downstairs, defeated by the combined psyches of the two singularly unadventurous protagonists becomes destroyed by emotional feedback from one of said protagonists.

Honestly, Mr Roberts, did you deem your own story so forgettable that we wouldn’t notice? Lazy, abysmal stuff. Utterly unworthy of most of the writing that fuels proceedings, insulting to the audience and the people who paid your cheque, and about par for the Gareth Roberts course.

I remember being pleasantly surprised by The Lodger because, finally, it seemed that Roberts had found his appropriate level and delivered something that wasn’t entirely expected. (1. The Shakespeare Code: comprehensively unsurprising Who-meets-Shakespeare-by-numbers, feeble resolution. 2. The Unicorn And The Wasp: atrocious and puerile Who-meets-Agatha-Christie-by-numbers guff, feeble resolution. 3. the 'special', Planet Of The Dead. Overblown and shallow Pitch Black imitation, feeble resolution.) The Lodger is still his best offering – on this steeply downward sliding scale - but unfortunately now this new (sitcom) format seems to be the new pro forma.

In Who writer terms, Roberts always strikes me as the equivalent of one of those X Factor contestants who really shouldn’t have been let through to the judges’ houses but, you know, Louis Walsh insisted because they were ‘fun’ and camp enough to promise some basic lowest common denominator popular appeal. Jedward or Wagner, say. In this regard he does, I suppose, realise his potential.

It’s a shame, because there’s cleverness at work here and there and the man plainly has a gift for funny lines. But ultimately his tales fall over like, well, Cybermen in the face of pretty much anything.

Far from my (admittedly remote) hopes for realising the Cybermen’s potential, this tale blatantly fesses up and admits just how crap they really are. I don’t know what it is exactly, a syndrome or a disease, but for the series ‘second best’ monster, they’ve been treated abominably by their writers over the years. Here, only the poor deluded Cyberleader believes that six would be enough to conquer the world. I’m only stunned that the Doctor doesn’t contest this point, shrug off the ‘threat’ and go and have a nice dish of fish fingers and custard with Craig and little Stormageddon. An army of them would be about as dangerous as the stockpile of Iraqi WMD we all went to war over a few years back.

Through the course of the series, these poor machine creatures have been susceptible to radiation, gravity, gold stars for mathematical excellence and a zippy silver-clad mime artist. Here, they reach their saddest nadir yet, courtesy of the emotional inhibitor chip introduced in modern Who, defeated by a father’s love for his wee bairn. Awww. (I’m reminded at this point of that great sound effect from The Five Doctors of a Cyberman throwing up.) Spare parts? Spare us.

What makes this painfully worse is that the Cybes have apparently downgraded their conversion process to an eminently reversible process of ‘donning a suit of armour’. This regression is in keeping with their modern clunky, trudge-dread aesthetic, but it beggars belief that, in a universe where technological advances outpace evolution by a factor of umpty-gazillion, a machine-race are not constantly evolving. Hate to say it, but Star Trek:TNG’s rather plodding and pedestrian Borg addressed the perpetual adaptation concept better, even if it was only to add the occasional bit of hosepipe or groinal socket attachment.

Worst. Cyberman. Story. Ever.

Ah, but of course it’s not a Cyberman story. It is, as stated, a story of a guy struggling with his recent promotion to fatherhood. That’s the key and it’s echoed in the way this episode opens with a nod to Rose (assistant staying late to close up shop, something lurking in store): Who is less about Auton mannequins breaking out of shop windows to terrorise the nation; it’s much more about the people who work in that shop. The late, great Barry Letts (whose role Steven Moffat now occupies, albeit in the modern capacity of ‘showrunner’) told me that his mission was simply to produce entertaining sci-fi action adventure and, despite inheriting a setup he didn’t want – a time and space traveller stranded on contemporary Earth – succeeded, for the most part, in investing a succession of alien invasion and mad professor stories with respectable degree of variety and creativity. Back in his day, incumbent Doctor, Jon Pertwee, said that "there's nothing more scary than coming home and finding a Yeti on your loo in Tooting Bec", as opposed to in some alien environment. And there’s something to that. The contrast between the alien and the everyday and mundane makes for a potent mix.

New Who follows that recipe to a large extent, but the balance of ingredients has shifted. Character and emotion has been brought very much to the fore and this is a good thing. But I do wonder sometimes if this hasn’t been at the expense of the sf adventure side. A lot of these 45 minute episodes barely present scenarios, rather than fully fledged stories (at best, this week’s would have made for a poor if amusing short story in an anthology) and perhaps a greater deftness of touch is needed to give equal weight to both elements.

We live in a world where ‘getting away from it all’ is increasingly difficult. While on holiday, I’ll usually make a point of going offline as well as away somewhere. My mobile phone’s available for emergencies, of course, but escape – let alone actual isolation – is a challenge in this increasingly interconnected society of ours. Thus, we see this reflected in Doctor Who – at one time the ultimate in escapism – where we have companions, whisked away in the TARDIS, all of time and space opened before them, and a string of strong, independent female companions possessed with a need to frequently touch base with home and family. Once was okay as an exploration of that facet of the time travel experience, but to have the experiment repeated ad nauseam was a bit too much for my tastes.

Now at last we have the domestics packed up and travelling with us, with Rory and Amy’s relationship centre stage in the TARDIS, but – much as I love em, I really do – their love has been often been put under the microscope, pushed to the forefront and, coupled with the arc concerning their daughter, has often nudged the framing SF adventure story into peripheral vision territory. As I've noted here before, there's this too-frequent appearance of an "It'll do" attitude, as though the importance of a strong scenario has been comprehensively underestimated in terms of selling us on the emotional import at the heart of the presented situation.

At the same time, the tricky issue of Amy and Rory missing out on raising their own child has been conveniently swept under a carpet – sure, the temporal shenanigans have rendered it somewhat moot from a practical perspective, but I think it creates an odd disconnect with the powerful parental – and particularly maternal – bond. It’s something that was clearly in evidence after the birth, when Amy was pleading with her captors against the baby being taken and demanding that the Doctor get her back. And it’s an especial oversight in such an emo-centric incarnation of Doctor Who. It’s as though the (laudable) aim to lend these adventures extra depth goes hand in hand with a desire to keep things simple.

Roberts exemplifies this modus operandi. Hence we have this effective domestic sitcom married to a token hidden alien ship scenario and a resolution straight out of the appalling Doctor Who For Dummies handbook. It has its merits – yay, verily, it abounds with merits: the humour is consistently above most current BBC1 sitcoms (not fantastic praise, I know, but still), forget the BBC 3 ones; there are some nice guest characters (must mention Lynda Baron, much more successful than her panto pirate turn in Enlightenment); I loved the inclusion of Rory and Amy, and the nice little extra of Amy stopping to sign an autograph, as the face of the perfume. (Although it fills me with this niggling feeling that Amy and Rory have been given a future and a life together so, maybe – noooooo! - they won’t be returning, after all. Grounds for an upside down smiley at the very least!) And the Doctor’s little talk with Alfie at the end would have been thoroughly lovely if only not undermined by the sinking feeling that we’ve been there before. Oh dear god, it’s TennantDoc all over again, getting all maudlin and self-absorbed about his impending end. May I make this humble request: in the future, when or if the Doctor is actually about to meet his ultimate demise, can he please please not know about it in advance? All this prophesy and foreshadowing is getting a teensy bit lame and tiresome. Fair dues to Smith, he subtly underplays it to a welcome degree and there’s none of the self-referential “I don’t want to go” mopeathon to which we were subjected in Tennant’s final stages.

But viewed on its own with all the episode’s undoubted strengths in mind, I just can’t see where the harm could have been in framing all this in a smarter, more involved and – oh, what the hell, let’s go all out here – original story with a resolution that didn’t suck lemons.

Emotional feedback is a long way off destroying Doctor Who, but this isn’t the first tale this year that has suffered its effects. Emotional weight, like good CGI, should serve the story and ideally the story should serve that emotional weight. What would have been so wrong with embedding the good material in a decent Cyberman story? (Assuming such a thing could ever be written.) If you have something worthwhile to say, give it all the thought and attention – and the story - it deserves. Just a suggestion.

As it is, yeah, that was amusing. Next.

And talking of next, we can’t let this pass without touching on the promise of the impending season finale. The transition, through the young eye-witness accounts, to River Song and the lead-in to next week, was skilfully done – Moffat at work, maybe, tail-ending Roberts’ efforts? – even down to the minor detail of the Doctor liberating his ominous blue envelopes from Sophie’s stationery supplies. Nice.

Fair warning, Mr Moffat: we anticipate great things. Because there is at least one writer who has – apparently – crafted a complex and fiendishly clever story to the credit of all the themes and character relationships he is out to explore. At least, he’d better have. Since the arc has been so pervasive and all-important throughout this and the previous season, the longer term investment warrants a greater return.

The banks may have slashed interest rates, but in the closing stage of this patchy season (patchier than a one-eyed pirate dog named Patch) I’m trusting Doctor Who will not end up doing likewise.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fawltless Towers

Pictured Above: Distant cousins.

Faith. You gotta have faith. For preference, mine comes in the form of Eliza Dushku, but whatever your personal brand, it pays with Doctor Who to always trust that, no matter how disappointing an episode – or even a run of episodes or a season - might have been, there will be better along soon enough.

This week’s, The God Complex, was my cup of tea. In many respects, everything that the preceding instalment, The Girl Who Waited, should have been. A strong emotive concept, this time brilliantly executed. For one thing, it doesn’t rely on people being stupid. In fairness, this one probably had as many inconsistencies of internal logic but it cleverly weighted all explanations towards the tail end so that I was properly hooked and engaged in the story from the get-go. The questions it raised were of the ‘Ooh, I wonder what the hell is going on?’ variety, rather than the ‘How utterly dumb and contrived is that?’ sort.

The Toby Whithouse experience has been a variable one. School Reunion was a tale of two halves – on the one hand a powerfully emotional exploration of the Doctor-Sarah Jane relationship and the impact on a companion’s life post-Doctor; on the other a fairly feeble story of aliens taking over a school, ultimately to be defeated by K9. The best of Who, the worst of Who, but ultimately still magical in the memory thanks to the Sarah Jane thread and a parting scene that tugs on the heartstrings in all the best ways. Vampires Of Venice, veering more towards ordinary, although definitely with merits (including but not limited to hot vampire babes). And now this, The God Complex, outstanding in every respect that counts.

Gorgeously creepy and ever so slightly insane, it opened with shots of empty corridors just waiting for people to run up and down them. The direction was superb throughout, painting this already bizarre scenario of the mock 1980s hotel in a singularly surreal light. Freaky montages, extreme eye close-ups, warped views of corridors stretching away forever, a consistently dark tone expertly interwoven with the chintzy decor,and a perfectly measured restraint in the reveal of the monster. Shadows, more ocular close-ups, ominous sounds and an exquisitely framed shot through glass when the Doctor first confronts it face to face. And it’s a monster which, quite frankly, you’d be seriously tempted to show off.

A beautifully realised creation. It must be said. Sure, yes, it’s ultimately ‘just’ a minotaur, but a fantastic bit of animatronic workmanship. Not quite Farscape's Pilot level, but fantastic all the same. When Amy says he’s beautiful, she’s not wrong. Kudos to the production team on that alone. The line about it being a ‘distant cousin of the Nimon’ is comedy gold.

Loved it, loved it, loved it.

And I understand now why The Girl Who Waited couldn’t have been set in a prison with lots of individually tailored nightmares. Unless these stories could have been combined somehow. Hmm.

Such speculative food for thought aside, this for me is the best standalone story of the season so far, up there with Neil Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife, with perhaps a few extra trimmings on top. There’s a deftness of touch ranging from the simple facet of set-dressing – the pictures of previous victims on the walls, for instance – to the characterisation of the lovely Rita (not a meter maid). Actress Amara Karan and script conspired to invest her with a similar ‘instant companion’ quality to the likes of Sally Sparrow (sigh) and I for one would have welcomed her recruitment as a regular at the end. Of course, it’s all engineered so that we properly feel for her in that horrible, wrenching scene of her demise. A true shame, but the engineering is pure craftsmanship.

Memory cheats, but I do recall wondering, back in ye olde times during (the somewhat overrated) Curse Of Fenric, whether the Russian captain was intended as companion material, before he met is fate. There’s other Fenric common ground here as the Doctor endeavours to break his companion’s faith in him, only this time the scene involves actors instead of Sylvester McCoy.

The initial hypothesis that the creature is feeding on fear is the stuff of bulk-standard DW monsters, preparing us for a foray into familiar Orwellian Room 101 territory, but thought has gone into the range of hot and cold running fears on offer in the hotel rooms. Clowns and ventriloquist dummies are obvious ones, of course, but you would need the more common fears in amongst the quirkier ones. The conspiracy-theorist geek’s fear of girls and that single shot of the huddle of girls all talking and laughing about him was again deftly done and told the character’s whole story in as few seconds as possible. Naturally there’s a burning desire to know the greatest fears of the regulars – the Doctor most particularly - and the episode frustrates us with its restraint in this regard, but it’s pitch perfect. Any more would have been wrong, as would any less. As the story progresses, we know there has to be more to this than just fears and when the question of faith then rears its head, further fascination is folded in with the suspense.

And the range of faiths is as creative as the range of fears. Faith in conspiracy theories, faith in luck. And how fantastic to have a practising Muslim in the mix. In passing I did wonder whether the Doctor’s reference to pointless superstitions and faith was ill-judged, in the light of Rita’s religious beliefs, but it’s clear that he respects and admires her. It’s fitting that a Time Lord with a God Complex, eponymous or otherwise, would be something of an atheist, but I couldn’t imagine him being so glibly dismissive of the deeply held beliefs of a person so clearly valued and recently lost.

As dark and potentially heavy stuff as all this is, there is comedy aplenty. All that was missing in this hotel from hell was a guest appearance from John Cleese. We had David Walliams – not in the same league, all due respect – but he puts in a good turn as the cowardly alien from the most-invaded planet in the universe. The fact that this snivelling spineless Orc survives when better people have lost their lives is simultaneously galling and inspired.

Like all good things it comes to an end. But we have to hope that at least part of the end is temporary. When the illusion of the hotel is stripped away and all that’s left is a Tron-like virtuascape, bringing into sharp focus the isolation and loneliness of the minotaur’s death. His line about one so drenched in blood embracing the end was, for me, so clearly referring to the Doctor it didn’t necessarily need spelling out, but it’s at least not as bluntly hammered home as, say, the end note in Moffat’s The Beast Below. But that’s ultimately the extent of my quibbles with it, really, because as I said it managed to sell me on the scenario and fully hook me in, before any triggering of the internal critic could occur. Damn it, it even managed to have me feeling sorry for the beast, without any sense that anyone was ham-fistedly trying to push my buttons. Even the music was – gasp!! – understated for a (blimmin welcome) change.

So in the end not quite entirely faultless, but perhaps as close to it as Doctor Who ever comes.

Still, with all that praise heaped upon it, I must balance it out by adding that Toby Whithouse is a bastard. Sure, he can claim he was only following orders but that doesn’t alter the facts that responsibility lies with him – for being the man who wrote Amy and Rory out. You utter git, sir. Shame on you!

Of course, if this had occurred at season’s end, I would be more convinced – and horrified – at the prospect that this was indeed their actual final departure. But I can’t buy that this is really the last we’ll see of them. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, maybe it’s because I’ve been fed on a diet of more recent companions who always return no matter how final their departure seems. Mostly though it’s because Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill have been for me the best Doctor-companion combo since Tom Baker, Lis Sladen and Ian Marter and that’s something real special. I have faith that they will be back.

In grudging deference to Mr Whithouse, he delivers a beautiful departure scene which does the relationships justice. The bastard writes terrific tear-jerking farewells. So, in case there’s any misunderstanding or in the remotest case Mr Whithouse is paying attention, ‘bastard’ is in this instance a term of respect and admiration. With the blame, sir, comes due credit.

That final closing scene of the Doctor’s isolation and loneliness inside the TARDIS is as perfectly judged as most of this episode and this is the first time in a few weeks now that the episode itself has honestly outdone anything in the NEXT TIME... trailer at the end.

NEXT TIME has a lot to live up to now and unfortunately it features Cybermen – and the modern clunky, trudge-dread ones - which puts it at a disadvantage before it’s begun. Let’s hope we finally get a story that realises their potential.

Looking further forward, I’ll be hoping for more Amy and Rory soon. And more from Toby Whithouse next year. He’s definitely earned his place as a regular guest at the Doctor Who hotel.


Sunday, September 11, 2011


You know how it goes. You press the wrong button and suddenly there you are fighting for survival for the next thirty-six years in a quarantine facility for sufferers of a rare disease that only affects dual-hearted races, chased by medical robots whose treatments will be toxic to you because their designers, despite being avid collectors of human cultural treasures, apparently neglected to program their nurses to make any distinction between their own species and other identical single-hearted races. (Robots who, by the way, see with their hands – which has to be the most dumb-as-a-stump sensory apparatus since the Dalek eyestalk.) Ah well, never mind, it’s not like you have any great story full of dramatic and emotional import to convey, so why not base it on such a foundation of layered absurdities?

Oh, wait.

The Girl Who Waited smacked of a missed opportunity. Like last week’s Night Terrors, there was a much stronger story dying to break free of its writer’s limitations. Too many dumb contrivances piled on top of one another managed to disengage me from proceedings long before the real substance of the story showed its weight.

Such a shame too, because the cast really gave it their all. The culmination was a brilliantly played Pyramus and Thisbe scenario to outdo the Rose/TennantDoc one from Doomsday. Arthur Darvill especially was acting his socks off and my only reservations about Gillan concerned her old age version, where I couldn’t quite determine whether the stiffness of features was down to the makeup or an acting choice.

You could cynically boil down Rory’s choice to one between his beloved, youthful, spirited, chipper, sarcastic Amy and the old, wrinkly, selfish, deeply embittered one who kept a robot effigy of himself as a pet. Not exactly a dilemma to task Solomon. But given a much stronger setup, I would have totally bought into the situation.

She was, after all, his Amy, but one who had suffered, one he felt he had let down or betrayed. That’s bound to plague the conscience of a softy like Rory. And from Amy’s POV, well, of course she’s not going to want to ‘die’. It’s potent stuff.
But it suffers, I think, because it’s built like a house of straw.

As with his Cyberman two-parter which tried so hard to be a Hollywood action blockbuster and ended up just being a mechanical trudgeathon, MacRae’s inventiveness apparently fails to match his ambitions. There’s some creativity on display, with the fantastic imagery of the giant temporal magnifying glass, for instance, but there seems to be two streams of effort at work here: one where the writer has tried hard to make this scenario work, the other where he’s either been lazy or just not up to the task. I’m going to take the charitable view and assume these scripts are produced in a hurry to tight deadlines. But even then I can’t quite believe that nobody – say, a script editor or someone of that sort – looked at this and thought, hang on, Tom, don’t you think this is a bit weak? There's a worrying "It'll do" attitude that seems to creep into Doctor Who now and again. And again.

Never mind that we’ve already had alien medical AIs who haven’t a clue about human medicine (The Curse Of The Black Spot) in this same season. (Yawn.) But channeling one third of the TARDIS party into a separate time stream by virtue of an erroneous button press is pathetic. Disbelief is compounded by the way neither Rory or the Doctor recall that there are two *completely different buttons* when they shout instruction to Amy to “press the button”. Getting past that, we then have to buy the notion that Amy has survived for thirty six years against what must have been a vast army of robots before any programming kicked in to register that, what with all these robots getting knocked out and the ‘unidentified bacteria’ still present, perhaps some alternative approach was needed on the part of the administration.

Fair enough, Interface didn’t seem that bright. But for such a contrived and ‘advanced’ system for humanely dealing with this terrible disease, you might expect a few more complex protocols to have been built in to handle the occasional hiccup. Thousands of time streams all overlapping, we’re told, and yet the system is to all intents and purposes a one-trick pony, with absolutely no grasp of events outside the norm.

All the while, outside of Amy’s machine-room safehouse, we’re only shown one garden, a check-in area, a gallery and one stretch of corridor. We can assume she ranged a bit further afield in her thirty-six years, but the overall effect is to portray an extremely limited quarantine area and a consequently less convincing impression of the time that has supposedly passed.

And to top it all, the Doctor singularly fails to spell out to Rory that the rewriting (here we go again) of Amy’s timeline will actually spare her ever having suffered this ordeal. And nobody even mention that Rory waited two thousand years for Amy not all that long ago. And he still has memories of that.

In retrospect, I wonder if the tale would have worked better had the facility been a form of prison. The stretched time stream being some form of extending a sentence indefinitely, the different areas being different ordeals – a choice of hells, as it were, as opposed to gardens and theme parks etc, the robots being guards. And the Doctor and Rory are left in the time stream designed for visiting hours, as you’d have in a prison or public viewing – perhaps the victims’ families, who might wish to view the criminal’s suffering as some form of closure.

All decidedly nastier, but for my money simpler and more believable.

Obviously it’s just one idea I’ve come up with off the top of my head and it would need work, especially at the beginning when it came to how to separate Amy from the Doctor and Rory. But in that respect it’s no different to the episode we got.

All in all, another story that looked much better in the trailer. And ultimately one fine example of why actors are often more celebrated than writers.

Thankfully, there’s always next week.


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Nightmare, The Glitch And The Wardrobe

After the grandstanding antics of Let’s Kill Hitler, this week’s episode – Night Terrors – feels like a real back to basics Doctor Who episode for the modern era. It’s a welcome toning down and reining in of the usual extremes, relying instead on atmosphere and basic horror-flick ghost-story scares – and turns out to be all the more effective for it. At its core there’s a very simple idea, but like The Unquiet Dead (Gatiss’ contribution to the Eccleston season) it’s let down by an ending so pitiful you almost feel sorry for it. Sorry for the story that could have been.

And it doesn’t have the great period setting or the formidable Simon Callow going for it. What it does have is a well-realised Victorian dollhouse (pretty easily figured out where Rory and Amy had been deposited, some while before they worked it out themselves), uber-creepy wooden dolls and oodles of terrific direction, with all the shadow play and spooky shots you’d expect from a suspenseful tale designed to give kids nightmares.

Appealing to the audience’s inner child and inviting us into the world of little George, so chronically frightened of all the monsters under the bed, outside the window and most especially in the cupboard, is a worthy aim and seems all part of Gatiss’ ongoing mission to mine the quintessential ingredients of good Who. I always get the impression that Gatiss is trying hard to capture some elusive, perhaps mythical ideal of Whodom that, like a faulty TARDIS, never quite materialises. In many respects, Victory Of The Daleks smacked of more of a creative departure for him, while this represents a return to form. There’s a twisted imagination at work, but it’s never quite twisted enough – The Unquiet Dead, for example, would have been much more interesting and memorable if it had properly pursued its conceit that we humans have no further use for our dead, so why not let aliens make use of the corpses. Here, making little George the alien is a nice twist, but one that somehow fails to turn expectations on their head in the way it should have done. Maybe this should have gone further and made the child a fully-fledged monster. Have George as a proper 'cuckoo in the nest' perhaps, having displaced a previous child - a daughter, maybe, which would explain the presence of the dollhouse and possibly her banishment within it.

Maybe though it’s simply all a bit too familiar. In pushing traditional buttons, Gatiss seems to produce something that’s a little too pedestrian and average. Even tired - perception filter, for instance, seems to be the new reversed polarity of the neutron flow, trotted out as a throwaway explanation for everything. To be fair, it’s not all in the pen work – there’s doses of dark humour to go with all the shadows – and some of the fault here has to be with the cast. I don’t think anyone outside the regulars (and the dolls) managed to entirely convince and possibly better actors would have helped connect me more to the situation. But there’s also a distinctly unreal quality to the domestic setup that possibly stems in part from the direction, and just as probably is there in the script. It’s like kitchen sink drama from someone who’s only ever known automatic dishwashers. The dialogue frequently doesn’t ring true (the dad is too gormless and the landlord pure caricature) and although there’s a clear effort to paint the kind of surreal perspective you’d envisage through the eyes of a child, I think more realistic characters might have provided a more solid grounding and involved me more in the fantasy elements of the tale.

On top of which, it’s all unfortunately a bit close to the Tennant ‘adventure’, Fear Her. Not a Gatiss story, but basically instead of a frightened kid putting everyone into drawings, we have a frightened kid sticking everyone in the cupboard. Which, while a change from the Rusty era of every other character coming out of the closet, ultimately makes for nothing very new.

This is better than Fear Her in that the fear element is more present and there are some actual terrors to justify the title. Plus it doesn’t have the silly shenanigans with the Doctor and the magic (Olympic) torch.

Rory and Amy don't actually achieve much, reduced to sneaking about in corridors, but it’s here that the story delivers its best scenes. It is the stuff of suspense and the dolls, as I say, are supremely creepy – all the way up until the point when Amy is converted, when you realise that, oh dear, it’s all going to be undone with a horribly rushed and overly easy resolution.

Little George just needs to feel like he belongs. Quick, dad, run and give the boy a hug.

But wait, this all came about because of Alien George’s insecurities that he was going to be ‘taken away’. And yet, mummy and daddy (not altogether believably) only discussed packing him off into care because of his chronic fear syndrome. There’s an internal logic failure in there somewhere. And if you’re going to have those, you really need to follow Moffat’s example and make your tales so complicated it’s easier to trust that they’ll all hold together come the end than attempt to unravel the tangled threads. Internal logic has perhaps rarely been Who's strongpoint, but here it's freely abandoned, both in Amy's absurd conclusion that the only way to take control of the situation is to let the dolls in - d'uh? - and I can't say I saw any reason for little George to enter the wardrobe - and the dollhouse - based on the Doctor's pleas. It would have made much more sense - and the situation much more difficult for the Doctor and friends - if he'd just gone ahead and locked the wardrobe at that point and waited for mummy to come home.

Anyway, what it all adds up to and balances out as is an average Doctor Who story. Right alongside Gatiss’ The Idiot's Lantern. Make no mistake, average is better than bad, but it’s also unfortunately more forgettable. Indistinctly average, I suppose. So I suspect that by season’s end, this one will have faded in the mix and we will be left with the usual bipolar episodes characterising this year’s (so far uneven) memories.

It’s always a less than encouraging sign when you’re left more excited by the Next Week trailer than the preceding episode and sadly – despite all of Hitler’s comedy clout - that’s been the case for the past two weeks now. White robots, white backdrops, sword-wielding Amy, fantastical setting – are we due a revisit to the Land Of Fiction?

At this stage, a straightforward remake of The Mind Robber would feel like the series upping its game. It could use some magic about now.