Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chucks Away

Continuing our irregular review catch-up, a few words on Chuck...

When I first discovered Chuck I thought of it as something like Alias, but fun. Now that it’s reached the end of its fourth season and is on the verge of its fifth, that comparison holds true, albeit with a shift of emphasis. I.e. it’s more like Alias, with increasingly convoluted made-up-as-they-go-along storylines, and not quite as much fun. The characters, the colour, the charm and the humour are all still there in the mix, and there’s plenty of its own-brand warm-hearted action, intrigue and spy-jinks with geekdom and electronic retail on the side... but the show has started to feel tired, with a few too many treadmill episodes in between the highlights.

It’s like your favourite six-inch sub that's been around for too long – has all the same great ingredients you love – but it’s gone a bit stale. This is, I guess, only to be expected when you muck the chefs about.

Because Chuck’s future has been firmly in doubt since series two, saved by a Subway product-placement deal, but only ever handed temporary stays of execution – 13 episodes here, another 9 episodes there, and so on. Frankly, it must be a nightmare having to work to that kind of stop-start framework, when they’re endeavouring to construct more than standalone episodes. And in defence of the writers and production team one thing they have actually been consistently great at is working towards a succession of potential series finales. Whenever interest has begun to wane, my attention has been grabbed again in the run-up to the key 13th and 22nd or 23rd episodes every time.

Somehow they manage to wheel in the crash cart and shock new life into proceedings at around the same points in the series every year. But against that, they’ve demonstrated a persistent reticence to shake things up or play too adventurously with their formula. And if you don’t play with the dynamic from time to time, your show will lose some of its dynamism.

On the other hand some shows may be like replicants and have a built-in limited lifespan by virtue of their format or central premise.

Chuck’s premise is a nifty little one. Nerd becomes hero thanks to a huge supercomputer downloaded into his brain. Totally far-fetched, of course - a computer system requiring no daily updates? - but from the get-go suspension of disbelief was not a problem, courtesy of the tone in which it was all delivered. Not just in the tongue-in-cheek department, but as I say, it brimmed with warmth and charisma. And in amongst all the nerdish humour and spydom, it forged unlikely bonds (unlikely Bonds?) into credible, touching human relationships. It had heart.

And even when the product placement came along it was cheekily blatant and embraced as a running gag. Which, if you really have to embed advertising in your entertainment, I guess is the way to go about it.

It also boasted a brilliant ensemble cast of characters. From the wonderfully gruff uber-Republican, gun-loving John Casey (Adam Baldwin), to the kooky sleazemeisters of Jeff and Lester (to say nothing of Jefster). Big Mike in charge of the Buy More. Ellie (the lovely Sarah Lancaster, who would've made a great Wonder Woman) and Awesome (the hilarious Ryan McPartlin, who would've made a great Captain America), Chuck (Zachary Levi)’s devoted (and gorgeous) sister and his (awesome) brother-in-law. Morgan (Joshua Gomez), Chuck’s even more nerdish sidekick. And of course, Sarah Walker (the inconceivably gorgeous Yvonne Strahovski), Beauty to Chuck’s Geek.

They even added to this from time to time with extended family – parents of some of these characters – every one of them an absolute gem of perfect casting and every dad a starship captain: Scott Bakula, Bruce Boxleitner and Gary Cole. The inclusion of Chuck’s dad, as the mysterious Orion, makes for an especially well-woven and involving story arc and – particularly in the context of what can often be a very cosy series – his ultimate fate is a genuine shock.

Where matters begin to gang aglay, for my money, is when they bring in Chuck’s mum. Although brilliantly cast again, in the shape of Linda Hamilton (and maintaining that principle of hiring from the kind of cult-SF stable that will have that added appeal for nerds everywhere), it’s not so much that they introduce the character as part of an arc, it’s that they then fail to do anything really different with it. There’s a whole is-she-bad, is-she-good question that they run with for a while, but the answer is ultimately that of course she did everything for the best reasons and has Chuck’s (and Ellie’s) interests at heart. Just like his dad. And that is ‘nice’, but boring. Oh how much more fascinating it might have been if she’d turned out to be a bitch.

Other plot opportunities are similarly blown later on down the road, with a clear chance for Ellie (and perhaps even Awesome as well) to be zapped full of the Intersect. Or even their baby - for god’s sake, anything that might have shaken up the status quo and got the show playing something other than the same three chords. Of course, it’s also often true that a hero is only ever as good as the villain he’s up against, and they’ve fielded a reasonably successful bunch of baddies through the various (but not too varied) story arcs, culminating in Timothy Dalton putting in an exceptional star-turn as the ‘misunderstood’ Volkoff. Replacing him with his daughter has yet to properly pay off – the female of the species is supposed to be deadlier, but Lauren Cohen has yet to fully convince.

Meanwhile, the Chuck family has possibly grown too large and a number of the previously terrific characters have had to take turns in being sidelined – Ellie and Awesome frequently, and even John Casey on occasion. Which is borderline criminal. It’s at least in part owing to the decision to reinvent Chuck as a bona fide superhero, rendering his special agent backup somewhat superfluous. And the small ways in which the producers did attempt to play with the format – like having Morgan follow in Chuck’s spy footsteps – haven’t really worked.

Now I gather that the makers have decided this (fifth) will be the last season and whereas earlier (premature) reports of its demise were met with a loud “Oh no!”, I greet this news with a bit of a “Phew” to be honest. Because finally the writers and producers get to work towards an end that is under their control and I can hope that at least they wrap things up spectacularly and satisfactorily. (Especially after the series four finale! Eek!)

At the end of the day, although there has been definite flagging, I do care about the characters and they deserve a proper bow at curtain close. I hope that the writers will use these final episodes to be brave and bold and pull off a few big surprises to make up for the missed opportunities of the past two seasons and, above all, not just throw them away. Go out with a bang and not with a whimper. In short, go out in style.

Because while I (wholeheartedly) appreciate the principle of having Yvonne Strahovski (pictured above) dress up in different outfits each week like a sort of sexy Mr Benn, I don’t believe you can build a forty-plus minute show around it (although by all means send me the rushes and I'll reappraise its viability) and ideally there has to be something more to command audience attention week after week.

So to finish off this particular TV dinner, I’ll settle for a 13-episode sub, as long as it’s fresh.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Destiny's Child

Q: What do Amelia Lily and the other contestants summarily dumped from The X Factor last Sunday have in common? A: Absolutely sod all. (Heck, I'm not gonna even mention their names in the same blog post.) And I honestly trust that music industry execs recognise that.

According to news reports in the aftermath of the show, Amelia herself has described the 'surprise twist' as unfair (true and then some) but doesn't hold any grudge against her mentor, judge Kelly Rowland (gracious and yet more evidence of this talented young girl's maturity).

My own take? Well, for what it's worth, I felt that soul sister Kelly didn't have too big a clue as to what to do with a talented 'rock-chick' like Amelia, hence the unnecessary re-branding with the pink hair and giving her a rocked-up version of a Jacko song to perform on Saturday's live show. For my money, a poor choice of song, for all that Amelia then went on and aced it in spite of the 'unsuitability' factor. Seriously seriously good and if she hadn't been announced as a contestant, you couldn't have told her from some of the professional guest acts they have on the Sunday results shows. Come to that, she was *better* than a lot of the guest stars.

But that's part of the problem with The X Factor, in any case, isn't it? This week-by-week urge to hammer contestants into roles and songs where they don't fit. Fact is, there was no need to mould Amelia Lily. She struck me as an original from the get-go, a genuine talent.

At her audition, judge Tulisa was bowled over and told the (about to turn seventeen, then sixteen-year-old) girl, there were people in the business who'd been at their trade for years and still weren't at the level she, Amelia, had reached. (Never mind that in Saturday's show, Tulisa then attested that she hadn't really seen Amelia as a contender until her opening performance - er, a little less hippo in your crit there, Tulisa.) Also, back at the audition stage, Kelly and Gary were appropriately awed and Louis was heard to declare "A star is born." Well, yes and no. This star was born sixteen years previously - a real natural, gifted and so mature for her age - and was only waiting to be discovered.

In retrospect, it's interesting that the producers chose to play Beyonce's Best Thing I Never Had as a soundtrack to the tail end of that audition segment. Not because she's been denied her X Factor opportunity, but rather that she is, in my opinion, the best thing the show has never had. I do still love lil Janet Devlin and her enchanting vocal style, but Amelia Lily was the competition. There are other kids in there who might be moulded into something, but there's nobody left in there who so obviously had everything the show is always allegedly looking for. I can't think that they've ever had anyone who was so obviously a ready-made star.

All I can say to Amelia is, you're free of the circus and you can go on and write your own material and totally be yourself. Of course, I'm only sorry I miss out on 10-12 more probably stunning performances, but you're clearly so much better than the talent-show level already. Watching and listening to the few videos Amelia has posted on YouTube (see just one example, above), that much is patently obvious and a poor webcam mic in the bedroom is completely inadequate to show off her vocal talent.

And I hope Kelly Rowland's sincere about her offers of support. Because now that the Destiny's Child singer has seen fit to send her star home, I think the least she could do is open a few studio doors for her. And on the plus side I hope this might mean we get an Amelia Lily debut album all the sooner.

This girl's destined for great things.


Saturday, October 08, 2011

Quel Dommage!

Here in the gulf between Doctor Who seasons, it's customary to review 'other stuff' and as it turns out we have a few things in the experiential archive to catch up on... First up, a spot of crime impassionale.

Some things are doomed by their advance press. I mean, how often has your entertainment appetite been whetted, your expectations been built up by a trailer? Pretty frequently, I would guess, since that’s the trailer’s job. And then there’s word of mouth, which is allegedly the best form of advertising. Any form of advertising is only good though if the product lives up to the hype, while if it doesn’t, well, the product itself will suffer in the comparison.

Poor Engrenages (aka Spiral). It never stood a chance.

No trailers came my way for this, but I’d heard excellent things about it. Not least of which was – courtesy of a friend – that it was like the French cousin of The Wire.

In fact, it bears such little relation it seems like one of those long lost relatives who only show up out of the woodwork hoping for a share of the inheritance. For one, there’s none of the complexity or social layering of the American show, albeit that there is a political angle to proceedings. Sure, plenty of the characters are fils des plages (sons of beaches) but I can’t think of any who are as brilliant (and even likeable) as so many of The Wire’s lowliest lowlifes. It’s a different bĂȘte altogether. As such, it’s unfair to judge it in those terms, but unfortunately my expectations had already been coloured. And I daresay some of my criticisms will have arisen from that accidental letdown that had nothing to do with the series itself.

So bear in mind through my ramblings, s’il vous plait, that the series is by no means terrible.

It’s well-acted. The direction lends the whole thing a suitably arthouse, suspenseful and occasionally haunting quality and it’s structured to deliver a clever dramatic upper cut at each episode end. It’s probably well-scripted, although my French falls far short of being able to tell that and the subtitles are frequently lifeless and drab. Then there’s episode six or seven where the subtitler fell asleep or something and allowed some painfully clumsy and lazy faux pas to litter the translations.

What it has in spades is grimness. Its depictions of crime scenes and autopsies are uncompromising and never fail to genuinely horrify. As a gritty realistic portrayal of police – and judicial - work in la belle France, it convinces. (For all I know.) While as a drama, for me, it ultimately fell un peu flat.

Trying to be objective and leaving Wire comparisons out of it, the key shortcomings for me lay in the cast of characters. (NB Not the actors, none of whom I could really fault.) The only one I had any empathy for was Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust), the female detective heading up the various investigations. The chief prosecutor (Gregory Fitoussi) is a big wet blanket, far too easily manipulated by his wife and his parasitic pal Benoit (Guillaume Cramoisan). Both of whom, by the way, whinge and complain about their lot, despite the fact that they each got themselves into their respective messes. And here a measure of contrast with The Wire is called for, because these French criminals are the socially privileged sort, far far removed from the disadvantaged, disenfranchised communities of Baltimore. So hearing them moan when their hands are caught in the metaphorical cookie jar is a test of patience.

There’s a washed-up junkie detective (Thierry Godard) who I think we’re meant to sympathise with, but he has none of Jimmy McNulty’s redeeming charm. And a number of characters spend time being enigmatic and impenetrable for no other reason I can fathom than they’re in a French production – like the bitch lawyer who buries evidence of a man’s false rape conviction because, er, well I guess because she’s a bitch. Possibly there were some subtleties there I missed, but they’re easily missable when there’s no emotional connection to the characters. There’s an aloofness and a distance to almost everyone - apart from the victims, who are, alas, generally encountered on a mortuary slab or mutilated and dumped on some patch of the city’s wasteland.

Storywise, while the tone is definitely one of mystery, the actuality is somewhat lacking and left me strangely unsatisfied. As initially compelling as the central case was, all leads appear to dry up shortly after the victim’s diary is appropriated by the criminals and the investigation largely dead-ends (or cul-de-sacs), until it’s left to bleating Benoit to fess up and the fate of the poor girl with her face bashed in is finally revealed to us in flashback. Rendering the whole thing a lot less spirally and less complex than it would have you believe.

We end, inevitably and perhaps predictably, on a shot of another unidentifiable corpse as a lead-in to the second series. But I can’t decide whether it’s promising better or more of the same.

At the very least, now knowing what to expect, a second series will stand a good chance of being judged entirely on its own merits. So I may be persuaded to give it that opportunity.

Until then, I can't be sure how much of my sense of dissatisfaction is down to comparison and how much is down to a simple matter of taste.

C'est la view.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

X Factory

No Doctor Who next weekend, boo hoo, so perhaps a good time to look at another source of Saturday night popular entertainment...

And it’s that time of year again when the workers have clocked in, the products are all lined up on the production line and the rest of the music industry hangs its head and/or probably wishes it had come up with the idea before Simon Cowell.

People knock The X Factor. And justifiably so. It’s a circus. Complete with performing animals, although some of them prefer the title ‘judge’.

Louis the Leprechaun chuckles all the way to the bank to collect his pot of gold every year, surely with no actual aims or hopes of ever seeing one of his category emerge as a winner. He’s the one who’s consistently seen pushing through the joke acts and the sub-Eurovision wannabes. Seen, because I’ve every confidence there are those at work behind the scenes nudging the clowns and contentious as far through the competition as they can to generate the appropriate level of ratings and tabloid coverage.

But the show is a guilty pleasure for many, myself included. Originally I think I ended up watching it in a fit of Saturday night boredom some years ago and finding myself entertained by the long line of execrable early auditions. A lot of vocal Verbal Kints in a row of Unusual Suspects. And not a single Keyser Soze among them, but some just as scary all the same. But then what would happen a number of years would be that a handful of actually pretty good singers would show up in the mix and you’d end up supporting them through to the live shows. Might be down to my imagination or my tastes, but it seems to me that’s happened more often latterly.

And on those (admittedly rare) occasions when you come across a real star in the making, it’s scarcely a guilty pleasure at all. Just an unashamed treat.

Those who mock and state that true talents are never discovered in this way demonstrate a limited grasp on reality. You might as well say that true writing talent is never discovered through hard graft, countless submissions and pure dumb luck of landing on the right editor’s desk at the right time. Come to that, I’m currently prepping a submission for a writing competition; the only thing that prevents it from being such a circus is that it’s not being televised. And, after all, who would stick a writing competition on the TV? (Trust me, this stage is not very exciting – essentially a lot of tapping at keyboards, procrastination, banging heads on desks and frequent frustration with the standard of prose.)

Heck, it’s impossible for me not to relate to some of these young hopefuls, chasing their life’s dream. Been there - still chasing and still, if not young, then not exactly grown up. Comic asides aside though, there’s a great deal for aspiring authors to empathise with and even to envy. Would that we had that kind of platform, eh, to publicise our talents. HarperCollins’ authonomy site was a step in that direction and, in its own way, as much a circus, but let’s face facts, it could never command the same ratings.

In terms of music competitions, well, I do believe there’s room for one. (Because The X Factor isn’t that.) Indeed, I’m surprised the Beeb hasn’t shown a little more creativity – hmm, what am I saying, this is the channel that brought us Don’t Scare The Hare and Epic Win – in launching a rival reality show that focuses on bands (you know, actual bands, with instruments, not groups of boys or girls lining up for a go at the autotuner) instead of promoting another singing comp in the form of The Voice.

Still, never mind that, this is the 21st century – sorry, all those lute-strumming Luddites out there – and if you’re not using YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and all the rest to raise your profile, then you’re doing yourself out of an audience. Likewise, as long as ITV are providing the opportunity, then singers might as well avail themselves of the chance for some proper wide-reaching media exposure. These days, you can even fall at a relatively premature hurdle and still get noticed or even signed up for an album contract.

It’s not for everybody, sure. And while that stigma remains attached in some people’s eyes, I guess it *could* be as effective a career-killer as a career-launcher. The main risk you run in the pre-live-show stages is getting passed over in favour of one of Louis’ gag acts. Which, I appreciate, would be gutting. But to my mind, I think the only real potential career-killer is that crucial debut album. Followed by, assuming you survive that first one, the even more crucial follow-up album.

It’s not the winning – or the coming second or third etc – it’s what you do with it that counts. Last year, I was a firm supporter of Matt Cardle, Rebecca Ferguson and Cher Lloyd, all of whom have albums on the way. So far, Matt_Cardle’s singles haven’t impressed as much as his songs from his pre-X Factor Seven Summers album, but they’re pleasant enough pop songs that could use a bit more memorability. While Cher Lloyd’s Swagger Jagger is appalling and all too memorable. I detect the hand of Will I Am at work there, buy whoever’s to blame, it’s too easy for producers to funnel these youngsters into something they’re not. Cher Lloyd was a wonderfully spiky sort of peg and, unless there’s better material making up the rest of her album, I fear she’s been hammered into a god-awful square hole.

This year, I’m championing Amelia Lily:

And little Janet Devlin:

Seen above in 'home video' mode. Both 16, both amazing.

The girls were the strongest category by a bazillion miles and although I personally don’t feel they were whittled down to the absolute strongest four (I’d have put lil Melanie McCabe through for sure – and I’d add, to the likes of Melanie, just remember the X Factor is an opportunity, no more, no less – it’s not the be-all and end-all - *nobody* should buy into this horribly pervasive idea that, if they don't make it through, that's it for them, it's all over), they’re the only category with a clear winner (two, in fact) at the outset.

The boys are an odd mix and I’d be hard pushed to tell you their names, although James, I think it is, strikes me as the best of that bunch. Frankie seems like a mini-Robbie and therefore so far from my cup of tea as to be chamomile, which I find (for the record) horrible and not at all calming. The groups are doomed. Poor Tulisa, she started out by impressing me as someone who knew her business, but she has her work cut out for her there. In fairness, she had precious few materials to work with, but she went and broke up the one group that seemed to have something – throwing away The Keys, in favour of cobbling together another group on the spot. And the Over 25s are, apparently, there to pad out the numbers and provide the comedy and controversy. That would have been even more the case had Goldie not turned down her spot on the show and you have to wonder how Sammi feels, being told, sorry it’s such short notice and I know we initially rejected you and all, but our chief gag act couldn’t make it, we’d like you to take her place. This year’s Mary Byrne replaces this year’s Wagner, while – thank heavens – we still have this year’s Katie Waissel, in the shape of uber drama queen Kitty, to divide the nation. Yawn.

But Amelia and Janet, for my money, are genuinely exciting and it doesn’t matter that this is the arena in which they were discovered, they’re authentic talents. X Factor mentor, Kelly Rowland, whatever you do, don’t mess with them too much. (I was a bit concerned with the makeovers that have been inflicted on them for the live shows and just hope it doesn’t too dramatically alter what they are in the minds of the viewing public.) Janet Devlin perhaps needs a teensy bit more work to get her to pop-star status, but only in the confidence department. And even then, when she sings, she’s perfectly at home, her Ellie Goulding/Cranberries-esque, unaffected but wonderfully affecting voice naturally transforming anything she sings to make it very much her own. Amelia Lily, meanwhile: pop star name, pop star image, rock star voice. Such a mature sound for her age, incredible. Ready made star, you might as well just go ahead and record her album now.

Inspirational. Love em both.

If just those two alone are what comes out of the pop-singer factory this year, then that's all the validation this annual process needs.

So, sure, in summary, The X Factor’s rubbish. But it’s nothing worse than a televised slush pile. You have to hope the best of the talent rises to the top. Unlike a slush pile, at the very least, they’re going to get noticed.

Go, Janet! Go Amelia Lily!


Sunday, October 02, 2011

Married Bliss

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, in the sight of blog, to witness The Wedding Of River Song. If anyone here knows just cause or impediment as to why we shouldn’t consider this an entirely fitting and perfect finale to the season, they should speak now or forever hold their peace.

Well, there’s the title, for one thing. I remember back in the golden age when we had ‘Of’ titles, they’d be like Planet Of The Spiders, The Hand Of Fear, Horror Of The Daleks, The Evil Of Doom, The Curse Of Fatal Death, all that sort of thing. Now we get The Wedding Of some woman or other. Honestly, I ask you, where’s the unbridalled terror in that?

But, in the modern TV fashion of overstating the obvious, this is not a serious complaint. There are, yes, a few little gripes here and there and doubtless more will occur when the honeymoon period is over, but in the context of everything it had to achieve, this was as perfect a season finale as you could ask for.

As much as I was entertained by Let’s Kill Hitler, it didn’t feel like a follow-on from the mid-season closer and that’s because it wasn’t. This, but for a few details to join the dots, is the other half of the excellent A Good Man Goes To War.

There’s a huge amount of common ground in tone and its early stages involve something like A Good Man’s planet-hopping vignettes, with the Doctor here, instead of roaming time and space in search of a maginificent alien seven, doing his utmost to track down the Silence. It’s not quite as magical as its precursor, but what can you expect when you don’t have a lactating Sontaran nurse, a lesbian Silurian adventuress and a fat blue man among your guest characters. In their place, you have a couple of strange geezers with eyepatches, a shape-changing robot crewed by little people and, oh yes, a fat blue man’s head. In a box.

Dorium’s return is welcome – even though the poor chap has lost a lot of weight – and the various settings we’re treated to – the ‘live’ chess tourney and the ‘cave of skulls’ – are more evidence of Moffat’s twisted imagination on overdrive.

And of course, it’s all preceded by that fantastically madcap opening set in London, April 22nd 2011, 5:02pm. Where all of history is happening simultaneously, but time is stuck in the same single moment. It’s all utter nonsense, of course, and would take a better temporal physicist than me to analyse, but (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again) Moffat’s a magician. An illusionist. It’s all sleight of hand and keeping the show moving so, crucially, you’re not generally asking too many questions at the time. You’re more frequently hanging on the next scene, too intrigued by what’s going to happen next.

The only question I recall in my head at the time was “WTF?” But in a good way. In fairness, at the very start, I wondered if I was watching a car ad – there’s one with cars suspended from balloons – but when you’ve thrown in steam trains chuffing out of the Gherkin on viaducts, Do Not Feed The Pterodactyl signs in the park (ha! you think those predators are bad, you should see the seagulls preying on unsuspecting holiday makers in some of our Cornish resorts), Charles Dickens (Simon Callow, yay!) on BBC Breakfast, and Churchill, the Holy Roman Emperor, presiding in Buckingham Palace, you kind of have to just nod, accept the madcapness of it all and say, okay, Steven, you’ve got my attention.

The construction of having the Soothsayer Doctor relate events to Churchill could have slowed things up, but the bouncing between storytelling and past events was skilfully handled and what’s more there’s a wonderful progression in the Churchill scenes where the Doctor’s been making tally marks on his arm. A signal of the Silence’s presence that we should all have remembered from the season opener, The Impossible Astronaut/Day Of The Moon. Deftly done and culminates in that fantastic reveal with the Silence hanging vampire-like from the ceiling.

Followed swiftly by the arrival of Pond, Amelia Pond on the scene. Brilliant, laugh out loud moment, and eyepatch or no Karen Gillan looked, if possible, better than ever. And on a less superficial level, she, like pretty much everyone here, was on top form.

First eyepatch geezer was a bit bland, maybe, and second eyepatch geezer was little more interesting than a Buffy demon-of-the-week cast-off, appearance-wise, but they did their part in adding a touch more colour to the whole Silence mythos. I will say that the shot of eyepatch-demon being consumed in the pit of skulls struck me as dead dodgy. A spot of CGI trickery that wasn’t quite up to the task set by the script. Still, it’s over and done with shortly enough and the jarring effect is fleeting. The captain of the Tesselector is still dull. Sorry, but there it is and it’s only the way many a captain in Doctor Who has gone before. Dorium’s great. And it’s a pleasure to have Iain McNeice back in the role of Winston, a reminder of one of the best aspects of Victory Of The Daleks.

The regulars are all deserving of a far grander label than ‘regular’. I believe I may have mentioned how much I’ve enjoyed the chemistry of this team and I’m still steadfastly clinging to the hope that Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan will be rejoining the Doctor on his travels next year. This goes double now. No, screw that, go ahead and multiply it by the average Sontaran birth rate. The alternative reality Amy and Rory were wonderfully written, beautifully played, with the notion of their love as a constant throughout different realities – Amy will always find her Rory – providing a terrific balance of romance and out and out laughs. Loved the artist’s impression sketch Amy had done of her fella and then Rory’s ready acceptance of her suggestion of a date and marriage. Hilarious and touching at the same time. The darker, harsher edge the story gives Amy is very real and there’s tremendous power in the revenge she visits upon Madame Kasabian (Frances Barber). Wow. Brave, ferocious stuff. Her return to save Rory with a hail of gunfire is pure gung-ho grandstanding action but for such an ostensibly violent scene there’s also a smidgen of rom-com about it. Moffat’s something of a matchmaker like that, able to mix these conflicting ingredients freely and somehow concoct a bizarre kind of harmony.

Or Melody, even. Yes, I’m biased, but Alex Kingston gives another star turn as Melody/River Pond/Song. Never mind the absurdities of the monochronological clashing histories, the fact that it’s her selfish passions and her love for the Doctor that’s brought this all about is utterly credible. She sells it completely. And while my poor mind will never quite get around the idea of Alex Kingston as Karen Gillan’s daughter (that’s time travel for you), she sells that relationship too. Moffat gives the character the appropriate closure - with the added option to have her return – and while we know that, in proper Pulp Fiction style, her life ends in The Silence (no relation?) In The Library/Forest Of The Dead, she’s left here living the dream, adventuring with the younger Doctors. Strewth, no wonder poor old Billy Hartnell’s Doctor first showed up with white hair and not long for this world.

The kiss that restores time to normal could have been so dreadfully corny, but wasn’t. The one thing that does, unfortunately, nudge it ever so slightly in that direction is that irksome and totally unnecessary LCD digital clock caption slapped over the money shot. What the hell was that for? An annoyance and a distraction at an otherwise magical moment. Even if someone (writer or director?) was concerned we wouldn’t get that time marched on without some visual cue, there had to be a better way. A shot of Churchill at his desk, the clock ticking onward? Whatever. Embed it in the scene, don’t emblazon it across the bottom of the screen.

Like the duff CGI in the skull pit, it’s a minor grumble, but it’s one of the few flaws that struck me at the time of viewing and hence worth a mention.

Meanwhile, a word about the groom. Matt Smith delivers a Doctor who, despite being given to the occasional maudlin self-absorbed speech, manages to engage in a way that, for me, the TennantDoc didn’t. He has an eminent likeability – the avuncular quality that Terrance Dicks always spoke of as an essential characteristic of any Doctor - and his misery in the face of impending doom is nowhere near as pervasive as his predecessor’s. (And just to clarify again, this is no reflection on Tennant’s excellent performance, but rather on the direction in which the character was driven by the writing.) Smith and Moffat work fantastically well together as a couple, actor and material complimenting each other perfectly.

The absolutely note-perfect homage to the passing of Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart – as moving a tribute to any past character and the actor who played him as the series has ever done – is an exquisite piece of writing that has the beneficial side-effect of reminding us that the death of the Doctor is as much about others – all the lives he has touched during the course of his own - as it is about himself. It’s the brilliant flip side of the message from A Good Man: heads, there’s the figure of fear and hatred the Doctor has created among his enemies; tails, there’s the man who’s loved by so many.

His resolution here is a wily one and although in essence a ‘cheat’, you don’t feel cheated. Fixed point or no, you know the Doctor isn’t actually going to die, but Moffat – for all his ‘time can be rewritten’ standard – is not about to simply undo what he’s shown us. Rule 1: the Doctor lies. And so does Moffat. But it’s in the manner of an illusionist, you know he’s not showing you everything and there’s going to be a trick up his sleeve. You have to read between the scenes, is all.

This season handed us two shape-shifting herrings of varying shades – the Flesh and the Tesselector – and it was always going to be something along the lines of a copied Doc getting shot and torched there at Lake Silencio. In that sense, the resolution is a predictable one, but it is – like a wedding dress that needs no alteration – a perfect fit. The ‘look in my eye’ reveal is a triumph, no matter if you did see it coming.

The question of The Question was predictable too. Doctor Who? Hidden in plain sight, it was the only question it could be. The main danger Moffat presents for himself is, in setting that up, he may be faced with the task of answering it and I’m naturally wary of anything that perhaps promises to lift the veil on our beloved hero. Ultimately, it’s a matter of degrees though, and so far Moffat has demonstrated a talent for subtely in amongst all the marvelous madcappery. And I’m encouraged by the Doctor’s resolve, in the wake of his fake demise, to withdraw a little, to play a quieter role. It’s the reining in that the character perhaps needs.

A less powerful Doctor – or a Doctor who is less given to exert that power – leaves more room for the universe – and those all-important threats and menaces – to grow around him. The next time a million – or even fewer – Daleks or Cybermen show up, we need to fear them, instead of them fearing the Doctor quite so much.

A satisfactory tying of several knots, hand in hand with a lot of promise for the future. Can I just slightly unsweeten these heaped spoonfuls of praise by requesting a teeny bit more attention on some of the individual stories in between all the brilliance?

All in all a memorable event. And there was a beautifully decorated, multi-teared cake. I’ll have another slice of that, please.