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Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express (2014)

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Hello. I’m so pleased to finally see you. I’m the Doctor and I will be your victim this evening. Are you my mummy?”

One might get the impression that all I do each and every day is sit around watching British science fiction, but let’s get real here – I waste time with a lot of other stuff too! Pro Wrestling! TV! And Anime! All kidding aside, I wanted to start this review out talking about my love for space trains, you heard me right – trains all flying around in space for some reason or another. I chalk this all up to my love for the visionary Japanese manga creator Leiji Matsumoto and his epic series of space opera works including one called Galaxy Express 999. Originally written in the late 70’s, Three-Nine introduced me to a fantastical world where space travel was made more comfortable by echoing the past and looking back at the golden age of travel. Of course Mr. Matsumoto’s works also contemplated what is really meant to be human, and what it means to be loved in a universe where people seem to be abandoning such concepts. It was a little more than just the concept of the space trains I went for. I’m not going to lie though, I cheered on the inside when I saw the trailer for this episode.

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I’m not writing here about Galaxy Express 999 specifically, but I wanted to briefly point out a few thematic similarities between it and a few episodes of Doctor Who, chiefly Voyage of the Damned and Mummy on the Orient Express. If you like these episodes, you might seek the show out on Hulu. My love for the similar material has made me love these episodes quite a bit, despite the fact that I know for sure VotD was pretty unpopular with most fans. That’s how I am though, if I feel inspired by certain things in an episode, I love them no matter what, case and point was my adoration for Rings of Akhaten. I think it all goes back to that feeling of comfort in keeping things simple. Perhaps, that’s a world I’d love to live in: just as modern but somehow not as plastic and disposable….comfortable. Many folks may be scared of the dreaded mechanization and inhumanity of our present technological progress, dressing it up like older more simpler times may be the way to go. That’s at least what Leiji Matsumoto saw, and coincidentally what it seems a few Doctor Who episodes echo.

It has been a few weeks since the complete meltdown by Clara directed towards The Doctor. She has come to realize that she doesn’t actually hate him, and that she wants to travel one last time with him – “The Last Hurrah!” if you will. They arrive sometime in the future aboard a space train that has been modeled after the legendary Orient Express, with many of its passengers in period outfits. The Doctor quips that “There were many trains to take the name Orient Express, but only one in space.” It seems that they have arrived right after a mysterious death, perhaps even murder, in which an older lady claimed she was being attacked by “a mummy”, as in Egyptian dead person style mummy. After The Doctor does some research, he discovers that there seems to be a pattern with these mummy attacks – everyone claims to be chased by a mummy, and they die exactly 66 seconds later after a flash of light. This also seems to correlate to a myth that another passenger, Prof. Moorhouse, reiterates about the legend of a supernatural being called the Foretold.

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Suspicious of the ships computer system, Gus (voiced by John Sessions) and the fact that multiple people on the train seem to know a bit too much about the Foretold, The Doctor puts together that the train ride must not be a coincidence and that they have been brought there deliberately to solve the mystery. Suddenly everyone realizes that they have been duped by someone who is allowing Gus to force all of the various scientists, doctors, and engineers aboard to figure it out or die trying. Much to her fury, The Doctor even confesses to Clara that the mysterious figure that brought him to the Orient Express “even phoned the TARDIS once”. Astute fans might recall a line from The Big Bang, in which The Eleventh Doctor, answering the TARDIS phone, replies “an Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express, in space? A bunch more people die, and eventually The Doctor figures it all out.

I noticed last week that The Doctor seemed to be outright channeling Tom Baker a few times, and it seems like this has been kept going for this episode. The most blatant use of this is the discovery that The Doctor now keeps Jelly Babies, the candy that The Fourth Doctor always carried around, in a silver cigarette case.

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It is later explained that our nefarious mummy is actually an ancient warrior that has somehow been kept alive long past it’s own expiration. This is due to a faulty life support system that basically doomed the poor soul to warp around absorbing life force to keep fighting the long forgotten war that it was still fighting. In some ways, this almost makes The Foretold a creature not unlike a rogue cyberman – desperately trying to do what it can to survive in an almost mindless manner. The Foretold was pretty scary for a mummy considering we’ve all been around various mummy stories for upwards of 80-100 years. Usually these mindless beasts are nothing more than cursed specters that attack anyone in sight but are easy to foil. The Foretold, however, can teleport, change it’s dimensional phase to only appear to certain people, and ruthlessly kill just about anyone in under a minute. A far cry from the one Abbott and Costello fought. On a side note: I am glad that, upon the realization that The Foretold was actually a soldier, The Doctor didn’t slip into another anti-military rant as those are starting to get a bit forced.

Thankfully this episode doesn’t end with a gigantic fight between Clara and The Doctor, as she finally seems to be certain that he is a good man – manipulative perhaps, but good at his core. She did promise her now boyfriend Danny Pink that she was done with her travels, so I can see some more Doctor vs Danny drama coming up. Since we’re past the halfway point, and it’s rumored that Jenna Coleman isn’t going to be on the show much after the Christmas special, I want to see a few episodes where there isn’t tons of tension between the characters. I always hated most of the Peter Davison era because characters like Tegan and Adric were constantly at his throat, and I really do not want a return to that tone.

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What can I say? Show me a space train, and I’ll enjoy the hell out of it. Yeah, the mummy was a bit silly in space, and we didn’t find out who the real villain was (hopefully it’s shown later) but it was a solid episode nonetheless. I really enjoyed the atmosphere, the majority of the side-characters, and even that cool version of Queen’s Don’t stop me Now sung by pop singer Foxes. This was another almost legitimately scary episode, and the body count may prove that this was potentially a bit much for some kids. I’m glad the show is getting creepier, as the horror episodes are some of my favorites.

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Doctor Who: Kill The Moon (2014)

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Oh, well you’re just going to have to shoot us, then. Shoot the little girl first. Yes, she doesn’t wanna stand there watch us getting shot, does she? She’d be terrified. Girl first, then her teacher, and then me. You’ll have to spend a lot of time shooting me because I will keep on regenerating. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if I won’t keep on regenerating forever.”

My apologies for being so behind on these reviews! My plan was to watch and review each of these on Sunday, but boy did that get away from me. Nonetheless, let’s get down to business. Season eight of Doctor Who continues to be pretty awesome, and while there have been a few merely average episodes this season, I’d say it has been the most consistent season since Matt Smith’s season five. So far, my favorite story has been Listen, which was a total surprise to me because I didn’t expect to enjoy it much. So, why am I mentioning this during my review of Kill The Moon? It’s because I didn’t think I’d enjoy Kill The Moon prior to the moment I started actually watching it. I thought something like: “Not only does it have a silly title, but what could the premise possibly be?” and “that child actor is in this…uh oh!” I should do this prior to everything I watch, because BOY was a mistaken.

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Our episode begins with Clara speaking on behalf of Courtney Woods, the girl from the previous episode – The Caretaker, attempting to rejoin The Doctor within the Tardis, or to at least clean up the horrible mess she made when she was last there. The Doctor decides to take them up on the offer and go on a “field trip of sorts”. This trip lands them on a one-way suicide mission to The Moon via a re-purposed space shuttle filled to the brim with nuclear warheads. It seems that in 2049 tides got out of hand killing much of the Earth’s population. Not sure what was really going on, the earth somehow decided that it was a great idea to nuke the moon for a chance at survival. It is discovered that the moon is actually a huge egg that is about to hatch, and the moral implications of killing a huge “space baby” for no reason other than fear upsets Clara quite a bit. The Doctor is willing to let this transpire, but he wants no involvement in the decision – leaving it up to Clara, Courtney and The captain of the mission to figure out the fate of the moon – and possibly humanity.

The “monster of the week” for this episode is actually pretty horrifying and should play on anyone with any sort of arachnophobia. There are some truly unsettling things on the moon like the deaths of multiple supporting characters and web-covered corpses strewn about for quick jumps. I’d imagine that this is an episode that would freak little kids out pretty bad, because I recall being horrified by the titular hand in The Hand of Fear, and that was a cheap special effect in comparison to these guys. Not only are the “Spider-germs” pretty menacing in appearance, but their brutality is so inhumane that it’s unsettling. It was sort of silly that they were fought off using Windex and flashlights (it’s revealed that they are evolved bacteria essentially), but I guess other films have done stuff like that to critical success, so I’ll try not to be too cynical.

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Thankfully my fears about Ellis George reprising her role as Courtney Woods were not realized. I’m not going to say that she blew me away with her acting ability, or that she was the highlight of the episode, but she at least kept from annoying me. Sometimes it’s the small things that count! Child actors usually get placed in shows like this as the “moody genius kid” or “sassy street-wise kid” and become almost insufferable ten minutes into their first appearance. Courtney is no Wesley Crusher or Adric thankfully, as she doesn’t simply exist to be sassy and spout one-liners or try to make other characters look dumb.

We once again are faced with the question as to whether The Doctor is a good man or not, and this seems like the ultimate iteration of this ongoing theme. Channeling his inner Seventh Doctor, The Doctor seemingly ends up abandoning everyone in order to force them to choose whether or not to blow up the moon. This is sort of similar to that time Sylvester McCoy‘ Doc treated Ace like garbage to get her to loose faith in him in order to defeat the monster in The Curse of Fenric. Peter Capaldi is once again very awesome, and usually straddles the line between being hilarious and terrifying at the drop of a hat.

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Clara once again yells at the Doctor in this story, and while I like the character development I hope this begins to be the end of this theme. The Doctor is a jerk, yes, but we have seen him warming in the last few episodes to a degree that I just want them to be friends now.

I did get sort of irritated when I ventured online to gauge what the general fan consensus to this episode was like. Most seemed to enjoy it, but a loud minority seemed determined to hate it because of the scientific implausibility of the the whole thing. Sure, it’s weird that the moon was revealed to be a giant space egg, but it’s not like Doctor Who is particularly “hard” on the scale of what sort of science fiction it is, it’s always been more of a space opera. But there I was, knee-deep in annoying comments saying “the classic series was ONLY grounded in science!!”. This is laughable, because I can immediately think of TONS of older episodes with laughable science. Hell, my favorite Hartnell episode, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, centers on the premise that the Daleks have somehow made it to Earth because Earth is the only planet with a magnetic core. What followed was a plan that involved hollowing the earth out and flying it around like a spaceship. So any notion that, prior to 2005, Doctor Who was in a similar vein to something like Gravity is, quite frankly, laughable.

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This episode is pretty notable for how amazing it looks, considering I’ve seen big budget films that do a worse job of conveying the lunar surface than this. The episode was under the helm of two newcomers to the show, as it was written by Peter Harness and directed by Paul Wilmshurst. They are both formerly BAFTA nominated industry veterans, so it seems like a great choice to bring them both on board. Many lunar shots were filmed around a volcanic area in Lanzarote, Spain, which seems like a great stand-in for the actual lunar surface. It’s at least a far cry from the “rock quarry” planets we get used to in many science fiction TV shows.

The story is also pretty intelligently written, seeing that it seems to be a commentary on our penchant to kill anything we don’t like, issues with funding for space travel, and to a lesser degree – abortion. These are all pretty mature themes for a show like this, and I felt that it was handled in such a way that adults can see these sorts of things, and kids will just enjoy the monsters. In the episode, The Doctor reveals that because of the brief re-interest in what happened with the Moon, humanity would be rekindled to travel to the stars, helping them to spread across the universe, and then assures Lundvik that she will now have a real space program to lead. With constant set-backs to manned space travel as of late, I can see Lundvik’s space travels in a very similar vein to how it is now – we don’t travel out of wonder or discovery, but because of the opposite. It’s a pretty epic ending to a Doctor Who episode, and makes me wish a similar thing would happen in real life – minus the apocalyptic tsunamis of course.

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As you can see, I really enjoyed Kill the Moon. I think it’s another one of those episodes, like Listen, that seemed like it was going to be a totally different thing than what it ended up being, and it’s this playfulness with the format of the show that has made me love season 8. In fact, the few times I thought an episode was sort of lame, was when they followed older conventions to a fault. I loved all of the throwbacks to Tom Baker, especially small partial quotes that he was notable for like “Earth isn’t my home” and his use of a Yo-yo as a scientific experiment. The next episode looks amazing,so I’lll end my review here, and hopefully I’ll get caught up before this run of episodes stops!

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Doctor Who: Listen (2014)

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For me, there has never been an episode as deceiving, and surprising, as Listen. At first, I was under the impression that this was going to be a straight-forward horror episode, in a similar vein to last year’s Hide. This was “egged on” by a trailer that reveled in the creepy aspects of the episode, leaving no question to me exactly what we were going to be getting. I like these sorts of episodes a bit, but usually find them to be somewhat worse than other episodes due to the tendency to overdo the explanation for whatever supernatural creature they “seem” to be fighting. That’s not a ghost! It’s merely a time traveler trapped in a parallel dimension! That’s not a vampire! That’s an alien from the deepest outer-reaches of space! You get the idea. Then I watched the episode and everything changed. While the beginning segment of the episode was a straight forward “creep out” exercise by Steven Moffat, what followed was quite possibly some of his most clever writing since Blink.

I’m going to do far more of a recap than usual, because this is not an episode that simply needs a one paragraph blurb to get the point across. In fact, I have no idea how to express the plot of this other than actually analyzing it, and you will soon see why.

Question. Why is there no such thing as perfect hiding? Answer! How would you know? Logically, if evolution were to prefect a creature whose primary skill were to hide from view – how could you know it existed? It could be with us every second and we would never know. How would you detect it, even sense it… except in those moments when, for no clear reason, you choose to speak aloud? What would such a creature want? What would it do? Well? What would you do?

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Listen opens with the long-awaited date between Danny Pink and Clara Oswald that was hinted at few episodes ago. As one can imagine, this does not go well at all, and both parties end up awkwardly offending each other in probably the worst way possible. Clara once again mentions something that offhandedly seems to be a reference to Danny’s buried past, and he lashes out at her – ruining the date. Disheartened, Clara goes to the Tardis to meet a Doctor that seems to have been left alone to ponder something for far too long.

It seems he has become completely consumed with the idea that every living being has a constant companion, an entity that is with us at all times, watching us, experiencing all we experience. Being a bit into western esotericism, this almost seemed to hint at an old Platonic theory of the eidolon, a “shadow being” that we all have that may or may not be our actual suppressed personality or essence. This isn’t actually referenced in the episode whatsoever, but I was all ready for the possibility that they were going for that and I got excited (LOL). The Doctor’s “theory” is that everyone seems to have the same dream at some point in their lives, a dream in which a hand grabs them from under the bed at night. He asserts that this was no dream, but this entity trying to communicate with us. Clara initially dismisses this wholesale, but agrees to return to her childhood so they can investigate.

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There is a blunder in the Tardis navigation circuits (WHAT!? That never happens!), and instead of visiting Clara’s childhood, they seem to visit a young Rupert Pink, a boy that it is assumed to be none other than Danny. Of course, The Doctor has yet to officially meet Mr. Pink, so he seemingly does not know the significance. Rupert is terrified of a monster under his bed, making him a prime candidate to test The Doctor’s theory. As they discuss the situation, and odd apparition rises from under Rupert’s bed sheets, leading The Doctor to have them turn away from it, ignoring it. While this could be a monster, it also could have merely been another child keen to play a prank on Rupert.

An interesting thing happens here when both Clara and The Doctor seem to “create” Danny Pink by imprinting values and future information on him. Clara suggests he let a toy soldier stand guard for him, which he enjoys the idea of. He’s always been into soldiers, and names one of his toys “Soldier Dan”. Since he hates his real name, we can see this as when he chooses “Danny” as his new alias. Before wiping his mind of their meeting, The Doctor encourages Rupert to see his fear as a “superpower,” because adrenaline will empower him to overcome obstacles and foes. He seems adamant of this, as if he knows something he isn’t telling anyone else. Rupert slips into a deep sleep with his new life as the heroic “Soldier Dan” firmly implanted into his mind.

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This is where the episode veers off into a place where I had no idea it would go. The Doctor and Clara decide to go back to her “date”, mere minutes after she storms off, in order to set things right with Danny. The Doctor isn’t so keen on this, but seems okay as long as he can ponder his theory more. The date still goes poorly, this time with Danny storming out after she accidentally calls him “Rupert”. He assumes that she is making fun of him in some way, and is hurt. A man in an orange spacesuit steps into the diner, and assuming it’s The Doctor, Clara follows him angrily. The man removes his mask to reveal a much older Danny Pink!

The Doctor identifies this man as Orson Pink, one of Earth’s first time travelers, having originally come from over one-hundred years in Clara’s future. The Doctor found him stranded at the end of the universe, where he was on the verge of death and fearing that an entity was trying to kill him. The Doctor theorizes that this is the very same “companion entity” that he was looking for earlier, and that it may be trying to kill Orson since he is the only remaining life in the Universe.

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Orson decided to become a time traveler when he was a child due to things that happened in his upbringing. It is revealed that one of Orson’s great-grandparents told him stories about time travel and that Orson possesses the small toy soldier given to Rupert earlier in the episode. He gives it back saying that she is worthy of his family heirloom. Something happens and our crew attempts to escape the entity and end up in an odd location as the cloister bell rings, a telltale sign of enormous danger.

Clara finds herself in a rickety barn with a crying child in it. She is forced to hide under the bed when two people enter and try and coax the child out of the room. They are concerned that his constant fear of the dark is going to make him a poor soldier, and that he will never become a TIME LORD at his current state. Horrified at what she has heard, Clara accidentally grabs the child’s leg from under the bed.

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It is at this time that she realizes that she has met none other than The Doctor himself as a young boy, and she is the “companion entity” that he is fearful of. She tells him that he is dreaming, and that he needs to channel his fear into something good, a similar idea that The Doctor told a young Rupert Pink. This barn is none other than the rickety old barn seen in “Day of the Doctor”, so it can be assumed that they are somehow on Gallifrey. Clara tells the Doctor that they need to leave without question, and that he isn’t to know where they just were.

Listen is the perfect set-up for a Moffat-style monster that ends up being a GIANT red herring. He excels at creating conceptual monsters that embody some sort of primal fear that we all share, and in this case it was taken to the ultimate conclusion. For half of the episode, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the reveal on the constant companion and why it seems to be terrorizing The Doctor so much. Realizing that this monster is none other than a misunderstanding from The Doctor, and that he is secretly “scared of the dark” is pretty awesome. In fact, knowing what is going on makes a second viewing that much better.

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To be honest,  When I thought this was a straightforward monster episode I felt that the beginning was weird and oddly paced. The episode seemed to be almost nonsensically put together on a narrative standpoint and concentrated on Clara’s date way too much. It’s only half-way through when I realized that the monster isn’t the main point of the episode, and the date is a study of what makes Danny Pink tick, and why the Doctor acts the way he does. We basically end up searching the negative space of the episode, looking for clues that help us know about the monster (much like The Doctor) and are left speechless when we find out that there is no monster.

We are left assuming that The Doctor has basically made an immense leap of logic that seems somewhat uncharacteristic for himself, and has veered somewhat into the realm of the conspiracy theorist. I’m not going to say that this fact makes The Twelfth Doctor crazy, but his motivation here seems to be that of someone that is utterly horrified by something, but can’t get past the most likely reason for feeling the way he does. He literally cannot come out and say that he’s scared and show any weakness; being so used to carrying the universe on his shoulders, he has somehow internalized it into this “superpower” he tells Danny about.

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As a complete package, it all comes together in such a gratifying way that I haven’t felt since the 50th anniversary special. In a way, this is the current show’s Edge of Destruction, an episode from “classic Who” that seemed weird, oddly paced, and yet immensely gratifying once you realized what was happening.

If anything, this season has proven to be much more about character building than the previous few, and I for one am very happy about that. While I hope that we don’t see too much more of The Doctor’s past, it was cool seeing him as a child. Writers always run the risk of spoiling the mystery of characters like The Doctor by showing their “origin stories” (see X-Men’s Wolverine) but seeing him before he became who he is was awesome. Clara has really imprinted herself on The Doctor much more than anyone else has, she really is “The Constant Companion.”

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Doctor Who: Into The Dalek (2014)

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“This is Clara. Not my assistant, she’s ah, some other word. […] Yeah. My carer. She cares so I don’t have to.”

At first glance, Into The Dalek could be seen as an homage to 2005’s Dalek in many ways. The episode centers around a military confiscation of a wounded Dalek, The Doctor being brought in to examine it, and it’s eventual rampage through a base. Luckily, this similarity isn’t the case for the most part as Into The Dalek goes off into it’s own direction almost immediately, and is a whole different affair than the Rob Shearman classic.

Rather than existing as a tired “base under siege” story, we get something that harkens back to 1966’s Fantastic Voyage, a film where a crew of scientists shrink themselves down and enter a human body; except this time it ain’t no human! Inventive things like this are my favorite sort of Dalek stories, as we’ve seen all of the Dalek tropes hundreds of times each to a point where nothing is new. I’ll hand it to Steven Moffat, after this and Asylum of the Daleks, he can sure write a solid Dalek epiosde.

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After accidentally ditching Clara in Glasgow during a “coffee run” The Doctor finds himself in the middle of a war between one of his oldest foes, The Daleks, and a human outpost. He ends up on the bridge of a haggard military ship with a new secret weapon – a captured Dalek. Bound in chains, this Dalek (or “Rusty” as The Doctor dubs him) seems different. Sure it’s a genocidal killing machine hell-bent on universal domination, but this one seems to hate one thing more than any other – his own race. If only the crew of the Aristotle, a former hospital ship locked into battle with the Dalek Empire, can figure out what makes the heretical “Rusty” tick, perhaps they can end the war for good. With this in mind, they do what any reasonable military squad would do – shrink themselves down and adventure into the beast itself!

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So far, Peter Capaldi is doing an awesome job portraying everyone’s favorite space hobo, and the main selling point for me is a return to his more emotionally distant state. He gets chastised many times for being a bit too callous when faced with the deaths of seemingly unimportant characters, showing that to him the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – a direct callback to the Hartnell era. At one point, a soldier causes a flood of Dalek “antibodies” to swarm the party, the Doctor tosses a device to him and urges him to swallow it as fast as he can. When he does the Dalek spheres immediately kill him. When everyone gets mad, the Doctor has to acknowledge that the man was already dead, and The Doctor bought everyone else time. This is a far cry from the Tennant-era teary-eyed doctor apologizing every time something went wrong.

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The “carer” quote that I placed above is a good nod at this newly re-discovered saltiness, and Clara seems to be there to keep The Doctor from being a self-absorbed jerk to everyone. When he says that Clara “is his carer” I don’t see it as simply wanting to do whatever he wants with no regard to others, Clara is there to ground him. Instead of existing as a convenient Deus Ex Machina as with her previous season, she has evolved into something more.

Her character development has accelerated in these last two episodes, and she’s finally shaping up to be something special. While Capaldi definitely has a “fatherly” vibe to himself, I wouldn’t say that he acts as her father figure. In many ways, I’d even suggest that he’s almost more childlike that he was in previous incarnations.

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The Doctor once again brings us to one of the themes this year, his questioning whether he’s a “good man” or not. While Deep Breath reveled in his moral ambiguity and questions of unscrupulous things he may or may not have done, this episode is a bit more weary. In many ways it reminds me of season one’s Ninth Doctor trying to recover from all of the bad things he thought he did in the time war, but instead of survivor guilt he seems to be saddled with the feeling that he’s always doing bad things and hurting people.

Since he recently undid the thing that ultimately made him feel the worst (the destruction of his people) and lived 900 years in a wonderland where he was beloved by many (The Town of Christmas) one would wonder why he isn’t a bit happier. Could he be worried that’s he’s going down the same path that so many of his former Timelord acquaintances went down? Could we see a return to the sheer arrogance of The Doctor we saw in Waters of Mars?

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On a slight side-note: Capaldi also gets all of the best lines in the episode, my personal favorite being a quip regarding the “shrinking machine”: “Fantastic idea for a movie. Terrible idea for a proctologist.”

This episode sees the inclusion of a character that I hope becomes the second companion this year – Danny Pink as played by Samuel Anderson. It’s immediately apparent that Pink is going to be Clara’s love interest this season, seeing as The Doctor is now off the table. A former soldier with a dark past, Pink could be the sort of action man that I’ve been wanting since John Barrowman left the show years ago. Danny Pink’s secret obviously involves his accidental killing of a civilian or something similar, as we see hints that he didn’t come back in one piece after his fighting.

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With the Doctor’s assertion that “he hates soldiers”, I can see there will be some sort of sparks flying this year. While I liked Rory during the Eleventh Doctor era, he was usually emasculated for comic relief ala Mickey Smith a lot of the time. Since The Doctor shouldn’t have that whole jealous love-triangle thing going on, I hope they can get on as friends. Strong male companions are about as rare as strong female characters in about every other show, and I hope this season puts an end to that!

I refrained from discussing another supporting cast member in my last review aside from a tiny sentence, but here we go – Who is Missy!? Michelle Gomez plays this new character that, while not specifically shown to be evil, comes across like a dark Mary Poppins. So far, she has plucked two characters from certain doom (at the hands or suggestion of The Doctor) and taken them to a place called “Heaven”. I have no idea what her motive is at this point, but it’s fun speculating on who she is. Everything is pointing to her being a fellow renegade Timelordess, but the real question is – who? Could she be the Rani? The Master (Mistress)?, or a totally new character? For right now all I can say is that she’s creepy, and I hope we see more of her this season.

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Before we close out today’s review, I’d like to touch on the direction of this episode. Ben Wheatley seems like one of the many Doctor Who directors that can really make an episode look far more polished than other similar shows. His use of blue-lighting, slow motion for action sequences, and pyrotechnics really made this feel like a movie in certain places. Hopefully Mr. Wheatley does more work for the show, as both episodes so far have looked great.

My only real quibble is that the sound mixer has once again allowed the soundtrack to overcome some of the dialog in certain scenes, a problem that has been plaguing the show for years. I blame the fact that everyone is expected to have huge home theater systems in 2014, and those of this that do not are simply out of luck.

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All in all, this was another solid episode – nothing classic by any means, but another fine example of what the show can offer. I was happy to see some familiar faces in there, like Michael Smiley from Spaced and The World’s End, showing that this show has some of the best supporting casts out there. I can’t wait to see Danny Pink in action, and hope The Doctor treats him better than other male companions as of late, we don’t need another Mickey! Here’s to the next episode Robot of Sherwood, and to more of this solid season!

Here’s Your Saturday Links for 8/23

Doctor Who Confidential

Why fans can’t wait for Doctor Who Extra

Described as ‘much more than a ‘making of’ show’, Doctor Who Extra will be comprised of twelve ten-minute programmes. It follows in the footsteps of Doctor Who Confidential, the much-loved and much-missed behind-the-scenes series which aired on BBC Three from 2005 until 2011.

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‘Doctor Who’ companion Jenna-Louise Coleman leaving the show at Christmas?

“The conversations about Jenna’s exit have started, and a plan is in place which is being ironed out,” says the source. “By the time she leaves she will be one of the longest-standing companions ever. She has been absolutely brilliant in the role, but everyone agrees it is a part that should change after a period.”

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Cover of Robin Williams

Robin Williams’s final film performance may have to be axed

“Simon Pegg, its star, tells me: “I’m not sure Robin had completed doing his voice in the movie. He was doing the voice of my dog and I hope that he had completed it because it would be a real shame not to have him in it. And of course there will be a degree of sadness there, but the work he did do would have been done with his usual verve and brilliance.””

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‘The Quatermass Experiment’ Dated for Blu-ray

“In an early announcement to retailers, Kino will be releasing ‘The Quatermass Experiment’ on Blu-ray on December 2.”

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Doctor Who Returns to US Theaters August 23rd

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“The Doctor has regenerated and now Clara has to deal with the fact that her best friend appears to have changed completely…Meanwhile, the newly regenerated Time Lord must face a terrifying monster as the Twelfth Doctor’s era begins in dramatic style!”

Did you miss Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary theatrical run last winter? Well, it looks like you have another chance to watch out favorite time lord on the big screen. BBC and Fathom events just announced another partnership starting on Saturday, August 23. That night, there will be 12 theatrical events in 12 cities at 12 am / midnight to celebrate the launch of the new season.

Apparently a long-run theatrical edition of Capaldi’s first foray into the Tardis, Deep Breath, with bonus footage will be shown. Reports are vague, but I’d imagine it will have featurettes like last time. If you don’t live in one of those 12 bigger cities, the episode rolls out a few days later with two showings at 7:00pm and 9:30pm (local time). The event will be presented in more than 550 select movie theaters around the country through Fathom’s Digital Broadcast Network.

“Deep Breath,” is a pulse-racing adventure through Victorian London. Directed by Ben Wheatley and written by Steven Moffat, the episode stars Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, Jenna Coleman as his companion Clara Oswald, Neve McIntosh as Madame Vastra, Catrin Stewart as Jenny Flint and Dan Starkey as Strax.”

For more information, check out Fathom’s event page HERE

To read my theater experience from last Winter, click HERE

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Doctor Who Finally Gets That FULL Series 8 Trailer We’ve Been Waiting For

New recurring character for Doctor Who Series 8 – Danny Pink

New recurring character for Doctor Who Series 8 | Articles | Doctor Who

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Looks like we have a new companion in the wings, and could it be that we’re going to see the return of the dynamic from series 1 WAAAAAAY back in 1963? Two young teachers, one older Doctor, all we need is Susan tocome back! Anyway here’s a snippet of the press release:

“Rising star Samuel Anderson (The History BoysGavin & StaceyEmmerdale) is set to join the cast of Doctor Who as a recurring character in Series 8, which will also introduce Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.

Anderson will play Danny Pink, a teacher at Coal Hill School where companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) also teaches. On joining the show Samuel Anderson said: “I was so exited to join Doctor Who I wanted to jump and click my heels, but I was scared I might not come down before filming started!””

Click the above link for the whole article

 

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Doctor Who Season 7 Postmortem

Note: Much like my review of the season 7b finale, this contains spoilers, but why would you be reading this anyway if you haven’t seen it!

So there we have it folks, another season of Doctor Who has finally reached its resting place in The Fields of Trenzalore, and all we have left is the horrible fact that we have to wait months for the 50th anniversary special. This season has had its ups and downs, but it all came together in the end to pave the way for the biggest celebration for science fiction fans all year. I have decided to count both halves of season seven as one for the purposes of this write up as I generally dislike the whole “7a and 7b” stuff. Not being a fan of split seasons is rough when every show seems to be either doing it these days. I will touch on this sort of thing later, for now let’s get on with my analysis of the season. Was it successful? Was it good? What can we look forward to in the 50th anniversary? All of these questions should be answered.

Before we talk about season seven, let’s peer back into the long off time of 2011 and what happened in season six. When we left The Doctor in season six, he had just foiled the plans of a religious order hell-bent on his own destruction. It seems that “The Silence”, the name given to this group, are some of the most comically inept villains in the history of Doctor Who. I say this because they not only botched their own plan no less than three times, but have unintentionally caused the demise of existence a few times as well; all in the name of saving everything from The Doctor! When we first saw them, they had orchestrated a convoluted plot to destroy the Tardis and kill The Doctor resulting in the fragmentation of time itself and the collapse of the universe.

Plan B seemed to involve the creation of River Song, a being designed to kill The Doctor; shame that The Doctor faked his own death. So why were they after him? It seems that they wanted him to never venture to a time traveler graveyard called the Fields of Trenzalore, as his name could destroy the Universe –  the very plot of the finale for series seven. If we have really grasped the intentions of “The Silence”, it seems that they were not the villains at all, but went about saving the universe in utterly horrible ways. That is assuming we won’t have a big change-up next year, something Moffat could easily do to mess with us. My hope is that this will be addressed to show their fear of the “John Hurt Doctor” a mysterious possible incarnation of The Doctor, we briefly saw at the end of The Name of The Doctor. Perhaps, he is why all the aliens tried to trap The Doctor in the Pandorica? Maybe he is the nemesis of the Silence? I hope this isn’t left hanging in the end.

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From my thrown together synopsis up there, one can gather that series six was very complex and existed as one long storyline from episode to episode. I liked season six, but was not a fan of the slow burn, almost Lost-like nature of the season. I still think it created far more questions than it answered and left the fans with a truckload of presumed plot holes that have been speculated on for years now. I was excited to see the focus shift to a more “one-shot” styled season, a decision that was really hyped up prior to the transmission of Asylum of the Daleks. In a long interview for BBC America, Karen Gillan laid out the nature of the series pretty well:

“This season has been done in a really interesting way with five standalone epic episodes, like a movie a week, all building to the departure of the Ponds! We actually kick-off the season with Amy and Rory’s relationship in a sticky situation; it is less than marital bliss. Those scenes were really interesting to do, she explains, because they created such a different on-screen atmosphere between Amy and Rory, something that the viewers wouldn’t have seen before. That is the good thing about Doctor Who, it gives you the chance to shift the character, and you never know what is going to happen from episode to episode.”

Granted, that synopsis is for the first half of season seven, but the general tone was kept the entire time. Some of the stories would have benefited from either a longer timeslot or a second part, but I don’t think any of them were truly harmed by not being like that.

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I mentioned earlier that I hate the new television fad of splitting seasons in half in order to create a ratings boost in the middle of a show’s run. Fans hate it, but networks have to do it nowadays to cling to their old ratings models and get advertising revenue. I could rant about how times are changing, but that’s a topic for another day. There are many good reasons to split seasons. Not only can companies sell half DVD sets and make a tiny bit more money (ex: two 50 dollar sets as opposed to one 75 dollar one), but they can also save money on production, and I feel this is what hurt Doctor Who this year. With huge BBC budget cuts hacking apart their usual expenditures, big shows like Doctor Who had to find some way to avoid a long hiatus or lackluster special effects due to a low budget, and it seemed a split was the best idea. Granted, everyone involved is highly in demand and wanted to work on other projects, so the split season idea seemed to benefit everyone. I’d rather deal with it than to loose Matt Smith of Steven Moffat to other commitments.

That wasn’t the only problem that occurred during season seven behind the scenes. There for a while it seemed like a revolving door of new executive producers was constantly spinning. There has been no reason to believe that anything bad is going on in the shadows, but having people like Piers Wenger and Beth Willis leave after such a short time had to be hard to deal with. Next Caroline skinner left amidst rumors of some sort of backstage fallout between herself and Moffat. She had this to say upon departure:

“I will miss them all enormously, but I’m leaving Doctor Who in fine form, with the new series starting at Easter and the fantastic plans for the 50th Anniversary already underway. I am delighted to be now returning to BBC Drama Production in London as an executive producer, and the new opportunities and projects that will bring.”

Russell T. Davies and his crew of executive producers seemed in there for the long haul, so one has to wonder what the problem is backstage. On a good note, season seven saw some great change-ups and new blood on the writing and directorial front. On the writer’s side, Luther’s Neil Cross was brought in to pen two episodes. I actually enjoyed both immensely,but some fans disliked Rings of Akhaten for it’s different tone. The most notable new director is probably Saul Metzstein,who seemingly directed more than half the new episodes. The new guys aren’t getting all the fun, as I honestly see this season as a real return to form for some long-time contributors. Chris Chibnall has been really hit or miss for me, but he was the star of the first half of the season for me. It seems that he is perfect in doing these short self-contained episodes. Both Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, and The Power of Three reveled in the new format and excelled more than anything else he has done for other seasons. Mark Gatiss was another person that really brought out his big guns, somewhat redeeming himself for the Victory of The Daleks. I didn’t hate that episode by any means,but felt Cold War and The Crimson Horror were leagues better and easily his best since season one!

The first half of the season concentrated on the impending departure of Amy Pond and Rory Williams, and consisted of five episodes as well as the 2011 Christmas special. The following is a list of these episodes as well as links to reviews I did during the run. Note: I did not get around to doing three of the episodes at their time of broadcast due to personal time issues, so those will be added later on.

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (2011)

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It’s Christmas Eve, 1938, when Madge Arwell comes to the aid of an injured Spaceman Angel as she cycles home.

Asylum of the Daleks (2012)

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Kidnapped by his oldest foe, the Doctor is forced on an impossible mission – to a place even the Daleks are too terrified to enter… the Asylum.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (2012)

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An unmanned spaceship hurtles towards certain destruction – unless the Doctor can save it, and its impossible cargo… of dinosaurs!

A Town Called Mercy (2012)

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The Doctor gets a Stetson (and a gun!), and finds himself the reluctant Sheriff of a Western town under siege by a relentless cyborg.

The Power of Three (2012)

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The Doctor and the Ponds puzzle an unlikely invasion of Earth, as millions of sinister black cubes arrive overnight, almost like presents falling from the sky.

The Angels Take Manhattan (2012)

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The Doctor’s heartbreaking farewell to Amy and Rory – a race against time through the streets of Manhattan, as New York’s statues come to life around them.

Next up we have season “7B” concentrating on the adventures of “the impossible girl” Clara Oswin Oswald. This half consists of a further eight episodes as well as the 2012 Christmas special

The Snowmen (2012)

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London, 1892. Snow is trying to evolve, feeding off of the nightmares of a little girl. But the Doctor has given up on saving the world. It is up to a young governess named Clara to convince him, with just one word, to save the day.

The Bells of Saint John (2013)

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The search for Clara brings the Doctor to London, 2013, where something deadly is waiting in the wifi.

The Rings of Akhaten (2013)

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The Doctor takes Clara to the Festival of Offerings, but the Old God is waking and demands sacrifice!

Cold War (2013)

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On a Russian submarine in 1983, a frozen alien warrior is waking up, just as the TARDIS materialises.

Hide (2013)

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Something terrifying is hiding in Caliburn House, and the Doctor finds himself part of the ghost hunt.

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (2013)

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The TARDIS has crashed, Clara is lost inside, and the Doctor has 30 minutes before his ship explodes!

The Crimson Horror (2013)

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Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire, as bodies are found with their skin a waxy, glowing red…

Nightmare in Silver (2013)

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Hedgewick’s World of Wonders: The perfect theme park day out. And ground zero for a deadly silver resurrection…

The Name of the Doctor (2013)

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The Doctor has a secret he will take to his grave. And it is discovered…

After the mystery of Amy Pond got wrapped up at the end of season six, it was simply a matter of time before she and her husband Rory were on their ways out of the show. Fans were teased that they were most likely going to die in the episode, however that was usual Steven Moffat teasing. Everyone knows that he speaks in riddles and lies to make the fans believe the total opposite of what is really happening. By the end of The Angels Take Manhattan, we saw the bittersweet ending of the pair. Yes they did die, but they lived a long happy life before that, only without The Doctor. I’m glad the episode was bittersweet as I do not want an honest to God death to occur (like Adric), but an ending that permanently separates the companion from The Doctor is usually the best idea. Returning companions could get old pretty fast if they still make cameos constantly (I’m looking at you Rose Tyler) so having an ending like this complicates things for the better.

The actual characters of Amy and Rory were moved pretty decently as characters. At the beginning of Asylum of the Daleks, we see their relationship has crumbled over the years. Seeing that they have been together for something close to a decade by the time this episode airs, I’d say they had a good run, but were on the verge of divorce. It seems that Amy felt bad due to her experimentation by the Silence to create River Song. Having been made sterile and never able to care for their child, Amy wanted Rory to move on and have a “real family” with someone else.

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Fans noticed early on that Amy seemed to love Rory less than he loved her at times, most noticeably when she was throwing herself at The Doctor in season five. This led to a lot of fans disliking her character from the very get-go. I never liked the criticisms that some gave the character as being very selfish, but I have to agree here that she was in season seven. Their reconciliation (and her redemption) comes at their very last episode as Rory is captured by a Weeping Angel and flung into the past. If you recall, the way the Angels feed is to ruin the potential lives of someone by taking them into the past and feeding on what could have been. Amy could have stayed there with The Doctor, but ultimately chose to stay with Rory by sacrificing herself to the Angels.

So how were Amy and Rory as companions? I felt that they were too tied into the plotlines to really breathe as companions at times. In season seven we really got to see them at their best, especially Amy in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Perhaps the multiple season mystery of the couple was a great idea on a drama standpoint, but it was dragged out far too long to have a real spark of chemistry ignite between themselves and The Doctor. They were more successful than Martha, perhaps one of the most tragic companions ever, but pale in comparison to Donna Noble.

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Things are looking up with the newest companion Clara. It seems that The Doctor and she already have a spark, and she can stand toe-to-toe with him when it comes to witticisms and one-liners. For reasons of plot, she is a stronger character in Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen, but seems to regain what we saw before in The Name of the Doctor. This can be directly attributed to the interactions between The Doctor and Clara being hampered due to her status as “The Impossible Girl”. When one has witnessed someone dying and yet coming back, it’s really hard to trust them; and with The Doctor’s ability to attract trouble, I can understand his reluctance to trusting her. Once that barrier is lifted later on in the season it was smooth sailing, and season eight should be amazing if they can keep it up.

Aside from Amy, Rory, and Clara there were a handful of secondary companions that hung around this season. First off, we had Rory’s dad Brian Williams as played by Arthur Weasley himself-Mark Williams. I loved Brian because he was initially the most cynical, lazy person ever. He was content just staying around inside and paying attention to things that don’t matter. Thinking in terms of season four, he was the anti-Wilf! Due to his exposure to the Doctor and traveling around he does change his ways a bit, as Brian began traveling around the world and sending homemade postcards back to Amy and Rory. Most notably, he went to the planet Siluria with the Doctor and the dinosaurs aboard the Silurian Ark. Part of me wishes that Brian stayed around for more than the couple of episodes he was in, but I enjoy older companions for some reason. Season seven also contained a few appearances by The Paternoster Gang, the Victorian sleuth team that I love. I’d never go as far to say that they need a spinoff, but Jenny, Vastra and Strax always entertain me when they grace my TV with their hijinks. I’m especially a big fan of Strax for reasons that I brought up in reviews above.

The theme of the second-half of season seven seemed to be kicking off the run-up to the 50th anniversary. First and foremost, we saw the return of a lot of old foes. The Great Intelligence from the Troughton era was brought back in a very big way; he was the main villain essentially. Granted, he was in a different form than the old classic fans might be used to, but casting both Ian Mckellen and Richard E. Grant for different aspects of the role was a great feat. Grant, as longtime fans will remember, was originally going to be the ninth incarnation of The Doctor via a series of animated “webisodes”. Other retuning foes included The Ice Warriors, last seen in the Pertwee era. This nostalgia and homage was set to a fever pace in the finale, and episode that essentially featured small cameos by ALL of the previous Doctors, something that made me very excited. then we have the reveal of John Hurt as some sort of unseen Doctor, in the most WTF-worthy moment the show has ever seen.

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I kid, I kid, I loved the reveal of a possible “missing Doctor” and who can go wrong with such an amazing actor as John Hurt. Ever since I was able to see him in George Orwell’s 1984, I’ve known that he was a great actor. Even in smaller roles like the president in V for Vendetta, he was amazing and chewed the scenery like a master.

I was immensely satisfied with season seven, but I know a lot of fans were not. While long-time fans were mostly thrilled with the majority of the episodes,I noticed a lot of casual fans complaining about various things. These fans should be satisfied with the brief return of Rose Tyler and the Tenth Doctor this autumn- a pairing that I know most of them enjoyed. If anything, this season was very atypical for Doctor Who, episodes like Akhaten took big chances with the writing and direction, and that put off some people. I know that some UK based newspapers were all “doom and gloom” about ratings, but they seem to not realize that time-shifted ratings, those including non-live viewing via DVR boxes and BBC iPlayer, have been as good as previous seasons. Fans using this as fodder for obnoxious “flame wars” need to get with the times, people don’t watch TV in the same way that they did even a decade ago. In the US rating were up from series six and usually got somewhere around two million viewers – an amazing number considering the small number of folks that have BBC America!

I hope the rotating producers, odd timeslots, and other issues lead to an end to split seasons, or we at least get a FULL 13-14 episode season next year followed by another one after. for a drama to hold it’s audience, ratings, and get new viewers every year is no small feat, it’s time for the BBC to notice this. If that means the end to the Moffat Era, and an exit by Matt Smith in season nine so be it, change is always fresh in a show such as this. We all know that Jenna-Louise Coleman is returning for a newly commissioned eighth season, and that Matt Smith will probably be in it, but that’s just about all we know. I think we have the potential for a real amazing season next year, especially if those Peter Jackson & Doctor Who rumors are true, so here’s to the future,and more importantly the two specials yet to air this year!

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Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor (2013)

Doctor Who season finales have been generally decent throughout the current run, although most of them were getting a bit too epic until Moffat took over as show runner. When you’ve had things escalate from the earth being in peril, to a Cyberman / Dalek war, to The Master decimating everything on up, it seemed that Russell T. Davies was always trying to outdo himself each year. One thing I’ve enjoyed a lot since season five is that this tendency to “popcorn movie” finales has been toned down in favor of slightly more subdued ones. Granted, the universe is usually blinking from existence or something, but at least the Doctor is no longer part of an immense war or similar things. Tonight was at long last the finale for season seven, a season I generally enjoyed despite a feeling of disjointedness all year. Even though The Name of the Doctor seemed low key, there were far more moments where I was literally yelling “holy (expletive)!” at the screen.

First and foremost, I was amazed at the opening scene, one which shows a crew of puzzled technicians called to the scene of a theft. What we soon realize is that this was “the theft”, the one that started it all; this was when the Doctor borrowed the Tardis on Gallifrey! Clara is seen falling through time itself, and says that she has been running throughout his history in order to save him. It was at this point that I was grinning from ear to ear, as the next few minutes are filled with scenes of Clara interacting with all of the “classic” Doctors in various old episodes. This was obviously done with a computer, but there were some real cool things like a colorized William Hartnell in the mix. I know the fiftieth anniversary isn’t until November 23rd, but I think this was the moment that this fact really sank in for me.

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The plot for the episode is as follows: An evil scheme is revealed by the Great Intelligence/Doctor Simeon (one again played by Richard E. Grant) to force the Doctor to his final resting place – Trenzalore. The nature of Trenzalore has been a lingering mystery since it was revealed last season, but we find out that it is the place where time travelers are laid to rest. Since Simeon has kidnapped The Doctor’s friends (The Paternoster Gang) The Doctor has to jump into action to save them, and stop Simeon at whatever plan he is concocting. It seems Simeon, flanked by the creepy “whispermen”, wants to open the “Doctor’s Tomb” and destroy the Doctor from existence in a petty act of revenge. He does this by jumping directly into the Doctor’s time stream, and reversing every success he ever had as the protector of the universe. Pretty soon entire planets begin to disappear, as does the people most important to The Doctor. Clara then realizes that the only way to stop him is to also jump into the time stream, at the cost of her own life.

“I don’t know where I am, I just know I’m running.  Sometimes it’s like I’ve lived a thousand lives in a thousand places.  I’m born, I live, I die.  And always there’s the Doctor.  Always I’m running to save the Doctor.  Again and again and again.  And he hardly ever hears me, but I’ve always been there right from the very beginning, right from the day he started running.”

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This selfless act answers the question of how Clara could have shown up multiple times and died trying to help The Doctor. When entering the portal, she has shattered her existence into millions of fragments all destined to save The Doctor from Dr. Simeon. Moved by her kindness and a little chat with his “timey wimey” wife, River Song, The Doctor decides that he will save Clara for once and leaps into his own timeline. What followed was the most spectacular and yet also infuriating cliffhanger in the history of the show. When he is re-united with Clara, The Doctor tries to divert her attention from a dark figure standing in the bowels of his time stream. This figure is his greatest secret, something the Doctor is both trying to hide and feels ashamed of. The figure turns and it is revealed to be none other than John Hurt (1984, V for Vendetta) as a mysterious forgotten regeneration of himself…..credits roll. The wait until November is going to be excruciating!

My brain is buzzing with speculation that this is an aborted regeneration of The Doctor, perhaps the one that turned rogue during the time war. Fans have often wondered which incarnation that did all the bad things that he feels terrible about all the time, looks like it may be this guy. I love this revelation because we all know what happens when The Doctor loses his grip on “humanity” just a bit. We’ve seen the Dram Lord, Mr. Clever, The Valeyard, and even what happened to the Master, we could finally be getting close to the mystery of the Last Great Time War. I know some fans will get mad that there could be a tangential incarnation of the Doctor out there, but this is not a new thing. I mentioned the Valeyard from Trial of a Time Lord. But don’t forget that there could have been pre-Hartnell era regenerations as seen in The Brain of Morbius!

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I also loved how the “name of The Doctor” was not revealed in this episode, as anyone with half a brain cell could figure out. Steven Moffat isn’t as dumb as the folks that decided to reveal the Marvel character Wolverine’s backstory; as it would ruin all the mystery, plus no one would be happy with it. The name was the “password” to his crypt, and he was nearly forced to utter it until River Song whispered it to open the door. The episodes title is actually a play on the fact that he took the name “The Doctor” as an oath to be good and help people, but one of his lives didn’t for some reason. And I’m sure we will find out why in November. While the episode did reveal just about all the mysteries related to Clara, there is a bit of muddled continuity in previous seasons. One has to wonder why The Silence were so keen to stop The Doctor from going to Trenzalore, unless they were actually not bad guys at all and knew he would cause something really bad to happen by showing up. I hope this gets addressed and doesn’t get added to other plot holes related to The Silence from way back in season five.

I absolutely loved this episode, and felt it was easily one of the better season finales. Granted I hated the finale for season three, and a few others felt a bit bloated, but that is saying a lot for me to have liked it so much. The acting was superb, the cameos from “classic” Doctors was really cool, and the finale was amazing. The long wait until November is going to be excruciating; I mean this is almost as bad as the infamous Star Trek cliffhanger from The Best of Both Worlds!

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I’ve been Catching up on Doctor Who On Amazon, maybe you should as well:

Doctor Who: Series Seven – Part Two [Blu-ray]

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Doctor Who: Nightmare in Silver (2013)

Neil Gaiman gained many accolades for his last foray into Who-dom, The Doctor’s Wife. These included, but were not limited to, the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) and the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation. Gaiman had some huge expectations to live up to with his sophomore effort; an uphill battle that many fans would take to heart. All I noticed for the last few weeks was a steamroller of hype leading up to Nightmare in Silver, and I held back. I know that whenever I let hype color my eyes when it comes to TV and film, it always ruins my experience. The ill-fated Brett Ratner film, X-men 3, is a prime example of this, I got far too hyped prior to release and was utterly destroyed by what could have been an average film – to me it was an atrocity on celluloid. Noticing the general lukewarm reception to Nightmare in Silver earlier today, it looks like this over-hype may have happened to a lot of Doctor Who fans. This season seems to be the most divisive season since the McCoy era, some love the episodes and others are complaining endlessly. Let me get this out of the way, Nightmare in Silver is not as good as The Doctor’s wife, but my enjoyment of the episode did not hinge on this; I really liked it despite its flaws.

As you can probably figure out, Nightmare in Silver is a Cybermen episode. Gaiman said many times in his lead up that he wanted to “make the Cybermen scary again”. This is a tall order because many feel that they haven’t really been scary since the Patrick Troughton era. Unsettling? Yes, but “scary” is hard to pull off with a large metallic dude stomping around shouting “DELETED” and other catchphrases. What we have is an updated version of the original Cybermen; they have evolved long enough that they now strive to “Convert” other creatures aside from just humans. They have become sleeker, employ an updated version of a Cybermat (now called a cybermite and used in partial Conversions), can warp time to teleport briefly, and have removable body parts that act as decoys, drones, and searchers. Is somebody under that table? Just take your hand off and walk it over to them! Is a pesky non-converted person behind you? Swivel your head around like an owl! These upgrades make the Cybermen more of a threat and in that regard scarier in mass. While I would have enjoyed something more disturbing than what we have here, an overpowered and nearly Borg-like version of these guys is pretty hopeless to our heroes.

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These upgrades and the general “feel” of the episode was almost exactly like Rob Shearman’s 2005 episode Dalek. In that particular piece we were shown the “upgraded” time war-outfitted Dalek model including some crazy new technology like a force field, swiveling midsection, and the ability to take DNA by touch. In Nightmare in Silver fans are treated to a new Cybermen fresh from an undisclosed “Cyber war” that can do the aforementioned feats of awesomeness like teleportation. It was this little head nod that made me enjoy this episode quite a bit, since I generally like “base under siege” episodes quite a bit.

The plot follows the Doctor, Clara, Angie and Artie (The kids Clara takes care of) as they attempt to visit the best theme park in the universe. If you recall, Clara got blackmailed by Angie and Artie in The Crimson Horror and basically forced The Doctor to let them tag along. When they get there, they realize that the whole park is in ruins after a huge battle with the Cybermen long ago, and a group of world-weary soldiers and con-men are hiding there. The gang runs into a man named Webley (Jason Watkins) who has a surprise – a hollowed out Cyberman that “magically” plays chess against all that would try to defeat it. This is an obvious allusion to the infamous automaton “The Turk” that wowed players such as Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin way back in the eighteenth century. And just like the real Turk machine, this Silver Turk (also the name of a Big Finish audio play with a similar plot) is a fraud. A man named Porridge (Warwick Davis) is actually under there moving the arms and such. This “shell” of the old Cybermen waits until Webley is alone and dumps Cybermites all over the place putting its plan in action. Pretty soon, people are partially converted, the kids get captured, and an army of Cybermen awakens from one of their infamous “Tombs”.

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While the villains in this episode are obviously the Cybermen, but their leader is actually none other than The Doctor! During one of the kerfuffles, he is partially converted and his body is taken over by a cyber-consciousness. In a creative twist to a battle of wits, we see the internal battle in The Doctor’s mind played out with amazing shots of Matt Smith talking to himself. Whether you see two opposing versions of his mind arguing in his head, or the quick cut Gollum-esque arguments in the real world, the banter is both hilarious at times and scary at others. “Evil Doctor” the Cyber-Planner is really over the top, and nearly and comically mustache twirling as Mrs. Gillyflower last week. While it should have been cringe-worthy, I liked the scene where The Doctor plastered his “golden ticket”(admission to the theme park) to the circuits on his face and temporarily took complete control of his body, thus utilizing the tried and true Cyberman weakness.

Warwick Davis is awesome in anything he is in, and I really enjoyed him as Porridge here. Whether it is last year’s Life’s Too Short, or the fantasy classic Willow, he is one of those guys that seem pretty under-rated for how good of an actor he is. I know that a lot of that can be chalked up to his height, but those barriers seem to be fading with Davis and Peter Dinklage finally getting some substantial roles. I also felt that Jason Watkins did a fine job in the small amount of the episode he was the focus of, props for his half-Cyberman face. Now that I’ve mentioned the good part of the guest cast, here is the bad – CHILD ACTORS! I’m not usually a fan of child actors because they don’t act like children at all; they act like tiny adults that are smug and douche-y. If you met an adult that was like most characters portrayed by child actors they would get the crap kicked out of them in seconds! There are a few exceptions like Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine, but for every one of her, you have ten Jake Lloyds from The Phantom Menace. To me the kids seemed tacked on, I’d be amazed if they were in the original script, as they felt somewhat superfluous and contrived just to put children in peril. I especially did not like Angie as “know it all kid” characters are the worst. Dear science fiction writers- we do not want young Anakin, Wesley Crusher, Adric, or Boxy in our shows! Thanks, the fans. Oh, I nearly forgot the inept soldier characters, and you will too – nothing memorable about them to be honest.

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While the music wasn’t that noteworthy, I will say that I enjoyed the sound design, especially with the new Cyberman voice. While the original 1960’s voice is still the creepiest, the voices in Nightmare in Silver seemed a lot like a cross between the Cybus models and the 1970’s ones. Special effects were decent, if not low-key, in this episode. Certain scenes like the Doctor’s brain were realized in a truly beautiful way – as an energy filled void with a brain glowing behind the Dual Doctors. Other things like the Cybermen teleportation seemed sort of bland, as that scene could have been terrifying had it been done right. I think this season has been a real work in progress on the director side of things, and it shows with some of the choices made like this.

All in all, I enjoyed tonight’s episode and felt it was above average. I think fans will judge it too harshly as many expect a great writer to constantly top themselves each time. People need to realize that Shakespeare himself didn’t make classics all the time; plays like Timon of Athens are a testament to that. This was classic Gaiman faire that fans of Neverwhere and Mirrormask will enjoy. And while it isn’t his best work, it’s still better than anything else on TV.

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Since I don’t have cable I watch Doctor Who on Amazon Prime, maybe you should as well!

Nightmare in Silver

Nightmare in Silver [HD]

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Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror (2013)

I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I LOVE the Paternoster Gang. You may be wondering why I feel the need to qualify that statement; well, it seems that being a fan of them can be a misstep in the serious high-octane world that is Doctor Who fandom. Every once in a while I mistakenly try to venture into Doctor Who-related message boards, but am utterly underwhelmed by the negativity and cynicism within. I won’t name any forums that I used to frequent, but you can probably figure out which fun vacuum I am speaking of. One of my biggest pet peeves on these sites, are the folks that seem to think (and want to change everyone else’s opinions to agree with the notion) that Steven Moffat has ruined both the Sontarans and the Silurians by having Strax and Lady Vastra be good guys and have a sense of humor; for me, he has helped make the two somewhat stale races more enjoyable.

The humor from Strax alone (big props to Dan Starkey) can easily make an episode for me, but that’s no surprise because I’m a sucker for stories involving a guy from an extreme military background being forced to deal with normal human life. Characters such as Worf from Star Trek the Next Generation easily fit this bill as does Sousuke from Full Metal Panic, but my favorite of all is easily Strax.  Case and point, would be his ordeals with the Doctor’s memory worm in The Snowmen, a scene that nearly made me visit the bathroom upon watching. Because of this love of all things Paternoster, I was really excited for this episode, and I wasn’t let down.

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Mark Gatiss was quite at home here with his exaggerated pastiche of Victorian London. I have longed to see him write a script that came close to the warped world that was The League of Gentlemen, but got left with a few “hit or miss” episodes instead. The Crimson Horror may not be the same sort of black comedy as League, but it’s every bit as off-kilter and has as many laughs as scares. At this point and time, I think Gatiss has produced the two strongest scripts this season, with Cold War being his other one. This vast improvement shows that he could be a clear contender to take the mantle of Doctor Who show-runner should Steven Moffat decide to step down in the near future – an opinion I did not have during his episode last year.

The story of The Crimson Horror takes a very unorthodox approach by not actually showing The Doctor and Clara until a long time into the episode. In fact, Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are the focal point this time around. This isn’t the same idea as when we used to have “Doctor-lite” episodes such as Love and Monsters, but a cool way to tell a story from the middle rather than the beginning. The Parternoster Gang has received an inquiry to investigate a strange illness called the “Crimson Horror”, a terrible ailment that leaves its victims rigid and with bright red skin. The trail leads them to an apocalyptic community in Yorkshire called Sweetville. This town is led by a woman named Mrs. Gillyflower and her “silent” and unseen partner Mr. Sweet. Mrs. Gillyflower preaches that the end times are near and that our moral decay is destroying the world, a fact made more evident by appearance of her daughter Ada, a younger woman disfigured by a beating from her late father.

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I mentioned that viewers are left in the dark as to the whereabouts of The Doctor and Clara for quite a while. This is because The Doctor is locked in a dungeon for the beginning of the episode; we hear him mumble and groan unseen while Ada calls him “her monster”. It is not revealed until Jenny discovers him rigid and with sanguine skin that he’s this “monster”. The main reason the Paternoster Gang is trying to figure out the “Crimson Horror” is because of an old urban legend that supposedly reveals a way to see the last thing a dead person sees. We learn that when someone dies, the final image they see is imprinted on their eye, and in the case of one of the victims, the last thing he saw was The Doctor! In hilarious antiquated sepia-toned flashbacks we find out the real story –

The Doctor isn’t the killer, but a victim himself. Clara and The Doctor found out about the problems in Sweetville long before the Paternoster Gang, and infiltrated the same way Jenny has, posing as interested parties. It seems that Mrs. Gillyflower has a preservation process that she is using to “save” folks from the upcoming apocalypse. It seems that she is using the venom from an ancient parasite – this, my friends, is Mr. Sweet, an ugly worm creature. The Doctor isn’t human, so he did not react well to the “treatment” and suffered the same fate as other “rejects”. In fact, had he not been saves by Ada he would have been dumped in the river like other discarded victims.

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This episode is both VERY dark, almost grotesque at times, and hilarious. There are tons of little one-liners and quips that make the dialog for me. One of the funniest is when The Doctor brings up his issues with Tegan, a past companion: “Ooh, I once spent helluva long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport!” Like I said above, my favorite scenes were with Strax. One of the best is his interaction with His new flesh and blood GPS sidekick Thomas Thomas (get it! LOL). The way “Tom Tom” saves Strax’s poor horse from execution because of its inability to navigate the streets of Yorkshire was hilarious. We also see Strax getting to FINALLY shoot his gun, an act that he obviously gets a bit too excited for leading to a scolding by Madame Vastra: “Strax, you’re over excited.  Have you been eating those jelly sherbet fancies again?” I’m not in it for only the jokes, but if there are jokes in Doctor Who, stuff like this is great.

Ada and Mrs. Gillyflower are played by real life mother and daughter Dame Diana Rigg (of Avengers fame) and Rachael Stirling. Rigg is awesome in her role, and one can see that she simply had fun “chewing the scenery”. Their relationship in the episode is pretty dark and goes against the grain of the ongoing trope of “love saves the day” that we have seen constantly through the last few seasons. Once Ada realizes that her mother lied about her blindness and basically lets it slip that she used her as a test subject for the antidote for the preservation process, Ada is a bit less than happy. Let’s just say that Mrs. Gillyflower and Mr. Sweet are a bit worse for wear at the end.

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So there we have it, one of my favorite episodes this year, and my favorite Gatiss script altogether! He seems to have the Paternoster Gang down, and hope that he uses them more often. The episode has a few small plot holes, and a bad guy plot just as silly as The Invasion of the Dinosaurs, but that doesn’t matter – it was pure fun! Next week we have Clara and the Kids she babysits facing the Cybermen, in a script by Neil Gaiman! Saturday can’t come soon enough!

Want a way to watch this episode, but don’t have cable? Maybe Amazon is a good choice, that’s how I watch them at least!

The Crimson Horror

The Crimson Horror [HD]

Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the Tardis (2013)

I really had no idea what to expect with Journey to the Centre of the Tardis. On one hand you could surmise that the episode may have something similar to the classic Jules Verne story A Journey to the Center of the Earth, but the trailer looked more like a scary high-tension episode than an action adventure story. I was surprised to see that this particular episode was something of a horror episode, strange in the fact that it comes right after another horror-based episode in Hide. Journey to the Centre of the Tardis is notable for one reason – we get to see the insides of the little blue box that could. We have seen bits and bobs of the Tardis here and there since the very beginnings of the show, but never have we seen this much of the ship. Even the classic Invasion of Time pales in comparison in terms of Tardis touring. The question is: Was it any good?

I will start out by saying that this episode is one of those that really improves with repeat viewings. For the basis of this review, I watched it twice and liked it a bit more after the initial viewing. You can surmise that I had some problems with the episode if I said “it improves”, and I definitely did. I didn’t hate it, in fact I thought it was pretty good, but it could have been a lot better for reasons I will soon explain. I think my main complaint is that the nature of time travel concepts and cause and effect found within is very chaotic, and to be honest came across as messy. I will not say that it was as incomprehensible as a story like Ghost Light, in which fans have notoriously elevated to being “good” because “complexity” means “smart” but it has its problems.

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The story follows The Doctor and Clara as they come across a large salvage ship piloted by three expert salvagers called The Van Baalens (played by Ashley Walters and Mark Oliver) and their “android” named Tricky (played by Jahvell Hall). This salvage crew captures the Tardis with a powerful magnetic beam wreaking havoc on its internal systems as a result. Not only is she leaking fuel, but the Tardis looks so unsafe that the salvage crew decides to eject it back into space. The Doctor has apparently escaped the ship unscathed and is pretty mad at the salvage crew; it seems that Clara is still trapped somewhere inside.

The Van Baalens were a bit hard to pin down. I love the concept of these three guys traveling around and listening to The Cult whilst gobbling up bits of wrecked ships. Too bad that the characters were pretty unlikable; I know that they weren’t necessarily “good guys” but their decision making skills were horrid (don’t take that part of the ship, the Tardis will try to kill you – takes piece anyway). I also was not a fan of the fact that the two older brothers somehow brainwashed their younger brother (Tricky) into believing that he was an android servant for the simple thrill of bullying him. With character traits like this it’s really hard to feel bad when one of them dies, since he was a jerk anyway.

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The Doctor tricks them into going inside, and fakes a self-destruct system to force the Van Baalens into helping him save Clara, and generally comes across as a bit unhinged, even more so than usual! The rest of the episode is basically everyone running around in various corridors and rooms trying to elude the Tradis’s self-preservation systems and make it to her core. Time starts to unravel, and everyone starts seeing weird things like future and past echoes of themselves as well as terrifying radiation zombies with glowing red eyes. These creatures were pretty creepy for the same reason that “The Crooked Man” last week was – you never get a good look at one of them. Until it is explained as to the nature of these beings is, you usually see the shape of one, with eyes ablaze, surrounded by a haze of obscuring “waves”. They had me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what these things could have been. I honestly was wondering if he wasn’t housing scarred up refugees from Gallifrey or something, but the real answer was almost as creepy. It seems these were future versions of Clara and the Van Baalens disfigured and driven mad by the energy from the Eye of Harmony, a possible future that is adverted with a stupid plot device.

What really bugged me about this episode was that it involved a “reset button”, and we’re not talking about a figurative one for the purpose of storytelling – an honest to God big red reset button. This trope usually drives me crazy when it’s used this way, and not since the ending of Superman the Movie has it been used in such a silly manner. We saw it at the end of season three to undo The Master’s massacre of the human race, and I hated it then as well. The “reset button” concept is something Russel T. Davies used to employ a lot, I wish it would have stayed with him and not crept into these newer episodes.

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I did enjoy the fact that we got to see things like Clara reading a huge book about the Time War (where she may have seen The Doctor’s name!) and the Eye of Harmony. Little nods to the past such as these usually lead me to “nerding out” even though it reeks of fan service. The special effects for the various Tardis rooms (especially the Eye of Harmony and the Heart) were awesome, and really gives a sense of how massive the whole ship can be. Things like this really helped an episode that could have been pretty mediocre into something special despite its flaws.

Did I love Journey to the Centre of the Tardis? Well, no. The episode was well done from an atmosphere and effects standpoint, but failed a bit with the writing. I’ve loved each episode this half-season so far and having one that “isn’t quite there” is pretty typical (sort of like Curse of the Black Spot), at least this was pretty solid and not terrible. Had they stayed away from things like a giant red reset button, I may have even loved this episode as well. So on a scale of one to ten, with 10 being “woo hoo” and one being “aaargh!” I’d say this one was a “meh” (I should use that as an official rating system…lol). Next week we have Diana Rigg and the Paternoster Gang to look forward to, so can’t wait till Sataurday!

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Lately I have been watching this show on Amazon.com’s portal on the PS3 as I do not have cable nor do I want to “steal” the episodes. Here are some links if you want to try this method out as well:

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS [HD]

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Doctor Who: Hide (2013)

“It’s ghost time!”

While many Doctor Who episodes are a little bit scary (what else would make all those kids hide behind their sofas?), strict horror-based one are kind of hit or miss. Sometimes you have episodes like The Unquiet Dead that really hits the ball out of the park when it comes to atmosphere and scares, and unfortunately there are episodes like Fear Her. I think that a lot of this comes down to the fact that we will NEVER see a ghost story or monster story where the creature in question is really a paranormal entity, thus making the viewer question it the whole time. It’s kind of like watching an M. Night Shyamalan film; on one hand it’s usually sort of creepy, but on the other one becomes preoccupied with the upcoming “twist ending”. You may be assuming that I’m about to bash Hide based on the above sentiment, that’s where you are wrong – I loved it. Hide take’s everything you thought you knew about these kinds of stories and turns them on their heads.

It’s a dark and stormy night, and there seems to be a paranormal investigation going on in a large haunted mansion. Our two co-stars for the evening are a psychic named Emma Grayling (as played by Jessica Raine, soon to be Verity Lambert in the upcoming Doctor Who historical drama) and Professor Alec Palmer (played by Dougray Scott, known for Mission Impossible II and the recent Day of the Triffids films) as they try to find out the secret behind “The Witch of the Well”. It seems that the Caliburn mansion has been plagued by reports of a horrible spectre for hundreds of years, and since this is 1974, our ghost hunters are using all the latest gizmos to find it. Emma and Palmer are soon joined by The Doctor and Clara, who seem to be there on purpose for once exclaiming “we’re the Ghost Busters!” instead of the usual scenario of not knowing where they are.

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Dougray Scott is one of those actors that I am not really all that familiar with aside from a handful of film and TV roles, but always delivers with his acting. After seeing him in Day of the Triffids and this I can definitely say that he would make an awesome Bernard Quatermass if that franchise ever gets off the ground again. Sadly I cannot say that I am at all familiar with the previous work of Jessica Raine, but she did a fine job here. I’m looking forward to spotting her in the aforementioned historical drama An Adventure in Space and Time, soon to be hitting our airwaves this November.

For the most part, Hide reminds me a LOT of some of the older Big Finish audio dramas that I’ve listened to. I’m not sure why, but the mixture of decent, plausible science, and the moody atmosphere gave me a bit of a throwback to some of the 2001 Paul McGann audios especially. Notice that I said “science” up there when talking about a ghost story? That’s because this episode does have a twist on the origin of the “ghost”, but the reveal isn’t the usual Scooby Doo-esque “it looks like this ghost was really an alien!” Instead we are presented with a cool idea: The Doctor realized that “The Witch of the Well” never moves in ANY picture that is taken of it, so he decides to find out if this could be a fixed point in time. He and Clara board the Tardis and take snapshots throughout the lifespan of the Earth looking for the ghast. Sure enough, it’s there, but it’s not what he expected.

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It seems that the “ghost” is actually an ill-fated time traveler named Hila Tukurian (played by Kemi-Bo Jacobs), who disappeared after a time flight. Hila has been caught in what The Doctor explains as a “pocket dimension” where thousands of years in our time are mere moments there. This is the reason for the seemingly static shots of the ghost, as Hila is actually running for her life from an unseen enemy. So if Hila isn’t the “villain” of the episode, who is? It seems the unnamed “crooked man” briefly spotted in the final picture is the culprit, and The Doctor must save Hila from him. This “crooked man” is pretty unnerving and harkens back to movies like The Ring. When we do see him, he crawls around in an unnatural manner, his twisted face grimacing in anguish. But the crooked man has a reason for his actions, and it’s not because he’s evil – he’s in love!

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re saying “love saves the day AGAIN!?” The Doctor beat the peg dolls and Cybermen with love last year, and this year he defeated the parasite sun-god of Ahkaten with it as well. Well, this is different. It seems that “The Crooked Man” is angry because his mate is trapped in the “real world” behind a door that The Doctor closes. The Doctor has unwittingly doomed him to the very death that was once going to be Hila’s fate. In a silly twist The Doctor flies in to save the beast, in one of the oddest endings that we’ve ever witnessed as viewers. Some people have complained that this ending was either “out of the blue” or “tacked on”, but I liked it because the Doctor would never let an innocent die if he could save them, no matter how ugly they are.

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If anything was bad about this episode, I think that Hila was not a very well-developed character. Granted, she is the focus for around three-quarters of the whole episode, but just stands there like furniture once she is safe. I almost wish that this episode was a two-parter with the haunting storyline reserved for episode one, and the time travels bits in episode two. Maybe in this arrangement, characters like Hila could have stood out more, but what we do have is more than sufficient.

My favorite bit of this episode was probably the interaction between The Doctor and Clara regarding her mystery. We are starting to see more and more that they really don’t trust each other at all, a fact that was hammered home no less than twice. In the first instance Clara stayed in the Tardis while The Doctor took tons of pictures to see if he could figure out if the ghost was a fixed point in time. We see a montage of sorts involving rapidly changing times from the dawn of the Earth to the very end. This disturbs Clara as The Doctor seems totally unaffected by what they just saw, but she just saw her entire existence pass before her eyes. This makes her realize that The Doctor is not like her and must see all humans as mere ghosts. The second instance is actually the entire reason that this episode happened. It seems that The Doctor tried to find Emma to ask about Clara, noting her strong abilities as an empath. When Emma remarks that “she is a normal girl” this sets him off, she must be a trap or something! Clara also asked Emma about The Doctor where she found out that he has a “ sliver of ice in his heart”; seems like he is still the Dark, brooding Doctor from The Snowmen, and Clara might be the only thing keeping him going.

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All in all, Hide was a fine episode, I’ve enjoyed this season a lot despite the fact that a bunch of other fans seem to be having trouble with it. The intelligent nature of the unorthodox plotting by Neil Cross is a breath of fresh air from the tendency to do “Doctor Who by numbers” that many writers fall victim to. I know some writers want to please the fans at every turn, but taking chances like this is the only way the show can keep going and staying fresh. Cross was the man behind The Rings of Akhaten as well, another unorthodox episode that I enjoyed. “The Crooked Man” was a creepy “villain” proving that less can be more sometimes. He wasn’t as ambiguous as the antagonists in Midnight or Silence in the Library, but he came across just as terrifying. Next week we have a Journey to the Center of the Tardis to look forward to, and it looks like all hell breaks loose in the relationship between Clara and the Doctor.

 

Lately I have been watching this show on Amazon.com’s portal on the PS3 as I do not have cable nor do I want to “steal” the episodes. Here are some links if you want to try this method out as well:

Hide

Hide [HD]

Doctor Who: Cold War (2013)

After The Rings of Akhaten puzzled fans with what is quite possibly the most unconventional (and divisive) episode of modern Doctor Who, this time we have something so conventional it feels almost retro! This is definitely helped by the fact that a returning villain, The Ice Warriors, make their modern era debut in Cold War, and with a make-over to boot. The recipe for tonight’s episode is easy: just take one part classic “base under siege” template, add it to one part Ridley Scott’s Alien then mix it all in a bowl of Hunt for Red October.

The story follows The Doctor and Clara stumbling in on a Cold War era Soviet submarine at the height of tensions with the U.S. The crew is taking part in a routine test to see if they have the testicular fortitude available to nuke everything if the call was ever made to start a nuclear war. It seems that the crew has taken a bit of “extra cargo” in the form of a huge ice block with a presumed mammoth inside. Of course, this isn’t the case, and we have a loose Ice Warrior running around. His name is Grand Marshall Skaldak, and the poor guy thinks that he is the last of his people. In fact, he is utterly devastated that his family, including his daughter, aged to dust by the passage of almost five thousand years in his icy tomb. When faced with losses of that sort combined with his militaristic nature means that he may just cause a nuclear incident because he has nothing to lose.

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First things first, I’d like to discuss the changes made to the ice warrior costume itself. The new costume, as we see with Grand Marshall Skaldak, is a vast improvement on the older suits, without losing the iconic look of the classic series version. Really the only BIG change was the hands, and let’s be honest, most people are happy that they lost their robot claws/Lego guy hands in favor of three-fingered Ninja Turtle-like ones. The problem I always had with the 1960’s iterations are that they looked so much like a guy in an overdone fiberglass and fur suit that I was expecting Godzilla to fight them off. You could tell the actor’s visibility was bad, and the mobility was clunky and slow. The new suits look somehow more maneuverable and more armor-like at the same time despite being obviously made from a less rigid material.

As for one controversial aspect of the episode, I quite enjoyed seeing Skaldak outside of his armor. It seems like I am the only one out there, but the effect wasn’t so bad. Yeah I know his face was computer generated, and that folks are averse to any CGI creatures, but the unusual take on them was interesting. I think many people figured that there would be a random make-up faced dude under there, but what we got was more alien. Let’s be honest if it was just somebody with lizard make-up they would have been too similar to the Silurians.

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Another big plus for me was the guest cast. It was almost refreshing to see a bit of media based on Russian soldiers to escape the almost propaganda-esque portrayal found in most shows. Instead of a crew of militant Stalinists hell-bent on the decimation of the United States, we have a level-headed crew of guys that look like they’d be fun to hang out with. The inclusion of veteran actor (and former audio-only Doctor Who actor) David Warner as professor Grisenko especially stood out. I’m not sure if it was the adorable grandfatherly wacko-vibe (the one that made me love Wilf so much in season 4) or his love for new wave music that I enjoyed so much, but Warner delivered the goods. I’m one of probably four people who have yet to watch the blockbuster show Game of Thrones, but I hear Liam Cunningham is quite good in it. I’m not familiar with him much aside from smaller roles, but if his stint as Captain Zhukov is any indication, he is pretty good.

On a side note while we are discussing the ship’s crew: That the guy that originally released the Ice Warrior from the block of ice was comically inept to such a hilarious degree, I’m amazed that he didn’t inadvertently kill the entire crew long before the Doctor even showed up. He causes the whole catastrophe simply because he couldn’t wait to see the mammoth they found, and took a blowtorch to it like a naughty child on Christmas Eve peeking at their presents.

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The way the whole episode was put together was very good. I really enjoyed the script, which is amazing since it was penned by Mark Gatiss. I’m no Gatiss hater by any stretch of the imagination, but he has had troubles for some reason or another doing solid scripts for the new series. I loved The Unquiet Dead, but was let down in most of his other episodes. Cold War contained his old-school sensibility and his attention to historical detail very well, and unlike Victory of the Daleks, it didn’t fall apart in the end. The direction was very well done as well and retained the cinematic feel that Douglas McKinnon got so right in The Power of Three. The claustrophobic feel of all the steamy, drippy submarine corridors and the attention to shadows and darkness gave this episode a nice nod to the Ridley Scott Film Alien.

Cold War is quite possibly the best episode this half of the season so far. Keeping the tense mood and claustrophobic vibe ramped up to eleven was great, as it really helped the “mini-film” nature pop out. Skaldak is a great adversary for the Doctor, and I really hope we see him again at some point. His honor code mixed with his refreshingly real emotions and motives are a nice change for a show usually populated with villains that are evil for the sake of being evil. You really feel for the guy, even though he decides to handle his predicament pretty poorly, but honor wins out in the end. He honestly reminds me of Klingon characters throughout the many Star Trek shows. While they are usually the antagonists of any given story, rarely are they doing any action solely based on bad intentions alone. That’s what makes them so iconic in that universe, and I hope this carries over to Doctor Who. Move over Sontarans, I think the show has rediscovered its resident “Klingons”.

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In closing, I really hope that professor Grisenko is still alive in the modern Doctor Who world and is enjoying the recently re-united Ultravox; hopefully he never gave up hope after they broke up around the same time as the fall of the Soviet Union!

 

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten (2013)

“She’s just a girl. How can she be? She can’t be. She is. She can’t be. She’s not possible.”

–The Doctor about Clara

 

Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten is an odd Doctor Who episode. In the first seconds, the show treats us to The Doctor essentially stalking Clara through time. We can assume that he has become completely obsessed with her mystery at this point, especially when he utters the quote that I started this review out with. Most notable of these events, he witnesses her parent’s first meeting a.k.a the origin of that leaf that she keeps tucked away in her journal – a plot point we saw last episode. Back in the 1980’s Clara’s father nearly died when he was struck in the face by a huge leaf in a gust of wind. This freak accident of nature nearly caused him to be hit by a car had it not been for Clara’s mother jumping to the rescue. Aside from the tear-jerking prologue, the episode seemed eerily reminiscent of another second outing for a companion – The Beast Below. I was willing to write it off completely as “fluff” to be quite honest until the final act, a section where we may have witnessed one of Matt Smith’s finest moments for the show.

The Dynamic duo of the Doctor and Clara decide to visit the densely populated rock-strewn rings around the planet Akhaten to show Clara some crazy alien races. This scene plays out a bit like the Cantina scene from the original Star Wars film, in that the make-up department got to go crazy and make a TON of one-off aliens. They realize that they need transport around the asteroid bazaar, so they attempt to secure a space moped with hilarious results. Before The Doctor becomes predictably separated from Clara, we find out an important nugget of information – the Akhaten market doesn’t use hard currency but rather trades in items of sentimental value.

The Queen of Years
The Queen of Years

The Doctor vanishes leaving Clara to get in the middle of a situation involving a runaway queen being stalked by creepy henchmen. This queen is a little girl named Merry, or the “Queen of Years” as she is known by her people, and she is running away from her responsibilities of singing at a ceremony. Clara reassures her that everything will be okay, but doesn’t exactly understand the whole situation. It seems that this planet practices a constant song to keep an ancient evil asleep, and Merry fears that her ruining the song will cause it to wake up. And guess what? It wakes up!

This episode would have been VERY short had the main focus not been the ill-fated ceremony that Merry was so worried about. In an odd turn of events, we get to see the entire “Feast of Offerings”, full of chanting, singing, and kneeling. While this may sound bad to the casual reader, I feel that this saved a somewhat bland episode. This hasn’t been the first time that a heartfelt song has saved an episode in my opinion, as a third season episode called Gridlock hit its climax in a similar manner. The song that was sung was utterly beautiful, and I hope to get it on my iPod as soon as I can.

These guys could have been so cool...
These guys could have been so cool…

I think I’ll now address my main problem with this episode – “bad guy confusion”. I think the biggest blight of the whole thing is the coolness of the alien guards “The Vigil” and their criminal under-use in the episode. When we first see them, they are hunting Merry through dark corridors using a creepy voice that could stop anyone in their tracks – “MERRY WHEREEEE AREEEE YOOOUUU!” Aside from a few scenes here and there, that’s all we get. The monster confusion doesn’t end there as we have a mummified sleeping monster that we assume is the “big bad” only to have it revealed that he is simply some sort of overseer to the real villain. To be honest I wasn’t sure of the relationship between the two creatures myself. Maybe we can think of “old beef jerky alien” as one of the “Heralds of Galactus” from Marvel comics, as the real villain is of a similar scale – the actual sun of the planet system. Come to find out these people have been blindly sacrificing folks to the “parasite sun god” for a while, only to have The Doctor take a stand and stop the bloodshed.

In a move that pulled at my Gnostic heart strings, The Doctor stands up for the poor people that cower in fear of a being that calls itself a God. He berates the planet-sized memory-eating Demiurge for all he is worth. I honestly think that this was one of the best bits of Doctor Who dialog EVER, and it really changed my mind about this episode.  The Doctor is never short of thunderous monologues, but for some reason this one really stood out to me:

“Okay then. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll tell you a story.

Can you hear them? All these people who lived in terror of you and your judgement. All these people whose ancestors devoted themselves, SACRIFICED themselves, to you! …can you hear them singing?

Oh, you like to think you’re a God. But you’re not a God; you’re just a parasite. Eat now, with jealousy and envy and longing for the lives of others, you FEED on them, on the memory of love and loss and birth and death and joy and SORROW!

So.

So…

Come on then… Take mine. Take my memories. But I hope you’ve got a big appetite, because I’ve lived a long life and I’ve seen a few things. I walked away from the last great time war, I marked the passing of the time lords, I saw the birth of the universe and I watched as time ran out… Moment by moment until nothing remained, no time no space, just me. I walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a mad man. And I watched universes freeze and creations burn, I have seen thing you wouldn’t believe, I have lost things you will never understand and I know things; secrets that must never be told, knowledge that must never be spoken, knowledge that will make parasite gods blaze! So come on then! Take it! Take it all baby! Have it! You have it all!”

— The Doctor whooping verbal ass

 

All in all, I liked this episode, but for some unorthodox reasons based on my own religious faith and my taste in music. The actual ending where Clara killed the monster with her leaf was a bit “Deus Ex Machina” in my opinion, but that’s nothing new in genre television. The actual script didn’t really have a lot of content to be honest, and it was far too similar to earlier episodes for my tastes. This was of course saved by the special effects, the casting, the music, and the acting by Jenna and Matt. Next week is an episode that could be a contender for my most anticipated episode this year –Cold War!

The most important leaf in the universe!
The most important leaf in the universe!

Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John (2013)

It’s that time of year again! With the turkey-filled memories of a Christmas long gone fading from my mind, and the pitter patter of Easter bunny footsteps upon the grass outside my apartment, there can only be one explanation – New episodes of Doctor Who to watch! I have been pretty excited for this half-season as the previous two episodes starring Jenna-Louise Coleman have been spot on. Asylum of the Daleks was easily my favorite episode in the first half of this season, and the last Christmas special, The Snowmen, was easily my favorite Christmas special of the lot.  I’m not sure if it can be chalked up to Steven Moffat’s writing or the fact that something just “clicks” with Jenna as Clara.

The Bells of St. John is an episode that really breaks no new ground. At its heart, one could honestly chalk it up as being a retread of an earlier Russell T. Davies penned episode Partners in Crime. Both featured the Doctor meeting a companion that he had met once before, both had a somewhat ineffectual villain, and both were set in contemporary London. The difference is that, unlike “Bells”, Partners in Time suffered from being seen as a “romp” episode, a sometimes pejorative term applied to fluffy one-off episodes that have no real substance. I think the main difference here is that this episode is more of a character piece, a slow burn if you will. There isn’t just a ton of running around and shouting, but the foundation to the unraveling mystery of Clara. Who is she? Why has she shown up in different time periods? Why doesn’t she remember the Doctor if her timeline is linear?

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When we last saw the Doctor in The Snowmen, he was a broken man. He had just lost the two most important people in his life and he wanted be alone and unbothered. With his heart hardening in a similar manner to how he appeared in the very first episode nearly 50 years ago, it took Clara’s appearance to give him new purpose. The task of unraveling her mystery and protecting her. This episode opens with the Doctor in quiet contemplation in a Cumbrian monastery. It seems that he has spent a Loooong time (Long enough that legends have built up around him, wait I thought he didn’t want that!) pondering those very same aforementioned questions. We are alerted to the fact that the “Bells of Saint John” are ringing, a clever way to describe the phone on his Tardis ringing, you know the same Tardis that has a “St. John’s ambulance” sticker on it. On the other end is coincidentally Clara asking for tech support to log onto the internet.  It seems that “some lady” gave Clara his number if she ever needed help. Curiouser, and Curiouser….

Long story short: The Doctor finds Clara and they fight off a threat by a group housed in a newer London landmark called “The Shard”. This villain is only heard in voice for the majority of the episode, and is known simply as “The Client” by the group of renegade IT professionals it employs.  They send out their robotic “Spoonheads” as walking Wi-Fi waypoints and wreak havoc. Their plan has a very Idiot Lantern vibe to it, but instead of feeding on TV viewers, the client wants to digitize human souls and use them as slaves and presumably food. In a shocking twist we find out that the villain is actually none other than The Great Intelligence, a classic villain that we last saw at Christmas time as played by Richard E. Grant.

While I know I will be crucified by all the David Tennant fans out there, but I think Matt Smith is slowly becoming my favorite Doctor. To me, he is on the verge of almost “perfecting” the role of the Doctor; just the right amount of darkness, wit, curiosity and even intelligence. He honestly reminds me of a weird conglomeration of the traits found in the Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton Doctors – both favorites of mine.

Doctor Who: The Bells of St. John was a solid, if not somewhat low-key episode. Both Smith and Coleman have done a great job with their respective characters carrying an episode that was not hinged on spectacle like most season openers. If this episode, and the trailer for the other upcoming episodes, is any indication of the season’s quality; I feel that this season will be great.

Bells-of-St-John-doctor-who

Doctor Who: The Snowmen (2012)

Watching the yearly Doctor Who Christmas special is fast becoming one of my personal Christmas traditions that I most look forward to. I’ll admit that I wasn’t entirely thrilled by last year’s iteration; it was saccharine sweet and lacked any real drama compared to most episodes of the show. I remarked in my review that “I think they should be less “Christmasy” for the most part from now on. The Christmas gimmicks worked very well at first, but seem too forced now.” Gladly, aside from a snow theme, this episode lacks any sort of “hitting you over the head” Christmas treatment that we’ve had in the past. As the episode opens with a group of people being massacred by an army of sentient snowmen, filled with what appeared to be evil snowflakes, I knew I was in for a real treat.

Right from the moment the opening theme starts, this second half of season 7 is really starting to show that this year is a special anniversary year. Some fans have complained that Steven Moffat didn’t follow through with making this new show (2005-current) like the old one, a claim he made years ago as he was just getting handed the reigns to the Doctor Who show-runner title from Russell T. Davies. Right away we have a new opening sequence with graphics that include swirly space debris and a picture of Matt Smith’s face in stars, a small detail that looks back at the show’s past. I’m not going to lie, my wife and I “Marked out” (to use a pro wrestling term) when we saw this new intro. It wasn’t even an earth shattering change or anything, but it really shows that small things like that can make or break it for some people. New fans won’t even notice the charge, bus us older fans have another little touch there to make us happy.

doctor-who-snowmen-preview_Jenna_louise-Coleman

The new titles sequence isn’t the only change we had in this episode. We were also graced with a new Tardis interior that was obviously somewhat based on the original one using the basic structure of the one from the last few seasons. Now it’s just far more spacious, has lighting, and gives an entirely new (and yet old) sci-fi feel rather than the played out “organic spaceship” theme that was sort of refreshing in 2005, then used by every other sci-fi show. The Doctor is also sporting a new outfit that somewhat carries over to the next episodes based on the “coming soon” trailer.

The actual plot of this episode involves evil snowmen controlled by an old villain that we haven’t really seen since the Patrick Troughton era. “The Great Intelligence” that we see here, played by the voice of Ian McKellen, is sort of a reimagining of the creature of the same name we saw in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. In fact, this episode is directly tied to those older episodes with little bits of dialog tossed in as a nod to fans. Ian McKellen does a great job providing a booming evil voice that we would expect from something called “The Great Intelligence”. Richard E. Grant, who played the Doctor in Scream of the Shalka, returns to Doctor Who playing a character named Walter Simeon. Simeon met “The Great Intelligence” as a young boy, and used its power to get back at those that hurt him, and gained power for himself. Little did he know that he was merely a pawn in the grand scheme of things.

doctorwho_photo_snowmen_Ian_McKellen

The Doctor has been “laying low” and attempting to place himself into the same sort of self-imposed retirement we saw him in way back when we first met the character with William Hartnell in the role. Luckily he isn’t in total hermit-mode and has been hanging around the “Paternoster Gang” including the sword toting Silurian warrior Lady Vastra, her human wife Jenny, and their butler Strax, a reluctant Sontaran servant. I really love these guys, and am glad that they will be somewhat taking the place of River Song now that the Pond saga has ended. I was really hoping for a non-human companion this year, and although these three aren’t the main ones, I can handle them being there a few times this season. Most of the fun comes from the same sort of humor that used to pop up in Star Trek: the Next Generation with Worf. The fun lies in taking Strax, from the warrior Sontaran race, and placing him in mundane situations that he hates, can’t relate to, or simply doesn’t understand. I love Strax because he does things like suggest maximum force in every situation, like throwing grenades at something or blowing up the moon, when said action is grossly inappropriate.

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Also returning are the very same dark fantasy elements that have been popping up in the entirety of Moffat’s tenure as show-runner. I really liked an instance where Clara found the entrance to the Tardis in a cloud only reachable with an invisible “Stairway to heaven”. Rather than just having the Tardis sitting next to a building or something, the production team went the extra mile to make Clara discovering the Tardis that much more special. This of course reminds me of stuff from Neil Gaiman, fitting that he wrote a script last season, and has one this season as well.

Jenna Louise Coleman returns for a follow up to her previous encounter with the Doctor, this time playing a “new” character named Clara. Once again we can see that Clara is far more intelligent than some previous companions and takes charge in a similar way to Ace way back in the late 1980’s. She gives me hope that the Doctor has met his match in a companion that won’t take guff from him. I like Amy Pond quite a bit, but felt that she sometimes fell in line with the old “companion always getting in trouble” mold, here’s hoping Clara stays strong.

There were a few quibbles to be had with the episode, like the scheme of the Great Intelligence never really being fleshed out fully, and some wonky computer generated effects with the “old Governess” but for the most part I feel that this was a very strong Christmas special, far better than last year’s. I can’t wait for this upcoming season, a new companion, and the return of the Cybermen as written by Neil Gaiman!

 

Asylum of the Daleks

If there is one thing that the Daleks have been for the past 50 years, it’s inconsistent. Sometimes Daleks are intelligent, other times they are simply idiotic. Sometimes they are evil, other times they are comical. And the most important: sometimes they are scary, other times they are lame.

Despite my fondness for them firmly placing them above any other Doctor Who villain, it really depends on who the writer is on how these guys are used. Episodes like 2005’s Dalek are instant classics in the minds of many fans, while others such as Daleks In Manhattan come off as camp as a sequined cape. I was surprised to realize that this was showrunner Steven Moffat’s first real foray into these armored squid guys, and for the most part he really nailed it. If anything, he has found that a way to make a monster scary again is to wound it, or drive it crazy. The headless Cyberman armor in The Pandorica Opens is a fine example of this, and in this episode we have an asylum full of the Dalek equivalents.

First thing first, I had no idea that Jenna Louise Coleman was going to be in this episode. For the first time in a VERY long time we had an actual surprise that wasn’t ruined by a big UK newspaper or a questionable write-up in a magazine. Her appearance is a two edged sword though, as I really enjoyed her character, but this is probably not the same character that later shows up later on. Without outright spoiling my reasons for those that have not seen the episode, let’s just say that if it is her – Moffat will have to unleash the “timey wimey” on the show to achieve this.

This episode had it all for fans of older Dalek episodes. Returning, is a human slave class lead by the Daleks, minus the stupid speech pattern that the robomen had, or those dumb helmets from the Davison era. We had a glimmer of the many factions within the Dalek Empire including a new “parliament of the Daleks”. While this was a bit Star Wars-esque (galactic senate anyone?) it achieved a reasonable way to have thousands of Daleks in a room at once. Those thousands of Daleks were very impressive, but failed on one regard. The promise of “Every Dalek Ever Made” wasn’t an outright lie, but one had to play “Where’s Waldo” to see most of them. There was a special weapons model, and a 1960’s model in there from what I could see, but they weren’t features quite as prominently as I had hoped. I bet somebody with far too much free time has spotted them all, but I’m too lazy for that.

All in all, I really liked this episode; it had everything I like about Moffat scripts: mystery, surprises, horror, and a dash of humor. This season, despite how short it this half is, seems to be more up my alley than the previous Christmas episode, and holds the “blockbuster” status teased in the lead-up.