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Sunday, 17 January 2021

Episode #269 - Sleep No More

 "To die, to die, Glamis hath murdered sleep, therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more."

Episode #269:      Sleep No More.
Companions:        The 12th Doctor and Clara Oswald.

Air Date:             14th November 2015.

The Le Verrier space station fell silent only a day ago. No-one really knows what happened. However, some footage of the attempted rescue mission was found. The station appears empty, except for two nosy time travellers: the Doctor and Clara.

Sleep No More is quite a clever story even though it has it's faults. Well, I think they are faults but you may disagree. Our heroes arrive on a deserted space station to find that someone has been experimenting with ways to overcome sleep. Time is money and all that. The result is that people don't need sleep anymore and that all that sleep wipe from your eyes each morning is now a sentient killing organism. In this context it is a rather well thought out idea and harkens back to the days of classic Doctor Who. I could certainly see the old Doctor's running through this scenario quite nicely.

The plot is simple enough and the monsters are suitably scary and in keeping with the one off Doctor Who monster villains. There are two problems with the episode that I find bother me. Firstly, the entire episode is shown in a found footage style, which while in keeping with how the episode is written just doesn't work for me all that well. The writer, Mark Gatiss - a man who knows his horror and has done some excellent scripts, has tried to use this angle to create something different and creepy while tying it into the episode. From a personal viewpoint, I think it would have come across better if filmed in a regular style. Bonus points for trying something different though. 

Secondly, the episode ends without any real conclusion. The idea is (spoiler alert) the monsters are  seemingly defeated on the space station but because anyone viewing the found footage (that's you the viewer as well) could become or spawn one of the sandman monsters they could be out there. Nice horror approach to the end but unfortunately it didn't work well as an ending for me. I come away feeling that the Doctor hasn't defeated the monsters and just runs away at the end. Just my interpretation though, right or wrong.

All in all, Sleep No More is built on a solid frame for a story and does the job it sets out to do. Not one of the best but it could have been if perhaps it had been made in the usual episode style and with a more decisive ending, it could have been a 4 star episode in my mind. It's still a good watch and well worth making time to see if you haven't.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Episode #268 - The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion

"This is a scale model of war! Every war ever fought, right there in front of you! Because it's always the same! When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who's going to die! You don't know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning: Sit — down — and — talk!"

Episode #268:      The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion.

Companions:        The 12th Doctor and Clara Oswald.

Air Date:             31st October to 7th November 2015.

A long time ago, the Doctor made a deal in the Tower of London. 20 million Zygons walk among us, in human form, living undetected in peace and harmony. But cracks are showing in this delicate peace. Humans and Zygons are disappearing. In city apartment blocks, lifts are going missing, and far below the streets of Britain, alien pods are growing in secret caverns. To top it all off, UNIT's scientific advisor, Osgood, sends a desperate message to the Doctor - but since Osgood is long dead, how is that even possible?

This is a two part story with which I have a bit of a love hate relationship and I find it hard to balance that out. On one hand I enjoy the general storyline and The Zygon Inversion has one of my favourite new series Doctor's speeches ever. But on the other hand I find the story itself somewhat weak and I find I strongly dislike how the story changes the nature of the Zygons. They go from a race of conquering invaders in previous stories to being happy citizens and then the story provides us with a weakly added "teenage" separatist group which is never really explained. Something about it ruins the Zygons for me. Maybe because The Terror of the Zygons was such a childhood favourite story of mine, and so far the best adventure featuring them.

As I say the story is fairly weak, especially The Zygon Invasion. It jumps about and never gives us anything to really get our teeth into. The Zygon Inversion does better but does so with much more emphasis on the Doctor's dialogue and how he pushes the situation to make everyone see reason. But it isn't enough to fully save the story.

The adventure has some nice moments. The Clara/Zygella dynamic is good, and the Osgoods always make me smile (she's a Who geek just like the rest of us). If you pay attention there are some nice throwbacks to the classic era but blink and you'll miss them. I always enjoy it when the show drops something in for us fans of the classic show.

Ultimately I think this was a nice try in bringing the Zygons back but I don't feel that the writers were able to come up with a suitable continuation for them after the events of The Day of the Doctor. A much better idea, in my opinion, would have been a story set in space on a station or starship where the Zygons were intruders pretending to be crew. A murder mystery in space maybe? I would love to see that as a Zygon story in the future.

This two part story unfortunately is just subpar for what I expect from the show. 2 out of 5. Could have been better.

Monday, 11 January 2021

Episode #267: The Woman Who Lived

"People like us, we go on too long. We forget what matters. The last thing we need is each other."

Episode #267:      The Woman Who Lived.

Companions:        The 12th Doctor.

Air Date:             24th October 2015.

Adventuring on his own for a while, the Doctor seeks out an artefact of great power that could spell disaster in the wrong hands: the Eyes of Hades. However, he soon comes face to face with consequences of one of his past acts of compassion, when he meets an immortal he created, who has now lost all hope with a heart filled with centuries of pain.

The Woman Who Lived is a follow up to the previous adventure, The Girl Who Died. The Doctor while travelling without Clara ends up in 1651 and encounters Ashildr again. The general plot of the episode isn't all that great and doesn't really go anywhere worthwhile. However, you aren't watching for the obvious plot story. Instead, The Woman Who Lived is about the darker side of being immortal. Ashildr has grown from an imaginative young girl into a woman who has seen loved ones grow old and die, and has fallen into the grey where she has lived too many lifetimes and has lost some of her humanity. This is what makes the episode in my opinion.

For such a darker episode there is slightly too much humour involved in the attempt to lighten in somewhat. Modern jokes, puns, and gallows humour (literally) cause a loss of immersion for me. I know I keep saying it through these episode reviews but it's a problem with modern Doctor Who. Coming from the Doctor, such quips are fitting and appropriate. It's one of the personality quirks that we like from the character. But when you have characters from the 17th century making such jokes it pulls the immersion out of it's historical placement. 

The Woman Who lived isn't a great episode by any means but it isn't a bad one either. It has it's flaws but generally it works compared to many of the current episode formats. It continues the set up of where the character of Ashildr goes and I like the change to her character and the idea that she has always been there in the background of the Doctor's adventures on Earth and maybe elsewhere. That itself gets a thumbs up from me if the story isn't totally engaging.

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Episode #266 : The Girl Who Died

"Immortality isn't living forever, that's not what it feels like. Immortality is everyone else dying. She might meet someone she can't bear to lose. That happens… I believe."

Episode #266:      The Girl Who Died.

Companions:        The 12th Doctor and Clara Oswald.

Air Date:             17th October 2015.

After an adventure and a half in space, the Doctor and Clara are kidnapped by 9th-century Vikings. However, to make matters worse, hostile aliens have also arrived in the vikings' village; they are provoked into declaring war on the village by a stubborn girl. By the end of the adventure, the Doctor will learn where it was that he saw his own face before, and the reason why he chose it.

The Girl Who Died is a nice if average type story. It certainly has it's cool moments but it largely falls into the usual fare of modern Who. I like the story though. We have a historical story, to an extent, with the inclusion of a war like race of aliens pretending to be Odin. one of the Norse gods. Their reasons for why they attack are a bit odd but it's more of a throw away excuse just to bring about some conflict. It has it's silly moments though... speaking baby, for example. For that I give it an average rating.

The villains of the piece, the Mire, are another warlike race of aliens, who attack weaker civilisations presumably because they know they can win. Makes you wonder why so many species in the universe are so hostile really. They are a throw away classic type of Doctor Who villain but they do the job in this story although they are hardly hide behind the sofa type scary. 

There are a two things that make this an enjoyable episode. One is the character of Ashildr, played by Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams. She is the centre point for the story and a handful yet to come. One of a couple plots arching through this series. The second is some of the dialogue given to our heroes. As I have said in previous episode reviews for the modern show, with a good writer and story, some of the inner workings of the Doctor's character come out with the real feels. There is a nice edge of seat insight to this now very ancient Time Lord that we never/rarely saw in the classic days of the show. 

One such element takes us back to the 12th Doctor's first adventure where he tries to remember where he got his current face from - obviously that of the Roman Lobus Caecilius from The Fires of Pompeii. It is nice to have that throw back and the reminder that he took that face for a reason. We know the Doctor is a hero, a dark hero sometimes, but moments like this remind us that despite the deaths and destruction that follow in his wake, the Doctor does good even when he's a grumpy old man.

Ultimately though this is a story that exists to set up the following episode and the Ashildr storyline to come over this season. It's good but it's average for what I expect from the modern show.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Episode #265 : Under The Lake / Before The Flood

"Listen to me. We all have to face death eventually, be it ours or someone else's."

Episode #265:      Under The Lake / Before The Flood.
Companions:        The 12th Doctor and Clara Oswald.

Air Date:             3rd to 10th October 2015.

Arriving on an underwater base under attack, it's up to the Twelfth Doctor and Clara to save the frightened crew. But also onboard is an alien spaceship, and the base is being haunted by the most impossible of things. The Doctor's deepest beliefs are challenged when he encounters something he cannot explain. Can it really be possible? Can ghosts be real?

With this adventure we are back to having a cool new horror themed episode. I have said for a long time that although Doctor Who is a great science fiction show, it is the quality of it's horror stories specifically that really work for me. With Under The Lake we have a story of a crew of scientist types trapped by ghosts of their deceased co-workers. Stuck in the base with them, the Doctor and Clara must find out why the dead have risen, what they actually are and solve the problem without causing a paradox. 

This adventure is very well written and thought out. The writer, Toby Writhouse, did great here. There is a lot of information to relate to the viewer and he manages it perfectly without being boring or dragging it out. The suspenseful, dare I even say spooky, atmosphere is conveyed brilliantly as well.

The ultimate villain, the Fisher King, harkens back to the days of classic Who in my opinion. His look and scheme scream classic one off Doctor Who monster. Think of the Terrileptils for instance. They are monster suits that look the part of what we expect from the show's classic days. It gets a big thumbs up from me for this and shows that classic style stories and villainious types can have a part in the modern day of New Who.

Speaking of the classic days of Doctor Who, Under The Lake is the sort of story that would have worked great back then and could have done well as a four or five part serial. It is a shame that so much of New Who is one off stories with very few multi-part episodes. We get two parters and maybe three at most. I'd like a season to take the old format of four or five stories but with four of five parts again. I think it is all change because modern audiences don't have the staying power to watch something like that these days sadly.

Under The Lake is one of the great Capaldi episodes and I do recommend it as one to watch, if not as an introduction to new viewers. It doesn't bog you down with the background of the universe but does enthral the viewer and does a great job if introducing the characters. Well worth a watch.

Episode #264: The Magician's Apprentice / The Witch's Familiar


"There's no such thing as the Doctor. I’m just a bloke in a box telling stories. I didn’t come here because I'm ashamed. A bit of shame never hurt anyone. I came… because you're sick and you asked. And because sometimes, on a good day, if I try very hard… I’m not some old Time Lord who ran away. I'm the Doctor."

Episode #264:      The Magician's Apprentice / The Witch's Familiar.

Companions:        The 12th Doctor and Clara Oswald.

Air Date:              19th to 26th September 2015.

The serpentine Colony Sarff has searched the entire universe for the Doctor, to give him the final message of Davros; however, the Time Lord is nowhere to be found. This is quite serious, as not even the Doctor's closest frenemy, Missy, is able to find him. Adding onto this is the fact she was given his Confession dial, which in human terms is the last will and testament of the Doctor.

This is an awkward story. Simply put it is a weird jumble of ideas. Aircraft across the world freeze in mid-flight. It's all a ruse by Missy to lure out Clara, so that they can go hunting for the Doctor as Missy has his last will and testament in the form of a confession disc. At the same time a weird alien made up of snakes who works for Davros (didn't he and his creations hate all things not Dalek before this?) is also looking for the Doctor because Davros is on his last legs. When they finally get together it's nothing part running through corridors/Dalek sewers and lengthy not so well written exposition between the Doctor and Davros. The plot is exposed, the Daleks defeated and everyone more or less escapes.

I could take this as a not so great episode but for a couple scenes where we almost get a jump the shark moment (look the phrase up if you haven't heard it before). The lesser one is this weird idea that Daleks cannot ever die and instead continue living as a form of conscious poop in the sewers of Skaro. What? Who let this idea through in the writing department? Seriously. The main one for me is part of the initial meeting of out characters somewhere in medieval England where the Doctor enters the room riding a modern day tank and playing the electric guitar. Again... what? For a television show about time travel, possibilities and occasionally the absurd, this for me broke the verisimilitude of the show. Why would the Doctor do anything like that? Surely that breaks the time travellers rules of messing up the timeline. Especially as they get left behind in medieval England. It spoils the whole first episode for me.

The story as such isn't all that interesting either and doesn't really set up anything with the Doctor or Davros since then, until the time of writing this. It's just a set up for the introduction of two new themes - the confession disc and legends of a half Dalek/half Time Lord hybrid. There have been some good series themes in New Who since it appeared on our screens but this one as it plays out in seasons to come is not one of the best.

More positively, it is good to see Davros back again although there is no explanation has to how he survived the prior encounter during the episode Journey's End". Who villains have survived many times before so that is fine by me. The story does have some nice revelations about Davros and his past, and potentially his inner workings during this two part story and it is probably the only bit of good exposition we get.

I have to be honest and just say that from here on, New Who does take a lengthy dip. Up until where we are with the show at the time of writing this (January 2021) the show has lost something crucial. The stories just aren't as good generally and the show really needs a true fan of the classic era to take over as executive producers and show runners. The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar could have been so much better. 

Monday, 16 March 2020

Episode #263 : Last Christmas

The Doctor: Do you know what the big problem is in telling fantasy and reality apart?
Ashley:        What?
The Doctor: They're both ridiculous.

Episode #263:      Last Christmas
Companions:        The 12th Doctor and Clara Oswald.

Air Date:              25th December 2014.

Clara Oswald is in for one Christmas Eve that she's never going to forget. Reunited with the Twelfth Doctor, she faces what could possibly be her last Christmas. Something sinister lurks in an arctic base at the North Pole, and it's beyond even the most terrible, nightmarish creatures the Doctor has faced before. Who ya gonna call? Santa Claus!

Another Christmas story set at Christmas. Why? Could we not have just had an episode that doesn't revolve around it being Christmas. It is so frustrating and as I have said in the past, just so unnecessary. It spoils any sense of immersion for me.

Anyway... I'm never sure what to say about this story. Every time I watch it I feel that the whole Santa thing just makes the episode out to be a joke and not a funny one at that. When the story turns around and becomes a dream horror story it becomes more enjoyable, even watchable but then we have Santa again. I wish that they had stuck with one format or another.

The villains of the story, such as they are, are the Kantrofarri  or dream crabs. Strange alien crustacean like beings that feed on the brains of sleeping beings while keeping their minds active in a sort of dream realm. They resemble the facehuggers from the Alien movies and that even gets a throwaway joke in the episode. They are quite cool little creatures and the way they operate feels rather fitting for a non-intelligent Doctor Who monster. References to them before would have been nice though as it seems they are just dropped in and the viewer is just as in the dark about them as the characters are.

The Doctor and Clara are both on top of their game in this story and there is some nice dialogue between them as they both come to realise that they lied to one another about Danny Pink and Gallifrey. It sort of brings them together again after the break up of the last few episodes. They gel much better here.

All in all, Last Christmas isn't a great episode but it is fun and it has some great moments of suspense and humour. The supporting characters are likeable, even though Santa gets on my nerves, and I probably wouldn't have minded if one or two had been able to become companions. I've given the episode an average 3* rating as although there are elements I dislike I feel I am focusing too heavily upon them and probably not giving the episode its credit.