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Saturday, 6 February 2021

Episode #271 - Heaven Sent


"If you think because she is dead that I am weak, then you understand very little. If you were any part of killing her, and you’re not afraid, then you understand nothing at all. So, for your own sake, understand this. I am the Doctor, I'm coming to find you, and I will never, ever stop."

Episode #271:      Heaven Sent.

Companions:        The 12th Doctor.

Air Date:             28th November 2015

As if the death of his best friend wasn't enough, the Doctor's situation has only gotten worse. What initially started as an attempt to help clear someone of a false murder charge has evolved into to something much worse. Now trapped in an old rusty castle in the middle of an ocean, the Time Lord is being stalked by a mysterious creature that only pauses when he gives up his deepest secrets. What does this thing want? And can the Doctor escape and find his way back home?

Heaven Sent is the continuation of the theme running through this season, which properly started in the previous episode with the death of Clara Oswald and the revelation that someone paid Ashildr to capture the Doctor. Although it is part of an ongoing three part story, each one is separate enough in my mind to deal with each section individually. 

This is actually a very odd story and it feels all too surreal for me. Especially once you work out what is going on closer to the end of the episode. Even so, Heaven Sent still works as an edge of your seat story. It's nice to have an episode that makes the viewer try to work it out before the Doctor does and there are plenty of clues.

One thing that does rub me the wrong way a little with this one is the revelation that the Doctor is just being recreated over and over again until he solves the problem. A situation that takes billions of years, quite literally. It is said that the Doctor's pattern is stored in the hard drive of the teleporter so that it creates an identical copy of him each time. But does this not mean that on some theoretical level, that our Doctor is dead by the end of the story? He would have been the first one out and killed. Everyone after that is just a copy. That's how I read it anyway and I'm sure an argument can be said that each copy is the Doctor. But going by how I see it, the Doctor we have followed for the last forty odd years is now actually deceased and we're left with a kind of teleporter clone (how very Star Trek). That doesn't quite sit with me. However, it is one of those elements where each viewer will take away their own interpretation of events and that is just as a good.

I'm rating this episode as 4 stars. It's not fantastic as of itself but it does work very well and the writer put some thought into it and it shows. It's a thriller of an episode I suppose and for me, Heaven Sent is a better than average episode because of it.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Episode #270 - Face The Raven


"I can do whatever the hell I like. You read the stories, you know who I am! And in all that time, did you ever hear anything about anyone who stopped me?"

Episode #270:      Face The Raven.

Companions:        The 12th Doctor and Clara Oswald.

Air Date:             21st November 2015.

The Doctor, Clara and Rigsy are trapped on an alien street in London, that is hidden from the rest of the world. Ashildr, the immortal hybrid-girl, is taking care of some of the most dangerous creatures in the universe. Not everyone will get out alive; one of them must pay the price and face the raven.

Face The Raven is a story that knows it's ending but hasn't quite decided how to get there. We have the return of Rigsy, who we last saw in the episode Flatline, who has somehow lost a day's memory and ended up with a tattoo which is counting down. From this we end up in what the episode tries to make out is a murder mystery on a street of alien refugees overseen by Ashildur. At this point the murder mystery falls to wayside and we find that we, the viewers, and our heroes on screen have been the recipients of a bait and switch.

From this point, around half way through the story, the tone changes to something a little darker. It's a big improvement over the first half of the story. It's a set up to catch the Doctor, instigated by Ashildur who in turn has been paid by someone to catch and teleport the Doctor. In order to save Rigsy unfortunately our brave Clara gives her own life in a very heroic way which is extremely well written and acted. It's one of those rare moments in modern Who where the writers get something spot on and it gives you the feels big time. It's just a shame that it takes so long to get there with a story that could have been better up front. Face The Raven is the sort of modern story where I want to just be blunt and give it a 2 star rating but that final third of the story makes it so much better. Enough to outweigh my initial thoughts. 

Face The Raven has a sad ending but a honest and heroic one for Clara. Up to this point, she is only the second companion to die while travelling with the Doctor. The first being poor Adric back in 1982 (hence the in episode reference to "remember 82") during the adventure Earthshock. I rather liked Clara Oswald as a companion. She was a tough no nonsense companion who I hope was a great role model for girls watching the show. She could be feminine and stand up for herself and her morals with she needed to. 

This is not one of my favourite episodes but it sets up the next two episodes/adventures and sometimes you have to have the weaker act before the edge of the seat section. Just like we have here.

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.