Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween 2011

Happy Halloween, my pretties. Unfortunatley there isn't anything spooky going on this year for Audenshaw Reviews, but I'm sure you can delight in the magical Merlin and the miscreants of Misfits, as well as a downright spooky Being Human. Enjoy this Halloween, and stay safe...


Sunday, 30 October 2011

Review: Misfits 3.1

Rudy meets Curtis
Misfits returned with its third series, this time with new boy Joe Gilgun as leading man Rudy. The episode didn;t hesitate to return us to the action, providing us with fare that avoided the show's issues with its Freak of the Week formula. Left with the task of introducing our new lead and his entire personality, the episode does so perhaps too well, as the episode's "villain" feels overshadowed. Nonetheless, this Rudy-centric beginning to the series was an excellent comedy hour that set the stage perfectly for this extended series.
     As Simon, Kelly, Curtis and Alesha adapted to their new powers - Short-term premonition, the knowledge of a Rocket Scientist, the ability to change gender and perception respectively - new boy Rudy arrives and begins to woo his two fellow new Community Servicers - a brunette called Charlie and a vicious blonde with the ability to pause time. The blond frames the gang for assaulting Rudy after his multi-man exploits, but they manage to avoid police attention.
     Rudy gets on with the gang until he meets Alesha, who broke his heart back in college - something his clone is aggravated by. After a confrontation, Simon calms Alesha and Rudy effectively disowns his clone. The blond is angry when Rudy tries to frame her in turn, and so she causes Rudy to murder Charlie and then strings he and Alesha up by a rope. While the blond is killed by a kick to the face, Alesha and Rudy are saved by the clone.
     The rest of the gang help to bury the bodies, explaining that they're no strangers to accidental murder, but because they end up travelling in Rudy's stolen car, the entire gang is put back into orange jumpsuits. I hope this isn't because Overman couldn't handle having characters outside the Community Centre, because that feels a tad like a cop-out to me.
The old gang are re-suited.
     Rudy is the perfect replacement for Nathan, imbued with the same manic humour and sense of timing. An aspect of his character that I love is his clone, who exercises the deeper parts of his personality and allows us some excellent character development through his insecurities. His history with Alesha is also sure to stir up some trouble in future episodes, and it perfectly complimented this episode. Really I'm not used to this format of episode, as a lot of the episodes in Series Two were more serialised and this is more similar to the character-centric episodes of Lost or the first series of Misfits. Hell, next week is Curtis centric.
     Overall, 3.1 spent most of its time persuading the audience that the show didn't need Robert Sheehan, and I am fully, fully persuaded. The hour was a brilliant character study of our new character that integrated character development into the normal Freak of the Week plot, and thus I think that the next seven weeks are going to be incredible.


NEXT WEEK: Curtis gets his mac on. He doesn't really stay for long, does he?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Review: Merlin 4.5: His Father's Son

Lindsey Duncan? What are you doing here?
In a show like Merlin, where the endpoint is a foregone conclusion, the trick is not to make us wonder whether Good will win, but how it will win. The show has prophecised itself enough times, and we all know that at the end of the day, Arthur will be the old benvolent ruler, Merlin will be his happily-accepted head wizard, and Guinevere will be his queen. There's no point in tempting us otherwise, and every twist that appears to take us away from that feels more like timewasting. His Father's Son didn't do anything in particular to change matters, and instead gave us another mix of the "Camelot goes to war" and "magically influenced competition" templates.
     Upon the invasion of his realm by a rival king, Arthur makes the decision to execute said king as a show of strength, to prove himself as the true King of Camelot. Inspector Lynley (who's fast becoming tiring for more reasons than one) used this to his advantage, manipulating the King into his decisions. Soon the king's widow, Queen Annis (goddamn Lindsey Duncan, everyone!) arrives with an army to avenge her husband. Meeting her on the field of battle, Arthur admits his cock-up and suggests a compromise; he will fight her champion for half of Camelot's lands.
     Annis is joined by Morgana, who with Inspector Lynley rigs the match using magic (It's a fighting competition. In Merlin. Did you expect anything different?) When Arthur fights her champion (played by that one guy from Sherlock Holmes, you know the one), Merlin of course helps when she of course tries to rig the match and he of course wins. A truce is made and everyone goes home happy. Yawn. Oh, and there's a subplot with Arthur and Guinevere, but that goes nowhere, as you'd expect.
Protagonist? What protagonist?
    Notable, I think, was the lack of our eponymous protagonist - not that that was a problem, but if the series doesn't have the faith to use its titlular character there's obviously something wrong. It certainly doesn't help that Arthur and Merlin are not used together well - Merlin is still the bumbling comedy protagonist that I despise, and Arthur is still acting as if Merlin has never done a good thing for him, despite the fact that HE SAVES YOU EVERY EPISODE, YOU BLOODY CLOT. 
    Nothing more to report, Captain. Yet another boring week, one that had me turning off at times. I don't really know why I pay so much attention to Merlin any more, as it just isn't going anywhere, and when it does it cocks it up. The series has the potential to be brilliant, and this week was just another example of it wasting that potential and going absolutely nowhere.


NEXT WEEK: Old Merlin. Again. Bloody again. Kill me now.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Review: Fades 1.6

Sarah walks through the ash.
Fades ended with a considerable bang, and although it left us with a cliffhanger (a time worn way to irritate one's audience) it did bring this series to a dramatic, if not very inovative, conclusion. The majority of the running time was dedicated to Paul trying to discover how to save the world and kill all of the Fades without actually killing them. In the end the solution was nothing more complicated than "magic beam of energy solves everything", and that felt disappointing in a series that otherwise had been incredibly interesting.
     Neil held Mac hostage, having discovered the hideout of John and the more important Reborns. John, still bitter at the death of Natalie, had been sending Reborns out to find and kill Paul, who with the last remaing sane Angelic was trying to restart Ascension in the forest, and failing. When Paul didn't answer Neil's calls, he took his family hostage. Meeting in the centre of town, Neil held Jay at gunpoint and then, when Paul refused to help him, he shot her dead. This irritated me somewhat as the character only had two or so lines in the episode and her death felt a lot less important than by rights it should have done.
     Sarah meanwhile realised that her state as a Reborn meant that she would need to eat, and thus decided to jump on John's bandwagon and help him as Neil and an emotionally crippled Paul went to assassinate him. Because of their bickering, Paul decided to try and defy both his and Sarah's premonitions and attempt to restart Ascension in the place where we began - the point buried underneath the shopping centre. As seen in premontions throughout the series, the attempt created fountains of ash, but instead of John stabbing Paul he found that Sarah stood in his place, allowing Paul to use his wings (nice that they get another reference) to get high enough to restart Ascension and kill all of the Fades - meddling with life and death in the process.
John's time is near.
     This couldn't have come quick enough for Anna (Lily Loveless) and Mac (Daniel Kaluuya) who had been locked up together by Neil and were on the verge of being eaten by Reborns. Despite the mythos, their discussions inside the shipping container formed some of the best scenes of the episode. I think that's because they actually had some brilliant, emotional characterisation, unlike the main plot, which was filled with stuffy prophesising of the most boring sort.
     At the end, Fades still had everything that it had before - great characterisation and really interesting concepts. However, the treatment of Jay as a device rather than a character was misguided, and instead of making the sequence more dramatic it only served to drive the plot towards the conclusion that we've been able to guess for weeks now. Despite this, I have the best of hopes for the series and hope that another six episodes are comissioned in this tight economic climate.


IN TWO WEEKS: I finish of Season Four of LOST!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Review: Being Human 2.6

Mitchell, George and Annie discuss moving on.
After five episodes that have left me feeling rather cold, this week provided us with a moving piece of television that looked confidently on to the finale. It's quite a sign of how bloated this series has become because of those two extra hours, and now we're coming to the end there's some hope that such a problem will disappear.
     Despite her character's distinct lack of focus or direction, the best subplot this week went to Annie, who assisted the psychic Alan Cortez (the wonderful, wonderful Simon Day). Alan had lost his way, unable to hear the large collection of ghosts that followed him on tour - apart from Annie, whose confidence allowed her to be heard by him. Together they use Alan's show to help Ghosts to pass over - that is, until Annie's mother Carmen arrives. Through Alan, Annie tells her mother to move on and finally realises that she has to face up to her fears and allow George and Mitchell to move on with their lives should they so wish. This exploration of coping with death and Carmen's reactions at least made this genuinely moving for me, and Simon Day performs it with all of the appropriate sensitivity of a man down on his luck who is changed by a stranger.
     Mitchell's storyline formed the backbone here but the development last week meant that he was relegated to the odd scene. Enamoured by Lucy, Mitchell is convinced by her to pass on the leadership of the Vampires to someone else - in fact a ruse to get all of the Bristol Vampires in one place. After praying and bonding with Kemp, Lucy goes ahead with CenSSA's plan and that night they blow up the Parlour, killing almost everyone inside. Mitchell's fate is left a mystery. We know that he's not dead, but the Next Time trailer tries to hide that fact and at the time we were genuinely wondering whether the writers would go that far.
Kemp and Lucy prepare to exterminate the vampires.
     And then, of course, George. Poor little George. Doubt started to creep in as he moved into a new house with Sam this week. Still no one commenting on how unrealistically fast this is - a single mother moving in with someone she's known for three weeks and getting a house in a few days. To fan the flames, Sam announced that Molly's parents' evening was on the 27th - a full moon - and George was driven to use a ridiculous excuse. Although found out by Molly, they didn't really clash until Molly was woken by dreams of George as a werewolf. I really, really don't get the "wise beyond their years" character type and even if Molly has some way to sense the supernatural, it isn't explored at all.
     Episode 2.6 was the best episode of this series so far, and was genuinely moving in certain areas. It dealt with the theme of having to move on - moving on from death, from the past and from one's mistakes. It was a tad dull in places, but the episode built enough tension to promise an excellent final two weeks.


NEXT WEEK: Foundations are laid for Series Three and Amy Manson makes a last appearance.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Ultimate Foe

The Doctor talks with himself.
There’s nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality!”

At the end of the day, the Trial season was a failure, and that was clear even as production neared completion. This final story was a production nightmare, and led to the resignation of Eric Saward and contributed to the death of Robert Holmes. The Ultimate Foe  is, above all other things, messy and ungainly, its various twists and revelations flashing one after the other like a badly written plot synopsis.
     The two part story was due to be written by Robert Holmes, a veteran writer of the series and the writer of The Mysterious Planet. He unfortunately died of cancer after having only written the first draft of the first half and only a few notes about the second. Script Editor Eric Saward took up the job, handing in a complete rewrite of the script with a harsh, downbeat ending so typical of Sawards’ scripts. John Nathan-Turner, trying to keep things optimistic, asked him to change the ending – a decision that angered Saward so much that he resigned as Script Editor. Now left with one half-finished script and no last episode for the series, the task fell on Pip and Jane Baker, the writers of Vervoids, to finish off. You can see where this is going.
      The Doctor is about to sentenced, now with the charge of Genocide included. His last defence is the tampering of the Matrix, and despite the fact that he cannot provide witnesses, someone has done so for him. Mel and Glitz appear before the court, and The Master appears from The Matrix supporting The Doctor’s story. He reveals that the people who moved Earth in The Mysterious Planet and renamed it Ravalox were the Time Lords, trying to prevent their technological secrets from being stolen. The Doctor gives a great monologue (the story’s real saving grace) about how the Time Lords, as the oldest civilisations, are the most corrupt of them all.
The Master of Light Entertainment
    The Master then reveals the Valeyard’s identity – he is the dark side of The Doctor’s personality, and had made a deal with the High Council to cover up the Ravalox affair in exchange for The Doctor’s remaining regenerations. His identity discovered, he flees into the Matrix, and The Doctor and Glitz follow. Valeyard’s illusions bring them to a Victorian Square. There they enter a waiting room run by an incredibly bureaucratic Mr. Popplewick  (Keeping Up Appearances’ Geoffrey Hughes), who leads them to another of the Valeyard’s illusions. On a beach, on his own, The Doctor is dragged into the sand and the cliffhanger music chimes.
     When we come back, Glitz is mourning The Doctor, who reappears and reveals that his death was another illusion. The Valeyard makes an appearance and explains who his is – a darker side of the Doctor, a concentration of all of his evil. Escaping some random toxic nerve gas, Six and Glitz enter The Master’s Tardis. The Master explains that he is helping because The Doctor is a less threatening enemy, and then puts him into a zombie-like state and uses him as bait for the Valeyard. It doesn’t work; Glitz and The Master escape. Meanwhile, The Valeyard’s illusions appear to convince The Doctor that he has been tried for his crimes and sent for execution.
     Mel, watching this, storms into the Matrix and “saves” him. He reveals that the illusion was obvious and that he was trying to get close to the Valeyard, who they then go after. While The Master suffered a malfunction in his Tardis, The Doctor and Mel (who really don’t work well together at all) track down The Valeyard and his machine, designed to kill everyone in the Trial room once he had the Doctor’s lives. Mel evacuates the room and The Doctor destroys the machine, and both escape with The Valeyard apparently dead. The Inquisitor frees The Doctor of all charges, and he flies off into space to be fired by the BBC.
"Do you have an appointment?"
     Because of the reworking, the plot appears to fly off in random directions. One moment The Doctor’s standing on a beach, the next he’s incapacitated and a zombie, and then he’s at the trial, but it’s not really the trial and so on and so on. That really only applies to the second episode though, because the first is one long exposition dump using the formulaic setup that we tired of eight episodes ago. The different writers are very, very obvious, especially after the cliffhanger where it appears that all of the characters have swallowed a dictionary – the most egregious example being the quote at the top of this article.
     A heavy rewrite in the script meant that The Master and Glitz felt very wasted – a fact not lost on their actors, who were very upset about the ordeal. Really, The Master didn’t need to be there at all, and as Anthony Ainley’s penultimate performance it doesn’t really do him any justice at all. Even Colin Baker didn’t survive this story, being fired by execs – the same execs who allowed Bonnie Langford’s performance of all things.
     What the serial does do is link together the series as a whole. Robert Holmes' script touches upon the events of The Mysterious Planet and uses it as a large plot device - a means to reveal The Valeyard's plans and identity. Pip and Jane use their episode as an excuse to create another illusion regarding Vervoids, and both writers mention the most manipulated segment, Mindwarp - where it turns out that Peri is living happily with Yrcanos.
Colin gets a sinking feeling.
     The Trial of a Timelord ended on a messy note which didn't do justice to the ambition of the series' premise. The Ultimate Foe was let down by its troubled production and the script editor's spurious morality, a state of affairs that made the result just salvageable enough to keep the series on air. Despite this, the lead was fired and the script editor had left, leaving Doctor Who with a very uncertain future. Luckily Sylvester McCoy would take up the reins and after a series of mediocre bombs he would return Doctor Who to the brilliant television that it could be. 


IN TWO WEEKS: My Classics season starts, with Spearhead From Space!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Review: Doctor Who 1.12-13: Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways

Nine faces the last adventure.
The finale rolls in, and we're presented with a story that not only concludes Nine's era, but also very much reflects the end of an era in how the show was produced. Series One was an experimental phase for the show to really dig its heels into the social landscape once more, and it wouldn't really fully enter the public consciouceness until Series Two. The Bad Wolf two parter takes the early 2000s art-deco aesthetic and popular culture, and really gives it a final sendoff.
     The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack arrive after being picked up by a transmat beam. They find themselves in futuristic versions of 2005 TV shows - The Doctor is in a cruel version of Big Brother where eviction means death, Rose is in a cruel version of The Weakest Link run by an android where eviction means death, and Captain Jack is nearly vivisected by Trinny and Susanna robots. These I feel makes the story incredibly dated from the off and don't help future generations of viewers. The Doctor breaks out of the house (with Lynda, played by Eastenders actress Jo Joyner), and realises that he is on Satellite Five (from The Long Game) 100 years since the downfall of the Jagrafess. In a commentary of modern culture, the lazy approach of the people from the earlier story has evolved into a society where people are teleported to the Satellite (now called the Game Station) at random, and placed in one thousands of games where only one person will survive. These games are broadcast around the world 24/7, and the Human Race has been reduced to a slave-like civilisation. The station is run by the mysterious Bad Wolf corporation, a name that Rose and The Doctor recognise.
     He immediately turns his attention to Rose, who's trapped inside The Weakest Link and is very close to being sent off. She is constantly jeered by Rodrick (a pre-survivors Paterson Joseph) who is desperate for his life. There's also a sneaky reference to Torchwood, which will be next year's arc word. Jack manages to escape the droids planning to kill him and arrives to The Doctor with heavy artillery, as the two stage a break-in of the Anne-Droid facility. As Rose runs to join them, she is seemingly vapourised, and the look on Ecclestone's face is enough to convey the grief and sorrow the character feels.
Lynda with a Y.
     The Controller of the Games is a human girl, wired into the system. She answers to other masters, and during a solar flare she is able to speak normally. The Doctor and Jack storm in, finding the TARDIS - The Doctor demands answers as to why Rose was killed. The girl tells him to beware her masters before becoming sedate again. Jack soon realises that the beam used to kill contestants is in fact a teleporter, and that Rose is still alive. When they track the signal, however, they find that the endpoint of the teleporter is the mothership of a Dalek fleet hovering behind the moon. For the last hundred years, the Daleks have been controlling everything, playing the Long Game as implied by that episode. Rose is revealed as being held captive by the Daleks and Nine gets a brilliant monologue where he quietly defies the Daleks' appeals to his humanity and tells them that he will save Rose regardless of anything they can do.
     The Doctor and Jack use the force field from Boom Town to fly onto the Dalek ship unharmed, where they rescue Rose and discover that these Daleks were created from the losers of the Games - mutated humans. The Emperor Dalek survived the Time War and created these Daleks, and now they follow him and believe him to a God. Heading back to the Game Station, Jack helps prepare the station occupants to act as the lines of defence while The Doctor prepares a superweapon on Floor 500. He sends Rose home in the Tardis, stranding himself in 200,100. Rose tries to return to the Future to the chagrin of a relieved Mickey and Jackie, while The Doctor works on the weapon and is taunted by the Emperor Dalek, who points out that the superweapon will kill everyone on Earth as well.
Bad Wolf.
     Ignoring the fact that messing with time nearly killed everyone in Fathers' Day and that even The Doctor was unsure what would happen in Boom Town, Rose decides that she needs to open the heart of the TARDIS to tell it to return to 200,100. While initally against the idea, Jackie and Mickey eventually decide to help her, and apparently a big yellow truck is enough to open the Tardis console. The heart of the Tardis enters Rose and she becomes a superpowered entity, capable of resurrecting the dead (Jack, who becomes immortal here) and turning the whole Dalek fleet to dust. She spreads the words Bad Wolf through time to lead her there, creating an ontological paradox. Nine, realising that she will die, absorbs the Heart from her and saves her, taking her into the Tardis and heading back to London. As she recovers, he apologises and says goodbye, turning into David Tennant. Boo hoo.
     The second half of this story is where the majority of the problems with RTD's characterisation come into play. Rose becomes a whiney, selfish little girl, throwing a tantrum and going against common sense because of her discontent with what most would consider to be a decent life. The whole script for The Parting of the Ways is written as a buildup to her return to 200,100 - a literal and metaphorical deus ex machina of the most magnificent kind. It isn't well written, but it is well performed and certainly has spectacle. On repeat viewings, the Bad Wolf entity is a huge cop-out that stems from a characterisation problem and for me that isn't a good ending for the Ninth Doctor.
     The first half does have its problems, though. While shows like Big Brother and The Weakest Link still fill our television screens, who's to say that the same will be able to be said in ten years, or twenty? It also didn't help that the continuing themes of information manipulation and satire were completely dropped when the pepper pots made their appearance.
Eugh. Who's this bloke?
     And before I conclude, I'd just like to talk about David Tennant. At the time he was great, but as his years wore on I began to recognise that the character brought across during his era wasn't one that I particularly liked. Tennant was the cornerstone of RTD's Who, and as an old friend of RTD Tennant had the scope to explore his scripts in more ways. I won't be reviewing any of Tennant's stories, for I fear that they would be too full of vitrol and boredom.
     Christopher Ecclestone's painfully short tenure ended on a two-parter made up of strange bedfellows; the first a piece of satire and brilliant dramatic buildup while the second a deus ex machina waiting to be sprung. It relied on flawed characterisation and bad dialogue to force a conclusion onto the series, but it was a fitting end for one of the best of the Doctors in this premier year for Doctor Who's return.


NEXT WEEK: Misfits returns!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Review: Merlin 4.4: Aithusa

While it wasn't perfect, Aithusa brought the series back to an enjoyable standard, balancing the farce so intuned into this series with some serious, dark drama that tickled the series' mythos. It didn't really feel right for Arthur to be so light hearted after his father's death, but that's a problem caused by the script editors rather than the writer of this episode. And, for the first time since Series Two, this episode did something mildly significant with John Hurt's Kilgharrah (The Great Dragon), and delivered an episode that didn't feel at all formulaic.
James Callis as Julius Borden
     Stranger Julius Borden (James Callis) arrives secretly in Camelot with the sole intention of stealing the last piece of a key that will allow him to enter an ancient tomb concealing the last Dragon Egg. Gaius refuses to trust him or help him retirve the key piece, but Merlin is drawn by his role as the Dragonlord to assist, and helps Borden to steal the piece. Left on his own, Merlin joins the party sent out with Arthur to stop Borden and destroy the Dragon egg. Along the way he is teased by the rest of the knights, as well as saving their lives on about three occasions. Eventually Merlin stops Borden in a tense confrontation, saving the last Dragon Egg. Later, he consults Kilgarrah and hatches the egg, which as a White Dragon bodes well for Camelot's future.
     James Callis was brilliant as the suarve, confident rogue that devolved throughout the episode into a desperate, underhand megalomaniac. Gaius was also more active than a plank of wood, actually imbueing the character with a sense of profound wisdom and mystery than usual. Everyone else was... as normal. The farce is starting to get me down; for example, the opening scene with the confrontation between Gaius and Borden was followed by one where Merlin steals a key from Arthur by using magic to pull his trousers down. These knights bully Merlin relentlessly and instead of being endearing or a sign of how much their bonds have developed over the past three or so years, it just shows that the writing isn't all that good.
The Knights search for the egg.
      And thus the sweep of brilliance has arrived to kill my review. It's often the problem that the majority of my average Merlin review is spent complaining, and thus this week I'm in a bit of a rut because I loved it. Other than the farce, which is in this show's DNA, I suppose that... erm... there was little to no background music? But that was good... getting rid of that sweeping orchestal sprawl allowed the atmosphere to seep from the actors themselves. So... the voice acting for Kilgarrah... no, John Hurt was spot on as usual. Oh well.
     This week did suffer from problems that Merlin really, really needs to sort out to do with tone - taking the family audience and not using it as an excuse to sink into farce. However, the efforts of Colin Morgan and James Callis made this a brilliant episode that added much to the mythos and actually developed some of our characters. In terms of Merlin's future, it was a step along the right path.


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Review: Fades 1.5

Aaaand.... CGI!
Fades this week focussed more on action than characters, shifting the characters into their positions for the finale. That wasn't necessarily a problem, however, as we've had four weeks' worth of character development to keep things interesting. The main problems as I saw it were that this final blending of the past months' threads felt rather underwhelming in comparison with the buildup, and the main character seemed ever more and more impotent as time went on.
     As Paul's family recover from his resurrection, the police have converted the school into a crisis centre for missing persons. Unfortunatley for them, the centre is also used as a base by the Reborns, led by Polus (who we're now calling John) and Natalie. Paul and co. visit the facility to look for Anna's boyfriend Steve, and they soon discover the problem. Held hostage by the reborns include Mark, his bit on the side, two of the Angelics against Neil and the Jay, who is rescued by Paul and a belated Neil when Paul discovers that he has a glowy-beam-thing that allows him to kill them. Deciding that the way of death is wrong, he walks away from Neil as the town is called to evacuate, promising both him and John that there is another way to solve this issue. Neil then takes Mac hostage as Paul's only weakness.
     The classical anti-hero was not a dark protagonist but simply an impotent one, and in many ways that is who Paul is. Despite how much the episode made out how special he was, he really did just feel like the pathetic kid in a cardigan. I kept waiting for Fades trademark style to show me one more of his amazing powers, but it didn't arrive until near the end and even then it was brushed aside despite being the only feasible solution. It also didn't help that the climax felt like it came too early - I was almost waiting for the episode to finish, as if there were strands from the finale that had to be fit on the end of this one.
Sarah returns.
     Sarah's storyline took a turn for the macabre, as she slowly transformed into a reborn. While Neil tried to comfort her, she inevitably succumbed to her urge to kill and visited John at the Reborn base, accelerating her development. After the climax she finally became human again and then went to visit Mark, whose psyche I worry for.
      Episode 5 drove the plot along quite nicely but for me at least it wasn't as captivating because of the absense of those little character moments. I really can't sympathise with the protagonist at this point, which is impeding my enjoyment somewhat, but the series is still full of that weel-written charm and delicious cinematic gore that makes it one of the best shows on TV today.


Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Review: Being Human 2.5

Herrick saves Mitchell in 1969.
Our mid-series slump brings with it another episode of middling quality, again due to issues with subplots. This was better than last week however, as an interesting flashback dynamic allowed the return of the always excellent Jason Watkins. Outside of Mitchell's storyline it was quite dull, but overall I thought that 2.5 was a step in the right direction.
     Annie spent her time this week looking after the baby of another ghost; both of them had been killed in their sleep by Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Annie becomes attatched to the baby and when the mother ultimately returns she's forced to consider how many things she can never do. George, in his irritating storyline, found that Sam lived with her mother and tried to appeal to her ridiculously savvy daughter Molly. These storylines often felt like they were getting in the way; Annie's ultimately added nothing to the character and George's was so absurd (trying to move in with Sam after two weeks) that even the episode commented upon it.
     The flashback, running throughout the episode, saw Mitchell in 1969 cleaning up after a drunken (and bloody) night. Running from the police, he finds himself holding a girl hostage who is able to sympathise with his pain and convinces him to finally get clean. Herrick arrives as his saviour, and in a woderful monologue tells Mitchell that his conscience (the reason why the girl, Josie - from the last two episodes of Series One - is still alive) is a lie and that the darkness of his existence is a sign of his freedom. He appears to kill the girl and they escape.
Stakes are high.
     This is contrasted with the culmination of Mitchell's relationship with Lucy. Kemp is preparing her to assassinate Mitchell should the time come, and provides her with a stake. Mitchell is being harrassed by Constable Ian Puleston-Davies, who wants him to kill a peadophile who had managed to avoid jail time. Mitchell refused point blank, and when faced with the criminal he told him to hand himself in. Facing the Constable, Mitchell loses control and kills him, then running to Lucy and ironically spilling the beans about everything. Played against Mitchell returning to a living Josie, Mitchell explains that he needs someone to stay dry for - it was Josie in 1969 and Lucy in 2010. Lucy later poises to kill him, but is unable to.
      Charlene McKenna's Young Josie was instantly charming and had striking chemistry with Mitchell. The way she sp realistically softened the animalistic Mitchell was a joy to behold, and coupled with Jason Watkins penchent for monologues she made the episode worth the watch. Mitchell had... less chemistry with Lucy. They were brilliant in 2.1 but now that we know her identity the focus is shifted more onto the inrony of her situation and the comparison with Josie felt all ther more poignant because of it. One of these women wanted to save him, the other to kill him.
      Mitchell's storyline this week saved the day, and the hour to me at least was far more enteraining than last week. The irony and discussion of human nature inherant in Mitchell's story makes this the most compelling part of the episode, but it's so stifled by the other storylines. Like in Series One, I would have much prefered if George was given some time out so that his relationship with Sam could be further developed off-screen, which might lend itself to more realistic ideas than what we saw on screen. Annie too could have done with a break, as this added nought to her character and felt a little dull after last week's conclusion.
Mitchell holds Josie captive.
     Episode 2.5 was one that contained a strong central storyline bolstered by brilliant writing and star turns from Jason Watkins and the relatively rare Charlene McKenna. The other storylines often got in the way, but the power of those storylines was potent enough to make this episode stand out and turn the show back in the right direction.


NEXT WEEK: Simon Day is excellent, George is less so and Mitchell feels the heat. Literally.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Terror of the Vervoids

Vervoids. Oh dear.
"Last time we met, I became caught up in a web of mayhem and intrigue!"

I like Trial of a Timelord. I really do, and it's not many people that can say that. Where it's good, it's the camp and satirical eighties Who I love. Where it's bad, however... it's Terror of the Vervoids. There isn't a saving grace in Vervoids, there's nothing really entertaining or different to make it a decent watch. Perhaps it's damning that the Doctor's defence is not only the most paradoxical part of this series, but is also one of the most cliche ridden hundred minutes of television I've ever suffered through. And I watched a Survivors marathon.
    Before I start, I'd just like to comment on this story's setting. Following a Christmas Carol-style structure, this story is set in The Doctor's future with new companion Mel (Bonnie Langford). This makes little to no sense, and the story doesn't really cover it in much detail. Firstly, why would The Doctor choose evidence from the future when there's a perfectly reasonably sized collection of brilliant and heroic deeds to go from in his past? How can they allow him to use said evidence when it implies directly that The Doctor isn't killed by the Trial? Why oh why did they hire Bonnie Langford?
     The Doctor uses evidence from his Future for the trial, having searched the Matrix beforehand. He focuses on his visit to the Hyperion III, where The Doctor's narration inmtroduces someone as a murderer (in a really quite Poirot sense). The Doctor is being... forced to exercise by Mel, who insists on providing him with Carrot juice. Responding to a red alert, they arrive on the Hyperion and run into the Captain, who's met the Doctor before.
Carrot Juice?!
     Three scientists on the ship are transporting large plants in pods, but find that someone has broken into their secure compound and stolen the seeds. It then appears that someone has been killed - the same person who appraently called The Doctor to his room. The evidence then appears to show The Doctor sending Mel down to the compound without thought - something which the Trial!Doc contests as a further manipulation of the Matrix. Mel and a guard head down; The guard dies, the pods activate and she screams into cliffhanger. Something climbs out of the pods, and the Trial clams that The Doctor is responsible for the guard's death. In-story, The Doctor and Mel are cleared of the death and the scientists return to find the pods empty.
     The Doctor shows one of the scientists the seeds he found in the cabin of the man who died, and she's grateful. The ship alters course to avoid a black hole, and The Doctor notices that one of the Mogarians (gas-masked aliens forced to use translators) is speaking English without a translator. They complain about political issues and land rights. Captivating. Even the Valeyard isn't impressed. The Mogarian without the translator dies afte drinking a Mogarian drink, and it's revealed that it was the man who "died" in disguise. Then, in case the audience were ignorant of this scenario, we're made to watch it again. The pod creatures roam the ship killing people. The Doctor and Mel investigate into the scientists' isolation room, and discover a half-plant half-woman mutation. Cue cliffhanger. The scientists explain it as an accident, and as at the beginning of every episode of Terror of the Vervoids, The Doctor is arrested.
     We finally meet the epoynmous villains, the Vervoids. And. Well. Hmm. Many comparisons have been made, and I am not the first to make them, but the costume design for the Vervoids resembles a plant-based fusion of both sets of human sexual organs. It's not pretty, and their hissing voices and strangely northern accents just make them more ridiculous. The Mogarians talk with the guard captain and more guards are killed. One of the scientists wants to scrap their work because of what the experiment has created.
The Doctor's evidence lands him in hot water.
     Mel uses some jiggery pokery to listen to the Vervoids moving throughout the ship, but someone comes and throws her into another of the rubbish bins. The Doctor discovers her tape just in time and manages to save her, all for a single gag. Also... why are they incinerating towels? It turns out the initial murderer was the scientist that's been objecting, and he takes over the ship, intending to fly it into the Black Hole. After the cliffhanger, the Vervoids fill the control room with a poisonous gas to prevent their deaths, and the Mogarians (as the only ones with respirators) are sent in to take control. Then they mutinty as well. Luckily Mel is on hand to throw some Carrot Juice in their faces. The day is saved for now, but in secret the Vervoids kill more people.
     Turns out yet another scientist is yet another murderer. He's killed by Vervoids. The Doctor works out that the Vervoids, as plants, have decided that all animals are evil. He works out that they can use Vionesium (which they just happen to be transporting) to accelerate their lifecycle and kill them. While the amount of energy needed to do this would cause the ship to be incinerated, the Doctor does so anyway and the creatures are destroyed. The Valeyard uses this as an advantage, and claims genocide on the Doctor's part.
     When it's not being melodramatic and cliche, the episode tries its best to insert some comedy into preceedings. And it doesn't work, not one second of it, from the time-wasting arguments about whether someone's room key says 6 or 9 to the dreadful moment where the Doctor tells Mel that he can sense, "evil!". The 80s was capy and over the top, and that's what I like about it, but here it's done in a way which doesn;t stimulate me at all. That and the various double crossings make this feel rather farsical, only to then have that stifled as well by the serious nature of the trial.
     I really, really don't like Mel. Not a lot of people do. We never see her inital entrance and we only get base background information about her, and so for her six stories (two here, four with Sylvester McCoy) her defining feature is her scream, which rivals the Howler Monkey in pitch.
     Terror of the Vervoids is cliched in the extreme, and every turn an twist is signposted a mile off - and then explained. The villains are an absolute joke aesthetically and in concept, and there really is little to no salve to make this a more pleasant experience.As part of the Trial it could have been a positive examination of The Doctor's actions on the whole, but instead it became so much more focussed on a fusion between a monster horror and a cheesy who-dunnit. An abject failure.


NEXT WEEK: The Trial ends as the Master returns to form a triumvate of definite articles.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Review: Doctor Who 1.11: Boom Town

Annette Badland stars as returning villain Blon F.F.P.D Slitheen
Quite possibly the last episode of this series to be written, Boom Town was produced as a space-filler between the Moffat two-parter and the two-part finale, and as such RTD had room to have some fun. Remembering Annette Badland from the Slitheen two-parter, he wrote this episode with her character in mind and produced something rather wonderful. On its own it's nothing special, but get deep enough into it and it's one of NuWho's first examinations of the Doctor's modus operandi and the flaws in his actions, as well as a study of evil on the whole. Oh, and she still farts. A bit. But we'll ignore it for now.
     The crew arrive on the Cardiff Rift, sealed during The Unquiet Dead. As they wait for the TARDIS to refule, the gang also meets Mickey, who's come up from London. They discover that Blon Fel-Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen (in human guise, played by Annette Badland, Bad Girls) survived the events of the Downing Street bomb and has worked her way to the position of Mayor of Cardiff. In an attempt to escape the Earth, she planned to build a new power station (Blaidd Drwg, which the Doctor finally notices as Bad Wolf) and set it to meltdown on top of the Rift, and then using a space-surfboard to ride the shockwave. The Doctor intends to take her back to Raxicoricofallapatorius to face justice, and thus she remains their prisoner for the remaining twelve hours.
     As Jack connects the surfboard up to the TARDIS (it's apparently a good source of power), Blon taunts the crew, who are unable to look her in the eye. Rose and Mickey go off into the city and argue about Rose's abandonment and Mickey's activities afterwards. Using safety precautions, The Doctor follows Blon's last request and takes her out to dinner. This scenario provides easily the best segments of the episode, where Blon begs for her life by turning around the Doctor's own beliefs. She mentions how she spared one of the meddlers into her program, and The Doctor rebuts saying that that's how all murderers sooth their conscience. She replies that only a killer could know such, and that she should be the one he spares. Both Ecclestone and Badland are brilliant here, and said scene is easily my favourite of Series One.
Torchwood, anyone?
      Eventually her plan becomes clear, as the TARDIS starts opening the Rift. As they convene on the TARDIS, Blon drops the act and reveals that her plan B was to use the enrgy from any alien advanced enough to capture her and use that to open the rift, accomplishing the same thing as her Plan A. The Doctor also reveals that she shouldn't have picked the TARDIS, because the Heart of the TARDIS is sentient and immensely powerful. After staring into the light for a few seconds, it grants her wish of a new start and she is reduced to an egg. Mickey runs off in a huff, and the trio head off to give baby Blon a new life on Raxicoricofallapatorius.
      A breather really was necessary before the finale, as later years have shown, and this episode is perfect for just that. It's quite literally a time-out for the TARDIS crew and the audience, a chance for them to reflect on what we've seen and look forward to the finale.Others find this episode boring, and I can see why they would - 45 minutes doesn't really suit a "breather" like this - but I really, really like it because for what feels like the first time RTD is giving some serious commentary on the Doctor Who mythos. And it's brilliant. Even Annette Badland, who was really camp in the Aliens of London two-parter was brilliant here in both personas - the silently terrifying atoner and the campy supervillain.
     Problems with this episode? There are a few niggles. The Slitheen costume is still as unconvincing as a wooden rat, and the few flatulence jokes (which thankfully ceased once the deep moral testimonies started) felt even more out of place. This episode felt like Aliens of London but for... grown-ups. The concept was taken a lot more seriously - Blon described execution via Vinegar as painful and slow, and focussed on the death of her entire family. To her The Doctor was as much of a villain as she was to humanity. 
She's an egg.
     Boom Town is excellent simply because it's interesting to watch. It's not exciting or action-packed, but it doesn't need to be because it's in between two very action-packed stories. Instead, RTD is able to take some time out to show us our characters and their personalities, and that slow, gentle character work combined with a chance for the actors to really pull out all the stops make this a captivating and fascinating 45 minutes. And that's all there is to it.


NEXT WEEK: Nine bows out as the Daleks return in Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Review: Merlin 4.3: The Wicked Day

Oh, go away!
Why, Howard Overman? What was the point of that? The usually brilliant Misfits writer often falls short when it comes to his Merlin contributions, and this episode follows that rule. All the way through Series Three I was looking forward to the death of Uther and the ascension of Arthur, and I even cheered Morgana on druing some occasions. Here it finally happened, and Overman still managed to make it feel like the bland, formulaic crap we have to suffer with from Merlin whenever it decides that plot is too good for us.
       This week saw Random Guest Star No 74 arrive to take a pot-shot at Arthur on his Birthday, drugging him after a crazy stunt and then attempting to assault him in his chamber. Uther was on hand to save the day and managed to beat off the intruder, but not before being stabbed in the heart. People begins to mourn the King's death before he has even died, and Arthur is desperate. I get the feeling that this would have more emotional potential for long term viewers if it hadn't occured every five episodes or so. Arthur, desperate to save his father, calls upon magic to save him. Merlin sees an opportunity.
      Using his ridiculous disguise from Queen of Hearts, Merlin played a sourcerer willing to help save Uther on the condition that all magic kind be able to live in peace. They agree on this promise, and it initially works. But, signposted for about half-an-hour, Morgana has sent Inspector Lynley in with a magic amulet and as a result Uther dies permenantly, Arthur forever positioned against Magic. For me it felt like a spit in the face, it really did. Not only did Uther's death - one of this series' defining dramatic moments - occur bhecause of another damn Morgana plot, it was also delivered in a way which removed any of the benefits of that action. Sure, this could be the stimulus that drives the series - Merlin trying to manipulate Arthur into loving magic. But I know Merlin, and I've been disappointed before.
Merlin's face, in the same position it was in for 90% of the episode.
     Merlin's disguise (which I suppose I should now call "Emris") was yet again a foul mixture of genuinely good acting and ridiculous clowning about. He was instantly recognisable, and the Scooby Doo-esque way that Merlin swapped between characters wasn't treated in a way that I felt I could appreciate. It isn;t simply a case of me being outside the target audience - this is a family show, one which was prepared to make its protagonists both orphans and deal seriously with it.
      If you can't tell from the tone of this review, I wasn't too pleased with The Wicked Day. It was enjoyable on a surface level but the fact is that it took one of the most important moments of the series and gave it the formula that every other episode of Merlin adheres to. I'd hoped that this series could get better, that it could avoid it now that it seems that we're making some progress. The steps have been taken to acheive this, but I wish they hadn't been down this particular path.


NEXT WEEK: Filler. That's it. Something about Dragon eggs.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Review: Being Human 2.4

George's boss gives him hassle. He is the lesser of two evils.
Unlike the relatively tight first series, by episode Four the second series has already hit the mid-series slump. Despite touching upon certain aspects of the storyline, the overall tone was one of filler, mainly due to George's storyline, which I find absolutely horrid.It did however have some decent performances and saw the end of the arc that's been chasing Annie for the past few weeks - maybe a little early, mind.
     Annie stumbles upon a dying bum and is nearly taken by the door once again. Luckily for her, the door is closed by fellow ghost Sykes (Bryan Dick, Eric and Ernie), a fighter pilot from the Second World War. Annie appeals to him to teach her how to fend off Hell, and after some coaxing due to his guilt issues he agrees to do so. Throughout the episode Annie iseen to learn how to detect Hell's broadcasts, read people's auras and eventually shut the Door forever. This storyline lays the groundwork for the end of this series and the beginning of Series Three, but I do feel that the conquering of Hell itself (well, Purgatory) should at least feel more epic. Instead, this storyline feels more complimentary to the rest of the episode, which is a shame considering Annie's role as the strongest character of the first series. 
     Mitchell's stroyline was similarly complimentary, taking the more serious aspect of his storyline and turning it into a slightly comic one. After Ivan arrived at the new "dry" compound to mock his plans, Mitchell became inspired and started a Vampires Anonymous program and encouraged Ivan to join in order to encourage more of the Vampires to get clean together. Ivan sticks it out but by the end of the episode Mitchell is forced to betray the members' trust when Ivan admits that after 192 years he can't last even a few days without blood. Ultimately it felt like this part of the plot went nowhere, although it does stand as some nice foreshadowing for next week, when Mitchell starts to lean over the edge again.
Sykes (Bryan Dick) discusses Ghosthood.
     And the there's George. As far I as I'm concerned George is only well-written as an ironically human counterpoint for Mitchell and Annie, and in this series it doesn't work at all because he's still considered comic relief. Not only is it cringe comedy (read: not funny), it also doesn't fit in with the tone of this series at all. And to top it off, I find Russel Tovey really, really irritating in Series Two. The episode saw George attempting to move on from Nina after last week's conciliation by trying to control the Werewolf and ghet a better job. After buying a man-sized cage (thus being accused of BDSM) and taking drugs before a full-moon, George controls the wolf and is able to wake up in comfort. He gets a job teaching adults languages at a school, where he meets single mum Sam (Lucy Gaskell, Casualty) and his overbearing, patronising boss. After teaching his adult class swear words (and being talked down to by his boss) George starts exhibiting Tourette's like behaviour - uncontrollable swearing and agression, which he discovers is his inner wolf, angry at his inability to rage. Despite this, he and Sam are still able to flirt and actually get together. George's boss finally gets to him in a bathroom and he beats him half-to-death.
      Making a character that I already find irritating irrationally angry and yet brilliant with women is not the best way to make him endearing. At the moment I can of course compare with Fades, where the main characters are put down all the time. We're made to think of George as the hero here, and yet in these four hours he's been angry, abusive, melodramatic, whiney, ignorant and sometimes downright stupid. I don't see why I should like this character, and the fact that he's probably Series Four's protagonist is, foir me, frightening in itself.
Mitchell runs Vampires Anonymous.
     2.4 suffered from George's stroyline, which I don't find at all entertaining in the least due to unsympathetic characterisation. Elsewhere, Annie's stroyline ended in a way that it really shouldn't have and one that further undermined her character. That's what this episode did, really. While Being Human should be a character-driven show, it failed here because those characters were mismanaged and driven in very wrong directions.


NEXT WEEK: Jason Watkins returns (via flashback), Mitchell gets said flashback and there's yet more George stupidity.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Review: Fades 1.4

Polus (Joe Dempsie) monologues to Paul.
The beginning of the second half of this painfully short series promised to send the show in a darker direction. Instead of the stready buildup that I expected, the episode instead used the first three episodes as background on characterisation and spent a lot more time on the mythos. It's this style that I think is making the series feel quite off, but that's merely because I'm not really familiar with it. Besides that, this week provided everything I've come to expect from Fades and much, much more.
     The beginning of the episode saw Paul declared braindead, his Fade now active in the hospital. At the same time, the newly human Polus integrated himself back into humanity, learning to speak again (after spending half the episode with gutteral grunts) and then tracking down Paul. After a chase, Polus traps Paul on a roof, and explains how he was one of the first to become a Fade after the "ladder" to the Above was destroyed by the Second World War. In exchange for his freedom, Polus demands that Paul show him the bunker where the Angelics supporting Neil (as two had left his side) were keeping Natalie, who herself was breaking into life. The following assault on the bunker saw two of the Angelics die and Polus found to be immortal. Joe Dempsie is brilliant as the unnervingly alien Polus, from his inital animalistic growls to his monologue cateloguing the plight of the Fades since 1943. I loved how his character initally appears normal and the script relies on Uncanny Value to provide inital characterisation.
     Paul's family, however, continued to mourn his "death", as they prepared to turn off his life-support machine. Daniel Kaluuya was especially brilliant in Mac's intoned longing, truly capturing the nature of their relationship. Even the opening recount by Kaluuya saw that side of his character, which I think was an excellent touch. It's this love for his friend that gets the other Angelics' attention. They discover that Anna is his twin, and the episode climaxes with them using part of her soul to bring Paul back to life in a shower of moths. In a way this made his death feel rather pointless, but in a way it was essential both for the plot to proceed (so we could meet Polus without fear of death) and for the character to develop in the way it has. For a section in the middle of the episode the audience is very much led to believe that Polus is right and the Angelics are the murderers.
Neil (Johnny Harris) is betrayed.
     Mark's storyline was more focussed on Sarah this week, and it led me to wonder about where their tale is heading. Overall, it saw Sarah become frustrated with both the police, for questioning and then releasing her husband, and then with Mark himself who admitted to her that he didn't want to live knowing that she was always there, unable to touch him. To this end she ended the episode by telling a disheartened Neil that he had to fight on, and that she was ready to eat flesh and become like their enemies. I've always been cynical of The Tudors, but it can be said that it went distinctly downhill after Natalie Dormer left. I think this is a much better proof of her acting chops, as she skitted between subtle desperation and despair.
      Fades changes at such a brilliant and exciting pace, and it's so refreshing to see a drama like it on British television. It's really a shock sometimes to see such a brilliant set of scripts, actors and performances put together like Fades, and despite a somewhat slow start I am incredibly intrigued and relieved that the show hasn't undergone a mid-series slump.


Monday, 10 October 2011

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Mindwarp

The Doctor and Peri arrive on Thoros Alpha
"Ok. Today prudence shall be out watchword; tomorrow we will soak the land in blood."

The second adventure in Season 23 doesn't exactly live yp to its predecessor. Despite bringing back a fun villain from an earlier serial and bringing in Brian Blessed of all people, the script's characterisations of many characters, especially the Doctor, is off-putting. However, this also a serial that uses the Unrealiable Narrator trope - something Doctor Who never done before - and that perhaps puts the episode into perspective. Regardless, cover your eardrums and prepare the sickbags as I venture into Mindwarp.
     The Valeyeard introduces the escapade that the Doctor was in prior to the previous serial, presenting it as "The Present". The Doctor and Peri arrive on Throros Beta, a weapons manufacturing planet. Throughout the inital introduction to the scenario the Valeyard keeps interupting it to point out really unimportant things as a case for the prosecution, and it kills the sense of wonderment dead. The pair venture into some caves and are attacked by a plastic suit, who they accidentally kill, and they're then arrested by the guards who rule the caves. Trying to escape from the guards, The Doctor and Peri inevitably make their way towards the laboratory of Mentor Sil. Sil, played by Neil Shaban, was the villain in the previous season's Vengeance on Varos (which I'll be reviewing in November) and here his costume is a lot more convincing. The first episode ends with The Doctor being stuck into one of the machines that Sil's scientist, Crozier, uses to "pacify" business partners.
     And here's where the serial gets weird. Mindwarp, for the first time in Who, uses the Unreliable narrator technique, and thus everything we see after this point is being manipulated in some way by The Valeyard. This provides food for thought, but it certainly doesn't make watching the core episodes any more bearable. As part of this, Colin Baker is forced to play the Sixth Doctor as a selfish, traitorous megalomaniac. I think one of the cleverest things about this issue is that with the public (and private) animosity towards the character at the time, the viewers were incredibly likely to accept that this was who Colin's Doctor was, and thus the idea of manipulation would be more of a shock.
"What is... love?"
      Luckily, The Doctor is saved from braindeath by a previous patient, the barbarian warlord Yrcanos (BRIAN BLESSED), who then escapes. The Doctor, however, betrays them and the other two are left to escape into the tunnels. As The Doctor helps Crozier with his experiments, Yrcanos and Peri run into his former squire, Dorf, who through Crozier had been cursed with Lycanthropy. Crozier, meanwhile, is working on Sil's orders to help save his superior Lord Kiv (long-time Doctor Who monster actor Christopher Ryan, who played some Sontarans in Series Four), whose expanding brain was threatening him with death.
      The Doctor manages to capture Peri, and just as it appears that his betrayel has been a ploy of some kind (as the Trial!Doc suggests) The Doctor reaffirms to Peri his selfish motives. Trial!Doc works out that the situation is being manipulated, but both The Inquisitor and The Valeyard insist that The Matrix cannot lie. As I say, to me this made the manipulation all the more obvious when I first watched it, but Colin one of my favourite Doctors. On original broadcast I suppose it was much more likely for us to perhaps believe the Valeyard in this case.
Fishy business
      We go into cliffhanger with Yrcanos preparing to kill The Doctor, but Peri saves him, insisting that he wasn't always that way. Here the episode splits into two unbalanced subplots; The Doctor watches over as Crozier transfers Kiv's brain into a different body temporily and Yrcanos, Peri and Dorf wander through the tunnels trying to build the resistance movement from Thoros Alpha. Despite how comparatively little happens in that latter subplot, the characterisations are just so enjoyable that they more than make up for it. In fact, the storyline for The Doctor feels very much like padding which, while mildly entertaining, contributes little to the story. The Cliffhanger sees one of the guards appear to kill Peri.
      The last episode feels rather like an enigma, as The Doctor's personality reasserts itself. At the Trial, The Valeyard admits that Peri was only stunned - another hint towards his manipulation of the evidence. The Doctor springs out Yrcanos from his prison, and stirs up the Alphan resistance once again. But alas, all is too late - he is removed from Time by the Trial and Peri is used as Kiv's next host. The Time Lords reveal that because of The Doctor's (supposed) manipulation, Crozier had changed the rules of Life and thus they manipulated events to stop it. Yrcanos kills everyone and the episode ends on the Trial!Doc's slightly tearful, slightly angry proclamation that he will see justice done.
      Mindwarp is stuffed full of good and bad performances. Sil is played wonderfully by Nabil Shaban but unlike in his original story he doesn't get much to do besides padding. Brian Blessed is over the top, as usual, but also strangely sentimental and despite his penchent for death is far more easy to support than this episode's interpretation of The Doctor in the core episode. And again, it worked at the time. What better way to disprove the interpretation of this Doctor's selfishness by letting the audience believe that they're right and then proving them wrong? I'd also just like to mention Peri's death, which is perhaps one of the worst handled final companion moments in the show's history. The villains were eventually pointless, and the story's only survivors are The Doctor and Yrcanos, so any of that fun character developmentis rendered worthless.
Bye bye, Peri.
      I like Mindwarp for its undertones rather than what's overtly on the screen. On its own it's a confusinly jumbled serial which lags in the middle and commits characterisation suicide, but with the Trial underlaying it the serial becomes a deep examination of our main lead and his public persona. It's a shame that so many good performanmces and performers went to waste, but the episode is an entertaining watch if you've seen the whole Trial and know all of what's to come.


NEXT TIME: Mutated Petunias and misshaped human sexual organs in Terror of the Vervoids.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Review: Doctor Who 1.9-10: The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances

"Those would have been terrible last words."
Before he was the showrunner, Steven Moffat worked mainly on comedy. His first work for Doctor Who was the 1999 parody The Curse of Fatal Death, starring Rowan Atkinson, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley as various incarnations of the title role. Another life-fan of Who, Moffat consistently provided the best episodes of RTD's tenure, and this is where he started, in his first serious piece for Doctor Who canon. It's no surprise then that this two-parter is the best story of Series One by a long shot.
     Despite how the years have passed, the story is still touched by Moffat's sense of style and writing. Here we have all of his stereotypes - an empowered female character (Nancy), The Doctor liking mundane objects (bow ties, bananas) and a villain who isn't being deliberately evil for the sake of it. It also shares his only problems during the RTD era; he much prefered to focus on The Doctor and on the characters of his creation, and the current companion (Rose here) gets left out of the equation. Regardless of this, the story is still compelling due to said strong characterisations and the tense yet ultimately fulfilling nature of the scenario.
     Nine and Rose follow a capsule through time, a cylindrical object giving out a mauve alert symbol (red is apparently considered camp) to 1940s Earth. The Doctor realises that he's in the height of the blitz, while Rose follows a haunting little boy and somehow winds up hanging from a barage balloon as an air raid flies over London. The exterior Tardis phone rings, and a girl appears called Nancy (Florence Heath) tells him not to answer it. The call comes from the voice of the child, who keeps asking after his Mummy. Following Nancy, The Doctor discovers her modus operandi - she raids the houses of people flouting the rationing system to feed her troupe of orphaned children. At the house, the child appears again and Nancy gives a second warning, telling The Doctor not to touch him, or else become like the child.
"Run, rabbit run, rabbit run run run."
     Rose is saved from certain doom by the first appearance by Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), whose inital characterisation is loveable but holds a certain underlying dickishness. His omnisexuality, included from the off, is an interesting feature. Fandom often accused RTD of a "gay agenda" because of his sexuality and the higher number of homosexual characters in his works, but this is possibly the most sexual episode of the series and it doesn't discriminate. Jack introduces himself as a former Time Agent who has gone freelance, and is persuaded that Rose is a member of the organisation, and offers to sell the "Chula warship" for a price. His ship, like the Child, is capable of transmitting over any electrical device as well as using little healing robots called Nanogenes.
     The Doctor, still looking for answers, follows Nancy one last time. She leads him towards the crash site of the warship, and then points him in the direction of London's Albion Hospital. There he finds Dr. Constantine (Richard Wilson) surrounded by patients who have become like the Child, all of them sharing the same injuries and acting like programmed zombies, all of them looking for the Child's mother. Constantine finally succumbs to the plague, in the only scene in Doctor Who which still freaks me out. This two parter is scary, still, and it was the first time NuWho really proved that it could be. Sure, The Long Game's corpse-robots were creepy, and the Dalek was a tad merciless, but the combined mixture of body horror and the tension of whether our characters will succumb make this extra special.
     Having scanned for alien tech, Jack and Rose teleport into the hospital to meet up with The Doctor, who shows the time traveller exactly what his shuttle has done. Jack explains that the shuttle was empty, and that he was a conman attempting to sell them the shuttle and then have it destroyed by a German bomb. We go into cliffhanger with the zombies suddenly cornering the trio and the Child about to touch Nancy, but all is resolved when The Doctor appeals to the zombies' childish hive mentality by telling them to go to their room. The trio venture up to the room where the Child was kept, and in a creepy scene they ponder his nature before finding that the Child has indeed returned to his room. Using Jack's sonic blaster they escape to a saferoom, with Jack teleporting back to his ship and bringing up his colleagues while Nancy says goodbye to her adopted family. Both sides head to the bombsite, where they convene.
"He's... Empty"
      Jack's meddling with the warship - an alien ambulance unit - leads The Doctor to the truth. As the ship calls upon the Zombies as an army to protect it, The Doctor explains that the ship was filled with Nanogenes like those on Jack's ship - ones that found the dead Child and used his body as a new template for the human race, taking over everyone who appeared, to them, different. As The Child approaches to lead the army, Nancy breaks down in tears and the Doctor works out that the Child is Nancy's, one she had as a teenager and was too ashamed to even tell of his parentage. Nancy finally accepts her motherhood and the Nanogenes follow suit, fixing all of the zombies and reverting them to perfect health. Having attempted to save the others by stopping the bomb from exploding himself, sacrificing his life, The Doctor deems Jack worthy for companionship and saves his life by inviting him aboard.
      Perhaps more indicative of Moffat's comparatively more mature attitude to this story is the sexual undertones underlying everyone's relationships. As per the title of the second episode, Moffat uses "dancing" as a metaphor for sex, which seems inconspicuous to young viewers but cheeky to the older ones. That aspect of the episodes balanced out the horror and made it a lot more watchable than it would have been had it only been one or the other.
     The Empty Child two-parter is, quite simply, a well-written and well acted story. Moffat's focus on character while also presenting intriguing and heartwarming sci-fi ideas makes this story so much more, and the fact that it's so scary and yet so ultimately optimistic makes it a first for NuWho. As I said above, it is by far the best story of Ecclestone's tenure from both subjective and objective viewpoints, and I love it.


NEXT TIME: The Slitheen (well, one of them) return, and Torchwood gets some groundwork.