Friday, 30 January 2015

Review: Doctor Who 8.13: Last Christmas

Doctor Who Christmas specials are, respectively: fantastic, good, So Bad It's Good, unnecessary, overblown So Bad It's Amazing, okay-if-you-don't-think-too-hard, boring, and "Oh my god, this is the worst thing I've ever seen." Last Christmas doesn't attempt to make up for last year's travesty, and nor should it - the show's moved on from that era of terrible writing and slapdash plots. We have to focus on the era of mediocre writing now! Deciding that NuWho wasn't quite derivative enough, this week's episode is what happens when you combine Alien, Inception and, presumably, a late night of last-minute script-writing while flicking through the movie channels.
http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/79251000/jpg/_79251345_drwhochristmas2_bbc.jpg
Father Christmas, while not true to the archetype, is
surprisingly entertaining. From the BBC
     Clara is awoken by the sound of Father Christmas arriving on her rooftop. The Doctor appears, and they travel to a base on the North Pole staffed by a cast of characters, all trying to traverse a room of face-hugger possessed people. The monsters are the Dream Crabs, who can only see you if you're thinking about them, and who can put you into a recursive dream state. Just as the group is about to be cornered by them, Santa appears again with his comical elves to save the day. Clara is later attacked again and this time enters a dream state in which Danny is still alive. The Doctor enters this state to get her out of it, but the resulting knowledge reveals that the whole thing was a dream - and then again, another time. Soon the dream is finally broken, with the crew of the base returning to their old lives. The Doctor wakes up and visits Clara to find she is in her 80s. At the last second, Father Christmas appears again and reveals one last layer of dream. Clara is normal age, and the secrets are all out, so she agrees to travel with him once again.
     The two main influences on this script are Inception and Alien - not really hard to see what that means, either. The Alien thing is fairly blatant, with the film itself being discussed within the episode, and the episode blended that film's claustrophobic setting with the show's usual "Base-Under-Siege" plot. The Inception thing I'm less sure of - it's about four years late to be riding that film's coattails, and the dream-within-a-dream thing is part of the consciousness now. What's more important is how the setup is used. While the interal logic of the dreamscape was interestingly realised and intriguingly thought out, there were a few too many layers for me. By the third wake-up I was beginning to wonder if it would ever stop with the revelation. It also tied into a problem with Clara's departure, but I'll go into a bit more detail on that further down.
     The episode's weirdest concession to the Christmas spirit was the appearance of Nick Frost as Father Christmas, at first pushing the "the fiction is real" argument like back in Robots of Sherwood and then thankfully transforming him into a shared avatar of hope and goodwill within the dreamers' minds. I wasn't that confident of Frost's performance initially, but once it transformed into something more outwardly comical, his cheeky and off-kilter delivery of the cliched Santa lines actually gave me a few chuckles. At the same time, he was able to deliver a few warm moments too. The same can't be said for his two sidekicks, Ian and Wolf, who were both unnecessary - even if it was nice to see Nathan McMullen in something now that Misfits has finished.
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Capaldi was on fine form and provided the best performance
of the episode. From the BBC

     Character wise, this week was a continuation of the themes from the finale, with The Doctor and Clara's mutual closing lies being revealed to one another fairly early on and going on to have an important part in the story. While it felt rather unnecessary to carry on their partnership, it was nice to see those issues actually covered, and for the rest of the episode the pair were written in a surprisingly sensitive and enjoyable manor. The scene with the aged Clara, replaying out a particular scene from Time of the Doctor, was quite heartfelt and touching, and would have made an excellent finale for the character of Clara. But Jenna Louise-Coleman decided to stay on, so that was shelved and it was just another dream. I was disappointed by that, especially as that extra layer confused the nature of the episode's supporting cast, who were all given fairly effective micro-characterisations. Despite that annoyance, Capaldi and Coleman are on top form as always, as they have been for the rest of the series.
    I'm still not fully on board with Moffat, but this episode marks the close of a season much improved on the last. It feels like Moffat and his writers have been working on their criticisms - sometimes to good effect, sometimes not. Last Christmas was that same mix of surprising quality in some places and uneasy decisions in others, but Im I'm so much more invested in these characters that I'll actually be looking forward to next season instead of just watching it out of tradition.

Thanks.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Review: Doctor Who 8.12: Death In Heaven

Okay so yeah I might have actually liked this episode.
From Wikimedia
Moffat finales do not have a good track record with me, at least not on second-viewing - I usually give them glowing reports after broadcast and then cast a more critical eye after the fact. Well, it's two months later and I've seen the episode twice, and my opinion of Death In Heaven has remained the same. The good bits are good and the bad bits are... there. That is to say, while Moffat's writing still has a number of flaws with plotting and sexual politics, this episode managed to create enough genuine character drama and characterisation that I kept with it and just rolled my eyes at the silly bits as they came around. Which means I liked this episode, in an objective sorta way.
     The Master and The Doctor are captured by UNIT before the Time Lady gets the chance to gloat, but not before the 91 Cybermen from her 3W facility in London fly up into the air and explode, creating black clouds which rain down Cyber-pollen on graveyards. Clara pretends to be The Doctor in order to fool some Cybermen into not shivving her, but she is eventually kidnapped by a Cyber-converted Danny. The Doctor is awakened, and Kate Stewart (with great reference to her father The Brigadier) reveals that he is now President of Earth, and is aboard a private jet. The Master, not kept under more security than a pair of handcuffs, sets her flying Cybermen on the plane and kills Osgood, leaving The Doctor and Kate to fall to their deaths. Clara discovers that Danny, while revived and converted, can still feel the pain he's been put through, and he asks her to turn on his inhibitor.
     The Doctor manages to fall into his TARDIS, and follows Clara's call to her location. The Master's plan is revealed - kill all of humanity, bring them back as Cybermen and then give them to The Doctor as a gift to corrupt him into being like her. He rejects her offering after some deliberation, and allows Danny the power of control over all of the Cybermen. He commands all of them to fly into the sky and explode, destroying the cloud and the Cyber threat. The Master is seemingly killed by a rogue Cybermen identified by The Doctor as The Brigadier, who also is seen to have saved Kate from falling. Two weeks later, and The Doctor and Clara meet up with one another, each telling a lie - Clara, that Danny managed to send himself back into the land of the living (he sent the child he killed in Afghanistan instead), and The Doctor that he has found Gallifrey and gone back to be President. The two hug and separate, with The Doctor subsequently being interrupted by Father Christmas.
This is a fantastic shot and it actually does what I've always
wanted - display the human element within the Cybermen.
It would have helped had they not been made into magic
microbes though. From Wikia
     Okay, last week's elephant in the room - The Master is now a woman, and calling herself Missy because, according to Moffat, "I couldn't go on calling myself The Master, could I?" Yes, you could have - Master as used by that character refers to both being "The Master of all matter" and to the fact that he claims to have a Master's degree, both of which are gender-neutral titles. Changing their title to "Mistress" adds an unfortunate connotation of subservience, especially when you add in Moffat's standard "crazy-sexy woman" tropes, this time thankfully toned down to match Capaldi's less sexual Doctor. There was also a complete avoidance of any discussion of trans issues which would be raised by a Time-Lord changing gender, with the previously all-male Master instantly adopting feminine traits and mannerisms. You could argue that it's just The Master playing up her new appearance for the fun of it, but some look at that side could have been both interesting and relevant. Despite that though, I absolutely adored Michelle Gomez' performance and thought it was entirely in-character for the Master, a blend of both the Delgado and Simm portrayals, with a hint of Ainley's ham. I really hope her character isn't dead and that we see her again.
     I've said many times here that the Cybermen are my favourite of the show's big monsters - the original form being a cautious tale about a desperate people forced to integrate themselves with their technology to survive, and then not being able to return to the same ways. RTD reinvented them fairly well, with a satire on Capitalism and consumerism, but since the Moffat era any actual lore about them has been thrown out of the window and they've been used as an interchangeable villain whose only thing is that they have no emotions, except when they do, because love and stuff. In their last appearance, I made comment that the Cybermen's new design made them a more boring cross between Iron Man and The Borg. Here the comparison to the latter gets a full-blown execution, with The Borg's converting nano-probes taking the form of "Cyber-pollen" which can somehow revive the dead. That's so obviously Bad Science there's no point in discussing it on that front. One thing the episode did do well with the Cybermen was an angle the show tried before back in Closing Time - one person using emotions to resist conversion. The scene in that episode, in which a father's love for his child is enough to melt steel, felt cheesy - here the mood was more somber and triumphant, and as the plot was more primary character based it didn't disturb the rhythm that Danny's love for Clara is what allowed him to carry on.
     As to that, we had a strong continuation of the character scenes from the previous episode. I may not be particularly enamoured with the direction of these character traits, but the fact that they've been developed continually across the series in a consistent way as opposed to the depending-on-the-writer nature of the previous season is such a breath of fresh air. The Doctor's wrestling with good and evil felt hollow earlier in the season - here he's given actual moral dilemmas, albeit ones coated in weird, OTT plotting, and his decision to put aside his differences with Danny feels more realistic for it. Clara's imitation of The Doctor, and her ultimate decision to "execute" Danny herself, follows the logical conclusion of this season's development of Clara from one of Moffat's paper-thin female characters into a defined woman who, even if she has no provenance, certainly has dimension. The lying scene at the end of the episode felt well-won and really new, and I really enjoyed having that level of genuine emotional complexity in Moffat's work. I just wish that this wasn't the second time we said goodbye to Clara, and that this was the actual ending for her tenure as fulltime companion.
I didn't think that the show could make the connection
between these two work, but in this scene it ends up being
poignant regardless of how you like the characters.
From doctorwhotv
     Cybermen aside, the main weak spot in this episode was the appearance of UNIT. Their inital appearance and quick deduction of The Master's identity felt like a return to strength, but soon the rot started to set in. Osgood, a character from Day of The Doctor who was used to both stand for and parody the show's fans, was both intelligent enough to recognise The Master for who she was but not clever enough not to ignore everything she says. Not to mention the fact that The Master has escaped UNIT custody before, and that was in less secure circumstances than tied loosely to a board. It's times like this that I wish Torchwood would make a reappearance, they knew how to get things done. Oh wow, now I'm thinking about Michelle Gomez' Master in Torchwood. That would be wicked.
     Death In Heaven, while not a cohesively good episode, was still one that I enjoyed very much. At first I thought it was just the sheer joy of seeing a well-executed Master mix with some adequately-executed Cybermen. The episode takes so many aspects from various RTD episodes that it was almost a given that I was going to enjoy it. But when I came back to the series to review it, I realised that there was something organic here, something which was genuine. Moffat writing character drama and for once actually succeeding in doing so without derailing characters, inciting huge retcons or just being an offensive ass. It wasn't perfect, but by god it was progress, and it made me feel something. And to be honest? That makes it more like Doctor Who than the show's been in a long time.

Thank.

NEXT WEEK: I can't believe I'm watching it in January, but then again, I did only see it Last Christmas.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Review: Doctor Who 8.11: Dark Water

The Doctor and Missy witness the latter's plan unfold...
(More on her next time, I promise.)
From The BBC
I was going to write this as a double-review with next week's episode, seeing as the two form the show's first two-parter since Series 6, and the plot and theme elements are quite closely connected. I decided to split it up because Dark Water negates its own premise in a reveal near the cliffhanger, and I wanted to examine the genuinely good sci-fi ideas and character drama that this episode managed to develop without it being bogged down by discussions about the return of certain classic villains. If you ignore that reveal, Dark Water is one of the most intriguing and well-written build-up stories that Moffat's ever produced. Oh, and spoiler warning from the off.
     Clara is in the middle of trying to tell Danny how she feels about him over the phone when he's rather rudely hit by a car and literally sent to the land of the dead, waking up in a bureaucratic afterlife handled by Seb (Chris Addison). Emotionally hollowed, Clara reaches out to The Doctor and tries to blackmail him into changing history, going so far as to try to destroy all of the TARDIS keys should he say no. After The Doctor discovers how far Clara is willing to go, he uses the TARDIS' memory-guidance thing from Listen to try and find an afterlife. This takes the two to 3W industries, a company who claim to have contacted the afterlife that Danny is now in. As Clara contacts Danny on the other side, The Doctor discovers that the operation is in fact a cover-up for the building of a new race of Cybermen, using the captured minds and bodies of the dead. Running the operation? A flirty Time-Lady previously introduced as Missy, who now reveals what she was once called - The Master.
     Okay, so I've mentioned before that I'm not big on the Clara/Danny relationship. It's forced, it's unnecessary and at every step it contains unhealthy elements which in reality would be a cause for concern. This episode seems to satiate people who like the relationship and those who don't, giving Clara a grand act of love but also highlighting the level of mistrust between them in life, and in death. Because of the lack of chemistry, I don't sense love from these two, but rather a friendship between two people who think that the relationship deal is what you have to do to be close to someone - it's a trap I've fallen into myself, and makes a lot more sense than the romance the episode is trying to portray. That in mind, this episode was fab for characterisations - Clara's reliance on deceit and stable elements to simply function, Danny's internal conflict which makes him demand the truth from others and yet hole up the truth behind his actions in Afghanistan, and The Doctor, who recognises both of these things and is powerless to do anything about them except try to help them be together.
Clara tries to talk to Danny across the realms.
From the BBC
     And as for that sci-fi idea, my god is that powerful. As miffed as I was about the idea of a real, planar afterlife in the Doctor Who Universe (sudden afterlife revelations rile me a bit), the idea that after death you continue to experience whatever happens to your corpse is a chilling one, even if the script gives it a little too much buildup. The revelation that this afterlife is in fact a Matrix-style supercomputer holding the consciousnesses of the dead still holds in the fridge horror, but I think it dimishes the spiritual side a little and plays into the rest of those final few minutes, which turn the episode from a slow-building suspenseful drama into Moffat's attempt to ape The Army of Ghosts/Doomsday.
     Dark Water's main flaw was that it comes packaged with a finale that only provincially has anything to do with it, and which is far more bombastic in its aims. Comparatively, it's a much slower and tense story with a great deal to say and a decent way of saying it. The character beats are flawed, true, but they're really errors carried forward and in that context they're better than anything else in Moffat's main plotlines. I may not be very highly invested in Clara and Danny's relationship, but for once in this era I recognise them doing things that people actually do - and that is glorious progress right there. Right on.

Thanks.

NEXT TIME: Dodgy gender politics, a plothole the size of Birmingham and an attempted tribute to Nicholas Courtney that doesn't go anywhere. What else, but Death In Heaven?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Review: Doctor Who 8.10: In The Forest Of The Night

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Forested London looks awfully like Wales when you
look up close ;) From Wikia
It seems odd to me that an episode of Doctor Who can do something as audacious as cover the whole planet in an invulnerable forest which grows in one night, and still feel somewhat understated. That came from a mix of things in what a mixed up episode, albeit one with a consistently charming tone. That tone comes to our screen from the pen of writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, most famous for his twee religion-and-kids book/film Millions, which I loved as a kid, but find somewhat more difficult to accept when integrated into the current mishmash that is this show.
     The Doctor arrives in London, and lets a little girl into his TARDIS called Maebh. She's a member of a field-trip being led by Clara and Danny, who discover upon waking in The Natural History Museum discover not only The Doctor, but the fact that the entire planet's surface has been covered with a layer of trees grown all in one night. (They have no rings.) After some squabbling between Twelve, Clara and Danny, they slowly uncover the reason these trees exist - Maebh, whose psychic powers were previously dismissed as the ramblings of a mentally ill child, reveals that she can communicate with a race of ancient tree beings who rise to protect the Earth whenever life is about to wiped out by a solar eclipse. One happens, it passes over safely and Danny and Clara are left to sort out their trust issues.
     While the episode's contribution was of course the tree plot, the main developing theme was Clara and Danny's relationship - it was established last week after Clara "rejoined" The Doctor that she simply didn't tell Danny she was doing it in the first place. I highlight this relationship beat not out of genuine interest in these characters and their struggles (well, a little bit, time wears you down), but to point out the relationship's general scuzziness from both sides. Clara, following her development into The Doctor's darker character traits, has become a compulsive yet fumbling liar, trying to deceive Danny and The Doctor about her double life when there's really no reason to. Danny, while understandably frustrated by this, is also pissy about The Doctor whenever he can be, and makes demands of Clara in often patronising ways. The script tries to paint Danny as the put-upon hero by ignoring his faults whenever possible and giving him triumphant rescue scenes - whether there's a double standard at work here is up to you, but I think there is.
http://www.undertheradarmag.com/uploads/review_images/forest1.jpg
Unintended lesson of the week: Don't take your meds, kids,
you could save the world by doing what the voices tell you!
From undertheradarmag
     The old TV maxim "never work with children or animals" doesn't quite come into affect here - Cottrell-Boyce is used to working with child actors from back in the Millions days, and so there's a general touch of naturalism in the kids' speech patterns. That doesn't entirely make up for the inexperience and overjubilance of most child actors, but here it manages to avoid cringey, awkward dialogue in all scenes except two. (The first in which a child worryingly dismisses Danny and Clara shouting at one another as "what people do when they're in love", and the last in the strangely edited ending where Maebh's missing sister appears out of nowhere for no reason.)#
     In The Forest Of The Night tries to be a fun little tale for the kids - and my only real justification for saying that is that it follows a naturalistic logic in which, most of the time, its the children themselves working out all the answers. That in itself is not a bad thing, and there's enough actual plot in this fairy tale to justify its existence - but that content itself fell into all of the traps that this season falls into, and the main plot itself was a little too holey for my liking. An okay attempt, but at this stage in the series we should really be faced with good drama. Not with teatime misadventure.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: An episode named after a weird unnecessary plot device... Moffat's back at the helm in Dark Water.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Review: Doctor Who 8.9: Flatline

http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/images/ic/480x270/p028d4w4.jpg
Twelve obviously trying to imitate his predecessor
Tristan Farnon... From The BBC
Written 20/1/15.

The joy of hindsight. I had an inkling when I first saw Flatline that it was trying to be a little more complex than normal. That's a valiant ideal for the current state of the show, one which I'm always excited for whenever it appears. I'm not sure whether Flatline managed to carry it off entirely, and her background plot with Danny still makes no sense, but I think the fact that the episode took a theme and ran with it wholeheartedly is something that makes it stand out in these troubled times.
      The Doctor attempts to take Clara to London, but they land in Bristol instead, the TARDIS' external dimensions having somehow shrunk to half-size. While The Doctor sends Clara to investigate the surrounding estate, The Doctor stays inside. Clara discovers an estate where hordes of people are missing - and it's worse now, as The Doctor is trapped inside a TARDIS whose external dimensions resemble the toy version. Giving her the tools of his trade, The Doctor inadvertantly lets Clara become "The Doctor" as she investigates the disappearances, eventually discovering a race of two-dimensional monsters who kill people and dissect them by flattening them into two dimensions. Eventually they attempt to manifest into three dimensions, but Clara uses the beings' powers to resize The TARDIS and The Doctor banishes them to their own dimension.
     Okay, so the big main theme thing. The episode is structured in a similar way to a Doctor-lite, setting The Doctor aside and giving another character (in this case Clara) the chance to shine. While that label may not be fully accurate (Capaldi gets plenty of screentime and voiceovers, he just spends most of it in the TARDIS set), it does make the episode's theme possible - Clara attempting to act like The Doctor. What it means to be The Doctor has changed back and forth, especially with Moffat's series, but here the vision seems to be quite detailed, as Clara both mimics The Doctor's behaviour and is then coached by him on the hard decisions. It allowed Clara a bit more depth, giving a base to some of her few character traits and, for once, allowing her some moments both of strength and vulnerability that felt naturalistic as opposed to out of nowhere. It can be argued that The Doctor appearing at the end as a literal god-of-the-machine and saving the day diminished Clara's role somewhat, but it's the scene before that, where she stops her own companion Rigsy from throwing his life away, that this theme comes into full force, and that makes it worthwhile.
http://www.geekcrusade.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/flatline004.jpg
A Redshirt gets flattened.
From geekcrusade.
     It's always hard to know how much of the story of Moffat Who comes from each episode's writer, but I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that this episode came from Jamie Matheson, the writer of some okayish episodes of Being Human. The ideas in those episodes were fairly uninspired, and by comparison Matheson's scripts for Mummy on the Orient Express and this episode is quite fantastic. While I think the idea could have been done with more tension than it was, the episode's effects managed to carry off the threat of a two-dimensional menace rather well. I liked how the episode took its time to deliberately state their maleficence and disprove any hope of a simple misunderstanding, but this led to them becoming... well, a little two-dimensional. They were a device more than a presence, and that made them less effective.
     I'm behind the curve a little, I'll grant you, and maybe viewing this episode in conjunction with the rest of the season gave me a different opinion on it. But for all my current apathy about this series of Doctor Who, Flatline manages to make me a little bit excited. It did something with its setup which actually came across well instead of being crippled by plotholes. I'm still not sure about Clara's development and whether this season managed to make her anything less than pointless, but if there's an episode that comes close to managing that, it's this one.

Thanks.

NEXT TIME: Trees, and the reason why you should never work with children or animals. We go for an adventure In The Forest Of The Night.

Monday, 19 January 2015

TV Shows I Watched In 2014

Last year I delivered a Top Ten Shows list, which I very much enjoyed. For one reason or another, 2014 didn't see me watching that many shows from this year alone, and saw me more on the catch-up thanks to Netflix. So, in the spirit of fairness, here are the fiction-based TV Shows that I watched in 2014 that came out in that year.

Game of Thrones - Season Four, HBO/Sky 1

Game of Thrones' fourth season saw a sea of controversy and intrigue, as the plot developments moved onto the second half of G.R.R. Martin's third novel in his Song of Ice and Fire series, A Storm of Swords. Much as its fellows over at The Walking Dead, GoT is attempting to follow the plot of the books while keeping things fresh for those who've already read them, as well as imprinting its own stamp on the series. Whether this has been successful or not is up to debate, but the general feeling that I left the series with was that many opportunities had been missed and several plot elements were twisted to gain a much more problematic bent than in the original text.
http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20140130192027/gameofthrones/images/1/17/Pedro-Pascal-as-Oberyn-Martell-Indira-Varma-as-Ellaria-Sand_photo-Helen-Sloan_HBO.jpg
Oberyn and Ellaria, this season's standout characters.
Shame they were so short-lived. From Wikia
      The biggest controversy (spoiler warning), came in the season's third episode, Breaker of Chains, in which anti-hero/anti-villain Jaime Lannister raped his twin sister Cersei as she mourned over the death of their son, Joffrey, in the previous episode. While disgusting enough in the book, the fact that the series decided to make this a non-consensual act and then proceed to never bring it up again left a bad taste in my mouth, and highlighted a lot of the other moments in the show when the producers had chosen to include more on-screen rape and sexual violence than was in the book to begin with. While this had calmed down by the end of the season, we were still given more of the same in the completely show-original scenes at Craster's Keep where villain Karl Tanner (an admittedly fantastic performance by Burn Gorman, Torchwood) used and abused a village of women already brought up in a life of incestuous torture. It's a strange thing that GoT brings sentences like that up.
     However, there were some fantastic moments this series which helped to balance out the controversy. The appearance of Pedro Pascal's firey bisexual Prince Oberyn Martell became an absolute scene-stealer whenever he was on screen, especially as he tread carefully around the politics surrounding King's Landing. The main plot in the South, with the death of Joffrey and Tyrion's trial for murder, didn't get quite the development it could have, but it came to a fantastic head in the penultimate episode. Some of Tyrion's motivation for his actions in the finale has been removed from the show's text, and that made his motivations less clear, but Peter Dinklage is still the stand-out actor of the show. Add in fantastic developments for Sansa and other characters, and GoT is still worth coming back to every year.
http://blogs-images.forbes.com/erikkain/files/2014/10/twd-morgan.jpg
It's telling that the most exciting thing I found in 5A was
a few brief shots of Morgan. From Forbes

The Walking Dead - Seasons 4B and 5A, AMC/Fox

AMC's zombie drama seems to have been daring out into more experimental territory, and simultaneously bringing in higher and higher viewing numbers. After spending the first half of its fourth season in tense action at The Prison, the second half moved into a strange direction, breaking the ensemble cast up and focusing on groups of 2-3 people at a time as the characters escaped The Prison and headed down the tracks to Terminus, a promised land. Mixing in plot developments from Volumes 9-11 of the Comic series, the season had two stand-out episodes. The Grove saw badasses Carol and Tyreese escorting the deranged Lizzie and her younger sister Mia, and the eventual consequences when Lizzie tries to prove her theory that Zombies are just like other people. The season finale, A, felt in its second half like a bit of an anticlimax, but dealt with a certain brutal scene in the comics with a fantastic level of poignancy and horror.
     After Season Five had mopped up the cliffhanger from the previous show, the plot developments seemed to take a weaker turn. A major stepping-stone plot from the Comics was dealt with by the third episode, leaving the rest of the season to deal with long-winded flashbacks and a show-original plot based on Beth which ended (spoiler warning) with Beth's death. While the episodes preceeding the event were enjoyable enough, Beth's death comes at the end of the episode after everything has reasonably been resolved, and thus has started to poke a big hole in the show's suspension of disbelief. I'm still a Walking Dead fan, but the second half of Season Five needs to find a little more tension and make a little more progress toward's the show's eventual move to D.C.

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How little I care. (Yet still watch, albeit with a
month delay.) From Wikia
Doctor Who - Series 8, BBC1

Moffat is still here. That should say enough; while his writing is not as intensely unpleasant as it was the end of Matt Smith's tenure, there are still bumps here and there, and even that aside, the show is fast becoming stale under his leadership - and that's not just from my Tumblr-driven social justice background, that seems to be an increasing sentiment amongst fans too. By this point Moffat has had the job for about as long as RTD did, except that he isn't cutting his losses and will continue to be showrunner at least until the end of this year (and, he threatens, for even longer.)
     While I haven't finished my individual reviews of this season, I do have a good grasp of my basic problems. Clara, despite how much the series tries to build her up, has an arc which is either incredibly subtle or just tellingly hollow, which follows her seperation from The Doctor and her personality taking on a more destructive form of The Doctor's role. The problem with this was that it came bundled up in the relationship with Danny Pink, not only tying up her development into a man for no reason, but also forcing a relationship which, upon deeper inspection, is unhealthy and unbelievable. Peter Capaldi is doing his absolute best with what he's got, and despite The Doctor's new asshole persona I still think that Capaldi's Doctor knows what he's doing more than Smith's did. But in using his character differently in each episode, the series treads all over its attempts to present continuous themes, and the result is a season of uneven episodes.
     By the end of the season I'd found ways of looking past my problems with the show and at least enjoying it on a surface level - the finale two-parter was especially good in that regard, as for all it did to confuse and stretch Doctor Who canon, it managed to stay true to the (admittedly thin) characterisations and do so in an entertaining way. I used to hope that Doctor Who could become better - but now it seems to want to settle for middle-of-the-road. Tonally, Series 8 makes me think more "Adian Hodge's Survivors" than "Saturday night blockbuster", and you know my feelings on that.


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Rachel Duncan... smiling...
From orphanblack.tumblr
Orphan Black - Series 2, BBC America

My darling, my precious. There are shows I might enjoy more on television, but from my position as a critic I can't think of a show which is just as good as Orphan Black is on every level - acting, themes, plot structure - it's just an amazing, juggernaught of a show. The second season didn't just carry on the plot from the first season, it ramped it up by including a number of new characters and plotlines which only deepened and en-richened the shows universe and characters. Most of this is thanks to the tireless efforts of star Tatiana Maslany, this season playing five clones regularly, and two more in guest spots. The distinct characterisation that Maslany gives to each of her characters and the seamless way she has them interact with and imitate each other is a masterpiece of acting ability, and I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it.
     Season Two's main theme, alongside its intrigue and conspiracy, seemed to be on the positions of women in society, with each of the clones playing a different role and the show really focussing on the clones' attempts to regain their agency after it was robbed from them by a number of organisations. It also followed religious extremism, the rights of the individual, and gave a sensitive if out-of-the-blue look at transgender issues by examining how the clones' dilemma has affected a transman clone, Tony Sawicki.
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Tony Sawicki. Tatiana gives him all the respect the
role demands. From BBC America
     I could go into a lot of detail with how each of the main characters developed, but the most impressive to me was Rachel Duncan, a clone introduced at the eleventh hour in the first season who very quickly developed a very emotionally complex backstory and motivation - a tragic villain who has faced as much if not more suffering than the main characters, but who has been driven to believe that the company who created her and the other clones has to maintain its power. There's an amazing scene near the end of the season where, out of the blue, we see Rachel smile for the first time, and it's so both forced and jubilant that the result is scary and sad. Tatiana Maslany has smiled so many times on this show, but she managed to turn this one into the season's most powerful scene.
     Orphan Black's third season may just be its last, whether because the ratings haven't been that good or simply as a matter of narrative necessity - with this much happening in each episode, it seems sensible to know that you have an end in sight. But if that is the case, I can say that I will severely miss this show - and I hope that Maslany goes on to even more success.

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Kieren and Amy both had tragic moments in the finale.
From The Mirror
In The Flesh - Series 2, BBC3

A couple of days prior to writing, In The Flesh was cancelled. This is a crime against television. Like Orphan Black, In The Flesh is a fantastically written show with not only amazingly strong character development, but also brilliant representation for female and minority characters, and themes surrounding prejudice, war, society and love. While the second season of the show wasn't as condensed as the original three-part miniseries, the show used its extra three hours to tell a story in a larger universe, with a stronger plot arc, more time to invest in its characters and an ending which felt absolutely shattering but at the same time thematically perfect.
     BBC3 has made a number of questionable decisions over the past few years, and that is probably a contributing factor to the channel's eventual disappearance later this year. It is frustrating, however, to note that shows like Jack Whitehall's asinine chatshow Backchat was safely renewed and moved into BBC2, while provocative, relevant dramas like In The Flesh (and to some extent The Fades) were thrown by the wayside. And to think I was annoyed about White Van Man. Luckily, In The Flesh has a massive fandom and the current twitter hashtag has provoked claims that Netflix may take the series up. Watch this space.

Sherlock - Series 3, BBC1

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This whole show is just so dodgy.
From Flavorwire
One of the benefits of this not being a Top Ten is that I can include Sherlock at all. While it wasn't here for long, broadcasting as it did on three consecutive weekends at the very start of the year, Sherlock's third season made its odious presence known. Sherlock series are always quite brief, so I can sum up this series' three episodes as follows: Okay, Fairly good, Horrendous. Moffat's sexism and lack of narrative tact is always more refined in Sherlock, tempered only by the good natures of Mark Gattis and Steven Thompson, but not even they could fix the waste of film that is His Last Vow. On one hand assassinating the character development of Mary Morstan and dehumanising her in the most digusting ways possible and on the other hand giving suspension of disbelief a kick in the shins and throwing it in a ditch, this season's development from okayish into pure arse made me lose any faith that Sherlock will develop beyond Moffat's personal mouthpiece.

Elementary - Series 1&2a, CBS

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Holmes and Joan have an amazing relationship that
is refreshingly platonic, instead focusing on trust and
friendship. From craveonline
I completely forgot about this one, but I did actually watch it, and I did end up having strong feelings about it. I suppose that was my issue with CBS' Elementary - it's a great show with some clever ideas, well-thought-out mysteries and decent character development that takes its more flashy British counterpart and wipes the floor with it. The problem for me as a viewer, aside from the lengthy seasons, was that in this form Elementary was a bit too much like the standard police procedural. Each episode ends up so focused on the mystery itself that, while there is very strong character development, it happens over a longer period of time.
     I binged the first series and the first half of the second all the way back in January, so I am a bit hazy, but if I had to mention my favourite bits it would probably be any moment of the show with Natalie Dormer. That woman is an artist. Both in-show and out.

And that was this year. Some TV was fantastic, some of it was tragic, and some of it mixed the two in a way which was confusing for everyone. See you guys next year.

Thanks.

P.S. Waiting until 20:14 to post this...

General Blog News 19/1/15

Regular readers (if any of you actually exist), would note that the reviews stopped at the end of 2014. This was a mixture of both a conscious decision on my part and a general move away from writing as recreation. I do not, however, believe that this is necessarily the end of this blog and its writing.

I think this because there are still a few series I need to finish - Series 8 of Doctor Who is trailing at the end, so I will cover those episodes, and I certainly have a lot to say about the Finale's plot twist. I'd also like to carry on my reviews of Star Trek Voyager, but that's difficult at the moment as I'm at Uni and my DVD collection is 60 miles southeast.

I've also wanted to write an overview of Lost to cap off the whole review experience, but that'll require me to watch the whole series through again and finding the time and motivation to do that will be a challenge. I also have the same problem with distance.

On top of that, I also wanted to write an article discussing the shows I watched last year. That may or may not be coming, I'm yet to sit down and think through the logistics.

I hope you're all happy and healthy. :D

Thanks.