Doctor Who Review – “Last Christmas” (Writer: Steven Moffat)

Do you ever remember the Christmas jumper that you got from your maiden aunt on Christmas Day?  The one that you can’t fail to show disappointment on when you first receive it.  And then time goes on and, actually, it’s not too bad and it eventually becomes something that’s nice and comfy to wear.

“Why am I waffling about jumpers?” you may be asking.  Well, I have to admit that these are my feelings on the latest Christmas offering from Steven Moffat.  In fact, on the evening itself, I was left slack jawed in disappointment with the episode.  However, time has a way of putting things into perspective and I’m glad that my busy schedule over the Festive period prevented me from putting my immediate thoughts on the internet as after a second viewing, I found that it actually wasn’t as bad as originally thought.

 

As with the previous specials, certainly the ones written by Steven Moffat, the story is firmly couched in the trappings of the Christmas celebration – this time with a visit from good old Santa Claus himself, although he isn’t quite as jolly as the ones you see in the department store.  But as we know from previous specials, it wouldn’t be “Doctor Who” if there wasn’t some form of peril involved and Moffat brings this in with that classic staple, the “Base Under Siege” type story, something that’s rather appropriate given one of the guest stars for this particular special.

Unlike previous specials (apart from “The End Of Time”), this story had a firm continuity thread running through it as, beyond the Christmas aspects, the main theme of this particular special was the part that lies play in the Doctor’s adventures.  It’s been a rule since Matt Smith had the key to the TARDIS was that the Doctor lies and this comes to bite him on the bum in this special as both he and Clara have to resolve the lies that they told each other at the end of “Death In Heaven”.

The lies told by the Doctor and Clara aren’t the only ones involved in this episode as the viewer is conducted into a story where the core theme is lies, in so much as the way that we lie to ourselves when we dream – both when we believe that we’re awake and lying to ourselves when we’re dreaming and the way we try to control our dreams.  In fact, it’s reminiscent of the plot of the 2010 Christopher Nolan film, “Inception”.

Speaking of films, one of the issues that I originally had with the episode was that the premise was basically built on a viewing list.  Now I understand, though, that I was wrong to dismiss it as not only does this mean that I missed the central joke of the episode, but takes away that extra layer of Christmas – that point in the holiday when we’re sick of what’s on the telly and being filled with food and drink that we decide to retreat into what makes us comfortable, a comfy couch and our favourite films.

The Christmas overload in this episode hides one of the most scary creations in Steven Moffat’s tenure, both as a writer and as showrunner, the Dream Crabs.  Where on earth have you been keeping these creations been in your arsenal, Steven?  Not only do they look scary, but the whole idea of a creature that keeps you de-sensitised and dreaming whilst it has lunch on your brain is genuinely frightening.  Yes, the on-screen representation of the crabs screamed “Alien rip off” and their M.O. was reminiscent of the Dream Lord from “Amy’s Choice” – especially when Clara is trapped into her fantasy Christmas with Danny returned to life following his sacrifice at the end of “Death In Heaven”, but I’d love to see a rematch between the Doctor and the Dream Crabs at some point in the future.

 

The guest casting of this episode was note perfect.  The crew of the base was reminiscent of a story from the Second Doctor’s era.  You had the hard-nosed and in charge base leader in Ashley Carter, portrayed by Natalie Gumede (soon to be joining the regulars in offbeat BBC crime series “Death In Paradise”), the sceptical scientists, Fiona Bellows (Maureen Beattie) and the turkey leg munching Professor Albert Smithe (portrayed by the real-life son of the Second Doctor, Michael Troughton) and Slade dancing junior staff member Shona McCullough (Faye Marsay).  Their roles in the base not only provides a dynamic which enables the team to band together from the off, but you also get the additional terror that, in the dream world, it is they themselves who they are observing in the medical bay, plus you get the poignant ending where upon being returned into the real world, you get a far too brief snapshot of the real lives for Ashley, Fiona and, most significantly, Shona, who provided the main focus for the dream construct.

For Santa’s entourage of elves, you get the cool Wolf (Nathan McMullen), the one who’s allowed to use child’s rifle but also the one who’s in awe of his boss, and for a third successive Christmas special Dan Starkey who is out of the Sontaran make up to portray Ian who shares some traits with Strax (which I can only attribute to the fact that the Doctor contributes some of his persona into the dream) with his mannerisms (such as greeting Clara with a “Hello Human” and referring to the fact that she’s of elf height, which must also be a joke based on the Doctor confusing Clara and Strax at the start of the Season Eight opener “Deep Breath”).

Nick Frost is the main guest star for this episode in the role of Santa and provides a clever counterpoint to the Doctor himself in that he mirrors him.  Whilst he’s the creation of the gestalt subconscious of the other “real life” characters, it’s the Doctor who provides Santa’s character – grumpy, trying to be cool and using references like “Beardy Wierdy”and stealing the Doctor’s limelight and knowledge to make himself look clever.  Frost manages to give us the reassuring face of Santa, by virtue of having a good slice of the Doctor within him, but he also manages to lock horns with the Doctor himself by mirroring him.

 

The three regulars manage to balance the need to progress the plot of the immediate story whilst building on their respective story arcs.

Samuel Anderson makes a poignant return in the role of Danny Pink.  In his early scenes, he’s the goofy romantic from earlier in Season Eight, the one before he meets the Doctor.  Once the Doctor arrives in Clara’s dream, he becomes the stronger, brave Danny – the one who, albeit in dream form, manages to stand up to the Doctor by calling him “Sir” and stating that the Earth was only saved as a by-product of his love for Clara.  And then he finally makes the ultimate sacrifice, again, whilst reminding her that she needs to move on with her life.

Peter Capaldi gets to add further layers to his interpretation of the Doctor in this special.  Yes, you still get the darkness and the “gallows humour” that has become the hallmark of his Doctor, but he manages to infuse lighter comedy (such as the scene where he is insulted about the Professor’s reference to “Alien”) and a childlike sense of wonder in the scene where he gets the opportunity to pilot Santa’s sleigh.  The Doctor is also starting to open up on a human level to Clara and there is a sense that the two characters are developing a deep bond with each other.

“Last Christmas” is very much Jenna Coleman’s episode and, for me, would have been an episode to end her run on the show.  Jenna manages to portray the addiction that Clara has for travelling with the Doctor with a wide eyed wonder that has been missing for some of Season 8 whilst demonstrating that the Doctor has an increasing influence upon her that has been threatening since “Flatline” (for example the character’s vocal mannerisms at the start of the story when she tells Santa to shut up).  Whilst I like Jenna as an actress, I really felt that the ending was a bit of a wasted opportunity for her as I believe that the Old Clara ending would have been the perfect departure point for her – not only because the Christmas Cracker motif echoes the conclusion from “The Time Of The Doctor”, but it was also reminiscent of the scene in “Hook” where the young Peter meets the older Wendy.

At the risk of a backlash, I have to admit that Jenna’s return for Season 9 is a double-edged sword.  Yes, you get an increasingly comfortable partnership both between Peter and Jenna and The Doctor and Clara, but I have to wonder if there’s anywhere else for the character of Clara to develop beyond being the enigma of “The Impossible Girl” and the part-time time traveller plus we have now been robbed of a fantastic conclusion of her time on the TARDIS.

Given this bone of contention, “Last Christmas” ticks the box of being a festive warmer, despite being all glitzy and overly filling on the first viewing.

 

And now, we have nine months to wait for Season 9 and I hope that some changes are made in the structure to the programme for the forthcoming year including a change to the Team TARDIS dynamic with an additional person, more of a focus pm stand-alone stories rather than an overall arc (possibly going back to the RTD seasons where the arc bubbles away in the background) and, despite my hope that the programme goes back to being one for the family rather than being too sophisticated, a really scary episode for Hallowe’en (given that it’s on a Saturday for 2015).

Film Review – “The Imitation Game” (Director: Morten Tyldum)

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NOTE: As this film has not been released in all territories at the time of writing, there are some plot points that could be considered as slight spoilers.

 

Normally, I’d be on the site writing about all stuff Whovian, or at the very least something geek related.  However, I want to break this habit this once to write about a film that is gaining a lot of buzz at present, “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

For those who don’t know the plot of this film, “The Imitation Game” follows the story of mathematician and logician Alan Turing.  Primarily set during the Second World War, the film sees Turing and his team, including rival Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and best friend Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), seek to crack the Nazi Enigma cypher system.  It also looks back to his teenage years at boarding school and his post-war conviction for maintaining a homosexual relationship that led to him having to endure the indignity of Government enforced hormone “therapy” and his suicide at the age of 41.

I have to admit to knowing very little about Alan Turing, both the man and the contribution that he actually made to to the war effort.  So, due to my interest in the Second World War and the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch was to play the lead as Turing, I decided to see this film on the first day of release.  Over the two hours running time, I was treated to not only a fantastic historical drama/thriller, but a film with a very human core and, despite the foreknowledge of how it would end, it has a great deal of dry British wit within it.

The storyline by Graham Moore, based on Andrew Hodges’ book “Alan Turing: The Enigma”, the story moves you throughout three key time periods starting with Turing’s arrest in Manchester in 1951.  However, it doesn’t dwell in this time period, choosing to focus on the World War II time period whilst providing snippets of background from Turing’s youth which seeks to provide an insight to who he is and the reasons for some of his behaviours – notably his close friendship with Christopher Morcom and the unhappiness he had to endure due to bullying and, from the film’s perspective, a form of obsessive compulsive behaviours.  Whilst I have seen films where the audience is guided backwards and forwards along a character’s lifetime, this film avoids the trap of becoming a confusion of where to follow the storyline as it plays the story out by looking at Turing’s behaviours and then providing a context to them, either in a Second World War time period scene or a scene from his youth.

The direction by Morten Tyldum provides just enough plot movement to keep the audience at the edge of their seats to classify this as a thriller.  In fact, it’s not just a thriller, it’s a thriller with further thrillers within it.  The scene where Turing and his team work out how to set the cyphers had my heart in my mouth when you realise that moment of clarity that they must have had.  However, it also has moments of calm to allow the audience to catch their breath and follow the story.

The soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat is beautiful working alongside the story with the main piano theme sounding like Turing’s early computer and matches his work on films such as “The King’s Speech”, “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” in using the background music as an additional source of character and tension alongside what you see on screen.

The acting on this film is nothing short of peerless with Benedict Cumberbatch making a fantastic lead in the role of Turing, in fact I would go as far as to say it’s the best performance that I have seen him in to date.  He combines the arrogance of a man who knows that he has the answers that others don’t (remind you of anyone) with an all consuming passion for the work that he is doing and a cold mathematical clarity which comes to the fore in a chilling scene later in the film.  He also gives Turing a humanity and dignity which whilst present throughout the film definitely comes to the fore in the film’s climax.

Keira Knightley provides a perfect counterpoint to Cumberbatch in the role of Joan.  Her character opens him up to the possibility of Turing not being the lone outsider to meet their joint objective of cracking Enigma and providing the basis of a deep friendship that, in their own way, could be seen as a deep love for one another.  Ms Knightley also make Joan uncompromising in that love for Alan, especially in the scene where he cold heartedly rejects her and in the final scenes where she provides emotional support after his conviction.

Matthew Goode is an effective “adversary”, and later colleague and friend, in the role of Hugh.  At first, Hugh sees Alan as insufferable and selfish, only to thaw in his opinions thanks to Joan’s influence and their joint goal.

Charles Dance is equally adversarial in the role Commander Denniston, a man who could be seen as the “villain” of this movie whilst Mark Strong gives a cleverly pitched performance in the role of MI6 officer Stewart Menzies, a man of secrets who seeks to bluff both allies and opponents.

Away from the main storyline, Alex Lawther perfectly matches Cumberbatch in the role of the young Alan providing equal sympathy and humanity in the role whilst Rory Kinnear gives a sympathetic portrayal of Detective Nock, the man who eventually managed to get Turing convicted.

 

My own personal opinion is that this is probably Benedict Cumberbatch’s finest performance that I have seen him appear in and if he or the film as a whole doesn’t receive Oscar or BAFTA accolades, then there is something wrong.

It is particularly poignant at this time when we have remembered the people who have died in conflict that this film which commemorates not only Alan Turing but the silent people who worked behind the scenes is released.  A lot of the freedoms we experience today are thanks to brave people such as those who serve in our armed forces and the backroom staff who support them and we should never forget their contributions, even seventy-plus years on.

Doctor Who Series 8 Review – “Dark Water” (Writer: Steven Moffat)

I had every intention of writing reviews for episodes 7 through to 10 of the current series of “Doctor Who”, but given the impact that certain revelations… well, one revelation… has made on the online Whovian fandom buzz, I’ve decided to ditch that plan and go straight to reviewing last night’s episode (at the time of writing) “Dark Water”.

This episode is built upon two main storylines – both of which tap into basic human needs or fears. The first premise is one previously explored in the Series One story “Father’s Day” – whether to keep looking back at the loss of a loved one or to move forward with your life – something that Clara’s gran comments upon when she says that we all have to let go of a loved one at some point in our lives.

The parallel with “Father’s Day” comes right from the off withvClara deciding to use the Doctor’s TARDIS to time travel so that he can save Danny’s life, much in the same way that Rose did when she pushed her father out of the way of the car that was going to hit him, which is understandable given Clara and Danny’s love for each other. However, I have to admit that the execution of this plot strand left a little to be desired. Firstly, Clara’s motivation is that the Doctor “owes” her. Even in grief, this doesn’t ring true with the selfless Clara that we have witnessed over the last season and a half. Yes, she would more thsn likely ask him for help, but to think about hijacking the TARDIS is too far a leap to remain credible. Secondly, would the Doctor really be as careless as to leave all seven keys to the TARDIS in obvious hiding places for Clara to find along with the dream state patches. This, along with Clara’s wish to travel to a volcano for no apparent reason, should have set alarm bells the size of the Cloister Bell ringing.

That said, it does set up a couple of great scenes between the Doctor and Clara. Firstly, the dream state conversation shows how far Clara is willing to push the Doctor and how far he is willing to push back for the sake of their friendship. It also harks back to her recollections in the series opener “Deep Breath” where she realises that you can’t start a negotiation at the end game, in this case the destruction of the Doctor’s access to the TARDIS. Even in a dream, the Doctor realises this and calls her bluff. But it begs the question, would the Doctor have pushed her as far had it not been a dream.

The following scene within the TARDIS shows how much the Doctor has been humanised by Clara. His respect for her friendship is demonstrated by his willingness to help her, despite her actions. Although we as the audience, along with Clara, believes that he is telling her to go to hell, rather than it being simply a comment on the destination, it is the first real moment where the twelfth Doctor is emotionally vulnerable. He is genuinely hurt by her betrayal of who he is and not having the faith in his ability to create a solution for her. However, once he agrees to help her, his emotional armour comes back on because he can only act decisively with a strong Clara beside him.

The second main strand of this story was the more intriguing as it keys into the human fear of what happens when we die and this is seen from two perspectives. For Danny, it’s the bewilderment of being trapped in the Nethersphere along with being reminded of the darkest day which prompted him to leave the Army – the accidental death of a boy whilst on a mission, something the Seb and Missy can use in their plan as a vulnerability. For the Doctor and Clara, it’s the piecing together of what the W3 Institute represents for the human race. It’s not the bodies in thr Dark Water tanks that are frightening or that humans have been earmarked to become Cybermen, it’s the lone voice of a frightened person begging not to be cremated that’s the most disturbing because even with the sci-fi trappings, the one thing we are all afraid of is that our lives will end at some point.

But the plot point that really has set the internet alight is the revelation of who Missy really is. There were lots of theories out there – Was she a distorted splinter of Clara scattered along the Doctor’s timeline? Was she a warped TARDIS matrix, similar to Idris? My own theory was that she was a representation of Death in reference to Clive’s speech in “Rose” of Death being the Doctor’s constant companion. But it was the simplest explanation that finally eventuated – Missy is the latest incarnation of The Master. Now, I don’t have a problem with Time Lords/Ladies changing gender as a precedent was set in “The Doctor’s Wife” when the Doctor explained that thr Corsair had changed between male and female, and I believe that Michelle Gomez is a cracking choice for this new interpretation of the character as she portrays the Master/Missy’s penchant for being evil in an operatic way perfectly along with providing a new twist on the Doctor/Master dynamic.

However, again, there are holes and inconsistencies with this revelation when you look back at them. How did she escape the time locked Gallifrey? Why has she returned to the Master’s default evil setting after his noble sacrifice at the conclusion of “The End Of Time”? Why start off with a needless pretense of being an administration droid only to reveal her true nature at the end of the episode? And finally, is the Doctor really THAT stupid not to notice that she’s a Gallifreyan? Hopefully, some of these inconsistencies are ironed out in next week’s episode “Death In Heaven”.

The cliffhanger of this story also ended up not being as strong as previous season ending multi-parters. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that you’re overloaded with cliffhangers – the reveal of the Cybermen, the reveal as to who Missy is and Danny’s desperate choice to retain or delete his emotions. This leads to a bit of an anti-climax and my personal preference would have been for a braver edit, either at the scripting or post production stages, by picking one strand and running with it.

Despite the episode’s flaws, the acting is top notch with Peter Capaldi taking the Doctor’s character development forward in becoming the Doctor that we know and love more – a far cry from the unlikeable, aloof version in “Kill The Moon”. This episode affords the character the chance to be Clara’s truest friend and fiercest advocate whilst still giving Capaldi the chance to challenge the friendship between the Doctor and Clara in the early stages of the story. I loved the sly gag when the Doctor’s psychic paper ended up showing swear words to Doctor Chan as he attempts to convince thast he’s a government official – surely a reference to Malcolm Tucker. His interaction with Michelle Gomez crackles as we travel from the flirting on Missy’s part at their first meeting (if only because she’s wrong footing him) to the Doctor’s horror at her revelation as to who she is.

Jenna Coleman delivers a great performance as Clara as we are guided alongside the character’s grief. However, as i said earlier, no matter the reason the character’s actions aren’t consistent with what we expect of Clara and I wouldn’t believe that she could have gone through with her plan. This is tempered though with great partnerships with Peter Capaldi and Samuel Anderson.

Samuel Anderson has really grown in the role of Danny Pink. From the early episodes to now, you can really see character development taking place, most notably in his flashback scenes which recount the accidental killing of a boy and his gesture to prevent Clara going forwards in her aim to go into the Nethersphere to save him, whilst his cliffhanger of deciding whether to retain or delete his emotions was played out to heart breaking effect and really should have been the final cliffhanger with no others to compete.

But it’s Michelle Gomez who steals the show as Missy. Who would have thought that the delightfully deranged Mary Poppins-alike would actually be the Doctor’s best enemy? Ms Gomez really plays the Master/Missy in the only way the role can be – over the top with a twisted showmanlike quality and I hope that she continues in the role beyond this story.

This episode is a bit of a curate’s egg with great ideas and concepts being brought together in a haphazard fashion. So, whilst I welcome a new and interesting take on an old favourite, it’s with an eye on the fact that the episode structure could have been executed a lot better and with a hope that there are more answers than questions in next week’s episode.

Doctor Who Series 8 Review – “Time Heist” (Writers: Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat)

It’s strange experience when you have an expectation of an episode of a television programme only for it to be something totally different.  “Time Heist” is one of those episodes as the pre-publicity sold it as “Doctor Who meets Ocean’s 11″… or in this case “Doctor’s 4”.  What we got instead was a fascinating episode which uses the time travel premise of Doctor Who’s remit and a reminder of who the Doctor actually is, and I don’t just mean the grumpy old man of Time and Space.

 

The episode starts unusually with an apparent domestic beginning with the Doctor and Clara bantering about her latest date, only for it to cut to the story proper thanks with our heroes, along with two apparent criminals – Psi and Saibra, being informed that they have had their minds wiped (Psi – an augmented human who can download information directly into his brain wiping it – through the use of technology, whilst Saibra – a woman who has the ability to change her form to match other organic lifeforms, the Doctor and Clara uses Memory Worms (last seen in the 2012 Christmas Special “The Snowmen”) to wipe their respective memories.

Under threat of having their mind wiped by the mysterious Teller, a being who can sense guilt, the foursome break into the Bank of Karabraxos on the instructions of the mysterious “Architect” for items that the Architect knows that they all want.

Whilst the “Heist” itself is a clever plot as we, along with the Doctor and his team, are guided along by the Architect’s plan using their abilities such as Saibra’s genetic morphing condition, Psi’s ability to download information and personalities into his brain, Clara’s humanity and the Doctor’s ability to use information and build plans “on the hoof”, until we find out why they all volunteered to rob the bank, who the mysterious Director Karabraxos is and whether they will all survive unscathed, this is a deceptively cleverer story than the “wibbly wobbly timey wimey” premise than even the Doctor realises as he breaks into the vault.

As we see the Architect’s plan play out – and through the episode as a whole, we are treated to a character study of who the Doctor is – both on the surface and underneath.  Some of it is very much the Doctor that we know – the man who champions the underdog (when he realises why he has been given this bank job, thanks to his memory being restored by the Teller), the man who wants days where “everybody lives” (through his use of the “Shredders” that are actually teleporters) and, despite apparent evidence to the contrary (namely Psi’s reaction), that the Doctor gives a damn about people – especially his reaction to Saibra’s apparent death by “Shredder” once the Teller locks on to her guilt.  He also carries some of the Doctor’s flirty nature where Clara is concerned at the end of the episode when he challenges Clara to top robbing a bank for a date.

He also shows the darker aspects of his character – not only as the Doctor, but when it is finally revealed that he is the “Architect”.  He is a clever tactician, very much in the mould of the Seventh Doctor portrayed by Sylvester McCoy, maneuvering himself and his team (unwittingly due to his mindwipe) to succeed in the mission by laying breadcrumbs along the way.  “Twelve” definitely has a Game Face which makes him unreadable and cold not only to the opposition but to his friends as well.  This comes to the fore when Psi confronts the Doctor on the selection of his title.  Rather than the man who makes people better, this is a man who has his armour on show.  None of the touchy-feely stuff for this Doctor.  Doctors Nine, Ten and Eleven have all been accused of being the man who can’t look back because of the damage he does.  Messrs. Thompson, Moffat and Capaldi bring together a Doctor where you can genuinely believe that he has to keep his emotions buttoned up and bulletproof.

But the most telling aspect of this Doctor is that even though he has to be this darker, more confrontational and more strategic persona, he hates it.  Why?  It comes in two passages – the first when Saibra tells the Doctor about the fact that she can tell that the Doctor is lying because she can see it in the way he behaves due to her knowledge of people and the second when he states that he hates the game playing, controlling, callous and ego-maniacal behaviour displayed  the Architect.  He’s guessed that it’s he who has set all this up the plan, but he waits for the evidence of the Teller’s mind scan to confirm it – but even so, he knows that he hates the Architect who came up with this plan and it’ll be interesting to see how this progresses as the series moves on.

 

The direction by Douglas Mackinnon is, yet again, top notch with jump cuts and scene changes moving at a rapid pace appropriate to the script.

 

For such a grandiose plot, the main cast is very small and intimate, making for a great character study.

Keeley Hawes creates a clever “villain” in the twin roles of Ms. Delphox and Director Karabraxos.  Delphox/Karabraxos counterpoints the Doctor’s deceptive nature with a character who has to be totally truthful because Delphox can’t lie to Karabraxos – the very reason that she uses clones.  But, it’s wrong to call Delphox and Karabraxos as true villain.  They both simply wish to maintain the security of the bank, whilst Karabraxos has some level of decency within her by, in effect, arranging for the Doctor to plan a robbery so that he can release the Teller’s mate along with the Neophyte Circuit to restore Psi’s memory and the Gene Suppressant for Saibra.  It’s to Ms. Hawes’ credit that, despite these revelations, she can still make the characters cold hearted enough to make them both unlikeable.

Jonathan Bailey and Pippa Bennett-Warner are great in the roles of Psi and Saibra respectively.  It’s a mark of their acting ability, along with the script, that they make these two thieves sympathetic to the audience.  Both characters carry some level of damage in their wake with Psi losing the memories of his loved ones whilst Saibra cannot make physical contact.  It’s little wonder that the Doctor wants to include them in his band of robbers as they are reflections of him.  On the inside, he is Psi, a man who has to make the choice to forget loved ones whilst, on the outside, he is Saibra in that he knows that he can’t allow emotional contact because of the damage that follows in his wake.  I really enjoyed Psi and Saibra with both becoming potential companion material if the time was right.

Jenna Coleman continues to challenge in the role of Clara as she continues to be the Doctor’s “carer”, not only being the Doctor’s emotional buffer to people for his actions but his fiercest advocate, even though he appears callous to the point of being ruthless.  Clara believes that she knows the Doctor’s methods, after all, she’s seen multiple aspects of him, but he really throws a curve ball by openly displaying a disregard to Saibra’s apparent death by Shredder even though we as the viewer see him agonise with this decision.  Jenna really sells the emotion that although the Doctor is apparently cold and detached, she knows what he’s really like and defends him to the hilt.

But it’s Peter Capaldi who has the best character progression in this story.  He has to sell multiple and conflicting attitudes within the Doctor’s portrayal in this story.  On the one hand, the Doctor is ice cold – callous, gameplaying and detached to the point of being unlikeable and I’m talking pre “The Edge of Destruction” First Doctor nasty.  On the other, this cold and callous nature is done for a purpose – to protect his friends in the process of a robbery that isn’t for gold or money, but for the altruistic reasons of returning a person’s treasured memories, or allowing contact for the first time or saving the last two members of a race – something that surely serves as a parallel to his own predicament as the Not Quite Last of the Timelords.

In the hands of a less skilled actor, this portrayal of the Doctor could come across as unlikeable, but Capaldi manages to balance the light and dark of this incarnation so that he manages to shock and surprise without coming across as a Doctor who you wouldn’t want to travel with, but the synopses from the rest of the series makes that as something to be seen.

 

“Time Heist” is a story that works on multiple levels.  On the face of it, it’s a crime caper that moves at a rate of knots.  Underneath, you get a great character study of the leading man in this series.  It’ll be interesting to see how “Twelve” progresses going forward given the apparently darker path he is looking to tread later in the series.

Doctor Who Series 8 Reviews – “Robot Of Sherwood” (Writer: Mark Gatiss) and “Listen” (Writer: Steven Moffat)

After some time off to recharge my batteries on holiday, I’m back after playing catch up with a couple of “Doctor Who” episodes.

 

‘Why is he deciding to write a joint review of “Robot Of Sherwood” and “Listen” on the same post?’ you may ask.  Well, despite the differing tone of the stories – one, a pseudo-historical comedy, and the other, a story that plays upon one of our primal fears , they both deceptively leave the over-arching reason for the whole adventure until the very end of the story.

 

“Robot Of Sherwood” sees Mark Gatiss play upon the idea of two legendary champions of the underdog meeting to take down tyranny in their own inimitable style.  Gatiss uses our modern day viewpoint of the too good to be true Robin Hood legend – the laughing hero with his band of Merry Men who resides in the evergreen Sherwood Forest and who opposes the Sheriff of Nottingham – to wrong foot not only our leading man, but the audience as well.

Like Clara, who starts this whole adventure, we want to believe in the hero who will ride to our aide, so it’s easy why a man who wants to run away from this role, in the Doctor, would find a man like Robin difficult to beldoubting The fact that we are carried into an adventure with the familiar, such as the contest for the Golden Arrow, and the Who-inspired devices such as time travelling spacecraft and robots designed to look like knights make the audience associate more with the Doctor’s stance of the whole situation being too good to be true – something that is thrown back in the Doctor’s face twice. (By Clara when she refers to the fact that the Doctor is an impossible hero and Robin when he recounts the Doctor’s own legendary status).

 

“Listen” sees Steven Moffat return to using our childhood fears as the catalyst for this story.  The man who has given us the ultimate “Grandma’s footsteps” in the Weeping Angels or monsters in the shadows in the Vashta Nerada  now returns to a fear that was previously touched upon briefly in “The Girl In The Fireplace” – that something exists underneath your bed.

You never think of the Doctor being afraid of something of this nature.  After all, he has faced down a lot of big, bad monsters in his 2000 years, but the story shows, but his behaviour in the opening when he has a debate with himself about creatures who can perfectly hide as a defense mechanism borders on the disturbing and sets the tone for the “A-story” of the Doctor obsessively looking for an answer to his theory by attempting to search through Clara’s timeline and, instead, accidentally interfering in Danny Pink’s past which creates ripples in Clara’s “date from hell” with Danny and creating a potential future timeline for the Pink dynasty with the future Colonel Orson Pink – his face looks familiar – taking family stories of time travel as the inspiration behind his accidental time shot to the end of the universe.

The “B-story” for this episode is the aforementioned first date between Clara and Danny which manages to be a screw up before the Doctor’s apparent intervention. However, as we should know by now from Steven Moffat’s stories, time is wibbly-wobbly and timey-wimey with the Doctor and Clara’s actions in the past by visiting the young Danny in the children’s home inspiring the older Danny to join the Army, which in turn provides his mysterious back story and his attitude to Clara’s earlier teasing.

Whilst it may seem like Steven Moffat has simply used “Blink” as his template – mixing childhood fears and time travel – he cleverly uses the tale to not only act as one of the planks for a potential companion’s back story but to add another layer of mystery to the Doctor’s own mythos.

The over-arching theme of both stories though is the Doctor himself.  In “Robot of Sherwood”, the Doctor is eventually described as a hero who ran away to fight tyranny whilst “Listen” uses Clara’s reminder of the “Doctor’s Promise” as a means to inspire the young Doctor to become that hero.  There is a second example of the Doctor being inspired by Clara’s actions in his early timestream between the two stories. “Robots” also shows the Doctor bringing a spoon to a swordfight as his non-violent method to subdue Robin, whilst “Listen” uses Clara’s knowledge of the Doctor’s methods to inspire that non-violent methodology by her giving him the gift of Orson’s and Danny’s toy, ‘Dan Dan The Soldier Man’, a soldier without a gun for a man who becomes the ultimate soldier without a gun.

 

The direction for both of the stories very much suits the style of the tale that is being told.  Paul Murphy transports us to the Robin Hood myth with rich colours and an “evergreen” feel to the story to match the light-hearted setting in “Robot” (complimented with what is, in my opinion, Murray Gold’s best score for Series 8), whilst  Douglas MacKinnon marks his return to the series after resurrecting the Sontarans, the Ice Warriors and the latest incarnation of UNIT by giving us a story that genuinely unnerves the viewer with a darker colour pallet predominant throughout the episode – even to the point of setting Clara and Danny’s date at night.

 

The casting is also markedly different between the two stories with “Robot” having a large ensemble whilst “Listen” is, appropriately, smaller and more intimate given the nature of the story.

 

In the former story, Tom Riley plays upon our idea of the idea of Robin Hood to present us with a character who owes more to the likes of Errol Flynn than more recent incarnations such as Russell Crowe or Jonas Armstrong.  It’s easy to understand why the Doctor can be more than a tad annoyed with his constant laughing and showing off.  After all, despite his attitude to the contrary, is this not the Doctor from the last couple of personas – all brash and full of youthful swagger?  As a result, it could be uncomfortable for a less accessible version of the Doctor to be confronted with what he’s lost.

Of course where there’s a Robin, there has to be his Merry Men and the gang’s all here with Will Scarlett, Alan A Dale, Friar Tuck (portrayed by Trevor Cooper who previously appeared in the 1985 story “Revelation Of The Daleks”) and Little John.  There is also a surprise as part of the story involves the loss of Robin’s one true love, Marian… only to find that she has been helping the Doctor in Nottingham Castle with the Doctor and Clara repaying Robin’s heroism by returning her to him.  Who says that “Twelve” doesn’t have a romantic bone in his body?

Ben Miller makes a great appearance in the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham.  There has to be license for a touch of the over dramatic with this role – after all, he has to compete against the likes of Alan Rickman, Keith Allen and Nickolas Grace who have all given fantastic interpretations of one of England’s legendary bad guys.  Miller ensures that he is menacing, whilst being menacing enough to be a threat to the Doctor, Clara and Robin.  It’s almost as if the Sheriff took his inspiration from the Master in the 1983 story “The King’s Demons”.

However, where Riley and Miller really score is in maintaining the mystery throughout the story as to whether they are flesh and blood or constructs of the spacecraft – wrong footing the audience throughout.

In “Listen”, the only guest cast member is Remi Gooding in the role of Rupert (aka Young Danny) Pink. Remi holds his own alongside Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as the trio seek to confront Rupert’s fear of the monster under the bed. Remi’s performance is very natural selling Rupert’s fear whilst not being the child version of a screamer and allowing the character to have fun at the Doctor’s expense, alongside Clara, especially when he points out the Wally doesn’t appear in every book in existence.

All three leads get their chance to shine in the course of both episodes.

Peter Capaldi shows that his grumpy incarnation of the Doctor is adaptable to the story in which he appears – as the Doctor should. He gets the chance to use the grumpiness and aggression to have the mickey affectionately taken out of him in “Robot” as he competes against Robin in the hero stakes with Lord Locksley laughing in the face of danger whilst Mr Attack Eyebrows glowers at the opposition, whilst the Doctor uses his grumpiness as a bravado to appear brave in “Listen” so he doesn’t have to face his own fears.

Alongside this, Capaldi adds a layer to the Twelfth Doctor that we haven’t seen since the episode “Twilight” – the Doctor showing fear (in this case, fear enough to drive him to obsession to vanquish it and his own personal demons).

It will be interesting to see where he takes the character forward in the future – whether the Doctor remains the angry old man of the universe or becomes humanised by his adventures.

Samuel Anderson only appears in “Listen”, but he uses his screen time well to add to the mystery of Danny’s back story. Whilst Series 7B was devoted the mystery of the “Impossible Girl”, Series 8 has a more homebound mystery of Danny’s experiences in the Army and how they shape the person he is now. Anderson sells the mystery by making the character of Danny spiky when it comes to his military past and uncomfortable in relating to Clara.

Alongside this, he portrays Orson equally as well selling the fact that the character has been trapped at the end of the universe with only his personal bogeyman to accompany him, parallelling the Doctor’s own fears.

But it’s Jenna Coleman that really gets her story..e to shine in both episodes as Clara. In “Robot”, she manages to make Clara an effective comedic foil showing her exasperation to the Doctor and Robin’s squabbling, whilst using her initiative to extract details of the Sheriff’s plot and using her knowledge of the Doctor to get Robin to help him at the end of the story.

In “Listen”, Jenna builds upon Clara’s character by using her abilities as a schoolteacher to act as a caring figure for Rupert and the young Doctor whilst accepting no truck for the Doctor’s irrational behaviour to the point of calling him an idiot. Jenna also manages to show the potential damage that Clara’s controlling nature can do by not hearing out Danny’s experiences in the restaurant scenes.

However, I have to admit that, in some ways, the character of Clara is becoming at risk of the same complaint that has been levelled to the sonic screwdriver of being too closely bound to the resolution of the story. Granted, this may be plot driven throughout the series as hints regarding the challenges to Clara’s and the Doctor’s friendship build pace – especially when real life and “Doctor Life” collide in the forthcoming episode “The Caretaker”.

Whilst there are also links to the “Missy” and “Promised Land” arc (certainly in “Robot”), it’s good to see two adventures that compliment each other in giving us an examination of our hero.  That said, I’d be daft not to think that the writers and Peter Capaldi himself will have some surprises in store before the end of Series 8.

Doctor Who Series 8 Review – “Into The Dalek” (Writers: Phil Ford & Steven Moffat)

“Welcome to the most dangerous place in the universe”.  This week, the Doctor and Clara are called in to do a bit of psychoanalysis on a Dalek… but who is  the more dangerous, the patient or the Doctor that’s treating it?

Just when you think everything possible could be done with the Daleks, Phil Ford and Steven Moffat uses them to shed light on what makes the new Doctor tick through a story that tips it’s hat to the 1966 film “Fantastic Voyage” and, even, the 1977 classic era story “The Invisible Enemy”.

The story starts off with a bang… literally… as the Doctor rescues main supporting character Journey Blue from an attack by a Dalek attack ship, but if anyone’s expecting all out action this episode, they may be disappointed as, despite the explosions… and there are a lot of them, this is more of a character piece with the Doctor at centre stage and the viewer being challenged in their belief that the man we have been watching for the last fifty years truly is the Doctor.

Two plots form the basis of the story.  The main “A plot” sees the Doctor and Clara, much as against the Doctor’s initial instincts, be pressed into service to help an injured Dalek who has developed a positive conscience.  During the course of the story, we are taken on a journey inside the Dalek and see the Doctor come face-to-face with his own prejuidices and that he may not be the hero that he believes himself to be.  Alongside this, he is challenged by Clara into seeing that the viewpoint he has been carrying with him since he first encountered the Daleks – one that he is right and the Daleks, by the fact that they are genetically and mechanically hardwired to hate, are wrong – may be as bad as the Daleks themselves.

The “B plot” sees the introduction of a new potential TARDIS member and, more importantly, a potential love interest for Clara in Danny Pink.  Danny is introduced as a teacher at Clara’s school and leader of the school’s Cadet Corps.  He is also seen as a man who has a past and an uncomfortable one at that, as witnessed in the seen when he is asked by a student as to whether he has killed people, including , possibly, an innocent, in his past as a soldier – something that we have recently seen the Doctor himself consider in “The Day Of The Doctor”.  he is also seen as a normal guy who has his own doubts and insecurities when it comes to matters of the heart and is a bit of a klutz when it comes to romance.

 

As I said earlier, the script works on using the action-adventure trappings to tell a character driven story. You see great snappy dialogue and well written characters working alongside explosions that Michael Bay would be proud of, if he was working on a television budget. If I had to level a criticism at the story, it would be at the pacing which gets a solid first half only to have the second half rushed through – certainly from when the Dalek is cured from the radiation leak – which made the story a little difficult to follow, even on a second showing.

As with the previous story, this “Into The Dalek” is directed by Ben Wheatley and he brings the same cinematic sensibilities right from the off – I mean, when have you seen a scene in “Doctor Who” with a fighter being pursued by a Dalek command carrier with that pace?  There are the big bangs and explosions in this episode, but I’ve never seen Daleks destruction done with so much style and glitz.  But this is only part of what Wheatley brings to the table as he brings a naturalism to the way the quiet moments and dialogue scenes are directed – something which is difficult for a sci-fi adventure series when you have so much technobabble flying around such as “nanoreduction” and “trionic radiation”.  There have been some really great directors since the programme returned in 2005, far too many to mention to list off, but based on the track record of “Deep Breath” and “Into The Dalek”, Ben Wheatley should be given a return engagement on the series.

 

 

Peter Capaldi builds upon the series opener to make a more rounded Doctor.  When he’s alone with Clara, the Doctor trusts her enough to allow him to be introspective and have doubts as to his character with the theme of the episode being whether he truly is a good man – something that has been a fixture since the Series Six episode “A Good Man Goes To War”.

In public, the Doctor appears to have lost a lot of his social skills, apart from demanding that Journey uses manners rather than a gun as a means to returning her to her base ship, the Aristotle.  He is abrasive, rude and dismissive of people, whilst having an element of what can only be seen as narcissism when he believes,incorrectly, that he has been proven right and there is no such thing as a good Dalek.  In fact, he has become like an intergalactic version of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock.

But the most interesting aspect of his Doctor comes later in the episode when he forms a psychic link with Rusty The Dalek. The fact that a Dalek not only sees the beauty and wonder of what he has seen in his travels but the darkness of his soul and his hatred for the Daleks and what they represent shakes the Doctor to his core.

Don’t mistake this Doctor as being a dour type though. Peter Capaldi displays as whip-sharp comic timing as David Tennant or Matt Smith. The only difference is that he manages to make the sass of this Doctor more naturalistic and less like a defence mechanism. He doesn’t care what the universe thinks about him and that’s what makes this Doctor funny. (For example, calling Clara his “carer”).

The term “carer” and the way the Doctor defines the phrase perfectly encapsulates how Clara’s role fits into this story and gives Jenna Coleman with another meaty performance this week to build upon the redefined Clara from last week. The role of the companion, certainly in the modern era, has been to serve as the human balance for the Doctor and keep him in check. Clara certainly fulfills this role in this story as she becomes not only his conscience, but his teacher. The Doctor’s entrenched hatred for what the Daleks represent blinds him from the fact that a Dalek once made good can be so again.

Jenna also convinces in the scenes where Clara has to have the hard conversations that all friendships have. You know the ones… Where your bestie asks you to be honest and give you their opinion both barrels, no matter how uncomfortable the topic. Jenna manages to convince in being put in a corner and having to be brutally honest with the Doctor. She doesn’t know if he’s a good man, which certainly rings true following her admission to Vastra that she doesn’t know who her friend is any more.

The budding friendship/romance between Clara and Danny is entertaining and not overplayed. The choice of Clara being the assertive person in the relationship certainly rings true of her character, but you have to wonder whether her control freak nature will be able to stand up to living two distinct lives.

Samuel Anderson is given a nice low key entry into the role of Danny. There’s no big entrance – in fact, it’s a low key entry that matches up to the introduction of characters like Rory and Mickey, but it’s a great move for Danny to already have a mysterious back story from his time as a soldier. I’m already of the belief that the Doctor and Danny will lock horns in the future especially as Danny will serve to be an uncomfortable reminder of what the Doctor was during the Time War.

As with Jenna’s performance in the relationship, I like the tone that Samuel has set for Danny. He has the reputation from the headteacher as being a bit of a ladies man, but nothing could be further from the truth with the cross cutting scenes showing Danny rehearsing what he really wanted to say to Clara which eventually lead him to headbutting a desk.

Zawe Ashton gives a nicely pitched performance as Journey Blue. Yes, she’s a soldier and her focus is on the mission and, in the early scenes, on her brother, but the character also shows thethat if the situation was different she could have been a potential companion – especially as she makes the decision not to destroy Rusty upon her Uncle’s orders which is reminiscent of the scene in “The Doctor’s Daughter” where Jenny shoots a steam pipe to stop Cobb from following her rather than killing him. However, she isn’t given that option by the Doctor at the end of the episode solely on the basis of her being a soldier rather than who she is.

As with “Deep Breath”, there is a very brief cameo by Michelle Gomez in the role of Missy – this time greeting the minor supporting character of Gretchen into “Heaven”. This is becoming intriguing because Missy only seems to be claiming the lives of those who have been killed in the Doctor’s adventures.

“Into The Dalek” is a story that will no doubt polarise opinion. On the one hand, fans will enjoy the story for the fact that it seems to set the direction of this series in that the Doctor’s adventures aren’t always nice and jolly and that maybe the Doctor isn’t the safest person to be around. On the other, people could see it as a story where the Daleks are being used again with the purpose of establishing that it’s the same programme that’s been shown over just short of 51 years. I have to admit that I enjoyed it despite the pacing of the second half and I hope for a strong run as Series 8 move forwards.

Doctor Who Series 8 Review – “Deep Breath” (Writer: Steven Moffat)

To pinch a phrase from the 1996 “Doctor Who” television movie, “He’s back… And it’s about time.”

It’s been just over a year since Peter Capaldi was introduced to an expectant worldwide audience as the latest version of Gallifrey’s most well known wanderer.  Since then, he crashed the programme’s fiftieth birthday party and complained about the colour of his kidneys upon his regeneration on Christmas Day.

Rather than go through a blow by blow account of the episode, I would take a more general view of the episode itself whilst focussing on the two leads.

Regeneration episodes are usually a means to handing over the role to “the new broom” and, in certain cases, to act as a marker for a change in tone for the programme.  Whilst it was a case of business as usual in The Christmas Invasion following the handover between Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant, there was a shift in tone when Tennant handed over to Matt Smith – thanks not only to the change in leading man but in showrunner from Russell T. Davies to Steven Moffat.  Gone was the straightforward adventuring of the Tenth Doctor to be replaced with a “fairy tale” tone.

“Deep Breath” sees another tonal shift, not only due to the change in lead, but in story style. The story starts off very much in the style of Tom Baker’s opener “Robot” as we are greeted with a disorientated Doctor.  Vastra even echoes a line used by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart at the end of Jon Pertwee’s last story (which was reprised in “Robot”) when she says “Here we go again”.

The opening credits give a change of emphasis – looking at time as well as space as we move through clock cogs and planets accompanied by Murray Gold’s unnerving opening theme – which also signifies a tonal shift for the incidental music which changes from the fairytale feel of the Eleventh Doctor’s era into something more cinematic and unnerving for a Doctor who is unnerving and likes the “big stage”.

As the story moves onward with the Doctor becoming less and less disorientated, the story tone shifts again becoming darker and more reminiscent of the classic era story “The Talons Of Weng-Chiang”.  Whereas in “Weng-Chiang” a cellar underneath a Victorian theatre doubles as a laboratory and place for the villain of the story to “feed” on the life essences of young women, “Deep Breath” sees a dining establishment become the front for organ donation to the story’s antagonists.

It was a smart move by the production team to make this story feature length.  Not only does it give us time to not only get used to, as well as wrong footed, by the new Doctor, it allows the room for the story to progress at a more even pace, something that was a problem with “Series 7B” with some stories being wrapped up too quickly when they could have benefitted with a one hour episode.

The appointment of director Ben Wheatley did pique my interest.  After all, he was fresh from directing the dark comedy “Sightseers”.  However, it’s his skill as a feature film director and one who can do dark comedy that makes him the ideal choice for this story.  The pacing of the story was judged perfectly whilst the humour isn’t out of step with the story’s darker premise.

The choice of opponents in this episode was an interesting one.  On the surface, it could be seen as another example of Steven Moffat recycling old plots with the story being linked to the Series 2 story “The Girl In The Fireplace” through the Clockwork Droids and their use of human body parts to sustain their technology, but this isn’t really an appropriate comparison, or a valid argument, in this story.  This is very much a story about whether change makes you the same person.  The Doctor questions “Half Face Man” as to whether he is the same creation than he was when he started changing his organic components.  The Doctor not only questions himself about his own change, but is challenged by Clara as to whether he is the same man that she travelled with up to their fateful journey to Trenzalore.

As with the aforementioned “Robot” and “The Christmas Invasion”, the transition of Doctor and tone is aided with a return of familiar core characters, in this case Vastra, Jenny and Strax.  Whilst on the part of Strax, this provides a sense of comic relief, the roles of Vastra and Jenny are to challenge Clara into accepting the new Doctor especially as he trusts Clara enough to drop the boyish mask of his predecessor for a face more in step with his real Doctor

 

Moving on to the regulars and I have to say that this was the perfect opener for this new Team TARDIS.

 

One of the faults of the character of Clara was that she was basically a plot device for Series 7B in that she was The Impossible Girl which caught the Doctor’s curiosity rather than a character.  This was no fault of Jenna Coleman who has always given strong performances.  In “Deep Breath” Clara became a fully fledged character which matched the power of Jenna’s performance.

From the outset, Clara has her misgivings about this new Doctor, some of it with good reason as I will get into later, but this provides the character with more layers.  Whilst Vastra protects the Doctor by telling Clara that he removed the boyish “mask” of the Eleventh Doctor to reveal his “true” face because he trusted Clara, she counters that it is her passion for knowledge and seeing underneath the surface of a person is what drives her relationship with the Doctor.

But, the most telling aspect of this new version of Clara is during her confrontation with Half Face Man.  Her hallucination shows the background to her emotional intelligence and she uses it to, in effect, become the Doctor as she tells Half Face Man that you can’t run a negotiation by starting at the worst case scenario and working downwards to a lesser standpoint.  She also makes a point of saying that she is scared for her safety, but by doing this the character doesn’t weaken, if anything she becomes stronger because she is at her most human but she is still defiant.

Yes, there are jokes at the expense of Clara’s need to control the situation and the Doctor’s “diagnosis” of egomania, but I’m glad now that the metaphorical elephant has been led out of the room and whilst this relationship is an uneasy truce at present, I’m glad that the partnership is one that stems more from friends – such as the Doctor and Donna who are my favourite pairing since the series returned – than through any form of love interest.

These differences change the role of Clara, not only in relation to the Doctor but as an individual, and I’m looking forward to seeing the direction that Jenna takes this new version of the character.

 

As for Peter Capaldi, he has come over as probably THE most complete incarnation of the Doctor on debut, not surprisingly really given how accomplished an actor he is.  This is a Doctor not only of contradictions as he tries to find his new self, but of bringing together the whole character of the Doctor where you can see those twelve other incarnations ebbing and flowing around each other.

This is a Doctor who not only shows an apparent unreliability of the early Sixth Doctor but uses it as a ploy to be ahead of his opponents like the manipulative Seventh Doctor by using Clara to get information for him.  You have him speaking of the larger values of human lives and endeavour like the Fifth Doctor whilst planning that he has to coldly persuade Half Face Man that he should commit suicide (or killing him) for the good of planet Earth in a manner worthy of the Ninth Doctor.  All the while, he is the weary and lonely traveller that was the War Doctor whilst having the boyish Tenth and Eleventh incarnations fire up his enthusiasm in escaping through windows, riding horses or, for a brief glimpse, showing that the man that Clara travelled with to Trenzalore is trapped within a new body.

But referencing should not be mistaken for lack of character development and Capaldi manages to invest the role with a strong sense of how he wants the role to move.

This is a Doctor who is very much a hands off version of the character – cold, isolated and combative, but he’s also a man who is lonely and in need of the right type of company – as seen in the “I am lonely” scene where it’s ambiguous whether he’s translating the dinosaur or he’s deliriously speaking about himself or the “phone call” scene where he asks for Clara’s help whilst being unable to hug her or show her affection.

He has the fire and rage that we know the Doctor has always had, but it’s more on view in this incarnation rather than hidden under a facade of joviality and conviviality.  This is an angry Doctor who now feels that he can complain and rage against the universe just because he has become apparently Scottish.  (I had to laugh at the fact that his eyebrows want to be independent from the rest of his face which is surely a sly commentary (neither pro or anti) on the forthcoming Scottish Independence referendum).

This is also a Doctor who is aware of the damage he sweeps along with him.  He shows it in the big moments when the dinosaur is murdered by Half Face Man by feeling sorry for the fact that he brought her to Victorian London, but he also shows in the little ways – most notably when he tells Clara that he can’t be her boyfriend and that he feels the one to blame for the relationship becoming one of a romantic footing.

It’s going to be interesting how the Twelfth Doctor continues as to whether he wrong foots and challenges the people around him and the audience.

 

Returning to the phone call scene, what a great return by Matt Smith to round out the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure in the TARDIS.  I felt that the regeneration scene itself gave a sense of closure for the Doctor by returning back to the beginning through his hallucination of Amy, but I commented that the scene sidelined Clara.  So it was lovely to see his time properly finished by using the last moments of “Eleven’s” life to ask friend to help ‘”Twelve” be the Doctor – I mean, who better to guide a scared Doctor than the companion who probably knows him better than any companion he has travelled with.

 

Another surprise scene is the inclusion of Missy aka the Queen of the Nethersphere at the end of the story.  Michelle Gomez uses the last couple of minutes of the episode to set her stall out as the story arc for Series 8, portraying the character like a deranged Mary Poppins with a stalker complex.  She calls the Doctor her boyfriend and likes his new accent so much that she thinks that she’s going to keep it.  This last couple of minutes leaves us with a lot of questions – and disquieting ones at that.  Who is she in relation to the Doctor?  What is “Paradise”? And, most disturbingly, did the Doctor convince Half Face Man into destroying himself or did he murder him for the good of the many?

 

The title of the episode “Deep Breath” isn’t so much about the holding of physical breath, as in the cases of Clara, Vastra, Jenny and Strax, but a metaphorical one – a “leap of faith”, if you will – in so much that we now have a Doctor in our midst who whilst being on the side of the angels is no longer a safe companion to travel with.  There have been comparisons with other “era” openers in the modern era floating about and I feel that this is unfair, not only to “Deep Breath” but the other openers as they have told the story that needed to be told to launch a new incarnation of the Doctor.

I have a feeling that the remaining eleven episodes are going to be a bumpy ride for “Twelve” and Clara and I can’t wait for what happens next.