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26 Jan 2013, 1:36 am

REVIEW: The Wheel in Space by David Whitaker, from a story by Kit Pedler

SERIAL:
SS, 6X25 minute episodes (episodes 3 and 6 in existence, all other episodes audio only plus telesnaps)

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: Yes (Watched existing episodes, as well as a reconstruction)

Back when I was a major, rabid Doctor Who fan, I remember once long ago watching a reconstruction of this story. I was amazed and astounded by this story, and wished it hadn't been lost. Cybermen and Zoe coming in for the first time, awe-inspiring stuff. But now the rose-tinted glasses are off, and this story is coming under attack...

Landing on a spaceship known as the Silver Carrier, the Doctor and Jamie are stranded when the TARDIS' fluid links malfunction. A robot servicing the Silver Carrier attacks them too. And they soon find themselves drifting too close to Space Station W3, a wheel in space designed to repel meteorites that get too close to Earth. Although the Doctor and Jamie are rescued, Jamie, in a desperate bid to stop the Silver Carrier from being destroyed, along with the TARDIS, sabotages the Wheel's laser array. But he may not have bothered, as something else has attacked the supply of bernalium, the laser's power source. Controller Jarvis Bennett believes the Doctor and Jamie to be saboteurs, but the time travellers, along with Dr Gemma Corwyn and astrophysicist Zoe Heriot, soon learn the true cause: Cybermen...

Perhaps the weakest part of The Wheel in Space is its storyline. Atmospheric though it is, the Cybermen's plot is so ridiculously convoluted and complex, you'd think that they'd have a simpler plan to invade Earth. Even the still complex invasion plots of The Moonbase and The Invasion made sense. A puzzlement too is how the hell someone as clearly on edge as Jarvis Bennett got to be in charge of the Wheel. The story is, in summary, an atmospheric mess that could have been bearable if it was a little shorter, and much less convoluted.

Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines as the Doctor and Jamie respectively are decent enough, and the characters, while not exactly complex, are perhaps the highlight of the show. Wendy Padbury is not completely promising as the wunderkind Zoe, but there's enough to show some potential, and she certainly improves. Anne Ridler perhaps has the most interesting character as Gemma Corwyn, perhaps the sanest member of the Wheel's crew, while Michael Turner actually makes the best he can out of the edgy Jarvis Bennett. The other Wheel crew members are fine enough, with perhaps Clare Jenkins' Tanya Lernov and Kenneth Watson's Duggan being the more interesting.

Production values are rather variable. The music, such as it is, is made of radiophonic sounds, and is actually quite good at giving the atmosphere needed. And the Wheel itself has some good sets, particularly the Power Room, although the rest tends to suffer at times. Costuming is good for the Wheel crew, although nothing dates like the future, especially in a series like Doctor Who. However, the Cybermen, the key monsters in the story, don't quite work. The costume modifications did have the potential to look eerie, but in the end, seem to be change for change's sake. The grating voices the Cybermen proper use don't quite work, and go from bad to worse briefly at the end of episode 3, thanks to a behind-the-scenes malfunction. However, the Cyberplanner has interesting design and the standard Cybervoice, and the Cybermats have a more menacing edge, being able to corrode metal and attack people with energy beams.

While not the worst Cyberman story by a long shot, The Wheel in Space is a disappointing outing for these monsters, as well as a disappointing debut for Zoe. Even The Moonbase worked better than this. A real pity that the monster season ends like this...


SCORE: 7.5/10


The next story to be reviewed will be The Space Pirates...


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28 Jan 2013, 12:25 am

REVIEW: The Space Pirates by Robert Holmes

SERIAL:
YY, 6X25 minute episodes (episode 2 in existence, all other episodes audio only)

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: Yes (Watched existing episode, as well as a reconstruction)

The last of the missing Doctor Who stories was Robert Holmes' second outing for the series, and the second-last one for Patrick Troughton's Doctor, save for later multi-Doctor stories. Not particularly noteworthy, The Space Pirates has only one episode in existence (including, ironically, a copy that was the first ever recorded at home on video tape), and no telesnaps. Having once watched a reconstruction, I wondered how it would feel coming back to it...

In the Pliny system, space pirates are attacking space beacons, in order to steal the valuable metal argonite from them. A V-Ship led by Space Corps General Nikolai Hermack intends to stop them, but the pirates are one step ahead of them. Into this conflict are thrown the Doctor and his companions. Nearly killed by the Space Corps and the pirates, they are stranded in a segment of a space beacon, only to be rescued by the eccentric space miner Milo Clancey, himself the Space Corps' chief suspect for being the leader of the space pirates. But the space pirates, led by the vicious Caven, are determined to get away not only with piracy, but murder. What links the pirates to Ta, and the mines of Madeline Issigri? Is Clancey really in league with them? And can the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe get back to the TARDIS?

The Space Pirates is quite a decent story, all told. Nice romp of an adventure, it's only real faults being that it has the pace of a snail. It was probably meant to show a perhaps slightly more realistic sense of space travel than is the norm for Doctor Who, but unfortunately, it also drags things down. And while Hermack's suspicions of Clancey are rather understandable, he seems to jump to the conclusion that Clancey is a pirate rather too easily. While not quite at the later Robert Holmes level of quality, it's not too bad.

The regulars are good, as usual. Jack May as Hermack is perhaps a little too monolithic and hammy, while Donald Gee is rather staid as Warne. Perhaps better is the eccentric but enjoyable Milo Clancey as played by Gordon Gostelow, while Lisa Daniely is pretty good, if sometimes a little too hysterical as Madeline Issigri. Dudley Foster as Caven and Brian Peck at Dervish are decent enough villains.

Unfortunately, given that only the second episode exists, with no telesnaps, there isn't as much material to judge the visual material and the direction, but what exists is good enough. The model work is certainly the highlight of the story, impressive, especially for the time. The set design is pretty good, but not always up to scratch. The V-Ship's interior is perhaps least impressive, though the other seen sets in the existing material is still good. The music is quite good for the time, as is the direction.

The Space Pirates, while slow-paced, is still not a bad story overall. Just rather average by Who standards.


SCORE: 8.5/10


The next story to be reviewed will be Shada...


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28 Jan 2013, 5:50 am

REVIEW: Shada by Douglas Adams

SERIAL:
5M, 6X25 minute episodes (Only available as 1 hr 49 minute 1992 official reconstruction)

WATCHED IT BEFORE?: No


Although many Doctor Who stories never make it onto the screen, only one was never completed. Shada has become legendary, partly because a strike prevented it from being completed, being more or less half-finished, literally, and also because it was the third and final story in the series to be written by Douglas Adams. Adams himself was never quite happy with the script, but the cast and crew were excited. I had read the rehearsal scripts (not the final scripts), the novelisation done last year, and watched the animated remake done for the BBC website. And with the arrival on DVD of the 1992 official video reconstruction, remastered, the time has come for me to watch what exists of the original, and judge it on its own merits...

The Doctor and Romana are called to Cambridge, 1979, by Professor Chronotis, an elderly, senile Time Lord who has retired to Earth. He wants them to take a book back to Gallifrey, a very dangerous book indeed: The Ancient and Worshipful Law of Gallifrey. However, a student, Chris Parsons, has taken it by accident, and has discovered, along with colleague Claire Keightley, its dangerous power. But someone wants the book as well: Skagra, an evil alien scientist with a mind-stealing sphere, one that he has used to steal the minds of fellow scientists, and soon uses it on Chronotis to find out where the book is. Why is Skagra so obsessed with finding the book? What links does the book have to Shada, a name from long-forgotten Time Lord history? And what does it have to do with Salyavin, an infamous psychic criminal of Time Lord yore? Skagra's plans for conquering the universe may prove to be unstoppable, even for the Doctor and Romana...

Opinions are mixed on Shada. While many of the cast and crew were excited, Douglas Adams didn't like it, and some reviews are decidedly unflattering. As a story, Shada is excellent. There are, admittedly, plot holes. While these are only evident to those who have read the novelisation by Gareth Roberts, and there are a few weak points, these are by far quibbles. Reading the script book in conjunction with the DVD, the story is a fascinating one, one that should have seen the light of day. Certainly it would have been better than The Horns of Nimon or The Creature from the Pit.

Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana are sparkling as usual, although I have to confess that I am not fond of the late David Brierley as K9. Denis Carey is a delight as the eccentric Professor Chronotis, while what little exists of Christopher Neame's performance as Skagra shows him to be a restrained, sardonic villain, at least in the surviving scenes. Daniel Hill as Parsons and Victoria Burgoyne as Claire are fine, but not spectacular.

If there is any major fault in Shada, it's the production design, what there is of it. The Cambridge location filming is good, as are the scenes in the Professor's rooms. Unfortunately, the only space scenes filmed were those in the Think Tank, and the brig of Skagra's ship. The latter seems cheap, and the former, while cheap-looking in its first scene, gains some much needed darkness to add some atmosphere. Skagra's alien costume is the epitome of camp, although I could forgive it, given some of the weirder costumes earlier in the season (Movellans and Soldeed, anyone?). The Krarg seen in the scenes filmed actually look rather cheap in motion, a pity. And given the reconstruction, the added effects (save for the sphere) look a bit cheap, and the music by Keff McCulloch is nowhere near as good as anything Dudley Simpson would have done.

I've given a high score to Shada because despite everything, it had the potential to be one of the best, but probably not the best, story of the season. This was something that was very badly needed at this stage of Doctor Who, and it's a shame that it was screwed up...


SCORE: 9/10


BTW, I'm going to be reviewing new stories as they come out from now on. The next set of reviews will be of the DVD of The Reign of Terror, as well as two missing stories I missed this time around, Mission to the Unknown, and The Dalek Master Plan. From then on, any further releases will be reviewed as they come in, and any new TV stories will be reviewed on transmission.


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30 Mar 2013, 7:29 pm

Okay, well, my plan to review new classic series stories as they came out kinda got it in the teeth, but the latest in the new series is out, and I will be reviewing each episode as I watch it. However, due to circumstances, I won't be able to watch and review on schedule every week. The review for The Bells of Saint John will be up later tonight, after I watch it, and I will review the later episodes as they do come up. The other episodes (barring the as-yet unamed season final) are as follows:

The Rings of Akhaten

Cold War

Hide

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

The Crimson Horror

Nightmare in Silver


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31 Mar 2013, 5:53 am

REVIEW: The Bells of Saint John by Steven Moffat

SERIAL:
7.7, 1X45 minute episode

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No (Reviewed immediately after transmission)


Doctor Who has had more than a few singularly irrelevant titles. Galaxy 4 seems to have little relation to the story at large, as does Vengeance on Varos, which has precious little actual vengeance. The reason for the story being called The Bells of Saint John is a tiny, irrelevant part of a story meant to be bringing the series back for an eight episode run with new companion Clara Oswald by the Doctor's side. That does not bode well...

The Doctor is contemplating his fixation on the mysterious Clara Oswin Oswald, twice dead and twice alive, when by some freak event, the phone in the TARDIS rings, with Clara asking for tech support. However, as the Doctor rushes to find her, something else has fixated on Clara, something living in the wi-fi, something that has directed the mysterious organisation headed by Ms Kislet to capture Clara, as it has done to hundreds of other humans via wi-fi connections. Why does this organisation want human minds, captured via the Spoonheads? Can the Doctor save Clara from a fate worse than death, along with the other humans? Or will Kislet and her organisation prevail?

If there is one thing about The Bells of Saint John that is excellent, it is the concept. Moffat takes a delight in turning things that are ubiquitous (children, clocks, darkness, statues, snow) into terrifying concepts, and having minds stolen via wi-fi is a horrific concept. But the story itself feels unfinished, although I don't know how much of this is due to deficiencies of the script, and how much Moffat is holding back for later in the season. The latter may very well be the case, given the reveal of the villain, but the villain's plot is rather vague. And the Doctor's meeting Clara does come off as more than a little stalker-ish.

Matt Smith is still going strong as the Doctor, albeit one who is subtly older and darker in nature than before. Jenna-Louise Coleman is not bad as Clara, but it's hard to be enthusiastic for her. She's certainly a shade better than Karen Gillian's Amy, though. Celia Imrie as Kislet is a rather average villain, although her last scenes are perhaps her best. And then, there is the villain I mentioned returning, whose appearance does promise much for the future.

Production-wise, it feels slightly more like an action thriller than an episode of Doctor Who. This isn't really a bad thing, and the special effects are fairly good, giving the impression of people submerged in a soup of wi-fi. Not only that, but there's an impressive one-shot directed that goes from outside the TARDIS to inside, and then out again, all in one shot and take. But it feels more like style over substance at times.

The Bells of Saint John is not a bad start to the new series. It just could have been a little more. But it does raise questions that this series should answer towards the end...


SCORE: 8.5/10


The next episode will be The Rings of Akhaten.


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08 Apr 2013, 5:31 am

REVIEW: The Rings of Akhaten by Neil Cross

SERIAL:
7.8, 1X45 minute episode

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No (Reviewed the day after transmission)


It's a tradition, when a new companion enters the TARDIS in the new series for them to have two adventures: one to be taken to some alien time and/or place, and another to the past of Earth. The Rings of Akhaten is clearly the former, following the steps of stories like The End of the World, Gridlock, Planet of the Ood, and The Beast Below. But should such an important adventure be left in the hands of new writer Neil Cross?

The Doctor is struggling to find out what is so special about Clara, watching key moments from her life, and those of her parents. Eventually, he relents, and takes her on a trip to the Rings of Akhaten, a series of asteroids orbiting a sun with a ceremony about to take place. But as the time travellers wander through the marketplace, Clara finds herself having to reassure Merry Gejelh, the young Queen of Years, who is crumbling under the pressure of having to perform in a ceremony. Clara reassures her, but when the ceremony goes wrong, the Doctor and Clara have to make things right. Why did the ceremony go wrong? What is the true nature of the creature known as 'Grandfather'? And what cherished memories and items will it take to stop it?

Okay, as a story goes, The Rings of Akhaten is rather simple and straightforward. Which is by no means a bad thing, and the themes of memory and loss and sacrifice are excellent. Unfortunately, there are, as there were before, some unfortunate implications that make the Doctor's investigation of Clara seem more like stalking. The story is a little too simple as well, though the resolution is pretty decent enough, and the monsters, save for the real one, are a little underwhelming and unexplained. There are other things left unexplained that could have been.

Matt Smith is really growing into the role of the Doctor, with a speech towards the end of the episode being something I daresay his predecessor may not do. Jenna-Louise Coleman is fine enough as Clara, with a few moments bringing her above her own predecessor. The role of Merry is written fairly well, save for the bit where, in what seems to be childish pique, she restrains Clara psychically, despite everything Clara (and the Doctor) have done to help her. But she was acted well enough, which is good for a child actress, by Emilia Jones, helping boost the otherwise simple story.

It is clear that a significant amount of the budget was lavished on this story. More than any other episode with a panoply of aliens, we get a sense of variety in the Whoniverse. The design of 'Grandfather' leaves a little to be desired, in that, while intimidating, also looks (as one reviewer put it) like the bastard offspring of a mummy and Mr Hanky the Christmas Poo. The special effects also help fill in the gaps with the story rather impressively, though the direction was missing a small but certain je ne sais quois.

Overall, The Rings of Akhaten was enjoyable enough. A tad too simple, but entertaining.


SCORE: 8.5/10


The next episode will be Cold War. I won't be reviewing that one straight away, due to going to a convention on the Sunday...


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15 Apr 2013, 7:05 am

REVIEW: Cold War by Mark Gatiss

SERIAL:
7.9, 1X45 minute episode

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No (Reviewed the repeat)


I have to confess to being disappointed with many of Mark Gatiss' episodes for the new series of Doctor Who. While The Unquiet Dead was great, and Night Terrors good, both The Idiot's Lantern and Victory of the Daleks were disappointing in the extreme. So I have to confess to a certain amount of trepidation as well as excitement for Cold War. After all, an Ice Warrior on the loose within a nuclear submarine at the height of the Cold War seems like a winning combination, but would it work?

1983, and the Cold War is reaching a high in the tensions between East and West. In the Arctic Ocean, a nuclear submarine under the command of Commander Zhukov is undergoing launch drills, shortly after finding a mysterious object frozen in the ice. Professor Grisenko thinks it is a mammoth, but when a crewmember, against orders, defrosts it, the creature within rampages through the ship, causing it to sink. Into this mess land the Doctor and Clara, having intended to head for Las Vegas, and soon, the TARDIS dematerialises, stranding them in a submarine with suspicious Russians. More than that, the Doctor not only recognises the creature attacking them as an Ice Warrior, but the Ice Warrior is none other than Grand Marshall Skaldak, a famous war hero of the Martians. And Skaldak, attacked by the crew and believing his race to be long dead, thinks he has lost everything, bar revenge...

The Ice Warriors were introduced in the series at a time when the 'base under siege' stories were in vogue, and their debut story was an example of this. So it is fitting that this story is a tense and tight version of this very same story, and set in the very heart of the Cold War, with themes about war and warmongering. There's some good humour (including a scene where Grisenko tries to winkle out Clara's future knowledge in a funny and heartwarming way), but this is almost Alien on a submarine. It's also refreshing to have the Doctor state the truth about his origins for once, and there's more than one intriguing continuity nod, including one as far back as The Krotons. This is easily Gatiss' best script for the series.

The Doctor and Clara are both good, although I have to confess that, despite Jenna Louise-Coleman's good performance, Clara as a companion is a little bland, though preferable at times to Amy. Skaldak's characterisation is said to be inconsistent in other reviews, but I put that down to his despair and desperation, and Nicholas Briggs and Spencer Wilding manage to invest pathos into an otherwise potentially monstrous character. The other characters are, for the most part, rather undeveloped, but this is more than made up for by the performances of the actors. David Warner (appearing for the first time in the main series) as Grisenko is a charming character, especially for an actor who normally plays villains, while Liam Cunningham plays Captain Zhukov fairly closely to his Game of Thrones character of Davos Seaworth (by no means a bad thing).

The story's production angle is excellent. The sets feel authentic, even if they aren't strictly accurate as some have noted, and the Ice Warrior costume is a brilliant reimagining. The direction is atmospheric to the extreme, bringing the script to the next level. There are, however, two disappointments. The first is very minuscule: we only see the Ice Warrior's sonic gun effect briefly in the initial part of the episode, and what is seen briefly pales in comparison to the old effect using mirrorlon (a flexible reflective material) in the classic series. The second is showing the Ice Warrior's true face. The design is excellent, I have to say that. But the CGI is somewhat obvious. Which is unfortunate, because as I said before, the design of the Ice Warrior face is excellent.

Cold War is an excellent episode that just stops short of perfection. A bit of better characterisation and work on the effects would have just pushed it there. But as it stands, it's already excellent.


SCORE: 9.5/10


The next episode will be Hide...


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21 Apr 2013, 5:46 am

REVIEW: Hide by Neil Cross

SERIAL:
7.10, 1X45 minute episode

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No (Reviewed immediately after transmission)


Neil Cross' initial offering, at least in transmission order, was the average The Rings of Akhaten. It was all right, but not really meaty. So I had to confess, despite the intriguing setups, to being a bit trepidatious with the next offering, actually his first script, Hide. Haunted houses, ghosts, and psychics have been done before in the series. But can Cross do it right?

1974, and Caliburn Mansion is the centre of an investigation by Professor Alec Palmer and his empath assistant, Emma Grayling. Their investigations into a ghostly figure are interrupted by the Doctor and Clara, but soon, the four in the mansion realise that this is more complicated than a simple ghost hunt. This is a haunting that echoes through the same place, throughout the entire history of Earth, but in order to save the ghostly figure, the Doctor must undertake a dangerous journey, one that will tax not only him, but all of the others to their limits...

Although this story has plenty of antecedents earlier in the series (Ghost Light, Image of the Fendahl, and The Unquiet Dead all spring to mind), this story also brings to mind Nigel Kneale's play The Stone Tape. Indeed, Cross made no bones about using Kneale as inspiration, using both The Stone Tape and the Quatermass serials. But this is by no means a bad thing. The story is a good one, but unfortunately, the twists involved do rob the story of the horror element, and the twist at the end seems slightly tacked on. In addition, the TARDIS not seeming to like Clara, while in keeping with The Rings of Akhaten, seems almost too much like a plot device rather than heralding some secret about Clara. Or making the TARDIS more bitchy than she was in the TV series (though the novels and audios are another matter entirely...).

Matt Smith as the Doctor is excellent, showing some excellent fear late in the story, while Jenna Louise-Coleman seems to be getting better material of late as the otherwise somewhat bland Clara. Dougray Scott was fine enough as the damaged Professor Palmer, as was Jessica Raine as Emma (and who, incidentally, is playing Verity Lambert, the first producer of Doctor Who, in the docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time, to be transmitted later this year). But they weren't the most rounded of characters, especially Emma, and the other main character, the ghost, doesn't have that much personality in the end. A pity, that.

Production-wise, there's a lot of atmosphere that helps keep the horror elements going, even as they drain out of the story. The direction helps ramp up the tension, and for the most part, the special effects work well. While the Crooked Man creature works when it is only seen briefly, they go and spoil it all with one shot too many, of a sustained look at an admittedly hideous creature. A pity, really.

Hide, while far from perfect, was certainly an improvement on The Rings of Akhaten, and despite some faults, is nonetheless a worthy entry into the supernaturally-themed stories of the series. It's not quite at the level of Ghost Light or Blink, but not every story can make it that far.


SCORE: 9/10


The next episode will be Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS...


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30 Apr 2013, 12:12 am

REVIEW: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS by Stephen Thompson

SERIAL:
7.11, 1X45 minute episode

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No (Reviewed two days after transmission)


According to one source, Steven Moffat had this episode commissioned because one of the few times we saw substantially throughout the TARDIS was The Invasion of Time, much of it using an abandoned hospital, something which Moffat wished to rectify. Certainly, with the exception of The Doctor's Wife, almost no new series episode has ever explored the TARDIS beyond the console room and maybe another room. But would Stephen Thompson succeed?

Clara is concerned about that TARDIS seeming to hate her. The Doctor gives Clara a chance by bringing the TARDIS to basic mode. Problem is, the van Baalen brothers, unscrupulous salvagers, and their android Tricky, have found the TARDIS in space, and intend to scrap it. With the TARDIS damaged by the van Baalens' illicit equipment and Clara lost somewhere in the depths of the TARDIS, the Doctor cons the salvagers into helping him find Clara. But deep within the TARDIS, things are stirring, and the van Baalens are willing to cut the TARDIS apart for scrap, whether the Doctor wants them to or not, not caring that the TARDIS can fight back...

Okay, so this story is pretty much an extended romp through the TARDIS. In a way, it's like The Edge of Destruction with one more person and a trio of monsters. But there is little of the psychodrama that made The Edge of Destruction so good here. Instead, it exists to showcase parts of the TARDIS, and while it does it well, the actual story is rather thin on the ground. We also have once again an ending that is very nearly an arsepull. But there's nice continuity nods throughout, as well as some fascinating looks within the TARDIS.

The Doctor and Clara are fine enough, although I do feel that the attempts to put some conflict into their relationship was a bit like Rory and Amy's divorce in Asylum of the Daleks, albeit somewhat better handled. Certainly, Amy and the Doctor got to ask each other some telling questions, although it does feel a little affected. The van Baalen brothers are a different matter entirely, with both being terminally and idiotically greedy, although Ashley Walters' Gregor does show some decency. Jahvel Hall as Tricky is somewhat better, and one of the more interesting characters in the episode. And the TARDIS seems to be also all too willing to harm both the Doctor and Clara at times, although this gets an explanation later on.

The star of this show is the production values. We see the TARDIS library, presumably the bath/swimming pool, the engine room (with the Eye of Harmony getting a namecheck once more), and corridors galore. Sets are wonderful, and most of the special effects are good too. The time zombies are at their most effective when being blurred by digital effects, giving them an eeriness not unlike the Crooked Man from the previous episode, Hide. Unlike Hide, while the time zombies, when not masked by effects, still look like men (and a woman) in rubber suits, at least the costume looks far more realistic, and thus horrifying.

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS was not a tour-de-force, and certainly is one of the weaker stories this season. But it's certainly an intriguing look deep within perhaps the least explained stars of the show: the TARDIS.


SCORE: 8/10


The next episode will be The Crimson Horror...


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05 May 2013, 5:47 am

REVIEW: The Crimson Horror by Mark Gatiss

SERIAL:
7.12, 1X45 minute episode

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No (Reviewed immediately after transmission)


Doctor Who has seen its fair share of guest stars before, including from another Sydney Newman-created series, The Avengers. Honor Blackman played the vicious but ultimately good Professor Laskey in Terror of the Vervoids, and many notable regulars and writers for Doctor Who have appeared in The Avengers. So it was maybe only a matter of time before Diana Rigg played a role. But she wouldn't play a role alone: her daughter Rachel Stirling would play her fictional daughter in Mark Gatiss' The Crimson Horror...

Yorkshire, 1893, and Madam Vastra is investigating the mysterious Sweetville factory complex run by Mrs Gillyflower. Victims of a mysterious death known as 'the Crimson Horror' have been found nearby in a river, with waxy crimson skin and the images of the last thing they saw imprinted onto their eyes. One of the victims saw the Doctor shortly before his death, and Vastra, along with her wife/assistant Jenny, and their belligerent Sontaran butler Strax, must investigate. Gillyflower seems convinced that the apocalypse is nigh, and that her workers at the Sweetville mill, the brightest and most beautiful in the land, will be the only ones to survive. Meanwhile, her scarred and blind daughter, Ada, keeps a monster locked up in a secret room. What happened to the Doctor and Clara? Who is Gillyflower's mysterious silent partner Mr Sweet? And why does Madam Vastra find the Crimson Horror so disturbingly familiar?

Well, after the past few years since The Unquiet Dead, and Mark Gatiss having written average or below-so stories, it was a relief to watch Cold War and enjoy it so. And it's even more so to watch The Crimson Horror. Gatiss' love of Victoriana is given full reign for the first time since The Unquiet Dead, and it shows. He does pretty much rework the plot of Moonraker to a degree, which is by no means a bad thing, though it is hard to discern what Gillyflower's motivation is, beyond some sort of semi-religious self-righteousness. And it's enjoyable to have the Doctor in need of rescuing for once, with Vastra and company getting an emphasis.

Matt Smith gets some good acting here, despite the slightly lessened role of the Doctor, although Jenna-Louise Coleman's Clara doesn't get as much. But the stars of the show are really Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart, and Dan Starkey as Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, with Jenny getting perhaps more of a chance to shine, and show off more of her skills both as a spy and as a combatant, ala The Avengers, funnily enough. Diana Rigg clearly relishes the role of Gillyflower, despite the somewhat opaque motives, but of the guest stars outside of the main cast and recurring characters, it is her daughter, Rachel Stirling, as the sinister but ultimately good Ada who is outstanding.

The BBC show themselves once more to be superlative period drama producers, with the story feeling like Victoriana. Maybe it could have done with a tad more atmosphere, but certainly it's still quite a creepy story, with the crimson bodies looking suitably horrific, and the venom looking suitably grotesque and alien. There's even a flashback done like on an old film.

The Crimson Horror is Mark Gatiss' masterpiece for the series. It is virtually perfect, and manages to do so without the Doctor as much. Kudos to Mark Gatiss. Now, here's hoping Neil Gaiman can pull off the same thing for Nightmare in Silver...


SCORE: 10/10


The next episode will be Nightmare in Silver...


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12 May 2013, 5:52 am

REVIEW: Nightmare in Silver by Neil Gaiman

SERIAL:
7.13, 1X45 minute episode

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No (Reviewed immediately after transmission)


Of all the decisions Steven Moffat made when he took over the reins of being the showrunner, one of the best ones was to hire Neil Gaiman, noted fantasy author and fan of the show. The Doctor's Wife was easily one of the best of the sixth series, and certainly one of the best in the entire run of the series, period. So when he came to write for the second half of series seven, I was excited, but I also felt some trepidation, even though he was writing for one of my favourite monsters, the Cybermen. Could lightning strike twice? Or would Neil Gaiman's second effort for the series be a downgrade?

Blackmailed by Clara's charges, Angie and Artie Maitland, into taking them on a trip through time and space, the Doctor takes them to Hedgewick's World, once the finest theme park in the galaxy. However, it has long since been abandoned, with only a dysfunctional punishment battalion, and Webley, a showman who has a chess-playing Cyberman suit operated by the diminutive Porridge. The Cybermen have been gone for a long time, or so they think. But there is a new, deadly breed of Cyberman at the ready. Angie and Artie are soon imperiled, and when the Doctor follows, he is forced to become the beginning of a new Cyberplanner. Meanwhile, Clara and Porridge must contend with the Captain of the battalion, who is all to willing to blow the planet up, and anyone else on it, to destroy the Cybermen. Who exactly is Porridge? Can the Doctor stop the Cyberplanner from taking him over? And what defence can be mounted against a new model of Cybermen that can adapt to any strategy used against them with frightening speed? It's a brand new nightmare in silver, and not everyone will get out alive...

Compared to the raw magic of The Doctor's Wife, Nightmare in Silver doesn't quite have it as much. There is still magic in the story, with some very good set pieces, including a chess game between the Doctor and the Cyberplanner taking him over (aka 'Mr Clever'), and a very clever reinvention of the Cybermen, making them even scarier, not to mention more clever with their tactics. Indeed, this story is certainly better than the norm in the series. I just wish, given that it came from the pen of Neil Gaiman, that it was just that bit better.

Matt Smith is great not only as the Doctor, but as the Doctor being taken over by the Cyberplanner, while Jenna Louise-Coleman is doing really well as Clara. I have to confess, though, that I thought Eve de Leon Allen's Angie was too annoyingly bratty (to the point that I hoped that the Cybermen would kill her), and Kassius Corey Johnson as Artie is just not in it enough to judge properly. Most of the platoon are fine enough, save for the Captain, who I don't like. However, it is perhaps Warwick Davis' Porridge who steals the show alongside Matt Smith, giving some real depth and pathos to his character who could have otherwise been just another oddity.

Given the deficiencies of script and character, the production seems almost flawless at times. There is substantial atmosphere in the direction, and with the exception of the final explosion of the planet (which looked too flat than a 3D image), the special effects are all quite good. Special praise should go to the redesigner of the Cybermen, going for a middle ground between the armoured behemoths of the new series and the relatively slender ones of some of the classic series. They also look creepier, and the new voices are reminiscent of those used for The Wheel in Space, albeit creepier.

Nightmare in Silver wasn't the masterpiece I expected. But it's certainly a damned good story, enjoyable, and successful in making the Cybermen scary again...


SCORE: 9/10


The next episode will be The Name of the Doctor...


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19 May 2013, 5:41 am

REVIEW: The Name of the Doctor by Steven Moffat

SERIAL:
7.14, 1X45 minute episode

SEEN IT BEFORE?: No (Reviewed immediately after transmission)


A lot of hype was given about the season final. Moffat teased that the greatest secret of the Doctor would be revealed, and because of the title of the season final, people assumed that it would be the Doctor's name that would be revealed. With the leak of the Blu-Ray causing a scare, there was an understandable desire to keep a tight lid on things. But would the revelation of the Doctor's greatest secret be a firecracker? Or a damp squib?

Madame Vastra has received word about a man who claims to know a secret of the Doctor's, one he will take to his grave. From Victorian Britain to the devastated fields of Trenzalore, the Doctor, Clara, Vastra, Jenny, and the data ghost of River Song must travel to try and prevent the Doctor's most grave secret from being discovered. But the Great Intelligence is one step ahead, and he has a deadly plan to destroy the Doctor for once and for all. What plan to kill the Doctor involves opening the Doctor's own tomb? What is his most grave secret? And how does this tie in with the destiny of Clara Oswald?

Let's start with what's wrong with The Name of the Doctor. It is too simple and lacks a certain complexity that should have been there, and it is, as some fans put it, self-indulgent twaddle. And yet, not only is this a good culmination to the Great Intelligence's plans that have been brewing since The Snowmen, but it certainly resolves Clara's story in a similar manner to the Bad Wolf story arc, only far more satisfying. And there's a great twist at the end that does reveal a major secret of the Doctor's, albeit one that doesn't involve his name.

Matt Smith is on a roll as the Doctor, with one of his best speeches towards the end to River, along with a very emotional sequence when he explains to Clara why going to Trenzalore is a bad idea. Jenna-Louise Coleman is good as Clara, but never stellar. The actors of the Paternoster Gang get good roles as well, with Neve McIntosh in particular showing wonderful pain when Vastra loses something very dear to her, although Alex Kingston as River Song seems rather underwritten here, though the character does get some development (despite being a post-Forest of the Dead data ghost River). Richard E Grant is excellent as the Great Intelligence at its most evil, while John Hurt gets an unexpected and brilliant cameo as a man with a link to the Doctor's past.

The production of the story is quite good, but there are more than a few flaws. When Jenna-Louise Coleman and Richard E Grant are integrated into old footage from the series, the result is often far from seamless. They did better with the body doubles. And the Whisper Men are filled with potential, but are never quite explained or even used enough. All the same, it's still quite a good production in the end.

The Name of the Doctor could have been much better. But it's still quite a good season finale, and one that promises much for the series ahead...


SCORE: 9/10


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19 May 2013, 11:06 am

I'd just like to say that I really enjoy reading your reviews of each episode.

My only criticism is that you are quite generous with your marks- an episode you are quite critical of can get 8/10. I know that I pick up on minor flaws in artwork if I know that the creator is capable of producing even better, but there isn't really much differentiation. You're essentially using a 4 point scale, 8 being "poor", 8.5 "average", 9 "good" and 9.5 "great", with 10 and <8 being reserved for very rare stories.



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19 May 2013, 7:17 pm

The last episode was my favourite of the series. And there are theories aplenty as to John Hurt's Doctor.



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20 May 2013, 1:52 am

The_Walrus wrote:
I'd just like to say that I really enjoy reading your reviews of each episode.

My only criticism is that you are quite generous with your marks- an episode you are quite critical of can get 8/10. I know that I pick up on minor flaws in artwork if I know that the creator is capable of producing even better, but there isn't really much differentiation. You're essentially using a 4 point scale, 8 being "poor", 8.5 "average", 9 "good" and 9.5 "great", with 10 and <8 being reserved for very rare stories.


Yeah, sorry. It's a derivative of a similar system I used for a book-reading blog. I did give three stories 5/10: The Ark, Four to Doomsday, and The Twin Dilemma.


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20 May 2013, 5:49 pm

:makes a mental note to never watch serials deemed worse than Love And Monsters: