Doctor Who S10E11 “World Enough And Time” Review

doctor-who-world-enough-and-time-master-missy-1280-1498343223705_1280wHad we but world enough and time, this coyness, lady, were no crime. We would sit down, and think which way to walk, and pass our long love’s day. To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

The Cybermen have always been one of Doctor Who’s most horrifying foes. They have always represented a dark future for the human race, a small glimpse of what we might become. They are also my favourite monster. So for them to truly emerge as the most horrifying monster in perhaps the most terrifying episode of Series 10 was truly a triumph.

This episode really spun a whole new look at the Cybermen, focusing more on the psychological and body horror aspects of the fearsome creatures. Steven Moffat made an interesting addition to the canon by implying the Cybermen’s emotional inhibitors don’t turn off emotions, but instead stop the Cybermen caring about them. This led to some truly chilling moments with the partially converted Cybermen without inhibitors seen in the hospital all chanting variations of “Pain” and “Kill me”. It really reinforced how pitiful the Cybermen really are. It’s also one of the few stories to explain exactly why the people of Mondas would choose Cyber-Conversion willingly; when faced with sickness, famine and no sign of things getting better, an option of living without having to worry about those things ever again must be mighty appealing. Seeing Mondasian citizens willingly enter the hospital to be converted was truly a pitiful yet chilling sight. The prototype Cybermen seen throughout the episode were also truly terrifying. Being neither human or Cyberman, but somewhere inbetween, the Prototypes were creepy and effective. They were perhaps one of the best additions to the Cybermen canon seen in ages, showing just how desperate the Mondasians had begun.

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The Conversion Hospital itself was a house of nightmares, with distant sounds of saws and lasers sparking horrifying thoughts of what is happening to the Mondasian volunteers, even worse when we realise we can’t hear the screams because the hospital staff mutes them! Steven Moffat and Rachel Talalay are to be commended for bringing such a horrifying vision to the screen. The Conversion Hospital is perhaps one of the scariest locations seen in Doctor Who for quite a while and will certainly linger in the nightmares for many years to come truly cementing the Cybermen as one of Doctor Who’s most terrifying creations and Steven Moffat as a master (no pun intended) of terror.

These horrors however was nothing compared to what poor Bill had to go through. Has there ever been a companion who has had to endure something so horrific? Not only is Bill shot through the chest, leaving a gaping hole there, but she is then converted into a Cyberman – the first Cyberman. Like Bill or not, you can’t deny that this is a fate she does not deserve. Companions have come and gone, some have suffered horrific fates, but none has ever had to suffer what Bill has. To be converted into a Cyberman is something that no one should have to suffer, never mind a beloved character. With the Doctor, Nardole and Missy taking a backseat this episode, this was Pearl Mackie’s time to shine. And boy she did. If Bill’s fate is permanent and isn’t going to be reversed, then this might perhaps it’s fitting that Mackie’s final performance as Bill should be her best. Mackie truly managed to endear Bill to audiences throughout the series and if this is to be her last appearance, it’s a shame to see her go. But she will have left us with the most horrific Companion departure and one that will be remembered as an iconic moment in the show’s history. “I am Bill Potts. I waited. I waited. I waited for you…” will certainly become an iconic line.

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This episode saw the return of the original iconic Mondasian Cybermen. The design, having not been seen in the show since 1966’s The Tenth Planet, is still as effective as it was back then. Distinctly alien, but yet also recognisably human, the Mondasian Cybermen are THE definitive Cybermen and seeing them make their long awaited return in their original design has been worth the wait. If the Mondasian Cybermen are to become the main Cybermen designs going forward, I certainly won’t be complaining. And Nicholas Briggs managed to capture their chilling voice perfectly.

World Enough And Time also saw another long awaited return; the return of John Simm as the Master. True to form, the Master hid in plain sight throughout most of the episode. A true “Master of disguise”, I doubt many managed to pick up that new character Mr. Razor was the Master in disguise well ahead of the reveal. It’s almost a shame BBC revealed Simm was returning ahead of time; imagine the surprise had we not known Simm was returning. The disguise added a whole new level of wickedness to the character, spending years befriending Bill and giving her hope only to rip it all away by happily handing her over to be converted into a Cyberman. Simm slipped back into the role of the Master with glee, delivering a more restrained performance than seen in his previous time in the role but still delivering some of the Master’s trademark humour (see the Master’s face when he realises the innuendo of “very fast bottom”). While we hardly got to see Simm interact with Michelle Gomez and Peter Capaldi this week, hopefully next week’s episode will deliver more on that front.

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Another shining star this week was Doctor Who’s long term composer Murray Gold (who has been composing music for the show since 2005). The score for World Enough And Time was excellent, perhaps the best score of the series so far. The orchestral piece playing towards the end of the episode, as the cliffhanger comes into play, was beautiful. I hope BBC release a soundtrack album for this series soon.

World Enough And Time, being Steven Moffat’s last two parter, had an absolutely cracking script. Beginning with a tease of the Doctor’s regeneration, the episode delivered shock after shock, each one more shocking than the last; The Doctor is regenerating? Bill is dead?! BILL IS A CYBERMAN?! Dialogue was snappy, there were scares, there were laughs and there were tears. The script was one of Moffat’s best, being quintessential Moffat in every respect delivering everything Moffat excels in. If there’s one thing this episode did, it reminded me exactly how much I’m going to miss Moffat when he departs the show alongside Peter Capaldi this Christmas. Moffat has done a lot for the show and has undeniably made an impact. And who can deliver cliffhangers like Moffat can?

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World Enough And Time was the perfect first part to a two parter. It set up the story, it delivered surprises and left us wondering how the Doctor can possibly get out of this fix. And there’s no easy answer to that. The episode also showcased a wonderful performance from Pearl Mackie along with perhaps one of the most shocking moments in Doctor Who history. And this isn’t even counting the most effective use of one of Doctor Who’s most iconic monsters. World Enough And Time may be no Heaven Sent, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a truly chilling episode that deserves every ounce of praise it gets. Here’s hoping The Doctor Falls can live up to or even exceed it.

10/10

Trivia and Speculation

This is the first ever Multi-Master story in the history of the show; with two incarnations of the Master appearing together – Missy and “Harold Saxon”.

The Master refers to having to disguise himself because he looks like the “old Prime Minister”. The Master, in his Harold Saxon guise, became Prime Minister of Great Britain in 2007’s The Sound of Drums. This the second time the Master has had to disguise himself due to this; the Master previously dyed his hair blonde in The End of Time in an attempt to hide but this disguise was incredibly ineffective.

This is the third televised story to see the Master in an alliance with the Cybermen; following 1983’s The Five Doctors and 2014’s Dark Water/Death in Heaven.

The Mondasian Cybermen mark the return of their original design. However, the Mondasian Cybermen have in fact been present since 2010’s The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang as, according to Steven Moffat, the Mondasian Cybermen assimilated the Cybus Cyber-Men from the Parallel Universe. The Mondas Cybermen have been the Cybermen to appear since then.

The Master namedrops the name “Genesis of the Cybermen”. Genesis of the Cybermen was the name of an unproduced story featuring the Fifth Doctor which was later reworked by Big Finish into the acclaimed Audio Serial Spare Parts. Genesis of the Cybermen was also a working title for this episode if rumours are to be believed. It is also a shout-out to the fan-favourite story Genesis of the Daleks, another story which saw the Doctor travel back in time to the origins of one his greatest foes. That story also saw the first appearance of Davros who last appeared in 2015’s The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, which conveniently is the last time we saw Missy before she started her path to turn “good”.

This is the third finale in a row and the fourth story overall in the Peter Capaldi era to focus on the death of one of the Doctor’s friends. Danny Pink and Osgood died in the Series 8 finale Dark Water/Death in Heaven, Clara Oswald died in the Series 9 finale Face The Raven/Heaven Sent/Hell Bent and the Doctor and River Song had their final night together before she went to her death in the 2016 Christmas Special The Husbands of River Song.

With her earlier incarnation converting Bill into a Cyberman, Missy is now responsible, either directly or indirectly, for the deaths of four of the Doctor’s friends; she arranged the events leading to Danny Pink’s death and converted him into a Cyberman, She killed Osgood (one of them anyway) and brought the Doctor and Clara together to fulfill the Hybrid prophecy which lead to the Time Lords trying to stop it and starting the chain of events that led to Clara’s death.

The Doctor regenerates in the middle of the snow. The First Doctor would regenerate in the Artic during The Tenth Planet, an episode which also saw the first appearance of the Cybermen.

Is the Doctor’s regeneration a flash forward to this year’s Christmas special? Or to next week’s episode?

Could the Doctor save Bill by somehow making the ship fly closer to the Black Hole, which might make time reverse?

Will Missy abandon the Doctor and join forces with her earlier incarnation, or will she stick to the development she has shown and help the Doctor bring him down?

 

Doctor Who S10E10 “The Eaters of Light” Review

eaters_of_light_30Series 10 is almost at its end and we’ve come to the close of the last “normal” episode we’re going to see until the second episode of Series 11, and that could be over a year away. For the next four episodes of the show (the two part series finale, the Christmas Special and the first episode of Series 11) will all be “event” episodes dealing with the resolution of series arcs, a regeneration and the debut of the next Doctor. The episode is also Peter Capaldi’s final “normal” episode of Doctor Who. So how does The Eaters of Light fare, being our final taste of “normal” Doctor Who for quite a while?

Well I am very happy to say The Eaters of Light might just be the best non-Moffat penned episode of Series 10, with it being a close competition between it and Thin Ice. The Eaters of Light works incredibly well as the last episode before the finale, because it ties perfectly into the themes established in the series so far. A monster locked deep in a cage that requires a great warrior to guard it for thousands of years? Is it just me or does that sound like the perfect mirroring to the situation involving the Doctor and Missy?

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The most striking thing about The Eaters of Light was just how weird it was. Talking crows and a monster that eats light are the sort of things that can only work in Doctor Who and the episode dealt with them brilliantly. The Eater itself was a wonderfully designed creature that, despite being a completely CGI beastie, felt distinctly old fashioned and memorable. While we didn’t see too much of it, the episode seemed to know when to give us more and when to hold itself back. The Eater was used just enough for it to leave an impact, but not enough for it to take over the episode. Less is more.

In fact, if it wasn’t for the occasional flourishes of CGI this episode could easily have been the cheapest of the series. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if it actually was. My biggest surprise was just how restrained The Eaters of Light was, but tastefully so and how much it delighted in taking a slower pace in order to accurately develop it’s supporting cast. For this was perhaps the first non-Moffat/Dollard penned episode of the series to actually take the time to flesh out the guest characters. Instead of being vague character archetypes or being poorly/hastily developed, the characters here felt fully fleshed out. And this really benefitted the episode. It made it easier for us to care about these characters once we got to know them a little bit.

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Kar and Lucius, the respective leaders of the Picts and the Ninth Legion survivors, were particular standouts. Kar could easily have been just another “feisty” Scottish redhead, but managed to show some great character as a young girl in way over her head but trying to act like she’s in control. Kar may not have had a lot of screen time in the episode, but thanks to the strong writing and Rebecca Benson’s strong performance, she emerged as one of the highlights of the episode. It’s a shame Benson may not appear again (maybe she can pull a Freema Agyemen/Karen Gillian and go on to become a companion in the future, playing a different character) as she showed a lot of promise. Lucius meanwhile, also played brilliantly by Brian Vernel, was another highlight of the episode. Delivering a surprisingly complex performance, Lucius managed to bring a very human element to the Roman legion; a soldier who’s growing disenfranchised with all the death and destruction and is trying to keep a brave face, while wondering what exactly he’s fighting for. The scene where the two finally met and, thanks to the TARDIS’s telepathic circuit, were able to understand and talk to each other was an excellent moment in the episode; calling to mind how many conflicts in our history could have been solved if both parties talked to each other – harkening back to the Doctor’s speech in The Zygon Inversion.

The Eaters of Light could very easily have been an episode from the Classic Series of Doctor Who. Which is no doubt due to Rona Munro being the writer. Munro had previously penned the Sylvester McCoy serial Survival, which was also the final serial broadcast before the show’s cancellation, making her the only writer to have written for both the Classic and Revival eras of the show. The Eaters of Light then, felt like a magical blend of the two eras; the storytelling of Classic Who with the modern sensibilities and budget of Revival Who. Munro didn’t make the monsters the main attraction here, instead focusing on the story and the characters. The small moment in the middle of the episode where all the Romans revealed they were actually bisexual and considered people who only liked one gender (no matter which) to be odd but still accepted was a surprisingly sweet moment and called to mind how more open and accepting past societies were to the various forms human sexuality can take than our modern one.

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Perhaps it’s because The Lie of the Land and Empress of Mars were underwhelming, but it’s hard to describe exactly how entertaining and refreshing The Eaters of Light really was. Perhaps the episode’s only major failing was how quickly the Eater was defeated. But this can be forgiven for how well the episode succeeded in other areas, especially as the following scene seeing Kar and the Ninth Legion sacrifice themselves to fight off the Eaters forever more than made up for it.

Atmosphere is a very important part of stories and The Eaters of Light excelled in atmosphere. From the talking crows, to creepy Scottish forests to dark and dingy caves, the entire episode just looked fantastic and this was in part down to some amazing direction by Charles Palmer. Having earlier directed Oxygen, an episode that also looked fantastic, it comes as no surprise that The Eaters of Light looked fantastic as well. If Palmer doesn’t get invited back for Series 11, then it’s a crime.

Matt Lucas really shone as Nardole this week. Nardole has been the highlight of the series overall so far so seeing the Doctor and Nardole really have a chance to play off each other without Bill around was really welcome. It’s just a shame that it took right until the end of the series for it to happen. I live and hope for a whole series of Big Finish audio stories of just the Doctor and Nardole bouncing off each other. Capaldi and Matt Lucas have incredible chemistry and it’s slightly saddening we only got one series of it.

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A major reason why The Eaters of Light worked so well was perhaps because of how traditional it felt. While this may be down to Munro having written for the Classic Series, it elevated the material incredibly well. It was one of those rare episodes where Doctor Who is quintessential Doctor Who. An episode that perfectly sticks to the established clichés of what we expect from a “filler” episode, but never lets them hold it back. Rona Munro has crafted one of the strongest episodes of the season. As the last “filler” episode for quite a while, Munro’s latest episode is a resounding triumph. Here’s hoping it isn’t her last.

8.5/10

Trivia and Speculation:

With Missy’s appearance in this episode, both stories Rona Munro has penned for the show have featured the Master; with Anthony Ainley’s incarnation of the Time Lord appearing as the main antagonist of her earlier story Survival.

It perhaps fitting that an episode set in Scotland would be Scottish actor Peter Capaldi’s final “average” episode of the show. Previous episodes set in Scotland include 2006’s Tooth and Claw (which according to rumours was only set in the country to allow David Tennant to use his native Scottish accent), 2015’s Under the Lake/Before the Flood, 1967’s The Highlanders and 1975’s Terror of the Zygons. Peter Capaldi is the third Scottish actor to portray the Doctor; Sylvester McCoy and David Tennant both hail from Scotland. The Doctor has had various companions from Scotland including the Second Doctor’s companion Jamie McCrimmon and the Eleventh Doctor’s companion Amy Pond, played by Scottish actress Karen Gillian. Neve McIntosh, the actress behind Silurian detective Madame Vastra, also comes from Scotland.

The episode marks another appearance by Romans. Romans have been seen in many episodes across the show’s history; more recently in 2008’s The Fires of Pompeii and 2010’s The Pandorica Opens. In a pure coincidence, The Eaters of Light aired on the birthday of actor Arthur Darvill, who played companion Rory Williams from 2010 to 2012. Rory was memorably erased from time in his debut series and would later reappear as a Roman Centurion in The Pandorica Opens. Rory would don his Roman armour in two later episodes; A Christmas Carol and A Good Man Goes to War and it is considered his iconic outfit.  It is a fun coincidence then that the episode featuring an appearance by Romans would air on Darvill’s birthday. An even more interesting coincidence that the episode would see a Roman soldier form a close bond with a Scottish redhead, since Darvill’s on-screen wife in Doctor Who was none other than Scottish redhead Amy Pond. It gets even more interesting still as Rory and Lucius have both spent thousands of years guarding a prison of sorts; Rory guarding the Pandorica and Lucius guarding the gateway to the Eater’s dimension.

Rona Munro’s first Doctor Who episode, Survival, originally aired in 1989. Rona Munro’s return to Doctor Who in 2017 is the longest gap between episodes of the show penned by the same writer with a remarkable 28 years!

The ending scene of this episode implies Missy’s Heel-Face turn is genuine, but the Doctor isn’t too sure. Could we be in for the Doctor not trusting Missy and this sending her back down the path of darkness?

“The Mummy” Review

the-mummy-2017-after-credits-hqDirected by: Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson
Plot: Thought safely entombed in a crypt deep beneath the unforgiving desert, an ancient princess, whose destiny was unjustly taken from her, is awakened in our current day bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension.

It seems everyone and their mother wants a cinematic universe these days. With Marvel’s cinematic universe breaking box office records with every entry, all the studio wants a piece of that box office pie. And that means making a cinematic universe out of anything and everything. Disney has Star Wars alongside Marvel, Warner Bros have their DC Universe, The Conjuring universe and their upcoming Hanna-Barbera Universe, Paramount is desperately trying to make a Transformers universe a thing while Sony tries to make a Spider-Man universe… without Spider-Man.

Universal meanwhile are planning their own universe. Titled Dark Universe, this universe will bring together all of the classic Universal Monsters from Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Mummy, The Creature From The Black Lagoon and even The Phantom of the Opera. The Dark Universe kicks off with The Mummy, hoping to get us all excited for this ultimate monster mash. So how does it fare?

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Well, as the launching pad to a new cinematic universe, The Mummy certainly hits all the right beats. It introduces the universe, introduces several key characters and sets up the franchise going forward. However, it never exactly quite comes together.

It’s hard to pin exactly what went wrong. Was it the script? Was it director Alex Kurtzman? There’s just something about The Mummy that stops it from stepping out of the “passable entertainment” barrier. It’s a shame, as there’s plenty of good ideas on show but none of it ever really connects in the way the filmmakers seem to want it to. In fact most of the film’s second act, which is where most of the world building for the Dark Universe takes place, feels oddly out of place and seems to be at odds with the first and third acts. Having the film completely stop so Russell Crowe’s Dr Jekyll can give us a guided tour of what we can expect in future movies just doesn’t seem to fit naturally into the film. It’s a longer equivalent of Batman sending Wonder Woman an email filled with teaser trailers for future movies in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It just doesn’t fit naturally into the current narrative. An Easter egg during this segment, implying this film is also set in the same continuity as the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, only complicates matters further.

Tonally the movie is all over the place, suffering from apparently not knowing what sort of movie it wants to be.  Is it a horror movie, an action movie, a tongue in cheek adventure movie or a direct lead in to a Monster mash up film? The movie can’t seem to decide and jumps between each one on a scene by scene basis. It does each genre well while it’s doing them, but the jumping between them leads to it being very hard for any form of engagement to occur during them. Scary moments are suddenly undercut by a comedic moment, action moments are suddenly waylaid so exposition for future movies can be spouted and so on and so forth. It leads to a very tonally disconnected experience. The movie would have been better served by sticking to just one or two of these elements and doing those well rather than all of them. A slightly tongue in cheek horror-action movie, with slightly more focus on the horror, like the first Brendan Fraser Mummy movie was the perfect tone for this reboot yet the movie seems to show an aversion to having a consistent tone.

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This tonal inconsistency also leads to the film’s lack of scares. While a definite attempt has been made to try and add some scares to the movie, at least those of the jump scare variety, none of it really makes an impact due to comedic moments always undercutting or interrupting scary scenes. Perhaps this was an attempt to lighten the tone by the studio in order to get a 12a rating, an attempt that failed since the film has got a 15, but it raises the question as to why a movie universe theming itself around monsters would be afraid of being scary. Warner Bros’s The Conjuring universe is doing just fine at the box office and those movies are all out horror films so it’s not a matter of Box office.

But there are some good ideas here. The mythology created for the film is particularly well done. The backstory for the Mummy herself Ahmanet is actually pretty great and makes me wonder how good a movie would have been that was more focused on her.

For indeed the star here is Tom Cruise. For better or for worse, this is his movie. And that’s ultimately all there is to say here. Cruise is a divisive actor and if Cruise has yet to win you over, then he certainly won’t here. While Cruise does a decent job in the role, you can’t shake the feeling that he’s oddly out of place and very miscast. The role itself feels much more suited to a younger actor (with Chris Pine feeling like a better fit for the character). The Mummy may have been better served by having Tom Cruise take another role in the Dark Universe, one more suited to his talents. Seeing Cruise as Dracula (to harken back to his An Interview with a Vampire days) or as Johnathan Harker or Quincey Morris in the upcoming Dracula movie may have been a better place for his talents. Which isn’t to say Cruise is bad in The Mummy, but he feels incredibly miscast.

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As for the rest of the cast everyone does a fine job with one notable exception. Annabelle Wallis lets the film down by delivering a very flat performance. While this could be an issue with the writing (about 40% or more of the character’s lines are just her shouting the male lead’s name), it’s a crying shame to see that while female characters are getting more and more well written in movies like Wonder Woman, we’re still seeing the decades old “blonde damsel in distress” continue to make appearances.

Sofia Boutella however does an excellent job as the titular Mummy herself. While she doesn’t get a lot of screen time to truly make an impact, she does leave a good impression making me hopeful she’ll return in future instalments to flesh out the character more. Russell Crowe also makes a good impression as Dr Jekyll and his sinister counterpart Mr Hyde, serving very well as the “Nick Fury” of the Dark Universe.

In terms of visuals the movie is… fine I guess. There’s a few nice shots here and there, some cool visual touches but nothing that particularly wows. It all feels very machine like in a way, there’s no real invention here and instead it all feels a little too like Kurtzman is trying to emulate other directors rather than find his own style.

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But there is good points to The Mummy. It’s enjoyable mostly, there’s a few good jokes and a few good scares here and there with enough entertaining aspects for it not to feel like a waste of money. There was never a moment where I felt bored or unentertained so the movie has to be given some credit for that. And the movie certainly succeeded in its job in making me excited for the rest of the universe. But there’s the problem. The Mummy made me want to see other movies more than the movie I was watching, which doesn’t bode well.

The Mummy is just another entry in the finely tuned Hollywood reboot machine. Recognisable actor + Beloved franchise + lots of sequel and spin-off set ups. This leaves the film being an enjoyable way to pass two hours, but ultimately unremarkable on its own. More obsessed with setting up the Dark Universe than standing on its own two feet, The Mummy is fine on the surface but underneath the bandages it’s the hollow and tonally confused corpse of a franchise that once was. But despite that, there’s still fun to be had here.

5.5/10

Doctor Who S10E09 “Empress of Mars” Review

Mark Gatiss’s love for the Ice Warriors is no secret. Not only did he pen their return to the series back in 2013’s Cold War, but he has frequently praised them in interviews across the years. If one was to hazard a guess as to what Gatiss’s favourite Doctor Who monster was, the Ice Warriors would be a safe bet. So it comes as no surprise that for the episode Gatiss is treating as his final ever episode on the show (on the off chance he doesn’t get invited back by Chris Chibnall) features them in a large capacity and, amusingly, features a cameo very few “modern” Doctor Who fans are likely to get. How many people know who the Alpha Centauri is and have seen the episodes it appeared in? Gatiss also was intent to deliver something Doctor Who fans have never seen before; the Ice Warriors on Mars. Yes, despite them being native to the red planet, the Martian warriors have never actually appeared in an episode set there. So how does Empress of Mars fare, being both Gatiss’s potential final episode and as a grand return for the Ice Warriors?

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Well, ultimately Empress of Mars is fine. Functionally fine. It’s never particularly bad at any point, but yet never quite breaks the mould to stand on its own two feet. While the episode is enjoyable, it’s ultimately largely forgettable as well. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the closing scene with Missy, hardly anything of any consequence would have happened in the episode. While this isn’t a bad thing, it’s certainly good for the show to have a “breather” episode after the Monk Trilogy and before next week’s The Eaters of Light presumably leads directly into the two part finale. In fact, the episode does feel like it was intended to come earlier in the series but was instead rewritten to come later, in order to add a breather episode at a guess; the episode does find a way to remove Nardole from the plot very quickly, almost as if he originally wasn’t supposed to be in it at all. The episode never does quite explain why the TARDIS upped and left. Perhaps it has an allergy to Ice Warriors since it did the same thing in Cold War?

The episode starts off well enough, the opening 10 minutes or so are legitimately quite interesting, as the Doctor attempts to warn the Victorian soldiers that their Ice Warrior ally “Friday” might not have their best interests at heart. While the rest of the episode is incredibly easy to predict from this introduction (of course the sulking second in command will betray the group at some point), Gatiss does get a chance to shine with some fun dialogue and banter. Bill pointing out the similarities to many Sci-Fi movies, and being horrified at the Doctor’s lack of pop culture awareness, was quite funny. Especially since it carried on a trait established back in 2014’s Last Christmas; “There’s a horror movie called Alien?! That’s incredibly offensive! No wonder you keep getting invaded!”

But perhaps the main failing of Empress of Mars was the pacing. It takes way too long for the episode’s plot, and for the titular Empress, to appear by which point everything is incredibly rushed as there’s too little time for anything to properly develop. This leaves the episode being rather oddly balanced. That said, there was some joy in seeing the Ice Warriors stomping around blasting people to bits.

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The most disappointing thing was seeing the episode squander a rather interesting concept; Victorians on Mars fighting the Ice Warriors. What could easily have been a fun romp suffers from doing a little too much for its slim runtime. I get the feeling Gatiss was intent on exploring so many different ideas and storylines, all of them great, when the simple story of a group of Victorian soldiers fighting Ice Warriors on Mars would have more than sufficed. Which isn’t to criticise Gatiss at all. It’s great to have ambition for a story. But perhaps the episode could have benefitted from dialling itself back to focusing on the conflict and having the conflicting species and ideologies form the core of the episode, with just an inkling of Gatiss’s trademark humour and irony to make the whole thing sparkle.

As for the titular Empress, she fails to make much of an impression. Feeling like a re-tread of the Empress of the Racnoss, namely an actress in lots of prosthetics shouting all her lines and struggling to create a character audiences can connect with. Perhaps this was due to the Empress not making her debut until nearly 30 minutes into the episode, but it’s a shame to see the episode’s titular character be underserved. However, the concept of Ice Warrior hierarchy deserves exploring in the future so hopefully the Empress makes a return.

Another problem was that the episode seemed to recover a lot of the ground established in Cold War, feeling very much like a repeat of that episode. Ice Warriors encounter human soldiers from the past, a betrayal from a scheming second in command, the Doctor trying to deflate the conflict, the Ice Warriors attacking the humans over a perceived slight etc. While the storylines weren’t exactly the same, Empress of Mars returned to a lot of the same ground, which left it feeling very familiar and predictable.

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Now, this review may make it sound like I really disliked Empress of Mars, but that’s not the case. I did enjoy it, but I found the episode pretty unremarkable and largely forgettable. Most of the supporting cast does a good job while Capaldi is once again on fine form. The Ice Warriors felt like they’d marched right out of a Troughton serial which was great. But that said, the episode does struggle to maintain interest throughout. Even on rewatch, it’s easy to find your interest dipping. Coupled with it being incredibly familiar as well as being rather unremarkable in its own right, it’s easy to see this episode becoming the “episode you have on in the background when doing something else” in future marathons.

If this is to be Mark Gatiss’s final episode for the show, it’s a shame he will depart with one that is, well unremarkable and forgettable. While functionally Empress of Mars just scrapes by, there’s nothing about the episode that is particularly memorable beyond the novelty value of finally seeing the Ice Warriors on their home planet. It squanders what could have been a fun-Crimson Horror esque romp that could have explored the differing ideologies of Victorian values and Ice Warrior culture, with perhaps a comment on how the idea of Britain being “great” was built on the suffering and deaths of others, in favour of an episode that tries to be everything. It tries to be funny, it tries to be scary, it tries to be a romp, it tries to be dark, and it tries to have multiple underlying themes which ultimately leads none of them to really connect. With a bit of rethinking and some dialling back of some elements, Empress of Mars could have really been something special. As it stands, it’s a passable experience but certainly won’t linger in the memory.

5/10

Trivia and Speculation:

A portrait of Queen Victoria appears in the episode. The portrait shows Victoria as portrayed by Pauline Collins in 2006’s Tooth and Claw.

The Doctor mentions that he really should get around to fixing the Sonic Screwdriver’s inability to do anything with wood. This failure of the device has been used as a convenient way to stop the Doctor saving the day with the device, and has been the butt of many jokes, over the last few years.

The Alpha Centauri returns to Doctor Who, 43 years after its last appearance in 1974’s The Curse of Peladon featuring Jon Pertwee’s Doctor and Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane. Ysanne Churchman, the voice of Alpha Centauri in the classic series, returns to voice the character in this episode. At 92, she is the oldest cast member of the entire Doctor Who revival series.

At one point in the episode, the Empress shouts “Sleep No More!” to her waking Ice Warriors. Sleep No More was the title of Mark Gatiss’s Series 9 episode and this bit of dialogue is perhaps a shout out to that episode and a nod to how Empress of Mars replaced a potential sequel to Sleep No More.

The Doctor’s shocked reaction to Missy is intriguing. Was he just surprised she came to help and didn’t attempt to steal the TARDIS? Or does he know something we don’t? Is there in fact something about Missy that we the audience don’t know, yet the Doctor does? Or maybe her being let out of the vault inadvertently started something.

 

“Wonder Woman” Review

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Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis
Plot: Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, when a pilot crashes on their shores and tells of a massive conflict raging in the outside world, Diana leaves her home, convinced she can stop the threat. Fighting alongside man in a war to end all wars, Diana will discover her full powers and her true destiny.

DC has had a very troubled time lately. After their Superhero mash up Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice received a very mixed response and Suicide Squad received an even worse one, it seemed DC’s cinematic universe was in trouble before it had even begun. Thankfully, like a miracle, help has arrived in the form of Wonder Woman. A common criticism of the current wave of superhero films is certainly the lack of female led ones. So a lot of pressure was on Wonder Woman. Not only did it have to save audience hopes for the DCEU, but also prove to a sexist film industry that female led superhero films directed by women were viable investments.

So it’s with great happiness I say that Wonder Woman is not just the best film in the DCEU by a long shot, but it’s also one of the best superhero movies of recent years. If not of all time.

Patty Jenkins brings a beautiful, inspiring and thrilling picture to the screen. Jenkins, who had previously been attached to direct Thor: The Dark World for Marvel before dropping out, proves herself to be a perfect fit for the superhero genre. Jenkins manages action spectacle with ease and yet also brings an earnestness to the picture, framing everything from the action to the quieter more emotional scenes. Jenkins also doesn’t shy away from the horrors of World War 1. While working within the constraints of a film that has to be suitable for families, Jenkins manages to showcase the horrors of the First World War, never sugar coating it. Seeing the war from the eyes of an outsider, really manages to make a comment on the human race. Diana is unable to believe we’d all be killing each other with weapons such as mustard gas of our own accord. She decides that humanity must be under the influence of an evil villain with great power and it’s the moments when she has to face that humans sometimes do just want to hurt others for no reason that are some of the film’s best.

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This is helped along by Gal Gadot. Gadot is one of the best castings in the superhero movie genre. Gadot’s performance is wonderful, no pun intended. Delivering the heroine’s action brilliantly and yet also capturing her heart perfectly, it’s hard to imagine another actress doing as good a job as Gadot in the role. Gadot’s performance is the heart of the film, playing the character with an earnestness that makes her inseparable from the character. Much like Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, this is truly one of the perfect superhero castings. It’s difficult to describe just how brilliant Gadot is as the character. Gadot brings Wonder Woman to life in such a way that she’s truly inseparable from the character on the comic book page. Gadot has defined the character on screen so well that I don’t envy whoever will have to play the character in the inevitable reboot in 30 years or so, although I would be open to Gadot playing the character as long as she possibly can.

Gadot shares wonderful chemistry with her co-star Chris Pine. Much of the movie rests on the two, and they pull it off perfectly. The performance here might be one of Pine’s best in his career with him delivering a very passionate and humorous performance. Steve Trevor would not be as charismatic or as fun with someone else in the role. But Pine also delivers the quieter and more emotional parts of the character very well, delivering some very touching scenes with dignity.

The cast is rounded out by excellent performances, with David Thewlis, Danny Huston and Elena Anaya being particular stand outs of the movie’s supporting cast. Thewlis gives a great performance for his limited screen time, while Huston and Anaya impress as the villains with Anaya giving a surprisingly complex performance as Doctor Poison. While Poison may not be the film’s main antagonist, Anaya manages to give the character a degree of complexity that makes me want to see more of the character. Maybe DC should cancel one of those many Batman spin-offs and make a Doctor Poison movie if the character doesn’t return in Wonder Woman 2?

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Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Wonder Woman is how utterly hopeful it is. Despite being set in perhaps one of the darkest periods in our history, the film somehow manages to find love and hope in the darkness. Diana is a brilliant heroine, one that audiences of all ages can look up to. Seeing her journey from a young woman eager for glory to a hero for all to aspire to is magnificent to see on screen. Wonder Woman manages to deliver a more hopeful and inspirational tone than Man of Steel and similar to Captain America: The First Avenger, the film gives us a truly inspirational hero who manages to shine a hopeful light during a dark moment in history.

A lot has to be said about how well made the film is. Visually, the film is a showcase. The mouth waters thinking of the film’s UHD release. The film features a lot of incredibly striking images which, along with some great editing, makes Wonder Woman a visual feast for the eyes. With her Lasso whipping away, shining brightly, the action scenes are truly beautiful to watch. An epic final battle on an exploding airfield has to be seen to be believed.

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Wonder Woman is also incredibly funny. While previous DC movies were criticised for either their lack of humour or trying too hard to be funny, Wonder Woman manages to find a perfect balance. The film is genuinely funny, with jokes working on multiple viewings and helped along with excellent comedic timing from the cast. Lucy Davis is a particular comedic standout as Etta Candy, getting most of the film’s biggest laughs. Gal Gadot however shines once again with excellent comedic timing and the two bounce off each other brilliantly. Once Chris Pine is added to the mix, things become even better. While the film isn’t a joke fest, it’s great to see DC no longer being afraid to actually have fun in their movies.

It’s hard to describe exactly how much I enjoyed Wonder Woman. So much so that I’m struggling to write this review. I loved the film, yet I just can’t place my finger on what exactly it was that made me love it so much. Was it Gadot’s performance? Was it an excellent script? Was it Patty Jenkins’s directing? Or was it some magical mix of the three? I’d hasten to wager that the reason the film turned out so well was simply because it was all the right elements coming together in exactly the right way to create what can only be described as an inspiring and thrilling film that restores hope for DC on film and, hopefully, paves the way for more films like it to come.

9.5/10

Doctor Who S10E08 “The Lie of the Land” Review

p054dhlkWell that was underwhelming.

Despite this Monk trilogy having got off to a flying start, the three part storyline ended with a whimper rather than a bang and left more questions than it did answers. Despite a promising start, The Lie of the Land quickly petered out into a cliché filled climax that managed to wrap up the storyline without actually resolving anything at all. And in a very unsatisfying way at that.

For the Monks, the villains of this three part tale, are still just as mysterious as they were back in Extremis (still the best episode of this trilogy). We have no idea who they are, what their goals are, why they chose Earth and what exactly they were trying to accomplish apart from the fact they have invaded multiple planets before. Infuriatingly, The Lie of the Land did not take any time at all to explain who the Monks actually are leaving them the most vague and ill-defined Doctor Who villains of recent memory. While it’s possible the Monks could return later in the series, a common fan theory is that the Monks are Cybermen without their armour, it’s still poor form to not even attempt to define exactly who the villains of the last three episodes even are. We had a much firmer grasp of the Silence at the end of their debut story despite there still being a lot of unanswered questions there. Not even attempting to answer a single question about the Monks makes this storyline seem almost pointless and certainly not worth devoting three entire episodes to a villain that is going to end up being just a vague threat rather than a developed villain. This may be forgivable if the Monks make a reappearance in the Series 10 finale, but as it stands they’re a wonderful concept for and beautifully designed villain, but are ultimately vague and forgettable antagonists.

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Now this could have been forgiven if The Lie of the Land had delivered elsewhere. Sad to say then that the episode was utterly unimaginative and dull despite getting off to a great start. The opening few scenes seeing Bill navigate a world where the Monks have seemingly been in control forever, despite only being there a few months, were excellent. A sort of dystopia, a world where people welcome their oppression with open arms. The episode seemed to be making a political point about the current rise of fascism in the world, despite us all having evidence that never turns out well. Indeed, scenes where the public cheered the Monks executing those who would question them certainly calls to mind people cheering on Donald Trump wanting to throw political rival Hilary Clinton in prison and people celebrating the Daily Mail’s headline proclaiming British Judges ensuring the Brexit process is done legally to be “enemies of the people”. The attempts to quieten any dissatisfaction also called to mind Donald Trump’s attempts to dismiss anyone who criticises him as “fake news” or liars. In fact, the Monks broadcasting “fake history” seemed to even be a comment on “fake news”, that despite those in power decrying those who oppose them as “fake news”, they are the biggest makers of it in the first place.

The Doctor actively helping the Monks was also a great touch, following on from the implication they’d brainwashed him when restoring his sight at the end of The Pyramid at the End of the World. The Doctor’s broadcasts were eerily similar to broadcasts seen in 1984 and The Hunger Games, promising all is well and feeding the populace lies to keep them placated and under control. A common tactic by many fascist regimes is to use the media to make the public love them so that was a nice touch. All this promised what looked set to be a killer of an episode. What a shame then it was all undone less than 20 minutes into the episode. Perhaps BBC has a mandate against the Doctor being evil for an extended period of time? Maybe they think there won’t be as many action figure sales…

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The scene where Bill and Nardole confronted the “evil” Doctor was the best of the episode however. Pearl Mackie delivered perhaps her best performance yet as Bill, with a very passionate and emotion filled performance as Bill had to face the “reality” that her closest friend had betrayed her. Capaldi also matched her by playing the Doctor colder and harsher than he has done before. The acting between these two was magnificent and the scene kept building and building until the emotion climaxed in Bill shooting the Doctor, causing him to regenerate.

And then it was all a lie. In perhaps the biggest tease in Doctor Who history, the Doctor revealed it was all a trick just to make sure Bill wasn’t brainwashed by the Monks. The bullets were blanked and the Doctor was faking his regeneration. Which does call into question why the Doctor would fake his regeneration since Bill has no idea what regeneration is…

While sure, the Doctor was never going to regenerate midway through the series (we know for a fact Capaldi won’t be leaving the show until the Christmas Special), but it does call into question exactly what the point of the “evil Doctor” and the fake regeneration actually was… APART from having something to put in the trailers. The Doctor’s trickery doesn’t even place a strain on his and Bill’s friendship. Previous trickery by the Twelfth Doctor put massive strain on his friendship with Clara which took most of Series 8 to repair. Instead Bill just takes it. She doesn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with the Doctor deceiving her in such an emotionally manipulative way.

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Now, I love Toby Whithouse as a writer. Being Human is one of my favourite TV shows and three of Whithouse’s prior Doctor Who scripts; School Reunion, The God Complex and A Town Called Mercy are three of my favourite episodes of the show. But the writing is where The Lie of the Land fell apart. Every fault with the episode can be traced back to the script. From the Monks being ill-defined antagonists, the “evil Doctor” plotline being pointless and having no consequences in the Doctor and Bill’s relationship to other things not quite working; one of the soldiers having their “truth audio” cut out and turn against the Doctor seemed to only happen to set up a Nardole joke. There are rumours Steven Moffat didn’t do any rewrites on this episode due to personal reasons, but I’d be incredibly surprised if Whithouse needed heavy rewrites on his scripts. So perhaps the fault lies in the story itself. Perhaps the Monk storyline just wasn’t strong enough to support three full episodes? Maybe splitting the story across three writers led to a lack of focus? The latter would certainly explain why the abilities of the Monks is so inconsistent across the three episodes and why its conclusion felt so familiar. The Doctor and his companions hijacking the airwaves to inspire humanity into driving an occupying alien species off the planet. Sound familiar? I’ll take your Silence as an agreement.

Speaking of the episode’s conclusion, I have nothing against Bill’s love for her mother saving the day. It’s heart-warming and would be a perfect moment for Bill’s character… if again this wasn’t something we had seen before in Doctor Who. Which seems to be the ultimate problem with The Lie of the Land, everything it does well was done better by episodes before it and everything it doesn’t do well was also done better by other episodes before it. It’s a hodgepodge of ideas that never quite gel together, leaving the episode an uncomfortable mess.

The episode scored points however by featuring the return of Missy, however brief as it may have been. Michelle Gomez was on fire this episode, proving once again why she is certainly the best Master since Roger Delgado. Perhaps the episode could have benefitted from a little more Missy, especially since Extremis implied the Doctor was actually going to release her from the Vault to seek her aid. Since Michelle Gomez has implied she may not return to play the Master once Capaldi and Moffat leave, it seems a shame the show isn’t taking full advantage of her when it can. As it stands, the scene with Missy might just be the episode’s second best scene (following the Bill/Doctor faceoff).

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The Lie of the Land was an underwhelming conclusion that started out so well. Extremis was clearly the peak of this three part trilogy, enough to make me wonder if it would have been better served as a standalone episode so it could be enjoyed in the future by not being attached to The Pyramid at the End of the World and The Lie of the Land. Instead, Extremis will be forever shacked to these two underwhelming episodes leaving a trilogy that probably showcased exactly why other people probably shouldn’t play with Steven Moffat’s toys once he departs, since he seems to be the only one to make magic out of them. The Lie of the Land wastes a truly unique Doctor Who villain in a messy and uncoordinated plot that has too many Doctor Who clichés and pointless plot threads for it to truly standout.

4/10

Trivia and Speculation:

The Doctor shows images from invasion attempts by the Daleks, Cybermen and Weeping Angels that the Monks stopped. Of the clips used, only one is actually on Earth – the clip of the Weeping Angels from Blink. The clips of the Daleks and Cybermen are pulled from Into The Dalek and Nightmare in Silver, episodes that did not take place on Earth.

Missy is seen with a piano: the same piano she was playing at the end of Knock Knock.

If Missy is committed to becoming good and this isn’t a trick, could the finale in fact be Missy working with the Doctor to stop her prior incarnation that is John Simm’s Master?