Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Vault of Secrets

Part One

“So where’s Will Smith?”

At last, we have a Men in Black episode! The pre-titles teaser is good fun, with a nice old-fashioned sprained ankle adding to the fun. But we then learn that the person trying to infiltrate this big building is in fact our old friend Androvax, Destroyer of Worlds.

I love the early scene inside the attic, with a brief cameo of Luke and Sarah Jane sabotaging the NASA Mars probe- while hinting at a pyramid from an alien civilisation (Ice Warriors?). The series and the characters have developed by now to a point where we can have lots of nice little scenes like this.

There are some more nice comedy scenes with Haresh and the lovely Gita, using Mina Anwar’s considerable comic talents to the full. Their UFO obsession from last season continues as Gita drags the long-suffering Haresh to a kind of Aliens Anonymous grouping called BURPSS.

After some amusing scenes involving Haresh and some greenery we discover that Androvax has actually come to Sarah Jane for help in reviving his people. But apparently he’s dying, having been bitten by a snake n a rather nasty Devil’s Island-style tropical prison world.

We soon discover that the Vault is run by some sinister android Men in Black, part of a sinister alien conspiracy to “confiscate” alien tech from Earth and wipe peoples’ memories. Bet Torchwood would have got on with them famously. I like the title “Alliance of Shades”. Shades are cool.

Things start to heat up, as brave Clyde agrees for Androvax to take over his body, and then it all kicks off. This is an ok script from Phil Ford, with some nice characterisation of the regulars, but it’s all a bit ho-hum so far.

Part Two

“Your associates have been Clyde-inated. Nice shades, though.”

Ah. So, if the Vault is opened, then bye bye Earth? That changes things a bit, and gives the story a shot of adrenalin. This is a fast-paced, exciting episode with a lot of running in it. There’s also a bit of excitement surrounding the lovely Gita- Androvax takes her over at the start so she certainly has to find out about the Scoobies- how’s this going to play out?

Also interesting to see Rani and Clyde briefly holding hands- I think this is going to slowly develop. Aah!

There are some nice moments- Clyde tricking two Men in Black into shooting each other, and Elisabeth Sladen again showing what a great actress she was by giving her very different performance where possessed by Androvax. Amusingly, after all the misdirection over Gita having to be told about what’s going on, she blurts out how she can’t wait to be in the news and ends up having all things alien wiped from her memory. Not sure about the ethics of this, really, especially with the lovely Gita!

It’s a nice ending, with Androvax’s people surviving. After a slow part one, this ends up as quite a decent story.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Nightmare Man

Part One

“It’s all my fault!”

So, we still have the spiel at the start, narrated by Clyde. It’s different, though, with different footage. A whole new series. The Marathon may be over, but the post-Marathon starts here!

This is the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures I’ve seen since… you know. This was only on telly last autumn, and Lis is fantastic as always. I think it’s going to feel quite unreal for some time. I haven’t seen any of this series before; it’s all going to be a genuine surprise.

The beginning, with its “keep watching” and Luke speaking into a camera, is very metatextual. Surprising to see something like this in the Whoniverse’s show aimed particularly at kids, but Joseph Lidster’s script is fantastic, and very, very adult in the best possible way. It’s all a bit scary, even a bit Ghostwatch, for kids, I would have thought. But this is superb.

We start a year earlier than the main narrative- has a year passed, or did this happen a year ago? Whatever, Luke is taking his A levels a year early, and he got four A*’s. Lucky git. We never had A*’s in my day. Still, I only got four B’s and a D, and one of the B’s was General Studies, so I suppose I’m just not clever like what he is.

This all feels very real- University (Oxford, no less!) approaches, and the pace of change is all too much for Luke’s seventeen year old mind. This is quite close to home for me; I had the only depressive episode in my life aged seventeen and eighteen at the sheer conveyor-belt inevitability of A Levels, University, and so on. I ended up dropping out of uni until I was twenty-three and all grown-up. Luke’s a lot more sensible than I was, though, and I’m sure he smokes rather less weed than I did back then. Still, there’s sensible and there’s sensible. I think going to bed at 10.37pm is a bit much, frankly.

Luke’s nightmare sequences are brilliant, and tell us so much about his fears and insecurities- will his friends forget him? Will his mother abandon him? This is so very well-written and performed, and highly appropriate fare for teenagers, although I would have thought the target audience to be younger.

There’s a very tangible sense of melancholy at Luke’s current life ending, and what will feel at first like an end for his friendships. I love the party. Intriguing to see Luke apparently setting up Rani and Clyde- should I be watching this space?

The moment we finally get a glimpse of the Nightmare Man is eerie and effective. Yes, I know it’s only clown make-up(ish), and we’ve had clowns before. But it works. And the concept of Luke’s next nightmare giving life to the Nightmare Man and dooming the world is well scary. This is quite a cliffhanger…

Part Two

“I need a USB lead, Sarah Jane.”

Interesting to see the nightmares of Rani and Clyde. Rani’s has Doon Mackichan in it (yay!) but plays on her fears and ambitions surrounding journalism as she’s forced to co-present a programme exposing Sarah Jane. Interesting that the comments of the Evil Newsreader, that Sarah Jane is putting children in danger, are quite accurate! Clyde, meanwhile, is stuck in a dead end job, mocked by an elderly Sarah Jane. Both dreams say a lot about the characters.

Elisabeth Sladen is utterly superb as an elderly version of herself. Roles like this really give her a chance to show her range. It’s… weird to see her playing a role like this at the moment, of course.

There was a laugh out loud moment for me at the bit where Clyde exclaims “This isn’t a real burger bar. There aren’t real burgers. And you- you’re not the real Sarah Jane.” The Android Invasion, anyone? I love little bits like this.

The ending is satisfying and makes sense, and also wraps up the B-plot of Luke’s nerves at going to uni. But off to uni he is. And he’s taking K-9 with him...

This is superb. Possibly the best thing on SJA so far.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang

The Pandorica Opens

“I hate good wizards in fairy tales. They always turn out to be him.”

So. This is, actually, it. The end of the Marathon for me. It’s not the end of my reviews (or my blog), which will continue elsewhere (if you're reading this on my blog, that means here!) until they reach the present. But it feels great to have finally reach a goal which was set way back on 23rd November 2008 when all this began. I’ve got an awful lot to say about the Marathon, but I’ll leave that to another post in another thread. This review is going to be long enough.

Like its successor, this episode begins with a very long, very epic and very cool pre-titles teaser. We get cameos from Churchill, Liz Ten (she and River are contemporaries, and it’s 5145, which is not in the 51st century. Continuity error?) and Van Gogh, and another amusing escape from the Stormcage by River in what is fast becoming a standard trope of the series under Moffat. I love the Mos Eisley scene, where River acquires a Vortex Manipulator. The “hello sweetie” moment is a particularly good one, although of course Moffat will have to top it next time. And again. And again. Interestingly, by now the Doctor is by now looking rather pleased to be summoned by River. It’s all looking like a long game of romantic comedy, written by someone who’s supremely well-qualified.

The set-up takes us to Rome, 102 AD, where River’s determination to pose as Cleopatra is not dented by the fact that said monarch had died 131 years previously. We learn that Vincent has painted a… painting, of an exploding TARDIS, with some co-ordinates. It shares a title with this episode. What does this mean?

The Doctor declares the Pandorica to be a fairytale (fairytales again), said to be for imprisoning the most feared thing in the universe. Then we’re off on location to Stonehenge, before budgetary issues send us back to the studio and the “Underhenge”. And here’s the Pandorica. It certainly looks the part.

But the Pandorica’s opening. And many people known. They have for some time. And the skies are swarming with starships. Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans are mentioned. Then River reels off the names: “Terileptil. Slitheen. Chelonian. Nestene. Drahvin. Sycorax. Haemo-Goth, Zygon. Atraxi. Draconian.” This is such x-rated fanwank porn. Especially for we admirers of Gareth Roberts’ New Adventures novels.

I was relieved by the Doctor’s reaction to Amy finding the ring; however awkward it may be for him, he doesn’t lie to her and urges her to remember forgotten things. This, of course, hints rather heavily that something is about to happen Rory-wise. More hints follow- the Doctor refers back to Amy’s house, and how big and empty and strange it is, with “Too many empty rooms”. Amy’s life doesn’t make sense; the crack has evidently made her forget more things than just Rory.

There follows a rather excellent action sequence with a particularly scary Cyberman (we can’t have all exposition, no matter how brilliant it is), and Amy is saved by… Rory! And faints. I love the Doctor’s reaction to him- failing to spot the obvious and then poking him to make sure he’s real. Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill are bloody good actors.

While River vworps off in the TARDIS, the Doctor recaps the season arc to Rory (and the audience). River lands somewhere, and the camera pans to the screen. It’s 26/06/2010, and there’s a crack in the screen. Suddenly a voice says “Silence will fall!” I’m keeping note of exactly what that voice sounds like. No reason. And what’s this unexplained external force controlling the Ship?

River soon uncovers the truth; the entire Roman encampment, and even the Pandorica itself, are constructed from Amy’s memories. This entire situation is an elaborate trap. The Pandorica opens…

Meanwhile, in some rather brilliant scenes, Amy gradually remembers Rory. And he turns into an Auton and shoots her. Shoots her dead, apparently. Things are not going well. Particularly as the Doctor is going to be unable to stop the explosion of the TARDIS from erasing all of creation from history itself, on account of his being forever sealed in the Pandorica. Bummer. It seems a strange alliance, though. The last time the Daleks and Cybermen met, they didn’t actually get on. And Silurians? What are the Adherents of the Repeated Meme doing there?

The Big Bang

“It’s a fez. I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool.”

Lots of witty lines this ep, but only one of them was ever going to be used for the quote…

It’s The Eleventh Hour all over again, shot for shot, as Amelia Pond prays to Santa. But things soon diverge; no TARDIS lands, and there are no stars in the sky, whatever that star cultist Richard Dawkins may think. But who’s that befezzed figure posting something through her letterbox?

All this timey-wimey stuff is such fun, and it’s great watching it start to unfurl. Amy’s words as she’s released from the Pandorica by her younger self are such a brilliant tease. After all, things have been simple so far, right?

So, Rory rescues the Doctor with some help from said befezzed future Doctor, and we’re off. Earth is the only thing left in the universe, the last light to go out. And Amy can only be saved by putting her in the Pandorica to slowly heal, to be revived by the touch of her future, younger self 1,894 years hence. And Auton Rory stands and guards the Pandorica for 1,839 of those years, disappearing only during the Blitz.

We get to see the timey-wimey stuff as the Doctor sets everything up. With a fez and a mop, naturally. And a drink snatched from Amelia’s younger self as she’s now thirsty. I love that bit. There follows a bit of bother with a stone Dalek, but luckily they’re saved by a security guard, who turns out to be Rory. Unsurprisingly, Amy snogs Rory. For a long, long time.

Unfortunately, a future version of the Doctor pops up from twelve minutes in the future, and immediately snuffs it. There’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, and the Doctor springs into action. All of history is already starting to collapse, so there’s no time to lose; the young Amelia, now superfluous to the plot, has already been erased.

There are no stars, so the Doctor reasons that the big fiery thing in the sky is in fact the exploding TARDIS, complete with River, in a time loop. Good job it’s coincidentally providing the earth with exactly the same amount of energy as the Sun did, eh? But following a bit of fervent fashion criticism from Amy and the now-rescued River, the Doctor is apparently shot and killed just as he’s explaining his plans for “Big Bang Two”.

But, as River says, “Rule One: the Doctor dies”. All that stuff with the Dalek (and River being really rather bad-ass) is all just a distraction so the Doctor can do stuff with the Pandorica.

The Doctor plans to pilot the Pandorica into the heart of the TARDIS, which will get all of the pre-end-of-universe stuff still inside the Pandorica to explode, which will apparently put the universe back the way it was. One snag; the Doctor will be the wrong side of the cracks as they disappear, and will be erased from existence. He explains this to Amy is one last conversation, and urges her to remember her absent patents. She has no memory of them, because “There’s a crack in time in the wall of your bedroom. And it’s been eating away at your life for a long time now.”

The Doctor’s plan works, the universe is saved, and he slowly rewinds back through his life on the way to oblivion. We see the trip to Space Florida last week (love the specs, Amy), and Amy posting a certain note on the window of Craig’s local newsagent. We then see a certain scene from Flesh and Stone from a new perspective. Then it’s Amelia again, sleeping as she waits for the Doctor to return. Matt Smith is magnificent as he delivers one last speech to the sleeping Amelia. He accepts his melancholy fate, but knows that if only Amelia can remember him, there’s a chance.

At last, the morning of the wedding has arrived. We meet Amy’s parents. We cut to the wedding breakfast, and we’re waiting for the father of the bride to make his speech. And here, wonderfully, a gift from River, and the Doctor’s words from years ago, give Amy all that she needs to bring him back. Suddenly even Rory remembers: “I was plastic. He was the stripper at my stag. Long story.” Amy’s friends and family finally get to meet Amy’s notorious imaginary friend. And all the children present get to learn the notorious “drunk giraffe” dance.

I love Rory’s matter-of-fact acceptance that, from now on, he’s “Mr. Pond”. That says so much about him! River’s words don’t say much about her, though. I love it when she’s enigmatic like that. She’s still got the vortex manipulator, I notice.

The Doctor can’t sneak away; the happy couple follow him into the TARDIS and say their goodbyes, but not in the way he expects. There are things to do and adventures to have. And who exploded the TARDIS, and how? To be continued…

Wow. That was a bit good. 5/5.

As for this season, it’s in joint seventeenth place with 3.8/5, a somewhat middling score. This is a surprise to me; it feels much better than that, only being let down by a couple of less good stories, neither of which were absolute clunkers. Certainly the series arc stuff was better than anything we’ve seen before. I can’t wait to continue my viewing…

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Lodger

“Craig, the planet’s about to burn! For God’s sake, KISS THE GIRL!!!”

It’s so close. I can feel it. The Lodger tonight, the season finale tomorrow, and my Marathon will be over at last. It won’t be the end of my reviewing, of course- I’ll keep on writing the same sort of reviews in the appropriate parts of the forum (and this very blog!) until I’m completely up to date with all parts of the Whoniverse, and in a couple of weeks time I hope to be reviewing episodes the weekend they’re broadcast. But I’m not there yet, and the end of the Marathon is upon me. It feels big! Still, more, much more, on that theme tomorrow.

This story is an odd one, Marathon-wise. Ever since 22nd November, 2008, the day it all started, my Who viewing has been strictly in order and strictly Marathon related… except for current stories, as broadcast, plus repeat viewings over the following days. This hasn’t affected my Marathon, but The Lodger is different. Now then…if you haven’t seen The Impossible Astronaut, LOOK AWAY NOW.

Still here? Good. It’s an odd time for this story to come up in my Marathon. Normally I try not to be influence by anything I know about stories which come later, but here… it’s been hard not to take special notice of the set for the spaceship interior, or to look out for… things lurking in the background!

But let’s start at the beginning, and actually talk about The Lodger. We’ve seen suburbia and tower blocks before but it’s actually even more jolting to see a city park and some urban 1930s houses. I don’t know Colchester, and I’ve only once briefly been to Essex, but that’s ok: I have ready stream of stereotypes to keep me going. And I’m highly amused at Murray Gold’s channelling of the music from the end of The Empire Strikes Back in the moments where the Doctor realises he’s stranded in Essex of all places.

The set-up of stairs which people go up but never come down is a fantastic hook, but it’s general enough to hang around in the background for a bit while we have a bit of fun with the Doctor, Craig and Sophie and how they all relate to one another. Craig and Sophie are a pair of “best friends” who absolutely froth and steam with repressed love and desire for each other. We know damn well, because we’ve seen TV drama before and have a general idea how it works, that they’re going to end up together by the end of the episode by means of the Doctor as a catalyst. But the pleasure is in the “how”, of course. That and the fact this episode is very funny indeed.

The Doctor being placed in a “normal” situation is intrinsically funny, of course, but especially this Doctor, who is delightfully childlike in his complete and utter lack of self-consciousness. He’s better at football than Craig is. He’s better at Craig’s job than Craig is. But none of this is done with any arrogance; the Doctor even innocently wonders whether he’ll be any good at football.

This is an Amy-lite story, although Amy’s few scenes in the TARDIS give her some great lines. The production team has been very clever handling this; I can’t think of a Doctor-lite story this season. This is, if anything, particularly Doctor-heavy, and gives Matt Smith a proper chance to shine. His chat with Craig and Sophie, and his perceptive understanding of what makes both of them tick, are great. And, sticking to the childlike, he doesn’t like wine. Blimey. Takes all sorts, I suppose.

I’m not sure about the head butt, what with the children watching and stuff, but at least it save us a few minutes of potential exposition, along with giving us a fun little montage of old clips.

This is, of course, a re-use of the perception filter and room that shouldn’t exist from The Eleventh Hour, but I’m sure by now that this is deliberate. Moffat is trying to tell us something that’s going on. And yes, I paid particular attention to the exact appearance of what the Doctor calls “someone’s attempt to build a TARDIS” (hmmm!), to the exact appearance of the blue lightning drawing the Doctor’s hand to the central console, and to the apparent lack of any mysterious figures in the background, or unexplained glances from the characters…

The ending is pleasingly neat, with Craig and Sophie getting together being the exact thing which saves the day. I love the scenes where they gradually destroy their friendship. Aaaah! Good one, this. 4/5. But we end with another crack, and it’s a big one. And Amy’s found her engagement ring...

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Doctor Who: Vincent and the Doctor

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things. But, vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things. Or make them unimportant.”

Very awkward to review, this one. Tony Curran is magnificent, as are the regulars, and indeed Bill Nighy. It’s brilliantly made and I can admire the construction of the script hugely. It’s clearly moved a lot of people. I want to like it a lot more than I do, but I feel awkwardly equivocal about it, as I do a lot of post- Four Weddings and a Funeral Richard Curtis stuff. Well-constructed this may be, but the emotional heart of it all just misfires for me.

The cinematography (is that an appropriate tern for television?) is unremittingly fantastic, though. There’s nothing like a few famous paintings on which to base things for us to get some absolutely astounding scenes. From the opening in the Provencal (well, Croatian) fields of wheat, to the café, to the evocation of “Starlight on the Rhone, to Vincent’s use of a certain famous chair to beat back the monster, this episode looks gorgeous and amazing.

The first thirty minutes are just a little dull, though. It looks great and it’s well-performed but there’s little in the way of action or dramatic oomph, nor is there any particularly clever or subtle quiet moment. It’s fun to hear the Mummerset accents of Provence, but much of the build-up feels like a re-run of The Shakespeare Code, with Amy making similar jokes about paintings as the earlier Doctor did about plays. This starts out as rather celebrity-historical-by-numbers. Oh, and Vincent Van Gogh died less than two months after this is set, and would not have had both ears. Probably reasons not to show that, though…

This all pretty much pays off once we see Van Gogh’s first depressive episode, though; weeping on his bed, he just wants the Doctor and Amy to go away and leave him alone. And the words “I know how it will end. And it will not end well”, have a horrible depth to them. Suddenly, the script and Curran are evoking real despair.

It’s right that we see this, but it’s equally right that we should see only a glimpse; Curran’s performance is subtle and admirable, portraying Van Gogh’s depression while still allowing him to be likeable. There’s a balance to be struck here in portraying serious mental illness in a programme watched by children and it’s struck perfectly.

There’s comedy, too: the Doctor’s impatience as they wait for the Krafayis, “I had an excellent, if smelly, godmother”- but there’s tragedy for Amy, too, though she remembers nothing. The Doctor’s been strangely nice to her of late, and Van Gogh can “hear the song” of her sadness, which causes her to cry real tears even though she can’t remember their cause. Her bond with Van Gogh is interesting; he seems to be genuinely besotted and is brave for her sake. She’s “not the marrying kind”, though.

It’s as well we see only glimpses of the Krafayis in the church; it has some slight Myrka-like tendencies. It would be churlish to dwell on this, though. It’s a genuinely scary moment, and it’s great that the brave Vincent should both save the day and feel real remorse at accidentally killing a frightened, blind creature. This creates a genuine bond between the three of them, and the subsequent scene on the grass is wonderful.

The final sequence- in which the Doctor and Amy take Vincent to the future, he’s overwhelmed by a wonderful speech from Dr Black about what a great artist he is, but upon returning he still takes his own life- just doesn’t work for me, though. It’s not the whole “hang on, aren’t they trying to change history” thing: I think there’s more than enough artistic justification here. It’s just that I really, really don’t like having my emotions manipulated in a crude way by montages overlaid by music which tells me how to feel, least of all some bloody landfill indie rubbish like Athlete! I don’t like it in Spielberg, and I don’t like it in Richard Curtis. To me, using this sort of sentimental schmaltz to convey deep emotion is distasteful. And it’s didactic; I like to feel emotions naturally, not have them dictated to me. And that’s what really alienates me. It’s all very well-constructed, and the Doctor’s speech about good things and bad things is amazing, but it does nothing for me.

So, this looks really great, is very well-performed indeed, has fantastic dialogue, and its handling of difficult themes for an audience including many children is genuinely brilliant, but the script fails in its emotional mission for the same sort of reason as, well, Love Actually. Still, a very high 4/5.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood

The Hungry Earth

“Oh, I love a big mining thing.”

We’re in South Wales, as we must be every so often with current Who, and it’s 2020, a not-particularly-exotic future. In fact, the only reason we’re not in 2010 is so that Amy and Rory can see their future selves waving at them, something which we know is going to pay off later.

We’re also introduced to Mo as a doting father, which immediately tells us that something nasty is just about to happen to him, TV drama being what it is. And there are Tony and Nasreen, and precisely the kind of industrial complex that makes one nostalgic for the early Perwees. With the drilling, though, this starts out feeling a lot more Inferno than Doctor Who and the Silurians. And the ground eating people is all a bit Frontios. All this before the invisible barrier straight out of The Dæmons. Don’t worry; the obligatory mentioning of old stories is over now. I’m getting nostalgic. It’s been a long Marathon.

There’s also some blue grass, but not a banjo in sight. Sorry.

We also meet Ambrose and Elliot, who mistake Rory for a copper, while the Doctor effortlessly takes charge down below. Unfortunately it’s not long before Amy disappears under the ground and the Doctor can do nothing but panic. There’s a fascinating scene between him and an angry Rory; he may be a gentle soul but Rory has steel and guts when he has to, and he really loves Amy.

The interactions between the characters are fascinating, the two poles being the dangerously erratic Ambrose, whose maternal instincts drive her to be worryingly tribal and narrow in how she behaves. She seems to always be in denial about something or other and yet has strong views- a dangerous combination. She’s the one who collects weapons, foreshadowing what she’ll do. And yet, can we really criticise her motives?

The Doctor, on the other hand, is rational, has the right ideas, but is prone to making rash promises and taking his eye off the ball, often for frivolous reasons. This most childlike of Doctors has a bond with Elliott, but allows him to be captured by the enemy in a moment of carelessness. He lacks the single-minded protective side that motivates Ambrose, and this fault of his means we can never quite condemn her outright.

The new Silurians are a little disappointing to look at. Although more convincing than in the early ‘70s, these costumes have little of the coolness or reptilian scariness of their predecessors. I’m not bothered by the unfortunate fact that the female Silurians are bound the have, er... mammalian characteristics. But being able to see the actors’ faces probably doesn’t help here. The Silurians originally worked partly because of their impassive, unreadable faces.

The Doctor rather neatly sums up the whole human / Silurian situation in a highly efficient piece of exposition, and both sides now have hostages. Oh, and Nasreen (made very likeable by Meera Syal) claps at the Doctor’s speech in a rather lovely moment. But Alaya, a soldier, is stubbornly xenophobic and scarily manipulative. Her “I know which one of you will kill me” is chilling to the bone.

We end with a double helping of body horror, as Tony turns out to have a Quatermass-style infection and Amy is about to be dissected. Yuck. Oh, and there are in fact squillions of Silurians living deep underground…

Cold Blood

“Ah. Nasreen. Sorry. Probably worth mentioning at this stage- Amy and I travel in time, a bit.”

This sort of Pertwee-style ethical sci-fi drama feels rather odd when slotted into current Who. I’m not sure it quite works- this sort of thing really needs a good six episodes, old-style, to earn its payoff- but I have to admire Chris Chibnall’s writing here. He handles the themes, the characters and the plot well. I just think we’re dealing with something which can’t be done properly in two episodes.

One thing to admire is the structure of this episode, with the introductory and concluding narration by Eldane. It raises the stakes and reminds us we’re dealing with an entire civilisation. But there’s a problem in that the contrast between the xenophobic and warlike military and the peacenik politicians is just too extreme. This is inevitable and necessary given the screen time, but still unfortunate.

There are some fantastic scenes here, though. Alaya’s “divide and rule” strategy, eventually goading Ambrose into killing her, is gripping. And it’s interesting how everyone on the surface instantly defers to Rory as the leader of the “apes”. Most stomach-churning is the horrible dramatic irony that we know, as those underground don’t, that Alaya’s death means negotiations are futile.

The main plot ends quite early, though. It’s neat enough, and dramatically satisfying, for the Silurians to be re-frozen and for Tony and Nasreen to join them, but the whole thing feels rushed. I feel perhaps I’m being a little unfair on Chris Chibnall; his script is well-structured, well-plotted, and the characterisation is great. Everything is done well. But the Silurians, and the philosophical baggage they bring with them, simply demand more time to explore them. Perhaps they belong in the age of the six- or seven-parter, not in modern day Who. I don’t think it would be a good idea for them to return, great concept though they are.

The last few minutes his like a bomb, though. The crack is back; never before has a series arc been foregrounded so much, and I’m including Trial of a Time Lord. Rory’s death is sudden, his being erased from time doubly so, and Amy’s forgetting who he was, er, trebly so. This is a massive shock, and an obvious turning point. And then we’re shown what the Doctor has pulled out from inside the crack: a piece of the TARDIS.

There’s a lot I admire about this story, but the Silurians are not well realised and they simply don’t work in stories as short as this. I can only give this a 3/5, but that’s no reflection on Chris Chibnall, who has done a fantastic job with the ingredients he’s been given.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Doctor Who: Amy's Choice

“If we’re going to die, let’s die looking like a Peruvian folk band.”

We begin with idyllic yet dull English (well, Welsh countryside) at its most miserable and autumnal, the picture no doubt having been treated to exaggerate the effects. There’s a cottage. A cock crows (what time is it?!), and we see Amy, in a rather dull looking kitchen. She’s up the duff, and married to a mulleted Dr. Rory.

Oh, and as a man with flowing yet manly tresses, maintained with the girliest hair products known to humanity, I’m not sure what I feel about the blatant ponytail-ism here. I suppose I should let it go; I mostly wear my hair loose, being a real man, and I accept that mullets really should be banned. Still, I feel a slight “pah!” is probably in order.

Er, anyway, here comes the Doctor, and he’s faced with a foe greater than any he’s yet encountered; ennui. The Doctor’s clearly on course to eventually do a Reggie Perrin. Except it’s all just a dream. Or is it?

This is a great, conceptual, fast-paced, witty script from Simon Nye, responsible for a number of sitcoms I’ve never particularly watched. It’s absolutely first class stuff, and really shows the merit of getting talented writers from outside the Who comfort zone. Not that we’re entirely free of fan references, mind: “jumped a time track”, indeed!

We have two realities, each containing a deadly threat; deadly cold in one, and a few old people in the other. Dying in the dream will mean they wake up in reality, but dying for real will mean… dying for real. Nice. Toby Jones is great as the Dream Lord. It helps that he gets such great dialogue, of course.

Is it just me who noticed the old peoples’ home is called Sarn? The things in their mouths are a bit Fury from the Deep, too.

There’s a lot of great interaction between our regulars here, including a fair amount of Amy / Rory friction. But the heart of the episode (and a big moment of the season) is Amy’s decision that she doesn’t want to live in the reality with a dead Rory. Karen Gillan is fantastic here, and this is where we realise that she does love him and does want to marry him. Shame he has to cut off his hair first. Grr.

The Dream Lord makes some telling points. We get more about the Doctor’s dalliance with Elizabeth I as part of a discourse on his habit of hanging around attractive young ladies, and we get a very interesting bit about his not keeping in touch with the “people he collects” after they’ve stopped travelling with him.

Superb, certainly the best of the season so far. A very new angle on the series, this: an action packed psychological study. A very good 5/5.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Vampires of Venice

“According to this, I am your eunuch…”

Interesting how a story can seem to be “traditional” Doctor Who even though objectively there can be no real definition of what such a thing may be. But this seems to be the closest thing to that elusive concept we’ve had for quite a while. At the same time, the characters’ arcs and story arc are nicely developed here, and really rather foregrounded too.

Venice, 1580, and a sinister school headed by the mysterious Rosanna Calvierri is looking for young virgins to join its ranks for a purpose hinted at by the clear design influence of certain early ‘70s Hammer horror films. Meanwhile, the Doctor arrives at Rory’s stag so, where he has a confession to make.

The ending of the last episode is dealt with quite well here, and the consequences reverberate for all three of our regulars. The new dynamic between the three of them is fascinating, with Amy’s two girls competing for the position of alpha male. What’s great about this situation is the potential for comedy as well as humour. And Arthur Darvill's facial acting and physical mannerisms are amazing.

It’s interesting to see Rory again after all this time; he’s still a sort of Mickey-type character, he’s rather unprepossessing (rather fortunately for the Doctor, under the circumstances!) and not one for heedlessly running into adventure, but he’s resourceful (unsurprised by the TARDIS) and quietly very brave without being reckless. He actually adjusts to the situation quite well, too; it doesn’t take long for him to be taking pictures of Amy in 16th century Venice on his camera phone.

There’s more ‘70s style erotic Hammer horror as the Doctor finds himself inside a crypt, surrounded by a group of rather attractive young vampire ladies in their nighties. Personally I’d be rather happy to be in his situation but he seems to be rather alarmed. Matt Smith is great here, though, and I love the pic of Hartnell. Gosh, it’s been a long Marathon.

I love the way the inevitability of Amy’s smuggling herself into the baddies’ lair is played for wry humour, and the cheeky way we’re introduced to Guido’s stash of gunpowder, which tells us with a nod and a wink that it’ll be going bang later on. And the name “Guido” sort of underlines that…

There’s real tension between the Doctor and an appalled Rory though. And when Rory calls him on his recklessness (“You know what’s dangerous about you? It’s not that you make people take risks. It’s that you make people want to impress you.”), the Doctor is saved from having to reply by the fortunate arrival of some baddies. Rory’s words resonate, though; it’s very notable that the Doctor later firmly tells Amy to stay with Rory while he goes off alone to do the dangerous work of averting the sinking of Venice, and Rory thanks him.

The Doctor finally gets some rather interesting and arc-heavy explanations from Rosanna: the people of Saturnyne “ran from the Silence”, and “There were cracks” which meant “Silence, and the end of all things.” The aliens’ plan is more or less revealed, give or take a bit of cogitation by the Doctor, and there’s an interesting contrast between Rosanna’s willingness to put the survival of her species above everything and the Doctor’s less than unswerving loyalty to his own people making him the last of his kind.

But Rosanna has put herself beyond redemption. She has callously had Isabella killed, and didn’t even know her name. That’s a nice Doctorish touch.

Rory’s swordfight with the broomstick is the highlight of the episode, and shows just how extraordinarily good Arthur Darvill is. So good I hardly even begrudge him for getting to snog the lovely Karen Gillan. Grrr.

It’s nice to see Rory’s “We’re not leaving you!” to the Doctor at the end; he may not be reckless but there’s a definite latent heroism there. And Rory’s here to stay. This is good news. There’s a great dynamic between our three regulars, with unresolved issues but also a lot of comic potential.

We end with silence. Or should that be Silence? No crack, this time…

A solid episode. 4/5.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

The Time of Angels

“It’s the 51st century. The Church has moved on.”

Now that’s more like it. Bloody hell.

River Song, in what I’m sure is going to develop into a long-running tradition, gets quite an entrance. Having literally stunned Mike Skinner off of The Streets with some hallucinogenic lipstick, she casually leaves a message in Old High Galifreyan for the Doctor to find twelve thousand years later, and then arranges to for him to be her getaway driver, all in the coolest way possible. All whilst wearing the sort of heels that make me quite pleased to have been born with a y chromosome. Very cool indeed.

The River / Doctor dynamic is great, and this time she’s found entirely new things about the way he flies the TARDIS to annoy him with. Then there’s the whole “spoilers” angle, with which she can annoy him so more. And Matt Smith does annoyed so well. Better still, Amy is added to the mix, teasing him about “’er indoors”. The three of them together are great.

So, we have Amy’s first alien planet, and somewhere on it there are Weeping Angels which actually kill people. We also have a bishop, leading a squad of fighting clerics. Here’s hoping they have Cure Light Wounds memorised. Pity that Turn to Stone isn’t a clerical spell. That was an in-joke for those of us who have played D&D. Thought I’d better point that out for the benefit of the other 100% of you, if I may semi-steal a remark from the Moff himself to the great Neil Gaiman.

We get an excellent spin on an old Moffat meme as some footage of a Weeping Angel turns out to be more than just footage. The scenes with Amy trapped alone with the footage are terrifying, especially as we keep cutting to the Doctor reciting some wonderfully evocative quotes from a book which underline exactly how much trouble Amy is in. This is proper scary. Fortunately, Amy is proper clever.

There are brilliant concepts scattered around like confetti- the gravity globe (which will become important later), the Maze of the Dead- and we get our first inkling of some dark secrets of River’s. Only when they’re deep into the cave do we realise that every single statue is a Weeping Angel. Oh, and Amy is turning to stone. This is even scarier than the earlier scary bit. Moffat is very good at scary, I’ll give him that. Sod it, he’s very good at pretty much everything.

The friction between the Doctor and the clerics and his interaction with Bob before and after his death are great moments. And this adds power to the Miss Evangelista-like use of Bob’s voice, and forelock-tugging personality, as the mouthpiece of the Angels.

This whole thing was planned by the Angel on board the Byzantium, in fact: it crashed the ship to wake up a massive army of Angels. An army which is surrounding the Doctor and co, and draining the energy from their torches. That’s what I call a proper cliffhanger.

Flesh and Stone

“A forest in a bottle in a spaceship in a maze. Have I impressed you yet, Amy Pond?”

If there’s one thing I love more than a proper cliffhanger, it’s a proper resolution. And this is one of the most proper resolutions ever. It doesn’t cheat; it uses elements which were subtly hinted to us earlier; I for one never guessed how they’d get out of that one. Nice one, Moffatt. Again. This sort of thing with shifting gravity on a spaceship is exactly the sort of thing that space opera sci fi really should be doing all the time.

We have intrigue amongst the danger as the bishop threatens to tell the Doctor who River really is, but much more than that is to come. It’s the crack in the wall again, and the arc plot is very much back in play in only the fifth episode of the season. New showrunner, new rules.

Of course, this being Moffat, we get scary, too. Amy’s counting down to her doom, which the Angels are doing purely to terrify her, for “fun”, is but a prelude to the ordeal she’s got coming. She has to spend most of the episode with her eyes closed, surrounded by really scary things. She has to walk through the Angels as though she can see. But she can’t, so we even see them start to move.

But, of course, the crack is a much greater threat than the Angels, whose plans for harnessing its power suddenly don’t seem so clever. The Doctor now realises the potential of a crack that can rewrite time, and it’s been happening around him; a duck pond with no ducks, Amy not remembering the Daleks and, best of all, “The Cyberking. A giant Cyberman walks over all of Victorian London, and no one even remembers.” Ha!

There’s coolness with the characters too, though. This new Doctor can be wonderfully Doctorish (I use tautologies now. Tautologies are cool.), with his seat of the pants spontaneity and his “Respect the thing!” And then there’s that scene with Amy and a jacketed Doctor, which just might possibly be revealed to have been frightfully clever. But there are plenty of revelations for now; the bishop is River’s probation officer. The crack was caused by an explosion on what we find out is the date of Amy’s wedding, 26/06/2010.

The bishop gets a fantastic, dignified death, perfectly scripted and performed, and gets a wonderful last line. He also gets to die with exactly the sort of cryptic revelation I hope to have ready for the time when I duly snuff it: “She killed a man. A good man. A hero to many.” But he has a reason to be satisfied with his death in a way the other clerics don’t. For those who believe in an afterlife, the thought of being erased from history and being irrevocably dead must be truly terrifying, and he at least is spared that thought.

The resolution, with the number of Angels present being just enough to seal the crack, is a little neat. But I think it’s earned. This is a fantastic two-parter. 5/5.

But we’re not done yet. There’s a fascinating conversation between the Doctor and a handcuffed River. “The Pandorica?” scoffs the Doctor, on being told they’ll meet again when it opens. “That’s a fairy tale!” “Oh, Doctor,” River replies. “Aren’t we all?” For a subtext, this fairy tale stuff is being foregrounded rather a lot. Could we eventually find out there’s more to it than we assume?

And yes, there’s the scene in which Amy is quite determined to get inside the Doctor’s pants. Ooh. Controversial. Dare I wade in? Well… I think this is perfectly fine. It arises naturally from the characters and their heightened recent circumstances. Think back to the extreme terror Amy’s being put through, keeping her eyes shut right until just before they say goodbye to River. Plus, women are allowed to be actively sexual, y’know. Yes, she’s getting married soon, and to have actually done it in those circumstances would have been wrong, but she doesn’t. And she clearly isn’t thinking anything close to normally after her last few hours. This is in character and, while Amy is wrong to do what she does, she can legitimately plead temporary insanity, I think. And the consequences (Rory joining them on the TARDIS) are quite proportionate, I think.

Oh, and speaking of consequences, I’ve just seen the second new scene on the DVD. Top stuff!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Doctor Who: Victory of the Daleks

“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would give a favourable reference to the Devil.”

Oh dear. I’m terribly sorry, but my opinions on this story are awfully conventional. I’m really sorry. I can’t help it. I hate it when this sort of thing happens. But yes; I’m rather afraid this is going to be one of those “Ian McNeice is a little too over the top” “New Daleks are crap” / “They got those Spitfires into space awfully quickly, cool though they are” / “The coda with Bracewell’s emotions stopping him going off was a bit pants” reviews. Actually, shall we just take all that as read and get on with something more interesting? Except the new Daleks, obviously. I’m going to have a good whinge about those.

So, it’s a very well-realised London in the Blitz, and an… interesting Churchill. Unfortunate how this was rather close to Brendan Gleeson’s far superior portrayal of the great man in Into the Storm, but there you go. We get CGI barrage balloons again, which is all nice and nostalgic, and lots of iconic Cabinet War Rooms stuff. It’s huge fun to see those khaki Daleks with their Union Flags and “Would you care for some tea?”, although so far this series seems to be doing an awful lot of flag-waving. First an archetypal English village, then Starship UK, now this- is this Moffat’s new British Agenda? I think we should be told.

We get a brief retread of Power of the Daleks for the first ten minutes, rather appropriately- after all, if Tennant could have a remake of Evil of the Daleks then why can’t Smith have a version of their other excellent David Whitaker-penned outing? This doesn’t go on for long, though.

Some interesting arc stuff, though; the Doctor calls Amy “Amelia” when he’s annoyed with her. And for some reason she can’t remember the Daleks, or those whopping great big planets in the sky. Our attention is drawn to this, so it must be significant.

But this set-up is all, of course, just a trap. The one surviving Dalek ship to escape the Doctor-Donna has found a “Progenitor”, with which they can make baby Daleks. Yes, Dalek sex really is that boring. Thing is, though, it really brings home the creepy genocidal nature of the Daleks that this Progenitor thinks they’re racially impure, and won’t even recognise them as fellow Daleks without the “testimony” of their greatest enemy. Worse, the Daleks willingly acquiesce in their own ethnic cleansing at the hands of the new “pure” Daleks. Possibly the most chilling example yet of the horrors of Dalek ideology, and a reminder of how appropriate it is that they should feature in a story set during the Second World War.

Shame the new Daleks are so awful, though. I mean, literally everyone thinks so. What were they thinking? I don’t care how much mentioning there is of things like “rels” and “time corridors” and “the final end.” They’re not even shaped like Daleks. I want my Daleks back!

The Daleks win, of course; they’re now out there, breeding baby Daleks in that strange U-certificate way of theirs, and for the first time since the stories returned they’re no longer an endangered species. But presumably they won’t be returning until they can sort out the horrible new Daleks.

We end with more emphasis on Amy’s forgetting the Daleks, and another crack. The story had some genuinely cool moments, and really treats the Daleks well script-wise, but there are all those little things wrong with it. 3/5, then. Never mind, I’ve already seen the first part of the two-parter that’s up next (I’m on a roll this week), and it’s way, way better.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Beast Below

“I’m the bloody Queen, mate. Basically, I rule.”

So, Matt Smith’s first story in space and in the future. The UK, on a rock, floating in space. Devon. Surrey. There’ll be a Leicestershire somewhere. Probably infested with the bloody space BNP, knowing us.

This is a future Britain where it’s forever the 1950’s; there’s even a Magpie Electricals. And the 1950s classroom is made terrifying by the ever-reliable Steven Moffat, with just a circus-like creature in a booth and the three words “Bad boy, Timmy.” I’ll go on about this properly later on, but this is effectively The Happiness Patrol done much better, and with much more successful imagery. I mean, which is the scarier icon, Bertie Bassett or a post-Life on Mars test card girl?

I love the new theme. It’s similar, but not too similar, to the Trial of a Time Lord theme, but creepier. And the title sequence is great too. I’m liking this new era so far. I’m certainly loving our two leads. How can anyone not love the shot of Amy flying, in space, anchored to reality only be the Doctor’s hand on her ankle? Fairytale indeed.

Time to come down to Earth, though. I’m no continuity obsessive (Er, that’ll be my inner twelve year old child. Not me, guv.), but the Moff has got is facts wrong! Solar flares? In the 29th century? I think this is supposed to evoke The Ark in Space, but the Nerva Beacon was only built in the 29th century, during the time of Revenge of the Cybermen. Tsk. Stop looking at me like that. No, really.

You’ve got to love companions’ first stories, not least for the cobblers the Doctor can only get away with spouting at these times. “We are observers only,” he says. “That’s the one rule I’ve stuck to in all my travels. I never get involved in the affairs of other peoples or planets.” Then he goes straight out of the TARDIS to comfort a little girl, irrevocably involving himself. And this is even integral to the resolution of the plot. Moffat, you’re brilliant.

This is a great introduction to our new Doctor and his eccentricities. The reasoning as to why this world of red phone boxes and lollipop ladies is such a repressive police state, the glass of water on the floor, the warnings about “escaped fish”- this is unmistakeably the Doctor, but just as unmistakably not the last one.

Amy, who is 1,306 and long dead, has her first thoughts about a wedding, “A long time ago, tomorrow morning”, that she’s clearly terrified by. But this doesn’t impede her sense of adventure, and neither does that Death to the Daleks-y root thing.

And the Doctor meets the mysterious, masked Liz 10 and gets some answers; this impossible vessel is travelling without an engine. If this didn’t feel 2000 AD enough (and I don’t just say that because it makes me think of Pat Mills and space whales), we have a voting booth and buttons marked “Protest” and “Forget”. “And once every five years,” says the Doctor is a wonderful bit of satire, “everyone chooses to forget what they’ve learned. Democracy in action.” So he’s bringing down the government, another sign that this is basically a much-improved version of The Happiness Patrol, complete with gunge tank, but without the “camera pointed at a stage with abstract scenery” vibe. I mean, here the cameras move about a lot and everything, although it still looks a little too studio-bound. This is especially obvious in the scene where it’s revealed they’re inside a huge mouth. That asteroid in The Empire Strikes Back this ain’t. These few scenes are my only real criticism of the story, though. I mean, I even gave The Happiness Patrol a 5/5.

Liz 10’s identity is revealed as “technically not a British subject”, and someone whose family has certainly known the Doctor, in various senses (“And so much for the Virgin Queen, you bad, bad boy!”).

The big reveal is very, very clever, with the Queen simultaneously behind it all and investigating her own actions, over and over again, every ten years ago choosing between the buttons “Forget” and “Abdicate”. It’s also horrible, with the creature being horribly and constantly tortured for centuries. Amy redeems herself by working it all out, but what does it say about the Doctor that this lonely and literally tortured being is essentially a metaphor for him?

All’s well in the end, a good 5/5, and the Doctor and Amy are off to another adventure with Winston Churchill and the Daleks. But what’s that? A crack…

(Oh, and I’ve just seen that extra scene on the DVD for the first time. Fantastic!)

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour

“I’m the Doctor. I’m worse than everybody’s aunt.”

Blimey, I’d forgotten this was an hour long. That’ll be another massive epic to review, then. And one with an unusually large number of things worthy of comment.

The first thing to notice is how utterly different this is in style. The picture, the quality of the colours, the style of shooting from newcomer Adam Smith- it all feels subtly different, more “fairytale”, as even acknowledged in the dialogue. Even Murray Gold’s musical style has changed to fit this.

And there’s very little reference to what’s happened before. This is clean break, with old characters and themes left in the past and new plot threads and themes beginning to be seeded- many of which, a week before the 2011 series is due to start, are very much still ongoing. Oh, and Matt Smith is superb.

We’re introduced to our new Doctor through the eyes of a child, Amelia Pond, and this immediately gives him a wonderfully dreamlike, fairytale quality. The interaction between the two is a joy. But behind the foreground, with its fish fingers and custard, are some interesting questions: where are Amy’s parents? Why is she all alone in that big house? Why should a whopping great crack in the fabric of reality have appeared in a little girl’s wall? This is wonderfully surreal, but I’m sure there are implications following on from all this which have yet to play out.

We know, far before Amy tells us that twelve years has passed, that some years have passed and that she’s the same person, to a large extent because of the pre-publicity but surely also because it’s obvious, and supposed to be. I don’t even care that it’s sort of repeating The Girl in the Fireplace. Karen Gillan and Amy are great. I love Amy’s kookiness and bloody-mindedness. Also her… dress sense. It’s, er, a bit of a shame that some of her outfits are only mentioned rather than seen…

Moffat certainly knows how to do scary, but we knew that. The perception filter around an entire room is a great concept. But the CGI realisation of Prisoner Zero in its natural form is the scariest thing ever- a massive worm thing with razor-sharp teeth!

Rory’s great, too. Arthur Darvill’s comic acting is top notch. I love his reaction to the Doctor, recognising him as Amy’s imaginary friend, as does everyone. It’s most amusing how everyone knows who Amy is, including the man whose car door she uses to get the Doctor to talk.

One thing that surprises me is the casting of Nina Wadia. Isn’t she a bit too well-known for such a tiny part?

Another thing that’s very Moffat is the gradual realisation of how serious the threat is. It’s only after we’ve heard the phrase a few times that we learn the “human residence” which is going to be “incinerated” is the whole planet. Also, there are no ducks in the duck pond, another potential indication of something odd. This scene is our first full introduction to Leadworth, archetypal English village in which there’s “twenty minutes to save the world, and I’ve got a post office. And it’s shut!”

The sequence where the camera moves around weirdly on the village green is rather cool, though also a bit random. But it’s part of the new, fairytale, fast-moving aesthetic, and I’m liking it.

The showdown, in the traditional regeneration story cottage hospital, has Prisoner Zero coming out with some interesting dialogue: “The universe is cracked. The Pandorica will open. Silence will fall.” The seeds are being sown so early, and at the time of writing they haven’t all even sprouted yet.

The coda (“Did he just save the world from aliens and then bring all the aliens back again?”) is our proper regeneration story moment, as the Doctor, in his new clothes (“Bow ties are cool,” apparently. Yeeees…), steps out from behind a series of clips of his ten predecessors.

Interesting that Amy quite blatantly perves over the Doctor’s naked body while he changes! Interesting also that there are glimpses of a Northampton accent in this new Doctor (listen to the unmistakably Midlands vowels in “One more, just one”). Although I’ll admit he’s no Alan Moore.

Two years later(!), the Doctor is back with a shiny new fairytale-style TARDIS interior and a new sonic screwdriver, and opens the TARDIS with a click of his fingers just as River Song told him to. He persuades Amy to travel with him- a sign that he no longer has the demons of his previous self- but is she running away from something? The final shot is of what seems to be her wedding dress…

Excellent. A very high 5/5.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Doctor Who: The End of Time

Part One

“Some new man goes sauntering away. And I’m dead.”

Oh my God. I took five pages of notes. This is going to take aaages to write. Best get started.

Crikey, it’s the end. You can tell this story’s important because it’s the only two-parter of the RTD era not to have individual episode titles. It’s also notable that a large proportion of the dialogue is in rather more heightened and literary language than usual, with large chunks of it having a metrical rhythm. This is partly due to the presence of a narrator (and, with the Elder Ood, a narrator within the narration!), but only partly. The language, and the fast-paced, highly structured narrative which takes place in more different regions of time and space than usual, gives this whole story a very rich, epic feel.

We’re bombarded from the start with a lot of evocative figures and themes- Wilf, the Master, bad dreams, the Master, a cathedral at Christmas Eve with the TARDIS as part of a stained-glass window. And the first of many appearances of a mysterious woman whose identity is never quite revealed. The presence of so many meaningful signs and portents in the pre-credits teaser leads us to expect something big. And this intensifies once the Doctor lands on the Ood-Sphere. Although there’s been a gap between stories, his behaviour follows on directly from The Waters of Mars. He’s been procrastinating, unable to accept what he knows to be his fate. He’s married and shagged Queen Elizabeth I purely to avoid being here. He knows he’s been naughty for dragging his heels, and he’s sheepish. You can tell from the gabbling. And Ood Sigma gives him a right telling off: “You should not have delayed!”

Called to the headmaster’s office, the Doctor is punished by being forced to share in a very, very bad dream: the Master is not completely dead and, in another appearance from the ultimate RTD meme, “Something vast is stirring in the dark.”

It’s glossed over a little, but the extrajudicial jailing of Lucy Saxon suggests something extremely sinister about the UK of the Whoniverse, even by comparison with the real contemporary UK, with its 42 day detention and threatened identity cards. Along with the sinister nature of UNIT, this is something which will probably come to date the RTD era. Under the Moff and the Coalition, this sort of thing seems to have gone out of fashion.

I know I’m always going on about RTD’s brilliant economy of storytelling, but the way he manages to give us so much exposition so quickly yet clearly is brilliant. The whole story behind the Master’s resurrection is explained very quickly, and the story doesn’t slow down one bit.

The Doctor runs, but events are already underway. He’s too late. Interesting (particularly as I’m currently halfway through Timelink) that his timeline and the timeline of the narrated events proceed at the same rate, and the Doctor can’t arrive at a point before the prison has exploded.

John Simm is fantastic from his very first scene, as bonkers as ever but so, so dangerous. Lucy sabotages his rebirth, but then we switch to some other chess pieces: Joshua Naismith and his daughter are themselves admirable examples of RTD’s storytelling economy. Their role in the story (the Tobias Vaughn role, as it were) is simple and functional, but they’re allowed enough personality to feel as though they’re more than that. We also have Wilf and the “Silver Cloak”, including the fantastic June Whitfield. Oh, and President Obama is about to broadcast to the world his plan for magically ending the recession. Er, how would one do that, then? Possibly the most far-fetched element in the entire story, this.

Meanwhile, the Master is homeless, in a hoodie, dying, stuck looking like the ex-prime minister, very, very hungry, mad as a biscuit, and very, very scary. And he bangs a drum. Four times. Just as inside his head. Interestingly, though, he’s not the one in control of events at this point. Neither is the Doctor, who is distracted at this point by Wilf and his mates.

The Doctor’s chat with Wilf, fantastically acted by both Tennant and Bernard Cribbins, is a big moment. There’s something about Wilf; he attracts coincidences. The Doctor confides his feelings to Wilf, and admits for the first time that regeneration “still feels like dying”. We see Donna, too, and her heartbreakingly humble life: “She’s making do.” And he even admits the things he’s been driven to do of late, with no Donna to stop him. “I thought it would be better alone. But I did some things that went wrong. I need…”

The ensuing chat between the Doctor and the much-diminished Master is most interesting, too. “I had estates,” says the Master, shortly before he’s kidnapped. “Do you remember my father’s land back home? Pastures of red grass stretching far across the slopes of Mount Perdition.” RTD is so good at this sort of poetic, throwaway texture. The drums are getting louder… and the Doctor can hear them. The drums are real. We know this will be significant.

Wilf sees the mysterious woman again, on the television, where only he can see her. “Only you stand at the heart of coincidence”, he’s told. He’s also told to take a gun, a highly charged item as discussed in relation to this programme! Inevitably, the Doctor is soon along to collect him, officially the oldest ever companion at 80. I love his reaction to the TARDIS.

It seems Naismith acquired the “Immortality Gate” from Torchwood after its recent fall. It seems to be some kind of medical device. He wants to use it to make his daughter immortal, never a good idea in Doctor Who. But along his underlings are a couple of Vinvocci spies, who are particularly fun characters. I love Addams and her constant exasperation.

The cliffhanger is great, as everything is reversed. From a position of powerlessness, suddenly the Master is everyone on the planet. And our narrator is revealed. It’s Timothy Dalton! He’s the Lord President of the High Council! The Time Lords are back!

Part Two

“There’s an old Earth saying, Captain. A phrase of great power and wisdom, and consolation to the soul in times of need.”

“What’s that, then?”


We begin with a flashback to Gallifrey, and a nice CGI shot of the Citadel, the orange skies, and the mountains. Fanwank heaven! These are recognisably Time Lords, although updated, with CGI and everything. The shot of the High Council from the end of last episode reminds me very much of the Imperial Senate from the Star Wars prequels, which I must apologise for mentioning. They are, I’m sure we all agree, abominations, and I shall not mention them again.

Gallifrey is a lot more bad-ass than it used to be. Timothy Dalton’s Lord President is prone to zapping people for disagreeing with him, and there’s a rather cool prophetess, possibly inspired by the Pythia from the New Adventures, although of course she looks very much like one of the Sisterhood of Karn.

After a bit of a worry over Donna, we get another flashback of the Master as a child, technically a flashback to another flashback from The Sound of Drums. It’s recursive occlusion from Castrovalva all over again.

The Master realises; with six billion of him, he can finally triangulate the source of the drums. And we return to Gallifrey, where we get some highly satisfying answers. Oh, and in our last chance for some slapstick we get the “worst rescue ever”. I like these Vinvocci. The Doctor and Wilf are aboard their ship, and Wilf gets to gaze out of its window upon the Earth, something he’s always wanted. That’s the thing about RTD; he can do exciting, fast-paced, big stories such as this one, and yet still have time for genuinely affecting character moments. The conversation between the Doctor and Wilf is deep and insightful, with the brilliance lying in what remains unsaid. The Doctor opens himself more with Wilf than we’ve ever seen him do before. He sees the absurdity of his rejection of Wilf’s proffered gun, accepting that he’s taken lives and, which weighs heavily on his conscience at the moment, manipulated others into taking their own. And yet the symbolism of not carrying a gun has become important to him. Much as I would argue that this has only been the case since the 1980s, this knowingly hypocritical semi-pacifism has become an interesting and ambiguous side of his character.

But… the Master reveals that the source of the drums is a White Point Star. The Doctor knows this means the Time Lords are back. All the above goes out of the window and the Doctor just takes the gun. Things are clearly very, very serious. But before the seriousness starts we get a rather cool scene in which Wilf gets to fire lasers from a spaceship.

There’s another cool RTD moment; only two Time Lords vote against their plan, and they “will now stand as witness to their shame, like the Weeping Angels of old.” Like so much of the dialogue in this story, this is wonderfully poetic. Unfortunately, there’s another moment which is considerably less cool; the Doctor jumps several hundred feet, lands hard, and is only slightly hurt. WHAT? I just had my head in my hands at this point. We know the Doctor is vulnerable to gravity; that was the whole point of his regeneration in Logopolis! This is just silly. How can such a good writer as RTD, in such an otherwise excellent script, possibly commit such a howler? Perhaps he needs someone to stop him. This is a crying shame. It wouldn’t be so bad if everything else (except perhaps the end, which we’ll come to) wasn’t so perfect.

But the pieces are in place; the Doctor, the Master, and a Lord President who only now, oddly, is revealed to be Rassilon himself. And with a wave of his staff he casually undoes the Master’s takeover of the people of the Earth. The Doctor makes clear the scale of the horrors to come; Gallifrey is fading back intro existence, a fiery orange world which dwarfs the Earth. And we face horrors such as “the Skaro Degradations, the Horde of Tragedies, the Nightmare Child, the Could-Have-Been-King with his army of Meanwhiles and Never-Weres”. Again, so wonderfully poetic. And deadly; the Time Lords intend to destroy time, and exist on a higher plane as beings of pure thought. This is how they planned to end the Time War, and why the Doctor had to destroy them.

The Doctor is unsure, pointing the gun first at the Master, then at Rassilon. The Master’s “You never would, you coward!” seems to be a deliberate echo of the last regeneration- a very nice touch. Then the Doctor sees the mysterious woman, reacts, reflects, and simply shoots the machine which links this room to Gallifrey. And the Master, angry at what Rassilon has done to his life, seems to sacrifice himself to gain his revenge. It’s a dramatic ending. And suddenly the Doctor is alive, and fine, and can’t believe it.

And then there are four knocks. And silence. And another four knocks. Wilf is still inside the booth, waiting to be flooded with radiation. His only hope of survival means the Doctor’s death. It’s the perfect storm, and very cruel. The Doctor immediately realises the bitter irony, and reacts with rage. I’m reminded of what Lady Shelley said in her review of The Waters of Mars about the Doctor going through the seven stages of grief; is this where he finds acceptance? It’s certainly a brave speech. The Doctor is allowed to be very self-centred here, and even unlikeable. We even get a “Well, it’s not fair.”

The Doctor is dying, and we get an extended series of visits to his mates. Yes, this is self-indulgent, and yes, it was an idea that should have been nipped in the bud but, as so often with RTD, the execution is so brilliant that it sort of works. So we get to see Mickey and Martha, now married (what?!!) looking at the Doctor at a distance, as though he were the Watcher. There’s a brief moment with Sarah Jane. And even Captain Jack, with Alonso, in a Mos Eisley-style cantina filled with monsters of the RTD era. We even, oddly, get Jessica Hynes as “Verity Newman”. And Donna’s fate actually kind of works; the winning lottery ticket, bought with a pound “borrowed” from the late Geoffrey Noble. Appropriately, given Tennant's recent role as Hamlet, Ood Sigma sings him to his sleep: “This song is ending, but the story never ends.” One last poetic flourish from RTD. And it’s over. I think the Doctor’s last line is misjudged, and it’s a shame that the regeneration is the same as last time, but what a send-off. Although why the TARDIS should be set on fire I have no idea.

This is, for the most part, sublime. It’s only the falling scene and the self-indulgence of the final scenes, something almost redeemed in the execution, that disappoints. But this still manages a 5/5, if not a particularly high one. “Event” stories often disappoint, but if we take out the negatives, everything else is truly magnificent here.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars

“Don’t drink the water. Don’t touch it. Not one drop.”

I’ve written three pages of notes for this one, possibly a new record, and trust me, I’m well concise. This review could be a bit long.

Doctor Who certainly looks great, these days. The CGI is simply incredible; this is the Martian surface at its most iconic. And the first few minutes set up the “base under siege” scenario with superbly economical handling of the exposition. We’re introduced to the whole crew, all of whom have the required degree of depth for their respective life expectancies, and there’s a comedy robot to lighten the tone. Best of all, the excitement starts quickly enough for us to avoid any of that tiresomeness that often ensues when people become suspicious of the Doctor.

It’s an interesting future, too, a reality sketched out by the odd line here and there. It’s 2059, and after forty years of environmental struggle, humanity is finally stepping towards the stars with its first colony on another world. I love the fact it’s called Bowie Base One. It’s a multinational group, too- there’s a large bunch of flags on the wall of the control room. Base under siege, multinational crew… it’s just like the late ‘60s all over again. Oh, and there’s the “Branson Inheritance”.

We have Lindsay Duncan as the tough but principled Adelaide Brooke, who understandably dominates given her role in the story. The other characters are there for background and flavour, really, but it’s impressive that you can’t tell which ones are going to be the redshirts.

The threat besieging this particular base, a kind of sentient water, isn’t as scary for me as many have said it is. That doesn’t matter, though; the possessed people still look amazing and the sense of threat is very real. For me the effect was more that of a disaster movie than a horror movie, but that’s no bad thing. The threat is effective, that’s what matters. I love the scene where we slowly see and hear the change in Maggie from over the shoulder of the oblivious Yuri. And there are some very human tragedies, particularly Steffi’s tearful final moments watching footage of her daughter to Roman, who spends most of the episode as an annoying young smarty-pants, courageously accepting that the one drop that fell on his face means he must stay and die.

It’s nice that the Ice Warriors get a nod, too. And that 42nd century spacesuit has probably finally featured enough to become part of the Tenth Doctor’s iconography.

But all that is the surface. More than any episode we’ve seen before, this story drills deep into the core themes of the programme, and does this brilliantly. The concept of changing history has been around since the early Hartnells, and has come to the fore again in recent years with the added concept of “fixed points in time”. The Doctor mentions The Fires of Pompeii to Adelaide, of course, and the echoes of this story are loud indeed. But I’m reminded equally of The Aztecs. It’s a benchmark, a line in the sand, which shows us how far the Doctor has come since those days. Because he is, of course, the last of the Time Lords.

Twice before the climax the Doctor has a chance to leave; two moments of temptation. He may only stay, once he finds out where and when he is, because he’s forced to remain, but he changes his mind about leaving, just as he warns Adelaide that anyone could be infected. And, of course, there’s the long, drawn out moment of temptation just before the climax.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This story is our first real example on screen of the much-mooted concept of an “historical” set in our future. To the Doctor, this “history” is every bit as immutable as the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day or the destruction of Pompeii. But, at this point, with no other Time Lords to set the boundaries and no companion to stop him, will he act in the way he advised Barbara to act, long ago at the beginning of the Marathon? The whole story pivots on the Doctor’s decision and what it means for his character.

The character of Adelaide is important here; as someone the Doctor respects, she’s made privy to the Doctor’s deliberations. As an historical figure, she was even spared by a Dalek fifty years earlier, implicitly because of the weight of her historical importance. It is because of her sacrifice that her granddaughter is set to become the first human to reach Proxima Centauri by faster-than-light travel. And she’s shown, and portrayed, as someone with gravitas, dignity, but also integrity and humanity. The Doctor trusts her enough to know that she will release him from the airlock even as he tells her the full, horrible truth. These are very deep dramatic themes.

We know what’s going to happen, and the thought is terrifying. He’s the only Time Lord left, with no peers to condemn him. He has no companion to temper his Time Lord arrogance with humanity. And he is alone, a Lonely God. He makes up his mind, and sets out to do all the things he implored Barbara not to do. Because he can. His self-imposed limits are gone, and he becomes dizzy with dangerous, tempting, corrupting power.

These scenes are brilliantly written; the Doctor is a subtly different character here. All of his usual mannerisms are present and correct, but he’s so arrogant and self-centred, even self-obsessed. Having not mentioned the hints of his future thus far this episode, now his” Three knocks is all you’re getting!” shows us the fear of death which perhaps underlies what he’s doing. Sounds like the denial phase to me. Worst of all is “It’s taken me all these years to realise the laws of time are mine. And they will obey me!” The echoes of the Master are deliberate, I’m sure. We see where this path must ultimately lead.

After a dramatic countdown the Doctor saves the day, and the survivors stand in shocked silence on a central London street. There’s an awkward mood. Adelaide, understanding what the Doctor has done, is appalled: “No one should have that much power!” Mia and Yuri are simply scared of this capricious, godlike figure, who cavorts with mortals for his sport. Worse of all is Adelaide’s realisation that he has no idea whether or not humanity’s future in the stars will now happen. The Doctor, in the knowledge that his song is ending, has become so fixated on saving lives which are a proxy for his own that he has lost sight of the things which he once found so important. And he’s oblivious of this, demanding why no one is thanking him. Only when we hear the shot from inside Adelaide’s home (a surprising moment for a family show, although the suicide isn’t too explicit) does he realise what has happened. He has indeed gone too far. And the vision of the Ood is not just a rebuke bit a reminder that he must finally accept that his song will end. He isn’t quite redeemed, though. He spends the last few moments clearly terrified of what awaits him. His sudden and symbolic pulling of the lever inside the TARDIS to escape the scene of his crime indicates that he is still afraid to face what is to come.

Sublime, perhaps the Boom Town of the specials (and I loved Boom Town, personally) in that this episode wraps up the deep, thematic stuff in preparation for the fireworks that are to come. 5/5.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Gift

Part One

“I was about to thank you. A break from the dog is most appreciated.”

“Bit annoying, is he?”

“I couldn’t possibly comment…”

I love the way we start this episode at what would be the end of a normal story, with our heroes on the verge of foiling a Slitheen plot, only for our expectations to be thwarted by the arrival of the Blathereen. Sadly, it’s one of very few cool things about this unfortunate episode. It’s a nice plot, but The Claws of Axos did it better.

There are a lot of old foes in SJA, aren’t there? It’s not long since the Trickster was back, and now it’s the Slitheen again. At least this is a new twist on them from new writer Rupert Laight (who he?). And there’s a nice early bit of education for the kids as we’re old how diamond is just compressed carbon and that. But this is very slow and talky- surely the kids must have been bored. I know I was. At least we get a nice bit of fanwank, though. Apparently Raxacoricofallapatorius, Clom, Clix and Raxacoricovarconpatorius (gotta love subtitles) are part of something called the Raxas Alliance. Well I never.

Things get worse, though. Clyde using K-9 to cheat in a school test is both silly and out of character. And how did he manage to lip a massive robot dog into the classroom, anyway?

Part Two

“How dare you! We’re nothing like the Slitheen. We’re much, much worse!”

Come to think of it, it looks as though this entire clumsy and out-of-character plot strand of Clyde using K-9 to cheat in a test is there mainly to ensure K-9 is able to save Clyde and Rani from the exploding Rakweed. Sigh.

The conclusion seems to go through the motions. The school bell destroying the Rakweed is too much of a coincidence. In an episode which I otherwise like I could be forgiving (The Seeds of Death uses water in a similar way), but this is one piece of clumsiness too many. And the Blathereen want to use Earth as a farm for growing Rakweed, which seems to be narcotic, in a cack-handed attempt to draw parallels with the hard drugs trade. Sigh again.

It’s an unfortunate ending (1/5) to what was otherwise an excellent series. The only surprise for me was that the whole “Chandra family do The X-Files” angle from Prisoner of the Judoon wasn’t followed up. Perhaps next season?

Phew! First Torchwood, now I’ve got to the end of The Sarah Jane Adventures. If we, er, ignore the entire season which has aired since the Marathon officially ended, that is! Just sixteen episodes of Doctor Who to go for me. Then I just have to catch up on the post-Marathon stuff and I’m up-to-date…

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Mona Lisa's Revenge

Part One

“Leo was a bit of a ledge, even back then…”

I’m really enjoying this third series, especially speaking as someone who wasn’t too fussed with the first two and had actually been procrastinating over watching this one. But it really seems to have found its mojo. The characterisation, style and mood of the whole thing just feels so much more assured, and lighter on its feet. There are lots and lots of nice little touches. Case in point: Clyde’s artistic talents from Mark of the Berserker haven’t been forgotten. And there’s a great moment when he realises that no one is laughing at him for being geeky, and everyone thinks it’s pretty cool.

This is a great little episode from Phil Ford. The central concept (the Mona Lisa coming to life as a bad-ass yet very witty Lancashire lass) is such fun. This is the first time I’ve seen Suranne Jones in anything (I don’t do Corrie) and she’s fantastic. And the unveiling of Leonardo’s painting of Miss Trump is great precisely because you know what’s coming.

Oh, and I noticed the sly little nod: “I told them security had to be improved here. I told them! After that Cup of Athelstan fiasco at Easter…”. Also cool is the cameo by Lizo Mzimba as himself. And yes, I know the cliffhanger is the most predictable thing ever but in the circumstances it’s irresistible!

Part Two

“You’ve gone right over to the dark side!”

I like highwaymen. Highwaymen are cool. But this entire little story of “The Abomination” is the coolest thing ever, not to mention very scary indeed. Also, Suranne Jones continues to be awesome. This is great.

The ending is fantastic. “Harders” redeems himself, sort of, although he still gets quite deservedly dumped. There’s an explanation involving meteorites and similar events to those of Day of the Clown. And Luke saves the day by being really, really clever, and also resourceful and independent. This is really very good indeed. 5/5.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Eternity Trap

Part One

“I bet he made a mean balloon giraffe at children’s parties.”

I knew this was going to be great as soon as I heard the splendidly Dickensian name “Erasmus Darkening”. Absolutely no ambiguity about who the baddie is here.

A ghost story is something very new for SJA, and this feels very fresh. It’s also great to see everybody’s favourite Lib Dem peer, Floella Benjamin, as Professor Rivers, who now even gets given a first name: Celeste. And then promptly, er, disappears. I like the well portrayed and Uriah Heep-like Toby, too, in spite of the fact that he was a bit of an obvious red herring. But this story from Phil Ford is superb not because of any particular stand-out gimmicks but because it feels fresh, it’s very well-told and it’s got oodles of atmosphere. This is simultaneously very kid-friendly and yet as scary as anything I’ve come across during the Marathon.

It’s fun to see Sarah Jane playing the sceptic for once, and as this is a Luke-lite story it’s nice to see more of the developing chemistry between Rani and Clyde. I love the way this story shamelessly and deliberately has fun with all sorts of ghost story tropes, and we even get a blatant Nigel Kneale reference which almost made me fall of my chair. “Stone Tape manifestation", indeed…! The nursery is very scary indeed. A million times more so because of that rocking horse, for some reason. Reminds me of Ghost Light.

This is great. We get Rani being really investigative and Clyde being really witty. We get the missing Professor Rivers “ghosting” through her walkie-talkie, like Miss Evangelista. We get secret passages. Secret passages are cool. We get ancient electronic oojimaflips. And we get “This is Hogwarts, Tim Burton style”. I’m loving this.

Part Two

“Oh boy, this is worse than The Sixth Sense.”

There’s inevitably a slightly disappointing air to part twos in general as the way the plot is resolved is seldom quite as satisfying as it could be, even in a good quality drama. But here it’s satisfying in very possible way: from the plot mechanics side, the all-apparent-magic-is-really-science, Dæmons-fashion, side, from the loads-of-atmosphere side, and from the lots-of-fun-with-tropes side. This is unremittingly great.

I can’t do enough gushing. It all ties up, there are some nice plot revelations, it all looks fantastic, the dashing Lord Marchwood gets to be heroic, Toby turns out not to be such a Uriah Heep after all once Sarah Jane has broadened his horizons, and we get to see Clyde and Rani being very brave and stoic. This is a top 5/5. And although it’s not an “arc” story, or a particularly important story for any particular character, I see no reason to mark it down for being a non-“event” episode. This is the best episode of SJA yet.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith

Part One

“Where would I send the invite? Metebelis 3?”

This is the only appearance by David Tennant I hadn’t seen until today! Reminds me how close I am to the end. From now I’m going to try and really up the pace. I’ll hopefully complete my Marathon before the new series starts. I’ll then continue (why not?) with SJA series 4 and A Christmas Carol, this time in a part of the forum more appropriate for non-Marathon stuff. That should feed straight in to my reviews of the new series, which should be up-to-date after a couple of weeks. Nothing can possibly go wrong. Right?

Anyway… K-9 is still back. Yay! The first few minutes are such fun with all the spying and subterfuge being played for laughs, and the bickering between K-9 and Mr Smith looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Clyde’s reaction to two middle-aged people kissing is priceless. And no one plays nice-but-dim quite like Nigel Havers. The tone is set; there are some serious themes, yes, but this is a nice light-hearted story from the pen, or whatever, of Gareth Roberts.

The first theme is secrets, of course; Sarah Jane is keeping Peter a secret from the gang, but she is of course also keeping some extremely big secrets from him, leading to some rather good slapstick. Some of which, rather nicely, involves Gita. I like Gita. She’s lovely. Did I mention that?

It’s great having K-9 back. I’m reminded of all the things I love about him when he says “Activating stair-negotiation hover mode!” and then proceeds to do so off-screen. Just like the good old days of rampant inflation, punk rock, Lady Adrasta and Count Grendel. Halcyon days. And we’re getting all self-referential, too: the Brig’s in Peru again, eh?

But isn’t this the greatest cliffhanger ever? The traditional wedding cliché of “Speak now or forever forsake your peace!” may never have actually happened at any of the many weddings I’ve ever been too, but it’s got great cliffhanger potential, used here at last. And it’s the Doctor! And the Trickster!

Part Two

“I assume everyone knows what the TARDIS is? Unless you’ve really not been paying attention!”

The Doctor’s “met” Luke before, of course, but not in person, and now he’s meeting Clyde and Rani too. The dynamic between the four of them is brilliant. I love the Doctor’s riposte to being told that Sarah Jane doesn’t like being called “Sarah”: “She does by me!” Perhaps it’s the novelty of seeing the Doctor in another show, but David Tennant really is great. Naturally, as soon as he appears they all start running a lot. What else?

All this is a little bittersweet, though. As soon as the Doctor utters the line “You two, with me. Spit spot.” I recall reading in an issue of DWM that this was David Tennant’s last ever line as the Doctor.

So apparently the Trickster is one of the “Pantheon of Discord” and some kind on “Eternal exile”. Isn’t that nice? I love this kind of tantalising non-explanation with just enough continuity soft porn.

What’s great about this second episode is that it has exactly the same plot as The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith. This means we can just let it chug away in the background without a lot of exposition while we concentrate on the fun stuff. Oh, there’s some very real emotional stuff between Sarah Jane and the genuinely nice-but-dim Peter, but it’s all too reheated for the emotional stuff to spoil all the fun. We have Clyde casually realising we’re in a spatial loop, Castrovalva-style, because “Well, we’ve been doing this for a while now. I have taken notes. “We have the Trickster recalling that the Doctor “once held the Key To Time in his hands”. This is heady stuff. Best of al, we have the Trickster saying to the Doctor: “Who are you, the man who has lost everybody, to talk to me of loneliness when the gate is waiting for you?” Ooh. Knock. Knock. Knock.

It all ends in the predictable way (not a criticism- the perfunctory nature of the plot is a plot here), the gang get to run around in the TARDIS, and we get an ending which contrasts nicely with School Reunion. This time it isn’t goodbye forever; it’s implied they’re bound to meet again. This signals that Sarah Jane has changed. She’s no longer so lonely and in need of a proper goodbye. But when the TARDIS door shuts, the Doctor is alone…

Good stuff. 4/5.