Sunday, 26 October 2014


Jamie Mathieson's second story in as many weeks takes us to the land of trip-hop, where people are being turned into 2-D images. This, of course sounds very familiar. While it was not exactly bad, "Fear Her" was a very flawed story that rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way. To say that "Flatline" learns from the mistakes of its predecessor is something of an understatement...

The key reason for its success is that it is genuinely frightening. Unlike the Isolus, a fresh concept of an alien that was thoroughly explained and given a motivation for, the Boneless remain as inexplicable at the end as they were at the beginning. The Doctor muses as to whether their attacks are merely a means of communication by a race so fundamentally different from us (which recalls such illustrious precedents as Stanisław Lem's Fiasco) but, whether they want to conquer or communicate, they kill to do so and, in the end, they are monsters...and we know what happens to monsters. The way in which the plot unfolds is typical of so many 'using the enemy's power against them' stories – yet, when it is as well done as it is here, the results are joyous. The concepts are, on the surface, simple, yet they are irresistible – a miniature TARDIS with a full-sized Doctor carried in Clara's handbag is an idea for a series in its own right.

Douglas Mackinnon puts in another phenomenal turn in the director's chair with an embarrassment of memorably scary scenes – PC Forrest being flattened is brilliantly rendered. The 3-D realisation of the massive attack of the Boneless, starting with the shock of the giant hand snatching Al away, is awesome with their unsettlingly jerky motion of the shapes of the dead. However, Mackinnon also brings humour when needed, especially in the brilliant scene of the Doctor literally moving the TARDIS by hand, which manages to be both hilarious and exciting. Mackinnon and the production team also manage to convey the inimitable quality that Bristol possesses, a mixture of industrial grime and bucolic cosiness. The guest cast is hugely effective. Joivan Wade is great as tricky kid Rigsy and PC Forrest's awful fate is made all the more poignant with Jessica Hayles's plaintive screams. However, the best guest performance is that of character actor extraordinaire Christopher Fairbank, who makes the loathsome jobsworth Fenton into a truly memorable character.

As he appears throughout the story, it is easy to forget that this is a Doctor-lite story, but Peter Capaldi does not let his confinement to the TARDIS limit his performance – I particularly liked his happy dance when he (temporarily) saved the shrunken TARDIS. This leaves Clara basically playing the Doctor, something that Jenna Coleman does with relish.

"Flatline" is a fun, frightening and phenomenal tale that shows that Doctor Who can scare in a multitude of different ways, without becoming boring.

NEXT: "In the Forest of the Night"

Friday, 17 October 2014

"Mummy on the Orient Express"

The title of the story promises a jolly romp, with nods to both Agatha Christie and classic monster movies; more in line with a Christmas special than a regular episode Indeed, the first shot, with its period-style costumes and setting are line with this. However, the sight of the mummy itself soon dispels any notion that this episode is disposable filler, and we are immediately shown that this episode will take us into darker territory.

Jamie Mathieson's script is clever and insightful, whilst remaining hugely engaging throughout. The story is a fantastic monster tale and can easily be enjoyed on that level, but it cannily uses the monster to draw out character in truly inspired ways – the monster attack is, effectively, the same attack repeated. This moves the spotlight away from the mummy and onto the people reacting to it and the nature of their reactions, which leads to an inspired left-turn, when it is found out that the Orient Express is, in fact, a laboratory, with the scientists being the subjects as well as the conductors of an experiment.

The supporting characters are drawn in enough detail for them not to be simple Christie clichés, and are brilliantly performed by a stellar cast – Janet Henfrey is always worth watching, even in such a small role and Christopher Villiers is very effective as the doomed Professor Moorhouse. Daisy Beaumont, almost unrecognisable in a blonde wig, makes Maisie into something more than the usual shrinking violet and David Bamber brings unexpected depth to the role of the Captain. Frank Skinner is clearly having the time of his life as Perkins and I’m sure it was a wrench for his character to refuse the Doctor's invitation. Paul Wilmshurst puts in another sterling effort in the director's chair The uniformity of the mummy attacks do not mean that Wilmshurst makes them all look the same, as he finds fresh ways to make those 66 seconds look scary. He is helped, of course, by a truly terrifying monster that will live on in the nightmares of a generation of children. The opulent design is another triumph for the production team and the cinematography is exquisite.

However, it is the regulars who do the most demanding work of all of the actors. The spotlight is frequently on the Doctor, in his attempts to not only deal with the mummy, but the ways in which he helps those around him. The collateral damage in Doctor Who is always high and we get a rare glimpse of how the Doctor reacts about the bodies left in his wake, rather than how he reflects later. The Time Lord is calculating, but he always tries to make the best choice, even when the choices aren't good. This is, crucially, after Clara's damning rebuke of the Doctor at the end of "Kill the Moon" and Clara is prepared for this to be their last great adventure. However, the Doctor respects her enough to not modify his behaviour and be honest with her as far as it is possible. Jenna Coleman is vital in making us feel why Clara, in the end, wants to stay with the Doctor, but it is our leading man who takes the laurels. The scenes with the Doctor talking to himself are mesmerising, with a wonderful scene where he channels one of his previous selves. He is affected by the deaths, but, as he says, 'People with guns to their heads cannot mourn'. However, he carries jelly babies in a cigarette case and would rather talk about planets than relationships. Most importantly, the joy in his face when Clara decides to stay is wonderful to behold.

Again, we have been given an excellent 45 minutes entertainment that uses an old concept to tell a wonderfully fresh story.

NEXT: "Flatline"

Saturday, 11 October 2014

"Kill the Moon"

"Kill the Moon" is, on the surface, a story of the Doctor and some monsters. It also has hallmarks of that old Troughton staple, the base-under-seige story. The situations that form the plot are easy for anyone to follow. Yet the combination of all these things somehow results in something really striking, proving that simplicity does not equal stupidity. "Kill the Moon" is a début story for both director and writer and this fresh take really makes the story work. Peter Harness writes each scene with total conviction, which makes the (frankly bonkers) revelation of the story – that the Moon is, in fact, a giant egg, completely convincing. Harness manages to bring out the mythic resonance of such a plotline, which has precedents in folklore around the world, to make the concept seem epic, rather than silly.

Paul Wilmshurst realises Harness's vision with great skill, making the spider-germs truly terrifying. An obvious precedent is the superficially scary, but ultimately silly 2011 film Apollo 18, but this story is better in every conceivable way. The location filming in Lanzarote gives the lunar surface a real sense of depth and Wilmshurst deals excellently with the subtle shifts in mood; horror, tension and wonder, with the unforgettable sight of the Moon hatching being particularly breathtaking. The performances from the limited cast are excellent, although again, it's a shame that an fine actor like Tony Osoba is used so little, in his third appearance in the programme (in easily his best story!) The main guest star is the brilliantly charismatic Hermione Norris, who makes Lundvik a very relatable character, despite her archetypal function in the plot. We also have the return of Ellis George, showing a whole new side to Courtney.

However, what elevates the story into a whole new level are two key scenes. Once the true nature of the Moon is discovered, there follows a debate over whether or not to, well, kill the Moon. This recalls a similar sort of discussion in "Cold Blood", but the writing here is so much better. The decision to let the Earth vote leads to some wonderful visuals as the lights on the globe blink out. In all this, the Doctor has done what he couldn't do on Mars, or even Pompeii – he leaves it entirely to the humans. The Doctor's wonder at a new piece of history being freshly revealed to him is infectious – until Clara reveals to him exactly what she thinks of this manipulation.

This scene is excellently written, but is only improved by outstanding performances by the regulars, of the same standard as Steven's taking leave of the Doctor in The Massacre. We have seen the Doctor detached from humanity and we have seen the human he is closest to pulling him back to Earth and reminding him of his duties to his favourite planet. Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi have never been better than in this story, a remarkable feat, indeed.

"Kill the Moon" is a brilliant first story for its creators and another highlight of what is turning out to be a great season.

NEXT: "Mummy on the Orient Express"

Saturday, 4 October 2014

"The Caretaker"

It seems that every time the Doctor has to go undercover as a normal person, Gareth Roberts is the man brought in to draft the job. However, if there’s one thing his scripts for the Moffat era have shown, he is excellent at those little moments of human drama and comedy. The normality of the story is further emphasised by the fact that (apart from the frenetic pre-credits sequence and the coda) it is mounted like a normal drama set in a school, which just happens, one day, to have an alien killing machine rampaging through the set. We even have a seemingly normal (albeit very funny) parents’ evening. Although the script contains a wealth of laughs, ranking as one of Roberts’s funniest, the core of the story is more ambitious. Again, the alien threat is not placed in the foreground, for this is the story of Danny finding out the truth about Clara. Roberts’s writing here is superlative, dealing with Danny’s need to establish trust and Clara’s managing both the emotional and temporal disarray that travelling with the Doctor causes to meet that trust.

However, the programme is still called Doctor Who and our hero is by no means in the background. As the monster is of reduced importance plotwise, it is has very basic motivations and is dealt with logically, which works perfectly with the type of story that this is. This leaves the Doctor in the role of concerned father figure, trying to figure out what to make of Clara’s new beau. The difference between this Doctor and his predecessor is immediately obvious - ‘deep cover’ means putting on a brown coat, rather than making any behavioural effort to fit in. Capaldi is unique, but I like to think that his portrayal in this story is what Hartnell would have been like had he been 50 years younger – high praise, indeed. Jenna Coleman is a delight, being a charismatict teacher, loving partner and time and space traveller and all of these colliding abruptly. However, the performance of Samuel Anderson as Danny is key. The scene where Danny and the Doctor have their face-off in the TARDIS is brilliantly written and performed giving the viewer a fresh insight on the effect the Doctor has on people, but Anderson’s soulful performance gives it an extra resonance – clearly this confrontation will have repercussions.

Paul Murphy is well up to making the story work with all its changes in mood and genre. The school sequences are perfectly paced, yet the sequences with the Skovox are shot and edited with great urgency – despite the monster’s comparatively small role and the unshowy effects work to realise it, the sheer force of its presence is memorable and the scene where Danny vaults over it is fantastic. Apart from the regulars, none of the supporting characters are that important, but they are all well played, especially young Ellis George as the bratty, yet strangely likeable Courtney Woods.

"The Caretaker" is a seemingly inconsequential story that manages to accomplish so much more than it promises.

NEXT: "Kill the Moon"