Saturday, 21 November 2015

Doctor Who: Series 9 Catch Up

I've got so far behind with my Doctor Who reviews ( and blogging in general ) this year that it's a bit pointless trying to write in any detail so long after the fact. This is no reflection on the quality of the show or my thoughts on it  -  I just haven't had the time or energy to devote to it that I normally do. Anyway, for anyone who's interested, I thought I'd fire out a few brief thoughts on recent episodes... in my standard "catching up in reverse" fashion:
Sleep No More
The "found footage" episode with no music, no opening titles and a creepy Blair-Witch-in-space vibe. Although the nature of the Sandmen takes some serious willing suspension of disbelief they are a nightmarishly relentless enemy, with their blindness and gaping-wound "mouths". This Mark Gatiss-scripted episode is more in the horror pastiche vein of The Unquiet Dead than his weak Robin Hood story from last year. Some nice touches like the spaceship crew being Indo-Japanese and a snivelling, twitchy performance from Reece Shearsmith lift this out of the tired found footage rut. But.... surely the Doctor fails in this episode? There is talk of a sequel so we may yet see the consequences of his failure to shut down the Morpheus machines.
The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion
Classic Who monsters return in a classic Who story. An ambitious, globe-trotting urban thriller, this two-parter almost feels like Spooks with added blobby aliens. The Zygons have been living in secret on Earth since the 50th anniversary special but now various factions are vying for power and attempting to start a war with the humans. The shape-changing nature of the aliens means the story has lots of paranoid fun with "who can you trust?" moments, especially when the cliffhanger reveals that Clara has been replaced by the fantastically-nicknamed "Zygella". Themes of identity, immigration and radicalisation all make this almost uncomfortably topical ( especially in light of the recent, awful terror attacks in Paris ) and harken back to the poltical comment of the early Pertwee years. Jenna Coleman and Ingrid Oliver ( as fan-favourite Osgood ) have some wonderful moments as variously human or Zygon incarnations of their characters, but the stand-out scene is an absolutely scorching performance by Peter Capaldi as he desperately tries to talk UNIT and the Zygons out of blowing up the world. Capaldi chews up and spits out Peter Harness' excellent dialogue at a ferocious rate, giving us possibly his Doctor's defining moment.
The Girl Who Died / The Woman Who Lived
This two-parter features the much-heralded arrival of Maisie Williams and, while it doesn't live up to the hype, is an interesting mixture of "historical romp" and something deeper. In the first episode the Doctor, without the assistance of his Tardis or Sonic, comes to the aid of a village-full of Vikings when they are attacked by alien soldiers The Mire. With all their warriors dead, the Doc must train the remaining villagers, Magnificent Seven-style, to fight for their lives. This is all very light and humorous until the Doctor's actions cause the death of Williams' character Ashildr and he is forced to use the Mire's medical technology to bring her back. Of course, there's a price for cheating death. We then get into the ethical ramifications of eternal life as the Doctor encounters Ashildr again in the second episode, hundreds of years later, where she has become a highwayman. Er... highwaywoman. Or something.. There is a very weak plot involving an intergalactic amulet and an underused leonine alien, but the story really revolves around Ashildr's long, sad life and the Doctor's responsibility for all her heartaches. The unusually dialogue-heavy scenes between Capaldi and Williams redeem the slender material although the "eternal life is a drag" conceit gets a bit wearing after a while. Which is appropriate I suppose. I've only watched these episodes as they were broadcast and need to see them again, I think...
Under The Lake / Before The Flood
Being Human creator Toby Whithouse returns to Doctor Who and brings ghosts with him.Which is nice. These two episodes have a lot going on: a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey plot; some very creepy "spectres"; a well-realised underwater base; a briefly-sketched but satisfyingly diverse cast and a beautifully-designed monster in the Fisher King. It's always interesting to see the tension between science and the supernatural in Doctor Who and this story blurs the boundaries between the two as the Doctor is made to believe that ghosts could be real. And stalking an underwater base. And carrying axes. This is a very gloomy, doom-laden story ( in a good way! ) but it also has room for Whithouse's trademark humour  -  I love the scene where Clara gives the Doctor cue cards to help him talk to humans without causing offence or upsetting them. It doesn't work of course!
Although it doesn't all quite hang together, this is a mostly fine story with some great performances
( especially from deaf actress Sophie Stone who communicates so much without dialogue ) and a cracking cliffhanger that presumably sent a fair few kiddies scuttling off to bed fearing the worst for their hero. You can't beat a good scare! I'm sure the Doctor agrees with me...

Soundtrack: Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division

7 comments:

Kid said...

Sadly, I've found this series totally uninvolving, with tedious, turgid and tired 'more of the same' plots that we've all seen loads of times before. Preachy, forced, rapid-fire, nonsensical dialogue from writers who seem determined to portray the Doc and his companion as witty banterers, but instead make them come across as a second-rate, end-of-the-pier double-act. Thing is, I want it to be good, so it's not as if I'm determined to see how underwhelming it all is (isolated moments aside). Therefore, considering the head start I'm giving it to impress and entertain me, the fault must lie with the show rather than me. Sadly, Peter Capaldi isn't being used in the way he should be, and there's not much difference between his and Matt Smith's characterization of the Doctor. Essentially, he comes across as a babbling buffoon - and that's not the kind of hero to whom I can relate.

Now for its bad points...

cerebus660 said...

Of course, everything is subjective and I have to disagree. Maybe you've got to the point where the show just isn't for you any more?

Kid said...

You could be right, Cer, but, if so, the question would be why that's happened. It's only since Moffat took over that I've started to feel this way. The ironic thing is, he wrote some of the better episodes when RTD was in charge. I think the problem is that he's just being too self-indulgent. It really could be a more entertaining and accessible show than it is, in my opinion.

John Pitt said...

However behind you are this year, I am even more so!
I needed this post to see what I've missed!

cerebus660 said...

John, if you do intend to catch up with Series 9 ( and you should - don't listen to Kid! )I hope I haven't spoiled the stories too much...

John Pitt said...

No worries, Simon. "Spoilers" is my middle name!
....( or, was it Derek? )

Kid said...

Too late, Cer - Moffat spoiled the stories first.

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