Monday 29 September 2014

Doctor Who: The Caretaker ( review )

"The walls need sponging and there's a sinister puddle..."
This week, the Doctor follows in the footsteps of Freddy Krueger, Hong Kong Phooey and Willie from the Simpsons as he adopts the identity of a ( not so ) mild-mannered janitor to investigate sinister goings-on at Coal Hill School. The Time Lord and Clara have to face the rampaging Skovox Blitzer and also a certain ex-soldier-turned-maths-teacher...
Even though this could be seen as writer Gareth Roberts getting yet more mileage out of the "Doctor passing himself off as human" theme ( see The Lodger, Closing Time ) it feels fresh this time with Capaldi's short-tempered, impatient Doctor failing to blend in with his surroundings, but in a different way to his predecessor. The Doctor just wants to be left alone to save the world but the complications of Clara's love life and the interruptions of a curious teenager conspire to irritate him. The humour in this episode works much better than in the recent Robin Hood story  -  the Doctor is just as snappy and unreasonable as before ( especially when berating Samuel Anderson's Danny Pink ) but there's more of a twinkle here, more warmth showing through. As ever with Roberts' scripts there are some hugely funny lines, with Jenna Coleman really rising to the occasion here  -  her exasperated exclamation of "Human beings are not otters!" has to be one of the highlights of the series so far. Seriously.
The story's nominal antagonist, the Skovox Blitzer, is relatively underused, being purely functional in terms of plot mechanics, but is still a bizarrely interesting visual. It has no personality to speak of, being just a robotic soldier, but its half-glimpsed, part-tank, part-spider look is quintessential, oddball Doctor Who.
The Doctor / Clara / Danny triangle is coming to the fore now that Mr. Pink ( not Steve Buscemi ) has discovered the truth about his girlfriend. It's good to see Clara's character becoming more three-dimensional now that the "Impossible Girl" storyline has been tied up. And I quite like the fact that former squaddie Danny instantly recognises the Doctor as part of the officer class  -  it seems you can take the Time Lord out of Gallifrey but not Gallifrey out of the Time Lord...
The last scene reminds us of the arc-plot with another deceased character finding himself in the so-called "Promised Land", complete with cameos from Michelle Gomez and Chris Addison. It will be interesting to see how this plot resolves in the finale and how it ties up with the Cybermen. Anyway, I'll give this episode:
Four Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or janitor's brushes )

Soundtrack: Clouds Taste Metallic by the Flaming Lips

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Happy Boss Day!

Happy Birthday to New Jersey's favourite son, Bruce Springsteen, who is  -  unbelievably  -  65 today.
"Sparks fly on E Street..."

Doctor Who: Listen / Time Heist ( mini reviews )

"Fear makes companions of us all..."

Listen is a strange episode of Doctor Who  -  for the most part low-key and creepy in a classic ghost story style, yet also encompassing the end of the universe and some Coupling-esque sitcom moments. Revolving around the all-too-familiar childhood fears of something unseen close behind or something lurking under the bed, this story is an effective attempt by Steven Moffatt to put the chills back into Doctor Who. Peter Capaldi is excellent as an obsessed, driven Doctor having some kind of minor mental breakdown, while Jenna Coleman also shines, whether suffering through an awkward first date or confronting an eerie apparition in a child's bedroom.Some people aren't happy about the story's final revelation but I think it's a bold move of Moffatt's to add to the show's mythology. Even after five decades we can learn new things about our favourite Time Lord.
4 Out Of 5 Sonic Screwdrivers ( or pieces of chalk )

Time Heist, by contrast is a Doctor Who take on ( strangely enough ) heist movies. The Doctor and Clara find themselves part of a small team assembled to rob the most impregnable bank in the universe. They have all had their memories wiped and must find out who hired them and why... and also avoid a terrible fate at the, er, eyeballs of the gruesome Teller, an alien who can sense guilt.
Considering this episode was written by the usually-lacklustre Steve Thompson it's got a lot to recommend it: Capaldi channelling Malcolm Tucker, Jenna Coleman looking very cool in a suit, some chilling moments with the brain-blasting Teller and a well structured plot that rewards repeat viewings. Its biggest failings are no real sense that breaking into this bank is all that difficult, and a waste of the wonderful Keeley Hawes who surely should have had more scenes of verbal sparring with the Doctor.
3 1/2 Out Of 5 Sonic Screwdrivers ( or Memory Worms )

Soundtrack: Talking Heads '77 by Talking Heads

Friday 19 September 2014

Great Scots!

So, Scotland voted "No" today and will remain a part of the United Kingdom. I don't really want to get too deep into the politics of the argument but I can certainly see the attraction of independence. I only live about 100 miles away from the seat of the British Parliament but I don't feel the government understand the problems and issues of this relatively close area of the country, let alone those of people three times that distance away. But it seems to me that, in these troubled times, you need all the support you can get and breaking away may have caused more problems for the Scots than it solved. However, the point's rather academic now, but I'm sure it will be debated for years to come. Anyway, in the usual superficial style of this 'ere blog let's just celebrate some of the seriously cool people that great country has produced...

Update: I almost forgot this mighty Scot:

Monday 15 September 2014

Listen... later...

Apologies to anyone expecting this week's Doctor Who review to appear on time. As frequently happens, the "real" world has had to take precedence. We've spent the last three days moving Sophie to her new student digs down in Bristol. Why three days? Well, we did the bulk of the work on Saturday and it all seemed to go very well... at first. She rang to say she had a bug problem in her apartment on Saturday night, which we assumed to be typical teenage overstatement. It actually turned out to be a ( minor ) cockroach infestation. Not nice. We had to move her back out on Sunday, which was a huge pain in the arse, to prepare for the place to be treated by the pest control bods. To be fair to the letting agency's staff, they were mortified by this and paid for her to spend two nights in a nearby hotel while it was being sorted. She should be back in her apartment tomorrow morning. Phew! So, my review of Listen will follow soon, probably after I've watched the episode again...

Shameless self-promotion time

In a shocking turn of events which may stun the faithful readers of this 'ere blog I have to announce that I have today revisited the site of past glories and chiselled arcane words of wisdom into the very rockface of the blog landscape. Or, to put it another way, my old music blog, 15 Albums, is again open for business. Check it out ( should you want to, of course ) for my take on the classic Abbey Road album by The Beatles.

"Once there was a way to get back homeward / Once there was a way to get back home"

Monday 8 September 2014

Doctor Who: Robot Of Sherwood ( review with spoilers )

"No damsels in distress, no pretty castles, no such thing as Robin Hood..."
This week, the Doctor and Clara drop into Sherwood Forest in 1190 AD ( -ish ) to meet the legendary outlaw Robin Hood and aid him in his struggle against the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Or, they would if Robin Hood were real. As the Doctor points out "Old-fashioned heroes only exist in old-fashioned storybooks, Clara". But who, then, is this dashing character in Lincoln green who laughs in the face of danger and protects the good people of Nottingham from the Sheriff's mysterious metal knights? Can he really be England's greatest hero? And what of the Doctor? How will he react when he becomes a part of somebody else's legend...?
Unfortunately, this episode is the first misstep of the new series in my opinion. Writer Mark Gatiss has written a few stories for the show since 2005, veering from the sublime ( The Unquiet Dead, Cold War ) to the distinctly average ( The Idiot's Lantern, Night Terrors ). Robot Of Sherwood falls more into the second, er, camp. It's not bad... it's just unexceptional.
The biggest problem is that the almost constant bickering between the Doctor and Robin becomes irritating very quickly and has the unwanted result of making the Doctor look childish and petty. The humour is often forced and weak, although there are a couple of good gags about Errol Flynn and the North of England. It's not really enough, though. Another major concern is that this is ( Spoilers! ) yet another of what have come to be known as " broken switch" stories. The robotic alien knights have crashed to Earth and need gold, looted from the people of Nottingham, to repair their spaceship. It's bad enough that we've seen this kind of story too many times before ( The Girl In The Fireplace, The Lodger, The God Complex ) but the last example was only two episodes ago! This really is poor planning on Steven Moffatt's part.

So, what's good about this story then? It all looks great, with some fine sets, costumes and direction. Tom Riley steals the show as the larger-than-life, laughing-out-loud Robin Hood, charming Clara and hurling insults at that "bony rascal" the Doctor. The other "name" guest actor, Ben Miller, also has a great time playing the vain, egotistical Sheriff. The robots, while having no personality whatsoever
( unsurprising for robots, I suppose ), look suitably imposing and their crucifix-laser-beam stare is a cool effect. Gatiss' script, while nowhere near as witty or clever as it could have been, has some nice touches: a couple of quotes from Karl Marx (!), the odd call-back to the Pertwee era and some insightful thoughts on the importance of legends and heroes. Oh, and Jenna Coleman looks absolutely lovely in her faux-mediaeval gown:
Definitely a case of "must try harder" then. Hopefully, next week's Moffatt-scripted spook-a-thon should bring the series back on track. For now, I'll give this one  -
Three Out of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or broken arrows )

Sunday 7 September 2014

Crucible 2

We went to an art exhibition at Gloucester Cathedral today. This was "Crucible 2", the belated follow-up to the original Crucible exhibition back in 2010, as seen in previous posts here and here. Again, the theme was mostly religious, with some works being quite twisted and disturbing...

I think this last one was my favourite... love the hair!

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Doctor Who: Into The Dalek ( review )

OK... two episodes into the new series and my Doctor Who reviews have already started running late. Same old story. In my defence we did have a mega-busy weekend with Sophie's marathon birthday party ( 8 hours of socialising! ) and several Ice Bucket Challenges taking up a lot of valuable blogging time :-)

After the traditional post-regeneration trauma of last week's episode, the Doctor now seems more stable... and can even fly the Tardis accurately. He proves this by saving the life, somewhere in deep space, of Journey Blue  -  a soldier fighting a last, desperate battle against overwhelming Dalek forces. On board Journey's space shuttle, the Aristotle, the Doctor discovers the rebels have a patient: a captured Dalek who is so damaged he has turned "good". And he needs a doctor. After a quick hop back to Earth to pick up Clara ( who seems to be doing just fine on her own, chatting up new character Danny Pink ) the Doctor and a military escort ( shreddies ) are miniaturised and sent... into the Dalek...
For me, this is one of the best episodes in years, especially after last year's regular series ( away from all the 50th Anniversary hoopla ) was so hit and miss. And it's definitely the best use of the Skarovian pepper-pots in a long time, restoring their full menace and deviousness. Director Ben Wheatley brings a suitably intense, filmic quality to the story with some of his signature slow-motion / trippy visuals  -  I love the psychedelic scene where the Doctor and co travel through the Dalek's eyestalk like it's a funhouse hall of mirrors. The script is fine too, examining this series' theme of what it is to be a hero or, indeed, a good man. The new Doctor can be abrasive and seemingly uncaring at times, a harshly pragmatic man who seems to forget that humans have feelings... but also very funny, exasperating ( especially for Clara ) and at times vulnerable. And calling the damaged, deranged Dalek "Rusty"? Brilliant! Capaldi, while maybe not yet fully comfortable in the role is excellent as ever and promises great things.

The only quibble I have is that there are elements to this story which are overly familiar: the Doctor confronting a chained, broken Dalek ( er, Dalek ), the miniaturisation and attack by antibodies ( Let's Kill Hitler ), falling into the digestive tract of a beast ( er again, The Beast Below ). These are only mild irritations and don't detract from a claustrophobic, exciting and surprisingly scary episode. I can't wait to see what else this new / old Time Lord has up his magician's sleeve...

Four Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or Dalek antibodies )


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