Sunday, 20 December 2015

Daleks in Manhattan

Following the bolder but otherwise safe format of Series 2, Doctor Who’s third series shows Russell T Davies near his peak in confidence as a showrunner: delivering a very experimental and genre-bending set of stories. We have the first and arguably only three-part finale, the real-time format of 42, the overtly thematic and plain weird story that is Gridlock, Blink, and the intentionally alienating Human Nature two-parter. Even the core relationship dynamic is unusual: throwing a companion and doctor so obviously ill-suited for each other, and the absence of Rose exposes how unpleasant and alien the main character is in a way which was present, but cheerfully ignored in Series 2. Martha can’t relate to him, for even up to the finale she still views him as a saviour, and that gives rise to the best parts of Series 3: beautiful, bleak, and messy examinations of what comes after the end of the halcyon days.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A Good Man Goes To War

"Good men don't need rules."

This is a challenging review to write for me because I have some deeply conflicted opinions on A Good Man Goes To War. It used to be a solid 9/10 and in my top 20 episodes, but now it’s fallen somewhat in my regard and there’s several things I both love and can’t stand about it. Often at the same time. 

I’ll start positive and say that - while I think the split series format brought its issues – as the climax of the first half of Series 6 it’s a runaway success. On the surface, a roaring and spectacular story, with all the scale and emotional intensity one might expect of a proper finale. On an arc level, it’s representative of some of the biggest game changers: The reveal of River Song’s identity, and The Doctor’s realisation of the monster the universe is beginning to recognise him as. And it managed to integrate both into the context of series 6; capitalising well on the running themes of the Pond’s faith in the Doctor and their relationship as his companions, and tapping into the vein of abstract and psychological horror of losing a child (again with visions to continue in 6b). This story had a lot relying on it and, while I now think it lacks heart, I don’t think it fails catastrophically on any meaningful fronts.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Girl Who Died

Almost every episode in Series 9 has in some way played around with the audience's expectation and subverted more conventional means of storytelling. The Girl Who Died takes this to a new extreme: constantly questioning its identity as the season's quirky comic historical. This is a story which desperately wants you to rewatch it and appreciate it on multiple levels. However, the trappings of its apparent genre and trying perhaps too hard to capture everything prevents it from excelling at anything.

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Many Faces of Clara Oswald

“Clara is just a plot device in a skirt!”

This is a criticism which was thrown a lot at Clara in Series 7. One which holds water at a glance. But especially given what we learn about her character in Series 8, I believe there is plenty of room for interpretation in both hers and The Doctor’s actions and attitudes which, even if not intentional, may help someone enjoy her arc on a deeper level.

First I want to address the criticism of Moffat that his companions, and Clara in particular, aren’t normal enough; to do that I think we need to look at The Doctor. One of Eleven’s defining character traits (or tawdry quirks) has been picking out details which aren’t what they seem – he is exceptionally analytical and a strategic thinker. But he has been known to miss the obvious by wanting to make it clever. Emotions also get the better of him, and following The Angels Take Manhattan, he is both grieving and has lost the people who usually call him out for making those mistakes.

Even under normal circumstances it would be very much in-character for Eleven to be attracted to someone who is a ‘puzzle’, just as it was in-character for Nine and Ten to latch on to ‘normal’ humans in an attempt to rebuild a sense of belonging following the Time War. But here, Eleven’s grief gets the better of him and he distracts himself via his fascination with the mystery of the impossible girl – overcomplicating it and frequently forgets the woman behind it.

Now there is a lot of wiggle room in this post, but this I definitely think was intentional because The Doctor is called out for it repeatedly, by Emma Grayling, Clara herself, and Madame Vastra. But even as late as Nightmare in Silver it is clear he is preoccupied by the version of the impossible girl he has constructed. And because he does, so do we.