Now then, as is the way of second instalments of two parters, The Almost People carries twice the burden of a standard episode; for not only does it have to deliver a good dose of Doctor Who in its own right, but the critical merit of its predecessor is also riding on its
back like the Old Man of the Sea.
Now as we discussed last week, The Rebel Flesh was an opening half that was heavy on the set-up, and while some found it a little on the slow side, I for one welcomed what appeared to be a two part adventure properly structured in old school serial fashion i.e. as a single story split into two halves. So then, the big question going into The Almost People was would this episode neatly pick up the pace where the first part left off and deliver a solid second half delivering all the exciting action and plot twists promised by The Rebel Flesh. In other words - would my good faith in Matthew Graham be rewarded?
However, if you've visited the official BBC website or just been following Who news feeds in general over the last few days, certain details were revealed that suggested that this was to be not just the concluding part of a stand alone adventure. Remember in Series 3 there was that episode Utopia? And how it turned out to be not the one off story we were led to believe it was, but actually the first part of a three episode finale?
Well, these revealed snippets had me thinking that Moffat and Graham were pulling a similar stunt. And indeed, once this idea had taken root in my Doctor Who addled brain and I started to consider the possible story arc implications of last week's cliff-hanger, the more it seemed likely that a similar stealth trilogy was being set up. Or perhaps considering the on-going theme of things being temporally coterminous like Amy's pregnancy, The Almost People would not just be the second part of The Rebel Flesh but at the same time, become the first part of next week's A Good Man Goes To War...
SPOILER FOR THE REBEL FLESH
And furthermore, last week's ending of a Flesh duplicate of the Doctor being created, would seem to connect with the series opening with us seeing the Doctor (or perhaps more accurately, a Doctor) dying...
Of course, second guessing Steven Moffat is a dangerous game and one I've yet to win around of. For he's never yet written a Who adventure without more than a few aces up his sleeves, and so for the Flesh Doc to turn out to be the one we saw killed by the Impossible Astronaut feels far too straight forward for the man whose hand is always packed with wild cards and the king of the plot nutmegs. He's a crafty fellow you know – I'm that bamboozled thinking about what swerves he might have in store, he's got me mixing my sport and leisure metaphors!
But then again, all of the above could be just my fan theory machine blowing its telepathic circuits, and that the only tie-in to next week's episode, and indeed, the over-all story arc would just turn out to be a scene tacked on at the close...
...Though that would be more in keeping with the old RTD school of lazy plotting, rather than the cunning, hide clues here, there, and everywhere, long game approach of Moffat....
But enough of all these dot dot dot inspiring questions! Let's have some answers! Spoiler free of course sweetie!
Well then, from the top... Yes I think Matthew Graham delivered the goods, fluidly following on from the first part, ramping up the thrills and paying off character development. Watched back to back with The Rebel Flesh this makes a tightly woven feature length tale.
If I have one slight criticism, it was that some of what I will vaguely refer to as 'the Ganger effects' fell in the less than convincing end of the CGI spectrum. But then again, and I can't to be specific here if they had had top notch FX wizardly for a fair number of the scenes in this episode, it wouldn't have be allowed to be shown until after the watershed.
Yes, it dark stuff again! Definitely had a Hinchcliffe/Holmes vibe to it. And not just it features the kind of scary Doctor Who that generates complaints for “going too far!” either. For like those classic Tom Baker chillers of yesteryear, we had plenty of humour to leave the atmosphere, but more importantly a moral dilemma throbbing in the heart of the story.
However all of this will probably be somewhat overshadowed. When you see it you'll know what I mean. Put it this way it's going to be a very, very long week...
So then, which of the above scenarios exactly is The Almost People? Well, let's just say this is not quite a stand alone story...
Certainly, everything is on course of a highly intriguing episode next week. Rasillion only knows what's going to happen in that on. But I suspect we may be in for a very, very long summer too...
Obviously I have much more to say on these episodes, so then see you in a couple of maddening days, for a spoiler zone look at The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People
Continuing our celebrations of the Vincent Price Centennial, Mr Jim Moon explores not one, not two, but three fantastic movies featuring the master of terror! The flicks under the the microscope are Theatre of Blood (1973), Madhouse (1974) and Scream And Scream Again (1970)
In the first of two episodes celebrating Vincent Price's centennial on the 27th of May, Mr Jim Moon summons forth diverse treasures from the audient void including an interview, some radio terror and a poetry reading from the great man himself!
Right then, I didn't really intend to write a review of The Rebel Flesh as it's difficult to pass judgement on just one half of a story. So that was the plan when I sat down to watch this episode and when the credits rolled I thought 'yep, save the reviewing until both parts are in the bag next next'.
But then my brain, being the most unhelpfully helpful organ I possess, and often as erratic as the TARDIS itself, started wheezed and groaning, the central column began to rise and fall, and lo and behold, a string of critical thoughts started to materialize on the page...
Now writer Matthew Graham's previous foray in Doctor Who was Fear Her back in the second series of the resurrected show. Now this episode, although it did not attract the ire of fans like a farting Slitheen, didn't exactly win many hearts either. Fear Her had some interesting ideas, memorable visuals but somehow ended up feeling like less than the sum of its parts. So then I wasn't exactly hotly anticipating this two parter. On the other hand though, since then Graham had delivered two cracking slices of modern genre telly with Life on Mars and Ashes To Ashes, which I'd thoroughly enjoyed, so equally I wasn't dreading his return either.
Now while this wasn't a stellar episode, it was a cut above his previous Who outing. And I don't necessarily think that the fact that this wasn't an all singing, all dancing extravaganza is a bad thing. As I've previously remarked, a frequent pitfall of two parters in new Who is a cracking opener that the second half struggles to match. And The Rebel Flesh doesn't fit this pattern; it slowly builds up its plot to an intriguing cliff-hanger but it has left plenty of room for the story to really kick off in Part Two.
Rather than two episodes making one adventure, this feels more like a first half of a feature length episode. And therefore I can understand why some folks found it a bit too slow moving, but at the same time, judging from how Graham is structuring this story, I'm guessing that he's saving all the real action's for next week's The Almost People.
Naturally, how good The Rebel Flesh actually is will very much depend on what goes down in seven days time. But there are a few things that I did like that can be mentioned without setting of the Spoiler Alarms.
This episode felt very old school, very classic series. For a start, judging from my twitter stream, the Gangers seem to be hitting the right buttons for a Doctor Who monster - you know, those big ones marks "Scary" and "Hide Behind Sofa". And also we have the return of a pair of familiar tropes; firstly this is a tale in the classic 'base under siege' mould, and secondly it features a device much loved in the original series - place the TARDIS somewhere out of bounds to stop any easy escapes right in the bud.
But aside from the creepy monster action and running down industrial corridors old school stylings, this episode also showcased some other classic series virtues, such as character exploration and more motivations for its monsters than the usual just wanting to take over the universe routine. Rather than a very exciting running around 'what's going on!' instalment and then a follow-up of even more dashing about but this time eliciting a deflated' is that it?' response, it would seem that Graham is sticking to the vintage serial storytelling of set up, development, climax spread over two episodes. In short, he's letting the story breathe and grow, sacrificing some fireworks in this opener in order to deliver a better rounded adventure.
Certainly there's a lot of potential in this story line. He's not just set up a decent threat and a frankly fascinating cliff-hanger (and one that could be a very crucial development in the story arc too) but there's also a good old fashioned moral dilemma fused to the plot as well as all the classic scary corridors and super creeps.
So then, here's hoping next week's episode repays my faith! See you back here then for a full and frank discussion!
Over the past few days the internet has been all a-buzz with talk that the Rapture is upon us. However, thanks to a freak accident involving an ancient chalice, a Hawkwind LP and a good strong cup of tea in the office this morning, we found ourselves face to face with the Almighty himself!
Hypnogoria - Thank you for taking time out to clear this up, oh Lord!
GOD - No problems lads... And knock off the 'oh Lord' business will you? I just can't take that phrase seriously after Life of Brian y'know!
Hypnogoria - Right, sorry! So moving swiftly on... About this prediction of the Rapture and global earthquakes that Mr Camping is making?
GOD - Oh him again! The man is, if you'll forgive the use of popular parlance - a total tool! He's pulled this stunt before!
Hypnogoria - Really?
GOD - Oh yes, previously he claimed Judgement Day was due in 1994. Now what happened there was I sent out a general message on the etheric plane for people to beware of Judgement Night, the movie directed by Stephen Hopkins! And bloody Camping goes and gets the wrong end of the stick! He didn't even get the release date right!
Hypnogoria - Ah! It all becomes clear! But just out of interest, why did you do that? It's not that bad a flick is it?
GOD - It bloomin' well is! Though actually the point of that exercise was to try and halt you lot making Dennis Leary a movie star. He stole Bill Hicks' act! So while I'm not supposed to interfere in the realm of man - it's part of the whole free will deal y'know - but I was buggered if I was going to let that thieving plagiarist get an easy ride!
Hypnogoria -Fascinating! We take it you are a big Bill Hicks fan then?
GOD - Oh yes! He's my favourite Bill after Blake! Very funny man and wise too - his Revelations showhas some bang-on-the-nose spiritual insights!
Hypnogoria - Wow! But back to Camping...
GOD - Ah yes, I think what's happened this time is that the wrecked fellow has been eavesdropping on the answers to other folks' prayers! I did advise a bloke in the same area to "watch out for the raptors!" before he watched Jurassic Park! Amazing FX works from Stan Winston in that sequence y'know!
But I've no idea where all this global earthquake nonsense came from! Contrary to popular belief, I'm not actually responsible for everything that happens - again it's part of the free will malarky - you can't have the freedom to do what you please if I'm micromanaging every event that happens! And so the ability to choose your own fates means that much of what goes on is determined by unpredictable chaos maths algorithms. Sometimes it's good, sometimes bad, and much of my job is trying to inspire you lot with solutions for the negative stuff.
And if you think I'd end the world halfway through a Doctor Who two parter you're clinically insane!
Hypnogoria -Blimey! You're a Who fan?
GOD - Absolutely! Well I did say 'the geek will inherit the earth' ... though admittedly that did get misquoted! Seriously though, I do enjoy all marvellous things you lot come with and generally geeks are among my favourite people - they are intelligent, passionate and they share their love with the world in positive ways. That's what the world is for - it's a consensus reality where things - both physical and abstract - can be shared. That's why you lot and me started this whole project!
GOD - Hmm, might be jumping the gun a bit there... Look, you lot will figure it out soon enough as soon as you start seeing the Universe as a projection from quantum infinity and start thinking about it as energy in four dimensions... But I'll give you clue now to be going on with... The reason why everything doesn't always make sense is that THE UNIVERSE ISN'T FINISHED YET!
Hypnogoria - Crivens! So what you are saying is that you DIDN'T make everything in seven days and that actually it's a work in progress?
GOD - In a Word - yes! And don't get me started on the Creationists! Bloody hell, if you're going to take the Bible as literally true - which I don't recommend by the way, haven't these people heard of metaphors and symbolism? - it clearly says that I created the Sun on Day Four so obviously my 'day' isn't the same time period as the 24 hours it take Earth to orbit Sol! As Albert says Time is relative!
I get very annoyed y'know by beardy weirdies distorting what I said!
Hypnogoria -You know we always suspected that was the case!
GOD - Indeed! All I've ever tried to tell you lot in all my many guises is simply this - Be excellent to one another! (does celestial air guitar, laughs)
Right I've got to go, I've a fellow in Australia to inspire with a new idea for a comedy show and a big shock for Richard Dawkins to prepare!
Now it’s no secret I love a good ghost story, and of all the various horror tropes, it’s tales of spooks and hauntings that are most likely to steal my sleep (as can be seen from my list of the flicks that frightened me). So given my predilection for all things spectral, it was inevitable I’d take a trip to see Insidious. However the tagline on the posters did give me pause for thought - ‘from the makers of Saw and Paranormal Activity’ sounded like a clash of polar opposites as the glossy Hollywood gore of Jigsaw is surely at the other end of the horror spectrum to the creeping dread of a hand held haunting.
However on reflection, perhaps the gap isn't so great. Despite whatever you think about the Saw franchise, you have to concede the point that despite all the fuss about alleged ‘torture porn’ the series has two things over most other horror sagas - a strong continuing story line and a lead villain who has far more dimensions your typical Jason/Michael Myers slasher psychopath knock-off. And the original Saw had a solid mystery at its core, and was as much about intrigue and mystery as it was about the blood.
But also it was encouraging that after the usual pre-release of carping about PG-13/15 horror movies Insidious started to gather a lot of praise from within the horror community, not to mention gaining a reputation for being properly scary. After all, Sam Raimi had delivered a fun, solid horror with the same certification with Drag Me To Hell, could Insidious do the same?
Now the set up for the story is fairly straight forward, a young family move into a brand new house and as expected, very soon things start to go bump in the night. However this isn’t quite the usual scenario of a residence having some most unwelcome ethereal squatters as this a haunting with a twist. Or rather several twists, none of which I shall spoil here even though some trailers to do reveal the first swerve the story pulls, for I believe the film will work better if you don’t know the ins and outs before you see it.
But what I will say is that Insidious is essentially a three act tale. The opening chapter plays out like a more Hollywood version of Paranormal Activity and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. It’s very well crafted, swiftly delivering some memorable scares but taking just enough time to build up a creepy atmosphere too. In many respects, this first act is the core of Oren Pelli’s film but without the slow pace and shaky cam that alienated some viewers.
However then the film unveils its first twist, and moves into territory that is reminiscent of the Spielberg/Hooper classic Poltergeist. So we have ghost hunters and their gadgets entering the fray, and the haunting itself intensifies from shadowy shapes and mysterious sounds into more tangible phenomena. However the special effects are never allowed to run riot, and despite the moments of comic relief the double act of paranormal investigators bring to the table, the movie maintains the atmosphere it has built up and continues to deliver the frights.
However it has a second big twist up its sleeve that kicks off the third and final chapter. Now I can’t reveal much about this last act while still under the spoiler embargo but I will say that it is the make or break point for the movie. Some will love the imagination and mythos that enters the plot at this point while other will undoubtedly feel that the movie has lurched too far into the fantastic. Now personally I really liked where the story goes at this point even though you can hear the seams of the budget straining at a couple of points. But overall, it’s inventive, ambitious and packed with weird imagery.
All in all, I had of ton of fun with Insidious, although the film is not without it’s niggles. For example while we have a strong cast featuring decent performances from our leads Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, who play the parents and provide a solid dramatic anchor for the story line, plus pleasing supporting turns from cult favourites Barbara Hershey and Lin Shaye, the script has the tendency to frequently let Captain Exposition possess the characters. But while at times it may feel at little overly overt and you feel the script perhaps could have done with another polish to insert he necessary plot points with more finesse, it’s not necessarily a deal breaker, as I felt it was an acceptable trade-off to keep the pace of the movie progressing a fair clip.
Similarly there isn't much in the way of character development, but again to adding more depth would mean adding to the run time. And at the end of the day Insidious is looking to scare the pants off you plain and simple. There’s nothing more than that going on here, unlike say The Blair Witch Project which also serves as mediation on film-making or Paranormal Activity which is as much about Mica and Katie’s relationship as it is about the terrors in the night. But there’s nothing wrong with a horror movie that is solely focused on giving its audience a very poor night’s sleep, and judging by the review on IMDB, Insidious has succeed in its aims. Indeed, I suspect that many of felt that the previously mentioned movies wasted too much time talking rather than scaring will embrace Insidious with open arms.
Now I do have a further bone to pick with the movie, and that is that if you are well acquainted with the horror genre, you may feel that Insidious is somewhat derivative and you’ll won’t need to possess powers of clairvoyance to how it’s going to end. However I can’t really go into details here so we’ll discuss that in the follow-up spoiler review…
…But the fact I’m going to bother with a second part to this review to debate the matter is telling enough. Yes, it’s not a perfect movie, and yes it’s a mainstream horror but its strengths outweigh its weakness by a long chalk. For example, Insidious does indulge in the typical jump scare shenanigans but I found that much of the time, what is revealed in this moments was often something strange and unsettling that it was the weirdness of the imagery that raised the hairs on the back my neck rather the sudden shocks. With clever editing it’s not hard to jolt an audience, but to make the flesh creep with whatever springs into the frame takes real imagination. And Insidious does that rather well, with many moments where you are left wondering “what the HELL was that?” and distinctly unnerved.
And yes, some of the images in Insidious did make an unwelcome return when I turned out the lights and retired to bed. Now it didn't give me a sleepless night, but the fact that it lingered in the mind of this jaded horror fan and prompted a moment’s hesitation when I reached to the lamp switch is still a fairly decent accolade. In many ways, this is the perfect movie for a Halloween night and indeed I'm looking forward to watching it again on a dark winter's night. For with Insidious, James Wan, Leigh Whannel and Oren Pelli have crafted a great Ghost Train of a film; scary fun but without being too hokey and fast paced with exciting twists and turns. It may lack the intelligence and subtlety of the real classics of haunted house cinema and while it may be more entertaining that traumatising, its imaginative mix of thrills and frights make Insidious a real delight.
But now, run for the corridors! The spoilers are free!
Well, I couldn't just let such a lovely episode pass by and not remark in detail on its merits could I now?
To begin with in the opening scenes we have a whole slew of little nods and winks to the Doctor’s past travels. In the run up to this season, hot on the heels of the news that Mr Gaiman’s episode would be appearing, came the titbit that the story would feature something or some one not seen since The War Games.
Now for those of you who don’t know, The War Games was final epic adventure that ended the Second Doctor’s run. And this tale was a real landmark in Who history, as it finally revealed that the Doctor was a Time Lord, met other members of his race, saw their home Gallifrey (though it wasn't named until much later on) and we discovered why he’s been roaming time and space all these years.
Therefore when the title of this episode was revealed and the teasers and trailers told us that it took place in a bubble universe, in conjunction with the afore mentioned titbit everything seemed to be pointing in the direction of meeting some surviving Time Lords. However this wasn't exactly the case and the call back to The War Games turned out to be a hypercube, the method by which the Second Doctor summons the Time Lords to sort of the War Chief’s mess.
Now while some viewers might feel a little disappointed we only found the remains of dead Gallifreyans, it was a nice little swerve. For while the fan genes have always clamoured to see an appearance of Time Lords, even before RTD wiped them out in the returning show’s mythos, when they have manifested in a story, it hasn't always been for the best. For if they are mishandled – which they had been in the past in some stories – you damage the mystique of this powerful ancient race that effectively rules all time.
However while The Doctor’s Wife may not deliver on-screen Time Lords, among the wreckage of the countless TARDISes (TARDII maybe? Yes, we’ll go with that…), we get a lot of hints and odd little details that reveal just enough to fire the imagination but not drag the lore down into mundanity. For example, who exactly was the Corsair – the very name is laden with untold stories! And while his introduction into what we know about the Who universe confirms that Time Lords can indeed regenerate into different gender, fans no doubt will be more intrigued by his tattoo –what does it signify? Is it a Time Lord brand marking his as a criminal, which fandom has suggested the tattoo we see the Third Doctor sporting in Spearhead From Space is?
But as well as the hypercube, this adventure brings back lots of other classic flotsam and jetsam. Of course the reappearance of the Ood and the console room used by the Ninth and Tenth Doctors need not be remarked upon. However more obscurely, the bubble universe sounds very similar to E-Space where the Fourth Doctor adventured for a spell. And the deleting of rooms within the TARDIS to provide an energy boost has been done before too – in Castrovalva where the Fifth Doctor jettisons a quarter of the Ship’s interiors for extra thrust to escape being sucked in the non-time that existed before Event One (or The Big Bang to you and me).
And as well as all these tips of the hat to the show’s long history, there’s a pleasing return of some classic thematic elements. Firstly we have the long running staple of the original series, running down some corridors! And better still, they are corridors in the TARDIS! It’s always fun to get a peek at the Ship’s interior, but like the Time Lords, it’s best if that’s all we get – the TARDIS rooms you can imagine will always be more fun that whatever we see on screen.
Now while I delighted to learn that all the old console rooms are archived within the depths of the TARDIS, I was little disappointed we did get to a version from the classic series (and indeed from my web surfing this morning it would appear that every one who feels the same way would like to see the wood panelled secondary console room from the Fourth Doctor’s era). However we did get a third console in the shape of the lash-up TARDIS the Doctor and Idris cobble together, and this looked not unlike a strange mash up of TARDII desktop themes past. And even more fun is the fact that this improvised console was dreamed up by a child in a Blue Peter competition (details here).
Now what I really love about it is that a young viewer has taken the shape of the classic era console and made it over with the mad bric-a-brac stylings of the current TARDIS. But not only is it a great bit of design but it fits so perfectly with the themes of the episode. And speaking of which…
…We have the junkyard planet – now that’s not a reference to an older adventure per se but junkyards in general are important to Doctor Who lore. Our first meeting with the Time Lord and his TARDIS in An Unearthly Child occurred in a scrap yard on Totter’s Lane owned by one I.M. Foreman. And over the years, the Doctor has been back there several times - twice on screen in Attack of the Cybermenand Remembrance of the Daleks and on a few other occasions on the printed page. And it’s not the first time we've seen a spaceship graveyard too - all that interstellar wreckage reminded me of the wastes of Karn in The Brain of Morbius - and House is not the first villain who lures in spacefarers to stock his larder. It’s a vintage Who set up all round!
And so to then let’s talk a bit about the Doctor/TARDIS romance in this story. While any whiff of the ‘L’ word around the Doctor is seen as heresy for some fans, I thought the relationship portrayed in this episode was spot on. Now I’m not against the Doctor having a relationship per se – after all he is a grand father remember – but in the past I’ve never been quite convinced by what we've seen on screen in the new series.
For example, although I can understand the Doctor would have a lot of affection for Rose, as she seems to connect him back to the world after the traumas of the Time War, I didn't think she have the intelligence and resourcefulness to win a place in his heart next to Sarah Jane or Romana II, the two past companions who it would appear he had relationships that ran deeper than just friendship. And while I enjoy The Girl In The Fireplace, it’s main flaw is that I don’t really buy that the Doctor would seemingly fall for Madame Pompadour as quickly as he does – again I can see why he wants to whisk her away in the TARDIS – she has many of the qualities of Sarah and Romana but the gloss that there was love blossoming there just seemed too much to soon. But as I said, I’m not against the idea in principle. For example, you can see why he’s going to become River Song’s ‘old man’, as she’s obviously his sort of girl!
However what we have in this adventure is a different kettle of fish. For this is a love that is as deep as that we associate with Cupid’s arrows but it’s far more than the usual hearts and flowers. This is the Doctor meeting the human embodiment of his beloved Ship; as his oldest companion, his real home, the TARDIS is part of who he is. Yes, The Doctor’s Wife is a love story of sorts, but it’s not one that trivialises who the Doctor is by giving him a conventional love interest as a gimmick. Rather it’s an exploration of what the TARDIS means to the Doctor, and most deliciously, vice versa.
Now in the various books and short stories produced in the Who cannon, there has long been the idea that as well as being somehow alive and in some fashion intelligent, the TARDIS is also sentient and that they are as much grown as built. Indeed in the Eight Doctor series of novels we have the concept that in the future (well, the future that was to be before the Time War) TARDII would evolve beyond taking the form of inanimate objects and manifest as sentient beings.
Furthermore, fans have evolved a theory that the TARDIS takes the Doctor to specific places rather than just being somewhat erratic in where it lands. An early piece of ‘evidence’ for this is way back in the First Doctor’s time. In The Massacre, the Doctor’s companion back then Steven meets a girl called Anna Chaplet and it would appear she perishes in the titular tragedy. And Steven is most grieved that the Doctor is content to allow history to play out. However as they are arguing the TARDIS lands, apparently randomly, in present day London and a young woman enter, one Dodo Chaplet… Seemingly the TARDIS had sensed Steven’s grief and materialises at exactly the right time for his to meet one of descendants, proving that she survived the massacre.
Now then The Doctor’s Wife confirms both the above theories that have accreted over the years. And it does so in a wonderful fashion – solidly there in the script, yet not the main focus of the story.
The inclusion of all these little nods and winks, not to mention the new hints revealed will certainly play well to all those who love the show. But the story is so well crafted that causal viewers will equally enjoy encountering the conceits the plot is built around for the first time. Mr Gaiman has pulled off the perfect balance of an adventure that will appeal to both those steeped in Who lore and those who can’t recite the titles of Dalek episodes in order. As I said in my spoiler-less review, it is the a love letter to the series, but one that everybody can read.
And much has been made of the fact that this story is a wonderful stand alone adventure, but I do wonder it is as self contain as it first appears. Are the echoes of Totter’s Lane foreshadowing a new beginning for the Doctor? Remember, Moffat has promised us 'a game changing cliff-hanger'…
Also I do suspect we haven’t seen the last of Idris, or rather I can see the TARDIS taking on human form again for a chat, although her dialogue suggests that it might not be to speak with the Doctor...
And to briefly open the TARDIS doors while in the wild vortex of speculation – the Corsair? Piratical sounding handle isn't it. And what do pirates wear? Eye patches… Now we know he changed gender…
Well, it seems to becoming something of a running motif this season, for here we have yet another episode that is going to very tricksy to review without giving away the surprising central conceits. And hence this initial section might be somewhat brief!
But while as annoying as this is for your humble reviewer, on the flipside the fact that episodes warrant a rigid non-spoiler policy is a testament to their quality - for I have always believed that a good story should inspire one to kept its secrets so that other may share the delight of their unfolding.
Now I must confess to going into this episode with somewhat mixed feelings. On one hand, it was to be written by the legendary Neil Gaiman, a man who surely needs no introduction... But if you do, Mr Gaiman was one of the scribes who along with luminaries such as Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Grant Morrison, spearheaded the comics renaissance in the late ‘80s, the era where the humble cartoon strip grew up. Making a splash with the graphic novel Violent Cases and then went on to pen the ground-breaking Sandman series - essentially a novel told in 75 comic book chapters. Aside from further comic work, he went on to produce a string of novels and short story collections, cementing his status as one of the premier fantasists of this generation.
And recently he’s became to conquer the big screen - two of his books have been translated to the big screen, Stardust and Coraline, and he also penned the script for Robert Zemeckis’ retelling of Beowulf and the criminally under-seen Mirrormask which was directed by his long time collaborator, and legend in his own right, artist Dave McKean.
But far earlier in his career, back in the early ‘90s, he had first ventured into the script business with a little BBC series called Neverwhere. This six part serial took viewers to a secret London where this is an Angel in Islington, a nobleman in Earls Court and populated by bizarre characters such as Old Bailey. All great fun and possessing an atmosphere and tone not dissimilar to vintage Doctor Who. Unfortunately though, being produced a lean period of genre TV , it has also have the same low budget troubles and resultant shoestring production values that bedevilled late period Who.
So then on the other hand, despite The Doctor’s Wife being shunted from Series 5 to Series 6 for budgetary reasons, I was still concerned that the BBC coffers might not be able to do justice to his imaginings. And as much as I admire the the man’s works, I was also worried whether he could actually produce something that felt like ‘proper’ Doctor Who. After all, many name authors have written pieces for universes other than their own and, sad to say, have come a cropper (names withheld to protect the guilty).
Additionally the very title of the episode caused me some concern. In the beginning it was to be called The House of Nothing which sounded spot on; not just intriguing but passing my personal title Who test - namely would it look good with the addition of ‘Doctor Who And..’ for an imaginary old school Target Book with a Chris Achilleos cover.
However ‘The House of Nothing’ was torn down and became The Doctor’s Wife - a very different proposition. As from echoing the not terribly well regarded Series 4 episode The Doctor’s Daughter, it also started ringing all kinds of continuity Cloister Bells. To start with, in the range of novels produced first by Virgin and then later BBC Books during the years when Who was off the air we’d already met a sort of previous wife of the Doctor, Patience. But personally the possible canonical contradictions wasn't the real issue, as I’m not really a card carrying Continuity Cop. Rather it’s just that I get a bit nervous around the possibility we’re going to learn a little too much about the Doctor’s personal history. And with Neil stating in interviews that he was going to be adding to the mythology of the show, I was praying that there would be nothing that shrank or damaged the essential mystery of that makes our Time Lord hero so fascinating.
Now then, having seen the episode, all the above fretting was all for nothing. And with hindsight, I really shouldn't’ have worried - for if I’d thought a bit harder on the matter his comics work has seen him tackle many well established and well loved characters and done ‘em proud too! Yes, a huge *face palm* all round!
For this a delightful little tale, and very much a love letter to to all those years we’ve enjoyed tagging along with the TARDIS’ travels. Now, don’t panic because I mentioned the ‘L’ word - I’m sure that many of you were very concerned that the episode’s title would see yet more romance in the control room. But hey, so was I a little and while we do see a strong emotional and affectionate relationship forged, it really isn't what you’re thinking. And while I can’t elaborate without giving the game away, I’ll just say that is precisely the right kind of romance for the show, delivering warmth and heart but without the dreaded cheap tricks of giving the Doctor a sudden love interest.
Yes, there is love here, but it is a many splendoured, and indeed in terms of the story line, many layered thing here rather than the soapy antics of series past. But there’s a cracking plot, brimming with equally with humour and spooky horror. Essentially, The Doctor’s Wife hits all the marks last week’s Curse of the Black Spot was aiming for but just missed.
Guest star Suranne Jones puts in a stellar performance as the mysterious Idris, one that should win her an award or two, and I certainly I hope we haven’t seen the last of her. Matt Smith really shines in this episode too, quite a feat considering how week in week out he’s never short of excellent. And of course this episode’s other guest star, Michael Sheen is also on top form although in a voice only role.
But it’s more than just a fun filled run around, it is a genuinely touching episode for it reflects in many different ways the magic of Doctor Who. There are several lovely nods to the show’s past and indeed there are new additions to the mythology. And they are pitched perfectly - whereas in the past certain aspects of the Doctor’s past have perhaps been illuminated too clearly, as a writer Neil has always demonstrated a keen understanding of how stories and legends operate, in fact it is something of a recurring theme in his works, and hence the additions here aren't big continuity rewriting reveals but little hints that don’t diminish the mystery but actually artfully embroiders it, deepening old enigmas by raising new tantalising questions.
All in all, this was a magical little adventure and while it may not be muscling in on the territory of all time classics such as Blink or Genesis of the Daleks it’s certain to join the top ranks of the most well loved tales like City of Death. And I certainly hope this is not last script we’ll have from Mr Gaiman.
PS - Be sure to catch this week’s Doctor Who Confidential - as it’s jam packed with Neil visiting the set and musing on all things Who - it’s a real delight to see his love for the show and hear the man himself reading his original script aloud. And on the off chance anyone important is reading this - could we have a printed edition of his script ? The passages we heard sounded wonderful and it would make a great little chapbook to release as a charity fundraiser!
As Richard Reynolds remarks in his fascinating tome Super Heroes (Batsford Cultural Studies 1992) the super hero genre has drawn upon mythologies for their inspiration from the beginning – implicitly as in the original Superman strips, with Siegel and Shuster echoing the tales of Hercules and Samson in their adventures of this modern day strong man, and explicitly in the SHAZAM! Billy Batson uses to transform into Captain Marvel (S for Solomon, H for Hercules, A for Atlas etc.). However it wasn’t until caped crusaders had been around for twenty plus years, that Marvel maestro Stan Lee had the idea of a hero who was actually a mythological character.
Making his début in Journey Into Mystery #83 in 1962, Thor quickly became one of Marvel’s most popular heroes, with generations of readers falling in love with the blend of ancient mythologies and bang up to date comic book escapades found in his adventures. For countless kids who enjoyed tales of both super heroics and the legendary heroes of the ancient world, Thor was a dream ticket, for here was a character that could effortless switch from foiling modern menaces in contemporary New York to smiting evil gods and monsters in Asgard.
However while this heady mixture of present day adventures and mythic fantasy has proved enduringly popular in the comic books, it has been something of a hindrance to bringing the God of Thunder to the screen. While he has appeared in various Marvel based cartoon series over the years, live action manifestations have been very thin on the ground with only a guest star spot in a feature length episode reviving the 1970s Incredible Hulk series. Apparently The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988) was intended to serve as a backdoor pilot for a Thor TV series, however due to the machinations of Loki or plain old shoddy production values, the version of the Thunder God here bore little resemblance to the comics character and furthermore was an embarrassment to the name. Unsurprisingly the proposed series never materialised…
However back in the early ‘90s, Sam Raimi, fresh off his distinctly comic book flavoured Dark Man, pitched a idea for a Thor movie to Twentieth Century Fox, however the concept of a movie about a hero who was a god and had a hammer was too much for the minds of the minions employed by billionaire tyrant Murdoch, and the project came to naught. Hugin and Munin, the eyes and ears of the All-Father in the Nine Worlds, inform me that they are still laughing at this over at Sony as they gleefully roll around in the piles of cash the Spiderman franchise brought in…
However in the late ‘90s, with the success of the X Men movies, the idea for a Thor movie surfaced again. But the forces of evil laboured mightily and the project languished in the Hollywood equivalent of Niflheim; shunted from Fox, to UPS, to Sony, before Marvel Studios got Paramount onboard in 2006 and work actually began on the film.
But the Thunder God still have a way to go. Matthew Vaughan of Kick Ass fame was signed to direct but dropped out after the project looked to be stalling again with difficulties over the script and budget. However in late 2008, a new director signed on and movie buffs across the world were united in a global WTF moment – the new guy in the chair was to be Kenneth Branagh.
Critically acclaimed for his screen versions of Shakespeare, Cuddly Ken seemed a bit of odd choice to helm a comic book adaptation. On one hand, a man who could bring the Bard to movies again and had showed a keen grasp of genre material with Dead Again (1991) might well be the fellow to capture the epic grandeur a Thor movie would need. But on the other, his last big budget production for a popular audience had been the mendaciously named Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) which despite having some merits was somewhat fatally flawed.
However one thing was for certain – with such a highly respected director behind the camera, we were assured he’d attract a decent cast. And indeed, it’s directly thanks to Ken’s status among the thespian community that we’ve have Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Anthony Hopkins as Odin, and Idris Elba as Heimdall and Stellan Skarlsgard as Dr Erik Selvig. Now actors turned director often can attract a good troupe of players to their movies, but does Ken have the chops to wield the hammer of the gods?
Well, in a word, yes. Yes! Yes!
BY ODIN’S BEARD, YES! VAHALLA! I! AM! COMING!!!!!!!!
(looks sheepish and stops running around the office pretending a ruler is Mjolnir )
Thor is simply a great movie, hugely entertaining, delivering fantastic action, big laughs and bags of heart. It‘s a great tale that balances the top class thrills with deft humour, contrasts mythic grandeur with human drama and is never nothing short of glorious fun. Apparently Ken has been a big fan of the Thor comics since he was lad, and while I usually take such claims with a sack of salt, his enthusiasm for the source material is apparent in everything up there on the screen.
We might have had to wait an awful long time for the mighty Thor to make his screen début, but by the Gods, it was worth it! This is the ideal vehicle to bring Marvel’s Norse hero to the silver screen - based on a story outline by genre legend J. Michael Straczynsky who revitalised the Mighty One’s comics in the 2000s, it contains all the elements of a classic Thor adventure. We have action in the world of men, mayhem in the halls of Asgard, hammer spinning ass kicking, and eye popping cosmic panoramas, all wrapped up in a properly epic tale of struggling divine siblings.
But best of all it captures the look, tone and feel of the comics. Now while there are some minor changes to some of the depictions of characters, such as Volstagg being somewhat slimmer, Hogun missing his ‘tache and Thor himself sporting a well trimmed beard, overall the visuals are spot on – looking appropriately larger than life and clearly inspired by the art of Jack Kirby. But more importantly the characterisations are exactly right – we have a very strong cast here to bring the inhabitants of the Nine Worlds vividly to life. Even Anthony Hopkins refrains from his recent usual scenery chomping!
Thor is suitably noble and heroic but yet sometimes impulsive, and he’s played to perfection by newcomer Chris Hemsworth, who lights up the screen with his charisma. A star in the making? We think so. And he’s well matched by Tom Hiddleston’s Loki who makes a memorable and interesting villain, for the God Of Mischief has fascinating and complicated motivations rather than usual cardboard moustache twirling.
Now the fact that the villain has a character arc as strong as the heroes is testament in itself to the strength of the script. But the fact there is such a strong adversary puts Thor ahead of previous Marvel movies – after all, dull or poorly characterised villains have been a recurring problem in super hero flicks. So then it’s a real breath of fresh air to have an enemy that is as interesting and compelling to watch as the title character.
And this dynamic is mirrored in the story line. Without giving away any plot spoilers, what we have is a tale that builds the character development in parallel with the action and spectacle. Admittedly there none of the dark sophisticated psychodrama of Chris Nolan’s Batman films, or even the underlying teenage issues in Raimi's Spiderman franchise or the socio-political subtexts of the first two X-men but this kind of emoting and chest beating isn't appropriate for Thor.
Instead it’s colourful and joyous, revelling in the universe it builds and the relationships that are forged between its inhabitants. It’s meant to fun and entertaining while underlining the virtues of loyalty, nobility and wisdom, in exactly the same way as many of the original tales of Asgard told by the Vikings did*. And there is some darkness under the hood too - but it’s there as subtext, which is exactly where it should be in a movie that is literally populated with mythic archetypes.
And this combination of a strong cast in an equally robust story, that is a good cinematic reflection of the source material, and achieves a pleasing balance of action, drama and humour, lead me to think that Thor may well be the best of the Marvel adaptations so far.
Now I realise I’m sticking my neck out here, but let’s look at the competition. The first Spiderman loses marks for dwelling on the origin and mishandling the Green Goblin, Singer’s X Men were good but felt a little distant from the original books, and both Iron Man movies suffered from a lack of decent super villains. And I don’t think we need to consider the faults of the various Fantastic Four, Punisher, Hulk and latter X Men outings. All of which leaves the title of Bestest Marvel Super Hero Movie between Thor and Spiderman 2 - a pair of movies that superbly translate their respective titles’ heroes, villains and milieux to the big screen in fun yet satisfying stories.
And Thor is certainly one of the better summer blockbusters we've had for while; solidly entertaining and not ashamed to cut loose and have some fun. It delivers all the spectacle you’d expect yet refreshingly tells an engaging story too for a change. Here’s hoping this summer’s Captain America and next year’s The Avengers can translate Marvel’s visions to the silver screen just as successfully!
PS - Don't forget to to stay until the very end for the now traditional post credits sequences!
* If you are interesting in reading such tales, I recommend The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland published by Penguin, which retells the old legends superbly.
We sails under the colours of spoiler freedom, me hearties!
Question - Why are pirates so cool? Answers - Because they just aaaaaarrrrrrr!
Look, it was either that refuge from the Old Jokes Home or an obscene one about a parrot. Though the former does have the advantage of illuminatin’ the nature of scurvy buccaneers sailin’ the seven seas o’ fiction...
Basically pirates are always good fun and frankly there’s just not enough eye patches, cutlasses and walkin’ the plank about these days! I’d have though that the dubloons raked in by that House o’ Mouse trilogy, might have sparked up a new adaptation of Treasure Island or a remake of Captain Blood!
So then instant plunder in the treasure chest for this particular episode of Doctor Who. Overall The Curse of the Black Spot was jolly good fun, a light weight stand alone adventure as I expected. Lovely old galleon, a decent cast of sea dogs commanded by the engaging Captain Avery, played well by Hugh Bonneville, a deliciously beautiful but creepy adversary in the shape of the Siren (Lilly Cole), a Jim Hawkins aged stowaway, a splice o’ swash buckling and all washed down with some plot twists and turns.
So then a lovely little high seas classic then? Well, sadly no. It was entertaining enough but I can’t shake the feeling that it didn’t quite hit the mark. Not a bad episode per se, but at the same time, for me it ran aground on the sandbanks just off the shore of Average rather steerin’ a clear course to Treasure Island.
Writer Stephen Thompson is perhaps best known to viewers in TV Land, for penning The Blind Banker, the second episode of the Moffat/Gatiss helmed Sherlock which graced our screen last summer. However personally I felt that it was the weakest adventure for the modern day incarnation of the Master Detective in that series, and it would seem that The Curse of the Black Spot shares the same flaws as The Blind Banker - namely that the plotting tried to be clever and cunning but came across as fairly linear, and despite trying hard to hit all the right notes somehow just didn't generate the thrills and atmosphere you’d expect from the classic tropes both these tales are built upon.
Now I’d stress that this episode was by no means a disaster and there was a lot of fun to had from Mr Thompson’s script. The story clipped along nicely with plenty of drama between the action. The dialogue had plenty of sparkle, some fun verbal jousting and showed a good ear for period speech without over egging the pudding with lots of cod ye olde worlde thee-ing and thou-ing. And there were some fun and interesting wrinkles to the plot too; the sort of SF twists that are very in keeping with the traditions and feel of Doctor Who adventures past.
All quite entertain as it’s going along but after the credits had rolled I started nitpicking, which is never a good sign. But on reflection (yo ho ho, see what I did there) though individually, the scenes are fine, I think it was the way they were orchestrated together that led to the feeling that The Curse of the Black Spot was fluffing its siren song; missing the correct notes and not hitting the beats quite right.
In short, I liked it but really considering it was Doctor Who doing pirates, one of my great boyhood passions, I really thought I’d have loved this one. Quite possibly I’m being overly picky and certainly coming on the heels of a brace of very strong episodes isn't helping it’s case. Then again, if you weren't as onboard with the opening tale as I was, then maybe you’ll find that The Curse of the Black Spot is more your cup o’grog Cap’n!
Here’s be the spoils o’ plunder!
Right me hearties, I takes it that ye land lubbers have now seen this tale o’the high seas by now, either that, else ye don’t give a tinkers’ cuss about secrets reveal’d! So then, despite the difficulties that beset a man trying to type while doing the piratically patent Keith o’ Stones stagger, let’s scrape the barnacles of this story’s arse!
Aside from this adventure not quite having the right rhythm to the rise and fall of its plotting, where I’m really deducting marks from MR Thompson is that although as I mentioned on the above decks that this tale had some good twists in its tail, the problem is he plundered them! These be stolen goods m’lud!
The concept of an automated computer avatar preying on passersby we saw in The Lodger, and grabbing folk through space-time portals and not understanding what it’s supposed to do we saw in The Girl In The Fireplace, the twist that said folk weren't killed by teleported elsewhere is from Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways, and as for Rory dying and coming back, well we've had before in Amy’s Choice not to mention last season’s finale.
Now while I appreciated the dramatic development of seeing that Amy and Rory are a solid couple, and nicely burying the potential for a tedious love triangle in the TARDIS, did we really have to see Rory skirt Davy Jones’ Locker? Blimey, give the guy a break please - he’s back and forth beneath the Grim Reaper’s scythe like a bloody limbo dancer!
Evidently Mr Thompson has studied the form and shape of a good Doctor Who tale but unfortunately I could tell which stories in new Who he’d looked most closely at. Again, I might be being overly critical, but spotting these borrowings in tandem with the slightly off story rhythm gave me the impression of a script cobbled together rather than carefully crafted. And this impression was compounded by the fact that some plot points don't really hold up when you start to think about them - for example, surely it would be impossible to get rid of ALL reflective surfaces - humans eyes in particular! And surely would even an addled medical program have to put people in stasis just for a nick on the hand?
And the epilogue which gave us a flashback of the Doctor’s death and the virtual replay of TARDIS scanner pregnancy confusion of last week’s coda felt a little lazy. However I suspect this was tacked on as apparently originally this episode was scheduled to the ninth episode - the breather in the early phase of the autumn half of the season. And in fairness, we did see that the fluctuation on the scanner between Amy being pregnant or not was growing alarmingly more rapid. And taking this in conjunction with Amy’s flash of the Doctor dying, it does set up nicely the fact that the secret the Doctor is keeping is mirrored by the knowledge his companions must keep huhs hush. Rather apt considering the reflections theme of this tale!
It’s little touches like this and the other highlights such as the Black Spot being a skin sample, Amy going fully pirate and swinging about with a cutlass, plus the striking Siren imagery, that make me inclined to forgive the niggles incurred by the afore-mentioned recycled plot points and logical gaps.
So again I say good but not as great as I’d hoped. And let’s get some perspective here, there’s nothing here that makes you want to claw your eyes out with a gaff hook - farting Slitheen and paving slab blowjob gags I’m looking at you!
Well, it certainly was a wild way to open your new season! The Doctor it would appear is dead, killed by the mysterious astronaut, River Song definitely seems to his (future) wife, there’s an enigmatic little girl would may or may not be in the space suited figure that slays our Time Lord hero, and Amy would appear to be potentially pregnant (and I’ll explain that later). Last summer, Moffat promised us that the mid season finale would be a “a game changing cliff-hanger that will change everything” and Series 6 of new Who has clearly begun with the kind of almighty set-up that such an epic storyline would need…
Now first of all, let me nail my colours to the mast (Getting ahead of yourself there Mr Jim, the pirate ship’s next week! – Ed) – this brace of episodes really impressed me. Cunningly plotted and equally packed with scares and wit, this opening stories hits all the right marks for what I want from Doctor Who. But aside from all of that, I have nothing but admiration for the Grand Moff for kicking off the new season at the level most other series only climb up to for the closing episodes.
For example, the final cliff-hanger in Series 4 was the Tenth Doctor seemingly exterminated by the Daleks. However being an RTD story there was a convenient deus ex machine suddenly popping up in the form of some hitherto unknown wrinkles in the regeneration process to quickly tidy it up. However Moffat has significantly raised the stakes – the Eleventh Doctor is dead with no hope of regeneration and, more to the point, rabbit-from-the-hat solutions just aren't his style.
So therefore, I wasn't at all surprised that the Doctor’s demise wasn’t reversed by the end of Day of the Moon. However from sampling various reviews here and there across the net, it would seem a fair few were somewhat disgruntled that everything wasn't neatly tied up. Well sorry folks, we’re in a new age of Doctor Who now where’s there’s going to be proper story arcs, with episodes linked by a lot more than just dropping in a token reference here and there. And this is a good thing! No, honestly it is! Let’s address the various concerns…
The one I'm hearing the most is that “it’s going alienate causal viewers”. Well despite the now annual exercise in lazy journalism that claims that Doctor Who is falling in the ratings, if you visit the Doctor Who News page which regularly reports the stats, you’ll see that the figures are actually very, very healthy. Yes, the guesstimated overnight numbers are lower than usual but that is a combination of hot weather and both episodes falling in Bank Holiday weekends. However the properly calculated figures are a different matter demonstrating that the show is respectably holding its own, competing with those ratings heavy weights, the soaps, gaining a large share of the viewing audience and scoring very high on audience appreciation.
And all of this despite being screened after the TV train wreck that is Don’t Scare The Hare - if you are looking for a show that is really is well and truly failing, seek no further!
Plus The Impossible Astronaut is well on the way to breaking the record for most watched/downloaded show in iPlayer history and Day of the Moon in just fours days has clocked up over a million plays – and that’s nearly double the hits the Royal Wedding has got.
So can we finally put this one to bed? Next time some idle fuckwit at the Daily Mail or whatever starts bleating about how Doctor Who is dying, just remember there’s more chance of finding a Yeti in the loos at Tooting Bec than discovering a true fact in such vacuous scare-mongering rags!
But the figures, which you can check for yourselves, also effectively counter the other most heard complaint about Series 6 “that it’s getting too complicated for ordinary viewers”. As I stated in my review of Day of the Moon, we forget that the general public like serials; those oft despised reality TV shows only succeed because they are edited to make an on-going story line. And soap viewers are used to dealing with the kind of labyrinthine continuities that rival the complexities of the Marvel and DC Universe. So I doubt that more closely linked stories in Doctor Who are going to prove too much of a problem.
And it’s also worth paying close attention to what Mr Moffat says in the interview linked above. He clearly says that the epic cliff-hanger he’s planning is possible because of the two halves structure of Series 6. He understands very well that setting up big mysteries that don’t get resolved for ages is a sure way to alienate viewers.
For this whole business of long story lines in genre shows causing the ratings to haemorrhage like an impaled Cyberman in The Five Doctors isn't down to the general populace being too thick to appreciate scifi or any such nonsense, it’s due to shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica treading water and testing even genre fans’ patience by not developing the on-going plot lines swiftly enough. Now I'm not saying they were terrible shows here, but I can understand why viewers drifted away after being kept dangling for so long at certain points in their histories.
Rather there’s a fine balance between developing a satisfying story arc and telling individual stories, and Moffat understands this well. Consider, for example, how the last season played out – instead of the Cracks just being a repeated visual equivalent of past seasons’ catchphrases like ‘Bad Wolf’ or ‘Mr Saxon’, we actually continued to learn more about them and what they signified steadily throughout the series. So it’s safe to say that more will be revealed in the coming weeks and there will be some answers to the big questions by the June break rather than a big reveal in the final episodes in the autumn.
Now with all of that out of the way, let’s move onto the meat of the episodes themselves. Now to address another common issue, quite a few folk have remarked on the swerve Day of the Moon opens with – we rapidly jump from the cliff-hanger to ‘Three Months Later’. And naturally this has prompted a good deal of head scratching. Yes, the episode does give you enough detail to work out that Canton hunting down the Doctor and his friends is a ruse to fool the Silence, however many have felt that it was insufficiently explained.
And initially this was my reaction too. However having seen the rest of the episode and discovered exactly what is resolved, I’d have to say that why this start is a little jarring, it’s fairly clear that this missing chunk of time is going to be revisited later in the season. Remember how in the Weeping Angels story last year, we had the mystery of the Doctor’s reappearing jacket and the revisiting of those scenes at the conclusion? Well I think Moffat is doing much the same here as there is a lot still to be explained that we can’t pick up from Day of the Moon…
…The big one being the Doctor’s Area 51 cell being made of dwarf star alloy. Now this is an alien material and there are questions therefore on where it came from. Viewers with long memories may recall that the Tenth Doctor chained Father Of Mine with chains made from this substance in The Family of Blood, but long-time Who watchers will be thinking of the Tom Baker era tale Warriors’ Gate…
Now in this story featured a race called the Tharils, who could cross time lines at will, and also looked like contemporary popster (and later urban reformer) Daryl Hall … Well, it was the ‘80s!
But aside from cheap gags, the point of mentioning this tale is that it might have a clue or two for the current story line. You see the Tharils could cross time lines at will, and where being enslaved to use their innate abilities to power spacecraft across hyperspace. And they were being contained by dwarf star alloy which inhibited their abilities to cross into different dimensions of space-time. Furthermore this whole adventure took place in another universe called E-Space. Now obviously all of the above raises some interesting possibilities for resolving the Doctor’s apparent death…
…But of course it might not! It could just be one of Moffat’s call-backs to the classic series – the Doctor’s mention of being present at the Fall of Rome wasn't just a bit of showing off; he was there and we saw this in the William Hartnell adventure The Romans. But certainly there will more detail on the dwarf star alloy I'm sure. Moffat plays a long game!
Amy’s pregnancy is a case in point. Of course, there’s the obvious possible foreshadowing in Amy’s Choice in which one of the dream realities has her with child (quick aside: the mysterious Eyepatch Lady in Day of the Moon says “she’s still dreaming” - does this signify the hand of the Dream Lord at work?). But there’s another more sneaky reference in The Hungry Earth - if you care to recall the Silurians had sucked Amy down to their city and then scan her… And this is what results…
Yes, that is a heart beat appearing when they scan her stomach! Now I clocked this at the time and expected it was setting up getting her out of harm with the old “we will not hurt you as you have young” alien cliché, but the story didn't belabour that old saw and I promptly forgot about it… until last week that is!
You see, looooooooong game! Therefore the missing three months in this opening tale isn’t sloppy writing like RTD resurrecting the Master with a load of never to be explained smoking potion hugger mugger, it’s a deliberate omission; a piece of narrative sleight of hand.
Now I'm not going to speculate on the many mysteries this story presents. There are endless theories online as to what the regenerating child is, who River Song is and how the Doctor will escape – my favourite is the tongue in cheek suggestion made by Mike in the Bigger on the Inside podcast that River Song is the TARDIS - but as the wonderful Nuts4r2 sagely remarks in his own reviews of these episodes, it’s almost pointless to speculate as we don’t have enough pieces on the board yet. However I do think it’s worth mentioning the fact that the TARDIS scanner can’t seem to decide whether Amy is Pregnant or not. And this would suggest that perhaps the time-lines are currently in flux…
Similarly I'm not convinced we’ve seen the last of the Silence. For a start on a technical note, just having the Silence turn out to be just some skull faced aliens in suits is too much of a let down. Admittedly they were superbly scary but not quite big or bad enough to justify the previous season build up. And I'm not sure they are the Silence – they may be part of it but they are not the full deal. Remember what they say to Amy - “You are Amelia Pond…We do you honour…. You will bring the Silence….”
Perhaps we should be calling them the Silents… And also bear in mind that we never did discover what their plan was. And certainly they didn't build the mystery ship we saw in The Lodger or the dwarf star alloy – they definitively state that they use the technology of other races.
It’s an intoxicating brew alright! But the big questions aside, I’ll wrap this rambling up with a final point. If you have any doubts about Moffat’s plotting, consider how clever the resolution to Day of the Moon was. An on-going problem in the Doctor Who universe is that present day Earth has to remain very close to our own real-life continuum yet you have to wonder after all the invasions why the world in the series hasn’t become an alternate universe where every one knows that aliens are real. Yet for this most virulent infestation presented in this tale, Moffat has a very intelligent twist – we repelled the Silence but because of the way they operate no one remembers doing it. It deftly presents a global threat without destroying credibility or continuity, and is also wonderfully ironic dramatically.
Now next week, it would seem we have something of breather with a high seas adventure featuring “a stroppy, homicidal mermaid”. But I’m not ruling out a few more clues surfacing amid the cutlasses and tricorne hats! And if not, who cares – it’s the good Doctor tangling with pirates and Lilly Cole! All board? Yes, indeed!