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The Doctor Falls: One of my new favourite stories ever

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I have loved Series 10 of Doctor Who but as always, the quality of the series would always depend on the strength on how it was wrapped up in the finale. Just look at last series, where a mostly strong run of episodes was let down by the incredibly disappointing and lacklustre Hell Bent, making the entire series feel pointless in hindsight. Here however, we have the exact opposite happen, as Steven Moffat has learnt from his mistakes in the past and created a truly brilliant finale that has taken a place in my favourite stories list.

Let’s talk set up first because obviously this is a two parter. World Enough and Time (no idea what that title means but oh well) was a great set up with pitch perfect pacing and an incredibly macabre tone throughout. As a huge Cyberman fan I loved seeing the New Series utilise the body horror aspect, with the emotional inhibitors not preventing the pain of conversion, merely preventing it. The time dilation also added a huge amount of tension to the episode, as every second the Doctor, Nardole and Missy spent at the top of the ship meant the closer Bill got to full conversion, which of course eventually happened. Like most part ones, it was mainly set up for The Doctor Falls, but it was fantastic nonetheless. Missy was brilliant as always (I love her sonic umbrella) and seeing John Simm return was glorious. I figured out that Razor was the Master by about his second scene, but that didn’t stop the reveal being executed perfectly. If the BBC hadn’t let the news be leaked beforehand, then I reckon the Master’s reveal would go down as one of the finest twists in the show.

Part two was where the main meat of the story comes into play, as the Masters are forced to work with the Doctor due to the Cybermen turning on them. It was a simple story and what I loved about it was that the universe wasn’t under threat: it was just one floor of a spaceship. This didn’t stop the story from feeling truly epic in scope however. This story really capitalises on who the Doctor really is, as his phenomenal speech to the Masters shows. He doesn’t travel the universe to win or to fight villains- he travels the universe and helps people because it’s right. I see this speech as Peter Capaldi’s defining moment, and John Simm’s reaction is hilarious.

The best finales in New Who- The Big Bang, Last of the Time Lords, Death in Heaven and this- not only tell a great story but make the entire series connect together thematically and making every story feel like part of a bigger picture. The Doctor Falls is no exception, as the themes of the series are explored in full. The idea of the value of individual lives from Oxygen is brought back, the idea of time dilation and the Doctor’s willingness to throw his life away from others from The Eaters of Light are expanded upon and the Monk trilogy is linked with Bill’s resistance to Cyber conversion. There’s also been Missy’s redemption arc which started in Extremis and of course the resolution to Bill’s story from The Pilot. This story just made re watching Series 10 so much better.

I’ll admit I’ve never enjoyed the Twelfth Doctor as much as the Tenth or Eleventh Doctors, despite still being great (mainly due to Clara hogging up two thirds of his era) even though Series 10 has made me love him more and more thanks to companions who weren’t irritating, but for this two parter, Peter Capaldi was quite possibly the best Doctor ever. Seriously, I wish this would have been the regeneration story, but we’ll have to wait and see whether the Christmas Special is a worthy send off for the Twelfth Doctor. I’m curious as to why he refuses to regenerate, but we’ll have to wait till Christmas. I’m so happy the cause of regeneration for him was a Cyberman, as I’ve wanted them to actually kill a Doctor. His arc in this episode is superb as he will do whatever it takes to defeat the Cybermen, even if it means his death. I cannot wait to see how this incarnation leaves. I have a feeling the Christmas special will be standalone but linked to this story in the same way Waters of Mars and Day of the Doctor were linked to the regeneration stories of Ten and Eleven.

Another one of the best aspects of the story was how Missy’s arc was handled. She’s been my favourite Master since Death in Heaven (although Roger Delgado will always be the best Master) and she got a superb send off. I love how the arc of the series has evolved from what’s in the vault to the question of whether Missy will truly change. Her scenes in Lie of the Land were the highlight of that episode and she’s a highlight here, with her final scene of self sacrifice and redemption being masterful (pun totally intended). I love how in Series 8 she tried to turn the Doctor onto her side, whilst throughout this series the Doctor is trying to turn her onto his side. It just show that even between all the fighting, they ultimately care for each other deeply. I adore the conversation the Doctor has with Bill in World Enough and Time about how he and the Master were friends, as it shows Steven Moffat understands the incredibly deep relationship the two characters have. Her arc this series was beautiful and wonderfully done, as she stands with the Doctor at the end and kills her previous self before dying herself. It’s a perfect end for the character and the fact that the Doctor may never know she turned good is utterly devastating yet appropriate.

Now onto John Simm. I’ve read some reviews that have said he was underused, but I disagree. He serves many purposes in the story such as being the catalyst of the Cyberman plot as well as to serve as a contrast to Missy. Moffat understands the Tennant era Master stories and from those stories it’s pretty obvious that the Master is without redemption. In Last of the Time Lords he chooses to die rather than be forgiven and in the End of Time he fights Rassilon out of revenge, not redemption. In The Doctor Falls, his only motive is to return to his TARDIS due to his plan failing. He doesn’t care about the Doctor’s struggle and his death and offscreen regeneration into who we assume is Missy is appropriate for this incarnation. In one last moment of evil, he essentially kills himself due to his refusal to turn good. I love the Tennant Master stories but this is definitely the best story to feature John Simm’s Master, and his Delgado-esque beard and rubbish disguise in the first part are brilliant Classic Series references. His presence in this also adds to one of the themes of the story- much like how the Doctor and Bill do not wish to live if they couldn’t be themselves, the Master would rather die than see himself changed.

This series has had not one but two awesome companions, and they both got great send offs here (well, Nardole got a send off. I’ve heard Bill is coming back in some form for the Christmas special). One of the surprise highlights of the series has been Nardole. I’ve always loved companions who are different from the norm and Nardole was certainly that. He was able to give many incredibly dark stories some humour and levity. His mini-arc in this story is subtly done but great, as he ends his travels with the Doctor to act as a protector, much like he’s done throughout the series. I wish his backstory was expanded upon, but there’s always Big Finish. Who would of thought that the bumbling fool from Husbands of River Song could end up blowing up Cybermen with a rifle and some computer hacking?

As awesome as Nardole was throughout the series, he wasn’t the main companion. Bill has become my second favourite New Series companion after Donna and I feel like this story was a good ending for her. I would have liked another series with her but Donna didn’t get another series so it’s fine. I was concerned that Bill’s Cyber conversion would be ignored but it was a major part of The Doctor Falls, utilising the psychological aspects of the Cybermen. I’m once again going to defend a controversial aspect of the episode and say that I really liked Bill’s departure. It didn’t undo her conversion and I feel like it wrapped up her arc well. It is similar to Clara’s, but to me Clara’s departure in Hell Bent was pointless as she already had a perfectly good ending in Face the Raven that was the perfect end to her character arc. Bringing her back just felt unnecessary. In contrast, Bill’s arc all series is all about her eagerness to explore the universe. What happened to her wasn’t her fault and no one, not even Adric, deserved a Cyber conversion without any sort of reward at the end. Killing Bill off would have been going against her character and the spirit of the show, as her death wouldn’t have been a heroic sacrifice like Adric’s or Clara’s. Now, she’s allowed to travel the universe with a new perspective thanks to her travels with the Doctor. That said, what kind of an alien race has the resources to make immortal, intelligent all-powerful oil? If the oil from the spaceship is that powerful, how powerful must the aliens themselves be? Sequel, Chibnall, sequel! It also helps that The Doctor Falls didn’t spend the majority of its run time saying goodbye to a companion who had already left three times and instead actually told a story.

On top of all the character development and themes, this story doesn’t forget to just be awesome. Three types of Cybermen (I would have liked to see the Eeeexcellent Cybermen from the 80’s but it doesn’t matter), two Masters and even a surprise First Doctor cameo! The scene where the Doctor blows up the Cybermen is nothing short of breathtaking. Not only is it symbolic of the Doctor’s final stand and packed with continuity references, but it’s just plain awesome to watch. The scene of the Cybermen flying up from the bottom of the ship is all kinds of cool and the soundtrack throughout the episode is glorious. As much as I like Death in Heaven, the Cybermen were ultimately superfluous to the story, whereas they were the main enemy here. This story was in the end a base under siege and wasn’t over complicated or convoluted- just a simple story.

In conclusion, World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls has easily earned a place in my top ten Doctor Who stories of all time. The pitfalls of the era have been forgiven due to this absolutely magnificent story that felt epic but at the same time restrained. Everything I’ve wanted in the Capaldi era from the beginning was present here, and as much as I’ve loved a lot of his era, no story (not even Heaven Sent, which was let down by what followed) was as amazing as the best of David Tennant and Matt Smith until now. This story is up there with The God Complex, Waters of Mars, Kinda and Inferno as the show hitting on all cylinders and with everything working. I cannot wait for Christmas and cannot wait to write up my Top 10 Peter Capaldi episodes afterwards.

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Spider-Man 2 review

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It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks in the world of fandom, in particular the latest Marvel movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming. My expectations are sky high, and I hope the movie can live up to the great run of previous MCU movies as well as live up to the fantastic standards set by comic book movies this year, with all of them being brilliant.

So, to honour the third incarnation of Spider-Man on the big screen, I’m looking back at not only my favourite comic book movie, but one of my favourite movies in general: Spider-Man 2. In my opinion, this is also the finest sequel ever made.

What’s so brilliant about it? Simply put, it’s the story. The story of Spider-Man is simple: a cocky teenager is given powers through chance and through events such as the death of his uncle he learns to use his powers for good. This is all set up in the first film just fine, but it’s in this movie where the themes of the character come into play. In Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker is struggling between his superhero identity and his normal life. He fights crime at night but loses focus on the things that he cares about such as Aunt May and Mary Jane. It’s a simple but captivating dilemma: should Peter give up his responsibility as a superhero to be happy or should he continue his superhero life because it’s the right thing to do even if he can’t be truly happy? This dilemma is at the heart of the film and is the main reason why this movie is amazing.

It’s all in the subtlety of how the story is told. While I love The Dark Knight, I feel the themes are a bit “in your face”. The characters often break the flow of the movie to discuss the themes at play, which is fine, but Spider-Man 2 addresses its themes in a more subtle manner and maintain a strong pace throughout. This is helped by the humour (especially J Jonah Jameson), the comic book esque direction and colour pallette (one of my few flaws with the MCU is how the colour palette is the same greyish tone throughout, except for Guardians of the Galaxy) and the camp factor. It’s an inherently cheesy movie but I feel like it has to be: it’s a movie about a guy dressed in red latex fighting a guy with giant mechanical arms. I feel like comic book movies have to be cheesy, which is why I’m glad DC is embracing the inherent silliness of their comics in Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad after the grim tone of their previous movies. The key to avoiding a completely camp disaster is to have heart and a sense of direction, which is what Spider-Man 2 has.

J Jonah Jameson is the. Best. Character. Ever.

There are so many standout scenes, most of them not action scenes. Even a simple scene like Peter admitting to Aunt May what really happened the night Uncle Ben died have so much impact due to the background behind the characters. My favourite scene is Peter’s vision of Uncle Ben convincing him to keep being Spider-Man, which Peter refuses to do and throws the costume away. It’s a marvellous scene because it perfectly captures the themes of the film, which is Peter abandoning his promise after Ben’s death to ensure no one else has to suffer the same way he did. By abandoning his powers, Peter is also throwing away what Spider-Man stands for.

There’s also Aunt May’s speech about ordinary people having the strength to do extraordinary things as well as the scene where Harry Osborne learns of Peter’s secret identity. Harry is another strong character in the film and his journey builds brilliantly on the ending on the first film and sets up the third. Even though he isn’t the focus of the film, he still gets an arc, which is another strength of the film-making every character feel real.

The best character next to Peter (Spider-Man isn’t in the film much, but when he is it’s brilliant) is Doctor Octopus. An incredibly one dimensional character in the comics (he’s a mad scientist and that’s about it) is turned into a very complex, fleshed out villain. I wouldn’t even call him a villain, as he’s just misguided. He just wants to continue his experiments and the death of his wife drives him to madness and he turns to crime to help continue his research. This is why his sacrifice at the end of the film is important, as he realises the error of his ways. A fantastic villain who complements the themes of the movie perfectly, as whilst Peter is struggling with his double life, Doc Oc has embraced it. This is another aspect of older comic book movies I wish more recent ones would embrace, and actually have a compelling antagonist.

I haven’t even talked about the action yet. As I’ve mentioned, the action in the movie is not the main focus, with the action scenes being there to further the story forward. That doesn’t stop them from being fantastic though. Spidey and Doc Oc’s brawl at the bank is fantastic but the ultimate action sequence is the train battle near the end of the second act. After powerful character moments, compelling dialogue and a brilliant story which details Peter’s struggle to return to normal life, Peter Parker dons the suit once again to battle Doc Oc for a second time. The experience of watching the scene is nothing short of breathtaking, as it’s literally a comic book battle brought to life. I can’t describe the brilliance of this scene, so I’m just going to put the scene here and you will see for yourself. It’s the best action sequence ever put in a comic book movie and it’s so awesome the final fight in the old clocktower feels underwhelming in comparison, even thought it’s still good. The only other times I’ve felt this giddy whilst watching a comic book movie is the Avengers fighting each other in Civil War, and the only other action scene that gives me this amount of satisfaction is the Battle of Minas Tirith in Return of the King.

Overall, Spider-Man 2 is what I would call a perfect movie. It sits comfortably in my Top 10 favourite movies of all time and is the finest comic book movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard that Homecoming is the best Spider-Man film, and while I’m sure it’ll be awesome, I don’t feel like anything can top the genius of this movie.

The Eaters of Light review

Well, I’ve finished my exams and have no school for twelve glorious weeks. While I could spend that time going out enjoying the sun, I’m going to spend my time reviewing Doctor Who because of course I am. I’ve missed a few episodes so I’ll sum up my thoughts in brief: Extremis was excellent, Pyramid at the End of the Long Title was pretty good, Lie of the Land was disappointing (especially given the build up) and Empress of Mars was an absolute blast with the greatest cameo ever.

So how does The Eaters of Light stack up with the high quality of the series? In short, I thought it was excellent, and it’s one of my favourites this year along with Oxygen and Thin Ice. With the finale this week, it would have been easy for this episode to be bad and have the finale make up for it (also known as the In the Forest of the Night/Fear Her/Sleep No More effect) but fortunately there’s enough in this episode to make it stand out.

I love historical stories and this is one of the best in recent memory. Like Thin Ice, the story is focused more on the history and the setting rather than the sci fi, and weaves the sci fi to make it support the history rather than have the history support the sci fi, as is often the case. Both historical stories this year are reminiscent of Vincent and the Doctor, one of my favourite stories, in this way.

That’s not to say the sci fi is bad. I would complain that the monster is underused, but after a whole series of misunderstood creatures and underwhelming threats, to have a monster simply want to eat everyone is quite refreshing. The Eater of Light is probably the best designed monster since the Teller and whilst the budget restraints prevented the monster from appearing too much, it appeared enough to be a satisfying threat. In a series lacking in strong monsters, we finally have one. It reminded me of something from Merlin, which is always good as that show was awesome.

I don’t care how old I am, I want this monster as a toy. I still have my toy Werewolf and Pyroville, and I think I have a Prisoner Zero lying around somewhere.

The monster wasn’t the main focus though, which was once again on character. I love the Doctor and Nardole team up and wish they had more solo stories together, and having them together in this one served as a good contrast to last week, which was severely lacking Nardole. He’s become one of my favourite companions, and I can’t believe I would say that when I first heard the news that he was returning. I would like an episode dealing with his past though, which should hopefully happen next series.

The parallels to Rona Munro’s previous story, the excellent Survival (which I also watched last night and gets better every time I watch it) are clear with Bill. Like Ace in that story, Bill has to lead a team of scared young people to fight off an impossible threat, showing how the Doctor has influenced her. It’s important that the two leads are seperated before the finale so we can get the best out of both characters.

How refreshing is it to actually have a TARDIS materialisation scene?

Another similarity to Survival is the excellent pacing. With the exception of Oxygen all the other stories have had pacing issues but The Eaters of Light was perfectly paced, with a strong, satisfying resolution. Whilst the epilogue with Missy did feel completely seperate from the rest of the episode, I felt it was necessary to build hype for this week’s bonkers finale. I actually feel like Missy could be a good, Turlough-esque companion for a few episodes.

Honestly, there’s not really much to discuss here. This was just an incredibly atmospheric and fun standalone story which gave the Twelfth Doctor one last bit of adventure before the guaranteed seriousness of the finale. I loved the fantastical tone of the story, which reminded me of Torchwood’s Small Worlds and as I mentioned, Merlin. When Doctor Who tackles fantasy it can sometimes fall flat but this series has had a really good understanding of fantasy, as this episode and Knock Knock are both more about unexplained, slightly supernatural occurrences rather than science. It works as long as the atmosphere is right.

I’ve mentioned it before, but the Doctor/Nardole dynamic really reminds of the Second Doctor and Jamie. I love their constant snarks at each other and how the Doctor constantly insults Nardole.

If I had to criticise, it’s that the stuff about the crows was just… odd. That was In the Forest of the Night levels of fantasy there and that is not good. As I mentioned, I would have liked to have seen the monster more and have a bit more tense moments with it. The modern day pre-credits was also unnecessary and too similar to last week’s. Which leads me onto a bit of a tangent, but here goes-

Am I the only one who feels like the second half of the series has been paced weirdly? Oxygen and Extremis had built up such a strong sense of hype but the other two Monk episodes failed to escalate the tension, killing the flow. We then got two standalones with similar plots (two warring sides working together, Bill falling down a hole, a Classic Who feel, caves). If I was structuring the series, I would have had Episode 6 deal with the Doctor’s blindness and reveal Missy in the vault, then this episode with the epilogue removed making it a complete standalone, a standalone Episode 8 focusing on Nardole, Empress of Mars with this episode’s epilogue and then Extremis could have served as a Turn Left-esque story where the Mondasian Cybermen are practising an invasion of Earth via a simulation, which would lead straight into the finale. I would have saved the other Monk episodes for another series with the same writer on all parts and Lie of the Land being stretched into two parts.

But back to The Eaters of Light. Overall, this is another very strong episode in what’s shaping up to be the strongest series since Series 5 (Lie of the Land wasn’t the best but it wasn’t a Hell Bent/Kill the Moon disaster). As long as the finale is amazing then Series 10 will likely go down as one of New Who’s best.

Next week it’s the return of John Simm’s Master and the Mondasian Cybermen. As cool as it is to have a multi Master story, I just love the original Cybermen and look forward to their reappearance more. I recommend watching The Tenth Planet and listening to the fantastic Big Finish audio Spare Parts in anticipation.

 

Oxygen review: This series just gets better and better

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Well, this is slightly late.

In my feeble defense I have been doing exams and fortunately we have a three parter coming up so I can take a break from writing until the Monk story is finished. For now though, we have the best story in the series so far and the best in the show overall since probably Heaven Sent or Flatline.

This is just a spectacular episode in every way. For the first time this series the characters were in real danger and the tension was brilliant. There’s just a sense that the characters could die at any point and thanks to the brilliant final reveal this story has a lasting effect on the Doctor. Finally, the danger of the Whoniverse is back.

Look at this. Just look at this. This is such an awesome ship.

Even the mere premise is genius. The idea of oxygen as money is a fascinating idea similar to the ideas of Sleep No More last series, however Jamie Mathieson actually utilised his ideas well and incorporated them into the story without making the episode any less entertaining or tense. Doctor Who has done satire before- The Sun Makers springs to mind immediately- but New Who doing a very topical satire attacking capitalism (although the writers of Doctor Who didn’t know there would be an upcoming election otherwise we’d have a Peladon story) is not something that happens often. Unlike Kill the Moon, which stopped being a Troughton-esque base under siege halfway through, Oxygen never loses sight of the space zombies or the scares.

Wow, I’ve gone about the themes but haven’t even discussed the characters yet. This is easily the best the Twelfth Doctor has been since the Zygon two parter (like the Third Doctor, Twelve seems to fire on all cylinders during political scripts). He’s funny, cold, serious and most importantly, vulnerable. Even before he’s blind he is out of his comfort zone with no TARDIS and no sonic. After he is blind, the story’s stakes are raised to an even higher degree than before. It’s just like 42, where David Tennant being possessed by Toraji gave the episode a dramatic edge which made for truly compelling viewing. There is a reason Oxygen is so tense in the second half and that’s due to the vulnerability the Doctor is in. This episode also demonstrates one of the Doctor’s best aspects- his willingness to help anyone regardless of who they are.

The Doctor’s ability to survive in space has been established before but there’s never been consequences.

The companions were also on top form. This is Nardole’s first true adventure as a companion since the Christmas special and he worked very well in the already established Doctor/Bill dynamic. It’s so refreshing to have an alien companion and whilst many people feared Nardole would only be a comedic character, this episode proved them wrong. He has a defined purpose in the team and it looks like he’ll be taking a central role tonight. He’s easily the most unique New Series companion and I hope he sticks around. Bill continued to be the best companion since Donna and I can’t express how good it is to have a companion who experiences fear and can help the audience connect with what’s going on. I snarked whilst watching that she had died after the incredible losing oxygen scene but I honestly feel some kids probably thought she had died. That’s a mark of a great episode, where you care about characters you know will survive.

Honestly, with one exception which I’ll discuss later, I don’t think there was a single problem with the episode. It was perfectly based, the zombies were great (no aliens again but the faceless bureaucrats behind the killings were a great villain) and the direction was fantastic. The opening was perfect, with a scene of two astronauts being picked off by the zombies, setting the scene perfectly for the scares ahead. I personally wasn’t too scared but I can imagine kids being pretty terrified and unlike Knock Knock there was no happy ending. This was hard core sci-fi at its best.

These are the scariest monsters since the Foretold. The fact that they’re human is even scarier.

So, the one problem I had? I think the villain should have been Gus from Mummy on the Orient Express. It would have added continuity, made a great episode even better and solved a loose plot thread. The themes from Oxygen would not have been lost and it would have given the episode a tangible threat. Don’t get me wrong, I love the twist that there was no hack and the suits were just doing what they were programmed to do but Gus could have easily been controlling them. That said, it wasn’t an objective problem and not everyone would have liked that so I admit this is just a personal gripe that doesn’t actually make the episode worse.

What else is there to talk about? I feel I’ve discussed everything…

Oh yeah, the final scene.

What a genius idea this is. Making the Doctor blind will just make the upcoming episodes so much better if Moffat runs with it well. It also makes the question of how Peter Capaldi will regenerate much more interesting. As if the return of Missy and the promise of a three parter wasn’t already enough to hype me for tonight, we now have a blind Doctor and whoever is in the Vault will know that. I thought Knock Knock would be the arc based one whilst this would be standalone but I was completely wrong, as this episode will have lasting consequences on the series, making a fantastic episode even better.

So, a three parter with actual villains and Missy? Sign me up. I’ll be back in early June to tackle the biggest story since Series 3.

Doctor Who Knock Knock review

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We’re a third of the way through the series already- where’s the time gone? To be realistic, the weeks are going slowly due to my upcoming exams (HELP!) and Doctor Who is the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak.

I’ve made it no secret I’ve found this run of episodes to be very strong so far, but much like Series 8 and 9 we’ll have to wait to see if a dud comes around at some point towards the end (let’s hope not). Knock Knock continues the series’s strong run so far, and is reminiscent of stories like Ghost Light and Image of the Fendahl, two of my favourite stories. Whilst not as strong as those stories, this is still a very entertaining and well written addition to the already strong Series 10. It’s probably my favourite so far.

This is the first time this series where the Doctor and Bill are separated and this is where the episode shines. We see how far Bill has come in just four episodes as she basically tells the Doctor to go away and let her live her life, which is great although I’m not a fan of how Steven Moffat always has companions pop in and out of their daily lives. Whilst I like The Caretaker, we really didn’t need another similar episode in Series 10 dealing with the companion’s dual life so I’m glad that wasn’t the focus this week. Scaring children (and my mum who only watched because of David Suchet) and creating an entertaining story was the focus. It wasn’t as character based as last week, but I’m sensing themes and arcs throughout the series I’ll discuss later.

Haunted house, creepy bugs, body horror. This episode truly feels like a Guillermo del Toro film.

The Doctor was again fantastic (let’s hope Mike Bartlett is invited back in Chris Chibnall’s run) and I always love seeing him work independently and with other characters that aren’t the companion. He gets great lines (“Don’t be scared. It doesn’t help”) and I’m enjoying him every week. Thee most interesting aspect of his character is his interactions with whoever’s in the vault, which I’ll get back to later. Overall, another strong outing for the Twelfth Doctor, who is shaping up to be a truly great Doctor in his final series and it only looks better from here.

The best part of the episode for me was the Landlord. He’s the first truly complex villain of the series and I love how by the end of the episode you truly feel sympathy for him despite his villainous actions. His motives are understandable and he really is a tragic figure, as he’s so caught up with keeping his mother alive that he’s forgotten to live a life, in contrast to both the Doctor and Bill who have experienced loss and moved on. We’ve now had two human villains this series and the Landlord is a lot better than Sutcliffe last week. I’d honestly call the Landlord my favourite original villain since House from The Doctor’s Wife. To think I believed him to be a major character in the whole series when he’s just a one-off character.

One major criticism is that I wish all of Bill’s friends stayed dead (morbid I know but a kid died last week) or at least some of them didn’t come back. Maybe they’ll come back later in the series but I just wish there were some deaths in the episode to increase the stakes. Another problem which the episode shares with the rest of the series so far is the slightly rushed ending. The scenes with Eliza are the best of the series so far with brilliant writing, acting and emotion but there isn’t enough to let the emotions sink in before the tease about the vault. There’s also a lack of explanation about where the woodlice creatures come from or the full extent of their powers. The rushed endings have been a constant problem this series and I really wish the episodes were an hour long. There’s a three parter coming and a two part finale so I doubt this will be a constant problem but it’s been a recurring issue so far.

Not the episode’s fault, but I wish the marketing hadn’t given away Eliza in the trailer. It would have made the reveal in the episode terrifying.

A positive element of all the episodes have been the introduction of themes and character arcs I think will be expanded upon later on in the series. The main theme I think so far is about how to move on from loss or trauma, as it’s popped up in every episode so far-

  • The Pilot: Bill has to let go of Heather and the Doctor has to let go of his oath to accept his new companion.
  • Smile: The Vardi cannot let go of the grief that the colonists faced when the oldest member died and see grief as a virus.
  • Thin Ice: One of the main themes of the episode. Bill moves on from her trauma at seeing someone die and the Doctor admits that he moves on all the time.
  • Knock Knock: The Landlord is unable to move on from the promise he makes to his mother.

Could this go anywhere? I think so, and Steven Moffat is smart enough to bring together all the episodes thematically like he did with Series 5, 8 and to an extent 6. I think it could be to do with what’s in the vault, which I think could either be Missy, The Master, the Myrka, Frobisher the Penguin or Susan. Two of those guesses will definitely not be happening.

“And then there was that time when I fought the Abzorbaloff, but we don’t talk about that…”

In conclusion, Knock Knock is a great story that’s better on rewatch once you know what’s going on. I find it far superior to Hide but not as good as the Classic Who stories I mentioned earlier. This week it’s Oxygen, which looks so awesome I’ve decided to not read or watch anything linked with it. I want to go in completely blind.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 review

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Yes folks. Two posts in a week. And a post that isn’t a Doctor Who review!

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned how much I love Red Dwarf. I LOVE Red Dwarf.

And speaking of awesome sci-fi comedies (how’s that for a segway?), we have the latest Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. After the emotional highs of Civil War and the uniqueness of Doctor Strange, this movie was a return to the goofy banter and silliness of the earlier Marvel movies. This isn’t a bad thing at all, as the first Guardians movie is one of my favourite Marvel movies, and this movie is even funnier. The funniest characters are Drax and Baby Groot, who steals the show every time he’s on screen. I won’t spoil the jokes as this will be a spoiler free review, but the high level of comedy is maintained throughout the movie.

Much like Age of Ultron, this movie is a bit more complex and character based than the first movie. The team is split up and there are two stories going on: Star-Lord, Gamora and Drax get caught up with a mysterious figure claiming to be Star-Lord’s father whilst Rocket and Groot are being pursued by Ravagers. That’s the basic plot and I won’t give too much away, but it takes the Two Towers/Empire Strikes Back approach and takes time developing each character by splitting them up and focusing on the different dynamics. It really works and when the team unite at the end, it’s immensely satisfying.

My favourite character in the movie is Rocket Raccoon and he’s basically everything I love in a character: snarky, funny, complex and an anti-hero. He gets some awesome development in this movie and while the story doesn’t focus on him, he’s still my favourite character overall. His interaction with Groot are as hilarious as ever and the dynamic he shares with Yondu is great. Star-Lord gets the most focus and he goes through a lot in the film, and the film itself is a lot more emotional than the first, with darker themes and a major, major event that addresses one of the biggest issues in the MCU.

The villain of the piece is one of my favourite in the MCU.  Without giving anything away, they’re a lot better than most villains in the franchise and gets a lot of development. They are probably my favourite MCU villain along with Loki, Ultron and Alexander Pierce (I’m seriously trying to not spoil anything here- I’ve seen so-called “spoiler free” reviews that reveal plot points and characters. Kind of defeats the purpose of spoiler-free.) There are a lot of new characters, and I’ll admit not all of them are that memorable and there’s a character whose sole purpose is to be a punchline. It’s not too bad as it’s a funny joke, but some characters are pretty one dimensional.

The action is fantastic throughout, though not as innovative as Ant-Man or Doctor Strange. The climax is quite similar to other endings in the MCU but the emotional weight makes up for it. In an age where there are new Star Wars movies it’s hard for space battles to be particularly unique but there’s a still a distinct Marvel feel to the action and there’s a strong amount of variety in the action and plenty of quiet moments. The movie has really good escalation, with a big mystery and gradual character growth until the absolutely bonkers third act where the story gets genuinely fantastic. Despite this, the overall tone of the film is still optimistic, which is needed in movies at the moment and particularly due to the MCU getting darker. Much like the first movie, it’s standalone, so all you need to watch is the first Guardians of the Galaxy without having to know anything else about the MCU. It does help to have knowledge of the Marvel universe though, as many Easter Eggs and references are linked to the comics. Stan Lee gets one of his best cameos and the five (yes five) after credits scenes are a mixture of fun scenes and one very important one, so keep watching when the credits roll.

Overall, Volume 2 is another fantastic Marvel movie. Whilst it’s not as good as the first film or even the two MCU movies of 2016, it’s still a great time at the cinema and offers heart and emotion along with awesome action, humour and Baby Groot. Next up for the MCU it’s Spider-Man and then Thor, Hulk and Doctor Strange teaming up. I can’t wait.

Doctor Who Series 10: Thin Ice Review

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With it being slightly frosty this week, yesterday’s episode was very appropriate for the weather. Regardless of weather, this episode still continues the trend of fantastic stories from Series 10. I’m serious, if these early episodes are supposed to be the “weaker” ones, then I just can’t wait for the upcoming ones.

One of the best things about this episode is how it’s completely different from last week. We’ve gone from a sci-fi mystery with robots and lasers to a Regency-era costume drama with a big fish/snake thing. It’s this kind of juxtaposition that I love from Doctor Who, and this is probably the biggest contrast for consecutive episodes since Rings of Akhaten/Cold War.

The character work was superb this week, as both regulars got huge amounts of development. Sarah Dollard really knows how to write the Twelfth Doctor and he gets one of his best outings in a while, with his characteristic snarking, humour and cynicism mixed with humanity and warmth. The highlights are when he punched Sutcliffe for his treatment of Bill (I’ve seen people complain about this, but trust me, the Doctor is NOT a pacifist. Just watch any Jon Pertwee or Colin Baker story) and his speech about human progress.

Human progress isn’t measured by industry. It’s measured by the value you place on a life. An unimportant life. A life without privilege. The boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age, that’s… what defines a species.

There’s also the continued development of Bill, and this episode once again shows what Moffat and co should have done with Clara in Series 7- show that travelling with the Doctor was not always fun. In this story, she sees a child die (pretty dark considering Doctor Who is a family show) and is understandably upset about it. There were hints of this in Cold War when Skaldak was killing the redshirts, but Clara never had a moment to reflect on what she saw. By having Bill realise the darker side of the Doctor and respond in a realistic way, it makes her more human and relatable. There are plenty of fantastic scenes between them and all three episodes so far have essentially been just her and the Doctor learning about each other. I feel like beginning from Knock Knock, the stories will get larger and more plot based.

I really liked the villain, Lord Sutcliffe, and he was basically exactly what I wanted after two weeks with no villains. I said I liked him when it’s really more “love to hate”, as in he’s so evil and careless that I just couldn’t help but like him and hate him at the same time. He’s essentially a villain from the Jon Pertwee era and as a massive fan of that era, I appreciated the return the stingy, metaphorically moustache twirling, condescending, obnoxious figure of high power that just irritates the Doctor and the audience. He’s so evil that his death is immensely satisfying. It’s been a while since we’ve had a decent human villain on Doctor Who, and Sutcliffe is probably the best since Solomon from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. I’d have liked to see more of him though and have his plan expanded.

I’d love to see this guy spar with Edmund Blackadder, considering he was also in Regency London. I’d call the episode Fish and Finality. I reckon Sutcliffe would not be able to stand a chance against Blackadder.

There’s so much more to love about this story. One of the best aspects was how it handled the racism of 1814 and taught the children watching that it is never appropriate to be racist, regardless of what time period someone’s from (just because nearly everyone in 1814 was racist doesn’t excuse it). Whilst I love the Shakespeare Code, it didn’t really deal with the obvious issues that Martha would be dealing with in the 16th century. Thin Ice deals with the issue of Bill facing racism in the past a lot better, even if it was just by the Doctor knocking Sutcliffe unconscious in anger. Part of Doctor Who’s original goal was to educate the kids, and this was a good way to do it. Throwing in a real historical event and giving it a Doctor Who twist also makes the historical aspect of the show stand out more than just stories which happen to be in the past (what did the Vikings and Stuart settings add to the Ashildr stories last season?)

Another interesting element was the lack of aliens (again). It’s never really confirmed whether the sea serpent is from Earth or not and I like it that way. Whilst it is yet another misunderstood creature, the presence of Sutcliffe means there was an actual villain, although I really want the monsters this week to be the “we will kill you all” kind. Comparisons to The Beast Below are obvious as well as the Torchwood episode Meat (I’ve only recently gotten into Torchwood and I’ve been watching the good ones with my dad). There were also elements of Kill the Moon (companion makes a choice that revolves around a moral dilemma) but it’s handled better here because there weren’t any one sided dilemmas and no giant flying moon babies.

Ice to meet you (I know, I know, puns are terrible. Eye won’t make any more)

Overall, we have yet another strong episode. I feel like I’m in the minority when I say Smile is my favourite of this opening trilogy (its sci-fi aspects, clever twists and great dialogue sell it for me) but Thin Ice comes a very close second. As one of my most anticipated episodes pre broadcast it didn’t disappoint. There wasn’t much about the story arc, but we got a hint towards what’s in the vault (my Master theory is getting stronger) and it appears that Nardole will become a regular from next week.

Speaking of next week, we have a mysterious landlord, a haunted house, tree dudes and things in the wall. It feels like Ghost Light and the SJA story The Eternity Trap combined. Before that though, I’ll be reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2.

Smile review: All is forgiven Frank

Well, another week, another Doctor Who. After the fast paced frenzy of last week and the introduction of a great new companion, this week took a much slower pace with an episode that evoked Classic Who, in particular The Ark in Space and The Happiness Patrol.

As I said in my Series 10 hype post, this was the episode I was the most worried about, considering Frank Cottrell Boyce’s only other Doctor Who script was In the Forest of the Night. Fortunately, Smile was a lot better, and I enjoyed it even more than The Pilot.

A big part of this was because of the Doctor and Bill’s interactions, with Nardole completely disappearing from the episode in the first scene. The episode played out like a Part One of Classic Who, where the characters explore the setting by themselves. This was especially important as we needed to know how this new TARDIS team functioned and how Bill adjusted to life in the TARDIS. Having no real action or supporting characters meant the story could have been dull, but due to the interactions and continued character development I was entertained throughout.

My thoughts on the episode in a nutshell.

I love the structure of this story, with the pieces slowly being unravelled and the plot slowly fitting together to form a very enticing mystery. Each plot point made sense and felt necessary, with every aspect of the story slotting into place by the end. I’ll admit the ending was a bit weak, with the Doctor essentially rebooting the robots with his sonic screwdriver, but the resolution still ultimately left me satisfied due to the great build up.

The emojibots worked well in my opinion. They weren’t particularly scary but I don’t think they were meant to be, especially considering the whole story was just a misunderstanding between the Vardis and the humans. It was quite brave to have a story with no real villain (The Edge of Destruction, Listen and to an extent Gridlock all show how a story with no villain can work, as does Smile) and I appreciated the small scale nature of the story and due to the lack of a real antagonist the emojibots served their purpose well as a physical threat to keep the story from being too boring. This is the second story in a row with no actual villain, so I’m hoping this week we see the return of the evil, slightly hammy doomsday villain, because sometimes that’s good.

This frowny face is hilarious and is basically my reaction to there being yet another election I can’t vote in.

I found the Doctor’s characterisation in this episode spot on. It’s so refreshing to have the Doctor not know what’s going on and he has to solve everything by slowly investigating the situation and putting the pieces together. Something even rarer was the Doctor making a massive mistake and almost blowing up the cryogenic chambers. The Doctor rarely makes mistakes and seeing him make one was very refreshing, especially in comparison to the know-it-all persona that Steven Moffat loves. The balance between the gruff Doctor of Series 8 and the more quirky Doctor in Series 9 has been very well balanced, so it’s once again a shame that this is Peter Capaldi’s final series. I call it Peter Davison syndrome, where a Doctor only really comes into his own in his final series.

The story had a very William Hartnell vibe, from the slow pace to the Doctor miscalculating to the awesome link to Thin Ice at the end. Much like a William Hartnell story, we have a story which is more about the characters and the setting than the alien threat. The supporting characters however weren’t the best, and they only really popped up in the final third. This is where the story dips slightly, as In the Forest of the Night syndrome hits and we get some forced moralising, albeit more subtly. I wish the story developed the misunderstanding more and delved more deeply into the ideas of emotion and grief, which was the instigator of the whole story. The more I think about it, the more Smile is really just a more macarbe Inside Out.

I love the contrast between the clean city and dirty spaceship. This whole set looks like something out of the Tom Baker era.

 

SMILE OR DIE!

However, these are just a few flaws in what is a very enjoyable story. Bill continues to be great (in a few episodes time she may end up being my second favourite New Who companion, if not number one) and if the quality remains this good, we could have the best New Who series, surpassing even Series 4 and 5. Considering Smile had the most potential out of all the episodes to be bad, the fact that it’s good bodes very well for the episodes that looked great from the start.

Such as this week, featuring elephants and a frozen Thames. I cannot wait for this Saturday.

Doctor Who Series 10: The Pilot review

It’s finally here! After 16 months (excluding last year’s Christmas and the entirety of Class) Doctor Who is back without Clara! Yes!

It’s been so long since a new companion I actually had to rewatch the Bells of St John to remind myself of the last time a companion got introduced. To be precise, it’s been over 4 years, which is why The Pilot is so refreshing and feels so new.

As usual, this will contain spoilers, so definitely watch the episode first before reading.

Compared with the Bells of St John (which is a stupider title let’s be honest) this is a much more subtle affair. There’s no massive mystery surrounding Bill and the action is subdued for the first half. It’s more comparable to Rose or Partners in Crime, where the dynamic between the Doctor and the companion take centre stage over the alien plot.

I’ve complained in the past how many Capaldi era villains (Skovox Blitzer, moon spiders, Fisher King, Lenny the Lion and to an extent the Veil) have had no impact on the plot, been sidelined or are underwhelming. Here, I’m willing to let the lacklustre villain aside as there was a clear focus on reintroducing the world of Doctor Who and introducing the new companion. I will not be so kind on this week’s Emojibots if they end up being as stupid as some people think they will be.

So what about the rest of the story? Well, obviously this is Bill’s first story and in 50 minutes I already like her more than Clara. To be fair, I liked Nardole in one Christmas Special more than Clara and it’s pretty easy for me to like a companion more than Clara. Bill is the complete opposite of Clara, who was incredibly unrelatable as time went on and essentially became the Doctor by Series 9. Here however, we have a companion who is completely normal with a normal life and with no big mystery surrounding her, which is great. She’s a combination of Donna and Ace (my two favourite companions after Sarah Jane) and I like the fact that the Doctor acts like a father figure to her like the First, Third and Seventh Doctors were to their companions. This is the dynamic we should have gotten with Clara, and it’s a shame Peter Capaldi is leaving this year so this dynamic may be lost (depends who the new Doctor is).

This scene is awesome and it’s the best “companion enters the TARDIS” scene in my opinion.

Nardole returns yet again, and once again proves that a bit of comedy is never a bad thing. He and the Twelfth Doctor have very good physical comedy and character beats that remind me of the Second Doctor and Jamie. It’s clear from this episode that Nardole now acts as the Doctor’s conscience, as shown when he tells Bill “He doesn’t see the tears”. He doesn’t appear to be in the next one, so I can only assume he’s staying behind at the university to guard the vault, which seems to be the story arc of the series. Many people, including myself I’ll admit, were hesitant about Nardole’s presence in the series, but from his two stories as a companion I’m very happy with what I’ve seen. I loved the call back to Robots of Death when he explains the TARDIS dimensions to Bill and his “Wa-hay” when Bill says the famous line that all companions say when they first see the TARDIS.

What’s in the vault? My money’s on John Simm’s Master.

Another great thing about this story is that I actually got scared. Whilst the monster isn’t the most original concept (the Flood and the Midnight Entity come to mind as similar concepts) the scene where Bill is trying to figure out who’s in her house and she sees an eye in the shower plug was genuinely creepy and I had my knees up to hid the screen. My mum thought it was too scary, but that’s the point of Doctor Who in a way. As someone with fond memories of being scared of the werewolf, the faceless granny, the Empty Child, Weeping Angels, the Flood and the Silence, I think it’s great that a new generation have their own behind the sofa moments.

I’ll admit that I think the chase portion of the episode was the weakest aspect. We have a random trip to (CGI) Australia, a BBC quarr- I mean an alien planet and a war between the Daleks and Movellans (Steven Moffat has just outdone the Macra in Gridlock with “random Classic Who” villain returning. What next? The Malus?). This aspect of the episode is entertaining, it’s just a bit random and I wish the whole episode was in the university where the dark lighting could have kept the creepy tone throughout. On the subject of the Daleks, I think this confirms the popular belief that the Daleks have to be used every year otherwise the BBC use the rights (they appeared in the LEGO Batman Movie though so maybe the BBC do own them). Their appearance is very brief, even briefer than their cameos in Waters of Mars and Wedding of River Song, and are just there to add another scene to the plot. That said, I’d rather have a brief cameo than a rushed Dalek story taking up a slot in the series. I just hope Chris Chibnall uses them well.

I actually rewatched Into the Dalek thinking the Daleks would be important. How wrong I was.

Despite all this, the story was not the focus for this episode, and what it focused on worked very well. The new TARDIS team is great, the story arc is intriguing (how Missy, the Monks, the John Simm Master, the Mondasian Cybermen and possibly the Landlord fit into all this I don’t know) and it’s just great that Doctor Who is finally back on consistent schedule (I say consistent but this week’s episode may be delayed due to football. If that happens heads will roll). Introductory stories are never the best, but they’ve all been good, and The Pilot continues that trend.

Onto Smile, the episode with the Emoji Bots. Let’s hope it’s better than In the Forest of the Night…

Let’s talk about the Oscars

As many of you probably know, the Academy Awards (otherwise known as Oscars) took place on Sunday. Whilst the whole ceremony has been overshadowed by the “wrong Best Picture” debacle, there is another debate that is worth discussing, and that’s the fact that the ratings were the lowest in a long time. I know why: general audiences aren’t interested in the Oscars.

What do I mean? I mean that the movies that the Oscars choose to celebrate and the movies that general audiences choose to celebrate are very different. Of course there’s some overlap but let’s be honest here; most people care more about Civil War and Rogue One far more than La La Land. I’m not saying that you can’t care about all three, but ask someone on the street what they watched and they’ll probably say Star Wars. This isn’t just me saying I prefer superhero movies and other sci fi/fantasy blockbusters, which I do, but it’s just a general statement on how the shape of the movie industry is. Hollywood today is built on blockbusters, some are good, some are bad, but the 21st century is built on franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harry Potter and Star Wars.

When the Oscars first started in 1929, movies were still a relatively new deal. It wasn’t until the 1970’s, with the arrival of Jaws, A New Hope and Superman, that the “blockbuster” first started to emerge and audiences gravitated more towards killer sharks, space battles and men who can fly over the heavy dramas of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”. This trend continued into the 80’s with Indiana Jones, ET and Batman before the 90’s became dominated by blockbusters such as Jurassic Park. Today we have a strong balance, but the Oscars still seems to think they are stuck in the Golden Age of the 30’s-60’s, and as a result are ignoring the biggest movies which people know.

Here’s a challenge- without using the Internet, how many Best Picture winners in the last 15 years can you name? With the exception of Return of the King, chances are it’s not much, if at all. The simple fact is that Best Pictures are not the most interesting. I’m not saying they’re bad, not at all. I really like the King’s Speech, which won the 2010 Best Picture. But Inception and Toy Story 3, both of which were also surprisingly nominated, are much more remembered and equally good. If the “Best movies of the year” consist of movies with limited releases that people haven’t heard of, they’re not going to care about the outcome. It’s even worse when the vast majority are only released towards the end of the year, basically defeating the whole “of the year” aspect of the Oscars, and even worse than that when the movies aren’t even released in other countries until after the ceremony, meaning people in the UK (we get Oscar movies in January and February) may be watching a movie win “Best Picture” that they can’t even see yet. No wonder people aren’t watching the Oscars, they don’t even know the movies being nominated.

LOTRTrilogyPoster

Now, I know blockbuster movies have been nominated and even won. Return of the King famously won 11 Academy Awards, and as much as it deserved every award (the Lord of the Rings trilogy is as a whole my favourite film), the cynic in me believes it only won because if it didn’t, there would have been riots on the street. It was the same reason Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated in 2015; it was so acclaimed by critics and general audiences there would have been a public outcry if it didn’t at least get nominated. In fact, the current Academy rules of a maximum of 10 movies are in place due to the huge uproar over the fact that The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated for Best Picture in 2008. Despite this, the situation is still the same, as the Academy are making the same mistakes, and they literally have no excuse. They nominated 9 this year, so why couldn’t they have used the final slot for Civil War? Last year there were two slots left empty: surely The Force Awakens and Inside Out could have been considered, and in 2014 The Winter Soldier, which is definitely Oscar-worthy, was left out (on the subject of the 2014 nominees, while it didn’t win, I did really enjoy The Imitation Game). I’m not saying these movies have to win, I’m just saying that the nominees need more diversity to get more people interested.

So how to avoid this issue? Simple. Have a new category for Best Blockbuster. I’ve suggested this in the past but I think it bares repeating, as even I have to admit something like Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok isn’t going to be Oscar-worthy. So in order to honour all kinds of movie, have an award where superhero movies and other non-Oscar movies can compete. Have Civil War battle Rogue One and Doctor Strange and let the fans decide which is the winner. The BAFTAS (which I have watched every year since 2015, mainly because Stephen Fry is all kinds of awesome) have an award which is decided by the public (the Rising Star Award) so by having the Oscars let the public decide which blockbuster they enjoyed the most that year would be a great way of respecting the movies that the general public like watching. The box office says it all: with the exception of Return of the King (again) and Titanic, Best Picture winners never make as much money as the big movies, mainly because they’re lower budget so don’t need as much but because most people would rather watch LEGO Batman than the movies nominated this year. I know I did. I do want to watch Arrival though, which is a sci fi movie that got nominated this year, and sci fi is my favourite genre.

So that is how and why I believe the Academy Awards should evolve to adapt to the current movie industry. Well that and getting the right envelope to announce Best Picture. They’re never going to live that down.