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Pacific Rim retrospective: Diving into Guillermo del Toro’s original film

In three days time, one of my most anticipated films of the year comes out. Pacific Rim: Uprising is a long time coming, as the first film is one of the few recent original films that deserves a franchise. To celebrate the second film, let’s look back at the original 2013 film, already gone down as a cult classic and an action masterpiece, all brought to life by the masterful skills by Academy-award winning director Guillermo del Toro (it feels so satisfying saying that. Never before have I agreed with the Oscars so much).

The world of this film is expertly constructed. In the opening ten minutes, the audience is told everything they need to know about the backstory of the Kaiju and the Jaegar, with a fully detailed future established before the first action sequence. Every frame is gorgeous and packed with immense detail- as soon as the movie is over you instantly want to return to it, which thankfully we will. What makes this film stand out amongst the crowd of CGI blockbusters is the fact that it feels real and tangible. The Jaegars look real, the Kaiju look real, the world presented is worn down and believable. It’s all down to del Toro’s magnificent eye for production design and attention to detail throughout. His use of colours and practical set design complement the amazing visual effects perfectly. How this did not win at least Best Visual Effects, I do not know. Every creature in this film was designed from the ground up, and it shows.

But it’s not just the visuals and direction that make this film work. The characters are also great. They aren’t the most complex or fleshed out, but it’s the simple characterisation that works. Raleigh Beckett is a character afraid of living up to his brother’s name and afraid of failing. Throughout the film he is told he must help Stacker Pentecost fight the Kaiju, but Raleigh is frequently hiding from doing the right thing.  Through his connection with Mako and the realisation that they must work together, he decides to lead the charge against the Kaiju.  It’s a simple and satisfying arc. Mako Mori is one of del Toro’s best female characters, being fully independent and fleshed out. Her arc is brilliant, as she learns how to use her past as a motivation to keep fighting. Rounding off the best characters is del Toro regular Ron Perlman stealing the show as Hannibal Chau and Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost, being plain awesome every second he is one screen.

The themes in this film are quite inspiring and meaningful in today’s world. The multi-national characters present a world that has overcome differences to fight a greater threat and it’s a great message about how the human race can work together. Of course, with this being a del Toro film, expect lots of rain, contrasting colours, thing in jars, dissection, water and common themes. Like other del Toro protagonists, Raleigh refuses to be shaped by what society and circumstance dictates them to be and is able to forge his own path through his personal choices. Of course, this is just subtext, and the film is mainly focused on the spectacle of watching giant robots punch giant monsters in the face. The action is incredible- yes, it’s mostly CGI, but it’s done so well and so engaging, thanks to the amazing music, great buildup and stunning landscapes. The gigantic Hong Kong battle works so well because the film already established the characters and the combination of location filming, real sets and meticulous computer effects are mind blowing. I do not know how this battle was made to look so good, but I’m certainly very impressed.

The script by del Toro and Travis Beacham is clever and witty. I love how the film gives everybody subplots and actions that move the story along and expand the world. Newt’s trip into the neon drenched streets of Hong Kong is so detailed and Hannibal Chau is so fun I could watch an entire film focused on him. Everyone in this film has a purpose, right down to the other Jaegar pilots. The film is so fun to watch and never takes itself seriously. I’ve heard people complain how this isn’t like del Toro’s other films and how it lacks the depth of his Spanish language films, and I agree. But this isn’t trying to be Pan’s Labyrinth, this is trying to be a love letter to giant monsters and is del Toro’s way of recovering from the turbulent production of the Hobbit and the failure of At the Mountains of Madness getting produced. He would return to his usual style after this, but this stands as his most fun and accessible film, which anyone who has an inherent passion for giant monsters and giant monsters (which is nearly everyone, I guarantee) can enjoy. As I’ve mentioned, this film still has the master of monsters’s regular style, themes and auteur signature present. It may be simple and is at the end of the day a summer blockbuster, but it’s the vivid world, great style and underlying messages that make this stand out amongst the crowd.

So, am I looking forward to the sequel? Of course I am. I have faith that Steven S DeKnight can give us a satisfying sequel. It’s always good to see John Boyega in a leading role and based on the trailers it looks like del Toro’s unique visual style has not been completely lost. I’ve decided to not have the long gap between the first and second film put me off (after all, there was seven years between Alien and Aliens) and instead focus on how the second could improve on the first. It’s great to see an original franchise get recognised, and del Toro’s producer credit will certainly get people watching. How can you turn down an award winner? And no, I will never not be satisfied with saying that. Here’s hoping Uprising can live up to the first.

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What are Black Panther’s Oscar chances?

Black Panther is a phenomenon. This isn’t just a superhero film, this is a cultural statement, a message to the world, and easily one of Marvel’s best and most successful films. In just over a month, Infinity War comes out, and it’s a testament to Black Panther that the epic culmination of ten years that involves the Avengers battling Thanos is the one that must be better than the King of Wakanda. Ten years ago, Marvel probably wouldn’t dream of even getting nominated, but Black Panther’s unprecedented success has many people wondering if this is the year the barriers are truly shattered and Black Panther gets recognition from the Oscars. I’m not just talking technical, I’m talking Best Picture here. Could it happen? It’s actually more likely than usual. Let’s look at the case for-

What’s different this time?

The Academy has changed. When Christopher Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece The Dark Knight failed to get a Best Picture nomination despite being hailed as one of the best films of the 21st century, the Academy Awards expanded the Best Picture slot to ten. This has helped films such as District 9, Up, Toy Story 3, Mad Max Fury Road, The Martian, Arrival and Get Out to get nominated (all very worthy nominations for great films, may I add.) Whilst there were only nine films this year up for nominations (seriously, couldn’t they have nominated Logan or Blade Runner 2049?) the field is open for a superhero film. So why wasn’t The Winter Soldier, another acclaimed Marvel film, or Wonder Woman, another cultural milestone, or Logan, held up as the best superhero film since 2008, up for grabs? Let’s take a look at those in order-

Fellow MCU film The Winter Soldier has similarities to Black Panther- a more serious tone, relevant themes and a great and engaging plot. However, the issue lies with the franchising. In order to appreciate The Winter Soldier, you have to be aware of Captain America as a character and his arc in both his first film and The Avengers. The film has many supporting characters from the MCU film such as Nick Fury and Black Widow and the plot of the film revolves around events that tie into the wider universe. The film is unquestionably a franchise film, and the Academy don’t tend to go for sequels anyway. Black Panther on the other hand is a standalone film that requires no knowledge of the other Marvel films. Wakanda is a detailed world in and of itself and the film more than holds up as a singular superhero film. This is a key reason why I think it’ll be nominated.

OK, so what about the crown jewel of non-Nolan DC films? Why do I think Black Panther will get nominated over Wonder Woman? Make no mistake, Wonder Woman was a phenomenon as well and has just as much to say as Black Panther does about society both then and now, however there are two factors that Black Panther has over Wonder Woman. Firstly, as much as Wonder Woman is acclaimed, nearly everyone, myself included, agree that the third act where Ares reveals himself and the explosions begin is weaker than the outstanding first two acts. It’s not bad, but kinda cliche, especially when he starts to turn himself into a CGI demon. In contrast, Erik Killmonger is held up as the best part of Black Panther, and the third act does not stumble in the way Wonder Woman’s does. Another factor is the release of Justice League, which had Wonder Woman as a central character. I enjoyed the film, but it was hated by critics and failed at the box office, all the while Academy voters were preparing themselves to vote. Could the failure of Justice League have contributed to Wonder Woman’s Oscar snubs? More than likely. Infinity War  is set to smash all box office records and will almost certainly receive acclaim, and even if Ant-Man 2 isn’t good (which I doubt it will be), that won’t affect Black Panther’s Oscar chances. I think fate is on Wakanda’s side.

This brings us to Logan, the only superhero film to ever be nominated for a screenplay award and one of this year’s major snubs. Yes, a writing award is great but the acting deserved recognition, especially from Patrick Stewart. With that aside, people have been saying that Logan’s inability to get a Best Picture award means Black Panther cannot get one. It’s true that Logan’s wildly different tone and themes from most superhero films made it a prime award nominee, and Black Panther is more in line with the Marvel films and is ostensibly a superhero film, whereas Logan is more of a character driven western, but Black Panther has one thing Logan doesn’t- it has the cultural impact. Logan was widely praised and adored but Black Panther is a phenomenon and has taken the world by storm. It is a hugely important films for many reasons and has something to say about the current state of world politics. It has outgrossed most Best Picture winners combined and has made a massive cultural and social impact. What do The Wizard of Oz, Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET and Return of the King have in common aside from being blockbusters? They were all massively successful films that became events, which were rewarded with Best Picture nominations. Do the Academy really want to miss out on what is likely to be the biggest cultural event of the year that is causing Infinity War to look small by comparison? It’ll certainly boost the viewing figures.

Hey, if this can be nominated for an Oscar over LEGO BATMAN (!), then anything can.

There’s precedent for films like Black Panther being nominated. It’s obviously political so there’s that going for it (although I would like to think it got nominated for its own merits and not just to score points) and has a lot to say about the world currently. The release date isn’t really an issue, as Oscar-bait is slowly dying and more interesting films are taking over. Just this year Get Out, a satirical horror film about race relations released in February won Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for three more including Best Picture. The Best Picture winner is a love story between a fish man and a mute woman and is ostensibly a fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro, who specialises in speculative fiction. There is a high chance that Black Panther can not only be nominated, but win. It all depends on what else comes out though, although I guarantee that none will have the cultural impact of Black Panther. Ryan Coogler and Kevin Feige have a winner here- and it’s here to stay. Logan broke the screenplay barrier, now it’s time for the King of Wakanda to take one for the team and ride the Oscar glory.

Black panther review- You’ve never seen a superhero film like this

It’s only February, but Marvel have wasted no time in giving the world the first superhero film of the year, and it’s set a huge bar for the rest of the year. Considering Infinity War is next, you’d think Black Panther would mainly act as an excuse to set it up, but I was surprised at just how different and standalone this film was in relation to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, the awesome intro is there, Stan Lee has his usual hilarious one-liner and there are after credits scenes but for the most part Black Panther is the most unique and out there Marvel film. You’ll never see a blockbuster or superhero film like it. This movie serves as a massive statement to critics who complain about all superhero films being the same- I dare the superhero cynics to find another mainstream blockbuster film that features a mainly black cast which serves as a celebration of African culture whilst also dealing with Shakespearean ideals about loyalty, disillusionment, identity and colonialism, tackles modern day issues such as immigration and inequality, has an utterly unique, Oscar-worthy visual design and world building that presents a fully detailed country with its own laws and customs which also happens to be plain fun (Black Panther 2 won’t count). Until there’s another one, I’m going to assume those critics have no idea what they’re talking about.

 

As the film’s been out in most countries for about a week and it’s been released in America now, I will be spoiling the film, although not massively.

Continuing on from his awesome introduction and arc in Civil War, T’Challa/Black Panther/The coolest character in the MCU returns home to Wakanda to be crowed king. Things are not so easy though, as he soon gets involved in a global plot which revolves around vibranium smuggling, the return of Ulysses Klaw and a threat to the throne of Wakanda. Already the film sets itself apart from the rest of Marvel by having a relativity contained plot- after the awesome action scene in South Korea (Marvel really loves filming there) the rest of the film is set entirely in Wakanda and has very personal stakes. But the uniqueness doesn’t end there, as this is a very thematic and dramatic film a world away from the buddy comedy of Thor: Ragnarok. Through the different tribes of Wakanda, incredibly topical issues are raised that are very relevant for today’s world. T’Challa believes in Wakanda’s isolation as he does not want the resources of his country being taken away by foreign powers like the rest of Africa, but at the same time he rules the most technologically advanced nation on the planet and believes this to be the right way, leaving the rest of the world behind to face their own problems. W’Kabi fears that Wakanda’s involvement in world affairs will bring unneeded immigration and integration, which risks Wakanda being just another country and Killmonger believes that Wakanda should be the leaders of the world and that it is justified, seeing how Western cultures took over Africa during the 19th century and how black people have been treated even now. His motivations make absolute sense. I was very surprised as to how political this movie was, but it wasn’t done in a hamfisted or preachy manner. It enhanced the film and made it a lot more complex than the usual blockbuster.

Speaking of Killmonger, he’s probably the best villain Marvel has ever done. Like Loki, he is a very complex and interesting character who opposes the hero in a far more interesting manner than just being evil. His motivations make total sense, his actions are justified and he gets a complete character arc which is immensely satisfying to watch. There’s also the return of Ulyssess Klaw, who is great fun to watch. The film’s villains are all great and Marvel have definitely improved on this front. This bodes well for Thanos. A great villain is nothing without a great hero, but fortunately Black Panther is an awesome character. He commands the screen every second he is on screen and in his solo film he is perhaps even more well thought out than his amazing introduction in Civil War. He is a hero who doesn’t see himself as one and definetly doesn’t see himself as a superhero, yet his actions and character are all heroic. He’s become one of my favourite Marvel heroes as he isn’t afraid to make mistakes and even do things that antagonise others, as long as it’s in the service of his goals.

The world of Wakanda and the highly unique style this film has is simply amazing. The film combines futuristic technology with African culture, and it’s so interesting to watch. Marvel have successfully made politics interesting- albeit the politics of a fictional nation which seems a lot cooler and a lot more well run than most countries today. That’s kind of the point though, as fear of expanding and helping others is one of the main conflicts of the film. For all the wider themes at play, this is still a comic book film, and the action is amazing. The fighting is very intense and quite different from the usual Marvel action and it reminded me in places of a 12-rated Logan. The final battle is also awesome and the film is never boring, always offering up something new and interesting. The links to the wider MCU are very thin, with only Klaw, minor references to Civil War and a hilarious Martin Freeman as Everett Ross offering wider links to the universe. I appreciate this though, as being bogged down in references would have alienated casual audiences. The standalone nature gives Ryan Coogler to tell his own story and put a unique stamp on Marvel, which he has done immensely well. As much as I am looking forward to Infinity War, I am desperate for a Black Panther sequel to return to this unique world.

In conclusion, I highly reccomend Black Panther, even if you are not a huge superhero fan. It’s different enough to stand on its own and it has a lot to say about race, diversity and building relationships, very relevant in today’s world. It’s one of Marvel’s best films and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s at least a bit of recognition from next year’s Oscars for this film. Next up, it’s a film ten years in the making- Infinity War. April can’t come soon enough.

5 hopes for Chris Chibnall’s era

It’s been over a month since Steven Moffat ended his tenure as showrunner of Doctor Who. Whilst I would do a retrospective, I feel like I’ve discussed his era too much in the past. For now, let’s look to the future and what Chris Chibnall has in store for Whovians. Outside of casting we don’t know too much about his era, which is great. I do have faith in him to deliver a strong run but here’s a list of things I hope he follows through on. I did a list before the Series 9 finale about wishes for Series 10, which were mostly fulfilled (two new interesting companions, great returning monsters and cool new ones and a better balance of story and character). My other two weren’t really followed through on (a consistent costume and more alien planets) so they are on this list as honourable mentions. I do like the Thirteenth Doctor’s costume so far, but I need to see it in action and let it sink in.

So, let’s dive into what I would like to see in Chris Chibnall’s era-

  • A new, original arc

I cannot stress this enough, but a series without the Daleks, Cybermen or the Master would be brilliant. I don’t think the latter two are appearing but the Daleks almost certainly will, which would be fine as long as they aren’t the story arc.

Remember (ba-dum) how effective the Silence were? We had a brand new, original threat for basically two seasons. You could argue the Series 6 arc teetered out of control and that the Silence were wasted but the fact remains that Steven Moffat created a fascinating new villain along with a highly engaging arc. I hope Chris Chibnall does the same and creates new threats, supporting characters, worlds and arcs.

Without trying to sound like I’m bias, the RTD era really had this under control. We had Ood and Weeping Angels, Torchwood and Sarah Jane, three trips to New Earth and well thought out, interesting arcs. Moffat had this in a way with Matt Smith (Silence and Angels, River and the Paternoster Gang and the Silence Will Fall arc) but Peter Capaldi’s run suffered from a lack of originality. Am I a good man? That was basically Eleven’s arc in Series 6. The companion and the Doctor are in a dangerous partnership? Explored in the God Complex. It’s why I loved Series 10, as rehabilitating the Master had never been done before. But there can still be more.

Have a cosmic war. Have a chase across time and space by bounty hunters. Have the Great Old Ones return, ready to wreck havoc across the universe. Have Rassilon plot an elaborate revenge against the Doctor. I would love Chris Chibnall to just go nuts with his story arcs and ideas. Don’t just rely on old enemies or retread old ideas, do something truly captivating and original. The whole universe can be explored, why are the arcs so Earth focused and why is everything something from the Doctor’s past? Move away from sequels to Classic Who or yet more Time War angst and do something new.

  • Good villains

Without looking them up, how many Twelfth Doctor villains can you name? As in proper, compelling, original villains (Missy doesn’t count). My guess is that you can’t name many, as most of them weren’t really villains and the ones that were weren’t very good. The Monks were promising but ended up being just the Silence, and there really isn’t that much from Twelve’s rogue’s gallery. There’s the Boneless yes, but what else?

William Hartnell battled cosmic entities and rogue Time Lords. Tom Baker encountered the last of the Osrians, the Guardians of Time and more. Sylvester McCoy fought Fenric, a being from beyond comprehension and David Tennant battled the Devil. My point is that Peter Capaldi’s rogues were a bit less impressive. Oh no, lion people. Oh no, sleep dust monsters. Watch out for the weird robot owl thing and you better hide from the terrifying King Hydroflax!

He looks cool, but try thinking of a single line the Fisher King said. And I like this story.

My wish for Thirteen is that she gets some amazing villains. They don’t have to be sympathetic or misunderstood, you can just make them evil. Is there a single redeeming quality about the Mara, or the Family of Blood? No, they’re just evil. It would help if they had some depth but sometimes they can be just evil. As long as they’re interesting, the audience will care. It says a lot when the best villain last series was a CGI wolf with tentacles.

  • Have fun

Let’s not beat around the bush here, Doctor Who is at its best when it’s dark. There’s a reason Phillip Hinchfliffe’s era is beloved. However, it’s important to have fun and embrace the camp. Having the Doctor be light hearted, caring and zany is hugely important, and unfortunately Twelve was none of that, at first anyway. The show turned utterly serious and dour with plot points like the Moon being an egg and flying Cybermen being treated incredibly seriously without any acknowledgement to the stupidness of the concepts (and the show itself is stupid. It’s about a shape shifting alien who flies in a box through time and space. But that’s what makes it great). Tom Baker had dark stories, but he was still a buffon who tripped over his scarf. Jon Pertwee was a snarky know-it-all who loved driving and David Tennant had some of the most mature storylines in the show’s history,  yet he still randomly referenced pop culture, had a positive attitude and made jokes, all whilst managing to maintain the darkness of the storylines.

Sometimes it’s good to go dark. Inferno, Waters of Mars, Curse of Fenric, The Doctor Falls- all very dark. But don’t have the basic outlook of the show be dark. Why did I like Robot of Sherwood and The Return of Doctor Mysterio? Because they were fun. Why did the fanbase dislike them? They were different from the typical Twelfth Doctor episode. Twelve was out of character for those as he was acting the way any other Doctor would act in those situations- having fun. My advice for Chris Chibnall is- lighten it up when it’s appropriate. When there are dark storylines, have them be dark. When there are light hearted or goofy scenarios, have fun. This is why having a lighter, nicer Doctor helps.

  • Take risks and don’t spoil things early

I’m going to go on a slight tangent and bring up The Last Jedi. Nothing about that film is what you’d expect. Luke Skywalker is a jaded old man and Snoke, the supposed big bad of the new trilogy, is killed off. Think about how risky that is, and how refreshing it was. Iron Man 3 does something similar with the Mandarin, turning the character from a generic bad guy to a metaphor about modern media and manipulation.

My point is, Chibnall really needs to think outside the box. Don’t give the audience what they’re expecting and subvert expectations. Of course it was going to be Missy in the Vault. But what if it wasn’t? Of course the Doctor wasn’t really working for the Monks. But what if he was? The funny thing about that last example is that Skulduggery Pleasant did a similar plot point in Resurrection, released the same week as Lie of the Land (having the main character turn evil) but actually stuck to it. That’s a risk.

The show has taken risks in the past, such as Heaven Sent, but I want more. Truly challenge the audience and make them think about the show they’re watching. What if the mysterious box in the TARDIS isn’t the arc, but the companion we’ve been following throughout the series has been working for the bad guys the whole time? What if the Earth is invaded by aliens in the most painfully generic plot imaginable, only for the Doctor to realise that they’re not on Earth and are actually on a game show? That’s the kind of risk I’m talking about. Extremis is a great example of a risk that worked.

There have been episodes in the Capaldi era that took risks, but the show as a whole needs to do more risky things, especially in regards to the story arcs. Do something that will shatter expectations and make the audience react. Don’t fear backlash, just go for it. Chibnall also needs to make sure the risks pay off- Series 8 had a dark and depressed Doctor but it didn’t really work as nothing was being subverted- he was just angry and miserable. How about a pure historical? Or a non-linear episode? Or (dare I say it?) a musical episode? As long as they’re good then the fans won’t mind.

How about a pure historical musical?

Never mind.

Also, don’t spoil things. How much more awesome would John Simm’s reveal in World Enough and Time have been if it hadn’t been spoilt? The Internet would have gone nuts. I know it’s harder to keep secrets know but the BBC need to have some degree of control over spoilers.

  • A consistent time slot

What time is Doctor Who on THIS WEEK?

This is less about the show itself and more about scheduling. Back in the day, David Tennant’s Doctor would be on TV at around 7:00. OK, so I stayed up slightly later on Saturday. But with Peter Capaldi, I didn’t know what time the show was on as it was never consistent. Sometimes it was 7, sometimes it was 8:35. You’d think with a Spring start Series 10 would not fall victim to this, but as early as Smile the schedule was being pushed around for… football. I respect that people like watching football, but if Doctor Who is on at a certain time, I want it to be on at that time and not have to wait to see if the episode will be pushed back a week just because people can’t kick a ball in time. Seriously, is there not a separate channel for sports? That would be the only hiccup you’d think, but no, it happened again for Pyramid at the End of the World and then the show was aired even earlier to accommodate a new BBC show. Hey Beeb, maybe it’s not a good idea to start a new show when your flagship sci-fi show is currently airing.

Little things like it airing five minutes before or later than last week really bug me. Is it so hard to just have a slot for Doctor Who? It’s managed with the other shows. Even Peter Capaldi has spoken out about this, and it’s believe to be one of the reasons he left, despite initially stating he was going to do more than three seasons. With Series 11 not airing until autumn, I’m worried that the same thing will happen with Series 8 and 9- instead of putting the show in that magical slot known as “before Strictly Come Dancing”, the Beeb are just going to put it afterwards and air it depending on how long Strictly lasts. It got even worse in Series 9 when the BBC chose not to air the show before the Rugby World Cup, rather letting the show run through it. Great move guys, maybe this is why the viewing figures have tanked.

If I was managing the BBC, I would air the show at 6:00-6:50 every Saturday. This way, the whole family can eat dinner whilst watching (which was the point of airing the show at around that time anyway) and there won’t be any conflicts. It’ll be autumn so it’ll be dark so any scary episodes will be appropriate and the show will not air too early or too late. I really hope this is sorted out and I hope Chris Chibnall actually has a say in this as he has a lot riding on this series (if the viewing figures are low, the BBC will just assume it’s because of Jodie Whittaker being the first female Doctor). I know when the show is on every week because I watch every week and make sure to check when it’s on but the general public, who drop in and out, will not be as dedicated as me. The show needs a proper time slot.

So, those are five points I hope Chris Chibnall expands on in his era. Have some original ideas, some great villains, have fun but don’t forget to take risks, don’t let anything be spoilt in advance and don’t let the show air inconsistently. Let’s wait and see.

Every movie I’m anticipating in 2018

Another year, another upcoming round of pop culture. Since starting film studies at college I’ve come to branch out and become more interested in other kinds of movies outside of superhero films, although yes, this list will mostly be superhero films. There will be others however, and I think this year will be a fantastic year for film.

  • February 16 (probably earlier for the UK)- Black Panther

Of course I’m looking forward to this. The best character in Civil War, and one of the best Marvel characters in general, getting his own film? Sign me up. I haven’t actually seen the trailers but I don’t need Marvel trailers to convince me to watch them- at this point, Marvel could literally make a Squirrel Girl movie and I’d watch (I would like to see that film, if only to see how nuts it is. Pun intended.) Black Panther seems to me like it’ll be an intense, more serious film than recent Marvel movies and it’ll be interesting to see how this movie ties into Infinity War. The MCU is so good and consistent I’m almost certain this movie will be at the very least entertaining.

  • March 23- Pacific Rim: Uprising

Yup. After four years (!) we’re finally getting a sequel to one of the most entertaining and original movies I’ve seen at the cinemas. The first movie is the perfect blockbuster, courtesy of Guillermo del Toro (could he win the Oscar this year? I hope so) and it built a fascinating universe that it’ll be great to revisit. It’s a shame that del Toro isn’t returning but hopefully his impact is still felt as it was his brilliant world building and visual details that made the first film great. I do have reservations about this film (the trailer is a bit bizarre and doesn’t seem to match the first film and I’m a bit concerned whether the long gap between movies show Warner Brothers have no faith in the franchise) but this should hopefully be fun and maybe even better than the first.

  • March 30- Ready Player One

I’m currently in the process of reading the book, as my new mindset towards adaptations is that I must read the book first. This is a very interesting premise and I was mainly excited for this as it meant watching a Steven Spielberg film in cinemas (and he’s very good at adaptations. He made me like a Micheal Morpurgo story!) I’m now even more excited after reading the book, which is great. It seems tailor made for me, as there are countless references to nerd and geek culture and they are woven into the plot well. This is another example of a film I haven’t seen the trailers for, but that’s because I want to go in blind. I hope it’s good and I hope this is a way for Spielberg to return to blockbusters. I like drama Spielberg but blockbusters are what mad him beloved in the first place.

  • May 4 (again, probably earlier in the UK. I’m going by the American release dates for convenience)- Infinity War

Yup, yup and yup. I don’t even need to explain this one. It’s. Infinity. War. After 10 years and 18 movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will bring together all their characters for one last time to battle Thanos. I didn’t even need a trailer but the one we got was amazing. Iron Spider! Human Vision! Doctor Strange! The Guardians of the Galaxy! This film is so hyped up that I’m worried it may disappoint, but seeing how I’m one of five people to think Age of Ultron was even better than the first one I’m sure to like this one even more. The recent news that Disney have brought Fox means the future of the MCU may have gotten even more exciting, and we’ll have to see whether this movie will set up the X-Men and Fantastic Four joining Marvel and creating a complete Marvel universe.

  • May 25- Solo: A Star War Story

Am I aware that this movie is probably going to end up being pretty pointless? Yes, but I’m still going to watch it. It’s Star Wars! Rogue One was a fantastic film that added depth to the universe and the original movie and it looks like this film will do the same to Han Solo. I always find one of the more interesting aspects of Star Wars to be the crime/gangster side, with bounty hunters such as the Fetts, Cad Bane, Bosk etc being awesome characters. I would love it if this movie was to focus on that aspect of Star Wars and tie Han’s backstory in with them. It would also be interesting if this film expands on Jabba the Hutt and the Hutt’s rule over Tatooine, which is under explored in the canon universe. I’m just excited to see whether or not this film will successfully bring more depth to the Star Wars universe.

  • June 22- Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Yeah, I’ll admit it. I’m really, really excited for this film. Dinosaurs will never stop being amazing and I did really like Jurassic World so this sequel has strong ground. Will it top the first film? Well, seeing how the first film is one of the best movies ever…no it won’t. But as long as it keeps doing interesting things with the franchise, gives us awesome new dinosaurs and doesn’t stray too far away from what made the original great and the sequels not so (write a great story that happens to be about dinosaurs, not just throw dinosaurs at the screen.) I once again haven’t seen the trailers to this film, and it’s again because I want to go in blind. What else do I need to say about this film? The first Jurassic World gave me hope that the franchise is in good hands and I can’t wait to see this.

  • July some time earlier than America- Ant Man and the Wasp

That awkward moment when I’m anticipating an Ant-Man film more than X-Men. I’ll only watch X-Men if I hear good things, but for Ant-Man I’ll be there as early as possible because, well, it’s Marvel Studios. They have successfully made one good Ant-Man film so I can almost guarantee they’ll do a good second one. I’m a bit curious as to how Marvel will follow Infinity War and it’s interesting to have such a low key film afterwards. This will probably serve as a light breather before things get serious again with Captain Marvel and Avengers 4 and that’s a very good thing indeed. We can’t have constant doom and gloom. I’ll be honest, I have no interest in Ant-Man outside of the films so the fact I’m anticipating this shows how much better the movies are than the current Marvel comics.

  • December 14- Mortal Engines

I know absolutely nothing about the books this is based on, but I will before December. My interest in this began when I heard Peter Jackson’s involvement. The director of my favourite movies (no not the Hobbit, the other ones) is adapting another book series? Sign me up. I know he’s not technically directing but he’s writing and producing it and the movie’s filmed in New Zealand in the same studios he films his movies so it basically is a Peter Jackson film, and that’s good enough for me. The trailer looked awesome, the premise is amazing and this will give me an even bigger excuse to A) Read the books and B) Visit New Zealand.  This and Ready Player One are the movies I’m most interested about, as they are something different from what I usually like to watch.

Are there more? Of course. Deadpool 2 is, well, Deadpool, and I probably will end up watching Aquaman, even though I’m not too excited because I wasn’t a fan of him in Justice League. There may even be more that I’ll end up watching and maybe *gasp* some original movies which will end up being awesome. We’ll have to wait and see.

Twice Upon a Time review

What an exciting time to be a Whovian. We have a new showrunner and a female Doctor on the way, but before we get there, we had the final story of the highly interesting Peter Capaldi era, and by an extension Steven Moffat’s time as showrunner. By “interesting” I mean that no matter what you think of this past era, whether you think it’s a new Golden Age or a complete mess (I’ve seen strong arguments for both sides), it has been fascinating to watch. It has all come to an end with the incredibly low key adventure Twice Upon a Time. This story had a lot riding on it- it had to write off the Twelfth Doctor, give the First Doctor a good reason to regenerate, follow through on one of the absolute best Doctor Who stories and a very strong series and do all that whilst being cohesive. Did it do that? Mostly.

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room here- this was not the First Doctor. Whilst I’m not denying that David Bradley did a great job recreating William Hartnell’s tics and mannerisms, Steven Moffat’s writing just really let the side down. I understand what he was trying to do- he was using the First Doctor as a way to critique 60’s attitudes and mentality and show how far the show has come. The issue is that it goes against the First Doctor’s character. Yes, in Season 1 he was incredibly condescending, rude and abrasive to everyone. But this is supposed to be the Tenth Planet First Doctor in Season 4, who is a lot more like his future selves and accepting of everyone. Any sexist or discriminatory remarks or actions were a product of the time the stories were made, not the character himself. The First Doctor has been established as being the same as the others in mentality, as all the references to his childhood on Gallifrey refer to the idea that Time Lords have no set gender. So why One would be condescending towards women?

Another issue is that Moffat’s intentions are good, but not necessary because the show has done a fantastic job of moving away from the 60’s mentality. Having a female Doctor is a strong enough statement to show that the show has come far from the idea that the female companion was second tier to the masculine Doctor and companions (even then, Barbara is an excellent character who is a very strong female companion in the 60’s). We’ve had strong, diverse characters and the show has made great leaps in progress. Moffat really didn’t need to emphasise the differences between the 60’s and now because people know. Fans know that Toberman from Tomb of the Cybermen is not equatable to Martha, Mickey and Bill and that the modern era’s strong female characters are evidence of the show changing.

So, other than that massive issue, how was the episode? Pretty decent.

Whilst I would have loved the Twelfth Doctor to regenerate in The Doctor Falls, I was pretty happy with this episode. The best aspect of it is how it fixed one of my biggest problems with the Capaldi era and actually brought together all three seasons of his era together. His era had felt disjointed and unconnected, with no real continuity between them. This is probably due to Moffat completely changing Twelve’s behaviour and story arcs after Series 8 flopped with many people. After that you had Series 9, seen as an improvement by some but more of the same for others. Following this there was Series 10 which had a completely different tone and style again. In contrast to the other New Series Doctors, Capaldi’s run hasn’t been the most connected or well thought out.

So when everything got connected here, I was happy. Rusty the Dalek was a great callback, the stupid stupid memory wipe was erased and Clara returned briefly, which despite everything I’ve said about her I really liked. It was a great way to connect the era and I liked how Bill and Nardole were incorporated as well, allowing Twelve to say goodbye to all his companions. I would have liked to see Missy as well so that the Doctor would know she ultimately died fighting for him but that’s a minor gripe. Capaldi’s era has been retroactively improved by the inclusion of Clara in this story and the removal of one of the worst aspects of Hell Bent. I might actually like it now. Emphasis on “might”.

The story itself was very interesting and it had great ideas. The Testimony are a great idea which I would like to see again, and it’s great that they weren’t a villain and the situation were a misunderstanding. Although I am desperate for truly evil and memorable villains in the show again. The inclusion of the General was great, as he added some gravitas to the story and connected the plot to the wider Whoniverse. The Christmas Truce was a great touch with real meaning and weight to it, although I saw it coming. There isn’t too much to the plot, as there isn’t really one, but I can forgive it as it was more of a character piece. But again, I am so desperate for in depth stories and monsters again. It’s also great how this story brought Bill back without ruining her departure in the finale, which I thought was excellent.

Despite having many issues with the First Doctor, I did like some aspects of his interactions with the Twelfth Doctor. I loved how he learnt about change and how seeing his future set him on the path to regenerate, and the opening scene with The Tenth Planet was amazing. The Twelfth Doctor was utter gold, and it’s one of his best portrayals. The Doctor Falls was all about the Doctor earning his rest after so many years of fighting, whilst Twice Upon a Time is about him deciding he doesn’t need it and that the universe would be worse off without him. To top it all off, we get an amazing final speech and one final, brilliant performance from Peter Capaldi. Even in his worst scripts, he has shone.

So in conclusion, pretty decent. This wouldn’t make my Top 10 Capaldi stories or my Top 5 Christmas Specials but it was pretty enjoyable on the whole. Can’t wait for the next series.

That’s it.

Wait, there was something else?

Oh yeah, Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor.

I’ll be absolutely honest here and say that this is the quickest I have accepted a new Doctor. Excluding David Tennant, who was my first, it took me roughly around Vampires of Venice to truly “get” Matt Smith’s Doctor (now my favourite) and I don’t know when I accepted Peter Capaldi. It certainly took a while, but by The Zygon Inversion I truly got into his incarnation and until Series 10 before I consistently enjoyed him. With Jodie Whittaker, all it took for me to see her as the Doctor was her grin and proclaiming “Oh brilliant”, before being immediately thrown out of an exploding TARDIS in the most Doctorly sequence imaginable. I’m sold already.

Bring on Series 11.

The Last Jedi review

I have a new philosophy concerning Christmas- it isn’t Christmas until I’ve seen Star Wars and Christmas is over once Doctor Who finishes. Unfortunately, this has led to a very short Christmas for me, as I only saw Star Wars yesterday as I’ve been working throughout the month (how have I been publishing Doctor Who posts all month then? Scheduling!) and it’s Christmas Day tomorrow. This doesn’t matter though, as in a great year for fandom, Star Wars ends the year on a high. The Last Jedi is amazing, and I do not understand how this film could be so controversial, especially when this is the same franchise with Jar Jar Binks and midichlorins present.  Keep in mind I will be spoiling the film as it has been out for over a week now so if you’re one of the three people who haven’t seen this film, then watch it first before proceeding.

Continuing immediately from The Force Awakens, this film wastes no time in setting up the story, with a truly epic opening sequence that feels like a movie in and of itself. Following this, the movie splits into two- Finn, Poe and Leia are escaping from the First Order with the rest of the Resistance, and Rey has gone to find Luke Skywalker. All is not as it seems though, as there are twists, turns and secrets. My jaw was actually open through a vast majority of this film. I’d call it the best in the series since Empire Strikes Back, and that is a very high bar to reach.

In terms of the old characters, Luke is easily the best. What Rian Johnson does with his character is utterly fascinating, as it gives the audience a glimpse of a new Luke not present in the original trilogy. This Luke is not the heroic Luke we know, this is a broken character who has given up on the Jedi. Character derailment? Heresy? No, it’s development, and doing something new. It would have been easy to just have Luke be Rey’s Obi-Wan or Yoda, but instead he’s a much more complex character than that. He doesn’t want involvement with the conflict or the Jedi because he believes that his part in creating Kylo Ren exposed the true nature of the Jedi to him. By the end of the film, he realises that sometimes winning is failure, and he becomes one with the Force in order to save his friends, coming to terms with who he is as well as the nature of the Force as something that isn’t defined by good or evil. This movie didn’t ruin Luke in my eyes, it made him an even better character than before, and I agree with the people who believe Mark Hamill deserves an Oscar nomination for this film.

Honestly, Luke’s actions in this film tie into one of the biggest themes of this film, which is all about subversion and replacing the old with the new. This film seeks to make the audience question the Star Wars mythos and conventions- there’s no lightsaber battle, no “I have a bad feeling about this” and no real answers on anything. That’s a very good thing however, as the film is still Star Wars due to its themes and ideas- Star Wars has never been about lightsaber duels or catchphrases, it’s been about the characters and wider themes.

Take Snoke for example. He is a clear example of audience expectation versus the real subversion. You would think that he’d be like the Emperor, an all-powerful villain who will dominate the series in the same way Palpatine did in the originals. But no, he’s killed off to be replaced by Kylo Ren as Supreme Leader. Not only does this tie into the idea of the new killing the old, but it acts as another subversion of audience expectations, keeping the franchise alive. Also, he is obviously not dead. The Snoke in this film was probably a clone/hologram or wasn’t even Snoke. Do people really think he would be left unanswered? It’s called a trilogy. He’s not dead and if he is, well, then I will be disappointed. But JJ Abrams was a producer on this film and if he didn’t want Snoke dead he would have intervened, so I can almost guarantee that Snoke will be back.

The other characters’ arcs also tie into the idea of old vs new. Rey (and the audience) want to know about her parents, only for it to be revealed that they were no one special. Anticlimatic? In a way, but also hugely satisfying. The twist represents the film’s idea of the Force as an immense spiritual idea that anyone can have, regardless of if they’re a Jedi. This is what Luke realises, as he comes to the conclusion that it’s the Force, not the Jedi, that should survive, and that regardless of past mistakes, the Force must survive.

Too much analysis? Here’s a Porg.

Another key theme is the blurring of good and evil. Think Luke’s a perfect hero? He still has dark thoughts and is regretful of his past actions. The Jedi were an all-powerful, benevolent force? Nope, because their bureaucratic ways resulted in the emergence of the Empire. Kylo Ren is beyond redemption after killing his father? Definitely not. Even the various subplots tie into this. Poe’s rivalry with Hodo is representative of the darker, more cowardly side of the Resistance, whilst Canto Bight gives the audience a look at the wider universe and shows how there are evil people outside of the First Order. Everything is tied into the wider themes of good and evil, right and wrong and old vs new.

That said, the film never stops being fun. There’s a wide array of creatures, awesome action and it is very funny, funnier than most Star Wars films. The fact that it’s also incredibly dark is a sign of how good the film is. This is one of the most thematically complex and idealogical Star Wars films- I don’t even think Empire Strikes Back delves this deeply into the ideas of the Force and what it represents, as well as delving into the very nature of the franchise. Obviously it’s hard to top the immense nature of Empire, but The Last Jedi comes close.

Are there flaws? There are a couple. Whilst I appreciate it on a thematic level, the whole Canto Bight sequence feels really, really out of place. I like how it gave Finn (my favourite of the new heroes) a plot and it looked great, but it just felt odd. The whole thing was pointless anyway as they don’t even get the master code breaker (who really should have been a bounty hunter, to add to the whole “good and evil are blurred” theme). I also feel that the structure could have been improved- there are multiple climaxes to the film and it could have been paced a bit better. It all was worth it all in the end though.

There is so much to dive into from this film. I haven’t even discussed Kylo Ren’s continuing arc of control over his light and dark, or the ideas about corruption and class divide. It is really a film to think about- smashing expectations, subverting tropes and adding depth and meaning to Star Wars. I can understand the criticisms around The Force Awakens and how it was too similar to A New Hope, but this movie was completely different to any Star Wars film previously, and it was so refreshing. I cannot wait to see how this new trilogy is resolved, and to see the return of Obviously-Not-Dead Snoke. In terms of all the movies I’ve seen this year, only Logan tops it.

My 10 favourite Twelfth Doctor stories

To quote Tom Baker- “It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for.” We have one more Peter Capaldi story to go so what better time than to look back at the best of his era. It’s been a bumpy ride but the good ultimately outweighed the bad. so let’s not waste any time and dive straight in-

10. Listen

A very strong early Series 8 script, Listen is an incredibly atmospheric and clever standalone that is unlike any other story in the show’s history. The sequences in the children’s home and at the end of the universe are very well written and full of tension and the dialogue is strong throughout. I love the simplicity of the storytelling and how real tension and scares were crafted out of barely anything at all. The final scene where the Doctor’s childhood was revealed could have been terrible, but I think it added to the mythology of the show. I wonder if we’ll get a reference this Christmas.

The great thing about this episode is how everything is ambiguous. The whole concept of fear and whether monsters are real or a figment of people’s imagination is a fascinating concept and one I think the episode handles very well. Watching this was one of the first times I truly saw Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and I love stories where the Doctor is vulnerable or unsure of himself. The only story I can compare this to is The Edge of Destruction, another story with no villain and that focuses entirely on character relationships and atmosphere.

9. The Eaters of Light

One of several Series 10 stories that will pop up on this list, I really love this story. Whilst monster-of-the-week plots tend to fall flat, I found this one to be strong mainly because of the themes presented throughout, such as the theme of colonisation and also about the Doctor’s responsibilities. There are many similarities to Rona Munroe’s previous story Survival, as once again there are a group of youngsters thrown into a world they don’t understand and they have to fend for themselves. I just love stories which have more under the surface.

Having this be the story before the finale really helped in my opinion, as like Boom Town it was linked to the finale through common themes and character exploration. There’s the idea of time dilation, the Doctor and Bill being seperated and the Doctor’s willingness for sacrifice. The monster was great, the TARDIS team were great, especially Nardole, and I adore the pseudo-historical scripts in the show most of the time so this one was right up my alley. The mystical elements of the plot were also really well handled and added to the story rather than detracted.

8. Mummy on the Orient Express

One of the stronger stories from Capaldi’s first year, this story was a breath of fresh air in 2014 and is still entertaining now. On top of being a fun and well paced murder mystery with a Doctor Who vibe, this story is vital in fixing the Doctor and Clara’s relationship after the ending of Kill the Moon (the only good bit about Kill the Moon may I add) and does it very well. One of the best things about this episode was the ending, where the Doctor questions his own morals and comes to term with how Clara sees him. The character growth comes naturally from the story as opposed to being in the foreground, a common problem with this era.

The villains in this were great, with the Foretold being a very memorable monster, and I love the Doctor going solo in this adventure and solving the mystery on his own. Perkins is a really watchable character and I have a hunch that Steven Moffat considered bringing him back as the second companion of Series 10 before settling on Nardole. I adore the steampunk setting and the macabre tone throughout, with the delightfully sadistic Gus being my favourite Series 8 villain. Overall a solid slice of Doctor Who that will be remembered as a highlight of Series 8.

7. Flatline

Considering this story focuses on Clara, I’m amazed I like this story as much as I do. It’s probably due to the incredibly tight script and the fascinating monsters combined with a simple but engaging plot. There are so many brilliant ideas here, such as the shrinking TARDIS, two dimensional beings, the companion becoming the Doctor and at the same time the Doctor learning how others see him through Clara. The best moment comes at the end, when the Doctor tells Clara that she was an “outstanding Doctor. Goodness had nothing to do with it”.

The Boneless are in my opinion the best original villain from the Capaldi era and I would like to see them return some day. This is easily my favourite Clara story, and whilst she’s my least favourite New Series companion I feel this story captured her character the best out of any story in her time as a companion. The whole episode just has a very original and fun vibe to it and it’s a blast every time I watch it. The sequence where the Doctor escapes from the train using his hand is simultaneously hilarious, tense and awesome.

6. Extremis

Despite the conclusion to this three parter being disappointing, Extremis still holds up as an incredibly dark and clever story. As a set up it’s perfect, with The Monks feeling like a true threat and the Doctor’s blindness adding a lot to the stakes in the story. The main plot about the Veritas is a strong enough mystery but it’s the final twist that gives a story a sense of scale and it’s executed perfectly, with the absurd plot (the Pope visiting the Doctor in person, the TARDIS not translating Italian and the gateways around the world) slotting together to make an immensely satisfying whole.

The subplot with Missy and the final act of heroism from the virtual Doctor also sets up the arc for the rest of the series. Nardole is a highlight here, adding humour to the dark story and this was the start of him progressing from an entertaining side character to an awesome companion. This is a very topical story for 2017, as it questions how people can survive in a world full of darkness and it raises questions about what’s real and what’s not. Can a post-Trump and Brexit world still have positives? This story confirms that as long as people do heroic things, it doesn’t matter what the world is like. Extremis is extremely poignant and very meta.

5. The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar

This story is proof that when Steven Moffat hits, he hits hard. The highlights of this two parter are Missy and the interactions between the Doctor and Davros, with the scenes between them being some of the best of the Capaldi era. Much like the Series 10 finale later on, this story manages to feel small scale and epic at the same time. It was great seeing Skaro again and even better than that was seeing Davros again, with this being one of his finest stories. Some may find the resolution unsatisfying and that all of his character development was erased, but the early scenes still have weight to them when you realise that Davros meant every word he said, even if he hadn’t truly turned good.

Missy’s inclusion helps give the sombre second half humour and she is absolutely hilarious throughout, making the scene where she makes the Doctor almost kills Clara inside the Dalek a hint towards her darker side. She’s my favourite Master and this story confirmed it and I desperately wanted her as a full time companion. I even enjoyed Clara in this story and seeing the other Daleks from the show’s past was brilliant. The whole story is about trust, redemption and regret, and it’s simply wonderful. Whilst Series 9 may have ended poorly, it began with a bang.

4. Oxygen

Otherwise known as “what Kill the Moon should have been”. Oxygen is great because it isn’t just a base under siege/horror story, as good as those aspects of it are, but because it makes a point and serves as a clever satire. There’s no real villain here as the suits are programmed to obey the unseen company controlling them and I appreciate the return to hard sci-fi. Unlike Kill the Moon, the story never forgets that it’s Doctor Who and keeps the satire to a subtext, focusing on the brilliant dynamics between the Doctor, Bill and Nardole and the intense atmosphere.

Having recently watched the Alien movies, rewatching this story allowed me to see the influences those movies had on Oxygen, with the idea of corrupt corporations and human lives being sacrificed for the sake of profit. I always love it when the show tackles interesting ideas and difficult subject matter without losing the core of what makes the show good, which is entertaining sci fi. The story is perfectly paced and features amazing direction and cinematography, with the scene of Bill losing oxygen one of Series 10’s best. A borderline perfect story made even better by its relevance to the arc.

3. Heaven Sent

This is one story. One. Putting aside what actually happened afterwards, let’s just focus on this amazing episode featuring probably the best performance by any Doctor in any story. This looked like it was doomed to failure- the Doctor on his own talking for 55 minutes, with not much plot or action. Despite this, Peter Capaldi completely sells the Doctor’s grief and determination and it’s this episode that solidifies him as probably the best actor to take the part. The whole episode serves as a magnificent analysis of the Doctor’s mind and how he works.

The music is incredible, the direction is some of the show’s best and the whole story is a breathtaking experience. It’s the kind of episode I strive to make one day. It’s not conventional Who at all, but it’s still brilliant and serves as a fantastic metaphor for grief and letting go. The final ten minutes with the billions of Doctors punching through the wall for 4.5 billion years is a scene that will go down in Doctor Who history, with one of the lowest points of the Doctor’s life suddenly turning into the most triumphant. Easily the best episode of Series 9, but my favourite is…

2. The Zygon Invasion/Inversion

This is much more conventional Who than Heaven Sent, but that doesn’t make it worse. Taking the weakest aspect of the 50th and making a two parter out of it was extremely well played on Moffat’s part and makes the 50th even better than it already is. Like the best Jon Pertwee stories, what this story does best is use the current world climate to create a very modern and relevant story. Osgood makes a much better companion than Clara ever did and the story is full of tiny moments that help flesh out the conflict such as the Zygon who kills himself as he wants peace and the implication that these kind of conflicts never achieve anything.

The intense subject matter and themes doesn’t stop it from being highly entertaining, with a great villain in Bonnie and UNIT being plain awesome. This hearkens back to the best of the Jon Pertwee era and as a massive fan of that era this story was obviously going to appeal to me. The gritty direction and sombre mood throughout makes this an immersive experience that’s a hard watch but one that’s very rewarding. Whilst the speech in The Zygon Inversion may overshadow the rest of the story, there’s enough to like in both parts to make this a modern classic.

  1. World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls

I’ve gushed about this enough, but simply put this is now in my Top 10 stories of all time. Considering it had to write out two companions and featured two Masters, multiple versions of Cybermen and the Doctor’s impending regeneration, I would have been happy if this was merely good. The fact that it’s brilliant in every way is one of Moffat’s finest achievements, with a story which encapsulates who both the Doctor and the Master are. Everything about this story, from the acting to the music and the direction is pitch perfect.

The Cybermen get their best showing in New Who with their origins being masterfully handled and the sheer glee of seeing two Masters on screen is enough to make any fanboy happy. The story is about triumph and who the Doctor really is and his decision to stand and fight the Cybermen makes this a brilliant bookend to his good man arc in Series 8. The themes of the series and the era as a whole are expanded upon and made better by this story. It’s epic and intimate, incredibly dark but also incredibly optimistic and is perfect in every sense of the word.

My ranking of the Doctor Who Christmas specials

Well, it’s that time of year again. Christmas is only a week away, and we’re in for a massive Doctor Who episode this year. The Twelfth Doctor and the First Doctor along with Bill and of course, the first appearance of the Thirteenth Doctor. So let’s look back on the Doctor’s previous festive specials-

12. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe

To quote the Cybermen from World Enough and Time- “Pain…pain…pain.” Matt Smith may be my favourite Doctor but he did have his fair share of bad or disappointing stories (although I seriously regret my list of bad Matt Smith stories I did back in 2013. How did Cold War, The Girl Who Waited, A Town Called Mercy and A Christmas Carol end up there but Curse of the Black Spot or Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS didn’t? Let’s scrap that entire list except for this story, Hide and the Ganger story) This is easily the worst Matt Smith story, and between this and In the Forest of the Night Doctor Who really needs to avoid tackling trees. It’s just extremely dull and childish with no real plot and it just meanders around doing nothing. I do like Steven Moffat’s fairy tale approach to the show but this was going way too far. I mean “mothership”, seriously? Most stories I dislike now I enjoyed when I was younger, but I didn’t like this one in 2011 and I don’t like it now. Avoid.

11. Last Christmas

This is just incredibly disappointing. A story involving layers of dreams sounds like something Steven Moffat can do easily, and Futurama did a similar concept brilliantly in The Sting (my favourite Futurama episode). The problem with this story is that once again, there’s no real plot or anything of consequence. Having a more subdued story and a story dealing with grief and the idea of dreams has so much potential, but it just fizzled out completely. Was having about five layers of dream really necessary? This isn’t like Extremis where the simulation reveal happens towards the end and changes the viewer’s perspective on the story, this is just twist after twist after twist from the beginning. It’s confusing and the Dream Crabs are a very weak villain and cannot sustain the plot. Add on top of that a completely wasted base under siege plot and confused tonal shifts and we have a very underwhelming story which is ultimately pointless due to Clara staying for Series 9, making her “ending” in this story mean nothing.

10. The Runaway Bride

Now this is more like it. The low placement of this story doesn’t mean this story is bad, it’s just not as good as the other specials. This is a much better story in hindsight, as whilst Donna is annoying in this story, the fact that she became the best New Series companion and the events of the amazing Turn Left pivot around this story make it an important and much better story than it was at first. I just love the absurdity of this story and whilst it has many problems such as really jarring tonal shifts and a nonsensical plot, it’s so entertaining and watchable that the flaws just fly by. A flaw that cannot be ignored however is the Racnoss. She looks cool and has a brilliant backstory but does nothing but yell and is barely in the episode. What a waste of a cool monster and I hope the species returns some day. There’s also a lot of recycling from the Christmas Invasion but like I said, when a story is entertaining I don’t mind problems as much as I would with a boring story. Flawed but fun.

9. The Next Doctor

Dumb? Yes. Wasted premise? Yes. Do I care? Not really. Once again we have a story that could be better but could be worse. There’s a lot to like about this story such as a great villain, Cybermen storming around Victorian London and a fun dynamic between the Tenth Doctor and who he believes to be a future incarnation. I will agree that the core premise is wasted (and done better in the Big Finish story The One Doctor) but the Cyberman plot is incredibly fun and engaging and it’s just a fun time. Keeping in mind that the previous stories were the incredibly dark Midnight, Turn Left and Journey’s End, it’s good to have an old fashioned adventure where the Doctor gets a victory and saves the day. As the start of David Tennant’s final run of episodes, it’s a good slice of psedo-historical adventure that never fails to entertain me.

8. The Husbands of River Song

Another story that’s better in hindsight- who would have thought a relatively minor character from this story would end up as a companion in the following series? I’ve always liked River Song and it was great to see her story end and end well (I’m looking at you Clara). This story is hilarious, from the scene above where the Doctor gets to pretend he’s a companion as well as many of River’s quips. The story is simple but it works, and I really enjoy King Hydroflax as a villain. After a series of disappointing original villains, to have one so entertaining to watch was great. The story’s imaginative, fast paced and gets surprisingly poignant at the end. It’s a very jarring shift from slapstick comedy to an emotional goodbye, but River and the Doctor’s final scene together was the first time since The Day of the Doctor where I was completely invested in a story. It makes other stories better, sets the stage for Series 10 and also provides a fun time. What’s not to like?

7. The Return of Doctor Mysterio

After a whole year off air, Doctor Who returned with a really fun and lighthearted adventure that brilliantly homages superheroes as well as doing a great job of continuing the Twelfth Doctor’s arc. This is a very entertaining story. There’s humour, heart and some fantastic character moments as well as intriguing villains. Nardole is awesome, the Doctor is having so much fun and it’s impossible not to be swept up in the adventure. I’ve heard people complain that this is too silly, and to them I say watch The Romans or The Unicorn and the Wasp then tell me this is too silly. I cannot stress how much fun this story was and it was great seeing the Twelfth Doctor travel with someone who wasn’t Clara. My favourite aspect of the episode is how it constantly makes fun of itself and is perfectly aware it’s a silly superhero romp. As an appetiser before Series 10, I can safely say this episode was a return to form for the series and the series that followed was even better.

6. Voyage of the Damned

This is a massive guilty pleasure for me. It’s one of my fondest memories of the Tennant era and I distinctly remember watching this on Christmas Day 2007 at my grandparent’s house being completely memerised throughout and then excitedly reciting the plot to my mum afterwards. Putting nostalgia aside, this episode is pretty dumb, but it’s so entertainingly dumb I can’t help but love it. I mean, this is a story where the Doctor is on a space version of the Titanic only for it to hijacked by a cyborg and his army of robotic angels. If that isn’t Doctor Who, I don’t know what is. It has flaws, don’t get me wrong, and on a scripting level it’s a pretty poor story, but if all bad scripts were this entertaining we wouldn’t have a situation where Kill the Moon exists. The direction is fantastic, the episode is full of awesome moments and the scene where the Doctor flies the Titanic away from Buckingham Palace and being thanked by an obvious Queen impersonator is perhaps the stupidest awesome scene in the show’s history. I love this one.

5. The Time of the Doctor

Yes, this story is a mess. But considering the circumstances Moffat was in having to write Matt Smith’s final story as well as writing the 50th anniversary, it’s a miracle this story wasn’t a total disaster. Whilst a lot of the story could have been improved, such as making the villains seem like actual threats, fixing some plot holes and establishing a better motivation for the Siege of Trenzalore, it works so well on a character level. The Eleventh Doctor’s arc is about running, and here he settles down and defends a small town for 900 years. It’s perfect and as a farewell to my favourite Doctor I couldn’t have asked for a better ending. I loved the way the cracks and the Silence were reintroduced and whilst this story is no War Games or Caves of Androzani, we once again have to consider the immense pressure Moffat was under whilst writing this, as Matt Smith was originally planned to stay on for Series 8. This story could have failed so hard, and on a plot level it does to an extent, but as a character piece it’s phenomenal.

4. The End of Time

An epic story that I remember fondly, The End of Time gave David Tennant a brilliant send off that while flawed succeeded in telling a fantastic story. Whilst the Master can get too over the top in this story, he is a great villain and Rassilon’s presence gives the story weight and adds to the mythos of the show. Practically everything about this story works, from the Doctor and Wilf’s dynamic to the amazing action and story that was overblown I agree, but also had time to have incredibly quiet moments and gave time to give every Russel T Davies character goodbye. I could watch the scene where Rassilon, the Doctor and the Master face off all day- it’s a stunningly good scene. It has flaws- I’m not a fan of the mysterious woman who may or may not be the Doctor’s mother, the Doctor’s refusal to regenerate, whilst justified given Time of the Doctor, was handled poorly and there’s massive leaps in logic. Despite this, I still find this story immensely satisfying.

3. The Christmas Invasion

From Tennant’s last story to his first. This is a very enjoyable and well told story that introduces the world to the Tenth Doctor perfectly. Taking the Doctor out of the action was genius, as it put other characters such as Rose, Mickey, Jackie and Harriet Jones (yes we know who she is) in the forefront whilst building anticipation for the Doctor’s grand entrance. There’s a very strong alien menace in the Sycorax, who are surprisingly fleshed out and given depth for a one story villain. I love how this story builds- there’s the crisis over the new Doctor, then the robot Santas attack, then the Sycorax arrive and enslave the world. By the time the characters are captured on the Sycorax ship, you are waiting for the Doctor to wake up and save the day, and his entrance is so satisfying. He defeats the Sycorax and after Harriet Jones destroys the spaceship, the first signs of the Time Lord Victorious emerges and he sets up her defeat in office, leading to the Master being able to take over. It’s great how this story set the stage for the entire Tennant era.

2. The Snowmen

Not the best story ever but one of the most entertaining ever. Everything that should be in a Doctor Who episode is present here and this is without a doubt the best version of Clara. Why couldn’t this one travel with the Doctor? The Great Intelligence makes a welcome return, Matt Smith is at his best and the Paternoster Gang are brilliant. Spin off! The script is incredibly well put together with the story focusing on the Doctor recovering from the loss of the Ponds and Clara’s inquisitive nature and the compelling mystery about the snowmen bringing him back to saving the day. It’s endlessly rewatchable and hugely quotable with every character standing out. There are problems- the solution is a bit too convenient and the snowmen themselves don’t do much- but the positives far outweigh the negatives in my opinion and the result is a story that had me completely hooked on first viewing. As a scene setter for Series 7 Part 2 it’s flawless and whilst the show would experience a slight dip in quality when Clara joined full time, this story still holds up.

  1. A Christmas Carol

OK, how did I dislike this in 2010? Why did I put this on my worst Matt Smith stories? One of the stories I’ve changed my mind on the most, this has gone from a boring talky episode to the best Christmas special ever and one of my favourite stories in general. It’s a perfect retelling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and retells it with a brilliant Doctor Who twist. This is just evidence that Steven Moffat’s strengths as a writer is when he writes subtlety- the universe isn’t at risk and there isn’t really a villain in this episode, just a man who can be changed by the Doctor. Sardick is a fantastic character and one of the best written Moffat characters and the time travel in this story is just genius. Having Sardick be his own Ghost of Christmas Future is one of my favourite reveals in the show and the whole story just oozes originality, from the unique steampunk designs to the sky sharks and the idea of people as currency. There’s so many ideas thrown in here but none of them feel underused and they all service the story magnificently. A true masterpiece and one I rewatch every Christmas.

So, how will Twice Upon a Time hold up? Let’s hope it’s near the top of the list and not at the bottom, as I’d hate Peter Capaldi’s era to end on a whimper when The Doctor Falls was so good. We’ll find out in a week.

My ten favourite Classic Who stories

Whocember continues as we dive into the past. Whilst I may have grown up with the new series beginning in 2005, I also love the original run of Doctor Who from 1963-1989. It has so many iconic monsters, scenes, stories and Doctors. With well over a hundred stories it was very hard to pick just ten but I have picked stories which I believe to be the best Classic Who has to offer. Let’s start with a Colin Baker story (naturally)…

10. Vengeance on Varos

I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and say that I actually like Colin Baker’s TV stories. His Big Finish is better and The Twin Dilemma and Timelash are terrible but I enjoy the rest. Vengeance on Varos is a highly original and complex adventure which sees the Doctor and Peri trapped in the Punishment Dome on Varos, where people are tortured and ridiculed to keep the people of Varos entertained and to allow the Governor to stay in power. The alien Mentor Sil finances the Dome in exchange for the rare Zeiton-7, which the Doctor needs to fix the TARDIS. It’s a fantastic satire on television, mass media and corruption, with fantastic characters such as the Governor and Sil, who is easily the best villain from 80’s Doctor Who. There are two characters presented throughout the story who serve as a Greek chorus and comment on events transpiring through watching the Dome on their television. They exist to examine culture on Varos and give another perspective on events. It’s insanely clever and the story just gets more and more relevant. It’s dark and quite shocking but it adds to the story and gives the whole adventure a real sense of danger.

9. Carnival of Monsters

Much like Vengeance on Varos, Carnival of Monsters is incredibly meta and almost fourth wall breaking. Here, the Third Doctor and Jo are trapped inside a Miniscope owned by a travelling performer called Vorg who captures different specimens from planets and shows them to the general public. The story takes place on Inter Minor, where the natives are planning a coup against their leader and the border control who are in charge of letting Vorg through are planning to use the creatures inside the Miniscope to overthrow the government. It may sound convoluted, but it’s really not. The Doctor and Jo spend most of the story caught in the Miniscope and wondering what is going on, as they find themselves on an Edwardian boat which is soon overrun by the awesome Drashigs, giant worms which devour everything. The genius of this story is the sheer bonkers nature of the events and how the events inside the Miniscope tie into the plot on Inter Minor. The Third Doctor is at his best here as he finds out what’s going on and helps move events forward. This story isn’t trying to say anything, it’s just sheer joy and the imagination throughout is brilliant.

8. Ghost Light

The Seventh Doctor is one of my favourite Doctors and this story demonstrates why. The Doctor and Ace find themselves in a Victorian manor house full of bizarre and offbeat people such as a Neanderthal butler and a mysterious creature in the cellar. It also has links to Ace’s past and contains an incredibly complex but brilliant main plot involving a mysterious alien called Light. The atmosphere in this story is superb and the mystery builds and builds and presents so many interesting ideas and concepts such as evolution, racism and colonialism. The story isn’t afraid to deal with very dark subject matter and the story truly dives into the Doctor and Ace’s relationship, which is one of the show’s best in my opinion. The dialogue is amazing (I can’t stand burnt toast. I loathe bus stations. Terrible places. Full of lost luggage and lost souls. And then there’s unrequited love. And tyranny. And cruelty. We all have a universe of our own terrors to face’) and the story rewards multiple viewings to unravel every detail. It’s probably the most mature Classic Who story and I love it.

7. The Daemons

The quintessential Master story. The Master originally appeared for all five stories of Season 8, with The Daemons serving as the finale of the series. In it, the Master leads a cult of demon worshippers to revive Azal, a powerful being who the Master wishes to control. The Doctor and UNIT are called in to investigate. This is just pure class from beginning to end, with great cinematography that gives the whole story a realistic feel to it and fantastic direction and visual effects. One of the best things about this story is how high budget it feels and how the story feels epic on a tiny budget. I always love it when the show deals with supernatural beings and creatures beyond the Doctor’s understanding and The Daemons serves as one of the best examples of bringing in unnatural and magical elements into the show. I love the Third Doctor and this is one of his finest outings, with great roles for all of UNIT and a true sense of scale and threat barely seen in the show.

6. The Mind Robber

This one is hard to explain. Essentially, the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe end up in a fantasy land called the Land of Fiction where things get bizarre. There’s Robinson Crusoe, Medusa, a unicorn, a superhero, Rapunzel and a minotaur. It may seem simple but the whole story just shows how offbeat and weird Doctor Who could get and the literally endless potential it has. The first episode in particular is probably the best episode ever in Doctor Who, with incredible atmosphere and a simple but genius mystery that gets more and more bizarre as it goes on. Like with Carnival of Monsters, this story isn’t trying to make a point- it’s just trying to entertain and it does that with some of the best imagery and ideas in the show. There’s a part where Jamie loses his face and the Doctor puts it together, only for him to get it wrong and Jamie has the wrong face for an episode. The revelation of what’s really happening is great and I would love to see a sequel to this awesome, awesome story.

5. Remembrance of the Daleks

How can I not have this story on the list? One of my favourite Doctors is caught up in a civil war between two rival factions of Daleks who are desperate to seize control of the Hand of Omega. This is top ten of all time for me, as everything I love in the show is present here. Instead of just being action, the story actually explores the Doctor’s psychology and dissects his nature from the very first episode. The Daleks are also examined as their rivalry caused by a tiny difference in genes mirrors the racial conflicts of the 60’s, where the story is set. The Seventh Doctor’s chessmaster attitude and his manipulations are brilliant and there are so many iconic scenes- the Daleks flying up the stairs, the clip above where the Doctor questions what the consequences of his choices are, Ace with a baseball bat, unlimited rice pudding, the Doctor talking the last Renegade Dalek into self destruction… the list goes on and on. The music is awesome, the action is great and everything just clicks.

4. Genesis of the Daleks

It’s an obvious choice, but it’s a classic for a reason. One of the most famous and iconic stories the show has ever done, this story is utterly brilliant in every way. The nature of war is examined on both sides as the Kaleds and the Thals both try to end their endless war by any means necessary and the story never holds back in showing the dark sides of both of them. The Doctor is never better than when he is contemplating whether to end the Daleks for good or when he is talking to Davros about the power to end all life. Behind the scarf and jelly babies, the Fourth Doctor was a really complex and very dark Doctor, at least in his early years. Sarah Jane and Harry (one of the most underrated companions may I add) have their best showings here too, with Sarah Jane acting as the moral compass to keep the Doctor in check. I haven’t even discussed Davros, who gets his absolute best story. Later stories tended to portray him as a ranting maniac, but in Genesis of the Daleks, Davros is cold, calculating and captivating to watch. This story is a masterpiece on every conceivable level.

3. Kinda

On the whole, the Fifth Doctor is probably my least favourite Doctor. Peter Davison is awesome and the era still had good elements but I just didn’t get into his Doctor as much as the others, mainly due to the writing and the frequently annoying companions. That said, Kinda is a work of art and stands head over heels above the majority of stories. It’s about an entity called the Mara who takes over Tegan and seizes control of the Kinda, the native population of Deva Loka. The planet also has an expedition crew of humans led by the mentally unstable Hindle and Sanders. The stunning script discusses the nature of dreams, the different layers of human mentality and more obvious themes such as the pros and cons of colonialism. The Doctor is superb in this story and even though I don’t like Adric or Tegan both of them, especially Tegan, are fantastically characterised in the story. Well, Adric less so but at least he’s not ultra annoying in this one. The Mara is an awesome villain and I desperately want to see it return. I also adore the dynamic Five has with Todd and it was certainly an interesting pairing which I would have loved to see more of. All in all, an amazing story.

2. The War Games

A mindblowing end to one of the best Doctors. Ignoring the questionable Mexican stereotype towards the end, I can’t think of a single fault with this epic adventure. It starts off with the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe seemingly stuck in World War One before turning into the most bonkers adventure ever, with multiple wars being fought at the same time under the control of the mysterious War Lords. Sounds simple right? There’s a reason this story is ten parts long and it’s due to the complex dynamics at play between the hierarchy or villains (the War Lord, the War Chief and the Security Chief in descending order, not to mention Smythe and Von Weich) the vast array of characters, the thoroughly engaging mystery and plot and a magnificent sense of escalation. The Second Doctor proves why he is one of the best Doctors and his steadfast determination to save everyone is one of the noblest acts the character has done. The story gets even better when the Time Lords are introduced and the Doctor is presented as the outcast from Gallifrey that he is. Never again will the Time Lords be portrayed in this way again. When I did my 60’s Who retrospective last year I called this my favourite Classic story, but that was before I saw…

  1. Warriors of the Deep

What a perfect, perfect story. Where to begin with this one? Let’s start with…

Wait, hang on. My sarcasm mode on my keyboard has broken. Whoops. Whilst I fix things, let’s dive into some honourable mentions-

The Aztecs

The Invasion

The Ambassadors of Death

The Curse of Peladon

Planet of the Spiders

The Seeds of Doom

The Deadly Assassin

Image of the Fendahl

City of Death

Enlightenment

Revelation of the Daleks

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

The Curse of Fenric

And with that, let’s move onto my favourite story from the show’s original run…

  1. Inferno

Yeah, it was gonna be Pertwee. What else did you think it was going to be? I watched this story aware of its reputation as a classic so I was worried that I might be disappointed by the hype but it did not disappoint one bit. The final story from the perfect Season 7, Inferno is one of the most nail biting experiences a Whovian can have. From the very first frame the gritty camerawork and direction make this a very realistic and tense experience. The incidental music is replaced by the constant sound of drilling and the superbly layered characters have to constantly yell to be heard. The mere premise is genius, as a drilling project UNIT and the Doctor are investigating produces primeval slime that turns people into mutated monsters. This may not sound particularly original, but the story throws in a whole new parallel universe which the Doctor slips into- a universe further ahead in the drilling project and is about to tear itself apart with the lava spewing out of the Earth. It’s a race against time as the Doctor must escape back to his universe before the one he’s in is destroyed and warn his Earth of the impending disaster. Episode 6 is perfect, as the tension is racked up to the extreme and the cliffhanger is in my opinion the show’s finest, with a wall of lava engulfing the parallel Earth and the Doctor unable to help as he is pulled back to his universe. The parallel universe is very well detailed, with the British Republic as a facist regime being overseen by the awesome Brigade Leader. Despite the characters being from a facist regime, they are still sympathetic and their deaths have a strong impact on the Doctor. The characters in both universes are brilliantly fleshed out, the Doctor is at his absolute best and Liz is great. She is such an underrated companion. Everything about this story clicks to become one of the best stories the show’s produced, and my favourite story from the Classic era.

Whilst these are my ten favourites, there are so many strong episodes in the show’s original run. I haven’t even mentioned The Caves of Androzani, Pyramids of Mars, The Robots of Death, The Power of the Daleks or The Web of Fear. There’s just so much good in Classic Who. Up next in Whocember, the Christmas specials ranked.