Survivor Game Changers: Episode 4 Recap

What on earth just happened? I watched that scene twice, read several recaps and reviews, and listened to podcasts and exit interviews, and I’m still not sure what happened. I don’t think many of the people who were actually there understood what happened. I am, of course, talking about the most chaotic Tribal Council ever.

But before we get into all that I may as well start at the beginning. The morning after Tribal Coucil sees Debbie and Hali by the well, talking strategy. It’s all looking good for Hali, who appears to have a potential in Debbie, but this just goes to show how terrible I’d be at Survivor, because Debbie is is just telling Hali what she wants to hear. Debbie’s so kooky that I sometimes forget that she’s actually very intelligent.

We then move on to a very strange reward challenge, where each tribe must select two people to compete – one has to balance a ball on an ever increasing pole over a series of obstacles, and the other has to knock down nine targets with sandbags. The challenge itself isn’t that strange, but why are only two people from these tribes of five-six competing. It feels like this was an individual challenge that got brought forward in the season and hastily modified into a team challenge. Why?

Ozzy buys Tavua an early lead, because Ozzy can’t help but be irritatingly proficient at all physical challenges, but any goodwill is lost when Troyzan allows Nuku’s Malcolm to close the gap and overtake him. But unfortunately here comes Brad for Mana knocking down targets like nobody’s business.

And then something very strange indeed happens. A caption appears on the screen saying #coffeeisforclosers. What? Is Survivor trying to get their own hash tag going? And why such a terrible hash tag? Did someone say it in the show? I didn’t hear it, but maybe we get a different edit in Australia. I noticed earlier that an @JeffProbst caption popped up, but is the social media push a new thing this season? I hate when shows try to get their audience involved on social media. It’s like when your aunt tries to be your friend on Facebook.

Anyway, Tavua will go without coffee and biscuits, but they won’t be going hungry. Oh no. Because Super Ozzy just went and caught a huge stingray for them to eat. i wouldn’t imagine you could eat a stingray.  Incidentally, are there marine biologists out there telling the contestants what fish won’t kill you if you eat them? I’ve always wondered.

Meanwhile at Nuku, JT and Malcolm are bro-ing out and discussing a plan to oust Sandra. This is music to my ears, as Sandra’s cockiness is grating – and even worse seems to be the effect that her cockiness is deserved. She did manage to pull together a new alliance in five minutes when it became clear that Tony was a liability; she’s the two-time winner but has survived three out of four tribal councils, including this latest crazy fest; and she appears to be in control over at her tribe, seeing as her pick for the vote, Sierra, is what the rest of the tribe eventually goes for.

At the immunity challenge, Jeff reveals this episode’s big twist. The bottom two tribes will be going to Tribal Council. I’m fairly sure this has been done before, but after the challenge is over, he reveals the other part of the twist: two tribes might be going to Tribal, but only one person will be voted out. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The challenge involves four tribe members blindfolded while a fifth guides them to collect bags from water towers filled with Nickelodeon slime. They will then manoeuvre the balls from the bags through a table maze. Tavua seem to be doing the best straight out of the gate, but it ends up being Nuku who move on to the second part of the challenge first.  But it all comes down to the table maze. It’s tight between Tavua and Nuku (with Mana, true to form, flailing way behind), but in the end Tavua win, sending the other two tribes to Tribal Council.

In words that will come back to haunt him, Malcolm says that if there were any challenge to lose this was the one. Nuku are up in the numbers 6-5. It should be easy. New Nuku vote one way, New Mana vote another, and whomever Nuku voted for will be going out. But its not that simple. There’s the chance that someone will flip – Hali might vote with Nuku; Malcolm and JT might band together with Mana to get out Sandra; someone might have an idol. Ah yes, the idol. Tai goes out and finds the idol, via an ‘x’ marks the spot clue. Normally my opinion on idols is the fewer people know about it the better, but in this case, I think Tai was right to make the idol public property for whoever on his tribe will need it.

Tribal Council starts out normally enough, with the two tribes pounding their chests and putting on a show of being two unified fronts. Brad threatens Hali to vote with them or else; she isn’t particularly impressed with his approach, and reminds everyone that it could come down to rocks. Both sides start fighting for Hali’s vote, and then the whispering starts. At first people are just whispering in their seats. Brad Culpepper’s name does the round of the Nuku tribe like he’s the answer in a Chinese whisper. Then Debbie grabs Brad by the head to whisper in his ear and wonder if they’ve switched their vote to him. The whispering seems to die down, as Jeff asks Sierra a question. But the camera’s are on JT asking Malcolm if he should talk to Brad. Then JT gets out of his seat and tells Brad that it’s not him they’re voting for. Then all hell breaks loose. “If that’s how they’re going to play it,” says Hali, who walks over to Sandra and implore the Nukuians to vote Brad. Soon everyone is standing, whispering to each other, huddles are forming, weird aggressive whispers that involve grabbing people by the head with both hands, Jeff nearly falls out of his seat, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria

Jeff declares it’s time to vote, and as Hali goes up – telling Sandra she may regret it – Michaela, who’s been pretty quiet this episode, wonders why Hali didn’t tell them who had the idol. “Nobody got no idol over there,” says Sandra.

But someone did have an idol, and so all Nuku’s votes for Sierra are null and void, and the episode ends with the death of another bromance as Malcolm is voted out.  But the episode doesn’t end there. “JT set us up,” Michaela whispers to Varner as they march crestfallen out Tribal Council.

Next week looks like it will see JT’s in a whole lot of trouble. But the real kick will come in December, when JT will sit by his mailbox, waiting for a certain Christmas card that will never come…

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Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Fifteen

Horror of Fang Rock – What a strange little beast this is. Much like Philip Hinchcliffe, Graham William’s first story as producer bears all the hallmarks of being part of the old regime. Plus the alien is a one that was mentioned in a throwaway line from a story four years previously. That’s a level of fannishness that Russel the Davies would be proud of. This is one of those stories in the ‘And then there were none’ tradition, where all the characters get picked off one by one – but it feels like a bit cheat that the story has to import more characters in Part Two when it becomes apparent that they’re in danger of running out of cannon fodder. Speaking of the shipwreck, am I the only one who finds the reprise at the beginning of Part Two awkward – it’s overlong, and features a not very convincing model. In fact all the cliff-hangers are a bit odd. There’s the one where there’s a big scream, and then it cuts to Skinsale quite understatedly saying ‘Good Lord’. How odd. On another note, I don’t begrudge the production team wanting to get Leela out of her period frock because it was impractical or uncomfortable – but then her into new clothes a) fit perfectly despite supposedly belonging to a man, and b) look like something someone might have been wearing in 1977 anyway. When I first saw images from this story, I thought Louise Jameson just hadn’t put on her costume yet. I’m being quite negative, but this story is highly enjoyable, especially the regulars: the Doctor is at his irascible best (“Gentlemen, I’ve got news for you: this lighthouse is under attack and by morning we might all be dead”); Leela gets several moments of shining awesomeness, and slaps the snobby Adelaide for being a hysterical stereotype. Quite right. 7/10

The Invisible Enemy – Oh dear, we’re only two stories into the season and the money’s clearly already run out. I’m not the greatest fan of Bob Baker and Dave Martin’s scripts, but I will love them forever for inventing K9. He’s a sarcastic, know-it-all dog-shaped computer wearing a tartan collar – what’s not to love! The giant prawn gets a bad rap, but I think it’s only as bad as other monsters from the same era; but some of the other effects really let the story down. I’m thinking in particular of the piece of wall that K9 blasts down, that already has a convenient crack in it. And this is probably more an issue of poor continuity, but lest we forget the Titan base appearing wrecked before the asteroids have hit it in the story. On the other hand, the interior of the Doctor’s mind looks quite good. Never mind the Impossible Girl, why did the Doctor never investigate the mystery of all the men he keeps running into that look like Michael Sheard? Is it because he’s not pretty enough? Umm, the Doctor and Leela’s clones just died and no one cared. That’s pretty dark. Also, they died inside the Doctor – doesn’t that mean he should get blood poisoning or something from having a pair of rotting, miniaturised corpses floating about inside him? A pretty average story, hampered by some really bad effects. 4/10

Image of the Fendahl – Easily the weakest of Chris Boucher’s scripts, this story is the definition of a hot mess. It looks beautiful, with some creative direction – the whatever it is’s POV as it approaches the Doctor at the end of part one; the shot of Fendahlman and Colby looking at the skull’s x-ray with the blue from the machine lighting them – and is full of great, spooky atmosphere; but as far as stringing together a coherent story, it’s a complete shambles – going back to the end of part one, does anyone have a clue what’s going on? The Doctor’s stuck, Leela’s sneaking around, there’s a gunshot – what? Like the similarly confusing Ghost Light, there’s actually a pretty simple story going on here – as I understand it, the Fendahl eat people’s life force and they won’t stop eating until everyone and everything is dead. There’s a bit of complication in that they’re gestalt entities, but it’s not really anything too complicated for a Doctor Who fan to grasp. But to understand that, I had to read the TARDIS wiki, because the episode doesn’t explain it very well. Nice to look at, but not much else. 4/10

The Sun Makers – The best story of the season by far. Like the two following stories, it isn’t visually very interesting, consisting as it does mostly of endless peach corridors, but fortunately it has a razor sharp script buoying it along. It’s a script that will never not be relevant, as I suspect that as long as capitalist society exists, there will be big corporations taking advantage of people. I really seem to be harping on about supporting characters a lot lately, but a story really can live or die by its supporting characters – afterall, it’s their worlds we’re dropping into week after week, and they’re the ones whose lives are at stake. Fortunately, we have two excellent proto-companions in the form of Bisham and little Cordo, with Leela playing the role of Doctor to them. The Collector is a magnificent creation, with script, make-up, and performance all coming together to create something horribly memorable. The Gatherer, is also great, hammy fun, and once again Pennant Robert’s habit of casting female actors in male roles is in evidence – its such a little thing, but so few directors bother to do it. I would say that it’s slightly hypocritical using Doctor Who to gripe about paying taxes, when the BBC is paid for by the TV license. But that’s slightly not the point of the episode, and who cares when the result is this much fun. Robert Holmes at his angry best. 8/10

Underworld – The infamous underworld. The RC1 is actually pretty impressive two story set, and it’s amazing what a bit of redressing and relighting can do to turn it into the P7E. If this were a story set entirely on the ship (e.g. The Robots of Death) they might have been able to make it work; just rearrange a few pieces of wall to give the illusion that it’s bigger than it is.  There must be something I’m missing, but as I understand it the caves were achieved by building models and the COSing them in; in that case, couldn’t they have made the models a bit more interesting to look at, instead of just endless brown? What are the seers exactly? Are they people, are they robots? They take off their ski masks to reveal… another mask that makes them look like three-eyed pigeons? And another bloody thing. I understand the idea that the Doctor’s adventures could form the basis of myths – but how does it happen that the Doctor has an adventure that coincidentally resembles a myth, right down to the character’s names, long after the myth has been told? It might actually have a story, which is more than I can say for The Invasion of Corridors Time but it’s just a rip off of an old legend mashed up with the most basic ‘mad computer thinks it’s a god and oppresses people’ story (which was done much better last season). Add to that how painful this story is to look at, and the fact that no attempt has been made to make me care anything for the guest characters, and you have a recipe for disaster. 2/10

The Invasion of Time – I’m not even going to bother criticising the story for the way it looks, because I understand that it was something outside of the production team’s control; but good Lord is this story dull. In theory, I like the Doctor’s pretending to sell Gallifrey out to alien invaders, but did the Vardans really need such an elaborate scheme to be toppled? Ignoring the fact that they’re portrayed sheets of tinfoil, they don’t really do anything other than be a bit pushy. What were they’re plans once they’d taken over? What was at stake? Sure, they might be placeholder villains, but a) we’re not meant to know that, and b) we spend four episodes i.e. the majority of the story with them. And then the Sontarans show up in what I will concede is a pretty awesome fake out ending, but then they don’t do anything but stomp around corridors and wait for the story to be over. I can see this story being done today, but the Vardans would be dispatched about one third of the way through, then the Sontarans would announce themselves and there would be a big epic battle of brain vs brawn. And then there’s Leela. If she was going to be written out, and they weren’t going to kill her in a blaze of glory, then why didn’t she stay to say, mediate between the outsiders and the Time Lords in the capital, which would link back to her roots as a noble savage but also take advantage of the education she’s gained from the Doctor? I’d even have an easier time believing she was going to stay and marry Rodan, who had a personality like limp spaghetti but at least they spoke to each other, rather than falling for the pretty boy in tight pants who she’s barely shared a word with. And why did K9 the first get written out too? I know it was because they had a new model with a quieter motor, and they didn’t want sad obsessives writing in about how K9 had changed between seasons – but I am a sad obsessive and I can’t tell the difference and I’m actively looking for differences. 3/10

Survivor Game Changers: Episode 3 Recap

There’s no rest for the wicked because as soon as the previously on Survivor has finished, Jeff is calling the players to “come on in, guys”. Of course, all the old players don’t know what’s going on, but Millenials vs Gen X’s Zeke realises that it can only mean it’s time for a tribe switcheroo. They’re going from two tribes to three, and they look like this:

 

Mana:

  1. Brad
  2. Caleb
  3. Debbie
  4. Hali
  5. Sierra
  6. Tai

Nuku:

  1. Aubrey
  2. JT
  3. Malcolm
  4. Michaela
  5. Sandra
  6. Varner

Tavua:

  1. Andrea
  2. Cirie
  3. Ozzy
  4. Sarah
  5. Troyzan
  6. Zeke

 

 

For those of you playing along at home, this means Caleb and Hali are now in a minority on their new tribe, while Troyzan and JT are lone wolves on their respective tribes.  The new Tabua tribe will have to start from scratch with just the bare minimum of supplies. Fishing gear, cooking pot, a machete, and a small jar of rice, and that’s it.  realising pretty quickly that he’s on the chopping block, Troyzan goes idol hunting, and soon finds… not the idol, but a clue to where to find the idol at the challenge.

Meanwhile, JT shows off the Nuku beach with its trained chickens, bountiful food, and decorative glass balls. JT is trying to make the best of things by turning on his good ol’ boy charm, but he’s already planning on how to get his new tribemates in the middle of the ocean so he can search for idols. However, his extended absence doesn’t go unnoticed by the ex-Mana players. Varner isn’t so worried, saying it doesn’t matter if JT finds an idol, because they still have a five-one majority. No, Varner (or ‘Jeff’ as the credits are calling you). You should be worried if he finds an idol – if he does, and you go to Tribal, you have a one in five chance of going home!

At Mana beach, we find out who was responsible for the interior decorator at Nuku, and surprisingly, it’s Brad Culpepper of all people. It’s certainly looks cosy, as everyone pretends that they are a tight six, when the writing on the wall is that Caleb and Hali are in trouble. Particularly Hali, who doesn’t have a boyfriend in the ex-Nuku four. However, as Brad points out, it could be dangerous to allow Caleb and Tai to stay together; plus there’s the threat of Debbie joining them to form a Khoa-Rong power triumvirate.

After the ad break we return to find the new Nuku planning to catch and slaughter a goat to their great King, er, Queen Sandra. JT goes on a goat hunt never believing in a million years, that he’d actually catch one, but at least wanting to get into his new tribe’s good graces. However, he does, and it’s a tiny baby, while Malcolm has caught its mother. Theirs is then an extended debate where everyone but Sandra wants to let the goats go, but no one is brave enough to say anything. at this point, I am on the edge of the seat hoping that I don’t see ‘the goat version of Bambi’ play out. Luckily, common humanity prevails and the goats are freed! Hooray! Although, it does mean that a chicken gets killed instead, but c’est la vie.

Challenge time! It’s a multi-phase challenge, with three people tied together competing in an obstacle course, and the remaining three working on a puzzle. The idol is hidden under the puzzle table, but Troyzan will have to wait until after the challenge to nab it. Nuku has an early lead, while Mana is struggling in third place. Regardless, it all comes down to the puzzle, the great equaliser. It’s a tight run race between Nuku and Tavua, but ultimately Nuku takes first place. However, the fight for second place is still on, and again it comes right down to the last minute, when Tavua have to go back and correct a mistake. Nonetheless, Tavua claim victory, Troyzan claims his idol, and the curse of the orange buff continues as Mana will have to face Tribal Council.

It looks like it’s between either Hali or Caleb

Now, if I were Hali at this point I would go to Brad and Sierra and subtly sew the seeds of fear regarding Tai and Caleb’s borderline home-erotic relationship, plus point out that they could rope in Debbie, and suggest that they get rid of Tai, seeing as he won’t be as useful in challenges as Caleb, plus he’s so well-liked, plus he’s made it to the final tribal before. That way, if they lose again, she still has room to switch the target to Caleb. And maybe she did do that, but we didn’t see it. in fact, we heard from everyone except Hali. At this point, it’s impossible to tell who of Hali and Caleb will be going home.

Last week I made the inexcusable mistake of not commenting on the unadulterated coolness of the tribal council set.  ‘Pirates’ are clearly the theme of the season, as the whole set looks like a shipwreck, and the voting booth is in a light house.

It still seems unclear who will go home when it comes to Tribal Council, as both Caleb and Hali have to give their arguments for why they should be kept over the other. Caleb’s argument seems to be that he’s a stronger player, while Hali can be easily manipulated. As Hali rightly points out, this is more of a sell for her than it is for him. When it comes to cowboy vs law student, Caleb didn’t stand a chance, and it is he who is out.

So long, Caleb, or as he shall now be known, ‘the Nine Day Survivor.’

Call the Midwife, Series 6 Finale

Few things give me as much joy as Call the Midwife, with its main cast of incredibly perky Mary Poppins-esque nurses and nuns, and it’s weekly exploration of some new facet of human misery.

How time has flown by these past nine weeks. From the power of Sister Julienne’s maternal monologuing single-handedly turn around culturally-ingrained racism, via the mini-arc of Sister Ursula learning to embrace the warm and fuzzy approach of Nonnatus House (remember kids, when you follow the rules, babies die), all the way up to thalidomide part two: dawn of the prosthetic limbs. We’ve tackled issues such as domestic violence, complicated pregnancies, the closure of maternity homes, adoption, mental illness, female genital mutilation, and even vehicular manslaughter. We welcomed new nurse Valerie Dyer; wondered if either Cynthia or Patsy would return to the series full time; and raged against the cruelty of the world as Sister Monica Joan’s TV was taken away.

But enough of the past. Let’s look to the here and now – November/December, 1962.

The episode begins, as all must, with Vanessa Redgrave talking at us in platitudes. I always zone out during these, and just sit back and enjoy the pretty images of squalor instead.

Exciting news; a Family Contraceptive Clinic is coming to Poplar. The FCC asks that women access it via the side door, which is the same way the unmarried mothers come in. Valerie doesn’t understand why everyone can’t just use the front door, but Sister Julienne gently reminds her that women who have sex outside of marriage or for purposes other than procreation are whores who aren’t fit to be seen in decent company.

But Barbara is distracted. She’s received a letter, saying her reverend father has been posted to New Guinea. Sister Monica Joan naturally assumes that she’s worried about cannibals, but Barbara’s more upset because he’ll be gone for three years and won’t be able to conduct her wedding to walking brylcreem dispenser, Tom Hereward.

Violet is fanning herself and looking generally unwell. Uh oh, is this the season finale death that the internet spoilers warned me about? No, it’s just comedy menopause subplot. Our case study of the week, Wilma, walks into the shop. She’s starting a new job now that her children are older. Violet hopes that her plans for a career won’t be jeopardised by an unexpected pregnancy, but Wilma has a plan…

At the FCC, Wilma is being debriefed on her new contraceptive pills. She comments on how they look just like aspirin, and reveals that she’s not planning on telling her husband, who’s desperate for a son. The format of the show means that something has to go wrong, and at this point it’s looking like either an accidental overdose from someone mistaking the pills for aspirin, or domestic violence when her husband finds out.

Back at the clinic, Phyllis has a quiet word with the heavily-pregnant Shelagh about calming the hell down. She urges her to rest, and reminds her that she can choose who of her colleagues will deliver her baby.

Barbara and Tom announce that they will get married during Reverand Gilbert’s stopover in London. But, as Valerie points out for the trailer, that means they have just three weeks to plan the wedding. Oh, what hilarious hijinks will ensue from this set up, I wonder?

As the nurses giggle over wedding dress patterns, Barbara is frets that all the commercial patterns are far too extravagant for her. Everyone’s having a grand time, but Delia looks sad, probably because Patsy is still MIA, and in any case she can’t get married because she’s accidentally fallen in love with someone with the wrong set of genitals.  Silly girl.

Shelagh pops around Nonnatus house to drop off some insulin and announce which of her colleagues she wants pulling a human out of her insides. She chooses Sister Julienne, and Phyllis tries to disguise her hurt.

Barbara shares with Tom a story about begging to go on the carousel at the county fair when she was little, and how it was the first time she realised how poor her father was. Tom says that she’s never told him that story before, and Barbara muses that one day they will have nothing left to share because they will have shared everything, hammering home once again just how terrible the prospect of spending the rest of her life with Tom sounds. Barbara chooses this moment to tell him that she’s going to the family planning clinic so everything will be in hand by the wedding night. Eww.

The first signs of trouble are showing as Wilma experiences a sudden pain in her leg. What could it be?

What’s the worst thing to see when walking into a family planning clinic? A nun? Your boss? How about both, as is the case for poor Barbara. She brings up Phylis’s bad mood to Sister Julienne  who reminds her that in times of great happiness, it is well to remember some may be ploughing a less congenial path. I would quite like to have Sister Julienne just follow me around, dispensing motherly wisdom as required.

The FCC nurse presents Barbara with the most horrific thing I have ever seen and shoves it up inside her. Barbara puts on a brave face, but the moment she gets home, she takes it out. Given the choice between that and having a dozen kids, no wonder so many women became nuns.

At home with the Turner’s, Shelagh says she doesn’t want Dr Turner in the room when she gives birth, because she wants her to be her husband and not her doctor.

Later, Barbara asks Phyllis to be her bridesmaid. Phyllis tells her to choose someone prettier one of her friends, but Barbara says that Phyllis is her friend, and everything she learnt about living with another person, she learnt from her middle-aged roommate. They have a bittersweet conversation about who will help Phyllis with her Spanish vocab once Barbara’s moved out, and I get all teary-eyed. Oh, don’t do it Barbara! Join me and Phyllis and choose a life of spinsterhood!

Wilma shows off the new settee she bought with her paycheck to her husband, Trevor. He’s upset, because his wife’s financial success is emasculating him. At this point I was expecting the episode to go the domestic violence root, but instead it results in spooning. Who knew?

Trixie comes back from a date with her new boyfriend Christopher, a man who smiles so much I can only assume he tortures women in his basement. Christopher wants Trixie to meet his secret daughter, but Trixie isn’t sure. She says she’ll consider it.

Wilma and her Trevor wake up having fallen asleep on the settee. They both have work in the morning. Wilma hurriedly takes two pills and goes to bed.

Meanwhile, Valerie finds Barbara asleep over an unfinished wedding dress. It’s hard going, but Barbara can’t afford to buy one, so she has no choice but to make her own. Or, as she’s decided by morning, to borrow a dress from her sister and splash out on a new hairband for a veil. Luckily, everyone has banded together to raise money for Barbara. Cinderella, you will go to the ball.

Add Phyllis to the list of people I want following me around, for her ability to ward off pushy shop assistants with an imperious stare.

At the most depressing gay bar I’ve ever seen, Delia is drowning her sorrows and pouring out her woes to an unseen barkeep. Someone lays a hand on hers. It’s Patsy! No, it’s just a waitress offering to call her a taxi.

Wilma is looking increasingly unwell and collapses on her new settee. Dr Turner notices a suspicious red patch on her leg and sends her to the hospital where Trixie has been seconded.

Meanwhile, Shelagh’s commenced her labour with her customary Scottish efficiency. She hurries a bewildered Sister Julienne upstairs explaining she’s eaten “a whole packet of pink wafers and the pain’s in [her] lower back.”

At the hospital, it turns out Wilma’s had a pulmonary embolism. They’re going to treat her with medication and perform a tracheotomy. Trixie recommends that Trevor send for his children. It seems there have been a number of cases of women on the pill having blood clots. Of course, when Trixie asks Trevor, he knows nothing about it, and is hurt because she knew how much he wanted a son.

Tom performs last rights on Wilma. Trixie asks for him to wait before letting Wilma’s family in, while she puts some makeup on her, as Trevor had earlier said he didn’t want the children being frightened seeing their mother so sick. While looking for a comb in Wilma’s handbag, she finds the pills. I was unaware that early contraceptive pills caused blood clots. Thank you Call the Midwife, for reading me in another chapter in that hefty tome, ‘Why it Sucks to Have an XX Chromosome.’

Back at the Turner’s, Dr Turner is feeling helpless as he’s kept outside the delivery room while his wife cries out in pain. Sister Julienne suggests Shelagh try singing to calm herself down. Dr Turner joins in, and at this beautiful moment I can’t help but laugh uncontrollably at his attempt. Shelagh asks for him to come in, because they’re such a pair of crazy kids, it’s useless for them to try to be like everyone else. Imagine, a husband in the delivery room. The horror. Finally, Shelagh gives birth to a healthy two week old baby boy. And so begins adopted daughter Angela’s descent in to sociopathy. Just you watch, she’ll be trying drown her brother before the episode’s out.

Wilma is officially dead. Trixie and Tom talk about life, the universe, and how funny it was that time they almost got married. Tom has high hopes for Trixie and Christopher, and assures Trixie that she’s great with kids, as he saw how she was with Wilma’s children.

At last, Barbara’s father arrives, and, like his daughter, he is a suspiciously accent-less Liverpudlian. I was expecting Dave Lister and all I got was Father Brown.

So Trixie finally meets Christopher’s ridiculously named daughter, and almost straight away blows it by opening with a dead bunny story. Luckily, she rescues it at the last minute, and they bond over nail varnish.

Meanwhile Fred and some other locals turn up on Tom’s doorstep, hoping for a booze-up to take him on his stag do. This results in Fred waking up in the garden shed and Tom looking more human than I’ve ever seen him. He’s also won into a fair chunk of cash, thanks to some betting on dogs. I wonder what he’ll spend it on?

It’s the wedding day. It was always going to be a simple wedding for Barbara. After all, as her father said, she finds joy in the little things. So what does this simple girl’s wedding dress look like? I can only describe it as the Snow Queen meets the Ghost of Christmas Past. Truly, it is something to behold.

After the ceremony, Tom has a surprise for Barbara, and no, it’s not the six waving tentacles he keeps hiding under his human skin suit (he’s saving that for the wedding night.) It’s a carousel! Yes, he spent the money he won on a carousel. Not a mortgage down-payment. Not a trust fund of any kind. A carousel. All I can say is I hope he outright bought the damned thing, as it’ll be the only bit of happiness in a life of poverty from now on. But of course, Barbara loves it, and as the music swells and Vanessa Redgrave narrates something about the march of time, we are invited to love it too.

Everyone beams happily, either waving from he carousel or simply watching their loved ones on it. Everyone, that is, but Delia. But then she spies Patsy under the bridge and they kiss and promise to never be apart again, and then rejoin the party before the police can arrest them and their friends in a religious order can shun them for the abomination against nature that is their selfless love for each other. Hooray!

And so ends another series. Next season will be set in 1963, and all I can say is, there had better be Daleks.

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Fourteen

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The Masque of Mandragora – I spent many years remembering this story as a fairly standard adventure among several more interesting stories. But then the last time I watched it, something strange happened. I found it was actually rather good. By the time the first cliff-hanger rolled around, I was really involved (and this was about my fourth time watching). It’s almost not worth stating at this point, but the BBC are really good at period pieces, and this episode looks beautiful; really convincing renaissance Italy. It also helps that they filmed at Portmeirion, which is a place I just want to run around and play make-believe in. Are Guiliano and Marco the first gay couple in Doctor Who. Because that’s what the actors intended isn’t? Or am I just reading too much into Marco’s willingness to be tied up and all sweaty for the sake of his prince… Anyway, they make a cute couple; I’m sure there’s fanart of them somewhere. Oh Sarah, how are you always coincidentally dressed in the perfect attire for whatever era you happen to land in? Speaking of, I don’t think Elisabeth Sladen ever looked more beautiful than she does in the story. And Heironymous’s beard is epic (though the greatest beard in Doctor Who history still goes to Zargo from State of Decay).  It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but can be great fun if you’re willing to get swept up in the adventure. 7/10

The Hand of Fear – Sarah is so creepy and childlike possessed; it helps that she’s decided to dres like a four-year-old today. Incidentally, SARAH WHAT ARE YOU WEARING YOU USED TO BE A SERIOUS INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST WHAT HAPPENED? Sorry, I try not to dwell on the shallow side of things, but it is the strangest outfit choice this side of Nyssa’s ‘deck-chair’ look in Snakedance. I still haven’t entirely forgiven the Doctor for coldly allowing that nice Dr Carter to fall to his death. This would never happen on David Tennant’s watch. It’s a pity all the balletic subtlety of Judith Paris’s performance is replaced at the last minute by Stephen Thorne playing… Stephen Thorne. I find this story just basically competent, but it must have some impact, as even after forty years, my Auntie, who I don’t think has watched any Doctor Who since the 70s, still remembers ‘Eldrad must live.’ 6/10

The Deadly Assassin – I’m surprised that Hinchcliffe and Holmes decided to bring back the Master, seeing as at this point he was exclusively a product of the Pertwee era, and all the other UNIT characters had been phased out. Plus, he might as well be a totally different character, seeing as Peter Pratt seething in a garbage bag and ping pong balls bears no resemblance to the affably evil Roger Delgado character. Now that we know Time Lords can change the sex and race of their bodies, I think we finally have an explanation for why everyone in this story was an old white man – being an old white man was fashionable then (don’t worry Gallifrey, we have something similar). The scariest moment comes in Part 3 when, lost in the nightmarish reality of the matrix, we see… the Doctor’s bare arms! We hardly ever see the Doctor’s arms exposed and it feels somehow wrong. Miscellaneous thoughts: The scrolling text at the beginning of Part 1 reminds me so much of Star Wars, that I’m surprised that this came first; I never fail to laugh at the chalk outline of the deceased president – complete with wacky collar; the Panopticon set receives a lot of praise, but all I can think of is a mint aero chocolate bar (if you’ve ever eaten a mint aero, you’ll know what I mean). This story is fine, but I just find it doesn’t quite live up to all the hype. 6/10

The Face of Evil – What a criminally underrated story this is. I think the jungle sets  are everybit as good as the one that get raved about in Planet of Evil; it has a similar aesthetic too, with trees and vines made out of bits of pipes. The first episode ends on a phenomenal cliff-hanger, which must comes as a shock to anyone who doesn’t know it’s coming. The plot overall is pretty intriguing and almost unique, doing the ‘Doctor returns to find his intervention has only made things worse’ decades before Bad Wolf. And of course this is the story that introduces Louise Jameson as Leela, who I think is the strongest actor to ever play a companion. I find the story does suffer slightly when it moves from the Sevateem to the Tesh, mostly because the Tesh are so robotic it’s hard to not glaze over whenever they’re on screen. Also, I never totally understood how Xoannon was the Sevateem’s god, but they recognised the Doctor as the Evil One, who was apparently Xoannon’s enemy. I guess it’s all to do with the split personality theme. And while there are episodes that fail the Bechdel test much harder than this one does (there is at least one female unspeakng extra in addition to the companion) seeing as we’re supposedly being presented with two races, the fact that they are almost exclusively male does stick out. Not without its faults, but pretty enjoyable nonetheless. 7/10

The Robots of Death – I have to admit I’m not especially enamoured with the crews’ costumes – giant hats and flowing robes they seem a trifle impractical for a mining ship – but I like the art deco look of the crews’ quarters on the ships and the design of the robots themselves. D84 is very sweet; part of me wishes that he survived the episode and became a companion, but then I suppose we wouldn’t have had the sheer sassy brilliance of K9. I love Poul as well (mostly thanks to David Collings’s charming performance) and it breaks my heart when he breaks his mind. I’ve not even mentioned Pamela Salem who plays a highly competent and likable character in Toos. I hope he recovered after the story’s close. I love the Doctor’s explanation for how the TARDIS is bigger on the inside – it’s scientifically nonsense, of course, but it has a kind of childlike logic to it. It’s often repeated by the story’s detractors that it’s a whodunit where the identity of the killer is revealed in the title – but that’s not the point. The Doctor identifies the robots as the killers from the beginning; the mystery is who is reprogramming them, and this mystery is handled well. What can I say, I find mystery solving shows strangely comforting (Jonathan Creek, the early episodes of Sherlock) and a Doctor Who murder mystery with a great cast of supporting characters ticks all the boxes for me. 9/10

The Talons of Weng-Chiang – Oh I’ve been dreading this one. The design is beautiful. The acting is phenomenal. The dialogue has the perfect balance of wit and drama. The description of ‘pale eyes’ is so unusual, I try to use it in every short story I write. The whole serial is just dripping with atmosphere. And the human villain is played by a white man in yellow face. *Bangs head on desk*. And unlike The Tomb of the Cybermen, I do think the production team at the time should have known better. I’m white, but I try to imagine if I were of Chinese heritage, would be offended by this, like how as a female I’m offended by The Prison in Space, and I think I would be. And while the story doesn’t explicitly state that all Chinese people are evil – and even manages an ironic jab at the way that white people think all Chinese look alike – it does imply it by the fact that the only Chinese people we see are criminals. I think they could have helped their case a lot had they had a sympathetic Chinese character. Maybe Professor Litefoot could have had a Chinese assistant who helped them with the investigation. And you know, cast an actual Chinese actor. Pretty much impossible to mark, so I’m giving it two – 9/10 for production values and story, 2/10 for failing to not include problematic portrayals of race.

Originally published 11 March, 2017

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Thirteen

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Terror of the Zygons – The first time I say a Zygon was on the cover of a tenth Doctor novel ‘Sting of the Zygon,’ and I remember being amazed and impressed that monster from the show’s classic era could look so good. The design is so well-executed, they’re pretty much indistinguishable from their modern counterparts. The whole episode is drenched in a really creepy atmosphere, and I think a large part of that is down to Geoffrey Burgon’s incidental music. Nothing says creepy like the creaking of violin strings. The scariest scene has to be Zygon!Harry stalking Sarah in the barn, and those horrible close-ups on his eyes as he hides between the hay bales. The other Zygon actors imbue their characters with an icy detachment, which doesn’t seem like they’re doing much until you see them as the human originals and you see how completely different the performances are. I know I’ve been slightly cynical about the idea that this is the show’s golden age, but even I have to admit that we’ve entered a run of very good stories, and that stories of this quality are the new normal is testament to that. 7/10

Planet of Evil – There are some stories that I have more affection for just because everything around them is so atrocious e.g. Vengeance on Varos, the first half of The Trial of a Time Lord. Then there other stories that really irritate me, because everything around them is so much better. Planet of Evil is one such story. It’s like when someone you know can do something better just phones it in, it’s more disappointing than when someone incompetent is trying their best. I think my main problem with it is that it’s just boring. The script gives me no reason to care about any of these characters, except Vishinsky, but he’s never put in any danger so there’s no point. The Doctor and Sarah are also at there most generic here – I think you could probably substitute any Doctor and companion into this story and it would make the slightest difference. I will say what everyone else says and that is that the jungle set is pretty cool. I especially like that they went to the effort of having pools of water for the actors to slosh through. It’s just a pity that a story this dull doesn’t really feel like it deserves it. This and Kinda can do a jungle swap and all will be right with the world. 4/10 (P.S.  Does anyone know what that liquid Sonrensen is drinking is? It looks like chocolate syrup, and it looks delicious.)

Pyramids of Mars – Here’s a story whose reputation precedes it. Slap bang in the middle of the show’s golden age, with the best loved Doctor/companion duo, one of the first things you learn as a new fan to the show, is that this is Doctor Who’s finest hour. The strange thing isn’t that fan lore is wrong – that’s to be expected – but that it’s so very nearly right. This is a very good story – but there are so many better stories from this same era. The sets here are exquisite (I always have to remind myself that these are sets, and not the genuine interior of Stargrove Manor), and Gabriel Woolf is legendary in the role of Sutekh (so calmly spoken but terrifying at the same time). HOWEVER, there are obvious problems with the story. The fourth Doctor is more brooding, moody, and humourless than he ever would be again, and it’s not a direction I like for the character. If this story weren’t so well loved, I suspect the mummies’ method of dispatching people would receive a lot more ribaldry than it does. The final episode is a shambles: there’s a bang, running, the Doctor does some jiggery-pokery, and the whole problem of an unstoppable ancient alien god from the beginning of time is resolved in the space of less than a minute. What? And Sarah Jane is inexplicably a crack shot with a rifle (I assume her regular trip to the shooting range was a scene cut from the intro to K9 and Company). Very good, but far from perfect.  8/10

The Android Invasion – People seem to really hate this story and I don’t understand why. Compared to the likes of the Draconians and the Zygons, the Kraals might not be the most flexible of alien costumes in the world, but they still look believably like aliens, rather than men in suits, which is more than some can claim. Barry Letts seemed like a lovely guy, but I don’t think he was that much of a director – the scenes shot on location look beautiful (though maybe that’s just the sunny weather), but the studio scenes all look particularly fake. Compare the flatly lit Kraal spaceship to the colour and atmosphere of the Zygon ship. Actually, this story is rather like the poor man’s Terror of the Zygons – alien duplicates in a rural British village, the Doctor and Sarah unable to tell friend from foe. Maybe that’s half its problem – if it hadn’t come hot on the heels of Zygons, maybe it wouldn’t accrue so much scorn. I find the reveal the Sarah is an android makes for a good cliffhanger (and the clue about the ginger pop is fun for people who’ve been paying attention); it’s just a pity that the transition from Elisabeth Sladen to the android prop is so unconvincing. And, yes, the Guy Crayford’s eyepatch twist is nonsense, but to be fair, I don’t think I would ever have noticed had people not pointed it out. Not bad, but not particularly good, either. In the words of Douglas Adams, “mostly harmless.” 5/10

The Brain of Morbius – Or Planet of the Karen Gillan Look-alikes. What can you expect from a script that has the grubby little protuberances of Tewwance Dicks and Robert Holmes all over it. So many fantastic pieces of dialogue; “A good forklift truck,” “Can you spare a glass of water”; “I’ll bite your nose” is such a bizarre threat that I use it as often as I can, and “even a sponge has more life than I” is an accurate description of my life. The sets are amazing, and even though the fact its shot on video gives away that its entirely studio bound, good direction and lighting helps to sell the idea that we’re on an alien planet. Hearing Barry Newberry talk about how he approached the design of Solon’s castle, with the pillars on the inside, makes me appreciate all the more all the effort that went into making this. Although I can’t help but notice that the wallpaper in Solon’s laboratory appears to have the same pattern as Patrick Star’s shorts. I’d particularly like to praise Philip Madoc as Solon – in particular his deadpan delivery of certain lines that make them all the funnier i.e. when he tells Kondo to stop stroking Sarah because she doesn’t like it. If you absolutely forced me to say one bad thing The Brain of Morbius, I’d say that the ending is slightly anti-climactic, but being chased off a cliff by fire-wielding locals  feels in keeping with the Frankenstein blatant rip-off homage, and the rest of the story’s just so much fun that I’m not going to complain. I just love this story; it’s full of great lines, great design, great performances, and a delightfully sick sense of humour that appeals to my inner psychopath. 10/10

The Seeds of Doom – I should hate this story. I don’t like action thrillers. All the nasty characters – and they are some of the nastiest the show ever produced – survive until the final episode; the nice characters are horribly mutated into plant monsters, and then killed. It’s not even got a TARDIS line up that I’m particularly keen on. So why do actually quite like this? I think it’s because it’s an episode that simply demands to be watched. While it is more violent and action packed (is this the only time we’ve ever seen the Doctor punch a man) than usual, it seems to have a purpose, rather than just being action for action’s sake. The Doctor and Sarah are in nearly constant danger, from the moment they leave Sir Colin Thackery’s office, and it keeps me invested in the story. Again, Geoffrey Burgon’s score adds so much tension to the story (sorry, Dudley Simpson scores don’t do much for me). The final phase of the Krynoid engulfing the manor house is, I think, some of the best model work the show ever had. How did they get its tendrils to move? And while people are dispensed in some of the nastiest ways imaginable (death by vegetable processor) the Doctor and Sarah’s status as beloved children’s heroes stops it from ever becoming to much (unlike, say, The Two Doctors). 8/10

Originally published 4 March, 2017

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Twelve

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Robot – I almost said that this is the most average story of average stories – but then I remembered the circumstances it was made in. A new Doctor’s debut story, made by the previous production team, and surrounded by the trappings of his predecessor – there’s no other story like this. Given this, I think it’s a relief that it didn’t fall flat on its face. Tom Baker’s Doctor arrives fully formed – interestingly not the brooding alien of the Hinchcliffe era, but the camper, quirkier, more comedic man of the Williams era, which is the version that seems to have stuck in public consciousness. It’s probably just Tom being Tom. The robot’s tiny hands are well known source of jollity, but what about his stumpy little legs? Why is the poor thing so top heavy? Here’s a question; why does the fascist scientist organisation object to women wearing trousers – and yet not, apparently, to being led by a woman? The little toy tank that trundles into shot at the end of part three – and again at the beginning of part four – has to be one of my favourite special effects fails in Doctor Who. If I never get the chance to say it again, I love the Brigadier. “The rest are all foreigners” indeed, and the poor guy seems so excited that maybe he’ll be able to save the day all on his own for once. Yes, the overall quality is average, but there are plenty of fun moments. 5/10

The Ark in Space – Sorry received wisdom, I just don’t get it. I mean there’s nothing wrong with this episode, but I don’t see what’s so special about it, either. The same with the current TARDIS crew, seeing as we’ve now entered what people deem the golden age of Doctor Who. I like the fourth Doctor, but only in the way that I like the Doctor in general; Sarah is a bit too much of a whiter than white heroine for my liking; and poor Harry is an out-of-place remnant of an alternative reality where Pertwee was replaced by an older actor. Everyone talks about how impressive the sets are, and yes they’re quite big, but they’re vast expanses of flatly lit white walls. I’m not going to criticise the bubble wrap monster, because I think I’d be in the wrong fandom if I did; I will however note that the way the adult Wirrn bounces up and down when it talks – the same way kids playing dolls do to indicate who’s talking – brings a smile to my face. 6/10

The Sontaran Experiment – There must be some special Doctor Who edition of Murphy’s Law that states that if a race is meant to all be identical, they won’t be. Although, given that the change in mask was to make it more comfortable for poor Kevin Lindsey, I’ll give them a pass – but then why did they keep in Sarah’s line about them being identical? I’ll bet there is a wealth of outtakes featuring the robot falling over. It’s amazing to think that this is the same time allotted to a single episode of Doctor Who today, and yet I get the feeling that everyone involved thought it was too short to tell an entire story. Instead they plumped for running between rocks of various shapes and sizes, waiting for the story to be over and we can get to the next one. Nasty, brutish, and short. 3/10

Genesis of the Daleks – I can’t believe this is from the same author who gave us Death to the Daleks. I don’t generally notice direction, but even I can tell that this has been beautifully shot. That low angle image of the dalek against the purple sky is just beautiful. The Davros mask is phenomenal; why is that in the eighties he looks like a half-melted wax figure, when he looks this good in 1975.Michael Wisher as Davros and Peter Miles as Nyder are my favourite villainous double-act. Davros is such a smooth talker, you believe it when he feeds you lies, and that makes him even more terrifying. Nyder was the role Peter Miles was born to play; it’s made such an impact on me, in his other two Doctor Who appearances I just see Nyder (Dr Lawrence, Professor Whitaker – Nazis). The guest characters are great, too – Ronson, Sevrin, Gharman, Bettan. And what an ending – “have pity!” This is one of those episodes where ever element comes together absolutely perfectly. A classic and rightly so. 10/10

Revenge of the Cybermen – Campest. Cyberleader. Ever. Just look at him, strutting around with his hands on his hips. I’ll start to with the positives: the back-lighting effect used to show the virus is pretty cool; and while the Doctor and Sarah are too lily white to ever be tempted by gold, I like that Harry isn’t above going all Golem on us – it makes me like him a little bit more. Less than positives: if Death to the Daleks is the dullest story ever, this is a close second. The Vogans and they’re internal squabbling is so banal that no matter how many times I’ve seen this story, I still couldn’t tell you what their problem actually is. There planet is about to be destroyed, surely we don’t need a leadership struggle on top of it. No wonder they all look like they’re falling asleep. if even actors like Kevin Stoney, Michael Wisher, and David Collings can’t bring this dialogue to life, what hope have we got. And was there no other stock footage of rockets available that didn’t clearly have “USA” printed on the side. 3/10

Originally published 25 February, 2017.

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Eleven

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The Time Warrior – Sometimes I wonder what Robert Holmes thinks of Strax in the current series, and whether he’s rolling in his grave at what his creations have become. But then I remember that Robert Holmes didn’t create the Sontarans – he created a Sontaran, Linx. Of all the many things that we thank Robert Holmes for, one of the things that all too often gets forgotten is that his stories featured villains, not monsters, and sometimes the villains were aliens, but the two weren’t synonymous. People rave about the cliffhanger where Linx takes off his helmet to reveal his head is exactly the same shape; watching as someone who already knows what Sontarans look like, my reaction to this has always been ‘well, yes, what else was his head going to look like?’ I’d have been shocked if it were shaped like a sausage. Are Irongron and Bloodeaxe the first of the great Holmesian double-acts? I think they might be (last season’s Inter-Minorians were more of a triple-act). Sarah’s so clever and rational, when she finds herself in the middle ages, she reasons she’s in a renaissance faire-esque pageant – how then does she explain that the Doctor’s police box managed to transport her from UNIT HQ of the week to the woods outside a castle; or the fact that said police box is bigger on the inside? This story is fall of great lines; “wacking great spider” is a favourite (being Australian, I often have cause to use it) and “long shank rascal with a mighty nose” is how I describe my dog. 7/10

Invasion of the Dinosaurs – Everyone makes fun of the dinosaurs, and while they do kind of look like they’re made of play-doh (other childs’ salt-based modelling compounds are available), they still look pretty good, (and the model sceneries they wander around in a beautifully detailed) apart from the t-rex and his tiny, tiny hands. Also, I don’t know how to usually reliable writers like Malcolm Hulke and Tewwance Dicks managed to so massively mishandle the reveal that Mike’s turned traitor. Not only does it come way too early, but we just kind open on a scene with him and the baddies with no fanfare. Imagine how much better this would have worked as a cliffhanger at around part four, rather than another bout of ‘a dinosaur appears/dramatic close-up on the Doctor’s face.’ Having said all that, I was still new enough to Doctor Who when I first watched this to know who Mike was, but not know the twist and I remember being pretty impressed. I get real joy out of the scene of the Doctor and Sarah having their mug shots taken (“Now, what about one of both of us?”). And who knew even hippies could be totalitarian dictators? Yes, I probably like it more than it deserves, but I don’t care. 8/10

Death to the Daleks – I think this may be the dullest story in the history of Doctor Who. Yes, there are stories that are worse, but at least they inspire some emotion in me, even if it is anger or annoyance. The humans are so poorly acted and shallowly characterised, they may as well be played by puppets, and the Daleks, once the feared conqueres of the galaxy, now self-destruct when they lose their prisoners and can be defeated by what looks suspiscuosly like a vacuum attatchement. On top of that, it has some of the worst incidental music (although nothing in this comes close to the cue from Timelash that sounds like composer’s cat is walking across the keyboard). I appreciate the effort that’s gone into making Bellal a sympathetic alien, and the make job is pretty good (even if he is naked) but I think if I had to watch much more of him, I would be driven mad by his pure-of-hearted-ness. It amuses me on rainy days to reflect how the big heroic climax of this episode is the suicide bombing of an air/space craft. Oops. 2/10

The Monster of Peladon – There wasn’t really any reason for this episode to exist, aside from the parallels to the Miner’s strike, but even that had passed over by the time the story actually aired. It’s pretty much the same story as The Curse of Peldon but not as interesting and stretched out an extra two episodes. Again, because I was so green (ha ha) to the show when I watched this season, I was genuinely shocked when the Ice Warriors appeared – although anyone who’d seen already seen Curse probably wouldn’t have been. 5/10

Planet of the Spiders – The Pertwee era reminds me in a lot of ways of the Russel T Davies era, and that’s down to the fact that both eras had a cast of recurring contemporary earth-based characters, and both seemed more dedicated to developing characters than any other era of the show. Where this is all leading to is my saying how lovely it is that the Doctor reads a letter from Jo. Usually when companions leave they are either forgotten about completely or cease to be people and become fannish continuity references (looking at you early ‘80s episodes). Is it an indictment on the quality of this story that I’ve spent such an inordinate time on a single line in the first episode? Let’s face it; this story’s a mess. The cliffhanger reprises are ridiculously long (and in the case of part five/six, have been cut so poorly there are butchered scenes twitching on the floor in agony); Sarah’s possession seems to come and go (did the queen spider really take the time to notice that Tommy’s learning impairment had vanished, even if it did lead to that lovely exchange about not wanting to be like everybody else?); why does the Doctor apparently not question that his companion can suddenly teleport? Why can spiders, even super advanced ones, teleport at all? Is Metebellis III the most boringly realised planet of all time? Planet of the Spiders? Planet of the bad actors in dodgy ‘70s moustaches more like. 4/10

Originally published on 11 February, 2017

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Ten

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The Three Doctors – Happy tenth anniversary! Oops we’re a year early. It’s been acknowledged that the Brigadier seems to get stupider as time goes on, and this really is the climax of that (luckily he seems to regain his wits later on.) Its strange to think that this is meant to be the same character who was willing to accept the Doctor had a spaceship on their first meeting, but won’t believe he’s travelled to another planet after having worked together to fight alien invasions for the past several years. Benton gets the perfect reaction to the TARDIS, which is pretty much ‘yeah, why not.’ I like Pertwee’s Doctor just fine, but Troughton is just so much more fun. He might not be playing his Doctor so much as a half remembered parody of him, but he lights up the screen and if I were Jo, I’d be thinking ‘why couldn’t I have had this one instead.’ Is this the most quotable Doctor Who story of all time. Classic Doctor Who isn’t particularly funny, but the closing line from Mr Ollis never fails to make me smile. Wonderful story, all of it. 7/10.

Carnival of Monsters – Sorry, I don’t see the charm. Is it the case of a story that can’t possibly live up to its hype? Possibly. The shot of Vorg’s hand reaching in and plucking out the miniaturised TARDIS is a great, eye-catching image; the shot of that same hand flapping away the Drashigs, not so much.  The Robert Holmes that we all know and love has arrived. Yes The Krotons was political in its way, but this is the story where Holmes has decided that bureaucrats are the ultimate evil in the universe and must be destroyed via the medium of family teatime entertainment. Poor Ian Marter; is it because of his pleasant, open face that he always plays characters who are so… wet. Trust the Doctor to immediately start chatting up the pretty young assistant the first chance he gets, the old rogue. 6/10

Frontier in Space – Even though he’s not as much a part of the establishment as Verity Lambert always though he was, the third Doctor did usually have the establishment firmly on side in the form of UNIT, so it’s nice to see him on the outs for once, being a political prisoner on the moon. I heartily approve of the Master casually turning the sound off so he doesn’t have to listen to Jo’s amateur dramatics improvisation workshop. It’s a shame that because this story was devised as the first half of a twelve-part epic with Planet of the Daleks, that this story and its charcters (who are all far more interesting than the interchangeable Thals in the next story) don’t get a resolution. Speaking of such things, does anyone know what actually happens in the end? There’s a commotion, someone gets shot, and the next think I know the Doctor is starting to frost over. It has to be some of the worst directing in the shows long and varied history. I admit it, it’s mostly an endless game of capture and escape, but it’s strangely engrossing capture/escape, as every recapture leads to a new and exciting destination and chapter in the plot. 6/10

Planet of the Daleks – I would never put Jo at the top of my favourite companions (in fact, I do keep such a list, and she’s my 19th favourite), but I think she might be one of the best developed companions of the classic era, and she certainly gets a lot of times when she’s more useful than the Doctor. I like the ingenuity of the escape by hot air balloon sequence, even if I have doubts about the science and the fact that there’s a hole in the balloon drives my need for symmetry mad. I know it’s obviously an engineered Pertwee moment of charm, but the “Courage isn’t just a matter of not being frightened… It’s being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway,” line means a lot to me, especially as someone who’s had lifelong anxiety. We all know that this is pretty much just a remake of the original Dalek story, without the benefit of unfamiliarity or the atmosphere added by being in black and white. I feel it was aiming for solidly average, and that’s what it achieved. 5/10

The Green Death – Wasn’t I just saying that Jo is one of the better developed companions? She also gets one of the best send-offs. Sure Jo and Cliff’s relationship has about the same timeline as a fairytale romance, but it feels plausible, as we see them slowly fall in love over the course of six episodes. And that’s not just the chemistry of the actors – the writing has actually bothered to invest in this relationship (compare poor Louise Jameson, one the finest actors we’ve ever been lucky enough to have as a regular, desperately trying to build something that just wasn’t there in the script.)  And Yates, who I’ve always thought was the weakest of the Pertwee recurring cast, gets his moment to shine. There’s something very satisfying about the scene where he communicates to the Brigadier everything he needs to know, all why having a henchperson lurking over his shoulder; and then the moment when he ditches said henchperson in the lift. For all that I’ve praised the characters, this isn’t a story I find easy to like; I think it’s because I’ve had enough preaching about alternative energy all through school, that I didn’t need to hear it from my favourite TV show. And Cliff is too happy. I like it, but only when I try very hard. 7/10

Originally published 4 February, 2016

Very Brief Doctor Who Reviews – Season Nine

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Day of the Daleks – It’s hard to believe that this is Doctor Who’s first foray into really exploiting the whole ‘beware paradoxes’ angle to time travel, and its executed with a satisfying neatness. It doesn’t always happen, so its worth noting how real the freedom fighters from the future feel; especially since the central twist all hinges on the motivations of a guest character, it’s a testament to how well they’ve been written. And it feels like an age since we had a female character with significant responsibility. The Ogrons are erring slightly on the side of looking like a racist stereotype, but no one else has said anything, so maybe it’s just me. The Daleks don’t come out of this very well – never mind that there are only three of them, I can suspend my disbelief – but it’s obvious that they were inserted into this story, rather than the story being built around them. Also, they hadn’t been seen in five years, and yet they are just introduced with no concession to the fact that people might not know who they are or what they represent. Brief gripe over, this is a really fun and well executed story, even if its title monsters add nothing to it. 8/10

The Curse of Peladon – What I tend to judge Doctor Who stories most on is their atmosphere, and I love the sci-fi, medieval ghost story vibe in this story. I really appreciate when the show makes an effort to show that alien doesn’t automatically equal evil so a big thumbs up for the Ice Warriors redemption (a pity it doesn’t last). It’s bizarre and just wrong for the Doctor to be insisting that the Ice Warriors are baddies – kinda makes you look like a racist jerk, Doc. Never mind the one-woman show that is Episode 1 of Planet of the Daleks – I think this might be Jo’s best outing. She gets to be resourceful and show her leadership skills rallying the delegates to get their act together; shows no fear talking to giant green aliens who tower over her; and plays the part of the fairytale princess beautifully. 7/10

The Sea Devils – I love Doctor Who and the Silurians, but every subsequent Silurian/Sea Devil story had basically been a rehash of the original: homo reptilia want their planet back; the humans ain’t sharing; everyone tries to blow each other up; the Doctor insists that the homo reptilian are honourable even though they are just as genocidal-y as the humans; biggest explosion yet; status quo is reset in time for next week. I realised something while taking screencaps for this episode – there are no interesting images in it; even the famous ‘Sea Devils rising from the ocean’ isn’t that impressive because there’s only six of them, they aren’t in sync, and the stuntmen have clearly been on their hands and knees just beneath the surface waiting for their cue. Even the Master, despite his antics trolling the Governor can’t really elevate this story to equal the original. 6/10

The MutantsIt’s… Monty Pertwee’s Flying Anti-Colonialism Parable… in Space! On the one hand, I’m pleased they tried to have a bit more ethnic diversity in casting; on the other hand, was Rick James really the best actor they could find. Every time I watch, I find myself hoping that this time, maybe, just maybe, Cotton dies and we get Stubbs for the rest of the story, instead. Speaking of actors, I have a hard time believing Castellan Spandrell, I mean George Pravda, could be working against the Doctor, especially as the character’s motivations are never entirely clear. It’s not the first and it won’t be the last time Doctor Who employs noted and respected thespian George Pravda only to kill him off in unceremonious fashion before the final credits. It just goes to show where my priorities lie that I only know about Salman Rushdie because he referenced this episode in The Satanic Verses.This maybe the greyest story ever told. I know only last week I complained about The Claws of Axos being dreary, but everyone harps on about how wonderful it is it loses points for failing to captivate me in the same way. No one loves The Mutants, though, so it actually ends up with the better score. 6/10

The Time Monster – I will never understand the disdain this story attracts. Sure Chronos the interdimensional pigeon on Kirby wires is terrible, but when have bad special effects ever gotten in the way. Benton gets to show he’s not as big a buffoon as he appears (and I will always love Benton, no matter how bizarre John Levene’s behaviour is). The Master, instead of being a pantomimic bad guy with a ridiculous over the top scheme (OK maybe a little) successfully seduces Galleia (in a magnificent scene, where everything is in the actors’ performances, with none of the vomit-inducing innuendos we had to suffer through in the Doctor/River relationship) and over throws the old king of Atlantis. You heard that right – the Master actually competently executed a plan to seize power; if only he could have stopped there, instead of trying to command Time Itself, or whatever it was he was up to. He could have been a happy little tyrant king. The switch to Atlantis for the last two episodes makes sure that the story doesn’t get too stale; testament to this is the fact that my Dad and I watched all six episodes in one sitting – a record for us. 8/10

Originally published 28 January, 2017