Better Watch Out (2017, Dir: Chris Peckover) – ‘Better Watch Out has a more modern axe to grind in the shape of 2017’s biggest trend, toxic masculinity.’ Read the full review here.
Bunny and the Bull (2009, Dir: Paul King) – ‘Bunny and the Bull is a delightfully quirky, extremely well crafted comedy.’ Read the full review here.
Demons (2017, Dir: Miles Doleac) – ‘Demons, written, directed and starring Miles Doleac (The Hollow), is not about demons in the fire and brimstone sense. It’s about the personal demons that stalk us daily.’ Read full review here.
Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time (2018, Dir: Rachel Talalay) – ‘Surprisingly streamlined and as emotional as you would want it to be, Twice Upon a Time was… brilliant.’ Read full review here.
In This Corner of the World (2017, Dir: Sunao Katabuchi) – ‘Sombre in some moments and bursting with joy in others, In This Corner of the World is a treat for the eyes and heart.’ Read full review here.
Nightworld (2017, Dir: Patricio Valladares) – ‘By the time the film decides to do something interesting, it’s already too late.’ Read the full review here.
Paddington 2 (2018, Dir: Paul King) – ‘Paddington 2 is ridiculously heart-warming. It has no right to be this nice, and loving, and caring, and not come across as naïve.’ Read full review here.
The Survivalist (2015, Dir: Stephen Fingleton) – ‘Equally impressive is the film’s gorgeous backdrop, which, because of its beauty and bold colour, highlights the bleak pantomime playing out before us.’ Read full review here.
Doctor Who Showrunner, Steven Moffat doesn’t do things by halves. If you’ve read anything about the nightmare that was writing the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special, you’ll know the Press Gang writer really likes to fly by the seat of his pants. Soon to be stepping down to make way for new showrunner, Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch), Moffat had originally planned to leave Doctor Who after The Doctor Falls, a regular episode that saw the Doctor ready for regeneration. It was only after hearing that Chibnall didn’t want his first episode to be a Christmas special, that Moffat agreed to oversee one more episode. In doing so, he probably added some undue pressure onto himself.
For not only is Twice Upon a Time his last episode, it’s also the last episode of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. When Doctors regenerate, the show’s audience demands it be epic. You gotta go out big! Inverting those expectations, Moffat has crafted an episode that manages to be much more personable than other Christmas specials under his watch, and it’s all the better for it.
True to his rebellious nature, the Twelfth Doctor is refusing to regenerate. Holding on with every ounce of strength he has, The Doctor escapes to the South Pole in 1986 where he meets someone extremely familiar. The First Doctor (David Bradley) has just defeated the Cybermen and looks set to regenerate. However, like his future incarnation, he won’t go down without a fight. Realising that if his first incarnation doesn’t regenerate then none of the good things he’s achieved will come to pass, the Twelfth Doctor looks set to go all Wonderful Life and show the First Doctor the true meaning of Christmas. But then there’s the small matter of the World War One Captain, played by Mark Gatiss, who most definitely shouldn’t be roaming the 1980s tundra. Along the way, the trio will meet creatures made of glass, see the return of Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) and witness the Christmas Armistice of 1914. Honestly, it’s not as grandiose as it sounds.
Considering the weight that hangs over Twice Upon a Time, and everything mentioned above, the plot Is actually rather light. It doesn’t matter how many Doctors you throw on the screen, the whole mystery of Gatiss’ Captain being plucked out of time is merely an excuse for Moffat to allow the Doctors to rub each other up the wrong way. Grumpy, but a bit more in tune with 21st century ideals, Capaldi’s Doctor clashes somewhat with the equally grumpy, but old fashioned First.
The First Doctor may look the eldest, but he’s still a youngster learning about the universe. No one is inherently born woke and it takes the 12th doctor all his strength to stop from throttling the First over his problematic comments. All of which plays into the thread that runs through Twice Upon a Time; our past may define us, but we are who we are in the moment. We all still have chances to learn and grow. We will make mistakes, and some of them will be terrible, but we will overcome them and keep pushing forward.
This idea of acceptance plays nicely in Capaldi’s eventual regeneration. Having helped the Captain, and encouraged the First Doctor to get on with his lives, the Twelfth Doctor is afforded an opportunity to come to terms with his own end. ‘Doctor,’ he says tiredly, but content. ‘I let you go.’ If we cast our net further, past Moffatt’s tenure, this contrasts nicely with Russell T Davies’ send off for David Tennant, which sadly saw the Oncoming Storm reduced to a whining ‘I don’t want to go.’ It was a line that never sat well with me, and I can’t help thinking that it didn’t with Moffatt either.
Whilst Capaldi’s performance was excellent, time must be taken to give Bradly his dues. Having originally played William Hartnell in Gatiss’ Adventure in Space and Time, the actor was more than ready to cross the line and go full Doctor. It’s not the first time the First Doctor has been recast, but it was certainly the best. The Five Doctors saw Richard Hurndall take over the reins from Hartnell and, to be honest, it never felt more than a pencil sketch of the character. In Bradley’s hands, the First Doctor felt real, like he’d never really been away. The Doctor who once threatened to beat a caveman to death, was just as problematic when faced with ‘modern’ society and he was wonderful. Equally, Mackie appeared to be having just as much fun as Capaldi, clashing with Bradley’s pomposity. I’m not saying I want a series of adventures where the Frist Doctor and Bill travel together, but I am.
Surprisingly streamlined and as emotional as you would want it to be, Twice Upon a Time was – to quote the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) who made a cheeky appearance – brilliant. Moffat certainly had issues during his time as showrunner, his overly complicated sixth season will never be one of the classics, but it amazing to watch how the show has evolved. It’s going to be fascinating to see where Chibnall goes from here.
Since its reinvention 12 years ago, Doctor Who, to me, has a particular pattern to the way it introduces new companions for the Doctor. The first adventure between Doctor and companion tends to be a knock about race against the clock that allows the writer to establish the relationship between the two: see Rose, Smith and Jones, The Runaway Bride etc. Though in fairness to The Runaway Bride, Donna Noble did undergo a soft reboot herself before resurfacing in Partners in Crime, becoming a much less abrasive foil to Tennant’s wide-eyed cock-er-nee Doctor.
The second episode inevitably sees the Companion quickly learn a facet of the Doctor’s personality that will make them wary at first, but ultimately, they’ll realise he’s just a big lug head who needs a bit of human interaction to make him decent. Perhaps the best example of this is, to return to season 4, is The Fires of Pompeii which dealt with The Doctor’s decree of never altering history regardless of how cold that made him appear. Having kick-started the volcano that destroys Pompeii, The Doctor is convinced by Donna to save at least one family in the chaos. The suggestion is that had Donna not been there, then The Doctor would have turned his back on the city and come across as a bit of a bastard. This same episode would be used to explain why the Twelfth Doctor looks like the very man he saved in Pompeii. Making the deduction last season, The Doctor reasoned that this was a subconscious reminder that his fundamental characteristic is that he is The Doctor and he saves people. I personally like to write reminders to myself on my phone, but we all have our ways of doing things.
And so here we are with Smile, an episode that allows Bill to understand The Doctor’s self-imposed purpose in life: to save people. Landing on a planet under some form of terraforming, the duo quickly discovers that the original settlers – those sent to set up the planet for everyone else – have all been murdered by their robotic handymen, the Vardi. Resembling a cross between an emoji keyboard and the big screen interpretation of Marvin the Paranoid Android, the Vardi had been entrusted to ensure everyone was happy, but when they witness grief for the first time they set about trying to rid the commune of this ‘virus.’ This, of course, has a domino effect; human being just don’t like being killed when they’re already feeling quite sad.
Having established there’s something wrong, The Doctor does what he’s entrusted himself to do and leaps in feet first to help. What’s interesting here is that Bill, initially, isn’t that keen to do same and questions whether they should just call the police. We’ve come to accept that The Doctor’s companions are drawn to danger and fuelled by curiosity, so it makes a nice change to see one that’s willing to have a long hard think before charging in blindly. As shown in last week’s episode, Pearl Mackie as Bill is shaping up to be one of the classic companions. After Amy Pond and Clara Oswald, it just feels good to have a companion who is consumed with excitement about what they’re doing, rather than seeming indifferent to the wonders of the universe. It’s not that Bill shouldn’t be The Doctor’s equal, it’s just nice to have her be a little in awe of who she’s travelling with. It’s for reasons like this that make me further believe Moffat is going all Russell T. Davies on us; stripping the show of his convoluted timey wimey theatrics in order to prove that you don’t need the universe to be constantly in danger in order to provide spectacle.
That said, Smile may have provided an opportunity for Bill to learn some more about the Doctor and for us to learn more about her, but as storylines go it was very pedestrian. The final act seemed to run out of steam so quickly that we were left with the Doctor literally turning things on and off again to make everything better. Despite great performances by Mackie and Capaldi, something didn’t gel right here. It actually felt that behind the scenes, conversations were had in order to get around the thorny issue of the Doctor leaving one of the last groups of human in the universe with the very robots that killed their friends and family. As if, maybe, writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce had to be forced into crowbarring in an explanation. Whatever the reasoning, it just didn’t work for me.
So, whilst Smile felt like a bit of a letdown in comparison to last week’s caper, it managed to get by on the strength of its leads and, whilst further setting up the big reveal of The Vault, shows that season 10/36 is showing some promise.
Throughout his tenure as showrunner of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat has – for better or worse – been happy to experiment with the show’s format; offering episodes treated as mini-movies like season 7 or bringing in multipart stories as in season 9. Based on the evidence of season 10’s opener, Moffat appears to be at his most daring by giving us stripped back storytelling that (so far) isn’t weighed down by the events of the seasons before it. I know! Who knew?
Like Dan Harmon’s fifth season return to Community, Moffat appears to be applying a soft reboot to Doctor Who that doesn’t ignore his contribution to the show but offers potential new viewers an opportunity to see what the fuss has been for ten seasons. In some ways, this is his version of Rose, the episode that kicked off the show’s relaunch 12 years ago. Yes, really, 12 years ago! To be honest, if there had been a big reveal that this had been written by Russell T Davies in secret, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Tonally, The Pilot is so different from previous seasons.
Through the eyes of audience surrogate Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), veteran fans are reintroduced to The Doctor as a beguiling university lecturer, who enthrals Bill with his idiosyncratic lectures ranging Fromm quantum physics to poetry. Bill, we quickly discover, isn’t a student at the university, instead working at the canteen where she gives her crushes extra portions of chips in order to get them to notice her. Like Davies, Moffat manages to paint the fullest picture of Bill in such a short time. She’s gay, she has a stepmum, she’s intuitive, she’s intelligent, she likes sci-fi. In short, she’s a person! A real breathing person that lives off screen. Let’s be honest, Clara was great and all, but any growth she had was completely dependent on what the story needed from her at the time.
Young and sassy, comparisons to Rose Tyler are to be expected but there’s also a hint of Donna Noble in Bill, as she questions the nature of who the Doctor is. Moffat gets dragged across the coals by certain corners of the internet for a supposed disregard for the show’s 50 year canon, but as The Pilot proves, that’s really not the case. The Sherlock writer has a clear love for the show, one which he uses to dismantle and examine its supposedly sacred cows. In his time we’ve established time lords can change race and gender, that they have a sexuality (you hear that Lungbarrow) and, as Bill points out, they weirdly use English to name their ships. No, there’s always been a cheekiness to Moffat’s writing but it’s never to be mean or disrespectful. Though I think he does enjoy needling some of the more hardcore fans.
This respect for the past can be seen in The Pilot’s numerous nods to the series of yore. Having set himself up as a lecturer, the Doctor’s office is littered with paraphernalia from his past. Most prominently, two large photos on his desk of his out of time wife River Song and, most intriguingly, Susan, his granddaughter. Since being left by her grandfather on earth several eons ago, Susan has been alluded to throughout the show’s later years. However, outside of tripping over constantly in The Five Doctors, we’ve not heard much from her. Whether this is just one of Moffatt’s red herrings it’s yet to be seen, but those watching this season’s opener would fail to have missed that there’s some connection being hinted at between Bill and Susan.
Returning to character growth, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor appears to have softened greatly since the lacklustre Christmas special, The Return of Doctor Mysterio. Still being fussed over by Nardole, played by the always wonderful Matt Lucas, the Doctor might be bristly, but he’s not adverse to moments of charity. To be fair, The Doctor under Moffat is a big fan of the secretive grand gesture towards others, and you’d be lying if you said your heart didn’t glow when we found out he’d gone back in time to take pictures of Bill’s deceased mother as a Christmas present. Under Russell T Davies, this the kind of thing that would have been played out with perhaps too much sugar and syrup. Here, Moffat gets the balance just right, ensuring that we never forget that this is still the Doctor that doesn’t hug. Though it is somewhat odd that Bill, who catches a glimpse of the Doctor in one of these photos, never brings this up with her grumpy lecturer.
What I haven’t mentioned here is the episode’s big bad and, to be fair, that’s for good reason. Whilst the concept of a killer puddle of oil was admittedly fun, The Pilot was never about the creature that stalked Bill and the Doctor in the guise of the former’s crush. It’s about the bond that’s forged between the duo – and Nardole – as they skip through time, country and beyond to escape it. To make it anything more than one long chase sequence would perhaps have done the episode a disservice and overshadowed the sterling work done by Mackie and Moffatt in setting up the character of Bill. We have a whole season to watch her get in over her head, so I’m happy to get to know her first. And what of the Vault that was, until the end, keeping the Doctor on Earth? Obviously, we’ll find out before Capaldi takes his bow but let’s hope it’s not as complicated as McGuffins in the past. Hello, Pandorica!
We can’t hide from the fact that this Capaldi’s last season but, based on the strength of this opening, we can hope that it will give the actor a perfect send off. That said, after you’ve had a previous regenerate after falling off an exercise bike, you can’t get much worse.
So, hello to Bill and welcome back Doctor, I look forward to seeing what awaits you.
With the tenth series of Doctor Who presently in production, if you’re like me you’ll be waiting for the inevitable ‘EXCLUSIVES’ to appear in the tabloids. Their often on point and are certainly not cobbled together from fan sites and forums. Nope.
To tide you over for next five minutes till the next ‘EXCLUSIVE’ comes out, please accept this free cut-out-and-keep instant Doctor Who press release. Simply choose a word from each of the numbered lists, insert them in the relevant part of the paragraph below and VOILA your own piece of tabloid hearsay.
The TARDIS is in for a bumpy ride during Peter Capaldi’s latest season as the Doctor Who, and not just because of newcomer Pearl Mackie as latest companion, Bill. TV’s favourite (List 1) will be going up against the Veep star as fan favourite (List 2). Sources close to the BBC quoted the producers as saying ‘(List 1) is one of tv’s most (List 3) stars so Series 10 is sure to start with a (List 4)’.