Arachnids in the U.K.

This review contains spoilers for Episode Four of Series 11, Arachnids in the U.K. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, watch it and come back!

Word of advice, mate. Run now, ask questions later.

Graham O’Brien

sheffield

Synopsis

The TARDIS team return to Sheffield and Yaz’s family, where they find that something is stirring in the arachnid population of the Yorkshire city.
Review

I am going to come straight out and say that I hate spiders. Maybe it’s the way they move, or the fact that they just have too many legs, but I have never ever liked them. According to multiple sources, this is either due to Tim Burton’s film James and the Giant Peach, or an animated TV series called Spider! Either way, give me a Doctor Who story about massive spiders killing people in Sheffield and I will find it terrifying. This is both the scariest episode we’ve had this series so far and another strong entry in the series. I found the story quite reminiscent of The Green Death, with some good social commentary.

jack robertson

Although the spiders add the terror, the real villain of the piece is Chris Noth’s Jack Robertson, the owner of the hotel and potential candidate for American election in 2020, fuelled by a decades-long hatred of Donald Trump. The parallels here are clear for anyone to see and there are even references to Russian interference and assassinations in here. Noth is despicably unlikeable, as seen by his treatment of Yaz’s mother early in the episode. Speaking of the guest cast, I really liked the character of Doctor Jade McIntyre, the spider expert and feel that her character really helps add some weight to the story, especially when they are discussing spiders in her laboratory and Najia Khan is a great mother in line with Jackie Tyler or Francine Jones in her concern for her daughter’s wellbeing.

The arachnids also look fantastic and benefit from Sallie Aprahamian’s direction and the dark hotel is a perfect environment for maximum effect. The plot does not include any alien interference but is more of a look at problems with modern society as the spiders have mutated due to harmful chemicals from landfill waste due to negligent businesses. Considering the issues I have with spiders, the fact that I felt genuine empathy for the giant spider when it is struggling to breathe towards the end. However, the image of a gigantic spider smashing through a bathtub is not one that I will easily get rid of. That is seriously the stuff of nightmare fuel.

tardis team spiders

The TARDIS team here build on last week and they feel like they are really starting to gel, and a pleasant surprise here was seeing that Graham was the character who was the first to ask if they could continue travelling with the Doctor. As Graham has been the one mostly moaning about the elements of time travel, it seems like he would like to find an alternative way to process his grief rather than staying at home. I liked the way that Graham’s visit home was handled and I don’t feel that Grace’s cameo in the episode is too long or overstated, and I completely buy why Graham would decide to carry on travelling. We also get a glimpse at Yaz’s home life here, spending most of the time with her mother, but also meeting her sister and father in the process, which is nice because it finally gives us some development of Yaz and why she is so keen to go travelling with the Doctor. Additionally, we are starting to see that Ryan and Graham’s relationship is improving, when Ryan talks about his father’s letter whilst they are spider hunting, which helps the feeling of this team really starting to bond. Whilst it is not a real surprise to find that Graham, Yaz and Ryan are still travelling with the Doctor, the moment where they ask the Doctor if they can continue travelling with her is really nice, and is a bit of an inversion of what we are used to seeing in Doctor Who. Usually, the Doctor will lead their companions away with promises of reckless adventure, but here, the companions come to her asking to be taken away.

yaz and her family

Are you Ed Sheeran? Is he Ed Sheeran? Everyone talks about Ed Sheeran round about now, don’t they?

Thirteenth Doctor

Speaking of the Doctor, Whittaker seems to really be getting to grips with the character here, and the script really helps here. It gives her some moments reminiscent of Matt Smith’s random tangents, which I really enjoyed and there are some really great moments of levity in this story again, similar to last week. Her Doctor is really starting to command scenes and her ability to spout technobabble is great and I’m looking forward to how this incarnation of the Doctor continues to develop as the weeks and series go on. The flash of steel that she shows when she refuses to answer Najia’s questions about her relationship with Yaz, but it really nicely turns back to levity and this really adds to her performance.

If I’d have to pick a flaw in this episode, it would have to be the finale, which I seem to be saying a lot this series. The climax seems rushed and we get no real satisfying climax to the story of spiders. We get the emotional heft of the death of the mother spider, but we don’t get a conclusive answer as to what happens to Robertson, the real villain of the piece. This is the biggest issue that I have with the story, along with the slight niggle of not knowing what happened to the spider in Anna’s apartment at the start of the episode.

Verdict: Our first truly scary episode of this series, which almost feels like it could slot nicely into any series of Doctor Who, with no aliens but a compelling human story. 8/10
Behind the Scenes

  • The Doctor has faced off against spiders previously, in Planet of the Spiders, Jon Pertwee’s swansong as the Doctor in 1974. There have also previously been creatures similar to spiders, like in Kill the Moon or the Racnoss.
  • This is the first appearance this series of the psychic paper, introduced in the 2005 reboot of the show.
  • We also get our first glimpse in a while of the Time Vortex, which features multiple openings and looks beautiful.

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Chris Noth (Jack Robertson), Shobna Gulati (Najia Khan), Tanya Fear (Dr. Jade McIntyre), Ravin J Ganatra (Hakim Khan), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya Khan), Jaleh Alp (Frankie Ellish), William Meredith (Kevin), Sharon D Clarke (Grace O’Brien)
Writer: Chris Chibnall (Ninth story)

Director: Sallie Aprahamian (First story)

Best Moment: Either the moment with the spider bursting through the bathtub or the moment at the end where Team TARDIS are reunited.
Best Quote

I eat danger for breakfast. I don’t, I prefer cereal. Or croissants. Or those little fried Portugese…never mind, it’s not important…

Thirteenth Doctor

What did you think? Let me know in the comments below. See you next week!

Rosa

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Episode 3 of Series 11, Rosa. If you haven’t seen it yet, come back after viewing!

Rosa

Are we actually leaving?

Not in a million years.

Yas and the Thirteenth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and her friends find themselves in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, where they meet a seamstress, Rosa Parks.  But is someone attempting to tamper with history?

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yazmin Khan), Vinette Robinson (Rosa Parks), Joshua Bowman (Krasko), Trevor White (James Blake), Richard Lothian (Mr Steele), Jessica Claire Preddy (Waitress), Gareth Marks (Police Officer Mason), David Rubin (Raymond Parks), Ray Sesay (Martin Luther King), Aki Omoshaybi (Fred Gray), David Dukas (Elias Griffin Jr.), Morgan Deere (Arthur)

Writers: Malorie Blackman (First story) and Chris Chibnall (Eighth story)

Director: Mark Tonderai (Second episode)

Behind the Scenes

  • Although this is the first episode Malorie Blackman has written, she previously wrote The Ripple Effect, a Seventh Doctor story published as an ebook in 2013 as part of the anniversary celebrations.
  • Vinette Robinson previously appeared in another Chibnall written episode of Doctor Who, 42.  Additionally to this, she appeared in Sherlock in the recurring role of Sally Donovan.
  • This is the second and final episode of this series to be filmed in South Africa.

Review

I had concerns about this episode when it was announced, as I feel that this episode is dealing with difficult subject matter and was worried that it would be trivialised by the idea of alien intervention.  Happily, however, my fears were proved to be unfounded as Rosa is a fantastically strong episode.  I will make a small note about the music, however, which here seems to be more reminiscent of Murray Gold’s more bombastic scores of the past series.  I like Murray Gold’s music but a return to that style is a bit jarring after we have had a more subtle approach in recent weeks.

The one downside of this story is perhaps a necessary one, in the shape of the villain.  So far we haven’t had an overly memorable one, besides potentially “Tim Shaw” in The Woman Who Fell To Earth.  Krasko seems like a cross between River Song and Jack Harkness, but unfortunately, he doesn’t have the charisma of John Barrowman or Alex Kingston to make him truly memorable. I really do like the idea of the neural restrictor though as a reason why there isn’t a simple way to affect the timeline. However, this is a minor quibble, as I believe that the story doesn’t give him a lot to do, which I feel is part of the strength of the episode – if he had too much to do, I feel it would have damaged the story.

The main strength of this episode is that the alien intervention is basically made up of little events which contribute into an alteration of history, rather than being a big event.  For instance, Krasko changing the bus driver or putting up signs cancelling the bus service are relatively minor events individually but would have prevented the incident depicted here from happening.  I was worried about the story being about a larger alien plot, but the fact that the story is more about small changes helped to overcome any misgivings that I had.  The story of Rosa Parks on the bus is an important event and

motel

I feel that the main cast is well utilised here, as everyone has a role to play in ‘Operation Rosa Parks’, ensuring that the events of December 1st 1955 are kept safe.  Whether this is Graham using his knowledge and experience on the bus or Yaz researching Rosa Park’s daily routine, this larger than usual TARDIS team really works in this episode.  One of my favourite moments in the episode was the conversation between Yaz and Ryan behind the bin at the motel.  This is the first time I remember companions having a similar conversation, and I really liked the fact that both Ryan and Yaz are enthused by the idea of having gone back in time and living through history, but when they realise the reality of being in Montgomery in 1955, they are less keen.  There are also some nice moments of levity in an episode which has quite a serious subject matter, such the majority of events once they arrive at the motel.  I’ve not been so keen on Ryan in the first two episodes, however, I liked him much more in this one, with moments like the scene at Rosa’s house when he meets Martin Luther King really endearing him to me.  Graham’s much better here too, and I particularly like him complaining about the infrequent nature of meals whilst time travelling.  Vinette Robinson also gives a good performance as Rosa Parks, and the penultimate scene where she is led off the bus as the TARDIS crew watch on is really fantastically moving.

Banksy doesn’t have one of those.  Or do I?

Thirteenth Doctor

Vinette Robinson also gives a good performance as Rosa Parks, and the penultimate scene where she is led off the bus as the TARDIS crew watch on is really fantastically moving.  We’re so used to the Doctor and companions interfering in past events to change them, to see them stand by powerlessly is really moving.  There is also the aspect that Graham standing up on the bus directly leads to the protest and thus the police being called, which is especially powerful as we hear earlier how Grace revered Rosa.

Verdict: A pleasant surprise of an episode with some great moving moments, focusing in on an important part of history.  10/10

Best Moment: Ryan being absolutely star struck by meeting Martin Luther King at Rosa Park’s house and his reaction when Rosa asks him to make coffee.

ryan-mlk.jpg

Best Quote:

I did not warm to him.

Thirteenth Doctor

What did you think of Rosa? I’d love to hear your thoughts – leave a comment below or contact me through the contact tab above.  Next week, I’ll be watching from behind a cushion, as we see the TARDIS team return to Sheffield for Arachnids in the U.K.

The Ghost Monument

Warning:  This review contains spoilers for Episode 2 of Series 11, The Ghost Monument.  If you have not seen this episode yet, come back when you’ve seen it!

Oh by the way, welcome to what I presume is your first alien planet.  Don’t touch anything!

Thirteenth Doctor

ruins

Synopsis

The Doctor and her new friends try to stay alive in a hostile alien environment, whilst trying to solve the mystery of Desolation.

Writer: Chris Chibnall (7th episode written)

Director: Mark Tonderai (1st episode directed)

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Shaun Dooley (Epzo), Susan Lynch (Angstrom), Art Malik (Ilin), Ian Gelder (Remnants (voice)

Behind the Scenes

  • This is the first episode to feature the new credits sequence, as well as the new iteration of the theme “in situ”, arranged by Segun Akinola.  The new visuals hark back to the howl around seen in the opening titles during the Hartnell and Troughton eras.
  • Speaking of the credits, they are the first not to feature the face of the lead actor since The Snowmen
  • This episode was shot in South Africa, along with the following episode, Rosa.
  • Yas refers to a green police box in Sheffield.

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  • The Doctor performs Venusian Aikido on Epzo.  This martial art was mainly used by the Third Doctor, and the Doctor here alludes to it being taught to her by Venusian nuns.

Review

So, we kind of got a Hitchhiker’s Guide resolution to that cliffhanger from last week.  The Thirteenth Doctor’s second episode sees the Doctor and her new “best friends” thrown into the final stage of an epic competition, seeking a mysterious ‘Ghost Monument,’ with the last surviving competitors.  The second of the episode looks fantastically cinematic, with the new cameras being put to good use – the last series also looked fantastic, but this new visual look makes the show look the best it ever has.  I must address the elephant in the room here too – the opening visuals are fantastic and match the new theme tune beautifully.  There is something otherworldly about the new score, and the corresponding visuals are unsettling.

Landscape

I’ll address the biggest problem with the episode first.  Chris Chibnall is known for his strong characterisation, occasionally coming at the expense of plot, with one of the most notable examples of this coming in The Power of Three, and similarly here, the conclusion to the episode feels very rushed.  I liked the idea of the story, but the focus on characterisation really does damage this as a story, especially as the majority of it feels like a retread of what we saw last week – the difficult relationship between Graham and Ryan.  Yaz again does seem to draw the short straw, but we do learn more about her family and home life – family does really seem to be a key part of this series.  Epzo and Angstrom are participating in the Rally to save their families, as the prize is safety for their families, who are on a planet being systematically cleansed, and although Shaun Dooley and Susan Lynch give good performances, I don’t feel their characters were really fully rounded.  The scene between Graham and Ryan in the boat, discussing grieving for Grace, is beautifully played, however, and it didn’t have too much of an impact on my engagement with the story, in fact, it might be the strongest part, addressing issues regarding men discussing their feelings and toxic masculinity.  My only disappointment is that Ilan is completely shouted down at the conclusion in allowing both Angstrom and Epzo to win so quickly.

On to my more positive thoughts about this story.  I really like the new Doctor and we do get more of a handle of this incarnation here.  We do get to see her have a proper rage at Epzo and get to see her deal with some proper sci-fi jargon.  She is still most similar to David Tennant, especially in her hatred towards guns.  I feel that Jodie Whittaker is a great Doctor already and I want to see a lot more of her.  Despite the fact that in press releases, people have said that the series won’t be delving into the Doctor’s past, the mention of the ‘Timeless Child’ by the Remnants definitely hints that we will be delving into the Doctor’s past.  She definitely possesses one of the necessary characteristics for any Doctor, as she is an engaging screen presence and has the heart of steel that we have come to associate with the Doctor since the revival, as well as being supportive and encouraging to her new companions.  The moment that the TARDIS appears at the conclusion is fantastic, especially when she apologises for not having a key, and the door opens.  So many introductions to the TARDIS focus on the companion’s reactions, so switching it to the Doctor’s here is lovely.

I really need you right now.  My beautiful Ghost Monument.  I’ve missed you!

Thirteenth Doctor

Something I was pleasantly surprised by in this episode was Ryan.  I wasn’t terribly enamoured with him in The Woman Who Fell To Earth, but here we see that he can be a fantastic companion.  There are obviously issues relating to his grandmother’s death that he does not want to speak about, which can be seen in his headstrong approach, charging out to take out the SniperBots, inspired by his time playing Call of Duty, but this is also played for laughs when they stand back up.  Yaz and Graham have very little to do in this episode though, and I am a bit concerned that Bradley Walsh’s Graham is basically there to express disbelief at everything he sees or experiences.  I really hope that he and Yaz get more to do in the coming weeks.

tardis team

I really like the fact that we’re getting some more background for the Stenza race too, who we encountered for the first time ever last week in The Woman Who Fell to Earth.  Here we see that they have used the planet of Desolation and their scientists to create weapons to use in war, and have used the planet as their testing ground, which has resulted in the inhabitants being wiped out.  The Remnants have a characteristic of many classic Doctor Who villains in that they are easy to replicate and are quite menacing – they nearly finish off Epzo and are clearly effective adversaries, being able to pull memories from the Doctor’s head before their eventual demise.  The SniperBots are a rather more generic adversary, but they are also quite effective here.

sniperbots

Contrary to my assertion that we wouldn’t be seeing the TARDIS until the end of the series, the police box does make an appearance at the end, as I alluded to above.  I really like the new TARDIS, especially the new ‘porch’ at the front, which makes it seem more magical, reminiscent of the wardrobe in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  The interior is also beautifully designed, and I like the orange colour scheme although I’m not certain about the pillars although I’m sure that they will grow on me.  I’m just happy to be seeing the TARDIS sooner than expected and hope that this means that we can get some interesting new stories and some potentially more complicated plots.

Walking up to the TARDIS

Verdict: Backed up by some fantastic landscapes of South Africa doubling as an alien planet, The Ghost Monument is a solid episode in this series, despite what can be seen as a simplistic A to B plot and a rushed conclusion. 6/10

Best Moment: The Doctor entering her new TARDIS for the first time.

Best Quote

Oh…You’ve redecorated.  I really like it!

Thirteenth Doctor

What did you think of The Ghost Monument?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth

Warning: This review contains spoilers. If you have not yet seen the opening episode of series 11, The Woman Who Fell To Earth, come back after catching up!

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I’m with him! We don’t get aliens in Sheffield!

Karl

Synopsis

In Sheffield, three individuals are about to have their lives changed forever. A mysterious stranger crashes to Earth, unable to remember her own name. Can she be trusted? And will she be able to stop the strange events happening across the city?

Writer: Chris Chibnall (6th episode written)
Director: Jamie Childs (1st episode directed)

Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Sharon D. Clarke (Grace O’Brien), Philip Abiodun (Dean), Hazel Atherton (Sissy Roberts), Jonny Dixon (Karl), Asif Khan (Ramesh Sundur), Asha Kingsley (Sonia), Stephen MacKenna (Dennis), Janine Mellor (Janey), Samuel Oatley (T’zim Sha/”Tim Shaw”), Amit Shah (Rahul), James Thackeray (Andy), Everal Walsh (Gabriel)

Behind the Scenes

  • As well as being the first episode to feature a female Doctor, similarly to The Eleventh Hour, this episode features a major overhaul of several features of the series, such as the logo, a new variation of the theme and logo.
  • Jodie Whittaker was announced as the Doctor on the 16th July 2017, with the announcement being broadcast after the Wimbledon Singles final.
  • The TARDIS does not feature in this story at all, making it the tenth not to see the Police Box make an appearance. The most recent episode before this was The Lie of the Land, and it joins episodes such as Midnight, Genesis of the Daleks and The Silurians.
  • This is the second episode not to feature opening credits after Sleep No More.
  • This is the first non-special episode to be broadcast on a day other than a Saturday since Survival.

Preamble

Chris Chibnall’s writing for Doctor Who has had quite a lot of scrutiny since he was announced as the new showrunner and he, like most writers for the show, has a number of supporters and detractors. Personally, I find Chibnall’s earlier work on the show and on Torchwood to be average to good. His stories don’t tend to be my absolute favourites of a particular series, however, he is quite adept at writing for Doctor Who. My personal favourite episode he has written for the show (so far) has been Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which is a good fun romp, with honourable mentions going to The Power of Three, which is good up until the rushed conclusion, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the opener for series two of Torchwood.

Review

The best opening episodes of Doctor Who feel like a breath of fresh air, and one of the most wonderful things about The Woman Who Fell to Earth is that it completely fits that description. The visual appearance of the show is beautiful, there’s new theme music (although we have to wait until the end to hear it in its full majesty) and there’s a new Doctor in town. Oh, and the Doctor’s a woman now.

blow torch

Speaking of the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker gives a strong debut performance as the titular Time Lord, with a performance more akin to David Tennant or Matt Smith than Christopher Eccleston or Peter Capaldi, delivering a more scatty performance than her immediate predecessor. Her final confrontation with Tim Shaw towards the end of the episode is great, and I particularly like the fact that she still wants to resolve the issue peacefully, but she still has a backup just in case, which I found to be reminiscent of The Christmas Invasion, although she is horrified by Karl killing the creature. Her entrance is quite low key, which I also quite liked, with it being punctuated by a brief burst of the new theme, and the fact that she is without her TARDIS and sonic screwdriver makes her feel more vulnerable. At times, she does flip between serious and eccentric as the story allows, but her post-regenerative trauma is quite short-lived, so we should hopefully find more out about the type of Doctor she will be as she stabilises. All in all, I feel that it is a promising start for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor!

I am the Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe!

Thirteenth Doctor

new team.png

With the number of changes that have taken place to the show, the plot is small in comparison – the fate of the whole world isn’t at risk just yet, but if the Doctor doesn’t intervene, it could be – and the main crux of the plot revolves around saving one life. This allows us to focus on the relationships between the new companions, as well as the ill-fated Sharon D. Clarke’s Grace, and for the most part, these characters feel really lived in. If I had to pick out one flaw in this element is that I feel that Yasmin isn’t as developed as I would like and she doesn’t have a lot to do beyond the first half of the episode, with the focus understandably shifting more towards Ryan and Graham towards the episode’s close. Grace is a great character too, and I’m a little upset that she died in the course of the episode as I’d have liked to have seen more of her. All of the new companions have dissatisfaction in their lives when we first meet them; Ryan is struggling with his dyspraxia, Graham desperately wants a bond with this step-grandson, Ryan, and Yaz is looking for more interesting work with the police force. Graham is perhaps the most likeable, and definitely the most grounded and cynical of the three, reminding us of things like the DNA bombs, but I’m really excited about this new TARDIS team.

As for the villain of the piece, I like “Tim Shaw”. His design, both in full armour and without the helmet is distinctly creepy, and the fear factor is definitely helped by some competent direction by Jamie Childs, and the episode being mostly set at night. The idea of the species taking a tooth of their victims is also really sinister – I’ve seen the villain being labelled as the Predator meets the Tooth Fairy online! The design of the Data Core is also really good, although initially, I compared it to the Scribble Monsters from Fear Her. The idea of “Tim Shaw” cheating seems to irritate and annoy the Doctor even more and make her all the more determined to defeat the would-be leader of the Stenza, which I really like.

I’m just going to make a brief mention of the new theme music, composed by Segun Akinola, which is more reminiscent of the classic era theme than the orchestrated versions that we have seen since the revival. It’s quite good, and I feel that I will warm to it more as the series progresses. The incidental music is good too.

The end of the episode is certainly intriguing, and I like the idea of the three companions being brought along by the Doctor unwillingly. I’m intrigued to see how they get out of their perilous situation that the end of this episode finds them in, and despite mentions of no overarching plot through the series, I think the hunt for the TARDIS will take them through until episode 10.

Verdict: A good debut for Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, and a new dawn for the show. Counting down the minutes until the Ghost Machine. 8/10

Best Moment: The entrance of the Doctor on the train. Delightfully underplayed!

Best Quote

Right now, I’m a stranger to myself. There’s echoes of who I was and a sort of call towards who I am, and I just have to hold my nerve and trust all of my new instincts.

Thirteenth Doctor