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Review: Doctor Who: Hell Bent

doctorwho hell bent
The Doctor returns to Gallifrey with revenge on his mind

Hell Bent is a fantastic episode and a fitting ending to a superb season of Doctor Who.

SPOILERS AHOY!

As this is the final episode of the season, I would just like to take this opportunity to say how impressed I’ve been by series 9. I can wholeheartedly say that I’ve really enjoyed 11/12 of the episodes all series; Sleep No More being the only one that I found to be subpar. Yet, even though I didn’t like that episode, it still pleased me to see how the showrunners at Doctor Who were willing to make risky and unconventional television at a primetime slot. Series 9 has made me laugh, cry (poor Clara) and even made me pick my jaw up from the floor in awe. I cannot wait to see which direction Moffat takes us in the show’s tenth series.

As we’ve come to expect, Peter Capaldi delivers another acting masterclass, yet in a more understated way from Heaven Sent. Although, you would expect that to be the case considering how he’s not completely alone and isolated in this episode, in fact he spends most of his time in different areas of Gallifrey, and a very familiar diner. Capaldi also brilliantly portrays the extent The Doctor is willing to go to for Clara. He shoots the General in cold blood (albeit after making sure he has regenerations left) and inflicted the immense pain of regeneration onto him. You could really see the pain behind Capaldi’s eyes when he pulled the trigger, but it was also a cold-bloodedness that we rarely get to see from the violence-free Doctor.

We must also address how wonderful Jenna Coleman was in this episode. Yes you read that  right. Clara returned. The Doctor pulled Clara out of time, just one heartbeat before she died. Anyway, when The Doctor told her exactly what he had been through (4.5 billion years in a Confession Dial) the look on Clara’s face told all the story we could ever need; the bitter sadness of knowing the pain The Doctor went through for her, as well as the pure hatred and disgust she shows for the other Timelords for putting him through that.

Now, onto Gallifrey, director Rachel Talatay does a fabulous job of allowing the viewer optimum opportunities to explore Gallifrey through the use of semi-frequent establishing shots. Thus, allowing us to learn more about The Doctor’s homeland, by seeing the architecture and terrain of ever-elusive Gallifrey. However, surprising as it is, considering the struggle it took to get there, we actually don’t spend too much time on Gallifrey, minus the shed The Doctor housed-up in from Day of The Doctor. For me, this was a bit of a let-down, as I was really interested in further storylines involving Gallifrey; and judging on the terms The Doctor left there on, I don’t think that’ll be happening anytime soon.

Onto Clara and The Doctor now, in order to protect them both, Clara’s memory of The Doctor had to be erased, otherwise the Timelords would be able to trace them. Why are the Timelords after them I hear you cry? That’s because the Hybrid is them, as hypothesised by Ashildr. The combination of The Doctor and Clara Oswald will result in the end and destruction of Gallifrey.

By this point I was having some very depressing Donna Noble flashbacks! However, The Doctor and Clara came to the realisation that only one of them needed to wipe their memory, and they basically took a 50/50 chance each; resulting in The Doctor’s memories of Clara being eradicated. This was a deeply moving scene, with Clara weeping over The Doctor as he tries to give her some last minute advice before he forgets her ( “Don’t eat pears” ). I feel like we got a better ending for Clara here, as I didn’t what her to be Donna Noble-d and I also wanted her to live. Although, a slight quibble is that is kind of nullifies the emotional impact Face The Raven had on me, but in hindsight I prefer having Clara alive.

On a personal positive note for me- the sonic sunglasses are a goner, and we get a brand new, awesome Sonic Screwdriver! Throughout the whole of this series, the only thing I’ve consistently hated was the sonic sunglasses, so I am thrilled that they’re gone in favour of a timeless Sonic Screwdriver.

I also want to mention how Clara’s story ends. We see her and Ashildr flying away in their own TARDIS that the Doctor stole from Gallifrey. I really loved this. Ashildr finally got what she always wanted; the ability to time travel, whilst Clara got to really take on the role of The Doctor. All in favour of an Ashildr/ Clara spin-off please raise you hand!

Whilst Hell Bent doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of its predecessor, Heaven Sent (which is basically an impossible task!), it is an excellent round-up of a marvellous series of Doctor Who.

Bring on the Christmas special, and the return of River Song!

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Review: Doctor Who: Face The Raven

doc rigsy clara
Rigsy’s back!

If I was told to review Face The Raven with only one word, that word would be ‘flawless’.

It’s not the only word that would spring to my mind, however; emotional, intriguing, moreish, and heart-breaking would also be dancing on the tip of my tongue.

As I’m sure you’ve already heard, this episode is the final one starring Jenna Coleman’s character, Clara. For me, this is a hard pill to swallow. This may be quite a controversial opinion, but I think that Clara is the best companion of the New-Who era. Most people tend to gravitate towards Rose as being the best companion since the show’s return, and I probably would’ve agreed with them until this series. Originally, I wasn’t too keen on Clara as the companion back in series 7, she grew on me in series 8, but this series I’ve become a massive fan of the character. At times, she’s really made herself look like The Doctor’s equal, not just a lady awestruck by the wonders The Doctor had show her.

Anyway, back onto Face The Raven. The episode is written by Sarah Dollard, and it is the first episode she’s written for Doctor Who. And what an excellent episode it is. The pacing of Face The Raven is perfect, allowing time for some brilliant dialogue, wonderfully blended in with enticing mysteries, topped off with some fabulous character interactions. It was also a pleasure to see The Doctor and Clara play detective again.

It was also enjoyable to see Maisie Williams’ Ashildr (I don’t care what she wants to be called- she’ll always be Ashildr to me!) back for the third time this series. It is very interesting to see the development we’ve seen from her character in the 3 episodes we’ve seen her in. She a totally different character each time, and it’s a total delight. The actions of Ashildr also have massive repercussions, and it is safe to say that we definitely have not see the last of her.

There was also clearly great production values for Face The Raven; the sight of seeing a raven turn into some kind of grainy mist, as well as the beautifully done street in which 90% of the episode is set, really helped create a sense of atmosphere. The street being so tiny and compact made the episode feel more claustrophobic and tense.

Now everything beyond this point will contain SPOILERS

 

Dollard has the episode littered with foreshadowing, from Clara nearly falling out of the TARDIS flying high above London, to Ashildr stating how no harm will come to Clara. This, in combination with the dramatic irony of us already knowing that this was Coleman’s final episode, made the entire episode painfully tense. The episode made me uncomfortable to watch, but that was just because I absolutely couldn’t look away.

If you can’t yet tell what I’m getting at, then here it is: Clara Oswald is dead.

And perhaps an even harder pill to swallow than before, is that it could clearly be argued that Clara died because of The Doctor. Her travels with the Timelord, and her previous successes at saving the day had made her more confident, a little complacent and even a bit cocky that she and The Doctor will always save everything, and everyone. This lead her to taking a death curse off of Rigsy and giving it to herself, because she was certain that she (or The Doctor) would be able to find a way out of it. Unfortunately, she was wrong, and paid the ultimate price for it.

Let us take a moment to appreciate how incredible both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman were once they had realised what was about to happen. The sorrow on Capaldi’s face, the dawning fear upon Jenna’s face. This, then combined with gut-wrenchingly emotional dialogue made my heart shatter into millions of tiny pieces. One particularly poignant piece of dialogue is when The Doctor says “What’s the point of being a Doctor if I can’t cure you“. That, ladies and gentlemen, was the moment I lost it. I honestly had to pause my television, weep, then watch the final moments of Clara Oswald with tears in my eyes.

It is important to state as well, that I don’t normally cry. The last time I cried was over a family death over 5 years ago. Now that record is broken, as I sat in my living room, tearing up over the death of a fictional character.

I’m too emotional to write anything more about Face The Raven. So let’s just wrap up by saying that it was a spellbinding episode, and an absolutely harrowing end for Clara Oswald.

R.I.P Clara Oswald.

Review: Doctor Who: Sleep No More

What's got The Doctor looking so perplexed here?
What’s got The Doctor looking so perplexed here?

Before I begin this review, it is very important to note that I absolutely loathe anything that is ‘found footage’, which unfortunately means that I am already slightly biased against this Mark Gatiss written episode.

Although, I must applaud how different this episode was from the rest of the series. Whilst Sleep No More was, in my opinion, far from perfect, it pleased me to see that Doctor Who isn’t afraid to take risks, and bring a style of direction that we have never seen on TV before.

The entire episode is shot in first-person, with the audience seeing things from different character’s point-of-views. As I mentioned above; I am not a fan of this style, but at times I genuinely liked it. Seeing just in front of the characters, with only a flashlight illuminating their path was hugely immersive, and made this lacklustre episode have a bit of a scary bite to it. However, having the whole episode this way almost neutralised the impact of it. After about 20 minutes of it I was feeling a tad motion sick, but I’m guessing that might just be my opinion because of my strong disliking of this creative choice.

On a more positive note, Peter Capaldi was fantastic again, and it was especially captivating to have him talking directly into the camera. Jenna Coleman didn’t get as much screen time as I would’ve liked because I think the banter between The Doctor and Clara is one of the best aspects of Capaldi’s reign as the Timelord.

The final words The Doctor says before the credits roll is “It doesn’t make any sense!”, and I have to agree with him here. This episode felt as though it was running entirely on the first-person camerawork gimmick. The post-modern direction of the narrative, with Reece Shearsmith’s confusing character regularly interjecting with a muddled monologue just didn’t interest me, and I felt like it had the opposite effect the director, Justin Molotnikov may have intended. I imagine he had hoped these monologues straight into the camera, into the audience’s eyes, would plunge us deeper into the story. But that just didn’t happen to me, I just found that these took me out of the flow of the narrative just as it was getting good.

Sleep No More is high-reaching but unfortunately doesn’t manage to reach the highs of previous weeks episodes. This doesn’t mean the episode wasn’t a pleasure to watch, it was okay, but the story just isn’t compelling enough and I couldn’t get past my hatred of the ‘found footage’ model of filming.

Unfortunately, for me, the best part of the episode was when they showed us a preview of next week’s episode.

Review: Doctor Who: The Zygon Inversion

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 03/11/2015 - Programme Name: Doctor Who   - TX: 07/11/2015 - Episode: INVERSION OF THE ZYGONS (By Peter Harness and Steven Moffat) (No. 8) - Picture Shows: ***EMBARGOED UNTIL 3rd NOV 2015*** Osgood (INGRID OLIVER), Clara (JENNA COLEMAN), Doctor Who (PETER CAPALDI) - (C) BBC   - Photographer: Simon Ridgway
The Doctor and Osgood with Clara…or is that Bonnie?

Last weeks The Zygon Invasion was a very good start for this two-parter, setting up all the necessary ingredients for a delicious part two, and The Zygon Inversion does not drop the ball with this quality. Thus leading not just to a tasty 45 minutes of Doctor Who, but to an episode that just leaves you incredibly satisfied by the time the credits roll, whilst at the same time being unsatisfied because it makes you want to see even more Doctor Who straight away.

Whilst a lot of kudos must be given to Steven Moffat and Peter Harness for creating such a fantastic episode on paper, true thanks must go to Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman for bringing this episode to live so excellently. Capaldi is an absolutely incredible actor, but his talents have been mainly underutilised so far during his reign as The Doctor. We saw during brief moments in the series his deepest acting capabilities, yet in The Zygon Inversion, these capabilities are allowed to shine brightly throughout.

Let’s not forget Jenna Coleman’s performance too. She’s pulling double-duty throughout the episode as both Clara, and her Zygon counterpart, Bonnie. Every thinkable emotion was portrayed wonderfully by Coleman; anger, vulnerability, sadness, resilience being amongst my favourites.

Osgood fans should be very happy with this episode because we finally got some character development for her. And it happened! The Doctor invited Osgood on board the TARDIS- but she rejected him. I know, surprise right! However, this was undoubtedly serious character development for her. For as long as I can remember, her biggest dream was to travel with The Doctor, but she’s realised that her priority now has to be on protecting the Earth, showing how she’s clearly evolved as a character, by putting others before herself.

All those in favour of an Osgood spin-off please raise your hand!

I had previously mentioned that the only thing that I felt lacking in The Zygon Invasion was that it didn’t pose the moral questions, like Harness’ previous episode, Kill The Moon, had. However, this quibble certainly doesn’t apply to this episode, as this may be the most morality based Doctor Who episode in years. During a spine-tinglingly superb scene towards the end, based around the mysterious Osgood boxes, The Doctor heart wrenchingly discusses the futility of war, and the importance of diplomacy; themes that are so relevant and applicable to today’s society, and also very close to the heart of The Doctor.

What was one of my favourite aspects of The Zygon Inversion was that the conflict was resolved in such an understated way, but it didn’t make you feel as though you had been undersold. We didn’t get big explosions, or impactful deaths. All we needed for a five-star ending was great dialogue and fabulous acting, both of which were delivered in spades.

Remember a few weeks ago, how I was jubilantly raving about how fantastic the final 10 minutes of The Girl Who Died was? Well, the final 20 minutes of The Zygon Inversion is like that- just on steroids. Although, thankfully, unlike The Girl Who Died (my least favourite episode of the series), The Zygon Inversion is a fantastic quality throughout the entirety of the episode, but it is risen to a stratospheric level in the final act; making it easily my favourite, and probably the best episode of this already brilliant series.

Review: Doctor Who: The Zygon Invasion

Could Osgood really be back?!
Could Osgood really be back?!

This series has been on quite the roll so far, with every episode being pretty good, and there’s even been a few exceptional episodes. Of course, I expected The Zygon Invasion to be no different as it was written by Peter Harness; who was the mastermind behind last series’ Kill The Moon, which is one of my personal favourite new-Who episodes. Harness and co did not disappoint. The Zygon Invasion is mad, it’s over the top, and it’s pure Doctor Who goodness.

One of the reasons why I’m such a fan of Harness’ previous episode, Kill The Moon is because of the important moral questions he made the central theme of the episode. Tonight’s episode doesn’t feature a similar motif, but this doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the episode as these themes wouldn’t be applicable in a story like this.

Although, this episode isn’t completely devoid of any questions of morality, and interesting scenes that really get you thinking. Midway through the episode, The Doctor and UNIT surround a church with Zygons inside, but they come out disguised as human beings, and one even takes on the appearance of one of the soldiers mothers, trying to manipulate him into not killing her. This scene was a masterpiece of sci-fi brimmed with intensity, leaving me begging at the hopeless soldier not to fall for the devious Zygon trick.

However, one thing that does detract from my enjoyment is the design of the Zygons. I understand that it is important to not alienate fans of the original Doctor Who series, but the design is so ridiculous and dated that, at times, I struggled to consider the Zygons as a serious threat. This is not a good feeling to have, especially when these creatures are trying to take over the earth, and I’m too busy trying to look past their ludicrous design.

It would also be a crime to forget that they’ve pulled off another excellent cliff hanger at the end of the episode, with SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER Zygon-Clara firing a missile at a plane with the Doctor inside. We all know that the Doctor won’t die, but I’m confident that it’ll be a lot of fun watching him get out of this mess; especially with the whole of U.N.I.T being compromised by a group of Zygon imposters. Clearly Harness has taken a lot of influence from The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (not that I mind, I adore that movie!).

The pacing of The Zygon Invasion was excellent, however. From the opening moments the action commences, making this episode a pure thrill ride from start to finish. Harness has created forceful action-packed episode which leaves you feeling satisfied by the time the credits roll. Another strong stride forward for the ever evolving (or perhaps even ‘regenerating’) series, with this episode really ticking all the right boxes, but leaving enough un-ticked to make us want to tune in again next week.

Review: Doctor Who: The Woman Who Lived

The Doctor and Ashildr together; but is she friend or foe?
The Doctor and Ashildr together; but is she friend or foe?

The Woman Who Lived is almost unrecognisable as being the second part of a two-episode arc, beginning with last week’s The Girl Who Died. The only real thread tying these two totally and tonally different stories is Maisie Williams’ ‘hybrid’ character. Just because the episode is very different from last week’s episode, it doesn’t mean that it’s any less good; in fact, I actually think it’s much better than the previous episode. This is likely down to writer Catherine Tregenna, who swaps out cheesy, out of place comedy, for quality dialogue and action.

The Doctor and Ashildr (or Me, or The Nightmare- whatever she wants to be called now!) get to spend some real quality screen time together, which I feel was surprisingly neglected in The Girl Who Died. This is a very clever move on Tregenna’s behalf because Capaldi and Williams have electric on-screen chemistry together, making their scenes together a joy to watch and wholly immersive. This dialogue also included some hugely intense discussions about the flaws of immortality, with Williams in particular showing some beautiful anger.

The perfect balance between comedy and drama was found in this episode, with a couple of truly funny moments (Doctor and Williams hiding behind a sofa anyone?) tightly laced with the serious drama that we’ve all come to expect from a quality episode of Doctor Who.

I think flashbacks were used to perfection to exemplify just how long and painful immortality has been for Williams’ character. A particularly haunting scene showed how she had lost all of her children to the Black Death, which brought chills down my spine.

The episode ended with The Doctor and a returning Clara in the TARDIS, with Clara saying “don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere”. This was actually the most gut-wrenching moment in the episode for me, because we all know that Jenna Coleman is leaving, and this just made me realise that she actually will go, and might not go in the most ‘peaceful’ way.

Overall, The Woman Who Died is not perfect- there is some very questionable camerawork at times- but is a very strong leap in the right direction, after last week’s slight misstep with The Girl Who Died. Tregenna’s decision to make this episode with a darker tone than its predecessor really paid off and the episode is much stronger because of it.

Review: Doctor Who: The Girl Who Died

The Doctor, Clara and Viking-girl Maisie Williams (@bbcdoctorwho)
The Doctor, Clara and Viking-girl Maisie Williams (@bbcdoctorwho)

The Girl Who Died kicks off the third two-parter of the series so far, but does so with an episode filled to the brim with Doctor Who brilliance.

Let’s just do a quick run down of the plot: This is basically Vikings vs Aliens. That’s all you need to know. This awesome idea comes from the creative mind of Jamie Mathieson – who also created the fantastic episodes (Flatline and The Mummy on The Orient Express) from last series.

Unfortunately, I must admit that, whilst the comedy spots were funny; The Doctor trying to fool Vikings into thinking he’s Odin by using a yo-yo was hilarious, but that doesn’t make up for an otherwise slightly Horrible Histories-esque episode. The Vikings were presented as utter toolbags, which was a bit tedious at times. The storyline involving Maisie Williams’ Ashildr was utterly captivating, but the rest about the war between the Vikings and the Mire was somewhat bland, and made the episode particularly hard to take seriously when they were taken down by a trap that wouldn’t go amiss on Scooby Doo.

One thing that I completely adored however, was that we were finally given an explanation about why the Doctor has his face. We were beautifully transported back in time to Tenth and Donna in the TARDIS way back in The Fires of Pompeii, when Donna convinces Tenth to save a family spearheaded by none other than Peter Capaldi. His face is used as a ‘reminder’ to himself about the good, and the changes he can make to time.
Once again, Moffat and co have delivered a cliff-hanger that leaves you begging for the next episode. I think this was an improvement of the previous cliff-hanger from Under The Lake because, whilst that one was good, we always knew The Doctor wasn’t dead; whereas, this time, I genuinely have no idea where the show is heading next. Who could Ashildr be? Missy? Clara? Perhaps even Donna?

Oh, and on another strong note, it looks like we may have seen the demise of those awful Sonic Sunglasses. Hopefully, The Doctor will go back to his ever-reliable, and less gimmicky Sonic Screwdriver!

All in all, this was an enjoyable episode, littered with Doctor Who clichés, but was ultimately made brilliant by the final, unconventional 10 minutes. Had the whole episode been as strong as the ending, it would’ve been in contention for best episode of the series.

Review: Doctor Who: Under The Lake

This week's spooky Doctor Who ghosts (@bbcdoctorwho)
This week’s spooky Doctor Who ghosts (@bbcdoctorwho)

For the third time this series, Moffat and co have delivered an outstanding episode of Doctor Who. I can’t remember the last time a series of Doctor Who started off so strong.

Yes, it has some of the traditional Doctor Who ingredients; running along long corridors, a small and doomed group of characters, etc. but that doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of this episode because it is all executed so perfectly. I feel like this has to be down to it being written by Toby Whithouse, who has created some of my favourite modern-Who stories.

Not only that, but there is still some brilliant character moments between the Doctor and Clara; one part I particularly enjoyed was Clara making the Doctor use some prompt cards, so that he knows the appropriate thing to say to bereaved shipmates.

Something else that was especially enjoyable about this episode is that the ‘villains’ of the piece were genuinely scary. This was refreshing because nothing from Doctor Who has even startled me since the weeping angels. The pale faces and blackened eyes made them terrifyingly emotionless and threatening simultaneously.

However, this wasn’t even my favourite part of the episode. The super-detective side of the Doctor got an (unfortunately) rare outing; he wasn’t just running through the aforementioned long corridors, he was using his best asset, his brain, to truly get to the bottom of this ghoulish mystery. At times I wasn’t sure whether I was watching Doctor Who, or Sherlock!

It was such a good episode that I didn’t even realise that my beloved Missy was nowhere to be seen, although I guess that’s to be expected considering her actions in the previous episode. Now that I’ve noticed her absence, I have realised that I miss Missy (see what I did there!) when she’s not here. But, you know what they say; absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Nevertheless, Under The Lake, the first of another two-parter, was utterly engaging from start to finish; with a cliff-hanger that genuinely made me gasp. Trust me, the only way you would’ve seen it coming is if you have your own TARDIS and went into the future to watch this episode.

Doctor Who spinoff announced for 2016

There has been much noise lately about whether Doctor Who is in danger, due to dipping ratings, but it seems that those irrational fears can now be put to rest.

Why can they be put to rest? Because the BBC have just announced that they will be making a new Doctor Who spinoff series, titled Class, coming out it 2016.

It will follow the youths and teens at Coal Hill High School (where Clara works when she’s not helping the Doctor save the universe). Therefore it is no surprise that it’ll air on youth-oriented channel BBC Three.

It marks the TV-writing debut for acclaimed author Patrick Ness (A Monster Calls, The Rest Of Us Just Live Here). For those that are unfamiliar with Ness, I can assure you that this show is in very safe hands indeed. He is without doubt one of my favourite authors, and I believe he can capture the voice of teenagers better than anybody else.

Here’s what Ness said about his new series earlier this evening;

“I can’t wait for people to meet the heroes of Class, to meet the all-new villains and aliens, to remember that the horrors of the darkest corners of existence are just about on par with having to pass your A-levels”

And as someone currently undertaking his A-Levels, I can tell you, I’d much rather go one-on-one with an alien than take my Economics exam come June!

There will be 8 episodes of 45 minutes, and the show will mostly be filmed in Cardiff, where most Doctor Who episodes are filmed.

As an optimistic Whovian, I think this can be a great show, hopefully like a mixture of early Torchwood with a dash of Sarah Jane Adventures.

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