Saturday, 22 November 2014


I am a huge fan of Season 18 and consider it to be the strongest season of the show (the only other contender being Season 25, which is let down by Silver Nemesis). Meglos is unfortunately the weakest story of an otherwise brilliant season. However, Meglos is not nearly as atrocious as it is sometimes considered by fans and shows the consistent improvement in quality between Seasons 17 and 18.

Central to John Nathan-Turner's agenda for his first season as producer was in improvement on production values after the sloppiness of the Graham Williams era. This is very much evident in Meglos, with the spacecraft design, the costumes and the the appearance of Zolpha-Thura. Tigella is perhaps less effective as a planet, with the jungle looking a little unimpressive. More importantly, the brilliant musical score helps to give the worlds of this serial an haunting sense of atmosphere. As even critics of Meglos agree, the spiny make-up effect on Tom Baker is extremely impressive and disturbing. Meglos is certainly an interesting character, a disembodied intelligence manifesting in a cactus. It reminds me a bit of Vulthoom from the Klark-Ash-Ton story in the Cthulhu Mythos.

We also get Jacqueline Hill returning to the show in the role of Lexa. Admittedly her part as a closed-minded fundamentalist is a rather cliched one, with little for her to develop, yet she still gives a lovely performance.

The Chronic Hysteresis is rather less impressive, as well as being scientific nonsense. The scene goes on rather to long, even if Lalla Ward does a good job of appearing distressed by the absurd situation.

I always love carnivorous plants, so I quite like the Bell Plants, even if they are not terribly impressive. It would not be long before the BBC put Doctor Who completely to shame with the brilliance of its Triffid monsters in their own series.

Part of the charm of Meglos is that it is an old-fashioned space adventure that goes to strange and exotic worlds. The presence of Jacqueline Hill is rather appropriate, as it very much evokes the spirit and style of the Hartnell era. This willingness to create exotic worlds is something sadly lacking in the new series.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Death in Heaven

Phil Sandifer recently complained about reviewers criticising this last season of Doctor Who as derivative. In his opinion, those who make such a charge have nothing meaningful to say about Doctor Who. What I say is that I know when Doctor Who is not derivative. Warriors' Gate does not feel derivative, nor does Snakedance. Yes, those stories have influences both inside Doctor who and outside it. Yet this is very different from being essentially a rehash of other stories, in the way that Attack of the Cybermen is. Death in Heaven feels rather more enjoyable than Attack of the Cybermen, but it still feels very much a recycling of similar stories and themes. There is a lingering sense of deja vu about this episode. One feels that one has seen something pretty similar before, but can't quite remember exactly which episode.

Death in Heaven very much feels like a Russel T Davies story with Moffat elements thrown in. Arguably, it is a stronger version of Closing Time with UNIT and the Master thrown in. Perhaps it is inevitable that a story that brings back the Master, the Cybermen and UNIT will feel unoriginal, which perhaps raises the question of whether doing all three together was such a great idea.

Death in Heaven has some exciting moments and it is Michelle Gomez's Missy that makes it really enjoyable, but on the whole it is a slightly disappointing piece of work. The pacing is definitely uneven and the ending is a little confusing and clumsy.

The death of Osgood has definitely bothered a lot of fans and it is easy to see why. Killing off a likeable character is a risky move. I would argue that the last season has been a little too heavy on big emotional moments; they should be used sparingly. Yet in this instance, we arguably ought to have had a more emotion put into the death of Osgood.

Killing off Osgood was a questionable move and so was killing off Missy. I used to be very much in favour of the death penalty. I'm not sure I disagree with it, but I'm not convinced any more. Perhaps this is due to my conversion to Catholicism. Catholicism is ambivalent about the death penalty; acknowledging that it may be necessary, but not identifying it as an ideal. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the death penalty, I was very uncomfortable at seeing an unarmed and helpless woman killed in cold blood. The viewer is clearly encouraged to sympathize with Clara who demands Missy's death. I am sure Moffat did not intend this to be advocating the death penalty, but that is how it came across, much like the way Kill the Moon seemed to unintentionally oppose abortion. Would it really have been such a bad idea to have Missy handcuffed and frogmarched off to jail at the end? Why does the Master need to be killed at the end of every appearance, only to have the writers find some contrived way to bring her back? Lawrence Miles rightly complained about the laziness of writers who kill off too many characters.

As a theologian, I am very glad that the Doctor denied that love is an emotion. Yes, love is not an emotion, but a disposition of the will. Christian orthodoxy holds that God is love, yet he is also impassible, that is without emotions.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Dark Water

The first fifteen minutes of this story are pretty amazing. We see Danny killed, Clara venting her rage at Dr. Who and appearing to have him at her mercy until he turns the tables on her and then his announcement that he will help her get Danny back from 'hell.' This is incredibly powerful drama and gives Capaldi exactly the kind of material he can deliver like diamonds.

Things get a bit more wobbly once we enter the bizarre pseudo-underworld. It did seem remarkable that the Doctor believed he could take the TARDIS into the afterlife. I was a bit confused by the scepticism he later showed once he got there. Did he believe in the afterlife or not, and if not, why did he expect to find Danny somewhere?

The afterlife is somewhere that Doctor Who should not explore. I'm rather glad that this afterlife turned out to be fake, but the episode probably went a little too far. I know that if I had watched this as a child, I would have been troubled by the apparent conflict with my Christian beliefs. I agree with the Radio Times review that said the idea of cremated people being in conscious torment was insensitive and distasteful. This episode could have been very upsetting for people who had seen a bereavement. The level of darkness here was probably a bit much for younger viewers.

So Missy turns out to be a female incarnation of the Master. Most fans had guessed this as possible, but I had expected her to be some disappointing throw-away character like Kovarian. A female Master is an exciting idea and nobody can fail to love her twister Mary Poppins guise. Her pretense at being a droid is a nice reference to either Scream of the Shalka or Planet of Fire and the sort of camp trick the Master would play. On the other hand, her kissing Dr. Who is a bit of a throwback to flirty River Song, reminding us of the difficulties Moffat has had writing female characters. I also feel a sense of dread at the thought of the Master coming back. A female Master is still the Master; a character with ludicrous schemes that always scuppered and who comes back again and again. No doubt Missy will be killed in the big season finale only for the next producer to find a contrived way to bring back a new Master.

I don't have high hopes for the next episode. The Cybermen harvesting the dead and invading London is hardly a very original idea. This story is starting to feel a lot like a story that RTD did a few times.