Saturday, 4 October 2014

Doctor Who- Series 8 (Part II)

7. Kill the Moon

Before this episode aired, I jokingly decided to give it the perfect 5/5 rating simply for the undeniably incredible episode title. Which makes it even better that Kill the Moon perfectly justifies that title by being an undeniably incredible episode. One thing I've always appreciated about Moffat's era of Doctor Who is that it is pure, genuine sci-fi. and this episode resembles that perfectly. Whilst predecessor Russell T. Davies occasionally drifted into action territory a few too many times, Moffat knows how to keep a show at its roots. Kill the Moon is, for me, the best episode so far of what is looking highly likely to become Doctor Who's best series. That's right, they actually topped Listen. Who'd have guessed?

Kill the Moon is a brilliant idea that could have been executed poorly. But yet, it was made to perfection. First time writer Peter Harness crafted a smart, intricate script that analyses and develops its story just as much as its characters. By the time the "big decision" comes around, every word that has been said prior to the outcome has made an impact. Not one word feels out of place. Kill the Moon is also directed beautifully by Paul Wilmshurst, who covers up BBC's poor budget with some stunningly framed camerawork. The final shot of the episode, a tightly framed close up of Clara's face under the moon's reflection, is not only breathtaking to look at, but simultaneously wraps up the episode's character work and leaves us on a brilliantly unsure note.

Whilst Kill the Moon is predominantly set on the moon, and uses this setting seamlessly, its best and most pivotal moments take place back on Earth. Particularly the episode's final five minutes, in which Jenna Coleman gives one of the best companion performances Doctor Who has ever seen. Every ounce of emotion Clara has built up throughout Series 8 so far is unleashed, and Coleman performs it sublimely. She steals the show from Capaldi, who again gives a strong, assured performance. I think I've adored Series 8 so much due to the fantastic character work put into it, and Kill the Moon was no exception. Add to that an emotionally intense script, some beautiful visuals and a healthy dose of pure, modern sci-fi and you have one of the greatest episodes Doctor Who has ever put out. Kill the Moon is immaculate.

8. Mummy on the Orient Express

It was always going to be difficult to be the episode after Kill the Moon. I mean, that's one hell of a tough act to follow. Mummy on the Orient Express may not be the polarizing, love-it-or-hate-it counterpart to last week, but it's a superb episode in its own right. It's fun, it's scary, and it's superbly directed. So it pretty much lies with the rest of this series, then. 

Visually, this is masterful. The costume and set design are extraordinary, and Paul Wilmshurst has again shown he has a flare for interesting camerawork. The way he framed and shot the mummy sequences was terrific, and occasionally genuinely creepy. The episode is very well written too; the pacing is evenly spread throughout and there's a perfect blend of dialogue and action, with the two combining wonderfully in the final act. It isn't overly complicated and it's all perfectly easy to follow, whilst not being insulting, with Murray Gold providing some more fantastic music that compliments the episode's style and tone perfectly. In terms of this episodes individual story, things were pretty much faultless. 

But the Clara story was handled weirdly. Whilst I liked the way it was done, I can understand why others didn't. If you're reading this then I'm assuming you will have seen the episode, so I'll go ahead and talk about it. It all felt a bit rushed. I liked the way it was handled, I really did, but I almost wish we had an episode inbetween Kill the Moon and this installment where the Doctor could be away from Clara, just to give her defining moment last week that touch of extra power. Everything in this episode was written perfectly, but I just wanted to see the moment that Clara told the Doctor "One more trip". To end Kill the Moon with her storming off and begin Mummy on the Orient Express with her smiling by the Doctor's side just felt a bit jarring. But, this cannot be put to blame for this episode as for what it was, they executed it well, and it's added an interesting dynamic between the two. Here's hoping next week keeps up this incredible standard. 

9. Flatline

Doctor Who has had a truly incredible run this series, particularly the last three episodes. The Caretaker, Kill the Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express are three of the best episodes this series has produced, and despite my monumental excitement for Flatline, I worried that four fantastic episodes in a row might be a bit of a push. Unfortunately, it was. Flatline is a good episode, but nowhere near the standard of what we've seen over the last few weeks. It's the second consecutive episode written by newcomer Jamie Mathieson, but whereas last week's Mummy built to a near faultless final act, Flatline struggles to reach a satisfying conclusion. It's as visually pleasing as everything else we've seen this series, and Capaldi and Coleman are reliably brilliant again, but due to the high standard we've had so far, Flatline is a rather low point. 

Everything before the conclusion though is pretty good stuff. The idea of a two dimensional creature is genius, creating an unnerving sense of threat the entire way through. But, even better, these creatures fall into the "fear is in the unknown" category, much like the "creatures" from Listen. Everything is scarier when we can't see it, and Flatline is a contender for the scariest episode this series. Douglas Mackinnon returned again as director, and proved that he is one of the very best Doctor Who has to offer. He knows exactly how to frame the frightening moments to heighten their intensity even more, and there are some terrifically scary set pieces here. The plot bounces along at a nice pace, and the idea of a shrinking TARDIS is utilised perfectly, with some great comedic moments littered through out. The first two acts were pretty great overall, really. 

But despite an interestingly creepy advancement in the Missy subplot, the final act sort of falls apart. The idea of using a painting to trick the now three dimensional creatures felt cheap and easy, and almost becomes unrealistic considering these creatures are deemed smart enough to adapt through dimensions. The way the TARDIS was returned to standard size worked nicely, and the Doctor's speech was well written, but he didn't really do anything that he couldn't have just instructed Clara to do herself. I can't help but think Mathieson wrote himself into a bit of a corner. That said, the parallels between Clara and the Doctor were effective and I'm glad the Danny story was advanced so suddenly after Clara had lied to them both last week. Overall, Flatline is still a solid episode of Doctor Who and better than most of the stuff we saw last year, but when you contrast it with the likes of Into the Dalek, Listen, Kill the Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express (all of which rate as classics in my eyes), this week just felt like a bit of a step down. 

10. In the Forest of the Night

I have decided that it is tradition for every series of Doctor Who (bar perhaps the fourth) to feature a really poor episode. Series 1 had Boom Town, 2 had Love and Monsters, 3 had Daleks in Manhatten and so on. Series 8 had been pretty sublime, up until what we just saw with In the Forest of the Night, which probably ranks as the weakest episode since last year's diabolical The Rings of Akhaten. This series has been undeniably darker than anything we've seen for a while, which is why this episode feels so out of place. Loaded with annoying children and building on a story (and I use that word very loosely) that seems more like something from The Sarah Jane Adventures than from a series that also offered episodes like Listen and Kill the Moon. Here's hoping that first time writer Frank Cottrell Boyce does not return next year. 

What's most annoying about this episode is that there are some genuinely nice touches littered throughout. The idea of an entire forest growing over night is a big set up, but the episode just doesn't commit to it properly. It's visually wonderful, from the overhead shots of the forest to the space view of a now green Earth, but there isn't really anything beyond that. The numerous fairy tale references all feel wasted and the plot falls apart not long after the opening sequence. Had the story delved a bit deeper into some more mature themes and ideas then maybe this episode could've been lifted a little, but it wound up a failed attempt at a fairy tale with not enough ideas to back up its aim. By the time wolves and tigers appear for about three minutes, and are then immediately forgotten, all hope just about seems lost. 

But, somehow, both Capaldi and Coleman are great again. Even if the script fails them (though the call back to Kill the Moon was a nice touch), they pack the episode with enough life so that it never really feels boring. There's some more slight advances with regards to Danny, but he feels pretty wasted here. He just sort of marches around and shouts at children, but never really manages to do anything besides scare a tiger with a torch. But let's not go into that. There's a further little hint at what's to come in the finale with yet another seemingly random Missy scene, but with that, this episode feels more like a stepping stone to bridge us between Flatline and the series finale. Here's hoping it follows suit from the rest of the series, and not from In the Forest of the Night, as I'm not sure I could take that again. 

11. Dark Water

Contains spoilers.

Well if that doesn't make up for last week then I don't know what will. Giving Dark Water a score is difficult; I don't really want to give this a full five stars when it's only half of the story, but at the same time, there is nothing here that can be faulted. I've made it no secret that I have adored Doctor Who's eighth series (bar last week's middling installment), and Dark Water is setting up what could finish as one of the show's best finales. Moffat's script is potentially one of the best he's ever written, Capaldi, Coleman and Anderson all give outstanding performances, the story is dark and is fitted appropriately for its 45 minute run-time and the ending twist is brilliantly devised and played out. In a series full of potential classics (Listen, Kill the Moon and Mummy on the Orient Express shall never be forgotten), Dark Water extraordinarily finds its place among that top tier. It is just that good. 

Moffat is a polarizing writer. Whilst almost all viewers consider his work pre-showrunner to be sublime, there are frequent issues that have arisen since he took control of the show. Sometimes these issues are over-complication, sometimes these issues are based around poor logic, and sometimes these issues involve sheer absurdity. Back in my review for Deep Breath eleven weeks ago, I said that I wanted a darker yet simpler series of Doctor Who, and Moffat has done just that. Nothing here is overtly complicated, nothing here struggles in terms of logic, and nothing here is particularly absurd. But then, after "the moon is an egg", what even is absurdity in Doctor Who? Dark Water is expertly written, from Danny's death scene in the episode's opening scene to Clara's immediate reaction, all the way to the reveal of Missy's identity in the episode's climax, not one word feels out of place. The story flows from beginning to end, leaving us on three cliffhangers, none of which I have any idea what will happen next. Moffat may not always get it right, but when he does (as this proves), the result is a knockout. 

Along with Moffat's script, Dark Water looks great visually, too. Pretty much every episode this series has been directed with precision and control, and this is no exception. The opening scene is effectively shot; not seeing Danny get hit by the car heightens the emotional effect we feel for Clara. Even though any mildly intelligent viewer would know that Danny was coming back later in the episode (I'm pretty certain we were meant to), we need to react emotionally to sympathise with Clara, and the writing and direction enable this perfectly. Clara's TARDIS keys sequence was also excellently framed, as were the shots and visual appearance of the skeleton tanks further in. Dark Water is not only a fantastic piece of television, but one of the best episodes of British TV I've seen all year. I'm struggling to fault any aspect of this episode, but everything from the writing, to the acting, to the score, to the direction was about as flawless as it comes. Capaldi, Coleman and Anderson are all reliably brilliant again, but this episode is stolen by Michelle Gomez, who's portrayal of Missy is fantastic enough, even before that twist. 

And what a twist it is. 

12. Death in Heaven

Contains spoilers.

Well, shit. Doctor Who's eighth series has been, for me, nothing short of incredible. Sure it had a misfire in the form of a spontaneous forest, but no series of this show is perfect. Series 8 just about had it all and it was going perfectly. Until now. Death in Heaven may potentially go down as the most disappointing hour of television all year. It just did not work any shape or form, an ultimately wound up an incoherent mess of an episode. Hardly any of the plot threads wound together properly, an entire season's worth of character development was rendered pointless by the end, and it suffered from so many logical issues that any attempt of emotion fell astonishingly flat. I don't wish to end this post on a downer, but I sort of have to.

There were some nice touches littered throughout. The Doctor and Clara's final hug was effective and the Doctor's reaction after following Missy's coordinates was well done, but besides that, everything else sort of fell apart. Danny becoming an emotional Cyberman didn't make sense and Missy essentially became a comic relief character rather than a villain (and don't get me started on her death). The idea of the "pollen rain" bordered on idiotic, the plane felt like a set piece for the sake of being a set piece rather than serving any purpose to the episode's plot, and pretty much every scene involving Kate Stewart became almost unbearable to watch. Danny returning the kid to the world was nice, but felt entirely out of place with his character, and changing the opening credits to help back up the world's most obvious red herring was just a bit offensive. But hey, at least Osgood is back! Right? It's not as if they gave her a mind-numbingly stupid death scene involving the world's most oblivious guards, is it? Hmm?

Also, when will Moffat let Matt Smith go? Smith is my favourite Doctor, but it's about time they gave up referencing him now. As if Osgood's bow tie wasn't enough, we actually had to go and see him in a flashback again. It sort of hurt, a bit. I do believe Moffat is a talented writer, and I still believe Series 8 has been terrific, but this was just a mess, I was so impressed with last week's Dark Water; it was a superb setup, which unfortunately led to a major meltdown. This episode gained some focus in the final scene in the cafe, but even that was brought down by Clara and the Doctor lying to each other. I understand why they did it, it just wasn't necessary and seemed to forget all the character work done with Clara and the Doctor throughout this series. Season 8 has been a Doctor Who highlight, though, even if its finale let it down. There have been some misfires, but there have also been a few all-time classics, and a hell of a lot of episodes that weren't far off. And in a show on its eighth series, that is something worth praising.


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