After the use of a classic story name in episode two, the show continues to mine the comics, this time taking inspiration from one of the titles held by the Firestorm comic over the years.
Last week we saw that with Ronnie ripped from the Firestorm matrix, Professor Stein is unable to remain stable for much longer.
After last week’s info-packed episode introducing the season arc and bringing non-comics readers up to speed on concepts such as parallel earths, this week’s is a notable change of pace.
Whilst the show keeps the various plates spinning, the focus of this episode leans more towards character development than the multiverse arc.
The Woman Who Lived
Review by Eddie McGuigan
So, half way, almost, through this season. Half way out of the dark.
It’s fair to say that this has been the most successful run of episodes in many a year. Sure, there’s the odd droopy drawers moaning about this than and the next thing, but on the whole, it’s been pretty positively received. Part Two of the season promises to be a little more experimental – especially episodes 9 and 11 – but more of that at another time.
If I can criticise s9 at all at the moment it’s for its lack of great enemies – the Fisher King and the Mire are intriguing creations, but not nearly fleshed out enough, meaning they come across, unfortunately, as the Monster Of The Week. With the exception of Davros and Missy there’ve been no stand outs. Yet.
Unfortunately, The Woman Who Lived is pretty much following on in the same vein. It’s a cross between a character piece and a historical romp with a fair bit of jolly old banter, which, despite his protestations, the Doctor does well. Capaldi continues his evolution to be Doctor Prime as he wanders around with a Curio Detector. He seems surprised that it detects curios.
Catherine Tregenna takes a darker tone than Moffat and Mathieson last week in the fate of Ashildr and Maisie Williams manages quite admirably to get a lot of age into her young eyes. She’s not the villain of the piece, but that in itself is pretty much a catch all, over designed Any Monster.
The joy in this episode is in the dialogue and the drive and very much in the chemistry between Capaldi and Williams – this episode is very much Clara lite – and how the two old souls interact. The Doctor’s reticence to take Ashildr with him is beautifully played in Capaldi’s eyes, as is her desperation to leave such a backwards planet. The Doctor’s footprint is not as light as he would like it to be, it seems.
Rufus Hound, himself a huge fan, turns up as part of the deus ex machina finale which you’ll all see a million miles away, and is all a little convenient, but he’s fun in the role of Sam Swift the Quick and again gives more gravitas to the performance than you’d think.
The setting – 17 century England – and the Highwayman conceit – is pretty much irrelevant to the piece, it could be set anywhere, and could have any kind of monster in place of the Tharil-a-like we have, but it’s all pretty inoffensive and does what it does well enough.
There are ramifications in the actions of this story, and it’s all a bit serious and worthy and you just know it’s going to creep up again – and it should, or it’ll be a loose thread of Jenny proportions. It’s a better episode than The Girl Who Died as it’s way less bitty and way more linear, and the performances are way more serious – director Bazalgette calmly and understatedly ushers the tale along – but it’s unlikely to win any awards, despite the hype. The echoes of this episode will ring more loudly than the episode itself probably deserves thanks to Maisie Williams and Ashildr but that’s fine – it’s a new thread, and, whilst it sort of echoes Captain Jack (Williams is way less sympathetic than Barrowman in Utopia) it won’t bother anyone enough to complain.
After the early years of popularity during what became known as the Golden Age of comics; for a time, superheroes went out of fashion as many titles were cancelled, replaced on the shelves by crime and horror titles.
In the mid 50s, following claims linking those comics with child delinquency, the time was deemed right to bring back the superhero comic. However, rather than bring back the Golden Age heroes, most of the titles introduced new versions of the characters, with different origins, secret identities and even variations on their powers. In the case of the Flash, the new (Barry Allen) version chose his identity based on the Jay Garrick version he read in the comics. (more…)
The Girl Who Died
review by Eddie McGuigan
Doctor Who, we know, has to be everything to everyone. It has to be a space adventure, it has to be historical drama, it has to be a romance, a horror story and it has to reflect its past with a nostalgic glow.
Of course, there are people out there, feral, skitter people who live on The Internet, who will tell you that Doctor Who better not be a bloody romance/horror story/soap opera. They’ll tell you it hasn’t been the same since Dicks/Saward/RTD left and they’ll tell you, without a doubt, that You Are Wrong. Then they’ll throw a teddy at you and stomp out.
The Girl Who Died is going to scatter these Internet Dwellers like skittles on a Friday night in France. It’s going to make others punch the air in excitement and it’s going to make others scratch their head a bit and go “Really? OK then…” (more…)
In the closing moments of the season 1 finale, we saw Barry racing into the heart of the giant singularity threatening Central City in a last ditch attempt to shut it down after Eddie had sacrificed himself to remove Eobard Thawne from existence.
We rejoin the show with all that behind him – after he and Firestorm deal with Captain Cold and Heat Wave, we are reminded that Ronnie and Caitlin are now married, Professor Stein has joined the STAR Labs crew – the team is on top of its game and all is right with the world.
Before The Flood
review by Eddie McGuigan
Under the Lake has to be one of the most formulaic Doctor Who adventures in a long time – and more power to it for being that way. It’s a traditional story with a traditional Doctor/Companion dynamic and throws a punch directly into the face of the viewer for being so. It is, without a doubt, superb.
As a second part of the same adventure, Before The Flood couldn’t begin more differently and, indeed, continue to push against the traditionalness of Part One. It begins with a direct to camera monologue by the Doctor – some might say this is for the fan who doesn’t understand or like temporal shenanigans or paradoxes – but it allows Capaldi to showboat and talk directly to us about the story ahead – indeed, the scene itself has no plot drivers at all – but it is nonetheless a clever conceit which leads straight into a theme tune played, it seems, by the Doctor himself.
After those titles, we are we are treated – and treated is the word – to another type of Whovian trope – the mysterious village, so ably portrayed in The Android Invasion, for instance – as the Doctor and his friends search out the truth behind the Ghosts in the Drum and their reason to exist – a search which will bring the Doctor face to face with the Fisher King and his own mortality.
Whilst still giving us the action adventure of Under The Lake with echoes of Alien³, and the creepiness of not just a haunted house but a terrifyingly ghostly Doctor, we also get the backstory to the spaceship and the Trivoli undertaker, which enhances the story with rich layers of plot.
So the story is split in two parts – inside the Drum and before the flood – and each intertwine with themselves as the stasis chamber discovered in Under The Lake slowly begins to open.
It’s fair to say that whilst the Drum sequences allow Clara more space to take charge, she’s not entirely separated from the Doctor thanks to some timey wimey skyping, whose presence is felt in both the past and the presence as Capaldi continues to dominate this story with aplomb. The base under siege story is continued whilst the mystery behind it unfolds in a time travelling paradox cleverly realised by Whithouse’s intelligent use of the device. It’s a little bit Sapphire and Steel and a little bit Bill And Ted. To say more would ruin the surprises.
Guest star wise, Paul Kaye channels David Walliams as the now alive Trivoli undertaker and does a great if fleeting job. Sophie Stone as Cass is impressive too, and the fact that she is deaf isn’t ignored either. It’s great that her deafness isn’t seen as a disability at all, but used to great effect in this episode in a creepy scene which will have everyone on the edge of their seats. Morven Christie continues to audition for the role of companion with a great turn as the likeable, somewhat cooky O’Donnell for the most part, with Arsher Ali’s Bennett being the other stand out, scared but unafraid to call out the Doctor when required. Peter Serafinowicz is creepy as the confident Fisher King as well, and, as its body, Neil Fingleton is terrifying.
Again though it’s Capaldi’s Doctor who dominates this episode in everything that he does – as his ghost in the present or the rebel Time Lord in the past. He controls every scene he’s in as he scampers through the adventure – ably scored it has to be said by Murray Gold, who’s now less melodic than before but has begun to channel the operatic of Hans Zimmer – and is capable of showing a traditional Doctor but one still capable of seeing the bigger picture, and making alien decisions for the greater good, again an echo of Mummy on the Orient Express.
I can’t fault this episode – although I do think its more divisive than Under The Lake and perhaps less traditional – but I loved it, and would have Doctor Who like this two parter all the time. Again, there were no arcs, no old enemies, nothing to link it along, but with fan pleasing nods and plenty of comedy to counteract the drama and horror, this is exactly what Who should be.
Bravo, Toby, bravo.
UNDER THE LAKE
Review by Eddie McGuigan
In the olden days, when the Universe was half its present size, Doctor Who used to start like this:
It was autumn, getting dark, maybe a little windy and cold outside. Curtains were drawn, tea had, everyone on the couch. The haunting melody would drag that old blue box down a swirling tunnel and open up to some plucky guest stars with some pretty distinct characteristics in a claustrophobic base set slightly in the future. There’d be a leader, brusque but true, a scientist, a creepy and slightly untrustworthy specialist, and a few immediately likeable characters who you could envisage as companions to the Doctor. Just as we’re getting to know them, something will happen – a likeable character will be killed, a monster will appear…
…and elsewhere in the base, tucked away in a cupboard or utility area there’ll be a strange, wheezing, groaning sound and an old blue Police Box will materialise out of thin air. It’ll sit for a second, as if gathering its thoughts, then an eccentric man will spring from the creaking door, sniffing the air, followed by a pretty, plucky companion, eyes wide with excitement at the start of a new adventure. Before long, the man – known only as the Doctor – will be embroiled in the situation, with his companion a loyal sidekick, and he’ll take control of the group meeting various levels of resistance, from suspicion, aggression to immediate new friendships.
This is how Doctor Who used to start. It didn’t start with grumpy some-time companions working elsewhere, or with a domestic drama. It didn’t start with a convoluted backstory or a timey wimey arc. It started, it ran. And it ran.
Luckily, writer Toby Whithouse remembers those autumn nights, and how important those first few minutes were, and, to my absolute pleasure, he has recreated that perfectly here with Under The Lake. It is without a doubt the most traditional Doctor Who episode in quite some time, echoing tropes and conceits last seen in Mummy on the Orient Express, with much the same result. You get, in 42 minutes, true, undiluted, distilled and pure Doctor Who.
Whithouse also knows Doctor Who should be scary. Weeping Angels scary. The Flood scary. Osirian Mummy scary. Weng-Chiang scary. So he makes the “Ghosts” scary too – he even manages to make the Tivoli scary, with the help of guest star Paul Kaye.
The Base Under Siege trope in Who has been around since Davis and Lloyd went “aaahhhh” in the 1960s, and it never fails. Under the Lake has echoes of The Ark In Space and Revenge of the Cybermen. It has shadows of The Seeds of Death and Waters of Mars. It also apes other sci-horror stalwarts like Buffy The Vampire Slayer – the Ghosts are very reminiscent of Hush’s “The Gentlemen” with their slip/slidey approach, terrifying look and incessant whispering.
Director Daniel O’Hara knows the score too. An impressive set is moodily lit and cleverly shot. There’s only so many ways to shoot the same corridor, but this director has nice camera angles and long shots coupled with some claustrophobic close ups and the filters give an underwater, cramped feel to the base. Before long we all know the geography of the place, and fear what’s behind each corner.
Guest star wise Morven Christie is the stand out, and her character O’Donnell would make a fabulous companion. A former UNIT operative, she knows the Doctor very well, and he takes to her pretty quickly, it seems. The rest of the cast, especially Paul Kaye who has little to do than look menacing, are comfortable and very adequate in their roles, and the ensemble – a much larger troupe than in the previous two episodes – is very believable as the weary gang stuck under the water.
This episode, though belongs to Peter Capaldi who bounces off of Jenna Coleman’s much more likeable Clara like a Tom off a Lis. This is without a doubt the most comfortable Peter has been in the role. A couple of years ago, I spoke to Tom Baker about the role of the Doctor, and he told me this: “You don’t act the Doctor, really… that’s doomed to failure. You’re with him too long to try and pretend. You have to let him inhabit you, and before long he’s more you than you know. I was the Doctor before I was given the scarf, and I will always be him”. In Series 8 it seemed perhaps Peter was “acting” the Doctor, but, like all the actors, his second season is a lot more relaxed. His scenes here are testament to this, as he takes command of the room, eyes up potential allies and enemies and insults and charms in equal measures. He is, more than ever, the Doctor. His “card” routine with Clara is fantastic.
I can’t fault this episode. It’s a step up from the previous two, which were fab, and a return to proper, old school, scary Doctor Who, something it’s 8.25 start time reflects. It really is time to hide behind the sofa again with a proper, genuine and unique Doctor.
The Witch’s Familiar
Davros! I can say “Davros”! Look “Davros”!
You’ve no idea how hard it’s been for me not to mention something that happens right at the start of The Magician’s Apprentice, and now I have the same trouble with episode two!
Let’s get it out the way at the start – The Witch’s Familiar is superb – it is, as promised by Steven Moffat, a perfect companion piece to Episode One, but the tone and pace of the episode is very different from its earlier brother. In this episode we get some very Big Finishesque exchanges by an old and dying Davros and a guilt ridden Doctor. Guilt, and of course, grief ridden Doctor, as he comes to terms again with the fact that the Daleks have exterminated his two best friends and destroyed his ship.
There is much to recommend about this episode and much to talk about, but, unfortunately, lots are just big old spoilers, and far be it from me to ruin it for the millions who haven’t seen it.
Capaldi and Bleach crackle against each other in this episode, two thesps at the top of their game given no quarter and asking for none either, and both breath new light into the old dynamic, and more Doctor cameos thrill the fanboy. Davros’s plan is a masterpiece, something different again, and it takes all the Doctor’s guile to come up with a way out. But don’t think this Doctor is completely the victim. Capaldi shows more depth than ever before as the Doctor, and chews the scenery up around the very still Bleach. A Doctor confronting the Daleks is always something to relish, and THIS Doctor does this with a brand new, never before seen approach.
This episode will step on some pedants’ toes, it’s fair to say. Things are done in this episode which will be fan favourites and also enrage some. My pal Paul Simpson over at Sci Fi Bulletin pointed out to me that there is indeed a lovely channelling of Curse of the Fatal Death too and the denoument of the episode is not what you’d think, it’s almost Sherlock in its cleverness. Like the use of the Daleks of many types – behold a Special Weapons Dalek crying EXTERMINATE! – Hettie MacDonald uses fantastic sets, colouring and camera angles to portray both old school and new styles. It’s a lovely mishmash.
As well as the sparkling dialogue, and the clever ending, and, indeed, some comical moments (but not as many as last week), there are some truly horrible – and I mean horrible – fates in this and it has some awfully dark conceits, but it’s fair to say that all the characters are played out exactly as you would expect them to be, despite actions it would seem to the contrary. Again, this season is about identity, and nowhere is this more evident in how the main characters act in this episode.
For me, both these stories have been the strongest start since The Eleventh Hour. That’ll either excite you or scare you. This is very much a new way of approaching Doctor Who but in many ways it’s the no holds barred devil-may-care approach we’ve all wanted. In being so however, it doesn’t particularly bother with what people will think, assuming people will think it’s great. And it is.