Friday 16 September 2011

Quickie reviews: Doctor Who and Torchwood

Some short reviews for the latest episodes. Trying to stay concise for once.

If people like these, I might do some for the summer's movies.

Night Terrors

After the bonkers mid-year opening that was Let’s Kill Hitler, it’s nice to settle down for a more straightforward Doctor Who story. Night Terrors essentially does series two’s Fear Her, but more successfully, with the mistakes corrected - it’s set at night, the location is directed so as to be effectively creepy, there’s some genuine spooky monster action. While the conclusion is sentimental, it avoids being syrupy. Much of this is down to Daniel Mays, who puts in a truly excellent performance, while Matt Smith once again proves that he has a wonderful ability to act convincingly and naturally with young children.

The shocks and creeps are weakened by the extension trailing of the episode. This was filmed a year ago, and the dolls, which are really only in there to up the spooky atmosphere and provide a memorable image, have featured in trailers right back in the first batch of teasers for the series. Nonetheless, this is a successful episode, and, although it does feel a little slow when watched after Hitler, judged on its own terms it’s a solid slice of spooky Who.

The Girl Who Waited

This is possibly the most affecting and beautifully acted episode of Doctor Who this year, even more so than the modern classic The Doctor’s Wife. It’s slow paced and thoughtful - even the robot attacks are gentle and choreographed - and it perhaps lacks rewatch value because of that. Nonetheless, there are few episodes that made me sit back and reflect on what I’ve just seen in such a way. You have to forgive the contrived nature of the plot - a wonderfully bizarre facility with overlapping time streams running at different rates, Amy immediately separating herself from the Doctor and Rory in an unknown environment and pressing the wrong bloody button. This is only there to introduce a story about love, identity and responsibility.

Karen Gillan is fantastic in this episode, taking this year’s more likeable Amy and portraying a version of the character who is different yet entirely recognisable as the same person. Helped out by some convincing aged make-up - always tricky to pull off - she puts in an astonishingly affecting performance. Arthur Darvill, as always, rises to the challenge of being the sympathetic husband, yet gets a chance to rail against the Doctor at last. I suspect that, in his quiet way, he’s the most talented actor in the series right now. Matt Smith, although kept to the sidelines in a sneakily ‘Doctor-lite’ episode, is as good as always, mixing guilt, desperate flippancy to cover it, and the Doctor’s ability to be an utter ruthless bastard when the situation calls for it. Perhaps a braver move would have been to leave the young Amy behind and take the elder version, or even keep them both and deal with the paradox, but I never expected that to happen - a shame, as it could have been fascinating. Still, I get the feeling that change is in the air, and it won’t be long before Rory tells the Doctor to shove it - which could lead to an ultimatum for Amy…


The Blood Line
The final episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day, and what a letdown it was. After nine weeks of fannying about, dead-end plotlines and unnecessary excursions back to Wales, those that stuck it out are rewarded with a panicked hash of a conclusion. The explanation for the conclusion, when it finally came, was so vague and poorly explained that any bit of cod-mystical nonsense could have been substituted. Perhaps it would have held more weight if the Families had been introduced earlier and had time to develop into a coherent threat, but, as it was, it all felt weirdly inconsequential. The series’ focus on Gwen, the world’s most unlikeable identification figure, is a huge misfire; Eve Myles is simply not up to the task of handling either the big revelations or the emotional character moments. Not to mention the fact that the series, even in its final scenes, is continually jumping back to Cardiff and interrupting the mission with pointless phone calls from the husband.

Once the dragged out ‘climactic’ scenes around the world’s arse crack are over, the final scene at Esther’s funeral are pretty good. Shifty Charlotte gets dealt with, and the final twist, although utterly, blatantly predictable, is at least well played. It’s hard to believe though; if Jack’s bodily fluids can bestow immortality, there’d be a hell of a lot of immortals around by now. This scene, like the whole series, is simply too little too late. The pacing of this series’ development has been totally off, and the potential of the opening episodes was squandered. A crashing disappointment following the exemplary Children of Earth.

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