Sunday 28 October 2012


Entangled is a step back in the right direction for the Dwarfers. It manages to juggle three disparate sci-fi plot strands, and just about manages from collapsing under the weight, spurred along by a succession of successful, rapid-fire gags. The A-plot backs the episode up nicely, with the recurring coincidences being a far more successful running gag than the previous episodes have managed. The sci-fi oriented episode of Red Dwarf have always done well, as long as there’s enough mileage to be gained from the central concept. Having Kryten and the Cat become quantum entangled is a cute idea, if presented completely nonsensically, but would have run out steam pretty quickly on its. Instead, it runs alongside two successive B-plots. The Biologically-Engineered Garbage Gobblers, or BEGGS, are just GELFs under a new name. The ropey costumes make them look like particularly battered Kinatawowi from Series VI or VII, but they serve their purpose, providing some decent comedy material while Lister tries to persuade to deactivate his ‘knacker cracker’ groin exploder. Just when it looks like they’re going to run out of funny material for these guys, they kill them off, and move onto the next sequence.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

The Anniversary takes shape

Finally, details are creeping out concerning the plans for Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary. Nothing much on the plans for the TV series, although the second half of series 7 has been outlined (two episodes from Mark Gatiss and one from Neil Gaiman!), but the expanded universe continues expanding.

An audio event was a dead cert, but the surprising thing is that the BBC and Big Finish are joining forces to create a series of audiobooks. Sounds like they'll be along the same lines as the Companion Chronicles series, with a main narrator and a guest voice. Sounds like a great idea; the rights issues can be circumvented, allowing Big Finish to bring their expertise to the new Doctors. This audio alliance is planning a  run of stories, one for each Doctor, one per month right through to an eleventh Doctor story in November. The first story has been named as Hunters from Earth, is narrated by Carole Ann Ford, as Susan, and is set before the very first episode of the TV series. Exciting stuff, and it's great news that we'll be getting a new ninth Doctor story (there were so very few during Eccleston's brief run), although how my wallet will deal with eleven audiobooks is another matter.

IDW, the current owners of Doctor Who's international comic rights, will be going down a similar route. This series, entitled Prisoners in Time, will be twelve issues long, with an adventure for each Doctor. What of issue twelve? Well, an eleven-Doctor team-up is the sort of thing only the comics can really do...

Finally, BBC books are republishing eleven novels - once again, one for each Doctor. The list has been released, to some discussion. They're not the books I'd have chosen to represent the series, but there are some crackers in there. Last of the Gaderene is a great bit of traditionally-styled third Doctor fun, while Only Human is the best of the ninth Doctor's limited run. There's a few there I haven't read yet, so I may well pick them up, and the new covers are absolutely gorgeous. It's a shame that there a no Virgin novels in the pack, but I guess that's a rights thing. It's odd that they've chosen the novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks; it's a great book, but stretching it to match the others in format will take some big old type. Surely it would have made more sense to release that as part of a third run of novelisation reprints, and use an original novel for the seventh Doctor release?

If you're interested, my line-up would have been (assuming no Virgin novels allowed and no duplication of authors):

The Time Travellers by Simon Guerrier
The Final Snaction by Steve Lyons
Last of the Gaderene by Mark Gatiss
Festival of Death by Jonathan Morriss
can't suggest a fifth Doctor one without resorting to the Virgin MAs (Crystal Bucephalus by Craig Hinton for the record)
The Shadow in the Glass by Stephen Cole and Justin Richards
Heritage by Dale Smith
The Year of Intelligent Tigers by Kate Orman
Only Human by Gareth Roberts
Prisoner of the Daleks by Trevor Baxendale
The Coming of the Teraphiles by Michael Moorcock
plus The Infinity Doctors by Lance Parkin as an extra. Damn, no room for Paul Magrs... perhaps we can have thirteen? The Blue Angel does involve a future Doctor, however briefly...

Friday 19 October 2012

WHO REVIEW: The Lost Stories 3.6 - 3.8


I love a Doctor Who audioplay, but Big Finish have rather flooded the market of late. It’s hard to keep up with all the releases  across the various ranges. Even if you have the money, it’s unlikely you have the time to listen to all of them. So I’ve been cherry-picking those that tickle my fancy. Big Finish have recently started a sneaky tactic, though; they release the first episode of many of their upcoming releases as free podcasts. The swines! Get me into a story with a single episode ending on a cliffhanger…

Thus I have just listened to the final three releases in the third series of BF’s Lost Stories range. I can’t say that I’ve been a determined follower of this series; while it’s fascinating to learn about stories that almost made it to TV, some ideas sound more entertaining than others. Some make me wonder how the production team could have let such a winning idea go; others make question how the writer ever thought they had a chance with it. This latest run has, however, ended on a particularly intriguing run of stories, and I was drawn in once again.

The First Sontarans is written by Andrew Smith, the man who was once the boy who gave us Full Circle, in 1981. I’m very fond of that serial, and it’s a shame Smith never had any more scripts commissioned for the series. It seems that The First Sontarans didn’t make the cut simply because the season it was submitted for – the 22nd, in 1985 – already had a Sontaran story lined up. Robert Holmes’s The Two Doctors was that year’s Sontaran escapade, and while I’m a fan of that gruesome story, I can’t help but feel that Smith’s contribution would have made a better serial. 

As the title suggests, The First Sontarans deals with the spud-heads’ origins. However, it has very little in common with such stories as Genesis of the Daleks or the Cyber-origin tales Spare Parts and Rise of the Cybermen. Beginning on the Moon, before heading to 19th century England, this story transplants the Sontarans into a historical setting, much as their first appearance, The Time Warrior, did in 1973. The sixth Doctor and Peri find themselves embroiled in a war between the Sontarans and the Kavitch, the latter having made their homes on Earth to escape the conflict. However, one Kavitch scientist, Roach, has been experimenting on his enemies to find a way to win the war. It’s very similar to this year’s  A Town Called Mercy, only this was first submitted back in 1984!

The First Sontarans rises above every Sontaran story on TV save the very first, due to some beautiful performances and excellent writing. Significantly, it brings the Rutans into the fold, not only upping the danger in the story itself but bringing all the elements of the mythology together. It’s bizarre that in all these years we’ve never seen the Sontarans and Rutans meet in battle in the series. The revelation of the relationship between the Sontarans and Kavitch isn’t such a shock; still, I won’t spoil it here for those who haven’t heard it. Suffice to say, it’s very fitting and the eventual reveal is perfectly played. How it fits in with the various stabs at exploring the Sontarans in the expanded universe I don’t know, but as far as I’m concerned, Smith’ s account is the true history of the Sontarans.

Following this, the series jumps further back in time, to the most famous of all unmade stories: The Masters of Luxor. Well known among fans as the story that was almost made as the second ever serial, The Masters of Luxor (aka The Robots) became famous when the full script was published back in the 90s. It’s a fascinating glimpse at how the series might have progressed, and is perhaps a purer vision of Doctor Who,  free of the dreaded BEMs that were initially forbidden by the production team. Anthony Coburn followed up the evolutionary themes of  his own script for the very first serial (An Unearthly Child/The Tribe of Gum/100,000 BC, delete according to taste) by extrapolating human evolution further into the future, and questioning what it means to be human.

Nigel Robinson adapts the original script, bringing it more in line with the series as we know it. In fairness, the scriptbook release did the same, although to a lesser degree (changing Sue/Suzanne for Susan, for instance). Robinson’s version refers back to earlier Lost Stories release Farewell, Great Macedon, in a laudable attempt to fit this story into continuity, and plays down the most intriguing element of the original, the Doctor’s discussion of God. Although religious overtones are still present in this story – it does, after all, concern a man playing God in his attempted creation of a new, perfect being – the downplaying of it on the Doctor’s side loses something. Surely the whole point of these Lost Stories is to see how the series might have been had things progressed differently. Changing them to fit the format we know seems to be missing the point.

Luxor is a slow, verbose, thoughtful sort of story, and could probably stand to lose an episode or two. It is, however, superior as science fiction to The Daleks, the story that eventually took its place in the line-up. This is a fine production, in the enhanced audiobook style previously used for the First Doctor Lost Stories set and The Companion Chronicles. William Russell and Carole Ann Ford are both excellent, as always, in their original roles; and, although I’m not taken with Ford’s version of Barbara, Russell’s Doctor appeals to me. Joseph Kloska is also very impressive as the third cast member, portraying the ultimate android, the Perfect One, full of self-assured, masculine arrogance.

Finally comes the second Doctor adventure The Rosemariners. Written by Donald Tosh, script editor through much of William Hartnell’s tenure, it’s a corking space adventure. The Troughton stories were famous for their monsters, and The Rosemariners is no exception; however, I don’t think the Yeti, Ice Warriors or Quarks quite compare to carnivorous, motile rosebushes. The Rosmeariners are the humanoid natives of Rosa Damascena, under the thrall of the evil Rugosa (a fabulously sinister turn by Clive Wood). Rugosa has plants of every description, including, yes, Dalek-bred killer roses. Quite how this would have been visualised is anyone’s guess, though they did manage to make a seaweed monster work, so maybe they could have pulled it off. It’s a wonderfully out-there script, covering mind-control, scientific elitism and alien dopplegangers.

Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury do the bulk of the acting, performing not only their familiar characters of Jamie and Zoe, but also much of the supporting cast. Hines brings the second Doctor to uncanny life in the way that only he can; you could easily walk in on someone listening to this and assume it was an genuine recording of Patrick Troughton. Other than the two stars and Clive Wood, David Warner attends as Professor Biggs, a new ally for the Doctor; he is, as always, a joy to listen to. I feel Big Finish missed a trick by making this another taking book-style production. Other than the necessary impersonation of Troughton, having Hines and Padbury robs this of much of its urgency and vitality. It would have worked better, I feel, as a full-cast audioplay, something achievable with only a handful more actors. Nonetheless, it’s a very appealing production, bringing to life an imaginative story with real verve.

Big Finish have announced a final series of Lost Stories for next year, featuring only the first, second and third Doctors. I’ll start putting some pocket money aside.

Thursday 18 October 2012


It’s one of those well-known stories. At a showing of The Holy Grail, Eric Idle quipped that the Pythons’ next film was going to be titled ‘Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory.’ The six comic gods tried to use this as the basis for a film, but it went nowhere. As they said, the “comedy just dried up” whenever Jesus was around. So they came up with the idea of a film about someone who lived at the same time as Jesus, and who was mistaken for him. The Life of Brian was born, and passed into comedy history.

‘Lemons’ takes a similar sort of idea, but entirely fails to make it work. The conceit of having the Dwarfers meet Jesus Christ is a diamond, and should be a source of some excellent comedy. And sure, it has its moments. The trek across Eurasia to find lemons is a funny idea, Rimmer’s fanboy reaction to another famous historical figure is a great Arnie moment, and the ‘Last Supper’ parody is quite fun, even if it is tragically unoriginal. There’s not enough though. The problem is, the laughs do dry up when Jesus is around. The bag joke is funny for a bit, but is dragged on too long, and while having Jesus start attacking the concept of Christianity (or Judaism, really, since it’s all Old Testament) could be used a source of biting satire, it’s rapidly thrown away after some very half-hearted comments. The best joke - the "Jesus!" "Yes?" reveal - was given away in the trailer. Geordie Jesus turns out to be a case of mistaken identity, but by this stage, it’s hard to give a damn anyway.

Rimmer really is the best thing in this episode. Chris Barrie gets the best material, and makes good use of it. His family were in the Church of Judas –  I thought they were Seventh Day Advent Hoppists? If Doug Naylor and the producers are going to bring on old musical cues to appease fan nostalgia, they need to remember that we’ve seen this all before. The Dwarfers have gone back in time and met historical figures plenty of times before. Apart from the impressive sets, there’s nothing to set this apart from earlier, better examples. ‘Meltdown,’ the weakest  episode of Series IV, did the juxtaposition of historical men of peace with futuristic tech much better, and got a better Gandhi joke out of it.

Oh, and I take it Kochanski’s coming back at the end of the series? “Finding Kochanski” has been mentioned by Lister once in each episode. Will she rescue them all from Simulants in episode six?

Good Psycho Guide: Two Chainsaws

Cultural Reflections: The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

The Culture novels are full of intriguing details that hint at a vast, under-explored universe beyond what little we’ve been permitted to see. In The Hydrogen Sonata, the latest novel in the series, Banks finally explores something that has existed on the fringes of the Culture universe since the very first book, 1987’s Consider Phlebas: the Sublimed.

For a long while now Banks has released a trickle of information regarding the Sublimed, those civilisations and Minds that have reached such a level of development as to take the next step in their evolution, and have left the material plane altogether. Tenuously linked to the material universe and still able to influence it in some ways, the Sublimed are distantly removed and remain the one great enigma of the Culture universe. This novel doesn’t tell us much about the physical realities of Subliming, the truth, inevitably, being beyond what our pitiful mortal minds can understand. Instead, Banks takes the more interesting track of exploring how, when and why a civilisation would consider upping sticks to another plane of reality (something the Culture themselves have resisted for their long history).

The results are characteristically cynical. The Gzilt, a semi-reptilian humanoid species, have reached the stage in their history at which Sublimation is the next logical step, and have seemingly decided upon it as a ‘now-or-never’ opportunity. Counting down their final twenty-four days of material existence, the Gzilt wallow in their petty politics, their martially organised culture breaking apart under the strain, after millennia of determined peace. A violent incident against a Culture ship kicks off a sequence of events that threaten to destabilise the whole process. Gzilt politicians manipulate their alien allies to cover their backs for long enough to reach the big day, after which, nothing will matter ever again.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Let's go meet the neighbours!

Alpha Centauri has a planet.

That's Alpha flippin' Centauri. The triple star system just over four light years away, the closest star system to our own. That's NEXT DOOR, in galactic terms. Hell, it's practically here. And to think I got enthused about Epsilon Eridani...

For anyone not in the know, Alpha Centauri is comprised of three stars: Alpha Centauri A, Alpha Centauri B, and Proxima Centauri. A Cen A and B are both Sun-like stars, A being slightly larger and brighter, B being somewhat smaller and dimmer, and they form a binary pair. Proxima is a dim, old red dwarf, possibly captured by the binary pair, that orbits them at a distance of about a tenth of a light year and is currently, at 4.2 ly, the closest individual star to the Sun.

The new planet orbits A Cen B, and so its systematic name is Alpha Centauri Bb (but surely they'll come up with a proper name for such a nearby planet?) It was found after four years of studying the tiny Doppler shift in the starlight created by the planet's gravity, something extremely difficult to measure accurately. So, it's something of a milestone in planetary detection, even disregarding its proximity.

The planet is fairly unremarkable in itself. It's very low mass, approximately that of the Earth, but its also extremely close to its parent star, so is likely to have a surface temperature of over 1200 Kelvin. So there's no chance of friendly Alpha Centaurians living there. However, stars with one planet frequently turn out to have several more, so the hunt is on for more Centaurian planets; indeed, there's some suspicion that a planet  is orbiting Proxima, although this is unconfirmed.

SETI are getting ready to scan the direction of Alpha Centauri for possible radio signals, and presumably agencies will be looking at sending their own signals towards it. After all, it'll only take four years or so for a message to get there...

Lots more on the discovery here:

Monday 15 October 2012

Planet Hunters

Just been reading the latest extrasolar planet news. The newly publicised planet PH1 is extremely cool for two reasons. Firstly, it was discovered by two volunteers at, and secondly, it's got four suns!

PH1 is a Neptune-sized planet in a system around 5000 light years distant. The planet orbits a binary star - pretty fantastic in itself, seeing that such circumbinary planets were only confirmed to be possible a few years ago. Now, that binary pair, and beyond PH1 itself, orbit two more stars, in a second binary pair at a distance of roughly 1000 AU.

This is described as a 'hierarchical quadruple star system" featuring a planet orbiting an eclipsing binary. This is unexpected. When the two volunteer astronomers, K. Jek and R. Gagliano, reported their findings to Planethunters, the professionals got on the case and took a proper look at the system, confirming the analysis. They were understandably dubious of such a finding, since common consensus holds that such a system is impossible. The combined gravitational pulls of the four stars would be expected to tear the planet apart. Yet, there it is, happily orbiting one pair primarily and the next secondarily (much as the Moon orbits the Earth, and the Earth-Moon system orbits the Sun).

It's all a bit of a headscratcher. Plenty more information at io9 and

Sunday 14 October 2012


My faith is small rouge one is restored. After an OK sort of start, the second episode of the series was a cracker.

There are fewer actual jokes this time round, but the overall effect is something much more consistently entertaining, with decent sci-fi conceits at its core and some excellent character moments for Rimmer and Lister. The early part of the episode, with Rimmer carping on about the whining in his ears, while Lister got soppy over his Father’s Day card, showed just how these characters should be portrayed now. The cast are getting older, there’s no getting away from that, so why not make a virtue of it? A whinier than ever Rimmer against an increasingly soft, gummy Lister would work. Not that we want Last of the Summer Wine in space (they couldn’t find enough baths to slide down hills, for a start), but four old gits on a spaceship has plenty of mileage for a sitcom.

Lister’s father-son relationship with himself is a little touch of genius. It takes a concept from the series’ past (the underrated Series VII) and uses it to create a brilliant new piece of character-driven comedy. Craig Charles switches between crabby old dad and defiant son with aplomb, his arguing with himself being some of the funniest material in the episode. Lister Sr’s drunken video letter to his son is brilliantly done, with just enough drunken slapstick, and leads up to the best moment of the episode: the fake guitar gag. Yet it furthers the plot and ties in nicely to the other side of the story, that of the new computer.

Rebbecca Blackstone gives a sharp, quick-fire performance as the coldly logical Pree, the predictive computer. Having had messages finished for me with disturbing accuracy by my phone (I guess I’m just predictable) I love the idea of a computer that saves time by predicting your own actions. Pree’s cold if skewed logic leads to some brilliant comedy moments, before providing the threat the episode needs for its second half. The episode builds to an effective action sequence, that is finally resolved with an ingenious tying together of the episode’s two plot points.

Some elements don’t work quite as well. I’m undecided on the Medi-Bot – it’s tending just too far to the annoying side of quirky – and the Chinese Whispers joke feels contrived and is not nearly funny enough. However, this episode hits far more often than it misses. The roster of vending machines, each with their own personality, is another reworking of an element of the show’s past (and presumably leads into the upcoming love triangle episode, ‘Dear Dave). If the series continues to develop along these lines, we should be in for some real treats. I’m very much looking forward to next week’s celebrity historical.

Good Psycho Guide: Four Chainsaws.

Best Line: “You predicted that I’d cock it up, so you cocked it up for me?”

Sunday 7 October 2012

By the fans, for the fans

If you're a Doctor Who fan, and you're missing the show now that first mini-season has finished (only five episodes and now we have to wait till Christmas? Bah!) then you should take a gander at these. Two fan productions, just released, that will help fill the TARDIS-shaped hole in your life.

First of all, there's the third and final part of Power of the Daleks, the reimagined version of the lost Patrick Troughton classic. Adapted, directed and starring Nick Scovell, this is twenty-three minutes of cracking Dalek action. Produced by TNT Films and with music by Everybody Else, this is well worth watching if you need a little extra Who to keep you going till the winter. Don't worry if you're already super-familiar with the original serial; Nick and co. have reworked the story into a riveting modern adventure. The Daleks look fantastic, and sound even better, with voices by official BBC Dalek supremo Nick Briggs. Watch part three here, or go back and watch it from the beginning.

Not enough? Prefer your fiction a little more literary? Not to fear, for the Doctor Who Project, the acclaimed Canadian Doctor Who fanfic series has just published the first story in its new season (the thirty-eighth!), 'The Mask of Anhur' by the very talented Robert Mammone. This is my reading for tonight, if I've been good and done all my chores.

Sorry to say I shan't be contributing to Season 38 after all. My on-again, off-again story has finally switched to off. I have had some real issues getting this piece right, and not enough free time to give it the focus it deserves. But not to fret - 'Timebase' is still a work in progress, and TDWP chief Bob Furnell and I plan to release it in the near future, before the publication of the upcoming Season 39 (already in the planning stages).

Thursday 4 October 2012


SPOILERS, naturally.

Well, I greeted the news of a new series of Red Dwarf with cynical pessimism. Then the clips began to trickle out, and my excitement began to build. This actually looked it might be a return to form. In the end, it was OK. I don’t think anyone can argue that the recent series hold up to the classic years of the show (which could be anything from series two to six, depending on taste). This certainly felt more like Red Dwarf than the misguided Back to Earth miniseries, although it was qualitatively different from earlier series. The jokes came thick and fast, and there were more hits than misses.

REVIEW: The Blue Landscape and Other Stories by Stewart Sheargold

Regular readers (yes, both of you) will know that I’m a big fan of Obverse Books, the small press publishers of Iris Wildthyme, Faction Paradox and other far-fetched fiction. Well, Obverse are branching out in a slightly new direction, and have created a new subsidiary site that sells what they term ‘modern pulp.’ Manleigh Books provide not only e-book copies of Obverse’s titles but also exclusively electronic new fiction with a distinctly pulpy texture. I’ll be reviewing some of their latest releases over the next week or so.

The Blue Landscape is a brand new short story collection by well-regarded author Stewart Sheargold, a name that should be familiar to readers and listeners of Obverse Books and Big Finish Productions. He’s a name to watch in Doctor Who-related circles, but be warned that the thirteen stories of The Blue Landscape are not the kind of thing you may be used to from the author. The only tale to enter the world of Doctor Who in any way is ‘Siens Fikshen,’ the final story in the collection, a gorgeous little story about a very young fan’s love for his favourite programme. The bulk of the volume is of a far more adult nature, focussing on sex, heartbreak and obsession.

A couple of the stories could be described as fantasy, and also as horror. The opening piece, ‘The Beautification,’ gets the collection off to an affecting, emotional and chilling start, while the later entry ‘The Eyes of the Day’ takes a perverse journey to a snowbound winter kingdom. Beautifully written if rather stomach-churning, it’s one of my favourite stories from the book, despite playing on a nasty idea that I’m particularly phobic to.

Several of the tales take place at the shoreline, the metaphorical border of two worlds. ‘Charlotte Imagines the Sea’ is a poignant tale of two friends walking by the sea, disturbing old memories, while ‘A Cool, Calm Place’ is a strange, sad tale of love and lust at the sea’s edge. The most heartbreaking story of the collection, ‘Painting Medusa Pink,’ is a tale of tragedy that also takes place mainly along the shore’s edge. A beautifully written tale of dreams and loss, it’s one of the highlights of the book.

Sex, both gay and straight, is the dominant, ever-present core of the book, and many of the stories either revolve around it or feature it prominently. We are, as a species, obsessed with sex, and Sheargold finds no shortage of ways to explore it. ‘The Sunday Lover’ skirts between eroticism and tragedy, while ‘Lemon-work’ uses sex to explore the mundane reality of our everyday lives. The one story I didn’t enjoy was ‘Hobbies,’ a tale of rape and a twisted version of female empowerment. Undoubtedly well-written, to me it’s unpleasant and rather offensive. Others may disagree, but it’s certain to provoke a powerful response from its readers.

‘The Blue Landscape’ itself is most obviously about sex and sexuality, but also about the inevitable loss of the imagination and innocence of childhood, and is another beautifully written piece. Other stories, ‘The Winter Tower’ and ‘The Garden,’ ruminate on death, or more specifically its lead-up and the desire for it. My personal favourite of the collection is ‘The Tea Party,’ a sexually charged, powerfully written and deeply philosophical meeting between God and the Devil. Exploring the true nature of sin and forgiveness, it’s an uncompromising dissection of supposedly modern Christian values.

The Blue Landscape is not quite what I was expecting from its author, and that is a rare and unexpected thing in itself. A collection of powerful short works which will surprise, horrify, entice and offend, it certainly makes a bold impression.

Buy The Blue Landscape in both ePub and Kindle format here.

Monday 1 October 2012

WHO REVIEW: 7.5 - The Angels Take Manhattan

So, that was Amy and Rory then. The end of a very short ‘season’ of adventures, and of a long and complex relationship between two young Brits and an extraterrestrial. It’s been an emotional and convoluted journey, and it’s ended like it began: full of temporal anomalies and plot holes. But my, what fun it’s been.

The Angels Take Manhattan is, primarily, Amy and Rory’s episode, but the Doctor, River and the Angels themselves all get some decent characterisation or exploration. Did it need to be set in New York? Not at all; it would have worked just as well in Cardiff or London, but the setting certainly adds something to the episode. The location work is a boon; the city is brought to life in some gorgeous shots, both in the bustling New York of 2012 and the grim night of gumshoe 1938. We have only a handful of incidental characters; the only one that makes an impression is Grayle, the collecting crime lord. Mike McShane (still, for me, the Who’s Line is it Anyway? guy) gives him a personality beyond what such a character deserves; he is, after all, just there as a plot mechanism.

The Angels themselves work beautifully here. I’m on record as being of the opinion that their first appearance should have been their last; this episode has given me reason to reconsider. They are utilised far better here than in Series Five’s two-parter, still recognisably working to their original MO yet being expanded into a broader creation. The concept of a battery farm for human prey is inventive and chilling; I’m not sure it really makes sense for them to need one, if they’ve got the whole of New York at their mercy, but it’s still a fine idea. (And who knows? Perhaps they need to avoid twisting the timeline to much. Time-shifting everyone in New York would mess things up pretty drastically.) While I’m not sure quite how they’ve taken over all the statues in the city, it does provide some memorable visuals. The baby Angels, creepy little cherubs, are fantastic, and their little giggle is quite unsettling (although they sound exactly like the Boos in the Super Mario games, which pulled me out of the moment rather suddenly).

If there’s a single concept or visual that’s going to stick in people’s minds after watching this episode, it’s the Statue of Liberty. Making the most iconic statue in the world into a Weeping Angel was surely an irresistible conceit for the show’s creators, and few shows would have the balls to pull off something quite so absurd. Even a moment’s thought shoots this idea to bits, though; I refuse to believe that there’s a single moment when nobody is looking at the Statue. Angel or not, it should be permanently rooted to the spot (except when animated by positively-charged mood slime by the Ghostbusters, of course).

The central concept, of being part of a story and the perils involved therein, is a beauty. It does, after all, tie in to the fairytale ethos of the series in the eleventh Doctor era so far, but is here brought to the fore like never before. In a series in which time has been seen to be changed again and again, we needed an episode like this to put some boundaries back in. There’s no drama if the hero can nip back and sort everything out again later; contrived though it may be, setting the Doctor’s story down an inalterable path removes some of his ever-increasing power, and rightly so. “Time can be rewritten,” points out Amy. “Not once you’ve read it,” responds the Doctor. Other episodes might disagree on this point, but here, it works beautifully, giving the story real drama and impetus.

While there are moments when the time-travel threatens to become the star of the show, Moffat keeps thing rooted in the experiences and reactions of his character. When Amy reads ahead, the Doctor is fated to break River’s wrist. OK, he doesn’t actually break it himself, but leads it to happen, and the resulting confrontation between the two of them is extremely powerful. Indeed, this is the first time that River and the Doctor have actually felt like a couple, be they bickering, flirting or faffing about with the TARDIS lightbulb. Equally, the friendship between Amy, Rory and the Doctor has never felt stronger or more natural than when they’re all larking about in the park at the beginning. It makes the eventual outcome of this adventure all the more poignant.