Saturday 24 June 2017

WHO REVIEW: 10-10 "The Eaters of Light"

I can't help but feel a little sorry for Rona Munro. Not too sorry for her - she's an award-winning, critically lauded playwright enjoying huge success in theatre, after all. Her Doctor Who credits, though, seem cursed to suffer ignominious fates. Her first story, Survival, was fated to be the last Doctor Who story of the original run. It wasn't meant to be - it was recorded third to last - but it was broadcast at the end of the 1989 season and as such has been tarred by the reputation of the story that ended the series. Twenty-eight years later, Monro becomes the first classic series writer to return to write for the new series, and her episode gets the lowest overnight ratings in the series' history. I think that people are making a bit too much about the ratings of the show - they have gone downhill, but then, BBC ratings have been dropping across the board. The new singsong show, Pitch Battle, which followed right afterwards got even less. Still, it's a kick in the teeth for Munro, which is a great shame, because both of her Doctor Who scripts are rather excellent.

The Eaters of Light is quite an old-fashioned script, which isn't too surprising. A historical mystery that turns out to be down to an alien life form, the Doctor and his companions getting split up, some heroic sacrifice and there you are. A nice, straightforward adventure. It also features some nice, strong characterisation and a potent anti-imperial. anti-war message. It's arguable that following Empress of Mars with this story was poor scheduling, but it also follows through on a strong thematic storyline that explores cowardice, readiness for war, and imperialism. The surviving members of the Spanish Ninth Legion are the ones who ran away in fear; the courageous soldiers all died. Of course, they all come good in the end, sacrificing themselves to protect the Earth. On the other side, we have Kar, whose fear provoked her to unleash the Beast against the Legion.

The characterisation of the regulars is a little off. Not Nardole - he's spot on, ingratiating himself with the proto-Picts and looking happy enough to settle down and learn "Scotch." Bill, on the other hand, has caught the same weird obsession with the Romans that both Amy and Clara had, something that seems to exist purely to give some reason to explore the mystery of the Ninth Legion. It's hardly like they need a reason to be there, beyond the Doctor fancying this period of history today. It's also a slightly odd moment when Bill realises that the TARDIS is translating for her. Both Rose and Donna had that scene, but at their first opportunity, not ten episodes in. It's very in character, though, that she immediately then realises it's a telepathic field, sci-fi savvy as usual. (The lip-sync line is great as well.) The Doctor seems to have regressed to his season eight persona, all Tucker-ish aggression and criticism. He's viciously dismissive of "brave people£ and is apparently "against charm." (It'd be fun to see Twelve opposite Ten someday - his earlier self would wind him the hell up.)

There's some intriguing characterisation for the Doctor, who seems thoroughly besotted with the Roman Empire. Only recently he was expounding the value of their imperial rule, and here he glibly raves about the indoor toilets to a young woman whose people were almost exterminated by the Romans. I do love his quiet acknowledgment that everyone in the universe looks like children.

The science of the episode is pretty flimsy, but then, this isn't a scientific episode. This is pure fairy tale, with the Beast's dimension being very clearly fairyland, right down to the differences in the passage of time on each side. The fate of the soldiers, reduced to bog bodies by the creature sucking the light out of them, is grim, but makes no sense scientifically. People's bones don't stay strong because they contain sunlight, they stay strong because the UV part of sunlight provides the activation energy for a chemical reaction within the skin that produces the needed vitamin D. As a storytelling device, though, it makes perfect sense; it just needs to be approached with a sort of child-like logic. Oddly enough, most viewers seem to have more of a problem with the use of light to hurt the Beast, but this makes more sense. The Doctor suggests the devices have optical cancellation properties, and the Picts say it poisons the light. Presumably, they remove the wavelengths of light that the creature needs to survive (UV, frequencies, I'm guessing), leaving only wavelengths toxic to it, rather like filtering out all the oxygen from air, leaving only nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

It's a sign of how far television has come that Munro can now have a casual discussion of homosexuality, instead of making sly references to lesbianism like she had to with Survival. I love the frank Roman acceptance of bisexuality, and Bill's surprise at the ease at which it is accepted. It's a timely reminder that cultural attitudes can vary wildly over time and location.

In spite of the slight old-fashionedness of the story, it kicks along at a fair pace, and is all wrapped up by about thirty-five minutes in. After this, there's the final scene, which exists as a set-up for the grand finale (which is just about to begin as I write this). I don't know if the scene was written by Munro, Moffat or both, but it's a far stronger characterisation of Missy than we've seen so far this season, and for once, I can believe that she might actually be able to change. As this is my last chance to speculate, I can't help but think of the Alastair Reynolds novel Harvest of Time, which posited that the Master's own existence through time was bearing down on him. Separated from the influence of his other selves, the Master was capable of acting out of goodness. I wonder if we are going to see something similar to this when John Simm's Master returns. Finally, the Doctor says that Missy needs to learn to hear the music. I think that the music have been the problem in the first place.

Stray thoughts: 

Nardole tells the Picts the true story of what happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste. Apparently they were eaten by the Enzomodans, who communicate by digesting people. We probably shouldn't believe everything Nardole says though - 1965's The Chase told us the real story: the Daleks did it.

Kar is the Gatekeeper. I am not clear on who the Keymaster is. The Easter of Light is clearly the Terror Dog though.

So, the Doctor was a vestal virgin, second class? Was he not able to become first class because he's a man, or because he's not a virgin? Or is there something we don't know about the Doctor's past? Is this another hint that he was once female?

As far as I know, crows can't talk, but ravens sure can.

Best line:

"Complete and total absence of any kind of sunlight."

"Death by Scotland."

Monday 19 June 2017


I caught Wonder Woman on its opening weekend, but it's taken me this long to get round to reviewing it. Primarily this is because picking holes is often the most enjoyable part of reviewing a film, and Wonder Woman has very little wrong with it. I think we can all agree that it's by far the best of the DC Expanded Universe movies that have come so far, standing head-and-shoulders above Man of Steel (which I enjoyed more than most), Batman vs. Superman (which had its moments but was dreadfully flawed) and Suicide Squad (which started reasonably well but went rapidly downhill). Wonder Woman had, very unfairly,two things to prove: that a female-centred superhero movie could work, and that the DC movieverse wasn't doomed to collapse. Both of these it managed with aplomb, by being a brilliantly fun movie and showing just how fantastic Wonder Woman is when done right.

If you haven't seen it yet, I suggest you go out and watch it forthwith. And then come back and read this, because there will be SPOILERS.

So, the last time anyone attempted a movie focused on a female superhero was, what, Catwoman? That was thirteen years ago, and thanks to a complete misunderstanding of the character combined with cheap production and an almost offensively poor script, essentially killed off superheroine movies before they started. Sure, we've had plenty of superpowered and costumed women in comicbook movies over the last few years, but none have been allowed to headline. Even so, it's hard to lay the blame at the feet of DC and Warner Bros. because of Catwoman, however much of an easy target it is. There has been a huge reluctance to give superheroines their own films. This is apparent from the fact that, in her 76-year history, no one has made a live action Wonder Woman movie before (excepting a rather dismal 1974 TV movie). She's one third of DC's top tier trio, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Batman and Superman. They've had, respectively, eight and six live action films, more if you count their recent crossover and the old monochrome serials. Batman got his first big screen outing in 1943; Wonder Woman had to wait till 2017.

So, yes, there was a lot riding on this release, and much of that was squarely on the shoulders of Gal Gadot. Fortunately, not many people were worried that she might not carry the film; she was by far the best thing about Batman vs. Superman, outdoing the big boys in charm, style and bad-assery. In terms of physicality, she is perfect for the role, having been both a model and a soldier in her already storied career, but it's her performance that carries the film. Gadot's Diana is strong-willed, intelligent, noble, idealistic and naive, traits that are portrayed through confident writing and a powerful and believable performance. It would be easy for the film to fall into cheesiness as Diana strides into cabinet meetings and demands to know why she can't be heard along with the old white men, but both Allan Heinberg's script and Gadot's performance sell it perfectly.

Steve Trevor is understandably bowled over by Diana's physical beauty, but it's her courage and conviction that make her someone that he will follow into a warzone, along with his mismatched gang of sidekicks. I really enjoyed Chris Pine's performance as Steve, with great charisma, wit and heroism, but never overbearing or too arrogant - bravery, not bravado. The times when he stands against Diana are when he is genuinely right, borne out by his greater experience in "Man's world" and a real modern war. Diana and Steve's relationship illustrates the core theme of the movie, the dichotomy between humanity's compassion and beauty, and its capacity for destruction and cruelty. Diana is overly enamoured with humanity, unable to believe that their warring is anything other than the influence of Ares, while Steve has grown cynical and war-weary. They both affect each other, coming closer to each other's worldview for a more rounded perspective.

The choice of a World War One setting is inspired, miring the narrative in the very worst of humanity's warmongering. It's not surprising that Diana is convinced that it is Ares who is responsible for this horror. Patty Jenkins's direction is excellent throughout, but it's in the battle scenes that it's exceptional, in the valiant defense of Themyscira on horseback, the real-world horror of the trenches, and the liberation of the besieged village. In all these, Diana is the most remarkable element, quite rightly the centre of events, particularly once she has accepted her destiny and left for the wider world. This is the big difference between Wonder Woman and the other DCEU films. While they're set in the same grimdark world of cruel tyrants and the worst of humankind, in Wonder Woman there's a true ray of hope in the form of Diana. She strides through the battlefield on the front, a golden figure cutting through the dismal greys of No Man's Land. She represents something better than humanity, a warrior for honour rather than a fighter for war's sake, and that's refreshing after the stolid brutality of the recent versions of Batman and Superman.

It would be very easy to focus solely on Diana and Steve, but the supporting cast are also excellently cast. A special shout out to Lilly Aspel and Emily Carey as the younger versions of Diana, with young Lilly being especially adorably spunky. Connie Nielson is powerful and intimidating as Queen Hippolyta. Perhaps the character who most needed more screentime is Etta, played by Lucy Davis, exactly the sort of actor you wouldn't expect to see in a film like this and yet somehow absolutely perfect when placed opposite Gadot's Diana.

On the villainous side, both Danny Huston as General Ludendorff and Elena Anaya as Dr. Poison are suitably monstrous in their roles, although they are unquestionably second-tier villains throughout. I particularly like the use of Dr. Poison in the story, although it might have been interesting to have her, as in the early comics, disguised herself as a man in order to further her advancement in her nefarious choice of career. What I really love, however, is the casting of David Thewlis as the Big Bad of the movie. It was inevitable that Ares would eventually turn up to battle Diana, although it might have thematically worked better if it really had just been humanity's evil alone that was dooming the world. Still, it's made very clear that Ares' hatred of humanity is down to their inherently flawed nature, and that they are casually monstrous even without his influence. Thewlis is one of those actors I love to watch in anything, and his initial role as Sir Patrick is exactly the sort of role an aging British actor can walk through. It's his true identity as the God of War that's inspired. Underneath his ridiculously overblown armour he's still a thin Englishman, not the hulking brute that you'd imagine Ares to be. It's extremely appropriate; the real warmongers of our history, from Hitler to Assad to the blindly cruel generals of WWI have always been scared little men rather than mighty warriors.

And that's the crux of the movie: that heroism, and the cowardice of evil, can be present in anyone, in any guise, from any origin. While it's another film that trots out the Germans as a villainous force, there's a more balanced portrayal than most, with the young German soldiers portrayed as terrified and relieved when the carnage of the finale is averted, and their commanders are desperate to stop yet more of them being killed. Human beings can be cruel or compassionate, just like the gods of Greek myth. It's a noble sentiment for a popcorn movie about a warrior woman with a magic lasso. You'll leave feeling that Diana represents the best of us, or at the very least, a little in love with Gal Gadot.

Sunday 18 June 2017

XENOREVIEW: Alien: Covenant

I was chatting about Covenant with a friend during the build up to its release, and one thing he said was inarguably true: there is no need for another Alien film. In fact, there hasn't been a need for an Alien since 1986, when Aliens took the intense, terrifyingly suspenseful original and spun it out into an adreneline-fulled military nightmare (and I say that as a fan of Alien3). However, we are in the era of the franchise and there will be more and more new Alien films until the money stops rolling in, and for all their flaws, they are still enjoyable sci-fi horrors.

Alien: Covenant sees Ridley Scott continue the story he began five years ago with Prometheus. That film was deeply flawed, but I nonetheless remain something of a Prometheus apologist, and feel that much of the film's poor reception was due to the huge hype built up around its status as a prequel to Scott's seminal Alien. The problem lie in the movie's weird existential status, with Scott and the writers seemingly unable to decide whether it was a prequel or a new story. On its own merits, it was a fun slice of sci-fi hokum, albeit one that thought it was far cleverer and more original than it really was. As a lead-in to Alien, it was wholly disappointing, and the film fell uncomfortably between two stools.

Covenant, with four writers helping create Scott's vision, is still unfocused, but it at least accepts its place as an Alien film wholeheartedly, as well as a sequel to Prometheus. In fact, it makes Prometheus a stronger film, making some of the weirder story choices a little more sensible in retrospect. The utterly bizarre alien life cycle from Prometheus is laid down as little more than a runaway experiment, one that the android David has continued, creating a new stage of alien evolution. This version, beginning as an airborne spore that invades the body, has some similarities with the hotchpotch of monsters in Prometheus, but is perhaps more akin to the infectious version of the Alien that was originally suggested for Alien3. It hasn't the visceral horror of the the facehugger, but the so-called neomorph makes its marks, erupting from its victims' bodies not through the chest, but through any available route. The design of the neomorph is something of a success, especially its scurrying nymph stage, which would doubtless been dubbed "Rat Alien" if Kenner had produced a figure. Of course, the neomorph is just a stepping stone to the ultimate life form, with the final result being the xenomorph we know and love.

Well, almost. When the classic Alien finally reveals itself, it's a slick CGI creation, that is both faster and less cunning than the creature that infiltrated the Nostromo. The original man-in-a-suit had an ungainly, unnatural quality to its movements that made it far more unsettling than the ferocious creature of the Covenant climax. Still, the shower scene has to stand up there as one of the creepiest and most chilling scenes of the Alien franchise.

We're getting ahead of ourselves, though. Before all that, there's the tragic events of the colony ship Covenant, which leaves the command crew decimated. There's a big difference to those we've seen in previous films. Alien gave us a bunch of jobbing space truckers; Aliens a hardened squad of space marines; Alien3 and Resurrection criminals and Prometheus some of the least intelligent scientists ever committed to film. The crew of the Covenant are specialists chosen for the mission for their technical skills, and are also all couples, a requisite for a colony mission that needs to maintain close ties and build up its numbers quickly. It adds a different dimension to the cast interactions and its a welcome change. However, it's a large crew, and in such a frenetically-paced story, many of them are lost as characters. Really, the film belongs to three actors: Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride and Michael Fassbender.

Waterston is extremely likeable as the strong, emotionally intense yet very human Daniels, who is thrown into the spotlight when her husband (James Franco in a role almost completely confined to a prequel short film) is killed in a space accident. She exists in the Ripley role, that of the powerful female character that holds the film together, just as Noomi Rapace was in Prometheus. Some may complain that this has become a trope of the Alien films (even Sanaa Lathan in AVP fills a similar role), but I think a strong central female lead is a good constant to have. Waterston centres the film in the same way Rapace centred Prometheus, and makes the overall ensemble work. Out of all the remaining crew, it's McBride who makes the most impact. Partly this is because his character, the pilot McBride, actually makes it through the film, but he also brings a lot of charm and guts to a rare straight role.

But this is Fassbender's movie, as the twin androids David and Walter. He dominates his screentime in both roles, making each of the machine people distinct. He does make some questionable accent choices, but otherwise he makes the most of his roles, and is clearly relishing the out-and-out villainy of David, who has now set himself up as the creator of the next dominant species of the universe. His place as a sort of otherwordly Doctor Moreau is a highlight of the film, his disturbing genetic laboratory and the fate of Rapace's character Shaw providing more scares than the monsters he's created. Walter, the supposedly more advanced redesign, has had the emotions stripped out to make him less uncomfortable for humans to work with (they're basically Lore and Data from Star trek TNG). Nonetheless, he has a deep connection to Daniels, with some fine chemistry between Fassbender and Waterston. Plus, of course, we have scenes with two Fasseys opposite each other, which is going to sell a film to me regardless (although the droid-on-droid kiss is definitely creepy rather than erotic). I like that David and Walter are named to reflect original Alien producers David Giler and Walter Hill, but I'm oddly put out by how it buggers up the alphabetical naming of the droids in the franchise (Ash, Bishop, Call, David... Walter).

The film ends on a predictable but effectively chilling note, and the future of the Alien is ensured. We're still some way from the Nostromo's encounter with LV-426, and the semmingly inexplicable discovery of the Engineer spacecraft riddled with xenomorph eggs. There is a ninth Alien film currently in the works which fill, presumably, bring the story right back up to the original film. On the strength of Covenant, it's unlikely we'll ever see an Alien film that matches the horror of the original or power of its sequel, but there should be plenty of entertainment to be had on the way.

Thursday 15 June 2017

WHO REVIEW: 10-9 -"Empress of Mars"

By George, that was jolly good fun, what?

"Empress of Mars" is inarguably the most straightforward episode we've had this year, and in a season that has seen a conscious attempt to go back to basics, that's saying something. There isn't a single surprising thing in this episode; even that lovely monster cameo at the end is about as predictable a bit of fanwank as you could get with Mark Gatiss in charge. Indeed, this is about the least surprising episode you could get from Gatiss; Victoriana crossed with Pertwee, with a touch of Troughton, is about as Gatiss as you could get.

None of which is a criticism. Straightforward and predictable is not always a bad thing. Sometimes all you want is a good, old-fashioned adventure where you know who's good, who's bad, and who appears bad but will ultimately come good. After a few episodes that tried to do new things with Doctor Who but didn't really pull them off, going back to the old days and just doing it bloody well is a tonic.

This is an episode that exists primarily to justify some arresting visuals. Mars is always a source of spectacle, and the conceit of the British Army colonising the planet, red tunics against red soil, couldn't be anything other than gorgeous. Opposing the red tunics are the iridescent green carapces of the Ice Warriors, and the Empress Iraxxa, with her crimson visor. It's an array of red and green.

The Ice Warriors always were the archetypal big green monster, huge clomping lizards with pincer hands and rasping voices. They've been refined a bit since then, both in the Peladon stories of the seventies (on which, more later) which introduced the Ice Lords in their fine capes and glitter, and again in 2013's "Cold War." This is the new Ice Warrior that Gatiss introduced then, thankfully not slithering out of its carapace for a sneak around some ducts. Ice Warriors, to me, should be towering, clanking brutes, and so they are here. But that doesn't mean they can't be characters. While the bulk of the Martian cast are lumbering monsters, the main man Friday is a rather interesting character, a being who has a genuine reason to be conflicted between his ancestral ties and his current situation. The success of the character really goes to actor Richard Ashton, who gives a quiet and dignified performance as the lonely Martian. He absolutely raises the episode up above the sheer silliness it could have been, portraying the noble creature who looks sluggish and cold-blooded but is actually passionate and possessed of a delicate enough touch to catch a saucer in one chitinous pincer.

Also impressive was Adele Lynch as Iraxxa, a character that veered close to becoming a walking cliche of the "Aren't men stupid?" variety but thankfully avoided it. She actually turned out as a rather well-written antagonist, one who never let her understandably strong loyalty to her people lead her to do something stupid. It's a good thing the decision was made to allow the Martians to speak with an easily understandable voice style, instead of hoarse rasping, although for a moment I was convinced Iraxxa was played by Sarah Parish, since she sounded exactly like the Empress of the Racnoss from "The Runaway Bride." Of course, the Martians would sound better here, because this is their natural atmosphere - that was established as far back as 1969's The Seeds of Death.

The human characters are almost as important in an episode like this, and much of the running is held together by Anthony Calf's excellent performance as the "coward" Colonel Godsacre. A note perfect performance of another archetypal character, that rises above cliche by virtue of strong writing and excellent acting. Also very good is Ferdinand Kingsley as Captain Catchlove, such an out-and-out prig that you can feel how hated he is by every other character on screen, Most of the remaining soldiers get little opportunity to distinguish themselves, although Bayo Gbadamosi made young Vincey very likeable.

There are some lovely visual moments in the episode, from the "God Save the Queen" message to the stars to the sonic disruptors that kill the Martian victims in a bloodless but horrible manner. Most arresting is the Warrior reaching up slowly from beneath the ground, and although this calls back to "The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood," that episode was seven years ago, and so hardly fresh in the minds of most viewers. Although, watching the episode with a normal person (well, relatively normal), suggests that most viewers won't remember there's a difference between Ice Warriors and Silurians. They are, after all, both green, scaly humanoids whose females are surprisingly curvy for reptiles.

Gatiss has already stated that this episode was, briefly, going to be set on Peladon, and that would have pushed the very unsubtle anti-Brexit element of the story to the forefront. The Curse of Peladon was, after all, about the UK joining the European Economic Community. However, we did at least get that wonderfully fanwanky moment when an individual from Alpha Centauri answered the Martians' distress call. Not only was this a direct callback to the Peladon stories - the very first foundations of the Federation that will form two thousand years later, perhaps - but they even got the original Alpha Centauri actor Ysanne Churchman out of retirement to voice the Cyclopean alien once more. Not that it could ever be anyone but the Alpha Centaurians - they are the next star system along, after all. I'm slightly amazed the production team would even show us the bizarre creature again, although its probably for the best that they elected to only show us its head, and not the, ah, shaft.

Capaldi gets to do his best Pertwee in this episode, raging against imperialism and war for its own sake while threatening the aliens with a massive great tank. Pearl Mackie, on the other hand, gets little to do, her presence in the episode being mostly made up of pop culture references and an occasional note that she is the only other female in the main body of the story. It's Nardole's brief presence that's most baffling. While removing him and TARDIS from the story gets rid of an easy escape route for the Doctor and Bill, there is no indication of why the TARDIS suddenly shifts back to Earth. Is it down to something the Master did, and if so, how? And what are we to make of Missy's sudden concern for the Doctor? The only thing I can take from it is that the Doctor has, indeed, already begun regenerating...

Victorian attitudes: There's some questionable racial politics in this episode, or rather, there aren't any. Godsacre's only problem with Bill being a space police officer is that she's a woman, with no mention of her racial background. There's no racial politics mentioned at all, beyond "We're British, we belong anywhere!" which is distinctly odd, considering they've just come from the wars in South Africa. Then there's the casting of Vincey. Bayo Gbadamosi is great, but the idea that a black man could fight not only serve in the British army, but marry a white girl, is almost without precedent. Indeed, Gatiss protested the casting; his interview here makes an interesting point about balancing representation with historically realistic casting. In another story, it might matter less, but in a story about imperialism, it seems a strange thing to overlook.

Best line: "Sleep no more, my warriors!" Mark Gatiss namedrops his own episode.

WHO REVIEW: 10-8 - "The Lie of the Land"

The final installment of the Monks Trilogy looks set to be a genuinely interesting bit of science fiction until about twenty minutes in. "You're stagnating," says the Doctor. "In fact, you're regressing." So it goes for the episode itself, which singularly fails to make the most of its many promising elements.

To begin with, it's 1984 all over again, with memory crimes as a thin cover version of thought crimes and the Doctor himself taking up the Big Brother position. The Monks have completely duped the human race into believing that they've lived alongside them as watchful guardians for the last however many millennia, and only a very few are (somehow) aware of the truth. In the era of fake news and alternative facts, it's a decent attempt at satire. Although, the situation presented, with a small group staying in power by peddling an obviously false history and violently crushing any voices of dissent sounds more like religion than any political regime currently in the headlines (although there are plenty of countries, such as Saudi Arabia and, increasingly, the United States, where the line between politics and religion has disappeared).

Pearl Mackie earns her keep on this episode alone, delivering a heart-wrenchingly strong performance as Bill clings onto her reality ever more desperately. She really is exceptional when given strong material to work with, and her horrified reaction to the Doctor's betrayal is only bettered by her stoic acceptance of the necessity of her sacrifice.

Almost as good is Capaldi, who shines as a manic, powerful Doctor, grinning terrifyingly out from omnipresent TV screens, blithely lying to the populace and calmly instructing people to inform on family members. He carries the pretense of the Doctor's defection so well that the viewer can truly believe he has sided with the aliens. After all, there is a strong argument to be made that humanity doesn't deserve free will, and after all the centuries of saving us from ourselves, the Doctor might finally believe that.

The problem is, it would have been much more interesting if the Doctor had been serious. It's fascinating that Bill turns on the Doctor so suddenly. After all, she sold out humanity in order to save him, on the strength of her faith in him, and it takes very little to finally shake that faith enough for her to gun him down. It's a tremendously powerful moment that is unfortunately wasted by the Doctor revealing the entire thing was a huge joke at her expense, a highly contrived way of testing to see if she was still on the side of truth and free will. It even includes a glimmer of faked regeneration energy, which seems to have been included solely to spice up the early season trailers.

From this point on, events plod on with a certain inevitability. Missy finally returns, and while Michelle Gomez is as delicious as ever, she's largely wasted as an exposition source in this episode. Revealed in her prison, playing piano and basically hammering home that the Sherlock finale was a dry run for this season of Doctor Who.

Missy claims that her life doesn't revolve around the Doctor - which is blatantly untrue in itself - but her claim to have defeated the Monks in an earlier adventure also rings false. Why would the Master care if the Monks have control of some planet? Far more likely that she once aided them in taking over a world, and she is relating how they were defeated. After all, the Monk's memory control technology isn't all that dissimilar to the hypnotic network the Master used back when (s)he became Prime Minister. And do we think, for a second, that Missy is really crying over all her many victims? Not on your nelly.

The cast are, by this stage, strong enough together to keep the episode watchable up until the end, but they're carrying all the work and the plot is doing nothing. It's fine having a serviceable resolution to a story, but this seems particularly uninspired. Bill remembering her mum to save the day through her emotional strength is far too much like Clara's "blown in on a leaf" story, which wasn't very convincing when they used it back in season seven. And then - it's all over, the Monks bugger off, and everyone forgets any of it ever happened, in another dissatisfying retcon. Although they've turned out as more style than substance, I hope the Monks do return to the series, because there must be something more interesting to be done with them than this.

Links and references: Nardole uses a "Tarovian nerve grip" to disable a soldier, blatantly riffing on Star Trek's Vulcan nerve pinch and also harking back to the Venusian martial arts favoured by the third Doctor. His jokey aside about his training and his new hand sounds very Doctorish, in fact. Imagine David Tennant delivering those lines as the Doctor and tell me it sounds any different.

Maketh the man: I really like the Doctor's new raggedy denim coat.

The Regeneration Game: So, the Doctor is now seemingly able to control his regenerations to such an extent that he can emit enough regenerative energy to put on a light show. Apart from the fact that this was rather pointless in story, seeing that Bill doesn't actually know what regeneration is yet, it raises some big questions about how much control has over his regenerations. If he can use the energy with such precision, why couldn't he just fix his eyes himself? Unless, of course, those weren't blanks when she shot him, and the Doctor has actually begun his regeneration, which would actually be a brilliant way to end the run.

Best line: I should probably choose the Doctor's rant against fascism and fundamentalism, but I can't help but love Bill to Nardole: "I'm gonna beat the sh-!"