Doctor Who – In the Forest of the Night review

Oh dear. What was it I said last week about this being a consistently impressive run of episodes?

Let’s get the plot summary over with.

Everyone wakes up and the world is covered by trees. There are kids and one of them can hear the trees. It turns out the trees are protecting the Earth from a big solar flare. They do protect the Earth as advertised and then they turn into fairy dust and go away.

And the Doctor may as well not have been in the episode. He didn’t do anything other than talk to the trees through the girl but they could have cut that scene as the voice filter used made the dialog incomprehensible.

Oh, and there was a missing girl sub-plot and it turns out the girl was hiding in a bush for a year.

And that’s about it.

It gives me no pleasure to say that the episode is clearly the worst of the season but it is extremely weak, slight and twee. The problem is that it is not really a Doctor Who story.

Anything good about it? There’s a nice bit where Clara gets the Doctor back to his Tardis under the misapprehension he’s going to save them all from the imminent end of Earth but then tells the doctor to leave without her as she doesn’t want to be the last of her kind.

Nice idea to have a tree-covered London but it didn’t really convince. You’re talking about scenes set in the centre of one of the most densely populated cities on Earth and we never see more than a handful of people.

I’ll put it another way. At some point in the future when I come to watch the eighth season through from start to end I’ll just save myself the bother and skip this one.

Edge of Tomorrow review

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Here are some thoughts on the move Edge of Tomorrow.

I first saw the trailer for this movie around December 2013 if I recall correctly. It immediately grabbed my interest and intrigued me greatly. I expect I probably watched it numerous times. Certainly I really wanted to see it in the cinema and the wait until June seemed very long.

As it turned out when June rolled around I wasn’t able to see it in the cinema so it became another waiting game, this time for the blu-ray disk.

And here it is at last. Only it’s no longer called “Edge of Tomorrow” on the box, instead the tagline “Live Die Repeat” has been promoted to full title duties. It’s kind of like renaming “Alien” as ”In Space No One Can Hear You Scream” I suppose.

I suppose “Live Die Repeat” is literally a more accurate way to summarise the story but it comes across as less poetic. Or something. It seems that the new title is an attempt to fix whatever problems caused the movie to apparently underperform at the cinemas.

In a nutshell then. It’s the near future. In fact it’s the very near future as BBC presenter Jane Hill is still reading the news if the opening “we’ve been invaded “by aliens montage sequence is anything to go by. It seems the alien “Mimics” have taken over pretty much most of Europe. Russian and china are fighting them on the eastern front and an invasion is to be launched from England to open up a western front. Hey, just like WWII!

Tom cruise plays Major William Cage who is a military spokesman for the United Defense Force. He is summoned to a meeting in London with the commander played by Brendan Gleeson and is slightly put out to discover he’s going to be accompanying the invasion force to France the next day. It’s a refreshing change of the type of character Cruise plays as Cage is a complete coward and refuses to go. Gleeson therefore promptly busts Cage down to private and has him shipped out to Heathrow airport which is where the invasion force is gathering. There Cage meets Master Sergeant Farell who is played by Bill Paxton, although it took me a while to twig on that it was Paxton.

As seen in the trailers (so I’m not spoiling anything here) the invasion is a disaster. Everyone dies, including Cage. And he wakes up back at Heathrow the day before. After a few iterations of invading and trying to survive he encounters Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski –the Angel of Verdun – who is a poster girl for the army having managed to defeat the aliens before. It turns out she once had the alien-inherited power that Cage now has and together they try to work out how to defeat the aliens.

There is a lot of dark humour to be mined from the Groundhog Day premise. For example when training together Cage frequently gets injured. So to reset the clock Rita just shoots him in the head.

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Emily Blunt is very good as Rita, an acerbic take-no-nonsense soldier focusing on getting the job done. An interesting twist is that although the same thing happened to her in the past she has lost the ability and she doesn’t share the reset with Cage. So each time he’s starting over with more knowledge about her but she’s continually meeting him for the first time.

The movie weighs in at a little under two hours long which is slightly surprising – and slightly refreshing – in this day and age of long epic blockbusters. The movie is perfectly paced for the story it is telling.

There’s some very good use of London landmarks right from the start with footage of a helicopter landing at Trafalgar square.

I can’t really put a date on it. It’s clearly set in the future given the exo-skeletons that the soldiers where and the nifty hybrid helicopter airplanes that are used to get the troops into battle. But at the same time it has a strong feel of being set in the present day which I am sure is quite deliberate on the part of the film makers.

The “D-Day” invasion of Europe sequence was very impressive. There was one bit which I would have liked to have seen on the big screen where Cruise is dangling from an out of control drop ship as it spins around. It’s all comprised of one long sequence of him being tugged around.

It’s nice to finally see the movie, even thought it was a ten month wait from when I first saw the trailer. I still have the source novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka to read and I’ll try to get that done in the next ten months.

Doctor Who – Flatline review

Well, this season of Doctor Who just gets better and better. Last week’s excellent Mummy on the Orient Express is followed by the equally excellent – if not more excellent – Flatline. As usual, expect spoilers below.

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The Doctor promises to get Clara back home for some Danny date malarkey however the Tardis deposits them on some Bristol-flavoured railway sidings. There is a small complication in that the Tardis is, well, small. The insides are still normal sized but the door has shrunk. The doctor and Clara are able to climb out. The Doctor tells Clara to go off and investigate while he tries to fix the Tardis. He gives Clara a nano-tech earpiece so he can see what she sees.

Later Clara returns and finds the Tardis shrunk even more so it’s now exactly toy Tardis sized. (I bet the get them in the shops for Christmas). The Doctor is able to reach out of the tiny door and give Clara his sonic screwdriver. Clara takes the Tardis along in her bag.

Clara goes off and meets some community service guys painting over graffiti in an underpass. One young graffiti artist called Rigsy tells Clara about people who went missing and she takes him along to investigate. They go to one flat with an interesting desert mural on the wall. Rigsy explains that the missing person disappeared from a locked room and perhaps their body is somehow still there like in a locked room mystery in detective fiction. The Doctor thinks the “fluorescent pudding brain” might be onto something.

In another house they are in the next room when a police-woman is sucked into the carpet. The doctor sees a diagram of the human nervous system on the wall and realises the mural in the other flat was of human skin. The doctor explains that creatures from a two-dimensional universe are trying to makes sense of our three-dimensional one and they are sampling humans. Their manipulation of the dimensions is having an effect on the Tardis which is losing power. Clara and Rigsy have a narrow escape from the same flattening fate. These scenes are some of the most wonderfully creepy ones Doctor Who has ever done and are very gripping.

Back at the underpass Clara glimpses some murals of human figures, all of which went missing. The Doctor realises that they are camouflaged images of the aliens who sampled the humans. Clara and the others are forced to run and hide in a railway building. The doctor tells Clara she has to take charge. And she does. When the grumpy supervisor of the guys on community service asks who she is she says: “I’ll tell you who I am. I’m the one chance you’ve got of staying alive. That’s who I am.” “Very good,” observes the Doctor.

The aliens chase the survivors deeper into railway tunnels gradually picking them off. And each time it is, I will repeat the phrase, genuinely creepy. It’s a lot more creepy than a lot of big-budget movies manage to do. The creatures are now taking on three dimensional form like flickering copies of their victims. They are also able to flatten or restore door handles.

At one point Clara drops the Tardis and it lands on a railway line. She can’t get to it so she tells the doctor to move it in the style of the Addams family. We then get the delicious sight of the Doctor’s hand reaching out to physically move the toy Tardis off the line.

When Clara is reunited with the Tardis it is in”siege mode” and looks like a little blue Pandorica. The Doctor does not have enough power to restore the Tardis to working order and Clara hits on a clever idea. She gets Rigsy to paint a picture of a flattened door. When the creatures try to unflatten the picture all their energy goes into the Tardis allowing the doctor to restore it to normal size.

He exits and confronts the creatures who he now calls “the Boneless”. “You are monsters!” he tells them. “That is the role you seem determined to play. So it seems I must play mine. The man that stops the monsters.” He expels them back to their own universe.

Later back outside Clara is trying to get the Doctor to praise her for her taking on the roll he normally does and to say she was a “good Doctor”. “You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara. Goodness had nothing to do with it,” he retorts.

Well, this episode was both exceptional and good. The two-dimensional creatures were inspired and extremely well realised and led to many a creepy demise. I may have to rank them right up there with the Weeping Angels in regards to genuinely creepy monsters introduced in the modern version of the show.

There are just three episodes left of this season but I think I am safe in saying that this season is the most consistently good since the show returned in 2005.

Doctor Who – Mummy on the Orient Express review

As always beware of spoilers below…

So, remember last week when Clara stamped her foot and told the Doctor to leave and never to come back? Well, I for one thought that was pretty final. “Oh, the show will never be the same again.”

I thought.

So the next episode starts and guess what, Clara is with the Doctor again! Supposedly it’s for a final trip, a last hurrah, to say goodbye, but they are obviously on good terms. Oh, fickleness, thy name is Clara!

Anyway, the Doctor has taken Clara to the Orient Express, only this is some future Orient Express where the train is in space. However the passengers and crew have made the effort to dress like it’s the early part of the twentieth century.

And they have a singer singing period jazz songs. Only she’s singing Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” in a jazz style. Seriously. And it works! I love that detail, that in the far future whoever is picking the songs just goes “yep, twentieth century, that’s close enough.” And well done to the BBC for clearing the rights.

Incidentally the BBC has put out a video of the whole song as sung by Foxes. The video also includes clips from episodes throughout the eighth season so beware of spoilers…

But on to the actual story. A mummy is appearing to selected passengers and crew, and only to those individuals, and then killing them. No one else can see the mummy and an interesting wrinkle is that exactly 66 seconds pass between the first sight of the creature to the person dying. The Doctor and Clara are trapped onboard by the train’s computer and must find out what is behind the mummy and stop it before everyone dies.

A nice detail is that a little countdown timer appears on the screen whenever someone sees the mummy. And whenever someone is ‘next’ the Doctor has to convince them to pass on as much information as possible in their last few seconds in the hope that it might help the next victim. It’s a chilling situation to be in and the Doctor acts very coldly about it.

The Doctor works out who is next, a passenger called Maisie who Clara is with. He tells Clara to bring Maisie to him and if necessary to lie about the Doctor being able to save her. So much to her disgust Clara lies for the Doctor.

But fortunately the Doctor has a plan. He is able to switch places with Maisie so he’s next and he realises that the mummy is a solder from an ancient war kept alive with technology. The Doctor says he surrenders and the mummy stops, salutes and disintegrates.

But they’re not out of the woods yet. The computer decides to kill everyone anyway and shuts off the life support. The Doctor works on a solution as everyone else collapses due to lack of oxygen.

And when Clara wakes up the Tardis is on a rocky beach with a futuristic city in the distance. The Doctor is writing something in the sand with a stick. It’s a wonderfully conposed scene made even more special by the fact that the viewer has no context on how the Tardis got there or even where it is.

The Doctor explains to Clara how he rescued the others and they go on to discuss impossible choices and pretending to be heartless. It’s a great scene for Capaldi who impresses. Along with the visuals the music is fitting as well. In fact I do believe that it’s one of my favourite moments from this season.

And it looks so stunning here are some screen captures. I’m not normally one for screen captures but I’ll make an exception this time…

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Back on the Tardis Clara has a change of heart and decides to stay with the Doctor. She calls it a “wobble”. Yes, telling someone to leave and never to come back is now just a wobble. Nice one, Clara.

I really liked this episode. I’d rank it in my top three of the season so far alongside with Deep Breath and Listen.

Doctor Who – Kill the Moon Review

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As usual spoilers can be found below.

Somehow events conspire so that the Doctor and Clara take Coal Hill schoolgirl Courtney on a trip to the Moon in 2049. The Tardis materialises on board a shuttle that then makes a crash landing on the lunar surface. On board the shuttle are three astronauts and 100 nuclear bombs.

The Doctor realises that the Moon’s gravity is too high, therefore the Moon must have gained mass. He is correct. The higher gravity is causing serious problems back on Earth and the astronauts have been sent to “kill” whatever is causing the problem.

We learn that mankind has more or less abandoned space travel by 2049. This mission was only possible because the last space shuttle had been taken out of a museum. Incidentally the visual effects do show an actual NASA-style space shuttle with a fairly effective crash-landing sequence. Also the makers have shelled out cash on some new spacesuits for the shuttle astronauts while the Doctor and his chums wear the usual red spacesuits that I think were first seen in The Satan Pit back in the David Tennant days.

And before I go on I do have to remark on the fairly impressive depection of the lunar surface. For a show made on a BBC budget it was very well done.

Eventually the Doctor realises that the Moon is not a planetoid but an egg (really), and whatever giant life form is inside is about to hatch. Clara is unconcerned. Surely, she reasons, the Doctor knows that the moon is still there in the future. But the Doctor is not so sure. He says sometimes there are grey areas, “eye-blinks” that stop him seeing what happens. He doesn’t know what is going to happen now. So there is a dilemma: should they kill this unique creature to guarantee Earth’s survival.

And then the doctor leaves Clara to make the decision.

Yes, he just leaves. This is where your mileage may vary. Surely the Doctor would stay to solve the problem as he always does? Or is letting Clara/the human race make the decision without his hand-holding the right think to do?

Clara is convinced that the creature should live. She sends a message to Earth telling people to choose by either turning their lights on for the creature to live or turing them off for the creature to die. She watches Earth through binoculars and the lights gradually go off. It’s a very effective sequence and it reminded me of a novel written by Stephen Baxter and Arthur C Clarke where an AI needed humanity to make a decision and says it will monitor the discussions on the internet to calculate what consensus mankind reaches.

Also this dilemma is very reminiscent of the second episode featuring Matt Smith, The Beast Below. There Starship UK was using a captured space whale as an engine and the citizens had to vote on keeping it captive. (Actually at one point I thought the creature might have turned out to be a space whale which would have been a nice nod to continuity, although it would have then reminded viewers of recycling of plots…)

So humanity makes it’s decision and Clara promptly, er, ignores it, stopping the nuclear bombs from going off. Just then the Tardis returns and the Doctor takes the survivors to Earth to see the creature hatch. The moon-eggshell dissipates and the creature departs, but not before laying a new moon-egg to sort out all that pesky continuity malarkey.

But the episode is not over yet. Along comes the most dramatic character-driven scene of the series so far. Clara lays into the Doctor big time. She’s furious that he would leave her there to make the decision on her own. The Doctor maintains it was a decision for humanity but that cuts no ice with Clara who tells him to leave and not to come back. Brilliant bit of acting from Jenna Coleman.

The episode is not without some problems. Chief among them is the small matter of the moon just gaining mass. Ok, there’s a creature inside growing, but how is it gaining mass? Is it eating? Eating what? This is such a basic plot point that they only way the writers can address it is to totally ignore it. I appreciate that you don’t watch Doctor Who for scientific accuracy but there should be at least some attempt to address such problems, even if it is just by adding a line to say the creature has a wormhole for a stomach that is sucking in matter from Jupiter. Or something.

(Speaking of wormholes, Stargate SG-1 always made an effort to put a bit of real science into how the Stargates worked. They did a good episode with time dilation one time… But I digress…)

Also, the moon is an egg? There’s a line of dialog that an earlier expedition of Mexican astronauts were looking for minerals but didn’t find any. Well, what about the rocks that the Apollo astronauts brought back? Sometimes it’s as if Doctor Who just exists in it’s own continuity separate from our own and I guess this is the case here.

And the central plot point of the episode: the Doctor leaving Clara by herself to make the decision. As I said, your milage will vary as it if this in character for the Doctor or not. But the gods of the script decided it was what he would do to advance their story so it happened.

In summary if you can ignore the lack of science and accept the Moon is an egg and the Doctor behaving out of character then it’s a fine episode that shows off an impressive Jenna Coleman playing an impressive Clara. The scene where she tells the Doctor to go is a real shock and the dramatic highlight of the series so far. Jenna totally sells it.