Matt watches the Christmas specials #8: The Snowmen (Spoiler-free)

28 Dec

Doctor Who - The Snowmen

Title: The Snowmen
Written by: Steven Moffat
Year: 2012

It’s 1892! It’s Oswin! No, wait… It’s Clara! …or is it Oswin? The Snowmen! Are you thinking about them? Well… stop! Winter is coming. Sherlock Holmes! It’s smaller on the outside! Doctor Who? Dangerous question…

There’s so much new stuff in The Snowmen that I’m just going to say it right now: there’s a cool new title sequence and theme, a fabulous new TARDIS and – of course – a new companion… Phew! Now I can get on to the actual story…

The Doctor, The SnowmenThe Doctor’s lost his mojo after the departure of the Ponds. But on the horizon is an impending invasion-by-ice, spearheaded by one Dr. Simeon (Richard E. Grant).

Simeon is working with the story’s big bad – a giant snowglobe containing telepathic snow, voiced excellently by Sir Ian McKellen – to bring about Humanity’s last Winter. On hand are the Veiled Detective (Madame Vastra, played by Neve McIntosh) and her plucky companion (Jenny, played by Catrin Stewart), but they may not be enough to stop him. Can they convince the Doctor, who has become a recluse, to help them?

timthumb (4)Right from the off it should be said that Grant; master of the stone-face and mouth-curling sneer, fits perfectly into the role of a Who villain, though (considering his acting talent) feels relatively underused throughout. It’s a pity to see the stellar Withnail & I actor go to waste, and reminds this reviewer of a certain Bill Bailey suffering a similar fate last year. The titular monsters of the story are actually far less central to the plot than you’d think, but still manage to make some menacing appearances.

Not to worry though, because this is balanced out by the bigger story that’s taking place; the introduction of new companion, Clara. Or is it Oswin? The new companion to be, Clara (Jenna Louise Coleman), is leading a double life: One as a barmaid and another as a governess, who shares many characteristics with Mary Poppins (Surely not a coincidence!). As the latter she also gets to tell some inspired and “true” bedtime stories. (I thought the one about fish was particularly good!)

Coleman gets to show her acting prowess throughout and is clearly set for great things aboard the TARDIS. She steps into Doctor Who with a confidence and talent that I’ve not seen since Billie Piper first graced our screens in Rose. There’s no pretence about whether or not she’s ever going to be the Doctor’s new friend – Clara simply seizes the initiative, quite triumphantly I might add, and makes the decision for us.

Clara and The Doctor

Matt Smith and Coleman have a wonderful chemistry onscreen and the scenes they share are a joy to watch. Both give energetic performances and seem to have a natural rhythm for each other that I look forward to seeing more of.

Smith is on top form, as usual, but one can’t help thinking that the Doctor’s moody phase of thinking “the universe doesn’t care” could have been used a bit more effectively. While Smith delivers the scenes in which he’s playing a more miserable Doctor excellently, the idea that the Time Lord has given up never really hits home.

Victorian London itself looks splendid in this story, and is reminiscent of Fourth Doctor story The Talons of Weng Chiang. Suitably, as in Talons, the Doctor also dons the deerstalker and inverness cape once more to impersonate the fictional Sherlock Holmes in a hilarious sequence of not-quite-deductions.

Vastra, Strax and Jenny

Making a return for the first time since A Good Man Goes To War are Vastra, Jenny and Strax. (Or, the Silurian, the Victorian and the Sontaran Nurse.) Vastra and Jenny are just as brilliant here as they were before, and the notion of their marriage is dealt with just as it should be; as a matter of fact. I think this is good as a.) it’s currently an issue in politics and b.) because it makes you wonder why it’s such an issue in politics.

In a brilliant tip of the hat by Moffat, it’s implied that the pair’s antics around London inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and I thought the scene where Clara has to answer all of Vastra’s questions with one word was very cleverly written too.

Strax, on the other hand, takes over comic relief duty for this episode and does it rather well too. I’d like to see more of these three – and judging by the “coming soon” trailer for the rest of the series it looks like that’s definitely on the cards!

Doctor and Clara on the cloud

Favourite Moment: The Doctor, after thinking he’s sent Clara back to where she followed him from, retreats up into his home above the clouds – disappearing up an invisibly hidden ladder. Clara follows him and climbs the ladder, to discover a winding staircase that goes all the way up. When she gets to the top, we see the TARDIS and after she knocks, the Doctor pokes his head out. Scared, Clara hides, then runs back down before he sees her… Who says this episode wasn’t very Christmassy? Christmas stories are all about magic and wonder, and that did it for me! 

Although, like last year’s special, it’s very light on story, The Snowmen is still a great piece of television. The whole thing is very character driven, which works because it’s a companion introduction episode, not just a Christmas one. There are plenty of references to past stories that will bring a smile to fans that catch them, and yet it’s also the bold beginning of a new era for Doctor Who as well.

The Snowmen is an enchanting visit to Victorian London, managing to feel like Christmas without even mentioning it very much. A brilliant introduction to new companion Clara and a triumph in storytelling. Roll on 2013 and the rest of Series Seven!

8/10

Thanks for reading! What did you think of this year’s Christmas special? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section, below. For more reviews, click here.

The power of words #20

19 Jan

The Next Doctor

“Help me.”

“Two words I never refuse.”

Jackson Lake and the Tenth Doctor (rsp.), The Next Doctor

The power of words #19

29 Dec

The Doctor and Amy, The Power of Three

“This is one corner of one country, in one continent, on one planet that’s a corner of a galaxy that’s a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying, and never remaining the same for a single millisecond. And there is so much, so much to see… because it goes so fast. I’m not running away from things, I’m running to them. Before they flare and fade forever.”

- The Eleventh Doctor, The Power of Three

Doctor Who – The best Christmas special? (Vote! And read!)

19 Dec

Xmas TARDIS

So it’s that most wonderful time of the year again and come the 25th of December it’ll be time for…The Doctor Who Christmas special!

I spent last Christmas reviewing every nu-Who Christmas special so far, and I’m planning to post a review of this year’s on Christmas Day too.

Below are the links to my reviews which I’ve slightly tweeked, to accommodate some changes in my opinion since first writing them.

Reckon I’ve got it wrong? Let me know in the comments! (And don’t forget to vote for your favourite Christmas special in the poll!)

Here’s my Christmas episode ranking (links to my reviews):

  1. A Christmas Carol (2010) – 9/10
  2. The Next Doctor (2008) – 9/10
  3. The Christmas Invasion (2005) – 8/10
  4. The Runaway Bride (2006) – 8/10
  5. The End of Time (2009)  - 7/10
  6. Voyage Of The Damned (2007) – 6/10
  7. The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe (2011) – 5/10

REVIEW: The Hour – Series 2 (Spoiler free)

15 Dec

The Hour, Series 2 - Freddie Lyon played by Ben Whishaw

Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

As I sit writing this review, I am shaking.

Such is the effect the second series finale of The Hour has had on me, that I’m compelled to sit and write this at this very moment – in case I forget just how intensely encapsulated I am by this final triumph that I have Abbi Morgan (the show’s writer/creator) to thank for being able to see it.

The Hour has always been a fantastic television programme. As I said in my review of the first series, it portrays a practice of journalism at its best at a time when the profession really does need a champion to trumpet the good it is capable of doing. (A noble pursuit of the truth, and all that.) I won’t bother going over all the nuances of production skill again – the beautiful sets, the astronomically good cast, the eye-wateringly good cinematography – because I want to focus instead on the new – of which there is plenty. I will say this though: The Hour hasn’t lost its touch… and it just continues to get better.

“Impossible is just what hasn’t been done. It’s not impossible when it’s possible.

As the team reassembles under the new leadership of Randal Brown – Clarence’s replacement (played by the superb Peter Capaldi, known for his role of Malcolm Tucker in political satire The Thick of It) – all the familiar faces make a return coupled with plenty of new ones too. Things are going well for the show, despite the fallout from Lord Elms’s interview at the end of the first series and Hector has become a star as a result. The series focuses around a vice-ring in Soho that had led to police corruption,  government corruption, corporate corruption… basically every kind of corruption. It was a brilliant story and, I think, an improvement on that of the first series. Not to mention, this time we get a proper villain (Raphael Cilenti, played by Vincent Riotta) who is behind it all… and he is truly chilling.

For me, the over-arching political conspiracy of the first was interesting but a bit too promising of – as Clarence pointed out – a story it “didn’t deliver”. While it was brilliant, it ended with a whimper – rather than a bang.

However, lead writer Abbie Morgan has clearly listened to criticisms of the first run of The Hour… because the ending of the second is just about as explosive as one could imagine.

This year, the show went from strength to strength every week.

The Hour, Season 2 - Anna Chancellor and Peter Capaldi

There were more subplots – the past between Lix and Randal being one that particularly stood out – and more character development. This is a show that has really felt like it’s moving forward and in the finale it did not fail to deliver. There were times during the sixth (and final) episode that had me watching through my fingers and crying out loud at the screen in front of me.

Freddie Lyon (played by Ben Whishaw) is back, of course, but even he has changed for the better (if you even thought that was possible). In this series, Freddie has returned from his world travels a different man. As he puts it:

I went somewhere… America. And you know what? Being a nobody in a country where everybody thinks they can be a somebody; that’s infectious, exciting. I want that. For me.

Though he still has his journalistic zeal, this is a Freddie who’s become more familiar with the spotlight and is hungry for success. It’s an interesting change because it brings out a side of him we haven’t seen before – the new, more ambitious Freddie is a far more compelling person to watch. He is doing what he always should have done… grabbing the wolf by the ears.

There are life’s natural heroes and then there’s you. Your words. You always believe somewhere deep in you that there is a coward. […] Why should I have expected anything less than fearlessness from you?”

Bel also benefits from development and the show almost feels as though the narrative is structured around her now more than anyone else. That is a good thing, by the way, because Romola Garai is a brilliant actor and also because throughout this series, which is so full of earth-shaking moments, she is the rock that the viewer can cling on to.

The Hour - Romala Garai as Bel RowleyShe no longer suffers from an attachment to “unavailable men” and sails the newsroom ship like she deserves it. She does, however, have a new semi-romantic interest but, in my opinion at least, it’s never really capitalised enough and always feels like a sideline alongside the feeling she and Freddie have for each other.

I mentioned Lix and Randal earlier and, while I will keep to my promise of no spoilers, I will say that yes: he is the man whom Lix referred to letting slip through her fingers in the first series.

Their scenes together are a masterclass in understated yet compelling script writing. Capaldi and Anna Chancellor are, of course, on top form throughout and make a formidable combination. Randal slots in perfectly amongst the other characters and is someone I would like to see more of. When watching him and Lix together, you can’t help but be reminded of Freddie and Bel.

Worth mentioning also, is Hector (Dominic West) and his wife Marnie’s (Oona Castilla Chaplin) ongoing relationship. In a brilliant twist, Marnie gets her own programme on ITV and becomes quite successful. This makes for a brilliant dynamic between herself and Hector – and readjusts the character from being a housewife to a strong, independent woman. She’s done taking Hector’s misdemeanors and is making a name for herself. As she puts it later in the series: “The best revenge is to be successful.” Chaplin, in particular, puts on a stunning performance in every scene she’s in.

There is only one way I can describe the second series of The Hour, and even that doesn’t do it justice.

It is quite simply a stellar, stellar, phenomenally excellent drama that tackles a number of questions that are still relevant today – like the protection of sources, how far should journalists go to tell the story and what if a story becomes dangerous to pursue? Once again, Abi Morgan has shown that this is The Hour that you can’t miss.

A third series is currently unconfirmed, but after the eye-wateringly good finale of the second it would be a travesty for the BBC not to commission one.

Thanks for reading this review – if you liked it, please share it! If you liked it enough to want to read more, then you can also subscribe by email too.

Images displayed are owned by the BBC. 

The power of words #18

30 Nov

DOCTOR WHO CHRISTMAS 2010

How do people ever get bored? How did boredom even get invented?

- The Eleventh Doctor, A Christmas Carol

The power of words #17

7 Nov

We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?

- The Doctor, The Big Bang

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