Tag Archives: Christmas

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.

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

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 #5

1 Jan

"Everything's got to end some time."

“Everything’s got to end some time. Otherwise nothing would ever get started.”

– Eleventh Doctor, A Christmas Carol 

Matt watches the Christmas specials #7: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe (Mild Spoilers)

31 Dec

The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe

Title: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe
Written by: Steven Moffat
Year: 2011

It’s 1941! It’s Claire from Outnumbered! It’s a forest! In a box! In a sitting room! It’s the 2011, Narnia-inspired, briefly-Bailey-toting, humany-wumany Christmas special!

Does Steven Moffat have a knack for kicking off Christmas specials in spectacular fashion? This writer thinks so. For a second year in a row, Moffo treats us to another explosive beginning with The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe.

An explosive beginningAt the start of this story, the nation’s favourite man from Gallifrey is doing what he does best – defending the earth (albeit this time he’s, once again, alone). One thing leads to another however, and soon the mad man in a box is plummeting to Earth in a spacesuit he’s put on backwards. Enter Madge Arwell.

Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner) is a mum. A mum who, while cycling home through the 1938 English countryside at night, discovers an injured man in a spacesuit (in a smouldering crater). So in typical mum fashion, she pulls up her sleeves, helps him out and makes sure he gets home safely. Lovely. But that’s just the beginning! Because come Christmas 1941, Madge has received the most terrible news – and it threatens to ruin this Christmas, and every following Christmas, for the family. So it’s lucky the Doctor is on hand, taking the role of the mysterious “caretaker”.

loved how this episode started. Few Christmas specials have pulled off the first 10 minutes (or so) in the same manner The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe does. Particularly when The Doctor is showing the family round their Christmas abode; a scene which Matt Smith plays to the comedy element perfectly. What follows is a well-used Sci-Fi trope that carries a strong environmental message – well, if you forget about all the other stuff that happens (which is difficult) – but the story takes somewhat a back seat for this episode.

Madge and Family

On top form, as per, is Matt Smith playing a lonely but playful (his best trait) Doctor who is trying to repay Madge for her earlier kindness. The real stars of the show however, are the Arwell family. Child actors never fail to impress in episodes written by the Moff and Holly Earl (Lily Arwell) and Maurice Cole (Cyril Arwell) are no exception to this tradition. The two children plays their parts perfectly and, as usual, Smith’s Doctor has an excellent on-screen chemistry with both of them. In particular, I’d like to join Blogtor in politely requesting that Holly Earl be given another appearance alongside the Timelord. Claire Skinner also puts in a great performance, that does real justice to her character being the star of the episode. Far flung from her stressed, emotional and accident-prone opposite in (fellow BBC show) Outnumbered, Madge Arwell is a competent, stout and very much all-together mother – though, Skinner’s best known portrayal of wife and mum Claire in her other aforementioned show is (for all her faults) somewhat more lovable. You really do believe, by the end of the episode, that a mother will do anything to protect her children.

Bill Bailey as Droxil, an Androzani Ranger

Also guest starring is Bill Bailey as an Androzani Ranger (yes, that Androzani) alongside fellow actors Arabella Weir and Paul Bazely who play the parts of his loveable crew-mates. Bailey and crew’s appearance is quite simply too short, and makes one wonder why they bothered getting him in at all for such a small part – but that doesn’t make the scenes any less enjoyable.

This episode is also incredibly well shot, though in places the special effects let it down (you can’t have everything). Aliens appearing in this episode are tree-people. The costumes for these wooden beauties are nicely done and they move with a creaky, creepiness too.

The Doctor sheds a tear

Favourite moment: After a thorough talking to from mum Madge, the Doctor has some sense knocked into him and finally goes to see in-laws Amy and Rory for the first time since The Wedding of River Song to let them know he’s ok. We are given a lovely, though short, sequence in which the Doctor is welcomes inside with (more or less) open arms and we find out that the Ponds lay a place for the Doctor at the table every Christmas. Coming inside to spend Christmas with the family, the Doctor sheds a tear and delicately steps inside. Fantastically heart-warming stuff.

The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe has some fantastic moments. It’s sprinkled with festive cheer and the cast perform strongly throughout. But the lack of real plot direction in favour of more characterisation that worked so well in A Christmas Carol has not quite paid off this time round, leaving the viewer wanting a more fulfilling resolution. The act of deforesting an entire planet seems to matter very little to the Doctor – somewhat uncharacteristically – and the Androzani Rangers seem to get away with it completely, with the solution being that the tree’s take their souls and depart; not exactly a brilliant environmental message. While the beginning scenes and the fantastic end scenes do make up for a lot of its failures, this episode will sit at the bottom end of my Christmas specials list alongside Voyage of the Damned.

5/10

Matt watches the Christmas specials #6: A Christmas Carol

28 Dec

A Christmas Carol

Title: A Christmas Carol
Written by: Steven Moffat

Year: 2010

It’s Christmas! I despise Christmas! I love new planets… Father Christmas. Santa Claus. Or, as I’ve always known him, Jeff. There isn’t any lottery! I’m the ghost of Christmas past…

A Christmas Carol has the best beginning of all the Christmas specials – no contest. Starting off with a view of a stormy planet we are suddenly greeted by a spaceship plummeting toward the world below and a gorgeous interior set of glossy white walls and shiny black surfaces. Sparks fly and alarm bells ring as the captain of the ship orders a status report before declaring Christmas is cancelled. But don’t fret! Amy and Rory burst onto the scene clad in police uniform and Roman Centurion garb with a device to call the Doctor and before we know it that little blue box is flying alongside the spaceship… “COME ALONG POND…” Best. Opening. Ever. Ladies and gentlemen, hold on to your fezzes.

Keep the faith

Kazran Sardick (played brilliantly by Michael Gambon who you should know, unless you are a hermitplays Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films 3-7) is an old Christmas-hating miser who has lost the ability to empathise with human suffering. Sound familiar? The problem is, he’s also the only person who can part the clouds in the skies above and allow the Ponds (and the rest of the crashing spaceship’s occupants) to land. Lucky thing our favourite Timelord is on hand…

A Christmas Carol, which draws its plot from its other namesake, is (as you’d expect) not an entirely regular story. Focusing more on its characters than the stakes, Moffat presents viewers with a tale of tragic love and loneliness, spangled with humour and joy throughout a young, adult and older Kazran’s life (played by Laurence Belcher, Danny Horn and Gambon respectively): a real Christmas caper indeed.

Kazran and Abigail

Guest stars Katherine Jenkins, who plays Abigail (in her first screen acting role), and Michael Gambon are excellently utilized here, with Moffat giving Matt Smith’s Doctor plenty of opportunity for his signature slapstick style and razor-sharp wit. Jenkins in particular really shines in scenes with Danny Horn and, being an opera singer (as many readers will no doubt already know), she does get to showcase her singing talent in this episode. While it is perhaps a bit forced, it does add to the generally Christmassy feeling and therefore just manages to escape becoming a cheap gimmick. Though Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill (who has a newly instated, and long overdue, title credit) are in this episode, apart from a few short scenes they are not very involved; The few scenes they are both in however, are a delight.

Doctor and Kazran in Santa hats

Laurence Belcher also adds to a long legacy of talented child actors to star in Moffat-penned episodes and has some brilliant scenes with Matt Smith in the first half of the episode that will have even the most cynical viewer crack a wry smile. Smith himself is dazzling in this story and clearly builds on the hugely successful persona he cultivated for his Doctor in Series 5 to add a touch more mystery and depth. The scene in which he calmly rests in an armchair and whispers “Tonight… I’m a ghost of Christmas past” in particular is magical.

Toby Haynes takes the helm on direction – and beautifully directed it is too – for his third episode in a row, the previous two parter of Series 5 The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang also being directed by him, and the entire episode is better for it. Scenes move fluidly and interesting angles and camera movement help to keep the magic intact throughout. *Haynes would go on to direct Series 6 opening two-parter story The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, two episodes that were also flawlessly shot. As usual, Murray Gold’s soundtrack to this episode is perfectly crafted and sets the tone without becoming intrusive or over the top.

"Guys!"

Favourite moment: The Doctor, Kazran and Abigail are at a party with Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. Somehow, the Doctor has managed to accidentally propose to Marilyn and needs to make a quick getaway. However, Kazran and Abigail are… busy, in a manner of speaking, forcing the Doctor to face the problem on his own. “Fine…” sulks the Timelord, who promptly leaves the poolside shouting nonchalantly “Marilyn… Get your coat!”

A Christmas Carol is a whimsical ride through Christmas joy and tradition. Stephen Moffat brings us an unforgettable pastiche of a well-known classic that uses the original but doesn’t tarnish it.I admit: on first viewing I wasn’t as fond of this story as I am now. But there’s no denying: Its got everything; an old redeemable miser, a sleigh ride in the snow, a magical ending and to top it off… Santa Claus is real and the Doctor is mates with him and Einstein. Top notch Who.

9/10

Next review: My belated verdict on The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.

Matt watches the Christmas specials #5: The End Of Time Pt 1&2

23 Dec

Three wise men.

Title: The End Of Time Part 1/The End Of Time Part 2
Written by:  Russell T Davies

Year: 2009 

Ood! Wilf! The Master! Vinvocci! The eternity gate! The Master race! Something is returning! The Timelords! He will knock four times. “I don’t want to go…”

And so it came to pass; the penultimate retrospective review. For those of you who remember, part 2 of the story was actually shown on new years day – but it’s still set during Christmas and is the second half of a story that started on Christmas day so that’s good enough for me. Anyway, on with the review!

The End Of Time is, to say the least, an ambitious piece of Who. Each episode is about an hour long alone, bringing the total story length to longer than most films, not to mention the special effects and set design seem to have not suffered from the time extension. Most people however, remember these episodes not as Christmas specials but as Tennant’s swansong: the tenth Doctor’s final allons-y. We are gathered, for The End…

The Doctor meets Ood Sigma again.

The story moves forward at a good pace and is more or less a continuation of themes coming straight from where The Waters of Mars left off. More or less. We are presented with an Ood society unlike one we have ever seen before that is now well developed and thriving as the Doctor responds to Ood Sigma’s mysterious summons. Things (as the Doctor points out) are not as they should be. “Something is returning” and the Master is somehow linked to it all. Can the Doctor prevent “the end of time itself”?

Wilf

Personally, I prefer to remember John Simm’s Master as the way he was in Utopia/The Sound Of Drums/Last of The Timelords – formidable, menacing and hilarious. In The End Of Time he is treated as more of a sub-plot and is quite frankly just ridiculous for most of the first episode: it is only in the second part that we begin to see more of what made him so good in Series 3. This is not because Simm fails to portray him properly – in fact, he actually salvages many scenes that could have potentially just been awkward to watch – but is in my opinion just down to the way RTD decided to write the character for this story. In that respect, The End Of Time is not just a showcase of all of the best traits of the Davies era, but also of some of the worst. At best it is epic, heart-warming, tear jerking, exciting and memorable. At worst, it is over the top and cringe worthy.  Don’t get me wrong, Russell T Davies is a fantastic writer, simply stellar in fact, but as with any show of Doctor Who’s length; there will always be slip ups. That said however, The End Of Time is still a good story, and certainly a titan worthy of sending off the tenth Doctor (and Tennant) with appropriate grandeur. Scenes between the Doctor and Wilf (played by the wonderful Bernard Cribbins) are what really shine in both episodes, and you can’t help loving Donna’s granddad for having such loyalty to the Timelord throughout. It is scenes like those that the two old men share that highlights RTD’s incredible power to capture such emotional moments – tiny moments – so perfectly. It’s not all raw emotion and doom and gloom however. There’s plenty of comic relief in TEoT and also a pair of new aliens to admire in the form of Vinvocci salvagers Addams (Sinead Keenan) and Rossiter (Lawry Lewin). The plot hurries on with the Doctor generally pursuing the Master, but that’s not really what’s being addressed.

Regeneration.

At it’s core, The End of Time is not just about dealing with the death of the tenth Doctor, but also of tackling the huge departure of David Tennant who was immensely popular. The Doctor is given a mirror image of what he could become when faced with his own species – corrupted through years of immortality and absolute power – and this is what restores our Doctor to what he should be: the noble hero who will always make the final sacrifice. The Doctor’s final words before regenerating, “I don’t want to go” are not just a symbol of his bravery but also a triumph over fear of death – something the Timelords (particularly Rassilon) seem to have forgotten. It is though, the regeneration sequence at the end that is the crowning moment of this story. As the Doctor visits Martha, Mickey, Jack, Sarah-Jane and Luke and even the granddaughter of Joan Redfern from Human Nature/The Family of Blood (and actually, as we learn in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode “Death of the Doctor”, all of his other previous companions) and finally Rose in something of a final goodbye, the viewer is reminded of the massive addition to the shows history that RTD crafted so well. If each Doctor and his set of companions can be called a family, then Davies gives one final, brilliant send off to this one.

Obviously the end scenes, introducing Matt Smith’s Doctor, are notable but not relevant to this review. Though what did strike me while watching was just how far Smith really has come since that first appearance.

Favourite moment: In which the Doctor and Wilf converse at a cafe after losing the trail of the Master. Wilf asks the Doctor for help and pleads for him to restore Donna’s memory, while the Doctor laments his imminent “death”. This scene is easily my favourite because of it’s raw simplicity: two old men, in a cafe, discussing life and death and making-do at Christmastime. Particularly heartbreaking are the moments where the Doctor describes how now (without Donna) he has no one, before nearly breaking down to tears. “Merry Christmas… look at us.”

The End of Time is  damn good television. The only thing holding it back is its format – which restricts scenes that could have been magnificent  like the arrival of the Timelords, to just being good. It does showcase RTD’s best talents too though, and deals with loss, fear of death and eventual bravery in the face of the end of everything for its hero. You’ll laugh when Wilf and the “Silver Cloak” are on screen, you’ll grip your seat as you watch the Doctor hurtle towards the Master, you’ll gasp in awe as the formidable Timelords make their return and you’ll cry out when you think the Doctor survived after all… only to hear those four knocks. The Tenth Doctor truly departs in style.

7/10

Next reviewed episode: http://goo.gl/BcUjg

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