Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Doctor Who - Hide Review

There's some spooky 'n' scary goings on in this excellent "ghost" story

Neil Cross' return to Doctor Who, after an absence of just 1 week, with a much less divisive episode than The Rings Of Akhaten (though I was much more positive about it than many others). Hide is an episode which finds the balance between the divisive whimsy of Akhaten and the steady ground of Cold War, and is the best episode of this 2013 run so far.

Hide is assuringly old fashioned in its set-up. A pair of ghost hunters are working in haunted house in the 1970s. The illusive spectre is most definitely with them, but never hangs around for long. The Doctor and Clara show up to try and solve the mystery of the Witch of the Well.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Broadchurch - Episode 7

Broadchurch approaches its denouement at an encouraging pace.

That's more like it. Broadchurch has often struggled to balance the investigation and dramatic aspects of its story, but this penultimate episode found the desired equilibrium.

After collapsing at the end of last week's episode, DI Alec Hardy's secret illness is out in the open. DS Miller is naturally both furious and worried (mostly furious). It would appear that Hardy is on his last legs, which makes finding the culprit even more urgent. In Hardy's temporary absence, DS Miller gets her chance to shine as she attempts to rally the troops. While Hardy's near constant berating of Miller throughout the series was a little over the top, it's forced Miller to toughen up and probably made her into a better detective. If Hardy does leave/die, DS Miller is now much better suited for the job than she was in episode 1.

In the suspect's chair this week was the ever suspicious looking Susan Wright. As I said last week, handing over the skateboard was a very stupid thing to do if you were the killer, almost certainly confirming that she isn't the killer. After some lies and half truths, Susan reveals why she's in Broadchurch and what is going on with Nige. After the unravelling of Jack Marshall's troubled past earlier in the series, Susan's story is perhaps a little too familiar to make a unique impact. However, it is wonderfully acted by Pauline Quirke and gives depth to a character which desperately needed some. She recalls a morning walk along the beach where she saw a man placing Danny's body on the beach. That man was Nige Carter (or was it? More on that later).

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Doctor Who - Cold War Review

Mark Gatiss' chilly thriller falls just short of greatness

After last week's divisive The Rings Of Akhaten, Cold War finds Doctor Who on much more familiar ground. Familiar, but wonderfully entertaining.

It's 1983 and a Soviet submarine crew uncover what they believe to be a mammoth. Except it's very much not a mammoth, it's a Martian Ice Warrior. Living underneath the ice for nearly 5000 years, the Ice Warrior is lost and confused. The Doctor and Clara arrive just in time to see the Russian crew provoke the Ice Warrior, turning the proud soldier into a very dangerous foe. Last year, Doctor Who delivered an episode called Dinosaurs On A Spaceship, and Cold War could easily be re-titled Alien On A Submarine as not only does the episode take place within the confines of the underwater vessel, but it bears a significant resemblance to Ridley Scott's 70's masterpiece (Alien).

It's behind you... and slightly to your right

Monday, 15 April 2013

Broadchurch - Episode 6

The people of Broadchurch try to return to normality following another death

After last week's magnificent episode that dealt with the harassment and death of Jack Marshall, it was expected that this episode would struggle to live up to what went before. Even with that consideration, this episode of Broadchurch really tested my patience.

With each passing episode that reveals next to nothing about the case, the likelihood of Broadchurch providing a satisfying conclusion diminishes. The main problem is that it's trying to juggle too many suspects. With all that juggling going on, none of the suspects really feel like they could legitimately be considered as suspects. Given that not a lot of people have been definitively ruled out, there's still the possibility that Chris Chibnall could pluck a murderer out of thin air and pull the rug from under all of the series' work so far. Look no further than Joe Miller, Olivia Colman's nice and cheery husband. He's currently one of the audience's favourite suspects despite there being not a single shred of evidence to back up the claims. However, we haven't seen any evidence that can rule him out of the running. People are suspicious of him because he hasn't done anything suspicious. When you think about it, that's kind of ridiculous, but this is what happens when a programme's audience picks apart every detail shown on screen.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Doctor Who - The Rings Of Akhaten Review

The Doctor and Clara's latest adventure is thematically rich despite a thin plot

Last week's installment ended with Clara describing the leaf in the pages of her book as "page 1"; the comment went unexplained. I eventually thought nothing of it and was pleasantly surprised to see it brought up again so quickly. The Rings of Akhaten not only allowed Clara to demonstrate her worthiness as a companion, but explored themes of fear, loss and religion.

The Rings of Akhaten (or Indiana Jones and The Sunshine X-Factor as it could be called) started with a sweet prologue which charted the story of the leaf and its importance. The leaf brought together Clara's mother (originally named Ellie Ravenwood. Ravenwood as in Marion Ravenwood from Indiana Jones) and father, and is of significant emotional value to Clara. Not only does this help to develop Clara as a character,  but plays a pivotal role in the episode's conclusion.

The Doctor and Clara explore the alien market.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Broadchurch - Episode 5

The best episode of the series is a haunting glimpse of a very troubled man

I've said in my previous two reviews how Broadchurch had raised its game from those opening episodes, but this episode was something very special indeed. With the police investigation taking a back seat in this episode, for the most part (more on that later), this episode focuses on the community's reaction to the accusations surrounding newsagent Jack Marshall.

Poor Jack Marshall; a man who has done so much to escape his past, only to have it uncovered by scoop-hungry reporters. It's important to note that, in the eyes of the law, Jack was a paedophile and that he served his sentence. Yet as with many cases, the sentence alone does not represent the whole picture. Writer Chris Chibnall drip feeds Jack Marshall's story throughout the episode, and gives David Bradley the stand out scenes of the series so far. After building our suspicions at the end of last week's episode, Chibnall slowly shatters them over the hour. This culminated in a fantastic scene which pointed its finger firmly at the newspapers. Beth and Mark put aside their marital problems to look back on the photos and mementos from Danny's childhood and remember their son in happier times. Meanwhile, Jack catches a glimpse of the morning's headlines and sees how his most personal and heartfelt memories have been taken away from him. One family has the luxury of privacy; the other is put on display for the whole world to pass judgement.

It certainly wasn't a subtle moment, but Broadchurch had earned the chance to tug at our emotions. The very early episodes had attempted similar scenes, but without the emotional investment that comes with spending more time with the characters.

Alec Hardy confronts Jack Marshall
Whilst the press were the main target of the episode, it was the bigwigs back in London who were painted as the evil-doers, and not the investigative pair of Karen and Olly. They are very much a pair after the most inevitable hookup of the series happened. With focus of the blame pointed at the off screen newspaper executives, the commentary on newspaper journalism feels less scathing than if Karen and Olly were responsible. Though I can accept that the portrayal of newspapers' involvement in such cases seen in Broadchurch is probably more accurate, I also know that not all journalists and newspapers behave in such a manner.

Karen and Olly are two of the more underdeveloped characters on Broadchurch (in particular Olly who's so horribly gullible that he could probably convince himself that he was the murderer if he tried to). Elsewhere, Beth and Mark attempted to work out their marital problems, showcasing excellent work from both Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan. Beth also lashed out at Becca's supply of crisps and glassware, and Arthur Darvill was on hand to supply witty one liners as well as allowing Broadchurch to talk about religion and God's will. When not rounding up the locals to gang up on Jack, Nige was attempting to pay off Susan who was having none of it. As a result, apart from ruling out Jack, we're no closer to discovering the identity of Danny's killer. With only 3 episodes to go, the investigation really needs to pick up the pace.

The silent vigil for Danny Latimer
That conveniently brings me to the problems with Broadchurch's barely functional police department. There's no sense of a methodical approach to the investigation, nor a sense of how leads are picked up. It's understandable that the locals are angry at the lack of progress being made by the police, and so jump on Jack Marshall as his history begins to surface. Chloe Latimer is particularly upset and rightly has a go at Pete the pointless support officer. Chibnall probably made a distinct choice not to get too caught up in the day to day workings of the police officers, but he hasn't included enough to make them appear believable. At the end of last week's episode, there was the suggestion that Jack Marshall might have been involved in a similar case in a different town many years ago. Yet in this episode, it is revealed that the two cases are very clearly not connected. Any competent police officer could surely have worked this out within seconds. Chibnall is seemingly happy to trade competent police work for silly cliffhangers.

The silliest of all of the police's decisions was to use Tom Miller in the reconstruction. The idea of a respectful vigil is fine, but having the deceased's best friend lead a reconstruction is too ridiculous. The only justification for using him would be if Hardy had his suspicions about Tom after the interview, and was interested to see how Tom reacted during the reconstruction. Hopefully, we'll soon find out just what it is causing Tom to be so restless.

Despite these small problems, Broadchurch produced an hour of unmissable television this week, and hopefully will continue on a run of good episodes through to its conclusion.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Doctor Who - The Bells Of St. John Review

The Doctor makes his return to our screens with a new TARDIS, a new look and a new companion

So here we are; part two of season 7 of the reboot of Doctor Who. Got that? Good. Whilst season 6 was a season of 2 halves, season 7 is very much two mini seasons. As such, The Bells Of St. John should be seen as a season opener, and whilst they never tend to be the best of episodes; their main aim is to successfully introduce the new companion or Doctor. I'm pleased to say that The Bells Of St. John worked very well indeed.

Only Doctor Who could follow a teaser about the dangers of Wi-fi with a trip to 13th century Cumbria. Here we find The Doctor contemplating the impossible girl, Clara Oswin Oswald. Moments later the TARDIS phone begins to ring and The Doctor has found his impossible girl once again.

Jenna Lousie Coleman as Clara Oswald
After 2 and a half seasons of Amy Pond, or Amy and Rory, it was important to establish Clara as a sufficiently different companion. For Amy, The Doctor was a figure of her childhood; deemed to be imaginary by those around her. With Clara, there is no such emotional connection and, to her, The Doctor is a odd man with a snog box. The ease with which Clara and The Doctor interact is delightful. Clara is not afraid to point out the ridiculousness of a two hearted time travelling alien with a blue telephone box. Steven Moffat also ensures to establish Clara as someone who values her responsibilities to the family she is looking after and is not ready to leave behind those who depend on her.

As we've come to expect from Moffat era Doctor Who stories, this opening episode refers back to the glimpses of Clara from The Asylum Of The Daleks and The Snowmen, as well as hinting at what might be in store for the next 8 episodes. Why are the years 16 and 23 missing from Clara's book? What is the significance of the book written by one Amelia Williams? And who was the women who gave Clara the number for the TARDIS phone? Many have complained about the overly complicated plotting of recent seasons (season 6 in particular), but it's refreshing to see populist, family entertainment that demands your full attention.

Matt Smith in his new look TARDIS
The actual mystery of the week feels a little too familiar to fully work. Using technology to control people and feed on their souls is alarmingly similar to The Idiot's Lantern from series 2. However, it did offer both Smith and Coleman their moments to shine. Celia Imrie is a sufficiently vicious and maniacal ("Actually he's about to go on holiday; kill him when he gets back. Let's not be unreasonable."). The set pieces are entertaining enough and there is enough humour to hide the somewhat convenient resolution to the evil plan.

Most importantly however, The Bells Of St. John is a whole lot of fun and it is a great pleasure to have Doctor Who back on our Saturday nights.

Doctor Who returns to BBC1 next Saturday at 6.15pm in 'The Rings Of Akhaten'.