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Retro Review: Far Beyond The Stars

Original Airdate: February 11, 1998.

I’ve recently had the time to enjoy some Star Trek: Deep Space Nine reruns on SyFy here in the UK.  At present, they’re working their way through Season Six, probably my favourite season of any of the Star Trek shows.

Today, I noticed that Far Beyond The Stars was on.  I quickly announced that my housemate’s television plans for the evening were cancelled: we’d be watching this episode.

I remembered it fondly, and having not watched it for about ten years, I was curious to see how it had aged.

Splendidly is the answer.

It remains a fine hour of science fiction, and of Star Trek, and ranks up there with the best.  A challenging and thought-provoking look at racial struggle in mid-20th Century United States, all through the lens of hope that Star Trek offers.

Not only does it excel in its handling of the subject matter, it also excels as a piece of storytelling.  It’s fair to say that it is magnificently written with superb pacing.  The hour flies past, and I picked up on several parallels I missed when I was younger.  For instance, Sisko’s dreams of Benny Russell reflect the challenges he himself goes through.  He speaks to his father at the beginning of the episode of how every time he feels he’s achieved a victory, something happens that knocks him back to the start.  So too with Benny, as his glimpses of hope are shattered by circumstances outside his control.  And with the main villain of Deep Space Nine, the Dominion, being predominantly present far away in the Gamma Quadrant – an ominous distant danger represented by the limited forces they have in the Alpha Quadrant (Dukat, Weyoun et al) – in his dream the owner of the magazine, who is never depicted on screen, has the power to quash Benny’s hopes through his mouthpiece of the magazine editor, played by Rene Auberjonois.

All the while, it’s topped off by an acting tour-de-force from Avery Brooks, whose breakdown after failing to break through the shackles of racial prejudices is a simply mesmerising showcase of ability.  Not bad for the man who also directed the episode.

I’m quite certain more in-depth reviews than this exist.  However, I caught this episode in passing this evening, and it truly deserves an revisit.

It’s fantastic.  It’s challenging.  It’s possibly the best episode of Deep Space Nine there is.

And there are some pretty splendid episodes of Deep Space Nine out there.

So, while we’re at it, have your say: is it the best episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?

Is Far Beyond The Stars the best episode of Deep Space Nine?

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Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

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First up, let me just say that I am a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings.  By this, I do not mean I enjoyed a handful of films I saw a decade ago.  I love the books, I’ve read them and seen the films several times.  I like the mythology in The Silmarillion and clamber after every bit I can get.  Consequently, I really enjoyed The Hobbit.  And yet, it left me feeling frustrated because, for me, it came close to being a masterpiece, but fell perilously short several key areas.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy excelled in making Middle-Earth a living, breathing world inhabited by real yet fantastical characters.  It did so through taking the breathtaking scenery of New Zealand and seamlessly integrating CGI and fantastic prosthetics into magnificent sets and superb landscapes.  Yet, in The Hobbit, Peter Jackson almost inexplicably choses to tinker with this finely honed balance and go more all-out with CGI.  The most obvious is the character of Azog, who Jackson Gollum-ises, and Manu Bennett’s performance lost behind a thoroughly unrealistic looking computerised Orc.  There was no real need to do so, since Azog is largely seen in facial close-ups that expose the short-comings of the CGI.  The result?  It transplanted me from the magical world of Middle-Earth and back into my cinema seat faster than you could shout “RUN!” (which happens quite a lot in the movie).  If I could ask Jackson anything, it’d be that The Lord of the Rings trilogy didn’t need all this fancy CGI in every scene to work wonderfully, so why did The Hobbit?   If it ain’t broke…

The landscapes that were so beautifully natural and compelling in LotR are too often replaced with computerised scenes, and while in certain places such as Rivendell this works magically, later sequences with Azog in the forest feel like watching a cartoon.  A consequence of this reliance on CGI orcs and landscapes is a change in filming style from LotR, with a large number of quick shots and snappy cuts between sword slices and arrow shots.  Perhaps Jackson is attempting to avoid drawing too much attention to the CGI, but again the result is that it makes it a distinct challenge to get involved in the action.  The sublime action sequence in The Fellowship of the Ring in Moria is replaced by something more akin to a Saturday morning cartoon in Goblin Town, running over endless bridges and pushing computerised orcs off them.  It’s all very pretty, but never feels particularly like Middle-Earth to me.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: a warg from The Two Towers above one from The Hobbit.  

 

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Both look quite computerised, yet the Two Towers warg seems to keep very natural colour tones all over, and feels to me like a very believable beast.  The Hobbit warg seems like an extremely cliched werewolf with a cliched sinister face and glowing eyes.  It just didn’t feel particularly real to me.

Some of the CGI is superb, however.  Gollum is even better than the stellar animations in the original trilogy, and there are times where he simply looks as real as the brilliant Martin Freeman in the ‘Riddles in the Dark’ sequence.  The opening scenes in Erebor at the height of Dwarf control are simply magnificent.  I always wondered how Moria would look in its prime, and Erebor answered.  As I mentioned, Rivendell looks superb, and I thought the sequence in Mirkwood with Radagast was excellent both in its CGI and the performance of Sylvester McCoy.

Speaking more generally of the film, I cannot disagree more with those who claim it is too long, or that the attempt to split the book into three films is a cash-grab.  It feels like neither.  The only sequence I could argue was a waste of time was the battle of the Stone Giants, which although mentioned in the book, is made a little too Transformers-esque for no real reason.  Everything included in the film I enjoyed being there, especially the cameos from Hugo Weaving’s Elrond and Christopher Lee’s Saruman in Rivendell.

The pacing is admittedly slow in the beginning, but with thirteen dwarves to introduce, understandably so.  Similarly, I found the dwarves interesting enough – particularly Thorin, Balin, Bofur and Ori – to sustain my interest through this period.  Once the action gets going, it never really lets up.  Which leads onto another criticism, which is that Martin Freeman’s titular Hobbit character seems somewhat secondary through large chunks of the film, particularly in Rivendell.  The trailer showed shots of Bilbo wandering through Rivendell, encountering the Shards of Narsil.  Not to be seen in the film however, and I feel the decision to give sole focus in the Rivendell sequence to Galadriel, Gandalf, Elrond and Saruman discussing Radagast’s news and the Morgul Blade a mistake.  Bilbo’s decision to leave the Company shortly afterward felt flat and somewhat out of the blue.  Some additional footage – although not in lieu of Saruman’s council – would have worked a treat here, both in developing Bilbo and helping his storyline flow into the next stage of the adventure.

Martin Freeman’s performance is flawless: his naivety, curiosity and bravery are perfectly characterised through Bilbo, and he is thoroughly watchable – perhaps even more so than Frodo in the original trilogy.  Similarly, Ian McKellen is fantastic and Richard Armitage is excellent as Thorin.  In general, the casting is superb.  Even James Nesbitt (coincidentally, my fourth cousin!) holds his own in his one conversation with Bilbo in the cave.

There are several magical moments and magnificent scenes in the film that hold their own against LotR.  The opening sequence in Erebor, the council at Rivendell, the trolls in the forest and the meeting with the Goblin leader stand out.  By far the best sequence, however, remains Bilbo and Gollum in the cavern, exchanging riddles.  Andy Serkis is – as expected – stunning, and Martin Freeman is an engaging and dynamic foil.  It’s sad that Gollum presumably won’t appear in the next two films, and they will have to find their own stand-out sequences – or better yet, stand out on their own as a whole!

Gandalf & Radagast-Ian McKellen & Sylvester McCoy

I think The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was confused about what it wanted to be.  In some ways, Jackson wanted to capture the up-beat nature of the book, making it more comical, exciting and dynamic than The Lord of the Rings.  And yet, at the same time, he seems desperate to have crafted a mythological partner and natural forbearer to the earlier trilogy.  He wanted the grand scale, the epic environments and stunning world of The Lord of the Rings.  Yet, The Hobbit is a very different kettle of fish as a novel in the first place.  It’s smaller, more intimate, and less epic than its successor novels.  Trying to blend both styles has left both falling short.  The innocence and fun of The Hobbit becomes secondary to the epic world of Middle-Earth and story of The Lord of the Rings, yet the Middle-Earth of The Lord of the Rings becomes diluted – more cartoonised and disjointed than we left it when The Return of the King faded to credits.

I read a review – and I can’t recall where, or I would cite it – that The Hobbit trilogy doesn’t have the benefit of three natural breaks that The Lord of the Rings had to capitalise on.  The result may very well be that the entire trilogy needs to be watched in a row to get a real sense of the balance and purpose of the films.  So in this sense, my judgement is reserved.  And I do think that I’ll get used to the CGI in later films, now I’m expecting it (reluctantly!).

Perhaps this review has been somewhat hypercritical.  I really enjoyed the film, and I’d go and see it again.  Yet I feel as though I’ve been lift grinding my teeth – that only a few small scenes and less reliance on CGI would have propelled this film into true excellence, because it is fantastically performed and an exquisite telling of the story in the book.  Perhaps the next two films will rediscover the balance, but for now, The Hobbit must content itself with being a strong and excellent film, but falling far short of Jackson’s self-inflicted standards of brilliance.

Grade: B+

Revolution - Season 1

Review: Revolution S01E04 The Plague Dogs

In Brief: Weak.

In Detail: Here we are again.  Another week of Revolution, and Danny still hasn’t reached Monroe, the tablets still haven’t been explained even a fraction more, and Tracy Spiridakos continues to annoy the hell out of me.

There are some positives in this.  Maggie’s death is at least realistic, being stabbed through an artery in the leg, and we see that in this post-apocalyptic society, there really are struggles from a lack of health care and medicine.  I would argue that everyone’s denim clothing is in remarkably good nick this far after the blackout.  Maggie’s death also solidifies Miles’ place in the group, which can only be good, since his constant um-ing and ah-ing over whether to stay or to leave was becoming quite tiresome.  It’ll also be interesting to see what comes of Charlie’s reaction to Maggie’s death.  Will she feel guilt?  Will it harden her attitudes?  Will it make her more cautious and less headstrong and consequently irritating?  Who knows, but I do know that Spiridakos will struggle to convey whatever emotion is written into the script.

At present, Billy Burke is carrying the show.  There isn’t enough of Elizabeth Mitchell and David Lyons, and when they are on screen, not enough is happening to make it interesting.  I’ve been impressed by Burke, and he really is the most watchable character on the show.  I hope that the Militia member who’s following them also manages to become part of the group.  It’ll open up a lot of trust issues, but he has the potential to be a hugely interesting character.

The problem with this week was simply that not enough happened.  Obviously, the writers wanted Maggie off the show, and it didn’t really matter how.  Getting stabbed by a crazed lunatic in an abandoned theme park seems a particularly hollow way to die, but I guess it does highlight the danger and realism of the universe they’ve set Revolution in.

As with previous weeks, the episode is pretty well filmed, and I was glad to see no gratuitous action sequences.  They all seemed fitting.  The tornado just happening to fall on the shack Danny and the Militia Captain found themselves in seems like a convenient plot device, and Danny being captured I believe the 19th time wasn’t particularly exciting.  I did enjoy the moral dilemma Danny faced when being forced to choose whether to save the Captain.  I do think it would have been far more interesting had he left him to die, and him being forced to live with those consequences, but I’ve enjoyed JD Prado on the show and wouldn’t like to see him depart yet.

I’m not going to rant about Spiridakos again.  She’s awful, everyone knows it, and I do wish they’d kill her off and replace that family’s representation in the group with Danny.  I also think they need to do something quickly with Nora, before she becomes pointless.

Not enough happens this week, despite Maggie’s death.  Quite who the Computer Geek will confide in now regarding the power could be interesting, and there’s enough in the show to keep me tuning in each week.  But this instalment is, sadly, markedly weaker.  It’s more generic, it’s less compelling, and I think surely the plot hole of the week is that they could have climbed into the roof, shot all the dogs from above, and been on their merry way.  The whole thing just fell flat.

It’s hopefully just that obligatory new-show-finding-its-feet episode, where the plot is contrived and the pacing feeling unnatural.  All shows have them, normally three to six weeks in.  Hopefully this isn’t the start of a trend, because if it is, the show won’t see a second season.

As a result, I’m giving this week a paltry two rabid theme park dogs out of five.

[easyreview title="At A Glance" cat1title="Acting" cat1detail="Billy Burke continues to save the day.  More David Lyons and Elizabeth Mitchell please" cat1rating="2.5" cat2title="Filming" cat2detail="Nicely realised, but the storm didn't feel hugely convincing and there wasn't much excitement in terms of the locations used (generic theme park)." cat2rating="2.5" cat3title="Plot" cat3detail="Convoluted, and not enough happened to keep it entertaining." cat3rating="1.5" summary="Improvements are needed, but they remain totally possible."]

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Review: Revolution S01E03 No Quarter

In Brief: A mixed bag.

In Detail: The latest instalment of Revolution features continued improvement in some areas, but is let down by confused pacing and continued poor performances from Tracy Spiridakos.

I don’t want to rant each week about the pointlessness of Tracy Spiradkos’ character – Charlie – in the show.  Yet her continued weak performances and, quite honestly, lack of relevance to the interesting aspects of the show continue with week.  Revolution‘s most interesting aspects are without a doubt the relationship between Miles and Monroe, Monroe’s past and the power tablets.  Charlie, and her brother Danny, have quickly faded into insignificance after their headline role in the first week, and the show would do well to realise this quickly, and readjust smoothly.

‘No Quarter’ improves from previous weeks in the sense that the action scenes are less gratuitous, excellently shot throughout, and the revelation that Miles was Monroe’s second in command adds a hugely interesting dynamic into the show’s backbone.  The flashbacks are brilliant this week, showing Miles as the more aggressive partner in his friendship with Monroe, and Monroe being largely pacifistic in his response to the post-blackout world.  I look forward to discovering more about the reversal of the partnership, and Miles subsequent withdrawal from the Monroe Republic’s Militia.

The large problem with the episode is that despite this game-changer, there’s not a huge deal of progress made.  Most of the characters remain stationary throughout, with Miles et al stuck at the rebel base until being rescued by Charlie and Nor, Aaron and Maggie in Grace’s house – Grace who has mysteriously disappeared, and we learned nothing more about – and Danny remaining stuck in Militia hands.  There’s not really enough progress, but at least the scenes in the rebel base and in Grace’s house were interesting enough to keep me watching.

I think the Charlie character – for the first time – has shown a flicker of potential.  She could turn into a good character if written well enough, but I have serious doubts about the ability of the show-runners and Spiridakos to achieve that.  Her watching the rebel die in the infirmary demonstrating completely the flaws in her character, leaping to aid the soldier without hesitation and then watching him die with very little emotional conviction.  Note, I said conviction, not emotion.  She appears upset, but I didn’t believe she was really upset.  Therein lies the difference between Spiridakos and the other actors on the show.  When Maggie’s children appeared on her iPhone late in the episode, I believed she was feeling upset, and Maggie isn’t even that interesting a character either, but I do empathise with her.

My love-in for David Lyons continues; I simply find him captivating as an actor, and Billy Burke as Miles appears to get stronger each week.  I particularly enjoyed Miles’ angry put-down for Charlie for being a brat, but that’s understandable given my dislike for Charlie.

There’s some clunky dialogue, especially between Miles and Nora, and indeed Nora’s character spilling her heart to Charlie didn’t seem entirely believable.  But all in all, it’s not too bad.

The pacing of the episode left me feeling a little flat.  At the end, I blinked and thought, “Is that it?”  Partially, that’s a good thing, since the episode flew past and I clearly enjoyed watching it, but it didn’t build and fall at a natural rate in my opinion.  This may, in part, be because the rescue of Miles from Militia hands was a decision made off-screen, therefore there was no build-up or expectation to it, and it came as a bit of a surprise.  It was also a bit too easy, considering how terrifying everyone says the Militia are as a military force.

On the plus side, I think next week Danny’s plot could become more interesting.  Now the Militia know where Miles is, and who he’s running around with, he becomes an easier target.  Danny is consequently of less importance.  I sincerely hope they finally take him to Monroe, instead of sitting around all day.

All in all, I think the show’s saved itself from the cardinal sin: sliding into mediocrity after a pretty decent pilot.  It’s kept its level, and retained my interest.  This is a strong episode, but it could quite easily have been the best episode yet by far with a few pacing changes.  I look forward to next week.

I’m giving this one three and half exploding bridges out of five.

[easyreview title="At A Glance" cat1title="Acting" cat1detail="Strong, but weakened by Tracy Spiridakos' continued poor performances." cat1rating="3" cat2title="Filming" cat2detail="Strongest so far, with excellent action scenes." cat2rating="4.5" cat3title="Plot" cat3detail="Most interesting episode so far, but let down by poor pacing and the pointless Danny plot line." cat3rating="3.5" summary="Probably my favourite episode to date, but it could have been better."]

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Review: Doctor Who – The Angels Take Manhattan

The Angels Take Manhattan

In Brief:

Detective Noir? Check. Pond Farewell? Check. Emotional? Very much check.

In Depth:

Beware: spoilers within.

At the close of David Tennant’s last episode of nuWho, the trailer for series 5 promised us that “The end is only the beginning” and before long we had Eleven, Amelia Pond, Rory Williams, space whales, Daleks, Weeping Angels, River Song, vampire fish, Dreamlords, Sontarans, River Song (again!), Romans and the list goes on…

And here we are again, at another ending, for now the end of the Ponds’ is nigh…

This is a beautiful episode in terms of setting, look, theme and atmosphere; this is very nicely assisted some more high quality musical scores from Murray Gold, and some brilliant work by returning director Nick Hurran; the production team also made a large portion of the filming for this episode over in New York, and this extra expense really helps to sell the episode as a genuine experience for a heartfelt piece. This is not an episode that uses a handful of establishing shots to say “Look at me! I’m in New York city”; instead the action shot in the real New York is woven gently into the narrative of the story and very nicely bookending (once we are past the opening credits) the episode, you could say.

It helps make the transition into the production team created world of 1930’s New York that much more believable; speaking of which, what a glorious pre-opening credits teaser for the episode. We follow a detective in 1930’s New York as he investigates, for a local gangster, an apartment block inhabited by statues that can move when you’re not looking… The Weeping Angels are most definitely back, and they have regained some of their “Blink” scare tactics, as the episode feels a lot more claustrophobic as Team TARDIS are trapped by fate as it were, and they also get a new twist as Moffat has introduced Weeping Angel Cherubs, who, unlike their silent counterparts, giggle creepily when they cannot be seen…

The Angels have also returned to their original method of murder – transporting their victims back through time and/or space, and feeding off the subsequent temporal energy of the life that would have been lived… and the opening teaser shows us this trait so powerfully, you can’t help but worry for the fate of the Ponds, and when the secret of the apartment block is revealed, oh it’s good…

Launching fresh off the back of last weeks “The Power of Three” was a good move because this episode, for Team TARDIS at least, starts off so warmly; Eleven and the Ponds, picnicking in Central Park with some good natured banter. Rory leaves for coffee, while Eleven reads a story to Amy, from a book he found in his jacket, the adventures of a private detective in 1938 New York, Melody Malone…

As Rory walks back with the coffees, a Cherub is shown to be following him, and as the Doctor reads from his book, he suddenly becomes aware that what he is reading is exactly what is happening to Rory, himself, Amy and now River Song (yes, she’s back but this episode is not about her, it’s about the relationship of the Ponds) at that moment. That story book, then becomes what the rest of the plot builds itself upon; for the more that Eleven and Amy read ahead, the more set in stone (pun not intended) Rory’s fate becomes… it’s another time-twisting, head scratching tale from Steven Moffat (his favourite, I’m sure) as he examines how much time can really be rewritten, and what makes a fixed point in time, fixed.

Actually more than  a few people who have watched this episode have commented on how powerless and almost useless Eleven becomes when he realises what is happening is unavoidable; there’s two scenes in particular that stand out in my mind more than others. First when Eleven tells Amy to stop reading ahead in the Melody Malone book, it might help them find Rory, but what if she reads that Rory dies – once it’s written, once Eleven knows it will happen, he believes it will be unavoidable. The second scene is more powerful, and focuses on Eleven and River Song – trying to get spoilers without reading the full book, Amy suggests the chapter titles; her suggestion saves Rory, but Eleven spies one titled “Amelia’s Final Farewell” – this moment breaks Eleven; and he becomes a creature of impotent rage, powerless, angry, hurting. River serves a gentle counterpoint at this moment…

“I know that face. Doctor, tell me what’s wrong!” 

And the reason is, he is powerless. He knows that sooner or later, all his companions will leave him; the only questions have ever been how and when. But seeing it written down, the Timelord, the ageless God, is out of control of the situation. Well played, Matt Smith.

Let’s talk about River for a moment; this is a delightful return to some of her more flirty roots. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed last seasons story about Melody Pond/River Song, but I’m very glad to see a return to the in and out and companion, that flirts and brings out a new side to the man she loves (I did enjoy the Doctor’s final checks as he goes to meet his wife). She’s not here though for more on her story though; this as much as her saying goodbye to her parents as it is for Eleven saying goodbye to his best friends.

But it’s also the revelations she brings about; she’s now Professor Song (the Library comes ever closer) and she’s also been pardoned, a long time ago, for the murder of the best man she ever knew, because apparently, he never existed. We’ve had some hints of this so far this season (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship) but here it is confirmed that Eleven has been going around and deleting knowledge about himself from databases… 

“You told me I got too big…”

And now let’s talk about the Ponds; oh little Amelia Pond, how you’ve grown. You were a little girl two and a half years ago, then you ran away with a strange Raggedy Man on the eve before your  wedding to the man you love. You saw opportunity and adventure and you took it, and then when you apparently lost the man you love (Amy’s Choice) you chose to risk death because a life without him, without Rory Williams, was too much to bear 

I suppose, thinking about it, the way this story is set up, your choice was always going to be unavoidable.

Rory Williams, from the moment he’s touched by an Angel and thrown back in time, you worry about his fate. When we’re in the apartment block, and Team TARDIS, sees another version of Rory, old and dying in bed, coupled with Eleven turning away from the scene, not wanting to watch even though he’s seen too much already, his fate seems certain. And then Amy Pond, sorry, Williams, steps in – there’s a chance, a slim, near impossible chance, that if Rory can escape this fate, it would create a paradox, which would wipe the apartment block, the Weeping Angels from existence and stop the whole chain of events from ever occurring in the first place.

Like grabbing the hand of the man she loves, she takes this chance and Rory embraces it with her and they escape to the roof (enter the Statue of Liberty as a giant sized Weeping Angel; it’s cute but don’t think about it too much…) and then we get a touching, emotional scene between the lovers… Rory knows they cannot escape, at least not together, the Angels want him, but if he dies now, jumping off the edge of the building, causality is cheated, the paradox is created, and he might live again.

“For you, I can do anything.”

Amy chooses, of course, to fall with him; there are no guarantees, only hope, and she will not live a life without the man she loves 

“Together. Or not at all.”

Success! The paradox is created, everything resets and we find ourselves back in 2012, the whole of Team TARDIS together again. Naturally.

And then divided forever. Naturally.

A lone Weeping Angel has survived the paradox. It has found the team and once again Rory is thrown back in time; no big goodbye, just here and then gone. Eleven cannot follow in the TARDIS. Too many time distortions, a paradox that shouldn’t exist. He is so sorry, Amelia will have to live without her Centurion. But she won’t. She can’t, and much as before, she chooses to follow her man over the edge into the past through an Angels touch where they can live out their lives together…

That scene on the rooftop is really Rory, and by extension Arthur Darvill’s, goodbye scene. He plays it very confidently; he is funny, charming, brave and loving – Rory has always been capable of the greatest feats for his one true love, and his willingness to sacrifice himself for her has always been his best trait. It’s a damn shame we are robbed of a tender/emotional farewell for his character with Eleven and it’s not something I would have call a necessary move either. 

But then we don’t always get what we want, and I think that lack of satisfaction can be a good thing in some ways – always leave us wanting more.

And then there’s Amy’s goodbye; she gets two really.

There’s the moment before she chooses to follow Rory into the past, without Eleven or River, is a powerful one and Karen pulls at all the right heartstrings. It’s very quick, it’s very sudden; she holds her hand out to her daughter, and tells her to look after her husband, she has no time for heartfelt speeches. There’s just a reaction in the heat of the moment – it’s very Amy Pond, and it’s also very right given everything that has come before.

And then there’s her epilogue, her afterword of sorts. It’s very sweet; it’s not a particular long one but it carries long after she’s finished speaking. It’s the last page of the Melody Malone novel (early on the Doctor makes point of ripping out the last page, he doesn’t like endings you see), so Eleven reads it to himself, back in Central Park (bookends, get it?) as she tells him they were happy, and gives him the words he needs to move on, and then we get a very nice call back to the start of little Amelia Ponds journey – another story at an end.

“Hello old friend. And here we are. You and me, on the last page.”

I suppose thinking about it, the fact that this is a story, and this episodes hinges around a book that tells their fate, is what Steven Moffat’s been writing about all along; Eleven was always Amy’s Raggedy Man, he came back to life after rebooting the universe through telling Amy his story as a fairytale that she would remember on her wedding day; and here it is again, in black and white. The last page of this story, of Amelia Ponds story.

And that’s that – it’s not an all out, universe saving, explosion filled affair; it’s a much more emotional and personal story; I loved Eleven’s selfishness at full force as Amy chooses to go back with her husband at the end of the story, he almost begs her to stay with him, and it brings a real sense of irony to their lovely banter at the start of the episode where she jokingly suggests that she needs to get a babysitter for him.

Am I entirely happy with their exit? I know it came at the right time and I’m definitely looking forward to a new companion, and the new story just waiting to be told… Personally I don’t think it thematically fits with what came before; Amy and Rory struggling to adapt to a life half in and half out of the TARDIS… but I suppose there’s some irony in having that choice taken away from them…

For this reviewer, I would have been far more satisfied, if after this last adventure, after surviving against all the odds once more, Amy chooses to leave the TARDIS life to never have to face the chance of losing her husband again. Her sacrifice for him if you like.

It also makes some thematic sense given that, given that we’ve had a few references to how Amy is unable to have any more children due to the events of “A Good Man Goes to War” I thought we might be heading into territory where she becomes miraculously pregnant and chooses not to potentially have another incident where her baby is taken from her… or given that the episode is set in New York and the newly regenerated Melody Pond/River Song from the end of “Day of the Moon” would end up there in the 60’s, perhaps both Amy and Rory would end up in a  timey-wimey shenanigan where they DO end up raising her as a young girl, in the 60s, and are also responsible for bringing her over to England to live in Leadworth with their younger selves! Phew!

Complicated? Yes! But I really thought that’s where we were heading…!

This ending though did give us some beautiful moments; all the aforementioned, but particularly the powerless Eleven scene as he rages against his inability to avoid their fate, and some very quiet but personally affecting scenes as River reveals how badly the Doctor deals with the aging of his friends (did he really not notice her glasses, or was he pretending not to notice to not show how uncomfortable it made him?), and his distaste for endings…

At the end of the day, their ending is now written. I have questions (how does the Melody Malone book get into Eleven’s pocket?!), I have quibbles (why can’t he just go and look them up in New York in 1940?!) but I can also use my own reasoning; perhaps Eleven chooses not to go looking for them, he’s left them behind once for their own good (The God Complex), why can’t he do so again?

What I do know is that I was moved by this episode; it told a very different story to the best episode of this series so far, Asylum of the Daleks, but it was no less powerful, or affecting, if anything it was more so; and I will miss both Rory and Amy, Arthur and Karen.

And I think that’s all I need – bravo Mr Moffat, congratulations Arthur and Karen.

4 and a half last pages sitting in picnic hampers out of 5.

Next Time

Christmas. The Doctor. Jenna-Louise Coleman. How many weeks is that?!

Feedback 

Do you agree with me? Do you disagree? Let us know, we love a good discussion here at Sci-Fi Heaven!

 

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Review: Revolution S01E02 Chained Heat

In Brief:  Better, but still some way to go.

In Detail:  After last week’s pilot, I wasn’t holding huge amounts of hope when I sat down to watch the second episode of Revolution.  It was formulaic, predictable and the pacing wasn’t great.

This week showed improvement in some areas, but worsening weaknesses in others.

I felt the pacing was stronger.  Splitting Charlie and Miles from the others has helped speed things up, and seeing more of Munroe alongside three other plot lines has made the show feel more complex and interesting than it had.

I think the strongest two characters so far are Miles and Giancarlo Esposito’s great portrayal of the militia captain.  I’m looking forward to learning more about Grace, and the attack on her by someone known only as Randall only made that section of the plot more interesting.  Furthermore, Nora seems like a strong character – and her implied history with Miles will surely come to light in later episodes.  I think the show needed her introduction, and I’m glad it’s come along quickly.

The major problem remains Tracy Spiridakos.  She cannot act.  She seems completely out of her depth in this show.  She isn’t helped me nauseating writing of the character.  It feels like there’s been some feministic empowerment attempted her, infusing her character with a desire to be strong and meaningful, but it’s at the complete detriment to common sense.  She’s a nuisance, she’s irritating, and to be honest, I wish she weren’t in the show.  I’m all for having a female lead, but not Tracy Spiridakos.

The beautiful filming remains, although the reliance on the action scenes with loads of sword-fighting will quickly get boring.  I thought the assault on the Militia prison was good, although the fight scene could have been half as long.  I’m not sure what they add when they run for over a minute, especially if it’s just killing and combat without stages and progression of battle to keep it interesting.

The standout performer so far, Giancarlo Esposito.

Furthermore, I’m not sure what the flashbacks are adding to the show.  They’re good, sure, but they just feel a little obtuse.  They stick out a little, like a very sore leg.  They’re interesting, mostly, but they feel like a furious attempt to add some character to Charlie.  The infant Charlie is a better actor than Tracy Spiridakos, coincidentally, so I guess that can’t be too bad.

There’s enough here plot wise to keep me watching.  The more we see of David Lyons the better, he’s just such a tremendous actor.  They just need to sort Charlie asap,  and keep the plots interesting (easier said than done).  It also wouldn’t hurt if Danny got off the back of that truck sometime soon, but I guess we can’t have everything can we?

As a closing thought, I hope the show doesn’t make getting the power back on its primary focus for the duration of its run.  I feel the show could do that for a season, maybe two, but partial restoration of power, and watching people re-industrialise and adapt, would make for very interesting viewing.  Unfortunately, I can see the show messing around with these mysterious stones and plot lines about the power for seasons without making significant headway.  That may be a pessimistic observation after just two weeks, and if it’s proved to be wrong then I’ll be delighted.

Since this was a marginal improvement over last week, I’m giving this three expensive sniper rifles out of five. 

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Review: Revolution S01E01

In brief: Beautifully made, but ultimately falls flat.

In depth: Revolution, NBC’s new post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama, is a real kettle of very mixed fish.

It’s got epic production all over it, courtesy of Bryan Burke and J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot.  But once you get past the visual splendour of the show, it’s easy to see that there’s suddenly not that much substance behind it.

The plots presented in the pilot are both formulaic and not overly exciting, and the pacing is so tedious that it’s difficult to get drawn into the show as it moves along.  Daddy dies, daughter resolves within seconds to travel the whole way to Chicago, taking along the obligatory overweight comic relief and scary step-mother, only one of whom has any charisma.  It didn’t enthuse me for the series to come.

There are certain actors in the cast who have plenty of talent.  David Lyons is responsible for one of the best acted scenes I’ve ever seen on television when he was in ER, but whether or not Revolution can correctly flex the acting muscle of its lead stars remains to be seen.  Specifically, I found Tracy Spiridakos to lack a lot of believability in the conviction of her performance.  This is a big, break-out role for her, and I can’t help but feel she’s got cast in it just because she’s “hot”.  It’s not that her acting was that bad, necessarily, but it was slightly flat, and when the whole show didn’t blow me away, it really needed one of the actors to sit up and take the bull by the horns, turning in a wonderful performance along the way.  Sadly, we didn’t get that.  Maybe in future weeks we will, but I don’t know if the show will last long enough.

There’s not much here to keep me coming back for me.  It took me a while to motivate myself enough to sit down and watch the pilot, and I don’t feel like I’m overly excited about the next episode.  The only vaguely sci-fi element of it is ‘the device’ that can turn power back on, but in all honesty, it’s like taking the mysterious element of Lennie James’ character in Jericho, but making it even less interesting.

Perhaps I have a certain cynicism attached to productions of these new American shows.  I’m skeptical that they’ll last more than half a season; I’m skeptical that the writers are willing (or capable, thanks to the networks) to take  risks.  I’m skeptical that the same faces keep getting cast ( such as Billy Burke from 24, Elizabeth Mitchell from Lost and David Lyons from ER) in all these network shows.  There are almost certainly capable actors out there who are gifted and could take a script like this and lift it to the next level.  Perhaps if the casting director behind Firefly got a hold of something like this, it wouldn’t feel quite as bland.

I’m at risk of descending into full-blown rant here, so I’ll dicuss what’s good about the show.

It is beautifully put together.  The scenes of overgrown cities and towns are atmospheric and believably set.  Furthermore, it’s just a great universe to set a show in.  The Fallout-3 style world has so much potential that I don’t think has been realised yet.  Hopefully Revolution will manage that, but for the time being I remain cynical.  Also, what’s the deal with everyone still having perfect hair and skin in a cosmetic free world?  Are Americans really that scared of ugly people on their screens?  Apparently.

I do want to know what’s going on, but only just.  The “mystery” is so idiot-proof and one dimensional, it’s barely a mystery.  This isn’t like Lost where a dozen strands could come together in infinite ways, at the moment, it’s just too predictable.  I don’t know what the mystery about the power will be, but I’d imagine it’ll be one of: an inside job from someone seeking to gain a lot of power/a government project gone wrong/private company or small group’s evil plot to take over the world.

I can’t help but agree with Mary Ann Johanson, who said that “Revolution is science fiction for people who don’t want to be bothered with any of that tedious thinking stuff that tends to go along with true science fiction”.  So far, that seems accurate.

Two and half flickering light bulbs out of five, on this one.

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Review: Doctor Who – Power of Three

The Power of Three

In Brief:

Shades of oldWho, RTDWho, and nuNewWho!

In Depth:

I think, maybe, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall snuck in a part one, at least thematically, to the midseries finale goodbye to the Ponds…

See nuWho can’t just pick up and companion and drop them off all hidy hi and hody ho like they used to in oldWho; the companion(s) are now more than ever the audience surrogate, we meet them, their families, their home life, their personal lives and for the first time ever, we now have a married couple in the TARDIS, who are feeling forced to choose between the Doctor, and normality.

[quote]We have two lives.[/quote]

When the Ponds leave next week, in what I’m sure will be a heartbreaking exit, this episode very nicely underlines exactly how good the Doctor is with his companions by his side; why he is so much better because of them and why they are so much better because of him.

As for the episode itself, it’s a very good blend of some RTD nuWho series elements; there’s an interesting and funny look at the home lives of the Ponds, sorting trash, the fridge, getting ready for work, before Eleven comes along and picks them up. Except this time, Eleven has come to stay because whist the Ponds, in fact the whole world sleeps, strange small black cubes materialise overnight in every house, office and street (this is nicely shown via some talking heads on tv screens and news updates, complete with BBC television hosts, another RTD series element).

These mysterious cubes then do… nothing. And the next day, nothing. So Eleven is forced to sit down, to stay, and watch this ‘invading’ force for any sign of malice. For a man who is constantly on the run, this proves more than slightly frustrating as he wrestles with boredom and a lack of patience, and it even drives the Ponds a bit crazy with his antics. But it does drive home the point that the Doctor cannot do the slow life (shades of Vincent and the Doctor) and that Amy and Rory must soon choose either one of the other – they cannot do both the travelling and exist normally – their friends notice they disappear for months at a time…

There’s actually a very good moment early on in the episode when Rory says he has to go to work, and Eleven calls his job small, and Rory completely stands up for himself and what he does; it’s a telling moment of just how far this character has come from The Eleventh Hour, and just where his priorities are starting to fall.

This episode also features the return of UNIT, not seen in the series since Moffat took the reigns; they bust down doors, catch Rory with his pants down (sort of), and then we get introduced to Kate Stewart, guest star Jemma Redgrave, who acts as the Scientific Leader of the military organisation. The character immediately endears herself to viewers, and the Doctor, by first apologising with a weary sort of sigh over UNIT’s methods, but insisting that is dragging them kicking and screaming into being a better UNIT, one that the Doctor, and her father could be proud of – because oh yes, there’s no hiding it, Kate is the daughter of oldWho’s main stay UNIT character, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, a fitting legacy character that we should hopefully see again!

[quote]Science leads, as an old friend once told him…[/quote]

There’s also another return in this episode, of the delightful Brian Williams, guest star Mark Williams, from earlier entry Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Apparently back from his travels of the world, and more content with his home life, he portrays a brilliant curiosity with the arrival of the cubes, actually speeds ahead of Eleven with his own theories, and provides more of a vigil over the cubes than anyone else seems to. But he also provides a very sweet counterpoint to the wonder and excitement of Eleven’s arrivals and departures, concerned as always for his son and daughter-in-law by asking a very simple question of the man who runs…

[quote]What happened to the others… who travelled with you?[/quote]

Eleven answers honestly, including the parts about the few who died, and assures Brian that it will not be them, never them… thematic foreshadowing at its best I do believe… but Eleven is not so unthinking as we might be led to believe as halfway through the episode, when it’s just Eleven and his Amelia Pond, he fully vocalises how he knows they want to stop. That he knows they will one day, perhaps sooner rather than later, have to say goodbye…

There’s also a well placed line where Amelia says that it feels like the travelling is running away which Eleven refutes absolutely; it’s not running away, it’s running to something because there’s also something waiting to been seen and he’s so emphatic you believe the truth in what he’s saying, whilst also acknowledging, as an audience, the fear that she might be right… It’s a beautifully quiet moment under the stars for the pair, and both Matt Smith and Karen Gillan say so much, with so little dialogue.

It’s then slightly unfortunate that between all the comedy with the Doctor living with the Ponds, the pathos of growing up and away from Eleven, that in the last 15 minutes or so the episode suddenly jumps back into the alien invasion plot. I have to say, as cubes go, the plan for the invasion was quite clever, but the resolution was too quick, too handy, and we never got a real explanation as to who the henchmen were, although you can make certain assumptions, and the idea behind the alien threat (the Shakri – represented by actor Steven Berkoff, who does better than the material represents, can we please see these guys and their Tally again?) is a solid addition to Timelord lore.

But I suppose, really, the invasion is just window dressing to what’s really going on here: the Ponds relationship to the Doctor, and choosing either real life, or Doctor life.

Actually the whole episode follows rather nicely on from previous entry, A Town Called Mercy, which as I highlighted in my review, felt more like the Ponds dropping in on Eleven’s life (we didn’t see him pick them up, they were just there and it was very much the Doctor’s story as he struggles with a man all too different, and yet all too similar to himself) and the Ponds/Amy’s effect on him… whereas this week was much more about the Doctor dropping in on them, how what he represents can be exciting and thrilling (love to know more about the Savoy and Zygons).

There’s some suggestions flying around that the running order was moved around a bit; A Town Called Mercy also gave us a line where Rory leaves his mobile phone charger in King Henry VIII’s ensuite, and yet we see them run into trouble with said King, in this episode. If they did slightly chop the running order up, I can only imagine it’s because it fits the theme developing here slightly better…

I wonder if this is what was given to writer Chris Chibnall as an instruction; it’s going to be the Ponds penultimate episode, show us their life with the Doctor popping in and out, we’ve talked about it, suggested it (this was all before Pond Life* was filmed I believe), but show us it, and tell us why it’s so hard to choose but why it’s so brilliant when you do choose him.

It’s quite sweet that its Brian Williams that gives them the impetus to travel with the Doctor once again; he can see that, despite everything, all the risks, it is the chance of a lifetime and they should grasp it with both hands.

Taking everything together, the RTD feel to the episode, the themes and threads that have been weaved, and what I’m sure is really a part one to next weeks midseries finale, I’m going to have to give this one 3 and a half Zygons impersonating hotel staff out of 5.

But my oh my, with such an upbeat, and in some ways triumphant ending (the Ponds and Eleven together! Dad’s approval! The Power… of Three!), and this is where the series must have been building to so far, the dropping in and out until finally they decide to take up the travelling again (!) the only place it can go is to tragedy…

We all know that New York awaits, and so do the Angels that Weep… Will the Ponds decision to travel with the Doctor finally be their undoing…? All I know is River Song is about and The Angels Take Manhatten…

*Pond Life is a series of short webisodes (and I mean, short) that you can find on YouTube or the official Doctor Who website – they show little snippets of the home life of the Ponds before the Doctor resurfaces properly in Asylum of the Daleks…

Doctor Who - A Town Called Mercy - Poster

Review: Doctor Who – A Town Called Mercy

Doctor Who - A Town Called Mercy - Poster

A Town Called Mercy

In Brief:

The Doctor. A Doctor. Two sides. One coin.

In Depth:

The latest Who offering promised a Wild West adventure… and we most certainly got it!

It’s probably best to say that, whilst A Town Called Mercy isn’t quite the beautifully dark Asylum of the Daleks romp, or the madcap hi-jinks of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, it does manage to place itself rather squarely between them – and even finds a few moments for quiet contemplation that the first two speedy entries to Series 7 could not!

Mercy begins quite simply compared to the others as well; rather than a reasonably long teaser before the opening credits, we get a brisk scene setter that both sets the piece as a legend of the Old West, and introduces us to the enemy of the piece, the Gunslinger – a beautifully created cyborg assassin. I give much praise to the costume, props and make up departments of nuWho, and to acting of Andrew Brooke, who brought this menacing figure to life.

We are then back with Eleven and the Ponds (there is no scene of him picking them up in amusing circumstances) as he has popped back into their lives; he’s supposed to be taking them to the Mexican Festival of the Dead, but fate being fickle, they’ve somehow landed on the outskirts of the town of ‘Mercy’, which is surrounded by a ‘barrier’ of wood and stones and Keep Out signs.

“Has someone been peeking at my Christmas list?!”

So naturally they head into town…

It really sells the piece that the production team went all the way to Spain and the filming site known as Fort Bravo, to film this adventure; the set is a classic example of an authentic Western town, right down to the Grand Central Bank! It probably helps to no end that various films over the years have been made at this site and has firmly cemented in viewers mind that this is what the Wild West would have looked like. But even then no CGI can compare to the real dust blowing across the ground, and the vast vistas of barren land.

The writer, Toby Whithouse, has crafted a marvellous story that weaves the best of the Western tropes (showdowns at noon, gunfights, mysterious strangers, gunmen) and included a few sci fi tropes for good measure; combined with the direction of Saul Metzstein, a real physical world that exists within the Whoniverse is very much present, and crucially, alive.

The guest stars this week are Adrian Scarborough (as Kahler Jex) and, deep breath now, Ben Browder (as Marshall Issac). Jex is the other alien of the adventure (separate to the Gunslinger), presented as another alien doctor who has dedicated his life to healing the sick; the townsfolk are very protective of the man, especially Issac, who believes that America is a land of second chances…

Adrian gives a very nice turn as Jex with a curious tilt to his accent that steps just the other side of English; determined, fearful and enigmatic. Unfortunately, for this reviewer, his role is somewhat sidestepped by the entrance of Issac, a character who sweeps in and takes control of a volatile situation, but without stealing the whole show from the main cast; but given that this role is played by Ben Browder of Farscape (possibly the most creative science fiction television I have had the pleasure of watching) and Stargate SG1 fame, it’s particularly thrilling to see him involved in nuWho. It’s a very selfless performance, where Browder gives much more to the characters and actors around him than the role probably calls for (until the moment where everything relies on what Issac does and the rest of the episode must inevitably follow!)

It turns out the Gunslinger is hunting down this Doctor Jex, and when the purpose why is revealed, it’s somewhat of a surprise how the story twists in the light. It turns out that Jex is responsible for creating the cyborg, through heavily implied disturbing experiments, all in the name of stopping a war on his home planet – he is regretful and seeking his own redemption for what he did in the name of war – but also firm in his choice.

Eleven is somewhat, understandably, horrified; this was a man who he saw some semblance of himself in. In one of the more shocking moments of the episode, but completely forecast by previous moments, Eleven, prompted by Jex to see similarities in their behaviour, forces Jex to cross over the Keep Out line to where the Gunslinger can get to him, and to make sure he can’t back across, he steals a gun and holds it point blank at Jex. Only a short regeneration ago, this is the man who never would…

“Today I honour the victims first! His, the Masters, the Daleks! All the people who died because of MY mercy!”

It’s here, now, that Amelia Pond steps up to the plate; acting as the voice of reason, and the audience, telling Eleven why he can’t do this, why he has to be better than this. It’s a great moment, between Karen Gillan and Matt Smith, where she has to out-Doctor him.

When reason, or better judgement returns, a quiet moment in the cells between the two Doctors is quite telling; Eleven sees too much of himself in the man. Jex has dedicated himself to healing the sick for his atonement, as has Eleven, in his own way, for all his sins.

“We all carry our prisons with us.”

Matt Smith is given a plethora of emotions to work with this week; elated at the mystery, horrified at the discovery, thrilled at finding someone like him, terrified by finding someone like him… You can see why Eleven still has so much more to explore as he keeps changing and growing as a character; in the darkness there is much good to be found.

It’s a shame really that Amy and Rory are not given as much to work with; but maybe that’s the point. They are just stopping in the Doctors’ life now; he has no one with him to ground him, to keep him seeing everything through fresh eyes – more than ever, this episode is more about how the Doctor sees things than the companions – perhaps that why there is no sequence showing Eleven picking up the Ponds.

The episode isn’t all doom, gloom and grit; there are plenty of laughs and humour found too. I’m torn between the Doctor proudly swaggering into a saloon and ordering a drink (“Tea. The strong stuff. Leave the bag in…”) and his latest ability to be revealed: “I speak horse…”

I’ve been a bit of the fence about how much is Eleven being silly and mysterious, and how much is truth, but given that he maintains a conversation with the horse (…[Her name is] Susan… and she wants you to respect her lifestyle choice…”) after he has ridden out into the desert and there is no one else around… I’m more inclined to believe it.

By episode’s end, events have taken an optimistic tone; wrongs are righted by those who committed them, and a new legend in history of the Old West has been born. We are left as viewers not really knowing who to condemn; as a wise man said, America is the land of the second chances… this episode of Doctor Who reaffirms that who we have been and the things we have done, do not have to define us for the rest of our lives… and sometimes they do…

“You’re both good men… you just forget sometimes.”

This episode isn’t quite as complicated thematically as Whithouse’s last episode from Season 6, The God Complex, (which I enjoyed very much by the way) and I’m inclined to say I’d like to give these episode 3.5 horses racing across the desert out of 5, but that just seems unfair given that there was more of an emotional story at the heart of this offering than last weeks Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, but they are two very different beasts… I’m going to have to settle on a very strong 3 and a half!

Next week: the slowest invasion of Earth ever… and the Doctor comes to stay. In your spare room. Bring on The Power of Three

Dinosaurs on a spaceship

Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship Review

In Brief:

I actually can’t do better than the episode title…

In Depth:

A very good episode that jumps straight back into the current set up for the first half of Doctor Who series 7, whereby the Doctor has no regular travelling companion, instead he picks up people along the way for brief trips and then drops them off again!

“This is the gang! Never had a gang before!”

This episode figuratively blasts off from Egypt 1334 BC, to India 2367, to African plains circa 1902, to modern day Earth (specifically the Ponds [they are not Williams’] living room) and then FORWARD again to 2367.

All in the first 10 minutes – got that? That is how fast this episode moves and it does so delightfully, maintaining the viewers interest, and really showcasing the movie/blockbuster feel that Moffat and his crack team have been advocating for months now. But I think what’s really key is that this episode is not as dark as the series opener – there is no divide within the Ponds here – fact is they come across as though they’ve never been stronger!

So Eleven has just wrapped up an incident in ancient Egypt with Queen Nefertiti or Neffy to her friends apparently (Rhian Steele), who tags along, next is big game hunter John Riddell (Rupert Graves), and of course the Ponds (it’s been a while… 10 months!).

Oh and Rory’s dad – Brian Williams (Mark Williams).

Eleven whisks them all away to the spaceship of the title, which contains, you guessed it… dinosaurs! Which is on a course to Earth. Which is currently tracking it. And will launch missiles in 6 hours.

In a few short moments the gang is quickly divided up (Eleven, Rory & Brian opposite Amy, Neffy and Riddell) and both work separately towards discovering why the ship is headed to Earth, who built the ship (I only saw it coming just before they revealed it – I’m silly like that), and why are those who built it no longer onboard…

And then there are also two large robots (think C-3PO and R2D2 only bigger. With lasers) and trader/space pirate Solomon (David Bradley)!

With so many characters involved before we’ve even gotten to the 20 minute mark you could be forgiven for feeling this episode is a wee bit over-stuffed (!) but the proof is in the pudding and writer Chris Chibnall gives every single character their due. Riddell and Solomon both come over rather one note characters, given not much in the way of motivation or reasons for who they are and how they came to be, but it’s more than up for by the sheer vigour and relish they put into their roles.

I’d love to see Riddell back; it’s a shame it most likely won’t be without Amelia Pond and her great big gun by his side!

“I’m worth two men… you can help if you like…” KA-CHIK!

It’s Nefertiti who’s character gets some delicious lines and moments within the episode too, sparking very nicely off of our dear Amy Pond too! Amelia (Karen Gillan) particularly delights, as not having to play moody and heartbroken, instead she gets to play Doctor for Riddell and Neffy, solving her own little mysteries to help her Raggedy Man any way she can, and the sheer delight to be taking charge!

And of the Ponds in general it is very good to see them getting along and bouncing off of each other; throw in Rory’s dad into the mix you do get some cracking one-liners.

Funnily enough it’s Brian Williams who gets the stand out moment of the episode, which has absolutely nothing to do with dinosaurs on a spaceship, running and pick shouty-explodey-wodey moments – it’s just a small moment towards the end of the episode but you’ll know it because its so vastly different in tone to everything that came before and I did love the music… But he also offers some good scenes between him and Rory, where he gets to show off his nursing and confident TARDIS traveller side. It’s actually brilliant to see where Brian’s character ends up at the end of this episode – faced with the Ponds leaving very soon now, having a sort of companion who is overwhelmed by the events but actually sees the solution through all the madness happening around him, and grows because of it, is very satisfying.

“I am NOT a Pond!”

I’m happy to see he’ll be returning in Chibnalls next episode of the series, The Power of Three.

What’s particularly striking about this episode is just how much fun Matt Smith is having as Eleven; he gets to bounce around the screen (seriously, watch how he runs compared to everyone else) and he shifts acting gears at a moments notice from playful to serious. His first moments interacting with Brian, blaming him and accusing him of invading his TARDIS (the Doctors fault), turning on Rory for bringing his dad along without permission (“You materialised around us!”) to welcoming him on board as a deliberate tactic. The episode is Matt Smith firing on all cylinders.

There’s a lot of good back and forth banter and interplay, but the serious moments do follow.

Take Eleven with Solomon where it takes it up a notch; gone is the playful façade and you do start to wonder exactly how well do we the viewer, really know this man. The actions the Doctor takes at the end of this episode do fit the man now, especially after a particularly uncomfortable act Solomon commits to get his own way…

Or how about Amelia and Eleven, discussing in a brief moment, where so much is left unsaid, that the Doctor is weening himself off of the Ponds, and Amelia genuinely fears she has been replaced with Riddell and Neffy. We know the Ponds are coming to the end of their time with the Doctor, but Amy’s bold faced statement about what could only tear them apart…

There’s also the gentle re-enforcement that now that the Doctor is “dead” he no longer is recognised; Solomon scans him in an attempt to value his identity and the computer, which has archives of all time and space, cannot find a match. In between stories is Eleven going around and deleting knowledge of himself? The Question is coming… Doctor Who indeed…

Oh and I haven’t even mentioned the dinosaurs yet who looked glorious! They are used when necessary and an awful lot of time has clearly gone in the CGI (was it the Mill or the Walking with Dinosaurs team!?) and the animatronics/physical versions! When the triceratops licks Brian William’s in pursuit of his uh, lets say sporting goods, it was particularly funny to see his (and Rory’s) reactions. The dinosaurs conveyed real menace and playful insecurity as needed – to quote Mr Pond “Goodo!”

So all in all, I have to say this is a good, fun episode to watch. It’s such a refreshing change to last weeks more grim and gritty approach from Moffat which challenged and thrilled, whilst this one sparks and runs. Both approaches kept this reviewer on the edge of his seat, and disbelieving at how much time had really gone by.

Clearly this blockbuster format is working a treat!

3 and a half Doctors riding dinosaurs out of 5!

Next week? Showdown at the OK Corral in A Town Called Mercy…