Tag Archives: Doctor Who

Doctor Who: Series 6: Episode 10 – The Girl Who Waited


My thoughts on last week’s episode are a whole seven days late but how fitting that you, dear reader, should have to wait for the summary of an episode that had our favourite ginger time traveller waiting for decades. On the plus side you can now have a double dose of the Doctor over the next couple of days. Please forgive me?

I may already be stretching the waiting analogy too far by saying this but The Girl Who Waited was worth waiting for. It comes second only to The Doctor’s Wife in this series so far in terms of quality and emotional impact. Interestingly after last week’s average spooky tale which tasted better with second helpings, the wow and wallop factor was most potent here the first time round.

As Dan Martin’s series blog for The Guardian points out, this story married both “hard” sci-fi and the sometimes sickening softness of grand romance. Both approaches to an episode can turnoff viewers as well as delight them. There are legions of fans longing for the sentimentality of the RTD era to return but also thick ranks of those, myself included, who mostly cringe at his contrived emotional spectacles, especially after an astoundingly awful and dismal climax to the latest Torchwood series.

Thankfully writer Tom MacRae has produced something closer to the brilliance of Moffat’s budget episode Blink, with minimum screen time for the Doctor, despite embracing the extremes of science fiction and adventure. How refreshing it is, whatever the intriguing intricacies of Moffat’s plotting, to be enjoying episodes with self contained stories, centred on interesting ideas. Two key elements of The Girl Who Waited highlighted why I love the Moffat era as a whole though.

Firstly the virus that has forced the universe’s second most popular and beautiful planet into quarantine can only kill two hearted beings like the Doctor, not Amy and Rory. Moffat has somehow taken a character that is infinitely experienced, wise and intelligent, not to mention protected by regenerations, and made him vulnerable again and again. Secondly the ethics of time and space travel in the TARDIS are scrutinized once more, along with the real, negative human consequences on our Time Lord’s companions.

Rory goes through hell in this episode, watching his wife age in the blink of an eye and suddenly resent him. Amy of course is the real star, enduring isolation and hopelessness. Karen Gillan convinced me with her performance that she has the makings of a fine actress. Until now I saw her only as a capable, limited companion. But here she had to convey the essence of two people who are different but also the same. No easy task but she succeeds really convincingly. Old Amy sounds different, acts different, feels different, with naivety and youth stripped away to a mere glimmer. Young Amy is the one we know but she’s different too, also touched by the near miss, moved by a visual representation of her true love for Rory.

I was talking with a friend last night who didn’t enjoy this episode. She thought the Handbots were naff opponents and didn’t see what the fuss was about; leave old Amy, who she found grumpy and irritating, and the whole mix up would never have happened. But it did happen. Old Amy had real reasons to be a bit pissed off with the Doctor. I felt my friend was missing the point, even if I agreed with her partially after a second viewing.

Yes the whole setup was a little forced and yes some of the dialogue was far too mushy. But the Handbots were never the real enemy. The Doctor’s lifestyle is the baddie here. His “whimsy” can drop his friends into extremely damaging situations. In the Moffat era the sheer impact of the man on tiny humans has been illustrated more plainly. Amy’s childhood was shaped by her imaginary friend, her baby stolen from her, her husband forced to wait for 2000 years outside what must have felt like her tomb. The Ponds have a range of reasons to loathe the Doctor as well as love him. Might the whispers from earlier in the series about Rory turning to the dark side be true, and what’s more, justified, after the unforgivable manipulations of this episode?

Also anyone think the Green Anchor/Red Waterfall buttons might crop again? Or just an irrelevant random detail?

Tonight The God Complex looks like it could be even better, with David Walliams, the Weeping Angels, a creepy hotel and a script by the writer of Being Human. Bring it on.

Doctor Who: Series 6: Episode 9 – Night Terrors


Mark Gatiss has an enviable reputation as a writer and an actor. Together with Steven Moffat he masterminded the BBC’s modern take on Sherlock Holmes, an idea conceived during trips to Cardiff for Doctor Who. But despite his success elsewhere he’s not yet pulled off an outstanding trip in the TARDIS. The Unquiet Dead and The Idiot’s Lantern were both enjoyable enough adventures for Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant’s Timelords but neither episode shined as a highlight of their tenures, as Moffat’s previous scripts have done. And last year’s introduction of the new Daleks was a contender for the weakest episode of Matt Smith’s first series.

Expectations were high for Night Terrors though. This was Gatiss embracing the traditions of Doctor Who to deliver a classic story and a one off compared to Moffat’s increasingly series arc based romps. Here Gatiss was given licence to write the sort of episode Moffat used to excel at, based on simple childhood fears.

George is scared of practically everything, including clowns, which as Smith’s Doctor mutters brilliantly is “understandable”. His parents have established comforting routines to try to relax him, encouraging him to put anything that worries him in his bedroom cupboard, or wardrobe, which curiously no one ever calls it. The child actor playing George is a delight, getting by on a lot more than mere cuteness. He replicates nervous ticks such as constant blinking mentioned in the script, so that George really comes to life. His scenes with Smith are a joy to watch.

Also good is Daniel Mays, veteran of Brit gangster flicks such as The Bank Job, in the role of George’s Dad Alex. He has some zippy exchanges of dialogue with the Doctor that are tremendous fun but also more than copes with the emotional side to things that kicks in by the end.

After watching Night Terrors on Saturday I concluded that once again Gatiss had failed to live up to his potential. For me something wasn’t quite right. The doll’s house device wasn’t as good as it should have been, the creepy wooden dummies weren’t creepy enough and when George was revealed to be an alien I didn’t really understand what he was, why he had latched onto human foster parents or how he had caused so much trouble. The most striking thing about the episode was the contrasting locations of an atmospherically lit block of urban flats and the haunting interior of a big, dark house. There were also some great lines for Rory, Alex and the Doctor but I was disappointed.

Following a second viewing I felt I understood the story more and thought it far better as a result. Initially I didn’t think watching it again would be as rewarding as reanalysing the twists and turns of Moffat’s plotting but it was eventually extremely refreshing to get back to a well executed, standalone tale. The emotional ending salvaged the show on Saturday and was again, better still second time around.

It didn’t matter that George the alien wasn’t really explained. He is simply alive and desperate to be wanted, to matter to someone. Right now, where I am in my life, I can empathise a lot with that desire. I can also understand the need, which originates in childhood, to have a stable, secure home. Uncertainty coupled with loneliness is disorientating, distressing and yes, frightening. The fact that it all came down to a father reassuring his son will resonate universally, not just in my life.

Night Terrors could have been better but I have been converted into a supporter. It’s probably the best Who episode Gatiss has written. It has a setting that is at once classic and distinctive. It’s simultaneously scary and funny. And it’s got some big, albeit well used, themes. From facing your own fears to admitting that sometimes you need someone, this was a fresh take on classic Doctor Who with a big heart.

Doctor Who: Series 6: Episode 8 – Let’s Kill Hitler


Doctor Who is back. And so is the daunting task of attempting to blog about Steven Moffat’s intricate plotting. For my second, pre-blog viewing of Let’s Kill Hitler, I decided to don headphones to exclude the outside world and plumb every line of dialogue, every twist and turn and Moffat-esque flourish, directly into my head. Whilst, as usual, watching an episode penned by Moffat again was incredibly rewarding, it certainly didn’t clear up all of my confusion.

Firstly, what an awesome return Let’s Kill Hitler was. As many fans of the show doubtless predicted, Adolf himself featured minimally, bundled into a cupboard by an increasingly confident Rory, therefore avoiding all the implications of associating Britain’s beloved Time Lord with a genuine mass murderer. Even that controversy stirring line from the Fuhrer, when he thanks the Doctor for saving his life, is cleared up because the miniature war crimes tribunal on the Tessalator were never planning to kill him anyway. But by including the marvellous shape shifting robot Moffat didn’t cowardly dodge the bullet completely of all the questions a title like “Let’s Kill Hitler” raises.

As usual in amongst manic goings on Moffat has tucked away some intellectual substance. Reviews in the media have praised the Nazi setting of the show for its ability to educate as well as entertain youngsters. However in actual fact those ignorant of the period will have learned little besides a couple of dates and perhaps, if they paid close attention to Alex Kingston’s cheeky line to the Nazi guard, (“So I was on my way to this gay Gypsy bar-mitzvah for the disabled”), which ethnic and cultural groups the regime oppressed and executed. The really
thought provoking stuff comes in the form of the Borrowers style staff of a
human shaped robot, designed to punish history’s worst criminals.

They slot into the series arc because they want to torture Melody Pond, or River Song as we predominantly know her, because she kills the Doctor. Clearly these people think the Doctor is worth a lot and ought therefore to be on his/our side? At first I was expecting them to identify the Doctor as the real war criminal, given all the Time Lord/Dalek/other deaths he’s been responsible for in his 900 and something year lifetime. He has grappled with the consequences of the time war and his other mistakes repeatedly on the show.

Anyway I digress. Essentially we are presented with a positive picture of these little people. They care about the Doctor’s demise. They want to give Hitler what he deserves. But the Doctor’s reaction to them is hostile or at least he implies disgust at their actions. There’s an element of hypocrisy and arrogance from our Time Lord here, as he is forever fiddling with time but takes a “who do you think you are?” attitude to the justice delivered by the crew of a ship that’s a lot like Star Trek (there are also Terminator references and more in this episode), besides the hilarious and horrific floating anti-bodies. But then the Doctor is from Gallifrey and supposedly knows what he’s doing, and part of the brilliance of Moffat’s era has been to embrace the Doctor’s arrogance and high opinion of himself at times.

Even the title of this episode wrestles with the old sci-fi/philosophical debate about changing the past, as many people, when hypothetically asked what they’d do with a time machine, say something like “kill that bastard Hitler”. It’s the basic human urge to ask “what if?” and dwell on regrets. What if we’d shot Hitler before he’d got into his sadistic stride? The Doctor though clearly takes the view, in this episode at least, despite the fact that “time can be rewritten”, that what has happened in the past makes us who we are today. And it is wrong to presume you have the right to change that and risk even worse disasters via a butterfly effect.

Blimey. I’ve basically focused on the title of the episode for a long time there. That’s mainly because I’m putting off trying to digest the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey complicatedness of a plot that’s been snaking throughout not just this series but the last, too. Here it goes.

We actually find out quite a bit and the really reassuring thing is that Let’s Kill Hitler had something to say, as I’ve already discussed, as well as a self contained, action packed story, with standalone emotional moments, despite revealing an awful lot about the series arc. Earlier this year I worried aloud that Moffat was sacrificing his ability to write amazing episodes for the complexity of the series. But Let’s Kill Hitler was brilliant, a step up from A Good Man Goes to War and probably my favourite episode of the series so far, teeing up brilliant performances and funny moments for all the TARDIS crew.

The birth of River Song steals the headlines though. Alex Kingston has her lovers and haters, and I stray closer to the love end of the spectrum, but if only we could see more of her predecessor as Melody Pond, or Mels, Nina Toussaint-White. She was better than Kingston as both a childhood friend of the Ponds and a brainwashed assassin. Kingston spent the episode, until she became more like River Song, having fun with mad Melody but not coming close to Toussaint-White’s wildness. She was incredible fun and surely far too sexy for a family show.

Moffat surprises us sometimes not with originality but by daring to pull the same trick twice. Mels hiding in plain sight as Melody, just as River Song had for a whole series. The Doctor dying AGAIN! In the RTD era the Doctor was rarely truly threatened, only his companions, but Moffat somehow manages it repeatedly for a man who supposedly can’t die.

River/Melody kills/saves the Doctor, using up all her remaining regenerations, thus allowing her to die eventually in the library with Tennant. She learns to fly the TARDIS so well because it shows her, she was born in it after all. She explains her reverse ageing is to just freak people out and the Doctor gives her the blue diary, along with a list of rules to travelling with or being with him, throughout the episode.

To the villainous Silence briefly then. They’re a religious order. And who reckons “the question” could be the one Matt Smith uttered in this episode; Doctor Who? They did say it was hiding in plain sight and the Doctor may well have whispered his name to River. But the real question is why would his actual name be so important? And who does River eventually become to the Doctor? Oo and how does Melody still kill him, is it a child version of her in that astronaut suit? So many questions.

That’s quite enough for this week. Next week Mark Gatiss, a brilliant actor and successful writer with Sherlock and other shows, finally looks like he might write an excellent episode of Doctor Who, set in that classic setting of a child’s bedroom. Don’t have Night Terrors in the meantime.

The Shadow Line – Episode 5


Let’s not muck about: this was the best episode yet. The first twenty minutes to half an hour in particular, were as gripping as anything on TV. The quality of the opening alone made this the highlight of a bold series.

What made the beginning so absorbing was the reveal of the much talked of, but never seen, Peter Glickman, and some superb writing and acting. Indeed it was the acting above all else that made this so good, especially when Stephen Rea’s Gatehouse squares up to Anthony Sher’s Glickman. Before that unbelievably tense encounter though, we’re treated to Sher’s portrayal of Glickman’s alter ego Paul Donnelly, who lives a simple life as a clock shop owner in Ireland.

The unlucky passing of an old business associate, an American flashing plenty of cash, transforms our Irish accented and mild mannered old chap devoted to his clocks into a slick and ruthless criminal. The script excels itself as we see Glickman follow the man from his shop, cleverly work out the number of his hotel room and then pull off a near perfect murder.

The conversation between Glickman and the American in his room is chilling and realistic. The moment Sher’s performance switches from one persona to another is astounding. Glickman is a quietly menacing character very much in the mould of Gatehouse but also somehow on another, less predictable level. The murder itself was surprisingly brutal, jumping out at you just as Glickman is showing a compassion Gatehouse seems to lack and contrasting starkly with the meticulous but unnoticeable preparation.

Accomplished ad hoc killing complete, Glickman slots seamlessly back into the shoes of an old fashioned and harmless shop owner. He has cultivated the last resort escape route of his alter ego for twenty years, making regular but short appearances in Ireland as Donnelly to flesh out the believability. Echoing all the talk of him dividing his life into boxes in previous episodes, he describes his double life as a room kept ready for him and where nothing looks odd when he moves in full time, because really, he’s been there all along.

Despite his calculating nature and devious credentials to match Gatehouse, Glickman nevertheless seems more human than Stephen Rea’s character. He claims to have genuinely loved his girlfriend and to deeply regret not having the opportunity to say goodbye. Later in the episode he meets Christopher Eccleston’s Joseph Bede for a dead drop on a bench, ignorant of the fact that he’s been banging the woman he misses. She has sought comfort in the arms of the florist/drug trafficker, somewhat predictably after last week’s flirtatious behaviour, because they both live in the “loneliness of the past” or something.

Anyway what do we actually learn when Gatehouse and Glickman have that awesome standoff? Admittedly I’ve been putting off an explanation because I’m not quite sure I’ve digested it all. But the big thing that surprised me, amongst the quick fire, back and forth dialogue was that Gatehouse is Glickman’s “controller”. I always assumed Glickman was the real big cheese and that Gatehouse was pissed because he’s the hired help, albeit a rather active, expert and efficient employee. But I guess a theme of the series is that people appear to have roles and responsibilities which they don’t, to protect the real puppet masters (e.g. Bede).

Glickman got Wratten out of jail because the two had been working together for thirty years. Gatehouse disapproved because Wratten was threatening to expose something massive, an extremely secretive operation called “Counterpoint”. Gatehouse implies he wanted the satisfaction of killing Wratten himself, rather than having him eliminated in jail. Glickman of course ends the conversation by trying to blow up Gatehouse, unsuccessfully, thus postponing the real showdown for a later date.

Crudely ejected from his cover life, Glickman tips off Gabriel about the drugs, kick-starting an unveiling of police corruption on a huge scale and taking us closer to the truth about Gabriel’s memory loss. The police are selling drugs from the evidence room (Honey and Gabriel discover UV codes; two sets from the police and one from customs) and even very top officers know about it. Gabriel, in trying to confront his superior, is confronted with his own apparent corruption and the extent of the rot. Blimey.

As if that wasn’t enough for one episode, Bob Harris pulls out of the deal to buy Bede’s drugs, only for his rent boy to bump him off and take his place. Someone must be backing him and this becomes one of the new mysteries, along with what exactly is “Counterpoint”?

As I’ve said before, this is a series that can infuriate as well as inspire, with some of the many references to “shadows” in this episode deflating the subtlety somewhat. But undoubtedly, The Shadow Line is now beginning to reward commitment in a big way.

Memento


Ideally I like to write my reviews shortly after I’ve watched a film, as I’m doing now. First impressions are important right? I think recording that instant reaction can be valuable, especially for readers dithering over whether to see something. Of course taking more time to chew over the substance of a movie can also have its advantages. It might help me to get my head round it and make some more insightful points. But somehow I don’t think I’ll ever get my head round Memento.

The protagonist of Memento, Leonard (Guy Pearce), certainly couldn’t make it as a film reviewer. And I’m not saying that because it’s a particularly difficult task with insurmountable challenges. In fact normally I’d take the view that anyone could do it and that’s what makes cinema so engaging in the first place. But Leonard is not just anyone. For him remembering the plot of the most transparent Hugh Grant picture would indeed be an insurmountable challenge. There’s an advertising slogan that reads “Impossible is nothing”: this is literally true in Memento. It would be impossible for Leonard to write a review because he would remember nothing about the film. Not even Hugh alternating between “gosh” and “golly”.

Leonard suffers from a rare condition which basically means he can’t form new memories. I say “basically” but if you watch Memento it’s rapidly clear that his day to day existence is not a simple matter. Repeatedly Leonard tells us, via voiceover or mysterious conversation, that through his mastery of routine, instinct and a system of writing down “facts” as they happen, he has conquered his inability to save memories to the mainframe of his brain. But as the story progresses things that seemed certain prove to be far from it. Leonard’s quest to find his wife’s killer, and the man who whacked the talent of remembering from his skull, gives even the most ordinary encounter life and death importance. If Leonard draws the wrong conclusion from something and writes it down for future reference, he could end up on a path that causes him to kill the wrong man.

With last year’s hit Inception, Christopher Nolan reminded us that before his skilled reinvention of Batman for the mainstream he had a reputation as an experimental narrative trickster. Inception was his first film since The Prestige, which had twists and turns aplenty in the plot, to tell a daring story free of the Gotham city universe. The hype for the “dream heist” thriller was hysterically huge. I and countless others positively salivated at the sound of the concept. The possibilities of such an idea were endless. Sadly the film is one of the most overrated of recent times. Whilst good it did not compete with the whirring of imaginations kick-started into life by the premise.

Memento is much better than Inception when it comes to realising a tantalising idea. This is despite the fact that Nolan’s relative inexperience as a director is evident in a handful of lacklustre shots; one drab and overlong focus of Pearce strutting away into a building stands out. The acting isn’t always brilliant either, with what seems like half the cast of The Matrix on show and in hit and miss form.  The script however is superb, bouncing themes and tension around the scattered narrative structure. I was never bored. And I never knew what was going on.

As well as being extremely gripping and exciting, Memento has its other strong points. Leonard as a character is an engrossing figure, complete with those striking memories in tattoo form (which Steven Moffat recently adapted in Doctor Who for the monsters you forget when you look away). He is trying to make sense of his life, in one sense with nothing to go on but also with endless notes and information he’s amassed for himself. We’re all trying to settle on a purpose and the excess of notes could be an interesting symbol for information overload in the modern age. Clearly Memento has its insights on memory given the driving force of the story but it also comments on the nature of fact and perhaps the notion of history. Leonard insists he only collects facts and this ensures no one takes advantage of him. But his “facts” are manipulated. And what’s the point in revenge if he can’t remember it? Is it enough that “the world still exists when I close my eyes”, as he says?

Memento gave me a headache. I may have had one before sitting down to watch but after having the pieces inside my head jumbled about until my brain moaned in pain, it didn’t help matters. Nonetheless I enjoyed it. The overwhelming strength of the film is its originality. The execution was certainly there, which is why this was Nolan’s breakthrough picture. But the real genius lies with the idea behind the story. And the script was based on a short story by Christopher’s brother Jonathan Nolan. Perhaps he is the real mastermind behind the family’s success and the endless plaudits should be more evenly shared.

Doctor Who: Series 6: Episode 1 – The Impossible Astronaut


I was blown away by last night’s opener to the new series. It has once again confirmed my belief that Steven Moffat is an absolute, scientifically certified genius. He joins the handful of men whose lives I would like to steal, perhaps via some sort of wickedly clever sci-fi device, that of course, damn him, only he could probably dream up.

I was always a fan of Russell T. Davies and both Eccleston’s and Tennant’s Doctors, but for me there’s no doubt that Davies was always playing things safe now. Moffat has grabbed the nation’s beloved Timelord by the lapels and thrown him headlong into a series of interlinked stories, that are simultaneously the same and completely new. By taking risks Moffat has shown just how masterfully clever, funny, scary and gripping Doctor Who can be. People really ought to see that this is Television at its best, and writing at its best. If they don’t they are dullards with tame imaginations and bland dreams. When they blew out birthday candles as a child they probably wished that the trains would run on time. I’m sticking my neck out here.

But I’m being so uncharacteristically passionate and assured of myself for good reason: The Impossible Astronaut was an impossibly confident and swaggering opening to any series in the world. It wasn’t trying to please or conforming to any tried and tested formula. It was the realisation of playful ideas and desires formed in Moffat’s marvellous head. As several commentators have remarked, this is probably how Moffat always wished Doctor Who should be. He loved it but he knew it could be better. With all of time and space to play with, Doctor Who should never be safe, never be predictable, and never be limited. It should always be surprising and inventive. Moffat sees this.

And how I missed that music! The bow tie, the tweed, that blue box and Doctor Who Confidential!

With last year’s climatic two parter, Moffat showed he could do story arcs, drama and spot on contrast better than his predecessor. This time he’s once again wonderfully flipped expectations on their heads by beginning his second series at the helm with all the secrets and emotional punches of a series finale. And he set it in glorious 60s America!

FROM NOW ON THE SPOILERS BEGIN

He killed the bloody Doctor! In the first episode! And in all interviews he insists it’s real death, seemingly inescapable death, an end beyond even the healing powers of regeneration. All the clues within the show suggest it’s the actual end of the Doctor. Knowing Moffat, the answers to this, the biggest question of all, certainly will not be resolved in the second episode. Of course there’ll probably be a get out but knowing Moffat, not an easy one. The implications will hang over the entire series. And given the way he ended the last series, with the mysterious manipulator of the Tardis still hidden, and the half built Tardis in the Lodger unexplained (it turned up last night though!?), he could well carry the question of the Doctor’s death over to his third series.

 After all the Doctor we’re left with is two hundred years younger than the one so thrillingly and absorbingly killed. Moffat sent him gallivanting through history at the beginning, something Davies would never have done but is far truer to the potential of the character. He is not hopelessly tied to companions; he can travel in time for god’s sake.

The Silence are brilliant monsters. In appearance they pay gothic homage to the classic Roswell alien, but their defining ability is so very Moffat; you look away and you forget you ever saw them. Hence the tagline: “Monsters are real”. The image of them in Secret Service suits was so iconic and striking and scary, but not all that original. Crucially with Moffat it’s the ideas that have to be good first and foremost.

All the performances are improved from last time out, and in particular Smith as the Doctor himself is now completely confident. The role is his own. Moffat’s more intriguing Doctor is his Doctor and vice versa; the writing makes him so good, but Moffat’s writing also needs talented interpretation and portrayal.

So many questions were raised; I worry for even Moffat’s genius as to how they are resolved. The impact of any story arc will be diminished if every episode is so packed with “what ifs” as this one. It can’t maintain such a pace and accommodate endless secrets too. But obviously if I see this, so does the wise one. He’ll have more hints than previous series, rewarding the diehard viewer, but each episode will stand alone and grip in itself. And as I said earlier, Moffat’s disregard of convention will ensure that he doesn’t feel he has to resolve every question in this series. Why shouldn’t he throw all his good ideas at us at once and string them out tantalisingly?

I would now only begin to repeat the more eloquent words of more qualified commentators, so I shall stop and treat myself to watching the episode again. In the meantime check out The Guardian’s excellent, weekly post-show blog and feel free to check back here regularly for my own thoughts.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2011/apr/23/doctor-who-the-impossible-astronaut

All hail Moffat! Long live Who!

P.S. He’s put the Who back in Doctor Who and he says this is intentional. Thank goodness, let’s see more of the dark side to such a powerful and fascinating character!

Outcast


When you’re an established director in British television it must be important to time your leap into films. It could be a matter of waiting for the right opportunity to come along. You might have a brainchild of your own to nurture into life. However you go about it, mistakes could be fatal for your aspirations. Do you stick to what you know or strike out boldly to get yourself noticed?

Colm McCarthy adopted the practical approach of a bit of both. Born in Edinburgh, his debut feature is set in the city and packed full of bleak, grey vistas. They’re similar to the gritty tone of one of McCarthy’s previous credits, Murphy’s Law. And McCarthy relies on the star of that show, James Nesbitt, to head up a strong line-up of British acting talent in Outcast. The director also co-wrote the film, which is a shocking and dramatic departure from glossy programmes like Hustle, The Tudors and Spooks which also adorn his CV.

Outcast is the tale of Mary (Kate Dickie) and Fergal (Niall Bruton), a mother and son pair that find themselves settling into a dingy, dirty flat on a rough estate on Edinburgh’s outskirts. As the film progresses it’s clear that Mary is fiercely protective of her son and that she and him are running and hiding from something dark in their past. Connections which link them to Cathal (Nesbitt) gradually surface, who arrives in the city on a primal hunt to kill. It doesn’t take long before members of the recognisable British cast start dropping like flies, but the culprit remains ambiguous right up until the climax of the story.

From the start Outcast tries too hard to establish its weird, horrific credentials. Rather than subtly revealing the occult aspects to the story, the clunky script hammers them home. We watch as Nesbitt’s character endures the application of painful ritualistic carvings to his back and immediately afterwards, Dickie’s mysterious mother drawing blood from her own naked chest and daubing ancient symbols over the walls. Later when Fergal’s teen love interest Petronella (Hanna Stanbridge) barges into the flat and discovers these odd images, Fergal simply explains his mother has different beliefs, rather than panicking or struggling more realistically (and interestingly) to keep the secret burden from his friends. Equally bizarrely Petronella isn’t fazed.

With so much blood and gore on show, Outcast needs strong, engaging and believable characters to be watchable. Unfortunately a weak script again lets down the cast. Most of the characters are nothing more than stereotyped caricatures. The highly sexed yobs on the estate are entirely predictable, as is Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan’s small role as an estate slut. Petronella’s simple brother is also a cardboard cut-out of a character. Her relationship and eventual love for Fergal, a key pillar of the plot, is not at all convincing. Another faulty key ingredient is Nesbitt’s miscasting as the menacing pursuer. Most of the time he appears baffled and far from frightening. Christine Tremarco gives a good performance as a rather pointless housing inspector and Dickie’s genuinely mysterious mother is just about the only character with the capacity to deliver proper scares. She does so a number of times, springing out from nowhere on her wandering son, issuing warnings and cursing Tremarco’s character so that she loses her mind.

For a horror film Outcast is far too predictable and its execution is heavy handed. All the pieces of a really gripping, frightening story are there but they simply don’t fit together in the right order. The crucially important occult influences are both overused and not ever satisfactorily explained. Grand themes like repressed sexual desire, forbidden fruit and ancestor’s sins returning to haunt the next generation, never quite come off. Brutal sacrifices and attacks, potentially original elements of the story, are uncomfortable to watch but never truly shocking. When more traditional scares arrive in monster form, the special effects look amateurish and almost laughably like a parody of a classic.

Most of the praise heaped upon McCarthy’s debut feature seems severely misguided in my view, although one review is right to hail the project an “ambitious” one. Sadly for the British film industry, Outcast lacked both the polished script and the resources to pull off what it was attempting. Throughout the whole thing you’re never quite sure what’s going on, but you’re never shocked or scared either. Outcast’s two dimensional plotting and characterisation means that a handful of sexy scenes, the charms of rising star Hanna Stanbridge and continuous gore are all that’s left to endear it to the (I suspect male) teenagers keen to get hold of it on its release, despite the 18 certificate.