Tag Archives: Steven Moffat

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.

Doctor Who/Sherlock News


The next series of Doctor Who will be split in two, with the first half of the usual 13 part run ending in the spring and picking up after a cliff hanger in the Autumn. I must say that at the moment, finding myself missing Moffat’s new Who already, I wish this was already the set-up as the wait till spring 2011 seems endless. What is so exciting is as I mentioned in my series 5 review, that Moffat feels like he was merely setting something up and this season split containing a “game changing” half way cliffhanger, may well answer many of the questions raised in the current story arc about cracks in time etc that were left brilliantly unresolved even by a two part season finale full of loose end tying. Those snatched moments of Davros’ voice may finally prove significant and will the Doctor’s relationship with either River Song or Amy progress? Will we even get a new Doctor? This seems unlikely given that Smith has grown into the role and won me and millions of other Tennant fans over, but after what Moffat is claiming would be three series (he insists the split makes two effectively different runs, not one split into) it might be time for a new Doctor by Christmas 2011 or spring 2012.

And wouldn’t some of us Moffat fans just love it if he plucked Benedict Cumberbatch from his other recent smash success Sherlock, from sleuthing in London’s modern streets to prowling and pondering aboard the Tardis? Sadly to hold two such iconic roles would seem too much but prior to him brilliantly reinterpreting Holmes for the modern era Cumberbatch would have made the perfect aloof, awkward, genius Timelord. It’s probably a long way off but I’m sure when Moffat does change the lead actor he will surprise us all, perhaps with someone older, perhaps with controversy or another relative unknown. With regards to Sherlock it shall be getting its second series and the DVD of the first soon to be released, boldly contains the original pilot, also called A Study in Pink like the first episode, but missing some crucial elements like the on-screen texting, the  typical Moffat Mycroft-Moriarty subplot and more detail of the murders. I look forward to getting my copy of the series, not only to have the excellent episodes on tap whenever I crave them but also to study the transformation from pilot idea to brilliant, fully realised, popular smash hit. Moffat will certainly be the centre attention again come 2011, with a second series of Sherlock and Doctor Who to pull off in the face of massive expectations. I’m sure he can do it.

BAFTAS/Doctor Who Trailer

Following on from the last entry I am reassured to find that the BAFTAs sensibly refused to recognise Avatar as a film of quality, except in areas of visual effects, choosing instead to heap praise upon The Hurt Locker, a film I am eager to see. I can only hope that the Academy Awards follow the example set at the BAFTAs by not succumbing to the behemoth. The Hurt Locker is a film that would benefit enormously from the additional income that comes with such awards and it may enable future projects of similar quality. Avatar by contrast has no need of a scattering of golden statues to boost revenues, even for the coming DVD release, with the hype expected to be maintained with promises of unedited sex scenes among other ploys. It may come down to whether or not the voters decide a female director sweeping the board or an old friend of Hollywood reinventing film makes for more attractive headlines for the event.

In other news, as they say, a new trailer for Doctor Who was this week unveiled by the BBC. We have only had one brief teaser prior to this and this new ad showcases the Doctor’s new assistant, Amy Pond, properly for the first time alongside the 11th Doctor Matt Smith. Steven Moffat, writer of excellent episodes in previous series such as the acclaimed “Blink” (featuring the weeping angels which are set to return) and the infamous “are you my mummy?” gas mask episode, as well as other series like Jekyll starring James Nesbitt, is now running the show. Despite developments that some fans found worrying, notably the casting of the young Smith, I had put my trust in Moffat to re-launch the show successfully.  His contributions in the past had always produced quality episodes, often the best of the series and so giving him charge of the Doctor’s path through time and space seemed wise. He will write most of the 13 episodes in the series, with other contributors including Richard Curtis of “Love Actually” and “Notting Hill” fame, who is said to be contributing an episode that features Vincent Van Gogh in online discussions. However whilst I had vowed not to judge until the show returns to Saturday nights I can’t help but think Moffat has been seduced by his childhood nostalgia for the show and his giddy excitement at being given such power will lead to a  retro version of the Timelord, portrayed by a poorly cast lead.
           The new trailer is less promising than the original trailer despite it providing more hints about the direction of the series, indeed it may be because it gives more clues of what is to come. The trailer ends with a monster’s face smashing out of the ground, and I am betting the “Silurians” are being lined up as the Doctor’s principle foe, a race that previously inhabited Earth. David Tennant and Russell T. Davies both previously said in Doctor Who Confidential interviews they would have liked to see these monsters return and Moffat has clearly chosen to revive them from the classic series, as an alternative to the Dalek/Cyberman/Master cycle. He obviously wishes to have his own signature opponent for his Doctor, but I can only hope they are yet to redesign the creature as it appears they have just used a terrible looking 70s original in the trailer. Also disappointing on this front was the blue vortex that swallows the Doctor and Amy. The effects look low budget and as mentioned Moffat appears to be fixated on a retro look, with the blue vortex, a blue DW logo and a new look Tardis along similar lines to come. Worse than this however is the performance of Smith, who again sounds childish and looks out of his depth. It is difficult to judge his companion as yet on her generic screams but if I was forced to I would admit disappointment. Despite all this however I still hold that whilst Smith will inevitably be a massive let down following Tennant, Moffat’s writing may still make the show as good and hopefully better in the long run (fingers crossed).