Well, boys and girls, I think we’ve learnt two things from this week’s episode of Doctor Who – The Shouty Years:
- Graeme Harper’s finally remembered how to direct. He had it nailed during the 80s, seemed to forget last year, but has returned to stonking form this year
- Chris Chibnall can write at least half a good script. Maybe not a whole one, but at least a half of one
After a series of episodes dominated by cheap-looking sets and flat direction*, we had a lovely piece of cinematography, with a beautiful colour palette, grungy but realistic-ish sets, some taut pacing and some magnificent CGI. That bit when the escape pod launched: genius, Mr Harper. Genius.
Coupled with a script that actually had some good dialogue (loved the happy primes) and a halfway decent plot and we at least started with a winner.
True, the characterisation wasn’t there and even the likes of the marvellous Anthony Flanagan couldn’t elevate their characters into fully fledged people, although Michelle Collins came close at times.
But Freema Agyeman did well and Martha had her first proper victory lap of an episode (I don’t count sticking a metal rod out into a lightning storm because that’s just plain daft), even if she mates for life as quickly as a cuttlefish when presented with an interesting bloke. Thanks to the Rose-phone, we start to get a bit more of the Jones family relationship, which was nice, as well as the Saxon plot arc, which is definitely looking like it could be fun.
And, of course, David Tennant got to gurn as if someone had shoved a horse’s harness over his head. He loves all that, you know.
Topping all of that off, we had a slightly frightening monster, which was nice. Nothing like a welder to scare the bejesus out of you. “Burn with me” was a bit nonsensical as a catchphrase, but I’m sure kids will be zapping each other’s eyes out to its refrain on Monday.
If you squinted hard enough through your smoked glass or pinhole camera, you could spot the influences on both the plot and the monster of Inferno, Planet of Evil, various first season episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Lonely Among Us, etc), Solaris, Alien and a few other sources. But they were only faint shadows of the originals so it was a reasonably novel concoction that made even the massively dodgy science easy to ignore.
Trouble was, it did start to fall apart a bit in the second half. Not completely, mind, but enough that I was starting to glance at the clock again. Now, I’m no script writer and my copy of Final Draft has long since been retired, but when every other page starts
INT. CORRIDOR. NIGHT
A CREW MAN is running down the corridor.
maybe you need to come up with a bit more plot. It really was just running up and down inside a spaceship. Yes, we’ve gone down from four episodes to four acts and the third episode of old Who was always traditionally padded out with running up and down corridors, but there was just a tad too much for my liking. It’s dull, watching people run all the time, particularly when you’ve facing an enemy who can only move at old-school zombie speeds.
Nevertheless, Chibnall is redeemed. An excellent episode, almost as good in many ways as The Impossible Planet, as Marie suggests. Let’s hope that all that talk he’s been making recently about how Torchwood had to be rushed out because of insane production schedules wasn’t just an excuse and he can turn round the second series into something halfway decent.
* Film offers better colour-depth compared with DigiBeta passed through a film filter: discuss