Review: Doctor Who – 7×10 – Hide

In the UK: Saturday, 6.15pm, 20th April 2013, BBC1/BBC1 HD. Available on the iPlayer

In the US: Saturday, 8pm/7c, 20th April 2013, BBC America

Nigel Kneale is something of a god on this blog. A revolutionary writer of some of the best scripts in British TV history, his effect can still be felt today. One of his most powerful and influential works was The Stone Tape, a genuinely scary scientific ghost story that has leant its name to a parapsychology concept: the idea that ghosts may be ‘memories’ of events somehow imprinted on buildings or the landscape. When you have a mo, watch it below…

The latest piece of British TV to owe a debt to The Stone Tape was Saturday’s episode of Doctor WhoHide, which not only had a scientist investigating a haunted house with the help of scientific apparatus and a woman with psychic abilities, it was even set in the 70s.

Now, I have to admit I wasn’t sure what to expect of this. On the one hand, it was written by Neil Cross, who also wrote the rather dreadful Rings of Akhaten. On the other, Cross only got the job of writing Rings, because he’d apparently impressed Steven Moffat and co with the quality of this script. Cross also has ghost-story form, having written the recent BBC2 adaptation of MR James’s Whistle and I’ll Come To You.

So which Cross were we going to get, I was wondering: super-scary ghost-writing Cross or sucky singing child Cross?

Thankfully, it turned out to be the former. Here’s a trailer.


Review: Doctor Who – 7×9 – Cold War

Doctor Who - Cold War

In the UK: Saturday, 6.15pm, 13th April 2013, BBC1/BBC1 HD. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: Saturday, 8pm/7c, 13th April 2013, BBC America

Mark Gatiss is a fanboy. This will probably come as a surprise to you only if you’ve never heard of Mark Gatiss before. Otherwise, this should be known to you.

A member of the League of Gentlemen (a troop of horror-story loving fanboys), Gatiss first appeared in the realm of Doctor Who writing some of Virgin’s range of New Adventures books that emerged following the cancellation of the original series. Then, after writing and starring in some of the Liz Shaw spin-off P.R.O.B.E. stories, and some of the Big Finish Doctor Who and Sapphire and Steel audio ranges (he’s an S&S fanboy, too), he came to write some Doctor Who TV episodes: The Unquiet Dead, The Idiot’s Lantern, Victory of the Daleks and Night Terrors. He’s also written fiction that pastiches 19th century fiction, hosted and contributed to documentaries on some of his favourite fanboy subjects (Nigel Kneale, Hammer horror), adapted and starred in HG Wells’ The First Men In the Moon and being a Sherlock Holmes fanboy, too, it should come as no surprise by now for you to hear that he’s one of the show runners and writers for Sherlock.

A fanboy, then. Clear?

The biggest problem facing fanboys in general and Mark Gatiss in particular is originality. It’s all right when you have something to adapt and something to riff on, but actually coming up with good new ideas is actually terribly hard for the fanboy. It’s no surprise therefore that whenever Gatiss writes anything, it’s usually slight variations on an existing, familiar story, with knowing references to other things thrown in and some sort of Important Obvious Metaphor thrown in for good luck.

By now, it shouldn’t surprise you when I tell you it was Gatiss who suggested to bestest Sherlock pal and Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat that they should do a story feature the Ice Warriors, just about the only popular old Who monster that the new series hadn’t featured. Nor should it surprise you that our Stevie was a bit dismissive of the idea, thinking they were a bit rubbish looking.

But Gatiss has brought them back, with an Important Obvious Metaphor about the Cold War (hence, the title) thrown in for good luck. It’s a little bit The Ice Warriors, a little bit Dalek… okay, a lot Dalek, with a big chunk of Alien and just a soupçon of Hunt For Red October on a low budget thrown in. And while it never hit the ‘totally excellent’ mark, by sticking with what he’s best at, Gatiss turned in what’s probably his best Doctor Who yet.

Here’s a trailer.

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Review: Doctor Who – 7×8 – The Rings of Akhaten

The Rings of Akhaten

In the UK: Saturday, 6.15pm, 6th April 2013, BBC1/BBC1 HD. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: Saturday, 8pm/7C, 6th April 2013, BBC America

Once upon a time, Doctor Who was a different kind of show. It was a show that could wonder at being able to touch alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds wheeling in another sky. It could dedicate six episodes to a planet entirely inhabited by giant talking insects, each with their own cultures, or have a whole episode without the Doctor and companions, in which decidedly inhuman aliens discussed peace treaties and vegetation.

Then the show moved on. It became more of an action show, in which poetry and metaphor took a back seat to an action hero Doctor foiling aliens’ schemes.

Thank God. And if you don’t think that was a good idea, The Rings of Akhaten were an epic demonstrate of just how staggering boring just 45 minutes of little girls singing to false gods can be.

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Review: Doctor Who – 7×7 – The Bells of Saint John

In the UK: Saturday, 6.15pm, 30th March 2013, BBC1/BBC1 HD. Available on the iPlayer
In the US: Saturday, 8pm/7C, 30th March 2013, BBC America

It’s back! Look at that, would you. A new episode of Doctor Who. Ooh, I haven’t seen one of those since Christmas. That’s because we are now entering part two of series seven, which started last autumn, and is set to finish this November, right around when a new series should have been starting (but isn’t, because Steven Moffat’s been slowing down a bit). 

Despite the slight paucity of new Who in this, the show’s 50th year (my how time flies), we do have multiple treats to look forward to. As well as new companion Clara, who’s been introduced and died twice already in different guises, we’ve Neil Gaiman writing a Cyberman story, a returning enemy, a returning Doctor, and a whole lot more that if I wrote them down now, a lot of people would end up killing me over. So I won’t. Just watch the series and enjoy it.

But for this opening episode, The Bells of Saint John, which our Stevie has had simply ages to work on, we had a sort of hybrid story – half-Rusty, half-Blink – that riffed not only on the history of Doctor Who itself, but both Russell T Davies’s greatest hits as well as Stevie’s own, including Silence in The Library. And it was really rather good.

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