In an old job I used to work a lot of night shifts, and discovered that the gods of late night TV were fickle. They’d occasionally bless you with a late night showing of some obscure movie or a repeat of a quality show, but often it was a wasteland of repeats, infomercials and tedium.
The best options were usually trashy TV- reality shows, light hearted documentaries or the soap operas. At 3am all you really want is something to keep you awake. Nothing too challenging or grim, ideally something fun and light. The two best channels for this were E4 and the now defunct BBC Three.
One personal favourite was Snog Marry Avoid?, which ticked the boxes- light, dumb, easy viewing. But last week I caught an old episode on TV.
It was awful.
I remember it being quite cheerful, jokey and fun. But watching it again it left an extremely unpleasant taste in the mouth.
For those unfamiliar with the show the premise is simple: People are brought in to POD aka Personal Overhaul Device, which was a computer that would give them a “make under”. It announced itself as being pro-natural beauty and declaring “war on fakery”. Hair extensions, lots of make up, fake tan, fake eyelashes- these were what the show was against and it would transform them into more natural vision.
Now, originally I considered this all quite good fun, but maybe I’m going soft but it really isn’t. While still nicer than the US version, which I had to stop watching halfway through one episode, there is a rather nasty side to the show, even if they mask it with montages, upbeat music and Jenny Frost’s cheery presenting.
First of all, the whole premise is dodgy as hell. You’re basically telling people how they should look (it’s predominantly women, but they did have a few guys on the show), and that’s not cool. Watching it back it feels like a massive attack on individuality and choice, with “fakery” being bad and a more understated look being good.
They’d choose extreme cases (girl who applies three layers of fake tan, guy who takes 2 hours to get ready etc.) but even these seem a bit mean spirited. They liked how they dressed or felt comfortable that way why give them grief for it? What makes the natural look so morally superior?
Secondly, the title of the show highlights the meanest part.
Once they’ve dragged the person in front of the camera they’d explain that they’d asked 100 people whether they would snog, marry or avoid the participant (I’m guessing “f**k, marry, kill” would have been a bit too risque a title). We then get a couple of talking heads where the public insult them or explain they would avoid them as they were “trashy” or fake.
It’s quite hard watching a young person hearing people talking smack about their appearance so bluntly. While some fire back you can genuinely see that some of them are getting quite hurt by the criticism, and can you blame them? Imagine having to stand there while some stranger says they’d avoid you because you look a mess.
Making it worse is the fact that they then hit them with a percentage, usually quite high for avoid.
As it’s usually women in front of POD, it’s basically telling them to change for men’s approval and ignores the fact that some of those participants may be lying. I think a lot of the guys were being less than honest about which girls they would snog given the chance. Regardless, just because 80 guys say they would steer clear that still leaves 20 who’d snog you, which isn’t that bad.
The next part that sucks is that POD is actually a bully. She makes quite nasty gags about what they look like and ridicules them. Jenny Frost is the good cop, making a few light hearted gags about how long it must take them to get ready or how much of their hair is actually theirs, and then POD comes in like an insult comic who then turns preachy.
The contestant is then stripped down to a robe, robbed of anything that is unique to them and scrubbed of make up until they are a blank canvass for the show to turn them into a more acceptable version.
For a show that bangs on about people following trends it seems to be determined that women everywhere should wear pretty dresses and only have tans in the summer. That makeup should be applied in a minimal way and that everybody shun hair extensions.
There’s a dull quality to many of the make unders. It turns them into bland, mainstream versions of themselves. For example, here’s Jodie Marsh:
Often this is for reasons like the person has to be “taken seriously” or fit a perceived idea of how someone should look when they’re a mother or professional. Rather than questioning whether it’s fair to judge on appearance the show just decides that they should change to fall into line.
There’s no thought given to the fact that the make up and loud outfits are in any way helpful to them. That it serves as a mask or armour for their insecurities or a way of showing their personality, nope, it’s just shown as being stupid and ugly.
Last of all is a definite streak of slut shaming, with countless of the girls being called out for wearing skimpy clothes. Even back when I was watching the show and enjoying it I thought this was a weird aspect. Being scantily clad wasn’t being fake, was it? And again, this was where the show sided with those who made judgments based on looks.
With a fresh look the cheery, fun vibe starts to crack. The montages are crafted to make them look ridiculous and feature their friends and family ragging on them. Then the partners get involved, talking about how they dress, which smacks of hypocrisy. They started to date the person as they were and now want to change them? That seems like a d**k move.
Jenny Frost talks about how bad the fakery is, but she’s not out there without makeup. It’s all bollocks.
You could make a show about natural beauty, and discuss things like society’s pressure on women to look a certain way. The risks of some treatments and the problems of how important looks are, but this show does none of these things.
It just sits there, smugly looking down its nose at those involved, ridiculing and humiliating them based on their looks. It wants everyone to fit within a narrow field of what’s considered attractive and criticises anyone who falls outside those confines.
If you like to wear makeup and fake tan, then crack on. If people judge you on what you wear then screw them, that’s their problem.
Watching it again the show is terrible, and I’m going to avoid it from now on.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I’ve written before about the fact that MWF and I watch a lot of wedding shows on TV (here and here) and while we took a break after getting a bit of a wedding overdose we still stick on Say Yes To The Dress from time to time.
They’ve added another spin-off recently (joining Atlanta, Bridesmaids and Canada, with a UK based version on the horizon too) and we caught our first episode today. The show is called Say Yes To The Dress: Big Bliss.
The difference with the latest offering is that it exclusively features plus sized brides. This is kinda cool as it shows that a perfect wedding isn’t just the preserve of thinner women and it’s probably inspiring and reassuring for the curvier ladies out there.
Also the staff featured are lovely, and treat their customers with kindness and sensitivity.
These are all good things, and I’m glad to see that body diversity is being addressed and celebrated. Both here and on the other TLC show Curvy Brides.
While I applaud this there is something that nags at me about these shows.
Why do the plus size brides have to be exiled to their own little boxes? Why couldn’t Say Yes just feature more body types on their original shows?
It feels like while it’s a step forward in acceptance of body diversity it’s not a massive one, and it still sets curvier women on the outside, as being “different” and not letting them join the party properly.
I’m glad the new show exists, but it’s kinda sad that the “mainstream” show doesn’t include different body types. Still, a small step forward is still progress.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
For quite a while Don’t Tell the Bride has been one of my favourite shows, it’s the very best of trashy TV.
For those unfamiliar with the premise it works like this: a groom is given £12k and three weeks to plan his wedding, with the wife not knowing what he’s doing.
The drama, and hilarity, comes from the grooms being clueless about weddings and having to muddle through, while the narration let’s us know just how off the mark they are regarding what their bride-to-be wants.
MWF and I watch the show together, picking out what we like and dislike every week.
But the current series has seen me fall out of love with the show.
The problem is that in order to keep the attention of the audience and make the trailers look good they’ve gone for increasingly outlandish themes and OTT grooms. And the result is that I’ve started turning on the grooms.
Previously the show worked because the daft, but well intentioned grooms were trying their best and had silly ideas for a reason (one groom booked a burger van to cater as it was where the couple had eaten on their first date). But the recent grooms have been bellends who’s themes revolve around stuff they love or wanting to have a laugh. Of course, this is to heighten the drama element.
The nadir of this was a groom who was obsessed with roller hockey (because he’s teenage boy in the late ’90s, obviously) and who was so infuriating I found myself hoping the bride would jilt him. He was utterly self absorbed and childish, including making sure his entrance at the ceremony was more elaborate than the bride’s. He threw a wobbly and did a “I love that girl” speech but it seemed a bit more due to his tiredness and plan falling apart.
This episode had me fuming, but several of the grooms have done similarly selfish actions.
As a soft git I normally root for them, especially if they get grief from the bride’s family, or diva-like behaviour from bridesmaids (I could do a whole post about why the bridesmaids are the worst and what they should do).
It also showed how bride centric weddings have become. The groom having the power and choice highlighted how normally the bride has everything sorted to her tastes, and I think the show works to illustrate that it’s probably best if both are involved.
The “it’s the bride’s day” thinking is so prevalent that the fact MWF consults and involves me has been received with amazement and surprise.
In fact, some think it’s weird and I should just let MWF have free reign. I think that’s bollocks. I know it’s not my day. It’s not her day either. It’s our day.
It just seems odd that as you start your life as a partnership you’re expected to cater to just one half.
DTTB has lost it’s way in focusing on stupid gimmicks and self-centred grooms. While some of it remains entertaining it’s lost the simple, sweet nature of the older shows.
At it’s best it was never about the theme of a wedding and more about a groom trying to do something special for the woman he loves. He’d cock up and struggle, but he always had wanting the day to be special and to make her happy.
It’s the human stories that made the show work, not the daft gimmicks.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
This is the third installment in the Nikki Heat series, the tie-in novels for the TV show Castle. The premise of the show is that novelist Richard Castle shadows Kate Beckett an NYPD detective and turns their crime solving adventures into the fictional Nikki Heat. They then decided to actually release some of the books, which are chock full of nods and references to the show, meaning that fans get an extra level of enjoyment.
For non fans there’s still quite a bit to enjoy, with this being an entertaining crime thriller. The plot revolves around Detective Nikki Heat who’s called in to investigate the murder of a priest in controversial circumstances. However, the investigation runs into problems especially as her boss, who’s been acting oddly, tells her to ignore viable leads.
With whispers of internal affairs and Nikki dealing with personal problems. The case touches on various questionable characters, building mystery around the deceased Father. What exactly was he involved with?
Signs point to a conspiracy, and things get more complicated following an attack on Nikki and the apparent suicide of a close ally. Can she work out why the priest was killed and who else is involved and can she do this before the bad guys come gunning for her again?
I really dug this book. As a fan of the show I guess I’m predisposed to, but I found that for much of the book I’d separated it from the show and just went with it.
It’s a well written thriller, and sits comfortably with airport thrillers, but what gives it an edge is the humour on display and the nice little character touches. Even the supporting cast are given individual quirks and handled deftly.
The plot unfolds nicely and there are plenty of red herrings and distractions to keep you guessing and the conclusion is satisfying. Once it hits it’s stride I found myself eagerly turning pages and losing myself in the story, always a good sign for a book.
It’s the kind of book you could devour on a holiday, or over a few commutes and enjoy immensely, even if very little stays with you, but that’s true for quite a few thrillers.
It’s probably the best of the series so far and the one that feels most like it can send by itself, that being said there are a few nods to the show and even a Firefly reference.
Verdict: A solid and engaging thriller, fans of the show might get an extra level, but even for newcomers I think this would work as a quick, lively and fun thriller. It won’t change your life, but it’s a damn fine way to pass the time. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Okay, so it’s TV round up time again, a quick catch up on the TV shows that I’ve enjoyed, most of which have been binge watched while cwtched up with MWG. Let’s crack on:
The Enfield Haunting
What It’s About: In the late 1970s a family are tormented by a poltergeist in Enfield, much of it seemingly centred around Janet (Eleanor Worthington Cox), the young girl who lives there. Paranormal enthusiast Maurice Grosse (Timothy Spall), to investigate and he confirms there is something going on.
Reinforcements arrive in the shape of suave writer Guy Lyon Playfair (Matthew Macfadyen), who is initially skeptical and fears that Maurice, recovering from personal tragedy, may be too invested in Janet and her family. What is really going on? Is Maurice going to be able to help, and is his obsession with the case going to derail his home life?
Why I Like It: I don’t buy the “Based on Real Events” stuff, but this is still a well done and creepy horror series. The tension is built up beautifully and there’s a definite sense of unease throughout.
MWG’s not great with horror so there were lots of jumps and shrieks of fear as we watched it, and she got scared too. What sets it above is the fantastic performances, particularly Spall who is sensational in capturing the damaged, fragile Maurice who does his best to reassure the kids but is quickly out of his depth. Macfadyen is also great as the smooth, cocky Playfair and the child performances are pretty strong as well.
What It’s About: 1945, and married couple Frank and Claire (Tobias Menzies and Caitriona Balfe) travel to Scotland, trying to reconnect after being separated during the Second World War. Claire visits standing stones and is cast back in time to 1743, where she becomes embroiled with Scottish rebels and meets Frank’s sadistic ancestor Black Jack Randall (Menzies again), a British army officer.
For her protection Claire is married to Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a Scottish rebel who’s smitten with her and proves quite gentle with her. Can Claire get back to ’45 and, as she gets to know Jamie, does she really want to?
Why I Like It: The premise is a little bonkers, and it shifts gears alarmingly in places (there’s some daft humour before things get seriously dark towards the end of the first season), but it’s an engaging drama and the characters are pretty well done. It zips along at quite a pace and is filled with action and incident, and the writing is rather fine at times. Credit also to Balfe and Heughan, who do extremely well in their lead roles.
Peter Kay’s Car Share
What It’s About: When the supermarket they work for starts a car sharing initiative colleagues John (Peter Kay) and chatty Kayleigh (Sian Gibson) are buddied up. Despite seeming to not have much in common they begin to warm to each other with each episode being about a different day of their commutes.
Why I Like It: The set up is simple and most of it takes place within the confines of John’s car, but the writing is wonderfully observed and full of laugh out loud lines. It also helps that Kay and Gibson are excellent in their roles, real and natural and bouncing off each other to great effect. I hope it returns for a second series as this is the best thing Kay has done in years.
A Young Doctor’s Notebook
What It’s About: In 1930s Russia a doctor (Jon Hamm) is confronted about irregularities in his morphine prescriptions, and given his old diary. The diary tells of his early career, when as a young doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) he practiced in a small, isolated village hospital. As he struggles to manage his patients and the isolation, the doctor’s older self appears to him, offering advice and conversing with him.
Why I Like It: The tone is messy, but works for me. The young doctor’s life is filled with farcical events, awkwardness and jet black comedy, while the older doctor’s story is much darker. What works for me is Hamm’s sarky comments to his younger self. Originally smug and superior these start to become angrier and more serious as he is forced to confront his past failings and flaws.
The second series gets incredibly dark, and there are times when your sympathy for the young doctor waivers, but it’s here the conceit works, as the older doctor reflects are disgust while also capturing the bitterness and regret that consumes him.
The performances are strong and it’s entertaining, mixing comedy and tragedy expertly, at times it’s a tough watch because of just how unlikable Radcliffe’s character becomes, but for the most part it’s a well crafted gem. And Radcliffe deserves praise for taking on such a challenging role and capturing the selfish tunnel vision of an addict.
I’m quite glad that MWG nagged me to watch this as it didn’t really appeal but fair play, it was a solid pick and I enjoyed it a lot.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
One of my favourite shows at the moment is Gogglebox. The set up is simple, cameras have been set up in people’s houses and we watch them watch TV and react. Despite what seems like a daft concept the show works, mainly because of the families they’ve chosen, who give some funny reactions to the week’s TV highlights.
Bucking this trend is Jay, who sits with his girlfriend, Eve, and her parents (see above). Unlike everyone else Jay’s appeal is that it he doesn’t make funny comments, he doesn’t make any comments.
Dubbed “Silent Jay” he’s become a fan favourite and is oddly charming as he sits there as the others lose their minds over stuff, the calm eye of the storm.
However, the recent series is a bit of a tough watch due to behind the scenes events.
Jay and his missus, Eve, have broken up. Which is rough, but what makes it worse is that as they’ve signed for the series, Channel 4 is making them keep filming.
Apparently it was fairly amicable, and they’re still “good friends” but whatever the circumstances I’m a firm believer that post-breakup you need to get some distance between you.
They were never overly coupley, her parents were right next to them, but there’s bound to be some tension now. And it’s gonna be awkward, I can’t help thinking it would be best if they let Jay go, or filmed him at his, with mates or something.
Just not on his own, sitting alone staring at the screen in silence, that would be a grim affair. Like a weird art film about a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Let Jay go, man! It just ain’t cool.
I know he signed, but things have changed, and for a show based on a natural atmosphere, this is an incredibly unnatural situation. Who still hangs with their ex and her folks after breaking up?
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
So this is just a run down of some shows I’ve been liking a lot recently most of which have been enjoyed during binges as I’ve been cwtched up with MWG , it’s sort of recommendations for you guys to check out, let me know if there’s anything you think I should give a watch.
What it’s about: Young teen Finn and his shapeshifting dog Jake go on adventures in a crazy fantasy land. These usually involve them encountering weird beasts or having to stop the Ice King from kidnapping princesses.
Why I like it: It kinda reminds me of the Powerpuff Girls in that it’s kinda for kids but also works for grown ups, the show is filled to the brim with weird invention and surreal gags. It’s so damn weird that it’s captivating and there’s some funny writing on show too. It’s a goofy gem of a show.
What it’s about: Based on the DC character, John Constantine. A paranormal investigator and con man who’s called in to fight the coming darkness and investigates various ghouls and demons as the show progresses.
Why I like it: Confession time, I like the Keanu Reeves movie, but this is a lot closer to the source comics. John Constantine is a cynical, sneaky bugger and is played with real skill and charm by Matt Ryan, who manages to make him human without softening him up too much, plus I kinda dig the whole snarky PI vibe and I’m a sucker for supernatural shows.
For balance I should point out that of all the shows featured this is the only one MWG isn’t into.
What it’s about: Hannah, a neurotic writer struggles to find her place in life in New York as her friends do the same.
Why I like it: Hannah, played by the show’s creator Lena Dunham is a fantastic creation, funny but also extremely frustrating at times, the show’s writing is fantastic in that it shows us all of the ways the characters fail and their flaws, but manages to keep most of them likable, even the unlikable ones still feel well rounded. They feel real and while some of the situations are a little cliche, the writing keeps it moving and the performances are great across the board.
My only real problem with it are the sex scenes, which try to so hard to move away from glamour and be “un-Hollywood” to such an extent that they just seem exaggeratedly awkward. Or maybe I’ve just been lucky to have non-awkward sex, it’s just I can’t imagine MWG and me talking this much bollocks when we’re in the mood, you know? That aside, the show totally works for me.
What it’s about: Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), a British double agent for the American revolution is brought back to life in the 21st century, as is the horseman who he’s connected with. In the present day he teams up with Lt Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) a cop who’s also connected to the supernatural events in Sleepy Hollow, together they team up to try and stop the oncoming apocalypse and the demons that are let loose.
Why I like it: Like I said earlier, I love supernatural shows and what I dig about this is that while there’s a plot running through the whole show it keeps things simple, with a lot of episodes being “freak of the week” affairs like the early seasons of Buffy and Supernatural. I also love the interplay between Ichabod and Abbie, and the fish-out-of-water aspect. The writing is funny in places and the chemistry with the leads brings to mind Castle and Bones, both shows that I love.
What it’s about: The life and loves of Stella Morris (Ruth Jones), a single mother in a small Welsh valleys town, and also her friends and family.
Why I like it: Ruth Jones created this show too and, like with Gavin and Stacey, it’s wonderfully well observed capturing the weirdness and comedy of everyday life. The writing is consistently funny and there are some wonderful characters, particularly Aunty Brenda (Di Botcher), who’s the kind of interfering loud mouth gossip who most of us will have come across in our lives. I do worry that it might not travel as well out of Wales, but it seems to be doing alright.
Ruth Jones is extremely likable as the main character and the series keeps the right balance of drama and comedy throughout.
MWG introduced me to it and we’ve blazed through the first three seasons and are watching the fourth at the moment, and it’s only now it’s starting to falter a bit. It’s still very funny and well written, but the constant focus on Stella’s love life is getting to me a bit now, and it just feels as though the writers think that the only way they can write her a happy ending is to get a man, and it’d be nice if they showed us her being happy by herself.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
There’s a show on TV I really can’t get with and that’s Channel 4’s The Undateables, which is a show that follows, to quote the brief “people living with challenging conditions” as they look for love.
It’s not the love aspect I mind, I’m a soft git and will watch stuff like Don’t Tell the Bride and First Dates with no real complaint, and even root for the people involved. Yes, even on their first dates I’m hoping for a happily ever after.
But this show leaves me cold, and I couldn’t really figure out why, and stopped watching but MWG’s housemates are fans so I saw some of the recent series, and I’ve figured it out.
It’s because it just feels patronising.
It feels as though the audience is meant to feel pity for the participants or find them cute. And I don’t think that’s a good thing.
These people might have conditions, and difficulties, but they should still be seen as people and not just something to “Aww” over. You do that to kittens and babies, not adults.
The show might have been intended to highlight the difficulties that these people face in their romantic endeavours, but now it just seems to be a well intentioned example of disability porn.
Its viewing these people for their conditions and using that for audiences to coo over, and that, to me, diminishes how we view them as individuals.
It reminds me of those awful documentaries featuring “extraordinary people” which use poignant music and softly spoken narrators to mask what they really are, modern day freak shows for people to gawk at.
The Undateables isn’t quite that bad, but there’s still the vibe that these people are being used for entertainment and that irks me.
You might argue that it’s at least a slightly more positive reaction to those involved, but patronising them isn’t a great thing, and harmful in a different way.
Autism or Down’s Syndrome shouldn’t be viewed as a cute thing, they face their own challenges and some of the responses I’ve seen diminish them as individuals.
Sorry, rant over. I hope I got my point across properly.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Having no Sky TV I’ve learnt to be wary of online spoilers, and keep my Tumblr and Twitter usage to a minimum after a major US show airs. The gap is smaller than it was when I was a teen, possibly because of spoilers and/or piracy (probably more because of piracy).
Admittedly I’m only really invested in two series where spoilers are a big deal, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
GoT isn’t such a big deal, as having read the books I kinda know where it’s going.
But The Walking Dead is a different ballgame, as I have no idea where it’s going. Unfortunately a few things have been revealed before I’ve watched them.
I only just finished season 4 so I’ve been avoiding anything related to the show as I’m quite a few episodes adrift.
But today I was unable to avoid having a massive spoiler dropped on me.
I went to Tesco to buy some food for MWG and myself. Two of the geekier staff members (I recognise my own kind) were chatting as I neared and TWD was the topic. All cool, one of the dudes commented that he was a little behind at which point his friend said something like:
“I just watched the one where BLANK dies”
In the last episode I watched BLANK was still alive, or had been last time we saw them. I uttered an annoyed “Dude! Spoilers!” And the guy had the decency to look a little sheepish.
I get that after seeing a good show you want to chat about it, how it made you feel and how awesome it was when that thing happened, but if you’re doing it in public keep your voice down, because you might be spoiling it for someone else.
I need to catch up sharpish before more spoilers hit me, but now I’m going to watch those episodes waiting for one character to pop their clogs in every scene, which means if its a shock death it’s been ruined for me.
I am relieved that I haven’t heard more of what happens to Daryl Dixon, my favourite character on the show and something of a man crush. If Daryl dies, I might quit the show, or at least need a break to cry it out.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
WARNING! SPOILERS AHOY!
This Saturday the eighth (since the relaunch) series of Doctor Who wrapped up, bringing to a close the first series with Doctor Capaldi as the twelfth (I’m sure it’s thirteenth) incarnation of the Doctor, and the end of Clara Oswald’s (Jenna Coleman) time as his companion.
Right off the bat, I have to say that I’m not a massive Doctor Who fan. Since the revamp I’ve watched it off and on, missing the end of David Tennant’s run and the start of Matt Smith’s. The problem is that while I appreciate some of the show’s themes and appreciate the Doctor’s style (non-violent for the most part) the show fails to hook me fully, I think because the Doctor can come across as smug and a know-all, and also because sometimes I just wish he’d hit someone.
So why am I reviewing this series? Well, for one thing, I watched the whole thing, mainly because MWG is a fan. It all kicked off in Victorian London with an episode where the new Doctor was rather discombobulated and raving. This didn’t fill me with confidence, and left me fearing we were still in the “zany” territory that Tennant and Smith had got bogged down in at times.
There was a tantalizing mystery about the ending, and the suggestion that Capaldi’s Doctor might be a bit different. Thankfully he did, turning out to be bit of a grumpy git with a nice line in sarcasm and a more pronounced temper.
I wasn’t confident before the second episode, as they’d teased the Daleks, and I hate the Daleks. Here’s the thing with the Daleks, back in the day they were kind of creepy and utterly iconic. They were ruthless and had those bizarre screechy voices, for the generation older than mine they were the stuff of childhood nightmares. So what went wrong?
What went wrong is that they’re all played out. They pop up at least once a series and get dealt with, usually in a a single episode. The Doctor has defeated them so many times, and so quickly, that their threat has diminished and at this stage they’re starting to stop being a major villain and something more like Team Rocket.
The episode had a Fantastic Voyage vibe with the Doctor joining a mission to save Rusty, a seemingly good Dalek who had switched sides in a war in the future. This was handled fairly well and forced the Doctor to confront his own hatred of the Daleks. It was pretty good fun, actually.
Next up was Robot of Sherwood, arguably the best episode of the series as the Doctor took Clara back in time to prove that Robin Hood was merely a legend, only to meet the man himself (Tom Riley). The Sheriff (Ben Miller) was also knocking about and in league with some aliens. It was a great episode as the bantering and posturing Hood clashed instantly with the Doctor and the two bickered to entertaining effect. It also showed that Hood’s devil-may-care attitude was largely a front, which was a nice touch and had Clara have to take charge..
Mark Gatiss’ writing made it the funniest and most entertaining episode and the high point for the whole series.
Next up was Listen, which epitomized what I dislike most about the show, poor execution. It all kicked off with the Doctor seeking a creature that hid, and talking about how you talk when you’re alone, see things in the corner of your eye and how there’s a recurring dream of a beastie under the bed that grabs you when you get out. It was a fantastic set up and there were some nice touches, such as bringing in a descendant of Clara’s love interest Danny Pink, Orson a time travel explorer (both played by Samuel Anderson). But in the end it all got ruined by a daft bit of looping it back to the Doctor’s past and killed what seemed to be genuinely creepy idea.
Time Heist did the same thing, a neat idea, but with a flawed payoff. The Caretaker was a step in the right direction with the Doctor taking up residence at Clara’s school to try and stop an alien and Danny finding out the truth about her time traveling adventures. It also continued the Doctor’s dislike of soldiers and had him clash with Danny, who regarded him as a pompous, aristocratic “officer” type.
The episode was fun and while the monster was a bit daft looking it worked well, mainly because it was anchored by the characters. Unfortunately the ball would be dropped again with Kill The Moon, which featured an Alien rip off monster and one of the dumbest “twists” yet. Just awful.
Lots more fun was Mummy on the Orient Express, which featured an invisible killer mummy aboard an interstellar train. It was a goofy idea but done rather well, the trip meant to be Clara’s last adventure after Danny objected to it. It was well done and featured Frank Skinner as the train’s engineer. I’m a fan of Skinner’s and he’s a massive Whovian, so it was nice to see him get to appear in the show he loves.
Flatline was dopey, with 2D monsters killing people, including a parade of rather one-note characters. The only nice touchwas a shrunken TARDIS which the Doctor had to move around by sticking a hand out, like Thing from The Addams Family. In The Forest of the Night saw the world completely overgrown and Danny and Clara having to guide their school trip to safety. The Doctor has to look after a kid who hears voices and it all built to a painfully sentimental conclusion.
The final two parter started with Danny getting run over and a distraught Clara trying to force the Doctor into going back to save him. When the Doctor refuses Clara betrays him, tossing the TARDIS keys into a volcano, but it turns out the Doctor’s played her. Hurt by her betrayal he nonetheless agrees to go into the afterlife, where they find a weird business run by Missy (Michelle Gomez), meanwhile Danny meets Seb (Chris Addison), who had earlier been shown to other deceased characters. The dead are stored in a big dome.
Unfortunately, the big Missy is the Master reveal was easy to see coming and the arrival of the Cybermen was disappointing. It has to be said that Gomez was hugely watchable as the demented villain and her plan, to hand the Doctor an army was pretty cool, forcing him to do something he hates and putting power into his hands which would probably corrupt him. It was all done very well, and the idea of the Cybermen recruiting the dead meant they had a distinct advantage.
The episode also drew on one of the series strongest aspects, the relationship between Clara and Danny, which the writers had done a good job in slowly building. Danny was a likable character and while his soldier past was cliche, the character worked and their relationship was rather sweet. With Danny coming back in Cyberman form he had to endure Clara bigging up the Doctor as the most reliable man she’d ever known and asked her to switch him to a full Cyberman.
The climax of Missy’s plan was dealt with in a smart way, with the Doctor rejecting the responsibility and realizing that he couldn’t do it, giving command over to Danny, who led the Cybermen to stop the plan. The Doctor then elected to kill Missy himself, ensuring that Clara would keep her hands clean. But luckily another character intervened.
The denouement saw the parting of the ways between Clara and the Doctor, and was wonderfully done, with both lying to the other, telling them what they needed to hear to move on and be happy.
I’m sad to see Clara go, I thought she was one of the stronger companions they’ve had and I dug that she was extremely head strong and would often take charge and tell the Doctor what to do. Her relationship with the new Doctor lacked any flirty subtext and it was nice to just see him having a friend to help him through.
So essentially, as with all previous series I found this to be a bit of a mixed bag. I liked Capaldi’s work as the Doctor and the fact they’ve made him gruffer and a step away from the kids TV presenter style Tennant and Smith used, and I continued to like Clara as a character, and felt they worked well together. The character work was done rather well, especially the growing Clara and Danny relationship.
But there were flaws too. Some of the episodes bottled good ideas, far too many of the supporting players were unremarkable and there’s still far too much cheesy stuff going on. I know it’s essentially a kid’s show, but some of the endings were just a little too neat.
There were good ideas on display, but all too often the end result fell short. I’m keen to see what they do now in terms of a companion, and kinda hope they just give him a bloke he can be mates with and I think Capaldi will do well, but I still can’t say I’m a fan, it still doesn’t quite hook me completely.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.