DOCTOR WHO: A Christmas Carol


Does Moffat’s first Christmas special have to be his version of A Christmas Carol?  Really?  Isn’t it enough that every other TV show ever has done that?  Apparently not. Although, to be fair, at least he puts a spin on it that makes good use of the TARDIS and, for that matter, good use of The Doctor’s familiarity with the works of one C. Dickens (he told him he was a big fan a few years ago, you may recall).

So, for a pre-title sequence we have the good ship HMS MacGuffin plunging towards certain death in the atmosphere of a planet at Christmas – jingle any bells?  Any sign of an Australian songstress?  No, but there is a Welsh one in a fridge.  More on that, later.

We have Amy and Rory doing a little role-play in the honeymoon suite and …. Well, that’s about it, really.  They serve no dramatic purpose after that, so this was them basically turning up to smile and wave and give fourteen year-olds of all ages something to snigger about.

The story proper begins with a gorgeous FX of the city, dominated by a St. Paul’s type building which is controlling the clouds like in Highlander II (1992), and a very wise use of Mr Gambon’s instantly recognisable dulcets to set the tone.  Moffat can still craft a killer line and “Halfway out of the dark” is one such,  Indeed, that would have been a better title for the episode in my not-so humble!

So, Doctor Eleven makes his entrance by falling down the chimney (deliberately, he would have us believe) and immediately resumes his annoying habit of talking until his brain starts working; of course, with no Amy to talk to, he has to talk to us, because there’s a lot of information to impart in a short space of time.  We need to learn that Gambon’s Sardick controls the clouds, we need to know that he keeps people cryogenically frozen as collateral on debts (hence the opera singer in the fridge) and we need to know that he was scared of his father.

Then the script takes a turn for what I am coming to realise is the trademark Moffat surrealism:  fish floating through the atmosphere, swimming through fog, which eventually leads to the wonderful visual of a shark fin slicing through low mist.

We have Amy kick-starting The Doctor’s brain with the triple repetition of “Christmas carol” (yes, we get it, we do, we really do!) followed by another Moffat trademark – interacting with video recordings.  But then the moment of inspiration I always hope for in a Doctor Who script: The Doctor travels back into Sardick’s own past to change the young him while the old him watches the whole process on video, growing new memories as the story unfolds before his eyes.

Matt Smith’s scenes with Laurence Belcher, the young Sardick, are delightful.  There is a real empathy between this Doctor and the children he behaves like.  Once Abigail (Katherine Jenkins) is thawed out and soothes the savage beast with her own instantly recognisable dulcets, the scene is set for a montage of moments, many, many Christmas Eves, with many adventures, including sleighing with Rudolph the Red Nose Great White and an unfortunate incident with fezzes.

So, the middle act rambles around, being all feel-goody, dropping lots of tempting throw-away ideas that other writers can flesh out in many other ways using any of the plethora of other Doctor Who media.  Of course, the mission here is to change Sardick, like Scrooge before him, into a better person and, not unreasonably, Moffat has calculated that a personality-altering epiphany such as the one in Dickens’ original is unlikely to come as a result of a single event, but rather an accretion of events over a whole life.

When Sardick realises that The Doctor is only spending so much time with him, putting all this effort into moulding him into a new person, simply to make him save the spaceship, he responds very much as anyone would.  But, Moffat’s dénouement, the rabbit he pulls out of this particular hat, is inspired.  Indeed, there is a real poetry to the crescendo as the various narrative threads are woven together like the different sections of a symphony … not much science but, y’know, it is Christmas. 

So, unlike The Next Doctor (which I maintain is the pinnacle of the Christmas episodes) this is fairly limited on spectacle but, appropriately, over-flowing with seasonal sentimentality and good will.  Moffat has taken what could have been a tedious and derivative idea and skilfully steered it around all the melodramatic traps into which it could have fallen to produce a delightful and heart-warming tale, perfect for that much-envied Christmas Night slot! Fair choked me up it did, but I’ll never admit that in public.

Of course, as has become the norm, this episode finished with a quick montage of some of the delights awaiting us in the upcoming series ... And contains several lines which the Whovers of my acquaintance have already taken to quoting.  See if you can figure out which ones:




Six weeks before Avatar was released, it’s a fair bet that no one outside the SF and film nerd communities had heard of it.  Until the posters and trailers appeared at the cinemas, its existence had been hotly anticipated on websites, weblogs and in the occasional magazine, but nowhere where civilians would see it.  That was the marketing approach Cameron and Fox used: A last-minute unleashing of blanket coverage.  History indicates it was a strategy that worked, especially in persuading people that the film was an event that had to be experienced in the new Holy Gimmick of 3D.

Well, Disney decided to use a similar approach for their 3D ‘event’, Tron Legacy.  About a month from release, it was appearing on the covers of magazines like Empire, Total Film and, inevitably, Wired.  A storm of trailers were unleashed spoiling, seemingly, every detail of the film and, of course, the all-important ‘3D’ logo was wheeled out at every opportunity (indeed, Dazed and Confused magazine’s Daft Punk themed cover was itself in 3D)!  It seems to have worked.  As I write this, the film has been on world-wide release just over a week and it is already set to cover its huge $170 million production budget.

That, of course, is despite the fact that the film – like Avatar – received almost uniformly lukewarm reviews with the most oft-evoked word being ‘disappointing’.  Makes a reviewer think he might be wasting his time.  Sigh.

I decided I was going to see the film in optimum circumstances … So, as soon as I had the chance I took myself off to the IMAX at Bradford because that’s how you experience an event!

There’s no denying the excellence of the work done by the design and effects people.  The world inside The Grid is overwhelmingly complex and detailed and beautiful.  But it’s very dark, almost monochrome, where the original Tron (1982) was vividly colourful.  It was, and remains, a visually unique film.  There really isn’t anything out there that looks quite like it.  Not even this sequel.  But, the darkness is a bit of the ole pathetic fallacy, where the environment metaphorically represents the tone of the piece.  The world of The Grid is once again under the boot of an oppressor (a sort of re-boot, I suppose … hah … heh … sorry).

If people are as disappointed by the film as the reviews indicate, I feel that this is where that disappointment begins:  Tron Legacy is essentially a remake.  Yes, the film-makers have made big noises about not simply re-making the film but, by having the oppression of the MCP and Sark reproduced, albeit by a new bad-guy, that is, in essence, exactly what they’ve done.

The film begins well enough, concentrating on the son of Jeff Bridges – Sam – who is conveniently almost as old as the first Tron film.  His dad has been missing for over twenty years meaning Sam is, to all intents and purposes, an orphan.  Now, if a little alarm bell is ringing and you’re wondering “Hang on, are they doing The Hero’s Journey?”  I can, sadly, confirm they are!

As with the first Tron, young Flynn breaks into Encom, the evil electronics empire, plays with the computers and gets himself digitised and uploaded onto The Game Grid.  He gets to play Frisbee with his identity disc, he gets to ride a Light Cycle.  So far so just like the first film.  But I was okay with this because, I reasoned, they are re-familiarising us … It has been 28 years, after all.

But then there is very little progress made beyond that.  Just like last time, the world is contained in a stand-alone computer, just like last time, the ‘elixir’ is contained on a data disc and, just like last time, there’s a long chase involving elegant and fragile flying machines.  Whilst I realise that they have deliberately left a few loose ends in this film for any possible sequel, I feel that not employing any of the concepts and terminology that people these days use in relation to computers, gives the film an oddly anachronistic feel.  There is no reference to viruses or fire-walls or search engines or any of those phrases that even compu-luddites like me use on a daily basis.  This story should have been about unleashing The Grid onto the internet.  The world of computing has transformed beyond recognition in the three decades since the first film and this second film, if only to justify the ridiculously long wait, needed to acknowledge and employ that.

It’s not like the film-makers were unaware of the world of web 2.0.  Legacy’s first act shows Sam working as a ‘white hat’ hacker leaking Encom’s new operating system to the world, just to annoy them; yet this particular first act gun just isn’t used in the third act.  That’s a problem.  Indeed all the first act stuff with Encom and its new board, and its chief programmer (one Ed Dillinger) is a red herring since, once Sam enters The Grid, there is no reference back to the real world at all.  That’s also a problem; it’s sloppy structure and lazy script-writing.

In the middle act there are several lengthy exposition scenes after father and son are reunited (I don’t think that’s giving anything away too spoileriffic) and, moving past the fact that clustering too many lengthy dialogue scenes together is, again, lazy script-writing; one of these exchanges details the emergence of ‘isomorphic algorithms’.  Now, while the film is quite vague about what these are, it does make it clear that they are a sort of software 2.0, a huge evolutionary leap in computing.  It is their arrival that sparks the political oppression which Flynns Snr and Jnr must combat.  Now, to me, this isomorphic story was far more diverting and filled with dramatic possibility than the chase movie we have here and, since it’s about software evolving and improving, it would have handed on a plate the narrative the film-makers needed to introduce The Grid to our modern wired world.  I’m just saying.

Finally, one of the eccentricities of the first film is that, for no clearly discernible reason, it is not named after the main protagonist - the character who we follow into The Grid - but rather one of the programs he meets in there.   This gives Legacy another imbalance:  They needed to continue with the Tron name for brand recognition, which means they have to find some active role for the Tron program.  So they’ve got him playing Bobba Fett.   Yes, really.  Then, in the last few moments, they give the character a pointless epiphany in a sequence which feels like it was assembled in the edit-suite as an after-thought.

So, it’s fair to say that there are problems with the script but, as I mentioned at the beginning, there is nothing wrong with it visually.  Director Kosinski is another graduate of high-concept CGI-heavy commercials (if you’re interested in knowing more, have a look at his website here) which means he has a great grasp of visuals but, as with so many directors who make their way into big movies through that route, this doesn’t prepare you to control a full length film nor, for that matter, does it ensure you can get a great performance out of an actor.  

This is why, I suspect, recent Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges gives two completely by-the-numbers performances: One of them in person, in his Jedi pyjamas as Father Flynn and the other, over on the other side of the Uncanny Valley, as his much younger self via the miracle of motion capture.  I didn’t mind that Clu comes across as one-dimensional, nor that his CGI face was as fake and dead-eyed as one of Zemeckis’ cyber-puppets because, after all, he’s a piece of software.  It’s entirely appropriate for him to look manufactured.  But to make his character and his motivation so clumsily one-dimensional is unforgivable!

So, is there anything to enjoy here?  Actually – yes - quite a lot.  The film is gorgeous and absolutely worth seeing on as big a screen as possible.  The design and execution of the world and the vehicles that travel around it is a constant delight although, I concede, this may be partly because it reminds one so much of 1982’s other great Syd Meadathon: Blade Runner.  The Light Cycle sequence is mind-blowing (even if I did have a bit of a grumble about them no longer going in straight lines) and the Light Dragonfly Flying Thingy chase is, if anything, more so.  Possibly because it really needs a quick “Don’t get cocky, kid” to make it complete!

Of course, everyone looks ravishing in their skin-tight, fluorescent costumes and heavy pan-cake make-up, particularly Olivia Wilde and Beau Garrett who, despite being required to do nothing more than function as one-dimensional ciphers, manage to give their programmes a certain sass.  One imagines that they must have been ravenous after being unpeeled from their costumes because they certainly wouldn’t be able to eat while wearing them!

Garrett Hedlund does fine work as Sam, giving him just enough maturity to deal with all the gosh-wow visuals.  It must be very difficult to make a vanilla good guy stand out in such a gigantic movie, but he manages.  The ever-reliable Michael Sheen (presumably on his days off from working as the wabbit on his other Disney flick, Tim Burton’s Alice in Underland) also shines (literally and figuratively) in a wonderfully camp turn as a sort of Aladdin Sane cum Jimmy Saville nightclub owner.  But what ties the whole package together wonderfully and dramatically is the music by Daft Punk.  Yes, it was leaked all over the interweb months ago; but listening to some dodgy MP3 divorced from its proper full-screen context is, well, unsatisfying.

I might even be persuaded to make the case for this being the soundtrack of the year.  For a sample of what I'm wittering about have a quick click of this:

Despite all of the problems with script and direction, I genuinely do feel that this is a film worth watching on as a big a screen as you can manage.  Further, it’s worth watching twice!  Why twice?  Well, because that dry-mouthed sense of disappointment that may mar your first viewing will be gone for the second, and you can get on with just basking in the visual and auditory glory of it all.

Anthony Burgess reputedly said that there is no such thing as ‘reading’ a book, there is only ‘re-reading’ it.  The first time you read it you are merely getting to grips with the characters and the story.  The second time you can appreciate the art, the craft and the love that the author put in the book.  Only with a second reading can you fully appreciate and understand a book.  Well, I firmly believe the same is true for (most) films.  I genuinely feel that, especially when a film has failed to live up to often unrealistic expectation, a second, more level-headed viewing of it can be a revealing and intensely pleasurable experience.  So, yes, I will be going to see Tron Legacy again and I expect to see more, understand more and enjoy more than I did first time.  (And no, before you ask, this doesn’t mean I’m going to re-evaluate any Adam Sandler films … One has to draw a line somewhere!)

Dir: Joseph Kosinski
Stars: Garrett Hedlund, Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Boxleitner
Dur: 127 mins
Cert: PG



So, one of my three favourite Minnesotans (the other two having the surname Coen) is enjoying a burst of productivity.

Last April it was announced that he was going to be directing a stage opera next May.  All the, as you young people say, skinny is here at Dreams, the semi-official Gilliam website run by the very great (and infinitely patient) Phil Stubbs.

Since that announcement and now, Gilliam has been busy making what is essentially a commercial for Pepsi's 'energy' drink Amp.  It's called The Legend of Hallowdega.  The official website with lots of 'behind the scenes' (i.e. 'carefully edited') footage is here but the film itself isn't on the official website.  I guess the reason for that is just part of the whole Hallowdega mystery.

It's a fake documentary set in and around the NASCAR racetrack at Talladega and made in the style of Blair Witch (1999) and Spinal Tap (1984), although it isn't as funny as either of those.  Despite having a few Gilliamical touches - some nice wide-angle shots and a few distant echoes of The Fisher King (1991) and 12 Monkeys (1995) - its humour doesn't, sadly, rise much above the level of a corporate video.  The fictional host's name is Justin Thyme.  Justin ... Thyme.  I'll let the full comic majesty of that soak in for a moment.

This film is the sort of thing that would make a diverting three minute skit on The Onion's ONN or Funny or Die, but here it drags on for almost fifteen unfunny minutes.  I sincerely hope Mr. Gilliam puts the money to good use then, at least, this can of luke-warm piss will have served some purpose.

Anyway, if you can but be bothered, happy viewing ...

Now, moving on ... Just last week, I stumbled across this intriguing piece from Screen Rant.  They claim that Gilliam is going to be working in an advisory capacity on a 'steampunk' animation called 1884.  This sounds like a fascinating production, a sort of Karel Zeman meets George Orwell meets ... Terry Gilliam.  Apparently the film has an £8 million budget.  In the present financial climate I think they'll be very lucky to get that much for something as art-housey as this, but I hope, for their sake, they do, because I certainly want to see this finished with Gilliam's finger-prints all over it!

There's a preview of it available, at just over four very, very interesting minutes.  See what you think:

There's a much more polished (and therefore presumably more recent) promo for it here.  Significantly improved, I think you'll find!

Then, earlier today, Bleeding Cool announced here that Gilliam is, in the next two weeks, going to shoot another short film, called The Wholly Family.   They then added an update to that news here, including extra information gathered by the ubiquitous Phil Stubbs.  We wait and see whether this will simply be another commercial job to earn a buck or, since its based on his own script, something altogether more interesting.

It looks like 2011 is going to be a productive year for Gilliam and I have always found that to be grounds for celebration.

"Two Fucks or More, It's an R"

This is fascinating viewing. The Hollywood Reporter has gathered a round-table of directors, all of whom have films hovering around during Awards Season. Some of the films haven't been seen in the UK yet, some of the names aren't exactly household, but the issues they've dealt with are soooooo familiar.

They talk about the vice-like grip of the MPAA over the 'adult' content of their films, they talk about making films cheaply and quickly (something which, in these days of $200 million budgets, seems novel) and the whole thing is deeply inspirational. See Derek Cianfrance talk about how it took him twelve years to get Blue Valentine made and, now he has, its NC17 rating will likely kill it in The States.

See Peter Weir discussing the art of direction, see Tom Hooper talking about not being a writer/director, see Darren Aronofsky talk about developing The Fighter then handing it over to David O. Russell, see ... for yourself. 

It'll take about an hour of your life, but will reward you disproportionately!

In case you're curious, the Nikita picture that they discuss (in relation to the censorship of sex but not violence on American TV) is this one:



Well, well, well.

It is the dog-end of December and here I am, suddenly compelled to revisit the dusty, web-enshrouded environs of my weblog for the first time in ... Well, too long!

Where have I been this year? What have I been doing? Well, the answer to both of those questions involves my trying to hang on to the tattered remnants of my increasingly-stressful daytime career. Having failed to do that, I find I have more inclination (and will soon have more time) to dedicate to my journalising activities.

I am also widening my portfolio, as it were, by developing my script-writing skills. Since last time we spoke, I've written the first draft of two feature film scripts and am planning the second drafts. I'm developing a renewed respect for well-written, well-structured scripts because it is NOT as easy as it looks!

I've also decided I'm going to change the nature of this weblog. It is no longer going to feature JUST my bloated, long-winded reviews. I'll try pithier feedback where appropriate. I'll also be posting links I find interesting, the sort of stuff I have, hitherto, been limiting to my Facebooking activities. Well, I'll still be Facbooking it, but I'll be driving the traffic here as much as possible.

So, I'm reclaiming my turf, rearranging the furniture and re-mixing my metaphors.

Should be fun.


So, the people who cashed-in on the Dan Brown phenomenon with the National Treasure films (2004 and 2007) have been rather slower in capitalising on the Harry Potter cult.  Maybe Disney waited, intending this film to fill the void left by the completion of Warner’s film franchise, little realising that the final parts of Potter would be so long in coming.

Nonetheless, better late than never I always say (especially in relation to this blog, ahem), here they finally are.

Films don’t come much more mainstream than those produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and, as such, there are few surprises to be found here, but he does the familiar and expected with far more panache than any big-time producer out there.  Accordingly, this movie whips up a lot of very pacy, creative, visually ambitious ways to spark new life in an old, familiar tale.

Just in its first act, we have remote-control sword-fighting, a steel Chrysler Building eagle flying through the streets and a Chinese paper dragon brought to full fire-breathing life.  Hell, the pre-title sequence takes the form of those “previously on”s that you get on TV shows and contains enough neat ideas and conflicts to fill a film by itself.

To place it on the Bruckheimer scale, it has more personality and conviction than Prince of Persia but hasn’t quite struck the mother-lode like Pirates of the Caribbean (2003).

So, there was obviously a lot of hard work put into making every scene, every dialogue exchange, special.  And that helps make the effects special.  Seriously.  When you have good on-screen chemistry between good actors doing good work, it helps lift the whole project.  Bruckheimer’s protégé, Michael Bay, has never learned this lesson hence why his Transformers films, for example, insult every sense except the visual and rely entirely on the quality of their effects to overcome the bland plotting and cardboard characterisation.

Besides, Jay Baruchel, who plays the titular Apprentice, has so much more charm, wit and personality than Shia LaBeouf has ever yet demonstrated.

So, basically, Balthazar (Nicolas Cage in uncharacteristically humane mode) is one of three Apprentices of the great Merlin who, for reasons too irrelevant to bother with here, have fallen out.  Their disagreement has been on-hold for over a thousand years then Balthazar stumbles upon young Dave Stutler and realises that he is the true heir to Merlin’s powers.

Rather inconveniently (for Cage, but thankfully for us) this also brings about the reawakening of Maxim Horvath (another Apprentice of Merlin, who has turned to evil), played by Alfred Molina who, as always, gives far more than he is asked for.  He is absolutely delicious, striking the perfect balance between Cage’s earnest good-guy, Baruchel’s wry quick-learner and Toby Kebbell’s delightfully dim evil Apprentice, Drake Stone.

It’s only a shame that Molina’s character is literally thrown away in the film’s closing moments – although there is a hint that he may return if they get the green-light for a sequel.  I hope they do and I hope he does, too!

As with the National Treasure films, the combination of old school-friends Cage and Turtletaub with the lavish touch of Bruckheimer, has produced an entertaining if undemanding film which, largely because it doesn’t rely on gimmick du année - 3D, has enough heart, soul and imagination to be truly deserving of a sequel.

Don’t worry too much about the plot which doesn’t quite make sense, or the re-staging of the classic Mickey Mouse sequence which, to be honest, is shoe-horned in rather unconvincingly, for there is much else to enjoy in this imaginative, energetic, feel-good spectacle:  A car-chase with ever-changing cars, some wonderful nonsense with a mirror-universe, a quick-sand carpet, a nod to Molina’s Hollywood debut (Raiders – 1981) and another to the ur-text of these Hero’s Journey movies: Star Wars (1977) plus, of course, musical Tesla-coils.  Every home should have some.

Dir: Jon Turtletaub
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina
Dur: 111 mins
Cert: PG

DOCTOR WHO: The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood

DOCTOR WHO: Amy's Choice

DOCTOR WHO: Vampires in Venice

Well, we’ve had werewolves and mummies and Frankensteinian hand-made chimeras so, I suppose, vampires were inevitable.  Having them in such a gorgeous location was not.

This episode uses its European locations very skilfully.  The Doctor Who trip to foreign climes has obviously become a bit of a tradition for the new show and, provided they continue to make such good use of the locations they find, I’m heartily in favour of it.  Licence fee concerns be damned; I’d rather they spent my £150 on a foreign holiday for the Doctor Who crew than putting it in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s pocket!

Here the setting is “The Impossible City”: Venice in 1580 (although it was filmed in Eastern Europe, as most things set in the past seem to be these days).  There is a spot of in-jokery when The Doctor proclaims that he is keen not to run in to Casanova … although this line would have been funnier if delivered by David Tennant, of course.

Matt Smith is still all elbows, still seemingly uncomfortable in his own body.  This was the episode where I realised just how bow-legged he is … which does somewhat undermine the determined purposeful walk he is required to provide at significantly dramatic moments.

The premise of this episode is that The Doctor takes Amy and Rory to Venice as a wedding present – a thoughtful, generous, romantic gift and a great way of circumnavigating that snogging problem he had with her in the last episode.  Obviously, since he is being written and played as an eleven year old boy, his first instinct, when presented with the very real danger of being snogged by a girl, is very much what an eleven year old boy’s would be … grass her up to her boyfriend.  Ah well, no one expects profound emotional insight at 7pm on a Saturday.

The vampire plotline itself is dealt with very well, with the white ‘brides’ floating around like something from an early-70s semi-erotic Hammer horror film.   

The historical setting also allows for some wonderful costumes, particularly Madam Calvieri’s awesome dress.

Of course, there are a few inconsistencies in the presentation of these vampires:  They are destroyed by daylight, yet simply shield their eyes to protect themselves from it.  Surely, if daylight can make you explosively dehydrate … touching any part of your skin would have that effect, not just the eyes?  And why does daylight bother them anyway, when it soon becomes apparent that they aren’t actually vampires at all but rather “fish from space” hiding behind the increasingly versatile (and convenient) Perception Filter technology?  But these are small issues for which the confidence and quality of the presentation earns forgiveness.

One thread that seems to be over-hanging this series from Russell T’s shift, is the criticism of The Doctor’s methods.  At one point Rory tellingly informs him that he has no idea “ … how dangerous you make people to themselves!”  This is, of course, entirely correct and a necessary side-effect of the fact that every single place the Tardis takes him is a place on the cusp of crisis.  Self-destructive adrenaline junkies are either really, really well prepared, or they are short-lived.  The Doctor is very obviously NOT short-lived.  The same cannot be said for the characters around him who are typically disposable.

After a visit from The Doctor, the head-count in his locality is often noticeably lower than before, even though he will have carefully avoided having to kill anyone himself.  The balancing argument would remind you that these casualties are often a small price to pay to secure a greater good as the planet / system / universe is no longer under threat.  But we viewers know that the high-cost peace will be short-lived as the universe will be in danger all over again in seven short days.

It is almost refreshing, therefore, that it is only Venice that is endangered here.  Venice is always in peril.  Should be used to it by now!  Calvieri’s weather machine, seemingly built-into the fabric of her building (and introduced suddenly quite late in the proceedings) offers a chance for Matt Smith to do some stunts (sorry, ‘physical acting’) as he clambers up the outside of the building in the rain in a manner not dissimilar to the denouements of both The Idiot Lantern and The Daleks in Manhattan storyline.  Once up there, however, this rather clichéd sequence is redeemed entirely by the fact the Calvieri’s despotic Doomsday Weapon has a simple off switch.  Brilliant.

But there it is again – a criticism of The Doctor – as Calvieri taunts him over his determination to spoil her plans and save just one city:  “Hard to believe it’s the same man who let an entire civilisation turn to cinders and ash”.  Later, when he has won and her race faces extinction, before sacrificing herself, the tragic villainess enquires, accusingly: “Can your conscience carry the weight of another dead race?”  Oh yes, without doubt.  Just add another one to the ever-growing list.

Given that the target audience of this series is avowedly children – more so than under RTD’s stewardship – all this philosophising about the morality of The Doctor seems misplaced.  Kids don’t want debates on moral philosophy, they want fish custard, apparently.  So, come on guys, make your mind up, is this a simple kids’ show or isn’t it?  The failure to establish a consistent tone within these developing episodes – and a consistent characterisation for The Doctor himself - continues to annoy me and interfere with my enjoyment of the show.

This isn’t an overly-significant episode and I doubt if it’ll be anyone’s favourite, but it certainly fills its 45 minutes with clever, creative ideas, exotic images and a well-conceived developing relationship for Rory and Amy.  Never more so than in the way that it allows Amy a chance to swap her usual role as the one in need of rescue and gives her a chance to rescue the emasculated Rory.

The problems I have are, as in previous episodes, all to do with the Steven Moffat’s overall vision for the series and his version of The Doctor.  But those are the cards script-writer Toby Whithouse was dealt.  The game he plays with them is a very skilful one, successfully turning what could have been an embarrassing filler episode into a superior entertainment and, yes, my second favourite episode in the series so far.


So, it’s 1199AD.  The bad old days of 1066 are a distant memory … except; the French are still trying to invade.   The country is without leadership because the King, Richard the Lionheart, has been out of the country on Crusade.  And that’s where we find him: hacking and slashing his way across Europe, going home. He’s made it as far as Northern France but, unfortunately, will make it no nearer English soil.

This is worrying because that god-awful abomination featuring Kevin Costner in a mullet and Alan Rickman cancelling Christmas all kicked-off with Robin Hood on Crusade with Richard.  Fortunately, that’s where the similarities end.

This is Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood!  It’s not a camp Hollywood vanity project; it’s a proper muddy medieval movie (which conveniently allows him to use up any spare props he had left over from Kingdom of Heaven - 2005).

Richard’s crown needs a courier to take it back to England and place it on the head of the weaselly Prince John.  One Robert Loxley gets the job and is then promptly ambushed by the evil Godfrey (played by Mark Strong in entirely too much eye-liner) and killed.  Now, hang on; the more perceptive of you may be thinking that Robin Loxley is Robin Hood’s real name.  Well, you’d be right.  And wrong.

Russell Crowe is actually playing lowly archer Robin Longstride, a trooper who has no property and no title to call his own, so he’s just a peasant like all the rest of the grunts he surrounds himself with.  There’s the ginger fellow called Will, the big bloke called Little John … you get the idea.  He finds the dying Loxley and the Lionheart’s crown and sees an opportunity.  His only sure way of getting back to England alive is to go as Robert Loxley, the courier of the crown. Got that now?  Good.

Once in Sherwood, Robin finds it populated by his ‘father’ (Max Von Sydow) who is old but, of course, infinitely wise and his ‘wife’, (Cate Blanchette) who is, as the Americans might say, spunky.  There’s also a gang of feral kids, the orphans of the local towns and villages, who seem more and more like The Lost Boys, desperately in need of a father figure.

So, despite how complicated this all may sound, the characters are introduced and the set-up is constructed at a fair old lick.  The scenes are short and sharp, the dialogue terse and to the point; but then scribe, Brian Helgeland, has proven himself in the past to be a dab hand at snappy dialogue in everything from LA Confidential (1997) to Payback (1999 / 2006).  Just an aside:  But one wonders how he found the time to write this since he also wrote the remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, The Vampire’s Assistant and Green Zone.

The velocity of constantly moving characters, constantly changing scenes and constantly evolving plots and sub-plots give the film the roller-coaster feel of recent TV shows like 24 or Lost.  Unlike those programmes, however, this film doesn’t have time to develop deep, complex characters so everyone is a hastily sketched-out stereotype and the actors are then required to fill those caricatures with wit and personality. 

Kevin Durand does particularly well with Little John, while Mark Addy follows in the grand tradition of Eugene Pallette as the epitome of Tuck.  But it’s seasoned trooper,  Von Sydow who steals the show as Loxley Senior, revelling in the chance to play a good guy for once.  These characters are played so lightly that you really enjoy their company, even though they aren’t really given anything very substantial to do.

Crowe himself is typically earnest and gruff.  Which, of course, means he’s trust-worthy.  Indeed, he is identified in the film’s opening moments as one of the few honest brave men in the English army.   The accent he chooses to assume never ceases to amuse, ranging across the full spectrum of English regional brogues, from Scouse to the West Country to Yorkshire to the occasional dash of Irish.

This film is nasty, brutish and … quite long, but it carries its two hours and twenty minutes lightly and keeps up the pace and the sense of fun throughout.  Even the necessary political intrigue is dealt with simply and succinctly so that the film doesn’t get bogged down in the tedious history-lesson that dogged Kingdom of Heaven.

But, of course, there’d be no thrills without a sense of danger and, indeed, a darkness is approaching in the shape of black-cape-wearing Godfrey and his militia of French soldiers, burning their way through the cities in the North in an attempt to create Civil War in Britain.

Civil War along the North/South divide?  Never happen.  Utterly preposterous.

The French invasion of Dover at the film’s show-down is disturbingly reminiscent of the D-Day landings, only in reverse.  Oddly, I don’t think we’ve seen the invasion of Britain depicted in many movies, which is odd for a country that has been invaded so frequently.

The film isn’t without its faults, of course.  The arc of the characters is all fairly predictable and not everyone gets a fair crack at the whip.  Not entirely sure what Matthew Macfadyen, for example, was doing there as a rather limp and invertebrate Sheriff of Nottingham; apart from laying the ground-work for a much-expanded role if Crowe and Scott get their way and get to make a sequel.  Further, the taming of The Feral Children happens immediately and off-screen, suggesting that an entire sub-plot featuring Marian and the boys has hit the cutting-room floor (or the ‘extended, uncut Blu-Ray’ as we now refer to it).

Also, in view of the wished-for sequel - and despite all the marketing imagery - they haven't really made a big deal out of Robin's extraordinary archery skills, not until the end does he get the opportunity to show off by hitting a few impossible targets.  That, you see, will all come into its own in the second film.  If they get to make it.  But, y'know, don't hold your breath, Ridley's got two back-to-back Alien films on his plate for the next couple of years!

This film isn’t as visually striking as, say, Gladiator (2000), but it has the same heroic, mythic quality.  This isn’t an Epic, like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven and 1692: Conquest of Paradise (1992) were, but it isn’t trying to be, it’s an adventure yarn on a grand old-fashioned Hollywood scale and, as such, a worthy successor to Errol Flynn’s Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

Sir Ridley, congratulations, you have delivered the second best Robin Hood film ever made.  Yes, that’s right, it’s almost as good as the Disney cartoon!

Dir: Ridley Scott
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Stars:  Russell Crowe, Mark Strong, Cate Blanchette, Max Von Sydow.
Dur: 140 mins
Cert: 12A


You know how movie trailers sometimes feature shots or lines of dialogue that don’t eventually make it into the film.  Well, Iron Man 2 starts with (or rather without) just such a moment.  The trailer begins with Pepper kissing Tony Stark’s helmet (settle down at the back there) and tossing it out of a plane so he can go after it.  The film proper starts with a far less interesting shot of him standing with his back to us, simply jumping out of said plane.

I understand why I think the scene was cut, because this film has stepped away from the blossoming love affair between Pepper and Tony, for dramatic reasons, and starting with a kiss would play against that.  Favreau himself has a different explanation on MTV. 

All will presumably becomes clear with the extended DVD release.

What follows is a probably quite short but seemingly very long sequence of him flying through the dark, for no clearly discernable reason other than it allows one of the AC/DC songs some time to play.  This feels like a compromised moment forced on director Favreau by the producers who had agreed the product-placement deal with AC/DC’s management.  It isn't even the DC's best track.

I have to say, given the amount of sound and fury created over the inclusion of the AC/DC music, it’s the  music from The Clash that really stands out as being effective and appropriate.  So, stick that in your cannon, Angus.

Not an auspicious beginning.  This misstep is then followed by an extremely long exposition scene where Stark essentially retells the-story-so-far for those who have forgotten the first film.  Fortunately, this sequence which, at first, seems like another bad idea, is actually serving several purposes.  Exposition, yes, but it also introduces the central location of the film: The Stark Expo and introduces the key theme of the film: the notion of making peace with one’s father.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke on effortlessly fine form) who, like all the best bad-guys, is motivated by a very deep, very real need to defend and redeem his family name.  He believes that his father was thrown down into the poverty in which he died because of Howard Stark (Tony’s father) and he is determined that the punishment for the sins of the father will be visited upon the son.

So, already we can see that Stark Snr’s bequest to his son has two edges to it, firstly the dream of the Stark Expo and the secret it hides, secondly the nightmare of the enemy in the East.

The early scenes, featuring Stark giving the Senate what for and then giving Pepper his whole company, all remind us of what a charming rogue he is, and how great Downey Jnr’s performance is for constantly persuading us that such an exasperating lothario is the hero. 

All of which nicely lays the groundwork for the first meeting between Stark and Vanko and the brilliant first reveal of The Shellhead Suitcase.  Shame the trailer spoiled that moment but hey, that’s what trailers do. 

Added to this mix is the jealous and inadequate Justin Hammer, who is a constant irritation for Stark.  As played by Sam Rockwell, he is also just really annoying, with his fake bake and his fake smile and his fake deference.  He becomes a great foil for the unfussy, gruff Vanko; the man who thinks he’s a genius versus the man who genuinely is.

Favreau has built-up his Happy Hogan role and he does, at least, get the biggest laugh in the film when he fights one of Hammer’s henchmen.  But he isn’t simply there for comic relief.  During the Monaco Racetrack sequence, he gets to be genuinely and unflinchingly heroic.  Good for him!

And so we settle into the film’s middle act where, if I’m honest, it goes slightly off the rails.  Stark’s self-destructiveness is, of course, one of his most fascinating characteristics, but, when he successfully and selfishly alienates both Pepper and Rhodey, he is left alone and despondent.  This just seems to happen too quickly and conveniently and is too much of a reversal for the characters.  For me, the ‘Iron Man versus War Machine’ fight with Rhodey just wasn’t convincing.  Very well staged and great to watch, but not really well motivated.  Of course, it needs to be there to prepare the groundwork for what comes later.

The film is very quickly back on the rails, mind, with the swift intervention of Nick Fury played, of course, by Samuel L. Jackson who has been promoted from end-of-credits cameo to just cool the place up in a small but very significant role in the main story.  He brings a box full of maguffins from Stark’s father.

The idea of having Tony renew his relationship with his father (played by John Slattery) through the films shot in the 70s, rather than through traditional flash-backs, is a genuine delight.  It deliberately reminds you of Walt Disney, sitting on the corner of his desk, talking about the great future exemplified in his EPCOT experiment.  Presumably the Walt Disney connection explains the production designer’s decision to make this sequence look like it was shot in the 50s instead of the 70s.
The message Tony gets from his dad leads him to hand-build his own particle collider in his laboratory, which is a wonderful reminder of the first film and the sheer technical virtuosity Stark can demonstrate when set a challenge.  Lashing things together brilliantly is, after all, what has kept him alive all these years.

The show-down, when it comes, weaves together the multiple threads of the plot in a technically very skilful way, kudos to script-writer Justin Theroux for turning in such a balanced and satisfying conclusion to what is a big, unwieldy bunch of story-lines. 

Several threats manifest themselves all at once, leading to huge numbers of explosions, lots of fights within fights, an eyeball-rattling chase and even a quick Odessa Steps quote, all run through with a wry sense of humour that helps get you over the familiarity of what is, after all, just another noisy show-down in just another effects-heavy summer movie.  Be honest, we’ve seen it all before.

Given the cosmopolitan nature of the bad guys and the trip to Monaco, this film reminded me, in parts, of a wannabe Bond movie.  And, given the plethora of bad-guys, there was a danger of it tipping over into Batman Forever, Spider-Man 3 territory.  But, thanks to Downey Jnr’s charisma and Favreau’s easy, confident directing style, it managed to stay an Iron Man film.  The second best we’ve ever had.  Here’s to Iron Man 3.


Have you noticed I haven’t mentioned Scarlett Johansson’s turn as The Black Widow?  That’s because she literally serves no purpose other than being decorative.  They just wanted to stick her name and undeniably gorgeous face on the poster, so imported an unnecessary character for just that purpose.  Her character was clearly an afterthought so, after some thought, I decided to add her to my review in the same capacity.

Dir: Jon Favreau
Writer: Justin Theroux
Stars: Robert Downey Jnr, Mickey Rourke, Sam Riockwell, Samuel L. Jackson.
Dur: 124 mins
Cert: 12A


Okay, so, yes, I’ve read the comic.  But it came out so intermittently over the last two years that, reading it an issue every three-or-four months, I don’t feel I fully appreciated it.  I can also barely remember most of it.  Therefore, I approached this film with a keen sense of anticipation and only a vague idea of what I was going to see.

Inevitably, the film heaves with post-modern inter-textual references to other comic-books and comic-book movies, from the Superman pastiche of the opening credits to the strategically-placed Marvel comics in the comic shop and the cinema hoarding advertising The Spirit 3.  But that is not done simply to stroke the egos of geeks; in this case it happens to be a necessity because Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) and his friends Marty and Todd (Clark Duke and Evan Peters) live in the real world, a world where superheroes only exist in comic-books and comic-book movies.

This is why Dave’s opening monologue wryly points out that his origin has no moments of tragic epiphany like that of Spider-Man or Batman.  In fact, it’s not an origin at all.  It’s a life story.  The life-story of a nineteen year-old.

In-keeping with original author Mark Millar’s mission to explore superheroes in real world settings, Dave’s debut as Kick-Ass results in him … getting his ass kicked.  Because, of course, villains in the real world don’t build elaborate machines and have crowds of henchmen aiding them in their bid to take over the world.  They steal innocent people’s cars or deal drugs and, when challenged, stick the knife or boot in.

As Dave is being stretchered off, we are introduced to the film’s other main protagonists, the family of Damon (Nicolas Cage) and Mindy MacReady (Chloe Moretz).  He’s an ex-cop determined to teach his daughter to protect herself, she’s a ten year-old who likes butterfly knives and machine-guns.  In other words, he’s The Punisher mixed with Batman and she’s Robin.  Their world is more violent than Dave’s and less real.  They live in the hyper-reality of a revenge fantasy.  It is not without meaning that script-writer Jane Goldman has made Damon a comic-book artist.  This is the world in which he lives.  It also gives a well-earned opportunity for John Romita Jnr (the comic-book’s co-creator and artist) to get his gorgeous art-work on screen.

When Damon pulls on his costume – which deliberately echoes Batman’s Kevlar armour, he adopts a very mannered, hesitant vocal pattern.  At first this mystified me, I thought it was Cage trying too hard then, suddenly, it dawned on me: He’s doing Adam West.  Cage, of course, has wanted to play a superhero in the worst way for a long time.  He was pencilled-in to play Superman some years ago but, thankfully, that didn’t happen.  The closest he has so-far come to realising his dream was playing the ludicrous Ghost Rider in the pointless film of the same name (2007).  This opportunity, then, must have come as a gift from the Gods for him.

Dave’s full recovery is remarkably swift and the first element of his life that seems unreal but you forgive the film this conceit because, as it proceeds, he gets drawn further and further into Damon’s fantasy and further away from his comic-book reading mates.

The genius of the original comic, carried through even more dramatically in the film, was the idea of Kick-Ass’ heroism being videoed and going viral on the net, making him an instant celebrity.  Kick-Ass, then, is the perfect hero for the on-line generation with their micro-attention-spans.  It’s worth bearing in mind that the comic came out more than a year before Millar’s fellow-Scot Susan Boyle became world-famous literally over-night by the same method.  It didn’t take long for his prediction to come true!

This is a British film (with every frame – apart from some very obvious New York cityscapes – shot right here in Blighty) and a low-budget one.  Some of the locations and special effects betray the lack of money, but such is the joie de mort of the movie, one can forgive it pretty-much-anything.  Besides, keeping the budget down ensured that director Vaughn and writer Millar could get their vision on-screen intact, Katana-wielding foul-mouthed moppet and all!

Mark Strong – British film’s villain du jour – gives his best performance since RocknRolla (2008) as Frank D’Amico, the comic-book villain who Damon has sworn to bring down.  He is the reason Damon’s Big Daddy alter-ego does have an origin with a tragic epiphany.  He is also the father of the wonderfully nerdy Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), whose appearance signals the left-turn into total fantasy for the film, and constitutes the greatest deviation from the source book.

But the star of the show – and a brand-new movie-star in the making - is Aaron Johnson.  I was amazed when I found out that he was English, because he blends-in so perfectly with this American genre with his American friends.  He brings such humour, pathos and out-and-out likeability to Dave that the film’s more outrageous conceits just seem so much more acceptable because he has to deal with them.  If anything, his face is more expressive when he is wearing his mask – possibly because he doesn’t bother with the black eye-liner that has become de rigeur since Michael Keaton’s Batman (1989), which allows his big blue eyes and prehensile eyebrows full reign.

Vaughn has, of course, taken his biggest cue from the source comic book – although the script does stray further and further away from the comic book and, ironically, more and more into fantasy as it proceeds – but he has also taken inspiration from Quentin Tarantino (especially in his excellent use of music), John Woo and Luc Besson in his staging of some phenomenal action sequences.

Like last year’s comic-book masterpiece, Watchmen, this is a film that has found its moment.  The film-going audience is ready to have their super-hero films dissected, just as the comic-reading audience was twenty-years ago.  The film is different to the book, less grounded in gritty reality, but that works.  They are two different and successful interpretations of the same story.  If you’ve enjoyed one, the other will have some pleasant surprises for you!

This film is a gold-plated, pump-action, four-colour crowd-pleaser and it’s loaded for bear!  I can’t wait for the Blu-Ray.

One thing though, one element which just pushes the bounds of possibility too far.  I know scriptwriter Goldman is married to Britain’s richest and most famous comic collector, but the idea that a comic-book geek can have a super-hot girlfriend who also reads comics … nah … That’s just one step too far!

Dir: Matthew Vaughn
Screenwriter: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn
Stars:  Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong
Dur: 117 mins
Cert: 15


DOCTOR WHO: Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone

The first two-parter of the new series begins with a couple of red herrings.  Firstly there’s the cameo from Mike Skinner (a.k.a The Streets) who doesn’t appear again.  He is hallucinating about trees and grass and the open air because of the hallucinogenic lipstick River Song has kissed him with.  Ordinarily, a smoking gun like that would be introduced good and early because it is going to come back at an important moment later on.  But this doesn’t re-appear later, either.  Although, to be fair, the story is book-ended with a different kiss, but we’ll get to that later.

What it does is proceed to a lovely science fiction idea, River Song (Alex Kingston) breaks into a safe, all Mission:Impossible stylie, and carves a message on the artefact she finds there, so The Doctor can find it thousands of years in the future and travel back and rescue her as she throws herself out of an airlock.  Ingenious stuff.  Bill and Ted sort-of did it first, but it’s still a lovely moment with a great idea behind it an a nice way to propel us into this story.

Of course, River Song herself is just really irritating.  She can write Gallifreyan, fly the Tardis better than its owner (apparently The Doctor has been flying it with the brakes on all these years) and has the previously-revealed close relationship with The Doctor in the future – all of which suggests she is a Time Lord.  But she can’t stop gloating about the fact that she’s knows “spoilers” about his future.  He, on the other hand, never once gives her the merest hint that he knows hers, yet, since the last time they met he watched her die, that’s a pretty big secret to keep.

Writing of being irritating, I find the way Moffat chooses to write The Doctor’s dialogue is particularly galling.  Yes, I understand that the show is meant to appeal to kids and kids don’t understand the laws of grammar so they just make words and sentence structures up.  That’s fine.  In kids.  It was even fine when Joss Whedon started doing it in Buffy because, y’know, they’re American.  One sympathises.  But here, The Doctor’s dialogue is deliberately infantile and that just annoys me:  “ … it’s a Boringer! … I’m Mr. Grumpy Face … They will be sorrier … I made him say comfy chair … That’s extremely not very good …” And so on.  Once in a while for comic effect, fine, but all the time?  No.

I think the cumulative effect of The Doctor being wrong when Amy was right a couple of weeks before, The Doctor being on the back-foot because of River Song, The Doctor losing his temper momentarily every episode now, which makes him seem panicky fallible and this, along with his dithery, graceless mumbling and ill-disciplined use of language is all, presumably, meant to humanise him.  But he’s a super-hero!  He’s an alien with super-powers, two hearts, an indeterminate life-span and something approaching omniscience!  He’s not meant to be human.  Making him human just undermines his authority, as if making him someone who has barely started shaving didn’t already severely dinted that!

Then there’s the inconsistency:  When he finds that he is up against The Weeping Angels, he tells Amy that they are “… the deadliest, most powerful, most malevolent” of life forms.  Funny, but he had a different opinion of them last time, he seemed to feel their habit of propelling you somewhere else in space and time (Hull, in one case) was quite quaint.  What they didn’t do was kill people.  Well, make your bleedin’ mind up.

Right.  Got that off my chest.  Now then …

He also meets Bishop Octavian (Iain Glen) and his squad of battle priests who are, if you’ll forgive the image, going commando for God.  But, of course, there is no God in The Doctor’s universe, there’s only him … so they end up putting their faith in him.

They plunge into some caves, looking for stone monsters (!) and that affords some truly gorgeous scenery and photography, benefiting from some very moody lighting and clever use of matte paintings. 

The statues they find in there are all in a state of considerable disrepair, their faces melted away.  When, in a surprise turn of events that was only patently obvious from the very beginning, the faces start to slowly resolve and repair, that leads to some very disturbing imagery.

There’s no denying that this story is incident-packed, every new scene introduces a new element, a new problem, a new thread, but the highlight of the episode is undeniably Amy’s scene trapped in the locked room with the recording of the Angel.  This is a genuinely chilling moment and the solution (which, characteristically, she comes up with on her own) is ingenious.  It also employs a common thread that has run through several of Moffat’s scripts: The notion of the haunted recording device.  We had the ghostly child’s voice in the radiogram in The Empty Child (2005), the communicator data-ghosts in Silence in the Library (2008) and the conversation with the video-tape in Blink (2007).  Here we have both this video-recording of the Angel, which is interactive, but also the voice of dead characters cutting in on the walkie-talkies.

Then we get the first episode’s crescendo, the climax, the cliff-hanger … and you doubtless know all about the controversy when this happened:

Well, at least it took people’s attention away from the fact that The Doctor has gone to very great pains in the past to avoid using guns.  Here he picks one up without hesitation.  Is that another inconsistency or just me being picky?

Well, if that’s picky, how does the whole jumping up and getting grabbed by the artificial gravity thing work?  And, if it did work, how come it didn’t result in them crashing into the surface of the space-ship as though they’d just fallen thirty-odd feet to the ground?  Not sure I buy that at all.  But the reveal shot when the camera pulls away and rotates 180 degrees is an excellent visual with which to start episode two!

As with all-together too many elements from this year’s season – the lovely idea of having Amy counting down to her own demise, just fizzles out … she doesn’t even get to ‘one’.  It’s an event that doesn’t happen.  Once again, we have villains who don’t do anything, a Doctor who seems to have no sense of purpose and clever plot-points like this one that just dry up or get forgotten about.

Then there is the whole issue of Amy having to fool the Angels in to thinking she can see.  But it has already been established that they communicate with each other somehow, so they must surely know that she is possessed and might well even be in contact with the Angel that has possessed her.  So how, then, can she walk gingerly past them without them realising there’s a problem until she, inevitably, falls over?

The moment where, finally, we see them move comes far, far, far too late.  We have seen too many of them and we have seen them too clearly for them to keep holding the dread that they had at the beginning, the visual cue of actually seeing them move was, I think, needed to inject another level of horror into them.  It’s skin-crawling the one time they do move but, again, comes to nothing.

However, shot through this are some very powerful, very clever lines:  “Yes, if we lie to her she’ll suddenly get all better … If I always told the truth I wouldn’t need you to trust me” These are beautifully enigmatic concepts that Smith delivers well and which prove that Moffat absolutely knows what he’s doing!  The moment when The Doctor faces up to the inevitability of Octavian’s sacrifice is cunningly written and beautifully performed by both actors.  Smith giving long, meaningful looks that betray the depths of character that his off-the-cuff dialogue goes so far to hide, Glen being stoically determined and making a line like “I think you’ve seen me at my best” truly tug at the heart.

Finally, the show-down, where the Doctor uses gravity to dispose of both of his problems in one go, is very neatly constructed and, again, proves what a great writer Moffat can be when he lets himself be.

The coda is very interesting, with Amy being the first companion ever to openly demonstrate a desire to explore the sexual possibilities that The Tardis offers.  Of course, since she is due to get married the following day, one has to wonder about her sense of commitment.  Maybe her claim in episode one that she was “a kissagram” really did mean what we thought it meant.

But no.  She’s a good, clean, honest girl really, who is just having the most galactic case of pre-wedding jitters.

So, over-all, whilst I clearly found much to criticise in these episodes, I do feel they constitute a marked improvement on the first two that Moffat wrote.  It’s as-though he had more time to work on them, and more confidence about where his vision of The Doctor is going.  It’s still not a vision I whole-heartedly buy into, though.

I imagine a more confident, more consistent depiction of the central character (such as that presented by either Eccleston or Tennant) would have carried me past a lot of these problems I have and made for an altogether more satisfying viewing experience.

I am still not enjoying Smith’s depiction of The Doctor, despite the very obvious acting skill he demonstrates which, as I noted with episode one, demonstrates a greater range and subtlety than Tennant managed.  But, and it’s a huge, big but: The character as written by Moffat is just not convincing or endearing or consistent enough for me.  Karen Gillan’s Amy is beat perfect, she is an excellent companion and it is gratifying to see her being allowed to play against the type that young, attractive women in mini-skirts usually are stereotyped into playing.  But The Doctor … sorry, I still don’t trust him.  

DOCTOR WHO: Victory of the Daleks

Now, this is what I’ve been waiting for.  A barn-storming classic Doctor Who episode with moments that I’ll remember and talk about for years to come: Spitfires in space, man.  It don’t get much better than that.

As you would expect from Mark Gatiss, a man steeped in British heritage, this is a terribly stiff-upper-lipped story with a brilliant central conceit.  Churchill, during Britain’s ‘darkest hour’, supervising the war from the dark and dingy depths of his bunker, is presented with a solution, a weapon he can’t possibly resist: A camouflaged Dalek, or an “Ironside” as their supposed inventor, Dr. Bracewell, terms them.  There is something so right about that description yet so curiously wrong about their behaviour: The early scenes with the Daleks as servants, bringing cups of tea or trundling down a corridor carrying a box file, are delicious. 

Obviously, there are a few quibbles with this episode, not least:  Why is no one shocked that Amy is wearing a mini-skirt in 1941?  Where the Hell did the Daleks come from?  I thought The Doctor had destroyed them all.  Again.  Isn’t it convenient that that they just happened to stumble across a Progenitor Device floating in space!  Quite how - and why - would these pepper-pots with sink-plunger hands manage to fashion a cyborg – then make it middle-aged and Scottish?

However, these worries simply dissipate as the episode barrels along.  There’s enough going on here to fill a two-parter (with the “Testimony is accepted” bit clearly the cliff-hanger ending of the first part) but they have packed it all into one episode.  The down-side of that is that none of the lovely ideas contained in this episode really get enough screen-time or chance to develop.  The up-side is that none of them outstay their welcome.  This is the archetypal British war-movie rendered down to its essentials and packed into 42 electrifying minutes.

Little throwaway lines like “Broadsword calling Danny-Boy” (which had me laughing so much I fell off the sofa) are all part of a very rich mix.  The bright sixties colours and sound effects on the Dalek ship are lifted straight from the sixties Dr. Who movies, plus they contribute to Moffat’s apparent desire to channel the spirit of the very earliest Doctors and, in this case, are all the more welcome for it.

Yes, the multi-coloured Daleks are a marketing manager’s wet dream.  Yes, they will spawn a huge line of all-new expensive toys and, yes, they’ll probably be back again at the end of the series.  Again.  But all of that is fine.

The whole episode is a mosaic, a collection of small, perfectly formed ideas stuck together to form a whole and, if some of the ideas don’t work on their own, that’s okay, because they are an important part of the big picture.

Spitfires in space.  Epic.  Iconic.  Perfect!

Ian McNeice’s performance as Churchill is note perfect, every sentence a statement of eloquent defiance delivered in that jowly rumble which we all know so well.  If you’ll forgive me for pinching the best line: “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would give a favourable reference to The Devil …” That’s exactly the kind of dialogue I’ve been waiting for, made all the richer because it is, of  course, a paraphrase of a genuine Churchill quote from the period.

Bill Paterson has fun with a fairly undignified role, spending much of his screen-time lying on the floor being psycho-analysed.  However, this scene, like the previous week’s Starwhale dilemma, allows Amy to shine, managing to talk her Paisley Boy down when The Doctor, once again, fails.  Then, afterwards, when he’s despondent, she perks him up by reminding him that he saved the Earth, which is patently untrue:  She did!

As for The Doctor, well, what seems to be turning into a weekly temper-tantrum at least has an understandable cause this week, because he’s terrified of the damn Daleks.  As with Eccleston’s Doctor, the presence of his nemesis makes him betray vulnerabilities he ordinarily wouldn’t.

This third episode has saved the series, for me.  Now there is at least one episode this year that is up there with my favourites, and that fact buoys-up my flagging faith for the rest of the series.

Well done, Mr. Gatiss.  Keep buggerin’ on!