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!