Tuesday 25 April 2017

Doctor Who - Smile

“Happiness will prevail!”

That is the motto uttered several times by the titular group in the 1988 Doctor Who story, “The Happiness Patrol”. It is a story set on a future Earth colony where sadness is outlawed, and those caught unhappy are executed. Methods of execution vary but are sometimes via a robot made out of licorice all-sorts.

I was reminded of “The Happiness Patrol” early on while watching the latest Doctor Who episode, “Smile” by Frank Cottrell-Boyce. Truth be told, beyond the mandatory happiness and death-by-robot, the two stories are actually quite different, and I don’t want to sound like I’m accusing the more recent story of copying the earlier one. That said, there is another way in which they are similar: They are both reasonably entertaining, yet flawed, stories.

“Smile” starts out strongly enough. It does a good job of setting the scene, and there is a lot of great interaction between the Doctor and Bill. There are some wonderful visuals and the episode maintains a suitable atmosphere that is a mix of both creepiness and wonder. However, the resolution appears and is gone in the space of mere moments. It’s almost as though the story spends so much effort on the set-up that it forgets it needs to reach a conclusion until its 45-minute duration is almost up, and so just tacks on something last moment. It doesn’t help that, apart from the Doctor and Bill, the characters are one-dimensional and entirely unsympathetic.

“Smile” is Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s second script for Doctor Who. His first was “In the Forest of the Night” from Series 8, an episode that I never got round to reviewing; however, in summary, my opinion of that story is, I didn’t like it. “Smile” is certainly a significant improvement on Cottrell-Boyce’s earlier story. However, its rushed ending leaves me with a sense of disappointment after such a good start.


Saturday 22 April 2017

Doctor Who - The Pilot

Over the last few years, I have been very critical of Steven Moffat, and I have written more than a few scathing reviews of his vision of Doctor Who. In the last couple of years, since Peter Capaldi took over, my reviews have generally been more positive, as I feel Moffat has greatly improved, but there are still things in his writing that have continued to bother me.

But then there are times that Moffat just gets it right. The Series 10 première episode, “The Pilot” is one such occasion. Gone is the overly frantic pacing typical of a Moffat-penned series opener, and in its place is a calmer, yet nevertheless exciting and moving episode. There are hints of the future and a series arc, yet it doesn’t overwhelm the viewer with complexity and confusing “timey-wimey” paradoxes. Instead, it present a straight-forward and very personal story to draw in viewers, both old and new, before leaping into the larger, more complex universe of the series.

Moffat likes to include lots of nods to the programme’s past in his episodes and “The Pilot” is certainly not an exception in this regard. However, in this case, these nostalgic moments occur in such a way as to not impede the experience for newer viewers who might not be aware of every detail of the show’s long history. And through the introduction of new companion Bill Potts, new viewers encounter the Doctor and his wider universe for the first time in a way that hasn’t happened since “Rose”, making “The Pilot” an ideal first episode for brand new viewers.

In short, “The Pilot” is an incredible episode of Doctor Who and is definitely one of Steven Moffat’s best since becoming showrunner. It’s pretty near close to a perfect episode, and that’s not something I say lightly. It’s fun, engaging, moving, and I just love it to pieces.