Interstellar | Review | Film

Interstellar

Interstellar is not 2001: A Space Odyssey, so get that out of your head right now. Christopher Nolan’s space-bound, more than featured length epic certainly shares some DNA with Kubrick’s classic, but in reality what you get is something quite different.

Interstellar poster

One similarity is that you can explain the basic premise without telling you much about the film at all. In a nutshell, Interstellar follows Cooper, a former pilot and engineer who exists in an age when the human race is grinding to a halt as it is running out of food. Despite culture debunking the Apollo moon landing as a hoax, to focus people on solving the problems on their doorstep instead of looking to the stars, in the end it is the stars which present the only real chance of saving humanity.

This time it’s personal

Coop's family and their battle with blight on their crops feels close to home at times
Coop’s family and their battle with blight on their crops feels close to home at times

Cooper’s own journey, and his relationship with his family is the real story though, with sci-fi merely providing the crisis to put things under pressure. Matthew McConaughey, who plays Coop, is very much the star here, delivering a very relatable and likeable performance in what was a critical role to sell the concept of the story to the audience.

The supporting cast keeps going and going, with the introduction of each new character bringing another “Oh it’s that guy” moment, though this is by no means a bad thing. Jon Lithgow and female lead Anne Hathaway stand out as the strongest performances, as the former fulfills a Jiminy Cricket-type role to Coop before he leaves Earth, while the latter jumps between believing in science and love as the increasingly head-scratching plot progresses.

Matthew McConaughey drives the film as engineer turned astronaut Cooper
Matthew McConaughey drives the film as engineer turned astronaut Cooper

From Nolan past films you may already have an idea what to expect here, leaving the somewhat more obvious Dark Knight Trilogy to one side, there’s always a cerebral element to his films, particularly Inception. You can almost watch the film in two ways: trying to make sense of the science and sci-fi or taking each thing as it comes and focusing on the human element. Nolan does a good job of balancing the two, meaning there is enough to keep a wider range of film fans engaged.

Despite Nolan’s experience though, the final act does require a bit more brain power and could easily lose some, particularly the open-to-interpretation final shot. Not thinking about it all too much is the best way to enjoy it, although a lot of the science is actually fact, even if it is baffling. The perceptive may pick something up early on which reveals more about the finale than Nolan may have intended.

Style or substance?

Without a doubt the film is a visual feast more often than not
Without a doubt the film is a visual feast more often than not

Visually the film certainly lives up to the recent depictions of space, particularly Gravity – in fact the film could be described as a more action-packed version of that very film in some ways, and that’s by no means a bad thing. The depiction of the wormhole, which provides the celestial doorway to far-flung planets, and the black hold found on its far side are particularly stunning, and give you a real sense of scale.

As usual, the silent depiction of space itself (due to it being a vacuum) is incredibly striking, and adds another dimension to some of the action set pieces. The score too does a lot to add to the atmosphere too, with Hans Zimmer stepping away from the somewhat distinctive sound of the past few Nolan films to something more soft and quite haunting in places.

Providing you have the patience for a three-hour film, which can slow down at a couple of points, but not quite enough to lose your attention, then Interstellar is an impressive film with a good sense of scale and solid characters. That said, it won’t set your world on fire, particularly is Nolan’s style of filmmaking has struck a nerve in the past. Much like Gravity it’s a film worth watching for any film fan but only the committed will jump in again to unpick it’s layers.

Rating: 3/5

James Michael Parry

What’s next for Doctor Who? | Opinion | TV

Doctor WhoWith series 8 of Doctor Who all wrapped up, where can (and should) the relentless time traveller go next? The past? The future? Gallifrey? Despite the rapid wrap-up we got in Death in Heaven The Doctor has left us with many unanswered questions.

Meet the new guy

Capaldi wrote fan scripts and letters to the show as a child, and his passion and love for the show shines through
Capaldi wrote fan scripts and letters to the show as a child, and his passion and love for the show shines through

Peter Capaldi’s new Doctor has proved himself a triumph, as we mulled over towards the beginning of the series, but it hasn’t yet felt like he’s had a chance to get his teeth into anything.

Grand promises were made in Deep Breath, such as doing something about all those mistakes, and yet here we are without many of them fulfilled. The question of whether The Doctor is a good man was sort of answered with a loud and excitable ‘no’, but where’s Gallifrey? Where’s Missy now (since she clearly didn’t die, what do you take us for)?

The quest for Gallifrey has to feature in series 9, it was such a fundamental part of the 50th Anniversary Special and we’ve barely heard a whisper about it since. Can we expect to see Timelords return in force next series? Perhaps there would be some crimes to answer for? There have certainly been some interesting Timelord storylines in the classic series at least, and only a flutter of them so far in new Who.

Imagine the costume possibilities at the very least. The elaborate headdresses and colour were the inspiration for the Timelord language as it appears in new Who, so it would be nice to see some of that in context.

To seek out new life and new civilisations

New monsters were fairly few and far between in series 8, we want more
New monsters were fairly few and far between in series 8, we want more

There’s no doubt The Master will return in some form. The portrayal this series was short and sweet, and left us wanting more. The story of an unseen evil has recurred in the modern series a few times, as far back as the 2005 series, so perhaps it’s time to be a bit more overt with it all. We’ve been flirting with Missy for series 8, let her take us on a merry dance through series 9.

What other monsters could The Doctor encounter though? A few of the old favourites have had one too many outings recently (Cybermen in the finale were hardly necessary, at least they were part of the story in Dark Water), so perhaps there are other classic monsters they could bring back, but really we want something new, something you couldn’t do 50 years ago, something exciting and most of all – not terrible CGI. Seriously, The Mill, you’re good, but you can do better with some of these things, there’s a pretty lifelike penguin in the John Lewis ad for goodness sake!

Anywhere, anywhen, anyhow…

The ever decreasing Tardis was a great idea to shake things up
The ever decreasing Tardis was a great idea to shake things up

As for time periods, the Victorian era has been getting a bit worn lately as well, there’s plenty of other exciting times and places in history we could explore. What about going right back to primitive Earth? Could be interesting, if not done cringeworthingly badly, so perhaps the Tudors would be more fun? Or revolutionary France? Just because Assassin’s Creed has been there doesn’t mean it’s off limits.

The future is always endless and expansive of course, perhaps visiting some more planets is a bit optimistic – even on Doctor Who‘s budget – but we’d settle for some more alien locations than just ‘London with a few trees in it’, and don’t think you can get away with another industrial-type space station or ship either, we’re wise to that now. Space itself is interesting enough in reality, surely there’s some things out there which we could draw in, a comet is a bit obvious, and Kill The Moon sort of went there, but perhaps an asteroid field or something could work, so long as you can avoid Millenium Falcon-killing creatures of course.

Not all fun and games

Capaldi's spoon vs sword fight from Robots of Sherwood was a particular highlight of series 8
Capaldi’s spoon vs sword fight from Robots of Sherwood was a particular highlight of series 8

The biggest journey really is The Doctor himself. It sort of felt like he was in the passenger seat at times this series, and fair enough you could say it’s his first season. But Tennant was there fighting with a sword in his first episode, no one could suggest he didn’t take charge of that particular situation, but Capaldi’s Doctor seems to have stumbled to his feet in the presence of an increasingly demanding companion who in many ways seems to have outgrown him, and others just wishes for the good old days of Smith’s Doctor.

Tonally, the show had a bit of a reset with this series, and it could do with some of the fun of the Tenth (and even Eleventh) Doctor to spice things up a bit. Even grumpy old Nine had his moments (“Just this once Rose, everybody lives!”) This is not a criticism of Capaldi though, who has worn the role on his sleeve and convincingly, he just needs to be given more meaty drama to get to grips with, in a situation not where he is swooping in and saving the day perhaps, since we know The Doctor doesn’t think of himself that way, now less so than ever, but making those difficult decisions, selflessly, when no one else could.

In all the show is as strong now as it has been at any point through the Moffat era, and really whether you are enjoying things depends on whether you like his style or not. If you gave series 7 a miss because it was all getting a bit silly and unnecessarily complicated, then reconsider for 8. The standalone episodes made a big difference to how watchable the show is, particularly out of order or in chunks, and there’s a lot to like about Capaldi even if Clara rubs you up the wrong way. The future for Doctor Who now depends on whether the show can continue to innovate and reinvent itself as readily as its titular hero, and from past experience we can at least say it’s possible.

James Michael Parry

The Boxtrolls | Review | Film

The BoxtrollsThe Boxtrolls posterBased on a book by Alan Snow, The Boxtrolls is the latest release from the makers of Coraline and ParaNorman, both excellent films with unique animation and more than enough of a dark side to be totally acceptable adult viewing at the same time. Boxtrolls is similar in this respect, but is it a worthy follower?

The film opens in the Victorian city of Cheesebridge, where we are introduced to the film’s antagonists, Lord Portely-Rind and Archibald Snatcher (Jared Harris and Ben Kingsley) discussing how to remove the city of the Boxtroll problem, Snatcher agrees as long as upon completion he earns a white hat like that of Rind’s (the ultimate sign of status in this society).

Soon we meet the elusive Boxtrolls and the rather un-troll like baby Eggs, the star of this tale. The trolls are harmless humanoid creatures in cardboard boxes rooting through people’s rubbish trying to find items of interest, their scavenging is interrupted however when Snatcher and his cronies burst in and capture them, with just Fish and Shoe escaping (the trolls are so named after what their box once stored).

The film uses the same stop motion style of animation as its forebears, though they have possibly peaked here – everything looks so good, the movement is fluid and everything manages to feel alive. The character models are incredibly detailed, and they all managed to have their own expressions and personality. The Boxtrolls for example, may not speak English, but they are identifiable by their box, and how each one behaves.

Character models are very exaggerated and somewhat grotesque, though this allows them to be quite unique and expressive, Egg for example can speak English (inexplicably, given none of the trolls speak it) but shows a lot of his emotion through gestures and expressions, there is a particularly amusing scene where he gets shown how to politely introduce himself, but takes the advice too literally (“Nice to meet you, even if I don’t really mean it”).

The characters themselves are generally decently done, Eggs (Isaak Hempstead Wright) is a fairly typical star, being honest and wanting the best for his friends, he’s also joined by Winnie (Elle Fanning) an stuck up rich girl, who is ignored by her parents and yearns for more. At first she’s fairly cold and haughty but soon warms to Eggs and his troll friends). Her father, Lord Portely-Rind, is very cold to her – almost to the point of being dismissive.

The BoxtrollsSomething I took from this film is that, despite the cute posters and toy/merch lines available, I’m not sure this is actually a children’s film. It is quite dark in places, and the grotesque imagery (the aforementioned cheese bit is somewhat uncomfortable to watch) and dark atmosphere will doubtless prove quite scary for some children, as well as a few scenes that seem completely hopeless for our Eggs and his friends. There is little in bright colours and the locations are mostly dark and gloomy. Despite all this, there is humour, though – slapstick is frequent in scenes involving Boxtrolls and there is some witty dialogue between our two young heroes.

The film reaches a conclusion a little too quickly perhaps, with Snatcher revealing a rather unlikely method for seizing his white hat after Eggs manages to thwart his deal with Portely-Rind. It had been hinted at but seems somewhat far fetched. His actual downfall comes shortly after, and is suitably gross. The film ends happily, and it is worth sticking around for the credits as they are very well done, along with a short forth wall breaking bonus scene.

An enjoyable film, it’s something that kids will enjoy for the slapstick and cute Boxtrolls while adults can have no shame in watching for its great animation and refusal to compromise the dark aspects of the story.

Rating 4/5

Jordan Thomas

Gone Girl | Review | Film

Gone GirlGone GirlThey always say marriage is about compromise, but when your other half tries to kill you, it’s often hard to find the middle ground. From the first moments of Gone Girl, you can tell this film is something a bit different to what expected. You find yourself saying: “Did he really say that? That can’t be what he meant, can it?”

Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a man having a really bad time when his wife is taken…sorry, gone…one morning when he returns from his bar (imaginatively known as ‘The Bar). What has actually happened is a mystery, which unravels unexpectedly throughout the film. To say that the film contains a twist might be considered a twist for most films, but in this case, there are so many twists and turns you’ll be amazed that you haven’t ended got a headache.

…Because I’m Bat-fleck

Gone Girl
The grin on Neil Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) turns out to be bad for the cameras

Affleck brings the feeling in this film, in a role which shows a lot of emotional depth – admittedly already evidenced by his excellent work in films such as Argo – which gives a lot of hope for his turn as The Caped Crusader in Batman vs Superman next year. Watching the story unfold in front of you through Affleck’s eyes just forces you to route for him, even if his character might not be as straightforward as your first impression might have thought.

Female lead Rosamund Pike as wife Amy is just as complex a portrayal as Mr Affleck, although some male viewers might find it hard to relate to her just because of how strongly her gender runs through her character – you don’t feel as though if the genders of the two leads were reversed that the film would have unfolded in the same way.

Deface-book

Rosamund Pike is Amy Dunne...but is she still alive?
Rosamund Pike is Amy Dunne…but is she still alive?

If director David Fincher had a word in mind when he was directing this film, it must have been ‘tension’. The film is dripping with it, so much so that you may not have any fingers left by the time the credits roll. Like The Social Network before it, Fincher’s understanding of the subtleties of close personal relationships shine through here, causing no surprise at all when the characters interact naturally together.

Part of the credit for that must go to screenwriter and author of the original book Gillian Flynn, who’s tale ups the ante at every stage as we delver deeper into its characters with each revelation. Even Desi Collings, the most misunderstood character of the piece, who Neil Patrick Harris gives you no choice but to feel sorry for, is written sharply enough to draw blood, despite a relatively short span on screen.

Bite the hand that feeds

A picture can make the past look perfect
A picture can make the past look perfect

As usual, Fincher’s musical meastros Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross bring the rich soundtrack which set the stage, and highten the uneasiness of the characters on multiple occasions. The visuals by comparison are generally low-key, with straightforward production and set design keeping the film grounded despite the fluctuations of its plot, though occasionally there is effects work which makes you stop dead and then squirm in your seat.

There’s a strong feeling of balance with this film. Let things slip too far into the surreal and you could lose your audience, but the way it is knotted together by Fincher (often with stubborn, ugly knots which can’t be unravelled) makes it strangely compelling viewing. More than once there is a moment where you feel like the story could finish, but then the film steps up a gear to push the audience even closer to the edge.

There might not be a right time or a right place to take in the story without drawing comparisons to your own life, but in truth this just emphasises what a strong example of the medium the film is. Not one for the faint-hearted, but undeniably a quality experience.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry

Maroon 5 and The Script – V and No Sound Without Silence | Double album review | Music

The Script and Maroon 5 double album reviewIt’s not every day new albums come out which you actually care about. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to ramble about them all (far less than usual actually, sorry about that lone fan), and so slamming two together in what could be described as, but isn’t really, a head-to-head seemed like a fun option.

The reason Maroon 5 and The Script together sit together nicely is because they are bands in similar areas of the industry (though the Maroon 5 boys have a few more years and albums under their belt), but they are different enough to listen to back to back.

Maroon 5 – V

Maroon 5 - VWith their fifth album – however did you guess… – the boys have taken the dancier sound from Overexposed and refined it, bringing a bit more instrumentation back in as well as using more of their layered vocals from Adam Levine which made Songs About Jane stand out.

Opener and lead single Maps is a perfect blend of the band’s catchy melodies and memorable guitar style. There aren’t many bands who can get away with repetition, even in a clearly pop-focused single, but Maroon 5 are excellent at taking a simple idea and elaborating on it through a song, driving it forward.

Animals continues the theme in style, before It Was Always You mellows things out a little, dialling up the dance beats a notch.

Levine’s vocals contain some of the highest notes we’ve heard and his various grunts and oohs build to screeches as the music swells, but in a way which refuses to step over the line into a piercing noise, similar to how Michael Jackson got away with it on many tracks.

Maroon 5 - VWith a mixture of ballads with a beat and catchy numbers, the rest of the album plays out much as you might expect, with the odd 80s nod in the synth drums. It’s a collection of songs that hangs together well without any sticking out too far, but it may prove too middle-of-the-road for some as a result.

No doubt there are top ten hits here waiting to be unleashed (so many in fact, that you could easily make a sweepstake out of it), but it’s only a small step from Overexposed compared to where the band began the consistency has improved but undoubtedly the edginess that made them most endearing when they crashed onto the scene has dulled slightly.

That said there’s an awful lot to enjoy on this album, particularly for crowd singalong moments, and where Overexposed dragged its heels in the middle and became uninspiring, V never does.

The Script – No Sound Without Silence

The Script - No Sound Without SilenceThe fourth album from the Irish pop-rockers is a similar continuation on a theme, with the catchiness and excitement of #3 taken up a notch with lead single Superheroes. First track No Good In Goodbye has some excellent plays on words, including “Where’s the us in trust gone?” and “Can’t take the ache from heartbreak”, cementing the band’s position of one of the best lyrical groups in the charts.

The sound overall has good mix of upbeat and more reflective songs, far more laid back than V certainly, but you do find yourself longing for one more singalong classic along the lines of Breakeven or The Man Who Can’t Be Moved.

There are influences here of other bands like Coldplay, Bastille and even The 1975, but never more significant than the odd moment.

The themes of the songs are still quite personal, but generally more aspirational and uplifting then they have been in the past. The Energy Never Dies and It’s Not For You both insist that you don’t have to take the situation you’ve ended up in and leave it at that, instead you can at the very least choose your attitude to it.

The Script - No Sound Without SilenceMusically the band’s use of piano is much more natural this time, but otherwise it’s hard to find many stand out moments, it’s more just that the entire mix – particularly the interplay of vocals between all three of the brand members – is really impressive and at several moments really makes the tracks something special, to the extent that you can feel the odd goosebump.

It might not have as much ammo for the charts as previous efforts but the songs are well crafted and fit together beautifully, creating an album you can just sit back and relax to or jump around the room with here and there.

In short, both these albums deserve your attention, do yourself a favour and at least pick, but, if you know what’s good for you, choose both.

James Michael Parry

My week with Destiny | Review | Gaming

DestinyTruth be told, I haven’t played enough of Destiny to give it a traditional review. Not just because it is a game with a lot of different elements, but because the best experience of the game is the one you make yourself. Much like I imagine is the appeal of Skyrim, your memorable moments in Destiny are just as likely to be pottering about on the surface of the Moon as they are tackling a tricky Strike mission (the Raids, at the time of writing, are still to come).

The best is yet to come

Destiny
Competitive multiplayer in The Crucible is a nice addition, but nothing to write home about.

Destiny is definitely a game, that much we can be sure, a computer game even (or video game, if you want to be all American about it…), but past that it can fall into half a dozen specific genres of game – FPS, RPG, MMO…the acronyms go on and on.

The other thing we can definitely say is that it is good fun. Even those who take exception to the fact that the story is light touch generally concede that the gameplay has some fun bits in it – however short-lived or repetitive they turn out to be, and there’s potential for a lot more from a title which is supposedly designed as a franchise to be expanded over the next decade.

The game I find easiest to compare Destiny to is Sega Dreamcast classic Phantasy Star Online (no, not Final Fantasy, different thing, trust me). Comparing the two games, the amount of content available is a massive step forward, particularly considering PSO required a hunter’s licence to play (about £5 a month) and initially was around when internet speeds were cripplingly limited by modern standards – it’s a surprise the game ran at all.

Fast forward to the world of Destiny and persistent online play is a completely different kettle of fish, but that said it is still a kettle and they are still fish at the end of the day. Failure to ‘get over’ the fact that this game is being made Bungie’s way and no one else’s is essential. That’s not to say that they won’t respond to player feedback – they already have in many areas, such as the questionable voice acting from Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage – but changes which are made will be to improve the experience for the gamer rather than change things fundamentally.

The aforementioned Raids for example, an ultra-hard game mode which is only unlocked once you have finished basic ranking and got some snazzy gear, requires a party of six friends to complete and that will always be the case. There is matchmaking in Strikes, the Raid’s younger brother, but we are definitely expecting something altogether more complex from Raids, a bit of depth to missions, which at present tend to involve a lot of killing things and waiting for Dinklage to scan and/or hack things.

We need a hero

Perhaps not legend, but your character is at least your own
Perhaps not legend, but your character is at least your own

The central excitement of the game might come from frolicking about with others, but it’s the gear and levelling up which will keep you coming back for more. Although the initial level cap is a mere 20, light even by PSO standards, levelling continues above that by acquiring ‘motes of light’ which are derived from equipping rare items and other general looting, which forces you to play the game very differently, and, according to Bungie, it’s where the game really begins.

As I sit on the cusp of level 20, with all the excitement just around the corner, I still don’t feel like I’ve really got to the bottom of what the game is all about. I’ve still got a planet to visit (Mars), but otherwise the areas themselves are discovered, and explored to varying degrees. There are three (or so) alien races, who have various different monsters and creatures up their sleeve (or robots in the case of the Vex), and three classes to choose from (with two subclasses each) and three races to play as within that.

Of course, for the sake of the (admittedly vague and fairly limited) story, you ARE human. My Awoken Male Warlock (race, gender and class respectively) seemed to get very confused when the story led him to visit the Awoken Queen and he had lots of questions such as ‘Where do they come from?’, which you would expect he might know…

Regardless the prospect of replaying as a different class at least is appealing, since different classes and subclasses (which can be changed at any time) do have a different playstyle.

The game certainly isn’t for everyone, however much Bungie would like it to be, and for every soaring climax of the fantastic soundtrack there’s a niggle that crops up, but it doesn’t stop it being a thoroughly enjoyable with lots to do and discover. Become legend? Perhaps not, but, at the very least, it’s memorable.

James Michael Parry

Five reasons to get back into Doctor Who | Opinion | Television

Doctor Who series 8You’ll have heard that Doctor Who is back, that there’s a new guy holding the sonic screwdriver and scampering about in the TARDIS, but perhaps you haven’t managed to watch any of the new episodes just yet. “He’s a bit old,” you might say. “I liked David Tennant for a while but then the stories got all angsty and romantically awkward…”

As a big fan myself, I can admit that the series has its ups and downs, just like anything on TV (except some of the top quality shows on Netflix which are near flawless), but whether you enjoy Doctor Who or not comes down to one thing – suspension of disbelief.

Letting yourself be absorbed into that world is crucial to enjoying it, as you have to remember that this is a children’s show after all, aimed first and foremost at 10-12 year old boys (though probably any youngsters are in the cross-hairs these days).

So, without further ado, This Is Entertainment presents five reasons you should boot up BBC iPlayer (or, in fact, most of your favourite on-demand streaming services) and begin your time travel adventure once again.

The companion isn’t just a damsel in distress

Jenna Coleman has really brought her companion's character forward this series
Jenna Coleman has really brought her companion’s character forward this series

Ever since Doctor Who came back in 2005, the companions have been the audience’s window to the Whoniverse more than ever before, meaning, more often than not if you don’t like the companion, you don’t like the show.

Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald, who is the current hanger-on, has managed to really add depth to her character this series. Gone is the slightly painful and teenagery love angle and Clara is finally a force to be reckoned with, standing up for herself, getting out of trouble without the Doctor needing to swoop in and even telling the Doctor off when he gets a bit over-excited, like a hyperactive dog getting a tap on the nose with a copy of The Sunday Times.

There’s still a lot more developing which can be done, and the seeds of a new romantic entanglement have already been sewn, but the early signs look good, and at least a little more believable than they were before. Plus the fact that her everywoman identity isn’t central to the plot this series helps take some of the pressure off as well.

The Daleks are scarier than ever

Outstanding retro poster from designer Stuart Manning (Radio Times)
Outstanding retro poster from designer Stuart Manning (Radio Times)

OK OK, so some people find Daleks scary, others don’t, and certainly this series isn’t out to change your mind if you’re dead set against it, but Episode 2 story Into The Dalek is a really interesting take on ‘a Dalek episiode’ which effectively calls back to the end of 2005 series 1 – the fact that the Doctor would make a good Dalek.

For all our relating to the companion in the show, we really all aspire to be the Doctor himself, meaning any suggestion that he might not be a good man makes us feel uneasy. It’s times like that that the show uses its emotional resonance to its fullest effect however, making us question the morality of our hero.

Already this series the Doctor has dealt some hefty emotional blows to Clara and even abandoned her in a helpless situation – this is not something you’d expect from a hero.

In meeting broken Dalek ‘Rusty’, the Doctor’s tendency to want to fix and control everything around him gets the better of him and, inevitably, it costs lives. The Dalek voice, provided by show veteran Nicolas Briggs, is definitely silly, but nonetheless still menacing, particularly when the things he says really hammer home how dark the Doctor really is.

Someone remembered that fun is fun

The TARDIS takes an arrow in Robot of Sherwood
The TARDIS takes an arrow in Robot of Sherwood

Heavy storylines are all well and good, but some of the most memorable moments in the past few years have been comedy-based rather than drama, such as Matt Smith and David Tennant’s screwdriver standoff (complete with Doctor inspecting glasses) or Smith attempting to fend off the Daleks with a jammy doger.

This series might have been described as more dark, which it probably is, but there also seems to be an injection of much needed fun into proceedings after some heavy storylines at the end of Matt Smith’s run.

Robot of Sherwood portrays this most outwardly, but each episode so far has built in a strong element of comedy, much of which comes from Capaldi himself – swordfighting with a spoon is probably my favourite idea so far.

Of course it isn’t all about comedy, but when you’re sitting down with the family on a Saturday night for some entertainment you want something which is fun and you don’t necessarily wangt to have to pay attention to every tiny detail to get it, which leads neatly on to…

You don’t need to watch every episode to ‘get it’

The new titles are a bit different but they grow on you
The new titles are a bit different but they grow on you

In series 6 and 7 things got a bit complicated, let’s be honest. Series 5′s cracks in the wall (which admittedly reappeared later) were a fairly consistent thread running through that series, and another great example of Steven Moffat taking something everyday from his children’s childhood (i.e. a crack on the wall) and making it something to be really afraid of, a formula Moffat returns to for Listen.

The reason 6 and particularly 7 with its ill-advised mid-series break struggled is because there were too many long-running plot threads and the audience couldn’t quite keep their head around what was going on. The beginning of 7 part 2 is the biggest example of that in that it’s a struggle to remember why our heroes are on the run, let alone why they are in random different parts of America.

The stories for this series are far more self-contained, and so it makes the show far easier to dip in and out of. Obviously you should already be religiously tuning in to every episode, but if you’ve made it this far down then you either are already and are just enjoying my ramblings, or you like the show enough to be engaged with it but it can occasionally have problems holding your attention.

Already in the series we have had an introduction, a dark episode and a light episode, plus there’s been the customary introduction of a figure from history – although this time around it is the (possibly) fictional Robin Hood. There’s plenty of scope to delve deeper into the characters as the series goes on, but so far the balance between action and reflection has been spot on.

Peter Capaldi is just fantastic

Capaldi wrote fan scripts and letters to the show as a child, and his passion and love for the show shines through
Capaldi wrote fan scripts and letters to the show as a child, and his passion and love for the show shines through

For series 8, a new doctor provides a clean slate. Personally I have a lot of love for Matt Smith (as if you needed to ask) but Peter Capaldi brings the gravitas which not only comes with age – a fact which is played on nicely in the show – but also just his manner in the part. Capaldi’s long-term love affair with the show itself is well documented, and the passion he has for the role is already showing through strongly after only a couple of episodes.

The first episode is always a rag-tag of different emotions and feelings as the Doctor as a character finds his feed after changing every cell in his body by regenerating (sounds painful…). The initial quips – “Who invented this room?! It doesn’t make any sense; it’s only got a bed in it!” – give way to a realisation that The Doctor isn’t sure who he is, setting the tone of self-discovery for this series and leading to a line of comparisons between The Doctor and other characters.

Capaldi sells this instantly, unashamedly calling out things as silly or ridiculous, just as the audience might when faces with the sort of fantastical which is bread and butter for The Doctor. Due to his love of the show, Capaldi fits into both the stylish costume and mannerisms of his doctor quickly, making the character equal parts likeable, mad and dangerous.

There’s always the next story to look to with Doctor Who, but the series has made a strong start (not least for wisely self-containing the introduction in a near feature-length opener) and stands to get better and better as it continues. Here’s hoping the payoff at the end matches our collective anticipation.

James Michael Parry

Film, Music, Gaming, Technology and Cyberculture

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