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Dissing Death in Heaven

Image: Clara walks among gravestones.

Almost there. With only a Christmas "special" still to dread, the 2014 slog that was Doctor Who's 8th revived series has, mercifully, nearly come to a close (if not to a merciful close).

An an honest critic must give Steven Moffat his due. From Danny Pink's classroom tears in his introductory episode, to a payoff for television's Least Convincing Romance Ever, to the Doctor's query, "Am I a good man?", with which the series opened, at least this year, Moffat didn't drop any of the major plot points he raised during the series. (Well. Maybe one. Time will tell.) The answers were neither clever nor convincing, but at least they were provided.

Yes, that's faint praise; and probably too generous. For along with the answers, "Death in Heaven" slaps us with un-foreshadowed plot twists out of sketch-comedy satire, blatant emotional manipulation, a debate on moral philosophy whose sophistication would shame a class of 12 year-olds, and an entirely unwelcome appearance by a Magical Negro.

But tell us what you really think! I hear you cry. Of plots and themes and lies and agonies. Spoilers and cussing as usual. I think most of you know the drill by now.

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Throwing out the Doctor with the Dark Water

Image: Clara has regrets

"Dark Water," the 11th entry in a 12 episode series, trundles along with a certain amount of professional competence, but is very far from being good drama.

The episode bears almost all the flaws we have come to expect from Steven Moffat's latter oeuvre. A story with the density of rotten sea-ice that groans along at a glacial pace and tedious swaths of explanations that don't, actually, explain much at all.

The upside includes excellent performances by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman and, especially, from Michelle Gomez as the mysterious Missy.

Want more? Throwing out the Doctor with the dark water includes spoilers as per usual, including a couple of Big Reveals; click at your own risk if you haven't seen it yet.

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In the Forest of the Blight

Image: The Doctor and Clara look out from the Tardis as it floats in space. Screenshot from 'In the Forest of the Night'.

Here we go again: interrupted for a couple of weeks by an influx of competence, Steven Moffat's Doctor Who is once more circling the black hole of creative bankruptcy. Moffat's name isn't on "In the Forest of the Night" — the official blame goes to one Frank Cottrell-Boyce — but his fingerprints are all over it.

Child in peril? Yup. Magic child in peril? Yes and yes.

Lots of expository dialogue? Oh, yes.

Completely implausible reactions to extraordinary events? You know it.

Magic Reverso-Babble TM to ensure story has no lasting consequences? Why not? We're in Moffat-land!

Truth is, there is so much wrong with "In the Forest of the Night" it's hard to know where to start — or where to stop. I made every effort to be parsimonious in my critique, to prune away the dying limbs the better to reach the rotten heart of the tale, but did I succeed?

You can judge for yourself by reading In the Forest of the Blight. Snark, spoilers and baffled vitriol behind the link, as usual.

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Flatline falls short

Image: The Doctor looks out through a tiny Tardis door. Screenshot from 'Flatline'.

I did it again. Made the mistake of watching a recent episode of Doctor Who a second time.

I really enjoyed "Flatline" the first time around. I barked delighted laughter and might even have gasped in surprise a time or two. I found Rigsy charming and Clara on her own a small revelation.

But when I queued up the story for a second go-through, things were not so good. Not terrible, but too obvious by half and derivative without improving on the inspiration.

My full review, as always, includes spoilers along with my keen analysis (or so I like to believe) and charming nervous exhaustion. This time, there's also a poll! Click here for the full story.

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Doctor Who takes the A-Minus Train

Image: Clara raises a glass to the last hurrah. Screenshot from 'Mummy on the Orient Express'.

I know, I know. This series' ninth episode aired yesterday and here I am, posting about the 8th. I have no excuses, except that of "Life got in the way."

To those who'd wondered where I'd gone (and missed me) I say, "Mea culpa and that I'll try to do better with 'Flatline'." To those who'd wondered where I'd gone (and hoped I'd stay away), I say only, "You can't get rid of me that easily! But if it's any consolation, my reappearance comes with a surprise: I quite liked 'Mummy on the Orient Express'!"

What a difference a good script makes.

I was all-too-ready to dislike "Mummy On the Orient Express" as much as I did last week's "Kill the Moon".

MOOE's title suggested only another tired homage to, or rip-off of, someone else's creation. But what do you know! MOOE was funny and intriguing (if poorly-directed), with a believable interpersonal drama and Peter Capaldi's best performance yet.

In just 45 minutes, Jamie Mathieson managed what Steven Moffat and his previous collaborators could not in seven episodes: to make Clara's doubts about the Doctor believable.

Was "Mummy on the Orient Express" a perfect episode? Not quite. But it was better than most and a lot better than we have become accustomed to in recent years.

As usual, my full review is spoilery. Not so usual, it is hardly angry at all (which might help to explain why I am so late in its delivery). Also not so usual, this might be the first time I find myself in fundamental disagreement with Patches365. Which kind of makes me wonder if I'm wrong.

Click here for Clara's Choice.

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Abort the moon!

Image: Screenshot of spiders - or is that giant bacteria? - on the moon? Screenshot from 'Kill the Moon'.

If Steven Moffat isn't trying to abort the program he has had under his control since 2010, at the very least it's clear that he doesn't care what happens to it once it grows up and moves out of his house.

"Kill the Moon" could be watched as a personal drama about the Doctor and Clara Oswald; it might be viewed as a girls' own adventure, with trouble-maker Courtney Woods finally given her chance to shine; or seen as a feminist fable, with three women — maiden, teacher, crone — deciding the fate of all humankind. Could. Might.

Other interpretations will no doubt be constructed; there are among Doctor Who's fandom those as creative as they are forgiving.

 

Transcripts R Us!

For those interested in the program's thematic debate, I confess I went to the trouble of transcribing the key minutes.

I don't know whether to apologize or to brag, but it is here if you want it.

I am not part of that wing. I don't want to "fix" the program with fanfic nor weave intricately-constructed academic analyses to fill in plot-holes and justify self-contradictions of character and story. All I want are stories that don't insult my intelligence.

Is that really so much to ask?

Apparently so. "Kill the Moon" offers as the basis of its plot a "physics" whose idiocy would have appalled Newton — or even Douglas Adams. To add insult to insult, "Kill the Moon" is an unsubtle morality tale pushing a political agenda that adds a kiloton of fuel to the idea that Steven Moffat is not exactly, shall we say, a feminist-friendly thinker.

In other words, Won't somebody think of the embryo?!? Angry words and spoilers — they all live behind the cut.

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Little care from The Caretaker

Image: The Doctor with sign reading 'GO AWAY HUMANS'. Screenshot from 'The Caretaker'.

The short version?

I really enjoyed "The Caretaker" when I watched it late Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

I'd been awake almost 20 hours when I hit Play, had worked 11 of those hours at the day-job and spent nearly two more riding to and from there on my bicycle.

I was tired, and I admit cracked a beer or three as I live-tweeted my first reactions.

To my regret, those tweets were an enthusiastic tailings pond spill I wish I could take back. But they do represent as "real" a reaction as my subsequent re-evaluation. And since I don't believe in censoring reality, they will stay on my Twitter timeline and live on also as a sidebar — pre-commentary, if you like — to my review.

The short version is that I thought the episode pretty awful when I watched it by sunlight. To paraphrase the blogger Patches365, it was a mean-spirited "tragedy of blunders" built on — not one — nor two, or even three — but four idiot plots. And it was an episode that tossed aside its best performer in favour of the cheapest of cheap laffs.

The long version? The long version lives on my site, of course, along with spite, spoilers and some thoughts on patterns as we reach the half-way point of what we can only hope will be Steven Moffat's farewell turn as Captain of the foundering ship Doctor Who.

Click here for Little Care — Take Two. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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Feels like a contractual obligation

Image: Clara looks resplendent in suit and tie.

No real rant, certainly no rave.

I had a busy weekend, back at soccer on Sunday and entertaining (and being entertained by) an old friend come to town after far too long.

Still managed to check in on the latest episode of Doctor Who, but I almost wish I hadn't. I know I'm sorry I watched the episode a second time.

But I've made a commitment and I'm not breaking it. I live-tweeted the episode on Sunday morning and have added a few thoughts now. For the record, and probably for Geoffrey Dow completists only (dare I dream such folk exist?), click here for Time Waste.

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Watching "Listen" (again)

Image: Detail of the Doctor at the new Tardis control console. Screenshot from 'Listen'.

The first time I watched "Listen", home after an 11-hour shift that followed an early rise, I wrote, "I definitely enjoyed it, definitely want to watch it again." I also wrote, "It sounds silly when I type it out, but [the story] gave me the shivers ..."

Well, hell. I did watch it again and now it seemed silly when I watched as well. There were no shivers to be found.

What was there was a mixed bag of an episode, combining Steven Moffat's still-effective skills at atmospheric scenes, with a show-runner's determined but mis-guided need to further place his singular stamp upon Doctor Who's cannon of mythology and back-story, and proof (as if any more were needed) that as a writer, he gives not a single damn for story-logic.

You don't have to read my review if you don't want your fun spoiled, you know. You really don't. Spoilers (in both senses of the term) ahoy!

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Listen (to me!)

Image: Clara ponders date and Doctor in the Tardis. Screenshot from 'Listen'.

I feel unesay.

Not because posting my inchoate, exhausted and half-drunk reactions to my first-watch of "Listen" makes me feel like an obsessive fan desperate to share his thoughts with all and sundry — although, clearly, that's what I am — but because I distrust the first reactions I so desperately want to share.

Yet here I am. Sharing my feelings instead of my thoughts, my knee's jerks rather than my practiced dance steps.

Steven Moffat has written an episode of Doctor Who that, on first viewing, I enjoyed quite a lot. I liked it. But — or should that be and so ...? — I feel uneasy. I am afraid of what judgement sober second thought may call down upon my first reactions.

So for now and for the record, those who care to read can find those first reactions here.

I liked it; what did you think? And do you think you're opinion will change when (if) you watch it again?

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The Doctor and the Outlaw

Image: Clara asks for the impossible dream - Robin Hood. Screenshot from 'Robot of Sherwood'.

I don't know about you, but I can forgive quite a lot when I'm laughing. Plot holes, character inconsistencies, even magic arrows "Of Random Plot Resolution".

In other words, "Robot of Sherwood" was cracking good fun, a story that didn't take itself too seriously while still managing (mostly) to take the Doctor & Co. seriously enough. Our suspension bridge of disbelief swayed, but it did not snap and neither did it twirl.

Robot of Sherwood gifted us an episode rich with clever dialogue (banter, even), exciting and sometimes funny action sequences, good actors having a very good time performing a low-concept story (see its title) that far exceeded expectations.

Thank you, Mark Gatiss, for bringing fun back to the Tardis — and (oh, all right!) thank you, Steven Moffat, for staying the hell out of the way and letting it happen.

If you're old enough to remember (or like me, have travelled back in time to enjoy) "The Pirate Planet", you're almost sure to enjoy "Robot of Sherwood", and nevermind the lack of a tin dog or bird. Click here for the words of one critic clapping.

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The good, the bad and the Doctor

Image: The Doctor and the dalek. Screenshot from 'Into the Dalek'.

I feel dirty, like I awoke alone after a night of passion to realize my inamorata's clever words were lies, that her body had stained my sheets and her gentle caresses had left indelible, greasy streaks all over my body. Though I cannot deny the passions I had felt in the dark, with morning's light comes the fear that my wallet, and even my closet, may be empty.

I liked "Into the Dalek" when I watched it the first time. I really did. Even enjoyed it when I watched it a second time. Yet, when I began writing about it, started to think about what it was that had entertained me, the flaws shone ever brighter, like stars appearing one by one after the sun has slipped below the horizon.

"Into the Dalek" is the kind of episode that seduces with surface charms, then laughs at our pleasures, mocks our innocent hopes. Slick enough to entertain in the moment, the story shrivels under the the light of critical consideration.

Sorry, folks. I really thought this would be a positive review for a change. I was only when I began to write, and to really think about what I had watched, that I realized I had been fooled again. After all, The only good dalek ...

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Moffat's misogyny rales on

Image: The TARDIS lands by the River Thames outside of Parliament buildings in 19th Century London. Screenshot from 'Deep Breath'.

Doctor Who is blessed with a remarkable fandom.

Way back on the 12th of July, a black-and-white "screener" of the 8th series premiere, "Deep Breath" was released onto file-sharing sites, following a similar surreptitious (and — need I add? — thoroughly reprehensible!) release of the scripts of the first five episodes the week before. The Scot was out of the kilt, as it were, and anyone who wanted to could easily download a copy.

And yet, those of us who did encounter the samizdat seemed all to subscribe to a gentlefen's agreement that there would be no spoiling for those who preferred to wait for the final product in all its CGI glory. (At worst, some critics might have taken advantage of the incident to draft his (or her!) review ahead of time.)

Though I read a number of Who-related feeds, I didn't come across any unofficial spoilers, not even after the episode was aired in a number of movie theatres around the world. (I didn't look hard, but the point is, one would have had to look to be spoiled.)

Now, finally, the official broadcast is history and we're free to discuss that for which we've been waiting the better part of a year: a new season and a brand-new (if almost elderly) Doctor.

Was it worth it?

If you're able to forgive or justify its internal inconsistencies, tawdry fan-service, cheap laughs and a misogynist streak that holds on like a mysterious infection laughing at ever-stronger doses of antibiotics, well then, yes, I don't doubt for you it was.

If, on the other hand, you were hoping against hope for a story whose details and characterizations made sense and for a climax that didn't take from the show's companion every bit of agency she had, you will have been as disappointed as I was.

Read more/don't read more, it's up to you. But don't say I didn't warn you! In the world according to Steven Moffat, a woman without a man to tell her what to do is nothing ...

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'Steaming like raw meat dropped onto a hot stove'

Image: Cover of The Departure, by Neal Asher

It's not news that one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I have a soft spot for space opera; I confess, the big space base (which I initially mistook for a starship of some sort) adorning the cover of Neal Asher's novel, The Departure, helped sell me on it.

As it turned out though, The Departure hardly qualifies as space-opera and only squeaks by as science fiction pretty much the way Superman does: on technicalities only.

Though it's set in the future and some of the action takes place in orbit and on Mars, the book is really just a narrated first-person shooter dressed up in some SF tropes — a corrupt and incompetent world government, artificial intelligence, robotic weapons and a transhuman genesis.

But all that is only window-dressing. That spectacular cover is a gateway to lugubrious dialogue, sophomoric libertarian philosophy, hackneyed world-building and, especially, to one pornographic blood-bath after another.

The Departure is one of the worst books I have read in a very long time. More boring than Atlas Shrugged (which I reviewed a while back), it drips with just as much contempt for ordinary human beings. Unlike Rand's John Galt though, Asher's superman does much of his killing at first-hand.

Does this novel have any redeeming qualities? The short answer is "no". The long answer lives behind this link.

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Nightmare In Tedium

Neil Gaiman channels Stephen Thompson

(Which is never a good thing)

Screenshot from 'Nightmare in Silver', Doctor Who copyright 2013 BBC

On more than one occasion, the writer Harlan Ellsion insisted his name be removed from a movie or television program and replaced with that of Cordwainer Bird in place of his own. He did it when he believed his script had been butchered: changed to the point where the on-screen result would in some way make him look bad. It was his way of "flipping the bird" at those who had ruined his work and, more, of protecting his own reputation as a screen-writer.

If Neil Gaiman doesn't have a pseudonym for similar circumstances, he should get one — and apply it retroactively to his sophomore entry as a screen-writer for Doctor Who.

"Nightmare in Silver" isn't the worst episode of this year's often-dreadful half-series (far from it) but it isn't very good, either.

It is almost inconceivable that the the writer of "The Doctor's Wife" (not to mention of the Sandman graphic novels) could have handed in a script as dramatically disjointed, as illogical and as frankly boring, as that which showed up on our television screens this past weekend. And surely, it wasn't Neil Gaiman who closed the episode with the appalling spectacle of the Doctor almost literally drooling as he ponders the sight of Clara in a skirt just "a little bit too tight".

A nightmare in silver? More like pewter, or even tin. Spoilers and snark, as usual.

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Patterns of abuse

Screenshot from, The Crimson Horror, Doctor Who copyright 2013 BBC

I know a lot of you enjoyed "The Crimson Horror" and, in comparison to the previous week's travesty, you had every right to.

Nevertheless, what you enjoyed was still pretty lousy television and I guarantee that, unless you make a real study of it, you won't remember a damned thing about it a year from now.

Don't believe me?

Read "Carry On Up the Tardis!" to find out why it was the idea of "The Crimson Horror" you liked, and not the show itself.

As usual, both plot- and fun-spoilers abound, so enter at your own risk.

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The contempt of the show-runner

The Hisotry of the Time War, screenshot, copyright BBC

An insult. A slap in the face. Or should I say, another insult, another slap in the face?

What more is there to say? The whole of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who has been a long series of insults dressed up as Big Ideas, punctuated by apologies from the likes of Richard Curtis and Neil Gaiman.

But how long can we point to "Vincent and the Doctor" or "The Doctor's Wife" and tell ourselves that Steven Moffat actually cares about the cultural institution in his charge?

The truth is, we have become so used to terrible television that when the merely mediocre happens along, people like me nearly start preaching the second coming.

It's time we face the truth: Steven Moffat holds us, his audience, in utter contempt. Take as Exhibit 37, the latest mess of a program broadcast under the name of Doctor Who.

"Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" begins with an implausible and arbitrary set-up and is propelled by a plot that works only through the unlikely stupidity of its guest characters, the even more unlikely (and dumb) decisions of its regulars and a resolution that re-uses — yet again! — one of Moffat's now tired and tiresome time-travel tropes — and which then cheats on its own rules. The BBC brain-trust ought to be ashamed to have allowed it to air.

My full review is behind this link, but be warned: I am not happy and sometimes I say so in language unfit for ears of the young and tender, or for eyes of work-mates reading over one's shoulder. Also, there are spoilers, as per normal.

Finally, if you want to suggest that I hate this show so much I shouldn't be reviewing it, you may be right. But I committed myself to seeing Series 7 through to the end, and so I will. But after that? If Steven Moffat is still in charge, I rather suspect I'll be done with the show for the duration. Those of you as sick of my opinions as I am sick of Steven Moffat's stories probably have more reason for hope than I do.

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"The Cold War" weds mediocrity with subtle brilliance

Jenna-Louise Coleman becoming a revelation

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara, screenshot detail.

April 19, 2013, OTTAWA — Late again, I know. Life and an episode of back-aches has kept me busy.

And more, I found it hard to find my focus on this episode. An entertaining tale on the surface, dig just a little bit and you find in the Mark Gatiss-penned "The Cold War" only another stop on Steven Moffat's Travelling Medicine Show of Intellectual Horrors.

An idiot plot, in other words.

But there was an upside, beyond the mere fact this episode made for the second in a row that managed at least to be an entertaining distraction on first viewing. That is, that Jenna-Louise Coleman is starting to look like the best regular actor to grace this series since maybe as far back as Christopher Eccleson's turn as the Ninth Doctor, and certainly since Catherine Tate played Donna Noble.

I know, I know, it's early days, and so I stand to be corrected, but so far Coleman is doing remarkable things with often ludicrous material. "Click here to read more, and to watch a video aide. Spoilers, as always. Links to my Series 7 reviews can be found at Edifice Rex Online.

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First in a projected (if irregular) series of thoughts on the new e-conomy and the coming Triumph of what is sometimes (quite wrongly) called Western Civilization. The below was original posted at Edifice Rex Online on December 14, 2012. And yes, the book was just as good when it finished (satisfyingly, with a proper climax to this story, and yet with a clear sign that there is more to come, as with any good entry in a series).

How to defeat piracy and keep your readers happy

I'm more than halfway through the new novel by the excellent story-teller Kristine Kathryn Rusch. As I fully-expected, Blowback is proving to be a hell of a page-turner — or rather, a hell of a screen-changer.

"Screen-changer"? Okay, I'm sure there's a better term out there. What I mean is, I bought Blowback as an electronic book, not paper book.

I pretty much fell in love with e-books from the moment I bought an reader just over a year ago, but it's been a problem getting books for it. Too often, new books are either not available in electronic versions in Canada or else they are available but encumbered by Digital Rights Management systems that don't play nice with my Linux-based operating system.

So it felt almost revolutionary to be able to simply buy, and then read Rusch's new novel without either stealing it or jumping through a myriad of electronic hoops in order to do so.

Defeating Piracy: Kristyne Kathryn Rusch is doing it right.

But what about you folks? Better to curse and criminalize torrenters, or make it easy for them to pay for the material when they're of a mind to and/or can afford it?

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No escaping the Tedium of the Daleks

It's not too far off a year since Doctor Who last graced our screens, the 2011 Christmas special. Which I know I watched, but about which I did not blog and of which now I remember precisely nothing at all — save that I found it dull but not outrageously offensive.

(Oh. Wait. As I typed the preceding, I began to recall that episode's companion of the hour. A woman, naturally, and one whose identify (correct me if I'm wrong) and whose heroism was entirely bound up in the fact of her motherhood. Hot mother or hot model, that's our Mr. Moffat. Ah well, onwards.)

Between that ostensible special then and the program's resumption now, I made the mistake of paying good money to see Moffat (et al)'s Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (which was only the second worst movie I have seen this year). So it comes as no surprise that "Asylum of the Daleks" shows no sign that Moffat has taken a remedial course in story-telling. Indeed, the new outing only provides further proof that Steven Moffat has forgotten everything there is to know about the basics of narrative fiction.

What Moffat does have is a strong command of the idea of story-telling, the parts that make up a story. But of story itself? Fuggedaboutit.

Does it sound as if I repeat myself? No doubt: I repeat myself. If that bothers you, please just pass on by. Otherwise, please click the link to (re)discover the moral vacuum at the heart of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who. Spoilers within, of course.

 

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