DOCTOR WHO: ORPHAN 55 (UK, 2020) **
Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 12 January 2020; Running Time: 46m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Lee Haven Jones; Writer: Ed Hime; Producer: Alex Mercer, Nikki Wilson; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Tom Chapman; Supervising Art Director: Joseph Wynne; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Laura Fraser (Kane), Gia Ré (Bella), James Buckley (Nevi), Julia Foster (Vilma), Amy Booth-Steel (Hyph3n), Will Austin (Vorm), Col Farrell (Benni), Lewin Lloyd (Sylas), Spencer Wilding (Creature).
Synopsis: Having decided that everyone could do with a holiday, the Doctor takes Graham, Yasmin and Ryan to a luxury resort for a spot of rest and relaxation. However, they discover the place where they are having a break is hiding a number of deadly secrets. What are the ferocious monsters that are attacking Tranquillity Spa?
Comment: An overly frenetic episode that tries to hammer home its environmental message about the threats humans create to the future of their own existence. It does so in a very ham-fisted way and with little finesse or time for reflection. The single-episode format for the series is not working in the hands of the current production team. The episode runs at breakneck speed and the intended irony of its core revelation falls flat. Hime’s writing is poor with cliched dramatic moments coming across as derivative of much that has gone before, attempting to recall Aliens and Planet of the Apes without either the style or resonance of those vastly superior offerings. The music score, which the director seems to feel needs to be underscoring the action 100% of the time, becomes overbearing and regularly drowns out the dialogue. The intention is obviously to create mood and tension, but the result is merely annoying and cloying. Whittaker tries her best to inject the required tension whilst still delivering an overly busy performance, but she shows signs of a potentially more restrained and effective portrayal that hopefully will emerge as the series progresses. The Dregs are no more than monster-of-the-week snarling creatures that give an opportunity for the cast to run away from them up and down corridors in a cartoon-like manner. I hope this episode is just a blip after the more promising, if flawed, Spyfall. The series desperately needs to up its game very soon by slowing down and allowing stories to breathe, tension to build and characters to have depth. On a positive note, the production values and visual effects are strong.
DOCTOR WHO: SPYFALL (UK, 2020) ***½
Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 1 & 5 January 2020; Running Time: 2 x 60m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Jamie Magnus Stone, Lee Haven Jones; Writer: Chris Chibnall; Producer: Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Catherine Goldschmidt, Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman, Tom Chapman; Supervising Art Director: Joseph Wynne; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Harry Barnes; Special Effects: REAL SFX; Visual Effects Producer: Pete Levy (DNEG).
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brian), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Sascha Dhawan (‘O’ /The Master), Lenny Henry (Daniel Barton), Stephen Fry (‘C’), Sylvie Briggs (Ada Lovelace), Shobna Gulati (Najia Kahn), Ravin J. Ganatra (Hakim Kahn), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya Kahn), Melissa De Vries (Sniper), Sacharissa Claxton (Passenger), Willian Ely (Older Passenger), Brian Law (Operative [US]), Buom Tihngang (Tibo), Asif Khan (Sergeant Ramesh Sunder), Andrew Bone (Mr Collins), Ronan Summers (Rendition Man), Christopher McArthur (Ethan), Darron Meyer (Seesay), Dominique Maher (Browning), Struan Rodger (Voice of Kasaavin), Aurora Marion (Noor Inayat Kahn), Mark Dexter (Charles Babbage), Kenneth Jay (Perkins), Blanche Williams (Barton’s Mother), Andrew Piper (Inventor), Tom Ashbury (Airport Worker).
Synopsis: Intelligence agents around the world are under attack from alien forces. MI6 turns to the only people who can help: The Doctor and friends. As they travel the globe for answers, attacks come from all sides. Earth’s security rests on the team’s shoulders, but where will this planet-threatening conspiracy lead them.
Comment: There is much to like in this opening story of series 12 – the second series under Chris Chibnall’s helm and with Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. It’s fair to say series 11 was a big disappointment in that it promised much and delivered little. It appears Chibnall has listened to some of the criticism and partly addressed the issues here, but as yet not wholly. Spyfall is an entertaining story and much the better for being stretched over two episodes. The story itself lacks a certain logic in the complex nature of its invasion plot and the re-introduction of The Master without an explanation of how this is linked with his/her demise two seasons ago. The story was also very fragmented and at first an obvious riff on the James Bond franchise. Part 2 moved into broader concepts with the re-introduction of the Doctor’s arch-enemy. Don’t go looking for logic into how this hangs together with the development of computers over a period of nearly two-hundred years (from Briggs’ Ada Lovelace to Henry’s modern-day guru) or an invasion from a still unseen alien menace from outside our universe who are somehow in league with the Master. The story fails to gell as a whole even though Cibnall is at pains to leave no holes in the plot. But there is a very intriguing reference to the fate of Gallifrey and the Master’s knowledge about its secrets, which promises much for the series ahead – as long as Chibnall can deliver on this. Whittaker is far more at home as the Doctor here, projecting a more dramatic side to her performance. Dhawan makes for a deliciously evil Master who, whilst veering a little too close to John Simm’s OTT performance, manages to just about stay this side of caricature. One of the problems Chibnall has failed to resolve is the issue of too many companions. Do we really need three of them stumbling over each other to solve the same problems? That said this is a promising opening with great production values and a huge sense of fun.
Doctor Who: Resolution (TV) (2019; UK; Colour; 60m) **** pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Wayne Che Yip; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Sam Heasman; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Charlotte Ritchie, Nikesh Patel, Daniel Adegboyega, Darryl Clark, Nicholas Briggs (voice). As the New Year begins, a terrifying evil is stirring, from across the centuries of Earth’s history. As the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz return home, will they be able to overcome the threat to planet Earth? Finally, a story that offers a real alien threat and feels like proper “Doctor Who”. That’s not to say the episode was perfect. There are still too many companions and the sub-plot with Ryan’s father felt like it had been bolted on. The Dalek threat though offered a new twist and was well realised. Imagery has been borrowed from earlier adventures but used in a creative and frightening way here. There were moments when the dialogue felt forced and the moments of humour over-worked, but overall this is far more impressive than anything seen during the season’s full run. This was also Whittaker’s best performance to date. Whether the production team will build from this we’ll have to wait a year or more to find out.
Doctor Who: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 49m) *** pr. Alex Mercer; d. Jamie Childs; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Sam Heasman; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Mark Addy, Phyllis Logan, Percelle Ascott, Jan Lee, Samuel Oatley. On the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos, lies the remains of a brutal battlefield. But as the Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan answer nine separate distress calls, they discover the planet holds far more secrets. Who is the mysterious commander with no memory? What lies beyond the mists? Who or what are the Ux? The answers will lead the Doctor and her friends towards a deadly reckoning. Season finale lacks the sense of occasion of previous seasons. The story is okay, but again the alien threat is too easily nullified and there is no real sense of jeopardy as everything feels so rushed – it was a mistake (one of many) not to sprinkle some two-parters into this series. The performances are uneven, with Gill and Cole too wooden in their parts. The best performances come from Addy and Walsh. Jodie Whittaker appears to have settled into a one-tone approach to her performance as the Doctor and many of the jokey lines feel more than a little bit wearisome. It’s all nicely shot and the visuals are very impressive. The theme of “cause and effect” by tying into THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH feels tokenistic. It provides a bookend feel to the season, but there is no real sense of wonder or surprise. An average end to what has been a disappointingly average series.
Doctor Who: It Takes You Away (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 50m) ***½ pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Jamie Childs; w. Ed Hime; ph. Denis Crossan; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Eleanor Wallwork, Kevin Eldon, Christian Rubeck, Lisa Stokke, Sharon D Clarke. On the edge of a Norwegian fjord, in the present day, The Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz discover a boarded-up cottage and a girl named Hanne in need of their help. What has happened here? What monster lurks in the woods around the cottage – and beyond? For the most part, this episode is intriguing and tense. The mystery is well plotted and has characters emotionally invested. Whilst conceptually this has been the most challenging episode of this series it has also been the most rewarding, showing that strong writing is what has been missing for most of this series. But the episode threatens to implode into silliness with the talking frog, which deflates much of the tension that has been built up to that point. Why did the writers and producers think this would make the episode more dramatic? It comes across as a gimmick which derails what could have been the best episode of the season by far. As it stands it is still one of the better representations of Chibnall’s vision in this disappointing run of stories. That the last three episodes, none of which have been written by Chibnall, have come closest to the series’ template show that there is still life in the concept with thoughtful writing. Let’s hope Chibnall can pull the rabbit from the hat in the last episode and the New Year special – otherwise, this will almost certainly go down as the worst series of the new run.
Doctor Who: The Witchfinders (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 50m) *** pr. Alex Mercer; d. Sallie Aprahamian; w. Joy Wilkinson; ph. Tim Palmer; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Alan Cumming, Siobhan Finneran, Tilly Steele, Tricia Kelly, Arthur Kay, Stavros Demetraki. The Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz arrive in 17th century Lancashire and become embroiled in a witch trial, run by the local landowner. As fear stalks the land, the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But is there something even more dangerous at work? Can the Doctor and friends keep the people of Bilehurst Cragg safe from all the forces that are massing in the land? A promising storyline with one or two effective scenes is undermined by a cluttered TARDIS crew trying to find enough to warrant their inclusion. Finneran delivers a strong performance, notably when she becomes possessed, but the script is not as strong as it should have been, failing to drive sufficient tension from the narrative. So, what could have been the strongest episode of this new set becomes yet another triumph of style over content. The visuals are what give the story its atmosphere and the make-up work is excellent too, but the story lacks depth due to the rush to cram a lot of material into the running time. The introduction of the alien threat late in the day leaves no room for further exploration of backstory or motivation. Ultimately, this is a story that would have benefited from room to breathe.
Doctor Who: Kerblam! (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 50m) ***½ pr. Alex Mercer; d. Jennifer Perrott; w. Pete McTighe; ph. Simon Chapman; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Lee Mack, Callum Dixon, Claudia Jessie, Leo Flanagan. A mysterious message arrives in a package addressed to the Doctor, leading her, Graham, Yaz and Ryan to investigate the warehouse moon orbiting Kandoka, and the home of the galaxy’s largest retailer: Kerblam! Obvious links to the massive growth of companies like Amazon, this does not play to the expected corporate greed sub-plot in the traditional way – instead linking the threat to anti-corporate terrorism. As such this is a refreshingly straight-forward tale, which adds to the mix elements of robo-phobia (mirroring stories such as THE ROBOTS OF DEATH). The result is one of the better entries in this otherwise disappointing series to date and there is genuine tension generated by McTighe’s script and Perrott’s direction. The performances, however, remain variable – Cole seems to be becoming more wooden by the week – but at least the companions get to be split up and given equal roles to play. [PG]
Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 51m) ***½ pr. Alex Mercer; d. Jamie Childs; w. Vinay Patel; ph. Denis Crossan; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Shane Zaza, Amita Suman, Hamza Jeetooa, Leena Dhingra, Shaheen Khan, Shobna Gulati. India, 1947. The Doctor and her friends arrive in the Punjab, as the country is being torn apart. While Yaz attempts to discover her grandmother’s hidden history, the Doctor discovers demons haunting the land. Who are they and what do they want? Bold attempt to add emotional depth and historical significance to the series partly pays off – notably in its heart-wrenching finale. The plot is reminiscent of the Christopher Eccleston story FATHER’S DAY, in its theme of returning to a companion’s past and a tragic outcome that cannot be avoided. However, the narrative still feels cluttered due to too many companions and a need to cover broad topics in a short running time. Some of the dialogue feels anachronistic too, belying the 1947 setting. Still, an improvement on recent episodes and Whittaker continues to grow into the title role. [PG]
Doctor Who: The Tsuranga Conundrum (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 51m) ** pr. Alex Mercer; d. Jennifer Perrott; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Simon Chapman; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Brett Goldstein, Lois Chimimba, Suzanne Packer, Ben Bailey Smith. Injured and stranded in the wilds of a far-flung galaxy, The Doctor, Yaz, Graham and Ryan must band together with a group of strangers to survive against one of the universe’s most deadly — and unusual — creatures. After a strong start to this beautifully designed episode things spiral downwards very quickly with a monster fresh out of a Warner Brothers cartoon (was the Pting based on Looney Toons’ Tasmanian Devil?) and some unnecessary emphasis on political correctness by having a pregnant man give birth to a baby boy in a world where seemingly gender parentage is the norm. If Chibnall and the production team could just have concentrated on what could have been an effective sci-fi chiller, without the need for constantly having to tick-box the PC list and with a better-designed monster, then this could have been a winner. As it stands the only real positive, outside of the production design, is Whittaker’s most assured performance to date as the Doctor. [PG]
Doctor Who: Arachnids in the UK (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 50m) *** pr. Alex Mercer; d. Sallie Aprahamian; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Tico Poulakakis; m.Segun Akinola. Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Chris Noth, Shobna Gulati, Tanya Fear, Ravin J Ganatra, Bhavnisha Parmar, Jaleh Alp, William Meredith, Sharon D Clarke. The Doctor, Yaz, Graham and Ryan find their way back to Yorkshire – and Yaz’s family – only to find something is stirring amidst the eight-legged arachnid population of Sheffield. This episode is an ecological sci-fi/horror tale, which plays to the fears of arachnophobes by introducing us to toxically mutated spiders running amok. Some effective scares and jump moments are offset by a script with some unfilled holes and a performance from Noth as a Trump-like political figure that is over-the-top in the extreme. The TARDIS crew are developing nicely, however, and Walsh continues to bring warmth to his bereaved character. Whittaker is finding her feet well and overcomes some of the script’s weak dialogue with the force of her personality. The spiders are brilliantly realised by the effects team. An abrupt conclusion, which fails to explain satisfactorily how the spider threat to the city is overcome on a broader scale means this episode can at best be seen as entertaining but is undeniably dramatically flawed by overplaying its comedic elements. [PG]