TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: LEGEND OF THE SEA DEVILS (2021)

DOCTOR WHO: LEGEND OF THE SEA DEVILS (2022, UK, 47m, 12) **½
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
dist. BBC; pr co. BBC Studios; d. Haolu Wang; w. Ella Road, Chris Chibnall; exec pr. Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; pr. Nikki Wilson; ph. Mark Waters (Colour | 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; ed. Tom White; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; ad. Ifan Lewis; cos. Ray Holman; vfx. DNEG, sp fx. Real SFX.
cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Marlowe Chan-Reeves (Ying Ki), Crystal Yu (Madame Ching), Craige Els (Marsissus), Arthur Lee (Ji-Hun), David Tse (Ying Wai), Simon Carew (Sea Devil), Jon Davey (Sea Devil), Chester Durrant (Sea Devil), Mickey Lewis (Sea Devil).
The Easter Special and penultimate outing for Jodie Whitaker’s Doctor is yet another frenetic and haphazard episode. The Doctor, Yaz (Gill) and Dan (Bishop) travel to 19th century China, where a small coastal village is under threat from both the fearsome pirate queen Madame Ching (Yu) and a monstrous force, which she unwittingly unleashes. The production looks glossy and the effects work is good, but here again, the script tries to cram in too much plot and action leaving little room for breath or dramatic build-up. There is also the constant background (and not so background) music that often drowns out the dialogue in the sound mix. Whilst it is good to see the Sea Devils make an appearance, they lack the menace they had in their debut back in Jon Pertwee’s tenure. There is still much to like in the performances of Gill and Bishop, whilst Whitaker’s energy only partially offsets her lack of gravitas.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS (2022)

DOCTOR WHO: EVE OF THE DALEKS (2022, UK) ***
Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
dist. BBC One; pr co. BBC; d. Annetta Laufer; w. Chris Chibnall; pr. Sheena Bucktowonsing; ph. Robin Whenary (Colour. 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; b/cast. 1 January 2022 (UK); r/t. 58m.
cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Aisling Bea (Sarah), Adjani Salmon (Nick), Pauline McLynn (Mary), Nicholas Briggs (Daleks (voice)).
The third successive New Year Special in Chris Chibnall’s reign to feature the Daleks and it is fair to say this is the most low-key of them. Sarah (Bea) owns and runs ELF storage, and Nick (Salmon) is a customer who visits his unit every year on New Year’s Eve. This year, however, their night turns out to be a little different than planned with the appearance of an executioner Dalek. Like all stories using time loops as their basis, this one has several lapses in story logic and continuity. There is fun to be had, however, with Bea and Salmon delivering likeable characters and performances. As for the rest, there is little new or original on offer and the Daleks’ dialogue often feels out of character. Once again, the producers try to shoe-horn a companion’s infatuation and physical attraction to the Doctor, and it just feels like it is placed there to tick the diversity box as it adds nothing to the story itself. It will likely play out over Whittaker’s final two stories later this year. The result is a passable hour’s entertainment, but little from this or the FLUX series convinces me Chibnall will pull anything extraordinary out of the fire for his final two stories.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: FLUX (2021)

DOCTOR WHO: FLUX (2021, UK, Colour, 6 x 49-60m) ***
BBC One
Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
Chapters: 1. The Halloween Apocalypse ***; 2. War of the Sontarans ***; 3. Once, Upon Time **; 4. Village of the Angels *****; 5. Survivors of the Flux ***; 6. The Vanquishers **
Exec pr. Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; pr. Nikki Wilson (1, 2, 4), Pete Levy (3, 5, 6); w. Chris Chibnall, Maxine Alderton (4); d. Jamie Magnus Stone (1, 2, 4), Azhur Saleem (3, 5, 6); ph. Robin Whenary (1, 2, 4), Phil Wood (3, 5, 6); m. Segun Akinola; ed. William Webb, David Head; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; cos. Ray Holman.
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), John Bishop (Dan Lewis), Jacob Anderson (Vinder), Craig Parkinson (Grand Serpent), Craige Els (Karvanista), Kevin McNally (Professor Jericho), Annabel Scholey (Claire Brown), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart), Thaddea Graham (Bel), Rochenda Sandall (Azure), Sam Spruell (Swarm), Steve Oram (Joseph Williamson), Barbara Flynn (Tecteun), Nadia Albina (Diane), Jo Martin (Fugitive Doctor), Jonathan Watson (Sontaran Commander Stenck / Skaak / Sontaran Commander Ritskaw), Dan Starkey (Svild).
Ambitious and epic in scope this thirteenth series of the revived Doctor Who was also complex, confusing and populated by too many characters. In Flux, the Doctor and her companions navigate a Universe-ending anomaly called the “Flux”, while dealing with enemies and secrets from the Doctor’s past. The story is told in six inter-linking chapters. The result is a decidedly mixed bag. The chapters that could, with some slight tweaks, serve as standalone episodes – the almost traditional “War of the Sontarans” and the deliciously creepy “Village of the Angels” (superbly directed by Stone)  – are the ones that work best. As for the rest we had the enjoyable but overly frenetic scene-setting opener “The Halloween Apocalypse”, the baffling and confusing “Once, Upon Time”, the slightly less baffling “Survivors of the Flux” and the largely unsatisfying conclusion “The Vanquishers”, which left as many unanswered questions as answered ones. The production was certainly the most extravagant ever attempted by the series – crossing various timelines on Earth and locations across (and outside) the Universe. Each of these settings was superbly realised by excellent visuals and great CGI and the series has never looked better. The technical team can hold their heads high. The lead performances were, overall, good. Whittaker has settled into her Doctor well and at times showed the gravitas that had been missing in the previous two seasons. Gill had much more to do, and Yasmin became a stronger and more pro-active character. Bishop provided some good laughs and was likeable as was Els’ dog-like Karvanista. McNally was also extremely likeable as Professor Jericho and he played the role with conviction. Parkinson’s Grand Serpent was enigmatic and the Sontarans have never looked better. The side story concerning Anderson and Graham’s characters, however, felt phoney and could easily have been excised. Where the story was really lacking, once again, was in the writing. Chibnall has had problems throughout his run in creating engaging drama and logical plots. That malaise continued here despite the additional space. Instead of letting the story breathe, he decided to fill it chock full of confusing exposition and too many peripheral characters. The best stories of the previous two seasons had been those from other writers and the best story of this series included the considerable contribution of Maxine Alderton – the others were all written by Chibnall. Playing loose with the show’s mythos through adding more back story to the Doctor with the use of Flynn (as the Doctor’s “mother”); the re-appearance of Martin as another incarnation of the Doctor; and the mysterious Swarm and Azure holding the Doctor’s memories in Gallifreyan watch. But none of this is resolved in the finale with the Doctor fractured across three timelines. Chibnall may well address these loose threads through the specials to follow, but the immediate problem is the story concluded with the big questions remaining unanswered and it asks a lot of casual viewers to stick with it. When Russell T. Davies finally takes back the reins in 2023 my biggest hope is he takes the programme back to its core roots with more straightforward and engaging plots that use temporal physics as a travelling device rather than a central plot premise. History has shown that the episodes which play with temporal themes and settings are those that tend to satisfy the least. For now, we are left with a third successive frustrating series, albeit an improvement on the previous two, and the prospect of a New Year’s special which once again will put time at the centre of its plotline.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: REVOLUTION OF THE DALEKS (2021)

DOCTOR WHO: REVOLUTION OF THE DALEKS (TV) (2021) **½
Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
dist. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); pr co. BBC Studios; d. Lee Haven Jones; w. Chris Chibnall; exec pr. Chris Chibnall; pr. Alex Mercer; ph. Luke Bryant (Colour. 2.00:1); m. Segun Akinola; ed. Joel Skinner; pd. Dafydd Shurmer; ad. Rebecca Brown; set d. Vicki Male; cos. Ray Holman; m/up. Claire Pritchard-Jones; sd. Harry Barnes (Dolby Digital); sfx. Real SFX; vfx. DNEG, Chris Thomas; b/cast. 1 January 2021 (UK/USA); cert: 12; r/t. 71m.

cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Chris Noth (Jack Robertson), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Leo Rugazzi), Harriet Walter (Jo Patterson), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Leo Rugazzi), Nathan Armakwei-Laryea (Armen), Helene Anderson (Rachel), Nicholas Briggs (Daleks (voice)), Sharon D. Clarke (Grace).

The Doctor is imprisoned halfway across the universe. On Earth, the sighting of a Dalek alerts Ryan, Graham and Yaz. Can the return of Captain Jack Harkness help them stop a deadly Dalek takeover? A disappointing special which is failed by a script that is full of plot holes and is decidedly lazy, skirting over key narrative progressions. It also fails to make the most of its dramatic potential – for example Jack and Yaz’s discovery of the Tokyo Dalek factory should have been the surprise reveal, but we had already been introduced to it a few scenes earlier. The whole threat lacks the global and epic scope its plot suggests, and the wrap-up is far too convenient. Barrowman’s return is welcome, but he disappears at the story’s conclusion. Noth’s performance is way over the top and just as unconvincing as it was in his previous appearance in ARACHNIDS IN THE UK (2018). Moments of character introspection are welcome and help to add some explanation of motivation. Whittaker is okay as the Doctor, but still lacks the presence of previous incarnations. The Daleks are great in both traditional and new designs and the clash of different factions recalls earlier episodes – notably REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS (1988). Technical values are high and the episode is nicely shot, but the direction of Jones fails to overcome the limitations of Chibnall’s script.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO – THE HAUNTING OF VILLA DIODATI (2020)

Nadia Parkes, Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, and Lili Miller in Doctor Who (2005)DOCTOR WHO: THE HAUNTING OF VILLA DIODATI (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 16 February 2020; Running Time: 49m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Emma Sullivan; Writer: Maxine Alderton, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Agnieszka Liggett, Joe Skinner; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; 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), Lili Miller (Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin), Nadia Parkes (Claire Clairmont), Jacob Collins-Levy (Lord Byron), Maxim Baldry (Doctor John Pollidori), Patrick O’Kane (Ashad), Lewis Rayner (Percy Bysshe Shelley), Sarah Perles (Elise), Stefan Bednarczyk (Fletcher), Nicholas Briggs (Cyberman Voice).
      Synopsis: The Doctor and gang arrive at the Villa Dioscidati, Lake Geneva, in 1816 – on a night that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The plan is to spend the evening soaking up the atmos in the presence of some literary greats – but the ghosts are all too real. And the Doctor is forced into a decision of earth-shattering proportions…
     Comment: Another episode that has a lot right with it but still manages to frustrate. The story has a great setting in an old house at Lake Geneva and the premise is obviously geared toward events inspiring Mary Wolstencrof to create the vision for her novel Frankenstein. The house is suitably spooky, populated with quirky characters and some chilling surprises. But yet again there is too little time to cover all the ideas on show and the narrative appears muddled as a result. There are still too many companions to fully justify themselves Cole’s acting has been wooden at best and here he gives possibly his worst performance delivering lines with little conviction or flair for humour. The shoe-horning in of the Cyberman threat – which we could all see coming following pre-empts earlier in the series – raises more questions than are answered here. The closing two-parter will hopefully square these off. Whittaker has the occasional strong moment, whenever she is given more to do than just dial-up the quirky scale beyond Tennant levels. She is very good in the scene close to the finale where she debates the actions she should take with her friends.  The series is running out of time to hit the heights we have come to expect but hopefully, the season finale will deliver.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: CAN YOU HEAR ME? (2020)

Image result for doctor who can you hear meDOCTOR WHO: CAN YOU HEAR ME? (UK, 2020) ***½
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 9 February 2020; Running Time: 49m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Emma Sullivan; Writer: Charlene James, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Ed Moore; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Agnieszka Liggett; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; 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), Ian Gelder (Zellin), Buom Tihngang (Tibo), Clare-Hope Ashitey (Rakaya), Sharon D Clarke (Grace O’Brien), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya Kahn), Aruhan Galiva (Tahira), Sirine Saba (Maryam), Nasreen Hussain (Anita Patel), Everal A Walsh (Gabriel), Michael Keane (Fred), Amanda Liberman (Mum), Willie Jonah (Old Tibo), Anthony Taylor (Andrew).
      Synopsis: From ancient Syria to present-day Sheffield, and out into the wilds of space, something is stalking the Doctor and infecting people’s nightmares.
     Comment: An episode with lots of ideas around the psychological impact of nightmares linked to a god-like race known as the Eternals who feed off the mental instability that the dreams cause. It’s an intriguing and creepy episode for two-thirds of its runtime powered by some wonderful visuals, an intelligent script and a deliciously evil villain in  Gelder’s Zellin. The companions all get their own sub-plots as each has an element of their psyche manipulated by Zellin.  Unfortunately, things unravel a bit in the final third and give us a finale which is resolved all too quickly – continuing the issues the production team have in trying to tell complex stories and deliver new concepts in a single-episode format. It’s a shame as there is so much promise here, but Chibnall either lacks sufficient editing skills to understand how to best land the ideas of his writers or he is trying to cram too many story threads together and as a result creating too much for the viewer to absorb.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: PRAXEUS (2020)

Image result for doctor who praxeusDOCTOR WHO: PRAXEUS (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 2 February 2020; Running Time: 50m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Jamie Magnus Stone; Writer: Pete McTighe, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Catherine Goldschmidt; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Supervising Art Director: Rebecca Brown; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Deian Llyr Humphreys; 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), Warren Brown (Jake Willis), Matthew McNulty (Adam Lang), Joana Borja (Gabriela Camera), Molly Harris (Suki Cheng), Gabrielle Tolol (Jamilia Velez), Soo Drouet (Joyce), Tristan de Beer (Zach Olson), Thapelo Maropefela (Aramu).
      Synopsis: The Doctor and her friends split up to investigate multiple mysteries across planet Earth. What connects a missing astronaut in the Indian Ocean, birds behaving strangely in Peru and a US naval officer washed up on a Madagascan beach
     Comment: There’s much to like in this episode through individual scenes and lines of dialogue but, as a whole, the story suffers from gaps in logic and character actions. It’s a shame because this episode is very effectively and visually directed by Stone, who manages to create a few moments of tension as well a sense of menace in those early scenes. McTighe and Chibnall’s script has some strong ideas around a viral epidemic being created through plastic pollution. But once again the production team feels the need to preach to the audience about populist issues via its heavy-handed messaging at the expense of solid story construction. Structurally, the story initially creates its mystery by having the Doctor and her companions split across three continents to triangulate seemingly independent events into a solution the answers each individual mystery. This works well and allows each companion a sub-plot. But as the story progresses the writers seem more concerned with getting over their environmental message of doom and ensuring they tick all the boxes on diverse and inclusive specifics, that they lose the plot with the plot. Historically, the series provided a haven from sexual politics but now it has almost become a campaign board, so much so that the relationships feel forced to fit the political agenda rather than add anything to the story itself. McTighe had written possibly the best episode of last season’s run (Kerblam!) and here too shows signs he potentially has a strong story in him. Whether or not Chibnall’s contribution knocked this off course cannot be discerned, but the early promise gave way to a disappointing conclusion.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: FUGITIVE OF THE JUDOON (2020)

DOCTOR WHO: FUGITIVE OF THE JUDOON (UK, 2020) ****
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 26 January 2020; Running Time: 50m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Nida Manzoor; Writer: Vinay Patel, Chris Chibnall; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Sam Heasman; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Rebecca Trotman; Production Designer: Dafydd Shurmer; Supervising Art Director: Rebecca Brown; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Claire Pritchard-Jones; Sound: Deian Llyr Humphreys; 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), Jo Martin (Ruth Clayton), John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Neil Stuke (Lee Clayton), Ritu Arya (Gat), Paul Kasey (Judoon Captain Pol-Kon-Don), Michael Begley (All Ears Allan), Judith Street (Marcia), Katie Luckins (Tourist), Nick Briggs (Voice of Judoon ), Simon Carew (Judoon), Richard Highgate (Judoon), Richard Price (Judoon), Matthew Rohman (Judoon)
      Synopsis: Ko Sho Blo! Trigger-happy space police the Judoon are targeting 21st-century Gloucester. The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham race back to Earth in order to prevent them doing too much damage to the cathedral city. But who are they looking for, and what did they do to incur the wrath of the Judoon?
      Comment: Well, last week I said I felt a strong story may be just around the corner. It’s difficult to fully assess The Fugitive of the Judoon in isolation because it is really a set-up episode which should hopefully pay off over the remainder of the series. As such it achieves its objective splendidly by creating some genuinely surprising plot twists. The episode, co-written by Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall, started shakily with the Judoon arrival in modern-day Gloucester initially failing to grab interest. However, once the true reason for their arrival is revealed the episode shifts up a couple of gears and moves into one revelation after another to set up a hugely promising conundrum for the Doctor to solve. The return of Captain Jack Harkness was intriguing and his involvement in the story is still to be fully explained. Barrowman clicks back into character and Jack delivers a message of warning to the Doctor’s companions before vanishing again. The character of Ruth is the most intriguing and raises even bigger questions around the direction Chibnall is taking us with this series. The tension builds through the episode as the Doctor discovers the true nature of the fugitive. Whittaker delivers her strongest performance to date and finally gets some moments of dramatic conflict to work with. There are now many unanswered questions and it will be a real test of Chibnall’s skills as a writer to resolve them all satisfactorily. For now, we can be glad we finally have an episode worthy of the brand name and whilst I am hedging my bets on the outcome, I have much more optimism, albeit cautious, than at any time under Chibnall’s stewardship.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: NIKOLA TESLA’S NIGHT OF TERROR (2020)

DOCTOR WHO: NIKOLA TESLA’S NIGHT OF TERROR (UK, 2020) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: BBC Studios; Release Date: 19 January 2020; Running Time: 51m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Nida Manzoor; Writer: Nina Metivier; Producer: Nikki Wilson, Alex Mercer; Executive Producer: Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens; Director of Photography: Sam Heasman; Music Composer: Segun Akinola; Film Editor: Tim Hodges, Rebecca Trotman; Supervising Art Director: Rebecca Brown; Casting: Andy Pryor; Costumes: Ray Holman; Make-up: Amy Riley, James Spinks; 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), Goran Višnjić (Nikola Tesla), Robert Glenister (Thomas Edison), Anjli Mohindra (Queen Skithra), Haley McGee (Dorothy Skerrit), Paul Kasey (Harold Green), Robin Gulver (Bill Tallow), Erick Hayden (Mr Sorenson), Russell Bentley (Mr Brady), Brian Caspe (Mr Martin), Shaun Mason (Foreman).
      Synopsis: 1903. On the edge of Niagara Falls, something is wrong at Nikola Tesla’s generator plant. Who or what is sabotaging the maverick inventor’s work? Has he really received a message from Mars? And where does his great rival Thomas Edison fit into these events? The Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham must join forces with one of history’s great minds to save both him and planet Earth.
      Comment: An improvement on Orphan 55, but problems still remain with Chris Chibnall’s vision for the series. The positives include a more coherent story, excellent visuals and convincing production design. The story itself is rather generic, despite the interesting setting in turn of the century (19th to 20th) New York City. Chibnall continues his fascination with lesser remembered historical figures, who are given a platform to raise awareness of their important contribution. This time its Tesla and his innovative use of electrical current. The invading monsters here resemble the Racnoss from The Runaway Bride – substituting scorpion-like beings for spiders – but repeating the Queen of the Hive theme – even down to similarities in make-up design and the way Mohindra’s interpretation closely matches that of Sarah Parish. The story again needs more room to breathe and develop its theme of the competition between Edison and Tesla. There is again too little room for the three companions to contribute to the story effectively and the production team need to see the errors of their way in over-crowding the TARDIS. Whitaker is also partially sidelined here in favour of building up the historical elements in the story and the script gives her little scope to add depth to her performance. The need to cram as many elements into a 50-minute story as possible leaves the thing too crowded to fully satisfy, but there are signs that a strong story may be just around the corner. For me, two-parters are the way forward. Spyfall, despite its flaws, demonstrated this. Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror is a standard Who story told at breakneck speed in a series that is finding it increasingly difficult to demonstrate the story-telling strengths that have kept it popular for nearly sixty years.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: SPYFALL (2020)

Image result for doctor who spyfallDOCTOR 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.