Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon

So many thinks to spoil but let’s launch into the episode a little way and then move into the realm of surprises.

Promotions of this season of Doctor Who had touted the return of the Judoon as characters even while filming was still going on. They aren’t a particularly loved species but they do have the advantage as antagonists of not being a big-bad. They are obnoxious space-cops and bring with them all the complications of obnoxious space-cops.

Given the title, it was clear from the first five minutes of the episode that we were going to get a story about an alien hiding from the law on Earth in a small (if scenic) town in England. The set-up was very nicely done. We got a convincing introduction to Ruth, the central character who was clearly going to get mixed up in Judoon-based law enforcement gone wrong, and her slightly shifty husband Lee. The latter, of course, looking like the most likely person to be secretly an alien on the run from the law. What I liked (on first viewing) was, while it was obvious were this was all going, it was all being done with a confident humanity.

Vinjay Patel who wrote this episode had also written last seasons Demons of the Punjab, which had also a strong emotional centring of the story on the ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. What I really liked was that Ruth was being sketched out very swiftly as a person in their own right, which was going to be important if the episode was going to focus on brutal policing.

A strong set-up for a predictable episode. Not that predictable is bad — following a well worn path can allow for more character development and personal drama. Chris Chibnall’s biggest TV success has been with detectives solving a murder mystery in a small British town, as predictable a genre as you can get on British TV but one that creates space for human drama.

So predictable was what I was expecting. I’m told there was some social media hype brewing around the episode but I missed that. So, I was genuinely surprised when Graham disappeared while looking at some cup-cakes.

And that was only the first surprise. This was going to be Doctor Who in the mode I like best, like their TARDIS, spinning wildly out of control and crashing into everything in the way…

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I'll review Doctor Who tomorrow…

I want to rewatch the episode with a different perspective but my over all impression was that I enjoyed it immensely. I was initially pleased with how what appeared to be a fairly bog-standard episode was going (seemed predictable but nicely done) and then it spiralled out of control…in a good way. I’m seeing some varied reactions but I’m mindful of timezones and spoilers, so I’ll save fan-theories until tomorrow.

Review: Doctor Who – Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror

Doctor Who episodes set in historical periods fall into two approaches: meet a famous person or meet fictional people of the time period. Of the two, I prefer the second, for example, I preferred last seasons Demons of the Punjab to Rosa. The danger in the first kind if the episode ends up being very reverential and indulges in the great-man-of-history model of progress. That can be subverted, for example Alan Cumming’s OTT King James was very far from reverential and a plot point with Ada Lovelace in this season’s opening two-parter was to show her as part of a chain and network of influential people.

This episode goes both feet first into ‘wow ,wasn’t Nikola Tesla amazing’ but has the advantage of a convincing performance by Goran Višnjić as Tesla. The story itself is what would best be described as a ‘romp’. Ghastly goings on and an invasion of alien scorpion creatures leave little time for plot subtly but do add up for an enjoyably diverting 40 minutes.

This is not going to become a beloved classic episode but it is the kind of episode that keeps Doctor Who going and enjoyable. Yaz gets something to do and a bit more focus (but still not much character development) and Graham & Ryan get to do their comedy double act in the background.

Fewer of those rough-edges/script-laziness that I’ve been complaining about. The biggest one being the supposedly now pacifist Doctor building a super weapon that uses the power of a whole planet to blast an alien spaceship. Again, given the freedom of being able to make literally anything up, thinking up away that the same actual events could have fit more closely with the new parameters of the Doctor wouldn’t have been hard (e.g. the spaceship could have been in hyperspace pocket and the electric pulse would have closed the pocket, removing the aliens from Earth or whatever). There was a visual effect to imply the spaceship flew away but blink and you would have missed it. Perhaps, this was intended to be a character shift after the reveal of the destruction of Gallifrey in episode 2 of this season? If so that aspect was under-developed.

The reference to a Silurian gun as an alien weapon unreasonably annoyed me. I feel like the Doctor should have corrected somebody but that’s just me being pedantic. I’m also glad that the episode dumped the mind-wipe thing of historical characters and both Tesla and Edison go without a brain reset. Of course, that does make the brain resets of Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan even more out of place and has the unfortunate result that this season, the Doctor only mind wipes famous women from history and not famous men.

Silly in exactly the way I want Doctor Who to be silly and an episode with more internal confidence than last season.

Doctor Who – Orphan 55

Not unlike the opening two-parter there is a lot going right with this episode compared with last season and some things going wrong. What is going right is the episode manages to create tension, has some relevant twists and risks. There is a surprisingly high body count, not that people dying is necessary for a good episode but sometimes a story calls for it.

What is going wrong is that once again, I felt like the script was just a bit half-baked and had rough edges that stood out. It felt to me like there were a few instances where just a bit more thought would have made for a better episode all round. Some spoilers after the fold.

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Review: Doctor Who – Spyfall Part 2

I suppose a double warning about spoilers for anybody who has seen neither part 1 or 2 of the latest Doctor Who. The spoiler-free summary before the fold is the episode was largely entertaining and delivered on most of the promise from part 1. Where it was disappointing was in some very specific and localised ways that nonetheless display a genuine confusion among the people making the show.

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Review: Doctor Who – Spyfall Part 1

A new year and new Doctor Who, arriving as a New Year’s Day special and part one of a two parter. From the pre-credits scene to the trailers, promotional posters and title, we were promised a James Bond themed Doctor Who. Did it deliver? Well…this is a tricky one to discuss without some substantial spoilers, so if you want to see it unspoiled then don’t go any further!

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Review: Years and Years

Christmas time is a handy time for catching up on books and series I had intended to watch earlier in the year. Luckily for me the BBC/HBO miniseries Years and Years was streaming in full on the Australian broadcaster SBS.

Written by Russell T Davis famed for his groundbreaking series Queer as Folk and as showrunner for the revival of Doctor Who, the six episode mini-series combines many familiar aspects of his earlier work into an unusual format.

Following the extended Lyons family from 2019 to 2029, the show extrapolates (often wildly) the current state of the world into the next decade. Using the lives and fortunes of a Manchester family as the lens to watch social, technological and political change, Davis taps into multiple themes including LGBTQI issues, immigration, transhumanism and political populism.

Beyond the Lyons there is only one other recurring character who isn’t a friend or partner. Emma Thompson sports a northern accent as the frankly spoken Vivienne Rook: initially as a business woman who shoots to fame for swearing on telly but then as an increasingly Trumpian would-be political saviour of Britain, as all around the world gets more alarming and unstable.

Fans of the Davis years of Doctor Who will recognise many of the themes he explored in the David Tennant years. The rise of Harold Saxon as Prime Minister has echoes in how Davis shows political change impacting a family (but this time with more mundane causes that the machinations of The Master). However, the more obvious comparison is with the alternate-destiny dystopia of the Donna Noble centred episode Turn Left, where the obliteration of London leads the UK to slide into a world of labour camps and mass murder (only hinted at).

In Years and Years, Davis depicts that same concept of Britain sliding almost genteelly into a society of death camps over the course of a decade. A nuclear attack on China, precipitates a financial crisis, authoritarianism (and LGBTQI persecution) in Eastern Europe precipitates a new wave of asylum seekers, changes in the weather lead to mass flooding, power cuts (possibly manipulated by hackers) lead to further economic disruption and finally a flu epidemic creates further chaos.

This is very much political science fiction with the politics underlined and in bold but told through the complexities of a large family: two brothers and two sisters, their grandmother, spouses, children and lovers. The impacts of social change are always grounded in the personal experiences of people trying to live their lives.

There are subtle shifts of focus over time also. Initially, Daniel Lyons (Russell Tovey) has the strongest plot line, with his role as a housing officer leading him into a deep relationship with Viktor Goraya — an asylum seeker who has escaped persecution of gay men in Ukraine. The eldest sister, Edith, only appears in video calls in the first episode, as she is a globe trotting political activist until a dramatic event brings her home. Bethany (the daughter of Stephen Lyons and his wife Celeste) we first meet as a withdrawn teenager, who hides behind technology and aspires to download her consciousness into a computer. Bethany’s journey as a character is the one I found most interesting and also the one, that despite it’s trauma had the most optimism.

It is not easy viewing, particular as we stare into the beginning of the 2020’s. The final episode takes an uncharacteristically optimistic turn towards the end (implausibly at times I felt) but even with that, it isn’t a show to watch if you need a distraction from your fears for the future.

Combining slice-of-life family drama and science fiction is not something we often see on television. Years and Years isn’t always successful at mixing the two genres but by resting the show on personal experiences played out by a strong cast, the combination works.