Tag Archives: story

Ice Warrior loose on a submarine – Review of Doctor Who Cold War

If you want to guarantee a successful drama thriller, set it on a submarine.

Films like “Hunt for Red October”, “Crimson Tide” and “Das Boot” build tension from the claustrophobic, semi-dark red-lit sets, all male crews and the constant threat of water breaching the hull.

Set the drama on a nuclear submarine in a Cold War situation where the captain can launch missiles that could destroy the world and directors can make the tension unbearable.

So in this latest “movie of the week” adventure The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) arrive on a Russian nuclear sub in 1983. Emotions are fraught. And down in the hold encased in a block of ice is a creature, an old enemy of the Doctor, that we have not seen in the programme since “The Monster of Peladon” 39 years ago in 1974. An Ice Warrior from the planet Mars.

 Review of Doctor Who Cold War
Movie of the Week Poster

Since Doctor Who returned to our TV screens in 2005 the producers have updated many of the old classic series monsters. They modernised the Daleks and gave them the ability to fly thus relegating stair cases from being a means of salvation to simply a method of travelling from one floor to another.

The Cyberman upgrade was less successful in my opinion. All that marching around with synchronised heavy metal boot stepping was perhaps too absurd to be frightening.

With the Ice Warrior we have a modern costume which remains almost completely faithful to the original 1960s design. But instead of the slow lumbering tanks of the black and white era, here we see a fast, sleek, suit of armour for a creature hidden within. Initially all we can see is its reptilian mouth beneath the orange visor of its helmet.

 Review of Doctor Who Cold War
The Ice Warrior

But later the Martian escapes from the suit and the crew begin a desperate game of hide and seek in the dingy corridors of the submarine. These scenes are well filmed and directed and the constantly dripping water from overhead adds to the realism.

The Ice Warrior creature strikes quickly from the shadows, from above and below. The drama benefits from the fact that there is only one of the aliens confronting the humans in the confined space of their nuclear sub. It’s a classic base under siege scenario.

Clara once again gets chance to shine when she enters the room where they have chained Ice Warrior up and tries to reason with the monster. The creature’s reference to its own daughter lend the character a depth we tend not to see with more traditional monsters like the Daleks. Clara also teams up with Professor Grisenko played by the excellent David Warner, an older Russian with a liking for 80s bands Ultravox and Duran Duran. This brings a little welcome humour to the tense plot.

Eventually the Ice Warrior re-enters its armour suit and we see for the first time the ugly face of the creature behind the mask. I thought it reminded me of the Predator creatures from the movies.

The ending was a little disappointing given the tense build up. The Doctor once again talks the enemy down and appeals to its compassion. I can forgive this because the Ice Warriors of the classic series were an honourable race and in one story they were even allies of the Doctor. But such endings seem to be common at the moment. A bit dull and a bit predictable.

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Liam Cunningham

One of the best episodes of series 7, Cold War very successfully reintroduces another Doctor Who icon. It also reinforces the view that any drama set on a submarine just seems to work.

I did keep expecting Liam Cunningham, who played the Russian submarine captain, to either break out into his best Sean Connery impersonation or to start talking about the colour of Lipizzaner Stallions.

Your turn: Do you agree with my review of Doctor Who Cold War? Please share your thoughts and your own reviews. Click on “leave a reply” and post a comment or a link.



Plane Crash TV and the Goldfish Effect

I just watched a TV programme on C4 called Plane Crash. I’d seen the trailers and it looked fascinating. They were going to crash a real Boeing 727and watch the effects on the dummies inside.

Plane Crash TV and the Goldfish Effect
But the show ended up driving me mad. It was on for two hours with an ad break every 10 minutes. Before every break they summarised where we had got to. After the ad break they summarised where we had got to again.

Do the producers of shows like this think that we all have the memory spans of goldfish?

Actually that is unfair on goldfish. People believe that goldfish can only remember things for three seconds. so don’t worry about putting them in small bowls because by the time they’ve swum round they have forgotten where they started from. Of course scientists have proven that goldfish do in fact have quite good memories and tests show that they can learn what time of day they .

Plane Crash TV and the Goldfish Effect
photo credit: chefranden via photopin cc

Hence why my mother’s goldfish congregate at 4pm every day in the left corner of the tank – wide eyes and gaping mouths silently saying, “Come on then”.

But there seems to be a goldfish trend emerging in documentary TV shows. The next time you watch one just look at the narrative flow.

Take a clothes make over show. The intro will go something along these lines. “This week we meet Jane. She has no self-confidence. Over the next hour we are going to completely change her life. First thing we are going to do is give her a make over.

Then 10 minutes later as we approach the first ad break they’ll say, “So now Jane has had a full make over and although she started out the programme with no self-confidence she is well on her way to completely changing her life. Join us after the break when we move into stage two and revamp her wardrobe.

After nipping off to make a cup of tea during the adverts you return to the sofa to the reminder, “Before the break we met Jane who has no self-confidence but we have made a great start in completely changing her life by giving her a complete make over. Now it is time to have a look at her wardrobe.

Plane Crash TV and the Goldfish Effect
photo credit: Stephan Geyer via photopin cc

And so it goes on. Even the BBC with no ad breaks to fit this structure round are increasingly guilty of such recaps and “coming up” spots every ten minutes or so.

I have always been an advocate of the “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you have told them” approach. But do the TV programmes take it too far? They tell you what they are going to tell you then tell you a bit of it. Next they remind you of what they are going to tell you and the bit they’ve already told you, and so on.

Cut out all this summarising and recapping and the show would be half as long.

So rather than thrilling me, Plane Crash just made me want to go and do something relaxing like swimming round and round in a pool.

Over to you: Do you agree with me about plane crash TV and the goldfish effect? If so do me a favour and tweet this article.

Why the Backlash against the Detective and the Time Traveller?

Given that both Doctor Who and the first episode of the second series of Sherlock gathered nearly 10 million viewers each, you would think that they must have been pretty popular. But whilst there have been positive reviews of both in the traditional media, online it is different.

Tweeters are angry at how the Christmas day episode of Who presented an unsubtle environmental message and resolved the storyline with a “men are weak, women are strong” device. They also felt that there was a forced happy ending by wimping out on the implied death of Reg Arwell, the father of the children in the story.

Bloggers are fuming with anger over the way the same writer, (Stephen Moffat for he wrote both) recreated Conan Doyle’s original Victorian opera singer, Irene Adler, as a modern day dominatrix prostitute. Even the mainstream media were furious over her nude scenes shown before the watershed. In fairness her hands and the camera angles hid anything “rude”.

Is Moffat being too stereotypical in his portrayal of the women in his stories? Or are we reading to much into it and what we actually did was to create two great stories which actually entertained huge audiences?

Think about the Christmas day episode. By the time it came on air at 7pm, most people will have eaten a huge Christmas feast, drunk wine and champagne, guzzled Quality Street chocolates and eaten them even more Twiglets. Some may even have had a second plate of turkey for supper. Brains were fuzzy. Eyes were heavy. What we did not need at this point was the usual complexity of a Moffat plot weaving different time streams and interlinked stories of incredible intricacy. We wanted a light, family oriented story that would fit with our Christmas evening stupor. It’s what we got.

Doctor Who and SherlockIn 1941 Madge Arwell receives a telegram. Her husband is missing in a presumed crashed Lancaster bomber. She takes her children to a remote country house where they are entertained by a mysterious “Care-taker”. They get transported to a “Narnia” inspIred snow filled forest where they help the trees to escape from an imminent environmental catastrophe. Only Madge is strong enough to operate the spacecraft that is their salvation. And as she flies the children home the ship becomes a beacon that her husband Reg can use to make a safe landing.

For those who accuse Moffat of wimping out on the father dying, they miss the point. The episode raises the possibility of the death of loved ones and that’s something that any child has to face eventually. But it doesn’t go all the way and for a Christmas day family episode that is exactly right. Reg Arwell was “missing” but he wasn’t dead. As it turned out he followed the space craft -time jumped over a few days and arrived at the country house. For him, he was never missing at all.

Doctor Who and SherlockSherlock’s episode was a modern re-imaging of “Scandal in Bohemia” and unlike Christmas Who, was multi-layered, complex and therefore satisfying. I suppose I can understand the critics of the modern Irene Adler being a sex worker, and that it might have been done purely for titilation. Is this indicative of our society that modern writers have to reinvent heroines of old to conform to the plastic sexuality of the Reality TV world? Actually, I don’t think Moffat had these debates with himself. I think he just wrote two great stories both of which demanded very strong female lead characters and it was the stories that decided their circumstances .

Taken separately they might appear stereotypical, but separately they were just two examples of different women. Madge was a loving mother protecting her children at Christmas, Irene was an ambitious woman using her sexuality to make herself safe in a dangerous political world.

Doctor Who and Sherlock

Doctor Who and Sherlock carried by two strong women.”

So two strong stories carried by two strong women. As for the males  I thought the leads, Matt Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch were both at the top of their game. Pages could be written on the relationship between Holmes and Watson, and even the most ardant critics must have shed a secret tear when the Doctor was reunited with Amy Pond for Christmas dinner.

Stephen Moffat served up two exquisite slices of Christmas pudding. Okay so Doctor Who might have been a little too syrupy, but I was one of those with a wine softened brain who needed something light, happy, family oriented and above all “nice” to enjoy on Christmas night. It worked for me.

Updating a Cheating Memory – Day of the Daleks review

day of the daleks review

Okay so I’ve always been a Doctor Who fan. I love the modern reboot and especially the “timey whimey” stories that show runner Steven Moffat is so well known for. You know – he’s always getting things that happen in the future mixing with things that happen in the present. Or do I mean the past? The grandfather principle and all that brain aching stuff. Some people say it is too complicated. I disagree.

One of the earliest stories I ever saw – when I was just a little boy – was the Jon Pertwee story, Day of the Daleks. This had a very time travel paradox orientated story which at the time went over my head. I was more interested in the Daleks and the amazing battle they had with UNIT troops at the end of the story.

For me as a child I was captivated. My memories of that battle, with hundred of Daleks sweeping across the lawn of an Edwardian country house, exterminating the soldiers with their cool “negative” laser blasts, whilst the troops desperately fired mortar grenades at them, super-charged my imagination for many years to come……until I bought the VHS video when it was released 15 years later.

I watched in disbelief. What happened to the battle I remembered? The actual reality was just three battered old Dalek props struggling to glide across the grass whilst a couple of soldiers fired cap guns at them.

Of course when it comes to TV and films that you watch as a child, the memory cheats. My young mind had embellished what it saw with the more descriptive prose of the later novelisation and created a false memory of a spectacle that was way beyond the production and budget capabilities of the 1970s BBC.

However it’s not just me. It seems that the memory cheated for many more people who remember the story with fondness. So hats off to the producers at 2:Entertain for the recently released DVD of the tale. The team have gone back to the original filming locations (such as Dropmore Park in Buckinghamshire) and re-shot some scenes using a 1970s film camera, retro Dalek props and new people dressed as soldiers. On top of this they have added better explosions, more lasers and had the modern Dalek voice artist, Nick Briggs, redub the sound track to make them sound super scary.

The remarkable result cures the cheating memory. They have produced a special edition that is true to the exaggerated memories I formed as a child. Pertwee is still a fabulous Doctor. Here he is authoritative, charming and resourceful and shows a particular fondness for red wine whilst fighting his enemies. And he has the best line in the script with his put down of a pompous Government Minister, “Look try and use your intelligence man, even if you are a politician.”

Day of the Daleks was always a great story and script let down by poor production. Now that the old flakiness has been polished we can enjoy this top rate tale as the memory intended. And what a story. Guerrillas from the future traveling back in time to the present to kill the person they think created their Dalek subjugated future (sounds a bit like The Terminator doesn’t it? Except DOTD came first!). It’s a time travel paradox that I never understood as a child.

Now I can understand it, and can watch the show as the tour-de-force my memory always told me it was.