Broadchurch – Series 2 Review

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Warning – there will be spoilers!

Right, stop your moaning Facebook and Twitter and everyone else, this was the way the second series was set up to go. Gripes about the lack of realism, factual inconsistencies of the court case and it not being as tense as the first series – all wrong in my opinion and here’s why. It’s a Drama, not a documentary.

Chris Chibnall has written two series now about human beings, their relationships and how we can be tested to our limits by the shit that life throws at us. All good drama, be it soap opera or Shakespeare must have great characters at the heart of the story otherwise we can’t route for them and want the good guys to triumph. This series has been about Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan’s performances of a couple and their life after the death of their son. It was raw, tragic and heartbreaking and the combination of performance and script was sublime at times. No it’s not car chases and whodunnits but it’s about the reality of a relationship under the worst stress possible.

The two of them carried this series emotionally, whereas Olivia Colman’s Ellie got stronger as the series went on. Broken from the revelation her husband killed their son’s best friend she took huge strides to pull her family back together and to sort Alec Hardy out too. In the end it was her tenacity that solved the Sandbrook case. The final episode belonged to David Tennant and his rejuvenated Alec Hardy back from having the pacemaker fitted he roared and growled to finish the case that almost finished him. The acting was subtle but powerful and showed just why this show has the dedicated audience it has.

The complaints about things being unrealistic obviously never saw an episode of Morse, Lewis, Eastenders, Midsomer Murders, The Killing, Fortitude, Perry Mason, Corrie, Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Wire in the Blood, Vera and any other show that has had a whodunnit or court case – TV drama uses these situations to drive plots and to open characters. If you want realism get down o your local court and sit and watch the cases there. I’m not tuning in for “realism” because I live that – I sit and watch a show like “Broadchurch” because of the fantasy, the writing and the escapism. Yes it played fast and loose with the format, but so what? I enjoyed it all the same.

Then there are the grumps that have already dismissed the way the series ended and “Won’t be watching another series of this!” We know they couldn’t have killed Joe Miller – as much as we all wanted them to, we know that they would then be as bad as he was. We can’t have characters like Beth and Mark or Ellie and Rev Rory (or whatever his character was called) stooping to his level – and you know what his punishment is classic Shakespeare; exile. More powerful and meaningful than death.

There have been so few new dramas in the last ten years that have been about character driven performances. In the first we saw a tour de force from Olivia Coleman, David Bradley and Jodie Whittaker. In the second Eve Myles, Andrew Buchan, Charlotte Rampling and David Tennant all shone through. Who wouldn’t want another series to see his great cast at full force?

JD

Dear Steven Moffat

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Steven Moffat

How are you? We don’t know each other but I wanted to write you a wee note after watching the Finale of Series 8 of the rebooted Doctor Who last night.

Firstly I’m not here to have a go at you because I think you are a great writer and have enjoyed many shows you’ve written over the last twenty or so years – especially Coupling which was very funny. Within the eight series of Doctor Who you have written some of the stand out episodes with Blink, Girl in the Fireplace, The Empty Child and Silence in the Library being amongst my favourites. Great monsters, great pace and storytelling and most of all great Doctor Who episodes.

But – and we knew it was coming – the overall running of the show is not your forte. Matt Smith was never going to have it easy following David Tennant but he did an okay job, where he and now Peter Capaldi have been let down is in the story arcs that have run through each of the seasons.

Series 5 – Doctor, Rory & Amy and the Pandorica: Here was a someone who had an idea but couldn’t make it work in 45/60 minutes but went ahead anyway. We have a dead boyfriend who has survived for 2000 years but hasn’t aged but is still human. Through the whole run he was dead, then alive, then dead again. Was this South Park or Doctor Who? You struggled to empathise with Amy as a character and that for me is key to a successful series like this. It’s unfair to compare your time with RTD’s but if you consider Rose, Martha and Donna they were all characters you cared for; Amy never really reaches that because she was too bolshy and spiky a companion.

Series 6 – Doctor, Rory, Amy & River Song: Again this was trying to tie everything together as if you were Agatha Christie with a genius whodunnit, but fell short. Short is an important word because you were trying to get the serial feel of the old series back but only had 45 minute episodes to pull off a narrative that would have been better served as a two parter covering 90 minutes – the same as a three-part serial of the original show. You seemed to ignore the idea of two-part episodes for most of your tenure which is a great shame as the cliffhanger endings were great. This series we saw the Doctor die in the first episode and then spent the rest of the series showing us how he cheated death.

Series 7 – Bye Rory & Amy and Hello Clara the Impossible Girl: I wasn’t sad to see A&R go although the last few stories they did were very good – mostly because they were stand alone wee TV movies. And just when we thought we were over the companion-centred narrative arc you throw in Clara who over the next series and a half repeats most of the Amy storyline. It’s a real shame as Jenna Coleman is very good and more likeable (despite you making her annoying at times with her sulking constantly).

Series 8 – Capaldi and Hope: A spiky, sarcastic but underneath it all big-hearted (both of them) Doctor who takes us in a new direction. But the writing and arcing is still the same. Boyfriend trouble, dead boyfriend, not dead boyfriend, is she pregnant? Don’t actually care I’m afraid. Capaldi is excellent but he is being woefully underused with Coleman front and centre too often. While the companions role is to link us the audience with the alien Doctor, we do need time to connect with him ourselves.

And then there’s the complete lack of subtlety. Missy is the Master – why? Could she not have been The Rani or Romana just to mix it up a bit. I thought it was too obvious to be the Master and dismissed it – so it wasn’t a twist unless you count a double bluff as one. “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” were as subtle as a breeze-block and cheery as genocide. I’m all for the show having darker moments and tackling big philosophical subjects but the dead rising, issues around cremation and leaving your body to science and the implications for the pain of those dead people is not a clever or suitable thing for a kids/family TV show on Saturday Night Primetime TV. I thought it was in bad taste. We’re left in the end with no real closure, no hope for either Clara or the Doctor and really only have empathy for the latter as he discovers Missy lied about the location of Gallifrey.

The point I’m trying to make is that maybe it’s time you stepped aside and let someone else take the reins. Please still write the occasional episode – I wish RTD would come back and write one once in a while – but give up the tired repetition and go and write another great comedy series. Please your depressing us – we need cheering up!

JD

Doctor’s Greatest Hits: The Day of the Doctor

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Doctor Who The Twelve Doctors

Well, was it worth the wait and the build up? Yes. It was fantastic. There will be those who want to pull the plot holes to pieces and question so many parts of the cameos and chronology of the Doctor, but they need to stop and sit back for a moment as we see the show for what it is. Fifty years ago it was put on for families to enjoy – for kids to find amazing and scary and adults to enjoy too. It achieved that without question. If we were to get over critical on any TV show you’d find flaws and errors coming out of every episode and those people need to get life. I love the show but I’m never going to sit and write and angry letter (or blog) because of a line that said something that contradicted another thing said 47 episodes earlier. Especially Sci-Fi!

So why did it work? Well Moffat did a great job of using the “Timey Wimey” element of the show to reconnect different versions of the Doctor without it seeming completely implausible. And the combination of Smith & Tennant was brilliant, but the episode belonged to John Hurt’s Doctor. He was always going to be a big presence on set and you were attracted to him in every scene he appeared in, but the great use of comedy – self-deprecating and in-jokes stopped this being a naval gazing special for fans only. It was almost a simple Sci-Fi standard of “if you could go back in time…” and they used it well to allow the show to continue on a new footing for the next fifty years.

I’m going to avoid too many spoilers as some will still have not seen it, but I thought the balance between all the elements was perfect. Rose didn’t overshadow the episode as she could have because of the role she was playing and Tennant’s Doctor not being able to interact with her stopped it being an awkward episode for the other characters. The Moff also avoided the “Let’s squeeze in every baddie and every Doctor” requests that had seen the Five Doctors become just a fan satisfaction episode – this was about more than the fans; it was about the show and the Doctor’s future. It gives it the shot in the arm that I has been missing this last couple of years and the search for Gallifrey now means the Lonely Traveller has a new purpose.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

So what have we learned that could be in the future for the Doctor?

  • With the Paul McGann special and the possible return of Gallifrey there are a few options to allow the Doctor to go beyond the 13 incarnations.
  • We know that Peter Capaldi is the 13th Doctor as Hurt becomes the 9th, Eccleston 10th, Tennant 11th and Smith 12th. His last life?
  • With the Time War now put to bed it allows the old characters and monsters to return as they won’t have been killed off as they would have been.
  • The Time Lords will now view the Doctor differently as he saved them rather than tried to kill them – the Timelords we meet in “End of Time” will not be the same ones that exist now
  • Does the return of Tom Baker mean he can revisit old generations? Could that open the door for McGann or Tennant to return in the future?
  • Trenzalore can be re-written as the Time War was – and I predict we may have that resolved in the Christmas Special or not long after as it can’t hang around too long.

Overall I think the crew – especially the special effects team –  deserve all the plaudits that come their way. The Battle on Gallifrey was as good as I’ve seen Sci-Fi done on TV. I saw it in 3D on my TV last night and then took Jake in to see it in the Cinema in 3D today and I was impressed how well it held up on the big screen. Very impressive writing from Moffat. The humour he injected was perfect and he needs to remember that in future episodes and not get bogged down in the “Dark” stories and characters – the show has always had light and shade and this was a great example of how good a writer Steven can be. More please.

Happy Birthday Doctor – hope I see you reach your 100th Birthday.

JD

Doctor’s Greatest Hits: End of Time

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End of Time

“I don’t want to go”

The final words of both David Tennant’s Doctor and of Head Writer Russell T Davies. Tennant for me is the best Doctor…ever – yet. His combination of all the best bits of the previous incarnations were topped off with a brilliant cherry of the most charismatic Doctor to date. This was a goodbye to everything that had happened in the first five years of the comeback – the Doctor, many of the writers and directors, the Executive Producers, the companions and the threads of the Whoniverse we had come to know and love. There hadn’t really been a clean-cut like this before where everything changed and maybe that’s why Matt and Steven struggled at points.

This was Russell the fan boy giving us Who turned up to eleven, but there was still time for twists, turns, great writing and a sad ending. Bringing John Simm back as the Master was clever as it was a Timelord reunion with Gallifrey pulling through time to reconnect with the Universe they had been timelocked out of. The special effects were huge, the scale of the story was massive – but what made the show all the way through Davies’s reign was still here: character. In this case it was Wilf, played by the god of children’s TV Bernard Cribbins, who was the companion and a better choice couldn’t have been made. he is a great actor – highly underused and underrated – and his compassion and love for the Doctor shone through. The quiet moments the two of them shared were beautifully written and performed.

But most of all this was all about Tennant. He had started to break international ground like never before, had a huge female audience (for some unknown reason 😉 ) following his antics and had kids falling in love with the show their parents and grandparents had adored. His goodbye at the end was prompted by the four knocks – but not the four of the Master as we all expected. After all the action we were left with the Doctor somehow still alive and Wilf trapped in a radiation unit. The four knocks came and our hearts melted as we and the Doctor realised what had been meant by the psychic’s waning “He will knock four times.” I actually felt my heart drop when it happened. But if the Tenth had to sacrifice himself for anyone it had to be Wilf.

I don’t think there has been a better actor to play the role – Capaldi will push him hard though – and also I doubt for many there will be one loved as much. And this left Moffat and Smith with a huge issue. How do you follow that? In the same way as every Doctor does, you make the role yours and drive it forward with the best of the past and the personal twist. At times the show may have lost its way but remember that Tennant’s time wasn’t without its poorer episodes. This was goodbye to the man who made me excited again for a dose of Doctor Who on a Saturday night.

Thank You David.

JD

Doctor’s Greatest Hits: Waters of Mars

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Time Lord Victorious!

This is a great action/horror episode that has great baddies, a great premise and a Doctor with nothing to lose. The Bowie Base on Mars is the main setting for the adventure with the Doctor just passing he discovers why the group never made it home from the base – because of the water.

It has been branded the Scariest episode of Modern Who, and while there are some great scares it is more about the Doctor and his internal battle between who he has been and who he could be. The darker side, the one that could change things because of the power he has in time travelling, the last of the Time Lords. Tennant as always is on great form and plays the internal battle between doing the right thing and being selfish perfectly. Opposite David is Lindsey Duncan, a great actress, and she plays a character that is a hero in her own lifetime. The subtle acting and stillness about her is a great contrast to Tennant’s all action Doctor.

The water they are mining from the planet is not as clean and clear as it should be and when it touches you or you consume it you are changed into a zombie-like monster. Again the simplicity of the idea is the key to the episode in that the crew are more than aware of the danger and the audience also understands how easy it is for water to move around and be a danger to the characters – especially when it is projecting from the infected creatures.

The contrast at the end of the episode between the Doctor who thinks he has this almighty, God-like power and the Free will of Duncan’s character Adeline is well-played and shows the futility of having power but not understanding how to use it. This foreshadows the return of the Doctor’s Arch Nemesis The Master in the next two parter – a wild and untamed Time Lord who’s insanity and power lust is always his undoing. The Yang to the Doctor’s Ying.

JD

Next Time: End of Time

Doctor’s Greatest Hits: Journey’s End

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Journey's End

When she appeared in the Christmas special “The Runaway Bride” I. like many, wasn’t convinced that Catherine Tate was a great shout for Docotr Who. When she was announced as the permanent companion for the Fourth Season, I was worried – I shouldn’t have been. Donna Noble is probably my favourite companion of all because of her conversion from annoying, mouthy temp to the DoctorDonna.

Even though this was supposed to be about all the Doctor’s friends returning to defeat Davros – played amazingly by Julian Bleach – the episode belonged to Catherine Tate and her Meta-crisis human Timelord. Her performance in this (and the previous episodes “Turn Left” and “Stolen Earth”) showed the range that she has as an actress. i hold my hands up and say that the combination of Donna and Tennant’s Doctor was perfect. this was a caring pair of best friends who could have travelled together forever and none of us would have minded.

Tate said at the recent Screening of the episode that she would have continued in the role if Tennant had stayed, and perhaps that magic wouldn’t have lasted another series, but then we would have needed both David and Russell T Davies to stay to keep it going and they decided it was time to move on.

It’s not the episode – which is good with some standout moments – but the goodbye for Donna that makes this such a great yet tragic chapter in the modern canon of the Doctor Who story. Because the human brain can’t deal with the vast knowledge of a Timelord’s mind, the crossover of the two starts to kill Donna and the only way to save her is to remove all memory of the Doctor and their adventures together. Having watched Donna become a full and happy person compared to when we first met her, this is probably the most tragic way any of the modern companions has left the show. She can never remember, never see the Doctor again or she could die.

There are several episodes in series four that are made good just by having Tate in them and the chemistry and comedy she and Tennant have together. Having seen them in “Much Ado About Nothing” in the West end a couple of years ago you can see that friendship is genuine and lasting and I hope they do something else together in the future.

But as goodbyes go, this is the worst.

JD

Doctor’s Greatest Hits: Midnight

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Midnight

This is probably my favourite episode of Doctor Who because it’s everything that the show shouldn’t be: the majority of it is set in one location, there is no visible monster and the Doctor is almost powerless. Why then is it my favourite? Because it’s a brilliant cast, very clever idea, top script and an unforgettable central performance from David Tennant.

What the show has always done that allows it to make its 50th Anniversary this weekend is change – and by changing everything you expect from an episode, it makes it scarier and challenges you as the audience to see how on earth the Doctor can escape this time. The premise is simple, the Doctor and Donna – played by the fabulous Catherine Tate (more about her next time) – land on a planet that is uninhabitable to any living creature and they are inside for the whole episode. Donna elects to stay in the Spa for the day while our intrepid hero heads off on a jaunt across the planet to see the sights. As he says “Taking a bus full of strangers across a diamond planet called ‘Midnight’, what could possibly go wrong?”

From there it’s a simple story of the vehicle breaking down, it getting attacked, a passenger gets possessed and the Doctor loses all his powers. Apart from that little happens. And that’s the key to this episode – it’s all character driven and Russell T Davies script moves along at a great pace and the claustrophobic cabin becomes a prison for these different characters to all have to get on with each other. There’s a mum, dad and son combination, a single business woman, a professor and his assistant, the Hostess and of course the Doctor. The drama comes when something living on the planet that can’t be lived on, attacks the vehicle and takes over one of the characters.

Where the real fear of the episode kicks in is when this monster starts repeating everything that is said by those in the cabin, then it speaks at the same time as them. Like “Blink” it is based on the simple childhood idea of copying and mimicking other people, repeating back the words to the person that said them. At first it’s silly, but as it progresses it becomes creepy and as Davies points out in the “Confidential” episode for Midnight there is something scary about someone effectively taking your voice.

The cast is a great collection of character actors from Lindsay Coulson and Daniel Ryan as the Mum and Dad to the always excellent Lesley Sharp as Sky Sylvestry. Then there a couple of great nods to the history of the show as David Troughton plays the Professor who knows everything about the planet – he is Patrick Troughton’s (The Second Doctor) real life son. The episode is directed by Patrick’s Daughter Alice. It also harks back to the days of the First and Second incarnations as the story is told predominantly in real time as the original episodes often were. It’s that “real time” angle combined with everything else that makes this such a powerful and scary episode. I’m sure there are those who love the chases and the CGI monsters, but I always maintain that there is nothing scarier than the idea of fear and to evoke it just through speech and language is a real skill.

David Tennant is a great actor and in this he really pulls out all the stops and you really find yourself worried for his character in a way you aren’t always. We all know that the Doctor always wins, but here there is a real possibility he won’t make it out alive and not for the usual reasons. There are fantastic layers to the script too about society, mob rule, immigration, the fear of intelligent people, family dynamics and the contrast between the young mind open to possibilities and the older mind that has a blinkered view of life.

I know many will not include this episode in their top ten, but for me it’s a great piece of drama and television, the fact it’s a Doctor who episode is a bonus.

Here’s a great fan made trailer for the episode to encourage you to revisit it.

JD

Next Time: Journey’s End