Tag Archive: opinion


Arrival – Review

At first glance, Arrival may seem like your typical alien invasion movie. It certainly has the setup for one, with twelve alien ships landing down on 12, seemingly random cities, and each country’s government sending out their military and a small team of scientists to figure out what the aliens are here to do. However, Arrival sidesteps a majority of alien invasion tropes, instead, offering an emotionally driven and thought provoking story with an final revelation that will fill you with wonder.

As previously noted, the setup is fairly simple. There are twelve alien spaceships that have all landed on Earth at the same time, over twelve random cities. Thankfully, this did not result in a full out attack by either side. Instead, the US government, as well as the rest of the world, decided to try to communicate with the alien species, referred to as Heptapods.

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Amy Adams as Louise Banks, standing in front of one of twelve alien spacecrafts

The only problem is their language is completely different from that of any human, so the government brings in Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who has previous experience working with the government to translate classified intelligence. From the beginning of the movie, Louise is haunted by the loss of her daughter, Hannah, to a rare disease. While probably not intentional, it is reminiscent of Up, so yes, it is an emotional beginning. We later see flashbacks to Hannah, and how Louise’s memories of her daughter help her remember little things that clear her mind and aid in her translation and communication with the Heptapods.

Louise is teamed up with Ian (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist, who initially seems to be there to offer a scientific perspective, but for most of the film is there as a sidekick to Louise. I particularly enjoyed the role of Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), because he played an intelligent character. Whereas lesser movies would make the military presence exist to essentially fight the aliens, he is fully on Louise’s side, taking the time to listen to her and understand her point of view. I fully enjoyed how these characters were all mature and intelligent, making them all likable while still being well defined.

Don’t expect anything to move at too fast of a pace here. The movie is a slow burner, spending a lot of time between Louse and the Heptapods, as she deciphers their language. This leads to an actual theory in the field of linguistics known as Sapir-Whorf , which in the context of the movie, implies Louise may be perceiving the world around her differently by being so consumed by the Heptapods’ language. This is an intriguing concept and is effectively woven into the story of Arrival.

There are times when the movie decides to broaden its scope beyond Louise and Ian, but it doesn’t work as well as I would have liked. Television news broadcasts show turmoil in various cities, with riots and looting happening all over the world. A few countries get less and less happy with the alien presence, and some bad translations and lack of understanding how they perceive the world compared to humans leads to the third acts final conflict.

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One of the many words translated throughout the movie

Coincidentally, this is when the big revelation occurs, which I will not even hint at, but can confirm it was pleasantly unexpected. This is likely due to the fact that I have watched a lot of science fiction movies and was expecting something somewhat uninspired to occur. Thankfully, this is not the case, and I do not believe I have seen such a profound final act in a science fiction movie since I watched Contact (though, I hear Interstellar has quite the ending as well). I can’t deny the ending did have one rushed element that did not make a whole lot of sense, but it did work, it just felt a bit rushed.

Ignoring some issues, the ending brought together themes of unity and perception as well as the notion of free will. Surprisingly, nothing was left up to interpretation, and the conclusion was very fulfilling. I was left in chills, being both overcome with wonder, happiness, and sadness after seeing how every thread was neatly tied together. This is science fiction at its finest, presenting big concepts and following through in a well thought out and mature manner.

If you value science fiction that is more than explosions and action or if you appreciate a truly emotional drama, I cannot recommend a better movie this year than Arrival.

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Suicide Squad Review

There was a lot of hype leading up to the release of this summer’s Suicide Squad movie, and a lot of it centered around Jared Leto’s interpretation of the Joker. But does the movie actually live up to the hype? Well, it’s not as clear cut as a simple yes or no, but suffice to say, it remains entertaining for the majority of the movie.

As the trailers have shown, the government creates a group of villains to go and fight against threats that require the use of meta humans (what DC refers to their super heroes as, even if they aren’t all genetically different, such as the case with Deadshot in this movie or Batman in the DC universe) and if anything goes wrong, they can be blamed. So, a group is assembled by Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis), who is a no nonsense woman and she is going to get what she wants by any means necessary. She is ruthless and always in control.

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Squad goals, as long as you don’t really want to know half of your squad

 

That control leads her to knowing how to control these super villains. But who are the super villains? First up is Deadshot (Will Smith), a hit man who never misses his target. I had reservations about Will Smith playing a villain, I simply never pictured him being a bad guy. Luckily, he’s not a ruthless killer, and has a backstory involving his daughter who he wants to get back to. He is also really funny, and they knew how to take advantage of his comedic side for this movie.

Then there’s Harley Quinn, former psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum turned lover of the Joker. Margot Robbie does a respectable job as the popular character, though, she can’t ever seem to maintain her accent, which goes from mild to heavy New York City without warning. We never really are told how/why she falls for the Joker, and there was some confusion with parts of their back story, but as a whole, they worked well together. She’s quirky and fun, and together, her and the Joker are a good pair for future movie appearances.

Which leads me to the Joker. The much anticipated, controversial, and hyped portrayal of the classic villain. How did he live up to expectations? With just a mere 15 minutes of screen time (if that), he nearly stole the show for me. Yes, he has all the tattoos, but they weren’t distracting or even that noticeable (at least the face ones weren’t) during the movie. It’s his personality and charisma that has led me to believe he will be nothing short of fantastic in a Batman movie (I’m hoping for the Batman movie to be a prequel of sorts, so we can see what the Joker did to Robin, which was briefly alluded to in Batman vs. Superman). However, with all of the promotional material highlighting the Joker, it really is a shame he had just 15 minutes on screen. Surely, there must have been a way to have given him a lot more time and woven him into the plot more.

joker harley car

Joker and Harley all like, where’d your scenes go Mr. J?

 

There were also some other characters, including Killer Croc (a guy who looks like a crocodile and can breathe underwater), El Diablo (can create fire and had a really exciting reveal at the end of the movie), Katana (she has a sword that traps the souls of those killed by it, but she sort of just showed up right before the mission), Captain Boomerang (he throws a boomerang, exciting), and Slipknot (he climbs things, really, that’s it). And they’re all led by Rick Flag, who was handpicked by Waller to lead the mission (Waller also got him to fall in love with June Moone, who is possessed by an evil witch by the name of Enchantress, also part of the Squad). So yes, there are a lot of excess characters, mainly Boomerang, Slipknot, and Katana.

While the characters were pretty entertaining, the actual plot wasn’t. Yes, there’s a lot of action, but it doesn’t feel that exciting most of the time. The most tense scenes were Joker flashback scenes (notably one in a club with him and Harley). The actual mission led them to having to fight an evil being, whose motivation wasn’t very interesting, and her backstory was paper thin. Adding to that, the villain (purposely not saying who it is, but you can probably guess) decided her weapon to destroy the world would be a big blue, glowing energy storm, which could have shown up in pretty much any sci-fi movie in the past decade. This made the whole journey a bit disappointing. Luckily, the characters interacted well together, and for the most part, the comedy worked well. I just can’t help but feel there were multiple opinions on what direction the movie should go in, resulting in some awkward pacing and tonal changes.

joker and harley at club

Never knowing what the Joker will do next

At some points it would be very stylistic, taking advantage of the movie’s soundtrack nearly anywhere it could  (I don’t think I have ever heard so many songs played in a movie) and using fun camera work. Then other parts it would become oddly plain. Out of all the DC movies so far, this one suffered the most from its grey color palette. There is also one line of dialogue the main villain says at the very end that felt really out of place and awkward, especially considering the little backstory we are given for the character.

Ultimately, as an introduction to the DC cinematic universe, the main characters – Deadshot, Harley, and Joker – had a strong introduction. Each with interesting personalities, a lot of charisma, and the studio should be happy they are also big names. It was nice to see some more comedic elements, especially since they worked well. Unfortunately, the story wasn’t able to live up to the characters, but fortunately, the characters made up for that. Now the wait for a solo Batman movie begins, and hopefully it will have the Joker in it.

The only thing I knew about Me Before You prior to seeing it was it had a pretty solid cast (Emilia Clarke, Jenna Coleman, Brendan Coyle, and Charles Dance were my standout stars). I knew the main character, Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) was paralyzed, in what turned out to be a rather convenient turn of movie events to get the story rolling. However, I was optimistic, given the cast. Thankfully, that optimism paid off.

As previously mentioned, some pretty quick and simple events happened with the first five minutes to get the story started. I won’t give anything away, but if you have seen the trailer, you will know Will Traynor is paralyzed, with limited movement in two of his fingers. This allows him to still be able to move in his electric wheelchair using the control stick on the armrest. He’s not the most

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Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) and Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke) 

inviting person, which isn’t wholly a surprise, given his current situation.

Across town is Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke), a small town girl, trying to help out her family (she lives at home with her parents), and as Will likes to say, she has a lot of potential. She needs a job, finds Will’s parents are looking for a Carer for him, and then gets the job. She’s fun, energetic, talkative, friendly, and has an eccentric choice of clothing. Fairly basic setup, and I think you all know what will happen next.

Yes, it is true, there’s not much in the way of originality here. Is that a bad thing? Not at all. Not every movie has to break new ground. Instead, this movie allows the actors to take center stage. Unlike in Game of Thrones, Emilia Clarke is allowed to show emotion in Me Before You. Yes, there are the heartfelt moments, which she does well with, but more impressively, her eyebrows steal the show. It really is like they have a mind of their own. I now apologize if you see this movie and can’t stop being distracted by that.

Without going into major plot points, the main question for a movie like this is: does the viewer care about the characters? For the most part, yes. Of course you will feel bad for Will. We learn he is usually in pain, either physically or mentally. He doesn’t easily open himself up to others. We see him start to open up to Lou, which is nice, and she becomes attached to him as well. Again, all very typical, but still enjoyable to watch. Luckily, the movie leaves room for some comedy, often in the form of sarcasm from Will or socially awkward situations created by Lou (and her unique outfits). Truth be told, they both have good chemistry. And then there are the funny moments when Lou’s boyfriend, Patrick (Matthew Lewis) is jealous of Will or going on about running some sort of triathlon in Norway.

635899219648350647-MBY-07030r.jpgMidway through, you do basically know the ending. At that point, it becomes more about the journey. Luckily, there are plenty of entertaining scenes to keep the viewer interested. However, the actually ending doesn’t fully take advantage of the weight of the situation. The film discusses an important topic, but it is rarely explored, instead focusing on the relationship between Will and Lou. Sometimes Will’s parents, played by Janet McTeer and Charles Dance, start to explore moral and ethical issues, but that quickly gets pushed to the side. The better moral issues are brought up by Lou’s sister, Katrina (Jenna Coleman) and her dad, Bernard (Brendan Coyle), but they are more to do with whether or not Lou should continue seeing Will (both professionally and emotionally).

I know I said not all movies have to be groundbreaking, and I still stand by that. I enjoyed the characters, their development, and their relationships with each other. It would be a lie to say I did not feel for these characters, especially in the second half of the movie. I actually enjoyed the majority of the movie. While I am not familiar with the book the movie is based on, I cannot help but feel their was a missed opportunity to address a topic that isn’t often addressed in movies. My only other issue with the movie was the use of so many pop songs. They felt awkwardly placed and at times too loud, making it hard to hear some of the dialogue.

If you want to see a well made and heartfelt movie with some genuinely funny moments, this will not disappoint. Every actor is very well cast and they become their characters (I still found it amusing to see past Emilia Clarke and Charles Dance not being mortal enemies like in Game of Thrones).

Me Before You succeeds because of its characters and their chemistry. If Lou wasn’t eccentric her character could have fallen into the territory of forgettable. Instead, she’s fun and the audience can root for her. We want her to succeed in bringing Will back to the world. At the same time, it is easy to understand Will’s point of view. Again, I have not read the book, but as a movie, I was entertained throughout, which ultimately is the reason I go to the movies.

Following “The Girl Who Died,” Ashildr is back in England and in 1651. She can’t age but luckily seems to be pretty good at learning and adapting to new accents and ways of speaking. And she’s also not doing very well coping with her ability not to die. So how is “The Woman Who Lived” as a sort of sequel to “The Girl Who Died?” Let’s find out.

SPOILER WARNING

I’m not sure if this story needed to be told directly after Ashildr found out she can’t die. The only real connection is her and I’m assuming they may do something with her character later in series 9, which is why they wanted to get this one out of the way so early on. But in England, Ashildr, who decides she doesn’t want that name and simply calls herself Me or as

the-woman-who-lived

She’s a thief and he, well, he’s trying to look cool

people know her, The Knightmare, a thief. But no ordinary thief. Instead, she’s a thief looking for an alien artifact, called The Eyes of Hades. More on all this in a moment.

If you’re wondering why Ashildr is going by Me, it’s because she doesn’t see herself as that person anymore, or any of the other people she has been, instead, she’s just her, or rather, Me. The main story basically deals with her dealing with not being able to die, which ends up feeling a little drawn out since we’ve had the Doctor go on about it a lot during the David Tennant era, so hearing it again isn’t as interesting. However, Maisie Williams is still solid in her role, so at the very least, when these specific scenes come up, they’re still well done.

It is fun to realize she became rich somewhere along the way, perhaps through thievery, but probably just had the time to get to that point. She has also become cold to the world. By not being able to die she has stopped getting close to people (she previously had children, but they all died during the Black Death, so, understandably, she’s not in the best of places right now).

Back to the alien artifact. Both Ashildr and the Doctor are looking for the same artifact, but for different reasons, and here comes the antagonist of the story: Leandro, a lion guy, like literally, it’s a lion that’s a person (Doctor Who does enjoy a future universe full of cat people).

We learn the artifact is Leandro’s way of creating a portal between his world and Earth and for his people to come and attack Earth. It’s not very exciting. However, the artifact requires a sacrifice, and Ashildr decided to sacrifice Sam Swift, a rival, or rather just another notorious thief in the area. And then after she realizes what’s going on she knows Leandro never intended to help her explore the galaxy like he promised/tricked her

Woman-Who-Lived-3

See, more cat people

into thinking, and as such she turns against him. Through a series of events he is defeated and everyone is happy. Except Swift, who was sacrificed, but if you recall, another one of those devices that brought Ashildr back is still around.

So what happens? Well, AShildr decides to stop being quite so cold to the world and she saves Swift and now he too can live forever, which really isn’t so exciting, but hey, it works to get her back on track emotionally.

Noteworthy, Clara is absent from this episode. It’s actually a bit of a relief to do without Clara for a little bit. For some reason her writing has made her somewhat overbearing. I still like her, but a break was nice.

Overall, I’m not completely into this episode. The problem is the interesting parts (relationship with the Doctor and Ashildr) end up being pushed aside some for the less than exciting story with Leandro. I do enjoy that Ashildr is set up to come back for future episodes, and I suppose this story was needed to show what she’s been up to since being a viking. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still entertaining to watch and you will want to know what happens, but looking back on series 9 so far, it does not hold up to the previous two two-part stories (possibly due to this being a setup episode for Ashildr for a future story, in which case, I do want to know what has become of her).

However, I am interested to see what happens in the upcoming two-part Zygon story, which I will be reviewing as a whole, so below are both trailers:

Doctor Who: Under the Lake Review

After the fantastic story to open series 9 of Doctor Who, I had my doubts about a base-under-siege story as a followup. However, after watching “Under the Lake,” I can safely say my concerns were not needed and that series 9 continues its mark of excellence.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Typically, these sort of stories result in a lot of running around and a somewhat rushed ending and they usually get kind of

Doing some sort of stuff

Doing some investigative stuff

boring. I can’t say what the end result is since this is a two part story, but I can say the cliffhanger has me wanting more.

Basically, the Doctor and Clara end up in an underwater base located in the midst of a flooded town in the not-so-distant future. Here’s the catch (so punny): there are ghosts roaming the halls of the base. To make matters more interesting, there’s a spaceship they discovered in the town that they brought aboard the base, and it has some sort of writing on it that sort of subliminally conveys a message to all that have looked at it.

Here’s the mystery: where’d the ship come from, what is the writing, where is the ship’s captain, why is one of the energy cells missing from the ship, and where is the body being transported in it (suspended animation chamber or something, can’t recall exactly what it’s called)?

These are a lot of questions that normally wouldn’t be around if the episode was only 45 minutes. This is why I enjoy two part episodes. The writer is able to fully develop the story, creating little parts and details that otherwise would not be able to make the final cut.

Speaking of the writing, I love how the characters are written in this story. Naturally, there’s a crew on the base, and as some background, in the opening credits one of the dies and becomes a ghost. Instead of being hostile towards the Doctor – and in turn killing about 10 minutes of the Doctor trying to gain their trust – they basically just go with it (and a little help of the psychic paper saying he’s from UNIT helped as well). The crew isn’t yelling at each other or anything. Instead, they’re trying to figure out how to approach the situation and actually listen to what the Doctor has to say. I rather enjoy how these professionals aren’t a bunch of bumbling fools, which is something that bothers me in a lot of sci-fi when a team of supposedly intelligent scientists turn into a bunch of clueless characters existing just to be killed off, which is basically lazy writing.

Clara is arguably the best dressed teacher on any show ever

Clara is arguably the best dressed teacher on any show ever, and Rose could take some style advice from her

There is one annoying character, a businessman who is over-the-top in it for the profit, but luckily he gets killed off and becomes a ghost (not a big spoiler, you see it coming a mile away).

Perhaps my favorite character is Cass, who is deaf and has her interpreter, Lunn (the sexual tension is strong between these two). Whereas in the the pre-Moffat era, having a diverse character meant banging it over the viewer’s head until the entire planet knew there was a diverse character, Cass exists as an actual character and not as an agenda or political correctness. I don’t believe it was ever pointed out that she’s deaf. Which would make sense since the Doctor and Clara travel the universe, so if a deaf person is their biggest surprise, well, there’s an issue. And Cass ends up being the one in charge of the base, which is great in terms that it shows her disability does not define her and for all the people complaining about Moffat’s apparent (at least to some people, I don’t see it as much) lack of ability to write a female character, he has writers who can write strong female characters.

Cass and Lunn

Cass and Lunn

Also note, Lunn was not killed by the ghosts when he was cornered by them. Why is this? I think that is something we’ll have to wait to find out. I don’t want to give away why he got in this position, but just remember it. This is something I like about a two part episode, they can have these mysteries all come together as things get resolved in the second part, or at least that’s the hope.

Even more interesting, the ghosts are mouthing words, which the Doctor concludes are coordinates to a building in the town. What is the significance of the building? Well, the Doctor believes they are a signal, but a signal for what?

The Doctor gets tired of not knowing why the town was flooded (well, he knows a dam broke, but what happened around that time) and all the previous mysteries noted (ah, they also found the suspended animation chamber, which is now just chilling in their main room, because why not?), so he decides to go back to the TARDIS and to when it all started. Except the ghosts get smart, and begin to lock down the base, so as they’re all running to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Clara get separated. Clara ends up with Cass and Lunn and the Doctor gets O’Donnell and Bennett (also the sexual tension, but again, enjoyably written characters).

Then, the cliffhanger: the Doctor and them fly away and Clara and her group make it back to the main room, look out the window, and see the Doctor as a ghost. Except, unlike all the other ghosts who are mouthing the same words, the Doctor is saying something different. What happens in the past that caused this? What is he saying? Just add more questions to the list.

So where are we now? The Doctor’s a ghost, adding to the total count of now four ghosts (one original, then a crew member, the business man, and now the Doctor), what’s in the suspended animation chamber, where is the missing energy cell, why did the town flood, what’s the mysterious writing on the spaceship, and who is the first ghost that didn’t die at the base?

I guess we’ll find out in part two “Before the Flood.”

Skaro, Davros, Daleks, Missy and Clara dead or alive, so much was left with last week’s cliffhanger, and rest assured, “The Witch’s Familiar” resolves everything in a pleasantly satisfying and entertaining manner. Without further delay (please excuse me posting this after “Under the Lake” aired, I will have that review up within a much more reasonable time frame) here is the review of “The Witch’s Familiar.”

THERE ARE SPOILERS, REPEAT, SPOILERS AHEAD.

Clara and Missy apparently were killed last week, or that’s what the Daleks thought. Of course they weren’t (contracts and all that good stuff dictate they live) and we now know how they are alive. Missy tells Clara of a story when the Doctor was trapped, about to be shot by a bunch of robot assassins, and in a fraction of a second, used the energy from their laser beams to teleport out of his less-than-desirable position. Similarly, Missy uses the energy from the Daleks’ laser beams to poof her and Clara (remember, their vortex manipulators are linked) out of their situation. They end up outside the city where the Doctor is and must trek back, which is mostly done off screen, so more time for the Doctor and Davros.

An old rivalry lives on

An old rivalry lives on

It’s worth noting, Missy and Clara are surprisingly great together. Or rather, I think Missy would be great with anyone. Michelle Gomez plays the part perfectly, always keeping the viewer on edge, never quite knowing which direction the character is about to go in. Unlike Steven Moffat’s previous female “equal” for the Doctor, River, Missy actually has a personality beyond saying “Hello Sweetie” and showing up to cryptically say how everything is out of order and this is the first time or this is the last time or this is somewhere in-between. I feel like there’s a whole mystery left to unravel with Missy, such as how she escaped Gallifrey, and even though we know about a lot of her past, there’s still room to explore. If it ever is explored is another topic of discussion, but for now I’d like to hope it will be explored at some point.

The majority of the story is based around the Doctor and Davros talking. Even though Davros is evil and is destined to always be evil, it was interesting to see him act with some humanity. Attempting to trick the Doctor into thinking he was going to die soon, Davros was able to play on the Doctor’s emotions, and “trick” him into using some regeneration energy to allow Davros to see one final sunrise. However, Davros anticipated this compassion, and tried to harness the Doctor’s regeneration energy (to make Dalek/Time Lord hybrids, at least it’s cooler than human Daleks and pig people), but then the Doctor countered that, and used his sonic sunglasses to do some sci-fi stuff. Little did Davros think, the regeneration energy would go through the whole city.

While Missy and Clara trek back to find the Doctor, they are in a tunnel, that’s actually a sewer, that’s actually a catacomb, where apparently the decaying Daleks are tossed down in. So the regeneration energy also went to them, and since they were pretty annoyed for being thrown away, they used the new energy to rise up and take down the city. Yeah, it was weird, but the real highlight of the story was the Doctor and Davros talking. Throughout, parallels are again drawn between the Doctor and Daleks. At one point, Davros seems to be glad Gallifrey survived, and that both he and the Doctor try their hardest to continue the existence of their people. This continues throughout the majority of the episode, and aids in further developing Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. By the way, Capaldi is absolutely fantastic in series 9 so far. It seems the writers, or at to this point, Moffat, have figured out the way he plays the character and catered the writing towards his strengths and personality.

Glasses are cool, Clara, I have sonic glasses now

Glasses are cool, Clara, I have sonic glasses now

We also get flashbacks to “Asylum of the Daleks,” with Clara once again finding herself inside a Dalek. Though, this time she is in there as a disguise and has full, telepathic control of the movement and weapons of the Dalek. This is mainly done as a plot device, in which the Doctor has to figure out if it is really Clara or an actual Dalek, at which point he threatens to kill the Dalek and Clara makes it say mercy (note, the Daleks were created by Davros, and in turn cannot say certain things, so when she wants to say it’s Clara it translates and is conveyed as “I am a Dalek”). Of course then the Doctor has to figure out why the Daleks would be able to say mercy, and realizes he made a mistake all those years ago, leaving Davros to die. Watch for yourself what happens then, but I’m sure you can guess if you have not already watched. It’s actually a really nice scene, so yes, do watch it if you have not already.

Whereas “The Magician’s Apprentice” faltered with pacing and tonal issues, “The Witch’s Familiar” doesn’t miss a beat, and keeps your eyes stuck on the screen until the final credits role. The performances from the cast are all great and for once in a long time I can say Moffat did a very good job wrapping up a story.

Here’s to hoping next week’s base-under-siege “Under the Lake” keeps the the same high quality as these two episodes did. Here is the trailer for “Under the Lake:”

 

Here we are, Doctor Who is back with the dramatic opening scene of “The Magician’s Apprentice.” Is it good, bad, or a little of both? I’m going with the latter, read on to find out how the 12th Doctor’s second season began.

Brace yourself, SPOILERS AHEAD.

After Clara and the Doctor told each other the truth in last year’s Christmas episode, they went their separate ways, with Clara being a schoolteacher and the Doctor doing whatever it is he does, and that leads us to the dramatic beginning of the episode, on Skaro. There’s a big war going on, and for whatever reason the troops on ground have bows and arrows and the opposing forces have early era airplanes, but ignoring that, this is a war on Skaro. So far so cool. As the previews showed, there’s a young boy here, and the Doctor pops in, as he does, and attempts to save him. Until, spoiler, he finds out it’s a young Davros. Davros, as in, creator of the Daleks, that Davros. Fast forward a bunch of years and Davros is seeking the Doctor because he all of a sudden remembers what happened all those years ago and is dying in a hospital. Worth noting, he is being sought out by Colony Sarff, a colony of snakes that create a humanoid being and is a loyal follower of Davros.

Things are looking a little bleak

Things are looking a little bleak

Cut to intro title/credits scene.

Back to the show.

For the next ten to fifteen minutes we may as well forget the Doctor is doing much of anything because it turns back into the Clara show as all of the airplanes on Earth stop and Clara is pulled out of her classroom and brought to UNIT Here she is apparently more competent than all of UNIT, including Kate Stewart, who is in charge of UNIT, but I’ll conveniently ignore that. After a few minutes of not much happening other than Clara telling Kate what to do, Missy comes back. Hold up, what, but she died, right?

Wrong. So that means there’s an explanation for how she didn’t die, right?

Wrong. Because, well, Moffat has tendency to not explain these sort of things (I’m looking at you Sherlock) and expects everyone to go with it, so fine, I’m going with it.

After some time, Missy, who didn’t turn good mind you, ends up helping Clara and UNIT find the Doctor. Key things to note, the Doctor left Missy his last will and testament in case he dies and Missy is his best friend, which we all kind of knew if you watched some of the Classic Who stories, where there were some rather fun scenes with the two characters. Sure, we don’t know how she came back, but she escapes death all the time, it’s her thing. I’m good with it because I really enjoy her character. She’s so dark and ridiculous, I always look forward to seeing what she is going to do next. She doesn’t play the role of the strictly villainous character, she actually has a dimension to her character, which I sometimes feel is lacking in characters Moffat creates. So more Missy the better.

So much sass

So much sass

Then things get a little confusing, at least for me, so forgive me if I missed anything explaining this. They look at a big map of the world that UNIT has and search for keywords to try and find where the Doctor is. Somehow Clara figures out he’s in 1138 AD, so I’m assuming the map accounts for all of history. Strange, but alright, it gets the plot going so Clara and Missy can make their way to the Doctor. And I’m not even going to begin to ask or wonder how the Doctor, who came to an “ax fight” with his electric guitar in 1138 AD (funny, but a little bit of a tone killer for this episode) also had a tank, he can’t simply drive one out of the TARDIS doors. Missy and Clara get here via a vortex manipulator (if you recall River used one). What’s more confusing is how Colony Sarff a) knew to look in 1138 AD and b) how they even got to 1138 AD. Even more confusing, and this part I just can’t look past because it makes zero sense according to the lore of the show:

Colony Sarff is presumably using a Dalek ship to go around the universe looking for the Doctor. This would mean the ship has no time travel, because the Daleks only manage to temporal shift to a random place or end up somewhere by accident (or make pig people and human Daleks). So, we are now left to wonder how Colony Sarff a) time traveled backwards and b) time traveled forward without the use of time travel (vortex manipulators only work on the person who is wearing one). And this is important, because Davros is assumed to be dying in 2015 AD (Clara is the same age as the previous season and is a schoolteacher, so it matches the timeline, which at most could only be off a couple of years). So they now need to go forward to 2015 AD. None of this is ever explained, and we are still left to assume the Daleks don’t have time travel because Missy herself said so at the end of the episode.

So Moffat, if you read this, I would appreciate some clarity.

Luckily, the rest of the episode is pretty good.

Yeah, so, that was a thing

Yeah, so, that was a thing

We end up back at the hospital where Davros is, Clara and Missy are kept in waiting as the Doctor confronts Davros, who recognizes the face the Doctor currently has, as it’s the one that he saw all those years ago during the war. This part was pretty great, as it brought in Classic Who moments and tied them all together with the current show and it brought back the drama and seriousness of the opening scene of the episode. Then the big reveal. They’re not on a medical ship as originally assumed, but rather, on Skaro. And not just Skaro, but one that has been rebuilt since the war.

In the final moments, Missy and Clara are left to perish at the hands (figuratively speaking) of the Daleks, as they then turn their attention toward blowing up the TARDIS.

All very heavy stuff and all very good. The time travel still is an issue with Moffat, but I like where this story is going. It’s big and ambitious and brings in the lore of the show. I loved the performances of the entire cast. Each character really hit their stride in this one and the closing minutes had me on the edge of my seat, waiting for more. While I enjoyed last season, it felt like it was lacking something, and even though this is only the first episode of this season, I have a feeling it’s going to provide what I was looking for.

I for one cannot wait for next Saturday (well, Sunday, I think I’ll be doing Halloween type things already on Saturday at a haunted asylum, also a good idea for a Doctor Who story), and I am fully on board for this season. Yes, there was some bad, but overall, I want to see what happens next, how will Clara and Missy be saved, how with the TARDIS be saved, how will the Doctor get out of this one? So I’ll leave you with the trailer for next week’s story, “The Witch’s Familiar.”

“Last Christmas” pleasantly surprised me. I didn’t expect much after the previous Christmas episode, but luckily I was proven wrong. Moffat hit his stride with this one. Sure there are some borrowed elements from Inception and Alien, but Moffat successfully makes them his own. I don’t have any glaring negatives to reflect on, instead here’s a highly positive look at a well written story.

SPOILER WARNING AHEAD

Continuing from series 8, the Doctor and Clara lied to each other and went their separate ways. Now they come back together and soon enough the Doctor brings up Danny (he doesn’t know Danny isn’t alive) and they reveal to each other how the lied to make each other happy (which

It makes sense, no really, it does

It makes sense, no really, it does

of course didn’t work out). All the while there is a real life Santa Clause. Hold on, what, a real Santa? Yes. It sounds ridiculous and for the majority of the episode I cringed at it, but then it all made sense and was very cleverly done. See, the main enemy is a species called Dream Crabs, and they essentially grab on your face (think facehugger from Alien, which they also said in the episode), put you to sleep, dig under your skin, and start to eat your brain. All the while you’re put into a dream state, and the only way to live is to become self aware and wake up from the dream, forcing the crabs off your face and killing them. Back to the story.

The story starts with Santa landing on Clara’s roof and she goes up to see what’s going on. She can’t believe what she’s seeing and then the Doctor appears and comes to take Clara away. They end up on a scientific base at the North Pole where they discover the previously mentioned Crabs. The scientific team comes to see what the Doctor and Clara are doing there when they get ambushed by Crabs and Santa comes busting in to the rescue. This is where things get cool. See, at this point they are in a dream state. The ambush actually resulted in them all being taken over by the Crabs and the hallucinated Santa. What’s more, Clara then goes into a further dream state as another Crab grabs on to her and the Doctor goes in to save her. This dream is about her and Danny. She dreams the perfect Christmas where he is still alive, which is what the Crabs do to make it so the person they take over doesn’t want to wake up. But the Doctor goes under the influence of a Crab and enters Clara’s dream, whereupon he and Danny convince Clara to wake up. Surprisingly, this was one of Danny’s better appearances, as it was one of his more human moments rather than his typical Jiminy Cricket-esque inspirational line moments.

Once they depart that dream they realize they’re still in a dream and after a while they get out of that as well, only to be in a supposed final dream state (these Crabs are tricky to say the least). This time Santa comes back to save the day, and they fly away on his sleigh. As they’re flying over London(?), Santa gives the Doctor the reigns to the sleigh. This is when the episode takes a cool turn: the Doctor who has been serious most of series 8 takes the reigns of Santa’s sleigh! Once he gets accustomed to it he stands up with a big smile on his face, yelling back in excitement to the people behind him. As they’re flying the rest of the people (the science crew) gain their memories back and return to their waking bodies, which for one woman was actually kind of sad because she forgot her actual body is confined to a wheelchair.

doctor-who-santa-capaldiThe Doctor returned to his body, after the science crew all returned, and went right to the TARDIS to get the Crab off Clara because she was hesitant to return to a world without Danny. When he gets to Clara he removes the Crab (it took him a while to figure out how to safely remove it, which is why he couldn’t do this in the dream), except the Crab latched on to Clara in the future (I believe she said 62 years in the future). In her living room, Clara explains how she never married despite proposals nobody could stand up to Danny or the Doctor (a tired theme but still worked decently here since he left her for 62 years). Because this Doctor doesn’t express his emotions as much as the 1oth, it was really nice when Clara asked if he really doesn’t see her as old and he basically says she can never be old to him. You can tell he adamantly feels bad for leaving her and that she truly is his best friend. It’s difficult to explain the little things they do in this scene, but by the end it becomes a classic scene likely to be remembered for years to come.

That could have all been enough, but that turned out to be the final dream state (after all, how was Santa originally on Clara’s roof?), and when the Doctor woke one more time he went to save Clara again, except this time she’s young Clara. In an expression of excitement and happiness I have never seen from Capaldi’s Doctor, he anxiously asks Clara to come back traveling with him. Of course she says yes and while I originally didn’t care if she came back or not, I’m glad she’s there for the Doctor and they deserve each other. It reminds me of the end of “Deep Breathe,” when Clara and the Doctor really started their new adventure together to now, when they can’t imagine not traveling with each other. I really have no idea how Clara will eventually depart, but it has to really be something, because her near departure was better than the actual departures of Amy, Rory, and River.

I can only hope series 9 has the same quality of writing as this episode does. It seems Moffat is either spot on or completely misses the mark, but for now he’s the former and it definitely was a redemption over last year’s mess of a Christmas episode. I feel Moffat is at his best when he writes intimate character moments and puts aside some over-the-top arc. The story also allowed for the Doctor and Clara to take center stage, whereas series 8 often had issues with who the main character was; they’re great together and I nearly forgot that. As an added bonus, Moffat made Santa’s existence actually make sense within the confines of the rules set forth in the story.

Despite being one part Inception and one part Alien, “Last Christmas” turned out to be a truly heartfelt story about regrets, relationships, and friendship.

 

Here we are, the finale of Peter Capaldi’s first run as the Doctor, and we end it with “Death in Heaven,” an episode that, for the most part, works despite following the less than inspiring “Dark Water.”

SPOILERS AHEAD

We start off where “Dark Water” left off, and UNIT comes in to grab the Doctor and Missy. Missy’s left in holding on an airplane and the Doctor becomes president of the world (it’s protocol to have him be in charge during an alien invasion). With UNIT we get the return of Kate Stewart and Osgood, both of which were good in the 50th anniversary and continue to be good here. The best part about Kate is how they continue to tie in her father, which, at least for a person such as myself who was raised on PBS re-runs of Tom Baker stories, is a nice connection to the classic series. My only issue is back then, the Doctor worked with UNIT and while he wasn’t a soldier, he never went around telling soldiers how much he hates them, which really, was never explained at all in series 8, despite the Doctor saying it to literally every current or past soldier. The only thing that made sense was it led up to Cybermen, and even then it only kind of makes sense since in the finale the Cybermen are no longer their own race going through the universe, but instead are made by Missy for the Doctor. Wait. What?

Yes, Missy’s master plan (pun fully intended) was to give the Doctor an army of Cybermen to take across the galaxy, ridding planets of evil. Ultimately, he doesn’t do it and gives Danny, who, by the way, as we learned in “Dark Water” was being stored to become a Cyberman. Except he kept his emotions, and as a result was able to save Clara and

The gang is all back together, at least for now

The gang is all back together, at least for now

ultimately help the Doctor, Clara, and essentially save the planet. I understand the point of having Danny do this. Danny’s able to redeem himself for what he did in the war (more on that later) and the Doctor is faced with who he is. See, this whole series has been about the Doctor figuring out if he’s a good man or not. A big part of Danny’s existence was to constantly lecture to Clara how he knew men like the Doctor when he was in the war. The Doctor doesn’t get his hands dirty, instead he recruits companions to fight his fight as he sits in the background. How true this is I don’t really know, but Moffat loves to have the Doctor be this massive figure/legend who got too big for the universe and is constantly questioning what type of person he is, so in that case I’ll deal with this arc, which actually has some interesting points, they’re just never executed that well.

So the Doctor gives Danny the army Missy just gave to him (can be controlled via a bracelet aka sci-fi tech) and after a nice speech about being a soldier and protecting people, Danny brings all the Cybermen to self destruct and destroy the clouds Missy unleashed over the planet. The clouds basically emit “rain” to turn the dead into Cybermen, which somehow creates a Cyberman suit around a dead body (kind of a cheap way to explain how everyone got a Cyberman suit, but it works).

After this, the Doctor tells Missy she won. Now, maybe I need to watch it again, which I will, but I’m not quite sure how she won. Perhaps it’s because she showed the Doctor who he is, always letting others do his work for him. After all, when Clara grabs Missy’s weapon, the Doctor won’t let Clara kill her. Not because she won’t be killed, but because he won’t let Clara do it. This is a turning point for the Doctor, when he realizes he has to take responsibility for his actions, and that his companions have lives outside of the one with him. It turns out neither of them get to kill Missy. Instead, a rogue Cyberman, who we later find out is none other than the Brigadier, steps in and fires on her. It’s a little bit of a stretch, but one I’m willing to accept.

What I’m not as willing to accept is Missy literally killed Osgood. Yes, Osgood, with all her fangirl-ness and campy-ness, was killed by Missy. This was surprisingly dark for a show with a big marketing campaign directed towards children. I can’t admit to being a huge fan of Osgood, but I think her death was more emotionally impact-full than Danny’s. Danny never existed to be more than a plot device, whereas Osgood was kind of a symbolism of the fan base (or at least what Moffat believes the fan girls are like).

Then there’s the ending, oh the ending. after all the Danny stuff we get Clara and the Doctor meeting for the last time in a coffee shop. The Doctor lies about finding Gallifrey and Clara lies about Danny coming back (note, the bracelet that let Danny control the Cybermen also allowed one person to travel back from the dead, and he gave it to the boy he killed in the war. Which, is going to be hard to explain to his parents.). When the Doctor goes to the coordinates Missy gave him for Gallifrey, he finds nothing there. The way Peter Capaldi portrays the emotion of the Doctor is brilliant. The Doctor wants nothing more than to have his people back, to be able to know he can go back home. Time after time it continues to not work out for him. However, Missy would have had to somehow get away from Gallifrey, so series 9? Both the Doctor and Clara want each other to be happy, which makes it even more sad that they lie to each other. They don’t want to burden the other person if they believe the other person is happy or if they can convincingly lie about their own happiness. It was a really intimate moment between friends, culminating in a still reluctant hug from the Doctor, which he did for Clara. See, the Doctor doesn’t like hugs, because according to him “never trust a hug, it’s just a way to hide your face.” Never has it been more true than in that moment, and it’s moments like this that I want Doctor Who to add more of the slower, talking scenes. Let the characters have room to organically develop and talk.

Let's hope for more of this in series 9

Let’s hope for more of this in series 9

Overall, I actually enjoyed “Death in Heaven.” Yes, Missy really didn’t have to be the Master. After all, there was no use of mind control or any Master-type things going on. Being female shouldn’t mean the whole character changes, if that’s the case then why not simply make Missy her own character? On the other hand, they gave her a really good amount of crazy that was absolutely perfect, I only wish she had more screen time, and I’m awaiting her inevitable return (because the Master doesn’t ever seem to really die) hopefully in the near future.

I have been getting tired of Clara, so seeing her go wasn’t such a big deal, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she returns for Christmas.

Peter Capaldi, well, he’s just great as the Doctor. I’m really looking forward to at least another series with him. Towards the end of series 8 the writing started to get off track, with a few episodes having a Matt Smith vibe rather than the mood the beginning of series 8 established for Capaldi’s Doctor. It will be interesting to see what they’re able to do now that he has a full series to go off of.

After the disappointment that was “Dark Water,” Moffat came through with “Death in Heaven.” It still has its fair share of flaws, but it’s a noticeable improvement over the finales of series 6 and 7.

I’ll be writing up a full series 8 review and possibly a more in depth look at Missy. Until then, here’s the trailer for Christmas (Ice Warriors?):

 

 

Here we are, nearing the end of series 8 with “Dark Water,” the first part of this series two part finale. I don’t know where to begin so let’s jump right in.

SPOILERS AHEAD

There are many things I want to cover about “Dark Water,” so let’s start small. Essentially, the story can be summed up that when you die your mind is uploaded into a computer mainframe (or the Gallifreyan equivalent) and your mind can live out the rest of its life, or rather death, there. In the meantime, your body is stored in a tank of dark water. Dark doctor who cybermenwater is a type of liquid that makes inorganic material invisible, so you can only see the organic material beneath or around it. This is used to hide the fact that each dead body is stored inside a Cyberman. Why this is being hid I don’t exactly know, since the great big complex they are being held in is apparently under a cathedral in England, where there must be a ton of room not paid attention to by the city council of the city they are in. Nobody really goes down there, ever it seems, so why hide anything? Aren’t dead bodies sitting on chairs in a water tank strange enough? Who knows, I’m assuming it’s just a convenient way to draw out the plot until the Doctor (and viewers) figure out what is going on. Which occurs towards the end as the water in the tanks is drained and the Cybermen make their way to the city streets, whereupon all the civilians walking don’t seem to care much and forget this happened not to long ago in series 2.

Honestly, it’s not the worst setup for a Cybermen invasion since the episode didn’t waste too much time on the actual Cybermen part of it and if it weren’t for the BBC releasing the final scene from the episode about a week before it aired it would have been a better reveal. But as it stands the BBC released a hefty spoiler.

But wait, how did we even end up at the dead people tanks in the first place? Well, Clara’s talking to Danny in the beginning of the episode, tells him she loves him and then Danny gets hit by a car and dies and goes to the Nethersphere (aka, is uploaded to the computer). So she and the Doctor go and search for Danny. Not before Clara tries to knock out the Doctor and bring him to a volcano and threaten to destroy the TARDIS keys if he doesn’t change Danny’s fate and rescue him. This actually happened and she actually threw the keys into the volcano, except instead of sleeping patches she picks up waking dream patches and the Doctor made sure she would use them on herself. This whole scene was very out of character for Clara. Sure, she was grieving, I get that. But to want to completely hold the Doctor in that position and believe she was destroying the TARDIS keys felt forced and awkward. Yes, there was a nice scene after that in which the Doctor told her he cares for her so much that he would not just leave her even after she wanted to betray him, but the lead up to it was out of place. So then they go off to find Danny.

We finally get Danny’s back story, and it’s actually not bad. He ended up accidentally killing a child when he was a soldier, and it makes more sense now why he’s so protective of the kids at school. Still, he’s not exactly the most dynamic character, and his death in the beginning didn’t affect me on an emotional level and was a clear setup for the rest of the episode. Right, let’s get to the elephant in the room: Missy.

doctor who promoMissy, as we know, has been an arc through series 8. She occasionally shows up to collect dead people, spy on the Doctor, and spy on Clara. Nothing overly exciting, but she’s there and Moffat wanted us to know she’s important. Cool, I was digging it. Sure, putting her in the first episode was a little rushed, but it got the ball rolling. Then the ball must have ran out of air toward the halfway mark and somewhere toward the end found an air pump, leading us to now. Missy is in charge of the Nethersphere and the catacombs under the cathedral. She’s the one building a massive army of Cybermen, which is pretty cool and makes more sense than some previous Cybermen stories. When the Doctor and Clara first meet Missy she pretends to be a robot programmed to attend to the dead and the catacombs. She gives the Doctor the initial greeting for being in the catacombs (I forget the words she used to describe it) which amounted to pinning the Doctor to the wall, making out with him, and kissing him on the nose three times. Strange, but at the time she was supposedly a robot, so perhaps a malfunctioning one. Once the Doctor confronts Missy again he finds out she’s in charge of everything. She’s the Time Lady he left behind years ago. Then, in the final minutes we find out who she is.

Missy, short for Mistress, is the Master.

Yes, Missy is the Master. I have a major issue with this: the only reason the Master is a woman is because they could show her throughout the series and not have everyone know it’s the Master. The only problem is, the Doctor just met Missy, so it’s not like the main character was also trying to figure it out all along, it was just us. The Master being female doesn’t do anything for the actual story other than to create a reveal for the sake of having a reveal and saying how clever the writing was. Now, I understand the Master was a snake before and took over a human body, had a Terminator-esque chase scene, and did a bunch of campy things in the TV movie during the 90s, but this isn’t supposed to be that, except it feels like it.

First, apparently the Master is in love with the Doctor, which is news to me. I’m sorry, I don’t see Roger Delgado (the original Master) being in love with the Doctor, wanting to pin him against a wall and make out. Nor do I see John Simm’s Master doing that either. Second, the Doctor did not leave the Master for dead last they met, but Moffat apparently forgot that. I’m all for strong women characters, which is why I’ve been wanting Romana to return since 2005 and why my favorite shows include Orphan Black, Downton Abbey, and Once Upon a Time. My issue here is Missy doesn’t serve any purpose other than shock value. This could have easily been a male Master and the exact same story could have occurred. In Classic Who (note, they love to say how long the show has been going for) there were Time Lords and Time Ladies. Now they can be either, which makes it all very confusing and without an entire series dedicated to it, Moffat is flying off the top of his head with how the Master should act now that he’s a woman.

I didn’t have high hopes for the Missy reveal because Moffat has a track record of being awful at his reveals, but this has a lifelong fan of the show questioning whether or not he will continue to watch after series 8 if Moffat is still around. It just picks up 50 years of canon, and with no care in the world, throws it on its head. I was all set to get a new doctor claracharacter, but no, it’s the same old Master except now a woman.

So after 40+ minutes of “Dark Water” all I was left with was thinking a) why did they need all that time for what could have essentially been 15 minutes of setup and b) why can’t Moffat just write a story without trying to prove how clever he is? You may also be thinking I haven’t talked much about the Doctor. Well, unfortunately he was about as useless as can be the majority of the time. He literally existed to bring the viewer from point to point. I wouldn’t be surprised if after all was said and done, Clara and Danny, again, had more airtime than the Doctor.

I just want to note, if you’ve been reading my reviews throughout series 8 you’ll know I really enjoyed the first half and most of the second half of the series, which is why it’s so disappointing to write another Moffat finale is starting to disappoint me.

Next week we have the final episode of series 8, “Death in Heaven.” I’m really hoping I can watch it, look back on this review and go “why was I so down and out about ‘Dark Water,’ it set up an awesome finale.” At least that’s what I can hope for, until then here’s a little trailer that seems to have the clips from the “Dark Water” trailer in a different order: