Doctor Who: Series 7, Episode 7–The Bells of Saint John

“Human souls, trapped like flies in the World Wide Web.”

Doctor-Who-The-Bells-of-St-John

So which is it – series 7 episode 6, or the opener of a whole new series? Steven Moffat’s experiments with the scheduling of Doctor Who mean that it’s hard to know, with lots of people referring to new ep The Bells of Saint John as a ‘season opener’.

Whether it is or not, it certainly had the hallmarks of one – a bit spectacular, with some awesome London locations (rather than Cardiff pretending to be the capital) and some super set pieces (which actually fitted into the story context rather than being shoehorned in because they looked good). Most importantly, it was a bit of a mini-reboot for the show, with the Doctor reinventing himself in the wake of losing Amy and Rory; that process feels ongoing, having begun in the Christmas special and carrying on here. Along with the new console room revealed at Christmas, the Doctor now got to pick out a new outfit, something traditionally reserved for an incoming new Time Lord.

DW7_6

The ‘Moffatiness’ so common of late was dialed fairly low in the mix. This story was straightforward enough, with no head-scratching time paradoxes, there was fairly little smugly flirtatious witty dialogue, and River Song didn’t even appear (though odds on she was the mysterious ‘lady in the shop’ who gave Clara the TARDIS phone number). Nevertheless, some of the usual Moffat trademarks were in evidence, notably in the ongoing mystery of who exactly Clara is, and the unexpected return of an old villain as the mysterious ‘Client’ – even if that villain turned out to be the same one as in the previous episode.

It did have another Moffat trope at its heart, though it’s one he inherited from 70s script editor Robert Holmes – the central concept took something very ordinary and familiar and turned it into something scary. Here, very much tied up in the zeitgeist, it was Wi Fi networks, and the Cloud. What if, the script asked, the human mind could be linked to a computer, and programmed or downloaded like any other system? If anything, that should have given us a clue as to who the real villain was, but it still came as rather a surprise to me.

We’re all familiar with the list of odd looking Wi Fi networks we see when our mobile devices try to connect, so it seemed not too much of a stretch to assume that one of those weird looking networks might be an alien creature intent on sucking out our brains… well, maybe a bit of a stretch, but not in the world of Doctor Who. As this situation was explained in an X-Files-like precredits teaser, it was reminiscent of nothing so much as the cursed videotape from Ringu; you log on to the network, and 24 hours later, you’re dead. But your mind isn’t – it’s ‘”integrated into the cloud”, for an alien to feast on.

For me at least, this seemed a trifle unclear. The Doctor managed to ‘download’ the prone Clara back into her body – but surely if the body is dead for more than a few minutes, there’s no coming back? When he accomplished having all the minds ‘re-downloaded’, there was some acknowledgement that not all of them would still have a body to return to; I’d say that was probably most of them. Given that Moffat scripts of late have lacked real jeopardy because of his apparent unwillingness to kill characters off for real and permanently, I suppose it’s not too surprising that he left this somewhat unclear.

Still, that was about the only criticism I could find of this rather enjoyable episode (though I’m sure the fan forums will find plenty more). Matt Smith was, as usual, excellent; he’s still plainly loving the role. I liked the return of the fez, and the fact that his bow tie is kept in a little treasure chest. Jenna Louise Coleman, as Clara, has still to truly convince me as a character though. It’s a good, sparky performance. It may not be naturalistic, but Doctor Who acting often isn’t (Smith himself being a good case in point). But, appealing though she may be, Clara still strikes me as almost a stock Moffat leading lady; not a bad thing in itself, but still not vastly different from Amy Pond.

Of course, Clara has an ongoing mystery (thankfully the only convoluted element in this episode). It’s possible that the more of this is revealed, the more interesting I’ll find her as a character. And is it significant that she happened to be the one to ask the question “Doctor Who?” (much to the Doctor’s near-orgasmic delight, it seems)?

I imagine we’ll see more of this kind of thing (and, presumably, the return of River Song) as the series progresses. For now though, the only other element of this story that wasn’t truly standalone was its villain. The script revealed the agency behind the webnapping of human minds fairly early on, with the sinister black office headed by the marvellously frosty Celia Imrie as Miss Kizlett. But from the outset, it was clear that they were acting for somebody else. The mysterious ‘Client’ who knew all about the Doctor and his box – I found myself resorting to that oft-asked question of Sue Perryman, “is it the Master?”

But no (fun though it would be to see John Simm’s barmy renegade again), it turned out to be none other than the Great Intelligence, making this also a sequel to The Snowmen. The plan was very much in keeping with what we’ve seen the Intelligence do before; we know it can possess humans from The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear, though on those occasions it could only manage one at a time. Obviously the advancement of technology has helped, and Wi Fi now enables it (and its minions) to hack into any human brain at any time.

This led to a series of Matrix-like moments where various anonymous passersby turned into conduits for threats to our heroes, including the BBC newsreader. Though I did have to wonder how many uncontrolled viewers found the one-sided conversation rather baffling…

The Intelligence is now represented by the face of its one-time puppet Dr Simeon, meaning it’s now played by Richard E Grant. Shame though it is to lose the voice of Ian McKellen, it’s not like Grant’s any less of a star catch. Since he ‘got away’ in the end, I wonder whether he’s shaping up into the next Big Bad of the story arc?

Director Colm McCarthy, plainly with a bigger than usual budget for the show, had a field day with London locations – barely an exterior shot went by without at least one major landmark in the background. It was hard to begrudge though, and amusing to think that for the classic series, leaving London seemed like a Big Occasion; and these days, having the real London and not a dressed-up Cardiff was a cause for visual extravagance!

McCarthy also did well with the various set pieces. Again, these were pretty ambitious. The Doctor materialising the TARDIS inside an about-to-crash plane was audacious (lucky the passengers were asleep, trying to use the toilets could have ended up with several of the roaming the TARDIS corridors). It was a well-directed action set piece, but topped not too long after by the Doctor employing a flying motorbike to roar up the side of the Shard offices.

Yes, that is pretty over the top, even by action movie standards, and I’m betting some fans will think it’s fairly gratuitous. For me though, it fitted in with the tone of the show – and more importantly, made sense within the context of the story, in a way that such set pieces often don’t. I refer you to – the window cleaning lift in Partners in Crime, the lift cable slide in New Earth, Spitfires in Space in Victory of the Daleks… And many, many more.

So – a good story, that made sense on its own terms without requiring in depth knowledge of a convoluted arc. Some thrilling action set pieces. Great performances from, in particular Matt Smith and Celia Imrie. And the usual self-consciously witty dialogue kept to a controlled minimum (probably because River Song didn’t show up). Whether it’s a season opener, a mid-season opener or whatever, The Bells of Saint John was one of the more straightforwardly enjoyable Doctor Who stories in a couple of years. Please keep it up, Mr Moffat.

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 15–This Sorrowful Life

“Maybe these people need someone like me around. To do their dirty work. The bad guy.”

ScreenShot037

It’s almost over. The penultimate episode of The Walking Dead’s third season was (as I expected) a catch up with the gang at the prison as the tension built for the inevitable season finale confrontation with the forces of Woodbury. But just as last week’s Woodbury episode was also an Andrea episode, this week’s prison ep was really all about Merle. And given the opportunity, Michael Rooker devoured the scenery all the way through. No disrespect to Laurie Holden in last week’s perfectly good episode, but an hour of Rooker as Merle was way more fun.

And emotionally resonant too. We’ve unexpectedly started to see a redeemable side to Merle these last few episodes; it started with his chat to Hershel about reading the Bible at Woodbury’s “damn fine library”. This episode was all about that redemption, or at least its possibility, and both the script and Rooker’s performance kept us guessing all the way through, making it a gripping ride.

We started out with Rick having a hush-hush meeting with Daryl and Hershel (his two chief lieutenants, it seems), in which he confided that he was going to give in to the Governor’s demands, and present him with Michonne. This seemed pretty foolish, given that a couple of weeks ago Rick seemed to have sussed out just how untrustworthy his neighbouring warlord is. But no, being Leader means making hard choices. Would Rick live up to them?

The answer (thankfully) was no – just as Merle guessed. Merle figured heavily from the outset; if he wasn’t actually in a scene, people were talking about him. Caustic he may be, but he also turned out to be pretty perceptive. About everyone but himself, anyway. He correctly surmised that Rick would be too decent to trade another person’s life for his own security, however ruthless he may seem to have become.

Also, he recognised a kindred spirit in the newly independent Carol, in a beautifully played scene between Rooker and Melissa McBride. Recognising how she’d grown out of the shadow of her abusive husband, Merle opined, “maybe you’re just a late bloomer”, to which Carol, seeing a man in search of redemption, replied, “maybe you are too.”

The possibility of Merle’s redemption from the no-good redneck thug we met back in season one hung heavy over the episode. Still of the (accurate) opinion that Rick wouldn’t go through with the deal, he took matters into his own hands by pre-emptively coshing the surprisingly trusting Michonne over the head. I’d have expected her to be more wary around the man who tried to hunt her down and kill her; but still it was a convenient way to get them travelling to Woodbury together for some quality character time.

This being The Walking Dead, the character interaction had to be spiced up with a bit of zombie thrills. So it was that, hotwiring a car (a neat trick with one hand), Merle inadvertently set off its alarm, sounding the dinner bell for every Walker in the vicinity. The ensuing fight saw he and Michonne working together – a taste of things to come, it turned out.

It also meant they had a car to cover the strangely mutable distance between the prison and Woodbury. Last week, Andrea managed the journey on foot in less than a day, even managing to find time for a game of cat and mouse with the Governor. This week, once again, it was a journey you needed to drive. Road trip!

ScreenShot043

Along the way, Michonne gradually needled at Merle’s conscience, getting him to unwillingly recognise that the Governor had turned him into a monster. All right, he wasn’t exactly a nice guy long before he met the Governor; but he wasn’t, it turned out, a murderer. Those “sixteen men” he’d killed had all been since he set up home in Woodbury.

Merle wasn’t exactly happy at having his conscience pricked, threatening to cut out Michonne’s tongue if she didn’t shut up. It’s a tribute to Rooker’s performance that, when he pulled the car over, I half-wondered if he was about to do just that. But no – in an equally surprising development, he cut her bonds and let her go. Then sped off with the assertion that he had “something to do”.

It wasn’t hard to guess what. The script had painstakingly pointed out that Merle was looking for somewhere to belong, and that he could have had a chance with Rick’s group. Realising this, he thought they needed him to be the hardman who does the dirty jobs; it’s all he knows how to do. But as he released Michonne, it was clear that his search for redemption was taking him down the road of heroic self-sacrifice. He was going to take out the Governor – even if it killed him.

ScreenShot044

Being Merle, this involved getting drunk and playing Motorhead at very high volume, to lure the Walkers into following his slow-moving car. This achieved, he led them straight to the appointed venue for the meeting with the Governor – and all hell broke loose. It was another of the show’s superb action sequences, gunfire from all sides and Walkers everywhere. A number of the Governor’s men bit the dust; but no-one we’d heard of. Oh, except Allen’s characterless son Ben. Not much of a loss, but presumably liable to enrage the already asshole-ish Allen – look out for that next week, though it may be hard to care.

All this intensity was counterpointed back at the prison with what, in this show, passes for light relief. Hershel led his daughters in prayer (Psalm 91, fact fans), while Rick was tormented by yet more visions of Lori, forcing him to realise he couldn’t go through with ‘the deal’. Glenn, meanwhile, offered a truly romantic proposal of marriage to Maggie – a ring he’d cut off the hand of a nearby Walker. He really knows how to charm a girl.

ScreenShot045

As the ep ended, so did the ‘Ricktatorship’, as our hero realised he couldn’t bear the burden of decision-making all alone. So it’s back to democracy for our heroes, just in time to be plunged into war – probably the worst time for group decision-making.

Classic tribute zombie

This is obviously getting to be a regular thing, after last week’s many Day of the Dead homages. This week, the zombie we saw lurching out of the bar where Merle was parked looked oddly familiar, if you’ve ever seen the original Dawn of the Dead:

ScreenShot036ScreenShot035

Gore of the week

LOTS to choose from this week, in a veritable gore-nucopia – exactly what you’d expect in an episode directed by effects honcho Greg Nicotero, himself a veteran of Romero’s original Day of the Dead.

The Walker attack triggered by Merle’s car theft led to some of the usual head splattering, courtesy of Michonne’s boot. Perhaps Walker skulls are softer than those of the living due to decomposition:

ScreenShot041

There then followed an inventive use of the phone cord she was tied up with as a method of decapitation:

ScreenShot042

While Merle had to cope with a zombie that seemed to be quite literally falling apart:

ScreenShot040

And that was just the start of it, in an episode more bloodsoaked than we’ve seen in ages. Merle’s climactic ambush on the Governor’s forces led to head shots, entrail-chewing and death galore. But while it might not have been the ep’s goriest moment, nothing beat this shot as a sheer emotional gut-punch:

ScreenShot038

I should have guessed it really. When this show gives that much attention to any one character, it usually means they’re for the chop by the end of the episode. So it proved with Merle, as the heartbroken Daryl discovered. Last week, I postulated that the show wouldn’t dispose of a character as important as the Governor offscreen; this week, that’s exactly what happened with Merle.

Having already bitten two of the fingers off his sole remaining hand (another choice gore moment), the Governor wound up with the ultimate cruelty to his sometime henchman – shooting him, but not in the head. As he knew anyone who dies turns into a Walker, it was about the nastiest thing he could have done. Given that, by this point, we’d started to feel some actual sympathy for Merle, it was a double whammy – the loss of a well-liked character, which also served to underline just how psychopathically cruel the real villain is.

I had actually wondered how long the show would get to keep a big-name actor like Rooker, but I actually assumed he would go out in a blaze of glory in the season finale. What we got here was, in fact, far more devastating. And it means Rick and the crew have to go into battle next week without the wily Merle. At least they still have Daryl – Norman Reedus was at his most intense here, weeping as he stove in his loved/hated brother’s head, rather than let him shamble around as a Walker.

This was a storming episode in a season that’s been full of them this year. There was action, gore, thrills and real drama, and it kept you guessing throughout. Next week (presumably) it’s the Final Conflict. I’m betting on some big spectacle, but I have to wonder if it’ll have the emotional impact of some of the episodes we’ve seen recently. Tune in next week to find out…

In the Flesh: Episode 2

This family’s fucked.” – Jem

ITF2_Kieren

The second episode of new BBC3 zombie drama In the Flesh continued to expand on the intriguing mythology established last week, with yet more revelations about the nature of the ‘Partially Deceased’. Writer Dominic Mitchell is clearly taking the approach of eking out the exposition over the course of the three episodes; that said, as the mythology builds, I’m beginning to think this has enough substance to be given a rather longer running time.

Still, if Mitchell’s intended story only has the legs, in his opinion, for this short running time, who are we to argue? The BBC could always commission a second series, perhaps featuring entirely different characters but within the same established world. Just a thought…

This week, we saw some more interesting counterpoints to Kieren’s POV as an ‘ex-zombie’, with the introduction of two fellow Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferers. This was good; Mitchell has already established that not all the ‘Rotters’ want to live in harmony with society as Kieren does.

The two new characters provided some necessary contrast to that viewpoint. The first was Rick, the previously-assumed-dead son of zombie-hating HVF supremo Bill Macy, and best friend to Kieren. Indeed, the passion of their heart to heart chat in the car later on made me wonder if they had actually been more than friends in their pre-death existence…

We established last week that Macy and the HVF weren’t prepared to give the rehabilitated dead the benefit of the doubt. Ricky Tomlinson’s Ken was this week only to be seen briefly, staring grief-stricken at the black stain on the road where his Partially Deceased wife was ‘executed’. Now Macy had to deal with the fact that his military hero son was coming back as one of the Rotters himself.

ITF2_Macy

As it turned out, both Bill and Rick seemed to deal with the problem basically the same way – by ignoring it. Bill (a convincingly dour Steve Evets) tersely announced to his HVF comrades that Rick was coming home, but not as one of the hated Rotters; though tongues were already wagging. When Rick did come home, steel sutures holding his face together, his approach was similar. He did some target shooting with his dad, then went off to have a few pints – regardless of the fact that any consumption of food or drink simply results in the ex-zombies vomiting up copious amounts of black ooze.

ScreenShot033

Kieren, meanwhile, having got bored of being stuck in the house constantly, paid a visit to his own grave. This led to a flashback of the night of the Rising, as corpses dug their way out of the ground; though it led me to question the make up a bit. As a full-on zombie, Kieren had the standard pseudo-corpse approach that mimics decomposition; sunken eyes, overhanging brow, jutting teeth. As a rehabilitated Partially Deceased, his physiognomy is normal (apart from the bloodless skin and colourless eyes). Does the Neurotryptiline reverse decomposition rather than just arresting it? If so, that would surely make the Partially Deceased virtually immortal.

A possibility that reared its head when Kieren encountered another Partially Deceased for the first time since leaving the Rehabilitation Centre. Amy (the magnificently sparky Emily Bevan) recognises Kieren at the graveside. Fearing the prejudice of the living, Kieren tries warding her off with a metal post, and is horrified when she ‘accidentally’ impales herself on it – only to have a good laugh at his expense. She’s a Rotter too, and apparently their condition includes the usual zombie resistance to pretty severe injuries. Mind you, if they’re all full of black ooze, as previously established, surely Amy would at least have to get the wound stitched up to stop it leaking. Or are these zombies capable of actual healing?

ITF2_Amy

Whatever the case, Amy represents the other extreme from Rick – defiant about not hiding her state, and about carrying on as before regardless of the bigotry directed at her. So much so that she’s keen to wander around Roarton “au naturelle”, without her makeup or contact lenses – which she duly does when paying a surprise visit to Kieren (“I just knocked on every door till I found you”).

The ensuing scene, as Amy joined the Walkers for dinner, was blackly amusing. Kieren’s parents did their British best to avoid the subject of her condition and politely discuss other things, while little sister Jem, still unwilling to eat at the same table as one of the undead, gaped in disbelief.

The bravery of her defiance was obvious after she and Kieren had taken a fateful trip to a local funfair. Recognised as a Rotter by an acquaintance, Kieren had to take to his heels, pursued by the same sort of unthinking lynch mob that used to plague Frankenstein’s monster in the old Universal movies. Which made it all the more challenging when Amy suggested that they try to socialise, and start with the local HVF bar.

Rick may have been trying to ignore his own condition, but wasn’t so insensitive as to ignore that of his former best friend when he turned up with Amy and was banished to a back corridor by the frowning landlady. The increasingly obvious parallel to discriminated-against minority groups was less than subtle; the phrase “separate but equal” was even trotted out. Again, we’ve been here before, notably in True Blood. However well this was done, it had a weary, well-trodden air to it.

ITF2_Rick

Still, we did get some nice conflict as the HVF (increasingly portrayed as incompetent amateurs) discovered an actual Rabid Rotter in the woods. Keen to at least acknowledge his friend, Rick insisted that Kieren should be allowed along on the ensuing hunt, which led to disagreements when the creature was actually discovered. Contrary to standard zombie operational procedure, he was fairly calmly chowing down on a dead animal rather than a person; and significantly, he appeared to be taking care of a little girl zombie, gently feeding her.

That was another interesting, sympathetic take on the zombies of old, amplifying the first episode’s hint that these are more intelligent than your usual ghouls. Clearly, they’re capable of both learning and compassion, attributes the zombies in Romero’s movies were also moving towards (before he ‘rebooted’ the series, anyway).

So Kieren was not altogether happy that Bill Macy wanted to summarily shoot them, rather than hand them over to the authorities for rehabilitation. On top of that, he wanted his son to prove his loyalty and do the actual shooting. It was a classic clash of loyalties – would Rick heed his best friend and show compassion, or would he be true to his father, and in denial of his own condition, ‘murder’ those like him?

It was an interesting moral dilemma – though surely if zombies can be ‘healed’, shooting them summarily would have been made against the law? Again, though, this appears to be a society in flux, which still hasn’t fully adjusted to the post-Rising world. And thanks to the financial greed of the HVF’s very own ‘dumb and dumber’, Dean and Phil (emerging as the comic relief characters this week) the zombies were saved for rehabilitation. Along the way, we also learnt another interesting tidbit of information about these particular zombies; contrary to popular belief, being bitten doesn’t cause you to turn into one. The fact that most people do seem to believe this surely sets up conflicts to come.

Last week, I wondered whether the show’s genesis as a more conventional drama might leave its supernatural mythos fairly sketchy. Plainly this isn’t the case. It looks as though Dominic Mitchell has done a lot of thinking about the ramifications of the scenario he envisioned, and there’s till more to learn about it yet. As a drama, it’s undoubtedly effective, but as a genre piece it’s also more successful than I thought it might be. It still comes off as derivative – notably of Being Human, although the premise that society at large knows about and fears the humanised monsters is equally reminiscent of True Blood.

That said, if you can take the fact that we’ve been here before with other horror archetypes, In the Flesh is shaping up to be a genuinely intriguing bit of fantasy drama. As I said at the outset, I’m now wondering whether its limited run will allow it to fully realise the potential of its concepts. Still, let’s see what next week’s final instalment reveals…

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 14 – Prey

“I knew Philip before he was the Governor. That man still exists.” – Milton

WS_Andrea_Truck

After In the Flesh, it was back to more conventional zombie fare with the latest instalment of this year’s much-improved Walking Dead. Watching the show after BBC3’s innovative version of the zombie myth brings home what a trad take on zombies The Walking Dead is, more so even than George Romero’s later instalments. Contrary to whatever Milton and the Governor may think, these zombies are simply mindless killers, with no ‘spark’ left of their former selves.

Not that this is a bad thing; The Walking Dead is still one of the best dramas on TV right now, and certainly the most indepth exploration of a premise that’s normally confined to 2 hour feature films. Still, as my friend Matt pointed out the other day, it’s getting so involved in the conflict between the human characters that the Walkers are getting treated rather inconsistently. They vacillate between being major threats or minor inconveniences as the story demands.

WD_Andrea_Walkers

Hence, this week, Andrea was able to stroll around among them without much of a problem, but when a bit of tension was required, suddenly she found herself grabbed by one and unable to get free. Except by ramming her knife into the other ones attacking her that is. And that’s another thing; aren’t they getting easier to kill? I’ve alluded to this before, but the human skull is actually quite hard. Pushing a knife through it seems easier here than it should be (eye sockets excepted). Still later in the ep though, they became a major threat once again…

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This week was primarily about the machinations in Woodbury, and very involving it was too. So much so that, in fact, it wasn’t until near the end that I realised we hadn’t actually seen any of the gang from the prison this week.

True, we did see Michonne in a pre-credits flashback, which threw a few more hints about the origin of her now properly deceased Walker companions (“They deserved what they got. They weren’t human to begin with”). And Rick popped up for about ten seconds, but didn’t get any dialogue. No, we were definitely focused on one side of the coming war this week; I’d guess that next week we’ll see the prison group’s side of the preparations, and that the finale will be The Final Conflict. It has a degree of predictability, true, but it’s fun to watch it unfold.

As is often the case, the machinations of the ‘villains’ were more intriguing than the arguments and angst of the ‘heroes’ (though one of this show’s strengths is that neither group strictly fits into either category). Over in Woodbury, the Governor was gearing up for war, with Martinez loading an awful lot of heavy weaponry onto a truck – just as a “precaution”.

But the Governor’s followers aren’t quite the mindless puppets they were, and this week he faced discontent from several directions. Tyreese, plainly more perceptive than Andrea, has already begun to smell a rat (and a pit full of Walkers). Milton, perhaps bolstered by his chat with Hershel, appears to have grown a spine, and is no longer shy about telling his maniac boss that the upcoming fight is a Bad Idea. With predictable results.

WD_Governor_Milton

And Andrea (finally!) has realised that her boyfriend is a psychotic nutter. What clued you in, Andrea? The zombie daughter in a cupboard, the fish tanks full of served heads, the constant propaganda lies? No, it was Milton’s shaky revelation that the Governor has a dentist chair equipped with handcuffs. The relish with which our eyepatched antagonist fondled his torture tools was truly disturbing – especially his lingering delight at the dental pick. Perhaps the first question he’s going to ask is, “is it safe?”

Anyway, this was the final straw for Andrea, a woman who apparently takes a lot of pushing, and she reached for her gun. Unfortunately, Milton wasn’t prepared to let her go that far; fortunately for us, as it would deprive the viewers of the Big Finale. No, Milton still thinks there’s a decent man in there somewhere. Thankfully, Andrea finally doesn’t, so she was straight on to Plan B – leg it to the prison and warn Rick that the proposed deal was off.

Tyreese, meanwhile, was somewhat disturbed at the proposed tactic of letting another phalanx of Walkers loose at the prison. Rick may not have impressed him, but he wasn’t keen on turning a group including women and children into zombie chow. Allen (even more of a dick here than his counterpart in the comics) didn’t agree, and plainly has issues with Tyreese – issues relating to his recently-deceased wife.

It was good to get a bit more background on this gang; we still haven’t learned much about them, and if the comics are anything to go by, Tyreese at least will be a major player. And he’s currently fulfilling the show’s apparent quota of one black male allowed as a major character – let’s hope for his sake that Morgan doesn’t turn up to join the cast as a regular.

Thankfully, the resentment between Tyreese and Allen didn’t simmer on for countless episodes as with Rick and Shane. They got straight to addressing their differences, by means of Tyreese dangling Allen over the pit of Walkers.

WD_Allen_TyreeseScreenShot032

I’m guessing that showrunner Glen Mazzara, who co-wrote this episode, has recently watched Romero’s 1986 classic Day of the Dead, as this was obviously a moment lifted from that movie – specifically, the bit where the angry Steel dangles Miguel over – yes – a pit of Walkers. And it wasn’t the only moment lifted from that movie this week – I counted three.

The others came in a genuinely tense sequence as the increasingly barmy Governor chased Andrea down to an abandoned factory infested with Walkers. I thought I’d had my fill of people stalking each other round abandoned factories after 24 and Homeland, but director Stefan Schwartz managed to wring some real tension out of it. The Governor had a spade, and plainly was going to use it; his hollow attempts at persuasion (“Come back… Woodbury is your home now.”) being pretty unconvincing.

Andrea, for her part, kept having to deal with those inconvenient Walkers. Until they swung once again from being an inconvenience to a genuine threat. Having discovered a stairwell chock full of them, she pulled the door open and hid behind it to unleash them on the Governor, in an obvious ‘homage’ to the moment in Day of the Dead when villainous Captain Rhodes opens a door to find a horde of zombies ready to engulf him.

It was a tense sequence, spiced up by the knowledge that in this show, anyone can die at any time. So for a while, I wondered if the Governor genuinely was going to bash in his former girlfriend’s head; then I wondered whether he’d find himself overwhelmed and bitten or eaten. The script cleverly cut to another scene before we found out, eking out the tension. But no, the Governor’s too good a villain to die offscreen, and he was back just as Andrea reached the prison (which obviously is within walking distance), in time to grab her before she had a chance to call out to Rick. And with the inevitability of a Chekov’s Gun, she ended the episode strapped into the dentist chair. That’ll teach her not to notice she’s shacked up with a sociopath.

WD_Andrea_Chair

Gore of the week

I wasn’t expecting much gore this week, in an episode where it seemed that the humans were the real threat. Thankfully, this year the show has remembered to include some actual zombies in every episode, and in the end I found myself torn between two choice gore moments.

The first was yet another Day of the Dead tribute, as the Governor borrowed one of that movie’s methods of zombie dispatch and offed a Walker with a nicely-aimed shovel through the mouth:

WD_ShovelWD_After_Shovel

But that was rivalled a mere few minutes later, as we saw the aftermath of a mysterious ‘somebody’ (let’s face it, it was Milton) having torched the Walker pit. A tangled mass of charbroiled zombies were still feebly flopping around in a scene that probably topped the mouth/shovel interface:

WD_Barbecue

Only two more episodes to go, and the show’s plainly ramping up for the final act. This was another gripping instalment, with David Morrissey at the top of his game as the Governor’s façade of sanity began to seriously crack. The way he’s crumbling cleverly mirrors what happened to Rick, but Rick seems to be pulling himself together in the face of a seemingly overwhelming threat. Perhaps his only chance is if the Governor (or the ‘AntiRick’) loses it altogether. But I wouldn’t count on that happening before the season finale…

In the Flesh: Episode 1

“I am a Partially Deceased Syndrome sufferer, and what I did in my untreated state was not my fault.”

clip_image002

Zombies! They’re everywhere these days, aren’t they? Since Danny Boyle managed to reinvigorate them with 2002’s 28 Days Later, it seems we can’t get enough of the flesh-eating shufflers, and they’re now in danger of rivalling vampires for most over-exposed horror monster.

Speaking of which, about three years ago I wrote a rant bemoaning the current ‘de-fanging’ of the vampire into a tortured plaything for mopey teenage girls. At the end of it, I sarcastically suggested they pick on another monster, and “try going on a date with a flesh eating zombie”.

I guess the joke was on me; little did I know that, even as I wrote that, author Isaac Marion was finishing off the novel Warm Bodies – basically Twilight with zombies. The movie adaptation has just come out, and dubious though I am about the premise, I will watch it at some point to see what I think. And also because I’m always happy just looking at Nicholas Hoult, even if he’s undead.

clip_image004

Still, the trend of ‘humanising’ monsters, for me, tends to remove the power they have to scare. It’s notable that Star Trek’s Borg, as they became increasingly more human, became increasingly less interesting. The power of the zombie apocalypse archetype, as established in George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead, derives from a clever combination of primal fears – the dead have returned, they’re brainless monsters that want to eat you, and it’s going to cause the end of civilisation. Three very profound terrors that, combined, make a premise that is enjoyably nihilistic. You don’t expect a happy ending in a zombie story.

clip_image006

But even Romero liked to ‘humanise’ his monsters, in line with the vampire villains of his inspiration, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. The fourth entry in Romero’s Dead series proper, Land of the Dead, basically puts the zombies in the role of heroes, as they try dimly to return to their half-remembered lives while the nasty old humans keep shooting them in the head.

All of which is a roundabout way of setting the scene to talk about BBC3’s new bandwagon-hopping zombie drama In the Flesh. Scheduled conveniently in the slot just vacated by the much-loved Being Human, it perhaps suffers from too much similarity to that show. Being Human, you’ll recall, already did a sympathetic zombie in series 3’s episode Type 4. Rotting Welsh party girl Sasha didn’t eat human flesh, but the US Being Human currently has that covered; former ghost Sally has returned from the grave with the inconvenient need to eat flesh in order to avoid decomposing. So far she’s only onto small animals, but at least one of her ex-ghost friends has already taken the plunge with humans.

In the Flesh covers similar territory, with perhaps a dash of True Blood also. The premise is simple; after a narrowly averted zombie apocalypse (the ‘Rising’), the authorities, in tandem with a shady pharmaceutical company, have discovered a way to chemically ‘rehabilitate’ the captured zombies, and re-integrate them back into society as ‘Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferers’. The trouble is, quite a lot of ‘society’ is understandably less than keen to have the creatures that used to try and eat their brains living alongside them in their communities.

With, plainly, a fairly limited budget, the show set about establishing this world with admirable economy, eking out the exposition over the episode rather than trying to dump it on us all at once. So, we learned that there are ‘Rehabilitation Centres’ for the undead, run by the army; there’s a fanatical force of zombie-hating vigilantes called the ‘Human Volunteer Force’; there’s a mysterious drug called ‘Blue Oblivion’ that turns reluctant rehabilitees back to their former ‘rabid’ state; and the date is fast approaching when the ‘Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferers’ are to be released back into the care of their formerly grieving relatives.

clip_image008

The hook for all this is our viewpoint ‘hero’, recovering teenage zombie Kieren (Luke Newberry). Kieren’s about to be placed into the care of his parents, back in his hometown of Roarton, somewhere in the generic rural north. Trouble is, Roarton’s a centre for the anti-zombie HVF, and Kieren’s own sister Jem (Harriet Cains) is a member. Plainly, integrating back into society is not going to be smooth sailing.

The community of Roarton was well-drawn, with a welter of good character actors filling it out. Hence, there’s a fire-and-brimstone preacher played by Kenneth Cranham, fanning the anti-zombie movement, and a pillar of the community (Ricky Tomlinson) whose hatred of the zombies is not all it seems. The show subtly established a revival of that ol’ time religion in the aftermath of a near-apocalypse; Kieren’s room at the Rehabilitation Centre has a cross on the wall, the TV is showing documentaries about Jerusalem, and Cranham’s preacher is a far more powerful figure in the community than you’d currently expect.

clip_image010

From Kieren, we got to learn about the kind of ‘zombies’ we’re dealing with here, though I at least still had plenty of questions. Apparently, like the zombies in Return of the Living Dead, they only like to eat brains; and again like those zombies, they retain a certain amount of intelligence even when ‘rabid’ – enough to coordinate hunting in pairs anyway. They have to be dosed daily with ‘Neurotriptyline’ to remain intelligent (through a gruesome looking hole at the base of their necks). They don’t eat, leading to some amusing scenes in which Kieren pretends to chew his family dinner rather than upset his parents. And they have to wear make-up and contact lenses to more closely resemble their formerly-living appearance.

clip_image012

OK fine – but if they don’t eat ‘food’, how do they sustain themselves? Do they age? And what about decomposition – at one point, we establish that they used to eat brains to stave this off, so does the drug now do that for them?

It does seem ironic to be arguing about points of logic for a fictional creature that’s returned from the grave to eat brains, but if we’re tinkering with the myth, it’s a good idea to get in-universe ground rules in place. I like that the show is taking its time over the exposition, but with only three episodes, perhaps it should establish exactly what we’re dealing with early on. Unless writer Dominic Mitchell is intentionally leaving these things ambiguous, which I don’t think will do the show any favours.

However, the show’s basic USP – showing ‘outsiders’ and their struggle to be accepted into ‘normal society’ – is well enough done (if all too reminiscent of True Blood). Kieren is a likeable, sympathetic character, but the motivations of those who hate zombies are sympathetically drawn too. The Human Volunteer Force was formed to deal with the zombie Rising in the face of total inaction from the authorities (represented here by a mealy-mouthed minister who was all too believable, given the current Government). Many of their friends were killed; so it’s understandable that they’re not ready to welcome the former harbingers of the apocalypse back into their living rooms.

clip_image014

There was a lot of imagination on display here, along with some genuinely dramatic character interaction. Kieren’s sister Jem was perhaps too easily swayed back into caring about her brother, given her convictions earlier, but it allowed for a nice conflict of loyalties to be set up as she uncomfortably accompanied her HVF comrades on a raid to find a ‘Rotter’ living among them.

That scene was cleverly set up to make us assume they’d found out about Kieren, leading to the amusing spectacle of his parents tooling themselves up with a nail-studded cricket bat and a chainsaw. Little details like that were a nice visual shorthand to the way society had changed in the aftermath of the Rising.

But it wasn’t Kieren they were after. It turned out to be genial old Ricky Tomlinson’s wife, neatly characterised as a loveable little old lady to make the HVF’s actions seem even more monstrous. They shot her in the head, of course – though here again, do we know that that’s the only way to kill a ‘Rotter’ in this universe?

As an opening episode, this had a lot to set up, and (mostly) did it well, avoiding the infodumps of clumsy exposition in similar shows. Despite some nice visuals in various establishing shots though, it played out rather stagily, with most scenes being tense character interactions in rooms. A sign, perhaps of writer Dominic Mitchell’s theatrical background – or perhaps that this actually started life as a stage play?

I’m not sure what metaphor – if any – Mitchell’s reaching for with the zombies. Vampires are often made blatantly analogous to homosexuals (True Blood) or drug addicts (Being Human). The HVF at least, bear more than a passing similarity to certain Northern Irish paramilitary groups, but if there’s a point being made there, I’m not sure what it is.

Like Being Human, this started life as a non-genre piece, in this case about a mentally ill young man trying to come to terms with the aftermath of a violent attack he’d carried out. I wonder if Mitchell is quite prepared for the level of attention his script will get now it’s under the merciless scrutiny of genre fans?

But dramatic though the show undoubtedly is, it still has room for some wry black humour. The concept of rebranding zombies as the ‘Partially Deceased’ smacks all too accurately of modern media spin, and I also liked the idea of zombies undergoing group therapy to come to terms with the guilt from their former carnivorous activities. It was also interesting to see that some of the Rotters, far from regretting their actions, felt resentful at being forced into passivity – nicely embodied with an all too brief turn from the ever-likeable Alex Arnold (Skins) as Kieren’s rebellious roommate.

clip_image016

In the Flesh was interesting and imaginative – but in a field already occupied by the likes of True Blood and Being Human, it did feel a little redundant. Still, it’s well-written and entertaining enough, and with three episodes, it’s unlikely to outstay its welcome. I’ll be back for more next week.

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 13 – Arrow on the Doorpost

“I wanted you to talk. Too many people have died for no reason. Let’s end this.”

ScreenShot028

Let the summit begin! After last week’s intriguing diversion, The Walking Dead was back to this year’s story proper, which is increasingly beginning to resemble a classic war movie. With that in mind, this episode was very much the lull before the storm, as the two leaders met for a clearly-doomed peace summit arranged by the ever-optimistic Andrea.

It was far more of a character based instalment than we’ve been used to this year, with the gore and zombie action taking a back seat to moments of intrigue and interaction. Last year, it often felt like that was all the show did, and it eventually became tiresome. After this year’s near-unrelenting action, though, it felt like a breath of fresh air. And these characters have been so well-drawn that it was a pleasure to watch them together, many of them meeting for the first time.

Principal among those, of course, were Rick and the Governor. We’ve seen them onscreen together before, but only shooting at each other from a distance. This episode gave the show’s two alpha males a chance to properly meet face to face, and it was electrifying. Keeping the visuals mostly down to tight close ups heightened the claustrophobic feel of the scene.

ScreenShot022

Summoned to a remote barn by arrangement of Andrea, the two leaders circled each other warily before sitting down to a talk that felt every bit as combative as gunfire. Both Andrew Lincoln and David Morrissey were at the top of their game here; rightly, their exchange took centre stage in the episode. As with last week, it was another example of a US drama being dominated by two British actors pretending to be American – we may have Damian Lewis to thank for starting that trend, with Band of Brothers back in 2001.

Rick was as taciturn as we’ve come to expect these days, staring warily at his opponent, who was presenting his usual genial, charming façade. You got the feeling this was not going to go well from the start, as the Governor raised his hands to show he was weaponless, but we saw a gun taped to his side of the table. With one of his opening gambits being to needle Rick about the possibility that Lori’s child was actually Shane’s, they were clearly not going to get on.

ScreenShot026

Still, the Governor was all smiles as he presented his case – he was the victim, the problems had all started with Merle, and Woodbury had been the subject of an unprovoked attack against its innocent population. Fortunately, Rick wasn’t as gullible as Andrea, and plainly didn’t believe a word of it. But getting down to brass tacks, the Governor conceded that he could have already killed everyone in the prison. The fact that he hadn’t was evidence that he was prepared to leave them alone if he got what he wanted.

And what he wanted (unsurprisingly) was Michonne. Not only has she ‘killed’ his daughter, she’s also the one responsible for his current Cyclopean state – a lift of the eyepatch to reveal the mess below ramming that home. The ice between him and Rick thawed a little when he related the story of his wife’s (pre-apocalypse) death, which shed some light into his mental state and why he was so attached to his daughter.

It’s a measure of how much Rick has shifted from his pre-apocalypse morality towards the survivalist pragmatism embodied by Shane that he didn’t appear to be entirely ruling out the idea of giving up Michonne. And just when she’s getting properly accepted by the group too. But he’s canny enough to realise that most of what the Governor says is a pack of lies, so surely he won’t just trustingly turn up at their next meeting with Michonne and expect the deal to hold?

Even with those two holding centre stage, there was nevertheless some screen time available for some of the other characters. Both Rick and the Governor had turned up with a small retinue of henchmen, who were obliged to wait outside with Andrea while negotiations took place.

In standard war movie fashion, said henchmen discovered that they were Not So Different, and even bonded a bit. With a certain amount of contrivance, both parties had brought characters who were roughly equivalent in their respective roles. Rick had brought Daryl and Hershel (how did he drive that car with only a left leg?), while the Governor had brought Martinez and Milton.

ScreenShot024

Predictably perhaps, each paired off for a bit of bonding with their opposite numbers, and found they had More In Common Than They Realised. After starting off growling at each other, Daryl and Martinez ended up having a Legolas/Gimli style contest over who could violently kill the most Walkers, ending up (sort of) friends. It was nice to see a bit more depth given to Martinez than just Principal Henchman, as he and Daryl had a smoke together and fatalistically concluded that they’d soon be on opposite sides of a battlefield.

ScreenShot025

Hershel and Milton too found some common ground, as Men of Learning. They’re also the respective consciences of their groups, though Milton lacks the courage to stand up to his glorious leader the way Hershel does with Rick. Andrea, meanwhile, suffered the indignity of being ejected from the peace talks and faced, yet again, a choice between luxury with a psychopath or hard living with a decent man. Evidently still wearing blinders, it was the Governor she ended up heading off with when proceedings were adjourned.

There was some character conflict going on back at the prison too, as the newly butch Glenn butted heads with loose cannon Merle. Merle was all for taking out the Governor while they knew where he was; Glenn didn’t want to put their friends in danger. Significantly, it took the women to break up their territorial pissing contest, Beth firing a gun to separate them.

Glenn also found time to reconcile with Maggie after their recent disagreements, leading to one of the show’s rare sex scenes. Mind you, given that he was supposed to be on watch at the time, it seemed a pretty dumb moment to let his and Maggie’s youthful passions run free. Another sign, perhaps, that for all his newfound manliness, he’s not quite up to leading the group yet.

Gore of the week

Not much gore this week, given that the ep centred on the characters. That said, there were still plenty of Walkers in evidence (unlike last year), with lots of them clawing at the prison fence. Gore prize, however, has to go to Martinez for his skilful use of a baseball bat to inflict head wounds. Less artful than Daryl’s precisely aimed crossbow bolts, the bat made a right old mess of several Walkers. Who’d have thought the human skull could be pulped quite so easily?

ScreenShot023

Despite this being a more thoughtful, slow-burning episode than many of late, it was no less riveting. The parallels to classic war movies were perhaps a little too overt – at one point I wondered whether Daryl and Martinez would suggest a game of football – but still enjoyable for all that.

Nonetheless, the end felt like a foregone conclusion. This war isn’t going to be averted; the Governor’s already setting up plans to ambush Rick at their next meeting. In any case, dramatic convention dictates that after all this buildup, there’s got to be a spectacular climax. Still, this was a quality bit of drama, giving the characters a chance to interact well without interruption from gunfire or zombies. With only three episodes left to go, don’t expect that uneasy calm to last.

Being Human: Series 5, Episode 6–The Last Broadcast

“To desire to be human is the end, not the beginning. To want it is to have it. You’ve already won.”

BH_5_6_The Gang

Well, I’ll be damned – Toby Whithouse has managed to have his cake and eat it.

When I first wrote about Being Human’s cancellation, I was sceptical about his apparently conflicting statements that he’d given the show a definite end, but that it would “keep fans guessing”. That sounded to me like he’d been informed of the cancellation after the fact, and was trying to make excuses for leaving us with an unresolved cliffhanger.

But no – I should have had more faith in the writer who’s rapidly impressing me as one of the best fantasy scripters out there. Not only did both of those statements turn out to be true, this final ever episode managed to fulfil some very tall orders. It served as a capstone to the show’s mythology and themes, gave us an emotional sendoff for characters I really didn’t want to say goodbye to, and provided a real ending – albeit with enough ambiguity to satisfy fans who wanted a happy end and those who wanted to see our heroes go out in a blaze of apocalyptic glory. All of that, and it managed to be a gripping, tearjerking hour of television with more horror, twists and humour than I had any right to expect.

We picked up exactly where we’d left off – Alex was trapped in her own grave, Tom was whittling stakes, and Hal was awakening his newly slaughtered vampire army at a local pub. Of all the things I probably didn’t expect in the show’s last ever episode, I’d rate a musical number pretty high among them; but that was what we got, in a blackly funny scene as the bloodstained Hal danced around the bar singing ‘Puttin on the Ritz’, even while tapping his newfound recruits awake.

BH_5_6_Tom

No that they lasted long, as Tom stormed in with stakes and phials of his own blood to put them back down in a Matrix-style action sequence that was pure brilliance before taking on Hal himself. Now that was a fight – kudos to director Daniel O’Hara for making the whole sequence so thrilling.

BH_5_6_Hal

And that was just the first five minutes. This was a full throttle episode from the start, which still had plenty of room for depth and introspection even while not stinting on the action. Fortunately, Alex had figured out that she could walk through solid objects and escaped the grave (which, admittedly, did rather undercut last week’s cliffhanger), and was there in time to stop Hal and Tom killing each other. This was fortunate because, as she put it, “shit’s getting real out there.”

Indeed it was, as the newly revitalised Captain Hatch (aka Beelzebub) had been taking a stroll around Barry before heading off into the wider world. I’d been wondering what exactly the Devil was going to get up to if freed; it became clear that, as usual, he was going to start the Apocalypse.

Yes, not very original I know. But it’s hard to dislike Phil Davis when he gets his teeth into a part like this. No longer a decrepit cripple, he pranced around with a fedora and a bright yellow tie, muck to Rook’s surprise, before letting the stuffy civil servant in on the truth. And forcing some info out of him that would turn out to help him spread his suicide-inducing ways to a much wider audience.

The vision of the Apocalypse starting in a place as prosaic as Barry Island was strangely in keeping with this show’s familiar mix of the supernatural and the mundane. It looked a bit low-budget, with the devastation confined to a couple of car crashes and a few bloodied corpses on the eerily empty streets. But the sense of a wider catastrophe was cleverly introduced with a news broadcast of the suicide epidemic spreading to Cardiff as our heroes, forced to ally against the greater evil, learned from the shaking Rook the venue for the Final Confrontation. Hatch (aka Old Nick) was off to take control of the country’s emergency broadcast system and spread his message of doom to the whole of Britain.

Toby Whithouse has never been shy about… er, pilfering from writers he admires. Way back in series 3, that nail-biting confrontation between Nina and the revitalised Herrick (“You know, you were the only one who was kind to me? I think I’ll let you live.”) was taken almost verbatim from an old Alan Moore comic, Marvelman:

BH_Marvelman

This time, in the first of several instances this episode, Whithouse managed another ‘homage’ to Moore; Hatch’s Address to the Nation was basically a rerun of the one from V for Vendetta: “I think it’s time we had a little talk.”

ScreenShot021

But his demonic broadcast was interrupted by the arrival of our heroes, intent on restaging the ritual from 1918, and getting it right this time – to destroy the Devil. Amusingly, Hatch cut to the old Potter’s Wheel interlude while he was otherwise engaged:

“I’ll be right back.”

And here was where the episode got really twisty-turny. “You haven’t told them the fine print, have you?” smirked Hatch to Evil Hal. The ritual – involving a ghost drinking the mixed blood of vampire and werewolf – would kill all three. Except Evil Hal was clever, and had snatched some blood from a dying vampire earlier – just the same way he’d escaped ‘alive’ in 1918.

No dice though – Tom and Alex were still up for it, provided Hal would kick the Devil’s arse next time he showed up. Which was when the Old Tempter pulled his greatest trick, living up to that particular nickname. All three of them found themselves placed – apart – with their greatest temptations.

For Alex, it was never having died, and being with her dad (Gordon Kennedy, marvellous as ever). For Tom, it was being free of his curse and living in Honolulu Heights with the now-pregnant Allison. And for Hal, it was being back in the Belarussian forest where he was turned 500 years ago, and having the choice to die a human, never inflicting his brand of slaughter on the world. For added guilt, Leo turned up to persuade him that his own murders were a direct result of Hal’s decision.

It was good to see both Louis Mahoney as Leo and Ellie Kendrick as Allison; their appearances were vital to the plot, rather than just the sort of fan-pleasing gesture that Doctor Who so frequently does. But Hatch, simultaneously appearing to all three (“I’m not omnipresent, but I can multi-task”) had missed the thing that was so vital to all of them – each other. His temptations didn’t work because he’d missed the bonds of friendship this year’s series has so convincingly established. And so they said no to the Devil, and were back in the Emergency Broadcast studio. With the original blood mix smashed on the floor, even Evil Hal was prepared to die to stop the Apocalypse.

The sequences of the trio being tempted were both funny and heart-rending, and beautifully played by Damien Molony, Michael Socha and Kate Bracken. It was a real punch the air moment as the three were intercut telling Hatch where to get off. As it was when Rook, now rehired by the Home Secretary (Whithouse in one last cameo) unexpectedly blew Hatch’s head off.

It seemed a bit unsatisfactory as an ending, Hal opining that the Devil had “dispersed into the atmosphere”. But it was the first in a series of false endings that kept us guessing throughout. In a nutshell – Rook turned up, turned out to be possessed by the Devil, was cast out by the ritual, which the gang unexpectedly survived, and was then killed by Hal, casting Satan out for good. And as Alex discovered that she’d laddered her tights, the truth became clear; with the Devil gone, so had all their curses. They’d wanted so much to be human – and now they were.

BH_poster

True, it seemed a little convenient. I could understand Hal and Tom going back to their human selves, but Alex? Being dead already, wouldn’t she just have shuffled off to the afterlife? Still, as the heroes got used to their newly human status (be careful what you wish for) and settled down, as ever to watch Antiques Roadshow, Whithouse sprang the final twist – the origami wolf (shades of Blade Runner) Hatch had left on the mantelpiece in Tom’s hallucination.

And that’s the ending he promised, that would keep us guessing. Did our heroes win, and get to live out natural lives as humans? Or are they still trapped in their greatest temptation, a happy life together, as the Devil spreads his Apocalypse through the world? What Mr Whithouse has done here is – he’s Inception’d us.

Yes, just as the end of Christopher Nolan’s mindbender (itself reminiscent of the original Total Recall) never definitively states if Leo DiCaprio has got back to the real world, so fans can take this ambiguous climax in the way that makes them happiest. If you want a happy ending, fine – they got one. If you wanted the heroes to perish while the world burned, fine – that might be just what happened. Something for everyone.

I can understand that some might find the ambiguity frustrating. But for me it was just right. I can come down on either side of the fence according to my mood! And in the end, this served perfectly to sum up the show’s continuing theme of what ‘being human’ really means. Even when they were ‘monsters’, as Hal pointed out, they were still ‘human’ – with all the flaws, possibilities and drive to improve that make us all human. A fitting capstone to five years of a show that will always be one of my favourites.

BH_Collage