Doctor Who: Season 10, Episode 9 – Empress of Mars

“Don’t belong here? We’re British. Mars is part of the Empire now!”


Well that was exciting, wasn’t it? A thrilling roller coaster ride in which a reptilian Ice Queen’s hard-hearted ambitions were thwarted by a selfless, mild-mannered man appealing to a sense of honour and justice. But enough about the General Election, there was an episode of Doctor Who on too (b’doom tish). Continue reading “Doctor Who: Season 10, Episode 9 – Empress of Mars”

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

“ ‘They are not all successes, Watson,’ said he. ‘But there are some pretty little problems among them. Here’s the record of the Tarleton murders, and the case of Vamberry, the wine merchant, and the adventure of the old Russian woman, and the singular affair of the aluminium crutch, as well as a full account of Ricoletti of the club-foot, and his abominable wife….’ “ – From the journals of Dr John H Watson MD, The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual



It’s not quite a festive tradition as entrenched as the Doctor Who Christmas special, but it’s becoming a pattern that, every couple of years or so, Steven Moffat will deign to present us with a new episode of the sporadic Sherlock on New Year’s Day. Last time this happened, it felt for me like the series’ first major misstep, as Moffat tried to have his cake and eat it by spending half the episode playing with the fans’ anticipated explanations for Sherlock’s survival then never actually explaining it. As if to smirkingly revel further in that sleight of hand, a glancing reference to it here seemed to give a true explanation, but who knows? Continue reading “Sherlock: The Abominable Bride”

Doctor Who: Series 9, Episode 9 – Sleep No More

“It doesn’t make sense! None of this makes any sense!”

Screen Shot 11-16-15 at 05.08 PM


It’s good that Doctor Who has, since its revival, not been afraid to experiment with narrative form and structure. I know it’s divisive, but I really enjoyed Love and Monsters, the first ‘Doctor-lite’ episode, and that format has generally worked well – Blink, Turn Left and so on. However, when the plot starts to serve your narrative gimmick rather than the other way round, you’ll get problems. Continue reading “Doctor Who: Series 9, Episode 9 – Sleep No More”

Doctor Who: Series 8, Episode 3–Robot of Sherwood

“Old-fashioned heroes are only found in old-fashioned storybooks, Clara.”



After a season opener freighted with the need to establish a new Doctor, and last week’s dark morality tale, this week saw Doctor Who return refreshingly to an old-fashioned, undemanding romp with the groan-makingly entitled Robot of Sherwood. Very close in style to some of the classic show’s tongue-in-cheek stories, especially season 17, this saw the Doctor grudgingly agreeing to take Clara to 12the century Sherwood Forest to meet her hero – Robin Hood. Only to find the time-travelling pair caught up in a somewhat contrived plot involving the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham purloining gold from the locals in order to help some robots from the future relaunch their crippled spaceship.

Continue reading “Doctor Who: Series 8, Episode 3–Robot of Sherwood”

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 6–The Laws of Gods and Men

“When I see what desire does to people – what it’s done to this country – I am very glad to have no part in it.”



I love a good trial scene! It’s been a few episodes coming, but it can’t have been too much of a surprise that this week, the trial of Tyrion Lannister took centre stage. What may have been a surprise to fans of the book though was the increasing diversion the various plots were taking – even though they ultimately seem to be leading to the same places.

Continue reading “Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 6–The Laws of Gods and Men”

Sherlock: The Sign of Three

I love you, Mary, as truly as ever a man loved a woman. Because this treasure, these riches, sealed my lips. Now that they are gone I can tell you how I love you. That is why I said, ‘Thank God.’” – from the journals of Dr John H Watson, MD, The Sign of the Four



I must confess, I was a trifle surprised last Thursday to find myself being a little negative about the return of Sherlock. Previously, to many people (including me), it’s been a show that needs little criticism, more polished and better thought through than Steven Moffat’s other series du jour, Doctor Who. Imagine my surprise, then, looking online, to discover that my criticisms of it were mild indeed compared to the vitriolic dissatisfaction of many, including plenty who described themselves as formerly having been unalloyed fans of the show.

Continue reading “Sherlock: The Sign of Three”

Sherlock: The Empty Hearse

‘Holmes!’ I cried. ‘Is it really you? Can it indeed be that you are alive?’” – from the journals of Dr John H Watson, MD, The Adventure of the Empty House



It has been, as was noted several times in the script for this episode, just about two years since we last saw an episode of Sherlock (give or take a fortnight). In that time, the stars and writers of the show have hardly been idle. Benedict Cumberbatch has been seemingly everywhere, most notably as the villain in Big Hollywood Movie Star Trek Into Darkness, while Martin Freeman has had two lengthy epics released in which he plays Tolkien’s famous hobbit Bilbo Baggins (with a third due this year). Mark Gatiss has busied himself with MR James adaptations and a series on European horror movies, while Steven Moffat has been busy with something called Doctor Who.

Continue reading “Sherlock: The Empty Hearse”

An Adventure in Space and Time

“CS Lewis meets HG Wells meets Father Christmas. That’s the Doctor.”


Well that was rather wonderful, wasn’t it? I’ve never previously thought of Mark Gatiss as a writer of moving character drama; sly wit, certainly, dry irony yes. OK, so he’s written a few Doctor Who episodes, but the best of those (The Crimson Horror) was determinedly tongue-in-cheek, much like his work on The League of Gentlemen.

Continue reading “An Adventure in Space and Time”

Doctor Who: Series 7, Episode 12–The Crimson Horror

“We must get to the bottom of this dark and queer business!”


In the late Victorian era, there was a peculiarly lurid, cheap and sensationalistic form of literature known as the ‘penny dreadful’. Capitalising on the recent upswing in literacy, these cheap, sordid tales (costing a mere penny, hence the name) were salacious, excessive, romanticised pulp fictions – so named because they were printed on the cheapest of pulp paper. The newly literate working class devoured this stuff with a passion.

Continue reading “Doctor Who: Series 7, Episode 12–The Crimson Horror”

Doctor Who: Series 7, Episode 9 – Cold War

My people are dead, they are dust. There is nothing left for me except my revenge.”


A very nostalgic episode of Doctor Who this week, as we saw the return of a classic 60s ‘monster’ beloved by the fans but in no way as embedded in popular culture as the Daleks or the Cybermen. The Ice Warriors were back, in a genuinely interesting period piece that revisited one of the most defining aspects of the 80s without miring itself in  big shoulder pads or terrible hairstyles.

For those of us who grew up in the 80s, the looming threat of nuclear armageddon was probably a more all-encompassing menace than Thatcher and a bigger cultural phenomenon than New Romance. It was, as we all knew, the ‘Cold War’. What better war to reintroduce the cyber-augmented reptiles from the freezing planet Mars – the so-called ‘Ice Warriors’?


The Ice Warriors (name coined by a minor human character in their first story, which uncannily turned out to be what they were always known as) are one of Doctor Who’s more inventive aliens; inventive in the sense that, unlike the Daleks or the Cybermen, they had individuality, depth, and a proper culture.

We saw, in their first few stories, that they could be bad guys. Then, along with the Doctor, we had to face up the idea that as individuals, they might be capable of good as well as bad. 1972’s The Curse of Peladon is a groundbreaking story, the first demonstration that ‘monsters’ were actually people, and that it might not be the case that an entire race were ‘bad’ even if the ones we’d seen up to that point were.


As a result, the Ice Warriors have become something of a fan favourite, their ‘honourable warrior’ culture much explored in the Virgin New Adventures and other such fan fiction. But this is their first appearance on your actual television since 1974’s The Monster of Peladon, where they were back to being the baddies. So how did they fare?

Well, it was a script by Mark Gatiss, whose work has been somewhat variable on the show. A huge fan, whose Virgin novel Nightshade was genuinely superb, as a TV writer he’s rocketed from the excellent The Unquiet Dead to the fun but inconsequential The Idiot’s Lantern and then the pretty awful toy relaunch Victory of the Daleks. His work has been so variable, I’ve come to think of it as rating on a ‘Gatiss scale’. Cold War, on that scale, is better than Victory of the Daleks, on a par with The Idiot’s Lantern, but not quite up there with The Unquiet Dead.

On top of being an Ice Warrior re-introduction and a period piece, Cold War also took on the tall order of being a genre piece too – a submarine movie, like Das Boot, Crimson Tide or my all-time favourite, 1957’s The Enemy Below. On that score, it didn’t work out too well. Those movies depend on actual conflict, while this utilised the claustrophobic submarine setting but little else.

Nevertheless, it (perhaps intentionally)  reminded me of another aquatic Who story – the less than classic Warriors of the Deep, itself a re-introduction of sorts for classic monsters the Silurians and the Sea Devils. Warriors of the Deep was actually made at the height of the real Cold War, and reimagined it in a future setting. It was still an obvious allegory for the situation that was, at that point, current.

Mark Gatiss, a child of the 80s every bit as much as me, obviously had his own adolescence as sullied as mine by the threat of nuclear holocaust. With that in mind, it was refreshing that he chose to set his story on a sub belonging to the ‘enemy’ – the Soviet Union. The sub (not, as far as I noticed, named) was populated by the usual Gatiss cast of varying depth (pun intended).


Commander Zhukov (presumably named after WW2 Marshal Georgi Zhukov) was played with some dignity by the excellent Liam Cunningham, Game of Thrones’ similarly seaborne Ser Davos Seaworth, but not really given any more depth than the standard ‘base commanders’ of the Troughton episodes this was reminiscent of. Less, really; he was more like the forgettable Commander Vorshak from Warriors of the Deep.

His (I assume) political officer Lieutenant Stepashin was a good enough performance from Tobias Menzies (especially his doomed attempt to ally himself with the Ice Warrior), but an obvious lift of Tomas Arana’s rather more threatening equivalent in The Hunt for Red October. The rest of the crew, sad to say (even the pretty James Norton as Onegin) were given little more depth than the average Star Trek redshirt.


With the exception of David Warner as the New Romantic-obsessed Professor Grisenko. Warner, a firm genre favourite and veteran of more Star Trek roles than is reasonable, is one of the greatest Doctors we never had, having given us a glimpse of how good he could have been in two ‘alternate Doctor’ Big Finish audio stories. Here, he was as charismatic as ever – I never expected to hear him sing Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ – but while the part was good, and he was good in it, I couldn’t help feeling that his long-awaited appearance in Doctor Who should have been something more significant than, essentially, a comedy bit part.

But what of the Ice Warrior, thawed out in minutes under very similar circumstances to the creatures’ original appearance? On that, Gatiss did really well, exploring aspects of Brian Hayles’ creations we’d always theorised about but never actually had spelled out. It was a given from their very first story that they had some kind of cybernetic augmentation, and certainly their built-in sonic weapons (little used here) were not the product of natural evolution.

Gatiss here did what we’d always wanted – demonstrated that the big green carapace was a removable suit of cybernetic armour. And also that, out of his armour, Grand Marshal Skaldak was at least as much of a threat as he was in it. Douglas Mackinnon’s clever, old-style direction steered clear of showing us the unmasked Warrior until the very last minute – a good strategy, as it turned out, as I wasn’t entirely convinced by the CG facial expressions. Nonetheless, as it stalked the sub picking off unwary crew members, the creature was (again presumably intentionally) a credible threat reminiscent of the original Alien.

And to add menace, we discovered that the armour could be used as a weapon in itself, as Skaldak summoned the empty suit to gun its way tot the command deck. We also learned more of the (somewhat Klingon-inspired) Martian code of honour; Skaldak’s hostility was basically a reaction to the Russians having started the fight, and he was honour-bound to meet them in combat. Discovering (he thought) that his people had died off during his 5000-year slumber, his bitterness against a race whose nations he didn’t distinguish between was understandable. And more than a little affecting, with his stories of his past, and the combat alongside his daughter in “the red snow”.

Cold War

Matt Smith was (as usual) on good form as the Doctor, though he seemed to slip into Tennant’s ‘Estuary English’ accent at one point. The aspect of the Third Doctor overcoming his (understandable) prejudice against the Ice Warriors, and realising their race could be good as well as bad, was a central plot point of The Curse of Peladon. Here, it seemed like a lesson learned, but the point was well-made that, whatever the Doctor thought of himself, Skaldak would see him as a ‘soldier’ every bit as much as the Russians.

So, as is often the case since 2005, it was his companion who saved the day. There wasn’t much of the self-conscious ‘arc’ stuff about Clara this week, which thankfully gave Jenna-Louise Coleman a chance to showcase her character on its own terms. She is, as we know, the standard Moffat self-reliant spunky young woman; I still find her a little identikit in that regard. But that’s no disrespect to the actress, and Coleman was enjoyable here. Her belated acceptance of Grisenko’s invitation to sing ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ was the tipping point that stayed Skaldak’s hand in mercy, reminding him of his daughter singing. It was both amusing and touching.

Aside form the obvious nostalgia value of the Ice Warriors returning, we also got the fanboy-pleasing reference to the HADS – Hostile Action Displacement System – not used or even referred to since 1969’s The Krotons. It was more than a fan-pleasing gesture though, effectively answering the obvious question I asked early on – “why doesn’t the Doctor get everyone out of there in the TARDIS?” Still, alongside last week’s oblique reference to Susan, it’s plain we’re getting 60s references to celebrate the 50th anniversary year. No bad thing, in my opinion; the references aren’t so central as to alienate new fans who won’t get them, and give a little thrill to those of us who do.

All told, while I thought the story wasn’t that inventive, this was an excellent re-introduction of a classic alien – probably the best since 2005’s Dalek. I hope they’ll be back. I also hope that, if they are, the nuances of their culture seen here are retained, and they don’t just become another Big Bad.