Friday, October 24, 2008

Story Publication

I wrote a few posts back that one of my short horror stories had been accepted for publication in a magazine called Murky Depths ... well the cover for the issue (number 6) has just been released, and it's a doozy :) The magazine is fairly new ... been running for just over a year now, but the editor, Terry Martin, is very proficient at seeking out the best content. It's a mixture of graphic novel stories and prose fiction, all designed to the highest calibre and illustrated by artwork from some impressively talented artists. Basically it's a horror fiction magazine with an agenda to present disturbing fiction of all sorts, along with some top-notch artwork. I hope folks reading this might be moved to give an issue a try (maybe the one with my story in *grin*) and so please head over to to find out how to get hold of a copy. As I know myself all too well, small presses in the UK need support to survive, and when someone is putting a lot of time and exceptional talent into a project, then news of that needs to be spread so that more people can discover it, and hopefully ensure longevity in a difficult marketplace.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

FantasyCon 2008

The annual FantasyCon convention was held in Nottingham over the last weekend, and as usual I was there to hopefully sell some books, but mainly to meet up with friends and have a great - if slightly drunken - time. I arrived on Friday, and after dumping the books in the Dealer Room, headed off to see what might be happening. The organisers were busy filling the delegate bags with a pile of goodies kindly donated for the event, which this year included books, fliers, a poster, a smart little CD of erotic poetry by Sam Stone (on which I am one of the readers!), and a brilliant convention magazine. The first event of the weekend for me was the Quiz which took place on the Friday night. I was hosting, asking questions posed by the devious minds of Sandy Auden, John Aitken and Gary Couzens. The questions ranged from the hard to the impossible, and, as it was International Talk Like A Pirate Day, I had to do just that for some of the time. Initially it looked as though the room would be empty as there was a book launch for Humdrumming taking place at the same time, but we eventually managed to rustle up four teams and hopefully all had a good time. The next morning, Telos had a launch for three of the non-fiction books, and this was combined with a launch by fellow publishers Murky Depths for Killing Kiss, a novel by Sam Stone. Because of the time of day, we decided to go for a tea and coffee themed affair, with chocolate biscuits, A fair few people came along, which was great and we managed to sell a few books too! Sam Stone managed to out-glam everyone though, and her book went down very well indeed, much to the delight of Terry Martin from Murky Depths. Throughout the convention there were readings in a 10th floor room, which seemed to attract a fair few attendees (probably dependent on what was happening elsewhere to be honest) and among those reading was Allyson Bird, who read from her first collection Bull Running for Girls. It's a great looking book, and Allyson was delighted to sell out of copies over the weekend, proving that the short story is as popular as ever. I was on a Doctor Who panel with friends Rob Shearman, Mark Morris, Simon Guerrier and Simon Clark and we had a great time, but barely scratched the surface of the subject. The audience seemed pleased though and it was great to chat about Telos' novellas and about the whole Doctor Who phenomenon. Saturday evening was the BFS Awards Banquet and we all got dressed up to the nines. The food was passable, and there were strange squidgy rubber body parts scattered all over the tables which was interesting! After the Banquet the BFS Awards were presented, and unfortunately Telos didn't win. We were only in the Novella category with Black Tide, a great zombie yarn by Del Stone Jr, but the award was taken by Conrad Williams for his excellent PS Publishing book The Scalding Rooms. After the Awards came the Raffle. This is almost legendary in BFS circles and can be entertaining and enlivening, but it can also be dry as dust. Thankfully hosts Guy Adams and Sarah Pinborough were lively and engaging and it passed the time nicely. There were books galore, signed copies sometimes, proofs, a corset(!), artwork, goodie bags from the BBC, DVDs and lots more besides. I didn't win a thing of course ... but then that's usual with me no matter how many tickets I buy. The Raffle ended at around midnight when, despite the lure of Dave McKean film shows, I couldn't stay awake any longer and so crashed! Sunday and things slowly slid down to a quiet close. I was on a panel about organising conventions which was interesting, and then there was a Small Press Launch which seemed to go well and brought the convention to a close. Overall it was an enjoyable affair, enlivened by much alcohol and bonhomie. FantasyCon is always a very friendly event, and it was good to make some new friends this year as well as catching up with people I'd not seen for a year! Here's to next year ...

Monday, August 25, 2008


Been watching quite a few films lately ... so here's a quick rundown: HELLBOY - watched this again in preparation to seeing the new one. I like the way it mixes up the physical, prosthetic effects with CGI giving an overall impression of realism which can so often be lost with CGI-only effects. I remembered enjoying this the first time, and a second viewing doesn't disappoint. HELLBOY 2 - went to the pics to see this one ... and it's well on a par with the first. What is interesting is that the first film is complete in and of itself, and so this second film, although it is a continuation of the story, doesn't really link to the first. There is a quick recap at the start of Hellboy's origins, and a fairly pointless scene of him as a kid - ramming home what the eventual denoument to the whole film will be - but otherwise it's another great romp. I thought Luke Goss eas magnificent as the Elven prince, and the princess was also very nicely played. The mix of physical vs CGI is used to good effect again, and the whole thing rattles along in very enjoyable style. There are touches of Del Toro's design preferences coming through in the Elven Chamberlain and the strange Eagle/witch/woman, and his imagination still soars through the visuals and mix of fantasy and science fiction. The main part that annoyed me was the attack by the tooth fairies at the start. There are millions of them, and they shoot at them! That's like trying to disable a swarm of bees or wasps by shooting at them ... it's simply never going to work. And yet they spend quite a bit of time plugging away at them before Mrs Hellboy does her 'flame on' act and saves the day (speaking of which, her flames are red in this film but blue in the first ...) LET THE RIGHT ONE IN - This is a Swedish vampire film I saw at Frightfest. Before it started, the writer stood up on stage and said that anyone who didn't like it was evil ... well I must be a bit evil then. The film was OK ... but glacially slow. It really dragged which is a shame as there's a good plot there, good characters (though the two child leads struggled a little) and some nice set pieces. It's basically the coming of age story of an 11 year old boy who is bullied at school. He befriends a 12 year old girl next door who also happens to be a vampire, and she encourages him to fight back against the bullies. Meanwhile her helper, a man who could be her father, or brother, or just a friend, is killing the menfolk around the town to provide blood for Eli to drink until he is trapped and, in a strange moment, disfigures himself with acid before allowing Eli to kill him too. In this way, there is an undercurrent that Eli is just using the boy and he will grow, killing for her and hiding her just as her previous human did. Maybe I'm cynical, but it did throw another level onto the kids' relationship. Maybe with half an hour cut out (it's around 2 hours long) it might work, but even shorter the pace is so very very slow. There is a cracking final sequence in a swimming pool which had the audience applauding, but it was a long time to wait to get to it. Another friend said he loved the slow build-up and the pacing, so maybe it's me and the film is fine. I've been spoiled on a diet of fast-paced blockbuster movies! DARK CITY - I picked up the new director's cut of this and watched it ... great film! It's a long time since I saw the original, and so I couldn't tell what was new/different this time. However the film really hangs together well, and it all belies when it was made, the effects are smooth and integrated and the visual design of the film is boggling. Richard O'Brien is awesome as the somewhat obsessed Mr Hand, and the strange aliens led by Ian Richardson are a cross between the Hellraiser Cenobites and the Gentlemen out of Buffy. It's a film that makes you think and appreciate the performances and the love and care that went into it. All the cast are superb, and overall this has to be one of the best films for re-watching as I'm sure you'll see more and get more from it every time. David

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Doctor Who - Journey's End

Well it's taken a little time, but I've finally found some moments to pen thoughts on the final episode of this year's Doctor Who. What a whirlwind ride it was! I'll add some thoughts on the season as a whole at the end, but first we need to address that cliffhanger.

It really was an inspired way to end an episode - with the Doctor apparently regenerating and yet no-one, not the press, newspapers, magazines or anyone knowing about it. Of course I was thinking that it was a fake, that this couldn't be a real regeneration or Russell and crew would have pulled off something quite incredible. But part of me really wanted it to be true, for there to be a new Doctor that no-one knew about. Thus the week was spent waiting for Saturday ... waiting to see what would happen ... and sort of expecting, if I'm honest, a let down.

Well the regeneration as we now know was a fake. It was a mcguffin, nothing really to do with much at all, and over so quickly too. The shots of the Doctor's hand bubbling away in The Stolen Earth were a bit of a giveaway too - setting the scene for the significance of the hand. And I liked the way that the hand linked things together as well ... in fact the way that Russell brought together several elements was clever here - especially as in some cases he could have had no idea that he might re-use the elements in this story.

As this was a final, season-ending episode, and the second part of a two part story, it tended to cram a lot in ... so all the cliff hangers were really non-cliff hangers. Sarah's bursting into tears as the Daleks surround her car was resolved by them just wanting to take her prisoner, despite Mickey and Jackie arriving with more big Dalek-busting guns. And at Torchwood, well they have the biggest mcguffin of all as apparently Tosh, before she died, perfected a time lock to protect the hub from invading Daleks. Which is convenient but not very helpful as Gwen and Ianto now have to sit the rest of the episode out, a little like the 4th Doctor and Romana in The Five Doctors ...

Meanwhile Martha heads off via teleport to use the Osterhagan key and ends up 60 miles outside Nuremberg where there are Daleks speaking German! Aside from this being really cool, it brings home that the TARDIS isn't on the Earth and so there's no autotranslate system in operation. Speaking of which ... I forgot to mention the system's failure last episode where the Judoon's speech was not translated - and the Doctor's reply was also in Judoon! Shades of The Doctor's Daughter. One thing that's worse than using a mcguffin, is ignoring (or forgetting) something that is well established, and this will-it-or-won't-it approach to the TARDIS translating language is one of those.

So the Doctor, Rose, Donna and Captain Jack arrive on the Dalek Crucible, which is a huge Death-Star-like space station. As they leave the TARDIS, Donna is distracted by heartbeat sounds again and remains inside ... so that when the Dalek Supreme drops the TARDIS into the z-neutrino energy heart of the ship, she goes with it. But amidst the explosions and destruction as the TARDIS is boiled alive, Donna sees the Doctor's hand-in-a-jar glowing and touches it, suffusing her with energy, and making the hand grow a new Doctor! So we have two Doctors now ... the same Doctor twice. Confusing and puzzling, but very entertaining. And a nice element to add to the mix. So the regeneration wasn't a complete mcguffin as it has a large amount of significance to the plot. Much more satisfying then, than just having it happen for no reason at all.

Jack is exterminated by the Dalek Supreme (but he's Jack so isn't killed) and so escapes as the Doctor and Rose are taken to the cellar to be Davros' playthings. Jack sees a group of humans heading to test the reality bomb, among them Sarah, Mickey and Jackie. Sarah and Mickey escape the group and join Jack, but Jackie is trapped there. At the last moment, she is able to use her dimension-jumping teleport to escape (it conveniently having a 30 minute recharge period), leaving the lady from Eastenders to be disintegrated along with the rest of the kidnapped humans by the bomb which cancels the electrical enegery between atoms, making everything in the vacinity just fall apart (of course we wonder how the Dalek ship was protected from this then ... why didn't the whole chamber just cease to exist?)

Conveniently Sarah has a warp star - some sort of energy source given to her by a Baran soothsayer - and Jack fashions this into a weapon. Martha gains access to the room where the Osterhagan key can be used to detonate 25 nuclear bombs around the Earth which will destroy the planet. Both then threaten the Daleks simultaneously. It's lucky how all these things come to pass at the same time. After all, Martha's threat wouldn't be much good in ten or even five minutes time ...

The Doctor and Rose meet Davros who is just superb! Out of everything in this jam-packed couple of episodes, Julian Bleach is simply divine as Davros, using the same quiet tones and menace as Michael Wishers's original, but adding his own twists to create a memorable and effective villain. Far better than the visually impressive but silly Dalek Sec Hybrid, the shouty CyberController or the loopy Master. His speech about the Doctor turning his friends into weapons was brilliant. Loved it. Even the flashback sequence, so overused and crass when used in the 80s, really works well here.

We're now approaching endgame as all the pieces are in place, and the drama is reaching its conclusion.

The Dalek Supreme easily disarms Jack, Mickey, Jackie and Martha and brings them all to the Crucible and Davros orders the reality bomb to be detonated. Then the TARDIS arrives in the room bringing Donna and the newly created Doctor. Davros zaps Donna and sends her flying, and he disables the new Doctor as well.

But then Donna turns off the power from a central unit. Then she disarms everyone, Davros and Daleks alike ... seems she is now part-Time Lord and is loving it! In fact, she is the DoctorDonna mentioned by the Ood. This point I thought was just silly as at the time it seemed that the Ood saying 'DoctorDonna' was just that this was what they were shouting at them themselves! Seemed to be something of a continuity reference too far. But Donna saves the day, as this single console, deep in the heart of the Crucible, in an area where Davros has been trapped by the Daleks, conveniently seems to control everything to do with the ship, the Daleks, and their master plan! Donna manages to disable all the Daleks and puts all the planets (barring the Earth for some reason) back where they came from. The Doctor realises that the insane Dalek Caan was behind it all, Jack destroys the Supreme Dalek, and the Doctor finally feeds back the power (reverses the polarity anyone?) which destroys all the Daleks so they can't try this again. This is all so familiar - how many times before has the Doctor destroyed all the Daleks only for them to rise again?

This leaves the problem of the Earth - why Donna couldn't send it back the same as all the other planets is conveniently forgotten - and the Doctor determines to tow it back using the TARDIS, aided by power routed from Torchwood (released from their time bubble) and Mr Smith (Sarah's supercomputer) aided by codes from K9 (now this is getting very silly ... if K9 can be called at a moment's notice like this, then why hasn't he been used by Sarah beforehand, or even in her own adventures ... oh well).

With all his companions around him, and another one of him, the Doctor has enough people to pilot the TARDIS 'properly', one per panel of the console. So Sarah, Mickey, Rose, Jack, Martha and two Doctors bring the Earth back home. Jackie however is not allowed to help ... made me smile anyway.

Amusingly, the people on Earth experience tremors and all sorts as this happens, and then seem to have fireworks on hand to celebrate with when they get back ... but how would they know they were back anyway? Never mind. It's all fantasy.

Now comes the goodbyes bit.

Sarah races off back to her son Luke. As a participant in this story she was a little underused I felt, and acted somewhat out of character by blubbing when the Daleks appeared. She's also a little obsessed with this 'son' of hers who isn't even her son!

Jack and Martha leave together, with Mickey coming after. Now, Mickey was brilliant. I felt that Noel Clark is the one who has grown and developed the most as an actor and as a character through the series. After his somewhat dire offering in Series One, I was sad to see him go here. But all the implications are that he's joining Torchwood, and I feel that the show could only be improved by including him.

The Doctor, Donna, Jackie, Rose and other Doctor head off to Bad Wolf Bay in the alternate Dimension as this is where they need to be. Donna points out that Rose now has her own Doctor ... and they have a snog to prove it. This was a nice touch, giving the Doctor-obsessed Rose her own Doctor to get jiggy with, although poor Jackie - I hope she has a good supply of sick bags to hand.

Leaving them in their own dimension, Donna and the Doctor return to the TARDIS, but Donna is a little hyper. Or should that be more hyper than usual. Something is going wrong ... but it's frustratingly not explained apart from as a 'Human-Time Lord Metacrisis' whatever that is. It allows the Doctor to do his 'I'm so, so, sorry' routine again, before he wipes Donna's memory of him and takes her home.

This was so crass! I'm sorry, but we were repeatedly promised that a companion would die! Not that someone would have her memory wiped! For all the protestations that this was awful and worse than death and so on, I can't see that it was. Perhaps it's because I never warmed to Donna. Catherine Tate was always Catherine Tate playing Donna, rather than the character being real and alive in the way that Rose was, for example.

The closing scenes also spoiled the pace of the episode. The last 15 minutes are slow and plodding, playing out the Doctor leaving Donna with such great gravitas that we're meant to think it's all meaninful and painful ... too much! Much better that she should have died being a heroine, let the Doctor grieve for her briefly and move on. This is where the show descends into the soap opera territory in which it really doesn't belong.

Bernard Cribbins was again marvellous though, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one wanting the Doctor to take him along with him ... but no, the lonely traveller remains alone, and the final scenes of the empty TARDIS served to emphasise that well.

Onwards with the adventures ... and at Christmas ... Cybermen ... Dervla Kirwan ... graveyards ... hopefully something scary and spooky for Christmas Day.

Before I get to the season as a whole ... here's a picture of Girls Aloud in black rubber ...

Overall I didn't think this season was a good as the last. Some of the stories were poorer than general (with The Doctor's Daughter and perhaps The Unicorn and the Wasp being a little too experimental) and even the return of the 'big' monster - this year the Sontarans - was not as effective as it could have been. Several themes were repeated, which starts to make it look as though the production team are running out of ideas (which I seriously doubt), and generally, although the show was undoubtedly the best thing on television once more, I felt that a little more thought in the scripts would not go amiss.

Everyone had been dreading Catherine Tate as Donna, and she was okay ... but nowhere near as great and fantastic as the increasingly hagiographic Doctor Who Confidential shows would have you believe. As I mentioned, for me, there was way too much Cathering Tate there and not enough acting. I'm also really not sure what sort of a viewpoint character she provided for any girls watching ... I suppose the subtext of a Temp from Chiswick turning out to be the most important person in the universe is nice, but I doubt that Temps from Chiswick were watching. Part of the problem was that Russell T Davies got it so right and on the ball with Rose, that anyone else was going to fail by comparison. Martha did OK, but Donna was not a success. It will be interesting to see which way the series goes now, and I have a nasty feeling that we will be seeing the Doctor and his 'daughter' Jenny travelling together for a time ... although she was great in The Doctor's Daughter, I can't see Jenny lasting as a 'gee whizz isn't this fab, jolly hockey sticks' type of character for very long. But then again maybe we'll have River Song back and have a proper family in the TARDIS for the first time (and have to ignore the fact that David Tennant is going out with Georgia Moffatt - something which adds a whole new dynamic to watching The Doctor's Daughter).

If I was to go through and add some simple and quick assessments to the episodes this year, plus a positional rating from 01=best to 13=worst:

11 Partners in Crime - silly but fun. And it has THAT Rose scene.
04 The Fires of Pompeii - superior and well made. Great monsters.
08 Planet of the Ood - well made, but disappointing and silly.
12 The Sontaran Stratagem - disapppointing and a repeat of Age of Steel.
13 The Poison Sky - disappointing and reminiscent of Evolution of the Daleks.
07 The Doctor's Daughter - pointless but nice to look at.
05 The Unicorn and the Wasp - nicely made but too much humour.
01 Silence in the Library - superb. Great horror episode.
02 Forest of the Dead - again superb.
10 Midnight - forgettable. Missed opportunity.
09 Turn Left - could have been a disaster but not too bad. The bug is awful though.
03 The Stolen Earth - probably the best episode of the season, but not as good as the Moffat ones.
06 Journey's End - A fitting ending, but the last 15 minutes are very disappointing.

So for the next year we have only a handful of specials to look forward to before a new, Steven Moffat-steered series in 2010. I'm sure the rumours will start flying and companions being cast, new and old monsters called into service, and that the press will have a field day trying to get the scoops, and the production team will delight in throwing curve balls and trying to preserve all the surprises for transmission night.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thoughts on Doctor Who's finale

A few people have commented and emailed to ask where my final review is. Apart from the fact that I'm quite pleased that some people like reading my burblings, it's just pressure of work which is preventing me from sitting down and penning my thoughts. Unfortunately there's a lot of Telos-related work that needs doing on the books for later this year, and this is taking all my time at the moment. So patience ... and as soon as I can find the time, I'll pen and post my thoughts on the finale.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Doctor Who - The Stolen Earth

I'm really not sure what to make of this one. I know we were expecting something big, but the sheer scope of this story beggars belief. I can't think of much else on television which would try and get anywhere close to the cinematic and epic quality that this episode presented.

I think my main concern is how understandable it might be to those who have not been diligently watching each and every episode (and Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures). When Doctor Who came back with a blaze of glory in 2005, a lot of effort was put in to try and make sure that everything was explained, even in a sketchy form, so that the Doctor, the two hearts, the TARDIS, the Time Lord ... all the key concepts were reintroduced in a way that viewers could understand and follow. I get the impression that all this is out the window now, and pretty much anything goes.

I think my worries were amplified through the opening scenes, which should have been quick and effective introductions to all the characters. Instead they expected you to just know what was going on.

Following on from last week, the Doctor arrives on Earth but all seems fine. No Bad Wolf anywhere. Even the TARDIS was back to normal. So what was all that about then? Just a dramatic episode ending for no reason, apparently. But then the Earth vanishes, leaving the TARDIS behind. Just the TARDIS. Everything else on Earth, right down to a milkman, his float and bottles of milk, were transported across the galaxy with the planet. So why wasn't the TARDIS?

Meanwhile ... on Earth ... a group of soldiers and a woman recover from the move. We don't really know who they are or what they have to do with anything. There's little in the way of dialogue to try and establish what's happening here. We are expected to know that this is UNIT and ex-companion Martha Jones (who was so out of water all the way through the episode. Not a good performance at all from Freema Ageyman).

In Cardiff, there's some sort of scientific base. Probably Torchwood as that's written on the walls, and some people. We might recognise Captain Jack, but who are the other two? What is Torchwood anyway? Last time we saw them they were running Canary Wharf ... Again, there's no attempt to provide explanations.

In Ealing, a woman and her son inexplicably have a giant supercomputer in their house. Erm. This is Sarah Jane Smith who we might recognise from the School Dinners episode a couple of years ago ...

In Chiswick, Donna's family, Wilf and Sylvia are amazed at the sky. And then that blonde woman from the last episode arrives with a big gun. And we see that there are lots of planets overhead. We're not in Kansas any more ...

So the seeds are sown for a big finale. The Doctor and Donna are puzzled as to where the Earth has gone, so the Doctor heads for the HQ of the Shadow Proclamation - this organisation which every race seems so scared of - and it turns out to be on an impressive asteroid-like space station, populated by female albinos and Judoon! There he figures out that the Earth was moved using something on the same frequency as that used by bees (or something - honestly, if you try to explain this stuff to people they look at you as though you're mad) and he's off with Donna in the TARDIS again to find it. Donna meanwhile seems to hear a heartbeat noise, and one of the albinos comments on there having been something on her back, and how sorry she is for her loss to come ... how do these people know what's going to happen? And if they do, why don't they tell the Doctor or at least warn him! Instead they seem to want him to lead them into war. Of course the Doctor does what any self-respecting Time Lord would. He runs away.

Meanwhile, on Earth, the phones still seem to work which would be impossible unless all the satellites were moved along with the planet, and there are loads of spaceships arriving. It's the Daleks again, up to no good, and they start slaughtering and then rounding up the humans for some reason. We seem to be in a bit of a remake of The Dalek Invasion of Earth here, and there's even a cool red Dalek with a Dalek Emperor-like voice bossing them around. But along with the Daleks (which are totally brilliant ... as are the effects of the battles and the Dalek ship and pretty much everything to do with them), there's mention of the Crucible, harvesting humans and lots more.

Lurking in the background is another figure who seems to be in league with the Daleks but who superbly remains in shadow. And Dalek Caan, the last surviving Dalek, is also present, though broken open and babbling insanely.

On Earth, the problem is that no-one knows where the Doctor is and so as the Daleks attack, so everyone tries to do what they can. Martha makes use of a prototype transporter based on Sontaran technology to escape. The Daleks slaughter anyone who resists, and even Wilf's paintball gun cannot impair their vision (a great fanboy line that). Rose arrives and blasts the Dalek away.

Anyway, more surprises come as ex-Prime Minister Harriet Jones contacts everyone using a sub wave network she built using facilities from the Copper Foundation. This sentient software cleverly seeks out everyone who might be able to contact the Doctor. Though how it does that is anyone's guess. Everyone except Rose, it seems, who gets a bit sulky and feels left out. Mighty convenient that everyone has Web Cams as well (except Rose). The plan is to use everyone's combined resources to send the Doctor's phone number (07700 900 461) into space so he gets the message! What! This is utter tosh. It's also the same plot as last year where, if everyone prayed for the Doctor at the same time, then he'd come back to them. So everyone does this, and the Doctor gets the message and realises that the Medusa Cascade (which is where the bee trail led him) has been timeslipped by one second, hiding all the planets there. So he gets the TARDIS synchronised in time via the weakest CGI in the episode, and joins the Friends of the Doctor conference call.

But the call is hacked by the mysterious individual with the Daleks - it's Davros, lord and creator of the Dalek race ... and that's all the explanation you get! His reveal was badly handled and disappointing. After all the build up, I was expected and wanted either a slow move of his visage from shadow into light. Or some crash close up/zoom affair. Instead we get a sudden full view from a funny angle. Peculiar. The Doctor knows him as he was unable to save him when he was destroyed in the first year of the time war at the gates of Elyssium when he flew into the jaws of the Nightmare Child. All this flows at speed from the Doctor's mouth ... and leaves you reeling. So much information, too much input!!!

Okay, so this Davros character has some connection with the Daleks - he is sitting in a Dalek bottom half after all - and he's cackling and quietly, understated evil and is wonderfully, wonderfully played by Julian Bleach, putting all the other Davroses after the first (played by the late, great Michael Wisher) into the shade.

Their little online conference abandoned, everyone decides to find the Doctor. Sarah Jane rushes off in her car. To where I have no idea. How would she know where to go? Anyway, she encounters a couple of Daleks and instead of running them down, she stops and bursts into tears. This is not the Sarah Jane we know and love (even if you knew who she was in the first place).

Jack repairs his wrist transporter with coordinates obtained from Martha and heads off, leaving Gwen and Ianto to certain death at the suckers of the Daleks. Again, this assumes we know how all these different characters can do these things ...

The Doctor finally arrives on Earth, and sees Rose for the first time since their separation. Cue totally daft and somewhat overlong scene of them running the full length of a road towards each other's arms. But then we knew something would happen ... and a Dalek appears and exterminates the Doctor!!! Jack appears just too late and destroys the Dalek, but the Doctor is dying. So they get him into the TARDIS where Jack knows (not sure how) he can regenerate. Only Rose has actually seen this happen before, but she is being pretty useless and telling him he can't (why?).

And so the Doctor starts to regenerate ... and the credits crash in.

Well wow. Really. Wow. That was one twist I wasn't expecting. But I can't shake the feeling that it's not what it seems. That the Doctor is not going to regenerate. Maybe he will for part of next week, maybe not. Maybe we'll see James MacAvoy or James Nesbit as the Doctor for part of the time? I think there's more to this. There's a lot going on with Donna and the time beetle ... I wondered at one point if she STILL had a beetle on her back and that what we were seeing was just more alternate-universe gubbins. Dalek Caan said 'everlasting death for the most faithful companion', so who is that? Rose? Donna? The TARDIS? Jack? Sarah Jane? Take your pick really.

Or maybe the Doctor really is regenerating and the production team have pulled the perfect blinder on everyone. Fans, press ... everyone.

I can't help shake the feeling that there's a great big red reset switch lurking somewhere. Rose will become Bad Wolf again and turn back time to defeat the Daleks (again) or the Time War will restart and time will be reset as part of that ... or this strange key thing that Martha has will do something to reset everything (using ... I don't know ... Krillitane computations). But it's like last year - way too much has happened that it can really all be left in place at the end ... The Earth is in the wrong place in the Universe for goodness sake!

Reading back through my comments from this week (and indeed last week), it sounds as though I'm not enjoying the show. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I love it to pieces. Watching this episode back was even better. It is epic on a scale undreamed of. The effects are awesome, and the Daleks and Davros are just the best they have been for many many years. I am concerned that the general public won't 'get' this intense level of continuity fest fun which pushes all the right fannish buttons. I lost count of the number of back references in this episode, everything from Crucibles to Medusa Cascades, to bees vanishing ... to the biggies like Judoon, Daleks, Davros, Shadow Proclamation, Rose, Harriet Jones, Dalek Caan ...

And above all, I hope that the next episode doesn't drop the ball. That we don't have a rushed and unsatisfying ending to all this.

As the rubbish and crassly done caption at the end of the episode said: TO BE CONTINUED ...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Doctor Who - Turn Left

In my musings on the previous episode, Midnight, I said: 'Doctor Who, to its credit, has never gone down the route of doing the "flashback episode" with the bulk of the content being scenes from earlier shows.' Now I swear that I had no idea what the content of Turn Left was when I wrote that, and yet with this episode we have now had the closest to a flashback episode yet.

What I am impressed with most, is that aside from a couple of short clips (mainly from The Runaway Bride as far as I could spot) there was very little reused footage, and so much of the apparent material from the earlier episodes was new, or was so well integrated into the narrative that it was hard to tell that it was reused in the first place.

But never the less, Turn Left is a flashback episode, going back over Donna's life and showing what it might have been like if she never met the Doctor, all revolving around a pivotal decision for her to turn left to a job with H C Clements rather than turning right for a job with Jival Chowdry.

The initial set-up is interesting but perhaps flawed. Visiting an alien market, Donna is tempted into a fortune teller's booth while the Doctor is distracted. The Teller - who seemed to have the same annoying voice as Chantho, the character played by the same actress from Utopia ... I kept expecting her to add 'Chan' to the start and 'tho' to the end of her sentences again! Which is odd as the actress' natural voice sounds nothing like that - seems to have an unreasonable desire to change Donna's history and so while she gets Donna to pin down the point of decision, so a thing approaches Donna from behind and attaches itself to her back. I wasn't sure if they were targetting Donna, or if the fact it was Donna was accidental?

Donna is then thrown back to that point of her decision, and she turns right. Thus never getting caught up in the schemes of the Racnoss, and never meeting the Doctor. Because of this, the Doctor dies when the river Thames floods the Racnoss' lair, and so there is no Doctor in the world to help prevent the subsequent invasions and cataclysms.

So we step through the various outcomes: the Doctor dies battling the Racnoss; when the Royal Hope hospital is taken to the moon by the Judoon, only Morganstern survives. Martha, Sarah Jane Smith, Luke, Maria and Clyde (from the Sarah Jane Adventures show) all die (I'm not quite sure why Sarah and the others were even there though).

By this point I was just getting annoyed. Annoyed by Catherine Tate's lack of any descernable acting talent as she ranged from shouty to teary with not very much in between. Annoyed by the incidental music which punched bars from character's 'themes' every time they were mentioned. And annoyed that this was all a bit silly.

At each juncture Donna bumps into a mysterious blonde woman who we know to be Rose. Unfortunately she looks nothing like the Rose we knew, apparently having had some sort of strange hairstyle foisted on her as well as comprehensive dental work which made it impossible for her to talk without lisping or being able to actually open her mouth when speaking. All very strange indeed.

Rose tells Donna to take a holiday next Christmas ... she obviously knows something is going to happen. And it does - a replica of the Titanic crashes on Buckingham Palace and a nuclear explosion wipes out southern England. So everyone is evacuated to the north of England, but help from America does not materialise as they have been devastated by everyone dying when their fat metamorphoses into Adipose, and then the Atmos systems in the cars activate, killing everyone in Europe ... and in the resolution to this, Gwen and Ianto from Torchwood die, and Jack Harkness is transported to the Sontaran homeworld! This episode is a veritable bloodbath!

The best performances by far come from Bernard Cribbins as Wilf (who I have praised in the past) and Joseph Long as Rocco Calasanto. These actors show everyone else how to do it, and their scenes are fun and poignant and carry weight as a result. Unfortunately just about in every scene of importance, Tate is awful.

Eventually, Donna sees the stars going out while watching them with Wilf, an event that the blonde girl predicted, and so Donna finally goes with Rose as she is apparently the last hope for mankind.

They end up at some warehouse place where the TARDIS is under investigation. Donna sees the thing on her back and it's a rubbish-looking giant stag beetle. This was something of a crushing disappointment, and my admiration for Graeme Harper grew as I realised that he had successfully masked what the creature looked like until that point. In the Confidential documentary, FX guru Neill Gorton explained that it really was meant to look like a giant insect as that was what the script said. Personally I would have made it look a bit alien, but then what do I know.

So Donna agrees to go back in time to get her other self to turn left and not right, ensuring that she meets the Doctor and reality is set back on track again. But then Rose says she's never used the time travel device before ... but how was she moving about through time then? Really didn't understand that aspect.

But Donna ends up too far from herself in the car, and realises that she has to die to save the worlds and so throws herself under a truck, causing a traffic jam, and making Donna in the car turn in the correct direction. Before she dies on the road though, Rose gives Donna two words to say to the Doctor. What again? We had the Face of Boe with his mystery message ... River Song with her mystery words ... and now Rose. What is this all coming down to, some massive game of Chinese Whispers!

Donna is flung back to the Fortune Teller's tent, where the Teller makes a hasty exit as the Doctor arrives. The Doctor examines the beetle and proclaims it to be one of the Trickster's brigade ... the who? Oh, sorry, you had to have watched Sarah Jane Adventures for that one ... the Trickster being a creature which can change minor aspects of a timeline and feed off the temporal disruption caused. And then Donna remembers the words said to her by Rose. 'Bad Wolf'. Not again! Didn't we do all that three years ago?

But no, racing from the tent, the Doctor sees the words 'Bad Wolf' written everywhere. All over the banners, the posters, the flags in the market. Even the TARDIS has 'Bad Wolf' in place of the words above and on the door. Inside the ship, the cloister bell is solemnly ringing. It's the end of the universe!

Well. That was certainly an exciting ending, I'll give it that. And the reappearance of the Doctor was a breath of fresh air after all the Donna-centric soap opera that had gone before. For me, it just showed how powerful a presence David Tennant is that without him, the show flattened and floundered. But then the show isn't called Doctor Who for nothing you know.

The other problem with the episode of course, is that it postulates what would have happened if Donna had never met the Doctor. Well for a start the whole of human history would be different as Pompeii would not have been destroyed by Vesuvius erupting, and the Pyroviles would have taken over ... but I guess we have to gloss over that one. Never mind what havoc a vespiform would have wrought on middle England.

In summary, it's another of those episodes which falls between the cracks of brilliant and dire. On the one hand, as usual, it's superbly made and presents a grim view of an England from which the Doctor is absent (much like real life then). Slightly reminiscent of the apocalyptic drama series Threads in its approach perhaps, but throwing in characters of such characature that it's hard to really care for them. On the other hand, a little like Utopia last year, it's a story which goes nowhere. Setting things up for the following season finale and so it feels a little like it's treading water.

The main element of press interest is Billie Piper's Rose, returned somehow from the parallel universe in which she was irrevocably trapped, and for some reason traipsing around after Donna in another parallel universe that she has created for herself when she changed her timeline by turning the other direction in her car. Piper looked and acted uncomfortable in the part. As mentioned her speech was weird and strange, lispy and distorted, and although she does smug and in control very well (I liked the weary comments from the unlikely named Arisa Magambo that she always talks like that) it didn't come over as believable.

I guess we need to wait until next week to find out where this is all going. And as for next week ... well the trailer was a veritable who's who: Rose with a big gun, the Doctor, Donna, her mum, Wilf, Martha (again), Captain Jack (again), Gwen and Ianto off of Torchwood, Sarah Jane (again) and Luke off of Sarah Jane Adventures, Penelope Wilton (again), the Judoon (again), some woman with white hair, a red Dalek (again), and a massive Dalek battle fleet (again) ... sheesh! Wonder where the kitchen sink was?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fiction in Print

I don't often manage to write much fiction, and even less often have the enjoyment of seeing it in print. So I am doubly pleased to announce that one of my short horror stories, The Third Time, has been picked up by Murky Depths for publication in issue number 6, published December 2008.

I first saw the magazine at last year's FantasyCon, and it was a startling debut. I recently saw issue 4, and it's even more impressive. In comic book format with glorious colour printing, short horror fiction, and some superb art and poetry, it's really well worth a look.

Their homepage is at Take a look. And if you decide to get hold of an issue, tell them I sent you :)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Doctor Who - Midnight

Each series of Doctor Who has included an episode which seems designed to split the viewers. We had 'Boom Town', 'Love & Monsters', 'Gridlock' and now 'Midnight'. It's really excellent that the show can include this sort of more experimental drama in the mix, as it all helps to show that Doctor Who can be inventive and unexpected as well as presenting the usual same old same old battles with Daleks and Cybermen.

My feelings about 'Midnight' are a little mixed. As usual I've watched it twice so far, once on transmission and then again to take notes for this review, and I'm really not sure what to make of it.

On the surface it's a standard mid-season money saver. Limited CGI effects, no prosthetics, no monster, limited cast, and only a couple of sets (the area where Donna was, where the Doctor phoned from, and the shuttle). Many series do an episode like this at some point in their run to save a little cash, and Doctor Who, to its credit, has never gone down the route of doing the 'flashback episode' with the bulk of the content being scenes from earlier shows.

If this is the case, then all kudos to Russell T Davies for taking what could be a limitation and turning it into something more experimental. The drama is all about the interrelationships with people, how they react when put under pressure in an enclosed space. It's informed by shows like Big Brother of course where normally rational people behave totally irrationally, and where tempers get frayed very quickly.

We open with the Doctor and Donna enjoying a holiday on the planet Midnight. The Doctor wants to dash off and enjoy a four hour excursion to see a sapphire waterfall, but Donna just wants to sunbathe. So the Doctor heads off alone. On the shuttle we meet Professor Winfold Hobbes (expert on the planet), Dee Dee Blasco (one of his students), the Cane family: mother Val is an opinionated loudmouth, father Biff is somewhat put upon, and son Jethro is your usual rebelling teenager. Then there's Sky Sylvestri, another singleton. There's also a Hostess, the Driver and an Engineer (who might as well have been wearing Star Trek red shirts!). Off this happy party goes, following a new route to the waterfall.

The Doctor disables all the annoyingly blaring entertainment in a nice touch, but who would put them all on together anyway! This bit just didn't ring true, and the Hostess also seemed a little wooden and stiff. A shame as all the other performances were very good indeed.

All is going well until the shuttle breaks down and stops, apparently for no reason. The driver calls for help, and the Doctor determines that there is nothing apparently wrong. He calms the other passengers down, but then knocking is heard coming from all around the shuttle. Sky goes off her rocker and screams that it's coming for her in the least effective moment of the show. The shuttle shakes, sparks fly, and the door is dented by something from outside ...

It transpires that the control cabin has been ripped off and Driver and Engineer are missing presumed dead (as the planet is believed uninabitable due to Xtronic sunlight). It also seems that Sky has been possessed as she repeats everything that everyone says. This is a lovely conceit, and certainly in the Confidential episode, Russell T Davies and Phil Collinson hit the nail on the head when they commented that this is a very annoying thing to do. It was handled well, and Lesley Sharp made a good job of appearing snake-like and alien in her movements during the sequence.

The basic concept here is well thought through. First the alien possesses one of the humans, starts to repeat everything it hears (learning or absorbing as the Doctor postulates). Then it speaks at the identical time as the others, before homing in on the Doctor as the cleverest there, and then speaking before he does, placing him in a paralysed stasis as the creature continues to drain him. While all this is going on, the other passengers squabble and shout and try and work out what to do, initially agreeing between themselves to throw Sky from the shuttle despite the Doctor's protestations, and then to do the same to the Doctor when it appears that the alien 'infection' has passed to him.

I liked the Doctor trying to outsmart the possessed Sky with companion names and TARDIS, and his 'Shamble bobble dimble dooble' also made me smile. How long before the t-shirts and badges with that written on start to appear?

It's only the entity now pretending to be Sky using words previously used by the Doctor that alerts the Hostess and Dee Dee to the fact that this is not, in fact, Sky at all, and the Hostess takes matters into her own hands and pulls Sky to a door, opening it, and being ejected out onto the planet surface with her.

The Doctor returns to normal, and the rescue shuttle arrives to take them back to base.

I wondered why the earlier captions refered to 'kliks' as some unit of time (or maybe distance) when everyone talked about 'hours', and the final caption referenced 'minutes'. This sort of thing just annoys me anyway ... I think a 'klik' was a unit of distance in the Virgin New Adventures novels ... I really have no idea why writers like to invent and use new measures like this.

I think on balance that the story worked. I'm a little worried at not showing the monster at any point (or even naming it - what plastic action figures might appear from this episode are very much in doubt), and also what younger viewers might have made of it all. However my young nephew was today slyly repeating everything everyone else said ... so maybe there is an inherent humour here which can get lost in too much pontificating and analysis. Just as Steven Moffat likes to try and tap into primal fears, so Russell T Davies has his finger on what kids can do to annoy everyone around them.

The episode reminded me a little of older science fiction fare like episodes of Out of the Unknown (I'm sure there is one there where a small group become trapped in a space shuttle or something), or even The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. Sometimes we need the simplicity I feel to make us appreciate the more complex adventures, and so something a little different and left field from time to time is no bad thing.

Next week: Rose is back, the Doctor's dead, the stars are going out, and everyone's going to die. Cheerful.

Monday, June 09, 2008

British Fantasy Award Recommendation

Just heard that the final TIME HUNTER Book, CHILD OF TIME, written by my good self with George Mann, has been recommended on the Long List for the British Fantasy Awards for last year.

Anyone reading this who is a member of the BFS can vote, so please consider the title (and of course Telos Publishing's other works in the Long List :) ) when making your decision.

Congratulations to everyone who made the long list, and I'm now waiting with bated breath until the results are announced in September at the annual FantasyCon convention in Nottingham.

Details of the BFS are here:
Awards Longlist is here:
FantasyCon information is here:

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead

So often with Doctor Who these days, when we have a two-parter, the second part seems to not live up to the expectation of the opening instalment. This seems to especially afflict the 'big monster' stories which is a great shame as Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans deserve better. The season-enders especially seem to have suffered, with the final episode in each case having to do a lot of work to try and wrap everything up neatly and failing somewhere in the attempt.

Luckily, the more low-key two-parters on the whole have succeeded admirably. 'The Empty Child'/'The Doctor Dances' is a great example, as is 'Human Nature'/'The Family of Blood'. 'The Impossible Planet'/'The Satan Pit' however dropped the ball.

Now we have another to add to the roster of successes, with 'Silence in the Library'/'Forest of the Dead' managing to feel like a wholly rounded story, something that Doctor Who used to do time and time again, and yet which seems to be missing from this new, fast-paced, CGI crammed, 45 minute episode format. We either get something whimsical and knockabout (eg 'Partners in Crime', 'New Earth') or something which is a glorified runaround (eg 'The Doctor's Daughter', 'The Lazarus Experiment', '42'). It's rare to come across an episode which feels like and works as a complete adventure in 45 minutes, though thankfully it has happened ('Dalek', 'Father's Day', 'The Girl in the Fireplace', 'The Idiot's Lantern', 'Blink'). What's interesting to note is that every one of these episodes which feel like 'proper' stories has not been written by Russell T Davies ...

But back to 'Forest of the Dead', an episode concluding an adventure begun with 'Silence in the Library', in itself one of the best, most exciting and chilling episodes of Doctor Who we have seen to date. It had a lot to live up to.

If you remember, last week we left our heroes trapped in the darkened Library, with a shambling, reanimated corpse heading towards them, Donna apparently dead, and no way out ...

Of course there's a way out! River Song has her squareness gun, and so the team escape by making their own way through the bookcases. This is a little bit of a cop out I suppose, but in keeping with the nature of cliffhangers.

More important were some of the revelations in the episode. Last week we had no idea who the strange little girl with her father was, who the mysterious Doctor Moon was, and what River Song's relationship with the Doctor was. Personally I wanted answers to all but the last one. I really found I could care less about River Song and this whole future relationship guff. It was interesting, and well played by the actors, but as some sort of big arc-like revalation? No, just not interested. So I was very pleased indeed that we discovered who the little girl and Doctor Moon were, but were left with no real clue as to the Doctor and River's relationship.

The episode managed to fill in the blanks, with a nice televisual conceit of showing Donna apparently arriving at a hospital/home, getting better, meeting a nice man, getting married, having two kids and living happily ever after ... but all in the space of about two minutes. The idea of the cutting between scenes and locations happening in the way we see on television and on film all the time, but having Donna experience it in 'real time' so to speak was inspired, and made for fascinating watching. I did wonder what younger children watching might make of this, or how their parents might explain what was happening to them if asked.

So as Donna starts to realise that all is not as well as it seems in her idyllic world via a visitation from a strange cowled figure, so the Doctor and the team of archaeologists back at the Library try and find out what's happening. Most of these scenes are enlivened by the performances of David Tennant and Alex Kingston, as the Doctor and River try to come to terms with each other. River whispering an unheard word to the Doctor to force him to realise that he can trust her was a nice touch - I hoped we would not find out what that word was ... and we didn't (it was the Doctor's real name which is a little cliched I suppose, but miles better than: 'Doctor ... I am your mother').

There's lots more running around. First Other Dave is eaten by the shadows, and the Doctor falls through a super-convenient trapdoor and ends up monkey-swinging under one of the Library building spurs. This was rather naff and I didn't really get the point aside from a chance to use some more CGI. Finally Anita gets shadowed as the Doctor races to try and get everything sorted out.

The idea that the little girl was the computer core (CAL being her initials: Charlotte Abigail Lux) and Dr Moon was a virus checker, protecting and supporting the core, was well handled if a little predictable, and the performances from Eve Newton (CAL) and Colin Salmon (Moon) were exemplary. What was less believable was that the girl would throw a hissy fit and activate the destruction of the Library in 20 minutes! But then I suppose the episode needed some artificially engineered tension to give it all something to work towards.

Donna meets with the cowled figure, and it's Miss Evangelista from the first part - assumed dead, but now a hyper-intelligent computer recreation, with a twisted face as a result of some data corruption as she was 'saved' by the computer from her Data Ghost. The resultant breakdown of Donna's world was nicely handled, and her reaction when her two children vanished was superb. This is the very best we have seen Catherine Tate so far - not playing some caricature of her comedy persona or overegging the pudding.

I liked very much the idea that the Vashta Nerada came to the Library in the books, as the books were made from the forests in which they lived. It explains why all the books in the Library had to be newly-made reprints at least (I did wonder about this last week - surely a library would generally have actual editions of the books rather than going to the expense of printing new ones, and if you were going to print new ones, then why not just keep them all digitally and only print a copy when requested by one of the library users?)

It's only right at the end that the questions start to come. When rescuing all the people who had been saved (as in literally saved, to the computer hard drive), why didn't the core have enough storage meaning that the Doctor had to try and use his brainspace as well? And they said that River's brainspace was not big enough and would kill her (which it did) so how did all the people get retrieved then? And in retrieving the people, where did their flesh and blood bodies come from? What material was used to make them? I can accept that their personalities and minds were stored on the computer, but I can't see how their bodies could be physically stored as well? Maybe I missed something.

The final scenes between the Doctor and River were awesome. Pitch perfect performances from both actors, well balanced and giving nothing away. I found myself wondering how much better '42' could have been with someone decent in the lead role rather than the woefully mis-cast Michelle Collins. Alex Kingston was totally believable as River Song, taking charge, enjoying the challenges ... a true Doctor-like figure which was, I suspect, the whole point, as in her the Doctor had found himself. Of course Lux's line that they were arguing away like an old married couple was a deliberate plant to make the fans think she therefore was his wife ... personally I suspect not. That would be too obvious.

So the story concludes, and there are some wonderful, soul achingly beautiful lines of dialogue. I adored Donna asking the Doctor whether 'all right' was a special Time Lord code for 'not all right at all', before admitting that she too was 'all right'. I loved the 'some days nobody dies at all' line, which is of course what happens here - everyone is saved, either literally, or on the computer hard drive. I even liked the concept that the Doctor that we see now, today, is not a patch on the Doctor from the future, the one from whom whole armies will run, and the one who can open his TARDIS doors by clicking his fingers. In the accompanying Confidential episode, this was explained as a take on a trait of fandom where fans always look back to the golden days and moan that '... it's not as good as it was in my day.' Here we have the show saying that it's only going to get better, which is no bad thing. However they have a lot to live up to.

With the author of this story, Steven Moffat, now announced as the new showrunner for Doctor Who, taking over from Russell T Davies for the 2010 series, I feel that the show is in safe hands. Moffat seems to have an instinctive grasp of what makes Doctor Who good, and certainly his writing for the show has given us the best episodes of its run to date. Personally I hope he can keep up the quality, and the darkness. Remembering that Doctor Who is, at its heart, NOT a science fiction show, but a horror show, plundering the depths to bring us thrills and scares in equal measure. If he can manage that, then I'll even forgive him 'The Curse of Fatal Death'!

Next week: goodness knows! Something on a space tour across a diamond planet called Midnight ... death ... horror ... screaming ...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Doctor Who: Silence in the Library

That's more like it! Steven Moffat to the rescue with another of his complex tales of horror and relationships. It's interesting is that almost every commentator is saying the same thing: that Moffat's stories are the best, and it's not hard to see why. With 'The Empty Child'/'The Doctor Dances' (WW2 horrors, gasmasked children and zombies, and, of course, 'Are you my mummy?'), 'The Girl in the Fireplace' (creepy clockwork men from a spaceship in the future stalking 18th Century France, and white horses jumping out of mirrors) and 'Blink' (statues that will come and get you if you look away or so much as blink) Moffat has made the art of great television his own, drawing on various primal fears and delivering scripts which make you think as well as adding a laugh or two alongside some well judged shocks and scares. What is strange is that although almost everyone who offers an opinion would claim that Doctor Who is at its best when it's being scary, Russell T Davies seems to believe the opposite and likes to present more lighthearted runarounds.

I suppose on the plus side, this lighter, fluffier fare shows just how brilliant the darker tales are - consider whether 'The Girl in the Fireplace' would have stood out quite so much had it been bracketed between 'Human Nature'/'The Family of Blood' and 'Blink' rather than between 'School Reunion' and 'Rise of the Cybermen', but it does seem that this preference towards comedic runarounds is at odds with what everyone, critics and viewers alike, actually want. And when your entire audience is waiting for Steven Moffat's story, and that everything before it is just some sort of prelude, well the balance can't be right can it?

Just as with his earlier tales, there was little really known in advance about 'Silence in the Library', except maybe that it featured a library ... so when we open with a little girl seeing said library in her imagination, floating about within it like Christopher Walken in a hotel lobby, we are immediately on guard ... what has this to do with anything? In fact, this feeling persisis throughout the episode as the little girl, her father and the mysterious Dr Moon discuss the girl's imaginary library, though this is where the Doctor and Donna arrive, and where the girl seems to communicate through a security camera. There are no answers forthcoming, except that Moon seems to be more deeply involved in whatever it is than initially suspected.

The structure of the opening is interesting as well ... starting pre-credits with everything from the Girl's point of view and then, post-credits, backtracking a little in time to show the Doctor and Donna's arrival. I wasn't sure this worked at first, but on re-watching, it seems to be a good shorthand to get everyone in place.

The Library, it seems, is the biggest in the universe ... it occupies an entire planet. The core hollowed out to house the index computer, and newly printed copies of every book ever in shelves and buildings on the surface. My first niggle came when the Doctor and Donna wondered why the place was deserted. According to the computer, there were just two humanoids on the planet (being the Doctor and Donna) but when the Doctor looking for any lifeforms, there were over 1,000,000,000,000 reported. This seemed to puzzle the Doctor but, I wondered, why? If you take microbes and bacteria as being life forms (and they are) then you would get the same reading on Earth - and you can't hear or see microbes and bacteria. I found this so obvious myself, that I didn't understand why the Doctor made a big thing of it.

We're introduced to the Nodes (which become important later). These are information points dotted around the Library with human faces. Shades of the Neil Gaiman/Dave McKean film Mirrormask I thought. The first one had an annoying nasal voice but I like the straight reporting of the log entry, complete with 'Argh!' This leavening with humour is important as it helps to maintain some sense of light when things get dark. They are also given a warning: stay out of the shadows ...

There is some lovely lighting in this story. Sometimes on television, all the director seems to want to do is to light their sets blanket-style. Blasting every nook and cranny with light ... but here the lighting is important as the play of light and shadow is integral to the plot, so great care has been taken and it shows. I loved the interiors, dark and light and musty and filled with menace. Very nicely done indeed.

The plot kicks up a gear when the Library is invaded by a group of space suited archaeologists. There is River Song (the leader), Strackman Lux (the financier), Proper Dave (the pilot), Other Dave and Anita (roles uncertain) and Miss Evangelista (Lux's PA). These people have come to investigate the Library and to find out why it closed 100 years earlier and where all the people there at the time had gone. Lux is set on keeping the secrets there intact (like, for example, who or what CAL is - referenced on the computer systems), his PA is nice but dim, and the others are all nicely characterised with what little screen time they each get.

It all gets a little confused now as there's so many people all of a sudden, but the Doctor has realised that they are under attack from something called Vashta Nerada, literally, 'the shadows that melt the flesh'. These are minute voracious flesh eaters which swarm and attack and target other creatures, and which can strip them to the bone in a microsecond.

Moffat has really latched onto it this time ... fear of the dark and shadows, and why we should really be afraid of these things ... and it's brilliant stuff. As the teleplay unfolds, Miss Evangelista is the first to be killed, and the aftermath of her death is poignant indeed. The idea of her data ghost persisting in the neural communicator is brilliant and horrific and very, very well handled by all involved. Her final, looping, words of 'Ice Cream' being horrifically memorable.

Next to go is Proper Dave who inherits a second shadow before he too is consumed in a microsecond, leaving behind a space-suit inhabited by his grinning skeleton, and then motivated by the Vashta Nerada to chase after everyone else.

Meanwhile the Doctor has determined that the only defence against the creatures is to run and so he whizzes Donna off to the TARDIS via a handy teleport, but the process seems to fail. 'Donna has been saved' intones the little girl ominously. Lo and behold Donna's face turns up on one of the information nodes when the Doctor tries to find her location having realised that she did not make it to the TARDIS. But this surely means she is dead?

River Song (what a daft name) is something of an enigma. She knows the Doctor well (very well) in the future but he hasn't met her yet. So who is she? Is she his wife? A future companion? Professor Bernice Summerfield - also an archaeologist - masquerading under a different name? Hopefully some answers will be forthcoming next week. The implication is that she is something like this anyway.

So we leave the episode with everyone in the Library. The lights are going out, Donna is apparently dead, and there's an ambulatory skeleton made of flesh-eating microbes in a space suit asking who turned the lights out ... what a brilliant climax!

I loved this episode. It all felt right. It was well paced, not too much running about and light on flippant humour (though Donna got on my nerves a little as she is want to do most episodes). The horror was well handled, and the ideas simply burst from the script in great waves of brilliance.

I cannot wait until next week to see how it all, hopefully, resolves. According to the 'Next Time' trailer, we have the planet cracking open like an egg, trying to save CAL (whatever that might be) and spoilers!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Doctor Who - The Unicorn and the Wasp

After last week's promising episode which turned out to be somewhat light on plot, this week we get something that is so full of plot it's positively groaning at the seams.

Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed 'The Unicorn and the Wasp'. Yes, it's lighthearted, yes it has too many characters, yes it reads more like a story from a Doctor Who Annual, yes it should probably have had two parts ... but the breadth and scope work well, and the plot unfolds neatly, with pretty much all the loose ends tied up, albeit at a tearing pace.

The TARDIS arrives at a country house in the year 1926. Professor Peach arrives and heads for the library where he discovers something in some papers and is promptly killed by a giant wasp with a lead pipe ...

This sets the scene for the tale which unfolds. Full of allusions to Agatha Christie's own writing, the titles of which litter the dialogue. This opening is from the game Cluedo (called Clue in the USA) of course, but the sheer fun of having a professor killed in a library with lead piping by a giant wasp (how *did* it hold the piping anyway?) just seems right in context.

Our suspects arrive: There's Lady Eddison, a woman with a hidden secret; Colonel Hugh Curbishly, her husband; Roger Curbishly, her son; society beauty Robina Redmond; and the Reverend Arnold Golightly. Then there's the staff: Miss Chandrakala is Lady Eddison's constant companion and maid; Davenport is a servant boy who is enjoying a secret relationship with Roger; there's Greeves the butler ... even Mrs Hart the cook might be a suspect ... and of course Agatha Christie herself, on the very day of her disappearance for 10 days in 1926. This would place the date as being 10 December 1926, however the weather is anything but! According to internet sources, the maximum temperature in Oxford in December 1926 was 6.9 degrees C - hardly the weather we saw.

I'm not going to go through the plot here for once, as it is so complex and convoluted that I would end up just retelling it with little space for comment. All of the characters have secrets, and as the story unfolds they are each revealed. I liked the way that the flashbacks were handled, with the on-screen image showing the 'truth' as the person narrated their version of events. For once, the music was excellently handled. Not intrusive or wrong, but subtle and perfectly in tune with the period and the action.

I was very puzzled as to why 'The Unicorn' was called that ... there seemed to be nothing about the thief that suggested this moniker. But this is about the only thing that didn't make sense. All the secrets meshed together and the revelations were spoilt only by Catherine Tate's Donna being just obnoxious with interjections and statements which were meant to be funny (I assume) but which just came over as crass. There was a repeat of the Doctor telling Donna not to talk in the posh voice (as the Doctor told Rose not to try speaking in a Scots accent in 'Tooth & Claw') more of the Doctor and Donna denying being partners, more Doctor and companion snogging action - and there is no way that Donna would kiss him, even to shock him ... this whole poisoning scene was just a step too far into silly, with Donna clowning and talking rubbish while the Doctor was to all intents and purposes dying in front of her. There was a level of gravitas missing here I felt, and I was reminded more of an Abrahams/Zucker film (aka Airplane or The Naked Gun) than of something which was meant to be a little scary.

The villain of the piece is revealed as ... well maybe I should leave some secrets. But it's an alien vespiform from hives in the silfrax galaxy and looks like a giant wasp. The CGI is quite impressive and the creature looks real and effective on screen, even if it's not possible to just shine sunlight through a magnifying glass to burn something - you have to focus it, and it needs to be fairly close to the lens to work.

Even the revelation that a human/vespiform relationship can result in a baby which turns into a wasp when it gets angry sort of works ... I think you really have to leave your disbelief at the door with this one. Strange and daft though it all sounds, the show rattles through at such a rate that you tend not to notice the somewhat ludicrous elements.

Amongst all the fun and games, there are a surprising number of Christie's own book titles scattered throughout. It's a shame in a way that Doctor Who Confidential gave a large number of them away, but I managed to find three which they didn't list. If I remember, when the season is ended, I'll pop them all in another post so as not to spoil the fun for anyone trying to spot them. There's a handy checklist list of titles online at, a URL which amused me as well!

Next week we're at the biggest library ever (hopefully with no lead piping) with a spooky kid, spacemen, infected darkness and a warning to stay out of the shadows ... Steven Moffat's back ... and it's hopefully going to be terrifying.

Doctor Who: The Doctor's Daughter

This was an episode that I really don't know what to make of. Doctor Who can sometimes fall between two stools, and it can run the danger of being caught between a rock and a hard place as far as what it is trying to achieve and how people want or expect it to play out.

On the one hand, the episode was enjoyable and rattled along nicely. I liked what Georgia Moffett did with the part, and she was perky and prancy and fun. The monsters were cool and I even liked how they gurgled instead of speaking.

On the other hand, it had no discernable plot, Martha was wasted in it, the characters were all from central casting, and it had more than a few elements which niggled and grated.

We open with the TARDIS out of control. Now this was a great cliffhanger from last week, and I am a massive fan of this sort of lead in from one story to the next, but it has to be carried through ... and this wasn't. We do eventually learn why the TARDIS was out of control, but the explanation makes no sense ... more of this later.

So the Doctor, Donna and Martha arrive in a tunnel and Donna utters something about swallowing a hamster! I had to stop the recording and watch this a few times. Did I hear it right? She's swallowing a hamster ... and yes indeed that is what she says. So maybe Donna has been replaced by one of those reptile aliens from V, and has been snacking just before she leaves the ship ... not sure ...

Before we can worry about this too much though, the Doctor's party is set upon by some soldier types, and the Doctor's hand is shoved into a tissue sampling mcguffin machine and before you can shout 'Clone!', there's a mega-cute blonde babe emerging from a smokey doorway, dressed in leather trousers and a tight fitting vest. She smiles perkily (and 'perky' is about the only description which fits this character) and says 'Hello Dad!' to the Doctor.

Okay. So this is a story predicated on a title. It's a great title. 'The Doctor's Daughter'. Gets the imagination firing and anticipation high. So what do they do? Fumble it in the first minute and reveal that this girl is not the Doctor's daughter at all but a clone grown from his cells ... conveniently dressed and with hair and make-up all perfect. What a let down. Rather than a story about the possibilities of the Doctor having a daughter, we now know from the outset that he doesn't. Except of course that all the characters, including the Doctor himself who should know better, think that she is actually his daughter ... crazy.

The other problem, which I will discuss at this point, is that the Doctor is the last Time Lord ... well, maybe not the last, as the Master was around as well ... and perhaps others as well ... but he has spent some time telling this to everyone he meets, agonising over being alone. Now here is a machine which can make Time Lords, and the Doctor even has a spare hand in the TARDIS. He could single handedly (excuse the pun) recreate his own race! But this possibility is not even mentioned.

One of the tenets of an ongoing series is that it should have some sort of internal consistency, and when a story like this comes along, which contains elements which actively impinge upon that internal consistency, then the writers and producers cannot just ignore any potential that might exist. The Time War and its effect and impact have informed the Doctor since the series returned, and yet here he ignores a technology which could make such a difference.

Back to the plot. On this planet there are two races, humans and the dolphin-like Hath. They have been at war for generations, and are looking for 'the source' which the believe will give them supremacy in the battle. In charge of the humans is General Cobb, who speaks like he's from the Westcountry, and is an embittered man, seeking to win the war with whatever means he can.

Martha ends up trapped with the Hath, and strangely she seems to understand their gurgling although we the audience are not privvy to the translation. This is not commented on, even though in 'Fires of Pompeii' we got the TARDIS' translation function rammed down our throats. Kids have good memories and I'm sure several were questioning why we didn't have the Hath's speech translated for us.

Fixing a wounded Hath's shoulder - lucky they have a bone structure which is similar to humans - Martha befriends them and, when the Doctor uses his handy all-purpose Sonic Screwdriver to reveal the location of the Source on an electronic map, she and the Hath see it too. So they all trot off to find it.

In a puzzling and confusing series of events, everyone seems to leave at different times and yet all arrive at the same time at the end. The Doctor, Donna and Jenny (as Donna names the perky clone) are locked in a cell but escape when Jenny snogs the guard. The Hath set off immediately, while Martha and another Hath (they all look the same and are not named on screen so I have no idea which one this is - the credits reveal Hath Peck and Hath Gable as two of them - named after Hollywood stars then!) make their way over the blasted surface of the planet as it's apparently quicker ... while General Cobb decides to wait until the next day before he and his troops leave - strange sense of urgency there.

Along the way, Donna gets intrigued by numbers stamped onto the walls. Given that she's not been too interested in anything like this before, this is more of a plot convenience than anything else. Jenny meanwhile skips along like a puppy, smiling and grinning and perkily loving the running down corridors. We learn that Jenny has two hearts, and is a soldier adept at killing and doing backflips through lasers.

The Hath with Martha drowns in a pool while rescuing her (how can a dolphin drown? No idea. But we don't see this Hath again ... or maybe we do ... they all look alike!) and eventually, after much running up and down corridors, everyone seems to arrive at 'the temple' at pretty much the same time. Except it's not a temple, it's a spaceship, and it's all still working and powered up.

Now comes the infodump - robot drones from the ship built the city (so where are they now?) but the commander died and the crew split and turned on each other. Quite why this happened is not clear, but there are definite shades of the earlier Doctor Who story 'The Face of Evil' here, as well as bits of 'The Ark' with the humans and Monoids turning on each other. But ... the shocker is that the city was built over the last 7 days. The war is only 7 days old. Apparently the humans and Hath create 20 generations a day and as each has been wiped out, the truth has passed into legend.

What? This makes no sense whatsoever. 20 generations a day? That's about one an hour? So how do Cobb and co manage to make it to the end of the day? Why aren't they all wiped out and the army which arrives at the end of the story be a totally different one to that which set off? Why do they power down the machines overnight? Surely they'd be churning out clones 24 x 7? Why does Cobb wait overnight before setting off? That's something like 7 generations he's waited?

All this is inexcusable really. It doesn't make sense however you try and read it, and is sloppy writing and plotting. It's a nice idea, but if the idea doesn't work in the final teleplay, then maybe it's not the right idea.

So we get to the end and we know that Jenny is not going to make it as the Doctor told her that she could come with them (cue bright-eyed perkiness). Cobb decides to shoot the Doctor after he explains the plot - probably in exasperation as he can't make any sense of it either - but Jenny takes the bullet and dies. Why Cobb has a old fashioned revolver when everyone else has gas machine guns is anyone's guess. Cue tears and the Doctor pontificating.

Meanwhile the 'Source' is revealed as a planetary terraforming device which the Doctor activates by smashing it on the floor. Now I'm sure that's the best way to make it work properly. The planet is then converted into somewhere that is habitable (whether by humans or Hath or both is also unclear).

The soldiers all lay down their arms, moved by the Doctor's appeal to make theirs a society based on someone who never would, or perhaps they wanted to put their fingers in their ears ... and the Doctor, Donna and Martha return to the TARDIS to be on their way again ... seems that they arrived because the Doctor's spare hand was drawn to Jenny, except that the TARDIS arrived before she was created, thus bringing her into being in the first place ... a classic paradox. But actually just more rubbish plotting. An excuse to try and explain something which was poorly conceived in the first place. We actually didn't need this at all, the TARDIS could have arrived, as usual, by accident, the Doctor then setting off the chain of events.

So why doesn't the Doctor stay for Jenny's funeral? He has done for several other characters over the series' history, but not for his own daughter (even though she wasn't, but we covered that above). Of course the real reason is more plotting of convenience as perky Jenny isn't dead at all! She returns to life, full of vim, nicks a spacecraft and heads off for her own series of adventures on CBBC (or novels, magazines, audio, DVD ... take your pick).

I've watched the episode a couple of times now, and aside from generally strong performances from the cast, it has little to get your teeth into. Georgia Moffett is good as Jenny, but it's a very generic part and her tight leather trousers could equally have been filled by any rent-a-babe actress from Hollyoaks or Emmerdale. Moffett, I am convinced, got the part because she is fifth Doctor actor Peter Davison's daughter ... and that this appealed to the sense of fun of the production team and also provided far more publicity and PR than any other actress would perhaps have been able to bring. That she is also a pretty decent actress was a distinct benefit, but I would love to see the list of who else was actually auditioned for the part.

Overall then, disappointment on several levels. If only the script had been better, and the plot more cohesive then this could have been the episode which defined Tennant's Doctor, which provided dramatic interplay between characters who may or may not be related ... the end result to have been a thought provoking commentary on genetic research and cloning, providing insights into the pros and cons and ethical arguments which surround it. Instead we got a dog's dinner of a plot, lots of running around, actors struggling gainfully with two dimensional characters, and Georgia Moffett shining as Jenny, not necessarily because she was that good, but that she was the best thing on offer this week.

Next week ... Agatha Christie? A giant wasp? demons? Thunder and lightning ... and some sort of murder mystery.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Doctor Who - The Poison Sky

According to the ratings, the Sontaran two-parter has really not done as well as other episodes. The first part came in with 6.4 million viewers and was beaten by ITV's Britain's Got Talent which had 9.4 million, and the second part fared even worse with 5.9 million and was again beaten by ITV which had 8.5 million. One way of reading this sort of trend is that people aren't that excited by Doctor Who any more and would rather watch brainless people be insulted by so-called 'celebrities' ... and also that the first part of the story was not gripping enough for people to want to watch the second part ...

This broadly matches my own feelings about it. I talked last time about the sense of having seen it all before, the familiarity and the ennui which set in on watching the episode ... well the second part really failed to do much to change my mind. What it did do was to jettison the elements which were interesting in the first part (the clone plot mainly), and replace them with lots of soldiers running around, shooting guns and getting killed ... which doesn't really cut it these days.

So we're back in the fray and Wilf has collapsed in a car. I think we are really struggling when the cliff hanger revolves around someone we have met only a couple of times in the series being trapped in a car! Luckily Donna's mum has the brains and also a handy axe (something that every home in leafy Croydon owns) and she smashes the front window to get Wilf out.

Meanwhile clone Martha (C-Martha from now on) downloads UNIT's security protocols to a PDA and is able to control the launching of a nuclear strike from there ... just nod and smile and ignore the ludicrousness of this as a concept and go with it, okay?

Oh no ... now we have the almost obligatory fake news broadcasts with 'real' newsreader Kirsty Wark in a head to head battle with 'fake' US correspondent Lachele Carl as to who can sound the most ominous in close up.

The news out of the way and in Helen Raynor's Big Book of Scriptwriting it says that we now need to split everyone up, so Donna goes back to the TARDIS for no reason and is promptly transported to the Sontaran ship in space. The Doctor meanwhile is suspicous of C-Martha and wants to talk to the Sontarans, so he opens a channel to them. Donna can also see this exchange on the TARDIS screen (but misses Rose shouting the Doctor's name for a second before the Sontarans appear - a nice moment and for once fairly subtle).

Questions here ... how did the Doctor know that C-Martha would get the TARDIS transported, that Donna would watch the screen or that the TARDIS would even be able to pick up the signal? Never mind.

So the Doctor tells Donna to use the phone ... but she's mystified, not knowing who to call. So she calls her mum and has a cry at her down the line. Doesn't ask Sylvia or Wilf to contact UNIT, doesn't try ringing anyone else who might be able to help ... fairly useless really.

But we're losing track of all our characters ... and the Big Book says we need to keep flicking between them now. So back to Luke Rattigan and his followers. I was wondering why they were following him? He's an annoying brat-like clever dick. Why would anyone follow him? Rattigan unveils his real plan, to go to another planet and start the human race anew with his faithful few. Yup, he's barking. So they all leave him. This is also shades of 'Operation Golden Age' from 'The Invasion of the Dinosaurs' back in 1973, only it was better realised and integrated into the plot back then.

UNIT prepare to blast the Sontarans out of the skies using missiles fired from all around the world at the same moment. But they wouldn't all arrive at the same time, and some are on the other side of the Earth from the Sontaran ship. There's some very dodgy planning going on here.

Suddenly there are hundreds of Sontarans in the ATMOS building - I assume they did teleport there after all, so why were their little space balls flying around in the previous episode? What need would they have to do that?

Of course, when the Sontarans attack, the troops' guns don't work ... so the troops get slaughtered. Why would a warlike race with an ethos built on honour think it was good form to disarm your opponent and then to kill them - now that is cowardly.

Hang on ... we've missed something! Ah, where is the Brigadier in all this? Don't worry, the Big Book says that all references to Doctor Who's long history can be dropped in as throwaway lines, and so we learn that the Brig is 'stranded' in Peru. Well that's okay then.

Luke realises that the Sontarans have betrayed him, but, actually, we don't really care as the subplot about going to another planet was so badly nailed to the rest that even the people involved hadn't been told about it until too late. So what does Luke do? Return to his Acadamy and cry. Poor baby.

The Doctor phones Donna on a phone borrowed from one of the UNIT folk, and yet she answers it knowing it is him. How? That's some impressive caller display. The Doctor gets her to leave the safety of the TARDIS and reactivate the teleports (having assumed in another leap of deduction that the Sontarans had disabled it). Along the way, Catherine Tate forgets she is supposed to be acting and lapses into pseudo Lauren-mode with a pithy 'Shut up' to the Doctor. I wince when these lapses happen. We had a 'Why did you call me miss? Do I look like a miss?' in the Ood episode, and various other pronouncements which are just so bad. I find it hard to believe we've not had an 'Am I bovvered?' yet, but I just feel in my bones that we will get it one week.

What else is happening? Ah yes, UNIT don gasmasks and the Doctor quips 'Are you my mummy?' to hilarious applause from the continuity brigade, and then the Valiant (more applause) descends from the skies and in true Thunderbirds style, uses its engines to blow the poison gas away from the area. Then the Valiant fires on the factory.

Hang on. While we're doing continuity, in 'The Christmas Invasion' didn't UNIT use a powerful ray weapon to blow the retreating Sycorax ship to smithereens. Why not use that now against the Sontaran ship?

With new guns that work, the troops renew their assault on the Sontarans and gain ground. Interesting that the Sontaran's body armour is not bulletproof. Something of an oversight methinks.

The Doctor and C-Martha (still using her PDA to stop UNIT from launching the missiles) head to the still-deserted basement, and find the clone tank. The Doctor knew C-Martha wasn't real all along as her iris response was wrong, she had thinning hair on her left temple, and she smelt of clone! So he frees the real Martha from the machine and C-Martha collapses.

While the Doctor rewires the Teleport while on the phone to Donna like some sort of mad Teleport help line, Martha talks with C-Martha who takes an age to die. And the music is rubbish here as well - I really don't like the music in this story, it's all wrong, being intrusive and just naff for most of the time.

C-Martha reveals that the gas is clone feed and the Doctor realises that this has been the Sontarans' plan all along, to convert Earth into a clone world. But he knows how to stop it.

The Doctor rescues Donna, gets the TARDIS sent back to Earth and teleports to the Rattigan Acadamy where he uses the lab to build an atmosphere converter which Rattigan had the parts for as he was planning to do the same to the new world once he and his acolytes arrived there.

As Staal orders the ATMOS systems in the cars to full power (why weren't they on full power anyway?) the Doctor, to music which sounds like very light hearted Tim Burton, launches a flare into the sky from the atmosphere converter and sets the atmosphere on fire! The flames engulf the Earth ... but strangely not a single person is apparently harmed as the gas and atmosphere burns explosively. Then it's all over and the flames clear to reveal a perfect human atmosphere again. So who turned the ATMOS system off in all the cars? Why didn't they just continue belching out the clone feed? Finally, we get stupid 'triumphant' music as the Earth rejoices that it is saved.

So now the Doctor teleports back to the Sontaran ship with the atmosphere converter to burn it away unless the General leaves. So the air on the Sontaran ship is different from on Earth? How did Donna and Luke breath when on board?

Staal prepares to blast the Earth and kill everyone on the planet. Why he didn't do that first and avoid all the problems with Rattigan and complex plots involving ATMOS and factories and whatnot is beyond me. With a deserted planet they could have converted the atmosphere in their own time with no resistance.

Unfortunately for the Doctor, rather than offering any defence, the Sontarans launch into another victory Haka until Luke manages to swap places with the Doctor and detonate the converter himself, blowing the Sontarans and their ship to smithereens.

So peace is returned to the Earth and people apparently can now deactivate and remove the ATMOS devices from their cars - if it was that simple ...?

The Doctor, Martha and Donna return to the TARDIS, with Donna being told to go off by Wilf, who is, I think, head and shoulders the best new character this season. Cribbins manages not to play him for laughs, and has built a believable character who you can really empathise with. I wish we could ditch the annoying Sylvia and just have Wilf as Donna's link with Earth.

At the very end ... possibly the best part of the episode. Another cliffhanger. Boy I missed these and I loved this one. Very much shades of the first Doctor and how his stories ran one into the next. Martha is all set to leave but the doors to the ship slam closed and the TARDIS is off again, but apparently of its own volition. What a great ending.

And next week? Seems to be monsters, a cute blonde, backflips, snogging and ... what? She's the Doctor's daughter!