The Cosmic Hobo

Thoughts & reviews about the science fiction series Doctor Who.

Archive for the category “episode reviews”

Episode Review: Time Heist

DW Time Heist

I get that it’s hard to follow an amazing episode like “Listen,” but “Time Heist” ultimately felt hollow and uninteresting. In opposition to other episodes of Doctor Who which seem to get better on subsequent viewings, I actually enjoyed “Time Heist” less the second time around. It’s the sort of writing that doesn’t look good under any actual scrutiny, as the plot holes are vast and the supporting character archetypes are so generic that there’s essentially zero emotional investment.

The story revolves around the Doctor and Clara being forced to rob a bank, in a sort of crappy Whovian Oceans 11. There is an interesting alien, pictured above, which has the ability to feed on thoughts and help law enforcement figure out who is planning to commit crimes. It never feels particularly scary, though, as you never for a second think anyone important is in any kind of danger. This is where the crappy supporting characterization hurts the episode in a big way, as people who aren’t particularly well written getting picked off is never going to matter to me as a viewer.

Peter Capaldi is strong in this episode, and finally seems to be settling into the role. I wasn’t sold on him for the first three episodes, but he has at least climbed his way up to being a middle-of-the-pack Doctor for me. By this time in Matt Smith’s run, I was convinced that he was one of the greats, while Capaldi is actually occupying territory along the lines of David Tennant. Some good points, yes, but not particularly inspiring. He has moments of greatness but others where he could be more dynamic.

“Time Heist” basically fails in the same way that “Robot of Sherwood” did, but not nearly as spectacularly. It’s nice that the writers are trying to do something new to Doctor Who here, but “Time Heist” is pretty much forgettable and bland. The plot is uninteresting, the characters are crap, and the visual style is really the only area of the story where it stands out in any way. Unfortunately, this is probably the least important Clara has been in any of the episodes of the series so far, so she doesn’t even get a chance to save things as usual. A bit of a letdown.

Final Grade: C-

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Episode Review: Listen

DW Listen

I hadn’t enjoyed Series 8 of Doctor Who up until this point. I thought “Deep Breath” was a bloated mess of pacing, “Into the Dalek” was too derivative to be compelling, and “Robot of Sherwood” was barely watchable garbage. “Listen” is so much better than those three preceding episodes that even comparing it to the previous parts of Series 8 is insulting to its pure awesomeness. What “The Girl Who Waited” was for the Eleventh Doctor, I feel that “Listen” is capable of being for the Twelfth, when all is said and done.

Spooky has been something that Doctor Who has done well since returning for the new series. Steven Moffat’s Weeping Angels are easily the greatest villains of the new show, and in general, Moffat has done creepy super well. “Listen” is arguably the scariest episode so far, and yet has so much more to it than most of the episodes that are just scary for the sake of creeping you out. “Listen” is about fear as a thing, and specifically the fear of nothingness. In some cases, this is the fear of what could be out there in the dark, and in others, it’s illogical anxiety and fear of simple social situations for no reason whatsoever. It has real backbone and substance to go with the thrills.

This episode wasn’t enough to singularly convince me that Peter Capaldi is awesome as the Doctor, but this is definitely the best he has been. He seems to flourish when things get scary and serious, whereas he comes across as clumsy when the humor is the focus; this is essentially the complete opposite to my opinion of the Fourth Doctor, who I like for comedy but groan about when gravitas is necessary. This episode doesn’t use much humor at all, and instead relies on good ol’ drama and horror elements to be compelling. More of these kind of stories is definitely something that Capaldi can knock out of the park. This episode is the first of his run that I felt had genuine wonderful and memorable Doctor Who moments, which is nice. Finally, something for his highlight reel.

Jenna Coleman is once again completely amazing and perfect. Although I adored the TARDIS team of the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory, I would say that I think Jenna as her own character may be my favorite Doctor Who companion ever. She has such versatility and the ability to carry entire episodes on her shoulders, something I don’t think we’ve ever really seen from a companion on the show. As much as I love past companions like Zoe Heriot, Sarah Jane Smith, and Ace, I think that Jenna Coleman as Clara is genuinely even better and more capable. She may not have the benefit of the chemistry of a combination like the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane, or the Seventh Doctor and Ace, but as an actress she has just completely nailed it every single time. If there was a spinoff of “The Clara Oswald Adventures” I would not hesitate for a second to watch.

It seems ridiculous to recap the story of “Listen,” because the chances are you have already seen it or plan to soon. I thought it was wonderful, compelling, creepy, and just plain pure awesomeness from start to finish. I was starting to get bummed out about this year of Doctor Who, but I am pleased to report that Doctor Who is still completely capable of being amazing when everything works. This time, everything worked.

Final Grade: A

Episode Review: Robot of Sherwood

DW Robot of Sherwood

All of the early information about “Robot of Sherwood” left me hoping for some relief after the try-hard seriousness of “Into the Dalek.” It had the look of a good ol’ Doctor Who romp, with hopefully lots of fun to be had. Unfortunately, where there could have been amusement there is instead of a constant stream of banality, with humor that is more idiotic than amusing. It occasionally veers towards dramatic, but comes across as half-baked when it does. It’s really unfortunate, because I think “Robot of Sherwood” is a clear step back for a new Doctor who frankly REALLY didn’t need one.

Once again, there are a small handful of moments where Capaldi is an entertaining Doctor, but he mostly comes across as clumsy and awkward. He is still completely devoid of that signature whimsy that makes the Doctor such an interesting character. He comes across as more of a socially inept hermit rather than the alien he is, which may be the writing but also might just be that Capaldi isn’t good at being the Doctor. There’s still time to get better, but we’re already a quarter of the way through the series, so it’s not exactly boding well.

Jenna Coleman once again gets to be the focus, which is nice, but even she can’t save this episode. The plot is mostly boring and the guest stars are all in a perpetual state of chewing all of the scenery. It was foolish of me to expect better from Mark Gatiss, frankly, as he usually writes pretty weak episodes, with a few minor exceptions. This isn’t even as good as the middling “Night Terrors.” Hell, it’s not even as good as “Victory of the Daleks,” which would be the worst Dalek story of New Who if it wasn’t for “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks”.

If I hadn’t already been a Doctor Who fan before this year, it’s pretty likely that this is the episode that would have had me saying “This show just isn’t for me. Sorry, I tried.” I’ve loved it so much in the past that I will stick with it, but “Robot of Sherwood” is among the worst episodes of new Who. Definitely deserving of consideration alongside “Fear Her” and “The Curse of the Black Spot” as the absolute nadir of the new series. Here’s to hoping things get better REALLY quickly.

Final Grade: D-

Episode Review: Into the Dalek

DW Into the Dalek

Daleks in general, appear to have run their course. I get why they were an appealing villain early on in the series, but the new series of Doctor Who has essentially done nothing interesting or new with these baddies. The closest they came was “Dalek,” but even that was just a retread of a superior audio story from Big Finish. “Into the Dalek” tries hard to do something new, and occasionally succeeds. It is strong not because of the Daleks themselves, however, but because of the way the Dalek is used to examine the Doctor’s own morality.

Peter Capaldi finally gets to be “his” Doctor for an entire episode in “Into the Dalek,” but Jenna Coleman once again steals the show as she continues to kill it as Clara. Capaldi has flashes of the unfeeling alien-ness of Tom Baker and the pretension of Pertwee, but still feels a bit clumsy and like he is missing the pivotal whimsy that makes the Doctor such an interesting character. Even Colin Baker, who was often criticized because his Doctor was such an asshole, at least had that flair and oddness that made the Doctor who he is. Capaldi, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have grabbed a hold of that yet, and the end result feels a bit flat.

The episode on the whole, however, is pretty good. There are a few great moments, including some funnier bits with the introduction of future companion Danny Pink. The whole idea of the episode, a “good” Dalek, has been done before in “Dalek,” but it takes a different route here. The Doctor, Clara, and a few redshirts have to be shrunk down with a special machine so they can actually enter the Dalek and see where the malfunction is that is making him appear to have all of that pesky morality. Whereas “Dalek” was a moral quandry brought on by Rose accidentally rebooting its system, Rusty (the name given to the Dalek by the Doctor) is not altered in any way other than a serious malfunction, which makes the conflict feel more like a logic puzzle.

The episode is fun and full of action, with the interesting revelation being that the Doctor’s singular hatred of the Daleks ultimately leads to part of his problem. Without actually spoiling it, I appreciated the ending and thought that it was good enough to justify the rest of the episode, which ultimately feels a little too much like a retread in parts to be really special. Once again, Jenna Coleman is holding things together while Capaldi is finding his feet as the Doctor, but in a series that is only 12 episodes long, he’s going to have to find ’em soon.

Final Grade: B-

Episode Review: Deep Breath

 

DW Deep Breath

Every time a new Doctor is introduced, there is naturally a lot of hullabaloo. The vast majority of fans, being who they are, are extraordinarily excited and act like the new guy is destined to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. This time around, I was part of the minority that was a little less excited, mostly because I think Matt Smith was the finest Doctor since at least Patrick Troughton, if not ever. He is a nearly impossible act to follow. Still, I forced myself to go into the new series with an open mind, convincing myself that it would be just as great because I trust Steven Moffat’s judgment when it comes to the direction of the series.

Not unlike “The Christmas Invasion,” the special that introduced us to David Tennant as the Doctor, “Deep Breath” relies a lot on supporting characters to keep things interesting while the Doctor is out of his mind or sleeping. It was a great idea to include Vastra, Jenny, and Strax in the festivities, as with the big change of a “new” Doctor coming along, it eases the transition for those of us with some concerns. Jenna Coleman was given a lot of room to flex and be awesome, and she pulls it off wonderfully. We were supposed to watch “Deep Breath” for Peter Capaldi’s debut but I ended up appreciating it more for Coleman’s excellence.

Despite the relatively long run time, we don’t get a lot of Peter Capaldi being his Doctor yet in “Deep Breath.” He is really disjointed for more than half of the episode, as he goes through the typical period where the Doctor is indisposed and still figuring out his own personality. He does have a couple of memorable scenes though, one where he harasses a homeless person and another towards the end when he faces off with the clockwork robot folks after Clara is temporarily captured. These villainous cyborgs make their second appearance, after also being the featured baddies in “The Girl in the Fireplace,” way back in Series 2 of New Who. They are okay, but hardly awe-inspiring, which is pretty much how I felt about “Deep Breath” as a whole.

There are a LOT of fans who were already singing Capaldi’s praises after “Deep Breath,” and I frankly don’t get it. The episode on the whole is decent, with some good comedy and a few other decent bits, but the pacing was pretty awful and Capaldi doesn’t really do much worth writing home about. I was glad to hear him using his Scottish accent (unlike David Tennant, who for some reason uses an English one despite actually being Scottish), but aside from a couple of chuckles there wasn’t much about it that I could get enthusiastic about. I’m thrilled that other fans are getting tons of enjoyment out of it, but it’s not there for me yet.

As everyone who cares knows by now, there’s a pretty wonderful cameo of Matt Smith right at the end. It’s handled perfectly, and is exactly what I as a viewer who loved Smith needed. Coleman once again shines, and there is definitely a moment where you’re forced to acknowledge that yes, Peter Capaldi is the Doctor. Between the appearances of Vastra, Strax, and Jenny, as well as the Smith cameo and Coleman’s performance, it felt like comfortable and familiar territory. Unfortunately, the episode is badly paced and ultimately not particularly exciting otherwise. Hoping things get better from here on out.

Final Grade: C-

Torchwood Episode Review: Ghost Machine

“Ghost Machine”
Written by Helen Raynor, dir. by Colin Teague
Torchwood – Series 1 – Episode 3

Rating: B-

Being that I think Owen is by far the weakest member of the Torchwood team, this episode had an in-built problem in that it was heavily focused on that character. The Torchwood team discovers an alien device that allows the user to see memories of the past, which leads to Owen accidentally seeing the events leading to a young girl’s rape and murder nearly half a century ago. When he discovers that the killer was never found and was allowed to go free, he makes it a personal mission to track down the murderer and somehow bring him to justice, despite the rest of the team telling him it isn’t their business and they don’t have any real evidence.

Stories like this are good for characters because it actually makes them more likable. I still think Owen Harper is the least likable character on the show, but showing that he cared enough about the girl he had no previous knowledge of to look into her murder only in the interest of bringing her justice, it makes Owen slightly more likable. I also think it is strong characterization in that it makes sense that someone would react like that, considering that he witnessed something awful like that and had to go through the emotion of it; it would be a traumatic experience for anyone, and I have to say that if I was a super secret agent with the capability Owen has, I would do the same thing.

The episode has a few issues early on, as it takes a while for the action plot of the episode to get going. It has a much slower build that it ought to have, as there are a lot of moments in the first fifteen minutes or so of the episode that didn’t really have anything to do with what turned out to be the overall story. The Owen plot line doesn’t really even start at all until the second third of the story, and as a result of that, I think it could have been overall a better executed episode than it was.

That being said, I still think there was a lot more good about this episode than bad. It is nice to see a show that allows its supporting characters to occasionally take the center stage, and it is also good that they take characterization seriously. Adding depth to Owen was a definitely necessary thing that I was worried wouldn’t ever really happen, but I’m glad it did. I am still really deeply enjoying this series, three episodes in. Still waiting to get to the crap everyone has talked about.

Torchwood Episode Review: Day One

“Day One”
Written by Chris Chibnall, dir. by Brian Kelly
Torchwood – Series 1 – Episode 2

Rating: B

The idea of a story in which the alien menace quite literally fucks people to death seems like something straight out of the dark and scary world of adult fan fiction. When I read the synopsis of this episode before seeing it, I had to do a double take. As it turns out, though, that is exactly what it is: a parasitic alien species lands on Earth, takes over the body of a young woman, and is only able to sustain itself by getting the girl to sleep with men and feeding off the energy of the orgasm.

As strange as it sounds, I really liked this episode. It had a lot of good humor, and was certainly better than the second episode of New Who (the absolutely garbage “The End of the World.”) By this point, I have already decided that I like every character on the show except Owen Harper, who I eagerly await the death of. Captain Jack is an outstanding frontman for the show, and I think Torchwood has had a stronger start than the new series of Doctor Who did, which I think took until “Dalek” to get me interested and until “Father’s Day” to convince me it was capable of being excellent.

The overall directorial style that has been embraced by the creators of Torchwood is a breath of fresh air, and shows a much more grounded and mature approach. It is very cinematic in a way, and feels less like sci-fi show of the week and more like a noir-ish drama. As much as I adore Doctor Who overall (and occasionally New Who), I think this style is more my wheelhouse in terms of visuals and feel. I look forward to delving more deeply into Torchwood.

Torchwood Episode Review: Everything Changes

“Everything Changes”
Written by Russell T. Davies, dir. by Brian Kelly
Torchwood – Series 1 – Episode 1

Rating: B

Aside from the fact that the show featured Captain Jack Harkness and that Torchwood was sort-of-like-but-not-really UNIT, I didn’t know a damn thing about the show before watching it. In anticipation of the newest season, I thought it was about time I caught up on the three series that have already aired, so I have a bit more knowledge going into the new stuff.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed “Everything Changes.” I think Russell T. Davies and director Brian Kelly do a great job of making Torchwood a show of its own, not only in terms of story lines, but in overall feeling. There is a distinctly different mood to the stories than to Doctor Who, and I enjoy that it is a bit more edgy and adult oriented.

The story itself was solid, if not all that original. It sort of reminded me of the first episode of The X-Files in a way, in that someone who is completely ignorant of what is really going on is introduced to it by another character. It makes sense; introducing a character to Torchwood the organization within the context of the pilot episode is also the perfect way to introduce a viewer to the show. It helps to make Gwen Cooper a likable character right off the bat, as we can sympathize with her having no idea what is really going on.

Combining the strong plot with a few likable characters and some really good direction, I have to say that I’m excited about the show. It may have been a little on the slow side, but not so much that it detracted from my enjoyment. It helps to have a familiar face in John Barrowman as Captain Jack, who has always been one of the highlights of every Doctor Who episode he has appeared in. We often dream of a likable recurring character getting a spinoff. Luckily, in the case of Torchwood, this has actually come to pass. Looking forward to digging deeper into this series.

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