Saxon Bullock

Writer, Journalist, Copy-Editor and Proofreader

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Podcast: Schizopolitan – Episode 1 – The Saga Begins…

It’s been a long time, but Schizopolitan has risen from the grave… and this time we’re trying something a little different – presenting the SCHIZOPOLITAN PODCAST! I’ve teamed up with my friend and occasional collaborator Jehan Ranasinghe (on Twitter as @Maustallica) for what we’re hoping is going to be a regular series of podcasts looking at the world of Movies, TV, Animation, Games, Comics, and whatever else grabs our attention. It’s our first attempt at anything like this, so bear with us as we figure out various problems, wrestle with technical difficulties and generally ramble like there’s no tomorrow.

In this debut episode (running for 95 minutes), we use the recent aftermath of San Diego Comic Con to discuss some of the con’s announcements and reveals, but that soon spirals into a general discussion of blockbuster cinema in general – there’s talk about Star Wars and the new TV animated show Star Wars: Rebels, the first photo of the Wonder Woman costume and how much we know about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, the potential upcoming DC Universe movies, and then a more wide-ranging talk about the ‘problem’ of a Female-fronted superhero blockbuster and why Hollywood seems so nervous about the idea…

Hope you enjoy our first episode, and stay tuned for more editions of Schizopolitan: The Podcast soon!

(The opening and closing music on the podcast is ‘Ouroboros’ by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0. creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

TV Flashback: Moondial (1988)

Ah, piracy. There are so many ways in which it’s a measurably bad thing, something we’d undoubtedly be better off without – but one thing that the world of copyright infringement is annoyingly good at is catching the things that fall through the cracks. Not everything stays in print, or easily available, and it’s amazing what you can track down if you’re prepared to look. I’d never have gotten another look at the wonderful, wonderful James Burke documentary series ‘The Day the Universe Changed’ if it wasn’t for piracy – and I also wouldn’t have gotten another chance to watch the fantastically atmospheric and spooky BBC childrens drama serial, Moondial.

Broadcast back in 1988, Moondial got a VHS release sometime in the early Nineties, but ever since then it’s almost entirely vanished from view – it’s ridiculously difficult to get hold of, and the one ‘proper’ DVD release it got vanished from the shops almost as soon as it was released (the most recent DVD release was – weirdly – via the Reader’s Digest, and is also now unavailable – it’s this full episodic version that is, at least at the moment, up in full episodic format on Youtube. And just to be clear, I’d buy a commercial DVD release of it in an instant, as would plenty of other similarly aged TV SF/fantasy geeks, I’m sure). Of course, there’s an awful lot of stuff from that era that doesn’t get a release as well, but it’s frustrating in Moondial’s case because it stuck in my memory so strongly from when I first watched it, back when I was fourteen, and the world of Children’s TV was a much weirder, spookier place.

There’s a whole variety of shows that are burnt into my mind from that era – one of them, the ITV anthology series ‘Dramarama: Spooky’, scared the living crap out of me so much that I’ve actually avoided the recent DVD release, simply because I’m not sure I want to find out that my memory cheated and that it wasn’t quite as scary as I’ve remembered. Some haven’t aged brilliantly – The Box of Delights, for example, a much-praised 1984 adaptation that kicked off a whole run of prestigious fantasy adaptations, still has charm but doesn’t quite hold together (mainly because of the completely insane free-form nature of John Masefield’s original story), but while Moondial is absolutely a product of its time and often spectacularly Eighties, it’s also aged better than I expected and pulls off some impressive levels of atmosphere.

Adapted by children’s writer Helen Cresswell from her own novel, it’s the story of Araminta Caine (teen actress Siri Neal), usually known as Minty, who’s packed off to stay in the country with her slightly stand-offish aunt, but barely gets a chance to settle in before her mother is involved in a near-fatal car-crash that puts her into a coma. Traumatised and lonely (especially since her father already died a few years previously), Minty ends up exploring the grounds of the sprawling country house nearby (actually Belton House in Lincolnshire), but soon finds herself involved in the kinds of spooky goings-on that tend to happen around mysterious country houses in children’s stories. In this case, an ancient sundial holds the key to something that’s halfway between a time travel tale and a ghost story, as Minty crosses paths with an ailing kitchen boy called Tom, and a terrified girl who always hides her face – both of them trapped in their respective worlds, and both needing Minty to eventually find their freedom.

Safe to say, this isn’t exactly action-packed. We do get two definite villains – an evil governess, and a hilariously nasty goth ghost-hunter, both played by Jacqueline Pearce in full-on style that’ll bring back happy memories of her days as ferociously camp villainess Servalan in BBC cult space opera Blake’s 7 – but this is in no way an adventure story. Mood is the key word here, and there’s a certain level of weird abstractness to the story that you certainly couldn’t get away with today, but while Moondial is mainly a gently-paced, slow-burning mood piece that’s all about character, it’s often an astonishingly good one.

The late Eighties is a time when the whole look of television started to change and evolve at a pretty dizzying rate, and there are a certain aspects of Moondial that feel very entrenched in the way things used to be – for example, the number of beautifully plummy English accents on display, especially in the adult members of the cast. However, visually there’s a very definite effort to make this look good – fantasy TV is always very director dependant, and it’s pretty clear that the director here (Colin Cant, who only worked on a handful of projects after this according to IMDB) understood that the visuals and the location was going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of generating a sense of enigma and mystery.

The end result of this is that the whole show has a wonderfully spooky edge, one that’s helped by the emotional undercurrent at the heart of the story – that it’s essentially about a girl finding a way of dealing with the possibility that her mother might die. We get a whole selection of sweeping tracking shots and kooky wide-angle lenses, which gives the show a very definite sense of style, and it’s also one of the few examples I can think of where filming day-for-night – throwing special filters onto the camera to acheive the illusion of night, back when cameras weren’t as powerful and night shooting was pricey – actually works. This is thanks to some carefully used filters and video effects, as well as the decision to drain most of the colour out of the image – what you get is something that doesn’t exactly look like night, but it does look dusky, weird and definitively spooky.

What makes it even more surprising is that Moondial is shot on video, and it’s incredibly difficult to make something shot on video look stylish (for an object lesson, go look at the late Nineties Neil Gaiman-written BBC drama Neverwhere, which only occasionally manages to lose the shot-on-video curse). Even the contemporary episodes of Doctor Who shot at the time (Season 25) don’t pull off quite so many moments of pure cinematic style as Moondial does when it’s really working. Matching this is a music soundtrack by David Ferguson that uses a mix of synths and traditional instruments in a way that’s weirdly timeless, adding a major level of darkness and edge to something that really could have come across as whimsical and feather-light.

There’s also the deliberately sinister edge given to the transport through time – I’ve always been fond of shows and movies that try to depict the impossible as real, and Moondial presents its fantasy elements very carefully, in a stylised but very controlled way. The travel through time via the sundial/moondial is acheived really simply – a circling tracking shot that spins around the sundial in question, combined with a funky piece of spinning late 1980s video effects – but combined with some fantastically eerie sound design, it gives a real sense of process. Rather than trying to be magical and charming, time travel in Moondial is weird, unsettling and disorienting, and the whole story feels much more weird (and ever-so-slightly science-fictional) as a result.

Admittedly, while much of Moondial still works astonishingly well, not everything here has aged as effectively. For a start, there’s an earnestness to the story that’s often touching, but occasionally trips over into slightly clumsy storytelling – it’s a very internal story, and unfortunately ends up relying on the ‘central character talks to herself’ device a few too many times. Siri Neal is often very impressive in a demanding role (she’s in virtually every scene), especially the sequences between her and Tom (Tony Sands), but there’s a few awkward moments in the opening episodes – especially a bit of full-on hysteria in episode 1 when she finds out about her mother’s accident – that don’t quite come off. The adult actors are generally divided into those who are really effective, and those who are giving slightly mannered ‘childrens TV’ performances (although Pearce isn’t among these, and gives a wonderful villainess turn that’s cool, chilling and distinctly camp).

The pacing is a bit too slow at times, even by Eighties childrens series standards – it’s a show that works better in 25 minute chunks than taken all in one go, and there does come a point in episode 6 where it’s hard not to think “Oh dear god, not another slow walk along the terrace to the Moondial?” Plus, the style is often very Eighties, even though there are plenty of TV dramas from that era that have aged much, much worse (like a 1986 version of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, which now bears an unfortunate resemblence to the music video to ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’).

Ultimately, the thing that’s most effective about Moondial is its sheer weirdness, which is what makes it even sadder that there’s hardly anything like it on television anymore. It taps into a very English form of spookiness (from the menace of country houses, to the devilish children dressed in Wicker Man-style animal masks), it’s as gothic (and Goth) as a childrens TV series can probably get away with, and it’s a show that dares to take its time and be deliberately dreamy and surreal. While it’s rough around the edges, and the ending will almost certainly leave you scratching your head and going “Okay, that wasn’t entirely satisfying…”, this is still a trip down memory lane that’s worth taking. Here’s hoping that a proper DVD re-release turns up sooner rather than later…

TV Review: Doctor Who S6 E09 – ‘Night Terrors’

Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillen, Arthur Darvill, Daniel Mays, Jamie Oram, Emma Cunliffe ~ Writer: Mark Gatiss ~ Director: Richard Clark ~ Year: 2011

Doctor Who S6 E09 Night Terrors promo pic Matt Smith Daniel Mays

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

The Low-Down: After the time-warping loopiness of ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, something calmer and more traditional – ‘Night Terrors’ has plenty of flaws, but sharp dialogue, strong atmosphere and another great performance from Matt Smith all steer this episode through to a fine conclusion.

What’s it About?: Summoned by an unexpected call via the Psychic Paper, the TARDIS crew find themselves visiting a dreary tower block, where a young boy is living in a state of permanent fear. Eight-year-old George is convinced that there are monsters lurking in his cupboard, waiting to claim him – and the Doctor is soon discovering that he’s frighteningly correct…

The Story: (WARNING: As with most of my Doctor Who reviews, the following contains a hefty load of spoilers…)

It’s not exactly a surprise that an episode like ‘Night Terrors’ has happened on Steven Moffat’s watch – no other New Who writer has been quite so dedicated to exploring childhood fears in such a specific way, and the only real surprise is that it doesn’t come from Moffat, instead being the fourth New Who episode to be written by prolific actor/writer Mark Gatiss. Considering Gatiss’ run on the show has been a bit on the inconsistent side (going from the quality of ‘The Unquiet Dead’ in S1 to the rushed pacing and garbled storytelling of ‘Victory of the Daleks’ in S5), it would have been easy to be concerned about this episode – but while Night Terrors is far better than his Season 5 outing (or the rather weak S2 episode ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’), it’s a curiously quiet and simple episode that settles for being solid rather than memorable.

Weirdly enough, ‘Night Terrors’ is also a semi-flashback to New Who’s history, with a council estate setting that’s like the grungier, less welcoming flipside to the Powell Estate where this latest incarnation of the show spent so much time.  Considering how integral this kind of location used to be to the make-up of the show (especially in S2, where I occasionally felt like Who had transformed into a tour of Council Estates through the ages), it’s a refreshing jolt to find that for Amy and Rory, this is an unusual sight to find on the other side of the TARDIS doors, and shows exactly how much the show has spread its storytelling wings in the last few years.

Of course, much of this grunginess plays into the story of George’s fears (especially Andrew Tiernan as the bullying landlord), and the direction tries as hard as possible to amp up the menace, especially once the action arrives in the shadowy corridors of the dollhouse. It’s been a while since Who has tried this hard to be deliberately spooky, delivering the kind of safe-yet-unsettling child-friendly scares that the programme specialises in (especially in the Jan Svankmajer-inspired scene where the landlord is transformed into a doll), but if there’s an ultimate flaw in ‘Night Terrors’, it’s that it’s a little too deliberate and literal. The story itself is enjoyably presented but surprisingly simple – in a way, the simplicity is a relief after the convoluted histrionics of ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, but it ends up feeling like such a purposeful exercise in fear that there’s very little to it.

We’re on very literal ground here – plenty of Moffat’s scares in the past have been based on the idea that the monsters children are scared of are real (whether it’s shadows, the creatures under the bed, or something you glimpse out of the corner of your eye), so it’s not exactly a surprise when it turns out that George’s ‘monsters’ are very real. Who works best with layered storytelling, especially when it’s undercutting expectation, and while the “She can’t have kids!” is a tremendously effective revelation, most of the episode runs along very traditional, well-telegraphed lines. It’s a ghost train (a phrase Moffat’s used to describe this whole season), but one that never really feels in danger of being more than an entertainingly spooky spectacle. The mishappen dolls are creepy – but without a specific reason for them to be stalking the corridors of the dollhouse (other than “Well, dolls are creepy”) they’re a surface threat to drive the story, and not much else. (There’s also the simple fact that this is basically a standalone episode with no mention of the overall arc (aside from the slightly clumsy end shot) – it’s because ‘Night Terrors’ was moved from the episode 3 slot, replaced by ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’, but it does end up feeling weird that the seismic revelations of ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ don’t get any reference at all.)

At the least, the emotional pay-off of the story genuinely works. Once again, we have an episode climax revolving around a father and son bonding where one of them isn’t what they seem, but thankfully this is much more effective than the similar sequence in ‘The Almost People’. It’s a very New Who case of ‘love conquers all’, but one which doesn’t feel like a cheat, partly because the simplicity of the story keeps the focus on the characters. There’s also, of course, the subtext (which I didn’t spot, admittedly, instead first reading it in Adam Roberts’ great review of the episode here and then thinking “Oh, of course…”) that’s possibly the most subtle and effective use of what sometimes gets stupidly referred to as ‘the Gay Agenda’. In short, George is a kid who’s different (but doesn’t quite understand why), and that difference terrifies him to the extent of convincing himself his parents are going to reject him, and it’s only when his father finds out the truth and tells him that he loves him anyway that the crisis in George’s head is resolved. Add to that the fact that he’s hiding everything that scares him in the cupboard/closet (and the presence of a dollhouse, hidden away), and it’s amazing how blatant yet effective the subtext manages to be, hiding in plain sight and not battering the audience over the head with its own significance.

Ultimately, the episode works better as a spooky, dream-like psychodrama that the lead characters just happen to have wandered into, than as the scary thrill-ride it occasionally seems to want to be. There are some nice visual nods to Terry Gilliam’s cult classic kids adventure Time Bandits, while the support performances ride that New Who line between earnest, effective and a little too cartoony. Daniel Mays is mostly excellent with only a couple of weak moments, Jamie Oram does a pretty good job of maintaining a near-constant level of wide-eyed fear throughout the entire episode, and Andrew Tiernan yet again proves he’s the go-to guy for heavy-set and menacing villains.

It’s the leads who really make this episode, however. The kookiness of the Doctor/Amy/Rory team can feel overwhelming in an episode like ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, and yet here it livens the episode up (with even Amy and Rory feeling slightly alien and out-of-place in this setting), adding colour to the downbeat and grungy world of the council estate. More than anything else, though, Night Terrors once again proves that Matt Smith makes a downright fascinating Doctor, and is arguably at his best when he’s got a relatively mundane setting to play against. There’s something tremendously endearing about the way the Doctor wanders into the lives of George and his father, and Smith controls the leaps from comedy to drama with commendable skill (especially in the “You see these eyes? They’re old eyes” speech). Combined with some great one-liners and enjoyable physical comedy, Smith raises ‘Night Terrors’ up by several degrees, and leaves it as a fun and entertaining episode that’s certainly ahead of this season’s weaker moments, but isn’t likely to linger in the memory.

The Verdict: A solid, modestly enjoyable episode that acts as a good counterpoint to ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, this isn’t Doctor Who at it’s strongest (and does feature a couple of clunky moments, like the unconvincing ‘dragged into the cupboard’ sequence), but a combination of strong dialogue, charm and an effective emotional through-line leaves ‘Night Terrors’ as a quiet but satisfying example of Who storytelling.

Previous Doctor Who Season 6 Reviews:

S6 E08 – ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’

S6 Eo7 – ‘A Good Man Goes to War’

S6 E05/E06 – ‘The Rebel Flesh’ / ‘The Almost People’

S6 E04 – ‘The Doctor’s Wife’

S6 E03 – ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’

S6 E02 – ‘Day of the Moon’

S6 E01 – ‘The Impossible Astronaut’

TV Review: Doctor Who S6 E08 – ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’

Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillen, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston, Albert Welling, Nina Toussaint-White ~ Writer: Steven Moffat ~ Director: Richard Senior ~ Year: 2011

Doctor Who Season 6 Let's Kill Hitler Matt Smith Karen Gillen Arthur Darvill

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

The Low-Down: You certainly can’t accuse Doctor Who of not coming back with a bang. ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ is many things – fast-paced, imaginative, deeply nutty and at times very funny. The only thing it isn’t, though, is satisfying, and this latest batch of episodes looks set to continue being highly divisive…

What’s it About?: Months have gone by, but the Doctor still hasn’t succeeded in tracking down the missing Melody Pond, who’ll eventually grow up to become enigmatic archeologist River Song. Then, however, an encounter with one of Amy and Rory’s friends results in an unexpected trip to 1938 Berlin, and a confrontation with Adolf Hitler that’ll reveal some exceptionally bizarre truths…

The Story: (WARNING: As with most of my Doctor Who reviews, the following contains a hefty load of spoilers…)

As the credits rolled on ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, I experienced a very unfamiliar feeling. I’d felt it before, quite a few times during Russell T. Davies’s run on Doctor Who, and I’ve already felt it often during Steven Moffat’s ambitious but far from perfect run on Who so far… but this was the first time I’d felt it following one of Moffat’s own episodes: actual, genuine, no-holds-barred disappointment.

Yes, despite the largely positive reception the episode seemed to get online (including some absolutely gushing reviews from people like SFX), I found myself scratching my head and actually realising “Oh dear, I don’t think I enjoyed that…” At first, I wasn’t even certain why – it’s not as if ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ doesn’t feature a ton of fun and enjoyable elements, or that it isn’t also crammed to bursting with some genuinely excellent dialogue. There are daring concepts, imaginative touches, and at least one storytelling gambit which (despite earlier reservations) did impress the hell out of me. And yet, by the end of it I was perplexed, baffled, and ever-so-slightly vexxed, which certainly wasn’t the reaction I was looking for.

I suspect this is partly because, in going for his most deliberately comic episode ever, Moffat’s actually crafted the closest he’s ever managed to a genuine RTD crowd-pleasing episode – with all the flaws and annoyances that come with that concept. This is very much a “Look at all the STUFF!” episode that’s absolutely determined to batter the audience down with how entertaining it’s going to be, but also suffers from some wild tonal changes, occasionally clunky dialogue (especially from River Song) and a general feeling that we’re watching lots of fascinating ideas thrown together in a heap rather than an actual story. Moffat’s storytelling often revolves around finding interesting and unusual ways of wrong-footing the viewer and subverting expectations, but ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ is so busy subverting expectations that it never seems to actually stand still long enough to engage as a story. Instead, of being a story, it’s a romp – a chance for the regulars to run around 1938 Berlin shouting at each other, without any real sense of progress or threat (except from the Teselector Antibodies – and, oh dear oh dear, whoever decided to do mechanical jellyfish tentacles should feel very apologetic, as the ‘menacing light-fitting’ attack was some of the least-impressive practical effects I’ve seen on New Who).

Of course, some of this is simply the weight of expectation, as well as the weight of the ongoing story. Moffat has said that the River Song storyline is going to get wrapped up this season (although how conclusively it does this is something we’ll have to see), and this is a very good thing, as the big arc this season has only been intermittently succesful. Many people have waved the ‘Too complicated for kids’ flag, which is nonsense – I have nothing against complicated, but I do have issues with unsatisfying, and that’s what Who is in danger of turning into. The overreaching arc since The Impossible Astronaut (and, in part, since The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang) has gotten insanely twisty and complex – comparisons have been made with Lost, but what Doctor Who is actually in danger of turning into is the modern version of Battlestar Galactica, at least in terms of the central overarching ‘mystery’. In the same way that the Cylon’s ‘plan’ and the general approach of what in the Galactica universe passes for ‘God’ ended up feeling like a loose excuse to string together a series of unconnected and improvised plot concepts, the current Who arc is so determinedly abstract that we’re eight episodes into this season and we can still only barely explain anything of what’s happening – and so much of what has happened can seemingly be summed up by simply saying “Well… Because! That’s why!”

‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ doesn’t function at all as a self-contained story – it’s part of a sprawling arc, but the arc itself is failing to be satisfying for the simple reason that we don’t know what’s going on. We do know that the Doctor is destined to die at the hands of the Impossible Astronaut, and that River is actually Amy’s daughter, and that she was created and programmed in order to be a weapon for killing the Doctor. We don’t know why any of this is happening (and, most frustratingly, nobody onscreen is actually asking). We don’t know why anyone would go to these kinds of insane lengths (like apparently detonating the entire universe in order to contrive the creation of a new Time Lord child) in order to create a plan with so many variables, and yet which currently seems to come down to “Get a psychopath with poison lipstick to kiss the Doctor”. Considering how many people he’s already kissed in New Who, it makes you wonder why they bothered going so complicated…

(Quick theory time: There is a possibility that the events of ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ happen because Melody/Mells escaped from the Silence with some of her mental programming still intact – she’s trying to kill the Doctor in this episode without realising that (as I suspect) she’s already done it, back when she was a child in the Astronaut suit. It’s the best explanation I can think of to solve certain problems – although it doesn’t explain what the Astronaut’s doing in 2011, or why River knows why she’s locked in the Storm Cage facility for and yet doesn’t seem to remember the events surrounding the Impossible Astronaut. (It’s possible she’s lying in that episode, of course, but it’s one hell of a cop-out). I am really hoping it doesn’t turn out to be yet another temporal loop-style “Oh, it happened that way because the Doctor knew the future and so made sure it would look that way” in the same way that River Song only becomes River Song because she’s told about herself. And yet, it wouldn’t completely surprise me…)

There’s a difference between mystery and obfuscation, and after a while the deliberate holding back of details (and the twisting complicatedness of the details we are given) starts feeling like being complex simply for it’s own sake. Like with last year’s finale, it’s the spectacle of concepts, rather than visuals – it’s IDEA! IDEA! IDEA! but the arc isn’t supporting it, and is tremendously difficult to relate to. Amy and Rory’s story arc should be taking them to some very dark places, but Moffat seems to want to throw difficult ideas in (like Melody’s abduction) and then just gloss over the consequences – most especially, in the case of Mells.

If there’s one aspect of this episode that fully displays the weird disconnect between sheer narrative ballsiness and dissastisfaction I experienced, it’s the character of Mells. On one hand, it’s a daring bit of writing, and the reveal of the regeneration (and her identity) did at least seem to justify the way she’d been crowbarred into the overarching story in a not-especially convincing way. But, for a writer whose main talent has been structure and forward planning, the way Moffatt has done this is downright bizarre – after all, there would have been plenty of opportunities to set Mells up as a character earlier, or at least vaguely mention her beforehand, instead of simply going “Oh yes, there’s this character we never mentioned before who’s one of our best childhood friends and who was constantly obsessing about the Doctor equal to (or even bigger than) Amy, and OH CRAP she’s got a gun!” It’s so ridiculously quick that it’s very difficult to swallow (and certainly doesn’t feel like good storytelling) – and it’s one of the elements where I honestly feel that ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ would have worked much better as a two-parter. If we’d had at least an episode to get to know Mells, she wouldn’t have felt quite so much like a comedy sexed-up bad girl thrown in for no other reason to get the plot moving in a very contrived way – as it is, we’ve barely registered her before she’s shot in the gut and then Alex Kingston is unwisely allowed to go rather over-the-top as the newly-born River Song.

(As a complete aside – I actually spent the entirety of ‘A Good Man Goes to War’ utterly convinced that Lorna Bucket, the mysterious ‘Amy Pond that wasn’t’ girl, was going to turn out to be River Song – that she’d die in the end, and regenerate. I was so convinced that I was genuinely nonplussed when it turned out she wasn’t, and I’m left suspecting that this actually would have been much better (and more satisfying) than the revelation we ultimately got).

On top of this, there’s the head-spinning logistics of it all – how did Mells/Melody get from late Sixties New York to Mid/late Nineties Leadworth? Why did she feel the need to hang out with her parents in secret while growing up? I presume Mells had parents – who the hell were they? How accurate are her memories? (And how did she know about Amy and Rory in the first place, considering she’s been abducted as a baby?) Is it all part of the plan, so that she can basically be a ‘sleeper agent’ and wait for the Doctor to turn up? Why didn’t she just kiss the Doctor immediately, rather than pulling an incredibly contrived “Hey, let’s use your time machine as a getaway” plan? How on earth did the TARDIS end up in Berlin 1938, when I would have imagined the Doctor’s response to a female gun-wielding psycho saying “I want to kill Hitler” would be to get her as far away from the Third Reich as possible? And exactly how many sexy-crazy alpha female bad girls is a sleepy village like Leadworth supposed to produce?

And, at the heart of all of this, there’s Hitler. There’s a certain admirable cheekiness to giving him only three minutes of screen time before throwing him in the cupboard, and yet it’s also uncomfortable because it is glossing over and trivialising a massive, massive subject (and using fascism as a backdrop for a light comedy romp and some “Gosh, isn’t it sexy to dress up in Nazi uniform” play from Alex Kingston). Also, the whole title of the episode ends up feeling like a serious con. Throwing the ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ title in at the end of the previous run of episodes set expectations, and the resulting episode doesn’t satisfy any of them – especially since instead of a Hitler-centric adventure, we get something altogether looser, flabbier and less interesting. It’s feeling dangerously like Moffat came up with the title, and then had to leap through all kind of narrative hoops to even vaguely justify it (and attach it to where he wanted the River Song story to go next), while the device of yet again having the Doctor on the verge of death (leading to several sequences that felt like photocopies of scenes from last year’s finale) led to not much more than Matt Smith howling and crawling on the floor like a hermit crab. And at the end, we’re left with exactly the same status quo as before (the Doctor and companions keeping secrets from each other – except this time there’s NO REASON for them to be doing this), and no real sense that we’re barrelling towards a significant ending. Season 5’s arc was occasionally clumsy, but at least felt like it slowly built towards a climax – Season 6, so far, is feeling like a wild collection of imaginative stuff that doesn’t hang together, and which – I’m sad to say – I suspect ain’t going to get anything resembling a satisfying conclusion.

I’d really like it to. I’d love to know who the ‘Silence will Fall’ voice from ‘The Pandorica Opens’ was. I’d like to know why the whole ‘blow up the TARDIS’ plot happened, and who’s responsible. I’d like to know what the Doctor did to annoy the Silence so much, or why their grey-faced servitors (words cannot sum up how frustrating it is to discover that – oh- they’re not called the Silence after all) went to such lengths to control human history just so they could get their hands on a space-suit. I would, in short, like it all to add up to a conclusion that draws a line under this whole section of the show. I just don’t have much faith that I’m actually going to get one.

Please, Steven Moffat. Prove me wrong.

The Verdict: An episode that ping-pongs wildly between inventive and sloppy, ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ has many high moments, but it’s also unfortunately ended up as my least favourite Moffat-written Doctor Who episode so far. My hopes were relatively high for this batch of episodes – they’re not so high anymore. But I’m at least hoping that a return to darker and scarier material, with the upcoming Mark Gatiss-written episode ‘Night Terrors’, might see the series get its storytelling mojo back…

Previous Doctor Who Season 6 Reviews:

S6 Eo7 – ‘A Good Man Goes to War’

S6 E05/E06 – ‘The Rebel Flesh’ / ‘The Almost People’

S6 E04 – ‘The Doctor’s Wife’

S6 E03 – ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’

S6 E02 – ‘Day of the Moon’

S6 E01 – ‘The Impossible Astronaut’

TV Links: The Doctor Who Tube Map

Doctor Who Tube Map by Crispian Jago

There’s something about the map of the London Underground (aka the Tube) – it’s got such a distinctive visual style that if you apply it to anything else, the results are almost always eyecatching. There’s plenty of examples I can think of over the years, but one of the most fun is here: the interactive Doctor Who Tube Map, which maps out the entire history of Doctor Who with all his villains and adversaries as stops on the London Underground. It’s the creation of Crispian Jago, a freelance IT consultant and self-declared ‘Godless Cornish Git’, and it has to be said that he’s done a splendid job – there are some typos (which apparently have been already highlighted to him on Twitter), but it’s always cool to see this kind of fan project, especially with the level of dedication that needs to go into it to get it right. So – anyone up for a trip to Judoon, taking in Cybermen, Zygons and Arcturus?

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