TV Review: ‘Doctor Who’ 2017 Christmas Special – “Twice Upon a Time”

It’s two Who’s for the price of one as the Twelfth Doctor prepares for change…

Spoiler- free review

D Who - Twice Upon a Time

Once more unto the breach: The Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is united with the First Doctor (David Bradley) for a fitting final adventure…

Starring:  Peter Capaldi, David Bradley, Mark Gatiss, Pearl Mackie

Written by:  Steven Moffat / Episode directed by:  Rachel Talalay / aired in the UK and U.S. :  25/12/2017

What’s it about?

Fighting to prevent his inevitable regeneration, the Twelfth Doctor goes on one final adventure as his path crosses with his original self…

Episode review

The Doctor Who Christmas special is all the more poignant this year in that it marks the end of an era and like “The End of Time” all those seven years ago we wave goodbye to not only the current serving iteration of the Doctor – played by Peter Capaldi – but also headwriter/showrunner Steven Moffat who took over the reins from Russel T. Davies in 2010.

“Twice Upon a Time” certainly is poignant, although it isn’t necessarily Moffat’s finest hour it’s still a fairly good one that’s bolstered by the reliably brilliant Peter Capaldi who delivers a strong, passionate and moving final performance.  It’s quite a sombre affair at times but Steven Moffat still finds the odd moment to inject a stroke of sly wit and warmth into proceedings.  The central plot is surprisingly quite light and what’s there is a bit overly complicated and slightly befuddling – something basically involving memory-stealing avatars made of glass and frozen time but woven in, true Moffat style, a bit of a twisty-turny manner.

There’s also a heavy dose of reverence and nostalgia to the franchise’s history that casual viewers will not fully appreciate, for hardcore fans it’s a sweet treat – particularly the transitions between archive footage of classic Who serial “The Tenth Planet” and modern recreations of scenes from that 1966 story.

These niggles aside, it’s the union of Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor and his original self that provides the special’s most enjoyable aspect.  Played by William Hartnell between 1963 and 1966, the role of the First Doctor in “Twice Upon a Time” is taken on by David Bradley, who portrayed Hartnell so wonderfully in 50th Anniversary docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time and is equally captivating here.  Bradley skilfully melds elements of his own performance with an unabashed homage of Hartnell and the argumentative but affectionate interplay between the two Doctors – of very different eras and attitudes (jokes surrounding the changing social landscape and political correctness adding a chuckle or two) – is a real highlight.  Mark Gatiss is also solid as the First Wold War army captain drawn unwittingly into the Doctors’ adventure as they attempt to repair the damaged time stream and Pearl Mackie has a touching final bow as the endearing and sprightly Bill Potts.

For an episode of modern Who, “Twice Upon a Time” unfolds at a more gentle pace than expected, there’s a perhaps unnecessary tie back to series 8’s “Into the Dalek” that serves to up the ante but ultimately draws things out, but it’s in the focus of the characters and themes of regret, acceptance, change and hope in the face of darkness that are the main narrative thrust, it’s most ‘Christmassy’ part a fitting tribute to the Christmas Eve truce at Ypres in 1914.

As a regeneration story “Twice Upon a Time” isn’t as impactful as previous outings, it doesn’t quite achieve the gut punch of David Tennant’s sorrowful and dramatic exit in “The End of Time” or the tearfully heartfelt swansong of Matt Smith in “The Time of the Doctor” but this is arguably down to the fact that much of Capaldi’s departure had already been dealt with in the series 10 finale.  It does make it all feel a little anti-climactic but it still pulls the emotional strings somewhat.

So, with a twinge of sadness, in a nicely executed (if a tad familiar) regeneration scene we see Peter Capaldi leave the TARDIS but it’s with a hint of excitement that we get a brief tease of Jodie Whittaker’s incoming Thirteenth Doctor and a promising glimmer as to all the fresh creative possibilities a female incarnation of the iconic Time Lord (Lady?) will bring to the franchise.

The bottom line:  An enjoyable final romp for the Twelfth Doctor, “Twice Upon a Time” isn’t the strongest Christmas special for Doctor Who but a fitting exit for its outgoing lead non-the-less.

Doctor Who returns in 2018.

What did you think of this year’s ‘Doctor Who’ Christmas special?  Share your thoughts below!

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Film Review: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

Disney whisks viewers off on another journey to a galaxy far, far away…

Spoiler-free review

 

SW Last Jedi

The ‘Star Wars’ saga continues with Rian Johnson’s visually astonishing ‘The Last Jedi’.

Starring:  Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis

Directed and written by:  Rian Johnson / 152 minutes

What’s it about?

As the Resistance fights for survival against the First Order, Rey seeks to learn the ways of the Force and draw Luke Skywalker out of exile in the hope of restoring peace to the galaxy…

In review

Following the colossal success of The Force Awakens and Rogue One, Disney unleash their latest cinematic Star Wars adventure with the ominously titled The Last Jedi, episode VIII of the main saga which focuses on the story and legacy of the Force-strong Skywalker family.  Helmed by Looper director Rian Johnson, the title of this latest chapter may imply that all is hopeless with nothing but darkness beyond, yet despite some desperate stakes and high drama there’s still an overriding sense of optimism and a good dose of fun and humour (albeit some of the latter at times feeling out of place) along with the requisite spectacle that’s an essential element of any Star Wars outing.

It’s not a perfect film though and The Last Jedi doesn’t always fulfil its ambitions, there are certainly some wisely employed creative risks and surprising twists but the plot becomes burdened by one sub plot too many and a pace that drags momentum from time to time.  There’s also some commercialism at play, where it seems clear that Disney have one eye on potential merchandising revenue.  That being said, The Last Jedi is at least as good as The Force Awakens, even outshining it some instances though ultimately, it doesn’t achieve the same lauded status of ‘masterpiece’ awarded to classic instalments A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.  Still, The Last Jedi, on the whole, is undeniably a good Star Wars film.

Picking up where The Force Awakens left off, General Leia’s Resistance faces annihilation by the First Order as Leia and her forces are relentlessly pursued by General Hux (a slightly cheesy but enjoyable Domhnall Gleeson) who seeks to eagerly prove himself to the sinister Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).  Leia’s only hope is that Rey can convince Luke Skywalker to cease his self-imposed exile and help end the First Order’s tyranny once and for all.

There is a jumble of sub plots along the way as the story shifts between Rey’s time with Luke and her exploration of the Force, the plight of the dwindling Resistance fleet, Kylo Renn’s continued slide into darkness and Finn’s (now recovered from the injuries he sustained in The Force Awakens) secret mission to a Casino planet.  It all hangs together in the end but it does result in some uneven pacing.  Thankfully, viewers are rewarded with an exciting, emotionally charged and epic final act that can be considered amongst the greatest Star Wars moments ever.

Where The Last Jedi can sometimes stumble in keeping its narrative concise and properly focused, it excels in its characterisation, actor performances and visual appeal.  Firstly, Mark Hamill is superb in a surprisingly more tortured, less hopeful take on Luke Skywalker, here a grizzled, brooding recluse who sees himself as much more of a failure than the legend he is purported to be.  Hamill is given some of the best material to work with and it leads to one of the finest performances of his career.  Likewise, the late Carrie Fisher is captivating in her final screen role with a turn that’s poignant and enlightening and together with Hamill provide The Last Jedi with a strong, satisfying and nostalgic emotional core.  The newer generation of characters are once again a delight, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are the clear standouts but there’s, pleasingly, an increased function for Oscar Isaac’s fearless Poe Dameron who, beyond more daring feats in the cockpit of an X-Wing, gets to butt heads with Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo.  John Boyega, again, brings a neat balance of fun and seriousness to Finn and although his adventure to Canto Bight is one of the weaker and more unnecessary plot elements it facilitates the introduction of Kellie Mary Tran’s Rose and Benecio Del Toro’s shady convict ‘DJ’.  Andy Serkis turns in another fine motion capture performance as Snoke and is a decent enough villain but it doesn’t feel as though the character quite lives up to the bleak threat that seemed promised in his brief appearance from The Force Awakens.

Director Rian Johnson (who also writes) is a masterful storyteller, delivering some astonishing visuals.  The expected space battles, ground assaults and lightsabre duels are all there and executed with attention and skill but it’s in the quieter, more emotional character focused moments, tied together with some rather trippy Force-infused sequences, that give The Last Jedi its own unique voice and originality – there are things in this film that have never been seen in a Star Wars film before and The Last Jedi is all the better for it.

Anticipation for The Last Jedi has been feverishly high and it’s unlikely to please everyone but as it stands, it’s a strong entry in the Star Wars franchise that’s not without flaws but is a highly enjoyable if not instantly classic SF Fantasy adventure.

The bottom line:  The Last Jedi has its flaws but is without a doubt a good Star Wars film and a highly enjoyable blockbuster that is a worthy addition to the series.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in cinemas now.

Comic Review: ‘Batman’ #36

Tom King dives deep into the heart of DC Comics’ most complex and enduring friendship…

Batman 36

Clay Mann’s striking cover for DC’s ‘Batman’  #36 (image belongs: DC).

Written by:  Tom King / pencils by:  Clay Mann / inks by:  Seth Mann / Colours by:  Jordie Bellaire

What’s it about?

“Superfriends” Part One : for many years Batman and Superman have fought alongside each other and even against each other…with Bruce Wayne’s engagement to Selina Kyle, the two heroes explore what they truly mean to one another…

In review

Whilst there has been an absence of an ongoing Batman/Superman title during DC’s Rebirth (now rebranded under the ‘DC Universe’ banner) both characters have still played a part in each other’s storylines as well as appearing together in the likes of Justice League and Trinity.  The history and dynamics of the relationship between DC’s Dark Knight and Man of Steel is a complex one, both fight for justice but their methods somewhat differ as do their morals – this has often lead to conflict between the two characters but there’s always been the notion that their core values are in alignment and a sense that they share an unspoken brotherly connection.

In Batman #36, writer Tom King takes the simple premise of a parallel narrative as the story jumps between Batman and Superman’s current crime thwarting efforts and uses it to flesh out and provide a deeper and more personal understanding of a complicated ‘friendship’ (as Superman finds himself questioning whether Batman really wants or needs a friend) between two men, born of different worlds – literally and figuratively.  With the world of Batman comics shaken by the recent engagement of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, this seems the perfect time to tell such a story where Bruce Wayne/Batman and Clark Kent/Superman agonise over whether one should call the other to discuss the news.  It’s a straightforward concept but it’s in the execution where King excels and having each hero’s respective partners in crime fighting and life – Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Lois Lane – function as the voices of reason is the genius stroke, whereby Bruce and Clark are able to divulge their true feelings of respect and friendship.

“Superfriends” is elevated further by returning artist Clay Mann (aided by inker Seth Mann) who’s powerful, attentive and intricate visuals are of great benefit.  His style has a sort of scratchy and nourish look to it that would generally seem a stronger fit for the dark and gritty world of Batman, but Jordie Bellaire’s well utilised colour palette makes it work equally well for the brighter and more optimistic world of Superman.

Tom King’s run on Batman has been a highlight of DC’s Rebirth and beyond, and whilst some arcs have been stronger than others (how could “Rules of Engagement” have hoped to top “The War of Jokes and Riddles”?) it’s been a consistently strong title and right now, DC’s best comic – if you’re not reading it, you really should be.

The bottom line:  Tom King delivers one of his strongest issues of Batman yet and together with artist Clay Mann gives readers a compelling insight into the bond between two of DC’s finest.

Batman #36 is published by DC Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Comic Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ #1

IDW launches its latest Star Trek title…

Spoiler-free review

ST Discovery #1

Main cover art by Tony Shasteen for IDW Publishing’s ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ #1 (image belongs: IDW)

Written by:  Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson / pencils and inks by:  Tony Shasteen / colours by:  J.D. Mettler

What’s it about?

“The Light of Kahless” : the Battle of the Binary Stars is over and T’Kuvma is dead…but what drove the Klingon warrior to pursue conflict and his desire to forge a new era of glory for his people?

In review

For those who have been enjoying Star Trek: Discovery and eagerly await its return from hiatus in January, IDW Publishing’s new ongoing tie in comic is an essential read and an ideal way to get your Discovery fix in the absence of any new episodes.

Written by Trek comics veteran Mike Johnson and Discovery writer/Star Trek novelist Kirsten Beyer, with art from Tony Shasteen (Star Trek: Boldly Go), Star Trek: Discovery #1 kicks off Klingon-centric story arc “The Light of Kahless”.  Doing what the very best Trek comics and novels have always done, IDW’s Discovery title fills in the gaps of what we’ve seen on screen, adding background and depth as well as fleshing out character, delivering a satisfying missing chapter to the story being explored by the television series.  Opening in the wake of the Battle at the Binary Stars (as depicted in the show’s opening two-parter), the comic takes us back into the past as we learn of the troubled upbringing of T’Kuvma – ill-fated warrior and ‘saviour’ of the Klingon Empire – on the Klingon homeworld of Qo’nos, his discovery of the ancient sarcophagus ship and the forging of his path to glory.

Johnson and Beyer’s script hits all the right notes, effortlessly capturing the tone and ‘voice’ of the television series whilst expanding and enriching the mythology of Klingon culture as it is in Discovery, providing a deeper exploration of the themes of religion, tradition and war touched upon in the show together with a more detailed understanding of T’Kuvma’s motivations in his quest to bring about a new age for the Klingon race.

Unsurprisingly, the art by Tony Shasteen is phenomenal with the expected high quality and strong, meticulous detail that’s a faithful representation of Discovery as well as expanding the universe by giving readers a look at the home of the Klingon Empire as yet unseen in the series.

Some readers may be disappointed by the absence of any Starfleet/Federation presence and the main characters of Star Trek: Discovery but there’ll surely be opportunities to tell those stories further in the title’s run.  Right now, this is the sort of arc needed to embellish the narrative of Star Trek: Discovery’s journey on the small screen.

The bottom line:  A perfect companion for fans of the television series, IDW’s Star Trek: Discovery comic delivers an engaging and visually appealing look into some of the show’s backstory.

Star Trek: Discovery #1 is published by IDW and is available in print and digital formats now.