Saturday, September 29, 2012

Doctor Who - The Angels Take Manhattan - A Review

The finale of the first part of Doctor Who’s seventh series just finished and I think I’m in a bit of a state of shock. It was an episode written by a writer I don’t particularly like, bidding farewell to a companion I don’t particularly like. By all accounts, I was prepared not to like The Angels Take Manhattan. And yet for forty five minutes I sat in front of my TV, laughing one minute and almost close to tears the next. It was absolutely fantastic.

The Doctor and Amy in Times Square, in Doctor Who's breathtaking Series 7 finale.

The Angels Take Manhattan being Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill’s last episode, it’s both unsurprising and fitting that Amy and Rory were the highlight of it. What made Amy in particular so great in this episode was that she was portrayed in the way that she should have been portrayed all along: with emotion. It’s as though, in her final hour on the show, Steven Moffat finally got her right. For a long time I never really felt she deserved Rory (his assertion in Asylum of the Daleks that he loved her more than she loved him hit the nail bang on the head, I thought), but in this episode she proved that she did, and she also proved that she is no longer the cold, emotionless being she started out as. The scene on the roof of Winter Quay perfectly illustrates that point. I thought that all the emotion in that scene would stem from whether or not Amy would be able to bring herself to push Rory to his death; and, in fairness, that in itself would have been an incredibly moving scene. What I didn’t see coming, however, was Amy climbing up to jump with him. That moment was her admission that she wouldn’t be able to live without him, and it’s moments like that that showcase Doctor Who at its best.

Echoes of that scene atop Winter Quay were definitely present in Amy and Rory’s final scene in the graveyard, too. In it, Rory makes the mistake of going to look at his own grave, and then ends up being zapped back in time by a rogue survivor Angel. That final scene works wonderfully well because not only do you have that heartbreaking admission from Amy that a Life Without Rory is a Life Not Worth Living, but you also have a kind of wonderful, neat symmetry that brings Amy’s journey full circle. The motif of Amy’s Choice – choosing between Rory and the Doctor – is one that has been brewing for three series now; in last week’s blog I talked about how rewarding it was for Amy to have chosen Rory, but at the same time I really got the feeling that that choice would have repercussions for her, and that it would definitely play some sort of role in her departure. And I guess I was right. In those moments where Amy stares at the Angel that took husband, she is confronted by the choice she has been faced with all along for the final time – except this time it’s much, much more extreme. Whereas before she could bring Rory along during her life with the Doctor, and could have the Doctor drop in from time to time during her life with Rory, this time she has no choice but to choose one over the other. And the fact that she chooses Rory in an instant, without even blinking (haha), without even a guarantee that she’ll be able to find him if the Angel takes her, proves how much she loves him, and shows the side to Amy that was missing all along.

"Raggedy Man, goodbye." Amy bids farewell to the Doctor.

Making that scene even more heartbreaking than it already is, though, is the Doctor and River’s presence (brought to life by the always-fabulous Matt Smith and Alex Kingston). As Amy prepares to let the Angel take her, she calls out to River and says,

“Melody… You look after him. And you be a good girl and you look after him.”

I don’t even know how I held it together at that point! Because there we see Amy talking to River as a mother would talk to her daughter, and we’re reminded of how dangerous travelling with the Doctor can be; it is, after all, because of him that Amy never got the chance to be a proper mother to her child. And so, in that line, we see one of the only moments in her life where she really gets to be River’s mother – and then we realise that it’s the moment she says goodbye to her. Furthermore, it’s very interesting (and, of course, sad) to look at what the Doctor says, and in particular this line:

“You are creating a fixed time. I will never be able to see you again.”

Hmm. “I will never be able to see you again.” When you think about it, it’s a bit of a selfish thing to say. He doesn’t want her to stay for her own sake, he wants her to stay for his. But of course, we don’t think any less of him for that. On the contrary, we can’t help but feel for him there. It’s a very real thing to say, and it makes perfect sense after his admission in The Power of Three about how much she means to him. In fact, what makes the scene so incredibly sad is not just Amy’s goodbye, but seeing what the goodbye is doing to the Doctor. We see him cry and even break down, and we see him plead with her and beg her not to go.

“Amy, please, just come back into the TARDIS. Come on, Pond, please.”

If you have a heart, that scene is tough to watch. And to top it all off, there’s a great big orchestral rendition of an evolved Amy’s Theme, too, representing how as a character she has grown and moved on. At risk of repeating myself, it’s simply heartbreaking – there’s no other word for it.

The Doctor and River make a sad scene even sadder.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – in fact, for most of the episode I was smiling like a goon. River Song has been my favourite minor character pretty much since Silence in the Library, so obviously I was delighted at having her back. Steven Moffat noted in an interview before the episode went out that this was not an episode about her, it was merely an episode that featured her. And frankly, as much as I love River, that’s the way it should stay. The price you pay for having a character with such a complex timeline is having storylines that are overly complicated; unfortunately last year, where the series arc basically revolved around her, the stories got bogged down in timey-wimey complications and it just wasn’t very good at all. River works best as a recurring guest; that’s what she was in The Angels Take Manhattan, and that’s why her appearance was so good. As always, her interactions with the Doctor were pure gold. As much as I loved the Doctor slicking his hair and checking his breath was okay before seeing her, the moment that really got me “aww”ing was the one where he gave up some of his regenerative energy just to heal her broken wrist. I’ve got to admit, the shallow Doctor/River fangirl part of me died a little bit at that. (And then she slapped him! How fantastic!) I’m just glad that her final scene hinted strongly at her return in future episodes, though. Of all the characters he writes, Moffat writes River best - she’s just a joy to watch.

The grief of a Time Lord.

Overall, the episode had a lot going for it. The use of the Melody Malone book to frame the whole thing was particularly effective, and tied in nicely to the theme of spoilers and not peeking ahead that is synonymous with River’s character. (The fact that Rory got zapped by the Angel at the end is perhaps the strongest proof that you shouldn’t peek ahead – after all, if he hadn’t looked at his own grave (even though he didn’t know it was his own grave) he wouldn’t have been zapped in the first place. So there you go!) And of course, having New York as a backdrop gave the episode a real epic feel. Filming in Central Park gave it an ambiance that a soggy park in Cardiff would never have been able to give, and, as ever, Times Square never fails to look visually stunning. My only complaint is that there weren’t quite enough shots of New York to whet my appetite; as stunning as Times Square is, it will never be done justice if its total screen time amounts to just a few seconds. But even that is just a minor complaint. The only other real gripe I have is that the Weeping Angels have still never quite been used as effectively as they were in Blink, although I suppose cheapening them slightly is worth having the Statue of Liberty as an angel. Yeah, I can live with that.

Central Park gives The Angels Take Manhattan that unmistakeable New York feel.
It’s almost hard to believe that there’ll be no more Doctor Who now until Christmas. Five episodes is not enough, and I really, really disagree with this whole idea of splitting the series into two – it just doesn’t work. That being said, though, because Series 7 was much stronger than Series 6, it just about got away with it. I still wouldn’t call myself a Moffat fan by any stretch of the word, but I’ve got to admit that he knocked the ball out of the park tonight. If every episode in this era of the show could be as strong as The Angels Take Manhattan, I’d be a very, very happy Doctor Who fan indeed.

But the real question is, what did you think of the episode? Let me know!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Downton Abbey - A Review of Series 3 So Far

Downton Abbey, now two episodes into its third series, feels like a completely different show this year, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. The first two series were very much bound together by the cloud of war; the first series was the calm before the storm, and the second series showed that storm in full swing, reminding us that in times of great crisis petty things such as class divides really don’t matter very much at all. The characters, throughout those two series, often alluded to a great sense of change pervading the air; World War I is typically seen to represent a loss of innocence across society, and it is that loss which arguably kickstarts that societal change. Series 3 of Downton, contrary to building up to and foreshadowing that change, shows it in action. Set in the Roaring 20s, there's new 20s hair, new 20s suits ("Oh, you two are dressed for a barbecue!") and, tonally, it feels world apart from the show that began with the sinking of the Titanic, setting in motion a fateful chain of events.

Worlds Apart - Downton Abbey is a very different show these days.
The change in time seems to have manifested itself via a reshuffling of the cast. Sybil and Branson no longer feature particularly heavily, the nature of Anna and Mr Bates’ storyline has inevitably led to them being somewhat sidelined, and the introduction of such characters as Shirley MacLaine’s Martha Levinson (whose appearance is, admittedly, limited to just two episodes) and Matt Milne’s towering but loveable Alfred really does give Downton a very different feel this year. A cast reshuffle can often be good for a show, but only if done right, and I’m not sure that Julian Fellowes has quite hit the nail on the head. Sybil and Branson’s slow-burning but powerful romance built to a steady climax throughout the first two series, and it was so effective that I’d probably cite is as my favourite storyline of the show so far. Their presence was a real highlight of the first episode of this third series, but their absence in both the Christmas special and tonight’s episode were very keenly felt indeed. Similarly, the latter half of Series 2 saw Anna and Mr Bates’s contributions to each episode relegated to worriedly whispering in corners of the servants’ quarters, highlighting a failure on Fellowes’ part to “show, not tell”. I was hoping that this series would rectify that, but so far it looks as if the only change to their storyline is the location of their consternation-filled talks; instead of Downton, they’re now in prison. (It's also worth mentioning that Daisy, having gotten over her infatuation with Thomas and her storyline with William having drawn to a close, noticeably seems to serve no purpose anymore, and instead spends most of her screen time either seeing things that she shouldn't or complaining.) And whilst the banter between Shirley MacLaine’s Martha Levinson and Maggie Smith’s Violet was supposed to be one of the key draws of this series, one can’t help but feel that, actually, it’s not that good. Some of it is amusing, yes, an obvious example of which is Violet’s quip that, “When I’m with [Martha], I’m reminded of the virtues of the English.” “But isn’t she American?” “Exactly.” Mildly entertaining, yes, but I’m afraid the exchanges don’t rival the verbal jousting between Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton in preceding series. One of my favourite pieces of dialogue ever will always be this:

Violet: You are quite wonderful, the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal.
Isobel: I take that as a compliment.
Violet: I must have said it wrong.

Disappointing - Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson.

Watching Episode 2 this evening seemed to confirm growing fears in my mind that the plot to this series of Downton is, so far, rather weak. The will-they-won’t-they excitement of the Matthew/Mary relationship has been tempered by their marriage, and the consequences of Lord Grantham’s dodgy investments fails to reach the emotional heights of the last series, where the characters’ primary concern was not the financial upkeep of Downton Abbey, but whether or not their friends and families would ever return to them from the war.

However, despite those flaws, the episode also established and built upon several plot strands which I’ve found really rather moving and effecting. Lady Edith’s relationship with Sir Anthony Strallan has arguably been longer in the making than that of Sybil and Branson, and there’s much more uncertainty in the will-they-won’t-they aspect of their relationship than there was in Matthew and Mary’s. But more interesting than whatever the conclusion of their story will be (which, by the looks of the trailer for next week’s episode, looks rather promising) is the fact that, as an audience, we seem to be rather rooting for Edith to get her happy ending. In Series 1, Edith was jealous, manipulative and, on the whole, thoroughly unlikeable. But over the course of the show, we as an audience have come to sympathise with her and really understand her situation, to the extent that we now share her hopes of a happily ever after. And that kind of character turnaround – from wholly unlikeable to downright loveable – always impresses me.

Lady Edith Crawley - a perfect example of how character development should be done.

But what affected me most about Episode 2, what really really got to me, was Mrs Hughes’s story. Since the first episode I have absolutely adored Phyllis Logan’s portrayal of Mrs Hughes. She manages to give a character who, on paper, might seem a little cold, a heart of pure gold. In many ways she’s always been a bit of a tragic character – forever stoic, and unwilling to let her personal feelings get in the way of her duties at Downton – but perhaps that’s part of her charm. Either way, she’s a character I really, really love, and one who is a part of the very heart and soul of the household she serves. And so naturally the revelation that Mrs Hughes has breast cancer really got to me. The fact that on screen it is revealed so suddenly and so out of the blue is an accurate reflection of her character, never wanting her personal problems to get in the way of what must be done. But that bluntness certainly helped add weight to the blow. Literally as soon as Mrs Patmore told Mrs Hughes that she could indeed feel a lump, I let out an, “Oh no,” and brought my hands to my mouth, instantly hoping that the character Julian Fellowes’ has told us will die in this series won’t be her. Now, although I do get quite emotional at times when it comes to TV, my reaction struck me as different to any reaction I’ve ever had to TV before – and not just because of how much I love dear old Mrs Hughes. Unfortunately, it’s because, once again, art is imitating life, and all too suddenly it was as though this plot strand was striking a little too close to home. You see, I recently found out that someone I greatly admire – someone who’s given me a lot of advice, guidance and support over the years – has breast cancer, just like Mrs Hughes. And just like Mrs Hughes, she, too, appears to be trying to keep her news as quiet as possible. I’ve been thinking a lot about her cancer over the past few days (the big realisation it made me come to is for another blog and another time), and to see it presented on screen like this… Well, I’ve never been able to really, truly relate to a fictional story before, but I can safely say I have now. So this is one plot strand that is going to have me completely engaged and involved for the whole series, without a shadow of a doubt.

Heartbreaking - Phyllis Logan as the stoic, loveable and brave Mrs Hughes.

Overall, I guess you could say the first two episodes of this series of Downton Abbey haven’t showcased the series at its best. But I’m not giving up hope yet, because it still has those moments where it just sings, and I don’t want to miss a single one.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Doctor Who - The Power of Three - A Review

For me, Doctor Who has always been about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and extraordinary things happening in ordinary places. But the dawn of Steven Moffat’s era seemed to largely herald an end to that vision of the show. If you look at the episodes from Series 5 onwards, you can just about count on one hand the ones that are set in modern day Earth. And I think that a lot of the poor characterisation that is synonymous with this era of the show is linked to the fact that its ties to the modern day have been next to non-existent in recent times. What I liked so much about The Power of Three, though, was that it brought the show back to the Extraordinary Things Happening In Ordinary Places mantra that worked so well for it in the past. For arguably the first time in the Moffat era, this modern, social media-driven world was presented well and accurately. And for the first time in the Moffat era we were given a decent insight into what the consequences of travelling with the Doctor really are (whereas it took Moffat three series to deal with this hugely significant issue, Russell T Davies had explored it by the end of the fourth episode of his first series). And, credit where it’s due, this episode really worked.

The highlight of the episode was, by country miles, the scene in which the Doctor and Amy sit by the Thames, watching the city by night. It sort of addressed a motif that has been touched upon before; just as Amy’s choice in Series 5 was between the ordinary (Rory) and the extraordinary (the Doctor), so was it again in this episode – should she and Rory choose the ordinary life, with friends and jobs and houses and anniversaries, or the extraordinary life with the Doctor? To an extent, it’s a decision that all companions have had to make. With Rose, there was never any question that she would choose life with the Doctor. The same goes for Donna. But the consequences of that decision were tragic for both characters – because of that decision, their on-screen stories had to end tragically, with them being involuntarily separated from the Doctor. Admittedly, Martha did stop travelling of her own accord, but that was more because being around a man who would never love her back was no good for her, and because of what travelling with him had done to her family. So what’s interesting about this story is that, for once, we’ve got two companions that are genuinely torn between two lives, and who are very close to choosing the other life. That’s not really a path that’s been explored in New Who before, but at the same time I think it’s a very real, and very human, response to their situation. Travelling through space and time is one thing, but at the end of the day, home is where the heart is. The fact that Amy is behaving in such a human manner is a giant leap for her character, an absolutely giant one - not least because the Amy of Series 5 would have chosen the extraordinary life in a heartbeat. What we’ve got here is evidence of an actual, proper character journey. And it’s so rewarding that it almost makes up for all the years where she was nothing more than an emotionless shell.

"You're thinking of stopping, aren't you?" The Doctor and Amy watch London by night.

The other highlight of that scene is the speech that the Doctor gives to Amy. We’ve heard him state before that the human life is “the one adventure [he] could never have.” We’ve seen him in episodes like The Lodger actually show us that he could never live a normal life. And whilst it’s not difficult to understand why he can’t live a life like that, we’ve never actually heard him stand up and articulate in his own words exactly why not.

“I’m not running away. But this is one corner of one country in one continent on one planet that’s a corner of a galaxy that’s a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond, and there is so much – so much – to see, Amy. Because it goes so fast. I’m not running away from things, I am running to them before they flare and fade for ever. And it’s all right. Our lives won’t run the same. They can’t. One day – soon, maybe – you’ll stop. I’ve known for a while.”

As I said, we may have seen him be unable to cope with living life in the slow lane (and in the right order) and we may think we understand why, but hearing him explain why not to us is absolutely monumental. It allows us right into the Doctor’s head (just look at that second sentence – it’s so long and fast that it’s like his thoughts about this are almost too strong to be put into words), and that isn’t something that happens an awful lot on this show. Normally, everything we see is seen through the companion’s eyes, which is why the few times where we get to see things through the Doctor’s are so special.

Now, there’s no way I could end this review without mentioning Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart. I don’t venture onto Doctor Who sites as often as I used to, so I had no idea prior to the episode that there was so much speculation about who her character would be. And my Who senses are clearly waning, because even when she told the Doctor her name I still didn’t figure out who she was. Therefore the revelation that she was the Brigadier’s daughter was a real surprise for me, and an absolutely lovely one at that. One of the main reasons why her character worked (apart from Jemma Redgrave’s wonderful performance) was that she wasn’t written with the intention of being a female replica of the Brig. He was such a vital part of the show’s history that it would almost have been insulting to try and simply replace him with a character designed to be exactly like him. Instead, Kate is a strong, independent, likeable character in her own right (and take note, Moffat, that she didn’t have to be “feisty” like Sally/Amy/Clara/etc to be so); she’s not trying to be the Brigadier (hence why she dropped the ‘Lethbridge’ from her surname), but she is carrying on his good work. And overall I think that her character was one helluva tribute to both the character of the Brigadier and to Nicholas Courtney himself. I’m just really, really hoping we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in future – New Who’s UNIT needs a character like her.

Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart, a wonderful character and an even more wonderful tribute to the Brigadier.

So, overall, no major gripes with The Power of Three. It won’t ever be one of the great Doctor Who stories, but it was a really enjoyable, strong episode nevertheless and it followed on nicely from last week’s similarly enjoyable A Town Called Mercy. The Ponds’ grand finale is next week, and as long as the Weeping Angels are as good as they were in Blink (and not as poor as they were in The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone), it looks set to be a great episode. I mean, it’s set in New York and has got the fabulous River Song in it – what more could you want? Lovely jubbly.

(Also, just saying, this episode contained some of the best cameos in the show’s history. Professor Brian Cox, Lord Sugar and Sophie Raworth. Forget the Doctor, Amy and Rory – I think they’re the power of three that the title alludes to!)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Big Bang Theory

Having heard nothing but fantastic things about The Big Bang Theory from pretty much everyone in the civilised world, about three weeks ago I forked up £25 and bought myself a DVD boxset of Seasons 1-4 of the show. Now, it's three weeks later and I've finished watching all 5 seasons of it, and I'm wondering what I ever did with my time before!

In many ways, The Big Bang Theory is a very odd programme. You wouldn't normally expect a show that is distinctly and unashamedly about Nerds and All Things Nerdy to be such a hit. Neither would you expect a main character like Sheldon Cooper (who, let's face it, could so easily have been universally hated) to have been so taken into the hearts of millions and millions of people. And yet, it was and continues to be a hit, and Sheldon Cooper is loved by all. The Big Bang Theory's Facebook page boasts over 23 million fans, whilst Sheldon Cooper's page comprises over 9 million fans. The world is a very strange place indeed.

The delightfully nerdy (except for Penny!) cast of The Big Bang Theory.
That being said, I'm not complaining at all. I happen to think that The Big Bang Theory is one of the funniest and well-written shows of the 21st century, and as a bit of a nerd myself I can't help but love it whenever Star Wars or Doctor Who or Superman gets a mention from characters who love those things even more than I do. To a degree, I think that one of the many keys to the programme's success might just be that kind of fanboy obsession. Because even though the bulk of the show's audience will not have seen every episode of Star Trek or Red Dwarf or Firefly and will have no desire to do so either, I'm willing to bet that every single one of them will still be able to identify with the kind of love Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard have for them. Who can honestly say that they're not a fanboy/fangirl of something? Whether it's a sports team, a brand like Apple, or whatever. Each one of us has at least that one thing that we love to pieces and love to geek out over, and to see that kind of love translated onto screens taps into the inner fanboy/fangirl in all of us. It allows us to empathise with the characters, and we appreciate them for being so willing to express their love for their interests in either the same way as we do or the way that we wish we could.

I mentioned Sheldon Cooper in an earlier paragraph, and anyone who thinks that he's not at the very core of why the show is so popular is just plain wrong. Sheldon is played by Jim Parsons, and in his time on The Big Bang Theory he's won awards galore. He's won 2 Emmys, a Golden Globe, a People's Choice Award, a Critics' Choice Award, and more. And do you know what? He deserves every single one of them and then some. The quality of acting in Comedy is something that is often overlooked, and it's easy to forget just how brilliant actors in comedy shows often are. But with Jim Parsons, it's understandable why he's been met with such universal critical acclaim. In short, his performance is nothing less than astounding. Forget learning all the technobabble and monologues that Sheldon comes out with (which is in itself is a Herculean feat) - it's the way that Jim becomes Sheldon that's truly astonishing. I mean, I know it's nothing unusual for an actor to become a character, but there's something more to it when Jim does it. I've seen Jim in interviews, and watching them it's clear just how much he changes every facet of himself when he becomes Sheldon. His mannerisms, his body language, even his voice - every tiny little nuance, it all changes. And not necessarily in an extremely obvious way; a lot of the time the changes he makes are very very subtle. But the fact remains that the transformation he as an actor undergoes is phenomenal. I also mentioned earlier that it would be very easy for Sheldon to be unlikeable; again, it's a testament to the quality of Jim's acting that he makes Sheldon not just likeable but in many ways absolutely adorable. Underneath all the arrogance and condescension, there's such a vulnerability and gentleness to Sheldon. And actually, the way he's played, you can't help but like him. In essence, Jim Parsons' portrayal of Sheldon is one of the finest displays of acting you're ever likely to see, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that, and I'm just so glad that that's been recognised, and that we as viewers are lucky enough to get the opportunity to see him at work week after week. Now Jim, come and do a play in the West End so I can see you live, damn it!

Jim Parsons is stunning in the role of Sheldon Cooper.

In general, it's usually comedy shows that make me laugh and dramas that have scenes that make me sit back and go, "Wow." But the best ones do both. The best dramas can make you laugh and cry. And the best comedies make you laugh at most scenes but also sit back in amazement during others. And, obviously, The Big Bang Theory is one of those comedies. The one scene that stands out most for me is the final scene of Season 5's final episode, The Countdown Reflection. In it, Raj, Bernadette, Amy, Sheldon, Leonard and Penny sit in front of their television screen and watch their friend (and, in the case of Bernadette, husband) Howard journey into space. I know Chuck Lorre said in his vanity card for that episode that what choked him up most about that scene was the fact that the characters all subconsciously reached out to each other to hold hands, and whilst I agree that that moment was beautiful, the most beautiful line of all - and what made that scene perfect in every sense of the word - was Sheldon's final line. Just 4 words:

"Boldly go, Howard Wolowitz." 

Do you know what? The whole show is summed up in those 4 words. And a lot of the human condition is, too. Human beings are meant to explore. We've crossed oceans and climbed mountains. We're meant to reach out and, with outstretched fingers, touch the face of God. That's what Howard was doing, and that's what his friends knew he was doing. And those 4 words encapsulate everything. They encapsulate how we humans cling on to and love even tiny things like television shows, whilst at the same time strive towards the extraordinary and things that are greater than ourselves. It's an expression of admiration, pride, hope, friendship and humanity. - All that... in 4 words in a 30 minute comedy show. And if things like that aren't what makes The Big Bang Theory so special, then... BAZINGA to you!!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Doctor Who - Asylum of the Daleks - A Review (Spoilers)

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of Steven Moffat or his vision of Doctor Who in the slightest. That being said, I still approach each new episode with an open mind, and hope against hope that I'll love it. On Saturday evening Asylum of the Daleks hit our screens, and with it heralded the arrival of a brand new series of the world's longest running sci-fi show. And as usual, there was me, sat on my sofa, hoping I'd be amazed. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Before I talk about just a small handful of the many gripes I had with the episode, for the sake of being balanced I'd like to point out that there were parts of it that I actually liked. The unexpected appearance of future companion Jenna-Louise Coleman, for example, provided a nice "Oh wow!" moment, and was a welcome piece of proof that not all spoilers manage to leak their way onto the internet. Secondly, the scene which reveals just why Amy and Rory have drifted so far apart (she can't have children and didn't want him to have to live the rest of his life without them) was handled absolutely beautifully. I don't think Karen Gillan always gets it right with her acting, but she definitely did in this scene. Arthur Darvill, too, really nailed it with his understated approach to the scene, combining disappointment and sad acceptance with the right mix of heartache.The whole thing just pulled at the heartstrings.

Karen Gillan delivers the episode's most emotional moment.

But then, what ruins - or at least significantly dilutes - good things like that for me are mistakes and misguided assumptions on the part of Steven Moffat. Whilst the inclusion of Jenna-Louise Coleman was undoubtedly a big deal for the ming-mongs, the impact of her appearance will have been almost non-existent for the casual viewers who simply have no idea who she is - and let's not forget that it's those viewers who make up the vast, vast majority of the show's audience. I am aware that Doctor Who always features small elements that only the fans will get, and I don't think that there's anything wrong with that; my problem this time around, however, is that the deliberate inclusion of a future companion is not a small thing. Yes, her appearance in this episode will almost undoubtedly be referenced in a future episode, but that's missing the point. The point is, the bulk of the show's audience was denied one of the biggest "OHMYGOSH" moments of the new series. And to make things worse, I feel that this is indicative of a worrying trend in Moffat's writing. More and more, Doctor Who appears to be descending into a forty five minute spectacle of Moffat trying to shoehorn in as many GIF/Tumblr-worthy lines as possible, often recycling one-liners that weren't all that funny to begin with. Maybe it's just me, but I don't feel entirely comfortable with the idea of Doctor Who being written with its fanbase as its core audience. And this leads on to my problem with the other thing I liked about the episode: the main Amy/Rory scene. I've already established how great I thought that scene was. How awful, therefore, for that to be cheapened by one throwaway line at the end of the episode. The "Yessss!" Rory does right before Amy lets him back into their house? Awful. Why? Firstly, he already knew that they were getting back together - that had been established MOMENTS before. The reaction was redundant. Secondly, that scene had established just how delicate a topic their break-up is; it had clearly caused a lot of pain and damage to both Amy and Rory. And for all that to be resolved and swept under the carpet with a simple "Yessss!" Sorry, I don't buy it. And the worst thing is, I'm willing to bet that Moffat wrote that line thinking about how great a GIF it would make.

The first appearance of Jenna-Louise Coleman

To prove I'm not a Moffat basher, though, I'd like to give credit to the man for canning most of the God-awful rainbow Daleks that were introduced to the show in Series 5. And credit to him also for trying to go somewhere new with the Daleks. I'm not sure how successful that Dalek exploration was, but credit to him for doing it in the first place.

I'm not going to list all the things about the episode I didn't like because this post would go on for ever and I don't want this blog to turn into the Julia Moans About Things website. However, I do think it needs mentioning that even Matt Smith, who's usually nothing less than spectacular as the Doctor, was conspicuously underwhelming in this episode. (Well, his hair looked better than usual - I'll give him that.) It got to the stage where, when he was shouting to the Daleks, "What are you waiting for? At long last, it's Christmas. Here I am." I was focusing much more on how appalling his enunciation was than on what the scene meant in the context of the episode. As an actor, saying your lines clearly is Rule Number One, and I'm shocked that an actor as brilliant he is can get such basic things wrong.

Surprisingly, Matt Smith disappoints in Asylum of the Daleks.

Incidentally, as common a criticism as this may be, it does indeed look like Moffat has, again, made the mistake of writing all of his female characters in the same way. At this stage, Oswin's dialogue, if read in isolation, could easily be passed off as that of Amy's, River's, Sally Sparrow's, etc. However, this is only episode one. This isn't the new companion's introductory episode. We have no idea if Jenna-Louise's companion will ultimately be anything like she was in Asylum of the Daleks. So, until we've seen more of her, I'll not write her off just yet.

So why do I still watch the show if I dislike it this much? Well, anyone who knows anything about me knows just how much the Russell T Davies era of the show means to me - it shaped a lot of who I am and it's what got me so interested in television in the first place - and it's out of loyalty to that era that I still watch. Russell's era made me love Doctor Who and made me realise that, at its best, television doesn't get much better. However, I can't help but feel that this era squanders that potential. Doctor Who could be so much more than it is right now, but it's not. I could never honestly say that I hate this era, because at the end of the day it's still Doctor Who, but I would definitely say that I'm disappointed with it, and episodes like Asylum of the Daleks show why.

(Thanks to for the screencaps.)