“That’s Not Just Any Tomb. This Is The Tomb Of The Ice Queen…”
Ah, the Ice Warriors. Those awfully designed, avocado shaped, freezer magnets. Whilst many contemporary Who fans would have been made aware of their existence in the slightly better than average, Matt Smith-led “Cold War” back in Series Seven, their history through the Whoniverse begins all the way back within Patrick Troughton’s stint in the late 1960’s, with their second appearance within “The Seeds of Death” arguably being the biggest fan-favourite episode in which they are the primary antagonist of the piece. Returning this week and facing battle with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor in “The Empress of Mars”, the Ice Warriors are moulded into submission by constant Moffat companion Mark Gatiss who returns as a guest scriptwriter, following on from Series 9’s fan dividing episode “Sleep No More” and whilst many are aware of Gatiss’s love for all things Doctor Who, the multi-talented sci-fi geek is behind a script which although is pleasing in many aspects, also suffers from a slight feel of anti-climax, particularly in regards to the trio of episodes most recently, and whilst Gatiss’s work on Doctor Who has never really been consistently excellent, “The Empress of Mars” is arguably the weakest episode of the series so far, if remaining to the motif of a more “classic Who” feel which has been more than rife throughout this year’s series.
Whilst Matt Lucas’s Nardole is once again cast out as side-companion, appearing only at the beginning and end of the story, Pearl Mackie is once again a real treat to be seen at Capaldi’s side, offering quick, infectious quips when necessary and holding a sense of ingrained humanity when comparing her outrageous situation to the likes of famous science fiction movies. At the heart of the narrative, the titular female leader of the Ice Warriors can only be regarded as somewhat of a major letdown, one whose one-dimensional characterisation lacks a complete sense of threat even when shooting funky lazer beams at endless cannon fodder who are transformed into anatomy defying squares of death. Whilst the endgame of the story is simple enough for even the youngest of minds, Gatiss does make up for a mediocre script with a concluding scene which links in the previous appearances of the Ice Warriors in the best fan-pleasing way possible when as soon as the high-pitched voice of Alpha Centauri was heard, my heart was won completely over and my mind was thrown back to the Pertwee years, a winning formula whenever when considering Pertwee remains my favourite Doctor to this very day. This week’s episode was good enough but still remains the weakest of the series so far. Maybe next time Gatiss.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Never Before Have We Had An Informant This High Up In Russian Organised Crime…”
Following on from the hit BBC miniseries The Night Manager starring Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston in essentially what was a pretty strong audition tape for the now seemingly vacant role of Bond after this week it was reported Daniel Craig had turned down a rather lucrative amount of money to carry on as the famous spy. Our Kind of Traitor is an adaptation of the same-named best selling novel by John le Carré, the author whose novels have indeed caught the eye of both the small and the big screen rather recently, with 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy featuring a near perfect performance from Gary Oldman, being arguably the best of the big-screen adaptations to date. Featuring Ewan McGregor and Stellan Skarsgård, Our Kind of Traitor is one of those strange cases of a film not entirely having much wrong with it, but it is no doubt seemingly a film which is too televisual and nuanced to have the spark many of the similar examples of the genre have had in the past, particularly when held up against The Night Manager, a much more interesting and complex thriller than that of the latest John le Carré adaptation.
During their holiday in the far reaches of Marrakesh, married couple Gail (Naomie Harris) and Perry (Ewan McGregor) become embroiled in a Russian mobsters’ plot to defect from his native country and find safe haven in the UK in return for handing all information regarding the illegal finances that split right through the heart of the organised crime syndicate. Although at first reluctant to help in fear of their own safety, Perry and Gail soon realise the lives of not only themselves but the lives of the traitor Dima (Stellan Skarsgård) and his family too. During the course of the movie, it is inherently hard to watch the acting talents of people such as Naomie Harris and Damian Lewis and wonder whether actually what you are indeed watching is a mix between Bond and Homeland, particularly in regards to the notion that much like The Night Manager, Our Kind of Traitor is a story that essentially belongs on the small screen, but by some rather miraculous achievement has instead managed to gather financial backing and the talents of McGregor and Skarsgård to be placed upon the big screen. Our Kind of Traitor is by no means a failure, it just doesn’t seem to have the dramatic quality to render its’ stay within the cinematic spectrum a necessity and whilst Skarsgård devours the scenery around him, less can be said about others around him. McGregor! Not bad, but not exactly remarkable. Watch with a cup of tea and a ginger biscuit. At home.
Overall Score: 6/10
“None Of This Makes Any Sense!”
As a huge advocate of horror movies in general, this week’s episode of Doctor Who attempted to hop aboard the well-and-truly-used trope train that is the “found footage” genre, a film-making technique that has now begun to strike fear into the heart of many critics who believe the invention of franchises such as Paranormal Activity and subsequent admirers, including this years’ terrible The Gallows, have well and truly sealed the fate of the once ground-breaking mode of movie-making which although came to the attention of many with the release of The Blair Witch Project in the late 1990’s, can be traced all the way back to the release of Cannibal Holocaust in the mid-1900’s. For me personally therefore, “Sleep No More” was bound to be an interesting and slightly off-key episode of Doctor Who, yet the signs were inherently positive from the beginning. Doctor Who meets The Blair Witch Project? Sounds unmissable in my book.
Beginning with a notable dismissal of the opening theme tune and credits, something of which I believe has not occurred throughout the shows’ 52 year history, we are introduced to a spectacle-wearing mystery, a man who appears to be the last survivor of a deserted space station, and a man who is very clearly telling us not to watch any of what is to come in the next 45 minutes. Intrigued? Sure, and add into the equation a minor rescue squad and the rather swift introduction of some rather eerie deathly creatures, this weeks’ episode sets the tone straight away, with “Sleep No More” essentially being Doctor Who meets Event Horizon with a dash of Blair Witch, and it’s rather brilliant. Although it can be easily argued that Who has kind of missed the boat when it comes to embracing the lost art of the found footage genre, it can also equally be argued that with all the nonsensical releases that adhere to such a format released in the past few years, that Who in 45 minutes has accomplished what some feature films completely miss out on, a sense of threat and drama which uses the found footage technique to its’ advantage in creating a spooky and fundamentally organic episode of Doctor Who, of which, I believe, will be one of the most memorable episodes of the Capaldi era in years to come.
Where the episode strangely both succeeds and fails is in its’ attempt to coherently paint a picture of what is actually happening aboard the spaceship, with the Doctor’s ramblings of “None of this makes any sense!” essentially mirroring the exact same feelings from the viewer with Mark Gatiss’ script obviously attempting to be rather ambiguous in a similar vein to last years’ Series 8 episode, “Listen”, a trait I believe will cause some viewers to underrate the episode because of its’ desire to not paint out a whole picture by the numbers and instead leave it dangling by a titillating thread. Ending on a rather spooky cliff-hanger, “Sleep No More” continues the trend of Series 9’s surprising consistency, mixing the found-footage genre in with the sci-fi wonder that is The Doctor and Clara’s ventures around time and space, making it for me personally, one of the best of Capaldi’s reign so far.