“So Today, I Want To Talk About The Greatest Woman I’ve Ever Met…”
Much like the beginning of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor many moons ago, the eleventh series of Doctor Who brings with it both a fresh, new incarnation of the travelling Time Lord alongside an alternative showrunner, with Broadchurch creator, Chris Chibnall, taking over the reigns from Steven Moffat who presided over both Smith and Peter Capaldi’s time in the role which boosted the show into international success. Getting the primary talking point from the new series out of the way, The Doctor has of course decided to shift genders, with Chibnall reuniting with Broadchurch star, Jodie Whittaker (Journeyman) to offer up the first female incarnation of the character in the show’s fifty five year history, and whilst my main concern isn’t of course anything to do with the gender of a character who not only is alien but has managed to last on our screens for over fifty years, there are particular worries regarding Chibnall’s ability to take over a show loved by so many across the globe, particularly when you examine Chibnall’s previous writing credits on the show which so far have been anything less than impressive. Here we are however and what “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” proved to us was that the show is indeed headed in a different course entirely to the Capaldi era, channeling more of the early Smith-led episodes for an opener which was high on ideas but low on execution.
Utilising a full hour to not only introduce a brand new Doctor to the world but a considerable amount of new companions too, Chibnall grounds his opening episode in contemporary Sheffield, where a regenerated and slightly shaken Doctor crashes into the lives of the Sinclair family and Mandip Gill’s probation serving Police Officer, Yaz, who believes her time is better spent than dealing with more than parking disputes. With hammy acting and quick-fire comedic dialogue, Chibnall’s writing feels more than a touch of Moffat’s handling of Matt Smith’s Doctor, and even with a wide range of local, Northern banter which keeps on reminding that “We don’t get aliens in Sheffield”, Whittaker’s first performance manages to blend the kookiness of Smith and Tennant with the sincere dramatic pull of a Eccleston or Capaldi, with the former particularly coming to mind in how his early beginnings seemed to show an actor uncomfortable with the lighter touches than the heavy doses of drama. With dark, brooding cinematography and a Blade Runner-esque heavy synth soundtrack from Murray Gold replacement, Segun Akinola, Chibnall’s attempts at balancing the tonal waverings of the show does slightly fail, and even with a staggering amount of death and a rather creepy leading antagonist which looked like a cross between the Green Goblin and the monster from Jeepers Creepers, the feel of the show never really settled down but undeniably still managed to evoke more of the “classic” Who than one would have imagined. With bundles of exposition adding to its’ downfall, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” was no means a disappointment, just an opening hour which comes nowhere near to the excellent openings NuWho has presented in the past, and with nine weeks to flourish and become her own interpretation, Chibnall’s’ reign begins in interesting, if flawed fashion. That theme tune though.
Overall Episode Score: 6/10
“You May Be A Doctor, But I Am ‘The’ Doctor, The Original You Might Say…”
Introduced briefly within “Day of the Doctor” via the iconic gaze of his distinctive grizzly eyebrows, Peter Capaldi’s interpretation of the travelling Time Lord has undeniably been my own personal favourite of the modern incarnation of the series since it began back in 2005 due to a wide collective of reasons including the Scottish actor’s personal fondness for the ways of the classic series in which he has both played courteous respect to and adapted upon to become the first real “true” Doctor since the series was revived. Of course, many will undeniably disagree, but for a fan whose introduction to the series began years before talks of a revival even simmered to the surface, the likes of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker were critical in identifying the blueprint archetypes for the characteristics of the Gallifreyan, and what Capaldi’s tenure has accomplished is the way in which it has brought back these fundamental elements of the classic series in which I hold in such stupendous esteem. With “Twice Upon a Time” therefore, not only do we wave a melancholic goodbye to the Twelfth Doctor, but to showrunner Steven Moffat too, who after seven years at the helm hands the reins over to Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall, and what the two great Scots have left us is a surprisingly low-key tale of two falling Doctors who are unable to cope with the thought of their oncoming, inevitable death, and whilst Capadli’s tenure doesn’t conclude with as big as bang as previous regeneration tales, “Twice Upon a Time” is a fitting and emotionally engaging final act.
Beginning with a recap which takes the audience to events depicted in William Hartnell’s own regeneration story, “The Tenth Planet”, David Bradley’s uncanny interpretation of the original Time Lord is re-introduced, setting the narrative in motion for a cautionary tale which favours discussion and contemplation over over-zealous nonsense, and an easy to follow secondary plot thread which completely counteracts the rather ploddingly handled Matt Smith finale, “Time of the Doctor” which decided to monkey wrench in as many narrative arcs and plot twists as humanly possible. With a returning Pearl Mackie added to proceedings, her presence is rationally explained and wholly justifiable, resulting in the return of the delicious chemistry between herself and Capaldi which encompassed the entirety of Season Ten, and with David Bradley scarily matching the politically incorrect mannerisms of his respective Doctor, the first three quarters of the episode balances notions of death, both before and after, to a more than entertaining, sombre extent. Of course, with regeneration much publicised, the concluding act of the episode dedicates its’ time to Capaldi’s farewell tour, with particular returning faces resulting in a fusion of both fan-pleasing giddiness and heart dropping sadness, and with a final speech which not only reinforces Capaldi’s merits as a terrific dramatic actor but a truly perfect Doctor, the time inevitably comes for the first sight of Jodie Whittaker as Doctor number Thirteen, and whilst her time on-screen is way too short to make a reputable impression, the future looks bright for a show which is heading in a direction of both freshness and excitement. Farewell, Mr. Capaldi, you were and still are the Doctor we needed. The King is dead, long live the Queen…
Overall Score: 8/10
“There Is Only One War That Matters. The Great War. And It Is Here…”
When attempting to combat the weight of expectation from a series finale, showrunners and writers have to understand completely the balance between payoff and the mouthwatering expectation of the audience in regards to wanting more as quickly as possible. In the case of “The Dragon and the Wolf”, a feature length episode which included everything you have come to expect from a standardised GoT entry, Series Seven managed to craft together effectively enough a crowd-pleasing conclusion to a series which has ultimately been short on explanation and high on spectacle, and whilst ironically “The Dragon and the Wolf” was arguably the most talky episode of the series, it also showcased how smoothly the show manages to push particular plot lines ahead without ever feeling as if the mediocrity of exposition comes across truly as an issue. With death, dragons, sex and the falling of both key characters and prestigious Westerosi landmarks, Series Seven’s concluding chapter was the kind of episode which made the entirety of its’ core audience flock to Twitter in order to discuss the radical changes and future ills which are set to occur within a final season which might not even brace our screens for at least another two years. I know, the feels.
Beginning with the positive, the concluding image of an undead dragon, one controlled by the megalomaniacal bringer of death which is the Night King, cutting through the wall like knife through butter, was impressive to say the least, and whilst the show has sometimes come under fire for particular elements which don’t completely work due to a limited budget, the falling of arguably the show’s most iconic landmark was both terrifying in terms of what such destruction ultimately means as it was remarkable to behold, particularly on a strictly technical sense. Aside from the wall, the death of Littlefinger was also both grimly and poetically handled, and whilst the disposal of one of the show’s key, plot-threading characters was always inevitable, it is sad to see the slimey figure of Aidan Gillen leave the show after a remarkably long tenure as the most infamously loved crafty sod on television. Where the episode ultimately doesn’t completely fit together however is the core reveal at the centre of the narrative regarding the heritage of Jon Snow, a reveal which was so obviously expected that the conjecture of both the realisation of such and the inevitable scene of Ice and Fire combining was somewhat flat in its’ handling. Picky, I know, and whilst Series Seven has swayed away heavily from the slow moving, chess-esque positioning of characters and set pieces which encompassed previous series, the blockbuster action and iconic fantastical battles have made the latest series of Game of Thrones arguably the most crowd-pleasing one yet. Until next time.
Episode Score: 9/10
Season Score: 8.7/10
“Smart People Don’t Come Up Here Looking For The Dead…”
With the penultimate episode of each Game of Thrones season renowned for being either filled with spectacle or rife with tear-inducing character deaths, “Beyond The Wall” was an hour of television which undoubtedly fit such a mould rather extravagantly, and whilst the long-awaited battle of fire and ice was finally presented on-screen after years and years of build-up, the epic fight sequence at the heart of the episode was only the beginning of the true fight which lies ahead for the battling forces within the realm of Westeros. Focusing primarily within both the North and the frozen grounds of death covered plains on the other side of the wall, our merry band of travellers led by the ever growing grisly figure of Jon Snow began the first half of the episode with the expletive laden banter the show’s audience has come to expect from characters such as The Hound and Tormund, yet within the midst of the sniggers and laughs, the touching sentiment between Jon’s conversation with Jorah was rather effectively done, with each living off the past sins of their own respective father’s but still forcing a way through to combat the even bigger threat which faces them together as a whole, with the snappy dialogue which GoT has been renowned for acting as the catalyst for the character development scenes to work efficiently enough to not seem just hammered in for the sake of it, even when the conversations switch from areas beyond the wall to Dragonstone and then back north again to Winterfell in lightning fashion.
With the concluding half of the episode fuelled with spectacle and mystical action, the crowd-pleasing set pieces which the show tends to get so damn right was once again on top form, with the shot of our brave heroes surrounded completely by an army of the dead staggeringly accomplished even when the audience is too savvy to think any of the truly key characters are set to meet their maker, with the murderous streak of previous important individuals inevitably halting for now with the show’s endgame in near sight. With undead beasts and the bone-crunching destruction of white walker after white walker in the spirit of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, the real kicker of the story is of course the death and resurrection of a particular flying creature, and whilst it was hard to imagine the trio of Dragons surviving throughout the entirety of the series unscathed, the sight of the Night King coldly deciding to dispatch one of Dany’s scaly children was a rather extraordinary and iconic moment to witness. With action a go-go throughout, “Beyond the Wall” was a crowd-pleasing blockbuster of an episode, one which featured enough mind-bending set pieces and destruction to please even the most cynical of audiences, but in an almost uncanny vein to many contemporary summer, big budget movies, is too an episode which suffers from particular narrative flaws which prevent it from being the second masterpiece of the series so far.
Overall Score: 9/10
“We Either Serve And Die Or Fight And Die. I’ve Made My Choice…”
Beginning with perhaps the most obvious rescue in Thrones history, “Eastwatch” was a curiously intriguing episode, one which swapped action set pieces for cleverly maneuvered interactions, resulting in a swiftly paced hour of television which saw the return of long lost characters, the reunion of old friends and enemies and a game-changing couple of narrative tweaks which had fans screaming at the television with frustration the one minute and then applauding with joy the next. With Bronn inevitably the saving grace behind the cliffhanger of last week’s episode, allegiances seem to be at some sort of an end between the two after the latter understandably quipped, “dragons is where our partnership ends”, and whilst Bronn may have lost a selection of fans for his attack on Drogon last week, the comedic chemistry between himself and Jamie is still rife and effective as ever, even after witnessing an abundance of soldiers being shot up in flames. Furthermore, the death of both Tarly father and son raised an interesting predicament for Daenerys’ characterisation, with her villainous streak seeping out once again and arguably becoming more jarring by the second, yet with the vessel of Jon Snow by her side, you would expect each to learn from each other and ultimately level each other out, particularly after Dany’s shocked reaction to Drogon’s response to Jon.
Fitting in as many storyline developments as humanly possible within the second half, “Eastwatch” managed to swing in a glossed over historical game-changer, the long-awaited return of Gendry and the forming of Thrones’ own magnificent seven who ventured out beyond the wall in an attempt to begin preparations for the battle with the dead. Whilst this week’s episode was indeed low on blockbuster action, the low-key smuggling attempts and shadowy meetings in the dark made the episode feel almost Season One-esque, particularly with Littlefinger having the screen time to return to his more dastardly means at Winterfell, and whilst the travelling times for particular characters in Westeros has somewhat been subsided, “Eastwatch” was a thoroughly enjoyable episode, one which crammed in as much information as possible with a sole purpose of setting the ground for the remaining two episodes which are guaranteed to be explosive entertainment. We are ready.
Overall Score: 9/10
“Catelyn Stark Would Be Proud. You Kept Your Vow…”
Holy of all moly’s. In an almost prophetic fashion, my outspoken quandry’s with last week’s episode in regards to the fast-paced dissecting of particularly important battle sequences were well and truly rectified this week by a fifty minute episode of Game of Thrones which featured undoubtedly a collection of the most fist-pumping, crowd-pleasing moments in the entire history of the show so far, with the standout concluding act having all the ingredients to emphasise what makes HBO’s television King so darn addictive. Beginning where the episode kicks off however, the ever-graceful fan-appointed ambassador of all things Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss, once again emphasised the ever-increasing debt to the Iron Bank from Queen Cersei, and whilst the raid of Highgarden seemed to put an end to such a predicament, the roundabout narrative of who seems to be winning the war for the Iron Throne ultimately made such a solution non-existent come the end of the episode, and whilst King’s Landing was undoubtedly not the star of the show this week, Season Seven so far has impressively handled the ever-shifting power struggle in such a way that you can never surely say where the overall narrative is heading.
Within the far reaches of the North, the return of all remaining Stark children to Winterfell was a real sight to behold, particularly when admiring how far each has come since their introduction in “Winter Is Coming”, a level of admiration which is effectively shown to be shared by the children themselves towards each other, with Arya particularly showcasing the skills and tricks she has developed during the battle with Brienne which emphasised the notion that size really doesn’t matter. The return of Arya to Winterfell will undoubtedly bring with it it’s own spate of surprises, and after the nervous infliction of Littlefinger’s stare into the eyes of the Stark youngling, you would be safe to assume Lord Baelish might have to start getting used to a timid disposition in the halls of Winterfell, with the Valyrian steel dagger used in Brann’s attempted murder somehow at the heart of such danger. After the concluding battles of last week’s episode, the Dragon Queen turned to Jon Snow for guidance in the art of war after being treated to a step back in time in the undergrounds of Dragonstone, and whilst the inevitable endgame is for both fire and ice to join hands in both battle and in marriage of some sort, it does seem we are quite a while off from the all-sparks chemistry of the show’s leading power couple to be.
Now, on to that concluding battle. As previously mentioned, the quickfire conclusion of both the battle for Casterly Rock and the overthrow of the Tyrell’s at Highgarden last week was disappointing to say the least, yet after watching arguably the most enjoyable, redemptive, action-packed battle sequence of the show to date this week, I can understand completely why the money and the effort was saved for a concluding ten minute sequence which featured everything from a long-awaited Dragon massacre, the Lannister army turning to Ash and a deep sense of conflicted allegiances when seeing both Jamie and Bronn at the heart of the action. With myself mirroring the thoughts of Tyrion when witnessing Jamie ride head-first up to Daenerys and the wounded Drogon, the sight of watching everyone’s favourite one-handed Lannister sink into the depths of the sea was interesting to say the least. On the one hand, (No pun intended) the weight of both his armour and the lack of effective co-ordination when it comes to a swimming ability should in theory result in certain death, but with a character as important as Jamie to be cast off so easily and so anti-climactic would be major false step, particularly when everyone is so eager to see Cersei’s reaction to finding out who the real instigator of Joffrey’s death truly was. “The Spoils of War” is the type of definitive Thrones episode which showcases everything brilliant about the show, and with a effects ridden spectacle to top it off, this season finally has found its’ first masterpiece.
Overall Score: 10/10
“Stark Men Don’t Fare Well When They Travel South…”
It’s almost as if Game of Thrones can’t win at this very moment in time, with my own personal complaint of perhaps the first two episodes taking a while to really get going being completely sucker punched this week with the release of an episode in which arguably too much happens in such a short space of time, and whilst I’m up for the narrative zooming forward when it can, particularly with the remaining episodes decreasing down in number to almost single digits, it was strange to see an episode in which not one, but two dreadfully important battle scenes were skipped over in a heartbeat when in previous seasons, it would have taken each an episode to tell the tale. Of the many positives of the episode however, the long-awaited meeting of Ice and Fire at Dragonstone was impressively handled, with both Daenerys and Jon Snow immediately hitting it off on the charisma scale, with conversations regarding sins of the father and the future of the war for the Seven Kingdoms adding a juicy level of suspense to the interactions between the guiding lights of one possible, optimistic future. As Dany correctly quips;”you better get to work Jon Snow”.
Elsewhere in Westeros, Euron finally manages to convince that he is indeed one of the most comedic villains in the GoT repertoire to date, with his woeful sweet talk managing to effectively offend and delight at the same time depending on whether you are indeed Jamie Lannister or every other human being who can’t help but laugh at the discussion of a particularly private query regarding Cersei’s favourite erm, pastime. Whilst murder and bloodshed has never been minimal in a show like GoT, the death, both rapid and slow, of particular major characters this week almost felt surprisingly second-hand, portraying a concoction of character cast-offs in a manner which felt as if the writers seemingly view murder as the only fitting conclusion for particular plot threads, and whilst the show is miles off from the shockingly awful final seasons of particular time-consuming shows (Dexter, I’m looking at you), the fear of closing every narrative line with the finality of death is really just a cop-out, particularly when considering the time spent absorbing yourself into the lives of particular individuals on-screen. Another effectively entertaining episode which once again suffers from middling issues, Season Seven ain’t half consistent so far.
Overall Score: 8/10
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“We Must Stand Together, All Of Us, If We Hope To Stop Her…”
If last week’s opening episode of Game of Thrones Season Seven was efficiently catalogued as “much filler, little killer”, this week’s episode, “Stormborn”, is the first real sign of the current season that time is not exactly of the essence when it comes to the concluding strands of the show’s main interwinding narratives, with the episode cramming in character returns, gory medical examinations, a long-awaited romance scene and an epic sea battle all over the course of a swifty edited sixty minutes. Within the midst of an abundance of action, Daenerys and her merry band of Cersei-hating avengers seemed to take centre stage after their middling appearance in the season opener last week, and with treachery being forgiven, the return of Melisandre and the notion of the Dragon Queen finally meeting up with the King in the North, tasty doesn’t exactly cover the ground which was effectively covered within the cold halls of Dragonstone, cold halls which set the battleground alight with Tyrion’s masterplan on how to finally overthrow the rule of his much maligned estranged family.
In the case of John Snow, his out and out reluctance to act in accordance with tradition ultimately benefitted Sansa and the watchful eyes of Littlefinger, whilst Daenerys’ belief that Jon will simply bend the knee is an interesting development when surely the two are the leading lights in taking the Seven Kingdoms into a golden dynasty, particularly when remembering the true familial tree in which the King in the North derives from. The B-Movie, exploitation scene of the week belonged wholeheartedly in the hands of Samwell, whose amateur understandings of deep, deep medicine resulted in the slimy, oozy reduction of Jorah’s greyscale, a scene juxtaposed rather distastefully and suddenly with the image of food, putting the masses off hot, sloppy stews for the forthcoming weeks or so. Concluding with an action-packed, murderous slew which tips the balance in favour of King’s Landing rather too early to comment on its’ effectiveness, “Stormborn” does indeed push the plot threads forward more efficiently than its’ predecessor but with more battles and bloodshed coming next week, the masterpieces of the season still are awaiting to be admired.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Shall We Begin…?”
Welcome back ladies and gentlemen, the single greatest contemporary television show of our time finally returns to the small screen after an agonisingly stagnated wait after HBO decided it was best for the fans to hold out for over a year until we could return into the ways of all things Westeros and finally witness the beginning of the end, with the start of Season Seven counting down a tally of just 13 episodes until the resolution of who will ultimately get to sit on that awfully uncomfortable Iron Throne and rule the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms. Whilst previous season openers have tended to sway more on the recap of particular characters and story-lines instead of meaningfully furthering the overall plot, the seven episode structure of GoT’s latest season arguably offers less time for such meanderings but with the many wars ahead set to come, it comes at no surprise that “Dragonstone” does indeed conform to the usual series premiere standard, offering the chance to revisit the many lives of our leading characters whilst laying out the red carpet for the many stories which lie ahead for the next seven weeks.
With an opening sequence which is as joyous in its’ sense of redemption as it is ultimately violent in its’ devolution of an entire familial tree, Season Seven’s opening episode reminds us why the show is so damn watchable, with each of the many plot threads having the chance to push slowly forward, including the return of Daenerys to her homeland and Cersei’s acknowledgement that King’s Landing is the epicentre of danger from all sides of the Kingdom, with each having their own reasons for overthrowing the dastardly Lannister reign. Whilst Cersei has arguably now taken over the mantle for leading villain of the show, her superb characterisation over the history of the entire show results in a clash of conflicts regarding who will eventually end up on the Iron Throne, and with Jamie himself questioning why the battle continues after the dynasty of their rule has faltered with the death of their children, it is almost inevitable that the fall of the Lannister’s will be a conflicted mix of melancholia and long-awaited fate for a family who have caused so much bloodshed over the show’s entire run.
Whilst there are particular elements which don’t entirely work, including the cringe-inducing and grating inclusion of a particular famous songwriter and too many contemporary in-jokes which clash with the overall tone of the series, the premiere’s most effective scenes are still the secluded and dramatic conversations between characters who are destined to be at the centre of the overall narrative moving forward, with the conflict between John and Sansa at Winterfell being of particular interest considering the latter’s penchant for independence and authority even when the symbol of her half-brother (Or Not) is the leading figure of rule within the North. One of the more interesting developments too was the acknowledgement from Sansa of her subverted respect for Cersei, with those earlier season scenes of Cersei attempting to reason her villainous ways now catching up with the narrative, creating a sub-plot which will no doubt continue to be at the heart of the underlying conflict from the ruling command at the North. Suitably entertaining and fist-pumping in places, “Dragonstone” is a more than fulfilling opener for a series which is guaranteed to have an array of twist and turns in the coming weeks.