GLOBAL MOURNING: DEATH AND THE ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA by PAUL LAIGHT

GLOBAL MOURNING: DEATH AND THE (ANTI) SOCIAL MEDIA by PAUL LAIGHT

“All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.”
William Shakespeare

 
Death: the final frontier.  The long anorexic finger of the reaper hangs over all of us and the annoying thing is we can do nothing about this. We are cold hard truth Cassandra.  We know we are going to die; we just don’t know when. The cruel irony of life is we don’t know why we are here or where we are going when it ends. Today alone – according to Google – the utter bastard that is death has taken approximately 150,000 people worldwide due to: illness, war, old age, murder, accidents, suicide, natural disaster and so on.  Of course we cannot grieve everyone but death is always magnified when we lose a famous or esteemed person. Recently we have lost musical genius David Bowie, acting gentleman Alan Rickman and hard-rocker Lemmy.

Of course these are sad losses to the art and entertainment worlds as all were esteemed entertainers who seemingly lived their lives to the full.  Bowie especially had a phenomenal talent for Phoenix-from-the-flames-like reinvention and for me remains one of the greatest songwriters this country has ever produced; while Rickman was a fine acting talent who always brought gravitas to every role. Lemmy was well, Lemmy: a hard-drinking-hard-playing-hard-drug-taking-mad-man!

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What I have observed is the various approaches to mourning across the world, media and more specifically the Internet which generally explodes with a combination of emotions. More often than not humans also attack each other with Facebook and YouTube being especially brilliant for hilarious rows which quickly descend into personal attacks on parentage, religion, sexual preference; or whether someone’s Gran is a Nazi or not.

Ultimately, we all know death is a prick and people handle it in a variety of different ways, including:

  1. Overwhelming outpouring of emotion for the life lost.
  2. Praise and celebration of the artists’ work.
  3. Irreverent comments where people say “I didn’t know them so why be upset?”
  4. Aggressive comments which accuse people of “grief tourism”!
  5. Humorous retorts such as, “Bowie is dead at 69. Rickman is dead at 69. Donald Trump is NOT DEAD at 69!”
  6. Angry comments such as:   “I hate you God – you took Bowie and Rickman but Rupert Murdoch is still living and now getting married!”

 

Personally I prefer the silent contemplative response and the people who are overly negative and criticise people for “grief tourism” irk me a bit. Indeed, it especially annoys me when the whole “you did not know them — so why are you grieving” statements come out.  Well, I disagree with that because you do “know” them through their art and knowledge one has of their songs, acting, product and performances.

Surely, it’s instinctive to react to someone’s death?  Are people really using a famous persons’ death to gain attention for themselves?  Maybe they are; nothing surprises me with human beings. But to be honest, if they are holidaying in death and they’re not harming me then who cares!   Let’s face it even the “grief-trolls” or “haters” or whatever-you –want-to-call them are scared of death and their defensive, satirical or ironic approach is a valid way of dealing with death and grief. Therefore, I respect their reaction as that is how THEY are grieving.

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Ultimately, we’re all animals who get scared when illness and death comes a knocking and when a hero or an artist or someone famous dies we are all confronted with our OWN mortality and I suspect that is what we are most upset about.  I mean who actually thought David Bowie would die – the guy is immortal surely?!  But he has passed away and that is sad; but we should celebrate a wonderful life of creativity. We should also respect how a person chooses to grieve however over-the-top or emotional or irreverent or negative it may be. We are all human. Let’s just try and get on as we’re all in the same sinking boat. You win some – you lose some.  Nothing lasts forever; apart from death that is.

 

MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2015 BY PAUL LAIGHT

Overall, 2015 was a highly satisfactory cultural year for me. I went to some cracking musical events including gigs by: The Prodigy, Johnny Marr and the Nozstock Festival. I attended the theatre more times than ever before notably Gypsy, View From The Bridge and Oppenheimer and watched some fine live comedy by Paul Foot and Stewart Lee. I also witnessed some marvellous television shows, both new and on catch-up including: Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle 3, Better Call Saul, Daredevil, Going Clear, American Horror Story (Seasons 1 & 2), South Park, Doctor Who, Gomorrah, Fargo (Season 1) to name a few.

 

Of course, the cinema remains my church; the hallowed place at which I preserve my holiest of prayer and last year was very enjoyable. Some big blockbuster films like Spectre and The Force Awakens were decent entertainment but not as great as many said. Marvel continued to hoover up the profits on behalf of Disney and their Age of Ultron was a decent enough episode in the franchise. So, here are my favouritest films I saw last year. They are not necessarily the best or most artsy but they are the ones where I left the cinema feeling uplifted intellectually and emotionally.  Either that or they were just bloody good entertainment!

 

Here they are in alphabetical order with marks out of 11 plus a quote from my original review.

**THERE MAY BE SPOILERS**

 

ANT-MAN (2015)

“It’s simplistic narrative-wise but what it does have is a fizzing script full of zingers and comedic moments as well as some great action set-pieces built around a complex but well-orchestrated final act heist.” (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

 

BEASTS OF NO NATION (2015)

“This is a stunning drama which leaves you battered and burnt emotionally.  It’s about a civil war in Africa and the child soldiers whom are ripped from their families and made to fight for despotic mad men. Don’t watch if you are easily upset.” (Mark: 9 out of 11)

BIRDMAN (2014)

“. . .an intellectual and artsy dark comedy about loads of stuff involving: celebrity, identity, artistic credibility, insanity, family, f*cked up egos, vanity as well as analysing the creative process. It is NOT a superhero film but a satire on that kind of thing” (Mark: 9/11)

 

CAROL (2015)

“Todd Haynes beautifully shot and designed period love story has a standout performance from Cate Blanchett and great support from Rooney Mara. . . poetic storytelling, deft direction, stunning design and photography plus the cinematic score of the year from Carter Burwell.”  (Mark: 8.5/11)

DHEEPAN (2015)

“. . . brilliant character study about immigrants in France, attempting to forge a life in the crime-ridden estates of Paris. What starts as a humane tale of survival crosses over into explosive thriller territory by the end.” (Mark: 9/11)

 

FOXCATCHER (2014)

“A powerful and haunting tragedy with incredibly subtle direction, this complex psychological thriller which shines a light on billionaire John DuPont and his fascination with fraternal Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz” (Mark: 9/11)

JOHN WICK (2014)

“As John Wick, Keanu Reeves absolutely blows the back doors off as a “retired” assassin who rampages after the gangsters who killed his dog.” (Mark: 8.5/11)

 

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014)

“Pitch perfect pace and delivery by cast and crew as the script hybridizes kitchen sink, action and spy genres. To quote the parlance of our age: “The film is well sick, bruv!” (Mark: 9/11)

 

THE LOBSTER (2015)

“It’s weird, wonderful and very funny as Colin Farrell plays a single man – in the not-too-distant-future – who has a limited time to find a mate or he’ll be turned into an animal of his choice. Obviously, he chooses the eponymous crustacean and what ensues is a peculiarly dark and hilarious satire of human relationships and dating mores. . . “ (Mark: 9.5/11)

 

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

“There isn’t really any plot to speak of on the Fury Road but what you get is an incredible visual feast with carnage galore and some incredible stunts in a barren yet beautiful desert setting.  Hardy and Theron share great chemistry within the action and Miller executes some mesmerising moments of dialogue-free pure cinema.” (Mark: 9.5/11)

 

PREDESTINATION (2014) 

“. . .if you like any of the following: TimeCrimes (2007), Looper (2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Time After Time (1979), Back to the Future (1985), The Terminator (1984), Doctor Who etcetera… then do watch this one. It’s a fine low-budget time-travel film starring Ethan Hawke and breakout performance from brilliant Sarah Snook.” (Mark: 9/11)

 

WHIPLASH (2014) 

“Echoes of Officer and a Gentlemen (1992) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) with the fearsome Drill Sergeant battering the young grunts but at a middle-class music school – sterling stuff! (Mark: 9/11)

 

WILD TALES (2015) 

“. . . delivers a dark sarcasm and hilarity via six separate stories concerning themes of: revenge, political corruption, class division and bloody violence! It opens with a breath-taking little prologue featuring a horrific incident on a plane and culminates in arguably the wildest tale when the Bride goes on the rampage at her wedding. The film delivers a full deck of twists that master of the macabre Roald Dahl would be proud of.” (Mark: 10/11)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCREENWASH: DECEMBER 2015 FILM REVIEWS by PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH DECEMBER 2015 by PAUL LAIGHT

This will be my final Screenwash in this format. From next year I won’t review EVERYTHING I have seen but do a more qualitative review of something I really loved or hated with a little round-up of other stuff. I think it’s good to mix up the format in order to keep it fresh for 2016. Anyway, along with battling flu I managed to watch quite a lot of stuff in December at the cinema and via the usual channels. Marks as usual are out of eleven!

**THIS CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

AMERICAN HORROR STORY – SEASONS 1 + 2 (NETFLIX)

This show is disgusting but I love it.  A true must for horror show addicts with all manner of death and mayhem in two seasons of sick, perverse and grim nastiness. Both Murder House and Asylum are the stuff nightmares are made of. Highly recommended. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

BLACKHAT (2015) – NOW TV

Thor stars in a Michael Mann cyber-thriller which was panned by critics but isn’t actually that bad. Hacker-action dramas never quite come off on the big screen but Chris Hemsworth and some okay twists make this worth watching I guess. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

CAROL (2015) – CINEMA

Todd Haynes beautifully shot and designed period love story has a standout performance from Cate Blanchett and great support from Rooney Mara. The majestic score and perfect direction make this filmmaking of the highest quality and Oscars beckon come award season. The story could have been slightly more dramatic in places but Haynes goes for mood and subtlety rather than soapy melodrama and is to be commended for such a stylish work of film art. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

DR ZHIVAGO (1965) – CINEMA

They don’t make them like this epic love story anymore. Beautiful Julie Christie and dashing Omar Sharif are red-star crossed lovers caught amidst the bullets and snow of revolutionary and war-torn Russia. This is stunning and epic filmmaking from David Lean with a haunting score and incredible cinematography. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

FOCUS (2015) – NOW TV

I like a good con film and this one starring attractive couple Will Smith and Margot Robbie is a fast-paced and fun double-twister with ups and downs and turns and burns throughout. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

FRANK (2014) – NETFLIX

This is a tremendously odd yet moving character study of Frank, the leader of an experimental rock band who happens to wear a papier-mache head to mask him from the world. Domnhall Gleeson excels as the keyboardist coerced into the mayhem as he attempts to apply order to a chaotic creative process. Yet, Michael Fassbender is phenomenal as the tragic and titular lead. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

FRUITVALE STATION (2013) – NETFLIX

Excellent naturalistic drama centred on the final day in the life of Oscar Grant who was shot by police at Fruitvale Station when out on New Year’s Eve. It’s a touching film about an ordinary guy in the wrong place at the wrong time with fine direction and performances. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE GIFT (2015)

Joel Edgerton’s creepy film was an excellent exercise in subtle and horrifying low-key thrills as his seemingly meek character unhinges Rachel Hall and Jason Bateman’s middle class world.  This was an excellent slowburner with a wonderful reveal at the end and relied on subtle twists rather than over-the-top action. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

INHERENT VICE (2014) – NOW TV

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1970s stoner detective adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel is stylish and narratively obtuse and doesn’t really add up to much by the end really. However, Anderson is always an interesting director and throws himself at the material with gusto and Joaquin Phoenix’s spirited performance drags you through a pretty pointless exercise in style over content. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

INTO THE WOODS (2014) – NOW TV

Sondheim’s musical gets the Hollywood treatment and it’s big, loud and clever but not really my cup of tea. The meta-references were great as we get: Cinderella, Jack, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Prince Charming all thrown into a heady narrative mix which didn’t quite pay off on the big screen. While the direction is spirited and the musical numbers flawless, it all fell flat as a story for me despite the great cast. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

KRAMPUS (2015) – CINEMA

If you like alternative fairytale films then do check out this devilish Christmas film. It’s kind of like Evil Dead 2 meets Bad Santa with a bit of Jaws and Gremlins too. Both funny and scary throughout it’s full of nasty Christmas creatures and is a perfect anathema to those sickly feel-good Christmas stories clogging up the arteries of cinema and TV schedule. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

KUNG FURY (2015) – NETFLIX

This is a silly but impressive cop/martial arts 80s pastiche with pumping soundtrack and ultra-violence from Swedish filmmaker David Sandberg.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

LUTHER (BBC) – IPLAYER

One off Christmas special found Luther “hiding” from the world waiting for contact from Alice. He’s in for a long wait though as it would appear she has been killed in Amsterdam – or has she?!  It was formulaic yet enjoyable cop-genre stuff with Idris Elba owning the screening as he hunts Alice’s killers plus a lunatic serial-murderer.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

MACBETH (1971)

I’m studying Macbeth to help my son with his GCSE’s and Polanski’s version is a very decent stab at the Bard’s gloomy Scottish masterpiece.  Having seen Fassbender and Cotillard excel in an atmospheric version earlier in 2015, this one is equally bloody and venomous as the foolish Scottish laird falls foul of murder and ambition as his plotting backfires spectacularly. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) – CINEMA

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic nun musical is an opposites-attract-love-story tied up with a formidable musical presentation beautifully performed, choreographed, directed and lit. Julie Andrews is phenomenal in the lead opposite fussy but handsome Christopher Plummer. This is an old favourite with classic songs which definitely stand the test of time. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

SNOWPIERCER (2013) – BLU RAY

Bong Joon Ho’s impressive socialist Sci-fi actioner is highly original in concept and delivery as a disparate bunch of renegades – including: Jamie Bell, Chris Evans and John Hurt – attempt to gain control of a never-stopping train. Surprisingly never released in the UK I had to order my Blu Ray from New Zealand and it was worth the wait as the film constantly surprises with a decent mix of intelligent action and brutal violence. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) – CINEMA

JJ Abrams Star Wars reboot broke not only the internet but also box office records worldwide. It’s a safe and impressive spectacle with – aside from the young hipster Jedi bad guy – bland leads and the best actor jettisoned early (Oscar Isaac) for an uneasy mix of older characters and young ones. The action was breathtaking though and brilliantly done, however, the story was a retread of A New Hope (with female Luke) plus a series of glaring plot holes. Still, loads of action and great bad guys made this a fun blockbuster. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE ROVER (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

Dystopian, near-future Aussie Western boasts hard-bitten performances from Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. It’s a simple story about a man hunting for his car and the power remains in the understated nihilistic drama and bleak, dusty landscapes. Not a lot happens but it does so with a quiet, memorable power. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

TAKEN 3 (2014) – NOW TV

Liam Neeson smashes up more bad guys in this not-too-bad B-movie thriller. This time the baddies have killed his wife and stitched him up as prime suspect – but will he get out of it!?  What do you think?  Silly, formulaic but watchable stuff!  (Mark: 6 out of 11)

WILDCARD (2015) – NETFLIX

Reliable hard man Jason Statham’s latest B-movie has a very good supporting cast and is passably entertaining but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Having said that Las Vegas always makes an interesting cinematic setting and as a character study of a destructive gambler it works okay. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

WOLFCOP (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

This is a gloriously over-the-top grindhouse feature with an alcoholic cop who turns into a vicious lycanthrope hell-bent on murdering those who break the law. It’s stupendously silly but very entertaining nonetheless with some funny blood-letting and howling gore. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

DOCTOR WHO: SEASON 9 REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

DOCTOR WHO: SEASON 9 REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**MASSIVE SPOILERS DARLING**

If you go to the Doctor Who Facebook page or YouTube or Radio Times or other online forums, you will find a fanatical passion for the Timelord usually reserved for football teams or religions.  Much of it is high praise, constructive criticism and healthy debates involving: timey-wimey stuff; various plot explanations; merits of favourite Doctors or companions; and that “the old classics are better than the new ones” exclamations etc.  Moreover, there’s also a very negative faction who think they should play two up front, sack the manager, that God is a construct so people can control humanity and your mum’s a dick. Sorry, wrong forums.

Actually, the main negatives from the current Who detractor-fans are: the writing has gone downhill since Moffat took over as show-runner; Capaldi is too old as the Doctor; Clara is a rubbish companion and should die (they got their wish); Season 8 was diabolical and worse than cancer; plus other gripes.  Well, I don’t subscribe to hysteria and hyperbole; after all it’s just a TV show that I enjoy very much.  I do agree though that Season 8 was a bit off due to the Danny Pink/Clara romantic arc that dragged the show into Hollyoaks territory. Furthermore, Moffat was still finding Capaldi’s “voice” as the Doctor too so Season 8 was hit and miss indeed. Yet, there were still some great episodes such as: Listen, Dark Water, Flatline and the joyously dark Mummy on the Orient Express.
As a show-runner the negativity toward Moffat is boring.  He has an excellent imagination and eye for a concept and has written some incredible episodes over the years, many of which I covered in my epic Doctor Who blog tribute that can be revisited here:

https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/doctor-who-a-space-and-time-odyssey-part-three-by-paul-laight/

Plus, as captain of the Doctor Who ship it is a big responsibility to avoid sinking such a revered national treasure. Indeed, while I don’t like some of Moffat’s tricksy ret-con leaps, at least he strives for originality within a genre formula and more often than not produces moments of brilliant television.

Basically, Doctor Who is a mainstream sci-fi, family TV drama with comedy sprinkled in and as such I watch for entertainment purposes. But it so often is more than that as it offers a grand look at history, space, end of worlds, universes and existence itself. Season 8’s narrative arc involved Missy/Master (splendid Michelle Gomez) wreaking havoc on the new Doctor, who with his new face, had to decide whether he “was a good man”. Well, he decided that he was and in Season 9 he found he had a mission statement too: “I’m the Doctor and I save people”.  The only problem was the Doctor’s actions created the Hybrid or did they? Well, it created the Hybrid arc which permeated a series of mainly two-parters which on the whole were just wonderful. Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.

THE MAGICIAN’S APPRENTICE/WITCH’S FAMILIAR

The episode opening was a bit of a minefield; literally a minefield of actual “hand” grenades threatening a young boy who happened to be Dalek creator Davros.  We were in Genesis of the Daleks territory where imperious Tom Baker was sent back in time to kill the Daleks at birth.  It was a showstopper and the episode was full of fine moments as Missy popped up again (thought she was dead) with The Doctor’s “confession dial” in hand and having nabbed Clara she went on the hunting for the Doctor.  They found him playing guitar, wearing some neat, gimmicky sonic-sunglasses before he came face-to-face with a dying Davros keen on revitalising himself.
The hybrid theme popped up here with the Doctor using Timelord regenerative energy to reignite the Dalek’s and foster Davros’ wicked plan, which off course backfires on him. Plus, Clara was abused by Missy and made to inhabit an evil Dalek during their escape echoing Oswald’s first appearance from Asylum of the Daleks.  Overall, it was a cracking opening and Capaldi’s little chats with Davros were full of tension and irony.  I especially loved the Dalek sewers full of horrible monsters out for revenge on their Master.  Michelle Gomez shone as the bullying spinster while Capaldi begins with an authority and confidence that became a feature of the season.

UNDER THE LAKE/BEFORE THE FLOOD

Toby Whithouse has created some entertaining Doctor Who episodes including: School Reunion and Vampires of Venice and this two-parter was equally so.  I mean who doesn’t love a ghost story set on an Underwater Base in the future.  Indeed, it’s temporally very tricky and has some wonderful moments and brilliant end-of-episode cliff-hanger where the Doctor himself must die to solve the mystery.

I’m a sucker for paradoxes and these episodes are full of them as the Doctor travels back from 2119 to 1980, crossing his own timeline in order to foil the future ghosts of which he is one. Before the flood he ultimately faces the nefarious Fisher King who is intent on an awakening and having his wicked way with the Earth.  Some wonderful moments include: the scary hollow-eyed ghosts; the deaf character Cass lip-reading the ghosts; some heart-stopping cat-and-mouse chases around the base; the Doctor “cue” cards which prompt more tactful responses; plus the perplexing yet sparkling puzzle box narrative which wraps up an overall fast-paced and fun episode.    

 

THE GIRL WHO DIED/THE WOMAN WHO LIVED

This loose double-header began with a standard Dr Who set-up as he and Clara met with the Vikings and then entered into a war with the space-race, the Mire.  Cue a Seven Samurai style “defending the village” story which featured the wonderful actress Maisie Williams as young Viking storyteller, Ashildr.  There were some great one-liners and humour to be had as well as some soul searching by the Doctor as he conversed with a baby.  The end battle was a bit farcical as the Doctor turns the Mire’s technology against them involving, believe it or not, the Benny Hill theme tune.
The episode then went from okay to amazing when tragedy struck as the Doctor had an incredible epiphany following Ashildr’s death. Using the Mire tech he brings her back to life and there’s the rub because she is now immortal. We then get an incredible montage which finds Ashildr pass through the years unchanged by time. Indeed, the Hybrid theme rears itself again and in The Girl Who Died, the Doctor met Ashildr again and she was now known as ‘Me’.  Williams was brilliant in this episode and her ‘Me’ was an entirely different character: a bitter, world-weary person ravaged by time, experience and loss.  Plot wise the second-part was kind of weak but in terms of character it was very powerful. Now, the Doctor had created a new foe that like him was an ‘immortal’ time-traveller. However, ‘Me’ wasn’t necessarily on the side of good as we would discover later in the series.

THE ZYGON INVASION/THE ZYGON INVERSION

In this two-parter the writers showed that primetime television doesn’t have to just be whimsical as the Doctor took on Zygon extremists determined to destroy all humans.  The episode, picking up the plot from Day of the Doctor, was political, allegorical and powerful, with the Doctor acting ultimately as peacekeeper in an attempt to prevent human and Zygon armies from destroying the world. With clear parallels to the current refugee crisis, rise of ISIS and the gung-ho nature of Western Governments the Doctor weaves between the factions as “President of the World” and tricksy Zygons who are body-snatching humans.  There’s some great action and suspense in this two-parter with suspicion falling on friends and neighbours.
The Zygon episodes were full of memorable moments, notably the performances of Ingrid Oliver as Osgood and Jenna Coleman as Evil Clara AKA Bonnie.  Both gave nuanced characterisations in their respective roles and of course both were human/Zygon hybrids.  Coleman especially was excellent and she ultimately revelled in playing a bad girl.  The denouement, however, belonged to Capaldi as he attempts to broker peace amidst the warmongering. He delivers an incredible speech about “Truth or Consequences” of going to war and echoes his pain of feeling following the destructive Time War.

SLEEP NO MORE

This Mark Gatiss written episode was kind of hung out to dry and thrown away following the previously brilliant two-parters.  While I’m not a fan of found footage horror films this was an interesting experiment which really could have done with another part to wrap up the loose ends.  Stand-out elements included:  a wonderfully unhinged and unreliable narrator in Reece Shearsmith; some witty repartee between Clara and the Doctor; some lovely Macbeth quotes, plus some silly but fun Sandmen monsters which were created from the sleep in our eyes.  Pilloried online by fans I enjoyed the silliness but it felt unfinished as an episode and I hope we get to see Shearsmith’s Dr Rassmussen and his Morpheus monsters again next season.

FACE THE RAVEN

In a rather interesting spoiler, prior to the start of the season, it was announced that Jenna Coleman would be leaving the show to pursue other acting challenges.  Thus, the episodes were filled with the drama of wondering when Clara’s end would come.   Well, this rather brilliant episode is when it occurred as Rigsy (from Season 8 episode Flatline) popped up with a weird tattoo on his neck. Now this wasn’t a Croydon tramp stamp but rather a countdown to death – Rigsy’s death!  Of course, the Doctor and Clara set about tracking down the people responsible and found themselves in a secret street which housed all sorts of space migrants; like a galactic version of Casablanca. The “mayor” of the street was Ashildr/”Me” who was back doing the bidding of a hidden enemy. Jenna Coleman is brilliant as Clara. As her arrogance causes her demise she begs the Doctor NOT to seek revenge. Yet her death is so dramatic and touching and the Doctor can do nothing to save her, although you sense he will try and bring her back somehow. He won’t give up on Clara: he has a “duty of care” after all.

HEAVEN SENT/HELL BENT

Peter Capaldi is a triumph in Season 9.  He owns every scene, episode, speech and every furrow of his crinkled brow and sparkle in his eye betrays an actor making the character his own.  I wouldn’t have reignited my love of the Tardis had Capaldi not been cast.  So, after the apparently up-and-down Season 8, which I actually enjoyed mostly, Capaldi, show-runner Steven Moffat, writers, cast and production team  gave us a season full of highs, some dips but overall some stunning and brave television. This was none more so witnessed in the Heaven Sent episode where the Doctor was trapped in his own version of hell.  In an Escheresque prison in which the walls and cells moved the Timelord had to face his demons and death over and over again. It was an episode full of scares and haunting images as the Doctor dies again and again to escape the “confession” trap laid by the Timelords.  In fact, Moffat probably over-eggs the pudding by having the Doctor “live” for over 4 billion years within the parallel hell, but you have to admire the Doctor’s desire for retribution.

Having escaped to, of all places, Gallifrey the Doctor discovers head honcho Timelord, Rassilon, is behind his torture as they were desperate to know about the whereabouts of the “Hybrid”. Quickly dispatching him and the Gallifreyan Council off into exile the Doctor then sets about retrieving Clara from beyond the “Raven”. Here Moffat then does his favourite thing of retroactively rewriting the past by bringing her back in between heartbeats. So, technically she is dead but physically functioning.  Clara and the Doctor then go on the run until the end of time and find immortal “Me” as the only person left alive. The Doctor and “Me” debate the nature of the hybrid before the Doctor decides it is wise, as he has gone “too far”, to blank his mind of Clara thus saving her and ending their partnership.  Overall, it was a heady mix of emotion and science fantasy which didn’t quite gel for me, plus the Hybrid arc was ultimately and classic Macguffin device overall. But Moffat knows how to ratchet up the pace and the concepts and by the end I felt quite giddy.  Clara and “Me” headed off back to Gallifrey, the long way round, and the Doctor headed off alone. Had he forgotten the “impossible girl” – I doubt it somehow!

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL AND CONCLUSION

So with a tremendous raft of episodes in the bank for Season 9 the Husbands of River Song Christmas special was a fluffy addendum to the season.  It was a kind of heist/romance involving stolen heads and villainous space-ships full of mercenaries. It passed the time amusingly save for a wonderfully soppy ending when the Doctor bid fond farewell to his wife, River.  But it was no more than a tasty cherry on the season as a whole, which was a big triumphant and brilliant time cake full of memorable and outstanding ingredients delivered by the awesome Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.