Saturday, 29 October 2011

Warren Ellis's Planetary - Series Overview

Warren Ellis's Planetary is a comic-literary comic. As I've gathered from fans of the work and essays written online about it, it is very much about comics. It's plain enough to see the pulp tradition that runs through the stories, which evokes more or less every conceivable major genre within pulp. Sci-fi, horror, western, exploration, mysteries, conspiracies and so on fill the story of the organisation, Planetary, a team of archaeologists meta-humans.

In a very real sense, this comic isn't for me. Aside from the central figures, pretty much every character that appears in this book is a direct reference to someone else, and I only got the most obvious of these allusions. Where I did recognise them I saw just how clever they were, but nonetheless my lack of familiarity with comics put me at something of a disadvantage.

The fact that I am not all that familiar with comic pulp tradition, on the other hand, perhaps makes me the ideal reader of the book. Someone entrenched in modern comics, being given the key to a rich pulp history and being shown just how much greatness there is to be found there. And that is without doubt part of Ellis's mission here, as our archaeologists are more storytelling archaeologists than anything else, uncovering a time when stories in comics were more diverse and routed in a rather more basic discourse.

Further, Ellis looks to incorporate it all into one coherent world in Planetary. We are repeatedly told by Drummer, a character with the ability to manipulate information, about how magic and science and the superpowers that exist in this universe are all just part of some larger code. This is a really cool idea that never comes across particularly convincingly. Ellis's attempts to create a coherent narrative from all of these different genres shows no lack of ambition and no little amount of skill, yet never end up working. Really, it drains the narrative of a central driving force and a slows character development down to a crawl.

Where I really felt the story suffered was in it's characters. Elijah Snow, Jakita and Drummer are not badly written or badly conceived characters, but there's no point of connection between us and them. They develop slowly, often pushed to the side by other narratives, and it often feels like there is no destination. I'd argue that only one of them really gets a resolution, and the emotional core of their story comes out of left field to a great extent. The characters are not all that engaging, and although subtly developed in many respects, there is too little to latch onto.

Warren Ellis is well known for his decompressed storytelling, and this is my first real experience with it. Personally, I found it made the stories rushed and overly terse, leading to the sense that none of the little stories told within Planetary felt entirely satisfying. The artwork is very pretty and detailed, but  also a little too static and clinical. To a great extent, much of my disconnect from the comic was due to the art. Very good nice looking art, but nI never felt it was great at telling a story.

What is otherwise a very good plot suffers because of many of the above factors. Make no mistake, Warren Ellis is certainly a very skilled writer, the story being subtle and complex whilst never overpowering, but without the clear direction and character investment I found it hard to really get into. Even after what's conceptually a very strong chapter, the overriding feeling I had upon putting this book down was "meh".

I've went rather hard on this series, but for what it's worth it is original, inventive, subtle, pretty looking and does not suffer from a lack of depth. Upon execution, all these great plans and ideas were never really translated into a cohesive story, and a sense of balanced to keep everything in check is really needed in this series. If your a fan of more intelligent comics, or of pulp comics or of Warren Ellis this is certainly worth giving a look, but I can't look past it's core problem of being unable to engage me as a reader.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Film Review - Contagion

tl;dr Well made and intense, this is a more than competent disaster flick.

Feeling a bit poorly? Stuck as a scene in worldwide montages? Electronic music pulsing in your head, with an understated intensity? Sounds like you're contagious. Not to worry, for a large cast of characters across America, and even in China, are working hard to find some sort of resolution. This a large experience in every sense, covering almost half a year, with a large cast of characters and a disease that is rampaging across most of the world.

Yet Contagion is also a movie of the small details. It's terrifically shot, and the emphasis on small details is what makes the experience so powerful a one. There's a big emphasis on the way infections spread from small touches or shared air. Melodrama is mostly avoided by letting us react to situations, rather than showing the characters reacting. The scenes of death and suffering and chaos are fairly minimal. By avoiding gratuity, a real weight is brought to proceedings.

The characterisation is all the better for being all the briefer. With a central conflict for all of them to deal with, characters all have an arc to go through and the fact that the movie never overplays it's hand is how it keeps such a large cast well balanced. It knows how to be impactful with little, and avoids the temptation to go for something rather more blatant or cliche or even a bit safer.

It also asks questions without hammering them in. The subplot in China very quickly could have turned overwhelming and evoked a sense of xenophobia. Instead, there's a very potent question asked about priviledge in the face of tragedy, and how help is distributed.

It's not a perfect movie. I found that it was a movie I could appreciate, but all of this heaviness and anxxiety kept me from every really having any fun. It stressed me out, and as well made and affecting as the movie was, I never really found it an experience I enjoyed. That's not to say all films should be fluffy escapism, but rather that the disaster genre holds little for me, personally, to enjoy.

This film is never really gonna surprise or stretch you, and I feel it's greatest weakness actually lies with the characters it chooses to develop the most. Whilst the family who lose the first American casualty is a story that tries to give us a personal connection to the tragedy, as we see a man trying to cope with the loss of his son and wife and the knowledge his wife was having an affair and his daughter who has to cope with a lost brother, mother and imposed isolation. It's well enough done, but feels out of place in the movie and something of a betrayal of the subtlety that had been running through the piece. Plus, it's emotional messiness gives us not much real resolution and - once again this is probably more to do with me - is just a kind of downer throughout.

If you fancy it, it's worth a look. If you like disaster movie, definitely see it. Not one I really enjoyed though.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Doctor Who Series 6 - Some late thoughts and rantings

So Dr Who, Series 6, came and gone a few weeks ago. At this point we've got over the lack of Who on our Saturday nights, and the series is settling into it's place at the back of our mind with many of the other series past. As much as I've loved this series (and goddamn, have I ever), critical reaction seems mixed. To great deal of people, Moffat's as bad as RTD ever was it seems. River's been labelled a Mary-Sue willy nilly, the heavy through line has alienated more than a few and accusations of inconsistency are not hard to find.

Having just watched this video, in which an internet reviewer accuses Moffat of betraying the fanbase and emotional integrity of the characters whilst simultaneously undoing a whole series worth of development, I feel that I need to get my own thoughts out of my system.

I'm getting married tomorrow

Firstly, I'd like to recap the overall message of series five, as in many ways it pretty much tells us how six wil end. Five had the idea of fairy-tales and growing up. Amy spends her whole time running away from her wedding, travelling in the TARDIS as a way of escaping that responsibility and commitment. In the end she does both, and goes travelling in the TARDIS with her husband. She grows up whilst having childish fun adventures, and affirms that one does not need to exclude the other.

On her home planet, "Doctor" means "Warrior"

The overriding theme of series six seems to have been The Doctor's effect on the Universe, and the irresponsibility of his actions. This idea really first reared it's head during Smith's tenure when, in The Pandorica Opens, all of his greatest enemies descend on him. This is a direct subversion of one of Moffat's favourite tricks. Multiple times, The Doctor only needs to invoke his name to defeat his enemies, the very fear he induces being enough to tame them. As we hear in Forest of the Dead:

"You're in the largest library in the universe. Look me up."

The implication, of course, being that his name will be scattered throughout history, as well as records of all of his victories. He's using his long and actually fairly violent history self-knowingly, and that's bound to have an impact. In The Pandorica Opens, all of his enemies are able to team up against him as they believe he can destroy the universe. Fear of him drives them together, and when he, once again, invokes his name to scare them off, there is no small amount of irony. It's his history that has caused his enemies to get together at all.

This theme comes to it's climax in A Good Man Goes to War, when it's revealed that The Doctor is the target of the Silence's campaign.

"A war? Against Who?

Against you, Doctor."

The Order of the Silence, an organisation that calls think of themselves as the guardians of history, think they are at war with The Doctor. Between the army girl Lorna and River Song's speech, we are left with no doubt that this is an ongoing critique on the way that The Doctor travels and fights and destroys.

This is further hit home in the centre-piece of the secodn part of the series, with The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex. Both of these utterly brilliant episodes do incredibly interesting things with The Doctor. The God Complex couples him with the evil minotaur god that feasts on people's belief, suggesting he cultivates adoration from his companions and that he can only bring them harm. The Girl Who Waited plays an even more subtle and complex game, casting The Doctor as the villain in a tragedy that sees Rory have to let Amy die. Not only is The Doctor getting told he's doing the universe harm, but also his closest friends.

One of the best things about The Wedding of River Song is that it's rejection of such ideas. This may have been a series long deconstruction of The Doctor, but The Wedding of River Song is a reconstruction. His companions love him, and won't let him traipse off alone into that byronic hero suit that RTD was so keen on dressing Tennant in. Let's Kill Hitler hints at this, with the Tesselecta's obvious veneration of The Doctor, suggesting his death to be one of the worst events in history. If The Silence represents the negative legacy The Doctor leaves behind him, the Tesselecta shows that this view is not one shared by the rest of the universe. River Song shows him the signals that come through the stars, the replies to her distress call. The Doctor is loved, throughout the universe, and if he's had a negative impact he's made a stronger positive one.

He may have had a past that's been littered with conflicts, but he's also brought hope and made friends aplenty.

Even you cannot change this

The series starts with a prophecy: The Doctor will die by Lake Silencio. He has to die; we saw it happen. This is where series six both starts and ends, and much of The Doctor's fretting revolves around accepting his own mortality. The series is littered with things that must happen: River's already played out future, The Doctor's death, Melody's indoctrination. The Silence's ability to subconciously control people seems to suggest a certain element of people's future beyond their own control. In The Wedding of River Song, Amy and Rory get together again in a different time stream.

Much of the build-up, especially after Dorium's words, seems to point towards The Doctor accepting his own mortality. It's even suggested that it's for the good of the universe. So when The Doctor cheats this inescapable death, does that detract from all of his brooding over it, and attempts to come to terms with it? Funnily enough, River seems to have given us the answer already, all the way back in The Forest of the Dead:

"When you run with The Doctor, it feels like it'll never end. But however hard you try, you can't run forever. Everybody knows that everybody dies, and nobody knows it like The Doctor. But I do think that all of the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark if he ever, for one moment, accepts it."

"He just can't do it, can he? That man. That impossible man. He just can't give in."

The Doctor is not going to lie down and die. The Doctor will find a way, a third option, because he's The Doctor. He'll cheat time and history, and convince everyone he's dead if he has to. But that he finds a way out, rather than accepting that he has to die, is exactly what The Doctor would do. Or, at least, what Moffat's Doctor would do.

So basically...

Series six's finale is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a subversion. It takes the ideas that had been proposed so far, the nuanced deconstructive work, and considers them, but ultimately turns into a celebration of the aspects of The Doctor that get lost in all the navel gazing. It's not undoing the work beforehand, but rather leading us to a different conclusion. It's not pulling new ideas out of it's ass, it's reminding us of how much more The Doctor is than all of that frowny stuff.

Series six was a messy affair, at times convoluted, and not as consistant as it should have been. A betrayal, however? No. It's not at the fanbase Moffat's sticking his middle finger at, but rather the idea that The Doctor has to be some kind of tragic, dark, lonely hero. He's taken The Doctor apart and put him back together again. Concluding the deconstruction with a celebration seems the only way to resolve it.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Film Review - The Three Musketeers

tl;dr Silly, colourful fun with not a lick of depth.

So, Paul W.S. Anderson. Surely if ever there is a name that marks out a movie for critical success, it is his. Though his craft is obviously very much lacking in many areas, there's nonetheless a cathartic enjoyment to be extracted from his movies. I certainly would not object to a night in front of Mortal Kombat if there was nout else to do.

Like Mortal Kombat, the key to approaching The Three Musketeers lies in it's brainlessness. This is Hollywood cheese, The Cheddar Strikes Back, and there's something glorius about the combination of the film's earnestness and knowingness of many of the performances. There's no doubt that this movie is reading from the how-to handbook authored by The Pirates of Carribean, and if that pseudo-historical bombast is your thing, this movie delivers it with an extra helping of goofiness.

At this point, a kind of summary of the plot would be useful in grounding you in the movie, but really you can fill it in yourself. England and France (read: the world) are on the edge of war and the three musketeers, buoyed on by young country bumpkin-cum-fencing master d'Artagnan, are tasked with the job of stopping this fiendish plot. It's competently executed and kinda fun cliche after cliche, but leaves little impression. As a lead d'Artagnan almost brings the entire house of cards down on everyone's heads, but he'll have his moment in the spotlight later in this review.

Rather, I'd like to take a moment ruminating on the more enjoyable characters. The Three Muskateers plays host to a wide range of one-noters who manage to become engaging and memorable due to the cartoonish nature of their costume design, performance and writing. Rushford, Milady, Buckingham, the Three themselves, the Cardinal and King Louis are all entertaining company with which to spend your time. Even Planchet doesn't detract from the experience, despite the unfortunate fate of also being James Corden. Sure, the Three themselves could have used far more screen time, most noticeably Aramis played by Luke Evans. Yeah, it does look like Anderson is trying to sell Milla Jovovich (Milady) in a sex slave auction much of the time. Nonetheless, this is a strong set of characters for the type of film being presented to us.

The film is also littered with touches that are better than they probably should be. Anderson's direction, for example, is actually quite good at times. It's accompanied by a strong score. It looks very nice - fake, but enjoyably so. There's a neatness and fakeness that almost seems to enhance rather than detract from immersion, and it very much fits the pantomimic tone. It's bright and colourful and it very much does look rather good. The set pieces are silly, yet somehow managed to avoid the label of contrived. It's a big film, a crazy film and a fun film.

Short too, at least by today's standards. The running time of roughly one hundred minutes allows the film never to outstay it's welcome. Really, films like this have no business being any longer. Transformers, Pirates of the Carribean and other brainless action romps that feel it's a good idea to go beyond two hours really hurt themselves by doing so. On balance, the running time has to be one of the best things about The Three Musketeers, showing that the filmmakers know what it is that they are making.

But, alas, there must be negatives. The lack of depth probably does not count as a real criticism; why should a film like this have depth? That's not what it's for. No, the big, massive, absurdly huge, carbuncle that threatens to eat this movie whole manifests itself on-screen as our protagonist, d'Artagnan. I understand why they made him an American, and it's actually kinda ingenious. Contrasted against the city folk as unsophisticated, they work with the connotations we attach to each nation. Americans are known as brash and rude and gung-ho, whilst the English are more softly spoken and cultured and horribly repressed. Thus, when we have the American d'Artagnan coming in and being noisy around the English Musketeers we already understand the dynamic they possess based only on their accents.

Pity it comes across as another piece of American triumphalism, this idea that their aggressive and blunt minded culture that is demonstrated here comes in and teaches all of those English how to be the type of people that win. Like America! Not that I think Americans are fairly represented by those stereotypes either, them being stereotypes and such, but nonetheless this subtext is, probably accidentally, shoved into our face. It comes across as pandering and, as someone who comes from Britain, will automatically bias me against him and the film as a whole.

Beyond that, d'Artagnan is a unlikeable prick. Wise cracking and hyperbolically smug, we never get any sense he's earned any of this. He waltzes into the fray and upstages the greatest fighters in France and goes on to get the girl. Throughout the film he also delivers thematic speeches, imparting his wisdom to other characters. He doesn't learn anything or change, the world just grows to realise that he was just born awesome and they should feel privileged he chooses to share it. The world has been served to him on a plate, and there's nothing more grating and less engaging than someone who has to work for the good things, rather than just having them drop out of the sky and onto his head.

As emphatic as that rant may have been, this is still a movie worth watching if it takes your fancy. It's enjoyable and light-hearted, and the cheesiness is well handled. At times surprisingly good, and very colourful, I had a good time with the movie.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Film Review - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

 tl;dr Understated and powerful, TTSS is most definitely a successful adaptation and movie of not inconsiderable tension. Brilliantly shot, well acted and subtle. Not for those with a short attention span.

And it's a double bill of le Carre's spy goodness, and I'm not even just copying and pasting the last review on top of this! Actually, the last review I did does impact this one in a very meaningful way. I've read the book; I know the plot and the twists going into the movie. As a story based, to a great extent, on mystery and tension, my foreknowledge of events was always going to affect the way I watched the movie. How closely they stuck to the book for instance (very close) and how they interpret the source material was very much an interesting watch, but also not really appropriate for a review.

What I will say is that the direction is incredibly strong. They translate le Carre's style with incredible skill and capture the understated, repressed atmosphere extremely well. A lot is left unsaid, and dramatic moments are made dramatic through understatement. On top of the skillful and striking directing, there is the plethora of, perhaps inevitable considering the cast involved, great performances. The large cast doesn't allow anyone who isn't Oldman or Cumberbatch to have much time to shine, yet most do nonetheless, making a strong impact with very little.

This is not an all-action affair, a story of talking. Distrust and betrayal are the major themes, and the atmosphere is in the focus far more than the action. This is not a movie that engages you in a normal manner, instead focussing on the slow and mundane side of the business, and it is no less compelling for it.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Book Review - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I've had limited exposure to spy fiction, in book form. What I've read of James Bond's adventure failed to impress, and my solitary Ludlum experience was a solidly written but utterly empty one. Then came le Carre's intense The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, an inensly lonely and savagely tragic affair that stayed with me after it finished. Even now, the cold intensity of the finale has the power to make me shiver.

So it's with no modest expectations that I finally pick Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, buoyed by the newly released movie to finally do so. TTSS concerns the efforts George Smiley, a retired member of the UK's secret service, in uncovering a spy that  has dug it's way into the very core of the secret service's command. With the help of his assisstant, Peter Guillam, he plunges into the past in order to discover where the corruption happened and who did it.

The book doesn't exactly get off to a thunderous start, as it quickly becomes mired in set-up. Towards the beginning le Carre's style is very much a drawback, although it later becomes one of the novel's greatest strengths. It's not clear who does what, exactly, and what is going on much of the time. le Carre writes with a kind of assumed knowledge that makes the world he writes of feel really big and complex, but also incredibly unclear and confusing. When you do know the world it becomes a tool with which he subtly characterises and it even conveys a sense of poignancy through it's distance. During only one section of the first part of the novel did I feel myself really drawn in, and that is always going to be a big difficulty of the novel's.

Patience, however, has a rich reward here: TTSS is something of a masterful novel. It's not exactly fast pace soon serves to draw the reader in and keep them guessing. Through a range of characters we go, getting a very distinct impression of most despite (or rather, because of) le Carre's de-emphasis on characterisation. Many of the scenes in this book are one person telling another a story, and no one is really trustworthy nor is any account strictly true - it's the nature of the novel that he manages to take small moments and make them seem like the world is turned upside down. There's no action in this book at all, mainly descriptions of action, yet as a thrillers it's incredibly effective. Everything understated and little is presented in that dramatic a fashion. Built-up to dramatically, sure, but executed with an understatedness that has more power than any shouty dramatic moment could have.

Truth is, I'd reccomend TTSS easily despite the slow beginning. Once I had finished it, I immediately ordered the sequels, and I can't wait to get my mitts on them and find out where the story goes from here. And if that isn't the highest praise I can give a book, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Film Review - The Troll Hunter

tl;dr This a strong monster movie, and an amusing and quirky comedy. Worth checking out.

So, there's trolls living in the wildlife in Norway. It's true, but we never get hear about them. One man, a troll hunter, is responsible for keeping these creatures from causing too much havoc, whilst the government covers up there existence. This is the central conceit of The Troll Hunter, a Norweigan film very much in the vein of The Blair Witch Project whilst also living comfortably within the monster movie genre.

This is a subtle and amusing movie, leant a very genuine feel by the improvisation of much of the film's scenes. There are no real jokes, exactly, but an amusing look at the potential workings of real life trolls. Perhaps some of the cultural riffing is inevitably lost, but there is an entertaining value to the way they play the premise with what seems to be a straight face.

Perhaps, however, the best thing about this film is that it is able to create suspense as well as comedy, and balance the two side by side so that one never overpowers the other. As you journey for the first time with the team of amatuer journalists you know enough about what is coming up to instil anticipation, but not enough to take the edge off of the taut atmosphere. There's a very legitimate threat to the safety of our protagonists too, as they blundered blindly forward.

The trolls look fantastic. Whilst they are CGI, they are so well done that you are unlikely to give a damn. They sound tremendous too, and the incredible spectacle of these creatures is likely to be lost once the experience is translated onto DVD. They are creative and slightly odd looking, whilst not leaning too heavily on our suspension of disbelief. The wide selection of them keeps you interested in the mythology at work, and as a monster movie, they make a successful one.

Not much in the way of character or plot here, really. The cast are not stock characters and there are plenty of subtle touches scattered throughout, but this is an incredibly simple affair. Come for the humour, the creativity, the spectacle and the experience of watching a different culture reinterpret their own mythology. Expecting a full plot with lots of characterisation would be a mistake. Nonetheless, I think there is more than enough here to justify a watch.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Doctor Who Series 6 - Ranking worst to best

So yeah, Dr Who series six is done and holy shit was it good. I don't think I'll really be able to make my mind up about Moff's writing until his tenure is over, but as showrunner he has worked with fellow executive producers to create two series that have put Russel T Davis and Judie Gardner's time to shame. I'm putting the episodes into order of how much I liked each. Will only summarise my thoughts, as probably will do more detailed look at each ep. at some point. Bare in mind this a series of unprecedented quality, so it's only how good I think each was in context of its own series.

11 - Curse of the Dark Spot

This was a stinker; the worst episode Smith has been in as far as I see it. Coming off of the blistering opening two-parter and preceeding Gaiman's Dr Who debut, this was an episode surrounded by a lot of hype: there was pressure on it to be a strong bridging point, although no one was expecting anything particularly special. What we got felt like it had been brutalised under the editors knife, more than anything else, but happened to include some bad acting and bad directing it looked cheap as hell.  Although I liked the central concept, and the episode did get better towards the end, this is a lesson in piss-poor execution over ideas.

10 - Night Terrors

This one was well directed and, once again, a good concept. Night Terrors delivered strong atmosphere and even lead to a few genuinely scary moments. To call the story more than mediocre, however, would be exagerating. Though Matt, Karen and Arthur are as good as ever, the rest of the cast are rather lacking and there's a cheesiness that both works and doesn't. This is a simple story, but also kinda unremarkable.

9 - Closing Time

After the surprise emergence of The Lodger as one of the stand-out episodes of S5 - what with the abominable James Corden guest starring - this sequel has had, at the very least, some decent levels of anticipation. Whilst Closing Time does not equal it's predecessor's quality, it's nonetheless a highly enjoyable and decently crafted affair. Craig is given a new problem to face, and is perhaps a more compelling character than before, and the humour and lightheartedness are a welcome addition to the seiousface tone of the S6 overall. Strong, but I doubt it'll be anyone's favourite episode.

8 - The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People

It annoys me that this episode has to be so far down. This is an interesting examination of a common sci-fi cliche: cloning. We're taken through this journey less through perils, and more through characters. Whilst this has it's downside, with some narrative wooliness and a concentration on melodrama, it flashes out its characters and makes them all interesting people. There's creepy bits, there's funny bits and there are some scenes that stick in your mind long after watching. Honestly, this two-parter deserves to be higher, and it would be were it not for the outstanding quality of this series.

7 - The Doctor's Wife

It's been a sorely anticipated one for a while now, and superstar fantasist Neil Gaiman lends his pen to Dr Who. The result is, as a mate of mine says, "bread and butter Gaiman", but don't for a moment think that's a bad thing. The spotlight is cast on The Doctor's longest and most enduring relationship, his with the TARDIS, and it inverts much of Dr Who's mythology. It's a celebration of the series, and comes with a memorable villain, scares and chuckles. It might be a bit pandering and look a bit cheap; really, the plotting here isn't that much above average either. Such is the strength of the character and thematic focus that this is not too much of a hinderance.

6 - A Good Man Goes to War

This episode starts in manner epic enough to outshine most climaxes, and in the mid-series finale Moffat looks to create coherent universe, pretty much succeeding. This episode provides answers, but also a character-centric continuation of the ongoing drama surrounding our cast. Full of small character moments and great ideas, A Good Man Goes to War does get a little snarled up around it's midpoint, but nonetheless marches on to a triumphant conclusion. Maybe it's too full of ideas, maybe it's not as mindblowingly unpredictable as it could have been. For myself, I'm yet to be convinced that either of those points are necesarrily problems.

5 - The Wedding of River Song

And the series ends where it starts, offering up drama and twists with the wave of a hand. This story jumps between genres, giving us an adventure that spans an incredible amount of settings. Matt, Alex, Karen and Arthur are great, and The Silence are probably the most welcome addition to the Dr's rogue gallery that we've seen in New Who. Moffat moves us compulsively from set-piece to set-piece, yet never loses track of the emotional core of the show. This is a complicated episode presented in a manner oh-so-easy to understand. Also, if the Doctor is going to be involved in a love story, this is how to do it.

4 - Let's Kill Hitler

The start of S6b is a bombastic affair, a breathless rush of development after development. The Moff may smash us hard with the sledgehammer of retcon, but this episode has such wit, style and thematic complexity that I find it hard to be that troubled. Really, I don't think we've seen an episode so thematically complex, or a character study so nuanced in New Who as what Let's Kill Hitler presents us with. It's inventive and a tad crazy to boot.

3 - The God Complex

Toby Whithouse proved himself to be a strong writer in  S5's Vampire of Venice, which was witty and solid, providing us with a memorable and complex villain and a strong understanding of the characters. Expectations laid on his shoulders to deliver a similarly enjoyable experience, but The God Complex was on a totally different level to anything I could have expected. In the hands of Nick Hurran - a director who looks to be the best New Who has ever seen - his script is realised as a complex yet simple analogy for the Doctor himself. It's a great idea even without it's thematic power, and offers up chills and disturbing moments aplenty. The God Complex pretty much has everything, and it's frankly incredible that it's only third on the list.

2 - The Impossible Astronaut/The Day of the Moon

The opening two parter was an audascious and frankly crazy way to start the series. It throws twist after twist, introduces The Silence and delights in screwing with viewers' perceptions. Characters are put through the ringer, questions are answered but only deepen the mystery and the dialogue is extraordinarily witty whilst never undercutting the unnerving atmosphere of the story.

1 - The Girl Who Waited

This one deserves a full blog entry of it's own.