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May 04, 2010

Don't Look Now

Doctor Who: Flesh and Stone
Review by Neil Perryman

Well, it doesn't get much better than that.

I've avoided the forums and I've given Twitter a wide berth; I've even held back on reading my colleague's reviews over here. All because I don't want anyone to rain on this story's parade. I don't want anyone to tell me that the Doctor blinked when he shouldn't have, or that the Angels accidentally look at each other if you freeze Sky+ at just the right second, or that gravity shouldn't have an effect on the wind. Because right now this story is the best Doctor Who story ever made. And I'd like it to stay that way for as long as possible, thank you very much.

Flesh1Before I begin, I'd like to address the continuity error that patently isn't. How audacious was that? Just as I was sitting there smugly noticing that the Doctor had his jacket back on again (call in the emergency Collinson! Write to Points of View!) it dawned on me that this wasn't an error at all but a tantalising glimpse of the Doctor crossing his own timeline so he could give Amy the instruction to "remember". It certainly isn't the Doctor who left her a moment ago and the instruction is never mentioned again. The kiss on her forehead is a bit of a giveaway too, and if we don't see this scene revisited in episode 13 then I will eat my Tom Baker underpants. And then call for the person responsible for continuity to be shot...

I will eat my Tom Baker underpants...

And it's just one ingenious moment in an episode that's full of them. Most stories would kill for an iconic scene (the sort of scene people will fondly remember and talk about for decades) but Moffat throws them around like confetti at a wedding. He makes it look so easy! Just when you think you have a handle on the threat, the rug is continually pulled away. Anyone expecting the Angels to be the main threat, or for the Marines to end up embroiled in an Aliens-sytle shoot-out are in for a shock: the Angles run away! The marines can't remember each other! You can't even open your eyes, let alone blink! OK, the last one is a little odd, especially when the Angels simply assume they are being looked at, but still...

And it really doesn't get more "fairy-tale" than a blind girl dressed as little red riding hood traipsing through a forest filled with threats, even if it is in the middle of a spaceship.

Flesh2And finally! Moffat kills someone in an unpleasant manner who isn't a redshirt, and he does it in the most horrific way imaginable. The initial jump-cut was shocking enough but when you suddenly realise that the only thing keeping Octavian alive is the Doctor's gaze, you can't believe they're actually going to go ahead and do it. 

Best Doctor Who death ever. Mainly because the Doctor has to initiate the final moment but also because he's never seemed so helpless. It helps that Iain Glen gives a strong performance, and while he has the word "DEAD" stamped on his forehead from the moment we meet him, he's a solid addition to the cast; his unflappable stoicism is a much needed contrast to the mania erupting around him.

I'm beginning to bore myself now but Matt Smith is quickly cementing himself as the greatest all-round Doctor that we've ever had. He can do it all: flippancy, genius, affection, anger, weirdness and strength. And this was his very first crack at the whip. God knows what we'll get from him once he's settled down.

An interesting character trait for the 11th Doctor is his propensity for thinking out loud, which leads to some hilarious, yet brutal pronouncements when he doesn't bother to filter the results in order to reassure his companions. This makes him edgy and unpredictable - not to mention fascinating to watch.  His anger is played just right too - more petulant annoyance than the wibbly-wobbly lippy-wippy we've had to endure recently - and he delivers some fantastic lines to boot: "I made them say comfy chair", "I said I'd thought about it" and my favourite: "You're dying - shut up".

more petulant annoyance than wibbly-wobbly lippy-wippy...

Flesh4If I have one criticism to make it's that we should never have seen the angels move. Granted, it's an undeniably powerful image but it also breaks the conceit that the audience's gaze was causing the angels to freeze (which would also explain quite a few niggles, even if the notion is patently ridiculous) and I feel they lost some of their mystery as a result. I was also confused by the fact that some of them sported flat bases - how on earth did they move? But I adored their casual sadism and their attempts at winding up the Doctor easily make them the best Doctor Who monster of all time.

But the biggest threat in this story is the Crack. I thought this would be nothing more than a distracting motif, following the Doctor around like a Bad-Wolf wannabe, but not a bit of it: it's front and center and it means business. It also means that everything that's ever happened in the entire history of Doctor Who is now fair game. You can write-off anything even remotely irritating from the canon now (bye-bye Cyberking! ta ra Sycorax Mothership!) and you can even create ridiculous articulations of classic monsters while you're at it. What's next? Silurians that look a bit naff but who actually come from the Silurian era this time? Lance Parkin is going to have his work cut out...

the Horny Army Manoeuvre

Flesh3And I'm willing to bet good money that the forums are buzzing over the final scene, hitherto referred to in Doctor Who folklore as the Horny Army Manoeuvre. It makes perfect sense to me and I'm just glad that they managed to throw us off the scent in all the pre-publicity. Let's be fair, given what's just happened, coupled with Amy's mixed emotions about her impending marriage, it would have been more unbelievable if she hadn't tried to jump his bones like that. But unlike Rose or Martha this isn't soppy, puppy-dog love - it's pure, unadulterated lust. She's more like Captain Jack than anything else, and I bet the Doctor had to lock his bedroom door when he was travelling in the TARDIS as well.

There's even the vague suggestion that her raunchy behaviour is the direct result of Amy's Crack (oh don't start) but I don't buy that. I think she just fancies a quickie. And under the circumstances, who can blame her? And to anyone who raised an eyebrow at all that talk of "sorting Amy out" at 7pm obviously hasn't watched Hollyoaks recently, and that goes out at 6:30pm! Kids today, eh?

I also bet that everyone believes that River Song will kill the Doctor too, probably in episode 13, but that's just bollocks. Probably. Of course that's what we're meant to think but the facts don't add up. If she kills him in this incarnation then she won't have met him when he's "older" - and that will be the first time she meets him in her timeline (are you keeping up?) and that's obviously a future incarnation (unless he was William Hartnell at the time and he just forgot). In which case, at the very worst she'll make him regenerate. And I can't see why she'd be thrown in prison for that. Also, given that episode 13 has already happened for her, and she seems to imply it's all a bit of a lark, it might be a potboiler for years down the road. Unless she's pretending...

Ahhhhh, it's making my head hurt! But in a good way.

And there you have it. My initial reaction was that if you were eight years old it must have seemed like the best thing ever broadcast on television, but sod that, I'm 40 years old and it's still the best thing ever broadcast on television. So there.

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